HL Deb 24 October 1972 vol 335 cc2118-21

[References arc' to Bill 52 as first printed for the Commons.]

Clause 1, page 1, line 22, at end insert: Provided that before making an order under this subsection the Secretary of State shall consult the governing body concerned.


My Lords. I rise to move that the Commons Amendment be agreed to. Your Lordships will remember when we debated this Bill in Committee we discussed the occasions, which we believed to be three or four, when in Scotland the Secretary of State would by order vary the trust governing a gift to a museum. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and others asked us that in these cases the Secretary of State should proceed by statutory instrument subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. The Government saw the noble and learned Lord's point and on Report we moved an Amendment which was welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on behalf of the Opposition.

In another place it was thought right to go a step further and ensure that in making an order varying a trust the Secretary of State should consult the governing body concerned. My right honourable friend would do this as a matter of regular practice. Indeed, since it is likely that only the governing bodies may know what the trusts are, he would have to do so. Nevertheless, we thought it right to accede to the request, and the Lord Advocate moved the Amendment to which I am now speaking which writes into the Bill a duty to consult. The Government are now asking your Lordships to agree to its inclusion. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Viscount Eccles.)


My Lords, this Amendment made by the other place is of course acceptable. It is a small concession, and I regret that it is the only one made since the Bill left this House. Concerning the Amendment, I hope that the Government really will consult with the trustees and take account of their views. Perhaps they mean to turn over a new leaf in this respect—at any rate, I hope so. Except for the Royal Assent, this is the last stage of this Bill, which we cannot, I am afraid, say we welcome. I see that the first White Paper was published almost two years ago, and it is almost a year since the Bill left this House. The Bill has certainly had a long and rough voyage, and at one time, to everybody's relief, it seemed to be sunk without trace. But now it has come to the surface again in a different world—a survival; a political coelacanth, as the Sunday Telegraph called it, from those confident, abrasive days before the Government had begun to learn the facts of life. This is an enabling Bill to enable trustees to do what they do not want to do. The best course for the Government, I suggest, is to let it sink back below the surface and never be heard of again.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, before we leave this matter, I think it would be well if we looked at the terms of the Amendment that we are now considering. We are asked to agree that, … the Secretary of State shall consult the governing body concerned. That may sound all very well, but it is simply saying "consult". It is not saying that the governing bodies, the trustees, will have delegated responsibility to make decisions. During the past year we know perfectly well that, while the trustees of our great museums and galleries have sometimes been consulted—although on occasions somewhat belatedly—their views have been overruled. Therefore I consider that this Amendment is merely a bandage provided to bind the wounds of a defeated army.

The assumption behind it is that the Minister responsible for the Arts has pitted his wisdom and his values against those of all my colleagues on this side of the House and in the other place, against the weight of the organised trade union movement and the whole of liberal opinion; and as the recent vote in the other place showed, if six of the members of my Party had not been absent unpaired the Bill would have been defeated. Therefore I think I can truly claim that this is not a non-Party measure. My Lords, I do not take the view that I am a member of a defeated army; I am not a defeatist. I believe that the case against the squalor and the vulgarity of seeking to collect these odd coppers in museum charges and the indignity of those turnstiles is such that we have to go on fighting. Therefore I should like to ask your Lordships to look at the Amendment against the context of the whole situation.

I venture to say one more thing. In the field of the Arts I think it is reasonable that we should ask that the Minister of the Arts should be our general, leading up forward: and believe me, my Lords, any time that he leads us forward we shall be only too happy to follow him. But when we have the Minister of the Arts leading us backwards instead of forwards—because I claim that if a single child, a single teenager, a single student, a middle-aged family man or an elderly person living on a small pension has to look at what may seem to the Minister a very modest sum before being allowed into our great museums and galleries that is leading the retreat—I am not prepared to follow that retreat.

I am bitterly disappointed that the present Minister's reaction has made this a Party measure. In fact, he has not really succeeded in making it a Party measure, because his own Party is divided. I venture to say that had it not been for the personal conviction of the Minister that people should pay to enter—and if people are rich it does not matter to them; it is only the poor who are involved—we should have won this battle. I have many major disagreements with our present Prime Minister, but he does care about great music, and he would want his Minister for the Arts to be a Minister with a wide vision and some generosity of outlook.

We all know what happens to a Minister. When he is first appointed he has to take his place in the queue, because every other Minister is making demands on the Treasury. The Treasury Ministers have the hardest job of all, because they have to do the sums. We all know that no Minister gets all his own way. But if the present Minister had gone to his colleagues and said, "Look here, you are making a mistake. This is silly, this is trivial, this is vulgar, this is reactionary; after all, we are in an age when we want to broaden the scope of culture, not to narrow it" then, supported by the kind of campaign he has had in the past year from Mr. Hugh Leggatt (and many of the most distinguished members of the Minister's own Party do not agree with him)—and I know how much I was indebted to your Lordships' House, when I was sometimes under criticism from members of my own Party for putting too much priority on the Arts, for the support I got from the other Parties—I am going to assert categorically that he could have had an easy victory. He could have gone to the Prime Minister and to the members of the Cabinet; he could have beaten back the Alf Garnetts —and all Parties have a few of them.

Therefore I am not simply smoothly going to put a little rouge on this raddled, bad old face; I am not going to agree to a few bandages being handed out to a defeated army. I do not think we are a defeated army. We think this is an indignity to our country and an ungracious thing, and I am deeply sorry that our present Minister for the Arts should not have tried to maintain the Arts on a non-Party and a non-political basis. We are not going into the Lobby, so I cannot register my vote on the Amendment; but I say simply that it is totally irrelevant.

On Question, Motion agreed to.