HL Deb 20 July 1978 vol 395 cc576-89

96 Schedule 10, page 50, line 31, at end insert ("Grants with respect to items for the collections of museums and galleries and special grants with respect to items for the collections of libraries.")

The Commons disagreed to the above Amendment for the following Reason:

97 Because it is inappropriate to devolve general responsibility for museums, libraries and galleries but reserve the matter of the grants in respect of their collections.

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 96 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason No. 97, but propose the following Amendment in lieu: Page 50, line 31, at end insert ("Special grants with respect to items for the collections of museums and galleries and libraries."). My Lords, before I turn to my Amendment in lieu thereof I want—and I hope it is in order—to protest what I feel is the discourtesy with which we have been treated in relation to this last part of this last consideration of the Commons Amendments. They were completed only two days ago and yet we are expected today to deal with the whole thing in a way which may be possible for the Opposition Front Bench, but for those who have not the advantage of special help it is something which is very difficult. I feel I am speaking on behalf of many noble Lords who have said to me that this is not the way in which the Lords should be treated.

I feel the more strongly about this because we were all very anxious to get on with matters this evening. But what happened? Instead of having a brief interval for dinner, at least an hour and a half of our valuable time was taken up on a matter which, although it may be very important, is not what one would expect when we are dealing with this Bill. I apologise for having to make that observation, but I really feel that we have not been treated in the way we ought to have been.

I now turn to the Amendment which I propose in lieu. This has been a very unhappy business, and I must go back into history for a few moments. Your Lordships may recall that during the Committee stage the noble Earl, Lord Haig, and I, in different respects, moved an Amendment which was accepted by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. Ten days later we received a letter from the Government saying that they had retracted what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, had said, and that they were sticking to whatever their position might be.

Later, the noble Earl, Lord Haig, had an Amendment passed with the full support of your Lordships, and I withdrew my Amendment because it was all part of the same purpose; namely, that the special grants should not be the subject of a devolved matter, but rather should come from the United Kingdom grant. At the next stage the Government themselves—and I was grateful for it—moved an Amendment. They said that our earlier Amendments were muddled and that they were introducing a provision which would give effect to what the Lords wanted. At that time I took special care to say "Thank you" to the Government for their having done that. I said that your Lordships would recall that on Report the Government had gone back on their earlier thoughts. I was happy that they had now had third thoughts, and under pressure from your Lordships, and I suspected also under pressure from one or two of the people who were sitting on the Government Benches, the Treasury had given way. Therefore we had obtained just what we wanted.

But that was not the end of the story. Ten days later I received another letter, this time from the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, in which he said: Probably I misunderstood what you said …". I do not believe that anything could have been clearer than what I said. At that time no one on the Government Benches bothered to get up and say that he had misunderstood the situation, they just let it lie. So the whole matter went to the Commons in a thoroughly confused and unhappy state. There was a long debate in the Commons on the matter. Mr. Harry Ewing, who was speaking for the Government, was, to put it, midly most disingenuous in what he said. He said that there was great confusion, and that it was quite clear that the situation was one in which the National Library of Scotland, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and the Royal Scottish Museum favoured devolution of all purchase grants; in other words, the institutions with which we are dealing were in favour of what I am suggesting to the House. I am sorry, but that is not the case. The National Gallery and Museum of Modern Art, and the National Library do not want special purchase grants to be part of the devolved issues. In other words, what was said is not correct.

The situation became impossibly complicated. Mr. Harry Ewing said that we had confused things, but the confusion at the present time is far worse than that. As things are—and I accept this—the ordinary grants for the museums, galleries and libraries should come out of the block grant. That we have now all accepted. But what we are asking, and what my Amendment asks, is that when it comes to the special grants then we should look to the United Kingdom. Special grants are for emergency situations, and by the very nature of things we do not expect to get special grants out of the block grant; you cannot make allowances for them. We expect to get them from the United Kingdom. But the Government are not ready to accept that.

However, my Lords, having gone that far, they then, it seems to me, make the confusion absolutely extraordinary, because not only do they say, "All the same, you can have recourse to the National Land Fund ", but they also say—and here I have to quote again, this time what they said in a letter, originally: The above-mentioned arrangements are of course without prejudice to the freedom of action by the Government to make funds available in any case they think fit for any purchase, whatever the circumstances ". What could be more confused than that?

I really think that we ought to find a clear principle and a clear distinction on these things. That is the purpose of my Amendment, which I know the noble Earl, Lord Haig, would support if he were here. It is quite simply that, in the case of the ordinary grants to museums, galleries and libraries, they come out of the block grant: but when it comes to anything else—a special grant, a National Land Fund grant or this other, curious last resort grant—then we should look to the United Kingdom. I hope that, with that explanation, your Lordships will feel able to support me in my Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 96 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 97 but propose in lieu thereof the said Amendment.—(The Earl of Perth.)


My Lords, I should like to say a few words about this matter because I was involved in this subject when it came up before under this Bill. Though I know my noble friend Lord Haig would have liked to be here, he could not at this short notice come here; and he certainly did not know, as I did not until about two minutes ago, that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, was considering pressing his Motion, which I shall come to in a minute. As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has said, this has been a sorry story of error and misunderstanding. I came into it when, at the opening stages, I enquired about the future of the special grants system, which many of us resident in Scotland know has been the cause of additions to the very fine collections in Edinburgh, part of our national heritage.

The answer I was given was that the special purchase grants would continue because they were reserved by silence in the Bill. A few days later that had to be corrected. Those who had taken part in the debate received letters on that matter.

The situation had been described in good faith, but it was mistaken and it had to be corrected. I would only say that that shows the danger of that particular method of reservation—reservation by silence—because one could not assume that because something had not been mentioned in the Bill it was covered by the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, has taken part in all these debates about museums, galleries and libraries. He has himself a special concern with libraries in Scotland and the Scottish Library, and he has drawn attention to its needs, which are rather different from the needs of the galleries and museums. All those who are concerned with museums, galleries and libraries in Scotland are worried that, in future, money may not be forthcoming in the way it has been in the past if the proposals in the Bill, as the Government put them forward, are not changed. They believe that in particular cases they will be competing with other good causes within the block grant and that there will not be special arrangements when there is something of particular importance or significance for Scotland which ought to be purchased.

But I would say this to the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I was not surprised to see that he had a Motion on the white Paper this morning. I understand that he was only able to get down to it at 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock last night. I had completed mine by then and I did not realise that more were coming down. But even when I saw it this morning, I had not thought that he proposed to divide on it; and this is the reason. It cannot be said that this subject has not been fully discussed in another place, because on our Amendment the Commons did have a very long discussion the other day. When our original Amendment was put to the vote there was a majority against it of 31. I do not myself think that it would be appropriate, although I sympathise with what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has said, to send this new variation of the old Amendment back to the Commons for a further debate.

We have been considering various matters which we think ought to go back and, as noble Lords will see, we have during the course of the day had Divisions on three matters. The criteria by which we have judged them have been whether there had been reasonable time for debate in another place and what the results were, together with the importance of the subject. I do not think that the noble Earl will be able to gain what he hopes to gain from sending this for further consideration to another place. So I must tell him that I myself would not feel disposed to support him if he were to press it to a Division, although I am, as he knows, exceedingly sympathetic to the views that he has expressed.


My Lords, as a CrossBencher, I am not expert in Parliamentary tactics. Whether or not this is to be pressed to a Division by the noble Earl is not the thought which is uppermost in my mind at the moment; but I must say that the wording of the Commons' disagreement to the Amendment seems to me to be fantastically unrealistic. I think it was Gladstone who once said of a certain political economist whose name I forget: He banished political economy to Saturn ". I would say of the authors of the wording of this disagreement that they banished political economy to Arcturus—or some remote spot in the universe. Doubtless, if one were proceeding,ab initio,to lay down rules for devolution in some utterly unhistoric situation in which all cultural institutions were starting, so to speak, from scratch or from an equal position in all parts of the world, nothing could be said against this unimpeachable sentiment: … it is inappropriate to devolve general responsibility for museums, libraries and galleries but reserve the matter of the grants in respect of their collections ". That is not the case in the United Kingdom in the year of our Lord 1978. If the financing of acquisitions to museums, libraries and galleries in Scotland is restricted to the block grant, the likelihood is that very precious treasures, part of the heritage of the United Kingdom, in the last analysis will be lost. That needs to be made quite explicit. I do not know anybody connected with art administration who would contradict that for a moment. One has only to visit the National Gallery of Scotland—I paid a special visit after our last debate on this matter; I had been in the neighbourhood for another purpose—to see before one's eyes works of art now on loan worth many millions of pounds, and which it is quite inconceivable would be purchased out of the block grant. If therefore the Government persist in the attitude expressed in this banal but totally irrelevant disagreement, they are persisting in a course which, in all probability, will result in the United Kingdom losing things which we should like to retain.


My Lords, may I ask a question, largely from ignorance? We are talking mainly at the moment about the acquisition of additional works of art for museums, galleries and the like. What happens when works of art are tendered in lieu of death duties in Scotland? There is also the question of the loss of works of art from Scotland. Do they get wafted down to the vaults of the National Gallery in London, or are they made available? Will they be made available in Scotland? Are they to stay in Scotland? Here are we talking about things being under the Assembly and available, and really the development of Scotland, and also the maintenance of the treasures of Scotland. Can the noble Lord give me an answer to that? There are two sides to the matter. First, there is the provision of the resources to increase the cultural treasures of Scotland. Secondly, there is the means of maintaining in Scotland the treasures that are there already. Both are equally important. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to answer that question.


My Lords, before the Minister replies may I make one small intervention? The Commons rejected the Lords Amendment in terms which are quite clear: Because it is inappropriate to devolve the general responsibility for museums, libraries and galleries but reserve the matter of the grants in respect of their collections ". That is a proposition with which I would find it very difficult to disagree. What we are now discussing—and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, is proposing—has words which are very different. They read: Page 50, line 31, at end insert "Special grants with respect to items for the collections of museums and galleries and libraries". I hope the Minister will lend a sympathetic ear to the proposition that is before us. I agree with the noble Lord who suggested that this is not something on which we should have a Division. I hope the Government will seriously consider what is suggested. Ordinary grants for museums, galleries and libraries are part and parcel of the administration of museums, galleries and libraries and are part of the area which will be devolved to the Assembly. Therefore, it will be for the Assembly to decide year by year—and I hope more than year by year because one wants to look further ahead than one year—and give some idea for perhaps two or three years ahead how much they can spare out of their total resources and their consolidated grant and so on, for museums, galleries and libraries. What we are here concerned with is the special need when a particular object or objects come on to the market which it is particularly important for the whole of the United Kingdom that Scotland should acquire for one of its gallaries. That is what is suggested—and only that—should be devolved in this way. I should very much like to know whether the Minister feels that to ask for that is merely asking for what has already been turned down. That is not so, because what was originally put forward did not make this distinction between the general and the special grant.

10.21 p.m.


My Lords, if there is a point of agreement this evening, I think it is that unquestionably there has been an element of misunderstanding, and indeed confusion, surrounding this issue, so I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I take a few moments longer than I might otherwise have done at this time of evening to explain yet again, with as much clarity as I can, the Government's position.

This Amendment was moved by the Government on Third Reading in order to correct a defective Amendment which had been carried earlier to reserve purchase grants for libraries, museums and art galleries. That was done, as I believe was made perfectly clear at the time, totally without commitment on the Government's part, to the principle underlying the Amendment. It was done simply to ensure that the Bill, as it returned to the Commons, was technically correct and would not give rise to doubts of interpretation. It is evident that the debates on this subject, both here and in another place, have betrayed this element of confusion to which reference has been made.

I believe that any misunderstanding which has arisen is a misunderstanding about the nature of the purchase grants we are talking about. At present, libraries, museums and galleries receive annual grants-in-aid for the purchase of objects to add to their collections. That is how the majority of museum purchases are made. The Government would agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that annual purchase grants and grants-in-aid for Scottish museums and galleries should not be reserved. The proposal contained in Amendment No. 96 to reserve annual purchase grants for museums and galleries—but not for libraries—is completely out of keeping with the Government's proposals for devolution generally and the devolution of responsibility for the arts in particular. The Government believe also that it is a piece of administrative nonsense.

Some of the confusion in the past has been caused by a misunderstanding of the role of the National Land Fund, and perhaps I might direct the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, to the point I am just about to make. I would repeat yet again that access to the Fund will be reserved but that will not prevent allocations to Scottish institutions of items acquired with assistance from the Fund. I believe the Government have reassured the House on this point in the past, but I do so again this evening. The nub of the argument centres on the position of special purchase grants, which I believe is where the greatest misunderstanding falls. With respect, I would direct the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, to the points I am about to make.

I would emphasise that we are speaking of occasions where a work of art or any object of interest comes onto the market for sale, as for example, the Gains-borough, "Ben Truman" or the Canaletto "Warwick Castle", to quote two recent pieces. We are not speaking of an item which arises as a result of death, and consequently comes within the scope of capital transfer tax. This is a matter of national taxation and may involve the use of the National Land Fund—which are both, as I have just mentioned, reserved. At present, institutions can apply to the Scottish Office for a special purchase grant when some exceptional object comes on the market whose cost is outwith the scope of their regular purchase grant.

Such a grant is rare; it has to have the approval of the Treasury, who will look in the first instance to the Scottish Office to meet the cost from savings in its annual vote; and it is the practice that it will not be more than half of the cost of the object. I should like to stress that such grants are at present ad hocand made in extreme circumstances; they involve a great deal of turning out of pockets. However well the system works at present—and I do not think that that is what we are debating here—the key is that every available resource should be utilised, including the institution's annual purchase funds and all available private funds, before a special purchase grant will be sanctioned.

After devolution, the Government propose that if a special item comes on the market, or special circumstances arise, which involve extraordinary expenditure and which cannot be budgeted for, the first place—the most natural place—for the institution to turn to should be the devolved administration, to consider whether the money can be found from the block fund. In this, special purchase grants should be no different from any other unforeseen expenditure in any of the devolved fields.

But then, if the work of art were important enough, the sums of money involved so large that they clearly could not be found from within the block fund, it would be open to the Scottish Administration to ask the Government to help. These Amendments would have the effect of cutting the Scottish administration out of this process, and I must emphasise that. If a work which was important to Scotland was threatened, the Scottish Administration would be powerless to help save it. The Scots would have to come to London, to ask the United Kingdom Government to take the decisions—admittedly, sometimes very difficult decisions—about what was of importance to the Scottish heritage and what should be preserved. The devolved administration will have large sums of money at its disposal; it will be able—and ought to be able—to act as quickly and effectively as the United Kingdom Government on these matters. This does not preclude an appeal to the United Kingdom Government for help in extraordinary circumstances; it is rather a question of whether the devolved administration should be excluded from a process in which it is essential to bring into play every available resource.

To exclude the devolved Administration from these matters—in which I believe they will wish to be included—would be irresponsible and could give rise to conflict. I put this question for consideration. What would happen if a Scottish museum or gallery, with the encouragement of the Scottish administration, came to the United Kingdom Government for a special purchase grant and was refused? The Scottish administration, thereafter, would be unable to help. The potential for recrimination and misunderstanding is considerable. It is for these reasons that the Government believe it could be irresponsible and contrary to the basic principles of devolution to exclude the Scottish administration from this matter. This was the view of another place. It was also the view taken by your Lordships' House when the same point was debated in the context of the Wales Bill.


My Lords, the noble Lord has actually put a question, so may I intervene to say this? I do not think that the question that he has put raises difficulties at all, because the Scottish administration would not be cut out. One would expect the request to go through the Scottish Administration, but that the special grant would come from the United Kingdom Government. I hope that the noble Lord listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said just now about this Amendment. From what the Minister has said, it really is something that he ought to be able to accept.


My Lords, I am trying to emphasise to your Lordships' House that the Government's position is flexible, is open-ended and is an attempt to maximise every available source of income in a situation where a special position has arisen. That is what I am trying to emphasise. I am saying, in short, that the Government's proposals provide that all resources, including those of the Government, can, in exceptional circumstances, be mobilised. The fact that where special grants are required the Scottish Administration will be expected to meet the cost, does not exclude the Government.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to translate into concrete terms sentiments which so far, and quite properly, he has developed in a series of abstractions? Supposing what is not at all a remote possibility, that there were to come on to the market an object as valuable, in terms of present sterling, as the Leonardo Cartoon, which came on to the market in the late 1950s at a price which, mustering all the reserves of the National Gallery, was quite beyond its capacity, would it be open to the National Gallery of Scotland, through the Scottish Assembly, to approach the Government of the United Kingdom with any hope whatever of receiving a supplementary grant?


My Lords, it would be for the Scottish Secretary to approach the Secretary of State for Scotland if additional money of a United Kingdom character were sought. As matters stand, leaving the question of the devolution Bill entirely on one side, I do not think that there is a counsel of perfection in matters relating to sustaining the arts, even at the present time, if only because there are always competing needs at the different points of resource. What I am attempting to say is that the Government's proposal is an attempt to maximise and mobilise all possible sources of revenue. I do not think that I can go further than that at this time.

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have helped. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said. The matter was very fully discussed in the Commons, but it was discussed on a different basis: it was discussed on the basis that ordinary grants, in the case of museums, should also be available from the United Kingdom and not only from the block grant.

Mr. Harry Ewing, who was speaking for the Government at that time, said: So the amendment would cause the greatest confusion imaginable. That is one of the best reasons for rejecting it "—[Official Report(Commons); 18/7/78; col. 400.] All right; it was confused; we all know that it was confused. However, this Amendment is very different; it is extremely simple. It is that in the case of the ordinary grant we should look to the block grant to find the money for museums, galleries and libraries. However, when it comes to the special grant, I say that we ought to be able to look to the United Kingdom. The Government, on the other hand, say: "We shall do all that we can to help, but first of all you have got to expect to get it out of the block grant". That is where confusion lies.

I believe that the Amendment which I am putting forward is very much simpler and that a perfectly clear distinction is made. A line is drawn between the one and the other. When the noble Lord said that it will rule the Scottish Assembly out of the question, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, answered him by asking his question. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will reconsider what he said, or that those who sit behind him will think that the matter was very fully discussed in the Commons but that it was discussed on a different basis. What I am proposing now is extremely simple, is different, and I think the Commons should be given a chance to think again on whether this is not acceptable to them.

10.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 96 to which the Commons have disagreed, but propose the Amendment in lieu thereof?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 43; Not-Contents, 51.

Ampthill, L. Gainford, L. Monson, L.
Balerno, L. Gray, L. Morris, L.
Burton, L. Harcourt, V. Mottistone, L.
Cathcart, E. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Northchurch, B.
Cork and Orrery, E. Henley, L. Perth, E. [Teller.]
Craigavon, V. Hood, V. Rankeillour, L.
Crathorne, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Robbins, L.
de Clifford, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Rochdale, V.
Digby, L. Killearn, L. Strathclyde, L.
Donegall, M. Linlithgow, M. Sudeley, L.
Dundee, E. Lonsdale, E. Swinton, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Masham of Ilton, B. Tweeddale, M.
Faithfull, B. Minto, E. [Teller.] Vickers, B.
Ferrier, L. Monk Bretton, L. Westbury, L.
Wilson of Langside, L.
Balogh, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Phillips, B.
Birk, B. Howie of Troon, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Boston of Faverhsam, L. Hughes, L. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Brockway, L. Kirkhill, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Castle, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Sainsbury, L.
Collison, L. Lockwood, B. Simon, V.
David, B. Lovell-Davis, L. Snow, L.
Davies of Leek, L. McCarthy, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Donnet of Balgay, L. McCluskey, L. Stone, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Mackie of Benshie, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Gaitskell, B. Maelor, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Gardiner, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Gladwyn, L. Morris of Kenwood, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L
Glenamara, L. Murray of Gravesend, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Northfield, L. Whaddon, L.
Gregson, L. Oram, L. Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]
Harris of Greenwich, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.) Wynee-Jones, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment to the Motion disagreed to accordingly.


The Question is that this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 96 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 97.