HL Deb 12 February 1985 vol 460 cc125-9

4.6 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This is an important Bill, which continues the measures in support of the national heritage which this Government have already taken in the National Heritage Acts 1980 and 1983. As your Lordships will recall, the latter of those measures established independent boards of trustees for a number of national institutions in England, including the Victoria and Albert and Science Museums. The present Bill extends that principle to the national museums and the Royal Botanic Garden in Scotland. It also makes a number of amendments to the statutes for the national galleries of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Record Office.

In the forefront of the Bill—in Clause 1, in fact—is the creation of a new hoard of trustees for the national museums of Scotland. This follows the precedents I have mentioned, hut in the case of the Scottish national museums it breaks new ground as well and prepares the way for a major new initiative. The Bill provides for a new board to manage jointly two of the present Scottish national institutions—the Royal Scottish Museum and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, together with their outstations. It goes on to provide a framework within which the new board will be able to operate. The framework is intended to be a broad one, within which the board will have a large degree of flexibility, but consistent of course with its pursuing the general functions which the Bill lays down for it, and with its remaining fully accountable to Parliament for the use of the resources which will be made available to it.

The setting up of the new board will allow a change of status for the Royal Scottish Museum and the board will be able to take forward the concept of a Museum of Scotland. This concept has aroused immense interest since it was first mooted in 1981 and it represents our major debt to the Williams Committee—the committee under Sir Alwyn Williams, principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow University—which was asked to review all the national museums and galleries of Scotland and the report of which was published that year. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, was of course a valued member of that committee and he initiated a most helpful debate on the report in your Lordships' House in January 1982. Subsequently, in July 1982, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated the Government's support for the concept of a Museum of Scotland, and, after full consultations with all the relevant interests, he announced in December 1983 that, in furtherance of that concept, he would as soon as possible set up one board of trustees to manage the two national museums. Finally, in April 1984 he appointed a Museums Advisory Board to advise him on how the Museum of Scotland was to be promoted within the new structure.

The Museums Advisory Board, which is under the chairmanship of the noble Marquess, Lord Bute, will later this year be offering recommendations on exactly what steps might be taken to take the Museum of Scotland concept forward, but central to it are of course the collections of the National Museum of Antiquities. This museum has a long and distinguished history, having been established more than 200 years ago on the basis of collections formed by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The museum has of course since the 1890s been housed in the building in Queen Street, Edinburgh, which it still shares with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There has for many years been general agreement that this building is now inadequate to accommodate the range of services associated with a modern museum and to permit the sort of displays the visiting public expects of a national museum.

Three years ago the museum was able to take over premises in the adjacent York Buildings which had been adapted for its requirements from a previous role as Government offices. These additional premises have gone some way to meet the requirements of displaying its fine collections. But it will undoubtedly be an important part of the remit of the new board to ensure that those collections are in due course able to be much better appreciated by the visiting public as well as by scholars and researchers. We believe that the framework established by this Bill will help them to do so. In anticipation of the developments to come, we have indicated that from 1985–86 an extra £330,000 (an increase of approximately 13 per cent.) will be available for the staffing and administrative costs of the national museums. This should enable the new board to make a good start in its important work.

Part I of the Bill covers the national museums, and I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one or two points of particular interest. Clause 1 of the Bill establishes the new board of trustees. The title chosen for it is the Board of Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland. This title has deliberately been chosen on the recommendation of the Museums Advisory Board to reflect the broad terms of reference within which the trustees will need to operate. It will also parallel the title given to the Board of Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland. No decisions have yet been taken on whether, and if so which, individual titles may be applied to particular parts of the new museums complex. We will be looking initially to the Museums Advisory Board for recommendations here.

The detailed provisions for the operation of the new board are contained in Part I of Schedule 1 to the Bill covering its status, organisation and procedures and the employment of its staff. I do not propose to deal with these matters in any great detail today. As now drafted (and after amendment in another place) they fully embody the assurances which we have given in consultations with the trade unions of both museums and will ensure that staff will be offered employment by the new board on terms no less favourable than those which currently apply to them.

Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill set out the general functions and powers of the new board. In general these, too, follow the precedent of the 1983 Act. However, in Clause 2(1)(d) we have written in a specific reference to the board's powers to collaborate with other institutions in promoting the public's awareness and understanding of particular matters with which it is concerned. This reference was included in response to the strong support expressed in another place about the value of the continuing role which the national museums play in relation to other non-national museums in Scotland. The clause as now drafted explicitly confirms what was implicit in the Bill from the outset: that the board may in furtherance of its policies collaborate widely, including with such institutions as the National Trust for Scotland. The exact nature of that collaboration will be for the board itself to decide.

Throughout consideration of this Bill the Government have attached importance to maintaining the historic links between the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the national museums—links which, I am sure, noble Lords will agree give the society a unique claim to recognition. Amendments to the Bill in the society's interest were made in another place. We had hoped that these amendments would have allayed any remaining concern. We have received representations, however, that the Bill needs further amendment to clarify the relationship of the society and the new board of trustees. Having discussed the position with my right honourable friend I can now announce that I shall introduce a Government amendment at Committee stage to deal with this remaining problem.

Part II of the Bill establishes a board of trustees to manage the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. In general, Clauses 9 to 14 follow the pattern of those for the national museums, with details of the board's operations and its accountability to Parliament set out in Part II of Schedule 1.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the garden at Edinburgh, which dates back to 1670 and is therefore the second oldest botanic garden in Britain after Oxford. I was greatly impressed by the variety and depth of skills and activities which the garden encompasses, and which are reflected in the board's functions as described in Clause 10. This work continues at the outstations in Wigtownshire, Peeblesshire and Argyllshire, and of course overseas, where the garden has a unique reputation for its research and education.

Like nature itself, the garden's activities are constantly evolving. For example, it is now assuming the management of Inverleith House. We believe that the garden will operate more flexibly and effectively under the broader scientific and managerial oversight available from trustees. They will be able to take responsibility for the garden's budget and plan the use of their resources accordingly. The establishment of such a board has been generally welcomed in consultation and during debate on the Bill in another place, and I commend Part II to your Lordships as constituting an appropriate statutory base for the garden's future development.

I will now turn, a little more briefly, to the remaining issues covered by the Bill. It makes a number of amendments to the statutes governing three of our other great Scottish institutions: the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Record Office. In each case we believe that the institutions are functioning well and we wish to do as little as possible to disturb their smooth operation.

In the case of the National Galleries of Scotland, what we are doing is providing a sounder statutory framework than presently exists for the continued operations of the galleries under their own independent board of trustees. The galleries have had an independent board since 1906, but in the intervening years the scope of the collections has very greatly expanded and with them the staff, resources and so on needed to care for them and display them.

The Williams Committee, in its report, recommended that, in recognition of this growth in their responsibilities, the size of the galleries' board should be increased. We have provided for that in the Bill, increasing the present fixed seven-member board to one which may have between seven and 12 members. At the same time we have taken the opportunity to bring the galleries Act more nearly into line with those which govern other such institutions. The galleries have expressed themselves in general content with these provisions.

Clause 17 deals with the National Library of Scotland. Here, too, we are making some amendments to the existing statute—in this case the National Library of Scotland Act 1925. Here, the amendments required to bring the Act into line with modern practice are relatively minor and principally consist of changes to the constitution of the trustees board itself. They reflect changes brought about by local government reorganisation and the growth in the number of Scottish universities. Here too the Bill has the general support of the library's trustees.

Clause 18 of the Bill introduces three amendments to the Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937. One of these allows for the appointment of an outside chairman of the Scottish Records Advisory Council: at present the chairman is the Keeper of the Records of Scotland ex officio. The other amendments give some additional powers to the keeper in relation to records held in the Scottish Record Office.

Most of the remainder of the Bill covers miscellaneous matters common to the principal institutions with which it deals. The exception is Clause 21, which will provide statutory powers for the payment of grants to bodies which: promote the development or understanding of cultural or scientific matters". This power is required for a straightforward and specific purpose to give proper statutory authority for the grants which have for a number of years been paid to the Scottish Museums Council and the Royal Society of Edinburgh under the authority of the Appropriation Acts.

I said in my opening remarks that we regard this Bill as an important measure. We are fortunate in possessing in Scotland a number of fine national institutions which, in general terms, operate successfully with minimum interference from Government. We believe that to be a good pattern and one which this Bill will help to strengthen. It is particularly relevant in the case of the National Museums of Scotland which stand to benefit considerably from the measures this Bill provides. The collections in their care are fine ones by any standards and the increased influence which the new board of trustees will be able to command in managing an organisation which can draw on the best traditions of both the existing institutions should ensure that they can face the future with increased confidence.

I look forward to the speeches this afternoon since I know how close an interest many of your Lordships pay to matters which concern our national heritage. I commend the Bill to the House. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)