HL Deb 19 March 1985 vol 461 cc475-9

8.16 p.m.

Read a third time, with the amendments.

Clause 18 [Provisions as to National Library of Scotland]:

Lord Ross of Marnock moved the following amendment: Page 18, line 36, leave out ("thirty-two") and insert ("twenty-one").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with permission, I think we could take the two other amendments at the same time. Page 18, line 37, leave out from ("whom") to ("sixteen") Page 19, leave out lines 1 to 13.

These amendments are fairly simple amendments, readily understood, and I hope they will commend themselves at long last to the Government. The effect of the first amendment is to reduce the number on the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland from 32 to 21 by the removal of 11 ex officio members. One wonders why there were so many ex officio members in the first instance. To understand that, we have to go back to 1925, when the National Library Act was passed through both Houses. In 1922 the National Library offered itself—I should say that it was the Advocates, because there was no National Library then: the Advocates offered the library—to the Government, but the Government of the day were so hard up that they said, no, they could not take it over. What they did instead in 1922 was to offer £2,000 a year.

This, I would ask your Lordships to remember, was a library which was started in the reign of Charles II. After the British Museum, it had been probably the finest library in the world and it had the same privilege as the British Museum of getting a copy of every book that was published. But it was maintained by the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland, and by 1922 they just could not continue, first, from the point of view of the whole administration, and, secondly, because of the expense and the need for more space. So they offered it to the nation, but the Government of the day said, "No, we cannot afford it".

As a result of that event, in 1932 the Earl of Novar, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Lord Rosebery and a few other people formed themselves into an endowment trust to get enough money to keep what was virtually a national library going. Some money was forth-coming, but then there appeared on the scene a Scottish baronet, Sir Alexander Grant, who offered £100,000—and £100,000 in the year 1923 was a very considerable sum of money. The Government said, "Yes, now that you have endowed it to that extent we will take it over".

Following that we had this Act which we are now amending. I think it was probably because of the national effort and the focus of attention on the national library and its importance to Scotland that we had so many ex officio members—and I would remind your Lordships that the number we have here is two less than it was; so if they all turn up at these meetings it is not so much a board of trustees as a public meeting.

As we have already found out by just asking people who happen to be in the House, as to the Lord Provost of Glasgow, we have the Lord Provost of Glasgow here, and he never remembers having been asked to go to it. We have the Lord Provost of Aberdeen in the House. He had never heard of it. I was Secretary of State for Scotland, and I do not know whether I was entitled to go there. Until we reformed this statute, there was no Secretary of State for Scotland in 1925; it was then the Secretary for Scotland. Actually, it was the man who became the Secretary of State for Scotland, because the post was created the following year, and in 1926 Sir John Gilmour became the first Secretary of State for Scotland—and he was, of course, the Secretary for Scotland who brought this to Parliament the year before. So it is understandable in the context, but that was 60 years ago. We do not need 11 ex officio members now.

What are left with? We are left with the reduction to 21: 16 appointed, five of them to be persons appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Secretary of State; and at least one of them should be representative of organised labour and five should be persons appointed by the faculty. I sincerely hope that I shall not hear from Minister of State the excuse that this would not fit in because we would not know what the faculty was. If he looks at Section 3 of the original Act, which is still there, it says: … the Faculty of Advocates (hereinafter in this Act referred to as `the Faculty')"; so the faculty is properly defined in the Act that we are amending and there is no worry about that one.

There will be four persons appointed jointly by the universities and two appointed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. That is a reduction in respect of the Scottish local authorities, because there used to be two from the Convention of Royal Burghs and I believe that there were two from the Association of County Councils.

As a result of an amendment that was made to the original Act in the Commons by one Mr. James Maxton, the education authorities, which were separate authorities, were given appointed represent- ation as well. Surely, five appointed by Her Majesty, five from the faculty, four from the universities, two from the local authorities and then the other five co-opted members of the board, being persons of eminence in literature or public life, not otherwise members of the Board", is enough. It will be a long time before we look again at this subject, so let us make some sense of it. I hope that the Minister of State will now accept the amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I know the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and therefore I was not in the slightest surprised that he should have tabled an amendment at Third Reading. What is surprising is that the noble Lord's amendment should relate to the composition of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland, because this is a matter which has been discussed both here and in another place, and always with the consensus of opinion falling in favour of the course envisaged in the Bill as drafted.

I note that the amendments which the noble Lord has laid on this occasion differ slightly from those which appeared earlier. This time all he seeks to do is to remove the remaining 11 ex-officio trusteeships. The main point that I want to stress is this. The number which the noble Lord wishes to move is irrelevant in this context. The House has already heard on a number of occasions the objections which noble Lords opposite have raised on the constitution of the board, as amended in the Bill. When the matter was discussed in Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton, spoke eloquently in favour of the present constitution. The ex-officio members, who would be removed by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, are valued not because of their attendance at board meetings, or because their attendance is indispensable, but because their identification with the interests of the library broadens the influence of the board in a helpful way.

During Committee we also heard the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who is especially well qualified to speak, since he serves as one of the members of the board who are co-opted by the trustees. He is therefore not affected by any particular factional interests. He, as your Lordships will recall, paid particular tribute to the contribution to the board of one of the very members whom this amendment would remove—the Lord President.

Having heard the views of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and of those of your Lordships who took part in the debate both in Committee and subsequently, I know that the mood of the House was that we were more or less united and remained in favour of the position as represented in the Bill. I believe that this remains the common sense approach. I hope that the House will continue to stand by it and that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Let me just say to him that one of the important points is that all of the members are not expected to attend regularly, but the mere fact that they are members gives the board additional standing. It gives the board access to their views and opinions from time to time and, indeed, it is preferable that the day-to-day events be looked after by a smaller group of people. Therefore, I find it difficult to accept the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. Certainly, no one can say that I have not heard them before, because the noble Lord has been meticulous in spelling them out at each stage, but I do not believe that what he seeks to do would be an improvement. Therefore, I ask the House to accept what we have agreed up until now and I hope that the noble Lord might consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, in response to the Minister, I am surprised that he argues in respect of this amendment that the influence of a board depends upon people who never turn up. That is quite nonsensical. This is the first time that he has actually tried to justify these ex-officio members and he must be very grateful indeed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton. But if I remember correctly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, was concerned more about the faculty, the history of the museum, how much it depended on the faculty and how generous the faculty was in respect of the handing over of the museum in 1925.

I do not think any of the arguments produced by the noble Lord holds water. If the Lord President is so important, then he can be appointed by virtue of the five appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, because he is a person who is eminent in either literature or public life. So he is not denied, nor is anybody else denied, consideration on this board in that respect.

I pointed out that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, was on as a co-opted member. Why was it so important? I suppose that the same argument was used in 1925 with the Lord Provost of Perth—that he was important; there is no Lord Provost of Perth now. Was it because of the influence that he had and the standing that he gave? The same is true of the whole lot. The Minister of the High Kirk of St. Giles adds to the whole lustre and importance of this Board of Trustees.

Then there is the Member for Central Edinburgh. That may have been true in 1925, when Central Edinburgh was just Central Edinburgh. As a matter of fact, there was a very good Labour Member and he actually spoke. I have taken the trouble—and I hoped that the Minister of State had done the same—to read the reports of the debates in this House and in another place on the 1925 Act. It was Willy Graham who was the Member, but he was no relation to my noble friend. His brother-in-law will be remembered in this House. He was a former Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lord Mathers, and he served in this House. As I said, he was the brother-in-law of William Graham, who was Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929 and, unfortunately, he died fairly young.

But the person who brought a national outlook to the debates was James Maxton, who kept reminding people that this was a National Library and not an Edinburgh library. That was his complaint and he was the person who drew attention to the need to have education authorities represented, as indeed they were when a change was made in Committee. But they had more spunk and more sense in those days in considering amendments. I am convinced that the reason for this long list of illustrious people is not so much the people as the positions that they occupy, because the people can be not worth tuppence from the point of view of contributing to the National Library. What matters is the positions and the lustre.

The library was being built up at the time when it was being taken over by the Government. I think it was in this House that it was recommended to the Earl of Haldane as worth supporting because it was an example of nationalisation and socialism. That was from the Lord Balfour of Burleigh. It was; but it does not require this list of 11 members.

I am sorry but I am not going to withdraw the amendment because I feel quite strongly about it. I do not think it makes sense; I do not think that the Government have looked at it. I am perfectly sure that the Government have not even looked at it. Certainly there is no indication from anything that has been said in the previous debates that the Government found anything at all to support it until they got a word or two from the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton.

I just deplore the fact that after 60 years we should still have this anachronistic stuff. I thought that we might have done better than that after 60 years. This was probably the last Act of Parliament passed by a Secretary for Scotland. In the next Act of Parliament that same Secretary had been elevated to the position of Secretary of State. But for all that time it has been the Secretary for Scotland—it has been in the statute. When they bring that up to date surely they should have a look at this and ask whether it is worth while. It is not. These 11 people should have gone.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Hayter)

Is the noble Lord withdrawing his amendment?

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, No.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[The remaining two amendments not moved.]

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.