HL Deb 07 May 2002 vol 634 cc990-2

2.52 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has issued a directive advising national museums not to appoint trustees over the age of 50.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, no, we have not.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. I might add that I have no thing to declare, as, although aged, I am neither great nor particularly good.

Many of the people who help most with our museums and galleries are people with vast experience. Some of them are Members of your Lordships' House. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of dissuading museums and galleries from appointing older people?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, if the Government were to issue a directive of the kind to which the noble Lord referred, we would court a certain amount of trouble. I need look only at the Front Benches on this and the opposite side of the House for evidence of that. Were a directive to be issued suggesting that no body over 50 could be on those Benches, they would be rather empty.

The Government want to have a wide age range represented in our museums and galleries, and we are trying to achieve just that. I shall give the noble Lord a couple of statistics that might interest him. In the past financial year, 72 per cent of all appointments at the DCMS were of people over the age of 50. For museums and galleries, the figure was 81 per cent. So, there is lots of scope for Members of your Lordships' House to take part.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the Government on the fact that such a directive has not been issued. Will the Minister assure us that it is not still being considered, as it could be construed as interference with the independence of national museum trustees?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, that is the first time that I have been congratulated because a directive has not been issued. The independence of our national museums and galleries and their boards is important. At the same time, they are non-departmental public bodies in receipt of substantial amounts of government money. From time to time, the Government might want to make encouraging noises, in certain respects.

If I may, I shall bore your Lordships' House with some more statistics. Only five per cent of trustees of museums and galleries are under 40; only 20 per cent are aged between 40 and 49. For that reason, we want to see boards recruiting more young people, and we encourage them to do so.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, does not the European Charter of Fundamental Rights ban discrimination on grounds of age, although not necessarily at the age of 50?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sure that the European Charter is relevant to this area, as it is to many others.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question is interesting because ageism is as alive and well in this country as it is anywhere in the developed world? In the arts—the fine arts, in particular—there is a great fear that distinguished directors of galleries and museums will not be able to take up a role in which they can use their expertise, once they go beyond early middle age. One example is Sir Timothy Clifford, whose work in Scotland has been of incalculable value to that country. We hope that he will come home to England, but will we lose the scholarship and the eye apparent in his most successful career because he will be just under or over 60?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I shall not comment on an individual case, but I am sure that Sir Timothy Clifford has huge experience and expertise, which, I hope, he will be able to use in various contexts. However, all posts in public life come to an end at some point because we have retirement ages. I assume that the noble Viscount is not proposing that people should never retire from such posts or move on and make other contributions to public life, without necessarily fulfilling a full-time executive role.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I join in the congratulations on the non-directive. However, does the Minister recall the case of Price v. Civil Service Commission? That was an early case of indirect sex discrimination, which resulted in the removal of most—if not all—age limits for entry into the Civil Service. Does the Minister agree that the test for all jobs or appointments should be whether the applicant has the qualifications and experience required? That should also apply to re-appointment.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, in discussing appointments to the Civil Service, we are moving a long way from the Question on the Order Paper. I am afraid that I do not recall the case cited by the noble Baroness, but we want to see the best possible use of people with qualifications and expertise. We are achieving that for museums and galleries, and we have many people who give their time freely to support the work of our museums and galleries. It would, however, be an advantage if we could find and encourage rather more younger people to take part as well, given the statistics that I have just given the House.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is the contents of museums that should be old, not the trustees?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the contents of museums can be old and new, and the same ought to apply to their trustees.