§ Mr. Summerson
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment why a Treasury minute was not laid before Parliament before the transfer of freehold and leasehold property to the trustees of certain museums and galleries took place.
§ Mr. Key
In 1986 the Office of Arts and Libraries conducted a review into the relationship between the Property Services Agency and certain museums and galleries. This concluded that these organisations should be untied from PSA for their works services. When the recommendations of this report were being implemented it was decided that the most logical way forward would be for transfers to be made to the trustees of these organisations of the freehold and leasehold properties that they were then occupying rent free. This would remove any remaining element of PSA control. Ministers agreed that these transfers should take place at nil charge as the trustees were not being presented with any assets that they did not already have the use of. The trustees' powers to dispose of property are of course subject to legislative and other constraints.
During 1988–89 and 1989–90, 16 such properties were transferred. The value of 13 of these is approximately £53 million; the other three properties have not yet been valued. Two further properties have been transferred in the current financial year. However, under established procedures, transfers at less than market value, which technically constitute gifts, should be notified to Parliament before they are made. It is normal practice in such cases for the Department proposing to make the gift to arrange with the Treasury for a minute to be presented to the House of Commons giving the particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances in which it is being made and for the Treasury's assent to the gift to be withheld for 14 days, excluding Saturdays and Sundays, after the issue of the minute except in cases of special urgency.
I very much regret that the correct procedures were not observed in making the transfers of these properties. A further 40 or so properties remain to be transferred to the relevant trustees. Since 1 April 1990 these transfers have become the responsibility of the Office of Arts and Libraries which will arrange for the Treasury minutes to be presented to the House before any further transfers are made.