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Clause 9

Volume 977: debated on Wednesday 30 January 1980

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Amendment made: No. 48, in page 6, line 28, after '( a)', insert '( aa).—[ Mr. Monro.]

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 6, line 29, after 'above', insert

'which is willing to accept it'.

:This amendment meets an undertaking that I gave in Committee that we would look at the implications of the word "direct", which had alarmed the national museums and galleries. They were concerned that they might be obliged, under the Bill, to accept objects on conditions which they found repugnant. In particular, they feared that they might be required to retain nominal ownership of an object which was to be left in its historic setting, even though they were not satisfied with the security, conservation and public access.

I gladly repeat the assurance I gave in Committee that Ministers would not contemplate forcing recipients to take in property against their will. It was suggested that Ministers could not bind the trustees of the fund, who might take over the responsibility for acceptance in lieu if an order were made under clause 14. The amendments we are now debating put the matter beyond doubt even in that eventuality, and amendment No. 29 really is consequential on amendment No. 27. I hope that this clarifies the assurance I gave in Committee and will be accepted by the House this evening.

It was made clear during the Committee debate on amendment No. 36, together with amendment No. 109 and other amendments, that there was much disquiet in the museum world over the thought that museums might be directed under clause 9 (2) to accept property accepted in lieu under conditions which they might find repugnant. The Minister gave a categorical assurance that this would not be the case.

The same subject came up again later on in the debate on indemnities and the Minister responded by saying that the thought that any such directions should take place was repugnant, not only to hon. Members but to the heritage world beyond the confines of the museum lobby.

It was in earnest of this and to probe the position that I tabled three amendments, which have not been selected and to which I do not intend to refer, knowing your hawk-like eye in these matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is a pleasure to see that the Govment have taken the point, and amendments Nos. 27 and 29 certainly leave no doubt as to the intention not to force museums and so on to accept property accepted in lieu against their will.

I wonder why a similar amendment has not been made to clause 9 (1). Perhaps it is simply to ensure that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue have to accept Ministers' directions. I should like to ask why there has not been a similar amendment to clause 9 (1). The faithful PPS has left his post, but I see that the Government Whip is there in time of need, so I ask that question.

We again say "Thank you" to my hon. Friend. Many of us are very concerned about this. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and I raised this issue over a long period, when the Bill was first mooted, because directors of our great national museums—indeed, of any museums—are rightly proud of their reputation, independence and integrity and they did not like to feel that they were being coerced or directed or that there was any chance of that. The point was well made in Committee and it has obviously been well taken. I for one am truly thankful.

These are attempts, it seems to me, to meet—and not altogether successfully—the strong objections which arose from the museums following their somewhat gratuitous insertion, represented by the reference back to clause 3(7) (a), into a subsection drafted for the environment bodies, represented by references back to clause 3(7) (b) and (c). But the phrase in this paragraph "on such conditions as he may direct" is really most inappropriate for and disliked by the museums. It need never have been brought into this if a separate subsection had been devoted to museums alone, as I suggested in my amendment No. 23—which, of course, I do not intend to discuss because it was not selected.

I think that the point could have been met more simply had the Minister listened to us in Committee and, instead of bringing forward this new idea, had used the word "specify" instead of "direct". It seems to me that that would have met the matter more simply and would have been very much in the spirit of what the museums wanted to see.

7.15 pm

I am glad that hon. Gentlemen accept that I have responded to the debate in Committee. We have attempted to do that throughout the Report stage.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked me about clause 9(1). The point there—and I agree that it is not too clear—is that, unlike the position in (2) and (3), where there is an institutional body, there is no institutional body in clause 9(1) to which anything could be referred. But, again, while I cannot give any commitment, I will look at this carefully. I do not think there is a point here; I believe it is clear. We have dealt, through the amendment, with the main point on which the Committee wished to be assured about directions to museums andgalleries concerning objects they might not wish to receive or conditions they would not wish to accept. I believe that we have gone a very long way to meet the wishes of the Committee and I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian is partly reassured, if not totally so. At least, we have gone as far as we possibly can to meet the Committee's views.

I would be totally assured if it were found necessary, after talking to the Government's advisers, to introduce a clearing-up Lords amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 29, in page 6, line 34 after 'person', insert

'who is willing to accept it'.

No. 50, in page 7, line 2 at end insert—

'(5) In exercising their powers under this section in respect of an object or collection or group of objects having a significant association with a particular place, the Ministers shall consider whether it is appropriate for the object, collection or group to be, or continue to be, kept in that place, and for that purpose the Ministers shall obtain such expert advice as appears to them to be appropriate.'.—[Mr. Monro.]