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Lord Rees: My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene in order to ask a question? Having looked as carefully as I can at Article 5, it seems to me that the board can make a proposal without explaining the reason and, provided the department consents, that proposal will become effective. The Minister has tried to reassure us by saying, "Yes, but there will be a code of practice". But that will not have any statutory force. A disposal that appeared to conflict with the broad principle that he is adumbrating could not be challenged in the courts. Is my reading of the order correct?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps I could return to that point. I think I could give an answer off the cuff, but I would rather consider the matter and return to it towards the end of the debate, if the noble Lord agrees. Article 5 is quite complicated and I spent a lot of time discussing with officials the specific meaning of it. Perhaps I may answer briefly and then come back to it later.

If the museum authorities under the new arrangements wish to dispose of an artefact in accordance with the trust under which it was established, then that would be an order. That is a constraint which would be similar to that which applies to museums generally. However, if they wish to dispose of an artefact against the original trust, then they would not be allowed to do so unless the department itself gave them permission. That is a double lock. It is an additional safeguard to ensure that a museum, if it wished to breach the trust under which it operates, could only do so with the department's consent. That is essentially the way the matter would operate, unless we are talking about damaged items and others which would have no intrinsic value, where such disposal would be permitted; but, in addition, there would be a

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code of practice guiding the overall approach to that. I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes to pursue the matter.

Lord Rees: My Lords, I apologise for taking up more of the Minister's time, but, as I read it, the department does not have to relate its consent to any particular set of criteria in this order, or indeed in any other statute. I am sure it would not be, but it might be entirely capricious. I do not know whether the action of the board could be impugned on that ground, but it does not seem that the department has to give any explanation of the reasons for giving the consent to the disposal. It may be that I have not understood the position correctly and perhaps the Minister can reassure me and the House.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord is unduly apprehensive. There would have to be a combination of the most unusual circumstances for the board of the museum to behave capriciously and for the department also to give its consent capriciously. What we have in the role of the department is an additional safeguard to ensure that all is handled properly but, essentially, the disposal of artefacts would be governed by the trusts covering the work of the museum and it would be only in cases, as I said earlier, where the museum wished to breach such a trust, that they would also have to get the department's approval, and the department's approval would normally not be forthcoming.

We therefore have two safeguards, whereas it is my understanding that in the case of most museums there is only one safeguard, so we are simply using the department as an additional safeguard. That is the basis of the assurance I am seeking to give. I will proceed, if I may. When I have reflected on what the noble Lord said, I may wish to add further comment when I wind up.

I now wish to turn to Article 6, which provides for the transfer of any body, by agreement, to the new institution and explain that the primary purpose of this article is to enable the board to enter into an agreement for the transfer and management of the Ulster American Folk Park on agreed terms and conditions approved by the department. I stress that the folk park will not be forced to transfer into the new institution. It will take place only on terms which are mutually agreed. I am confident that this is possible and will be in the best interests of the folk park and the new institution itself.

Another main issue which emerged from consultation was the degree of influence and control by the department over the new institution's procedures and activities. Many of the comments received stressed the importance of ensuring an arm's length relationship. The Government have carefully considered these comments and have also taken into account the need for it to be assured that the new institution is properly accountable for its actions. They have therefore relaxed some of the original provisions. For example, in Schedule 1, in relation to the membership of the board, the requirement that the vice-chairman should be appointed by the head of the department has been removed and substituted by provisions enabling the

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trustees to elect one of their number as vice-chairman. All provisions for the appointment to the board of a departmental nominee have been deleted.

Only two changes have been made to strengthen the provisions. Firstly, a trustee may be removed when he or she fails to comply with the terms of appointment; secondly, the department will approve the standing orders of the board and its committees and sub-committees.

Overall, the Government's intention is that the department's controls will focus on proper systems and accountability and not on interference in decision making and it is believed that the changes made will achieve the right balance between autonomy and accountability.

Inevitably, there will be a degree of reorganisation to facilitate the merger and smooth transfer will be essential to maintain stability as the museums move to a single management framework. The detailed transfer provisions are contained in Schedule 2 to the order. In particular, these provisions ensure that staff transferring to the new institution will do so on the basis of existing terms and conditions. This is in accordance with requirements relating to the transfer of undertakings. Any changes to those terms and conditions will be negotiable through the ordinary course of industrial relations.

I am aware that the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, the union which represents employees of the museums, has sought certain assurances relating to the position of staff transferring to the new institution, including their pension arrangements.

I can confirm that the new institution will continue the existing arrangements whereby the staff of the Ulster Museum and Ulster Folk and Transport Museum participate in the Northern Ireland Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme. Employees of the Ulster American Folk Park participate in the Local Government Officers' Scheme and a proposal that on transfer they would switch to the Civil Service Scheme is currently under consideration. My understanding is that the switch would not be to the detriment of these staff. Beyond that, the Government cannot be definitive, as the handling of the various issues will be for the board and management of the new institution to resolve. However, the Government will require the new institution to promote good industrial relations and to treat its staff fairly and with consideration.

Finally, I wish to turn to Articles 12 to 14 which are largely a continuation of the existing legislation empowering district councils to provide museums and galleries. However, the new order removes the need for the department to have an approval role in relation to district council expenditure. Instead, a modified control has been introduced, requiring district councils to consult the department, and any body that the department may determine, on museum provision. Government have in mind, for instance, that the district councils should consult the Northern Ireland Museums Council, a non-statutory body, part of whose remit, as I

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said, is to advise on local museum provision. I consider that this alternative arrangement will assist in promoting a more strategic approach to local museum provision.

In conclusion, I have dealt with the main provisions of the order. The remaining provisions are largely of an administrative nature in relation to such matters as by-laws and provision for annual reports, and accounts by the new merged institution. My Lords, I commend the order to the House.

8.6 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I am adding my voice to those who will express concern this evening about certain aspects of this draft order. I thank the Minister for his reassurances. No one to whom I have spoken is of the opinion that there is anything Machiavellian behind the wording of Articles 5(2)(d) and (e) and 5(4) of the order, which deal with the disposal of art objects. However, Picasso once said that the most interesting thing about paintings was their mistakes--and sometimes mistakes lead you down new roads, whether they are right or wrong ones.

The Museums and Galleries Commission, the National Art Collections Fund, the Ulster museums, Members of Parliament and others have all expressed concern over the powers seemingly given to DENI to dispose of artworks. I have these concerns, too, even after the reassurances carefully spelt out by the Minister. One of the major concerns is that, even if without intending to do so, this order sets a precedent within the UK, going against the accepted understanding of art works as "inalienable cultural assets" as defined in the Government review, Treasures in Trust. There are those who would be happier if the "or" at the end of Article 5(2)(d) of the order was changed to "and", so that the department has always to act in consultation with the board, and not capriciously or unilaterally. My view is that it would be safer if Article 5(2)(e) were to be entirely removed. Also, it is serious that Article 5(4) allows the breaking of trusts.

It has to be noted that the idea of departmental intervention as far as the UK is concerned is new, anyway. The Museums and Galleries Act 1992, on which the order is modelled in relation to the disposal of art objects, makes no provision at all for this kind of intervention. If that is so, how can the Minister describe the problematic articles as providing "enabling powers", if the 1992 legislation has operated without disablement, as one might say?

Another important point in relation to the order is a concern as to how moneys raised by disposal might be used. There is no clause, as appears in the 1992 legislation--Schedule 1 and Clause 4 (7)--which ensures that such moneys would be used for reacquisition.

I also want to mention the fact that the Museums and Galleries Commission, the Ulster museums and the Museums Association among others have expressed concern at the lack of consultation on the order. The Ulster Museum tells me that it received the second draft of the order, containing the problematic articles on disposal, only two days before the Sixth Standing

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Committee on 10th December last. A government which profess a desire for open government should take note of that.

I understand that there would be considerable logistical difficulties if the order were to be withdrawn, and that the process of creating the new board is already well under way. Nevertheless the presence of the clauses may affect benefaction, purely through what is perceived in existing legislation. Also, another government, at a future date, may have quite different ideas as to how to interpret the articles, even with assurances and a code of practice in place. Ideally, the order should be reworded and I ask the Minister whether he intends to revisit the legislation at a future date.

8.11 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. First, I congratulate publicly the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on his appointment. I have no direct interest to declare in Northern Ireland, but 20 years ago I had the privilege to spend 18 months there, wearing uniform. Unfortunately, time and pressure of work did not often enable me to visit museums. However, I am fully aware, having visited many private collections there, of the wealth of property, artifacts, art and culture. As we know, culture belongs to everyone--the rich, the poor, the mighty and the lowly. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on again revisiting this subject, which is dear to the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens.

Alarm bells are now sounding in the museum world. On 18th December we had a debate on free entrance to museums. I know that that is not the subject of today's debate, but I can assure the Minister that many of us, both inside the Chamber and outside and especially those of us who receive information from curators of museums, feel a great uncertainty. I hope that the Minister will today assure us that the Government's aim is to enable the widest access to museums.

I rise to express anxiety, as others will, in relation to Article 5 on the disposal of objects from museums and galleries. The order sets a dangerous precedent in that regard. Why does the Department of State require such wide powers to intervene in disposal decisions?

So far only the figure of £8,000 has been put forward. But what will be the cost of the new board? It will not be that of just one chairman's salary; there must be many administrative costs involved. Will it be more expensive? Will it mean that there is less money for museums and cultures in Northern Ireland? Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on that subject.

I do not like to use the word "quango"; I prefer the phrase, "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation". For a government that is prepared to decentralise, it does not look good when they accept something from a previous administration; that is, another board, another quango. I am also concerned about its composition. We know that two representatives from the universities were members of the old board. Why are they not to be appointed again, or will they be appointed?

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Finally, I am concerned about benefactors; the families of those who have given objects from their possessions and those who will give them in the future. Once the subsection is accepted, future benefactors will not be encouraged to give of their possessions.

I look forward to hearing from other speakers but, like the people of Northern Ireland, I have great misgivings about this article and will listen with care to what my noble friend Lord Alderdice has to say about the opinion of Northern Ireland on the order.

8.16 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, and, like him, I should like to say a few words about Article 5.

First, I greatly regret that the order has been tabled at such short notice. There may be good reasons for that; I do not know. But I have been asking for some while when it would appear, and it did not in fact appear on the Order Paper until yesterday.

Secondly, I welcome the statement by my noble friend about the reservations that noble Lords--the noble Earls, Lord Clancarty and Lord Carlisle, in particular--express in relation to Article 5. It is right that it should be raised in this House; after all, we are a revising Chamber. When the order came before another place, the Minister in reply did not refer to the same reservations expressed by honourable Members.

The defective wording caused considerable concern to the National Art Collections Fund which, as your Lordships know, has 83,000 subscribers and has done so much to preserve our heritage. The right to dispose of art treasures and artifacts from our museums by governments and to overrule the rights of trustees beyond the provisions of the 1992 Act, is a dangerous one. I accept of course the assurances given by my noble friend. I am glad that he made those and they will go into the record. But what will a future Minister or a future government do? At present the wording is defective.

I should have thought that if this kind of power had existed in the past, there would be hardly any Victorian paintings left in our museums. They were not fashionable between the two world wars and now they fetch large prices because tastes change. Certain museums in the United States have sold paintings, including some good impressionist paintings, in order to buy currently fashionable contemporary works which may not stay the course for long. I understand that that is called, "de-accessioning" and in my view it should not be countenanced over here.

I welcome my noble friend's assurances, but it would be much better if the article could be amended by the substitution of the word "and" for "or" in Article 5 (2)(d). I realise that the order cannot be amended, nor can it be rejected; but I hope that my noble friend will introduce an amending order to tidy up what is really very bad drafting and, if it is taken for what it is, a dangerous right to give. I hope that we shall see something done about it in the near future.

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