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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord so soon. I took advice on the matter. If the debate continues after the time stated, that is not material. The Minister has as long as he likes to reply.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for that help from the noble Lord, Lord Cope. In that case, to do justice to the many important points that have been made, noble Lords will forgive me if I take more than just two or three minutes to answer the debate. Many of
I shall deal first with the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lords, Lord Freyberg, Lord Cope and Lord Alderdice, about the use of money that will be obtained from the disposal of objects. These, and many other matters, will be addressed in the code of practice. Although it will not have statutory force, nevertheless there are many examples where codes of practice play an important part in governing the proceedings of public bodies. I have no reason to believe that a code of practice applied in this case, and in consultation with the appropriate museum bodies, will not be faithfully adhered to by the new museum body when it is established. We have to have some confidence that a code of practice which is the result of proper consultation would be adhered to and would deal with many of the concerns to which noble Lords have referred today.
Much concern was expressed about the department's position. I say emphatically that it cannot, will not and has no powers to act unilaterally. Apart from the appointment of members of the committee, the department's powers only come into play when the board has itself made certain proposals. The department has, in certain limited cases under Article 5, the power not to consent to a particular disposal. But there is no question of the department being given such wide powers, they only come into action when the board itself has initiated a course of action.
A number of noble Lords asked whether there could be future revisions of the legislation. Of course, nothing is fixed forever. But it would be misleading of the Government to suggest that an early revision of legislation--which will not yet, as it were, receive full parliamentary approval until later on this evening, I trust--is likely or that the legislative timetable would permit it. It is not an assurance that I could give with any honesty and therefore I do not intend to give it.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and others, talked about precedence. The legislation covers only Northern Ireland. Any changes to legislation governing museums in England, Wales or Scotland would have to be brought forward and considered in the usual way. So unless one is saying that anything that happens anywhere is a precedent for anything elsewhere--I hope that noble Lords are not saying that--then we are not establishing a precedent. This is legislation intended to cover the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland.
A number of noble Lords said that there had been a lack of consultation. Perhaps I may explain the procedure. The draft order received full consultation over a lengthy period. As a result of that consultation, certain changes were made. It is not the usual practice to consult again on those changes, but in this particular instance further consultation was entered into. It is that second phase of consultation that did not have the full time period attached to it that some noble Lords would have wished. I understand the point, but we have gone in for more consultation in this particular instance than is normally the case with Northern Ireland legislation. I give noble
A question was asked about more information on the code of practice. That will be for determination by the museum and by the Museums and Galleries Commission. It will be in accordance with national guidelines. I do not believe that it will be possible to give more information on the code of practice until such consultations and discussions have been embarked on.
I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, asked about the cost of the new institution. I cannot give a full answer to that. The new body is not expected to cost more than the three existing bodies which will be included in it, although there will be some transitional costs associated with the changes that will have to take place. I believe that ultimately the new body will be more economic than the three bodies, but that is speculation on my part. If I am able to get more detailed information on that, I shall write to the noble Earl.
He also asked why there were not two university appointments on the new body. The underlying principle is that there were to be no rights of representation on the new board, but that the department will consult a wide range of bodies, including the universities, about appointments. They will be made on individual merit as regards the new procedures for public appointments. We believe that that will result in the best board that can be achieved for the new body.
My noble friend Lord Strabolgi asked about taking the order at short notice. It was laid on 25th November, which is nearly two months ago. It was considered in the other place on 10th December. But I regret that noble Lords did not have as much notice as they would have wished. I do not know why that is the case. I am sorry if noble Lords had notice only yesterday that the order was to be taken today.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to the desirability of introducing a further amending order. I have already replied to that. That is not an undertaking that the Government can possibly give as we only now have the new legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, spoke about the use of moneys for the general requirement of museums. That will definitely be covered in the code of practice to which the new board will have to adhere.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, spoke about the control to be exercised by the department. The control by the department relates to proper procedures and safeguards. I believe that the right balance has been achieved between the responsibilities and powers of the department and those of the board. I believe that the department's control has been reduced compared with the original proposal which went out for consultation. I appreciate that in relation to an issue as difficult as this the accusation can always be made that insufficient time for consultation has been allowed. However, I believe that in this case reasonable time has been allowed and that has been accepted by the bodies consulted.
I turn to the nub of the issue: Article 5. At the risk of repeating myself, any initiative on disposals-- I understand that noble Lords are concerned mainly with Article 5(4)--must come from the board itself. There is
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, perhaps I may put the question back to the noble Lord. He has made much of the protection that exists. He has said that the board must initiate matters and that the department does not intervene. The whole point is that the department has taken over control of the business of the appointment of the chair and the board. It is no longer in the hands of those who make representations. The board can be hired and fired by the department and yet we are supposed to believe that it is an arm's length arrangement. That is the problem, and the attempts by the noble Lord to reassure the House must fall and break on that particular rock.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord goes a little further than the facts justify. Many public appointments are made by departments in Northern Ireland. I am not aware that that gives the particular appointing department those powers or that those powers are exercised in the way suggested by the noble Lord. In my experience, boards and committees are appointed by departments. I make some of those appointments myself. From that point onwards the persons appointed under the public appointments procedures are appointed on merit and exercise their powers without the department breathing down their necks. I believe that it is beyond reasonable expectation that the department would exercise a tyrannical hold on this new board in the way that the noble Lord suggests. I do not believe that is how it will be or that the people appointed will allow the department to behave in that way.
I believe the real safeguard is that only the board can initiate some of these matters and that the department can then say "No" to the board. I have indicated the very limited circumstances in which the department would allow an original trust or condition to be breached. I remind noble Lords of the example that I gave. If the board of a museum felt that a particular artefact or exhibit could more properly be displayed perhaps in a local museum run by a district council where it would be more relevant to the local community, in such a case the department might allow the original trust or condition to be breached.
I understand the concerns but I believe that there is very little scope for the realisation of them. I believe that the safeguards in the order are pretty good ones. I do not believe that we can talk about new legislation. I believe that when tested the safeguards will prove adequate and that when noble Lords see how the safeguards operate, they will be satisfied that there is no need for further legislation in the foreseeable future. I beg to move.
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