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Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
Greater London Authority

Greater London Authority Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Edward O'Hara, † Ann Winterton
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Cooper, Yvette (Minister for Housing and Planning)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry)
Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath) (Con)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Neill, Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Pelling, Mr. Andrew (Croydon, Central) (Con)
Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Shaw, Jonathan (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab)
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Keith Neary, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 18 January 2007


[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

Greater London Authority Bill

Clause 42

Period of appointment of Governors to the Board
2 pm
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 67, in clause 42, page 45, line 4, at end add—
‘(3) Nothing in this Part of this Act shall affect the exercise or performance of the general functions of the Board of Governors of the Museum assigned to them by section 3 of the Museum of London Act 1965.’.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Lady Winterton. The Minister and all the Front-Bench spokesmen have expressed their gratitude to Mr. O’Hara for his chairmanship of the Committee. I wish again to place on record our thanks to you for the graceful way in which you have chaired our proceedings and we look forward to serving under your chairmanship for the duration of the Committee.
I hope that the purpose of the amendment will be congenial to the Government. All that we want to do is to provide the Museum of London and those whouse the museum, in particular its governors, withthe reassurance that is implicit in everything that the Government have said so far but which, for the convenience of the future trustees and of the Mayor, might be better written into the Bill. The Minister said that, given that the Museum of London deals so explicitly with London’s history and culture, it makes sense in devolutionary terms for its governance tobe in the hands of the Greater London authority, particularly the Mayor. In broad terms, we can see the logic of that.
I am sure that the Committee will be aware that other museums in London, such as the Horniman museum, have a similar constitution to the Museum of London in that they receive grant-in-aid funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport but have a particular London focus that would not be covered by the amendment. However, it is appropriate that the Museum of London, because of its specific focus on London’s history and culture, which is not shared by the Horniman museum, should have the benefit of the Mayor’s closer attention.
The purpose of the amendment is to deal with the role of the governors who might be appointed by the Mayor in future. One of the issues on which we need greater assurance is how the change of funding will not lead to a diminution in the independence of the trustees and those charged with the governance of the Museum of London. Because grant will come fromthe Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Mayor and he will be responsible for giving that grant to the Museum of London, worry has been expressed that he might use the grant to bend the museum to his particular ideological or cultural preoccupations.
We all know that culture policy can sometimes be used for ideological ends. Whether in Vietnam, Cuba or St. Petersburg, museums that have been erected by people or maintained by Administrations have been used not so much to enlighten and inculcate a sense of pride in the nation’s history, but to press a particular ideological agenda.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Good afternoon, Lady Winterton. It is always a pleasure to serve at your feet. I ask the hon. Gentleman to resist the temptation to paint a picture of the national newt museum or the national comrade newt museum with which he seems to be threatening us. The Horniman museum to which he referred is different from the Museum of London in that it came from a trust on behalf of a family who were originally tea dealers. The house dates back about 200 years. The Museum of London goes back only to 1965, which is why it has a different structure. Whereas there may be charming and delightful aspects to the management of the Horniman museum, they have grown up over hundreds of years. What we are discussing is actually a pretty sensible structure for management, and it is unlikely that it will become the Che Guevara friends of the newt museum in the immediate future.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He underlined the difference in focus and history of the Horniman museum from that of the Museum of London. My point was that current funding arrangements for the Horniman museum and the Museum of London are analogous and we accept that, because of the Museum of London’s distinctive status, it is appropriate that the Mayor should exercise the role envisaged by the Bill for him or for her.
I mentioned Cuba and Vietnam not least because those are two countries that I have visited and whose museums I have had the opportunity to look at. What is striking about the governance of both museums is that they tend to portray one particular slant of the history of both countries in an heroic light. Both museums also seek to demonise other nations in a particular way. I admit that they are examples of museums used for ideological purposes, which are at the further end of our considerations, but it is not impossible for this Mayor, or a future Mayor, to apply pressure through his control of the purse strings to the trustees of the museum that might compromise their essential independence. In pressing this amendment, we seek to secure a provision in the Bill, and an assurance from the Minister, so that the trustees will continue to enjoy the independence that they currently enjoy.
Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Having kept fairly close in previous sittings to the brief as set out in the Bill, are we now getting on to the political knockabout? That may dictate how I allocate my time over the rest of this afternoon and how much attention I pay to what is said. If we are going to hear a lot about Hugo Chavez over the next couple of hours, I have some correspondence to get on with. Will the hon. Gentleman stick to the Bill?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and pleased to add to his convenience in carrying on the voluminous correspondence with his constituents, which is facilitated by the House of Commons grant of an additional £10,000 to all hon. Members enabling them to maintain that close and intimate relationship. I shall not be labouring points about Fidel Castro, Che Guevara or Hugo Chavez at this point, but a new clause later on will give me an opportunity to return specifically to that topic. That is not because the history of Latin American revolution is close to my heart—although it is—but because it is particularly close to the Mayor’s heart and he indulges that passion at the expense of London’s council tax payers. We want to safeguard them, rather than safeguarding some 1968 image of the revolution. We will have an opportunity to return to that matter when dealing with that new clause.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the greatest danger to the Museum of London is not that the Mayor or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are trying to influence it in respect of what it exhibits, but that they may suddenly withdraw funding? Such a fate has caught up with a wonderful small local history museum in the county courthouse in Garratt lane in Wandsworth, which was closed quite peremptorily last week by Wandsworth borough council as a misguided economy measure.
Michael Gove: I am unfamiliar with the details of Wandsworth museum. The history of Wandsworth council’s record of a lower council tax than any other London borough—lower, indeed, than any other borough in the United Kingdom—is one that all hon. Members know and cherish. However, other aspects of the history of Wandsworth and Battersea, not least the fact that Battersea was the first constituency to elect a communist Member of Parliament—
Martin Linton: Shapurji Saklatvala.
Michael Gove: Indeed. Such matters are best commemorated locally. The Wandsworth museum may play a role in doing so, but it is not my role to trespass on the appropriate decisions taken by the locally elected and accountable members of Wandsworth borough council.
Martin Linton: May I recommend that the hon. Gentleman pays that museum a visit before it is closed? He will then be put right on two things. Wandsworth borough council, for all the propaganda that it puts through letterboxes, has not sought to set up a shrine to its low council tax in the Wandsworth museum. In fact, I do not think that it is mentioned at all. However, the hon. Gentleman will see the history of Shapurji Saklatvala, a Labour and also a communist Member of Parliament in the 1920s, although not the first.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I note that that former Member for Battersea was both Labour and communist: he was not the first and I am sure—looking at Committee members today—that he will not be last.
The funding arrangement envisaged for the Museum of London would, essentially, mean funding being split 50/50 between the Corporation of London and the GLA. The GLA portion would, we understand, be a ring-fenced grant from the DCMS. But how ring-fenced would that grant be? In addition to our concern about the way in which the Mayor may use his funding for the museum, potentially, to influence the trustees and the governance and its contents, we are also concerned that he might say thank you to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for that grant and then say, “The exigencies of governing London mean that I’ve got to raid it.” That means that a larger burden potentially falls on the Corporation of London, which may have to go to court to ensure that the Mayor honours his commitment to spend the money that he has been given appropriately. If it does not, it might have to pay rather more than its fair share of the costs of the museum without having the decisive say that the Mayor will have been given in the appointment of governors.
The amendment seeks two assurances from the Minister to the corporation, Londoners and future trustees. First, will the money from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport be effectively ring-fenced so that the corporation is not put into an invidious position and the Mayor can ensure that money set aside for the Museum of London stays there? Secondly, will the absolute independence and integrity of the trustees and those charged with governance of the Museum of London be protected against this Mayor or any future Mayor who attempts to use that prestigious site to push an agenda that is not in the interests of all London?
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Is it not apposite today, given the statement of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the licence fee, to draw a comparison with BBC funding? The BBC’s integrity and independence are enshrined in the Broadcasting Acts and its charter. Is not my hon. Friend asking for a similar assurance? There is a precedent in the BBC. Funding is passed on—in the BBC’s case, from the licence payer through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury, which sets the licence fee—ensuring independence and protection for the BBC’s board of governors. My hon. Friend is asking for similar protection for the Museum of London.
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is well known as a broadcasting expert in both legislative and operational terms, and the distinction that he draws is valid. I appreciate that throughout her time in office, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has had a lively appreciation of how BBC governance can effectively ensure its operational independence.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Hon. Members have asked a series of questions connected with the amendment, and I will try to respond to them. It is the Government’s intention, as the amendment says, that:
“Nothing in this Part of this Act shall affect the exercise or performance of the general functions of the Board of Governors of the Museum assigned to them by section 3 of the Museum of London Act 1965”.
I reiterate the amendment’s wording to put it on the parliamentary record because that is certainly the intention behind the clauses. We do not, however, believe that the amendment is needed. It is unnecessary because it restates the impact of our proposals.
The Bill will not give the GLA and the Mayor any greater power respecting the museum than the Government have under the Museum of London Act 1965, which clearly establishes the board of governors’ functions and powers in relation to the museum’s operations. They include all matters of the care and display of collections, the employment of staff, the loan, acquisition and disposal of objects, the provision of archaeological services and the kinds of exhibition run. None of that will change as a result of the Bill. It will merely amend the 1965 Act to replace references to the Secretary of State with references to the GLA.
2.15 pm
Hon. Members raised specific questions about the appointments process. The nine board members currently appointed by the Prime Minister will in future be appointed by the Mayor, but the City of London will continue to appoint the other nine members to maintain a balance on the board. The museum will continue to be a charity and thus will be bound to ensure that it complies with its duties as set out in the Act.
As far as the funding is concerned, clause 43(5) requires the GLA to pay a sum equal to that given to the museum by the City of London, unless both parties agree that they should pay a different proportion of the expenses incurred by the museum. The City, however, is not obliged to match extra funding provided by the GLA unless it so chooses. So in fact there are far greater obligations on the GLA than on the City to ensure that funding is in place.
We think that the appropriate measures are in place to ensure that the current arrangements and operating procedures of the board and of the museum will continue, but we think that it is right that the current functions exercised by Government Departments and by the Prime Minister should be exercised by the Mayor instead. On that basis I ask the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 43 to 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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Prepared 19 January 2007