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Lord Freyberg: My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken this evening I agree that the real

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danger from which all other national museums and galleries in the UK must be protected is that of precedent. If in Ulster this amalgamation of institutions results in the de-accessioning by DENI of what are deemed duplicates, by whatever means, and without following the procedures normal in England, this will imply that all other galleries in England, and perhaps in Scotland--though other rules apply there--have a precedent that enables them to de-accession exhibits that are surplus or irrelevant to the collections.

There was some de-accessioning a generation ago of a kind unlikely ever to happen again, lending strength to the argument that de-accessioning should always be avoided. The most notorious example is the Lady Lever Gallery at Port Sunlight in 1958, when many very considerable works of art were sold at auction at Christie's to the regret, 25 years later, of the new staff and trustees of the gallery. The V&A in 1960 could not even be bothered to sell its surplus drawings by Burne-Jones, and its youngest curator was instructed to burn them in a bonfire. Tastes change with the generations, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has already mentioned, and we must guard against precedent for wanton dispersal.

Is there any way in which the Minister can ensure that what has happened in Ulster cannot be treated as a precedent in England?

Just as worrying, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has already mentioned, is the lack of a clause defining the use to which moneys raised by the disposal may be put. For all other museums in Britain, Clause 4(7) of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 decrees that moneys resulting from disposals

    "shall be applied by the Board in the acquisition of relevant objects to be added to their collection".

Although the Minister has given us an assurance that moneys raised by disposal will be used in this way, without such a clause it is impossible to ensure that moneys so raised will not be syphoned off into the general funding requirement of the museum. That would be both contrary to the Museums Association's Ethical Guidelines and the Museums and Galleries Commission's Guidelines for Registered Museums, and might eventually force the museum to consider disposing of items for financial gain rather than curatorial reasons. Worse still, funds may not be protected for the use of the museum but may find their way into the general purse of DENI. Again, I hope the Minister is correct in what he says.

There have been suggestions that to counter these omissions--if they are omissions--a code of practice will later be introduced. A code of practice, easily abused and more easily forgotten, offers no long-term protection to the national museums.

8.24 p.m.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, I would like to say a few short words in the gap. From time to time Northern Ireland business is put on last thing on a Thursday when most Northern Ireland noble Lords have gone home. But on this occasion it is even worse. This order was only

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put on the Order Paper yesterday and we were given the absolute minimum of notice. I do not think that is a proper way in which to treat this House.

I wish to add to what some other noble Lords have said about Article 5. Reservations have been expressed about that in a letter from the Museums and Galleries Commission, which is the government advisory body for museums and galleries, and it should be given due weight.

I do not intend to go into other parts of the order simply because I have not been given time in which to consider them. But Article 5, as other noble Lords have said, provides that the board shall not dispose of any object the property in which is vested in it and which is comprised in its collections except in accordance with the provisions of the article. Paragraph (2)(e) says that this can be done when the department consents to the disposal. But an object may only be disposed of, as mentioned in paragraph (2)(a), (b) or (c) but not (d) or (e), where the disposal is not inconsistent with any trust or condition, express or implied, prohibiting or restricting the disposal of the object.

Paragraph (4) says:

    "An object may be disposed of as mentioned in paragraph (2)(d) or (e) notwithstanding a trust or condition (express or implied) prohibiting or restricting the disposal of the object".

That is a very wide power to give. Normally the variation of trust can only be done by the High Court but in this case it is proposed that it should be done at the say-so of the department.

The noble Lord said that many of the provisions in the order are unlikely to be used. In that case why put them in the order at all? He may give undertakings but he cannot bind his successors. He cannot say at no time in the future will these things ever be done.

It has been suggested, and I agree, that amendments should be made to the order. That, of course, is the difficulty. We, even though we are called a revising Chamber, are not allowed to alter the order. There should have been a proper Bill with both Houses able to propose amendments. The subject could even have been included in a Bill covering the whole of the United Kingdom.

8.26 p.m.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, may I contribute also briefly in the gap to add some news from the front, as it were. By an extraordinary coincidence I was lecturing last night at the Ulster Museum. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, is not overstating the situation when he says there is colossal concern about the potential impact of Article 5.

I accept entirely what the Minister says. His assurances are generous and go as far as they possibly can. I ask him to remember, however, that future or potential benefactors of the museum will be entirely reliant on the text of those assurances. Unfortunately, the rather clumsy wording of the order fails to give them the reassurance that any benefactor has every entitlement to seek in making a gift.

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8.27 p.m.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I find myself unusually rising in the gap because of the very late notice in regard to the order which led to a degree of confusion in the usual channels. Messages do not appear to have been transmitted.

I speak as one who was a member of the board of the Ulster Museum from 1993 to 1997. I have no doubt that the Minister is transmitting entirely faithfully the briefs he has been given. I have to tell him of the considerable concern felt by myself, other board members and senior members of staff in the whole matter of the merger of the three museums. But the view was that the department was so determined to proceed down this route that any obstruction would simply be brushed to the side. Now, as mentioned by noble Lords, the matter has proceeded to the point where it is rather like planning blight into an old house. To not proceed now would be more disastrous than anything else. It is not because there is happiness about the proposition.

The relative suddenness with which the order has appeared before your Lordships' House appears to be consistent with what has happened before in respect of the order. When the redrafted order came to the Ulster Museum it was again with only a day or two's notice and there was no possibility of proper consideration. We need to ask why. There is one common feature covering a whole series of issues. The very doubtful article on the disposal of materials has already been mentioned. I shall not revisit it because of the problems of time. Another issue is the appointment of chairman and of board members, not as representatives coming from the community but top down from the department.

The Minister says there is a guarantee of consultation. That means consultation with the district councillors and the education and library boards. There are 26 district councils and five education and library boards. Proper consultation of one meeting a week would take almost a whole year. Is that the kind of consultation one would have with proper representatives who had right of being on the board? I say that that is not so. All the way through the order one finds that the Department of Education is insisting on controlling what is going on.

In another place the Minister with responsibility indicated that in the contentious and sectarian atmosphere of Northern Ireland there had been difficulties in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and that therefore the Department of Education needed to have its fatherly hand in to make sure that there was not misbehaviour. I would be rather more convinced of that if it were not the case that this was the department that presided over the apartheid in education and proved so obstructive to the development of integrated education.

I have profound concerns about the order. I am clear that certain of the provisions give good reason for concern. I am clear that many of those involved as staff and board members in the various organisations have deep concerns about the matter. I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Minister that there will be words in the record or even regulations and that the Government will seriously consider revisiting the whole

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matter with some amendments in legislation which will give due protection and not establish a precedent not only for Northern Ireland but elsewhere.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as has emerged in the debate, this order has been sprung on the House. We have known it was coming since November, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, indicated, it was put down on the Order Paper only yesterday. That might not have mattered much if the order was uncontentious or if the timing of the debate had been a little more convenient. But neither of those things is true. The contentious nature of the order has come out clearly in the course of this short debate, and this time of the week is not a convenient one for Northern Ireland Lords in particular and for those who have to travel long distances.

There was no great urgency for this debate which might have excused the timing. It was debated in another place on 10th December and it was a sharp debate then which left many unanswered questions. As the debate in your Lordships' House was so delayed, I thought it possible that the order might be withdrawn and amended on the lines that had already become clear both from the debate itself and from representations sent in by museum interests on both sides of the water. Indeed, that is what should have happened. It could perfectly well have happened.

Instead of that the Government have taken some weeks considering the points made in the representations and in the debate in the other place and have then decided to press ahead with the order unchanged, despite the criticism, and give out instead a series of ministerial assurances saying that they do not really mean what is in the order and that they are not going to use the powers which they are asking Parliament to give them. The Minister read out assurances this evening in precisely the same terms. I was following them in the correspondence and they have also been sent out in the past few days to the Museums Association and to my honourable friend in another place who spoke in the debate. Those ministerial assurances are not anything like as good as rewording the order, which is what should have happened here.

We do not disagree with the main purpose of the order and we support the proposed merging of the museums. It is the more detailed provisions that are contentious, as has emerged in the debate. Article 5 concerns the sale of objects from national collections. The 1992 Act, as far as concerns England and Wales, took the view that disposals from national collections should never be of objects accepted on condition that they are not sold, that they should in other cases be subject to strict conditions, that they should be the decision of the relevant trustees themselves, and that the proceeds of any sales should be used solely to acquire new objects for the collection in question.

That seems to me, and, much more importantly, to many in the museums and galleries world and to noble Lords who have spoken, to be a satisfactory policy. But it is not the policy embodied in the order. Logically, it

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seems to me either that the new Government have a different national policy about disposals--one which anticipates greater disposals by museums--or else that there are some special features of Northern Ireland museums which lead to the possibility--or, I suppose, the desirability--of extra disposals. It does not seem to me that there are special features of Northern Ireland museums which should lead to a greater or different disposal policy from the national disposal policy. Nor do I think it desirable to change the national disposal policy in the way the order does for Northern Ireland.

Concern has already been expressed about the position of donors. Article 5(4) is the most difficult and dangerous part of the whole order. It provides that any stipulation of a donor or the terms of a trust--perhaps a deed of gift or a will--which is intended to limit the ability of the museum to sell something can be completely over-ruled and made legally void by the stroke of a departmental pen. However, when an owner gives a valuable object of whatever kind to a museum, he does so because he wants people to be able to see it in the museum and not to have it sold. If he wanted to make the museum rich he need not bother to give it the artifact. He would give the museum money instead which the museum could spend.

The fact that the provision is in the order in respect of Northern Ireland museums means that a similar provision could be put in place for England, for Wales or for Scotland, thus destroying the donor's ability to attach any conditions to a gift in those jurisdictions as well as in Northern Ireland. That is why there is great concern in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland about this provision. It is believed--I think correctly--that it will deter donors even in England, because it has been inserted retrospectively, as it were, so far as the donor is concerned, in Northern Ireland legislation.

There is no provision for limiting what the money raised by the sale of artefacts can be spent on. There is a natural suspicion that at some point the department might press the Ulster museums to sell objects in order to finance their day to day expenditure. Whatever reassurances we are given by Ministers at this time, that, as I understand it, could happen in law as the order stands. It is therefore important that the Minister is very specific in the undertakings he gives in this respect in regard to Northern Ireland. I hope that he will also give us assurances that it is not the intention to apply provisions of this character in the other parts of the United Kingdom.

There are other concerns arising from the order, some of which have been put by the Museums and Galleries Commission, the Government's own advisory body, which are covered by the general phrase that the Government, in the person of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, are taking greater powers unto themselves and limiting the independence of the trustees.

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The Museums and Galleries Commission said in its submission on the order,

    "The degree to which the order gives the Department of Education of Northern Ireland control over the new institution goes beyond that in force for any of the other national museums and galleries in the United Kingdom".

That was discussed in the debates in the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, the Minister explained that it was because of problems that there had been at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. I accept that there is a reason for particular care over the choice of trustees arising from the nature of the Northern Ireland community, but stringent powers over the actions of the trustees, once appointed, goes much further still and is provided for in this order. Again, I hope that this will not be a precedent for the other parts of the United Kingdom.

Concern has also been expressed at the diminution in the powers of the local authorities. They are being stopped from direct intervention. They are also to be consulted by the board, for what that is worth. They are also to be consulted on the appointment of trustees, but not until the board has been in existence for 12 months. The initial appointment of trustees can be done under the order without consulting local government or anybody else. That provision only comes into force after the order has been in place for 12 months. In any case, it runs counter to the general wish of giving more powers to local authorities in Northern Ireland.

There was clearly, as it emerged in the debate, a lack of effective consultation before the order was laid. There are errors in it which have not been corrected since they have been pointed out and since publication. That has led Ministers to say that they will not use the powers given by the order. But the correct course, as has been said by several noble Lords this evening, is to withdraw the order and table a corrected version. I believe that this has been a reflection of the arrogance of the department in particular and of the Government in general. It has been a mismanaged episode and a bad piece of legislation. We should pass it tonight in order to avoid the confusion that would otherwise result, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the order will be replaced by one with more satisfactory wording at the earliest convenient opportunity, following adequate consultation.

8.43 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I fear that I have three and a half minutes to deal with many important issues--

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