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British Museum: Bernard Shaw Bequest

2.45 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I must tell the noble Lord that I took tea with George Bernard Shaw in the summer of 1940. He did not vouchsafe his intentions to me, partly because he had not finalised his will but partly because I was only seven years old at the time.

The formal position is that George Bernard Shaw's bequest to the trustees of the British Museum is unrestricted. The trustees therefore have discretion over the use to which such funds are put. They have decided that the immediate priority for the Shaw Fund should be to underwrite the refurbishment of, and provision of access to, the Reading Room as part of the British Museum's Great Court project. The Reading Room, recently vacated by the British Library, will contain, after refurbishment, an information centre for the public and a public reference library.

We consider that this is an appropriate use of the Shaw Fund which is wholly consistent with George Bernard Shaw's intentions. However, we expect that once the Great Court project has been completed, the British Museum trustees will honour the decision of the trustees in 1959, reported to the House of Commons by Sir Edward Boyle, that the fund would in due course be used primarily for the use of the Library.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, and in particular for his encouraging words

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in the latter part of it. But the noble Lord will know that over the years the trustees of the British Museum have--shall we say?--been rather niggardly in honouring Bernard Shaw's manifest intentions, despite the promise that was given to Sir Edward Boyle in 1959, as reported to another place. What steps do the Government propose to take if this situation were allowed to continue?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Over the period since 1973, and the British Library Act, Library acquisitions have gained only £23,000 a year from the Shaw Fund. I can assure the noble Lord that if the trustees were to renege on the decision of 1959 we would not shrink from legislative action.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, what is the total amount of funds now standing in the Shaw bequest?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the total figure is just under £7 million, although of course there is a substantial commitment of guarantee towards the Great Court scheme. Fortunately the European Union has encouraged us, indeed forced us, to extend the period of copyright for 70 years. Therefore there are 22 years still to run.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, may I raise a question as one who serves on the governing body of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which is one of the three residuary legatees that Shaw intended to benefit equally from his will? Is the Minister aware that the RADA annual reports show that we, one of the three residuary legatees, received £2.1 million just since 1993 from this source? Surely the amount at £23,000 a year that is currently going to the British Library, even given the expression "in due course", is rather niggardly in comparison?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am of course aware, as I have George Bernard Shaw's will in front of me, that the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art was one of the three residuary legatees. However, I am not aware of the use which it has made of its funds. The British Museum trustees from an early stage built up an endowment rather than spending the money on an annual basis.

Lord Annan: My Lords, can the Minister say precisely what is the present value of the Shaw Fund, and what income it will receive each year from the Shaw estate? The noble Lord will no doubt recollect that, several years ago, when the British Library asked for funds to purchase Ellen Terry's letters to Shaw, it was met with a prevaricating answer. Any attempt to ascertain the precise state of the Shaw Fund became impossible because the trustees of the British Museum had merged that trust fund with all other trust funds from the point of view of investment. Is the Minister aware that refurbishment of the Reading Room could take a very long time and cost whatever the British Museum cares to charge against that particular account?

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Therefore I share the doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, as to whether the assurance given at the end of the Minister's statement is of great value.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord should think that. I believed that I was unequivocal in expressing for the first time the Government's views about what should happen to the Shaw Fund. I have already said that there is almost £7 million in the Shaw Fund. I do not know what will accrue to the fund in the future. Nobody knows. There could be a revival of "My Fair Lady" or another musical based on a Shaw play.

As to the cost and timing of the Great Court scheme, it is planned that the scheme will be completed in about 18 months' time. Most of the funding has already been obtained from other sources. So the guarantee that has been given from the Shaw Fund is a minor part of the total funding. We hope that as little of it as possible will need to be used.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, for those of us who are not familiar with the details of this bequest, will the Minister clarify whether continuing royalties for recent or future productions of Shaw's plays will accrue to the fund? Also, will they accrue from general sales of his work, and from musicals?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the answer to both questions is yes.

Pensioners: Income Entitlement Claims

2.52 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any new plans to assist the poorest pensioners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, an estimated 1 million pensioners do not take up the income support they are entitled to. Around 60 per cent. of those are over 75, and 70 per cent. of them are single women. These are the poorest pensioners who are missing out on an average of nearly £17 per week. From this April, we started pilot projects in nine areas of the country to find the best way of encouraging pensioners to make a claim for income support. We are also experimenting with ways of making the delivery mechanism more automatic to help pensioners claim their entitlement in future.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, I appreciate that poorer pensioners have benefited from the Chancellor's concessions over fuel and from other improvements. However, does my noble friend agree that poorer pensioners were done a grave disservice by the previous government who removed the linkage between pensions and average earnings? Is it not therefore understandable that a key demand of the recent pensioners' convention was for a return to that linkage? Does my noble friend

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agree that under a government dedicated to the principle of social justice poorer pensioners should be given a high priority?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend's last point; namely, that the poorest pensioners should be a priority for this Government--as indeed they are. That is precisely why we have developed pilot schemes to ensure that the poorest pensioners take up their entitlement, as they should and as we believe they ought to. Seventeen pounds a week would make a substantial difference to them. We are well aware of the agenda of the National Pensions Convention. My honourable friend in another place, Mr. John Denham, has had regular, helpful and useful meetings with Jack Jones and the convention. I believe there have been five meetings altogether in which the issue of pensions uprating was discussed.

It is true that had pensions retained their link with earnings as compared to prices since 1979 a single pensioner would be better off by an average of £20 per week. That said, the real way to help pensioners have a prosperous old age is to ensure that they have a secure, decent and good second-tier pension. Pensions linking is one thing, but the main way of springing pensioners into prosperity is to ensure a good, secure second pension. That depends on good jobs and a sound economy.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the noble Baroness has not really answered the Question, which refers to new plans. She referred to plans that are already known. Are we to understand that we must await a Green Paper before knowing of any new plans? In that context, is she in a position to tell the House when that is likely to be published?

On her point about the take-up of income support, of which all of us are in favour, will the noble Baroness explain why the Government's expenditure plans indicate that the number of elderly claiming income support is expected to fall in 1998-99? Does the noble Baroness agree that the position of second pensions was seriously damaged by the action taken regarding income tax by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget? That action seriously affected the position of second pensioners. We cannot have confidence if that is the case.

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