HL Deb 31 March 1980 vol 407 cc1189-93

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


[References are to Bill (159) as first printed for the Lords. Commons Amendments are printed in italics.]


1 Page 2, line 2, leave out from "appointed" to end of line 4 and insert"by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister."

The Commons agreed to this Amendment hut make the following Amendment thereto:

2 Line 2, leave out "the Crown on the advice of".


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2 to the Lords Amendment No. 1. When we debated this matter on Report and in Committee, the view was put very forcefully by a number of speakers here that the prestige and independence of the trustees and the integrity of the resources of the fund should be safeguarded by the appointment of the trustees lying not with the Ministers, within whose policy area the fund will actually operate, but with the Crown or the Prime Minister. Although there are precedents for appointment of a whole body by the Crown, they relate to bodies set up in the form of Royal Commissions and to bodies of considerable constitutional importance—such as the Bank of England. It is, however, the case that the Prime Minister appoints the trustees of a number of national museums and galleries. That, in fact, dates back to the time when the Treasury had departmental responsibility for the arts and it was in the capacity of First Lord of the Treasury that the Prime Minister originally made these appointments.

None the less, in view of the strong feeling expressed on the need to assure the independence and standing of the trustees, the Government suggest that it would be appropriate to follow this precedent, and propose instead that appointments should be made by the Prime Minister. Amendments to that effect were passed in another place and they deal with the question of appointment in Clause 1 and with the termination of appointment in Schedule 1.

I have, however, to add that one result of the amendments to Clause 2 agreed here and in another place is that it has not yet been possible to proceed with the appointment of the chairman and trustees of the fund, now the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, until these appointments have been made it will not be possible to open any account to receive the capital sums from the National Land Fund, and therefore my comments to your Lordships on Report about interest payable on the capital are invalidated, as we then expected that the chairman and trustees would be appointed by 1st April. However, I can give noble Lords the assurance that the Government will now proceed as quickly as is practicable with the necessary appointments, which we expect to be made very shortly. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2 to the Lords Amendment No.1.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

2.50 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, although we are pleased that the amendments passed by this House have been accepted by another place, a point has been raised which gives rise to some concern. Just now the noble Lord said that the monies cannot he paid into the fund until the chairman and the trustees have been appointed, and that that matter has been delayed.

I would refer the noble Lord to column 825 of the Official Report of 11th March when we took the Committee stage of the Bill. I specifically put to him: If by any unhappy. unlikely and unfortunate chance … there is any delay, do I assume that the interest on the capital will be paid? This amounts to about £100,000 a month, and it would be disastrous if the fund did not get this right from the beginning". There were a number of other interventions and then the noble Lord said: A little angel has just wafted me information. I can tell the House that interest will be paid on the capital. I take that to mean that it Will be paid as front 1st April, whether it is paid in or not. I quite appreciate that the amendment may have caused some days' delay in the appointments, but I am concerned that the fund should not lose this interest which, according to what the noble Lord has just said, appears will be the case. Surely as it accumulates the interest can be retained for the fund and paid in directly the chairman and the quorum of trustees have been appointed so that they can sign for it? It would seem to me to be not only entirely unfair, but quite contrary to what the noble Lord said on 11th March if, in fact, this money is lost. As I think we are all agreed—both in this House and in another place—that due to the economic circumstances the fund will not be over-endowed when it starts, these thousands of pounds—and it could be a minimum of £25,000—are quite substantial.


My Lords, your Lordships may recall that on the Report stage I tabled two amendments. One concerned whether the appointment of the trustees should be in the hands of the Crown, as advised by the Prime Minister; or, alternatively, made by the Prime Minister. When faced with the generous capitulation of my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, I had to choose between one of those two, and I apparently chose the wrong one; namely, the first one. However, I must say at once that I am perfectly happy to agree with what the Commons have chosen to do, and I am grateful to my noble friend for his explanation of the reasons for so doing—reasons which, having studied Hansard of another place, I could not find mentioned by anybody,

On the matter of finance, which has been sprung on us at the last minute, I am very surprised. The original Clause 18 was removed from the Bill at Report stage at the request of the Government, and I cannot but feel that they should have made it clear to the House at that stage what the result would be. The amount involved is fairly considerable in the terms of the trust, but presumably the interest is now accruing to the National Land Fund, is it not? Can we have an answer to that and know why the interest cannot be transferred with the other funds to the Heritage Fund in due course? Apart from that, I hope that we shall agree with the Commons in what they have done.


My Lords, if I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, we on this side are content with the appointment arrangements, but we are thoroughly upset by the assurance which was given to a most specific question by my noble friend Lady Birk, who said: If by any unhappy, unlikely and unfortunate chance-not to do with your Lordships' House-there is any delay …". We were given a positive assurance that this would be dealt with.

I can quite see that if there is no chairman and, therefore, there is no existing body by which the interest accruing on the large number of millions, which we are looking for to be transferred from the National Land Fund, can be received, there may have to be a delay in paying it; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, suggests, this money will accumulate where it normally would if there had been no change, and can then be transferred. Anything less than an assurance on those lines seems to me to be a breach of the Government's promise to the House, given by their Minister in this House, in answer to an absolutely specific question. I do not think that the House should accept it. However, I feel sure that the noble Lord will be able to say something reassuring before we finish.


My Lords, I can only come to the Box and say that I apologise; there was a misunderstanding. The legal position is that the fund can be administered only by the trustees, and only they can put it in an interest-bearing deposit. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, had we kept Clause 18, I am advised that it would not have helped. It is only a matter of a few days. I do not anticipate that it will be long before the trustees are appointed.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would, perhaps, add to what he said? He said that the money cannot be received until there is someone who can legally receive it. I accept that. But I am concerned about the situation as it accumulates, which it would, and this has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, and by my noble friend Lord Donaldson. Can we be assured that eventually, after the appointment of the chairman and trustees, that money will be paid into the fund? That is what we want to know. I am very concerned that it should not be lost or retained by the Treasury, or that it will I not reach the fund at some point.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, my understanding is that as soon as the trustees and chairman have been appointed the money can and will be paid.


My Lords, surely that is not the question which has been put. In the meantime interest is accumulating on this sum. Can the Government undertake that when ultimately it is paid over, that interest which has accumulated will be transferred to the Heritage Fund?


My Lords, I am not in a position to give a guarantee of that sort at this moment.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

2.58 p.m.

Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON moved Amendments Nos. 3 to 7:



3 Page 12, line 23, leave out "either of the Ministers" and insert "the Prime Minister"

4 line 25, leave out "Ministers" and insert "Prime Minister"

5 line 26, leave out "they are" and insert he is"

6 line 37, leave out "Ministers" and insert "Prime Minister's"

7 Page 13, line 5, leave out "either of the Ministers" and insert "the Prime Minister"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move these Amendments en bloc.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in their consequential Amendments Nos. 3 to 7 inclusive.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.