The Board's General Functions

Part of National Heritage Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 5th May 1983.

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Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West 8:30 pm, 5th May 1983

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has just said. I do not believe that anyone disagrees with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). In Committee there were some discussions about this point and about a recommendation in the Rayner scrutiny, which did not meet with total favour, about a related point.

I understand the view that people who come in, and have traditionally always done so, to have their objects examined, should not be charged for advice. The Government do not wish that to happen and they do not seek to make the boards charge for such advice. It would be possible for each board to decide not to charge, and I see no reason why they should make such a charge. It has never been done. We are drafting for a long time, and throughout the Bill I have tried to ensure that we draft as flexibly as possible, because we do not know what changes may arise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West is right when he says that the amendment is skilfully drafted, but it is not drafted skilfully enough. I believe that it is probably impossible to draft it skilfully enough because, even under the terms of the amendment, it would be possible for members of a specialist firm, whether they be dealers, auctioneers or whatever, to seek advice in their private capacity which they intend to use for their own or their firm's benefit later. If the hon. Gentleman's amendment were accepted, there would be no way in which the museum could charge for that advice which might conceivably be of great commercial benefit to the individual or the firm with which he was connected. I do not believe that it is likely, but it could happen. It would be a great mistake if such a loophole were to develop.

The amendment would have another unfortunate effect. At times of economic stringency, particularly if this type of action was going on, the board might well discontinue giving advice to the public, and that would be most unfortunate.

The clause as drafted does not instruct boards to charge, and does not express the wish that they should charge. I do not believe that there is any desire that they should charge. When we are legislating for many years ahead, however, we should not preclude the possibility for all time. Although the hon. Gentleman's amendment is an improvement upon what we discussed in Committee, I do not believe that it deals with the possible loophole. I believe that it would be unwise to accept the amendment.

The amendment might lead to boards deciding to discontnue giving advice and I believe that that would be a great pity. Having thought about what the hon. Gentleman has said and the amendment that he has tabled, I believe that the powers should be given to the board, but I do not believe that there is any intention to seek or need for a change in the present practice of not charging members of the public who have an opinion expressed about their objects, as has happened for many years.