National Galleries of Scotland Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:02 pm on 26 March 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 3:02, 26 March 2003

We move to the debate on motion S1M-4018, in the name of Rhona Brankin, that the National Galleries of Scotland Bill be passed. I ask members who have already made their speeches to remember that. I call Rhona Brankin to speak to and move the motion on behalf of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 3:08, 26 March 2003

We have already set more than our fair share of precedents in the past four years and the passing of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill will be another one, as this is the first time that we pass a private bill in the new Scottish Parliament.

The bill might be modest in size and purpose, but it is the final piece in the jigsaw of the Playfair project, which the promoters believe will make a considerable difference to the public's enjoyment of art in our capital city.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Playfair project, it is the catch-all title for the improvements that will restore the Royal Scottish Academy building, stabilise its foundations and create an underground link between the RSA and the National Gallery of Scotland.

During the preliminary stage of the bill, the promoters said:

"the project is ambitious for Scotland. We intend to deliver for Scotland a world-class exhibition facility ... we intend to upgrade the visitor facilities to the whole complex, concentrating in particular on the important areas of education and information technology."—[Official Report, National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee, 3 February 2003; c 4.]

The bill has two purposes. In that respect, it is probably as straightforward a piece of legislation as the Parliament is ever likely to consider. Its first purpose is to remove a small strip of land from Princes Street gardens; its second is to disapply paragraph 22 of the schedule to the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991 in respect of that strip of land.

I would like to make it clear that the bill does not give permission for the Playfair project as a whole. The City of Edinburgh Council has already granted planning permission and listed building consent for the overall project. The only part of the project that the bill concerns is a rectangular piece of ground on the east side of Princes Street gardens, on which the promoters wish to construct a new entrance to the galleries.

I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have contributed to the passage of the bill. I thank the trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland who are the promoters of the bill. I thank my colleagues on the ad hoc committee that was set up to consider the bill for all their time and input. I also thank all the witnesses who took the time and effort to provide us with written and oral evidence and the members of the non-Executive bills unit who guided us through the process.

I do not intend to dwell on the details of the process that we have undertaken. Suffice it to say that private bills differ quite considerably from public bills—private members' bills are something else entirely. The train-spotters among us—I know that there are a few sad cases, although Jackie Baillie does not seem to be present—know that private members' bills exist only at Westminster. The Scottish Parliament has private bills and members' bills and never the twain shall meet. That is the end of my mini-lecture on legislation—anyone with questions can see me after class.

It is fair to say that the bill is as non-controversial in nature as it is possible for a bill to be. We received no formal objections during the objection period, so the preliminary stage focused on the somewhat wider views of interested organisations. Three issues were raised: the protection of Princes Street gardens; the overspill of the commercial aspects of the project into the gardens: and the precedent for future building in the gardens. The committee noted those concerns, but we were satisfied by the evidence from the promoters and from others, such as the city council, the Scottish Civic Trust and the minister, that Princes Street gardens will not be detrimentally affected by the bill. In addition to receiving no objections, no amendments were lodged at the consideration stage. However, the promoters appeared before us briefly and, again, we were grateful for their input.

Private bills, although non-political by definition, can be publicly contentious. I am sure that colleagues who convene future committees to consider railway bills and the like will have plenty of important issues to contend with. In our case, I am happy to say that we managed to keep most of the people happy for most of the time. How often can we claim that we have been able to do that?

Earlier, I spoke to one amendment at the final stage of the bill. That was a technical amendment to ensure that the correct Ordnance Survey co-ordinates were used in the bill. Getting the correct grid references is important. I ask members to imagine what would happen if we had accidentally transferred the Marks and Spencers ladies lingerie department into the ownership of the National Galleries of Scotland. It is important to get the details absolutely accurate, and I am confident that we have now done so.

I would like to address quickly a couple of concerns that were raised by external correspondents. One concern was about disabled access to the gardens. The promoters believe that the bill will go some way towards assisting disabled users, in so far as people in wheelchairs should soon be able to access the gardens via a lift in the expanded galleries complex that will take them from Princes Street level to the lower garden level.

The other concern related to the relocation of the Spanish war memorial to another part of the gardens, which was part of the promoters' successful planning application to the council. All that I will say is that the move ought not to be seen as in any way diminishing the respect that we hold for those Scots who went to Spain to fight fascism all those many years ago.

I have aimed to keep my remarks brief and to the point on this concise and simple bill.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the National Galleries of Scotland Bill be passed.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 3:13, 26 March 2003

We have now reached the final stage of the private bill that is needed to disapply legislation restricting building in Princes Street gardens. The bill is an important integral part of the Playfair project and the Scottish Executive strongly supports the bill as amended. We are pleased that the bill has made good progress and will be passed today.

The stabilisation works have been completed, and the internal refurbishments are nearing completion. Those works have transformed the venue into a gallery that will be able to compete with galleries in other European capital cities, such as the Louvre or the Musée D'Orsay in Paris.

The National Galleries of Scotland can now go ahead with the preparations for what will surely be a wonderful Monet exhibition, which will be the major attraction at this year's Edinburgh international festival. Not all of the work will have been completed by then, but when it is completed we will have a magnificent building of which Scotland can be genuinely proud.

Given the subject of that exhibition and in the spirit of the auld alliance, I have invited the French culture minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, to come to Edinburgh to see the Monet exhibition in its magnificent new setting at the National Gallery.

As with the Louvre and many other international galleries, the link building will provide a range of new facilities dedicated to education and information technology. The National Galleries of Scotland are moving with the times to enhance their international reputation and their long tradition of preserving and presenting what is best.

The National Galleries of Scotland have had the foresight to provide a wonderful resource for people to enjoy. The new facilities will benefit a range of people, particularly schoolchildren. The increased number of tourists attracted to Edinburgh by the Playfair project will bring increased revenue to the galleries, to Edinburgh and to Scotland.

I want to ensure that the number of people from Scotland who attend the National Galleries of Scotland increases. After the Executive abolished admission charges, it was anticipated that the number of people who make use of our museums and galleries would more accurately reflect the population of Scotland. It is a disappointment to have to say that that has not proved to be the case to any significant extent. I intend to ask the management of our national institutions to investigate what more can be done to make their establishments more attractive to under-represented groups in Scotland, whether they are under-represented in terms of social group, age range or geographical area. I want the magnificent treasures that those institutions contain to be seen by as many people in Scotland as possible. We hope that the Playfair project will attract and increase the number of sponsors who wish to invest money to provide more excellent exhibitions and to promote art in Scotland.

The national cultural strategy, which was launched in 2000, aims to create a climate in which arts and culture can thrive and be accessible to all. What better way to achieve that than through the Playfair project? The Executive is promoting a strong cultural identity. In Scotland, we want to be seen to be promoting excellence in culture at home as well as overseas. The Playfair project is working towards promoting that strong cultural identity and excellence.

The Executive strongly supports the ambitious Playfair project, and I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we all look forward to enjoying the new facilities.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 3:17, 26 March 2003

I have three brief points to make. It is appropriate that, at the end of this parliamentary session, we are dealing with a bill and amendments to do with grid references. That is a nice balance, because close to the beginning of the parliamentary session, we also dealt with grid references in more controversial circumstances with the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999. That lends a nice symmetry to proceedings over the four years of this Parliament.

To those who ask why it is necessary for an act of the Scottish Parliament to deal with boundaries in Princes Street gardens, I say that, apart from the obvious legal reasons, it is necessary that Princes Street gardens—which are a national treasure—should not be left to the whims of the City of Edinburgh Council, although it is undoubtedly an illustrious council in some circumstances. An asset such as Princes Street gardens should be subject to some scrutiny by the Parliament.

My third point is simply to echo what others have said. The bill is not a wholly essential part of the Playfair project because the promoters said that they had a contingency plan should the Parliament have turned the bill down. However, I am sure that the Playfair project will become an ornament in Scotland's capital in due course.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 3:18, 26 March 2003

I am glad to speak in support of the bill. Rhona Brankin is to be warmly congratulated.

I note that local MSPs were not allowed to sit on the committee, but that does not mean that we did not have views. We passionately support the bill. It is vital to have more space in the National Galleries of Scotland and the slight encroachment on the gardens is acceptable because it is an improvement and will allow for the maximum and best use of daylight and ancillary facilities.

The project will be good for tourism, for education and exhibitions, for young people, for leisure and recreation and for artists who wish to learn speedily. It is interesting to note that the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery were built with such magnificent architecture that they played a key role in earning for Edinburgh the title "Athens of the north".

As Rhona Brankin said, the project represents the completion of a jigsaw. The Playfair project is massive, involving not only the restoration of the Royal Scottish Academy but improvements to the National Gallery and the creation of an underground link. The project will make for much better provision for exhibitions, a lecture theatre, education rooms, information technology, a restaurant, a cafe, a shop and cloakrooms, and is very much to be welcomed.

Alasdair Morgan made the point that the matter was not merely one for the City of Edinburgh Council, but it was appropriate that the council was involved, because it had to obtain an order from the sheriff to dispose of land where the land was held for the common good. I stress that "common good" is a good expression in this context, because that is exactly what is involved.

Some years ago, I made a speech in the House of Commons in which I asked that an education officer be appointed to take school parties round the National Galleries of Scotland, because the Scottish Office had not given enough funding for that purpose. We have moved on a long way since then. One of the points in favour of this Parliament is that there is time to debate issues relating to the arts effectively and well, and to see legislation through to completion, which was not always the case at the House of Commons. Arts debates took place there only once every few years or once in a blue moon.

The bill is good for Edinburgh, it is good for Scotland, and it is good for the galleries as a centre of excellence for European art and culture.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 3:21, 26 March 2003

I express my warm support for the bill. With pleasure and some satisfaction, I remind the Parliament that my staff and I arranged for the information week and lobbying of the Parliament by Ordnance Survey, which has obviously paid off with the clarifying amendments to the bill.

A small patch of darkened grass, next door to a ladies toilet, is hardly the best place for a monument to people who, sadly, were killed in the maelstrom of the Spanish civil war. I have been lobbied on that point in a letter that suggested that the monument should be removed and put on display in Princes Square. However, if it is to be placed anywhere, it should be found a suitable site in Princes Street gardens, with a good surround and in a position where many more people will see it than have seen it over the past nearly 70 years. That is my plea.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 3:22, 26 March 2003

I apologise for my late arrival at the debate.

I welcome the National Galleries of Scotland Bill, which will improve the work that is already being done by the National Galleries of Scotland. The Playfair project is a welcome development that will improve life not only for the people of Edinburgh but for the many tourists who visit Edinburgh.

Some people have had mild concerns about the impact of the bill on the gardens, but that impact is more than outweighed by the extra access that the development will provide by literally opening up art to a wider audience. People wandering in the gardens might walk into the galleries as a result of the development. In particular, I am glad that the development will make the galleries much more easily accessible to disabled people.

Some people were also concerned that by going down this route, the project will somehow open the door to future projects that might not be quite so beneficial to the common good of Edinburgh. However, we have been reassured by the City of Edinburgh Council and others that each project will be examined on its own merits in relation to the use of the gardens.

I am happy to welcome the bill, as the development will enhance the landscape of Edinburgh, its unique cityscape and, in particular, Princes Street gardens. It will be a welcome addition, not only for the residents of Edinburgh, but for the many tourists who visit.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative 3:24, 26 March 2003

We have had an interesting debate this afternoon. It is unusual in this Parliament not to have disagreement—or even violent disagreement—at some point. There is general agreement across the political spectrum that, in future, we must protect Princes Street gardens. However, this occasion was a special one-off.

Previous speakers outlined in detail the advantages of the development. Anyone who has seen the model or who was privileged to be on the inspection tour that we had a few weeks back, will be able to say that the project will be of considerable advantage to Princes Street gardens, Edinburgh and the international community. During the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee meetings, which lasted some time, we heard a lot of presentations from the City of Edinburgh Council and various groups and societies. If one considers the potential risk to the gardens of erosion, it is quite remarkable that people reached a broad consensus and agreement. That was perhaps also a one-off.

One point that could cause me concern is to do with the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991, section 22 of which restricts building in Princes Street gardens to

"Lodges for gardeners and keepers, hothouses and conservatories, monuments, bandstands, public conveniences, police boxes and buildings for housing apparatus for the supply of electricity or gas."

I say to City of Edinburgh Council that that provision is a possible defect, because someone could easily build something in the shape of a bandstand that was not a bandstand. That must be considered, perhaps by the council. Alasdair Morgan illustrated that point in a previous debate, because just such an example has occurred.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

As the member said, I made that point in a previous debate. The official from the City of Edinburgh Council who gave evidence to the committee said that the people concerned had realised that their proposal would not have fitted in with the regulations and therefore made their kiosk look like a bandstand to get round the regulations. That serves to emphasise the comments I made earlier about leaving such matters to councils.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I agree with Alasdair Morgan—indeed, having been a councillor in Glasgow for 35 years and having served on the planning committee, I agree with him even more. I am not being anti-Edinburgh when I say that by any means. However, the restrictions in the 1991 act must be considered in future.

We have had a good debate this afternoon. These are almost the final hours of this first parliamentary session, and it is nice to be going out on such a note of consensus.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

At this point, I advise members, and business managers in particular, that we are running about 25 minutes ahead of schedule.