National Galleries of Scotland Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:18 pm on 26th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 3:18 pm, 26th 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.