National Galleries of Scotland Bill: Final Stage

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15281, in the name of Anne McTaggart, on the National Galleries of Scotland Bill. I invite Ms McTaggart to speak to and move the motion on behalf of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee.

Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

I am pleased to open the final stage debate on the National Galleries of Scotland Bill. Before I talk about the bill, I pay tribute on behalf of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee to Gareth Hoskins, the architect in charge of the galleries project, who, I am sad to say, passed away on 9 January. Committee members were fortunate enough to meet him on our site visit to the Scottish national gallery last September. We were most impressed with his expertise and his enthusiasm for the project. If the bill is passed today, the extended gallery will be a fitting tribute to his work and vision. Our thoughts are with his family at such a sad time.

I thank the committee clerks for their hard work and my committee colleagues Fiona McLeod and Jean Urquhart, who helped to scrutinise the bill. I also thank everyone who gave evidence on the bill.

Members will be aware that the bill’s purpose is to enable the building of an extension to the Scottish national gallery building on to a small area of land that currently forms part of Princes Street gardens. The project includes a plan for a new, landscaped, accessible public pathway and terrace at garden level, which is aimed at improving access between the gallery, the gardens, Princes Street, the Playfair steps and the old town. The new accessible pathway is to be particularly welcomed, as it will not only improve disabled access but help to ease congestion on a busy pedestrian route.

The extension is required by the bill’s promoter, which is the board of trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland. The board wants to expand and improve the Scottish national gallery’s design and house the Scottish art collection in a more appropriate and accessible location. That collection is currently housed down two flights of stairs, in a basement.

When the bill was discussed at its preliminary stage debate, the cabinet secretary said that visitor numbers to the galleries have increased by 30 per cent in the past 10 years and there was record attendance in 2014, with almost 2 million visitors. However, less than 20 per cent of visitors to the national gallery get down to where the Scottish collection is situated. That is a great pity, given that the collection houses pieces of art by celebrated Scottish artists such as Sir Henry Raeburn and Sir David Wilkie, and given that the National Galleries of Scotland looks after one of the world’s finest collections of western art.

Refurbishment of the gallery will create three times the space that is currently devoted to the Scottish collection and will improve circulation throughout the building. The extension will enable Scottish art to be showcased more prominently, in specially designed spaces that have natural daylight and stunning views across the city.

It is estimated that the refurbishment could attract an additional 400,000 visitors every year. As Liz Smith pointed out in the preliminary stage debate, there is potential for significant benefits to the economy, which will in turn give the National Galleries of Scotland the ability to preserve the collections and the galleries for generations to come.

The committee fully supports the promoter’s aim of improving access to the Scottish art collection. The proposed improvements to the gallery space and the surrounding area will give Scottish art the prominence that it deserves and enable it to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

I move,

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

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

It is only a few weeks since we previously met in the chamber to discuss the National Galleries of Scotland Bill, but I again express my thanks, as I did at the preliminary stage, to Anne McTaggart, convener of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee, and the other members of the committee, Fiona McLeod and Jean Urquhart, for the work that they did in examining this private bill. I also thank the National Galleries of Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council for their valuable contributions, which have supported the process, and I thank other members for their input.

I visited the Scottish national gallery earlier this afternoon to see the annual display of Turner watercolours, which I strongly recommend. The works, which were bequeathed to the gallery by collector Henry Vaughan, span Turner’s career from his early topographical wash drawings to the atmospheric sketches of continental Europe from the 1830s and 1840s.

The display is a wonderful example of the quality exhibitions that the national galleries present, and I strongly recommend that members visit it, if they can. Our Cabinet meeting finished slightly early and I was delighted that John Swinney and Richard Lochhead were able to visit the exhibition. It is important that all our politicians, whether they are ministers or back benchers, support and visit our galleries. I was particularly struck by “Heidelberg” and the fantastic representation of Skye, which is very small but which absolutely captures the grandeur and the atmosphere of Scotland. While we enjoy magnificent exhibitions such as the Turner exhibition at present, we can look forward to the wonderful transformation that the national gallery project will deliver.

I hope that the Presiding Officer agrees that, as Anne McTaggart said, it is appropriate that we remember the architect for the project, Gareth Hoskins, who died suddenly on 9 January at the young age of 48. My thoughts are with his family at this sad time. With his passing, Scotland has lost one of its leading architects. His reputation is worldwide and his contribution to Scottish architecture was exceptional.

Following the 2011 transformation of the national museum of Scotland by Gareth Hoskins’s firm, visitor numbers more than doubled and it became the most visited tourist attraction in the United Kingdom outside London. His work on the national museum demonstrates the great potential economic benefits of good design as a local and national tourist draw and its power to deliver immense cultural benefits. The Bridge arts centre in Glasgow and the Culloden visitor centre are just two other examples of his natural talent and carefully honed expertise as a designer.

Scotland continues to benefit from Gareth Hoskins’s talent through the legacy of the outstanding contribution that he made to our built environment and culture. He designed the new home for the National Theatre of Scotland, which is being built in Glasgow as we speak and, as one of his final projects, the transformation of the national gallery will undoubtedly be a further fitting reminder of the man and his talent.

The bill process has established that the bill is necessary to allow the transfer of land to the National Galleries of Scotland for the development at the Mound to take place. In the debate on 3 December, we rehearsed the effect on the building and on external public space of the transfer to the galleries of the 5m-wide strip of land in Princes Street gardens.

In the past 10 years, visitor numbers to the national galleries have nearly doubled, and 2015 was the first year in which the galleries achieved more than 2 million visitors. The galleries count among the most popular museums in Europe.

The newly refurbished galleries will attract an estimated 400,000 additional visitors and 770,000 additional audience interactions every year, with a tripling of the gallery space that is available to show Scotland’s national school. They will present not just the great historical figures but 20th century art, including the Scottish colourists. The impact that will come from using the space intelligently to showcase the Scottish collection is striking.

In passing the bill, we will help the National Galleries of Scotland to continue to deliver an international-class visitor experience, bring benefit to Scotland and show Scottish art in the high-quality setting that the collection deserves. For those reasons, I am pleased to support the committee’s recommendation that the bill be passed.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

The debate is brief but important, as the bill will enable the National Galleries of Scotland to move ahead with its proposals to extend the Scottish national gallery’s exhibition space, which will make it much more accessible and improve the diversity of its offer. I am pleased to speak in the debate, and I thank the committee members for their work, as well as the National Galleries of Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council. I associate myself and Scottish Labour with the tributes to Gareth Hoskins and the cabinet secretary’s remarks on his career and legacy.

The preliminary stage debate was brief, but it allowed us to reflect on the importance of the national collections not just for Edinburgh and Scotland but for our international reputation and attractiveness. National collections are important because they reflect the significance of art to a country. They are part of the cultural fabric of a nation and are a showcase to the world.

The Scottish national gallery holds an impressive collection of renaissance paintings and work up to the 1900s. It is part of the National Galleries of Scotland group, which includes the national portrait gallery and the modern art gallery. The galleries have made many acquisitions over the years. The most recent is a portrait of the 18th century Scottish merchant David Scott, which is being displayed in the national portrait gallery after undergoing cleaning and conservation work. As well as being a piece of art, it is a piece of history that helps to tell the story of Scotland’s long-standing links with India.

The Scottish national gallery contributes much to Edinburgh. It is situated in the heart of the city and is frequently used by people who live, study and work here. This is an appropriate time of the year to discuss the national gallery, as its unique Turner exhibition is on display. The National Galleries of Scotland is also expanding its online offer, as more of the collection is now available to view online along with resource materials.

Last year, BBC Scotland presented “The Story of Scottish Art”, which explored the key works and artists that have shaped Scottish art over the centuries. If the new development progresses as planned, it will give the gallery an opportunity to provide access to more of its collection. The gallery hosts the world’s largest collection of Scottish art, including works by David Wilkie, Allan Ramsay, William McTaggart, James Guthrie and Henry Raeburn.

As I said in the previous debate, I hope that more can be done to present women artists. I very much welcome the modern Scottish women exhibition that is showing at the modern art gallery, although an entrance fee is charged for it. I hope that the extension of the national gallery space will allow a greater opportunity to display the work of women artists and make them more accessible.

The extension of the national gallery will triple the space that is available for the Scottish collection, and I welcome the gallery’s efforts to explore ways to offer greater access to Scottish art. Importantly, the additional space will also create opportunities for research and conservation work. The National Galleries of Scotland has a duty of care for its collections and employs a team of conservationists. The national gallery’s collection also includes important archives and libraries that are used by staff and visiting researchers.

The national gallery first extended its footprint in 2004, when the Playfair project was completed. Princes Street gardens are integral to Edinburgh and need to be protected, but the proposed developments appear to be sensitive, and improving the landscape around the gallery and providing more connectivity between Princes Street and the Royal Mile will bring benefits for visitors to the gallery and the centre of Edinburgh. I wish the project well in its development.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I immediately associate myself with previous speakers’ remarks about Gareth Hoskins. As a governor of George Watson’s college, I knew Gareth very well. The cabinet secretary rightly said how much of a loss he will be in the field of architecture, as he will be in so many areas of culture. The legacy of the national gallery’s refurbishment and extension will be a fitting tribute to somebody who was a real inspiration in Scotland.

As other members have done, I thank the committee and the clerks for all their work on the bill, and I reiterate that, as at stage 1, the Conservatives will be firmly in support of it at decision time.

It is hard to believe that it is just 10 years since the completion of the National Galleries of Scotland’s Playfair project, which was a significant development that transformed NGS’s presence on the Mound and demonstrated its commitment to the preservation and enhancement of access to art and culture. The fact that, more than a decade later, NGS should again lodge a private bill that seeks to triple the size of the gallery to showcase Scottish art displays its continued commitment to those aims, and we can all hope that Edinburgh will soon have an exhibition of Scotland’s national art to compete with the national collections in many other international cities, including London, Paris and New York.

We should not forget the other benefits of the project. Although, as the cabinet secretary said, NGS has already managed to increase visitor numbers, a further expansion will bring discrete economic, social and tourism benefits. In addition, there will be better access—including better disabled access, which is very important—to Princes Street gardens, and the landscaping around the area where the gardens and the gallery meet will ensure that we continue to be privileged in our busy capital city to have that excellent green space.

One of the bill’s successes lies in getting round what might have been a very difficult legal issue if we had had to use the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991. That could have led to unnecessary complexity and great difficulty, so we should give credit to the Scottish Government, the City of Edinburgh Council and the National Galleries of Scotland, because they have managed to bring forward a bill that will make it much easier for the project to be successful. That process has brought everybody together so that we can celebrate and take pride in a development that will be extremely important for future generations.

I compliment all the stakeholders who have been involved in the bill process, and I greatly look forward to the completion of the project in 2018. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing the Turner exhibition, which I have heard so much about. It sounds really special.

I am very happy to pledge the Conservatives’ support for the bill.

Photo of Jean Urquhart Jean Urquhart Independent

I, too, am pleased to speak in the debate, and I endorse everything that has been said so far. Often, alarm bells ring when any mention is made of a transfer of public land, but on this occasion public land is very definitely being transferred in the public interest.

Every speaker has made reference to the better access that will be provided to the national gallery’s Scottish collection of art and paintings. Although I welcome that, it is important that we recognise that the proposed development will extend the gallery and enable it to provide better access to some of its spaces. There has been much mention of the Scottish collection, which I, too, love, but it has been in the basement of our country’s national gallery for a very long time, and I hope that, at some point in the future, another collection might be housed in the basement and that we will see the Scottish paintings hanging in the main hall in our national gallery.

What is proposed will allow that to happen. The small extension has been beautifully designed by Gareth Hoskins, whose enthusiasm for the job was very evident when we met him, and I join other members in offering condolences to his family.

In addition to the improvements for the gallery, the better positioning of the memorial to those folk who went from Scotland to fight in the Spanish civil war, which at the moment is tucked away in the corner of the piece of ground in question, under the Playfair steps, will give it more prominence. There will be better access to the famous Playfair steps and a general improvement of the whole area around that part of Princes Street gardens.

The project involves a transfer of public land, the process for which has been fairly complicated. I thank the other two members of the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee. I have been pleased to be part of the process, which has been a very interesting exercise. Nothing but positive comments have been made about the proposal, and I look forward to seeing the work being completed.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

I now call Fiona McLeod to wind up the debate. I would appreciate it, Ms McLeod, if you could continue until 4.59.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

In closing the debate as the deputy convener of the bill committee, I echo the convener’s thanks to our clerks, committee members and members of the whole Parliament for their generous involvement in the bill process. Parliament will remember that on 3 December 2015 we held the preliminary stage debate—I cannot forget that as it was my 58th birthday. However, on that day, Parliament agreed, following the committee’s preliminary stage report that was published on 13 November, to the two points that it would agree at stage 1 of a public bill: it approved the general principles of the bill; and it agreed that the bill should proceed as a private bill. We had a very interesting debate that day, with contributions from across the chamber.

We then, of course, moved into the consideration stage of the bill, and the committee met on 15 December last year for that purpose. At the consideration stage, a private bill committee has to look at two main processes: whether there are any objections to the bill; and whether there are any amendments to the bill. On 15 December, there were no objections or amendments to the bill.

Perhaps it would be interesting for members to understand that aspect of a private bill. In looking for objections, we want to hear any views that the public have on the bill and any objections that they have to it. Therefore, we ensure for a private bill that we have allowed the public to be able to contribute their views and any objections that they have. The bill’s promoters sent out a call for reviews and objections when they started to look at producing the bill; and, of course, once the bill was introduced to Parliament, the committee also sent out a call for views and objections.

I think that the National Galleries of Scotland Bill Committee went above and beyond the call of duty in that respect because we had a call out over 60 days during the summer recess for any views and objections. However, we received no objections at all, and the views that we received were in support of the bill as a private bill and in support of its general principles. Further to that, the committee took evidence on the bill at the preliminary stage, and in September we went on a site visit to the national gallery and met the architect, Gareth Hoskins. The members who have spoken in the debate have quite rightly paid tribute to his work, especially that on the extension to the national gallery.

When we visited the national gallery that day, we recorded a video in order to be able to show the public what the private bill was about in the hope that anybody who had views on the bill or objections to it would contribute to the bill process. Again, the only views that were expressed were views in support of the bill, and we found that there were no objections.

We find ourselves at the final stage of the private bill process. Today, we were due to consider any further amendments, but there were no such amendments. Given that, I thank again all the members who have taken part in today’s debate and those who took part in the debate that we had on the bill on 3 December. It is invidious to pick out anybody, but I must mention Claire Baker, who talked about the opportunities that the extension will provide in terms of the archive, the research, the conservation and—what is of course important to me—the library that is housed in the national gallery.

At this point, it is for me to say, as the convener did, that I hope that tonight at decision time Parliament will agree that the National Galleries of Scotland Bill be passed.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Thank you, Ms McLeod. I am sure that we were all grateful for the explanation of how private bills in general work and how the National Galleries of Scotland Bill has proceeded through the Parliament.