Sixth Standing Committee


8th June—13th July 1995




Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Thursday 8 June 1995


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Michael Shersby

Ancram, Mr. Michael (Minister of State, Northern Ireland office)

Barnes, Mr. Harry (Derbyshire, North-East)

Canavan, Mr. Dennis (Falkirk, West)

Gapes, Mr. Mike (Ilford, South)

Hood, Mr. Jimmy (Clydesdale)

Livingstone, Mr. Ken (Brent, East)

MacKay, Mr. Andrew (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

Marlow, Mr. Tony (Northampton, North)

Montgomery, Sir Fergus (Altrincham and Sale)

Prentice, Bridget (Lewisham, East)

Riddick, Mr. Graham (Colne Valley)

Sainsbury, Sir Timothy (Hove)

Scott, Sir Nicholas (Chelsea)

Spicer, Mr. Michael (Worcestershire, South)

Tapsell, Sir Peter (East Lindsey)

Taylor, Mr. John D. (Strangford)

Temple-Morris, Mr. Peter (Leominster)

Worthington, Mr. Tony (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Mr. J. D. W. Rhys, Committee Clerk

3 Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 8 June 1995

[MR. MICHAEL SHERSBY in the Chair]

Draft Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The order is being promoted by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland at the request and with the agreement of the governors of the Armagh observatory and planetarium. Its purpose is to repeal and re-enact with modern provisions the Armagh Observatory and Museum Act 1791, as extended by the University and Collegiate and Scientific Institutions Act (Northern Ireland) 1938, while preserving its historical origins and its independent and mainly ecclesiastical corporation. Consultation on the original proposal has not resulted in any change of substance to the order. Some 65 organisations were consulted. The observatory was founded and endowed by the visionary and enlightened Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh in 1790. It was established under the 1791 Act—a public Act of the old Irish Parliament that predated the Act of Union. The observatory is the second oldest in the United Kingdom, predated only by the Royal Greenwich observatory. It is an important centre of research and advanced education in astronomy and astro physics, undertaken in collaboration with the Queen's university, Belfast. May I suggest to members of the Committee that, if they get the chance, it is well worth a visit. I have visited it twice and it is of immense value to the community of Armagh and Northern Ireland. Attached to the observatory and, as an emanation of it, is the planetarium, which is a major tourist attraction. The draft order provides for the continuation of the independent and mainly ecclesiastical composition created under the 1791 Act and for the governors to continue to exercise their existing powers and responsibilities—updated to take account of modern-day conditions. One of the main changes will be to remove the benefits—lodgings and tax-free income from the observatory lands—that were applicable to the office formerly referred to in the 1791 Act as "astronomer and keeper" and, instead, place them at -the -disposal of the governors for the support of the observatory and planetarium. 4 Those old provisions bear no relevance to the modern status of the post of director of the observatory, or to the salary attached to that post, which is currently vacant. They are incompatible with present-day terms and conditions of service. In addition, articles 7 and 8 will ensure proper accountability by the governors in the exercise of their functions and proper accounting procedures. The statutory right of access to the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland will also continue. The remaining provisions are largely of an administrative nature and are set out in the supporting schedule, the main elements of which cover membership, staffing and procedures of the governors. The order is mainly a technical and updating measure, and I commend it to the Committee.

10.32 am

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): On behalf of the Opposition, I have pleasure in backing the order which, as the Minister said, is an updating measure—not surprisingly—from 1791. I concur with what the Minister said about the value of the observatory to the Province in terms of science, tourism and the provision of educational facilities for the children of Northern Ireland. I shall give the Committee an idea of the antiquity of the order. In researching the project, a contemporaneous piece of legislation of 1790 showed that women indicted for treason need no longer be burnt, but could simply be hanged. I suspect that the present Home Secretary may consider that that was the moment at which the rot set in. The Armagh observatory has historical worth, which showed in its recent research into sun spots. No other observatory in Europe can go back as far in its records as the Armagh observatory, whose records are of great value to the scientific community. The only oddity in the order is that the governing body is dominated by he Church of Ireland, but that seems to be highly appropriate given its contribution to the development of the observatory whose scientific interests will be safeguarded. I have great pleasure in agreeing with the Minister on this occasion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Committee rose at twenty-six minutes to Eleven o' clock.



Shersby, Mr. Michael (Chairman)

Ancram, Mr.

Gapes, Mr.

MacKay, Mr.

Marlow, Mr.

Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Riddick, Mr.

Sainsbury, Sir Timothy

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Temple-Morris, Mr.

Worthington, Mr.