You have raised quite a lot of issues. On consultation, I deliberately ensured during the passage of the bill that the committee was made aware of the impact—or not—of having charitable status, and we made it clear that the new body’s viability did not depend on that. In its very full consultation on the bill, which happened only last year, the Government put in quite a lot of proactive provisions about the implications.
Similarly, as you rightly pointed out, there was quite a lot of discussion about the potential impact on other bodies. That discussion was had and the determination was made during the passage of the bill, and the committee made a number of comments about the matter not only in its stage 1 report but in the debates in the chamber.
Another point that gave comfort to other organisations, including the National Trust for Scotland, was that HES must operate under the historic environment strategy. That strategy has brought everyone together, and we now have for the first time a historic environment forum, which has brought together all the agencies.
That brings us back to the point about the importance of the amendment order, which allows for ministerial direction—which, I should add, I have never used in seven years for any of the bodies for which I have responsibility—to deal with circumstances in which, for whatever reason, HES might be working counter to the interests of the wider historic environment or doing something detrimental to another body. Charities and other bodies are therefore protected by the strategy, which HES has to support; if that does not happen, that is an issue. Mary Scanlon rightly tested that issue during the passage of the bill. We have therefore discussed such areas quite a lot, and the committee discussed them fairly recently.
The final issue that I will address in answering your important question is what charitable status provides. It would, for example, allow HES to help the whole sector to grow the cake of what might be provided. People expressed concern that everyone would be competing for limited resources, which could only be detrimental, but the discussions in the historic environment forum have been leading us in the direction of expanding what we are doing and growing the cake and the available resources.
If HES chooses to have charitable status—we are not saying that it has to; it is up to the body to make that decision—it will have access to gift aid, rates relief and so on. Moreover, it might be able to approach the European Commission for funding in a way that Government bodies cannot, but the sensible way of doing that is to work with other bodies, such as the National Trust for Scotland.
Securing charitable status is an enabling move, but today’s debate is not about whether HES should become a charity. That is a debate and a decision for the board. Today’s debate is about whether it is sensible for HES, if it chooses to become a charity, to be treated the same as other holders of national collections and in a way that not only allows for ministerial direction—I have gone over the issue a lot with the committee and I make it clear again that that would be a last resort, that it has never happened to date and that any issues would be resolved well before such an approach was taken—but ensures that, if at some point HES decided not to be a charity any more or if it had charitable status taken away from it, public money that had been invested in public assets would come back to ministers. Ministers, not OSCR, would be in control of that.
That was a long answer, but there was a lot to address in answering your important question.