HC Deb 06 February 1973 vol 850 cc369-94
Mr. Speaker

We now come to the three Northern Ireland orders. I gather that it is the wish of the House that we should begin by taking them separately.

10.25 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mills)

I beg to move, That the Museums (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th January, be approved. Northern Ireland is able to boast of two excellent national museums, the Ulster Folk Museum and the Ulster Museum. Both museums have been partly financed from local government sources, but with the coming of local government reorganisation it would be inappropriate for the new district councils to contribute to these national museums for which they will have no direct responsibility. Therefore, the main purpose of the order is to bring to an end at 30th September 1973 the existing direct local government contributions.

With the reorganisation, therefore, the Ministry will have to increase its current grants to offset the loss of the local authority contributions. The order removes the present statutory limit of £45,000 on the annual grant to the Ulster Folk Museum and the limit of £70,000 on the grant from the Ulster Land Fund towards the cost of minor capital expenditure. There are no statutory limits on any of the grants to the Ulster Museum.

The boards of trustees of both museums contain local authority representatives, and, although the contributions will cease, it is undesirable to break this useful link with local authorities. The order makes some changes, however, in the composition of the boards. The size of the board of the Folk Museum is being reduced from 20 to 15, of whom six will be nominated by local authority sources, and a trustee nominated by the New University of Ulster is now added to each board to join the members appointed by the Queen's University.

The order further provides for the transfer from the Minister of Finance to the Minister of Education of responsibilities with effect from 1st April 1973; this reflects the transfer of financial responsibility. The power to give grants to Armagh Observatory will also transfer. The order also empowers Armagh County Council to enter into an agreement with the Trustees of the Ulster Museum, for the latter to take over responsibility for the Armagh County Museum, because the cost of maintaining this museum would bear too heavily on the proposed new Armagh District Council.

At present there is a statutory impediment on the imposition of charges at the Ulster Museum full-time, and article 2 of the order provides for its removal and clearly enables the trustees to make charges for admission. Admission charges are, and always have been, the rule at the Ulster Folk Museum.

The order covers several other minor matters such as the change of name of the Ulster Folk Museum to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to indicate more clearly the scope of its interests.

This may seem a small order but it is of considerable importance to the organisations concerned and, I believe, to the organisation of cultural and educational amenities in the Province.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

As the Under-Secretary has explained, the order makes amendments to the legislation governing the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Folk Museum which arise out of local government reorganisation, to which we have addressed our minds in the past. I note that the order, which was one of the measures going through Stormont at the time of prorogation, received a Second Reading on 23rd March 1972. The Second Reading lasted precisely 12 minutes. This consisted of a brief presentation of the Bill, as it then was, by the Minister of Finance. There were no other speakers, and the Minister was not questioned or interrupted once during his speech.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

A sad state of affairs.

Mr. Rees

It is not for me to criticise Stormont. It would be the last thing I should do. It means, therefore, that there are a number of points that we ought to raise on the order.

The Minister has explained that the main changes between the Stormont Bill and the Westminster order are the addition of the provisions about Armagh County Museum, which is to be linked with the Ulster Museum, and the transfer of functions from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Education, as is the case in this country.

Both these changes seem sensible, though there is one point I should put to the hon. Gentleman. I understand that there is some fear among museum staff that the Ministry of Education may give a lower priority to museums than did the Ministry of Finance, since in the new Ministry it will be one of many items of expenditure, whereas in the old Ministry it was regarded as something of a prestige item. Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance on that point?

On the whole the order is welcomed. The restructuring of the boards of trustees of the museums is certainly necessary, and it has been done in a sensible fashion. It seems proper that some element of local government representation should be maintained, and the introduction of representation for the New University of Ulster is a welcome step.

The order also changes the financing of the museums. In future, local authorities will not contribute to the costs, but all the finance will be provided from central funds.

Will the Minister tell the House how much it is envisaged will be spent in the first financial year after the provisions of the order come into effect? Will he also give us the figures for each museum broken down into revenue grant, purchase grant and capital costs? This is an important matter which should have been put when the Bill was first introduced into Stormont. The amount of money available for purchase is an extremely important factor in a museum's outgoings.

The main criticism is about article 4(a) which empowers the trustees of the Ulster Museum to make charges for admission. This provision has been opposed by the Ulster Museum trustees and other parties, but their views have not been heeded.

If this charge is dropped in this part of the United Kingdom, may we be assured that it will be dropped in Ulster—in other words, that there can be a tit-for-tat arrangement here? It is important that we should know about that matter.

The point has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that viewing art and cultural exhibits is an educational experience and that education is traditionally a free provision of the British Government. Far be it from me to pretend to know a great deal about the Ulster Museum, but people who have written and talked to me about it make the point that many of the exhibits—works such as "The Dawn of Christianity", a painting by Turner owned by the Ulster Museum—were given as gifts to the public as a whole and that they, therefore, have a right to see them without personal expense.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some of these paintings are hanging not in the museum but in Stormont Castle, and that only those who are privileged to go into Stormont Castle can see them?

Mr. Rees

That is an interesting point. Collecting money from those who visit Stormont for other purposes than to look at the pictures would be an interesting sideline.

I understand also that the Ulster Museum is situated in the Botanical Gardens Park in Belfast and relies to a great extent on casual passers-by calling in. Most of its visitors are children and old-age pensioners, categories of persons who under the Westminster proposals pay reduced admittance charges. Those charges are too low to raise significant revenue but high enough to deter the casual visitor. Do I understand that old-age pensioners and children will pay a reduced charge in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland unemployment is higher and income levels are lower than in most other parts of the United Kingdom, and the Province is poorly endowed culturally in this case, although in another sense its cultural heritage is equal to, if not greater than, that in other parts of the United Kingdom. What charge is it anticipated will be made for admission to the Ulster Museum? How much is it estimated will be raised in revenue in this way? What estimates have been made of the extra costs of collecting such charges, and how much will the new revenue be as a percentage of total expenditure in a year?

I understand that an appeal has been made to raise moneys for the Armada Treasure. It is important to know whether any of the moneys from the Government are to be added to the appeal, whether either of the museums will play, or is playing, a part not only in raising revenue but perhaps in housing some of the treasure at a later stage. The Minister must be forthcoming on this point. It is one of great interest.

We approve of the structural changes in the order but, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) has opposed from the Opposition Front Bench the imposition of museum charges in the other parts of the United Kingdom, so we oppose museum charges in Ulster. The argument is almost precisely the same, but in many respects the monetary argument is very much weaker in the context of the problems of Ulster.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I, too, agree that admission charges to museums are disagreeable. There is an excuse and an explanation why there should be a charge for entrance to the Folk Museum at Cultra because it occupies, as I hope shortly to explain, extensive grounds and it is not possible to supervise all the various buildings and the exhibits there. The charge contributes to measures to stop vandalism. But in the case of the Ulster Museum, I believe that there should be no admission charges. If there were power to amend the order, I should gladly lend my weight in putting forward such an amendment. However, the decision has been taken in this part of the United Kingdom to impose admission charges to museums and, since we in Northern Ireland always cry out for identical treatment, I suppose that reluctantly we have to follow suit in this instance.

I want first to talk about the Ulster Folk Museum, which is in my constituency and which is one of the three museums mentioned in the order. It is hardly possible to speak of it without referring to the inspiring work done by a certain Welshman. It is right to pay tribute to a Welshman whenever the opportunity arises, and there are two dis- tinguished Welshmen on the Opposition Front Bench this evening. It is always a pleasure to see the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), and I am glad that he is present to hear me pay tribute to a fellow countryman of his.

The Welshman in question has adopted Ulster as his second home and honoured us by doing so. There is abundant evidence in Northern Ireland of the Scots, and the Ulsterman is proud of his own achievements. But it was left to a Welshman, like a voice crying in the wilderness, or, more aptly, a voice crying in an Irish bog, to urge the establishment in Ulster of a folk museum and archive. That cry was heard as long ago as the 1930s, and it came from Professor Estyn Evans, lecturer in geography at the Queen's University, Belfast. We owe him a debt of gratitude which can only be paid by dedication to his enlightened goal of preserving and securing the evidence of our culture. He struggled hard and long for the establishment of a folklore museum in Northern Ireland.

Though my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder) may not agree with me, in my view the real contribution made by Professor Evans to the study of Ulster's heritage was a systematic examination of every aspect of that culture, wherever it was to be found, including the writings of Ulster poets, the use of farm machinery, the traditional design of Ulster furniture, and the methods used in the building of Ulster cottages and farm buildings. At the Queen's University, he was professor of geography for many years—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot go into the details of the good professor's career. He must keep fairly strictly to the terms of the order.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Obviously, I must be bound by your ruling. But from previous debates it is clear that tributes are paid to people who have initiated projects, and I am discussing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that that is quite in order. However, it is not in order to develop those tributes into a lengthy description.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will bear in mind that this is a tribute to a Welshman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should not like this to be another injustice to Wales.

Mr. Kilfedder

May I complete my brief tribute to Professor Evans? Throughout his years at Queen's he opened the eyes of several generations of young Ulster men and women to the richness of their common heritage, and few persons have contributed more to the geographical and ecological knowledge of local people. I am sure that Professor Evans would agree that interest in the traditional aspects of country life is a common bond for all creeds and classes in Northern Ireland. We may have different racial origins, and the cultural complexities may reveal themselves in religious and political differences, but what we all have in common are our country roots.

Because the Folk Museum happens to be in my constituency, I do not want to over-emphasise its importance or its place in Northern Ireland. It has international repute, and those who know it do not need words of mine in its support. Nevertheless, it has always been treated as the poor sister of the Ulster Museum mentioned in the draft order. I hope that the transfer of responsibility for the four museums to a central Government body will result in fairer treatment. I think perhaps the same results could have been achieved simply by extending the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance to cover the other three museums.

I am, frankly, appalled at the decision to transfer the responsibility to the Ministry of Education. We know what large sums of money are annually demanded for schools and higher education nowadays. The competition with the clamant demands of education could weaken the financial position of the museums in Northern Ireland. Association with the Ministry of Finance brings them closer to the Northern Ireland Treasury. Already too little is spent on museums in Northern Ireland. The danger is that they might become worse oil in time.

Once again we are presented with the difficulty that we cannot propose an amendment to a draft order. Otherwise I would propose an amendment stopping the transfer to the Ministry of Education. This order is almost the same as the Museums Bill which received a Second Reading at Stormont on the day before Stormont was suspended, on 23rd March last year. The main change is the transfer of functions to the Ministry of Education. I regret that as a retrograde step. I have not yet decided whether or not to divide the House on this draft order. I believe this decision is wrong, and I hope the Minister will say that it will be looked at again.

Rev. Ian Paisley

He will not have a chance.

Mr. Kilfedder

I do not know what the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is saying, as his voice is not so loud as usual.

There is only a slight connection between the ordinary responsibilities of the Ministry of Education for primary and secondary schools and the facilities provided by museums.

Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)

The hon. Member mentioned transfer to "a central Government". Did he mean Westminster, Dublin, or some other?

Mr. Kilfedder

I am sure that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to reply to the hon. Member. [An HON. MEMBER: "Have a go."] I deliberately said the Ministry of Finance because we are awaiting the formulation and publication of the White Paper.

What this order says is that museums are to be transferred to the Northern Ireland Ministry of Education. What I say is that they should be under the Ministry of Finance, which would, perhaps, make proper financial provision for them. It is difficult enough for the museums to get money, but once they leave the Northern Ireland Treasury they will have to fight for every penny they can obtain. At the moment they form part of the Ministry of Finance Vote in Northern Ireland and are shortly to become part of the Ministry of Education Vote. So instead of having one fight for finance on their hands the museums will have two. They will have to fight the education lobby and persuade it that they deserve sufficient money and adequate support. Then the Ministry will have to fight with the Treasury on their behalf.

I wonder how strongly it will wage that fight with the cautious men of the Treasury, who have to consider other demands, including educational demands. It will be an annual contest which I fear the museums will lose. Moreover educationists may well regard themselves as experts and tend to interfere with the expert judgement of the museum officials. The work of the Ministry of Finance is so far removed from the work of museums that this problem does not arise. That Ministry relied on the advice tendered by the museum officials. This was right and proper.

Throughout Northern Ireland there are ancient and not so ancient agricultural implements—turf creels, ploughs and other relics of our rural past, of which I am proud, just waiting to be saved and brought together for display. But the money is not there. What is needed immediately is a substantial reserve fund available to the trustees which they can call upon whenever a purchase has to be made. Often valuable items have been missed because the money was not available.

I notice from the accounts for the year ending 31st March 1971 that payments out by the Folk Museum at Cultra included loan charges—together with capital repayment of £526—of £2,571. Surely this is an intolerable burden for the museum to bear. For the same period the transport Museum paid £3,498 by way of loan charges, including £73 capital repayment. These two museums are now being amalgamated. Their financial difficulties are great, and this presents the Government with the opportunity to recognise the importance and potential of the new Folk and Transport Museum by writing off these loans which are a hardship to the trustees, who are doing an admirable job.

A comparison may be made with the finances of the Ulster Museum. According to the Government, in 1972–73 the Ministry of Finance is providing £280,000 as the revenue grant and £40,000 for the purchase grant, while the Belfast Corporation contribution is £42,000. In addition, the Ministry has given a special purchase grant of £88,000 towards the cost of purchasing the Girona Treasure. Further, £1.2 million was given to the Museum by way of the Ulster Loan Fund for the extension of the building and the re-modelling of the original area of the Museum. Those are tremendous sums. When that largesse is compared with the pittance which has been provided for the Ulster Folk Museum and the Transport Museum, it is obvious that the position must be rectified. I hope that my hon. Friend in his reply will agree that this is what will happen.

I shall not give the figures on which the Folk Museum relies, but I merely wish to point out that its 1970–71 annual report states that the trustees during that year considered it necessary to ask the Ministry of Finance to receive a deputation which emphasised the acute nature of the museum's financial problems. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will take a serious look at the situation.

It is only right to mention the extent, scope and potential of the Folk Museum. In 1961 a 136-acre site was purchased at Cultra, County Down, and the museum was formally opened in 1964. In 1967 an amendment to the Museum Act was passed under which the former Belfast Transport Museum and the Folk Museum would be merged. An additional 40 acres of adjoining property were purchased for the re-siting of the Transport Museum. It is a splendid site. Experts all over the world look upon the Folk Museum and the Transport Museum site as a splendid complex. I would advise more hon. Members to see the museum facilities which are provided in Northern Ireland when they visit the Province.

Since 1964 the Folklore Museum has attracted about 700,000 visitors. In its first year of operation the British Travel Association judged it to be the best new tourist amenity in the United Kingdom and awarded it the "Come to Britain" trophy. Its professional staff, in addition to initiating a basic research programme at the museum, has lectured extensively in the Province and elsewhere, mainly to promote public interest in the work of the museum and the heritage it seeks to provide.

The Folk Museum attracts parties of children from both Protestant and Roman Catholic schools, and sometimes they go together to see its exhibits reflecting life in the past; and this makes a real contribution to the life of Northern Ireland.

The museum not only faces difficulties as a result of inflation, rising costs and devaluation of the £, but the Government appear to lack the will to help the museum as much as they should.

I should have liked to make reference to the wonderful exhibits in the Transport Museum which will eventually be transferred to Cultra, but time does not allow. However, I desire to refer to one particular potential exhibit—the schooner "Result", the last of the three-masted schooners. It was bought, almost as an act of faith, by the trustees of the Folk Museum. The "Result" was built in Carrickfergus in 1893, and soon became acknowledged as one of the finest trading schooners operating in British waters. It has been recorded by the Ulster Folk Museum Year Book that the beauty of her lines influenced hull design as far afield as Holland and into the age of diesel propulsion. The schooner was purchased for £6,000 by the trustees, brought to Belfast and now they are waiting for an estimate to have it made shipshape. However, they need financial assistance from the Government, and I hope it will be forthcoming. One day I wish to see this fine old trading schooner anchored off the shore beside the Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.

I wish also to refer to the Castle Museum in Enniskillen. This, I regret to say, is not included in this order, I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is hoping to speak about this museum. It should have been included in the order. No fewer than six regiments of the British Army were raised and based in Enniskillen, which has a history comparable with that of Londonderry in loyalty to the Crown. Fermanagh County Council has renovated the museum at considerable expense. The best future for it would be under the control of one of the Government bodies. The advisory committee includes two local historians of standing, Father Peadar Livingstone and Mrs. Mary Rogers, who warmly support that it should be dealt with in this way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman is overdoing the background, as it were. I hesitate to interrupt because it is extremely interest- ing. Nevertheless, it has to be in order, and the hon. Member is overstepping the bounds of order in going into details about these people and things like the schooner, which, of course, interests me very much.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The purpose of the draft order is to take over the museums of Northern Ireland and to appoint trustees to run them under the Ministry of Education. It is surely in order to say that one important museum is left out, and to give reasons why it should not be.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We have to remember that we are only in order if we talk about matters contained in the order. The Chair always allows some tolerance to hon. Members in enlarging on the detail of matters directly concerned, but that should not be overdone. Unwittingly and interestingly, the hon. Member was doing that, but he should not overdo it.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While one agrees completely with your interpretation of order, nonetheless it has been the custom of the Chair, in dealing with Northern Ireland orders, to allow latitude to take account of the fact that these would normally be Bills before the House of Commons at Stormont with Second Reading, Committee stage and Third Reading.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I agree. I have been trying to do that. The hon. Member is inclined to overstep the mark, and I am sure that he will bring his remarks to a close as several other hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you should accuse an Irishman of overstepping the mark! However, I shall bring my remarks to a close, much as I should like to educate our hon. Friends about the amenities of Northern Ireland other than the fighting.

I want to emphasise that those two local historians support what I am saying and that they approve of the museum being brought under the control of a Government body.

If this museum is not brought under the control of central Government it will inevitably suffer should the local authority one day have a Republican majority. The Irish Nationalists, who have no love for British relics or anything that connects Ulster with the United Kingdom—

Mr. John Biggs-Davidson (Chigwell)

Is not my hon. Friend confusing Nationalists with Republicans? Does he not remember what the Nationalists did in two world wars?

Mr. Kilfedder

Conscious as I am of what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not go off on a tangent.

Some people fear that if the Republicans took control of that district council they would ruin the museum by starving it of funds or removing the exhibits which associate Enniskillen with the British Army.

I ask the Government to amend the order, or to bring in a new order, to keep this museum under the Ministry of Finance and to give it the financial assistance it needs.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

I warmly endorse that part of the speech of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) in which he expressed opposition to the imposition of charges on museum visitors which is proposed in the draft order. That view was also firmly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees).

In explaining the order to the House, the Under-Secretary of State glossed over the imposition of charges, although he knew that this was a matter of grave controversy. He did not explain why charges were to be imposed on visitors to the Ulster Museum, but merely mentioned them in passing. After all that has been said against this proposal in respect of other museums in the United Kingdom, surely special justification is required for imposing these charges in Ulster, which is suffering so much distress. The Government are proposing that visitors to the Ulster Museum who seek aesthetic enjoyment and education should have to pay to enjoy its magnificent exhibits. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will justify this innovation when he replies to the debate.

The justification for imposing entrance charges to museums in other parts of the United Kingdom has been two-fold. The explanation given by the Prime Minister in the House and elsewhere is that people enjoy art more if they have to pay for it. Is that the argument used in respect of the Ulster Museum? The other explanation is that the charges are imposed in fulfilment of a pledge given by the Paymaster-General to the Chancellor of the Exchequer shortly after the election to raise £1 million revenue. It is said that that pledge must be fulfilled. The House is not interested in a pledge given by one Minister to another. The pledge given by the Paymaster-General to the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a personal affair. It has nothing to do with the House, any more than has a pledge given by the Paymaster-General to his aunt.

The Government policy being projected into Northern Ireland is that children, retirement pensioners and those who love art shall for the first time in history pay for the pleasure of enjoying the national treasures which they own. It is ridiculous that the Government should ask for this imposition to be extended to the Ulster Museum. Why in the world is it being done? How much money are the Government going to raise as a result? What percentage of the money taken at the door will go in expenses? In some other museums in the United Kingdom, 30 or 40 per cent. goes in expenses. Is it really worth while bringing about this very important change in principle, breaking the old and fine tradition we have had in the United Kingdom for centuries that works of art in the possession of the people should be seen by the people freely and enjoyed by them? It is very regrettable that this tradition is being broken at all but even more so in Ulster.

Of course, it may be argued that there should be uniformity and that what happens in Britain should happen in Ulster. I agree that there are two features in common between Britain and Ulster in this affair. First, in Ulster, as in Britain, all the trustees of all the museums and galleries hate the imposition of charges and have done their best to oppose and stop them. They have all said that charges are wrong and contrary to the principles of the institutions for which they are responsible. The trustees of the Ulster museums and galleries have said the same thing as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, the whole art world in the United Kingdom—and I am sure that this applies equally to Ulster as to any other part—opposes the charges, and the whole educational establishment says that charging is contrary to public policy by creating a barrier against those who want to visit their museums and galleries.

I know that the Under-Secretary of State does not decide these matters. They are decided at a level much above his influence. But he should convey to those responsible, the Secretary of State, the Paymaster-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, especially in the conditions now obtaining in Ulster, these charges are wrong in principle, are harmful and will be resented.

Let the hon. Gentleman at least make the case that as long as the troubles last in Ulster the charges should not be imposed, if, indeed, they ever have to be imposed—and it is far better to remove them altogether. Let us at least be told that they will not be imposed in Northern Ireland as long as it remains in the condition of hardship, pain and suffering of today.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Whatever our views may have been on museum charges in Great Britain, we cannot but have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) with sympathy. The trouble is, of course, that we cannot amend this order. The House is in this intolerable difficulty to which reference has already been made. The sooner this kind of legislation is returned to a parliamentary assembly in Northern Ireland the better.

Northern Ireland is under-represented in this House. The constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone is not represented at all because the hon. Member returned for that constituency has decided not to perform any of the duties for which he was returned. Therefore, I think it is open to others of us to refer to the Castle Museum of Enniskillen, which has not been included in this order and ought to be.

Some while back, when I was touring the border, I discussed this small but valuable museum with Fermanagh county councillors. It is a cultural institution of which the people there have a right to be proud. I must confess that ever since I was a small boy and taken to the Royal United Service Institution museum in what is now the gloriously-restored Banqueting Hall in Whitehall I have been addicted to military museums. The Enniskillen Castle Museum is bound up with a magnificent military tradition of no fewer than six Irish regiments raised in Enniskillen. The old barracks are Georgian, and they surround the castle keep, which dates back to Stuart times.

The Castle Museum houses exhibits relating to the Royal Irish Rangers, which is an amalgamation of the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers and the Royal Ulster Rifles, and to the 5th Royal Inniskillen Dragoon Guards. These units bear the castle of Enniskillen in their regimental insignia.

The Fermanagh County Council has taken considerable trouble over the museum. It has spent a good deal of money on renovating it, and has leased most of it to the Army for the regimental museum of the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers. Across the yard from the entrance to the keep the council has leased rooms to the Royal Irish Rangers for its regimental headquarters. The officer in charge is also curator of the museum, which consists of regimental exhibits on the first two floors. On the floors above them are county and folk exhibits. But this military element in the museum suggests to me that it has a national as well as a merely local significance.

It has been put to me that the museum can play a part in the tourist industry in Fermanagh, and I hope it will not be considered facetious if I say that I hope that when the troubles are over it may be possible to have son et lumière both in Derry and in Enniskillen.

The castle at Enniskillen is an ancient monument described as not in State care, and is so scheduled by the Ministry of Finance.

The Armagh County Museum is to be brought, by article 7 of the order, under the Ulster Museum, and, therefore, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, replacing the Ministry of Finance. A like arrangement should be made for the Castle Museum at Enniskillen. The regimental museum could remain as a welcome tenant from which the Ministry could derive revenue.

Reference has been made to local opinion and sentiment on the matter. I am informed that the Enniskillen Advisory Committee, including local historians of the calibre of Father Peadar Livingstone and Mrs. Mary Rogers, are unanimous in desiring that the museum should not be handed over to a district council without the resources to do with this asset what could be done.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

I intervene briefly to make what I believe to be important and valid points on the order.

The order puts into effect a number of changes which for various reasons are desirable, but it embodies one provision which the trustees of the Ulster Museum do not desire and to which they have objected. Their objections to this provision have been communicated to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, both directly and through the Advisory Commission for Northern Ireland.

The objectionable provision is article 4(a) which substitutes a new text for paragraph (j) of Section 2(2) of the Museum Act (Northern Ireland) 1961. The existing legal position under that Act is that, by virtue of a reference back to the Museums and Gymnasiums Act 1891, the trustees of the Ulster Museum are obliged to keep it open to the public free of charge for a minimum of three days each week. In practice, by the trustees' own decision, no charge is at present made on any day of the week.

Thus, as in the cases of the institutions in England and Scotland figuring in the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Act 1972, which we have had to suffer in this House, there existed a legal impediment to the trustees' being pressurised into doing what the Government wished; namely, to charge on every day of the week. Hence the provision in the order, which is enabling rather than mandatory in the same way as the 1972 Act.

The present position of the trustees of the Ulster Museum in this matter is that they disapprove of charging. They spelt out their view clearly in the report of the trustees for the year 1st April 1970 to 31st March 1971, in which they say: The Trustees considered the implications of the proposed legislation on several occasions during the year and have carefully examined the advantages and disadvantages of the measure. Conscious of the facts that admission to the Belfast and Ulster Museums had been free since 1891 and that admission charges might deter visitors to the museum at the very time when the re-opening of the building presented opportunities for an increased number of visiors, they have conveyed personally to the Minister their opposition to the institution of admission charges for the Ulster Museum … They do not want these things imposed in Ulster.

Incidentally, the trustees object to being made the unwilling instrument of a policy of which they disapprove. They take exception to being cast in a most invidious rôle in the present distressing circumstances in Northern Ireland. They regard the erecting of any financial barrier to the access of citizens to a civilised amenity, which this museum is, at such a time as a gratuitously infelicitous action, to put it mildly.

There is one point which I hope the Under-Secretary of State will clarify. In Section 3(b) of the lapsed Stormont Bill it was explicitly stated that the provision in Schedule 1, paragraph 4(1) of the Museum Act (Northern Ireland) 1961, whereby the chairman of the trustees was a ministerial appointment, was to cease to have effect.

That explicit statement has not reappeared in the body of the order, though the repeal of the provision would appear to have survived in the schedule. The original provision in the 1961 Act seems to have been inserted because the board, on the transfer of the museum from the city of Belfast to the nation, was at that time a new creation.

In all other circumstances—I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State is scratching his head, as he had better find out about this—the chairmen of the boards of trustees of the national museums and galleries are elected by the members of the boards at any given time and not appointed by a Minister. Raising this point in connection with the order provides an opportunity for this important general principle to be reasserted. I trust that the hon. Gentleman, in a moment of illumination, will do so.

11.23 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I find myself in strong agreement with hon. Members who have expressed their opposition to admission charges to the Ulster Museum. At this time especially, when it should be the effort of the Government to get our young people off the streets and interested in things that could help them to become better citizens and to cooperate with the rest of the population, it is essential that every effort be made to encourage them to visit the museums without putting on an iniquitous charge for so doing.

I regret that we have not had the opportunity either to propose amendments or to vote on this very important matter. The House will agree that it was right that we did not take the three orders together, which was the Government's original suggestion. We would then probably have spent our time having a discussion only on this order and we would not have had an opportunity to comment upon the other orders that are to come before the House.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) in his exposure of the folly of the Government in transferring museums from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Education. I am glad that the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) is also interested in the matter of the Girona treasure because it was found off the coast of my constituency.

The Ministry of Finance made a liberal grant of £88,000 towards the cost of purchasing this treasure, which can be seen in the museum of Northern Ireland. If at that time the museum had been under the control of the Ministry of Education no such money would have been forthcoming. We know the row that goes on every year when education in Northern Ireland gets £X thousands for the educational needs and amenities of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)

Would my hon. Friend confirm that a large amount of the money for the Spanish treasure was raised by public subscription and that money is still coming in? Many of the people who subscribed towards the purchase of the treasure will have to pay to see it if this proposal goes through.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Ministry of Finance pro- vided £88,000, and £50,000 was raised by public subscription. Those who contributed will have to pay again to see the treasure when they visit the museum, and that strengthens the argument against imposing a charge.

I take the point that many things in the museum were gifted to the people of Ulster. They were given so that people could view them at any time, yet now the Government are taking it into their head to instruct the trustees of the Museum to charge the public for seeing things that were gifted to them. The Ministry of Education will never be in a position to make liberal grants to the museum. We all know that when the proposal comes to the Ministry there will be cheeseparing, just as there is with the school programme. The museum will be the cinderella of the Ministry of Education and will not receive liberal grants for the important work that it does.

Why was a change made in the proposals in the original draft dealing with the appointment of the trustees? For how long will these trustees hold office? Can the Minister explain why the representation from the Belfast Corporation, which will now be from the Belfast Council, has been cut by 50 per cent., from four to two, in the case of the trustees of the folklore museum?

I pay tribute to Belfast Corporation for having pioneered the museum in Stranmillis Road and handing it over for the good of the community. The corporation also pioneered the Transport Museum which has been handed over to the community.

Mr. Kilfedder

My hon. Friend has confirmed what has been said by every speaker so far; namely, that this is an important debate. Does he agree that it is extraordinary that not one Republican Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland is present?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure the House will note that when we are debating matters that have to do with the welfare of the individual and the good of all the people of Northern Ireland, there is not present a representative from among those in Northern Ireland who have argued vociferously against Government control in Northern Ireland and have carried on their agitation against the forces of the Crown. Some of us have been branded as not being interested in the ordinary individuals in Northern Ireland, but every night that this—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must not pursue this. We must return to the order.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Those in Northern Ireland who are interested in the everyday life of the community and the betterment of that life have had their representatives present here, and they have taken part in the debates.

The Opposition spokesman drew the attention of the House to the fact that when the Bill was presented at Stormont there was no debate. The reason for that was that the following day the announcement was made here that this House would be taking over the powers for Northern Ireland. Consequently, those hon. Members at Stormont, including myself, were not present. However, that has illustrated the very important fact that many Bills passed through Stormont with a nod of the head. There is a far better debate in this House, albeit it is at Westminster, than would have taken place at Stormont. Those supporters of the Stormont Parliament should take that into their considerations.

While many people on the verge of what could be a momentous day tomorrow have various things to say about this Parliament, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland recognise without equivocation the sovereignty of this House, and recognise that this House is not a régime but a democratically elected Parliament to govern the people of Northern Ireland.

I am glad of the opportunity we have had tonight to discuss something which affects everyone in Northern Ireland.

11.32 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills

This has been a very interesting debate. It has ranged far and wide. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have been very tolerant. As a very new Under-Secretary concerned with these problems, I have learned a tremendous amount tonight. The debate has been very worth while. So many questions have been asked. I shall try to cover most of them. If I fail, I promise to see that all are answered in letters.

The hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) was glad to welcome the order. I liked it when he said that it seemed sensible. That is true.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

We feel very strongly about the charges. It was the structural changes that we said were sensible.

Mr. Mills

I accept that. I assure the House that there will be no lower priority given to museums.

The hon. Member talked about how much would be spent in the first financial year. I shall write to him about it, but I can say that they are considerable sums.

For the Ulster Museum in 1973–74 the revenue grant is £336,000; the purchase grant is £45,000; the capital is approximately £100,000. For the Ulster Folk Museum the revenue grant is £142,000, and the capital is £150,000. Those are very considerable sums. That answers the attacks that the Ministry of Education will not be looking after these museums.

Mr. Faulds

When the hon. Gentleman is speaking of these comfortably sized sums, would he not agree that it makes even more ludicrous the proposition of charging when about £10,000 or £12,000 might be the result in a year of the imposition of charges?

Mr. Mills

No. It shows that the Government are prepared to help to finance with these very large sums but, indeed, that others should have some responsibility in that. I shall come to those problems, but I doubt whether for one moment I shall be able to convince hon. Members on that. However, I shall try.

Mr. Kilfedder

My hon. Friend has mentioned money for the folklore museum. Would he not accept that the loan which is being paid off is a terrible millstone around its neck and impedes the work that it could do? Further, does he not recognise that the mass of material which is at present available in Northern Ireland for collection for the museum will disappear unless the money is made available to purchase it and to bring it into the folklore museum?

Mr. Mills

I certainly have taken into account what my hon. Friend has said on this matter. Certainly we shall look into it. We must not go back; we must go forward in these matters. These heavy financial problems will be examined.

I was asked whether, if we dropped these charges in Great Britain, we would drop them in Northern Ireland. The simple answer is "Yes". I believe that the charges are a matter for the trustees to decide. I can say that no decisions have yet been taken. Obviously, the Government must take into consideration any decision about grants.

Mr. Strauss

The Minister says that the amount of the charges will be the responsibility of the trustees; but other museums and galleries in the United Kingdom have been dictated to by the Paymaster-General. Will that apply to the Ulster Museum, or will its trustees have a latitude that is denied the trustees of other museums?

Mr. Mills

My knowledge of these matters tells me that it is for the trustees to decide. Under this order they are able to make charges, and it is for them to decide.

It may be of some help to hon. Members on both sides of the House if I say that in this whole question the Government will consider the special situation in Northern Ireland. I do not want to be pressed any more on that, but that is a fair thing to say. Of course, we accept that there are very difficult situations in Northern Ireland.

I come now to the appeal made for the Armada Treasure. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked what we had done to help. The Ministry has given £88,000—two-thirds of the cost. That does not show that the Government are not interested in these things and prepared to help.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will not the Minister admit that it is much easier to get money from the Ministry of Finance to the tune of £88,000 than it is to get such a vast sum from the Ministry of Education when it is pressed for finance?

Mr. Mills

If I answered that question I should be straying far from what I am allowed to say. From my experience the Treasury has always been the most difficult Department from which to get money. I do not have these fears; I believe that the Ministry of Education takes this matter very seriously, and I think that the money will be forthcoming. I shall try to explain that a little later. I understand that no further money is required for this collection. The money has been raised, and I understand that with the grant the position is very satisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) talked about the Ulster Folk Museum. He paid a glowing tribute to Professor Evans. I agree with him. I hope that I shall not be out of order in saying that I think that my hon. Friend is right. The Minister of State responsible for these matters has visited this museum and has described it to me in glowing terms. It is something that should be helped and promoted, and I am sure that it will be. I have been too busy to visit either museum up to now, but I hope to do so soon, probably during Easter, and I hope to take my children with me. I understand that that would be of tremendous educational advantage to them. Talking about the "poor sister"—I think that was the phrase that was used about the Ulster Museum—will not be true, even if it were true in the past. I think that is the best way to put it.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is that an assurance from my hon. Friend that the Ulster Folk Museum will have its financial assistance from the Government doubled or trebled?

Mr. Mills

No. I shall not be led up that path. The Ministry of Education will be fair about these things. I hope that all the museums will go forward, and the Ministry of Education will take careful note of what my hon. Friend has said.

My hon. Friend also talked about the problem of the Ministry of Education taking over the museums. I disagree with him on that matter. Already school courses are proposed at the Ulster Folk Museum. Both museums are keen to develop educational services, encouraged by the Ministry of Education. I am sure that is a very good thing.

I understand that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss)—I must be careful about this as I live in his constituency and there may be an election coming up—feels very strongly about these matters. If he wants me to repeat the Government's views on why they have sought to introduce charges at museums I will do so.

The museum has a national status. It must take the rough with the smooth. The Ministry of Finance was spending a substantial amount on the museums both in capital and current grants. There was no evidence that attendances would be permanently affected by charges. Most countries charge for admittance. Charging allows control over admission and also encourages the public to look for value for money.

These are some of the views that the Government have expressed why there should be admission charges. Obviously in the context of Northern Ireland and the problems there, the Ministry will take careful note of the strong views which have been expressed tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) spoke about the Castle Museum at Enniskillen, as did other hon. Members. I know only too well how much people like that small museum. It is important to them, and they are very proud of it. I am certain that the Minister of State responsible for these matters will take note of the views and fears which have been expressed on this matter.

The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) referred to charges at the Ulster Museum. He did not mention that the Ulster Folk Museum has been charging admission for some time with no apparent problems. Again, his very strong views will be passed on.

The hon. Gentleman nearly caught me out regarding the chairman of the Board of Trustees. Fortunately, I was able to obtain some information on this point. If I do not answer it correctly, I will make certain that the hon. Gentleman receives a correct answer later. The first chairman will be appointed by the Minister for one year only. Then, when the whole thing is under way, the chairman will be elected in the normal way by the trustees. It was felt that as this was a new institution it might be advisable for the Minister to make the appointment to begin with. I understand that the Duke of Abercorn will probably be the first chairman.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North emphasised many of the points that I will try to answer tonight. He asked how long the trustees would hold office. They will be appointed for three years. The number of trustees from the city of Belfast has been reduced in proportion to the overall reduction.

Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)

Can we take it that if money is required in the future for specific subjects such as the Girona collection it will not be taken off the general education bill but will be specifically negotiated as an additional amount for that purpose through the education department?

Mr. Peter Mills

I am not certain about that point but we could examine what has happened in the past. No doubt if such difficulties arose, particularly in a case such as the Girona collection, the Minister of State would look into them carefully.

I had thought that this was a simple order. I did not think it would take so long, but, except for the strong reservations about charges, I think it has been welcomed and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Museums (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th January, be approved.

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