HC Deb 14 January 1985 vol 71 cc138-41

'There shall be a Board to be known as the Board of Trustees of the Scottish Museum of Industry which shall be appointed by the Secretary of State to establish a Museum of Indusiry.'.— [Mr. Craigen.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.39 am
Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 16, in line 5, after 'Edinburgh', insert 'to establish a Board of Trustees of the Scottish Museum of Industry.'.

Mr. Craigen

It is unfortunate that the House must deal with the report stage at such an early hour of the morning, especially as we have had a hard day with the Trustee Savings Banks Bill and the Water (Fluoridation) Bill. However, we are still here.

New clause 1 relates to the establishment of a Scottish museum of industry. As the Minister knows, we did not have an opportunity in Committee properly to air this issue, although the concept of such a museum was frequently raised. We found it necessary to table the new clause because of the Government's disingenuous approach. There had been every sign that the Government fully supported the concept of establishing a museum of industry, even to the extent of the Secretary of State being on record as saying that it was in an exciting prospect. Therefore, I expected the Minister to be more positive when he replied to the Second Reading debate. Unfortunately, we were not shown how, when or where the Government planned such a museum.

The Williams report, "A Heritage for Scotland", was never debated in the House, although there was a debate in another place on 27 January 1982. Otherwise, we have had to rely on a series of written parliamentary answers from the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) has been particularly diligent in pursuing these matters. The written answer he received on 22 July 1982 made no specific mention of the proposal for a museum of industry, but by 8 December 1983 the Secretary of State said that he was seeking advice on the matter.

The concept of a museum of industry for Scotland is an exciting prospect. As that was the Secretary of State's view, I was surprised on Second Reading when in reply the Under-Secretary gave the impression that the Government had changed and, indeed, positively deserted their position on the matter

In Committee we spoke about the possibility of a freestanding museum, as envisaged by the Williams committee in its report. Dr. Alwyn Williams wrote to me on 26 November 1984: I hope that there will be no let up in the pressure for a Museum of Industry in the West of Scotland. The image of the City of Glasgow and the Clydeside conurbation in general has been transformed even since my return in 1976. The momentum which is now compelling the rest of the world to recognise the city as a cultural centre of international standing must not be lost. Given that we are dealing with the National Heritage (Scotland) Bill, the Government should not lose sight of the recommendations of the Williams report.

12.45 am

If the museum of industry is to be subsumed into the new structure of the museum of Scotland, some of us fear that it may get short shrift, because the new board of trustees, unless there is a clear Government commitment, may have certain biases towards the totality of existing institutions. Ministers should make clear what they envisage by the concept of a museum of industry since, as I have said earlier, the Secretary of State found it a particularly exciting prospect.

New clause 1 is a probing clause, because it is essential at this stage for the Government to give some answers that were not given in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in particular tried to put a price tag on the capital cost of a museum of industry, and I think his figure was about £20 million. The Minister did not contradict him in Committee but, although I requested it, the Minister was not able to produce his own calculation.

We are dealing with a matter of principle and I want a simple yes or no from the Minister. Do the Government still believe in a museum of industry for Scotland? If the Minister says no, is he going to bury the idea in the same way as he has been burying so much of the living industry of Scotland? If he still feels that there should be a museum of industry, what vibrations is he getting from the committee under Lord Bute, and what instructions will he give the new board of trustees when it is set up?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

I am grateful to the Hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) for giving the House the opportunity to consider this topic tonight. As he rightly said, the new clause would have the effect of setting up a free—standing board of trustees to establish a Scottish museum of industry. As he has again rightly said, that is broadly in line with what was recommended by the Williams committee. But as I explained in Committee—I thought I had made the position clear—in principle, that essential proposal runs counter to the present general thinking on the subject in museum circles. Some of that thinking was referred to by other hon. Members. It is thinking which has the endorsement of the bodies which have been consulted during the last year or so, including the Scottish Museums Council and its industrial museums advisory board.

A consensus is now emerging that the concept of a museum of industry cannot and should not be separated from that of a museum of Scotland. The story of the growth of industry in Scotland is an integral part of the general story of Scotland's history. Therefore, it is now thought to be much more appropriate to set it in its proper place in developing the museum of Scotland concept. Exactly how that is to be developed is still under discussion, but I can tell the hon. Member for Maryhill that one suggested approach is that certain core disciplines could be built up within the national museums, largely on the basis of material that they already hold, which might then point interested visitors in the direction of more specialised displays and collections in a number of venues throughout Scotland. In Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) rightly referred to several other venues in Aberdeen and Bathgate that are important in this context.

Certain developments of that type are already in being or planned. It might be one of the tasks for the new board of trustees of the national museums and of its staff to encourage the development of such specialised displays in several key centres.

The hon. Member for Maryhill asked me what the up-to-date position is. It is one of the issues to which the advisory board is giving a great deal of thought. It has already had the benefit of two major papers from Dr. Neil Cossons, the director of the national maritime museum in London and former director of the Ironbridge museum trust. The advisory board will be recommending the direction in which the national museums policy might be channelled in that area.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

The Minister has mentioned an ominous name. Dr. Cossons is the first man to have followed the lead of the Government in instituting charges at Greenwich. The hon. Gentleman is not going to rely too much on his advice, is he?

Mr. Stewart

I recall that in Committee the hon. Member for Linlithgow— I am sure that he will intervene if I am misquoting him—paid a considerable tribute to Dr. Cossons' expertise in that area. He is widely respected.

I have no doubt that the board will take careful note of the keen interest that has been expressed by hon. Members in the direction of such developments.

The hon. Member for Maryhill asked me about resources. He will know that before the board reports we cannot say precisely what resources the new structure will require. However, I hope that hon. Members will be reassured, because resources came up in Committee, by the decisions made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and announced to the House about the provision for the museums in 1985–86. My right hon. Friend announced an increase in the net provision for the two museums of 12 per cent.—an extra £700,000—through the Property Services Agency for the fabric of the museums, and an increase in the grant for the Scottish Museums Council of 41 per cent. At a time when public expenditure is rightly under restraint, those figures are a clear sign of the Government's commitment to our national museums. I hope that my explanation of the present position has been helpful to the House.

Mr. Craigen

It seems that in a most tortuous way the Minister has shown that he has gone cold on the whole issue of a museum of industry. I confirm that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and I were at one over the prospect of a core museum with strong links with localities, industries and communities. A network depicting the industrial heritage of Scotland could have been developed.

I am worried about the Minister's reply. He told us that the decision would be left to Lord Bute and the unified board of trustees. Thus, he is effectively squeezing out the options that now they will not seek.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I thank the Minister for the three-page letter that he sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) and myself, because it was very helpful.

So much depends on the resources that will be available to the local museums. I do not want to reiterate too much of what was said in Committee, but is it right or wrong to suggest that if there is to he a museum of industry as such, £20 million is a minimum figure? Given the public expenditure of any Government, surely that will have reverberating ramifications on the local museums, about which we rightly said so much. Since our discussions, my impression is more and more that museums, such as Aberdeen, with fishing specialities, are worried about their own resources. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

In the absence of the new clause, where will this leave the fledgling Scottish mining museum recently opened at Prestongrange in my constituency and at the former Lady Victoria colliery at Newtongrange in Midlothian? Without some funding from the new authority what will happen to that museum, the Scottish fisheries museum and many others?

Mr. Allan Stewart

I should perhaps repeat the quotation rightly given in Committee by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) in which the Scottish Museums Council states: We consider that a single-site, monolithic Museum of Industry in Scotland is neither a practicable, nor a desirable option. I think that that view of the relationship between a museum of industry and the rest of the museum world is broadly accepted.

Perhaps I did not make it sufficiently clear to the hon. Member for Linlithgow in Committee that the idea that sums of the order of £20 million are readily available is clearly unrealistic. I hope that he will accept that the sums announced, ahead of the decisions by Lord Bute's committee, in respect of net grants to the national museums and the Scottish Museums Council for 1985–86 show the Government's interest in and concern for museums.

For the same reason, I cannot give a precise answer to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in relation to the mining museum. I hope that the House will accept that until the advisory board has reached its conclusions and submitted its advice we cannot make decisions on a number of points of detail which are of interest to hon. Members.

Question put and negatived.

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