HC Deb 27 February 1989 vol 148 cc13-5
57. Mrs. Clwyd

To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he has met the chairman of the trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum to discuss the restructuring of staff.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

The organisation and management of the Victoria and Albert museum are matters for the director and trustees of the museum. I have every confidence in them.

The chairman and director have explained to me their plans, both to strengthen the scholarship of the museum and to improve its management of the collections. I fully support those objectives.

Mrs. Clwyd

Has the Minister seen the critical remarks of professor Martin Kemp, who has just resigned as a trustee of the V and A because he says that the Government are increasingly appointing to museum boards people who mirror their policies? Why does the Minister not admit that he wants more people who can be economical with the truth, such as the present chairman of the V and A, and not trustees who genuinely protect the country's heritage?

Mr. Luce

I deplore the way in which the hon. Lady phrased that question. The V and A has an outstanding chairman, outstanding trustees and an outstanding director. If the hon. Lady looks at the list of trustees, she will see a broad balance of interests, concerns and backgrounds, including three professors who concentrate on areas of scholarship, business men and people from public service. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes such appointments, it is important to ensure that there is a broad range of interests, which is what we have at the V and A.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend accept that even those who believe that he is right to have confidence in the trustees and the director, and even those who feel that the hon. Lady's slur was quite unwarranted and unworthy, feel that this incident has not been handled as well or as sensibly as it might have been, especially bearing in mind the long and distinguished service given to the museum by those who have been declared redundant? Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity of thanking them for their services?

Mr. Luce

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I, too, attach the highest importance to good staff management and good personal relations. I must reinforce the fact that I fully support the overall objectives that are designed to maintain and enhance the standards of scholarship and research, to improve the standards of maintenance and management of the objects in the collections, as well as increasing the museum's contribution to education while attracting the public. All those are important objectives. I am grateful to all the staff, many of whom have served the Victoria and Albert museum for many years.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister explain the nature of the Government's interference, which was quoted by professor Martin Kemp as one of the reasons for his resignation from the trustees? Does he accept that, with so many of the staff voicing their concern and lack of support for the restructuring plan, all is far from well at the Victoria and Albert museum and that he could best fulfil his responsibilities by setting up a committee of inquiry into the running, the curatorial and administrative structuring and the funding of the museum?

Mr. Luce

I must reconfirm that there is no question of any Government interference in the management of the Victoria and Albert museum. I believe—I have made this clear repeatedly—that the Government should delegate responsibility for the management of the museums to the director, trustees and the chairman of the trustees. I am sure that that principle of devolution of authority is right.

As I have said, I support the general objectives of the restructuring which, incidentally, are in line with the changes made some months ago by the national maritime museum. The hon. Gentleman asked how that restructuring will take place. As I understand it, the changes will take between two and three years to be completed. I have been told by the director that she will undertake to review carefully the progress of the changes as they happen.

Mr. Jessel

How has management restructuring worked out in other museums such as the national maritime museum at Greenwich, the natural history museum and the science museum? Have they been able to retain the services of their top experts and scholars? Can my right hon. Friend throw any light on what differences there may be between what happened at those museums and what happened at the Victoria and Albert museum?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is right to point out that over the months and years there have been a number of management changes to modernise the administration of our great institutions. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the science museum and the natural history museum have experienced changes. The national maritime museum has experienced changes broadly in line with the concept behind the changes at the Victoria and Albert museum. They have relieved the scholars—to whose research work I attach the highest importance—of day-to-day management. The concept has been successfully implemented at the national maritime museum, from which we should learn a lesson.

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