HC Deb 16 January 1989 vol 145 cc14-6
98. Mr. Butler

To ask the Minister for the Arts what funds he has made available for the maintenance and refurbishment of museums and galleries.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

I am continuing to give high priority to the building and maintenance programmes of the national museums and galleries. I have made a series of increases bringing annual expenditure to £55 million by 1991–92, an increase of-53 per cent. since 1987–88.

Mr. Butler

My right hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the excellent imperial war museum redevelopment, which was in a sense a precursor of his incentive funding scheme. Could not the incentive funding scheme be more generally applied to the refurbishment of museums?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is right. There has been an element of incentive funding with the redevelopment plan for the imperial war museum. That new mechanism is being used for other areas and other museums. For example, there is joint funding for the Clore gallery at the Tate—the capital funding comes from the Clore Foundation and the running costs from the Government. A role is being played by the Government in the national gallery's Sainsbury wing. At the British museum the refurbishment of galleries for the display of Roman material is being funded through the generosity of the Wolfson Foundation, and Government funding is also being made available.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Is the Minister aware of the Public Accounts Committee report which repeated what the director of the Victoria and Albert museum said in connection with its manuscripts and printed matter? She pointed out that the way in which they were being looked after was a national disaster and that to put right the deterioration at the present rate of progress would take 200 years. As they are a national asset, should we not regard this as a matter of the highest priority?

Mr. Luce

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are due to reply to the important report of the Public Accounts Committee as soon as possible. Without pre-empting what they wish to say, I do not underestimate the seriousness and importance of conservation and the condition of our national museums and galleries. For that reason, in the new three-year funding policy, we have allocated an extra £13 million for the new third year—at least half of which must be allocated to conservation, storage and other matters. That will have a strong bearing on what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Jessel

Has my right hon. Friend considered the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) that funds for the maintenance and repair of existing collections should be increased, instead of spending funds on purchasing grants, which should be phased out?

Mr. Luce

I have read with great care and interest the pamphlet written by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). Considerable additional resources have already been made available through mechanisms other than the purchase grant system to help preserve objects of great importance to our heritage. For example, last year an additional £20 million was given to the national heritage memorial fund. The acceptance of items in lieu of taxation allows important objects to be preserved in this country. I have undertaken to review carefully the working of the purchase grant system to see how the money could be better deployed. In the meantime, an extra 53 per cent. of resources will be made available over the next four years for the building and maintenance of our museums and galleries.

99. Mr. Bradley

To ask the Minister for the Arts what plans he has to increase investment in English national museums and galleries in response to the March report of the National Audit Office.

Mr. Luce

Last November I announced the grant-in-aid allocations to the national museums and galleries that I sponsor, rolling forward the three-year funding settlement introduced in 1987 to the year 1991–92. I have made increases specifically to help the national institutions in tackling their priority concerns.

The Government are considering the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the management of collections of the English national museums and galleries, and will respond as soon as possible.

Mr. Bradley

The Minister seems complacent about this matter. Has he not read the two reports of the National Audit Office, which outline the appalling problems facing our national museums, the root cause being the cut of at least 9 per cent. in the budget of the Victoria and Albert museum and the 5 per cent. cut in the budget of the British museum between 1979 and 1987? Will he support today the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee calling for a specific fund to deal with the accumulated conservation problems in addition to the existing allocation of national funds going towards conservation? The Minister must act today to ensure that conservation work is maintained in our national museums.

Mr. Luce

As I have said, the Government have not yet replied to the Public Accounts Committee and when we do reply, the hon. Gentleman will see what importance we attach to the issue. I do not need to wait until then to reinforce the point that the chairmen and directors—almost to a man—have made in representations to me over the past two or three years about the priority that they attach to building, maintenance and conservation. For that reason, over the four-year period 1987–1988 to 1991–92, I am increasing those overall resources by 53 per cent. That does not show complacency; on the contrary, it shows the priority that I attach to the matter.

Mr. Bowis

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to listen closely and talk to the directors of museums and galleries, so that he can go on getting it right? When he talks to them, will he also ensure that one added priority is that museums bring forward a programme for opening their establishments at times when the public want to visit them, such as bank holidays and weekends, when young people, in particular, can attend?

Mr. Luce

I appreciate the final point that my hon. Friend made. Clearly, it is important to attract as many people as possible to our museums and galleries. This is Museum Year, so there is a sustained campaign, sponsored by The Times and run by the Museums Association, to attract greater participation and attendance at museums. It is estimated that about 80 million people will go to museums this year and, if the campaign is successful, attendances may increase to 100 million. Flexibility in opening hours is one part of the marketing policy to create greater public interest in museums.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister accept that the disgraceful state of our national museums, as detailed by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, is a direct result of his Government's policy of neglect and underfunding of our great museums? Does he not understand that that is now a national scandal and that, although we welcome the sums that he has announced today, if he dared to have a national audit of the needs of the museums in building and maintenance—let alone in conservation and other areas—the sums would be revealed to be wholly inadequate for the crisis into which his policies have plunged the museums?

Mr. Luce

I suppose that I should expect the hon. Gentleman to use such colourful language, as he regards it as part of his job. However, that is not the real perspective. Our magnificent institutions are doing a fantastic job. They are lending out a great deal and far more is on display than when Labour was in office. New galleries are open and we have seen the development of the Clore gallery at the Tate, the Tate gallery extension in Liverpool, the redevelopment of the imperial war museum, the extension of the national gallery through the Sainsbury wing, the opening of new galleries at the British museum and an extension to the national portrait gallery. How can the hon. Gentleman say that everything is stagnating?

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