HC Deb 30 October 1989 vol 159 cc13-5
53. Mrs. Clwyd

To ask the Minister for the Arts when he last met the chairman of the Museums and Galleries Commission to discuss the level of funding of national museums.

Mr. Luce

I meet the chairman of the Museum and Galleries Commission regularly and discuss a wide range of subjects, which have included museum and gallery funding.

Mrs. Clwyd

Did the Minister discuss with the chairman of the commission its claim that the Government are grossly underfunding our largest museums? When will the right hon. Gentleman face up to the crisis in our museums? The director of the Tate has accused the Government of making their calculations on the back of an envelope. Half the Tate's British collection is in store because the building is falling apart.

Mr. Luce

I am surprised that the hon. Lady says that there is gross underfunding and that she does not welcome the recent decision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to invest an extra £21 million in a major extension and redevelopment of the national museum of Wales. The hon. Lady accuses the Government of underfunding and cannot even welcome that investment. That is extraordinary. It is extraordinary also that she accuses the Government of underfunding, when in 1979–80 funding for museums and galleries was £54 million whereas today it is £158 million—a real increase of 25 per cent. If the hon. Lady thinks that the Government are underfunding the museums, what does she think that the Labour Government were doing at the end of the 1970s?

Mr. Carrington

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the drain of our artistic heritage overseas as a result of the recent rise in the price of goods at auction and the inability of our museums and galleries to bid competitively to retain those art treasures in this country. Will my right hon. Friend review that situation and consider whether to review the whole procedure for the licensing of artistic exports?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on the fact that the dramatic increase in the prices of works of art puts extra pressure on the available resources for saving our most important works of heritage. However, throughout the 1980s, we have had the national heritage memorial fund, which has spent well over £100 million in saving important works of art for this country. If my hon. Friend intended to put his finger on the level of the purchase grant, I must point out that I said a year ago that I would look at the way in which the purchase grant was working. I ask him to be patient for a little longer, while I try to take decisions. The first priority must be to find money for the fabric, building and maintenance of our national institutions.

Mr. Fisher

It is clear that the Minister thinks that he knows better than the chairmen of the five national galleries who told him and the Prime Minister in July that unless he provided enormously increased funding for those museums and galleries, the effects would be disastrous. Did the Minister give a specific assurance to the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts in January 1988, when he announced three-year funding, that if there were exceptional circumstances, such as a rise in inflation, he would reopen the books for the national museums and consider their funding again? Will he now redeem that assurance to the Select Committee, reopen the books, pay attention to what the chairmen of those galleries are saying and provide the extra funding needed?

Mr. Luce

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman does not join me in confirming the figures, which show a real increase in support for the national museums and galleries, although he knows perfectly well that there has been an increase. Having said that, it was two years ago that I introduced three-year funding. I hope that I read in the hon. Gentleman's question the fact that he does not disagree with the concept of three-year funding. It is right to say that the levels of inflation in recent months have undermined three-year funding to some extent. The Government as a whole are clearly committed to maintaining support for the arts.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the health of our museums is best shown not only by funding, but by the number of museums that have opened in recent years and the number of people who attend those museums? Will he also take the opportunity to reject the suggestion made recently by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) that there is a Government plan to introduce compulsory admission charges? Will he confirm that it is still a voluntary scheme?

Mr. Luce

On the latter point, it is wholly for the trustees to decide whether admission charges should be introduced. That remains our policy and it is the right policy. We should let them decide how best to proceed with that matter. The Government have a fine record in terms of the catalogue of refurbishment of our national institutions—our museums and galleries. There have been extensions, such as Bodelwyddan castle, the national portrait gallery and the Tate gallery in Liverpool, various redevelopments at the Tate gallery itself, the Clore gallery extension and many other redevelopments. In the past decade, about 10 galleries at the British museum have been refurbished.

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