HC Deb 26 March 1990 vol 170 cc12-3
63. Mr. Gerald Bowden

To ask the Minister for the Arts what plans he has to improve the fabric of buildings under his control by the year 2000.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

As I announced at the Museums Association centenary conference in September 1989, one of the major challenges that I have set is to get the national museums and gallery buildings for which I am responsible into good shape by the end of the 1990s.

Mr. Bowden

In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement about museums and galleries, may I ask him to consider the plight of other great public buildings, cathedrals? Although they are not within his precise remit, they are often beyond the scope and resources of their deans and chapters. Would not it be a good idea to put them in order to face the next 1,000 years?

Mr. Luce

As my hon. Friend says, cathedrals are not my direct responsibility. I have noticed throughout the country several appeals for cathedrals which are meeting considerable success. With regard to my direct responsibilites, we should do our best to get our national institutions, galleries and museums into good shape. I am glad that, on top of the Government's additional £180 million in the next three years, Lord Wolfson and his foundation have agreed to provide £12 million over the next three years to help the renovation of our great museums and galleries.

Mr. Jopling

Does my right hon. Friend recall that there are only 35 known paintings by Vermeer of which two have been stolen in the recent past, following last week's Boston art theft? Will he carry out urgent checks on the four buildings in this country where there are paintings by Jan Vermeer so that those incomparble paintings are not put at risk?

Mr. Luce

I note my right hon. Friend's comments carefully and I shall certainly look seriously at the matter. The restitution of stolen works of art is a serious problem. I am considering it against the background of the review of export controls for works of art in 1992.

Mr. Fisher

I warmly welcome the generosity of Lord Wolfson and the Minister's response to it, but does not Lord Wolfson require that his gift be disbursed within three years? How can local authorities respond to initiatives about local museums when the Government have bound them hand and foot with penalties, the poll tax and this week, if we are to believe it, charge capping? What advice will the Minister give local authorities which want to respond to and participate in Lord Wolfson's generosity but cannot because of the Government's policies?

Mr. Luce

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the new improvement fund for the fabric of museums. He is right to suggest that they apply to local museums and galleries as well as to national institutions. That is an important development. Together the Government and Lord Wolfson's foundation have earmarked £12 million for the next three years with an option to continue for a further two years with additional money. That money can be committed over a timespan which is agreed among the institutions, the local authorities and the private sector, which I hope will play a positive role.

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