§ 34. Mr. David Martin
To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he will make a statement on the funding for the area museum councils.
§ Mr. Renton
The Museums and Galleries Commission has increased its overall allocation to the area museum councils in England by 15 per cent. in the coming year. I am pleased to see that in the Portsmouth area this will allow the area museum service for south-eastern England to continue providing advice and assistance to the eight museums run by the city council and to the four other member museums.
§ Mr. Martin
I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks, especially those which relate to Portsmouth and increased funding. Will he confirm that there will be a proper businesslike approach to the expenditure that is being made available? Will proper training and marketing skills be developed so that the money is used to improve museums, as it should?
§ Mr. Renton
I agree with my hon. Friend. The aim of the Museums and Galleries Commission, working closely with the area museum councils, is to ensure that the money available—as I said, the commission is increasing its grant to the museum council in the area which my hon. Friend represents in part by 15 per cent. in the year ahead—is properly spent, that there is good training and that everyone concerned should be able in due course to qualify for a standard certificate, for example, to show that they have proper professional qualifications for the museum. In that respect, the MGC and the area museum councils are working together closely and well.
§ Dr. Kim Howells
Does the Minister agree that area museums have a special function in that they are often the venues for travelling exhibitions of paintings? In Wales, there is probably only one great exhibition of paintings permanently on view and that is the Impressionist collection at Cardiff. It is important to many children and students outside Cardiff that the museums have proper funding so that good exhibitions can be mounted in them. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the poll tax, means that area museums are in dire danger of being unable to mount such exhibitions in the future because the authorities always cut arts funding first?
The hon. Gentleman is correct in so far as spending on the arts is one of the discretionary areas of funding for local authorities. I hope that he will bring all his influence to bear to ensure that local authorities do not cut spending in this respect. It is not necessary for them to do so. The Welsh Arts Council has received a good increase from the Arts Council of Great Britain for the year ahead, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He should be lending his weight to ensure that local authorities do not bear down on discretionary spending on the arts.
§ Sir Peter Emery
When my right hon. Friend is considering these matters, will he consider especially some of the voluntary local museums? One in Honiton, containing a presentation of lace, is better than any other 665 in the country, yet it receives no financial benefit from the area museum councils. Some small museums do an immense amount of good for the locality and need to be encouraged as much as is humanly possible.
§ Mr. Renton
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing to my attention the lace museum in his constituency. As the area museum councils state in their recent. extremely good brochure entitled "Museums Working Together", they exist to help and support museums of all sorts from the smallest visual village museum to the largest city arts gallery. I see no reason, therefore, why the lace museum to which my hon. Friend referred should not receive help from the area museum council. My hon. Friend should suggest to the museum that it has another go.