HC Deb 26 February 2001 vol 363 cc570-1
6. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

How many items from the national collections are on loan to private sector organisations; and how many of them cannot be viewed by members of the general public. [149390]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

Inquiries to the national museums and galleries show that 1,202 items are on loan to private sector organisations, including privately funded art galleries. It is estimated that, of those items, 86 per cent. are available to public view.

Mr. Prentice

My calculation is that 14 per cent. of items from the national collection are not available for the general public to view, which is unfortunate. At any given time, the public can see only 15 per cent. of the Tate"s collection, only 18 per cent. of the national collection in the national portrait gallery and less than 5 per cent. of the science museum"s collection. Why is it not possible to show items from our national collections in public spaces such as airport and railway concourses, with proper protection, and introduce our citizens to the glories of those collections?

Mr. Howarth

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. Works of art are regularly lent and borrowed within this country and throughout the world. That is the only basis on which we in Britain have the opportunity to see wonderful special exhibitions of international importance.

As my hon. Friend says, a significant proportion of items in the national collections are not on display at any given time, and it is highly desirable that more people should have the opportunity to see them. That is why I am very encouraged by the network of relations that the Tate gallery has developed with regional galleries, which will enable more people in the regions to see items from its collection. The science museum will be able to display much more of its collection on the new site at Wroughton, near Swindon. We supported the museum in obtaining that site. Lord Evans, the chairman of Resource, fully sympathises with my hon. Friend"s views and is considering the matter as part of his review of regional museums and galleries.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

I wholly endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). It is well known that despite the enlightened trusteeship of the national gallery and the national portrait gallery, the lending of pictures in this country is niggardly. While we all welcome the opportunity for some great pictures to be lent to other galleries, the hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that many other spaces could be provided for their display so that a much broader section of the general public would have a chance to see them, to their great advantage.

Mr. Howarth

I would not agree that the lending policies of the institutions are niggardly. As I have said, if we were not prepared to exchange items, we would not have the exhibitions that we do. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that much more can be done, and we are keen to encourage that.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

As the national museums and galleries are unable to display their entire collections, does my right hon. Friend agree that, instead of lending out items to private organisations, it would be fairer and better if they followed the example of the science museum, which has links with the national railway museum, York and the national museum of photography, film and television in Bradford? Both those museums are extremely popular and enable people from the north to see those wonderful collections.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the remarkable quality of those collections in York and Bradford. As I have said, we are keen that more of our national collections should be available to a larger number of people in all parts of the country. I fully agree with her.