HL Deb 11 November 1976 vol 377 cc657-9

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the proposed closure of the regional activities department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in view of its likely impact on regional art facilities.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, before the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum submits detailed proposals for achieving the savings in staff which have been called for as a result of decisions affecting the whole of the Civil Service, he has further consultations to make with his staff. My right honourable friend and I will study these proposals carefully when we receive them in relation to all the issues involved, including the effect on local art collections.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply and appreciating the overwhelming need to reduce public expenditure, may I ask whether he is aware that the proposed staff reductions are no greater than those proposed for the rest of the staff of the Department of Education and Science but that we count on him and his right honourable friend to defend the museums?


My Lords, it is certainly part of my function to defend the museums with the help of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The cut in general was 10 per cent. which I think was announced on 29th July of this year by the Government and it is not evenly applied to every section of every Department. In the Department of Education and Science, the average cut is 10 per cent., but excluding museums sit is 9½ per cent. The cut in museums staff is 11 per cent. This difference arises because the museums have had more growth recently than the rest of the Department. The result of the economies will be to reduce the museums to the size there were in 1970/71 while the rest of the Department will be smaller than it has been since 1964/65. I hope that that explains the small difference.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that the economies would be rather better made on purchases and anything else before cutting down the outside work of the museum which has responsibilities to the country as a whole and not just to Londoners?


My Lords, I have every sympathy with the questioner here; but it is an historical accident that these two museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum, are owned and run by the Department of Education and Science and that their employees are civil servants. When a Cabinet decision is made, with, I think, the approval of the whole nation, that there should be a manpower cut, it is impossible retrospectively for these two museums to opt out.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, while accepting that there have to be cuts, may I ask whether it is not very unwise that the department of the Victoria and Albert which does so much for the provinces should be the one selected? I feel that it is very like the Admiralty who when they were asked to make cuts always said that they had to be in aircraft carriers.


My Lords, I made clear that the exact method of producing the necessary cut has not yet been submitted to me. There has been a perfectly unobjectionable leak to the Press of what the Director has in mind. I am not complaining about that; but this must be submitted to me for discussion with my Secretary of State. It is not until we make the final decision (which may well not be very different) that I shall be able to answer that question.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, do these cuts apply equally to the local authorities?


My Lords, I think not.


My Lords, is not this particular cut likely to have a very wide impact and may it not be extraordinarily difficult to restore it once it has been made? Would my noble friend suggest to the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum that economies might be better effected in some other direction?


My Lords, this is the kind of thing we shall discuss with the Director. I can assure my noble friend that the Director is extremely reluctant to make this cut—and let nobody think he is not.


My Lords, are not these museums essential tools of scholarship and very important to the tourist trade?


My Lords, I am aware of that. One of the arguments for making the cut in the form which has been suggested is that the educational side within the museums will be fully maintained.