§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Lord NORTHFIELD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made towards a national plan for museums; and whether the recommendations of the Wright Report of 1973 are accepted as the basis. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name, and I am grateful to my noble friend for being here to deal with it. This concerns the national position of museums, and I confess to my noble friend that my interest in this matter arises as chairman of Telford Development Corporation, the new town, and hence a member of the board of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, the Ironbridge Gorge itself being in our new town and we, the Development Corporation, being one of its patrons.
§ This particular museum has gone from strength to strength, as my noble friend knows. It has just won the Museum of the Year Award in this country, and is set fair to become the foremost museum of industrial archeology in this country. It was when considering its future that I began to realise the need to get, as quickly as possible, a national framework of policy into which bodies like my own museum can fit happily in years to come. The Question I am asking the Government is, in effect: How soon are we going to make progress towards a national policy?
§ May I set out very briefly how I see the position? We in this country have, of course, an immense variation in types of museums. This is a good thing. The 747 Government themselves are spending about £30 million a year on 17 major national museums which they run directly through people who are basically civil servants. There are 20 other museums funded and run by Government Departments, the Post Office and so on. If I go on with a long list, it is to illustrate the variation. There are 17 Department of the Environment site museums. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, in his report on Support for the Arts in England and Wales to the Gulbenkian Foundation in 1976, estimated that there were no fewer than 468 museums run by local authorities—counties, districts, even parishes. There are 75 Service museums under the Ministry of Defence, and 55 regimental ones. There are 200 to 300 trust, society and private museums; for example, 19 run by the National Trust. In 1975, it was estimated that these were growing by no fewer than 30 a year. There are 100 private company museums, and 61 university museums. I could go on, but I think that shows that, very broadly speaking, there are about 1,100 museums—more, I think, than the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, estimated in his report. But these are estimates: it has been nobody's job to find out. Indeed, that is perhaps partly one of my complaints.
§ Nor has there been much money spent on these museums. In his report, the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, estimated that in 1970 to 1971 it was costing local authorities about 10p a head of their population, compared with 20p a head for swimming baths and 50p a head for parks and open spaces. Nobody can complain that the right amount of money, or indeed the wrong amount of money, is being wasted on museums. They are very much a Cinderella activity, needing a great deal of help; mainly a carry-over, in many cases, of Victorian museums which have never been fully modernised in this century.
§ When we look at the national organisation the position seems to me to be this. There is the Standing Commission on Museums, which has been doing excellent work since it was founded in 1930, but it is only an advisory and reviewing body. It has no power at all and it certainly has no teeth. It advises on the annual estimates of eight area museum councils; and their 748 job is to advise local museums, promote co-operation, improve technical facilities, obtain and distribute financial assistance and provide a link with the Standing Commission. But, again, these are bodies very largely without power, and in some cases—I perhaps disagree with my noble friend on this point—they are to some extent under the thumbs of local authorities. I do not wish to denigrate them or to criticise them; I just want to make the point that all the way down in the heirarchy there is not a great deal of power in direction and real influence. Up to 50 per cent. of the expenses of the regional museum councils are paid by the Government, and that is still less than £1 million a year. Of course, they get extra help from charitable foundations, and they get purchase grants in addition; and, indeed, I gather that in some development areas the tourist boards can help with costs. That is the national set-up, so to speak; that is the only guiding influence over that long list of museums, of such varying types, that I described in my opening remarks.
§ What are the disadvantages of the present situation? We must look at the present position bearing in mind the immense growth in recent years of interest in museums and in our national heritage. This has been helped by television—let us face it—and it is a very heartening thing, in many cases, to see the immense resurgence of national interest in cultural and other museums and, indeed, the large number of volunteers who turn out to man them, to help them avoid excessive costs and to help them develop as well. There is also a much increased acceptance of use of museums for educational purposes, and that, too, is a very good thing indeed. From being the Cinderellas of the 19th century, and of the early part of this century, it is time we brought these museums fully up to date so far as we can, and much more fully in tune with this resurgence of national interest in them. I do not want to claim that there is any need for a tidy, over-organised pattern, either of ownership or of subject. That would be quite wrong, given the immense variation in the list that I read out; and that applies both regionally and nationally. The variation is here; it is good; it is healthy; it is vigorous in parts.
§ Nevertheless, let us look at what the disadvantages are. Most of the purpose-built buildings are over 50 years old, and 749 lack proper storage, display, conservation and research facilities. Some museums are simply dreadful despite, in many cases, the priceless nature of some of the things they hold. In many cases it is not their fault that the premises are so old and so dreadful. Secondly, the museums get a fairly low priority for local authority money, yet plans for rationalising local authority museums into larger units arouse great passions and resentment in the local authorities which are the owners. So in some cases we are stuck with a pattern that is not very sensible.
§ If we look at the staff situation, there is really no staff structure looked at from the national viewpoint. Some half of the staff are in fact civil servants—often not members of the Museum Association. Their salaries are higher than in local authority museums. There is no interchange of staff at all. The Museums Association educational qualifications are in fact not recognised by the Civil Service, which provides, as I say, half the staff. Ever since local government reorganisation there as been no uniform approach to the position and status of staff generally in local authority museums. Indeed, there is no sensible ordering of the direction of local museums. Some are run by the librarians, some by recreation managers and some by the directors of education in the particular local authorities.
§ So we have a very bad staff structure. Added to that, in the local authority sector I think it is fair to say they are not attracting the volunteers, energy and enthusiasm. It is the new private museums and the trusts that are attracting the enthusiasm of today: and I pay tribute to those, old and young, who have made my own museum in Ironbridge Gorge into the most successful museum of the year. Without that voluntary help we should never have reached that point.
Nor do I want to say that all is bad. I quote the Director of my own museum, Mr. Cossons, who says:
Nevertheless considerable progress has been made, particularly in the last 10 years, and largely as a result of individual initiatives and the dedicated enthusiasm of specific directors, councillors and trustees. Museums have increasingly come to present themselves attractively. Professional design staff have been appointed, educational facilities and loan services have been built up and, in a few cases, well-equipped conservation laboratories and workshops with adequate staff and funds have enabled museum
collections to be properly looked after; in many cases for the first time".
I do not want to paint it all black in looking at the situation, but I want to say that something must now be done and I come immediately to the Wright Report of 1973. The Wright Report suggested that there should be a national plan for museums; that this should be based on the selection, the designation, of regional centres of excellence, museums themselves, which would have full professional facilities, would receive considerable Government grants and would have—and this is very important—a pastoral role in relation to local museums in their areas. I know—and here I come to the specific points and questions which I want to put to my noble friend—that, as a result of the Wright Report, there is now a Working Party under Sir Arthur Drew which is looking at how some of these ideas in the Wright Report can be implemented.
§ First, when is it going to be reported? It has been working for quite a long time now and it should have made some progress. Secondly, as a result of the report, when it comes, what really is my noble friend hoping to do? What does he think of the parameters within which he can work in the coming years in getting higher standards in the museums generally? Thirdly, can my noble friend tell me whether the Working Party has taken on board the immense changes since the Wright Report of 1973?—this phenomenal growth of independent museums which was still in its infancy then. And have they taken on such recent developments as the closure of the Victoria and Albert Museum circulation department? The Wright Report itself is to some extent out of date now. I hope that the Working Party is looking at it through today's eyes.
§ The next question that I want to put is this. Is it not time for the Government to make it clear before that Working Party finally reports that they accept one major recommendation of the Wright Report? It is a recommendation that only the Government themselves can accept and begin to implement; that is, that the Standing Commission on Museums be upgraded to a Museums Council on the same lines (not exactly the same lines, but for illustration only) as the Arts Council. 751 This body could be ready to begin the process of implementation of the Sir Arthur Drew Report when it is received so that it can, on the basis of the Wright Report (updated as it will be by Sir Arthur Drew), be ready to evolve a national plan with what little money there is now and, we hope, with more money in the future.
The Wright Committee was quite strong in its recommendation on this major point and I take paragraph 15.38, which I quite:
There should be a central body to present annually to the Government the case for financial resources, to allocate resources to the provincial councils"—
the ones that the Wright Report thought would replace the present regional councils—
and supervise their activities, to approve museums for development as centres of excellence, and to make grants for the proposed housing of the museums fund".
Again, paragraph 15.39 says:
The central body should in due course consider the possibilities of developing an accreditation scheme".
Again, I have to quote another document, the report submitted only last year by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, on Support for the Arts in England and Wales. Page 151 states quite clearly:
Unless the Government take swift action, many priceless collections will decay beyond the possibilities of repair. Some already have".
Later, on the same page, it says:
Central help of this sort can best be channelled through an agency composed of experts in the field, with freedom to take particular decisions within the limits of an agreed policy. As soon as the need for Government funds is recognised, the present advisory Standing Commission should be converted into a Museum Council under Royal Charter".
§ My Lords, my noble friend must feel that he is bombarded from all sides on this issue. I have mentioned only two. I could have quoted more. Is it not time that the Government came out with a clear statement that they will grasp this decision and give a spearhead to the future planning of museums by appointing a Museums Council? The essence of this is that, like other bodies—and I am chairman of two similar ones—in public life, they are composed of independent people nominated from people who appear 752 to the Minister to be able to do the job and who are not representative of museums. In most cases one gets nothing done by having a lot of representatives. One has to impose—if that is not an unpleasant word—a group of independent people who are free to take decisions and to do as much as they can with freedom of action and without having to look over their shoulders.
§ My Lords, what would this Council do. It would, I hope, channel Government funds to all museums. They could be dispensed by the regional council beneath them; but they would be the main channel. There would be a registration council for museums, setting the standards for museums to try to live up to before they could be registered. There could be a common code of practice based on the inalienability of collections. They could help with model trustees and they might have a small inspectorate to help the museums—to help and not to interfere unduly with them. They could, I hope—and I come to the staff point again—assist the Museums Association in running training schemes in co-operation with the two universities who are already involved in that until we get towards the concept of a chartered museum curator.
§ We must move to much higher quality staff in the museums of the world. We might be able to persuade Parliament to allow registered museums, if they have "gone through the hoop" of the Council, to accept gifts from rich people and allow tax deductions for that purpose. This would be a welcome reform in our public life. I hope they will be the channels for funds for housing museums (which is badly needed) for purchase, conservation, training and research. I hope that they would lead eventually to a consortia of museums, grouping some of them, above all, I think that they and would help to encourage the great process of self-help in museums which is a feature of my own in the Ironbridge Gorge.
§ My Lords, I end at this point. I urge my noble friend to give us some encouraging words about the hopes for the future in the museum world, and to give us some indication whether the Government will take the lead now, after all these years, in making that major decision to have a Museums Council, to upgrade the 753 whole of the direction of our museums to the point where a Museums Council will be in partnership and friendship with the very independent, rightly varied, local museums, so that in the end we can improve quality and reputation all round.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, I realised with some astonishment the other day that I have known my noble friend Lord Northfield for nearly 30 years. He has one of those most remarkable and amiable characteristics in public life, that he takes up a good cause and pursues it with persistence. I am particularly delighted that his museum had won the Museum of the Year award, and that he had put down this Unstarred Question today, because I know that those of us who are friends of museums have a friend and advocate in this House who will succeed.
I confess freely that I am intervening in this debate because I am a "museumo-holic". I have visited more museums in more places than most casual visitors do. I am not alone in this because visiting museums, country houses and historic collections is one of the most rapidly growing recreations of the British people. If I may speak as someone who was for a brief time a vice-chancellor in Australia, if countries like Australia and Canada had only one-thousandth of some of the articles that we have in attics in the provincial museums in this country, they would be amazed. They would pay millions of dollars for them and build vast buildings in which to display them. Visiting museums in some new countries, it is pathetic to see the items they display with such pride, which we know are literally put away in cellars and attics in this country.
I want to deal specifically and in a brief time with two or three points to underline the urgency of the problem which my noble friend Lord Northfield brought before your Lordships tonight. Quite candidly, local government reorganisation in this country has, it is commonly agreed, been a disaster in almost every conceivable respect. It has been a particular disaster concerning the museums, for a number of reasons: first of all, the museums, by common consent, were in a bad way. The Wright Report, referring to local authority museums said that. Now the museum 754 curators and directors, under this crazy scheme of management which most local authorities have adopted, are pushed in with other departments such as parks, leisure, libraries and cemeteries. The man who is responsible to the committee for the running of the museum might be the local cemetery director or the sports director—a very worthy man, a very necessary man for filling an essential public purpose, but not necessarily devoted to the interests of the local museum. The result of this in many cases round the country has been the demoralisation of a great many local museum curators and local enthusiasts.
It is too late to go back and wish that the Local Government Reorganisation Bill had not been passed. But, candidly, we have to sort out the needs of the local authority museums in that way. Secondly, under this catastrophic Act the museums have been handed out arbitrarily, some to the districts, some to the countries and particularly the metropolitan authorities. There is war to the knife between some metropolitan counties and districts. The sufferers have been the museums and their staffs. That should not be allowed to continue, but it can be sorted out.
The situation is amazing when you go into it, my Lords. I could not remember having been round a museum in Hull. It was only on reading the Wright Report that I realised that the Hull Museum had been destroyed during the war and had never been rebuilt. There will be another war, I imagine, before they get around to building a museum in Hull. There is the scandal of the Burrell collection in Glasgow. That is absolutely outrageous, and is also, of course, partly the consequence of local government reorganisation of Scotland. So the first plea I make to my noble friend is to try to sort out local government in this respect, at least by some kind of circular or advice.
The next point I want to raise is equally important. It concerns the problem of a career structure. The kind of people who go into jobs in museums, curators and so on, are not ambitious people. They are not thrusting to get to the top of some vast commercial organisation, become Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, or Chief of the Imperial General Staff. They go into museum work because they like working with previous and historic objects; they like the calm atmosphere of 755 research and scholarship. They like to show the results of this to the public, and in many cases they do so with amazing skill and generosity. The sense of enthusiasm which people have is shown in the figures of people attending museums.
Museum staff are appallingly badly paid—they are even worse off than librarians, which is saying something—and there is no career structure. If you go into the museum service there is no orderly progress by which you can proceed up the ladder of the service. Therefore added to the disadvantages in modern competitive life is the fact of their being uncompetitive people who are already working in organisations which are at the mercy of local bureaucrats, and they find themselves in a profession where they do not have the protection of the normal professional structure of other people who go into careers like medicine, and so on, on our modern life. It is up to people in public life to speak for these people, who are not particularly good at standing up for themselves and who feel that, because they are doing a job that they enjoy, they should not earn as much as the rest of us. That is a disheartening and unfair attitude and it should not be acceptable.
My Lords, it is not just a question of spending more money on the museums—although we want that done—and that money being just another claim on the public purse. It is a very interesting fact that in the past 25 years the number of tourists visiting this country from overseas has multiplied by 20. In 1950 there were half a million tourists, and last year 10 million people came here. As was pointed out in the debate which we had on historic houses, Mentmore, and so on, one of the great attractions for people coming to this country is not only our magnificent countryside but the fact that we have a fantastic wealth of objects on public display up and down the country.
The more we create new museums, like the one to which my noble friend referred, and develop the existing museums so that the objects can be viewed and explained properly, the more visitors we shall get. May I say in parenthesis that although I was fervently opposed to the museum charges, I am now so distressed at the financial plight of our museums 756 that I am beginning to have second thoughts about my opposition to the proposals of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, to impose museum charges. If more public money is not forthcoming through normal channels, we may have to reopen that question.
I have underlined some of the points made in my noble friend's most forceful and important public statement. We had a debate recently on conservation, which was very important, but I shall not go over that argument again. I shall conclude by saying that it is my firm conviction, based on talking to people in various parts of the country, on thinking about it and on reading the reports to which my noble friend referred, that we must have a firm statement of policy about the future of museums in this country. I do not think that it matters so much what is in the policy as that there should be some kind of policy. Having said that, of course it does matter what is in the policy.
Probably a lot of things in the Wright Report are now—forgive me the pun, my Lords—slightly wrong because too much water has flowed under the bridge since the Report was published. On the whole, the arguments which my noble friend has advanced for a Museums Council deserve most serious consideration by the Government. The laying down of policy and the channelling not only of public but of private money into the local authority museums and into the very important private ventures may very well be a most important step in the development of museums.
Also let us not forget that this is closely related to the preservation of objects and of historic houses. That subject has been debated twice already in this Session. I hope that my noble friend the Minister, whom we are unfortunately keeping from his dinner, will be able to give us a few crumbs of encouragement—because if not we shall be at him again!
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, we have had two most energetic and, on the whole, helpful speeches on this very important subject. The Question, as it was originally phrased and put down on paper, is the one I shall deal with rather than the side issues. 757 That Question was: What progress is being made towards a national plan and are the recommendations of the Wright Report accepted as the basis?
When my noble friend first put down his Unstarred Question, I explained to him that I should not be able to give him a fully satisfactory answer until I had received Sir Arthur Drew's Report to the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, which was commissioned by them to report on how best the Wright Report recommendations could be met. I do not expect that until the autumn at least. My noble friend was impatient at this delay and thought he would like to air the matter in advance. This he has done with courtesy and moderation, and I shall do my best to reply instructively, even though the final decisions on Government policy must await the report and the Standing Commission's views on it.
I should like to take up one or two points. First, I am delighted that my noble friend put down the Question. I hope he does not think that any kind of set-up proposed by the Wright Report or anybody else should be representative. That is an important point. There is some argument at the moment about the Arts Council. Some people are saying that it ought to be representative. I hold very strongly that it should not, and I am glad to have his support here. Secondly, he spoke about tax deduction. That is a phrase which means more money and absolutely nothing else. It is a way of giving money to an institution or to a cause you wish to help; and whether, once you have decided to give more money to museums, the best way would be through tax deduction or not, seems to me not very important. The important decision is whether or not the nation can afford to give more money to museums. That, my Lords, is the fundamental problem with which we are all faced.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey characteristically overstated his case in an agreeable way when he spoke of museums being run by people in charge of cemeteries. That is somewhat of an exaggeration. When he spoke of "war to the knife", there have been one or two rather severe arguments as a result of the reorganisation which not everybody agrees with, and there has been some bitterness; but it is getting 758 better. I have been round to museums, I should think, a good deal more than he has, even though he describes himself as "a museum-oholic". I have been to something over 80 during the last 12 or 14 months and I have talked to everybody. Of course, things are not right and there are many worries, but the picture painted by my noble friend Lord Vaizey is not one that I recognise. When he said that surely the Government ought to "sort local government out", I wonder whether he really wants to be reported as saying that. Any Minister who tries to "sort local government out" has not a very great future in front of him, and I think it is not really a very helpful suggestion.
He made two points with which I agree entirely. The first concerns the career structure, which is certainly unsatisfactory and to which I shall refer later. The second is tourism and the fantastic wealth of objects that we have in this country. One of the points that one never ceases to make to one's colleagues in this context is the importance of tourism and of having places for the tourists to see outside London as well as in London. That is a point which is fully taken into account. It has never been rejected in my arguments. I cannot say that we have got a great deal out of it as yet, but the time will come when I think we shall.
What progress is being made towards a national plan and are the Wright Report's recommendations basic to that? If I may take the second part first, I think the Wright Report recommendations include a number which must be basic factors in any decisions the Government may make in this area of their responsibilities, whether they decide to accept them or reject them. I suppose the most important recommendation was that the local museums need more support. This the Government have accepted. The method of help adopted has been to use the Area Museum Councils, about which I thought my noble friend was a bit ungenerous. When the Wright Committee reported, the total income of these councils, which exist to provide additional professional and other help for the smaller museums in this country, was about £200,000. This year the total income is just short of £2 million and, as a consequence, their operations have been entirely transformed. Where once they were 759 small bodies depending heavily for informal help on the larger provincial museums, they are now bodies with their own resources for professional help, and in demand as much by the larger provincial institutions as the smaller. Yet they are essentially locally controlled bodies. The allocation of funds between them is recommended to me by the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries. I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the Standing Commission does this work and there could be no body as well equipped to do it, because although it has not got funds to deliver itself, it does tell me how to use them, which is not so very different.
The councils themselves are inherently local bodies, deciding their own priorities in accordance with the general principles which they discuss with the Standing Commission. For some years they have given priority to conservation of the existing collections. The march of technology has so increased the scope of conservation in this country that it was outstripping the resources of local museums—both speakers had suggested that was the case—and I am glad to say that in 1976–77 the Area Museum Councils spent £600,000 on conservation alone, which is considerably more than their combined income for all purposes when the Wright Committee reported.
The Area Museum Councils have been the chosen channel through which local government, as well as Central Government, gives help to local museums throughout the country to realise the objectives of the Wright Report. My noble friend suggested that they were, as it were, too much in the pockets of local authorities. I do not believe that to be the case at all. I think they are strong, independent bodies. Curiously enough, there are eight of them and they are quite different—which shows they are not being dragooned too much—and I am very satisfied with the way they are going. I believe they are a weapon, the strength of which we have to increase.
This local settlement of priorities is, I believe, the most effective way of dealing with the enormous variety of institutions in this country. The Wright Committee identified no fewer than 950 local museums. My noble friend had got it to about 760 1,100, which is probably right, as it is several years since the Wright Committee reported. About half of them were maintained by local authorities and most of the remainder by private trusts. Only the other day I attended an inaugural meeting of private museums which were going to form themselves into an association of private museums. That is a thoroughly progressive step and will make dealing with them much easier. The size of the institutions varies from the largest provincial museums, which approximate to the national institutions in the size and importance of their collections, down to the smallest museums, which often deal with one subject or the personal collection of one individual.
Noble Lords will agree, I hope, that the Government have demonstrated their concern for the problems raised in the report by the increase of resources which it has made available in the way I have described. Of course, many people think we should be doing more, not only in relation to resources—where we all know the limitations—but also in relation to organisation. Other recommendations of the Wright Report were in favour of a national museums council, a capital fund for museum building in the provinces, and a new structure of professional appointments which could narrow the gap between the national and the local institutions. All of these were points mentioned by noble Lords.
These recommendations raise a variety of issues which cannot be dealt with fully in a short debate. But I must record that the Government were not able at the time, and are still less able now, to meet the cost of a programme of centrally financed museum building throughout the country. I personally am extremely anxious to see such a fund in being, though there are those who would question whether this is the most obvious priority as against other measures to conserve and help the collections. But I have on half a dozen occasions stressed my belief that this is one of the first things we need.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, referred to the need to establish suitable staffing and salary structures in the local museum service. The gulf that exists in this respect between national and local collections was fully documented in the Wright Report, and it seems to me that it is greater than 761 can be justified by the relative importance of the collections as a whole. Local authorities are, however, subject to constraints on their expenditure, and it would not be appropriate at the present time for me to urge them to spend more. Nevertheless, I am convinced that in many instances the creation of the right kind of staffing and salary structure can do more than new accommodation to improve the quality of the local museum service.
Modern museum technology demands good staff, from the director downwards, and the right people to fill these posts will be found only if the salary scales and the degree of responsibility that they are asked to undertake are made sufficiently attractive to them. I am addressing the Museums Association on the day after tomorrow, and am going to talk about this. But it is the same problem that we meet all the time. It is going to cost more money—that is all. It is as simple as that. One noble Lord said that the local museums are short of volunteers, energy and enthusiasm. That is not my experience. I would not say that every local authority museum is as full of volunteers, energy and enthusiasm as the Ironbridge, which is particularly good, and I congratulate it on having won the Museum of the Year Award. But a number of them are very good, have many volunteers, great energy and great enthusiasm; and do not let us be too sure that the museums are no good at all.
Local authorities have studied the implications of the Wright Report for their own institutions, and a number have taken advantage of the reorganisation of authorities, in spite of what my noble friend said, particularly in metropolitan areas, but also in some cases where museums, formerly run by county boroughs, in practice served much larger areas, to improve the structure of their services within the resources which the new authorities had available. I believe that this is the best approach, for the moment, to deal with the Wright Report in the present circumstances when we all know that the immediate prospects of obtaining more resources in real terms for local museums are virtually non-existent. We must improve the structure of the museums services locally where we can, to get what we can out of the Wright recommendations within the resources which are available. I shall certainly study the 762 advice of the Standing Commission with particular care where it bears upon this.
Against this background, I have to consider the first part of my noble friend's Question—the design for a museums council on the lines recommended in the Wright Report. We must not forget that we already have the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, which is widely representative, and the Area Councils, who, as I have said, perform the same representative function in their regions. It is the view of the Government that—and I ask your Lordships to note this—until there are substantial new functions for a central body to perform, it simply does not make sense to create such a body. The main case for the council in the Wright Report rested upon the need for a channel for making grants from a housing the museums fund. The Government have not been able to set up such a fund. The other part of the case was as a channel of communication to Government. For the time being, I am satisfied that as matters stand we have adequate channels.
As to the question of a national plan, it is of course tempting to deceive ourselves into thinking that national plans solve local problems. There are Governments abroad who have greater faith than I have in having a national plan for everything. Indeed, the whole concept has an authoritarian and monolithic ring which appears to make it unsuitable to our tradition of supporting institutions of learning like museums and galleries, however suitable it may be for other sections of the economy. I have said enough of the great variety of institutions which we are concerned with, to make it doubtful whether any national plan is appropriate for such a field, where surely flexibility and responsiveness to the merits of each particular case are what we really need.
If you take, for example, the, to me, most attractive suggestion of the Wright Report for centres of excellence, it must be obvious to anyone who has looked around the field that what suits one place will not suit another—that a plan for Humberside must be very different from a plan for the South-West. This is one of the most difficult problems which Sir Arthur Drew is looking at, and it would be absurd for me to make up my mind before I have heard what he has to 763 say. But, though I think we shall and must have a policy for museums and galleries, I must say that, at this stage, I do not see it being at all like what is usually known as a "national plan".
I have tried to answer the two parts of my noble friend's Question. I warned him that my Answer might not be very satisfactory. I hope that we can perhaps discuss the whole question again when I have the Standing Commission's proposals, and we can use them as a basis for our debate.
§ Lord STONE
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he has any ideas on reimposing charges for museums in the near or distant future?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, of course this has been talked about. In this House, I answered a Question about the Railway Museum not so very long ago. The Government's position is that we are not prepared to reimpose charges on the national institutions. Local authorities are free to do what they like. Private museums are free to do what they like. University museums are free to do what they like. All museums, including the national institutions, are free—and many do—to charge for special internal exhibitions which are provided over and above 764 the normal exhibition for the ordinary person. That is the Government's position at the moment, and I do not myself think it is very likely to change very quickly.