HL Deb 08 July 1982 vol 432 cc976-92

8.42 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reject the Rayner scrutiny report's suggestion that the theatre museum should be abandoned, having regard to the mistaken premises on which the recommendation was made.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. It may be for the convenience of the House, perhaps if I read the Question. It is as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reject the Rayner scrutiny report's suggestion that the Theatre Museum should be abandoned, having regard to the mistaken premises on which the recommendation was made.

I am not here concerned to question the Rayner scrutiny concept as such. On some other occasion it might perhaps be appropriate to do that, but not tonight. Neither am I even concerned to question the whole of the report which includes the recommendation to abandon the theatre museum. The report runs to something like 100 pages, and I am sorry to tell your Lordships that the recommendation to abandon this highly supported project is made in a single page, out of 100 pages.

The Minister for the Arts made a Statement in another place just over a month ago on this scrutiny, which is incidentally a scrutiny of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum. It is from that scrutiny that the recommendation I am protesting tonight, as the Americans say, arises. The terms of reference of the scrutiny are these: To examine the Museums' activities… —that is, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum— …the contributions they make to the Museums' main objectives and the efficiency and economy with which they are carried out; and to make recommendations on staffing and working methods. Those were the terms of reference which were given to the Rayner scrutiny. It must, therefore, have come as an enormous shock to the Minister when he received a report which went way beyond those terms of reference and accompanied that bold venture with apparently very little knowledge of the background of the subjects which were being examined.

To his credit, the Minister immediately rejected one of the main recommendations, that the museum charges should be re-imposed. This recommendation was apparently made without knowledge that it was against the policy of this Government, and of the last one, and against the views of almost every museum authority in the country.

The Minister accepted another main recommendation, that the two museums should cease to be departmental museums. I am sorry about that, not that it was necessarily wrong but because if it had been put aside for consultation, as the other recommendations were put aside, including the recommendation to abandon the theatre museum, there would have been time for consideration, and the present anxiety among the staffs, gravely concerned the prospect of losing their Civil Service status, might have been avoided. But there will be other opportunities to discuss these questions, because before these changes can be made legislation will be called for.

My present Question asks for the rejection of the recommendation to abandon the theatre museum. In this request I am joined, as will be seen I think as the debate continues, by noble Lords on all sides of this House, certainly by every Minister for the Arts that there has ever been, of any party, by distinguished theatre people who have written to The Times, by the Arts Council, and so on. Why is there such unanimity, unanimity in a field which is not particularly noted for 1nanimity, either in the arts world or in the museum World. Perhaps it is because the scrutineers betray no knowledge at all of the background of the subject they are examining. Perhaps it is because noble Lords feel as I feel; that this is an area in which the commercial considerations and criteria, which are entirely appropriate elsewhere, are completely inappropriate.

The subject is treated as though the theatre museum were nothing more than a department of the V and A, a department which is getting slightly above itself. There are a couple of inadequate paragraphs and then the recommendation to abandon. This is myopic scrutiny indeed. No knowledge is betrayed of the fact that the theatre museum is an amalgamation of a number of important and unique collections relating to the performing arts formed by private initiative over a period of more than 30 years; such important collections as those of the British Theatre Museum Association, the Friends of the Museum of the Performing Arts, the Arts Council of Great Britain, the British Council, the London Archives of the Dance, the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, the Royal Academy of Dancing, the Society for Theatre Research, and so on.

All these collections have been donated since 1974 on the implicit understanding that they would he housed in a separate museum where they could be exhibited and be available for research at all times. Because the theatre museum has been established by Government, and arrangements have been in hand since 1974 to house it in Covent Garden, many individuals have given, bequeathed or promised to bequeath both valuable objects and also money. I would guess, and I have the authority of the Advisory Council of the museum to this effect, that the total value is probably something well in excess of £20 million.

All this money has been given by private decision, all these collections have been given by private decision. Since 1974 only £100,000 of public money has been spent in purchases. So that this is something which people have given in the expectation, which they were entitled to have because undertakings have been given publicly by Government after Government, by Minister after Minister, that they would be giving these things on the understanding that they would be displayed in the new museum at Covent Garden. At present all this material is housed in the basement in the V and A waiting for transfer to the new museum in Covent Garden when it is ready.

It was my privilege as Minister for the Arts to set up the theatre museum in its present form in 1974, and to get agreement on the Covent Garden site, but a good deal of preliminary work had been done by my predecessor Lord Eccles, who is unhappily unable to be with us this evening. My successor the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who is also unavoidably absent, has authorised me to say that he too is entirely at one with the rest of us on this, as is Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, who was his successor, who made that very clear in a trenchant article in the New Standard. This is not a party issue. This is a matter which concerns all of us who are concerned with museums and with the art of the theatre, with drama.

As the theatre museum contains the only comprehensive archive of English theatre, as well as other more specialised international archives, no serious study of the performing arts can be made by anyone, in England or abroad, until proper use can be made of the museum. That is the situation that we are in and it is at that point that we are faced with this extraordinary recommendation to abandon the entire project which as I have said can only have been made out of a position of total ignorance of the whole background of the matter. That is the only conceivable excuse that one can think of for arriving at such a conclusion.

The design work for the new museum has been completed and considerable expenditure has been incurred both by the Department of the Environment and the Department of Education and Science both directly and by engagement of outside consultants since the project began in 1974. It would be a gross breach of faith on the part of the Government to all those who have given gifts and settlements to the Theatre Museum, if they were to abandon the project now. Abandonment would also raise the legal question of disposal of the very substantial proportion of its collections which was given by various organisations on the certain and unambiguous understandings and undertakings which I mentioned earlier.

The museum is not a luxury; it is a reflection of our national heritage; it is a unique educational opportunity, a source of knowledge, understanding and inspiration. I am indebted to the advisory council again for some of the information which I have been able to put before your Lordships this evening. London is acknowledged universally to he the centre for all performing arts, and yet it is almost the only major city in the world without a theatre museum. There are over 400 theatre museums and theatre archives in the world, with major collections in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin, Stuttgart, New York and so on. The idea of "luxury" which is mentioned in the report as a reason why one can abandon the project, implies that it is something that one can do without. We have the collections already and it would be a shameful waste to allow them to remain unseen and largely unconsulted and deteriorating in cramped, inadequate and inaccessible stores.

This section of the scrutiny—and I say nothing about the rest of it—reminds me of the famous report of a work study engineer after a visit to an orchestral concert at the Royal Festival Hall. He said and he wrote in his report: For considerable periods the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number should be reduced and the work spread more evenly over the whole of the concert, thus eliminating peaks of activity. All the twelve violins were playing identical notes; this seems unnecessary duplication. The staff of this section should be drastically cut. If a larger volume of sound is required, it could be obtained by means of electronic apparatus. Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demi-semiquavers; this seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes should be rounded up to the nearest semi-quaver. If this were done it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively. There seems to be too much repetition of some musical passages. Scores should be drastically pruned. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns a passage which has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that if all redundant passages were eliminated the whole concert time of 2 hours could be reduced to 20 minutes and there would be no need for an interval". This section of the scrutiny comes from the same stable and I trust that the Minister will treat it as it richly deserves, and will take the opposite course of releasing the money which will enable this necessary and long overdue project to enrich our capital, our country and the world.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Cottesloe

My Lords, it is not always that I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, but I am happy to say that on this occasion I can warmly and wholeheartedly support him. This matter of the threatre museum is of course in no way a party political one; it is one to which we should all, wherever we may sit in the House, give our strongest support.

The idea that we in this country, who inherit the most splendid dramatic literature in the world and currently produce the finest displays of the dramatic art, should abandon the long-overdue project for a British Theatre Museum, is unbelievable. The project was approved by the Government more than a decade ago in 1971. It has since been confirmed by successive Governments, and its abandonment, as is recommended in the Rayner scrutiny, would be a tragedy and a most serious breach of faith. The sooner the museum can be brought into being the better. The plans exist; an admirable site exists and is available in Covent Garden; and a great quantity of splendid material is available in a number of important collections that have been given for the purpose, the value of which I see in the evening paper is stated to be £23 million. There is also a great deal of earlier material in the Victoria and Albert Museum itself that would be available. There is no doubt whatever that such a museum located as a separate enterprise, on an ideal site, is an immensely attractive project that would be an outstanding tourist attraction; and it could, once it was brought into existence, quite certainly be self-supporting financially,

I am told that when my noble friend Lord Goodman telephoned this morning to ask what names had been put down to speak on this Unstarred Question, and the list was read over to him, he said, "Well, as they will all say the same thing, there is no need for me to come". All the same, I wish that he were here to add his conspicuous weight to the unanimity of view that I am sure your Lordships will put forward.

It would be a tragedy if this great opportunity were thrown away for want of a capital sum that is trivial in the context of the national budget and could probably be provided, to a great extent, from private sources. The Minister for the Arts, Mr. Paul Channon, has done remarkable work in overcoming the resistance of the Treasury to more than one valuable project. I must hope that the all-party support from your Lordships over this most important project for the threatre museum may enable him to do so in this matter also. I warmly and unreservedly support the proposal.

8.59 p.m.

Viscount Norwich

My Lords, I should start by declaring an interest, which is that for some four or five years from 1966 to 1971, I was actually the chairman of the British Theatre Museum Association. During my years of chairmanship the association accepted a large number of very important objects, documents, costumes, props—whatever they might have been—of relevance to the theatrical history of this country. We did so on the clear understanding that we were only a holding body, that we would hold these objects and documents until such time—which we hoped would be soon—when we could pass them over to the Government for a final, special, separate home which would be made available for them.

It was on that understanding that in 1974, thanks in very large measure to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who has just been speaking to us, the Government declared their intention of setting up such a museum as we had always wanted. It was on that understanding that we happily, delightedly, and with considerable relief gave over our collections to the Government, to be kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a measure of convenience until such time as their new and permanent home would be ready for them. We could not conceivably have handed over this collection had it not been on this understanding. To have done so would have been a total breach of trust, a breach of the understanding on which the donors of these various items had given them to us.

That is why it seems to me indisputable that we now have a position where, if the Government go back not only on the undertakings that they themselves have made, but also on the undertakings that every Government for the last 10 years have made time and time again in both Houses, not only will the Government be guilty of a very serious breach of trust, but so will a large number of us who accepted. on the Government's undertaking, these various collections.

All that is quite bad and quite worrying enough, but there is more to it than that, because as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has already pointed out to us, not only do we know the recommendation that we should now scrap this whole project, on which a large number of people have been working for a good quarter of a century, but this whole recommendation is in a sense ultra vires because it is perfectly obvious that Sir Derek Rayner, writing this scrunity, thought that the theatre museum was part of the Victoria and Albert, which it is not. It happens to live there for want of a better home, but that is merely a matter of administrative convenience and nothing else. When he says that the scope for research in this particular field is less than it is for other departments of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the mind boggles.

First, the theatre museum is not a department of the Victoria and Albert Museum at all. Secondly, does he really think that the theatre, which is by common international consent the one art—perhaps the only art—in which this country has been supreme for four and a half centuries, perhaps more, can be relegated; that the scope for research in it is less than it is for woodwork, clockmaking or stumpwork? The thought is grotesque.

Indeed, in the following resolution—I think it is No. 110—he actually says that the theatre museum is a luxury, albeit a delightful one. That sums up his whole attitude to it. In his view this is a glorified Punch and Judy show, a sort of national Madame Tussauds, which is to be there for the delectation of the public and a few tourists in the summer at Covent Garden and nothing else. It is terrifying to think that anybody can regard a serious theatre museum in these terms, but this apparently is what he does.

He then goes on to suggest that it should be self-supporting. Here I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, who thinks that it could be. I very much doubt whether any museum in the world worthy of the name has been, or could be, self-supporting, the possible exception being the Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, in California. But certainly no other museum that I have seen or visited could be.

Every museum has two separate functions. The first, and the less important of the two functions, is to entertain, instruct and stimulate the public. It is a very important function, but I submit that it is less important than the other basic point of a museum, which is for study and serious research. Study and serious research, alas!I have never been self-supporting and never will be.

The noble Lord has already pointed out that there are over 400 theatre museums throughout the civilised world. He has already pointed out that this present one that is projected will cost only a little over £4 million—peanuts, when you think that the new one in Cologne is already costing £17 million, which the people of Cologne appear to be delighted to pay, and when we already have a collection which is here. We are not starting from scratch. We have the basic and most important thing that any museum must have, the collection. All we need is the house to put it in. That collection is worth anything between £20 million and £25 million. For the sake of another £4 million, are we going to throw up the whole thing and, as we do so, throw up all that a very large number of people have been working for the last 25 years to achieve? I do not hope, and I warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney.

9.6 p.m.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, I, too, think that we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for having tabled his Question this evening. As my noble friend Lord Cottesloe said, we do not often say so from this side of the House, but we are very much of one mind on this. I would add my belief to that of others that this theatre museum project should not be abandoned. In doing so, I must also declare an interest as president of the British Theatre Association —not to be confused with the British Theatre Museum Association of which the noble Viscount was chairman—and also as president of the Chichester Festival Theatre Trust. I am also proposing to establish a small theatre museum at my home in the country and was hoping to get advice and help from Mr. Shouvaloff the curator of the theatre museum, on how to proceed. So I feel that I must stand up and be counted.

I agree very much with what the noble Lord said in introducing his Question, and also with what my noble friend Lord Cottesloe and the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, have said. My noble friend Lord Cottesloe, as I understand it, has built three theatre auditoria; I only helped to build one in Chichester, although my father built a theatre before me. But my noble friend Lord Cottesloe is a very good witness on this occasion.

I also agree with the article that was published in the New Standard by one of my right honourable friends in another place, who was himself a Minister for the Arts, on why this museum must be saved. I agree that drama is perhaps Britain's leading art. At all events, it is one in which we greatly excel. The letter in yesterday's Times from Sir Claus Moser and other leaders in opera and theatre seems to me to be unanswerable. If the Government are to go back, as other noble Lords have already said, on their commitment, then they would in my view certainly be guilty of a breach of faith, and I would not like to see a Conservative Government guilty of a breach of faith.

I know that my noble friend Lord Eccles, when he was Arts Minister—I saw him last night—backed this project; indeed, he virtually launched it. He also authorised me to say that he too hopes this project will not be abandoned. He said how greatly he regrets not being able to take part in the debate tonight. I trust, therefore, that the report and recommendations of Mr. F. G. Burrett, C.B., will not be implemented, and that my right honourable friend Mr. Paul Channon, whom I am so glad to see on the steps of the Throne, and who is the present Minister for the Arts, will succeed in persuading the Government not to accept the recommendation.

Incidentally, I should be interested to know from my noble friend Lord Avon whether in fact the report of Mr. Burrett, C.B., is supported by Sir Derek Rayner himself. I agree very much with many of the recommendations of Sir Derek Rayner in regard to other Government departments, but I hope Sir Derek Rayner himself does not support the particular paragraphs in this scrutiny by Mr. Burrett. I agree that £4 million is an appreciable sum and that the running costs, too, may be considerable. But here I agree with Mr. Burrett—and it is, after all, his report so far as I can make out—that a sufficient charge could be made for admission, at least to the exhibition, in order to cover running costs. I feel certain that the exhibition will be very popular and might well make a profit, as some museums do. I must dissent from what the noble Viscount said earlier. If he looks at the annexe to Mr. Burrett's report he will see that in fact a few museums make a profit.

I visited the site this afternoon. In this beautiful summer weather I was most impressed with its happy environment adjacent to the new Covent Garden precinct, and St. Paul's Covent Garden, and adjacent to Drury Lane Theatre, and indeed the British Transport Museum. The curator of the British Theatre Museum also showed me a model of the entrance hall which I hope other Members of your Lordships' House, as well as Members of another place, will look at.

To return to the capital cost, I wonder whether, if a ceiling is put on Government expenditure, perhaps a ceiling lower than the £4 million mentioned, it might not be possible to raise the remainder in a world-wide appeal, in the Commonwealth and the United States, somewhat similar to that which is at present under way with some success in support of the rebuilding of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the South Bank. At all events, I sincerely hope that the Government will work out some scheme which enables the project to go ahead. When, as the noble Viscount said, the Germans are spending the equivalent of £17 million on their theatre museum in Cologne, I think that we in Britain, who lead the theatre in the world, could afford a modest £4 million. I am glad to note that I shall be followed in this debate by the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos. I feel sure that his famous grandfather would have supported us this evening.

9.13 p.m.

Viscount Chandos

My Lords, I also should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, for his persistence and foresight in asking this Question at a time when I hope your Lordships, House can still combine with the countless voices from outside Parliament to persuade the Government to renounce what would be a sad betrayal of the British theatre. The Rayner scrutiny seems to show in these short sections not only a narrow-minded and essentially condescending attitude to the commitment of previous Governments to provide a theatre museum worthy of our theatrical traditions, but seems in places to be wilfully blind to the cultural, educational and even economic value of the project. The Rayner scrutiny implies, for instance, that the Government are being asked to shoulder the entire burden of preserving the history of theatre in this country, ignoring the fact, already highlighted by other noble Lords, that the value of private gifts and benefactions to the museum since 1974 is many times the cost of establishing the building to house them.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, I also am intrigued by the suggestion that the scope for research which is both possible and justified in this field is less than in the subjects which the V and A and the Science Museum help to document. To add to the noble Viscount's examples, how much of our knowledge of previous civilisations is based on, and expanded by, what we know of their contemporary theatre? Does research into Aeschylus and Sophocles yield less fruitful results than the study of the sculpture and pottery of Ancient Greece?

There are more distinguished pillars of Britain's artistic life than I still to speak, and the time is late. I believe that the arguments produced by the Rayner scrutiny have already been shown to be so superficial that further detailed critique is unnecessary. I am tempted to see this recommendation as an attempt to make a gesture after so many good intentions to reduce unnecessary expenditure have been frustrated. But to adopt the recommendation would be like destroying a nude by an old master because of the growth of pornography.

Each time I have spoken in your Lordships' House I seem to end up reverting to economic or financial matters, and I shall do so again tonight, even though I believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that the theatre museum could be justified simply as a celebration of a glorious past. But in fact it is, much more importantly, an investment for the future, not just through the tourism which the museum and a healthy national theatrical life would promote, but also through the effect the museum can have on the related and perhaps even more commercial side of the performing arts, like cinema and television.

I was told this week that the television series The Muppet Show had earned over 100 million dollars in overseas sales. If Sir Derek Rayner does not believe that the study of theatrical puppets is justifiable academically, perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer might find it justifiable economically. It is ironic that the Rayner recommendation has come at a time when the British cinema, which is closely linked to the theatre in acting, direction, music and design, should be acknowledged world-wide once more to be on an artistic and commercial upswing.

Your Lordships will know that it was not the generation of the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, or that of my grandfather which helped start the ball rolling to set up the National Theatre: it was that of my great-grandmother, working with contemporaries like George Bernard Shaw. If it is my great-grandchildren who first see the historical treasures of British theatre in proper surroundings, then this report will have done a petty and unnecessary injustice to the intervening generations. I wish therefore to add my enthusiastic support—and that of my noble friend Lord Donaldson, as has been stated already—to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.

9.18 p.m.

Lord Crathorne

My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. I am perhaps one of the few Members of your Lordships' House who are actually involved in a theatre museum. It is connected with our little Georgian theatre in Richmond in Yorkshire, which was founded in 1788. It is a beautiful theatre, which I am sure all your Lordships know about. Our museum has not been going long, but it is very popular. A question we are often asked particularly by people from abroad, is why there is not a theatre museum in London, and there is no acceptable answer to that question. Drama is Britain's premier art and has been for many centuries, and London has always been at the centre of it. Furthermore, we possess—nobody has stated this—perhaps the finest theatre collection in the world, but with nowhere to house it.

Noble Lords who have been to the theatre museum in its temporary surroundings in the V and A will know how totally inadequate the facilities are on a long-term basis, and I do not know how the staff there cope. I spent some time there two years ago researching for a lecture on English theatre which I gave at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, I was greatly impressed by the tremendously helpful way the staff looked after me and made my job so much easier, and I wish to pay tribute to their dedication and enthusiasm. As we have heard, the wealth of material there is quite extraordinary, and it has virtually all come by way of gifts. As has been so rightly stressed, items have been given on the basis that they would be ultimately displayed in the theatre museum, and I gather that a number of people who are thinking of leaving items to the museum are now very doubtful as to whether they will do so, at least until the question is cleared up.

It is really appalling that London does not have a theatre museum. We have heard about the 400 museums and achives around the country. I have a long list of European cities, which I shall not read out, all of which have fine theatre museums. It is hard to understand why we so often do our best to starve the arts in this country, and along with other noble Lords, I urge the Government to reject the Rayner Report's recommendation, made, as it surely is, on a mistaken premise.

As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, so amusingly proved, one cannot approach the arts with arithmetic, cost-productive analysis. It is just impossible to do that. We think of ourselves as a highly civilised nation. We need the theatre museum, and we ought to have it. It has been promised to us for a very long time, and I wish very much to support the Question.

Lord Gibson

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, appears to have forecast, noble Lords have clearly said it all. It is late, and it is unnecessary to repeat what they have said. I want only to give my support to it. The fact is that the recommendation, coming as it does from a team for which, in most of its manifestations, I am sure your Lordships have very considerable respect, is so preposterous in this instance that I cannot help believing, if I dare, that the heat that we are generating is not necessary, because the Government have no intention of accepting it. But I dare not think that altogether, and we must go on generating the heat until we are sure.

I want to make only two brief points. One is that, when I was chairman of the Arts Council in the early 'seventies, we took the theatre museum seriously. We made grants available to it. We were among its foremost supporters in its early days. More important than grants, we gave it our own collection of original theatre designs and our whole theatre archive. We did so—as many other people gave important collections—because we believed that it was a serious and important project that was to be for the study of the theatre, which is one of the most important aspects of our national life, and one of the things in which the British really excel, and in which they are supreme in the whole world.

As the noble Viscount pointed out, to call it a delightful luxury is an absurdity. Indeed it carries the implication that because it is delightful, it must be a luxury. It is not at all a luxury. It is an essential focus for the study of, and research into, the theatre, which is as important as any other subject studied at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Anyone who considers that it is a luxury misunderstands the nature of the V and A. Anyway, as the noble Viscount pointed out, it is not really part of the V and A.

The other point that I want to make about the possibility of the project being abandoned relates to the fact that I was Chairman of the V and A Advisory Council for a few years round about 1970, and therefore I read the whole scrutiny with great interest, and in part with great admiration. But the fact is that there is a curious inconsistency in it, because the very first recommendation that was made is that there should be a statement of aims—something which I entirely applaud. The recommendation stated that: this statement should be drawn up to provide among other things an indication of priorities, and thus establish a common ground for decision taking when expansion is possible or contraction necessary". Well, that is admirable. But, if that is right, why does the report attempt to prejudge priorities which such a statement might provide? To me, it seems a curious way of putting the cart before the horse. One should establish one's priorities, and then, if the theatre museum has to share resources with the Victoria and Albert Museum, even though it is not part of it, decide where it should come in the priorities. So I do not understand why there is suggested a statement of such aims and then it is prejudged, not only in this instance, in relation to the theatre museum project, but also in relation to another suggestion, which is that Ham and Osterley, which are not central to the purposes of the museum, should be abandoned and handed back to the National Trust, which of course would not have the money to run them. That is another prejudgment.

I found that very strange, and I think that it mars an otherwise interesting and important report. I hope that the Government will adopt the recommendation about formulating aims and establishing priorities, and I hope that they will reject the prejudgments about the theatre museum. I also hope that, in doing so, they will bear in mind that to abandon it now would be a breach of faith, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has said, and an example of the British at our very worst, under-valuing, as we often tend to do, the very things that we do best.

9.26 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I should like to say a few words, very briefly, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and all those other noble Lords who have made such brilliant speeches on this subject. It seems to me quite extraordinary that when the Government have so much material and so much good will, and when there is so much desire from everybody that the project should go ahead for the very small sum of £4 million, they should think of cancelling it. It seems to me perfectly crazy, and I cannot imagine why anybody could really want to do that. As the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, has said, the collection has been built up over many years. Everybody who has anything to do with the theatre has always wanted a theatre museum. As the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, said, in the Georgian Theatre in Richmond we have erected a very small museum; it is a tiny theatre. It has been the greatest possible success. The tourists love going there. Everything that they want to see is there in that tiny museum, and it adds enormously to the value of the theatre. I cannot imagine anything that could be more important than this project for our theatre and for the people who come here. Great support for the project is being given by everybody who has to do with the theatre today.

I beg the Minister who is to reply to take our words from here as really meaning something. We all desperately want the museum to go ahead, and I am quite sure that any of us who are able to help, including perhaps helping in raising money, will be quite willing to do so. I hope that the Government will not pay any attention to the suggestion that this great project should be abandoned.

9.27 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I apologise for arriving late at the debate, and I shall not keep your Lordships for more that a few seconds. I have no vested interest whatsoever in the theatre museum; yet, for the first time in this Chamber, I find myself in total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. As he well knows, there are other matters on which we disagree, but I can only support him on this Question.

The only other thing I want to say is that I am quite sure that I am not alone. I have taken the temperature among other Tory Back Benchers, both in this House and in another place, and there is huge support. I merely wanted to add my voice and my support to the excellent Question of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.

9.28 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, when the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, said that he was going to speak for only a few seconds, he really meant it, and we are grateful to him. I think his speech was none the worse for its brevity, and we are very grateful for his support. I am sure that we are also grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney for tabling this subject for debate tonight. As has been said by my noble friend and other noble Lords in all parts of the House, the theatre museum project has been supported by every Minister of the Arts, including the present Minister whose heart, we know, is in the right place. It was to have been started later this year, and now it has been postponed pending a decision on Rayner.

This is not the time to debate the Rayner Report in general—and here I agree with my noble friend. I hope the House will have an opportunity to discuss the report in the autumn, when there will he more parliamentary time, for there is much to be said, my Lords. There are some recommendations which give rise to great disquiet, in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, said, the recommendations to change the status of the Wellington Museum at Apsley House, and Ham House and Osterley. There is also the absurd proposal—the really absurd proposal—to dispose of some of the material from the Victoria and Albert Museum library, which is without any doubt at all the finest archive and library for the study of the history of art in the world. Anyone who has any experience of this subject would know that what the report somewhat disparagingly refers to as "ephemeral material" is often of the greatest importance in research.

This evening the House is concentrating on another shortsighted and retrograde proposal from this extraordinary report—the proposal to abandon the theatre museum project altogether, or to devolve it from the V and A and to make it self-financing, whatever that may mean. The report calls the theatre museum an "attractive project" and a "delightful luxury", but as we find in other parts of the Rayner Report the stiletto is usually hidden in the bouquet. The trouble is that the report betrays itself throughout by its unfamiliarity with its subject, and this is never more apparent than in the section dealing with the Theatre Museum.

What, for example, is meant by paragraph 109? This says that the field of a theatre collection is less central to the essential role of the V and A than that of most of the museum's other departments. Why should theatrical design and costume design, which is taught at the Royal College of Art and elsewhere, and at which many leading artists have excelled, be less central to this essential role than the museum's historical costume collection, to which it would surely be complementary?

Then there is the extraordinary remark about research—and here I quote: It seems to us that the field for research, which is both possible and justified in this field, is also less than in others". How can the author possibly know this in advance of the actual research? The value of research lies surely in what the researcher makes of his study. Here I should like to ask why the report is so difficult to get hold of, and why it has been out of print, so that many interested people and outside bodies have been unable to read it.

Several important theatrical collections were given to the nation, as has been said, on the understanding that a theatre museum would he established. The foundation of this museum should surely encourage further donations. It will also provide a centre of learning and research about the theatre—far beyond the ken of the Rayner Scrutiny. There will be scope, as well, for special exhibitions; and the museum, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said, would be particularly appropriate for the Flower Market, as Covent Garden has been connected with the theatre since the early 17th century. The area has recently been given an exciting new lease of life—surely an example of urban development which is the envy of other Western European countries.

Why should London be alone among major capitals in not having a theatre museum? I hope the Government will reject this recommendation from the Rayner Scrunity, and let the project go ahead without any further delay. Unless they do this, the Government will be going against the whole current of informed public opinion. I am sure the noble Earl who is to reply saw the letter in The Times yesterday. I beg them to reject this shortsighted and philistine proposal.

9.34 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I start by associating myself with other noble Lords who have spoken this evening in expressing gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for asking his Unstarred Question and for the opportunitity it has provided us to discuss a topic about which he very clearly feels deeply. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, referred to some violins and I think I have heard ten violins so far playing a very similar tune and I shall endeavour in my remarks not to be too far out of tune. The noble Lord also referred to "with the rest of us". I am only sorry that because this particular thing is sub judice I cannot go into that category. A number of noble Lords expressed their family relationships to the theatre—which had me going back. I do not think my family has ever built a theatre but my name does bear a certain relationship with Stratford where my father, besides interesting himself in his constituents, took a lively and close interest in the theatre there. I am afraid that, for myself, I can claim no closer relationship than having been an occasional angel.

I listened with interest to the contributions to our debate which have indeed been eloquent and I know that every word that has been spoken will be carefully noted and borne in mind by my right honouralbe friend the Minister for the Arts. There need be no doubt that the opinions expressed and the arguments mustered in defence of a theatre museum project will be taken into account when the time comes for a decision to be made about the future of the theatre museum.

It may be helpful if I open my remarks this evening by setting the Rayner Report recommendations about the Theatre museum in its context. The recommendation is of course No. 27, one of the 53 recommendations made following a Rayner scrutiny of the Victoria and Albert and Science Museums carried out between October 1981 and May of this year. The terms of reference have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and the scrutineer who has been mentioned on a couple of occasions was of course Mr. Gordon Burrett, a recently-retired deputy secretary at the Manpower and Personnel Office. He had in particular the assistance of Mr. Tom Hume, a former director of the Museum of London, who provided professional advice.

My noble friend Lord Bessborough asked about the production of the Rayner Report. I think I should say that so far as my right honourable friend is concerned the report was submitted to him by Mr. Burrett and Mr. Burrett was no doubt in contact with Sir Derek Rayner's office in preparing the recommendations, but I do not honestly think it would be appropriate for me to pursue this line.

Before preparing the report, Mr. Burrett and his team had discussions with a wide range of interested people, including of course members of both the museums and staff representatives. The report was submitted to my right honourable friend during the month of May. The Government decided there should be full consultation on the report's recommendations and accordingly published it on 27th May. A wide range of interested persons and organisations have been invited to comment by the beginning of August and, in fact, many have already done so.

Out of the report's 53 recommendations, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts has announced the Government's views on two key aspects. First, the Government recognise the strong case made in the report for the two Museums, the Victoria and Albert, and the Science, being provided with a high degree of independence from Government and that they should therefore cease to be departmental museums. This recommendation will, I am sure, command wide support. The Government intend to seek an early opportunity to introduce legislation to establish separate bodies of trustees for each of these two museums. Secondly, my right honourable friend announced that, so far as the report's recommendations for the introduction of admission charges were concerned, the Government do not intend to impose charges for general admission to the main collections, nor to change the well-established practice of charging for entry to some outstations and special exhibitions. But the Government would not, at this stage, wish to prejudge any proposals which future trustees may in due course put forward as part of their policy for good management of the museums.

On all the other recommendations in the report—and this includes those relating to the theatre museum—my right honourable friend has made it clear that final decisions will not be taken until after the end of the consultation period in August. The two museum directors, their advisory councils and representatives of staff are among those specifically invited to express their views on these recommendations, as are many other bodies with an interest. Representations will also be welcomed from anyone else who wishes to express a view. In addition, the Government regard this debate this evening as a welcome and constructive element in the process of sounding opinion and informing the decisions which will need to be taken.

We have heard today about the origins and history of the theatre museum project. There is little for me to add to that information. I particularly enjoyed the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich. It is indeed true that the origins of the scheme go back more than two, nearly three, decades and that sterling work was carried out by many individuals and a number of enthusiastic organisations perhaps I could mention in particular the British Theatre Museum Association and the Committee for the Museum of the Performing Arts.

Almost 10 years ago, these organisations came together with the Victoria and Albert Museum, which already possessed rich collections in the theatrical field. Those collections, incidentally, were due in part to the exceptional generosity of donors and testators, such as Mrs. Gabrielle Enthoven and the late Mr. Harry Beard, and there have been very many more. The organisations which I have mentioned wish to encourage the pooling of resources for theatre museum purposes—and here I must say that I paid particular attention to what the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, said. From their discussions came the plan to set up the theatre museum, under the aegis of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and with a nucleus of staff drawn from the V & A's Enthoven collection. The curator of the theatre museum was appointed in 1974.

The process took a new turn, following the decision announced by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, when he was Minister for the Arts, on 5th September, 1975, that the museum should go to the premises of the former Flower Market in Covent Garden. We all pay tribute to him—everybody has done so this evening—for that decision. Since that time, planning and preparations have gone ahead. Design work has been conducted in close consultation with the curator, and the detailed lease negotiations have been under discussion between the Property Services Agency and the Greater London Council.

Considerable progress has been made, although there have been problems. I understand that a relatively small number of points in connection with the lease remain to be successfully concluded. Meanwhile, detailed design work and preparations for the invitation of tenders for adaptation and construction at the Flower Market premises are continuing. I believe your Lordships may take it that the present consultations will not cause any undue delay at all.

It might be helpful to the House if I were to comment upon the status of the theatre museum. The fact that it has its own advisory council, and the fact that it has been planned to house it in separate premises from the Victoria and Albert Museum, may have led to the impression that it is somehow not part of the V and A. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, may have been under a slight misapprehension, because I am informed that the theatre museum is constitutionally a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Its advisory council is constitutionally a sub-committee of the Victoria and Albert Museum Advisory Council, and the curator is himself answerable to the V and A's director. So I do not think it was unreasonable for the scrutiny to address this matter, along with other aspects of the V and A's work. Clearly, since it has done so, my right honourable friend must consider its recommendations. The Minister for the Arts, after all, has an obligation to secure the best possible value for money from the arts budget, which, as we all know, faces many competing demands.

The Rayner Report has now recommended that the Government should consider abandoning the theatre museum. It goes on to recommend that the project should proceed, if at all, on the basis of a charge for admission with the objective of rendering it self-financing; and that consideration should be given to the possibility of devolving the theatre museum from the V and A Museum and making it entirely independent.

The scrutiny reached these recommendations in the light of the large-scale costs, both absolute and in comparison with other museums expenditure, which would otherwise be borne on public funds; and in the light of the scrutineer's judgment—no doubt, taking account of views expressed during the scrutiny process—that the theatre field is less central to the V and A's essential role than are other aspects of its work. Noble Lords tonight have made it plain that there are differences of view about those underlying judgments and, indeed, about the desirability and practicability of the ensuing recommendations. My right honourable friend will be taking all these views very carefully into account; and I particularly welcomed the powerful intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson.

The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, mentioned that, in some way, the country's finances could be compared with the Muppets. It would perhaps be leading me astray, but it is tempting to relate the various Cabinet figures to the various characters in the Muppet show. But I am happy in my appointment and, therefore, I shall refrain from so doing. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, particularly asked why this report is out of print. I am afraid that I do not have any pre-knowledge about that, but I understand that the normal issues have been relayed to the Printed Paper Office in this House; in fact, there have been 25 extra copies over the normal ration. So I can only say that it must be a sale inspired by the interest of noble Lords in this House. Perhaps, also, I may pay tribute to the curator's work in trying to get support for his admirable project.

I hope your Lordships will understand that while it is tempting for me to join in a detailed discussion of the merits and demerits of the scrutineer's judgments and recommendations, I have to refrain from so doing at this stage of the consultation period. The Government will have regard not only to the points made tonight but also to any other representations which may yet be made before the consultation period ends. It would be wrong for me to prejudge the outcome by appearing to take sides now.

As I said earlier, I undertake to bring to the attention of my right honourable friend the points made in tonight's debate, although perhaps this is hardly necessary as his knowledge appears to be first hand. I know that he is well seized of the need to end uncertainty as soon as possible after the end of the consultation period. The speeches made this evening will certainly enhance his desire to come to an early decision.

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