HL Deb 14 December 1988 vol 502 cc936-9

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they intend as a result of the designation of 1989 as Museums Year and what support they intend to pledge to the national collections.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, Museums Year is the initiative of the Museums Association in their centenary year of 1989. It has been strongly supported by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts. I understand from the Museums Association that the national museums and galleries are lending Museums Year their enthusiastic support. The Government's provision for museums and galleries will rise from £153 million in the current year to £174 million in 1991–92.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her splendidly encouraging reply. Is she aware that in 1989 Her Majesty the Queen is lending pictures from the private apartments at Windsor Castle to mount separate exhibitions at Aberdeen, Newcastle, Bristol, Norwich, Plymouth and Sheffield? Is she also aware that there is an excellent new museum which has started this year in the Guards Museum at Wellington Barracks? Is she also aware that the Anstruther Fisheries Museum in Fife is celebrating its 20th anniversary on 4th July and it is launching a boat called "White Wing"? Can she tell us any further good news?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for her very interesting information.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, while we are delighted to hear about all the people who are supporting museums, is the Minister aware that the increase for the arts world which she cited is still well below the rate of inflation? Is it not the case that now the Japanese are coming into the art market so strongly and buying works of art of all schools, irrespective of those referred to the review committee on the export of works of art, that unless purchase funds are increased, we shall lose even more of our national heritage? Moreover, is not a substantial increase in purchase funds the best way in which the Government can respond to Museums Year?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not blame the noble Baroness for giving her commercial; but it is rather far from that which we are discussing on the Order Paper—that is, Museums Year.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of our great museums and art galleries have vast numbers of treasures stored underground which are never seen by the public? Should not the opportunity presented by Museums Year be taken to do something about that, perhaps following the excellent example of Her Majesty in allowing some of those treasures to be shown outside London?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am sure that the Museums Association will take note of what my noble friend said. Most of the national museums and galleries are involved heavily in Museums Year. For example, the National Gallery's 1989 exhibition programme is to be promoted as part of Museums Year. I shall not weary your Lordships with a long list; but I do have a long list if noble Lords would like me to read it out.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, will the Government consider allowing the national museums to recover VAT in the same way as local authority museums are able to do? Are the Government aware that the Tate Gallery, for example, which receives a purchase grant of £1.8million a year, has to pay £250,000 in VAT? How do the Government think that the gallery can compete in the international markets when shackled in that way?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, this is not a general debate on the arts. The Question concerns Museums Year. However, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, may be interested to hear (if he does not already know) of the passport scheme. The Museums Association has secured from The Times a substantial sponsorship for Museums Year. A passport costing £5 gives a range of discounts at the discretion of individual museums. There is a 150-page guide to the year's events. I think I may be allowed to make a commercial, too.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the important report published today by that most influential Select Committee in another place—namely, the Public Accounts Committee—which describes the conservation and storage situation in our national galleries and museums as a national disaster? Would it not be a fitting way to mark Museums Year if the Government could initiate a major programme to quantify the problem and, above all, to improve the standards of training for conservation?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Government's funding record for the national collections indicates a sincere commitment to supporting the institutions in their important work. In the new three-year allocations announced in November, the Minister for the Arts has set aside special provisions in 1991–92 for the priority concerns of the national museums and galleries in the management of their collections, including conservation, storage and documentation.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many museums will be grateful for the extra funding promised? Is she also aware that the Museums Association centenary conference is being held in York in 1989 and that the Museums Association was founded in the Yorkshire Museum in York?

Baroness Trumpington

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of that.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, has the noble Baroness any plans in her capacity at the Ministry of Agriculture to open a museum for the poultry industry, which the Government are trying so hard to kill off?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, what I can tell the noble Lord is that the Science Museum is opening a new food and nutrition gallery in 1989 which is linked to Museums Year, as well as the celebration of British Food and Farming Year.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the Government consider placing Mrs. Currie in that museum?

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what makes her think that the Museums Association will take note of the wise words of her noble friend Lord Renton about the treasures hidden away in the cellars of so many museums when it has failed to take note of those same observations which have been made over and over again for the past 20 years?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, it is impossible for the museums to display all their collections. The only museum of which I have any personal knowledge is the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which rotates pictures. Inevitably pictures will be in store, but it is up to the museums to work out their own programmes. I feel sure that many people will be reading these exchanges in Hansard.