HL Deb 23 May 1989 vol 508 cc148-50

2.48 p.m.

Lord Reilly asked Her Majesty's Government:

By whose authority six advertising hoardings have been erected in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, application was made under the Town and Country Planning Act 1984 to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in December 1987 and consent was granted in October 1988.

Lord Reilly

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I should like to ask him two questions. First, does he think that it is appropriate for a rich nation to depend on such low grade commercial devices for the protection of a museum containing the world's finest collection of artefacts? Secondly, will the same solution be adopted when the time comes to clean the Victoria Tower of this palace?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first question is, yes, I do think that it is appropriate. As for his second question concerning the Victoria Tower, that is a matter for the Government, whereas the V&A is not.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, if those posters have to do with fund-raising, has the noble Lord seen the reports of the speech made by the director of the V&A last night at the National Art Collections Fund? She said there that Government lack of funding has now meant that the museum's finances have reached a crisis. Since the new Treasury salary awards, the museum does not even have enough money to pay the salaries out of its inadequate grants. Do we intend to do something about the matter?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the Government's record on arts funding in general is very good. There has been an increase in real terms of 52.6 per cent. and, for museums and galleries in particular, an increase in real terms of 46.9 per cent.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the great objection to those poster hoardings is not that they are advertisement hoardings, but that they are badly and hideously designed? Will he give us some indication as to when the cleaning will begin, when it will end, and, above all, that, as soon as it is completed, those eyesores will be removed?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I think that it would be a matter of great debate as to whether or not the advertising hoardings are more or less ugly than the scaffolding, canvasing and tarpaulin that will cover the building while it is being cleaned. The cleaning operation will take between 15 and 18 months and, at the end of that period, the advertising hoardings will come down.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, declaring a non-financial personal interest as a trustee of the V&A, may I ask the Minister whether he will accept that it is better for the public to have an opportunity after some 18 months to see the beauty and true splendour of the façade of the V&A, which would not be available without those funds? Does he further accept that, however horrible the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, finds them, the scaffolding would not be particularly attractive either:

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord. I think that he has spoken most appropriately in pointing out that when the cleaning is over the building will look considerably better.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is it true that the scaffolding which those hoardings are meant to hide is not even up yet? Perhaps the Minister will tell us how long it will be before the scaffolding is erected and whether the period will be extended at the other end so that people will become so accustomed to the hoardings that they will just remain there. Perhaps he will also tell us whether consideration could be given to a Government advertisement being put on one of the hoardings, stating, "These advertisements were made possible by the unhappy lack of funds given by the Government to provide for the proper maintenance of this museum".

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand that the cleaning work will start in the near future. I find it extraordinary that noble Lords can complain about a so-called lack of funding—which I have proved is not the case—and at the same time criticise a museum for using such an imaginative scheme to raise extra resources. I believe that the trustees should be congratulated.

Lord Gibson

My Lords, when the noble Lord says that the V&A is no longer the Government's responsibility, will he confirm that, when the Government disestablished the V&A, as it were, it was no part of their intention to escape responsibility for it? Will he further confirm that, if that had been their intention, they would have endowed it, as they are doing in the case of Ham and Osterley, although I do not know whether they are doing so adequately? In that case, they would have endowed it, but they did not do so. They accepted responsibility for it and continued to fund it. Surely the Minister cannot say that it was nothing to do with the Government, therefore, and the question then is whether the funding is adequate.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am sorry if I misled the noble Lord. I meant to say that the day-to-day running of the museum was not up to the Government, but up to the trustees.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the fact that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has given permission to allow the setting up of the very unattractive hoardings outside the Victoria and Albert Museum will create a precedent for other people to apply to the borough to clutter up our pavements, which are already cluttered up with litter? Does the noble Lord think that this should be a one-off and no more?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, again, that is a matter for the local authority, but the hoardings were erected only following extensive consultations with local residents and the police.

Lord Annan

My Lords, when St. Paul's Cathedral was cleaned through, I believe, the initiative of the Ionian Bank and other financial institutions, no hoardings were put up to advertise the donors. While the donors are of course to be congratulated, does the Minister think that there has perhaps been some falling off of good taste in our society?

Lord Strathclyde

No, my Lords. I simply think that the cleaning of St. Paul's was an entirely different matter.