HL Deb 19 November 1992 vol 540 cc719-20

3.34 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to implement the proposals in the report Museums Matter by the Museums and Galleries Commission.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Government very much welcome the report, which recognises the important role that museums and galleries have as part of our cultural heritage. We shall take careful account of the views expressed by the commission in the report in so far as they relate to government policies.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Since the report Museums Matter places such emphasis on the role of local authorities, is the time not now ripe for the Government to include and set up realistic components for museums in the standard spending assessments for local authorities?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, was a distinguished chairman of that august institution—the Museums and Galleries Commission from 1985 to 1990. Local authorities play an important role in the provision of the museum service. However, it is for local authorities to provide adequate support for their local museum service. I am sure that they recognise the important role which museums play throughout the community.

Lord Rees

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend has studied the report in great detail. As it is hoped that the national lottery Bill will he introduced before Christmas, will my noble friend pay particular attention to, and comment on, the recommendation that under that legislation museums and galleries with nationally acclaimed collections which are not supported by central or local government should be given either a special endowment or at least an assured source of income?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, clearly museums and galleries will benefit from the proceeds of a national lottery. It is too early to say what will be the amount of such benefit. We must wait for the Bill to be published.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that page 47 of that excellent report says that eight out of 19 of the national institutions —galleries and museums—are now charging for admission? Is it not the case, as the report says, that the institutions have reluctantly decided to impose an admission charge because of shortage of proper funding? Will the noble Viscount suggest to his colleagues that, if the museums are funded properly, it will not be necessary to charge for admission, which discourages people from visiting those institutions?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, that is absolutely not the case. It is for the museums and galleries to decide whether or not they wish to charge. It is their choice. Of course, receipts of national museums and galleries from trading and other activities have risen from about £3 million in 1979–80 to an estimated £48 million this year; that is a considerable sum of money.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most urgent problems to which the report refers is the future funding of the 300 university museums and collections? Does he accept the suggestion in the report that the change in the funding of universities which is due soon will be an excellent opportunity to tackle the problem?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Universities Funding Council is providing special factor funding of £5.8 million for selected university museums and galleries in 1992–93. The new Higher Education Funding Council for England has been reviewing all special factors. It has recently agreed in principle that special factor funding for museums and galleries should continue and intends to consult on proposals for special factor funding with a view to announcing decisions in January.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, the new flexibility given to national museums and galleries in the Autumn Statement is at first glance welcome. However, is it not also misleading? A single grant-in-aid to cover running costs, purchase grant, building and maintenance looks attractive. But does the Minister agree that that depends entirely on the amount of funding? According to the tables in the Autumn Statement, in the next three years the museums will receive something in the region of 2 per cent., which is totally inadequate. May that not mean that in some cases purchase grants will be cut because of the huge demands made by maintenance?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Baroness is correct. The funding for museums and galleries has increased from £181 million in 1991–92 to £192 million in 1992–93. Of course, museums and galleries will be given a new flexibility to help them to manage better and to secure value for money. They will not have to seek permission from the department before re-allocating funds from one category of expenditure to another in any year.

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