HL Deb 17 May 1999 vol 601 cc1-4

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

What their review of the status of the national museums and galleries is intended to achieve and why it is being undertaken.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we want to establish a more strategic relationship with the national museums and galleries, specifying in funding agreements the outcomes that they are expected to deliver in return for grant-in-aid, but at the same time relieving them of unnecessary bureaucratic controls. The present review is looking at ways of giving the museums and galleries greater administrative freedom.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reassuring reply. If this takes place after the review it will surely lead to a clearer and more contractual relationship. That is to be welcomed. However, can the Minister also assure the House that her Majesty's Government will not change the funding mechanism, introducing a layer between the institutions which would increase Treasury control both over the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and also the national museums and galleries?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, none of the options being considered involves introducing a new layer between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the one hand and the national museums and galleries on the other. The present system has the advantage of safeguarding the Exchequer as well as the security of the national collections. Any changes that are made will retain those safeguards.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is endeavouring to reduce the costs of bureaucracy in the overseeing of national museums by reducing the sense of authority of the board of trustees? Is that not 1960s stateism?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, on the contrary, the whole object of the exercise being carried out at the request and with the encouragement of the National Museums and Galleries Directors Conference is to increase the authority of the trustees and their freedom to act. It is therefore for them to make administrative savings. It is not cost-led from the department's point of view.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, can the Minister be a little more specific? What is the bureaucratic interference which the new arrangements will review? For example, the British Museum fulfils its remit of excellent scholarship, also drawing huge numbers—some 6 million people a year. Is bureaucratic interference involved which will in some way be mitigated by the new arrangements?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the museum directors indicated that they are unhappy about a number of restrictions on the way in which they operate. For example, they are arguing for greater freedom of action in dealing with capital projects; they would like to be able to take up commercial insurance in a less restrictive way; they would like to have the right to set up subsidiary companies; they would also like more authority over the appointment of trustees. That is a general answer which applies to all museums and galleries, not just the British Museum. Those are the arguments that they put to us, and they seem to have some force.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, as a commissioner of the Museums and Galleries Commission, may I ask the Minister whether he can give an assurance that the excellent work that has been done by the Museums and Galleries Commission since 1931 will be continued when the new organisation—MLAC (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council)—is created?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness knows better than I do from her direct and valuable experience that MLAC, which will cover museums and galleries on the one hand and libraries on the other, is in the process of formation now and public announcements will shortly be made in that regard. I can give the noble Baroness an assurance that nothing will be lost in that process and a good deal will be gained.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, does that mean that the Government will continue to indemnify the museums and galleries for important international exhibitions against any possible losses, as they do at present?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the details of any changes have by no means been worked out. Some of the more radical options will require primary legislation. It is not our intention in any way to reduce the public support which we give to our museums and galleries. After all, we have only just introduced the three-year funding cycle, in which we increased the funding of the museums and galleries by over £100 million over the three-year period.

The Earl of Clancarty

My Lords, can the Minister clarify and justify the extraordinary announcement that Loyd Grossman's 24-Hour Museum is to be a national museum?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, can I justify it? I thought that the proposal of a 24-hour museum had been widely welcomed. I have not heard any criticism of it. If the noble Earl has any, I shall be glad to talk to him about it. So far the reaction has been entirely positive.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, the noble Lord's department announced that this review would take place in July 1998; that is, 10 months ago. It is a long time to report. Why? When will the report be published?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is not a long time to report on something which is complicated. We have a number of options which are being put to Ministers in the Department for Culture later this month. We hope to be able to report in the summer. I believe it is proper that we should give due attention to what are, after all, pearls in our national and cultural life. In any case, there is no hurry to implement this because, as I indicated, primary legislation will be required for some of the options and we do not yet have a slot for it.

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