HC Deb 10 February 1977 vol 925 cc755-6W
Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she has concluded her examination of the proposals to change the regional services for museums provided by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Yes. My noble Friend and I have examined carefully the proposals submitted by the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum as a consequence of the reductions in staff to which the Government are committed for the civil service. We have also heard representations from the staff of the museum and from the associations of local authorities involved. We have decided to implement the proposals of the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which are supported by the museum's advisory council. Though the Department of Regional Services will have to be disbanded, the museum will continue to circulate to local museums and educational institutions about 90 per cent. of all the material at present available to them, namely, five large framed exhibitions, 25 "two-dimensional" exhibitions, and 200 sets of frames with material for colleges and other educational institutions. The director will also review 50 further framed sets in store to determine what can be added to the present circulating material. The museum's present scheme to assist local museums with new purchases, its education services, and its arrangements for making long loans to local museums will also continue.

I also hope that the discontinuation of the museum's circulating exhibitions of objects from its permanent collection will be made good under a scheme which my noble Friend is preparing, under which, subject to appropriate safeguards, a Government indemnity can be given to loans to selected local museums. This would enable not merely the Victoria and Albert Museum but any of the national collections to make objects available without requiring payment of insurance. When the new scheme has been fully worked out, parliamentary approval will be sought by means of an Estimate.

In addition, my noble Friend has invited the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries to convene later this year a conference—to the cost of which the Government are ready to contribute—on the availability of material for circulation to local museums and galleries. The aim will be to establish what further progress can be made within our resources, which include the greatly increased grants which the Government are making to the area museum councils, in throwing open the national heritage over the country as a whole, including those reserves in the national collections which cannot be permanently exhibited for lack of space.