HC Deb 22 July 1982 vol 28 cc302-4W
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he proposes to take on the recommendations of the Williams committee on the national museums and galleries in Scotland.

Mr. Younger

I have considered very carefully the many issues raised in the Committee's report and the numerous and constructive comments on them which I have received. The report provides a framework within which our museums and galleries can develop in the years ahead and I take this opportunity to reiterate my thanks to Dr. Alwyn Williams and the members of his Committee for the considerable amount of work which they put into this inquiry.

I share the Committee's view that our first priority must be to establish a museum of Scotland, which will be the prime repository for artifacts representing the cultural heritage of Scotland. This is an imaginative concept which has attracted widespread interest and support. I propose therefore at a convenient opportunity to introduce a Bill to constitute a new and widely representative board of trustees whose first task will be to create a major new institution on the basis of the collections which are at present held by the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. I would expect the museum of Scotland, once it is established, to be enriched by material drawn from a variety of sources and to attract the wholehearted support of Scots both at home and overseas.

The realisation of this project will call for the provision of additional accommodation in which the collections can be adequately housed and displayed to the public. I agree with the committee that the premises in Queen Street, Edinburgh, at present occupied by the NMAS are inadequate for the purpose, although this accommodation is shortly to be augmented with the renovation and reopening of York Buildings in the immediate vicinity. In allocating the resources available to me over the next few years for the development of museums and galleries in Scotland I will give priority to the provision of adequate accommodation for the projected museum of Scotland.

The Williams Committee recommended that the Royal Scottish Museum should retain its present status as a departmental museum. I have concluded, however, that it would be in the public interest and in keeping with the arrangements for other national institutions if the responsibility for the management of this museum passed to an independent board of trustees. I shall be consulting those concerned, in particular of course the Director and representatives of the staff, about the implementation of this proposal, which will also require legislation. One of the questions which I wish to examine further, in consultation with the interests concerned, is whether it might be possible to bring the management of the RSM with its wealth of international material and that of the projected museum of Scotland under the same board of trustees, whilst preserving the distinctive character of both museums.

This statement confirms the Government's commitment to the establishment of a museum of Scotland. I shall make a further statement in due course about the outcome of the consultations to which I have referred and the action I propose to take on other recommendations in the Williams report.