HL Deb 18 June 1991 vol 530 cc9-10WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the future of the Royal Armouries collection and the Tower of London.

Baroness Blatch

I wish to announce today developments of major significance at the Tower of London, associated with the Royal Armouries' proposal for the establishment of a new museum in Leeds to take a major part of its collection. In recent years the Tower and the Armouries, two major features of our National Heritage, have been less attractive to visitors than they deserve to be. Space is restricted and it is not possible to display the Crown Jewels, the collection of arms and armour and the many other treasures of the Tower in a manner worthy of them, or satisfying to visitors and people who wish to see them.

While the Royal Armouries will continue to display a significant part of its collection in the Tower of London it is proposing to develop a major new centre in Leeds, provided the necessary resources can be found, including private sector funding. This would enable the greater part of the collection currently held in store to be put on display to the public. It would provide a new focus of national importance in the North of England attracting large numbers of people to a major tourist and educational centre. It would display a priceless part of our national heritage in new and exciting ways. No less important, it would help to revitalise the inner areas of Leeds and have major benefits for the whole city. The project has the wholehearted support of the city council, the urban development corporation and the whole community in the city.

Consultants have carried out an investment appraisal of the project for the department and have concluded that it is likely to be an attractive investment. The Government are therefore funding further preparatory work by the Royal Armouries during this year. The extent of private sector funding of the new museum will be a key factor in the Government's consideration of public sector funding for the project. The Royal Armouries and all those involved in Leeds will therefore be working to achieve the maximum amount of private funding.

The move of part of the Royal Armouries' collection out of the Tower would provide the Historic Royal Palaces Agency with an outstanding opportunity to relocate and redisplay its most potent visitor attraction, the Crown Jewels, and, in partnership with the Royal Armouries, to re-present the White Tower, as one of the nation's most important historic buildings. I have now approved the Agency's corporate plan containing these proposals.

If all these changes proceed, a review of the present staffing arrangements at the Tower will be necessary in consultation with staff and all interested parties to ascertain the most effective ways of staffing the Tower in the future.

Finally, in response to public demand, and to assist with the funding of these major changes, the Tower is to be opened to visitors on Sunday mornings in summer. It is already open on Sunday afternoons in summer. This will bring the Tower in line with other major tourist attractions in London, including other historic royal palaces. This change is planned to take place next summer to give time for full consultation with interested parties, including the trade unions, who represent the staff concerned.