National Museum of Antiquities

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th July 1965.

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Photo of Mr Hector Hughes Mr Hector Hughes , Aberdeen North 12:00 am, 14th July 1965

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that a large part of the Scottish National Museum's collections of art and treasures under the care of the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer in Edinburgh are stored away and not accessible to the public or to scolars wishing to work on them, and that there are available for the public exhibition of those collections space and facilities in Aberdeen; and if he will, in the public interest, transfer to Aberdeen those treasures which are now in storage.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The disposition of articles held by the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland is a matter for the trustees whose policy, I am informed, is to keep on permanent exhibition a high proportion of their collection, including all objects which are of outstanding historical or aesthetic importance. Scholars who wish to work on items in the collections are given all necessary facilities.

Photo of Mr Hector Hughes Mr Hector Hughes , Aberdeen North

Surely the Secretary of State cannot divest himself of responsibility in this matter. Is it not a national disgrace that treasures of this kind should be hidden away from scholars and others, who could study them and write about them, when in Aberdeen there are ample space and facilities for storing and exhibiting them to scholars who want to study them and write about them? Will my right hon. Friend review the policy to see that they are made available to scholars?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I assure my hon. and learned Friend that I know of his prejudices about the accessibility of Aberdeen as against Edinburgh, but the Scottish National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh is readily accessible to all scholars who wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to study there. We are quite willing to make available in Aberdeen or elsewhere for temporary exhibition the treasures which my hon. and learned Friend has mentioned.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

Does the Secretary of State realise that a very important question is involved and is causing a great deal of public concern throughout Scotland? Is he doing anything to reconsider the policy that the central museums in Edinburgh should have the right to store these articles and themselves to say that they are most accessible to students and scholars? Would he not agree that the St. Ninian's treasures, for example, should be permanently housed in Aberdeen where they were found—at least, by whose professors they were found—until a suitable museum is established in Shetland? Does he not realise that, both for local history and for tourism, the policy ought to be changed?

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

It is amazing how changing sides in the House changes views. The hon. Lady knows quite well that St. Ninian's treasure was not found in Aberdeen. It was found by Aberdeen archaeologists working in Shetland. But it is a national treasure. As she knows, this issue was taken to law and a legal decision about it was made. What she really wants us to do is to upset the longstanding law of treasure trove. What we have to appreciate is that if we are to have national museums, Scottish or British, they will have to contain treasures and exhibits of considerable national importance and that may well deprive local people of what they would like to have in their areas. We have said that we are ready to make these treasures available in Aberdeen and Shetland on temporary exhibition at specific times.

Photo of Mr Hector Hughes Mr Hector Hughes , Aberdeen North

I hereby give notice that I shall raise this important matter on the Adjournment when an opportunity arises.