The Board's General Functions

Part of National Heritage Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 5th May 1983.

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Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North 8:15 pm, 5th May 1983

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your second thoughts in allowing this small but important amendment to be discussed on Report. I am also grateful to the Minister for circulating to me and to other members of the Committee the reply to the remaining outstanding recommendations of the Rayner report on the two national museums. We received it just before the Easter recess. I should have liked to receive it by the end of the Committee stage, but we have at least had the opportunity to consider it.

Here we are considering the national vis-a-vis the provincial role of the two museums in question. It is truly said that there are no solutions in politics; there is simply a continuing and changing number of problems. Having pressed hard, with some success, from both sides of the Committee for a transfer of the administration of the local purchase grants of the Museums and Galleries Commission, in consultation at all times with the expert authorities at the two national museums, we feel that there is now a need to set out, more clearly than the statute has done, the national role of the museums.

The Victoria and Albert museum and the science museum must maintain a role in fostering the expertise.—indeed, the confidence—of the smaller and provincial museums. That is crucial for the survival of those smaller museums, many of which are starved of resources and expertise. I am not necessarily making a party point; it will probably always be the case that the smaller museums in the provinces will look to and rely on the kind of expert advice that is, naturally, concentrated in the great national institutions. Those have in the past taken their responsibilities seriously in the provision of such expertise and the Minister, in his response to the Rayner recommendations, reminded them that they should be at the service not only of the public at all times—a point to which I shall come when we deal with amendment No. 4—but also of the provincial museums.

We believe that there should be a statutory obligation, and it would not cost anything; it would simply be an exhortation—a reminder underpinned in this legislation of the responsibilities of the national museums to the smaller and provincial museums. Now that the Minister has given a lead in the transfer of administration, which we welcomed and pressed for, so that it is no longer a direct role—the pastoral role in its old sense—exercised by those two museums, their indirect but nevertheless extremely important involvement should be stressed, and it must continue. Because of that, we hope that in future, as a result of a small amendment along these lines, we shall be able to indicate to future generations the importance we attach to the link between the national museums and the provincial institutions.