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 Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West 8:15 pm, 5th May 1983

I do not think that any hon. Member would disagree with the sentiments contained in the final words uttered by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I agree with him about the importance of the provincial museums and the role that the V and A and science museum have played in helping, with their expertise and in many other ways, the provincial museums. It was right for him to draw attention to the national interest as well in those two great museums. Indeed, it is common ground that they have a world-wide reputation, and I hope that the general effect of the Bill will, over the years, be to consolidate that position, improve it if anything, but certainly not make it worse.

There was much discussion in Committee about the powers of the boards and the precise duties that should be laid on the new boards of trustees. It has been pointed out that at this stage of the Bill it is extremely difficult to accept amendments unless they are exactly correctly worded. Accordingly, I must say that the first part of the amendment remains unclear. However, the hon. Gentleman pointed out that he wants the boards to stimulate interest in their respective fields and continue to exercise their role in relation to the provinces, although, as he pointed out, in relation to local purchase grants, there may be some change when we see the result of the consultations.

The boards will continue to make available to provincial museums the services that are at present available. They are certainly able to do that and the Government have every intention and hope that that should be the case. The boards already have the duty in the Bill to promote the public's enjoyment and knowledge in their respective fields. This is not confined to those who visit the museums; it relates also to the wider public, including colleagues in other museums. The way in which subsection (1) is drafted makes that clear.

Offering a range of advice and services such as loans, travelling exhibitions and lectures is not a role confined to the V and A and science museums. Our other national museums and galleries also do that. To make a specific reference in the Bill in the form of a duty to meet provincial obligations by those two institutions would contain some risk in that it could be taken to imply that other institutions which do not have such a specific obligation on them do not have that duty. If that were to be the way in which the combined measures relating to museums were read, that would not be in the best interests of the provincial museums.

The Bill already empowers the trustees to undertake a wide range of activities of regional and provincial relevance. I therefore submit that there is no need, as a matter of statute, to include the amendment. The point is already covered in the Bill. However, I have already undertaken in Committee—and I give the undertaking again tonight — that I shall specifically draw the attention of the new trustees, when they come into operation, to our debates on these issues, and in particular to those issues where there has been complete agreement in all parts of the House, and I think that it would be fair to say that on the subject that we are now discussing there is unanimity of view. I am certain that the trustees, as they already have the power in the Bill, will wish to exercise it and, as I say, I shall make sure that their attention is drawn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Derby, North. I shall add, in talking to the trustees, that while, because of the lateness of the hour, not many hon. Members took part in the debate, I am sure that it was the unanimous view of the House. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will not feel it necessary to press the amendment.