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

The amendments deal with an issue related to the provision of services to the community by the national museums. The Minister, in his thoughtful reply when this matter was first raised in Committee, said he thought that our attempt then to exclude the giving of professional advice was too widely drafted and restrictive because it would mean, for example, that a museum could not charge for services to Sothebys or whatever other institution might approach it for expert consideration.

We have looked again at the matter and we accept the point that was made. However, we have redrafted the amendment—I am glad that it has been thought in order to have it discussed again—so that it now reads that the services shall be other than professional advice to the general public". It is an obligation on the museums which we believe they should carry through. The museums are important not merely for the service that they give to the great art houses and wealthy collectors but to individual members of the public who come into them literally off the street with small items on which they require an opinion.

I believe that the national role, in its widest and most generous sense, should embrace the responsibility of the curatorial staff of the museum to give consultations and the best advice that they can to people who come in for advice without feeling that a going rate has to be charged. We do not want a sum to be levied which might be a disincentive to members of the public without means who are seeking advice about objects which they possess or with which they have some connection.

I am extremely anxious to hear what the Minister says about an amendment which has been drafted in a way which is mindful of the reservations expressed when we discussed this matter in Committee.