The Board's General Function

National Heritage Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 5th May 1983.

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Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North 8:45 pm, 5th May 1983

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 11, line 13, at end insert— '(8) The Board may allow premises occupied or managed by them to be used by other persons (for payment or otherwise) for purposes not connected with the functions mentioned in subsection (2) if the Board are satisfied that to do so would not conflict unduly with those functions'. This is a slightly complex matter on which I hope not to detain the House unduly. It is probably not controversial to say that the armouries are less happy with the dispositions that have been made on their behalf than all the other museums with which we have been dealing. The reasons are particular to the history of the armouries, their position within the tower of London and the fact that a number of provisions which have been made within the Bill, including some which were brought in tonight with new clauses 1, 2 and 3, have not been extended to them. The armouries feel that they are not being treated on a par with the other museums. They are, therefore, still concerned—perhaps rightly — about their status as this process of devolution continues.

The major issue is that, since the armouries are within the tower of London, and as the tower of London comes under the Department of the Environment — indeed, a Minister in that Department will be replying to this debate —they are a collection within a museum rather than a museum in their own right, that, inevitably, will involve certain differences in how they are treated compared with the other museums. There are certain areas —two or three of which I wish to raise in the context of this amendment—where they feel that they might be better treated, although they accept that they are located and will remain within the tower of London, and indeed wish to do so.

The amendment relates to the question whether the armouries might allow their premises to be let out and used for other purposes, as has been allowed for the national museums under other clauses. There are other points that the armouries have asked us to raise, and I think that it is appropriate to put these continuing doubts and uncertainties to the Under-Secretary of State.

The armouries have thought throughout that the Government's assurances through Lord Avon in another place and in Committee through the Minister who is to reply to this debate—that it was not their intention to demote the armouries or to say that they were of less importance than any other body—sit rather ill with the different status that they have received.

I shall not weary the House with a full recital of the points that were raised in Committee. They related to the appointment of the armouries board by the Secretary of State, whereas the trustees of other institutions will be appointed by the Prime Minister; the financing of the armouries by a grant rather than a parliamentary Vote, as in the case of all the other museums; the profits which they hoped to have from any trading company which, under this Bill, they are not now to have the power to set up.

Another matter — not one on which I would necessarily agree with them—related to their ability to charge for admission to special exhibitions within the tower of London. They feel that their powers give them less freedom than is the case with the other national museums. I feel that I am duty bound to put those reservations to the House.

The amendment addresses itself to only one of these points. We feel that the armouries, given all their other worries, which have been expressed in another place and in Committee, really ought to have this modest additional power which has been extended to the other national museums. It would not in any way derogate from the particular marsupial relationship which they are bound to have with the tower of London and the Department of the Environment.

I hope that this modest amendment will commend itself to the Minister. I look forward with interest to his reply.

Photo of Mr Neil Macfarlane Mr Neil Macfarlane , Sutton and Cheam

I have to express some surprise at the comments made by the hon. Gentleman in moving this amendment, which I am sure he does for the best of motives. I am surprised that he should refer to the major worries which he thinks that the armouries have. My door is for ever open for my responsibilities throughout the land and I have not had any detailed discussions on this, nor have I had any indication that they are unhappy. We have had many discussions in recent months for a variety of reasons and I do not believe that they are as worried as has been suggested. If the hon. Gentleman has a source of which I am not aware, I hope that he will identify it so that I may ascertain the exact nature of the concerns to which he has referred.

The amendment seeks to extend to the armouries the facility given in Committee to the Victoria and Albert museum and the science museum to continue their practice of letting parts of their premises for sponsorship or other activities unrelated to their general functions.

The difficulties seem to lie in status. It is clear that the trading functions will have to be integrated with the general tower operation. The closeness at the Department of the Environment and at the tower makes the appointment of trustees and grant-in-aid status right in their circumstances. I must remind the House that the problem for the armouries is that their collections will be housed principally in the tower of London. We are all agreed that that must continue. As the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) understands, the tower is a royal palace. It would be inappropriate for the trustees to be able to authorise events at the tower that are unrelated to their functions. This procedure might not match the status of the tower, and it is clearly a matter of status.

I cannot accept the amendment but I undertake to consider the role of the trustees, the armouries and those who run the tower. I must tell the hon. Member for Derby, North that the amendment would not fit with the rest of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply to the Minister's intervention. In essence, this is a probing amendment. Our attempts to advance the case for the armouries have been bedevilled by the status that they hold. The two Ministers on the Government Front Bench represent different Departments but they are working happily in tandem on the Bill, as are the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. However, assurances given by the Minister for the Arts have not in all circumstances come the way of the armouries. For example, the V and A and other museums have Vote status under the Bill, but that is not extended to the armouries. The distinction extends to the power to charge for exhibitions and the letting out of premises.

The armouries feel that they have a grievance. I shall pass on to the Minister my correspondence with the Marshal of the armouries and write a further letter asking for clarification of some of the issues that have been raised. The Minister has said that he will review the status of the armouries to ascertain whether their worries can be alleviated. I am happy to accept that assurance, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.