The Board's General Function

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

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Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North 8:45, 5 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.