I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Will he direct his attention to specific national collections such as the Victoria and Albert and the British museums, both of which have large quantities of material in their basements that are seldom seen by the public? Will he persuade them to part with them, or loan them, to provincial museums and galleries? If security and insurance is a problem, perhaps central Government funding should be directed to that area of expenditure rather than to acquiring further materials and pictures that will be seldom seen by the public?
I agree with my hon. Friend that some of our national museums and galleries have a substantial proportion of their treasures in storage—not necessarily locked away—although it should be acknowledged that they rotate the objects of art that they display quite regularly. I believe that it is right to stress the need to encourage further loans of these objects of art to various parts of the country. It is with that in mind that the Government's indemnity scheme does a great deal to facilitate loans to be made to local museums, for example. It is to encourage this prospect that the Museums and Galleries Commission has now established the unit to which I have referred, which is designed to encourage exhibitions throughout the country.
I welcome what the Minister has said, but will he go a little further and undertake positively to make funds available to assist with the project that is designed to ensure that some of the basement articles are displayed throughout the country? There are many items in London that would be received with rapture in other parts of the country. Will he go further than he has gone so far?
The commission has earmarked a modest sum especially for the purpose of encouraging that to happen and to link those who want to exhibit objects of art from our national museums and galleries. The right hon. Gentleman should not underestimate that which can be achieved through the Government's indemnity scheme. I am sure he knows that the expense of taking out commercial loans means that the cost of the premium is prohibitive. In my view, the Government's indemnity scheme plays the most prominent part.
Will the Minister encourage the national museums to publish an inventory of what they have in their basements? Such an inventory could be sent to local and provincial galleries. Perhaps the Minister could ask national museums to give advice to the provincial museums in respect of storing and exhibitions.
I shall certainly inquire whether it is possible for the national museums and galleries to provide an inventory. With the gradual introduction of computer services in those museums and galleries it may be possible to do that. I shall certainly let the hon. Gentleman know the results of my inquiries.
Surely, if the Minister chose, he could give much more determined support for this policy. Does he accept that people in the regions have a right to see, and want to see, the riches of our national collections? Will he consider initiating a national policy to bring together the Musuems Commission, the Arts Council, area museum councils and regional arts associations, which could be funded to co-operate to open the national collections to the whole of the country?
May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming Opposition spokesman for the arts. I hope that he finds the position as interesting as I do on this side of the Box. I think that we shall look forward, with interest, to discovering Labour party policy on the arts. I am very glad that he supports the general thrust of the discussion on the question of loans to galleries all over the country. It is for the Museum and Galleries Commission to co-ordinate the task nationally, and I shall do whatever I can to support it. The commission is the right body to put forward a national policy, and that is precisely what has been achieved with this new unit.