Museums and Art Galleries: Security

– in the House of Lords at 2:57 pm on 22nd June 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour 2:57 pm, 22nd June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether British art galleries and museums devote sufficient resources to ensuring the security of their collections.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the low level of theft from public art galleries and museums in the UK reflects the strong emphasis placed on security and suggests that the funding available is sufficient to minimise the risk. In 2003–04, 15 thefts were reported to the national security advisers. In 2004–05, there were just eight thefts at DCMS-sponsored museums and galleries. DCMS-sponsored museums spent £36.5 million on security in 2004–05, which is 13 per cent of their total grant-in-aid from government. These figures do not include the loss of two live guinea pigs from the Horniman Museum last year. Whether that was a theft or an elaborate escape plan remains unclear.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, in the light of recent thefts and the need to protect some £5 billion of treasures in our national museums, is my noble friend satisfied that the museums security officer, who has two members of staff to help him, has sufficient resources for the task of securing our museums and for the widening task of offering advice to our European colleagues on these matters? Will the Minister say a little more about regional museums? Do those valued museums in our regions enjoy the same level of security?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I can be totally reassuring about the national security advisers based at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council because I used to chair that body and spent many happy hours talking to the security advisers and seeing what they did. They have a tremendous reputation in the UK, and they are very often asked for advice by overseas museums.

As for the regions, there were 14 thefts from regional museums across the UK but, given that there are more than 1,800 accredited museums, that is not a large number. Local authorities are responsible for local museums and the security advisers feel that they do a really good job.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Disability), Work & Pensions, Deputy Chief Whip

My Lords, museums and galleries are under pressure to display their back catalogues or stored items. Will the Minister give an assurance that they will not have to increase the number of items on display unless they have sufficient resources to make sure that they are secure?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, of course. When museums look at what they display, they carry out risk assessments and take relevant action. Obviously, if a small museum in one of the regions has an extremely valuable object, but does not feel that it can be protected adequately, it will be kept in safe storage.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, does the National Trust come into the deliberations of the Government? Some of the most beautiful and valuable things in this country are owned by the National Trust. It would be very sad if they were stolen or lost in a fire.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I do not have figures on the National Trust, but I know that it has its own highly effective security advisers. Certainly, national security advisers liaise with National Trust advisers. Obviously, I agree with the noble Baroness that many of our national treasures are held in National Trust houses.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

My Lords, while it is important that we ensure the safety of our treasures in museums and galleries, is there not a danger that increasing expenditure on security will make access to those treasures by the general public more difficult? If money is to be available for museums and galleries, should we not spend it on improving access and educational services?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Access is of critical importance. Noble Lords will know that it was this Government who abolished entrance fees to increase the number of people visiting museums. On looking at the figures on theft, it is fascinating to see that most thefts occurred in places in museums where the general public do not go—areas that are not of great interest to them.

A great deal of money is spent on museum security, which has been a constant during the past four or five years. If there is a problem with a museum, as there was with the V&A last year, additional resources are given to that museum to enhance its security.

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Spokespersons In the Lords, The Family & Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, museum security very much depends on the resources available. Can the Minister give an assurance that national museums and galleries have been sufficiently compensated for the costs involved in introducing free admission?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, that is a much bigger question, which I imagine may relate to the Science Museum. Whatever the arguments about funding of national museums, security cannot be skimped on. The sum of £37 million was spent on security. One museum, which I do not intend to name, spent £7.9 million on security last year. There is no need to worry about security at our museums.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that he need not worry too much about security if he wishes more people to visit museums? Some years ago the Goya painting of the Duke of Wellington was purchased by a grateful nation and was hung in the National Gallery. Someone pinched it and more people went to see the place where the picture had hung than ever went to see the picture when it hung there.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am aware of that. I am also aware that whenever a famous painting is stolen from anywhere in the world the same thing always applies. Apparently, more people are lining up in Oslo to see where "The Scream" was hung than were there before.