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Sharing Collections

Volume 451: debated on Monday 6 November 2006

1. What steps her Department is taking to encourage museums and the British Library to share their collections and take them into schools. (99146)

Thanks to the Government’s support for the renaissance in the regions programme, museums across England are working with schools in greater numbers than ever before. I am pleased that, as a result of our investment, every school in Durham will benefit from educational access to museum collections.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he join me in pressing the British Library to move the Lindisfarne gospels on a permanent or temporary basis to the north-east, so that local people, including schoolchildren and visitors, can better appreciate their significance to the cultural heritage of the region?

There is no doubt that the Lindisfarne gospels are one of our greatest national treasures, and are certainly a great source of pride in the north-east of this country. My hon. Friend will know that it is important that Ministers at the Dispatch Box always maintain the independence of the British Library and the decisions that its board feels that it needs to make about the gospels. However, I am pleased that I will meet her this week to discuss these matters in greater detail.

As I am sure the Minister knows, the chief executive of the British Library appeared before the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport last week. Can the Minister therefore assure us that the British Library will not face cuts under the comprehensive spending review? He knows that we have been told that if that happens, it will have to cut its opening hours and some of the other things that it does, never mind be able to take its collections and share them with schoolchildren throughout the country.

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the British Library has done much in the last few years to ensure that it takes its collections into schools across the country. It has completed a successful modernisation programme and many of its collections are online. It is also in conversations with organisations, such as Microsoft, to ensure that its collections, many of which only it has, remain at the forefront, so it has an obligation not only to this country but to the rest of the world. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot undertake to say what the results of the spending review will be. The review is in the mind of one person—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I do not think that he has yet completed his deliberations on those matters.

In his speech in Oxford last week, the Prime Minister encouraged us all to become more scientific. He said that we must become a more scientifically literate society and make the subject popular again. Does my hon. Friend agree that science centres and science museums have an important role to play in that respect? In particular, I would mention the national marine aquarium in the city of Plymouth. Will he consider the balance of funding and how it might be made more favourable, to enable such centres and museums to share their expertise and help us all to become scientifically literate?

My hon. Friend is right. There is no doubt that a key part in making young people not just want to take an interest in science but become scientists themselves is the work that our museums are doing. Both the national marine aquarium and the Science museum are doing a huge amount to make science accessible to young people and in getting through the doors to work with schools and with parents. As she would expect, we are looking at all these issues closely as we enter the comprehensive spending review.

Will the Minister congratulate the director of the Macclesfield silk museum, which was recently visited by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, on involving junior schools and their curricula with the textile history and tradition of Macclesfield? Will he go a little further and assure me and the House that small museums will not be neglected in respect of funding? They are critical to the history and tradition of our country and, in particular, of Macclesfield and the textile industry in the north-west.

The hon. Gentleman is right to attach his museum to the social cohesion that is no doubt important in Macclesfield. The museum in Macclesfield has benefited from the renaissance in the regions programme, which has £147 million for our regional museums up to 2008. That money was not there before. Our regional and local museums were in a dire state prior to that funding. In the House last week, I was pleased that so many people, and so many Members, were able to attend an event at which we celebrated the success of that programme, which Macclesfield has benefited from.