On 12 March I hosted a meeting, which was attended by interested parties, including my hon. Friend, to discuss the future of the unique artistic and industrial archive and to consider what action might be taken to keep it in Britain, should its new owners, KPS Capital Partners, agree to release it. I have also written to KPS to ask about its plans and I hope to speak to its representatives in the next 24 hours to establish a dialogue. The Government welcome and support in principle any proposals that would keep the archive in its entirety in an appropriate UK collection.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary—I know that she appreciates the importance of the collection and the archive, not only nationally but internationally. With those of Spode and Wedgwood, it is one of the great ceramics industry archives, with all the designs of great designers such as Christopher Dresser. It would be a tragedy if it were broken up, so I urge my hon. Friend to take whatever steps she can to persuade KPS. I believe that the company is well intentioned, but that support and pressure from Her Majesty’s Government are needed to stress the extreme importance of keeping the archive together, not only in one piece, as one archive, but in Britain, and especially north Staffordshire.
I commend my hon. Friend for the hard work that he and others have put into getting the archive recognised and saved. As Minister for tourism, I recognise its unique value because there is huge interest in our industrial heritage, which we need to exploit. I will work as hard as I can to keep the archive in Britain, especially in north Staffordshire. I know that the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is working in collaboration with Advantage West Midlands through a small working group to ascertain what can be done.
Could South Staffordshire come to the support of north Staffordshire and express the hope that the incomparably rich archive will be kept in this country? Once it is broken up, that is it for ever. Does the Under-Secretary realise that the matter has genuine parliamentary significance? After all, Minton made the tiles in the Palace.
Trust the hon. Gentleman to know such a detail. I commend him for that and his interest in all things artistic—he is an example to us all. I am glad that South Staffordshire is weighing in with north Staffordshire on the matter. We need as much help as possible, and we stand ready to do what we can to save the archive.
My hon. Friend touched on the wider problem of our industrial heritage in general. I am especially concerned about the motor industry and what might happen, especially in times of economic downturn, such as now. Is there not perhaps a case for giving local authorities more powers to preserve our industrial heritage and provide more resources to museum services to help ensure that we retain such archives in Britain?
I understand the concern of my hon. Friend, as one of the Members for Luton. In fact, local authorities have quite wide powers in this area. They also work with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, and they have money for that. We have to encourage local authorities to be aware of the value of such matters to local identity and local tourism.
The hon. Lady says rather glibly that local authorities have money for that, but I do not think that anybody has money for anything at the moment. Local authorities would have money to secure archives of such national importance—as well as importance to this House, as we have just heard—by adopting Conservative plans for the national lottery, because those archives are precisely the sort of things that could be secured with lottery funding. It is not too late, but the clock is ticking. Why does the hon. Lady not persuade her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to adopt our policies for the national lottery?