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The Victoria And Albert Museum: Slide Loan Service

Volume 416: debated on Wednesday 28 January 1981

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2.52 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that their proposal that the National Slide Loan Service of the Victoria and Albert Museum should close in the interests of retrenchment is causing dismay, and if implemented will undermine educational opportunities.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government fully appreciate the value to the education service of the slide loan arrangements at present operated by the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is the intention of my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts that an alternative means should be found of continuing the loan service when it ceases to be operated by the museum after March.

My Lords, although I am not quite clear about what that means, first, who will take over the museum service? Secondly, is the amount of saving commensurate with the damage to educational opportunities that the taking away of these sides would mean? Finally, is the noble Earl aware that those of us who have been involved in the area of adult education and other education most of our lives considered this service excellent and worthy of being kept alive by whatever Government may be in power?

My Lords, first, perhaps I should explain that the closure of the Victoria and Albert Museum slide loan service is not directly related to the shortage of funds. The Victoria and Albert staff are part of the Civil Service, and because of the reduction of the Civil Service the museum will operate with fewer staff. Given that all the options for staff savings were difficult, the director decided, with regret, to close the slide loan service, which is a self-contained unit.

The previous Minister for the Arts announced his intention that the service should continue after March in Answers to two Written Questions in the other place. The intention is shared by the new Minister for the Arts, my right honourable friend Mr. Paul Channon.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that if the staff must be cut it should not be the loan service which should suffer; that extravagant exhibitions, like those of court jewels of the Renaissance, the work of Fabergé, and so on, should not continue at the expense of students in art colleges and teacher-training colleges over the country, where, in many cases, those interested cannot get to London? I think that that is a point of vital importance.

My Lords, I think that it must be left to the director of the V and A to deal with his staff and his organisation as he thinks fit. However, the Government agree with the noble Baroness that this loan service is extremely important. As I have already stated, it is intended to continue it.

My Lords, although I have a great respect for the director of the Victoria and Albert and I think that he is very good at his job, none the less I wonder whether he has his priorities right. Now that we teach art in all the schools, more and more education is needed in the national museums. Further, anyone who has used that service knows that it is alongside the V and A library, which is the best art library that one can use. It is not right to divorce the slide service from the library.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his intervention. I do not think that I can comment on it, but I am sure that the director of the museum will read what he has said with interest.

My Lords, the noble Earl has told us that a substitute service is promised. A substitute service will have less experience and I am sure be more expensive. Is the Government's saving policy to substitute a more expensive service for a less expensive service in order to make a cut? It seems very mysterious.

My Lords, there are a variety of interesting and constructive suggestions for operating the service in the future. These have not been costed out and it would be prejudging any costings to reply to the noble Lord.