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Heritage: Minton Archive

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 11 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure that the Minton archive is not broken up and that its future is secured in an appropriate museum in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of this unique archive and are supportive of efforts to see it maintained and displayed in its complete form, preferably in that part of the country with which it has such a close association.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Minton archive is outstandingly important culturally and in terms of our industrial history? Will the Government make clear to Deloitte, the administrator of Waterford Wedgwood, their view that it will be fulfilling its responsibilities appropriately and in the national interest if it ensures that the archive is not dispersed through piecemeal sales, and if it facilitates the archive’s purchase at fair market value by a consortium that intends that it should be kept at the Wedgwood museum, in the Potteries, in expert care and in state-of-the-art conditions alongside the Wedgwood archive?

My Lords, with his customary insight, my noble friend has identified the most desirable development for the archive. There are attendant difficulties, as the administrator has to get the best price possible for the creditors of the company. However, it has already agreed that there should be a market for the archive and that it should be in the care of Bonhams, which is putting a price on it. We must hope that there is a successful bid for the archive that meets exactly the considerations my noble friend has identified, particularly that it should remain intact and, if at all possible, remain in the Potteries.

My Lords, I am standing my ground. In supporting the questioner, I ask the Minister whether he has visited the very excellent pottery museum in Staffordshire. Surely a section of it could fulfil the job of looking after a representative collection of Minton. If he has not visited that museum, will he jolly well go and look at it, because it is wonderful?

My Lords, the advantage of that testimony is that it has been heard by the whole House, and I think many noble Lords will take that opportunity. The archive is unique; it relates to a company that is at the heart not just of the creation of pottery in Staffordshire but of the very beginnings of the industrial revolution and the pride that we take in Britain having played such a crucial role at that time. It combines successful industry with very high levels of art, and who could ask for more than that?

My Lords, I think it is my turn. The Minister has said that it might have a value, but the value of these archives might well be based upon moneys coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is not going to be the first archive that will have to be bought by that fund. Is the Minister happy that the fund will have enough money to meet this cost? Are we not, through administrators, creating a market that will cause problems for the fund, especially as the fund is under such pressure from the Olympics?

My Lords, I discount the noble Lord’s last point, because the market is pretty wide. He will probably know that some resources in the United States can bid up prices as well as the National Lottery fund and the limited resources that go to the Heritage Lottery Fund. However, we are of course looking at whether a contribution can be made from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The difficulty is that in the past year it has been under pressure to devote its resources to saving the Titians, which were a substantial cost. There are challenges in providing support in those terms, but the Government are fully seized of the importance of the archive and we want to see it intact and, preferably, in the Potteries.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a considerable problem of valuable archives and sets of papers, often of considerable academic value to scholars, being sold and going overseas, which constitutes a considerable loss to the academic profession in this country, and that the Government ought to formulate some rules to restrict the possibility of it happening?

My Lords, that is quite a challenge. The noble Lord will appreciate that the people of this country support the successful defence of significant works of art when there is a danger of their being exported. That happened with the Titians and with the “Madonna of the Pinks”. On the issue in question, a private sale is to be effected with regard to the bankrupt company. The archive is a separate issue. We shall give every support we can to ensuring that the archive stays intact and, as far as possible, is located in the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Stoke.