UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1624-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE

 

 

CARING FOR OUR COLLECTIONS

 

 

Tuesday 10 October 2006

MS VIRGINIA TANDY, MR MAURICE DAVIES and MS HELEN WILKINSON

MR NEIL MACGREGOR, DR CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH, and MR MARK JONES

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 54

 

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee

on Tuesday 10 October 2006

Members present

Mr John Whittingdale, in the Chair

Philip Davies

Mr Nigel Evans

Paul Farrelly

Rosemary McKenna

Adam Price

Mr Adrian Sanders

________________

Memorandum submitted by the Museums Association (MA)

 

Examination of Witnesses

 

 

Witnesses: Ms Virginia Tandy, President, Mr Maurice Davies, Deputy Director, Ms Helen Wilkinson, Policy Officer, Museums Association, gave evidence.

Chairman: Good morning, everybody. Could I welcome you to the first session of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee's inquiry into Caring for our Collections. This is a sequel to our previous inquiry into Built Heritage and follows on a number of the themes that we pursued in that. I would like to begin by welcoming the Museums Association as our first set of witnesses, the President, Virginia Tandy; Deputy Director, Maurice Davies; and Policy Officer, Helen Wilkinson. I am also delighted to see that that our inquiry has attracted such interest. I hope we have managed to squeeze everybody in now. I will invite Philip Davies to start the questions.

Q1 Philip Davies: Last year, the DCMS published a consultation paper Understanding the Future. What are the main recommendations that you would like to see as a result of that consultation?

Ms Tandy: The Museums Association has been involved in a working group taking forward discussions following on from that consultation paper. That group has contributed to a DCMS paper to be published shortly. I think the key thing for the Committee to be aware of is that paper will be a vision document. DCMS will then be handing on to the MLA (the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) to produce an action plan. For the sector, the key thing is not so much what is in the vision document as to how well MLA are able to deliver on that in the action plan. Our key priority for that document is that DCMS should set out clearly their vision for the whole sector, especially for museums outside Renaissance in the Regions. I am sure the Committee over the course of its hearing will be hearing a lot about the success of the Renaissance in the Regions programme. It has done much to address the issues facing many of the most important regional museums but there is a bigger picture to be filled in and we hope this document will do that.

Q2 Philip Davies: What vision is it you would like to have?

Ms Tandy: Our recent work has focused very much on the importance of museums making better use of their collections. I know the Committee has previously received a copy of our major report Collections of the Future which we published last year. That really stresses the need for museums to do more to make better use of the assets which are their stored collections and we hope that the paper will fully reflect that and re-state the importance of collections at the heart of the work of museums.

Q3 Philip Davies: In our previous inquiry on heritage, we often heard that people were not particularly happy that DCMS were pulling their weight in Government. I know that is something that you have also mentioned. How do you think it needs to change in order to pull its weight more in Government? How would you like to see it improve its performance?

Ms Tandy: In line with local government it is increasingly recognising the importance of culture, particularly in addressing social issues. We would like to see more integration of DCMS working with other major government departments, particularly those involved with local authorities and also those involved with education, because we feel that increasingly we have the evidence to demonstrate those instrumental values that culture has, particularly in terms of museums. It is important that work is built upon and embedded within the work of those departments and not just seen as something that is the responsibility of DCMS because it actually will have an impact across the board on things like educational attainment. I think we are also looking for DCMS to form an effective relationship with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, particularly given their new structure, in the delivery of the action plan that will come out of Understanding the Future. Those are the two key things we would want to put forward at the moment.

Q4 Chairman: You do not think the relationship is effective at the moment.

Ms Tandy: I think it has room for improvement but I think it is getting there. I think there is a lot of good work that has come out of DCMS in its relationship with MLA but I think there is more to do.

Q5 Chairman: You also said that the internal structures make it difficult in the department. What do you mean by that?

Ms Tandy: I was talking about the new structure at MLA as opposed to the internal structures within DCMS.

Ms Wilkinson: The reference in our written submission is to the fact that museums and arts and built heritage are dealt with by separate divisions in DCMS and conversations between those divisions do not always seem to happen as frequently and as effectively as they might. It will be obvious to the Committee that there are lots of issues in common between built heritage and museums, and DCMS does not seem to have the structures that would help us to take an overview of those issues where they do overlap the sectors.

Ms Tandy: I would certainly add that in the case of art galleries often they have a relationship with MLA but they also have a relationship with the Arts Council and consequently again that reinforces the issues of those different disciplines being in silos.

Q6 Paul Farrelly: You mentioned Renaissance in the Regions and that you wanted the paper to look at other things apart from Renaissance in the Regions. Is that because Renaissance in the Regions is working well or has it had too much of a priority?

Ms Wilkinson: It is because it is working well rather than because it has had too much of a priority. We see it as being a resounding success. It is the most important thing to have happened to the broader museum sector in a generation. It does not imply any criticism of Renaissance in the Regions; it just does not solve the problem. There is more work to be done and there are other issues to be addressed.

Q7 Paul Farrelly: So you are looking at other priorities. I presume you are not looking for Renaissance in the Regions to be left behind therefore as a priority.

Ms Wilkinson: No, absolutely not, but for some of its successes to be extended further.

Q8 Paul Farrelly: If you were to look at Renaissance in the Regions in particular, where in the list of priorities that might come out would you say this particular policy, going forward, should stand, set against, for example, funding for national acquisitions or designated collections or support for university and independent museums. How do you want to see the balance struck when the paper comes out?

Mr Davies: One of the prospects we are very worried about at the moment is the prospect of reductions in funding for different reasons for different parts of the museum sector. There is a lot of nervousness around about the next comprehensive spending review, with, I believe, all DCMS client bodies asked to model 7% year-on-year cuts - which is very serious, particularly for the national museums (which you will hear more about, I am sure, from the people coming after us), national museums who have had really quite tight funding settlements for quite a long time with very high expectations of what they should do. There is still money that is needed to deliver the full Renaissance package. Only three out of the nine English regions have the full level of Renaissance in the Regions funding. A particular concern that has come up relatively recently - and in a way it is outside of DCMS's direct remit - is funding for the university museums. There has been special funding for university museums for a long time and that comes initially from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. For about eight to ten years, they have asked the Arts and Humanities Research Council to allocate the money for them, as an agency, which the Arts and Humanities Research Council has done very well, and changed some historic funding patterns. It has been bold enough to do that. Now the Higher Education Funding Council for England has said that from 2009 they intend to take that money back, to no longer ask AHRC to allocate it. Indeed, there is a question about whether that money will continue to be identified for university museums. One of the things we are worried about is the prospect that the Ash, Horniman, the Fitzwilliam, Manchester Museums might lose their distinct funding streams that are distinct from normal university funding. There is a worry there as well. There is also worry about those museums that are, in a way, below Renaissance. There is a lot of instability in local museum funding. Many local authorities are investing lots more in their museums but others are cutting funding. The museum in Daventry closed a couple of years ago; one of the major museums in Bury St Edmonds was closed; there is a threat hanging over the museum in Bury. It would be nice if the Renaissance policy could somehow be extended to embrace all types of museums.

Q9 Rosemary McKenna: We know you are in the process of developing your policy on disposals. Could you give us a general idea of the direction the review is taking?

Mr Davies: Hitherto, for about 20 or 30 years, the museum sector has set a strong presumption against disposal. We are going back to basics in our consultation and asking whether that should change. There is a growing recognition that there are lots of things in museum collections that perhaps should not have been collected in the first place. I think there is a general acceptance that if that is done with checks and balances that is a sensible thing to do, to ensure the effective use of public money on what is cared for. More controversial areas are really when money starts to get involved and when sales start to get involved. There is a variety of proposals around at the moment from museums for different ways of selling things in their collections and using that money in different ways. One of the things we are very interested in exploring is whether attitudes in the sector have changed and see that in some cases as acceptable, and also, I think for the first time, we are beginning to do some public attitude research. As far as I know, nobody has ever tried to do research outside the sector into what people think about the proposition that museum collections should be there forever. That will also inform or final position. As far as I understand it, the consultation responses that we have had in so far are fairly guarded and fairly anti too much change. There is a particular issue about fear, which you picked up in your earlier work.

Ms Wilkinson: It occasionally happens that a local authority decides to sell something valuable from its collection to plug a hole in its revenue budget. There is currently a case in Bury, of which I am sure the Committee is aware, where the council are proposing to sell a Lowry from its collection. The last time that happened, it was in Derbyshire in the early 1990s, but the fall out from Derbyshire has lasted a long time. Derbyshire has cast a very long shadow in the museum sector. A lot of people who work in local authority museums, particularly smaller and medium sized museums, where they feel somewhat marginal to the council's priorities, are very afraid that the council will decide to do what Bury is currently proposing to do. I think that fear can sometimes be rather disabling. They do not want to get rid of fairly useless collections of 1970s ephemera because they fear that if they do it will be put a light bulb on in the councils' minds that perhaps they could sell off their pre-Raphaelites. It will very much depend on what happens in Bury, but we have to somehow restate that most local authorities are extremely responsible stewards of their collections and somehow to establish a more mature regional assembly between those governing bodies and their museums, so that the museums can deal in a responsible way which allows for appropriate disposal without the fear of inappropriate disposal hanging over them.

Q10 Rosemary McKenna: Do you think local authority collections should be protected against sale, using a blanket approach?

Ms Wilkinson: That is an interesting proposal and I believe there was some work done in the past to look at the feasibility of new legislation that would allow that.

Mr Davies: About eight or ten years ago, the Museums and Galleries Commission (the predecessor body to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) did quite a lot of work on looking at different legal frameworks for museum collections. That petered out and I have to say it does look like a very difficult area. Certainly we at the Museums Association, when we were working on our Collections of the Future report, originally thought we might look at the legal issues but did not. Similarly I know that DCMS, in the very early discussions about the Understanding the Future document, thought about it but did not go there. I think there are real judgments to be made about whether the problem is large enough to require legislation. I think the countries of the UK are quite unusual, certainly in Europe, in not having a legislative framework for their national museums. I have to say I am slightly torn about how valuable that legislation would be. It would protect things but then also it would be the kind of legislation that could stay on the statute books for 50 or 100 years. It could be legislation with some kind of regulation that could be brought up-to-date from time to time. I do not know. It is a difficult one.

Q11 Rosemary McKenna: I think you are right, most local authorities are incredibly responsible collectors but there is just an occasional blip, like the Bury situation, which has caused a problem. In those circumstances, legislation would be very, very difficult - to be able to have flexible legislation that would cover all eventualities.

Ms Tandy: One of the things that might be worth considering - and certainly collections in Manchester are protected in this way - is that for anything that is ever sold from the collection the money has to be used to reinvest in collections. That is quite a helpful way forward in terms of giving flexibility but not allowing the assets to be used in ways that are detrimental to the museum service in that region.

Q12 Rosemary McKenna: If local authorities set up trusts and arm's length bodies, do you think that helps protect the collection or puts it more at risk?

Mr Davies: In most of those cases, the ownership of the collection remains with the local authority. It is an interesting question. It probably would not make any difference. If a local authority decided it wanted to sell something from its collection, even if it had put the management and its museums out to trust it probably could still do that. The general feeling is that to transfer the ownership of the collections to a trust is very dangerous because that would remove the sense of long-term ownership and responsibility from the local authority - which is crucial really, because they are very much public assets. I think that probably would not help.

Q13 Rosemary McKenna: But it does allow them to access other funding, which I think is the principle behind, for example, the Glasgow situation, which was really helpful to allow them to do the development work at the museum in Glasgow

Ms Tandy: It is possible also for local authority museums to set up independent charitable trusts of their own which then enables them still to access charitable funding.

Mr Davies: The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has commissioned a substantial report about the benefits and problems with moving local authority museums to trusts. It is a very thorough analysis of cases. It does not really reach any definite conclusions but it does show that in many cases it releases a lot of energy in the organisations. So there are management reasons possibly, but it is not without its risks as well. It is interesting. The report does not really come down saying good or bad; it just points out the benefits and the problems. I think there is some potential there, certainly, but I think it has to be done in an absolute positive spirit by the local authority. Certainly the evidence is that it is not a way of saving money or anything like that. It has to be done out of a real determination to find new ways of managing the service to bring more benefit, I think.

Rosemary McKenna: Thank you.

Q14 Helen Southworth: First of all, could I declare a non-registrable interest, in that my husband is head of a council museum service. You have touched on HEFCE and the university museums, but what is the relationship like with other government departments, particularly DfES and local government communities through the Renaissance in the Regions? What kind of role do you think they need to play in the future? Who should be the lead in making that happen?

Mr Davies: DfES has potentially a huge role in supporting the learning and education aspects of museums. It does that fairly intermittently. It has had some funding streams with DCMS and MLA that have been very effective but so often it seems to be something that happens in a rather small corner of a bit of the huge department that is DfES. I think so often it is down to individual civil servants almost or passionate individual ministers and then that civil servant or minister moves on and the relationships can very quickly break down. One of the things that DCMS struggles to do is to build structural relationships with other departments rather than personal relationships. There are ideas - as there often are in these situations - that have been around for a cross-government committee which looks at museums issues or something. But it is very difficult for DCMS as a very small department, and, inevitably, aspects of what DCMS is passionate about and we are passionate about will never be enormous on those departments' agendas.

Ms Tandy: Could I come in there in terms of regional development agencies. I think that is a very interesting question. Given the responsibility of development agencies around economic development, I think one of the things that DCMS still needs to do is to continue to make the case for the importance of the cultural sector in the economic regeneration of major cities and regions. Certainly in the North West we are slowly making positive progress with the development agencies in the areas of tourism and also creative industries. But it is about museums being able to articulate their position in the way that makes special educational needs to that body and it would be helpful for the DCMS to be more energetic in putting forward those arguments. Particularly now, through Renaissance in the Regions, we do have proof around educational attainment, and there are starting to be more investigations into areas of economic regeneration and the impact museums can have. But I think there is a role to play there; that we need to make that case.

Ms Wilkinson: As you may know, DfES are about to launch a manifesto for education outside the classroom which aims to do for our sector and for field studies and organisations like RSPB and Nature Conservancy what the music manifesto did for the music sector. The early indications are that the amount of funding behind it will be very small, nowhere near the scale of the funding that backed the music manifesto, so, although it is very welcome that DfES are formulating policy in this area, we are very concerned that there will not be enough money to make a difference.

Q15 Chairman: Going back to Renaissance, a lot of the success of that has been in attracting educational visits into museums and understanding the appeal of museums. To what extent do you think DfES should be putting more resources directly into museums?

Ms Tandy: I certainly think there is an argument for that to be considered. Certainly if you look at it at a local government level, with initiatives like Every Child Matters, you are finding that you are able to get the support of your education department in delivering what are actually their outcomes through the museum service. I think there are arguments for DfES to be challenged around that whole agenda.

Q16 Chairman: You have flagged up your concern that we are going into a public spending round where it is anticipated that the amount of funding for museums may be reduced. But there is a slight contradiction. You say the Renaissance programme has only been partly funded and has not been delivered in full, yet at the same time you say it has been a huge success and has had a great impact. If I were sitting in the Treasury, I would say: "Clearly it has been a success on the amount of money that we have been able to put into it, so why should we put any more in?"

Ms Tandy: If you look at the success, the majority of the success has been delivered by the three Phase I hubs which had full funding. If you look, for example, at the increases in attendances used by schoolchildren, you will see a 120% increases at Phase I hubs but in Phase II you will see about 20%. (i) I think that demonstrates full funding has great impact, and (ii) for those in phase II there is still a lot of work to be done. But what is encouraging is that independent evaluation of that work is now demonstrating genuine and actual contributions to educational attainment, particularly in primary schools and particularly in areas of literacy. That is something that I am sure everyone would want to see developed and spread across the country.

Q17 Chairman: We have talked a little bit about whether or not there should be additional legislation to protect collections against disposal, for instance as is proposed in Bury, but at the same time there is a debate about whether legislation is necessary to allow museums to de‑accession. There seems to be some argument within the sector about whether or not that is desirable. Perhaps you could say what your view is.

Mr Davies: I think there are differences of opinion between different kinds of museums. I think some museums feel that everything in their collection they want, and therefore they do not have things that they feel they do not need and that would be better off elsewhere. Or some museums have more powers than others anyway to share things around more, certainly with other museums, and to get rid of certain categories of things where others do not. That is a factor. I think the biggest area of controversy/dispute at the moment is the area of deliberately setting out to raise funds through disposal. There are a few proposals around - Bury is the most extreme - to sell to raise money to fund the general costs of the local authority. At the other end of the scale, Tate has started talking about selling things from its collection in order to raise money for future acquisition, and then there are varieties in between that. In the American model it is normal for museums to sell things in order to reinvest in the collection. That is what the arguments are about. I think different people in the sector think different things. Some people do really think that nothing should ever be disposed of; others see that there are reasons for doing it and that to upgrade your holding of a particular artist's work, getting rid of two not so good ones for one very good one, is a sensible thing to do. I think it will always be controversial. The other thing, when you look back over, is that a lot more disposal went on in the 50s and 60si n Britain. When you look back, you see that lots of mistakes were made. I think it is inevitable that, with hindsight, there will be risks. I think it partly depends how risk-averse people are. It is definitely a controversial and risky area because of what those collections symbolise really: the nation's memory and patrimony. To start hacking away at that has all sorts of implications really. It is certainly not easy and I would not image any museum considering disposal as an easy option because of all the concerns around it.

Q18 Chairman: Could I ask you, finally, what your attitude is towards the Olympics. As we heard in our Built Heritage Inquiry, there is no question that the Olympics is going to divert resources away from HLF and other Lottery good causes and have a financial impact on other beneficiaries of the Lottery. At the same time, it is an opportunity to attract a huge number of visitors to this country who may not want only to watch sport. To what extent do you think we are taking advantage of the Olympics to obtain that wider benefit? Are you looking upon the Olympics with optimism or with some degree of concern?

Ms Tandy: Coming from a city that delivered the Commonwealth Games in 2002,I have to say that I see the Olympics as an opportunity, particularly for the cultural sector, because we had some of our highest visitor figures while the Commonwealth Games was taking place - because people cannot attend the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games for all of the time they are visiting. They have a lot of free time, and organisations with free entry that do not have time constraints on them, like theatre attendances, are very popular for people who are working out what to do between the events that they have paid for. The big challenge really, if this is going to be a true wedding between culture and sport, is that there has to be some consideration given to how the cultural programme is funded. It cannot be set in opposition to the sports' programme because the country needs to present itself, not only to the visitors but also to its own population, as being in celebratory mood and offering really high quality cultural facilities to recognise what is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I really believe that. Bill Morris is currently doing a regional tour. He was in Manchester yesterday, talking to people from the North West about how we would respond to the Olympics, and there was huge ambition, and within the museum sector. Obviously this concept of the Five Rings Exhibition, which brings together the multi-disciplines but also attempts to forge even stronger relationships between the national and regional museums, is a fantastic opportunity. But we cannot do it without any money. We cannot do a cultural Olympiad on a shoestring and a sporting Olympiad on significant funds. It will not work. The people will be able to see the gap. I think there is a challenge there. If we genuinely want to do this and we genuinely want the whole country to celebrate, we will have to find a way of funding the totality, not just the sporting activity.

Q19 Chairman: You are optimistic that those people who find that they are not watching sport may want to go and visit museums in London and might be persuaded to go to further parts of the country.

Ms Tandy: I think, with the improvements in public transport, that there are good possibilities, that people will explore other parts of Britain. Certainly our experience in Manchester was that people did make their way up to the Lake District, and that was part of the package in the bid in the first place. But I also think there is an issue about the people of the country actually having a celebratory event for themselves that recognises what is happening in the capital. I think that is the other part of this.

Chairman: Could I thank you very much.


Memoranda submitted by the British Museum, the National Gallery

and the Victoria & Albert Museum

 

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Mr Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, Dr Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the National Gallery, and Mr Mark Jones, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, gave evidence.

Chairman: I would like to welcome our next witnesses: Mr Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, Dr Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the National Gallery, and Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, and invite Philip Davies to begin.

Q20 Philip Davies: Following the DCMS consultation paper Understanding the Future, shortly they are going to publish a document sitting out their priorities. What would you like to see as their priorities in that document?

Mr MacGregor: I think I would like to see added there the need to conserve and research the collections, so that the collections can really play the role across the whole of the United Kingdom that they should. In the national collections we have a resource that educationally could transform the UK. That is not adequately set out in the document; nor is the very large, very serious problem that we do not have a UK cultural organisation. The British Museum, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum are the museums of the whole United Kingdom; we are the collection of every city, but as a result of devolution there is now no body, no organism, to construct a nationwide policy so that these collections can properly be deployed. I think we all suffer greatly under that. Thirdly, I would like to see more clearly stated the need to have a coherent UK policy of the museums and in the cultural sector internationally, because, again because of devolution, we have no single UK voice to shape UK policy, which means that the collections of London - which are unique in the world, as allowing an overview of the entire history of the world, natural and manmade - cannot play the role internationally that they should because we do not have the structures in England. I would like to see that all set out in the paper.

Q21 Adam Price: Surely there are in place mechanisms of cooperation and collaboration with your sister institutions in the nations in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland.

Mr MacGregor: The problem is not relationships between institutions. In the British Museum we lend regularly to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and we have long-terms loans of touring exhibitions. The problem is how that is going to be funded for the future because the DCMS is only an English body. The Arts Council, which used to produce the support for these kinds of tours, no longer supports tours beyond England. If we want the collections to be shared across the UK, then either DCMS must commit to funding that as a key part or we need some kind of conversation at a structural official level to ensure it happens.

Q22 Philip Davies: How effective do you rate the DCMS in promoting and supporting national museums?

Mr MacGregor: I think they do a very good job in supporting the national museums and promoting them. My concern is a structural one: that we are absolutely central education providers for the whole country. If you take something particularly close to the British Museum's heart, the study of ancient Egypt or Ancient China, these are topics that are taught in schools, could be taught more in schools. They depend on the museums. The failure to have a proper structural relationship with the Department for Education is, I think, a very serious one - just as, in the international arena, the failure to have a structural relationship with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for DFID is serious.

Mr Jones: We would like to see recognition that different museums make different but important contributions in the public interest. For example, the V&A was funded as a result of a recommendation of a Select Committee of the House of Commons because there was concern about the quality of design in this country. A school of design was set up with the museum from which creative designers could work. We feel that mission is extremely relevant today, because creative design continues to be very important to the economy and the V&A is widely recognised as being a very important resource to the creative industries. In fact, 30 per cent of our visitors are from practitioners of art and design or teachers of art and design or students of art and design. We know that the V&A, as well, in common with other museums, does things which are also important. Seven out of the ten top tourist attractions in this country are national museums, but we sometimes feel that that is not really recognised in the development of tourism strategies. We know museums make a big contribution in education. Nearly half a million people take part in educational activities in the V&A. We know that they contribute to social cohesion. The opening of the new Islamic Gallery at the V&A, for example, has been symbolically important in saying, "Yes, Islamic culture and industry are important to us collectively." We know that museums are effective in representing Britain internationally, in China and India, and indeed in other parts of the world, North America and Europe. It is not that the contributions are not recognised, but that it is sometimes frustratingly difficult to get the sustained support that is needed to ensure that these things go on being successful.

Q23 Philip Davies: What sort of support is it that you look for that you do not get?

Mr Jones: I think the most important thing is that our core funding needs to be recognised. In particular, it is very important to recognise that museums, like many other organisations in the public sector, face inflation, not at CPI, but at the level of the average earnings index and the level of the moving price index, because where we spend our money is on employing people and maintaining large, old and complex Grade I buildings, so, whether we like it or not, our commitments rise in line with those indices. If our funding falls in real terms - and it has done in the past - then our ability to be effective falls, in line with our staff.

Q24 Adam Price: Continuing on the theme of money, which I am sure will be central to our inquiry, all of the institutions represented here have been very successful at generating income from additional sources through a variety of means (sponsorship, and such like) but the V&A, in its evidence, says that it is "disheartening" that success in generating these forms of income does not appear to be rewarded in terms of core funding. How could DCMS reward rather than penalise museums which are successful at generating additional funding?

Mr Jones: I do not think DCMS penalises success but I think it is difficult to see at the moment any very direct relation between individual museum's achievements and their funding. The reintroduction of free admission was a huge success, and that has greatly increased visitor numbers, but there have been many other successes. If you look at all the performance indicators that apply to the national museums, you will see that child visitors are up, educational use is up, the use of museums by black and minority ethnic groups is up, but there is a pattern of achievement there which does not seem to elicit the kind of additional resources that you would hope for - because, of course, more use/more visits entails more expense. You do need to employ people to look after the additional activity.

Q25 Adam Price: Perhaps you could give us a more tangible sense of the financial situation you are in. In your evidence, you referred to the problem of building maintenance: for instance, your own Building Strategy Committee recommended an annual spend of 3 million, whereas you have only been able to allocate a tiny fraction of that, 135,000. Long-term, this is not sustainable. Is that the point you are making?

Mr Jones: I think the situation with funding is that museums like the V&A, but also the National Gallery and the British Museum, faced quite a poor funding situation in the period from 1997 through to 2005/6. The current triennium is much better. The settlement for last year, this year and next year is perfectly adequate. We are very worried that the prospect of a tough comprehensive spending review is going to result in further cuts in real terms. I fear, as a result of that, not only that the level of activity will be reduced but that our proven ability to attract donations, sponsorship and to raise money, both from grants and from commercial income, will also be affected by a decline in activity.

Mr MacGregor: It has become very obvious in the last few years what an extraordinary national resource these collections are, if they can be made available to the whole country. That means having the staff to conserve them, to present them, to study them, to look after them and then to accompany them. There is not much point in having a Renaissance in the Regions programme if the key national collections are not in a position to lend more energetically to share that experience. The kind of resources required not just for the physical sharing of the collections but for the electronic sharing of them, through creating websites for schools or whatever, is the kind of investment we would like to see and which has not been adequately taken account of by DCMS to date.

Q26 Adam Price: Your central point is the need of a basic level of course funding as the foundation upon which you are then able to generate the additional resources.

Mr MacGregor: Absolutely. These skills of knowing about the collection in every sense can be acquired only by people employed for some length of time, so there needs to be core staff with core funding.

Q27 Helen Southworth: You have touched on the area I wanted to delve into further in the V&A evidence. You have increased your user numbers to 14.7 million, and website access was 11.6 million. That is a huge access step there. I wonder whether we could explore a little more what your hopes are for that area, particularly having access not just geographically/physically across the whole country but in terms of the people who can access it. Museums have suffered a great deal from being considered to be places that wealthy people go to, rather than as places for everybody. I think it is very difficult to justify extended expenditure on museums if they are not accessible to people and if they are generationally not accessible to people. Could you explore a bit more about the individual technologies.

Mr Jones: Yes. I think it is hugely exciting. What you say is true. It is not true only of the V&A. This year there were 15 million visits to the V&A website. This means the V&A is really working effectively, that is educationally and doing research, right the way across this country and also internationally. As many as 40% of those visits will be from overseas, and that is important as well, it seems to me. We would say that the pattern of use of the museum is not quite as skewed towards the well-off as you might suggest, partly because our touring exhibitions - which do visit every part of the country - are very well patronised. There were one million visits to the V&A touring exhibitions last year - and that is really in every part of the country. I think you are completely correct that all the national museums have a huge opportunity, through putting their collections on-line, to become collectively an unrivalled educational resource for everyone.

Mr MacGregor: If I may pick up the point about general access, I think our experience is that there is very wide use from all parts of the population. Certainly the recent Bengali festival we held in the British Museum, Building of Durga, brought huge numbers of Bengalis, from the whole country, both Hindu and Muslim, into the museum. This is another reason why core funding is so important to understand because the role of the museums in allowing different parts of the community in the United Kingdom to see how they fit together is a role that very few other public institutions can play. I think it is being played and must be developed. The British Museum's website figures are certainly comparable with those that Mark Jones gave for the V&A. I would like to add to that, that if you take sites like the British Museum's Ancient Civilisation website particularly, these are used across the whole world not just in the United Kingdom. We are in discussion with BBC World Service to se how we can work together with them to make these collections and the understanding of the world that they offer available to everybody, because that is an extraordinary resource that this country has which in no other country exists. The combination of web for broadcasting, in every sense, particularly working for organisations like the BBC, must be one of the ways in which we move forward and for which we should be given funding.

Q28 Helen Southworth: The national museums deal with disadvantaged communities like, for example, looked-after children. What are your hopes for developing that?

Mr Saumarez Smith: Could I answer that question because I think it is a very significant thing in relation to the anxieties about the next comprehensive spending round. As has been described, we have very high fixed costs in terms of salary costs and building costs, both of which are increasing costs with the rate of inflation. Therefore, the danger is that you hit the areas which in some ways this Government has developed very successfully in terms of programmes for non-traditional users and disadvantaged children. The National Gallery, like the other national museums, has been very active in that area, but, inevitably, if you face the prospect of costs, the danger is that you look at those sorts of programmes because they are subject to new funding and new funding is easier to turn off than your baseline funding. I personally think that is a source of greater anxiety.

Mr MacGregor: These initiatives are expensive because they have to be tailored to particular communities in rather small numbers. Certainly the project which the British Museum ran, touring the throne made of weapons decommissioned after the Mozambique Civil War to places like Pentonville Prison, was extraordinarily successful but such projects are expensive to do and that is something that needs to be taken account of. We all do these projects and want to do them but they are labour intensive and staff intensive.

Mr Jones: The V&A has been involved in a programme called Image and Identity with a number of partners, including Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton and Tyne and Wear, and there are relatively small numbers of people who can take part but the impact seems to be extremely large on those who do take part, so I think it is enormously worthwhile.

Q29 Chairman: You referred to the success of the policy of free admission, which has obviously substantially increased the number of visitors but at the same time inevitably we have been talking about the problems of funding. Would any of you like, if you were allowed to do so, to reintroduce charging for admissions?

Mr Jones: No.

Mr Saumarez Smith: No. The V&A obviously has admissions. I think there is a great deal of evidence from the period where some of the national museums did have compulsory charges that it was inefficient in terms of public subsidy. It dramatically reduced the numbers of people who came to the institutions - and of course that also reduces the amount of money you make privately. All the statistics I have seen, with the possible exception of the Imperial War Museum, suggest that it is a more efficient use of public subsidy to have free admission. I think that is now reasonably well recognised in this country. Indeed, I know in Scandinavia they are introducing it, following our example. People assume that America is committed to charging, but one forgets that a lot of these big municipal institutions introduce free admissions for exactly the same reasons. Minneapolis has free admissions. It is not only a British culture.

Mr MacGregor: The real advantage is that it allows museums to play a role in society that otherwise they cannot. I was in Berlin yesterday with the directors of the Louvre, the Berlin museums and St Petersburg, to talk about how we can use our Islamic collections to engage our Islamic populations, which to each of those it is an important question. They were particularly interested in the way in which the exhibition on the Middle East at the British Museum this summer has attracted enormous numbers overall but also very large numbers from the Islamic population. The three other directors reluctantly said they could not do anything like that in their cities because the charging regimes would keep out the very people we have been able to address. If we are talking about a wider social role for museums and galleries, that is possible to achieve only on the basis of free entry.

Q30 Chairman: You presumably did not persuade the other three they should adopt the policy of free entry.

Mr MacGregor: Of course Berlin was free, on the British model, until very recently; until such federal pressure on finance came that they had to change. As you know, the City of Paris has moved to free admission and has seen its attendances enormously increase along with the social mix of its visitors. I do not think anybody in Continental Europe would doubt the British model is the preferable one. As Charles Suamarez Smith just said, some are now moving towards it.

Q31 Chairman: May I turn specifically to Mark Jones. You will be aware there is considerable concern and dismay at the prospect of the closure of the Theatre Museum. When I last met Tony Hall, a couple of months ago, he was expressing optimism, that it appears that a solution that could satisfy everyone had been found. What went wrong?

Mr Jones: I think three things went wrong. The first was that the board of the Royal Opera House began to feel increasingly cautious about the public spending climate and they became worried about taking on a big new commitment. I think the decision of the Society of London Theatres not to take part - they having indicated that they were minded to take part and that they would contribute both with members of the management committee and also financially - was quite influential. The third thing was that, despite the efforts of the well-known figures in the theatre world, it had not been possible to secure any pledges at all towards the cost of the new partnership. Those were the three things that changed the situation. We regret it. I think that partnership had a lot of potential. We were excited about that new approach because it would have enabled us to tackle the obvious inadequacies of the premises. The history of the thing, as you know, is that for a long time people have recognised that those basement premises in Covent Garden cannot work as a museum unless there is substantial investment to fit them for their public purpose. The fact that the HLF turned down first a large bid to reconstruct the museum and a smaller bid to increase its educational facilities to re-display its collections meant that the board of the V&A could really see no way in which that museum could be made fit for purpose. The new educational facility run jointly with the Royal Opera House would be a very good alternative.

Q32 Chairman: It was not possible to salvage anything, to maintain at least some exhibition or display or educational facility in "Theatreland" rather than have it transferred to South Kensington.

Mr Jones: I think the board of V&A are looking at not only a transfer of the displays to South Kensington but also a wider approach to use the theatre collections better. They are committed to a much stronger programme of touring exhibits drawn from the collections, to exploring other partnerships - and there are, I think, other partnerships possible - to really improving access to the Theatre collections at Blythe House in Olympiad. I think it is not just a question of retrenchment to South Kensington; it is a question of trying to use the resources in a way which I hope will mean more people will get something out of the theatre collections than is possible at the moment.

Q33 Chairman: How do you answer the charge that the V&A has regarded the Theatre Museum as a poor relation in the portfolio and that it has not had the protection or the priority attached to it that has been given to things like the Islamic galleries or the ceramic department?

Mr Jones: I would say that, if you look at the facts, the proportion of the V&A's overall budget that has gone to the Theatre Museum has not declined. In fact, if anything, it has increased. The difference between the Islamic galleries, and, indeed, the ceramic galleries, and the Theatre Museum is that, despite our best efforts, whilst it has been possible to raise large sums in terms of donations for the Islamic galleries and the ceramic galleries, it has never proved possible to raise substantial sums for the Theatre Museum. I am afraid that one of the reasons for that, and the donors have told us this, is that the potential major donors do not believe that those premises are capable of making a really good museum.

Q34 Chairman: It seems extraordinary that you have managed to achieve private support for the Islamic galleries and the ceramic galleries, and yet, on the other hand, for theatre, which has identified the capital, which attracts thousands of people to London every year and is successful, you have not been able to achieve any private support.

Mr Jones: Yes, I agree. It is extremely disappointing but it is not only our experience. As I said, the Royal Opera House, when they conducted their own fund raising trawl, had exactly the same experience.

Q35 Chairman: Your plans now for the future? It has been said that the collection will be placed in storage for two or three years, and then, even when it does go on display, the amount of space dedicated to it will be reduced from what there is at present.

Mr Jones: It will take several years before the new display is finished. That is perfectly true. But we hope to create a much better programme or exhibitions. We are committed now to a major exhibition, Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, which we believe will be enormously popular and will tour both nationally and internationally. We think, as I say, that there are possibilities of a partnership elsewhere which will ensure the theatre collections are seen not only in London but also in other places as well. If you are saying am I completely satisfied with the situation, the answer is: "Well, no I am not." It would certainly indicate that if the funding were available, there would be a very strong argument for creating a better museum, and probably in the heart of London's Theatreland. I would be only too delighted if the Government or the private sector were able to come up with the funding that we enable us to do that.

Q36 Chairman: Do you accept that you have quite a task ahead to restore the confidence of those theatre lovers in the capability of the V&A to look after this collection?

Mr Jones: The response of the theatre community has actually been quite mixed. I have had a number of people writing to me saying how deeply disappointed they are about the closure of the museum, but I have also had a number of people writing to me saying that they never thought it was any use anyway and they are delighted we are now taking a different course. I hope that we will be able to demonstrate to people that we care a great deal about the theatre collections, that we regard them as very important, very important to the cultural life of the country, and that we do want to use them to the best of our ability.

Q37 Mr Sanders: Can I ask the Director of the National Gallery, what is the current size of the Getty bequest, and what is the history of its use in addressing the difficulty faced in acquiring major masterpieces?

Dr Smith: Of course, in a way, Neil MacGregor is as well suited to answer this question as I am. It came in two gifts, in 1985 and 1987; in 1985 at 30 million and in 1987 at 20 million. Essentially that money was invested under the oversight of the American Friends of the National Gallery. It was given not to the National Gallery but to the American Friends of the National Gallery to administer it. It is treated as an endowment fund and it has been very shrewdly and very well managed. The income has been used when and where it is necessary to support major acquisitions so that in my view it has, to a very regrettable extent, replaced government funding for acquisitions. At the time it was given it was expected to support and enhance the capability of the National Gallery but, in practice, as funding for acquisitions has been squeezed and the ring-fenced purchase grant has been abolished and the Heritage Lottery Fund has moved away from acquisitions, it is now our primary resource.

Q38 Mr Sanders: What arguments would you deploy to justify the expenditure of many millions of pounds on perhaps a single masterpiece?

Dr Smith: I think, unfortunately, one has to look at the history of the National Gallery since 1824, that it has always been a collection that has been expected to grow by acquiring great works of art which are appropriate to its collection. I think there is a great difference between a collection which is a static collection - there are examples in London, both the Wallace Collection and the Sir John Soane's Museum that do not acquire - and the National Gallery, which historically has always been able to adapt to changes in taste and has always been able to acquire great works of art as they become available, particularly from British private collections. At the moment my anxiety, which is reflected in the National Gallery's submission, is exacerbated by the recent Finance Act. Private owners are taking the view that their primary responsibility is towards maintaining their estate and maintaining their house and, therefore, works of art which they have had for many generations, often made publicly available through open access, sometimes on loan to national collections, they are now going to sell. We are getting an increasing number of telephone calls from Sotheby's and Christies of major works of art on offer to us but we do not have the capacity to acquire them. Unfortunately, historically they have always been very expensive. If you look back at the history of the National Gallery there have always been parliamentarians who have felt that there were other priorities, but the reality is that if the National Gallery is to remain the National Gallery, an active institution still able to acquire works of art, we have to pay what they cost.

Q39 Chairman: You flagged up that it was the select committee report in 1855 which led to the ability of the National Gallery to expand its collection of Italian art. I am not sure select committees have quite that power today! Given that we have heard about the problem that you face in funding and maintaining the fabric of looking after the collections you have, and also we heard from the Museums Association about the enormous importance of Renaissance in the Regions and maintaining funding for that, is it not arguable at the very least that those things have to take priority over spending 10 million-plus on the acquisition of a single new work for the National Gallery?

Dr Smith: I am afraid, again, I go back to this sense that as a nation I think it is important for us to be able to acquire not only great works of art but I think this is a problem which is wider than simply the National Gallery. Obviously our submission concentrates on our circumstances, but I know that Sir Nicholas Serota shares my view in terms of his collection, and I certainly share the view that the Tate Gallery to remain an active institution needs to be able to acquire works of art as they are produced. It is an issue which goes deeper to the measure of regional museums and galleries. Traditionally Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle were acquiring institutions, were acquiring contemporary works as well as historic works, and that was why they were established, they were established in order to create collections in the present for the future and, therefore, I think acquisitions have always been at the heart of the mandate of museums so that you have to make a judgment as to what the relative priority is between maintaining our existing priority, which is quite evidently very important, but also maintaining a sense of what we exist for to provide a legacy for the future.

Q40 Chairman: Are we sensible to devote most of our attention to trying to keep in this country works which are already here but which may be put on the market for sale overseas? Is there not a case for saying that rather than have our priorities dictated to us by whether owners suddenly wake up one morning and decide they need to sell, we should sit down and have a more fundamental look at where we have gaps and where we might be better to spend the money?

Dr Smith: There are certainly people who take that view and my trustees are looking at this. They feel that a disproportionate amount of time and energy is devoted to trying to buy works of art which go through the Export Reviewing Committee, but the reality is that at the moment it is very, very hard for us to raise the money to buy works of art at auction either in this country or overseas. The benefit of the export reviewing process is that we can identify works of art which are going to go through the committee, we do all the work of research in understanding their historic significance and then, because of the delay and the deferral period, we have a period of three to six months or more in which to raise the funds. That is why collecting is distorted towards works of art going through that process, it provides us with a mechanism to buy works of art. I do not think it is ideal but I do not want the current system to be changed in such a way that we cannot acquire what we are currently acquiring, I think very valuably. That is one point. The second point I would make is that historically, for perfectly understandable reasons, there has been a disposition to try and keep works in this country which have been in this country for three centuries or so. One can say that it is a heritage attitude rather than an aesthetic attitude but the reality is in public terms people feel differently towards works of art which have been in private ownership in this country for a very long period so that there is a tilt towards those sorts of works of art rather than viewing it in a global way.

Q41 Helen Southworth: Could I ask about works that are in collections on long-term loan currently. Do you have a process of identifying what are critical parts of the collection, or significant parts of the collection, which are not actually in long-term ownership?

Dr Smith: We do watch with anxiety the life cycle of the lenders to the collection because obviously when somebody dies - a major lender died recently - there is an increased risk at that point that a work of art will come on the market. I am currently very worried that I think the recent Finance Act has changed the ecology of ownership such that most great works of art are held in trust. If there is, as I understand it, now a taxation on trusts, those trusts will not have the liquidity to be able to settle the tax bill and, again, there will be an incentive to private owners to offer works of art to us. You could say it is an opportunity but it is not an opportunity if we do not have the resources to buy that. It seems to me that we are back in a situation that existed in the 1880s where suddenly land owners take the decision to sell works of art and if the national collection and the National Gallery are not able to acquire them they will be acquired by museums and galleries in the United States.

Q42 Helen Southworth: What I am trying to differentiate between are those things which are already part of the collection to all intents and purposes but will be perceived by the public as part of the National Gallery.

Mr Jones: We have seen those go. For example, the Clive Jewel, which has been on loan to the V&A for many decades, has recently been sold, and that is painful. For me, the most significant change that could be made is to recognise that in the United States, and now in France, there is a tax advantage for giving works of arts to museums but there is not any in this country. That means that while it is advantageous, or at least you get tax relief, if you give money to a museum, you do not get any tax relief if you give a work of art to a museum. I do think that if we were going to improve the situation on that position it would be really helpful to extend tax relief to the gift of works of art, but I also think that we need to recognise that there is a big problem about the access that our students of art and design have to contemporary work from other parts of the world. It is really difficult to find even in most major regional museums and galleries a good representation of recent work, whether fine art or design, from other parts of the world. That seems to me to be a huge pity because we all say that creative design is essential to our future and students above all, but all of us, need access to what is going on elsewhere if we are to play off the ideas that are being developed in other parts of the world and there just is not the money to make those acquisitions at the moment. I have one last point. I do think that as our society changes it is important that our museum collections should change as well because museum collections in a sense reflect society back to itself. Obviously it is great that the V&A has been able to open its new Islamic gallery, and we have had a wonderful response from the Islamic community, but what I do think is that we need all our collections, not just the collections in London, to change to reflect the changing make-up of our population.

Mr MacGregor: The purpose of our collections is above all to create a notion of global citizenship to allow people to see where they stand in the world. The collections at the British Museum where you can see the whole of Japanese history right up to Japan now, Korea right up to now, Iran right up to now, those collections need to keep documenting the societies now. It is not necessarily great works of art in the case of the British Museum but we need to be able to keep being able to present to our public what they need to be able to see to understand the world. We have argued very strongly in our submission that there should be a fund specifically linked to the contemporary acquisition of worldwide, not just high art but to understand the societies with which we have to deal.

Q43 Chairman: The tax incentives which you were talking about, would you regard the recommendations of Sir Nicholas Goodison as delivering what you want?

Mr Jones: Yes, absolutely.

Q44 Chairman: When that report originally came out the Government made fairly warm noises about it, but we have not heard much since. Do you detect any likelihood that the Goodison recommendations may actually be enacted?

Mr Jones: No. Some of his recommendations have already been implemented but that particular one, the one on tax, does not look as if it is going to be.

Q45 Rosemary McKenna: Assuming that there will not be a substantial injection of new funds to defuse the "collections crisis" as it has been described by the Art Fund, what else might be done to ease it?

Dr Smith: Personally, I think there are three areas to be looked at. One is the administration of the Heritage Lottery Fund where there clearly has been a move away from acquisitions, and they themselves are the first to admit it. They are beginning to think about what they could and should do, but I am sceptical that whatever they do will be adequate to address the crisis. The second is the idea which has been mooted recently and goes back a long time - it was proposed in 1922 - that there should be a national acquisitions fund; not surprisingly, I am in favour of that, particularly if and when Parliament looks at the administration of the Lottery in the future it seems to be a sensible use of Lottery funds to be able to buy things in the long-term for future generations. The third area is I think for the big, very complicated works there used to be a system of special Exchequer grants and they worked quite efficiently up until the early 1980s and then they went into abeyance because of the existence of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. In reality, I think the sums required now are such that it is worth looking again at the question as to whether or not the Treasury is able to give special Exchequer grants in special circumstances.

Mr MacGregor: There is another thing that can be done that is very valuable, which is joint acquisitions by a number of museums so that these are really acquisitions for the whole country. The last major acquisition made by the British Museum we made jointly with the museums of Stoke-on-Trent and Carlisle, which was a souvenir from Hadrian's Wall, a wonderful Roman bit of enamel work found near Stoke, so very properly held jointly by the three collections. I think this is a model that can be developed because it brings resources from many different areas into play and it makes it clear that these are genuinely objects held for the entire country.

Q46 Rosemary McKenna: Do you envisage that you will be able to work with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly so that they could be involved in this?

Mr MacGregor: This is another reason why I think it is important to have a more articulate UK-wide cultural conversation because, of course, these are just as much for Scotland or Wales or Ireland as for anybody else.

Q47 Rosemary McKenna: As someone who was deeply involved in the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the devolution issues, I was unaware of that being a problem and it is something I certainly take on board that you no longer can operate as a UK body. There has to be a mechanism to help that and I am sure that would be one way forward.

Mr MacGregor: That would be very valuable.

Dr Smith: It is worth saying perhaps on the attempt to acquire Titian's Portrait of Man we worked very closely with the national galleries in Scotland and we were perfectly prepared and, in fact, rather enthusiastic about having a joint acquisition. There is a slight anomaly at the moment in that the Scottish Parliament can vote sums of money for acquisitions but the British Parliament appears not to be able to.

Q48 Chairman: Can I turn to the question of deaccession. There seems to be at least a robust debate taking place in the museums sector and, indeed, between you here. Mark Jones, you produced the report Too much Stuff but, Neil MacGregor, in your submission you felt there should not be a change in legislation. Can you perhaps give us an idea of the pros and cons and whether or not you think this is an area which Parliament should revisit?

Mr MacGregor: I think it is entirely a question of the purpose of the collection. The British Museum's collection was conceived as a library. There was the book library and then the material libraries of different sorts and different cultures. The key thing about a library is that a catalogue be available and that it be studied. It is very concerning to think of getting rid of books because sometimes these people have looked at them and we seem to have an awful lot of them. Our starting position would be that the powers that the trustees of the British Museum have at the moment, which is to get rid of material if there are duplicates or for conservation reasons cannot continue to be stored, seems to us to be the right power for the trustees of the British Museum. Different collections with different functions perhaps require different powers.

Mr Jones: Basically I agree with that. Some, but not all, museums have an archival function, that is to say they are the place where you go to find out about something. It is very clear that, say, the British Museum's archaeological collections, or for that matter a number of other archaeological collections throughout the country, are to be understood like libraries, and the same is true of social history collections, natural history collections and so on. That does not let us off recognising that there are also eminently displayable objects, oil paintings for example, in large numbers in many collections which are never going to be shown and which are not currently delivering as much benefit as they should. The work of the Public Catalogue Foundation, which is going through public collections county by county - a wonderful idea - and publishing them all just reinforces what we already knew, which is it is not just that there are many more paintings in public collections than can ever be shown but there are also many more paintings in public collections than one would ever want to be shown. It is not even theoretically conceivable that we would want all of these on display. I do think that we need to be terribly careful about saying, "This is a collection of low value, that it is ephemeral so we should junk it". That has been done in the past and very often it has destroyed important historical evidence. I also think that we should be creative about finding new uses for very attractive objects which are currently in store and not giving any enjoyment to anyone. I think there is a way of doing that, by the way, which could retain a public interest in the objects. I cannot see any reason why we should not think that museums might be able to dispose of objects from their collections or sell them, but under the same kind of conditions that are applied to objects exempted from inheritance tax. If you have an object that is exempted from inheritance tax you have to make it available to people who want to see it and you have to lend it to public exhibitions but you can also have the pleasure of owning it. Why should we not to take that as a model?

Q49 Chairman: So, Neil MacGregor, your view would be that whilst the British Museum would not envisage ever deaccessioning or disposing of any of its collection, you would not object to a change in the law to allow your colleagues to do so?

Mr MacGregor: Not at all. I think different collections require different laws.

Q50 Chairman: Regarding specific items within your collection, the Elgin Marbles: does it remain the position of the British Museum that there is no prospect of their returning to Athens?

Mr MacGregor: As you know, Parliament when it bought the Elgin Marbles considered all these questions very carefully and took the view that they were properly acquired. The trustees of the museum believe that they play an important part in the survey of cultural achievements of humanity. There is nowhere else in Europe where you can look at the whole world in one building, the cultural achievements of the whole world, and the Parthenon sculpture is clearly a part of that. I think it is unlikely that the trustees would change their view on that.

Q51 Chairman: So the decision of, we understand, a German university to return a part makes no difference?

Mr MacGregor: No. Clearly that was a decision for the German university and that is the decision they took, presumably on their criteria of the purpose of their collection.

Q52 Chairman: I understand you are looking at helping the Greek authorities with a display, perhaps through some kind of computer generated image.

Mr MacGregor: Yes. We work very closely with colleagues in the museum in Athens, we lend very generously in many areas and, of course, in scholarly terms we work closely with them and, indeed, would like to work with them on an electronic programme on the Parthenon as a whole.

Q53 Mr Sanders: Should we not be doing it the other way round? Should we not have the electronic representation and they have the items back?

Mr MacGregor: No, because the purpose of the collection ---- We could have a long argument about this but, firstly, there is no question that the legal title is with the trustees of the British Museum. The point is the Parthenon as it once was cannot be reconstructed, it is a ruined building and a very large part of the sculpture is now destroyed. Roughly half of what survives is now in Athens and roughly half the rest is in the British Museum and in other museums elsewhere. You cannot reconstruct the whole, and as that cannot be done physically it makes perfect sense, it seems to me, for the two halves of what survives to be seen in a different context, in a world context in London and in a Greek context in Athens. I think the world public benefit is greater under the present arrangements and the world will gain if electronically it can be combined to show what we think is the totality of the surviving material, but that is only a fragment of what was there.

Q54 Adam Price: There are a number of objects in your collection which are intrinsically important to the history of my nation, will you consider returning them to the National Museum of Wales?

Mr MacGregor: To take one example, the gold cape from Mold, which was acquired in the 1830s, which is one of the great documents of early Wales, as you know, that was recently lent to Wrexham, where it was found, and there is no permanent setting for it but it was important for it to be seen and enormous numbers of people saw it there. It has been lent to the National Museum of Wales. I think it is important that it be seen also in the context of the other gold objects of that period from the rest of Britain and, indeed, from the rest of the world so that we can look at Wales at that period in the context of Egypt at that period and China at that period, and there is nowhere else that can be done. I think what is important is that objects move so that we see them in different contexts and understand them differently and that is now possible. The whole strategy of the British Museum in recent years has been to lend objects as generously as possible around the UK and across the world so that the different meanings of the objects and the different narratives can be understood, the latest example being a major loan selected by our colleagues in Nairobi from the British Museum's collection which is on show in Nairobi to show how Kenya relates to the cultures round about it. These objects need to be in different places.

Chairman: I think we will have to cut it short there. I, and some of my colleagues, have to go to the memorial service for my late colleague, Eric Forth. I am sorry that this session does not follow our usual time but thank you very much for coming this morning and answering our questions.