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asked Her Majesty's Government:
What plans they have for the future funding and management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
My Lords, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and administered on its behalf by the British Museum. The MLA has committed itself to funding the Portable Antiquities Scheme at £1.3 million for 2008-09. Beyond that period, the funding and management arrangements for the PAS will be subject to an upcoming review of the scheme, jointly commissioned by the MLA and the British Museum.
My Lords, I am grateful for that reply, but I imagine the Minister is aware that the future of the scheme has been much discussed in recent months. Does he recall that his noble friend Lord Bach said from that very Bench some six weeks ago that,
I was hoping for a clearer statement about the future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It is widely felt on all sides to be one of the best things that this Government have done in the field of archaeology and heritage. Can the Minister be a little more explicit about the future arrangements for the scheme?
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great authority on these issues, and I pay tribute to his work in this area. We are looking forward to the conclusion of the discussions on the future of the scheme. The scheme is greatly valued, as he indicated. It brings various artefacts into museums in a way that otherwise would not occur. What is more, it engages a wide-ranging section of the public who otherwise would not visit museums. They do so because of the scheme, so we value it highly. However, it is necessary for us to think about the future of the scheme constructively, which is what the two bodies are doing. I regret that the noble Lord can point out to me that we have not made enormous progress in the past six weeks, but I assure him that we expect these discussions to conclude favourably in the near future.
My Lords, as the Minister has just suggested, if the remaining problems are to be resolved satisfactorily, will it not be necessary for the DCMS to intervene more actively and more constructively, and specifically to provide a more generous dowry for the Portable Antiquities Scheme as it enters the full embrace of the British Museum? Is this not incumbent on the department, which in the Comprehensive Spending Review chose to allocate an additional £50 million to the Arts Council, which was welcome, and even found £50 million for a new building at Tate Modern, but imagined wrongly that it would be acceptable to cut funding by 25 per cent for a range of important but less glamorous programmes, including the Portable Antiquities Scheme, housed at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council?
My Lords, the cut for the Portable Antiquities Scheme is merely that the annual sum granted to it for the coming year is the same as it was last year. Of course that is a cut because of inflation, but it is nothing like 25 per cent; we are talking about a marginal cut. However, I accept what my noble friend says. We want a resolution of these issues so that the future of the scheme is identified effectively. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, we expect progress to be made on these matters. If the department needs to intervene more proactively, we will certainly do so.
My Lords, will the national nature of the scheme be preserved? As all sides of the House have mentioned in previous debates, the great value of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is its national nature, so that every part of the country is covered. If it is cut even marginally, that national nature might be threatened. Would that not have damaging effects on the archaeological heritage of different regions?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his work in this area—and, indeed, to my noble friend Lord Howarth. In fact, all three noble Lords who have questioned me about this matter today know a great deal more about it than I do myself. I want to emphasise that there is no intention of changing the structure of the Portable Antiquities Scheme—quite the opposite. We highly value the scheme. It has great virtues and we intend to safeguard its future. However, there is discussion on where authority for the scheme should lie, and those discussions have not quite concluded yet.
My Lords, I declare a sort of interest as the person who took the treasure trove Bill through this House—legislation which has been a great success, as I think your Lordships will agree. I am not absolutely certain that all these wonderful words of support include finances. Are the Government actually giving money towards this scheme? I say that as a portable antiquity myself.
My Lords, I cannot guarantee than the noble Baroness will be a direct beneficiary of the £1.3 million allocated to the scheme. However, as I indicated to the House, that figure obtains over the next year. Protests and anxieties have been expressed because that does mean a reduction of 2 or 3 per cent in the resources available to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I think that will be recognised as on the margins. Certainly the Government's intent is that the scheme should continue to develop and flourish. The issue of management, however, is still to be resolved.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. The question is not directly related to the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, but it an issue that the Government take seriously. It is not the function of the scheme itself to address itself to those issues.