Richard Luce – 1985 Speech on the Museum of London

Below is the text of the speech made by Richard Luce, the then Minister for the Arts, in the House of Commons on 21 November 1985.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The main purpose of this short Bill is to give the Government and the Corporation of the City of London equal shares in the funding of the Museum of London and in the appointment of members of its board of governors, following the abolition of the Greater London council. At present, the Government, the City and the GLC each contribute one third of the members of the board. As the House will recall, last Session the Government announced their intention to divide the GLC’s share equally between the two other partners after abolition. It was not possible to make provision for those new arrangements in the Local Government Act 1985 which abolishes the GLC.

This was partly because the Government wanted to make amendments to the Museum of London Act 1965 and to effect other repeals, neither of which could be done under the terms of that Act. Therefore, the Local Government Act provided for the transfer, from next April, of the whole of the GLC’s share to the Government, as an interim measure. The Bill supersedes the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act before they come into effect, and amends the 1965 Act governing the Museum of London.

The Bill is being treated as a hybrid measure. Hon. Members will recall that that involves special additional parliamentary procedures. The procedures are already under way, and I have no reason to expect any difficulty. They do not affect today’s Second Reading debate.

Before I deal in detail with the contents of the Bill, it may be helpful to remind the House of the history of the Museum of London. The museum had its origins in two long-established institutions—the Guildhall museum, primarily concerned with the square mile of the City, and the London museum, concerned with a much broader survey of London’s history. The two museums were merged into one organisation on 1 June 1975 when the Museum of London Act 1965 came into effect. In December 1976, the present superb Museum of London building in the Barbican, specially designed to accommodate the joint collections, was opened by Her Majesty the Queen.
The Guildhall museum was established in 1826 by the corporation as an adjunct to its newly revitalised library. It was to accommodate

“such antiquities as relate to the City and suburbs”.

The museum was, from the start, intimately associated with the archaeological investigations of building sites in the City. In 1966 the museum became a separate department of the corporation. In 1973 a full department of urban archaeology was established at the museum.

The London museum was founded in 1911, when the first Viscount Harcourt used private funds at his disposal to establish the museum at Kensington palace. Financial support was assumed by the Treasury in 1912. The museum was governed by Treasury minute and administered through a board of trustees.

After the second world war, closer working links were established between the two museums, mainly as the result of arrangements for the excavation of the City’s war-damaged site. By 1960, it had become apparent that the premises in which the museums were housed were ​ inadequate. Negotiations began which had the object of merging the museums into a new and comprehensive institution to be devoted to the history of Greater London. The agreement eventually reached was formalised in the Museum of London Act 1965.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the present board of governors of the Museum of London, under the distinguished chairmanship of Mr. Michael Robbins, and to the museum’s talented director, Mr. Max Hebditch. Together they have contributed to an enormous amount to its successful development in the past 10 years, and have enabled it to become widely admired as a jewel in London’s crown. It is fitting also to recognise that this would not have been possible without the tremendous support and encouragement of the Corporation of the City of London, to which we are all indebted, not least for the fine premises which the museum now occupies. We must build on this success and establish the statutory basis for the museum’s development in the decades that lie ahead. The museum and the City welcome the 50:50 sharing arrangement and the clarification of the board’s powers. The Bill has their support.

The Bill’s main purpose is to share the appointment of governors and the funding between the Government and the City on a 50:50 basis. That is achieved by clauses 1 and 3. It also redefines the powers of the board of governors, for the sake of clarity and to bring them more into line with other modern museum legislation. That is the object of clause 2. I shall say more in a moment about the funding of archaeological services in London, which is covered by the new provisions in clause 4.

Clause 1 deals with the appointment of governors and provides that the Prime Minister and City corporation should each appoint nine, in place of the six currently appointed by each of the Prime Minister, the City and the GLC. There are transitional provisions to stagger the terms of office of the new appointees. Clause 1 supersedes the relevant provisions in the Local Government Act 1985.