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Lord Blaker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I have a letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph this morning, signed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, which says almost exactly the same thing as the Minister said in answering my Question. Is it in accordance with our conventions that the first statement of government policy should be made in correspondence with the press and not in Parliament? It seems to me rather odd.
I make no criticism of his Grace, the Duke of Wellington, or his family, but the public have a deep interest in this matter. Has not a great deal of public money been spent since 1947, when the 7th Duke gave Apsley House to the nation, on the house and the collection? Would it not be in accordance with the Government's policy of open government to replace press speculation by publishing details of the independent trust to which the Minister referred and the details of any other proposals put forward--for example, by the V&A and English Heritage--so that there could be public debate on this important matter?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord's two questions are in conflict with each other. First, he chides me that the Secretary of State responded to ill-informed press speculation with a letter in the Daily Telegraph this morning. I am relieved that he recognises that what the Secretary of State is saying is the same as what I am saying; I do not know whether that counts as "joined-up government". But then he goes on to say that it is right that that ill-informed press speculation should be counteracted by the Government.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, while I welcome the setting up of this trust, which seems to be the best way out of the current impasse and difficulties, will my noble friend confirm that access to the house and its magnificent collection, so generously given to the nation by the late 7th Duke, will not be restricted in any way as it has from time to time in the recent past?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, existing access is not particularly marvellous. There have only been between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors a year over each of the past three years. The house is only open from 11 o'clock until four o'clock. And although a great deal of public money has been spent on the building and marvellous contributions have been made by the Victoria and Albert Museum to the collections in the building, it is not as well known and as valued as it should be. My noble friend is right. We need improvements.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I should declare an interest as a former chairman of the trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Will the Minister confirm that, as the Secretary of State made clear to my successor, the fact that he is considering the future management of the Wellington Museum in no way implies or reflects any dissatisfaction whatever on his part with the V&A's stewardship of it?
Further, is the Minister of State aware that, though the Duke of Wellington cares deeply about the well-being of the museum, it is perhaps inevitable that the interests of those members of the family who live in the house by virtue of the 1947 Act do not always coincide with the public interest of what has been for 50 years a publicly-funded and national museum? That is why, when I was chairman of the V&A, we set up a Wellington Committee in order to see whether those differences could be reconciled and resolved. The Duke of Wellington was the deputy chairman of that committee.
Is the Minister further aware that the present arrangements give the Wellington Museum unlimited free access to the V&A's curatorial, conservation and warning services? Will the Minister consider whether it is going to be easy for that to be provided under a new trust without additional public expenditure?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, nothing I have said could be nor should be interpreted as a criticism of the management of the Victoria and Albert Museum. But as the noble Lord knows, there has been conflict between the Victoria and Albert Museum and the family, who occupy part of the house. It is in order
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce the European beaver into England. To do so without a proper licence obtained from the department would be illegal.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I do not know whether or not I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. But will my noble friend make it clear that, should the European beaver be introduced, it will be a reintroduction? It is not an alien species. Will she ensure also that if a firm proposal comes forward, it must ensure that the species is settled in an appropriate and socially acceptable environment that will be secure? While it may promote tourist attractions, one hopes that it will not feed peculiar gourmets with a taste for unusual foods.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend has knowledge of gourmet dishes beyond my experience. I am aware of people who have eaten other things, but in my experience people have only worn the fur of the beaver.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minister recall that many years ago an animal whose name I cannot remember--it is not Alzheimer's--was imported because of its fur (nutria) but became an absolute scourge to farmers on the east side of England, eating all the sugar beet? It was finally eliminated by bounty. I fear that if the beaver was introduced into this country the same could happen, maybe in a different way, but it would be a destructive force for agriculture.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that lessons will be learnt from the past, in particular as regards those animals under threat, such as the otter? If beaver are introduced, both species will need to use the same food source; namely, fish. Will the Minister ensure that particular care will be taken to ensure that the position as regards otters is taken into account?
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that beaver skins make lovely fur coats? Furthermore, does she know whether beaver can be farmed? If so, would this not be a wonderful alternative crop for our hard-pressed farmers?
For those noble Baronesses and noble Ladies who are Members of this House fortunate--or unfortunate--enough to own a fur coat, it should be remembered that the release of mink into the environment has caused enormous damage.
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, in view of the fact that all governments over many years have encouraged afforestation, is it not illogical for the Government to finance an organisation in Scotland which yesterday announced that it would import beaver? Those animals will destroy countless trees.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that if, in the unfortunate circumstance of the beaver being introduced, it will not immediately be appended to the long and irreversible list of endangered species?
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