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Sir Patrick Cormack:
May I stress that it is not only the people of Stourbridge but those of the whole region who regard this as an important collection? Will the Minister do all she can to ensure that whatever its precise location, the collection is kept together and on proper display, as it should benot closed up for years?
If she will give us that assurance, it will be as welcome in my constituency as in that of the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho).
Barbara Follett: I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I understand his concern. I have made it the central plank of my time as Minister for the arts to ensure that we democratise our arts and our culture. In other words, I want to ensure that we do not keep arts and culture locked away, that we keep collections together, that we make them available by whatever means we have at our disposalsuch as making them available digitallyand that we let people get to them and see them as they ought to be seen. As quite a large section of my family worked in the china industry in parts of Staffordshire, I understand the value that people put on such collections. I understand the historical value of holding them together. I assure him that I will do all I can to ensure that they are preserved.
As I have said, I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge and of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) about the preservation of the history and heritage of Stourbridge. I hope, therefore, that Dudley council will not take risks with the collection, which is so precious to the people of Stourbridge and the surrounding county, and that it will not implement any unnecessary or hasty closures, especially of a local museum that is providing an excellent service. I hope, too, that the council will do all it can to work collaboratively with the local community, to listen to it and to resolve this situation.
Lynda Waltho: I am pleased by what my hon. Friend is saying and by her obvious commitment to the collection and to Broadfield House. She speaks about democratisation, but there is a worry that decisions are being made in secret. The Friends of Broadfield House is a collection of business people, artists and supporters, and they are world-renowned experts. Surely it would be sensible for them to be part of the feasibility study now, rather than being just another group to be consulted in October. That is a key point: we need to get the experts involved. I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about the MLA, but we need to get our local experts involved, too.
Barbara Follett: Again, convention constrains me in this case. My hon. Friend and her hon. Friends and colleagues are making the kind of representations that I would expect the peoples representatives to make. I would expect Dudley council to hear these representations, because they are the expression of the peoples will, and I hope that it pays attention to them. I hope that it makes a considered decision that leads to the best possible outcome for the potential of the museums in the area, that ensures that this treasure of a collection is made as accessible as possible to the local community, and that ensures that it is kept together.