Museums and Galleries - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 4:57 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:57 pm, 23rd January 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to address problems faced by museums and galleries in England.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to draw attention to a subject which is close to my heart and has been virtually all my life. In a brief debate one can touch only on the main, salient issues but I will endeavour to do so. Before I say anything I thank all noble Lords who have agreed to participate in this debate, I thank the Library for the excellent report it has produced and I welcome my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde and hope that he will be able to give me a fully understanding and sympathetic reply at the end. I also thank those many people who have corresponded with me over the last few days, particularly Mr Ian Blatchford who chairs the National Museum Directors’ Council. I declare my interest as president and, indeed, the founder in 1974 of the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group. Many of your Lordships are members of that group, enthusiastic members at that, and the very first visit we paid in 1974 was to one of our great national institutions, the National Portrait Gallery.

Put very simply, these museums and galleries are guardians of much of our heritage. To understand whence we came, locally or nationally, we need to go to our great national or our small local museums. No one can really fully understand our development as a nation, or appreciate our sense of community, without some familiarity with our museums and galleries. Of course, our nation and our localities are set in a global context by great national institutions, most of them in London. These include the Victoria and Albert Museum —I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, in his place because his son is now proving a splendid director of that museum—and, perhaps above all, the British Museum. But all of them, individually and collectively, are institutions in which we all can and should take tremendous pride. Yet there has never been a time when our great museums faced greater difficulties or our small museums, particularly our local authority museums, stood at greater risk.

All this was underlined very recently, in November, by the Mendoza review, which many of your Lordships will have read. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will refer to it when she comes to speak immediately after me. That report underlines forcefully and graphically the importance of museums to our national life. It shows how our 2,600 museums—it is a staggering figure—large and small, ranging from the British Museum to local or specialised museums, are so dependent upon national and local support and encouragement and, of course, upon funding. The Government control or influence some 11 fund-providing institutions, foremost of which is the Heritage Lottery Fund, of which the noble Baroness is a vice-chairman. The Government’s influence includes tax measures, of course, but I remind your Lordships that funding has been stuck at £844 million for the last 10 years, which represents a 13% fall in real terms. That indicates the problems to which I refer.

We await a government response to that report. I do not chide my noble friend the Minister for not having it yet, as it was produced only in November, but I hope that he can give some idea to your Lordships when we can expect a full, considered government response. Another thing that concerns me much, and it comes out in some of the letters that I have received, is that HLF support will drop in this year, 2018-19, from £432 million to £190 million.

I would like to,

“point a Moral, or adorn a Tale”, as it were, by talking of one specific city, Lincoln—the city where I now live—and the problems and challenges that we have faced. I have had the great privilege of presiding over two nationally important exhibitions in the last three years: in 2015, we commemorated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; and last year, we marked the 800th anniversary of the decisive Battle of Lincoln. These exhibitions were made possible because of the willingness of great national institutions to lend and the generosity of mostly local supporters, sponsors and patrons.

It is axiomatic that a national collection should be shared with the nation. The exhibitions that we have put on in Lincoln in the last three years have demonstrated that. Last year, for the first time ever, the Domesday Book—the most priceless item in our National Archives —left London and was on display in Lincoln Castle. Soon, your Lordships will have the opportunity to go to the Royal Academy and see reincarnated the great collection of Charles I; just a few months ago we had one of the stars of that great exhibition, the triple portrait by van Dyck, on the wall of the collection in Lincoln.

This illustrates how very important partnership between the local and the national is, but it is not easy for the nationals. The National Portrait Gallery, for instance, which lent 62 items to 26 different venues, including Lincoln last year, is struggling for funds to enable it to do that. The nationals have an obligation placed upon them by the Government. It is a happy obligation—free admission—which most of us would heartily applaud, but he who calls the tune should pay the piper. I believe it is important that my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues should reflect upon that and upon the problems that face our great national institutions.

The Mendoza report touches on all the major issues, but it does not fully recognise the great burden upon local authorities or the problem of business rates. In January last year, I was suddenly confronted by Lincolnshire County Council which said that it desperately wanted the exhibition to go ahead in the summer, but unless I could raise £150,000 in the next three weeks, it could not. With the help of generous friends, local companies and so on, I was able to raise more than that, but it is indicative of the problem that we face. A culture development fund has been promised, but its resources are going to amount to £2 million. That is a tiny percentage of what is needed.

Before I sit down, I remind your Lordships’ House and, in particular, the Minister that in this field we are discussing briefly this evening, the sums involved are tiny in the context of the national budget, yet our national heritage is at risk. It would be a damning indictment in this 21st century if we did not recognise the glories that we have and do everything possible to maintain and enhance them. I am glad to have this opportunity, and I look forward to noble Lords’ contributions.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:07 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on obtaining it. It is not only timely but right that we should address these issues in the context of the national interest in general. The noble Lord has been such a splendid champion of the arts and shows no lack of energy in the pursuit of everything he chooses to do.

I want to concentrate on a few aspects of the Mendoza review and on the work of the Heritage Lottery Fund, of which I am a deputy chairman and chairman of the committee for Wales, so I declare my interest. The Mendoza review is a good report. It demonstrates a breadth and depth of understanding of the character and culture of museums. It is the first report of its kind for 10 years, and it does a great service. It is extremely welcome. Its delight in the infinite variety of our museums, from pencils to gasworks, from historic houses to coalmines, is patently evident on every page. It delights, too, in the stories that museums tell of people and place, and in the space they provide not just for heritage and memory but increasingly for health, enterprise and learning. I welcome the report.

This debate focuses on the challenges facing museums and galleries, and they are, by definition, identified in the nine priorities the report sets out. Right at the top of the list is funding, a changing funding landscape and the need to adapt to it. It also identifies the need to engage more widely, to diversify audiences—that is a common theme—and to contribute to place making, which is relatively new. It is the positive relationship between these three elements that I will focus on.

As the noble Lord said, the report does not shy away from the hard fact that there has been a 13% drop in funding in real terms since 2007 and massive cuts in local authorities. The axe has fallen differently in different places, but every local museum and gallery is struggling to care not just for rare and deteriorating collections but often for fragile historic buildings. They are struggling to keep curators and expertise. In many instances, they are struggling to keep the doors open. We know from the Museums Association of 40 museums that closed between 2005 and 2014, and of 11 in 2016 alone. It all adds up to a lack of resilience and capacity, and means that no exhortation to adapt to a new funding regime is going to shift the reality, particularly outside London, that finding more commercial funding or philanthropic income, wealthier partners or new organisational structures is often extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. That is why I welcome two particular recommendations in the report: that the funding agencies should give priority to the existing estate and to sustainability. But although there is always scope for improvisation, I could not agree more with the noble Lord when he said that there is a limit to what can be done within the existing resource structure. It is time now for the Government to play their part, as a full partner, in what they recognise contributes so much to national economic prosperity and social resilience.

Sustainability depends not least on museums being valued and used as exhaustively as possible. Museums and galleries are already doing that and have become very good at it. Organisations such as Kids in Museums are taking children into museums to be curators, actors and front of house. There is tremendous innovation there, including in what local museums are doing, for example, with dementia groups. I must reference Wales. The National Museum Wales is doing fantastic work, particularly in the new St Fagans museum, as it will be, involving unemployed and homeless people in forming the vision and the practice of the new museum.

Strong partnerships are emerging, but we need stronger partnerships and all museums and galleries to develop them. That is the key to future sustainability. The other key is embedding museums and galleries not just in place but in policy. Perceptions are changing. It is no longer all about Wakefield and Margate, although they have been pioneering in what they have demonstrated culture can achieve. Culture can make for great places, as the Local Government Association says in its recent report on this. However, it is crucial not just to have a national strategy across all departments which optimises that fact but for local authorities to develop local strategies. Here I think the report could have been more aggressive in urging all local authorities to capitalise on the assets in their place as part of their explicit social and economic planning, not least as a way of addressing the false choices that are so often made between investing in culture and investing in social care.

Above all, the Mendoza review addresses a gap in both analysis and approach with the recommendation that public funds need to be spent more strategically, around agreed priorities, shared intelligence and a greater understanding of impact. There has been, apart from the role of designation, a historic failure to identify in the national interest not just what we value in our museums and galleries but what is most at risk and where the most can be achieved by investing in capability and resilience.

Most help can usually be used in places where they are very used to it, but I am more concerned about more disadvantaged areas where they are not quite so good at accessing funds. The review is clear that this means deciding how scarce resources can be made to go further by national agencies and national partnerships working more closely together. That has been welcomed by everybody, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Finally, I will say a few words in response to what the noble Lord said about the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since its inception, it has changed the face of museums and galleries in this country. It has invested an astonishing amount, £2.4 billion. Most of that has gone into construction, buildings and refurbishment; the rest across the range of things that museums have to do. But now, because of fluctuating lottery receipts, there will be less funding for all forms of heritage projects. We have discussed this with DDCMS and our heritage partners. We do not have the historically high amounts that we used to have. We do indeed have £190 million for 2018 and it is a great deal of money, but that is why we will now clarify priorities, consult on ways of working and commit to the action plan on museums, as we are invited to.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for creating the opportunity today to set out what I think are some of the challenges.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for introducing this all-important debate. Museums and galleries in the UK are available for all levels of interest, knowledge and understanding; indeed, they provide many of us with deeply personal and lifelong memories. I will never forget my visit to the Jorvik centre in York in my early 20s and the sense of magic as I held in my hand something amazing—Viking poo. It was in a block of acrylic, of course, but that was a magical moment that put me in touch with history none the less. The Jorvik centre was one of the first places in the UK to start to make the experience of the past come alive in such a creative way. Nor will I forget seeing my mum, an evacuee in the Second World War, sharing with her grandson the experience of the brilliant exhibition on evacuees at the Imperial War Museum.

The wide variety of museums and galleries that we have today will help to ensure that we foster a future generation who appreciate art, culture and our shared history. Indeed, we all have a responsibility to ensure that museums and galleries work hard to increase inclusivity and shine a light on those who have traditionally been left out of our story—Mary Seacole is an example. The noble Baroness referred to the running of dementia programmes in many museums and galleries now, and that is another example.

That 55% of the English public live within walking distance of at least one museum is a cause for much pride. That over half the adult population visit museums —up from around two in five a decade ago, according to the Mendoza Review—is encouraging. The Mendoza report also makes clear just how much value for money local museums provide for a very small share, as the noble Lord referenced, of the national expenditure. Museums in England generate £2.64 billion in income, including trading income, fundraising donations and grants in aid, and £1.54 billion in economic output, according to the Arts Council England report The Economic Impact of Museums in England in 2015. That is why, now more than ever, we need to ensure their future sustainability and stability.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, also referred to, there is an urgent need for central government to look at the funding issue. Indeed, if we are to believe that artificial intelligence will replace much of what we define as work today—and as a member of the Artificial Intelligence Select Committee, I have seen plenty of evidence so far to suggest that that is the case—it is all-important that we ensure that future generations have free access to creativity and culture that sets them apart from intelligent machines.

So it is worrying to learn that there is a decline in school visits, in part due to changes in the national curriculum. As a governor of an inner-city school, I have seen the value that is added when children visit areas of cultural interest. In particular, I have seen the value that is added for children who are receiving the pupil premium allowance. That leaves me in no doubt of the value. That is why I believe the curriculum must ensure that children develop with an understanding of the value of creativity.

In my view, the advent of artificial intelligence will need a highly creative and curious future generation. So we on these Benches recognise that to support the future success of the arts in Britain we must ensure that the right funding structures and regulatory environment are in place to encourage investment. But that investment must never compromise their independence. In other words, public galleries—galleries and museums that are free—should not be expected to rely solely on private income. The potential, or the danger, of our past being explained by the highest bidder, or by the whims of the latest fashion, may then become too great.

Adapting to today’s funding environment is the most important challenge facing museums today. Over the past 10 years, as we have heard, overall funding has reduced by 13% in real terms, part of that as a result of the cuts to local government. Museums and galleries are, sadly, likely to take the hit in an austerity period, regardless of the value that they add locally and culturally.

That is why we in the Liberal Democrats in particular support the creation of creative enterprise zones, zones that are set up to grow and regenerate cultural output across the UK, to grow jobs in the sector, to grow future generations armed for whatever uncertainty lies ahead with a rich and vibrant knowledge of the past from their local and national museums.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Crossbench 5:21 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, first, I join the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, if not for this debate, for how much he has put into Parliament by way of the arts. For me, it is always a pleasure to go to one of the early morning visits to various galleries and museums that he and the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, arrange for us: it is a great boon and joy to this House. Thank you.

To take up a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, made, you do not have to teach children creativity. They are pretty close, when they are born, to their highest level of creativity. This morning, I rang up my daughter, who is an artist. She was on her way to Edinburgh to get some pictures printed. I was talking about this debate and we touched on that subject. She said, “You will notice, particularly in our family but, I think, in all families, that if you give a child a pencil at whatever age, it will want to draw something. How that proceeds in the child’s life depends on the stimulus it gets from seeing things and having its creativity engendered”. Having said that, most of my family are in the arts in one form or another, and I had a painter mother, so it is very close to me.

Before the Second World War we lived in Devon, and people always say there is no culture west of Bristol, although I do not know whether that still holds, so the first museum I went to was when my father was in the Air Force and posted to northern Scotland. We took the overnight train after having been in Madame Tussaud’s, which I suppose is the nearest that I had been to a museum. We arrived in Inverness, and there was a little time to get our connection to Nairn, which was our destination. We spent the rest of the day in the Inverness Museum. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have been to the Inverness Museum, or if it is as it was when I was eight years old—that is a bit further back than 20 years. It was absolutely riveting, because it was full of claymores, shields and people in tartan. I got my mother to buy me a book of tartans. I was overwhelmed by this.

When we came back to Devon after the war, there was still not much going on in terms of culture west of Bristol, I took up drawing a bit, because my mother had encouraged me, and so it went on. But I never had the gift that my mother had—my daughter has it; she is quite a successful painter. I think it is all about children. Galleries and museums should be run and funded with children in mind all the time. We want them to start when they are young and to go on visiting museums, galleries, learning, being stimulated, and so on.

The funding of museums is difficult. The noble Lord who initiated the debate talked about problems and I wonder whether there is anything other than funding. It is the overriding problem. I mention the United States now with some caution, but we have been host to a number of art galleries and their supporters here in the House. Galleries and museums often have a huge trail of supporters and trustees who get things together and go on great visits. Funding is no problem because if you are rich in America you can be connected to a museum or a gallery. They can be anywhere. I have seen provincial ones and main ones; the Washington Gallery came here. President Trump has recently stopped all funding, as we know. There is a sort of knee-jerk reaction to everything that Trump does, but of course, he was absolutely right. With most of the funding arrangements, and with so much coming from ordinary people—something I wish we had here—things were being funded that were totally unsuitable, which I shall not mention to your Lordships, as I know how sensitive they are.

Manufacturing is now going to grow, so let us encourage people who grow rich from manufacturing, or whatever, and who are successful to forget about the Rolls-Royce and hankering after a helicopter. They should put their money into the arts because there is kudos in it. The Americans do it for that reason.

I give all praise to those who continue as directors. Incidentally, the last exhibition that I went to, which was arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was a wonderful Soutine exhibition at the Courtauld, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I got speaking to the director and one of her officers. He told me that exciting things were happening because Courtauld, from its industries, has supported the arts enormously. Because Somerset House is closed for refurbishment, it is going out into the provinces, to the places where it used to have its industries to develop interest in the arts, and so on. What an admirable project.

So there is hope if we make a slight change in direction. We should not just worry about being supported by local authorities, marvellous as they are, if struggling. Let us show a bit of imagination, as the artists do.

Photo of Lord Kirkham Lord Kirkham Conservative 5:28 pm, 23rd January 2018

Good news, my Lords: regardless of economic pressures, we have the best museums and galleries in the world. I say that not in a spirit of nostalgia; it is backed by hard facts. Mendoza tells us that the British Museum, National Gallery and Tate Modern are among the top 10 most-visited museums and galleries in the world. All the top 10 most-visited tourist attractions in the UK are English museums.

We are doing a great job of promoting Britain to a global audience and our own people—helped no doubt by our free entry policy. Over half the UK population visited museums last year, and the number of adult visitors has grown by around 25% over the past decade. We should congratulate the talented directors, hard-working staff and dedicated volunteers for the reputation they have won as simply the best in the world.

So what is the problem? Why this debate? As in any great success story, complacency is a danger. Funding is more pressing, as we have already heard, having already fallen overall some 13% in real terms over the past decade. Museums and galleries have certainly worked harder and smarter to generate additional sponsorship and income to mitigate that shortfall. While I applaud their efforts to stand on their own two feet, continuing government support is absolutely crucial.

When I said earlier that all top 10 tourist attractions in the UK were English museums, I omitted to say that they were all in London. When Disraeli wrote of the two nations in 1845, he was referring, of course, to the rich and the poor. As a Yorkshireman, I feel that the two nations in the England of 2018 are London and the rest of the country. Does it matter if a dusty old Victorian museum in some post-industrial northern town closes its doors? Yes, it matters hugely, because museums and galleries play a vital role in the economies and communities of every part of England. They house around 200 million objects, from Roman remains to railway locomotives, sculpture and paintings to pencils to lawn-mowers, ships, aircraft and military vehicles to sporting triumphs and literary history. Each forms part of our cultural lives.

Our calling card to the wider world has long been our creativity. We have given the world some of its greatest architects, designers, engineers, musicians, painters, sculptors and writers. We have pioneered most of its greatest innovations, from the steam railway to the jet engine and the world wide web, and invented most of its favourite sports. All these achievements are celebrated in our museums and galleries. Far from acquiescing in closures or shortened hours, we should look to open more museums, expanding public interest in new genres from film and television to technology and design.

Museums are community hubs that promote social cohesion. They are important employers, providing around 33,000 jobs and involving thousands of volunteers. They can help to deliver regeneration, like the striking Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. They also provide practical learning experiences that stimulate interest, and they are often far more impactful than any classroom or books. With art, drama and music all diminished in our schools, museums and galleries play an increasingly important role in the education of our children, helping to spark their imaginations and their creative powers. In the post-Brexit world, we are going to need every scintilla and vestige of genius that we can create if we are to continue leading the world in thought, creativity and innovation. The vital role that our museums and galleries can play in delivering this holistic education is, to my mind, absolutely unchallengeable.

Our museums and galleries also make a major contribution to the economy, because they are powerful magnets for tourism. In my own county of Yorkshire alone we are proud to have the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, museum of the year 2017; the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, museum of the year 2014; the National Railway Museum at York; the Brontë Parsonage Museum, celebrating all that those extraordinary sisters gave to world literature; the Royal Armouries in Leeds; the National Coal Mining Museum; the National Media Museum in Bradford; and the Jorvik Viking Centre, which the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, mentioned earlier. I could go on and on.

I am not saying that no museum or gallery should ever be allowed to fail. Like all businesses, they need to remain relevant, meaningful and entrepreneurial. What I am saying is that both central and local government have an essential role to play in nurturing these great institutions, and that money that they put in should not be a viewed as a subsidy. It is an investment that pays demonstrable returns—social, educational and economic.

The 110-page report that Neil Mendoza compiled for the DCMS and published last November sets out six pages of detailed recommendations to the department, the Arts Council of England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, local authorities and museums themselves, urging a more joined-up strategic approach that will make the best use of the limited funds available and ensure that museums operate as effective cultural enterprises, clearly understanding their purpose, their audience and their expertise. Careful study and full implementation of these recommendations will, I am sure, make a great, positive difference to the future of all our museums. Above all, though, we need to ensure recognition at the top—in Whitehall and town halls throughout the country—that museums and galleries are not a luxury. They are central to our history, heritage and identity; to social cohesion and education; to travel, tourism and hospitality; to our economic success and standing in the world as a whole. What is more important than all of that?

Photo of Lord Rees of Ludlow Lord Rees of Ludlow Crossbench 5:35 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, we should indeed be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his long-standing commitment to this area. It is a privilege to participate in this debate. I declare an interest as a former trustee of the British Museum and a current member of the Science Museum’s fundraising trust. I am based at Cambridge University, which is fortunate to have several outstanding museums; these are not only key adjuncts to research and teaching, but important cultural assets for the city and the region and, of course, tourist attractions too.

Museums and galleries are a diverse and complex ecology. I will focus my comments on science museums but I reiterate the concern we all share about the vulnerability of all local museums and libraries in an era when local government funding is under extreme pressure. There is a risk that temporary squeezes could lead to irreversible losses to our culture and communities. All museums aspire to be inspirational, cultural, and educational for young and old and they have a duty to conserve the artefacts emblematic of our heritage. However, I think it is accepted that science museums have, in addition, a more explicit educational role than the others. In this sense, they overlap in their mission with so-called science centres. Some of the latter were established with capital from the Millennium lottery fund, and have struggled to sustain an income.

The Science Museum itself has long seen young people as a key part of its clientele. There were 650,000 booked school visitors at the museum last year. Its acclaimed Wonderlab interactive gallery started in London and another was opened in Bradford at the newly revamped National Science and Media Museum, boosting visitor numbers there by one-third. The Government’s industrial strategy depends on a lifeblood of young people fired up by science and technology, and museums have a key role to play here. All too often, the natural enthusiasm that primary school children have—for dinosaurs, space or tadpoles—erodes at later stages. Those who have carried on in scientific careers often attribute their continuing motivation to media and museums, more than to their formal schooling.

As has been remarked, a generic feature of our great collections is that they are London-centric. The Science Museum is unusual here; it is actually a federation. Its flagship institution is indeed in South Kensington, but it has four other museums: the National Railway Museum in York, where there is an exciting redevelopment being planned; its adjunct in Shildon; the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford; and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. This is at least some cheer for the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, as he explained earlier. More than that, the Science Museum has organised special exhibitions which travel internationally. Science is the most truly global culture. There is currently an “Illuminating India” season at the Science Museum, which has been a tonic for UK-India relations. A special success—achieved through seriously difficult diplomacy by the director—was the Cosmonauts exhibition, which displayed artefacts from the 1960s which had never been seen publicly before, even in Russia. They went to Moscow only after they had been shown here. It was a worthy celebration of the heroism of the early cosmonauts and of Soviet achievements in science.

As a follow-up, incidentally, the museum is acquiring the capsule in which Tim Peake the UK astronaut travelled from the International Space Station; he came down in a Russian capsule. This will go on tour in the UK, along with Stephenson’s “Rocket”—a nice juxtaposition. Incidentally, touring exhibitions obviously engender concern about the safety of fragile artefacts, but the Science Museum director noted that this was the last of his concerns in the case of the space capsule as it had survived, glowing white-hot, during its re-entry into the atmosphere at 5 kilometres per second—so travel to the north of England occasioned zero concern. It will surely attract a lot of interest.

This leads to another important point: the allure of seeing the “real thing”. The web is, of course, a huge plus in spreading knowledge virtually and an important element in all museums. However, it is absolutely not the case that the web erodes the motivation to see actual iconic objects, just as in other fields there is now growing demand for book festivals and live concerts. I have witnessed an extreme example of this in science centres, when a spoonful of moon dust—utterly nondescript-seeming grey soil—always attracts a crowd of wondering young people.

Of course, some artefacts have aesthetic as well as technical or historic appeal—old clocks and astrolabes, for instance. That seems less true, sadly, of their modern counterparts, although an engineering friend assures me that the intricate structures on a silicon chip have a certain austere beauty if you look at them under a microscope. Be that as it may, in an era where short-termism is ever more prevalent, we should treasure our museums and acclaim their successes and initiatives. We need to celebrate and understand our past and be mindful of the heritage we owe to past generations as this should inspire us to reach for a brighter longer-term future.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he like to mention engineering? It is very important and has hardly been mentioned.

Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Sorry, this is a timed debate so we have only a very short time.

Photo of Lord Monks Lord Monks Labour 5:42 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on securing this debate, which reflects the enormous passion and commitment that he brings to this field of our national life. I share his passion and commitment to an area of our life which is too often rather neglected or marginalised—the role of museums and galleries.

I was very struck by the impact of the City of Culture accolade in Hull in 2017 and the role that museums and galleries played in that. The impact has been enormous in that city. It has raised morale, attracted tourism and brought about a different feel to the place; you can almost touch it when you go there. It is a great thing and culture and the museums and galleries played a very lively part in that process. This experience confirms what has gone before. Do noble Lords remember the old Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign which showcased its wonderful galleries and museums? Liverpool is a former European Capital of Culture and has three nationally recognised museums. This shows what can be done. Culture is not some kind of optional extra or outdoor relief for the intellectual elite; it is a means of deepening understanding and commitment and stimulating innovation and fresh thinking.

I have many favourite museums in this country and overseas, but my particular passion are the museums of Manchester, especially the People’s History Museum, of which I was chairman of trustees for many years. That baton has now been passed to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who unfortunately cannot be here tonight. The People’s History Museum is not just a museum of labour history: its central themes tells the exciting story of the way the right to vote was extended to the population in stages, culminating, 100 years ago this year, in votes for women. The museum is, appropriately, located in Manchester, which was the world’s first industrial city, and which, by the way, was the birthplace of the TUC, which this year also celebrates an anniversary—its 150th. Next year it celebrates too the most violent incident in the fight to widen the franchise: the so-called Peterloo massacre. It is also the repository of the history of co-ops and trade unions, and is the repository of the Labour Party’s archives, which are uniquely bureaucratic; other parties are much more individualistic and their archives are hard to access. So this is a museum with a story to tell which is highly relevant to our modern life in this country.

The museum is run as an independent charity and, like others, it is experiencing the cold winds of austerity. We receive support from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority—I was pleased to see my noble friend Lord Smith here earlier; more than once he has come up trumps for the museum in discussions about money—and the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund play an active role. However, we have lost significant national funding from central government, DCMS and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which tend to palm us off as a regional museum to Greater Manchester or the north-west rather than recognising us as the national museum we really are. The widening of our democracy is of course not a regional matter. I exempt the Minister from these charges as I know that he has an interest in the museum, not least through a distinguished Manchester heritage and his family’s background. His interest is most welcome.

I hope that the museum will be able in due course to regain its national recognition and support, which it had until a few years ago. It deserves it, and repays every penny it gets with its 100,000 visitors, and many more children come through the museum to learn the story of our history and the way in which democracy was entrenched in this country. In an era when there is a lot of fake news, disinterest in the complexities of government and a myopic search for simple solutions, the story the museum tells is one of compelling importance.

No doubt the Minister will enlighten us on the role of DCMS and the recommendations from the Mendoza review urging a joined-up approach from government and the various arms-length bodies. I will be interested to hear what he says about that and the museums action plan. However, I am particularly interested in his and DCMS’s latest thoughts on this marvellous museum, the People’s History Museum.

Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 5:47 pm, 23rd January 2018

“Where’s the cash?” was the forward and impatient response by the Guardian to the Mendoza review in its editorial on 14 November last year. The Museums Association said,

“we are disappointed that despite recognising the severe funding difficulties experienced by many museums, the government has failed to identify any new resources or capacity to improve the sustainability of the sector”.

As the MA reported last year, for the whole of the UK—for which figures are more readily available than just England—at least 64 museums closed, alongside a 31% drop in real-terms funding between 2010 and 2016. Concerning the future, according to the Local Government Association, local services generally, covering England and Wales, face a £5.8 billion gap in 2019-20, and the 1% council tax flexibility—not in any case the fairest point to introduce an extra tax burden—will be,

“nowhere near enough to meet”, the gap.

The plain fact is that a number of the key priorities set out by the Mendoza review simply will not be effectively achieved without proper funding through local authorities, because so much depends on the day-to-day running of those local and regional museums for which council funding is, frankly, irreplaceable, and this despite the continuous exhortation over many years now by central government to find other means of funding. Indeed, an acceptance of the Government’s stance is an aspect of the review itself.

A key and important priority of the review is cultural education. It is hugely important for our museums to act as educational tools—windows on the world for children and adults. One of the latest announcements of cuts, in December, was of the 50% cut by Eastbourne Borough Council to the Towner Art Gallery, which chair David Dimbleby believes jeopardises its significant learning programme. The DCMS’s own report last year showed a worrying 6.9% decrease in educational visits for under-18s to DCMS sites. There is a parallel here, as the National Society for Education in Art and Design points out, with the reduction in teaching hours in schools, as reported by the Cultural Learning Alliance.

It is right that the national bodies should work more closely together but councils cannot and should not be perceived as being shut out of the frame. The Arts Council, quite correctly, makes it very clear that it is not there to pick up the shortfall.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, set out passionately in his opening speech, we have extraordinary public collections and put on wonderful special exhibitions. Anyone who watched the BBC series “Britain’s Lost Masterpieces” will realise that we have more than we even thought we had. The additional funding provided by the lottery—so helpful, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, explained, for refurbishment and many other things—sometimes erroneously gives the impression that all is okay, particularly in London. On the subject of the lottery, will the Minister respond to the concerns about last year’s fall in lottery income? We have recently had a National Audit Office report which points out a decreasing interest in draw-based games, with, however, increased profits for Camelot.

The permanent public collections belong to us. They need to be properly displayed and seen as often as possible, maintained and conserved in museums fit for purpose and staffed with experts. We have much of that but are in danger of losing it for some of our museums, although all of them are pinched. Our local and regional museums are important parts of our community and should be properly funded through local councils by central government. Central government is failing us. The public deserve better.

Working internationally is one of the priorities of the review for our museums. On the potential effect of Brexit, a survey carried out last week of galleries participating in last weekend’s London Art Fair discovered that the primary concern was about free movement of people and goods. There is clearly concern over the movement both ways of artists, gallerists, staff and many others who are part of this industry. One should add here too that museums and galleries are about cultural exchange and knowledge, and our future participation in Erasmus+ is germane to the argument. We need to be careful here. I think it is very likely that we will remain within Erasmus; rather, our level of participation is the crucial issue. To retain the currently meaningful benefits, our participation must remain on the same level as that of all other countries within the EEA. There are also considerable fears over an increase in licensing requirements, which may severely affect our ability to lend and borrow artworks.

The galleries’ second major concern is around their tax status and about which way VAT on goods moving between the UK and other countries will go. What assurances can the Minister give that the Government as a whole, who will have some control over these areas, are taking these matters seriously? These are concerns that affect the arts and the creative industries more generally.

Finally, I ask the Minister, if he has not already done so, to look carefully at the measured speech which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made during the debate on the ivory trade on 21 December and which was answered by Defra. Our significant cultural heritage and our living environmental heritage are both important. We need to preserve both.

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative 5:53 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, I too am very grateful to my noble friend for introducing this debate. He asks what steps the Government are going to take in looking at and, hopefully, finding ways forward in a very troubled sector. From that, I exclude the nationals. Everything that has been said about them is absolutely true but there is a very big gap between how the nationals behave, the way they are treated and their resources, and the rest of the sector.

On steps, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, you cannot expect any more money. Whatever other step may be taken it will not be more money. It seems extremely unlikely that the £844 million, which I think is the figure that Neil Mendoza calculated, will be significantly added to. We need to look at other ways forward. As has been mentioned, there are examples of things being done in the science museum sector or wherever you like to look. But as Mendoza tells us, the diversity is pretty bewildering among the 2,600 institutions mentioned in his excellent review.

My theme is that the DCMS needs to take a much more serious look at the development of policy and consider the sector in much more depth and detail rather than leaving things to find their own level. Perhaps that is a trifle unkind but one of Mendoza’s recommendations politely says that we need a clearer role for DCMS. I do not know how a review could make it clearer that the department needs to do more.

In a sector so large and complex, general rules are scarce. We know that the sector is short of people, and the reason it is short of people is that it is short of money. Here I declare an interest. In 1983 I was lucky enough to be on the Royal Botanic Gardens trust when it was formed. The DCMS may or may not know that there are 200,000 original botanic drawings at Kew—a huge gallery collection. What about access? What about the acquisition of yet further drawings? What about the conservation of those drawings? They are mainly watercolour drawings, which are, as we know, very sensitive.

I am involved in the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, which is, fortunately, endowed. Endowment is a big issue. We have had a catalyst, and there is an interest in endowment, but how much further are we going to take that interest?

The Georgian Theatre in Richmond, north Yorkshire, is highly dependent upon volunteers. In my day, it had a manager and a part-time bookkeeper. For everything else, including the 100 performances we put on each year, the theatre was manned by volunteers. There is a huge issue about volunteering.

Regarding the Bowes Museum—not, unfortunately for my noble friend Lord Kirkham, in Yorkshire but just over the border in County Durham—although Neil Mendoza mentions a 13% drop in core local authority funding over the past few years, the Bowes has suffered a drop of between 50% and 60% from its county core funder.

We are faced with a huge challenge, which basically is: how does this sector keep up with what is going on? The creativity of the nation has been referred to, as has the possibility of there being even more new museums, but what about the existing museums and their ability to keep up, as Mendoza says, with the digital revolution and what is now being called the fourth industrial revolution? It may be that the Ashmole/Hans Sloane model fits only a relatively small number of museums today and that, in filling the gap between the nationals and followers of the Ashmole model, we need a much deeper analysis

At present the DCMS seems to have subcontracted a lot of the thinking to the Arts Council, to the Heritage Lottery Fund and—with some misgivings, I would guess—to local authorities. For me, DCMS needs to get into the fray. Taking refuge in descriptions of culture, whatever that means, does not seem to me to be enough. It may be that the top-down model—come in, keep quiet and learn—is not good enough anymore. What people may really want is to know what they can do in museums. That may come to be as important as what they learn.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Chair, Artificial Intelligence Committee, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Digital) 6:00 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, we have heard an impressive range of speeches in this debate which have demonstrated the enthusiasm of this House for museums and galleries but also, I am sad to say, illustrating many of the severe problems that they face. I must congratulate that great heritage champion, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on instituting this timely debate. It is only too rare that we discuss this sector which, as we have heard, makes a great contribution to our culture, our creative economy, our tourism economy, to social well-being and the quality of our lives, and to our communities. I was taken by the description of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, of museums and galleries being a stimulant for creativity and innovation, and by what the noble Lord, Lord Rees, had to say about the ongoing impact on why people eventually do what they do; it is not purely down to the schools and universities they go to. Like him, I declare a strong interest not only as a regular visitor to national museums—only last night I was at the Science Museum for “Tomorrow’s World Live”, which was pretty exciting—but to university museums as the chair of the Queen Mary University of London Council. If any noble Lord has a slight taste for the macabre, it is certainly worth while going to see the astonishing Barts Pathology Museum in the West Smithfield campus.

As the National Museum Directors’ Council points out, eight out of the 10 most popular attractions in the UK are national museums, and 51.3% of UK adults visited a museum or gallery in 2012. But as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made clear, inevitably the context for today’s debate was provided by the Mendoza review published last November, entitled An Independent Review of Museums in England. Before that, we had the Government’s ambitious Culture White Paper and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report in December 2016. At the time of the Select Committee’s report, the then Minister for Culture, Mr Matt Hancock MP, who is now the Secretary of State of course, said that he supported the aims of the White Paper and that he would continue putting its recommendations into practice, so I take some comfort from that.

The Select Committee and the Culture White Paper both emphasise the need for access, diversification and partnership working. I say “hear, hear!” to that. The principal recommendations set out in the Mendoza review were described succinctly by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, while the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was right to pick out a particular recommendation for a clearer museums role for DDCMS. If that is not a veiled criticism, I do not know what is, and I strongly support what the noble Viscount had to say. Some good recommendations were made in the review, and I welcome the response made by Arts Council England. It states that over the period 2018 to 2022 it will invest £36.6 million per annum in museums, which is 9% of the total national portfolio spend. It has also committed that from 1 April 2018 it will open up its redesigned grants for the arts funding programme.

There are some important elements in terms of the response to the review, and I welcome the museums action plan recommended by Mendoza, which I understand will be delivered by Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund by September this year. It will also be facilitated by DDCMS, so perhaps the department is beginning to become more engaged. However, given the financial problems that many museums face, this is no guarantee of survival and we need to do more. As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, pointed out, the bare fact is that the Museums Association has stated that despite recognising the severe funding difficulties being experienced by many museums—the Government’s own figures show that local authority funding for museums in England was 31% lower in 2016 than in 2010—the report fails to identify any new resources or capacity to improve the sustainability of the sector, although, as the noble, Lord Cormack, has pointed out, the sums involved are rather small.

There are funding issues that need tackling. When we were in coalition, a four-year pilot of operational and financial flexibilities for national museums to assist their capacity to generate commercial and philanthropic revenue and to operate efficiently was set up. What has been the evaluation of that pilot scheme? Much mention has been made throughout the debate of the importance of the National Lottery, but one of its founding principles was that there should only be one National Lottery. This is not the situation today. There is the Health Lottery, which is one in all but name. This damages its ability to raise funds for good causes, such as museums. What do the Government plan to do about that?

As a number of noble Lords pointed out, including the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, we need to increase the appetite for philanthropic giving. There is kudos involved, but matched funding from public funds acting as an inducement is additional to that. A crucial lesson has been learned on the importance of investing in the teaching of fundraising skills. The Creative Industries Federation has argued that we need to incentivise greater corporate giving and we should consider something like the Rouanet law in Brazil, which allows companies to offset donations to the cultural sector against the corporate tax bill. There are a number of aspects that the Select Committee asked the DDCMS to work on in VAT business rates, tax incentives and so on. My noble friend Lady Grender talked of creative enterprise zones. Those are of course important.

What is the Tourism Industry Council now doing relative to museums? Why are museums not represented on it anymore? Will the tourism sector deal agreed as part of the industrial strategy encompass museums? There are many other issues that I could raise relative to museums. I hope that the DDCMS gets into hyperactive mode.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 6:07 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, in hyperactive mode, I will continue along the line of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Everybody has mentioned money in this debate. The other thing that has come up constantly is all the exotic places where people can give personal accounts of museums that they are familiar with. We could have had a tour of scenic Britain with our eyes shut: Lincoln, Wales, York, Inverness, Yorkshire, Gateshead, Cambridge, Hull and Manchester—but, of course, no culture west of Bristol. This has borne testimony to the fact that all of us have our rootage in the cultural heritage expressed in museums and galleries.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, not only on bringing this Question to our attention, but on his pertinacity in ensuring that the future of our heritage is constantly held under review. I have a little experience in this field. For more than 20 years I bore responsibility for the Museum of Methodism, situated at Wesley’s Chapel on the City Road here in London. Clearly this is a niche museum, although we developed it in conjunction with other religious museums, especially the museum of Judaism. The curator spares and finds time to chair the group that presents to the public the interests of the small historic houses of London. Yet, for all that it is a niche museum, it has global significance and attracts tourism by the tens of thousands for the 70 million Methodists scattered around the world. It is a place of pilgrimage, where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, began his work. It is where he lived and died and where his last remains are buried. It is an important destination for faithful Methodists from everywhere and, since it is open at times when other museums are not, for non-Methodists too.

These responsibilities I shouldered made me more than aware of the key questions we are addressing in this debate and that are put forward in the Mendoza review. We needed to fund a major refurbishment costing millions of pounds. A small part of that came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the rest from trusts, personal contacts, philanthropists and the international Methodist family. Equally, we sought to ensure sustainability and good leadership. We appointed a fully professional and experienced curator who was far better than we might have found in normal times, but these were not normal times. We were able to get this person simply because, due to local authority cutbacks, a brilliant man trained at the Victoria and Albert suddenly became available, made redundant from the gallery he was running. We added a training and development officer and these two professional people are aided by volunteers—as was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—who keep the place open every single day of the year, except perhaps three days around the major festivals. In addition, we have developed an ambitious outreach programme to schools and other institutions as we seek to broaden the base of those interested, bring more people in, change the exhibitions around and appeal to those interested in religious history, 18th-century history, architecture, social development, the world mission and metropolitan history.

Running a museum is more than just keeping the budget balanced. It is interesting to know that there are well over 2,000 such small museums scattered around the country. As has been said by many noble Lords, their contribution to community life, social cohesion and identity cannot be overestimated. Such museums, of course, are miniscule in comparison to the great national museums which come immediately to mind in a debate of this kind—miniscule, but no less important.

The noble Lord, Lord Monks, mentioned the People’s History Museum. I had quite a discourse on that and I will abandon it because repetition is not a good thing in parliamentary debate. However, I hope that as much attention will be given to the non-elitist aspects of British social history as to the great showpiece places in the great museums we can all think of. It was astonishing to read some of the accounts in the briefing papers about the Minister’s great-aunt; a suffragist, a pacifist and, supremely, a nonconformist. I was delighted to read that: he must meet my wife, whose great-aunt was a suffragette, a nonconformist and a Pankhurst. I am indeed married to a revolutionary woman; it is in the genes. Therefore, I hope that the People’s History Museum will receive the attention it is due and be visited by the all-party group of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. The Mendoza committee did not have a chance to visit it: it needs visiting and this is a good year for it with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act being celebrated appropriately, centred in Manchester.

I noticed in the Mendoza report—the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned it—that DCMS will facilitate the development of a museums action plan with the Arts Council, HLF and so on, to deliver on these priorities this September. It is my lot in these debates to be able to anticipate the Minister’s response by saying, “We will see how we will proceed with the questions we are debating when this report comes out”. It is not the first time I have been snookered in that way, but I hope we can put pressure on those facilitating this development action plan in order that they may catch the idea that money is needed. We can get some money by making economies and by greater efficiency: that is one way of getting more out of what we have got. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, missed his chance to speak, but I want to say what he has revealed to me in a courteous revelation of his speech, which is that other money can be gained by taking away the charge for images and illustrations that museums impose on anything that people want to include in publications, publicity and educational materials. That has the effect of narrowing down those who might attend our museums or be aware of our collections. I commend the noble Lord for that idea for enriching the resource base of our museums.

This is where we must draw things to a conclusion. Money is and will continue to be a problem. We can hope only that the study about to be done will look squarely at it. I hope that there is more money to be squeezed out of the orange. A clear responsibility rests with the DCMS in this regard; we must hope that it comes good. With all this in mind, it seems that we must keep these matters on hold yet again, and anticipate a further discussion once the forthcoming study has been completed. We count on the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to ensure that it happens.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:15 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, I have two problems in answering this debate. One is that I have a slipped disc and it takes me about a minute to stand up without grimacing—I am not grimacing because I do not want to reply. The second problem is that I misinterpreted the debate and have a 20-minute speech instead of a 12-minute one. I will do the best I can so I will speak quickly, if I may.

I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for securing this debate and all other noble Lords for their interesting contributions. We are deeply committed to museums, as to all arts and culture. Museums play an important role in our lives and our society. They look after the historic, scientific, global and local collections that help us to understand the world around us and who we are as people. They make our towns and communities places where people and businesses want to be and to visit. They attract foreign visitors and give them a sense of Britain’s values.

The period of change that we have seen over recent years led the Government to commission a review, as we have heard. It is the first of the whole sector in more than 10 years, looking in depth at museums and their challenges and opportunities. This shows the importance that the Government place on museums and on culture. As we have heard, the Mendoza Review was published in November 2017, and the Government are very grateful for Neil Mendoza’s hard work over more than a year of research and thinking. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for her welcome of the review. The response from John Glen, the then Minister, was published the same day. He welcomed the review and committed to implement all its recommendations. I am pleased to say that Michael Ellis, the new Minister, has reiterated his enthusiasm as well.

I note first that Neil Mendoza and his team found that there is not a crisis in the museums sector, contrary to the perceptions which some may hold. There are, of course, some museums that have struggled and faced very serious problems, often because of councils and local authorities withdrawing funding. Many noble Lords mentioned this. It is sometimes difficult to accept hard decisions, but it is right that decisions which directly affect local matters are taken locally.

I absolutely do not wish to overlook the difficulties of some individual museums. Some museums have indeed closed, but museums should not be institutions that simply assume they can always exist as they have. Many museums have adapted and found different ways of doing things, and some new museums have opened. Overall, it was found that the museum sector is already impressive and well placed to thrive. For example, Neil Mendoza found great work in Norfolk, Barnsley, Derby, Cornwall and Manchester, and in many other places.

As many noble Lords have observed, the funding environment for some museums has been tight. The review goes into some length about how many museums have adapted to this. Many museums have innovated and found ways to make money go further, work together to share costs or generate more income. For the first time, the review brought together all public funding sources to museums, as much as is possible. They still receive over £800 million every year from 16 different sources. The Government continue to help museums. The new tax relief for exhibitions is now in effect and is expected to provide £30 million per year. There will be a further £4 million through the DCMS/Wolfson fund to be spent in 2019-20. Museums will also benefit from the Government’s recent announcements on creating a cultural development fund of £2 million to work on pilots —I make the point to my noble friend Lord Cormack that it is £2 million to work on pilots, not the actual amount to spend—and a £7.7 million curriculum fund.

We in DCMS are conscious of our role, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. We are taking steps to address the challenges in the sector. I have said that the Government agree with the review recommendations, as outlined by the former Minister John Glen, and I am therefore very pleased that he moved to the Treasury in the reshuffle. His successor, Michael Ellis, has met Neil Mendoza, and I know he is also very supportive.

Over time, we expect to implement the Mendoza Review in full. First, we will prioritise the museums action plan. The key improvement will be better joined-up activity between government funders. DCMS, Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund will produce a plan showing how their funding will be used more strategically across the country to support the nine priorities Neil Mendoza identified for the sector. We will also prioritise the partnership framework.

Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, this is a time-limited debate. The Minister has 12 minutes to answer. I am really sorry.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The partnership framework will help better co-operation around how the national museums work with the wider sector. National and regional museums already work in partnership on many galleries and projects, for example, loans of objects such as the V&A lending the Great Bed of Ware to Ware Museum or the British Museum’s partnership with galleries all over the UK with long-term loans for permanent galleries. This goes both ways. The Science Museum in London recently benefited from the loan of the beautiful Silver Swan automaton from the Bowes Museum. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rees, approves of that.

These steps highlight a key finding that money is not the only answer. Museums have a responsibility to be creative and innovative, to look at their communities and think hard about their place in them and what they have to contribute and to make themselves relevant in a changing, increasingly online, world and places where people want to spend time and experience the collections.

I now turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, talked about science museums. I thank him for that and for paying tribute to the fantastic work of the Science Museum Group. I could not agree more, and I am delighted that the new Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Tourism, Michael Ellis, will be visiting the National Railway Museum in York later this week to see first hand the planned redevelopment.

The noble Lord, Lord Monks—flattery will get him everywhere, of course—and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, mentioned the People’s History Museum. I agree with them on the benefits and interest in the People’s History Museum. It is a marvellous museum. The noble Lord talked about it losing funding. It used to receive £150,000 a year from DCMS in direct grant in aid funding, which was removed, but it successfully applied to become an Arts Council national portfolio organisation and will receive just over double what it previously received annually. However, I concur with the noble Lord’s recommendation to visit that museum.

My noble friend Lord Eccles made some interesting points, particularly about DCMS. We will support museums as they rethink their place in today’s society. The action plan will help put a funding framework around priorities such as how museums work with audiences and help shape places. The Government fund national museums at arm’s length and regional museums through the Arts Council. This means that museums are fiercely and gladly independent, curatorially and operationally. We think it is a major strength of the sector and do not wish to interfere in museums’ practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about the operational freedoms pilot. This was set out in a strategic review of government-sponsored museums. We will seek to evaluate the operational freedoms pilot three years after they become permanent in 2018—this year—and will set out our evaluation plans in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Rees, talked about London-centric national museums. There are 24 branches of national museums outside London, and in 2016-17 the national collection was lent out to more than 1,300 UK venues. We absolutely take his point, but we are working hard to move the benefits of the national museums to a wider audience around the country.

My noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned business rates, which of course are a real problem. The Government are working to revitalise the business rates system, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is currently consulting on the fair funding review. We are aware that the sector has some concerns about how the business rates system affects museums. Many museums are charities and enjoy 80% mandatory rates relief. The York Museums Trust Upper Tribunal decision in 2017 was a milestone, and we are working with the Treasury and the VOA to understand the decision and its long-term impact.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, talked about ivory sales. The proposals on those include specific exemptions for sales to and between museums. Defra does not intend the proposed ban to impact on the display of items by museums or to prevent museum-to-museum loans where currently allowed.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, reminisced that there was not much going on west of Bristol when he was a bit younger. I can assure the noble Viscount that there is now plenty of culture to be had in the south-west of England: Tate St Ives reopened in autumn 2017; the Mary Rose in Portsmouth is a fantastic attraction; and the 70-strong Cornwall Museums Partnership, working with its local enterprise partnership, goes from strength to strength. I urge him to revisit his youth and capture his Inverness enthusiasm in the south-west.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and the noble Viscount talked about school visits and young people. The curriculum fund will support leading cultural and scientific institutions in bringing high-quality materials from our rich cultural and scientific heritage directly into the classroom. It is worth £7.7 million, and the DCMS is working with the Department for Education to engage the relevant stakeholders.

I conclude by talking about national museums working with regional museums. As I mentioned, the national collection was lent out more than 1,300 times, and ACE has provided £3.6 million to regional museums to help them improve their galleries to protect and display borrowed items through the ready to borrow scheme.

The nation’s museums represent a successful, resourceful and creative sector. The Government are focusing on how we can support an environment in which museums can flourish on their own terms, and the steps I have outlined will help to do that. My time is up, and I will write to those noble Lords whose questions I have not yet managed to answer, with apologies.