Museums (Hansard, 2 March 2004)
HC Deb 02 March 2004 vol 418 cc183-203WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned—.[Mr. Ainger.]

9.30 am
Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con)

I feel very fortunate indeed to have the opportunity to open this debate on membercontribution the important subject of museums. Next week. the national museums and galleries will launch a series of reports in which they draw attention to some of their good work and achievements and the problems that they face. I have a strong interest in the matter because my constituency contains three national museums. It is an enormous source of pride for me to represent them, such is their great excellence, and as I near my retirement from Parliament, I know that I will miss my association with them.

The debate provides the opportunity for the Chamber to recall the importance of the work of our national museums and galleries. We are fortunate to have collections of such quality and it is important that they be maintained in excellent condition, that they be restored when necessary and, in particular, that academic research make the most of them so that we may understand more about our environment, our history and human achievement, Our museums and galleries make a huge contribution in the broadest sense to the culture of this country and to its reputation for excellence and scholarship.

The reports that will be published next week make it clear that museums and galleries make a great contribution to our economy. They have been undertaking a great deal of work to adapt to the world in which we now live. They have made great strides in welcoming new visitors, in particular people from this country who, because of their background, would in the past have seen galleries and museum as places that they did not want to enter. The museums and galleries have created new environments and new sorts of exhibitions that will be attractive to both traditional and new visitors. In addition, they are king the most of electronic links so that many people who are not in a position to visit galleries and museums is can be connected with them through the internet, or can supplement their visits by continuing their learning electronically.

The museums and galleries are responding to several targets laid down for them by the Government—I think in particular of targets relating toC2, D and E category visitors and ethnic minorities. It seems, however, that the museums are expected to under take such extra work on the basis of grant in aid from the Government that has been rising only in line with the retail price index. That means that the museums and galleries have not had an opportunity to participate in the rising wealth of the country. To make that point more clear, I refer to the Government's decision to do away with admission charges: in many senses, that is welcome, but it means also that the institutions have no opportunity to participate in the country's rising wealth through admission charges that might otherwise have increased from year to year.

The reports have been commissioned by the National Museum Directors Conference, the first of which is called "Valuing Museums". Written by Tony Travers of the London school of economics and Stephen Glaister of Imperial college, the report details the economic, educational and broader cultural impact of the national museums and galleries. The report finds that that sector in this country has a unique, international scale and standing, and that it has an annual impact of £2 billion on the economy, which is significant. Beyond that, the extent of the contributions that the institutions make to the cross-Whitehall agendas for education, social inclusion and the regions are highlighted in the report.

The second report is "Creating Engagement". Written by Ricky Burdett of the London school of economics cities programme, it demonstrates the extent, variety and often surprising nature of the roles undertaken by national museums and galleries. It is based largely on case studies and it illustrates how those institutions engage in a range of innovative activities with different communities across the UK, from business and science to youth and fashion. The third report, "National Dimensions", is written by AEA Consulting and examines the many forms of collaboration between national museums and the rest of the museums and galleries sector, noting how much joint activity is under way at any one time.

I think that our museums carry out their basic functions extraordinarily well. Their collections are remarkable, as is the scholarship involved in their operation. Using examples from my constituency. I shall illustrate some of the ways in which museums and galleries are adapting the way in which they exhibit their material. The Natural History museum now has the Darwin centre, a splendid new building and a superb piece of architecture, which not only offers an opportunity to re house an extraordinarily large collection, of insects in particular, which in other circumstances might have been in danger of deteriorating, but offers the public a great opportunity to enter the museum and engage in dialogue with scientists. Scientists are available to the public, with whom they can hold discussions in seminars.

At the Science museum, the new Welcome building provides an opportunity for members of the public to engage in discussion and view evidence about matters of scientific controversy, allowing them to make up their own minds at the end of the day. For example, there have recently been special exhibits on the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and genetically modified crops—two great controversies about which the public would naturally like to be better informed.

At the Victoria and Albert museum, we have recently seen the inauguration of the British galleries, which enable the V and A to take existing collections and update the manner in which they are displayed, making them more accessible and understandable to a broader public. The V and A has been involved in many other extraordinary enterprises. A number of its exhibitions are closely linked to contemporary fashion and it has made a point of giving modern British fashion designers an opportunity to show some of their work. The V and A has entered into an agreement with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about funding, which states that in future there will be certain types of exhibition designed to broaden the categories of people who visit the museum. As part of that agreement, the V and A will put on an exhibition in the summer called "Dressing Black Britain". The agreement states: The exhibition aims to celebrate the presence of black people in Britain and to stimulate the debate about the importance of clothing and style in the telling of a history of a cultural group… It will create a series of narratives on fashion and style among Britain's black inhabitants and by extension promote an understanding of the dress culture of the African diaspora…The intended audience for this exhibition will be people of all ages from the black British communities as well as anyone—from academics through to schoolchildren—with an interest in fashion and the diversity of contemporary British culture. The V and A, which receives about £37 million in public funding, is expected to increase the number of visits by children to 315,000 in 2005–06, and the number of C2, D and E visitors must increase by 8 per cent. to 180,000 by the same time. All that is in the agreement with the DCMS.

The V and A recently held an exhibition entitled "The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms". Of the people who visited that exhibition, half were making their first ever trip to a museum, and some 70 per cent. were from ethnic minorities. An exhibition last year on Indian cinema, "The Art of Bollywood", drew 80,000 visitors. In September 2004, the V and A will put on an exhibition entitled "Exotic Encounters: the Meeting of Asia and Europe 1500–1800". Those are examples of the way in which exhibitions are changing to fit in with the realities of contemporary Britain.

Let me again draw on the Natural History museum to illustrate excellence. That museum has a biomedical sciences group that is a world leader in research, particularly into diseases. It is a world leader in investigating the causes of, and possible cures for, river blindness, malaria, schistosomiasis and leishmaniasis— deadly diseases that afflict the African continent in particular. All the museums continue to demonstrate their commitment to research and the spreading of knowledge. One way in which that can be measured is through the number of articles submitted to learned journals: the number of articles published by NMDC institutions that have been tracked down by the reports that I mentioned is 1,173, of which the Natural History museum contributed 535, the V and A 146, and the Science museum 48. I use examples from my constituency, but of course there are many others. The national museums and galleries in general are the subject of about 1 million educational visits a year by schoolchildren and, extraordinarily, more than 6 million private visits by children are made in addition to their educational visits. To give one example, the Victoria and Albert museum has 220,000 educational sessions either on or off site. That is a fairly substantial contribution to the education of our children.

The economic impact of the sector is by no means the be-all and end-all, but the point is worth exploring. Museums and galleries make a substantial contribution to the British economy. The overall turnover of members of the NM DC is —715 million—that represents a combination of Government grants, income that they generate themselves through things such as their restaurants and shops, and money that they receive in sponsorship. That is a substantial sum in itself, but the reports make further calculations—they can, of course, be debated, but the reports say that they have erred on the conservative side. The reports take the turnover, add to it the money that people spend because they are visiting a museum or gallery, and introduce a multiplier to calculate the total effect on the British economy of people visiting must ums and galleries. I shall not go into the detail of the methodology, but I have already mentioned the result: the total effect on the economy is estimated to be about £2 billion a year. As a subdivision of that, the external benefit to the United Kingdom economy, commonly called the export value, is thought to be at least£320 million, and thus similar to the external benefit that the UK economy derives from the musical, visual and performing arts sector.

One should also s although I will do so only briefly, that there is a relatively close match between expenditure and grant in aid by the national museums and galleries per head of population throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The reports that I mentioned detail the contribution that galleries and museums make to employment throughout the regions and to urban regeneration, the contribution made by touring exhibitions and by institutions based in London opening museums in other regions, and the great importance of the large number of exhibits that are on loan from institutions at any one time.

As for the amount of money provided by the Government, the reports include a series of useful tables. Under the heading "Recent History", the grant in aid given by t le Government to museums and galleries from 1997–98 to 2003–04 is outlined. To quote examples from my constituency, the Science museum received an increase of 12.3 per cent., the Natural History museum an 18.6 per cent. increase, and the Victoria and Albert museum a 7.7 per cent. increase. Those figures are typical of the whole table. The British Museum received an increase of 18.1 per cent., and the National Gallery an 11.5 per cent. increase.

Let us compare those increases with other figures. United Kingdom public expenditure in the same period increased by 40.8 per cent., which is an enormous contrast. The RPI rose by 18.8 per cent. in the same period, so museums and galleries have enjoyed increases that, on average, are not far off the RPI. However, average earnings increased by 34.2 per cent. in that period. Broadly speaking, the museums and galleries have received an increase that is not far out of line with the RPI, but vastly below the earnings index and even further below the it crease in UK public expenditure.

Plans for the future do not show an improvement in the position. The planned increases for 2003–04 to 2005–06 are 2.6 percent. for the Science museum, 5.2 per cent. for the Victoria and Albert museum, and 5.2 per cent. for the Natural History museum. Those figures, which are typical of the whole sector, are in middle to low single figures. However, the departmental expenditure limit for the DCMS will increase by 10.2 per cent. during that period—twice as much as the increase in the grant to the V and A and the Natural History museum, and four times as much as the grant to the Science museum. Whitehall Departments as a whole will do even better, receiving an increase of 13.9 per cent. There is a contrast between the general level of the increase in public expenditure and the amount of grant in aid to the museums and galleries.

The contrasts within the DCMS are also interesting, because the Department has decided to increase some lines of expenditure markedly. Before I embark on this argument, I should point out that I do not object to increases for arts, broadcasting and media, and I should immediately declare an interest in that respect. Between 2001–02 and 2005–06, the arts will receive an increase of 63 per cent., broadcasting and media 18 per cent., and sports 91 per cent. However, over that same period, museums, galleries and libraries will receive only 26 per cent., and the NMDC members will receive only 17 per cent. Within the arts, there art some remarkable increases: the Royal Opera House will receive an increase between 2003–04 and 2005 –06 of 14.3 per cent., the Royal National Theatre 16.5 per cent., and there are numerous similar examples.

It seems odd that there is a shift away from museums in favour of other types of public expenditure and other types of client within the DCMS, and odd that such a shift is happening at a time when so much more is being demanded of museums and galleries, and they are demonstrating that they are on course to do what the Government are asking them to do. I understand that institutions are expected to produce more self-generated income, but that argument applies to everybody—to arts and sports institutions as well as to museums and galleries. Yet subsidy per visitor to museums is falling, and it seems implicit—although I have not investigated in detail—that it is to rise in the a arts. In other words, productivity is rising in galleries and museums, but falling in the arts.

To be frank, the gap between the grant in aid and the earnings index is especially important because galleries and museums have to pay people one of their main items of expenditure is salaries—paid, I hope, at competitive rates. The gap suggests that we shall suffer a loss of expertise from our museums and galleries, and the report bears that out. It will be difficult to maintain levels of service, and museums should be planning an orderly decline. They will have to consider closing galleries while exhibitions are being planned—if galleries shed people, of necessity they reduce the number of activities that they can pursue.

I should like to quote a recent article that makes rather grim reading. It refers to attendance figures for 2003, which in certain institutions were rather disappointing, and was published in The Times of 23 February 2004. The writer, Richard Morrison, states: The virtually new Imperial War Museum North in Trafford seems to have lost more than half its public in a year. Could that be because, once visitors have done the obligatory double-take and gawp at Daniel Libeskind's 'accident in a tin-can factory' architecture, the permanent exhibition inside is pretty thin stuff? … the once trendy Tate Modern —cathedral of pickled cows, unmade beds, copulating dolls and all the other tatty absurdiana of Brit Art—has also lost more than half a million visitors in a year, perhaps because nobody needs to see the emperor's new clothes twice. It will be fascinating to note whether Tessa Jowell's Culture Department, which was so quick to attribute the rising museum attendance figures of the previous year to the Government's expensive 'free admissions' policy, will be quite so keen to shoulder the responsibility for the falls in 2003. He continues: The truth is that the cultural leisure industry expanded far more than was prudent in the 1990s, partly because of the vast lottery grants that suddenly became available. To keep all these attractions solvent, every man, woman and child in Britain would need to visit at least two of them each week. Unfortunately, the trend is in the opposite direction…I wouldn't be surprised if some of Britain's most famous museums, zoos and theme parks crashed out of business in the next few years. I do not subscribe to every word of that article, but there is something to the argument, and the Government must recognise what is happening.

The museums are calling for an extra £50 million above inflation in future years. As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I shall not labour that point, but the Government must recognise that they face the following options: they can pay more for the museums and galleries; they can adjust the balance between the museums and the other clients of DCMS; or they can watch the gradual overall decline of these institutions or allow some institutions within the sector to go to the wall so that others can flourish. That is a realistic assessment of the choices.

Although I support the Government's ambitions for the way in which the sector should expand and attract audiences—very good work is being done in that respect—there is a danger that as we push museums and galleries in that direction, we neglect that which is fundamental: their excellence, and contribution to scholarship and culture, which must never be neglected.

Several hon. Members

rose—

David Taylor (in the Chair)

Order. A number of hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. They should bear in mind that I intend to call the first of the Front-Bench speakers at 10.30.

9.56 am
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I warmly welcome the opportunity that this debate gives us and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) on securing it. I also offer a warm welcome to the reports that have been commissioned by the National Museum Directors Conference, which helpfully illuminate our discussion.

As the right hon. Gentleman forcefully reminded us, the starting point for any debate on this subject has to be a recognition of the huge importance of museums to our society and culture. It is worth reflecting on the way in which the role of museums has changed and grown in the course of the past hundred years. Many of the great museums were founded in Victorian times. They had two major purposes, the first of which was the holding of great collections: museums were the storehouses of the best of our past and the nation's inheritance. Alongside that was the purpose of education: the Victorians believed passionately in the value of the collections and the way in which they could inform and educate the population. Those two purposes remain fundamental to the ambition of the great museums in this country, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts when she enters into negotiations with the Treasury in the next few months to emphasise again, as she has done before, the huge educational importance of the resource that this country's museums represent.

The two fundamental purposes of stewardship and curatorial excellence and of education have broadened in recent years. Museums are now pursuing two further ambitions, which do not diminish the first two, but have simply been added. The first of those is the engagement of ordinary visitors. The way in which museums draw in visitors and stimulate their interest, and perhaps encourage them to think about things that they have never encountered before, has developed by leaps and bounds in recent years. In addition, museums offer us the possibility to of developing at neighbourhood, city and national levels a sense of identity based on our cultural inheritance. Anyone who doubts the importance of that function need only look at the overwhelming importance to the people of Iraq of the desecration of the national museum in Baghdad. One of the noblest things to come out of the tragedy of the Iraq conflict was the imaginative role played by the British Museum in providing global leadership for the effort to restore Iraq's heritage after the war. We must therefore recognise not only the national, but the international importance of the great institutions of this country.

Museums of all types across the country, not just the national museums, are vital to our society. I have three brief points to make about what is needed. First, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's assessment that in the coming spending round, museums should be given priority. I am pleased and proud that, in the past six years, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has managed to improve dramatically funding for the performing arts. I do not gainsay that decision, but museums have, quite patently, not done as well as the performing arts. In addition, the increases that the museum sector received were, in the initial stages, quite rightly chiefly directed at the policy objective of again securing free admission to the national museums and galleries—a policy by which I firmly stand, and which has been a great success.

However, it is now important that the Government consider the funding profile of museums and their needs. In particular, I hope that the Government will look at those museums that kept the faith on free admission throughout the years when others were drawing in money from the general public in admission charges. Some struggled against difficult financial odds to maintain free admission and did so extremely effectively. I hope that the museums sector will get an improved settlement in the forthcoming spending round, and although I recognise that it will be difficult for my right hon. Friend the Minister to secure that from her Treasury colleagues, if she emphasises the museums' importance in cultural and educational terms and the contribution that they make, I am sure that, with her excellent negotiating skills, she can secure some benefit from the Treasury.

My second point is that we should not talk about the national museums alone: regional museums are also of huge importance. Anyone who doubts that should visit the pre-Raphaelite landscape exhibition down the road at Tate Britain, where they will see loans generously made by some of this country's great regional museums in Birmingham, Manchester and our other great cities. Those institutions house great collections, which are part of our inheritance. It is important not to forget the regional museums in our understandable and necessary rush to support the national museums.

My third point relates to the gift aid arrangements for tax relief from which many small and independent museums across country have derived substantial benefit. The Treasury has signalled that it is likely to withdraw the provision—which the Inland Revenue has, until now, encouraged small and independent museums to use—whereby visitors, instead of paying an entry charge, make a donation to the museum and the museum claims gift Aid on that donation. It has been a real financial lifelines to many museums with no public funding and no other access to public support.

I declare an interest as the chairman of the Wordsworth Trust which has an excellent small museum in Cumbria. With the encouragement and assistance of the Inland Revenue, we recently instituted a gift aid scheme for visitors from the UK visiting Dove cottage and the Wordsworth museum. As I said, the Treasury has indicated that it is likely to withdraw that provision, which will deal a severe financial blow to many small museums throughout the country. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will persuade her Treasury colleagues to reverse their decision to withdraw the concession.

I hope that this debate will enable Parliament to put firmly on record the importance that it attaches to the role played by this country's museums and the fact that we, as a united Parliament across all parties, urge the Government to pay attention to the financial needs of museums as we approach the forthcoming spending round. I fully support my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts in the battles with the Treasury that lie ahead. She should know that she has support from all parts of the House in those battles and in securing a safe, secure and bright future for these important institutions.

10.6 am

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

We in this great nation can be proud indeed of our great museums and galleries, but I am passionate about our small ones, too. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) on securing the debate, which provides us with an opportunity—which we do not always have in the House—to air such issues.

I am passionate about museums because at an early age I started collecting for my own. I was encouraged to do so from the age of eight, and in the basement of our house in Salisbury cathedral close I assembled an extraordinary and wide variety of coins, arrowheads, documents, feathers artefacts, oil lamps from Ur of the Chaldees, and goodness knows what else. The pleasure for me was in sorting, classifying, labelling and learning, which so many children love doing and which I was particularly privileged to be able to do. I recall being asked on my 10th birthday what I would like to do for a birthday treat: we had a picnic on top of a barrow beside the Roman road from Salisbury to Dorchester. That was all part of my education.

Just up the road from my home was the famous Salisbury and South Wiltshire museum, whose curator, Hugh Short, used to allow me to stand at his knee and observe what he was doing. Later I became a Minister at the Department of National Heritage—now rechristened the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—which was responsible for museums and galleries. There, with enthusiasm and joy, I took a particular interest in that area of Government responsibility.

Although my passion is still for what I did as a child, the functions and objectives of museums have changed; now, access and learning, including interactive learning, are far more important. We in Salisbury are fortunate to have not only the Salisbury and South Wiltshire museum, but the Wilton Town museum and Wilton Carpet Factory museum in a restored part of the old factory, which is a fine example of what a small community and a town council can do to bring together the social and economic history of a community. We also have the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire regimental museum. Regimental museums are part of the rich tapestry of museum in this country, but that museum receives no grant from the Government, let alone from the Ministry of Defence—although the MOD helps to pay for the services to the building, because some civil servants share the offices, the museum receives no formal grants That is one of the museums that will be badly affected, by the Treasury's thoroughly mean-spirited decision, which the right hon. Member for Islington. South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) commented on, to withdraw an option that was offered freely in the gift aid improvement; introduced in the 2000 Budget.

Salisbury is a centre of excellence for museums and conservation. In addition to the museums I have described, we have the Wiltshire county council conservation service, which is an, integral part of the process, and the Wessex Trust for Archaeology, which is commercially self-supporting and is by far the biggest such trust in the country, undertaking an enormous amount of work. I strongly support the campaign started by the National Museum Directors Conference, which is to launch its project on 9 March with a manifesto for museums.

The funding position of local museums is grave indeed. My local authorities, Wilts hire county council and Salisbury district councilor, to increase their council tax by about 6 per cent., but they are to cut their grants to museums. I regret that very much, although it is their decision to make, not mine. They are being forced to make severe expenditure cuts, but I hope that next year they will take a political lead and not be driven by management objectives. I hope that the district council will decide that local education, the local economy and the cultural scene are worth a little more than £3.03 per head, or 2,95 per cent. of its budget. The county council is to cut its budget by 5 per cent. this year.

It is not as though my district council is unaware of its responsibilities to our cultural heritage. It is true, but perhaps surprising, that Salisbury district council does not have a legal remit to look after the heritage of Salisbury. However, I well recall flit arguments that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea and I had to listen to v hen we were both Ministers at the Department of the Environment, with responsibility for local government finance. This year, Salisbury district council's expenditure on legal costs as the planning authority for the Stonehenge A303 improvement scheme—the famous tunnel past Stonehenge—will run to more than £100,000, and it has forked out £100,000 for a totally pointless local government comprehensive performance assessment. A small district council has to spend some £200,000-plus on those responsibilities, which were imposed by central Government, yet its budget for arts and museums for the whole district is only £348,000. Something is out of kilter; the sums simply do not add up.

The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred to the announcement of the proposed changes to gift aid. The provision is not a loophole: museums were approached by the Inland Revenue and asked whether they were aware that they could use it, and they did so. Its withdrawal will probably reduce the revenue of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire museum by about £4,000—a dire impact. When the cuts from the county council, the district council and gift aid are taken together, they represent the equivalent of the salary of one person per year at that museum. I hope that the Minister will talk to the Treasury seriously about that problem.

Let me briefly mention an issue connected with my role as Chairman of the Select Committee on Information. Parliament established the British Museum, and there has been a development that the House might like to know about. Almost all the House of Commons Library's holdings were acquired after the 1834 fire in the Palace of Westminster, in which most of the stock was lost. During the second half of the 19th century, the spacious shelves of Barry's Library had to be filled, and the Library Committee and successive Librarians sought to create something like a country house library while maintaining the essential collection of parliamentary and other official documentation. As part of that process, the Library acquired, through a mixture of purchases, gifts and legacies, a wide range and collection of books, including some that are now of considerable antiquarian or scholarly interest. In the early 1990s, the Library recognised that many pre-20th-century holdings were not relevant to the everyday needs of modern parliamentarians, and looked for a way to make them available to a wider public.

In 1992, the British Library put the Library in touch with Nicholas Barker, a well known antiquarian book specialist. Coincidentally, he had been asked to find suitable books for the King's Library at the British Museum, which was built in the 1820s to house George III's personal collection, which formed the core of what became the British Library. It was due to be vacated with the move of the British Library to St. Pancras, and British Museum officials were already thinking about how the magnificent, 100-yd long room—the finest and largest Greek revival interior in London—might best be used. After a comprehensive review of the Library's older holdings and prolonged negotiations, the House of Commons Commission approved an agreement in 1999 whereby approximately 16,000 books would be sent on permanent loan to the Enlightenment gallery that was, by then, being planned by the British Museum for the restored King's Library.

That agreement marked a renewal of Parliament's long-standing connection with the British Museum, which dates back to the museum's 18th-century origins. When the physician, naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his personal collection to George II for the nation, the King did not show much interest but Parliament did. Led by Speaker Arthur Onslow, Parliament was persuaded to accept the gift, and an Act of Parliament establishing the British Museum and its trustees—the first time that trustees had ever featured as a way of administering an institution like a museum-received Royal Assent on 7 June 1753. In 1757, King George II donated the old royal library of the sovereigns of England to the museum, and with it the privilege of copyright receipt that was part of the foundation of what is now the British Library.

George IV's gift to the nation of his father's library the original King's Library—in 1823, provided the catalyst for the construction of what is now the Enlightenment gallery, as well as for the rest of Robert Smirk's quadrangular building. The books were finally moved from the Library in June 2003, when the restoration of the King's Library was completed. There is a wide-ranging selection, including many treasures, such as the complete Blaeu atlas in its original 17th century binding in good condition, and Lord Kingsborough's "Antiquities of Mexico", which unfortunately was rebound in the 1950s but whose original pages are in near-mint condition. The Library has kept any books with parliamentary connections that hon. Members might need at Westminster as part of its normal service, and all the books that have been moved remain in the Library catalogue and can be used at Westminster if required. They also appear in the British Museum's central library catalogue and are available for last resort public use in the museum under supervision. That is a great gain, as there are no facilities for public access in the Library.

That has involved a great deal of work, but the outcome has been satisfactory. The books are in magnificent surroundings and I encourage hon. Members to visit them. Not only do they form an important element of the British Museum's new Enlightenment gallery, but they look extremely handsome in their new surroundings—far happier than they were in the Library's underground store, where most of them had previously been kept. I am grateful for having had the time to put on the record my appreciation for the work that the Library staff have put into that dramatic project, which restates Parliament's long-standing relationship with the world of museums and galleries.

10.18 am
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

I am sure that we all endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has just said. As a member of the House of Commons Commission, I remind hon. Members that the books remain in the possession of the House of Commons. That decision made by the Commission was important. I regard the stripping of the original collection from the King's Library as an act of cultural vandalism. To put them into a large glass case in the new British Library was not the most sensible thing to do when we had a truly unique library with its original books in a marvellous, properly designed, magisterial setting. My hon. Friend reminded us that Parliament established the British Museum. Last week I hosted a reception to mark t he 30th anniversary of the all-party arts and heritage group, which most of the directors of our great museums and galleries attended. In his words of thanks, Neil MacGregor—the brilliant director of the British Museum who did a wonderful job with the National Gallery—eminded everyone that all our great national museums and galleries were established by Parliament. That is not always remembered. We therefore have a continuing role and responsibility, so I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) for initiating the debate, and I congratulate him on placing before us so many salient facts and figures, which we should take to heart.

I will be brief. I apologise to you, Mr. Taylor, and to the right hon. and hon. Members here present, as I already have to my right hon. Friend, for having to leave shortly before the close of the debate. Those of us who are attending the service to mark the tercentenary of Gibraltar have to be in our pews by 11.10 am. My right hon. Friend was kind enough to encourage me to speak in this debate none the less.

I shall concentrate, on the educative role of museums and galleries and their economic impact. I have reservations about the way in which the national curriculum has worked, and I am extremely concerned that young men am' women can emerge into the world with almost no chronological knowledge of their nation's history and little knowledge of how it relates to the history of the wider world. I regret very much that now, 20th-century history and themes and projects are over-emphasised, and there is no proper teaching of history as there was when I way a history master 35 years ago. Last week, I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at a special conference convened by the Council for British Archaeology to try to bring historians and archaeologists closer together and to ensure that the curriculum in schools and colleges is more truly comprehensive.

Many young people obtain their knowledge of English history not from what they are not taught in the classroom, but from going to museums and galleries and seeing the objects and artefacts that relate to this country's history. Those who live in London have the most wonderful opportunity to do that at the Museum of London, which is one of the finest museums of its kind anywhere in the world. All our museums and galleries teach in a most graphic and wonderful way, and their contribution to the educational life of this country, backed by t he scholarship of their curators and keepers, is incalculable. The economic impact is calculable, and immense, and it is short-sighted of any Government to ignore it, although I make no personal criticism of the Minister for the Arts and certainly no attack upon the present Government. I also pay tribute to what the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) did when he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

No Government have sufficiently recognised what a massive contribution our museums and galleries make to the economy. The millions of tourists who come to this country and the millions of our own people circulating in the country on holiday often visit museums and galleries as part of their recreation and, in so doing, make an immense contribution to the economic life of the regions and to the country as a whole. That is something that Government need properly to acknowledge when deciding how much money to allow our museums, which provide a glittering display at tiny cost.

Tomorrow morning—God willing—I shall take the all-party heritage group a few hundred yards from this building to the National Gallery to see the El Greco exhibition, which could be mounted only because of the Government indemnity. We should pay tribute to the successive Governments who have maintained that. The exhibition is a wonderful visual feast, as is the exhibition of the pre-Raphaelites up the road at Tate Britain and the exhibition at the Royal Academy. We in this country are so lucky that at almost any particular time there are marvellous exhibitions supplementing the permanent collections in museums and galleries. The institutions put them on from their own resources with the aid of Government indemnity, and it would be appalling if regular galleries had to be regularly closed—my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea referred to that in his speech—when we have these wonderful exhibitions.

I ask the Minister for the Arts to fight her corner with the feisty skill for which she is well known in political circles. She must tell the Chancellor that we need a better recognition of the central role of museums and galleries. She must also tell the Chancellor, who is a civilised man with a real regard for scholarship, just what a terrible thing it would be if, as is threatened', the gift aid scheme were to be hit on the head. The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred to that, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury. I do not have the pleasure of knowing the Salisbury and South Wiltshire museum—perhaps my hon. Friend will take me there one day—but I do know the Wordsworth museum. To place such a wonderful museum in jeopardy when the Revenue itself has encouraged it to take advantage of the scheme and the museum has budgeted accordingly is an act of short-sighted meanness. I hope that the Minister will tell the Chancellor that this is something up with which she will not put, and that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that in the Budget.

I have one final comment. Reference has been made to the great gems in our regional and provincial museums. I am sorry that my friend the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) is no longer in his place. For a year or more now, he has been entertaining us in the columns of Country Life with wonderful descriptions of treasures in individual museums. The articles are the precursor of a book which, I am sure, deserves to be bestseller, and which we shall all acquire when it comes out. He has done more than any other individual to awaken the nation to the fact that all over this country in museums great and small are wonderful treasures.

That underlines the fact that not only in my right hon. Friend's wonderful constituency of Kensington and Chelsea, but throughout the length and breadth of the land, there are museums that play" a vital part in the educative process. They make a fantastic contribution to the economy of this country and are partly responsible for tourism being our greatest single earner. The Minister has a tremendous challenge and a tremendous responsibility. I very much hope that she will rise to it. I am sure that she will.

10.28 am
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD)

I hope that I can follow the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in demonstrating to the Minister that there truly is all-party agreement about the vital role that museums and galleries play in the life of the nation. As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) has just said, they make an immense contribution—one that, I hope, none of us will ever underplay. I was delighted to hear that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has completed his book and is now at the final editing stage. We can all look forward to reaping reasonably soon the benefits of his many years spent gathering that information.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) on securing the debate and on drawing our attention to the three major reports that are to be formally launched in a week's time by the National Museum Directors Conference. The reports provide impressive statistics about what our national museums and galleries have been doing. They show, for example, that in one year more than 50 per cent. of all children in this country visited one of the national museums. They also demonstrate the work that is yet be done, and the willingness of the national museums to develop their work further.

I am delighted that the debate has not concentrated solely on our national museums and galleries. As the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, many excellent museums and galleries are run by local authorities, charitable institutions and other bodies. The reports referred to by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea state that the national museums make a contribution of some £2 billion to the national economy. In the south-west, museums run by local authorities and charities have a huge impact on the economy: the 250-plus registered museums employ some 1,000 people, involve more than 5,000 volunteers and are visited by more than 6 million people a year; they contribute £50 million or more to the regional economy. One of the reasons why those museums have been able to make such a contribution is that the southwest region has been one of the beneficiaries of the funding provided under "Renaissance in the Regions". I hope that the benefits that have been demonstrated in the south-west and many other regions will be extended to the regions that have so far missed out, and that the Minister will today make a clear commitment to spread the benefits of that scheme more widely.

The south-west has done particularly well. It is worth noting that, nationally, 22 per cent. of the adult population visit a museum at least once a year, whereas in the south-west, 37 per cent. visit one of the regional museums and galleries once a year. We have the highest percentage of visits to or uses of museums per thousand of the population—four times the percentage of the population of London that do so, and nearly twice the percentage in the south-east.

There is no doubt that our museums play a crucial role in our society. All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have rightly referred to their economic impact. The national museums employ some 10,000 people directly and a further 20,000 indirectly, so their economic impact cannot be doubted, but their impact is much greater than that. They have an impact on cultural life and help to develop creativity and enjoyment. As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire rightly said, they have developed a range of learning opportunities, and they provide tourist attractions, particularly to tourists from overseas, which brings further economic benefit.

It is increasingly clear that our museums and galleries, whether national or regional, play a far wider role than might at first be assumed. On Friday, I visited the excellent learning facilities at Bath's Roman Baths museum and saw youngsters from as far a field as Oxford doing innovative and exciting work. An increasing number of our museums and galleries are developing learning opportunities through the various virtual facilities that they offer. The statistics given in the reports referred to by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea are fascinating: they show that while 3 million learners participate on site in learning activities in our national museums and galleries, some 5.6 million people— nearly double the number—participate in learning activities off site provided through a range of virtual facilities. Furthermore, the combined number of hits to national gallery and museum websites in one year is some 53 million—a staggering development.

The museums and galleries work effectively to achieve social inclusion. During the millennium year, for example, the Victoria art gallery in Bath ran a wonderful exhibition to which The Big Issue sellers from Bath made a major contribution. That gallery is currently developing exhibitions that directly involve young people from our foyer project in Bath. Museums are also involved in regeneration projects outside my constituency. In Radstock in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris), there is an excellent mining museum, which has played a huge role in acting as a new focus for that community and in giving it back its pride.

The important benefits that museums bring have been emphasised. I have no doubt that we will hear much more during next week's National Museum Directors Conference launch. I hope that we will hear some exciting development proposals, and I would love to hear about proposals that involve our museums making better use of their reserve collections. There are wonderful exhibits in the cellars of many museums, and ways could be developed to make more effective use of them. Some museums already have imaginative schemes, but I hope that there will be progress in this area.

The immense contribution that our museums and galleries make to the life of the country has been highlighted, and I wish to raise three crucial issues regarding the funding of their work. Museums and art galleries do lots of innovative work, but the DCMS is keen that they do even more to broaden their outreach and civil society activities, particularly in the regions. I share that desire. However, there is compelling evidence that although they have the capacity and readiness to broaden those activities, they will not be able to do so without appropriate and secure funding. The benefits of the "Renaissance in the Regions" scheme could be spread nationwide, and I hope that we will hear more from the Minister about that. Secondly, we need to ensure that the DCMS works closely with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Funding from local authorities for our museums and galleries is under threat. One of many examples is Somerset, which has a Liberal Democrat council: because of funding difficulties there is now talk of the sad necessity of reintroducing admission fees to major museums. Those two Departments need to liaise much more closely.

Finally, although gift aid has been referred to, no specific mention has been made of the Treasury statement that It was not the intention of the exemption"— referred to by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) to treat admission charges as donations which attract Gift Aid… The Government is determined to maintain the integrity of the Gift Aid scheme and will close this loophole in the legislation. The Treasury claims that the scheme is a loophole, even though in 2000 the Inland Revenue produced a note that specifically informed museums and art galleries of the opportunity it offered. I have spoken with several of the affected organisations in the last 48 hours; several have categorically stated that they directly contacted the Inland Revenue to seek assurance that they could use the scheme in this way and they were given that assurance—indeed, some of them were encouraged to use the scheme. That is not a loophole; it is what was intended. Its removal by the Chancellor will do huge damage to the funding integrity of our museums and galleries. I hope that the Minister will assure us that when the Chancellor says he is going to consult on an alternative, there will be a scheme that reinstates that vital funding to our museums and galleries.

10.40 am
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) on securing today's debate. It is both opportune and timely.

I start by addressing two issues that have been raised in the debate. The first is gift aid. As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has just said, it is true that many of the people involved in museums and visitor attractions were in communication with the Inland Revenue about the scheme; that is well documented. The Revenue encouraged them to make use of gift aid on admissions to museums, galleries and visitor attractions. London zoo, for example, has, an extremely sophisticated system, and has just spent a lot of money on computerisation to make it even more efficient, yet at a meeting that I had with ALVA—the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions—the other week, it emerged that London zoo is likely to lose £1 million in revenue as a result of the removal of gift aid on admissions. We realise that gift aid is an issue for the Treasury rather than the DCMS, but what has been said this morning shows how important it is that the Minister recognise what a blow its removal would be to many of our museums and galleries. She must take that argument to the Treasury. The institutions should at least be given plenty of time to readjust-the measure should not be introduced in one go, because that will cause great difficulties.

Secondly, let me pick up on what has been said about regional museums. Back in 2000–01, the DCMS "Renaissance in the Regions" report recommended a new integrated framework for museums in the regions based on a network of regional hubs. Significantly, it called for investment of public money from the Government the order of £170 million, with £100 million identified as the bare minimum. In his spending review in July 2002, the Chancellor vowed to end two decades of decline in the regions that had left many galleries and museums across the country in a parlous state. It was therefore disappointing indeed when the DCMS finally announced funding for the regions of a mere £70 million over four year consisting of £30 million of new money added to the previously agreed £10 million a year allocated to resources. Even the headline figure was £100 million short of the sum that the report estimated was necessary, and some £30 million short of the bare minimum identified. That is causing serious difficulties for the smaller regional and local museums, and it is something that I hope that the Minister will explain.

Today's debate has been called principally as a result of the anticipated launch next week by the National Museum Directors Conference of the three reports that it commissioned, which have been referred to at considerable length by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea. We know that many of our museums and galleries were formed between the mid-18th century and the early part of the 20th century. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) rightly pointed out, some of the museums—certainly the national ones—have been formed by Acts of Parliament, and various pieces of legislation passed over the years have charged them with preserving, exhibiting, researching and adding to the objects that make up their collections for current and successive generations. However, the collections are not only there to be viewed and catalogued; they are there to form an important base for education and research. We must not overlook the fact that museums perform those two significant functions, and it is important that those functions are covered in any consideration of their funding requirements. Because of those functions, museums attract some of the very brightest academics that this country produces.

Perhaps less well appreciated is the extent to which our museums and galleries make an important and often surprising contribution in many other areas. They are important to subject experts, educators and businesses, and—as has been mentioned more than once today—as mass tourist attractions. They enhance education and learning opportunities and cultural and economic life, and are a source of creativity and enjoyment for everyone in this country and beyond. The international importance—even pre-eminence— of our museums has already been mentioned.

The NMDC, by commissioning the three major independent reports, has brought together a great wealth of evidence that strongly makes the case for increased state funding of our national institutions. The reports describe a sector of unique international scale and standing that has an annual impact of some £2 billion, which is of great economic significance. The reports, as well as pointing out the obvious, reveal extensive and impressive achievements and demonstrate that the sector contributes to the whole spectrum of the Government's agenda across many Whitehall Departments. They also emphasise that that has been achieved against a background of the institutions having to broaden their skills to meet increasing demands—demands that have, for the most part, been accompanied by funding that rises only at the rate of retail price inflation.

The sector's capacity to raise additional resources is limited. No doubt the Minister will restate the evidence that shows that since free admission was reintroduced, the number of visitors has increased. However, that has put great pressure on some of our larger museums and institutions. At the other end of the scale, without some means of charging, many of our smaller museums will suffer quite seriously unless they get the resources they need through regional policy. We Conservative Members have had discussions with many people in the museum and gallery sector, and they have told us that they would prefer a flexible system, not a mandatory one. If they, at a local level, felt that charging was necessary, they should be free to charge. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the DCMS and the Government have any intention of becoming a little more flexible on admissions.

As has been already been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea, if our larger museums are not funded at the appropriate level, there is a great danger of losing expertise and our best academics to institutions abroad, particularly in the United States, France and Germany. I shall wind up by mentioning the level of additional resources that the reports suggest is needed. They call for an additional £50 million each year on top of inflation for the next five years. Some £10 million is required to continue extending access to the collections through the combination of digitisation projects. A further £10 million is required for modernisation, which includes the updating of permanent exhibitions, collection, care and conservation facilities. The remaining £30 million is required to address the backlog of property repair and maintenance work. That is currently estimated, across the sector, at £150 million.

10.50 am
The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris)

I thank the right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this incredibly important debate. I also thank the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) for securing it. He probably has a stronger constituency connection with museums than any other Member.

The debate is being held on the back of reports that will be published next week by the National Museum Directors Conference. I thank that group for bringing these long overdue reports to our attention. It is about time we told the story of the importance of museums to society, not only to our past, but to our present and future. The story has always been a strong one, but the sector has not always told it with the strength of voice that it is entitled to use. In that respect, I welcome the stronger voice of the NMDC, which is to launch next week, although I readily accept that politically it might mean my answering a few difficult questions.

I shall add to what hon. Members have said about the importance of museums in one respect only. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islington. South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) referred to public reaction when the treasures of Iraq were looted. That is the only time in my life that I can remember an issue about a museum leading the BBC news throughout the day: day after day, it was featured in the important 8 to 8.10 slot on the "Today" programme. During that period, even those who did not readily have an interest in or love for museums understood essentially what museums do: they make us secure about our role in society and our place in the world. At a time when people move across the world and, thankfully, there are far more multiracial and multi-ethnic communities, we all have a need to know where we came from, how we got here and where we might be going, and museums tell that story of human beings. When we saw that that story had been lost to a nation that was in difficulties, we understood what life would be like if there were nobody telling the story of our sense of being in our community. If we learned that from Iraq, it might be the only good thing to have came from a particularly troubled time for the Iraqi people.

I pay tribute to the scholarship of museums and to the fact that for centuries they have looked after precious artefacts and treasures that we hold in trust for future generations. I pay tribute, too, to the fact that in recent years they have taken on the challenges of getting more people from different backgrounds through their doors and willingly taken on the new role of education. I have spent a lifetime in education and I know that too many people feel that they can do education, and that education is easily done. It is not easily done, and for museums to do education, and do it well, has meant considering what they do, reskilling, and the reorganisation of time, money and personnel. I have seen excellent practice and some not-so-good practice, but that is in the nature of education. I shall return to that later.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. I am conscious that much of what I am about to claim as Minister with responsibility for museums was brought about under his leadership of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I want to ensure that Parliament knows it too. My right hon. Friend is no longer in that Department, but the results of his brave decisions are coming to fruition and I thank him for leaving me a legacy that is a joy to handle and that provides a springboard for future developments.

I shall talk first about money, to get it out of the way, and then go on to other challenges. I think I accept everyone's explanation of where we are financially; I certainly accept my right hon. Friend's explanation. I sort of accept the explanation of the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea. This is has not been a party political debate because museums are not party political matters, but as subjects of the allocation of resources they are party political and politicians have a role to play in their affairs. We do not run them and we do not tell them what their exhibitions should be, but we fund them. Although I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said, he must recognise that before the Labour Government took office, there had been real-terms cuts in museums. He was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and he was responsible for the Conservative Government's public expenditure plans—he cannot get away from that. He cannot complain that the real-terms increase under the Labour Government has been only £47 million in cash terms£19 per cent£without saying that there was a 17 per cent. cut in the four years before Labour came into government. That has to be recognised. That was the legacy we inherited.

"Renaissance in the Regions" did not exist before my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury took it up—it was not fully funded. We decided, as was entirely proper, to have phase 1 and phase 2. Phase 1 is fully funded, and phase 2 is partially funded and more money is expected to come from the next spending review. I do not have a shadow of embarrassment or doubt about that. We live in the real world, and the day that any Department gets its entire bid will come only when Gordon Brown is no longer Chancellor of the Exchequer. Departments bid for what they need, not for what they think they are likely to get, so to put in £70 million over three years for "Renaissance in the Regions", thus becoming the first Government to fund regional museums, was a massive triumph for us. The scheme was not under funded. We could not do all that we had the vision and the ambition to do in the first term, but that is life.

I should like to mention the amount of money that has gone into capital. This is a personal point, as hon. Members will appreciate. One of the things that I am most proud of achieving in my time in Parliament is that for the first time, the Department for Education and Skills put money straight into the museums budget. I made that first decision to invest £20 million in museums education back in 1998. The partnership between the DFES and the DCMS is the best example of cross-departmental working. Had I known that I was going to the DCMS I would have put in more money from the DFES, but politics is like that—one can never foresee the future.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) about the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. We need to work harder to make links with that Department. We have not talked about the role of museums in regeneration. These days, no city regenerates unless it is on the back of an iconic building, creativity, or historical restoration. In the '60s, we built communities without creativity and without museums at their centre. We do not do that now, and I look forward to persuading the ODPM that we deserve some of its regeneration money.

We have made some investment in museums and galleries. The results are there to see and hon. Members have referred to them. The number of visitors has increased by 40 per cent. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea will be heartened when he sees the increased visitor numbers for the full year, which we shall announce shortly. I accept that the DCMS has spent extra money and that museums have not had the lion's share. It is now their turn, but that comes at a time when the Budget and the spending review will be more difficult than previous ones.

I am campaigning on gift aid. It is not my sole comradely difference of opinion with the Treasury. All I can say to answer the comments of the right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to a good debate is that I know where the priorities lie in my portfolio and in my Department's responsibilities. I will do my best, but more than that I cannot pledge I just hope that the power of our argument is heard in the corridors of the Treasury. I thank everyone, particularly the museum directors, for giving us the ammunition we need.

GLOBAL ISLES COURT OF RECORD