§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord MONTAGU of BEAULIEU rose to call attention to the report by the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries on their proposed Framework for a System of Museums; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should first declare an interest, as vice-president of the Museums Association and also chairman of the National Motor Museum. It is, I think, some time since this House, or indeed the other place, has had a debate on museums and galleries, and this important subject perhaps deserves longer discussions. Nevertheless, today the debate specifically concerns the report of the working party set up by the previous Government and chaired by Sir Arthur Drew, chairman of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries. Its purpose was to pursue certain recommendations made in the Wright Report. What, I hear your Lordships ask, was the Wright Report? It is in fact the report which the Drew Report was reporting on—that typically British political manoeuvre, particularly when a report's recommendations are politically or financially embarrassing or inopportune.436
So, for your Lordships' information, the Wright Report was produced by the Arts Committee of the Department of Education and Science, and it reported in 1973 with certain recommendations, mainly with regard to Government grants for museum buildings, the suggested Housing Museum Fund and other proposals concerning a national system of museum services. So in 1975 the Standing Commission was directed to set up a working party with the following terms of reference:
To continue the work already begun by the Commission on the designation and the proposed centres of excellence and, with advice from the Area Councils and local authority and university and private museums, to produce a preliminary plan for a National System of Museum Services, as envisaged in the Wright Report".
The report on the report was duly published last January, after three years' work, and from the then Government there was a deafening silence; but I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, will be speaking later in the debate, so it may be that we shall have the benefit of what his Government's view would have been.
§ So this is the first time that this important report has been debated in Parliament, and I hope the Government will welcome this opportunity to make suitable comments and point the way to the future. However, I think I speak for museum managements and their professional staffs when I say that the report was reasonably well received and met with general approval. The important exception was perhaps the concern expressed by specialist curatorial groups, who are worried about the maintenance of adequate standards for their collections in the future. But it could be hoped—and, indeed, I believe the Standing Commission has already assumed—that the report has been or will be agreed by Government in principle, although it is most unlikely that there will be any new money to implement some of the recommendations. I think it is agreed by all that it is most important that the working party's report should not be shelved because of lack of finance. It indeed sets guidelines for generations to come, and I believe that all planning for museums should be based on this report.
§ My Lords, there were in fact 39 separate recommendations which covered subjects 437 ranging from direct Government grants for major capital works to house or rehouse major collections, to the setting up of county museum consultative committees, the widening of the functions of area museums councils, the need for the national museums to accept a positive responsibility towards provincial museums, the request for better training and so on. But, in my reckoning, of the 39 recommendations as many as 22 can be implemented immediately without any new money. I believe it is clearly the Government's duty to encourage the Standing Commission to seek ways to implement these no-cost recommendations and to give support to this example of self-help.
§ Of course, two of the most important recommendations were, first, the need for designation of outstanding museums outside London. This, of course, I recognise, will cost money, but this money should come from the key-sector expenditure. The second most important recommendation was the setting up of a museums council which would advise the Standing Commission on all matters referred to it and which would also be able to initiate matters for consideration by the Standing Commission. This council would indeed represent all museums in this country, including national, provincial, private, service and university museums, as well as including members of the Museums Association representing the profession.
§ Since at the moment there is no opportunity for the profession to express their ideas collectively, I have no doubt that such a body would perform a very useful function and would remove the feeling at the moment that the Standing Commission, because of its terms of reference, is sometimes rather remote from what is going on outside the national museums. I do not in fact believe that this is true, but, on the assumption that the Government would be unwilling to create and finance a new Quango, I am glad to report that the Standing Commission has already started meetings with the directors of the national museums, the council of the Museums Association and other interested bodies in order to establish a continuing dialogue with them. These regular meetings are being organised by the Standing Commission, using its own existing, admittedly slender, resources; and I think these meetings will 438 in the meantime act as a national forum for all museum interests, and will help the Commission to represent its views to Government.
§ My Lords, perhaps this is an appropriate moment for me to remind the House that the Standing Commission was set up in the 1930s to advise on the development of national museums and co-operation between the national and provincial museums. Nevertheless, the Standing Commission is the supreme and only body representing the rest of the museums and their interests. Today, many feel—and I think the Standing Commission itself agrees—that perhaps neither the composition nor the powers of the Standing Commission are absolutely right for this last part of the 20th century, and should be looked at urgently. However, I do not believe that the setting up of a museums council should in fact be considered as another Quango, for, as I have said, it could initially be the existing, democratically-elected council of the Museums Association, which has been in existence since 1890; and this council could perhaps be augmented when necessary to represent every constituent interest, not forgetting the private sector. I am asking tonight, therefore, that if the Government cannot immediately agree to the setting up of a museums council then at least they should bless the idea that the Standing Commission and the council of the Museums Association should regularise their relationship, perhaps in preparation for the day when an official marriage can be arranged, as is the case in other Commonwealth countries.
§ My Lords, many of the no-cost recommendations relate to the services provided by the area museum councils. I believe that their functions can be widened without further increasing overheads. At the moment, the most important way in which the area museum councils are helping the many smaller museums in their area is by co-ordinating and encouraging the leading local museums to provide curatorial and conservation advice to museums where such expertise is lacking. Other recommendations are, I think, uncontroversial and sensible, but I believe that area councils would operate more effectively if they operated at arm's length from local politics. There is at the moment a disturbing trend that local politicians are getting too involved and 439 the policy towards museums is becoming a political football.
§ With regard to the general raising of standards of museums in this country, I am glad that the Museums Association is carrying out its accreditation scheme, and it should be encouraged to develop this as soon as possible. There were, of course, a lot of other recommendations in the Drew Report: that there should be county-wide museum consultative committees representing all museum interests; that university museums should form joint committees with local authorities; that the museums of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force should continue to receive support from the Ministry of Defence; and—a particular item in the Drew Report—that special attention should be given to the development of the exceptional possibilities offered in the Portsmouth area for a Royal Naval Museum. With the running down of Portsmouth, this once great naval base offers an ideal opportunity and an ideal site such as few nations have to display everything, from the recently-discovered Tudor warship "Mary Rose", through the "Victory", the "Foudroyant" and up to the most recently acquired "Bulwark", not forgetting the historic naval docks and workshops.
§ One question which has been a great source of worry to museums for some years is the indemnity arrangements. I know how much the proposed new indemnity arrangements with regard to objects on loan from provincial museums have been welcomed. However, many feel very strongly that there should be a further extension of the Treasury indemnity system to cover loans from whatever source, including private to provincial, university or any museum whose security systems are judged adequate. So far as I am aware, there have been very few claims on public revenue for losses or damage over the past years, and I am certain that increased indemnity would go a long way to encourage the movement of artefacts and make them more accessible to the public outside the national museums. It is also particularly vital that indemnification will cover an object accepted in lieu of capital transfer tax but left in situ where it has spent many centuries and is closely associated with the site or the family who originally owned it.440
§ So, my Lords, here we have this important report, much of which can be implemented, I think, without further cost. Nevertheless, it should be stated that the financial implications to the Treasury represent only a meagre £6 million a year—a sum which would revolutionise the museum scene in this country over the next ten years and would only then bring British museums up to the level of spending of other museums in the western world. The fact that it represents the same sort of money spent annually on military bands or on the military mission in Washington is perhaps irrelevant; and I am not so naive not to realise that in the present environment and political climate asking for money is rather like being Oliver Twist.
§ However, there are ways out of this dilemma. The Government are rightly preaching and backing a policy of self-help, and perhaps one of the brightest aspects of the museum scene in Britain has been the successful growth since the war of the independent and private museums. The Association of Independent Museums, founded only two years ago, now has about 200 members and, so far as I know, they are all viable; and, almost without exception, one of their members has been awarded the first prize in the Museum of the Year Award in recent years.
§ My Lords, perhaps one should ask why. Is it because their independence leads them not only to greater flexibility but, more important, makes them financially independent, too? Unfettered by politics or lack of rate support grants, perhaps they are more sensitive to what the public wants and what interests the tourists—for otherwise they would fail. I am now expressing a personal opinion and not one of the Museums' Association when I say that I think an immense amount could be achieved, particularly in the non-national museums, if a sensible and universal charging system were introduced with suitable exemptions for children and old age pensioners. Local authorities already have that power and I find it strange how many councils apparently are prepared to see their museums suffer with regard to purchase grants, deteriorate with regard to maintenance and allow their museum staffs' pay to fall badly behind that of other 441 professions—all sacrificed on the altar of the principle of free museums. I believe that we are virtually the only country in the world now that practises such (what one might call) an archaic 19th century religion. It is certainly not practised in Eastern Europe or in the richer countries such as the United States.
§ There is also an unfortunate trend in some local authorities of making their museum directors answerable to the authorities' directors of leisure—whose knowledge or experience of museums is often nil. Hence, museums do not always get a voice on committees or the access to their chairmen which they deserve. It is inevitable, if a council has to choose between building a new swimming pool for the kids, an incinerator to burn the rubbish, raising their own staff salaries or voting more money to the local museum, that, unfortunately, it is always the museum that comes off worse.
§ If, however, museums can cash in on the leisure age and tourism, they can still easily stand on their own feet if allowed to keep the money they earn, and also would become much stronger and contribute much more to the preservation of the country's heritage. Unfortunately, one must accept the fact that charging at museums became such a political hot potato back in 1974 that it is natural that any government would feel reluctant to raise the subject again. I hope that the present Minister for the Arts will not take a scare from this. I am delighted that a past Minister of the Arts, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will be speaking later and I feel that his efforts will one day be more recognised than they then were. Many of us feel that the political opportunism of that time which produced the cancellation did a great deal more harm than good.
§ However, I have some encouraging news for the Government. It is that since 1974 there has been a major reassessment by the museum profession of this problem. I believe that the climate has changed and that museum charges, if imposed now, far from being greeted in a hostile fashion, would be welcomed by a large majority of the museum directors of this country. I am delighted that Exeter Council have given the lead and will be charging at their local museums next 442 year. Perhaps they see that such a policy must inevitably come; and the sooner it comes, the better. The alternative must inevitably be a general deterioration of museums, a growing inability to purchase new exhibits and save important items from leaving this country, the running down of services to the public, a failing in their conservation responsibilities and sacrificing the career prospects of their staffs. We know how unpopular is Sunday morning closing and closing one day a week. What will happen next year if this goes on? Will there be closing for the whole of Sundays and, perhaps, two days a week? Who knows?
§ I can assure the House that, much as overseas visitors enjoy our free museums, at the same time many despise us for such a short-sighted and stupid policy which leads to so many of our national treasures being lost overseas through lack of proper finance. In America and in Canada the tax system annually enriches and encourages museum endowment. I believe that the Government have already committed themselves to review this policy and I am sure that we all look forward to hearing their decision.
§ However, enough on that subject. There are many other distinguished speakers this evening. I will end by saying that I hope the Government will accept the Drew Report in principle. It is not a rigid or long-term comprehensive plan. The object of the report is to point ways to improve local museums and to enable them to receive the enormous number of visitors and tourists to this country as well as our own people, especially the children. My Lords, to sum up, I urge the Government to consider seriously four main points in addition to the various no-cost recommendations in the Drew Report: first, the encouragement of the Council of the Museums' Association to develop and act as a representative body of the museum world pending the setting up of the official council; secondly, to reform the tax system to that it may benefit museums and galleries of all sorts; thirdly, to extend the indemnification system so that national, provincial and private treasures can be more widely seen by the public; and, fourthly, to do all they can to encourage local government to make their museums self-supporting—but to make it clear that that money should be used further to 443 improve the expenditure for museums in their areas. For such museums are just as much part of our heritage as are our historic houses and castles.
§ My Lords, the difficulties should not be exaggerated. The report only proposes further steps down the path which has already been trodden profitably. With regard to new finance, in most cases the recommendations say that Government should not be called upon for all but only part of the cost. In any case, expenditure will take many years. Therefore, a clear statement of policy is now required in order to make a start. For Heaven's sake! do not let us have another report on this report. The time for some action has clearly arrived. The right action will have a long-term benefit for our museums and galleries and for the nation as a whole. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, my first pleasant task is to thank the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for raising this vital issue, Framework for a system of museums, the report of the working party of Sir Arthur Drew and his team. Having been a member of commissions and committees a number of times over the years, I know how much hard work has gone into the production of the report. I wish to join the noble Lord who has just sat down in paying tribute to the Drew working party's report, particularly for its reference to and derivation from the 1973 Wright report.
Why have I taken part in this debate, my Lords? I have always been interested in museums. I have to declare an interest: I happen to be the president of the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum Trust. As this is only a two-and-a-half hour debate, and in order not to suffocate in a blizzard of verbiage, the Minister who is going to reply, I have sent him what I was going to say together with letters from some of the departments that wrote to us. Therefore I will not bore the House by reading paragraphs that may be vital to my musuem but which will be deadly boring read out at this time of 444 night when the entire debate has to finish in two-and-a-half hours. Having said that, may I add that any Member who would like to know about the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum can receive a brochure from me, with pleasure. We have as vice-presidents Sir Derek Ezra, Joe Gormley—bless his heart!—the noble Lord, Lord Norton, Sir Peter Parker, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the Lord Mayor of the City of Stoke-on-Trent. Here is my opportunity to pay tribute to the citizens and the council of the city of Stoke-on-Trent, together with the county.
Now I will begin what I want to say. The Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum is administered by an independent charitable trust whose objective is to take advantage of the unique opportunity offered by a common or garden pit or colliery. It was made famous by Eliza Hermitage who, at the magnificent age of 101, was taken to our pit. We took the dear old lady down 700 feet to see the workings of a colliery and she got a lump of coal out for herself. Her next ambition—and here the Government can help—is to travel on Concorde.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, that this is a thrust into the industrial archaeology of the future, showing Britain, not as a nation of shopkeepers, but as the workshop of the world. We were made the workshop of the world because of the coal that we had. This site covers 18 acres and is adjacent to the city of Stoke-on-Trent. We are grateful to the Department of the Environment and to others for the recent land reclamation schemes that include also some significant buildings and plant and machinery, all of vital importance to the task of restoration.
Every aspect of mining activity will be displayed to the public on the surface. But it is the retention of shafts and the underground workings—and the winding of the colliery—which allows the museum to present the story of coal in its full, realistic dimension of dynamic vitality. Coal was the basis of our prosperity and we should keep this alive and have an understanding of it. In the sphere of education particularly, this museum is unique, and it makes the museum of national rather than local importance.
445 Having opened only at the end of May 1979, the museum has already received over 20,000 visitors. Half of those visitors—10,000—were students and the remainder came from home and abroad. There were Dutch and Norwegian buses there the other day. The Foreign Office even sent some Russians to have a look at our pits. I have seen Russian pits and they can be proud of them. The nature of the project means that the costs are high. Work on the capital appeal is well advanced. Over £200,000 has so far been committed to the project by the National Coal Board, the local authority, the Department of the Environment and industry and commerce. We have not called on the Government and gone weeping; we have endeavoured to collect whatever we can. Now we are seeking further commitments and we shall ask the unions and the mining industry; and maybe we shall want to tell the Government how they can help. If the noble Lord who is to reply cannot answer all the questions—and it would not be fair to expect him to do so—and if his officials feel that there is something in depth that they could tell me, perhaps they would write to me, as the debate must be brief. Even if they précis the answer in only a dozen sentences, that will be helpful.
On 25th March 1977 Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, which was the first in Britain to mine one million tons of coal a year, closed after 140 years of production. There is nothing like this pit as a museum in the whole of Europe. It is the first museum of its kind. There are others that call themselves mining museums but they do not have a pit, a winder and a shaft with the fans going, with the different kinds of mining and the conveyor belt system. Britain's emergence as a manufacturing country was dependent on coal, which continues—and will for more centuries than one—to be needed to boost our economy, even if only for the ultimate derivation of valuable material from the coal itself.
A social, historical and technical study of mining is still of importance. This museum provides a vivid picture of the industry. The younger generation who visit it and who go down the shaft some 700 feet to see the different historic ways of mining will always remember it and be glad that they visited it. The Minister 446 will see from the brief which I handed in for his information what this unique and excellent project offers. There he will find a long list of attributes of the museum: educational visits for schools, colleges and parties. Any child above 12 years of age can go down that mine. The noble Lord will see from the map on page 74 of the Drew Report that there are some 8 million people in the Midlands area. The mining area of Chatterley Whitfield serves the whole of that.
Reference has been made to tourism. Does this noble House realise that last year 12½ million people visited Britain and spent £3,500 million? That is more money than from the export of our motorcars, more money than from the export of our steel or even coal. Instead of "yammering" for the juggernaut industry to have acres and acres of farmland dug up so that they can run, like neurotic ants from one end of Britain to the other, let us get back on the railways, calm down and keep the delightful equanimity of the British countryside so far as we can. It is our last asset. As Bernard Shaw said in a preface to one of his cantankerous plays:We shall end up as a nation selling chocolate and inviting visitors.If we are not careful that will be very near the truth. This museum is already a tourist attraction in the West Midlands area and particularly in North Staffordshire. I do not want to hammer home that point any further: this is one of the most intelligent debating Chambers in the world and the point is made.
The other point I should like to make—and here comes the sting in the tail of this little speech—is that I believe we are in an anomalous position because we have to pay value added tax at 15 per cent. Over 20,000 people visited us and I told this House that 10,000 of them were students from schools and colleges, some doing degree courses, some doing geology, some vulcanology and some technology. I do not know what is more educational than for those young fellows and girls to go down that pit to see geology in reality, which is "dead chemistry" in a way. I do not know what is more educational. We are not asking for all our sins to be wiped away. All we say to the Government is: "Be fair to us. We will pay 447 VAT on those who come 'swanning'— and, fair play, ' swanning' is of value, especially when they come from Holland, Russia or Norway—but what about the students who go down? For heaven's sake! let us pay the lower rate on that, or you can wipe it out altogether and we will clap our hands with glee; but, please, consider it in depth".
Now I must pay a tribute to the local people in Newcastle-under-Lyne to whom we have written. I will not read their letters: they were courteous, but they said: "Look, we are limited by …"and then they gave the law. Noble Lords opposite have the opportunity to look at that, and we can see, even from the Drew Report, that educational museums should be looked at in a different light.
The rise in VAT from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent. has seriously affected museums, theatres and cinemas, and, with all due respect—I do not want to drive it home as a bitter political point—I think it is penny wise and pound foolish. My niece wrote to me from Los Angeles last week and said, "Uncle, I am trying to come but I find that London now is more expensive than San Francisco or Los Angeles". We are pushing up prices and killing the goose that lays the golden egg. For heaven's sake! let us go steady on VAT. I have a granddaughter who has gone on the stage. I think she has been "resting" for about 12 weeks but she has a job for Christmas, thank God! Anyone visiting a theatre, if he takes his wife and two children, will be the other side of about £25 or £30 for one little colourful, or uncolourful, night out, depending on the quality of the actors. So I hope that in regard to museums somebody will look at this point.
I will not repeat the letters because I have tried to make them clear. I am grateful to the Minister, because I know that already—he will be pleased to see that I am throwing my papers away—he has had the wires moving and that somebody is taking an interest. I make an appeal because I think this mining museum, initiated by members of the Coal Board and by people locally, will be a contribution to the tourist industry and to the educational opportunities of the youngsters and it will be something worth while. I hope that the Government may see their way to do something about the problem 448 of VAT. Finally, may I say "Thank you" to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and to the producers of this working party report. It gave me the unique opportunity of trespassing on other people's speaking.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords I certainly would join in the gratitude extended to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for having produced for our debate this evening this very important topic which, thank goodness! we in this House do have time to take notice of. I think we have a particular duty at this moment to pass on a message to the Minister for the Arts that we do understand the very real problems which he faces. I do not think there is much dispute that, with Britain in its present state, a certain amount of pulling-in the belt is needed, and it is totally unrealistic to think that the arts can escape any cuts that are to be made. All we can hope and pray for is that the cuts will not be disproportionate.
Since the job of the Minister for the Arts was started, we have been extremely lucky in our Ministers, and we are very lucky tonight to have two previous Ministers for the Arts speaking in this debate. I think neither of them will take it amiss if I say that we are doubly lucky in our present Minister, because he combines three attributes which have not been combined before. Not only is he a lover of the arts, which Ministers have been before and which the Ministers present here are, and not only is he a professional politician—and I know some of your Lordships will agree that is an asset—but he is also in the Cabinet. Since he has the desire to fight for the arts and possibly more ability than some of his predecessors, we hope for great things from him, while realising that his monetary schemes will be very much circumscribed.
We may argue among ourselves about where in this country's affairs we need retrenchment. Retrenchment is needed, but when that great Liberal, John Bright, produced his famous quotation about retrenchment he combined it with reform; and it is not true that you cannot combine retrenchment with reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has already pointed out, there are a large number of recommendations 449 in this report which do not need any extra money at all. Certainly, in the few short things I wish to say this evening, I am going to concentrate on matters which do not need any great expenditure.
Today I want to suggest three reforms, two of which come from the recommendations of the report and one of which does not. The one which the report actually dismisses is the recommendation which came from the previous report on which this one is a comment: that is, the establishment of regional centres as centres of excellence. This was what the Wright Report suggested. Obviously, to set up centres of excellence of that kind is going to need a certain amount of money; but what I should like to ask for now is the recognition that such a policy would be a good thing. The Drew Report actually dismisses this, mainly so far as I can discover, for the reason that it would be extremely difficult to set them up. There is absolutely no doubt that it would be very difficult to do. The regrouping in provincial centres of museums which are at the moment under different control would be very complicated, but if the Minister at present has no money to offer us he presumably has got hard work, and perhaps this point might be looked at again, even though this present report has abandoned the idea.
It particularly appeals to us on these Benches because it builds tip the idea of regional centres of excellence, and I think that is extremely important. It is very important not just that we should push out the good things from London but that we should establish places in every region where there are the good things of life, to be regarded as centres to which people will come from all over the country, and indeed from all over the world, to see. So I should like that to be looked at again. That would have the very important effect of concentrating the attention of local government rather more on the whole question of museums and the arts.
As has been pointed out, we have the rather unfortunate situation that in the past, with the big, new local government units, museums and the arts have often been pushed away under department of leisure activities, lumped in with sports and all kinds of things. There are dis- 450 graceful stories, which are substantiated, of directors of museums not even being allowed to sign letters or of letters having to be signed by their superiors, and if we follow this idea of centres of excellence we shall be able to combat that.
If we followed what the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, recommended, which is more charging in local museums—I do not want to go into that thorny question now, but I agree that the right place to start would be the local museums and the local areas where powers already exist—that would have the additional advantage, whatever disadvantages it might have, of giving that museum and that department, which would be seen as a money-earner, a very great deal more standing in the whole local government situation. That is my first suggestion.
My second suggestion, which is recommended in the Drew Report, is that museum grant aid should be removed from the rate support and administered separately. That certainly would cost no more money. It is merely a way of channelling money in a different way and, again, it would enhance the place of the local museum director in his relationship with the council, because if you cannot give the museums extra money it would at least be one way of seeing that the money that was available got to the right place, and of seeing that museums and their directors had their rightful position in the local situation.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
My Lords, I am sorry but I missed one point. What should be removed from grant aid?
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, it is the element in grant aid which is in theory for museums, but which at the moment goes into the whole block of grant aid and is spread around the country, without differentiation between where there are museums and where there are not. I am suggesting that money should be separated and separately allocated.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
Yes, my Lords, I am very grateful for that help. The third point which I should like to 451 raise is a step forward in dealing with the Standing Commission. I think that changes are needed, and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has talked about some of them. But, in spite of the fact that the Standing Commission has already made some changes to give itself greater access to the professional museum world and better consultation with the experts, as the noble Lord has pointed out, from what I understand from museum directors a certain amount more could, without much expense, be done, to strengthen the regular consultation with the professionals on all these matters.
Times of retrenchment are not just times of misery. They are times of opportunity and times when we can turn to and undertake some of the laborious housekeeping which, in rather happier times, tends to get brushed under the carpet. In times of prosperity there are certain things which can be reformed and which should be reformed but which are neglected. I hope that the Minister for the Arts will turn his attention to this aspect, and I have every confidence that he will.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, we are very grateful to my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for drawing our attention to this working party's report. My noble friend is the most popular and outstanding champion of private museums, not only in this country but in all Europe. He has brought pleasure and some instruction to millions of people—as the report now says at £1.40 per head—and the success with which he develops the motor museum is surely a lesson for everybody.
As has been said, the working party's report continues and adds to the report of the Wright Committee. I appointed that Committee because, in spite of the valiant work done by the late Earl of Rosse, to whom I should like to pay a tribute, the public did not know nearly enough about the financial and structural weaknesses of the non-national museums. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has said, one of the key recommendations was for centres of excellence. I remember saying to Mr. Willie Wright "What we want are teaching hospitals with groups of hospitals of different sizes all around 452 them, and why cannot we have that in the museum world?" That idea became, I think, the centres of excellence and I still think that it is a good idea.
What the Wright Report did was to show up the extent to which the provincial museums have been neglected in comparison with London and the nationals, and now, I am glad to say, we have the Drew Report which still further adds to our knowledge and proposes a national organisation which is to be split into two parts, one a grand advisory council and the other an executive commission with duties not unlike those of the Arts Council. I expect there will be general agreement that some such body is needed in order to put the case before the public and Parliament for local authority, university and private museums, and to encourage common services which would be of great benefit to hundreds of museums. I support this proposal, provided that care is taken not to create an organisation too similar to the Arts Council.
There is a fundamental difference between the clients of the Arts Council and the non-national museums. Music, drama and dancing are all, so to speak, foot-loose. Their quality does not depend on the place where a play, a ballet or a concert is performed. But, by contrast, most provincial museums owe their charm to their situation and their attraction lies in local history and local culture. How their collections have been made, where they are housed and how they are cared for by the local people give them their character. They do, and they should, differ widely one from another. For example, prints and drawings of White-haven or Newcastle look very well shown there. But if you were to show them in Weymouth of Canterbury, they would not be half so interesting. It is the local character that matters. Therefore, it would be wrong to press these local museums into some kind of national mould, shaped and monitored by some Quango—because that is what the report asks for—domiciled in Piccadilly or at some other fashionable London address.
Your Lordships will know that there are, scattered about the country, a few very special collections of national importance and their claims are easily recognisable. The museums that require our help are those that serve a peculiarly 453 modern need; that is, the desire to get away from the dominance and life-style of the metropolis.
Science and technology, those masters of our contemporary world, assume that we all want to be the same. It is good to see that a kind of revolt is growing against the attempt to make us all members of a rootless, international society. Searching for evidence that they have something special of their own, people are taking more and more interest in local history and local culture. For them, the museum in the place where they live is a signpost in the search for their identity.
We see that such museums and hundreds of houses open to the public are growing rapidly in popularity. I think one reason why we are going, in increasing numbers, to these places is to discover more about ourselves: what our ancestors were like and why we can be proud of the place where we live. Much as non-national museums require more support, we must not allow their essentially local character to be endangered for the sake of a tidy structure created to assess nation-wide Government grants and to produce a uniform system of pay and conditions for work in the museum service.
I should like particularly to draw the attention of the House to the last point. The museum service is one in which the volunteer, the amateur and the part-time worker have a very great contribution to make. I hope that all your Lordships wish to preserve the voluntary element, and that for two reasons.
First, the more people who participate in the institutions which symbolise their community, past and present, the better. Such institutions bring their neighbourhood to life, and that is what a great many people desire today. If in their spare time those people are willing to do some job, under supervision, in their local museum, that is all to the good. I am thinking of part-time warding, help with conservation, showing parties round, maybe sitting at the door and taking entrance fees. We know that many museum directors and keepers very much welcome this kind of help. We must take care that such cooperation is not sacrificed to the desire for a closed shop, a desire which is certainly held by a few people.
454 Secondly, the museums are short of money. They find it difficult to pay the staff they have. The volunteer helps to make whatever money is available go further. We all know that many of the curatorial staff are poorly paid and we would like to see them get more. This is not a problem that we can run away from; it is very urgent. I notice that the Drew Report backs the Museums Association in asking that the staff of the designated provincial museums—those are the 20 or 30 best; I do not know exactly how many—should be paid at the same rates as staff in the national museums. That means Civil Service scales. On the present unsatisfactory level of staffing, the report says that it would cost an extra £1 million a year, of which the Government should pay 80 per cent. in direct grant. This is asking for an open-ended commitment which I hardly think would commend itself to the Treasury. Further, if pay in the designated museums were raised in this way, obviously the staff in the other museums would have a very good claim, too. Therefore the estimate in the report might prove to be much too low.
As I have said, we cannot brush this problem aside. We must somehow find a way to make a beginning in raising pay. Therefore we come to the question: how is the money to be found? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that in present circumstances there is not likely to be much more from the Government. Inflation must first be stopped. There must be a change of heart in industry and production must be put in front of restrictive practices. It is a melancholy thought that extra recruiting for the museum service and raising the pay of those who are so badly looked after today depends on whether or not inflationary wage claims are pressed.
For the moment we must look for other sources of revenue. My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu mentioned entrance charges. So does the working party report. In Section 5.15, it notices that where a local authority museum is charging there appears to be no deterrent effect on the number of visitors. I think all those who have looked at these cases know that. They might have drawn our attention to the now well-established fact that where a museum charges, it has more interest and more money to make the 455 collections attractive and to install the amenities which the public appreciate. Visitors have to pay, but more of them come.
In Section 8.10, the report observes that entrance charges are actually an advantage which the lucky private museums can enjoy more easily than the local authority museums. My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu has in his own museum illustrated how great this advantage can be to the public, and so would the National Trust and several excellent local authority museums. Parliament thinks it right to charge for medical prescriptions and school meals. Can it then be wrong to charge something for a visit to a museum, especially as we now have evidence that the results will be that the museum will be better run?
When I see the Victoria and Albert, that great and glorious museum, shut on Mondays, I wonder whether the public would not prefer to pay an entrance charge on two or three days a week and have the museum open every day. The tourists on whom we depend so much would undoubtedly be delighted. Many of them spend only a night or a couple of nights in London; they would far prefer to pay something than make the journey to South Kensington and, when they get there, find the door shut in their faces.
There is another source of non-Government finance, and that is the contributions made by the friends and supporters of a museum. These have been developing well. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would only give an annual income tax relief on subscriptions up to a limited amount, I believe that many museums would benefit rapidly and substantially. They could pay their staff more and they could improve their premises. There is no reason why local authorities should not give a rate rebate to supporters of their museums. Their loss in revenue would be much less than the cost of the direct grant. That, of course, applies to the Treasury, too.
In short, I could sum up my chief comments on the working party report as follows. We need a national body, but not at the expense of the local character of most of the museums in question. The volunteer and part-time element in running 456 provincial museums should be encouraged and any move towards a closed shop discouraged. Finally, in seeking more money, we should look to entrance charges and income tax or rate relief on annual subscriptions and with the new money we could make a start in paying the staff decent salaries.
§ 6.50 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to join with those noble Lords who have spoken so far in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for having introduced this matter, because in my opinion by so doing he has done an extremely valuable service to us on a subject in which many of us have had an interest from time to time. I should like to add that noble Lords who have spoken so far have certainly covered much of the ground that I had desired to cover. Therefore I am not proposing to keep the House for any great length of time.
I shall try to tell your Lordships the position in respect of this matter from the viewpoint of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which I have the honour to be a vice-president. Consequently I shall be speaking on their behalf and indeed to a considerable extent, if not entirely—because none of us is in entire agreement with everything that everybody does, even in our own organisations, as is well known to your Lordships—I shall be endorsing their view.
It took many years to produce the Wright Report which, although unacceptable in certain regards, led to the Drew Report. In our view this report represents the last real opportunity to preserve the international collections which are housed in some major provincial museums. The report is welcomed as a basis for a partnership between Government and local museums which will be of significance for the cultural heritage of our nation. In our view the principle of designation is central to the report and will be of ultimate benefit to all museums, not just to those designated. If the Drew Report were accepted it would mean that Government money would be used to maintain and develop such major collections as those in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. These are collections comparable to those in national museums and 457 they create demands and obligations on the museum authorities, such as very high standards of care, curatorship and conservation.
The Drew Report also proposes changes in the organisation and work of area museum councils and the establishment of a central governing body. Both of these are reforms which would make the museum service stronger and would equip it to meet the challenge which increased leisure and other social changes will, we hope, bring in the last quarter of this century.
The association therefore welcomes the Drew Report and accepts it in principle. At a time when local government finance is under pressure it could be easy, but wrong, to be negative about Drew. The association has agreed that museums and galleries represent an acceptable case for specific grant even at a time of financial difficulty, and as your Lordships are aware local government does not often accept that there is a case for any new category of specific grant. We believe that the costs suggested in the Drew Report are greater than they need to be because Drew proposes designation for the whole of the museum service and money would come from the present British Heritage Fund because these collections are of much greater significance and appeal than the local area in which they reside.
We believe that the Drew Report has arrived at the eleventh hour. The major provincial collections are being eroded because local authorities are having to carry a very great burden in order to keep them. They must be preserved as part of the national heritage and Drew presents the opportunity to create a partnership between central and local government which should now be taken. In the interests of the coming generations, who will probably have greater leisure in which to enjoy part of Britain's heritage in a provincial setting, I believe that the report itself is of considerable value. That opinion is also held by my colleagues.
I should like to make a comment on another matter in which, together with other Members of both sides of your Lordships' House, I happen to be interested. I believe that help could be given to a project—for example to provide a much more suitable place for a music 458 museum which a Mr. Frank Holland is running at the present time. It is a museum of musical instruments. He is being impeded in his efforts to have a museum in the house which was owned and occupied by the late David Salomon. in whom your Lordships will probably understand that I have a particular interest because of the fact that he was the first Jewish Member of Parliament. He left an estate and the beneficiaries of that estate have handed the property itself to Kent. They are using a large part of this building, contrary to the wishes of the beneficiaries, for a school for training nurses, which could of course be carried out in any ordinary building. It is desired that the centre for these musical instruments should be housed in this place at Tunbridge Wells in order that they may be added to a very interesting musical instrument, namely the largest organ in the world which is there at present, and so form a valuable museum.
I have spoken about this with colleagues and I am hoping that this and like suggestions which have been put forward will assist in expediting a knowledgeable understanding of the importance of utilising this historical house, as I have indicated the original beneficiaries themselves, who were relatives of Salomon's, are desirous and anxious that it should be used to this, the best purpose. I do not want to go into more detail as it is late at night. All I should like the House to understand is that those of us who are interested in that house, a small private project, believe that there is an opportunity now, instead of dragging on for further years, to get the matter settled as speedily as possible.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, I did not put my name down to speak, but there is a little time available and I shall not be more than five minutes. All of us who care about these things owe our thanks to the authors of the Drew Report, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for introducing this short debate tonight. As I read it, the main feature of this report is an organisational one. I am not very good at organisational charts. It was very important to hear that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, broadly favours the suggestion of a commission which will allocate money and 459 therefore be the top body—because, after all, the power of the purse is the important thing—and then you have a council for policy. The noble Viscount gave us a warning about the relationship with the Arts Council. I think there is another factor which has to be taken into account, namely, the relationship with the Heritage Fund when it is set up, because in one way or another the Heritage Fund is going to benefit the museums in many respects. So while I am all for the commission and for the council, I think we want to go a little slowly perhaps in deciding how it should actually function.
Another matter strikes me in this report. Perhaps it is necessary since it is about museums and galleries, and it covers those very fully; but it hardly touches upon the National Trust houses or the Historic Houses Association. They are mentioned in one paragraph. No evidence was submitted by those bodies, and yet I think we all recognise today that the line between museums and galleries and the National Trust houses and historic houses is a very narrow one, if it exists at all. I would hope, therefore, that in any body that is set up the National Trust—or the National Trust for Scotland, which did give evidence—or the Historic Houses Association will be brought into the net, if they wish to be. I think that becomes more important because today, as your Lordships know, it is policy more and more to leave certain works of art which are owned by the nation in the private houses, or at any rate in the National Trust houses. That must be right, but it means that they are part of this story; it is not just the museums and galleries.
What are the kind of questions that the council is going to deal with? They are listed in some detail here, and of course travelling exhibitions are a very important part. It seems to me, as several of your Lordships have said, that given the present tight money position in the country we cannot expect the sort of figures which are outlined in the report to come from the Government. I very much support the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on the question of charges. One wants to go slowly, perhaps charging on only two or three days in the week. I remember that I advocated that policy in days long 460 ago and got into great trouble in your Lordships' House; but never mind, I remain undaunted on it. I think if you have travelling exhibitions and make charges for them and if you cannot get the money any other way, nobody would resent that; they would be only too glad of it.
Another way in which the Government can help is by considering how much they can allow the various bodies which are not strictly national museums to have their insurance covered by Government insurance policy. We all know how very onerous are insurance charges in connection with any exhibition. I saw some figures the other day, although I did not write them down, about the actual cost to the Government of insurance over the last five years or so. The figures were incredible; they were either £2,000 in one case for the whole of the five years or not more than £20,000. If that is the case, I hope very much that those who are considering this question of insurance in a limited way will try to think of it in a wider way, in order to see whether they can widen it in some way. I know the Government do not charge for these insurances, but if they accepted the idea that travelling exhibitions should make charges they could say, "And, what is more, we will ask for, let us say, 5 per cent. of the total takings towards building up the special insurance fund", so that in the end the Government do not lose anything at all.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, if I may intervene, I am so grateful to the noble Earl for raising that very point, particularly with regard to a mining museum, mining machinery, and where mining lore influences the running of the museum. A terrific problem exists there which one day will have to be faced.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I said that I would be five minutes. I see that six minutes have passed, so I will sit down.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, welcomed me in this debate and said that he hoped that I would tell him what my Govern- 461 ment's view would have been. I shall tell your Lordships what my view is, and the difference between those we shall never know. Before I begin may I take up two points which a number of noble Lords have raised. One is the question of indemnity, which is clearly most important. In my time we made two important advances here. The last was in getting indemnity for the very large insurance for the splendid exhibition which is opening next week at the Royal Academy. So far as I am concerned, every Arts Minister has to fight with the Treasury on this, because the Treasury's attitude will always be the same; they will say, "You are asking for money, and whether you call it this or that, it is still money". So I should like at this stage to wish the present Minister the best of luck in carrying on the good work in this particular direction.
I am not going to be involved in the argument over charges. It is true that a number of museums I have seen would like to charge, and it is true that a number would be horrified at charging. I do not wish to get mixed up in that matter at this stage, but it is something which has to be considered in due course. It took a wrong turning at the beginning, and it may well be that after a certain amount of time, provided museums are allowed to settle whether they charge or not and to keep what they get without interference, there might be a case for it.
I must join with everybody else in expressing our gratitude to Sir Arthur and his colleagues. I will here correct the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. This report was not commissioned by the Government; it was commissioned by the Standing Commission on its own basis. So it is all the more to be commended for having done so. I should like to join with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and say how sad we are at the death of the noble Earl, Lord Rosse, who was its distinguished chairman for so many years and who made such a notable contribution to this particular area of the arts.
What is really important about this report—which I think everyone realises—is that it is drawing attention for the second time in six years to the anomalous and unsatisfactory state of the thousand or so provincial museums and galleries outside the direct control and responsibility of the Government. We cannot be criticised 462 in this country for neglecting the national institutions: they are not neglected. We have in the national institutions some of the finest collections of pictures and of all kinds of museum objects in the world. They are well maintained, well housed, well displayed, adequately financed and extremely well managed by a learned and wholly dedicated staff. In the last two years we have enormously increased their purchase grants, and although no good museum director is ever for a moment satisfied, I do not think that the Government have anything to apologise for here.
However, as regards the provincial museums the case is far different. They are not a Government responsibility, and responsibility for their proper maintenance varies among local authorities, dependent on the rate support grant; universities, dependent on the University Grants Committee; and private boards of trustees who raise money wherever they can, sometimes easily, but more often with painful difficulty.
As most noble Lords who have spoken have recognised, the brutal fact is that money is the problem—the flow of money for maintenance, conservation, development, display, education and capital, and especially proper staffing. It is not the material or the people who are at fault. The material is better and more distinguished than I had any conception of before I toured many of the museums to see for myself. But conservation lags far behind and there is a long backlog. The people running the museums, from top to bottom, seem to me of very high quality and to suffer, as the noble Viscount suggested, from many anomalies of pay and staff structure and often from frank underpayment. The difficulty is that with some hundreds of differing local authorities, 300 or so private museums and some especially high quality university museums, there is no common ground for applying for more money or for insisting on a proper nationwide staff structure. The problems are really difficult and it was essential to have a full report and recommendations from the museum world itself before those problems could possibly be tackled. However, now we have it.
I had hoped that it would become my duty to try to unravel this tangled skein, 463 and I am jealous that my successor has this opportunity, fraught with difficulties though it is. But I wish him luck, and we shall do what we can from this side to help. The difficulty is that, as there is no direct Government responsibility and as the Minister already has large direct responsibilities in the museum world which take a great deal of money, it is hard to persuade any Government, gratuitously as it were, to take on further large responsibilities. That is why it is so important to try to find a route through which money can flow, and that is what the report is trying to do.
My own experience is that once you have a recognised route, an agreed procedure, you can squeeze out something, however small, to get started, and then you can perhaps get a rise to balance inflation. Then, once in a while, comes an easier year and you can have your figures jumped up to something nearer what you really need. We did that with the purchase grants over the last two years, and if one studies the grants to the Arts Council since the war one will find that they have followed that pattern. But the fatal trouble with the provincial museums is that there is no agreed procedure.
Let us look briefly at the actual proposals. There are, of course, a number of proposals of a secondary kind which have been referred to and which I shall not deal with. The report rejects the Wright Report's suggestion of "Centres of Excellence" and I cannot fault their argument. I think that the kind of thing they are trying to do will produce the same sort of result that Wright wanted to produce, without the very complicated local authority problems and geographical problems which the idea involves.
Instead, they have suggested three major changes: First, the selection of the dozen or so finest provincial museums and galleries as "Designated Museums", which will be entitled to direct subsidy by way of Government grant for both maintenance and capital. They suggest that accreditation by the Museums' Association should be a necessary preliminary and that the Government should give 50 per cent. towards agreed capital development and 80 per cent. towards resulting increased maintenance charges. Secondly, they recommend that other 464 museums with outstanding specialised collections should be able to get a once-only direct grant, up to 50 per cent., for better housing and display, and that others who could prove a real housing need should be equally entitled to a once-and-for-all 50 per cent. grant. Thirdly, they recommend that the financial contribution to the Area Museums Councils, paid through the Standing Commission, should be doubled and made available for capital needs as well as maintenance and conservation. These are important recommendations and they all involve money. We know the problems. We have talked about this matter and I am not going to say that it should be dealt with by any Government in 10 minutes.
If we look at page 60 of the report, we see how the authors conceive that the additional £6 million, which they think should be added annually to support the provincial museums, should be made up. I suppose that today the most we could hope for is that it will be possible to accept that all or most of the suggestions are not only desirable expenditure, but urgently necessary and must be fulfilled as and when finance permits. To show willing, the Government should make a start in two ways: first, by increasing the grant to the Area Museums Councils, paid through the Standing Commission. I think that both need strengthening and nothing gives strength so effectively as more money to distribute. But first, as the report says, the Councils must be given a proper legal status, and their local consultative and advisory boards much improved. Each area has one or more distinguished directors of one or more distinguished museums. Those experts must be as closely involved as possible in the administration and management of the councils. This recommendation is one which will directly affect the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, whereas the designated museum one would not. Therefore, this is most important.
As regards the second recommendation, I think that the Government should try to put aside something towards the crying needs of the dozen or so museums proposed to be designated. Their plights vary from fair to dreadful. I do not think that people realise how serious the needs of some of them are and how rapidly, with the savage cuts in the rate support 465 grant, they must become worse. If I may take one example to illustrate the point—my own university museum, the Fitzwilliam, is so under-nourished that it is open only for five and a half days a week, and only half its galleries open at that, with a grave risk of having to close on Saturdays as well as Sunday mornings. Yet its collections are without question, subject by subject, of the same order of excellence and display as anything in the national collections, and its significance far exceeds its use to the university. The university population is around 13,000, but its visitors last year amounted to 196,000. Like the other museums recommended for designation, it is an asset of the clearest and most obvious national importance. Yet its annual purchase grant is derisory. Although, admittedly, it can get money from the V. and A., the museum still has to find half, and the question is, where from?
In my opinion the Government must admit at least a partial responsibility for these dozen or so outstanding museums and galleries and I suggest that they should make a start now. I should like to see them put aside £1¼ million—about a third of what the Report on page 60 thinks is necessary—for this purpose, and another £ ¾ million to increase the grant to the Area Councils. This total figure of £2 million is not large, but would be an earnest of the Government's future intentions and would transform the current gloom in the provinces to real hope.
I spoke of the rate support grant. I, personally, am a good deal attracted—as I think was the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—to the very tentative suggestions in chapter 14 about the Government rethinking its role in relation to museums and galleries. There may here be a simpler way of doing what we all want to see done, but it will need much thinking out. At the moment about £13½ million out of £22 million is spent by local authorities on museums and galleries and comes from the rate support grant, and certainly not all this is, in fact, spent on museums and galleries. If the £13, ½ million could be extracted and given perhaps to the Arts and Libraries Branch to distribute, either direct or through the Standing Commission, on a 50 per cent. basis to such local authorities, universities 466 and private trusts as were prepared to put up plans and pay for half, this would provide the agreed route along which money could begin to flow to all provincial museums and galleries.
The sums would need to be increased as the national finances allowed and as the beneficiaries were prepared to put up more themselves. The £2 million to which I have just referred could perhaps be regarded as the first increase. Whichever method may be used, the new factor on which the whole reasoning of the report hangs must be accepted by Government. This is very clearly stated in paragraph 10.6 on page 42 of the report. It says:we regard it as an essential element in the successful working of a central body that the Government recognises that it has itself a central role to play in the development of a national system of museum services. This is indeed fundamental to all our recommendations".This will be a hard nut for the Minister to crack. No efficient civil servant will lightly agree to his Department shouldering a commitment in an obvious growth area when there is no vestige of legal necessity to do so. But, as several speakers have said, our country's treasures are not only to be found in the national institutions; nor only in those proposed as "designated". They are spread around the land in splendid profusion, and it is as much a Government's duty to see that they are properly looked after as to preserve the national heritage in private hands.
At this stage I shall not say anything about the recommendation for a new central body in the form of a museums' council. If the Standing Commission is well and truly strengthened and has regular meetings with the Museums' Association and other relevant bodies—indeed, with people like the National Trust, as was suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Perth—there may be no need for another body. Time will tell. I should not be in favour of creating one at this stage. What we want the Minister to do is, first, to recognise that there is a Government responsibility here; and, secondly, to make a start in the two ways that I have indicated.
I should like to conclude by begging the Minister to respond generously and constructively to this challenge. Every Minister in a change of Government finds himself inheriting much that his predecessors have prepared and initiated, and until now the present Minister has had a 467 paucity of major announcements to make beyond his confirmation, welcome as it is, of our initiatives in granting indemnity to the Royal Academy for its current most important exhibition, and in transferring £15 million from the moribund Land Fund to a new Heritage Fund. I cannot class as a major announcement his transference of the excellent Arts and Libraries staff, without its deputy director, from one building to another. We have always had a bipartisan policy and, for what it is worth, that transference is one of the things with which I do not agree.
But though we may criticise the Government, we do not need to criticise the Minister. We know that his heart is in the right place and that all he can do to help the arts he will do. Now, at last, he has been able to tell us something which will cheer his supporters and quieten his critics, in making a firm promise to find £2 million for public lending right by 1982. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is looking pleased. Whether or not the Government will still be in Office is another point, but if by then it is our turn to inherit promises, I hope and think that this is one we shall be happy to keep.
The Minister now has this great opportunity offered by the Drew Report. Its main thrust—more help for the provincial museums and galleries—is supported by every thinking person in the world of the arts. If the Minister can work out an effective way of giving that help, not necessarily in the exact terms of the report, and if he can make a start in providing some extra cash, he will II have earned the gratitude of the whole artistic world and will have the fullest support we can give him from this side of the House.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
My Lords, I, too, should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for initiating this debate. In particular, I should like to echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Eccles about my noble friend. I have possibly known my noble friend Lord Montagu longer than any other Member of this House; I knew him as a child and have continued to be amazed at the way in which he has advanced in public esteem and at the way in which he has enhanced so much in this field which we are discussing tonight.
468 I am also very grateful to all the other noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate, including as it has two former Ministers of the Arts and a chief Crown Commissioner. Like other noble Lords, I wish to pay tribute to Sir Arthur Drew for his report, which I personally found very thought-provoking and interesting, as well as being a useful contribution to the whole question of the future of our country's museums. Moreover, I am very glad to say that I understand Sir Arthur Drew is still continuing his excellent work on our museums.
The museums of this country are, as we all know, a vital part of the rich heritage of our past, and they make a most important contribution to the educating and civilising influence to which people of all ages should be exposed. Local museums have a significant role to play in the quality of life and we cannot over-emphasise their importance. The Government are conscious of the burden on local authorities, many of which have recently made great efforts to improve their contribution to the arts. It is hoped that others will feel able to follow their example and will not single out the arts for discriminatory treatment with regard to economies.
Local museums are a partnership between the local authorities and local interests. In a few areas, the Regional Arts Associations have contributed in various ways to the local museum provision. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, drew attention to the need for regional centres of excellence. One thinks of how the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, helped to achieve this sort of thing at York by moving that excellent Railway Museum which is now so much a draw in that part of the North, which needed some help of this kind.
As has been said, it is also important to attract children and young people to museums at an early stage, and there is still much to be done in this direction. But the Government welcome efforts that are being made by means of education programmes and holiday programmes. The importance which the Government attach to preserving the national heritage and to making it accessible to as many as possible can be 469 seen from the speed with which they have brought forward proposals for the National Heritage Fund legislation. I should like to thank my noble kinsman Lord Perth for the kind remarks he made about this. The National Heritage Fund legislation has been widely acclaimed as being of great significance. But the Government cannot implement in five months a programme which is expected to span at least five years.
Many museums testify to those who by their brilliance, self-reliance and determination added so much to the spiritual and material well-being of their fellows. Our first priority is to create the conditions under which such people can again thrive to the mutual benefit of all. Only a flourishing country can afford to support the flourishing arts and museums for which we are striving. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, drew attention to money being the problem. How right he is!
A vigorous start has been made in reducing the burden of taxation on the individual, and let us hope that much of the income tax relief which has today found its way into many people's pockets will be spent in a way which helps the arts. The creation by the Government of a separate Office of Arts and Libraries is, I hope, further evidence of the importance which the Government attach to this part of their responsibilities and of their intention to do all in their power by example and encouragement to foster the interests of all museums. I think your Lordships will agree with me in that.
But while the major task of establishing a healthy economy is taking place—and reduction in public expenditure is a vital part of the Government's strategy—the Government will be taking careful stock and planning for the improvements of the future. Sir Arthur Drew and his working party have therefore done a most valuable job not only in recommending a framework for a system for museums but also in providing a reasoned vehicle for the informed discussion of the many and important issues surrounding the rich variety of museums in which our country abounds. Noble Lords have not tonight criticised public expenditure cuts as such. They have merely feared what the results might be for local authority spending. We have had a very reasoned debate, and I am glad 470 that we have managed to keep party politics out of this debate tonight.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, talked about prices in this country compared with Los Angeles. I would agree with the noble Lord that we would be living in a dream world if we thought that public expenditure could continue to increase unchecked, as some members—not in this House, perish that thought—of a party different from mine do appear to think occasionally. We have to cure inflation, and nothing is going to deter us, because everything else depends on that. Not only jobs and pensions but hospitals, schools, and museums, and the arts in general.
There have been fears that the local authority cuts will discriminate against the arts. In the present economic circumstances it would not have been right to exempt the arts, but the Government hope that all aspects of the arts, including local museums, will in due course benefit from the reduction in taxation. In the meantime, we believe that it is important to encourage increased private and industrial sponsorship, and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is looking at ways to advance this. We are convinced that there is a good deal of support which can be raised in the regions, and it is in this direction that we hope to concentrate our efforts. I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for the kind words they have said about my right honourable friend and the way they wished him success. I am very grateful, and I shall pass on their kind words to him.
Most major museums have received a good deal of support over the years from "Friends of the Museums", and it may be that local museums could benefit even more from help of this kind. We recognise that many local museums are facing very difficult problems indeed in caring for their collections. The Drew proposals are a serious attempt, by a body for which the Government have a great respect, to find ways in which these problems might be eased. But I think there would be a good deal of difference in their reception by the various interests concerned, and there is room for a lot of argument about their practicability and effects. Moreover, in the present economic situation, 471 they present the particular difficulty of requiring additional expenditure by central and local government. Your Lordships will not expect me to say that this is something we could easily contemplate in the near future. The Drew Report has been the subject of much discussion, and is going to go on being so.
The Government have had a meeting with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, who have been considering a workable adaptation of the recommendations in the Drew Report. Basically this would involve separation of designation and funding. They have been asked to submit their proposals. Meetings will also he held with the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils to hear their views, which are awaited by us with great interest. The Chancellor may well have consultations with other interested bodies too.
Your Lordships may well ask why we are taking so long to consider the Drew proposals. I should like to say that, on my arithmetic, we, with all the work of a new Government, have had the report very little longer than the noble Lord's late Administration. I have noted my noble friend Lord Eccles' warning about a sprouting Quango which might arrive in Belgravia. I am not sure that we wish to see this animal arrive, but who knows? The issues which the report raises have implications for the relationship between central and local government in museum matters, and these are going to require careful study in the light of the Government's policies, particularly at a time when we are trying to reduce central Government controls over local authorities.
It is to the benefit of all concerned that there should after the publication of the report be time for all views to be aired. Sir Arthur Drew has himself commented on what he regards as gaps in the report, which have become more obvious as time has gone on. The Government will play their proper role in the discussions on the report. It should not be overlooked that the main thrust of the Drew Report is about museums controlled by local authorities. It recommends, for example, an all-round improvement in both the quality and quantity of staff to approximate to those of the national museums in the capital. Although the national 472 museums cannot be exempted from their share of any reductions in public expenditure, they nevertheless set a high standard in all museum matters. The establishment of out-stations by the national museums is a valuable means not only of making national collections more accessible to the public but also of displaying in the provinces the importance the Government attach to the care of the heritage. In this way, the Government set an example which should lead to a general raising of standards in museums.
My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu inquired why the recommendations in the Drew Report that involve no extra costs cannot be implemented. I hope noble Lords will appreciate that very few of the recommendations are totally unrelated to the main tenor of the report. Therefore, they cannot really be implemented by the Government without prejudging a wider decision on the report in its entirety.
There are other areas of concern to the Drew Report where the Government are already making a valuable and significant contribution. In the present financial year we are making £1,266 million available to Area Museum Councils towards the costs of co-operative schemes for local museums and galleries, and a total of £1,478 million has been allocated to the Science and the Victoria and Albert Museums to aid purchases by local museums. The Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries is co-operating with the Area Museum Councils in a study leading to a legally recognised status for the councils, and I welcome this initiative by the Standing Commission. Also, the National Heritage Fund legislation proposals include provisions for indemnities which should help in making the heritage more widely accessible. My noble friend Lord Montagu and my noble kinsman Lord Perth asked about this point.
For actual details of our proposals in this field I must ask noble Lords to await the publication of the National Heritage Fund Bill, which I hope is not far distant. It is the Government's firm intention as opportunity presents itself to build on this substantial base of assistance to local museums, which is itself additional to that made available by way of the rate support grant.
473 I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, for, as he told the House, sending me his questions and most helpful points along with the interesting brochure about his delightful museum. He mentioned the Chatterley Whitfield Museum, of which he is president. I gather that my department's regional office is very much in favour of this unique mining museum, so much so that it has spent, or is proposing to spend, some £103,000 on works to the museum, both above and below ground. Moreover, the regional office is sending nearly £1 million additionally on reclamation works to the adjacent site which is currently occupied by coal spoil tips. When this land, amounting to over 300 acres, has been restored for recreational purposes, visitors to the area will have a large area of open space and the mining museum as a double attraction, and the spin-off from each one will, we hope, help the others.
Lord Davies is a model in this House. He is a Peer of strong political views who gets his points across and gets answers. We are grateful to him for the way he always puts his points; he fights for them, and I for one am grateful to him. He talked about how we in this country might be reduced to showing people our countryside and selling chocolates. I do not think he would be very good at that. I had two young cousins aged seven or eight staying here just before Christmas, and instead of selling chocolates he bought them chocolates. He is indeed a benevolent member of the Opposition.
Lord Davies in particular asked about the VAT situation. This is a complicated point, as he will appreciate, and all I can tell him—I apologise for the technicality of my reply—is that from the beginning of VAT, from April 1973, the theatre and other cultural institutions have pressed the Government for admissions to be zero rated. This request has consistently been refused because it is the essential nature of the tax that it bears on consumer expenditure generally in the domestic economy. The necessarily limited reliefs for the most part can be justified for compelling social reasons. All discretionary expenditure has from the beginning been subject to the tax and a concession in this area would present particular difficulty because it would 474 not be possible in practice to justify refusing similar treatment for many cultural, recreational or sporting activities, all of which in their own way are of value to the community and can be argued to be worthy of relief by reference to their particular problems and circumstances.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, a pit is unique. If that is conceded, I cannot see pit museums springing up like mushrooms. This is the one and only such museum in Europe and it is educational. But I would never argue with the noble Lord, whom I consider a friend, and I will leave the matter there for further consideration.
§ Lord MOWBRAY and STOURTON
My Lords, I can only quote to the noble Lord some of his noble friend's remarks: "All Ministers of Arts and their minions fight for Arts. The Treasury does not always give way". Lord Davies suggested that museums and galleries should in part count as educational establishments. There are certain educational exemptions, but it would be difficult to establish that museums and galleries are any more educational than concerts or performances of classical plays and so on. Local authorities are able to obtain relief on the running costs of local museums and of course on any tax involved in the purchase of new objects. Private museums have to pay tax on admission charges, but they too may seek relief on objects purchased.
One useful further source of financial assistance to museums has been the progress in the preparation and printing of attractive and informative catalogues and the tremendous growth in sales through shops attached to museums. This is an area which local museums could develop with great benefit to themselves, and I have noted the points which several noble Lords made about whether they would be able to keep those profits for themselves.
In this context, Lord Montagu and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, mentioned museum charges. Having sat beside the noble Viscount when he was Minister and heard him argue so vigorously his views on this matter, I feel slightly anxious that he will not have any raised blood pressure or be upset at the fact that I am 475 now perhaps taking a different view, because I have to tell the House that the Government are not in favour of general museum charges as such, but do not object to charges for special exhibitions. We believe that the national collections should be freely available for all to see. We are aware that some local museums charge an entrance fee and that local authorities have the power to implement such charges, but we would certainly not encourage them to do so.
Lord Donaldson raised the question of points of excellence, areas of excellence and museums of excellence—special regional places—and he mentioned in particular the Fitzwilliam, a museum for which, with him, I share great affection; its director is a great personal friend of mine and I agree with Lord Donaldson that it is second to none in the provincial field. We hope that the University of Cambridge will do everything it possibly can to ease the museum's problems. As the noble Lord said, there is already a significant Government contribution available through the local purchase fund of the V & A Museum and through the South Eastern Area Museum Council, half of whose expenditure is repaid by the Government.
Lord Donaldson and Lord Beaumont referred to the rate support grant, gave views about it and asked if the Government would comment on the subject. I have to tell the House that we do not think it is quite true to say that there is an element in the rate support grant which in theory is for museums. The grant is a block sum which each authority is free to spend as it wishes according to its views on the needs of particular services. To remove one service from the ambit of the grant and to make separate provision for it would raise fundamental questions about the general principle that local authorities are free to allocate their grant as they see fit. I do not think this suggestion would be attractive to local authorities in general and I would not like to leave the House with any impression that there was a prospect of it being pursued at present.
I should like, in conclusion, to do as Lord Donaldson asked me, namely to respond generously, but in times of economic hardship it is not always easy to do so. Thus, I have to say that museums, like so many of this country's 476 institutions, are based on a partnership between central Government, local government and private organisations and individuals. Much could be done to improve the co-operation within the existing framework and the Government propose to do all they can in this respect, but they also look to those who share this responsibility for improving the nation's museums to play their part as well.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, we have had a most interesting and perhaps important debate on a subject which must be of national importance. I have been delighted at the bipartisan atmosphere that has prevailed in all parts of the House and has been reflected in the speeches; indeed it has also been enhanced by the speeches of two ex-Ministers for the Arts. The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, has very fully replied to and covered the speeches made by noble Lords, but I should like to make one or two comments. I should like to say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Eccles about the importance of local involvement, and I am sure that this is a matter in which Area Museums Councils can do much more to help co-ordinate and advise.
I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Perth raised the question of historic houses. May I draw his attention to paragraph 8.14 in the Drew Report which looks to Area Museum Services to encourage membership which involves historic houses and their contents, whether or not they are officially museums, as a component part of the museum provision in the area. I believe that Sir Arthur Drew had that in mind when he wrote the paragraph. I am most delighted that my noble friend mentioned the National Heritage Fund. When it is set up, it will create a great burden of consultation with the Standing Commission, and I have no doubt that the Museums Association Council can play its part in giving advice. It is very important that that advice should be of high calibre. That is also applicable to the chairman and trustees of the new National Heritage Fund who must go calmly and professionally about their task when it arises.
I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, said with regard to museum 477 charges, and I think I detected a slight change in direction from the quite adamant views that were held by his party in 1974. I hope that that is perhaps true. At least he said that he felt that times are changing, and perhaps his views will prevail against some of the more adamant views of his colleagues. But I appreciate that politically this is a hot potato and although I was disappointed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, say that it was not possible even to encourage local government to make charges, perhaps I should leave this point and accept it as a political, and not a practical, decision.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, has proved that the Government are taking the report seriously. We have had a positive, not a negative, response tonight, and I am most grateful for that. The noble Lord has certainly given great food for thought for museums and perhaps a little food for museum stomachs as well. I should certainly like to join in congratulating Sir Arthur Drew upon the report. Knowing him, I am sure that he will persist and ensure that the report is not forgotten; and so indeed will I. My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.