§ 6.34 p.m.
§ The Earl of Clancarty
rose to call attention to the role of the regional museums and galleries (particularly local authority museums) within the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am that we have a chance to debate the role of regional museums and galleries today. I look forward to the contributions of those noble Lords who are taking part in the debate.
The Motion suggests a focus on local authority museums, but it is important that the role of other kinds of museums, including university-owned collections and the independent museums, is discussed, and the national museums in terms of their relationship to the regions including their own.
We are a fairly select band this evening. There are clearly always many people willing to speak in debates specifically on the national museums and galleries, and not just because of a London bias. But a discussion of regional museums and galleries is also a discussion of individuals whose work in the field of culture is connected to or bound by particular localities or regions within the UK, and perhaps there need to be more people in this House who can or are willing to talk of that experience.
981 This is a large and complex subject and I shall not pretend to give a comprehensive overview. I shall look at the importance of good statistics, certain funding problems and connections between regions.
One of the first and perhaps most important factors one discovers in researching for a debate of this type is the scarcity of meaningful statistics on museums. That view is backed up by many museum professionals and experts including Stuart Davies and Sara Selwood in their recent comprehensive report for Cultural Trends. David Fleming, director at Tyne and Wear, complained in last month's Museums Journal of what he called a knowledge deficit. It is far too easy, for instance, to take an approach which gives only examples of what we might perceive as best practice. The Government give 10 such examples in their new access standards document, Museums for the Many. They tell us clearly what they think the museums should be doing—and all the examples are deserving of citation—but what that approach does not give us is a sense of the whole picture including, importantly, I think, the historical context for particular implementations by museums which is absolutely necessary if there is to be a coherent national museums policy.
We need to know in what direction things are moving. I believe that this should be one of the main concerns of the new Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, MLAC. Urgently required are detailed data, which are as complete as possible, in order, for instance, to elicit long-term regional and nationwide trends, and geographic distributions. Those have to be properly analysed and wedded to policy. The Digest of Museum Statistics (DOMUS), volunteered annually from registered museums, is the obvious basis for that. The information contained in last year's document, Museums in Focus, produced by the Museums and Galleries Commission, is no more than a start. Only about 80 per cent of respondents returned the questionnaire this year. The figure needs to be 100 per cent.
I suggest to the Government that the annual provision of statistics to MLAC by individual museums should be a condition of registration and/or funding agreements. I think also that it would not be too difficult a project for such a survey to be extended back much further in time, perhaps to the 19th century, so that real long-term trends can be deduced. Many museums will have detailed records which go back many years. It is important, too, that such a project is not tendered out, for instance, as an academic project. It should be conducted by an inhouse team, including museum experts and statisticians, since its implementation needs to be closely aligned to the policy making of the new body. There should be a wider consultation on the content of the questionnaire than exists currently. For instance, small local museums may have their own ideas about what characteristics need to be drawn out of such a survey.
The Government, being in the best position to do so, should be carrying out what they are currently asking various groups to do separately, thereby—without spurning those contributions—making the whole undertaking more efficient.
982 It is clear that the cultural map, like the political map, is beginning to shift rapidly. The changes that are taking place mean that this is in many ways an exciting time for regional museums. There are, for example, across the United Kingdom numerous large-scale capital projects such as the New Art Gallery in Walsall, which is due to open in February next year.
Certain initiatives at local authority museums are clearly due not just to strong individual curatorship, which is important in itself, but also to the right level of support from the relavent local authorities. Bristol Museums and Art Gallery was able last September to drop the admission charge which it had had for six years. Its attendance rose by 72 per cent for the last financial year. Its current major exhibition on slavery is winning considerable praise from national newspapers, all of this being achieved on public money with very little sponsorship.
Specific initiatives include the schools loan service at Reading, which is rightly applauded, although here the Government should consider the fact that the widest coverage in the United Kingdom of such services, including the nationwide service by the National Museum of Wales, probably existed in the early 1970s. Central government too have directly signalled their interest in certain of the regional museums with 15 million spread over three years for the 43 designated museums' services. This is a modest amount but a precedent in terms of its commitment to non-national museums with significant collections.
Yet with all the examples of specific funding and "good practice" that can be given, it is clear that the particular situation of regional and local museums varies tremendously throughout the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State should be fully aware that the over-riding situation of local authority museums is one of uncertainty and of diminishing funds from the local authorities themselves. The Government need to look at the issue closely and, I reiterate, demonstrate not only that they are aware of the more detailed picture but that they are able to map it out and formulate a national policy to deal with it.
Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth, which I understand puts on a significant programme of contemporary Welsh art, is symptomatic of the position of many museums, particularly in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom, which are suffering from the reorganisation of local authorities. Ceredigion was formerly part of Dyfed. For the past 10 years the museum has had an average of 35,000 visitors but, through no fault of its own, recent cuts in funding have meant the introduction of charges, effecting an immediate drop in visitor numbers of 66 per cent. Ceredigion is unable to employ an education officer and, most frustratingly, is unable to take up grant opportunities, including lottery funding.
Another reason for poor funding is the low priority which museums and galleries are often given by local authorities in the wake of government policy concerning education and social exclusion. For example. MGC's new visitor survey shows that museums score more highly than most other so-called "leisure activities".
983 Thirty-five per cent of the population have visited a museum in the last 12 months. Only the cinema, at 59 per cent, and parks and gardens score more. There is, for instance, considerable concern about the effect the new scheme, Fair Funding, will have on education in museums, which of course includes the effective access which schools will have. The MGC stops short of criticising the delegation of funds to schools per se but is clearly worried about the loss of the central education advisory services. I understand that its report is due out in the summer. One can also add the fear that education posts will be lost, as well as the more general concern over the loss of economies of scale; in other words, the dispersal of expertise. I understand that DfEE and DCMS are currently holding discussions on this, and I would welcome a report from the Minister as to how matters are proceeding.
Over three-quarters of the museums which are open today have been founded since 1970. Many of these independent museums now call for a level playing field for all museums. However, there is something quite unique about local authority museums; for instance, the way they have developed their own catchment areas—some areas, it has to be said, better covered than others. Everyone in the country deserves their own good free local museum. I believe an idea of public space as might exist in these museums provides a key to our thinking about the meaning of "access", something that needs to be much more widely discussed.
The Government's use of the term in a qualitative abstract sense—for example, in the sense of widening access—ignores the significance of the public space of which the collections are the focal point where access is something that may happen—access as a concrete contemporary event. If the Government are to protect local authority museums with their special unique qualities, as they should pledge to do, in part through a promise to introduce a statutory requirement, then they need to protect that public space as well. That public space is not just the physical space. It includes, or should include, scholarship, conservation, education and IT, management, and much else and, of course, the visitors: everything that is held in orbit around the collection itself.
The problem with tendering out any parts of this space—the Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust has been considering this in relation to conservation—is that the space is reduced and becomes closed off. The Government wish museums to be "user-friendly", but there is nothing quite so opaque or unaccountable in a direct sense to the public as private business. A public collection without a public space in which to show it is not a public collection.
Access that is about public space has to be about a living culture. It is in that spirit that the Heritage Lottery Access Fund should, I think, be flexible about the guideline which excludes art of the last 20 years. The HLF ought to be overlapping with the Arts Council of England. What is needed, I think, is greater dialogue between past and present. Perhaps the HLF should consider employing one or two people on their access fund steering group with an interest in contemporary art.
984 One might say that beyond the problems which devolution and regional autonomy will initially bring, many regional museums are beginning to talk to each other and exchange ideas on a different scale than previously. For example, partly for lobbying reasons but also to exchange information, a new group of 21 of the local authority city museums, Group for Large Local Authority Museums (GLLAM), has been set up. The Tate Gallery is currently considering extending a scheme of creative partnerships beyond the pilot scheme it has been running with Norwich Castle Museum. The regional museums now have a strongly-held view that such relationships have to be two-way. Also, so that less well-financed and perhaps more isolated museums can benefit from such schemes, the Heritage Lottery Fund may be an appropriate source of such funding. And it is for such reasons—to allow the necessary context of the nationals within the nationwide picture—that it is crucial that all the national museums are included in the remit of MLAC.
For a coherent museums policy, the nationals cannot be perceived as being independent of the rest of the museums sector. Last year an exhibition called artranspennine98, which I did not actually see, was organised by the Tate Gallery Liverpool, stretching between Liverpool, Leeds and Hull, predicated on a view that we need to be sensitive about the connections that may or may not exist between one region and another.
As important, at a more grass-roots level, is the need for all individuals entering the cultural field of a museum, particularly those resident within the museum's own region, to have an opportunity of exploring beyond the museum itself. The museum should not be the final stop but should be there also to act as a conduit, a facilitator for people, including artists and others on low incomes, within their regions to interact with cultures outside them, including abroad and vice versa. For example, regional museums could have much closer links with the British Council. I understand that in Scotland some close associations between institutions have been forged over a long period. Perhaps the rest of the United Kingdom could learn from these developments.
Within this context I would also seriously suggest that Visiting Arts, an efficient organisation, deserves dramatically increased funding to help to properly finance a much greater array of exchange projects.
I want to say a word about the relationship between access and the principle of "best value", and conclude with an irony directed to both the Government and the regional museums. Best value is now being forcibly applied in the museum sector so that one tends to hear the phrase, "jumping through hoops". For the Government, access in the abstract sense is always access to something—the "hidden treasures", so called:, of the collections perhaps, as in the recent DCMS press release. I believe that the Government tend to "blackbox" art. On the other hand they have a very definite idea (much more than I do) of what culture—pop culture, football culture and so forth—is. But if one believes, as I do, that the public space which museums set up is the space where cultural discussion is to take 985 place, the irony becomes that in order to sustain that space museums have to fulfil the criteria of a known funding policy, which itself should be critiqued within that space. Perhaps the Minister may have something to say about that in relation to local, regional and future national strategies. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for tabling this Motion. The noble Earl is assiduous in raising matters concerning the arts in your Lordships' House, and long may he be enabled to do so.
There is a wealth of art treasures in many of the regional museums throughout the United Kingdom. The exhibition entitled "Art Treasures of England" last year at Burlington House will have come as a revelation to many people. It certainly came as a revelation to me.
The question is: are we doing enough to help these institutions to preserve and increase access to the works of art in their keeping? The Government are doing a great deal to encourage access, as their recent paper, Museums for the Many, makes clear and as mentioned by the noble Earl. But, as he also mentioned, finance remains a problem.
Much help is given by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the National Art Collections Fund, supported by the subscriptions of its members. But the financial pressure continues to increase. I understand that the HLF received more than 4,500 applications last year, requesting in total four times the available funding. The policy appears to have changed as the bulk of the large grants go to urban parks and historic city areas, as well as to wildlife and nature conservation, rather than to the purchase of works of art. The sum allocated to museums for acquisitions is just £5 million. As the Financial Times put it, "Wetlands before Watteaus".
On the other hand, this policy seems to me to be the right one as once a heritage site, or historic building, has gone it has gone for ever. But the painting or sculpture goes to other owners or institutions, usually in the United States, where it is just as fully appreciated, well preserved and seen probably by even more people.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund was established as a memorial to those who have given their lives for the United Kingdom and as a fund of last resort to save important art treasures for the nation. During recent years, its funds have been whittled away from £12 million in 1993–94 to only £2 million last year. I am glad that the present Government have agreed to increase the grant in aid over the next three years to a level of £5 million. This is most welcome. I hope that it will not be considered a ceiling and that the original level will be restored.
I trust that the Government will continue to bear in mind the importance of a regional museum to the people of the locality. They cannot always travel to London, nor should they be obliged to do so. The regional and university museums, which are often of national importance, are a lifeline for many people who depend 986 on them for their study, continuing appreciation and pleasure. The Government were obliged to finance and to be responsible for Liverpool's five museums during the local government reorganisation. Those museums have become the National Museums on Merseyside and are, as we know, a great success story, showing the difference between museums funded by central government and those, unhappily, which are not.
Non-formula funding for some 21 university museums from the DCMS is of course some help and I believe that one day central government will have to take on more financial responsibility for many of our regional museums rather than leaving them to hard-pressed local authorities.
Cheltenham Borough Council has been obliged to close two local museums; a costume museum and that devoted to the composer, Gustav Holst, who was born there. The splendid Bowes Museum is in difficulties, despite the good intentions of Durham County Council. I believe that there should be a more equal funding relationship between the regional and the national museums so that the regions get more of the funds available and local people, including our young people, are not deprived of their cultural heritage.
We need an integrated national policy for all our museums, as the noble Earl mentioned. The Government have already given much support to the arts in general and I hope that they will consider what can be done to give more help and encouragement to this hard-pressed sector.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, I too, congratulate the noble Earl on initiating this timely debate. Having spent almost a lifetime in the museum world, I must declare an interest as former president of the Museums Association, patron of the Association of Independent Museums and, of course, founder and chairman of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu.
Inevitably, over the years I have taken part in many museum debates in your Lordships' House, but in the circumstances of the Bill going through the House, this will probably be my last intervention. Perhaps in another debate on this subject your Lordships will not be able to discuss Scotland and Wales. We shall see. However, I have never known a time when such unfortunate paradoxes faced our museums. As we near the end of the 20th century, there is a transformation in the museum world. Thanks to the National Lottery, and not to governments more money has been allocated to new museums and the refurbishment of old ones than in the past 100 years. Undreamed of clouds of new money have been showered on places such as the British Museum, the new Tate, new millennium museums up and down the country—for instance, the New Hampshire Transport Museum at Basingstoke—not forgetting major refurbishment and renewals. So noble Lords can be forgiven for wondering why there is so much concern about the future.
The fact is that new buildings are fine, but eventually they have to be administered expertly and viably, and a very large percentage have to earn their keep or be 987 subsidised by local council tax payers. For most museums, the main source of income is visitors and the sad fact is that at the moment they are in diminishing supply. There are reports from all over the country of diminishing admissions.
The overall number of visitors to museums is static at about 80 million, but the number of new museums sharing that cake is increasing year by year. Therefore, each individual museum is getting a smaller part of the cake. The decrease, or lack of increase, is an unfortunate result of Sunday shopping, which had a major effect on attendance figures all over the country. Sunday shopping is now a major recreational activity for the family and, quite frankly, museums cannot compete with major shopping centres such as Bluewater, Lakeside, Tesco and Sainsbury's. Every new museum will be in competition not only with established museums and galleries but also with other tourist attractions.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, will not agree with me, but I can tell them that as regards regional museums the situation has not been helped by the Governments announcements on free entry to national museums and providing money to them, which the directors would much prefer to spend on new acquisitions, to compensate them for lack of admission money and VAT offset. Since all the national museums already catered for free entry for children and old-age pensioners and other needy people, the only beneficiaries are the millions of overseas visitors who are more than willing to pay and are accustomed to do so; for example, at the Louvre and the Hermitage where the queues are often longer than we see at our own museums. There is no evidence whatever that the British people think that we should provide free access to our national museums for overseas visitors who, when surveyed a few years ago, stated that they were more than delighted to pay.
After all, there is much experience in museums where there are admission charges enabling children, old-age pensioners and other deserving people to enter free. But in the new century, surely those who can afford to pay should pay and contribute to the future of the museum.
The fact is that most regional and independent museums have no choice other than to adopt a charging policy or close down. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, gave examples of those national museums which are in trouble. Basically, I feel that the Government have confused their very laudable desire for greater access with that of admission fees. The Museums Association tells me that the general query now from people in the provinces is about that very subject. They assume that entry to all museums is now free of charge.
The other great uncertainty in the regions is how the new body being set up as a result of the merger between the Museums and Galleries Commission and the libraries is going to work. Incidentally, that merger was opposed by almost all concerned. For years the Museums and Galleries Commission has admirably administered the funds allocated through the Museums Area Services. No such funds existed for libraries. If one assumes that, as usual, no new money will be 988 available, does that mean that museum funds will be robbed to finance library projects? An explanation of how the Government see the future in that area is eagerly awaited.
I must point out that there are also nearly 1,000 independent museums which play a considerable part in conserving and displaying our heritage. Some may he lucky, and have been lucky, in receiving lottery support but they cannot expect any government or local government funding. Nevertheless, regionally, they have a very important role to play in relation to the social infrastructure of our local communities. That is not solely educating children but also giving local people a sense of belonging to an area the roots of which go back in history.
Therefore, we all agree that regional museums play a vital part in the life of the nation. The regional district authorities and the Cultural Council have a major task in laying down standards and evolving a policy for the next two years. Otherwise, I foresee more and more museums, both large and small, closing down, It will be difficult to rehouse those artefacts in our already crowded museums so inevitably they will be sold and lost overseas.
However, I pay tribute to the Government and I thank the Secretary of State for finding the money over a three-year period for designated museums. That will be of great assistance, especially in the field of conservation.
The future stability of regional museums is dependent on well-structured partnerships by all concerned. I appreciate that it will be some time before the new regional structures are working as the Government propose. At the moment, the lack of information is breeding worry and uncertainty. The more the Government can do in future months to assure the regional museums of their support and confidence in their future, the better.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for initiating this debate. Museums are a very important part of our cultural heritage. Indeed, they should be at the very centre of all forms of local activity for the simple reason that everything about us, everything we do, has a history. Every locality has an individual history. Museums are probably the easiest way to get people interested in that history.
I was attracted to this debate because as a child I grew up in Norwich, which is a city well served by its museums. It has one major advantage—it has a castle in the middle of the city which has a museum inside it. It is probably about as good a building as there can be for housing a museum. There is a main medieval hall and keep and you are told about its history when you go in there. Another museum was one of the old town houses which was reconstructed and preserved in a historically pristine style. The rooms were decorated in the style of certain periods. As a child I remember looking at the strange toys and wondering how I could obtain a set of the lead soldiers there. I was told that they would rather exceed my pocket money. It was many years before I believed what my mother told me about that.
989 There was a museum which dealt with local industry, and in East Anglia that meant agriculture. Hayricks and farm implements were on display. They were usually accompanied by descriptions of the gruesome injuries they caused. The Roald Dahl theory about how to get children interested in such matters holds good. Tell them how a threshing machine can take your arm off and then tell them that it was used to gather in crops. That usually works quite well.
Those museums attracted the interest of the local people, and at that time, I believe, entry was free. If people visit such institutions they will become interested in the history involved. As I said, there is a history to everything we deal with. There is an historical aspect to every subject in education. This Government said—which I believe they borrowed from us from a previous election campaign—"education, education, education". Museums must surely be a part of that. Education is not just about textbooks and statistics and so on. It is about trying to engage people and get them involved. Museums and galleries are probably the best way to engage the interest of the population. If they can be made more relevant to the population through local connections, that is even better. They are a vital part of our society.
The political side is a question of money and funding. As has been said, you can construct a building or repair its roof, but you also have to run it. The National Lottery has helped with repairs and even new buildings on occasion, but the real problem facing those museums is the running costs. Anyone involved with voluntary sector work will know that it is fairly easy to construct something but very difficult to get it running. Unless prohibitive charges are imposed, which undoubtedly keeps down the numbers—there are no two ways about that—funding must be found from somewhere.
If I suggested that local authorities should fund those buildings willy-nilly and put money into them I should probably be ripped limb from limb as I signed on in the foyer at my next party conference. But the Government could take a step forward to give those educational units a chance; that is, by making sure that all local authorities which have responsibility for museums must publish a clear statement of what they are spending. We all know that in any organisation, there is a competition for funds. If you have some information, you can start to build an argument. Surely that would be a way forward.
We must also try to achieve more co-ordination in relation to our local museums and galleries. At lunch-time, I was speaking to some people from, I believe, the University of Newcastle who said, "Oh yes, we run a local museum from the university. We have a local remit. Unfortunately, the local authority does not include us in its tourist guide". It was not regarded as being part of that set-up. There must be integration of education and tourism policies. If people do not know that those places exist they will not visit them. It is as simple as that. Those aspects must be brought together.
That is a challenge for joined-up government. At a very low political temperature, it typifies much of what the Government have said they want to do. Education, 990 culture and tourism are all involved. Are we making a case for bringing culture, media and sport into the remit of the Department for Education? Most of those have been part of it at some time. Most of those aspects have been part of its remit at some time. Unless we take a coherent, across-the-board view, we will have trouble. At local level we must try and make sure that at least the educational service for the very young is provided on a free entry basis and make sure that people know about this. If people are being educated and deriving cultural benefit, it does not matter if the museum was founded by a local magnate 30 years ago.
Ultimately, unless we invest time and effort as well as cash in letting people know what is going on, we will, first, under-utilise the museum facilities and, secondly, lose them. We must keep public interest high and that will only come about if we involve people in every phase of the process. I believe the Government can do that without annoying the Treasury too much.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, I too welcome this debate and thank the noble Earl for introducing it.
I am glad that there has been a remarkable change in the role of museums, especially in the regions, both in the way that they are being run and, above all, in the way that they relate to their local communities—a point just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I believe that this has been a universal museum renaissance, though I speak for the West Midlands and especially for Hereford and Shropshire. This is part of a large area in which there are 150 museums linked together with other organisations in an informal "cultural consortium". Those bodies are not simply the obvious partners like the library and archive services, but West Midlands Arts, the Heart of England Tourist Board, the Countryside Agency, English Heritage and sports interests.
Certainly in the West Midlands there is a warm appreciation for this co-operative approach. While the museum service quite clearly wishes to remain autonomous and is differently structured from some of its partner bodies, it welcomes these increasing links and better channels of communication.
I could sing the praises of the wonderful new building we have in Hereford by the cathedral, designed by Sir William Whitfield, to house our uniquely important chained library and Mappa Mundi, and the interpretative exhibition that goes with it. Or I could speak about the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings at Bromsgrove, a wonderful collection of local buildings from many different periods—a smaller version of the magnificent folk museum at St. Fagans on the outskirts of Cardiff.
But I want to speak particularly and very appreciatively of three extremely modest initiatives of which I am aware and which form part of this museum revolution. Alongside the museum's traditional role of guardianship, we have seen growing up a remarkable increase in interpretation. Objects are preserved but they are also explained in ways which are interactive and user-friendly, and draw in the public in new ways. That 991 includes people who would previously have found it impossible to use or to enjoy the museum services and who would never have darkened the door of a museum building.
Hereford City Museum recently won the Gulbenkian Award taking first prize in the section for work with the disabled with its "Get in Touch" exhibition for the visually handicapped. It was a hands-on exhibition which ran for a year in Hereford and has now been dispersed to three smaller local museums, enabling blind and visually impaired people to enjoy the museum in a totally new way.
The second important local initiative in involving the public—the "stakeholders" in the current, unlovely jargon—has been in the encouragement of collectors. An amazing number of people are collectors of an extraordinary range of objects, only a tiny fraction of which could be included in a modest museum's own collection. Under the theme, "Carry on Collecting" Hereford museum has been encouraging individuals to share information and knowledge about their collections, whatever they are of, and people are passionate and expert collectors. The museum's role is to co-ordinate, advise and stimulate, and from time to time to gather together and display some of the private collections; to keep records of who has what and to set up networks of enthusiasts.
Let me give one specific example. I do not know how many Members of your Lordships' House will be familiar with the remarkable private collection now displayed in a former warehouse in Gloucester Docks—the Opie Museum of Packaging. When I first heard about it my reaction, I am ashamed to say, was one of incredulity; it sounded terminally tedious—"A museum of packaging? You must be joking!" In reality, of course, it is one of the most enjoyable and instructive museums I have ever visited. It is an astonishing, three-dimensional textbook of social history—what we have eaten, what we have drunk, the clothes we have worn, the furniture we have lived with, and the advertising to which we have been subjected over the past 60 years or so. Practically every exhibit brings back memories, many of them for me intensely nostalgic. What transformations of public taste there have been. How simply we lived in those austere post-war years, and so on.
This museum started life as the collection of one enthusiast. It now serves the public with distinction giving pleasure and instruction to vast numbers of people. If museums regionally and locally can stimulate, catalogue and make use of similar collections, I believe they will be performing a worthwhile service alongside their traditional task of guardianship of mainstream archaeological, historical, scientific and cultural collections.
Let me mention one final important innovation: the mobile museum sponsored jointly by Hereford, Shropshire and Worcestershire. It is simply a large van, appropriately fitted out, which can take a changing, thematic collection of artefacts and interpretative material to local schools, agricultural shows, public events and into the furthest corners of these three rural 992 counties. This is an excellent, imaginative, co-operative venture which is adding again to the number of people who can be involved with the work of the regional museums, enjoy their collections, be informed and stimulated by them alongside the increasing numbers who actually visit them—a 40 per cent increase last year in Hereford city alone.
Despite the funding problems to which many noble Lords referred, regional museums are in very good heart. I should like to recognise the enthusiasm and hard work of curators and museum staff, and urge the Government also to be appreciative of this and generous in their funding of this important part of our cultural life.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Baroness Rendell of Babergh
My Lords, I too should like to express my gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this debate.
When I was a child I thought museums were for children, designed for children like a bigger or more exciting school. The adults were only there to accompany the children, not for their own pleasure or edification. It would be no bad thing if we were to bear that illusion of mine in mind when considering the function, role and future of museums. Their principal function must be to educate and to do so whether their visitors are 10 years old or 60. We go to them to look, to appreciate and to learn.
Yet there are people who find our big museums formidable, most of their exhibits being housed in vast buildings designed in the 19th century to look like palaces, temples or seats of government,. In the case of the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is spread over 11 acres with over seven miles of corridors and contains 4 million exhibits. In later life people are often intimidated by the scale of such buildings and fear being "shown up" for their ignorance of where to go and what to look for.
The "24-hour Museum" on the Internet should be of help here, as a new website will give information on around 3,000 museums and galleries as well as giving access to 150 museum websites. The project, "Museums for the Many", as mentioned by the noble Earl and my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, should open up many of the country's collections and show users what is available to them: that museums are for all and not for a select few, an elite or solely for tourists.
Technology is a boon. But a huge cultural breakthrough such as the Internet has been—a source of enlightenment to many—must also, as noble Lords will know, have its downside. Websites on the net, of inestimable value as they will be, must not be allowed to become an end in themselves and deflect potential visitors away from attending museums in person.
With 80 million visitors a year, the public demand has never been higher, for local museums are a very different matter from the huge showplaces in city centres. The 2,000 and more in the United Kingdom are well distributed and increasingly popular. A particular appeal is made by local collections, enabling people to 993 grasp what their heritage is about, to understand their links with the past and to feel part of their communities in a cultural as well as a commercial and social way.
An example of success in difficult circumstances would be Gainsborough's House in Sudbury, Suffolk. Sudbury is Gainsborough. He was born in the town in 1727, a street is named after him, as are many local commercial ventures and institutions and a statue of him stands in the market-place where, holding brush and palette, he seems to be painting the town he surveys. Gainsborough's House is one of a very few independent galleries. Most are local authority museums. However, it does receive grants from Suffolk County Council and from the small parish-type authority, Sudbury Town Council. Three years ago it received £60,000 from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, enabling it to buy, among other works of art, a small Gainsborough painting. But its continued existence is a struggle.
As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, pointed out, education is a prime function of museums. This is the reason, apart from those opened merely to display vulgar curiosities, why most of them were established. With the Government's new drive to open up "hidden treasures" and free entry for children to 32 major national institutions, museums should develop their educational role and strengthen their links with schools. Inspiring children is of prime importance, that and offering them the opportunity to take pride in the area in which they live and the achievements of some writer, painter, musician, engineer or scientist particularly and essentially associated with their neighbourhood. That children should grow up, as many have in the past, bored if awe-inspired by a school visit to some vast and towering depository of ancient artefacts, is a tragedy. Nothing is more easily dismissed from the human mind than that which has not been understood. Special training for teachers in the explanation of museum exhibits will be of enormous use here.
If local cultural strategies are to be based on the needs of the community, it must be clear what those are. Needs are often not clearly known until information has been given and options offered. Local priorities should be identified and local people set the cultural agenda. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen would be for local councils to become self-satisfied with what is provided and sink into apathy. With the new websites, sensibly used, a real opportunity has appeared, offering everyone a chance to know what is locally and nationally on offer and what is expanding and being enhanced. It is to be hoped that the 24-hour Museum on the internet will be a gateway—but principally a gateway—to library users nationwide and, of course, available in schools.
"Design", as Bryan Appleyard wrote in last Sunday's Sunday Times,in the context of the V&A's glorious collection, is much better than shopping".The difficulty here is that you cannot buy the exhibits, but you can often buy facsimiles or representations of the exhibits. Shopping, we are told, is the consuming passion of the times in which we live. Therefore, the museum's shop, whether it may be attached to a small 994 railway museum out in the country or to the National Gallery is another gateway and its expansion or, in some cases, installation, should be encouraged. The child who buys the plastic cat wearing gold earrings has been introduced to Egyptology and another pathway of his or her education has been entered.
A shop may also be a useful source of funding. In 1998–99, for instance, retailing income in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery shop doubled. Wolverhampton Art and Museums has attracted £6 million from the National Lottery for capital development, commissioning and temporary projects. A measure of the success of these programmes is the enormous increase in the number of visitors. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is spreading its financial support to museums beyond those it directly funds by means of a £15 million challenge fund for designated museums. Of the 43 designated museums eligible to apply, 17 are local authority managed. Unfortunately, Gainsborough's House failed to gain inclusion among designated museums, although Gainsborough is a nationally, even internationally, famous painter.
A museum may enjoy charitable status. The rules and regulations of a "friends" or voluntary supporters club, can be organised within a simple constitution. Gainsborough's House is presently considering the possibilities of establishing a friends' group. There are a number of financial benefits to be derived from charitable status including 80 per cent mandatory relief on business rates, exemption from certain taxes and enhanced opportunities to receive funds from private individuals. The disadvantages are that the museum, by having to stand alone, will be unable to fall back on local authority resources, financial and otherwise. But since local authorities can and do administer charities, a council may be able to initiate a charitable company to focus on museum operations. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu pointed out, a great many people have now taught themselves to believe that entrance to all museums is, or should be, free.
Finally, the new museum that Somerset House will become, needs a mention in this debate. At present, one of its wings houses the Courtauld Collection on the Strand. When the ambitious and splendid conversions are complete, Mr. and the late Mrs. Gilbert's collection of gold and silver, micro mosaics and snuff boxes will be housed in the Gilbert Galleries. Public access will be from the Victoria Embankment and a glass bridge will span the entrance. The great arch that was a feature of the original 200 year-old building will be re-established. The new museum will be a marvellous marriage of the ancient and the modern and a magnet to art lovers from all over the world.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Freyberg
I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this timely debate on the role of regional museums and galleries.
In particular, I should like to focus on a much-neglected type; namely, those museums attached to universities and other higher education institutes. They 995 have, with some justice, been referred to as the Cinderellas of the museum world in that they have much to offer yet are little known and appreciated. For various historical reasons, many possess specialist collections, a good number of which are not on display nor catalogued nor curated—indeed, their very existence is only gradually coming to light.
According to the MGC's museums registration scheme, the number of university museums in the United Kingdom stood at 90 on 21st May 1999—5 per cent of the total number of museums. In addition, universities possess a large number of less documented collections, and recent research by Kate Arnold-Foster indicates that the total number of museums and collections amounts to more than 400, suggesting that the issue is a far larger one than had previously been recognised.
They range from major museums such as the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading to unusual teaching collections of laboratory equipment. Most were put together with a specific educational or research purpose that is far narrower than that of the average public museum. The physical study of objects was seen as fundamental to the teaching and research of subjects such as geology, archaeology, anatomy and pathology.
However, as teaching methods changed, the relevance of the collections decreased dramatically, particularly in the sciences. Important study collections became historical rather than working collections—though some have recently found new uses in contemporary scientific studies; for example, in assessing changing levels of pollution in the atmosphere. As they have become redundant, collections have also become more interesting historically, making new uses for them appropriate. It is neither possible nor desirable to re-invent all these collections as local authority-style public museums. What should be done is to enhance those features that make university museums and collections different. Increased access is important, but so, too, is preserving distinctness.
University museums and collections have the potential to fulfil a number of objectives: supporting teaching and research, enhancing the quality of life of students and staff, raising the academic profile of the institution, enhancing the quality of life of the wider community, raising the local, regional or national profile of the institution and even earning income for it. To do all, or any of these things well, however, they need resources.
Higher education museums have traditionally been funded by their parent bodies. However, in the past decade, with funding under increased pressure and greater accountability demanded, there has been greater resistance to spending money on such "luxuries" as research collections. Perhaps future funding for museum collections could be ring-fenced? Today, university collections are no longer at the forefront of best practices in display or educational techniques. Heads of departments are often unaware or too busy to apply for additional funding, such as challenge funding, which would improve the running of their collection. The Museums and Galleries Access Fund can help.
996 In the past universities had a good record for caring for works of art and other objects entrusted to them. However, unused collections are vulnerable to being disposed of or consigned to unsuitable storage conditions, while some institutes will be tempted to exchange their collections for cash. For example, Royal Holloway College recently sold off some of its most valuable Victorian paintings, thus breaking up a previously intact collection. This would not be acceptable in any public collection. Understandably, universities regard collections as their own property to dispose of as they wish, rather than as objects presented to them in trust for the public, as is the case in local authority museums. The Government should urgently examine whether universities are still the best custodians of their share of our heritage. If not, should the Government act to limit their powers of disposal?
Up until 1998 all higher education museums and galleries relied on the Department for Education for their upkeep. At present the total sum available to HE funding councils is barely adequate and does not allow for building maintenance or capital development. The funding of the major, or non-formula, university museums—some 21 museums of undoubted national distinction—is now in the hands of the Arts and Humanities Research Board, which expends some £9 million on them out of a budget of £17 million. Although there is little possibility of works being sold off, it is worrying to note that the board has little experience in this field.
Is it not therefore worth considering whether such funding would be better managed by an organisation with experience of museums, such as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport? While this would create great unease in universities as it would sever the bonds between university and museum, it is necessary to ask the question: if universities do not see their collections as core to their educational needs, how do they intend to fund their upkeep? Perhaps this is an area that the new Museums, Libraries and Archives Council should investigate when it starts operating in April 2000.
What is needed is a complete rethink of the ways universities fund their museums and collections alongside a radical re-examination of their changing role and the possibilities for sharing them with others. The most likely future for many small collections is on The Internet for wider dissemination among scholars and other interested parties. Clearly this in itself will cost money. It would, I think, be an investment well worth making. For, if treated imaginatively, there is every sign that universities' historic collections should have a useful and glorious future as well as a past.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Viscount Knutsford
My Lords, I too would like to applaud the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for promoting this debate to call attention to the role of regional museums at a time when the nationals are more in the public eye.
I speak from experience over many years of a local authority museum; namely, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter—which the right reverend Prelate 997 knows well—which is a large and lively regional museum with many and varied collections, owned by the Exeter City Council, a small, second-tier local authority. An analogy is of a large demanding cuckoo sitting rather uncomfortably in a small local authority nest. This leads to two difficulties which in this day and age are repeated in almost every walk of life; namely, financial and staff shortages.
In terms of financial resources, local authority museums do not compare favourably with the nationals which are funded by the DCMS. Considering the size of its huge Victorian building and the size of its collections, Exeter Museum's revenue budget is very small compared to museums of similar size funded centrally. One reason is that there is no legal obligation on a local authority to provide a museum service, and a small restricted local authority finds it hard to give priority to cultural activities when the alternative is having to cut other budgets. But a more disappointing reason is another cuckoo-in-the-nest situation. Over the past nine years the annual visitor figure has risen from 80,000 to 217,000. However, this number of visitors is over twice the population of Exeter which provide the city council's revenue. Such a large increase cannot be sustained without spending more money, but Exeter City Council is reluctant to find it. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said; namely, that it may be necessary for central government to relieve hard-pressed local authorities of their financial pressures.
I suppose one can argue that such restriction of local authority support should inspire the director and her staff to be enterprising in earning more income from the already profitable museum shop and café and to be energetic in securing external funding. However, these initiatives lead me to the next difficulty of staff shortages. Considering the extent and historic importance of its collections—for example, its world cultures collection has earned designated status—Exeter Museum is short of (it could be said desperately short of) curators. It is unrealistic to expect the owners to employ specialist curators. A solution therefore might be to make meaningful and formal arrangements between nationals and regionals for experienced curators from the former to be seconded to or to assume a pastoral role towards the regional museums.
However, there are excellent adaptable curators in regional museums who juggle sound curatorship with innovative and communicative skills for the benefit of their visitors. But they may not be specialists in the subject matter of their pre-eminent collections. There is also an adverse disparity of salaries in the provinces which impedes career movement of curators from nationals to regionals. There are no "fat cats" purring along the corridors of regional museums.
These staff shortages—and they do not apply only to curators—exacerbate the difficulties of securing external capital funding which is so essential for the refurbishment and modernisation of galleries or the purchase of works of art for collections, to give only two examples. Over the past few months the small staff at Exeter has prepared six extensive and time-consuming applications or feasibility studies— 998 I venture to say with favourable success—and at the same time has helped with a local authority development appeal, as well as keeping in close touch with its friends' organisation, whose good will, vigour and financial support are so vital to the prosperity of any museum.
I will not only draw attention to the negative and assertive problems suffered by regional museums owned by local authorities, as there are many positive factors. The previous and present governments deserve praise for their designated scheme which is perhaps the first time that central government have recognised with financial resources that the regionals care for a significant part of our cultural heritage. Furthermore, the Heritage Lottery Capital and Access Funds, the Designated Collections Challenge Fund, the DfEE fund for museum education and several others are designed to inject capital into regional museums to the relief of local authority budgets.
Conservation, care and access are the purposes and functions of a museum, and they should go together as balanced priorities. With good will and a harmonious relationship between owner and operator, there is no reason why regional museums should not continue to respond to the challenges caused by global activities, such as the 24-hour museum on a website, the growing interest in world culture, the rising standard of artistic work and craftsmanship and cultural education.
§ 7.40 p.m.
The Earl of Carlisle
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford. He drew our attention to the problems which over the last two decades regional museums have faced, and are still facing. I believe the situation could be summed up in the words, "Death by a thousand cuts", or indeed be described as greater demoralisation of the staff, leading to closures which are not only unnecessary but also debilitating to the regional areas, some of which are suffering from great poverty. I therefore thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for introducing this timely debate. We are all in his debt, not only in this House but way afield, in the regions.
I spent the last 24 hours at the Britannia Royal Naval College. It was my first visit, which I made as a member of your Lordships' defence group. I was delighted to learn from the new commodore, Commodore Clare, RN, that there is a plan to have a museum at the Royal Naval College. I noted on the walls of the poop deck, where he briefed us when we arrived, portraits of our Second World War admirals, which I had last seen in the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. I asked whether they were on loan and he replied that they were not; when the Royal Naval College was disbanded as such the portraits and other artefacts were sent for display at the Britannia Royal Naval College. I was delighted to see the Royal Navy in the forefront of the policy of distributing works of art to the regions.
Those admirals and junior officers who served us with such distinction in the First World War and the Second World War were trained from 1905 at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. What better setting to display 999 these works of art? We learnt that there is an idea to raise £2 million—a measly £2 million, we might say, out of a £16 million annual budget which the Royal Naval College exists on—by selling off the hospital for private accommodation, when, in my opinion, it would be better to have a museum of our Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. That would not only enable more of us to understand what a great debt we owe to the Royal Navy but would also improve and enhance that area of Devon and create a bonus for the local community. I hope that the Minister will discuss that with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, the Defence Minister in your Lordships' House, to see whether that could be arranged.
What is the motive for having museums? It is to bring together objects and people. The role of regional museums surely is to preserve, to acquire, to exhibit, to display objects so as to instruct, inform, inspire, educate, amuse, entertain and enable people to enjoy at all times, wherever possible at little or no cost and with no harm to anyone else, their regional history and identity.
Noble Lords have told us of their own experiences. My noble friend Lord Addington told us about the Norwich Museum. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford told us of the inspiration that he gets from the museums in his great diocese. I also declare an interest. I have walked the Hadrianic frontier, where I am privileged to own some land. I have done so four or five times, and I have taken cadets and others along the main sights of the Hadrianic frontier. I have also walked the Antonine frontier.
I am greatly indebted, as are many others both at home and abroad, to the work done at Tullie House, Carlisle, and the Museums of Antiquities at Glasgow and at Newcastle, part of the universities. But they are not well known. People who go and enjoy the wall would do better if they went to those museums first, so that they would learn where they can and cannot go, where they should and should not go, and where they can see the whole wall and not just, say, the Fort of Housesteads, which too many people visit, thus damaging the area.
There have been recent developments in Merseyside, a great area in Liverpool which had riots recently. It is the museums that have inspired and led the way out of that depression. There are a million visitors a year and it receives £24 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. We have much to learn from the work of Mr. Richard Foster and others who have worked so hard at creating a new Merseyside.
I expect the Minister to trumpet the cause of the Tate Gallery's partnership scheme. Good, indeed, it will be, but I understand that there is a problem with funding and costs. Regional museums can join the scheme at £15,000 a year, with costs for loans at £7,000 to £10,000. They will rely on the Heritage Lottery Fund to provide grants through the Museums and Galleries Areas Fund, but that funding is for three years only: £4 million for 1999–2000, decreasing to £2.5 million for 2000–2001 and nil in the year 2001–2002. How can a regional museum enter a scheme with no funding in the third year? I ask the Minister to explain that discrepancy when he winds up, if he has time. If not, perhaps he will write to me.
1000 We had a debate on the Lindisfarne Gospels. We wanted the Government to hand them back to their rightful place. That did not occur. The east area of Durham has another museum called the Bowes. Museum, which needs support.
Does the Minister agree that, with the new Museums, Libraries and Archives Commission replacing the Museums and Galleries Commission next April, a grant regime should be included in the new body's powers, to enable, where circumstances argue strongly for it, funding to be made available to a willing partnership between a regional and a national museum where the governance of the regional museum needs to be re-engineered? That is one practical way in which the present gulf between our great national and regional museums could be bridged, with huge benefits to the public and to the staff employed by those museums in their training and career development.
The failure to send the Lindisfarne Gospels back to Durham caused injury. Failure to support the Bowes Museum would be a lasting insult.
§ 7.49 p.m.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for introducing this debate. My subject is the Josephine and John Bowes Museum, to which the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lard Montagu, and most recently the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, made reference. I shall echo many of the points made by my noble friend Lord Knutsford.
I am a life member of the Friends of the Bowes and I have been discussing its future with Durham County Council in a personal capacity. I want to draw attention to the dilemma facing Durham County as the sole trustee of the Bowes and to suggest one way forward and also that the Government take a fair share of responsibility for the Bowes' future.
A brief history will serve to illustrate the county 's dilemma. The Bowes has large—some would say very large—and fine collections made in the great majority by its founders, Josephine and John Bowes, in the second half of the last century. Josephine was French and John spent much of his time in France. Durham coal financed their purchases which have a strong bias towards continental Europe. For example, the Bowes has textiles, including 40 major tapestries which are third in importance to the V&A and the Burrell. The continental ceramics are many and comprehensive—a collection much admired by both the Wallace and, again, the V&A—not to mention the pictures. In addition to El Greco, Goya and Tiepolo, the many small 19th century French landscapes are outstanding: Courbet, Corot and Boudin, for example. And then there is the furniture, the toys, the mechanical swan—Bowes' emblem—the list goes on and on.
These collections are housed in a large French-designed Durham-built chateau within 20 acres of formal grounds, in the market town of Barnard Castle in Teesdale. The Bowes is by far the largest designated fine art museum—many of its collections being designated—in a semi-rural setting, with the nearest population centres, Tyne and Wear and Teesside, being 1001 30 to 40 miles distant. The impact of the building and its collections is both amazing and unexpected. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, might even find it intimidating. Most regrettably, this major resource of undoubted national importance is seriously under-funded.
The Bowes has had two previous financial crises, one at its inception in the 1890s. Josephine Bowes died unexpectedly before John. He married again—a lady who lived mostly in Paris while he spent time at Streatlam near Barnard Castle. At the time of John Bowes' death the museum was unfinished, he was in the middle of divorce proceedings and the price of coal was low. The newly formed management committee of the trustees had a very difficult time and thereafter, with hindsight, funding was never adequate.
Fifty years on the trustees gave up the unequal struggle and a scheme fathered by the then Minister of Education made Durham County Council the sole trustee in 1956. For 40 years Durham has kept the Bowes going—much credit to the county. However, Durham County has undergone change and the climate affecting public expenditure has radically altered. From a population of 1.2 million, Durham has shrunk through time and local government reforms to half a million. As authorities have left the county—for example, Darlington recently—they have taken with them no continuing obligation to fund the Bowes.
Eventually, the county council responded with a proposal to closed the museum for the winter, a matter referred to in this House 14 months ago. Closure was averted by moneys found by the Friends—all credit to them also—and by a charitable gift made by the Hedley Trust through the Friends. Nevertheless, financial crisis number three is still impending, as is confirmed by the 1998 Richard Foster report. This report, which is DCMS-sponsored, said that core revenue funding, now £600,000, needs to be £1 million plus per annum. And Durham looks forward to reducing its present commitment. As it argues, "Which is the more important: the library in an ex-pit village or money for the Bowes?" Unfortunately, the DCMS Vote does not include core funding for the Bowes—a local authority museum by definition—nor is there any substantial support from within the present budget of the Museums and Galleries Commission.
The new Designated Museums Challenge Fund may afford some relief. Durham County has applied. The commission says that grants over three years which total more than £500,000 will be very exceptional. The Bowes is certainly very exceptional and, ironically, it is the size and excellence of its collections and the size and Grade I status of the building and its location which reinforce the dilemma. The Bowes is a national resource entirely dependent on local funding—not even on regional funding, as with Tyne and Wear and the North West.
If no way forward were to be found, the Bowes would stagnate without the funds to curate, research, conserve and display its collections to anywhere near modern 1002 standards. Indeed, to discuss access and education in the absence of core funding is to deceive the public—and no one feels this more strongly than the 1,400 Friends.
There is a possible way forward which is in harmony with Richard Foster's recommendation that the governance of the museum be widened, a recommendation which has been accepted in principle by both the DCMS and the county. It is possible to move, at some risk, to the modern equivalent of the pre-1956 trust along the lines of 1983 Heritage Act institutions. A charitable company limited by guarantee could be formed, with Durham included and remaining a grant-aiding body but not the sole source of finance. Independent trustees would be appointed whose task would be to gain national and international recognition for the Bowes. They would wish to work closely with such institutions as the V&A and they would need to fund-raise. This is, I believe, a tried and tested solution, not an uncharted path.
If this way forward meets with approval, it leads to two questions. Would the Government find a way to provide substantial transitional finance way beyond the current support for advice and feasibility studies? Secondly, the Minister said last August on a visit to the Bowes:I will he taking a keen personal interest over the next few months in the development of plans to secure the Bowes Museum's long term future".Will therefore the Government make a statement on their policy at an early date?
If it is said that detailed business plans need to come first, I can only say that in the present circumstances they are very difficult to make. Much depends on future governance. What is certain is that Durham County and the museum, and not least its staff, need to see a clear way forward. Surely the Government can act as the enabler.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Lord Congleton
My Lords, I want first to add my thanks to those already expressed by others this evening to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this debate. Museums, an important element in the cultural life of this country, are too often bypassed and overlooked. It is good that, in the words of the Motion,the role of the regional museums and galleries (particularly local authority museums) within the United Kingdom",should be brought forward for public attention in this way. At this point I wish to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who has just spoken, that his father was a friend of mine and a friend to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. His encouragement and enthusiasm for the causes that I espoused some time ago were greatly appreciated. I wish to pay tribute to his memory when talking about museums.
If, in offering my remarks to your Lordships this evening, I dwell upon the recent history of one museum in particular—the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum—it is because I want to use that story to underline what I believe is a fundamental point in organising support for our smaller museums; and, secondly, because I was closely associated with that museum for the period of 15 years from 1970 to 1985, 1003 during which time I was its chairman for five years and for a further three was charged with finding the funds necessary to ensure that it was re-established in a new and splendid location within the City of Salisbury and to make certain that its fine collections were well displayed in a manner which their distinction deserved. It is in effect the only museum of which I have a reasonably thorough knowledge and it is the only one I can talk about with any authority. I have no formal or official position and it follows that my remarks represent the views of no one but myself. I do not seek to represent in any way the views of others. What I say this evening has in no way been dictated by the trustees or the professional curatorial staff of that institution.
When I became acquainted with the museum in the early 1970s, it was located in a seldom-visited side-street in Salisbury—one not without charm but off the beaten track, especially that trodden by tourists—where it had been since its foundation in 1860. During the years of which I speak, a number of significant things have happened to the Salisbury Museum, which is independent, and I shall refer to those matters to illustrate what can be done given a modicum of vision and ambition, a first-rate collection and, most important, enduring enthusiasm and support from the local public.
Although the collections in St. Ann Street were highly regarded—especially the archaeological material—they were not housed or displayed in a manner that matched that regard. A new location with up-to-date display facilities was needed if the museum were to prosper. The search for new premises took several years but ended when the 99-year lease of a Grade I listed building in Cathedral Close became available and was successfully negotiated.
Earlier, I mentioned a modicum of ambition. During the search for more appropriate premises it became known that material in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Farnham, North Dorset—General Pitt-Rivers' private treasure house—might become available once more for inspection if certain complex issues of ownership could be resolved. The collection had not been seen for 15 or 20 years while the museum had been closed.
With help from the holder of the Chair of Archaeology at the University of Southampton at that time, better known to your Lordships now as Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn; the late Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who was then closely connected with the British Academy; and wise counsel offered by the then Director of the British Museum, Sir John, later Lord Wolfenden, a transfer of the Wessex-derived material from private to public ownership was effected. After discussions with Dorset and Wiltshire archaeological societies, Salisbury Museum was named as the new steward of that archaeological material, most of which was excavated by the general himself along the borders of South Wiltshire and North Dorset.
Other items apparently purchased at auction were also included. Virtually the entirety of the pieces from the Farnham Museum thus transferred have been on public display in Salisbury since 1983. Also held at Salisbury are the general's papers and some letters. If I give the impression that the new Salisbury and South Wiltshire 1004 Museum is only about archaeology, I would mislead your Lordships. There are fine collections of ceramics occupying two galleries, collections of costume and English glassware, and two galleries are devoted to displays illustrating the history of the city of Salisbury, including the buildings of the cathedral.
I am daring to take up your Lordships' time relating all this because to realise all the good things that are now available for inspection by scholars and the public at Salisbury Museum, a move from one building to another was involved, the sale of the old and the purchase of the new had to be negotiated, and the new building had to be adapted. All that cost money. There had to be a public appeal and no one was certain how that would go. In the event, at the end of three years' endeavour starting in 1981, and having set a notional target of £280,000—which was calculated as being sufficient to set the re-established institution on its feet—that figure was exceeded by about £50,000 and the battle was won.
That achievement would never have been brought about without the enduring support and enthusiasm of the local, albeit scattered, community. The Salisbury Museum is an independent institution supported by a subscription-paying membership of about 800, with helpful financial input from Salisbury District Council and Wiltshire County Council. It is registered as a company limited by guarantee and is also a charity. It is fair to say that the annual grants from those two local authorities would not be made were it not for the realisation of the excellence of the museum collections and the strength of local support from independent non-local authority sources. Many years ago, I was for 10 years a councillor. It seems that local support comes first, then the local authorities will step in.
At the time of the public appeal, for the required capital sum to set up the establishment, Salisbury District Council came forward with a generous one-off contribution. At the time, the county council felt unable to do that but neither authority has ceased its annual support, which is so necessary to help maintain the fabric of the historic building in which the museum is housed. Wiltshire County Council cut its grant for a year or two by 33 per cent and that was painful.
The work of the Museums and Galleries Commission is influential for the good health of our smaller museums. Your Lordships should understand that I am out of date with all of this. I am talking about the years 1970 to 1985. If I say something that is clearly out of date, your Lordships will understand and think accordingly. In the commission's annual report for 1997–98 its chairman, Mr. Joll, correctly emphasised the fundamental importance of the quality of any collection as the core of a museum's reputation—ahead of conservation, education, scholarly research and entertainment. That idea is sound but the question arises of how collections are put together. In Wiltshire, a clear written statement sets out the agreed policy of Wiltshire Archaeological Society, the other significant museum in the county, with the Salisbury Museum as to which institution will accept responsibility for material excavated in those parts of the county nearest to the geographical location of the museums. Devizes Museum 1005 is to the north and Salisbury Museum to the south. Ordnance Survey references are noted and the system works well.
That raises the question of whether there is or should be a similar set of agreements organised and monitored by the Museums and Galleries Commission to cover the whole country. At present, there seems to be no clear indication as to which museum institution has responsibility for guardianship of excavated material. A smash-and-grab situation seems to operate. If so that is a pity, as it will tend to act against local public support for smaller museums—consequently against local authority support and so on.
I have exceeded my time so I must conclude. I am leaving out an important part of what I had to say. I will end with a letter that I received only last week from Cheshire. It contained the excellent news that the 723 year-old Borough of Congleton, from which my family came centuries ago, is setting up a museum at the town's assembly rooms, to record with appropriate displays the history and pre-history of that part of England. I wish it well. I hope that the kind of local enthusiasm and support as was forthcoming for Salisbury Museum's new location in the 1970s will attend the enterprise of Congleton's current ambition.
§ 8.8 p.m.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on yet again bringing to your Lordships' Chamber the opportunity to debate cultural subjects. The noble Earl has a deep commitment to museums and galleries, and has shown that in the past with his impassioned campaign against admission charges. I share that enthusiasm with him.
Within the greater part of the 2,500 museums and galleries in the United Kingdom there is enormous difficulty in funding because of local government pressures on finance and all that springs from them. However, there are many bright spots to be found. This debate has been fairly upbeat. Various speakers referred to areas of the United Kingdom which have museums and galleries which offer admirable examples of energy, innovation and success. Within the pressures that are placed upon the museums and galleries movement, one feels that there is a momentum building up.
Glasgow was one of the first examples of a United Kingdom city which demonstrated an enormous cultural rebirth. It impressed people not only in this country but abroad and attracted many visitors, not only to the city's museums and galleries but to its other cultural attractions. That example has been followed by other great cities such as Liverpool. Merseyside has eight museums, which I am glad to say have recently received a great deal of funding and attract large numbers of visitors. Two notable examples are the Bob Ballard underwater excavations, and in particular those related to the "Titanic", which have created a great deal of interest; and the natural history centre.
Liverpool is a city that I used to know well. I used to go there on business. I always tried to find time, at the end of my business affairs there, to visit the Walker 1006 Gallery. I always found it an enormous relief, if not a shelter from the inevitably bad weather. I found the gallery itself, and the never-failing good humour of the inhabitants of Liverpool, a very rewarding part of my visit to the area. There was not a great deal of culture there in the mid-1960s, but since then there has been a transformation, as with so many cities and towns in the United Kingdom.
Manchester is another example of a city that has seen a great decline in the industrial and commercial activities upon which it built its wealth and is now becoming a great cultural centre. The Imperial War Museum North had for a long time to deal with the difficult problem of whether to employ the great architect Daniel Liebeskind to build that great structure. To my immense relief, it did not do what the Cardiff Opera House did; namely, invite the remarkable Iraqi woman architect whose plans for the opera house were so imaginative and extraordinary that they drew visitors from abroad even before there was any hint that the building would be started, as, sadly, it was not. The project was simply too bold. Our loss was Cincinnati's gain. She immediately acquired the commission for the Cincinnati Museum of Contemporary Art. That is an example of the kind of boldness that is required for the buildings that house museums and galleries. In this country there has always been a tendency to play safe. I am sure that the opera house in Cardiff will be extremely effective, but it will be a workmanlike affair compared with the imaginative project of Zaha Hadid. That kind of boldness in the employment of world-famous creative and energetic people, if it is possible, should be pursued. All credit goes to Manchester for achieving that success.
The social and cultural role of museums now runs alongside their academic and educational role. That is seen more and more in all kinds of museums; for example, the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, and even the Brooklands Motoring Museum, which I visited recently as a member of the all party motor cycle group, is showing enormous imagination in creating a period atmosphere of the great days of Brooklands and attracting large numbers of visitors. The same is true of the Thackeray Medical Museum in Leeds.
I congratulate the Government on their excellent paper, Museums for the many, which I studied in preparation for this debate. They have done a great job in setting out the kind of criteria that are required for the future and how access can be improved. There are one or two rather strange passages in the document, as one would expect. One does not want to carp. They emphasise the need for carrying out research about visitors and users. That is normal marketing procedure, and clever marketing will be needed.
The section headed "Meeting Audience Needs" states that,charging is regarded by some as a barrier to access",and continues:museums which charge should have a clear strategy for attracting people on low incomes".I find that a curious reference. Although people on low incomes may have to prioritise, which is one of the reasons why one does not like the idea of charging, they 1007 are not always uneducated. Often they are educated people, but may be inhibited from visiting museums and galleries if they charge because they have other urgent calls on their income. Education is needed above all.
There is another curious statement later in the document; namely:Museums should … ensure that their shops and cafes sell items which those on low incomes can afford".I have always found the food in museums and galleries to be excellent and cheap. I do not know where the department has found smoked salmon and caviar on the menu, but possibly its researchers have had a different experience to mine.
The future is good. That is borne out by the excellent speech of the right reverend Prelate regarding what is happening in Bromsgrove and his own city of Hereford. It was also borne out by the excellent speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford. There is an example of a city that is penalised by its own success. The noble Viscount made an excellent suggestion; namely, that if museums and galleries begin to draw large numbers of visitors, they have a problem finding curators and staff. His suggestion that there should be a relationship with the larger, national museums and galleries regarding some kind of exchange was interesting and productive.
I shall spend the week of the Recess visiting one or two of the places that were mentioned. But the first on my list has to be the Museum of Packaging in Gloucester.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for providing this opportunity to discuss the valuable role played by regional museums and galleries. They are indeed able to reflect local history and culture, and local needs. They give local people an opportunity to view themselves and their existence within the wider context of their nation, and in such a way that they do not remain parochial but are able to maintain a sense of pride in their own locality. Museums and galleries are not only vital to our culture and our education system; they are important to society. The problem lies in getting the balance between all those functions right. It is a task for all of us, including government. This debate is indeed timely. Last week was Museums Week, when 863 museums took part in offering a host of special events, as well as providing free or reduced admission and tours of stores and areas that are normally closed to the public because of the cost of arranging access—the costs associated with security, preservation and staffing. Like many noble Lords, I took the opportunity to visit my local museums and to learn from their experiences about how one can try to put good practice into effect. I went to Guildford Museum on the opening day of Museums Week. I am grateful to its curator and assistant curator, Matthew and Mary Alexander, for the time they spent with me and for putting together a helpful information pack. Here I associate myself with the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate about the dedication shown by curators. We owe a great deal to them for it.
1008 The museum at Guildford was founded over 100 years ago. It is in a listed building, it is now part of the Leisure Services Department of the local authority. It houses the largest collection of archaeology, local history and needlework in Surrey and provides a range of services. The objects in store can always be seen by appointment; it has a voluntary excavation unit which it can turn to at short notice. It has a young archaeologists' club for people between the ages of eight and 18. There they learn about archaeology and local history, using the museum's resources. They have practical sessions and visits to places of interest.
The museum has an excellent loan system for schools which includes objects that the children can handle themselves. I am not sure whether they follow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and whether it is a Roald Dahl scenario. Certainly, they are able to handle stone age axes, Roman pottery and medieval pottery among other things.
The pièce de résistance for Museums Week in Guildford was a special exhibition. I am not too sure that it has anything to do with the knowledge of the noble or less noble burghers of Guildford in my area, but they entitled it: "Greed, Avarice and Wanderlust in 17th Century Guildford". It was an exhibition on international trade and its influence on the daily life of the period. It was not only attention-grabbing—it certainly brought me there—but it was also informative.
At the end of Museums Week, I visited an even more local museum, the new Surrey History Centre which was opened only seven months ago, half a mile from my house. I am grateful to the county archivist, David Robinson, for the time he spent there with me explaining how the centre strives to achieve its objective of preserving the past for the future.
The centre collects and preserves archives and printed material relating to all aspects of the history of Surrey and makes them available for reference. It also houses the county's archaeological unit and the museum development office. Surrey County Council provided the site and the Heritage Lottery Fund provided nearly £3 million for building it. There, Surrey's heritage is depicted in stunning and imaginative public works of art which are on permanent display at the centre.
I believe that both Guildford Museum and the Surrey Heritage Centre do their utmost to adopt good practice as advocated by the recent DCMS publication to which noble Lords have referred, Museums for the Many.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, I have read the document fairly closely and note that paragraph 4.1 states that:These standards seek to encourage all museums to offer wide access. However, in the first instance they are aimed primarily at all the museums and galleries funded directly by DCMS".What exactly is meant by "in the first instance"? When does the second instance come along? Which institutions would be targeted then? I was also intrigued to read at paragraph 7.3 that the Government accept that:some museums have to charge and the income raised can be used to enhance the quality of the experience through longer opening hours and better displays".1009 As my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu pointed out, museum directors have repeatedly stated that entry fees provide a reliable income stream and allow them to deliver quality services that are central to their economy. Free admission means that one loses more than just the income receipts. One also loses the VAT recovery, perhaps sponsors who get benefits under the existing system or go elsewhere and corporate sponsors who leave because they would rather not have their donations returned to the Government in the form of VAT.
I remain concerned that the effect of the Government pressing national museums to abolish entry fees could well cause knock-on effects to those regional and local museums that cannot readily adapt and yet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, commented earlier, they will be expected to do so by the public.
The danger remains that the Government's allocation of £30 million will not be enough to compensate museums and galleries for their loss of revenue at a national level and it will thereby reduce their ability to lend items to regional and local museums.
In addition, how will loans to regional museums be affected if there are changes to national museums and galleries in the way in which they are funded and administered? What are the implications for regional and local museums of the Answers given by the Minister in this House on 17th May? He was very informative, but he whetted my appetite and I hope for more. He spoke of a review, of trying to free the museums from the present structure. Today a Written Answer in another place from the Secretary of State to my honourable friend Peter Ainsworth states that:Options might include … public sector management, public/private partnerships or a change of legal status".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/5/99; col. WA 97.]What would be the impact of any changes on the operation of the regional and local museums and galleries? That is something we need to examine carefully.
The Minister will be aware of the concerns voiced by the Visual Arts and Galleries Association about the funding crisis facing many museums. That crisis was referred to by my noble friend Lord Knutsford. The VAGA's brief for this debate states that,large parts of the Local Authority funded museum and art gallery sector are facing death by a thousand cuts, as core funding is being eroded".The VAGA states that the Nottingham City Museum's,service is on the verge of becoming dysfunctional".It also states that the Wolverhampton Arts and Museums Service, mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, is in danger of collapse unless there is an increase in core support.
Tonight, my noble friend Lord Eccles referred eloquently to the problems faced by the Bowes Museum. When we met last night, I had to admit to him that I had not yet visited the museum, although I know the area well, and it is my fault. Today I have tried to make partial amends by making a virtual reality visit by logging on to the 24-hour museum website launched recently at the beginning of Museums Week. I visited 1010 the Bowes Museum website via that gateway and it is excellent. The 3D Swan is certainly different! I welcome the development of the site, but, as I mentioned to the Minister, I am puzzled by one aspect of it. The home page displays a real time clock, except that the clock is permanently one hour fast. Is it the Government's attempt to make us harmonise with central European time? Or is it a subtle reminder to us all that the future will always need to know about the past?
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the wide terms of the Motion which was moved so ably by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has attracted a wide range of well informed contributions from your Lordships this evening. The noble Earl should feel able to congratulate himself on it. Although he originally spoke of regional museums, the debate has been about regional, local authority, independent and university museums and galleries. The debate has been outstanding for the contributions from those who have close connections with particular museums. I have leant a great deal from the contributions this evening. They have been about the Bowes Museum, to which I shall have to return, Hereford, Salisbury, Exeter, Guildford, Norwich and no doubt others which I have overlooked. It has shown how important it is for our cultural life that we should have this vast range of museums, many quite newly-opened. to complement our national collections.
The Department for Culture has just completed a research project about visitors to museums and galleries, and noble Lords may be interested in the headline results. A sample of the total population was asked which of a number of activities they had taken part in during the previous 12 months. The most popular of all was the cinema at 59 per cent, but museums and galleries came third. Thirty-five per cent of the population had visited one in the past 12 months. That compared with 33 per cent who visited zoos or wildlife parks; 32 per cent who visited historic buildings or churches; 30 per cent who went to the theatre, opera or ballet; 26 per cent who attended live sporting events; 16 per cent who went to pop or rock concerts; and 12 per cent who attended classical concerts. Clearly, one is talking about something that has a very wide range of visitors. If your Lordships are interested in the detail of the research it will be possible to place a copy of the report in the Library of the House.
What I have to say about local and regional museums must be set in the context of the national museums. Your Lordships make it clear, as always, that what you expect from government is more money. I shall seek to defend and promote our position. Against the background of the museums' baseline under the previous government, last year the Culture Secretary was able to announce an extra £99 million for the museums sector over the next three years. I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for his thanks for that increase. That is in line with our aim to preserve our cultural heritage, encourage the widest possible access to it and ensure that the 1011 greatest possible public benefit flows from our cultural assets in areas such as education and combating social exclusion.
I face head on the issue of access. I deal first with what we consider to be only one part—but not necessarily the most important part—of access: free admission. There is clear conflict between the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others on the one hand and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on the other Yes, we have a policy to increase free admission to national museums and galleries. That was begun this year with free admission for children, and we intend to continue it next year with free admission for pensioners. For the following year we shall provide funds so that the trustees of the national museums, if they think fit—it is their decision—will have support to provide free admission.
But as the document Museums for the Many (to which I shall return later) makes clear, access in our terms is very much wider than free admission. We see that in context and recognise that under certain circumstances national, local and regional museums will find it necessary or desirable to charge. They must make their own decisions. We have made our position clear on that. I am aware that some believe that national museums attract a predominance of government support to the exclusion of the remainder of the sector.
Without in any way undervaluing what we do for the national museums—our three-year funding agreements established this year are, we believe, of enormous importance—I should like to consider our support for museums on a wider basis. I state at the outset that there is no intention that government funding should be extended from the national museums to all other museums in this country. That would not be possible or right. It is right to have a plurality of funding from local authorities, charities, public appeals, private sources and many other sources to sustain the incredible range of museums and galleries in this country. Before I leave the subject of national museums, I have nothing to add to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about the status of those museums. I believe that it falls slightly outside the subject of this debate.
Although we do not propose to take over the funding of other than national museums we recognise the links between them. A number of noble Lords have made points in that regard. I shall deal first with the Museums and Galleries Commission, the designated museums scheme and the Challenge Fund. I shall deal next with information technology and education and refer to some of the links that appear to be appropriate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, referred to curatorial problems. He spoke of the possibility of sharing curatorial resources between national and local museums. That suggestion has been made in the past by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. We take it very seriously and are looking into it. The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, also spoke about the possibility of further collaboration between national and local museums in the context of the Bowes Museum. The latter was referred to with great authority by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.
1012 I have a very lengthy brief about the Bowes Museum. I would take up far too much time if I went into it in detail. It is clear from the fact that we appointed Mr. Foster to report on the museum last year that we are very conscious of the problems of the Bowes Museum. I have before me a submission from Durham County Council. I do not know that we have any easy solutions to those problems. It is true that Durham County Council, having lost its unitary authorities, has a council tax base that is a good deal less than before.
There are one or two encouraging signs. The museum is now registered with the Charity Commissioners, and there is talk, which I believe is reciprocated, about a working relationship with the Victoria & Albert Museum. There may be other hopeful factors that affect the Bowes Museum. We hope that it will be successful in its Challenge Fund application to the Museums and Galleries Commission, and it is for the commission to advise the Government on the allocation of those funds. I shall keep the House informed about the future of the Bowes Museum as and when an opportunity arises. The Challenge Fund and designated museums scheme are enormously important. Forty-three flagship collections have been identified: some are local authority, some are independent and others are university museums. They can apply for a fund that is worth £15 million over the next three years to raise standards and access to those collections.
I say a brief word about information technology. We have also provided £1 million to set up two smaller challenge funds, one for information technology and one for museum education, which are open to all museums registered with the Museums and Galleries Commission. An educational challenge fund will be distributed to the seven English area museum councils to help raise standards of education provision in institutions where there is scope for an enhancement of the current service. I hope that that gives the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, an indication of the co-operation that he seeks between the DCMS and the Department for Education and Employment.
The DfEE recognises the importance of museums to education and has prepared a £2.5 million programme to enable museums to provide curriculum support for schools, and there has been a good number of applications for that. That follows a pilot programme funding 17 pilot museum education projects at institutions providing out of school study reports. I was amused by the reference of my noble friend Lady Rendell to museums being only for children—unless accompanied by an adult, I assume she was saying. Recently when the Secretary of State 'was proposing a promotional launch in Coram's Fields in Bloomsbury in London I had to say that you cannot go into Coram's Fields in Bloomsbury unless you are accompanied by a child. I do not know the effect on Chris Smith's plans.
While on the educational point, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, referred to university museums. Yes, we take seriously the difficulties which some of them have. We are perfectly prepared to talk to university museums about their problems. But I think that the noble Lord 1013 will find that some of them are proud and independent and would not welcome intervention from central government.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the lottery and other financial support to museums. That is enormously important. It is part of the range of things we can do with digitising educational learning materials and providing centres for community lifelong learning in which museums should be able to play a part. In addition to National Lottery funding, there is a lot of charitable funding. The Clore Foundation has established a million pound museum education programme which will be focused towards non-national and regional museums. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to the Gulbenkian award for the Hereford City Museum. I was privileged to be present at those awards. I well remember the presentation which Hereford City Museum made. I was impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, said about Salisbury and south Wiltshire and what can be done with a well planned and well directed public appeal. I thought that that was an encouraging story.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to the problems—they are true of lottery funding—of funding bricks and mortar without providing adequate onward funding of people. In other words, capital is provided without being sure of revenue. We shall have to take a grip of the business plans of some of those who apply for lottery funding and look critically at their forecasts of visitor figures to ensure that we do not lose out by funding buildings which are not viable in the longer term. There is a halfway house of endowment funding but that has to be limited and it is not always the most cost-effective way of spending lottery money.
A number of noble Lords referred to the work of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the £7 million Heritage Access Fund which supports museum projects which build existing or develop new audiences, encourage the involvement of friends or volunteers, and facilitate the touring of works from national or designated museums. There have been some outstanding and substantial grants.
We are aware of the difficulties which local museums have—a number of noble Lords referred to them—as regards funding from local authorities. We realise that some of them—I have a list; I shall not read it out—are living a hand to mouth existence. That is a great shame. It is not a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide a museum or gallery service, although a number of local authorities recognise that it is valuable to local communities, just as, let us say, the British Museum or the Tate Gallery is valuable to the country as a whole. We think that local authorities have a major role in delivering government objectives. But it is for them to decide on the level of support they give to their museums.
We could not take over the running of something like 2,000 institutions. I am sorry to say that to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi and the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, who seemed to suggest that we could. What we can and will do is to strive to create the right 1014 conditions for all types of museums so that they can thrive, and stress to all who will listen the importance and value of museums.
Clearly one of the institutional ways in which we shall be reforming our provision is by setting up the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council which will have a very much wider remit than the Museums and Galleries Commission. Archives have not been represented at a national level and libraries are, if anything, more widely used by the general public than museums and galleries.
In response to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, I recognise the need to improve statistics about museums and galleries. He is right to say that that should be one of the activities of MLAC when it is established.
I said that I would return to the point—I have a brief moment to do so—on the wider definition of access which is referred to in Museums for the Many. We think about access as overcoming a wide range of barriers: physical and sensory barriers—in other words, access for people with disabilities, for older people and children—and intellectual barriers where there is inadequate display and interpretation; and cultural barriers where museums are not welcoming to people from different cultural backgrounds. Reference was made to Bristol City Museum and the very successful exhibition about slavery which not only increased visitors to the museum but also had over 200 people participating in putting together the collection. There may be attitudinal barriers. In other words, museums should be welcoming and should value their visitors. As regards financial barriers, yes, admission charges, but consideration should also be given to transport costs, and the costs of catering. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, did not seem to think it appropriate that we should talk about catering for people on lower incomes. I think that it is. When we talk about removing financial barriers in those museums which charge, we are talking about wide and generous concessions for those most in need.
All that adds up to a deep respect for local and regional initiatives. We are talking about cultural strategies on a local and regional basis. As the regional development agencies are coming into action, we shall have culture, media and sport representatives on them. We take seriously the need for public involvement to which my noble friend Lady Rendell referred and we welcome such initiatives as the West Midlands regional consortium to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred.
Without taking over the funding, there are many things we can do. I think that I have referred to some of them. I hope that I have demonstrated that the Government are determined to have a role in providing leadership and encouraging conditions in which all museums can thrive.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ The Earl of Clancarty
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I thank the 1015 Minister for his many interesting and important comments. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.