HC Deb 18 December 1996 vol 287 cc989-1012

Order for Second Reading read.

6.1 pm

The Minister of State, Department of National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill extends the powers of the trustees of the national heritage memorial fund on the projects that they can fund and the recipients eligible for funding.

As the House will know, the NHMF trustees distribute the heritage share of the national lottery proceeds. Our aim is to build on the existing success of the lottery as a source of funding for the national heritage. We are keen that everyone should be able to appreciate and benefit from that heritage. We want lottery money to be used to enhance opportunities for people—especially the young—to have ready access to our heritage, to learn about it and to enjoy it. We also want to ensure that any worthwhile heritage project can be considered for lottery funding, with no artificial barriers.

Under the existing legislation, which predates the advent of the lottery, the NHMF trustees can fund only those projects that involve the acquisition, maintenance or preservation of tangible heritage assets. Of course, that gives the NHMF plenty of scope to support worthwhile projects, and it is taking full advantage of those opportunities.

However, because of the current terms of the legislation, the NHMF's role as a lottery distributor is more restricted than the Government and the trustees wish. The NHMF cannot, for instance, offer funds for projects that promote access to our heritage or enhance understanding and enjoyment of it. It cannot assist in the development of heritage skills, and is limited in its ability to support nature conservation work.

We want to lift those constraints. We want the NHMF to back heritage projects comparable with those that other lottery distributors are supporting in their sectors.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will the Minister be specific about the inhibitions on undertaking conservation work? My understanding is that the national heritage memorial fund has been very good about supporting New Hailes, near Edinburgh, which is really a conservation project.

Mr. Sproat

Perhaps I could come back to the hon. Gentleman on that project. The fund exists mainly to acquire, preserve and maintain tangible objects. Conservation can be part of preservation, therefore falling within the fund's current remit, but the NHMF trustees have been uneasy about any project that strays too far from the acquisition, preservation and maintenance of tangible objects. However, I shall look into the New Hailes example and see exactly how it was dealt with.

The choice of projects is, of course, a matter for the NHMF trustees. However, the trustees and the Government are clear that our heritage offers ample scope for the NHMF to undertake a wider role than is at present legally possible.

Projects that the trustees might want to consider funding could include the assignment of a professional educationist to a heritage site to train staff and produce material for use by school parties, the use of information technology to develop a virtual reality programme showing how a cathedral developed over time, or a training scheme for a heritage-related skill—be it stained glass conservation or hedge laying.

We also want the NHMF to be able to support projects that enhance understanding of our national history or landscape, independently of its tangible remains.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Together with other members of the Environment Select Committee, I visited the natural history museum this morning. The nation can be justly proud of the enormous collection held there—the largest in the world—of specimens from the natural world, and of the high-quality scientific research that goes on there. We were shown the efforts made by the museum to put its specimens on computer disk, and to make its collection available to all the scientists in the world through the Internet. I am sure that the museum will welcome my hon. Friend's comments about the availability of money for information technology projects.

Mr. Sproat

I am glad that my hon. Friend visited the natural history museum, which is one of the finest natural history museums in the world, if not the finest. Anyone who has not discovered how many angles a beetle can be seen from with information technology would not believe it. The natural history museum is far advanced in such matters. I am sure that other museums will take up similar technology in a major way.

Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Bill will enable the Victoria County History of England, which is a national project, to apply for lottery funding?

Mr. Sproat

I shall come to that in just a second. You yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, played an important role in that project. I shall deal with it in a few sentences. I ask my right hon. Friend to contain himself.

We have identified three types of project that fulfil the purpose that I mentioned. The first is an exhibition on a particular aspect of our history. Examples might be a museum exhibition on the life and work of an important figure in history or on the ecology of a particular region. The second is the creation of an archive—for instance, an oral record of the distinctive experiences of particular localities or groups. The third—this was identified during the Bill's passage through another place—is a major work of reference such as the Victoria County History.

The answer to my right hon. Friend is yes. I want to pay particular tribute to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if that is not a creepy thing to do, because your great work and valuable advice enabled us to include the project in the Bill. All those who value the county histories pay great credit to your work.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Perhaps I should declare an interest, because my hon. Friend probably does not know that, together with Denis Mahon and others, I drafted the National Heritage Act 1980, which led to this Bill. Having read the Bill, I congratulate the Minister on it. We are now moving the national heritage memorial fund towards history and school projects, to enable people to relate the written word to our history and monuments. The Bill is tremendous, and the Minister deserves every conceivable congratulation on it.

Mr. Sproat

This is a big evening for congratulations. I thank my hon. Friend for his. It is a tribute to his original work on the 1980 Act that the new Bill is so short. He deserves credit for that.

The first of the Bill's two main elements is the opening up of the NHMF's statutory terms of reference to embrace a much wider range of worthwhile heritage projects. The second element concerns who is eligible for assistance from the NHMF. Existing legislation permits the NHMF to offer financial assistance only to public and charitable bodies that have been established for a specific heritage purpose.

That remit, of course, takes in much that is at the very heart of our heritage, but it rules out a great many potentially worthwhile projects. In built heritage alone, more than two thirds of historic buildings are privately owned. As the law stands, those buildings are outside the NHMF's terms of reference and therefore cannot be considered for lottery funding.

When the National Heritage Committee examined the national lottery earlier this year, the NHMF, English Heritage and other bodies all argued that limiting eligibility for lottery funding in such a way works against the best interests of heritage, and that the restrictions on eligibility should therefore be removed. The Select Committee agreed with that view, and so do the Government. We believe that ownership of property should not determine whether a project is eligible for lottery support. What matters is whether the project has heritage merit and will be for the public good.

There have been suggestions that the purpose of the proposal is simply to enable lottery money to reach the owners of historic country houses, but privately owned heritage includes buildings of almost every kind. There is considerable scope for the lottery to support heritage projects, such as historic townscape schemes as an element of urban regeneration, or conservation projects in the countryside. A number of such projects have already received lottery awards, but the NHMF has often been unable to help because much of the property concerned is privately owned.

Nor, of course, is the proposal confined to historic buildings. The new approach to eligibility will also apply, for example, to museums, land and artefacts owned by private individuals. There is of course nothing new about making public funds available for the benefit of privately owned heritage property. For many years, English Heritage and other bodies have been running grant schemes for historic buildings of outstanding quality, irrespective of ownership. Grants are subject, quite properly, to stringent conditions on matters such as public access, and there is provision for the means testing of applicants and for clawback of funds if necessary. The NHMF trustees accept that, if lottery grants are to be given to private owners of heritage property, such rigorous safeguards will be required.

There has also been concern that the Government's aim in extending the NHMF's funding remit is to enable lottery money to replace core funding for heritage, thus going back on our undertaking that lottery money would be additional to existing expenditure programmes. The immediate response to such concern is to point to the extremely favourable public expenditure settlement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has achieved for heritage bodies in the next financial year.

Museums and galleries, for instance, have been granted an additional £3 million over previous plans. An additional £1.8 million will be available to English Heritage. Those figures testify to the Government's determination to protect core funding in priority areas of heritage.

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister will know of the British museum's concern about the terrible dilemma of either paying off staff or being faced with charging for entrance, which for very good reasons they are exceedingly reluctant to undertake. Can he really he so complacent about the position?

Mr. Sproat

Not a tremor of complacency had entered my voice on the matter. The devastating report on the finances, organisation, management and general efficiency of the British museum came not from the Government but from an independent report that was commissioned by the trustees. It was in that report that the suggestion was made that imposing entry charges was one way in which to make up the shortfall that arose from—not to put it too disagreeably—the not wholly adequate running of the finances and organisation of the British museum in past years. The Government did not say that. The Government do not encourage or discourage charging.

Some museums, such as the British museum, do not charge, but others, such as the natural history museum, which my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) visited today, the science museum, the imperial war museum and the maritime museum not only charge but are extremely glad that they have done so.

If the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) talked to Sir Neil Cossons, Neil Chalmers or Robert Crawford, or went to the maritime museum, he would find that they very much wish to keep a charging policy. That is up to them, just as it is up to the British museum's trustees to decide whether they want to charge. They have not looked after the finances as well as they might have liked, and if they can find another way in which to put finances back on a sound basis without going in for charging, that is fine; so be it. No pressure will come from the Government.

It would be interesting to know whether, if they were ever in power, the Opposition intend to abolish such charges, and if so, where they would get the money to make up for the charges that currently help the science museum, the natural history museum, the maritime museum, the imperial war museum, and so on.

The Government stand by our undertaking that lottery money will not replace existing funding. That of course does not mean that, in areas where lottery funding is available, expenditure programmes are immune from the constraints applying to public spending generally. Nor does it prevent lottery money from complementing other funding. In the heritage sector, it is entirely right that projects that are beyond the scope of English Heritage's grant programmes, generous as that is—in terms of either eligibility or affordability—should be able to be considered for lottery funding.

What is important is that there should be agreed strategies on the role of the lottery in relation to other heritage programmes, so that the available funds can be applied where they are needed. With that in mind, the NHMF is having discussions with English Heritage and other bodies on future funding priorities in the light of the new powers conferred by the Bill.

I turn to the Bill's specific provisions. Clause 1 redefines the funding powers of the NHMF trustees, as set out in section 3 of the National Heritage Act 1980, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) helped to draft. There are three main changes. First, the NHMF's remit is extended beyond simply the acquisition, maintenance or preservation of land, buildings or objects of importance to national heritage. Under the Bill, the NHMF will also be able to support projects that encourage study, understanding and enjoyment of heritage, promote access to heritage, or develop skills relating to heritage.

Secondly, there is a new power for the NHMF to fund specified types of project which relate to important aspects of the United Kingdom's history, natural history or landscape, and which the trustees consider are of public benefit. That power encompasses exhibitions, archives and comprehensive works of reference, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) referred.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

All over the country in the 1920s, war memorials were erected by public subscription. Some of them belong to local authorities, and many are onerous burdens. Will the Bill enable those war memorials to be looked after properly, providing, of course, that the correct procedures are followed?

Mr. Sproat

I hope so. My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which we shall perhaps be able to go into in rather more depth in Committee when we consider particular examples.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned New Hailes. The NHMF has been able to support the acquisition of New Hailes by the National Trust for Scotland, because the National Trust is a public body. If the present owner of New Hailes had sought help from the NHMF for repairs to the building—the hon. Gentleman mentioned conservation, which might just fall under the remit of repairs, I suppose—she would not have been able to receive funding. It is in part to allow such added discretion for the trustees that we have introduced the Bill. It would have been possible to help New Hailes under the Bill even had it not been for the acquisition by the National Trust for Scotland.

Secondly, there is a new power for the NHMF to fund specified types of project that relate to an important aspect of the United Kingdom's history, and so on, including the comprehensive works of reference that I have already mentioned.

Thirdly, the current list of recipients eligible for NHMF funding will disappear. Instead, the NHMF will be able to support any project that the trustees consider is of importance to the national heritage and of public benefit.

Clause 2 repeals existing provisions that require the NHMF to obtain departmental and Treasury approval for the payment of allowances to trustees and for certain staffing matters. We propose to table one small amendment to clause 2, which will concern the remuneration for NHMF trustees.

It is arguable that the work involved in assessing lottery applications is approaching the point at which it becomes unreasonable to ask trustees to give their time unpaid. We do not intend to make any immediate decisions about that. However, the NHMF is virtually alone among lottery distributors in that its trustees are precluded by statute from receiving substantive remuneration. We want to take the opportunity provided by the Bill to remove the current statutory bar. The current chairman has made it clear that he would not wish to make use of the change to receive remuneration himself.

I am confident that the Bill will be welcomed by all hon. Members with an interest in our country's incomparable heritage. It will effectively bring the whole of the heritage within reach of lottery funding, it will ensure that resources are deployed where they are most needed, and it will open the door to a range of exciting new projects—projects not only to preserve the heritage but also to help deepen our understanding of it and enhance our enjoyment of it.

I commend the Bill to the House.

6.20 pm
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

We welcome the Bill, which has the Opposition's general support. Lord Donoughue, on behalf of the Opposition, made clear our support in the excellent debate in the other place. We accept the case that the Minister has made for augmenting and widening the powers of the national heritage memorial fund and the heritage lottery fund trustees so as to give greater flexibility in the operation of the two funds.

At present, those funds are circumscribed by the fact that they are charged only with acquisition, maintenance and preservation, so a lot of imaginative opportunities are being missed. The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) made a good point about memorials, which are much loved in communities throughout the country, and constitute an extraordinary record of our history and of the sacrifices that communities have made on behalf of this country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an organisation that cares for memorials, but it is hugely underfunded, and relies purely on charitable money.

It is precisely such projects that will now be eligible because of the wider powers, and we look forward to exploring that aspect of the Bill in committee. Such opportunities are being missed at present, and the Bill properly opens the possibilities for their inclusion. That is one of the reasons why we welcome it.

We are enthusiastic about some of the specific powers, especially those concerning wider access. As we understand it, matters such as the cost of transport for school groups to sites, and the pricing policy of some heritage sites, would become eligible for assistance as a result of the Bill. The educational work of schools, youth initiatives and training in heritage-related skills, perhaps by means of bursaries, will be included So will the important issue of information technology, to which the Minister alluded briefly, and which we shall explore in Committee. That will arise in connection with access to the great archives of this country and other archive material, which all have enormous potential both for academics and in schools.

We welcome all those developments, especially the widening of the definition to include conservation of our natural heritage. At present conservation of our habitats, flora and fauna receives only about 9 per cent. of national heritage memorial funding; yet our hedgerows, heaths and sedges, and the extraordinary diversity and beauty of the British landscape in general, tell us a great deal about how our forefathers lived, and how we have created what is often a man-made landscape. As a society, we have not always been as careful as we should have been about that, or given the funding to preserve those great natural and man-made landscapes, so we welcome the fact that such projects will become eligible for funding.

We should like an assurance from the Minister that wider eligibility for nature conservation will also be recognised by the NHMF—the national heritage memorial fund—and that things will be on a more equal footing generally, not only through lottery funding but in terms of the conservation of nature and the built environment in general. Problems have undoubtedly been identified, as happened with the 1995 report on biodiversity. There is a great deal of work to do.

We welcome what the Minister said about the Victoria County History, since Staffordshire, the county of which I represent a part, is an especially fine example. I join the Minister in paying tribute to those who, like your colleague, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and like many Members of the House of Lords, have pressed for the change. I am glad that the Government have responded and clarified that aspect.

We have not always been as careful as we ought to have been about our local histories and oral histories, and our industrial heritage. We welcome the fact that those will now be taken within the ambit of the two funds.

We welcome not only the widening of the powers but the fact that more bodies will be eligible. The definition of eligibility for receiving funds should range more widely than the public bodies and charities established for a heritage purpose that it covers at present. As we understand the Bill, the new definition will mean that the criteria for eligibility for applying for funds will be both the heritage importance of the project and the public good. Anybody who is doing valuable heritage work will now be eligible to apply to the two funds and to receive grants.

Of course, that will include the private sector—another area that we need to explore in Committee. We welcome the idea in principle, but we foresee certain problems, which we can examine, although not necessarily tonight. In particular, we should like to hear an assurance from the Minister, either tonight or in Committee, that, just as the private houses he mentioned will be eligible, other areas of our heritage that are in private hands will be eligible, too.

For example, there are some wonderful examples of 1930s architecture in privately owned cinemas. Whether those will fall within the remit of funding remains to be seen. What about our industrial heritage, including premises that, although they may be in use at the moment, may also be listed buildings? There are many such in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and people have encountered difficulties in modernising and expanding them while maintaining the heritage.

The Minister, in common with other hon. Members, may have received an interesting letter from a company called Leigh Spinners, from Leigh in Lancashire, on that subject. That is another area that is worth exploring in Committee.

By and large, we support the widening both of the powers and of the eligibility of recipient bodies, but I want to put on record the fact that there are some serious problems to be addressed. In allowing the private sector access to heritage lottery funding, it is vital that genuine access, rather than token access, be made a priority.

Inevitably, there will also be problems involving clawback, when there is appreciation or development of privately owned sites that have received funding. For instance, it is the public interest that theatres in the west end of London in private hands, which are often fine works by architects such as Masham, should receive grants. I believe that applications are in train to the arts lottery board. It appears that the Bill would allow application on architectural grounds for privately owned theatres to the heritage lottery fund. We support that, but the system of matching funding must be different from and more rigorous than that for applications from publicly-owned theatres.

There is also the problem of how means testing will be done on private houses and theatres, and how development appreciation will be clawed back if capital appreciation results from lottery funding. There are concerns that require clarification. It was not clear from the debate in the other place whether the Government have thought them out.

The Minister gave a rather bland assurance that the Government's position on additionality remained the same. Baroness Trumpington, on Second Reading, stated: The Government have always made it clear that money raised by the lottery for good causes was and is intended to be additional to public expenditure. The Government will not reduce public spending programmes to take account of awards from the lottery. That commitment cannot, however, mean that the Government should set aside the issue of what they can afford to spend on any programme which benefits from lottery funds compared to any other public expenditure programme. The opposite view would be to give an automatic protection to lottery-supported programmes which was not available to others. Such a result would be absurd."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 November 1996; Vol. 575, c. 567.] There is an internal logic in that, but if one thinks about her view, one sees that it lets the Treasury or the Department of National Heritage make allowances in apportioning grant aid. That opens the door to the end of the additionality principle—a process that is already evident in some grants.

The Minister gave a partial view of the way in which English Heritage has been treated. He mentioned its slight funding increase this year, but, over the past few years, it has fared badly. There is no doubt that the new funds will do work that would otherwise have been done by English Heritage in some respects. In that sense, they are replacing money that should come through grant aid. The Minister slid off that point far too easily, especially in relation to the British museum, which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow very properly raised.

What the Minister said is wrong. If he was seeking to put the blame for the British museum's financial problems on bad management, he would do well to reconsider. People who know and love the British museum will take his criticisms very hard.

Mr. Sproat

I did not make them.

Mr. Fisher

The Minister threw a very partial light on the report and on who is responsible for the situation that faces the trustees of the British museum. I hope that in his reply, he will acknowledge the excellent work of the British museum and its very good trustees. In Dr. Robert Anderson it has one of the best national museum directors. Any other interpretation of the Minister's words would not be appreciated by the museum world, and would be unjust to good people and good work. I hope that he will reconsider what he said, because it is easy to put a malign interpretation on it.

The Minister was disingenuous about additionality in relation to the British museum. He knows perfectly well that national museums, such as the British museum, the Tate gallery, the national gallery and the national portrait gallery, that do not charge for admission, receive a far worse allocation of grant aid from his Department than museums that charge. He was reported in the press as having tacitly acknowledged that he and the Secretary of State took into account the charging policy of museums when apportioning grant aid. He discriminated against those that do not charge.

Mr. Sproat

indicated dissent.

Mr. Fisher

He denies it, but the record is that museums that do not charge have been penalised this year. That is an extraordinarily hostile political act, which puts his remarks this evening in a different context.

Mr. Dalyell

I was taken aback when the Minister replied to my question about the British museum. I endorse everything that my hon. Friend has said. We will come back to the matter in Committee. Some marvellous exhibitions have been laid on for the whole of Europe by the British museum, such as the current Chinese exhibition arranged by Carole Michaelson and her colleagues in the oriental department.

Mr. Fisher

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the spirit of Christmas, we should assume that the Minister misspoke, and that he will put the record right when he replies. If he does not, people will be shocked and depressed by an unwarranted attack on a very fine museum and a very fine director.

Additionality is much more complicated than the Minister suggested. He raised the charging policy of museums. It sits strangely with the Bill's avowed interest in increased access that he has been encouraging them to charge by giving favourable funding to those that charge. He has been celebrating those that charge. He well knows that, whenever a museum introduces charges, access to it declines.

Mr. Sproat


Mr. Fisher

I shall give way to the Minister.

Mr. Sproat

Has the hon. Gentleman not seen the figures for the imperial war museum? Before it introduced charges, it made people go through turnstiles so it knows exactly how many people visited. After it started charging, the number went up. Even with the science museum, where it is claimed that admissions went down, Sir Neil Cossons does not believe that that was the case, because no proper accounting was done before the introduction of charging. The museum's logbooks give ludicrous numbers of visitors for one day; it would have been impossible for it to hold so many people. For the imperial war museum, we have it in arithmetical black and white that there are more visitors; in the case of the science museum, Sir Neil Cossons believes that there are.

Mr. Fisher

The Minister should examine the history of charging museums. He will find that attendance at the national museum of Wales, the natural history museum and others has declined with the introduction of charging. He is right to say that it is difficult to say by precisely how much it has declined, because figures were kept on a fairly random, variable basis. No one disputes that; the Minister should not get so exercised. However, he cannot pray in aid precise figures. He should know that there were particular circumstances about the year after the imperial war museum introduced charges involving certain exhibitions. We are talking about the core collection.

If the Minister knew the history of the imperial war museum, which was very well run by Dr. Alan Borg, he would know that he is not comparing like with like. He is not comparing the figures for core collections; he is talking about specific exhibitions. The important thing about charging does not relate to special exhibitions, for which all museums and galleries sometimes charge, but to access to the core collections. They have been invested in and acquired by the public, who are now being denied free and open access to them. No doubt we will return to the issue, but the Minister should look at his statistics a little more carefully.

Sir Wyn Roberts

Is the hon. Gentleman not tending to underestimate the problems faced by the British museum? As I understand it, even if it introduces charging on the basis of the recommendations, it would still be faced with a shortage of resources for further development and might have to contemplate redundancies.

Mr. Fisher

The right hon. Gentleman will know that one relevant factor is that, when the British library moves out of the Reading Room, the British museum will lose a substantial amount of income, but the Government have not yet made it clear that they will fully compensate it. [Interruption.] If the Minister wants to intervene to say that the British museum will be fully funded and fully compensated for the loss of that revenue, that would be most welcome. I am happy to give way to him if he wishes to put that on the record, rather than do it from a sedentary position.

Mr. Sproat

I did not expect to have to go through the Red Book—after all, it is not all that long since we had the Budget—but it makes it quite clear that, for years two and three, the British museum will indeed be recompensed for the removal of the British library. That is absolutely black and white.

Mr. Fisher

I hope that that recompense will be full, and that there will be no shortfall. The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) is quite right to say that there are problems over and above those connected with the loss of the British library, but the British museum is a well-run institution, with a huge international reputation. We should recognise that it is a cultural jewel for the country. We should be proud of it, and fund it accordingly.

Leaving aside those differences, the Opposition support the general thrust of the Bill, which fits in well with some of the good recommendations of "Treasures in Trust". One problem with that report, however, is the slight hostility towards local authorities. The Bill encourages greater educational work in a sector that has suffered from Government policy.

Schools museum services around the country, and the number of school visits to museums, have declined because of the Government's hostility towards local education authorities. I welcome the fact that the Bill will fund educational projects, but new initiatives in such projects will be funded in the context of a general decline in support for the schools museum services, which are the bedrock infrastructure of heritage education in our schools. I hope that the Minister will understand that, and work more closely with the Department for Education and Employment.

We believe that the Bill represents a move in the right direction. The emphasis that it places on the natural environment and access, and its wider definition of eligibility, are in line with the Opposition's policies. It admirably prepares the way for a Labour Government, who will have a far more positive attitude towards our heritage and cultural life. For that reason, we commend the Bill to the House.

6.42 pm
Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

It is an immense pleasure to contribute to the debate on a Bill that I greatly welcome, because, for the past five years, other hon. Members and I have called for it.

We debate the Bill against the background of the extraordinary success of the national lottery. The difference that lottery funding is making to the arts, heritage and sport is quite extraordinary and, dare I say it, beyond the dreams of avarice. In the past few months, however, it has become clear to the Government that one sector of our national heritage is missing out. I welcome the Government's commitment to put that right.

In debates on the lottery and tourism in 1994 and 1995, I asked for such a Bill to be introduced. On 24 June 1994, I said in the House: The lottery can significantly enhance our ability to restore and preserve the built heritage of Britain, as well as its museums and galleries. But what about those parts of the heritage that are still in private hands and are so excellently represented by the Historic Houses Association? Is the Minister willing to see funds made available to the owners of the great houses, castles and palaces of Britain on appropriate terms? If not, we may find ourselves contributing to a form of creeping nationalisation, which would be wrong."—[Official Report, 24 June 1994; Vol. 245, c. 464.] On 30 March 1995, I said in the House: Private sector heritage sites and historic houses will face a problem as a result of the regulation that provides that the lottery's proceeds can go only to public or charitable bodies. Privately owned historic houses will have to achieve charitable status to benefit, which will create considerable problems for many of their owners. The tax regime burdens the owners of historic houses and, as a result, dilapidation is continuing and the heritage is suffering. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not lose sight of that problem and will continue to look at ways in which help can be given to preserve our national built heritage that is in private hands."—[Official Report, 30 March 1995; Vol. 257, c. 1256.] The cavalry has arrived today.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

It is Christmas.

Mr. Coombs

Yes, the Bill will bring the cheer of Christmas to many owners of historic houses, which, until now, have been threatened with dilapidation or closure.

I want to contribute to the debate because of the importance of our heritage to tourism. Last year, 23.7 million foreign visitors came to Britain, no doubt for a variety of reasons, but their desire to see our heritage must have been one of the strongest. Some argue that the Government do not give enough money to the arts, our heritage and tourism, but the lottery, which is enabling us to enhance our tourist attractions, will lead to a growth in the number of visitors. One could think of many examples of such attractions, but I shall limit myself to one. The new Tate gallery of modern art at the Bankside power station site, not far from the House, will undoubtedly attract to London many more visitors who love modern art.

The opportunities to entice more visitors to Britain will more than offset any reduction that the Government may seek to make in the money that they give to the British Tourist Authority or the English tourist board because of difficult financial times. We have created a honeypot, and the bees are coming to it from around the world.

I do not need to labour the importance of our heritage to tourism, because those who are present are well aware of that. Tourism will continue to be a massive generator of jobs, but that must be judged against the background of the degeneration of the infrastructure of so much of our heritage. The work needed to maintain our heritage goes on constantly, and in a sense gets more difficult every year because our heritage ages every year. That decay is all very well when people want to look at ruins. Stonehenge would look pretty odd if we rebuilt it, and I hope that we never do. It would obviously be nonsense to suggest that our prehistoric or Roman heritage should be kept in anything other than its current condition, but what about our heritage from the Jacobean and Tudor eras, which is in private hands and has suffered serious decay over many decades?

British people's interest and that of visitors in our joint heritage is intense and growing. There is no doubt that our generation is far more aware of our past and the importance of our history than any generation that came before it.

I am lucky enough to represent the constituency in which the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments for England has been relocated. I pay tribute to the work of Tom Hassall and his staff. They have created an extraordinarily rich treasure trove, which is now being explored by more and more visitors who come to see our monuments.

There is a growth of interest in this country's industrial heritage, so I welcome the Bill's provision to enable access to our industrial heritage and to promote education so that younger generations will become aware of the United Kingdom's industrial heritage.

In that context, I want to refer to another project in my constituency. The Great Western Railway museum in Swindon has occupied an extremely small building for many years, and a project is now before the national heritage memorial fund to convert a much larger building on the old railway works site into a magnificent new railway museum. It is an imaginative scheme, which is supported by the local council, and it could, in time, create a national railway museum of the south, which might complement—but not, I hope, rival—the excellent museum in York.

Interest in railways is intense in Swindon, which has a railway history that is the envy of other towns. That interest is not limited to Swindon and the surrounding area, but is matched by interest throughout the country and around the world. The romance of the Great Western Railway—God's wonderful railway—and of steam brings together people of all ages, each of whom has a small boy or small girl inside who is trying to escape, in remembering the days when they stood on the platform watching the steam engines of the past. I hope that those memories will be found in Swindon's museum of the future.

Mr. Stephen

Does my hon. Friend agree that the importance of a railway museum is that the locomotives should be kept in working order, so that we can see them, hear them and smell them in action and not look at them sitting in a building as a static exhibit?

Mr. Coombs

I welcome that intervention and assure my hon. Friend that there is every intention of providing a linking line from the main Great Western line to the museum, so that railway engines can be moved off the country's main railway network into the museum. It is also intended that a workshop will be created, where people will be able to watch engines being worked on by railway engineers—there are many such engineers living in my constituency who would love to get back to work, albeit in a museum, in order to demonstrate the skills that they mastered in their working lives. In addition, such engines as King George V and Caerphilly Castle will be on display and I look forward to selling my hon. Friend a ticket to the museum when it is built. However, I must stick to my subject and not allow our mutual love of railways—with which I am sure all hon. Members were born—to cause me to stray too far.

We must strike a note of caution. The NHMF and the heritage lottery fund are soon likely to be over-subscribed; despite the success of the lottery, there are more projects awaiting consideration than there are resources to fund them. It is therefore inevitable that some discrimination will be necessary and projects will have to be worth while and well thought out if they are to succeed in obtaining grant funding.

It is not only councils such as my own that are making bids to the HLF; I am glad to say that, rightly, many individuals are seeking to preserve heritage in their area. A quarter of a mile away from the railway museum is a scheme to save the mechanics institution—a building constructed in the 1950s by the Great Western Railway in order to educate its work force and give them an opportunity to understand the cultural advances of the Victorian era. Long before the Education Act 1944 and the Arts Council, an enlightened capitalist company sought to give its employees access to education. The institution was a magnificent building, but it has been closed for many years and has fallen into total disrepair.

As part of the work undertaken a few years ago by candidates of the Common Purpose organisation, a group of people got together to see whether the mechanics institution could be saved from its current state of disrepair. I pay tribute to the efforts of, in the first instance, Colin Grattan and, more recently, Martha Parry and Donald Brunwin, who have tried to put together a project that could be the subject of a bid to the HLF. However, such ad hoc organisations find it extremely difficult to gain access to the professionalism that is necessary to make such projects work and to bring them to a standard that the HLF will accept.

I put it to my hon. Friend the Minister that there is room for help to be given at an early stage, to evaluate schemes while they are still merely a dream or a principle at stake and to determine whether they are worth developing further. Recently, I had the opportunity of discussing that point with the chief executive of the NHMF, Anthea Case, and she assured me that anyone coming to the fund would be given as much help as possible, and I pay tribute to that helpful and understanding attitude among the NHMF's staff. There is a gap, which we could do more to fill by reaching out to people who have dreams and who want to try to help preserve our heritage. I would welcome an opportunity at a later stage to look for ways in which that might be achieved. There are obvious financial implications, but they need not be excessive, and I hope that my hon. Friend will consider the matter.

That brings me to a more general point that should be taken into account when discussing the Bill—matching funds. In a recent debate on tourism, I talked about the problem of matching funds. I draw the House's attention to an example that I cited then: a proposal to give Kennet and Avon Canal Trust £25 million from the HLF. That was welcomed with enormous enthusiasm in Wiltshire and elsewhere along the line of the Kennet and Avon canal, but since the announcement was made, it has become clear that the matching funds needed to enable the scheme to go ahead are considerable—around £7 million has to be found from local sources, and that is not an easy task.

I put it to my hon. Friend that, sooner or later, we shall have to revisit the question of matching funds. If we have decided that a project is sufficiently worth while for us to devote £25 million to it, are we really saying that, if it proves impossible to find matching funds, we do not want the scheme to go ahead at all? We are in danger of appearing to say that. I hope that there will be some flexibility in assessing the quality of projects. They should not be assessed in the context of determining whether there is enough local enthusiasm.

There is always tremendous local enthusiasm for such projects, but there is a limit to the sum that we can ask local authorities to provide out of their necessarily limited budget. There is a limit to how much we can ask the private sector to contribute at local level. All hon. Members know of the constant pressure on the larger employing companies in any area to provide funding for charitable and voluntary organisations. There is a limit to what local fund raisers can raise. A canal stretching 100-odd miles from Bristol to London is not a local project and will not be easily funded locally to the tune of about £7 million. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have some thoughts on that subject, if not this afternoon, some time during the Bill's passage through the House.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) mentioned access. Of course we would agree that when we give money to, for example, historic houses, it is right to insist on public access—that lottery money cannot be used to prop up a house for its own sake.

We need to be sensitive. Some projects that are proposed as a result of the Bill's passage will involve very small houses that are still family homes. The idea that the general public should have an absolute, unfettered right to tramp through various rooms in those smaller houses lacks sensitivity. The principle of public access is right and obviously we must ensure that we do not go to the other extreme of handing over funds without public access, but I hope that sensitivity will be shown in deciding appropriate access.

Let us suppose that a house is a jewel set in a landscape and is threatened with dilapidation to the point of being unsafe and needing to be pulled down. Are we saying that, in those circumstances, the heritage is not worth saving as a jewel in the landscape, even if the public will have access only to the parkland? Are we insisting that every room or a selection of rooms should be available? seek from my hon. Friend the Minister a clue as to his thinking on that matter because, in my view, if we create too rigid a principle, we are in danger of ruling out our ability to help smaller houses, which are part of our heritage.

I very much welcome the Bill. It will create difficulties in terms of achieving a balance between the resources available to English Heritage and the national heritage memorial fund, but I am certain that that balance can be achieved and that, overall, the Bill's effect is benign. I welcome the fact that, after two years, the Government have concluded that ownership should not be an issue, and I very much hope that the Bill has a speedy passage.

7.2 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The general welcome that the Bill has evoked reflects the widespread hope that many projects that have not been eligible for national heritage memorial fund help will, as a result of the enlargement of the scope of the funds and of those to whom moneys may be paid, bring about the restoration of heritage, and in some cases the creation of new facilities.

The Bill, although short, is important. It should be made plain that the Bill will not increase the money that the fund disperses. The cake is the same size, although the plates on which the slices are to be distributed will be substantially increased.

Most of the important points about the Bill have been made. I had supposed that it would be largely uncontroversial. It may have been slightly provocative to focus so much attention on the Bill's purpose—to increase access to heritage—at a time when access appears to be threatened by other policies of the Government.

The issue that has sparked a small explosion on both sides of the House—the funding of the British museum—is important. I venture with caution to step into that ring. When the Minister intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Mr. Fisher) to say that he sought neither to encourage nor to discourage museums regarding a charging policy, he inadvertently adopted an inappropriate attitude for a Minister of the Crown and protector of the public interest.

Many of the great national collections have been accumulated on the assumption that they would remain free and open to access by all citizens, and a large proportion of the donations were explicitly made on that assumption. It is the duty of Ministers of the Crown, in their attitude to charging, to reflect that consideration. Neutrality about whether the British museum charges is not an appropriate posture. Neutrality about whether the national gallery receives, or must rule itself out from receiving, the benefits of Sir Denis Mahon's bounty is not a matter on which a Minister responsible for heritage should be neutral.

Although the task of taking decisions on such questions lies with the trustees, Ministers of the Crown cannot be mute on those issues and should make it plain that, as a matter of public policy, it is desirable that the great national collections remain free and open to access. Those collections should not be saved up for the rare special visit to London. They should be regarded as an archive for reference purposes, to be visited frequently, to be dropped in upon on occasion, when the spirit so moves a visitor, perhaps only to look at a single item, to compare it, reflect on it and be moved and inspired by it. It should not be necessary to purchase that access. Those who have charged for such access, in places such as the Victoria and Albert museum, have diminished our heritage by introducing that charging principle.

The question whether charging diminishes attendance at museums was not conclusively answered by the Minister's intervention about the imperial war museum, based on a relatively short period. There is a pretty strong a priori case against charging, as many people on limited incomes immediately exclude non-necessary expenditure from their spending. Although there have been vast numbers of visitors to the British museum from other countries—notably the United States—who regard much of what is there as world heritage, want to see it when they visit and are well able to afford to pay, there are ways of inducing such visitors to contribute to the costs other than compulsory charging, which adversely affects the least well-off members of our community.

I did not intend to comment on that matter at length. I simply wanted to note the irony that we are considering a Bill designed to increase access against that background. Having noted that, I shall pass on. However, before passing on, I want to ask the Minister whether it is wrong to view the expenditure decisions on museums in the Budget as not revealing Government policy. That double negative may be difficult to follow, but it certainly appeared that museums with a charging policy were favoured by the Budget and those with no such policy, or with a policy of not charging, did not find favour. The British museum, among them, suffered a cut in its grant of £1.3 million. That cannot have been entirely accidental. It was certainly widely believed to be the Government's intention to move in that direction. If the Government want to disavow that intention on the record, they ought to look again at their funding arrangements for the national museums and galleries, whose acquisition fund in particular is under considerable pressure.

The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) spoke about the mechanics institution, which I had the privilege of seeing on a recent visit to Swindon. I share his enthusiasm for the project and hope that it will be a successful applicant for assistance. I, too, have projects which I cherish and which I hope, as a result of the Bill, will be eligible for assistance.

I was interested to hear what the Minister said about the possibility of townscape heritage being brought within the ambit of the national heritage memorial fund. I have been thinking for some time that the townscape of Wick in Caithness—particularly Pulteneytown, built to a plan by Telford, and one of the first examples of a grid townscape in Scotland—is a site of great historic interest that needs substantial expenditure to restore it to its former glory. The fact that, under the Bill, multiple ownership will not stand in the way of applications for assistance should help projects such as the one at Wick to put together suitable applications for assistance.

On the limited question of access, I question whether the words in the Bill about imposing a duty on trustees to bear in mind the desirability of public access go far enough. That seems to be a subjective test, which is scarcely adequate to reflect the view of hon. Members on both sides of the House that public access is a proper consideration when determining whether money should be paid out.

There are obviously some objects that it would not be possible to keep on permanent display to the public; they may be very fragile, for instance. That sort of consideration should mean that it is not an absolute duty to offer public access in all circumstances. Quite apart from the difficulty of demonstrating whether the trustees have discharged their duty in this respect, the phrase does not go far enough. I therefore commend to the Government a phrase that could be subjected to a more objective test, such as: "The trustees shall give due weight to the significance of public access." I acknowledge that that is a Committee point, but, as I may not have the opportunity to serve on the Committee, I want to make it now.

I noted what the Minister said about the Government's intention to alter the provisions on the remuneration of trustees. I welcome the arguments behind that proposal. On the other hand, I notice that the same clause makes the somewhat surprising proposal that the trustees may appoint such officers and servants as they think fit, on such terms … as they think fit". That seems rather sweeping, although it may be standard practice with public bodies. Perhaps the Government will consider introducing guidance; the absolute discretion proposed in the Bill may not be right for a public body of this kind.

In general, I welcome the Bill and its widening of the eligibility criteria. I welcome the new emphasis on access and education, on information technology and on species conservation. I believe that it will enable the fund to do many of the things that it has wanted to do but has hitherto been prevented from doing. I hope that the legislation can be speedily enacted.

7.15 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

I welcome the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan)—in Milton's line, he and I were nursed upon the self-same hill". I recall his attitude to the original National Lottery etc. Bill. I do not allude to it in any spirit of unkindness on this occasion, but I am delighted to note that, despite his opposition to the legislation, he has retained his interest in the subjects that we are discussing tonight.

I apologise to the House for my brief absence at the start of the debate during the Minister's speech. The coincidence of Christmas and the arrival of the recess has meant that one's time is not entirely one's own. I therefore apologise if anything that I say is expressed in ignorance of anything that the Minister may have said when opening the debate.

I welcome the Bill, not least as it gives us the opportunity to praise the national heritage memorial fund and its trustees for their admirable conduct, performance, services and achievements over the past sixteen and a half years. I appreciate the antecedents of the Bill and the need to give greater freedom and flexibility to the trustees to perform—not least through the heritage lottery fund—tasks which everyone believes desirable. That has clearly been the consensus this evening.

I also recognise that the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 is not without its occasional critics. I was not the architect of the Act—we could start a decent-sized architectural practice with those who claim to have been its architect—but I had a subordinate job in the master mason's department. I hope that, over the next sixteen and a half years, it will come to be seen as having been a leather, not an iron, harness, which has enabled sensible and even regular changes to be made to the working of the national lottery, without the need to return to primary legislation.

I have not followed the debate in the other place, so I do not know whether the issue of English Heritage working abroad came up there. Some years ago, the National Heritage Select Committee said that it would be desirable if English Heritage were released to work abroad. I had hoped that this occasion might be taken to give legislative cover to that idea. My hon. Friend may tell me that no such cover is necessary; I hope that he will not tell me that such freedom is not desirable. Although English Heritage's headquarters is in my constituency, I stress that it has given me no briefing on this subject, and that I am not speaking on its behalf.

Matching funds are an important subject; I dare say they will be returned to in Standing Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) mentioned the Kennet and Avon canal. I declare an interest as a patron of the partnership project and the appeal application. I thought that he was perhaps a little unfair to everybody concerned when he alluded to the £25 million for a project that everybody believes should happen but did not mention the immense amount of work that the local community had already done. That was a vivid demonstration of how desirable it was that the project should be carried through.

Mr. Simon Coombs

I did not wish to suggest in what I said earlier that I had anything other than the greatest admiration for the work that had already been done. I merely wished to point out how much more difficult it would be to find further funding, as opposed to the fund-raising that had been done. A huge extra burden will fall on the people in the localities along the length of the canal and it will be difficult for them to match the £25 million, as I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees.

Mr. Brooke

I take that point totally, and matching funding is a subject to which we should return.

I make the briefest possible reference to the Victoria County History, which has already been mentioned in the debate. Three Government Departments—the then Department for Education, the Department of National Heritage and the Department of the Environment—all sought to avoid taking responsibility for the Victoria County History. The Commission in Brussels believed that the British have a better co-ordinated civil service than any other country in the Union, but that problem was not a classic example of it working well. Co-operation between the three Departments might have solved the problem, but I am delighted that rescue has arrived through the amendment to the Bill in the Lords.

I am also delighted that the amendment was initiated by my noble Friend Lord Beloff. Parenthetically, he was a senior member of the library committee of the Oxford union when I was an officer of the union. I am delighted to enrol under his flag in this cause. Both of us were enrolled under the banner of the senior librarian of the union—I shall be brief in this diversion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that you will not pull me up—Canon Claude Jenkins, who was a remarkable figure and had been the librarian of Lambeth palace. He was not a man of the tidiest disposition, and his fellow canons in Christ Church felt that his garden should be tidied up. They decided to pay for a gardener, but they received a note in Canon Jenkins' enchanting and spidery hand saying, "By order of Canon Jenkins, his garden has this day been consecrated as a bird sanctuary." I bring him into the debate because his garden would clearly have been one of the beneficiaries under the Bill.

I also wish to pay tribute to C. R. Elrington, the former editor of the Victoria County History, who has undertaken an enormous sponsored journey up and down the length of this land in the past year to raise money for the history. I believe that he raised £27,000. One of his stopping places was a couple of miles from where I was staying in August this year. His journey was worthy of Defoe or Lady Celia Fiennes and, given that his itinerary was so detailed that it included exactly when he would be having breakfast, I was tempted, in the spirit of those earlier travellers, to go and observe both the breakfast and his departure, to cheer and huzza. The journey was enormously to his credit, but I am pleased that the Bill will mean that such enormous travels will not be so necessary in the future.

Sir Wyn Roberts

My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that there is a connection between C. R. Elrington, Canon Jenkin's and myself. C. R. Elrington and I both listened to Canon Jenkins's lectures on the Theodosian code.

Mr. Brooke

A debate of this sort is improved and enhanced by intelligence such as I have just received from my right hon. Friend, especially given the subject that we are discussing.

The last time that I offered my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench my participation in the Committee stage of a Bill, I am sorry to say that it was refused. I am therefore a little diffident about making the offer again, but the Bill is sufficiently important to me that I am happy to swallow my pride and do so. However, I should not sail under false colours, and I shall close with a brief word about museum charges, because they have been mentioned in the debate already.

I have no inherent objection to the principle of museum charges per se, but a distinction should conceivably be made between museums about whether charges are desirable. I am delighted that huge numbers of people visit our museums in London. We are periodically told by journalists how much better the French order such matters with the Louvre, but it is significant that far more people visit museums in London than visit museums in Paris.

My anxiety is that some potential visitors need to approach museums cautiously and try them out, not because of the public face of the museum but because they are unfamiliar with, or frightened by, the contents of the museum. People need to test the water and find out whether they like what is inside museums. I have an uneasy feeling that charging for entry to somewhere such as the British museum might cause some people never to go inside, when both my hon. Friend the Minister and I would wish them to become addicts of that culture. Charging might hinder that. I shall not labour the point: I merely wish to enter it as part of the spirit of the debate. In total, I support the Bill warmly, and I have greatly enjoyed taking part in the debate.

7.25 pm
Mr. Sproat

I wish to respond briefly to some of the points made in this interesting, if short, debate. In particular, I wish to thank all those right hon. and hon. Members, starting with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who gave a strong, warm, general welcome to the Bill. I will return in a moment to the charging issue, which was the one area of mildly abrasive acrimony within our gentle debate—I am sure that we shall also return to it in Committee—but first I wish to thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm support for the Bill. He continued the tradition started in the other place, where the Bill was first debated.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central also raised an interesting point about nature conservation. The national heritage memorial fund is keen to support a wider range of nature conservation projects and the Bill will enable it to do so. Funding will be available, for example, for projects involving conservation of rare species, flora and fauna, and so on. He chose a good example of the widening of the activities of the national heritage memorial fund which it was not able to undertake under the rather restrictive definitions of the National Heritage Act 1980.

My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) raised the question of war memorials, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central also mentioned. It would be possible to help war memorials under the present dispensation, but it may be that the widening of the Bill and the psychological increase in the feeling that more causes can be supported will enable war memorials to receive the care and attention that my hon. Friend mentioned that they need. I hope that we shall return to that important example in greater detail in Committee.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central mentioned the case of privately owned cinemas and industrial premises, and asked whether they would be covered in the Bill. The answer is a firm yes. He also mentioned the case of Leigh mills, and I agree with him. I have been to Leigh mills, although it was some time ago and I cannot remember the exact details. I believe that *he building in its present form was built in about 1921 or 1922. I remember that the upper windows are of the architecture of that time. If a building is listed, the owner has to keep it up, which subtracts money from his business and employment. Listing is a difficult area, and Leigh mills is a good example of the problems that arise. It is the sort of case that we should examine in Committee.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central talked about the clawback. It is not a hypothetical issue. As I said in my opening speech, English Heritage already provides grants to private owners, and there has been a clawback on several occasions. I have looked through the list and, from memory, the biggest clawback in the past few years was £5,500. Sometimes it was £276 or £330. It was nearly always for the sale of a property, although in one case it was for the sale of land. The point is that it has been done, it could be done again and it should be done with rigour. If it is done, that is how it will occur. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks in that area.

I turn now to the British museum and to the points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and subsequently by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central spoke about the excellence of the British museum. No one doubts the excellence of its scholarship—particularly that of Dr. Anderson, who is of world calibre. However, the mildly disagreeable comments that I made were not my views but those of the Edwards report. The Government did not ask the British museum to conduct an inquiry: the British museum trustees commissioned Mr. Edwards to do it. He found that there were deep and long-standing flaws in the museum's financial and general management, in its organisation and in its general efficiency.

I did not know that the matter would be raised tonight, so I have not refreshed my memory regarding the figures. However, I recall that there has been a 76 per cent. increase in the number of curatorial staff since 1972. That is just one example of the trustees not exercising the kind of control that they might have wished over an expanding staff. My right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir Wyn Roberts) pointed out that, even if charges were introduced, redundancies might still be necessary. That is the view of the Edwards report, not of the Government. It would be extremely sad, but there is a direct correlation between the lax grip on management in the 1970s and the state of the museum today. I am informed that the figure was not 76 per cent. but 70 per cent.—so my memory is not too bad.

The point is that the British museum trustees must decide whether to charge for admission. I know that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland does not agree with that, but the Government believe that such decisions must be left to the trustees. I have a scrap of paper which sets out the details that I gave off the top of my head. As I was out by a few percentage points, perhaps I should refer to it. Of the 10 museums—the British museum, the imperial war museum, the national gallery, the national maritime museum, the national museums and galleries on Merseyside, the national portrait gallery, the natural history museum, the science museum, the Tate gallery and the Victoria and Albert museum—only four received an increase in cash grants between 1992–93 and 1996–97. However, all four charged throughout that entire period, with the exception of the V and A, which began imposing charges in October this year when Dr. Alan Borg—who had seen how well charges worked at the Imperial War museum—was instrumental in introducing them.

There is no question of the Government favouring those museums which charge. It is fair to make that assertion, but it is equally fair for me to refute it utterly. Museums received grant increases this year on the basis of how well they were run—it had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they charged. I put it to the House and to any fair-minded person that I could not go to Sir Neil Cossens—who has run a very tight ship at the Science museum in the past few years—and say, "Although you have done wonderfully well for your museum, and the British museum is in such a state that it has set up its own inquiry to investigate what has gone wrong, we will not reward you for doing well: we will take money from you and give it to someone who has not done his duty".

That would be deeply unfair.

Some museums received increased grants—the imperial war museum, the maritime museum and others. The hon. Gentleman should be able to remind me of them as he has been going on about it for long enough. The four museums that received increased grants this year did charge for admission, but they were not awarded the grants on that basis. The figures prove that under this Government the museums which do not charge have received more funding. Funding is not based on whether or not museums charge. The facts are irrefutable.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House for coming late to the debate. I went to considerable trouble to be here for seven o'clock, because I was told that it would begin then. The issue must be the survival of the British museum, which is a very special place. Whoever is to blame for what has gone wrong—my hon. Friend has understandably worked himself into a lather about it—the fact is that it is not the scholars or the public, who visit the museum in great numbers. It is crucial that the British museum should remain the flagship of our museums. We must not put the trustees into a straitjacket, restrict the scholarship and make it difficult for people, young and old, to visit the museum.

Mr. Sproat

That is a very important point, but it is not the only one. If museums care well for the artefacts in their charge—as the science museum and the natural history museum have done—it would be unfair to take money away from them to pay for those who have not performed their function. It is the parable of the virgins or the talents—[Interruption.] I was groping for the biblical quotation about the wise and the unwise virgins, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Of course, we shall do everything we can to help the British museum, but its trustees must decide whether to charge. We shall be very happy to provide advice or to meet the trustees to discuss the matter. I noticed that the Opposition spokesman did not tell us whether Labour would reinstate compulsory charging in those museums that have removed it already. I see Opposition Front Benchers nodding, so that is another pledge.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

I was agreeing that my hon. Friend had not told the House.

Mr. Sproat

Perhaps he will tell us now. Labour should tell us whether it intends to reinstate charging. Charging currently brings in £15 million; if the British museum were to put aside the charging option, it would have to find that sum from Government funds. It is yet another example of the Labour party not telling us what it would do in government. I do not care what a Labour Government would do, but Opposition Members should have the courage of their convictions and tell the House whether they would forbid the museums to charge. If they would, they must confirm whether they would compensate the museums.

Mr. Fisher

I am happy that the Minister has given way on an issue that is hardly central to the Bill. We are getting distracted, but the Minister provokes me somewhat.

I shall make our position clear. My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has said on numerous occasions that the Labour party wishes to see access to all the core collections of our great national museums returned to the state of being free by the end of the century. To achieve that, we shall work with those museums. It is a matter not of compulsion, but of coherent partnership policies. Having discussed this matter with many of the museums, we believe that we can achieve that by the end of the century.

What a good way to celebrate the millennium—all our great national museums, such as the British museum and the Victoria and Albert, should be free and open to access. If the Minister is serious about the Bill and about our heritage, he should support that principle and work constructively with us when we are in government to ensure that it happens.

Mr. Sproat

That was an absolutely classic Labour weaselly pledge. Labour would like to see that happen by the end of the decade, but the hon. Gentleman did not and dare not say what Labour will do, because the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) will not allow him to do so. All that the right hon. Gentleman allows Labour Members to do is to speak out of one side of their mouths, give a nudge here and a hint there. They say in private that of course they will do that, but when challenged at the Dispatch Box to say whether they will give another £15 million or £25 million to museums, they will not say.

Mr. Fisher

The Minister has such a crude and unimaginative understanding of these matters. As he said, it is not within the power of Government either to compel or to prevent charges. We believe that it is wrong, and we will work with those galleries and museums to ensure that charging ends. We will not compel them, and we will certainly not fully fund them. The museums that do not charge have had roughly the same budget treatment, but they have deployed their resources differently to ensure that they do not have to charge. They have not received more favourable treatment than those museums that have chosen to charge. We believe that the museums that have charged could have organised their affairs in such a way that, like the Tate or the British museum, they did not need to charge.

We hope that, in the next three years, we can work with the museums, using lottery money and their grant in aid, but we will not give them favourable treatment, and we will certainly not compensate them for giving up charges. We believe that they can reorganise their budgets by the end of the century, and we will work with them to that end. We will not compel them to do so. As the Minister said, it is a matter for the trustees. We believe that most trustees want access to their core collections to be free. They will be working over the next three years with a Government who are positive on that point.

Mr. Sproat

That was another fudge. We still do not know whether Labour will give the museums £15 million. The hon. Gentleman is wrong: the museums that have not charged have received more in the past five years. That is not because they do not charge; it is just a matter of fact. I have given the figures.

As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) made a much more sensible speech. He talked about the lottery's great success, and was extremely modest about the fact that he was one of the first to say that private owners needed more help. Two thirds of listed houses are in private ownership. It was ludicrous that those private owners could not be helped, but now they will be.

My hon. Friend is an expert on tourism. Last year, 24 million tourists—a record number—visited this country. One of the main reasons why they come here is our heritage. The Bill will greatly help the tourist industry. The problem of matching funds is serious, and I look forward to returning to that issue in Committee.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland gave a general warm welcome to the Bill. He made some interesting points that we shall return to in Committee. I also look forward to discussing his major disagreement with me about charging for admission to museums.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said that English Heritage should be able to work abroad. He is right. It was partly with that ambition in mind that, earlier this year, English Heritage established its former direct labour force as an independent company, which is now able to use its considerable skills on projects beyond these shores. It is not the Bill that will allow that: it was English Heritage's wise and prescient move in setting itself up as an independent force.

With those few and gentle words, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).