§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Lord Harrison rose to call attention to the part played by the arts in the cultural life of this country including the contribution made through free access to museums and art galleries; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Commons recent report, National Museums and Galleries: Funding and Free Admission reminds us that the UK's museums and galleries are,
a treasure trove of artistic, cultural, historical and scientific artefacts and expertise",
and, above all,
fun and fascinating places to visit".
For myself and my family and for millions of other Britons and visitors to our shores, that has always been the case. But we now bathe in the warm afterglow of the Government's wonderful initiative, completed in December 2001 and now requiring our praise and appraisal, on the abolition of charging at our national galleries and museums. That inspired move provoked a remarkable 70 per cent rise in visitor numbers in the first year of abolition. Particularly gratifying are the crowd-pulling percentages recorded at the V&A, 111 per cent; at the Science Museum, 100 per cent; and at the Natural History Museum, 81 per cent.
§ I am personally thrilled by the 79 per cent increase in visitors to Merseyside's national museums, with the Liverpool Museum and the Museum of Liverpool Life topping the list. That is particularly heartening as those two excellent museums have always been the home from home of local Merseysiders. As word of mouth spreads the good news about the liberation of the people's palaces, I expect more local people, especially those drawn from social classes C, D and E, to frequent those museums with the same enthusiasm currently accorded to Anfield, Goodison Park and Prenton Park.
§ In passing, we should note that a recent. MORI poll suggests that the percentage of people visiting at least one museum in the past year has risen from 20 to 25 per cent for social classes D and E; from 28 to 39 per cent for C2s; and from 44 to 53 per cent for C1s. I dwell on those figures because some commentators have suggested that the recent rise in numbers is largely attributable to social groups A and B. My reading of the figures suggests that from a lower base, more C, D and Es than ever are coming into our free museums. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that welcome trend? Will she say what more the Government can do to encourage the 41 per cent of respondents to the MORI poll who habitually eschew any visit to a museum?
§ I expect other welcome consequences of abolition. Will the Minister confirm my instinct that increased flows through our galleries have generated a greater 677 income take in museum shops and restaurants? Has she noticed greater enthusiasm among museum donors? Now that the assurance has been given that their gifts will be offered free to public gaze, do they give more readily?
§ I also sense that the pattern of visiting museums is changing, especially among families, with more visits of shorter periods now that the imperative of getting one's full money's-worth from a single expensive visit has been eliminated. Too many such forced marches around cavernous museums have in the past put children off museums for life.
§ Does the Minister agree that all those benefits have happened? Will she now elucidate what she thinks should be the desirable outcomes of the Government's progressive policy of remitting entrance fees? I press her on that, as we owe it to the dedicated men and women who run, curate and stand guard over Britain's stupendous heritage to be clear about the objectives of the new policy. I also ask my noble friend to confirm that the Government have their hand on the plough on free entry. Core funding for the museums must be guaranteed by the Government, preferably with extended budget horizons, to ward off the disastrous spectre of a return to charging.
§ So far, everything has been to the good, but will the Government also recognise that the increase in visitor numbers has brought in its own whirligig of new challenges, some of which will require new money? With the absence of entrance tickets, how will the Government verify the count of visitor numbers, data that are so important for designing responsive policies for museums? Who will pay for the extra cleaners required, the repair of wear and tear on museum fabric, and the increased staffing that follows the opening of the floodgates on free admission? The Government have begun on a long and winding road, and they must see the journey through.
§ The new policy has also had the effect of embarrassing some charging museums and galleries in the independent and local authority sectors, which cavil at what they deem to be unfair competition. Loss of income from school visits is a particularly sore point for some. What remedies can the Minister suggest to ensure that that is only a teething problem while the new policy beds down? Will she suggest greater links and joint ticketing between different museums, and more of the tab being picked up by local education authorities given that those non-national museums contribute so compellingly to school, student and lifelong learning?
§ Will the Minister address herself to some of the odd anomalies of change? For instance, why is Tate Britain now free but not Tate St Ives? Why have university museums been excluded from the Chancellor's recent budgetary amendment, finessing the vexed problem of museums recovering VAT input? European Commission President Romano Prodi confirmed that there is no European impediment to solving that problem to the benefit of universities and their local communities. 678 As a young boy born and brought up in Oxford, many a family Sunday afternoon began with a picnic in the Parks followed by a visit to the Pitt Rivers museum. Its exotic totem poles have haunted me all my life and christened me an inveterate museum-goer.
§ It is not only finance and resources that will complete the Government's ambitions, although the £70 million announced for our regional museums is yet another welcome initiative from the DCMS. The Government rightly require recipients of increased government funding to modernise and reform. In particular, will they tackle the sometimes stifling culture of talented amateurism that can beset the running of British museums, leading to indifferent displays, poorly kept deposits and financial ineptitude? Will they review the lack of training and leadership programmes for running modern museums?
§ What will the Government do to stimulate improved knowledge of our museums and their new regime of free entry? Is that yet well known among the populace? Such publicity should also clarify which museums, dubbed national or not, are subject to free entry, thereby reducing the awkward incidences of visitors arriving at charging museums in the mistaken belief that they are free.
§ Above all, the quality of our museums, their accessibility to scholars, and the experience offered to the visitors alike must be subject to continual scrutiny by the Government. It would be folly of the first order to open the doors of our museums without a commensurate revitalising of their core collections by innovative curators, aided and abetted by dedicated staff.
§ I also suggest to my noble friend that we must avoid the growth of a two-tier system in our museums, whereby visitors are charged for temporary exhibitions in free museums. Such discrimination can have a demotivating effect on visitors, especially newcomers to the museum experience.
§ Will my noble friend ensure that the formulation of future policy recognises that national museums should cater for their local communities as well as for visitors and tourists? That should be as true for London as it is for Liverpool. Charity begins at home.
§ There is still much to do in co-ordinating the Government's cross-cutting policies and exploiting the wonderful resource that our museums and galleries represent. Education has an obvious but still under-exploited relationship with museums. Schools and museums must do better, as must the tourism industry. It is a truism that foreign visitors come to Britain for the museums, not for the weather. However, our thinking in that regard is still too monolingual. For instance, do we publicise in our overseas literature the free entry to our national galleries, an acknowledged magnet to foreign tourists?
§ Museums too can contribute to our national political debates, as instanced by the British Museum's excellent recent exhibitions on the heritage currencies of euroland, and the pound's development as a single currency. However, it is sad to report that, to my 679 knowledge, of the London museums only the British Museum accepts euros in its shops. Our museums and galleries should also aid and abet the quality of British business and industry. After all, the V&A and the Birmingham Art Gallery were founded to help to impregnate British goods with the genius of British design.
§ There is much to be done to get full use of our museums and galleries in Britain today. I am proud to support a Government whose popular instincts have so vigorously thrown open the doors to our finest and best.
§ I shall finish with a little anecdote. Last year, my wife and I visited the recently freed Lady Lever Art Gallery, located on the Wirral, which I used to have the pleasure of representing in the European Parliament. It was showing the Leonardo exhibition. The gallery can be found in Port Sunlight, which was created by the Lever brothers. Much emphasis was placed there on education: the museum was at the heart of that. We had great difficulty approaching the museum by car and had to park some distance away because of the crowds of people coming to see the exhibition and to take advantage of free entry. After our very enjoyable visit, we repaired to the one pub that was allowed at Port Sunlight and found it empty. I said to my wife, "What a wonderful Government we have—emptying the pubs and filling the museums!". My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Rendell of Babergh
My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Harrison for inaugurating this debate and for his thoughtful and interesting opening remarks.
This topic is too seldom discussed in your Lordships' House. To me, "cultural life" is synonymous with an appreciation of "the arts", not of art alone. The Chambers Dictionary has "the arts" among its several definitions of "culture" and defines "cultural" as,educated, especially in the arts and humanities".It is about the arts in general and not only of museums that I shall speak.
British life has for a thousand years been richly informed by the arts and, I would suggest, in spite of evidence repeatedly thrust at us through the media, more now than it has ever been. That is particularly true of contributions made by literature, the theatre and other performing arts, and our museums. More literary prizes than ever before are being awarded and the publicity attendant on short lists and ceremonies ensures media attention through which the public are thoroughly informed of such phenomena as the recent vying between the husband and wife, Michael Frayn and Clare Tomalin, for the Whitbread Prize, with their competing books, Spies and the Pepys biography 680 respectively. In spite of the loss of so many small private outlets, we have, in my opinion, the best-arranged and best-stocked bookshops in the world. Surprisingly to some people, books, not food, computer equipment or domestic appliances are the most popular commodity supplied online.
Although our theatre suffers from time to time from neglect and failure, except perhaps in the area of long-running popular musicals, it has also rarely been so innovative. Nicholas Hytner, who now runs the National Theatre, says he will programme as adventurously as he can. He wants a new approach to musicals; one that will bridge the gap between music, drama and dance, and a satirical musical will open the season at the National's Lyttleton stage. At the smallest stage, the Cottesloe, will be "Elmina's Kitchen", written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, himself already a successful television actor, about black residents of Hackney. Hytner, who plans to cut prices at the National so that all 1,100 seats at the Olivier Theatre cost £10, will direct "Henry V" with the black actor Adrian Lester in the lead. It is to be hoped that this is an early and pioneering move in a cutting or even removing of the cost of attending centres for the arts, which was begun by giving free access to museums, and thus making performances or exhibitions more easily available to students and lower income groups.
Removing entry charges at national museums has been a success, leading to more visitors, particularly at the V&A and the other museums in South Kensington. As my noble friend Lord Harrison said, number increases of visitors range between 111 per cent and more than 80 per cent. There was a 10 per cent rise in the number of children visiting a museum during the year 2001–02. It is heartening to scan a list of art galleries and note the many repetitions of the words "free entry".
The V&A was one of the last among major museums to introduce a charge. That was in 1997, when visitor numbers were cut by half. In the past year, the V&A enjoyed its highest visitor figures in its history. It appears quite simply that when charges are removed double the number of people come, and when they are imposed half disappear—a direct and obvious correlation, and a rebuttal of the argument put forward by some museum directors that free entry would have little or no impact on numbers. Many people are now making return visits to the major museums and large numbers are visiting for the first time.
However, an increase in funding is needed if regional museums and art galleries are to follow suit and enjoy improved attendance. They have suffered years of under-funding and neglect, which often result in their inability to put on new, visitor-attracting exhibitions. The popularity of major museums such as the National Gallery is due in great part to its putting on show the work of great artists, apart from its regular and ongoing collections.
It is worth noting that long queues at the Royal Academy, where admission is not free, bear witness to the success of the Aztecs exhibition. People do want to 681 see art; many regard it as an indispensable part of their lives, and visit, whether they are charged or not. Meanwhile, regional galleries, which must charge to survive, continue to suffer from lack of funding. That means that local communities with young families are deprived of what we now know would contribute hugely to their appreciation, and perhaps love, of art. The outlook will be sad if children in more distant areas of the UK grow up deprived of access to art collections while those in London take frequent museum visits for granted and part of a way of life.
Ethnic minorities are making a substantial contribution to our cultural life. Immigrants, and particularly the children of immigrants, have begun in recent years enormously to enrich drama, dance, music, film and television, bringing a freshness and vitality to many art forms. Their presence has for far longer worked a steady enhancement of our literature. Salman Rushdie, born in India, won the Booker Prize with his novel Midnight's Children, which ultimately won the overall prize, the Booker of Bookers, awarded for all those novels which won individually over the years. He has adapted that book for the London stage, where it has just opened at the Barbican and should introduce his novel to a new audience. Other writers and major literary prize-winners are from the Asian subcontinent. Their contribution, particularly to literary fiction in the second half of the past century, cannot be overrated. It is bringing to the reading public a familiarity with a once-hidden way of life, customs, ceremonies, luxury and poverty and simple day-to-day living. That fiction provides a unique departure from tradition and expectation, first appearing on the British scene at a time of threatening staleness in fiction writing. Introducing readers to great writers of the past can be a function of film. Stephen Daldry's "The Hours", from David Hare's screenplay, should bring a new readership to the novels of Virginia Woolf.
People of Afro-Caribbean origin are too often associated with dance. Noble Lords will all be aware of the racist, though well-intentioned, remark, "They make such wonderful dancers". The truth is that Afro-Caribbean people make wonderful writers, painters and actors as well and that anyone of any race may become a talented dancer provided that the will and skill are there.
The Laban Centre at Deptford Creekside welcomes and brings to this country applicants for training from all over the world. The centre was designed by the Tate Modern architects, who have created the new building which houses the centre as a wonder of colour and light. A 300-seat theatre reflects the belief that performance is central to everything Laban does. There are 13 dance studios, a dance health suite and a 100-seat lecture theatre. Laban, one of Europe's leading institutions of dance artist training, launches next Monday with a programme from a selection of the UK's top contemporary dance artists. Its presence where it is offers an enormous boost to Deptford. Laban provides local people with access to a range of activities and services, not available before in this 682 neglected area. It offers courses for children and young people and teachers of GCSE dance. Its adult classes are in contemporary dance, classical ballet, jazz and African and African-Caribbean. Matthew Bourne, whose production of the "Nutcracker!" has just finished its run at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, is a former student of Laban before it came to Deptford. It has been delivering dance, education and community dance initiatives in south-east London for 30 years. It is Laban's aim to work with the local community, thus interacting with its cultural life.
If more institutions develop those sorts of plans to introduce local residents to their projects and performances, the cultural future looks hopeful.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on securing the debate and on initiating it so forcefully. Last summer he set in motion a similarly meaty debate on small businesses. We hope that his successes in that regard will be maintained. However, I disagree with him on the principle that special exhibitions should also be free.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, knows that I have a vicarious leper's squint into her considerable oeuvre through having had Chief Inspector Wexford as an immediate neighbour. It is a privilege to follow her today. I share her passion for books. I thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their speeches. Those are familiar and oft repeated words. I am conscious of the hazard of using familiar and oft repeated words ever since my sister wrote to me saying, "The school did 'Hamlet' last week; most of the parents had seen it before, but they laughed just the same"!
In your Lordships House the part played by the arts in the cultural life of this country is a given. I quote the opening four sentences of a recent article by Mr Simon Jenkins on architecture, his own favoured art:Pictures are beautiful. Plays stimulate. Operas thrill. Music uplifts the spirit".I doubt that those words would be controversial in your Lordships' eyes. In this country we are lucky that all four desiderata are so ubiquitous.
I have a modest interest to declare, although of a more impecuniary nature. As I approach the psalmist's three score years and ten, and thus with the perspective of relative maturity, I have set myself to see all Shakespeare's plays—many of them again—as they gradually appear. I did not vote in the BBC's greatest Briton contest, but I have the feeling that if the vote had been carried out by foreigners, Shakespeare would have come higher than number five. A prophet is not without honour except in his own country.
Last night I saw "Macbeth" in a house without a single spare seat. The last time I saw it my late first wife and I met, without preplanning, with other friends in the foyer afterwards. "Just one damn quotation after another", said the husband. Seeing the play last night and "The Tempest" a fortnight ago reminded me of how, as with the Bible, our language and our educated 683 patois have been shaped by him. I am lucky—as we all are—to have reasonable confidence that I shall get the chance to see the whole canon.
I am envious of the Minister and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that they are comparatively awash with money. The late Lord Ridley declined to serve as arts Minister under my noble friend Lady Thatcher on the grounds that the arts constituency wanted money from the Minister of which there was never enough and he was not prepared to spend his life saying no. From my own two years in that office I can validate his view. But even today, in days of plenty, it still matters that the money should be spent well.
When I was arts Minister in the new post-1992 department, confronted with a cut in funding, I rejected the advice of at least one of my predecessors that I should raid the museums to bolster the Arts Council, however sharply they would react to a cut, as indeed was the case. We had been setting the museums challenges, and they had been meeting them. It seemed to me wrong that we should reward their achievements by dispiriting them. I mention that because the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, draws our attention to museums and their present status, on which he concentrated in his speech.
However, I have one criticism of the leadership of the department since 1997, which I quoted in a debate on the Licensing Bill and of which I was reminded last night at "Macbeth". That is that they are sometimes infirm of purpose. During the run up to the decision, not just on the Licensing Bill, but also on whether the Lottery should be non-profitable or whether museums should have free access, they hedged, havered, vacillated and walked the battlements of Elsinore. One of my favourite quotations from Beatrix Potter occurs in The Tale of Pigling Bland when Pigling Bland's brother. Alexander, is jumping up and down and Miss Potter says magisterially.Alexander was always hopelessly volatile".In the end the Government decided on free access for museums after as unproductive a diversion about VAT as the Treasury's initial offer on church repairs VAT turned out to be, but they have still not decided the essential issue of determining what is the amount needed for the core funding of individual national museums. It is assumed that if one confers a percentage increase one is being fair, but it is not fair if the base figure for that museum is wrong. Free access has enabled many of us to visit museums more often than perhaps we did before. But the aficionado visits a museum to see what is exhibited and the fact that he passes through the door more times does, not necessarily mean that he will always visit the shop, which is an important discretionary feature of funding for museums. So the museum's finances are not necessarily the beneficiary.
I realise the amount of political capital that the Government have tied up in free access, despite the downside of other museums not only being in financial trouble, but also being deprived of the VAT concession. I hope that the Government have not wholly turned their backs on the principle of an annual 684 ticket with multiple free visits, which would not only recoup funding from tourists who make a one-off expenditure, but would also give museums a further incentive to widen their audiences, and give those whom I suppose I am obliged to call their stakeholders a sense that they really hold their stake.
I have said once before in the House that in the private sector I used to give charities a 90 per cent discount, which I spelt out on their invoices, because the remaining 10 per cent that they paid gave our charity clients the sense that they were paying their way and that they were thus full clients in terms of holding us to account.
The terms of the Motion mean that the Minister will be speaking to the subject at some length. I look forward to that. In conclusion, because this is a holistic debate on a large part of the department's responsibilities, I am disappointed that the BBC's terrestrial channels are increasingly turning their backs on the arts or describing as the arts things that some of us would be too fastidious so to describe.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating the debate on museums which play such a vital role in the cultural life of the nation. I welcome the Government's policy of free admission to the national museums. That has undoubtedly had a major effect on encouraging more people to visit them. However, such a policy has not extended to all regional museums under local authority control nor to university museums, although many of them do not charge.
Free access is extremely important, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, especially in allowing access to low income groups. They are often overlooked. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned the point in relation to aficionados. It is important that low income groups have the opportunity of repeat visits to museums; if there is a charge often people will not visit a museum more than once.
The Minister may also wish to consider a scheme at the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle, which encourages schools groups to visit by paying their travel expenses. Many schools cannot afford to fund transport to museums, especially from rural areas and so miss out. The scheme has been undertaken with funding authorities and is extremely successful.
I make no apology for focusing on archaeology. I declare an interest as secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group. APPAG was set up in 2001 as a focus for parliamentary interests in archaeology. We have 144 members from both Houses, drawn from all parties. I mention that because we have only 55 members from this House and we welcome all new members. I hope that some noble Lords listening today will join.
Last year APPAG conducted an inquiry into the current state of archaeology in the UK. It was the largest ever parliamentary inquiry into archaeology. I have a copy of the report. If anyone wants a copy I can supply one. As background briefing, we received more 685 than 267 submissions from interested parties. We held five committee sessions at which we took evidence from all the key players; from the chief executive of English Heritage, the director of the British Museum, the keepers of the national museums in Wales and Scotland, the Museums Association and the Society of Museum Archaeologists. We also held one public meeting.
The report can be accessed from our website, which is www.sal.org.uk/appag. I mention that because many people now make visits to museums via the Internet. That is becoming an increasingly important way to visit museums which are not in one's locality.
A theme of the report is that museums play an essential role—the leading role—in presenting archaeology to the wider public. As the APPAG report states: museums represent to a large extent the public face of archaeology. It is during visits to museums that children first start to learn about the lives of their ancestors. It is the museums that engage the public's interest, maintain that interest through temporary and permanent displays and serve it through the preservation of artefacts and archives.
Public interest in archaeology has never been greater thanks to the success of TV programmes such as "Time Team" and "Meet the Ancestors". We spoke to one broadcaster who said that archaeology is the new television food or gardening. Indeed, perhaps one way to obtain a ratings winner could be by mixing all three together.
However, despite the popularity of archaeology the discipline is in crisis due to long-term government neglect. That includes the neglect of museums. For example, the British Museum currently faces a budget deficit of £6.5 million and must lose up to 150 staff. It was unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, mentioned inept management as the management at the British Museum has just changed. We hope that the new director will have every success. It was particularly unfortunate in the context of this debate because the British Museum was one of the few national museums to fight the introduction of charges. Some of its financial difficulties are a consequence of not imposing charges initially.
Other museums are in trouble. Norfolk Museums Service was threatened with cuts which included the closure of two museums. It has won a temporary reprieve thanks to a strong local campaign, but only while a review of the museum service is carried out. Dover Museum is faced with cuts of up to a third of its operating costs, which will have a disastrous impact on it. There are many other examples of posts being lost with the resultant loss in expertise.
We were told that the report Renaissance in the Regions would be the saviour of the regional museums. That report, which was published in 2001, vividly demonstrates the impact of the systematic underfunding on regional museums. It proposes the establishment of a network of "hub" museums in each of the nine regions of England that would receive £267 million over five years. The Government's spending review announced 686 last October was hugely disappointing. It made available only £70 million over three years, of which just £30 million is new money. As a result Resource has been forced to phase in Renaissance and only three regions will receive significant funding in the current spending round—the North East through Tyne and Wear museums, the West Midlands and the South West.
I have a question for the Minister: when will the three hubs know exactly how much money they are to receive? Planning is extremely difficult at the moment. I shall understand if the Minister cannot give the amounts of money which each museum will receive, but I hope that she can give some indication of when it will be available.
I understand that Resource hopes to get more funding in the next spending review, but of course there is absolutely no guarantee. Furthermore, the Designation Challenge Fund, which has provided a very useful stream of funding to some 70 designated museums over the past few years, is now going to be replaced by the Renaissance funding. That could mean that some museums, which had designated status but which will not be hubs, will lose out. The report Renaissance in the Regions was very good at analysing the problems faced by regional museums, but much less good at saying on what the extra money should be spent.
One project that should be supported under the Renaissance banner is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is intended to record archaeological objects found by members of the public—metal detector users and others—for public benefit. Pilot schemes have been running since 1997. Everyone agrees they have been very successful. Thanks to a lottery grant, a regional network of some 35 finds liaison officer posts is being established in regional museums across England and Wales.
However, the present lottery-funded scheme will end in April 2006 and there is an urgent need to establish funding on a long-term basis. Renaissance in the Regions provides an ideal framework, which the Minister has acknowledged. I thank the Minister for her personal support to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which has allowed its survival.
The report's other main recommendation concerning museums is the need to establish local authority-run museums on a statutory basis. Local authorities have a legal obligation to maintain a public library service and, we assume, shortly they will have a duty to maintain the historic environment records (SMRs) on a statutory basis.
It should be a human right to find out about one's cultural heritage in local museums, but I understand that the cost would make any Chancellor blush. I do not believe it will ever happen. However, I support any commitment the Government can make to furthering the money available to national museums, but especially local museums, in the next spending review.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord Freyberg
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for securing this afternoon's debate on the arts. I wish to concentrate on the second half of his Motion; namely,the contribution made through free access to museums and art galleries".As a keen campaigner for this cause, I am delighted that free admission to our wonderful national museums has proved to be as popular as it has, encouraging so many extra visits. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, have already mentioned the impressive figures of the V&A and the Science Museums, so I shall not repeat them. They represent a huge success story and I would like to see it continue.
However, there are signs that the Government are failing to understand and respond to the museums' plea for sustainable funding. That is true both for the regional museums, which have suffered debilitating underfunding over many years, but also, perhaps surprisingly, for the very institutions which are currently attracting record-breaking attendances.
The Government are to be praised for investing in our museums and for considerably increasing their grant-in-aid funding after years of falling revenue under previous administrations. That is what led a number of formerly free museums to take the serious step of deciding to charge for admission. It would be a pity for the process to start all over again, which some directors fear is already beginning to happen.
It cannot be stated too strongly that the Government now have an increased responsibility for maintaining museums' long-term financial stability. That is because national museums are more financially dependent on government than previously. Some which used to raise around 50 per cent of their own income now receive up to 90 per cent of it from central government. The Government are right to vaunt the considerable sums they are putting into the museum sector, but, alas, it is also true that over the past decade alone museums have suffered an alarming decrease in grant-in-aid, which amounts to up to 30 per cent since 1992 in the case of the British Museum and 27 per cent in the case of the Natural History Museum.
Although the grant-in-aid funding to museums and galleries over the next three years shows a real-term increase overall—some have a decrease—it is already apparent that museums with a huge rise in visitor numbers are suffering additional financial burdens which are not compensated for in the modest estimates for increased numbers. For example, the Natural History Museum has had to spend an extra £500,000 this year to hire sufficient temporary staff to look after the increased number of visitors, while the Imperial War Museum expects higher costs for cleaning and wear and tear on the infrastructure of £100,000 in both London and Manchester.
Museums that maintained the principle of free admission are still suffering financially from their stance, as the noble Lord, Redesdale, mentioned, enjoying no compensation for entry fee as well as 688 missing out on years of being unable to reclaim VAT, which has cost the British Museum about £80 million. The British Museum is also set to suffer a reduction in the real value of its grant-in-aid in 2004–05 and 2005–06. As it is an institution of unique expertise and scholarship, I add my voice to those of many others by asking the Government to stop hiding behind the rest of the museum figures, which have increased, and give it the help it so deservedly needs.
The recent initiative under the Treasure Act 1996 places an additional financial burden on the British Museum of £500,000 which it has had to find from its already straitened core funding. I urge the Government to be aware of the cost implications when they impose new duties and responsibilities on museums and to allow access to funds for them. Those and many related issues are eloquently and forcefully spelled out in the recent Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport report into national museum funding and free admission. Its conclusions and recommendations are timely and instructive. I should like to highlight a few of them.
First, there is a serious problem about the rate of pay for museum staff, which is affecting morale and scholarship. The submission by Prospect and the Public and Commercial Services Union is sobering. Until 1996, museum staff pay was linked to that of civil servants. In the five years since, it has fallen by about 10 per cent relative to pay in the Civil Service. Annual pay increases are between I per cent and 1.5 per cent less than those of staff in government departments, such as the DCMS. Highly qualified assistant curators at the British Museum earn only £13,500 after three years, including London weighting. It has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff of sufficient calibre. As the report so chillingly states,in effect, already low-paid workers are subsidising the Government's cultural agenda".That problem is even more acute in the regions, as described in the review, Renaissance in the Regions. Indeed, many of the issues facing national museums are several degrees worse for the regionals. That is why it was surprising that the Government, having taken the initiative to ask Resource to look into the problems facing regional museums and to come up with a strategy to remedy long-term decline, then failed to deliver even the minimum required financial help. Of course, even the inadequate amount promised is welcome, and I urge the Government to build on it, making up for a lost opportunity.
Other points worth raising from the report include the lack of transparency in the allocation of funds, referred to as "opaque" by museums, which are left in the dark about whether the Government agree with their targets and how they reach the sums that they award. It would also be helpful if museums could access money for specific projects from sources other than the DCMS. For example, so much emphasis is being placed on educational programmes that it seems reasonable that the Department for Education and Skills should contribute to the valuable teaching work 689 being undertaken. Moreover, museum staff are frequently called on to teach university students as well as schoolchildren.
Finally, as noble Lords have mentioned, there is no standardisation in the methodology of collecting visitor numbers and other museum statistics. That could be easily remedied without incurring huge costs. More confusing is the way that the DCMS and museums present the same statistics differently for their own ends. Perhaps it would be asking too much to expect government not to spin and an aspiring institution not to plea. But I live in hope that the two can come closer together and that we may all benefit.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Sheldon
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Harrison referred to his early years awakening his interest in the arts. My enthusiasm about the arts was also largely prompted by my personal experience. At the age of 14 to 15, I found myself exploring the theatre, art galleries, opera and museums. I was fortunate. I was able to attend the theatre by queuing up for an hour and getting into a matinee performance for nine old pence. Museums and art galleries were free and almost invariably deserted. With no one to guide me, I had an extreme catholicity of taste. I was especially fortunate in choosing by chance my first taste of opera on a visit to London, paying one shilling to sit in the back row of Sadler's Wells to see "II Trovatore".
So I was hooked at an early and impressionable age on the many art forms open to me. I was also fortunate that the cost was just about acceptable. That is why I believe that access is so important—it is critical. My noble friend Lady Blackstone, for whom I have great respect and admiration, will no doubt have some good examples of improvement in access. What I am most concerned about are the numbers of our young people who gain a foothold in arts appreciation. I want to see not just improvements in perception but a scale change in those who are enticed into the wonderful world of music, the graphic arts and the performing arts. That is my great goal for my noble friend's department.
Chris Smith, as Secretary of State at the DCMS, was much to be admired for his difficult decision—difficult because he had to convince the Treasury—to free admission to museums. That has been triumphantly successful, as several noble Lords have said. Chris Smith should be proud of introducing so great an opportunity to those who are able to enjoy so much of our heritage and history.
The noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Freyberg, mentioned the Resource report on museums and galleries, which was chaired by my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, whom I am glad to see in his place. The report, Renaissance in the Regions, produced the valuable notion of a hub in each region that would embrace the many museums that could be assisted and deal with their common problems. One difficulty that they face is that, whereas there used to be a steady stream of people—curators and others 690 working in the field—who worked their way up through provincial galleries to posts of greater opportunity and responsibility, that route nowadays too frequently cannot be used because of a lack of pay and current promotion prospects. As the report showed, over a five-year period, about £250 million is required for the task of restoring our museums to the position envisaged by their founders.
Although the Treasury has supplied an instalment, there is a danger that insufficient will be available during the next few years to meet the great hopes of that sensible scheme. Undoubtedly, there has been a great change in our attitudes to museums. My early recollections are that I was frequently the only person in a number of the smaller museums and galleries that I had the privilege of visiting. The situation has altered. In some exhibitions, it is difficult to see some of the works of art or of interest. One consequence is that staffing costs have had to increase to take care of larger attendances.
One advantage of the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group is that by attending out of usual hours, one can absorb so much of beauty and interest. As a joint president of the group, together with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I must express the gratitude of so many Members for its work. Despite my position as joint president, as everyone knows, the real work is done by Sir Patrick Cormack, ably supported by the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne. It is they who have been instrumental in civilising so many of us by our visits to and involvement in so many arts activities.
A major problem nowadays is the inability to retain in our country so many of the great works that come up for sale. I know the enormous demands on our institutions, but we must accord a higher priority to keeping such works as our predecessors were able to acquire. We should be able to keep more of them for our general benefit.
I mentioned the theatres that I knew in earlier days. The problem is that so many have been so little changed in the past 50 years. Repertory theatres were the lifeblood of theatre; talent rose from there to the highest levels. Those avenues of promotion are by no means as well traversed as they used to be. Things are not dealt with in the same way, and we forego a great deal of talent as a result. Theatres need hundreds of millions of pounds to pay for refurbishment; they need air conditioning; they need better seat spacing because our legs are longer than they used to be; and they need proper toilets and other facilities. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be required.
We must improve the theatres physically. Lottery money went into some theatres—in Stoke and Edinburgh—but there is no continuing money to meet their continuing expenditure. The biggest theatres in Sunderland, Leeds, Glasgow, Brighton, Portsmouth. Bristol and elsewhere fall far short of modern standards and have received no lottery money. It saddens me that the theatre, with its high prices, is not frequented so much by younger people.
Still less does opera find in its audience the young and those less able to afford high seat prices. There are opera houses in many cities in France—Nancy, 691 Avignon, Lyons—and Germany, although sponsorship in eastern Germany declined because of the change of regime. They are restoring opera houses in Italy and Spain. Even in the United States, there are about 150 opera houses. I know that they have tax relief that we do not, but, in this country, we have only five opera companies—Covent Garden, English National Opera, Opera North, Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera. That is all that we can arrange, and it is a major scandal, when compared to the position in the rest of the world. Seasons are getting shorter. Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet were forced to share the same orchestra. As the pressure increases on our few opera companies, it is the finance people who are moving into the top positions, not the creative, imaginative people. Such are the problems that we face.
There is also the enormous cost of opera here, compared with elsewhere. Thirty-five years ago, I went to a beautiful opera house in Ljubljana in Slovenia, where I saw a splendidly performed opera. I sat in the most expensive seats in the house, and it cost me half a crown—twelve and a half pence. Obviously, the subsidy was enormous. It was paid by the Government or by the local authority. In the United States, it is paid by public-spirited benefactors, assisted by tax relief. We have fallen behind so many countries in providing such assistance to the arts.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, mentioned the BBC. I accept the need to maintain the high standards that we have had. I consider the BBC to be our greatest cultural advantage, above all else. We must be careful about the sniping at and the attacks on that deservedly well loved institution. I cannot understand why, given the paucity of operatic events in Britain, we see so few of the many excellent productions on television. I have been assured by those in control of such matters that things will change, but I have been assured of that for several years now. Year after year, I get those assurances, but still I look in vain in the list of forthcoming events. The Government should insist on improvement, as a consequence of any subsidy. People cannot afford to go to the opera; we should, at least, let them see what they are missing. At some stage in the future, they might decide to go and pay not the ridiculous prices that are charged now but a little less.
Finally, I shall say a word about the cinema. We have long held a distinct position in the film world. The expenditure that we incurred has a useful place in the world of film. Nowadays, the major distributors are so dominant that it is increasingly difficult to find worthwhile outlets of the kind that we used to have through which to convey our brand of humour and moderation and our natural talent for ordinary but memorable roles.
But I end by pressing the case for greater access, particularly for the young. There was a period shortly after the war when the theatres, concert halls and opera houses were filled with young people. The success of our policy on the arts will be largely judged 692 with reference to our success in bringing that about again. I look forward to further initiatives from my noble friend.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and welcome the debate. It seems a long time since we fought and won the battle for free access to museums and galleries, with a series of debates and questions, many instigated by Lord Clancarty. I am happy to see that he still takes an interest in the subject.
As someone who always advocated free access and supported the effective campaign by the National Art Collections Fund, I was delighted by the result. The Minister will remember that, as a trustee of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, I agreed only with the greatest reluctance to the imposition of a minimal entrance fee there. That was not because of the income that entrance fees generate but because of the ability to deduct VAT, as has been said. There was an upside to the charging of entry fees, in Liverpool particularly, perhaps. There are eight parts to NMGM, of which the Walker, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Lady Lever arc the best known. Many people who purchased a season ticket or a multiple pass of the sort to which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville referred ended up visiting parts of those museums and galleries that they had not known existed. In some venues, the visitor figures went up, following the imposition of entry fees.
Another upside was that we were able to get more accurate attendance figures. With new technology, that has become more important, and it is relevant to any decisions on the future of our museums and galleries. It should also be pointed out that charges for special exhibitions are not necessarily off-putting. Like my noble friend, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about that. That has not been the case in Liverpool, and I must also refer to the fantastic success of the Aztecs exhibition at the Royal Academy. Reference has already been made to that exhibition, which is the longest-running special exhibition ever held in the Royal Academy and still brings in record numbers.
Nevertheless, I am delighted that, as a result of the abolition of entry fees, NMGM, in particular, can point to a dramatic 79 per cent increase in attendance figures, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said. However, that figure also reflects all the hard work that has gone into extending and improving the galleries in Liverpool and the access to them. We were happy to have the Minister with us to open the extension to the Walker last year. It is proving to be a terrific success and draw.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to the impressive increase in attendance at the London museums. Can the Minister say whether there is any way of finding out what proportion of that increase is represented by tourists or one-off visitors, as opposed to local residents? Perhaps, the statistics are not sufficiently sophisticated for us to make such a differentiation. 693 I must underline the importance of continuing adequate budgetary support from the Government. It is essential for the upkeep of museums and galleriesߞin terms of the real estate, the collections, and the ability to add to those collections through purchasing power—that funding should be more than adequate: it should be generous. If it is not, many people running museums and galleries will continue leading a hand-to-mouth existence which does not reflect their enormous input.
I turn now to the issue of conservation which, in part, arises due to the excellent Conservation Centre in Liverpool—well worth a visit for those who have not yet had the opportunity. It provides not just a resource for local collections, but also a national—indeed, an internationalߞresource for training young people.
I am chairman of the European Foundation for Heritage Skills which grew out of the Pro Venezia Viva campaign and the centre, which still exists in Venice, to train young people in heritage skills. There is a vital need for training and education facilities and opportunities in these skills, not only because those skills and techniques might otherwise be lost, but also because qualified craftsmen may find better paid jobs than university graduates in certain disciplines.
Turning to the field of international relations, I echo all that the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, said concerning the importance of knowledge and understanding of our cultural heritage. That is even more true now that we are a multicultural and multi-faith society. It is essential that we should have every possible opportunity to learn, understand and exchange. In that respect, music and the performing arts, about which the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, spoke so eloquently, play just as important a role as the visual arts and museum collections.
In that context, I should like to draw attention to the work of the Council of Europe. One of its original objectives was to bring the peoples of Europe together through educational and cultural heritage means. I am fortunate in working on the Committee for Education and Cultural Heritage in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The European Cultural Convention covers more than the 44 member countries of the Council of Europe. It includes signatories from some additional 10 countries; therefore, 54 countries in total.
Sadly, the work of the Council of Europe is affected by budget constraints—a familiar story. I hope that our Government will play their part in ensuring that the United Kingdom supports the various efforts in that field within the Council of Europe and ensure that the focus does not move away, and look to the European Unionߞa much smaller grouping of countries—to carry out our cultural heritage obligations in the wider field. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord Moser
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the British Museum Development Trust and other arts organisations. I therefore share the 694 gratitude expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for the opportunity to consider the importance of the arts in some depth.
To any of us involved in the arts, it goes without saying that they matter. Indeed, they matter enormously. But sadly, that view cannot be taken as universal. There are many philistines in the wings of society—people who do not accept or realise all that the arts bring to civilised society and to our quality of life.
I can do no better than quote the late President Kennedy who said:The life of the Arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of the nation, is very close to the centre of a nation's purpose, and is a test of a nation's civilisation".Today's debate gives us a rare opportunity to recall how central the arts are, or at least should be, to our own society. We are reminded of their economic importance—their contribution to GDP, employment, cultural industries, tax income and perhaps, above all, tourism. The British Museum is proud of the fact that it remains a leading tourist attraction, welcoming millions of visitors from abroad.
That is all vital and makes the case for the arts acceptable to most politicians. But the value of the arts goes much deeper. They are the engine for creativity at its finest. They provide the context for writers, composers, artists and architects whose contribution to the nation's greatness will survive long after economic and political achievements are forgotten. Cultural activities are the essence of good community life. Hence, the importance of the community arts. They are the best bridge between races and religions in an increasingly multicultural and multi-racial society. They help to regenerate our environment and they bring into our lives the most powerful antidote to material values. Not least, they bring happiness, pleasure, comfort and general enrichment to all of us.
Given all that, it is perhaps surprising and disappointing that one still has constantly to fight for the arts. I remember Benjamin Britten famously saying:The average Briton thought, and still thinks, of the Arts as suspect and expensive luxuries".That attitude, I fear, still lingers somewhat. At the same time, I believe that we have moved on quite a bit. Certainly, the arts have witnessed a vast transformation in recent years. I wish I had time to illustrate what has been happening in music, opera, visual arts, museums and so forth. What is remarkable is how much is going on in spite of continued funding difficulties. Sadly, I cannot avoid saying that our arts remain seriously under-funded. There are closures and cuts, and innovative, contemporary and experimental efforts have a tough time. Many arts organisations—not just the British Museum—are in deficit. I reassure your Lordships that the British Museum deficit is under control and, under our new director, we are in the presence of a wonderful future.
The trouble is that financial pressures are increasing on all fronts. The corporate sector is finding support more difficult and is turning—perhaps understandably, 695 but disappointingly—towards social and community causes, not realising how much the arts are involved with just those pursuits. Trusts and foundations have lost money, many local authorities are in trouble, and the arts suffer. Except for a few remarkable philanthropical household names, most individuals—even wealthy ones—have not yet caught on to the American approach to philanthropy.
Finally, there is the Government themselves—the most important source of support. I am conscious of recent increases in overall government funding, which is most welcome, as are a whole stream of initiatives from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, such as the creative partnerships. There is much to be grateful for. I salute the arts Ministers for all their efforts against a not-always-helpful Treasury. But, considering what the arts can do for society at large, overall funding gaps remain. Only a step change in funding will solve the problem. I cannot overemphasise the importance of looking afresh at each sector of the arts, discovering what it could and should do for society, and ascertaining the financial implications.
In that context, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for his special attention to museums and galleries. They are one of the glories of the nation's cultural life, ranging from the largest and oldest, the British Museum, which this year celebrates its 250th birthday, to other great museums and galleries in the capital and throughout the country. Between them, they welcome some 30 million visitors a year—close to 5 million in the case of the British Museum.
In common with other museums, we are painfully short of funds and therefore many of our longed-for activities are vulnerable. I am thinking of our desire to improve our regional links even further, although they are already strong. Our grant-in-aid has been cut by 22 per cent in real terms during the past decade—a tough decline in public funding. Acquisitions have fallen to ludicrous levels and much else is threatened.
Some argue that we should abandon free entry, but that is not on the cards. It would of course improve our finances, but we are passionately faithful to the belief of our founder, Sloane. He believed in free entry 250 years ago, as we do now, for all the reasons that have been mentioned. We want our collections to inspire visitors of all ages and backgrounds, without the hurdle of a charge, and thereby provide a central route to life-long learning.
Never has that road been more important than now. The British Museum covers all civilisations and world cultures, as reflected in our displays. And now more than ever, under the inspiring new directorship of Neil MacGregor, it is in the linkages between civilisations and cultures that understanding of our complex world can advance. It is a most effective way of helping schools and colleges to prepare the young for the world citizenship which lies ahead of them.
We are active in education. The British Museum receives some 200,000 children on formal school visits, many more with families. We reach many more 696 through our regional activities, our website and other technical means. All this helps us to bring our insights into the world's cultures to countless youngsters.
We are proud of all that, but it is only a fraction of what we would like to do. We miss the necessary resources to play our central educational role. We are poised to do much more for the young but need financial support for our teaching role and educational materials; for our technical outreach activities; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, for transport facilities to bring young people to the museums from up and down the country. Has there ever been a more attractive cause for joined-up action between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills to produce a new linked world between the museums and public education?
As my passion lies at the beginning of life, in the schools, I conclude with a quotation from the first arts Minister, Jennie Lee. She said memorably:If children at an early age become accustomed to the arts as part of everyday life, they are more likely in maturity first to accept the arts and then to demand them".
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord Bragg
My Lords, I echo those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on introducing the debate. It is always a fight to haul the arts out of the margins of parliamentary attention. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has done us all a service.
The Labour Government, as previous Labour governments since 1945, have done well for the arts, but of course there have been and there always will be failings. What would we do without them? Yet in a comparative world, I would suggest that thanks to the interest of committed Labour politicians from Jennie Lee, through Chris Smith, to the right honourable Tessa Jowell and my noble friend Lady Blackstone, their arts policy, seeded just after the last war, will be looked back on as a success story, though, in the nature of things, there are signs of strain.
That strain is guaranteed, for in the arts as in other areas of our public life you are faced with infinite demand from finite resources—not a happy mathematical problem. However, as Christopher Wren's tomb proclaims of himself in St Paul's Cathedral,if you require a monument look around".Similarly with the arts in the United Kingdom, look around. Look on the Tyne; along the South Bank in London, in the Tate galleries in Cornwall and Liverpool; in the Playhouse. Leeds; the Halle in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; the developments in the old docklands in Cardiff; the burgeoning of contemporary poetry; and the wave after wave of playwrights, novelists, musicians, dancers, actors, painters and broadcasters. Despite the inescapable scepticism and complaint, there is a whisperingly good story to tell. And most of it has been well told so far in the debate.
I want to concentrate rather generally on the first part of the Motion because the juxtaposition of arts and culture raises a few questions. It is now widely 697 accepted, especially since Richard Hoggart's book, The Uses of Literacy—a book which has arguably had a defining influence in our thinking about cultureߞthat the high arts such as opera, ballet, theatre, painting, classical music and classical literature are only part of culture.
For some, they are the essential part; for others, they are of little consequence. But it cannot be either assumed or, I think, proved that those for whom the high arts are essential are richer or more fulfilled than those who find their imaginative and cultural nourishment elsewhere. There is an essay of Hazlitt's where he reflects that however well educated and well primed a man might be in university rhetoric and debate, an uneducated, even illiterate opponent in a pub is always capable of knocking his argument down. He was saying something about the democracy of the mind.
Similarly, I believe that imagination is not a snob. It does not require that you wear fine clothes to have fine thoughts or that you need a good degree to get the best insights out of life. It is true, I think, for many that a symphony by Beethoven or a painting by Turner can inspire astounding sensations which may even cool into thought and will certainly leave behind happy scars of satisfaction. But so, I suggest, can a walk on the fells in the Lake District; so can a journey on a small boat on the Solway skimming before a fine wind; so, though it may sadden some of your Lordships, can a novel or even a pop concert; and so can a complex and philosophically demanding game of football.
High sensational visceral nourishment, even a sort of intellectual awakening, will not be confined to the high arts. Culture grows wherever it finds fertile soil. In towns, in villages, in suburbs and in city centres throughout this land, culture is an intermeshing of societies: in local history and photographic, cinematic and theatrical societies; in sports, from darts to rock climbing, cricket to squash; in institutions such as churches, women's institutes, Age Concern, Scouts, Guides and choirs; and in specialised passions such as classic cars, brass bands, Morris dancing, kite flying and North Sea swimming. There are those and more—club cultures, pub cultures and grub cultures—all of which make for a full cultural life and they have a considerable overlap with what we call "the arts".
In fact, the arts best exist interpenetrably. Cut them off from general culture and I think they die a little. Cutting them off in whatever way—the old ways such as putting some of them, snobbishly, socially, financially and psychologically out of reach of the majority; or the new ways of giving them special privileges in subsidy and support—will differentiate the arts crucially from the rest of culture, most of which gets its diurnal strength and support from just rolling along as best it can, freely, as it were; in other words, unsubsidised.
This is an unfashionable argument. Indeed, as president of the National Campaign for the Arts, as someone who has served on the Arts Council for some years, made arts programmes for even more years and 698 taken part in more debates and spats on the importance of subsidy in the arts than is healthy for a balanced life, I believe it is a rather dangerous argument.
I have argued many times that the arts are different, special and need special treatment, and always need extra special treatment now—and I agree with those who have proposed that today—but, for the moment, as we are encouraged to ruminate in the House, I should like to try to skin the cat another way. Why does the part played by the high arts in our culture need and receive subsidy and public-purse support, often on a very high level?
The first line of argument is rather shaky. Does high art enrich our lives—make them soar and purify our emotions—more than and, crucially, differently from other experiences? Between Tristan and Isolde, a walk up Wasdale Head, Elvis Presley at Las Vegas, Medea, Swann's Way and Arsenal winning at Wembley could be a close run thing. The responses may be different, but can they be put into any intellectually defensible or useful hierarchy?
The argument of variety can carry weight, but whether, as it were, by analogy, only certain colours in the variety of the spectrum of life have to be supported by tax is another question. To pursue that analogy, we seem to agree that the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue and indigo can and must take care of themselves, but violet needs a subsidy. Why?
Or is art sufficiently defended by calling it a great moral teacher? Certainly, after reading George Eliot and Jane Austen I feel I ought to behave better. I somehow feel in the reading of them that I have behaved better already. But is that unique? When I listen to the King James version of the Beatitudes and hear Tyndale's great phrases calling up the best in all human kind, do I feel that the Austen-Eliot work is the sole access to good?
As to great art "doing you good", sadly, that argument does not hold any water at all. The most cultivated country in the world in terms of high culture between 1870 and 1939 was Germany. Napoleon was a voracious novel reader. Hitler's original aim was to be a serious painter. Poetry has been used to stimulate the martial appetites since its beginning; the Iliad glorifies Achilles, the warrior, the sulky and brutal hero. Artists can be ogres; their acolytes merely cultivated monsters.
What it comes to eventually is simply this. We support and subsidise certain of the arts because there are certain activities which engage the lives and talents of certain of those we admire enough to want to see, read, hear and otherwise engage with them. They need extra money; we stump up. We as a society have made that decision. It can be seen as unfair to others in our culture, but there it is. We have drawn an arbitrary line, and that is the heart of it.
There are good regiments in support of subsidy. As we have heard, cities throughout Britain have proved, and are proving, that money devoted to arts projects can help to revive, even transform, their centres and their economy. In schools, where properly engaged, we see great benefits flow from arts teaching. Tourism is 699 another ally. We can now prove with an orchestra of statistics that investment in the arts is an investment in tourism, which is an investment in our general prosperity, one that makes hard-headed, Gradgrind sense, which penetrates even the Jericho walls of the Treasury. For many, the arts are imaginatively the most testing way of understanding the mind and emotions.
But it is the second part of the Motion of the noble Lord. Lord Harrison, that carries the key. As has been said again and again, free access to museums and galleries has proved an instant and dramatic success. Free up the places to the people and it seems that multiple satisfactions are guaranteed. We should, by way of recognition and compensation to these galleries and museums, provide adequate sums so that their physical structures and necessary treasures are kept in good repair.
But why do we stop with free access to museums? Why do we not grant those excellent performance companies already subsidised the extra resources to allow them substantial spans of time for free access, as is the case with museums and galleries? Why not? It is not so outlandish—no more than free schooling was once thought to be, or free libraries, or even free access to museums. Free access to the National Theatre? Yes. To the Royal Opera House, to ENO, to the Hallé, to the Festival Hall, to the princely attractions of Birmingham? Yes. How pie in the sky it seems—but is it? Why should it be?
We have a precedent for this free access. For the past 80 years or more, through radio and television, for a consistently modest fee to the BBC and no fee to commercial channels, the British public have been able to get all but free access to cultures high and low. On these new media the public are able to tune in to great music across the "tastelands" of generations, to distinguished drama, old and new, to fine comedy and documentaries. Here we have been given the chance to see the arts as part of our general culture on its most democratic media. Only one part, but still a part, thriving because of virtually free access and sensible regulation and administration. Why stop there?
My broad and general conclusion is that as culture at the grass roots thrives on independence, self-sufficiency and the devotion of those involved, so at the subsidised level it must in response open its doors to all as freely as possible. This will re-energise interest, as it has with museums and galleries, and it will re-energise investment and the hold that those who go, those who participate, have on their government. Without that, the subsidised high arts will increasingly risk being seen as over-cosseted and resented as misfits, which, apart from anything else, would betray the works of the artists themselves, who want an audience as widely discerning as possible. They know, above all, as does the great public, that the wider the scope, the wider the reach, the richer the returns and the greater the future rewards for everyone. Freeing up the subsidised arts yet further would be a bold act of benign radicalism which would be welcomed by all.
§ 4.46 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for affording the House the opportunity to discuss the role of the arts in the cultural life of this country. I can reassure the noble Baroness the Minister that, on this occasion, she will be spared my regular bleatings about support for the London Olympics bid.
In the few moments available to me I should like to focus on a musical art form that has a raw energy and a popular appeal but which is all too frequently overlooked by the arts establishment.
It is true that jazz was born in America, is uniquely American, and could have been spawned only by a new world. But it is also true that jazz grew up all around us over the course of the last century. Its European roots are strong. It was an inseparable part of French cultural development and of its intellectual movement; it is popular throughout Scandinavia and the Low Countries; and it was feared, and equally revered, in the old communist world, where for many it was the oxygen of dissent and future political freedoms.
Thankfully, we have come a long way since the controller of BBC Radio 3 sent the middle class of the Home Counties running for the hills when he made Duke Ellington the station's composer of the week—never mind that Ellington is one of the genuine giants of twentieth century music and Billy Strayhorn, his composer and arranger, the equal of any classically trained musician.
The road to acceptance has never been an easy one. In 1919, The Times dismissed jazz, which had already reached these shores, with the words,the object of a Jazz band apparently is to provide as much noise as possible. The method of doing so is immaterial and if music happens to be the result occasionally—so much the better".Thank goodness the public have always had a healthy disrespect for critics and later that year crowded into the London Hippodrome to see the original Dixieland Jazz Band. The critics continued to express their disapproval but the band played on for 15 months more, eventually even for George V.
Since then, jazz has remained a strong and powerful force in the artistic fabric of this country. During the Second World War, many top American musicians passed through the UK, inspiring a new generation of British players such as Ronnie Scott and John Dankworth, who honed their skills in New York in the late 1940s and en route in the dance bands on transatlantic liners. They inspired, too, the writing of people such as Benny Green and Philip Larkin.
Top American artists have continued to play to large audiences within this country, and British musicians such as George Shearing, Tubby Hayes, Annie Ross, Brian Lemon, Danny Moss and Courtney Pine have gained reputation and respectability in America.
The traditional jazz boom of the 1950s led to a relatively quiet decade in the 1960s, but, with the help of artists such as George Melly and Chris Barber, forged a bridgehead into college campuses during the 1970s. Today, all styles of jazz can be heard in jazz clubs and pubs across the country and, from trad and 701 mainstream through to avant-garde, our musicians still maintain their high and growing international reputation.
Despite the development of jazz, there is still a great deal of debate about the status of the music as an art form. To many of its followers in the clubs and pubs, it is obviously a vibrant, dynamic and popular art form, even a way of life, but for many years the Arts Council and other arts funding bodies were very slow to recognise it as such and to fund it accordingly.
To be fair, the Arts Council does now seem to be examining ways in which it can be more generous to jazz, and there is a belated recognition that jazz can and does benefit from public funding. But, like those of many quangos, the wheels of the Arts Council move slowly. Many musicians and club owners complain that the council fails to keep pace with developments in the jazz world.
The Arts Council is over 50 years old and still bears many of its original hallmarks. It has a heavy bias towards the traditional performing arts—opera, theatre and ballet—with jazz often the poor relation in the arts establishment.
That suspicion is borne out by an examination of Arts Council funding. In 1997–98, jazz received around £2 million from the Arts Council and the regional arts boards. But that fell to just under £1 million in the year 2000. Last year and this year saw an upturn in jazz funding, but it has made up only in part for the years of decline. Jazz groups such as Serious, Jazz Services and the National Jazz Youth Orchestra have all welcomed increased funding.
However, as a former treasurer of the All-Party Jazz Appreciation Group in another place, I was constantly irritated by the massive discrepancy between the subsidies given to jazz and those given to other musical forms such as opera, even though opera attracts a similar number of devotees. In 1999–2000, Arts Council funding per attendee for jazz was a mere 25p. That compared to £2.26 for theatre and a massive £12.75 per head subsidy for opera.
The attitude of the Arts Council towards jazz reinforces a vicious circle. The council sees jazz as a secondary art form, and that is reflected in its funding. This frugality often means that jazz cannot properly afford to market itself in order to attract new and younger audiences. This, too, has a knock-on effect. The arts media are less inclined to treat jazz as a serious art form. And the under-funding of jazz does not just mean that jazz musicians will earn less money. The lack of a sustained awareness and marketing budget immediately puts jazz at a competitive disadvantage against the traditional arts and reinforces the bias against it when it comes to the next funding round. That has to change, but I suspect that it can only change from the top down.
Jazz education has developed well in recent years. There are now many university courses, even a jazz degree course at the Royal Academy of Music; and for the aspiring jazz musician, jazz is now a recognised music qualification.
702 Unfortunately, while there has been an increase in the scope and investment in jazz education, very little attention has been paid to its infrastructure. There seems to be little logic in spending large amounts of money developing jazz education while spending almost nothing at all on developing the opportunities for these excellent musicians after their graduation. As Steve Rubie, musician and owner of London's 606 Jazz Club, told me:It is like training doctors and not building any hospitals".If the Royal Academy believes that it is worth developing British jazz talent, why does not the Arts Council?
It is not only a question of funding. Licensing regulation is important too. The recent government licensing proposals have received a cool reception from the jazz world. Jazz owes a great deal of its popularity to the many pubs, bars and clubs that provide live music for their customers. Some make it a regular feature, but some prefer to limit live music to once a week or a couple of times a month. Under new provisions in the Licensing Bill, venues will have to pay for a public entertainment licence and their premises will have to be inspected if they want to provide live music. Many small premises, I fear, will decide that compliance is simply too onerous. The restrictions contained in the Bill will inevitably lead to a loss of playing and listening opportunities for jazz fans and musicians alike.
These issues have already been debated in this House in relation to the Licensing Bill—but we are all too easily reminded that the benefits of government cash from one hand can so easily he neutered by the other, heavier hand of bureaucratic implementation.
The scrapping of the "two in a bar" rule could have created many new opportunities for budding jazz musicians, but instead it will make life much more difficult. I sincerely hope that the Government will listen to those in the music industry and that in time they will reverse this legislation.
Public funding alone does not create or inspire artistic talent—it never has, and I suspect it never will. But, when sensitively targeted, it can help to create a climate where those with the inclination and the talent are given a helping hand into the spotlight.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, I sincerely thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing the debate. The Minister may be feeling a sense of relief—which I share—in being released for a period from the rigours of the Licensing Bill to discuss the other responsibilities in her portfolio.
I am extremely bullish and optimistic about the arts in exactly the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell. I have always been interested in the arts, and was encouraged to be so from an early age by an artist mother. I have never been depressed about the arts in this country. They have always been lively and challenging. I am getting older, and time is getting shorter. I am excited about what is happening now in all fields of the arts, and I 703 cannot say that I am depressed because I am not that kind of person; I am a very optimistic person, except where Treasury funding is concerned. I feel that there is so much to do, see and appreciate in the relatively short time available that every morning is very exciting. However, the challenge in this country is to get more people to participate and to be involved in the arts.
We have a tendency in this country, as we see in the cinema—the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, mentioned the Septième Art (the seventh art)—to distinguish between what is amusing and entertaining and what is looked upon as serious art and the boring aspects. I believe that those distinctions, certainly in the cinema, are totally misplaced. It is one of the great drawbacks of British cinema that we have made a distinction between art and commercial cinema in the way that happens in the United States. But that is a debate for another day.
As I drove to Newbury races the other day, listening to some Brahms and Mozart on Radio 3, I thought how much I was enjoying it. But in the morning I had enjoyed listening to Davie Bowie and to Serge Gainsbourg, two great favourites of mine in popular music. I see no great difficulty in having that kind of eclectic appreciation of the arts. I try to encourage my children to do likewise. I was encouraged to take that view—to be open-minded and to accept things that were sometimes difficult, surprising and worrying.
The other day, I read a review in the Financial Times of a rather predictable television play in which the reviewer asked: when will the BBC start to be surprising? I agree with him in relation to television. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, knows my views about the distinction between sound broadcasting and television. There is much more which is challenging culturally in sound broadcasting than there is in television, but perhaps that will change.
I wish that, in schools and in the home, people would encourage children, in the way I was encouraged, to look at the visual arts in a certain way. You do not have to learn what they are about; you have to look at things and take in what you see and feel, and not be so wary of things that seem to be a change from the norm. After all, the arts in Europe have been through several great upheavals. The school of nineteenth century painting now known as Impressionism caused an enormous stir in terms of reaction and objection.
It is the poetry and the quality of things that count. I refer to poetry in its widest sense. Children should be encouraged to see this when they look at a building or go to the cinema. I do not necessarily see the poetry in Tracey Emin's bed, but it is a surprising piece of work. I have heard her speak about it and I think I understand what she is trying to get at. But it is unreasonable and unintelligent for people to denigrate her as they have done. As my first wife, who is a painter, said on similar occasions, if they think it is so easy, why do they not do it themselves? People do not. To be creative, to carry out work and present it requires effort, commitment and talent. I am not 704 saying that Tracey Emin does not have all those attributes. I do not understand her bed, and I doubt whether many noble Lords do, but it may be important. We ought to allow for that.
The noble Baroness's right honourable friend in another place made some interesting remarks recently after her visit to Germany. She said that it was a pity that we could not have the same involvement with our culture as the Germans appear to have. I am a great admirer of German culture, but their culture is different. I love going to German museums and galleries. I admire how people quietly and intently look at pictures, and how they behave properly in the canteen. Their behaviour is different to that in this country.
But art and culture have always been important to the Germans since they became a nation. After all, during the Third Reich, art and culture were enormously important to Hitler and his subordinates. It is a well documented fact that, of all the occupations and professions in the Third Reich, the highest proportion of Nazi party members were among museum directors and gallery owners. In the de-Nazification process, they admitted that there were a few opportunist rogues among them. But most were scholars who wanted to get on with their work. The easiest way was to become a member of the Nazi party. Many went on to be successful in the post-war years. That does not exonerate them for their behaviour, but it shows a particular commitment to scholarship in Germany. I had a German actress friend who performed in two Alan Ayckbourn plays in Germany, which I did not have the pleasure of seeing. It probably says more about the subtleties of Alan Ayckbourn than it does about German art. However, it is a different matter. I share the right honourable Member's concern. I think that, like me, she wants to get more people to participate and be involved. But I do not think that we will ever go down the German road.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, talked about museums and galleries. I would be the first to support him and the noble Lord, Lord Moser, on the principle of free entry to museums. Yet we know that there is a funding problem. Treasury funding is unlikely to be forthcoming. Surely, there is another way to meet the needs of galleries and museums. Should we not further explore the approach taken in America of encouraging philanthropic involvement in various areas by rich, often multi-millionaire enthusiasts and giving them an incentive to help to finance such enterprises? The approach worked well in the United States, with benefactors donating to the state in exchange for tax douceur. We have not examined that area carefully enough. It is not good enough simply to say that free entry to museums is good, regardless of the fact that they do not have the money. Museums are expensive operations. I dare say that we could argue that, since we pay to enter foreign galleries, we might ask foreign tourists to do so. I am sure that they would be willing to do so if the case were presented in such a way. Having said that, I support everything that the two noble Lords said.
705 I conclude by encouraging young and not-young people. When I was young, working in the City, I spent £75 on a painting by Anthony Eyton, a now prominent artist whom I much admire. He is now the resident artist at the Eden Project. He is one of the great current Romantic painters. He was not so well known in those days. Seventy-five pounds was a good deal for me to pay. The picture features Liverpool Street station before it was pulled down. It is on my wall, and I see it every morning. It always gives me a lift, because it is so full of colour and animation. A picture, not a reproduction, will give you more pleasure and will cost you less than a deposit, or even an instalment, on a motor car. Forty years after buying a painting, you will look at it and feel glad that you bought it. That is the attitude we should encourage in young people. We should encourage them to see that there is much for them in books, pictures, dance and all the arts in which we are so rich, and to take a slightly different look.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on introducing this debate. The contribution of the arts in the cultural life of this country is, as my noble friend Lord Brooke said, a given. It is well documented, celebrated and frequently—quite rightly—revisited. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, listed the Labour Ministers who have contributed to the arts since the Second World War, excluding all Conservative Ministers. I take exception to that. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Brooke and other Conservative Ministers for their contribution to the arts. They all worked tirelessly to persuade their colleagues—mostly from the Treasury—that the arts are special, as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg said, and that they require special attention and treatment for the benefit of all.
There is a continuing, often controversial and lively, debate in many quarters, including the media, on what is meant by art and whether it contributes or detracts from the well-being of citizens. In the Sunday Times last week, an article entitled "Do we know our art from our elbow?" made much of the clash of opinion among those who believe that.modern art now has no life outside its ability to create column inches and air minutes",and others who are surprised and undeterred by such antagonism, suggesting that looking at art is a matter of choice, in which case it matters not if the majority of the public dislike it.
Talking of likes, I join my noble friend Lord Coe in his love of jazz. I regularly enjoy visits to Ronnie Scott's. I agree that jazz is often seen and treated as a poor relation, as illustrated by the relatively minimal subsidies afforded to it by the Arts Council. I assure my noble friend that the debate on the position of musicians in the context of the Licensing Bill is far from over. We will be robust at the next stage, so watch that space.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, said about the theatre. He referred to the urgent need for the repair and refurbishment of all our 706 theatres and to high ticket prices, which deter many, particularly the young. Will the Minister respond to the noble Lord on the deficiencies of our theatres?
I confirm our support for the principle of free access to museums and galleries. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in its recent report, which noble Lords referred to, that:The museums and galleries in the UK constitute a treasure trove of artistic, cultural, historical and scientific artefacts and expertise. Together they represent a living resource that significantly enriches many people's lives and has the potential to do so for many more".If that potential can be realised by free access to our museums and galleries, we must do all that we can to support the policy. However, the House of Commons committee also concludes that the chief risks attached to this policy are,the deterioration of the real value of public funding for these bodies and the reappearance of stresses and pressures on museums and galleries that caused some to introduce charging in the first place during the mid-1980s".We are pleased that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been able to report a 62 per cent overall rise in visitor numbers across the sector in the first seven months of the free access initiative compared with the same period in the previous year. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that in many instances people are still willing to pay for the arts. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, and my noble friend Lady Hooper referred to the continuing, long queues at the Aztec exhibition.
However, there is a problem. Research carried out by MORI suggests that 40 per cent of the population were not aware that admission charges had been dropped. Although there has been an increase in visitor numbers across the different social and economic groups, the biggest rise in visitor numbers has come from existing audiences. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee concludes that.free admission on its own is unlikely to be effective in attracting significant numbers of new visitors from the widest range of socio-economic and ethnic groups".We have heard much about the funding situation this afternoon. In essence, we understand that for most institutions the settlement amounts to a 1.5 per cent increase for 2004–05 and a 2.5 per cent increase overall for 2005–06. Is that enough?
There are real criticisms on funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Moser, said, our arts remain seriously under-funded. The British Museum and the Natural History Museum are both set to suffer reductions in the real value of their grant in aid in 2004–05 and 2005–06. When interviewed by the House of Commons committee, the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, was critical of the funding levels. He said:The question is can we operate effectively to the maximum public benefit and I think the answer has to be, sadly, no".The noble Lord, Lord Moser, said that eloquently today.
707 The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, also used the example of the Natural History Museum having to spend £500,000 more than in the past on temporary staff to cope with cleaning and upkeep as a result of the increased visitor numbers. There are considerable knock-on effects to the new initiative that are causing real funding concerns to our museums. The British Museum has seen gallery closures, shorter hours and even a strike against staff cuts. Unlike rivals that charged and were paid £28 million in compensation, the British Museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery held out against charging, losing money as a result.
The House of Commons committee report said that museums and galleries in the United Kingdom must receive "sufficient funding" if they are to maintain free admission. The report also recommended "financial flexibility", allowing freedom to borrow cash for income-generating projects. The report said that,since the Government has called the tune, it must keep paying the piper".In addition, the committee looked at extending the provision whereby free local authority museums have been able to recover VAT for a number of years, as a result of Section 33 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994. As the Museums Association pointed out, this leaves the university museums, with their long tradition of free access, as the only group of publicly funded museums still burdened with the perverse incentive to charge. The association said that the provisions made for the national museums could be extended to the university museums without any need for primary legislation and that the estimated cost to the Treasury would be about £500,000 a year. This the association described as "affordable for the Exchequer", but of,significant benefit for the museums concerned".The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the Minister for the Arts, told the committee that the department had made it clear that the VAT provision was ring fenced for the national collections and that, while she recognised the case for extension, the Treasury would argue that the issues raised would be,very difficult to deal with in relation to EU rules".The committee believed a much clearer explanation was required from the Government if it was to be convinced by this statement by the Minister. Will she give us a clearer explanation this evening? This is a very important aspect of the committee's findings. I recognise that at least some members of the committee were focusing seriously on possible channels for our museums and galleries.
In contrast, I draw the attention of noble Lords to what the honourable Member for Stourbridge, Ms Shipley, said while questioning Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum. She asked whether,this is an argument for saying that you should open every evening and that you should charge because they are working people and they can pay".708 When it was suggested to the honourable Member that some who work are on low pay, in which case price might be an inhibitor, she went on to say that,it would be interesting to know whether there is any research to back that up".That seems to mean research into whether there are a number of working people on low incomes for whom museum entry fees may be an inhibitor.
The committee also recommended that the current process for allocating funds, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, which was described as "opaque" by museums, should be modernised, "as far as is realistic".
There was also much concern about regional museums. Given the shortness of time, I cannot refer to all that was said, although there was concern about the Renaissance in the Regions report, which recommended a new integrated framework for museums in the regions based on a network of regional hubs. I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who pointed out the interesting anomaly that the Tate Britain is free, but the Tate in St Ives is not. On the regions, the Association of Independent Museums is reported as saying:Our members have seen a dip in visitor numbers; some are having a difficult time. The scheme is threatening the livelihood of some attractions by diverting money to the big ones".Many more points were made. As the committee decided, it is clearly premature to draw firm conclusions about the long-term impact of free admission. It is important for the Government to look at length at issues such as length of stay—known as the dwell time of visitors—which we understand is reducing. I agree with the House of Commons committee that this phenomenon makes sense, given that free access removes the very British approach—indeed, it is probably universal—to get one's money's worth.
I also believe that much of our combined efforts to encourage people from all walks of life and communities should focus largely on the young. I very much like the reference that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made to funding all school visits. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, also referred to that. I would take a lot of convincing to agree that we can or should have the arrogance to believe that we should try to change the cultural interests of adults, be it through political correctness or social engineering—or a combination of both. After all, surely the joy of the arts comes down to freedom of choice. Our aim should be to inspire the young to want to participate.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Harrison has given me the opportunity today to reiterate this Government's commitment to the arts and culture. I shall try to deal with some of his many questions and those of all the other speakers. I know that noble Lords will sympathise with me, because in the short time available to me I shall not be able to deal with them all. 709 I shall write to those whose questions I cannot answer. Some speakers focused mainly on museums; others focused on the arts more generally. I shall try to cover both.
All too seldom do we have the opportunity to talk about this important subject. It is a welcome break from talking about licensing. We do not celebrate enough the work of our innovative and vibrant artistic and cultural scene; we do so rather more for sport. I think back to last year, when so many of us were focused on the World Cup. A few weeks after the World Cup had packed up, two other great British teams went to play at the Sapporo stadium on different nights. Those great British teams were two of our finest orchestras—the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia. They played challenging programmes and gave world-class performances. They flew the flag for British culture. At the time I wondered what it would take to get us to applaud those examples of real excellence and achievement, as we applauded our national football team's efforts on the field. Sometimes in this country we are too diffident in celebrating our cultural achievement.
As Arts Minister, I am not a critic, nor do I run an opera house, theatre or gallery. Much as I would like to, I will not engage with my noble friend Lord Bragg's interesting comments on the theory of totalitarian art. My job is to put in place the conditions in which culture can flourish and artists can express themselves and push forward the boundaries of their art. I am completely unashamed about why we do this. We do it for exactly the reason given by my noble friend Lord Moser when he quoted from John F Kennedy. Indeed, I would have used the same quote, but my former professor has stolen from his student's quote—it used to be the other way round, with students quoting from their professors. What he said about the benefits that the arts bring us all is enormously important, and I cannot improve on the words of John F Kennedy or my noble friend Lord Moser. As politicians, we should not be afraid of saying that.
We fund culture primarily for what it is in itself, and then for what it can do for our wider programmes, such as education, reducing crime, and promoting the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Research shows us that children who grow up surrounded by cultural objects, or in families where culture is at the centre of their lives, do better in exams. Exposure to culture can raise aspirations among young people, improve their self-confidence, increase their life chances and give them something that stays with them all their lives. I absolutely endorse what Jennie Lee said all those years ago. We have also shown that, together with sporting activity, access to cultural activity can help to reduce crime, through projects such as our Splash Extra scheme. Those are just two examples of how culture is, and should be, at the heart of everything we do as a government—a core investment in the social capital of young people.
710 How do we create the conditions for culture to thrive? First, we provide the money. Funding for the arts fell into what can only be described as a state of serious disrepair in the 1980s and in the first half of the 1990s. It was regarded almost as an extravagant luxury that did not need to be encouraged. I was hugely grateful for the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. He was as honest as always in admitting that his old friend, the late Lord Ridley, decided not to take on the job of Minister for the Arts because the government of whom he was a part were simply not providing enough funding for them.
When we came into power we stuck with the previous government's spending plans and therefore presided over a cut in arts funding, which was something that the Conservatives had decided to do—and not something we will ever want to repeat. However, we have dealt with the terrible legacy that we were left. By the time of the end of the next spending review period, in the arts we will have increased funding from £189 million in 1997 to £41.1 million in 2005. That is an effective doubling of funding in eight years.
§ Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. In defence of the previous Conservative government, does she acknowledge the fantastic contribution to the arts made as a result of the establishment of the national lottery, which was the former Prime Minister's initiative?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, of course I acknowledge that, as when we were in opposition we supported both the introduction of the national lottery and that it should be used to support work in the arts. However, as the noble Lord knows, much of the lottery funding went on capital projects. It is extremely important that we should have money for current spending.
The extra money that we have put in is being used to good effect. We put in £25 million to theatres as part of the theatre review, and audiences are increasing, work is diversifying and there is a feeling that British theatre can enter a new era of creativity and innovation. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sheldon, who mentioned the theatre, will accept the claims that I make on that subject.
Throughout the arts scene, the lottery has produced some stunning buildings, with stunning work going on inside those buildings, but we have not finished yet. When the Coliseum refurbishment is complete, English National Opera will have for the first time a world-class opera house. We will transform the South Bank Centre, beginning with the Festival Hall, creating a really bold, world-class centre for the arts on one of the most important sites in central London. Again, that was neglected for almost 20 years.
Several speakers, including my noble friends Lord Sheldon and Lord Moser, rightly referred to the tremendous challenge of giving children what my noble friend Lord Moser called a "foothold" in the joys of the arts. In education we have introduced Creative Partnerships, a £40 million pilot in 16 deprived areas, 711 bringing culture back into the heart of the lives of children and young people in the schools taking part. With our new money, that will expand to more than £70 million and will at least double the number of areas involved. Already this project is making a substantial difference to the lives of young people. It deserves our support.
We will also widen access with Culture Online, which will spend £13 million during the next two years to create between 20 and 40 projects that will increase access to arts and culture through the use of new technologies. It will work with a range of cultural and commercial organisations to present the nation's cultural heritage in new and imaginative ways.
Few speakers referred to the Arts Council, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Coe, who berated it for not providing as much money as he would like for jazz. As he knows, we work with the Arts Council on the arm's length principle, and do not instruct it on what it should spend on individual art forms or organisations. It is spending something like £1.7 million on funding for jazz, which is an increase, as the noble Lord recognised.
We have reorganised the Arts Council this year. It is now a truly national organisation with the regions at its heart, decentralising its functions and reducing the number of staff at the centre. I know that Gerry Robinson, the Arts Council chairman, is determined that the reorganisation of the Arts Council delivers a better service to the arts. In the next three years, more than £20 million will be taken from administration and given to arts organisations. We want the new Arts Council to be bold and brave, as well as upholding the highest standards of accountability and probity, and to make tough decisions about funding where necessary. When there is a reason to make tough decisions, it should not be afraid to do so.
The spending review's £75 million increase for the arts was ring-fenced by the Chancellor, reflecting the high importance attached to the arts by the Government. First and foremost, we want the money to be used as far as possible to put right some of the damage done over the years to the ability of our institutions and artists to aspire to be world class in everything they do. That they have not given up trying, despite the difficulties that they have faced, is a tribute to the tenacity of artists and the institutions in which they practise all over the country. We want the Arts Council to use the extra money to reinvigorate excellence, energy and innovation.
In funding world-class artistic endeavour, we want to put in place strategies to ensure that that endeavour really is accessible to as many people as possible. That means continuing the work that has already been started to pull down barriers to attendance and participation, building the audiences of tomorrow, and giving as many people as possible an opportunity to experience the transformational experience and inspiration of the arts.
712 Of course we want to maximise and exploit the contribution of the arts to core policies including education, health, crime, regeneration and the well-being of the population at large. It is up to my department to make culture available and to fly the flag for culture within government. Various speakers asked about the work that we are doing with our colleagues in the educational world. We are working very closely with the Department for Education and Skills on creative partnerships, museums education, music education and dance and drama awards.
I have not had time to rehearse the many other contributions that culture makes to the life of the nation. Culture is, for example, a driver for regeneration. None of the speakers mentioned the competition to select the UK's nomination for European Capital of Culture 2008. I think that that competition has revealed the extent to which a number of our cities are absolutely committed to using culture to improve the quality of life for those who live in those cities. I am absolutely delighted by that commitment.
On a perhaps related point, culture—as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lord Bragg mentioned—also provides a spur to tourism. I do not have time to give all the figures, but we know that, when questioned, substantial numbers of people say that they come to this country because they want to visit our heritage sites, museums and galleries and our performing arts. Those are three of the most important factors that people cite as reasons for coming to this country.
As much as our performing arts institutions, we believe that our museums and galleries have an important role to play in the cultural life of this country. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that our investment in our national museums and galleries is, per museum, among the highest in Europe—greater than, for example, in Germany, Sweden and France. We believe that everyone should have access to our great national treasures. Free admission is the cornerstone of that policy, but the overall aim is to broaden access. Although that will not be achieved by free admission alone, no one can seriously doubt that free admission is a major step in the right direction.
Let us briefly look at the evidence. Back in 1997–98, there were about 24 million visitors to our national museums and galleries. Since the introduction of free access, visitor numbers have increased to more than 30 million. In the 12 months since 1st December 2001, the number of visitors to the former charging museums has increased by 70 per cent—some 5 million more than in the previous year. The number of child visitors has increased by an even larger number, and the number of visitors from among those over 60 has increased by 93 per cent.
I therefore think it reasonable to claim that free admission is making a very significant impact on diversity. The latest returns from our sponsored museums and galleries show that, following the introduction of free access, the number of visitors from the C2, D and E socio-economic groups has increased 713 by 30 per cent at the former charging museums. We need to do more to encourage greater diversity of social mix among those who visit our museums and galleries. I could cite many examples of the way in which our national museums and galleries are working to achieve just that, but I do not have time to do so today.
A number of sceptics in this debate have challenged our ability to sustain the costs of free access to our national museums. We are committed to doing so as part of our total funding package for our national museums. By 2005–06, their funding will amount to nearly £300 million per annum, which is a substantial increase. Again, I was surprised by some of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport showed that, since 1997–98, there has been a 19 per cent real-terms funding increase for those institutions compared with a decrease of 0.4 per cent in the previous decade. So I think that we are making very important progress in that respect.
Various speakers commented on the report of my noble friend Lord Evans entitled Renaissance in the Regions. The Government greatly welcomed that report, which is the foundation for the development of our current policy for regional museums. There are two main thrusts to the policy. The first is to provide, through Resource, additional financial support for regional museums. The second is designed to build on and develop effective partnerships between national and regional museums. The focus will be on the development of specific educational projects; on making national cultural treasures more accessible to people living in the regions through support for, for example, touring exhibitions and loans of objects; and on investment that strengthens the role of museums in the regions in engaging their local communities more effectively. I certainly believe in assisting the quality of the curatorial work in those museums.
What I must be clear about, however, is that our policy for museums in the regions is about better delivery of cultural policy as part of a more integrated and coherent approach. It is certainly not about greater centralisation in how regional museums are run. It is also not our intention to take over responsibility from others for the provision of their core funding. Similarly, it is a matter for their governing authorities to decide whether they wish to offer free admission. Many already do so.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who specifically asked when the hubs would receive their extra money. That is of course a matter for Resource, which is in discussion with them. However, I can say that it will be very soon.
I began by suggesting that, as a nation, we seem a little reticent about talking up the arts. I am glad to say that today, on the whole, we have talked up the arts as we should. I do not think that we can overestimate the importance of their contribution to our society. The arts and culture are flourishing in this country. Indeed, I believe that they are flourishing here as they have never done before. We can be immensely proud of the 714 achievement of our artists and our great cultural institutions. I want to see a continuing, vigorous debate on their importance. Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing this debate and all noble Lords who participated.
§ Lord Harrison
My Lords, in seeking to withdraw the Motion, I recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville—if he is intent on fulfilling his lifetime ambition of seeing all 37 plays in the Shakespeare canon—that he should see "Edward III" which is now showing at the Gielgud Theatre.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for all his digs, archaeological and otherwise. I thank the Minister and all others who contributed to the debate which, in the best traditions of all our art galleries and museums, has been stimulating, educational and good fun. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.