HL Deb 18 June 2003 vol 649 cc798-800

2.43 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will fund a free annual museum visit for every child, as recently proposed by the Museums Association.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

My Lords, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills are developing a joint strategy for museums education. The Museums Association's imaginative proposal will certainly be considered, alongside others.

All the national museums offer free access, not only to children but to all visitors. In addition, new funds that we have allocated to regional museums will enable these institutions to increase the educational services that they can provide.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for that positive answer, I suggest that this proposal will help many schoolchildren to develop a lifelong love of their local museums and galleries. It will help teachers to deliver the national curriculum by making the best use of the museums and their education officers. It will help museums—which are often cash strapped—and it will encourage museums to ensure that their holdings are presented in the most user-friendly way. Will the Minister consider this proposal as an adjunct to the stunningly good government development of making entry to our national museums and galleries free?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that is exactly why I described the proposal as imaginative. It is a real and important way of bridging the gap that exists between many children and the real objects that one finds in museums.

As a word of warning, on the Museums Association's own estimate, about 6.5 million children would qualify for support of this kind. Even if that is multiplied by the £10 that they estimate it would cost, not for entry to the museum, but for transport, instruction and help afterwards and before—and I suspect that that is an underestimate—it is still a great deal of money.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that there is a good movement taking place in that instead of children visiting museums, museums are now visiting children? Surely that is far better than the suggestion that has been made.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think that they are alternatives. It is true that what is called "outreach work" by museums, both national and regional, is increasing substantially. Both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills have been putting money into that, and it is valuable. However, a visit to a museum is a different, and valuable, experience.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, I must first congratulate the Minister on his new appointment.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the excellent proposal, which we support, to provide a free museum visit for every school-age child will provide a much-needed boost, given the deepening funding crisis affecting British museums?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful for the congratulations. It does not give me any more money, says he, grudgingly.

I agree with the noble Baroness, but I am not sure that I understand what is being said about a funding crisis. Of course, museums are struggling to deal with the cost of the substantial increase in the number of visitors to museums. After all, we have had an increase of 70 per cent in all visitors to national museums and 41 per cent more children going to national museums. Clearly, that costs a hit more, but it is a worthwhile cause.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of a small museum outside London.

Free admission to national museums, to which the noble Lord referred, has, in some cases, had a very bad effect on other museums, which must continue to charge for entry and find that visitors go wherever entry is free. That may have contributed to the difficulties to which the noble Lord referred.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am slightly surprised to hear that. I am not denying the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, refers; I do not know it, and I do not know which museum he is talking about. However, that is not what the Museums Association tells us. There is an increase in visitors, not just to national museums but to all museums. We welcome that.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords—

A Noble Lord


The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I did not quite hear that. Viscount Falkland first.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, I echo the noble Baroness's congratulations to the Minister on his well deserved promotion.

Obviously, there is a great deal of merit in the suggestions of the Museums Association, and we got some encouragement from the Minister's response to the Question. I would like the Minister to give a view on a hypothetical but common case. Were a group of children—11 and 12 year-olds, let us say—to go to a museum and end up in front of a showcase full of gold coins from the Roman period that had been found in an Oxfordshire field, is it not possible that they might show only momentary interest? Their teacher might explain things well, and, perhaps, one child might show an interest that might lead further. Will the suggestions lead to a more expert educative approach? Is that desirable?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as I have said, the Museums Association proposes that there should be funding not for entry to the museum itself—unless it is a paying museum—but for educational work before the children visit the museum, transport to and from the museum, and for educational work after the visit. I should have thought that would apply to Roman gold coins as much as to any other real objects in museums.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, in welcoming the financial assistance now being given to regional museums, does my noble friend accept that there is a real problem for those museums as regards being able to afford new acquisitions? Given my noble friend's extensive knowledge of Her Majesty's Treasury, does he think he can unlock the door to some future funding so that our great municipal museums will be able to afford to expand and enhance the quality of their collections?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, core funding for regional museums is the responsibility of local authorities, just as the core funding for university museums is the responsibility of universities. I am well aware of the constraints under which they are placed. However, we have allocated an additional £70 million to regional museums. That is a substantial amount of money, some of which surely must be available for museum education as well as for acquisitions.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I wonder whether the Museums Association has ever considered that an annual visit to a museum, for some children, may put them off visiting museums for life.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, there are museums and there are museums. I do not want to criticise too violently some of the museums that I went to as a child. I hope they are not as they were then.

On the whole, the standard of display in museums in this country is very much higher than that of many other European countries. Furthermore, an annual visit is not intended to be a maximum; it is intended to be a minimum.