[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local museums.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.
I should perhaps explain the genesis of the debate to Members, as many people have asked me why I want to raise this interesting subject. Two months ago, there was a threat to one of the local museums in my constituency—a council-supported museum. The Stirling Smith was threatened with closure following the publication of proposals by the local authority to remove its budget over the next five years. In fact, some Members might have signed my early-day motion to bring pressure to bear. That pressure was ultimately successful, because in addition to the actions of hon. Members in this House there was a huge public petition and the council decided not to remove funding from the Stirling Smith, which was a good decision.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for securing this important debate. On the issue of local authority-funded museums, does he agree that it is concerning that 39% of them have seen funding cut and 85% have cut their hours? Obviously, that will have a knock-on effect on the wonderful services they provide, such as those provided by the Elsecar Heritage Centre in my constituency in Barnsley.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and if she will bear with me, I shall come to that very subject later in my speech.
I believe that it is time for the House to consider the impact that local museums have on our country and our local communities. A lot of major issues affect our museums and I will speak about a number of them today. I also look forward to hearing other Members from across the United Kingdom talk about their local museums; in Stirling, we have a number.
May I pay tribute to the D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum in Eastwood, which is in my constituency? We are fortunate that such a famous literary figure was born in Eastwood and I would like us to be able to do more to celebrate him. However, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, given local authority cuts have been so drastic, lottery funding needs shaking up? Cities have got all this funding, but lottery cash needs to go to towns as well, so that we can do more to protect and promote our local museums.
Before I ask Mr Kerr to respond to that, I will point out that we are having mini-speeches. If hon. Members desire to speak, there are plenty of opportunities for them to do so, if they try to catch my eye. Mr Kerr, can we keep interventions brief? Thank you.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) for her intervention and for highlighting that issue. Of course, she highlights the importance of the heritage that our museums represent, but they represent much more. In Stirling, we have a number of museums. The Stirling Smith is the principal museum of the city, but we also have the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum in Stirling castle, the Dunblane Museum and a number of other smaller museums. That is alongside the major tourist attractions that we have in Stirling, such as Stirling castle itself, which is also home to the famous and internationally important Stirling heads.
In Hartlepool, we have a local museum, which is the Royal Navy museum of the north, and a volunteer-run museum at the Heugh battery on the Headland. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such independent museums are important to the local economy and the tourist industry?
Those museums absolutely are important. Museums such as the one the hon. Gentleman refers to build pride in our heritage and define who we are as a people.
The battle of Bannockburn visitor centre tells visitors about the most important battle in the history of Scotland—and perhaps of England. There is also the national Wallace monument, which holds William Wallace’s original sword. The sword is an impressive sight, standing some 5 feet 4 inches high. The Secretary of State for Defence visited my constituency recently and I took him on a little tour. We passed by the field of the battle of Bannockburn and I told him about what had happened there, and then we passed by Stirling bridge, and I told him about what had happened there. He said, “Is there anywhere round here that I will feel safe?” I replied, “I don’t think so, Secretary of State.” It is a glorious history that we celebrate and our museums play an important part in preserving, archiving and displaying it.
When the art gallery at the Stirling Smith was threatened, I dropped in to speak to the director of the museum, Dr Elspeth King, who is herself a phenomenon. A five- minute conversation with Elspeth is more informative than many hours of sitting in this place listening to debates; I can assure people of that. She is a treasure trove of knowledge and her contribution to civic life in Stirling is exemplary, as she is the chief custodian of the history of our city and district.
The Stirling Smith is a fantastic museum, which was founded in 1869. It was based on the philanthropy of Thomas Stewart Smith, who so far is the only artist in Scotland to have set up a museum and art gallery for the public. He made his money from the sale of the Glassingall estate and from his success as a painter. He signed his will promising the money to the Provost of Stirling to set up a museum in November 1869, but sadly he died only a few weeks later.
Philanthropists such as Smith have set up museums all across the country. However, unlike libraries, which were often set up in the same way, there is no statutory duty for councils to provide museums. Philanthropy of this nature is of huge significance and essential for the future of museums.
In my constituency of Aberdeen South, we have the museum of the Gordon Highlanders, which is the Scottish regiment that Winston Churchill described as one of the finest in the world. It faces the same challenges as other museums and is running a fundraising campaign. The aim is to raise £100,000 a year over the next three years, and because of the generosity of spirit of Aberdonians the museum is succeeding in that endeavour. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the people who have supported that initiative and also welcome the fact that the local council has also given the museum some money in its recent budget?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I obviously represent the fine city of York, which is littered with amazing museums. However, there is a real challenge here. Local authority cuts have meant that funding for museums has also been cut, and ultimately that means that some people have to pay to access these collections. Should they not be accessible to all the public for free?
I totally agree on the issue relating to accessibility. There are many advantages to companies and individuals making payments to support museums, but the major national museums in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh often get a bigger share of the pie than the smaller ones. In Stirling, we have superb commercial engagement with local companies, such as United Auctions, which is a major sponsor of the Stirling Smith. I urge more national companies and people of significant wealth not to ignore their local museums.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and he is making an excellent point. May I “out-namecheck” all the other museums that have been mentioned so far, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the British Museum? To reinforce his point, is he aware of the programme that the British Museum runs to lend parts of its collections to local and regional museums? That can help to boost the attractiveness of and visitor numbers to regional and local museums, which will help them.
That is wonderful news and I would certainly embrace the opportunity to have parts of the British Museum’s collection come to Stirling and appear in the Stirling Smith Museum, if that is at all possible; I hope it is.
One of the most famous exhibits in the Stirling Smith Museum is a football, which is the world’s oldest. It was found resting in the rafters of the great hall of Stirling castle, having been kicked up there some time during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, perhaps even by the great lady herself.
That football is just one of a number of Stirling’s artefacts that have toured internationally; it even visited the World Cup when the tournament was held in Germany in 2006. The Stirling Smith Museum also holds the oldest curling stone in the world, which is pertinent, given that we have just had the winter Olympics.
Such artefacts of global significance are found in many local collections around the country. The international impact of those objects, and the ability to use them to improve our cultural influence around the world, should not be underestimated. I remember when the Wallace sword left Stirling to go to New York. I am told that an airline seat had to be booked for it. That was before the current airline restrictions, as I cannot imagine a 5 feet 4 inch broadsword getting through security these days.
Also in the Stirling Smith is the Neish collection of pewter, which is a collection of global significance. The highlight for me is a Roman nipple protector, which is a fascinating piece. Apparently, nipple protectors were worn by Roman soldiers under their armour to prevent chafing. It is a collection that attracts international academic and design interest.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support.
Local museums are a superb way for people to interact with their own local stories; they are a way of understanding those stories. In Stirling, the museums are a way for us to understand locally how we have interacted with the national aspects of our history. Stirling is a place where many things of national importance have happened and, I hasten to add, continue to happen. I have already mentioned the battles of Bannockburn and of Stirling Bridge.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only local artefacts that we can see in local museums, but artefacts that represent the history of our country, Great Britain? Chippenham Museum is having a refurb by the Arts Council that will allow it to have artefacts from the V&A—
I welcome the news that my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) has just shared with colleagues. As the Member of Parliament for Stirling, I cannot mention the battles of Bannockburn and of Stirling Bridge too often. They happened in Stirling and are major aspects of the wars of independence. Globally significant events happened in our backyard. We feel differently about these events from people from elsewhere in Scotland because they are part of our local history. Stirling was besieged during the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when Stirling High School was already 150 years old. I often wonder whether the students got the day off when the battle of Bannockburn was fought.
Globally, Bannockburn was an important turning point in western European history. Nationally, it solidified Scotland’s place in the world for 300 years. Locally, people had to live with it, and still have to live with it today. We are proud of it. To understand these events in their entirety, we have to understand how the global, national and local fit together. The Stirling Smith has caltrops that would have been used to immobilise the English cavalry in the 14th century, as well as souvenirs and guidebooks that were sold from the visitor centre in the 19th century. The Smith is literally a stakeholder, as it has a number of the wooden stakes that might have been used at the battle of Bannockburn.
The effort over many years to preserve and protect our history is breath-taking. The Smith prevented the destruction of the Stirling heads from Stirling castle, which were being rolled down the hill for the entertainment of the troops stationed at the castle. Allegedly, a museum curator dug the original plans for the Wallace monument out of a skip. The museum team encouraged the donation of a piece of tarpaulin that was covering someone’s woodpile. It turned out to be the miners’ banner from the Fallin pit during the 1984 strike. We should not underestimate the importance of museums in preserving our local, national and global history.
My hon. Friend is making a good speech on important matters, but does he not recognise that this is not just about fixed museum space? There are temporary museum spaces, such as The Core in Solihull, which has many fine exhibitions of art, local histories and many people’s stories.
Museums and parks deserve protection and the affection of the community, which they have, as we witnessed when the Stirling Smith Museum was threatened. I want to mention in passing the Friends of the Smith, because they devote hours of their time to raise money, conduct tours and help out in many ways to ensure that the Stirling Smith Museum operates fully. That is evidence of the affection and devotion that local people have for their museum.
That brings me to the Dunblane Museum. The Dunblane Museum started life as the Dunblane Cathedral Museum and is a fantastic museum dedicated to preserving the history of the ancient borough of Dunblane. It has a nationally significant collection of communion tokens—the largest in the UK. It holds many items from the cathedral in Dunblane. Perhaps my favourite is a bag that belonged to an 18th-century newspaper boy or girl. This is a museum that truly delivers—boom, boom! The fact that the Dunblane Museum is entirely staffed by volunteers shows the dedication and service of members of the community, such as the honorary curator, Marjorie Davies, and the rest of the team. These are people who want to serve their community, and volunteers have been protecting the museum collection since it was established in 1943. It attracts 10,000 visitors a year. People leave knowing more about Dunblane and its long and distinguished history.
Volunteers struggle, though, because we put more and more expectations on them in regulatory terms. We require them to register with the charity regulator, we require health and safety protection and we require data protection. All that adds to the burden on volunteer groups and disproportionately affects independent volunteer museums that have to do all that while raising the money to keep the lights on. Forms and applications are the bane of all charitable organisations’ lives, and we have a duty to keep those things as minimal as we can while still protecting the public. I saw the Stirling Smith’s submission to be recognised as a museum of national significance, and it was a vast document akin to a PhD thesis.
The third museum in my area that I must mention is the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. Stirling has a long and distinguished connection with the military of this country. We claim the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as our own regiment. As the old regiment fought two world wars and countless other conflicts around the world, I cannot imagine that filling in a few forms would intimidate the august institution that is dedicated to its history. Preserving the history of our military is essential, and such museums play a huge part in telling people the story of a regiment that is now merged into the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
That the Argylls are a part of our history and not our future continues to be a note of sadness for me and many other people in the Stirling area, but the history must be preserved. The museum has a superb collection of objects and artefacts from the hundreds of years of military conflict that the Argylls have been involved with. It holds family medals in its vaults, making them accessible for future generations and preventing loss. Again, the local family stories mix with our national story of military commitment playing its part in a global history that goes from the Khyber pass to the fields of France.
Local museums make a huge contribution to life in the UK. They preserve our heritage, help us to understand who we are and create the golden thread from the local to the national to the global. That brings me to a number of questions that I want to raise. I am afraid there are some differences between England and Scotland on these issues, and I acknowledge that from the outset, but why should that be the case, given the level of co-operation around the UK? Before I am interrupted by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), I hasten to add that I am not suggesting a power grab; I am calling for better collaboration and co-operation, as was mentioned earlier in an intervention about the British Museum.
The national collections in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff should be spread out and accessible. To do that, we need a shake-up of how we indemnify the objects in our museums. I have waxed lyrical about the museums in my constituency, and people might think that I am talking about a museum of national, if not global, significance when I talk about the Smith. The real tragedy is that it is not considered to be such. The bar for a local museum to be considered a museum of national importance is set worryingly high. The committee that makes those decisions is known as the committee of significance. Despite an application outlining all of the wondrous national and internationally significant elements of the museum, it is not considered to be of national significance. Perth and Clydebank museums are museums of national significance, while Stirling and Kirkcaldy, despite the latter’s linoleum collection and superb art collection, recently had their applications knocked back. That is not right. Setting museums against each other is not a useful or good thing to do, and I question the judgment of those charged with such decisions. The Mendoza review in England seems to address some of those issues. Why can they not also be addressed in Scotland?
The question of how museums can gain Government indemnity requires some thought. Government indemnity allows museums to access insurance for items that would be prohibitively expensive to insure. The major national collections are disjointed in how they make decisions. The Government need to consider a single indemnity scheme for the UK. It would help museums lend confidently and borrow well to enrich local communities across the country. It would allow the national collections to be available throughout these islands, bringing exciting and uplifting exhibits to the whole UK.
The treasure trove rules should also be considered. Again, in Scotland we have a different regime, although it follows the English system fairly closely. Treasure trove rules allow people who have found items to sell them to a museum with an assessed reward. The level of reward that has to be paid makes it difficult for local museums to acquire those items. A scheme to allow museums to acquire locally found items at a cheaper rate would help. An example would be the golden torcs found near Blair Drummond in my constituency. Those torcs are beautiful—they are superb examples of Celtic craftsmanship—but to see them people have to go to Edinburgh, where they are part of a large collection. That removes their local significance and what they tell us about the Celtic trading tradition in Stirlingshire, to add to a national story. When artefacts are removed from their local context they lose the local part of their story, contributing only to the national or global story.
The Dumfriesshire hoard suffered the same fate when the local museum was deemed too unsecure to show it and did not have the resources to buy it. It was one of the largest hoards of Viking materials recently to be discovered. Artefacts of huge importance to Dumfriesshire were removed from the community in which they were found. When we consider issues such as the treasure trove rules or Government indemnity, more flexibility is needed. If we lock away our treasures, whether they be national or local, we make our story smaller and lose a part of our identity.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s points about repatriating, so to speak, various items from collections. Does he acknowledge that items sometimes need to be kept in particular conditions, and that support and extra investment are required for that?
I understand that what I am proposing is not without challenges, but it is right to put locally discovered artefacts, which are critical to the local story of the communities we live in, in the community so that people can have the marvellous experience of understanding who they are in a long line of generations of people who have lived in that area.
I am very happy with the remarks that I offered in connection with the first intervention. On the second intervention, I understand the merits, as I am trying to make clear in my speech, of making the artefacts of these islands available to all the people of these islands. They should be made accessible on the basis not of words such as “repatriation”, but of their availability to be displayed. I understand that there are challenges, but we should address those challenges. Such items tell our story, and they should be available to us so that we understand who we are, what our progenitors have done and what our future holds. All those things make up the golden thread that I am trying to describe. We need to follow the old adage of being risk-aware rather than risk-averse, lest we stop people accessing those parts of our heritage found in treasure trove or in the national collections. We will all be richer if we move in that direction.
I do not wish to dwell on museum funding, as the particular issues of museum funding in my constituency have been resolved thanks to public pressure. I am sure that many Members will want to reflect on funding, but there is one point that I would like to make. New acquisitions in museums are essential not only to enrich and enliven the position of a local museum, but as a way of recording the present, which will turn into the past. I am sure I am not alone among Members in being astonished to see things from my childhood enshrined in local museums. I recently attended an exhibition in a museum and discovered that a picture of my class of 1976 is now one of the exhibits, so I stand before hon. Members as—partially, at least—a museum exhibit.
My hon. Friend mentioned his childhood, which he spent in my constituency of Angus. I want to highlight the importance of museums in Angus. For example, the birthplace of J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, is in Kirriemuir. Does my hon. Friend agree that museums are incredibly valuable to our local economy, and they drive into the local area thousands of tourists who would not come otherwise?
It is impossible to visit Kirriemuir without visiting the birthplace of the great J.M. Barrie, just as it is impossible to visit Forfar without visiting the Meffan, which is another great museum and exhibition space.
Museum exhibits—whether they be old food packaging, shop equipment or other accoutrements of daily life— bring back memories. I would consider these examples to be from the recent past, but it turns out that flared trousers and John Denver albums are museum pieces now. Local museums can and must be allowed to acquire items of significance from their local community as they go, collecting history as it happens. They must have the money to do that. Although philanthropy and corporate giving play a huge part in that, museums need to have state funding to keep the lights on while they collect. I am proud that in Stirling we have a common good fund, which allows the acquisition of items for the Smith collection alongside a strong corporate and philanthropic effort.
We should reflect on what happens when that goes wrong. To that end, I will touch briefly on the tragedy of the MacFarlane collection in Bridge of Allan. That museum was unloved, and then the Army was billeted in the museum, during which time the soldiers used the large collection of stuffed animals for target practice. After the war, the museum was turned into a concert hall of some significance. Many in Bridge of Allan, my home town, still talk fondly of the time that the Beatles played at the museum hall. The building lay derelict for a long time, and has now been turned into flats. They are lovely flats, but the community of Bridge of Allan is a bit poorer for the MacFarlane museum no longer being there. The community of Stirling is a bit poorer, and I would contend that we are all a bit poorer.
Stirling has an incredible political history, which is well recorded in its museums, especially the Smith. I am often reminded that Stirling has recently produced two Secretaries of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston and Michael Forsyth, as well as the Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The place of honour that they have in Stirling, as a city proud of its heritage, only puts more pressure on the sitting MP. A young Harold Wilson stared up at the statue of Henry Campbell-Bannerman that adorns our city centre and thought it would be a good thing to be Prime Minister.
The former Member for North West Lanarkshire, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, has the record of founding two political parties represented in the House of Commons—not mine, but the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish National party. He is commemorated as a local boy made good in Stirling. He is one of our own. The Stirling Smith has his riding boots, his smiddy—Graham was famous as a horse-breeder and adventurer—and, most impressively, his coffin plate, which was considered too nice to be buried with him, and was preserved for posterity. Other fascinating items hung in the Smith museum include facsimile copies of the 16th-century Stirling heads. One of them bears an uncanny, striking resemblance to another great Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I knew that would get a response from certain Members present today.
I have spoken for long enough about the collections in my local museums and what they can tell us about our present and our future. I will conclude with a description of one item in the collection. In a corner of the Smith is a piece of mutton bone. Unremarkable as it may seem, that bone is of huge local, national and international importance. The bone was removed from the throat of the young James Drummond, who had been slowly dying as it lay lodged in his throat. James was saved, and that inspired a deep religious faith in the Drummond family, who used their fortune to build a great deal in Stirling. They built the internationally significant cemetery grounds, which follow a pattern of heaven laid out in the Bible. They built an agricultural improvement business, which improved land and made Stirling the agricultural capital it is today. They built a huge religious tract publishing house, and the needs of their workforce led to the invention of the pre-packed sandwich—so Greggs has the Drummonds to thank. The religious and temperance printing venture facilitated the construction of the large post office that is now, ironically, a public house; they were very much in favour of temperance. To top it all off, that tracheotomy in 1843 was the first recorded.
Local museums preserve our history and our culture. They allow us to look to the future, secure in the knowledge that we are building on a strong foundation. I contend that all our local museums are, in a sense, national museums. They tell the small stories; the stories of the people, great and small, who all play their part in the history of our nation. They tell the big stories of movements of people, of great men and women, and of technological change through the ages. My message today is a strong and clear one: support our local museums.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. While thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for securing this debate, I should point out that, unlike him, I am not yet an exhibit in a museum.
As the Member of Parliament for the birthplace of Scotland’s favourite son, Robert Burns, I am acutely aware of the benefits that local museums can bring to a community. There are many museums that contribute to the cultural, social and economic life of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. I will name but a few, such as the Rozelle museum and gallery in Alloway in Ayr. The McKechnie Institute in Girvan is very important to that community. It was bequeathed by the McKechnie brothers, who were traders who sailed or smuggled their goods to and from Girvan harbour—but they did leave the town that institute and museum. The town hall in Maybole reflects the rich industry of that town over recent years, and includes the former town bell. Perhaps Opposition Members might be tempted to make a pilgrimage to the Baird Institute in Cumnock, which delightfully plays host to a room dedicated to Keir Hardie, founder of the Labour party, first Labour politician and first leader of the Labour party. They are welcome to come along—it is well worth a visit. We are proud of it, and I give credit to East Ayrshire Council for hosting it.
I should also mention His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who secured Dumfries House for the nation. It is adjacent to Cumnock and is a wonderful asset for the Ayrshire community, for Scotland and the UK. South of Ayr, on the coast towards Girvan, Culzean Castle still has what are termed the Eisenhower rooms, where President Eisenhower was hosted after the second world war.
One of our biggest attractions must be the award-winning Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. I pay tribute to the National Trust for Scotland, which made a hefty investment in that. It includes Burns Cottage, where the bard was born, as well as Alloway Auld Kirk. In the tale of “Tam o’ Shanter”, Tam, wearing his blue bonnet and on “his gray mare, Meg” made an approach to that church, under the guise of thunder and lightning and darkness, where he found auld Nick having a party with the witches, who in turn gave chase to Tam and his mare. Meg was aiming for the “key-stane o’ the brig” at the Brig o’Doon, to cross the river where the witches would not cross. The nearest the witches got was Meg’s tail and, sadly, Meg forever lost her tail. That was the tail of Meg and the tale of Tam o’ Shanter.
The monument and the gardens are there. It is a perfect destination for anyone who wants to learn more about Scotland’s national poet, who is famous throughout the world. Since the new museum was opened to the public in December 2010, it has drawn approximately 300,000 visitors per annum. They come from all over the world—America, Canada, Russia, Europe, wherever. They come to Alloway, contribute to the local economy, perhaps staying in the local area and seeing more of the wonderful sights that Ayrshire has to offer. In addition to those employed at the museum, it also supports jobs in local businesses, especially in the tourism and hospitality sector, which is very important to Scotland and the UK.
Museums, quite simply, are worth it, even on a purely economic level, but they are much more than just economic enterprises—they are there to educate, entertain and inform. Like the many other local museums in South Carrick, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum helps everyone who walks through its doors to learn more about Ayrshire and one of its most famous sons.
If my colleague, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), were here, I am sure he would agree that Ayrshire should also promote the good work of Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. The world is indebted to him for that discovery, but we do not mark that as much as we should. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would support me in taking that forward—perhaps in a pop-up museum that could be mobile and go roundabout. That is something worth pursuing. We need to promote Sir Alexander Fleming and the good work he did for not just the UK but the world.
People who come from far and wide to visit a local museum learn about the local area’s history, culture and people. They return home with a knowledge about that area that they can share with friends and family.
I entirely agree. Our heritage and our past are the foundations of our future and young people should know the journey of their community for that future.
Visitors returning home help to put an area on the map, and that in turn attracts more people to the museum and the area in general. Museums build the cultural profile of an area and contribute to bringing in more tourists and boosting the local economy. They also help local people, as my hon. Friend said, learn more about their own heritage, encouraging community cohesion and a strong sense of civic pride, which we must retain and build on. People who know their community’s history and culture very often take pride in it and tend to care and contribute to their community. It is important that we have local museums that can pass on that local knowledge to the next generation, and it is therefore also important that local museums engage with local schools and community groups to facilitate that.
In Ayrshire we are blessed with the home of Burns and so many other cultural assets, but every part of the United Kingdom has its own story to tell, and its own local museums to tell them. Those museums are a great cultural, social and economic good, and we should not be afraid to support them.
An issue facing the majority of UK towns is the demise of our town centres as the retail landscape changes throughout the UK and Europe. We need to think seriously about taking heritage museums into town centres to add another dimension to helping to secure their future. Perhaps the dispersal of lottery funds could come in to secure the vibrancy of town centres—that was mentioned earlier.
Museums and heritage centres are often soft targets for budget cuts by councils or other public bodies. That temptation should and must be resisted as closure may prove to be folly in the long term.
I close by thanking every single person, young and old—even those as old as me—who volunteer their time and services to small local and larger museums. They are the mainstay supporting the existence of such facilities in our communities. They are so important. Our past is the foundation of our future and we should secure it as best we can.
I did not expect to speak in this debate but am happy to do so, given the enthusiasm of Members on the Government Benches for local museum services. In Hartlepool, our museum, which is now part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy in the North of England, is part of the town centre; the ship that forms part of it, HMS Trincomalee, stands proud in the middle of our town centre. There is also a Scottish connection with Robert the Bruce, who used to own half of Hartlepool. Many of our wards are named after him—De Bruce ward, for example.
I originate from Rochdale, where the co-operative pioneer movement was established, and the museum there is dear to my heart as a co-operator. It was Hartlepool, however, where I have lived for 14 years and where I am very proud to be the MP, that was the first place on British shores in the first world war to be bombarded from the sea. The troops positioned at the battery were Durham Light Infantry, and the recent demise of the DLI Museum in Durham is one of the sad stories to come out of this debate. I am hopeful that the museum will be resurrected as part of development plans within the county. Like my constituents, I am very proud of our regiment’s historic past, and I hope the position on that will be something of a phoenix.
On the situation with outreach, it is very important that museums reach out to communities, and I get that. The other point I would make is about the Cleveland archaeological unit, which is based in Hartlepool and feeds a lot of things into our local museums. It, too, is underfunded and I would like reassurances from the Minister that such associated services are looked at as well when it comes to future funding.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I will not take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) about which of us is older and should feature in a museum. I am quite happy to bear his good counsel on this.
In 2014, I produced a report entitled “The Future of Local Government Archaeology Services” along with my colleague from the other place, Lord Redesdale. We are both fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, which stood behind the report, and it was commissioned by the then Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). It was a comprehensive report that looked at the future of museums, archaeology services and funding. It gathered written and oral evidence from more than 80 contributors—a reputable number—who provided insight, data and suggestions for solutions. I will not go through all of the recommendations that we came up with, although I will feature a couple of them as they relate to what other hon. Members have said. One recommendation that I will mention relates to local museums.
Many of the recommendations reflect the way in which archaeology services are organised on the ground and how people should approach them. The recommendation that relates to museums asks for an urgent rationalisation of the system for retention of material. Many museums received bag after bag of Roman brick from archaeological excavations. There is nothing that you can do with a bag of Roman brick except weigh it, and then you might as well throw it away. There is absolutely no point in keeping that brick—and I say that as an archaeologist myself. The focus on trying to retain all that takes away the focus that the museum should have on the things that it actually wants to keep and show. So we came up with a good recommendation on that.
Overall we found convincing evidence to suggest that a sharing of services on a multi-authority or sub-regional basis can lead to a much greater resilience of services. Such services would be capable of achieving economies of scale, which individual local museums cannot, as well as other benefits in terms of quality of services, greater provision of skills and expertise, and more opportunities to ensure that expertise is passed on and not lost. Local expertise is a particular skill that we ought to value.
For example, the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service builds on the thriving community of local volunteers that it has developed. It provides a forum for them, it facilitates grants for community projects, and it enhances the archaeological and historical work that is undertaken. It also provides skills training for local volunteers and the potential for implementing community reporting mechanisms across the board. Those are incredibly important aspects of the work.
I will turn briefly to retention in archives and the finds that have been produced. Although it would be wrong to say that museums are not selective, at the moment museums have no imperative at all to be selective, which is a great shame. Also, the rules governing the retention of archaeological material were set by the Arts Council, not by central or local government. That situation has produced one thing above all in how museums look at their collections: a responsibility too burdensome for the museums to carry on with.
Sustainability issues affecting the deposition of material in archives is an endemic problem. To become much more sustainable, it is recommended that archives should adopt much stricter policies on accessions, with clear identification of the material of highest value and what they are going to do with it. That does not gainsay at all the comments made by my colleagues, but we need to put those services on a stable basis and they need to adhere to standards that have sustainable accession policies. We also recommended that English Heritage engage further with the Arts Council and the museum sector to pursue further strategies to provide that.
I sincerely hope that we do not lose our local museums. They play an important part. We should look at their combining certain of their services in order to do things better and not have to do things in an ad hoc way. Above all, we should put them on a sustainable basis for the future.
I will not take that much time, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell).
One of the benefits of turning up to a debate without a prepared speech is that a Member can make it up as they go along, take the sense of the debate and then create a view. I have noticed during this debate that we have not once used the word “Brexit”. As an ardent Brexiteer, I am disappointed. As I listened to the fantastic contributions, I realised that we have not had the “so what?” question. We have lots of museums. They are brilliant and have lots of lovely artefacts for people to come and see, but the “so what?” question is critical.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) suggested that the purpose of museums is to educate and entertain. I do not detract from that at all, but I think their purpose is to inspire. Regardless of whether people voted for remain or leave, they know that this country has an incredible history that should be celebrated. I am an ardent Brexiteer because I have absolute faith in our nation to go forward into the world globally and to dominate. Our history tells us we have done that previously and we can do it again.
The question before us today is that this House has considered museums. I do not think it is possible for us to answer yes to that question unless we have considered the museums of the Black country, particularly a museum in my constituency. If we start small and grow, in my constituency we have the Willenhall Lock Museum, a Victorian building that was constructed in about 1840. There is a house at the front of the premises, and on a good day it is populated by volunteers dressed in traditional clothing and bringing the building to life. They cook traditional food using products that were available at the time. The house is gaslit, so people get a real feel of what life was like, and the volunteers are brilliant at bringing the exhibits to life and giving people a real opportunity to interact.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should pay a huge tribute to the volunteers who keep local museums running, such as the Maurice Dobson Museum and Heritage Centre down the road from where I live, in Darfield near Barnsley? It is a fantastic local resource, and it is thanks to volunteers that it keeps going.
I completely endorse those comments. To a degree, without those volunteers, some of the buildings in question would not be maintained. It is not always a question of money, although of course we need more money. The efforts of such people sustain the buildings and keep educating and inspiring us.
Moving through the museum, the house at the front gives a sense of what life was like, and in the buildings at the back visitors can see where locks were made locally. They were bespoke, clumsy, large products, but the museum gives a sense of why Willenhall was great and why at one time it made most of the locks used in the country. That has led to Guardian Locks in my constituency, a business that has existed since 1982. It is a family-run enterprise and does not do mass manufacture, which means it can offer clients a bespoke service. Sometimes it delivers only one or two locks, but people know it gives excellent service. The product is guaranteed and the family stand completely behind the products they provide.
Assa Abloy is also in my constituency. It was formed in 1994 and, if we believe its website, might be the largest provider globally of intelligent lock systems.
I am sorry, Mrs Main. I was coming back to my point of inspiration. It is Willenhall Lock Museum that has inspired Guardian Locks and Assa Abloy to produce high-quality locks on a global scale.
Obviously, it is not only locks that we deal with in the Black country. Walsall, our local football club, is nicknamed the Saddlers because we have a 200-year history of leather crafting in Walsall. At the Leather Museum, visitors can enjoy a tour, see how the products were crafted and, according to the website, make a keyring. People are leather crafters by the time they leave, having enjoyed their visit.
However, the scale of things gets bigger, because of the Black Country Living Museum, which is spread over 26 acres—hard to imagine. That huge site has 50 buildings taken from other parts of the Black country and reconstructed to form a high street as well as various businesses. It is populated partly by volunteers, who show people traditional smithing and crafts that we might have forgotten. The point of those museums is that they inspire. Those who go to the museum have an opportunity to see, in many ways, the reason this country is so great, and the opportunity that we have taken to innovate and lead the world. People young and old get that chance to see why our future has been fantastic in the past, and will be yet again.
It is important, with reference to the Mendoza review, that museums take the opportunity to understand how they should operate in an era of restricted funds. They need to ensure that they bring crowds through the door. Sometimes money has to change hands. At Willenhall Lock Museum, a group of 10 people can have a tour for £75, and for larger groups it is an extra £5 a person. Check the website—or in fact, Mrs Main, do not check the website: if you visit I shall give you a tour myself. To make their future sustainable, museums need new ways to bring people in and new access to funds, and they need to engage with the public. We have a great future, and our history is represented in the museums I have described. I suggest everyone should come to the Black country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main. It was interesting to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). He spoke at length about local museums in his constituency, of course, and I particularly liked the mention of the many volunteers, who along with staff, play such a huge part in keeping local museums going. Members on both sides of the House have made many mentions of the local museums in their constituencies. There are almost too many to mention now, but that surely indicates how important a place those museums hold in our hearts.
While I note the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Stirling, I am still reminded of a Mrs Cameron who won an award last year for her campaigning against the cuts to local services that Tory austerity brings. She lives in Oxfordshire somewhere and I believe that her son used to be in politics. That was of course a Tory council implementing the cuts of a Tory Government, driven by the austerity ideology, which would completely drive away such services if it could. I frankly find it a harmful, damaging and cynical ideology, born of a lack of concern for society and supported by a deceitful claim that the Government have no money for fripperies such as museums. A few billion to compensate for the failure of UK policy on the EU can be found down the back of the sofa and billions for nuclear weapons are in the biscuit tin above the fridge, but a few thousand to run local services such as museums appears to the Government to be an outrageous consideration at times.
I am glad to take the opportunity to mention—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge—the work of Museums Galleries Scotland in providing funding for local museums in Scotland. He will be pleased to see that it is distributing nearly £750,000 in capital grants to small museums in this round of funding, which is one of four in the year, and will, I am sure, want to congratulate our Cabinet Secretary for Finance on finding an extra £200,000 for this round of funding. He will also be delighted by the range of funds available to museums from Museums Galleries Scotland—particularly, perhaps, the funding for collections in the programme to deliver against the national strategy.
Alistair Darling, in the dog days of the last Labour Government, said he planned spending cuts deeper and more savage than anything Thatcher had done. The response of George Osborne and the current incumbent of No. 11 Downing Street seems to be, “Hold my beer,” with little regard for the cultural carnage that could follow.
The hon. Member for Stirling bemoaned becoming a museum artefact, but he might think upon that and consider it better than the alternative. I grew up in Australia, where the ownership of history is a contentious issue, and the different attitudes often create conflict. I suggest that there is a bit of that in Scotland as well. Those who would remember the whole of Scotland, including its working people, its poor and its dispossessed, do not necessarily sit comfortably with those who would laud royalty and wealth. Similarly, there is little in the way of commemoration of the Gaelic heritage of Scotland. I asked earlier whether the hon. Gentleman would support the repatriation of the Lewis chessmen. I wonder whether he believes that collections held centrally should be sent back where they came from, and whether he supports the repatriation of items such as the Elgin marbles—not to Elgin, before some wag starts up—but back to Greece.
Again, I am old enough to be an exhibit, but does not the hon. Lady agree that the greatest risk to museums and heritage centres in Scotland is the continued and repeated unnecessary cuts to council budgets by the Scottish Government when there is no need to do so, and when they can find £115 million at the drop of a hat to support their equivalent of the DUP, the Green party?
Indeed. Thank you, Mrs Main. I will take your advice. It would be difficult to do so now, but we shall certainly continue that conversation outside this debate, I have no doubt.
To return to the Elgin marbles, should all those things be sent back where they came from, so that they have cultural and local resonance, as the hon. Member for Stirling suggested about some items in the Scottish national collections? Does he support the repatriation of the “Book of Deer”, for example?
Museums are, in the main, staffed by enthusiastic people who try to ensure that a record of the past is preserved and presented to future generations intact for reinterpretation. I contend, however, that they reckon without political barbarians, and they have not seen the huge amount of brutality coming their way. Under the SNP, local authorities are getting a larger share of the Scottish budget than ever. Tory cuts mean that the overall budget for Scotland is reducing, but the share going to local government is increasing, and across Scotland that investment is paying off.
In Edinburgh, museum opening hours will be extended this year so that more people can visit and more citizens engage, and more revenue will be generated. The Museum of Edinburgh, the Museum of Childhood, the People’s Story Museum, the Writers Museum—all will have extended hours. I also want to mention the fantastic staff who steer those museums and galleries. They manage to work miracles on a small budget, and as convenor for culture and leisure in Edinburgh for five years, one of my greatest pleasures was to have got to know them and to have seen at first hand their ingenuity, dedication, expert knowledge and loving care for the items and buildings in the city’s ownership.
One of my favourite museums—I hope this is allowed a mention—is the Museum of Edinburgh, which is not to be confused with the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, although it often is. The Museum of Edinburgh possesses objects that range from a cabinet made by Deacon Brodie that once rested in the bedroom of the young Robert Louis Stevenson, to signs that swung above shops in Leith in my constituency in the 18th and 19th centuries, and beautiful examples of glass, silver and pottery for which Edinburgh and its surrounds were once renowned. I suggest that Members come to visit Edinburgh’s museums—I might be biased, but I think that Scotland’s capital city performs extremely well in maintaining a range of local museums that tell different aspects of its story.
The story elsewhere is not as rosy as some hon. Members have suggested. A survey of cuts in 2015 found that nearly one in five English regional museums closed one part or branch to the public in that year, and 10% of England’s museums are to introduce entry charges. At the end of last year, the Mendoza review of England’s museums reported a 13% reduction in funding over the past 10 years—an indication, I suggest, that some of England’s politicians are not listening to England’s people.
Finally, the logical consequence of what some would describe as barbarous Tory policies since 2010 is clear: they create a desert and they call it culture. If any Member of the governing party really cared about local museums, they would be lobbying their Chancellor for an immediate end to austerity.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on securing today’s debate. His tremendous enthusiasm for local museums shone through, particularly in his references to an antique nipple protector and an internationally renowned mutton bone. Only he could have brought those items to life in such a way during the debate. He also told us something I did not know, even though I used to teach history: that Mary Queen of Scots played football. I knew she had played golf, but not football— in a sense, it is a shame that she is not available for the current Scottish national team, given their recent fortunes.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting proposal on indemnity, and he referred back to Scottish history at some length. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) mentioned the lack of references to Scotland’s Gaelic heritage, and a much forgotten aspect of Scottish history that is not mentioned sufficiently is its Welsh heritage. The greatest poem in the Welsh language, the ancient poem “Y Gododdin” describes a battle between Welsh-speaking warriors from the south of Scotland at Catterick in North Yorkshire with the Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, the hon. Lady’s constituency’s name of Edinburgh derives etymologically from the old Welsh—I thought I would add that into the mix since we are having lengthy discussions on Scottish history. The hon. Member for Stirling also recognised that state funding is important, and I will come back to that point.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) who spoke about the Keir Hardie exhibition, and I will certainly visit that if I get the chance to go to his part of the world in future. He also described the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which again sounds like a wonderful place to visit. As he rightly said, museums “are worth it”, and I will come back to that later in my remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) spoke about the importance of funding local museums, and he described some museums in his constituency. He spoke not just of museums themselves, but also of the associated services, which is an important point. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), our resident archaeologist, spoke about the review he undertook. He said that it is important that we do not lose our local museums, and I could not agree more. He also described some of the ways that he thought those museums could be made more sustainable.
It was all spoiled, however, by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) who introduced the “B-word” into the debate—we were all getting along so well until that point. He described how he thought that we as a country should “go forward into the world and dominate”—I think those were the words he used—as we have done in the past, although I am not quite sure what he has in mind. He also said that “our future has been fantastic in the past”, which I thought was the quote of the day. He described a wonderful sounding Black Country Living Museum in his constituency, which again sounds like a marvellous place to visit.
As hon. Members have made clear, local museums are a crucial part of the UK’s cultural life. They tell the story of specific communities up and down the country and help to preserve a continuous sense of community identity. People often feel an ownership of their local museum that they do not always feel about larger civic institutions. As a result, the audience of local museums can often be more diverse and representative than for other larger museums.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the St Fagans National Museum of History in my constituency of Cardiff West. Rather like the Black Country Living Museum, it is on a large site with buildings from all over Wales. It is a wonderful place to visit, and was recently the happy recipient of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. That is helping it to develop facilities, including a new “gweithdy”, as we say in Welsh—a place where people can go and try some of those crafts with those wonderful new facilities. If Members ever visit Cardiff, I suggest that they go to the edge of town and visit that museum.
For the reasons we have heard, local museums sometimes have to charge for entry. Constituency MPs are clearly aware of the benefits that local museums bring, but those museums are facing funding problems and threats of closure. There are ways we can try to overcome that fact, but we cannot divorce it from the UK Government’s cuts to the budgets of the devolved nations through the Barnett formula, and to local authorities. The Local Government Association states that there have been staggering cuts since 2010, and that central Government funding will be reduced by a further 54% by 2020. In that context, it is no surprise that local authorities struggle to maintain their services, particularly non-statutory services such as museums.
The Mendoza report, commissioned by the Department, identified museums that are run and supported by their local authority as those most vulnerable to funding pressures. Last week, on the same day the Government published museum visitor numbers, the Museum Taskforce published its report, which considered the funding of museums in England. It stated:
“Often it is less prosperous areas that are feeling the brunt of the crisis in funding and there is concern that further reductions in public finances will leave local authorities in less wealthy areas in particular, unable to fund non-statutory services such as museums.”
Councils are the biggest public sector investors in culture, including museums and galleries, and despite reductions in council funding from central Government, they valiantly continue to spend more than £1 billion per year on culture. That is a good investment because culture is a very good source of economic regeneration. I encourage local authorities of all stripes to continue to do that.
We need more than fine words about local museums from the Government; we need to put an end to the continuous cuts that are putting them at risk. It seems contradictory to protest the underfunding of local museums while propping up a Government who seem intent on cutting the funding available to local authorities. The hon. Member for Stirling was very fair in his remarks, and I hope Conservative Members put pressure on Ministers to ensure local authority funding is not cut so savagely that they are forced to cut local museums. The Government seem determined to ignore that at the moment, but I hope there will be a change of mind under the new Minister.
The Opposition Front-Bench team thought we would look into the issue ourselves when we were recently trying to get to the bottom of what is happening to our local museums, and we conducted a bit of research into the opening hours of local authority museums in England through hundreds of freedom of information requests. We gathered information from a sample of 250 local museums, which showed a huge decline in museum opening hours in the past seven years. Since 2010, more than 40% of local authority museums have decreased their opening hours by an average of 30%. Just across our sample, that is a loss of almost 23,500 opening hours since 2010.
Those results confirm that museums are bearing the brunt of the Government’s local authority cuts. At the end of the day, it should not be up to the Opposition, who have fewer resources, to collect such statistics via freedom of information requests. The Government should be doing that work themselves so they better understand the sectors they represent.
Our museums have to contend not only with the reduction in local authority funding, but with the reduced funding from the lottery and the potential loss of EU funding—the “B” word is not going to issue from my lips. Late last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it will distribute only £190 million in the coming financial year, down from £406 million in 2016-17. In addition, no new major grants will be awarded during this transitional year. The Government published their heritage statement only a few days after that announcement, and the document did not even mention the possible implications of that reduction in funds for museums and the wider heritage sector.
The Arts Council’s recent report on the EU funding that arts and cultural organisations in the UK receive shows that museums have received more than £13 million from regional funds alone. Despite that, in response to a written question, the Government failed to outline whether that funding will be preserved when we leave the European Union.
Like the hon. Member for Stirling, I have political differences with the Scottish Government in Holyrood, although probably for different reasons, but it is undeniable that the UK central Government’s austerity policies and the effect they have on the devolved nations and councils around the country are at the root of local museums’ problems. Budget decisions made in this House have a direct effect on funding and resourcing in devolved policy areas and local authorities. On all three of these issues—local council cuts, lottery funding reductions and EU funding reductions post-Brexit—the Government need to take responsibility and the actions necessary to ensure our proud cultural heritage continues to be available to the widest possible audience.
I do not want to be overwhelmingly negative, because this has been a jovial debate and a lot of exciting and inspiring work is taking place in our museums. As part of my Front-Bench brief, I have had the pleasure of visiting some fabulous museums around the country. I have been to country homes and seaside fishing museums, and later this month I will be travelling up to the north of England to see some exciting work taking place in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), where there is a wonderful award-winning local museum.
We can all be proud of our cultural heritage in the UK. We should all be able to share it and feel that we have ownership of it. However, the Government must not bury their head in the sand. If they continue to do so, I will continue to draw attention to the challenges our museums face and to advocate on their behalf.
Thank you for your chairmanship, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for introducing this debate on a subject that is very important to us all. I commend all hon. Members for their valuable contributions. Even greater congratulations are due to my hon. Friend for helping, with his constituents, to save the museum in Stirling.
I was delighted to be appointed Minister for the arts, heritage and tourism earlier this year. It is a great privilege to be the Minister responsible for part of this country’s world-leading museums sector. Local authorities will note that cutting culture, museums and galleries is a false economy. The United Kingdom’s museums are hugely popular: more than half of the nation’s adult population visited a museum in 2016, and three of England’s national museums were in the top 10 most visited attractions in the whole world in 2016.
I congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber for their enthusiasm and affection for their local museums, including the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum in Ashfield, the wonderful Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum in Stirling and many others. In the past few weeks, I have visited the National Railway Museum in York and seen the wonderful work that the Science Museum Group is doing there. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) mentioned Dumfries House, which is a wonderful example of work that has been done in the national interest and has helped the local community. We are lucky that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has done an enormous amount of work.
Local authorities still spend more than £200 million annually on culture and museums. Her Majesty’s Government have maintained cash levels of funding for the museums sector, and we are introducing new sources of funding, such as tax relief for exhibitions. The local government funding settlement is worth more than £200 billion between 2015 and 2020. Locally elected councils decide how to spend money in their area. I reiterate the message that it is a false economy to cut culture. Local authorities have that responsibility.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) mentioned royalty. I believe that Her Majesty’s yacht Britannia is based in the hon. Lady’s constituency. It brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors to her constituency, so she should be very grateful for that royal connection for that and many other reasons.
I am proud that free entry to museums remains Government policy. There is a wide variety and a huge number of museums in the United Kingdom. There are more than 2,000 museums in England alone. The Government provide more than £800 million through grants from the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, which helps museums to protect their collections and keeps them accessible to as many people as possible. The VAT 33A scheme allows eligible museums to claim back VAT that is incurred when putting on free exhibitions, so that is something to bear in mind.
The Heritage Lottery Fund continues to be a major funder of museums under Sir Peter Luff. My Department will work very closely with it to implement the recommendations in the Mendoza review, which several hon. Members mentioned. In 2018, HLF will invest substantial sums—in the region of £190 million—in arts and heritage in the UK. It will also consult on its future priorities, and it will announce new funding in the autumn of this year. That is something to watch out for.
Museums are a vital part of Britain’s tourism offer: 40% of visitors to all parts of the UK cite culture as the reason for their visit. Furthermore, the high profile of our museums helps to build international relationships. As we all know, culture is a bridge between nations and peoples, and it helps to promote Britain to the world. It helps to put us top in soft power.
The British Museum, as has been alluded to, is already sending around the country items that are linked to different parts of the country. That helps local museums, as we heard, and at a local level museums can play a vital role in their communities, telling the story of a place and its people and helping to shape it. They develop and showcase great British talent, from architecture and design to portraiture and ceramics, and world-class curatorial skills.
Museums are vital to our economy. Research by the Arts Council suggests that museums in England alone generate £2.64 billion in income and £1.45 billion in economic output each year—so they make money for the country—and that funding for the arts brings in up to £4 for every £1 invested. Museums are very good value for money.
As for Scotland, cultural policy is, of course, a devolved matter. I may therefore be unable to comment on questions that relate to the specifics of devolved policy, but I assure all Members that I am a keen admirer of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage, which is astounding in its breadth and depth. It is important to note that there are also some excellent cross-border partnerships between museums. That happens between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as between Scotland and England, and elsewhere. For example, the recent critically acclaimed exhibition of works by British realist painters at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art brought together more than 80 paintings by some 50 artists, loaned from museums throughout the nation.
I am also really excited about V&A Dundee—recently, by the way, I met the leader of Dundee City Council, who was very impressive—which is due to open in September this year, in a stunning new building on Dundee’s waterfront that will provide a venue to share the V&A’s collection and exhibitions more widely across the UK; it has an extraordinary collection. The museum will also showcase Scotland’s exceptional and creative heritage as its first museum dedicated to design.
Hon. Members have alluded to the Mendoza review of museums in England, which was published a few months ago in November. The review looked at how museums operate today, what the public want from them, and how Government can best support them. It makes a number of recommendations to Government and government agencies, asking us to work closely together to help our museums flourish. I commend Neil Mendoza’s review, which is very good.
The review’s focus is restricted to the museums sector in England, but many of the themes that emerge from the report are relevant to institutions across the entire country. In the course of the review, Neil Mendoza and his team visited museums the length and breadth of the country. I am pleased to say that he found a thriving sector, supported by more than £800 million of public funding from a variety of sources each year.
There have been challenges for the sector in recent years. It is true that some smaller museums have had to change the way in which they work in order to adapt to reductions in local authority funding. Many museums, however, have successfully adapted to that new climate. I should point out that the review team found numerous examples of museums taking a more commercial approach and thinking imaginatively about how to care for their collections in such a way as to continue to allow as many people as possible to experience them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and other colleagues asked about the availability of funding, particularly from philanthropic sources, for smaller museums. Philanthropic giving, alongside public funding and—equally important—commercial revenue generation is a key source of income for museums. The Mendoza review found that museums tend to raise less through philanthropy than do other parts of the cultural sector, such as the visual arts, and that museums outside Greater London appear to be particularly affected. However, there is some evidence that parts of the sector are growing in confidence when asking for and receiving donations from visitors. I encourage that; philanthropic giving is very important, as other parts of the sector know well.
One of the priorities to emerge from the review is adapting to today’s funding environment. As my Department works with key agencies and the wider sector to implement the review’s recommendations, we expect that larger and national museums will share learning—they have learned a great deal about this—and good practice to support others to access philanthropic sources of funding.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of loans from the national collections to smaller museums—I have touched on that, as other colleagues did, with the British Museum—and some of the barriers, such as indemnity, insurance, and security, that may occasionally frustrate efforts to lend valuable items to local venues. I cannot comment on the Scottish national museums, but those sponsored by my Department have a strong track record on loans: in 2016-17 the national collection was lent out to more than 1,300 venues throughout the United Kingdom, from long-term loans and partnership galleries to multi-object exhibitions and one-off, so-called “star” or special loans.
Through loans and partnerships the national museums have extensive UK and international reach, but the museums review found that such work could be better joined up. Therefore, my Department will collaborate with the museums and the wider sector on a partnership framework, working to simplify regional programmes and loans, formalise skills and knowledge exchanges, and share best practice in a more consistent and sustained manner. I am pleased to confirm that the partnership framework will also encompass cultural collaboration with museums in the devolved Administrations. In addition, to help to encourage loans, Arts Council England has provided £3.6 million to regional museums to help them to improve their galleries to protect and display borrowed objects through the “Ready to Borrow” scheme, and the Museums Association has published “Smarter Loans”, a helpful good practice guide.
The Government indemnity scheme, which is administered by the Arts Council for museums in England, has been very successful. It is estimated to save museums at least £15 million annually on insurance premiums. As recommended in the Mendoza review, Arts Council England and my Department will continue to work closely together on the Government indemnity scheme, to promote it internationally and to clarify and simplify the process for applying for commercial insurance where required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling raised further questions about the Scottish treasure trove rules with my Department and the provisions relating to collections of national significance and the museums in his constituency. He will appreciate that I am not responsible for matters that fall within devolved competence, but I am sure that officials from the Scottish Government and the Scotland Office will be happy to discuss those points with him in further detail.
I am delighted to have had the opportunity to champion museums in my first debate as arts Minister in this Chamber. The breadth and depth of the contributions to this afternoon’s sitting demonstrates just how valuable, treasured and beloved our museums are. I look forward to working with everyone in this important role.
May I say how much I appreciate the response from the Minister? He is quite right; as I pointed out in my remarks, things are different between Scotland and England. I also appreciate the comments of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), and those of other Members who have contributed to the debate.
In summary, the word I take away from the contributions that I have heard this afternoon is “inspiration”—that word was offered to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), with whom I share an office—because by enjoying and appreciating our past, we gain confidence for the challenges ahead of us now and for the future.
Someone once said that the best way to celebrate great history is to make more great history. We have to know and appreciate the great history we have in order to be in a position to look forward to making greater history. In that respect, I concur with the importance of museums as a representation of history living in our communities.
I will offer one last plea to my colleagues, and that is to use our museum spaces. Recently I hosted an event attended by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the Smith Museum, which was an excellent and wholly appropriate place to have such a gathering. I invite my colleagues to make use of their museums in future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered local museums.