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Museums and Galleries

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the status of the national museums and galleries in England.

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced funding plans for national museums and galleries as part of the spending review in 2010. There are no plans to review the status of national museums and galleries. The Government remain committed to maintaining free admission to national museums and galleries. We believe that in the current difficult economic climate it is important that national museums remain free and continue to provide an important cultural and educational resource that is available to all.

It is always very interesting to hear what the noble Baroness has to say, but the national museums and galleries in England have had considerable respect in detailing their programmes. If they are questioned, would not their comment be fully understood?

My Lords, many of your Lordships will know of and appreciate the invaluable contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, to the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group: he is its president, and a very fine one. We share his deep appreciation of national museums and galleries in England and their contribution to public life. Our national museums and galleries are among the finest in the world. I reassure him that their trustees and directors set an admirably high standard of collections care, exhibitions and public programmes. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport shows its confidence in them by providing four-year funding settlements.

My Lords, as a former trustee of national museums and galleries of Liverpool, and given that the Liverpool museums and galleries are the only national museums and galleries outside London, can my noble friend reassure me that there is absolutely no question of any change in this unique status, especially considering the enormous development and improvement there has been to those museums and galleries?

My noble friend Lady Hooper makes a very good point and I know of her great involvement in the Liverpool museums. She can rest assured that we have no idea of changing their status, and fully support them as usual.

My Lords, as a trustee of the Science Museum, I express my appreciation for what the noble Baroness said in her first answer about the role of trustees and the contribution that they make. Her commitment to maintaining free admission is very important and will also be welcome. Does she agree that that is not only an important ingredient in attracting record numbers of visitors—which certainly all the museums in the Science Museum group can now claim—but is a way of levering in private finance to assist with particular projects?

Yes, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Seven out of the top 10 UK visitor and tourist attractions are free, DCMS-sponsored national museums. Since the introduction of free admission in 2001 that he mentioned, visits to museums which previously had charged increased by 128 per cent, rising from 7.2 million to 16.3 million in 2009-10.

My noble friend will be aware of the huge importance of museums to our heritage, tourism and economy. She will also be aware that some museums have unique national collections but are not designated national museums. The director of National Museums Liverpool, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, alluded to, has called on the Government to consider developing a museum strategy. Will the Government consider that?

My noble friend is absolutely right. The Government are considering and looking into various different ways, covering not only ideas but other incentives.

My Lords, most of the UK’s national museums and galleries were originally founded through the contributions, substantial in many cases, of individual philanthropists. Today, most rely heavily on donations to compensate for the cuts being made in public funding to maintain their buildings and to acquire original artefacts and artworks. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the financial implications for our cherished national museums and galleries of the Government’s plan to cap tax relief on charitable donations? Can the Minister comment on where this leaves the Secretary of State’s 10-point plan, which I understand was intended to “catalyse and facilitate” individual and corporate giving?

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, practically makes this a topical question. Given the macroeconomic climate, fundraising will continue to be a challenge and the Secretary of State will continue to drive the entire charitable giving agenda to help museums and galleries maximise their funds so that they are able to continue to raise money from generous benefactors. The Government, DCMS and all of us want to recognise the profound generosity of donors and benefactors.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the extent to which, on the world stage, the unique character of our national museums, including their existence as proper public spaces, has contributed not only to cultural growth but to significant economic success, but that that economic success will be threatened by long-term cuts?

The economic success of galleries and museums is foremost in the mind of the Secretary of State. As for the aspects of the present taxation policy, what goes into the Budget will be the prerogative of the Chancellor. I am afraid that I cannot go into detail in your Lordships’ House regarding discussions between Ministers, but the Government will keep open all options regarding the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether these national museums will be affected by the changes announced in the Budget to charge VAT on alterations to listed buildings? I declare my interest as president of the Sulgrave Manor trust—a Tudor manor house and the ancestral home of George Washington which now operates as a museum. These museums are very old buildings. Will they be protected?

My noble friend raises a very valid point and I can tell her that the answer is no. National museums are able to recover VAT paid on building alterations and repairs through Section 33A of the VAT Act 1994, which also allows free entry to museums.

My Lords, is not the Minister slightly embarrassed? At a time of severe public expenditure cutbacks you would expect a Tory Government to be increasing charitable tax relief, not reducing it.

I am not embarrassed by the many productive points established by DCMS. The Government’s consultation on the detail of these policies and their implementation will be published in the summer. I shall give some examples from April 2012. The inheritance tax rate was reduced from 40 per cent to 36 per cent for estates where 10 per cent or more is left to charity. We are committed to an online filing system for charities to claim gift aid, which is planned for 2013. We are also working with the sector to develop a gift aid database for charities as well as implementing several other suggestions.