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House of Lords Hansard
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15 November 2016
Volume 776

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the value and vibrancy of museums such as the People’s History Museum are recognised, and to secure the future of such museums.

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My Lords, it is nearly two years since my noble friend Lord Monks secured an important and interesting debate on museums focused on the People’s History Museum, of which he was chair. I am honoured to say that he is now the life president and I am the chair of this wonderful museum, grappling with many of the challenges which were mentioned in 2015 but to which others have been added. I start by thanking the Minister for spending an evening at a recent event organised to raise awareness about and support for the museum. Although we knew that the Minister had strong links with Manchester —the clue is in the title—we did not know of his proud association with one of our radical heroes, a delightful revelation.

The People’s History Museum is a very special place, full of the traditions and examples of the best in British working class culture and telling the story of people whose work, achievements and struggles shaped this country and who created its wealth and fought for our freedoms. It is also the national museum of democracy, the only museum dedicated to telling the story of the development of democracy in Britain, celebrating the radicals who pushed the boundaries, from Thomas Paine to Margaret Thatcher, from William Wilberforce to Winston Churchill and from Mary Wollstonecraft to many of the suffragettes whose success we will be celebrating in 2018.

We have the largest collection of banners in the world and a superb textile conservation studio dedicated to their preservation and that of others; we have an extraordinary archive; and we have a fantastic collection in which every object has played its part in the fight for democracy and equality. We have terrific exhibitions such as the current superb exhibition of the work of the printmaker Paul Peter Piech, which is dedicated to the defenders of all human freedoms. But we are also a vibrant living museum, not only bringing history to life and making it relevant to the 21st century but providing opportunities to debate and discuss ideas, and to learn from each other. We are the home of ideas worth fighting for, where our radical past can inspire and motivate people to take action, to shape a future where ideas of democracy, equality, justice and co-operation are thriving.

The People’s History Museum is located in Manchester, and although considered by the Government as a non-national museum, I believe that it earns the right to be a national museum. The collection is designated as being of national importance and tells the story of working men and women throughout the United Kingdom and their struggle for democracy. However, unlike the other six museums with which we are grouped, we receive neither direct funding from the Government nor sponsorship. Contrary to what the Government said in the DCMS business plan for 2010—

“there is no question of cutting these museums adrift without any financial support in the unlikely event that no new sponsorship arrangements can be found”—

that is exactly what is happening to the People’s History Museum. In 2015, our government funding was cut, although a very welcome £100,000 was made available to the museum last year to help the museum move to what the Government called a new and sustainable model of funding—perhaps new, but sustainable it is not.

Two other museums whose funding was cut at the same time but did not find either sponsorship or alternative private funding, the Geffrye and the Horniman, had their DCMS funding reinstated. I celebrate that, but why the lack of consistency? Why is a museum that happens to be based in Manchester treated differently from museums based in London? If it is visibility in the capital that is a problem, I should explain that we are planning a series of events in partnership with organisations in London so that we are more visible and better known. We are also setting up a London friends of the museum group to widen our support.

We are very grateful to all of our funders, especially the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, of which my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh is chair, but funding is a massive challenge. Our brilliant team under the director Katy Ashton—who is about to have a baby, and we wish her well—acting director Janneke Geene and Cath Birchall have done a fantastic job in attracting funding from various sources, including the Arts Council. We really are focusing on our own fundraising, as well as ensuring that our commercial endeavours—the shop, the cafe and venue hire—perform well. The vast majority of the money, however, is designated for specific projects or tasks, and as with so many organisations, the biggest headache is access to core funding: the money which used to come from DCMS for that very purpose. For example, we recently considered how to pay for a new front door for our beautiful building and had to ask, “Where does one get the money from?”. That might seem a trivial example but it is a very real one.

I well understand that other parts of our cultural life and heritage are suffering in the current climate and that at times the Government seem to ignore the extraordinary benefits that arts and culture bring to the lives of individuals, to our society and to our country, but the People’s History Museum finds itself in a very different situation from comparable museums, and that is simply not acceptable. I am sure the Minister will say two things in answer to questions about funding—first, that as announced in the culture White Paper, a wide-ranging review of museums is being conducted to gain a deeper understanding of the sector; and secondly, that DCMS has increased funding through Arts Council England. We celebrate that but I would reply, first, that the People’s History Museum wants to take a constructive part in the review, and I hope that the Minister will ask Neil Mendoza and members of the Challenge Panel to visit the museum; and secondly, that although very welcome, funding from the Arts Council requires lengthy and time-consuming bid preparation, and one can never be sure of success, so it is difficult to plan for long-term stability.

Clearly devolution is changing the financial landscape, and the People’s History Museum is in Greater Manchester—the northern powerhouse—so we are naturally looking for new opportunities. However, as it is a museum of national importance, I believe that DCMS also has a responsibility. Museums, like the rest of the cultural sector, have an economic impact, but they are also in a unique position to meet some of the 21st-century challenges faced by society, including those of health and well-being, social integration, community cohesion and education. I believe education is particularly important, because the EBacc does not offer any creative subjects. The People’s History Museum, like so many other museums, works with schools and community groups, reaching out but also providing expertise and a space for them to explore history as a means of learning and discussing present day issues, enabling them both to celebrate heritage and diversity and to better understand that, as my wonderful friend Jo Cox said, there is more that unites us than divides us.

The conduct and discourse of the campaign in the US and the election of President-elect Trump have heightened my awareness of the need for divisions in our own society to heal following the divisive and intolerant Brexit campaign, and museums have a real role in bringing communities together. The People’s History Museum, as the museum for ideas worth fighting for, is a safe place to discuss and debate difficult issues, to disagree agreeably, and to confront the rise of xenophobia, racism and discrimination. The relationship between local authorities and museums is vital in relation to this and other aspects of public policy. I note that leaving the European Union has provided new challenges for the cultural sector, although that should be a subject for a different day and a different debate.

In this exciting digital age, museums have a number of roles to play—most obviously, to embrace the new technology and make good use of it, to widen access and to connect to the wider world; but also to enable people to respond to contemporary issues by drawing on their collections. Technology means that schools, FE colleges and universities in the UK and further afield can use collections and expertise to inform their studies, bringing history to life—and in the case of the People’s History Museum, celebrating democracy and the hard-fought-for rights which make up our democratic system. This story is relevant to many fragile democracies and countries in which they are seeking to implement or embrace democracy. In the next three years, we will be focusing on LGBTI rights on the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act in 2017; the 100th anniversary of the widening of the franchise to all men and some women in 2018; and the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre in 2019, a defining moment with regard to parliamentary representation.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who are participating in this short debate. Although I have focused on one museum, many of the issues I have raised are common to other museums. We have to find a way to recognise their value and vibrancy and to secure their future. Democracy is at the heart of the People’s History Museum and I end by citing an extract from a speech by my noble friend Lord Bragg:

“Milton wrote that the price of liberty was eternal vigilance. He was yet another on the long list of English radicals. The price of democracy, it seems, is eternal struggle. We can see it on the wall and in the archives of the museum in Manchester. It is a chronicle and a warning, an inspiration and the beginning of the recognition of the contribution of the vast majority of people in this country”.

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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who has really brought the People’s History Museum alive for us. I remember that debate two years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and I talked about my visiting. I still have not got around to doing so, but I hope that perhaps next year we can arrange a visit by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts and Heritage, which I had the honour of founding way back in 1974 and which is still a vibrant and large group, including over 400 Members from both Houses and from all parties. I think we should go and see the museum.

I come to this debate as one who believes passionately in the enriching capacity that our museums have. They bring our people closer to their roots—specific roots, as was just talked about. In my own native town of Lincoln, where I have the honour to be the chairman of the Historic Lincoln Trust, the museum and gallery there played an enormous and enriching part last year during Magna Carta year. Next year we are going to be commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Lincoln. Probably not many of your Lordships have heard about the Battle of Lincoln but in fact it was, after Hastings, the most decisive battle in English history; it led to Henry III being confirmed on the throne, to the Plantagenet dynasty being secured, and to the French dauphin who had been invited by many of the barons to assume the throne leaving the country. It is a very important milestone in the development of our history. We are going to call the exhibition “Battles and Dynasties” and, through wonderful objects and works of art that we are borrowing from national, regional and private collections all over the country, we are going to seek to bring this alive.

That is a point that I want to touch on in this brief debate: I believe that the interchange of materials is of enormous importance. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about the People’s History Museum bringing things to London. That is very good, and I hope we will have chance to see some of them in this great Palace of Westminster. But for museums in the countryside to be able to borrow great national treasures, as we borrowed the Luttrell Psalter last year, is again an enriching and enhancing experience.

This very afternoon, as president of the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group, I chaired a meeting attended by a number of your Lordships and Members of the other place to hear about a very special museum in Scotland: the Kilmartin archaeological museum. We were told by the director, who spoke with great passion and infectious enthusiasm, what a rejuvenating effect the museum had had since it was founded in 1997 and will continue to have—not just on the intellectual and educational life of the area but on its economic life as well.

Far too often, Ministers—I am sure my noble friend who will respond to this debate is an exception—do not really have the breadth of vision that enables them to see that the prosperity and future of our country are themselves enriched and developed by our great historic buildings, cathedrals, churches and fine museums and galleries. Of course, our great national museums and galleries here in London have a starring role—but, as we have heard today, a vibrant museum in Manchester is having a transformative effect. I think back to my own youth when I was fired with enthusiasm for my great parliamentary hero, William Wilberforce. I went to Wilberforce House in Hull, which is still there, still attracting visitors from all over the world and still telling the story of one of the greatest parliamentarians of all time.

There is so much that our museums and galleries can do. We need the help of the DCMS and we need Ministers to look beyond the immediate balance sheet to the balance sheet of the nation. We need to have our museums recognised and supported and local authorities encouraged not to put them at the back of the queue. I heard of an authority today that spent 26p per elector on cultural pursuits. I know the constraints are real, but that is not good enough. Let us hope that this, like the debate two years ago of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, will be a springboard, and that we may go forward and ensure the long-term future not only of a truly great and important museum but of many others throughout our land.

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My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for I have been very much aware for the past 40-odd years of his deep commitment to the cultural history of this country. I am also very much indebted to my noble friend Lady Royall, who has proved such a worthy successor to my noble friend Lord Monks as chair of the People’s History Museum in Manchester. We are all indebted to her for calling this debate, and I thank her.

This also gives me an opportunity to thank the staff of the museums, archives and indeed libraries whom I have bothered over the past 50 years and met with nothing but kindness and assistance. We are all indebted to them as well. I will not press this too far, but I listened attentively to the early part of my noble friend’s speech when she talked about the concern within museums, archives and libraries about the Government’s cuts, which, frankly, are decimating many of those services. I hope the Government will take note of that.

We in this country have not been particularly well served by history. Many of the people of this country have felt that history did not touch them because in many ways, especially in the way that it was taught in universities and schools, history was a top-down subject. This struck me forcefully in the 1960s and I wanted to challenge that. I would go to the funerals of lifelong suffragettes and trade union or labour pioneers. A bit of time afterwards, I would approach the family and say, “What about the records that I know Jane or Tom had?”. They would say to me time and again, “Oh, no one was interested in that. They were no use so we burnt them”, or, “We put them in a black bag”. Gradually, though, we have won that battle; people have begun to realise that their lives and those of their families are critical to understanding the nature of this society, this country and our democracy.

Perhaps I should declare an interest as a visiting professor of history and politics at the University of Huddersfield. Huddersfield is quite important if we are looking at Labour and suffragette history. Indeed, the University of Huddersfield has probably one of the finest archival establishments anywhere in this country thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has given millions to that establishment. It is wonderful.

I mention Huddersfield because, when I was Member of Parliament for Colne Valley, my experiences at funerals caused me anxiety. The Colne Valley Labour Party was the first constituency Labour Party in the whole of Britain. If that was not strong enough, it had the minute books of every meeting, from its inception on 21 July 1891 right through to the current day, of the executive and general management committee—my Labour colleagues know what I am talking about here —which were stuck away in a corner. I was terrified that, with changes of secretary, we would lose them, so I managed to persuade the University of Huddersfield—this was in the 1970s, before the National Museum of Labour History, as it became in 1990, was established—and we got the histories of the Labour Party in Colne Valley, Huddersfield and a number of other areas. Since then, it has added to its deposits the papers relating to Robert Blatchford, whose book, Merrie England—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, who knows what I am talking about—sold millions of copies and created millions of socialists in this country; it was quite a phenomenon.

I am very proud of that, but it makes the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack: all the museums, libraries and archives are interlinked. I talk about Huddersfield, but Bradford is just up the road. Half an hour by rail is Manchester, with the People’s History Museum and the superb Manchester central ref, which has so much suffrage history. Then one thinks of the great institutions nationally, such as the LSE and Warwick University. My point is that we need more interrelationship between museums great and small, national, county and local—they are all part of the understanding of the peoples of Britain.

I would like to finish on the internet. The internet has the propensity to revolutionise research in this country, if it has not already. By clever use of the internet, you can get into local archives as far away as New Zealand. That can be very valuable, but it is very expensive. I would like the Government to consider finding ways of funding the digitisation of many more records.

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My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, whom I reflect I have known for 37 years, which is a long time back in history, is it not?

Much of my speech will be taken up by the words “such as”, rather than just talking about the People’s History Museum, but I should declare an interest at the beginning. I am a vice-president of the European Parliament Former Members Association—the whole lot of them, all 28 states, sadly soon to be 27. One job I have undertaken there is to try to get some order into the archives. I pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, because there is a tendency for people to undervalue their relatives. Like the noble Lord, our project was motivated by discovering the large number of cases where papers were thrown away, so we decided to be proactive and to encourage people to donate or leave their papers with any public institution that was interested in taking them. For instance, one of my colleagues, Alf Lomas, who will almost certainly never join us here, deposited newspapers in the Bishopsgate Institute. Another, Stan Newens, has deposited his papers in the University of Essex. They are all around; and I will come to that at the end.

There are many other archives. One of the first projects I was associated with was getting the archives of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, now long gone, put on to microfiche and deposited in a number of libraries, because there was a real fear that the minute books would disappear when that co-op was taken over. Indeed, the museum at the Royal Arsenal Co-op was broken up by the CWS—some of it went to Greenwich and some of it went to Rochdale—and it was a stark warning that we did the right thing at the time.

I congratulate the People’s History Museum on its breadth. We are talking about people’s history. I have said on many occasions that not all people vote for the Labour Party. Roughly a third of working-class people vote for the Conservative Party, and they also have a history. In many cases, it is a very noble history. Also in our past are a lot of non-party-aligned people—in the Methodist Church, for instance—and in the various radical parts of the Liberal Party, who helped to build the country we have today. The National Museum of Labour History has played a valuable part in that.

Incidentally, the National Museum of Labour History also has the files of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, and has given them a place where they can be consulted, where people can see at least some of the history—I am sure that a lot of it is not in there—of what went on in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is probably as well that some of it is not in there, actually. I am sure that it has a record of the visit of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to Strasbourg, when he came over to try to sort out the warring factions in the Labour group, of which I was one.

I move on to a couple of other examples which I do not think are quite as good. I am a member of the Working Class Movement Library, which is based just up the road from Manchester in Salford. My criticism is that I think it is a bit too sectarian. It has not reached out, as it should have done, to the Conservative group on Salford Council, so it constantly has its grants opposed. I am not saying that the Conservative group is wrong; I am saying that a bit of reaching out and charm offensive would do no harm in that instance.

I move on to another body that I was in but was expelled from—it is not just the Labour Party that gets rid of me. That was the Marx Memorial Library. That went through a very sectarian phrase. It was quite mad, because the Marx Memorial Library, thanks to the efforts of the highly unlikely duo of Lord Woodrow Wyatt and Richard Balfe MEP, received a large National Lottery grant, but it then went through a sectarian period and got rid of virtually everybody who did not fit into its little categories. It needs to think its way through again, because it is not exactly the brightest thing to do to get rid of people who are getting you money—maybe the Marx Memorial Library already has some.

I shall make one final point. We have lots of papers deposited in lots of places. I have tried to start a project at European level to record where the papers are. It is no good saying that we want all the papers to be in one place. The European Parliament set up an archive, but it did not get much in it because a lot of people wanted to donate to their local museum or library. We need, at a British as well as a European level, a comprehensive reference and data point where the libraries and institutions can declare what they have, so the researchers will have a much better way to find the resources that already exist. If something can be done to move that forward, it would indeed be a noble endeavour.

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My Lords, as has been said, I am the former chairman of the People’s History Museum, having given way very willingly to my noble friend Lady Royall, who has led this debate with great distinction, great charm and considerable passion. I have not known Richard Balfe for 37 years, but it sometimes feels like it.

Tonight, I want to set out the case for re-recognition of the People’s History Museum as a national museum. It is not the only museum with problems—I know that there are many knocking on the DCMS’s door—but we are in a unique and rather uncomfortable position. However, first, I pay tribute and echo the thanks of my noble friend Lady Royall to the Minister, who has already demonstrated his personal interest in the museum. I hope that his interest can be shared more widely among his colleagues and in the Government more generally.

The museum was originally the National Museum of Labour History and was recognised nationally by John Major’s Government; I continue the bipartisan tone struck so far in the debate. Notice was given in 2011 by the coalition Government as part of a rationalisation of the number of national museums that the funding would end and the national tag would not be recognised by central government. In effect, we were asked to huddle together with other, similar museums, preferably under the banner of one of the great London museums—and most museums have managed to do that. For example, the technology museums around the country have come together under the Science Museum in South Kensington. But for us there was no obvious partner. I explored with the British Museum whether it might want some sort of partnership, but it decided that it had enough problems of its own. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has suggested, it very much responded to work with us on particular exhibitions and exchange of materials and so on. So we did not find a partner—and we have ended up as the orphan in the storm. Our grant ran out in 2015; there was this useful one-off supplement which followed the debate two years ago and which has been referred to. But unless the Minister has something in his back pocket tonight, there is nothing on the horizon.

As has been said, the tale we tell is the story and evolution of British democracy, the story of pressure from below, in which this House found itself on the wrong side of history on many occasions—from John Wilkes to Tom Paine to the rise of unions, co-ops, mutuals, the non-conformist chapels, the Great Reform Act and the subsequent widenings of the franchise down to the suffragettes and the establishment of the welfare state. Within that rich landscape pictured in the museum roam the great figures of the Whig, Tory, Conservative, Liberal and Labour parties. It is a story that covers our nation in peace and war—a story of why the UK has a strong claim to be the leading democracy in the world and a good exemplar for others to follow.

Perhaps the Crown jewel in our collection is the Labour Party archive, which many have said is the richest of all the party archives because the Labour Party was intrinsically much more bureaucratic and kept minutes and wrote documents and so on. I commend that archive to anyone who goes to visit there—it is brilliant. We are extremely proud of that, but we know that the other party archives—the Conservative Party archives at the Bodleian and the Liberal Party archives at the LSE—both enjoy public support, while the Labour Party archive does not. A couple of years ago, we did some imaginative fund-raising, and we continue to do that; that very welcome one-off grant has allowed us to keep going, with economies but without any diminution of the service that we are able to provide in terms of opening hours or skilled staff. But if we do not receive help from national level we will have to review our operations at some stage in future, which could be rather difficult and drastic.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, we receive a lot of support from local authorities in the region and money comes in from unions, the Co-operative movement and individuals. I pay tribute to the number of noble Lords who have supported the “radical heroes” exercise in our museum, which includes Margaret Thatcher and six other prominent Conservative politicians. We seek to operate across the political spectrum, as has been said. There are many chicks in the DCMS nest craning for feeding and we know that resources are tight, but Manchester does not have a nationally recognised museum, as far as I know. However, I know that down the road in Liverpool they have three excellent ones, fully deserving of support. I believe that our story is unique; it is certainly not provincial—it is a national story, at a time when democracy itself is in a rather fragile state and there is no shortage of people seeking to use all sorts of devices from social media to how some of the media operate in this country, which does not bring out the best in our country’s practices and democracy. As the noble Baroness said, we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Peterloo. The museum will be at the centre of that in a couple of years’ time. Matthew Parris, William Hague—the noble Lord, Lord Hague—and Charles Kennedy have all opened exhibitions there. For the recent referendum in the EU, we had a big tunnel where the main arguments for and against were displayed and people were asked to cast their opinion at the end of it. Tonight, I hope that the House as a whole sends a strong message to the Government of help, to help us get across the story of British democracy to this generation and many future generations.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Royall for initiating this important debate and I pay tribute to her excellent work in chairing the People’s History Museum. I also thank the director and staff of the museum for their outstanding work and contribution to forwarding the case of learning about British history. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Monks, for the time that he spent as chair of the museum and for his continued commitment and support; I hope that the Government listen carefully to the case that he makes tonight to make sure that we have no detrimental effects to the future of this great museum.

What I have always loved about the museum—and I can go back to the days when it was a small place in the east of London—is that it celebrates and promotes a great tradition, not one of kings and queens and the rich and powerful but of working people from all walks of life, including their experience, trials, tribulations, aspirations and most of all their achievements. They are there, forming a rich tapestry in this excellent and outstanding museum. I also love how it reaches out to its community; it does not just educate and inform, although it does that well, but encourages its visitors in innovative and exciting ways. It challenges people and makes them think; it brings the past to life and makes it relevant for today’s generation. As has been said in the debate, other museums do that work well, including the Black Country Living Museum and the highland museum.

My own personal passion after the People’s History Museum is the Beamish Museum, which is in my home county of Durham, an excellent place. Lives from the past come to life in an exciting and vibrant way; streets and communities have been recreated and transport runs as it was in days of yore. I had the great pleasure to give part of a library belonging to a famous Durham miners’ leader, which I brought down from the north-east 30 years ago, having found it in a junk shop. I had been looking for a good home for it ever since, and I am pleased to say that it has ended up in Beamish Museum, where I am looking forward to going to see it on the shelves of one of the houses there.

I also very much support and like the Working Class Movement Library. If there is an issue about needing to reach out, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and I could have a look at this together and see whether we can improve things there, because libraries and museums have to reach out. They cannot be isolated —they cannot go down one track; they have to broaden out and be relevant to more and more communities and to various people in communities. I would be happy to do that with the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. The Working Class Movement Library was built with the wages of a trade union official and his teacher wife, Eddie and Ruth Frow. It now serves not just the community in Manchester, but students from all across the world. It is a marvellous institution. The library shows how much the explosion of the written word and its eventual availability to ordinary people actually changed the world. Nothing could be more exciting, or more worth keeping and securing than that.

When we visit these museums or libraries we see how our forebears, despite poverty, unemployment and all manner of hardship, held values and believed in principles which forged institutions like the trade union, the churches and the friendly societies and enabled the promotion of those values and principles to spread out to a wider community. It is not so easy to do that today. Rampant consumerism, economic dislocation, reality TV, and the communication of disrespect—or even hatred—at the press of a button are only some of the things that have changed the landscape from the time when these values were first promoted. Today, as we open the doors of our museums and libraries and our fellow citizens in their more individualistic, fragmented and often isolated lives file past the displays and take part in activities, I hope they can be inspired to think about what their forebears achieved and how they did it. I hope that some of the values and principles that were passed on to me as an apprentice on a factory floor 60 years ago can at least be understood. The question is: is it possible that they can be used again to support positive social and economic advance?

They say that the past is no guide to the future. In today’s world that certainly looks to be true, but the underlying principles of community, social inclusion, respect for each other, kindness from and towards all men and women, regardless of their status, race or religion, might be hard to win today but are surely worth fighting for. The lessons from our museums are that we can see how that can be done. Much of what we see in our people’s museums and libraries shows the very best principles in action. As a consequence, they can and will enhance people’s lives today. That is why they must be supported and promoted.

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My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lady Royall for securing this debate and in congratulating her on her appointment as chair of the trustees. We have a number of trustees and ex-trustees present, so it is a glittering occasion for the People’s History Museum. I declare an interest as a very willing funder—no arm twisting was involved—of the innovative Radical Heroes scheme. Indeed, the cheque is in the post for my next instalment, which is due. It was interesting to hear that the Minister has connections in this area as well. I hope he will expand on that when he comes to respond. I also buy, when I can, copies of posters from the museum’s vast collection and I regularly visit it when I am in Manchester.

I ran a cultural organisation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a rather difficult time economically. The British Film Institute, like lots of other bodies at that time, had real difficulty in making ends meet when audiences dried up and the money was cut from the centre. A bit like the People’s History Museum, we had a combination of problems, partly because the audiences were not coming but also because within the British Film Institute we had the national museum for film, a library of books and collections of papers from film makers which were important to our core mission. Had we not had the support of the incredible philanthropist J Paul Getty Jr we would not have survived. However, throughout the time that he funded us he made it consistently clear that he would not fund core costs. His money was there to take the institute into different areas of interest; to explore, research and publish in a way which would not have been possible without his generosity but which was not the core functions which he felt were for government. Indeed, he used to summon Ministers—as rich people often can—to make it clear what their responsibilities were. Some of them listened, which was great, and we survived.

My noble friend Lady Royall made the point that the difficulty is finding this core funding. It is easier to get people interested in funding exhibitions and involved in and enthused by the material in your collections. However, money for opening the doors, cleaning the place and making sure it is available day in, day out, 365 days a year has got to be found somewhere and it is not easy to do. There are no easy solutions to that problem, but you can make sure that the institution itself is in good shape. We have learned from this debate that we have an excellent operation up in Manchester. As I have already said, it has good trustees and fundraising which looks exceptionally good to me. It is a very impressive list of people and they seem to be very effective. They get audiences—100,000 in a year is very good for a place like this museum and it is a tourist attraction as well as a centre for local people and a recognised research base.

So what is the problem? It is the snare of being designated as a national collection but not being funded to operate as that. I look forward to hearing the Minister explain why that conundrum has arisen. The designation under which it falls is run by the Arts Council. I have read a report on its website that makes it clear that the designation scheme is important in relation to museums which are not in the national category but it is a bit coy about how that is going to turn into effective operation. Arts Council England says at one point:

“We will use our public investment”—

presumably that is the grant from DCMS—

“to support the development and enrichment of these collections for the long-term public benefit. We will continue the active dialogue we have with other funding bodies to promote the potential of their investment in Designated collections in addition to Arts Council funding”.

I hope the Minister will say what the Arts Council is doing to support this organisation, and what it can expect from the Arts Council going forward if it cannot get support from national government. As we heard, when we had a similar debate two years ago, money was made available from the DCMS to put the museum on a new and sustainable funding footing. However, it has been left alone, unlike the Geffrye and Horniman Museums, which have been picked up and supported through continuing funding from the department, so there is a bit of a dichotomy there. We worry that somehow this museum is being picked out and not supported in the way that others are, possibly because it is not in London and has no lobbying body to promote it. That may be one of the reasons for this situation.

Current events surely make it vital that we conserve and preserve our history. You would have thought that having a vibrant museum in Manchester, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, means that it would be picked up, supported and made a fuss over. It certainly would not be left to slip between the cracks, as seems to be the case, or even face closure, as the noble Lord, Lord Monks, hinted, or dispersal of its collections. Surely this museum is too important to be abandoned. I hope that we can save it.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for this debate, and I thank other noble Lords who contributed. I particularly thank the noble Baroness for alluding to my non-conformist, suffragist, pacifist great-great-aunt, who was the first woman to be elected to Manchester City Council. She was a non-conformist. I think the underlying subtext is: what went wrong?

I do not know whether my comments will address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about Ministers’ breadth of vision and interest in relation to the arts. I will address that in a minute, but first I would like briefly to outline the steps that the Government are taking to support museums, and then address some of the specific questions that have been raised.

We think it is important that the Government still support, and are keen on supporting, the arts. Funding for regional culture is predominantly channelled through Arts Council England. Between 2015 and 2018, Arts Council England will invest about £118 million in museums. This money is used to care for collections, support work with the local community and help museums develop creative, self-sustaining financial models. Arts Council England also determines which museum collections are designated as having national significance. There are 144 such collections in England. The People’s History Museum has been one of them since 1998, as we were told. This is important because achieving designated collection status opens up new sources of funding, such as the DCMS/Wolfson fund. That partnership has already spent nearly £40 million refurbishing more than 300 museum and gallery spaces, and is continuing to do so. A new round of applications has just closed, and early next year a further £4 million will be provided to the successful organisations, helping more people to access these collections. I was very pleased that in August the People’s History Museum secured £273,600 from the Arts Council’s museum resilience fund to support its Builders and Dreamers: the Future of Ideas Worth Fighting For project.

In addition, the Heritage Lottery Fund helps museums to pay for major capital projects. Around a third of all Heritage Lottery Fund grants go to UK museums across the UK, which in 2014-15 alone meant that the Heritage Lottery Fund invested £430 million in museum projects. Against this background, the Government’s wide-ranging museums review, announced in the culture White Paper and led by Neil Mendoza, will seek a deeper understanding of museums around the country. The public call for evidence closed at the end of last month, with more than 1,500 full responses. It has three elements, two of which directly relate to this debate. It looks at the big picture in the State of the Nation report on English museums, including the role of government and arm’s-length bodies, such as Arts Council England, in working with museums. Secondly, it looks at non-national museums to examine more closely accredited local and regional museums to better understand things such as the impact of changes in funding, the new models of working, what works and why, how to deal with museums in difficulty, how to ensure that collections and expertise thrive, and the responsibilities of local authorities for the provision of services. Lastly, for completeness, it looks at national museums in undertaking a strategic review.

By next summer, the museums review will make recommendations for how government can best help and enable regional museums to flourish. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked whether the review had visited the PHM. It has visited 40 regional museums as part of the review, including other museums in Manchester, but not, I believe, the People’s History Museum. The People’s History Museum was able to contribute to the consultation but I do not believe that it did so.

Another important government consultation also closed last month, on the museums and galleries tax relief. From April next year, this will help museums produce and tour exhibitions.

Last month, Arts Council England announced its 2018 to 2022 funding settlement. This will be £622 million every year, with an increase of £37 million for national portfolio organisations. Moreover, Arts Council England will increase the proportion of funds spent outside London by 4%.

For this new funding round—to an extent, this addresses the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, about the position of the People’s History Museum—museums will be able to apply as national portfolio organisations, which have replaced the current major partner museums system. Applications are now open, bringing new opportunities for regional museums to access more funding, and rewarding the best and most innovative. That means making access as broad and diverse as possible in terms of both visitors and staff, and making the museums relevant to changing times and audiences. It might also mean better embracing the possibilities of digital, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, mentioned, in order to open up collections to new audiences and put communities in touch with museums in new ways. Many museums are doing great work in these areas. For example, the Museum of London has done wonderful digital work on the anniversary this year of the Great Fire of London, including building the 17th-century city in the game Minecraft.

The favourite museum of the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer—the open-air museum Beamish in the north-east—has just received nearly £11 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund for Remaking Beamish. This creates a 1950s town populated by objects given to the museum by local people, including the noble Lord.

The Government also continue to fund exciting projects such as the Great Exhibition of the North, which will run for two months in 2018 in Newcastle. Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums will play a big part in this celebration of the very best of northern art, culture and design.

I turn to some of the specific points raised by noble Lords. It is true that in 2011 the Government said that they did not want to cut the People’s History Museum adrift, so there were a number of facilitations. For example, they facilitated discussions between the People’s History Museum, the British Library and the National Archives in 2011, following suggestions from the People’s History Museum. However, the British Library is a DCMS-sponsored body and the National Archives is a non-ministerial department, and these discussions failed partly due to funding restrictions and partly due to the British Library and the National Archives feeling that the People’s History Museum was not a good fit.

In December 2014, there were more discussions between the DCMS and the British Library, but they did not get to the point of the British Library doing due diligence and determining the feasibility of taking on the People’s History Museum. That is why, at the time, Ed Vaizey agreed an additional £100,000 beyond the termination of the agreed funding to enable the museum to continue. However, that was always on the understanding that that would be the final payment.

Various things happened and I could go on, but I would like to point out that the People’s History Museum is a great success. It attracts 100,000 visitors a year. It runs a successful programme of public events and exhibitions, which included an exhibition of parliamentary democracy in advance of the last election, and it delivers a learning programme for all ages. I mentioned that it had attracted large funding grants on the basis of that.

My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about national museums and their influence on the regions. Of the national museums which are directly sponsored by the DCMS, seven are present in the regions, and they are encouraged to work with regional museums through their funding agreements with the DCMS. National museums lent objects from their collections to 1,629 venues in 2014-15.

Regarding the Government’s view of the arts and what should be done in terms of the so-called devastating cuts, I would like to point out that the settlement for 2018-22 for Arts Council England is a budget of £622 million per annum across the three primary funding streams. This is a flat-cash settlement compared with 2015-18 and is protected in the 2016 Budget. In fact, over the spending period Arts Council England gets a 2% increase. Investment outside London will be increased by 4% by augmenting the amount of funding available through NPO funding streams by a further £37 million per annum.

There are a number of questions that I still have to address from the noble Lord, Lord Monks, about Manchester museums. There are national museums in Manchester. The Museum of Science and Industry is one and I think that the Imperial War Museum has a branch there. I have some more questions which I am afraid I do not have time to answer. However, we very much welcome the variety of such interesting, innovative, and important work in our museums, and we recognise the crucial role of arts and culture in making places communities where people want to live, work and learn, and which visitors from abroad want to visit. We wish the People’s History Museum all the best.

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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but after making the point that there are questions unanswered he normally adds a little phrase to say that he will write to people—he did not say that this time. For the convenience of the House, will he confirm that he will write to people to answer the outstanding questions?

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Of course. I was going to say that I will be very pleased to answer all the questions that I have not been able to.

As I was about to say, we wish the People’s History Museum all the best under the stewardship of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and her team. No doubt they will make it the go-to destination for those attending the Conservative Party conference in Manchester in 2017.