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Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2022

Volume 796: debated on Monday 18 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the museum sector is able to support the proposed Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2022.

My Lords, the festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an exciting opportunity to celebrate creativity and innovation across the UK in 2022. The festival is still in the early stages of planning. However, we expect our excellent and vibrant museum sector to play an important role.

The Minister kept his face straight there. I thank him for that Answer, but does he agree that there are many important collections up and down the country owned by local councils, whose funding has been decimated and which are now being forced to make impossible choices, in some cases leading to the disposal of those collections? Hertfordshire is recommending 90% disposal. The collections are based on local towns and cities; they are regional assets and parts of the town and place. We cannot lose them. The mark of a civilised society is how we treat our citizens. We have not been doing that very well for the past four years. Does the Minister agree that we should protect the history and heritage of this country? Once it is gone, we cannot get it back.

My Lords, I definitely agree with the noble Lord that we should protect the heritage of this country. He also mentioned impossible choices. The Mendoza review showed that the museums and galleries sector is vibrant and that over the past 10 years—the 10 years of the review period—public funding to museums across the country was broadly flat. Some individual local authority museums have particular problems and each case is unique, but Arts Council England is helping them, and by and large most museums are in good shape. Hertfordshire has agreed that any money raised by purchases will be invested in the remaining collection in the first instance, including in the conservation and potential move of the nationally significant sculptures that it possesses. It has fully considered the Museum Association’s code of ethics.

My Lords, recent history shows that these large-scale national events work best when they are led by visionaries, are connected with communities, are delivered by independent bodies, and—with great respect—politicians stay clear. Let us contrast the Millennium Dome with the astounding success of the London 2012 Festival, Hull City of Culture or the 14-18 NOW commemoration. Who has been appointed to key leadership roles for this festival? What delivery mechanisms will be put in place to balance accountability to the funding body with genuine curatorial freedom?

I agree with the noble Baroness that it is better if Ministers stay out of it. That is why the intention is to have a commissioning body that is independent of government. It will have £120 million of extra money to spend, but nobody has been appointed to it yet.

My Lords, will my noble friend include the world of horticulture, given our magnificent gardens and parks and the world-class flower shows we have each year?

My Lords, while I have great sympathy with my noble friend, I have just said that the delivery body will be independent of Ministers. However, I am sure it will take note of what my noble friend said.

My Lords, I grant that there must be this arm’s-length relationship between the organisation of the festival and the Government. However, when the body that oversees the festival is set up, can we find a way of ensuring that it is reminded that this is neither 1851 nor 1951 and that Britain is a much more diverse country now than it was then, so that we can celebrate diversity in the course of this festival? If we are looking for someone to lead and spearhead those who organise this festival, as the noble Baroness said, may I recommend someone who I know will be free from the summer and who has proven organisational ability and a great inspirational character, namely Mr Warren Gatland?

It is not a sporting festival. I completely agree with the noble Lord’s previous point about diversity. Arts Council England is paying particular attention to that. He will have seen that the annual report mentioned diversity in the arts and culture sector. Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case was published in February this year.

My Lords, why is the title of this proposed festival as it is? In 1951 we had a Festival of Britain. We are now talking about a festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Surely it would be more appropriate to have a festival of the United Kingdom.

I do not know why that title was selected but it seems to explain exactly what the festival is all about.

My Lords, is this new festival an opportunity to establish a museum of Brexit, where the record of this Government can be preserved for future generations? Would not the advantage be that there is already a perfect location in the Chamber of Horrors?

I imagine that the noble Lord wants it to be publicly funded, but I do not think that that is necessarily what the public want.

Does my noble friend agree that local authorities that disperse or sell collections, or propose to close galleries, are in fact repudiating the past and those who have been kind enough and benevolent enough to give? Does he agree that it is something that should on all occasions be avoided?

No, my Lords, I do not agree. Sometimes museums have to do what the Mendoza review suggested—that is, to have a dynamic collections policy, which in some cases means getting rid of some pieces which are in storage and are not being preserved well because they are not in ideal conditions, and using the money raised to preserve the best items in their collection and to buy new items which might interest a younger audience.

The plans have not been made but I believe that the festival will take place across the whole year, so it will happen either side of the general election, if it takes place in 2022. Many other interesting events will be taking place, not least Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, the 100th anniversary of the BBC and the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.