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House of Lords Hansard
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Covid-19: Museums, Galleries and Historic Buildings
21 May 2020
Volume 803

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support (1) museums, (2) galleries, and (3) historic buildings open to the public, affected by the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

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My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity to raise this extremely important issue. I thank all colleagues who have put their names down to speak. I express two hopes: one is that the House authorities will be able to get together and ensure that in all future debates, no Member who speaks has less than three minutes; the other is that we will very soon be back in our own Chamber debating normally.

The United Kingdom’s museums and galleries, both national and provincial—our castles, country houses, parish churches and great cathedrals—individually and collectively proclaim our local and national identity. However, they are also priceless assets that generate enormous sums every year. When we are once again able to welcome tourists, they will come not for the weather, or to bask on our beaches. Many surveys over decades have established that visiting our heritage is the main reason visitors come to the United Kingdom.

Unless there is a return of the pestilence, we hope to see a controlled and monitored reopening of some of these buildings in July, although many, including those belonging to the National Trust, will remain shut throughout the summer. But what of future summers? A survey of 1,200 heritage sector organisations by the National Lottery Heritage Fund revealed that 46% believe that they cannot survive for another six months. Equally alarming, Historic England reports that 40% of smaller craft-based businesses and professional services such as architects, surveyors and engineers forecast business failure within three months. Similar disturbing findings come from the Heritage Crafts Association, of which I am a patron.

Hilary McGrady, who is the director-general of the National Trust, has announced that its income will fall by £200 million this year. The trust is Europe’s largest conservation charity, with responsibility for 780 miles of coastline, 240 hectares of land, 500 historic houses, parks and gardens, and one in 12 of all accredited museums in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Already, it is seeing a decline in its 5 million membership, and its major conservation and restoration projects are on hold. The position of English Heritage, which has responsibility for such iconic sites as Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cenotaph in Westminster, is precarious, and it will need an injection of government funds.

A large number of historic houses open to the public are in an even more difficult position. Many of them depend on income from hosting events, especially summer weddings; everything planned for this year has been cancelled; and those with wonderful gardens are not allowed to open them—an extraordinary anomaly in view of the very sensible recent decision to open garden centres. Garden tourism alone accounts for £3 billion a year and employs 32,000 people, most of them at the moment on furlough. As for museums and galleries, many of the smaller ones, in spite of emergency grants from the Arts Council, may well not survive.

The Church of England is responsible for 12,000 grade 1 and grade 2* listed churches, which are largely dependent on the fundraising of often dwindling—and ageing—congregations. One diocesan Bishop said recently that he expected many in his diocese to close. I speak, literally, in the shadow of Lincoln Cathedral, one of the greatest of all our cathedrals. It costs more than £50,000 a week to maintain, and that does not account for any restoration or repair, nor for the cost of the staff and the dedicated and very skilful craftsmen and women.

I salute the Chancellor for his efforts to save the economy. His furlough scheme in particular has been of enormous help in the heritage sector. Both the National Trust and English Heritage have taken full and proper advantage of it. But the repercussions of the failure of the tourist industry—the backbone of the economy in many parts of the country—are truly dreadful to contemplate. Yet, if architects and craftsmen go to the wall, not only will valuable jobs and skills be lost; our historic buildings will be at greater risk than ever before.

With the stroke of a pen, Mr Sunak could make a great contribution to their survival—by removing VAT on restoration. It is inexplicable that restoration carries 20% VAT and new-build carries none at all, so I hope that he will take that message. Although the Chancellor’s support for front-line charities is most welcome, it will do little to help support charities in the heritage and cultural sectors, whose work is essential for the physical and mental well-being of us all as we emerge from lockdown.

The Arts Council, to which I have referred, has already helped museums such as the Foundling Museum in London, the Pen Museum in Birmingham and the Yorkshire Museum of Farming in York, from the extra funds it is allocating. However, it has had more than 200 applications, and many of them it will not be able to reply to positively.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund—as we must now call it—has taken swift action, too, but we need the Government to play a central role in bringing all those with heritage responsibilities together and in giving clear and encouraging guidance to those who, like English Heritage, are desperate to open those buildings where they can make an admission charge and where they have staff to whom they are responsible. It is disturbing to hear the director-general of the National Trust saying:

“The Government needs to engage better with organisations such as ourselves. We need real clarity of message about what is acceptable and what is not, as do the public. We also need as much notice as possible in order to plan our approach and prepare our sites.”

Our heritage could prove to be the greatest victim of Covid-19. How tragic it would be if this pernicious pestilence endangered our collective memory, our sense of being and our understanding of our history, and led to the permanent impoverishment of future generations. Let not ours be the generation that allowed that to happen.

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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on securing this important debate. For nearly 10 rewarding years, I had the privilege of serving as a trustee of the Science Museum Group, and I saw for myself how much our collections matter to the British people. In lockdown, they are valued more than ever, as people at home have turned to online content to explore and learn—the group has seen a fourfold increase in engagement with its learning resources.

The treasures in all our museums are held in trust for the public and belong to them. If they are to become accessible again, the Government will need to commit additional funding to support their recovery. They have put up with years of cuts and worked heroically to increase commercial income, but that has largely vanished during the lockdown period. We need the Government to make a clear commitment to helping museums get back on their feet. In Germany, the reopening of museums has been a source of massive pride and the French are also announcing massive renewal funds. Where are the same ambition and plans for the UK?

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I declare an interest as trustee of the Lowry and of One Dance UK. The subjects of this debate are important because of their essential contributions not just to the economy but to the healing process following this crisis. I welcome the Cultural Renewal Taskforce, but will the Government give clarity as to when museums and galleries will be able to open? Uncertainty makes planning almost impossible. Does the Minister appreciate the knock-on effects on artists who rely on these institutions, as well as on others who work for them? The majority are freelancers and many are unable to furlough; will the Government look at targeted support? Further, will the Minister put the case to the Treasury for a contribution of the self-employed income support scheme in line with the extension of the job retention scheme?

Venues such as the Lowry play a significant role in using the arts as a tool to support the vulnerable and successfully break cycles of deprivation. Does the Minister agree that this outreach and support is all the more essential today? For so many reasons, these institutions must be supported. They must survive.

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My Lords, not all museums, galleries and historic buildings are either well endowed or eligible at present for government support. There are many small but equally worthy projects in Yorkshire, for instance, including the Ripon museums. My proposal, which I hope my noble friend will convey to her Treasury friends, is that, like the United States system of deductibility, we freshly address the tax system to make it positively advantageous for large numbers of taxpayers to offer support to their chosen cause, covering not only charities but trusts and other organisations of similar community value. Widening the tax benefits substantially for those who wish to give will decisively, in my view, help to protect and develop this important sector. My noble friend, I hope, will take action on this and ask her colleagues to do the same.

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My Lords, I note my heritage interests. Tomorrow is Radio 1’s first virtual Big Weekend. Usually, it is Europe’s largest free live music event, bringing big stars to corners of the country with no access to such live acts. Twenty of the last 22 Big Weekends took place in historic parks, not because Radio 1’s audiences are heritage fans but because these are the only local venues able to host them. Historic parks also host festivals, weddings and exhibitions; they are key local employers and support thousands of SMEs. All are now closed, but their obligation to preserve listed land and buildings has not stopped. Income has ceased, spending has not.

In normal times, privately owned heritage competes unequally with the National Trust and English Heritage, which have huge fiscal and funding advantages. This disparity has now grown into a chasm, as such businesses are excluded from much emergency support, including the National Lottery’s emergency fund. What is the Government doing to ensure that privately owned, publicly accessible heritage has equal access to the support it needs?

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My Lords, the Church of England alone has 16,000 church buildings, over 12,000 of which are listed. We are at the bedrock of our communities and thus can be at the heart of recovery. I therefore make three points. First, we are rich in assets, but the pandemic means that income is plummeting, and budgets were already tight. I therefore urge the Government at least to remove VAT on repairs to historic buildings.

Secondly, government often brackets us with the hospitality industry. Are we hospitable? I hope so. Are we historic? Yes. Does such categorisation meet our distinct needs? No.

Thirdly, the Church encompasses buildings and people. Our impact on people will define us, so how we respond pastorally to the pandemic from our buildings will leave the deepest impression.

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My Lords, I chair the trustees of the Design Museum, which opened in 2017 in the iconic former Commonwealth Institute building. There is no other design museum like it in the world, with its exhibitions and its learning and entrepreneurial programmes, which are inspiring a whole new generation to forge their professional careers in arts and science in order to design a better world.

Design is Britain’s great competitive advantage, so I say to the Government: please do not just support the venerable publicly funded institutions, with their endowments and reserves, through this crisis, at the expense of the new. You also need to support the independent and hitherto privately funded entities, which the lockdown is depriving of all their revenue and pushing towards a precipice. If the Government fail in this responsibility, museums such as the Design Museum will go under because they do not have a big enough financial cushion to fall back on. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reassurance.

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My Lords, the Government are encouraging the use of open spaces but refusing to relax restrictions for any open space that requires a ticket for entry. For example, Kew Gardens cannot even let in its members because they still require a ticket for entry. The National Trust and Historic Royal Palaces have to charge for entry as they do not receive government funding—but, again, they cannot open as tickets are required for entry.

Logically, requiring a ticket to visit these organisations is safer than visiting open parks, because numbers can be managed and social distancing controlled. Crucially, it could be the only income these organisations get: it is a matter of survival, yet government rules are preventing this. Will the Government modify these rules and allow people to visit places such as Hampton Court gardens that can operate a carefully managed ticketing system so that people can once again enjoy these open spaces, which are beneficial to their well-being?

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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate and strongly support all the arguments he advanced so comprehensively. My contribution, as a former trustee of the museums and galleries of Liverpool, is to ask the Government to ensure that any support for national museums in London should also support the few national museums outside London—those in Liverpool being leading examples. I also ask the Government to encourage local authorities to support the many fine regional museums and galleries up and down the country.

Finally, we have so far been blessed with good weather during this Covid crisis. It is vital that people, in an ongoing self-distancing future, should have somewhere stimulating to go if and when it rains.

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I have one minute and two points. First, we have seen creative education provision collapse in recent years, with a focus on a narrow range of subjects. Funding to support schools to visit museums, galleries and historic sites would be double bang for the buck, would help the mental health of pupils and would assist schools to provide social distancing and find the space they need.

Secondly, Britain is very sparse in its public art—art in public spaces created communally. Funding for museums, galleries and historic sites to work with local communities and artists—so many of whom are struggling financially at the moment, as self-employed or independent creatives—would be a win-win, giving financial support to people who badly need it and an improvement in the quality of our environment. Let us build back better.

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My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests, including as a member of the board of the British Library. I have three points. The first relates to the British Library, which is part heritage but so much more. I thank the DDCMS for its collaboration with the British Library in these unprecedented times. The library has a unique contribution to make to our national recovery.

Secondly, I encourage the DDCMS to target support to the smaller local museums that play a key role in their communities. They are particularly threatened by the consequences of this pandemic.

Finally, I urge the Minister to look again at ways to stimulate more philanthropy in our society through, for example, the promotion of payroll giving, incentives for greater corporate philanthropy and lifetime legacies.

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My Lords, this is what the German Government are doing to support museums and galleries. On 30 April, €10 million was provided for adaptation measures to enable reopening, with special time slots for vulnerable visitors, spatial redesign, extended opening hours, masks and increased cleaning. From 4 May, museums and galleries have been gradually reopening, and the German Government are now negotiating a cultural infrastructure fund of up to €500 million.

In the UK, recovery must follow this German commitment to significant emergency support, but because the UK’s national museums and galleries remain committed to free admission, their reserves will quickly be exhausted. The special exhibition-based business model adopted by so many of them is now not viable. If we want not just to protect some of our great national cultural institutions, but to protect them from returning to the necessity of routinely charging visitors, they will need hundreds of millions of pounds—not to avert a downturn but to avert a catastrophic cultural cull.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive board member of the National Archives. While the National Archives has closed its building, given the importance of its function, I wanted to reassure noble Lords that it remains highly active in very important ways.

For the duration of its closure, it is providing free online access to its wide range of digitised records. Through legislation.gov.uk, it is aiding legal certainty through the rapid publication of emergency legislation, operating a seven-day-a-week service. It is capturing the comprehensive record of the Government’s evolving response to Covid-19 by archiving key government websites and social media channels.

Given its role as leader of the wider archive sector, I close with a plea to consider the impact of this crisis on archives more widely. Its economic impact puts at risk the survival of the irreplaceable archives maintained by businesses, charities and local authorities.

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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack. One of the anomalies of the easing of lockdown relates to the continued closure of gardens which are normally open to the public. The majority of these beautiful, life-enhancing places are owned by the National Trust, English Heritage and members of Historic Houses.

Garden centres have now reopened without any problem, so why not gardens? The Government have indicated that they hope to allow this to happen in early July. I strongly urge them to stick to this plan, which will greatly help the £3 billion garden tourism industry and give enormous pleasure to the large number of visitors who enjoy these places. Scientists tell us that outdoors is the healthiest and safest place to be.

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My Lords, this short debate is about what the Government are doing to support the arts, particularly the visual arts and heritage, in face of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The point I want to make is that it is particularly important to promote policy and practice designed to support the arts at a time of restriction. It is just when horizons are being shut down that it is most important to enlarge them.

That is what the arts do in taking us beyond the mundane and the prosaic and into the world of the imagination, beyond the concrete and the functional and into the world of feeling and the emotions. It is not going too far to say that this is essential for mental and physical well-being. We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for reminding us of a truth all too easily forgotten when we are fighting a crisis. Yet, in truth, we are strengthened in fighting the crisis if we do not allow society to forget it.

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My Lords, I welcome the package of measures amounting to an extra £18 million announced in April by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, a Deputy Minister in the Welsh Parliament. However, I fear that this is only a fraction of what will be required to support the cultural sector in Wales.

This virus is having a devastating effect. Most organisations have lost the majority of their income overnight. Many venues have worked hard to reduce their reliance on public funding, but those which generate most of their income themselves now face real difficulty. Of course, councils across the UK are the largest investors in cultural activity and venues make a significant contribution to council budgets through earned income.

Without a clear direction for lifting the lockdown, it is very hard for venues to prepare. The prospect of reopening and having to social distance is difficult to imagine. There is also concern about the public’s attitude and appetite to return to visiting such spaces. Theatres, art centres and museums are not just entertainment venues or places to visit; they are central to communities. They give people a sense of place and they must be protected.

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My Lords, in recent years, this sector as a whole has diversified its income streams. The most sustainable, and now the most sensitive, of these is the great number of member, friend or supporter schemes, which are run by museums, galleries and historic buildings alike and enrol people as members or supporters in return for an annual membership fee.

The Covid effect on these schemes is a drift towards members not renewing their subscriptions. However, more worrying for the long term is the sharp downward trend in the number of new subscribers being attracted to join. This has a huge impact on the survival of many in this sector. Can the Minister ensure that this problem gets a hard look from the Government and the funding bodies so that it can be addressed in support measures? Many of the sector-based sources of finance have been or are close to being exhausted. If measures are not introduced, many of these totems of our heritage and well-being as a nation may well be unable to reopen when the time comes.

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In the current public health emergency and critical economic situation, it would be so easy to regard museums, galleries and historic buildings as a luxury option. That is nonsense. Our national heritage is our biggest attraction to overseas visitors. It is our calling card to the world, making an unmatched contribution to our quality of life, well-being, mental health and social cohesion, which is rather important with unemployment speculated to be at around 4 million. Museums, galleries and historic buildings showcase our history and proud achievements.

As the Chancellor’s much-appreciated lifelines of support are removed, to have a future, this sector desperately needs financial help. These amazing institutions will urgently need money to survive—sums that may seem petty cash within the overall cost of the pandemic, but which are vital. If we hope to emerge from this protracted trauma as a country worth living in, no part of our besieged economy deserves the Government’s understanding and tangible support more than the nation’s priceless assets—as my noble friend Lord Cormack described them. I thank my noble friend.

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My Lords, the country is at a standstill due to Covid-19. The real heroes are the doctors, nurses, bus and train drivers, the fire department and the police, who are putting their lives on the line so that we can be safely isolated. However, we should not forget the silent objects, such as churches, cathedrals and art galleries, which need attention. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out some time ago in your Lordships’ House that bats live in the lofts of these sacred buildings; their droppings fall on the floor and sometimes on the cathedrals’ sacred objects. Unless these droppings are removed immediately, they could permanently damage these churches. Will the Minister ensure that the Government allocate funding to these important churches and cathedrals for cleaners with the skills to clean these heritage buildings?

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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port? I am afraid that we will have to go on to the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

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Almost two decades ago, when I was Minister for Culture in Wales, we successfully introduced free entry to museums. Some time later, England followed our lead. This has opened up many museums to all—a big social change. UK museums have an international reputation for excellence and accessibility. Government money will be very tight in future and it will be tempting to cut the culture budget. Understandably, in the public mind, money for theatres does not win against money for operating theatres. I urge the Government not to fall into the trap of abandoning free entry or cutting support for museums. They need more, not less. They are good for education, our mental health and tourism. We will need them more than ever.

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I shall try calling again the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Lord Wei. They are not here.

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My Lords, museums and galleries depend for their success on an army of freelancers and SMEs providing specialist services on a project-by-project basis. These are the people who bring collections to life, and yet their livelihoods are facing decimation as a result of this pandemic. Many had all of their work cancelled overnight but have discovered that they fall between the gap of government support schemes, often because they are part self-employed and part PAYE, or because they operate through personal service companies.

The cultural sector is a complex ecology with symbiotic interdependencies between buildings-based institutions such as museums, smaller organisations, a workforce that is 47% self-employed, and a vast number of creative businesses, 95% of which employ fewer than 10 people. Given this, will the Minister press her DCMS colleagues to ensure that the diversity of the sector is better reflected in the make-up of the Cultural Renewal Taskforce which was announced yesterday? People with experience at the established and large-scale end of the sector can, I am sure, speak for the interests of those at the smaller-scale and more flexible end, but is there a reason why they cannot be around the table in person to speak for themselves?

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for initiating this debate, and I endorse the concerns which have just been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, about freelancers and others who are being particularly hard hit. I declare my interest as chair of the board of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

I would like to point out that our North East Culture Partnership has already drafted a cultural strategy as part of our wider regional economic recovery plan. One idea put forward is that of a challenge fund for those regions which have been hardest hit by Covid-19, to encourage new ways of connecting with our communities and the public over the coming year, which is going to be so crucial. I cannot expect the Minister to reply in detail to this and other proposals in the strategy, but I shall write to her and to her department in more detail.

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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate. Many of our historic buildings are also theatres, and the creative industries contribute £77 billion to our economy, and the contribution of the performing arts is around £5.5 billion. Our theatres are among the best in the world and attract international audiences. However, more than 70% of all venues will run out of money by the end of this year. Her Majesty’s Government need to find alternatives to social distancing to enable our theatres to survive Covid-19. These could include dispersed seating arrangements and the widespread wearing of masks. Will the Minister look urgently at what can be done to support our theatres?

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My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Railways. Heritage railways embrace getting on for 200 moving museums and are normally enjoyed by 13 million visitors each year. They are supported by 4,000 employees and 22,000 volunteers. They rely on earning enough money from visitor journeys and providing catering services through the summer to have the resources they need to spend on repairs and enhancement during the winter. There is now serious doubt about whether there can be any operations this summer, with social distancing being a particular challenge. They are worried that they are in the middle of a time which appears to be three winters in a row. In her reply, can the Minister say what specific measures can be made available to assist heritage railways through this famine, so that they will still be here to be enjoyed in the future?

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Foundling Museum. I have three brief questions for the Minister. First, does she recognise that those arts organisations which have been the most successful at running themselves with little or no state support are, ironically, the organisations most at risk as a result of their income having come to a near standstill? They will thrive after this hiatus, and again they will require little or no support from the state, but in the interim their very survival is at risk. Are the Government confident that they are on top of the situation? I would like to put on the record my thanks to Arts Council England for yesterday providing a very welcome grant to help the Foundling Museum.

Secondly, can the Government, working with the Charity Commission, give crystal clear guidance about how to approach the use of often limited financial reserves in order not to breach charity law and governance guidelines in these exceptional circumstances?

Lastly, will the Government provide clear guidelines and recommendations on how museums can reopen in such a way that staff—including volunteers—and visitors can feel confident to proceed?

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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for this debate and for the way he introduced it. This pandemic has dramatically exposed the fragile and precarious state of the culture and heritage sector. It is ironic that in recent years museums and heritage sites have done exactly what the Government asked them to do and boosted their commercial income, and that has made them even more vulnerable. The arts and heritage agencies have stepped up very resourcefully. I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has £50 million of emergency funding, but the problem is that, faced with massive cuts in in-year income and unless there is strategic support available, the whole sector is facing irreparable loss of people and places. We urgently need an investment plan from DCMS for future resilience as well as for recovery, driven by active partnership and consistent guidance for the whole sector—from craft apprentices to national organisations. Will the Minister tell us today what timetable the cultural renewal task force is working to and when the funding and support package will be available?

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My Lords, the plight of museums and galleries has been spoken to eloquently by previous speakers. I will concentrate on the inconsistences regarding restrictions on historic buildings and gardens, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Crathorne and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. To survive, they need to raise money. Their dedicated owners receive no government aid, yet they are penalised by these new laws stuffed with anomalies. For example, ticketed outdoor leisure venues must remain closed. Why? Gardens which may not be listed but are normally open to the public should surely be allowed to open, not only for their beauty but for people’s sanity, especially after their having been cooped up for months. The PM rightly said on Monday that British people will use their common sense. Will the Minister urge the Government to use their common sense too?

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My Lords, we are at risk of our cultural and heritage sector being completely decimated and of losing not just small, local and regional attractions but many iconic, internationally recognised museums, historic buildings and theatres. Many are wholly reliant on ticket revenue. They have very few reserves. The ticket revenue they rely on comes from international tourism as much as from domestic tourism. Has the 14-day quarantine policy for airline passengers been assessed for its impact on the tourism industry and for how it will affect the viability of our visitor attractions and therefore the wider economy?

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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Natural History Museum. I want to stress the vital importance of our natural history and botanical collections and our zoological expertise to the national and global ability to confront the most important common challenges of our age. There are more than 130 million natural history specimens in the UK. The Natural History Museum alone houses more than 80 million, the broadest and deepest collection in world, and a further 11 museums around the country have collections of more than 1 million specimens each. In addition, there are scientifically valuable collections in dozens of other accredited bodies in every region of the country. Combined with the living collections in botanical and zoological gardens, these collections are a vital component of the UK science infrastructure. They provide the means by which we can understand and address climate change, biodiversity loss, food security and, indeed, zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, so it has never been more important than it is now to ensure that we nurture, support and make fullest use of this extraordinary database. These collections are about our future, not just the past.

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My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, in championing heritage gardens. My family looks after gardens in west Dorset which are registered as two-star by English Heritage. They are normally open to the public. We employ a very small staff and subsidise the gardens through visitors, sales of plants and plant fairs, none of which has been possible for the past two months. Everyone knows that gardens soak up money and run at a loss, and we have been watering hundreds of plants for hours daily to keep them alive. I should be out there doing that now.

The crunch time is fast approaching when owners have to plan for the coming year. Do we have to lay off gardeners during the winter when no income comes in, or can the Government extend their furlough scheme to include gardens? The RHS, the National Trust, Kew and others say that there should be at least a trial period of treating gardens in the same way as garden centres. The Minister knows that gardens are also beneficial to health and mental health, so could she please press the case in government?

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My Lords, we have heard contributions highlighting large iconic gardens and buildings. I will focus very briefly on the plight of the small, private galleries. Many support emerging artists and are the means by which the cultural community ensures innovation and flair, which are so vital to a varied artistic society.

It is important that such artists are supported, and a wide range of galleries should be able to flourish for this to happen. It is rare, but not unknown, for those working in this sector to receive grant funding, but for the majority that are not on the wider cultural radar the impact of the current Covid-19 crisis is likely to be devastating.

I am sure the Minister will agree that the country needs variety to feed its cultural and artistic heritage. We will all be the poorer if emerging artists have nowhere to exhibit their art and find that they have to abandon their talent to eat. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to support this vital sector?

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My Lords, Britain’s heritage sites such as museums and galleries are part of what makes our diverse culture so rich. As many noble Lords have said, it is essential that these organisations not just remain open but survive and thrive into the future. Covid-19 has left many of them at severe risk. Some heritage organisations have seen an 80% to 90% decrease in their non grant-based income. We are all aware of the reasons. The loss of peak season, where some organisations make up 70% of their annual turnover, as well as many members requesting refunds on their annual membership, are making things worse. Heritage sites still have huge costs to maintain, despite being closed.

Since many heritage sites are run by local authorities, the Government should continue to demonstrate that they will meet the extra costs and loss of income from local authorities, especially regarding their in-house museums and galleries. I urge the Minister to look at the response to and support for local authorities.

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My Lords, we have marvellous museums, gorgeous galleries and handsome historic buildings across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. For the record, my favourite is the National Portrait Gallery, which has a clear remit and fabulous themes and has created excellent audio description, taking blind and visually impaired people right into the pictures. For that, I say a personal thank you that is echoed to all other institutions that take inclusion so seriously.

I have questions for my noble friend the Minister. First, is it time to reconsider the free-of-charge nature of our museums and galleries, not least potentially for international visitors? Would she consider a review of free admission and the very funding of all these institutions? I echo what has been said about open spaces and could not agree more. Let us get Victoria, Elizabeth and Lion gates at Kew Gardens thrown open and the public back into those spaces. Finally, when will churches and places of worship reopen? They can provide such comfort and support in these truly difficult times.

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I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for securing this debate and his excellent introduction. Our precious museums, galleries and historic buildings have suffered a perfect storm as income disappears and volunteers and visitors stay away but costs continue. Yet these places can help with recovery from the current crisis by bringing benefits to national mental well-being with relaxing, peaceful, unpressured but stimulating environments.

I fear that the impact from lockdown may continue even after relaxation. Local authorities spend more than £1 billion on this sector. This is now at risk in light of the extra costs of providing other vital local services such as social care during this pandemic and in the future. These cultural spaces cannot rely on long-term council support. I echo the calls for Treasury help, including removing VAT on restoration costs and encouraging philanthropy and private charitable or business donations to be offered for a long-term period.

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Museums and the arts more generally are in an extremely precarious position financially. After 10 years of cuts, including to local authorities, the reserve tanks are close to empty. Theatre producer Sonia Friedman, writing in the Telegraph today, says that 70% of performing arts companies will fold unless the Government intervene. Small private museums are among those particularly exposed without income from ticket revenue. Arts and heritage urgently need the kind of emergency large-scale rescue package of new money that Germany rapidly put in place. Museums and other venues were the first to close and will be the last to fully open. We must extend furloughing and self-employed schemes, but still lack one for those who pay themselves through dividends, including museum freelancers such as conservators.

On a different note, I suggest to the Minister that, when museums open, if access is to be limited, the first people to visit should be schoolchildren. They would have a wonderful memory of visiting museums without adults being allowed to do so. It could be the Year of the Children’s Museums.

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My Lords, lockdown has taught us what is important in life and how to treasure what makes it worthwhile. Many find solace in culture, the arts, literature, music, drama and sport, but we are all missing sharing these events in our communities, where people can come together to enjoy. Today, we meet here online, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and I hope we can spend our leisure time enjoying the wonderful events being streamed by so many arts organisations during lockdown. But think of those millions who cannot access the internet and must wait for their local museums, galleries and places of historic interest to reopen, so many of which are funded by local councils, spending more than £1 billion on sustaining these discretionary services. The Local Government Association is calling for the essential emergency schemes to continue past the immediate crisis so that their communities can once again enjoy what makes life worth living.

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My Lords, this is a worthy debate. I want to speak very briefly about dinosaurs. A number of noble Lords will be aware that Crystal Palace park is awash with dinosaurs created in the 1850s as part of the Great Exhibition. They are the earliest reconstructions of dinosaurs and they are now sadly showing their age. They are losing their teeth, their tails and their toes. Restoration would cost around £800,000, which is a very small amount to restore what are, indeed, world-beating dinosaurs. Noble Lords have so far spoken about the importance of the removal of VAT: I think that would be a very useful thing to commit to right now. I would be very grateful if the Minister would give some thought to whether the Government could offer support to the restoration of these dinosaurs. They are not only the oldest replica dinosaurs in the world but are, indeed, the only example of that era and they deserve serious protection.

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My Lords, I shall say something from the standpoint of smaller galleries and museums in my role as patron of the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham. There is a good story to tell about this little gallery: support has been given by the local council, Windsor and Maidenhead, and I understand that councils in other parts of the country are doing this, or at least some of them are. In addition, the South East Arts Council has given a grant to cover the extra cost that opening up will entail, with the cost of PPE, cleaning materials, screens and so on. So tribute needs to be paid to local councils and arts councils, which are doing what they can.

I have a particular concern about the longer-term effects of the virus on our major museums and galleries. Smaller galleries depend on a large number of volunteers, but major ones have literally astronomical ongoing staff costs. With the big reduction in the number of visitors that there will be bound to be on reopening, their income will be significantly less for the foreseeable future. The support the Government have offered in the short term is, of course, both essential and welcome, but what longer-term plans do the Government have in mind for these major institutions when reopening is possible but income will be greatly reduced for some time?

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My Lords, this debate goes to the heart of what we are as a country. The arts and cultural heritage sectors are in a deep existential crisis, and something has to be done. It is important to recognise that this crisis will not end with the end of lockdown. It will continue because of the need for social distancing, which has such a devastating impact on the commercial revenues of galleries and heritage sites. My particular concern is local museums such as the Tullie House Museum in my native Carlisle, of which my wife is a trustee, which depend for their core income on local authority grants. My proposal is that the Government give serious consideration to a ring-fenced grant to local authorities to sustain the cultural institutions that are at the heart of our local communities.

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I declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of the National Science and Media Museum. The Covid crisis has highlighted the inequality that still exists in digital access. In Bradford, 31% of families do not have access to the internet. The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford has taken a creative and pragmatic approach to the challenge of serving its local communities by working with the local press to share inspiring online learning resources and activities to support the work of schools. Perhaps even more importantly, it has worked with the council and schools to produce and distribute 27,000 activity learning resource sheets to schools and families in areas where it knows that digital access is poor. When our museums reopen, they will need financial support to enable them to play a huge role in bringing our communities back together.

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My Lords, I declare my interests as a trustee of both Historic War Palaces and Royal Armouries. I have two points to raise. The first is to add my name to the many who question the anomaly of the Government permitting, even encouraging, leisure access to public parkland while denying ticketed access to heritage parkland and gardens, such as Hampton Court and Hillsborough Castle, thereby denying an important source of both charity income and public pleasure.

Secondly, I reinforce the point that many of our most prestigious heritage sites—for example, the Tower of London—rest primarily on international tourism for customers and, therefore, revenue. Such tourism is not likely to return to normal levels before 2022. Should the Government therefore not perhaps reconsider the wisdom of dedicating significant sums of money in 2022 to a Brexit festival, and instead spend it on events that are more likely to be significant attractors of inward tourism, such as the Platinum Jubilee, the Commonwealth Games, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and even perhaps the 100th anniversary of the BBC?

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My Lords, this has been an absolutely fascinating and well-informed debate. I say, “Well done, Patrick.” I am the vice-chairman of the Cartoon Museum in London, which has now survived for 20 or 30 years without a penny of government or local authority money. We exist by our wits and the income we get at the door and from what we sell in the shop. We think our income will not recover until spring, summer or autumn of next year, and school visits will not really be a feature for a very long time indeed—so we will be up against it.

There are other small museums like ours—such as the Charles Dickens Museum and the Design Museum, which the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, mentioned—that will be really hard pressed next year and that hitherto the Government have never directly supported. I think they will have to directly support small museums next year, because they add to the culture. The culture that we specialise in is cartooning—an art form that we invented in the 18th century and are very strong at. We are the museum of laughter, but we need some additional help, as do other small cultural museums. I very much hope that there will be a clear commitment by the Government that they will get that support.

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My Lords, we will try again for the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.

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My Lords, I hope I am being heard. Many practical proposals have been made and many urgent needs expressed. I want to raise a more general point. We have been concentrating, quite properly, on health—physical, mental and social—over these last weeks. We are in the middle of a heated discussion about the place of schools in the way we recover from this lockdown and its attendant circumstances. I want the Minister to assure me that she will go into the Cabinet room with her colleagues and fly a flag to ensure that the cultural, social and sporting aspects of human life will be seen as integral, alongside economic and other factors, in the recovery that we all long for. We cannot allow this to be deprioritised, marginalised and minimised. This is part of the health of the nation, and we want a Minister to champion the cause.

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My Lords, weddings in historic buildings provide an income stream that helps to pay the repair bill. The closure of these wedding venues therefore represents a heritage protection crisis as much as an economic crisis. There are three ways in which the Government can help. First, allow couples planning a wedding to be shown the facilities, which will enable historic buildings to start securing bookings again and help their cash flow. If estate agents can show people around houses, surely historic buildings can show wedding venues?

Secondly, allow weddings to resume, subject to restrictions of course: limiting capacity, pre-vetting and contact tracking—whatever is required.

Thirdly, as a pilot, allow weddings to take place outside, without the need for a permanent structure, as proposed by the Law Commission. The Government need urgently to remove the risk to this £10 billion a year industry by allowing wedding venues to open in June rather than July.

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My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate and generating a wonderful speakers’ list, which has covered the ground and made the case for urgent government action. As we have heard, it is important to ensure that all aspects of the sector have scope to follow any of the plans that come forward. The Design Museum is as important as the cathedrals; the small museums, galleries and other spaces are as important as the big ones.

It is also important to hear the case for what a vibrant sector can contribute to the economy, to society, to education and to well-being. The call for action is persuasive: the sector needs emergency public funding over an extended period, with a simple application process and no bureaucracy. The hardest hit are institutions that raise the greatest proportion of income and they will also need cash and support, and certainty of this through the next—quite considerable—period.

Also hard hit and in need of special attention are the institutions that rely on tourism or have very sharp seasonal openings. These also need to be given a special place. We also need real concern for local councils, which have had a double whammy. Their direct provision needs supporting, and they are losing income from associated activity in their areas. The department has a lot to do, it needs to work and it must not be outsmarted by the Germans.

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I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Cormack for securing this important and fascinating debate. It has highlighted the breadth and vibrancy of the UK’s museum and heritage sectors, and their diversity, referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Mandelson, Lord Janvrin, Lord Truscott and Lord Shutt, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, my noble friend Lord Holmes, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. These are areas of which we are all rightly proud, but your Lordships’ speeches also highlighted the complexity of this sector. Our cultural institutions, large and small, have played a critical part in conservation, education—as the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, highlighted—and, crucially, the well-being of our citizens, as put eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Lord Low of Dalston.

Even though the physical sites have been closed, our great museum and heritage sectors have continued to play important community roles, bringing people together for learning, enjoyment and inspiration. During World War II the National Gallery was open for lunchtime concerts, even though the collection had been taken to Wales for safe keeping. Today it is providing lessons online for schoolchildren and giving us all the opportunity to study paintings from the collection. I say “all” although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and my noble friend Lady Eaton highlighted, it is of course not all for those who do not have access to the internet. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, also highlighted the importance of this.

So whether it is the Royal Academy’s daily doodle, this week’s resources from English Heritage about Dunkirk, the #MuseumsUnlocked hashtag or the opportunity to curate one’s own collection through Art UK, the sector has shown extraordinary agility in responding to the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for remarking on this. I am sure all noble Lords share my hope that this will encourage a new generation to feel interested and confident in exploring the arts in future.

I acknowledge the generosity of lenders and artists who have extended their loans so that at some point we can enjoy them all in person. However, as we have heard, although the opportunities that the digital world can create are extraordinary, they do not replace the physical world and the opportunity to visit our institutions in person.

We also know, as outlined by the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord McNicol, my noble friend Lord Kirkham, the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and of course my noble friend Lord Cormack, that these sectors have been hit particularly hard by Covid-19 and some face immediate risks to their viability. Ironically, it is those that have been the most entrepreneurial in generating commercial income—whether through events, as highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, through expanding membership, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord German, or in other ways, as highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews—that are being hit particularly hard. So, while our immediate national priority is containing the spread of the virus, as soon as it is safe to do so we will be encouraging people to visit these attractions once again.

On 11 May the Government published the road map setting out how we expect organisations such as museums, galleries and historic sites to open back up and welcome visitors again. Noble Lords asked a number of detailed questions about the timing and process for this and how it will work in practice. I think those are best answered in writing, so I will send noble Lords a letter, which I will also place in the Library, and I will discuss the points that they have raised with colleagues in the department.

Supporting the cultural and heritage sector falls into three parts. First, Ministers and officials have been liaising closely with leaders and sector bodies to understand the full impact of the pandemic. My department always works closely with its arm’s-length bodies, both public-facing institutions and funding bodies, and we work closely with organisations that represent museums and heritage and the professionals who work in them.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, this engagement has been stepped up considerably to understand the impact of the pandemic and the measures that the Government have taken to fight it. While I hear the concerns of the National Trust, I stress that Ministers and officials are focused on this engagement and on understanding exactly what support museums and heritage organisations need, and how best to get it to them.

Beyond communication, the second plank of our approach is to offer financial support to the sector. DCMS itself directly sponsors 15 museums and galleries, as well as seven heritage organisations. We will continue to protect this cultural heritage in a wide range of ways. We have created sector-specific support. Arts Council England launched a £160 million emergency funding package, much of which is being or is about to be distributed as we speak. In response to a question from my noble friend Lady Hooper, this applies to regional national portfolio organisations, as well as those in London. Every effort is being made to get this funding out as quickly as possible.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has launched the £50 million heritage emergency fund, and Historic England launched a £2 million emergency fund, which includes scope to support the expert crafts men and women to which noble Lords referred. That is over £200 million of emergency support especially for culture and heritage. This emergency short-term funding will help address pressures over the next three to six months for those organisations in most immediate need. Most recently, the National Lottery Heritage Fund also released a strategic interventions fund, with awards of up to £250,000 for the most important and at-risk institutions.

As your Lordships are aware, the Government have also announced unprecedented support for business and workers to protect them against the current economic emergency. This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and VAT payment deferrals. The Chancellor also announced the Bounce Back Loan Scheme to help small businesses access loans of up to £50,000, with 100% government backing for lenders. The Government continue to monitor the impact of these and other measures, including those relating to self-employed people, as raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Quin.

We know that the job retention scheme, in particular, has been a real lifeline for these sectors, with the majority of organisations taking advantage of it. As noble Lords are aware, last week the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be extended to take it through to October. But the Government recognise that the museums and heritage sectors have a particular business model, which includes fixed costs for security and maintenance as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, and others. We are working hard to minimise the impact of this.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Kirkhope and Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, mentioned the role of philanthropy and asked what work the Government are doing in liaising with the Treasury and philanthropists. I reassure them that my honourable friend the Minister for Culture recently held a round table with foundations and philanthropists. We are actively exploring this area, as well as all the fiscal measures around VAT mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, and my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Duncan—although I cannot reassure the latter that this relates specifically to dinosaurs, as it is possibly broader. All these things are being actively explored.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking talked about the risk of particular museums being in serious financial difficulty. As a department, we are keen to hear about this and would encourage any museum or gallery to come forward as early as possible to talk to the relevant sector body.

A number of noble Lords raised the important issue of churches. Your Lordships will be aware that the Taylor review published in December 2017 presented a new model to try to ensure the continued sustainability of our churches, which are such an important part of our national heritage. This is being tested through a pilot scheme, the outcome of which will be published this summer.

The third plank of our approach, which the Secretary of State announced yesterday, is the establishment of a cultural renewal task force led by Neil Mendoza, who has also been appointed as cultural commissioner. The noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Wood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, challenged the Government about the scale of our ambition and the speed of our response. I hope that this gives a sense of the scale of it, and of the importance that we place on these sectors. On timing, the first meeting of the group will be tomorrow and, thereafter, on a weekly basis. A number of sub-groups are supporting this work; I will raise the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, in relation to them. Obviously, in the early stages, the task force will focus on ensuring that Covid-19 secure guidelines for our sectors are developed in a way that works for these sectors. In the longer term, it will also play a crucial role in supporting museums, galleries and the heritage sectors to emerge from this crisis and thrive in the way that we would all wish.

A number of noble Lords—the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, my noble friends Lady Rawlings and Lord Crathorne and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton—raised the issue of gardens and their opening, particularly those attached to historic houses. We are working very closely with the sector on that. We are aware of the issue and trying to progress it as quickly as we can.

Noble Lords have raised many important challenges in this short debate. I fear that I have not had time to do justice to them all, but I will aim to do so through a letter to your Lordships. Your Lordships have absolutely demonstrated the importance of our cultural institutions in our national life. The Government remain deeply committed to supporting their re-emergence from the pandemic, physically and digitally. We want to ensure that everyone, no matter their background or geographic location, can experience and enjoy our brilliant collections; and benefit from all that our national and regional culture, in all their diversity, can bring. As the famous collector Gertrude Stein once said:

“When in a museum, walk slowly but keep walking.”

I am sure that your Lordships will join me in looking forward to being back, not just in our museums, but in our galleries, gardens and historic buildings, as soon as it is safe to do so.

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My Lords, our Virtual Proceedings are now adjourned until a convenient point after 5.45 pm.

Virtual Proceeding suspended.