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Mr. Jones: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I add my congratulations to those councils. They are just two examples among many throughout the north-east of councils working not only with each other, but with the private and voluntary sectors. I also agree about the cultural sector's importance to the economy of the north-east—a point to which I shall return.

I wish to pay tribute to an individual from local government and his contribution to Beamish. John Mawston was a councillor for 48 years in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp). My hon. Friend is in his place, and although he is unable to speak as his role as a Whip debars him from doing so, I know that he would endorse my comments. For the past 10 years until his retirement earlier this year, John Mawston was chairman of the Beamish joint museums committee. His dedication and commitment to, and enthusiasm for, Beamish were known throughout the region. We are all grateful for the tremendous hard work that he put in over many years to make Beamish the success that it is today. I wish him all the best in his retirement and trust that he will receive the recognition that his efforts deserve.

Beamish is an asset to the region, and we can be proud of it, not because it preserves the region's heritage in glass cases but because it allows young and old alike to experience living history, whether through riding on a steam locomotive from the 1800s or visiting the Co-operative store on the museum's main street. Education is also a key theme at Beamish, alongside research. I congratulate the museum on the work that it does with local schools throughout the region, which is vital if we are to make history relevant to a new generation.

Beamish is one of the larger museums in the region, but in demonstrating the variety of museums we have it would be remiss of me not to mention one of our smaller museums—it happens to be in my constituency—which is the Anker's House museum in Chester-le-Street. It is next to the parish church of St. Mary's and St. Cuthbert's and it tells the history of the founding of the church in 883 to house the body of St. Cuthbert. It also explores the early history of Christianity in the region.

The museum also tells the story of the ankers or anchorites who inhabited the site during the middle ages. Men and women were interned in small rooms with only a small window or squint through which to view the outside world. They led a life dedicated to prayer and contemplation, and their material needs were passed through a small hatch. For many, their ultimate resting place was their small room, the squint simply being sealed upon their death. That is a truly remarkable example of dedication to duty, and a practice that I know any Government Whip would envy as a way of controlling the more unruly among their flock.

I mentioned earlier the region's willingness to change and adapt, and another characteristic of the region is its willingness to co-operate across sectors to promote the region. That can be seen by the co-operation between museums in the region, and also in local authorities'

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response to the report "Renaissance in the Regions". The proposed regional hub, bringing the Tyne and Wear museums service, Beamish, the Bowes museum—in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster)—and partner museums in Teesside into a strategic alliance, will help to promote and be a focal point for excellence in the region. It is a clear demonstration of what can be achieved when organisations think and work on a regional strategic level.

The hub is not about regional control of local museums; it is about co-operation in delivering local services and also ensuring that the museum service in the region secures the financial investment that the museums need and deserve. The north-east is well placed to show leadership in the museum sector by demonstrating what can be achieved by regional co-operation and cross-authority working. The business plan and the 10-year strategic plan being drawn up by the hub will draw on the service's existing strengths and also demonstrate how funding can enhance and promote museums across the region.

The north-east has changed a great deal over the past 20 years, and I have already highlighted the importance of the museum sector to the region's tourism economy. It is not just about preserving the past; it is about using our historical and cultural assets to promote and regenerate the region's future.

Last weekend saw the opening of the Baltic centre for contemporary arts in Gateshead, demonstrating not only the new vibrant face of the north-east but how culture can be a driving force in the regeneration of the region.

The region's museums and cultural heritage, whether it be the industrial and social heritage at Beamish and the Discovery museum in Newcastle, or the fine works of art at Bowes and the regional art galleries, make up a region with a rich cultural and historical tapestry. Newcastle and Gateshead are competing for the title of European city of culture in 2008. Although promoted by Newcastle and Gateshead, the bid is regional, and the museums throughout the region are an important part of it.

The cultural sector in the region is about demonstrating a richness, diversity and quality of world-class status. That is amply demonstrated in the region's museums. The concentration is on access for all and education for all. We are proud of the region's history and in demonstrating how it can be a central and important part of the renaissance of the north-east and its people.

I trust that my speech has highlighted the importance of museums to the north-east, not only in preserving the past but adding to the economic and cultural life of the region's future. I understand that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has in principle agreed to fund regional hubs. I stress to my right hon. Friend the Minister that museums in the north-east are ready to meet the challenges that the Government have set out and to act as a beacon for how museum services should be provided.

10.32 pm

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) for the opportunity to take part in this brief debate. I congratulate

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my hon. Friend on seeking and securing the debate and on the powerful case that he has made for renaissance and for the funding of the hub structure within the region.

I think that it was Agatha Christie who said that it was wonderful having an archaeologist as a husband because the older she became the more interest he took in her. I feel a bit like that: the older I become, the more interested I become in museums. Perhaps that is because one day I might become a minor exhibit in one of them.

Beamish is wonderful. It celebrates everything that I love about the northern region, and certainly its recent industrial and social history. It does so in the most creative and educative way. I am immensely proud of what was achieved by Tyne and Wear and Durham county councils. It is now funded entirely by the county councils, and has been over many years.

The Bowes museum is in my constituency. It was founded by John Bowes, the Liberal Member for Barnard Castle, who was an ancestor of the Queen Mother, well over 100 years ago. He married a French woman and they collected many antiquities. They brought them over to this country and built what was almost a wonderful French chateau in the middle of some of the most beautiful English countryside. It is in a sense something of an anomaly, but it houses the most wonderful national collection—it has Canalletos, Rubens and Sèvres pottery. It is crucial to the rural recovery of Teesdale. It is crucial also to the market town initiative in which Barnard Castle is a participant. In addition, it is crucial to the development of tourism within Teesdale. I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer has provided some extra funding, which will go towards funding the hub structure of which Bowes is a participant.

Let me mention in the second that remains that the Timothy Hackworth museum in Shildon is shortly to be transformed into a satellite of the national rail museum in York and is expected to attract some 35,000 plus visitors.

I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Minister in his place, and we look forward to his response to this short debate.

10.35 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on giving me the opportunity to respond on what are important topics, especially for the north-east. I must mention one or two of the headlines that I saw in the press the other day. One was, "A picture of bold urban renaissance in the regions, led by art". The other, to which my hon. Friend referred at the start of his contribution, included the words, "challenge to London's grip on galleries", which, I think, appeared in The Independent. Clearly, therefore, even the national press are taking notice of what my hon. Friend and the other Members representing the north-east are saying.

I am sure that most if not all Members have heard about, if not visited, the cultural delights of the north-east, as I have done on a number of occasions. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was in Newcastle on Tuesday last week, and she visited the Baltic centre for contemporary arts. She was extremely impressed by what she saw there. I want to acknowledge the splendid achievements of museums in the north-east, especially those of Tyne and Wear

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museums, which has a very important relationship with other museums in the area. The then director of Tyne and Wear museums was a member of the regional museums taskforce that produced what many people now say was a groundbreaking report, "Renaissance in the Regions". Clearly, therefore, the north-east had a major input into that report, to which I want to refer a little later.

Across the country, museums such as the Beamish and the Bowes, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) have referred, can be crucial to attracting visitors. Tourist destinations develop through the museums and associated works, and they are an essential part of the economy, especially the local economy. That is particularly true in areas such as the north-east, which are building on their heritage and industrial past to create new economic benefits.

The quality of these museums does much to enhance Britain's reputation as a world-class tourist destination, attracting domestic and international visitors alike. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for tourism is working with the north-east and other regions to make sure that we can capitalise much more systematically on the visitors coming to this country and going to other regions of the UK. The museums in the north-east that have been mentioned are very important in that.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and local authorities are supporting museums in the north-east and providing them with funding of about £12 million per annum. We see that as an important investment, collectively, by local authorities and central Government. The achievements of and major developments in museums and galleries in the north-east are substantial. The region has three museum services holding collections designated in recognition of their national and international importance: the Beamish museum and the Bowes museum, which have been mentioned, and Tyne and Wear museums. In addition to local authority support, the Department gives an annual grant of about £1 million to Tyne and Wear museums, of which it is a joint sponsor.

Over 10 years, Tyne and Wear has doubled the number of visits to its museums to its current level of around 1.5 million people, and has achieved a 20 to 52 per cent. increase in the proportion of visitors—this is very important—from lower income groups, achieving a very high level of satisfaction among local communities. That has been done through community outreach activities, but without weakening the museum service's traditional curatorial strengths. That is important. We have maintained standards while attracting many more people to museums. That is reflected across the whole country. Tyne and Wear's partnership working has been mentioned and it is often cited as a model for other regional hubs. The report "Renaissance in the Regions" used it as an example.

The Beamish museum attracted 320,000 visitors last year, and about 70 per cent. of them were from outside the region. That underlines my hon. Friend's point that the museum makes a substantial contribution to the local economy. The development and preservation of the Beamish valley as a resource to the community and for environmental study demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the regeneration of that former coalfield area. Since the Government came to power in 1997, our investment in coalfield areas has not only been well received, but plays a major part in those economies.

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I wish to thank Councillor John Mawston who, like me, is a member of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. I know that he is extremely proud of that fact. For 48 years, he has been on the council of the Beamish open air museum. He was chair for 10 years, and has remained there as a volunteer. That shows the real commitment that he has made. I thank him for all the work that he has done. In fact, I am grateful to all the volunteers who give their time free of charge to do something in which they believe. Without them, many activities could not continue.

Some 73 museums in the north-east are members of the Resource registration scheme and they attract 3 million visitors a year. A third of those visits are by children. In recognition of the value of museums to children's education and, indeed, to people of all ages and backgrounds, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport set up in 1999 an education challenge fund, managed by Resource, with the aim of building educational capacity in small museums. As a result of the North-East Museums, Libraries and Archives Council's bid to Resource, £64,000 in grants was matched with other funding sources to benefit 38 museums across the north-east, including volunteer-run, military, local authority and university museums.

Another important source of funding for the north-east region's museums has been the heritage lottery fund. In 1999–2000, the north-east's museums received heritage lottery fund awards totalling £7.6 million. Up to May 2002, the north-east received £91 million in such funding and, at 68 per cent., the north-east has the highest success rate of the English regions for heritage lottery fund applications.

In 2000–01, a major collaboration for Northumberland resulted in the award of £10 million by the heritage lottery fund to build a new records office as part of a major development of the Woodhorn colliery museum complex, Ashington. This will be a world-class building, bringing together archival, library and museum collections currently spread across four locations.

In welcoming the taskforce report "Renaissance in the Regions", my noble Friend the Minister for the Arts said at the Association of Independent Museums annual lecture in January this year that the regional museums taskforce had delivered an excellent diagnosis of the weaknesses of the sector and had set out an exciting vision of what could be achieved through concerted action to remove the barriers to progress. She endorsed, in principle, the key proposal for a new framework of hubs for regional museums and announced the timetable for the selection of regional hubs as part of the process of implementing the report's recommendations. The report said that the framework should be based on the principle of an integrated system. It identified leadership for the museum community in each region and defined roles for each element in the framework.

The regional hubs will respond to new agendas that put people and communities first, and they will invest in excellence. They will achieve the highest standards in exhibition content and presentation, in learning, education and outreach services, in collection management and in other key museum activities. At the launch of the museums and galleries month at the end of April, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport commented that "Renaissance in the Regions" had received a positive response from the museum community.

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The report outlined clearly what regional museums can achieve in promoting education and learning, social inclusion and community empowerment, creativity, tourism and, importantly, regional economic development.

Resource has received a bid from a consortium of museums from each English region to create a hub in the region. We will announce the hubs later in the summer. As we heard today, the spending review is good for museums. Decisions on the funding of individual hubs will be made towards the end of the year when the review has been considered by the Department. Once the hubs have been announced, they will be expected to submit a strategic plan to demonstrate how they will use the money to support museums and will have to propose ways in which governance can be modernised.

During the transitional period, Resource will work closely with the hubs to support and monitor their progress. It has taken steps to implement the taskforce recommendations, and the last spending review increased Resource's grant-in-aid to support regional activity to £10 million per annum. Work is in progress to maintain the momentum initiated by the taskforce with a series of measures to put in place the first building blocks of the new framework.

As I said, the report criticised the lack of cohesion in the sector and stressed the need to find more effective ways of working from which all museums can benefit, from the largest nationals to the more modest, but no less valuable, regional museums. One way to do that is by ensuring that a partnership works, and the strong partnership in the north-east was mentioned. That will allow skills and experience to be shared, which will add a great deal of value to the work of museums. There are many examples of such partnerships working across the nation, which is to be welcomed.

Some of the measures to develop the hubs will be funded by the designation challenge fund which, as I said, will be announced very soon. In addition, Resource

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announced last week that £500,000 of funding will be administered by the new regional agencies, such as the North-East Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, for the development of all museums, not just those in the hubs. A new museum development fund will support initiatives such as the establishment of the post of museum development officer in the regions, whose task it will be to support groups of museums with common interests in improving the standards of what they deliver.

The taskforce report reveals three major problems in the museum sector: a lack of capacity, a leadership vacuum and a fragmented infrastructure. To address the last point, greater cohesion and partnership working are needed. To meet the need for more cross-sector work, Resource has been involved in setting up a strategic regional agency for museums, libraries and archives in each of the English regions. Those new agencies are building on the work of the area museums councils, and will provide strategic leadership for the whole sector.

That has already happened in the north-east with the creation of the first regional agency in England, the widely acclaimed North-East Museums, Libraries and Archives Council or NEMLAC. That supported the north-east museums' bid for heritage lottery funding, ensuring that the north-east had, as I said earlier, the highest success rate of all the English regions. To take account of the expanding role of the regional agencies, Resource has doubled their total budget from £4 million to £8 million. That will enable grants and other advisory services to museums in the English regions to be maintained.

In conclusion, and following the outcome of the current spending review, which was announced in the House—

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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