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House of Commons

Monday 16 December 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): What effect free entry to national museums has had on attendances. [85568]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The first 12 months of full free entry have seen a 70 per cent. increase in attendances at DCMS-sponsored, formerly charging museums and galleries. We are carrying out a further analysis of the impact on each institution, which will be published shortly. This represents a promise made and a promise delivered by the Government, and millions of people are deriving the benefit.

Syd Rapson : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Government should be congratulated on that phenomenal result. Two years ago, the Secretary of State commissioned a report by Dr. Alan Borg of the Victoria and Albert museum to consider whether Portsmouth's maritime heritage collection could be contained in a national museum. Given that Portsmouth has the Victory, the Warrior and the Mary Rose, along with the museum, it should have a national museum by now. Has any progress been made on that report?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and commend him on his continued support for those four very important visitor attractions and heritage sites in his constituency. He rightly refers to Alan Borg—a distinguished former director of the V and A, who looked at the relationship between the four museums in or near to my hon. Friend's constituency and proposed that their management would benefit from closer integration, which is why we propose to set up a company with a single chief executive to run the dockyard. There will be further meetings this week to

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ensure that a rapid conclusion is reached on those arrangements, which will benefit my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): I declare an interest as a director of HMS Warrior 1860, which is an unpaid position of which I am very proud. May I wish this project well and tell the Secretary of State that, if the unification of the facilities in the Portsmouth heritage area proceeds, account should also be taken of the other tourist attractions around Portsmouth harbour, because the essence of the millennium project is that people should be encouraged to use water transport and to visit all the attractions around the harbour?

Tessa Jowell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, which certainly sounds eminently sensible, and I shall ensure that it is drawn to the attention of those who are engaged in the negotiations to which I referred.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): It is really great to see so many people taking advantage of our wonderful museums and art galleries through free admission, but, of course, that means that those museums are looking around for additional funding as well, and the other part of the Government's policy is to ensure that they are properly funded. The national portrait gallery, with which I have my own connections, has an acquisition budget of only #305,000 in the current year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is pretty appalling for one of the premier collections of portraits in the world?

Tessa Jowell: I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes, but the extremely successful outcome for all our national museums and galleries in the last spending round means that they will receive real-terms increases of 1.5 and 2.5 per cent. respectively in 2004–05 and 2005–06. Of course every museum and gallery in the country—whether regional or national—could benefit from more money, but we have now pulled back from the generation of underfunding that occurred under the previous Government, and I pay tribute to those museums and galleries that are considering other sources of funding, on top of the Government's very generous settlement.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Does the Secretary of State agree with the conclusion of the recent Select Committee report, which defined as opaque the present process of allocating funds to museums and galleries and concluded that, if funding decisions were totally dependent on Treasury fiat, either the Treasury must be involved round a table or the other parties should not waste each other's time? Can the Secretary of State be as candid with us as her ministerial colleague was about the Turner prize and admit that she has been wasting her time and that of the museums?

Tessa Jowell: There is nothing conceptual about the business of allocating resources to our museums and galleries; it involves dealing with hard facts on the basis of the Treasury allocation, and the decisions are made by my Department and by me, in discussion with the heads of the museums and galleries, who broadly declared themselves to be very satisfied with the

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allocations that they had secured. A very important part of the settlement was to ensure the continuation of the extremely successful policy of free entry.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): While welcoming the national free entry to museums scheme, does my hon. Friend agree that it leaves certain regional museums at a disadvantage, such as the Beamish museum in my constituency, and the Bowes museum at Bishop Auckland, both of which have collections of national significance? Will my right hon. Friend consider what support can be given to museums such as those, which have national collections but are at a clear disadvantage under the present scheme?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend refers to two extremely successful and significant regional museums. He will be aware that we have announced, this year and over the three years of the next spending round, a settlement of #70 million to begin the regeneration and rebuilding of our regional museums and, specifically, to establish closer links between national museums and regional museums. That is all part of building our commitment to access to excellence wherever people live in the country.

Churches and Church Halls (Licensing)

2. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): What estimate she has made of the costs that will be incurred by churches and church halls as a result of the provisions contained in the Licensing Bill. [85569]

4. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): What representations she has received from church organisations concerning the Licensing Bill. [85572]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): Any costs for churches and church halls under the provisions of the Licensing Bill as it stands would depend on the licensable activities, if any, which are undertaken and their frequency, and whether temporary or permanent permissions are sought. The Archbishops Council of the Church of England wrote to me to express its concern that the provision of entertainment in churches outside Greater London would be brought under the licensing regime by the Licensing Bill. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will accept that while I cannot provide them with a solution today, the Government have made a commitment to reconsider our position on this issue and will announce our conclusions as soon as possible.

Mr. Randall : I am very grateful to the Minister for seeing sense. The sooner we get the new regulations, the better, as that part of the legislation would best be described with the words that he used to describe certain types of modern art.

Dr. Howells: I could not possibly comment.

Mr. Boswell: We have the answer for which we were hoping. Would the Minister accept as representative the comments of my constituent, Mr. Williams, who is chairman of the trustees of the Holy Sepulchre restoration trust in Northampton? In particular,

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he points out that the use of his church, which is an 11th century crusader round church, is as important to the schools that perform there as to the church which brings in the takings. Will the hon. Gentleman give us an absolute assurance—or as absolute an assurance as he can—that nine centuries of history are not going to be sacrificed to nine minutes of ministerial inadvertence?

Dr. Howells: I will certainly do my utmost to ensure that that does not happen. If I may, however, I ask the hon. Gentleman to hold his fire until we have reconsidered our position on the matter.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): Can I—I think I can—congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on intervening to restore common sense and ensure that, in an uncharacteristic excess of bureaucratic zeal, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport does not wipe out the indispensable tradition of music-making in churches? Will they go further and impress on the Arts Council the need to support church and cathedral music positively, just as English Heritage has supported the conservation of the physical fabric of our churches and cathedrals?

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend has fought long and hard to help church and cathedral music wherever he can. I reassure him that I have no intention of doing it any harm whatever, and that I will do all that I can through regulation to ensure that it thrives.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): Having met a group of clergy in Blackpool on Friday, may I tell my hon. Friend how welcome were the words of Baroness Blackstone in another place on Thursday? Does he appreciate the extent to which many places of worship depend on the activities and income that come from such events, the licensing of which is now to be reviewed? Will his Department do everything that it can to make sure that a perfectly reasonable attempt to correct an existing licensing anomaly does not become an unfair and intolerable burden on places of worship?

Dr. Howells: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. I also thank him for the work that he has done to make my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and me very much aware of the circumstances that obtain both in his constituency and in those of many other right hon. and hon. Members.

Nick Harvey (North Devon): Does the Minister agree that, in the absence of the guidance promised in the Bill, it is quite to hard to decipher the Department's intentions on church concerts or anything else? Do we need to license activities in church at all, given that there has not been a serious public order offence in a church since the time of Thomas a Becket? Does he accept that, even if he waived the fee, the application process would in any event be an unwelcome layer of bureaucracy for already hard-pressed volunteers?

Dr. Howells: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point very well. I hope that he will accept the statement that I made earlier.

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Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement will be widely welcomed, not least in rural areas where churches and church halls sometimes provide the only facility in which cultural, educational and musical activities can take place? They are therefore an essential part of the fabric of rural communities for those as well as other purposes. Will he ensure that, when he reconsiders the matter, churches and church halls are finally completely exempted from the proposals?

Dr. Howells: I get my right hon. Friend's message loud and clear. I shall certainly consider what he said.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I welcome the Minister's statement as far as it goes, but does he accept that a Bill that will require anything up to 15,000 parish churches—not to mention the places of worship of other faiths—to apply for a licence at a not insignificant cost cannot possibly be described, as the Secretary of State has described it, as deregulatory, and that anything less than the continuation of the existing exemption and a complete abandonment of the proposals in the Bill will be unacceptable?

Dr. Howells: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that, for a long time, the Conservative Government had a chance to get rid of the rule that has existed for 40 years, which says that churches inside London have to apply for and receive a licence for the playing and singing of secular music. I hear what he says, but I hope that he will accept that we do not need lessons from the Conservative party on getting rid of the regulations.

Mr. Whittingdale: I point out to the Minister that the existing exemption for churches was granted by Parliament in 1982, under the previous Conservative Government. However, given his willingness to see reason this afternoon, perhaps he would like to consider another aspect of the Licensing Bill, which is that covering licensing for the live performance of music. Will he explain how a Bill that will require thousands of live musicians to perform only in licensed venues, when there is at present no requirement for a licence, is deregulatory?

Mr. Speaker: Order. That goes far beyond the original question.

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