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25 Jan 2007 : Column 548WH—continued

4.12 pm

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Any hon. Member who speaks in this debate could say that their constituency has a rich and varied heritage, and mine is no different. Indeed, it is added to by the fact that we are a port and therefore have lots of industrial archaeology, which I shall touch on. First, however, I want to look at the national and international picture.

We cannot have a National Gallery unless it has money to buy pictures. Without that it becomes a morgue. We cannot have the V and A, the National Portrait Gallery and the John Donne appeal or the British Museum if they have no capacity to buy. They will constantly depend on charity or rich people to buy them pieces. In the world market, the voracious Gulbenkian and Getty organisations, which have substantially more money than the Government can put to a fund, will always outbid us in Sotheby’s, Christie’s or in private deals.

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The problem is that in the 1990s, the Conservative Government mixed the two budgets. There used to be a separate fund for buying art, which was changed in the cuts of that decade and merged with the fund for the running costs of museums. That was a mistake. We must fight to have separate funds for running museums and for buying pieces. That is critical because we will not always be able to save our fantastic pictures.

I am reminded of Joseph Nye’s great book on soft diplomacy. The British Museum is doing magnificent work in Beijing and Addis Ababa, and the V and A is also doing great work. They do countless things, but they have no budget for them. That should be part of our overseas soft diplomacy budget. If we do the British Council, the Open University and BBC World Service, we must find, in the Foreign Office, the money to do soft diplomacy with our arts and music. It is wrong that all that has to come out of one major budget for our major institutions.

I hope that when the White Paper comes, the funds will be separated into three: one for purchasing, one for running costs and one for soft power overseas. Since 9/11, we have lost our ideas about what soft power can do. Part of that soft power is our music, art and, fortunately, through the English language, poetry and literature. It is difficult, when we are bidding against institutions such as the Guggenheim, which is building different Guggenheims all over the world, and the Getty Foundation. If we do not resolve that crisis, we are in danger.

My second point is about the lottery. The original lottery Act in 1996 said that a certain amount of tax would go to the Treasury. I have looked into this and spoken to the Treasury—I am fed up of talking to it—and have been told that the reason for the 12p tax was that when people go into shops to buy their tickets, they displace that 12p. The thinking is that someone will go to a shop to buy some milk and bread but then think, “Oh no, I’ll have a lottery ticket.” That simply is not true. They will go in and buy the bread, the milk, stamps and a lottery ticket, so the premise behind the tax is wrong. I do not know how we got away with that—it was not Labour, but it was wrong then and it is wrong today.

If that 12p in the pound was divvied up between heritage and the Olympics, everyone in the House would be thrilled, because we would not have to raid London taxpayers for the Olympics, and we would not be raiding the rest of the lottery budgets, which is what we want. I urge the Minister and his Department to go back to the Treasury and fight. When I was on the Select Committee, there was, amazingly, an investigation by the Treasury into that 12p tax—I remember interviewing the Treasury about it—but it went into a void and was never completed. That was six years ago.

Clearly, the Treasury is working out how to help, but we are in danger here; we need that 12p. It should be the taxpayer who pays for the lottery, and all of the money from the 12ps should be used for what we need.

Robert Key: The Act was, in fact, in 1993, and I was the Minister who had to negotiate with the Treasury. If I tell the hon. Gentleman that it wanted 17.5p but we got it down to 12p, he might be a little grateful.

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Derek Wyatt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for correcting me on the dates, but still the idea makes no sense. There is no displacement and that is the basis of the Treasury’s point.

The lottery is at the root of this issue. The Minister has to understand that if there is to be an election in 2009, it simply is not good politics to have in every constituency three or four lottery projects that are short of money because funds have been raided for the Olympics. That is complete madness and no sane Government would do it. We have to resolve this serious issue quickly, not in 2008 or 2009, and before we start raiding for the Olympics.

Something on which I pride myself is my work on saving ships. The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and I saved, not quite single-handedly, HMS Cavalier, which was about to be towed to Malaysia for scrap. I am pleased to say that we bullied the Heritage Lottery Fund into giving us £800,000, and the ship is now in Chatham naval dockyard.

Although we have won the debate that ships should come under the Heritage Fund, we have the same problems that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) mentioned about listing. We could list endless boats—hundreds and hundreds—because we are a maritime nation. We have a top 50, but what is the good? They are going to be sunk. They will be properly listed, but it is not just the priority order that matters—funding has to be attached. It is mad to say simply, “Here is the list.” What business runs like that? It is crackers to say, “Here is the list, and it will be the list next year and the year after.” Money has to be put to these things. If it is not, I am afraid they sink or get taken down the day before. It is a madness. We are not dim; we can work this out. It hurts people who served on those boats in the war when they are not preserved. We should see that that is wrong.

I have a rather interesting story about the Tudor mansion in my constituency in which Henry VIII spent his honeymoon with Anne Boleyn. It was falling down—indeed, it has very nearly fallen down—and because of the money shortages in 1996, English Heritage put up £200,000-worth of scaffolding to save the façade. I asked the then Minister whether he would list the scaffolding, because I could not understand how on earth we were going to save it. However, I am pleased to say that Dr. Thurley came to visit and he considers it to be one of the great examples of Tudor architecture. We have finally saved the façade, and for those of us on the Isle of Sheppey, there is not much from that age left, so I say a big thank you to the Minister. It is fantastic, and as he knows, when it reopens I have asked him to open it.

4.20 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) not only on his report, but on his speech.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) talked about museums. It was not strictly relevant to the report, but it was certainly relevant to any debate about heritage. The Minister knows that I secured an Adjournment debate on purchase grants last autumn. He and I did
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not see entirely eye to eye on the issue, although when I secured my debate on churches just before Christmas, a spirit of amity had broken out. I am delighted that the Minister is in that mood this afternoon.

I wish that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey did not have to plead for the lottery as he did. Those words, coming from the chairman of the all-party Olympics and Paralympics group, ought to be heeded, because when a Member who has made sport his life and been a distinguished sportsman himself recognises that our heritage is in danger if we do not get our priorities right, we should take careful account.

I wish that the Department did not put sports and heritage together. I wish that we had a department of tourism, arts and heritage; it would make much more sense. That is in no way a criticism of the Minister, but I hope that this Government, when they change Prime Minister, or the next Conservative Government, when they enter office, will give some thought to what makes sense as a departmental package.

The tourists who come in great numbers to this country come as much as anything else to enjoy our arts and our heritage. They flock to our cathedrals, our country houses and our wonderful coastlines, and they come to enjoy those unique parts of our country, bringing with them vast sums of money. I have been chairman of the all-party arts and heritage group for a long time now, and no Government of either party have fully recognised the amount that tourism revenue generates, nor that it is generated in large measure by arts and heritage.

We debate the report at a critical time. One might say that all times are critical: way back in 1976 I published a book called “Heritage in Danger”, in which I sought to detail many threats to our historic landscapes, churches and houses. We have made considerable progress since then. We did not in those days have a National Heritage Memorial Fund, still less a Heritage Lottery Fund, and we did not have a Cabinet Minister to speak up for our heritage.

Although considerable progress has been made, over the past few years the perception—I choose my words carefully—has increasingly been that the Government do not care sufficiently about our heritage. That, again, is no personal criticism of the Minister; I have absolute confidence in his personal integrity. However, the Government have not shown sufficient regard for our heritage.

Many people gave evidence to the inquiry that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford conducted. The volumes of evidence themselves repay careful study. I want to heed your plea, Sir John, therefore I do not want to talk right through the report or beyond it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) so entertainingly. [Interruption.] He is a very old friend and will remain one. I am bound to say that as president of the Staffordshire Gardens and Parks Trust, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford included the point that he did. The trust at least gave evidence to my hon. Friend—although he ignored it.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Who’s next?

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Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friend if he starts barracking like that.

I should like to concentrate on our cathedrals. The evidence given by the Association of English Cathedrals and by individuals such as Michael Coupe shows that our cathedrals are in considerable difficulties. If one needed reminding of that, I had it only yesterday in a letter from the Dean of Southwark, writing not only as Dean, but as a representative of English cathedrals. He said:

The Minister has a special knowledge of cathedrals. He was a chorister in Peterborough at the cathedral used in that splendid BBC adaptation as Barchester cathedral. He knows at first hand how crucial our cathedrals are in so many ways, and about the importance and tradition of cathedral music. A cathedral without its music is like a cathedral without its stained glass windows, or a cathedral without its fine misericords, if it has them. A cathedral is an entity, and that entity includes cathedral music.

That the Dean of the cathedral from which Her Majesty gave her Christmas broadcast last year should feel moved to write in those terms is serious and significant. I hope that the Minister will stiffen his sinews so that the Treasury can soften its heart, and that he will argue powerfully and passionately, as only someone who truly knows our cathedrals can argue, for a proper apportionment of funds. To starve those, our greatest public buildings, of the resources necessary to maintain them is an act of cultural vandalism fit to rank with the dissolution of the monasteries 500 years ago. We do not want to be the generation that put our cathedrals into decline.

When the Minister argues, as I am sure he will, he must point out that as we sit here today, our two great metropolitan cathedrals of Canterbury and York are between them appealing for more than £70 million. Canterbury needs £50 million; York needs £23 million, much of it to restore that incomparable glass. My cathedral of Lichfield is about to launch a major appeal for the Herkenrode glass, some of the finest glass in this country. It was brought over to this country at the time of the French revolution from an abbey that was despoiled on the continent. We shall need upwards of £15 million for that, and any country which allowed such great monuments to fall into decay and decline would not deserve to be called a civilised country. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, in his admirable report, enabled us to raise these issues and for that I am grateful.

I would like to touch briefly on some other matters. However much we excite people’s passions about our great historic buildings, and however much we may
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persuade a parsimonious Treasury to stump up, unless we are able to encourage young people to consider the crafts as careers of great excitement, we will not be successful. I have been privileged for the past 20 years to run a scheme called William Morris craft fellowships on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Every year, we give fellowships to three, four or five young craftsmen or women—and many of them have been women—in a whole range of disciplines because we are conscious that we will not be able to preserve our great built heritage, either secular or spiritual, unless there is an adequate supply of craftsmen.

There will be a meeting in Westminster at the end of next month between my all-party group on arts and heritage and the all-party group on construction skills and training to focus the attention of hon. Members on this issue. I hope that the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and in the Department of Trade and Industry to find out what we can do to make young men and women feel that there is nothing more wonderfully rewarding than a successful career in the crafts. After all, we rightly celebrate our great architects, but how often do we celebrate the craftsmen who translated their vision into glorious reality?

I urge the Minister to focus on this issue, and as a fellow Select Committee Chairman, I say to my hon. Friend that I hope his Committee might feel it is worthy of a detailed inquiry at some stage. Where are these young people coming from, where are they being trained and what can be done to excite more of them? As we approach the Olympics we are talking about exciting young people on the sporting field—that is good. I am all for that. However, if were able to make people feel that there is worthwhile and lasting career in the crafts, it would redound to our credit.

I finish by mentioning the Olympics again. I wish the Olympic games to be a great success—of course I do. I have my apprehensions about transport in London and all the rest of it, but we have set our hands to that plough and we have to make sure that we deliver. But a great and prosperous country, which is what we are, that delivers a finely organised and presented Olympic games, as I am sure we will, at the expense of the things touched on in this report would not deserve to be regarded as a great and prosperous country. That is our challenge. Sadly, because of the peculiar nature of the Minister’s Department, it is his challenge, and I hope that he will rise to it.

4.34 pm

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the Committee on undertaking this vital inquiry in order to raise the profile of our heritage and ultimately to influence policy to promote, preserve and protect that heritage. I want to take the opportunity to add my own regional perspective to the debate. My speech falls within the original terms of reference for the inquiry. I hope that I have hon. Members’ indulgence and I shall try not to stray too far from the original terms of reference. I am aware that the report concentrates on built heritage, but I note on page 6 that there will be a follow-up inquiry. I hope that my contribution will be drawn on during that inquiry.

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As the Government have acknowledged, finding a shared understanding of Britishness requires us to encompass diversity. My work in the Home Office gives me an insight into the challenges of adapting Britishness to the 21st century as we seek to build a society in which people from hundreds of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities share a sense of national belonging. Many people involved in the national debate seem to forget that that challenge is nothing new. Britain has always been an island of variation, in which regional identity goes hand in hand with national identity.

Those listening to me speak today will be able to identify me with my region, and I am proud to represent Gateshead and Washington and, in doing so, to represent the wider north-east. I have spoken before about the spirit of hard work and camaraderie that runs through the veins of the north-east, which is a region that is fiercely proud of its shared heritage. I was shocked to learn this week that a visa application for a holiday in Gateshead had been turned down because the civil servant in question could see no reason why anyone would want to visit Gateshead for a holiday. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) will join me in being astounded by that. A quick investigation into visitor attractions would reveal that there are more than 54 reasons to visit Gateshead, and those 54 reasons can be found in Gateshead alone. The wider north-east has much more to offer: stunning cityscapes and some of the best beaches in Britain, as well as castles—the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will testify to that—and rolling countryside. All together, there is a rich regional heritage to explore.

Much of that heritage lies in our industrial background. I am working with my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) to try to commission a series of commemorative stamps to mark the 125th anniversary of the Durham miners’ gala. The Big Meet, as it is known locally, has survived the depletion of the mining industry and is an important part not only of the north-east’s heritage but Britain’s industrial heritage. It continues to draw northern communities together and it is a testament to the solidarity of the north-east workers. Many hon. Members have added their support to the campaign and I hope that we will gain the Government’s support.

I believe that the north-east is a leading example of preserving heritage across Britain, especially across the cultural sector. One project that is leading the cultural resurgence is Renaissance North East, which is part of the wider renaissance in the region’s programme that is transforming our museums. So far, it is proving to be one of the most beneficial projects ever run by the DCMS. The statistics speak for themselves. Educational visits to north-east museums have almost doubled, increasing from 80,000 to 140,000 in just three years. Overall visits are up a fifth and the number of children engaged by museums has risen by a phenomenal 6,500 per cent. Much of that increase includes children from the poorest parts of our society.

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