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Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that there is a good movement taking place in that instead of children visiting museums, museums are now visiting children? Surely that is far better than the suggestion that has been made.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that they are alternatives. It is true that what is called "outreach work" by museums, both national and regional, is increasing substantially. Both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills have been
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the excellent proposal, which we support, to provide a free museum visit for every school-age child will provide a much-needed boost, given the deepening funding crisis affecting British museums?
I agree with the noble Baroness, but I am not sure that I understand what is being said about a funding crisis. Of course, museums are struggling to deal with the cost of the substantial increase in the number of visitors to museums. After all, we have had an increase of 70 per cent in all visitors to national museums and 41 per cent more children going to national museums. Clearly, that costs a bit more, but it is a worthwhile cause.
Free admission to national museums, to which the noble Lord referred, has, in some cases, had a very bad effect on other museums, which must continue to charge for entry and find that visitors go wherever entry is free. That may have contributed to the difficulties to which the noble Lord referred.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am slightly surprised to hear that. I am not denying the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, refers; I do not know it, and I do not know which museum he is talking about. However, that is not what the Museums Association tells us. There is an increase in visitors, not just to national museums but to all museums. We welcome that.
Obviously, there is a great deal of merit in the suggestions of the Museums Association, and we got some encouragement from the Minister's response to the Question. I would like the Minister to give a view on a hypothetical but common case. Were a group of children11 and 12 year-olds, let us sayto go to a museum and end up in front of a showcase full of gold coins from the Roman period that had been found in an Oxfordshire field, is it not possible that they might show only momentary interest? Their teacher might explain things well, and, perhaps, one child might show an interest that might lead further. Will the suggestions lead to a more expert educative approach? Is that desirable?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I have said, the Museums Association proposes that there should be funding not for entry to the museum itselfunless it is a paying museumbut for educational work before the children visit the museum, transport to and from the museum, and for educational work after the visit. I should have thought that would apply to Roman gold coins as much as to any other real objects in museums.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, in welcoming the financial assistance now being given to regional museums, does my noble friend accept that there is a real problem for those museums as regards being able to afford new acquisitions? Given my noble friend's extensive knowledge of Her Majesty's Treasury, does he think he can unlock the door to some future funding so that our great municipal museums will be able to afford to expand and enhance the quality of their collections?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, core funding for regional museums is the responsibility of local authorities, just as the core funding for university museums is the responsibility of universities. I am well aware of the constraints under which they are placed. However, we have allocated an additional £70 million to regional museums. That is a substantial amount of money, some of which surely must be available for museum education as well as for acquisitions.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are museums and there are museums. I do not want to criticise too violently some of the museums that I went to as a child. I hope they are not as they were then.
On the whole, the standard of display in museums in this country is very much higher than that of many other European countries. Furthermore, an annual visit is not intended to be a maximum; it is intended to be a minimum.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin): My Lords, the Electoral Commission's recommendations on changes to the electoral system, including one option on the abolition of deposits for all elections, in its report, Standing for election in the United Kingdom, were published some two weeks ago. The Government will be giving careful consideration to all these recommendations.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he accept that the purpose of a deposit in respect of parliamentary elections is not simply to provide a disincentive to joke and crank candidates but also to deter extremists who, in the past, at a time when there was no such deposit and when some of us in another place fought for one, were receiving huge publicity at the expense of the state? Will the Minister look at the recommendation made in 1999 by the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs? Far from suggesting the abolition of the deposit, the committee recommended that it should be put up from £500, the sum established in 1985, to £700 and index linked. Surely that is the right way to proceed. Under no circumstances should the deposit be abolished.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am aware of the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee to increase the deposit to £700. In fact, the vast majority of local authorities, along with the main political parties which responded to the consultation, took the view that the deposit system remained the best and most effective mechanism for ensuring that the integrity of public elections was not undermined by a proliferation of joke or frivolous candidates.
My noble friend Lord Janner has added a further important consideration which should be borne in mind when considering our responsewhether the deposit also has an effect on limiting the ability of racist and extremist parties to promote their cause.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the deposit system, since the time when the amounts were greatly increased, has been effective in deterring frivolous candidatures, given that by-elections previously attracted an abundance of candidates more interested in publicity than in Parliament?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Lord is being modest. I recollect that, when it was introduced in 1918, the deposit stood at £150. If that figure was adjusted in real terms today, it would be £4,000.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, if the Government were to decide to accept the recommendation to eliminate the deposit, could thought be given to increasing the number of assentors required to support a candidate? Currently a proposer, a seconder and eight assentors are required. If the numbers were increased quite substantially, it would demonstrate evidence of local support and avoid the issue of financial compliance. One could even have an each-way bet: either a higher deposit and a lower number of assentors, or a lower deposit and a higher number of assentors demonstrating local support.
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