HC Deb 17 December 1970 vol 808 cc1540-3
9. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make a further statement of Government policy on admission charges to museums and galleries.

36. Mr. Rose

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to be able to announce the results of her consultation concerning the detailed arrangements for admission charges and exemptions in respect of national museums and galleries.

45. Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she proposes to implement her policy of charging entrance fees to museums and galleries.

Mr. van Straubenzee

My noble Friend the Paymaster-General has not yet completed his negotiations with the institutions concerned and is, therefore, not in a position to make an announcement about the arrangements.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

While I fully support a policy of admission charges—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]—may I ask my hon. Friend to make it clear that the system will be flexible and will allow for free days and special tickets to students, old-age pensioners and others, and that it is the intention of the Government to increase the money available to galleries so that they may reorganise and expand their collections?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Those points were fully covered by my noble Friend in the debate in another place yesterday. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noticed that some of the preliminary advice which has been received is actually against free days; but the matter has still to be determined.

Mr. Rose

While understanding the philosophy of the Conservative Party that the finer things of life should be denied to those who cannot afford them, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to nevertheless make special allowances for children, students and others pursuing courses who need to visit galleries?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Those are all matters which have yet to be determined. Perhaps I might point out that it is strange to find in the National Portrait Gallery this month an exhibition of Pepys drawings for which that gallery is charging a special fee of 5s.

Mr. Strauss

As it is a legislative requirement that the British Museum should always be free and its contents freely available to the public and as a clause to this effect was incorporated in the Act of 1753, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether the Government's pro- posals envisage the introduction of amending legislation? If so, will he bear in mind that when in 1923 the Government tried to introduce such proposals, the weight of enlightened opinion against them among those who would not countenance any restriction on art lovers among the poorer sections of the community was such that Baldwin, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, wisely withdrew the offending proposals?

Mr. van Straubenzee

The right hon. Gentleman may have heard—if not, I am certain that he will have read—that in yesterday's debate in another place the Chairman of the British Museum Trustees made it clear that he had not yet received firm legal opinion on the matter. My only comment on the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, as a disinterested observer of yesterday's debate, is that my noble Friend wiped the floor with his opponents.

Dame Irene Ward

After the negotiations are concluded between my noble Friend and the bodies involved and before a final decision is taken by the Government, will arrangements be made for this House to discuss the outcome of those negotiations, as we have a great idea of what we want and should have a right sometimes to say what we want?

Mr. van Straubenzee

My hon. Friend will recognise that the decision has been made and will be adhered to. What we are now discussing is its implementation. I am sure that those who arrange business, among whom I am not included, will have heard what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Faulds

Will the Government not have the sense and sensibility to reconsider this whole sorry matter? Although we are sorry to find that one honoured and cultured Gentleman on the other side of the House whom we had expected to support us has not done so, will the Under-Secretary accept the representations of those who know about this matter, including such eminent authorities as Lord Clark? Finally, although he and I both attended parts of the debate in the other place yesterday, will he take it that, in my view, a reading of the debate by all who take an impartial view of the matter will be that the Government suffered a severe moral defeat in the other place?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I cannot understand why a Velasquez in one place should be more appreciated than a Velasquez in another, the second one being under the jurisdiction of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mr. Rose

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the answer, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.