HL Deb 26 May 1971 vol 319 cc1253-83

8.3 p.m.

BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what consultation took place with the trustees of the national museums and galleries concerning admission charges prior to the publication of Cmnd. 4676, and how far the proposed charges have taken into consideration the. known views of trustees. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity of clarifying a number of issues of immense importance concerning the future of our great national institutions, our museums and galleries. The specific question I am asking is how far the trustees have been consulted and how far the proposals concerning admission charges meet with their approval. In asking this question, I am encouraged by the statement in the White Paper which says that the scheme of charges is to be discussed with the trustees of the institutions concerned. I think it is very wise that we should approach this problem in this temperate manner.

It is absolutely essential that we should pay proper respect to the relationships between the Government, political Ministers and the distinguished men and women who serve as trustees of our great museums and galleries. We know perfectly well that it would be impossible for us to have the privilege of recruiting their services unless Governments, whatever their complexion, were willing to pay proper respect to their point of view. There is no such thing as trustees dictating to the Government, or the Government and Ministers dictating to trustees. We have in this country a very delicate, a very sophisticated, system which has worked until the present time and which I hope will continue to work. We consult one another; we make tentative approaches to one another, and almost without exception we end by having the right people doing the right job.

I have some experience of this, because there was a great hullaballoo during the time of the previous Government, when the Trustees of the British Museum expressed dislike of the proposals that had been made regarding the Museum's future. I was not in your Lordships' House at that time, but you will remember that the language used by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, who was Chairman of the Trustees, was not exactly temperate—in fact he was spitting blood all over your Lordships' Benches. He was extremely angry—and I make no complaint about that, because it is only people who are deeply concerned who get things done—but I do not think I exaggerate when I say that he was rather less than courteous to my friend and colleague, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mr. Gordon Walker, in particular, and to the Government in general. Of course, a petty-minded Government might have been antagonised by the vehemence of the attack made upon them, but instead the Government said: " The Trustees are obviously unhappy: let us have another look at those proposals."

It is no secret that it was largely in response to the obvious concern of responsible trustees that the Dainton Corn-mince was set up. When the Dainton Report came out, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, my colleague and friend, Mr. Edward Short, and I, who at that time had delegated responsibility, were delighted with its main aspects. Before the end of the last Parliament we were able to have the views of the Trustees of the British Museum respected, and we were able to work out a National Library scheme, affecting the museums, which met with their support. As the noble Viscount the Paymaster General well knows, when his fellow Trustees suggested that he was the most suitable person to be chairman, I at once agreed. I had delegated responsibility from the Prime Minister, and it never occurred to me that I need further consult anybody at all, because I knew how deeply the Paymaster General was concerned and how knowledgeable he was about the British Museum. I believed he was the ideal person to be chairman.

Let me repeat, we had a very big row, affecting relationships between the Government and the Trustees, specifically concerning the future of the British Museum, about which we all care so deeply. The end was satisfactory. But what astonishes me is that in the present Parliament I have been personally approached by so many distinguished people who are opposed to charges—there is no secret about this, because it is on record—but their views are brushed aside. The majority of the Trustees and Directors of the Tate are totally opposed to gallery charges; the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery are opposed; a majority of the Trustees of the British Museum, with one or two exceptions, are opposed—and no one who heard the speech made by Lord Trevelyan on an earlier occasion could have had any doubt as to what was in their minds. The Victoria and Albert Museum is also concerned, it is directly responsible to a Government department. The views of Sir John Pope-Hennessy, though not publicly stated as he is a public servant, are also known. The Trustees and the directors of great museums and galleries almost without exception, are opposed to charges.

Then we move from the Trustees and the directors to the people who have given us the great treasures they contain. I discussed this aspect the other day with my beloved friend Henry Moore, who has given work of immense value not only to the Tate, but to other national institutions. We were discussing Turner's will. Of course the lawyers can quibble about Turner's will and its terms, but I have the authority of Henry Moore to assure your Lordships that, so far as he and others of his calibre are concerned, there is no doubt that when Turner gave his great gifts to the nation he gave them so that the poorest and the least privileged among us would have free access to them. When we look at our great national galleries we find that almost without exception they are gifts, not to some of us but to all of us, from great patrons of the past. When we look at the contents of our great museums and galleries, we find again that so much has been given by patrons. They were giving, those not to people who were especially privileged, but because they had a deep sense of social responsibility and wanted everyone to enjoy them.

Now let me move from the great patrons of the past to contemporary painters, from David Hockey to Francis Bacon. They are opposed to charges. We talk about the generation gap. There is no generation gap among artists, so far as these things are concerned. Do none of these matter—the creative artists of the past; the artists of the present; those who have built the museums; those who have given donations to the museums? For one person that the Paymaster General can call in evidence on his side in this distinguished company, I can assure him I can call a hundred who are passionately opposed to the imposition of charges.

I come now to the charges themselves. One of the most insulting parts of those charges is that they are to be doubled during the holiday months of July and August. I should like to ask the Paymaster General a specific question. Is the purpose of doubling charges in the holiday months of July and August in order to keep the natives out? This has been suggested in sections of the Press. As we all know, the great majority of people cannot choose when they have their holidays but have to accept them when they come along. From all over this country—because among the natives I am including the Scots, Welsh and Irish, as well as the English—many people come during the only time in the year when they have an opportunity to see the greatest of our national galleries and museums. When they come, instead of paying 2s., which is bad enough, they are going to be asked to pay 4s.—or, if I can bring myself up to date and use the modern term, 20p.—for an adult; and for father and mother that is 40p.; or 8s., in old-fashioned terms. I beg the Paymaster General not to assume that 8s. does not matter. Perhaps I might have the attention of the Paymaster General. I hope that my figure is correct. I do not know whether he wants to challenge it. The White Paper says: The charge for adults will be 10p except in the months of July and August when the charge will be 20p.

Does the Paymaster General agree?


My Lords, the noble Baroness has said that the charge will be doubled in July and August, and this is true. I thought it would be a good thing to explain that when I come to speak, but if she wants me to explain it now, I will.


My Lords, I am at the Paymaster General's service. If he would like to explain it now. I shall be glad to hear his explanation.


My Lords there are now a number of our institutions which double their charges in the summer. As regards the 18 national museums, 26 per cent. of the total attendances come in those two months, and in those two months there is at some of the larger ones serious over-crowding during certain parts of the day. So there is a sensible administrative reason, which has been found in other institutions in this country, for trying to stagger visits. There is a second reason why we have to double the charge—I am sorry to have to go into this at some length: I had hoped to keep it for my speech. The second reason is that we are determined to keep the basic charge down to 10p. We cannot do that if we charge 10p through the most popular months. I reckon that it is far more in the interests of the public that we should secure the £1 million net that we want by doubling the charge during the period when over-crowding is already a problem, rather than have a higher basic rate throughout the year.


My Lords, I thank the Paymaster General for the courtesy of his explanation, but I am afraid that I am totally unconvinced by it. We should rejoice in the fact that we have an increasing number of people who want to enjoy our museums and galleries, and especially that there are an increasing number of young people, in particular, because of the improved education in schools, who want to do so. But to say that the way we are going to select those who shall have admission, and those who shall not, is on the basis of those who can afford to pay is, I think, a most barbaric and uncivilised way of dealing with one of the most sensitive fields in national life.


My Lords, it may be of interest to the noble Baroness to know that the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Edinburgh Castle double the charge in the summer, all for perfectly sound reasons. It is not that we do not want to have increasing crowds of children, or visitors of any other age; but it really does make sense to try not to spoil visits by overcrowding.


My Lords, I think that the Tower of London is a splendid place, and I have a special affection for Edinburgh Castle. But I hope that the Paymaster General is not putting even Edinburgh Castle or the Tower of London on the same basis as the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert, the Tate or any of our great museums. The essence of what I am saying is that these great national institutions are an integral part of our educational system, in the field of both adult education, and children at the sensitive growing age and the teenage.

If the Paymaster General could say to me that he was going to ensure that in the summer months those great galleries would be open later in the evening, that they would he open on Sunday forenoon, I should be very happy. I tried to get them open on Sunday forenoon. I did get a little more money, but not as much as I wanted. I wish I could have got enough staff and enough money. That, I think, is the civilised answer: that we should have longer hours of opening. I have been down to the great museums in Rome at midnight. So there are answers, if we really want to encourage our people in civilised pursuits. We could have later opening in the evenings in the holiday months, and on Sunday mornings in the summer. But to say that we are going to select on the basis of allowing those who can afford to pay to enter, and keeping out those who cannot, seems to me to be sheer barbarism. I am afraid that I cannot accept this. In my view one of the most insulting proposals of all is the doubling of the charges. I hope that we have more pride in our country and in our future than to think we are merely going to be an " old-fashioned museum ". We want to welcome our guests from abroad; we want them to have every possible amenity. But I hope that, above all, we shall be concerned to see that our own people have these opportunities.

I do not want to keep the House too long, but a great deal in the White Paper is very vague. For instance, who is a student? I entirely agree with the statement made by Professor Grimes, Director of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London, when he speaks of the help which is given by intelligent amateurs who consult national and local authority museums and can be of great service to archieology and national science, although they may not be registered students. Who are the students who are to get the special advantages? What is going to happen about those who are not registered students, who have finished their courses and who are earning their living? They may be young teachers; they may be unemployed; they may be in industrial design. But the time when it is most necessary for them to have free access to our museums and galleries is in their early years, when they are earning their living and, very often, are young married people. One may say, " Well let them pay for a season ticket." But the idea of a season ticket is a very dangerous idea because a nation grows on new beginnings. A nation grows by encouraging those who have not yet known the great experiences of the Arts to make a casual visit to an art gallery. Of course someone who is professionally interested will make any kind of sacrifice if need be in order to get a season ticket. But what about all the others?

I can remember that when I came to London as a young Member of Parliament I could not have afforded the charges to go into museums and galleries. But there was one picture in the National Gallery which was " mine ". I do not know why, but there was an El Greco there, and I sometimes went to look at that. and at nothing else. Maybe I liked the theme of Christ chasing the moneychangers out of the temple. I was not pretending to be a great æsthete. It may have been the wonderful El Greco colours which attracted me; it may have been the flow of the robes. I do not know why, but that picture just mattered to me, and it was " my " picture. But that did not mean I was excluding anyone else who wanted to look at it from doing so. So I ask the Paymaster General to believe that for many young people and many impressionable people this matter is important.

When we leave the young we come to people who may have had a pretty hard life. They may not have made a lot of money; they may not have been in the " rat race ". But the grace of their life has been that they have loved beautiful things and look forward to enjoying them in their older years. I hope that the Paymaster General will realise the discouragement that paying 10p. or even 5p, can be to people who are living on retirement pensions. It seems to me that the essence of the proposal to charge is its lack of compassion, its vulgarity.

Then we come to the reasons which so far the Paymaster General has given for his policy: that he must make these charges in order to get enough money to pay for a building programme. If he turns to the White Paper he will see that in paragraph 4 it is stated that the previous Government announced on May 22, 1968, an extension of the building programme for the national museums and galleries from an original figure of £5½ million to a total of £8.95 million. That means that three years ago, in May, 1968, the previous Government announced almost £9 million as a figure for a forward building programme. I hope that no one is going to assume that that figure would still have been about £9 million if the previous Government were still in office, because I can assure the Paymaster General that not only would proper arrangements have been made to take into account increases in the cost of living but I was already negotiating with my colleagues about an upward trend. We did this all the time; and we had to do it, because I hope your Lordships understand that before 1964 we had 13 lean years; we had 13 years of Tory Administration in which the neglect of building for our museums and galleries was a national scandal. For that reason, as Minister with responsibility in this connection for six years, I had to keep ungrading the amount allotted to the Arts Council. And as the Paymaster General knows, even to stand still you have to get more money. I should be delighted to know, not just that he is prepared to continue what was agreed in the previous Parliament—although I am certainly grateful that our plans are not being set aside in regard to the National Library and the British Museum, and much else—but what are the new plans. It is important that we should spend a great deal more on fabric, on preservation, and many other aspects of our museums and galleries. The forward planning of the last Government was that all this and a great deal more should be done.

These are no idle words, my Lords. A Government can be tested, not by their former promises, such as many of the Election promises of Members opposite about the cost of living and a great deal else; not so much by what they say they are going to do, but by the record of what they actually do. I was very proud to serve in a Government which year by year sought to give higher priority to the Arts over the whole field; and I was very much concerned about the neglect of our local museums and national museums. So I hope the Paymaster General will not say in your Lordships' House that he is going to justify this vulgar attack on the poor in seeking to keep them out of our museums and galleries in order that he should raise a small percentage of the cost of maintaining buildings.

My final word, my Lords, is to say that buildings are important. Ask any of our young artists and they will tell you how important buildings are. But they will also tell you that they arc not so concerned about buildings as about people. Buildings are important, but people are still more important. Buildings exist for people; people do not exist for buildings. And the most precious of people are our young ones, our young life —and not the young life that is most protected, not those who in their homes and in their schools are getting every encouragement, but those like Henry Moore, who in his youth came down from the coalfields; those like Graham Sutherland, and many other poor boys, who came to London. They found their way to the museums and galleries, and they enriched not only this country but the world with their creative genius. I hope that the Paymaster General will heed what we are trying to say to him in your Lordships' House this evening. He could have a wonderful record as the Minister responsible for the Arts. I wish him every success. But I deeply deplore that he should tarnish his reputation by this mean, contemptible proposal that we should keep out the poorest from our museums and galleries.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, I sympathise with a great deal of what the noble Baroness has said, but I do not propose to enter into any Party discussion about this issue. I should like to think that, above all, things such as museums and galleries are completely outside Party politics. I wish to pitch straight into the debate which has already begun about this vexed question of doubling of charges in July and August. I can see both sides of this question. I can certainly see the noble Baroness's side, and I can see the Minister's point about overcrowding in these two particular months. But there is another way of dealing with overcrowding, apart from raising the charges, and that is simply to say to people: " We are very sorry but the gallery is full." When one goes to a test match one is quite liable to be told that the ground is full, and one has to put up with it; it is one of the disappointments of life. I do not see why visitors to art galleries should not sometimes have to put up with the same disappointment.

People will be very disturbed at the idea that a working-class couple coming to London in July or August on their holiday are going to find that to go into the National Gallery they have to pay twice the sum that Londoners will have to pay when they visit the National Gallery in any of the other 10 months of the year. I believe this is going to be a very unpopular measure. I should like to put forward another possible scheme for raising the extra money, if the extra money has to be raised, and that is by means of a tourist tax which some countries operate, whereby a tax at a modest rate is collected as an addition to the hotel bills of foreign tourists who stay in those hotels. I imagine that we should exempt the youth hostels and places of that kind, because the people from abroad who patronise hostels are probably not wealthy. I suppose the wealthy foreign tourists who have the luck to stay with friends and do not have to go to hotels would escape the tax, but I would simply say " Good luck!" to them. It might be difficult to persuade the Treasury to earmark this money for expenditure on museums, art galleries and the like and not simply to pour it into the general taxation fund. However, that would not be a problem for me; it would be a problem for the Minister, if he chose to follow up the suggestion that I have made.

I wonder whether the Government have any designs on the Palace of Westminster as regards the 10p entrance charges. I would agree that the 60,000 visitors a year who come here when Parliament is sitting probably come primarily to see Parliament in action, but I cannot believe that the half-a-million visitors a year who come on Saturdays and Bank Holidays and during the Recesses do not come to see something which to them is akin to a museum or a gallery. Thanks to the blessings of decimalisation, even I have been able to calculate, I think correctly, that at 10p a time half-a-million visitors a year would produce £50,000 a year. Perhaps that suggestion can be looked at by the Government. I know it is a Royal Palace, but there is another Royal Palace which leaps to mind; it is not very far from here and it has within its precincts a nice little art gallery, open to the public. One pays to go in, and it is very good value indeed.

Finally, on the subject of the free bequests of collections, and free museums such as the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, mentioned, and in particular the Turner Bequest. I should like to mention, if I may. the Horniman Museum. I know that it comes under the Greater London Council. but I think it is relevant to this discussion because I see that in paragraph 7 of the White Paper there is to be a review comprising local museums. The Horniman Museum is adorned with a plaque which says that it was: …a gift from Frederick John Horniman, M.P.. to the London County Council as representing the people of London…dedicated to the public for ever as a free museum for their recreation, instruction and enjoyment. For good measure, between the autumn and the spring there are free concerts and free lectures at the Horniman Museum. I hone that institutions of this kind will remain free. I should very much resent the idea that, a bargain having been come to with a benefactor who has since died and is no longer able to renegotiate terms, it will not be adhered to. In particular, I hope it will never be said that because a particular endowment fund has proved to be inadequate because of the rising costs of recent years, that is any sort of excuse for breaking the original undertaking that the museum or gallery was to be free. Even if it is to become a charge on public funds to some extent, I hope that those institutions which were to be free for all time will remain free for all time.

8.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, has put before us this question of whether proper consultation has taken place with the trustees of the museums and galleries. I am sure that the noble Viscount will refer specifically to this point, but he will remember that when we discussed this subject on December 16 last the noble Lord, Lord Clark, in a maiden speech, said: if the Government wish those of us who are lovers of art to make some sacrifice in order to show our sense of social responsibility at a time of crisis, I would far rather they urged us to deny ourselves new acquisitions than to penalise or alienate those very people who would most wish to be enjoying the inexhaustible riches of our national collections."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16/ 12/70; col. 1407.] The noble Viscount will also recollect that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, made a strong speech, indicating the reluctance of the Trustees of the British Museum to have any charge put on entrance to the British Museum.

I should like to raise a further point. This matter has been partially raised already in connection with the Horniman Museum, but I wish to go somewhat further and to point out that in this White Paper we have a reference to provincial museums and galleries. When we had our debate on December 16 last year the suggestion was put forward that the charges were primarily concerned with national museums and galleries and not with the provincial ones, but when we look at this White Paper and see that reference is made in the last paragraph to provinical museums and galleries, and a clear indication is given there that it is the intention of the Government to do something to improve provincial museums and galleries, we may well ask why they should propose to spend any money at all on provincial museums and art galleries if they are not going to suggest that charges should be imposed for admission to those museums and galleries. It would seem a strange thing if the justification for charges to national museums and galleries is that by doing this the noble Viscount is able to convince his perhaps more Philistine colleagues that they may contribute money towards the improvement of the national museums and galleries, but that when it comes to the provincial museums and galleries some improvement will take place without these charges.

If, on the other hand, it is seriously proposed to recommend that there should be charges on all provincial museums and galleries, then this very point arises: that with many of the provincial galleries the original donors clearly indicated that they wanted the galleries to be open free to the public. That was certainly true of the art gallery in the city in which I live, Newcastle upon Tyne, the Lane Art Gallery, where the money was given early in the century clearly on the understanding—in fact it is specified in the deeds—that the art gallery should be open freely for all to come in. It seems to me that if the noble Viscount is going to start on this course of charging (as he clearly intends to do) for admission to museums and art galleries, he is bound to follow it up throughout the whole country, and we shall have the most retrograde step which has ever been taken in this country with regard to art and art education. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give us some clear indication of the policy of the Government with regard to these provincial museums and art galleries, and I must tell him that his actions in this matter will have a very profound influence throughout the whole country.

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to my feet with some considerable trepidation and a great sense of humility. I know that we have had a series of long debates on another matter, and therefore I am sorry to detain your Lordships for even a few moments. But I, too, am greatly concerned about the possibility of further extension of charges for museums and galleries. I wonder if I might explain to your Lordships 'the situation which myself I knew. I grew up as a small boy—this was more than 55 years ago: I am now 62—in Poplar, in conditions which to-day are perhaps best forgotten. I went to what was then called an elementary school where we were taught by rote, the multiplication table and so on and so forth. It meant nothing in intellectual terms at all. If we disobeyed the teacher we were told to sit with our hands on our heads. I need not go " deeper into that '. I had very great good fortune in my early life in Poplar, because before the age of 12 I was sent to St. Michael's Church, in Poplar, where a great saint—I think a very great saint—was in charge as a curate. His name was John Grosser; many of you have heard of him. I learned from John Grosser that there was more in life than these rather horrible material things that I had been experiencing. I confess that I did not understand it all, but I did get a sense of something more of the beauty in life which he, in his inimitable way, conveyed to people through his personality and his faith. I am not claiming to be a highly religious man; I am not. But something happened then, and this was followed by a further experience which happened to me—again I think a lucky one.

Having gone through this elementary school, it was possible for me to go to a good grammar school in Gloucester, Crypt School, with a long tradition. There, of course, conditions were quite different, and I was taught for the first time the elements of logic, the elements of Euclidian geometry. I discovered—and it was a great revelation to me—that the mind could do something. There I began to listen to music, and a great hunger developed (this sounds dreadful, but it is important, I think, that this should be said, because it is a personal experience which is very important to me and, I am sure, will be important to others who can experience it) for what is called, I think quite wrongly, culture: for the things of life which are beautiful in their own right, music and the arts and so on. At 17 I left that school and came back to London and began my search for these things.

I was working, and my wages were in the region of 30s. a week. I had to spend money on board and lodging. I had a little left over, and I used what was left to seek these things I had begun to realise were there. Sadler's Wells was there; the Old Vic was there; the old Queen's Hall was there. You could get into the Promenade Concerts at the Queen's Hall for half-a-crown. You could get into the gallery at Sadler's Wells for, I think, 9d. You could get a tram from Chingford Reach, where I lived, to Bloomsbury for 2d. return. You could do all these things on this very small income. There were the art galleries and the science museums, and these, too, I visited. I could not have done this had there been a charge at that time. It would have been frankly impossible.

Some of your Lordships may be wondering why I am able to tell you this. I am an agricultural man; I come from agricultural people. But I did grow up in Poplar. I had four years after the age of 17 working in London, and during that time, under the influence of John Grosser, as a result of the things I learned from him, I started a boy's club in Walthamstow. We organised athletics for them. I got some help. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Summerskill is not here at the moment, because one of the things we taught them was boxing. But I also managed to get them to go out with me to visit these museums, and I saw how they responded to that and how they liked that. This would not have been possible had there been a charge for admission.

It will be argued, and it is argued, that to-day things are different; that standards of living are higher; that young people leaving school have more money. I do not think this is true. One has to determine priorities, and if it is a question of having to spend money on other things, rather than these things which I think are wrongly termed " culture ", people are likely to spend it mainly in the wrong direction. I cannot understand why an obstacle should be put in the way of those who otherwise might investigate these avenues of perception—the arts and sciences and so on—as I think they would do if they were free. I am not one who believe that one should thrust culture down people's throats. I think there can be a response to culture in people who do not understand that it is in them. In this regard I remember very clearly the discussions we had on the Broadcasting Committee—I was on the Pilkington Committee. I was tempted to speak in the debate the other evening, but I did not. I am conscious of the contribution that Lord Reith made to the cultural development in this country by simply providing, on wireless in the old days, a sufficient stream of good music; and I know, again from my own experience, that people who previously had had no concern at all for opera and music listened to it almost unconsciously because it was there and learned to love it.

I apologise again for my intervention. I realise that what I am saying may sound awfully hypocritical, condescending and so on. But I feel quite strongly about this matter. I know that many of my friends do, too. I hope that the Government understand what I have been saying in terms of a personal experience. I hope they will understand that this made for an introduction to the more mental things—I hesitate to use the word spiritual things—these mental enjoyments, this better understanding of what is intrinsically good in its own right, which ought not to be thwarted.

8.50 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not delay you long. I agree with what my noble friends have said about the charges, and it seems to me that the economic gain is not really worth the tremendous social loss. But there are two points with which I hope the Minister will deal when he replies. Paragraph 1(a) of Cmnd. 4676 deals with finance and the scheme of entrance charges, and states: In consequence the Government are able to provide additional resources for the conservation and display of their collections. Since, as I understand it, money that goes to the Treasury cannot be earmarked for a particular purpose, I should like, if possible, a clarification of what that statement means. Perhaps we can also have some figures to show the comparison with what is being spent at the moment.

Also. I am a little perplexed about the expanded programme of new building and improvements, which is dealt with in paragraphs 4 and 5. Again, as I understand it, the previous Government had a number of projects under way; and, as well as those that will be completed, I believe that there are still some more. I do not understand how that fits in with the statement in paragraph 5, that This represents an increase of the order of 50 per cent. on the programme as previously planned. Unless my figures are wrong, I should have thought that that was possibly euphemistic, and that a considerable amount of the £10 million which is projected over the coming five years has already been put into projects. I wonder whether the Minister will clarify both of those points.

8.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are indebted to my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge for putting down this Question to-night. From this side of the House we make absolutely no apology for raising the matter again so soon after it was debated at the end of last year. My noble friend has received support from my noble friends fjord Wynne-Jones, Lady Birk and Lord Collison, who gave us a very moving speech from his personal experience and told us what free entry meant to him, and indeed what it will mean to so many people until it is terminated in the near future. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has not had much support from his own side to-night. My noble friend Lady Lee reminded us of the proper relationship between a Government and trustees. She also reminded us of the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, made such a notable speech. What my noble friend did not say was that that earlier debate was initiated by the noble Viscount the Paymaster General when he was a trustee of the British Museum. In fact, in the very notable speech that he made at the time, the noble Viscount reminded us of what should be the proper responsibility of trustees and their relationship with Government.

As my noble friend Lady Lee has said, the proposals in this White Paper are opposed by most of the galleries and museums. I should like to ask the noble Viscount about the discussions which the Government have had with the trustees. Paragraph 2 of the White Paper states: After careful consideration and talks with the museums and galleries, the Government have prepared a scheme of charges to be discussed with the trustees of the institutions concerned. I should like to ask the Government for some clarification, because I understand that in certain cases there has been no preliminary discussion except in a very cursory way or at a low level. For example, in the case of the Tate Gallery a communication was received from the Department at the end of October, inviting comments. The Tate replied in the middle of January, setting out their comments and proposing free entry for certain categories, such as children and retirement pensioners. The White Paper was published this month. I am told that between October and May there was no meeting between the Department and the Tate Director or Trustees.

I should also like to ask the Government about legislation. Paragraph 3 of the White Paper states that legislation will be introduced, and indeed the Government admitted in reply to a Question in the other place on February 4 that they had been advised that legislation would be necessary, particularly in the case of the British Museum. I should like to ask what form this legislation will take. I hear, for example, that any Bill may deal only with general matters, such as obliging the British Museum and the British Museum of Natural History to charge admissions and, in the case of bequests, to override the declared wishes of testators, as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said, and that the scheme for charges may be dealt with by Statutory Instrument. If that is so, it may mean that Parliament will not have an opportunity to examine the scheme in Committee and that it will have to be considered in toto. I should be glad if the Government would tell the House what they intend to do.

There is, for example, the important question of exemptions which we on this side of the House should want to examine in some detail. In the debate last December the noble Viscount the Paymaster General said: …the social service principle of assessing categories of persons who might be hurt by increased charges will be applied to museum charges ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16/12/70; col. 1393–4.] It is therefore all the more disappointing to find in the White Paper that the Government will not make concessions for those less able to look after themselves, such as children not in organised parties, and pensioners. In the case of children, the charge at all times will be 5p., but may I remind the House that the cost to parents of children's visits will be on top of the extra charges for school meals and milk? For families living outside London, as the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said, the charges will also be added to the fares.

The Museums Association have gone on record, since the White Paper was published, as saying that they are most disappointed that children will not be allowed in free, and the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education, at their annual meeting last January, passed a resolution against the imposition of entry charges. I understand that that was sent to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. It is a pity that so little notice was taken of it. The noble Viscount seems to think that because he once saw some children buying ice-cream outside the Science Museum, all children can afford a 5p. entry fee to a museum, which only shows how surprisingly out of touch he is.

Then there is the question of old-age pensioners. They will not be exempt and will have to pay the full charge. The Paymaster General has said that it would be administratively difficult to exempt them. I do not understand this. Pensioners are allowed in free at the Queen's Gallery. I suggest that the noble Viscount should ask the keeper of the Queen's pictures how it is done there. The recent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery devoted to Samuel Pepys could be visited by old-age pensioners on production of their pension books. May I ask the Government whether that sensible concession to pensioners will be allowed to continue at the National Portrait Gallery and other galleries, in spite of the White Paper? I should also like to ask the Government about free days. The question of free days is not covered in the White Paper. What line do the Government propose to take with the institutions over these? I know there may be large crowds, particularly if the free day is over the weekend, when many people will go who could not otherwise find the time or the money. But it is important to preserve at least one free day a week—unless, of course, it is the Government's intention to discourage visitors.

My Lords, I have two further questions. I should like to ask the noble Viscount: what will be the position in future of members of supporting societies? There are the members of the British Museum Society, which the noble Viscount him self started, I think, when he was the distinguished Chairman of the Trustees of the Museum; there are the Friends of the Tate; and, above all, there are the members of the National Arts Collection Fund. I happen to know that the members of the N.A.C.F. particularly feel most strongly about this. Many of them are elderly people living on small, fixed incomes; they supported the fund for many years; and now they will have this annual charge added to their subscription of £2 a year. I think we cannot underestimate what the Fund has done since its inception. It spends about £50,000 a year and has saved many works of art for the nation. One remembers the Holbein's "Duchess of Milan "; the Rokeby Venus "; the Wilton Diptych; more recently the Leonardo Cartoon; and, even more recently than that, the Stubbs painting of the cheetah. None of these might have been saved had it not been for the help of the National Arts Collection Fund. I would ask the Government whether they would consider granting free entry to all N.A.C.F. members, because otherwise I fear that the membership will drop.

My Lords, the White Paper estimates that the yield from these charges will be £1.3 million. Certainly the charges are rather less than we had feared, but I wonder whether the Government are not being too optimistic about the amount of money to be raised. I should like to ask for an assurance that the charges will not be increased after a short period if these do not reach their target. My noble friend Lady Lee has reminded us that the programme envisaged in the second part of the White Paper is a very ambitious one. We congratulate the Government on it, and for carrying on so much of the planning work that was originally initiated by the Labour Government. But, my Lords, heartening as it is to see them carrying on the good work, I cannot agree that money for the arts should be raised in this way. Briefly, this proposal is a tax on art. It is mean and Philistine, and we on this side of the House strongly oppose it.

9.4 p.m.


My Lords, this is the second time the Government have been grateful to the Opposition Benches for giving us the opportunity to say a word about our museum policy. It was the noble Lord, Lord Annan, last December, and to-day it is the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge. I ant very grateful for this, because I feel that 1 have failed in my communications. I am quite certain that what we are doing under the White Paper is for the benefit of the public, and I have not been able so far to impress a number of people who in my opinion are devoted adherents of the museum world, whereas if I could talk to them as I hope noble Lords will allow me to speak now I feel that I could get them round.

The reaction against charging is entirely understandable. Everyone would like to have free at the time of enjoyment that which he really prefers in the art world. I wish that I could go to an artist's studio and pick out without payment the canvasses that I fancy. It would be a joyful convenience for me to be able to ring up Covent Garden any morning and he allotted a couple of free seats for the evening's performance. But then reality breaks in. I was very moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Collison, because he revealed to us what it means to a young man, first making his way in the world, suddenly to have the door of one of the fine arts opened to him. The noble Lord was talking mainly about music. Music, of course, has always been paid for. One of my right honourable friends was saying to me only the other day that one never could get into the gallery for a Prom. without paying for it; and if music is the art which one cared most about, then it was not possible to get it free at the time. For example, the noble Lord was absolutely right in pointing out what the B.B.C. radio did for music when it first became a national service, but, of course, we do have to pay a licence fee for the B.B.C. This would be so if one went through the arts in general; and I think that a little later on I will, if I may, explain why the costs of the visual arts are rising so fast in comparison with the others that if we want to do what we want to do then we shall have—


My Lords, would the noble Viscount give way for just a moment? It is true I instanced the fact that one could get music, opera, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and so on, from Sadler's Wells, the Old Vic and the Queen's Hall very cheaply; and, of course, one has a great regard for the people who made this possible. But I mentioned these things only to indicate that one had suddenly seen a door opening—a door which one was seeking to pass through. Things were there which one did not know were there before, and one wanted to understand them. Music was one of them drama another. The third art—painting architecture, sculptures, science—was free. In my situation and in the situation of many people of my time, we thanked God for Sadler's Wells and their 9d. gallery; but we thanked God, too, for the fact that the museums and art galleries were free. Honestly, it would not have been possible to do anything more with one's 9d., or half-a-crown. That was the point I was making.


I deeply sympathise with the noble Lord's view. If he will hear me out, I think he will see that what we are trying to do is to make this door a great deal wider than it is now for more people than at present to go to the museums. One must consider the future.

If I may, I will first answer the Question that was on the Order Paper put to me by the noble Baroness and taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi: what consultations have we had with the trustees of the various museums before issuing Command 4676. That may seem a short document. We have been at work on it for nearly five months, and during that time we have had separate talks with the officials of the 18 national museums on the practical problems of charging at their particular institutions. These museums and galleries, as your Lordships may well imagine, differ very much one from the other, and therefore these talks could not be conducted very shortly. Those officials will have kept their trustees informed of these talks. The trustees themselves replied to my letter of last November in which I set out the Chancellor's statement about charges and asked for their views.

I said in the debate last December—and I should like to repeat it now—that I quite understand, having been a trustee myself, that it is very disagreeable suddenly to be told of a change like this. But we were in a financial position in which the Government wished to introduce what is called a mini-Budget, and it was absolutely impossible to consult anybody on any of the various measures that made up that pacakage. I am sorry about that, and I immediately did my best to make the situation all right with the trustees by asking them for their comments. Of the 18 museums consulted, two bodies came out in public flatly against charges, and most of the rest—I think it would be true to say all the rest—offered some comments on some aspect or other of the system as they saw it coming along, but went on to say that they would perefer to wait for a detailed proposal before they gave their final judgment. It was for that reason that we have been gathering together the results of all the talks with the officials and have worked out a scheme for charges which is balanced by an enlarged capital programme and a new initiative in the field of provincial museums. The White Paper has now been put to all trustees and I am ready for discussions with them as soon as they have considered its proposals.

I cannot imagine that anyone expected the trustees to greet the introduction of charges with shouts of joy—and that in spite of the fact that most of them are very well used to charging for special exhibitions 15p, 20p or 30p. I received an invitation this morning from the Victoria and Albert, with a charge of 30p to go to their special exhibition. It is interesting that when museums and galleries do charge these very considerable sums neither the public nor the critics complain. But, of course, charging every day means extra work and trouble not of their making. More important still—and I fully understand their reaction—charging reverses the practice of free entry which most of them have known since they were first connected with the museums. I am much older and I well remember paying to go into the National Gallery and going to see Turner's sunsets at the Tate. Most people in the museum service, at any rate, were not there before the war and do not remember those things.

Those who are working inside the service are almost certain to be against charges if these are brought in, if they consider them in isolation. Supposing the school governors and the teachers were asked whether or not they approved of raising the charge for school meals or imposing a new charge, say, for a " crash " course in French, one knows perfectly well what the answer would be. And yet, on taking a wider view, some contributions from the user are considered fair and have many times been instituted, even if those in the service were at first opposed in principle. Anyway, the fact is that the British public is thoroughly accustomed both to a subsidy raised from all the taxpayers, and then an individual payment by the user.

To make a museum charge palatable we are told that it is essential to pay the proceeds back to the museum for its own use. This is a very unusual demand. In the Health Service and in further education, at places of historic interest, such as the Tower of London or the Wellington Museum, the charges never have been earmarked and we do not hear of any resentment. In the present case I shall have no difficulty in showing that the increased resources to be made available to museums will over the years much exceed the revenue from charges. Another point that struck me in the controversy is that those who work in the social services are acutely alive to the need for more money to improve their service. They press their own claims as strongly as they can but at the same time they recognise that others have claims, and that the charges in their service help to foot the bill for all. For reasons that I find difficult to explain, a different attitude is adopted by those who oppose museum charges. Either they overlook the need for a great deal more money or they must think that the Government ought to provide whatever the museums require without putting them on a level with the other arts, or with the Health Service, or with areas in the education service. They talk as if there were some great principle at stake. There is none. No divine right of free entry can be claimed when so many institutions already charge. The question is a practical one: will charging help to give a better service to more visitors or not?

Let me turn now to the first part of the White Paper, which describes the proposed system of charges. This is designed to collect £1 million net a year from about 14 million visitors. The most irresponsible argument heard over and over again is that £1 million is a sum not worth the trouble of collection. It has been this, " Why bother about a million pounds? " attitude which has done so much to raise taxation to the shocking levels of the last few years and to leave such grievous gaps in the social services—so many things left undone that might have been done, or at least started, with husbandry.

Consistent with the objective of raising £1 million net, we were determined to keep the basic charge down to a figure that would be seen to be modest in relation to other forms of personal expenditure, This figure I thought should be 10p. You cannot get much for 10p nowadays. I must explain why, if we go above 10p, it is uneconomical to stop anywhere short of 20p. There is a practical problem here which governs the number of exemptions that we can make. The most economic method of collection when the attendances are large and fluctuating is a combination of automatic machines and a man in a booth. The machines are not clever at giving change; they get various forms of indigestion, and they are expensive to buy and unreliable in operation if asked to handle two or more coins of different sizes. A machine which will issue tickets for 15p is therefore a bad bargain. The basic charge must be either 10p or 20p.

Obviously, exemptions, either no charge at all or half-price, reduce the net revenue, both directly and indirectly, by raising the cost of collection. Any class of visitors who enter free or at reduced rates have to be personally identified. We consider that schoolchildren in organised parties, bona fide students of the museum's collections and readers in the museum's library should be admitted free. To my regret, we felt that it would be difficult to exempt old-age pensioners. The reason is that for some time it has been an accepted principle of finance—I believe on both sides of the House—that the best way to improve the pension is to raise the cash rate and allow pensioners in their very varying circumstances to spend their money as they choose. The Government are following this principle and raising the cash rate for a single person from next September by £1, from £5 to £6, the largest rise ever made in the pension rate.

That is the right way to help all pensioners, but there can be exceptions to the best of rules, and I should very much like to make one here. We do not know how many visitors to the national museums are pensioners, but there must be a number to whom a reduced charge for entrance and a cheaper season ticket would be of very real importance. and I want to help them. I am going to tell the museums that in our discussions I shall want to put forward this suggestion, and when they come to a conclusion I shall make an announcement. What applies to exemptions in favour of old-age pensioners or children applies still more to free days, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned. If one free day a week were granted, the basic charge would without any question have to be 20p the whole year round. I must also say that we have not found that museum officials are in favour of free days.

I was asked about doubling the charge in July and August. If there is an attendance curve which is right down at the bottom in the winter and goes right up to a peak and then comes down again. it surely makes sense to try to flatten the peak in this way, by having a much cheaper entrance fee in the winter time, as it is pretty well certain that there will be only United Kingdom residents visiting then, and a higher charge in the summer. The Tower of London doubles its charges from April to September; Hampton Court does so from April to September, and Edinburgh Castle charges 50 per cent. more from April to September. It is not a question of saying that all these institutions should be put in the same artistic bracket it is a question of managing the attendance in the best way for those who want to go to them. It was interesting to note that in the many articles which criticised the charging system there was hardly a mention of the season ticket for £1. I think that must be because it does meet the anxieties of a great many people who wrote to us and told us that they visited museums a great many times a year. I am quite sure that the season ticket will be popular. It would make art excellent Christmas present. To give it to one of one's younger friends, in addition to a book token, would be a very acceptable gift.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, whether we could put up a notice saying " House Full ". I think he will find that all directors of museums would be very unhappy if they had to put up such a notice. What they are doing in America, at least I think in some museums on all the days of the week, is to require that one must book in advance whether one pays or not, because the purpose of the visit is destroyed when the number of people inside the museum exceeds some figure, according to the gallery concerned. I do not favour a tax on tourists, I do not believe that that would be a good way to raise this money. They will, of course, be offered—in addition to the season ticket they can get now, which admits them to historic houses —the same season ticket advantages as anyone of us, by paying an additional £1.

The legislation will be enabling legislation. We do not intend to impose charges on any museum. The reason we must have legislation in respect of the British Museum and the British Museum of Natural History is that it is not quite clear whether the Trustees have the power to charge. If they feel that they need the protection of an enabling measure we will certainly bring it forward. For the same reason we shall have to legislate in respect of some of the Scottish museums but not in respect of any of the others. The trustees of the Wallace Museum, for instance (it is sometimes mentioned in this connection), were given authority to make rules covering charges when they first received a Government grant in 1897.

My Lords, I must say a word about the practical issues behind the decision to charge. The first point is that every visitor who now enters one of our national museums, whether for a whole day or for ten minutes, costs, on average, over £1. This figure is rising fast. A charge, therefore, however small, has the same effect as the money for a ticket for the theatre or a concert, in that it will reduce the amount of subsidy which has to be provided out of general taxation. Secondly—and I rate this even more important—the number of museum visitors is going to increase to the point where overcrowding, at any rate in the summer months, begins to destroy the whole purpose of the visit. Attendances will then be kept down for the very worst of reasons, unless we start now to pro vide more space in which to accommodate the increase in numbers of visitors. A growth in the numbers of this order follows quite inevitably from the much wider teaching of art in all the schools—a far greater number of young people are interested in these things—and also from the longer and more distant holidays which people here and abroad are now able to take.

My Lords, I find it hard to understand why the opponents of charges are so unwilling to look at the position of museums as it must be in a few years' time. They seem to be interested in the size and composition and demands of the present attendances. If, occasionally they refer to the need for expansion, other than the acquisition of more objects for the collections, they assume that, unlike the other arts, museums will get, and have a right to have, all the public money they want, with no contribution from the user. I must tell them that this is not so. There is no superiority about the visual arts. I think it is perhaps because I, for one, derive even more pleasure from the visual arts than from other fine arts that I realise how much needs to be done to promote the welfare of the museum and to prepare for the crowds that are coming.

I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that without the introduction of charges the capital programme set out in paragraph 6 of the White Paper would not now be authorised to start. This programme does not include the £36 million for rehousing the British Museum Library, although that project will in fact release space for the other collections of the British Museum. In order to set out the White Paper as clearly and, if noble Lords wish, as objectively as possible having regard to the previous programme and the one now, I set out two lists of capital works.

In the pipeline are projects, for which the money is already included in the Vote of the Department of the Environment and of which about £2-t million remains to be paid, which were on the list for which the noble Baroness was responsible. The second list, for which the money is not included in any programme, is of projects that are now authorised to start as soon as they are ready. When there is a large building project, it takes a long time to get all the plans ready right down to the details, and to be told, when you have the plans ready and you can go to tender, that the money will be there this year and in the succeeding years is something that has not been done before with the schemes in paragraph 6. They amount to approximately £11 million, but in addition there are schemes under £200,000 and a list of minor works that come in every year under £30,000, which cannot now, for obvious reasons, be programmed in detail. I must. however, point out that the smaller works are very important additions to the major projects, because they will enable much space to be better used than it is at present and further they will enable museums who have no big schemes on the stocks at this time to benefit materially from the White Paper. Your Lordships will also realise that the Government are not simply authorising a series of capital sums. When these extensions are completed, more staff will have to be engaged and the operating costs will increase all round. But it is only in this way that we can prepare for the crowds that are coming.

Finally, I turn for a moment to the third part of the White Paper package, which in years to come may well be regarded as the most important. Nothing adequate has ever been done to develop our provincial museums. It is not the fault of the Standing Commission, who are advisory and would be the first to tell us that many of their recommendations have not been acted upon. We are dealing here with a service that is largely controlled by local authorities, and they have had very little encouragement from the Government to improve their museums in the same way as they have built up a really fine public library service. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, said, and I can tell him that there is not the slightest intention of influencing any local authority to charge if they do not want to. There are 51 of these museums and galleries who charge now, among them some of the most popular and distinguished museums in local authority hands. But from the centre no encouragement, one way or the other, will be given. There is a clear need, however, to find out about them, and a lot of work to be done. I have therefore invited a distinguished group of people, with wide experience of museums and education, to join me in working out a policy for provincial museums and galleries in close relation with the national museums. That does not mean the same financial arrangements. What it means is that there is help which the national museums can give to the provincial museums, and vice versa. it may well be a two-way street, but it wants to be much better organised than it is now.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his remark about not intending to force local authorities to charge. Does this mean that local authorities will be able to get Government help in developing the museums and galleries, even if they do not make charges?


The purpose of this committee is to work out a scheme and structure for local museums and concerning some fairly widespread common services. I hope there will be some capital programmes as well. Certainly this Government will not say to them. " You cannot participate in the benefits of this scheme unless you charge." This is a local business, and I believe very firmly in leaving it to local authorities. Some of the best museums in the Provinces, the noble Lord will know, are closely associated with universities. One would not expect, for example, museums at Oxford or Cambridge to charge, because they represent a different kind of museum. The local authorities will be left to make up their own minds on that matter.

I would ask your Lordships, in conclusion, to look at this White Paper as a whole, because those who oppose charges must ask themselves how they would secure the resources for the museums which arc so badly needed. The debate before this one was a wonderful instance of a service for disabled people, with one noble Lord after another making a case that touched all our hearts for providing more money for these people needing special help. There are many services like that, and the problem that I face is, where can I get enough resources to place our museum service, both at the centre and in the Provinces, on a footing which will enable far more people to go and enjoy them, to gain information, to be able to buy reproductions, and so on, which the modern public—especially the young public—wants to do. And whatever we may think about our favourite museum, that they cannot do now.

I would put it in this way: first, that without charges there would be no capital programme of the size authorised for the national museums, and, secondly, if that example were not set by the programme for the national museums there would be little, if any, chance of getting anything going in the Provinces. For that reason, the White Paper puts in motion a series of developments that in time will be seen to be of lasting benefit to the British public.


My Lords, may I ask one thing before the noble Viscount sits down? I did not wish to intervene earlier. He said, I think, that he could not understand why so many people felt that a saving of just over a million pounds meant so little. If I may say so, that seems to me wrong. Those of us who feel this policy is wrong take this view because it is a question of choice and priorities. Many of us feel that you need not take sixpence off income tax but could use the money in other ways. It is not a case of thinking that a million pounds does not mean anything: it is a case of where you take the million pounds from.


My Lords, I am glad to hear that the noble Baroness will help me. This is an argument which is often thrown at me by young art students. They say, " What arc you bothering about a million pounds for? It is such a little sum." Well, with the noble Baroness as my ally, we may scotch that one.