HL Deb 05 March 1986 vol 472 cc261-91

8.49 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. May I say, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, that I very much regret its necessity. In 1974, as Minister for the Arts, it was my privilege to abolish the admission charges which then prevailed. When Mr. St. John-Stevas welcomed my statement in the other House on 22nd March 1974, he asked me whether it was my intention to introduce legislation to prevent the re-imposition of such charges, indicating in doing so that he thought that it would be very undesirable indeed that such charges should be re-introduced. I said that legislation was unnecessary, but events have shown that I was wrong.

The experience of a year or more of charging at that time had proved such a disaster that it seemed inconceivable that any Government would step back into the mire from which we had just emerged. There was general rejoicing and the official Conservative position then was that there was no intention of repeating an experiment which had proved so unpopular and which had not even paid for itself. The problem was then, and will be now, that if you fix charges low you do not even recover the cost of manning the turnstiles, whereas if you fix them higher you turn away precisely those people you are there to serve, and you halve your admissions.

The Times of 30th March 1974 reported, "Museums rejoice as charges end." They said that there had been a huge drop in attendances and they quoted Mr. Frederick Dunning, the curator of the Geological Museum then, as saying that everyone was glad. They expected in that museum an immediate recovery in attendances which had collapsed to a fraction of normal. All the national collections reported similarly and there were balloons flying at flag staffs and huge signs of "Free" outside the Tate, the National Gallery and so on.

This time it has been denied from that Dispatch Box that the Government's changes in museum and funding methods were in preparation for the return of charging, but The Times once again saw through that. On 11th February last it announced the changes under the heading "Backing for museum charges", and its piece began: Financial incentives have been announced to encourage national museums and galleries to charge entry fees. When the decison was taken to permit charging in 1971–72, the fee was fixed at 10p with 5p for children, and as a result of that a number of improvements were to be made in most of the buildings housing the national collections. In that end, in some cases the money collected did not even cover the cost of manning the turnstiles, and it certainly did not pay the costs of improving the buildings.

But the idea of charging, even at so modest a level, was by no means universally popular even in the Conservative Party. Members who are in this House today on the Government side spoke out against them then, and no one was more vociferous in his objections than Mr. Jeffrey Archer, then in another place, who is now vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. Mr. Archer said, among other things, at col. 331 on 18th October 1972: … the frightening question is, what comes after museum charges? Are we to have library charges next? I would oppose the Government on that as well … it must not be allowed." [Official Report, Commons.] But, of course, it was allowed. There were not enough men and women who saw principle in the light that I see it to follow Mr. Archer. Perhaps we shall do better this time. We shall see.

Speaking in this House at that time my noble friend Lord Strabolgi said: I hope that this whole disgraceful policy will be changed by the next Labour Government", and of course it was. My noble friend helped me to do it, and I found there was a great deal in what Lord Robbins said in opposing the Bill to charge admission in 1971. He was, I think, chairman of the National Gallery at the time. He said at col. 853 of the Official Report of 22nd November: I greatly regret what we are being compelled to do—that of course, is the plain fact of the matter". And it was the plain fact of the matter. The notional freedom of the trustees to do as they wished was as illusory then, as Lord Robbins made clear, as it will prove now. Lord Robbins also said: … three-quarters of the pictures in the National Gallery have been given to and not bought by the nation … I would stick my neck out and say that most of them, from J. W. M. Turner downwards, hoped that all at large would be free to enjoy the riches that they were leaving behind them". [Col. 854.] The same goes for many of the other national collections.

I suspect that behind the scenes discussions are taking place with the trustees today, in spite of the Government's protestations to the contrary. But what discussions have taken place with the trustees on this matter? What about the staffs of the museums and galleries? No discussions have taken place with them, yet they spend their lives in these great institutions. They are, almost to a man and a woman, against charging. Are they to have no say in the matter?

I have here 5,000 signatures, most of them collected by the staff of the V & A, against the so-called voluntary admission charge which has been exacted there. The petition reads: We the undersigned deplore the introduction of a voluntary admission charge to the Victoria and Albert Museum and request the trustees to explore other ways to make up the shortfall in running costs imposed by the Government's restrictions on public spending". There are other ways and, if we are allowed to go into Committee, I have no doubt we will be able to discuss them then.

Turning to my Bill, it is a simple four clause affair with two main clauses. Clause 2 prohibits charging for admission to any museum or gallery of which the expenses are wholly or mainly met out of moneys provided by Parliament. This also prohibits voluntary contributions on entry. It does not, of course, prevent any other voluntary contributions. I think it is important to note that. Similarly, the other main clause makes it clear that admission may be charged to any special exhibition within the museum or gallery.

A few years ago, one of the Sunday papers had the idea of asking some people to write a piece saying which great painting they most admired and why they would like to possess it. I found no difficulty in announcing my love for Manet's Water Lilies which is in the National Gallery—a wonderful painting. You can go in on a dull cold day and warm yourself body and soul in its hazy sunshine. You can even lose your fear of death in it. The difficulty arose when I said that I did not want to move the painting as I already owned it and wanted it to stay on the walls of the National Gallery where it would be well looked after. The Sunday Times did not follow this at all. It was not possession as they saw it and so I lost my £50, or whatever it was, for the article. However, when the charges were abolished we all gained the Manet, and much besides, which belongs to me and to everyone else—and no one must be charged money to see it.

I was interested to follow the end of the previous debate on universities. I do not quite go along with George Bernard Shaw, who said that he never ceased to thank God that his mind was never crippled by a university education. My university, as I left school at an unconscionable early age, was the Enfield Public Library, the British Museum, and the National Gallery. Later I discovered the V & A, the other Kensington museums, and the Tate. I wandered around London day after day, going from one to another, amazed and astounded at the richness that was mine and at my endless discovery. I found the world and all that was in it. I began to grasp the extraordinary achievements of the species to which I belong: its history, its glory, and its terrible failures. I obtained a perspective on the universe, and I could have acquired that in no other way.

Such cannot be obtained by a formal visit; that is only the start. Are the children of the future to be deprived of that wealth? My Lords, surely not. So I beg your Lordships to give my Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Jenkins of Putney).

9.2 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls rose to move, as an amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper that we consider giving this Bill a Second Reading in insert ("this day six months").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper, that we consider giving this Bill a Second Reading in six months' time. That, as your Lordships will know, is the well-mannered way of telling the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that we do not want his Bill in its present form. That is what I want to say in very clear terms.

In my view, the noble Lord's Bill, which is far-reaching in the effect that it would have on the powers of trustees of museums and on the Exchequer, is so fundamental that it is not a proper subject to consider, in the terms in which it is set out, under the Private Bill procedure. It is possible to do so but it is not altogether in conformity with the general convention of what is dealt with under the Private Bill procedure.

In addition to the Bill being at variance with any convention usually associated with a Private Bill, it is a Bill that must be examined seriously because it is both destructive and extreme in its intent. All of us, whatever our views on this particular Bill, are proud of our museums and art galleries. They are a national possession of great value. We enjoy sharing the pleasure of visiting them and learning from them with all the visitors to our shores. There is no different view on that point. We are proud of our museums and galleries, they are valuable, and certainly we want to see that they continue in existence—with perhaps ever-growing power.

Initially, and for many years, we all took great pride, I am sure, in the fact that even though we were allocating the nation's money to replenishing and generally maintaining those museums and galleries, we could permit visitors admission to them free of charge. It was a matter of some pride also that we were almost alone among the nations of the world in doing so. I do not imagine that any other nation—socialist, capitalist, or whatever one likes to call their general thinking—had ever done the same. That other nations did not follow our line in that respect was, I have no doubt, for very good reasons.

From a personal point of view, I have to say that I can think of few things that give more self-satisfaction than giving something worthwhile to one's family and neighbours. However, when circumstances change nothing is more stupid than to carry on blindly doing so when such a course may well undermine both the value and existence of that special something that one wants to give. I believe that we have now reached that point in respect of our museums and galleries.

So far as concerns the arts, no one can deny that over recent years circumstances have changed; the circumstances that enabled us to imagine that we could go on acquiring valuable possessions, maintain them, and replenish them depending only on grants from the nation's Exchequer. The reason for that change can be summed up in seven words: inflation, improved living standards, increased running costs.

The figures to confirm that change and the cost of it are there to be seen. When I first entered Parliament in 1950, the Exchequer grant to the arts was £1¾ million. In 1970, it had increased to £18½ million. This year, in 1986, it will increase to £273 million.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to ask whether we may have those amounts in real figures? We all know that there has been inflation of something like 30 times. If one wants to give figures, they would be much easier understood if they were made roughly comparable.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, the figures that I am giving the House are figures that have been extracted from the Official Report. They are true figures.

If it is that one wants to separate the costs of the museums and galleries from the general costs of the arts that I have just set out, then they are as follows. In 1950, the grant to museums was £1 million. In 1970, it had increased to £8.8 million. In 1986, the grant has increased to £89 million. That shows an increase in costs that reflects changed circumstances. I submit that those figures themselves make it essential that any policy of free entrance that may have been right when things and costs were different cannot be right today.

The risk that we would get to the point where, unless we obtained extra replenishment of funds, the quality of our museums would fall was recognised on this side of the House as far back as 1972. At that time my noble friend Lord Eccles—who I am delighted to see here and even more delighted to know is to take part in the debate—was then Paymaster-General and put through an Act which removed any statutory impediment to charging at the trustees' discretion.

The Government never have recommended in statutory form that there should be a charge. What my noble friend did was to remove the statutory objections to the trustees and the directors of the museums—and who should know more about their needs and the risks than the people in charge, day by day?—being able to consider other ways of adding to any government grants in a way which would enable them to carry out their task of producing quality in their museums and galleries. I recommend to noble Lords who are interested in this subject that they read my noble friend's speech of 22nd November 1971, because he set out the general circumstances which anticipated the problems we are having to face today. It was the first step towards alleviating the problem while in no way interfering with the quality of the museums themselves.

When my noble friend produced his 1972 Act the suggested admission charge, if people followed it through, was 10p. If it had been accepted at that time it could well be that many of the problems we are facing today would have been mitigated. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said, within four months or so of the passing of that Act the Labour Government came to power and the noble Lord himself, as Minister for the Arts, removed the beginning of even a 10p charge for entering museums. I think that is very sad.

In this new Bill—and this is why I claim that it is an extreme Bill—the noble Lord wants to eradicate entirely the 1972 Act. What he wants to do now is to remove any powers that the trustees and the directors of museums and galleries have to even consider making a charge, whatever the circumstances. My noble friend's Bill merely removed the statutory objections if they thought that it would be justified. It left them free to run their shows and take everything into account. As regards the young Jenkins not having his university equivalent by going to museums I am quite certain that the trustees in charge of these great organisations will find it possible to bring in the kind of amendments that will allow people in that situation to take advantage of them. Experience has shown that ordinary users of the galleries are prepared to pay, as they have to do in every other country.

At this point I want to justify my comment that this Bill is destructive. What it does is set itself against the judgment of the experienced trustees who have the day-to-day contact and knowledge and whose only interest—it has nothing whatever to do with one's general view of the sort of society in which we live—is to maintain the quality of the establishments.

The need for such changes made possible by the 1972 Act, which this Bill would remove, was recognised by many organisations. The education, science and arts Select Committee approved it in 1982 and said that it was good. The trustees of the National Maritime Museum have inaugurated charges because they think it is necessary. The Victoria and Albert Museum trustees have come down on the side of applying the intentions behind the Bill. They have not put on a charge although they have tried to encourage visitors to make a voluntary contribution; but it is specifically set out in this Bill that not even a voluntary contribution can be made. The Natural History Museum in South Kensington, as we read in the newspaper only last week, said it has to choose between admission charges and staff redundancies.

If this Bill were accepted and became an Act, it would mean that in the absence of money from some other source we should have to face up to redundancies, and that is hardly in keeping with the outlook that any of us want at this time with unemployment as it is.

Charging has nothing to do with keeping people out. We want more money to be spent on the arts in general, and one way of obtaining that is to share the rising costs between the general body of the taxpayer and those who use the particular form of art which appeals to them. That is not new. It is done in all the subsidised theatres and opera houses; it is done at places of historic interest; in many museums and at ancient monuments. No one expects to go to the Coliseum to hear the English National Opera for nothing. No one expects to go to the Aldwych, which is supported by public funds, for nothing. People do not expect to go to the Festival Hall for free. No one expects to go round Hampton Court or the Tower of London for nothing. In all such instances it is accepted by the public and by the trustees that the costs should be shared between the taxpayer and the users. It is a partnership which is sensible, which is accepted internationally and which is most likely to enable us to achieve what we most want—properly stocked and replenished museums and art galleries.

In this Bill, which I find so objectionable, the noble Lord in subsection (2) twists the knife because he not only prevents trustees from considering admission charges, he says that they cannot encourage users, not even overseas visitors, to make a voluntary contribution. Which church is there in the land where they do not have a gift box if you look around the church?

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, if the noble Lord would give way I should like to correct him on a point of accuracy. It would be very kind indeed and I should be most grateful to him. I think it should be on record that there is no objection to voluntary contributions so long as they are not associated with entry to the museum or gallery.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, the noble Lord made that quite clear and his Bill makes it quite clear; but he would not allow the Victoria and Albert Museum to do what it is now doing, that is, not putting on an admission charge but asking people to contribute voluntarily if they wish to do so. This Bill would rule that out. I do not know of a church in the land where they do not do that. I do not know of any museum in the world where they do not want to do that. I am saying that we must not have a statute which does not allow that.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I have naturally investigated, they tell me that, despite the picket lines that have been outside the building since last November, a half to a third of the people going to the V & A have made contributions, and that by and large overseas visitors have contributed about £2 per head. Your Lordships will see how sensible this is when you know that the V & A explain that 82 per cent. of the grant they receive goes in wages and salaries. I believe that to interfere with the means of obtaining extra money would be a retrograde step and a dangerous step, and that the proposal reflects an extremism which I should not have thought this House would want to encourage.

When charges were put on at Apsley House, the National Folk Museum, the Museum of Norwich and the National Trust properties, the attendance went up rather than down. The Government have tried to give a lead. We want to maintain our museums and galleries at the highest standard. For three years and perhaps beyond that we have undertaken to maintain the funding that now exists, but we recognise that extra money may well be needed by the museums over and above the contribution which we make and which we guarantee.

In order for the museums to obtain the extra money that may be needed, we encourage the setting up of shops and all the activities that are found at museums which may well bring a profit which will help their finances. We encourage them to do what the Victoria and Albert Museum is doing in asking for contributions. It would be retrograde once again to put on the statute book an obstacle to allowing people voluntarily to make a contribution. It would be dangerous and destructive to remove from the trustees the right to make a charge if they feel that it is in the interests of the museum to do so.

It is in order to retain that kind of freedom, which is universal, sensible and likely to produce the kind of results that we all want in terms of keeping our museums at the highest level, that I hope that your Lordships will follow me into the Lobby, if there is any need for it, to see to it that this rather extreme, destructive Bill does not obtain a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at the end to insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Harmar-Nicholls.)

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness White)

My Lords, the original Question was, That this Bill be now read a second time, since when an amendment has been moved to leave out the word "now" and at the end to insert, "this day six months". The Question that I now have to put, therefore, is that this amendment be agreed to.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord opposite that I knew that the Government had been selling off the family silver, but I had not appreciated, and I do not feel that I can accept, that they have brought this country to such a pretty pass that they are now unable to afford to maintain our museums and national galleries. The noble Lord said that it was up until then that he, among the other inhabitants of this country, had pride in the fact that we could go to our museums and galleries without pain; but if that is the case, it is only since this Government came to power that that emergency has arisen.

I support this Bill which I find constructive and far from destructive. The noble Lord brings it forward, as he says—and I agree with him—as a matter of necessity; as an answer to this Government's approach to the arts, the unacceptable face of the market economy. The inspirational message sent out by the Minister for the Arts is that we get what we pay for; if I may say so, the age old prerogative of the harlot throughout history.

What a retreat we have seen in this past decade from the ideals that inspired the creation of our great museums and galleries. They were to become, and have become, centres of scholarship and discrimination, where the human heritage of man's infinitely varying imagination and skills is preserved in trust for the present and for future generations; freely accessible to the people, irrespective of wealth, status, education, age or nationality. They were works hitherto available only to the privileged few but now to be enjoyed by all for the enrichment of their lives. Cared for by dedicated and highly qualified professional staffs, and admired and envied across the world, the contents of those institutions, acquired by state purchase and private benefaction, have become the property of the nation, to be held on trust in the care of trustees, so held for the enjoyment and the education of the people, and that means all the people.

What do we now see? We see a government pursuing a policy which undermines and pressurises the trustees to betray their trust. It is a policy to commercialise the museums; to run them as businesses with the aim of generating income; above all, to market and profit by their products, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, would say. The trustees are to be business men; tycoons who, with some notable exceptions, know nothing about scholarship and less about art. Their job is now to manage, as if those institutions were corporations, with the arrogance and the ruthlessness so necessary for success in the market place. The highly qualified directors and staff are apparently to be considered as mere employees; employees of the board, and a board not of trustees but a board of directors.

The Government promised that they would never introduce entry charges after the fiasco of 1974. Instead, they have deliberately promoted a policy of cutting grants, with the message to generate income to fill the gap; in other words, to bring in entry charges. Each museum is picked off singly. Each is forced to act in its own self-interest without reference to the public good.

I ask your Lordships: do we want to erect barriers at the door to sections of the population in our museums? Do we want the squalid blackmail that is now being pursued in South Kensington? Do we want candle-lit dinners and social soirées among the Rembrandts where the well-heeled shareholders of the sponsors come to look at each other rather than to look at the works on the walls of the museum? Is it an extra pleasure to pay 50p to turn on the light in order to see the Rembrandt? Shall we charge next, as already mentioned by the noble Lord who introduced the debate, for libraries, public parks and gardens? It would, I suggest, be an abomination to charge a fee for each visit to our national museum of modern art, the Tate, where artists of all ages and many members of the public go repeatedly to study contemporary art, ever changing, ever different, week by week.

It would be more than an abomination, I suggest, to charge for the soon to be opened Turner-Clore Gallery that will house the Turner bequest, those paintings left by that great artist to the nation for the public. He would turn in his grave. Of course, arguments can be made for charging and arguments can be made against charging. In my view, the question is simply one of principle and nothing less.

Before I finish, I should like to address a question to the Minister. A very obscure and difficult to understand statement was made in this House on 10th February. It related to the measures that are to be taken to enable museums to keep the money that they generate and to carry over a certain amount of it from year to year. The words used in the statement are that, in order that the museums shall be allowed to keep this income, the Minister has found it necessary, to convert the method of financing from direct Vote provision to grant-in-aid".—[Official Report, 10/2/86; col. 92.] I do not know what those words mean. There is, I know, a great deal of questioning in the museums as to what they mean. Hitherto the running costs of the national museums have been provided on the Vote and only the purchase grant by means of the grant-in-aid. I ask the Minister: does the change mean that now the whole of the museums' financial provision will be at the discretion of the Minister? If so, does it mean that the trustees can use all this money for any legitimate expense? I say, frankly, that I am suspicious that the new funding puts the museums to a far greater extent at the mercy of the Minister. I ask the Minister to allay that suspicion if he is able to do so when he winds up the debate.

Finally, I say to the Minister that the trustees must of course move with the times. They must present their treasures in a contemporary way. They must provide the public with the facilities that they need. And of course they must see that their catering and their shops work at a profit. They can use sponsorship as small icing on the cake. They can charge for special exhibitions. I would say, however, that if you persist in your aim of commercialising these great institutions you will lose for ever their disinterested services to the public and their standards of scholarship and discrimination which, I can assure the Minister, in this one area are still the envy of the world.

9.30 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, in 1971, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, recalled, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, introduced the Bill to authorise museum charges. I well remember that I supported him at that time and I need not rehearse again the reasons because in some degree they have been outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I have in mind particularly such things as charges for the theatre, charges for National Trust, and so on. What I do remember was the attack—that is not perhaps quite the right word—of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, on my support of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. That upset me because she was a very great Minister of the Arts. I was also attacked by Lord George-Brown. One can remember those things and yet one can hold one's position.

In my opinion, today's Bill tries to put the clock back. It is trying to stop all charges except for special exhibitions despite a very important change in the last 15 years. That change has been announced recently—namely, that what the museums and galleries can raise by their own endeavours will not be taken into account when making any block grant.

That to me is something of the greatest importance and I was rather distressed when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, being pretty unfair about ceremonies or functions which may take place in museums. After all, does he not want to have Friends of museums? Does he not want that support? It seems to me that he went too far. The noble Lord accepts certain things which the museums can do. There are shops—they were not allowed some time ago—there are sponsorships, but they may not have entrance charges. There is this all-important principle that each board of trustees is free to do what it wants: to make charges, as it thinks best. There need be no uniformity, and nothing compulsory.

Several of your Lordships have talked about the V & A. My wife and I happened to go there on Sunday. There was the lady with the sign saying "Voluntary contributions" and the list of the contributions which one might or might not make. I was very interested in the experience. I said, "Very well, I shall be happy to pay something." The lady looked at me—and it was quite clear that I was an old age pensioner—so when I suggested paying something more she said, "You do not have to. You really do not have to pay anything." All right, there is no objection. Of course, the sequel to that is that one probably willingly puts up some money. It is not the kind of voluntary contribution system that one has, for example, in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. As it is being operated at the present time it is a genuine and free chance to help pay for what one is going to enjoy. All the same, as I have said already, the trustees have absolute power to do as they see fit, to decide what they charge, who they charge, whether they charge, whether there is no charge. The decision about the classes of people who might be charged is entirely up to them.

I have only one thing that I would urge on all trustees of all museums. It is that if they decide to charge they leave at least one day in the week as a free day for anybody to go in.

I am off tomorrow morning—I have delayed going to Italy for the university debate and this one—and when I go to Italy I shall go to museums and galleries. Without exception, I shall be charged. I do not mind; indeed, nobody minds. One can make certain arrangements for the locals of the town to have a pass so that they pay virtually nothing. All those kinds of things are possible, but the idea of ruling them out altogether I find misguided.

I do not think that there is any high principle involved in this. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, spoke about a high principle. I just know that in Victorian days we were the richest country in the world and so could afford to let things continue to be free, but nowadays we are not in that happy position.

We all know that ahead of us lies more leisure, and this is a challenge to the museums and galleries to do better and to give better value, better facilities, better showing, better conservation—for example, air conditioning is an essential in picture galleries.

However, all this costs money and there is no doubt in my mind that, if the museums can raise a considerable sum for these necessities, which cannot be provided with the present shortage of money, visitors will benefit greatly. I think that this Bill is out of date; it is out of tune with the times. It is well-meaning, but it is not to the advantage of the public. Far from gaining, I believe that they would suffer. Therefore, I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and support his amendment.

9.37 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, it is the first time that I have had the pleasure of following straight upon another Cross-Bencher, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, with whom I found myself in complete agreement. As I understand it, the facility that we have available for introducing Private Members' Bills can serve several quite distinct purposes: it may prove a launching pad for some great reform which the Government of the day have shrunk from tackling; it may tentatively draw attention to some major ill that ultimately calls for perhaps a different form of remedy; it may be a modest effort to tidy up some striking anomaly in the law that would draw wide support; or, less pretentiously, the Private Member's Bill has on occasions allowed a frustrated Back-Bencher to discharge an undelivered speech and to get some bees out of his bonnet. As an often frustrated Back-Bencher myself, I suspect that this Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, to proscribe museum charges and voluntary contributions falls into this last category. It is part of the charm of the noble Lord that he is never short of an undelivered speech and, like me, he has his share of bees in his bonnet.

First, I congratulate the noble Lord on getting this particular buzz out into the open, especially as I suspect that it will sting most of us less than it appears to have been stinging him. However, I find it difficult to share his engaging enthusiasm for this particular Bill. Its author seemed to claim that it was a positive, forward-looking measure to relieve our people of some great deprivation. Picking my words carefully to avoid the Standing Order on "asperity of speech", I would rather describe it as a narrow, negative, myopic expression of sentimental or doctrinaire prejudice. It is a prejudice apparently shared by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, from, I seem to think, the Social Democrat Benches and the area of the Tate Gallery. It is a prejudice against the ordinary freedom of contract between willing buyers and willing sellers which is the hallmark of a free society.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said, this Bill seeks to overrule the judgment of trustees and governing bodies of museums or galleries that accept public money. More precisely, it provides that no museum or gallery may charge for admission if it is wholly or in part (whether directly or indirectly) dependent on moneys provided by Parliament. I suspect that if this Bill were to survive for a Committee stage we might have much innocent fun scrutinising some of these words in that part of the Bill.

What astonished me was that the noble Lord's ire was aroused not only by the imposition of admission charges, but under subsection (2) would strain the English language by decreeing that the making of a charge for admission includes an invitation to make a voluntary contribution on entry to the museum or gallery". I suddenly wondered whether the noble Lord is perhaps secretly a better economist than he gives himself credit for. If we are not allowed even to volunteer a donation on entry, may I assume that he would leave us free to drop something in a box on the way out? Indeed, since the noble Lord's primary prohibition is against what the Bill plainly specifies as charges for admission, might he allow an invitation for a donation as people leave, when perhaps they have a better view of the value of what they have seen?

I personally objected in my local church when they introduced the practice of making the offering on the way into the service. As a market economist I have always thought that we should pass the plate around immediately after the preacher sits down, so that he might learn something from variations in the size of the collection.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I assure the noble Lord that on this point, if on no other, we are entirely at one. I have no objection whatsoever to exit charges.

Lord Harris of High Cross

Well, my Lords, that is good news. I must say, quite seriously, that the everyday mechanism of payment for goods and services fulfils a number of perfectly useful purposes. It serves to remind us that resources are scarce. It teaches what economists call the concept of "opportunity costs", characterised by the late Lord Robbins as "the invincible truism" that you cannot have your cake and eat it. Payment is a test of demand and a measure of the satisfaction derived from indulging it. Without payment, I would argue, attendance figures mean very little indeed. Their accuracy cannot be vouched for, and anyway people may just have dropped into the museum to avoid the rain or to visit the restaurant.

Is it not worth reminding visitors to the treasures of an art gallery that there are costs involved which merit some contribution? Do people fully value that which they get for nothing? Why should children be brought up to believe that going with a school party swimming, or to a country house, costs something, while visiting a local museum is not worth paying towards?

If more money can be raised from charges, galleries and museums can spend more on advertising and marketing—so much scorned by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson—to enlarge the tiny fraction of the community which still now visits such places. Why, anyway, should the cultured elite and those with special links with the museums expect the rest of the taxpayers to pay wholly in taxes for their special pleasures?

Why this doctrinaire obsession that ordinary folk should not be allowed the responsibility and dignity of parting with their own money towards anything which their self-elected betters think is good for them? As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, if we have charges there can be exemptions or reductions for children, for students, for pensioners, or better still, as in Italy, one day a week can be set aside when entry is free for all.

Alternatively, I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, the notice outside the Art Institute of Chicago, which was so striking that when I last visited it in 1982 I wrote it down in my diary. It read then: Pay what you wish but you must pay something. Suggested entrance fee: adults 3 dollars, children, students and senior citizens 1.50 dollars. Speaking for myself, having paid my three dollars, I for one saw that I received good value for my money by exploring all the wonderful offerings, including the best display of Impressionist paintings outside Washington. What is wrong with that, so long as children and pensioners can get in for 10 cents? The Bill is objectionable not least because it distrusts freedom of choice. I shall gladly go through the Lobby, without payment, to vote it down.

9.45 p.m.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, thinks that the Bill will strike a blow for British culture. I think he is mistaken, because when museums were first established it was for the pleasure and instruction of a tiny, limited section of the population. The first director of the British Museum was told not to admit more than six visitors a day. From then on, decade after decade, the number of visitors increased and so did the expense of maintaining and adding to the collections. So also did many other forms of government expenditure: the health service, education, the police and local government. There never has been and there never will be enough revenue for all the well-founded claims to be met.

Faced with that situation in 1970, the Conservative Government decided to see whether the museums could help a little in meeting the costs of their maintenance. That was the main purpose of the Bill which I then introduced. But I had a second purpose. It is about that that I should like to say a word or two.

I had observed that in those museums which charged—Norwich is a good example and the Tower of London another—the relations between the curators and the general public were closer and much more friendly than in the museums which did not charge. Why was that? Because as the number of visitors grew and grew so did the needs for facilities which had little to do with the care of the collections. They needed more seats in the galleries, more informative labelling, more space where visitors could buy postcards or publications, more cloakrooms, somewhere to get a cup of tea; and there were many more questions to the expert staff.

The scholarly curator may be forgiven if he or she thinks that it is a misdirection of resources to spend so much time and money on the common or garden wants of a public who have paid nothing to come in. Also, as your Lordships know, if there are too many visitors in a gallery it is impossible seriously to study the objects. When I asked the late Lord and Lady Clark whether they would support my Bill to introduce museum charges, they thought for a moment and then said, "Yes, we will support you, but on one condition: children must be charged double".

One can realise how strong is this feeling that visitors are a nuisance only if one has been a trustee of various museums, as I have. But it is wonderfully diminished when a charge is made for entrance. I do not support the kind of blackmail voluntary charge which is made in the metropolitan museum in New York and which my noble friend Lord Perth has referred to; I think it is offensive. In my view, there should be a charge for everybody at the door, because such a charge establishes a clear reason for the staff to attend to the needs of the general public. It is an argument which grows in importance as the number of visitors increases.

Money remains a great problem for all museums. In the last 10 years, the price of important works of art has risen many times, far more than inflation in the retail price index. So also has the cost of repairing old buildings or building an extension on to an existing museum. How, then, can the museum budgets keep pace? Noble Lords will have their own views on the size of the acquisition grants which should be made out of public funds. Is a bust by Bernini more important than the new equipment which hospitals want so badly? Is it right to subsidise more students from overseas to our universities or to buy another drawing by Raphael?

The answers to these questions can never be agreed upon but the question will not go away. In fact, they are going to be more numerous and more difficult and, therefore, museums must look round for new sources of revenue. Charges will bring in only modest sums but it is a good thing that the Treasury says that they may keep them, although how exactly they will arrange that I do not know. But very much more than the fruits of charging is needed and the best way to find it is by tax relief on annual gifts, and I hope very much that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to make it possible for the public to share more in the financing of our museums and all other artistic activities.

Here and now, I want museum trustees to be free to charge or not to charge as they think best for their museum and for their visitors. Of course, I shall vote for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, unless, as I hope, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will withdraw his Bill; because, when you come to look into it, it is not going to help the people whom he very rightly wants to help.

9.52 p.m.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, I am going temporarily to upset the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, by quoting the Conservative Party political broadcast on television last week which included the words: Building for the future is the most important thing one can do today". Of course, it is precisely because this charging at museums and art galleries is not going to build for the future, is going to try to stifle the children from the total environment of education, that I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. It is really, when you have listened to the debate so far, a contrast between those to whom money is everything and those who feel that there are some things that money cannot buy.

For my own part, I disliked—and I may have misunderstood—the short laughs that followed Lord Jenkins when he talked about having been educated in his youth at the museums and the galleries, and that it was part of his, so to speak, university education. I was lucky enough to have a university education. But I, too, was educated in that same way. I wonder how many of your Lordships can remember going for the first time to the Natural History Museum and seeing that enlarged flea in its glass case side by side with the whale, the biggest animal in this world. It was a revelation to me and it is a revelation to all the children who go there.

If you try and stop them from going in, if you are going to put charges on every child and sometimes the parents cannot afford to pay them, who are you going to deprive? It may be the very scientists of the future that we need. Heaven knows, we have been talking about the dearth of scientists time after time in this House! For my part, I feel that it is a great mistake to have any charges at the art galleries or at the museums.

There has been a lot of talk this evening about what happens abroad, and of course it is true that there are these charges made abroad; but when you reflect on the matter of tourism in this country—the trains are late, hotels are too expensive and the streets are littered with paper—one of the reasons why people come here is because they know that the museums and art galleries are free. I feel that is the right attitude to take up.

In a nostalgic mood, I was thinking the other day of a singer some of your Lordships may remember, called Jack Smith. He was "the whispering baritone" and the first line of one of his songs was "The moon belongs to everyone". I will not sing it because I am sure that is against Standing Orders; but then, having sung of love and the stars above, he came out with the last line, which was the refrain and indeed the title of the song: The best things in life are free". That would be my theme so far as this Bill is concerned.

I confess I should like to appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. Each of us on either side of the argument wants to get the right decision. I do not think it is perhaps the right time just now—it is fairly late in the evening in a comparatively thin House—to have a Division over the matter of the principle of this Bill. I would suggest that it would be far better to give this Bill a benign Second Reading, perhaps with a wink, and then to attack it as much as one likes in a Committee of the Whole House, particularly when it comes to the question of Clause 2 standing part. So I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment; but, if he does, I shall vote against it and for a Second Reading for Lord Jenkins' Bill.

9.57 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, in proposing that we should give the Bill a benign Second Reading. I think that it requires clarification and amendment, especially in connection with the matter of entry charges and exit charges, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, himself said.

My first reaction, like perhaps others of your Lordships, on hearing of the proposed museum admission charges was one of distaste and indignation. I protested that the great museums and galleries have always been free and it is part of our civilized society that the splendours of western culture should be freely accessible. I remembered wandering freely into those great halls of treasures—those Aladdin's caves—when I was young and drinking in the hush and the timelessness of those places.

I was never a serious or earnest student but an idle browser—one who would go into the National Gallery for 20 minutes while waiting for a train, or who would perhaps arrange to meet someone there and incidentally look at one picture. That was the essential joy in the life of these places—a brief escape from the hurly-burly of the streets and the 20th century.

If one had to pay, one would be robbed of this. I know that view is the view taken by the overwhelming majority of the professional staffs of the museums and art galleries. In fact a big survey is being undertaken at the moment in which the opinions of all those professionally involved are being sought, and I understand we shall know much more about the facts and figures by the end of the summer.

However, with this debate coming up, I thought there was nothing like a little first-hand, up-to-the-minute experience; so, not having been there previously, I went along to the V & A this afternoon to see how their scheme was working out. I expected to be horrified and angered, but in the event I must say I was far from either. Here I would confirm what I think the noble Earl, Lord Perth, was saying; that the pressurising can be minimal. Two young women were sitting by what they admittedly called a cash desk. By them were notices inviting me to donate up to £2, or 50p if I were an aged pensioner. I asked them what their reaction would be if I offered them nothing. They said that that would be quite all right. I asked them then if, not being the wearer of a badge which I would be given if I paid, I would be approached by some aggressive sales promoter in the Indian gallery or somewhere. They said, "No; that might happen in New York, but it does not happen here."

It was true. I was not molested in any way. I felt quite guiltless and I managed to leave the Victoria and Albert Museum without paying a penny. I had a long talk with the press and public relations officer who was very persuasive. He told me a great many of the problems that the museum faces with which I shall not weary the House, as your Lordships no doubt have a good idea of them.

I came away with the feeling that I would rather that all the national museums and galleries were free, but that, if a parsimonious Government will not fund them adequately, if the choice were between maintaining and improving what is offered to the public, on the one hand, and, on the other, a continuing decline of standards and decay of premises, a museum or gallery cannot be deprived of resorting to inviting donations from visitors.

If that is done with sufficient tact and sensitivity, as it seemed to me was being done at the Victoria and Albert Museum, if contributions are linked to specific projects and if, perhaps, the contributions are invited when a visitor leaves rather than when he arrives, such a scheme may well be not entirely unacceptable. I am, therefore, happy to support the intentions behind the Bill, but I think that clarification about the voluntary contributions is required.

10.2 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I rise to say that I shall vote for the amendment on the grounds that having been a trustee of the British Museum for some 15 years and then trustee and chairman of the National Gallery, I cannot conceive that the trustees' freedom to do what they think best for the gallery or the museum of which they are the trustees for the public should be curtailed in that way.

When I was chairman of the National Gallery, I remember hearing the director say that we were moving into an age when the level of the purchase grant would mean that we would never again be able to buy a major painting. I thought that, as the trustees had been told that important fact, they should have some discussions about the principle that we are discussing tonight.

On the main issue, I do not have to make any apology. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will well remember that I opened the debate in this House opposing the museum charges which he imposed when he was Minister. All the arguments that I have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, tonight are arguments that I used on that occasion.

When the trustees debated this matter there was of course a great divergence of opinion. Some thought that we should under no circumstances give way on this matter of principle and if the trustees as a whole voted in favour of any kind of charge, they would resign as trustees. That was a perfectly honourable position to take. Other trustees said that their first duty, as they saw it, was to enable the gallery to remain a living institution which could purchase paintings even at the astronomical cost to which they had risen.

That matter having been initiated, among the points made was the natural one that we should perhaps try to discover whether we could raise funds to help us in our dilemma. That is how we left the matter. As your Lordships know, we were very fortunate because, quite apart from the fantastically generous gift which Sir John Sainsbury and his brothers made towards the cost of the new extension to the building, we received that princely gift of £50 million from Mr. Getty. Of course, I do not expect that every institution, gallery and museum which is funded from public funds can expect that kind of fantastic response, but it enabled the trustees, so to say, to put on one side the matter of the museum charges.

Nevertheless, there was the issue. The issue was: does this gallery become an institution which will add to its collections virtually only items of historical interest, but not those works of the finest quality with which the gallery has always been associated in its purchasing policy, or does one charge for admission in one way or another? Most people were rather against the voluntary principle and thought it was more honourable or honest to charge something in the neighbourhood of, at present prices, £2, but, as I say, no decision was taken in any way. I do not want anybody to think that the trustees came to any commitment on this matter.

Therefore, when I think about this problem again, it seems to me that we can say many things about it. We can say that we are being exceedingly parochial in regard to Europe. We are a member of the European Community. I cannot think of a country in the European Community which does not, in some way or other, charge for admission to its galleries and museums. Of course, the great ones like France and West Germany charge, and the charge is swingeing. In Italy, the charge is tremendous. But nobody should misunderstand this problem. If you charge, it does not mean that all your problems are solved.

I remember going to Italy in 1974 and finding that the museums were closed. I could not go into the gallery at Bologna, because they did not have the funds, despite the charges, for that gallery to operate. Of course, today Italy is in a very much better position economically and that is what is at the bottom of the whole problem that we are discussing—the actual economy of the country. If it flourishes, we do not need to change our present policy. If it does not, then the trustees have to think again. But I should be very sorry to see anything which curtailed the freedom of the trustees.

It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and I take a slightly different view. I think that the noble Lord, Hutchinson, has a Wagnerian quality in his temperament. He would rather see "Gotterdammerung" and, as it were, everything going up in flames, rather than concede that that inviolable principle should be destroyed and impaired. I take a more pragmatic and dreary line, a rational line, where, if one is absolutely forced into this, we might have to make some accommodation. There are lots of ways in which you can help your students to go while at the same time having charges which force the tourists to come across with their money. You can have masses of different ways of imposing charges of one kind or another. On the principle, I remain entirely with the noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson and Lord Jenkins, and I am, in principle, opposed. But I should not like to see the freedom of the trustees fettered in this way.

10.9 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I belong to the school that believes that this matter involves a principle, and a very important principle. I am not lured by the arguments that say that if one charges for admission then one can buy the priceless masterpieces that the museums and art galleries want. Our museums and art galleries are already crammed with priceless masterpieces. It may be that we will get the offer of some more, and it may be that we shall be able to encourage rich people to help us to buy them as they have done in the past, by the generous gifts that we have been told about.

It may be that this or a future Government will think of other ways of funding that most important matter—the arts. However, we should not be led astray into thinking that we ought to decide this matter of principle on merely the question of whether one charges for admission or buys new pictures because I do not believe that is a real choice.

It seems to me that the matter that is before us tonight is a test of a civilised society. If I am told that ours is the only society that holds to that test, then it will be the first time for a long time that I have found myself in the chauvinistic position of defending Britain as being out ahead of the rest of the world. If we are out ahead of the rest of the world on this particular matter, then we should stay out ahead and we should not necessarily pay attention to what they are doing in the EC—good European though I am.

Tonight's debate is absolutely vital. I want to mention an area that has hardly been touched upon when we have been talking about people like ourselves, about old-age pensioners, and about children. We have not been talking about that great underclass of society that exists now and may exist even more in the future. Probably at least 15 per cent. of our society are the kind of people who really cannot afford charges, and certainly could not afford charges if they went very often to museums. I know that they are not queuing to go into museums; but I shall come to that point in a moment.

Creativity is surely the most fundamental attribute of man. It is the divine gift. We are created in God's image and are made to share in God's creative power. A society that cuts its citizens off from creativity is to be condemned. It is to be condemned if it cuts them off from creativity because it makes them poor and creates an underclass. It is to be condemned if it cuts them off from creativity by denying them work. It is to be condemned if it cuts them off from creativity at all, if it begrudges the money that will allow them to enjoy their heritage.

It should not be a matter of estimating how many people who cannot afford to visit museums are being excluded; least of all—and I have made reference to the point—whether they want to visit them. I know that the unemployed in Liverpool are not queuing to get into the museums; but if only one unemployed person is excluded from our society, then that is one person too many. Even if there is none, the principle of exclusion is still wrong. If one is going to shut up one's riches from the poor, then of course it is better to have loopholes such as free days and special prices for the unemployed (and in fact, no one has mentioned that particular point) so that they can find some way in. But once the principle of free access is broken, it seems to me that our society is condemned by its own actions.

The principle is that the museums, the galleries and the libraries of society should be free to all. Once you have broken that principle, you are condemned as unjust, unloving and philistine. The true philistine is the man who thinks that art is his possession, that he can buy and sell it and that he can do what he wants with it; he can make it pay, he can possess it. We must not be philistines. We must make sure that the greatest riches that we possess are available to all, all the time. It actually will not cost us a great deal compared with the wealth of this country, but it would not matter very much if it did; it would still be right.

10.16 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, is not here to speak, because I usually agree with him. I do not know whether I should have done so tonight but I was hoping for his support in what I am about to say and I shall now have to get on without him.

It is not for me to sum up—there are three other speakers after me who will do so—but I must make one or two comments on the debate. To me the most extraordinary comment was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who is an old friend and protagonist on this subject. He said that the staff tend not to attend to the needs of people unless there is a charge. I simply cannot understand that. It seems to me to be an absolutely meaningless statement, although he does not make meaningless statements.

The facts are, as we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, in his opening speech, that the staffs that have been consulted have been unanimously against museum charges. This cannot be because they do not want to attend. I find the whole thing too confusing for words. Perhaps we can discuss it later, but it seems to give a wrong impression of the attitude of the staffs of museums, from what I have heard and from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has heard; though I must say it was a great surprise to me that Mr. Archer agreed, and that was a pleasure.

I have to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that if this is to go wrong let us at least have one free day. I should like to have one paying day as a possible development. However, those possibilities do not arise if the Bill is passed, so we need not worry about that. I always enjoy the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, because they are consistent. Unfortunately he has gone, so I will not go on about it. However, I was only going to say that he accused my noble friend Lord Hutchinson of being sentimental. The answer is that of course he is sentimental. When the noble Lord, Lord Annan, speaks of him as Wagnerian he does not know what he is talking about.

This matter has to be seen from a sentimental point of view. We are sentimental about the fact that in this country we lend 600 million books—or 6,000 million; I cannot remember which—from our public libraries, free of charge without one penny paid. Of course, if you want to make some money then charge five bob a book. The numbers will come down to 200,000, or whatever it is, but you will get quite a lot of money. However, we are sentimental about this. We would rather not have the money than have that going on.

To me, exactly the same applies to the great museums and the great collections which, as has been said again and again, have often been collected by someone on a foreign tour, purchased cheap, brought home and sold because he married an American actress, or whatever. It does not matter how we got them, the fact is that we have them. They are part of our heritage and they should be available to everyone.

It is perfectly true to say that there is a culture gap in every class at every level. My racing friends from Eton never go to museums, galleries or concerts. Exactly the same applies to the racing men in the factories. It is a fact of life that we have found by the introduction of art into education over, I suppose, the past 15 years—it was hardly going on before that—that a lot of children begin to be interested. Of course, when they go round the museums and galleries they are dreadful. They are the most awful nuisance. They entirely spoil one's own enjoyment of the place. But they are getting something, and some of them come back. We think that they should not have to pay anything to come back.

The argument which I am putting is a very simple one. We on these Benches—and I think our point of view is shared by the Labour Benches, and very largely shared, though it is not always entirely evident, by the Conservative Benches—believe that the arts should be supported centrally and that they should be supported more generously than they are at the moment. We believe that there are two reasons why the arts should be supported. The first reason is that we think the ordinary person should be given the opportunity to appreciate the arts. If one is brought up with no education and by parents who do not read books, one does not have the opportunity to appreciate the arts; but if one is taken to museums and galleries by one's school, then the opportunity is there. The second reason why we want to support the arts is to nurture and develop local talent which, as we know very well, comes from all levels of society.

If one wants to stop children benefiting from this "evil" activity of going to picture galleries, what does one do? One charges for admission. If your Lordships were to say, "We have to stop all these children from going round picture galleries", then you would put charges on. That is the first thing one does if one wants to stop it. It is because we do not want to stop it that we are against charges. There is really nothing more to be said from our point of view—yet I want to say one or two things, because I have had only five minutes!

The first thing I want to say is that one of the speakers tonight—I forget which one—asked why there should not be free concerts. The answer is that the performing arts are entirely different from the static collections. The performing arts are things which are done by people who have to be paid to do them. I think that they should be subsidised as heavily as possible, but certainly they could never be free. No one who has thought twice about this matter—and I do not remember who it was who said it—would think that.

The only other point that I want to make—and I am rather disappointed that it has not been brought out in the strongest way tonight—concerns an argument which was put to me the other day, which is that people really only value things if they have to pay for them. I said to myself, "Is this true? Do those of us who are over 65 years of age value the tube less because we travel on it free? Do people in your Lordships' House value their telephone calls less because they are free? Do I value a bottle of wine that I get at a restaurant—which is far too expensive and entirely spoils the evening for me because I have to pay for it—more than a bottle of Chateau Petrus 47 or something which is offered to me by the noble Lord who has invited me? Does the fact that I have not had to pay for the wine—and never could—give it any added advantage? This lies behind the thinking of some noble Lords who have spoken, and quite honestly it is absolute rot.

I think that the real question here is this, that the only point in having museum charges is to enable the Government to give less money than they ought to give to museums. We know that the Government have financial problems. We think that a lot of them are of their own making, and we think that there are many ways round them, which we are not here tonight to discuss. In my opinion the only reason for imposing museum charges is because there is no other way to get the money to run one's property properly. I do not believe that this excuse is true and therefore I shall vote for the Bill.

10.24 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, having listened to all the speakers in this interesting debate, it is clear to me that we are not just discussing finance or even basically whether there should be voluntary contributions under a certain amount of pressure or charges, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, would prefer. Behind the debate is the basic philosophic approach to our national life. We are no longer leaders in manufacturing industry. We have a great many problems which cover the whole of our economic life. We have abominably high unemployment. But we are unique in one aspect; that is, in our contribution to culture, not just within our national boundary but in the world. For that reason, what we are considering is the priority that we give to the various aspects of our society. That is at the bottom of it all.

The noble Viscount said that there will never be enough revenue. That is true under whichever Government are in power unless top priority is given to the arts; and we are here discussing the visual arts, the museums and galleries. If a Government do that, I believe that the main bulk of the money necessary will be forthcoming, but it needs to be properly managed. After all, in what is considered to be an emergency a sum of around £275 million can be found to build an airport in the Falklands. There is no reason to argue that other matters which may cost a similar amount are more or less important. The attitude to the arts has always been that they are a frill on the edge of our society rather than being central to our quality of life and the way that we live.

Strong arguments have been made for leaving the decision whether to charge with individual boards of trustees. Superficially that sounds convincing in a democratic society, where people should be able to say what they want and run their own patch in their own way. But it would be hard, if the trustees decided to impose charges, whether compulsory or pseudo-voluntary, to reverse the decision once apparent dependence is established. Other people fundamentally, as part of their philosophy, believe that one should pay. That has nothing to do with the financial needs of a particular museum or gallery; it is their view of life. I do not believe that that view fits in with what we want to see in our national heritage.

While I was waiting for the debate on my noble friend's Bill I was entertaining the head of the faculty of arts of a large polytechnic. We were discussing quite a different matter, but, when he saw that we were to debate this subject, he told me that he went to a secondary modern school and learned as a youngster everything that he knew from visiting the V & A, the National Gallery and the British Museum. He said that it is daunting to go into a grand-looking building; one is apprehensive. The charge is an even greater deterrent. Charges eliminate the casual approach; the great tradition that you can go in to browse for a short time and not feel that you have to get your money's worth, which in cultural and educational terms means that you are not getting true value.

As my friend the professor said, a life pattern had been built up for him. He is convinced that he would never have achieved his position today without that constant contact with and easy access to museums and galleries. Again as he pointed out, educated people can make their own judgment. They decide whether they want to pay to attend a concert or go to one of the performing arts. But for youngsters, who have the opportunity to go to a museum or gallery free, who enjoy it and who find they are visiting them more frequently, it is entirely different.

Charges would have to be extremely high to contribute in any meaningful way to the maintenance of a building like the V & A. It is known that since the introduction of charges there has been a reduction in numbers visiting the museum compared to the previous year. November's figures were down by over 20 per cent., December's by nearly 48 per cent., and January's by 38.7 per cent. So the situation does not sound very hopeful. We have heard more about foreign museums where one pays than about those like the Smithsonian in Washington, the National Gallery in Washington, the Scandinavian museums and many of the Berlin museums, where one does not. In recent days at home, the Natural History and the Geological Museums have been saying that they will have to impose charges if they are to be able to manage. Those museums are funded by the Department of Education and Science. The funding has been cut. The Medical Research Council and a great many scientific activities have suffered in the same way. They are having to charge, not because they are in the same grouping as the other museums but because of their scientific work and the problems that they have encountered following cuts by the Department of Education and Science.

The Bill may not be perfect. I do not believe that it is in every respect. I hope, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, will follow the usual practice in this House and allow the measure to have a Second Reading. The noble Lord can pull it to pieces in Committee. I am asking him, not appealing to him—because I am not sure that he finds me very appealing, and I shall therefore not use the word "appealing". I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that late at night, on a serious subject, it is pulling a fast one—if I may use the expression—to try and knock the Bill straight out. Given the interest that has been aroused and the width of the subject that we are discussing, the noble Lord should at least allow it to have a Second Reading. That is all we are discussing tonight. We should not be considering the setting up of fresh barriers against people gaining knowledge and also a great deal of enjoyment, which has not been mentioned to the same extent.

There are ways, in addition to revenue from the Government, in which museums can help themselves. This is the only point on which I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, who, in an excellent speech, expressed his dislike of sponsorship and also, so far as I could see, museums marketing themselves and making money in that way. I believe that there is scope for a great deal more to be done in this area. I tried as a Minister at the Department of the Environment, which was responsible for the housing of museums—the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was at that time the Minister for the Arts—to promote efforts in that direction. Even today, there are far more opportunities for this approach, and perhaps to have franchises for reproductions of wallpapers, and such things, from somewhere like the V & A. I believe that this can be done if there is the will to do it. We do not have to enter into the area of charges and pressured donations. If there is the will, and if we as a country—and in this House we find the right place to give a lead—show that we believe that the museums and galleries are a very important facet of our national life, the arts as a whole ought to receive far greater priority than they ever have until now.

10.35 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, with her characteristic kindness of heart, appealed to your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading on the grounds that it would give the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, the opportunity to have this subject debated, not only on the Second Reading of this Bill but again in Committee and at the further stages of the Bill. As one who has been through two stages of the Museum of London Bill—on both occasions of which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, seized the opportunity to have a debate on museum charges, announced his intention that he was going to have another debate at Report stage of the Bill, had a discussion on the radio, as I understand it, this morning, and will no doubt be having yet a final discussion on the Third Reading of the Museum of London Bill—I do not think (although I applaud the kindness of heart of the noble Baroness) that it is one of the strongest of arguments.

This debate has attracted three former Ministers for the Arts and I must say that for somebody like me—who has I know a great deal to learn about this subject—it has been a very interesting evening. But, however one dresses it up, this is a Bill to curtail freedom. In our country Parliament has placed the management of our great national museums and galleries in the hands of boards of trustees. They can charge for admission to their institutions if they so choose. This Bill seeks to curtail the freedom of trustees by prohibiting charging for, or even requesting a donation for, admission to a museum or gallery. I must say that I join with my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls in opposing that curtailment of the trustees' freedom. Indeed, we would wish in government to encourage trustees who seek to enhance or expand their facilities or their collections.

On 10th February, on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts, I announced in your Lordships' House a change which I believe is beneficial in the financial arrangements for the museums and galleries funded directly from the arts budget which the Government propose to introduce during the coming financial year. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, rightly said, if I may say so, that the object of the change announced on that day is to allow the nine major institutions which are funded in that way to enjoy the fruits of their labours rather than to see any extra money that they earn clawed back into the Exchequer.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, asked me particularly about words which were in the reply to a Parliamentary Question by my right honourable friend in which Mr. Luce said that in order to effect these changes within existing conventions, it would be necessary to convert the method of financing from direct Vote provision to grant-in-aid. I assure the noble Lord that there is nothing sinister in those words at all, as I am sure the noble Lord knows better than I. The existing rules for direct Votes require receipts to be deducted and prohibit carry-over. It is for that reason—and that reason alone—if we are to make the beneficial change which my right honourable friend announced on that day, and I repeated in your Lordships' House, that it would be necessary to consider going from direct Vote to grant-in-aid.

Through doing this we genuinely want to encourage the nine national museums and galleries, as a first step at any rate, so that their revenue-producing efforts will supplement—but not, I emphasise, replace—the funding from central government. The Government remain committed to funding the basic activities of the national museums and galleries in line with our 1983 election manifesto commitment to keep up the level of support for the arts.

Indeed, perhaps I may say in passing that we have done better than that over the seven years of the present Government and the previous Conservative Government. Between 1979 and the present financial year, Exchequer funding of museum running costs from the arts budget has increased 16 per cent. in real terms, and of their building and maintenance work by 52 per cent. in real terms. Greater emphasis has been placed on better conservation of the collections and of the historic buildings which house them. Yet even this is not quite enough to satisfy the imaginative and innovative plans of museum trustees and directors who, understandably, wish to develop and improve their institutions in order to meet the increasing public demand for their services.

I was enormously interested to hear my noble friend Lord Eccles, who it was such a pleasure to hear speaking in your Lordships' House again this evening, making the interesting point that if museums and galleries are to be helpful and friendly to visitors, trustees will want to provide facilities which will make all the difference between a warm welcome and rather cold comfort.

The Government will certainly endeavour to keep up their good record. However, there is a limit to what can be afforded on top of that. That is why we are encouraging the trustees to find ways of financing growth and new developments over and above those provided by Government cored funding. Of course, they may do this by attracting business sponsorship, which may in turn attract an award under the Government's highly successful Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme for the Arts; and I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for mentioning sponsorship in approving terms. It is now making an enormous difference to money flowing into the arts. There can, of course, be private patronage, which was mentioned in the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan; fund-raising from the general public; or commercial activity of various kinds.

One means of raising funds is to ask visitors for a donation on entry; and one form of commercial activity would be charging for admission to the museum. Both would be forbidden by this Bill. I believe it is wrong to restrict the trustees' choice. I believe that my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was absolutlely right in saying that the Government have no wish to impose admission charges, but we are convinced that they are an option which should be open to trustees in deciding what is best for their own particular institution.

Therefore, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins; I believe that this Bill is wrong in principle: but I believe that it is also wrong in practice. After all, to deny the National Maritime Museum the income from admission charges to its main collection and to the old Royal Observatory at Greewich would be to deprive it of an important source of income—about £0.5 million a year. Similarly, the disappearance of income from the long-standing admission charges to places like Duxford Airfield, Apsley House, HMS "Belfast" and the Barbara Hepworth Museum would be sorely felt by the parent institutions.

Of course, the Bill would also outlaw requests for donations from visitors on entry. This is something which has been talked about this evening by your Lordships. The V & A scheme has been mentioned, but one which has not been mentioned is the Imperial War Museum scheme, where visitors are being asked for contributions towards the museum's share of the costs for an ambitious redevelopment scheme, the bulk of whose cost is being borne by the Government. This too would fall prey to the Bill.

I think that my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was absolutely justified in pressing the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, about the prohibition which is to be found in this short Bill on voluntary contributions. How could it possibly be right actually to prevent visitors or other well-wishers from contributing to museums if they wanted to do so? The noble Lord will forgive me if I say that there is an element of killjoy in the attitude of this Bill and I can only assume that the noble Lord who is introducing it wishes to prevent museums from undertaking the new developments which such income can finance. I am genuinely at a loss to see how this would benefit anyone.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made the point that museum attendances will fall if charges are introduced. With respect to the noble Baroness there is certainly some evidence that this happens in the short term, but by no means necessarily in the long term. I would point to the success of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, where charges were introduced in April 1984 and paying attendance during the nine months of 1985 was 11 per cent. up on the previous year. I think that that illustrates that the public are prepared to make a payment for the success of a museum in making itself attractive to visitors.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I was not talking about charges. I was talking about the so-called voluntary contributions at the V & A. Attendances have gone down in the three months compared with the same three months last year. That is what I was comparing.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am saying to the noble Baroness that she needs to wait a little while and she may well find, although the case is slightly different, that the attendances will rise. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee (who is always very fair in the case he makes), although he was supporting the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said fairly in his speech that he felt the way in which those voluntary contributions were being collected at the V & A was sensitive and sensible.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will forgive me if I say that I found his opening speech had rather a Bourbon flavour about it, for it harked back a good deal and showed little recognition of the opportunities for raising money which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so rightly pointed out to us towards the end of his speech. The decision on whether, and how, to charge should be left to trustees to take in the light of the circumstances of their own particular institutions. This discretion Lord Jenkins's Bill would wholly take away. It is for that reason, and for that reason only, that the Government cannot possibly support this Bill and would wish to support the amendment of my noble friend.

10.48 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, your Lordships would not welcome my replying, or seeking to reply, at any length to the debate at this time of night. I shall content myself with thanking those noble Lords who have contributed, and even those who have not seen wholly eye to eye with the views that I expressed in moving the Bill.

I wish to make just a couple of points for information. In regard to the views of the staff, it would be wrong to give your Lordships the impression that I have gone round all the museums seeing what the staffs in every one of them think, but those I have discovered where charges are about to be imposed or have already been imposed are implacably opposed to the whole idea. One example is from the British Museum natural history branch: This branch supports the Bill … that the making of charges for admission to museums and galleries in Great Britain, funded wholly or mainly out of monies provided by Parliament, is prohibited and lends its support to campaigns being waged in other museums and galleries against the imposition of such charges. The resolution goes on to that effect.

There is widespread opposition against this whole idea among the people who do the main bulk of the work in the museums, and they have the right idea about what museums are for. My noble friend is indicating to me that I should not expand on that point. I shall, however, quote again an authority who I think has put one of the points in a nutshell. I refer again to Mr. Jeffrey Archer, the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. He said on 18th October, 1972 (at col. 331 of Hansard): We on this side of the House must fight again and again to hold back from this sort of charge, for one reason and one reason only: this is a civilised standard we have set, and the fact that other countries do not have it does not mean that we should become uncivilised as well. Mr. Jeffrey Archer spoke better for the Conservative Party on that occasion than did the noble Lord whose implacable reasonableness is the only possible reason why I would not wish to pursue this Bill further.

I now come to my appeal to the noble Lord who is moving the amendment. I should like to ask him this. There are noble Lords about the House who, though in principle opposed to the idea of charging, feel that the Bill is defective in some degree, or needs altreration or change. Will the noble Lord deny them the opportunity of moving amendments to improve the Bill? Will the House deny itself its role of producing a Bill in a better form to the other House? Is this not our traditional role? Will not noble Lords at least say that this is something which we must do? Will they not join me in asking the noble Lord not to press his amendment, but, if he does press it, in saying that we must, in the interests of what is our function, defeat it?

10.51 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I do not know how pleased the noble Lord's noble friends will be when he puts them in the same Lobby as Mr. Jeffrey Archer. I hope that they will feel at home. I hope they feel that they will do that on more than this one occasion; if they want to do their duty.

Of course we must put my amendment to the vote. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, spoke as though it was my amendment that was changing the law. It is not my amendment that is changing the law. I want to retain the law that has been in operation since 1972. It has worked all right. It gave a freedom to the trustees to do certain things in the interests of their museums. Some of them have taken advantage of that by opening shops, others by putting on charges and others by imposing a voluntary donation. It is not my amendment that seeks to alter the law; and I do not think that a case has been made out for altering the law.

It is the noble Lord's Bill which wants to make it impossible for people to make a voluntary donation. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Annan—as he so often does—in an examination of the Bill put in a nutshell the real issue. Do we, or do we not, want to remove the freedom from the trustees? The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that the freedom of the trustees should be curtailed. The only thing that the Bill does it to curtail the freedom of the people who have the job of ensuring that these museums remain in existence at the high level of excellence to which we have always been used.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, made a point which I accept. He said that arts should be supported sensibly. Nobody disagrees with that, and the arts will go on being supported sensibly. The Government have given an undertaking that the support at the high level that has been introduced this year will be maintained irrespective of what happens over the next three years and, very likely, beyond that.

We must face up to the fact that because of the excellent case made for wanting to preserve our museums and make them available—which I accept, and in my speech I tried to say that I have the same high principles for retaining this that the people who are not in agreement with my amendment have—and with things as they are and as we all know they are likely to develop, it needs a partnership between the central government support which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, wants, and the trustees having the freedom to use any methods that they think are in keeping with their possessions to enable them to exist in the future.

The noble Baroness said that I ought not to put my amendment to the vote. The very fact that I put down the amendment was a very clear indication that I thought it was important enough to be put to the vote irrespective of the arguments. The fact that I used the procedure of endeavouring to delay the Second Reading for six months was a very clear message in parliamentary language as to what we wanted. Otherwise, I would just have voted against the Bill; so the indications as to what I thought ought to be done were very clear from the time this amendment was put on the Order Paper.

I believe that the message that we received from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, ought to be reflected in our vote if we eventually go into the Lobbies. I repeat that I move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper.

10.57 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23; Not-Contents, 34.

Annan, L. Henley, L.
Belstead, L. Hooper, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Long, V.
Caithness, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Davidson, V. Mottistone, L.
Denham, L. Perth, E.
Eccles, V. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Gisborough, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. [Teller.] Swinton, E.
Harris of High Cross, L. [Teller.] Whitelaw, V.
Windlesham, L.
Airedale, L. McNair, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Nicol, B.
Birk, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Brockway, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Rea, L.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L. [Teller.]
David, B. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Seear, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Shackleton, L.
Fitt, L. Silkin of Dulwich, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hayter, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Tordoff, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Underhill, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. [Teller.] Wells-Pestell, L.
Kennet, L. Ypres, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to Committee of the Whole House.