HL Deb 20 March 1986 vol 472 cc1116-24

8.22 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Jenkins of Putney.)

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, before the Question is put formally I venture to protest at the Bill coming into Committee at this late hour. It was half an hour ago that my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman remarked on the lateness of the hour. When the House debated the Second Reading, your Lordships were pressed to give the Bill a Second Reading so that it could be properly discussed in Committee. The Bill was given a Second Reading and now it is presented for discussion in Committee at this very late hour in a virtually empty Chamber. It is not too strong to say that it is treating your Lordships with less than proper respect and certainly treating the subject matter of this Bill with less than proper respect.

On Second Reading a number of speeches were made saying that the Bill expresses a matter of principle, of crucial principle, of fundamental principle, and yet your Lordships are now asked to discuss it at this late hour with a virtually empty Chamber. Obviously the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has no hope of carrying this Bill into law this Session, and so it will fall at the end of the Session. However, he would be less than human if he did not wish to say that it had been approved in principle by being given a Second Reading and, as he no doubt hopes, passed unamended through Committee.

I say again that that is no way to treat your Lordships and certainly no way to treat a matter of fundamental principle. Even if it is not a fundamental principle, it is of high importance to issues that your Lordships hold supremely valuable.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am in the hands of your Lordships' House. If the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is widely held in the House, it would perhaps be more appropriate if I sought to bring the matter forward on another occasion. However, it seems to me to be essentially a matter for the House more than for me personally to decide. I merely say that if the House is persuaded by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said, I would not seek to persuade your Lordships to go ahead at this time if it is the general wish to postpone the matter to another occasion.

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

My Lords, the only difficulty is that the order has been agreed through the usual channels and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, therefore has this position on the Order Paper which, although late, has been facilitated to some extent by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard withdrawing his business.

If we do not proceed this evening, as it is a Private Member's Bill, and with an increasingly busy agenda on the Order Paper as the weeks go by, the noble Lord will be in increasing jeopardy in getting the Bill into a good position on the Order Paper on another day. I felt that I should point out that to the House as it is an argument for proceeding.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I agree with every word said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. It is a pity that a matter which is of supreme importance, as was said on Second Reading, should be dealt with at such a late hour, both on Second Reading and now. I believe a fuller House at Second Reading might have given a different view than the one we are saddled with now.

Having said that I agree that the protest from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is justified and absolutely right, I feel that now we are here, and particularly in the knowledge that this is not a Bill which is likely to reach the statute book for all sorts of other reasons, those of us who are here can perhaps put our views on record.

I would not say, as the noble and learned, Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, seemed to suggest, that there will not be a Division. In the event that the noble Lord does not accept at least one of my amendments, I hope to put it to the test in the Committee, small though the attendance may be. Having got so far I should have thought it better to proceed now that our protest has been put on record.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, it seems to me that there is not absolute unanimity in the House in support of what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. In all the circumstances, it seems to me that unless there is a widespread view that we should not proceed, on balance, and with due deference to what he said; perhaps we should proceed with the Committee stage of the Bill. I leave the matter in your Lordships' hands.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

8.30 p.m.

Clause 1 [Repeal of 1972 c. 73]:

On Question, Whether Clause I shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I gave notice that I would oppose the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill. In order to avoid any confusion, I shall not push that to a vote because I feel that, having obtained a Second Reading, tiny though the attendance was when we gave the Bill a Second Reading, the convention should be adhered to of not interfering in Committee with Clause 1 when it is a fundamental part of the Bill.

I still hope that, with the argument that I want to put to the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, may on consideration withdraw Clause 1, because it looks to me as though he was under the misapprehension when he included Clause 1 as part of this Bill that the Museum and Galleries Admission Charges Act 1972 should be repealed.

The main burden of this case all through Second Reading was that the noble Lord did not want charges to be levied on anyone going into museums and galleries. I understand that; it is a point of view which he is entitled to have. I do not agree with it, for the reasons which I gave on Second Reading. The Act of 1972 does not interfere with that at all. The 1972 Act gave no power to charge for entering galleries and museums. The object of the 1972 Act was to clear up an untidy situation under the law. It was felt—it was not even established as a fact—that because of the small print in various parts of the Act, four out of the 16 museums and galleries involved were slightly different from the other 12. Twelve of them were quite free of any obstacles to the trustees putting on a charge if they wished to. However, four of them—the British Museum, the British Museum's Natural History Museum, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland—for technical and detailed reasons which are not important for us to consider now, were in a slightly different category. So the 1972 Act had nothing whatever to do with what the noble Lord has in mind in trying to prevent charges being levied. It was merely a tidying up operation for a untidy law situation. Even now, if the Bill is left as it is, it gives no power actually to charge, which is the real burden of what the noble Lord had in mind when he presented this Bill.

If he had not appreciated the point which I have just put to him, I should think that the noble Lord would be quite entitled to say so, since it in no way affects the real message which his Bill wants to give, and would be prepared to withdraw Clause 1 and leave the tidying-up 1972 Act to do its job of removing what is a possible inconsistency and removing a possible quirk in the application of the law. There were 16 museums and galleries involved. Twelve of them do not come under the scope of the Act at all and for four of them, for detailed, rather obscure and not proved reasons, it was felt right to tidy matters up.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Does the noble Lord realise that we had a Bill last year that covered the National Galleries and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and the position is not as he now says?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

If the noble Lord will read the debates when the 1972 Act was still a Bill and passing through the House, he will see that it was my noble friend Lord Eccles who placed it on the statute book as the Minister in charge. He will find that the whole burden of that Act was a tidying up of four establishments which did not come into the same category as the other 12.

I do not wish to waste time. I am merely saying, because I do not wish to put it to a vote, that the Motion in no way interferes with the fundamental purpose behind the present Bill, which has to do with charges. I shall come on to that issue when I move the next amendment. I believe that this one ought to be removed so that we do not again upset a clean situation which came about as a consequence of that 1972 Act.

Having opposed the acceptance of Clause 1 in order to make that point, it may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, will indicate that before this Bill goes much further he is prepared to withdraw that particular clause.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

I cannot go quite as far as the noble Lord suggests but I am grateful to him for agreeing not to press this Motion further. I think there is a slight difference between us on the question of what actually was the effect of the 1972 Act. I think it was rather more substantial than he imagines.

On the other hand, I think it may be argued on reflection that Clause 2 in the Bill might have a similar effect to Clause 1. On this point at any rate and indeed following what the noble Lord has said, I think it would be a very good idea if I were to take advice between now and the later stage of the Bill. In the meantime I am grateful to the noble Lord for not pressing the matter tonight.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

From my point of view I am most happy to accept the undertaking that the noble Lord will look at it and, if what I have said can be substantiated, he himself may possibly want to withdraw Clause 1.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I was present for the Second Reading of this Bill. I had attended for one and a half hours of the previous debate on the universities, with great advantage to myself. But unfortunately the very moment the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, got up to speak I was called out of the Committee by a telephone message so I missed the whole of his opening speech, as well as the first half of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. Under those circumstances I did not feel that it was right for me to intervene in the debate. However, I would have wished to say some things, if only in praise of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and his Bill.

My own connection with and responsibility for the arts was many years ago—a generation ago—and then anomalously as a Treasury Minister, because at that time the museums and galleries were a Treasury responsibility. In fact that worked very much better than it ought to have done on any rational machinery of Government. I very much welcomed, though I was then out of the House, the appointment of the noble Viscount, who was such an outstanding Minister of the Arts. In fact, it was in my time at the Treasury that the great breakthrough came in the grants for funding the museums and galleries. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, will bear in mind that it was at that time that the momentous decision to increase the Tate Gallery grant was reached. That was by no means easy. The buying of modern art by the Tate Gallery trustees at that time did not command much popular enthusiasm or much parliamentary enthusiasm. Nevertheless, that was the time when the grant of £2,000 a year, which had to cover the British collection, the modern foreign collection and the modern British collection, was increased from £2,000 to £40,000. To me that was a very great satisfaction. I well remember the delighted smile of Sir John Rothenstein when he heard that news.

Having said that, perhaps I may deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and considered by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. I am afraid I did not altogether agree with Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, can be expected to withdraw Clause 1 at this stage. As I understand it, what the 1972 Act does is to remove a number of minor clogs on the museum trustees exercising their discretion to make entry charges.

If the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, Amendment No. 1, is carried, that provision is still necessary. If Amendment No. 1 is not carried, then Clause 1 is not necessary. But no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will want to see what happens because he can always deal with the matter at the Report stage, as I understand it. So I do not think he can really be asked to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

The 1972 Act gives a discretion to trustees to take what course they think right in the interests of the museum of which they are trustees. It does not compel them to do anything, it is not coercive, as this Bill is. It seems to me that quite apart from the technicality, the Act ought to remain on the statute book, if only for the exiguous purpose of backing up Amendment No. 1 which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, will move and which I hope will be carried.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2: [Prohibition of admission charges]:

Lord Harmar-Nicholls moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("without the approval of the Arts Council of Great Britain")

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment which I hope again the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, may find it possible to accept. The real difference of view properly held on both sides, was that Members of the Committee who did not agree with charges wanted to make it statutory that nobody could charge for going into museums and galleries. They felt that it was detrimental to the proper use of those museums and galleries and they did not want what they considered to be an obstacle to their use by making a charge. Everybody seemed to accept that there was not enough money for the museums and galleries to be kept at the level that they wanted them to be kept at. We had to accept that the Government had made it quite clear that while they were prepared to maintain and indeed to some extent improve the level of their grant, it would be kept at a certain level. We all knew that in anticipation of inflation—however small it might be—with rising costs and new acquisitions which might be necessary in the future, it was quite clear that if we wanted to maintain the museums and galleries at the level which would be truly desirable to all of us, more money would have to be found.

The museums, with the authority of their trustees, have already tried to find alternative ways of getting that very desirable extra money. They run shops, they run restaurants, they sell certain items from the museum at some sort of profit. The profit is retained in order to be able to improve the general standing and excellence of the museums.

Some of them decided that it would be a good thing to charge entrance fees, as almost every other country in the world already does. It was felt that for the millions of people who use our museums, having paid the cost of getting there and all the expenses that are necessary before walking through the door, to pay the same sort of money in relation to what they will get when they go inside was not objectionable.

8.45 p.m.

Then we have the other point of view which I share that we ought to give to the trustees the power to use their own discretion as to whether or not they should charge for people to go into museums. It is really a Second Reading point all over again, but it is right to remind ourselves that we charge for the ancient monuments. When I was at the Ministry of Works, I was responsible for the ancient monuments for something like three-and-a-half years, and I remember the great trouble that we used to go to to make it more attractive, to justify the money we took from people who went through the turnstiles.

People pay to go to the Tower of London, the Labour Government itself, when it spent money on the Jewel Tower, doubled the entrance charge. There is nothing wrong with that.

So the general principle that you should, under certain circumstances, be prepared to charge in order to get the money to make the museums and galleries even better is a principle that has been generally accepted. I could not understand the absolutely adamant way in which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and his supporters, although they had accepted this in all the other cases such as the ancient homes, the museums, Apsley House, the Tower of London, where we make the same sort of contribution to upkeep—as well as the Coliseum and the Festival Hall—pay to go in to all those places. Yet, for some reason, with these 16 museums and galleries, full of treasures of such value, they are not prepared to do the same. I could not understand that decision, but it was pursued, we put it to a vote in a very thin House and on this Bill it got its Second Reading.

I wanted to suggest, in support of my amendment, that if the Committee did not have confidence in the discretion of the trustees, if it felt those who were already charging or those who contemplated charging were people who ought not to be left with that power, then this Bill would take it away. I felt it might meet some of the reactions if we said, "Under this Bill we will not leave it only to the discretion of the trustees. We will not leave it that they make the ultimate decision alone. But before they can use the power to charge they would have to get the approval of the Arts Council of Great Britain. There would then be the situation that where governments of all complexions of the day had accepted charging since they already charged at the Monument, the Tower of London and all the other places, the trustees themselves who knew the day-to-day problems of their museums and galleries and knew what was wanted, would have agreed to it. In addition, you would have the extra safeguard that the Arts Council of Great Britain itself had to approye it before they could charge. Then I would have felt that with all those reasonable safeguards, knowing that this freedom to do that would not be abused, any reasonable person ought to want to accept this.

So my amendment on Clause 2, which is the powerhouse of the Bill, is that we leave Clause 2 as the noble Lord put it through its Second Reading, with the added words that they have the power to charge, if they think fit, providing the Arts Council of Great Britain supports them. I think it is a move in the direction for which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, was asking, a move in the direction of seeing that we are safeguarding this great heritage of ours. I believe that this amendment would not interfere with the fundamental principle behind the Bill and it ought to find support with your Lordships when we come to make a decision on it.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, knows that just as I could be required reasonably to take another look at his opposition to Clause 1, it would not be proper for me to give a similar undertaking on this amendment. I shall explain why. The noble Lord indicates that he has this knowledge because he made what amounted to a Second Reading speech in support of the amendment. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that, in another place, he would have been pulled up long before he was able to complete the speech that he has just made. We are, of course, easier in this Chamber. I make no complaint about that.

The noble Lord would, I believe, agree that the amendment goes to the heart of the Bill. In my view, he would be entitled to seek to go to the heart of the Bill under his next amendment, which I trust the Committee will resist. But to adopt the approach that he has taken on this amendment seems to be a course of action that should not obtain the support of the Committee. Even those noble Lords who have some doubts about the Bill will take the view, I believe, that the noble Lord has gone the wrong way about it.

The noble Lord the Minister will say, I believe, that it would be improper in a Private Member's Bill to seek to put upon the Arts Council a power that the Arts Council would reject out of hand. It has no right to fulfil such a function. The money that goes to museums is not Arts Council money. As the noble Lord will be aware, money in support of museums does not travel through the Arts Council. It travels direct from the ministerial office. Therefore, the Arts Council has no standing in this matter.

If the noble Lord wishes to argue his case again, as he has shown he is capable of doing, the proper place to do so would be in support of his next amendment. I hope therefore, for all these reasons, that the noble Lord will allow the amendment now under discussion to fall. I can see that the noble Lord thought to himself that this was not a bad idea. I hope that, on reflection, he will conclude that it is not such a good idea after all and that he will not press the amendment.

Viscount Eccles

I hope I shall be forgiven if I speak only to the amendment—and in very few words. I oppose the amendment. It would be wrong to give the Arts Council the power that my noble friend wants it to have. The Arts Council is overburdened. It would be a good idea if the Arts Council was no longer to have responsibility for the great national companies and that these were financed directly by the Treasury, as they used to be. That would allow the Arts Council to pay proper attention to a vast number of artistic activities up and down the country. I do not wish to be rude. If, however, one compares the councillors of the Arts Council with the distinguished trustees of museums, it would clearly be ridiculous to give the Arts Council power to override the museum trustees.

Lord Belstead

I should like, if I may, to add my voice on behalf of the Government. The amendment is a reasonable attempt by my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls to relieve museum trustees of the effects of this Bill. But it does not fulfil the important point of principle that trustees should be free to exercise their judgment in the discharge of their responsibilities. It is right that we should take to heart what my noble friend Lord Eccles has said about the distinguished people who form the bodies of trustees in our institutions.

This is an occasion when I feel that my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls is being characteristically too reasonable. In endeavouring not to put down an amendment that would strike at the fundamental principle of the Bill—a measure that has after all received a Second Reading—he has moved an amendment that I cannot support. I do support, however, all that my noble friend said in moving the amendment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is vice-chairman of the Theatre Trust which carries out precisely the function that I say the Arts Council could carry out. I do not have what is perhaps the slight prejudice that my noble friend Lord Eccles seemed to display against the Arts Council in his few words. The object of the Theatre Trust was to prevent planning authorities removing a theatre and turning it into something other than a theatre. It was seen as an extra bulwark against a theatre being flippantly changed into something else.

I believe that we should find some body—I can think of none more suitable than the Arts Council of Great Britain which provides some of the funds and whose membership includes those who have an under-standing of this sort of thing—to carry out the same function as the Theatre Trust, which resulted from a measure that I sponsored through the House and which now has the noble Lord as its vice-chairman.

We should have on the record from this Committee stage an attempt to find some way of removing the absolute embargo the Bill puts against the opportunity to charge if trustees so wish. The next amendment has nothing to do with charging. It is concerned with something quite different although the idea behind it is similar. I should therefore like to put the amendment to the test. If, at Report stage, in deference to the special knowledge of my noble friend Lord Eccles and taking into account the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, we can find another body that is better than the Arts Council, the replacement could be made at that time. I should, however, like to put the amendment to the test, just as we did the Second Reading. I shall therefore insist on pressing the amendment.

8.57 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 3; Not-Contents, 19.

Harmar-Nicholls, L. [Teller.] Rodney, L. [Teller.]
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Airedale, L. Hutchinson of Lullington, L. [Teller]
Ardwick, L.
Birk, B. Hylton-Foster, B.
Broadbridge, L. Jenkins of Putney, L. [Teller.]
Bruce of Donington, L. Kilbracken, L.
Craigavon, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Ezra, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Hacking, L. Underhill, L.
Hanworth, V. Ypres, E.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

There have voted: Contents, 3; Not-Contents, 19. As it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 55 I declare the Question not decided, and, pursuant to the Standing Order, the House will now resume.

House resumed.