HL Deb 18 December 1997 vol 584 cc803-28

4.45 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure free and continuous access to public museums and galleries.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, first, I should like to say how much I am looking forward, as I believe we all are, to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I am very happy that at last we are debating the issue of public museums and galleries, in particular the question of access, which was the subject of the Government's review produced last week.

When the previous Labour Government came into office, within weeks turnstiles were removed from the Tate and British Museum. Twenty-three years later another Labour Government do nothing of the sort. Yet from the Government's own research, 71 per cent. of people favour free entry with voluntary donations. That is nothing if not a clear mandate. We have waited nearly eight months for a review which bears more resemblance to a statement of intent to have a review. Meanwhile lottery receipts have rolled in, from which sums have been earmarked for capital projects, without proper regard to the public's participation. In short, this is a question of access.

How we interpret or try to understand what we might mean by the term "access" is affected fundamentally by which of two different notions of culture we might care to adopt. One is an idea of culture in which a contribution is made to a body of culture, something which is already known or given. The other is about the working of culture—the creation of something as a journey of discovery, about making links. The first—which I believe to be the Government's idea—is about an expansion from the centre in an imperialistic way; it is about bringing people into the "known". Whether it is about setting up a "Social Exclusion Unit" or pushing lone parents into work, the Government's idea is that people join something called "society" which is already essentially defined. The Government already have their own particular view of society. They know, or think they know, what "society" or "community' is.

It is ironic then that we have a Government which profess an interest in the so-called "modern" yet are still effectively chasing after a culture that has already occurred. Because the Government do not have an interest in what we might term the "possibility of culture", because their concern is with the end product, this Government almost wholly identify culture with the market place. They see the radical primarily in terms of economic success. Value for money, a term which the Government have used repeatedly in justifying their stance in relation to public museums, is tautological. It is not value for art, value for culture or even value for content. It is value for value, money for money.

Charging in museums is effectively part of the Government's commitment to turning culture into business, and thereby prescribing all cultural experience. This may not be stated in their review but it is present implicitly, because to do nothing, for the Government to adopt a laissez-faire attitude, is essentially to say that the activity of culture will be controlled not by the Government, or, more ideally, more openly by the public itself, but by business interests. That destroys, and will destroy, the independent potential of the artist and the thinker because it destroys what should be or should become the independence of culture.

That is why I think it does not matter whether the admission charge is set at 50p. or £5, not because people cannot afford it, or because it is a psychological barrier, because a so-called modest charge once introduced will inevitably be put up, but because charging is itself an extension of a dominant consumerism, it redefines in a very narrow sense the interaction between the visitor and the museum. It prescribes the nature of the I experience, turning us all into "tourists" because it is already assumed that we know what it is that is on display. In Charlotte Raven's imagined scenario in her article in the Observer on 30th November, a pay-per-view scheme would ensure, only the most popular exhibits would survive into the next financial year", the exhibits themselves being surrounded by black boxes peppered with coin-activated peepholes—the evolution of what might be termed a "consumer fascism". The content of culture itself inevitably becomes business—money for money.

Charging will have the effect of replacing the cultural experience by the pursuit of certainties, with people paying to see what they know they will like. This removes experimentation from the cultural experience. Without exploration there is no discovery. This is another facet of education to be subjected by this Government to cost-benefit analysis.

In recent years it has become common for some of the larger paying exhibitions not to allow re-entry on the same day after one visit.

When I used to go to these exhibitions as a student, often with two or three others, we would perhaps go in for half an hour or so, go out and have a coffee, talk about the exhibition or perhaps something else, then go back into the exhibition, perhaps for the rest of the afternoon. I have found this opportunity to reflect and recharge really important to the experience. But now that possibility is being ruled out, and you are forced, as we all know, to go in one door and out another as if you are on a mass production line, which, of course, you are.

My second idea of culture has nothing to do with culture as either product or business. This is an idea of culture as being created casually, informally, on a day-to-day basis by all people, through the contact with things, with people, with the environment, with ideas. The Government call "access" a cornerstone, but I see it much more as a dynamic. Within this sense of culture "society" has yet to define itself. "Access" is not about access to specific groups of objects, but is about the nature of the experience of our contact with a storehouse of knowledge, and it is about free entry to museums as being a necessary component of freedom of information, a sine qua non, without which it is not possible to progress further in terms of developing the idea of access.

Museums are still in relative terms some of the few open democratic spaces left in the country where there is at least the possibility to mingle and interact with others on an equal basis. The idea of "free periods" promoted by the Government not only represents a drastically severe restriction on access, but breaks down this democratic space, a continuous space that should be for everyone at all times. By keeping different groups of people apart, free periods effectively "ghettoise" space.

Underlying the Government's research is a desire to predict the various needs—as they see it—of people, a process which categorises people according to their ethnicity, their age, their social status; a process which logically turns all visitors into customers.

I note Westminster Abbey's now confirmed plans for charging, which will group people according to the regular supposedly serious visitor, those who pray, and the tourist, those who supposedly do not pray, but are there, again supposedly, just to look. But what of those who do not know whether they are going to pray or not, but yet the experience they have there is such that their intentions, their preconceptions, are quite altered? This is often how I feel when I visit a museum—I do not know what my needs are, I certainly do not want to be told patronisingly what they are.

Perhaps the Government should give up some of their power by practising access themselves, by carrying out further research, by seeking out other people's ideas at different positions within society rather than making proclamations in the dictatorial fashion contained within their review. Just as a start they would do well to seek out the views of some of the smaller regional museums and their own experiences. In fact they have been grappling with some of the ideas of access as defined in the Government's review at least since the 1970s.

But also in Europe, America and elsewhere there is now, I believe, an increasing interest from museums and individuals in the specifically free entry aspect of the British system, which is being seen not as old-fashioned, a throwback to the Victorian era, but as an avant-garde model.

If society wants culture it has to be a gift that society makes to itself, not a business, because to see it purely as a business misunderstands its very nature. The contemporary Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo, has said that "truth" is not a constant, it is not a goal. an object or even a characteristic of an individual or a society; truth is an event, something that happens fleetingly and then is gone.

The best that we can do as a society through government is to set up the best possible circumstances, as we see them, for this "truth" to occur. This is what maximising access means.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I am sure we are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this debate, and I am looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Puttnam.

I listened with interest to the speech of the noble Earl, who I know feels strongly about this matter. But surely my right honourable friend the cultural Secretary, had little alternative, given the present financial constraints, than to accept that some institutions will have to charge, and to base government policy on helping to increase access to our museums and galleries. This is the world in which we live, and I am sure that out of the present constraints some improvements will emerge through a different approach to resource allocation in the future, as the Secretary of State has announced this afternoon.

The DCMS has published a consultation paper on access policy and has asked all museums and galleries to submit their views and suggestions. I do not think that this can be described as cultural "fascism", as the noble Earl suggested. There are, of course, different barriers to access. Certainly much could be done to break down such barriers to access—which the noble Earl did not refer to—as inflexible opening hours, presentation that lacks imagination and high travel costs. There should be more evening openings during the week, concessionary charges for certain groups and family tickets for single visits.

Why cannot we have season tickets which enable people to make frequent short visits, and comprehensive passes, as in Paris, which permit visits to a number of museums? The Dutch offer a "museum year card", giving access to nearly 300 museums and galleries across the country for under £20 a year.

At the National Gallery, which does not charge, more than a third of visitors spend less than an hour there looking only at a small number of paintings at a time. The same facility for short visits should be the aim of charging museums by granting special concessions. Some museums have flourishing societies of friends, and much more could be done to encourage that.

The V & A, which initiated charges some time ago, is most enterprising, with open evenings for its "Friends", when refreshments are served. I am glad to see that the Heritage Lottery Fund, which the noble Earl mentioned, has agreed to provide funds to encourage more touring exhibitions from the national and regional collections by funding transport and publicity costs.

Those national institutions that do not charge could also be encouraged to organise fairly frequent special exhibitions drawn from the museum's or gallery's own collection, perhaps from the items not always on view, for which an entrance charge could be made. I know that all the paintings in the National Gallery are on view, but that is not so with some of the other national institutions.

I hope there will be free days in museums that are obliged to charge and that these will not become too crowded. There is some evidence, I am sorry to say, that touring companies are using the free day to take along their large groups, and this makes for much congestion. I suggest that this needs to be controlled. We need also to consider the American system of tax relief for donors of works of art. I have been suggesting this for years but it never gets anywhere. It would help if some concessions could be made over VAT, which non-charging museums have to pay. Under the Sixth VAT Directive, charging museums are treated as a business but free museums are not and thus cannot recover VAT.

The Ashmolean Museum recently bought a beautiful Canova bust, with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and others in order to stop it going to the Getty. It had to match, with difficulty, the Getty Museum's offer of £695,000, and on top of this there was a VAT charge of £54,000.

The National Gallery has to pay VAT of £1 million a year out of a grant of £18 million. The Royal Museum of Scotland and the Merseyside museums have been obliged to charge for admission because they could not recover the VAT.

Could not free museums such as the British Museum, which runs a publishing business and sells jewellery, replicas and other mementoes, be classed as a business to enable them to recover the VAT? A concession of this kind would help those of our national museums and galleries that are still striving to retain free entry. As for the institutions that have been obliged to charge. I hope that this is only a temporary set-back and that in the not-too-distant future they will be granted sufficient funds to enable them to return to a policy of free entry.

5 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. I am a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. Indeed, I have been involved with that institution since my days as a member of the European Parliament for Liverpool. The eight distinct parts of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside include the famous Walker Art Gallery, the Maritime Museum and the new Conservation Centre.

I appreciate the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and his diligence in bringing them before your Lordships' House. I was extremely reluctant, as were most of my fellow trustees, to introduce admission charges. As one who likes and enjoys, as it were, "dipping into" a much loved museum for however short a time, I felt that admission charges would militate against that sort of occasional use, as the noble Earl said. Apart from that personal approach, I also subscribe to the view that our splendid museums and galleries and national and local collections, are a rich source for on-going education and cultural activity. Nevertheless, it is now clear that funding, which has always been scarce, is never going to be abundant. Even the National Lottery does not fill the hoped for slot. As my noble friend Lord Gowrie said, rather more dramatically in an earlier debate, we are suffering a revenue famine in the art world.

The people running our museums therefore on a day-to-day basis now need some sort of certainty in their lives; they need certainty and time to develop new policies to contend with this state of affairs. Therefore, unless we all have a wonderful surprise today and hear from the Minister that he is doing a Santa Claus and providing an unexpected pot of gold—from what I understood from the Secretary of State's announcement this afternoon that is unlikely to be the case—I ask the noble Earl to consider abating his sincere and manifestly well-intentioned campaign in order to allow those who are trying to make a go of the new situation, to get on with it.

It is too soon to reach any positive conclusions about recently introduced systems for charging. Research has shown that we often cannot compare like with like. So at least a year is required—probably a few years—to allow the new system to settle in. Once that has happened, then I agree that the position should be reviewed and monitored on a regular basis.

I should like to take the opportunity to refer to our experience on Merseyside where charges were introduced in July this year with the "8 Pass"—I have copies for anyone who is interested in studying them in more detail. Having made the difficult decision to introduce charges, I was somewhat disconcerted to find that our dynamic director and his team, having considered the matter fully, were determined to introduce the lowest possible charges—that is, passes giving unlimited access to all eight venues for 12 months from the date of purchase; in other words, a season ticket, for a standard price of £3. Frankly, I felt that it could be £5 while we were at it, but he has been proved right. Concessions were introduced at £1.50 and family tickets for £7.50 for two adults and up to three children. Special arrangements were made for schools and other groups. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, approves of that since it coincides with what he was suggesting.

That was all preceded by an active marketing campaign and the effect has been largely encouraging. After the first five months we can report, in the first place, that we have a more accurate system of recording the number of visitors by computer. But in order to compare like with like, we continue to use the magic eye system at two of the new museums. The magic eye is recognised as having a high error factor. My noble friend Lord Mersey will talk a little more about that. From July to September this magic eye system shows a 2 per cent. increase overall. However, from October to November it shows a reduction in overall visits by 6 per cent. and 3 per cent. in the Liverpool Museum and Walker Art Gallery respectively. How seriously this will affect our year-end results it is still too early to say. If we have a good response to our new run of exhibitions, we could see a rapid increase and improvement.

People seem to like the "8 Pass" and consider it excellent value for money. There have been only five official complaints in the five months of operation. Early visitor surveys show a high level of satisfaction and we are getting a high number of repeat visits, which is very satisfactory since the criticism of charging has always been that it deters people from making subsequent visits. Trading is up 10 per cent. overall in the shops and, although there has been a decline in visitors to the Maritime Museum, this can in part be attributed to the temporary closure of the Tate for reconstruction.

I did have other specific points to make but I recognise that my time is running out. The evidence we have so far from the Liverpool and Merseyside experience, which can by no means be compared with London, which, after all, is packed with tourists apart from anything else, shows that a responsible social charging policy can be a positive factor both for the people working within our museums and galleries and for the rest of us—the customers and consumers—who, as a result of modest charges, can continue to see more and more of our great national collections rather than seeing parts of the museums closed off for lack of funds. I hope many of your Lordships will agree with me that we should at least keep an open mind until we in Merseyside and others elsewhere show a fair and measured consideration of our new charging policies. We shall certainly support the development of a code of good practice on access. But meanwhile we await the results of the Government's fundamental review of spending.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, this is another arts debate reduced to a six-minute farce. Nevertheless, the decision of the Minister to defer a "free access" statement must be the right decision. He has a team, including the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which already displays outstanding ability and real love for the arts. I feel that in their conjoint heart they wish to preserve the great principle. It is our job to give them support, encouragement and advice.

First, I hope he will make amends for the brutal treatment of the museums over the recent years—labour intensive, inflation always above RPI. Cuts have slashed 18 per cent., on average, of income in real terms. I hope that he will be able to establish a sensible basis at last for funding to replace the present hand-to-mouth procedure.

Secondly, I would advise him to be chary of the Museums and Galleries Report on public access. For 240 years the British Museum and for 170 years the National Gallery have steadfastly maintained free access upon the principle of their foundation, in the words of Robert Peel, to cement the bond of union between the richer and poorer orders so that each can take pleasure in the same things". It has survived two wars and many fundamental crises, a principle overwhelmingly supported in the report by the national and university museums and exported to the United States and enshrined there in statute in the National Gallery of Washington. This the MGR calls "subsidising the middle classes", no doubt like the comprehensives, the libraries and Hyde Park itself. "Charge and keep out the unpleasant poor" seems to be their message. I have never forgotten how the greatest sculptor of the 20th century, Henry Moore, described the firing up of an extraordinary imagination in the fifth son of a Yorkshire miner by that young man continually making free visits to the British Museum. An irony indeed it would be if that principle died at the hands of a Labour Government.

Once one charges, the whole ethos changes. Directors become entrepreneurs; museums become businesses and places of entertainment, which I fear are rather dear to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I look forward to his maiden speech with some trepidation. A visit becomes an experience; the target becomes tourists; numbers fall; costs per visitor go up; scholars are replaced by market managers. Now, most National Gallery visitors are British and one-third are Londoners. Local people just do not visit the charging Louvre, the Uffizi and the Prado and they will not, in England, if museums become just a tourist attraction.

The report describes directors as, public sector providers of culture". Apparently, that curious species fails to adopt "user-pay policy" to cover the cost of service delivery". It remains, influenced by Victorian paternalistic and philanthropic values". Thank God, say I, and I hope, so does the noble Lord!

I also advise to be wary of VAT advice. VAT men thrive on complexity and incomprehension. I implore the Minister to call for an independent VAT assessment with positive ideas for reform. I know that the noble Lord will recognise the farce of local authority museums, the BBC and charging nationals recovering VAT, yet that not applying to those which are free. There is also the farce of VAT on purchases made from government money and of the cash provided by astonished benefactors.

Surely Section 33 of the 1994 Act and Articles 13 and 4(5) of the Sixth Directive can be of help. Is there not an EU recommendation for a low rate for cultural expenditure? If Elton John can be zero-rated, why not Neil McGregor? It is an irony indeed if the principle died in the hands of a little man in Customs and Excise or a small bureaucrat in Brussels.

Fourthly, should not the DfEE contribute towards the huge increase in the educational facilities for schools in the national museums? At the Tate Gallery in four years there has been an increase in visits by children from 50,000 to 150,000. As regards the National Gallery, the figure is 3,500 school visits and there is also teacher training.

Lastly, one should be chary of the private sector. It is vital and it must be encouraged, but where there is money there is power. Money, men and women are sometimes arrogant and ignorant. We have seen some problems at the ROH, the EH and at the ACE. The appointment of trustees is vital and they should reflect some understanding and appreciation of the scholarship and the skill of the devoted and under-paid staff in the historic position of the museum in question.

5.14 p.m.

Lord Puttnam

My Lords, the notion that I could strike trepidation into the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, is probably the greatest single compliment that I shall ever be paid in this House. Before turning to the burden of my maiden speech may I take this, my very first opportunity, to thank all Members of your Lordships' House for the extraordinary warmth that I have felt since being welcomed to this Chamber some six weeks ago. I am not really sure what I expected, but the sheer generosity of spirit I have encountered has been a revelation. I most particularly pay tribute to the staff. I have never experienced a level of courtesy and consideration to equal their contribution to my present sense of well-being. I can only hope that, over the years, I am able to pay hack at least some of their kindness.

I must declare a number of interests. First, it is very much in my interest to be able to address your Lordships' House for the first time on this, possibly the most forgiving day of the working year. For that alone. I shall be for ever in the debt of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I am at present a trustee of the Science Museum and chairman of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. I also have the privilege, in company with the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, of being a former trustee of the Tate Gallery, both in London and Liverpool. So I come to the debate having at least some first-hand experience of museums and galleries at both national and regional level. What is more, I have been able to experience in different ways much of that rich diversity of institutions and collections covered by the catch-all phrase that encompasses "museums".

In recent years, a great deal of the discussion about the future of our museums and galleries has been dominated by what has appeared a fairly straightforward choice: whether to provide free admission or whether to charge. To my mind, it is high time that we moved beyond that narrow and potentially ideologically charged argument. To me, museums have two functions. They provide an historical resource in the form of a collection which helps scholars and others better to understand our past and, in doing so, provide us with a far better ability to understand our present. They also represent a public resource, one which involves a duty to provide enlightenment and enjoyment for the benefit of as broad a visitor base as possible.

But that dual role should not mean that we allow ourselves to become trapped in an increasingly sterile debate—a debate which tends to pit scholarship against showmanship. In reality, the questions that we should be addressing here are much broader. They concern the fundamental role of museums and galleries in a modern 21st century society, a society in which access to education and information alike will be absolutely central to our economic, and possibly even our moral, well being.

Surely the issue we should really be addressing is this: what does our nation really want from its museums? And, flowing from that, how do we ensure that our museums have the resources to meet the nation's needs?

It is my belief that museums house a very substantial part of this country's cultural and intellectual capital. It is widely recognised that the breadth and depth of our museum collections are unparalleled. The nation's museums and galleries are among our most valuable assets and we now seek the imagination and the determination to ensure that their value is fully released.

However, this has to be seen as something of a two-way street. We need to demand more from our museums and they need to start not only matching but exceeding our expectations. We have an equal obligation to ensure that they have sufficient resources to meet those legitimate demands and expectations.

Surely the best way to proceed is far more fully to integrate our museums and galleries into our education system so that they become a truly enhanced tool for learning at all levels. After all, some 33 per cent. of visits to museums are already made by children yet whenever there are cuts it seems to me that the education departments are always the first to be hit. We must be prepared to commit serious resources to our museums as part of the broader commitment that this Government are making towards significantly improved standards in education.

Our museums have never been merely a means of visiting the past. From the day they were built they were always intended to fulfil a role in better equipping us for the future. At the time the great South Kensington museums were being constructed, Victorian Britain was engaged in nothing short of a massive experiment in public education, one in which adult education, in the form of access to national and municipal museums and galleries, was viewed as an essential ingredient. Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the V & A, went so far as to say that, unless museums and galleries are made subservient to the purpose of education, they quickly dwindle into very sleepy affairs". I do not for one moment believe that museums should be subservient to anything beyond their clear public purpose, but I do believe that tying the knot generously, and absolutely unambiguously, to this nation's educational purpose is the best possible recipe for guaranteeing their continuing role at the epicentre of a civilised society.

Please do not misunderstand me, my Lords, much very good work is being done, but properly resourced and encouraged, much, much more could be achieved. There is a vital role for museums at every point of this Government's welcome and ambitious plans for technology-based access to learning, at home, at school and at the workplace.

The provision of knowledge and skills for young people and adults cannot be achieved without the help and support of a virile and confident museum and gallery sector. The time is surely overdue for my right honourable friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to sit down together and thrash out a level of provision that fully accords with the nation's long-term needs and their own frequently stated and entirely generous vision of our nation's future.

With regard to the specific issue of charging, one must recognise that given the sheer diversity of the sector different institutions perceive that they have different needs. The National Gallery is a fundamentally different animal from the Science Museum. What they have in common is that both are superbly run national institutions. The National Gallery is a collection of remarkable paintings whose primary purpose is to give aesthetic pleasure within impeccable surroundings. Its site in the centre of London makes it a welcome and attractive venue for passing trade as well as for those who make the entirely worthwhile effort specifically to visit it. On the other hand, one of the roles of the Science Museum is to help make inanimate objects come to life in the imagination of the viewer. It is a much more capital-intensive institution that has a fundamental relationship with the core syllabus. It is also one which at present feels that it must make at least one proportion of its adult visitors pay.

Of course, there are pressures and problems both between museums and within them. Probably there has always been tension between private research and public education, between perceived elitism and clear social purpose, even between museum staff and museum users but none of this can be allowed to divert us and them from our legitimate expectations or to deflect the state from adequately resourcing the very best of this vast national asset.

It is almost Christmas, so I hope your Lordships will allow me to conclude with the observation that much of the debate, both within and outside this Chamber, very much reminds me of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. There have been any number of visitations of Marley's ghost reminding us of the joys and dangers of Christmas past, plenty of anecdotes regarding the dangers of Christmas present and even some unpleasant spectres conjuring up the misery of Christmases yet to come. I suggest that neither Marley with his vision of charging as the route to certain damnation nor Scrooge with his belief in extracting the last penny out of every visitor really offers a sustainable and intelligent way forward. In the role of the ever-optimistic Bob Cratchett perhaps I may suggest that the three wise men I mentioned earlier together with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister scratch their collective heads and answer the question I put a few minutes (or was it an hour?) ago. What do we really want from our museums and how can they best he equipped to serve the nation's purpose? To help them I offer a final piece of advice from my own Tiny Tim in the form of a remark made to the director of our quite wonderful museum in Bradford. Recently, on leaving the museum, a child said, "Thanks, Miss. That's the best nothingsworth I've ever had." In the spirit of Christmas, I add, "God bless us, every one."

5.23 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, it is my privilege to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on a first-class maiden speech—a speech as distinguished as his career. I wondered why I had been singled out to pay this tribute. One possible reason may be that I was also in films for about 20 years. However, I made only documentaries, which were not at all in the same league as "Chariots of Fire", "Bugsy Malone", "The Killing Fields" or "Local Hero". Certainly, the noble Lord is the most distinguished film-maker in the country. His appointments as vice-chairman of BAFTA, as a don at the University of Bristol and as a member of the British Screen Advisory Panel merely reflect that excellence. It is hard to find a distinguished film post that he has not held. He will be an asset to the Government in their educational standards taskforce team.

I noted that at the beginning of his speech the noble Lord paid tribute to the staff. Obviously, it was prompted by his knowledge that tonight is the night of the Doorkeepers' Dinner. His speech was admirably concise. We look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.

I, too, must declare an interest. It is also Liverpool, because my wife is a trustee of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. My noble friend Lady Hooper has already said that that group of eight museums and galleries was forced to start charging last summer due to the grant in aid decreasing. That is regrettable, but the system of charging is the best possible. You buy one ticket for £3. That admits you to all eight museums as often as you like for a whole year. That should meet with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi.

The system has two advantages. First, it encourages repeat visits. You can nip into the Walker for 10 minutes at lunch-time and it will not cost you anything. Records show that over half the visits to date are repeat ones. The second advantage is that the ticket has printed on it the names of all the galleries. Three of them are not well known, even to Liverpudlians; that is, the Sudley, the Lady Lever and the Museum of Liverpool Life. Consequently, attendances have gone up at the last of those in particular.

I must say a word about how attendances are measured. At a free gallery, a magic eye records everything that moves. At a charging gallery admissions are measured by turnstiles. The initial comparison of one system with the other at Liverpool gave a frightening attendance decline of 40 per cent. But, as my noble friend Lady Hooper said, NMGM kept the old magic eye going in two galleries. The result was a slight rise in attendance in the summer, followed by a 6 per cent. fall over the past two months. There is not much difference in admission figures before and after charging using the Liverpool system.

I believe that it is the best, given the diminishing grant in aid, but that does not mean that I back the Secretary of State's paper Review of Access to National Museums and Galleries. It is a dismal document. I take issue with several points in it: What is quite clear is that charging is not an issue that can be regarded in isolation". I beg to differ. I believe that it can. He continues with the obvious but ominous message: Whether we like it or not, priorities have to be judged in the light of resources available". I wonder whether that is a dire warning that the cuts are to be even more substantial in future.

There is to be a new access fund which, inter alia, will try to attract, Those Socio Economic Groups which are under represented amongst Museum visitors". That should surely read "gallery" visitors, because museums have a good social mix already. It is the galleries that are visited mainly by what we call the As, the Bs, the Cls and the C2s. Thus the Walker Gallery, of international repute, has only half the number of visitors of the perhaps more obscure Liverpool Museum. Attracting social classes D and E into galleries such as the Walker via the access fund makes sense, although the fund itself is minute. It is a mere £5 million for the whole country in the first year.

In his paragraph 9, the Secretary of state hints that he may be addressing that most important nonsense of all, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that a charging museum can reclaim VAT while a free museum cannot. I trust that he has the strength of his convictions in his dealings with the Treasury and that he puts that right.

There is an especially worrying suggestion in his final section, that museums and galleries should consider, The possible case for one day's closure per week". Well Liverpool can boast, like that famous old London theatre, the Windmill, "We never close". While I deplore the diminishing grant in aid and the new access document, I feel that those in Liverpool are making the best of a bad job.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Freyberg

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this important debate. When the British Museum declared a few weeks ago that after more than two centuries of free admission it might be forced through lack of funds to introduce charging, it triggered an outraged response from the British public. To them charging is an affront to traditional ideals of education and edification, turning a visit to a museum into an entertainment.

The real cause of the present crisis, however, the repeated cuts in the funding of museums and galleries, has conveniently been forgotten. The British Museum, for example, has lost in real terms £7.3 million since 1992, while over the same period the grant in aid to 10 other national museums and galleries is down a staggering £41.6 million in real terms. That ruinous underfunding, a legacy of the previous government, clearly puts pressure on trustees to introduce admission charges.

The Labour Party made it quite clear while in opposition that it opposed admission fees. Tony Blair stated on 3rd February 1997: We are concerned about the introduction of admission charges in national museums. These great collections have been paid for, and maintained, by the British people". He went on: We believe that young people, unemployed people and pensioners should not be discouraged from or unable to enjoy our national treasures. We applaud the policies of the National Gallery. the Tate, the British Museum and others in maintaining access without charge". Mark Fisher, the current Arts Minister, further pledged: A Labour Government will move by encouragement and persuasion, setting the target of all the core collections being freely open to the public by the year 2000". However, some months after attaining power, a different picture has emerged and key words have been redefined. As Alan Borg, director of the V & A, put it: The Government appear to have shifted from 'let's keep museums free' to 'let's keep museums which are still free, free'.". When the Government talk about access they now claim they are talking not just about free entry, if indeed they are talking about it at all, but about increased opening hours, touring exhibitions, outreach programmes, access for the disabled and free entry for the last hour of the day.

These things are indeed worth undertaking, but there is no point in making small increases in access for a few people while at the same time barring access to a huge number of others. However one chooses to disguise it, charging admission fees is the reverse of access. Virtually all recent records show that admission charges to Britain's national museums cause attendance figures to drop dramatically. Moreover, they deter people from visiting museums in their own country, rather than tourists. That is why, for example, only 37 per cent. of visitors to the Louvre in Paris, which charges admission, are French whereas 53 per cent. of visitors to the National Gallery, which has no admission fee, are British.

It is important to stress that museums are not a minority eélitist pastime, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, said. Indeed, more people visit museums than attend football matches. Socio-economic studies indicate that of all cultural categories museums are most open to all classes, probably because free entry reduces the barrier to involvement. The last RGSB Omnibus Survey on involvement in the arts in 1991 showed that of those who visited museums and galleries 45 per cent. were working class and 55 per cent. middle class. If charging became general policy visits by lower income families would be the most likely to fall.

Already a vast number of people have been affected. In 1987, the year before charging, some 3 million people visited the Science Museum in London. Nine years on, in 1996, there are only 1.5 million visitors, a drop of 50 per cent. That is hardly surprising. The cost of entry for two adults and two children is £28.30. By contrast, the British Museum, which has no admission charges, enjoyed 4 million visitors during 1987 and 6.8 million in 1996, a rise of 70 per cent.

No introduction of outreach programmes, extended opening hours or other imaginative programmes can possibly hope to fill more than a fraction of that gap. Clearly, access is about entry charges and not the repositioning which the Government—or rather the Treasury—seem to wish to define it as.

In 1996, in Australia, the state-funded National Gallery of Victoria dropped its entrance charge in favour of free admission. The number of visitors rose from 560,000 in the previous year to 1.2 million, a clear example of creating access. Similarly in England, the art galleries and museums of Bournemouth, Ipswich and Eastbourne have all abandoned entrance fees in the past couple of years because of a dramatic fall in attendance. All are now enjoying a recovery in attendance figures.

Last month Mark Fisher told museum directors that they should learn from Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Harvey Nichols how to raise money and earn more per square metre by higher income from restaurants and shops. It is of course right that museums should follow the best business practices, and over the past decade the national museums have worked hard to turn themselves into successful commercial enterprises. However, the money raised by those activities will always be a small percentage of the running costs. Any further steps in that direction and museums become diverted from the real business of running a centre of scholarship.

In 1929, after two decades as director of the British Museum, Sir Frederic Kenyon said to a Royal Commission on admission charges: The nation has a very large capital invested in the museum, and it is better to look for the return on it from educational advantages offered to the public than from a trivial taking of cash at the turnstiles". Some 70 years on, that still holds true. As the Prime Minister has said, "Education! Education! Education!" Museums remain an invaluable and enriching source of education. They, and free admission to them, should be cherished.

5.36 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on introducing this Unstarred Question to the House. As noble Lords know, persistence normally wins in this House and all of us from all sides of the House congratulate the noble Earl on asking Question after Question and probing both governments over the past year. I hope that his persistence bears full fruit.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. He clearly has a greater access to the "Three Wise Men" than I or many Members of this House, and I hope that he too will be successful in his persistence in trying to ensure that we get what we require; namely, free admission to museums. I hope also that we shall hear him more often in this House on many other subjects with which he is connected.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. His grandfather, as is well known, was known as the "Salamander of the Empire", a gallant fighting soldier. I admired the noble Lord's fighting speech and I hope he will be listened to by the Government Front Bench.

I shall keep my speech to one particular museum, a core museum, and I shall declare an interest. I shall emphasise also the principle of free access to museums. The museum in question is only a few hundred yards from here. It is, of course, the National Portrait Gallery. In March 1856, Lord Stanhope, the historian, polymath and statesman, moved a Motion that there should be a national collection of portraits. The Motion was accepted nem con.

In the 1880s, the Government provided, free of charge, the location where the National Portrait Gallery stands today. Over the past three decades the National Portrait Gallery has been allowed by the trustees to have three quite outstanding curators—Dr. Roy Strong, Dr. John Hayes and currently Dr. Charles Samaurez-Smith. They are scholars; they are curators; and all of them in their different ways have gone out of their way to raise revenue for that outstanding collection of portraits, number one of which is William Shakespeare, donated by a Member of this House, Lord Ellesmere.

My interest, which I declare, is that I visit the National Portrait Gallery every day I am in London and I have made quite a sizeable contribution to the shop. I buy my Christmas presents from it. Finally, I am descended from benefactors who put on record in their wills that they wished to give the works of art that they donated free of charge. They said in their wills that they wished all the people to see those works of art free, without charge in perpetuo. The trustees are now in a difficult position because if the Government withdraw its life-blood—its grant-in-aid—they will probably have to impose a charge. That would be a dreadful state of affairs.

Let us consider the figures. Currently 800,000 people visit the National Portrait Gallery every year and there are 130 servants of the gallery working there, 74 of whom are warders. If the trustees have to impose charges, what will happen? Well, the figure of 800,000 will drop to 400,000 and the revenue in the shop will fall. Moreover, more warders will have to be employed to collect that money. I note with some concern that the Government have said that museums which do not charge will not receive back the VAT that they have paid. That is a mean-minded policy which I suggest would have come better from the previous government rather than this one.

I ask the Minister to consider the situation most carefully before charges are imposed. I have read with interest the review on access to national museums and galleries; indeed, I suspect that I did so before some of the directors. I ask the Minister for the following assurance. Will he give the curators of the museum time to make their plans and formulate their answers before the grant-in-aid is reduced—as reduced I fear it will be? Further, will the Minister listen to the curators, who have already put on paper their views? I draw the noble Lord's attention to the short paper by Dr. Charles Samaurez-Smitt, the director of the National Portrait Gallery. It is lucid, clear and comes down very firmly against his gallery imposing charges, which would reduce by half the numbers attending every year.

The Minister puts in a book of reference the fact that one of his favourite hobbies is cooking; I share that interest. The noble Lord will know, as I do, that in order to prepare a dish you need to have ingredients. However, if you get the ingredients in the wrong proportion, the dish will be spoilt. For the museums, especially the National Portrait Gallery, we need, first, grant-in-aid, as the noble Lord calls it. I refer to grant-in-aid as an investment in culture. Secondly, we need shops, which generate more wealth for the museum. We also need sponsorship. If the noble Lord's Government introduce museum charges for the core museums, I shall refer him to a sentence from Saki, H.H. Munro's Reginald on Besetting Sins: The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as good cooks go, she went".

5.43 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on introducing today's debate, which is about, free … access to public museums and galleries". To me, the public element of it is the public collection around which our national heritage is based. It could be in large or small museums, but it is all public in the sense that we all have a wish to enjoy it and a duty to preserve such collections for future generations as well as for the present generation. Indeed, we must enable them to enjoy such treasures which, of course, means being open to the public for as long as possible. Therefore, museums need money and lots of it.

I declare an interest with some diffidence among the very eminent speakers who have preceded me in the debate. I spent about five or six years developing the Eurotunnel Exhibition Centre in Folkestone. which was designed to educate people about the Channel Tunnel. It was not a marketing exercise. It was built around a collection and what I believe was the biggest model railway in the world. The costs were high and I experienced many of the problems in making such a project pay, although it was supported by Eurotunnel to some extent.

We decided to charge people for entry because we concluded that if people paid, the experience of a visit would have a value or worth which would not be the case if it were free. That went against all the consultants' reports; but I believe that our decision was proved right in practice because we became the second most popular visitor attraction in Kent, attracting about 300,000 visitors a year. For outside London that is not bad.

We also concentrated largely on education. I was interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Puttnam said in his interesting speech. We achieved sometimes a figure of 40 per cent. of visitors on educational visits during term time. As my noble friend so rightly said, that is the key to the matter. But even if museums charge the market rate, as I have found, one will probably cover only the operating costs. We have been given some documentation which indicates that for the big national museums grant aid per visitor can range from £3.75 to £26. No one will pay £26 to enter a museum but they may pay £3, £5 or £7. But none of that will cover renovations, new projects and the general improvements which are required today to encourage people to visit museums.

As my noble friend Lord Puttnam said. education is often the first department to be cut because it never makes money. That is something we must sort out. I have a certain knowledge of the Weald and Downland museum in Sussex which I believe receives about 300,000 visitors a year. That museum operates with more than 100 volunteers and six paid staff. They have recruited volunteers and cut their costs to the bone so that the money they receive from entry fees and other grants can be used to maintain the high level of scholarship that is associated with that museum. However, that is difficult to organise.

Given the need for funds, what should the policy he for these museums? As I have said, they need sufficient funds. It is no good cutting down all the time. Efficiency cuts have been forced upon them over the years and I do not believe that they can cut costs any further. My understanding is that there will not be any additional government money and the other sources of private finance have probably been tapped so far as is possible. Therefore I believe that entry charges are pretty essential. However, they do not obviate the need for government money because, as I have said, entry fees cover only a proportion of the operating costs, and certainly nothing more. I contend that many people, whether tourists or taxpayers, can afford to pay. Even if we argue that taxpayers should get free entry, tourists are not taxpayers in the normal accepted sense of the word, although they may pay VAT on some items. I believe that 60 per cent. of the British Museum's visitors are from overseas and that the figure of overseas visitors to the National Gallery is 47 per cent. I do not see why they should not pay.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, abhors charging for entry to Westminster Abbey and other cathedrals on the basis that some of the visitors may wish to pray. Over the years, I have visited many cathedrals and have been distressed by the small proportion of visitors who pray. The rest of them are going around in herds of 10, 20 or 30 people with rather loud guides. It does not matter whether those visitors are from the UK or overseas, I do not see why they should not help pay for the upkeep of a cathedral which is part of our national heritage.

The key to this matter is that we must provide for those who cannot pay. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi made a few suggestions in that regard whether it is free opening for a few hours a week or special rates for students—students on the Continent get into many museums for free, as I have done in the past—or other facilities such as season tickets and the like. I am not persuaded that free museums will achieve the widest access to the widest range of collections under the present state of government finances. I believe that museums must have the freedom to charge, to increase their overall revenue—that is fundamental—with sufficient provisos that I and other noble Lords have described to enable those who cannot afford to pay—especially students and others who study—to get in free or at reduced rates. It should not be the excuse for the Government to cut further funding. But alongside the ability to charge, museums must have some freedom to do so on the basis of market pricing, developing shops and other marketing factors which increase revenue.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has asked the Question today. I also feel privileged to have been present to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I hope that he will find many more occasions to share with us his ideas, wisdom and experience.

If there were such a thing as free access to our wonderful museums—it is a big "if'—1 would find myself, I suspect, fighting with other speakers today to be at the head of the line. For me the first reason would be personal interest. The second might be word of mouth—the recommendation from a friend or a colleague. The third and most important reason would be hoped-for value for money. I do not think anyone has touched on whether we have value for money from our museums. I would look for an enlightening experience or a delightful one. I believe that I share that view with a range of people within and outside this Chamber. I refer to the citizen who pays through his taxes, national or local, or the foreign visitor who pays through VAT and other indirect taxes. I do not believe that he would be put off by paying because it is the custom in many countries to pay for access not only to national collections but to more modest museums.

Access may be perceived to be free at the box office or the turnstile. But if that perception holds good, it simply means, as I implied earlier, that I paid my admission through a cheque to the Inland Revenue or to the local district council.

Free admission is a perception. It is no more than that. So what other circumstances might persuade me to scramble or to scrabble to the head of the queue which I have already mentioned? There is the sponsor. No one has touched on sponsorship. I made several visits to the Carl Larsson exhibition at the V & A. One has to pay tribute to, among others, IKEA and Scandinavian Airlines for underpinning that. Do we call it business sponsorship of the arts? Perhaps when replying the Minister can remind me whether I am right in thinking that it is an element thereof.

Last week the noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, led a debate on the international art market. One might have expected it to be a debate about our premier league players, the points on the star on the Christmas tree, if I may be seasonal—the Christie's and the Sotheby's. However, as several noble Lords who spoke today and who took part in that debate will recall, the debate went much wider. It went to the root of the Christmas tree. My noble friend Lady Rawlings and the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, will recall that the debate did not concern just the star players. The star players were the tip of the iceberg, if I may use that allusion. Noble Lords spoke of the fact that lower level dealers and our museums made an important contribution to the preservation of Britain's status as a top player in the international art market.

Tourism also cropped up in the debate. Here I should declare an interest. In the tourism context—it has been touched on by other speakers today—I believe that foreign visitors will be happy to pay admission prices, because that is the usage and a custom in their own countries, as long as the admission they pay leads to a good value for money experience. I also believe that British visitors would be happy to pay admission charges for the same reason. That view is supported by research undertaken by the Museums and Galleries Commission, which found that only some 4 per cent. of potential visitors to museums are put off by admission charges.

As I said, foreign visitors are accustomed to paying. I hope that many will continue to come to this country to enjoy our historic houses—for which, after all, we all pay, so far as I can remember. What is an historic house? It is a form of museum under private enterprise, for whatever reason. If the law of the land lets each attraction, each museum, determine for itself whether to impose charges, then we have got matters more than half way right. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not yield to pressure which might lead us to get things wrong.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I trespass upon your Lordships' time in the gap for one moment only, simply to have the opportunity to add my voice to those of your Lordships who congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on a remarkable maiden speech. I am grateful to him, too, because I agreed so profoundly with his remarks that it saved me from having to make a speech and your Lordships having to listen to it. I hope that we shall hear the noble Lord very often in this Chamber. I say that not because it is what one is supposed to say to a maiden speaker but because the noble Lord's common sense is so acute and his cultural sympathies so wide that we need him in your Lordships' debates.

5.56 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for introducing this debate. I, too, wish briefly to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on his remarkable maiden speech. I worked with the noble Lord in a previous incarnation, when I was with the Red Cross and he made that outstanding and very moving film, "The Killing Fields". We look forward to hearing from him frequently.

This has been another fascinating and constructive debate. Sadly, while the Government's vacillation over museum charges has been fascinating, I fear that it has not been constructive. Their record on museum charges conforms to the pattern of Labour policy towards the arts, and indeed Labour policy in general. Once again, it shows that the Government are happy to advocate popular policies but not to accept the consequences of introducing them; prepared to ignore the "arm's length" principle when it suits them and to hide behind it when it is convenient to do so; happy to take a stand on a point of principle but liable to abandon their principles in response to special pleading. It also proves that, whatever the Ministers from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport may say, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who makes the decisions.

When in Opposition, Labour raised expectations by repeatedly stating their commitment to the principle of free access to the nation's national collections. As the Minister for the Arts in another place said: the Labour Party wishes to see access to all the core collections of our great national museums returned to the state of being free by the end of the century". But once they were in government, Labour were faced with putting their principles into practice or performing a U-turn. Characteristically they announced a review. Since the summer, the Government have steadily retreated from their commitment to free admission to the national collections, placing more and more emphasis on statements on the role of trustees in deciding whether, and when, to charge for admission.

But unwilling to be seen to be dropping their commitment to free access, the Government announced two weeks ago that they had extended the review of free admission, on which they were due to report this month. The review is now scheduled to last into next summer.

I now turn briefly to the British Museum. The Secretary of State recently applauded the decision of the trustees of the British Museum not to introduce admission charges. However, the Government announced this afternoon that they are holding in reserve £1 million for 1998-99. What does that "holding in reserve" actually mean? Perhaps the Minister will tell the House when he replies.

A report in the Sunday Telegraph of 7th December stated that the British Museum was indeed to receive a subsidy in the form of tax breaks and a relaxation in the rules on VAT to enable it to avoid the introduction of charges. I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who asked the Government to examine more creative tax incentives to help museums and galleries. The British Museum intimated that it might have to introduce charges unless the Government provided more money to enable it to avoid admission charges. Have the Government now done this?

The Government are getting into another muddle over admission charges to the Millennium Dome. Here, the cost of the project is so large that the admission charge is likely to be as much as £20, even if the ambitious target of 12 million visitors is reached. This target might not seem so remote were it at all clear what the exhibition will contain. Might I suggest to the Government that they consider the communications age as the theme for the dome? The century we are entering will be dominated by communications and the media. New technology will transform the way we live in the years ahead and particularly the way in which we learn and work. What could be a more appropriate way of marking our entrance to this era than by dedicating the exhibition to the technology that will shape the new century—a dome experience for the new century.

The new allocation figures given by the Government today in another place are appalling. They are down another £3.5 million, giving meagre amounts to our national collections.

What is not acceptable is for politicians to generate huge expectations that if elected to office they will provide the money to ensure that museums and galleries remain free and then to go back on those promises once in office. Luckily the Government are still committed to a free library service. Museums and galleries are the visual libraries of the country, so if libraries are free, so should museums be.

6.1 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on his timing in initiating the debate today. In addition, I congratulate him on having attracted to his debate the remarkable maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Puttnam, which was a lesson to all of us in what can be the contribution to the House of those who really understand and dominate their subject.

I am sorry to say that I am less congratulatory about the content and tone of the noble Earl's speech. I expect robust political interventions from the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that is what she is paid for—in heaven, she is paid in heaven. She certainly lived up to expectation and deserved the congratulations of her colleagues. But to speak, as the noble Earl did, about turning culture into business, about dominant consumerism, and turning us all into tourists, about consumer fascism, turning visitors into customers, informing us that the Government are patronisingly telling us what our needs are and dictatorial proclamations, I venture to suggest is not the way in which a debate of this kind ought to be conducted, nor, if I listened properly to the other contributions, has it been conducted in that way. We need to have rather more tolerance of each other, although I pay a continued tribute to the sincerity and dedication of the noble Earl.

He and the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and others have campaigned hard in favour of free admission to public museums and galleries. On that issue, I must make the Government's position clear straight away. This is a matter of fact, not of policy. It is for the trustees of each museum to decide what measures should be adopted to promote access to their museums within available resources. Our own preference has been made evident by the pleasure we have expressed at the decision of the trustees of the British Museum to keep admission free at this time. It has been made evident by the quotation which the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, made from the present Prime Minister before the election. But for some museums the wider access will be free admission, others will choose to promote access in other ways. That is up to them. Our task in government is to support both approaches, either approach according to which museum puts it forward.

We are not forcing any particular model of charging or not charging and shall not be doing so at the end of our review. That is entirely consistent with the policy we set out in Create the Future when we said, We would like to see institutions do all they can to balance the books while maximising access". If we were to believe the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and one or two other speakers, that would be the end of the debate. I could sit down and your Lordships would be grateful; there would be nothing more to be said. The noble Earl said that free access is the sine qua non well known for all other considerations of access. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, said that access is really about entry charges. I do not agree. Widening access is a more complicated matter and deserves further consideration.

For one thing, there is no hard and fast divide between charging and not charging. It is not a simple matter of saying, "You pay to come in at all times, for all people" or "You don't pay at all times, for all people". Some museums which charge have free days; some have substantial concessions for certain kinds of people. For example, I understand that 45 per cent. of the visitors to the V & A do not pay. I have just returned from New York where the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a small exhibit, has a suggested fee of eight dollars. People are given a little metal ticket if they buy it and then have to pass two very fierce people who allow them in whether or not they possess the little badge. That is another possibility which museums could consider.

All of those systems ought, in all seriousness, to be considered by museums when they are thinking about charging or not charging. Another example of charging which appears to work is Merseyside, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. I am not sure about the figures and whether the magic eye does not also count the cat and those hesitating in front of it. I am not convinced therefore that numbers have either held up or declined. Nevertheless, it is clear that public reaction to a low cost multi-museum/gallery pass is favourable and it should not be ruled out on ideological grounds.

The review has shown in the research carried out so far by the Museums and Galleries Commission that admission charges are only one issue to be addressed in formulating a successful access policy. That is why I suggest, with due respect to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, that the topic should not be about free access to public museums and galleries but about how to widen access.

Barriers to access do not simply involve money. They involve the cost of travelling to museums—we know that from research; the shortage of time to visit museums; museums being seen as elitist or irrelevant; and problems of physical access for the disabled. Above all, access should not simply be to the exhibition space, but to the vast reserve collections which many museums and galleries have which are not accessible to anybody but could be if money was made available to allow it. That is what the Tate Gallery will be doing in Bankside. That is why we are continuing the review. I do not apologise for that. We are issuing a draft code of practice, but we are looking for people to improve on that code of practice and we are looking for further wisdom from the museums and galleries world to help us to find the best solution that we can when we conclude the review.

We have also announced that the trustees of the Heritage Lottery Fund have decided to create a new museums and galleries access fund, using their new powers under the National Heritage Act 1997. That will have the principal purpose of encouraging national and leading regional museums and galleries in the provision of a new generation of major touring exhibition initiatives—again an aspect of widening access which could have been dealt with beneficially in this debate. Apart from taking national collections out into the regions, it will also encourage the more general circulation of the more important collections to be found in our regional museums. This is an important step for making our great collections more accessible to people for whom the cost of travel to London or another major regional centre can be a significant barrier.

The new access fund will also cover other means of supporting access, such as funding transport costs in museums, attracting people who are at the moment under-represented among museum visitors, using information technology to enhance traditional exhibitions and other audience development approaches which will make our national and regional museums more accessible to more people. Five million pounds will be available for museums and galleries across the UK in the first year and, subject to the experience of the first year, the Heritage Lottery Fund envisages extending the fund to encompass other aspects of the heritage.

A number of noble Lords have spoken about the position of non-charging museums under current VAT rules. We have been discussing this matter very intensively with Treasury colleagues. There is no possibility of a general concession to non-charging museums. But it appears that quite a number of museums and galleries have been underestimating the part of their turnover which could benefit from changes in the VAT regime; for example, their trading, catering and other retail activities. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has said that Customs and Excise will be prepared to advise in individual cases as to the application of the rules. There could be a significant degree of underclaiming. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, has given us very serious legal wisdom on the sixth directive on value added tax. I am sure that Ministers will take what he has said very seriously. I shall certainly report back his words.

I can also confirm that the public expenditure announcements of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have been made today in the other place by means of a written parliamentary answer. The provision for the museums and galleries sector has been maintained in cash terms for the 1998-99 financial year, with allocations to individual institutions unchanged from those announced in the 1997 settlement. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, had to disappear in the course of the afternoon to see the Secretary of State. It shows that we continue to be committed to the museums and galleries sector. In addition, £25,000 has been found for Museums Week next year to enable the organisers to undertake research into the impact this promotional week has on visitor behaviour.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about the £1 million being held in reserve for the British Museum. The purpose of this provision is to help the trustees of the British Museum to avoid irrevocable decisions on the introduction of admission charges pending the outcome of the Government's comprehensive spending review. Before this reserve can be accessed, the British Museum will have to demonstrate its need for special provision, having looked at other sources of income. Payment of any advance grant would be subject to the following conditions: that the museum prepares an action plan, subject to approval by the department, for generating more income to supplement its grant-in-aid, for achieving significant efficiency savings and for improvement in the management of the museum's finances; that the museum succeeds in eliminating the balance of its projected deficit for the financial year 1998-99; and that the trustees of the British Museum maintain free entry throughout 1998. Similarly, £300,000 is being held in reserve for 1998-99 for the Tate Gallery to help it maintain free entry. pending the outcome of the comprehensive spending reviews.

It has been a wider debate than the terms of the Question raised by the noble Earl. It has been the better for that. It has given the Government an opportunity to set out their stall on the issue of widening access to galleries and museums. And for that I am grateful.