HL Deb 07 July 1997 vol 581 cc405-7
The Earl of Clancarty

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on the issue of free admission to public museums and galleries in the United Kingdom.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the decision on whether to offer free admission is one for the governing body of each museum and gallery to make. Nevertheless the Government believe that all members of the community should have the widest possible access to the national collections and are therefore reviewing the practice of charging for admission at some national museums and galleries. I hope that the review will be completed by the end of September.

The Earl of Clancarty

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Even at this late stage will not the Government intervene to stop the introduction of the general admission charge to museums run by National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, which include the very important Walker Art Gallery, by guaranteeing what I think is in these circumstances the reasonably small amount of money required to prevent the budget from going into deficit?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we tried. The Secretary of State saw the director of the galleries on 24th June who took back to his trustees the message that we did not want them to charge, at any rate before the completion of our review in September. However, his trustees took the view that their fiduciary duty dictated that they had to charge.

As to making up any deficit, the problem with that is that it would be an open-ended commitment; anyone could introduce charges and require us to make up the deficit.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some galleries and museums close on certain days of the week simply because they cannot afford to pay for guards for each room? What do the Government suggest in order that they can pay the guards?

Is the Minister aware that Canterbury Cathedral is now to charge an entrance fee on Sundays?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as regards Canterbury Cathedral, I fear that that is outside the scope of this Question and of our ability to do anything about.

We are aware that some museums and galleries have had to restrict opening hours because of financial shortages, and that is very regrettable, but it is up to the trustees of each gallery to make sure that the government grant is used to the best possible effect in order to achieve the widest possible access.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when I became Arts Minister in 1974 I inherited a charging arrangement in respect of all the national museums and galleries? Ten days later they were all free. I shall be very happy to advise my noble friend exactly how that was achieved.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his powers of persuasion in 1974 and we shall certainly take his advice about how to achieve the same effect now. However, I fear that, with charging having been in operation in a number of museums and galleries for some years now, it will be rather more difficult than simply summoning everyone together and telling them to drop charges.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what proportion of the admission charge relates to tourists, bearing in mind that when I go away to foreign parts I am, as a museum-goer, obliged to pay entry charges to their museums? If admission were to be free, would it not be extremely sad to miss out on the admission charge that would be levied on tourists?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Museums and Galleries Commission has commissioned research from Glasgow Caledonian University into the nature and effect of charging by museums and galleries. One of the items in that research should be the extent of the revenue obtained from tourists. We hope to take the early results from that research into account when we undertake the review and we shall be able to answer the noble Lord's question more fully then.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, as part of this review, the Government will consider helping the more important university museums, such as the Ashmolean at Oxford and the Fitzwilliam at Cambridge which are badly in need of financial assistance and house collections of national importance?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the review as planned does not cover either university museums or local authority museums or galleries but the research to which I referred in my previous answer does and the lessons learnt from museums run by universities and local authorities will be of great value in our review.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that many benefactors, among whom are forebears of your Lordships, generously gave to the national collections some of their finest works of art, on the understanding that they would be displayed for the benefit of the public free of charge, for ever? Will he please inform those directors of galleries and institutions which are contemplating imposing admission charges that, first, we shall be very disappointed and secondly possibly they will be in breach of contract?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sure that it does not need me to inform the directors of museums and galleries of the issue raised by the noble Earl. They are aware that in some cases gifts to their collections were made with conditions which would restrict the imposition of charges and they will take that into account in any decision that they make. But it must be their decision.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, will the Government confirm that so long as trustees of national museums and galleries can lawfully make admission charges, Her Majesty's Government when distributing central government grants will not discriminate against those who do so?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that under the Heath administration the 1972 Museums and Galleries Act allowed galleries and museums to impose charges. We cannot and would not discriminate between museums and galleries according to whether or not they charge. We allocate grant according to their needs.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. Will the noble Lord accept that the Merseyside trustees came to their decision to introduce admission charges with the utmost reluctance and it was impossible to delay the introduction because everything had been set in motion? We now see the charges as a marketing tool, emphasising the lowness of the charges and introducing family tickets, season tickets and the like. Does the noble Lord agree, in the event of further government funding not being forthcoming and the introduction of charges becoming more widespread, that the idea of a code of best practice is something which should be studied?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I readily acknowledge the reluctance of the trustees of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside to impose charges. That was confirmed by letter in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday from the chairman of the trustees. I also recognise that the charges they propose to introduce are quite small. But, certainly, their experience will be useful in our review.

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