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Further Provision As To Board Of National Galleries

Volume 76: debated on Monday 1 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 17, line 25, leave out "and".

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 7, 12 and 13.

The amendments add a requirement that in preparing reports for the Secretary of State on the exercise of their functions, the boards of the national galleries and museums should include information about the effect of admission charges made by the boards.

The Bill already requires that in such reports the boards shall include a statement of the total amount received by way of admission charges and information in such detail as the board thinks fit about rates of, exemptions from and reductions in admission charges made by the boards. The amendments ensure that when the boards produce such figures a relevant commentary will appear.

The amendments were tabled in another place by Lord Ross of Marnock and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, so I hope that they will receive the assent of the Opposition.

Of course we welcome the amendments. They show that a glimmer of sanity is creeping through the fairly thick cranium of the Conservative party. During the sittings in the House of Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock, Lord Carmichael and others had to teach the Conservatives some sense.

The Lords, however, did not succeed in getting rid of the main problem — the general question of museum charges. The amendment was tabled in the Lords after a vain attempt there to make the Government drop the nonsense of museum charges. The amendment is a help in that we will now be given information about the effects of museum charges. There is some historical evidence about that. I have quoted it at some length in the House and in Committee, and the question was pursued further in another place.

It would be useful if the Government could assure us that they do not intend to press the Scottish museum, or the various national museums and galleries in Scotland, to introduce charges. The Government should tell us that now. South of the border, there has been such pressure. The National Maritime museum has already introduced charges. That was the first break in the ranks, and Sir Roy Strong of the Victoria and Albert museum went to great lengths on television last week to explain why he had changed his views. He says that we are no longer living in a welfare-oriented society. We have shifted to a monetary society, and the directors of museums and galleries must follow suit. In other words, because of the pressure on resources, there is pressure on galleries and museums to introduce charges. Indeed, south of the border there has been a fairly direct instruction or suggestion that charges should be introduced.

When Lord Gowrie opened a library in Ealing on 24 September, he positively encouraged the introduction of charges. He deplored the fact that he could not charge for the loan of books, because that would be illegal. He went on:
"If a charge is made for peripheral services provided by a library, then the user will appreciate what he or she is getting, use will be restricted to those who really have an interest, rather than a whim, and extra resources are available for the service as a whole."
First, he says that people will enjoy things better if they pay for them. As I am almost tired of pointing out, that through the ages is the philosophy of the harlot: if you pay for the service, you will enjoy it more. Then the noble Lord says that we should not allow people easy access to drop in merely on a whim. That might encourage the interest of some young people. Let them have an interest first; then make them pay to come in. Thirdly, he says that extra resources will be made available.

As we have seen with the National Maritime museum, the feeling about the necessity to introduce charges was because resources were being cut.

This debate is our last chance to get an answer from the Government. Do they intend to introduce charges in Scotland?

I am encouraged by my reading of the debate in the other place. Lord Gowrie has at least one convert. The main protagonist for the introduction of charges was not a Conservative peer. It was Lord Taylor of Gryfe, speaking, I presume, for the Social Democratic party. I do not see any member of the SDP in the Chamber at the moment, but at least half of the alliance is represented, and perhaps the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) will say whether the Liberals endorse the views of Lord Taylor of Gryfe on behalf of the SDP. After all, the concept of the noble Lord is exactly the same as that of Lord Gowrie: if a charge is made, the user will appreciate what he or she is getting.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe says that to have to pay to go into a gallery does not discourage him. He maintains that he enjoys it all the more and gets his money's worth. He was talking about seeing the Chagall and Renoir exhibitions. The noble Lord said—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to quote a Member of the other place. He must paraphase. He may quote directly only from a Minister.

That is a great pity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I accept your ruling at once. It is unfortunate, because the noble Lord's remarks are well worth quoting. He talked about seeing the Chagall exhibition at the Hayward gallery. In fact, that was the Renoir exhibition. The Chagall exhibition was at the Royal Academy. But so enthusiastic was he about paying to get in and so valuable was the experience of paying that he forgot in which institutions he saw the two exhibitions.

We are entitled to ask whether the Liberal half of the alliance endorses the view of Lord Taylor of Gryfe.

My hon. Friend will probably agree that, following the Liberal party conference in Scotland over the past weekend, the alliance is probably as split on this issue as it is on defence.

Will the hon. Gentleman return his thoughts to Scotland and the possibility of the museum envisaged in the Bill? Does he accept that that there is considerable concern among his own Back-Bench colleagues about finance being made available? If charging were the system whereby additional finance was made available, that would be beneficial, the museum would be nearer to fruition, and everyone would gain. It would be better to have that gain than to adopt the dogmatic approach which seems unfortunately to be creeping into a debate which is supposedly about the heritage, not other spurious factors.

On the last point, this is very much part and parcel of the argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has already asked what funds will be coming forward — not a small amount to be supplemented by charges but the amount necessary to fund and develop the museums.

The third heresy propounded by Lord Gowrie was the statement that extra resources would be available because, if extra resources came forward from charges, Government funding would be cut. That is the whole purpose of the provision.

We need an assurance today. We want a pledge from the Government that on no account will they encourage this false development, which is alien to our traditions, alien to the benefactions left to our museums and galleries and alien to the traditions of the philanthropists of the past who gave us so many of the objects to be seen there. An assurance to that effect from at least half of the alliance party would also help.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the amendment, as I believe he did. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not wish me to indulge in a general debate on the subject of charges, but I have said on a number of occasions already that there is no question of the Government forcing trustees to introduce charges. The decision whether or not to charge for special exhibitions or otherwise will be entirely for the trustees.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) has said, the amendment will supply information which may stimulate more thoughtful discussion of this issue than is usually evident in some of the doctrinaire pronouncements of the Opposition.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 7 agreed to.