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Victoria And Albert Museum

Volume 87: debated on Monday 18 November 1985

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asked the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement about the voluntary system of charges introduced by the Victoria and Albert museum.


asked the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement about the introduction of the voluntary entrance fee at the Victoria and Albert museum.

Charges are a matter for the trustees' discretion. The trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum have decided to introduce a voluntary donations scheme at the museum and to suggest a donation of £2 per adult and 50p for students and old-age pensioners. The donations will accrue to the Associates of the V and A, an independent fund-raising body, which will use them to support museum ventures not met from the moneys voted by this House.

Will my hon. Friend also congratulate Sir Roy Strong and the trustees on devising this popular and sensible means of subsidising the arts? What will he do to encourage other museums to do the same and to retain more of the receipts from charges?

It is entirely up to the trustees of national museums to decide what methods they use to provide additional funds. The Government provide basic funding for national museums and will continue to do so, but we should do everything to encourage them to raise extra money by other means to improve services. I would encourage any method of raising extra revenue. Indeed, I am considering methods of improving the system.

While I also commend the initiative taken by the Victoria and Albert museum, and point out that there is a world of difference between its scheme and compulsory charges for our national museums, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that the person who led the publicity campaign against it on television and who said that his taxes had paid for the V and A only showed that his sense of history was as poor as his misplaced histrionics on television?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The trustees have discretion and can either raise voluntary donations or impose admission charges, as the National Maritime museum does. It is at their discretion. I agree with my hon. Friend that almost every other country with a national museum makes charges, and it seems extraordinary that people should discourage the efforts of those who are trying to increase their available resources.

We should be proud of our policy of free admission to museums. Does the Minister not realise that these voluntary charges are a form of moral blackmail, and will undoubtedly deter many people from visiting museums? Will he keep a careful check on attendances at the V and A, and, if they fall off, will he dissuade other museums from carrying out a similar policy?

I shall not. It is up to the trustees and governing bodies of local museums to decide how they secure extra revenue in addition to the basic funding from the Government. When one considers the range of places that are chargeable, for example, visiting a country house, it is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should say that it is immoral to experiment in this way.

Does the Minister accept that his comments on the freedom of trustees might be listened to with more care if it were not for the fact that in 1973 and 1974 the present Prime Minister compelled them to introduce charges, the consequence of which was a 50 per cent. decrease in attendances at the V and A during the three months following their introduction? We persuaded the museums to drop those charges, and we shall rescind these charges next time. These are national institutions and they cannot be left to make such decisions, which will result in an immediate fall in attendances. Any extra money will be clawed back.

It is regrettable that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that if ever he had the chance to be in office he would look to ways of discouraging museums from raising extra revenue. If museums wish to do so, why should they not have the freedom to improve their services?