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Museums And Galleries Admission Charges Bill Hl

Volume 326: debated on Wednesday 15 December 1971

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2.55 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª. —(Viscount Eccles.)

On Question, Bill read 3ª: Amendments (privilege) made.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. It may be a very small Bill, but it has aroused a great deal of interest. That was certain to happen because the Bill is about millions of ordinary people, all those, young and old, who visit museums, and it is also largely about that branch of the fine arts whose high priesthood is incomparable in their erudition, skill and devotion. We have there the political tinder and the intellectual flint for a blazing argument; but we have not had that, and this is due very much to the leadership given by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in the debates on the subject. Your Lordships will join with me in congratulating him, and all those who have spoken, on the moderation and reasonableness with which they have tried to see the Government's case, which was difficult to make.

I believe that we emerge from these debates with a better idea of how novel, how large and how intensely interesting the needs of the museums are to-day. None of us wants to keep people out of the museums. The question is how to provide for many more people, millions more people, to come in every year than were ever dreamed of when the museums were built and during the time when their great reputations were established. I do not think that should be a political issue. But we have had to start with a political issue—charging. When that is out of the way it is my hope that all sides of the House—and there are great servants of the museums on all sides of the House—will help me by turning their attention to those problems for which the solutions are very far distant and which require a great, imaginative response. We should do all in our power to help the trustees and the governing bodies of our national museums and galleries to develop their institutions to meet the needs of a world which is quite different from that in which most of us grew up. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass. —( Viscount Eccles.)

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his kind remarks, which were greatly appreciated by those on this side of the House. I must say that I did not expect that he was going to make another Second Reading speech, but when you have a bad case no doubt the more times you can repeat it the better that is. As the noble Viscount the Minister has said, we have had a thorough discussion during the passage of the Bill, and I am glad that we have managed to improve it. It now has a much better and more accurate Title. The Government have also met us in conceding that when they wish to revoke trusts and wills in Scotland they should lay the order before Parliament. We welcome very much, too, their offer to review this scheme after three years.

However, in spite of this, I must say we still have very strong objections to the Bill. I do not want to repeat now our arguments against it, which we deployed at considerable length during its passage. But, having said that, I should like to express our thanks to the Minister for the courteous, fair and helpful way in which he has piloted this controversial Bill through the House, and for all the trouble he has taken to deal fully with our Amendments and the various questions that have been raised.

3.1 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Viscount began by saying that this was a small Bill. I agree with him. It is a small Bill; it is a squalid Bill; it is a sad Bill. But we are living in a democratic country. This Bill is the will of the Government of the day and therefore we must accept it. But, in accepting it, I want to express my gratitude to Members of all Parties, inside your Lordships' House and in another place and outside, who have combined to try to advise the noble Viscount the Paymaster General that he was doing a grave disservice to his own reputation and to his Party by acceding to the acceptance of this Bill.

I particularly want to thank Mr. Hugh Leggatt, a great patron of the Arts; and there are so many more. I would thank the great majority of trustees and other servants of our great museums and galleries. I do not think there is any doubt that the Government in their wisdom—or, as I feel, their lack of wisdom —have flouted the views of the total opposition politically of the Labour Party and the trade union movement. They hare flouted the opposition of the majority of the trustees and the directors of our galleries; and they have flouted the views of artists, young and old—there is no generation gap in this matter. But we are living in a democratic country and this is the will of the Government of the day. I am not a supporter of the Government of the day, but I am very sad; and I should have been very glad, for their sake as well as that of the rest of us, if they had not lent themselves to this squalid, sad little measure.

My Lords, as one who took part in the debates on this Bill, and realising that one cannot say anything which is outside the Bill as it now is, I would say to the noble Viscount that I am a very disappointed man because of the line of approach that has been taken against the case I endeavoured to put on behalf of particular sections of people in the areas from which I come. I am still at a loss to understand this. I ought to have risen to my feet earlier, no doubt, but I should like to ask the noble Viscount, due to my lack of knowledge and understanding, what is meant by "privilege Amendments"? I sincerely hope that after the Bill leaves this place the trustees will operate the powers they have. I know what the Minister said when I asked a question on this point: they have powers in regard to charges but that they must still have the support of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the raising of finance.

My Lords, I have no desire whatever to retract anything that I have said against the charges in the course of the discussions which have taken place in your Lordships' House. But, speaking entirely for myself, I should like at this stage to say that I recognise that the noble Viscount has been actuated in what he has done, regrettably as I think, by a splendid vision. While I continue to regret that he has found it necessary to have recourse to this particular financial device, I appreciate the farsighted concern he has shown for the welfare of the museums and galleries in this country, and I wish him every luck in his programme.

3.5 p.m.

My Lords, I rise only to echo the sentiments that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. I appreciate that this particular Bill, as anyone speaking from these Benches must realise, is a controversial Bill. I have no doubt whatever that the noble Viscount the Paymaster General has in some sense been the instrument of Her Majesty's Government in promoting the Bill. I would merely say that I hope that, once the Bill has been passed, as is inevitable, the noble Viscount, who I have no doubt has the wisest possible interests of the museums and galleries at heart, will reap the benefit of the measure he has been instrumental in promoting, and that as a result the museums and galleries will ultimately benefit from the great interest in their welfare which I am sure he has at heart.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.