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Rob Marris: I am reflecting carefully on what the hon. Lady is saying, but it strikes me that if there is a queue, people can get their heads around what is required while they are in it; and if there is not a queue, it can be explained to them at the ticket desk.
Susan Kramer: I suggest that such provisions should be tested out with the experience of time. Hon. Members, who often enjoy discussions, sometimes overestimate the skills of the typical volunteer who helps out over the weekend at the local museum. This could prove to be an intimidating challenge in which people find themselves extensively questioned. If I am wrong, I will be happy for the provision to apply as it is, but I would like to know that the Government are prepared to watch to establish whether I am wrong.
Mr. Francois: I hear what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) says, but does the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) agree that I have provided several examples from museums and charities that have direct experience, day in and day out, of how practicable some measures are? They are firmly of the view that the suggestion is not practicable. I do not know how many days some Labour Members have spent working as charity volunteers in museums, but I do think that the museums know what they are talking about.
I support amendment No. 35. I have talked to people from several institutions, and as the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) has said, the one-year membership is at the core of their funding and of their whole strategy of communicating with and marketing themselves to the community that they seek to serve. That is an important community and an important role.
As I understand itif I am wrong, I shall be grateful if the Minister corrects meif the price of a one-year membership exceeds the price of a single admission, charities will lose out substantially if they adopt the programme, unless they can provide some sort of extraordinary differentiation between a one-year membership under the donation and a one-year membership under their current structure. In fact, I cannot see how anybody, even a Member of Parliamentcertainly I am struggling with the ideacould try to explain the difference to people applying for membership or coming into the museum or other attraction.
The hon. Lady may find that extraordinary, but I find her proposition extraordinary.
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For example, I am a member of the friends of the Grand theatre in Wolverhamptonalthough that is not a charity in exactly the same senseand like lots of other people I get additional benefits, besides admission, from my membership. We are talking about charities, so the financial transactions should be viewed not in purely capitalist terms, but in terms of supporting an organisation, its ethos and what it is trying to do. This is not simply a question of admission; for example, people get newsletters from the National Trust and other such organisations.
Susan Kramer: We shall have to agree to disagree, because I think that there will be a significant impact on the income of organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritagean impact that will be a loss to the nation.
It is entirely appropriate to ask an attraction to offer something more than simple admission to justify gift aid, but it seems unacceptable to set the hurdle much higher than that. The opportunity to differentiate between an annual membership with add-ons and one without is pushing the limits of the system too far, and I suspect it is not what was intended. I ask the Government seriously to consider reducing the period from 12 months to three; indeed, there is an argument for reducing it to one month. Somebody could pay the price of a single admission and then be able to go back again and again over the period of the membership. For museums that change their displaysplaces that people enjoy going back toit would be extraordinarily unfair if people could pay the admission charge and go in once while those who paid the same amount categorised as an annual membership could go back 10 or 12 times. For places that people visit only once in a while, that is probably reasonable, but for places that know that people will take advantage and come back over and over again, it strikes me as insane to say that a single visit must cost the same.
Chris Bryant: I wonder whether the hon. Lady's argument is accurate. The national museum of Welsh life just outside Cardiff is a fine institution, and it is free now, because the policy of the Welsh Assembly and of this Government has been to try to make all national galleries and museums free. Many people argued that museums would suffer from not getting admission charges, but I go to that museum several times a yearcertainly every time friends come to visitand it probably makes far more money out of me now, because I go four or five times a year. I wonder whether the precise arithmetic is as the hon. Lady would have us believe. Sometimes, because people have free admission across a year, they go to the museum or gallery more often, including the bookshop or coffee shop, and spend more money. If the gallery or museum is not short-sighted, it may end up earning more money rather than less from that.
That is a risk that most small museums could not take. Museums funded by the Government
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can perhaps take the risk that visitors would spend money in other ways, because their core funding is essentially secure. However, I am talking about admissions that are essentially core funding for many small charitable institutions. If that is put at risk because annual memberships are no longer possiblebecause they would cost the same as a single admissionwe will threaten the viability of those museums. Many are already under pressure.
The industry has argued its case effectively, with more than one hon. Member, and the Government should consider its point. If the Government are willing to do so, there will be no need to divide the Committee, but if they are not willing to take a second look, we should divide to try to protect that core funding.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given the hon. Lady's desire that the period of the right of admission should be reduced to three months, which is consistent with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), or even to one month, does she think that that three-month or one-month period should be at any time during a 12-month period, or is she concerned that it should not be at a period of maximum interest, such as August or another time of extended school holiday?
Susan Kramer: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The one-month period would provide more protection from someone who tried to target their visits on the most interesting season or a time when they were likely to come back on multiple occasions for the price of a single admission. One month would provide better protection than three months.
Mr. Francois: I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way again. There is no separate Liberal Democrat amendment on this clause, so can she confirmfor the avoidance of doubtthat if we decide to press amendment No. 35 to a division, if the Government make no concessions, we will enjoy the support of the Liberal Democrats?
Susan Kramer: Most of the top-rate taxpayers I have met would be unlikely to spend the energy to find sufficient friends and neighbours to visit on that single occasion. I agree with the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) that the issue is more likely to be a couple of parents bringing a group of youngsters along for a birthday party or special treat in the holidays. We should do everything we can to get youngsters into our museums and attractions so that they are much more aware of the whole community around them, especially the arts and sciences and our various botanical gardens.
Surely the point is that the provisions are about financial dependants, and that cannot be
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extended to any 20 people one may choose to gather and call members of one's family, unless one is able to prove that they are financial dependants. That would drive a coach and horses through the finance legislation.
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