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Museums and Galleries: Entry Charges

3.27 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is carrying out a review of access to national museums and galleries in England and the Secretary of State will announce his conclusions within the next few weeks.

This should not be confused with the research which has been separately and independently commissioned by the Museums and Galleries Commission and whose main conclusions were presented at a seminar organised by the commission last week. This research has been only one element of the wider picture which the department has been considering.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he acknowledge that, after seven months of the Government doing absolutely nothing to support museums, the bottom line is that if they do not give a firm financial commitment, then in two weeks' time the British Museum will certainly introduce admission charges?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not accept that the Government have done absolutely nothing in the past seven months. Within the budgets available--which have not yet been reviewed--the department has continued its substantial support for the national museums in the country. The review which the Secretary of State for Culture is carrying out is evidence of our determination to continue and improve the provision by museums in this country.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend to confirm that, should entrance charges be introduced, if a gallery such as the National Gallery does not wish to charge and does not need to do so, it will not be obliged to introduce charges?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, admission charges, which are only part of the issue of access, are a matter for the trustees of the individual museums. The Government have no power to influence trustees in either imposing or not imposing charges.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware how reluctant the trustees of the British Museum would be--I must declare an interest--to impose admission charges? However, that decision seems to be inescapable, as the noble Earl pointed out,

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unless the cuts suffered by the annual budget of the museum are restored. Is the noble Lord aware, further, that unless there is some initiative from his right honourable friend, the trustees of the British Museum, by force majeure, may well find themselves obliged to impose admission charges very soon?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am aware--not only from the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew--that the trustees of the British Museum are reluctant to impose admission charges. Of course, the details of their finances are better known to him than to me.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the wish of the British Museum not to charge is well based? The experience of charging was utterly disastrous in the case of several other museums. The idea that the Government have no influence in the matter is entirely untrue. The Government can release the museums from their obligations to charge or they can make clear that they require them to charge. It is my hope that this Government will make absolutely clear that museum charges are out and, if necessary, they will make it financially possible for any museum to avoid charging if it does not wish to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I stick by what I said earlier: the Government do not have the power to command museums either to charge or not to charge. Any influence the Government have may be applied in a number of ways; in particular, if unlimited financing was available for museums it would be possible for governments to help museums avoid charging.

In relation to my noble friend's first question and what he called the "disastrous" experience of charging, the evidence is nothing like as clear cut as he indicated. We do not know that museums lose a lot of customers through introducing charges. For example, there is evidence in Merseyside that customers have not been deterred by the charges that were introduced in July.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, following on from what the Minister said, is he aware that certain museums are forced to close some of their galleries because they cannot afford to pay for guards to supervise them? Does he not agree that it is better to introduce reasonable charges so that the general public may see all of a museum rather than just part of it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, those are difficult decisions which the trustees of museums have to take. As I said, given unlimited resources, it would be possible for access to be improved not only by having low or no charges but also by opening for longer hours. There are various other ways of attracting visitors to museums. I know that some museums have succeeded, by the way in which they deploy their guards--I believe the correct term is "custodians"--in maintaining opening hours with a smaller staff.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, can the noble Lord assure me that the Government will not support

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the idea in future of voluntary charges, which surely has been the most unfruitful path to be followed in recent years? If people are asked to give a voluntary sum, it is inhibiting on those who visit and difficult for the staff, who are inevitably encouraged to stop people and urge them to give a contribution.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is one of the considerations which will be taken into account in the review that is taking place. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Viscount. If one visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one is encouraged to give a fixed sum. In return one receives a small metal tag to show that one has donated.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, as a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, I am grateful to the Minister for his comments on our experience. Will he be kind enough to confirm or clarify the timetable for the publication of the Government's review and for the research commissioned by the National Museums and Galleries Commission? There have been so many changes that there is now some confusion in that regard.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in my original Answer I said that the review would be published in the next few weeks. I understand that the full tabulation of the results from the two research projects which were the subject of the original Question will be released in the new year. The projects are those of the Central Office of Information and Glasgow Caledonian University. The main conclusions of both projects were presented at the Museums and Galleries Commission's seminar last week, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, knows.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, is it not against the principles of New Labour to charge VAT on museums that do not charge for entrance? Only last week the Secretary of State said that quality should be for all and not just for the few.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I have already said, access charges are only part of the review which is taking place. The law under which VAT is recoverable by those museums which become businesses by dint of their charging for entrance is laid down by the sixth VAT directive of the European Union. It is not within our power to change that. I suspect that, if it were within our power, we would be inclined to seek to do so.

Business of the House: Question Time

3.37 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to refer to one matter which has been exercising me a little since yesterday; namely, Question Time. This House is very rightly jealous of the fact that it is self-regulating, and long may it continue to be so. For it to be self-regulating

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means that on occasion, in extremis, either the Leader of the House or, if he is not present, the Chief Whip may have to intervene. For that system to work depends on two things. The first is that the Leader of the House intervenes with reticence and only when it clearly becomes necessary that he should; the second is the acceptance by the aggrieved party who is being interrupted of the fact that it is necessary to move on.

I make no reference to what happened yesterday afternoon; I was not in the Chamber at the time. I was contemplating the virtues of cross-party co-operation with the Liberal Party in advance of the debate opened by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. However, having read Hansard it seems not inappropriate for me to mention to the House that, if our practices are to continue, they require a little acceptance on both sides. When the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was Leader of the House, he did what I try to do with skill and with tact. I attempt to do the same.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has done the House a great service by his intervention this afternoon. I concur entirely with the sentiments that he has expressed, particularly his polite comments about me when I occupied his position.

To reciprocate what he said, the noble Lord--if I may say so without appearing patronising--fulfils the very criteria he enunciated. He can be assured that, just as he always gave me and indeed my noble friend Lord Strathclyde when he was in the position of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, complete support in matters of this kind, both my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and I will support him in the way he suggests.

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