Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1971 Jun 21 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Museums and Galleries (Admission charges)] (Opposition motion)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Speech
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [819/1003-14]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1612-37.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3659
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Education, Public spending & borrowing, Social security & welfare
[column 1003]

4.12 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

We have had payment for drama for many years, but that does not seem to have deterred some people from becoming very dramatic.

The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) has made a maiden speech from [column 1004]that Dispatch Box which could scarcely be called non-controversial. But I agree with him on one thing: we are not all ephemeral politicians—certainly not those of us on this side of the House. I am happy to reply on behalf of my noble Friend Viscount Ecclesthe Paymaster-General who, in education, is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest Education Ministers of all time, and who has done a great deal for the artistic world, as I shall show later in my speech.

The hon. Member for Smethwick has made a number of serious points, and I shall hope to cover his main arguments during my speech. He chose his own tone. I shall choose a slightly different, quieter tone.

There are several things upon which we can all agree. First, that the valuable collections of the museums and galleries should be properly house and displayed, maintained and expanded, so that they can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Secondly, that in many cases the present facilities are insufficient for this purpose and that more resources, both capital and revenue, are required.

Thirdly, that considerable sums of Exchequer moneys will continue to need to be injected into the creative arts—music, drama, art—to further their development and to bring them to the public.

Fourthly, the costs are not in dispute. They are all derived from published figures in the Civil Estimates. The net voted expenditure on national museums and galleries affected by charges is £18.5 million per annum. The total number of visitors is estimated at 16 million. Therefore, the cost borne by the tax-payer is significantly above £1 per visitor to the museums and galleries.

The number of people employed in the national museums and galleries in England and Wales this year is 3,400. This is a labour-intensive service. By contrast, I should perhaps mention that the staff of the D.E.S. responsible for the central Government rôle in education and science are fewer in number. They number 3,000 in England and Wales.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

What is the significance of the figure of £1 per visitor? Is the right hon. Lady implying that if there were slightly fewer [column 1005]visitors we ought to close down the collections of the British Museum to which scholars have been going for so many years? What is this nonsense about £1 per visitor?

Mrs. Thatcher

I was implying that the hon. Gentleman might be able to do a little mental arithmetic. I am sorry if I was wrong.

Charging for admission to national monuments, collections, historic buildings, and so on, is an old-established practice. At the Tower of London, where the attendance is 2.3 million per year, the charge in April to September is 20p for adults and 5p for children and old-age pensioners. At the Zoological Society in Regent's Park, where the attendance is 2 million per annum, a charge of 45p is made for adults.

Charging for admission to museums and galleries is no new principle. The Tate, the Wallace, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery for Scotland and the London Museum have all made charges at some time in the past—mostly before 1939. The Victoria and Albert Museum made charges prior to 1914. Some of these galleries now make charges for special collections. For example, the Tate, and recently the Victoria and Albert, charged 30p for the exhibition of costumes used in the TV series Henry VIII. The day on which I visited the Victoria and Albert, that was the busiest part of the museum.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Does the right hon. Lady seriously suggest that because individual and special collections are brought together for which charges are made that should be the criterion for charging always when anyone wants to go into a museum or gallery? Does she not think that there is a reason—possibly a very good one—for people being willing to pay to see a collection which may never be assembled again?

Mrs. Thatcher

No. I am pointing out that charging is no new principle, either in general or in relation to special collections. These matters are not in dispute because they are facts. As no new principle or practice is involved, it would seem that the argument is about narrower issues. [column 1006]

The difference between us is whether those who can and do visit the museums should pay a little more towards their upkeep through admission fees than those who cannot or do not. We accept a charge for admission in the case of opera, music, drama, and so on, although they also are subsidised.

The alternatives for the museums and galleries are: first, no extra money in real terms; secondly, extra money from the taxpayer on the usual basis, regardless of whether he does or can use the facilities; that is to say income for income, the man in the Outer Hebrides or in the West Country pays the same as the person who, living nearer, can readily use the main national facilities; or, thirdly, extra money from those who enjoy museums and galleries by way of a charge of about one-tenth of the subsidy which the tax-payer will continue to pay. It seems to me that most visitors, realising that the taxpayer already pays about £1 per visit, would be quite prepared to pay 10p themselves.

I turn now to the charges in the White Paper. The aim is to obtain a net additional income £1 million. This is a modest aim and the individual basic charge of 10p, or 5p for children under 16, is well within the means of most people. The season ticket of £1, or 50p for those under 16, is excellent value and should encourage more people to visit the museums more often.

The Motion alleges that these charges will diminish educational opportunities. That is not so. Special arrangements are made for educational parties which, I believe, will enhance the value of the visits. In 1969 Her Majesty's Inspectorate visited 12 national museums in London, and one in Cardiff. It also visited some other museums in London and the provinces. Its objective was to examine the contributions of museums to education, and to suggest how available resources might be better used. Its experience and findings are being collated and will appear as an education survey as soon as possible.

It is perhaps superfluous, but I do, nevertheless, stress that the inspectorate found everywhere a great desire on the part of the museums staffs to contribute as much as possible to the education of our young people through the exhibits in our museums. But almost all the [column 1007]museums reported inadequate facilities, and all await increased resources.

The specific point to which my attention has been drawn is that the value of many school visits would have been greatly enhanced if there had been discussions between the teacher and the museum education staff before the plans to visit the museum were made. The White Paper, in providing for free pre-arranged educational parties, will encourage more of that kind of discussion. It will enable museums to spread the visits in such a way that the parties receive the maximum attention and benefit from their visits. Scholars who visit museums by arrangement will, of course, continue to be admitted free.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

Would not the right hon. Lady agree that where there is free access to museums, particularly in the London area, one of the great benefits of school parties is that it is hoped that the child will visit museums fairly frequently on his own afterwards? Would not the right hon. Lady agree that the imposition of charges will reduce the opportunity for such later visits?

Mrs. Thatcher

From an educational point of view it is better that the child should go first with a teacher or a guide. He will gain more that way. Subsequently, he can go to the museum by paying 5p, which compares very well with charges for visits to the zoo, to the Tower, and to other places at which there are large attendances.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

Either the right hon. Lady has not understood what she is saying or she is confused. She is saying that educational visits will be a valuable experience for a child if they are prearranged, but that is what happens today. There is no difference. The right hon. Lady should not claim any merit for her scheme which will allow educational visits to be arranged. What is the merit that she is claiming?

Mrs. Thatcher

Quite simply that under the arrangements set out in the White Paper educational visits with teachers will have to be prearranged. The prearrangement will enable discussions to take place between the museum authorities and the teachers. That does [column 1008]not always happen now when teachers take parties to museums. The educational value of a prearranged visit is specifically provided for in the White Paper. The Inspectorate found that what is proposed does not always happen at the moment, and it recommended that it should.

A number of my hon. Friends—the hon. Members for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer), Ipswich (Mr. Money), and many others—have asked my noble Friend to make special arrangements for retirement pensioners, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned them this afternoon. They and other commentators have pointed out that on production of their pension books pensioners can secure admission at much reduced prices at a number of institutions. For example, at the Tower of London and Hampton Court, although the charge in season is 20p for adults, old-age pensioners can get in for 5p. At the Queen's Gallery, although the charge is 15p, old-age pensioners can get in for 5p. Many cinemas have specially reduced prices on certain days, and some local authorities have concessionary travel rates. It has been decided, therefore, that the charge for retirement pensioners will be 5p instead of 10p or 20p which others will pay. That charge will apply at all times, including during July and August when the basic charge for adults is 20p.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

While I should have preferred no charge at all for old-age pensioners, nevertheless that is a very important concession and a great improvement in the position, for which I am grateful.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On two occasions the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has abused the right to intervene. Surely the right to intervene was never meant to be used for purposes of that kind, and he has done it twice during the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right of intervention depends on the Member who has the Floor. If he gives way it is in order for the hon. Member who intervenes to say what he likes.

[column 1009]

Mrs. Thatcher

Viscount EcclesMy noble Friend is also considering the possibility of a family ticket available from a tourist authority, and whether a special combined season ticket can be issued to tourists extending present arrangements for admission to ancient monuments and historic houses.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

I hope that my right hon. Friend's noble Friend will give special attention to the holders of supplementary benefit books, and give them free admission.

Mrs. Thatcher

My noble Friend is considering the suggestion that pensioners receiving supplementary benefits should be admitted free, but I must tell the House that I have carried out a few preliminary investigations, and as a result I can foresee some administrative problems. There are three books—one for the basic pension, one for the basic and supplementary pension, and one for the supplementary pension only. All three books look identical on the outside. Indeed, it has been the object of successive Governments to make them virtually indistinguishable one from the other so that when a pension is collected from the Post Office no one can tell whether the drawer is on assistance, to use the old phrase, or not. It would require a close examination of the pages of the book to tell whether a person was receiving supplementary benefit. Those who would be required to tender their books in order to obtain a reduction in charges might not wish that a further examination should be made. My noble Friend and Sir K. Josephmy right hon. Friend will consider those factors, and I should be grateful for the views of hon. Members during the debate, but I remember looking at the books to see how easy it would be to identify the person who was on supplementary benefit.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)


Mrs. Thatcher

I have already given way a great deal and I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue.

I turn to the capital programme in the first paragraph of the White Paper——

[column 1010]

Mr. Maclennan

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Lady gave way, and understandably you ruled that it was in order, to two interventions which were of a congratulatory nature——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am sure that the point he wants to make is not a point of order. The right hon. Lady—or, indeed, anyone who has the Floor of the House—can give way if she wishes. What is said by the Member who intervenes is of no concern to the Chair.

Mr. Maclennan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are you saying that it matters not at all what an intervenor says, that he cannot be out of order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, I am not saying that. All I am saying is that the Member who intervenes can say what he likes provided that what he says is in order, and the material, generally speaking, of what he says is in order unless it contravenes some clearly known rule of the House.

Mr. Maclennan

Perhaps I may seek some clarification on that point. Hon. Gentlemen on the Government side have intervened to make what appear to be prearranged interventions in order to congratulate the Minister on making a concession. It gives the clear impression that the proceedings of the House are being abused. It takes up time and precludes genuine interventions. The right hon. Lady has objected to someone intervening to clear up an important point in the debate. That is a most unsatisfactory practice, and it does not seem proper if one type of intervention is allowed by the Government, and another genuine inquiry is not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Whether what the hon. Gentleman is putting is true or not, it does not make any difference to what I have said. I am sure he will recollect that very often Opposition Front Bench speakers draw great encouragement from something which their back benchers say by way of intervention. It is really the same all round.

[column 1011]

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that I have given way more to the Opposition than to my own side. I was only trying to continue my own speech——

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

On a point of order. Is it in order for hon. Members opposite to use a point of order to show clearly that they do not agree with the concession which the Secretary of State has just made?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I believe that I had made that part quite clear.

Mrs. Thatcher

I turn now to the capital programme. In the first paragraph of the White Paper, the Government, having announced the charges, said:

“… in consequence the Government are able to provide additional resources for the conservation and display of their collections.”

We therefore announced “… a further substantial programme expected to lead to expenditure over the next five years averaging £2 million a year.” The schemes in paragraph 6 have hitherto been waiting in the queue. Now there is a commitment to start when planning and design are completed, and this will add to the capacity of the institutions to look after their collections and to display them to visitors who are expecting higher and higher standards of display.

The hon. Member for Smethwick referred to legislation. There has been some confusion about the rôle of legislation in the matter of museum charges. May I set out the position and stress that there has been no change of policy?

First, some museums have an express statutory power to charge and some have charged in the past. These need no special powers to charge in the future. Second, there is some doubt about whether the British Museum, the British Museum (Natural History), and National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland have power to charge. The Government's legal advice is that the doubt is such that legislation is required to give a clear power to change. The purpose of the legislation is therefore to put the power to charge beyond dispute.

In the words of the White Paper:

“Legislation to enable the Trustees of the British Museum, the British Museum [column 1012](Natural History), the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland the National Galleries of Scotland to charge will be introduced.”

The enabling nature of the legislation has been made clear throughout.

The national museums and galleries are almost wholly dependent for their expenditure on Government finance through the taxpayer. Therefore, once the powers are complete, the decision that the charges should be made is the Government's. On the understanding that £1 million annually in charges should be forthcoming, and in good faith, the Government are providing extra resources for museums and galleries. These will benefit those who use them and please all connected with them.

On this basis, and with the clear statement that the decision to charge is the Government's and the Government's alone, my noble Friend is confident that the trustees will co-operate in making the administrative arrangements best suited to their own institutions. The scheme must be simple and cheap to administer.

It is clear, therefore, that the Government are taking the responsibility and are not shuffling it off on to anyone.

Mr. Buchan

Explain that.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have explained what I believe the trustees want, that the Government are taking responsibility for the charges. The Government are also the trustees for the taxpayer, so it is right and proper for the Government to say that, if extra money is required, it should come not from the taxpayer alone but those who regularly use and enjoy the facilities in the galleries. But no one is shuffling off responsibility to the trustees. My noble Friend and I and my right hon. Friends will carry it.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Lady make it clear that she is issuing instructions, regardless of their wishes, to the trustees of the national institutions to impose charges?

Mrs. Thatcher

That is quite clear. The Government require charges to be made. I hope that I have made that quite clear——

Mr. Faulds

And that is what the trustees want?

[column 1013]

Mrs. Thatcher

I understood that the trustees wanted an unequivocal statement. I believe that I have now given them what they want.

Throughout his first year of office, Viscount Ecclesmy noble Friend has taken a positive and creative approach to the arts as a whole. The grant for the Arts Council was increased by £2.6 million for 1971–72. He has set in hand plans for rehousing the British Museum Library at a cost of £36 million over 13 years.

Mr. Faulds

My right hon. Friend did that.

Mrs. Thatcher

As usual, the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) did the preliminary planning, but it was left to someone else to make provision for the money. It is always left to someone else to make provision for the money, whether it be for the British Museum Library or the Arts Council.

Although it is dealt with in a separate White Paper, the British Museum Library project will release space for the other collections of the British Museum. My noble Friend has secured the extra capital resources mentioned in the White Paper, amounting to a 50 per cent. increase over previous provision, and the revenue requirements will go up too.

This is a programme for increasing and improving the heritage of the nation. To suggest, as the Motion does, that charges amounting to £1 million a year will divide a nation that already spends over £1,800 million a year on alcohol, £1,700 million on tobacco, £420 million on books, papers and magazines, £413 million on other entertainments and £59 million a year on the cinema is utter nonsense. I do not understand the logic that £59 million a year on films, good, bad, or indifferent, does not divide a nation, while £1 million a year on wonderful pictures, sculptures and other treasures does divide a nation.

The cost of museums and galleries must rise if new accommodation is to be provided. If we do not attempt to make greater provision to display our treasures, we shall be throwing away one of the great educational opportunities of the present. The choice lies between levying increased taxation for all or charging a small amount—about one-tenth of the cost per visit—to those who use the galleries. I believe that, with the great expenditure [column 1014]demands now upon us, the latter is the better solution. I ask the House to reject the Motion.