Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1971 Jun 21 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Museums and Galleries (Admission charges) (Opposition motion)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [819/1034-38]
Editorial comments: 1733-43. MT intervened at c1035.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1301
[column 1034]

5.33 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Refrew, West)

We have listened with deep interest and emotion to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer). In a sense, he has helped to save the soul of the Tory Party on what must be one of its blackest days—not because of the size of what is proposed, but because of its meanness, pettiness and philistinism. We are not even sure whether the £1 million to be raised in charges will be enough to pay for cleaning the windows of the museums and galleries. The White Paper cannot add to the resources of the museums and galleries. It is a White Paper which expresses the ideology of the Tory Party. That is what the Financial Times said, and I have no reason to disagree with it in its analysis of the soul of the Conservative Party. This is a sad day.

The whole basis of the Conservative Party was that it represented the accretion of the past values of this country and claimed to hold the line against the barbarians. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have become the modern barbarians. I became a Member of the [column 1035]House in 1964, and already I have seen a change in the values and attitudes of the Conservative Party.

One of the few cheers which we have heard today was heard when my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) advanced proposals for tax-saving in return for the loan of private paintings or their acquisition. The Conservative Party has even brought art down to cash.

I draw the Government's attention to a poem written by Paul Jennings called “Lines Written in Despondency in Trafalgar Square” . It ended:

“O God, a dreadful army comes
Of foppish hardhats, po-faced bowlered bums Whose mealy minds, whose souls of dust and as

Chafe for the chance of turning art to cash.”
That is what the Conservative Party is doing.

Secondly, sadly and pettily, the Government are dividing the nation. I have heard few things more obscene than the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State today demonstrating the difficulty of differentiating from pensioner to pensioner. The only thing which was lacking was the suggestion of a stamp with a number on the back of the wrist saying, “I am an old age pensioner” . The right hon. Lady's performance frankly was disgusting.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) criticised us on this side of the House for being political about this matter. But right hon. and hon. Members opposite fail to understand either the people of this country or our response to proposals like this. It goes very deep with us when we see such proposals and values interpreted in cash terms. Will the right hon. Lady consider what her exhibition, advocating separation and divisiveness, means to some of us?

Mrs. Thatcher

I was referring to the difficulty of making admission free for people on supplementary benefit. The hon. Gentleman is making my point.

Mr. Buchan

That is precisely what I mean. The Government have not an atom of understanding of the point. Her reason for rejecting the suggestion was the slide-rule analysis and the impossibility of implementing it. That is what Paul Jennings meant when he referred to [column 1036]

“… mealy minds, whose souls of dust and ash
Chafe for the chance of turning art to cash.”
That is precisely what the right hon. Lady and the Conservative Party are doing. [An Hon. Member: “Political grocers.” ] Absolutely.

I appeal to the Government to note what the hon. Member for Louth said. He has shown greater understanding of the matter than Lord Eccles has shown in the past year. The proposal to impose charges should be scrapped. I do not believe it will raise the money it has been said it will raise.

My second country is Italy. I have here figures for the charges made in the Uffizi Gallery. I never liked the proposal to make charges, and I hope that sooner or later it will be dropped. But there is an excuse for it. Italy has such a mass of art to preserve from Roman times onwards that the cost of preserving it would be huge if charges were not imposed.

In 1969, the two main galleries in Florence had 1,136,000 visitors and their income was £82,000. That is probably more than the National Gallery will achieve. This shows that the Government are putting a cash price on our art for very little return.

Thirdly, the Government fail to understand how matters work. It is no use saying that it will be cheaper for children to go to the galleries. It is no use saying that admission will be free for educational parties. It is not the prepared visit to a museum which matters. This may be the trigger-off point. None of us know how children are triggered off into this interest. I see them scampering into the Kelvingrove Museum, very close to my own home in Glasgow. One sees them rush to the engineering section to press the buttons. What would happen if this were a national gallery? Thank goodness it is not. It is a local authority museum in Glasgow, and, thank goodness, it is a Labour Local authority.

This kind of thing will stop now in the premises of our museum in Chambers Street. There will be no more scampering of the children who go to press buttons. There will no longer be the spontaneous and natural expression and arousing of interest of a child or stimulation of a child's curiosity. Then there is the Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art [column 1037]set in a marvellous setting in the Botanical Gardens. People go not only to enjoy the gardens; they then drop into the museum. This charge will be a barrier against them—against the snotty nosed Edinburgh kid who can go in because it is free. It is one thing for children thus to drop in, but if a child has to say, “I want to go to the gallery” and asks for money for that, then it becomes a formal, prepared visit, not a dropping in. During the summer months there are family Sunday afternoon outings which take place there, but will they if charges are imposed? Of course not. Then it becomes an expensive business. A husband going with his wife and two children will have to pay 12 shillings. It becomes a major item, a major outing, not an accidental dropping in.

The right hon. Lady makes a merit of that, as an excuse for her White Paper, that now there will be educational parties. It may be that we have not used our museums sufficiently imaginatively but this charge on everyone will not solve that, nor yet will it raise necessary revenues. Even if there are to be the educational visits, that does not give merit to putting a charge on everyone else.

The right hon. Lady's argument is an ideological argument and it will deprive children of the natural educational value of dropping in as they do to our galleries and museums. It will deprive the children of having their imaginations naturally aroused, and of their natural introduction to the arts accidentally. The right hon. Lady's argument is a divisive argument.

Of course people who are interested in the arts and consciously go out to see collections will continue to do that, but this proposal will be taking away that accidental stimulation which is and always has been a quality of our life far back into the past. It was the work created by the stonemasons who created Michaelangelo. Culture is for everyone. The significance of this ought to be understood. It was the same stimulus which built our churches and cathedrals in the late Middle Ages—not only in this country but in Italy and elsewhere abroad. These works are for everyone, but as soon as we have the concept of payment in this way, as soon as people have consciously to differentiate between [column 1038]the accidental dropping in and the formal, prepared visit—as I say, a husband and his wife and two children having to pay twelve shillings—as soon as they have to think things out in this way, we put back the clock, we move back to philistinism.

This proposal is mean. It is petty. It is squalid. It is philistine. In the name of God, drop it.