Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1973 Nov 20 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Museum Charges (Opposition motion)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [864/1218-30]
Editorial comments: 1932-2003.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4109
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Monetary policy, Pay
[column 1218]

7.32 p.m.

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

I rise to oppose the motion. As the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) knows, we have been over much of the [column 1219]ground over and over again, particularly during the Committee stage of the Museums Bill, and I think he will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) answered all the points with his unfailing thoroughness and courtesy. I do not wish to go over them all again, and I shall try to answer some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I feel that before doing so I must correct one wrong statement.

The right hon. Gentleman said that if charges are imposed at museums and galleries it will be the first time in our history that this has been done. That is not so. Charges were imposed at many museums and galleries before 1945, and some charges were abolished in that year. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would wish me to correct his statement, and now I shall, if I may, reply to some of the points that he made.

Mr. Strauss

The right hon. Lady said that my statement about charges was inaccurate. It can be called that, but that is not strictly true. What happened was that for a few years charges were imposed at a few museums and galleries on two days a week for the purpose of keeping out visitors and keeping the galleries free for students. If the right hon. Lady's purpose is to keep visitors out of the galleries, she is justified in carrying out her policy. The previous charges were imposed for a short period for the purpose of excluding people on those days. That was what was done, and it was highly regrettable.

Mrs. Thatcher

My purpose was merely to correct a wrong statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, who said that if charges are imposed now it will be the first time that this has happened. That is not true.

The Government propose to introduce entrance charges as a contribution towards the large sums of new money which the national galleries and museums need, and these demands have to be considered alongside those of other arts, such as drama and music, where the audience contribute about half the cost. In 1969–70, Government assistance for the arts in general was £22 million, and of that sum £13 million was spent on the national [column 1220]museums and galleries. In 1973–74 the total spent on the arts, including £6 million for land adjacent to the Royal Opera House, is estimated at £49.8 million, of which £23 million will be spent on museums.

That is an increase for the museums of £10 million compared with 1969–70, but even so it is not enough, and for four reasons. The first is that, in general, attendances have been rising every year, due to the growth of secondary and higher education and the tremendous increase in the number of tourists from abroad. Even now, most of the museums are not adequately equipped to deal with the numbers at the peak season, and once a gallery is overcrowded visitors cannot study the objects and enjoy them as they should.

Secondly, the costs of conservation, display and security of the collections increase every year. This year, we calculate that the actual cost for every visitor will be about £1dec;25 per head. We cannot mechanise museums. If all the modern techniques of conservation, air conditioning, display and information are fully used with adequate space and amenities for the public, the costs will rise much faster than the revaluation which is allowed for the effects of inflation. Indeed, the £10 million extra per year is already an indication of that fact.

Thirdly, it is not enough because the schools are finding the museums very valuable as aids to the teaching of history, art, archaeology and science. Teachers need help to make use of museums, and children need to be allowed rooms in which they can handle objects and learn about the collections. Fourthly, the sums are not yet enough because the provincial museums badly need more help from the nationals by way of advice, loans and conservation, and that again will add to the cost of the nationals.

Although the Government have been most generous in giving extra money to the museums, my noble Friend Viscount Ecclesthe Paymaster-General still feels that it is not enough to do all the things that we would wish to do to bring the pleasures of the museums to the people who should enjoy them.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

On the matter of provincial museums, does it make sense, for example, for a levy to be charged at the Ulster Museum when the [column 1221]result of the collection in it may be no more than equal to the expense of collecting it?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot answer for the Ulster Museum. My hon. Friend should take the matter up with one of my hon. Friends from the Northern Ireland Office. The cost of wages at national museums is borne by the Department of the Environment.

The Government have either to postpone what should be done in the museums or enable the money to be found. The museums themselves are increasingly appealing to private donors and to bodies such as the “Friends of the Museum” , the National Art Collections Fund and National Heritage. The museums now charge up to 50p entrance for a special exhibition, against half that sum only a few years ago. They do this because the increased expenses are so clear and unavoidable. The expense of maintaining their permanent collections has risen in the same way, and that is why the Government have decided that there ought to be a small entrance charge as a contribution to these service. The entrance charges which we propose are very reasonable, given the size of the museums' needs and the requirements of the other arts which are met partly by subsidy and partly by contribution from the users.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned inflation. I have already said that the amount which goes to the museums is far greater than the inflationary amount. Equally, the charges that are proposed have not gone up with the index of wages and salaries. The index of wage rates in October 1970, the very date which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned as that on which it was proposed to put on charges, was 110.6. For August 1973 the index of wage rates was 153.9. That makes the entrance charges proposed even more modest compared with the increased salaries and wages that are available to pay them.

It has been difficult to get across to some of those who have opposed charges just how large the needs of the museums are and how difficult it is to find extra resources when all the other arts are in the queue and their users are already paying a much higher proportion of the cost of supporting them. The Government therefore considered that these needs [column 1222]could be met more easily over a shorter period with some contribution from the visitor. We had proposed to place the proceeds in a pool to be used in accordance with the most urgent priorities.

This has led to the erroneous suggestion that the Treasury would take the £1 million and give nothing back. To dispel this idea, we are ready to allow each museum to keep the proceeds of the charges, less the value added tax, and to use that money for agreed purposes, other than for acquisitions, which are cared for by the quinquennial grant. This is a change in our arrangements which we know has been much wanted by the museums and galleries and it will make it clear to everybody that they are to benefit directly from the charges.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)

My right hon. Friend will realise that this is a most important point to those of us who have been against these charges from the beginning, and it may not be enough for us to come back and join the Government. If the money goes back, will that mean that those galleries which are receiving a grant will have their grant cut in any way or will they continue to have exactly the same amount plus the proceeds from the turnstiles?

Mrs. Thatcher

On the whole, if museums and galleries had exactly the same grant as in the previous year, even in updated terms, they would be much worse off than they are already. The best way to illustrate this is to say that it is money that they will have available in hand for minor works, which are for them to decide. When I said “for agreed purposes” I mentioned the quinquennial grant for purchases. But we also have a ceiling on the numbers of people we must not exceed. It was that kind of thing that I had in mind; the money that they receive they will keep to enable them to do minor works. It is specifically money in the hand.

The capital programmes for museums are subject to the same conditions as other capital programmes in my Department, in health and in local government. They are of course subject to the state of the economy for the time being, but that is no different from any other Department.

Mr. Cormack

This is a point of crucial significance to at least half a [column 1223]dozen Members on this side. Does this mean, without any equivocation, that the money received from entrance charges will be additional to any other sums voted for acquisition?

Mrs. Thatcher

Acquisition has nothing to do with this money. This money cannot be used for acquisition, but the grant is determined quinquennially and will continue to be determined in that way.

Turning now to some of the right hon. Gentleman's other remarks, I do not believe that the modest charges proposed, of 10p for an adult and 5p for pensioners and children, will deter people from visiting museums. The frequent visitor will be able to buy a season ticket admitting him to all the 18 national museums and galleries for a year for £1, or 50p in the case of a pensioner or a child.

The statistics that we have of attendances at the national museums and galleries are not very reliable, because until there is an entrance charge the counting of visitors is uncertain. However, we know accurately the figures for museums and historic places which make a charge. From the general trends of both sets of figures, it is clear that attendances at museums which charge are rising just as fast as, and sometimes faster than, attendances at those which are free.

I have a whole list. I cannot possibly read all the names, but one of the most telling is that for the National Museum of Wales, which is free, and also the Welsh Folk Museum, for which charges are imposed. At the National Museum, where entrance is free, the attendances have fallen substantially from 1970 to 1972. For the Welsh Folk Museum, where the charges are 10p for adults, and 5p for children, attendances have risen over 1970, 1971 and 1972—[Hon. Members: “What are the figures?” ] It would take a long time to give the figures, but that is the reverse of the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.

There are other museums at which charges have been imposed. At Norwich Museum, attendances have risen, as they have at Barnard Castle——

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Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

Would my right hon. Friend agree that in many museums and art galleries, particularly that of Norwich, which is often quoted, there is a totally free day each week, and that this day is never taken into consideration when the costs and charges on other days are assessed?

Mrs. Thatcher

May I come to the free day argument later? At Barnard Castle and the Bowes Museum attendances have also increased. At the Beaulieu Palace and Motor Museum, where charges are 35p for adults and half that amount for children, attendances have risen substantially.

At some museums which are free—the right hon. Member mentioned the National Gallery—for a time attendances went down, and at others where there are charges, like the British Museum, attendances went up. Over the whole range, where charges are levied, attendances have been rising every bit as fast as, and in some cases faster than, those where admission is free. It seems from that fact that people are prepared to go to museums which charge when they have something that the people want to see and display it attractively.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

I am trying to follow the right hon. Lady's argument. She says that it is difficult to determine the number of people who visit museums which are free, yet she makes a comparison between those figures and the figures for museums at which a charge is made. How does she arrive at the first set of figures?

Mrs. Thatcher

There are spot checks from time to time—some museums do them more frequently than others—and then the figures are grossed up. That is in the case of those which do not charge. If one gives exact figures in those cases, the exactitude is misleading, but one has a general idea from the trend. Also, a specific survey has been carried out in a few museums. My point is that the evidence we have is that charges do not deter and that where there are charges attendances can often increase when the museums are showing what people want to see.

There are, of course, reliable figures of visitors for such places as the Tower of London, which charges. I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want me [column 1225]to raise this matter, because it is much too strong an argument against his case. It is interesting because the facts show how little there is in the Opposition's new enthusiasm for free entry.

In March 1970 the Labour Government doubled the charges at the Tower from 10p to 20p. I do not remember any voice raised in protest and there was not a Question in this House. If there had been a protest it would have been ill-founded, because in 1969, the last year of charges at 10p, the number of visitors was 2.3 million, whereas in 1972, after the increase, the number was 2.7 million. This year it will probably be over 3 million. People pay to see something they want and they take their children. The Tower is also a great attraction for the children. I must confess that I envy the capacity of the last Government to raise charges with virtually nil protest.

The second point is the argument about our national heritage. It is said that the great masterpieces which illustrate our heritage ought on principle to be shown to the public free. Whatever may be included in a national heritage, it is certain that buildings are among the foremost glories of the past. No one has ever suggested that the public should visit free our historic palaces, castles, abbeys and other buildings. The Tower of London and Hampton Court are examples. The buildings are themselves without equal in our history. The Tower also contains a fine collection of armour and the Crown Jewels. A separate entrance charge is made for the jewels over and above the 20p entrance charge to the Tower. No one complains about either charge. No principle is broken when collections of objects, whether British or foreign in origin, are seen on payment of a charge.

My right hon. Friend G. Campbellthe Secretary of State for Scotland will be dealing later with two points which arise in Scotland in connection with the will of Mr. Henry Vaughan and the Torrie Collection. No wills or bequests need to be altered. My right hon. Friend will deal with these in more detail, but it may be helpful if I mention the matters about the Vaughan will briefly now.

The Trustees of the National Gallery of Scotland have, at the National Gallery at the Mound, a collection of Turner [column 1226]drawings bequeathed to their predecessors under the 1887 will of Mr. Henry Vaughan. One of the conditions of the bequest was that the drawings in the collection should be exhibited all at one time to the public free of charge in January of each year. This requirement will be met after the introduction of charges by free admission to the National Gallery in Edinburgh at the Mound during January.

Other conditions include the requirement that the drawings

“be exhibited to the public and copied subject to the same rules and regulations”

as the Turner drawings at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

My right hon. Friend will be dealing with this point more fully later; but to meet both the interpretations of that phrase which have been put forward he has asked the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland to make arrangements to ensure that interested members of the public, who wish to see the Turner drawings and do not wish to see any other collections at the National Gallery, have free admission to the Turners in months other than January. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] Those are the conditions. The Turners have to be kept away from the light for the greater part of the year. They are shown only during one month in the year. They are then kept in a cabinet. That is why they are kept subject to such strict conditions. To show them all the time would destroy the pictures. In the Fitzwilliam Museum they are kept in a cabinet, I believe, the whole year round, and people who want to see them, for copying or for exhibiting, visit the museum and they are taken out of the cabinet for them to copy or exhibit. But to show them all the year round would destroy the heritage which it is wished to preserve.

Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)

I quote from a letter from the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum to the Scottish Education Department, in which he said:

“There has never been any bar, either to students or to members of the public at large, to seeing the drawings on any day of the year that the museum is open to the public.”

That is free access every day, and not to something locked up in a drawer.

[column 1227]

Mrs. Thatcher

I am sorry, but they have to be kept in a cabinet to preserve them. They are not kept on show. It is exactly what I am saying. They will be displayed for one whole month at the Mound, and then returned to their cabinet. When they are in that cabinet, people who wish to see them or to copy them can go, by special arrangement, to look at them, to take them out of the cabinet, exactly as they can in the Fitzwilliam Museum. But to have them on display for the whole year would destroy the very thing that one wishes to preserve. In the Fitzwilliam Museum they are in a cabinet the whole year round. I am glad to have cleared up that point.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall raised the matter of free days. There are very different arrangements about free times to see the museum collections. I have already mentioned the position in that particular gallery in Scotland, where things will be displayed free for the whole month of January. Arrangements have so far been agreed with the trustees as follows: at the National Gallery, a free day on Wednesday, balanced by doubling of the normal adult charge on Tuesdays and Thursdays; at the Tate Gallery, free admission from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the cost being met by the trustees own funds; at the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, free Saturdays from mid-September to mid-June, balanced by a doubling of the normal adult charge from mid-June to mid-September; that is, two weeks extended at each end of the normal high charge period.

In addition, at the National Gallery at the Mound, the Turner drawings will be open free during January, and discussions are continuing with the Wallace Collection. So in many cases there are already arrangements for free access.

Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)

This matter is of the deepest concern to many hon. Members on the Government side of the House, particularly as the whole sum involved in the surcharge for the free day is merely £60,000, and £3,000 in the case of the Wallance Collection. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government have not closed their minds to the possiblity of putting our museums on the same basis [column 1228]as every major museum in Europe and of allowing a free day without a surcharge? If my right hon. Friend can say, at any rate, that this matter will be kept open and considered, that will help——

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

Come off it.

Mr. Money

Be quiet. If my right hon. Friend can say that, it will be of great importance to many of my hon. Friends.

Mrs. Thatcher

It is difficult to be as precise as my hon. Friend has been about the amounts involved in view of the unreliability of the statistics of the national museums and galleries. We have negotiated the arrangements that I have described with the trustees, and we should have to look at it again with them. My hon. Friend will bear in mind that now that they can keep the entrance charges that they have as money in the hand, they may be very willing and anxious to have the money from charges to do the things which they want to do in their galleries. When charges are imposed we shall know a good deal more about their operation, and we shall then certainly look at the matter again in conjunction with the museums without any binding commitment but with an open mind.

What is absolutely clear is that the museums will be able to retain the money that they get from charges as money in the hand to enable them to do a number of things that they want to do. This may well alter their attitude considerably.

Mr. Gorst


Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have given way already, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett), who was a member of the Committee.

Mr. Barnett

It was I who moved the amendment on the specific point, both in Committee and on Report. When I moved it, in the speech made from the Government Front Bench by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), to whom the right hon. [column 1229]Lady has referred, he gave as an argument against it that it would be very unfair as between one museum or gallery which got a very high attendance and another museum which, because it was specialist or something like that, got a very low attendance. That was the argument given to me as a conclusive one against the very thing that the right hon. Lady is proposing.

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope the hon. Member is now pleased with the new arrangements, as I am certain a number of my hon. Friends are.

Another view is that these museums and galleries which will keep the charges are clearly offering what the public want and may, therefore, have greater need of the money to do more minor works and ultimately perhaps to carry out more major works than some of the others.

Mr. Gorst

I understand fully that museums which make a charge and can keep it will in some way benefit, but will my right hon. Friend explain what happens where the cost of collection is not met and there is a shortfall? Who will pay for this?

Mrs. Thatcher

On the present arrangements we expect gross receipts of £1.2 million. There will be something off for value added tax, but because the museums and galleries are registered traders they will recollect some of the VAT from the purchase of goods and services and it is, therefore, expected to be a neutral factor. On the whole we expect museums and galleries to benefit to the extent of about £1.1 million in retained charges. The cost of collection, of staff and so on, is borne on the Department of the Environment Vote.

This debate is not about charges in isolation, nor is it about increasing the revenue by £1 million a year. It is about the future of the national museums with which my right hon. and noble Friend Viscount Ecclesthe Paymaster-General is so much concerned. He more than any other Minister has made us aware of the immense potentialities of our museums if the resources can be found. Charges will directly contribute to speeding up improvements that we all want. If we do not have the charges we cannot have the same rate of expansion and therefore——

[column 1230]

Mr. Hamling


Mrs. Thatcher

We have had a bigger rate of expansion under this Government than under any previous Government, as all my hon. Friends accept. If we do not have charges we cannot have the same rate of expansion and, therefore, we cannot serve the public by displaying our treasures as we would wish. I therefore call upon the House to reject the motion.

Mr. Strauss


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)


Mr. Strauss

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I believe the right hon. Lady has sat down.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have given way so much.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Grimond.