The Government's policy is to leave to the trustees' discretion whether to introduce general admission charges for the main collections at the national museums and galleries. My right hon. and noble Friend will encourage suitable programmes of self-help, which could include admission charges, if the trustees wish to propose these.
Does my hon. Friend agree that charging can enable museums and galleries to become more exciting places to visit, particularly for families? If charging can enable museums and galleries to maintain their treasures and to replenish their store by buying others, is there any good reason why those in work who are prepared to pay, and tourists, should not pay entrance charges to museums?
There have been charges for many of the most successful special exhibitions in recent years, but it is the Government's policy to leave the initiative in such matters to the museum trustees.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that last time round, even before charges were introduced, attendances at the National Gallery fell markedly, simply on the supposition that they had been introduced? Does he accept that I know many people who will not be able to afford to pay for entry to museums and art galleries? Does he not know such people too?
The position is different for different types of museums. For example, the National Maritime museum seems to be making a great success of its scheme. It is right to leave the matter to the trustees of individual museums.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those museums in Britain which do not charge are put at a disadvantage compared with those museums in Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States which do charge and which can, as a result, enhance their collections, particularly when, knowing that, visitors are quite prepared to pay for admission?
Is not the only disadvantage to which museums and galleries in Britain are put compared with those in other countries that Governments of other countries are a great deal more generous to their museums than are this Government? Is it not the case that, far from the Minister leaving it to the trustees to decide, he has used every possible occasion, including the recent opening of the library at Ealing, to encourage them to charge? He says that people appreciate what they pay for, but is that not the philosophy of the harlot?
I did not say that, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman thought up his joke before he listened to me. Some foreign countries can be more generous because they are now richer than Britain, and that is largely the result of the economic policies followed by the Labour party over a number of years.