§ 51. Mr. Simon Hughes
To ask the Minister for the Arts what recent representations he has received calling for access to all public museums and galleries to young people under 18 years to be without charge.
§ The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)
In recent months, I have received a number of letters concerning admission charges in the national nuseums and galleries which I sponsor. Those institutions which levy an admission charge allow free or concessionary entry to all pre-booked school parties and students. The decision whether to introduce admission charges is, of course, a matter for the trustees and directors of individual institutions.
§ Mr. Hughes
Is the Minister aware that about 15 per cent. of all museums and galleries in London charge more than £2 for young people's admission and that fewer than 5 per cent. have free admission? Will he state that it is the Government's view that, wherever possible, it should be a museum's or gallery's policy that young people should be admitted free of charge as part of their general education?
§ Mr. Luce
The decision whether admission charges should be imposed is for the trustees, but if national museums and galleries were to impose charges—about five in the London area have decided to do so—in most, if not all, cases there would be concessionary rates for children. That means that most children would be admitted at half price. There are any number of examples of free admission for school parties. That is an important principle to pursue.
§ Mr. Luce
My hon. Friend has introduced an interesting idea, although I am not sure how many members of the public would bother to go to such an exhibition—we should have to wait and see. It must be stressed that, when admission charges are imposed, it is important for the public to see a clear benefit to the customer. For example, the science museum has free admission on certain days and is open on more bank holidays than before.
§ Mr. Fisher
Does the Minister accept that the first step to widening access and encouraging children to go to our great national galleries is for those galleries to be in good condition? Does he support the plan of the Arts Council chairman, Mr. Peter Palumbo, to restore the fabric of our theatres, museums and galleries by the end of the century? Does he accept Mr. Palumbo's point that the problem—indeed, the crisis—has been caused by the Government's neglect over the past 10 years? Will he at long last accept what I have been urging him to do for the past three and a half years and have a national audit of all museums, galleries and other cultural buildings so that we know how big is the legacy of debt that the Government are leaving to the country?
§ Mr. Luce
I look forward to dealing more fully with some of those issues in the debate on Wednesday, when shall answer some of the hon. Gentleman's nonsensical points. Since 1979, the overall real resources of the national museums and galleries have increased by no less than 40 per cent. and for building and maintenance by 50 per cent. In September I announced that £180 million would be made available for the fabric of our national institutions. That is very much in line with the view expressed by Mr. Palumbo that we should get our institutions and their fabric in good shape.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
Will my right hon. Friend take a leaf out of the French book in relation to the treatment of museums and galleries and ensure free admission for large families and men or women mutilated in wars?