HC Deb 23 June 1997 vol 296 cc610-1
5. Ms Ryan

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to abolish admission charges to national museums [3087]

12. Caroline Flint

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to abolish admission charges national museums. [3095]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Mark Fisher)

The Government believe that all members of the community should be able to enjoy our great national museums and galleries; they should be for the many, not just the few. We are concerned about the growth of charging and are reviewing present arrangements urgently.

Ms Ryan

I welcome such a review. As a pressing issue, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the British museum is being forced to consider introducing admission charges to help balance its books due to lack of funding from the previous Government. How do the Government plan to discourage that course of action and to ensure that local authority and university museums are not forced to do likewise?

Mr. Fisher

Of course, my hon. Friend is quite right that the national galleries and museums are in their current position because of the neglect and the hostile policies of the previous Government. She may be aware that the Secretary of State and I met the chairman and the director of the British museum recently. They made it clear on behalf of their trustees that they share the Government's policy of securing the widest possible access to the British museum and to national museums generally. I am determined to undertake a review and ensure that our museums are available to the widest possible audience.

Caroline Flint

Will the Minister consider introducing free days, free passes or differential entry charges for our national museums? I draw his attention to the progressive policy of the Earth center—a major project for the millennium in my constituency of Don Valley—where it is intended to introduce community days and, rather imaginatively, discounts for people who travel to the Earth centre by public transport.

Mr. Fisher

All the options that my hon. Friend rehearses can play a constructive part in widening access to good projects such as the Earth centre near Doncaster. Our review is examining all such options. I should emphasise, however, that the prime objective of that review is to secure free public access to our great national museums and galleries.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does the hon. Gentleman intend to usurp the freedom of trustees? If he intends to give directions to trustees to allow free entry to museums—something that many of us welcome—does he accept that it is absolutely necessary for him to guarantee the funds that the museums will thereby lose?

Mr. Fisher

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to say that those are decisions for the trustees. We shall be involving in our discussions trustees and directors of national galleries that are charging and those that are not charging, but the choice of whether to charge remains with the trustees.

Mr. Evans

While the Minister is carrying out a review to look into scrapping charges to museums, does he agree that we also have very fine theatres? Should not people who cannot afford to go to the theatre also be allowed to have the charges scrapped? Does he plan a review to look into that?

Mr. Fisher

No. The position of galleries and museums is not comparable with that of theatres. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that many theatres have excellent concessionary schemes. We will encourage that policy and we hope that it can be pursued more widely to ensure that the maximum number of people get into theatres.

Dr. Tonge

In view of the poor funding for schools and the lack of any substantial promises of more funding for schools, will the Minister give an assurance that school parties will never be charged admission to our museums and art galleries?

Mr. Fisher

We do not want anyone to be charged entry to national museums and galleries. The hon. Lady is quite right to emphasise the importance of education and schools policies as widening access to museums is not solely a matter of admission charges or the lack of them. We are working with museums on a code of best practice in which policies towards education and new technologies play an important part in truly widening access to museums and galleries.

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