HC Deb 19 May 1997 vol 294 cc366-7
9. Mr. Cranston

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he is taking to promote access to museums during national museums week. [368]

Mr. Fisher

I welcome the contribution that museums week makes to encouraging people to visit museums. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to all hon. Members encouraging them to visit museums in their constituencies during museums week this week and our Department has contributed towards the cost of the event.

Mr. Cranston

Will the Minister outline his policies on the educational role of local museums, given that many have adopted an innovative policy in that regard? Some local museums, such as the Dudley museum and the Black Country museum in my constituency, have also performed a valuable function in terms of cultural policy and even economic regeneration.

Mr. Fisher

I welcome my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his excellent election result. I agree with him that museums have a key role to play in education, which is why we place particular emphasis on their work with schools. Museums are our history in tangible form. As my hon. Friend points out, excellent museums such as the Black Country museum allow his constituents to understand our industrial past, which is a vital part of understanding where we come from as a people and respecting our history. That is why we believe that museums week is an extremely important innovation. We pay tribute to that, and especially to the leadership of Mr. Loyd Grossman, the chairman of the museums week campaign.

Mr. Fearn

Has the issue of access for the disabled been examined thoroughly during national museums week? Many of our museums are still not accessible to the disabled. Also, the Minister mentioned the education system, but the youth service seems to be the Cinderella of the museums service. Could young people be invited to visit museums during national museums week?

Mr. Fisher

I welcome the hon. Gentleman back; when he was a Member of Parliament before, he played an important part in arts and cultural debates. I was interested in his reference to Cinderella, because he is a well-known pantomime Dame—so his contribution to our debates will be even more enjoyable.

I agree that not only many museums but theatres, libraries and other key cultural elements in our communities remain inaccessible to people. We will not tolerate that situation, and the hon. Gentleman may be reassured in that regard by the fact that our departmental team comprises my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who has laboured hard in the House promoting the interests of the disabled. I think that all hon. Members would agree that we must make our cultural life much more accessible to every person, regardless of ability or disability.