HC Deb 29 June 1998 vol 315 cc9-10
7. Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

What plans he has to ensure that the Heritage Lottery Fund's access fund benefits projects targeted at disadvantaged people. [46318]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

I am delighted to welcome the museums access fund, which will improve access to museums and galleries and will, of course, as part of its work, support access for those who are disadvantaged. I have recently issued new policy directions to the Heritage Lottery Fund, giving increased emphasis to the need to use lottery funding to promote access to the heritage for people from all sections of society and to take into account the scope for reducing economic and social deprivation.

Laura Moffatt

Does my right hon. Friend agree that access is not just about physically getting into a building? The many access groups throughout the country will be very willing to assist with this new direction, which I know they welcome very much. If we are truly interested in fairness for those on low incomes, the unemployed and those with young children, we must ensure that they can get into these wonderful buildings. If we are truly interested in equality, we must pay particular attention to that.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Getting as many people as possible to enjoy the riches in the great storehouses of this country is one of the major objectives of Government policy. It is why, for example, we were delighted to announce at the time of the Budget that we were maintaining free admission for everyone to great national collections such as the national gallery, the Tate and the British museum.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

In that case, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the British library will not charge for admission?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman may not have heard my speech at the opening dinner of the British library last week, when I welcomed the fact that access to the reading rooms for ordinary readers would be free.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support and encouragement for help for disadvantaged people from the lottery fund. Is he aware that many of our local communities would like to help disadvantaged people in any way they can? Will he give them some advice on obtaining lottery funding to help disadvantaged people? It is important that we consider what is happening within our communities and what assistance should be given to them.

Mr. Smith

In a few months, we will be launching a pilot scheme in the east midlands, where the lottery distributors will join together to provide a fast-track scheme for local community organisations that wish to put in bids for small grants to help their own neighbourhoods and communities. I hope that that scheme will roll out nationwide from April next year.