HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc517-8
14. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

If he will make a statement on the future of entry fees for museums. [102008]

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

Funds have been made available to permit free access for children from April this year and for pensioners from April 2000 to the currently charging national museums funded by my Department.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Is not this another example of the Government's policy being in utter chaos? Before the election, they promised universal free access to museums. When they came to power, a study found that the cost involved was simply unsustainable. In 1998, they did a U-turn to allow free access to children and, next year, pensioners. Could the Secretary of State tell us what the policy will be in the future? Is not the present policy unsustainable, and unfair to those on low pay and to disabled people?

Mr. Smith

First, we made no such commitment in our manifesto before the election. Secondly, we have done far better than we set out in our manifesto. I should have thought that a 22 per cent. increase in the number of children visiting our national museums and galleries since April of this year, as a result of introducing free admission, is something to be proud of, not carp about.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

Charging entrance fees is a way for museums to raise money to balance their budgets and manage their business. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the recent furore caused by the revelation that the British museum was hiring out the Duveen gallery for corporate functions. Given the sensitivities raised by that revelation among the many hon. Members who place a great value on the Parthenon sculptures, would my right hon. Friend convey to the director of the British museum their concern that the museum chose to inaugurate the recent conference of experts, convened to examine the damage done to the Parthenon sculptures during their time in the British museum, by holding a function with refreshments in the Duveen gallery?

Mr. Smith

I am indeed aware of the concern to which my hon. Friends refers, and I am sure that the authorities at the British museum will note what he has said. However, I believe that the Parthenon sculptures in the British museum, which are available for free to 6.5 million visitors every year, are in the right place.