HC Deb 30 April 2001 vol 367 cc636-7
7. Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

What the impact has been of the abolition of museum charges on the number of pensioners and children visiting national museums and galleries; and if he will make a statement. [158142]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

Since free admission at Department for Culture, Media and Sport-sponsored national museums and galleries was extended for children, on 1 April 1999, and for the over-60s, on 1 April 2000, there have been more than half a million additional visits by children and more than 400,000 additional visits by the over-60s. Within those figures, at the museums and galleries that previously charged, there have been almost 435,000 additional visits by children and more than 127,000 additional visits by the over-60s. Those figures are most encouraging.

Maria Eagle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one fact highlighted by the figures is that compulsory charges act as a disincentive for people to make such visits? Does he also accept that there are still families in the United Kingdom who cannot afford to go to their museums and galleries because of the adult entry free? When might we expect to have universal access to museums and galleries without any charges at all?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is of basic importance to ensure that children are able to visit museums and galleries without there being the type of insurmountable obstacles that there have been for all too many of them. She is also quite right that it will be an enormous advantage when we are able to advance to universal free entry, so that parents will not have to pay and more of them will take their children—or their children will take them—to museums and galleries. We have provided the resources to enable that to happen, on 1 December 2001, and we are very hopeful that all the institutions that we sponsor will respond to that opportunity.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Under the partial free access policy, how, when and to what extent does the right hon. Gentleman expect admission revenues forgone to be offset? In the context of the increased visitor numbers to which he has just referred, has he made any assessment of the proportion of that increase that is accounted for by tourists visiting from overseas?

Mr. Howarth

We are compensating the institutions to enable them to be able to introduce free entry without financial penalty to them. The figures for tourism of course vary enormously, and I think that it would be very rash of me to attempt to make an assessment here and now. We have spent much of this Question Time discussing problems about the numbers of tourists visiting Britain at the moment.

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