HC Deb 16 December 2002 vol 396 cc515-7
1. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

What effect free entry to national museums has had on attendances. [85568]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

The first 12 months of full free entry have seen a 70 per cent. increase in attendances at DCMS-sponsored, formerly charging museums and galleries. We are carrying out a further analysis of the impact on each institution, which will be published shortly. This represents a promise made and a promise delivered by the Government, and millions of people are deriving the benefit.

Syd Rapson

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Government should be congratulated on that phenomenal result. Two years ago, the Secretary of State commissioned a report by Dr. Alan Borg of the Victoria and Albert museum to consider whether Portsmouth's maritime heritage collection could be contained in a national museum. Given that Portsmouth has the Victory, the Warrior and the Mary Rose, along with the museum, it should have a national museum by now. Has any progress been made on that report?

Tessa Jowell

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and commend him on his continued support for those four very important visitor attractions and heritage sites in his constituency. He rightly refers to Alan Borg—a distinguished former director of the V and A, who looked at the relationship between the four museums in or near to my hon. Friend's constituency and proposed that their management would benefit from closer integration, which is why we propose to set up a company with a single chief executive to run the dockyard. There will be further meetings this week to ensure that a rapid conclusion is reached on those arrangements, which will benefit my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I declare an interest as a director of HMS Warrior 1860, which is an unpaid position of which I am very proud. May I wish this project well and tell the Secretary of State that, if the unification of the facilities in the Portsmouth heritage area proceeds, account should also be taken of the other tourist attractions around Portsmouth harbour, because the essence of the millennium project is that people should be encouraged to use water transport and to visit all the attractions around the harbour?

Tessa Jowell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, which certainly sounds eminently sensible, and I shall ensure that it is drawn to the attention of those who are engaged in the negotiations to which I referred.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

It is really great to see so many people taking advantage of our wonderful museums and art galleries through free admission, but, of course, that means that those museums are looking around for additional funding as well, and the other part of the Government's policy is to ensure that they are properly funded. The national portrait gallery, with which I have my own connections, has an acquisition budget of only £305,000 in the current year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is pretty appalling for one of the premier collections of portraits in the world?

Tessa Jowell

I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes, but the extremely successful outcome for all our national museums and galleries in the last spending round means that they will receive real-terms increases of 1.5 and 2.5 per cent. respectively in 2004–05 and 2005–06. Of course every museum and gallery in the country—whether regional or national—could benefit from more money, but we have now pulled back from the generation of underfunding that occurred under the previous Government, and I pay tribute to those museums and galleries that are considering other sources of funding, on top of the Government's very generous settlement.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

Does the Secretary of State agree with the conclusion of the recent Select Committee report, which defined as opaque the present process of allocating funds to museums and galleries and concluded that, if funding decisions were totally dependent on Treasury fiat, either the Treasury must be involved round a table or the other parties should not waste each other's time? Can the Secretary of State be as candid with us as her ministerial colleague was about the Turner prize and admit that she has been wasting her time and that of the museums?

Tessa Jowell

There is nothing conceptual about the business of allocating resources to our museums and galleries; it involves dealing with hard facts on the basis of the Treasury allocation, and the decisions are made by my Department and by me, in discussion with the heads of the museums and galleries, who broadly declared themselves to be very satisfied with the allocations that they had secured. A very important part of the settlement was to ensure the continuation of the extremely successful policy of free entry.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham)

While welcoming the national free entry to museums scheme, does my hon. Friend agree that it leaves certain regional museums at a disadvantage, such as the Beamish museum in my constituency, and the Bowes museum at Bishop Auckland, both of which have collections of national significance? Will my right hon. Friend consider what support can be given to museums such as those, which have national collections but are at a clear disadvantage under the present scheme?

Tessa Jowell

My hon. Friend refers to two extremely successful and significant regional museums. He will be aware that we have announced, this year and over the three years of the next spending round, a settlement of £70 million to begin the regeneration and rebuilding of our regional museums and, specifically, to establish closer links between national museums and regional museums. That is all part of building our commitment to access to excellence wherever people live in the country.