asked the Minister for the Arts what representations he has received about possible initiatives to increase the number of people visiting museums.
None, Sir, but on 17 December 1986 I announced details of a new arts marketing scheme to assist arts organisations, including publicly funded museums and galleries, to find ways of increasing attendances.
The Minister has talked about initiatives for the arts, but he is not doing very well. Is he aware that the increased museum admission charges imposed by the Government are driving people away? Even children are being charged £1 to go into a museum. It is time that the Government changed their mind and did something good for the people in respect of museums.
If not doing well is doubling the number of museums during the past 15 years, the hon. Gentleman should think again. The number of people attending our national museums and galleries is increasing all the time. I am satisfied that we are meeting public demand. As for charges for museum admission, I think that it is right that this matter should be left to the trustees. If the trustees judge that, by raising charges and by getting extra resources for the museums, they will improve facilities, which in turn will attract greater public interest, that is their choice. It is right that it should be their choice.
Will my right hon. Friend deal at long last with the indefensible anomaly whereby five major university museums in England, Scotland and Wales, including the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge, are financed or semi-financed from the University Grants Committee budget? We have to turn away visitors because museums cannot open as often as we would wish. Are these not national museums? Will my right hon. Friend deal with this matter and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science? Can we not end this indefensible anomaly?
I acknowledge the strength of my hon. Friend's feelings. He has raised this matter in debates and in questions. I have had the chance to visit a number of distinguished university museums, but principally this is, and has been for a long time, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Great importance is attached to museums being linked to the university, as opposed to a wider link.
Does the Minister accept that introducing charges for admission to museums is a retrograde step and certainly will not do anything to attract visitors to museums? Should not this policy be reversed? Should not people be given the freedom to go to museums free of charge, thereby widening knowledge and making the best possible use of the assets of our national museums?
I do not think that it is a retrograde step. If the trustees think that, by a voluntary donation system or by admission charges, over and above the basic grant which they receive, they will improve museum facilities, thereby benefiting the public, that is their choice. In the vast majority of countries, whatever their system of payment to the arts, there is a system of charging for entrance to museums and galleries. It is up to the trustees to decide.
Has my right hon. Friend any information about which other countries charge for museum admission and about the effect on attendances?
It is interesting to note that charging occurs in a large number of countries, whatever their system—whether the bulk of their support for the arts is through the state system and the taxpayer or from the private sector. Those countries range from the United States to France and to a museum which I saw not long ago in East Berlin. There is widespread evidence that charging takes place all over the world.