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Museums (Opening Hours)

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what discussions he has had with the Civil Service unions about museum opening hours.

I have had no discussions with Civil Service unions about museum opening hours. This is a matter for the directors and trustees of the national museums and galleries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should encourage families to visit museums and galleries, but that all too often they are closed in the early evening, at weekends and on bank holidays, which are the very times when families could visit them? Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Civil Service unions to play their part in making possible an extension of opening hours?

I am impressed by the more flexible opening hours that museums now operate. Recently, the Victoria and Albert museum, for example, reintroduced Friday opening as a result of voluntary donations. The natural history museum has extended its Sunday opening hours, closing at 6 pm instead of 1 pm, and the imperial war museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. That all demonstrates greater flexibility and concern for the public interest.

I associate myself with the question asked by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). Clearly one wants to encourage higher museum attendances through more flexible hours, but would not another way of doing that be to drop all admission charges, whether voluntary or mandatory. because they become a tax on knowledge?

I am interested that the hon. Gentleman should involve himself in the question of museum attendances, because this year will see higher attendances at British museums than ever before in our history. A total of 100 million people will have visited our museums, compared with 68 million four years ago. The degree of support for, and attendance at, museums is at an unprecedented level.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a private sector organisation were to carry the value of stock that is carried by the average museum, it would have to remain open all the hours that God sends, and certainly at times most convenient to the public?

My hon. Friend is right, but his remarks stray a little from the subject of the Civil Service. Museums and galleries have a large reserve of works of art, but there is more and more evidence that they lend them out to other institutions. I am doing all that I can to encourage that process.