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National Museums (Children)

Volume 471: debated on Monday 28 January 2008

Some 8.4 million children under 16 visited national museums in 2006-07. That represents a 79 per cent. increase in child visits since the introduction of free admission for children in April 1999.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. She will know that the renaissance in the regions programme introduced by the Government has been of tremendous benefit to local museums. As a member of Friends of Luton Museums, I know that many more young children have been to our museums as a result of the increased funding. What more will she do to help even more children to go to national museums, especially children who live long distances away?

I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend has done in his constituency. There are two museums in Luton: the Stockwood Discovery Centre, where we are investing £6 million, and the Wardown Park museum, which is about to receive an excellent touring exhibition on ancient Greece from the British Museum. [Hon. Members: “A Tory exhibition?”] A touring exhibition. It is due to open on 3 March.

What we can do consists partly of what we have already done, which Opposition Members seem to think is not a good idea—ensuring that the renaissance in the regions programme is protected and expanded a little bit in the current comprehensive spending review period. The other thing that we can do involves a programme similar to the very successful sports offer in school, which we introduced, which gives children an entitlement to two hours of sport a week rising to five hours. We are working on introducing a cultural offer giving children two hours a week rising to five hours of experiencing and participating in culture. Part of that must involve going to museums. If people go to museums as children, they are far more likely to go as adults.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of representing the leader of my party in Liverpool at the deeply moving holocaust memorial event. It struck me how difficult it is to convey a sensitive subject such as wartime atrocities to all age ranges. Will the Minister of State join me in expressing admiration for how the Imperial War museum and the Royal Air Force museum, to take but two examples, manage to cover the whole spectrum, supplying information to children at one end and those undertaking the deepest academic research at the other?

It is wonderful to find unity across the House. I concur completely with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. Work is done on that subject by a range of organisations, including our museums, as well as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which does an enormous amount of important work, particularly in schools, to bring to life for this generation the atrocities of past generations. It is hugely important work, and we need to continue it in future generations.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the comments of the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), when I raised with him the problems that have occurred as a result of the wonderful success of the free entry programme. The programme has caused problems for museums such as the National Waterways museum in my constituency. He made a very positive statement in relation to the work of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Can the Minister of State give us a progress report and tell us when we will see some positive evidence of delivery to help my museum?

I am aware of the problems relating to the National Waterways museum, and I know that my right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State met representatives from the museum early in his tenure to discuss them. The truth is that it will be extremely difficult for us, given the budget constraints, to introduce new museums into the national family eligible for free admission. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and any others he wants to bring along to discuss alternative funding sources to ensure the continuation of that valuable museum resource in his constituency.