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Museums and Galleries (Admission)

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

10. When his Department plans next to review its policy on free admission to national museums and galleries. (310896)

The free admissions policy continues to be immensely successful. Visits to museums that previously charged have risen from 7.2 million when we first introduced the policy in 2001 to 16 million in 2008-09—an increase of 124 per cent. My Department, unlike the Conservative party, remains fully committed to maintaining free admission to all our national museums.

I totally agree with my right hon. Friend about the success of the policy of free admissions to galleries in London, but I would like a little of that generosity to flow out from London to support many of our regional galleries, particularly the national Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby, whose opening hours, I am sorry to say, the local Lib-Dem council is going to cut.

While I cannot account for the shameful actions of that Liberal Democrat council, I can assure my hon. Friend that there are museums outside London that also benefit from this policy, such as the national museums in Liverpool, which have had a 279 per cent. increase in visitor numbers, and the Manchester museum of science and industry, where there has been a 158 per cent. increase in attendance.

Like the Government, I am very happy to confirm that we fully support the policy of free admission to museums. Unlike the Government, however, we are prepared to be much more honest about the financial challenges ahead. Last week, the Secretary of State told the RSA that he was confident that he would be able to sustain funding for the arts and culture, yet at the same time he has cut funding for the Tate, the Science museum, the national museums of Liverpool, and the Wallace collection. So should the arts world believe what the Government say, or what they do?

First, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will allow me to draw attention to the apparent split in the Conservative party between the Front-Bench spokesperson and the Mayor of London, who consistently says publicly what some Opposition Front-Bench Members say privately about the policy of free admissions. May I also invite the hon. Gentleman to write to me with the details of these alleged cuts, because what I see from all the figures in front of me is that we have recently been able to find additional resources to enable the Tate to go forward with its further development, and that all other museums have enjoyed an increase in this comprehensive spending review?

I would be happy to do so, and also to send the Minister details of a leaked Treasury document saying that non-ring-fenced Departments would face funding cuts of 17 per cent. in order to meet Government spending requirements. We have announced policies to help the arts get through this difficult period, such as reforming the lottery, boosting philanthropy and cutting arts administration. Those are our policies; what are the Government’s?

The hon. Gentleman’s policies are akin simply to moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. Cutting the lottery fund from many of the very good causes to which it currently contributes in order to substitute for Government funding is no answer. Let me also say to him that we have yet to enter into discussions about the next comprehensive spending review, but he will be aware that we on this team secured a very good settlement last time, although there were cuts across Government. I have no doubt that we can in future persuade our colleagues about the importance of investment in arts and culture from the taxpayer, not through the lottery.