Museum Charges

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 26 March 2001.

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Photo of Mrs Valerie Davey Mrs Valerie Davey Labour, Bristol West 2:30, 26 March 2001

What estimate he has made of the impact on attendance of the lifting of museum charges on attendance at national museums and galleries.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Our policy is to encourage all museums to offer the widest possible access to their collections. Two years ago, we introduced free admission to national museums and galleries for all children. In the first year, attendances rose by 20 per cent. Last year, we introduced free admission for all those over 60, and those attendances have since risen by over 40 per cent. As a result of the VAT change announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget we will be able to provide free admission for everyone to all the national museums and galleries from 1 December.

Photo of Mrs Valerie Davey Mrs Valerie Davey Labour, Bristol West

May I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend for his reply? I am sure that everyone in the Chamber will celebrate that news. More than 436,000 people visited the Bristol city museum and art gallery last year, which was a 50 per cent. increase since charges were lifted. Will my right hon. Friend also celebrate with me the fact that Bristol City council scrapped admission charges in 1998? Will he also endorse the city museum's good practice of having fun days for children and staging family events alongside major exhibitions?

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Bristol City council on its progress. I understand that there has been an increase in attendances of about 50 per cent. at the Bristol city museum and art gallery since charges were lifted. Of course, Bristol City council was two years ahead of the national museums and galleries because local authorities have always been able to reclaim their VAT. Bristol city museum and art gallery is a designated museum of national importance and it is wonderful that so many more people can now enjoy it.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Before congratulating himself in such sickly fashion, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what assessment he has made of the impact of the current inability of free museums to reclaim VAT on the provision of services?

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

That point was central to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget. As a result of the decision on VAT that we have now announced, free national museums will be able to reclaim VAT, with substantial benefit for their budgets.