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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Seventeen museums and galleries sponsored by my Department now offer free admission to their main sites and to 16 of their branches. This policy took effect on Saturday 1 December. It represents the delivery of a key element of our manifesto commitment, and I would like to take this opportunity to place on record the Government's tribute to my predecessor,
Mr. Sedgemore: Does my right hon. Friend accept that if the abolition of museum charges means that new Labour is to shed its artistic philistinism in favour of cultural renaissance, we shall all be very pleased? Will she give us an assurance that this change is not temporary, just for one or two Parliaments, but permanent, and that the funding for it will be in place? Will she also tell us what she is going to do about the museums at the universities?
Tessa Jowell: This commitment is intended to last. It is important for a range of reasons, and one of the most important has been borne out by the fact that across London, where there are many large museums and galleries, there have been enormous increases in the numbers of visitors. Twice the usual number are visiting the Victoria and Albert museum; five times the usual number are going to the museum of London. This is promoting access to anyone who wants to go and enjoy the great cultural treasures of our country. That pleasure belongs to everybody, and this policy makes it possible for it to be enjoyed by everybody.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The free entry for children visiting museums and galleries took effect from April 1999. During the last summer holidays, more than 1.2 million children and 600,000 people aged 60 and over visited those museums and galleries sponsored by my Department.
Mrs. Williams: Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures demonstrate the interest shown by young and old people in the cultural assets of the nation, and that they are a foretaste of the future in which a large number of museums and galleries will be free for all? Is not that thanks to this Labour Government?
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend and wholeheartedly agree with her. Her point is well underlined by the further increase in the number of children visiting museums and galleries this weekend with their families, because their parents are now able to enjoy entry free of charge.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I am not sure whether I ought to declare an interest. I suspect that a fair number of those 1.2 million visits were made by my four children, many times over, to different galleries.
Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend. It should be remembered that, whereas under Labour attendance at museums and galleries by children, older people and, now, families has increased, under the Conservative Governmentwho reintroduced chargesfamily attendance fell. We believe in access for all to the excellence that belongs to the nation, not privilege for a few, which was the message and the practice of the Conservative Government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells): We intend to present a Bill to reform and modernise the alcohol and public entertainment licensing laws as soon as parliamentary time permits. However, there is no current restriction on the number of musicians who may play together in licensed premises if the licensee has first obtained an appropriate public entertainment licence. I am aware that obtaining such licences can be a prohibitively expensive business in some local authority areas, because of the attitude of those authorities.
Mr. Hopkins: Many thousands of part-time and professional musicians who wish to play and entertain in pubs and restaurants, and millions who wish to listen to them, find that that is not possible because of the current restrictionthe two-in-a-bar rule. Is it not nonsensical that a quiet jazz piano trio or a string quartet may not play in such premises, while a loud karaoke machine or discotheque may operate in them?
Dr. Howells: I entirely agree. We want to make licensing a much simpler, less bureaucratic and cheaper process, so that there is no deterrent to seeking the appropriate licences. It is obvious that the legislation badly needs to be updated: it dates back to the mid-1960s, when I suppose an acoustic-guitar folk trio made a good deal less noise than one person with a loud amplifier.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): If the legislation needs updating so badly, and given that legislation modernising licensing laws was promised to the electorate in the Labour party manifesto, why did that proposed legislation not appear in the Queen's Speech?
Dr. Howells: Because this Government were elected to improve public services. Those were the Government's priorities, as we made very clear, and they are the priorities that we have stuck to in our legislative programme. We hope very much that there will be space for a Bill allowing us to make these reforms, and that it will be announced in the next Queen's Speech.
Will my hon. Friend look again at the restrictions on buskers on the underground and at British Rail stations? They add to the enjoyment and gaiety of life, but so often they are moved on. Can we not view the situation in a proper way, so that the buskers can earn their living and we can all enjoy their performances?
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Is it not ridiculous that, in the unlikely event of Michael Jackson and Madonna teaming up to do a gig down the local pub, they could so, yet three people singing Somerset folk songs would not be able to do so? Does the Minister not recognise that live music in pubs and inns has the potential to make a major contribution to tourism in rural areas, which we have already said we want to promote?
Dr. Howells: We are straying into very dangerous territory. For a simple urban boy such as me, the idea of listening to three Somerset folk singers sounds like hell. Having said that, the hon. Gentleman is right: music does enliven many pubs and restaurants. It should thrive. Silly rules are preventing it from doing so.
The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): My Department published the report entitled "Fair Distribution of Lottery Funding to Coalfields and Other Areas" on 6 November 2001. It shows that, following the National Lottery Act 1998, revised policy directions and recent coalfield initiatives by the Government and distributors, the coalfields share of lottery money has increased from 45 per cent. of the average per capita to 60 per cent. We hope to see further improvements and shall continue to monitor awards in coalfield areas closely.
Mr. Bryant: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but the fact that the share is only 60 per cent. of the average per capita shows that there is still a significant amount of work to do to ensure that people from former coalfield communities have an equal opportunity to obtain funding for projects that they support. Is not the system still too complicated? It does not feel as though it is geared towards ordinary people. Will he assure the House that everything will be done to ensure that organisations such as Ferndale boys club, Abergorki hall and Parc and Dare theatre in my constituency have an opportunity to obtain the support that they need to have a chance of success? Will he take the opportunity to congratulate the Cory junior band on receiving a grant recently to buy new musical instruments?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Would more lottery funds be available to former coalfield communities if the Government had not insisted on raiding those funds to finance health service and other activities that should be paid for out of central Government funds?
Mr. Caborn: I do not accept that. There has always been a strong voluntary sector in many areas of our public services. Indeed, they bring a quality that would not be provided just by the state. I think that that has been universally accepted throughout the country.