Children to enter galleries for free

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN WILL be allowed free into national museums and galleries from this Easter, Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced yesterday.

Under a permanent deal beginning on 1 April, children of all ages will be able to access the "great storehouses" of knowledge. The Government wants to extend the move next year by scrapping charges for pensioners, Mr Smith told The Sunday Programme on GMTV.

"On 1 April ... 13 million children will be entitled to go into any of our national museums and galleries completely free. They don't have to be in a school party, they can be on their own, they can be with their parents."

The Government hopes the move, backed by taxpayers' money, will boost visitor numbers. The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester has doubled the number of children passing through its doors after giving them free entry from the beginning of the year, Mr Smith said.

Praising an "educational resource", he declared: "These are some of the best museums in the world; they are full of our history, our science and our art.

"What we've said is free access for children this year - we can do that within the budget that we have. Next year, free entry for all pensioners. The year after that we want to broaden access even further."

Asked whether the move was permanent, Mr Smith said: "It is certainly a permanent deal. I want to make sure that it is in place, now, for ever - that all children in this country will from now onwards be able to get into our great national collections."

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the scheme would operate at 32 museums and galleries over the next three years at a cost of up to pounds 99m.