HC Deb 03 August 1965 vol 717 cc1575-88

6.36 a.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science for coming here at this somewhat uncivilised hour in order to take part in a discussion of what I hope is a fairly civilised topic.

The hon. Lady must find herself in a somewhat unhappy and invidious position.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Jennie Lee)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Cooke

The hon. Lady shakes her head, but I will seek to show that she is—certainly we see it that way—by virtue of the way in which the Prime Minister has moved her about and taken her away from some of those things which were closely allied to the subject of the arts for which she has a special responsibility.

The hon. Lady started in the Ministry of Public Building and Works, a most civilised Ministry with wide interests in buildings and works of art and the commissioning of new works, patronage of one kind or another. It is a Ministry with close links with housing and local government, planning and preservation. I pay tribute to the individual actions of the Minister of Housing who, although he has introduced a rent policy which some of us believe will be damaging to historic buildings, his individual actions in preservation and public enjoyment on the whole has been good.

The hon. Lady was then quite suddenly divorced from all that and taken away to be a Joint part-time Under-Secretary at the Department of Education and Science, part time, I gather, because in reply to questions we have discovered that the hon. Lady is responsible for the University of the Air and if she is to do justice to that project, which the Prime Minister has made very much his own, she will not be able to give quite the time and attention to the subject of the arts which we would like to see her give. Although she is not ready with her proposals for the University of the Air, we gathered from an Answer today that a good deal of conversation in that context is going on.

The object of raising this subject today is for the hon. Lady to define her responsibilities and give the House some idea of the way in which she deals with the wide variety of subjects contained in the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill under various headings.

The White Paper on "A Policy for the Arts" was issued with a blaze of publicity and we were promised a debate on the subject. We have had a somewhat scrappy series of exchanges about it. I hope that the hon. Lady will use this opportunity to tell us more about her thoughts on this subject and about the expenditure of large sums of money as provided by the Bill. I ask her in particular to tell the House what new work for the arts the Government has achieved which is not contained in the publication, "The Promotion of the Arts in Britain", published in September, 1964—before the General Election—by the Central Office of Information. In that document it is seen that under the previous Administration the historic buildings councils were set up.

I ask the hon. Lady to tell the House what increases in moneys have been made available to the historic buildings councils, which are specifically mentioned in the White Paper. The House is entitled to know what is being done to further the activities of these important bodies. The Central Office of Information pamphlet gives details of increased purchasing grants for national and local collections. Area councils were set up for museums. The work on historic buildings was co-ordinated between the two ministries. The Civic Trust was set up. We passed the Libraries and Museums Act, the British Museum Act, the Museum of London Act was negotiated and the Arts Council was expanded.

That would appear to be the principal avenue of help for the arts which the Government are now using. I think that the House has a right to know more about it. Above all, as is shown in this pamphlet, the previous Administration created a climate in which the arts could flourish and encouraged private bodies to extend their patronage. The Administration encouraged industry and television companies—which the hon. Lady is not very fond of—to play their part. What has this Government achieved which was not contained in this document setting out what was already going on under the previous Administration? The only things I have been able to find are the mobile arts centres in gay "Come to the fair" colours, which are a matter of controversy.

I do not want to go over again the sad history of the promised debate. I hope that by my raising the subject at this inconvenient hour the House may be told more about it. We had a debate on leisure and, in the middle of a speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr), the Parliamentary Secretary in charge of sport said that that debate was not to be about arts and that such a debate could be held at a later stage. This was despite the fact that the Motion then being debated mentioned the arts first. The House had no notice of the way in which the Government proposed to tackle the subject. Hon. Members on both sides of the House felt that the hon. Lady and the House had been hard done by. She has not had an opportunity to explain her policies to the House. There has been a great deal of discussion outside, but we have not had an opportunity to examine her.

We had a half day, half a private Member's day, for discussion of the subject and it was also raised on a Prayer when it was difficult to remain within the rules of order. There is the old complaint about transfer of Questions. Perhaps I should not go into that, but I think it would be fair to complain about transfer of Ministerial responsibility. As a result, some of the things we should like to ask about have been left high and dry.

I should like to ask the hon. Lady about the National Youth Theatre Centre. It would seem to us that it had very strong arts connections. The Question to her at the Ministry of Works was not transferred with her when she was transferred to another Ministry, and when I put it down, it was answered by the Parliamentary Secretary who is in charge of sport, who did not answer the Question at all. What are the hon. Lady's views on that subject? Does she have responsibility for the National Youth Theatre Centre? It seems that the Youth Theatre would come within the sphere of the arts.

Then there is the question of the National Junior Music School. These are two specific items, admittedly, but this will give the hon. Lady the chance to give a much wider answer. I attempted to negotiate with her on behalf of the National Junior Music School, and the hon. Lady wrote me a very courteous letter saying she was not responsible, although she would like to help. In the end I got a letter from the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science. It would appear that music is the responsibility of the Minister of State, and the Minister responsible for the Arts is not allowed to touch that subject at all. Perhaps I am wrong, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to explain.

Having made all these criticisms, I think that the hon. Lady would be entitled to ask what remedies one would propose. I am sure it would not be in order to go into this at great length, but I am not seeking to escape. There is a formidable list of achievements and a substantial programme in the C.O.I. document, and I want to make it quite clear that we on this side of the House, regard this as a most important subject, and one of increasing importance, and believe that Government interest in the arts must be continuing.

On the subject of expenditure, we have heard a lot from the hon. Lady about the massive increases which are contained within the Consolidated Fund Bill and elsewhere. I would point out that as I see it, the total increase for the arts this year, after deducting £466,000 to meet the higher salary bill, would appear to be only £291,000.

The hon. Lady has sometimes been rather ungenerous about the previous Government's efforts in this field. She said in the House that expenditure on the arts by the last Government was extremely trivial. Figures I have here show that it ran at the rate of £9,086,000 in the last year. We said that expenditure had been trebled in 10 years and the hon. Lady said it was trebled on the basis of practically zero. I would gently remind her that the "practically zero" figure which she attacked was £4.2 million, and that was the same sum spent in the last year of the previous Labour Government.

Without prolonging the wrangle about finance, and the Consolidated Fund is partly about finance, and also how the money is used, and who is responsible for it, I should like to conclude with a thought about the status of this subject within the Government. We feel that the status of this subject has been reduced by the way in which the hon. Lady has been treated. She has been left out on a limb by the Treasury, that all-powerful Department, and that Department no longer has a special relationship with the arts, which it used to have.

Miss Jennie Lee

Do not believe it.

Mr. Cooke

Well, the hon. Lady has a special relationship with the Treasury. I am sure that the House is interested to have that additional piece of information—that startling new piece of information—and no doubt much fruit will come of it. The point is that the Treasury now, in spite of the special relationship, is no longer directly responsible for a large number of the artistic institutions which were transferred to the hon. Lady. The Treasury is likely to take a somewhat jaundiced view of these institutions, as it does of anything which wants money at the present time, especially in the rather stringent circumstances, whereas when it had to deal with its own children within its own household, it might have found it a little more difficult to curtail or strangle them.

A number of remedies have been proposed to get us out of this difficult situation. Of course, one would have to take the situation as one found it. There has been great change in Ministerial responsibilities and many new Ministries have been created by the Government. If roughly the same pattern of Ministries existed as in the previous Administration, there would seem to be merit in the idea that a Minister of State—and the present Government is full of Ministers of State—should have charge of this subject. Preferably, the Department should be the Ministry of Public Building and Works, because it has a wide-ranging interest in the arts and many links with other Ministries. As I said earlier, I feel that the hon. Lady has been cut off and is, perhaps, unable to administer many of the funds which we are asked to vote on this occasion.

We believe that the arts are a vital field in a modern materialistic world. With enhanced status in the Government and at a different Ministry, the new Minister for the Arts could have a wide-ranging brief and could keep an eye on the activities of other Ministries which are large public spenders and should, indeed, indulge in further patronage of the arts. In an age when private patrons are so sadly curtailed, the Government must give a lead.

The hon. Lady has said that the Arts Council is to be her main channel for money and interest in the arts. This is not entirely satisfactory because of the difficulty of accountability to Parliament. I hope that the hon. Lady will have something to say about this, because when tthe Arts Council was a comparatively small spender that might have been all right, whereas in present circumstances, with what would appear to be an increasingly large sum of money each year—that is what the Government have suggested—some form of greater accountability is surely necessary.

We would hope that the Arts Council will not be just a screen behind which an inadequate Government can hide, because it is frustrating for hon. Members to put forward their suggestions for Government help for the arts and simply to be told that this is a matter for the Arts Council. If we are to have a Minister in charge of the subject, it would seem that he should be answerable to this House and explain why one venture is favoured and why other things are not.

One has no wish to bring the arts within the arena of violent political controversy—I hope that I have not been controversial on this occasion—but the arts are always bound to engender a certain amount of heat and there is bound to be argument about matters of taste. One is not suggesting that the Government should become an arbiter of taste. The Government have, on the other hand, deliberately tried to make political capital out of the arts.

Miss Lee


Mr. Cooke

The hon. Lady has used such phrases as "poor law relief basis" for the way the arts were treated under the previous Administration. She has had a crack at commercial television and the vulgarising of life. I remind her, however, that television companies are substantial patrons of the arts and that many of the theatrical ventures of which she is so fond would not take place but for the help of the television companies. I refer to the C.O.I. document if the hon. Lady does not have the figures.

The hon. Lady has used the phrase that the arts have been financed on a shoestring basis. Well, I only hope she is successful in getting an extra shoestring out of the Chancellor. There do not seem many around just now. Perhaps she will have more luck about that. We feel that she has been put in an impossible position. We wish her well in trying to make a success of her work. We feel that a radical reappraisal of the whole field is necessary, and this tired out and bankrupt Administration cannot do it. I want to leave the country in no doubt that my party cares passionately about the quality of life, in which the arts have a major part to play.

6.55 a.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

Almost inevitably at this time in the morning one is out of order, and the more so if one tries to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). However, I would say, let us not put the arts under the Ministry of Public Building and Works. To do that is almost to suggest that we should put the arts in an ancient keep. The arts are not naturally the concern of that Ministry. That is not its task; it has other things to do.

The second thing I wanted to do was to ask the hon. Member what he meant when he continually said "we"—this, that and the other. For whom was he speaking? He spoke from the Dispatch Box. Was he speaking for his party, or not?

On the question of private industry, I would say that it has not got a very good record in the arts in this country. I remember examining the situation in Edinburgh with the Edinburgh Festival, the biggest and most important festival which takes place in this country. At that time—1963—it was bringing in between £2 million and £3 million in trade and commerce but was only receiving £18,000 back from it. Some of the shops along Princes Street did very well.

I would urge my hon. Friend to pay little attention to the siren voice of the hon. Member for Bristol, West. I do not think any of us really believe that the party opposite is really concerned with those aspects of life he was talking of—and especially when he referred to a figure of £4.2 million becoming trebled to become £9 million. I would suggest that he has another look at those figures.

6.57 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Jennie Lee)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) for taking an interest in this important subject and for the opportunity he gives me, even at this rather difficult hour, to give some account of what is happening.

I enjoyed the short time I spent at the Ministry of Public Building and Works; I enjoyed it very much indeed, and I had every help in preparing a White Paper which was the basis for further action. Since then I have had the experience of working within the Ministry of Education and Science, and I can say, making a fair comparison of the work and opportunities in these two Ministries, that it really is more fitting that we should take the first steps towards a complete Ministry for the arts within the Ministry of Education.

I accept completely what the hon. Member said about the ails being a full-time job, and I have no doubt at all that if we go on from our first step which was set out in my White Paper to further steps we could easily visualise a situation in which some of the work which is now being done in the Ministry of Public Building and Works and by other Government Departments could be gathered together in one Ministry. But I am also certain, from my experience in these past months, that it would have been a mistake to have tried either to continue to operate from the Ministry of Public Building and Works or to have tried to establish straight away a complete, independent Ministry for the arts. I am hard at work dealing with the former responsibilities of the Treasury.

There is a much bigger volume and bigger variety of work being done for the arts in the present Ministry. There is also a great deal more work, and a wider variety of work, being done by the Arts Council, and in both these fields we have had the most cordial and helpful co-operation of my colleagues at the Treasury.

In starting a new venture such as this job, I have been extremely fortunate in the amount of co-operation that I have been receiving from my colleagues in the Treasury and in other Departments. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General has been busy at work with the North-East Arts Association, and he is about ready to publicise a scheme which will mean that we will use public buildings such as post offices, hospitals, and so on, to enable contemporary artists to display their work. These artists should be given every opportunity to display their work, and when new buildings are being erected more concern should be shown with regard to expenditure on the arts.

I have no complaints to make about the co-operation that I have received from the Treasury and from my colleagues in other fields, and I am deeply grateful for the response which has been coming in from all over the country, from many different sources. This, too, is important. I have not had one letter of complaint about my transfer to this Ministry. I have heard the case put in the House of Lords by Conservative spokesmen, and I have heard it put from the benches here, but from all over the country, from all political angles, I have received many letters expressing appreciation that there is a Minister in the Government who is responsible for the arts.

At the moment the country is in a mood to give the arts a very much higher priority than before, and I shall be the last to complain if hon. Members say that we are not spending enough money on the arts, because I hold that view, too. We do not have the habit of spending public money on the arts, and I believe that this is a habit that we have to learn. I believe that even in our present difficult economic situation we have to maintain our priority for the arts, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, and other hon. Members, too, will be glad to know that there has not been the slightest hint that the capital sum allocated for the arts should be curtailed in any way. In any event it would be too late to do that, because I was careful to see that the £250,000 was committed as soon as possible. This money has been used to prime the pump, often in combined operations for starting or carrying on projects in association with private individuals, local councils, and so on, and so far as it becomes part of a very large scheme the local authorities will be accepting a moratorium or a standstill for a certain time.

When I first took on this job, some people felt that the private donor and the private trust were no longer appreciated or were no longer as important as they were in the past. As I said earlier, I am on very good terms with my colleagues in the Treasury, and I am also getting some encouragement from the local authorities even though they have their own difficulties. In addition, the most cordial relations exist between my Department and the great trusts and many distinguished private donors. Indeed, we have now established that the arts cannot be contained within any political party. I said that at the outset. They must be sustained by everyone, whatever their political point of view, provided that they accept the priority, and they want to see more public and private money spent on the arts.

But I was shocked at the way in which the hon. Member for Bristol, West asked me if I was using the Arts Council as a screen, and whether I would tear away the veil and make it possible for hon. Members to start asking me, or whichever Minister was doing this job, about the respective merits of individual theatres, arts centres, museums, and the rest. I am 100 per cent.—if you like, 1,000 per cent.—opposed to any political interference with expenditure on the arts, from whatever part of the political compass it comes.

We are fortunate in having a system where our job in the House of Commons is to build up priority for the arts, and we have the good fortune to have distinguished experts to do the allocation of the money. No man or woman of distinction in this field would continue the job for one moment if, in private or public, he or she was told by any Member of this House, or the Government, how the money should be allocated. I hope that hon. Members opposite will not try to raise that extremely stale red herring.

I am not accusing the majority of hon. Members opposite, but there are some who, from their speeches, make it plain how much they would like to establish an atmosphere following the appointment of a Minister responsible for the arts, and particularly a Socialist Minister, which would mean that we were seeking to give political direction to the arts. We are not going to do that. The only direction in which I shall go is in the direction of trying to focus the attention of this House and the public outside on some fields which at present are under-financed and which need to have a higher priority.

I have been asked about the National Youth Theatre and the National Junior Music School. To the extent that painting, music or the arts generally are taught in schools they come within the general national body and are not my responsibility. I have a common interest. I work with all Members in seeing that we spend as much as is reasonable, and a little more, on giving children in their school years the opportunity to practice and appreciate the arts.

In dealing with the very important question of youngsters who have left school at 15 or 16 years of age, I am most dissatisfied with the present situation. So is the Arts Council. It is now busily at work carrying out investigations into how best to build up and co-ordinate the work of our children's school, children's theatre, youth theatre, youth orchestra, and the rest, but no one can accuse the present Government of being indifferent to the world of music, because it took quite a lot of pressure by us—at a time when the previous Government would have been responsible for letting one of our great orchestras go out of existence—to have the Goodman Committee established and have it operating in an atmosphere where already, in my White Paper, I give the firm undertaking that when it has completed its investigations, if extra money is required extra money will be forthcoming. I have no reason, even in the present situation, to fear that the Government and the Treasury will not carry out that pledge.

In a score of other fields a great deal of activity is taking place. I want to pay tribute to the generosity of many private donors. They are doing an extremely exciting job at this very moment, in making sure that the Carlton Terrace scheme for contemporary art will be launched. This will have its starting point from private donors but will be kept going by additional assistance from the Arts Council.

I hope that hon. Members will not press me for too many further details but I can say categorically that this will be a great new venture and that everyone who has been working on it has been very excited about it. My privilege has been that because there has been a Minister there has been someone to co-ordinate, faster than otherwise would have been the case, all the activities which are going on.

I hope in the next few days, or in the next week or two at the most, to be able to announce the names of an independent committee which is being set up to inquire into whether we should have a film school in this country. I have already declared that I think that we should have one.

At Easter I visited the film school in Rome. Although we would not be thinking of building on that scale now, and neither would the modern Italians, when I see what is happening in other countries I should like to see our young directors and producers having more opportunity for independent work. It is not for me to make any further announcement but we have agreed to appoint an independent committee of inquiry under a distinguished chairman. It is my job, having got to this point, to stand back and await its recommendations.

I am most grateful to the museums and art galleries in London for their reactions when I put to them that I thought that the time had come when we should have earlier Sunday openings. It is exciting to see children pouring into the science museums and it is heartening to go to the Tate and see the students there, but in my view there is something sadly wrong in having these great galleries closed until 2.30 on Sunday afternoons. It is not easy to change these things, because there are security, staff and financial problems, but I have now the good will of most of the main galleries and, being optimistic by nature, I am hoping that even in the present financial situation the relatively small sums that will be needed to carry through this operation will be forthcoming. I cannot promise that to the House but, as I have done, I can tell hon. Members of my work in the Ministry on the musical side and on the question of hours of opening, and so on, and in what London does other parts of the country will follow. A great deal of work has been going on.

We have also been working very hard to find a scheme for giving aid to authors. I can go no further now than to report that we are making progress.

I am grateful that in the North-East we have been making an important breakthrough in the trade union field. We have had a most successful trade union festival, bringing in over a score of trade unions. I have paid tribute to private donors who have helped us and I hope that we are now entering a phase where industrialists and trade unionists will contribute and will show much greater interest in these matters than has been shown in the past. We are beginning to go in that direction but we have not gone anything like the distance that we would wish.

The University of the Air is also a large and important project. We are making headway on that.

I have no doubt that the time will come when one Minister will be able to handle these different subjects, but the best possible way of making a beginning in this matter is the way which we have taken. Despite the very difficult financial situation, progress is being made in the localities in building up associations, which are cutting right across political differences and, at last, cutting through some of the social difficulties. This work is going on all over the country. Those Government Departments which are allied with my work but not exactly under my authority are co-operating with me.

A beginning has been made. I have never claimed any more than that. I want a great deal more money. I want one day to see further co-ordination, but no hon. Member can have a legitimate complaint about the authority which is now given me within the sphere for which I am responsible or about the response which has been coming in from the public all over the country to this new way of tackling the problem of giving higher priority to the arts.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Before the hon. Lady sits down, would she answer one question? She has explored a wide field. Will she seek a further opportunity for a full debate on these matters when we return after the Recess?

Miss Lee

I shall be delighted to co-operate in putting pressure on both sides of the House. Nothing would please me more than that we should have a full day's debate on the arts.