HC Deb 15 February 1971 vol 811 cc1402-40

1.33 a.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I rise to raise under Class IX, Vote 16, Arts Council and Other Grants for the Arts, the relationship between the Government and the Arts. Although there is no financial reward involved, I should say, in case hon. Members are not aware, that I speak from the standpoint of a member of the Arts Council and vice-chairman of the Theatres Advisory Council, a body which represents all sections of the theatre, commercial and supported.

In another place on 3rd February the Paymaster-General said: The question at issue … is the use of public money to finance works which affront the religious beliefs or outrage the sense of decency of a large body of taxpayers. He went on: If the Arts Council could reach some understanding with their clients that takes into account the moral views of those who are putting up the money. I should be very glad."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd February, 1971; Vol. 314, c. 1210.] With respect to the noble Lord, that was not the question at issue, but it is certainly a question which was brought forward by the Paymaster-General, and one or two questions arise from it.

First, was the Paymaster-General speaking for himself or for the Government? Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will give us the answer to that important point.

Secondly, is what the noble Lord suggested something which the Arts Council could or should accept without destroying the relationships which have been built up over the years between the Government and the Arts Council and between the Arts Council and its beneficiaries?

Thirdly, is the proposal of a double standard—that is what the Paymaster-General was suggesting: a monetary censorship superimposed on the legal censorship of the Obscene Publications Act, which is applied to theatrical productions through the Theatres Act, 1968: a special restraint of extra handcuffs to go with public money—reasonable and justified, bearing in mind that the previous Minister for the Arts, Lady Lee, expressed alarm at the suggestion which the noble Lord discussed?

First, was Lord Eccles speaking for himself? At one stage in his speech the noble Lord seemed to be, for he said, "Speaking for myself". Later, however, he used the pronoun "we". Did he on that occasion mean the Government? I do not think so. I hope that it was a figure of speech. I should be greatly reassured to hear that from the Government.

Was Lord Eccles flying a kite? From something which the noble Lord said in his speech, it seemed that he might have been. I should be relieved to hear that he was.

Secondly, should and could the Arts Council accept and operate such a convention? I believe that it could not. There are practical difficulties in the way, apart from the proposal being undesirable in itself, as I shall seek to show.

For example, it would be wrong to suppose that the commercial theatre, as a whole, would jump for joy and rush to put on plays which the Arts Council had turned down. On the contrary, I think that rejection by the Arts Council would come as a warning to any commercial manager that, if he were to put on such a play, he would do so at the risk of inviting prosecution. It seems, therefore, that he would not care to risk his money.

It the Paymaster-General and the Arts Council connived together to keep certain plays out of public support, in so doing they would be conniving to keep those plays off the stage altogether. Having, on an all-party basis, got rid of the pre-censorship of the Lord Chamberlain, in which the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who will seek to speak later in the debate, played a distinguished part, with the enthusiastic co-operation of the Lord Chamberlain himself, the Government would apparently be seeking to recreate it here in an even less defensible and more ham-fisted fashion than occurred before. I hope that on further consideration this will not commend itself to the Paymaster-General.

Thirdly, what will the procedure be? What would be the wording of a convention between the Arts Council and the Government and between the Arts Council and its beneficiaries? Who would interpret the convention? How would it be applied? To every play? To each play? If so, who would read the plays? Who would be responsible for carrying the can and saying "yea" or "nay"? Would it apply to the general output of a company, and, if so, what would the yardstick be?

Would it be one dirty or blasphemous play per season, like a dog being allowed one bite? Most companies run for years without even attempting to breach the conventions. This new procedure, if it were adopted, might possibly be an invitation or encouragement to have a go. At present the relationship between the Government and the Arts Council and the boards of theatrical companies is one of mutual trust. The Government appoint to the Council people who they hope and trust will not bring public patronage into public disrepute by being either stingy or repressive on the one hand or profligate and unbridled on the other.

Times change and the Arts Council must change with them, not too slowly or it will lose the confidence of creative artists, yet not too quickly so that it ceases to be representative of the generality of informed opinion in the arts. The only way to avoid falling from that tightrope occasionally is to refuse to walk it. The Arts Council knows that it is there to walk the tightrope. It has done so in a manner which has brought to this country great international renown. Occasionally the Council falls out with the board of management but it does not attempt to tell the board its job and to say what plays it shall or shall not present. I thought that Lord Goodman put it well in the evidence he gave to the Estimates Committee on 10th April, 1968, at page 46, when he said in response to a question from the Chairman: We set very much store upon emphasising very strongly that we retain our total independence, secondly that we are not operating under a Ministry of Culture, and thirdly that the organisations we subsidise have as much independence as we have ourselves. Those are the three principles we try to operate. They are three important principles, setting out the basis upon which, under successive Governments, not by any means under the last Government only, but maintained by the last Government, having been created by previous Governments, this delicate relationship has been established and maintained. From time to time it dawns upon us all that what really matters is relationships. If I may digress, in science an Einstein discovers the theory of relativity or in the arts a major writer or painter restates a truth about the importance of relationships and for a moment we perceive it.

But we find it difficult to retain. We turn to our own preoccupations and forget that relationships between individuals and groups are what living is about and the relationship between organisations is what government is about. There can be good organisations and good people but if the relationship between them is wrong the decisions arising from their mutual work will be equally wrong.

That is why the relationship between the Government and the Arts Council and the Arts Council and its beneficiaries is important because for once we have it right. This is why in raising this matter I have raised it as a question of the relationship between the Government and arts. It is a delicate balance and if it is upset we shall live to regret it. We have these relationships wrong elsewhere, in business both public and private for instance. We consistently get them wrong under all Governments. We have them wrong with our political parties. The relationships are certainly not always correct between front and back benchers. A mutual trust which should be there sometimes seems to escape. We certainly have the relationships all wrong in relation to films and the Press, and this goes for radio and television. However, in the arts we have the relationship right.

It is noteworthy that most of the criticism has been of a generalised nature. I was encouraged to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the House of Lords that, in replying to the debate there on 3rd February last, Lord Windlesham said: In doing so, may I say that we might bear in mind the words of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who drew attention to the need to avoid generalisations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd February, 1971; Vol. 314, c. 1344.] As I say, most criticism has been generalised statements about violence and sex rather than criticisms of particular productions.

Not often, even within the privilege of Parliament, does one hear a colleague say, "I saw such and such a show, supported by the Arts Council, and it was filthy or blasphemous". Perhaps there are such plays because the Arts Council supports companies rather than individual plays and it would be surprising if within the atmosphere of our time, a company did not sometimes put on a play which was offensive to somebody or to some body of people. Indeed, perhaps if a company was never offensive to anybody it might not be worth supporting.

Be that as it may, no company consistently presents offensive or blasphemous plays, simply because all supported companies have boards of management. These boards consist of responsible people, for the most part selected from local communities, and while, if they are wise, they will allow producers to have their heads, they would never sanction or tolerate a season or blasphemous or pornographic material. Such a thing cannot and does not occur under our system.

On the other hand, it is no good pretending that our times are not what they are, that Mr. Murdoch's News of the World does not have sex on every page and sells more than any other Sunday newspaper or that The Sun has not been rescued from oblivion by a similar prescription—perhaps a sad one, considering what some of us believe to be the true function of the Press. The cinema is so full of sex and television of violence that critics past the first flush of youth risk being replaced by giving the clear impression that they are no longer enjoying their jobs.

But the theatre is a more serious medium. For example, of all the Sunday Times critics, Harold Hobson alone gives the weekly impression of being thrilled and impressed by what he has seen, even if he sometimes disagrees with it or dislikes it. I am sure that there is not a serious man or woman connected with the theatre, commercial or supported, who would think it a good idea to add to the existing restrictions on the theatre, and I hope that we will hear no more of it.

Consider how difficult it is to get a play presented. First, the author must write it. He must then find a producer to present it. The producer must find a company which is willing to put on a new play amid the welter of revivals and so on. If it is a supported company, the play must be fitted into a programme of plays and the programme for the season must be approved by the board. Censorship is not only a matter of law. There are a dozen other censors to be passed: actors, money, directors, impressarios, boards, committees—all these have to be satisfied before ever a play gets on to the stage.

Mr. Paul Raymond and one or two others specialise in the daring sort of show which Lord Eccles finds quite inoffensive, as I do myself, but these are commercial shows, and even "Oh! Calcutta!" has now been overtaken by the commercial theatre. So should we not ask whether the Arts Council is doing its job properly rather than be over-concerned with questions of censorship or blasphemy?

As for those four-letter words, I confess that I do not believe that people utter them quite so often as playwrights like to pretend these days, but I believe that the words are beginning to lose their magic as, indeed, "bloody" lost its magic with the passage of years. I believe that before long dramatists will have to return to the hard slog of being coherent.

It is not true that the Council has ever overspent its grant. It is true that two beneficiaries recently overspent and that the Council covered their deficit. I believe that they will not do it again, because the Council will make it clear to beneficiaries, arising from those two cases, that if boards of management overspend in future it will be no good coming to the Council to be bailed out. The boards themselves will have to raise money to cover deficits from other sources which perhaps they do not exploit, locally and generally, as much as they should. I say that, but I suppose that there will always be special cases, and certainly the two in question —Sadler's Wells and the Welsh National Opera—were special cases. That will be explained next month, I think, to the Public Accounts Committee—I hope to its satisfaction.

Another matter is the Arts Council's indication to, for example, Salisbury, Peterborough, Derby and Bolton that, although the Council had no money to help them with their plans for a future theatre enterprise, it hoped to have some, and to assist in the building of new theatres, all being well, in years to come. The Council has been told pretty clearly that it should not have said any such thing. I believe that that is technically quite right, but how could local fundraising efforts have been maintained if this naughty nod or wink had not been given?

Some way must be found of allowing the Council, perhaps in consultation with the Minister, to enter into future commitments, so that local authorities can have some security in providing for a theatre when they are reconstructing their urban areas. Otherwise, it is impossible for the Council to sit mumchance when local authorities say, "We are contemplating rebuilding our urban area. In two years' time we shall have a theatre. Shall we provide for it in our plans?" If the Council is to sit mum and say: "We must not speak a word about what is to happen in two years' time," it seems to me to present such an impossible situation that it is necessary to find a way out of the dilemma.

One way could be an arrangement between the Arts Council and the Minister that together they might agree, without any formal commitment, that the Council would in future look favourably upon such a project, the details and arrangements for which had been clearly set out before even any moral undertaking was given.

It is not for me to say that the Arts Council is perfect. That would not be true. It can be said, however, that within the limits of human fallibility Britain has evolved a way of supporting the arts which some study has persuaded me has considerable advantages over other systems which I have examined in various parts of the world. Its continued success depends upon the preservation of a series of understandings which have been built up and maintained under successive Governments. Whoever undermines those understandings will not be doing the nation a service.

1.55 a.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I am very glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate on such an important subject, albeit the Chamber is not exactly overcrowded at this hour of the morning. However, it makes up in quality for what it may lack in quantity. At least everyone here is presumably interested in the debate, otherwise they would be in bed.

I congratulate the hon Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) on choosing this subject, the same subject as I chose. Great minds clearly think alike in this case. I congratulate him, too, on the work he does for the Arts Council and for the arts in the House. I listened—not with agreement, but certainly with the greatest attention—to the very thoughtful speech he made tonight on the subject of censorship. I do not intend immediately to follow him in his reflections on that subject, though I hope to take him up a little later in my speech.

I want, first, to make some reflections on the general relationship between the arts and the Government. It may be asked: what have the arts to do with politicians at all? The answer was given by the Minister—Lord Eccles—in the speech he made to the Conservative Party conference at Blackpool in October, when he said that politicians were concerned with the quality of life. A similar thought had been expressed some years before by Lord Keynes, when he said that the role of politicians was to be the trustees of the possibilities of civilisation—not a primary rôle, but at any rate a most important secondary one. The arts are clearly amongst the highest, if not the highest, of the possibilities of civilisation.

I am not saying that it is the duty of politicians, much less members of the Government, to create works of art—the mind rather staggers at that thought—but rather to create the conditions in which it is possible to produce them, to create the most favourable conditions for the arts. Nowadays this is largely a question of cash, because, although the days of the private patron are not over, they are in decline: they are not what they used to be. The arts are all the more important in our society because of the decline of formal religion or organised religion—call it what you wish. Whether we welcome or deplore this tendency, it must be recognised that it has come about and that it has created what Lord Eccles has called a spiritual starvation in our society, a hunger which cannot be entirely appeased by the arts. Just as education does not of itself make people more moral, neither do the arts of themselves make people more religious; but they could well lead people in that direction.

We are accustomed to think of God in terms of love, but perhaps it is as well to remind ourselves that God is also beauty, and it may well be that in our society, in our time, the channel of the spiritual, the other, the transcendent has to come through the arts. The arts may not save, but they may well lead people towards working out their own salvation.

The other function of the arts which is extremely important in society today is that they show us what is going on. We have, if we want to affect our own times, first of all to understand the significance of our own times and our own age, and that is more difficult than is generally recognised. It is much easier to understand the past than it is to understand the present. Artists undoubtedly have insights, what the old scholastic theologians, now gone out of fashion, used to refer to as preternatural gifts. They see things which other people do not perceive. The arts reflect what is happening amongst men. So if we find today that artistic productions of one kind or another, be they paintings or plays or novels, are ethically incoherent and lack clarity and the classic quality of the works of previous ages, this is because our age itself is ethically incoherent. Those who burst into ire against contemporary works of art should perhaps pause to reflect, before they are seized by a paroxysm of fury or righteous anger, that this may be no more than the rage of Caliban who sees his own face reflected in the glass. The final point I want to make on the general relationship of the Government and the arts is that the State now is the great patron of the arts. Private patronage, as I said earlier, has declined. I hope that perhaps the Government have some plans for reviving this. We have heard discussion about the possibility of income tax rebates for those who make provision for artistic enterprises and endeavours. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is not yet Chancellor of the Exchequer, but perhaps he will have some thoughts on this matter.

Perhaps the greatest success of the State as patron in Britain is as patron of Covent Garden. No less than £1,400,000 was spent last year on Covent Garden, every penny of it, in my opinion, extremely well spent. Covent Garden is the envy of the world. I do not wish to be unduly chauvinistic, but I have attended opera in New York and in Paris —in Paris I must say it was a highly disagreeable experience—in Rome and elsewhere, and the standards of production, of inventiveness, of technical proficiency and of sheer artistic genius are higher at Covent Garden than at any other opera house of which I have had experience.

It is often said in relation to the Common Market that we shall be making a financial contribution in the sense of providing a financial centre. We shall also be making a unique contribution to the arts in the form of the tradition of opera and ballet which has been developed in Britain. Here I should like to pay a brief tribute to Lord Drogheda for the untiring efforts he has made on the administrative side of Covent Garden to make it the success it is.

I have raised before in the House the question of facilitating the work of Covent Garden by making the grants triennial or even quinquennial instead of annual. When I last raised the question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science kindly said that she would look into it. Can my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary say anything about her researches?

My second major point is the rôle of the present Government in the patronage of the arts. There is a danger that this Government will be thought of as a hard-faced Philistine Government. It has been so presented by a number of hon. Members. I believe that to be a caricature. I think that they are a Government both interested in the arts and doing a great deal practically to help them.

We have in Downing Street a Prime Minister with a greater knowledge of the arts than perhaps any Prime Minister since Arthur Balfour. True, there has not been much competition in between, but this is nevertheless significant. Certainly the Leader of the Opposition, who has very many good qualities, would not claim an intense interest in the arts to be amongst them.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect that if he surveys Prime Ministers since Balfour he will not find that we have been devoid of Prime Ministers who have been interested in the arts? Although my right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister was not a practitioner of the arts, his contribution as a patron of the arts was outstanding. I say that as someone who does not always find it easy to praise his own leaders.

Mr. St. John-Stevan

I freely concede that point. I think that it was one of the successes—it is difficult to think of others—of the previous Administration that the arts did get a considerable amount of support from Government. I agree that the former Prime Minister played his part in that. But I was referring to personal knowledge of the arts rather than patronage.

It is significant in relation to the present Administration that the two programmes that hard-faced men would have been the first to regard as peripheral and to have cut have not been treated in that way. I am thinking first of aid to under-developed countries, the programme for which remains unchanged, and the programme to aid the arts, which has been increased, and now amounts to nearly £12 million a year. The Arts Council grant was increased by £2.6 million. As Lord Goodman said in expressive, if not particularly elegant, words, it was "not half bad". That shows the English capacity for understatement.

It has been the major achievement by the present "Minister of the Arts", my noble Friend Lord Eccles, building on the achievements of his predecessor, to resist the Treasury, which undoubtedly would have been very happy to cut expenditure on the arts, as it was attempting to cut expenditure elsewhere. His achievement parallels that of Lord Butler, who has gone down as a great reforming Home Secretary, not only because of his intellectual appreciation of the problems of penal reform, but because he obtained money for the prison programme and raised it from the very low priority which it had traditionally been given.

This extra money will not suffice for all the claims that are being made upon it, but I hope that I may put in a word for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is ending a magnificent decade of achievement. It has been playing to 97 per cent. capacity at Stratford and 80 per cent. at the Aldwych. It is impossible for it, in these circumstances, to hope for any increased revenue from attendances. It is, understandably, reluctant to put up its prices and, therefore, its only hope of even higher standards comes from an increased subvention from the Government.

One is entitled to claim something. at least, for the Conservative Party in this respect. We may not yet be the party of beautiful people, but, at any rate, we are, to use Lord Brown's phrase, "on the way". Conservatism has a human and an artistic face, although the lineaments could certainly be defined a little more.

I want now to discuss the rather vexed question of museum charges. This has been represented as a break with tradition and an attack on the British way of life, enlightenment, and so on, but this ignores certain facts of the situation. First, this is not a great break with the past. It is returning to an older and fairly recent tradition. Up to 1939, a number of public galleries and museums charged for admission. This was discontinued during the war and was not revived.

Secondly, it is bringing museums and public galleries into line with a number of other institutions which are visited by the public, including royal palaces, stately homes and ancient monuments. The third point which has to be considered is that the habit of charging for entrance to museums and galleries is virtually universal practice throughout Western Europe.

The important point about these charges is to see them as part of a general programme for improving museums and collections, modernising the way in which they are presented to the public, the layout, and so on. Some museums have done this already. I think of the work which has been done at the National Portrait Gallery by Mr. Roy Strong, who has breathed a new life into what was, until he took over, a fairly unknown institution. Much more needs to be done, however, in museums all over the country. Although these charges may not be specifically appropriated for the purpose, I believe that they will help in that programme.

I should like to raise some specific points about Government thinking concerning museum and gallery charges. First, I believe it to be desirable to have free days. Are we to have these? I understand that they are universal in countries where charges are imposed. Secondly, I believe that exemptions are extremely important for museum charges. What about students? Are any special provisions to be made for them? What about old-age pensioners? Old people often have very few places to which to go. If they have a public place to go to, perhaps they cannot afford the entrance fee. It is important that special provision should be made for them.

What about the scale of charges? We have been told about charges in the abstract, but we have heard nothing about them in the concrete, and it is very important that we should know something about them. Have the Government considered season tickets for museums, either for individual galleries or to cover all the galleries and museums in Britain? Has any thought been given to special situations such as that existing at the British Museum? To get to the British Museum Library, it is necessary to go through the British Museum. Quite rightly, the Government have decided against charging for libraries. How are people to get to the Reading Room of the British Museum without paying a charge?

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point about libraries. He has said that, quite rightly, the Government are not charging for libraries. We on this side of the House do not agree that it is right to make a charge for museums. We do not agree, either, that it would be possible to allocate the resulting revenue to the improvement of displays. But why is it wrong to charge for our great libraries but right to charge for other treasures which, although not books, are part of our great national collections?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is a difficult distinction on which to make a logical case. My reaction is that there is a difference between libraries and museums, and that libraries pertain more closely to education than museums. The tradition of the free library is a stronger and more deeply embedded one in English life than that of the museum, which has been a post-war phenomenon.

Finally, will the Minister make plain what I believe to be Government policy, that it is not the Government's intention to make it compulsory for museum charges to be imposed, and that this is a decision which ultimately will have to be taken by the trustees of the museums and galleries? What is the Government's position on that? If that is so, will legislation be required?

I turn to the last major topic that I wish to raise, and it is the one to which the hon. Member for Putney devoted most of his speech. I refer, of course, to censorship. I hope that no hon. Member will think that I favour censorship. I do not. My first book, "Obscenity and the Law", published in 1956, was written to bring about a liberalisation of the obscenity law which at that time was absurdly restrictive. As the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say, I served on the Committee of Members of both Houses of Parliament which considered theatre censorship, and we came to the unanimous conclusion that the theatrical jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain should be abolished.

I believe that censorship in moral matters is almost impossible to carry out in our society. There can never be an effective censorship, using the word in its strict sense, unless there is general agreement on moral values, and that in turn depends on a pre-existing religious con-census, which simply does not exist. Any full-scale system of censorship is out of the question on practical grounds, let alone on the various theoretical arguments that one can produce against it.

My original thoughts on the subject some years ago were that the law would be wise to draw a distinction between obscenity in the arts, which should be free, and pornography, which should be restricted by the law in some way. That is a distinction that was enshrined in part in the Obscene Publications Act when it passed through this House. But 10 years ago that kind of definition was much easier to make than it is today. It has become much more difficult to make the distinction today, for the arts and pornography have approached each other much more closely.

Yet there are certain general points of distinction along this line of thought which still remain valid. One distinguishing mark between the obscenity in the arts which should be free of censorship and pornography is the distinction between the concrete and the abstract. Lust in literature, as in life, tends to be abstract in the sense that it is abstracted from any human context. One can contrast a pornographic book, using a title which I came across, "Hot Dames on a Cold Slab", with Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale". The first is a wearisome and tedious repetition of sexual and violent incidents; the second is undoubtedly obscene—I do not think that anyone would deny that "The Miller's Tale" contains many obscene passages —but it is purified, as it were, by being embedded in the complexities and concreteness of real life.

One can advance that point further and say that far from artistic merit and morality being opposed, as they often are in the English mind, they are closely connected, and so the artistically defective tends to be the morally offensive and vice versa. That I believe to be true, because all true art is grounded in real life. It presents us with credible response and human behaviour which is not in fiat contradiction to human nature as we ourselves experience it. Pornography, on the other hand, is inhuman. It presents us not with people but with monsters. It offends against that pattern of human nature which is the common experience of mankind.

There are great difficulties in the way of a legal definition of pornography, and they were alluded to by Lord Eccles in the other place on 3rd February, but I will offer the House an aesthetic one: a work of pornography is one which presents us with an impossible femininity and an equally impossible masculinity and brings them together in a totally incredible conjunction. The question that arises is whether such works should be free of the law.

The Arts Council, in an incredibly superficial and badly thought-out report on the subject, which, incidentally, was enthusiastically recommended by Lord Goodman, not for its conclusions, but for its thought and its arguments, decided that it would recommend that such works should be free of the law.

Many people support the view on the ground that there is no evidence that pornography corrupts. That is literally true. There is nobody who will go into the witness box and say, "I was a good girl until I read 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' and it was that which sent me to the bad". It is impossible to achieve evidence of a behavioural kind to establish propositions about the effect of reading pornography. Human beings are subject to so many different stimuli that one cannot isolate one from another: one cannot segregate them in control groups; they are not Pavlov dogs and one cannot experiment with them, so that it is impossible to find conclusive evidence in that way. Some efforts have been made but they have been totally unconvincing.

Does this mean that we must meanwhile suspend all judgment on the effect of pornography until some foundation, which I presume will be American, has expended millions of dollars to allow some zoologist, perhaps like Dr. Kinsey, to investigate the whole question? By the time those researches are made known we will all be dead and gone. Are we then to suspend a belief in the proposition of common sense that we are affected for good or ill by what we read and what we see? If we are there is not only no point in the pornographic works but none in the works of fine art either. If we trivialise the effect of one we must of necessity trivialise the effect of the other.

I am rather more sympathetic to the argument against any kind of restriction, that we are going through a period of reaction against past restraints, that we have to get through it, get over it before we can settle down to a normal healthy attitude. It was the hon. Member for Putney who drew attention to the saturation by sex of the cinema and television. I do not think that the theatre, as he implied, is as exempt as he would have it. We are in a period of reaction against a previous era. We cannot understand our own era save in relation to that preceding it. The Victorian era is not as far away in mentality as it is in time. In the late 'twenties when poor Radclyffe Hall was condemned for writing "The Well of Loneliness", the line considered most obscene was: That night they were not divided. No one would think that very risqué or daring or worthy of suppression today.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I was suggesting that the supported theatre, not the theatre as a whole, was free from this. No one who goes around Soho could accuse the commercial theatre of being free from trafficking in sex shows. I was making the point, made by the hon. Member in a different way, that the supported theatre is generally free from cheap sensationalism, which he regards—I share his view—as being an area in which one can perceive pornography.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I wonder what the hon. Member means by "generally free", because I seem to detect some reservation. I do not know whether he was thinking of a particular theatre or particular plays, but I agree with his general sentiment.

It was Dr. Johnson who talked of the paucity of human pleasures, and the argument of letting things go is reinforced by the fact that there are only a certain number of sexual things that human beings can do.

After one has gone through them—and I am not speaking personally—after this stage has been gone through, after the public has gone through a certain number of vicarious sexual representations on the stage or in books, there is a reasonable chance that they will become bored by the whole thing, that they will become saturated. That is a theory which I find not unattractive looking at the present situation. Yet is it really something we could apply in practice? I do not think so, because I do not think that the British public would stand for it. The public might have stood for it in Denmark but that is another country and another type of society. I do not know that I would feel able to commend it when we think that people have, after all, to live real lives and to bring up actual children. We are not entitled to ask them to sacrifice their children to prove or disprove other people's theories.

I believe the situation—which is alarming—is best dealt with as part of the law on public nuisance. One should use the law to control displays offensive to public taste and to confine pornographic books to bookshops where those who have a taste for this kind of so-called literature may seek it out.

I turn from these general considerations about censorship to the particular aspect raised by Lord Eccles in another place, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Lord Eccles said: The question at issue … is the use of a public money to finance works which affront the religious beliefs or outrage the sense of decency of a large body of taxpayers. I would not listen to anybody who wanted the return of the censor on works wholly financed from private sources. But I am responsible for grants to the Arts Council, which are made with the taxpayers' money. If the Arts Council could reach some understanding with their clients that takes into account the moral views of those who are putting up the money, I should be very glad. The Government would like to hear what your Lordships have to say on this delicate matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd February, 1970, Vol. 314,c. 1210.] I interpret that statement not as an ex cathedra statement on the subject but rather as a species of thinking out loud. The distinction the noble Lord makes in that passage is a valid one. There is a difference between ordinary commercial productions and those financed with the use of public money.

The hon. Member for Putney, in a rather emotive phrase, referred to a double standard and went on to refer to "extra handcuffs." That betrays a certain kind of emotional ideological commitment which perhaps precluded the hon. Member from making any truly rational assessment of the complexities involved. If one takes the example of the B.B.C., that is restricted in what it can put on by the fact that it is supported by public money. One may deplore or welcome that situation, but it is a fact. It is perhaps one of the great shortcomings of patronage that this should be so, but it is a fact of life.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not realise that what I was expressing was the rather unemotional thought that the Paymaster-General should restrict himself to the same position as the Postmaster-General used to be restricted to and the present Minister for Posts is restricted to in relation to the B.B.C.: the self-imposed. Parliament-imposed restriction. Our general position that Ministers concerned with the arts and communications do not get into the act of interfering with programmes is a sound one and one which I suggested the Paymaster-General would do well to observe.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Member may have had a non-emotional thought, but who are we to enter the non-emotional recesses of his mind? We can only judge by the language he used to express his non-emotional thought. The language was highly emotional, and so if I have been misled about his inner thoughts, the hon. Member has only himself to blame. He has misled himself furthermore in his proposition about the position of Lord Eccles. Lord Eccles never suggested that he himself should interfere with any production or that he should set himself up as a kind of censor. He specifically excluded that. He said the function should be carried out by the Arts Council. and that is a different point.

I return to the point I was making about the special situation which arises when public money is involved. Take the case of the National Theatre which wished to put on a play by Hochhuth about Sir Winston Churchill, "The Soldiers", in which Sir Winston was represented as a murderer who had ordered the murder of General Sikorsky. Lord Chandos, in his capacity as chairman of the trustees, quite rightly refused to allow that play to be put on. He thought that it would be unfitting and unsuitable for the National Theatre to put on a play with that theme.

Those are not easy concepts to define in legal terms, but it is clearly recognisable that certain things are unfitting and unsuitable within a particular tradition of civilisation and civility.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I entirely agree with the right of the National Theatre to take the decision which it did, which I believe was right. However, there is a great difference between a decision taken by a board of management, which is a proper area for such decisions, and a decision influenced, directly or indirectly, by a Minister.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the distinction the hon. Gentleman is making, but it is becoming very fine when he says that the board of management is entitled to do something but the Arts Council is not entitled to say anything to the board of management. This is a very difficult position for the hon. Gentleman to defend.

One other thought occurs to me arising from "The Soldiers". It rather answers the point raised by the hon. Gentleman when he said that the effect of intervention of this kind would be that a commercial theatre would not put on a play which was disapproved of by the Arts Council. But "The Soldiers" was put on in the commercial theatre; it was there that I saw it. The banning had the opposite effect. The play achieved a certain notoriety of the "banned in Boston" variety, and, as a result, a number of people heard about the play and went to see it who otherwise might not have attended it.

The idea of fittingness and suitability is akin to the notion of Lord Eccles when he spoke about "affronting the religious beliefs or outraging the sense of decency of a large body of taxpayers."

There is this second practical point. If this feeling, diffused and indefinable though it may be, is ignored, there may well be unfortunate consequences for the arts because a campaign could easily build up against grants to the National Theatre or to other public enterprises, which would be to the general impoverishment of the arts.

The third point concerns Lord Good-man's contribution to the debate when he said that in his experience he had had only six letters of complaint during his tenure of office. But that is quite beside the point, because many members of the public would not be in a position to know whether a production was subsidised by the Arts Council or whether the Arts Council was the appropriate body to write to. They may well have written to their Member of Parliament or to Mrs. Whitehouse, or to some public-spirited person, and made their views known.

So what Lord Eccles is saying, and what I am supporting him in, is certainly not the establishment of a system of pre-censorship or anything like it. What is justifiable, in these special circumstances, where public money is spent, is a check, and that check should be applied by the Arts Council itself, not by a Minister. This, then, is the form of censorship—self-censorship; and it is always best that individuals should censor themselves, or that a body like the Arts Council, or the management of the theatre, itself should exercise this kind of censorship.

Seen in that light, I believe that Lord Eccles's statement is quite unexceptionable, but I think one would like some further clarification of what he meant. First of all, I would like to know what the attitude of the Arts Council is to this project. We have heard the views of one member of the Arts Council this evening, those of the hon. Member for Putney. But is there a collective view of the Arts Council? Is there a corporated view on this subject? The most detailed exegesis of the debate in the other place has not revealed anything. The hon. Member for Putney said the Arts Council could not accept it. But, I ask, why not? Secondly, I am interested in the line of questioning pursued by the hon. Member for Putney—as to what check the Arts Council will use. What form will this take? What will he the general principles applied in these cases? This certainly requires an answer. I hope that these and other questions will be answered by the Minister when he winds up.

I am afraid I have spoken at rather great length, but we have such rare opportunities in this House to discuss this subject that I have been tempted to take full advantage of this one. It is perhaps unfortunate in some ways that we have the Minister for the Arts in the other place, because this is the first debate we have had on the arts. No one would pretend it is the ideal time to hold it. I may say that I intend no reflection at all upon my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, because I know how conscientiously he has discharged his duties in this respect. but, of course, he has other commitments, and we have had no parliamentary time this Session to discuss the arts. I ask him this evening if he could arrange for us to have a full debate on the arts and the Government's rôle in relation to them at a more suitable time which would be likely to attract more public attention that our present early morning meditations. I should just like to express to him the gratitude of the House for taking the trouble to be here this morning, and to say to him that those of us who have sat through this debate are looking forward to hearing his views on the subject of the arts in general and on the particular questions which have been raised in this discussion.

2.43 a.m.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)

I rise to speak in this debate for much the same reasons as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). Outside this House the arts are what, I suppose, I spend most of my time upon, certainly my spare time.

I would at the outset join my hon. Friend in congratulating the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). When I first came to this House after my by-election, the first Committee in which I sat was that on the Films Bill, and I soon learned that the hon. Member for Putney had considerably more knowledge of this matter than most people on either side of that Committee. I would add, although it is not directly connected with this debate, that had there been a Division after his speech on the closed shop in Equity I would have abstained, and I would have abstained because of that speech by the hon. Member.

I would start this performance in the arts world, in what I am sure we shall call this late, late, late show, and not for a very big audience either, by giving my opinion on the theatre in this country. At the moment we are unrivalled in the world of theatre. I am unable to speak on the world of ballet and opera, like my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. The theatre is my first love. I believe that no one could deny that the National Theatre and the Aldwych are unrivalled in the rest of the world.

Showing in London at the moment are "The Beau Stratagem" and "Abelard & Heloise". The Aldwych is presenting "The Winter's Tale", "Henry VIII", "London Assurance", and "Twelfth Night". Every one is outstanding.

It was a most pleasant surprise to read in the New York Times about two weeks ago a comment by its theatrical correspondent: "If you are in London just go to the National Theatre or the Aldwych. It does not matter what is on. Anything that is showing is vastly superior to anything in New York."

I am of that generation in this House born since the last World War. I am not of those who perhaps remember this country in its great days and in its greatness. But while we have something to which excellence can so obviously be attached, we should cling to it for dear life and not allow its standards to be lowered in any way. This is a standard of which we are all immensely proud and which I hope the Government will continue to allow and give every opportunity to improve.

I should like to add to that not only the theatre standard, but the comment so often made in this House, casually and without thought, about television. During the last two or three years we have seen the B.B.C. productions of "The Forsyte Saga" and, more recently, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", and, of course, for those of us who are Sunday evening addicts "The Play of the Month". They are all quite outstanding.

I should like to voice an opinion to Independent Television, should it reach its forlorn barren ears. The finest series which I ever saw on its network was "The Caesars", put on late on a Sunday evening. When I rang and asked that the series be repeated because it was so brilliant, I was told: "Many people have rung in, but, of course, the soapsud manufacturers are not interested." I found this a tragedy, because what often happens on B.B.C. is that when a series has been a great success on B.B.C.2— for instance, "The Forsyte Saga" and "The Six Wives of Henry VIII"— it is than moved to B.B.C.1.

I shall not go into great detail on censorship. The hon. Member for Putney and my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford are better versed in this subject that I and have a history of experience and record behind them. But I say to the hon. Member for Putney: to hell with the use of four-letter words; let us judge everything, if we can, on excellence.

When I was first elected to the Greater London Council, at the age of 25, I thought that it would be a terrific sensation to sit on the Sexy Films Committee. So I immediately, with gay abandon, charged forward to that libertarian, Lady Dartmouth, and demanded my place on the committee as a leading theatre-goer. I arrived on the first day, never having seen the whole of one of these films, desperately keen to enjoy them on Tuesday afternoons from 4.30 to 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening. Three films were to be shown. I confess that Lady Dartmouth removed me from the committee for sleeping during the second film, making it impossible for me to give an opinion whether it should be X, AA, A, or U.

The failing is not that Soho can play sex films or that half the films in London are about sex. It is that education is the vital thing. That is why I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science present. If education were right in the schools and the lower levels, there would be no necessity for children to design to go and see these films later in their lives. They would get enjoyment from better entertainment if it were taught them at a young age.

I was interested in the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford that someone had said that we were a hard-faced Philistine Government. This evening's debate reminds me again of the comment of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), when we were returned to power, that the dinosaurs were on the roam again. It is pleasant to see that in this important debate there are six dinosaurs on this side and only one on the other. I say that with the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), who interrupted my dinosaur Friend for Cheltenham, because he has come to speak in the next debate, on London building. So I look upon the hon. Member for Putney as the only one who can join the dinosaur "club".

I said that I would not mention the ballet or opera, but I should like to add a comment on music. I think that all hon. Members would share my delight at having read that it is now almost uni- versally acknowledged that we are the finest musical centre in Europe. That has happened since the last war. That is something we should cling to and something of which we can be immensely proud.

I am not at all worried—Friend the Member for Chelmsford will probably tutor me later in the correct pronunciation— Velasquez is to go abroad. For the Government to consider giving £2½million to save an inferior painting of which we have six better copies already in London is not my idea of how the Government should spend their money.

I would not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford on art galleries. I was most disappointed when the Chancellor brought in these charges. I thought that my hon. Friend's argument, that they have charges in Western Europe, was not very strong. I also puzzled to think which royal palaces had always charged. I realise that the Duke of Bedford makes part of his living from charging—

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not want to go through the list of royal palaces—one cannot go into all of them—but Windsor was the one that I had in mind.

Mr. Archer

Then I withdraw my argument, because I acknowledge that Windsor is a royal palace. I was sorry that these charges were brought in, although I would join my hon. Friend in hoping that the Minister can tell us clearly what will be done about the students and old-age pensioners and those children who are at the moment taken around in groups to see our national paintings and do not at the time appreciate or enjoy them but who, because of being dragged along at the end of an arm, may one day grow to have a love of the national or the royal galleries.

I remember being dragged through the Impressionist Room of the National Gallery time and again, seeing nothing, and then suddenly, one Sunday morning, seeing a Pissaro painting on the left hand will of Gallery 3, and having to leave my home immediately to see them again. I would be sorry to see groups of 20 or 30 children having to pay their sixpences, and for this reason I could not support such a proposal. I would be sorry to see us spending £2½, million on the Velasquez because—as my right hon. Friend frequently reminds me—of the need to get our priorities right. I hope that a priority which the Government put high on the list is the building of a national theatre. Every support should be given to this project by the Government and the G.L.C. A national theatre was first thought of in the 1860s and has been talked of ever since. The hon. Member for Putney has played a considerable rôle in helping it to reach fruition.

It is ironic that the stone first laid to celebrate the beginning of the theatre bears the name of Queen Elizabeth, who was then King George's wife. It is still there, but there are no bricks around it. It is important for us to see that it is erected quickly. I spoke earlier of my hope that the Government would seek to improve the already high standard of theatre in Britain. At present we have the National Theatre Company, which represents Britain, but it is working in a second-rate shell on the other side of the river.

My fear is that our national theatre will finally be opened by King Charles III in the presence of the future Prime Minister, Sir Norman St. John-Stevas. I hope the Minister will tell me that it will be opened by Queen Elizabeth II and that Mr. Edward Heath will be the Prime Minister in attendance.

2.58 a.m.

Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole)

I will not detain the House at this late hour because I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is anxious to get a little sleep before morning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) referred to us as dinosaurs, and I am sure that he meant it to be a compliment. He also said that he had not had the experience of going through the last war. As one dinosaur who came lumbering through the mists of May, 1914, my experience and views are bound to be somewhat different from his.

For example, the cinema did not need always to be frowned upon in my younger days. My hon. Friend said it was in some of its aspects an entertainment with which in its present form we had learned to live and which we now tolerated. I cannot help but feel, however, that there is a large and inarticulate mass of people who very much deplore the way in which the arts have now been debased in this respect.

We have come to understand the need for utter realism. I was reminded of this very forcibly when I was taken not long ago—I must confess rather against my will—to see a play of much significance in that it had a religious background. It concerned a certain nun and a certain lay brother, and it was a very fine production. Just before the interval, however, we were treated to the most extraordinary manifestations of nudity which I thought were utterly and totally irrelevant to what was happening. I can only suppose that the scene was put on at that point in order to persuade people to come back afterwards, though it had quite the opposite effect on me. If I had not been with a party I certainly would not have done so, because it quite ruined the play for me.

It is very hard for those of us who have brought up our children to the very best of our ability to find them faced with much that is not good. One has only to travel on the Underground to see the most extraordinary posters advertising even more extraordinary films. While I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Louth that some of us at an earlier age saw one or two rather strange manifestations in Paris and elsewhere, I can add that often we fell asleep. Boredom is all very well for those who can take that attitude, but there must be many others whose future conduct is guided by what they see.

I speak in all sincerity about this, because our youth is faced with many temptations which, while they may have been there before, were counteracted by other things. I was dominated, first, by my religion, and a real and true feeling of what I should do and what I should not do. The second thing that dominated me was respect for my parents and the way in which they had brought me up.

As Members of Parliament we should do our utmost to try to ensure a higher moral tone in the arts. I know that this is rather a sweeping stricture and that there are many good things in the arts, and particularly in the theatre, but I am worried more particularly by the cinema. I know that the cinema exists entirely for commercial considerations, but there are things there that are not good. We are all human, we all come in and go out in the same way, and in between times we marry and have children, but some of these factors that concern us as human beings should not be shown so much on film in their worst possible light.

We are Members of Parliament and should use our influence to try to persuade those who produce these films, and plays, too—and even television, occasionally—that these scenes could well be done without. We have our imagination and we know what they are driving at: why has it to be shown to us so blatantly?

Mr. Archer

I wonder whether my hon. Friend realises that something that his generation called the swing of the pendulum has come about, and that "The Railway Children" is now running to packed houses. I wonder whether he realises that films like that are coming back into popularity, whilst the others of which he talks and which he fears are going down in appeal?

Mr. Murton

It is an encouraging thought. I entirely support my hon. Friend in this and hope that it is right.

It has been said that when our children have children of their own they will probably be as strict with them as I hope that my parents were with me. We can only hope that this will be so. I am not quite as old as my hon. Friend thinks. I mentioned May, 1914, and my hon. Friend can do the sum for himself.

I hope that these few comments have not sounded sententious. I am thinking of my constituents, who write to me frequently about this. Many people are distressed by what they hear and see. In many ways what they hear and see is more damaging than what they read, because, after all, if there is a pornographic book in existence a person who is looking for it will buy it. This is very much a personal matter. What is more to the point is that one can often go to a cinema and, even more often, turn on a television set and be faced with something which one is not expecting.

My hon. Friend the Minister will doubtless agree that it would be a good thing if we all did our best to help to improve the moral tone of Britain.

3.6 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Mr. St. John-Stevas— Mr. van Straubenzee.

Mr. van Straubenzee

We have had a long and interesting debate which has obviously led you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to misunderstand who it was that was standing at the Dispatch Box, but I felt very honoured that you should name me differently.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) began his speech with a kindly reference to myself going to bed. I shall have no opportunity of doing that. I have two further debates to answer as the night and then the morning wear on. So, although I am deeply obliged to my hon. Friend for his kind consideration, it will be he who goes to bed and not myself. We have heard in the debate that, as far as I can understand it, two of my hon. Friends have gone to sleep on occasions when one would normally not have expected them to do so, which is an interesting new cure for insomnia.

I shall first deal with a number of specific points to the best of my ability and then deal with the two central themes of charges and censorship which have been raised more than once in the debate. I hope that I shall not be thought to be discourteous to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) in particular if I deal with those themes in the reverse order from that in which they were raised; but as I survey all the various questions that I must deal with I believe that it is probably easier for me to tackle the matter in that way.

I want to start by replying to two specific points raised in the important speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). There was first his specific question about Covent Garden. I share my hon. Friend's great love for this wonderful musical centre. Alas, I do not have my hon. Friend's expert appreciation, but I have a great love for it. In my previous incarnation I knew quite a lot about it, because I had a connection with a number of those, some of them of very great eminence, who performed there. Therefore, I know something of its purely physical imperfections.

My hon. Friend mentioned a visit he paid to Paris where he had a disagreeable experience. I recall hearing from some of the great artists whom I knew from Covent Garden of the appalling physical conditions at, for instance, La Scala.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Perhaps I should make it clear, as I do not wish to prejudice our application to join the Common Market, that I did not find my visit to Paris a disagreeable experience. It was the Paris Opera that I found disagreeable.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I have too much regard for my hon. Friend's ability to enjoy himself to think that Paris would be a disagreeable experience to him. I was quite clear that it was the Opera in Paris that he found disagreeable.

I am told that some of the physical conditions at La Scala leave much to be desired, including the method by which one is paid—literally physically in cash. As the curtain comes down, one does one's beautiful curtsy or bow, as the case may be, and is sometimes hard pressed to know where to put the lire which are being showered upon one.

The serious question which my hon. Friend raised was whether it might be possible to move to a system of triennial or quinquennial grants for Covent Garden. I think the answer must be this. No, it would not be possible to do so exclusively for Covent Garden or, at any rate, it would be very difficult to do so. It would be a departure from any of the procedures that we have so far operated. It would not, certainly in theory, be impossible to move to a longer period of financing for the Arts Council. I would not wish tonight to be bound to, say, three or five years necessarily. My hon. Friend, who has studied these matters so closely, will recall that this indeed was the subject of a report some few years back. I should like him to know that my noble Friend's mind is definitely not closed upon this matter and that was the reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave the answer that she did. I hope he will find that the door is sufficiently open at least for the purposes of tonight.

My hon. Friend also asked me a specific question about the Royal Shakespeare Company. Once again, I share his great love of and admiration for their work, but I think it must be clear from what we have said that it would not be appropriate for me. answering for my noble Friend, to say that a specific client—if I may use the expression of the hon. Member for Putney —is going to be given an additional grant. This is the whole purpose of our structure through the Arts Council system. Naturally, while I appreciate their work, I think a decision upon this must be an Arts Council decision.

The third specific question that I should like to answer was raised more by way of comment by the hon. Member for Putney. He referred to the recently published report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He will forgive me, I hope, for any apparent discourtesy if I make no comment on it. It would be improper for anyone from this Box to make a comment upon that report when, as he reminded us, it has been referred to the Public Accounts Committee. I must be very careful, therefore, to say nothing in any way which prejudices the examination of that report by a Committee of this House. If I say no more about it, it is not because I do not want to go into the matter, but because I must observe the proprieties.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I accept that from the hon. Gentleman. When I made the comment, I appreciated that it would be impossible for the hon. Gentleman to reply.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am obliged. We are ad idem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford spent some time upon the subject of museum charges, and my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) also made reference to the same subject, though not with the same kind of voice. We have to face the fact that the taxpayer at present pays on average £1 a year for every visitor who enters the national museums and galleries. There are about 16 million visitors and our expenditure is about £16 million. The costs of our galleries and museums will not only go up, at the moment at least, because of inflation but because so much needs to be spent on the museums and galleries, not only to show what they have but to conserve their collections and to deal with matters like air conditioning and so on.

I realise that it would be possible to argue that this increased need should be met by increased taxation, but I am satisfied that this is not an appropriate way for a Conservative Government to approach it, and indeed, in fairness, I do not suppose my hon. Friend the Member for Louth would be in favour of that method either. Therefore, it is unrealistic to suppose that in the present situation all the unmet needs of the museums and galleries can quickly be met by additional Government expenditure. If the appropriate progress—some would hope rapid progress—is to be made, the public must help. That is the basis of the approach.

New buildings are to start very soon at the British Museum and the Tate, but that is only part of the things to be done. For example, by no means all the galleries of the National Gallery are air-conditioned, and the Trafalgar Square site has remained undeveloped for many years. In five years the Tate Gallery will be able to expand on the adjacent Military Hospital site, and there are expansion schemes needed at the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford for reminding us of the problems of the local museum. So often, thought is exclusively given to the great national museums in the centre. There is no scheme for housing local museums comparable to that for housing the arts, and local museums surely need to benefit from the standards and the expertise of national institutions. That cannot be done without a plan, to be worked out in consultation with local authorities and the museum world. But all this needs more resources. If it is our wish, as I think it is the wish of almost everyone, to make progress in this field, the necessity for more resources must be faced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford very reasonably asked me some specific questions. My answer is that I do not believe for a moment my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, one of the outstanding Ministers of Education in the postwar world, could be con- templating a series of charges for the museums and galleries which, for example, did not take account of the sort of point my hon. Friend so rightly raised concerning exemptions for students. I know that there has been very careful consideration of the arguments, which are pro and con, for free days, the attractions of the season ticket and so on.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the old people. With respect, a debate like this at nearly twenty minutes past three o'clock in the morning, however estimable, is not really the occasion for a major announcement of Government policy on a matter like this. But it will not be long before my noble Friend can make a statement. All the detailed matters raised by my hon. Friend will be drawn to my noble Friend's attention.

My hon. Friend asked me about the legal position in relation to the trustees. The answer is precisely as he so wisely forecast it. In so far as any legislation is necessary, it is enabling legislation to enable trustees to make the necessary charges. It does not mean compulsory powers to force them to make charges. For example, it has been appreciated from the outset that such enabling powers would be necessary for certain of the great Scottish institutions. That has always been known from the start. That is, therefore, the position concerning trustees.

If I may sum up, it is the duty of the trustees to run the museum. It is they who have the full management responsibilities, either by Statute or by Treasury minute. The Government's intention is to give each trustee body full time to consider all the implications of the charging scheme. Detailed studies are being made in consultation with each institution, and when the completed proposals are ready announcements will be made which, covering the 18 institutions, will bring in £1 million net. I trust that that has answered all the detailed questions on this subject which have been properly addressed to me.

I therefore move to the first question raised by the hon. Member for Putney and commented upon in a most thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. I know that it is difficult for the hon. Member for Putney to envisage a Government which act as one. That is a novel concept, I realise, with past years in mind. My noble Friend, however, was not speaking purely for himself. This was not a philisophical disquisition by an individual. He was speaking as a Minister in another place, and he was speaking with the authority of a Minister in another place. If the hon. Member hoped that he would hear no more about it, he is whistling in the dark. It is important to make that clear, and I know, on this matter at least, what I am talking about.

It is, however, important to get this matter into perspective. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford used the expressive phrase that some people would regard the Government as hard-faced Philistines and he was kind enough to demolish that view at once, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Louth. I draw attention, for example, to the Government's White Paper on the British Library, a programme for the creation of what is described as the most significant complex of museums and library resources in Europe at, as the House knows, a cost of £36 million.

It is worth recalling, although both my hon. Friends have done it, that subject to parliamentary approval, the Government propose that the grants to the Arts Council in 1971–72 shall be £11.9 million, which is £2.6 million more than in 1970–71. Hon. Members on this side have no reason, therefore, to apologise for the Government's approach. Further increases in Government support to other arts bodies will be proposed in the Estimates to be published next month. I believe that this is a record in their first eight months of which the Government can properly be proud, particularly at a time of economic difficulty and when, quite rightly, public expenditure has been severely scrutinised.

The first thing which I want to dispose of totally in connection with the accusation of censorship is any charge of political censorship. There is surely all the difference in the world between, on the one hand, stopping something happening, which is a form of censorship, and deciding, on the other hand, not to use the taxpayers' money to pay for it. It is with that that my noble Friend is concerned. He has said very clearly in the other place that he sees "no place for a political censor in between the artist and the law, which applies to us all." That was accepted by Lord Goodman. The subsequent article in the Sunday Times by Baroness Lee was very intemperate. It is well to have these matters clearly on record.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman suggests that there is a difference of view between Lord Goodman and Baroness Lee in this matter. He also suggests that, in the debate in the other place, Lord Goodman virtually accepted the proposal put forward by Lord Eccles, whereas Baroness Lee did not. But that is not a true interpretation of what Lord Goodman said in the other place, as the hon. Gentleman will discover if he reads the debate.

Mr. van Straubenzee

If the hon. Gentleman had done me the courtesy of listening to me, he would not have made that intervention. I said that Lord Goodman accepted that there was never any thought in my noble Friend's mind of political censorship—

Mr. Jenkins

Nor was there in anyone else's.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is debatable. Some wild words have been said and written on the matter. However, I shall return to the noble Lord in a moment, because I have no wish to misrepresent the views of the distinguished Chairman of the Arts Council.

Let me make it clear that this Government, like previous Governments of all political persuasions, much value and intend to uphold the independence of the Arts Council in making aesthetic judgments. But, ultimately my noble Friend is responsible for the Government's arts policy, and it would be grotesque to suggest that the responsible Minister cannot discuss with the Arts Council matters of priority and public policy on the ground that he is thereby interfering with its independence. The rough analogy that I draw from other experience is that of the University Grants Committee. We have a convention which has been carefully observed by all Governments that we do not interfere in the detailed administration of individual universities. But successive Secretaries of State have thought it proper, and the U.G.C. has accepted that it is, that matters of priority and public policy generally are matters for discussion without impinging upon the independence of the body concerned.

Discussion with the Arts Council must be a continuing process, representing a dialogue between people with a common interest undertaken in a spirit of mutual trust. My noble Friend takes the view that he is accountable to Parliament for the wise and proper use of the increasing sums being made available for the arts and that he has a duty where necessary to represent matters of legitimate public concern to any organisation receiving public funds.

When he made his remarks, my noble Friend posed a legitimate question which concerns many people. There may be some who say, though it has not been said in the debate, that anything goes and that there is no act which should not be portrayed, however offensive to the moral and religious susceptibilities of others. However, as the debate has shown, most of us draw a line of "Thus far and no further"—of what for want of a better phrase one might call the threshold of affront. Obviously, it varies according to the individual. I do not suggest that the right threshold should be that of the proverbial maiden aunt of literature, though my experience of maiden aunts is that they are very broad-minded people.

The question my noble Friend is posing to the Arts Council and the many bodies aided by it is whether there should be an acceptance that public funds should not be used to push the permissive frontiers to a point which disgusts and affronts many members of the public. It is this affront which is the root fact from which none of us can escape. I make it clear that it is a fringe problem. I am not seeking to build it into something more than I believe it to be.

The work of the Arts Council and, to use the hon. Member's phrase, its many clients has rightly earned tributes from all sides. No one who knows my noble Friend could possibly question his adventurous interest in the theatre and in the arts generally, and his interest in innovation, but that does not invalidate the point which I am making, that the diet is rich and varied and the standards have never been higher. Is the cause of the arts as a whole to be advanced by causing grave affront to the majority of people who at present provide the funds which have helped to make the arts flourish?

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Would the hon. Gentleman clarify what he is saying? He says that his noble Friend proposes to pose this question to the Arts Council and apparently it is Government policy that the question shall be posed. What then, after the question has been posed? Will it then be Government policy that the policy of the Government shall be imposed?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I was coming to precisely that point, because that was a problem raised with me by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and I should like to take this opportunity to answer. The question has been posed. It will, I trust, not be long before the Arts Council expresses a view upon the question. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford made clear, and it was helpful to have this distinction made so clear, the thought is not in my noble Friend's mind that he should in individual cases act personally as censor. I wish to explain the general philosophy and outlook of the Arts Council, this independent body. It is a matter for the Council in individual cases, and that is why we shall be grateful for the reply from the Council. The point I am making is that it is a perfectly proper question for a Minister responsible to Parliament for the increasing sums, and gladly increasing sums, for the arts to ask.

I should like to add this about the general approach to try to deal with requests made to me from both sides of the House. I believe that the responsibility to the public is being admirably carried out by the great majority of governing boards, directors and performers, but the very fact that public funds provide the freedom to experiment and to break fresh ground carries with it the need for added sensitivity to public reactions. It is right that any play or performance should be judged as a whole, and such judgment needs to take into account the integrity of the artist and what he is seeking to say.

It is right that such judgments should normally be made by the professional and dedicated people who govern and administer the various artistic companies. It is also right that they should take fully into account the views and feelings of all sectors of the community. Ultimately as my noble Friend said, "the conscience and taste of a well educated public are the only censors worth having in a policy to raise the quality of life." It is reasonable to ask that before that conscience is affronted and that taste repelled those who produce plays and performances which affront and repel should themselves be convinced that the overall experience and impact is one that can be justified on artistic grounds. It is sometimes necessary to shock, but this makes it the more important to ensure that the shock has meaning and purpose and is not just a piece of sensationalism.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Would the hon. Gentleman give us some examples of those plays which affront and repel?

Mr. Van Straubenzee

No, for precisely the same reason as my noble Friend, I think wisely, avoided individual identification in another place. I would prefer to do the same. I have confidence in the public-spirited and highly intelligent people who together make up the Arts Council and with whom, on these matters, my noble Friend is in consultation. We shall have to await the outcome of those consultations.

I very much hope that in an age when there should be an ever-increasing audience for the arts, it will not be an ill-founded thought—in the light of the magnificent work being done in the schools about which I was asked—that we should introduce young people to the live arts.

Those are the sorts of considerations that will be in people's minds, and I hope that the debate has gone some way to clarifying the thoughts that lie behind the request made. In my personal experience, this initiative by my noble Friend has met with substantial approval. I believe that it will be possible for his consultations to be fruitful and for the relationship between the Minister for the time being and the Arts Council to be unimpaired and for its work to continue as usefully as in the past.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) I hope that the House will not mind if I remind it that there are 28 names down of Members seeking to raise subjects. Obviously all will not be able to do so but it would be in the interests of all if speeches could be kept as short as humanly possible. I say that with some diffidence because I know that the next subject is a burning issue in the Greater London area and one that could occupy hon. Members for many days. I hope that hon. Members will take my remarks in the spirit in which they were intended.