§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
I beg to move,That this House draws attention to the fact that we are now in a period, like the Second World War, which is an appropriate time to multiply public support for the arts; and calls on the Government to take appropriate measures to this end and to encourage local authorities to do likewise.One of the salient characteristics of our method of controlling public expenditure in this country is that increases in public expenditure tend to be incremental. We always find ourselves struggling to get 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. added to the expenditure of a particular Department, or subtracted from the expenditure of a particular Department, but it means that the struggle for the use of scarce resources, which is such an important part of the political process, tends always to take place on the margin of the expenditure of important Departments.
One consequence of this is that those Members in this House who think that the whole pattern of expenditure is mistaken, those who would like to see the national cake cut up into slices of entirely different proportions, have an almost insuperably difficult task ahead of them, but there are exceptions to this. The exceptions occur when the total amounts are exceedingly small, and I think that for that reason public expenditure on the arts is such an exception.
The central thesis of my speech is that Government expenditure on the arts should be doubled, and that local authority expenditure on the arts should be more than doubled. That is why I have used the word "multiply" in my motion. I think that the smallness of the sums involved makes this practicable, and I shall argue that the benefits that will accrue from that are out of all proportion to the size of the sums involved.
I must meet the argument, because it is the most important argument against what I have to say, that, although all these things are desirable in themselves, we cannot afford them now. I shall try to argue the positive case for the increases for which I am calling on three grounds: first, the unique value of the arts to this country especially at this time; secondly, 37 comparisons with what other genuinely comparable countries are doing; thirdly, and perhaps most important and most specific, the unmet needs for which the extra money is required.
First let me make it clear exactly what sums we are talking about, and what is the order of expenditure that we are to discuss. In the financial year 1973–74 the Government spent £47½ million on the arts. That was one quarter of 1 per cent. of total Government expenditure. Of that £47½ million, almost exactly half—that is to say, £23.4 million—went to the Arts Council to be further redistributed at its discretion, and £9.8 million went to sustain national and provincial art galleries and museums.
Local authority expenditure on the arts is extremely important, but local authorities are not required to give returns for their expenditure in this field and, therefore, any estimate has to be precisely that—an estimate—but the research staff of our House of Commons Library have been to great trouble to get me an informed estimate of the figures of local authority expenditure on the arts. For the financial year 1972–73 that amounted to £15½ million, which is 0.2 per cent. of total local authority expenditure.
In the financial year 1973–74, total expenditure on the arts in this country was approximately £63 million, or if we add to that the expenditure of local authorities on art galleries and museums it can be made up to £75 million. There is a further important source of patronage of the arts, and that is the private patron. Again, for obvious reasons it is impossible to put a precise figure on this, but informed estimates reckon that to be about £1½ million a year. At this point, as I shall not mention them again, I should like to say how grateful I am to the research staff in the House of Commons Library for getting these figures for me and, indeed, a number of figures that I shall use later in my speech.
I should like to say, in defence of the figures and of the staff who have worked so hard to provide them, that I do not want to hinge any of my arguments on the nice exactitude of figures. The fact that some of them are unavoidably estimates means that other speakers may, if they wish, by using a different basis of calculation, arrive at different estimates. 38 The main point at issue in this debate is not the precise sums about which we are talking but their order of magnitude, and it is upon this that what I have to say depends.
Looked at from one point of view, the figures I have just read out illustrate a success story, because we have reached that level of public expenditure on the arts by a continuous upward development from a starting point in the Second World War, and that upward development, that growth of public expenditure on the arts, had to be fought for every inch of the way by people, some of whom are still fondly remembered for their work in this direction. When I talk of the unmet needs or criticise our attitude as a society to our willingness to spend money on the arts, I do not want anything that I say to be taken as reflecting on those who fought so very hard to get us to the present situation. On the contrary, what I shall say is that we in our time should adopt the same irreverent and pioneering attitude to public expenditure on the arts, the same unwillingness to stop at and be bound by the existing levels of public expenditure that we inherited, that those people did in their time.
I shall not debate this matter as a party matter. This is an area of activity in which the party to which I belong has a particularly fine record, of which one can be especially proud. No doubt the various parties on the Opposition benches can also point to achievements of which they are justly proud. I shall not be making any party points during the debate, so I hope that no one who speaks after me will feel any need to be defensive in his comments. I say that especially of my hon. Friend the Minister. The proposals I shall make for things which I hope the Minister will do with the backing of the Government, whom I support, are in no way meant to be criticisms either of him or of the Government's record so far. But I am talking now of unfinished business, of urgent needs for the future.
In one sense there is only one important argument against what I am proposing, because almost any civilised person is likely to have the view that in itself it is desirable for public expenditure on the arts to be increased. The only possible objection there can be to our doing so is the economic plight that the country is 39 in at present. The only possible objection can consist in the assertion that, desirable though it is, we cannot possibly afford it. That is the only argument against my motion which I respect, because anyone who thinks on any other ground that it is not desirable to enrich and expand the arts in this country is unlikely in most circumstances to be an opponent with whom it is worth arguing.
But to those who say that we cannot afford it, I would say this: public financial support for the arts began, on any substantial and organised scale, during the darkest years of the Second World War, when we in this country were fighting for our survival against an enemy far more terrible than inflation, when we as a country were far poorer than we are today, when the average standard of living of most of the members of our community was immeasurably lower than standards of living today and when every penny which could be found of public money was diverted for other purposes. That is why I mention the Second World War in the wording of my motion. Anyone who says that we cannot afford it now must explain why, bad though our situation is now, we are less well able to afford what was afforded in far more terrible and dangerous times, when public subsidy of the arts began.
These public subsidies which first became an important factor in our national life and which revolutionised the theatre, music, opera and the performing arts generally, were continued by the post-war Labour Government in years which were again, though peacetime years, years of bleak financial austerity, shortage and continued wartime rationing. It was in those grey years that the Arts Council was incorporated, in August 1946. It was in those years that we had the Festival of Britain and built the Royal Festival Hall, which has so enriched the musical life of our capital city. There were plenty of voices raised in those days to say that we could not afford it. I remember fulminations in the editorial columns of national and local newspapers saying that we should not have the Festival Hall because we could not afford it. But there is no one now with the slightest concern for the arts who would unwish that building and the difference that it has made to the cultural 40 life of this country, and particularly this capital, in the last 20 years.
It is not only our society which has behaved in this way and spent money on the expansion of the arts, especially the performing arts, in what were some of the darkest and most difficult days of our history. The brilliant director of the National Theatre, Peter Hall, has carried with him for most of his life memories of a vivid kind from his experience in post-war Germany as a young National Service man. In the current issue of the magazine "Opera" he recalls them, saying:I have memories of Germany in 1949–50, still poor, still ruined, yet to my amazement spending money on the arts. No houses, yet building new opera houses. Making sure that the opera was going, the orchestras were subsidised, that the theatres were there. It was a revelation to me, as I had left a country where the Arts Council was a very under-subsidised struggling organization, where art was not in the centre of a town's life.I have very similar memories from a similar time, in fact a year before Peter Hall's, when I was a young Service man in Austria. I vividly remember the Austrians, even poorer than the Germans, their cities destroyed by the war, insisting on the priority of having the Vienna State Opera rebuilt. In the remote country town where I happened to be stationed. I remember subsidised music and subsidised concerts of Schubert and Mozart, to which the audiences, consisting of farm labourers and peasant women, came in their droves.
Coming back to even later peacetime England, when the Labour Government came to power in 1964 after 13 years in Opposition, we came back to power in the middle of what was then the worst economic crisis there had been since the immediate post-war years, and yet again precisely at that time, for the first time, a Minister responsible for the arts was appointed. In those very difficult financial days, Jennie Lee, with the co-operation of Lord Goodman on the Arts Council, did creative and pioneering work of permanent importance which is still smilingly remembered and very gratefully remembered in the world of the arts in this country.
I would say that the argument that we cannot afford it because times are bad really holds no water in a historical context. It has always been when times 41 were bad that some of the most valuable things of this kind were done in our society, and as far back as one goes, in times of great social upheaval, even civil war, one finds that that has been the time when some of the most important and lastingly valuable public projects, such as cathedrals, churches, public buildings and so on, have been created.
One might even say, as I would, that it is when times are bad that we need these things most. That is particularly true in an age like ours, when the consolations of religion are not accessible to large numbers of people and when the deepest emotional and, if I dare use the word, spiritual experiences which are available to many, perhaps even to most, people are those provided by the arts and it is through the arts that increasing numbers of people find their deepest sense of contact with enduring realities and values.
In the light of the importance of the arts and of the considerations which I have outlined, it is footling to say that we cannot afford increases of expenditure of the order that I am asking for, especially when we consider just what other things we as a society spend immense sums on. Considering what we as a community spend on things like drinking, tobacco and gambling, all of which incidentally have given me enormous pleasure, the sums involved for the arts are miniscule and almost invisible.
Since we are talking about Government expenditure, perhaps I should make a comparison with Government revenue from these sources. The estimated Government revenue this year from alcoholic drinks is £1,110 million, from tobacco £1,325 million and from gambling a mere £240 million. The figure of additional Government expenditure on the arts for which I am asking is less than a quarter of the smallest of those figures.
There is no other sphere in our national life in which such a small expenditure could make such an enormous difference or, indeed, where Britain is so preeminenly in the forefront in world terms. When one considers what Britain has done since the end of the Second World War in a global context, one sees that there are only about two things for which we are really outstanding. One is the grace with which we have divested ourselves of what must have been much the largest empire that the world has ever 42 seen and the fact that we managed to do so in a comparatively peaceful and civilised way.
The other is that Britain, or at any rate London, has became the world's artistic centre. We are acknowledged throughout the world to have the finest theatre. We are far and away the most important centre in the world for the public performance of music. More books are published here than anywhere else in the world, more gramophone records are made here and I believe that we are the world centre for dealing in works of art. This has happened in London in about the last 20 years. So there is no other sphere which so deserves our support and the financial nourishment which it is within the power of the Government to bestow.
But even if we consider this matter in vulgar terms of money, prestige and promotion, there is an enormous return to be got from our arts. There is, first, the incalculable prestige and promotion value of the foreign tours by the Royal Opera Company and the Royal Ballet Company. There are the gramophone records which sell by the million all over the world and the revenue that they bring. There is our world trade in books and the revenue that that brings.
But the specific example that I would give is the theatre, which, to put it no more highly, is an enormous earner of foreign currency. The tourist authorities have discovered in their investigations and surveys that over half of all the foreign tourists who visit this country give going to the theatre as one of their reasons for doing so. In, 1973, for example, of 1,300,000 American tourists over 1 million went to the theatre. So this is not just something that visitors say they will do: they actually do it. It clearly is one of the reasons for coming to this country, because it is something which can be found here which can be found almost nowhere else in the same quantity and quality. Bearing in mind the fact that the total spent by tourists in 1972–73 was £682 million, it is clear that the theatre alone makes an enormous, indirect, but very real, contribution to the earning of large sums of foreign currency.
We get revenue from our theatre in other ways. For example, it is the actors, writers, directors, designers and producers 43 who work their way up through the live theatre, through repertory companies, and so on, who sustain the whole of the acting side of our television industry and the Anglo-American film industry, from which even those who do not go to the live theatre benefit.
Yet this goose which lays such golden eggs, the live theatre, we are in danger of allowing to die from starvation. At the moment, of 60 provincial theatres no fewer than 11 are having seriously to consider the possibility of closing. In London's West End half a dozen theatres are dark and two are given over to one-man shows. It has become almost impossible for an unsubsidised commercial management to put on a play which has a large cast and requires several changes of scene. It simply is no longer economically possible.
Last year was a disaster, financially, for the Royal Shakespeare Company and there has been talk, which I hope will come to nothing, of a merger between that company and the National Theatre Company. Talking of the latter, it has now become clear that for financial as well as other reasons the new building for the National Theatre Company will not open—estimates differ, but this would be mine—until summer next year at the earliest and possibly not until the autumn.
What can the Government do to help the theatre in its present straits? There are many things that the Government can do. The first thing that they can do, and immediately, is zero-rate the theatre for VAT. I would beg the Government to do so for all the performing arts. We all know from personal experience as ticket buyers for any form of entertainment that the law of supply and demand operates powerfully in ticket prices. Other things being equal, the cheaper the tickets are the more people buy them and the more expensive they are the fewer people buy them.
The fact that all the performing arts are being required to collect a tax of 8 per cent. on the tickets they sell artificially lowers their audiences or their income, depending on how one looks at it. It means that if they were able to charge what they themselves collect—in other words, if they could charge the lower seat prices without the 8 per cent. VAT—they would 44 get a substantially larger audience. Conversely—this is what I suggest they be encouraged to do—if the performing arts were zero-rated but encouraged to keep their prices at the existing level, this would be an enormous immediate increase in revenue without any increase in seat prices or loss of audience. For even a comparatively small theatre in London's West End this would make a difference of some hundreds of pounds a week. In this way, by immediate action, the Government could help greatly to increase the amount of money available to the theatre and to the performing arts generally.
There are other ways in which the Government could help in the present situation. They could greatly increase the amount made available through the Arts Council for distribution to the arts generally. Here, since I am discussing specific ways in which the Government could assist the arts, I underline that they could make some changes which would in themselves cost the Government no money.
One important change would be to return to the triennial system of financing the Arts Council. At present, the Arts Council is on an annual budget, and we have the extraordinary state of affairs that less than eight weeks from the beginning of the next financial year the Arts Council still has not been officially informed what its grant for next year will be, which, in turn, means that it is unable to inform all those multitudinous organisations whose survival depends on it what their income for next year will be.
This is a disastrous situation for any organisation, but for certain organisations dependent on the Arts Council—for example, Covent Garden, whose budget runs literally into millions—it is preposterous.
The Arts Council would benefit enormously if it were allowed to go back to the old system of triennial finance. Under that system, in June of each year the Arts Council would be given an estimate of the grant likely to be made available to it in the following financial year, with further estimates of what would be available in the second and third financial years beyond that. At the beginning of the following calendar year, in about January, the estimate for the next financial year would be made firm, and the 45 estimates for the second and third years would be revised in the light of inflation or any other relevant considerations. I plead with the Government, through my hon. Friend the Minister, to give serious consideration to returning to that system of finance.
There is yet another way in which the Government could give enormous assistance to the performing arts without themselves directly spending money—that is, to take steps to preserve the buildings in which performances of the arts occur, notably the theatres.
Theatres considered as buildings are subject to some very odd influences in our market economy. For obvious reasons, they tend to be in the centre of cities, and they tend, therefore, to be in those parts of cities which have maximum site values. London's theatres, of course, are concentrated in the West End, where site values are among the highest in the land. Moreover, because of their nature, theatres, though large buildings, are in use for only a few hours out of the 24. This means that, considered brutally in exclusively economic terms, they are uneconomic buildings, and this makes them a standing temptation to the property developer.
If market forces alone are to be allowed to determine the future of our theatres, I fear that many of them will have no future at all, because it will always be more profitable in purely monetary terms to knock down these buildings in the centre of cities, especially in London's West End, and replace them with multi-storey office blocks. If that is allowed to happen—it has already happened in a number of cases in London, which has lost some of its best loved theatres purely to the greed of the property developers—the future for the theatre will be dark indeed. It is within the Government's power, without spending money, to preserve these buildings for their existing use.
I shall not make specific suggestions as to how this might be done. Many suggestions have been made. Equity, the actors' union, has asked the Government to consider nationalising the buildings. A body which has been set up to try to save London's theatres has made the alternative suggestion that the sites might be nationalised. It would be possible to list the theatres so that either the buildings 46 or the sites could be used only for their existing purposes, without nationalising either.
The Government should consider those possibilities carefully, and I beg them in any event not only to consider the problem but to choose one or other solution so that, without involving themselves in expenditure, they ensure that the theatre buildings themselves are preserved.
The Government could help also with the National Theatre building itself. In the light of the history of this project, it is interesting to consider its present position. For decades, radicals in the theatre have been campaigning to have a National Theatre and a National Theatre building. But, now that we are on the verge of having one, it begins to look to some people as though it is part of the establishment and we are in the paradoxical and ironical situation of seeing radicals in the theatre now campaigning against it.
The true explanation, when one looks into it, I think, is that in our present state of financial stringency, when the sums of money made available to the arts are so small, people working in other parts of the theatre are afraid that a gigantic institution such as the National Theatre—as it undoubtedly will be when the building is open and running, with all three auditoria—will pre-empt scarce resources and starve the rest of the theatre. It seems to me that their hostility to the opening of our National Theatre is based straightforwardly on a fear of the consequences for them. This fear could be assuaged, or entirely removed, and the conflict within the world of the theatre removed, by the assurance of additional resources which it is in the Government's power to bestow.
One of the undesirable consequences of the extreme shortage of money for the art which characterises our national life is that it incites conflict within the arts of the kind I have just instanced. It makes artistes in the same field jealous and frightened of one another, and, worst of all, it makes artistes in the same field frightened of expansion on the part of rivals because of the effect which that has on the availability of scarce resources.
The biggest target of that fear and jealousy over a number of years—certainly in London, and probably in the 47 country as a whole—has been Covent Garden. It is natural that this should be so, because the Royal Opera House is far and away the biggest single spender of Arts Council money. For many years now, voices have been raised to say that Covent Garden should have less so that other artistic enterprises in the country could have more.
I believe that this hostility—financial hostility—to Covent Garden is misplaced for many reasons. One reason is that, in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles with which it has had to contend, Covent Garden has raised its standards during the past 20 years until they are at their best equivalent to any to be found anywhere in the world, and it has done this, and is continuing to do so, in spite of extreme shortage of money in its own operations.
The chorus at Covent Garden is far too small; it is smaller than that of the English National Opera at the Coliseum. The workship capacity is too small. Its backstage facilities generally are too small. The orchestra is too small, with the result that members of the orchestra are overworked and orchestral standards are lower than they would otherwise be, and lower than they need be.
There is need for a bigger orchestra pit at Covent Garden. In fact, the need is of two kinds—need for room to accommodate a larger number of musicians, and need also for room to improve the orchestral sound. Acoustics experts have advised that one reason why the quality of orchestral sound at Covent Garden is not as good as it might be is that the pit is so constricted that there is insufficient reverberation of sound in the pit before it emerges into the auditorium. What is desirable at Covent Garden therefore, is that the front row of the stalls should be removed entirely and the orchestra pit extended so that it could take the greater number of players needed and at the same time give the improved quality of sound which is so much needed. Again the obstacles to this are purely financial. To remove that one row of the stalls permanently would cost Covent Garden between £30,000 and £40,000 in revenue a year. In its present financial state it cannot afford to meet that expenditure.
48 Covent Garden is suffering in all sorts of ways. It has had to abandon some productions and postpone others. Completion of "The Ring" has had to be postponed until next year. Covent Garden is still hundreds of thousands of pounds short of the money that it requires even for the coming financial year. In this situation standards are not merely threatened; I am afraid that already standards are falling. I do not think that anyone who is familiar with what goes on at Covent Garden would deny—though perhaps many would not wish to say so in public—that artistic standards there are lower now than they were four years ago. I repeat that for an organisation of that size and degree of complexity—which, if it is to compete in the international market for singers and conductors, must lock itself into contracts with artistes two years ahead—not even to know what its income is going to be eight weeks ahead is to put it under almost crippling financial disabilities. I do not know what its income for next year will be. I suppose it will be about £3 million, or slightly more, but it would be surprising if it were as much as £3¼ million. The need, if it is to maintain its standards, is for about £4 million.
I should like to make some comparisons with the situation abroad. For example, the opera company at Frankfurt, in Germany, does not pretend to be one of the world's front-line opera houses. It does not imagine that it is in the same league as those companies in its own country such as Hamburg and Munich. Yet last year the Frankfurt Opera Company had a public subsidy of £4 million, and the public subsidy for this coming calendar year, in 1975, of £5 million was already voted on and committed at the beginning of last year. Subsidies of this order, almost twice what our national opera house gets, come not from the Federal Government of Germany but from the city authority of Frankfurt.
Something of this kind happens to the even more important and better opera houses in Hamburg and Munich. Those opera companies are all subsidised to the extent of about £6 million a year, and that is the order of subsidy which all the international opera houses, except for Covent Garden, enjoy. It is the order of 49 subsidy for opera houses such as La Scala and Vienna. Hamburg and Munich get these subsidies of £6 million not from the national government but from the regional government, from the Bavarian Government in the case of Munich and from the Hamburger Land Government in the other case. What a contrast with the picture of public subsidy in this country.
Another extremely important effect of public subsidies in the performing arts is to enable ticket prices to be kept lower than would otherwise be the case. This is especially so with opera. It is particularly important for social reasons, if for no other, that ticket prices should not be allowed to rise the slightest fraction more than is absolutely necessary. It is only by public subsidy, especially of the most expensive of all the performing arts, which is opera, that ticket prices can be kept down to a reasonable level.
I turn to the situation of orchestras in this country, and this is the last of the specific examples which I want to give. The situation governing orchestras in this country parallels that which governs the theatre and opera houses of which I have been speaking. In London we are uniquely favoured by the number of first-class orchestras which we have. There are four symphony orchestras in London, in addition to the symphony orchestras of the BBC, our outstandingly fine chamber orchestras, the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields and the English Chamber Orchestra and the orchestras of our major opera houses. No other city in the world has that number of orchestras and, in consequence, this amount of first-rate orchestral music. We give, of public money, to each of our four London symphony orchestras about £120,000 a year. The major orchestras in other countries with which they have to compete get subsidies of over £1 million a year. Even the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam—and I remind the House that Holland is much smaller than this country and has a much lower level of national resources—gets over £1 million in public subsidy, as indeed does the orchestra in Paris, while the orchestra in Berlin gets over £2 million of public money.
People may think that in the United States the situation is significantly 50 different. Most of us have a picture of the arts in America as being entirely dependent on private patrons and very little provided for by public money. By our standards that is not the case. Recently I met in London the man who manages the Los Angeles Orchestra, which would not claim to be one of the front-line American orchestras. It is not an orchestra of world class like Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago or Cleveland. Yet the Los Angeles Orchestra gets a subsidy of $500,000 a year from the county authority. The county government of Los Angeles makes available another $500,000 for facilities such as the free use of the Hollywood Bowl for its concerts. Therefore, from the county authority the orchestra gets a total subsidy of $1 million a year. The Los Angeles city gives the orchestra $65,000 a year in addition.
I am not asking the Government to give subsidies of this order to all four of London's symphony orchestras. That could not be justified on artistic grounds, let alone financial grounds. There is not the artistic need or the possibility of having four world-class orchestras in London. But what I should like to see happen—and it is within the Government's power to help it to happen—is the amalgamation of those four orchestras into two, one based at the Royal Festival Hall and the other based at the Barbican Hall, which is due to open later in this decade. I should like to see those two properly established orchestras absorb the other two, and those musicians in the other two who were not absorbed into the two established symphony orchestras would be very much needed by the orchestras of our national opera houses where orchestral standards are not as high as they could be or need to be.
One aspect of the question which we are discussing concerns the working lives of the artistes involved in the arts. One of the most important ways in which the arts are subsidised at the moment, and should not be subsidised, is by sacrifices made by the performing artistes. It is possible for our symphony orchestras to produce works at the level at which they do produce them only because the musicians are overworked; they work many weeks at a stretch and often without a day off. They have low salaries, with low or no pensions. They have very bad rehearsal 51 facilities in outlying places, involving them in yet more burdensome travel at difficult hours. This kind of subsidy for our arts is the one kind of subsidy that we ought to try to abolish. One of our aims in reestablishing, for example, the symphony orchestras of London on a different foundation should be to transform completely the working conditions of the musicians.
There is no doubt, and I do not think anyone involved with these things will question what I am saying, that an improvement in the working and living conditions and the security of the artistes concerned would have a considerable artistic bonus. It would result in a considerable rise in standards, and the better these people are the more money they make, so there is even a financial aspect to that matter, too.
So far I have spoken only of London, and I have done so for some very good reasons. In a country as tiny as ours it is inevitable that artistic ventures should be concentrated in the capital city. It is also unavoidable that centres of excellence in a small society like ours have a profound effect throughout the whole of society and influence artistic activities taking place everywhere else. However, there is another side to the coin, and that is the artistic improverishment of the regions. The situation is utterly extraordinary when compared with the situation in Germany, Italy or even in some respects France and the United States.
It is not possible for our excellent London-based ochestras and opera and ballet companies to meet the need in the regions by touring because there simply are not the places for them to visit and perform in. It is an astounding fact that outside London there is no theatre which can take the full stage productions of the Royal Opera Company of Covent Garden. With the doubtful exception of the Hippodrome in Bristol, there is not a single theatre which can accommodate the productions of the Royal Ballet Company of Covent Garden. Outside London there is only one fully-equipped concert hall, and that is in Liverpool. This is a fantastic degree of improverishment. I shall not launch into comparisons between this country and other countries because on that front they would be painful to any patriotic Englishman.
52 When considering spending money on the arts, especially the arts in the regions, we should consider the effect the arts have on community life in ways which are not directly artistic. We have seen what can happen in the case of many repertory theatres in the regions. The buildings become social centres with restaurants, coffee shops, clubs, jazz concerts, lectures, film shows and so on. But they can also become centres from which people move out into the community. The actors in these repertory theatres can, and do, get involved with amateur theatrical enterprises in the communities in which they live. Perhaps most important, the actors and musicians can be made available for work in schools.
Here enormously valuable work can be done and has begun to be done. I have in mind not just that actors should visit schools and put on plays, or that musicians should visit and give concerts, but that they should actually rehearse with the children, direct them in plays and concerts, and sit around with them in seminars or in the classroom to discuss what they are doing. In other words, the professional artistes should create a workshop situation in the schools. This can be done, and the means to do it are there if the artistes are there. Young actors—and most of them are young—have shown themselves to be extremely enthusiastic for enterprises of this kind, and all that is needed is encouragement and a bit of money from the local authority.
The local authorities have so far shown themselves unwilling to spend more than a pitiful amount on promoting activities of this kind. In 1972–73 they spent £2,500 million on education, yet they spent less than £16 million on the arts. The training that it is possible to give children by bringing artistes, in co-operation with the local authority, into the schools is of incalculable value in all sorts of ways. Not only should all our children be involved in the theatre, drama, painting and music as a normal part of education, but everyone should be taught to read music as one is taught to read a language and everyone should be taught to play an instrument.
This is training not only the professional artistes of the future, who are a very small proportion of the children involved. It is preparing the audiences 53 of the future and even the patrons of the future. Some of these children will be local councillors or will work in firms and schools. They will have a hand in buying pictures and commissioning artists in all sorts of ways. I know that local authorities face their worst financial crisis for a long time, but I apply the same argument to them as I applied to the national Government at the beginning of my speech. Because times are bad and the need is great, now is the time for them seriously to rethink their priorities. In times of extreme financial stringency I do not believe in making cuts across the board. When the authorities have to cut they must most seriously consider which things can be done without. They must be prepared actually to increase expenditure in some other areas. We did precisely that during the war, and the arts were beneficiaries, and we should do it now.
There is one other source of patronage, and that is the private patron. We have a number of private patrons in Britain. The Guinness company assists the Wexford Festival, the Wills company the London Philharmonic, the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation assists the London Symphony Orchestra and, most imaginative, the Midland Bank gives help to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet Companies at Covent Garden. What these private firms do is itself an indication of how much more can be done with Government encouragement. I plead with the Government most seriously to consider emulating the United States and other countries in making the money that is given to the arts by private individuals and business firms exempt from tax to some degree. That kind of encouragement for the private patron would be of enormous benefit to the arts.
It is of great advantage to the arts that there should be a multiplicity of patrons. It is not good for the arts or the patronage that all the commissions should come from one source or that they should all come from sources of one particular kind, like local authorities. It is considerably to the advantage of the arts that they should come from as many different sources as possible, and the very quirkiness and eccentricity of the private patron often adds to the value of his patronage and to what comes out of it.
I am not speaking of one side of industry. The TUC should get much 54 more involved in the arts than it has done in the past. I am pleased to say that it has at least set up a special committee to deal with the subject. I hope that the trade unions here will learn many lessons from the Scandinavian trade unions, which have been fruitful patrons of the arts.
I hope there will be more co-operation of another kind from some of the trade unions involved in artistic ventures. The technicians, electricians, stage hands and so on who work behind the scenes in the performing arts are every bit as indispensable to the success of performances as the actors and singers. They do not always behave in that way, however, and, to do them justice, they have not always been treated as if they are indispensable. They should be brought into the community enterprise and made to feel part of it, and I hope that in response to that kind of approach they would be much more co-operative—I am thinking in particular of the recent dispute at the Coliseum—than they have sometimes been in the past. In disputes of that kind there are two sides, and one of the two sides at fault was certainly the union side.
Yet another way of financing the arts which would not cost the Government anything would be the use of the lottery system. I would very much like to see lotteries used to finance artistic enterprises. Almost every one of the buildings, for example, of the kind for which I listed the need earlier could be paid for by one monthly national lottery of the sort that is employed in France. I have listed a catalogue of specific needs that exist in the world of the arts. They are needs which it is within the power of government to meet.
Although I have spoken at great length, the case that I have made is in many important respects incomplete, and I shall leave it incomplete. I have said virtually nothing about the visual arts. I have said virtually nothing about the need to subsidise creative artists as distinct from performing artistes. I have talked almost entirely about the performing arts for two good reasons. The first reason is that by far and away the biggest spenders of public money are the performing artistes. It is therefore more relevant to talk about them than about any other kind of artistes in the context of a debate of this 55 kind. The second reason is that I happen to have had a lifelong involvement in one capacity or another with the performing arts. It is a subject of which I have some knowledge. I know something about the organisation and running of that sector of the arts.
I have not talked about all the major areas of need in the performing arts. I have said almost nothing about ballet, for example, yet we have a world famous ballet company—it is widely thought to be the best ballet company in the world—that does not even have a theatre of its own. It can perform on only half the evenings of the week in a theatre which it shares with an opera company.
I have said nothing about the film industry, yet it is moribund for lack of public money. It desperately needs public finance. I will give one figure and from that one comparison hon. Members can draw all the lessons that I wish to draw. The British Film Institute now provides for the British film industry £110,000 a year in subsidy. France subsidises films to the tune of £13 million a year. Italy subsidies its film industry to the extent of £14 million a year. The incompleteness of my case and the fact that I have left out so many deserving areas of artistic activity means that the case is very much stronger than that which I have been able to make even in the time available. I am sure that the case will be much strengthened by other speakers.
My last point is that all the needs that I have instanced could be met by one man if he were determined and if he had the imagination and the political will to do so. They could be met by one decision from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The total increase in central Government expenditure that we are talking of is of the order of £50 million a year or less. It may be tactless of me to recall it, but there was an incident in this Chamber only a week ago last Wedesday in which, contrary to the Chancellor's expectations, he found himself called upon by a vote of this House to find an extra £54 million in his forthcoming Budget for expenditure in the next year. I cannot pretend that he was pleased by that. He lost his temper and shouted at many people, including me.
56 I am prepared to forgive my right hon. Friend for that. I am prepared to overlook that incident, on condition that he listens to me in the context of this debate. The example to which I have referred shows that the Chancellor can, if called upon, find a sum of that magnitude in the Budget even at short notice. If we look more than one year ahead it can be done given the political will.
It is something of a paradox that the survival of the creative arts depends on money which is made available by party politicians. Given that that is the case, there is nothing that we can do collectively or individually which is of greater value and enrichment to our national life and the community that we are supposed to serve than to increase the money which it is in the power of the Government, drawn from our numbers and sustained by us in office to give, and without which the arts cannot survive.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind the House that this is a brief debate. Unless there can be less enthusiasm there will be a great deal of frustrated oratory.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) and I thank him for giving us this opportunity to debate an important subject. Already a third of our time for the debate has gone. I hope that the Minister will seek other opportunities to debate this matter. If he wanted to do so he could find the time even if he cannot find the money for the arts.
I wish to make a brief and unembroidered intervention. I share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm but he must know that we cannot all do it his way. He must know in his heart that he will not get the total amount of money required from the Chancellor. It would be demoralising and initiative-sapping if all the money came from the Exchequer.
I hope that the Minister has come here today, despite the present financial stringency, with a few new ideas. I hope that he will present some ideas in terms of the new ground which could be broken. I also hope that he will say something about his position in the Government. We do our best to bolster him up on 57 occasions. It is not all criticism and attack. For instance, what is his relationship with the Department of the Environment, which owns the greater part of our national heritage that is in public hands and with which the Minister's Department must be greatly involved? What is his relationship with broadcasting, the outlet for much of that which the Minister subsidises? What is he doing about industrial design and the great Department of State involved there?
I share the hope that we shall have some continuity in arts finance. It is not satisfactory to leave the Arts Council guessing right up to this moment, even though it has had a few gentle hints from the Minister. It cannot make any planned progress unless it knows where it is. Although I cannot go as far as the hon. Member for Leyton, it surely should be a growth industry and not a stagnant or declining affair.
I come straight to some proposals for alternative finance. We must be realists. There have been some notable examples of patronage on the part of industry despite its present difficulties. Local authorities cannot be expected to do much more at present. So far their efforts have proved extraordinarily uneven. An influential and persuasive Minister could persuade some of them that are not doing their bit by pledging a little for the future if they are not prepared to do it now.
We must consider bringing finance back into the arts from the public and private sectors of broadcasting. The Under-Secretary of State was present when I had words the other day with the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is responsible for broadcasting. I suggested that because BBC 2 would obviously have to suffer some financial stringency because of the present BBC licence proposals, there would be a considerable loss to the arts. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was not his affair but the affair of the Under-Secretary of State. I hope that he will mention that matter.
Next, there is the missed opportunity of ITV 2 which many of my hon. Friends wish had been introduced some time ago. I hope that the Minister will give some thoughts about what he might say to the Annan Committee. There is no doubt 58 that out of the Annan Report should come more finance for the arts. I hope that the Minister will not be shy to give evidence to Annan by whatever process is appropriate.
We have heard a little about opera. It must be true that more people could see the opera on the television in one week than could possibly get into Covent Garden between now and the end of the century. Any of the unkind and jealous remarks made about Covent Garden could surely be set at nought if only the opera were to be televised a great deal more. In one of the national papers today a headline suggests that we can now all go to the opera. That is because there is to be televised by the BBC the present production of Verdi's "The Masked Ball". The production is possible because of the finance put into the production by the Imperial Tobacco Company and the National Westminster Bank. I feel that I, too, have a part to play in this matter because, running a struggling stately home, I have paid the National Westminster branch in South Street, Dorchester, enough in interest charges in recent years to have given a considerable boost to that production. I am glad that at least some of the money has gone to a good cause.
The point about this initiative by these two great public companies—national institutions, one might call them—is that they will get no credits on the television screen for financing the production. That would be against the rules of the BBC. The BBC is not allowed to say, "by courtesy of" or "sponsored by".
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give attention to this aspect. After all, a great deal of advertising goes on through the BBC now. It frequently shows sporting events sponsored, rightly, by great companies, and one sees their names through the camera, even if, as it were, it is accidental. Indeed, there have been complaints about it. If we want great companies to do these good things for the arts and sporting events, they must be allowed some public credit for it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will talk to his colleagues in the Home Office about this matter.
I welcome also the way in which the unions are at last showing common sense in this matter. It was not possible at 59 one time to televise opera productions because of the vast fees asked by some performers. Now they are being more realistic and are embracing television as a friend and not regarding it as an enemy.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will adopt a flexible approach towards housing the arts. We must make greater use of our historic buildings, including redundant churches. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know how in the land of your fathers so much of your music is generated in churches and chapels. Incidentally Wales was the land of my birth. We should make more use not only of redundant churches but of our living cathedrals.
How many cathedrals are fully used for artistic and cultural activities? Has the hon. Gentleman any figures? It does not look as if he has any. Perhaps he can go into the subject with some care, because a little or even no help could make it possible for many people to enjoy performances by national orchestras and others in our cathedrals. Cathedrals are the ideal places for a certain kind of music. Some of the more recent works of contemporary composers are perhaps hardly suitable for ecclesiastical buildings, but some of the earlier music—the sort which I prefer, in any case—is often very suitable to gothic architecture. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think about that.
Museums and galleries are having a difficult time. What can we do to bring them to a wider public? Some already do a splendid job. Some of our national institutions do better than others. Some local museums are quite splendid in serving the community. One of these is the Dorset County Museum—a private enterprise concern, which is not run by the county council, although the council does give a little help. There is a tremendous expansion under way, with new buildings and the funds being raised by private subscription. If that museum and others, such as the Kendal Museum, can do it, so could local authority museums.
The hon. Gentleman is the catalyst in this matter. He has a unique opportunity to encourage museums and galleries.
In the theatre the problem of value added tax looms large. It is a compre 60 hensive tax. We knew when it was introduced that it would produce considerable difficulties in certain directions, but we never intended that the performing arts should be crippled through it. If the Government remove VAT from theatre tickets, they must also do so for museums and galleries and so on.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and I combined recently to do our little towards saving the national heritage, at least in part, from the threat of taxation. It was all due to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and her team on the Finance Bill that we got the concession that the Government have announced in Committee upstairs. The Government have given a firm pledge, but we need to see the details. We cannot preserve the national heritage without the resources, so the concession will have to encompass houses, contents, gardens, supporting estates, and, in some cases, trust funds as well.
The hon. Member for Leyton spoke at some length about theatre buildings. The Under-Secretary of State and I have had exchanges in Standing Committee, when he showed how concerned he is not only to preserve the fabric but the use of such buildings. I hope that he still bears this in mind.
There is the problem of the theatre museum. Perhaps we made a mistake in thinking that Somerset House would be ideal. Of course we must have a theatre museum, but I wonder whether the wealth of material can properly be displayed in the fine rooms there. The commitment so far is that there should be a theatre museum. It is not an irrevocable commitment that it should be in Somerset House. There is the rival claim now of the Turner Collection. Probably, with the fine rooms and one side of the courtyard, the Turner Collection could be well displayed in Somerset House which might be more suitably for it than a theatre museum. Surely, in the Covent Garden area, among the buildings which are now vacant there is room for a theatre museum which would be far better than we could have in Somerset House.
There is also the question of Public Lending Rights. Could not a self-financing scheme be used to get over this problem? Could there not be, for example, 61 some scheme of extended copyright to 60 years with the extra 10 years for living authors. The hon. Gentleman will understand what I mean.
Another problem is that of the crafts. A number of private enterprise institutions such as West Dean Crofts College, do a splendid job. But could we not have an agency to collect the work of craftsmen and market it? Many craftsmen have considerable problems in marketing their work.
There is also the problem of the national film archives as well as the British Film Institute. A little help here could make a great deal of difference. Many films will be lost for ever unless we do something quickly.
Art teaching in schools is important. Art is about life. Let it be integrated with life and not taken in isolation.
What is the Under-Secretary of State doing about the European Architectural Heritage Year and about the international influence that this country could have across the whole spectrum of the arts? I would like him to be our ambassador of the arts and tell people abroad about the good things that we are doing and that we have, and also to bring back ideas to us.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has anticipated my questions and is receptive to my suggestions. He has a difficult responsibility to fulfil. He will have our support if he displays energy and force in working towards what are, after all, our shared objectives.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) for raising this very important subject today. He gave us an informative and persuasive speech covering the whole range of the nationally-sponsored arts. His speech was not a moment too long, and I am grateful to him for his wide range as it enables me to make my speech much shorter than it would otherwise have been. Unlike certain hon. Members, I have a strong aversion to making points in a debate which have already been made by other hon. Members, particularly if they have been made better than I could make them. I shall confine myself to very 62 few remarks, addressed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on one or two important questions.
I endorse almost everything that the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) said, but I was a little surprised that when he mentioned museums and galleries there was not a blush of humiliation and guilt on his face, because if there is one thing that he and his colleagues in the Conservative Party will never be forgiven for it is their criminal attitude to museums and galleries when they tried to erect a financial barrier between the cultural heritage they contain and the viewing public.
I want to ask some questions which I think my hon. Friend will be able to answer easily. It would be useful if he could reiterate some of the assurances he has given recently. Many people are worried that the amount of money available to the Arts Council has not yet been settled by the Treasury, and, in turn, the Arts Council has not yet found it possible to give a definitive undertaking to its various beneficiaries as to what they will get in the coming year.
There is anxiety amongst those bodies that the undertakings on these matters given by the Government may not be wholly fulfilled. We have been led to believe that it is the purpose of the Government, fully supported by the Minister responsible for the arts, that the support for the arts by the Arts Council will not be allowed to suffer as a result of inflation, and that all enterprises supported by the Arts Council will receive sufficient grants to enable them to carry on at the same standards as in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton asked for much more than that. He wants the Arts Council grant doubled, if not trebled. That would be lovely, but I do not think we can expect it. I shall be satisfied if, during this year, they receive from the Treasury sufficient money to ensure that the present standard of excellence achieved by the theatres and other Arts Council supported bodies, including museums and galleries, can continue at the same level, with the prospect of a substantial increase next year and in the year, to come. Will my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the arts, repeat his assurance?
63 One of the reasons why there is some anxiety on this matter is that in their speeches some Ministers, perhaps unintentionally, have given rise to doubts as to what will happen. A short time ago the Lord President of the Council said that everybody, including actors, would have to tighten their belts. I cannot believe he meant that. May we have some reassurance that the money available for the arts will not be reduced; that it will not be too long before the amounts are announced, and that the arts will not suffer as a result of inflation. It would indeed be foolish and tragic if we allowed the standards of excellence which have been built up, especially in the performing arts, to be reduced because of inflation. Once the standard of an artistic enterprise, such as the theatre, opera or ballet, is allowed to fall, it is difficult to recover it, and irremedial damage can be done.
I should like to say a word in support of the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton—which I know the Minister responsible for the arts has very much at heart—for the preservation of our existing theatres, not only for the reasons he gave but for the reasons which I believe are very important. I do not believe that the theatres can now be built which are as attractive for drama, ballet or opera as theatres built in the latter part of the last century and the early part of this century. These have a warmth and a welcome which enchants any audience the moment it enters the theatre, and which, in turn, must be encouraging to actors and actresses. However fine and magnificent the new theatres may be, and however acoustically perfect, all those I have seen lack—I am a little fearful that even the National Theatre may lack it—that atmosphere which can be found only in theatres built in the 50 years between 1890 and 1940.
I ask the Minister responsible for the arts what is happening to the National Theatre. We know that, through no fault of the National Theatre Board, further delays are occurring. First, we were told that the National Theatre was likely to open last year. Then we were told that it was likely to open in the early part of this year. Then we were led to expect 64 that it would open in the latter part of this year. Now we understand that it will probably not be opening before the early part of next year. That is the fault not of the National Theatre Board but of the construction industry. Never mind whose fault it is. It is not only exceedingly disappointing but very costly, as every time it is announced that the builders expect that the theatre will be ready by a certain date, the theatre board becomes active, employs technicians, engages staff, and makes arrangements to open all at great expense. That expense is particularly infuriating if, a short time later, the whole project has to be cancelled.
I ask my hon. Friend what is the present position of the National Theatre. Can we receive any assurance on the matter? Many questions were asked about this when we discussed the National Theatre a short while ago; in particular, whether, in spite of all the delays and the increased cost, due to inflation, which will arise as a result of those delays, the additional amounts, supplied by the Arts Council to support its other sponsored activities, will not prevent the full operation of the National Theatre when construction is finally completed.
In an earlier debate I expressed my hope that the desire of some people to turn the Old Vic, when the National Theatre leaves it, into an opera or ballet theatre, should be turned down. It would mean extensive reconstruction of the auditorium of the Old Vic and would seriously damage its atmosphere. I am glad now to learn that the Old Vic will continue, as it traditionally has been, a theatre—its delightful auditorium preserved—showing classical plays, and will not be used for other purposes.
Museums and galleries are late, too, in receiving information from the Government about the amount of their annual grants. I assume that the delay—possibly inevitable because of the economic circumstances of today, does not mean any reduction, and that museums and galleries will receive, like the theatres, an increased allocation to make up for inflation.
I have heard a rumour—I do not know whether it is true; perhaps the Minister will comment on it—that there is a proposal that some of the museums and 65 galleries in London will suffer a diminution in Government financial support for the benefit of museums and galleries in the regions. I am all for increasing the money and contributions to the regions, which I think may need it as much as, and perhaps more than, London. However, I do not think that that should be used as an excuse to reduce the contributions at present paid to London galleries and museums.
We have heard of the proposal, advanced in responsible circles, to house the Turner pictures in Somerset House. That matters was touched upon by the hon. Member for Bristol, West. Many people feel keenly about the matter, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). Both Sir John Betjeman and Mr. Henry Moore suggest that this would be an appropriate place in which to house permanently this great collection of pictures. Many of us have seen it recently at Burlington House.
At first, I was entranced by the idea, but, reluctantly, I have reached the conclusion that it is a doubtful proposal. I am unwilling to disagree with the views of Mr. Henry Moore, who is a warm friend of mine as I accept his views on all artistic matters. But I wonder whether it is a good idea to concentrate the works of a great artist like Turner in one place. Is it not far better to maintain a policy of dispersal? The Turner pictures are pretty well dispersed at the moment. There is a magnificent collection at the Tate, where they can be seen together with the gallery's exhibition of other English artists. I should like to see Turner pictures in galleries throughout the country. The idea of concentrating them in one place and therefore making them much more difficult for visitors to see when they go to a gallery to see a wide range of pictures, possibly for comparison purposes, is a doubtful one.
There are technical reasons, too, why it would be unwise to put these pictures in Somerset House. There are lighting difficulties. There would have to be artificial lighting which would be expensive and difficult to arrange. Water colours could be exhibited only for a short time, or they deteriorate. On the face of it, this is an 66 attractive suggestion, but I feel it should be considered carefully before it is accepted.
Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East believes, in my view the suggested use of Somerset House for a theatre museum should not be abandoned. The idea of a theatre museum has been discussed for many years. There is a strong case for putting together the magnificent collections which now exist in the Victoria and Albert, Leighton House and many other places, of costumes, documents, scenery and other evidence of our theatrical history. They should be put together for the benefit of historians and the public.
After much discussion it has been agreed that Somerset House would be a good place in which to house such a comprehensive theatre museum. Under the auspices of the Victoria and Albert, the project has now been organised and settled. It is hoped to open the museum in about a year.
Somerset House may not be the ideal place. The ideal arrangement would be to build a new museum. But Somerset House is there. It is a lovely building, and it would be more than adequate. Of course, if we were prepared to spend the money we could readopt some of the buildings which have been abandoned in the Covent Garden area. I am told, for example, that at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of pounds the Flower Market would make an even better museum. But unless that is guaranteed, it would be unwise to abandon the Somerset House project. The theatre is the art form in which this country is outstanding, and to have a museum devoted to it is a good idea, which should not be jeopardised. This is a minor problem for my hon. Friend the Minister, but it is being persuasively urged upon him from many authoritative directions which cannot be ignored. I ask him to act cautiously.
Above all else, I want the assurance from the Minister asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton that the amount of money to be made available by the Government to the Arts Council will be maintained at least at its present level in the next year or two. We 67 are fortunate in having Ministers responsible for the arts who have such a deep personal interest in them. The Labour Party is on record as having, on all occasions, both in this House and in local government, endeavoured to carry out its philosophy of giving high priority to the arts and public availability of the arts.
In this House, we now have a Minister responsible for the arts who from personal experience is deeply involved in one aspect of the arts, and I know that he is equally interested in many others. We have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is similarly interested in and devoted to the arts. He has always taken an immense interest in their development. We also have a Financial Secretary to the Treasury interested in the arts. He is a key man in the Government set-up, as it is he who considers and, if necessary, vetoes all requests which come to the Treasury for departmental expenditure. We have, therefore, three people who are anxious to do all in their power to help the arts and to prevent any deterioration during the period of inflation.
I am therefore sure that the Minister will give the House satisfactory replies to the questions which I and others have asked. I await his reply with confidence.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I wish to emphasise two points which have been made already. The first is that the Arts Council should be told as soon as possible what its allocation is to be. The second is that there should be a triennial budget for the arts.
Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I welcome this opportunity to debate this important subject of support for the arts. If I appear to approach it from a slightly different angle from that of previous speakers in the debate, it is not because of any conceivable antagonism either to the motives which have led them to make their speeches or to the arts themselves.
We are bound to ask not only that adequate resources are made available to the arts but for what purpose these resources are to be used. I was impressed greatly by the annual report of the Arts Council, but I had one slight reservation 68 about it. It seemed to be saying that there must always be an increase in real terms in the amount of resources available to the arts.
I question that approach. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) that the amounts in question are very small and that the time is very apposite for giving the nation some sort of lift. But the Government must be beset by people demanding more resources, all pointing out that the amounts are very small and that this is the moment for their projects to be carried out. The fact is that, unfortunately, production of all sorts in this country is not rising.
I do not believe that all-round increased expenditure necessarily encourages creativity, and it is about the encouragement of creativity that we should be most concerned. Further, for reasons which go wider, I question the attitude which judges the success of Ministers in charge of the arts, of members of the Arts Council and of museum and gallery curators simply by the amount of public money that they can squeeze out of the Treasury.
We live in times when the nation is split into innumerable bureaucracies each claiming more in terms of salaries, pensions, payments in kind, perquisites and funds to be spent. We still have "growth", no matter what sort, as our dominant fashion. Public authorities especially must use more of everything. In this process values go by the board.
This seems to be the onset of barbarism. The Barbarians grabbed what they could and were incapable of economy or restraint. They had little regard for the past and still less for the future. Above all, they had no respect for individual flowering, freedom or the common good of communities.
Civilisation has not only accepted economy, it has seen economy as being essential to its values. Civilisation has stood for the individual and for individual choice in a decent society. Civilisation has never been achieved by the worship of size, the pursuit of growth for growth's sake or the spectacular waste which is the feature of much public wisdom today. Art is intimately concerned with civilisation, and it is indeed the core of the 69 civilising values which have fought against barbarism.
Painters have never demanded more and more colours on their palettes. Art in general has been a matter of choice and of making use of hard materials. Very often it has been a matter of some astringency. I regard art as the main hope of the twentieth century in its struggle against dehumanised, wasteful and self-destructive attitudes—bureaucratic attitudes. I must, therefore, be disturbed that sometimes the arts seem to be in danger of bureaucracy and in danger of catching the fatal disease that we must all always demand more and more.
I welcome the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) that we should look to the use of cathedrals for concerts. My own county of Orkney has a beautiful Norman cathedral, Kirkwall, which is used for many public occasions and for concerts.
There are two matters which I wish to mention. I put forward the first with great diffidence. It might be said to be outside the main theme of the speech made by the hon. Member for Leyton. He, quite rightly, was concerned with the living and performing artist. My point is about the policy of art galleries and museums. I make it with diffidence because many people, better qualified than I, take a different view. I believe that the buying up of pictures, china and furniture by the great public galleries needs to be done with extreme care and in moderation. I cannot believe that the £1 million spent on "Diana and Actaeon" was well spent. There are many Titians in the National Gallery. Pictures which go abroad are not destroyed: they are enjoyed by other people. On the other hand, if public money is not available for the preservation of buildings, they are destroyed. If money is not available for the provision of opera houses and theatres, performances do not take place. The Prado buys no more pictures, and I believe that to be right. The Wallace Collection would not benefit if it went on accumulating French furniture.
In every debate of this sort in which I take part I make a plea that the dozens if not hundreds of pictures kept in the basements of galleries which the public never see should either be exposed to 70 view or ultimately be disposed of by those galleries to people who can enjoy them and see them. I reject the view that huge sums must be spent for prestige purposes. Still more do I reject the view that the buying of art is a good investment.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) touched on the question of the Turners. I agree with him. The main reason for considering housing the Turners in Somerset House is to free space in the Tate Gallery. The Tate has a great many pictures which are seldom if ever seen by the public. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. A hundred Turners would be admirable but 500 or 600 would be too much. I very much enjoy going to the National Gallery in Edinburgh and seeing "Summerhill". I hope very much that the pictures of King George IV's visit to Edinburgh will be returned. I do not think that those pictures would be more enjoyable were they to be with the innumerable Turners in the Tate.
There seems to be some point in buying pictures which are intimately connected with the history of the country, and I am more sympathetic, though not entirely sympathetic, to the demands of portrait galleries. It may be right to buy a picture of Sterne to keep in England. I regret the dispersal of the remarkable series of pictures at Gifford House outside Edinburgh. I hope that it might be possible to get the great galleries of the world to enter into a mutual self-denying ordinance not to put up the prices of old masters to astronomical limits. It is done simply for prestige purposes and I am sure that it is not a useful use of public funds.
A purpose for which public money is much needed is the preservation of buildings and areas of cities which are of great beauty and for opera houses and theatres for the performing arts. In this regard I touch on the delicate state of our architecture. Our opera, our music and to a great extent our visual art and our design—I think of the designs of Mary Quant 15 years ago—and of the reputation of our art schools over the last 30 years have reached an international level which has seldom been seen in British art. At the same time our architecture has been 71 appalling. Cannot the Government, the Arts Council or someone do something about the training of architects?
First, there has been the destruction of Birmingham. That is now being repeated in Glasgow. The Scotsman on Saturday contained an article on Glasgow. What is said in the article is true. Glasgow is awful. Even so, the article does not mention the horrors that have been perpetrated in Glasgow's vast bleak housing schemes or in those inverted matchboxes in the Gorbals. Those atrocities have not been committed by wicked private landlords. They have been committed by public authorities employing supposedly highly qualified architects.
At least, we should give up believing that architects are fit to plan. If one takes a visitor round the universities and the great cities one sees that the number of buildings built in the last 30 years that are worth looking at can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and most of them were designed by foreigners. Are we to go on pretending that this dehumanised profession which cannot even carry out its proper task properly should be put in charge of the planning of human communities?
The three points which I wish to put forward are these. First, it is not so important how much money we give to the arts but that we should judge its results by different criteria from expenditure. We should judge its results by the art which flows from it. Secondly, we should concentrate on the living arts, the performing arts, providing artistes with a means of performance and encouraging them, cutting down if necessary upon the accumulation of pictures which are of the greatest artistic merit from the past but which will never-the less be preserved, if not in this country then somewhere else. Thirdly, we should pay attention, particularly in this year, to our legacy of buildings and beautiful cities and villages and do something to improve the standard of architectural training.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) on his choice of subject. We get few opportunities to 72 debate the organisation and future of the arts. I am sorry that this subject appears to be such a minority interest since the arts comprise a very important part of our lives. Therefore, we should seize this opportunity to make our contributions and we hope that, even in this short debate, our speeches will be read by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with great care.
I should at the outset declare a certain interest. I hasten to say that it is not a financial interest but its brings me a fair amount of work. I refer to the fact that I followed my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science as Chairman of the Theatre Advisory Council when he relinquished that post to take up his present appointment.
On 2nd December I took a deputation from the council to see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the vexed problem of VAT on the theatre. The Theatre Advisory Council represents the independent and the subsidised theatres. It represents the Arts Council, the London West End managers and the provincial theatres. The unions in the entertainment world are represented by the Musicians' Union and Equity. Therefore, the council is a very representative body, and when we visited my right hon. Friend we were speaking for the whole of the entertainment industry. I think I can say that he listened to us sympathetically.
Since that time the Evening Standard has taken up the campaign and it is being supported by members of the theatrical profession. Although not a large amount of money is involved, a very important principle is at stake. I support the view that the price of theatre and concert tickets should not be kept as high as it is at present, for if it is we shall have falling audiences in our theatres and attendances will decline even more than they have declined in latter years.
I am concerned at the view that the theatre and opera appeal to only a minority of the community. We need to examine the way in which the money now used in the arts is employed. We have a difficult problem of trying to persuade whole sections of the community that the theatre is a place for them. I am afraid that the theatre is regarded as 73 an upper middle-class entertainment. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) mentioned the City of Birmingham and its buildings. It is a surprising fact that although many cities have been rebuilt since the war, the threatres within them are still not supported by the large mass of the people.
I also happen to be a member of the Round House Management Council, and recently we have been trying to raise money for the redevelopment of that theatre. We seek to transform it into a real community arts centre embracing all sorts of activities and this, I believe will reflect the future development of the theatre. It is a building in which the public can view plays and in which people can put on theatre workshop productions; where they can do photography where amateurs can stage their performances, and indeed where the public can go in much the same way as they attend functions in public houses. People can also take their children in the centre and involve them in play groups, drama and all the rest of it.
We envisage a building that will be open seven days a week, from 10 o'clock in the morning until midnight or beyond. Films could be screened and late-night pop concerts could be staged. Classical concerts and other activities could also be put on. All these activities would amount to a stimulating and exciting form of community centre.
We are trying—with limited funds and, I am glad to say, with some help from the Arts Council—to organise the rebuilding of what was an old engine shed at Chalk Farm. To supplement the funds we receive from the Arts Council, we decided to launch an appeal. The appeal was aimed at firms, organisations, trade unions, and so on. I regret to say that the result has been absolutely depressing. We have reached only a small part of our total target. We found very few firms willing to risk even a few thousand pounds, which is not a lot of money for a flourishing and well-established firm to donate. We found the trade unions similarly timid about providing any money at all for what we hoped the trade union movement would regard as a rather exciting project. Therefore, we cannot be sanguine about what can be achieved by such approaches.
74 I believe that we shall achieve a thriving and flourishing theatre only if we are able to stimulate all sections of the community to think that the theatre is something for them and something in which they must be involved. Therefore, we need to look at ways and means of attracting people into the theatre, whether it be the drama, ballet or whatever it may be. We might have more success with our efforts if we transform some of our conventional theatres into community arts centres of the kind I have described, and, above all, if those centres were situated in places where people live and work rather than in some beautiful park remote from the community.
One way in which we could upgrade the whole business of support for the theatre would be by making sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is to reply to the debate, becomes a fully-fledged Minister with his own Department. I believe that there should be such a Minister responsible for this important part of our national life and that he should have the proper backing and support. This will mean nothing less than a Minister with his own Department and entitled Minister for Arts, Culture and Entertainment, or the Minister of Arts and Leisure, or whatever it may be. I hope that this proposal will be considered.
What has been said so far in the debate about the value of the theatre economically is quite irrefutable. The fact is that in 1973 tourists to Great Britain spent the staggering sum of £872 million. The fact that visits to the London theatres can be put up by travel agents as a bait to travellers is a very important matter to be considered. I know that the theatre is often put forward as a tourist attraction when visits to this country are advertised in the United States.
One theatre management responsible for four West End theatres has kept a close check on the box office. That management submitted evidence to the Chancellor that about 30 per cent. of its total clientele throughout the year comes from abroad. The theatre is a very important foreign currency earner.
A total of £3½ million would flow back to theatres if the theatre were zero-rated. This would be excellent insurance to make sure that the money which flows 75 into the country through tourism does not decline. Certainly over the years the total sum flowing from foreign earnings into the United Kingdom has increased, and that is something we want to encourage.
There is no doubt that many theatres are in darkness because of the existence of VAT. It makes all the difference between a successful show and one which cannot continue because of the increased costs—costs which are being met by theatre managements all over the country.
I suggest that if we promote my hon. Friend as a fully fledged Minister—and I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State has returned to the Front Bench, since I am anxious to elevate him—and if we develop our theatres on the lines of community art centres, we shall fully involve the whole of the population in all that is going on. I believe that this is a vital way to bring more people into the theatre and with them more financial support.
I hope it is not too ambiguous to say that, if the Ministry was established on these lines, to aim for about 5 per cent. of the total education Vote might not be unrealistic, not this year or next year, but over three or four years. I do not think it would be unreasonable to hope to get that in order to expand the theatre and music and to stimulate activities of all kinds. We must stimulate creativity by giving opportunities to those who are trained to do the job for which they are trained, and to work in the art form of their choice.
This is probably one way in which we can stimulate more interest in the theatre and in the arts. Without it I do not think we shall achieve the sort of development that all of us would wish. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to indicate that he is prepared to press on these lines for this additional help.
I was impressed by what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said about the training of architects. I am not clear whether he was referring to training architects for house building or for the kind of buildings that we are considering today. There is an urgent need to train architects to build the kind of buildings that we shall need in future, such as community art centres or theatres. But theatres tend to be one-off jobs by 76 architects. We have no tradition in the kind of theatre buildings that are needed. I agree that theatres built before 1912 are delightful and beautiful places and most of them ought to be preserved. My hon. Friend would do a great service if he could stimulate architects into designing the kind of buildings that we need for the future.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
It is an inevitable concept at present that all services which the State subsidises or supplies should be retracted and that logically each should be retracted by a similar amount. In my view, that is a false attitude.
If there is one area in which the confidence, imagination and development of this country has had success in the past 10 or 15 years, it is in the increase in our cultural stature. Here I pay tribute to the late Aneurin Bevan, who insisted on giving local authorities the capability to make provision for this purpose in the local authority grant to the extent of 4¼d in England and 3¾d in Scotland.
I have a broad interest in these matters. I was responsible for the development and the existence of the modern Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. I have served on the Edinburgh Festival Council which might be regarded as a more traditional art form. I have been responsible to an extent for the development of various art galleries and theatres in Edinburgh. I have heard a lot today about Covent Garden, Turner, and so forth. Needless to say there are no Scottish Nationalists here, because they belong to a separatist party and not a Scottish party. In the regions—I do not exclude Wales, Mr. Deputy Speaker—there have been remarkable stimuli of cultural capability on very small budgets. I think that this is a matter which must be advanced and not restricted.
Art is about perfection. It is about élitism and excellence. One cannot cut down on a standard of excellence or artificially stop a movement towards excellence. It is often said—and this argument has been put forward in committee on the Edinburgh Festival—that art is a middle-class or upper-class entertainment. I do not accept that. That is an utterly false attitude. Art is perfection and it 77 is élitist. Unless art is perfection, it is nothing.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. To take a balance of art is wrong. Architecture involves the environment in which all of us live. We allow buildings which are either good or bad works of art to be put up or destroyed. We do not have the same bad standards in other visual concepts.
Is art a good investment? I think that it is an extremely good investment. I hope that what I propose to say is not too nationalistic, but the Scottish Arts Council exists on £1.9 million. It spends on culture, on a conservative estimate, one-fiftieth of what is spent on the bread subsidy in Scotland. About one-tenth, £274,000, is spent on housing the arts, and that is less than the Government spent on creating four new toll booths at the Forth Bridge Road. The Edinburgh Festival, which is without question the major unchallenged international festival, existed last year on a subsidy of £275,000—less than the cost of four toll booths and their associated lights.
Now we begin to get the matter into proportion. If the Philadelphia Report is correct, the annual income to the Edinburgh area from those who go there is about £16 million. From this small investment, trade and income worth £16 million is being generated. I pay tribute to Dr. Diamand and those who are involved in the festival for having maintained the standard with so small an investment.
In Edinburgh there is also the question of the Opera House. In this respect I make a plea to the Minister. When I was first involved in the question of the Opera House it was to cost £2.4 million, but by the time they had dithered the cost had risen to the astronomic sum of £4 million. There has been a futile delay and now the cost is £20 million. If there is one lesson to be learned in the arts, it is that we must invest in the capital of the arts rather than in the income. Although it is normally thought that now is a bad time to invest in the arts, the lesson should be learned by the Minister and impressed on the Chancellor of the Exchequer that now is the best time. Tomorrow is always a worse time.
78 The arts cannot drop their standards. If we allow the income of the arts to fall, it will not be possible to run festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival. We cannot have a low-standard international event. Whatever people's incomes may increase to, there is a psychological point above which we cannot raise a price. In the theatre and the arts we have almost reached that point. We shall therefore have to find a way of raising more money.
I am anxious that there should be more community participation in the arts. I do not like public subsidy of the arts in the way in which the Treasury subsidises false teeth. That is not a good system. I should like the Minister to allow tax relief to companies and individuals so that they can indulge in patronage of a capital object, such as a theatre, opera house or orchestra. That would be of great benefit. If they do not have strong feelings for one or another, let the money be put in a fund which the Arts Council can run. It is bad to have annual accounts, but it is important, when dealing with a subject concerning the way in which the world will judge our civilization, that we should realise that good opera companies, good festivals, good buildings and good exhibitions have an investment value which goes far beyond trivial financial considerations.
I should be the last person to advocate an increase in Government expenditure, but we must sustain the arts and the quality of the arts—which essentially is in a labour-intensive and therefore inflation-vulnerable sphere of investment—and whatever else we allow to drop and whatever other national difficulties there may be, we must keep our culture and civilisation at a level which all other countries will envy.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
It is curious that in any discussion of the arts a differentiation soon creeps in between the architects and the remainder of the arts. That was apparent in the speeches of the right hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). It may be a psychological fact of deeper significance than we think.
Usually artistes are renowned, certainly in literature, for the gaiety of their lives—the demi-monde in which they live and 79 the general attractiveness and sometimes advanced character of their way of life. But it has been pointed out by a great literary authority that it is a curious fact in the history of fiction and literature that there is no recorded case of a heroine in literature losing her reputation or virginity in the company of an architect. That may be a fact of some importance in the diverse considerations which have to be applied first to architecture and then to the other arts.
Being a county councillor, I declare an interest in this debate as a member of a local authority. I wish to say a few words about the last sentence of the motion so ably moved by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), which proposes that the House should callon the Government to take appropriate measures … to encourage local authorities tomultiply public support for the arts.
Local authorities are in a difficult position. They can ignore the other arts if they wish to do so, but they cannot ignore architecture because of the obligations and powers laid on them by the planning Acts, and increasingly they are, facing practical problems which they cannot avoid relating to historic houses, listed buildings and schemes for maintaining the centres of beautiful towns. Increasingly they face situations in which a building needs to be preserved, a large sum of money is needed to repair it and the owner says to the local authority, "You wish this building to be preserved. What are you prepared to pay towards the cost? "If the bill is to be several thousands of pounds, the local authority usually produces a few hundred pounds. That is unsatisfactory and leaves everyone in a false position—local authority, ratepayers, owner, and the Department of the Environment, which wants the building to be preserved. The public are left in a false position, if they are interested, or, if they are not, think that the money has been wasted.
That is one aspect of the problem which affects local authorities, but looking at the matter financially it is part of the general problem of the extent to which local authorities should or could contribute to the cause. In local government, now is not an appropriate time to multiply public support for the arts. According 80 to the Government and all the powers-that-be, it is an appropriate, and indeed imperative, time for economising on almost every aspect of local government expenditure. It is not easy to say to local authorities that they must economise and yet spend more money on the arts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) referred to the forward step taken by the late Aneurin Bevan when he created for local authorities the special capability to spend so much in the pound on the arts. But, in practice, that has not been enough. If we want local authorities to take action, should there not be a new system of finance between central Government and local authorities—in other words, a specific optional grant from the Government in aid of the arts to be administered by local authorities?
There might be great resentment if a special rate subsidy were paid or authorised every year by the Government, but there should be created a scheme of proportionate or percentage grant whereby up to a stated limit of expenditure local authorities could be told, "To anything which you spend up to this level in the cause of the arts in your area the Government will contribute such-and-such a percentage". That would be a specific encouragement to local authorities and might prevent the reproach that local authorities are not interested in this all-important sphere of their activities.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I am specially interested in the way in which we can encourage local authorities and others to support developments in the arts on a regional basis. While I was not a Member of the House for a time, I had the opportunity of helping to establish the Northern Arts Association, or, as it was then, the North-Eastern Association for the Arts, which has proved to be a trail blazer for the other regional bodies which have since been established.
I welcome the support given to that concept by Governments of both parties. There was the work of Baroness Lee as the Minister with special responsibility for the arts. I am particularly glad that the Government have indicated their good will towards this concept. The Arts Council, in its last published report, said 81 that it welcomed this approach and had every intention of maintaining support on a regional basis. It also called attention to the fact that it is not wholly satisfactory that too great a proportion of the support should come direct from central funds, whether the Arts Council or the Government.
There is a great deal to be said for insisting that local authorities should face this problem and the inevitable criticism that is bound to come. If local authorities—in a sense, local communities—do not indicate in a fairly clear way their concern about the position, it is unreasonable to expect either the Arts Council or the Government direct to step in and take their place.
We want some effective form of parnership. I share some of the anxiety expressed by the Arts Council in its last report where it points out that recent figures suggest that it is contributing more than half towards the support of regional work.
At a time of obvious difficulty and pressure upon local authorities, I am happy that support for the arts in the North has been maintained as well as it has. Since we established the Northern Association for the Arts, support for the arts has increasingly become accepted as a proper and reasonable sphere for public patronage. That was not the position in the past. We had a considerable battle to get this concept accepted, but I am glad that, at least to some degree, it has been achieved.
I should be happy if local authorities could be persuaded to contribute a good deal more. We cannot burke the issue. It should be discussed openly in our local communities to win the understanding and good will of people for this activity. Broadly speaking, that is what we have been able to do in the North.
I turn now to the important issue: on what area should we concentrate our support of the arts? Inevitably, there is conflict about this matter. There was a great deal of conflict when I was involved in it. Some of my political friends and others would ask, "How can you justify spending public funds in this way when those who are benefiting or seeking the opportunity of going to the concerts and other works that we are helping to finance largely come from one 82 stratum of society? You are encouraging one group—an élite—and making it possible for them to enjoy what they want to see, but you are not necessarily making a contribution to widening the scope of artistic enjoyment." That is a real problem.
The frontiers of experience and enjoyment of some of the highest standards of artistic production, whether in music, the theatre, opera, ballet, and so on, are being steadily pushed out. The idea that such works were for a narrow élite group to enjoy is gradually being broken down. There is still a lot of this feeling. We must try to overcome it by encouraging support for a wide range of activities, some of which clearly have much wider support than others. This is where locally-based organisations, regional bodies, are in a better position to pick and choose and to decide what should be given encouragement than is a central body such as the Arts Council.
In the North we have band contests. Some areas in Northumberland and on Tyneside are still rich in some of the remaining colliery bands. Some famous festivals have been staged over many years. Basically, they were provided for band contests, but they included a good deal of local music, too. These activities have been encouraged and developed with support from the regional centre. What was undoubtedly a limited form of activity has been broadened, and we now have a more extensive and widely supported festival because of the support that has been given by the Regional Arts Council. Because of its interest, a great number of local arts associations have been established which encourage all kinds of local activities, both professional and amateur.
I believe that the Arts Council has rightly concentrated its whole effort on the support and maintenance of a high standard of excellence of professional work. We would have no hope of seeing ballet, opera, or many of our great orchestras without that support. But we should also encourage effective amateur work. A serious effort should be made to establish a reasonable standard of work. Again, a regional body can do a considerable amount to help for relatively small expenditure. I support the motion because expenditure in this area can do a great deal to fructify a lot 83 of other activity of both an amateur and a professional kind which otherwise would not be available.
I pay tribute to all those who have helped to ensure that projects started on a regional basis have become nation-wide and we have a level of support which some years ago seemed hopeless even to dream of. They are all under the grip of inflation, like everything else, and therefore need all the support that we can give them. I hope very much that my hon. Friend will be able to increase the support wherever he can so that the standards which we have managed to achieve can be maintained.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) on his motion, the terms of which I entirely agree with. I read in my Evening Standard yesterday that he said:I am likely to speak for quite some time",and I think the hon. Gentleman kept his word. We had not only a tour d'horizon but a tour de sous sol as well.
I must not complain about that, because the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman closely parallel the views which I have been expressing for a considerable time. If I may allow myself the luxury and indulgence of quoting from an article of my own without, I hope, being mistaken for the Prime Minister, I refer the House to the Sunday Times of 17th November, in which I wrote:With an arts budget so minuscule a substantial increase would have a negligible effect on the economy. Doubling the arts appropriation—and the Arts Minister should demand no less—would still further revitalise the artistic scene in Britain; it would be an investment which would bring immense returns, not only in artistic achievement but in national self-confidence and prestige abroad, and reverberate helpfully even in that most mundane of spheres, the balance of payments.It was also the view of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), expressed in a paper called a "Practical Arts Policy" in June 1973, that the amount spent on the arts should be doubled. The hon. Gentleman, who, alas, is not present now, is the best Minister for the Arts that we have not got, and if only the Under-Secretary of State would join us in this campaign for doubling the amount of money spent on the arts 84 harmony and concord would reign in what would become a truly ecumenical endeavour.
I want to deal first with the general question of principle. It would need a decision at Cabinet level to double the amount of money devoted to the arts. They would have to be treated as a special case and exempted from the cuts in public expenditure. I do not see why that should not be done. I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who has also disappeared at an untimely moment, that it would be a help if the Under-Secretary of State were a full Minister, with his own Department. However, I would go further. The hon. Lady said that she wished to elevate her hon. Friend. I suggest that the Minister for the Arts should be in the Cabinet. The hon. Gentleman looks nervous, but I assure him that he has both the temperament and the profile for it.
There are three practical reasons why we should support this increase in the arts budget. First, our great successes since the war have been in the arts, and in the performing arts in particular. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbaim)—he, too, has vanished; I hope it is not the effect of my rising to my feet that has denuded the Chamber—that this priority would be in the national interest. We have led the way in ballet, opera and the theatre since the war.
Secondly—the point has been made frequently during this debate—the sums are small. The grant to the Arts Council last year was £19 million. If that were doubled the sum would hardly be noticed in an education budget approaching £4,000 million. The amount spent on the Arts Council at the moment is less than the cheese subsidy, and palls into significance when one considers other items in the budget which have been detailed by the hon. Member for Leyton.
The third point is that there would be a direct return on the balance of payments. I yield to no one in my espousal of ars gratia artis, but the arts are not only justified on their own merit; they pay their way. It is perhaps because I am not as middle class as the hon. Member for Leyton that I consider there is 85 nothing vulgar about referring to money in relation to the arts. We want to cornsider money, and the amount the arts earn, because that gets down to the nitty-gritty of the subject. It is true that all the arts, but the performing arts in particular, earn money for this country.
Many people come to this country for the theatre. In 1971 it was said that 58 per cent. of the tourists coming here gave as a reason for visiting Britain their desire to participate in our theatre. In 1973, in the West End alone, the theatre—that excludes Stratford, Glyndebourne, Edinburgh and the other great regional centres—contributed £12 million to the balance of payments. In 1974, a research project showed that overseas visitors at four West End theatres contributed 35 per cent. of the cash at the box office. Also, there are great gains for exports in the arts. One has only to look at Broadway, New York, and see that of the 21 shows running there 11 are British to realise what a contribution the theatre is making to our balance of payments.
Compared with what other countries spend on the arts, what we spend is small indeed. France spends a mere £118 million, but that is four times as much as we spend in Britain. Germany spends five times as much as we do, and in Italy expenditure on opera, ballet and drama alone, at £23½ million, exceeds the whole Arts Council grant, so there is room here for considerable improvement. I think that both in principle and in practice it would be desirable to double the amount spent on the arts.
What are the sources to which we could look? First, there is the Exchequer making grants through the Arts Council, but local government is just as important, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) that there is a dilemma here. We are calling upon local authorities to economise, and at the same time we are asking them to spend more money on particular projects, but I plead in aid once again the smallness of the sums involved.
When, in July 1973, as a Minister, I addressed the Standing Conference of Regional Arts Associations, I suggested that the desirable division between the Arts Council, the regions and private sources was one-third each. In 1973–74, unhappily the balance had tipped further 86 away in favour of central Government. Seventy per cent. came from the Arts Council, local authorities, provided 20 per cent., and 8 per cent. came from other sources. I ask the Minister what he intends doing about this. There is a permissive power, of course, given in the local Government Act 1948, to provide a sixpenny rate, but many authorities do not use that power. I believe that the most active councils spend the equivalent of only a twopenny rate.
I ask the Minister, first, to give us up-to-date figures about the situation. What is the amount spent by local authorities in 1974–75, and what is the proportion now between the amounts spent by local authorities and money that comes from other sources? Secondly, I ask the Minister what he intends to do to improve the situation.
The hon. Gentleman's eight-point programme for the arts was the subject of an exclusive interview in The Guardian. Unhappily, it seems to have remained exclusive to the readers of that paper ever since, because we have not heard any more about it. The report said:'Local authorities have got to be encouraged to take a far greater share in the financing of the arts.' Mr. Jenkins contemplates direct grants to local councils and every pound of local authority expenditure on the arts would be matched by grants from central government.I hope that those contemplations have led to some practical results and that we shall hear about them when the Minister replies. Would he please also let us know the Government's view on the use of local lotteries for the arts? That would be a most desirable development.
A third source of finance to the arts comes indirectly from the Exchequer in the form of tax relief. Here, one thinks of value added tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he has made clear, is not unsympathetic to the project of exempting the arts, or portions of them, from VAT. I urge the Under-Secretary to throw his weight into the argument on the side of the exemptors. He says that he has been pressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer since September 1974. Will he continue that pressing until it comes to a successful conclusion? It certainly makes no sense to give a grant with one hand and take it away with the other. If it is not robbing Peter to pay Paul, at 87 any rate it is, perhaps, robbing Hugh to pay Denis.
Could we not see a more reasonable approach in the financial sphere? A campaign has been mounted by the Evening Standard to secure the exemption of the arts from VAT. I applaud that campaign and certainly support it. It reinforces the Evening Standard's claim to be the most civilised newspaper in Fleet Street. I would award that palm to The Guardian were it not for its rather doctrinaire attitude to education. I urge the Under-Secretary to secure from his colleagues in the Government the exemption of the living artists, the theatre, the opera and the concert hall from the effect of VAT.
I should be content to see films exempted from VAT as well. Just before this debate began I received a telegram from Michael Relpho, the Chairman of the Film Production Association, saying:British film-makers urge you that you include films among the arts for which you are advocating VAT zero-rating. Present plight of film production most serious yet and preservation of our cultural identity demands a strong home market. VAT accelerates cinema closures, prevents modernisation. Entertainment tax proved unsupportable and was removed. Now VAT imposes tax burden at time of much greater difficulty.I hope that the Minister will take note of that expression of opinion, particularly in view of what he said in that eight-point programme, when he suggestedA scheme to save the flagging British film industry by a National Film Fund subsidised by 50 per cent. of the profits from the Eady Fund and a Government subsidy for non-profit making film companies or films made for the public good and of high quality. All responsibility for films would pass to the Arts Minister.I do not think that that has happened as yet, but the Minister might make a start by helping the film industry—I know that he has its welfare at heart—by securing exemption from VAT.
Value added tax on ticket sales amounts to 8 per cent. of the product of the tickets. The same expenditure goes to the author-8 per cent. It costs the theatre alone £3.5 million a year, and the 1972 figures show that for the commercial theatre, an overall loss of £675,000 was made. Yet the commercial theatre is just as important as the subsidised theatre for the future of theatre 88 in Britain. The Arts Council in 1973–74 spent £1.2 million on VAT. Admittedly it got a grant of £750,000 back from the Government but that was a once-and-for-all grant. We would welcome a statement from the Minister today that the Arts Council will continue to get a remission of the money which it expends on VAT.
We welcome the concessions already made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the capital transfer tax in relation to the national heritage. I hope that he will expand that concept to include theatres. I should like to see positive legislation in this sphere protecting London's theatres. They are not adequately protected under the present planning law. Once again, I come back to the eight-point programme, when the Minister, in his days in opposition, referred toSecurity for all West End theatres, including those threatened with demolition by the public ownership of the site. Independent producers would be granted security of tenure.That is an admirable sentiment. I hope that we shall soon see some Government action in that respect.
If we turn from, alas, the all-too-theoretical eight points to the actual financial situation, what we see is grave indeed. The ravages of inflation are threatening to wreck the whole of the arts programme. We have grown accustomed to 10 per cent. growth, in real terms, for the arts. I make no party point about this. It was a growth rate that was achieved under both preceding Governments. Even when cuts were made in the winter of 1973, a growth rate of 3 per cent. remained for the arts.
What will the Minister do to help the Arts Council? We really need to know. Lord Gibson, in his annual report, pointed out that he needed £25 million for the Arts Council to maintain the projects which it had already embarked upon, and to maintain activity at the same level in the coming year. But, of course, that was written in September 1974, since when inflation has rushed further ahead. It is clear that £25 million, which he calculated as being sufficient, will not be sufficient today, and must be up-graded to a sum which I calculate as being about £26.5 million. That is allowing for no growth at all. Of course the arts are an extremely labour-intensive industry.
89 If it is impossible that the arts should be treated as a special case, what yardstick can we use to see what, in a time of admitted economic stringency, it is fair to give the arts? At the very least, they should advance at the same pace as education. The arts are connected with the Department of Education and Science. They should have the advantages as well as the disadvantages of that connection.
On 5th December last, the Secretary of State for Education and Science was reported in The Times as having said,Education in England and Wales is likely to expand by about a tenth over the next two years.When I faced the Under-Secretary, at Question Time on a date not so long ago, he told me that the Secretary of State had not made that statement. I am very glad to see that the Secretary of State has just taken his seat on the Government Front Bench. I was referring to the statement he is reported to have made, according to The Times of 5th December—that education in England and Wales was likely to expand by about one-tenth over the next two years.
Following the denial of the Under-Secretary, I checked with the education correspondent, Mr. Devlin, who sticks by his report. My submission is that if there is to be a 10 per cent. growth rate in education services in general over the next two years, the same rate of growth should be made for increases in the Arts Council's budget—and they would be quite dramatic.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman—particularly after coming in so late in his speech—but the comparison of 10 per cent. was a comparison of the education component in the rate support grant for 1975–76 with the actual expenditure in 1973–74 by local authorities.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I accept absolutely that explanation from the Secretary of State. All that I can say is that it is not the statement he was reported as having made in The Times. I know that Departments do not like their Ministers writing letters to newspapers, but it would have been helpful if the Secretary of State could have overruled his officials on that occasion and made the point clear.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Never so clear as the right hon. Gentleman has made today in timely arrival in this debate. Alas, my statistical researches on this point have been wasted, since I shall not project further. But had the Secretary of State's assessment for the expansion of the educational budget been what The Times said it was, in 1976–77, allowing for a modest 25 per cent. inflation and a 5 per cent. growth rate, the grant for the arts would have to be about £37 million a year. No matter; the Secretary of State has cleared un this point, and I must, therefore, go to another source which cannot be so simply dismissed—the White Paper on Public Expenditure to 1978–79.
Looking at that document we find that education expenditure over the next two years, 1975–76 and 1976–77, increases at a rate of 5.7 per cent.—that is, education excluding the libraries and the arts. But if one looks at the figures for the arts, one finds that there is a 6.5 per cent. decline in the same period. Admittedly—before the Minister for the Arts sends for his advisers—there was one special item in that—the site for the Royal Opera House. But even allowing for that special item and excluding it, the growth rate for the arts over the next two years will be only 1.8 per cent., if that. That is the estimate made by the survey.
My point is that discrimination is being practised within the education service, of which the arts are part, against the arts and in favour of other components of the programme. We see this discrimination again if we follow the figures to the end of the period covered by the White Paper to 1978–79, where expenditure on education will have grown by 11 per cent. whereas expenditure on the arts, on the first basis of calculation, including the special item, will grow by only 2½ per cent. and on the other basis, by only 8 per cent.
Those are the serious facts of the situation. I found the fantasies of the hon. Member for Leyton agreeable, but unfortunately they were only fantasies. The facts of the situation are that the arts will not do well in relation to the rest of the education budget.
A further most important point is that the triennial system of grants has broken 91 down. Previously, in June, a preliminary notice was given of how much the Arts Council could expect for the following year; in January it was revalued, and in April the council got the money. But here we are in February and still, as far as I know, no figure has been given to the Arts Council. It may be that a private figure has been given by the Minister. If so, the House is entitled to know it as well.
I freely admit that the inflationary situation has created great difficulties for the Minister for which he is not primarily responsible, but he should bestir himself and find some alternative means of informing the Arts Council sufficiently far in advance so that it may know what its grant will be, in order that it can fulfil its commitments.
I conclude on a number of points of a positive character. The Chairman of the Arts Committee in the Conservative Party—my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke)—made various suggestions, which I noted with great interest. They ranged from the use of television to that of Canterbury Cathedral. I want to raise some points with the Minister under the general heading of public support for the arts. What about public lending right? It is true that if we had not had that little local difficulty last February, this measure would have been passed into law by now. We would have had a public lending right, and a long-standing injustice would have been righted. On coming back to the eight-point programme, what do I find? This is the platform which the Under-Secretary put forward as his platform—an admirable one—for gaining votes from those interested in the arts at the election. There he saidThe financial situation permitting"—that is the small print—the Minister for the Arts should ask the Exchequer for £5 millions a year for public lending right, and £20 millions a year for the Arts Council.We have not seen even the first draft of the Bill, let alone the £5 million. Are we to have £5 million for public lending right? No one will be more delighted than myself if that is so, because authors are badly treated. Under the Arts Council system they got only £133,000 out of 92 the whole budget of the Arts Council last year.
May I also ask the Minister to take action over the Criterion Theatre? I hope that he will get his colleague who has direct responsibility here—the Secretary of State for the Environment—to appoint an inquiry, so that we can be assured that the theatre will be kept open, as the planning committee of the GLC has suggested. Secondly, will he intervene with Sir Charles Forte to ensure that the rentals and the length of the lease will be equitable, and will be such as to be compatible with the running of a legitimate commercial theatre?
I come, thirdly, to the question of the Turner paintings. Sir John Betjeman has suggested that they should be housed at Somerset House, in which the theatre museum already has a prior claim. I do not wish to get involved in a squabble between two sets of artistic protagonists; that would be foolish indeed. The point is that we really need both. I suggest that the Minister uses his good offices to bring them together. It has been suggested that the Covent Garden flower market should be used for the Turner paintings. That would cost, I think, £330,000—not much more than the £250,000 which is projected for housing them in Somerset House. I hope that the Minister will intervene—that is his job, as the Minister—and bring the parties together to see whether he can work out an amicable agreement by which we can get the best of both worlds and get the projects housed.
Lastly, I hope that the Minister will devote the attention of himself and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the extremely important question of extending the audience for the arts away from a limited portion of the middle class to the vast majority of the people. I believe that the solution to this matter lies in the schools and in giving art education a much higher priority, and ensuring that resources are devoted to that. I have been active myself in promoting a trust for the Unicorn Theatre, which performs plays for school children, and I hope that its work will continue to have the Minister's support.
This has been a valuable debate. I congratulate once again the hon. Member for Leyton on devoting his time to it. On the whole, it has been a good-tempered 93 debate and I have been nice to the Minister. I cannot guarantee that I shall go on doing that, but I have made an effort today. I have only the hope that that eight-point programme review will be put into operation. The only point which so far has been put into effect is that in which the Minister said:I'd get away from the aristocracy, except for Lady Antonia Fraser.History, perhaps mercifully, does not record the lady's views on the prospect of proximity to the hon. Gentleman, but tonight at any rate we look forward to hearing from the Minister a positive speech with constructive proposals for the future of the arts. For the moment, we shall be content with that.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ The Under Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)
I, too, should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) on his fortune in the Ballot, on his selection of subject, and on the manner of his presentation of his argument. He carries perhaps rather more weight—certainly rather more conviction—than does the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), if only because he has not been a member of an administration which, when in office, totally failed to carry out any of the things which the hon. Member now advocates in opposition. We can therefore take much more account of my hon. Friend's points than of those with which we are becoming over-familiar from the hon. Member for Chelmsford. I hope to reciprocate what the hon. Member for Chelmsford claimed to be his kindness to me; after having made that one point, I shall try to be equally kind to him.
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's point that our methods of public finance for the arts are, in general, over-rigid. He also made good points about the Government's revenue from drink and gambling, and so on. That is salutary information for the House to have. It is difficult for me to reply to all the points that he made in a long and interesting speech, but I shall try to cover most of them. I am afraid that I shall have to take most of the remaining time, if not all of it.
On a Private Members' day, the Government are here first to listen, second, to 94 reply and, third, to provide information. We are a rather thin House today. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the media do not find front page space for the Government's good works for the arts, for galleries, libraries and museums. Perhaps we should not complain too much; while the Opposition have been providing a daily sensation-drama, a serial compared with which the Pallisers pale and Barlow is baffled—
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was about to say that there has been nothing like it since Pearl White. With such competition, we must be grateful that our doings attract any attention at all.
Despite the thin House, I have good news for all those who have taken part in the debate. The arts world is full of diligent readers of Hansard, and what hon. Members have said will not be wasted. What is more, I believe that the media are more and more finding that viewers, listeners and readers are deeply interested in the arts. Even people who have not read the book or seen the play or the film like to be able to talk about it knowledgeably. There is an increasing public for news and comments about the arts. I have listened with close attention to what has been said and I shall try to reply to specific questions. I shall have to resist any attempts to intervene unless hon. Members press very hard, because I hope to cover most points.
I should like to remind the House that the motion says that we are now in a period like the Second World War, which, as my hon. Friend said, is an appropriate time to multiply public support for the arts. The motion calls on the Government to take appropriate measures to this end and to encourage local authorities to do the same. What are the facts? I can put matters into perspective here.
The Arts Council's predecessor was the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts, which was formed in December 1939. In that month, the Council received £25,000 from the Pilgrim Trust and five months later had a grant of £50,000 which was borne on the Vote of the then Board of Education. By 1944, that grant had risen to £175,000, or by seven times over the period, despite the 95 financial difficulties of the war years. That was no mean achievement.
Let me remind the House of the record since then. The total grant-in-aid to the Arts Council was £235,000 in 1945, but for the current year it stands at £21,335,000, including just over £500,000 for expenditure on housing the arts and £21 million on supplementary grants this year to the Arts Council, which Parliament has now approved.
Those figures represent nearly a hundredfold increase over 30 years in the funds made available from central Government to the Arts Council. Even allowing for inflation, the post-war record of successive administrations represents a significant improvement on that Second World War period. In this sense, therefore, what successive Governments have already achieved since the war in terms of hard cash support for the arts more than answers the motion.
Indeed, my hon. Friend himself went far to make withdrawal of his motion a self-imposed necessity. He paid great and justified tribute to this country's achievements in the arts. At one moment I thought that I was seeing a band of emaciated pilgrims and the next moment a crowd of princes clothed in diamonds and pearls. My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. I understand that his feelings stem from a real concern for the arts, which I warmly share.
The growth of this expenditure since the war has been steady, but the increases in grants to the Arts Council were particularly significant from 1965 onwards, with the appointment of my noble Friend, Baroness Lee, as the first Minister for the Arts. That year also marked the first year of the "Housing the Arts" fund, which has been of such benefit in providing central Government contributions to the construction of arts buildings of various kinds by local authorities and other bodies.
Hon. Members may have noted from page 100 of the Government's Expenditure White Paper for the period to 1978–79 that since the introduction of the scheme 217 projects have benefited or have been promised support, and the Arts Council's contribution to them is nearly £6 million out of a total of £34 million- 96 worth of capital expenditure on the arts from all sources. This is one reason why the hon. Member for Chelmsford suffered from his usual confusion with figures—
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am grateful for your protection, Mr. Speaker.
As for the recurrent grant, the rise from 1965 onwards has been similarly encouraging. In that year the grant to the Arts Council was nearly £4 million. It rose to nearly £6 million the following year and has increased steadily to the total, for the current year, or over £21 million.
Hon. Members know the financial problems facing the arts both now and in future years. It has been emphasised correctly in this debate that the labour-intensive nature of the arts, particularly the performance arts, makes them especially vulnerable to inflation. As my hon. Friend who moved the motion said in his article in The Times on 9th October last, and as was pointed out by Beaumol and Bowen in 1966, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the number of words in "Hamlet", or to enable a company to play it in less time or with fewer actors. Indeed, at the moment we have three Macbeths in one play, so we have more rather than less in that respect. There is also little scope for reducing the number of instruments in an orchestra. The City of Birmingham Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday, using a number of instrumentalists and a choir which were certainly not over-large for the Grande Messe des Marts of Berlioz, had to overflow into the boxes.
It is an earnest of my intention, and of the Government's determination to maintain standards in the arts, that this year we have presented, and Parliament has approved, two Supplementary Estimates for the Arts Council—one of £750,000 last July and one on 9th December last of £1¾ million.
Many hon. Members have, quite naturally, asked about the money that the Arts Council is to receive from the Government in the next financial year. I welcome, in particular, the good intention 97 of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton that finance from the central Government should be increased, and should be seen to be increased. I hope that steady progress can be made in this direction.
It is, perhaps, an awkward time for me to be talking on this subject—when we are expecting the presentation of the Estimates. It will be well understood that I can hardly anticipate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in these matters. The hon. Member for Chelmsford must, as I have advised him before, learn to contain his impatience until the Estimates are presented to Parliament.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I shall shortly be dealing with the point he raised on the Public Expenditure Estimates. In those Estimates there is a slight error in presentation. I hope to clarify that matter in answer to a Question, which should clear up some of the points that have added to the hon. Member's confusion.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for establishing that the only confusion that exists—since my figures were perfectly clear—is in the Estimates published by the Government. The hon. Member made a rather sibylline utterance about that, and we shall be interested to hear from him further.
I rose first to tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not my impatience that is important but the impatience of the Arts Council and all those who are dependent on it who cannot go ahead with their projects until they know their financial position.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Gentleman said that if any private information had been given to the Arts Council it should be given publicly in this House. But if that were done it would no longer be private, so that, even if there had been a private communication to the Arts Council, we could not pursue that in the House now.
I challenge the hon. Gentleman's figures and his comparison with the Education Vote, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State adds the weight of his office in joining with me in that challenge.
98 I should like to turn to one or two points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton whose motion this is. I agree with him that on the preservation of buildings we have a problem. The Government have tackled it. It will not have escaped my hon. Friend's notice that the daily outcry about theatres in peril that used to occur has now stopped. This is largely because of the different political climate. It is known that permission will not be granted for theatres to be pulled down, and therefore developers are not as eager to put their money into theatres in the hope of converting them to other uses as they used to be when the Conservatives were in power.
The hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairburn) raised a number of points with particular reference to Scotland. I disagree with him on one matter, which does not relate specifically to Scotland. I agree with him that art is certainly about excellence, but it is not about élitism, and I do not agree that excellence and élitism are exactly the same.
A number of hon. Members have referred to value added tax. The Government are still considering this matter. The House is probably aware—it has been made aware—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently saw a deputation led by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who gave me her apologies for having to leave early. She succeeded me as Chairman of the Theatres Advisory Council. My hon. Friend's meeting with the Chancellor resulted in a useful exchange of views, and he is taking those into account before coming to any decision on value added tax.
At the same time, it must be made clear that value added tax is a Common Market tax—that the EEC is unlikely to relieve any part of the theatre from the tax, and will certainly not recommend any relief for the commercial theatre. On the contrary, if we remain in membership, harmonisation of policies will not make it easy for any Government to act unilaterally in the matter. The Evening Standard campaign may therefore be regarded as a reversion by the Beaverbrook Press to its previous anti-EEC position. As far as I am concerned, that is not unwelcome, but supporters of the campaign should be aware that 99 they may be regarded in Europe as firing the first shots on behalf of the anti-Marketeers in the coming referendum campaign.
A good deal has been said about the currently fashionable notion that the fine rooms in Somerset House should become a Turner gallery rather than a theatre museum. There is a firm Government commitment to the theatre museum, and there is no intention of abandoning that commitment.
Turner's great works were passed to the trustees of the National Gallery as a result of the settlement by the Court of Chancery in 1856. Since then, as a result of gallery organisation and other events, the drawings and paintings have come to be held by the Tate Gallery and the British Museum as well as the National Gallery. The Government have no authority to deprive the various trustees of their holdings.
Greater space for display of works of art will arise from the current improvements and extensions of the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and the British Museum. Whether the works of an artist are better shown en masse than in different galleries is arguable, as we have heard today. It is not a matter on which the Government would wish to take a firm view. It is not the Government's intention to interfere in matters that are the proper rôle and function of the trustees. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) pointed out, other Governments have not taken the attitude that we have—that the views of trustees should be taken into consideration in these matters and they ought not to be interfered with too much. I hope to announce at some time a measure of greater devolution of responsibility to the trustees of the museums and galleries.
I have from time to time drawn attention to the over-centralised nature of public spending on the arts.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
May I bring the Minister's attention back for a moment to the idea of having one gallery or museum where the whole range of Turner's work might be seen? I feel that this is a scheme well worthy of consideration by all three groups of trustees concerned. Have the Government considered putting to the trustees of the 100 British Museum and the others concerned the possibility of having one suitable place for all Turner's work? Such a scheme would commend itself to a great many of us who have some knowledge and understanding of this artist's work, and there are a great many people who believe that it would be the right approach if it could be done with the general agreement of those concerned.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Had the hon. and learned Gentleman been here earlier he would have heard those matters fairly fully canvassed. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not at this stage give him a full reply. I am sure that his remarks will be given due weight.
The opening paragraph of the public expenditure White Paper emphasised the necessary restrictions which the Government have to impose on public expenditure, and it would therefore be misleading of me to give any indication to the House tonight that local authorities can be encouraged to increase their total expenditure. What is open to them, however—this is important—is to examine very carefully their priorities for expenditure with a view to seeing whether they can obtain better value for the money which they spend within existing resources. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) had that very much in mind.
§ Mr. Jenkins
We have very little time, and I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to allow me to continue.
As local authorities know, it is my view that the channelling of money to the regional arts associations can often lead to more fruitful results per pound spent than if an authority goes it alone on some particular project. There is no time like the present for concentrating the mind on obtaining better value for money. Indeed, as that was the very point made by the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, I hope that my response there may satisfy him so that he will not wish to intervene further.
That leads me on to what I want to say about the multiplier effect of the arts deriving their finance from a wide variety of sources, a matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton 101 referred. I commend to the House the words of the Secretary-General of the Arts Council in the current annual report of that body on how the Arts Council works.
Sir Hugh Willatt elaborates in some detail the response theory of patronage, of contributions from a wide variety of sources to independent enterprises contributing to the remarkable results which have been achieved in this country, which have saved us from the dullness and conformity of "establishment" art. This has largely been the result of what one calls the response method.
The policy of aiding and subsidising a large number of local initiatives has resulted also in significant changes in the pattern of Arts Council support as between the national companies and the regions. I have no time to go into detail now, but there has been a large move away from the four national companies out into the regions. Whereas at one time about two-thirds of Arts Council expenditure was spent in London, now the situation is reversed and the majority of Arts Council expenditure is spent outside London.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to forgive me. I have a good deal more to say. I very much hope that private organisations and individuals will continue their smaller but nevertheless significant contributions to the arts. I am having some private discussions to this end, and I have opened them with a talk with Mr. Campbell Adamson of the CBI. Some business organisations are already doing quite a lot, and it is time that we gave these beneficent activities greater publicity so that others may be encouraged to follow their example.
Comparisons with other countries are somewhat misleading. Neither the totally centralised system in France nor the fundamentally local system in Western Germany can be directly compared with our own methods of support. It is the deliberate policy of this Government—and, to be fair, it was the policy of previous Governments—to encourage diversity of support for the arts, and this very fact makes it more difficult to ensure that one is comparing the whole of expenditure on the arts with similar expenditure 102 abroad—that is, whether one is, in fact, comparing like with like.
In any event, I am inclined to question—this point was made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)—whether that is an aim which we should seek to pursue, whether we should drive up our subsidy to the point which it has reached in some Continental capitals.
For example, Covent Garden manages at present on about 50 per cent. support from the State, compared with about 75 per cent. for many Continental opera houses. Is it not a healthy state of affairs that Covent Garden should have a larger income from the box office and that some of the financing of its productions is undertaken by business? I see nothing against that. Bearing in mind the limits on financial resources, I should hesitate as a matter of principle to say that Government subsidy ought to be larger just because it seems the right thing that Government subsidy should be larger. I see nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to apologise for in what we are doing in this country.
Most of the Arts Council's clients raise more than half—some of them much more than half—of their income from the box office. This is a strength—it is something to be proud of—because people are going to the theatre. It is no cause for apology I hope that inflation will not have the effect of making the Arts Council the chief source of finance for more and more projects.
In some countries the State pays most of the cost, but the quality of State support for the arts is not measured only by the amount of money involved. It is measured by the quality and variety of the national artistic output. In this respect, as has been said, we can hold our head high throughout the world. In our method of support, in the way we go about it, we are on the right lines, and even in times of stringency we can improve.
I turn for a moment to the arts notices in the papers. What other capital in the world has such an offering to make? Quite apart from the National, the Royal Shakespeare, the Royal Court and the Mermaid, there is always something valuable and controversial to be seen in our fringe theatre. We have a mass of 103 concerts of all kinds, the great picture and museum galleries, and the series of splendid exhibits. What other capital has two major opera houses playing all the year round, and a range of first-class orchestras? Ask Louis Fremaux or Paavo Berglund what they think of British music. They will say that we are the greatest.
Travel the country as I do, visit the new museums and new extensions being built, and the rebuilt galleries—go to Edinburgh and Glasgow to see what they are doing—try smaller places such as Kendal, Lincoln, Milton Keynes or Battersea—visit one or two of the new community workshops and watch people doing their own thing—hear the Wandsworth School Choir or the John Bate Choir in my constituency—there has never been a time when so much artistic activity has been going on; nor has there been one in which so many people not only participate but appreciate the best there is to experience.
This is not a country starved of culture. It is a country eager for culture. My hon. Friend has seen avidity and mistaken it for emaciation. He himself described our plenty.
Of course, there is still much to do, but even in this time of stringency we have not stood still. Let me remind the House of some of the things we have done in the past year. We began by removing the museum charges.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Then, despite the difficult times, we protected the Arts Councils against rises in costs in 1974–75, giving the council a real increase over inflation. Subsequently, we obtained a Supplementary Estimate to keep it that way, and a further Supplementary Estimate in recognition of the cost of value added tax. We spent £15,000 on research into the practicalities of public lending right, and we are now drafting a Bill to legislate on it. We increased the grant to area museum councils by 300 per cent. We have this year given £440,000 to the Crafts Advisory Council. We started the process of drawing the membership of the Arts Council and its committees from 104 a wider spectrum. We are pushing ahead with a major building programme for our national museums and galleries. We have bought land earmarked for a future extension of the Royal Opera House. We are finding money to complete the building of the National Theatre. Go where one will—it is all happening.
Soon I shall be issuing a publication provisionally entitled "Arts with the People". Those who read it may find it difficult not to take pride in belonging to this nation and in being one of these people.
What other inducement can I offer my hon. Friend to withdraw his motion? The other day, I saw that sprightly nonagenarian Sir Robert Mayer rejecting the lift and walking up the stairs at Queen Elizabeth Hall. He told me that he had written to the Prime Minister. I have since seen the reply, and I have permission to quote from it. The Prime Minister said to Sir Robert:I know of the daunting problems that music and the other performing arts now face, because of the effects upon them of rising costs and prices. Of course, the arts are not alone in suffering these effects; but I recognise how especially vulnerable they are.In the difficult economic situation that faces us, the Government has to weigh the claims of the arts, comparatively small though they may be, against the other demands for public support. I do not think that I can say much more than that we shall try to strike the right balance. It is clearly not a time for expansion, and we shall not be able to do everything that people would like us to do. But we shall try to help maintain standards, and we shall hope to sustain what has been achieved in music and in the other arts. I am deeply conscious of the value of that achievement in our national life—as important in difficult as in easy times—and its contribution to our international standing.On the basis of what I have said, and on the basis of what the Prime Minister has said on behalf of the Government, I invite my hon. Friend to withdraw his motion, on the understanding that our purposes are identical and our effort will be unremitting.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.