HC Deb 18 March 1976 vol 907 cc1728-49

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

If devolution means no more debates like the one to which we have just listened, no Scottish Grand Committee, no Scottish Standing Committees, no Scottish Questions, no Secretary of State for Scotland, no Scottish Ministers and far fewer Scottish Members of Parliament, I am for it, but I know that that will not happen and, therefore, I am against it.

Having cleared the air on devolution, I turn to the vital matter which we have been waiting for all evening—the further provision for the arts and the national heritage. That is the title of the subject, because there is further provision in the Estimates and that is the way we have to put it. I am not asking for any more money this evening. I want to ensure that we are spending the money we have in the best possible way and to discover whether there may be better ways of spending it.

I am absolutely delighted to see the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) sitting behind the Minister. The hon. Gentleman is the chairman of the all-party Heritage Group—an important post for which some of us supported him a year ago. I understand that he has been re-elected unopposed to it again this year. His contribution to the work of the arts and the heritage in particular, and to the spreading of the gospel among his colleagues and my colleagues, is much appreciated. I hope that we can continue to work together.

The heritage of our historic architecture and our landscape is on the whole well served by the Department of the Environment and its agencies, within their limitations, although the threat from inflation and taxation imposed and proposed is serious and merits most urgent attention. I have no doubt that the Chancellor is now considering all these matters, and we await his Budget speech and the Finance Bill with the greatest interest. I shall leave that matter there. I have given the Minister notice that I do not wish to pursue that matter this evening and he will not have briefed himself about it. Moreover, this is not the place to discuss it further. We await with interest the Chancellor's reaction to all the many comments that have been made to him and all the hard work that has been done by both sides of the House over the past year.

In passing, I should like to refer to the most helpful remarks made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in another debate on a similar subject.

We are concerned with Supplementary Votes for the Arts Council. We are extremely concerned that we should get full value for money, and that is why hon. Members raise such matters in the Consolidated Fund debate in the middle of the night.

The Arts Council is concerned in a wide variety of activities. It has expanded the scope of its activities, especially into the provinces, through regional art asso- ciations and in other ways. It has managed to do this despite the difficulty that it has not always known exactly how much money it will have, and it has been kept waiting a long time to know its fate for the ensuing year. The Minister has his difficulties in this respect, but he will not mind my again mentioning—I am sure that the hon. Member for Edmonton will join me in this respect—that we could get better value for money if the Arts Council knew in advance where it stood. It has asked for a three-year forward programme. That would be enormously helpful and much more constructive than living from hand to mouth and perhaps cutting out things which would nevertheless be carried on if the money were available.

I am sure that, like us, it is the Minister's aim to ensure that the maximum number of people are involved in all the artistic activities which the State provides, concerns itself with or generally encourages. There is a number of very big spenders. It is a great shame that I cannot go into the pleasures of Welsh National Opera for Mr. Speaker's benefit this evening, but, alas, it is out of order. The Royal Opera at Covent Garden is one of the biggest spenders of all. It is a magnificent international leader.

However, I believe that time and public patience are running out for the Royal Opera because of its lack of public access. More people could see the Royal Opera on televisison in one evening than could get into the Royal Opera House between now and the end of the century. That also applies to the National Theatre. The Minister knows why we do not see the Royal Opera on television as much as we should. The television companies now find it cheaper to buy opera ready-made from abroad than to pay the sort of fees demanded by Covent Garden. The hon. Gentleman and his agents are working hard to persuade the unions who hesitate to be more forthcoming that it lies in their interest to embrace television as a friend and not regard it as an enemy. The unions are afraid that it will lead to a loss of jobs.

If the millions who pay taxes to support this great institution suddenly woke up to the fact that they are not getting full value for money—it is magnificent value for money if they go to see it, but they do not—they might say that enough is enough. They might insist on perhaps half the money being spread around in other directions where it will do them more good. I know that the Minister is working hard on this problem, but I hope that we shall see results soon because we shall wish to return to the subject if we do not.

It is unfair to make an early judgment on the National Theatre. That is a building which must have been purpose-built for television participation. We hope that we shall see more from it and of the new adventures taking place inside it in the Cottesloe Theatre which is designed to be experimental.

The reason why I have stressed television and the way in which it enables the millions to participate is that it can bridge the gulf between what people call the "high arts"—the Royal Opera and special productions—and the less-well-established activities, the fringe activities. The experimental activities of the National Theatre can help in this direction. We do not want a growing gulf between the two. We want them brought closer together. Television provides one solution to that problem.

The Minister will not be surprised that once more I advocate bringing the fourth television channel into use as soon as possible. We might quarrel about whether it should be given to the IBA, but I think most people would accept that the only practical way to get more money into the arts is to give it to the IBA and the independent television companies so that they can provide a service equivalent to BBC2.

The Minister is an undoubted enthusiast for the theatre. I remember his contribution in Standing Committee on a Bill which marginally helped theatre buildings. The counterpart to that Bill will shortly be going into Standing Committee. I shall be leading for the Opposition on it, assisting my hon. Friend whose Bill it is. No doubt the hon. Member for Edmonton will be there. It is concerned largely with theatre buildings and with keeping them going as living theatres. In view of his enthusiasm for the theatre, the Minister should take a fresh look at some of the practical problems and at the way in which the commercial theatre can teach the subsidised theatre about such things as efficient manning levels.

I do not believe everything I am told by the commercial theatre about the number of people behind the stage and the number of actors compared with the numbers in the subsidised theatre. Many of the productions that go on in State or local government-subsidised theatres are ambitious and labour-intensive. The Royal Opera should not be produced on the cheap unless a real economy was involved. If one mounts a great operatic production which one wants to send out on tour and last for years, one does not make it of flimsy stuff. I believe that the Minister is in touch with both sides. I hope that he will comment on this aspect.

VAT is not included in these Estimates. It would be impossible to bring VAT into a Supplementary Estimate. I leave the Minister with the thought that there is an extra amount in the Arts Council grant to take account of the VAT costs of the subsidised theatre. That puts theatres in the private sector at a disadvantage. I hope that the Minister will address himself to that. I do not ask for differential rates. I should like to see a low flat rate of VAT right across the board. We started with 10 per cent. and now have a messy situation. Luxury goods have a VAT of 25 per cent. in this country. Lawnmowers are included in that category. In France, pornography bears the 25 per cent. rate. The whole situation is a nonsense, and I hope that the Minister will use his influence to ensure a lower uniform rate.

I turn to museum policy. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the work of both national and local museums—State, local authority and private enterprise museums—is related to the life of the community. There are many private enterprise museums, one of the finest being the Dorset County Museum, which I am happy to support. Museums used to be quite isolated. A museum was somewhere one sent the children on a wet afternoon. The situation is different now because parties of schoolchildren visit and work in them. Last week the Dorset County Museum was full of schoolchildren.

The Minister is the one person in the Government who can lend influence to ensure that activities in all our museums are related to real life outside. I was delighted that the Secretary of State for Education and Science came to the conference of the Historic Houses Association which was held at the Royal Festival Hall. Next year is Heritage Education Year. It is most encouraging that the Department of Education and Science is taking an interest in the new roles which museums and historic houses play in society.

We must not forget the value to the community of this part of our heritage as a tourist attraction. I can actually relate that to a Vote. Some people believe that museums, historic buildings and heritage are of less importance, but their importance to our tourist industry is incalculable.

I turn to the subject of museum acquisition policy. I have crossed swords with the Minister about this. I know that he is as keen as anyone to see that we do not lose from this country major objects that are offered on the market and which might very well go abroad if people in this country—I use the word "people" advisedly—are not prepared to come forward and rescue them so that they can remain here.

I want to repeat what I have said to the Minister previously about this matter. It is appreciated that much good work is possible within the Votes in the Estimates and the provision for museum acquisitions. However, sometimes public appeals have to be launched. I put it to the Minister again that it is not very helpful for a Minister to say "I shall not respond to the invitation of a national institution to help in the public appeal" and then to mumble something like "In any case, it might be allowed to mortgage the future and to draw on future grant allocation in order to buy the object." That will have a bad effect on the public appeal, because the public will say "The Minister will have to do it eventually. With rather poor grace, he will let the future be mortgaged."

The Minister should make up his mind first whether, the object must be kept in this country at all costs. He need not announce that publicly, but he should make up his mind, with the help of advisers, and decide how to play it and how to keep the object here with the least amount of public money. There may be occasions when the sum is so large that if the Government said that they would contribute pound for pound from the public purse the public would come forward with private money and do the rest.

We have learned from a newspaper that one great manuscript, the Malory "Le Morte D'Arthur" manuscript, might come on to the market. I hope that the Minister has some thoughts about that.

The real solution is to remove the causes of the dispersal of historic things from this country. That is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I hope that the Minister now recognises that there are economic forces afoot which would cause us grave difficulty.

Item Class VIII, Vote 2, relates to expenditure which can certainly be related to the celebration of Her Majesty's Jubilee next year. Already, somewhat surprisingly, one learns that the Home Office is the co-ordinating Department in this matter. I cannot expect you to rise up from the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and enlighten us as to what part Parliament will play under the wing of the Home Office, but I know that what happens here is very much under your wing, and I hope that the House will be informed in good time.

However, on any great State occasion such as this will be, although Her Majesty has quite rightly said that she would not wish any excessive expenditure to take place—nor would I in present circumstances—one looks to some member of the Government to act, if it is not too crude a phrase, as a matter of ceremonies.

We have had State occasions before. The Earl Marshal has his function at the Coronation. The Minister of Works, the First Commissioner of Works, has always had a great deal to do with these things. Lord Eccles was Minister of Works when the Coronation took place, and he went on to become Minister for the Arts. That may be some added weight to my argument that the Minister should consider how the arts can play their part in connection with the Jubilee. Are the Government thinking of commissioning or encouraging to be commissioned works in connection with the Jubilee, musical compositions or works of literature, painting and sculpture? Will they offer prizes? Has the Minister thought about such matters? I should like the Minister to comment briefly on this matter tonight.

There are quite a lot of small things that can be done within existing programmes but in a special way so as to have a particular relation to the Jubilee celebrations. Indeed, the whole theme of what I have been saying is not to ask for more money but for the better use of the public money that is being used. It may even be less public money.

There is an Estimate relating to historic buildings which allows me to mention Somerset House. I do not propose to enter the burning controversy over how many of Turner's paintings will find their way to Somerset House. Another Minister has already grasped that nettle and held one meeting which seems to have aroused further interest. I expect that the Minister with responsibility for the arts has thought about the matter. I want to leave him with the thought that, if a fine gallery were to be established at Somerset House filled with works of art of all kinds, some extra rooms perhaps filled with more modern works than has been suggested, that might be a good place for him to take up residence.

Belgrave Square was an emergency job to get the Minister for the Arts out of the Department of Education and Science. That was quite right. However, it was only temporary. The Minister might consider taking up residence in a small room at the end of the State rooms in Somerset House. He could then walk through those splendid rooms to meet the public who will be enjoying the works of art which he has provided for them.

What is the Minister doing to get involved in international affairs? This great book is loaded with money being spent on our work abroad. Indeed, there is nearly £100 million unallocated on one page. I dare say that it has been allocated on another page, but the Clerk of the Committee could not find where it had been allocated. I am sure that there is scope there for the Minister to find money—indeed, he might not take any money—with which to involve himself in international events.

There was something called International Music Day last October. I asked the Minister what part Her Majesty's Government played in International Music Day on 1st October 1975. The answer was: None."—[Official Report, 16th October 1975; Vol. 897, c. 798.] That was rather disappointing.

Things look better for the future when we come to literature as opposed to music. The forty-first International Congress of PEN, the writers' organisation, is to be held here in August. I have no doubt that some of its members will visit the historic buildings mentioned in another of the Estimates. I hope that the delegates will be royally received here. It is a great event. It has not been to London for 20 years. The delegates I met in Athens were very much looking forward to coming here. I hope that the Minister will tell us how he proposes to participate in that event. It will not cost very much, but his interest will be greatly appreciated.

The Minister has already come round to the view that Supplementary Estimates on this scale would not be so necessary if he did more to encourage private and industrial patronage. It would be wrong to stray into that area in any detail. However, the Minister's conversion is appreciated. I hope that he will continue with the good work he has tentatively begun. I am informed that the Arts Council is keen to be of assistance in this matter. Perhaps we can come back to it on another occasion. We have already gone a long way in persuading the BBC about the respectability of sponsorship for arts programmes. No doubt ITV will follow.

You have been very patient with me, Mr. Speaker. I have not caused you to rise to your feet yet, and I do not think that I shall in what I want to say in conclusion. There is immense public interest in the subject on which I have tried to touch, albeit dodging from one thing to another because this large book is difficult to manoeuvre, and the Opposition are most interested in this whole area. So far the Opposition have created the opportunities for parliamentary debate and discussion. Much of the good work which is being done in this area is the result of pressure in this House. I do not claim it all on this side. We have provided the opportunities for debate, but both sides have pushed the Minister into doing some of the good things that he is now doing.

I hope that we shall have other opportunities in future to discuss this subject. There is limitless time in this debate—long into the small hours and on to the dawn—but I am sure we shall not keep the House that long. I am happy to have initiated the debate. I eagerly await contributions from the hon. Member for Edmonton and perhaps another of my hon. Friends. I await, equally eagely, the Minister's reply and hope for some stimulating new thougths from him.

1.11 a.m.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I am pleased to have the opportunity of intervening in this debate brought about by the initiative of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke). The hon. Member was too modest in his concluding remarks when he sought to disclaim credit for the initiatives he has taken in this House in recent years in raising the subject of the arts and our heritage. The record clearly shows that he has played a major part in drawing to the attention of the House the problems facing the arts and our heritage.

I am delighted to be associated with the hon. Member in what I see as an essay in encouragement to the Minister. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member's generous tribute to the work of the all-party Heritage Group, which he played a major part in founding and which is a fine asset to the all-party proceedings in this House. This issue is not a party matter and no party can claim to be preeminent in wanting to develop and extend work in this sphere.

I am conscious of the parameters of this debate. I take careful note—looking at Class VIII, Vote 2 and Class X, Vote 27—that I am able to comment on historic buildings, grants to local authorities and the National Trust, its expenditure in acquiring historic buildings and their contents, the Arts Council, the National Theatre and assistance to local museums. All of these matters are subject to modest increases in the Votes.

In talking about our heritage, we refer to things that are both tangible and intangible. We can look at an object, a house, a book, a picture and say "This is part of our heritage." But there are many other things which are not so tangible. We look upon these things as part of our heritage, which we wish to maintain. We are debating modest increases from the public sector, but there is also the contribution made by the private sector. The remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, West are apposite in that the arts and the care of our heritage will not flourish merely by support from one element or the other. It cannot be said that greater importance should attach to the private or the public sector.

It is proper to make a fleeting reference to the additional element in the support given to the arts. I support the modest figures involved tonight relating to historic houses. I had the good fortune about three months ago to present a petition to the House on behalf of more than a million people organised by the Historic Houses Association. The overwhelming majority of those people live in the United Kingdom. They expressed their anxieties about the future of our heritage of historic houses.

I am very pleased to see the Government's continuing interest manifested in the modest increases in the Vote for preserving these aspects of our heritage. The other week, the all-party Heritage Group visited two historic houses, Woburn and Rockingham Castle. At Rockingham Castle I was very impressed by the history of the place, which goes back to 1066. Not only is it an old building; it reeks with history. It can be described as one of the units of our heritage, because it is not just a historic house. It is in a historic setting, with a historic village. I hope that some of the money being made available will be used to keep in existence buildings of this kind, with the corollary always that the public have continuing and wider access to them. We believe that more money should be made available, but I hope that the House will recognise that, in return for financial assistance from the public purse, more and more rooms will be opened and more and more access will be given to the public.

I hope that, as a result of the Government's pronouncements on taxation matters and so on, the partnership on which we have embarked will ensure a more settled future for our heritage, especially in terms of our historic houses.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the useful activities of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In preparation for this debate, I made a point of reading the remarks of my right hon. Friend in the debate on 2nd February and I found that they buttressed the need for the modest increases in this Vote for the preservation of our historic houses. He said: The preservation of our historic districts and charming areas must not mean their preservation as antiques. How right my right hon. Friend was, because these places will be supported only if they are seen by the people to be living entities. He went on to speak of the need to preserve them in their full cultural and architectural context within the structures of a changing society". That is also true, as was my right hon. Friend's reference to our great historic houses, which are becoming centres of artistic activity and which themselves are objects of priceless and irreplaceable beauty. It is very encouraging to hear a member of the Government who has a major interest and responsibility in these areas speaking in those terms, and we should be grateful. However, one of my right hon. Friend's remarks may not have been so welcome in many places. He said: The owners of our historic houses are more expendable than the buildings".—[Official Report, 2nd February 1976; Vol. 904, c. 1136–7.] That is also true.

Mr. Robert Cooke

They may be more expendable, but the way they run their houses is less expensive than it would be if the State had to take over the buildings and run them.

Mr. Graham

There is no dispute between us about that. The people and the State receive infinitely more benefit from the present arrangements, give or take an adjustment one way or the other. I would blanch at the thought that the costs of management and the problems of maintaining many of these historic houses might have to be shifted on to the State, as opposed to the partnership arrangements that we have at present.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the modest increases for the acquisition of contents, and he referred to the "Dona- tello" and the "Le Morte D'Arthur" manuscripts. For purchases of that kind, I believe that the best way is for the money to be contributed by individual members of the public. However, I appreciate that inflation is affecting the ability of a great many people to do this—individuals and organisations—and I think that as long as people share the treasures which are being bought out of the public purse there is a reasonable case for more money being made available, always provided that it is carefully husbanded.

I turn now to the part of the Vote relating to the modest increases for local museums. It is an important matter and I well understand the term "high art" which was used by the hon. Member for Bristol, West. It is important to recognise the value of local museums not merely as repositories of local pieces of history but as places which start young people on the long journey towards a deep and lasting interest in their community.

Edmonton, Enfield and Southgate each have fine local museums. None of them has any pretentions to be more than local museums, but each has been aided by its local council by a modest contribution from the rates. I am sure that from time to time they have had access to money from the Vote we are now discussing.

Forty Hall in Enfield, a fine historic building, was rescued 25 years ago by the local council. Ten years ago I was a member of that council and I played a modest role in ensuring that money from private sources, the local council and funds such as those in the Vote was devoted to turning what was a modest building in decline into a first-class piece of architecture which is visited by children in the district. Southgate and Edmonton also have fine museums which are a mixture of heritage and the arts.

I am delighted at the increase in the Vote. More than £30 million has been contributed from public funds to the arts in the past 12 months. That sum is about 100 times more than was spent 30 years ago, and it reflects credit on the House and on Governments of all parties.

I am delighted that the first Minister with responsibility for the arts was Baroness Lee and that she was given the initial spur for her work by a Labour Government. The Minister who followed her is a credit to the post and the objectives set by the Government. The opening of the National Theatre brings to fruition the major efforts made to present and previous Governments. We are lucky to be able to pay tribute to the work of a Government Department in this way. I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, West, who said that we not merely have a duty to sustain the arts here but that we must ensure that the people who come here from abroad understand what we are trying to do.

I hope that the Minister will take courage and sustenance from the modest interest which has been shown by a limited number of hon. Members from both sides of the House and which should be encouraged to grow. I hope that the Vote for so many worthwhile causes will be approved.

1.24 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) for raising this subject. It covers ground similar to that which we have trodden before, but it is no worse for that because matters move, and the debate gives me an opportunity to put on record the latest position. That will be of benefit not only to the hon. Gentleman but to other hon. Members who, although not present, take a considerable interest in the arts, and to the public.

As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, the area covered by these topics is wide. He was tempted to go outside the narrow ground we are supposed to tread. I shall be tempted, too, but I have no doubt—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I do not mind the Minister going too far, as long as he does not go on for too long.

Mr. Jenkins

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the debate will be briefer than some of the previous debates.

I am grateful for the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), who was kind enough to act in a temporary, unofficial capacity for me tonight. I appreciate what he said, but to some extent he talked about an aspect of our national heritage which is beyond my purview. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is responsible for the fabric of historic houses. I have a close interest in their contents. It was in order for my hon. Friend to raise the matter, but I hope he will forgive me if I do not pursue it very far tonight.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West raised a matter of great validity when he spoke of the Government's inability, at this time of rising expenses and the endeavour to contain inflation, to give the advance notice we should like to give to people in the arts of what their grants will be in the coming year. A triennial basis with full notice was once valid and useful, but in a time of inflation it becomes increasingly pointless to give advance notice when one hardly knows what the consequences will be in six months' time.

A certain amount of reassurance can sometimes be obtained from the public expenditure survey, though I agree that it is no substitute for the kind of guidance that we hope to resume as soon as possible. It will be necessary to bring inflation under more control before the triennial advance notice can be of the same value as it has been and as we hope to make it again.

An equally valid point concerns access by the public to the major national companies, such as the Royal Opera House, on television. There has been some progress, such as the fine performance of La Bohème, which I think was transmitted by Southern Television from the Royal Opera House Company. That is an example of what can be done, and I have every hope that it will continue to be done.

It is not only a question of union difficulties. It is a three-way operation. First, there is the producing management. Next there is the transmitting organisation, whether the BBC or a commercial television company. Then there is the interest of the trade unions concerned with the people at work. Therefore, it is a difficult operation, but La Bohème was a breakthrough, and the BBC has done similar work. I hope that such programmes will become regular features and that we can expect the national companies to be seen from time to time on both channels. I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will encourage me not to follow the hon. Gentleman any further in the television direction, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so.

I should, however, like to say something about the National Theatre because, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out, we are in the week of the beginning of the opening of this great building on the South Bank. Having regard to the fact that it is a modern building, and modern places on the whole do not get a very good critical response, I think that the critical response for the new building on the South Bank has been surprisingly good. I was there myself earlier this week and I believe that it is one which will grow in the hearts of our people and will become an extremely important addition to the artistic armoury of our country. It is a joint effort by the GLC, the South Bank, the National Theatre Board, the Arts Council and the Government.

When we passed the National Theatre Act in 1974 we provided the finance to enable the new theatre to open its doors to the public this week. It is a week which has seen the culmination of a motion I moved a dozen or more years ago in the old London County Council which led to the construction of this great building on the South Bank. I therefore take a modest pride in my own part in this historic project. There is some way to go yet, but everyone concerned can be proud of the progress made.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West made a passing reference to the relationship between the commercial and the supported theatre. I should like to say that I believe this relationship is becoming closer. I would draw his attention and that of the House to the fact that increasingly we are seeing commercial runs in the West End of productions which have started in supported theatres. Mr. Albery, for example, and the Wynd-hams Theatre have been giving West End runs to a number of productions which have begun—one in Nottingham and one in the National Theatre. This relationship is an example of how the mixed economy can work to the advantage of the commercial theatre and the supported theatre. I have every hope that this relationship will be productive, because what we are concerned about is the welfare of the arts and, in particular, the welfare of the consumer, who is the man to whose interest we must all bend ourselves.

As far as VAT is concerned, I hope I shall be forgiven—in fact, I shall be commended—if I make no reference to this other than to say that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I have never concealed the fact that I am not a great lover of VAT as far as the theatre is concerned. I would interpret what the hon. Gentleman said not as a criticism of the Government's record but as a recognition of what we have been trying to do and as an encouragement for us to go on and do still better in future.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Before the Minister gets too self-satisfied, may I say that the rules of order caused me to concentrate on some of the constructive work which has been done. I shall look forward to pursuing some of the omissions of the Government on another occasion.

Mr. Jenkins

I have had some warning of the fact that the hon. Gentleman will be at us in a critical fashion at a later date. We shall not shrink when the time comes. We shall do our best to answer him.

The Government's achievement, even in the area covered by this Vote, is one in which we may take a modest pride. It is greater than is generally appreciated. The Government's record during the two years in which I have had responsibility in this area is one of which we are by no means ashamed, particularly having regard to the circumstances in which we have had to work.

Government grants to the Arts Council and other bodies like the British Film Institute now total well over £30 million. The Arts Council grant alone, is over £28 million, taking into account the supplementary additions, compared with £17 million in the Opposition's last year in office. As the Council distributes nearly all this money, it enables the arts to be sustained in difficult times. Other bodies concerned with the arts have benefited considerably. We have increased the grant to the Crafts Advisory Committee to more than £500,000 for the current year compared with £400,000 two years ago. The hon. Member for Bristol, West may be raising this matter on another occasion, so I shall not pursue it in detail now.

The impact that we make in the world of the arts outside this country is the concern of my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary through the British Council. My concern it with what happens in this country. However, I hope to go to Oslo in June for an important meeting of the Council of European Ministers of Culture, as they are called in most other European countries. I prefer our term, Minister for the Arts. I hope to exchange views, to learn much and even to contribute a little. I also hope to host the Government reception for the PEN Conference at the Banqueting Hall at Lancaster House, the details of which are at the moment being discussed by officials.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

I hope that the Minister will not be modest in pressing on the Foreign Secretary the enormous benefits which can accrue to this country from boasting of the fact that in many of the arts we are preeminent in a way in which, alas, we no longer are in many industrial spheres, and that money spent on projecting this achievement is well spent. I hope he will not be modest in pushing that point of view.

Mr. Jenkins

Indeed I shall not. What the hon. Gentleman says could be regarded as my theme song. In the two years that I have had this responsibility, it has been my view that this is an area in which we may take our place with pride in the world. Although our area of influence has shrunk in other ways, this is something in which we can say we stand with any nation.

We are taking a close interest in the "Le Morte D'Arthur" manuscript. If it comes on to the market it will certainly come before the Reviewing Committee. We are dealing with that especially. If export is delayed the usual processes will follow, which, if necessary, will involve public appeal. I cannot commit myself, except to say that we are seized of the matter and are watching it carefully.

We have increased the Government's share of the grant to the area museum councils, increasing it last year by 300 per cent. to £370,000. That is not such a huge sum because it was rather small originally, but it was a sharp increase. We are beginning to approach central Government support for the national collections. We are marching along a new path by taking on the role of trying to be helpful to museums other than the major national collections. We are proposing to increase the grant this year to over £½ million. The councils, together with matching finance from local authorities and others, are disposing this year of over £1 million. This is translated into practical advice and help to local museums of many kinds, especially the smaller ones. Again, at a time of financial difficulty we may have some modest pride in what we have been able to achieve.

The museums are devoting an increasing amount of money to the problems of conservation. The Midlands Area Museum Council, for example, is devoting one-third of its resources to conservation needs in the current year. I know that the hon. Member for Bristol, West takes a close interest in conservation. I shall leave one or two other matters that I had intended to raise because I think that they can be dealt with on another occasion.

I believe that the museums are beginning to recover from the consequences of what I think is now generally agreed as the ill-judged introduction of admission charges by the Conservative Government at the beginning of 1974. Attendances at the national collections were running at over 14 million in 1972 and 1973. They dipped by 1 million in 1974, which was the year of the charges, and climbed back again last year to 16 million. That is a very high number of people visiting our great museums. On recent visits I have been told that the number of visitors is rising rapidly and that the public's appreciation of and interest in the treasures in our museums continues to grow. The British Museum alone had over 3 million visitors last year. Several of the other museums had between 1 million and 2 million visitors.

The hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned purchase grants. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the rôle of the Government in relation to annual purchase grants and special purchase grants. Much of the misunderstanding has been fostered by those who are not wholly in favour of the policies of the present Government. It is believed quite widely that we have been less generous in this area than previous Governments. It is also believed that I have been less appreciative of the efforts to provide benefactors than have some of my predecessors. This is not true. We have substantially increased the level of grants. They now stand at £3½ million a year compared with £1½ million a year for the previous five years.

As regards special grants, as I pointed out on 2nd March in reply to a Question on the Donatello, the grants have always been intended as finance of last resort when other public and private contributions have been exhausted. It is a cause for satisfaction rather than criticism that the generosity of the public and the efforts of the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose director is one of my officials, and various trusts meant that the taxpayer did not have to provide yet further funds for the purchase of a plaque.

It is not a cause for reproach that private benefactors were generous enough to relieve the Government of the necessity to put their hand further into their pocket for the Donatello.

Mr. Robert Cooke

There was never meant to be any criticism along those lines. I have no responsibility for what an hon. Friend said from the Front Bench on 2nd March when he gave me far more credit than I would claim in regard to the Donatello. The criticism was that, at the outset, the Minister made remarks to the effect that, if public subscription failed to produce sufficient money, there might be a question of mortgaging the future and drawing against future grants of the V and A. In the minds of many people, that left the impression that the Donatello would be purchased anyway. That is what some of us objected to, and I hope that the Minister will think carefully before saying anything like that again.

Mr. Jenkins

One wants to maximise private benefaction while not giving the impression that the Government are not interested. It is almost impossible to say anything that does not give someone the opportunity to make one of those two charges. It is a difficult line, but we shall endeavour to follow it.

In relation to what the hon. Gentleman said about mortgaging the future, this is a well-established practice. Titian's "Death of Actaeon" was bought by the National Gallery, which used its advance funds up to £450,000. This could be regarded as an interest-free loan which anyone in business would be delighted to obtain. There is no need to worry too much about this matter. If I were the director of a museum, I would be reluctant to commit my annual purchase grants unless I felt I had to do so.

I do not think I have fallen short in expressing my appreciation of private benefactors. Indeed, once or twice I have almost crossed the dividing line between appreciation and effusiveness. I want to show a proper appreciation of private benefaction, because without it we should not have been able to save as many valuable objects for the nation.

On the question of the Turner collection, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has examined how to use to best advantage the Fine Rooms at Somerset House. He has considered very carefully the various views put forward by the Turner Society and others at a recent meeting convened by my noble Friend the Under-Secretary.

I must speak rather carefully, but the Government will consider this matter fully with the trustees of the institutions concerned—most of the paintings are properly held in private or public collections and cannot be freely disposed of—before coming to a decision. We shall have regard to the resources available if a major change in the arrangements for the display of Turner paintings in the care of the nation is desirable or feasible.

The Jubilee is not a matter which is primarily my responsibility, although I am deeply concerned with it as a member of a ministerial committee which is considering it.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Which Ministers are considering the matter?

Mr. Jenkins

It would be improper for me to give that information, but the fact that the question has been asked will be duly noted for another place. I shall see that it is and that it may be answered by another, perhaps more senior, Minister on another occasion.

I have asked the Arts Council to ask its beneficiaries in making their future plans, to take into consideration the coming of the Jubilee, and to make preparations accordingly wherever it is possible, so that celebrations may take place without involving the nation in any excessive cost. Her Majesty the Queen has expressed her wish that this should be so.

The Evening Standard of 17th March 1976, after referring to some of the matters to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, such as the achievements of the National Theatre, the visit of the Royal Opera Company to Milan and various of the other artistic achievements of this country, concluded its leader with the following words: No country so rich in talent, with such a healthy balance of cultural trade, can be all that ailing. And it is something for Mr. Wilson to reflect on with pride that it was under his early administration that a realistic policy of State support for the arts really came into being. What the newspaper implies but does not say, and what Jennie Lee, with characteristic generosity, has said, is that to keep this precious child of a Labour Government healthy and growing in the winter of the 1970s is perhaps no less an achievement than was the act of giving it birth in the summer of the 1960s.

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