HC Deb 03 February 1986 vol 91 cc112-9

Amendments made: No. 13, in page 4, line 5, after `London', insert 'and publishing information concerning such investigations and research'.

No.14, in page 4, line 7, after 'research', insert 'or the publishing of such information'.—[Mr. Luce.]

9.30 pm
Mr. Luce

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had about 15 or 16 hours of debate on Second Reading and in Committee and now the Bill is being debated once more on the Floor of the House. The House has shown the importance that it attaches to the Museum of London by the amount of time that it has been prepared to give to scrutinising the Bill. We may not have agreed on a number of issues but, whatever is said, we all wish to see the museum succeed.

We are seeking to make adequate arrangements for the museum's funding and for appointments to the board of governors after the abolition of the GLC on 1 April. I believe that the Bill succeeds in doing that. The Government's strong commitment to the museum is demonstrated by the fact that we have, jointly with the City Corporation, increased the museum's budget for the coming financial year by over 10 per cent.

We have had full debates about the museum's responsibilities towards archaeological services and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made it plain that additional sums are being made available to the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission so that it can undertake archaeological services in conjunction with the museum. Against that background, I express the view that the museum has a great future. That future has been reinforced by the Government's recently announced funding arrangements and by what I hope will be the passing of the Bill.

9.32 pm
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

As the Minister has said, we have had about 15 or 16 hours of debate in considering the Bill. It is not one of the larger measures that the Government are to bring before the House this Session, but it is an interesting Bill. It has given the House and the Committee a chance to discuss various aspects of arts policy, and it is sad that the House seldom has an opportunity to explore and debate them. We have been able to discuss the problem of acquisition and the relationship between the arts and education. We have also discussed the more fundamental issues of accountability and general policy and attitude towards the arts. For that reason—that of lack of opportunity —the the House has welcomed the chance to enter into these debates. It is sad, however, that the opportunity arises in considering an extremely ill-judged and ill-conceived Bill.

Our consideration of the Bill has provided us with the chance to hear the views of a newly appointed Minister, and we have had the opportunity to assess him. We welcome him in his new job and welcome specifically the fact that we have a Minister with responsibility for the arts who is answerable in this House and with whom we can debate and discuss arts policy. That is something that we lacked for two years prior to his appointment. We also welcome the Minister's flexibility in listening to our arguments in Committee and amending the Bill tonight. However, despite those quiet and modest gestures of approval, it has been clear during the passage of the Bill that the Minister, for all his kind words and solicitations, is as hamstrung and straitjacketed on arts policy as his predecessor was by the Government's ideology and determination to subject the arts to pressures and rigours to which they are not suited, and in pursuance of which it does not best serve the British people —neither the audiences nor those who live and work in the arts.

Although the Bill is small it has been extremely important, both for the museum and the Government's general policy towards museums. It is undoubtedly a bad Bill, and wholly unnecessary. It flows from the Government's vindictiveness towards the Greater London council. Because the museum was but a small part of the GLC's functions and work, the Bill has received precious little thought from the Government. I am sure that when the Prime Minister took it into her head to attack the GLC, she little knew that one of its powers and functions was to oversee the heritage of our capital city—its archaeological, industrial, social and cultural archives and records which reside in this excellent museum. She did not know and certainly did not care about that. Therefore, when it dawned on her civil servants and Ministers that, as a consequence of her determinaton to abolish the GLC, the Government would have to deal with the museum's governorship, the Government had to cobble together this little Bill to amend the Museum of London Act 1965. As a result, this is an ill-considered Bill, and will do nothing to improve the governorship, management or future of the museum.

All hon. Members know that it is a museum of London. Therefore, logically, it should be controlled by democratically elected representatives of the people of London. All hon. Members are democrats and know that that follows from the inevitability of having a museum of London. The only sensible way to administer it is through democratically elected representatives, which is how at least part of the governorship of the museum has always been in the past. But the Bill is removing that one democratically elected representative part of the governorship which has a direct interest in and accountability to the people of London. In doing so, the Government do no favours to the museum or the people of London.

All hon. Members know that that is true, and that the management and administration of the museum to date has been extremely good. When the Minister replies I defy him to say how the Bill can possibly improve the quality of the museum, or of its accountability to the people of London. Because of the museum's good management, it may continue as well as before, but the Bill does not improve the quality of the museum. The Government have been meddling in the administration of the museum simply because of their vindictive attitude towards the GLC. That cannot be a good reason to alter the governorship, powers and functions of the museum. The Minister knows that that is the case. In Committee he could not give one way in which the Bill would improve the museum, and he knows that it will not do so. The Bill does not improve the museum one jot or tittle.

The greatest nonsense of all is that, because of the absurdity of having to introduce the Bill, the Government have found themselves turning their own policies on their heads. The Government are determined to cut expenditure in every area but because of this Bill they are increasing Government expenditure on the Museum of London.

The Minister has come before the House and the Committee saying how good and virtuous the Government are and how well intentioned they are in planning to spend £2.5 million a year on the museum in the future. That is an increase in the museum's overall budget of 10 per cent. The Opposition welcome that and thank the Minister for it. We hope that that increase will continue in subsequent years. However, the Minister has not told the House that that £2.5 million is a much greater sum than the Government contribution to the museum last year. Therefore, we have the absurdity of a Government committed to cutting Government expenditure having to increase Government expenditure on the museum because of their facile and stupid attitude towards the Greater London council. There cannot be any greater absurdity for the Minister for the Arts to find himself in.

For all the kind words, concern about standards and intelligent interest in the conditions of the museum arid its future which the Minister expressed in Committee, the truth is that the Government's basic philosophy towards the arts, not only their political philosophy towards local government and democratic representations in London, is not consistent with a good, sane and improved administration of the arts.

The arts should not be solely for the market place. There is a national and public interest in the arts and in our culture which goes beyond that. That is something which the Government have missed and not understood in the Bill and because of that, the Bill brings no credit to the Government. I am sure that the Bill will be repealed by a future Labour Government when they return democratic government to London.

9.42 pm
Mr. Hanley

It would be wrong for the Bill to pass to the other place without a tribute being paid to those who work in this excellent museum. One of the great advantages of being selected for the Standing Committee was the opportunity, which many of us took, to visit the museum and see it with a fresh mind. It was a great privilege to be able to see behind the scenes. However many times many of us may have been to the museum, it had previously been impossible to see behind the scenes.

The museum is an iceberg. It may be a cliché to say one eighth above water and seven eighths below, but that is true of the museum, in that the artefacts on display are but a tiny proportion of the total amount of paintings, prints and relics which are lovingly restored and lovingly catalogued. They left a deep impression upon me. The way in which the people work behind the scenes with such great dedication is something of which the people of London and the country should be proud.

When I visited the museum there were only two matters pressed upon me by those who wished to discuss the impending Bill. Those matters were not political, but sensible alterations or clarifications to the Bill. The first was that we should have regard to the contribution of the London boroughs in appointing people to the board. That has been guaranteed by my right hon. Friend. It is not just a museum of the City of London. It is a museum of London, of all its people and the area around London. That has been clearly set out by my right hon. Friend.

Secondly, the people at the museum wanted to ensure that the archaeological side of the museum would be guaranteed. It has been, and is consistent with the other powers of the board of the museum. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said in that regard.

There is a third matter which is one of my own. I had hoped that a report might be presented, at least once every three years, or more if circumstances determine, because of extra funding. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has said that that will be dealt with in another place. I am grateful for the extra funding which the Government are providing for the year to come.

The Museum of London shares in the honour that my right hon. Friend received. No doubt the idea of making my right hon. Friend a Privy Councillor was swayed by his appointment as Minister for the Arts. It is a tribute to the way in which Conservatives view the arts that he has been so elevated. Therefore, on the Bill passing to the other place, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts and the Government on their commitment to the historical arts of London.

9.45 pm
Mr. Tony Banks

That was a brown-nosed job of a speech, but it was made in that wonderful voice that the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) has, which no doubt will guarantee him future appearances on party political broadcasts for the Conservative party.

When I saw the Leader of the House come in, I thought that we would have the tumultuous news that the abolition of the GLC was just an ugly rumour, but I now realise that the right hon. Gentleman is probably more interested in the speech on the Adjournment, which is perhaps nearer to his heart than are the arts. That is on his own admission. He has said that he is probably the worst philistine in the House. It is a brave claim, even for the Leader of the House, given the company he keeps.

The Bill is one of the easier aspects of the abolition of the GLC.I correct the Minister. The GLC will be abolished at midnight on 31 March. It is the Government who take over on All Fools' day on 1 April, not the GLC. Although the Bill is one of the easier aspects of GLC abolition, in other areas of the arts in London the consequences are likely to be more fraught and dangerous. We have heard talk about Sadler's Wells. If the Minister for the Arts wants to show his total commitment to the arts, let him, even at this late stage, make an announcement when he speaks on Third Reading that the Government will step in with the necessary funds to save Sadler's Wells. That will be the way of guaranteeing that this otherwise largely unreported debate will get some coverage tomorrow morning. Let us see whether the right hon. Gentleman would like to reach out for that.

There are problems not only with Sadler's Wells but with the Half Moon, the Theatre Royal in my constituency, the Riverside, the Tricycle, the Warehouse, and all the many small theatres, particularly in community and ethnic arts. They will suffer because of the abolition of the GLC. The Greater London Arts Association has estimated that between 25 and 100 bodies are likely to go because of GLC abolition. No one can quantify the number. However, the Bill represents an easy part of abolition. The Minister will have many more pressing problems on his plate from 1 April. I do not think that he will have such an easy ride when he deals with those aspects of GLC abolition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said how strange it was that a Government who advocated the abolition of the GLC, at least on one ground, that of cost, now find that they have to dig deep into the public purse to pay for services and interests previously maintained efficiently and effectively by the GLC on behalf of Londoners. I suspect that, as with the problems for the arts, problems about the public expenditure consequences of GLC abolition will come back time and again to haunt the Government before their demise at the general election.

I shall always seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to rub in the message on GLC abolition long after 31 March when it has been abolished. However, this evening we are dealing with a small aspect of the abolition of the GLC.I join the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes and my hon. Friends in wishing the Museum of London well in future. The future is no better now than it was when the GLC was partly responsible for the museum's affairs. I pay great tribute to the role of the GLC and to the support that it gave to the museum.

I give particular credit to the GLC nominees on the governing body of the museum. I remind the Minister once again that those nominees were not selected on the basis of the Prime Minister's dictum, "Is he one of us?" They were selected on a cross-party basis and included Tory as well as Labour nominees. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he appoints the governors after the Bill has received Royal Assent. I hope that he will also bear in mind the service rendered by the GLC nominees, both Conservative and Labour.

We shall have to return to this matter in a few years' time. After the election of a Labour Government, the restoration of citywide democracy and the abolition of the City of London, we shall have to look again at the functions of the Museum of London, and in particular at its board. We shall remember this evening. The Opposition wish the Bill well in another place. It is a necessary Bill, because of abolition, and we do not wish to oppose it.

9.50 pm
Mr. Murphy

I rise in support of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts. I, too, wish this measure to be enacted. During the Second Reading debate on the Museum of London Bill I referred to private sponsorship of the arts, which is relevant both to the heritage and to the Museum of London. It may be of interest to those hon. Members who were present on that occasion to know that, subsequent to the adoption of my report on this subject by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a favourable response has been received from the Committee of Ministers. It shares the view that the potential resources for cultural financing can be increased by combining state and private efforts. In the opinion of the Committee of Ministers, such a combination has been made especially relevant as member states seek the most effective use of the resources that are available for culture and turn increasingly to forms of co-funding with other bodies. However, despite such collective wisdom, which embraces Governments of differing political complexions, the Committee stage of the Museum of London Bill was—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I take it that this is a preamble to what the hon. Member intends to say about the Bill.

Mr. Murphy

You are, as ever, absolutely right, Mr. Speaker. Despite that recognition of the importance of co-funding, the Committee stage of the Bill was accompanied by a great deal of Socialist dogma and anti-capitalist rhetoric. The partnership between the Government and the Corporation of the City of London is exactly the type of partnership that should he encouraged in both the public and the private sectors.

During the passage of the Bill attempts have been made to denigrate the Government's commitment to the arts and to the heritage. The Socialists have again adopted the ploy of trying to turn myth into fact. That should be exposed for exactly what it is— misrepresentation.

Mr. Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Murphy

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. There was enough to-ing and fro-ing in Committee for us to know exactly where all hon. Members stand in their commitment to the arts and the heritage. I see no reason for the proceedings of the House to be held up once again. I believe that the Bill will assist the Museum of London. It will also assist the people of London and my constituents who live outside London. I wish the measure well.

9.54 pm
Mr. Buchan

I rise to make the last Opposition speech before the Bill goes to the House of Lords, where I suspect many amendments will be made to it.

This is not a happy occasion. Indeed, it is a very sad one. It is the first measure to have emerged after the introduction of the stupid, malevolent and ill-thought-out concept to abolish the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties. It has been done out of malevolence and pique, and without considering most of the consequences that will flow from abolition. Above all, it was done with no consideration of how properly to replace any democratic say in the various institutions of London. The Museum of London is only one aspect but it is a serious sign that the Government intend to maintain this undemocratic approach throughout the many other problems that will arise.

Several hon. Members have referred to the fact that we have had between 15 and 16 hours of discussion. One of the problems was the interminable intervention of Conservative Members, which limited the useful discussions of the Opposition. We accept that some hon. Members—even in Committee, difficult as it was to discern—may he interested and concerned in the arts. I go further. I believe that the new Minister, perhaps without any direct experience, is learning fast. I think that he learned during the course of the Committee. Attention has been drawn to the desire to bring in the London boroughs and to emphasise archaeological aspects. That largely stems from pressure that we brought to bear. While at the end of the day amendments were not required, there was a commitment that we welcomed.

We have been accused of making nothing but anticapitalist statements. In fact we have brought a change of tone and attitude towards the Bill. We have even recognised Government amendments. To talk about anticapitalist remarks reminds me of Karl Marx's comment that the bourgeoisie built statues to the great writers of the past but that if they had ever read their books they would have burned them. We congratulate the Minister on his first venture only because it is his first venture, not because of the nature of the Bill.

A number of issues still face us in relation to the arts in Londong. The narrowness of view in relation to the Museum of London has borne fruit in recent weeks. At the time of abolition, both of the metropolitan authorities and the GLC, we warned that among the areas of our life that would be in deadly trouble were the arts. Pledge after pledge made by the previous Minister and repeated by the present Minister, maintained that the arts were in no danger and that funding would be brought forward to replace the funding that would be lost from the metropolitan authorities and the GLC.

Of course, it was said that there would be cuts. Of the £20 million that was required, £4 million would come from the boroughs. That proved to be a complete misunderstanding — an under-estimate. In fact, even with the additional £10 million for the arts, there is still a £19 million shortfall. The Arts Council says it needs £10 million because it knows it will not get the £9 million from the Government.

We are seeing the consequences. The Government say that they are under-funding deliberately because the successor bodies will come forward to support the arts, yet the first thing that happens is that no successor body—no borough, no council—is represented in the first piece of legislation. That is some evidence of what can be done by the successor councils when they are treated with such contempt.

But the Government know and we know, and events have proved, that what we said was right. Local councils have had their rate support grants cut and have been rate-capped. Indeed, it is those who are most generous towards the arts who have been subjected to rate capping. They cannot replace the funding that came from the metropolitan authorities and the GLC. We hear the Minister saying that he is proud of the £2 million-plus that the Government and the City of London have added. Yet it is astonishing that the Government have been led into additional expenditure which they did not think about when they abolished the GLC. We must remember that the rest of the arts remain in trouble.

The Museum of London has been saved but the Government have, for example, plunged Sadler's Wells, with its 300 years of theatrical history, not only of national importance and fame but international importance and fame, into closure. It is unthinkable, but it will happen. We have seen the Cottisloe theatre close, and now Sadler's Wells will go. We know that in the north-east, the Empire in Sunderland, the royal theatre in Newcastle, and the royal philharmonic hall in Liverpool are also in bad trouble. This is linked to what the Bill will bring about. The two things are integrally linked because they stem from the same narrow, petty, mean-minded attitude of the Government. We are seeing the apotheosis of Mammom and a growth of Philistinism.

We hope that—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Museum of London Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. —[Mr. Neubert.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Buchan

We hope that the other place will improve the Bill.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I have been trying to catch his eye, but it is rather difficult when he speaks with his back to me. He spoke about the City of London. Many things have been said about its role and the additional money that it is making available to the Museum of London to match the Government's increased contribution. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the City of London, already the wealthiest borough in London, will make a considerable amount of money out of the abolition of the GLC. This is because a number of new schemes will be carried out on a per capita basis, and as the City has only a small population, it will benefit enormously in terms of a reduction in its contribution. Even the additional money that it is giving to the Museum of London is not an act of generosity but is paid out of profits that will accrue because of the abolition of the GLC.

Mr. Buchan

My comment about the apotheosis of Mammon was right.

The multitude of arts bodies that have been supported by the GLC, both small and professional, such as the ethnic and community arts and theatres such as the Half Moon and the royal theatre in Stratford are in London, but there are others beyond London.

We cannot take too much pleasure in the £4 million-plus going to the Museum of London. We are pleased that the Minister has secured that money, but we are displeased with the undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of the museum's governing body that he has inherited and will now establish. Will he take back the message to his mistress that the biggest single act that she could take, both to win our co-operation on the Bill and, more importantly, to save the arts in Britain, which are such a ferment of fear and anxiety, is to restore the money lost to the arts through the Government's ill-conceived schemes?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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