HC Deb 13 March 1989 vol 149 cc78-118

Motion made, and Question proposed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (Consolidated Fund Bills), That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Maclean.]

7.23 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I am glad of this opportunity to celebrate the arts of this country and to apportion credit where credit is due—to my right hon. Friend the Minister and his team at the Office of Arts and Libraries and also to the many administrators in local government and in the arts centres for all that they do to make artistic achievements possible. I should also like to draw attention to the vitality of the arts in Britain and among British artists. In celebrating the arts, we should also look for ways in which to encourage them still further.

Last Saturday, as I was sitting in Southwark cathedral for the installation of our local archdeacon, I found myself considering this debate and how to frame it. I was sitting alongside the memorial to William Shakespeare. Perhaps that was an omen, as I believe that it sums up the theme of my debate—the past excellence of our arts and the ways in which we can emulate that. Looking around that cathedral—not just at the Shakespeare and Chaucer windows, but at the fine architecture—my awareness of that excellence was heightened, and as I listened to the anthem by Thomas Tallis I realised that the ceremony was a celebration of our artistic excellence.

On Saturday afternoon I went with my 11-year-old son to the Festival Hall to attend one of the Ernest Read children's concerts. My son was performing with his school choir as part of that concert, which to me was as much a symbol of our debate on the arts as the excellence of the cathedral and its service. Those concerts introduce young children and their families to the best of British musical performance and encourage them to participate. I stress the importance of participation as well as of understanding and observing the arts. In my own childhood I recall being introduced to music by being persuaded to take up the piano at an early age. I later took up the clarinet. Then, finding that one could get the maximum enjoyment with the minimum effort by changing instruments, I switched to the double bass. That enabled me to get into the school orchestra, so I got to know a lot of music without quite so much rehearsal and practice time as the clarinet would have required. I then discovered that the double bass was a somewhat unwieldy instrument to play in a military band, so I took up the tuba. Such was my introduction to music.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The hon. Gentleman is a real one-man band.

Mr. Bowis

I look forward to hearing the percussion from the Labour Benches a little later.

Alongside my introduction to music I was persuaded to take part in school performances—anything from Lear to A. P. Herbert. I rendered a performance—if that is the right term—of the Mikado and did something to Gilbert and Sullivan. I am not sure what I did, but shortly afterwards D'Oyly Carte closed down. All this shows that from a young age one can participate in the arts. It also shows that if one takes up the tuba and indulges in a little thespianism one can end up on the Back Benches of the House of Commons, but if one does it will be the last that one sees of the pleasures of the stage and the concert hall.

For about 12 years one of my indulgences was being a performer in the Blue Review. Very often I trod the boards under the directorship of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert). I well remember on one occasion before I came here being taught of the perils of the whipping system and how the Whips did not encourage hon. Members to depart from this place to enjoy the arts. I will put on record one version of my hon. Friend's composition, although I hasten to add that I do not intend to sing it:

  • "There are many, many ways to keep on top.
  • When they say 'go' we often have to say 'stop'.
  • At night they all seek leave to see the opera.
  • To stay, we say, would be more right and properer.
  • We get some argy-bargy.
  • If they miss their Pagliacci;
  • But they stay in place
  • Or else they face
  • The chop!"
I have learnt from bitter experience that this place limits our ability to get out and enjoy the arts as we might like. However, we can play a part in encouraging others to discover the arts. We should encourage people to set out on a lifetime of discovery of the arts.

That voyage of discovery is not just a discovery of the enjoyment of the arts—although that is important. There are many ways in which the arts contribute to society. When I was chairman of an education committee, we endeavoured to bring the arts into education, not just by teaching pupils to appreciate music and drama but by encouraging drama, music and painting as part of the teaching of other subjects to bring history, geography, language and science to life in a way that the drier forms of teaching cannot.

There is a great role for the arts in what may broadly be called enforced leisure, which may be due to sickness, unemployment or imprisonment. Throughout those periods of enforced confinement, the arts can play an enormously important part in helping people to find self-confidence and self-awareness and to regain their self-respect. The arts also play a part at work. We know the need for good designers and the good use of language at work. The arts also have a role to play in public life, in ensuring that we in public life bring artistic qualities to bear when making judgments and decisions as to how to improve the environment.

The social benefits from the arts are legion. The basic facts against which this debate takes place are that 251 million people attend arts events, of whom 49 million attend theatres and concerts, 70 million attend cinemas, 73 million visit museums and galleries—it is not just west end theatres but houses outside London and even local arts centres—and 10 million people attend concerts, of whom 2.5 million attend symphony concerts, 2.2 million attend chamber music concerts and 5.7 million attend rock and pop concerts. Specialist, local and independent museums attract vast numbers of people. Those figures show the vitality of the arts, and the industry directly employs 200,000 people.

The arts also provide therapeutic benefits—the social good that comes from the arts for the individual and the community. Some years ago, I went to Greenwich for the introduction of a community arts project on a difficult estate where there was much vandalism. By bringing in a community arts team and encouraging the people of the estate to come together to create a wall painting, the project brought a feeling of pride in the estate which had not existed before. It also encouraged a determination to protect the estate from outside vandalism and produced a new feeling of self-awareness and self-confidence in the people living there. That example could be repeated throughout the country.

The person who finds that he or she can create through the arts rarely becomes a vandal, graffiti merchant or litter lout. People who find that they share a common interest in the arts are rarely social misfits but instead join others to promote that interest. People in prison can find a new purpose in life through the arts. All too often we are forced to say what a pity it was that such people were not introduced to the arts before they got into trouble because they might have been prevented from ending up in that position. It is much better if we can encourage a person to become interested in the arts at the ground floor level of life so that the arts become a basic part of his or her make-up.

The arts can provide an integral safety net so that when we face tough times we can fall back on our knowledge, understanding and love of the arts to help us through. The arts are not a luxury but a necessity, an essential ingredient in the life of the individual and the nation. The state and the taxpayer should therefore never opt out of supporting the arts. The Government and the state have a role as a patron. That has always been so and it always will be so. Patronage cannot come out of the clouds—the Government must play a part because of the costs and implications involved.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

I have been waiting for the hon. Gentleman to come to this point. All that he has said so far has been acceptable—anyone who does not encourage the arts is foolish—but having come to the question of supportive systems for the arts, is he satisfied that the Government have put enough into the arts? Should we appeal to the Government to put more into the arts? What are his views on the fact that some hon. Members believe that we should have more voluntary supportive systems for the arts?

Mr. Bowis

The brief answer is no—we shall never be satisfied that there is enough support for the arts. However, the Government and particularly my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts have gone a long way to increasing that support and the confidence with which we can plan future support. The plural nature of funding and work to encourage other sources of funding is equally important, but we can never be satisfied that there is enough funding. There will always be new developments in the arts to be considered and funded.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

The Government's expenditure programme on the arts has increased by 33 per cent. in real terms since they came to office in 1979, so they have certainly made a contribution.

Mr. Tony Banks

That is a highly questionable statistic.

Mr. Bowis

I entirely accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) that there has been a substantial and significant increase in the arts funding. Even more important so that people can plan ahead we have three-year funding, which has been rolled forward for the fourth year. As well as the role of patron, the state also has a role as the guardian of standards. If the Government and Parliament did not play a role in encouraging high standards in the arts but opted out completely, we should have a mixture of the tawdry and the pedestrian. That is all that the market alone would produce. The market has an important role to play, but it needs guidance from Parliament and Government.

The state must encourage the innovator with talent, because too often the innovator is left behind by private sponsorship, so support must be given from the public sector. In a sense the message that we should give is similar to that which we give to new, young exporters—that we shall provide some export guarantee back-up for them. The state has a role to play as educator—through schools, youth services and continuing education.

The Government's role should be the pursuit of excellence, and to provide cash support for that which is of top quality. The Government should promote the spread of excellence in both central and regional development. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister has done a great deal to encourage regional development. That applies as much to London, which is far more than just the west end, as to areas outside London. What happens in the boroughs is crucial to the development and health of the arts. Support for touring companies and performers is important, as is support for taking things out of the cellars and drawers and putting them on show, around the country and abroad, to advertise the quality that this country possesses.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

My hon. Friend mentioned the role of the boroughs, and I presume that he was referring to local authority support for the arts generally. Is he aware that some of the regional opera companies have expressed concern that clause 28 of the Local Government and Housing Bill will restrict grants for economic development, and that grants for regional opera companies and other arts organisations may be caught by it? If that is so, does my hon. Friend agree that it is a wholly undesirable development?

Mr. Bowis

If that presents an obstacle to good arts funding, we should certainly examine it. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister will say something about it. It also underlines the need to scrutinise Arts Council funding as well as local government funding. The one can help to balance the other.

Mr. Greenway

This has been one of the great successes of "The Glory of the Garden". For a short time I was governor of the Theatre Royal in York and we implemented "The Glory of the Garden" policy to great effect by persuading local authorities to make their contribution.

Mr. Bowis

I accept that point, particularly for regions outside London, although the glory of London occasionally leaves something to be desired.

Continuing to summarise the Government's role, I believe that the Government must encourage the crucial participation to which I referred earlier and tell people to try doing things, not just to sit still. That message must go out to people of all ages. The Government must also provide incentives for plural funding so that new funding opportunities are created and total resources for the arts increased.

Besides what the Government can give the arts we should highlight what they can receive from them. We should put grants into perspective by reminding ourselves of the 200,000 jobs involved and the 250 million people who attend, and of the £30 million that is estimated to come from the arts through local rates. VAT on the arts now contributes £55 million, compared with £35 milli on in 1983, and the arts earn about £1,500 million directly and indirectly from overseas earnings and from overseas visitors to this country. In addition to all this, the education, industry and social fabric of our nation benefit unquantifiably from the arts.

The Government can be proud of their achievements. My hon. Friends have referred to some of those achievements and I shall highlight a few others, particularly the work of the British Council to which increased funding has been given. The British Council and our embassies, high commissions and consulates do good work abroad. I went to a detention centre in South Africa for young men who had got into trouble in Soweto and found to my surprise that funding from Britain had resulted in English literature being learned there. I went in unannounced, only to discover that they were reading "Macbeth" with evident enjoyment—a plus for British literature as well as for the work done for people in need.

Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned a commendable body of people. Those of us who have seen the British Council at work can confirm the amount of personal time, expertise and professionalism that its staff put into their work, for the benefit of the people of the countries that they serve. However, whenever I meet British Council staff, as I do fairly regularly, they complain that they have suffered cuts and have had to undo the damage done by those cuts through extra effort and raising revenue themselves. I commend what the Government are doing, but I make a plea to them to raise the expenditure limits in the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's submission.

Mr. Bowis

I have nothing against people raising additional money from elsewhere. I, too, have spoken to the British Council recently and I understand that it received a substantial increase in funding this year, so perhaps the pleas of the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members in all parts of the House have been heard. The British Council's work can therefore continue with confidence.

I also want to highlight the success of the Government's policy of helping inner-city regeneration. I commend the work done with other Departments which led to the British music industry sponsoring the city college for the technology of the arts. I commend the record number of museums that are opening and the record attendance figures, which are soaring towards the 100 million mark—the figure has doubled during the Government's period of office. Theatres that were closed for some years are reopening, which is good. A great deal of business sponsorship is being found, and the three-year funding is a healthy development. I plead with the Arts Council to feed it through. Sometimes the client bodies do not receive the three-year funding, at least not on the level commensurate with the Government's funding of the Arts Council.

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

Before the hon. Gentleman gets too carried away by his own rhetoric about museums and starts congratulating the Government on opening private, independent museums in which the Government are not involved, will he reflect on the attendance figures this year, about which the Minister has just replied in a parliamentary written answer? Attendance at the British museum, the Imperial War museum, the national gallery, the science museum, the Victoria and Albert museum and the Wallace collection has declined, and that is related to the fact that the Government have so underfunded the museums that they have to charge for admission, so attendance is falling catastrophically.

Mr. Bowis

Figures fluctuate. The figures for the national maritime museum show that attendance has risen over the years. The hon. Gentleman should examine the results of charging rather carefully. It often means that museums can open on days when they had hitherto been closed. That presents new opportunities for people to go and see them, so let us await future developments.

I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister to seek means of additional support for, and to remove occasional obstacles to, the success of opera. Enormous strides are being made to bring opera to new audiences. I do not mean only "Aida" at Earl's Court or productions in docklands but the whole range of initiatives, outside and inside London. I commend Westminster council's work in taking over performances so as to provide cheap seats at the Coliseum for people who have not seen opera before. The record of the English National Opera is to be commended, too. It has done good work to improve receipts from the box office and from sponsorship. Over the past five years those receipts have risen by 72 per cent., and sponsorship by more than 140 per cent. Grants have risen by 16 per cent. and are increasing by 2 per cent. per year—nothing like the rate of inflation, or the 13 per cent. given to the Arts Council by the Government.

I hope that the Government will look carefully at the financing of bodies such as the ENO. The funding that used to come from Westminster council can no longer do so because of the new local government finance system. The triumvirate of the Office of the Arts and Libraries, Westminster council and the Arts Council needs to come together to resolve the problem.

Grant funding for the Royal Opera House—it is, after all, three companies—has fallen from 53 per cent. in 1985 to about 37 per cent. and is heading towards 34 per cent. One continually needs to assess the danger point for these establishments, because the switch from a balanced budget of public and private sponsorship to excessively private sponsorship can lead to a rather dull programme. At the New York Met, which is 90 per cent. privately sponsored, there is no new work at all and certainly nothing of the quality of this year's Covent Garden programme. I sound a warning note that we should not let that balance get out of kilter.

Staying with the world of music, but moving across the river, I believe there is some good news coming on the south bank. I welcome the proposal to bring the private and public sectors together and Terry Farrell's designs to improve that concrete jungle. That is good news. It is also a good example. It will certainly improve the concert halls and the Hayward gallery. I would question whether we actually need to build a rehearsal hall more or less identical to the main Festival hall right alongside it. I understand from musicians that one either needs to have the actual hall available for the top conductor and top orchestra, or one can make do with the Henry Wood hall, Holy Trinity, which is available now, and perhaps that space could be better used for some other purpose—for example, a theatre of dance for London.

Also we need to encourage those who will take the decisions to address their minds to the need to have an orchestra in residence on the south bank. It has worked successfully at the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra. The royal philharmonic orchestra is now an ad hoc touring orchestra, and I would have thought the London philharmonic orchestra, either on its own or merged with the Philharmonia, if that is practical, could become the resident orchestra of the south bank and raise the quality of music there.

Turning to theatre, I am a great believer in the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and I am sad to see that a question mark still hangs over it. If one looks at the quality of that institution over the years, starting some 40 years ago with the young artists Bacon, Hepworth and Moore then coming through and being promoted as the face of modern art, one sees what they have done since to encourage not just the visual arts but also theatre and film, the theatre de complicite, DV8, the programme coming in now of novostroika from the Soviet Union with the Almanakh group of poet performers. These things are excellent examples of the encouraging of modern innovative art, and the continued partnership between the ICA and the Arts Council should be encouraged.

On the smaller theatre, I have referred before to pub theatre, with which I have had some involvement, and the need to look at licensing. These are too small to qualify as fully fledged theatres and tend to be lumped with clubs, thus needing 48-hour membership, which deters people from coming in. They have all sorts of difficulties, and now they are plagued by some London authorities, the latest one being Camden with the Hampstead theatre and the Viceroy. We need something like the initiative being taken by the London Association of Studio Theatres, which is drawing up a code of practice. If that code of practice could be adopted, by all local authorities but especially in London, we could remove that particular hindrance to the small theatre.

An even smaller theatre is the Theatry of Puppetry. Puppetry does not often get a mention in this place, but I will mention it because its national centre is in my constituency at the Battersea arts centre.

Mr. John Greenway

The place is full of them.

Mr. Bowis

I used the word "puppetry". On the whole, the puppets are not here today to participate.

There is a danger that this national, indeed, international, resource was overlooked in the changeover from ILEA to the local boroughs, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to look carefully to see that its interests are preserved.

I cannot pass by on today of all days, the eve of the Budget, without mentioning the danger to the nation's reading posed by the constant threat of VAT on the written word. I put in the plea, which I hope and am confident will be heard, that it would not really be helpful to the arts, the literary world or education in this country if a 15 per cent. tax, surcharge, penalty or whatever one likes to call it were imposed on the written word. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will join me in making that message very clear to our right hon. Friend the Chancellor. There is no legal requirement for it and it could only damage the education and indeed the economy of the country. I know from my own inner-city area how many people need to benefit from learning to take advantage of the economic opportunities which exist.

Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter. He has just completed a quartet of important concerns, referring to the Royal Opera House, the theatre and the written word. He referred to the amount of money going to the Royal Opera House, which has dropped from over 50 per cent. to 33 per cent. He will recollect that his hon. Friend indicated following my first intervention that there had been a Government improvement in funding of 33 per cent., so, with the shortfalls to which the hon. Member has referred and the increases to which his hon. Friend has referred, does this not suggest an organisational problem and that the imbalances to which' he referred might arise from conflicts within the art world, the power of certain personalities and the institutionalisation of the art forms that he has described?

Mr. Bowis

I shall not go into personalities, but a danger of imbalance is implied. It does not conflict with what my hon. Friend was saying because, of course, total figures can go up. I was referring to the percentage of the total and the need to keep the balance right. It will still be possible for the overall figures to increase, as I hope will be the case.

Finally, there is the question of libraries. I went to the launching of the library campaign and I welcomed it as such because it is right that people should be made more aware of their libraries and should put greater pressure on local authorities to keep them as a high priority in local government spending. Although the Library Association has it right, the library campaign is fighting a campaign which relates to the position before my right hon. Friend made his announcement on the Green Paper consultation.

Having looked at their literature, which refers to 165 library service points closing down, one knows that the actual figure has gone up from 14,000 to 18,000, so that is misleading. Reference is made to a 13 per cent. fall in the number of books, but one knows that there has been no fall. There is reference to library book stocks falling by 4 per cent., but the actual stocks have increased from 110 million to 116 million, so that, too, is misleading. There is reference to a cut of more than 1,000 jobs, when one knows that staffing is up to the highest level for 10 years. That, too, is misleading.

One sees reference to the Government forcing libraries to make people pay when one knows that the Government have actually introduced legislation prohibiting local authorities from charging for lending books but permitting those who wish to bring in some additional income from other sources. All that is a pity, because it takes attention away from what should be a good campaign to look for ways of encouraging more people to make better use of their libraries and to put greater pressure on authorities to spend more on them.

To summarise, Bishop Creighton said that the one real object of education is to leave a man continually asking questions. I believe that the object of the arts is to enable men to seek answers to those questions within a framework of aesthetic and cultural understanding. I believe that the arts bring an awareness of what is beautiful and hence a determination to avoid and reject what is ugly. I believe that the arts give individuals, communities and nations an identity and self-confidence. I believe that the arts demand of Governments a light and sensitive touch which seeks to nurture without seeking to mould. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we have the environment in trust for future generations. In the same way, we have the artistic heritage in trust for future generations. I hope that future generations will look back on our stewardship and say that we enhanced the artistic life of this country.

7.59 pm
Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

I came into the Chamber—it seems only a few moments ago—to find that for the first time in my experience of 20 years in this place, special time had been given to the arts. That is not to say that the arts have not been mentioned before, because nothing new happens in the House of Commons. Perhaps I missed other debates on the arts.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) has raised a subject which touches the very pulse of human personality in our society. The search for the enhancement of human dignity and our latent talents begins with a child's education. The teacher pursues those talents. The essence of teaching is not to instruct, but to ask questions and see how best the great discovery of seeking answers can generate a child's activity. When I was a teacher I used to have a saying that there is success in every child if only we can find it. That is the teacher's function.

The hon. Member for Battersea has done a service for the House by considering a broader brush of the world of the arts. He has referred to opera houses, the written word and the theatre. I cannot recall whether he mentioned the film industry. If he did not, that may have been an oversight, but we must consider that very important topic.

The very seedcorn of dealing with the larger parameters of the arts begins in our schools. When I talk to teachers I find that they are very worried about budgeting in schools. That worry is pressing on teachers to such an extent that we must listen to them. My teachers are not well paid for their excellent work. They have to take money from their own pockets to meet the expenditure shortfalls and so pay for the necessary equipment and instruments to present wider artistic opportunities to their children.

The arts are the great regenerative force within the educational process. The arts are fundamentally useful even to the child pursuing a career in civil engineering. They are also fundamentally useful to budding economists. If a child entered that profession, he would be wonderfully 100 per cent. correct because no economist agrees with another and each believes that he is right.

Apart from that degree of cynicism, the Government are not sustaining the very foundations of the art world which are present in our schools. Geniuses like Attenborough have brought this country a remarkable reputation for producing films which attract thousands of people outside this country. Those films provide inspiration, which is part of the experience of art, to go out and try to emulate that genius in some other form within an individual's own abilities.

I went to see a film directed by Attenborough not very long ago. I came away feeling a little proud of the fact that I had learnt something about India. Before then I had read some of the more diverse views and the historical distortions in the British press which were responses to the power struggles of the time and which failed fundamentally to give us the true picture of what happened in parts of the Commonwealth and before that in the British empire.

There are real truths in film art. I am only a lay person and I am limited in the language referred to by the hon. Member for Battersea. Perhaps I could do better in the written word. However, the Government must be mindful to promote and encourage the arts and be acquiescent in areas like the film industry where we must do more. There is genius trying to gain expression in this country. As I said about children, there is success in everyone if only we can find it.

I believe that one of the great art forms is conversation between human beings. People may say that that is not an art form, but it is. When I listen to people who unfortunately are not well off, who are exceptionally poor, who cannot really spend much time thinking about anything else but how to make ends meet, I discover that their conversations are limited, prejudicial, restricted and unhappy. We need money to solve that problem. There is a great deal of latent talent imprisoned because of poverty and simply because people's houses are cold. Who the hell can read a book in a cold house?

All human experience is art. The enhancement of art's separate parts will never reach the desired heights if we neglect what makes the human emotions tick and if we neglect what makes people move and do things. Ambition is good enough for many people, but great ambitions have been buried because people have not had the opportunity in society to open out and flower.

The hon. Member for Battersea referred to the theatre. It is a long time since I had the chance to go to the theatre because this House is a bit of a crazy place. Of course we like to be here, but 100 per cent. of my time is interesting only to me. I love this place and I want to be in it. I do not have time to go out, so I am ignorant about the theatre. When I was a young boy I used to write one-act plays; I did not get much further because one must accept one's own mediocrity. Nevertheless, I know that the theatre is important for the players, the playwrights and those who make profits from it. I would not deny people the right to make profits, because that is an important element of the industry. I do not deny that the theatre is important, and if it is not supported properly, it will wither away in the same way as the film industry.

Mr Bowis

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although support for the arts has been apparent in respect of teaching drama and English literature, it has not until now been in evidence in respect of music and the arts, which for the first time have entered the national curriculum? Does the hon. Gentleman celebrate with me that step forward?

Mr. Leadbetter

Yes: the hon. Gentleman and I are at one. My comments are meant as an attack on the institutionalisation of our systems. What frightens me to death is the abrasiveness of the Government, who have gained power partly by telling people that they will widen choice and freedom of expression—but instead, we have seen 10 years of interventionism of the worst possible kind.

This is no longer a namby-pamby debate about percentages and extra funding: it is a debate about attitudes. When we leave the Chamber after this three-hour debate, will we say to ourselves, "That was a good debate—now let us us have our dinner," or will we follow it up by insisting that this and any future Government will give proper attention not only to finance but to the other great armies of encouragement that can expand and promote the whole world of art, so that people may experience the joy and satisfaction of learning, of being responsive to the talents of others, and of living in the world of imagination? Simply enjoying the company of creative people is itself a great part of art.

We must embrace the comments of the hon. Member for Battersea and become ambassadors for the arts in our own constituencies, not just prattle statistics. I wonder whether right hon. and hon. Members are conscious of a new trend, whereby the Prime Minister, and senior, junior and aspirant Ministers visit constituencies and instead of reading their prepared Whitehall briefs, as was the tradition, make announcements of moneys that will be dolloped here and there. There are agencies all over the country dealing with unemployment, and they are given a few thousand pounds here and there. However, I can tell the electorate that the Government are not really handing out any money. There are great schemes afoot, all associated with the arts.

A few days ago, in the northern region, the Government were handing out money. I said to one colleague, "It is not fair." We have been promised support for a great project. I am told that the principles involved will be pleased to provide donations for Hartlepool arts school and for its college of further education. They will make those donations because they are decent people, but they know that if the project does not develop, the Government will not give the millions of pounds that they have promised, and a stopper will be put on it.

I return to the fundamental heads of art that lay people such as myself understand: drama, film, libraries and museums. I find in every quarter that the people concerned with their management complain that they lack resources. That appears to be the truth. I am not in a mood to question the claim that there has been 33 per cent. extra funding, or that the Royal Opera's funding has not been reduced from 50 per cent. to 34 per cent. However, I find it strange that honest, decent and highly professional people in opera and the theatre should complain if there has been increased funding. They complain because of the lack of adequate funding to keep pace with the demands made on the particular head of art with which they are concerned.

I have not prepared any figures, and one must be amiable and not challenge the claims of right hon. and hon. Members. Nevertheless, there is a three-line Whip, so that any right hon. or hon. Member who speaks in tonight's arts debate must appear to be at one with all the others. Not a single right hon. or hon. Member wants any harm done to the arts. Countrywide, we all want to improve the system so that we shall get the best from the arts. There is unanimity on that point. If there is that unanimity, we must not be afraid of acknowleging that in some sectors of the arts—such as the film industry—we must listen to the people who run them, and accept that they are the professionals and are not wasting our time by bleating about nothing. In other words, just for once will the Government, instead of talking, listen?

8.17 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), to whom we all enjoy listening, will forgive me if I do not follow him through all the highways and byways that he described with such precision. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) not only on his good fortune in the ballot but on choosing the subject that he did. His speech was as thoughtful, perceptive and elegantly phrased as I have hard for a long time. I cannot promise to follow him in his eloquence or precision, because I did not know until six o'clock that this debate was to take place. For the past week I was in America, in the company of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West ( Mr. Banks), and learned only this evening of the debate—with mixed feelings, I admit, because I had to withdraw from a rather splendid publishing party.

I also congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend the Minister. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that if I congratulate a Minister I really mean it. My right hon. Friend has held his present post for longer than any of his predecessors, and has held it with an amiable distinction that is thoroughly admirable. There are few Ministers in any Government of whom it can be said, "He has made no enemies." My right hon. Friend has had opponents from time to time—people who have disagreed with his emphasis on this or that—but he has made no enemies in the arts world.

I must be frank. When my right hon. Friend became Minister for the Arts there was some scepticism about his appointment, because he had not been publicly identified with the arts before. He quickly showed himself, however, to be the best kind of Minister, a ready listener and a quick learner anxious to master his subject as well as to know his brief—for there is a real difference between the two.

My right hon. Friend has travelled around the country. His policy has been that of the open door; he has never refused to see anyone with a legitimate interest to advance. He has made countless friends and, as I have said, no enemies.

Mr. Tony Banks

He should be canonised.

Mr. Cormack

Not yet; that will come later.

My right hon. Friend's tenure has been very distinguished. Moreover, although the present Government's actions have not always earned my unqualified approbation, our arts record has been good. We need look only at the list of our achievements: the creation of the National Heritage Memorial Fund—a particular interest of mine, as my right hon. Friend knows—the Historic Building and Monuments Commission, now more generally known as English Heritage. and the building and opening of the Tate in the north. I could name many more such achievements which I am sure will prove lasting.

Funding, after one or two leaner years, has been nurtured by my right hon. Friend. I entirely support the concept of plurality, but I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea point to the dangers that can be created by too much sponsorship or too much of any kind of individual funding. Too much sponsorship can lead to a lack of initiative and adventure; too much state funding, on the other hand, can lead to a stultifying of creative endeavour because people feel that they must respond to a particular mood or desire.

That does not mean, however, that I agree with all that the Government have done, even in this regard. I was closely involved in the Select Committee report, published as long ago as 1981. We laboured long with that report, taking evidence in many places and from many people—including the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), whom I hope will have the good fortune to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman gave the Committee some excellent evidence, and we began a friendship that I hope will last while we are both in the House of Commons—which I hope will be a long time for both of us.

The Government did not respond to that important report with the alacrity and comprehensiveness that I should have liked. Many of its recommendations still have not been implemented, although they could and should be. There is certainly no cause for complacency. That is another of the endearing characteristics of my right hon. Friend the Minister. He is not a complacent man.

Despite our lobbying year after year, we still have VAT on repairs to listed buildings. As our heritage is a particular interest of mine, I hope that tomorrow when the Chancellor stands at the Dispatch Box he will be able to excite an extra-fervent cheer from me by announcing a move in the right direction.

Much remains to be done, and my hon. Friend was right to say in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for Hartlepool that we should never be satisfied. A particular cause for concern, if not dissatisfaction, is the crisis—I use the word deliberately—surrounding one of our greatest national institutions, the Victoria and Albert museum. I do not wish to castigate or pour scorn on any individual, because I believe that that achieves little other than making people angry and resentful, and I should like to see peace break out. It must be acknowledged, however, that the Victoria and Albert museum, which houses one of the greatest collections of collections and is one of the glories of the museum world, is in a sad and sorry state.

My point is not that some of the museum's collections have not seen the light of day for many a long year or that parts of the fabric are in a dangerous condition, although I know both to be true. I am referring to the crisis that has developed in relations between the director and trustees on the one hand and the staff—especially senior staff—on the other. I do not seek to apportion blame. I do not wish to impugn anyone's integrity, or to accuse anyone of acting from base motives.

Mr. Tony Banks

That is all the fun gone.

Mr. Cormack

The trouble is that we have reached a stage at which we must put the fun aside and try to solve the problem. It will not help to solve it if we give vent to spleen in the Chamber tonight, amusing as it may be—and I occasionally enjoy jousting in invective with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.

I have received numerous letters—marked "confidential", so I should not dream of naming the authors—from people serving in the V and A who feel deeply disturbed. They are not troublemakers but people who have devoted years, in some cases decades, of their lives to scholarship and to that institution in particular. I am not referring to the eight who have reluctantly accepted redundancy. I refer to others who are still there and are still anxious that the museum should succeed; who are concerned that visitor figures have plunged from 2 million to 1 million over a relatively short time; who recognise that there is indeed a managerial problem, and that the time has come when many solutions that might not have been contemplated a few years ago will have to be contemplated. They are not narrow-minded bigots, nor do they refuse to move with the times. They are genuinely troubled servants of a great institution.

Those people are troubled, not because someone has proposed a radical solution to their difficulties, but because of the manner in which that solution has been proposed. I hope that nothing that I say this evening will make the position worse, because I hope to do exactly the opposite. I shall make no comment on the trustees, many of whom I know and all whom I know I like and respect. I believe the chairman to be a man of great distinction who has shown—for example, in the selfless service that he has given the Royal Opera House for many years—that his heart is in the right place. Let me nevertheless say to him and to his fellow trustees that, whether they have got the solution right or wrong, they have certainly got the methods wrong.

There has been a lack of consideration—or apparent consideration—a lack of sensitivity and, certainly, a lack of consultation. A group of people, many of whom have given years, if not their whole working lives, to the institution, feel that their expertise has been set at naught, their experience ignored, their contribution discounted and a theoretical solution imposed on them without any chance to discuss it. That is how they see it. As hon. Members know, appearances and how things are perceived are terribly important. It is sometimes said that perceptions are more important than realities in politics, and we all have to bear that in mind.

I am not accusing Lord Armstrong or his trustees of anything. I am not suggesting that they have anything other than the future of the museum close to their hearts. I am not suggesting that they are doing anything other than what they consider to be right. But I am telling them as gently and as firmly as I can that their approach is wrong.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts has always demonstrated a genuine belief in the arms length principle. He has always taken the line that one appoints trustees and lets them get on with the job, that the trustees appoint a director and let him get on with the job and that it is important that the relationship between the trustees and the director should be right. So far, so good—I do not quarrel with that—but an even more important ingredient for a successful institution is that staff should have confidence in the director and the trustees. The staff of the Victoria and Albert museum, or a great many of them, do not have confidence in their director or the trustees. It may be due to misunderstandings, misinterpretations or over-hasty reactions—I am certainly not suggesting that all is right on the one side and all wrong on the other—but the staff do not have that confidence and we would be doing them, the nation, and one of its greatest institutions a disservice if we pretended otherwise.

There comes a time when the Minister has a role to play. I know that my right hon. Friend would be reluctant to acknowledge that. If I were in his position—and I sometimes wish that I were—I should have an equal reluctance, so I do not criticise him. But when a crisis of confidence has reached such proportions, someone has to step in, and the obvious person is the Minister. At the very least he should try to initiate some proper discussions conducted with equal respect on each side. The trustees, or a group of them, and the senior employees, or a group of them, should sit down together and discuss where they are going with the Victoria and Albert.

It is important that those who want to make far-reaching changes explain precisely how and why, and answer and argue, in a way that we seek to answer and argue when debate in the House is at its best. It is important that the trustees listen most carefully to the misgivings—they may be misapprehensions—of those over whom they have been set in trust. The Minister must intervene in the gentlest way to get that process going, as that is absolutely essential if the problem is to be resolved. I hope that he will.

I shall not be so presumptiously pompous as to suggest precisely how he should do that, as every Minister has his own approach. My right hon. Friend has shown that he is good at winning people's trust and confidence. He has made a lot of friends and he has no enemies, and he knows many of the people concerned. My suggestion is not a prelude to the sacking of the director. I knew the last director of the Victoria and Albert, Sir Roy Strong, very well indeed. I do not know the present director. I have met her but I have never had a proper conversation with her, so I make no comment about her competence. But if the museum is to take its rightful place in the artistic life of the nation in future, as it has in the past, the director has to enjoy the confidence of the staff, which she does not at the moment.

I am told that the director has not gone around from department to department and discussed in detail how they are run. If that is so, and I hope that she will forgive me for saying so, she has been mistaken, but mistakes can be rectified and the situation is not beyond recall. The talks and correspondence that I have had make it plain that all those people want is for the institution to flourish in future, as it has done in the past. They recognise that there are difficulties, and, as all-party Committees of this House have recognised, they see that things have to be put right. It is not a perfectly run institution and all the objects within it have not been properly displayed or, in some cases, conserved. Some things have to be changed, and tighter management may well be needed. But nothing can be achieved until confidence has been restored.

My right hon. Friend did not have a good reputation in the Foreign Office for nothing. I hope that he will use his considerable diplomatic abilities to get the people who matter together and to tell them that the stakes are far too high to allow personal vendettas or petty squabbles to ruin the future of a great institution. The trustees, the director and the staff all have roles to play and they should play them together. If, as a result of tonight's debate, so splendidly initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, there is the beginning of a solution at the Victoria and Albert, we shall not have forgone our parties and our suppers in vain.

8.37 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I listened with great interest to the paean of praise that he delivered to the Minister, although a little later he let slip that he would like to be in his place. I think that he would make a very good Minister in a Conservative Government, although he is not always certain that he is wholly with his own party, and for that reason we like him even more. I hope that I do not do him a disservice in urging his appointment on his colleagues, any more than he did for me in revealing to a startled world that we were together last week in the United States of America.

I have one major disappointment I will announce immediately and that is the debate will not be graced by the presence of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) who brings a certain muscular approach to the arts that we find at least amusing, and from time to time he even stumbles on a grain of truth. But we know that his contribution to the arts in Britain resembles that of the Luftwaffe to town planning.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on initiating the debate. Indeed, I was impressed by his range of talents. I am surprised that he bothered to come into politics. He obviously could have pursued a profitable and, who knows, a more rewarding career elsewhere. Perhaps he too aspires to sitting on the Front Bench as Arts Minister. There are quite a few on the Government Benches, and one or two on the Opposition Benches, who would like to be considered if a short list were to be drawn up.

The hon. Member for Battersea commented on the fact that the Prime Minister has been "greened" recently. His one mistake was to bring her into any consideration of artistic matters. We all know that she is into re-reading Freddie Forsyth and going to "The Mousetrap". I suppose that that is a start, but she has a long way to go before she can genuinely claim to be one of the muses—[Interruption.] I am afraid that good taste makes it impossible for me to answer that question.

I was interested to hear that the hon. Member for Battersea's kids go to the Ernest Read children's concerts at the Royal Festival hall. I acquired what taste I have in musical appreciation by going to the Robert Mayer concerts in the Central hall and then in the Royal Festival hall. I want to say how deeply grateful I am to the Inner London education authority for all the benefits that it gave me through opportunities to go to concerts, plays and other artistic events. I hope that the Minister and some of his colleagues realise what great damage they have done to the arts and to the artistic education of young children by destroying ILEA.

The hon. Member for Battersea mentioned the Royal Festival hall. I hope that he goes over and enjoys the open foyer policy that was pioneered by the Greater London council when I chaired the arts committee. There was an empty space, much like the empty space in Westminster hall that I complained about earlier this afternoon. It is criminal to have so much empty space when so many young artists—dancers, sculptors or painters—would like to use that space to display their talents to an appreciative world.

I noticed that during the day the Royal Festival hall was used just by people, mostly from Shell middle management, who came to a rather over-priced restaurant. The rest of the place was empty. I thought that the best thing to do was to turn that space to use. It was a great move by the GLC to open up the Royal Festival hall, with 25,000 people a week coming in at lunchtime to enjoy the free music and the various exhibitions, and perhaps overcoming the fear of the threshold that many people have when they view great artistic buildings.

The sordid bit that I leave to the end is that it was good value for the ratepayers of London because it made money. The GLC did not turn away from that, because it meant that not only were we involving more people in the arts, but we were providing more funds for other artistic activities in the capital. I am delighted that the South Bank board retained the open foyer policy of the Royal Festival hall that it inherited.

I am alarmed and concerned at the proposals that are emerging from Mr. Stuart Lipton and Mr. Terry Farrell for the south bank. I am sure that Mr. Lipton is altruistic and that his only concern is the welfare of the arts in London, but more cynical Members might suggest that he wants a return on the £200 million of investment that he intends to put into the south bank. I am worried about that because for such investment he will require a commercial return and commercial activity that could grate against what has been achieved so far.

I do not believe that such an important development should be something upon which the Minister says nothing. I am ready to give way to the Minister at any time. The matter is too significant to be left in the hands of a non-elected body—the South Bank board—account-able to no one save the Arts Council and therefore himself. Certainly, it is not accountable to the people of London, or to the people of Lambeth or Southwark who live in the immediate vicinity. That sort of development should be left to private developers, looking for a return on capital, and to a non-elected body.

That the Minister says nothing about it is not right. It could be argued that it is the cultural centre not only of the capital but of the whole country. That being so, the Minister should intervene and at least let us know exactly what he intends to do. He does not want to intervene. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), the next Arts Minister, wants to intervene. No, he does not.

Mr. Fisher


Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend had his opportunity and he blew it.

Mr. Bowis

Let me not come between the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and his Front Bench. Am I not right in saying that just a moment ago the hon. Gentleman was praising the perspicacity and perceptiveness of the South Bank board for what it has done in the open spaces in the Royal Festival hall? Surely that is the board that will have the final say in what goes into the new development. Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that it proposes to extend the artistic provision in that area and on those draughty concrete walkways where, for 35 years in the public sector, nothing happened?

Mr. Banks

The South Bank board retained the open foyer policy because it would have been calamitous and unacceptable if it had done anything else. Of course, the policy was showing a good return as well. I do not say that I have only praise for the South Bank board because what used to be the literary centre set up by the Greater London council in the restaurant to which I referred has now been turned back into a restaurant. So I will not be unqualified in what I say about the South Bank board.

I am concerned about the development that has been proposed. I want genuine public consultation about the scheme. I think that in London we have a right to demand that. Indeed, the House has a right to demand it on behalf of the country as a whole. I do not want to see Disneyland on the south bank. I know that the gentlemen concerned in the new enterprise have to make a return on capital. The South Bank board might not want the scheme but it will have little choice unless the Government are prepared to put up funds through the Arts Council to provide some of the things which the hon. Member for Battersea mentioned, such as covering up those appalling walkways. I want to make sure that decisions are not taken behind closed doors by the South Bank board, with no public involvement and no press or public allowed in to those meetings. I do not want it all to be done cosily by the South Bank board, with us having no influence at all.

There is a shopping mall element in the proposals. Probably we will have hamburger stands and sock shops. I do not want those. If I did, I could go to Victoria station. That is not the way to use the South Bank. When I chaired the GLC arts committee I put forward proposals for covering the walkways. If this wretched Government had not abolished the GLC in 1986, against the wishes not only of myself—I agree that I was biased—but of a majority of Londoners, we would have had schemes to cover the walkways. We would not have had McDonald's and sock shops but something that was compatible with the south bank as a centre for the arts in London. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us what thoughts he has had so far about the proposals for the south bank.

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Battersea talking about the economic benefits of the arts and saying that they were not a luxury but a necessity. He would not have found favour with his hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington or with other hon. Members who are not here, I am relieved to say, although they might have learnt a few things if they had been. Ministers need to accept that we are talking about a cultural industry and not about something arty-farty, a bit of icing on the cake. We are talking about something that makes a genuine and economic contribution to the fabric of society. Therefore, I do not look on this as a subsidy for the arts. Government funding is an investment in the arts. I can think of few finer forms of public investment than investment in the arts. If that approach is taken, I can only say that I do not share the feelings of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South who had such great praise for the Minister. The Minister has done better than some of his predecessors, but that was not very difficult.

Looking at the amount of money that the Government have put into the arts, I challenge the figure that the Minister throws out from time to time—33 per cent. in real terms. When one starts to disaggregate it, it does not look like that at all. Taking into account the money that the Government took away when they abolished the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, as well as investment in the British Library, one gets round to a far more modest figure in terms of the arts—certainly the performing arts—in this country.

The Policy Studies Institute has just announced in a report—I do not think that the report has yet been published—that between 1983 and 1988 it was estimated that the growth, in real terms, in arts expenditure was 1 per cent. a year. I am one of those people who would be quite happy to submit these various statistical claims to some arbitrating body so that we might know the truth. We have seen the Government manipulate so many sets of statistics so often that the Minister can hardly be surprised if we find it very difficult to believe everything that he says.

On the rolling programme basis for arts funding, I welcome the idea of providing a degree of certainty. The certainty that the arts seem to have been given here is the certainty that they will lose money next year. As I understand it, we are talking about an increase of 2 or 3 per cent. in the Arts Council's budget for next year. With inflation at 6.5 per cent.—

Mr. Fisher

It is 7 per cent.

Mr. Banks

Very well—7 per cent., and rising.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Seven and a half per cent."] Seven and a half per cent.: it is rising so fast that I can scarcely keep up with it. What we are talking about, therefore, is a cut in real terms. The Minister should bear that in mind when next he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about what a wonderful job the Government have done for the arts in this country.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

My hon. Friend keeps calling it a rolling programme. It is not really a rolling programme but a three-year programme. A rolling programme is one in which, each year, thought is given to what will be happening three years ahead, with minimum and maximum expansion percentages.

Mr. Banks

It is rolling rather like a steamroller, and it is going backwards downhill. It is something like that—it is all in there somewhere. Pick the bones out of that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Someone today drew my attention to a figure concerning the Northern Ireland Office. Apparently, it has increased arts expenditure by 21 per cent.

Mr. Fisher

That is right.

Mr. Banks

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the shadow Minister, who clearly has the expertise to enable him to switch sides and give us the facts. I hasten to add that we could all switch sides with him.

That increase seems remarkable. I welcome it, of course, but I should like to know the reason behind it. Surely the Minister for the Arts must be very envious of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. If such a large increase is felt to be necessary in Northern Ireland, why not in the rest of the country?

I want to mention something else that I saw in The Times today. Tomorrow is Budget day, and there is just a possibility that the Chancellor will talk more about tax concessions—who knows?—for the arts. A report—again, one yet to be published—quoted in The Times this morning, says: Tax concessions on funding for the arts introduced in the 1986 Budget have been a flop. The changes which took effect from April 1987 were designed to boost company-giving, to introduce payroll-giving and higher rate relief on covenants for individuals. A draft of the report by the management consultants Touche Ross showed that incentives have not been enough … A particular failure has been gifts from individuals. Response to payroll-giving has been negligible—of the 91 organisations which responded to inquiries, six had introduced the scheme and only one still operated it. Of course, the fact is that it has been a flop. So, indeed, I might add, has been much of the Chancellor's economic strategy, but we are concerned about this flop within the arts.

The Minister made great play on the amount of business sponsorship—contributions from corporations and from individuals that the arts could fall back on. But that simply is not enough. We on this side of the House have no ideological hang-up about accepting private money for the arts. However, it is really just top-up money. It can never be anything more than a little bit on the side—though perhaps that is an unfortunate expression, given the revelations about Members and their research assistants that we have been reading in the newspapers recently.

The Minister should not place too much faith in private sponsorship. Public investment in the arts is generally disinterested—-disinterested, in the sense that it is not looking for a commercial return. Business men do not give money for nothing. They do not give it as an act of total generosity. They expect and, indeed, receive a great deal back. In fact, they add very little to the great body of the arts that we have inherited.

The hon. Member for Battersea mentioned the New York Met. He said that it was producing no new work. Of course, the United States relies very heavily, if not exclusively, on private sponsorship of the arts. We are not going to add to our great cultural inheritance in this country if we allow the managing director of Shell, of Metal Box or of GKN to decide who and what is going to be funded in artistic terms. It is not surprising that this scheme has been a flop. I suspect that the Chancellor will not want to refer to it in any great detail tomorrow.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the disturbing features of commercial sponsorship is that the sponsors do not contribute for altruistic reasons? They would gain more credit if they did, with a very small acknowledgment on the back of some card or programme. In fact, they insist on scattering their name and logo over every bit of paper and other material they can lay their hands on. In fact, they are prostituting the arts for the sake of advertising.

Mr. Banks

That is true of the generality of corporate sponsors of the arts. Indeed, they go further. They insist on being allocated large blocks of seats to entertain their clients. The orchestra or the artist is often required to come to a reception, perhaps provided by the arts body itself, so that the chairman of the board and the directors, and whoever else is involved, can be seen with famous people. That is the way it is done. These people do not contribute out of altruism; they contribute—and I do not blame them because it is very good for public relations. Marty of them, when they underwrite exhibitions, for example, do not have to contribute anything at all, particularly if the exhibitions are very successful. They get a very good return in terms of corporate image-building.

As I came in on the District line this morning. my attention was caught by one of the poems on the Underground. Again, this is something in the setting up of which the GLC was very much involved. We wanted far more street murals. We wanted to have poems and paintings on buses and Underground trains. We wanted to take the arts into public places where there was greater democracy and where people could enjoy them whilst going about their daily activities. We wanted to put the arts into public buildings and on to the streets. Too much of a barrier still exists around many of our arts institutions and it deters many people.

In so far as I would ever agree with anything said by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, it would be that so much of the arts have become white middle-class preserves. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is more concerned about them being white or middle-class, but what he said in our last arts debate was something that many of my hon. Friends have been arguing.

That poem on the Underground was by Cicly Herbert and called "Everything Changes". The last line runs: We plant trees for those born later. That should characterise our whole attitude towards the arts. We are planting trees that might not necessarily flourish in our time, but we will have the satisfaction of knowing that they will be in full blossom for the generations that come later. If the Prime Minister is interested in the earth as a whole when she says that we have only a leasehold and that we should make improvements, that should be true for the arts in this country also, so that we really do plant trees for those born later. Public funding is truly disinterested funding. Taste and popularity should not be the dominant considerations in decisions about funding particular art forms. We must continue to build on what we have inherited. If we do so, we shall pass on to the next generation, to those who are not yet born, the arts in the flourishing state in which we would wish them to be.

9 pm

Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

I join my colleagues in paying a warm and generous tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for the manner in which he introduced the debate. I congratulate him on his good fortune in the ballot, on his choice of subject, which has brought us into the Chamber, and on his excellent speech.

It is true that the richness of our culture, our life and our traditions is utterly dependent on the arts. That being so, the Government's record on the arts is worthy of commendation. The House will expect me to prove that, and I shall seek so to do.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts made one of the most courageous statements on the arts ever made in the House. In a written answer on 3 November he said that his aim was to give arts bodies a firm basis on which to plan their future activities and to encourage greater self-reliance and diversification in their sources of funding." [Official Report, 3 November 1988; Vol. 139, c. 705] Within the confines of that statement, we have the kernel of success in the arts.

Unlike the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) I am a dedicated disciple of private sponsorship for the arts. We owe a great deal of gratitude to people who sponsor the arts with private funding. At the end of today, I shall walk to my home and pass the wonderful epitaph to Joseph Mallord William Turner, our greatest British painter, whose works are stored and displayed in the Clore gallery. I am unashamedly grateful for the £6 million that was provided after 150 years to house the wonderful collection of Turner's work.

We must not only safeguard our heritage, but following the wonderful tribute to the arts that was picked up on the Circle or Central line—

Mr. Tony Banks

It was the District line.

Dr. Blackburn

Well, it is a piece of good Conservative philosophy that we must look to the future and to future generations because we have a responsibility in such matters. Indeed, we stand united in saying that there can be no dispute on this because the Government have spent record sums on the arts. That is not a matter for debate. Such debates are futile. I, like many hon. Members, have continually stressed that annual funding of the arts is absurd beyond belief. Galleries, museums and theatres could not make positive plans when the arts were financed annually. I pay a warm and generous tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who in future will be known as the Minister who introduced forward planning under the three-year rolling programme. That was a wonderful achievement to the benefit of the arts.

When we read the debate tomorrow in the Official Report, we will note that it centred on the metropolis. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea concentrated his remarks on the metropolis; my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) centred his remarks on the Victoria and Albert museum; and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) naturally dealt with the metropolis. I should like to take the debate north of Watford, because until now no reference has been made to the provinces.

It is critical that we consider what is happening to the arts in the provinces. There is a desire for the arts there, which is substantiated by the fact that 70 per cent. of all business sponsorship of the arts is in the provinces and not the metropolis. I was especially encouraged when I discovered that the Royal Ballet is moving to Birmingham, which is tremendous news for the provinces. There is an audience and thirst for the arts, so let us take them northwards.

I speak from rich experience. I remember many years ago visiting the Albert dock in Liverpool. A member of my family was the policeman in charge of a bonded warehouse there for 20 years. It was beyond my wildest dreams that one day that bonded tobacco warehouse would become the Tate of the north. It is a miracle that the Tate of the north is situated in Liverpool.

I am sad that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) is not present. He was concerned about the British film industry, to which he paid a correct tribute, which I endorse. Within the past five hours, I have tabled a question to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the film industry. The tenor of it was: what sum was passed to the Secretary of State on the dissolution of the British Film Fund Agency and to what purposes connected with the British film industry will the money be put? That shows my concern for the British film industry and the fact that I believe that there is genius, art and skill within it.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be standing at the Dispatch Box tomorrow and it will be interesting to learn the figures that he may reveal about the earnings from some of those sectors of the art industry. I use the expression "the art industry" deliberately because it is an industry which employs 200,000 people and produces profits of more than £250 million. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who have just returned from America, will be able to give adequate testimony to the wonderful features of the British theatre industry in the United States.

When we consider the movement of the art world northwards, it would be unfair not to pay a sincere tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has visited my constituency within the past 12 months. While he was there, his first visit was to meet the local people who supported the arts in the Dudley area. He received a warm welcome, especially from the Socialist mayor, and he spent a day looking at the arts coming to life in the black country of the west midlands. I applaud him for that. He was able to see much, although at times with some discomfort, and he was able to climb the ramparts of the 900-year-old Dudley castle. He visited the castle not because of the heritage, but because he could see the potential that we are now exploiting to develop Dudley castle as a centre for the arts in the middle of the west midlands. Dudley castle has not yet fulfilled its destiny. I should like to see the arts come alive there, even at the expense of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill).

As has been said, art cannot develop in poverty, and artists cannot display their skills in bad economic circumstances. I shall always take great pride in the fact that I was born in Lancashire, one mile from the little house in which Lowry produced his works. I am now by adoption and tradition a midlander and I join many in the midlands in celebrating this year the centenary of the birth of David Bomberg. He was born in Birmingham, the son of a Polish refugee and one of a family of seven living in one room. He was able to produce the works of art that were shown 12 months ago in the Tate gallery. I bow at the throne of art because it is a place where I find apostles such as Lowry and Bomberg, who have enriched this country by their art. I recommend my right hon. Friend the Minister not only to give great emphasis to the points raised this evening, but to hear my cry that the arts are alive north of Watford and need encouraging.

9.14 pm
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Can you really assure us that the arts are alive north of Watford? Have you seen that?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not addressing me.

Mr. Buchan

I knew that you, Mr. Speaker would know the answer to that. but I was wondering whether the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) could confirm it. I am struck dumb by the hon. Gentleman's remarks—a fact which may be helpful to other hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate. I am reminded of a famous occasion during the folk song revival when an enthusiastic MC said, "Folk song is here to stay." Folk song had been with us since the beginning of time but just because there had been a revival lasting two years people claimed that it was here to stay. What the hell do you mean when you say that the arts are alive north of Watford? They have never been dead. The trouble is that you have not realised it—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Buchan

I told you, Mr. Speaker, that I had been bowled over by the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley, West.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the visit by the Minister to a 900-year-old castle, built long before Ministers produced subsidies for art or architecture. The arts have been alive for a very long time. We are talking not just about the narrow meaning of the arts but about British civilisation in general. The arts go very much wider than we often seem to realise in our discussions—art is not merely that which is sponsored or subsidised or funded by the Arts Council.

We have all been disturbed at what has happened at the Victoria and Albert museum, although I am not sure how helpful it is to discuss it here. I think that it would be useful if the Minister tried some approach to those involved. I do not believe that there is malice on either side. The parties are not so far apart in their intentions, but they are finding it difficult to distinguish between the curatorial and administrative functions. The problem ought to be solved and it would be solved if sufficient funding were available. A great deal of strain is being put on the museum, which is being asked to look after the care of the permanent collection while at the same time providing open exhibitions. To a large extent, it is a financial problem and I, for one, am sorry that the director, whose work I know, has felt compelled to act as she has. The matter has been allowed to go too far without anyone intervening.

Another tragedy is that by introducing admission charges the V and A has reduced the numbers of visitors, just as we said that it would. It is nonsense to create a museum for people to visit and then immediately impose a barrier to prevent them from visiting it. This will prevent people from making initial contact and from seeing things that might spark off their interest and develop their awareness and understanding of the arts. I am not talking merely about scholastic or academic considerations—museums can trigger interest and a response, but that function is being blocked by admission charges.

We grossly underfund our museums. Italy has the largest open-air art gallery in the world, which is free to the majority of Italian people. I understand why visitors are charged, because the cost of running the collections is enormous. Admittedly, there is a tourist return, but if Italy can offer art free to its people, I do not see why we cannot. Our national museums should be better funded, and above all they should be free. We should not erect barriers at the very point of contact between the public and our collections.

Those who are already experienced or educated or who have been dragged along to museums will continue to go to them when charges are imposed, but some youngsters never get such a chance, because they are never taken to museums. At one time a couple coming to south Kensington from the working-class areas of London could visit the science museum, the Natural History museum and the V and A free, but now they all make a charge, so that opportunity is blocked.

I argued the case with Mr. Cossons who, while at Greenwich, was the first to break ranks and advocate charging for entry to a national museum. I said that if was permissible in that case, because people tended deliberately to set off to Greenwich. It was not a matter of dropping in. That gentleman said, "Quite right—I would never have considered doing that in south Kensington." In south Kensington, it would be a matter of dropping in, but now he has taken the same decision in south Kensington, and attendance has dropped. If the Minister could restore funding, he could help to solve the immediate crisis at the V and A.

Secondly, an appalling list of barriers, in the form of specific Government legislation or proposals, have been put in the way of the development of our civilisation. I refer to the Green Paper on libraries. Fortunately, the Government got a bloody nose over it and have withdrawn the main thrust of it. For the first time, a Green Paper had encouraged libraries to charge for the loan of special books, new books and biographies. That encouragement has been rejected. The Government have failed to understand that libraries represent a good deal more than the arts. They are part of our information services. I cannot understand why they should introduce charging for computerised information.

Above all, there is the appalling White Paper on broadcasting. I hope that the Minister for the Arts puts up a fight before that terrible paper was produced. We know the consequences of it, and we knew the problem facing those who produced it. We know the problems in having some kind of direction or control in satellite broadcasting, but we cannot afford to have a Government who surrender to technology and say that they cannot cope. By surrendering to technology, they have carried technology further, so that it now controls us instead of our controlling it. An instrument which could have been a marvellous means of expanding human experience has been chained within the exigencies of market philosophy so that we now have the profit motive instead of the sharing of human experience.

The development of satellite television is comparable to the invention of the alphabet. We can speak immediately and simultaneously to the rest of mankind. It is a marvellous instrument, but it has been turned into a financial market operation so that it can be created as cheaply as possible and sold as expensively as possible.

Exactly analogous with entry fees at museums is the movement towards subscription broadcasting. The moment we have subscription broadcasting we shall begin to set up a barrier to contact. I refer to the same example as I did in relation to the White Paper. Who would have subscribed to a channel which said, "We will show you a programme depicting man with gorillas, bats in caves, and new reptiles in the Brazilian jungle"? None of us would have subscribed to such a channel. But, because there was open access through public service broadcasting, a mass programme has been built for Bellamy, Attenborough and others. These are mass programmes, not minority programmes.

None of the kids who are involved in such actitivities, thoughts and experiences would have seen those programmes if it had depended on their parents paying into a subscription channel. The Government have blocked people's experience. Instead of the marvellous new technology being used to expand human experience and to bring young people into contact with a wide variety of human experience, it is being blocked by charges in museums, the inhibitions that will come from the Green Paper on libraries, and by the switch away from free, open universal access to public broadcasting.

Thirdly, we have the beginnings of specific Government intervention in the arts. I refer to section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, for example. I doubt whether anyone will be charged with breaking section 28, but that is not the problem of censorship. Censorship is not designed to use laws to take people to court and to punish them. The function of censorship and censorship law is to inhibit the development of programmes because they might be subject to censorship. Thus censorship prevents creation.

We have seen the extension of the Broadcasting Standards Council. I have spoken to the new director, who I think means well. He appears to believe that somehow the Broadcasting Standards Council is a substitute for the existence of regulatory broadcasting. There is nothing in the White Paper on broadcasting to ensure good standards, but only provision to control decency and taste. That is another factor which will inhibit the proper development of our arts. The threat of another obscenity Act is also still with us. There is intervention in all those ways. [Interruption.] I am receiving all sorts of signals that I should shut up and sit down. It is a pity that I did not know earlier that this debate was on or I should have been here at the beginning.

The south bank is not for London alone—it was created by a Labour Government to be part of a national celebration of a national festival, so we have a major responsibility to get it right. The last thing that we should do is to turn it into a pork pie festival. The south bank has much to offer. Unfortunately, its functions have narrowed since it was started and I share the distaste of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that in place of the open space where books were available there is an expensive restaurant.

The problem with private sponsorship is that it sets the agenda for the arts. Matching public funds will be called into play to support private funds. I should like to see public funds setting the agenda for private funds, if necessary, to follow, and there are ways of doing that without determining what should be supported by a particular company.

Sponsorship is, of course, advertising. The benefits must be proved if the matching funds are to be forthcoming. Another thing wrong with sponsorship is that it is limited to the safe and the glamorous. The Royal Insurance Company helps to determine the Royal Shakespeare Company's touring programme on the grounds that it wants the company to tour the towns in which is has a major presence.

The analysis by the National Campaign for the Arts shows that few of the smaller theatres receive sponsorship of more than 1, 2 or 3 per cent. Philip Hedley's theatre—the Theatre Royal at Stratford atte Bowe—found that it could not raise enough money through sponsorship to pay the salary of the man who was looking for sponsorship. It tried to get sponsorship for a play called "Pork Pies". A local meat merchant who made pork pies and cooked meat agreed to sponsor the play until he discovered that "Pork Pies" was rhyming slang for lies and that the play was about police corruption. When he realised that, he dropped the idea of sponsorship.

In the past 12 months, we have lost this country's first Minister of the Arts—Jennie Lee. Jennie was dedicated to the development and expansion of the arts. She believed in art for everyone. She saw, too, that it was related to the expansion of human wisdom and understanding. She was also the founder of the Open university. We must see the arts as a link with civilisation and education generally. As Shelley said, the arts are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. We must understand that wisdom can follow the arts and wisdom can develop from the arts. We must understand, too, that the inspiration about which we have heard so much today is sometimes a concrete shared experience, not just looking at a landscape from the top of a 900-year-old castle, even at Dudley.

9.29 pm
Mr. Dudley Fishburn (Kensington)

I hope that I will be forgiven if my contribution is rather specific after such a wide-ranging debate covering such things as Dudley castle and the Central line—

Mr. Tony Banks

District line.

Mr. Fishburn

Yes, District line—I will get it right at the end of the day.

Earlier we heard about the tuba-playing technique of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), whose wisdom and good luck produced this debate this evening—for which many thanks.

I want to discuss dance and ballet. I must immediately declare an interest. I am a director of the London Festival Ballet—a position which provides no remuneration, but which gives me a small insight into this particular branch of the arts. The London Festival Ballet is soon to be renamed the English National Ballet to reflect its position not merely as the nation's second ballet company but also as a company that tours widely outside the metropolis and around the world, to the United States and Europe.

About a year ago ballet suddenly became the great darling of the arts world after being buried for nearly 30 years under the world of opera—which has for so long attracted the lion's share of funds and a large share of establishment investment in the arts in the metropolis. That transition came about because, last summer, a large number of international dance theatres descended coincidentally upon this city. The Kirov, ballet groups from Europe and great American dance companies came over to London and there was a response from people leading to a sudden increase in audiences and an increase in the awareness of ballet and its potential as a modern art form.

Londoners also responded because they woke up to the fact that our resources for putting on dance—either our own national dance companies or visiting companies—were completely inadequate when compared with other European cities. This led to a debate on why that was and what we might do about it.

It is a pity that, in the new plans for the south bank, the bold idea of having, for the first time, a national dance theatre based in London, has not been seized. The Minister has been sympathetic to this branch of the arts and I hope that he will consider the various plans to co-ordinate, if not a dance theatre, at least a receiving house—somewhere in London where visiting companies could play in the kind of conditions that they might expect in Holland, Denmark or Stockholm. Let us not try to reach for the stars by emulating the conditions in Paris or New York.

This woeful lack of facilities now rests with the Arts Council and the Government to consider. I welcome the recent Devlin report on dance by the Arts Council. I strongly endorse that report's call for the funding of ballet and dance companies to be on a three year basis—the Minister has now encouraged most arts funding to be on that basis. As a director of a dance or opera company, one must plan the full three years ahead. If one is unsure of the level of subsidy from the Arts Council, or any other funding body one is planning in the dark.

I endorse many of the findings of the Devlin report and look forward to that report giving a shot in the arm to Britain's dance world.

Despite this attention, the future of the London Festival Ballet and of its related organisation, the English National Opera, is in doubt. The ENO is lucky in having a more senior and distinguished parliamentarian than I on its board, and if the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) were here, I am sure he would agree that our common fear is that those two organisations may not be with us in five years, unless the Government can give us some advanced assurances that their funding will continue in the years ahead.

As the Minister well knows, I am not speaking about funding from the Arts Council, which can be obtained in the usual way. I am talking about the grant which used to come from the Greater London council, which the Government quite rightly thought should be continued and which is paid, through Westminster council, to both English National Opera and the English National Ballet.

This money is now subject to a large question mark. The Minister has not yet said whether it will be forthcoming. It constitutes almost a third of the running costs of the London Festival Ballet—and I imagine about the same proportion of those of the English National Opera. If the money is not forthcoming, once the new system of community charge is introduced—there is no doubt that the city of Westminster will be unable to raise the money on its own because to do so it would have to charge an extra £20 per resident—those of us who sit on the boards of such companies will face a possible term in jail if we are not careful. When planning ahead, we might plan for a season that simply could be funded.

No groups have done more than the London Festival Ballet and the English National Opera to raise private funds. We realise that the system of raising private funds has been greatly encouraged, not least through matching grants, which we have used to the enormous advantage of our companies and of the programmes that we are able to put on. We must have some assurances that, beyond private sponsorship, we shall obtain increased or continuing sponsorship from the Government so that we can plan for the future. We shall then be able to grow the trees about which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) talked and to produce a ballet company which is not merely the second ballet company in this country but one of the better ballet companies on this continent.

9.37 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I am grateful for this opportunity to talk about the arts, and I wish to talk about the major post-war mass art form—the cinema, which, although somewhat overtaken by television networks, is still an important popular art form. Audiences have increased from 53 million in 1984 to 74.8 million in 1987. Unfortunately, the philistines in the Government are destroying the cinema from without by their tax policies, and the enterprise culture spivs are eroding it from within.

The Financial Weekly of August 1987 provides a good summary of the position: The United Kingdom Government severely curtailed subsidies when it abolished the Eady Levy and the National Film Finance Corporation. In its place came the mainly privately funded British Screen Finance Corporation with an annual budget of about £1.8 million. But producers iay the BSFC's fund represents a drop in the ocean and will largely benefit small film projects rather than the blockbusters. The French government, on the other hand, awards grants and loan guarantees as do the West Germans, the Italians and the Australians. The United Kingdom Government prides itself on having made film companies eligible under the Business Expansion Scheme but this is not considered to be anything more than a token gesture. That is about right. The feature film figures for 1985 were 55, and in 1986 they dropped to 37. In the midst of the enterprise culture, feature film production figures are no longer collated by the Government. With the abolition of the Eady levy, and the NFFC, the stimulus has disappeared.

One example of erosion from the inside is that of Elstree studios. Incidentally, the Government have just refused to list the studios, although they acknowledge that they form an important part of the history of the British film industry. They say that that is not a good enough reason to list them. That gives the property developers freedom to exploit the site to a greater degree, which in turn places the studios under greater threat—a further erosion of the facilities in this country.

I remind the House that the studios were first sold to Cannon by Thorn EMI in 1986. Gordon Borrie wanted to refer the takeover to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, because Cannon owned other cinemas, but he was overruled by a Minister. Cannon then sold off the massive collection of 2,000 feature films and newsreels dating back to 1894, so our heritage as recorded on film was arbitrarily sold by people who wanted to asset-strip one of our major studios.

Elstree studios is the place where "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and several other Indiana Jones films were produced. The last major feature film made there was "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". The studios were closed after the last Steven Spielberg production and sold to Tranwood Earl, which resold them to Brent Walker at an enhanced profit. Because of the high price of the studios, the latter will have to sell the outside lot and probably close three sound stages, thereby reducing the facilities for people like Steven Spielberg.

It is worth reminding the Minister why Steven Spielberg comes to the United Kingdom to make feature films that cost more than £10 million each. He comes not because of the exchange rate but because—he told me this himself in this building—of the craftsmanship and skill in this country, which are far superior, incredible though it may sound, to the skills in Hollywood. That is because Hollywood has allowed its training system to fall into disuse, and that is what is happening here.

Because of a lack of Government support, in 1987 Pinewood changed from full-time staffing with proper apprenticeship schemes to maintain and develop skills, to a four-wall studio. So now we depend on freelance employment, and skills and training are being eroded. In time that means that the United Kingdom, whose abilities and skills are ahead of those of the United States, will suffer a further erosion of its film industry.

The potential to make big-budget and, more importantly, small-budget films is being eroded. Small-budget films perhaps reflect more accurately our indigenous culture and attitudes. British Screen Finance Ltd., which replaced the NFFC, receives a miserly £1.5 million a year, and that will soon end. By contrast, in 1987 Australia gave £18 million and West Germany £15.7 million to their film industries.

Now there is a threat to Channel 4 in the Government's White Paper. It has been financing low-budget theatrical productions. If we want to maintain feature film productions that represent our way of life, the Government must provide more support by direct means and through a more sympathetic tax regime.

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

I join many other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) not only on choosing this subject for debate but on an excellent speech. He spoke extremely well in the last debate on this subject, but I thought that he capped that tonight. It was remarkable to hear Conservative Members talking so passionately and with such knowledge about community arts and participation in the arts, and I agree with everything said about them.

The hon. Member for Battersea made a distinguished opening, and every speech since has lived up to that high standard. We have come to expect as much from the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and from my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).

There have been some other very interesting contributions. I thought I was going to fall out with the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) because of his earlier remarks, but I was delighted when he moved on to a passionate advocacy of the importance of the regions, and indeed, of people like David Bomberg, and I think he had the House with him there. I was particularly delighted with the contribution from the hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn), coming to our debate for the first time and raising with such knowledge from outside the House the whole question of dance and the Devlin report. I think he added to the quality of the debate.

It has been, I think, an excellent debate, for which, as I say, the House is in the debt of the hon. Gentleman. I am delighted that this debate has not concentrated on funding, and I certainly intend to avoid that today. We tend to have very sterile arguments about funding in these debates, and we all have our views on how to interpret the figures. I will leave it to those companies, mainly national but all over the country, which know that they will only get a 2 per cent. increase this year when inflation is 7.5 per cent. The Government must make their peace with them or bear them in mind next year, because they will suffer and the arts will suffer when they are, in relation to inflation, so poorly funded this year.

Let us not get into a debate on funding. I want to talk, in the minutes left to me, about policy and strategy, and I think we do so in an interesting and perhaps rather optimistic context, when we gather from the Downing street press office that the Prime Minister intends this year to take an interest in the arts and to become a champion of the arts. We on the Opposition Benches are always happy to welcome sinners, even at such a late hour. The record of her Administration to date on the arts has not been good, but if she is seriously going to take an interest, that offers enormous opportunities to the Minister: I hope he will grasp them.

Mr. Buchan

In view of her record in every other field of human activity, is my hon. Friend really as sanguine as all that?

Mr. Fisher

I am an optimist: if she bothers to read a debate such as this—as I am sure, if she is going to get involved in the arts, she will—perhaps there is hope. It certainly offers an opportunity, as I say, for the Minister to exploit. Whether this is a tactical move by the Prime Minister or not, there are opportunities for the Minister to make a stronger pitch for the arts.

The other interesting context of our debate today is the announcement last Friday by the distinguished novelist, A. N. Wilson, in the pages of The Spectator, that he will in future be voting for the Labour party. It is interesting that one of the prime reasons he gives is the very poor record of this Government on the arts, and their failure over museums and libraries; and he gives a great catalogue of the Government's failures. Whereas the Prime Minister offers the Minister opportunities, the latter should perhaps read Mr. Wilson's remarks to see that there are many creative artists in this country, who still need to be convinced about the record of this Government.

I certainly agree with the personal remarks that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South made about the Minister. The whole arts world is aware that he fulfils his responsibilities conscientiously; he has absolutely no enemies, and many friends, wherever he goes. I will go further: some things which have happened under his aegis—the move of the Tate to the north, the relocation of Sadler's Wells and, most particularly, three-year funding—stand out as distinct achievements, which will be remembered when this Administration are dead and buried.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South in saying that three-year funding is all very well, and certainly an improvement, but it is no good unless there is the money to fund it, and three-year funding going down below the rate of inflation is a permanent drain on most companies rather than a help.

However, in spite of those few isolated achievements, the record of this Government on the arts has been one of failure—not just failure to fund adequately, but failure to back local authorities when they are expanding arts provision and failure to widen access for the disabled, for black and Asian people and for women.

There was also a failure last year to grasp the possibilities in the John Myerscough report. The Minister was handed an economic argument which he did not pick up and run with. He should have gone straight to the Treasury and made a strong economic case. He failed to do that. There has been a failure of leadership from the Government and the Minister and a failure of imagination. The opportunities, the audiences and the creative artists are there, but over the past 10 years of this Administration we have lacked a Government with a clear policy and strategy. That failure undermines any specific good achievements or intentions—and I am sure that the Minister's intentions are good.

We all agree that the British Theatre Association is a unique national and international institution. However, at the end of this month it is in danger of closure unless the Minister accepts that he has a responsibility for that institution. Of course it may be right from the Minister's point of view and that of the Conservative party that he should try to find alternative means of support. Perhaps he can make an exciting announcement to the House tonight. I somehow fear that he will not be able to do that. The partners that he has tried to marriage-broke for the BTA library—the Victoria and Albert museum, the British library and the Central School of Speech and Drama—are all willing partners, but they all want some Government funding. The Minister should understand that he must accept a national responsibility for institutions like the BTA library which fulfil a national function.

The hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) referred to the Devlin report and its relationship to the Northern Ballet Theatre. The Minister's comments in response to an Adjournment debate the other night were marginally encouraging. However, he should recognise that the report recommended closure so as to properly fund other aspects of dance. Those recommendations were based on the understanding that there should be no increase in funding.

The Minister should consider how positive investment in the very popular art form of dance has worked in France. That art form has captured the imagination of young people. Positive investment by the French Government in that art form has unleashed an enormously exciting new wave of interest in dance in France. The Minister must understand that he should have a policy of expansion towards dance and he should be backing new ideas.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) referred to the Victoria and Albert museum. He most responsibly, courteously and cautiously referred to very difficult areas and issues. However, I thought that he was a trifle unfair on the director. It is not a matter of personal responsibility. I do not think that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South intended to be unfair. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South that we should consider the problem in a financial context, because next year the V and A's wage bill will be more than the total grant. In those circumstances, the new director had an almost impossible task and had to look for radical measures.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that something had to be done about the organisation of the V and A. However, we may wonder whether a five-page document which contained no financial analysis or implications for the future was the proper way to plan the future administration and the curatorial skills and scholarship in a great national museum. Many hon. Members would doubt whether that short and, I believe, inadequate document should have been given to the trustees just 15 minutes before the trustees' meeting. It is doubtful whether the trustees were aware that there would be redundancies involving nine of the most senior and respected staff including international experts like John Mallet. Many of us would question whether simply giving those nine members of staff a three-and-a-half minute interview in which they were told that their contribution to scholarship and the museum was at an end was the right way to proceed.

As the hon. Member for Kensington said, there is a general lack of morale in the V and A. The museum has been badly handled, but I do not put the bad morale down entirely to the director. I hope that the Minister will consider his role in all this. I asked that question of him the other day in respect of Professor Martin Kemp who, when he resigned as a trustee, said that he was doing so because of Government interference.

On that occasion, the Minister chose to answer that there was no interference in the museum's day-to-day administration, but that did not answer the question that I put to him. I asked whether there had been Government interference or involvement in the restructuring plan. I asked whether the Minister knew about it, whether he or his officials had seen Lord Armstrong, chairman of the trustees, and whether he was involved in the Treasury negotiations that miraculously produced at least £300,000 and possibly £1 million to fund the redundancy programme.

If tonight the Minister answers no to all those questions, I will agree with the hon. Member for Battersea that it is incredible that that most valued of institutions should not concern the Minister. If the Minister answers yes, I ask him to explain the full extent of his involvement. They are important issues that affect right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. Is it right that the board of trustees should not include a single member who has any museum experience? As the hon. Member for Battersea said, the trustees are all distinguished and eminent in their fields, but none has any museum experience.

Other serious questions must be answered. Of course the museum must keep up to date, but is a display of the Sock Shop the epitome of British design, and the one aspect of it that the Victoria and Albert museum should be displaying? I understand that the museum's next exhibition will be about Burberry raincoats, and the one following that will be in Harrods. Right hon. and hon. Members may recall that last year, the museum exhibited Elton John's memorabilia, which served as a preview of a sale at Sotheby's. The House has a right to ask serious questions about the policy direction that the museum is taking. The Minister owes the House his views and opinions.

I turn to the subject of administration. The arts world as a whole applauded the Minister when he set up a much-needed and long-awaited review of the organisation and structure of the arts and appointed his former senior civil servant, Richard Wilding, to conduct it. Mr. Wilding is widely respected and liked in the arts world. The word from the regions is that the way in which he is genuinely listening and examining the situation is much appreciated.

I hope that the Minister will reaffirm tonight that whatever happens as a result of that review, the importance of the regions and of local authorities will be paramount, and that they will not become ciphers or regional offices of the Arts Council. If developments at a local authority level are to be fostered and nurtured, there must be strong links between them and regional arts associations. I hope that Mr. Wilding will have the Minister's backing, and that the Minister will encourage Mr. Wilding along those lines in his remarks tonight.

As to strategy, there are many key issues for the Minister to grasp. Ironically, and happily for him, positive moves can be made at very low cost. Some can be made at no cost at all to the Government. There are ways in which the Minister could make his leadership of the arts count and in which he can develop and co-ordinate policy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, in London there are major developments both in respect of the Royal Opera House and its effect on the local community, and of the south bank. The Minister ought to take a line, as did his counterpart in respect of the Pompidou centre in Paris. He should be not only putting in money but taking a lead in setting standards and criteria in the way that projects will be scrutinised, so that the best results will be obtained.

The arts in London cry out for the Minister to bring people together. There is Greater London Arts, the abolition of ILEA, the London boroughs arts scheme, and the residuary body. Some of the London boroughs, because of Greater London Arts, are developing fast but in isolation from each other. There is a crying need for co-ordination. In the absence of a democratic body such as the Greater London council, there is a desperate need for someone to hold the ring, and the Minister can play a strategic role in that regard.

The right hon. Gentleman also has a strategic role to play in the widening of access, which is apparently one of the Prime Minister's interests. I shall believe that when I see it, although it is welcome that she is prepared to say so. The Minister should be responding more positively, for instance, to the "After Attenborough" report on the arts and disability, and I hope that he will send a message of extreme disapproval to the Arts Council about its application for a disabled access exemption certificate. That sends the arts world the wrong signal, and I hope that the Minister will get in touch with the new chairman of the Arts Council to say that it is not good enough.

Will the Minister look in particular at the built environment? Prince Charles has given a lead, and I am glad to say that the Minister has backed the Arts Council's "percentage for arts" initiative. He is not, however, encouraging the local authorities that are also adopting the policy, such as Swindon, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Dundee and Wakefield.

The Minister is not getting his act together with the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is sending out completely contradictory advice. His White Paper "The Future of Development Plans" says that aesthetic aid should be a key element in planning applications. Last week, only weeks of issuing that White Paper, he sent out a planning policy guidance note saying exactly the opposite: "Whatever you do to local authorities, do not take aesthetic matters into account." There is a lack of co-ordination there.

There are problems in various Departments. The poll tax will have an enormous effect on English National Opera and on local authorities' ability to fund the arts, while the DTI has problems resulting from the withdrawal of MSC funding. In education, problems arise from the national curriculum and the restriction on funding of school visits to theatres and other displays of the performing arts. In the Home Office, there is the question of the broadcasting White Paper—to which the Arts Council, to its credit, has responded positively and critically, speaking up for the arts, but on which I have heard no comment from the Minister.

The whole country faces a major problem in relation to freedom of speech. Mr. Salman Rushdie is in acute difficulties. He needs every Member on both sides of the House to support the absolute principle of freedom of speech, but the Minister has said nothing about that either. I hope that he will take this opportunity to break his silence, and will state categorically not that Mr. Rushdie's book is offensive but that, on the contrary, it is a very fine novel—a great work of the imagination—and that Mr. Rushdie is entirely free and right.

If this debate can achieve anything, it will encourage the Minister to take the initiative on some of the aspects that I have mentioned. It will cost him no money to adopt a strategic and policy-making role.

The hon. Member for Battersea described the arts as a source of great celebration in the House and throughout society. I agree, but I hope that he will accept that they are a source not only of celebration but of dissent and uncomfortable opinions. The arts must stretch us as individuals and as a society. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West referred to the beautiful image created by the words of the poet Cecily Herbert of a tree planted for the future. If that tree is to give us all hope, the arts must not just celebrate; they must also offer the opportunity for challenge and dissent. If the Minister can respond to such a wide range of strategy, the arts and the House will pay tribute to him.

10.3 pm

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

I echo the views expressed by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) about the atmosphere of the debate, which has been very positive. Without a shadow of doubt the speeches from both sides of the House have been remarkable. Where would we have been without the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), let alone many of my hon. Friends?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on launching the debate and giving the House the opportunity to discuss the arts—a subject that is becoming increasingly important to people's lives in Britain and will continue to be so into the 1990s. My hon. Friend made a remarkable and very moving speech about the importance of arts to individuals in Britain. I enjoyed his description of the variety of instruments that he has tried to play over the years and, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West suggested, he can almost form his own one-man band. My only claim to fame in public is that. when my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse!), who, sadly, is unwell and unable to be here tonight, and my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon West (Miss Nicholson) played a duet in the Festival hall to raise funds for research into AIDs, I turned the pages. I got it right and I am very proud of that.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South mentioned the late Jennie Lee. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) made a very generous speech and was very kind about the fact that I have broken various records and described myself as the Methuselah of Arts Ministers. It is right and proper for me to mention the late Jennie Lee who, in her own way, was a remarkable Minister for the Arts. She was the first Minister for the Arts and sadly a number of us did not have the opportunity to attend an occasion when various tributes were paid to her. I am not blaming anyone for that, but it is only right that I should take the opportunity to pay tribute to a remarkable Minister for the Arts, although there have been differences in emphasis and approach between her policies and mine.

What has been remarkable about the debate is the respect shown by both sides for each other's interest in, and support for the arts, and although there are clear differences of opinion and approach, that is very important if we are to make any progress.

I shall try to answer the various points that have been raised and use the last few minutes of my speech to talk about one aspect of my strategy—reconciling artistic excellence with the right of access of people of all backgrounds in all parts of the country to the arts. But I shall begin by making one or two general points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea raised a number of issues. In particular he talked about funding the arts. He is right to say that the Government believe that the taxpayer has a role to play in supporting the arts and that the highest standards of excellence cannot be maintained without a measure of support from the taxpayer. I have sought to strengthen that use of taxpayers' money by the introduction of three-year funding, which is a rolling programme. There will be a continuous policy of three-year funding. I have introduced one or two new elements such as incentive funding, in which sums of money have been set aside to reward those organisations that show their ability to increase their self-reliance.

I am very glad that the first awards are being made, ranging from the Leadmill complex in Sheffield to the Royal Shakespeare Company and the English National Opera which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea and others as it has now qualified for incentive funding. Last week I visited the excellent Tricycle theatre in London, which, despite the tragedy of being almost burnt down two years ago has shown enormous enterprise and has achieved an award, as has the 369 gallery in Edinburgh and other theatres such as the Cumbernauld theatre in Scotland. That is an important additional element of funding for arts bodies and helps to fulfil the overall strategy which hon. Members were talking about—the diversity of funding within the arts. When we are talking about funding, I believe strongly that we cannot meet with success unless we have a sensible partnership between the public and the private sectors. Of course, I include local authorities as well as central Government.

Above all else, what brings money and resources into the arts is the box office, which no one has acknowledged properly. I regard the private sector as an increasingly important source of funding. As my lion. Friends have said, the economic strength of the country helps with its success there but it is you and I, Mr. Speaker, actually attending arts events, who are the biggest extra source of funding for the arts. As I see, looking to the 1990s, increasing numbers of people enjoying the arts, the biggest extra source of funding will be support through the box office. That is not to say that sponsorship does not have a singularly important role. I thought that some of the remarks about sponsorship were sad and negative. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) and others said, sponsorship is an additional source of funding for the arts.

I was struck recently by what was said by Lord Goodman, who has not exactly agreed with everything that I have done in Government. In an article in The Times he wrote that over his time as chairman of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, which was over many years from the 1970s until this year when he retired, he had not come across a case where sponsorship had interfered with the artistic performance of arts bodies. I thought that that was an impressive testimony to sponsorship's role in supporting the arts. It gets extra resources for the arts, and that is what we want. It is part of a pattern of looking to a variety of sources through self-reliance and avoiding overdependence on one source of funding—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack)—is important.

Many other points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea which fit in with issue raised by other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West talked about support for the regions. He rightly acknowledged many of the changes that have taken place, including the switch of resources through regional arts associations and by other means to strengthen arts in all parts of the country. He referred to the Sadler's Wells Royal ballet moving to Birmingham. I am glad to be able to play a small part in helping finance that move. My hon. Friend also referred to the Tate of the north, as have other hon. Members. He was right to stress that there has been a switch of resources to many other parts of the country to strengthen the standards of excellence of the arts.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadhitter) is not here, but he made an impressive speech as a former teacher about the important role of schools. If I allow myself enough time, I shall return to that issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South made an impressive speech. I am grateful to him for what he said. I was struck by the way in which he expressed his views about the Victoria and Albert museum. It is a great institution. I believe that it will remain a great institution, and that the chairman of the trustees and the director have its interest very much at heart and want to do whatever they can to improve it. I have confidence in them. I do not know that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central was disagreeing with me, but I believe that it is right that there responsibility should be delegated to chairman and trustees and, of course, to the director, in the day-to-day management of these institutions. If, every time they made changes or ran into problems, I were immediately to intervene, that would undermine the principle of the delegation of responsibility. My overall accountability to the House, my overall responsibility, is the welfare of these institutions, of the great national museums and galleries in this country.

It goes without saying that I take a very close interest in the Victoria and Albert museum and the other institutions. I have been very closely briefed by the chairman and the director on recent developments at the V and A. I have also been heavily involved, over the last year, in discussions with the institutions about corporate strategies—five to 10-year plans—for these institutions. The V and A has been involved in that. Last year I talked to the people there about it. Over the past year, indeed, there has been intensive discussion about corporate strategy.

It is interesting that many of the remarks about the V and A indicated no quarrel with the concept of change in administration and management. However, some hon. Members argued that the way in which the matter has been handled might have been different. It is only right that I should note the views expressed in this House. Clearly, the mood of the House is that anything that can be done to improve the atmosphere should be done. The director of the Victoria and Albert is most anxious to have good relations with the staff. She is anxious that there should be high morale. I shall ensure that the views and anxieties that have been expressed are well and truly noted. I do not think that it would be helpful, at this stage, to go further than to say that I note very carefully what has been said.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West, as always, made an interesting speech. His speeches are never uninteresting. He talked with passion about the south bank. The recently announced scheme of further redevelopment there is still at a very early stage. The South Bank board is inviting the widest possible comment. It will, of course, require planning permission, as well as permission from the Arts Council as the freeholder. The Arts Council and I will be examining very carefully the artistic, financial and architectural aspects of the proposal. No contracts will be signed without my agreement. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a lot of discussion has to take place before the scheme can get to that stage, and it will be my task to watch that with interest.

I welcome the concept of a partnership between the commercial sector and the public sector in respect of this great arts centre on the south bank. I hope—indeed, I think—that the House will support the harnessing of private sector resources to public sector resources to make it a success.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South made a speech that I enjoyed. I am very proud of the link with his city—Glasgow. I refer to my decision, with the approval of the cultural Ministers of Europe, that Glasgow should be the cultural city of Europe for next year. I am full of admiration for the way in which Glasgow has taken full advantage of that status, demonstrating to the outside world that the state of the arts, both performing and heritage there is quite remarkable, and that they can bring great benefits to the city and to the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) made a speech about the English National Opera. I acknowledge very strongly the achievements of the English National Opera and of the London Festival ballet, of which my hon. Friend is a director. Both those institutions are partly financed by the Westminster council. I note what my hon. Friend said. I hope that all the London boroughs will continue to play a part in supporting those institutions, and I shall follow progress with very close concern.

I want to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central about strategy, and to end by making a particular point about the need, as I see it, to combine the highest standards of artistic excellence in this country with the right of people, wherever they live, to enjoy it. That is very much a strategy of mine. I believe that we have an overwhelming duty to ensure that the standards of artistic performance are of the highest and that, side by side with that, we have total freedom of speech and expression. People need to have their eyes opened to the enjoyment of the arts, whatever their background, wherever they live and whatever their education. That is why I welcome the increased attendance at museums in Museums Year and the increased audiences for dance and classical ballet, at the theatre and for so many forms of art. I want to do whatever I can to encourage that further.

One example of how we can do that is through education. I have had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. There is now an opportunity in the Education Reform Act and with the other changes, because art and music are foundation subjects, to invest still further in our children and to open their eyes to what the arts can offer. Another way forward is to make an even greater and more effective link between the education units set up for performing arts on the one hand and heritage and museums on the other, and with the imagination of headmasters and teachers so that they use those facilities in such a way that their pupils can benefit. My right hon. Friend and I are discussing ways in which we can achieve that.

Various hon. Members have referred to broadcasting and I agree that it is an important area. It is noticeable that the media are playing an increasingly important role in supporting the arts through their latest programmes, for example "Signals" on Channel 4 and "The Late Show" on BBC2. Those and other programmes have shown how broadcasting can help to stimulate public interest in the arts. I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to discuss the ways in which broadcasting could play a more prominent role.

We want to improve accessibility to the arts and as touring is one way of achieving that, we have injected more money into the Arts Council to help to encourage it to increase touring in this country. Our treasures are now being loaned on a much bigger scale. Some injustice is often done to our national institutions. The British museum now lends approximately 2,500 objects of art around the country. The Victoria and Albert museum lends over 3,000, and the Tate gallery also lends a great number. That has helped to increase and improve accessibility to the arts. The care and accessibility of our treasures is a priority and that is why we have injected more pump-priming money into their marketing. We are also pursuing policies in both the inner cities and in rural areas and have given pump-priming money to the Carnegie trust to help it to stimulate more schemes to improve accessibility for disabled people.

Those are just some of the examples of the ways in which I am seeking to strengthen access to the arts in this country. We have artists of the highest quality and should thank them for their contribution to our quality of life. There is a great upsurge of public interest in the arts—in our environment, in architecture and in the performing arts, and that is something that we can only welcome because it can only help us to achieve and enhance our quality of life.