HC Deb 27 March 1995 vol 257 cc683-5
11. Sir Fergus Montgomery

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the working of his Department. [14187]

Mr. Dorrell

My Department published its annual report on 9 March; it includes an overview of its performance and plans, its expenditure details and information on the management of the Department. A copy is available in the Library.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the national lottery has been a great success, and because of that a number of good causes will benefit? Does he see some red faces on the Opposition Benches among those who opposed the lottery?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the achievements of the national lottery. It is certainly one of the great achievements of the early years of the Department of National Heritage, although the principal responsibility for having made it possible rests with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rather than the new Department. It would be nice to think that there were Opposition Members with red faces at their failure to endorse enthusiastically my right hon. Friend's initiative, which has provided £300 million for good causes since November. That is a new source of money for sport, the arts and the heritage, which no other means of mobilisation could possibly have provided. The hon. Gentleman supported it, but not all his hon. Friends gave their support.

Mr. Maclennan

To correct the balance with reference to the Secretary of State's answer to the question about the BBC, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that he has a prime responsibility to ensure freedom of expression as guaranteed by the European convention on human rights? Although individual Ministers and Members may become irritated from time to time, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that responsibility is one to which he must attach the highest importance?

Mr. Dorrell

Is it really the hon. Gentleman's case that all human kind is fallible except BBC interviewers? Surely we should all aspire to high standards of independence and recognise that occasionally we do not meet them. The important thing is to learn by our mistakes.

Mr. Jessel

Far from correcting any balances, does my right hon. Friend recognise that the arts in Britain have a high standard of excellence? Britain is one of the arts capitals of the world. We have tremendous talent in the theatre, music and all the other arts as well as in our splendid national heritage. My right hon. Friend's Department is doing an extremely fine job and we should continue to build on that.

Mr. Dorrell

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He is entirely right to draw attention to the strength and vigour of our artistic tradition in Britain. He is right also to stress the importance of ensuring that that continues as part of a healthy and vigorous society. It is fair to say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) did, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's initiative in introducing the national lottery will, when the project is mature, provide over £300 million a year of new money to reinforce the strength of the arts sector to which my hon. Friend draws attention.

Mr. Grocott

As we all know from reports in the weekend press, all Government Departments are thrashing around trying to find something popular to do in the next Session. In a bipartisan spirit, may I offer the Secretary of State my Television Sport (Public Access) Bill, which had overwhelming support in the Commons when it was presented as a ten-minute Bill a few weeks ago and which would ensure that major sporting events are available on the channels that most of us and all our constituents can see? I suggest that he should adopt it in time for the autumn, when yet another sporting event—the Ryder cup—will be lost to the major television channels. It must be bipartisan for me to want to suggest something helpful to the Government, but I suggest that the Minister should adopt that Bill. It is tremendously popular. Will he break the Government's habit of a lifetime and do something that is popular?

Mr. Dorrell

Even in the days of the European Union, I am cautious of Greeks bearing gifts. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's approach, because I do not believe that it is in the interests of sport or heritage to reduce the value of the broadcasting contracts on offer. The difficult question that the hon. Gentleman fails to answer is how he would explain to the representatives of English cricket that his policy would leave them many millions of pounds poorer because they would be unable to enter a multipartite discussion for their contract rights. It is the open market which mobilises large extra sums of money into sport and, increasingly, into the heritage and the arts as well.

Mr. Luff

What message will my right hon. Friend send to the group of business men whom I shall be entertaining at the Swan theatre in Worcester on Saturday to encourage them to sponsor productions in that theatre and to tell them about the work that the Department does to encourage business sponsorship of the arts?

Mr. Dorrell

I invite my hon. Friend to draw their attention to the fact that one of the growing budgets in my Department is for what we now call the pairing scheme, which offers public support to businesses which engage in sponsorship activity with arts organisations. I would also encourage him to point out to his business men that if they get involved in arts sponsorship they are following the precedent established by many other British businesses over the past 20 years, during which business sponsorship of the arts has grown from virtually nothing to about £70 million a year today. British businesses sponsor the arts because they recognise that associating their businesses with high quality arts products is in the interests of their business as well as of the arts organisation.