HC Deb 26 November 1999 vol 339 cc855-919

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McAvoy.]

9.33 am
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

I warmly welcome the opportunity for a debate on Government support for the arts. In the bad old days, one or two Conservative Members questioned the principle of Government support for the arts. They were wrong. I trust that nowadays, no hon. Member would not accept readily that, in a civilised society, the Government have a responsibility to support artistic and creative work. There are several reasons for that.

The arts are central to our understanding of ourselves, our society, our relationships and our future. They provide enjoyment, solace and a lift to our imagination—that should be sufficient reason for the Government to take an interest and support them. However, there are other reasons for supporting the arts: we cannot achieve excellence in many art forms without the support of public funds; innovation is often not economically viable without subsidy; artistic excellence should be available to the greatest number of people; and there should be a good geographical spread to ensure that all parts of the country have access to that excellence and that it is not concentrated in one or two centres.

We also need to recognise and celebrate the cultural diversity of our country. Government support for the arts enables the widest pool of talent to be trained. That, in turn, helps the commercial sector—for example, many actors who begin their work in the subsidised theatre become stars of stage and screen in the commercial sector. The arts also assist with education: they help to broaden horizons and build self-confidence. In addition, they contribute to the country's economic health by accounting for a large part of the creative sector of our economy. Therefore, for a host of reasons—excellence, access, diversity, training, education and the economy—Government support for the arts is important and I am proud that we have been able to improve on previous performance.

The starting point has to be the fostering of excellence. That has nothing to do with exclusivity; we simply want audiences in this country to have the best—they deserve nothing less. I was pleased that the Arts Council of England has put in place a funding package for regional and London orchestras, helping to wipe out historic deficits, to put orchestras on a sound financial footing and to ensure that the great orchestras of this country can survive and thrive in future.

The Arts Council is conducting a similar review of regional producing theatres, many of which are in considerable financial difficulty. Many of them have also been the seed bed for talent that has formed part of the fabric of London theatre, television and film. Regional theatres are important for what they can do for the whole landscape of the arts around the country, as well as for their towns, cities and regions. Therefore, I am pleased that the Arts Council is now seriously considering regional theatre because its excellence should be fostered.

I am also pleased that the Arts Council is placing new emphasis on support for innovative work. One of the fundamental roles of the arts is to challenge our preconceptions. Some innovations will inevitably take us to places where we do not necessarily wish to go. However, that is part and parcel of art: it challenges us and, rightly, it will sometimes try to provoke us to react.

Access constitutes the other major theme of our policy for the arts in the past two and a half years. We want to ensure that, while we foster and support excellent work, the greatest possible number of people have access to it. There are many ways in which that can happen. Some initiatives that have been in place for some time—long before we came to office—have shown the way. For example, the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn has a long tradition of accessibility to people who might not otherwise have the chance to see live theatre. It has ensured that work by artists from minority communities can be performed. It has developed an innovative "pay what you can" night once a week, when people can come to the theatre and pay what they can afford rather than the normal price of a ticket.

During Hamlyn weeks, most recently at the national theatre and now about to take place once again at the Royal Opera house, tickets are made available at £5 per person to a wide variety of organisations that would not normally think about arranging visits to the theatre or the opera. By successfully drawing into the theatre or concert hall people who have never been before, giving them an experience that inspires them to come back again in future years, the Hamlyn weeks have been an important and effective way of developing new audiences.

A good deal of work has been pioneered around the country on broadening access to the arts, and we have attempted to develop it further. The two main Sheffield theatres have been running a major project since last autumn, funded by the Arts Council's new audiences fund, examining how ticket prices act as a barrier to attending the theatre. They have experimented with ticket pricing and discounting schemes across a broad range of theatre performances. A key aim of the project is to broaden the audience and attract a significant number of new people to the Sheffield theatres. The experiment will tell us a lot about the interaction between ticket prices and attendances at the theatre and how we can best draw into the theatre people who have never been before. Let us not forget that about 50 per cent. of the population of this country never go to a theatre, a concert hall or a museum from one year to the next. Reaching out to that 50 per cent., drawing more of them in and giving them the opportunity to experience what the arts have to offer, has to be central to any sensible Government policy.

We are trying to develop that principle in many other ways. There is a particularly innovative scheme in Cumbria, when the English National Ballet performs in Barrow-in-Furness, to provide transport for people from outlying rural communities to enable them to get to the theatre, experience the arts and get home afterwards. Accessibility is not about pricing alone, but about the physical ability to attend the theatre.

As well as wishing to broaden access as far as we can, we have also identified the way in which arts projects can often help to tackle problems of social exclusion, particularly in rundown neighbourhoods in poorer areas. The work of the Hartcliffe boys dance company in Bristol is an obvious case in point. The Hartcliffe estate in south Bristol houses about 17,000 people. For years it was written off by the outside world as a place where nothing happened. Suddenly, through the inspired leadership of Vic Ecclestone, teenage boys on the estate have been introduced to the world of modern dance, helping to transform their lives and the life of the entire estate.

The Hartcliffe dance company has about 40 boys from the estate who show up week after week to dance, to work with professional choreographers and to perform. Their self-confidence has grown as a result and their educational attainments have also improved. One of the strong lessons that we regularly learn from such cases is that as pupils begin to get involved in art, drama and music, their academic performance in other subjects improves as well. Following his work with the Hartcliffe dance company, Vic Ecclestone has gone on to set up Multi A—an organisation that aims to serve the needs of young people across the whole of the Bristol area.

Another extremely good example of the way in which arts can help to combat the problems of social exclusion is the Beacon Look Ahead hostel for homeless men and women in Aldgate in the east end of London. Three years ago the hostel was in appalling condition. The furniture had to be literally nailed to the floor to prevent it from being removed or damaged. The neighbouring primary school had a constant stream of broken bottles thrown into the playground from the windows of the hostel. Since an arts project was introduced to the hostel and the residents have become involved in creating art, painting murals and designing furniture, the nature of the establishment has changed. It is now in pristine condition and the residents work with the pupils at the neighbouring school on developing new arts projects. When I visited the hostel a few months ago, some of the homeless men and women resident there put on a dramatic performance of a play about homelessness that they had written. It was up to the standard of many professional performances that I have seen.

All those examples show the work that can be done on tackling the problems of people who have been excluded from the mainstream of society, by using artistic and creative activity. That work can improve lives and whole estates or establishments.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

I hope that my right hon. Friend joins me in deploring the absence from the Opposition Benches of representatives of the most philistine party in Europe. He has not yet referred to poetry. The great contribution of our country to European culture has been poetry, plays and parliamentary democracy. My right hon. Friend's doctoral thesis was on Wordsworth: bliss was it in that age to be alive and to be young was very heaven. Will he acknowledge the immense contribution of poetry in helping many of the excluded and also people living by themselves? As a contribution to encouraging poetry in this country, will he consider setting up a page on the Department's website that would allow all the poets of Britain to pour their poetry into the Department and allow us all to read all the wonderful poems that are written day and night and do not get the airing that they deserve?

Mr. Smith

I hesitate to correct the quotation that my hon. Friend gave, but the passage from "The Prelude" reads: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven! My hon. Friend's central point is important. We ought to encourage the writing of poetry by people who would not necessarily think about trying to make a career of being a poet, at which very few people succeed. I am pleased that the Arts Council has devoted more resources to the support of literature, writers and poets. Andrew Motion is doing a splendid job as the chairman of the Arts Council's literature panel. I warm to my hon. Friend's idea of an internet page that could be used as a forum for poetry and I shall consider whether it can be taken forward.

As well as helping to tackle social exclusion, the arts can have a profound educational benefit. I shall say more about that later. Education is crucial in ensuring that we have the artists and audiences of the future. I am pleased that we were able to establish the National Foundation for Youth Music with national lottery funds. The foundation aims to ensure that young people throughout the country have a chance to learn to play music and to sing. The decline in the availability of musical instrument teaching over the past 20 years or so, especially in the state sector, is extremely disturbing, and I hope that our work will help to reverse it.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

Unfortunately, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that now that the National Foundation for Youth Music is providing funds for musical tuition, local authorities are apparently taking the opportunity to reduce their own funding.

Mr. Smith

That should not be happening, because the Department for Education and Employment has provided an additional £150 million through the standards fund. That money is ring-fenced so that local education authorities can support musical education in schools. The Department is ensuring that the money is not a substitute for local authority support, but makes real opportunities available to pupils. Obviously, we would be concerned if certain authorities sought to reduce their support because of the provision of better Government funding, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment would wish to follow up such cases.

The existence of a thriving arts economy helps the general economy, as well as bringing beauty and inspiration to us all. The creative industries—music, films, publishing and the performing arts, for instance—which depend on the creation of intellectual property for their added value are worth more than £60 billion a year to the national economy. Overall, they are growing at about twice the rate of the growth of the economy as a whole. We as a Government must ensure that those industries are given enough support to enable them to thrive. Government should not be in the business of creating art, but Government can try to ensure that the conditions are right for art and creative activity to flourish.

That is why we need to ensure that there is proper international copyright protection, especially in this digital age: intellectual property must be protected. It is also why we need to look at the way in which export assistance is provided. I was pleased that we were able, a few weeks ago, to publish a report by the Creative Industries Export Promotion Advisory Group. We also need to consider ways in which the formal education system can assist and how to ensure access to venture capital for small creative businesses.

Against the background of those aims and principles, the Government have achieved a great deal during the past two and a half years. I believe that much of what we have done is of major benefit to the arts. I am thinking particularly of the funding settlement that we provided after last year's comprehensive spending review, which involves an increase of £125 million for the arts and £99 million for museums and galleries over the next three years. That is the biggest ever increase in funding for cultural activity provided by central Government, and it contrasts starkly with the record of the last Government, under whom arts funding fell by 11 per cent. in real terms between the 1992 and 1997 general elections, from £208 million to, at its lowest level, £184 million.

Mr. Ainsworth

The Secretary of State is choosing his figures carefully. We all know that the 1992 figures reflect what is commonly known as the "Mellor splurge", which was very welcome in the arts world. If the Secretary of State looks at the whole of Government support throughout the years of Conservative administration, he will see that in real terms it increased by 35 per cent.

Mr. Smith

I am afraid that, even at the time of the "Mellor splurge", the figure for the lead year was £208 million. Thanks to the increase that we have provided, we have achieved that figure again this year, in real terms, and in two years' time it will have risen to £220 million. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe me, I can show him a nice graphic which makes my point very clearly.

Mr. Ainsworth

I love graphics, but I prefer the truth. There is genuine confusion over the arts funding figures. As I shall say in my speech, there are all sorts of figures flying around. However, I have here a table prepared by the Arts Council, which suggests that in 1993–94 funding reached a peak of £225.8 million.

Mr. Smith

I think the hon. Gentleman will find, if he looks at the figures for 1992 and the ensuing years on a real-terms basis, that the equivalent to the £208 million that I cited for this year was £207 million in 1993.

As well as providing that increase in arts funding, we have made a firm commitment to providing a one sixth share of lottery funds for the arts—from the good causes fund—over the next 10 years at least. That will provide a solid foundation for planning. We have also created a new audiences fund to enable more people to experience the arts through cheap ticket schemes, vouchers for students, transport in rural areas, touring grants and schemes to enable schoolchildren to take empty seats at performances.

Together with the Department for Education and Employment, we have established arrangements worth £19 million to enable dance and drama students to obtain proper grants and assistance so that they can undertake courses at accredited institutions. We are removing the difficulty that existed for the previous three or four years, during which lottery funding was used as an inadequate stopgap to deal with the crisis that had developed.

Mr. Ainsworth

The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way to me, but I must tell him that the problem for dance and drama students has not been solved. If it had been, the Foundation for Sport and the Arts would not have been called in to help tide things over and to bolster the creaking structure of Government funding. The foundation is deeply concerned about the position: it is not sure that it will be able to sustain its current commitment to funds for dance and drama students.

The headlines may say that the Government have solved the problem, but that is simply not the case. The truth is that many dance and drama students are still not obtaining places, and they face a very uncertain funding future.

Mr. Smith

First, it was thanks to the changes that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to tax treatment of the pools that the Foundation for Sport and the Arts has been able to continue its extremely valuable work in the past year—and will do so into the future.

Secondly, the September intake of dance and drama students under the scheme that we established was 830—more than we envisaged when the scheme was announced.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was getting at the fact that, since the scheme is about securing places on accredited courses at accredited institutions, institutions which are not accredited may well not form part of it. The scheme was designed particularly for centres of excellence in dance and drama tuition. Those 830 places are now filled, and students are benefiting directly from the measures that we put in place.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Will the Secretary of State say whether all the students in England and Wales who were offered places at such accredited institutions for accredited courses were able to take up the places offered as a result of the additional funding?

Mr. Smith

The right hon. Gentleman may have identified one particular problem—which is that, although higher education students were able, once they obtained an accredited place, to have access to student support arrangements for maintenance and subsistence that were available generally to higher education students, such access was not necessarily available to further education students. After the first few weeks of the scheme's operation, it became apparent that there was a problem in student living support for further education students who had been helped by the scheme to obtain places and to fund tuition costs.

We recognised that there was a problem, and we have taken action to deal with it. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that we have agreed, with the Department for Education and Employment, to provide additional funds to help further education students with their student living expenses as they take their places on those accredited courses.

The increase is necessary because awards to accredited places have attracted considerably more talented students from lower-income families than ever before. Over 20 per cent. of this year's intake of further education students on dance and drama courses on the scheme are from lower-income families—which is a direct result of the policy shared by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and me, to ensure that access to those courses is based on merit alone. I am delighted that the scheme is drawing from all parts of society.

The initial hardship fund that was established as part of the scheme when we first announced it was not sufficient to cope with the unprecedented demand. Therefore, the Department for Education and Employment has now increased the fund, to increase awards by up to £2.6 million. Consequently, there will be an increase of up to 300 per cent. in funds available to individual students, with up to £3,000 of student support being available to some. Interim arrangements will be available to students on the current intake, and the increases to them will be paid before Christmas.

Additionally, I am delighted to repeat that we have established the National Foundation for Youth Music. The aim has to be that—with the additional £150 million from the DFEE—every child has the chance to learn to sing or play a musical instrument.

We have provided funds so that, from April 1999, every child has been able to go to all our national museums and galleries for free. From next April, every pensioner will be able to do the same. From the year after that, still wider access provisions will be made.

We have introduced a £15 million fund for the 43 designated museums across England—museums which have a collection of pre-eminent worth but which until now have been ineligible for central Government assistance. We have ensured that they now are eligible.

We have ensured that the provisions of the new deal are appropriate to the needs of young musicians wishing to seek a career in music. With the DFEE, we have insisted that art, music and drama must remain a statutory part of the national curriculum.

We have established the national endowment for science, technology and the arts, to provide a national fund to support talented individuals.

We have created substantial incentives for film making in Britain—with new tax reliefs; the ending of the Channel 4 funding formula; a new, agreed skills investment fund for training in the industry; the establishment of a British film office in Los Angeles; a new definition for British film; and the establishment of the new Film Council.

We have also consistently emphasised the crucial cultural importance of the BBC, and the need for it to operate as a true benchmark of quality in broadcasting. All that has been done in the past two and a half years, and it is a record in which I take a little pride.

I pay warm tribute to Gerry Robinson and Peter Hewitt for their work in modernising the Arts Council. I regard the Department's relationship with the Arts Council as a partnership, with agreed objectives for the arts, but with the council itself responsible for individual funding decisions and strategies. As a result of the changes that they have made, bureaucracy has been substantially reduced. By the end of this Parliament, they will be saving £2 million in running costs for the overall arts funding system, against a 1997–98 baseline before restructuring started. Every year, therefore, £2 million will not have to be spent on administrative overheads but may instead be spent on supporting the arts directly.

The Arts Council is devolving decision making, both for grant in aid and for lottery funds, to the regional arts boards, to bring decisions closer to those most affected by them. Although initiated and led by the Arts Council, the process of delegation chimes well with the Government's own emphasis on the importance of regional decision making.

The Arts Council has also established a new set of strategic priorities, including new work; experimentation and risk; the centrality of the individual artist; new art forms, often using new technology; cultural diversity; social inclusion; children, young people and lifelong learning; and touring and distribution. Those priorities dovetail well with the Government's own objectives for the arts.

I should like to mention one sphere in which we have worked closely with the Arts Council, and in which I think we have arrived at a successful outcome which a few years ago no one would have dreamt was possible; I refer to the Royal Opera house, which is to have its formal gala opening next Wednesday. I am delighted that, after several years of doom, gloom, uncertainty and disharmony, the Royal Opera house is finally ready to take its rightful place at the heart of London and the nation's cultural life.

The reopening of the building on time and on budget has been a fantastic achievement by everyone involved in the development. I pay particular tribute to the work of Sir Colin Southgate and his board, Vivien Duffield and her fundraising team, and Michael Kaiser and staff at the Royal Opera house for realising the achievement.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

May I take this opportunity to endorse what the Secretary of State has just said? When he attends the royal gala next week, will he be wearing black tie? I understand that he has some reservations about the dress code for that occasion.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers. I will indeed be wearing my dinner jacket and, for a gala occasion, I see no reason why not.

I want the Royal Opera house to stand for the highest standards of excellence, with access for the widest possible audience. It should be a central part of—and not apart from—the artistic community. The open building, which the general public will be able to walk through; free chamber concerts at lunchtime; lower ticket prices; a much-expanded education programme; free events generally; improved access for people with disabilities; the elimination of the deficit and the introduction of proper financial planning all point to a healthy future. The opera house will be a place where world-class opera and ballet will be accessible by everyone.

Lyric theatre in London can now face the future with optimism, with strong performances at Covent Garden joining those at the Coliseum and Sadler's Wells. With all three houses pursuing the key objectives of excellence, access and education, the prospects for lyric theatre in London have never been better.

Nationally, the picture is equally strong, with Opera North, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet taking first-class opera and ballet across the entire country.

I said earlier that I would refer to the importance of the arts in education. I have mentioned some measures that we have taken to ensure that young people have access to music tuition and training in dance and drama. We are gradually reversing the decline of the past 18 years and ensuring an entitlement to participation in the arts for young people. However, we also need to ensure that children are equipped with the skills to understand, appreciate and analyse the arts. It is a process of participation, along with understanding and enjoyment.

Recently I was at Millbank primary school for the launch of Vivien Duffield's innovative Artworks scheme and I was struck—as I always am on such occasions—by the joy that the pupils got from art. Every child loves drawing, painting, music, dancing and acting. Those art forms define the nature of children's play, and children engage in them without inhibition, freely and openly, on a pure aesthetic level, free from anxiety about how they are perceived and from peer pressure.

What happens to those uninhibited, open children? What does society do—or not do—to make them feel more embarrassed about the arts as they get older? When does the creativity begin to hide itself? Can we ensure that participation in and appreciation of the arts can survive and be enjoyed again openly and in an unembarrassed fashion as children grow older and become adults? Research evidence suggests that those who acquire the habit of attending arts events as children are more likely to continue as adults. Such people know how to find out about the arts; they know where to go and what they like and do not like. They feel comfortable with the arts and they go with their friends. They know what to expect for their investment of money and time and they know the language. In other words, they are culturally literate.

I want everyone to be culturally literate. That does not mean compelling people to "do culture", but as the Government are spending taxpayers' and lottery players' money on the arts, they are morally obliged to ensure that everyone can make an informed choice. If people decide, in a hugely competitive leisure market, that the arts are not for them, that is their choice, but we must try to ensure that no one rejects the arts through lack of understanding or opportunity. Addressing human physical needs is one of the primary responsibilities of government, but we must not ignore the needs of the human spirit, especially in young people as they grow to maturity.

There are a number of ways in which we can help. I am delighted that the revised national curriculum has strengthened the position of the arts, with the reinstatement of programmes of study for all subjects in the primary curriculum, including arts subjects. The requirements for teaching the arts have been clarified. For example, in English the place of drama and of media and moving image texts is stronger than ever.

The revised national curriculum underlines a commitment to engaging children with artistic excellence, from Shakespeare to Seamus Heaney and from Jane Austen to Derek Walcott. There is provision to ensure that children are exposed to a breadth of artistic traditions and that they study works of other cultures. Teachers are being given greater flexibility to teach the arts creatively and explore ways of bringing the arts alive for children. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is preparing guidance and materials to help teachers to deliver arts subjects with greater confidence.

Teachers need to feel supported in their efforts to encourage cultural literacy. Next year the Teacher Training Agency will review the initial teacher training curriculum and look at ways to support continuous professional development.

The report of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education has contributed substantially to the debate and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and I will be issuing a detailed response to its report. I pay particular tribute to Ken Robinson, who chaired the committee, and his team. A key element of our response will be the announcement of a further review of creativity and the arts in schools that the Government have asked the QCA to undertake. It will consider, among other things, the question of how we promote cultural literacy in schools.

The Government are encouraging partnerships between schools and the wider community to improve study support, including investing £205 million from the new opportunities fund and £78.5 million from the standards fund to promote imaginative and effective programmes in schools and in out-of-hours activities, from film clubs to pop bands.

All cultural organisations funded by my Department have educational aims. Arts organisations in receipt of public subsidy are required to contribute to the achievement of those aims in making use of the extra £125 million over three years that we are providing for the arts. They will be required to deliver a minimum of 200,000 additional education sessions.

I have already mentioned the fact that, since April, entry to our national museums and galleries has been free for children. I am pleased to say that, since May, the number of children visiting participating museums and galleries has risen by 22 per cent. In the same period, visits by children to the national maritime museum increased by 37 per cent. The figure for the museum of science and industry in Manchester was 28 per cent; for the Duxford air museum it was 14 per cent.; for the national railway museum in York it was 19 per cent; and this August the figure for children's visits to the science museum was 40 per cent. higher than it was at the same time last year. That is a clear demonstration of the success of our policy.

Two months ago I announced the forthcoming a national roll-out of an exciting new project called new generation audiences. The project links arts organisations and schools through the internet, giving schoolchildren the chance to interact with artists and others before and after they attend arts events, museums or sports events.

The project combines the best of traditional practice—visits by artists, or the holding of education sessions—with the best of new technology to enable schools to download and research information about productions; it is encouraging as much involvement as possible. Arts organisations that join promise to make blocks of unsold seats available at a discount, or for free. The project has been piloted to date in five boroughs, and the aim is to roll it out nationally from January next year.

That is just one of the many creative ways in which we are encouraging arts organisations and schools to work together. The new generation audiences project is part-funded by the new audiences fund set up by my Department and administered by the Arts Council. The fund supports numerous new and experimental ways of bringing people to the arts for the first time, or enriching their involvement with the arts.

Working with the Arts Council, I will aim to ensure that all subsidised arts bodies have an access policy for young people. That policy should concentrate on those children least likely otherwise to engage with the arts. It should always include some free or concessionary tickets, as part of a range of ways of attracting young people.

Children should not just be dropping into a theatre or a gallery for a one-off visit. They need to be encouraged to do so again and again, in childhood and in adult life. Their visits need to be enriched by educational material at the theatre or gallery, by specialist animators holding education sessions and by material they study before and afterwards.

We have made available £2.5 million to develop partnerships between schools and museums and galleries. Forty projects will be supported over the next three years to share good practice and to help develop innovation. A further £500,000 is to be spent on projects to be taken forward by area museums councils, working together with smaller museums to help them develop the educational services they can offer. We will shortly be publishing a strategy for education in museums and galleries.

That is just a flavour of the wide range of measures that the Government and their partners are driving forward to ensure that the present generation of children get the opportunities that others have missed. It is just a start on which we will continue to build, and we know that this is a long-term investment which may not bear fruit overnight.

The measure of our success will be not only that our creative industries will continue to grow and be the envy of the world; not only that British arts will continue to be world leaders, pushing at the very cutting edge of artistic excellence; not only that the arts will have reached more people than ever before; but that we will be a culturally literate nation. We will be proud of our artistic achievements; vocal about our successes; equally vocal about our failures; self-confident, and able to engage, without inhibition, with all the rich diversity of artistic work. We will rediscover something of the joy that we felt as children, when producing a work of art was a simple matter of a set of poster paints, a piece of paper and two small hands.

That way we can ensure that the arts in this country—in their many, varied outstanding and challenging forms—can be available to everyone. I can assure the House that we as a Government will continue to play our full part in making sure that that can be achieved.

10.24 am
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I very much welcome the opportunity to debate Government funding of the arts. This is the second Friday debate secured by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in three weeks. It is the second debate held at short notice, and on a day when hon. Members will, for the most part, have had long-standing engagements away from Westminster. I am afraid to admit that I am one of those and—with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I shall not be here for the conclusion of the debate.

I welcome the opportunity to debate Government funding for the arts, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his courage in making this possible. The House has just been treated to a breathtaking display of humbug and complacency from a Secretary of State who seems to think that if he says often enough, that all is well people in the arts will believe him. They do not.

The Secretary of State displays in an advanced—even archetypal—form many of the disturbing characteristics of this fundamentally deceitful Government. Like the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State has surrounded himself with a coterie of cronies. He has set about subverting the independence and integrity of civil servants in his Department. He has appointed a Labour party hack in place of a civil servant to spin news, and to bully and threaten journalists who venture criticism or even an independent view.

Mr. Chris Smith

The hon. Gentleman is outrageously impugning the integrity of a civil servant. Would he care to name the civil servant about whom he is concerned, and indicate his precise concern?

Mr. Ainsworth

I am impugning the integrity of the Secretary of State, not the civil servant. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed, for the first time in its history, an Arts Council chairman with no previous commitment to the arts, but with a stated commitment to the Labour party. He has instilled an illiberal and oppressive climate of acquiesence among individuals and bodies who look to the Department for leadership and funds.

Like the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who presents himself as an honest-to-goodness cutter of taxes while presiding over a massive increase in taxation—the Secretary of State has perfected the art of the distracting headline. The only difference is that while the Chancellor is engaged in stealth taxes, the Secretary of State is engaged in stealth cuts.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

The hon. Gentleman has given a catalogue of criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government's handling of the arts. Has he met one person in the whole of the professional arts world who has said that the situation was better under the previous Government? I very much doubt it.

Mr. Ainsworth

The hon. Gentleman has walked straight into that one. Yes—almost every day.

Mr. Gardiner

Name one.

Mr. Ainsworth

I meet so many people in the arts who say almost every day that the situation is now worse than it was under the Conservatives.

Mr. Gardiner

Name one.

Mr. Ainsworth

If the hon. Gentleman closes his mouth and opens his ears, he might learn something—including the answer to his question.

On 24 July 1998, the Secretary of State set out the results of the comprehensive spending review. He had had a bad year. The arts world had grown angry at his failure to deliver the El Dorado which—albeit by nod, wink and innuendo—it had been promised before the election. It was so bad that the Prime Minister himself decided to intervene.

Norman Lebrecht, in The Daily Telegraph on 30 June last year, reported: The Prime Minister summoned senior cultural figures to Downing Street yesterday to pledge a new commitment to state-funded arts and acknowledge their neglect by his Government…a clear commitment was given by Mr. Blair 'to write the arts into the core script' of its programme. The meeting…follows mounting criticism of new Labour's attachment to pop music, fashion and film, and its punitive attitude to higher arts. It was time for a good headline, and here it came—from the Department's press release of 24 July last year: Chris Smith Details Biggest Ever Increase in Cultural Funding. The release said: Culture Secretary Chris Smith today set out a new £290 million 'investment for reform' contract for Britain's cultural and creative world which will give new money to modernised arts bodies and enable free entry to the UK's world famous museums". My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has referred to the "great Labour lie". There are in fact many Labour lies. The Secretary of State's press release of 24 July 1998 contains several. The figure of £290 million applies to three years and not one, which is what most people are used to, and the fact is that the Department's spending in 1998–99 was £912 million and in 2001–02 it is planned to be £1.038 billion; that is a rise not of £290 million but of £126 million: in real terms, £52 million. It is a lie to talk of an increase of £290 million. Furthermore, the figure applies not only to the cultural and creative world but to the whole Department, over three years: another lie.

It has subsequently become clear that the amount contained in the spending plans is not sufficient to provide for free entry into the UK's world famous museums". The idea of universal free admission has been quietly shelved. So that is another lie: three lies in one sentence. Having established his specious theme, the Secretary of State began to extemporise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must make it clear that he is not suggesting that the Secretary of State is lying. Right hon. and hon. Members do not tell lies.

Mr. Ainsworth

I am well aware of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In August 1998, the Secretary of State was at the Edinburgh festival, where, presumably to a suitably impressed theatrical audience, he declared: With the extra £120 million over the next three years, theatre companies will be able to reach new audiences. Theatres were never going to receive an extra £120 million under his plans. Instead, they got management consultants.

The same respect for the truth permeates the document with which the Department followed up the press release: "A New Cultural Framework". In the foreword, the Secretary of State said: I was able to announce in July a huge boost for the cultural sectors—£290 million over three years. This will benefit the arts and museums in particular, but all parts of my portfolio will have new money. New money will indeed go to all parts of his portfolio, except libraries, sport, heritage, tourism and broadcasting, each of which faces a three-year standstill or a cut in real terms. It was simply untruthful to maintain that all parts of the departmental portfolio will have new money. They will not. The Secretary of State and his officials must have known that.

The truth is that the Secretary of State's budget for the arts—broadly speaking, the Arts Council of England—is due to rise from £198 million in 1999–00 to £253 million in 2001–02: an increase of £55 million before inflation. For museums and galleries, the increase is from £209 million to £259 million: a rise of £50 million before inflation over three years.

I apologise for belabouring the House with numbers, but this is a debate about Government support for the arts and it is important to establish the facts on the record. Here is another: according to figures provided by the House of Commons Library, as a percentage of gross domestic product, Government spending on the arts will fall between 1996–97 and 2002 from 0.11 per cent. to its lowest level since records began, at 0.08 per cent.

If the Secretary of State is confused about why, instead of awarding him a crown of laurels, the arts world is blowing raspberries behind his back, he need look no further than those figures. Perhaps he is unaware of the hostility that his policies have aroused in the arts world. It has taken a Labour Government to see the establishment of a shadow Arts Council. [Interruption] The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) groans, but she knows that the shadow Arts Council has been set up by knowledgeable people who care passionately about the arts and are gathering their forces as we speak to launch a new attack on the Secretary of State and his policies.

Mr. Chris Smith

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the litany of people cited by the shadow Arts Council as supporting the initiative when it established itself subsequently withdrew their support and said that they had never been contacted, knew nothing about it and did not support it.

Mr. Ainsworth

There is a reason for that. Ministers have derided those people from the arts world as a bunch of whingers and every time one of them criticises the Government, Lord Bragg duly leaps to his feet in another place or writes an article slamming the "tired whingers" or "washed-up has-beens".

The managing director of the Barbican centre, writing in Art News a few months ago, said: in its few weeks of existence, the Shadow Arts Council has come across a worrying phenomenon—fear. Many individuals have rung up to express their support of its aims but have said that they cannot afford to be identified in public& They fear for their continuing funding if they do. The Secretary of State may shake his head, but that is what the managing director of the Barbican centre said, and he cannot deny it.

I have dealt so far only with central Government spending and I have tried to suggest that we are not living in a healthy, liberal or even very democratic age, and certainly not an honest one, but it would be wrong to ignore the role of local government. Here, reliable figures are lamentably hard to obtain, but it is hardly surprising, given the non-statutory nature of much local government arts funding and the continued pressure on local government spending, that the Secretary of State will find little to cheer him.

According to the Library, in 1995–96 local authorities supported the arts in England to the tune of £195 million, but by 1998 the figure had shrunk to just over £100 million. According to the Arts Council of England, county authority spending on the arts fell by 11.3 per cent. last year. Again according to the Library, the proportion of overall arts spending, excluding libraries, accounted for by local government has fallen from 30 per cent. in 1996 to below 20 per cent. of total spending.

No consideration of funding the arts would be complete without having regard to the national lottery. Over their 18 years, the previous Government increased Exchequer funding of the arts by 35 per cent. over and above inflation, and the creation of the lottery and the inclusion of the arts and heritage as beneficiaries marked a step change in the overall funding climate, dramatically increasing the amount available.

In the past five years, the Arts Council lottery fund has paid out more than £1 billion to more than 8,300 projects and the national heritage lottery fund has contributed £1.3 billion to 3,072 projects. That is the scale of the Conservative bequest to the arts and heritage.

I am proud to have served in Committee on the original National Lottery Bill. I remember the repeated insistence of Labour Members that lottery money should be additional to on-going Exchequer funding. Our debates gave rise to an awful new word: "additionality" was added to the language of Shakespeare and Pope. Additionality is an awful word, but an important principle.

I remember tabling amendments on behalf of the National Campaign for the Arts to ensure the greatest possible degree of transparency in what was and was not lottery money. I remember the assurances from Conservative Ministers and the then Prime Minister that lottery funds would not be diverted into core Government programmes. We kept our word, but since the general election the Labour Government have embarked on a cynical and systematic betrayal of the national lottery. They set out to create, in the corny and slightly sinister words of new Labour-speak, "a people's lottery" but they have instead created a Government's lottery.

Already one sixth of the lottery distribution fund is used to support core Government spending programmes in health and education. That is bad enough, but many in the arts world were appalled to discover that, when the millennium fund winds up after 2000–01, fully one third of all lottery money will be diverted from the original good causes. However hard he tries, the Secretary of State cannot deny that in setting up a sixth distributor of lottery proceeds, he has diverted money away from the original good causes, including the arts.

Once again, the figures are complicated, but I hope that the House is prepared to accept numbers produced by the House of Commons Library. They suggest that, as a result of the Government's intervention, the arts will receive £300 million less than they would have over the life of the current lottery licence; there is a similar loss to the heritage fund. I am familiar with the Secretary of State's argument that, because the overall amount of lottery spending has exceeded expectations—no thanks to the Labour Government—the arts and heritage will receive more than was expected in 1994. However, the point is that, while affecting to be a friend of the arts and heritage, the Secretary of State has snaffled £600 million that was originally earmarked for their benefit.

Mr. Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm what he told the Conservative party conference, that he would take away funding for after-school clubs, healthy living centres, green spaces and cancer equipment? If so, with what would he replace that funding; or are those initiatives that he does not believe should be undertaken in this country?

Mr. Ainsworth

I am coming to that. It is not true that I told the Conservative party conference that we would take away the money—the right hon. Gentleman has simply invented that remark.

Mr. Smith

Does the hon. Gentleman deny that he is on the record and in the transcript as telling the Conservative party conference that health and education are not matters on which lottery money should be spent?

Mr. Ainsworth

My point is that health and education cannot be funded out of the lottery without the original good causes being disadvantaged. If the right hon. Gentleman is patient, he will hear what I have to say on that subject, but I should first point out that, in the week in which Camelot has announced a sharp drop in its income, future levels of lottery money cannot be taken for granted. I hope that it does not happen, but it is possible that, in future, the golden goose will lay fewer eggs.

Let me make it clear: I am not attacking those projects that succeed in obtaining support from the new opportunities fund. I merely ask the Secretary of State to admit that, under the new lottery arrangements, there are winners and losers. The NHS, education and many of the excellent causes supported by the new opportunities fund are undoubted winners, but the arts are losers.

Mr. Gardiner

Given that the hon. Gentleman agrees that there are winners and losers in those circumstances, and given his proposal that lottery money should not be spent on health and education, does he accept that under a Conservative Government health and education would be losers?

Mr. Ainsworth

The winners and losers game has been created by the Labour Government.

The Secretary of State should admit that, in caving in to the Treasury, he has ridden roughshod over the principle of additionality, which, before the election, the Labour party was keen should be observed. Baroness Pitkeathley, the chair of the new opportunities fund, has no scruples about additionality. Speaking to the lottery monitor conference earlier this year, she said: When I first arrived at the fund, some parts of the media seemed to see additionality—or rather, what they perceived as lack of it—as the great issue& When, however, we carried out the public consultation on our first three initiatives, the topic of additionality was very rarely raised. Those who might benefit from our funding were not terribly concerned about political debates on additionality. That is hardly surprising: if a fiver is taken from one person and given to another, the recipient is hardly likely to complain. I bet that the noble Lady's consultation did not extend to those, such as the arts and charities, who had been led to believe that they had some claim on the money that she has bestowed elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that, whereas additionality was a point of principle before the election, it is now simply a matter of political debate. To be fair to Baroness Pitkeathley, she did go on to say: Of course, lottery funding must be additional to existing public expenditure. We shall ensure, at the level of individual projects, that this is always the case. However, those are weasel words which could be used to justify the new opportunities fund paying for almost anything: for example, money spent on a new heart monitor could be justified as being additional in that, by definition, the heart monitor was not previously funded by the NHS. The facts are clear: the Government have raided the lottery to the detriment of the arts and are in the process of converting it into another form of stealth tax—and a regressive one to boot.

There is no doubt that lower than anticipated lottery income played a behind-the-scenes role in last summer's announcement by the Arts Council of England that it was pulling the plug on 300 capital projects around the country. Theatres, with their special capital needs, are especially hard hit—theatres such as the Bristol Hippodrome, which has roof-top portakabins; the new Theatre Royal, Portsmouth; and the King's Head in the Secretary of State's own constituency, whose grant has been cut and whose lottery application has fallen through for lack of London Arts Board support.

I have a quote from the Theatres Trust of which the Secretary of State might not be aware, but which will be of benefit to him to hear. The trust states: All over Britain people have been working in good faith to develop schemes so that these theatres, many of them nearly 100 years old, can be brought up to modern standards. Now it seems that they are to be doomed to disappointment as lottery money is diverted to the new causes and away from buildings. There is no point in asking the arts agencies to draw up strategies and priorities for development if the money is no longer there". We have established that the reality of the Government's support for the arts does not match the headlines, and the Government will pay a heavy price for the difference between the two, but the problem is not confined to the arts. People might read the headlines, but they live the reality, and outside the cosy coteries of Islington, substance matters more than style.

There is another source of growing frustration and anger in the arts world. The policy of devolving money away from the Arts Council of England to the regional arts boards might sound like a good idea, and there are some who have welcomed it—most notably, but not surprisingly, the regional arts boards. However, it is not a good idea if the result is more money spent on bureaucrats and administrators and less on the arts. The Government, including the Secretary of State today, have stuck doggedly to their assertion that the process will lead to a net saving, but I have yet to be convinced.

I am the first to admit that the old Arts Council of England was hardly a model of managerial efficiency. I welcome sensible decisions to make the way in which public money is distributed to the arts more financially transparent and less encumbered by bureaucracy. However, judging by the delay in the publication of the latest Arts Council annual report and the hopeless paucity of information in the recently published lottery report, financial transparency is a long way off. Meanwhile, the "situations vacant" columns of The Guardian are peppered with advertisements for arts administrators in the regions.

"The Stage" newspaper recently reported that all the regional arts boards were taking on extra staff. Another arts digest publication has reported that the London Arts Board, which receives the largest slice of extra devolved funding, is increasing the number of its employees from 45 to 68. It also points out that even before that increase in bureaucracy, the cost of administering the London Arts Board had risen from 10.3 per cent. of income in 1995–96 to 13.1 per cent. at the last count. Common sense demands, and the public expect, that arts money is spent on the arts, not on administrative overheads.

Within the past 18 months, the Arts Council has been through a period of traumatic cuts in staffing, only to find itself back on the recruitment trail. The appointment of a new senior officer, whose salary of some £120,000 exceeds even that of the chief executive, has done nothing to repair the rapidly deteriorating relations between the arts world and the Arts Council. The outcome, although Gerry Robinson may not be still in place to see it, is most likely to be a net increase in the overall cost of administering the arts, not a reduction. That is not what the public want, and it is certainly not what people in the arts want.

The editor of Art Review recently criticised the bureaucratisation of the arts. He said: The problem is that the Arts Council promotes only what is fashionably contemporary, whilst developing a trendy contempt for history and notions of quality. That is a bit unfair—after all, the Arts Council funds many of our great orchestras and major theatre companies—but I know what he means and he has a point. It has historically been the role of the Arts Council to make artistic judgments and, when necessary, to defend them against the editor of the Art Review, Back Benchers of all parties and, occasionally, Ministers.

It has not, until now, been the role of the Arts Council to acquiesce willingly in becoming an agent of Government policy. The Secretary of State has been explicit about that agenda. In "A New Cultural Framework", he states: We intend our new position to enable us, for example, to… play a full part in 'joined-up Government', not only making the case for support for our sectors from other parts of Whitehall, but developing more integrated approaches to policy development, exploiting the links which already exist and arguing for recognition of the part the arts, sport, tourism, etc. can play in delivering Government policies". Since when were the arts the agent of Government policies? The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that the Government will take direct action where appropriate to take forward our objectives; and…if necessary, bang heads together to solve problems. The arts and artists play a vital role in society. They not only reflect a society's culture but help to make it, and they represent the greater part of what is left behind for future generations. They are not an optional extra. As the work of Francois Matterasso and his team at Comedia has demonstrated through case studies, the arts can bring immediate and tangible benefits to communities, including reduced crime; a greater sense of purpose, identity and fellowship; and better academic results in schools. The arts are also taking an exciting lead in urban regeneration and the creation of new jobs.

Above all, the arts have to do with communication. An artist who cannot communicate is lost. The best in art has ways of penetrating both the hearts and minds of its audience, not only individually but collectively and, in teaching us something new about ourselves, shows us how better to understand each other and the world. It is no wonder that, over the centuries—and especially in this one—authoritarian politicians have made a beeline for the arts. They have sought to harness that formidable power of communication to serve their own agenda. They have taken "direct action" to ensure that their objectives are achieved.

In the immediate aftermath of world war two, and with Stalin's tyranny well into its stride, the founders of the Arts Council needed no lessons in the importance of keeping the arts at arm's length from politicians. However, its latest missive states: In April 1998, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport"— not the Arts Council itself— announced the creation of…the 'New Audiences Programme'. For Year 2, elements of the programme have been adapted to support 'projects which focus on cultural diversity, social exclusion and increasing access or opportunities for people with disabilities'. That is all good stuff, but is it art? I am not sure. If artists are to become the agents of Government social policy, we might as well take the logical step of doing away with the Arts Council and funding the arts through the Home Office. Better still, we could fund the arts through a new Ministry of Information, run by men in dark glasses who know all about banging heads together.

It is striking how far removed from the original aims of the Arts Council the present arrangements have become. I have reread an article by the Arts Council's first chairman, John Maynard Keynes, which was first published in The Listener in July 1945. Attributing the establishment of the Arts Council to the Government of Winston Churchill—it was not the brainchild of the Labour party, as is commonly claimed—Lord Keynes wrote: we do not intend to socialise"— for socialise, read nationalize— this side of social endeavour. Whatever views may be held by the lately warring political parties…about socialising industry, everyone, I fancy, recognises that the work of the artist in all its aspects is, of its nature, individual and free, undisciplined, unregimented, uncontrolled. The artist walks where the breath of the spirit blows him. He cannot be told his direction; he does not know it himself. But he leads the rest of us into fresh pastures and teaches us to love and to enjoy what we often begin by rejecting, enlarging our sensibility and purifying our instincts. The task of an official body is not to teach or to censor, but to give courage, confidence and opportunity. Under the present Government, the tasks of giving courage, confidence and opportunity have become secondary to political didacticism. The Government are nationalising the subsidised arts.

In the midst of all that, we have seen one encouraging development, which is the growth in business sponsorship of the arts. I pay tribute to the work of Colin Tweedy and Robin Wight at Art and Business for their tireless championship of that cause. It is largely thanks to that organisation that business sponsorship has grown over the years to contribute some £115 million a year to the arts. Increasingly, Art and Business is considering new, innovative and creative ways to build partnerships between the business world and the arts. It is especially encouraging to note its recent success in attracting sponsorship from the emerging corporate sector in e-commerce and new technology and recruiting some 1,500 business volunteers to give their time and expertise to arts organisations. It is a two-way process, because the arts and business have much to learn from each other.

Some people still feel slightly queasy about business sponsorship. They worry that artistic integrity may be threatened by the demands of the bottom line. There is little evidence to suggest that that has happened, but in any case, given a choice, I would prefer a private sponsor motivated by what people want to a public sponsor motivated by political priorities and trailing a miasma of bureaucratic string.

While my party recognises the need for public support, we are firmly committed to encouraging business and private sponsorship of the arts and are determined to find ways of making it easier and more attractive to give. We must also find ways to enable arts organisations to achieve greater certainty and stability in their funding, and to ensure that money for the arts is spent on art and artists, not on apparatchiks. Beyond that, we must set about repairing the damage that this Government are doing by their dumbed-down, utilitarian, disintegrationist, trendy, politically correct and invasive policies towards the arts.

One of the best things that has happened over the past 15 years is the way in which concern for the environment has been encouraged in our schools. The result has been a much greater awareness of the fragile balance of nature and of the responsibility that we owe to those who will come after us. There is another environment, equally at risk and in need of constant nurture. It is the cultural environment. Just as, over the centuries, we have shaped the visible landscape, so have we shaped that other landscape, which to no lesser extent defines who we are, provides context to our lives and represents the sum of what we will leave behind.

For most people, an understanding of that cultural landscape can only begin at school. I welcome the findings of Professor Ken Robinson's national advisory committee on creative and cultural education, which has looked at ways on infusing cultural literacy in our system of education. What is really needed is a fundamental reform of the structure of education. In the meantime, however, I challenge the Government to say whether they will implement the recommendations in the Robinson report entitled "All Our Futures", or whether they prefer to confine themselves to yet another review.

Whatever the Secretary of State's personal tastes, it is clear that the Government consider the arts a tool of social policy on the one hand, and a fashion accessory on the other. We are in danger of becoming a people without memory. Not for nothing did Sir Roy Strong preface his latest book, "The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts", with the words "Lest We Forget". We cannot forget what we do not know. That is why education is so important.

In an age of global communications, and in the face of enormous changes that will be wrought by new technologies, an understanding of the great tradition of our arts and heritage has never been more important. By all means, let us encourage access to the arts, but without an equal emphasis on excellence, there is really very little point. Unless we understand the achievements of the past, we cannot hope to meet the challenges of the future. Great art will not be fettered by politicians and we should be humble in the knowledge that great artists have more power than us to enhance the lives of individuals, and the life of the nation.

11.2 am

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I, too, may need to leave before the end of the debate as I have prearranged meetings with constituents.

I very much welcome this debate on the Government's support for the arts. However, I was disappointed with the speech by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). It was a mealy mouthed, sad and desperate contribution to what should really be a subject to celebrate.

My area is a winner when it comes to the arts. As I was preparing for this debate, my local arts officer told me that there has been a cultural change for the better since this Government came to power. The hon. Member for East Surrey said that there was little to applaud in the work of local authorities, but I shall give a number of examples of how the arts have been able to make progress as a result of partnership with my borough, county, town and parish councils. There is much to celebrate in the work of local authorities in my area.

In my constituency, there are no high profile arts venues that hit the national headlines. We do not even have a cinema—and as a film enthusiast that appalling fact is a perpetual source of concern and upset to me. However, it is not good enough to concentrate resources solely on centres of excellence. Amber Valley, and Derbyshire in general, is made up of a mix of small towns and rural areas, so such centres are usually too far away to be accessible by any but the few.

I applaud the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to open up access to the largest possible number of people. That will not take money away from essential services such as education, health and economic development: rather, it will complement those services. I can do little better than to quote from the arts strategy promoted by my local authority in Amber Valley. It states: Throughout history, musicians, artists, actors and performers have brought colour to our lives. The arts hold up a mirror to ourselves, helping us to understand our complicated world and also providing an escape from it. We experience the arts as spectators and participants, as complete novices, enthusiastic amateurs or as dedicated professionals, as individuals or in a group. In whatever way we enjoy cultural activity it enriches our lives and often brings a sense of well being. The strategy goes on to describe the benefits that the arts can bring and how the intention is to ensure that no one is excluded from those benefits. It states: Our strategy concentrates on access, excellence, regeneration through the arts, collaborative working, better communications and maximising resources. We want to make the Borough a vital and exciting place to live, a place where people can see a professional theatre company in their own village hall and hear live music in parks and market places; a place where professional artists and performers are valued for the contribution they make to our lives; a place where arts play a key role in our cultural, social, economic and personal development; a place where there is a supportive arts infrastructure and opportunities for everyone to stretch their own potential for creativity. Many projects in my area do just that. It always amazes me how much goes on locally. In recent weeks, I have discovered flourishing organ societies around my area. I have given the vote of thanks to a local choir and to talented local young violinists after a performance in a church. I have listened to barber shop singers at the civic service in Loscoe—although I was less impressed when they played the Cliff Richard record that has caused so much fuss lately. I am afraid that I go along with the musical judgment of those radio programmes that have not been persuaded of the piece's musical value.

In addition, I recently saw a rap poem on the side of the Ironville railway carriage youth club, painted by the "cool" young people who claim to "rule" their village in the poem. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sets up a poetry website—-and if I can remember the words—that will be one of the first pieces that I shall propose. I was also sworn to secrecy recently when I went to the location where an exciting future episode of the medical television series "Peak Practice", which is set in my constituency, was being filmed. Such arts activities have always flourished. In Derbyshire, the summer practice of well dressing has taken place for generations.

We need to foster and encourage the arts. I welcome the reversal of the Tory cuts in Government funding for the arts. Funding for the east midlands arts board will increase this year by 14 per cent., but we have to ensure that our commitment to widening access is constantly reaffirmed. Lottery funding has been totally inadequate, and until recently was grossly skewed away from areas such as mine, where large prestige projects are not set up and where there are no wealthy groups that can find the partnership funding that is needed.

The east midlands and the former coalfield areas have suffered especially badly. In the absence of revenue-funded, dedicated arts buildings, it is very difficult even to enter a bid when the programme is focused on capital spending. However, since the introduction of the "awards for all" project, which has helped money go to small community groups, we have hit the lottery jackpot. The results may not be dramatic compared with other areas, but in September 18 groups received £70,000 for the first time. That change in the operation of the lottery has certainly helped my area's arts strategy.

The Government's strategy of opening access is vital. I applaud the aim expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this morning of reaching out to the 50 per cent. of the population who never set foot in a theatre, a concert hall, an opera house or an art gallery.

We have none of those things in my area. What we do have—nd I hope that, over breakfast this morning, I persuaded my right hon. Friend to come and see for himself—is a wonderful transport heritage. I am delighted that the Government have decided to give £15 million to the 48 designated transport museums. The national tramway museum at Crich was so designated last year. I am also delighted that we got heritage money for the restoration of the two steam locomotives, the Duchess of Sutherland and the Princess Elizabeth, at the Midland railway museum, which is loved by railway buffs. I do not understand it all myself, but all the enthusiasts who go there show how valuable the funding is.

Those are really our only major venues, so we need local sponsorship to take arts out to the community. The work of our local authorities in helping local programmes has been vital. A number of very exciting projects have started to open up access, in accordance with a main theme of our arts strategy.

I have a few examples of how the arts can be taken out into the community. Pause for Applause is a small-scale touring scheme administered by the borough council with help from east midlands arts—which has just received a large increase in its Government funding—to bring professional music, drama, poetry and dance to towns and villages throughout the borough. Pause for Applause puts on a wide variety of public performances, including some specifically for young people, at accessible venues at affordable prices.

We have a programme of concerts for the community to provide part-funding for live music events at festivals, carnivals and carol services. I was delighted that, on the one occasion on which my mother was able to visit the area before, sadly she died, the middle of Ripley was enlivened by shoppers being entertained by the brass band concerts that are sponsored by the town councils at various times through the summer—not every Saturday, unfortunately, but quite frequently.

The Secretary of State talked about a dance programme with young people in Bristol. We are specifically involving young people and people with disabilities. We, too, have dance programmes, in some of our most deprived areas, in conjunction with the Derby dance centre, and are seeking to set up a youth arts forum. I did not realise until yesterday that we have not only the Ironville rappers, but the Ripley Ranters—a group of 11 to 12-year-old girls who are upset that there is no provision for teenagers in Ripley. People come to my surgery and complain about it. The Ripley Ranters are doing workshops and making a video to tell everyone how fed up they are. They are learning the skills to enable them to campaign for better facilities.

These programmes are about extending access. We cannot focus simply on the big projects; in areas such as mine, we cannot reach out without coming up with imaginative schemes involving local groups.

I want to mention a couple of really exciting projects in my area. The millennium banners project is a partnership between the borough council and the town and parish councils. It is about celebrating the people and places of Amber Valley by constructing textile banners, as the textiles industry is very important in my area. So far, six towns and villages have made triangular banners, with help from the Fleet arts project, and some 800 children and adults are involved. They decide which symbols represent their village. One town has chosen all its local churches; a village has chosen its reservoir, where local people are trying to save their fishing rights; others chose a collage of village children; yet others chose the symbol of Butterley engineering and the old forge from the ironworks. These symbols have been woven into beautiful triangular banners. By December 2000, with the help of a grant from the millennium fund, a whole range of banners will be put on display and then taken back to the towns and villages. The project involves different local groups and, in addition, has stimulated all sorts of other schemes, including literacy projects.

The Collaro project is a creative writing scheme by former employees of the Langley Mill-based munitions factory about their memories of work and play during the second world war. The writing is both funny and moving, and with any luck it could even end up as a television or radio play, although I think that that is some way off.

Some very exciting projects are taking place in my area. We are helped by the changes in lottery funding, the encouragement given by local authorities and the commitment to opening access out to the community.

One has to be enterprising in looking for new ways to fund projects. The Ironville railway carriage, which we seem to have opened at least five times because everyone is so excited by it, is an economic development programme partly funded out of the single regeneration budget and other partnership money. In other cases, the way in which the arts are subsidised is slightly more puzzling. I cannot resist telling hon. Members about the time when I was sat quietly in the Members' Tea Room and a fellow Labour Member came in, sat down, looked at me and did a double take. She asked if she really had just seen me on "Food and Drink" with a roomful of morris men. I had to say yes: the participants in this wonderful traditional English dance require considerable amounts of food and beer to sustain them. An enterprising Ripley morris man was watching television one day and decided that he could subsidise their annual ale feast by getting "Food and Drink" to do it for them. They set it up, but the flaw—what had not clicked—was that the programme is about helping people to cook dishes themselves, so the Ripley morris men were filmed cooking an ale feast for 150 of their colleagues. It was wonderful, but a rather strange way of obtaining subsidy for music and the arts. I welcome the Government's commitment and the provision of funding because I do not want everyone to have to find such strange ways of subsidising the arts.

In conclusion, there are three key themes of Labour's arts policies—excellence, access and education. We need to keep those three themes going, particularly the contract to open access, so that the arts can truly enable local communities to gain the enrichment of life that the proper development of an arts policy provides.

11.16 am
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Like the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), I must offer the Secretary of State my apologies for an early departure from the Chamber: I have a long-standing commitment to speak in Sunderland on behalf of Scottish Opera, where a new opera is being performed tonight in which I had some part.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

I once saw a very good performance of Ravel's "Bolero", in which the musicians came on to the stage one by one. This morning's debate looks like that "Bolero" in reverse.

Mr. Maclennan

The Secretary of State has kindly indicated to me the nature of the extremely important occasion which has drawn him from the Chamber—temporarily, I think—and I wholly understand and, indeed, applaud, his participation in that event.

I do not, however, find it possible to go along with the line of criticism deployed by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) about the Secretary of State and about the Government's policy on the arts. I thought that the Secretary of State's reasoning for Government support for the arts was almost faultless. I wholly agree with his sense of priorities and the way in which he has committed himself to attaining the ends summarised by the hon. Member for Amber Valley as excellence, access and education. Those are powerful objectives for any Government.

The true debate about the future of the arts—and one to which it would have been exceedingly interesting to listen—was presumably that between the Secretary of State and his Treasury colleagues in planning public spending on the arts. I found the right hon. Gentleman's arguments in support of the arts considerably more compelling than his Treasury colleagues must have done. Like the hon. Member for East Surrey, I am dismayed by the projected decline in the share of GDP that will be devoted to the arts.

This country has a great deal to celebrate, and I join the Secretary of State in recognising the quality and talent of our artists and current innovative developments, but we cannot turn away from the stress suffered by many of our arts organisations. Even some of our major national companies feel uncertainty because of the tight financial constraints within which they operate. I agree with the hon. Member for East Surrey that it is difficult to extract accurate figures. He has done a good job in putting some figures on the record, and I shall not repeat them; however, in the Secretary of State's otherwise interesting speech, there was no flavour of the concern felt around the country.

This week we are celebrating the reopening of the Royal Opera house, where performances are demonstrating our country's enormous, internationally approved talent, but Jeremy Isaacs, in his recently published book, has pointed out that Arts Council expenditure on the ROH had fallen from 60 per cent. in the 1970s to 26.7 per cent. in 1992. Substantial sums have been spent on refurbishing and improving the ROH, particularly on rehearsal areas for dancers and on increasing the number of productions possible. That is encouraging, and the management have improved their grip on the challenges that the ROH faces. However, considerable uncertainty remains about revenue prospects.

We do the arts no service if we simple champion achievements without drawing attention to difficulties. Scottish Opera was not among the companies mentioned by the Secretary of State—I appreciate that there is a ministerial division of responsibility—but its problems will not be wholly resolved by the step taken by the Scottish Executive. I ask only that Ministers should be honest about difficulties where they exist.

The Secretary of State spoke about the predicament of the nine regional orchestras in England which are funded by the Arts Council. I welcome the steps that have been taken to deal with deficits that have threatened those orchestras, and I hope that current discussions with the orchestras will resolve their revenue problems. Similar problems are affecting the regional theatres in England, many of which have closed.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

In relation to future revenue for orchestras, does the right hon. Gentleman think that local authorities should enter into partnerships with regional arts boards and other organisations that contribute to funding? Has he had an opportunity to talk to his Liberal Democrat colleagues in Liverpool about the desirability of ensuring that an adequate contribution is made towards securing the revenue funding of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society on a sustainable basis and for an adequate period?

Mr. Maclennan

I shall say three things about Liverpool. First, I visited the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra recently to discuss its programme and to make representations. Secondly, the society is engaging in excellent outreach work in the community, which is particularly supported by Sefton and The Wirral. Thirdly, the difficulties faced by the local authority in Liverpool flow from its inheritance of the Labour party's maladministration over many decades. I would accept the Minister's suggestion with greater alacrity if he would admit that, and accept that expenditure on the arts, including orchestras, should not be treated as something that falls within standard spending assessments.

The Government—not just the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—must look into the difficulties faced by local authorities. The Secretary of State scarcely spoke about local government, except to refer to its important role. He did not chart the decline in local authority spending, which has been a critical factor in the closure of theatres and the withdrawal of many valued, locally provided arts venues and activities. The Government should reconsider whether local authorities should be required to spend money on the arts, and whether they are prepared to support that. I ask the Minister to address that matter in his reply.

I welcomed the Secretary of State's remarks about the need to support the arts because of their impact on personal understanding and on the individual. I have never heard the case for the support of the arts so clearly stated. Secondary factors such as the impact of the arts on our economy, our invisible earnings, and our regeneration of disadvantaged areas, and their assistance to the learning process, are important, but there are other ways in which to achieve those desirable social and economic ends: those are less convincing justifications for spending taxpayers' money on the arts than the universal justification that the arts benefit every individual.

In that sense, the arts are like the environment, or the very air that we breathe. They affect us all, and should therefore attract a higher priority than they do within the Government's commitments. When enemies of Government support for the arts try to dismiss it as the mere subsidy of recreational activity, they profoundly misconceive the nature and purpose of the arts. Happily, the hon. Member for East Surrey did not go down that route this morning. In fact, despite the somewhat adversarial tone of the debate so far, there is a remarkable degree of consensus in the House about the case for the arts. That has to be so if we are to win the argument with the conventional, conservative Treasury thinking which says that the arts are not for all but are part-time, add-on activities with spin-off effects that we find attractive and use to justify expenditure. I hope that we can shift the argument in favour of much higher public spending on the arts and enjoy cross-party support in putting it.

The Secretary of State delivered his speech in a highly celebratory fashion, and there is much to celebrate. It would be ungenerous not to recognise the virtues of the important initiatives taken by his Department in opening up access, of which he listed several. In a debate of this sort, it is not being a killjoy to note some of the areas of concern. I mentioned the pressure on local authority expenditure. I hope that the Government will tackle that. The Minister alluded to the position regarding orchestras as though it had in some way been resolved. I hope that it will be, but it has not yet altogether been resolved. The loss of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta as part of the restructuring deal was not negligible.

I was gladdened by the announcement of further assistance for students of dance and drama to help with maintenance costs. It is clear that even students who have been accepted for accredited courses at accredited institutions are not having their professional prospects enhanced with the same equity as students in other spheres in the tertiary sector. I hope that the measures announced by the Secretary of State will be sufficient, but he must watch carefully to ensure that all those who have aspirations to succeed in those professional areas are not deprived of opportunities by lack of financial support.

The Secretary of State spoke of the Government's role in supporting the British film industry. I welcome that and know of its high productive achievement in recent years. We have had separate debates on that, so I need not speak at length on the point. It remains true that British films are not in circulation in this country to anything like the extent that is desirable. The domestic film industry is dominated by American distribution companies. That is the biggest disadvantage faced by the British industry. I hope that the Secretary of State is addressing that.

The Secretary of State alluded to concern about the implications for many in the film, recording and publishing industries of the development of new technology. We need international agreement on copyright to protect the research and development activities of people working in those areas from exploitation, pirating and abuse on the internet. I hope that the Government will give strong support internationally to our domestic industry.

The Secretary of State did not devote any great part of his remarks to the Government's international responsibilities for the arts. It is time to reconsider what is being done. We are committed under the Maastricht treaty to a series of proposals that allow greater expenditure by the European Union on the promotion and development of the arts in Europe, but there has been no growth or development of that function. I would like to hear that the Government would welcome such an expansion of activity. If the arts are to be representative of our culture, we must bear in mind the fact that our culture is now rather wider than the area for which the Secretary of State has direct ministerial responsibility. We belong to a wider European Union. It would be helpful if he viewed his responsibilities more explicitly in that context.

A new secretary general has just been appointed to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and we are glad of that. He comes from a heritage background and I hope that we can look forward to UNESCO strongly supporting cultural activities.

Still in the international sphere, I have some concerns about the declining priority given by the British Council to the arts and culture. It is evidently devoting relatively less attention to them. So far as I am aware, that job cannot be taken up by any other Government institution. I hope that the Government will examine that with an inquiring eye.

The visiting arts branch of the Government network has only a pitifully small amount of money to foster the bringing to this country of arts bodies or artists from other countries. Our people's experience of the arts is enriched by such visits, which can be of huge benefit. I have direct personal knowledge of that through a festival that I founded in my constituency where we had help in bringing in artists from the Nordic countries. Visiting arts resources are too small for that important task. We must not be culturally nationalist to the point of excluding our people from the impact of contact with creative activity in other countries, particularly in neighbouring countries to whose culture and civilisation we are increasingly close.

The debate so far has properly and understandably focused on the work done by the Arts Council. In an earlier debate on the arts, I developed the theme that the arm's-length principle was becoming artificial. I do not share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for East Surrey about the Government abusing their function as a supporter of the arts to support Government, political objectives. That is to start at shadows. The Government talk about opening out access and backing excellence and so forth; those are objectives that all parties and all Members of the House should be able to accept. There is another principle which is in some ways much more important than the arm's-length principle adopted in the mid-1940s, largely for the historical reasons given by the hon. Member for East Surrey—the background of abuse of the arts by totalitarian Governments. However, we are no longer in that position—we have not been for a long time. The important principle that we should espouse is that, as it is the Government's responsibility to spend taxpayers' money, that responsibility cannot properly be put into commission.

The line of accountability must go directly to Ministers, who must be prepared to answer for what is happening. It is much too artificial to say that, if our Royal Opera house fails, it is the business of the Arts Council and that the Government have no responsibility. That is no longer a tenable position, and it is time to consider whether the Government should take over the funding of those national institutions directly—I think the answer should be positive.

In any event, the Government distort the public perception of the role of the Arts Council; it is unreal. Before one general election, the then Secretary of State, Mr. David Mellor, funded the purchase of the Coliseum for the English National Opera—a breach of the arm's-length principle with which most people agreed, because they thought it was sensible. The potential role of the Arts Council is distorted if it is the big funder for the arts and for those large institutions.

I very much welcome the steps taken by the Arts Council to devolve to the regional arts boards its responsibility for many other bodies, including many orchestras. That principle should continue to its proper conclusion, without objection, so that the Arts Council is free from that responsibility, and can focus on what it alone is capable of doing, and which no one else can do as effectively. It could be the advocate for the arts to which everyone could turn, because its members include the leading exponents and practitioners of the arts in this country. That role would not be clouded by any possible criticism of the Arts Council's administration of funding. It could take a strategic and objective view of what could be done to strengthen the arts. That would not run against the grain of what is happening in the Arts Council or of the tone of the Secretary of State's speeches on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman clearly acknowledges the Government's responsibility for support of those major organisations, and he rightly takes credit for solutions to problems such as the long-running saga of the Royal Opera house.

Having welcomed the transfer of those grant-giving responsibilities to the regional arts boards, it is right to be watchful so as to ensure that there is no great burgeoning of bureaucracy throughout the country. That would defeat the purpose. Those boards should manage their affairs with a light touch. Too much of the time and money of our arts organisations is taken up with expenditure on consultants and with the preparation of application forms for assistance—with general management rather than artistic activity.

In many cases, it has become too difficult to access funding—not just because there is too small a pot of money, but because, in order to receive a share, those who apply have to go through the most serpentine efforts to make a competitive case. It is useful to consider the experience of the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, which, with a remarkably small number of people, has distributed a great deal of money. It has maintained a good sense of priorities, without any sacrifice of accountability. We must be careful not to heap Ossa on Pelion in respect of accountability. There are now so many levels of accountability that we need to strip them down substantially so as to enable the arts providers—the arts companies—to focus on what they are in business to do: to open up access, to innovate and to provide high-quality performances.

My few thoughts on the subject do not put me at arm's length from the Secretary of State—that is comforting and agreeable. However, his case for a much increased share of the taxpayers' money should not go by default. I do not doubt that he discusses the matter with his colleagues, but the projected relative decline of expenditure of gross domestic product on the arts is worrying.

Those of us who want the battle to be won wish the Secretary of State success. In August, the chairman of the Arts Council made a speech in which he referred to the tripling of expenditure on the arts. That did not seem to be an excessive ambition; when one considers the global cash involved, that seems to be realistic given what is required to meet the expectations of people living in different parts of the country. It is time that we talked openly of the inadequacy of the available resources. To say that is in no way to imply criticism of the Secretary of State, and it is certainly no criticism of the priorities that he displays in handling his task.

11.45 am
Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

Before I make my speech, I declare an interest as chair of the all-party retail industry group, chair of the all-party London arts and culture group, a former member of the London Arts Board, a former chair of the Wimbledon theatre trust, a member of the board of the Polka theatre and of the national theatre for children, and a trustee of the Music Therapy trust. I come from a lineage of Members of Parliament representing Putney who have had an interest in culture, media and sport. I refer to Lord Jenkins of Putney, who was an eminent Minister for the Arts in the 1970s. When he moved to the upper House, he continued that interest—he is now 90 and still going strong—as chair of the theatre trust. His successor as MP for Putney and a Minister for the Arts was David Mellor, who was referred to earlier. I must find out more about the "Mellor splurge"; it sounds like a good idea to splurge money on the arts. I may disagree with him over certain matters such as his support for football teams—mine is Norwich City—and, principally, over politics, but we are in agreement about support for the arts.

I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before I review Government support for the arts in my constituency, in the London borough of Wandsworth, in London and nationally, for returning to the subject of broadcasting. I realise that that was the subject of a debate as recently as 29 October 1999, but I reflect that, if a week is a long time in politics, three weeks is a very long time; and I felt that, as I was unable to catch your eye on that occasion, the debate may have been slightly unbalanced.

I realise that in the House one does not criticise, in the absence of a Member, that Member's conduct, but I say very mildly that I was surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) took a very strong position on the Davies report before he and the other members of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport had received evidence on the subject. The Committee continues to receive evidence. I hope that if, having taken that evidence, he is of a different view, he will express it to the House.

I have complained to the Modernisation Committee that it is a great shame that, given the excellent work that Select Committees do—in this case reviewing the situation on the digital licence fee and the digital changeover—reports of their work are not made available, the following day, to all Members of the House so that it can be shared beyond the 20 or so Members of the Committee concerned. I hope that the Select Committee can publish its report well before the end of December, which is when the Secretary of State has said that he will take his decision. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and the Select Committee that they may therefore wish to speed up publication of their final report.

I very much support the Davies committee's conclusion that a digital licence fee for the BBC is the best solution. I believe that that would continue the established practice that people pay more when there is a major change in the technical capabilities of their main receiver. I believe that it is analogous to the introduction of television and later of colour TV. It would reduce resentment among those who have not adopted digital technology at the fact that about 10 per cent. of their licence fee was being spent on something from which they did not benefit. I strongly emphasise that; my constituents have told me that they share that view. Rather like the decision to give the Bank of England control in setting interest rates, once the initial decision was taken by the Government, it would remove the BBC licence fee from the arena of party political controversy for many years.

The independent industry experts DotEcon have said that those 'resistant' to digital TV are precisely those viewers who most value the types of programming in which they believe the BBC excels", and they would "be…attracted to switch" to digital if the BBC were able to devote to it proper resources—which I believe would be forthcoming only from a digital licence fee addition. I strongly support that opinion. I believe that that is the only way—except for my second suggestion, which I am coming to—digital penetration would climb from the 50 to 60 per cent. plateau to the crucial cut-off that the Secretary of State has said must be met before the analogue signal is switched off.

Research conducted by the British Market Research Bureau—an independent research firm—on behalf of the BBC shows that the licence fee system is supported by the public in very large numbers. I therefore suggest that the Secretary of State should consider that option.

In his speech in the debate on broadcasting on 29 October, the Secretary of State repeated the two key tests that he originally mentioned in the Royal Television Society lecture on 17 September. They were, first, that everyone must be able to get the main free-to-air TV channels digitally, and secondly, that that must be affordable. I shall address those points.

I was surprised to discover that only 65 million TV sets are currently used in the United Kingdom. When one divides that figure by the number of people in the UK, the sums do not seem to add up. I have six TV sets. The oldest is a 1976 model, black and white, and still going strong. I purchased the youngest in 1989. I do not believe that it is unusual to have six sets because, on buying a new set, one does not throw out the old one; it is simply moved into another room. I am surprised to read the statistics showing that, supposedly, the average life of a set is only seven years. If we count back from 1999, that takes us only to 1992. It is extraordinary that there has been no real analysis of the number of sets that will have to be junked unless we take a different route.

I say junked, because at the moment no one seems to be talking about the need to convert existing sets. We have experienced the North sea gas changeover and had our houses invaded to have our TVs retuned for Channel 5, so what is wrong with the idea that all existing TV sets could be converted? No one is talking about that. It has not been on the public agenda. I draw it to the attention of the Independent Television Commission/Oftel/Office of Fair Trading working party, and of the retail industry and the media.

I see today that Carlton Communications and United News and Media are about to amalgamate and become a £7 billion conglomerate. We have BSkyB and the Murdoch corporations. If the Government brought together the media and retailers, who have a great interest in selling all the add-on products that can come with digital, it might be possible to ensure that the existing sets can be converted. I would suggest that the conversion be free of charge for those who are of pensionable age, and that there be a very minor fee for those below that age. That is in all our interests. Tremendous advantages will flow from digital radio and TV, and it will give the country a world lead. However, no one—but no one—has suggested that as a way forward. I strongly believe that it should be investigated. As Mr. John Clare, chief executive of Dixons, has said, to meet the challenge of the switch-over, we need to put the consumer first. Amen to that. I do not believe that it has happened yet.

After that slight diversion, re-running the debate of three weeks ago, I shall resume my consideration of Government support for the arts. I shall first review the situation in my constituency and borough. Although it may be rare for me to do so, I pay tribute to Wandsworth council because it has provided good support for the arts. In particular, I commend its support of the Battersea arts centre, which makes real, live arts provision not just for Putney, Battersea and the London borough of Wandsworth, but for the whole of London. The council funds it jointly with the London Arts Board.

The Wandsworth arts festival is just coming to its end. It has been running for more than three weeks and, as part of a partnership with the festival, Wandsworth council has given £37,000 net, including grants. Over the three weeks, there have been 175 performances. The festival included a dance week at the Battersea arts centre, a Wandsworth film week, which built on the film fund offered by the council in association with the London Film and Video Development Agency, and a community programme. We all have much to learn from the way in which Amber Valley has developed its community programmes, but we had a good programme in Wandsworth too. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) might be interested to learn that Young's brewery sponsored a series of "Poems with your pint". They were very well attended and brought poetry to beer drinkers who perhaps did not expect to be listening to poetry when they were seeking a good pint of Young's best. The vibrant local arts economy is reflected by the Wandsworth arts festival.

I wish to draw attention to certain parts of my constituency. The Roehampton institute has an excellent dance and drama department and does world-class work in music therapy. Group 64 has worked at the Goodrich theatre since 1964 and it obtained a lottery grant of more than £300,000 to purchase the theatre and to upgrade it. It is a tremendous site for a whole range of theatrical provision for the Putney area.

I also draw attention to the work of Music For Youth. We have heard about the National Foundation for Youth Music, which the Government have introduced recently, but Music For Youth, which is based in Putney, has been going for 25 years. It has largely commercial sponsorship. This year, the BBC held an excellent children's prom in the park, and I commend it to anyone who could not attend. However, Music For Youth has staged promenade concerts for all its 25 years. At the beginning of November, it packed the Albert hall night after night with music makers of all ages under 18. That provided a showcase for children, but the company holds concerts throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. I commend its work to the House.

The Children's Film Unit is also based in Putney, and it very much needs Government support. It previously received strong commercial sponsorship, but that has faded of late. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) cut her teeth at the unit and appeared in its films early in her career.

I have described a range of what is happening in Putney. If the Minister has the time, I would welcome it if he could attend the last event of the Wandsworth arts festival, which will be a performance tomorrow evening—Saturday—by the excellent Wandsworth symphony orchestra in St. Mary's church, Putney. I represent a vibrant community that receives significant support from local government and central Government through the funding of the London Arts Board.

The second theme that I wish to consider is London. I had hoped that more Members from outside London would be present today, but I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) is still here. The all-party group on London arts and culture was set up because we thought that London's case was going by the board. If hon. Members wish to hear more, the group will hold a meeting on 9 December, at which it will discuss mayoral strategy. It will discuss how the mayor and the Greater London Authority can ensure that provision for culture, media and sport takes account of the needs of all London. I pay tribute to the vice-chair of the group, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who is an eminent Member of the House and a former Secretary of State for National Heritage.

A question on the lips of people outside London—it has not been asked yet today—is why London receives more in arts funding than other regions. I must point out that London is three cities in one. First—alongside New York, Tokyo and Paris—London is one of the four great world cities. It is the United Kingdom's central showcase for British and international talent. Often, international artists and companies can exhibit or perform elsewhere in the UK only if there is also a London element to their tour to make it viable.

London is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK; 45 per cent. of British ethnic minorities live in London, making up almost 25 per cent. of the city's population and speaking some 300 languages. By 2001, more than one third of Londoners will be from ethnic minority groups. London's cultural diversity is inextricably linked to its creative and artistic diversity.

Secondly, with more than 7 million residents, London is the largest city in Europe, and it is growing. Every day, 1 million people commute to central London; 2 million British people make a day trip to the city, and half a million stay overnight. London's daytime population is getting on for 10 million, which is 21 per cent. of the total for England.

Thirdly, and perhaps most important, London is a city of great need: 13 of the 20 most severely deprived districts in England are in London; 65 per cent. of the most deprived estates are in London; and one third of Londoners are in poverty or on the margins of poverty. London has the highest rate of serious crime in the UK, and the highest level of street homelessness, and inner London has double the national proportion of children living in poverty. That is why I strongly urge the House to recognise why the level of funding for the arts in London is as it is, and why London should get more.

London is a very special place for the arts. One third of all the artists in the UK are living and working in London. They include 29 per cent. of the visual artists, 30 per cent. of the photographers, 40 per cent. of the musicians, 41 per cent. of the writers, 50 per cent. of the actors and 80 per cent. of the dancers. London has a concentration of artists and centres of excellence that we need to support. London is the seedbed of the arts and it is a magnet for creative talent from around the world. Londoners are more likely to go to the arts than people elsewhere in the country. In London, 2.5 million adults regularly attend the arts. There are 83 million cultural attendances in London each year. I have read out those statistics because that case is not often made.

People ask why London receives so much of the lottery funds for the arts. Again, I want to make it clear that the view is skewed, because almost half—49 per cent.—of the total funding for London has been awarded to projects of national significance. We have heard, for example, about the Royal Opera house. The rest, 51 per cent., goes to projects of regional or local benefit. It is extremely important to separate those two categories.

In terms of large-scale capital grants, London has received 18 per cent. of the arts awards for England, which is 39 per cent. by value, but 70 per cent. of that has been for national projects. Discounting the funding for those, London has received only 12 per cent. of the total. It is important to focus on that point. A great deal of investment is needed to extend the work done with that 12 per cent. of funding to the socially deprived areas of London, as well as to restore the crumbling buildings of the national institutions that are often the home of the greatest and finest artistic work in the UK.

Those are responses to the questions that are asked. I shall suggest other areas of additional funding that the Secretary of State may want to consider. Before coming into the House, I was the leader of an outer-London borough council. Outer London, in particular, has had a raw deal over the past 30 years because so much of the funding has been concentrated not only on national institutions but on inner-city boroughs. I now represent such a borough, because my constituency is in Wandsworth, so hon. Members may ask why I am pleading for the outer boroughs, but it is important to be fair, and we are promoting fairness and enterprise.

Judy Mallaber

In the light of his comments, does my hon. Friend agree that there should be fairness also for areas outside London where, in the past, it has been virtually impossible to get any lottery funding? I refer to areas such as my own, where small community groups have not had access to funding because they have not been able to get the partnership funding that goes with making an application.

Mr. Colman

Yes, I certainly agree. I was pleased to find that in the East Midlands arts board area, which covers Amber Valley, the increase in funding this year was some 14 per cent., while the increase for London was 10.8 per cent.

There is a move towards balancing funding, but I am making the case that the move should not be too great because the figures often quoted for London do not adequately take account, first, of the sheer deprivation in much of London and, secondly, of the wastelands of outer London that have not had the arts funding and provision available elsewhere. I am not suggesting that the position is as bad as it is in Amber Valley, but there is a need for rebalancing.

On the national scene, I want to echo the points that others have made about the three aims: to make Britain a world centre for the best in arts and culture; to open up the arts to the greatest possible number of people; and to maximise the potential of the arts to expand people's horizons. Given that I have several children, I have taken advantage of free entry to national museums and galleries. I recently spoke to Sir Neil Cousins, who said that the average entry to the science museum was one adult for every eight children. People who say that they are going to the museum are asked to scoop up the neighbourhood's children. It is great that children in this country are reclaiming their heritage and are able to learn and understand through going to museums. I praise the Labour Government for introducing free entry and I look forward to the changes that are proposed for the future.

I also applaud the new audiences fund, which allows new groups of people to experience the arts through cheap ticket schemes. I pay tribute to Vivien Duffield, who funds a charity called Curtain Up, which, on two occasions, gave awards to the Polka theatre to enable it to invite schools that had not been able to go before. I hope that the new audiences fund will be able to work with the Vivien Duffield fund to ensure that adults as well as children can visit not only mainstream theatres, but others such as the Polka theatre.

I applaud the £30 million from the lottery and the additional £150 million from the Department for Education and Employment that has been awarded to the National Foundation for Youth and Music to revive music in schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) will say more about that if she catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am also pleased that dance and drama students are able to get proper grants and assistance. When I was a local authority leader, I was appalled by the very limited number of discretionary grants that could be awarded to such students under the previous Government. There were cases of real hardship, and I am pleased that the Labour Government have been able to act. I welcome the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made this morning.

One learns many things as a Member of Parliament. I attended the excellent Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts pairing scheme reception and was astonished to find that Putney's pairer was the Australian Tourist Commission, whose offices are in Putney. I found that it had paired itself with Wigmore hall. I thought that that was a strange pairing, but it shows that one should not take a stereotypical view of Australian cultural interests, but reflect on the range of opera singers and musicians that have come from that excellent country.

The Secretary of State said that it was important to introduce children to the arts at an early age. The list of arts lottery funds for refurbishing 531 arts buildings included the Sheringham Little Theatre in Norfolk. I grew up in Sheringham, which is a town of approximately 5,000 people. I am glad about the outreach that is happening there. The Little Theatre building was once a cinema, but it has survived as a theatre. I recommend "The Wind in the Willows", which will be performed at the Sheringham Little Theatre on 4 December. I am sure it will surpass the National Theatre's production.

Another point that I take from my childhood is the desperate need for libraries. There were few books in my home, and it was wonderful to be able to go to the library and take out eight books at a time, and to use the wonderful library system across the United Kingdom. I applaud the Secretary of State's efforts to retain libraries. The last thing that I depended on—this brings me back to where I started—was children's radio. Huge possibilities for education and developing imagination are available through radio and television.

Jennie Lee's introduction of the Open university—she is the last arts Minister I shall mention—was a defining moment for the Labour Government of 1966–70. The defining moment of our next period of office, if the electors return a Labour Government next time and the switch-off happens in 2006, should be the provision of free access to digital radio and television to all old age pensioners and its provision at little or no cost to those under 60, to ensure that the tremendous potential for education, access and excellence, particularly through the BBC—that is why I endorse the proposal for a digital licence fee—is fully exploited.

This could be the most interesting achievement for which the next Labour Government is remembered, if we are returned to office. We should give all people, however poor, access to digital television. Integrated digital sets currently cost £699. I leave the House to ponder that figure. There has to be a cheap way to convert every television set in the country. My right hon. Friend should devote himself to that idea. If he does, I shall give him great support.

12.16 pm
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Like other hon. Members, I apologise to the House for having to leave before the winding-up speeches. I had not intended to contribute to the debate, so when I went into the Whips office yesterday I did not realise how important my contribution would be. I have an appointment and there are road works on the way, so I am afraid that I shall have to leave—but I shall read what the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) have to say. For someone who does not necessarily get too involved in the arts—I get involved in other things—this has been an interesting debate. It has made me think about the importance of the subject to my constituents and to the country.

I agree with some of the points that the Secretary of State made about the importance of the arts for the young. When I go into a home in my constituency, I immediately look for the bookshelf, because I am nosey and I like to see what people read. Worryingly, in many homes these days there are no bookshelves. It is very important that young people should have an opportunity to get immersed in the arts and have a flavour of what they are about, so that, if they wish, they can participate or continue to gain enjoyment from them throughout their lives. My interests were sparked when I was at school. It is very important for the arts to be dovetailed with education. We should try to increase the number of people who take an interest.

The arts in all forms are important for all parts of the community: for children at school learning to play music; for family entertainment, including the pantomime; for young people crowding to see the latest film; for the discerning listener to classical concerts; and for the artists themselves. People sometimes deride pantomimes, but many of our theatres, particularly the regional theatres, survive on the profits of the Christmas pantomime, because that is the only time that they can guarantee full houses of people paying for the use of their facilities. That enables theatres to cross-subsidise other schemes.

The arts are important to our nation. There are 1,200 performing arts venues in the United Kingdom, including theatres, concert halls and arts centres; more than 700 performing arts companies; and 2,500 galleries and museums. More than 550 festivals are held each year across the country. According to a survey in 1991, almost 80 per cent. of the public attend some form of arts event. In 1996–97, the target group index survey showed that 9.6 million people attended plays, 4.9 million attended classical concerts, 8.8 million went to art galleries and exhibitions, 2.6 million went to the opera, 2.5 million went to hear jazz, 2.6 million went to ballet and 1.7 million went to contemporary dance. Those figures show the importance of the subject.

A recent overseas leisure visitor survey found that 29 per cent. of tourists considered visiting artistic exhibits and 18 per cent. considered that attending performing arts was of particular importance to their decision to visit Britain. The British Tourist Authority estimates that more than £2 billion a year is generated by arts-related tourism.

When I go abroad and when I talk to foreigners who come to our country, they do not only say where they have been—they often mention the shows that they have seen or the houses that they have visited, because those memories stay with them for many years. As the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) pointed out, the quality of our broadcasting, especially public service broadcasting, has kept standards high, but our language also gives us a tremendous advantage. That advantage is not always appreciated, but I believe that the English language helps our culture and our art to spread worldwide.

The last Government had a good record. They set up the national lottery, which has been a tremendous boon to the arts and many other spheres. A 1991 census showed that the number of people working in the arts and culture industries had increased by 34 per cent. since 1981, to 649,000–2.4 per cent. of the working population. I suspect that the trend will continue, and that more and more people will find themselves and their working lives involved with the arts.

We must not forget the importance of the arts to industry in general and to our balance of payments. In 1995, the value of the music industry alone was estimated to be £2.5 billion, including earnings generated overseas. That makes it larger than the chemical or the motor industry in terms of exports. Pop singers in particular do an excellent job in taking culture abroad and earning money for the country.

As has already been said, the arts are important to urban regeneration. During the 1960s and 1970s, cities lost population and became unfashionable, but we are now seeing a new trend. It started under the last Government, but I think that it will continue. Cities, and particularly city centres, have become more fashionable—because of, for instance, travel problems and petrol prices, many young professionals prefer to live in them.

Access to theatre and the other arts is important to those who wish to stay in cities. Members of Parliament are fortunate in that we spend some time in the capital, which, despite the hours that we work, gives us time to enjoy theatre and the culture of London in general, but we should remember that the rest of the country also needs to be served and that we need vibrant regional centres. Poole has a good arts record, but many people, especially in rural areas, have insufficient access to culture. I grew up in north Wiltshire, so I know that Bath and Bristol have always provided an outlet for those wishing to benefit from the arts.

We must continue to nurture the arts and the talent that our country contains. I am rather sad about some of the trends in arts funding under the present Government; I am particularly saddened by the reduced expenditure in terms of gross national product, about which we heard earlier. I realise that all Governments have difficulty in determining priorities, and that a growing economy will include real spending on the arts, but we should continue to make adequate provision.

Concern has recently been expressed publicly about a number of areas that are receiving insufficient funding. I make no judgments, especially on individual schemes, but we have heard that English National Opera in London has had to abandon plans for a new £100 million building to replace the Coliseum because the Arts Council is short of money. The Harbourside centre in Bristol had high hopes of Government support and believed that it had been promised money, but the Arts Council has refused it a £58 million award, again because it is short of cash. I went to school in Bristol and I know that there are tremendous opportunities for development and arts in the centre, where the docks are.

The South Bank centre has been seeking £100 million for improvement to the Royal Festival hall, but the Arts Council as said that the scheme is too big and that the maximum award would be £25 million. The Royal Shakespeare Company, at Stratford-upon-Avon, wants money to rebuild its main theatre, but has been told that it will have to wait for the money. There were plans to build a national museum of discovery, but they collapsed after the Millennium Commission withdrew its offer of a £27 million grant—and after £500,000 had been spent on the plans. Some of those projects may be good and others may be bad. Generally, however, there are problems with arts funding.

Total spending on the arts, including both local and central Government spending, has fallen in real terms. Expenditure on films, for example, has decreased from £25 million in 1996–97 to an estimated £22 million in 1998–99. Expenditure on total arts has fallen in real terms from £1,052 million in 1996–97 to £974 million in 1998–99. As mentioned earlier in the debate, total expenditure for the total arts, as a percentage of gross domestic product, has fallen from 0.14 per cent. in 1996–97 to 0.11 per cent. in 1998–99.

We have already debated developments in the national lottery. Over the entire period of the current lottery licence, about 28 per cent. of the value of ticket sales will be paid into the national lottery distribution fund. Until October 1997, each of the five good causes received one fifth of all the money.

As we all know, the Government have established the new opportunities fund, which has taken some of the money from the five good causes. Although one could easily argue that some of the causes benefiting from the diversion of resources are important, the diversion has breached a principle. I am concerned that although the lottery was established on the principle that the money would effectively be ring-fenced, the Government have breached the principle to fund programmes that previously would have been funded from general taxation. One wonders whether the principle will be violated again.

Had the principle been observed, the arts share of the national lottery fund proceeds—£10.9 billion—would have been £2.2 billion. On current figures, because of the diversion of lottery proceeds, the arts will receive closer to £1.9 billion. The difference in the sums is the source of the £300 million figure mentioned earlier in the debate. Opposition Members will be watching very carefully what the Government do with lottery proceeds. We should not use ever more lottery proceeds to pay for programmes previously funded from general taxation.

In 1994, a European Union directive insisted on harmonisation of value added tax. The previous Government negotiated a deal under which, for four years, Britain would impose VAT at only 2.5 per cent. This Government have failed to negotiate an extension of that concession and have admitted that they must introduce legislation to implement the 5 per cent. levy, which will bear various costs. Although I appreciate that various figures on lost jobs and money have been thrown around, many people working in the British art market believe that the change could cost 5,000 jobs and £68 million annually.

Poole is a regional arts centre. Back in the 1960s, the local authority made a big investment in Poole arts centre, which is one of the south-west's principal arts centres. However, Poole borough council—which I spoke to yesterday—is a little concerned about yesterday's announcement on the local government settlement and standard spending assessments. Although education SSAs will increase 3.6 per cent. and social services SSAs by 4.7 per cent., overall funding will not be increased by a similar amount, so that other services will be squeezed. Arts funding, of course, always has to come from funding for other services, putting local authorities under pressure.

My local authority is also concerned that the Government keep inventing schemes requiring arts organisations essentially to drop everything else and submit a bid. Hon. Members should remember that council officers must put a lot of time and effort into submitting those bids. Although, as a market-orientated Tory, I believe that competition is important, I also believe that we should not go overboard on competitions, so that people have to spend too much time applying for various schemes. I hope that the Government will create fewer such schemes.

Poole arts centre is run by an independent trust. This year, it has staged 2,700 performances. It has attracted 210,000 ticket buyers and countless others who use the centre. The trust has just won a capital award of £6 million from the Arts Council towards the cost of modernising the centre. This is one of 46 schemes nationally that survived a recent review which excluded 300 others, so evidently Poole is doing something right. It also says something about the high regard in which the arts centre is held.

The trust has appointed a world-class team of architects, Alan Shorts and Associates, to design the scheme, and final approval will be requested from the Arts Council early next year. The borough of Poole is fully committed to backing the scheme and is digging deep to make it happen. It will provide £550,000 in support annually and has agreed in principle to give £1.5 million towards the costs of the capital scheme. The people and the borough of Poole are very committed to supporting the arts centre, which is greatly valued by my constituents.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) expressed his sadness that the Bournemouth Sinfonietta has had to close. The Bournemouth Symphony orchestra is based in Poole. Many organisations which are based in my constituency are named after the neighbouring borough. They include Bournemouth university and the Bournemouth Symphony orchestra. Indeed, we have better beaches too.

The Bournemouth Symphony orchestra is one of the premier orchestras in the country. Its standards of excellence are recognised at home and abroad and its international reputation extends to London and throughout the world. The orchestra has a 106 year history and represents the region of the south and west from its base in Poole. Its key venues are Poole, Bournemouth, Basingstoke, Southampton, Portsmouth, Bristol, Exeter and Weymouth—so Poole can claim to be the artistic capital of the south and the south-west. The orchestra has produced more than 300 recordings and public attendance at concerts in Poole so far this year amounts to more than 40,000. The borough also provides an annual grant of about £130,000 to the orchestra. People in Poole are tremendously committed to the arts centre and the arts. Poole is a go-ahead area that wants to develop educationally and industrially.

It is also important to have a good arts infrastructure. People are influenced by what facilities there are, particularly in terms of inward investment, but also in terms of living in a particular community. As we move into the next century, people increasingly realise the importance of arts in their lives. If they want an area that has good arts and nice beaches where the sun shines regularly, I can recommend Poole.

12.33 pm
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I cannot boast beaches in Brent, North, I am afraid.

The House has been bombarded with statistics this morning. Perhaps we should focus on one that was revealed only two days ago: in Britain, people spend more of their income on leisure activities than on food, housing or any other single item of expenditure, yet 50 per cent. of our population do not set foot in a theatre, concert hall, opera house or art gallery from one year to the next. That is why the three issues that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State focused on this morning—excellence, access and education—are so important.

I want to refer first to the theatre. I declare an interest as a former director of the Cambridge Arts Theatre Trust which was originally set up by John Maynard Keynes. Let me relate to the House some of the work in which I was involved. Part of the problem with theatres in this country is that they are in old buildings, where access is tremendously difficult to arrange. I had the privilege at the Cambridge Arts Theatre Trust of working with Professor Stephen Hawking—not simply to provide wheelchair spaces in the refurbishment of that theatre. Access is not just about the size of doorways, the capacity of the lifts or slopes instead of steps. Slopes instead of steps may be great for wheelchair users but they are a nightmare for the partially sighted. Colour schemes in elegant shades of burgundy may give the warm and classy feel deemed appropriate by theatre managers, but they cause injury to visually impaired theatre-goers, who need bold contrasting colours to indicate steps and gradients, as well as handrails and clear signing. Induction loop systems are needed for those who have hearing impairments.

I welcome the action taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to establish the new audiences fund. It is right that schoolchildren and students should be encouraged to experience and enjoy theatre, that the arts should be taken to geographically isolated audiences and—through the transport provisions that the fund makes available—that those audiences should be brought to arts experiences. I urge the Secretary of State to look at access, particularly for people who are disabled, and to consider setting up a separate disability access conversion fund for arts venues in this country.

I now wish to refer to music, and to orchestras. Again I declare an interest, as a former director of the Britten Sinfonia and as someone whose 11-year-old daughter is a member of the National Children's orchestra and a junior academician at the Royal Academy of Music. I welcome the Secretary of State's funding package for regional and London orchestras. The commitment to wipe out the historic deficits of those orchestras has lifted a great weight from the shoulders of some of our finest musical institutions.

I cannot over-stress the importance of regional orchestras. For them, excellence is absolutely central, and that involves establishing a core group of musicians who are committed to the orchestra. When I worked with the Britten Sinfonia, we were fortunate to be able to do that with Nick Daniel, the celebrated oboist, and Nick Cleobury, the musical director and conductor. We ensured that there was a committed group of fine musicians who formed the core of that orchestra.

For those who do not understand the way in which orchestras work, it may seem strange that I talk about a core, but all orchestras are made up of a fluid group of musicians. Some always play, while some are brought in for one concert or another. It is vital that excellence is at the heart of our regional orchestras. The Cambridge symphony orchestra—the precursor to the Britten Sinfonia—did not survive because it could not focus itself in that way.

Spreading excellence in our orchestras into the regions is vital. I echo the remarks of those hon. Members who have mourned the passing of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, a very fine regional orchestra. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) was right to draw our attention to the fact that the Bournemouth symphony orchestra still survives.

In looking at the work done in our regional orchestras, we can take Sir Simon Rattle as an example. He took what was in those days a second-class regional orchestra—I am sure that they would not be offended by my description—and has created out of that the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra. It is now one of the world's few great orchestras. We have enormous musical talent in our regions and the Government have rightly focused resources there to ensure that it is recognised.

The orchestra undertook projects with local schools. When I chaired the perhaps quaintly named amenities and recreation committee, we established free priority seats for children, as well as enabling them to attend rehearsals and see the mechanics of an orchestra and the way in which it interacts with the conductor. There are many ways in which children can be given access to our regional and national orchestras outside prime concert-going time.

About a year ago, Sir Simon Rattle was influential in drawing attention to the way in which our orchestras were suffering because of the sudden dearth of competent young musicians coming up through the ranks, which was partly due to the situation in our schools. Through lack of funding and the refocusing of the curriculum, music had been pushed out and there was a dearth of young orchestral players.

I welcome the £30 million that has been provided through the new National Foundation for Youth Music and the £150 million that the Department for Education and Employment has contributed to revive music in schools, but it is not enough. It is right that we have focused on standards in English, mathematics and science, but, at a meeting last week in my constituency, teachers and head teachers said clearly that they feel that they are teaching to the tests and that much of the broader focus of the curriculum has been lost.

That is not simply an excuse for bad teaching. It is right to focus on matching the standards of our European competitors in English, maths and science, but the Government should ensure that music, drama and sport do not get lost as a result of the loss of good will under the previous Government and the refocusing of our education system under the national curriculum.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that research in Switzerland and the United States suggests that studies in the three Rs are considerably strengthened and performance greatly enhanced by the study of music and instrumental tuition?

Mr. Gardiner

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Music is rightly seen as a handmaiden of mathematic and scientific achievement—indeed, music is mathematics; the two are integrally related. If, in the cultural life of this country, we are to achieve the sort of impact in the arts and music which we want and which has been clearly set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we must do more to broaden our children's educational opportunities in those subjects.

Only last week, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about an assiduous constituent who corresponds regularly with me and who has catalogued a list of inaccuracies, such as dates and errors of science, in the explanations provided by museums throughout the country. I urge my hon. Friend to examine the letter with great care and to contact the institutions concerned, which range from the national maritime museum to the science museum.

I welcome the Government's achievements in opening up access to our great national galleries and museums by children and, soon, old age pensioners. I should like free access to be extended further, to students as well as children up to the age of 16. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) said, it is tremendous that adults take neighbourhood groups of up to eight children with them into our national galleries, thus reclaiming those children's inheritance. I am tempted to add that my hon. Friend could form such a group with his own children—I believe he has six. It is wonderful that communities are reclaiming our national galleries and museums in that way.

Maintaining museums is a statutory function of local authorities, but, all too often, they do not regard that role as a priority. Many regional museums are poorly resourced and, worse still, unattractive educational experiences to those who might otherwise visit them. Therefore, I welcome the £15 million fund set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to benefit 43 designated museums in England. That is an important step, which brings me to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan): the issue of local authority funding. That funding is statutory in respect of museums, but not in respect of leisure and recreational activities and the arts in general.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can take pride in a list of notable achievements and successes. He has transformed the position of the arts from one in which people in the arts were depressed because they did not feel valued to one in which they feel recognised and valued by a Government who are committed to them.

I welcome the new audiences fund, the free access to national museums and galleries, the National Foundation for Youth and Music, the national endowment for science, technology and the arts and the new funding package for our orchestras, but much more focus needs to be concentrated on protecting arts, recreation, leisure and museums in local government. Many of the artistic resources that local people enjoy are carried out on a voluntary basis perhaps with some small grant aid from local authorities or are financed directly by the local authorities. Because arts and recreation are not a statutory funding element of the local authorities' obligations, the funding is decreasing year on year as they feel the pressure of commitments in other areas. That is understandable.

Local authorities have to focus on key areas, such as social services and education, where they must deliver, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should be much more in evidence in the negotiations in Cabinet and with the Treasury on the local government funding settlement and standard spending assessments. If more resources could be directed at local government, that would genuinely transform the situation on the ground in a way that large regional grants—welcome though they are—and redistribution to the regions cannot achieve.

This morning, I asked my office to contact my local authority, Brent. I knew that I would mention local organisations, such as the Tricycle theatre and its wonderful "pay what you can" nights, and as a matter of courtesy I wondered whether the local authority wished me to raise any issues in this debate. I received a pager message some 45 minutes later which read, "Even the chief executive's office have no idea where recreation officer is located. Have tried about five offices. Waiting for a call back." That is the level of the prioritisation of arts and recreation in my local borough.

I understand the strains on local authorities and the pain that they face. My local authority received the worst local government settlement last year and Brent is the 20th most deprived borough in the country. I know how limited resources have had to be targeted, but I would hazard a guess that many local authorities have no proper arts strategy. They should have, but many have not seen it as a priority given all their other commitments. Unless we make it a statutory obligation for local authorities to act to provide services in arts and recreation, we will never see it given the priority that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out this morning as the ideal to which we are committed.

Finally, I want to refer to poetry. Again, I declare an interest, in that my wife is a published poet who has received an Arts Council award. I should like to correct my right hon. Friend's assertion that few people make poetry their profession. To my knowledge, in this country there is only one professional poet—in other words, a poet whose only income comes from the poetry that he writes—and that is Tony Harrison. Most poets have to subsidise their income by giving lectures, holding workshops or facilitating some other community education activity. I believe that Tony Harrison is the exception to that, although he also does a lot of theatre work and has translated Greek classical drama.

Statistics show that more than 60 per cent. of people in this country write poems or scribble rhymes—no doubt sometimes as a joke or as therapy, but the figure is still extraordinary. Yet poetry is the art form that is least read and least purchased. I urge my right hon. Friend to look at how poetry can be promoted in this country.

The Arvon foundation is a shining example that poets have long valued. Why is that foundation alone in being a resource to which people with an interest in poetry can go to take part in workshops, and to be educated and trained in their art? Why are there not 20 such foundations in the country doing similar work in all our regions?

The focus of my right hon. Friend's remarks was on excellence, access and education. Only if we have excellence at all levels will people want to go and see the arts. People—whether they are disabled or isolated by geography—must be able to have access to the arts when they want it. If we are to have a thriving arts culture in this country, art must be at the centre of our children's education.

12.59 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am delighted to be able to take part in this debate on the funding of the arts. At the heart of the debate is the Government's philosophy with regard to the arts. That philosophy must be examined carefully to see why arts funding is being cut.

Perhaps peculiarly for a Conservative Member, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) quoted John Maynard Keynes in his speech. Keynes was the person who gave back confidence to the world of the arts after the shock of the second world war, and enabled it to go forward. The passage is worth quoting again for the benefit of hon. Members who were not in the Chamber to hear it before, because what he said was extremely important: everyone, I fancy, recognises that the work of the artist in all its aspects is, of its nature, individual and free, undisciplined, unregimented, uncontrolled. The artists walks where the breath of the spirit blows him. He cannot be told his direction; he does not know it himself. But he leads the rest of us into fresh pastures and teaches us to love and to enjoy what we often begin by rejecting". That is the philosophy behind why we should fund the arts. It is sad that funding is being cut, and I will come on to that shortly.

I should like to discuss aspects other than simply funding of the arts. The role of the lottery, the taxation system, the policy on European directives, VAT rates and droit de suite have not been sufficiently aired in the debate and need to be covered.

Before I deal with that, and in line with my opening remarks on the Government's philosophy, I wonder why they are tinkering so much with the Arts Council. Why do they want to cut the number of board members from a chairman and 22 members to 10 members, abolishing the automatic right of regional members to serve on the Arts Council? The Government's policy seems to be to increase regionalisation, but is that necessarily right? I have my doubts.

The Government appear to be getting into a mess over the Arts Council. There was a fairly quiet do at No. 10 earlier this year. Fortunately, Norman Lebrecht was there to tell us what went on. He discovered that Derrick Anderson, chief executive of Wolverhampton and a member of the Arts Council, uttered the following apostasy: We will need to lay to rest the sham of the arm's-length principle. We will need to replace this protectionist nonsense with a sensible adult partnership between government and those involved in cultural development and creative production. The new Labour chairman of the Arts Council, Gerry Robinson—who, as we all know, is a little sympathetic towards the Labour party—then denounced this. Wanting to put daylight between himself and the errant Anderson, he said: I couldn't disagree more passionately with what he said". Despite that disagreement about what is supposed to be happening in the Arts Council, I note that Mr. Robinson did not ask Mr. Anderson for his cards. We must look very carefully at what the Arts Council is doing.

Although the Government are increasingly regionalising the Arts Council, it is not always funding that is important. I come from East Anglia, which has the excellent Theatre Royal in Norwich. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) knows it well. The Theatre Royal has received no regional grant from the Arts Council this year, yet it is an extremely successful regional repertory theatre.

Mainline theatres may provide the main bulk of the arts, but the smaller repertory theatres provide the research and development of the theatre world. They are responsible for new productions and new talent, and we should therefore give them due attention.

Although, as I say, the Theatre Royal received no regional grant this year, it still managed to make a surplus of £181,000. Along with six other regional theatres, it has just embarked on a new all-male version of "Swan Lake". The production's genesis has taken three years, but it is estimated to take at least £1 million in box office receipts when it comes on stream in the next few days. That is an example of how regional theatres can combine and be successful, albeit with little grant from the Arts Council,

It is a pity that the Government are not more robust on Europe. During the last Session, I took part in a debate on the VAT directive on art. Before the directive's introduction, no VAT was paid on imported art that was not immediately re-exported. The previous Government were obliged by the European Union to introduce VAT at 2.5 per cent., but a derogation was given for four years before the rate had to rise to 5 per cent. That derogation ended this year, but it would have been helpful if the Government had argued forcefully that it should become permanent.

I am moderately pro-European, but this is an example of the sort of matter in which the EU tinkers unnecessarily. There would be an argument for increasing the VAT rate to the minimum set down by the directive if Europe would derive some benefit from it. That is not so. The benefit will be derived by other art market centres, such as Geneva, New York and Tokyo. The extra tax burden will simply drive important art trade away from London and out of the EU, costing jobs.

A second measure forced on the Government by the EU is the German and French droit de suite, which provides rights for an artist during his lifetime and for his heirs for 70 years after his death. If that is forced on us, it will cost at least 5,000 jobs in the art industry and will reduce our income. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to consider whether it is necessary to implement droit de suite in all its bureaucratic dimensions.

I shall turn now to tax regimes. The environment for making films in the United Kingdom is not as advantageous as that in our nearest rival, the south of Ireland, where there is a considerably lower corporate tax rate. I accept that the Government introduced a helpful measure in the last Budget, but I urge them to go much further. Major box office successes, such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral", would not have been made without outside investment, principally from the United States of America. That film was a great success and has benefited our balance of payments. We should encourage our at-long-last successful and burgeoning film industry by regularising the tax regime.

The lottery also has a role in funding the arts. The previous Government set up the lottery, one of the most successful means of levering new money into the arts since the second world war. Originally, there were five good causes, and lottery receipts increased substantially. From its inception until the general election, the lottery provided £1 billion for the arts alone. Unfortunately, the new opportunities fund set up by the Labour Government will mean a so-called raid of £1 billion from the lottery. The arts will lose £300 million, which is a pity.

I do not deny that some of the causes covered by the new fund are worthy, but causes such as cancer treatment should be funded from mainstream taxation. How many more diversions will there be from the five original good causes? The more money is diverted, the more the arts and the other good causes must suffer. That is regrettable and I ask the Minister to consider it carefully.

I want to discuss funding. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey said, the amount spent on the arts has fallen from 0.14 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1996–97 to 0.11 per cent. That is a pity and a big disappointment; the expectation of the arts world was greater. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) illustrated the point in her supplementary question to the Minister when he announced another £125 million for the arts. She said: if that sum is so generous, why is it that everyone I meet in the arts feels let down by the Government? Is it because they were led to believe that they would receive £290 million, rather than £125 million? Is it also because they feel cheated by the raid on the lottery money that should have gone to the arts, but is being used for social programmes?"—[Official Report, 22 November 1999; Vol. 339, c. 330.] My hon. Friend was right. The arts world feels cheated and let down by the Government. I hope that, through the Arts Council, it can look forward to better things.

The Government profess to invest in all sorts of good causes. So little of our national spending goes on the arts that they could look carefully at what they spend. The Minister's budget is about £1 billion a year, of which £400 million is spent on the arts. That is about 0.25 per cent. of our total spending. It is tiny, and given our great cultural heritage, we should look carefully at that. It was regrettable, for example, that one of the Government's first acts on coming to power was to cut the national heritage memorial fund from £5 million to £2 million. Given that it cost at least £1 million to save one Canova sculpture, £2 million was paltry. The fund saves great works of art for the nation. Once such great sculptures, pictures and manuscripts have been sold out of the country, they are never likely to come back.

For the past two years, I have made almost a habit of visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The Russian nation is bankrupt, but it has one of the greatest museums in the world. It has that great museum because Catherine the Great used the wealth of Russia to build up a hugely important collection. If we cannot spend a paltry amount, by comparison with our national spending, on saving great works of art for the nation, we will sell future generations short.

Mr. Gardiner

I agree about the importance of the Hermitage and I enjoy my visits there, too. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there was something of an anachronism in what he said, given that Catherine the Great died long before a large part of its collection was painted?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

That simply is not true. She was responsible for building up a large part of the collection.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

From the Walpole family.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend is right. Unfortunately, many of the great works of art in the Hermitage came from this nation because the Labour Government's policy of introducing death duties caused them to disappear from this country. Unless ordinary people are prepared to go to the Hermitage, they no longer have the opportunity see them. That is a great pity. If the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) and the Government were to learn that lesson, those treasures would remain in this country so that future generations could see them.

After the Government came to office, they also cut grants to the British library. The library purchases manuscripts and maintains them so that academics and others can examine them in this country. As in so many aspects of Government policy, we have seen cuts and taxes by stealth that damage the arts in this country. Not only are the arts of philosophical importance, they are important for jobs, for our balance of trade and for many dependent, spin-off industries.

The whole world is changing fast because of the digital age—the commercial aspects of free-to-air televisions. We must take care to keep up to date with those matters, to ensure that our great artistic philosophy and culture remain at the forefront, as they have done for centuries. We must not let the Government break that down with their cuts and taxation by stealth.

1.16 pm
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)

I am fortunate to have experienced a painful event: as the leader of West Yorkshire council, I experienced being abolished. The loss of office and the loss of the work done by the council was a most painful experience. However, I can now look back on it as a positive one, because we were able to initiate and implement several arts initiatives, with the support of the relevant district councils and, often, the support of the Conservative opposition on West Yorkshire council. In a few cases, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has helped to stabilise those initiatives, sometimes adding to help given by previous Governments. In all cases, he has worked with the relevant local authorities.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds is a shining light among theatres; throughout the 13 years following the abolition of the West Yorkshire council, the playhouse continued to receive support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and its predecessor Departments. My right hon. Friend realises that the playhouse fulfils all three of his aims: it is a centre of excellence; it does enormously good community work; and people have real access to the theatre, which is open at all times. It has achieved that under the direction of Jude Kelly, who has not only set an excellent standard of theatrical production, but has created an atmosphere in which people from throughout the Leeds community can go to the theatre.

Groups often participate directly in the work of the theatre—for example, pensioners and members of ethnic minorities take part, and Jude Kelly makes use of their talents in developing the theatre. It has become a most important experience for those people. I believe that the playhouse will continue to receive Government support.

I must declare a non-remunerative interest, as I am a director of Opera North. I became a director before Opera North suffered a financial crisis in the 1980s, when the West Yorkshire council was abolished, and at a time when the council awarded extra funding to stabilise the company.

Opera North has benefited considerably from the Secretary of State's interest and the measures that he has taken. It now has three years certainty in its basic funding from the Arts Council. It is a great change for the board of the company to know that that money will be forthcoming for the following three years. Plans may be made much more constructively, further into the future. Opera North also regularly receives £1 million from local sources, in grants from Leeds city council and from the West Yorkshire grants fund. That, too, is very significant.

This year, the Secretary of State has put Opera North on the first rung of the ladder to obtaining lottery stabilisation funds. The Department is carrying out a strategic stocktake to check on the value-for-money possibilities that would result from stabilising the company using such funding. It has chosen to do so at a fortunate time: Opera North has just had a season in which, to economise, three productions—La Traviata, Katya Kabanova and Don Giovanni—were staged on one basic set. Each was well received by the public and the critics. I watched two of those productions. They were exceedingly good, and the relative lack of scenery was used to enhance the production. The box office for that period in the season came in at £95,000 above target—a very high level of support. It suggests that, in those productions, Opera North met the criteria that we used to call the three E's—the productions were efficient, effective and economic.

Supporters of Opera North are indirectly supporting the Opera North orchestra, which has a separate programme of concerts. Hon. Members have spoken about keeping northern orchestras alive. The Opera North orchestra has, in effect, replaced the Yorkshire Symphony orchestra, which died some years ago having failed to survive 18 years of Conservative Government.

The company is also involved in a good many community and educational projects. It takes opera to audiences that do not usually encounter it. One such group of audiences were people in the local prison, who certainly do not usually get to opera performances, but they became involved in working in opera in that prison. The company also performed in Sir Titus Salt's mill in Saltaire, where the local community was involved in a production. That enriched the experience of people who often would not have any parallel experience.

Opera North received help from the Conservatives in what has been called the "Mellor splurge". I am glad to say that it is now even more secure than it was then, because the Mellor splurge ended abruptly and was not continued by his Conservative successors, whereas now we have a programme that makes it plain that funding will continue. I hope that the Secretary of State can visit the opera to see what is being done and to check for himself the value for money of the company's functioning.

I shall briefly mention the Yorkshire mining museum in Wakefield. The museum faced a constant struggle to survive after the metropolitan council was abolished. The burden of maintaining it fell primarily on the local authority in Wakefield. Although it was willing, it found it difficult to provide the funds that were needed. However, in the 13 intervening years the museum was assisted by a member of the then Government; it would not have survived without the intervention of the former Member for Harwich, Iain Sproat, who took an active interest in its work. He understood that the museum's work was unique.

The museum, at last, thinks it will exist permanently. It has been recognised as the national coal mining museum for England and the Minister had the pleasure—I hope that it was a pleasure—of visiting the museum, where he made the relevant announcements. It is going from strength to strength now that it knows that it will be part of the landscape in West Yorkshire for very many years.

There is much that we still want to do at the museum. Ministers will not be surprised to know that they will continue to hear from us. Its director, Dr. Faull, has been active in making proposals that will make the museum more accessible to the public. Baroness Lockwood, as the chairman of trustees, also takes a positive view, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). I, too, am a member of the board of trustees—another non-pecuniary interest that I perhaps should have declared earlier.

The final subject that I wish to mention is the royal armouries museum. When the museum came to Leeds, I was a member of Leeds city council and Leeds development corporation, both of which provided support. I know that Leeds city council gave £3 million, but I do not remember how much the development corporation contributed. Both organisations believed that Leeds would be a suitable out-of-London site for the museum.

There seems to be some concern in the Department that the move has not gone well. However, I believe that the royal armouries museum has made real achievements. It has been proved right to set up a base outside London where displays can be mounted. Using the space available for displays in Leeds has enabled the Tower of London to find space for additional exhibitions in London. They have increased its visitor revenue by about 25 per cent. Therefore, this is the first year that the historic royal palaces have cost the taxpayer nothing, which is important. That would not have happened without an outpost.

Secondly, despite the rather adverse publicity that I have seen, particularly in the Evening Standard, the Leeds building has been a considerable success. It was completed on time and within budget. It attracts many visitors, although it does not achieve the numbers that were first forecast. Visitor numbers are growing, and I believe that the museum will achieve the forecast. It is estimated that it now contributes £7.5 million to the local economy.

The museum's exhibitions are very good. It holds live exhibitions in which people joust and so on with considerable skill. The average visitor to the museum spends four hours there, which shows that there is something to attract visitors, or at least to keep them there once they have arrived. The museum is beginning to help to regenerate and improve the area in which it is situated. It was thought that that would happen.

The museum has attracted visitors despite the fact that the promised improved transport system to take people to its industrial, inner-city site has not been developed, so access is not easy for people without a car. The building has also become a superb venue for corporate entertainment and it is appreciated by the wider West Yorkshire community.

I urge the Department not to lose faith in that project. I gather that there have been suggestions that the museum may be situated in the wrong place and should be moved. However, it would be a colossal waste of money to move a museum that is functioning well in a building that is functioning well to another venue and to incur capital expenditure again. That would be nonsense.

The efforts to ensure that the royal armouries museum gets adequate support have been spearheaded by the new Member for the area, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn), supported by the other Leeds Members. My hon. Friend has recognised that the museum is a jewel in his constituency and he is definitely taking a responsible lead in the group of Leeds Members who all support it. That project, like others, will demonstrate clearly the priorities that we have set down. Our priorities are correct: we must have excellence in performance and access for an increasing number of people. I am glad to say that many people find that the projects that I have described enrich their lives, and clearly that is what is important.

1.34 pm
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham)

I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate and to talk about arts and children, particularly in Southwark.

When we came into government, we said that we were concerned about divided Britain and social exclusion. I want to take the opportunity of today's debate to say that I believe that divided Britain is every bit as much about the arts, and access and opportunities in the arts, as about other matters, and social exclusion is about cultural deprivation and exclusion from arts, music, drama and dance, as well as lack of money.

The arts are at the heart of our agenda for change. I shall give the House an example. A few years ago, I attended the Southwark prom. It took place in Dulwich baths, and all the primary schools—state and private—gave a performance. The event provided a cameo of divided Britain. A little girl, who had taken part in a wonderful performance with her school, sat next to me. She was crying, so I tried to comfort her and I asked what was wrong. She said, "I never realised children could do that." She had seen the performances of the children from the private schools and had suddenly felt disappointed in her school and in what she had been able do. The private school children were playing instruments that children from the state schools had never seen. They had never seen a bassoon, let alone touched a cello. The occasion was both eye-opening and shocking. The work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is beginning to create enormous change, and I want to tell the House about some of the progress that has been made.

The Government have established a national child care strategy, which enables after-school clubs to be set up in all neighbourhoods. That was one of our manifesto pledges. Early-years and child care development partnerships have been set up in all areas. I am glad to say that I am chair of the partnership in Southwark. The partnerships establish after-school clubs so that, at the end of the school day, at 3.30 pm, children do not wander on to the streets and risk having traffic accidents, getting into trouble with the police, or becoming bored and annoying their elderly neighbours. Instead, they can be in an after-school club, which runs from 3.30 pm until about 6 pm, when parents pick them up. Those parents are often enabled to work by the clubs and thus to bring more money into the household.

After-school clubs provide a great opportunity for offering children access to the arts, including music, dance and drama, as well as sport. Those clubs do not suffer from the pressures of the curriculum to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) referred. I am glad that the Government are driving towards an objective that means that children in Southwark leave school with formal qualifications that are as good as those of children anywhere else. I do not detract from the focus on the basics: the literacy hour and the numeracy hour are essential. There is no need for competition between the basics and art, music and drama. We can do all those as after-school activities as well as through extra activities in school.

The Southwark partnership has got together with all the local arts organisations and told them, "We've got these kids from 3.30 till 6 o'clock. You are a local community arts organizations—or the English national orchestra or Covent Garden. How can we get together with the wealth of talent—for example, instrumentalists and others in the music industry—in the borough to make sure that the new infrastructure of after-school clubs and holiday clubs gives children the opportunity to do music, art and drama?" When the partnership works well, it makes a huge difference.

Some children suddenly find that they have great musical talent. They cannot discover that talent if they have no access to the teaching of an instrument. Children who are not very good at formal school work—maths, reading and writing—may shine in dance and are thus able to feel proud of themselves and confident in their peer group and among their friends. As the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) said, it is also an intellectually demanding activity. As well as reaching children who might otherwise not do so well in school and enabling them to discover their creative talent, the arts can stimulate their intellect. It is very important that we use the time during which children are in the after-school clubs not only to take care of them while their parents—mostly their mothers—are working and to protect them from road accidents, getting into trouble with the police and winding up elderly neighbours, but to make sure that they have quality of experience and opportunity.

We are making huge strides on that in Southwark. There is a great air of excitement and enthusiasm as the partnerships that are working locally are coming together to deliver change. We put in a successful bid to the school standards fund for music and we now have a Saturday music centre in St. Thomas the Apostle's school. It has been going for a couple of weeks and children are getting free instrumental lessons—and the chance to take the instrument home—in recorder, violin, cello, saxophone, clarinet and percussion. They all do ensemble playing, they all do choir and they all do musicianship. They are all beginners. At the moment, we have 80 children there, having just started the scheme. There were more than 200 applications for the first 80 places and we are going to expand it up to 250.

We are also using instruments that have been locked unused in cupboards in primary schools. We are using the funds to repair those instruments and to bring in teachers so that children can be taught on those instruments. In schools that have good teachers, but no instruments, we are using those funds to buy in the instruments. We have a range of activity where previously there was nothing. We did not even have a schools music service. Whether children had access to instruments or to any music or dance activity depended on whether they had a go-getting head who was determined to do it against the odds and with very little help from outside.

We are also using the new opportunities fund learning fund to increase opportunities for music, arts and drama for primary school children. Earlier this week, I went to Alfred Salter school in Bermondsey, wearing my hat as Southwark's early-years development partnership chair. I discovered that they have successfully applied for a programme for an after-school club in the school. I am talking about not the Saturday centre, but an after-school club in the primary school. For the first year they are going to build up the music. Then they are going to keep the music going and in the second year they are going to add dance. They are going to keep it all going and build it up so that all the children round the school have opportunities that they did not have before.

People said that we could not do all that because it was too expensive and there were no instruments, but many of us remembered that there are cupboards in primary schools with instruments in them that were not being used, because there was no focus led by the Government to ensure that they could be used and children had access to them. My early-years development partnership did a survey of the primary schools in Southwark to ask whether they had any instruments not in use. We discovered that, locked up in the cupboards not being used were 68 recorders, 26 guitars, 26 clarinets, eight flutes, nine French horns, four tubas, 15 trombones, 20 trumpets, 16 cellos and 93 violins.

We had a meeting to discuss taking forward music, arts and drama for children in Southwark in after-school clubs and school holiday clubs. One person called out in the middle of the meeting, "That's more instruments than they have in the London Philharmonic." They were all locked in cupboards in Southwark. Thanks to the leadership from the Government and the enabling funds that they have been inviting local community organisations, local schools and local boroughs to bid for, we are unlocking the cupboards and using those instruments, which should always have been in the children's hands. A generation of children passed through primary school without having the opportunity to use musical instruments, but that is now beginning to change.

We are gaining greater access to working partnerships with the great opera houses and ballet companies. Peckham, my constituency, in the London borough of Southwark, is right in the shadow of the huge, important national centres to which my hon. Friends have referred: English National Opera, the Covent Garden opera house, great orchestras and innovative ballet companies. In the past, members of those institutions have wanted to become involved with the community. They have perhaps attended a single workshop, twirled around before astonished children and then disappeared. But unless children are given an opportunity to be inspired by what they see and then to emulate it, their feeling that there is a world out there to which they have no access and of which they can never be part will only be reinforced.

We now have many more opportunities to build an enabling partnership between great institutions and children in Southwark, which is just across the river from so many of those institutions. People come from all over the country to Camberwell school of art in my constituency, yet that great institution has virtually no involvement with the children who live in the borough in which it is situated.

It has been interesting to watch the partnerships develop. Anne Longfield, director of Kids Club Network, the national organisation for after-school clubs, is also a parent living in Southwark, and is involved in our early-years development partnership. She went to the annual general meeting of the Southwark arts forum, to discuss with all the community arts organisations the possibility of making some arts activities involving children eligible for child care tax credit. One option was to change the hours from, say, 4.30 to 6.30 pm, to 3.30 to 5.30 pm.

There has been a good deal of interaction between young people's and child care organisations and organisations representing, for instance, music and drama. The Southwark arts forum is now a member of our early-years development partnership. We want the national child care strategy not only to keep children safe, but to ensure that they enjoy a quality experience, and such an experience will be provided by access to all the opportunities to which I have referred. That is why such access features strongly on the agendas of both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Employment.

This is an exciting time: partnerships are being established. Jan Hinde, from Yorkshire Youth and Music, who had been running a very good series of after-school and holiday activities, came to one of our partnership meetings in Southwark to tell us about what she was doing, and to hear what we were doing. There is a real buzz nowadays: we are networking, and also creating new partnerships.

It would be helpful if, as well as continuing their current activities, the Government involved themselves even more actively. I should like to see a programme in after-school clubs involving music, drama, dance and other arts, organised jointly by Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Employment. I should like that departmental partnership to engage in regional conferences throughout the country, bringing together child care and arts people and asking them what they are doing in order to spread good practice. If it transpired that they were doing nothing, they could be told what others were doing, and could benefit from that.

There should be consultation, so that we find the best way of creating programmes, and all areas should have a local arts strategy. One does not need a huge bureaucracy or a department to devise a strategy, which could be developed in partnership with other organisations.

The arts are a very important weapon in combating social exclusion and deprivation, extending equality, and ending the divisions that have marred the United Kingdom for so long. The Government have already made huge strides on the issue, completely changing the atmosphere, and making opportunities available.

In my borough of Southwark, we are opening up the cupboards, repairing instruments, and putting those instruments in the hands of children—who, perhaps, one day will be the Nigel Kennedys of Camberwell and the Darcy Bussells of Bermondsey. It is a great step forward.

1.51 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

In a speech on the arts to the Royal Society of Arts, the current Arts Council chairman said: Even those who love and share the arts can, at times, compartmentalise them…they can regard them as a kind of bolt-on extra to reality. The truth is the arts are the real world, in exactly the same way as commerce and the City are parts of the real world. I believe that the chairman was entirely correct. Long after the voices that we have heard today in the Chamber fall silent and the speeches are forgotten, the work of artists such as David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Damien Hirst will be associated with the times that we live in. Memorable theatrical and cinema performances endure in people's memories, and works of art are lovingly passed down to succeeding generations.

This has been a good debate, with some notable speeches, most especially by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who has already apologised for his absence at the end of the debate.

We have heard interesting speeches by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), who talked about her own local authority's arts strategy; and by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), who spoke about stresses in arts organisations and the decline in Government support to the arts as a percentage of gross domestic product, and made various other pertinent observations.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) talked about the good community arts programmes and lively activities in Wandsworth and Putney. He also rightly spoke about London's importance as a national and international centre.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) spoke about the economic importance of the arts for employment and the economy generally. He also talked about disappointment that certain projects—such as those in Bristol and at the South Bank centre—have not proceeded, and the effect on arts funding of the Government's raid on the lottery.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) was right to talk about the currently unparalleled levels of leisure spending in the United Kingdom. In view of such spending, it is disappointing that the arts still affect a relatively small number of people in the United Kingdom. He also shared with us his knowledge of and interest in orchestras and his love of music. Many who work in local government will share his views on local government statutory responsibilities.

In his characteristically robust style, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) challenged the Government's general philosophy on the arts and their attack on the arm's-length principle. He also talked about the arts in places such as Norwich; warned of the dangers for London's art market of the pan-European value added tax rate; and expressed concerns about droit de suite.

The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Gunnell) drew on his considerable experience of West Yorkshire and of Opera North, and described the difficulties of the royal Armouries museum, in Leeds, which I have visited.

The right hon. Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) spoke passionately about the importance of children's participation in the arts. I agree with her on that. She spoke particularly with reference to Southwark.

There has been much mention of the creative genius of the British people, and that creativity is certainly flourishing. In recent years, many American performers, including Richard Dreyfuss, John Malkovich, Nicole Kidman and Dustin Hoffman have appeared in London theatres. There is nothing comparable to our theatrical tradition anywhere in the world.

In the past 20 years, there has been a great flowering of artistic activity outside London. Even quite small towns have flourishing music or arts festivals and competitions and lottery money has been used to reinvigorate and restore theatres, museums and galleries. I recently visited the Tate gallery in St Ives, which has had an enormous impact on the town, attracting visitors and a new generation of artists. Similarly, the Tate gallery on Bankside is an exciting project, as is the new Royal Opera House. There is much to be pleased about, but there are concerns about the way in which the Government have set about supporting the arts.

Before the general election, no group in the country did not have high expectations encouraged and fanned by Labour politicians and nowhere more so than in the arts. There was to be a new artistic Jerusalem to go with the new Labour victory. Gradually, of course, the disappointment set in, followed by disillusion. It is hardly surprising.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey spoke about the fiddled figures of the Secretary of State, and the increases unscrupulously double and treble counted. In reality, increases in grant in aid, however small, have been more than offset by the Secretary of State's raid on lottery funds and the financial problems of local authorities. On Wednesday I was in York and last week I was in Bristol—everywhere there is anxiety about how museums, galleries and leisure facilities are to be financed. Whether they are museum curators, librarians or local authority officers, the message is the same everywhere and it is one of real and deepening anxiety.

Before the election the Labour party produced a policy document entitled, "Create the Future—A strategy for cultural policy, arts and the creative economy". It says on the cover, "Do not remove from the Library". Having read it from cover to cover, I think that there is very little risk that many would be motivated to do so.

Let us examine some of the pledges that Labour made before the general election, that, in part, have caused much of the present disappointment in the arts community. Under the heading, "Access—building and nurturing new audiences" the document states: The Government arts collection will be made more easily available to museums and galleries throughout Britain. Has that happened? It promises: Buildings in the public estate will become more accessible for the public. Labour also promised to pilot open theatre nights. That was a pretty exciting idea. Apparently, on Monday nights theatre tickets would be available at reduced prices throughout the country. It was yet another promise. I have had all the promises examined by the Library, which has confirmed that nothing along the lines of those pledges has actually happened in practice.

Under the heading, "Widening opportunities for children and young people", the document states: We will expect an annual arts statement to be produced by schools, showing what each school offers its pupils. That most certainly has not happened. It also states: Career paths for each art form will be improved", and An 'Arts Card' for young people to widen their access to the arts will be set up. It is all here; there are many pages of promises, but very little has been done.

In respect of broadcasting and film, the document states: A new 'Ofcom' will be established to regulate the television and communications infrastructure. That suggestion was explicitly rejected by the Department of Trade and Industry. So much for Labour's promises, but the one that I found most staggering was under the heading "The Cultural Industries". Apparently we were going to have nothing less than A strategic approach to procurement which will yield considerable benefits. Of course nothing of the kind has happened. The hyping up of expectations ahead of the general election is written down here, but manifestly has not been undertaken in practice. After the election—and on an unprecedented scale—we got scores of working parties, consultation groups and reviews set in place by the Secretary of State, presumably to show some sort of dynamic activity. Well, where is the beef?

As part of the process, a book was produced by the Secretary of State called "Creative Britain"—price £7.99, from Faber and Faber. We were all excited about this book, as the Secretary of State said that it would be the first time for a long time that a Cabinet Minister in situ had written or put together such a book. I would not wish to embarrass the Secretary of State—particularly as he is not here—by reading some of the reviews of the book. However, George Walden—in a review called "Babbling for Britain"—referred to some of the sheer banalities in the book. For example: The cultural process can cross continents too…Culture can embrace a broad sweep of fine and high-quality activities, of all kinds". And so it went on.

Regrettably, only 2,429 copies of the book were sold, and it is difficult to find copies now. They cannot be found through Amazon.com, but Hatchards still has two copies available if anyone wishes to purchase them.

There was a background of hope and expectation and the belief in a new artistic Jerusalem under the Government, but there is now disillusion, following the numerically challenged figures on support for the arts, the producing of the Secretary of State's book and the branding of the national lottery as the people's lottery. Poor old Covent Garden was described as the people's opera and, excruciatingly, the library service was called the people's network.

During debates prior to the creation of the new opportunities fund, we warned the Government of the possibility of lottery fatigue, which is now happening. Some £3.5 billion has been raided from the lottery—to use the Secretary of State's own words—and that money will have been lost to the original good causes. If lottery ticket sales continue to decline, this will continue to have a severe effect on the funding of the arts. I am sure that those involved in the lottery will have told Ministers about that.

The Secretary of State has doubled the number of his Ministers in the House of Commons, and the number of special advisers in his Department. He has double and treble-accounted his spending pledges for his Department. He has doubled the number of press releases. It all gives new meaning to his most repeated and banal expression—the many, not the few.

The Secretary of State genuinely enjoys the arts and has a deep understanding of this area. However, up and down the country, there is disappointment, disillusion, frustration and dismay. In Cabinet, he has failed to fight his corner. As a result, spending in many areas of the arts is under unprecedented threat.

I wish to refer to an issue that the Minister for the Arts and I have corresponded on. I know that he shares my view that, where possible, owners of houses are the best guardians of their properties. The domestic architectural heritage of this country—which often has links that go back many generations—can be most attractive to visitors, whether domestic or foreign, and boosts the local economy.

The Minister will know of the detailed discussions involving representatives of the Historic Houses Association, the Treasury and the Inland Revenue. He knows that changes in the Finance Act 1998 have caused considerable disquiet to beneficiaries of the conditional exemption arrangements. No one will deny that some individuals have made access difficult, but many feel that a sledgehammer is being taken to crack a nut. In addition, the unilateral change of contract is leading to a possible serious legal challenge. Widening the ambit for public access and increasing the standard for exemptions create a risk of important chattels coming on to the market, and there is very little cash to acquire them.

I genuinely hope that the matter can be resolved but if the changes mean that heritage chattels come on the market in any quantity, the Department will come under scrutiny and criticism. I ask the Minister to monitor the situation carefully at what is a crucial stage in the discussions.

On 9 November, the Chancellor at least recognised the funding problem and made several concessions in respect of charitable giving, but the abolition of advance corporation tax recovery will cost charities £500 million a year: far more than the value of the concessions. We need a simpler, clearer mode of giving. I hope that the Secretary of State will continue to press the Chancellor to make further concessions to get more money to the areas that have been affected by his raid on the lottery.

In July 1998, the Government announced a new policy of free entry to museums. Its aim was to introduce free access to children from next year, for pensioners the following year and universal free entry in 2001. There are considerable problems with that, especially involving VAT. In the eyes of many of those who run our major national museums, there is something of an impasse. It is very difficult, with the three-year funding window, to formulate an appropriate long strategy for museums. It is a source of genuine concern that the pledge has not been fulfilled.

Several challenge funds have been set up, but they simply do not enable museums and galleries to plan for the long term. There is a widespread view that there is a lack of co-ordination with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on regional museums—that is, the majority of museums in this country.

In the Government's two and a half years in office the high hopes and expectations have been dashed. It is like the emperor's new clothes. People throughout the country who love and cherish the arts know that changes in the national lottery and the immense pressure on local authority spending mean that the additional sums that the Secretary of State has secured for his departmental budget add up to less than the amount that has been removed from the arts.

Despite all the hype and boasting, there has not in practice been an increase—quite the reverse. Immense reserves of good will have been squandered, money has left the arts and the Secretary of State has signally failed to defend his patch in Cabinet. We, by contrast, with the unstinting help of so many, have been trying to put fresh thinking into how the arts can flourish in the new millennium. As each day passes, the desire for that fresh thinking is growing as the reputation of the Government and of the Secretary of State in particular continues to fall.

2.9 pm

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

This has been a worthwhile debate. It enabled my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in a magisterial speech, to tell the House how our pledges and commitments, made both in opposition and in government, are systematically being fulfilled.

I do not like to criticise the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) in his absence, but I was disappointed that he chose to be so personally abusive in his attacks. His speech seemed to have been dictated by Conservative central office propagandists and—how shall I put it?—lacked decorum.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) never lacks decorum. He is altogether more fastidious. The difficulty is that he is against the people's opera: he appears to have some core reservation about what is going on at the Royal Opera house. He is also against the people's library network. I put it to him that we have said goodbye to the age in which a gilded elite was bankrolled by the taxpayer in its enjoyment of expensive cultural pleasures that were denied to those who paid for them through their taxes and the lottery. I am unashamedly committed to making culture accessible to the many, not the few, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is so politically imprudent as to think it appropriate to pour cold water on that sort of ethic. The hon. Gentleman was also a little waspish about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but that did not really matter because the hon. Gentleman's performance was deeply unconvincing.

By contrast, the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) gave an entirely admirable speech. He was generous, thoughtful and challenging. No one who knows him could subscribe to the view that he is a killjoy. He said that he had to leave the debate early to attend an engagement in Sunderland, but was too modest to explain that he was going there for two purposes: first, to give a lecture on education; and, secondly, to attend a performance by Scottish Opera of "A Friend of the People", for which the right hon. Gentleman himself wrote the libretto. He is seriously committed to improving the cultural life of this country. There was a dearth of Opposition speakers, but we are grateful to the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) for chipping in.

I respect and admire the contributions made by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Mr. Colman), for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) and for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Gunnell). Their speeches contained litanies of declarations of interest and illustrated the range and depth of knowledge of the arts that is available on the Government Benches.

Being the Minister for the Arts is a tough job. It has been my duty to attend 295 cultural events in the 16 months since my appointment, and it is my pleasure to continue to do so. I have learned a great deal, not least to be immensely proud of the condition of the arts in this country. I do not for a moment suggest that the Government can take the credit for the flourishing arts in Britain, because that phenomenon has profound causes.

It is strange to hear old-fashioned lucubrations such as that offered by the hon. Member for East Surrey, who thought it opportune to refer to the shadow Arts Council. Sir Peter Hall has been making the same speech for 25 years: it is the longest running cultural phenomenon in London, apart, perhaps, from "The Mousetrap". He has become part of our heritage, as tourists come to hear him make his speech denouncing the Government of the day for the inadequacy of their support for the arts. He is like a performing bear, who performs rather clumsily and embarrassingly. He, like Opposition Front Benchers, is unaware of the extent of the improvement in the condition of the arts in this country.

That the arts flourish to such an extent is remarkable, considering the dismal story of funding for many years before the Labour Government entered office and the state to which our education system had been reduced. As my hon. Friends said, our Government had to mount an emergency operation to rescue music in schools. The determined action taken by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State. for Education and Employment and for Culture, Media and Sport has already started to make an enormous difference by greatly increasing the money available to local education authorities through the standards fund and the operation of the National Foundation for Youth Music.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), in a most valuable contribution to the debate, opened our eyes to the exciting possibilities for education in music and the range of arts and crafts that funding from the new opportunities fund has created for after-school clubs. When Opposition Members go on about a raid on the lottery, they seem to suppose that lottery money, over and above the money that the Arts Council has to distribute, is not available for the arts. It palpably is, as my right hon. Friend explained vividly and unanswerably.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney was kind enough to refer to our programme—developed jointly between my Department and the Department for Education and Employment—to create bursaries for students of arts and drama. It is good news that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has this week been able to triple the amount of money in the hardship fund for students of dance and drama who attend further education institutions.

While on the subject of education, I wish to emphasise the great importance we attach to the issues raised in the report of Professor Ken Robinson's group. The importance of those issues cannot be overstated and we are reflecting deeply on how the Government might most appropriately respond. We have already asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to address afresh the issue of how we can ensure that education for creativity flourishes in our schools.

This Government take support for the arts as a central and welcome part of their responsibility. We support the arts with money and through our policy, which goes far beyond the simple provision of money. It has been the melancholy experience of successive Ministers for the Arts over the years to go to the Treasury to secure more—sadly sometimes less—money for the arts and, whatever the outcome of their mission to Great George street, to be assailed for not securing enough.

Of course, the needs of the arts are almost infinite and the appetite of the arts is certainly insatiable. However, I am proud that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, supported by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and—most importantly—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has made a commitment to an enhanced level of funding for the arts so that we are seeing in real terms, contrary to the allegations made by Opposition Front Benchers in this debate, a higher level of grant in aid than ever seen before. It is higher even than in the golden age of Jennie Lee.

The contention advanced by some hon. Members today, including the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, that arts funding has fallen as a percentage of gross domestic product requires closer scrutiny by those who did so. This year there has been a 16 per cent. increase in grant in aid for the Arts Council, with commitments to a 4.6 per cent. increase next year and a 6.5 per cent. increase in the following year, so my right hon. Friend the Chancellor must be being even more spectacularly successful in his conduct of the economy than even I had supposed. Right hon. and hon. Members should reconsider their figures.

Mr. Spring


Mr. Howarth

I am sorry that I cannot give way, but I have so little time.

Several contributors to the debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North made the point that local authorities need to commit themselves to funding support for culture. Of course, some do so magnificently already, such as Birmingham, Gateshead, Bolton and Huddersfield. I ask my hon. Friends who made that point to consider whether, if there were to be a standard spending assessment for culture, there might be a risk that those local authorities which are good in that area would come under heavy pressure to spend down to SSA. We need to be careful for that reason, and I know that the Local Government Association has reservations about that remedy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North also asked that a statutory obligation be placed on local authorities to support the arts. I am tremendously tempted by that suggestion, but I put it to my hon. Friend that local authorities have been under a statutory obligation to support their libraries since 1964. That has not meant that life for our libraries has been without difficulties. My hon. Friend's suggestion would not be a solution, but I see its attraction.

We seek to achieve a coherence in the use of funding. That funding may be derived from grant in aid or be provided by our partners in local government. It may come from the lottery—and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's reforms of the lottery have very far-reaching beneficial significance for the arts. It may also derive from European sources, or come from the box office or from private donors. Finally, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned, funding may come from charitable tax reliefs.

The challenge for policy makers—at national, regional and local levels—is to achieve a confluence between those flows of funding such that we achieve the best value for money and open up the possibilities that we all want to be realised. That is a difficult challenge, but the funding agreements that we are putting in place and the progress towards regional and now local authority cultural strategies mean that we have an instrument that will give us a much better chance of success.

I said that the Government's policy was not simply about securing as much money as possible. Although more money is always useful, we have a responsibility for the stewardship of publicly provided resources. I make no apology for the fact that we have set up Quest, which, although it reports to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is independent of the Department. That agency will be available to assist publicly funded organisations to ensure that quality, efficiency and standards are as high as they ought to be.

I do not apologise either about the funding agreements that we have put in place. The hon. Member for East Surrey was very patronising about the Arts Council and suggested that it had degenerated to the point that it was now no more than an agent of Government. Mr. Gerry Robinson may have views on that, but I do not accept that the Arts Council is so passive or pusillanimous—far from it.

The Arts Council is the Government's partner. With it, we negotiate funding agreements that provide a framework that is agreed and not imposed. The specific decisions on the uses of the funding that the Government provide on behalf of the taxpayer and of the lottery player are determined by the bodies that receive the funding.

A modernised version of the arm's-length principle is alive and well and, unlike the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I am a strong believer in its virtue. Although it might be tempting for me, as Minister for the Arts, to have the power to decide what productions, exhibitions or concerts should receive funding, that would not be a good idea. I would also be a little nervous if, in any future incarnation, the hon. Member for West Suffolk were to exercise that power. The Government believe in the arm's-length principle, and we have refreshed and modernised it.

I am grateful to those hon. Members who have commented on the quadruple commitment in the Government's policy to supporting excellence, access, the role of education in relation to the arts and the arts' contribution to the flourishing of the creative economy. I emphasise that we support excellence not only in traditional high art, but in all those forms of cultural expression that many people particularly cherish.

We have also forged a new relationship between the Crafts Council and the Arts Council. That has allowed more money to be available for the crafts, but it has also permitted them to take their place in the policy development of the Arts Council. It will therefore prove very positive for the crafts in this country. That the lottery is providing money for brass bands, on a scale which I hope will be enhanced, is important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) talked of a brass band event that she had attended in her constituency. Brass bands are among the proudest cultural expressions of community in this country. One of my great privileges as Minister for the Arts was to attend the recent national finals of the brass band championship at the Albert hall and to present the prizes. It was an exciting and magnificent occasion.

Let me echo the comments of a number of contributors to the debate that the basis for our policy on the arts must be that we value the arts and their contribution to the enrichment of human life. We value the arts for art's sake and for people's sake. That is why we support excellence; that is our primary value.

There is no tension between excellence and access, because this excellence should be made increasingly accessible to all. Time does not permit me to give in any detail some wonderful examples of ways in which the arts can inspire people who have not characteristically or traditionally participated in the arts, certainly not the publicly funded arts. Start, for example, is a scheme that is part of the directorate of psychiatry in the Central Manchester health care trust. It is a network of arts studios developed specifically for adults recovering from mental illness, with a team of practising artists specialising in photography, textiles, pottery, mosaics, stained glass, painting and drawing. The work that they produce is increasingly recognised and desired. It is a marvellous example of how access to artistic experience enables more people to lead a richer and better life.

Mr. Spring

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth


Mr. Spring

Will he answer my question?

Mr. Howarth

I will in a moment—first, I want to speak about the school at Dog Kennel hill in Southwark. I am not sure whether it is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham.

Ms Harman

It is on the edge.

Mr. Howarth

Some 30 per cent. of children in that school come from homes in which English is the second language, more than half are eligible for free school meals and a quarter have special educational needs. But Ofsted inspectors have found that, by placing art, drama and music at the core of the school's agenda, the head teacher has succeeded in creating a school ethos that promotes confidence, moral development, enthusiastic involvement and pride. There is much more that I would have loved to have the opportunity to say, because the experience in that school exemplifies beautifully the interplay between the arts and education.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked about conditional exemption. The principle is not negotiable. We believe it to be absolutely right that where there are valuable tax concessions, such as capital gains or inheritance tax, the public must have a right of access to those items which have been conditionally exempted. I do not think that there is any dispute between us on that.

We are, of course, more than willing to negotiate about the practice to ensure that the manner in which the policy is implemented is civilised, courteous, practical and realistic. I understand the apprehensions that have been expressed about security; I understand the apprehensions of elderly people, perhaps a little fragile, who may be worried about the intrusion of strangers into their home. We wish to find the most constructive way of implementing this policy, and we will monitor whatever that happens to be.

The health of our culture and its prospects are central to our national life, the quality of life for our society and citizens, our economy and our social cohesion. We need a policy that is sensibly integrated and coherent locally, nationally and internationally. The Government are fully committed to playing their part.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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