HL Deb 15 May 1991 vol 528 cc1615-53

3 p.m.

Baroness Birk rose to call attention to the state of public support for the arts at national and local level and to the loss abroad of Britain's artistic assets; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this House discussed the performing arts in a debate on the arts in February. I hope that today the net will be spread to other areas. I intend to focus on the predicament of the visual arts. Recently their position was made more urgent by the increasing pressure put on local authorities to find money for their museums from overstretched and often capped budgets and by the financial battles to keep in this country the Badminton Cabinet, "The Lock" by Constable, Canova's "Three Graces" and the Middleham Jewel. A miracle must occur before Friday because that is when the decision will be made on granting an export licence for the Badminton Cabinet.

But whatever ails local museums is felt equally by the national institutions. While the Government have made a start in repairing the fabric at least by putting buckets under the skylights, little additional money has been found. That is in spite of the promise made by Richard Luce, a former Arts Minister, to put the buildings in order by the millennium. The Government have recently commissioned a study on building from Arup's. However, it appears that they will content themselves with basic repairs rather than install modern equipment and standards which are taken for granted internationally which will provide proper ccnditions for conservation and display.

The state of many of our national collections is a national disgrace. The vital and imaginative improvements that have been made have usually been due to the great generosity of a few patrons, among whom the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, is a leading figure. The noble Lord is to speak in today's de bate. Welcome as that financial intervention is, it should not be taking over the state's fundamental role. Nor should business sponsors be expected to deal with capital investment in our museums. The Government's contribution to buildings and running costs remains painfully thin. In spite of all the figures that no doubt will be thrown at me by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, those are the facts. One has only to look at our museums and galleries to see that it is true. The increase in grants has not matched inflation, let alone the rise in wage costs. The situation was worsened by the appalling way in which, in 1988, responsibility for capital costs was handed to the museums without a proper survey and without adequate provision.

One can compare that situation with the privatisation of water and electricity, in respect of which the Government wrote off capital debts. They also invested in new equipment before the industries were passed to private hands. I do not suggest that the museums should be privatised but there is an analogy between handing over to the museums the responsibility for running themselves and handing over to private hands some of our nationalised industries. The damage caused to this country's reputation for museum management and scholarship about equals the enduring threat to the objects in their care and the buildings which house them.

Care at local level is just as bad, as was shown in the recent report of the Museums and Galleries Commission. More than half the local museums are facing straight cuts or below inflation increases. All local authority responsibilities are statutory except those for the arts. Therefore, the temptation to look to the arts first in the hunt for savings is almost always irresistible.

After the abolition of the metropolitan county councils the effect on the arts in local areas has been devastating. The London Borough Grants Committee, which was set up after the abolition of the GLC, was supposed to be the saviour of the arts in London. Some saviour! Many noble Lords tried to give warnings during the passage of the Bill but they were not heeded. The committee is responsible for dozens of arts organisations summarily losing their grants. There is a great crisis in the arts in London, not only in museums and theatres but across the whole spectrum. The ruthless demands of the Government's capping policy and the squeeze of the poll tax has resulted in a crisis not only in London but throughout the country. Throughout the country that has led to breaches of trust between the local authorities and their dependent organisations—that is, museums, theatres, libraries and voluntary services. The muddle and complications caused by the Government's dithering attempt to find a formula for the new regional arts boards makes one gasp in wonder.

Furthermore, nothing has been done since 1985 to raise the purchase grants of the national museums. Incidentally, the figure is lower than it was in 1980–81. The grants to the National Gallery, Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum are£2.75 million,£1.815 million and£1.145 million respectively. Ten years ago grants of that size enabled museums and galleries to act, albeit with difficulty. Today the price of old masters, 20th century art and even contemporary art renders planned action impossible. A single David Hockney was sold for more than£1 million in New York in 1990. A Francis Bacon can command more than£3 million.

While museums strive to maintain their collections, great works are leaving Britain with depressing ease. Although many are retained they are usually the less expensive works. If the Minister says that we have managed to keep more than 51 per cent. of the works he must translate that into their value. It is only one-tenth of the value of those that got away. The Minister's way of looking at the matter is not correct.

Many people in the art world and outside it are anxious about the Badminton Cabinet. Recently I went to see it at the Tate Gallery. Many people were milling around, looking at it. It is unique. It was made for the then Duke of Beaufort in the Medici workshops. It bears the Plantagenet coat of arms and is part of our heritage. The V&A could have bought it for£4 million but did not have the money and the Government were not prepared to help. Therefore, it is being sold to an American for£8.6 million. That makes no sense artistically, financially or economically. It is quite crazy.

I do not believe that the courageous appeal started by the National Art Collections Fund will achieve anything. How can it? People are dropping in odd coins and a few notes and are being as generous as possible, but how can that possibly add up to£8.6 million? That is ridiculous.

The real problem is that there is now insufficient money to back the system of export review, which worked well for years after it was started in 1952. The Export Review Committee has now become little more than a bureaucratic instrument of delay with no real power to demand retention. It is aware of that and finds the job very difficult and extremely frustrating, as the chairman has intimated. The Waverley standard is being waved aside and that is not the committee's fault.

In fact, there are a limited number of really important heritage items which appear each year. The availability of an additional£20 million would ensure that most of the items would remain here to be seen by ourselves and foreign visitors. Very often we set ourselves up as a cultural capital of the world but when we request the necessary resources to support that position they are not forthcoming. The resources are available in a country of this size. We may not be as well off as we were at one time, but compared with a great many countries we are still a wealthy nation. The availability of those resources would ensure the retention of items such as I have described in this country to be seen by ourselves and others.

It is not an argument to point to the increase in the funding for the National Heritage Memorial Fund from£3 million to£12 million because in the past the fund has been regularly and rightly topped up so that the average grant over the past 10 years has been£11 million. I hope that on this occasion the Minister does not trot out that canard.

Only items which have been here for 50 years or more are eligible for support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Therefore, it does not cover any classics by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon or Ben Nicholson. None of their works from the 1950s and 1960s would be eligible to be saved by the fund even if the money were available to do that. The National Campaign for the Arts points out that much more could be done fiscally to encourage people to give works to the nation rather than sell them. Last year only£1.25 million-worth of arts work was offered in lieu in the past financial year. That is nowhere near the£10 million contingency money which I understand is always available from the Treasury.

The recent Budget gave no help to the arts; in fact, it was almost a hindrance. VAT rose to 17.5 per cent. The National Art Collections Fund pointed out that nothing was done to increase the effectiveness of Gift Aid by changing the£600 limit to one that is more in line with what people are able to give. There was nothing in the Budget to bring nearer a beneficent lottery, which could do much if the proceeds were used strictly for capital investment but not as a substitute for government revenue funding.

I have dealt with only a few of the horrendous problems faced by the arts. I am sure that other aspects will be covered by other noble Lords, as there is a long list of speakers; and I particularly look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady James of Holland Park. None of the issues, whatever they are, will be dealt with satisfactorily unless we show the will to give the arts the priority which they merit. Above all, that will must be shown by the Government. Their will must be backed by the necessary and essential resources. That can be done. It is quite ridiculous for the Government to argue that it is impossible.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she realise that the lady who bought the Badminton Cabinet has done so subject to export and will not be obliged to pay for it unless and until it is exported? She is in no hurry to acquire it.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I do not believe I should say any more. This is a timed debate and I do not wish to take time from other speakers. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.17 p.m.

Lord Crathorne

My Lords, I do not believe a time will ever come when the government of the day will be considered to be spending enough money on the arts. I am sure it is also true to say that every Minister for the Arts would have liked more money, and every Minister in turn has done his best to obtain more money for the arts. There is great rejoicing when that happens because a small amount of additional money for the arts goes a long way and is extremely good value for money. It makes a big difference, and any additional money has a considerable knock-on effect.

The noble Baroness has been rather harsh on the Government's record. It is worth mentioning one or two figures. Central government expenditure on the arts has increased 46 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80, with a budget of£600 million this year. The number of museums in the country has doubled in the past 20 years, and attendances are soaring. Expenditure on museums has risen by 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Support for the Arts Council has risen by 38 per cent. in real terms during that period. The National Heritage Memorial Fund has received£110 million in public funds since 1980. I do not wish to give further statistics, but listening to the noble Baroness one might believe that very little has been done. That is not the case.

There are two specific points which I should like to raise. The noble Baroness and I went to see the Badminton Cabinet together. Anyone who has seen it must have a very strong feeling that it should be retained in this country, and indeed in Europe because basically it is a European piece. The reviewing committee, using the Waverley criteria, has worked very well over the past few years. A large number of items have been retained in this country. All the starred items have thus far been retained. The problem now is the enormous sums required to buy the top objects. Because of that the system is in danger of breaking down. We have one or two great block-b asters every year such as the Badminton Cabinet. Something has to be worked out about how to deal with this matter. The National Heritage Memorial Fund has managed quite superbly, but it does not have the funds to cope with additional major items. As the noble Baroness said, we have to hope for a miracle at the eleventh hour or for assistance from a private: benefactor, if not the Government.

We do not have a restrictive export system in this country compared with other European countries. I favour that. I like the thought of a relatively free flow of pictures and works of art around the world. Many fine items have come back to this country. The flow is not just in one direction. The other specific item I wish to refer to is Canova's the Three Graces. This subject has raised a great deal of worry. As chairman of the Georgian Group, I make the point on behalf of various amenity societies which are worried about the matter. The Three Graces seemed to be an example of a fixture, As part of a listed building we felt that the Three Graces required listed building consent for its removal.

There were differing opinions at the Department of the Environment about that. The final decision was that the Three Graces was not a fixture and therefore could be sold. One of the disturbing aspects was that the Secretary of State seemed to be influenced in his decision by the fact that the owners of the Three Graces had moved it around to several different locations in recent years. The implications were obvious for that kind of object. If the article is moved around, it undermines the listed building consent legislation. We shall not pursue that point now; but it is a matter which the amenity societies wish to take up.

Perhaps I may end on a lighter note. I am sure that we are all very pleased that the Royal Shakespeare Company is now back at the Barbican. I took my two youngest children to "Much Ado About Nothing". I cannot believe that the play has ever been better performed or presented. My worries about taking a 10 and a 13 year-old turned out to be totally without foundation. We were sitting in the centre of the fourth row. My 10 year-old daughter laughed with such abandon at Benedick that he gave her a wonderfully surprised look as if to imply that it was she who was making if much ado about nothing.

By and large, I believe that the arts are flourishing in this country. However, there is no room whatever for complacency. There is always more that can be done and should be done.

3.23 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, the noble Bareness has raised two separate points in her excellent opening speech, each of which deserves more than seven minutes. I shall confine myself to the first point, which is the central support of the arts, and grumble about the miserable performance of the Treasury. As regards the second point, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, dealt with it in a very interesting way. I believe that will be followed by many other speakers. When I left office 12 years ago the purchase grants were at about the same level as they are now. That would not be a bad place from which to start the debate.

I am looking forward very much to hearing the noble Baroness's maiden speech. I hope that in another debate we can talk with her about books and libraries which are an important part of this subject though I doubt whether they will be mentioned very much today. I look to the future for that.

I turn now to my five and a half minutes in criticism of the Treasury. At the end of the last war Maynard Keynes was responsible for the first Government support of the arts and for the founding of the Arts Council. Since then investment has increased year by year and a really extraordinary change has taken place in these islands. Who would believe that these days on any Saturday one will find two people in museums, galleries, theatres or concert halls against only one watching football. It is a very remarkable change that the same number would have been watching football many years ago and about one third of the people would be in the cultured world.

Whereas before the war one had to go abroad to train as an opera singer, today one cannot go into an opera house abroad without hearing a principal singer who is not only British but trained in this country. That is an extraordinary success story. The Treasury seems unable to understand that nothing succeeds like success. When one hits success in life only a mug does not follow it up for all its worth. The problem is that the Treasury cannot distinguish between subsidy and investment. The arts earn the Treasury and the country a great deal of money. The overseas takings of the cultural sector—that is broadcasting, records, tapes, films, the art market and touring—earn the country as much as the oil industry. The figure has been estimated at about£6 billion.

If it were not for the investment that the Government make in orchestras, theatres, galleries and the rest, little of that would accrue. If the investment falls too low the arts will fall. The American entertainer, Bertice Redding, was quoted in The Times as saying that the theatre is the greatest export England has.

She has a point. The cultural sector is certainly the only one to increase its income by 50 per cent. in the past four years. Even if no money were earned abroad the Treasury would be doing very nicely out of the arts. VAT on tickets for the performing arts alone is now approaching£100 million a year. Around 250,000 people are employed in the arts. The income tax on their earnings means that the Government can count on receiving back every penny they spend with a more than acceptable industrial rate of return.

As we all know—except perhaps the Treasury—to earn more one has to invest more. As the Government's own researches have shown, the arts produce jobs with less investment than any other form of Government programme. I suggest that the Minister speaks with his colleagues in the Department of the Employment about ways to help each other. Our central and local museums and galleries contain perhaps the finest collection of objects and pictures to be found anywhere in the world and perhaps the least fostered by Government, but certainly with the most visitors and the most children. The same is true of the theatre and music. The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, has just told us about the theatre and its effect on his child. If one can have first-class performances of the standard plays, operas and music so that the theatres and concert halls are as full as they are today from Glasgow to Brighton, then nothing can stop the scholars and enthusiasts from breaking new ground —we shall find the whole wide world of the arts, commercial as well as highbrow, beginning to flourish. However, if one falters in support, standards will fall, the public will become listless and the money already put into the arts will be wasted.

A vigorous artistic society encourages innovation and experiment without which there is no creativity. The creative artists go abroad as our best architects do today, but if the whole land from Glasgow to London is buzzing with enterprise, people will come from all over the world and make it buzz more. Whenever there is a question of the arts making less than the greatest contribution to our lives that they are capable of, it should not be a question of the Minister going to the Treasury; it should be the Treasury coming urgently to the Minister and saying "What is wrong? We cannot for a moment afford to let the arts slip now that they are making such a major contribution to the country's welfare. There is too much at stake. Explain to us what should be done and we will see that you get the necessary resources". Long may that day come.

Of course the arts will never believe that they have enough; it is in the nature of artists to always want to do better. However, they must always be kept at boiling point. The Treasury insists on regarding the large sum invested in the arts since the war as subsidy; it is not. It is an extremely profitable investment, as I have shown. Backing success in the arts will produce at least as much money as it costs. It will make our country one of which we can be more proud than ever and I cannot understand why we do not do it.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness James of Holland Park

My Lords, I am sure that no new Member of this House rises to address your Lordships without trepidation and I crave the indulgence of the House for this, my maiden speech. I have fortified myself by consulting standing orders from which I learn that all personal, sharp or taxing speeches are forborne. I can promise not to be sharp or taxing. I wish that I could be equally confident that my words will be worthy of the subject. I hope that they will not be too irrelevant to the main thrust of the debate.

Without the excitement, the beauty and the inspiration of art in its various forms modern life would be a desert, and it is the measure of a country's civilisation how far this universal need of the human spirit is recognised and met. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for initiating this debate, not only because of its importance to all of us engaged in the arts, but because of the opportunity it gives us to bring before the House the claims of the art-form in which this country is internationally acknowledged to be pre-eminent—our literature.

We have in our language and literature, both classical and modern, an incomparable treasure. It is through language and literature that we celebrate our culture, our history, our aspirations, and no efforts of diplomacy can achieve the mutual understanding that nations enjoy through access to each other's literature. That will, of course, become increasingly important as Europe becomes united. English for a variety of reasons has become a world language and that has disadvantages as well as advantages. Because it is spoken and written in so many forms and for a variety of purposes it is most important that standard English should be valued and preserved in the United Kingdom.

Preservation does not, of course, mean that it should remain unchanged. A living language responds to the aspirations and needs of each generation. But the changes should enrich, not impoverish, and we debase our language if, while inventing new words to meet new techniques—new needs—we lose that nice precision of definition in vocabulary and construction which makes English an exact as well as a versatile language. If we debase, abuse, neglect our language, if our children cannot write or speak it simply, elegantly, persuasively, if we increasingly substitute jargon for clarity, we shall no longer produce books worth reading or a literature worth preserving.

Surely the National Curriculum Council is right to insist on the importance of children learning standard English. Some teachers have been reluctant to teach standard English from a fear of alienating parents and children or from a belief that dialect fosters a sense of cultural identity and self-respect. I speak of course of dialect, not regional accents. But standard English is not elitist, it is democratic; it is not exclusive, it is inclusive; it does not destroy identity or self-confidence, it fosters them. It opens the door not only to advancement and personal fulfilment but to a unique literature and a world of knowledge. We can never have a society of equal opportunity while children proclaim their disadvantage the moment they open their mouths or attempt to put down words on paper.

If literature and reading are so vital to the happiness and fulfilment of human beings and to the enrichment of society, it is important that books do not become too expensive for the average wage-earner. That is why in recent years there has been such a strong public resistance to the suggestion that value added tax should be imposed on books. The arguments against applying VAT to literature and knowledge have been frequently rehearsed and are still valid. In a parliamentary debate on 8th May, 1860 on the paper duty, W. E. Gladstone said: My right hon. Friend has said that this duty is a tax on literature and education, and, as such it has long stood in evil odour in this House". Long may that evil odour remain offensive in the nostrils of governments of all persuasions.

It would be irrational to debate the importance of language and the support of the arts without a mention of the public library system which in this country is certainly among the best in the world. It is important to keep it so. Learning how to use a library effectively is a vital part of education and it is, of course, equally important that there should be attractive and well-stocked libraries in schools. Present anxieties about the under-funding of school libraries were voiced during a recent debate in your Lordships' House and I will not repeat the arguments then put forward except to deplore the increase in the practice of providing school-children, not with their own books or the use of a well-stocked library, but with duplicated copies of the relevant pages or chapters—an easy compendium of pre-digested knowledge. It is rather like feeding a child perpetual tins of mashed, stewed fruit instead of the crisp juiciness of the apple and the variety of the orchard.

I know that books are expensive and have to compete with the demand for computers and the new electronic wonders necessary to equip our children for the modern world. But the fascination of a key-board cannot equal the excitement of handling books, learning to use an index, judging the importance of differing authorities and making other new and exciting discoveries which can illumine not only the subject studied but the whole of life.

A civilised society funds its arts generously because it believes that art and literature should be accessible to all, not an optional extra available to and valued only by a privileged section of society. The love of art and, above all, the creation of art is not only a matter of government subsidy, private patronage or local government support, vital as all of those are. A child first responds to literature when her mother reads to her the first story-book. The love of literature and art should begin in our homes, be fostered in our schools, be supported in our communities and remain to solace, inspire, entertain and delight us all our lives. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, lecturing to his Cambridge students after the First World War, said: Gentlemen, let us keep our language noble for we have heroes to commemorate". We should keep our language noble for we have a civilisation to commemorate and a heritage of incomparable richness to bequeath to our children. It is these children who will produce, from our living language, the literature of the future.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, we listened to a maiden speech which is an example to us all. It is customary on these occasions to praise, but no one this afternoon will feel that that is perfunctory. We have heard a speech of great distinction and look forward to hearing much more when the noble Baroness has the time, which the content of her speech made us wish she had, to develop her ideas.

My noble friend Lord Ardwick said to me earlier, "I think we should get rid of these seven-minute speeches". He suggested that a straw poll taken among your Lordships would provide a majority for that point of view. He may well be right and possibly the Whips will note his remarks. We hope to hear a great deal more from the noble Baroness on an occasion when she has time to deploy her remarks more fully.

At Question time in the other place yesterday Mr. Bowis, a Conservative Member of Parliament, asked the Minister for the Arts whether he would bring forward a plan to remove the arts in London from funding by the London Boroughs Grant Scheme. Mr. Renton replied, The problems surrounding the settlement of the LBGS budget this year have demonstrated that the joint local authority arrangements for funding the arts organisations in London are not working effectively".—[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/91; col. 15.] Well surprise, surprise! As my noble friend Lady Birk pointed out in her opening remarks the Minister was told—it was said in this House—that what was being established was a scheme which would not work. But at that time, as altogether too often happens, the Government's ears were not functioning. Only their mouths were operating, and they were telling us, rather than listening to the objections which we raised. This was an impractical scheme from the beginning. How can anyone get 32 boroughs of different political persuasions together and persuade them to come to a joint agreement? It has proved impractical and impossible. The Arts Council has had to step in at the last moment to try to save the situation. In the meantime total disaster has descended upon London. While waiting for funding, two or three organisations have gone under and several more probably cannot be saved in time. This disaster was brought about simply because the Government would not listen. At that time they were driven by the ideology of abolishing the Greater London Council and they failed entirely to put a practical substitute in its place.

The arts are not sufficiently well funded in this country to sustain that kind of thing. Their finances run on a shoestring. If action is taken which means that funding is held back, they go under. It is rather like the egg which is dropped from the wall, it cannot easily be put back together again. If an arts organisation collapses or a theatre goes under one cannot easily put it back together again. The consequence is that, sometimes, a very good organisation will disappear from the scene.

Mr. Bowis—a Conservative Member of Parliament—went on to say: Is my right hon. Friend aware that today Tom Stoppard, Tom Conti and others launched a campaign to save the King's Head theatre, which is one of the best in the capital and in the country, from the disastrous cut in grant by the London boroughs grants scheme? Is it not a fact that that scheme not only knows precious little about the arts, but puts them in the bottom category of its priorities? Is not it time that London's arts were rescued from its clutches?"—[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/91; col. 15.] Mr. Bowis is not a Labour or a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. He is a Conservative Member of Parliament who is exposing the horror of the scheme which his own Government have forced upon the arts. Hardly a person in either House at the moment has a good word to say for it. Indeed, the Government themselves have abandoned it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, it is a rule of the House that we must not quote Members of Parliament. We may quote Ministers, but not Members of Parliament in another place.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, there are some circumstances in which it is permissible. It seems to me that this is such an occasion. If, however, I was wrong, I shall withdraw. It seems to me that, having quoted the Minister, it would be senseless not to give some idea of what the complaint was. However, if I was wrong, I withdraw.

Criticism is more likely to convince if it is accompanied by praise. Therefore I want to say a good word for the Government. They have supported and are continuing to support the Theatres Trust. This organisation concerns itself with the bricks and mortar, as actors used to call it. The theatres of this country are in a pretty parlous state. The Arts Council has been quite ineffective in this area and no one has taken any account of the buildings—the factories, as it were, in which the operatives do their stuff and where the profits to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred, or some substantial part thereof, are generated. If the buildings are not kept going and are allowed to decline, then the whole operation will decline. We are at the moment in a crisis.

I congratulate the Government on providing a little money for the Theatres Trust to conduct a survey. When that survey reveals—as I fear it must—a pretty disastrous situation requiring very substantial sums of money to put it right, I hope that the Government, if they are in power—I doubt whether they will be—or any government, Labour or Conservative, will answer that cry and recognise that this is capital investment which must be made; otherwise, the whole standing of our theatre will gradually decline because there will not be practical places where the job can be carried out.

I have already taken six minutes and I have hardly started on what I was going to say. The problem is that I am not going to be able to say much more. How am I going to finish? I think in this way: in the 1960s two brilliant economists Baumol and Bowen—I shall tell the House about Baumol and Bowen another time.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady James, on a most impressive, moving and persuasive maiden speech. My noble friend Lord Crathorne referred earlier to the increase in grant with which the Government have provided the Arts Council. The growth in real terms has been 48 per cent., and the growth of the Arts Council grant over the previous 10 years was somewhat similar. It may therefore be surprising to your Lordships that the four national performing companies are so badly off despite the fact that the Arts Council grant has gone up so much over the years. It is to this that I should like to draw the attention of the House. Over the past five years, when the Arts Council grant rose by 26 per cent., the grant to the national performing companies in London actually went down. The proportion of the Arts Council grant that was devoted to the national companies went down from 30 per cent. of the Arts Council funds to 23 per cent.

In a sense that is entirely understandable because of the huge explosion in artistic needs and demand in the regions and the very understandable desire of the Arts Council to put more money into the regions. However, the real failing was not to create an atmosphere in which more funds came to them. Therefore all the extra funding to the regions was at the expense of the national companies. The grant to the Royal Shakespeare Company has fallen in real terms by 1.5 per cent. in the five years since 1985, and the Royal Opera House grant fell by 5 per cent. in real terms. The Government had asked for an efficiency study, known as the Priestley Report, to be carried out by the Cabinet Office. The Priestley Report recommended that the needs of both the RSC and the Royal Opera House—I should declare an interest as a chairman of the Royal Opera House until the end of this season—should be met. In the case of the Royal Opera House, the Arts Council has failed to meet that recommendation by 15 per cent.— £9 million over that period. This year the figure is£2.9 million light of the Priestley Report recommendation.

Despite this generous grant to the Arts Council, the national performing arts, which set the standard and which should be enjoyed by the nation in many different ways—educationally, on the media and so forth—have been starved of funds. I believe that the Arts Council has failed in a number of important respects. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, is not present this afternoon. It has failed to make to the Minister of the day the case for better funding for the arts. It has been quick to praise every extra grant it has given, but never to relate it back to the real needs and the RPI growth since the grant was made. It has failed to persuade the nation that we were underfunding the arts. It has also become increasingly bureaucratic. I welcome the announcement made recently by the Minister, Mr. Renton, that the Arts Council should cut its costs of administration by£1 million. That is entirely right and I congratulate him on it. It is a pity that it was not said a long time ago. The council has become increasingly

In addition, it no longer understands the meaning of the term arm's length. In the old days the Arts Council appraised, criticised and analysed the performance of its clients, and rightly so. But it always said to them, "You have the responsibility to run this. You should listen to our criticism and take account of it; but it is your decision". However, today the council does not work in that way. It insists on business plans which in certain cases include its own suggestions which are not supported by the directors of the boards of their clients.

Moreover, it puts forward the threat or the incentive—whichever word you like to use—of, "If you don't do this, you won't get that". It puts the boards in impossible situations. For example, the council says, "It is necessary for you to tour the regions". That of course is quite right. However, it does not provide the necessary funds. Therefore, the conflict is there all the time. The arts organisations are failing to get enough money from the Arts Council, which is becoming more bureaucratic and intervening, and interfering with the responsibilities of those who have the ultimate responsibility for the running of such organisations.

In the brief time that I have available to speak I should like to identify three policy issues to which I hope the Government will address their mind. In the post-election era, whoever the Government of the day may be, I hope that the problem will be addressed as a long term one. It is no good thinking that the problem can never be solved and that the arts will always want more. We never look ahead as regards such needs.

The first policy issue is the division of the responsibility between the Arts Council and the Minister of the day. It is ridiculous that an underfunded organisation of national significance and importance should go to the Minister for assistance and he says, "It is nothing to do with me. Go to the chairman of the Arts Council" and then he says, "Don't blame me. I can't do any more. The Minister wants this and that, and I haven't got any more money anyway". It is a classic recipe for bad management: divide responsibility, and blame the other. Successive governments have run the arts with a divided responsibility. There should be one responsibility as regards national institutions for the Minister of the day, and the Arts Council should look after the remainder.

Secondly, I suggest that the Minister of the day does not have sufficient authoritative, or independent non-political and well-informed advice. He does not receive it from the Arts Council for the national institutions, only for the regions, and he certainly does not get it from the Civil Service because it is not trained or qualified to do the job. There needs to be a body or a group which can give him independent advice as to the long-term investment, which is so much the right word to use, in the arts institutions and their revenue needs.

Thirdly, let us end this awful pull between the regions and the centre. They both need more support. It is unreasonable to expect the Arts Council to achieve the impossible balance between the needs of the regions and those of the centre. It should be a ministerial responsibility, well advised, as I said, by independent advice. I had hoped to be able to say something about the museums and galleries. Their position is similar to that of the performing arts. However, I am sorry that time prevents me from so doing.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I am very happy to join in the chorus of praise for the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady James of Holland Park. Not only did I passionately agree with every word she said, but it was nice to find that literature and language were playing their proper parts in the debate. They do not often get as good a showing as that. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Baroness on many occasions.

The noble Baroness, Lady James, started with two problems of capital funding: capital funding for the arts and of course, by definition, capital funding which is necessary to protect our heritage. She mentioned the old problem of the export of works of art. She was also good enough to say that she thought that a national lottery might be a solution to the problem. I am afraid that I shall have to disappoint her by not expounding at length on the subject. However, your Lordships will be much relieved that I shall not yet again ride a hobby-horse—not because I do not believe in it, but simply because I have ridden it too often. However, I shall at least say that there is a solution to the problem of funds. Every arts debate or sports debate which takes place deals with enormous sums of money. A kind of despair sets in. We talk round and round the subject. Were a national lottery to be permitted it does not have to be a state lottery—it would cure many of those problems. It is time that the idea is given a whirl.

Very large sums of money are used in the world of opera as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, knows only too well. I suspect that, during most of his life at the Royal Opera House, he has been dogged by a general assumption in the mind of the public that such large sums of money—they are always the largest in the arts subsidy world—are in some way profligate and slightly scandalous.

I believe that it is time that the world in general, and the Government in particular, recognised—that is, if they have not done so already—that opera is by its nature the most expensive of all the arts. Indeed, it has to be because of the combination of arts it puts together. But when it is working well, I believe that it is the greatest of them. Nevertheless, it requires huge sums of money: and if your are going to do something you might as well do it well. The comparisons with Munich, Paris and half of Italy have been stated too often for me to reiterate. But they recognise that fact and do it properly. We do not yet do so. It does indeed need huge sums of money and much talent.

The Royal Opera House will miss the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. I shall be sorry to see him go. The English National Opera will miss Mr. Peter Jonas, Mr. David Poutney and Mr. Mark Elder very much when they leave their posts which they have indicated they propose to do. However, I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Harewood, will see that they are replaced with people of equal talent, if that is possible. They will certainly be missed.

I believe that the world of opera needs a huge amount of support. I do not know whether the following idea would help the problem, but I believe that it would certainly help to take the curse off these very large sums of money. I refer to a thought that I do not think has been pursued enough. A certain amount of Government money—by which I mean Arts Council money—would be very well invested in promoting the televising of a great deal that the Arts Council subsidises.

Of course, it must be obvious to all of us that the minute we televise something we increase the audience from potential thousands to millions. In terms of value for money, the televising and recording of what the Arts Council subsidises could be enormously valuable, without a huge outlay of money. I believe that there was a time last year when the Arts Council was considering putting aside£1.5 million for that purpose. However, that money was swallowed up in the need for bailing out companies which would have died without assistance. Thank goodness that happened. But, nevertheless, that is not a very large sum of money for the pump-priming operation that I believe would be of enormous benefit to the country. I do not know what the noble Viscount's right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts thinks about that idea because I have not asked him. But I commend it as a thought as to how to make very good use of what is, perhaps, not enough money.

Of course, funding is at the back of all of these debates. I am not surprised that the London Boroughs Grant Scheme has been mentioned. It is rather scandalous that for weeks and months those concerned have been trying to make a budget varying between£28 million and£30 million. The fact that they have spent months and months not being able to agree on the matter is absolutely astonishing. I suppose that we should be grateful that they are actually in the same room disagreeing with each other. That does not always happen. It is a sad situation. Moreover, with the situation of GLA —now disbanded and its replacement not fully in action—London is in a very dicey situation. I know that it is not necessarily the Government's business to sort out the matter. But, even if they are not responsible for it, I hope that they can kick a few bottoms.

I should like to conclude by saying that, wherever the huge sums of money about which I have been talking come from, very small sums of money are needed and should be put towards the most important element of all. I refer to the youth of our arts organisations. It is so difficult for young people to start. If we do not encourage youth, where will the arts of the future be? For example, how does a young conductor start? As it happens, I am administering a scheme which is due to the generosity of Donatella Flick. There is a conducting competition which has as its prize the chance to study in Italy. That is probably even more valuable than money. It will be wonderful. However, if, when the winner comes back from Italy, there are no jobs or support around the nation, what will he do? It is most important for the young to be supported.

There is an organisation called Arts Threshold. It has much enthusiasm and many patrons. I am one of the patrons and the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, is another. However, quite eclipsing both of us, Sir Alec Guinness is a third patron. The organisation could have a home, but it cannot afford the key money to get into it. It has 100 young actors fresh out of acting school and designers fresh out of design school dying to work, dying to show the world what they can do. It is a bright, talented organisation. It has appealed to no fewer than 60 firms and all the funding organisations for small seed money to get itself under way. It is the brightest thing for miles around. It has obtained not a penny. Unless we cure the underfunding of the very seed of our artistic future, we shall not have one.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady James, on her maiden speech. It was truly splendid. The trouble with seven-minute speeches is that none of us says as much in congratulation as we otherwise would. When talking about the arts, people sometimes refer to the provinces. That is very much a London perception. I shall refer to the regions and the artistic life outside London; one which recognises that arts are local because they are the means by which individual communities define, express and profile their sense of place. I hope that I am in no way detracting from the role of the Arts Councils, national and regional, when I say that the regional arts are underpinned by local authorities.

To take the national figures, last year the Arts Council distributed£174 million, plus, of course, the OAL money; business provided£30 million; and local government spent£350 million on arts, galleries, museums and their buildings. To take a regional snapshot of my area (the Eastern area), the Arts Council provided£1.65 million direct to clients. The regional arts provided£2.8 million, business provided£1.5 million and local authorities£17 million. That is a ratio of something like 10:1. Not only is arts funding London-dominated—the ratio at the time of Glory of the Garden was about 5:1 in favour of London, and after Glory of the Garden and Wilding it is about 6:1 —outside London it is sustained by local authorities. Why? As other speakers have said, it is partly because the arts are a significant economic sector in terms of jobs, tourism and inward investment. Firms coming into an area now want to know as much about the cultural infrastructure of the area as its physical infrastructure. Arts have a significant social impact in terms of preparing the long-term unemployed for work; in helping youngsters from deprived inner city communities; and working in hospitals and in schools.

As leader of a local authority I talked to local businessmen about what they would like youngsters of 16 who were not ready for apprenticeships to be taught. I thought that they might say mathematics, but they said drama, and I was much struck by that. They wanted those youngsters to acquire communication skills: the sums would then follow.

If the arts are significant for their economic and social impact, they have an equally important effect on the quality of life of local people. In a myriad of ways, local authorities make that quality of life possible. They make national touring affordable through concessionary pricing. Local authorities support arts centres which help blur the line between the amateur and the professional so that those who live for the arts do not need to live by them. They provide for animateurs and facilitators who draw out talent from local council estates.

In less obvious ways local authorities support a lively night life which make our cities safe at night as well as vital. They enhance the built heritage. In my city of Norwich the local authority helps sustain monastic medieval halls, 30 medieval churches and merchant houses and a Norman castle. All those buildings are in use, primarily because of the arts. Elsewhere we see docks, old breweries, factories, mills and even a former fire station at Oxford revitalised and brought back into use. Local authorities are adopting a percentage for art policy for sculpture, mosaics and fountains so that, as Ruskin reminded us, we help to make the City Beautiful.

Yet what do we see happening to that local government work? In the unholy mess which followed Wilding the role of local authorities on regional arts boards has been snubbed. Their contribution and commitment has been reduced to only one-third, although their funding in their patch may be 10 times that of the regional arts boards. If I were a regional arts board chairman I should want networking and leverage for a regional arts organisation. I should be pulling in those local authorities, not seeking to minimise their role and contribution. Beyond that, we experience the financial constraints on local government. There is compulsory competitive tendering which cuts corners on maintenance of art centres; capital controls which means that my city cannot properly maintain and repair its priceless medieval monastic buildings; the poll tax, which even after a flat rate subsidy has been added to a flat rate tax, remains regressive; and charge-capping by which the very towns and cities most vulnerable to capping are those regional centres which provide the arts for their surrounding areas. Yet because, as other noble Lords have said, arts expenditure is discretionary, it is not bedded into the standard spending assessment upon which grant and capping depend.

As a result, in East Anglia three of the most progressive arts uthorities—Norwich, Ipswich and Basildon—have all been capped, and Cambridge is perilously close to it. Because arts funding is discretionary it becomes a soft target. Theatres are closed it. Basildon. Theatres in Norwich are not rebuilt. Ipswich has lost an arts education officer and Norwich has lost a marketing officer. Dark room facilities have closed in Cambridge. The arts organisations are not just losing direct local authority grants under pressure from capping, they are also losing their ability to contribute towards the incentive and challenge funding of which the Government have rightly made so much. Norwich's regional puppet theatre needs an artistic director, but it was necessary for the local authority's contribution to match that offered by Gulbenkian. It could not, and so the Gulbenkian money is lost.

The best work is done in a partnership in which we lock one mother in to maximise leverage and funding. The cuts occurring as a result of the constraints on local government finance mean that that partnership is going. I hope that the Minister will today accept that local people vote their money for the arts because they know that they represent value for money and add value to the quality of their lives and the life of their communities. I hope that he will recognise that and help us to ring fence the funding in the future.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Rees

My Lords, the debate draws us on to a well-tilled field, but it is a field that is still capable of yielding worthwhile crops. I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Baroness who introduced the debate. It also provided an opportunity for a notably elegant maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear many more in the same vein from the noble Baroness, Lady James. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, confined herself largely to public funding for the arts; a rather limited view of the problems. I hope to have time to return to that point later.

The noble Baroness rightly referred to the loss abroad of the country's artistic assets. I believe that the present control of exports offers a well-conceived balance between the interest of the owner and the national interest and attempts to preserve an open international market. The anomaly is that the licence system is operated by the Department of Trade and Industry, a department for which I have a warm regard because I once served briefly in it. I believe that it would be better operated by the Office of Arts and Libraries, although of course trade policy impinges on that question. We shall have to consider the implications of a full internal market in the European Community at some time. As I said, the scheme would be more sensitively and expeditiously handled by the Office of Arts and Libraries.

When the future of the "Three Graces" was under review, a recent Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was inclined to allow individuals to compete against the prospective foreign purchaser. There are manifest difficulties in that approach, and it needs to be reviewed and gone into a good deal more thoroughly. I am not sure that such an approach is fair to the foreign purchaser and that the national interest will be safeguarded in that way. If that ruling is to continue, I suggest that the United Kingdom purchaser, if successful, should be under an enforceable obligation to give or sell the item in his lifetime, or by his executors at his death, to a national institution.

The weakness of the existing system, as other noble Lords have pointed out, is that few national institutions have the resources at the moment to compete in an international market where prices have gone beyond recognition, way beyond anything we could have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. These national institutions must therefore depend very often on public subscription and, in particular, on the National Heritage Memorial fund. Although sensitively administered —and I am the first to pay tribute to it and it is more generously funded than it was—the fund is not in a position to compete in international terms. It is a matter of huge regret to me that an earlier financial secretary—a man of acute intellect who is happily still with us—submitted to the accepted canons of public accounting. He deprived the National Heritage Memorial Fund of its assets and merely accorded it a notional fund in the public accounts. I believe that that was a great mistake and that as a result the country has suffered.

I know of the many claims on the Government's purse and do not wish to join the ranks of irresponsible claimants attempting to commit the Government to expenditure way beyond their means. However, I believe it would give the National Heritage Memorial Fund a healthy degree of independence and protect the government of the day from the clamour for ever more funds in this field if the fund were to be given independently managed assets.

The noble Baroness who introduced the debate turned to various other priorities: the increase in purchase grants to national institutions and the preservation of the fabric of our great and small museums. She will be well aware that the present Minister for the Arts has already committed himself to making the second of these one of his major priorities.

I am a little anxious to learn from the noble Baroness, or perhaps from the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, when he speaks, exactly how her aspirations are to be comprised in the already formidable list of commitments to which the party which they both adorn has committed itself:£21 billion over 10 years. Perhaps we shall be enlightened in this field in the latter stages of the debate.

The noble Baroness also said little about the role of private support for the arts, except for a graceful tribute to my noble friend Lord Sainsbury in which I am sure we all concur. However, the noble Baroness, and the whole House, should recognise that the Government have, by their fiscal policies, by reducing confiscatory rates of direct taxation and by their relief for charitable giving, done much to stimulate private generosity in this field.

I wish to know, again from the noble Baroness or her noble friend, exactly what the Labour Party's position would be in this sensitive field. Both of them will recognise that the politics of envy do not sit well with private patronage of the arts, both visual and performing. I have to say to them, and to the whole House, that a top rate of 50 per cent. for income tax, 9 per cent. national insurance contribution and an investment income surcharge of 10 per cent., amounting to a total of 69 per cent., smack to me a little of the politics of envy. I believe that the healthy development of the arts, both visual and performing, cannot be sustained by public subvention alone.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady James, on her powerful and eloquent maiden speech, exhibiting the virtues of the English language in which she is skilled and of which she is an advocate. As a fan of her books, perhaps I may say that no doubt she will find the procedures of this House innocently simple compared with the dark complexities of her plots.

I also thank my noble friend Lady Birk for introducing this debate on the arts. We ran around the course, or parts of it, three months ago, led by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Nevertheless, the subject is of such importance in our society that it justifies further examination. Some artistic institutions have run into further financial difficulty over this period. I start with finance because finance, or the lack of it, is at the heart of the problem. It has often been stated in the House, but must be repeated until something is done, that public expenditure on the arts in the United Kingdom is shamefully low. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, that that is not a party point, it applies to governments of all parties.

At about 0.3 per cent. of all public expenditure, central and local, the expenditure is one of the lowest in the advanced world. It is roughly half the EC average and about one-third that of comparable countries such as France and Germany. This miserable public contribution means that United Kingdom artistic institutions are forced to find a higher percentage of revenues from the box office, with inevitable consequences for seat prices. Socially, that shuts out the less prosperous parts of our population—which is bad—even though they contribute to the arts through income tax.

Perhaps the most depressing recent aspect of the arts situation is at the local level, of which my noble friend Lady Hollis spoke with such knowledge. Although local authority support is central to our national artistic life, as she said, historically our local authorities, with rare and honourable exceptions such as the old LCC, have not properly met their full responsibilities to the local arts.

In the post-war decades, when money was easier, local authorities spent too little. In more recent years the squeeze on local authority expenditure meant that they had neither the resources nor the will to meet their obligations. Consequently, we have seen the refurbished Grand Opera House in York forced to close. In Basildon, the Townsgate Theatre is under threat of closure; in Liverpool the Playhouse has been rescued from the brink of bankruptcy. Noble Lords will each know of casualties in their own neighbourhoods.

Perhaps I may say a little more about London of which the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, spoke so impressively. In London, the uncertainties about arts expenditure, especially under the London Boroughs Grant Committee scheme, have created absolute chaos for a wide range of artistic activities. For some it is proving fatal. Basically, apart from the problem of leaving announcement of the grants until damagingly late, the financial provision for arts in London has been seriously reduced. The LBGC has apparently cut the percentage of its budget for the arts—which I believe is already reduced—from 10 per cent. last year to 8 per cent. this year. The Arts Council grant to Greater London arts has been raised by only 2i per cent. in nominal terms, which represents a serious real cut.

These reductions are already biting hard. The final financial arrangements and their artistic consequences are not yet absolutely clear. However, it seems that over 20 institutions are seriously threatened by the cuts. The Kings Head and the Almeida Theatres in Islington face imminent closure. The Albany Empire Theatre in Greenwich, the Oval House in Lambeth, Tara Arts in Wandsworth and the Royal Court have been hit by the cuts. The Museum of London has been forced to disband its entire archaeology department.

These are not lunatic fringe groups of the kind which inhabit the fantasies of the Right-wing press. They are respected institutions, contributing greatly to the cultural life of London. There is clearly a major crisis in the funding of the arts in London. I ask the Minister what the Government will do about it before a number of valued artistic institutions disappear.

There are many other important issues on which I have little time to touch. Other speakers have put forward impressive arguments, especially for the need to provide capital for the structural renewal of our arts buildings. It is pointless arguing about a small percentage in the current grant if the museum or theatre is falling down. Despite the magnificent contributions of the Sainsbury family and the Clore Foundation to the National Gallery and the Tate respectively, sponsorship can never provide support on a national scale, especially during a recession of this kind. Sponsorship should be seen as a valuable and welcome increment to, but not a substitute for, public funding.

As regards the export of works of art, we obviously must think again about the adequacy of Britain's laws to retain important works of art. We must provide the financial resources to retain them. The acquisition budgets of our institutions are completely inadequate. I believe they have risen by only some 13 per cent. in the past six years. They need more money to enter the marketplace as they currently cannot compete for major works of art. Art which was bequeathed to us by the creative genius of the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries cannot be replaced today. We have an obligation both to treasure the genius of our ancestors and also to pass it on to the generations to come.

We are not discussing some elite sector of minority interest. The arts in the wide variety of forms which should be encouraged to flourish in Britain provide pleasure for millions as spectators and participants. At the material level, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, correctly stated, the arts sector is estimated to contribute£6 billion to the country's overseas earnings through tourism and revenues from live and recorded performances. That is on a par with the oil industry. At the highest cultural level, the arts provide a dimension which lifts the whole quality of our society. We should give the arts the support they deserve

4.21 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady James, on her articulate and confident maiden speech. It was a delight to hear and an example to us all. I wish I could speak for longer about the maiden speech but I am afraid I cannot spare the noble Baroness any more time out of my seven minutes. I am pinched to say what I want to say.

I wish to talk about two theatres in particular. The Townsgate Theatre in Basildon has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I shall refer also to the Almeida Theatre. The Townsgate Theatre is an efficiently run theatre. I have just spoken to the director who certainly knows what he is doing. The theatre is a receiving house offering a high standard of entertainment of all kinds. Recently it has offered the English Shakespeare Company, the Supremes, Opera 80, Ajido—an African dance company and a production of "Fireman Sam" for children. If that does not represent variety, I should like to know what does.

The theatre is run by an independent company at arms length from Basildon council. The theatre also receives some support from Essex County Council and from Eastern Arts. The theatre has been active in self-help measures. Last year, through the box office, conferences, sales and catering, the theatre raised£1.3 million. Eleven days before the end of the financial year, the theatre was informed by Basildon council that the council's grant of£350,000 was to be cut entirely. One realises that such grants are discretionary, but an agreement had been reached with the council that for a period of three years the theatre should receive a grant of£450,000. Last year it was reduced to£350,000; now it has been reduced to nothing.

The theatre decided to mount an enormous rescue operation. In two weeks it collected 8,000 signatures. Over 1,000 letters were dispatched to the leader of the council. The theatre has now been given funding until the end of June while the council appeals against poll tax capping. That is all the theatre knows. What kind of a business like enterprise can one run in those circumstances? How can a theatre budget when it suddenly has a promised£350,000 removed?

The Almeida Theatre in Islington, which was formerly a receiving house featuring a music festival, was taken over at the beginning of last year by two actors, Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid. They converted the theatre into a producing house and seem to be enjoying enormous success. They concentrate on international contemporary theatre and little performed classics. At the moment they are offering Dryden's version of the Antony and Cleopatra story, "All for Love". They are also offering a new translation of Wedekind's "LuLu" and Harold Pinter's "Betrayal". I am assured that such productions appeal not just to the well heeled. The theatre offers a cheap night on Monday and concessionary rates for students, the unemployed and old-age pensioners. On certain nights those groups may see the best productions in the best seats for£5.50 or£6.50.

Besides corporate sponsorship and box office takings, the theatre receives public funding from Greater London Arts of£226,000. It receives£54,000 from the London boroughs grants scheme—I hardly dare mention its name—and a smaller amount from Islington council. On 27th March—four days before the end of the month—the theatre was told, with four days' notice, that its grant of£54,000 from the London boroughs grants scheme had been cut entirely. The theatre is appealing against that decision and launching a major appeal. If it should have to close, 35 full-time staff would lose their jobs and certain restaurants in the neighbourhood of the theatre would close down as it would not be worth their while opening in the evenings when there is no theatre.

Your Lordships will know that this is happening everywhere. A number of theatres where this situation has occurred, or where it is threatened, have already been mentioned and there is no point in repeating them. The Lyric, Hammersmith, is one such theatre. The London boroughs grants scheme has already been torn to shreds in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I need not add to that except to say that that body is the guilty party in the case I am referring to. Some 80 arts groups funded by the scheme will receive nothing until the budget is finally set. Meanwhile the various political interests in that group squabble among themselves. Some eight companies face immediate closure as a result of cuts already announced, including the King's Head Theatre.

Over the past few years, arts organisations—I am talking about the theatre in particular—great and small, have made enormous strides in self-help. They have made enormous advances in obtaining business sponsorship, in letting their premises, in providing catering facilities and in many entrepreneurial adventures. I believe that most of those organisations must have personnel who are responsible for marketing. I have met one or two of those people and I was very impressed.

Arts organisations are no longer the airy-fairy, irresponsible, profligate bodies they were once depicted as being, coming with their begging bowls to the Arts Council. That has all changed. There have to be some good hard business heads in most of these organisations. I give the example of the Almeida Theatre. I rang the theatre and by the first post this morning I received an admirable glossy publication inviting me to the performance of "All for Love". Perhaps I should declare an interest in the theatre in that case.

But what can theatres do in these circumstances? How can they budget or run a business faced with such sudden and arbitrary swingeing cuts ordained by local authorities and by the appalling London boroughs grants scheme? No other kind of business could possibly be expected to run on that basis. Something must be done. The theatres are doing all they can. It is for the Government to step in and clear up a situation which at the moment is producing chaos.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady James, I wish to promise her that I shall line up behind her in any campaign she may wage on behalf of the spoken or written word. During our previous debate on this subject I was reminded of an old theatre manager in Manchester who used to divide his audience into three categories. He mentioned the cognoscenti and illuminati. Both those categories were represented in that debate. We had the cognoscenti who knew all about the administration of the arts and we had the illuminati who were pressing for special noble causes such as an opera or an orchestra. But nobody spoke on behalf of the third group, those who pay to go in; the ordinary customer. I want to speak for them today.

There is available to me outside the treasure house of the West End, around my south-western suburb, more high art than I have time, taste or money for and a lot of it is sustained, I suspect, by public subsidy. By how much I do not know, because theatres do not advertise, "Thanks to the local council you are getting two seats for the price of one and the council pays the rest." Political parties are very coy about talking of their generosity towards the arts for fear of incurring an adverse philistine vote.

But I am most grateful for what I am offered. This week the advertisements in my local newspaper invite me to Ibsen's "Enemy of the People"; the English Shakespeare Company in extracts from "The Wars of the Roses"; Sheridan's "The Rivals" and Brecht's parable on the rise of Hitler. There are also two or three new plays, including a Russian one at our brand new theatre in Richmond.

The music includes Mozart's Requiem and his Don Giovanni; an orchestra playing Grieg, Bach and Copland; and a group of singers performing Haydn, Poulenc and Mozart. All this is only a sample. The visual arts are rather less rich.

What now I fear is that our suburban riches are being eroded. I began to worry when the Greater London Council was wantonly destroyed by Mrs. Thatcher's government, and I regarded the Government's assurances that the arts would not suffer as mere blandishments. I admit that perhaps I was too suspicious. I could not believe that the residuary body, the London Boroughs Grants Committee, would be an enlightened and generous patron, or that the London Regional Arts Association could provide full compensation. But they have not done quite so badly yet as the current riches of suburban arts would indicate. The problem is to keep it up and it is an immediate problem, as we have heard this afternoon that there are very grave things in prospect in London arts.

For several months the borough grants committee has been wrestling to agree a budget and has only just done so. The decision requires a two-thirds majority and I am told that the outer boroughs were reluctant to find money which would be disproportionately spent on the inner boroughs. The Greater London Council had two funds. One was for the arts and the other was to fund the voluntary bodies who provide specialist welfare. The grants scheme has only one fund. In hard times like the present, it has to choose between life enriching art and desperately needed life sustaining welfare and advice. So the amount allocated to the arts seems to have fallen from£3 million to£2 million with the dire results about which the noble Lord has just told us.

The problem of local authority contributions to the arts is not purely a London problem. If you include live entertainment with the arts, you find that the total spent by local authorities is equal to that spent by the Arts Council. We are all familiar with the turmoil, uncertainty and confusion of local authority finance as the Government clumsily play with their revenue raising capabilities. It does not seem to me to be at all possible that they will go on operating 260 theatres, 100 concert halls and 50 arts centres, nor to go on giving a subsidy to running costs to the extent of about£3 a seat. The local authorities are under no duty to support the arts and so no part of this expenditure attracts government support.

The Audit Commission has investigated local authority expenditure on the arts and has come up with a Set of wise maxims. It is, of course, right that local authorities should have clear objectives and should monitor what they achieve: Such needs"— said the commission— have been accentuated by the introduction of the community charge". It can say that again. What the commission recognises is that every artistic venture requires a certain amount of faith. All certainty disappears before the box office.

I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether he or the regional arts associations are monitoring what is happening to local authority projects. If so, are they satisfied that institutions valuable to the community are not at great risk? If they are at risk, what do the Government intend to do about it?

I should welcome it if this debate could be broadered, if somebody could write dispassionately about the situation in words and with a minimum of figures; if someone could produce something better than the arid cultural trends and the report of the Office of Arts and Libraries. All I can say about the latter is that it is beautifully printed and abominably written. I hope that the noble Viscount will tell his Minister about that.

4.35 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, first I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, on having the luck of the draw which enables us to hear a very good speech not only from her but from many others in your Lordships' House. But, above all, there was the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady James. She used a sentence which might well be sent to the Minister for the Arts and others for them always to remember. She said that without the arts and literature, life would be a desert. Many of your Lordships have spoken on that theme. I cannot say how right I think it is.

I shall not talk on the performing arts or on literature. I shall talk on works of art as such. The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, said he thought that all the "stars" of the works of art have been saved for the nation over past years. I wish that that were the case. I shall not quote a list of things which were lost, but I beg h m to read the report of the Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art, which comes out annually and tells the tragic story of what is escaping us. Whether we are talking about works of art, whether we are talking about literature, whether we are talking about the performing arts, money is at the heart of it all. There will never be enough money.

I want to say a word of praise of the Government in relation to their help in getting the structures, the buildings which house the various museums, into a better form. For far too long they have been neglected, but considerable work is now being done and we ought to recognise that. Perhaps as a sequel the money available for the purchase of works of art or anything like that will be that much less.

The question then arises: are we sure that we are making the most effective use of the money? About three weeks ago there was a conference at Ditchley. Its title was: Museums and Galleries; Collecting, Funding and Protecting the Heritage. That was a very remarkable gathering. Forty of the great and good from the museums of seven different countries were there, and I suggest that if any of your Lordships are interested it would be very easy to get a synopsis of what was said at that meeting, which was very ably presided over by Sir Richard Luce.

I want to touch generally on the subject of whether works of art should stay in this country or should go out of it, and how they are to be protected. The year 1992 looms, and in theory works of art or anything else in Europe will then be able to move from one country to another without restriction. But it will not happen. We know already that some countries have an embargo. The result is that people who buy, smuggle out works of art. Some, like the French—and I think the Italians—have a system of pre-emption. They announce it beforehand and that is not fair to the individual.

So what are we to do? As I said earlier, we should make sure that our system is effective. How can we do that? What has been called for frequently over the past year is essential; namely, that we should set up a working party which has political clout. By that, I mean not just an in-house job, but one again presided over by an eminent judge like Lord Waverley. Everyone recognises that the Waverley criteria work well, but there are many other features which do not work and which creak. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, indicated several of them. I could go into detail about them; but it is not the time to do so.

As systems develop through which we receive money for the arts from government, that money comes more and more in a centralised way and less goes to the museums themselves. I am not sure that that is the right policy. I am not criticising the work of the National Heritage Memorial Fund because we all know what a splendid job it does. However, it is pretty discouraging if the allowances to the museums remain the same year in, year out and works of art go up five or 10 times. A working party should take a look at that matter, particularly the question of whether we should have more for the museums to spend. When they make an appeal, if they can put up only a tenth or a twentieth of the money, you do not feel that they are serious; but, if there is a good deal of money and they have pledged a large amount, they are much more likely to get the right things.

The Ditchley meeting touched on other interesting and important subjects. It referred to the question of more lending between museums. There is a problem there for the Government regarding insurance. It referred to stolen and smuggled goods and to the totally different system in Europe. Those are important points which should be considered by any working party.

I have only one minute more and then I must stop. I beg the Government to consider setting up a serious body with real clout, consisting of members from all parties, to consider the matter before 1992. Such a body has often been called for, but nothing has happened. Should it be the responsibility of the ministry for the arts or of the Department of Trade? Those questions must be answered. I hope that my plea will not go unheeded.

4.43 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I want to speak from a regional perspective. The 1989–90 annual report of the Yorkshire Arts Association—the final report before the regional association is succeeded by the Yorkshire and Humberside Arts Board—indicates tremendous vitality and creativity embracing both the traditional and the new ethnic cultures of the region, despite the continual struggle to maintain resources. However, just as there seems to be an inevitable conflict between the allocation of funds for national prestige projects and regional projects, so too there is a dichotomy between support for the highly visible or popular which attracts publicity and generates funding and the small, struggling companies and community arts.

Yorkshire has its flagships. It has Opera North, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the National Film and Photographic Library and now the Yorkshire Dance Centre, as one of the national dance agencies, to mention only a few. It also has a multiplicity of professional, amateur and community groups which are the basis of the continual growth and development of the arts in the country.

It is a fallacy to suggest that the arts are the preserve of a privileged minority, as the noble Baroness, Lady James of Holland Park, said in her exceptional maiden speech. The arts are the heritage of us all. I am glad to say that there is evidence in my region of an ever-increasing proportion of the population both participating in and enjoying the arts.

I should like to give three illustrations of that participation. Yorkshire has around 80 professional theatre companies, some 60 of which are struggling on the breadline and some of which—for example, the York Grand Opera Company—have gone under. Some of the smaller companies often subsidise much of the new and more experimental work which we all agree is important to do. Those companies do it by paying themselves well below the accepted rates because of their commitment to the work and to art. They also take the theatre into the community. Mind the Gap, a company based in Bradford, works with the physically and mentally disabled. Its objective is not just to entertain, but to go into day and residential centres and involve the disabled people themselves in providing theatre.

Then there is community art and the environment. An example here is Silkstone Village in the Barnsley metropolitan district which realised that it no longer had parish boundary markers. A steering group was therefore set up and, together with a local sculptor, a plan was established to create 16 unique sculptures as markers, each representing an aspect of Silkstone life, past and present, fact and fiction. That project is now well under way.

Thirdly, there are several groups which take both theatre and the arts into schools. This latter category has a particular problem which is referred to in the annual report of Yorkshire Arts. The report states: Local Management of Schools … has fundamentally altered our relationship with schools. It means we can no longer rely on the single relationship developed with a local education authority, and now have to find a new way of working which can encompass the region's 2,500 schools. And, worryingly, as schools are now beginning to manage their own finances, there is growing evidence to suggest that their spending on the arts—on residencies, visiting artists, trips to the theatre and so on—may come under threat, because of a severe shortage of cash in the education world". The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, would deplore that.

There should not need to be that dichotomy as to where funding should go. The arts represent an enormous industry for both the domestic and the international market. Consequently, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, investment in the arts is both an investment in the economy —and, incidentally, an investment in the largest job market of the economy—and an enrichment of life for individuals and the community. It is an expanding market which requires an expanding investment. Instead, we have in effect a contracting investment because recent funding levels from central government have only kept arts organisations up with prevailing levels of inflation and unfortunately do not represent any significant increase in real terms. Moreover, throughout the 1980s arts organisations have worked hard to develop business plans and marketing strategies at the Government's behest.

The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, complained that the Arts Council was not keeping itself at arm's length. I suggest that the Government are not keeping themselves at arm's length either. They are forcing the arts associations to adopt strategies which are not appropriate to the arts. I should like to develop that aspect but time does not permit.

I end by saying that it may not be fashionable for the Government to think in terms of increased funding and investment in a public enterprise, but government funding and investment in the arts is very necessary.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, debates on the arts in your Lordships' House are not exactly conspicuous by their absence, but we need not apologise for that. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has the House in her debt for having initiated the debate, which has been richly enhanced by the outstanding maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady James of Holland Park, whose literary efforts are well known in many parts of the world.

Ironically, this debate is to be followed by a debate on the National Health Service, with which I have a rather closer connection than with the arts. We are crying out for funds for the National Health Service too. We are crying out for funds for overseas aid and other things. The agonising problem which all governments have to face is to decide where the arts fall within those priorities. In one of the debates in which I have spoken, in over 30 years' experience in your Lordships' House, I coined a rather philistine phrase—"penicillin before Puccini". As one who is a Puccini addict and has also benefited from penicillin I believe that that is relevant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, reminded us of the regional arts and the fact that the arts exist north of Watford and south of Wimbledon. I am very much involved with the Thorndyke Theatre in Leatherhead. I was a trustee when the theatre was first built and opened by that marvellous actress, Dame Sybil Thorndyke, who took part in the first play in the new theatre. There was a time when local authorities were mandated to pay a 6d rate to their local theatres. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can give any information on that.

I should also like to say a word about Scotland, where I was brought up. It has two very fine theatres —the Perth Repertory Theatre, which is very near to my home part of the world, and the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. I also speak as a member of the all-party parliamentary committee on tourism. Pitlochry relies very much on tourism. It presents some splendid plays, concerts and recitals. We must get out of our heads the very philistine point of view that it is only in London that there are splendid examples of the arts.

I have been once to the Maltings at Snape in East Anglia since it was rebuilt after being burned down to see a wonderful performance of the Bach Christmas oratorio. I do not know whether that theatre receives any central or regional funding. We have to bear that point very much in mind.

As my noble friend the Minister reminded me, this debate does not deal with opera. However, I should like to Point out that one of the problems with the arts in this country concerns the buildings. One has only to go, as I did some years ago, behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden—which I believe is to close for a while—to see the appalling conditions, even for leading singers. The English National Opera company, which I think is one of the finest opera companies and which is still very reasonable, is in a similar position.

I end with one, not intentionally facetious, suggestion for Her Majesty's Government. When overseas parliamentarians come here as guests of the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—and I declare an interest as a member of both organisations—there are many places where they can be taken. I remember that some years ago my wife and I hosted a visit to the English National Opera to hear David Hughes—now since passed on—singing Pinkerton in "Madame Butterfly". It was a marvellous evening. The English National Opera company could be helped by government hospitality, and if that is giving it a puff, so be it. Guests could be taken to opera, sung in English, and performed by British stars—and I say British deliberately. They could enjoy a marvellous evening. Even in times when funding for the arts creates problems—and all governments recognise that —that would provide some help for the arts of this country. which have so much to offer.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, we have had a most interesting and informative debate—so far. Its highlight for me has been the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady James of Holland Park. Long may she follow the devices and desires of her own heart when they lead her to speak with such authority.

The words "museums" and "art galleries" have surfaced fitfully from time to time. Perhaps I may for a few moments invite the concern and sympathy of noble Lords for the Cinderellas of the museum world, the "provincials"—the local authority museums and the independents, some 3,000 of them, from Truro to Wick—and particularly for the area museum councils, the AMCs, which guide, help, advise and fund them with a few pennies where they can.

There are nine area museum councils covering the whole of Great Britain, plus an embryo one, pecking at the shell, in Northern Ireland. They were set up in the late fifties and sixties. They are funded by government through the Museums and Galleries Commission, of which until last December I had the great honour to be chairman.

Throughout the eighties, in one annual report after another, the commission implored the Government to double the extremely modest grant to the area museum councils. In 1984 the commission produced a special area council review under Sir Arthur Drew, which reiterated the request. The Government did not do so, have not done so and show no sign whatever of doing so now. Why not? They will argue, of course, that they have done their best and that they have enabled the commission to increase the AMC grant this year by no less than 15 per cent. on average. However, that cannot make up in any way for a decade of neglect, benign complacency and inflation.

The area museum councils are staffed by first-rate museum professionals. There is an absolute minimum of bureaucracy. Several consist virtually of a genius, a secretary, a telephone and a motorbike. In terms of value for money, it would be almost impossible to match the service which they provide nationwide. They are, and for decades have been, a shining example to the rest of Europe, which has nothing like them and looks at them with great jealousy.

The area museum councils themselves are in the business of helping museums to help themselves. Their grants are all 50 per cent. or less. Their services and their grants are all massively oversubscribed, in some cases by a factor of 10. If their money were doubled in any one year they could use it to magnificent advantage.

There can be no doubt, because the commission has investigated them carefully, that the AMCs are lean and efficient organisations and that they could use every penny of an increased government grant to help museums improve their public services and their care of collections. For example, the AMCs are developing help with museums' education, in particular with smaller museums which do not have specialist museum education staff. The area museum service for South-East England is developing a London museums education unit to help London's 300 non-national museums.

Secondly, the AMCs can help with better public displays. The councils are anxious to deploy their expertise to encourage and help member museums to brighten up their public displays and take them out of dusty cases, as the Audit Commission report has recently called for. I give as an example Devizes Museum in that lovely little place in Wiltshire. It has an internationally important prehistoric collection. It deserves more visitors but simply cannot deploy its collection in the way that it should. The same could be said for Leeds City Museum, Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Gallery or the Somerset County Museum at Taunton.

Thirdly, the area museum councils wish to do far more to help member museums to widen their audience through special schemes to attract groups within the community who do not traditionally visit museums and to provide special services and facilities for people with disabilities. The area museum service for South-East England recently published a non-visitor survey which asked such questions as, "Who are the people who do not go to museums? Why do they not go?" People described museums they had visited as "dingy places with different kinds of bits". That indicates that there is a long way to go to interest some sections of the community in the museums and art galleries of our country.

Fourthly, on research and cataloguing, the AMCs have made huge efforts to encourage the documentation of museums' collections. The University Museums Group is meeting in Newcastle today. The AMCs have been undertaking a nationwide survey of university collections.

Finally, on training, the area museum councils' training officers have developed a lively and imaginative pattern of training activities for museum staff of all grades and for volunteers. Much more could be done to meet the booming demand, especially with regard to the volunteer-run museum where training has to be informal and on site.

The vital importance of area museum councils is stressed again in the most recent MGC report issued last month, entitled Local Authorities and Museums. The chairman of the working party which produced the report, Professor John Last, a most knowledgeable man on all matters concerned with local authorities and a member of the Museums and Galleries Commission, reiterates once again Recommendation 37 of the report which states: We recommend that AMCs should have their current level of funding doubled by 1995". I hope that the Minister will tell me that that will be so.

Professor Last said that central government needs to be more aware of the far-reaching effects of its policy changes and that local authorities should have properly considered, written-down policies towards the museums in their care. He calls for a more realistic level of challenge funding to enable museums to be more effective in fending for themselves.

I am not optimistic that the Government will hear his call. However, there will be a general election before too long. Therefore, to the AMCs, the museums and galleries, the theatres and the orchestras, I can only say in the words of that under-rated poet Philip Paul Bliss: Hold the fort: for [we are] coming".

5.3 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has initiated the debate today on a most important subject. I am happy to reply on behalf of the Government. However, first I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady James, on her elegant and excellent maiden speech. I hope that my words will be as good as hers or I fear that I may soon be a victim in her next book. I hope not. In any event, we look forward very much to hearing her speak often in the House in the future.

The Government are proud of their record in supporting the arts. In the current financial year total central government support for the living arts, the museums and galleries and libraries will total£561 million. That means a cash increase of 13 per cent. on 1990–91, itself a record year. With inflation now falling rapidly, the 1991–92 uplift means a real terms increase in support of over 5 per cent. If we compare current provision with what it was in 1979–80, we have seen over that period an increase in support of 55 per cent. in real terms. In other words, once inflation has been taken into account, the money which the Government put into support of the arts is now worth half as much again as it was in 1979.

The debate has raised a great many issues. In replying, I have only time to touch on some of the main areas. I should like to start by saying something about the arts in general. This is a matter of keen interest to your Lordships. We had a lively and well informed debate in February. The arts are one of our most precious national assets and in range and quality they are the equal of any in the world. But we must never be complacent about the health of the arts in this country. Nonetheless, the justifiable concerns that we all share should not be allowed to crowd out the good news—a point made by my noble friend Lord Crathorne.

There has been much good news in the few weeks since we last debated the arts. The City of Birmingham has opened its new Symphony Hall. It has turned out fully to meet all the high expectations we had of it. The Royal Shakespeare Company is now back again at the Barbican with a very substantial uplift of 30 per cent. in its funding from the Arts Council and a most generous contribution from the City of London worth£4 million over the next three years. The Royal Opera House has been able to announce a tremendously successful season and that has made major inroads into its deficit. The Welsh National Opera is now on a secure financial footing which will enable it to expand its repertoire and continue to give much pleasure from its touring. Equally, as a result of the enhancement fund introduced by the Arts Council this year, Opera North has had its grant increased by 40 per cent. and it too faces a much more secure financial future. Close by, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, after a very successful first season, is now benefiting from a grant increase of £160,000 which has been very generously matched by the local authorities. Those are just a few examples. I could mention others: the successful resolution of the financial difficulties of the Liverpool Playhouse, the commitment to build an Opera House in Edinburgh, and so on.

I mentioned earlier the overall increases in the Government's support for the arts, the museums and galleries and libraries. If we look in a little more detail at increases in funding for the arts alone, the figures are perhaps even more impressive. In just over two years the Arts Council grant has gone up by 25 per cent. Over the past 20 years arts spending has almost doubled in real terms. It has to be said that keeping pace with the growth in arts organisations is not easy, even within a budget for arts support that has grown so substantially. From small beginnings, the Arts Council's budget of £194 million now supports 70 major revenue clients as well as many more who receive annual grants or project funding.

The Government remain committed to strong continuing support for the arts. We believe that the stability which this offers has played a major role in helping to sustain the growth and present health of the arts in this country. The figures I have given convincingly make that case.

I should like to make a number of further, fundamental, points. First, across the whole range of government expenditure programmes there will invariably and inevitably be claims of underfunding. That is not new. The public purse—filled from taxpayers' pockets—is far from bottomless, and successive governments have had to review priorities, make hard choices and take difficult decisions. Secondly, over the past decade or so the sustained growth across all of the art forms has generated an enormous increase in interest, demand and expectations. In response, the Government have played their own role to great effect by increasing the real level of support. But that is only one, albeit a most important, element. We firmly share the widely held view that in our own society, with its liberal culture, it would neither be right nor possible for central government to be the monopoly funder. The challenge must also be met by the community as a whole: by local authorities, the public, businesses and private patrons—of whom the Sainsbury Foundation is one of the most generous benefactors.

We have therefore been concerned to encourage greater diversity in the sources of support for the arts. In particular, this Government have given a strong lead in encouraging sponsorship of the arts. Since the Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme was launched in 1984 it has brought nearly £40 million into support of the arts, including a government contribution of £13 million. One thousand eight hundred first time sponsors have received an award under this scheme. A high percentage of those have continued to sponsor the arts.

The Government have, however, noted with concern that not all support for the arts has remained as stable as their own. As has been pointed out, the local authorities are also very important funding agents of the arts. In all they contribute about £200 million a year, broadly equivalent to the Arts Council's own contribution. A number of noble Lords have already referred to the pressures on local authority expenditure. We are all well aware of these but there is a continuing need for local authority spending to be carefully controlled. In some cases that has required the Government to introduce charge capping.

Arts spending is not mandatory and at the end of the day it is for individual local authorities to determine the levels of support that they provide. But it does not automatically follow that local authorities have been obliged to reduce their spending on the arts. When local authorities are tightly run and have their priorities right there is no reason for the arts to be singled out for cuts. Overall, the pattern is by no means uniform. Indeed, some authorities have increased their expenditure. Others have assumed that cuts in spending on the arts are the easy way out. I do not believe that that is so. Local authority support for the arts not only helps to improve the quality of life by making the arts more accessible to everyone but it can also help to attract visitors, business and inward investment.

We have at the moment some outstanding examples of local authorities which have made it clear that they see substantial support for the arts as an essential part of their civic responsibility and as a generator of economic well-being. I have already mentioned Birmingham which contributed so much to the realisation of the new Symphony Hall. It has also generously helped to establish the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in its splendid new home there and has provided a base for the D'Oyly Carte. But, equally, Glasgow has now put itself firmly on the map through its ambitious and wide-ranging programme of arts activities. Last year it was the EC City of Culture and it has continued to support the arts and the magnificent museum and galleries in the city. It, too, has opened a new concert hall in the past year. I have also mentioned Leeds and the West Yorkshire authorities which have done so much recently to make the city a lively centre for some of the best arts organisations in the country. But not all local authorities have taken the same enlightened view.

Your Lordships are already aware of the serious threat to the future of the Bristol Old Vic as a result of inadequate local support. Short-sighted decisions by Derbyshire Council not only to cut support for the arts but to sell off precious assets have also hit the headlines. Close to home we have seen the long drawn-out unhappy tale of the London boroughs grants scheme arts-funding decisions this year. I shall return to that matter in a moment. The Government regret this instability in certain areas of local authority funding. At the same time we cannot accept that wherever a local authority reduces its provision the Arts Council must make good the shortfall. Its budget is already tightly committed. Wherever possible it uses its own funds to generate additional support from others.

The noble Baroness and other noble Lords already referred to the London boroughs grants scheme. The Government have been most anxious about what has happened this year. Recent events have confirmed that the present arrangements are not working as they were intended and are unnecessarily putting at risk important arts activities. A budget has now been set, but the Government regret the delay in reaching decisions on levels of grant which were so eagerly awaited by the scheme's clients. Beyond that we are concerned about the apparent lack of co-ordination with funding decisions taken by other bodies such as the Greater London Arts Association and the Arts Council itself. Regretfully, we have had to conclude that the scheme is not working well. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has as a result decided to include the future operations of the London boroughs grants scheme in his review of local government. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts is in close touch with the Secretary of State for the Environment about future arrangements which will help to ensure a more stable and better co-ordinated environment for the funding of arts organisations in the capital.

Before turning to the important points that have been made about the heritage I should like to say a few words about government support for the museums and galleries. They too have benefited from increases in real terms in government support. In the current financial year £181 million will be devoted to maintaining our museums and galleries. That is an increase of 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. We have an important stock of national museums and galleries in this country. Many of the buildings in which our great collections are housed are magnificent in themselves. However, they are old and extremely costly to maintain. The Government have set as one of their major objectives that the buildings of the national museums and galleries should be completely renovated by the end of the decade. As a result extra resources are going to that ambitious programme. During the next three years the allocation for it will be in excess of £188 million.

Consistent with their other policies the Government have also been active in encouraging wider private sponsorship of both national local museums and galleries. Through the Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund the Government are matching the generous contribution made by the Wolfson Foundation. All in all this will mean an extra £12 million in the three years from 1991–92 for major refurbishment projects in exhibition and display galleries throughout the country. The British Museum, the National Gallery, Sir John Soane's Museum together with facilities in Newcastle, Oxford, Huddersfield, Truro, Worcester, Cambridge, Bournemouth and Scunthorpe—I sound like a British Rail announcer—are already benefiting.

The programme for the museums and galleries is going ahead at a time when we are also involved in a major construction project; that is the building of the new British Library at St. Pancras. We are on target to complete the first stage of the work by 1993 at a total cost of £300 million. A completion phase for the project has also been agreed at a further cash cost of £150 million. Partial occupation of the building will begin in July this year and the entire facility is due to be completed and fully operational by 1996. The new British Library will be the largest publicly-funded cultural building to be completed in this country this century. Once ready and open it will be a major national asset of which we can all be justifiably proud.

As your Lordships will be aware, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to announce in his Budget statement that discussions were taking place designed to lead to the setting up of a new foundation for the arts and sport. This is to be funded jointly by contributions from the pools promoters and from the proceeds of a reduction in the pools betting levy. Current estimates are that in total that could provide the new foundation with some £60 million annually. Discussions with the pools companies are continuing and detailed arrangements for the operation of the foundation have still to be worked out. I am sure noble Lords will agree with me that once established the foundation will help to augment the range of funding already available in this country for the arts.

I now turn to the heritage. Your Lordships have expressed deep anxiety that our controls on the export of our national cultural heritage appear to be breaking down with the increasing loss overseas of pre-eminent works of art and other national treasures. What lies at the heart of this current concern? In four words it is lack of unlimited money. As I have already said, in relation to the performing arts all areas of public expenditure will always claim to be under-funded. Charges of allowing market forces and high auction prices to prevail, without any significant extra commitment of resources to allow our public institutions a chance to compete in this particular market place, have been laid at the Government's door. Perhaps I may quote an extract from representations made by the Reviewing Committee on the Export Works of Art from 1957–58. It stated: We make no apology for repeating the argument on these matters set out in our last three Reports … that a level of purchase grants consonant with current price levels is a fundamental requirement". Your Lordships will understand that money has always been a problem and it still is.

I suggest that we each of us would wish to keep in this country a variety of important heritage objects and we have the reviewing committee to thank for its professional and meticulous identification of the very best. I pay tribute to the successive chairmen who have given their time and talents to this task, not least the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who always can be relied on to remind this House of the important contribution the committee makes to saving the heritage.

Each year decisions on funding, often hard decisions, must be taken. These must have regard to general economic pressures, and to particular crises, such as war, or social and health funding. No choice between competing claims is ever easy.

I must draw to your Lordships' attention, and underline, the record of this Government as regards funding the heritage. We have not been backward in making extra resources available. Since its creation in 1980, the National Heritage Memorial Fund has received £111.6 million enabling it to spend, by April 1991, some £132.4 million. This presents tremendous value for money. The range of things saved, from bats and butterflies to major houses and their contents, as well as individual works of art, represents a great deal more than that £132.4 million.

As a signal of our commitment, the Government have this year quadrupled the annual grant to the fund to £12 million. We have also increased the grants to the various heritage bodies funded by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, to £174 million—an increase of nearly 16 per cent.

However, this is not the whole story, by any means. In addition to these grants, given primarily to assist with the purchase or restoration of items threatened with export or destruction, there exist a number of tax concessions created by the Government to support the heritage. Perhaps I may cite some examples.

Heritage items, buildings and land may be offered in lieu of inheritance tax. The acceptance in lieu scheme has been greatly expanded by this Government. Developments we have introduced include the waiving of interest charges on tax liabilities while an AIL offer is being processed; the acceptance of works in situ where there is an historical association with a r articular property; and the increase of funding for the scheme in 1985, with an annual average of £12 million now available to finance the fluctuations inherent in a scheme in which the incidence of death is usually the determining factor. Since 1985 over £42 million worth of tax has been satisfied by items offered in lieu.

The Government also offer a significant tax concession to individuals owning items on which inheritance tax is due if those items are sold to an approved institution. Since 1985 items valued in excess of £55 million have been acquired by UK national museums and galleries through the mechanism of the private treaty sale at a cost to those institutions of only £25 million.

The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, berated the Government when this House discussed the Badminton Cabinet on 29th April, for the lack of tax allowances available during a person's lifetime. I must apologise to the noble Baroness for incorrectly saying that "gifts" could be made in lieu of tax in a person's lifetime. What I should, of course, have said was that sales in lieu of inheritance tax could be made during a lifetime. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts is aware that there would be substantial benefit to the heritage if further concessions relating to lifetime gifts of museum quality objects were created which gave relief on income and corporation taxes. He is ever open to suggestions for such concessions and seeks to encourage their introduction. Schemes offering such a concession operate very successfully in a number of countries, most notably in the USA and Australia. While the introduction of such a scheme in the UK is for the future, I would remind the House that an important tax concession already operates during one's lifetime. I refer to the maintenance trust for heritage property. The creation of maintenance trusts to manage property of heritage significance can lower tax liabilities significantly when expenditure is undertaken to protect property.

I now turn to the various points raised in the debate. Noble Lords have spoken again with eloquence in support of this cabinet. I pay unreserved tribute to the appeal conducted by the National Art Collections Fund on behalf of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Of course, £8.7 million is a very considerable sum to have to match, and is far and away a record for a piece of furniture. But regrettably those Herculean efforts have not yet raised the total sum. The Government continue to consider requests for additional funds, but I remind noble Lords that the Government have made available £1.5 million through the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £30,000 from the Local Purchase Grant Fund for the regions. It is also open for a private offer to be made.

The deferral period expires two days from now. Noble Lords would not expect me to anticipate the decision of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, nor the likely recommendation of my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts.

However, the system works. I am sure that noble Lords will recall the circumstances of the retention in this country of the "Three Graces"—a subject raised by noble Lords this evening—thanks to the exceptionally generous offer of David and Frederick Barclay. My right honourable friend kept the export controls under review and the introduction of private offers has been a major development in the protection of heritage.

I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that our three-year funding provides, for the first time, a planning framework for arts companies. That is a flexible arrangement, as has been demonstrated in the past two years. Substantial additional funding has been made available.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, mentioned the Theatres Trust. I am glad that he acknowledged that extra funding has been made available to conduct a survey of the fabric of the theatre. The Minister looks forward to the outcome and will consider the conclusion.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, asked whether the Government are monitoring the impact of changes to local authority finance arrangements. I can confirm that the Arts Council and the regional arts associations are monitoring the situation very closely.

Anxiety was expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, about the possible effect of the single market on the protection of our national heritage. I assure your Lordships that the Government are aware of the need to consider the operation of export controls on works of art and are discussing the possibilities with HM Customs and Excise. We are participating in discussions to strengthen co-operation between ourselves and other members of the EC some of whom foresee rather more difficulties with the single market due to current restrictive export regimes. Evasion of those may be even more tempting after 1992. Our export system is one of the least restrictive in Europe and as such contributes to London's position as a world leader in the art market with minimal abuse of export controls.

This has been a wide-ranging debate and I must apologise if time has not allowed me to deal with all the points that have been raised. However, I make no apology for focusing on heritage issues, given that we were able to concentrate in rather greater depth on the performing arts during our debate in February. The Government's commitment to the protection and preservation of our cultural heritage is real and I rest our case on the many successes in this area.

Lord Rees

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he say explicitly whether he sees any merit in the suggestion that the overseeing of the control of exports of important works of art should be transferred from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the Minister for Arts and Libraries?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I shall draw the remarks of my noble friend to the attention of both the Minister for the Arts and also the Secretary of State.

5.29 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, at one point I thought there may be time to take on the noble Viscount and point out the error of his ways as regards some of his remarks and the figures which he gave. There is now no time for that.

I am glad that after seven or eight years the Government have decided that the London boroughs grants scheme is not working. We could have told them that a long time ago. I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this debate which has been of a very high level—apart from the introduction—and extremely interesting. I should like to say also how much I enjoyed the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady James.

We must plug on and hope that the Government accept that more funds are needed for the arts. That is not the same as saying that everything should be agreed to, but it means that the will I spoke about may be backed up by something more concrete and stable than just good wishes and the reiteration of how much money has been given. When one examines the figures, one is seldom comparing like with like. They are apt to go astray. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.