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Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), to whom we all enjoy listening, will forgive me if I do not follow him through all the highways and byways that he described with such precision. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) not only on his good fortune in the ballot but on choosing the subject that he did. His speech was as thoughtful, perceptive and elegantly phrased as I have hard for a long time. I cannot promise to follow him in his eloquence or precision, because I did not know until six o'clock that this debate was to take place. For the past week I was in America, in the company of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), and learned only this evening of the debate--with mixed feelings, I admit, because I had to withdraw from a rather splendid publishing party. I also congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend the Minister. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that if I congratulate a Minister I really mean it. My right hon. Friend has held his present post for longer than any of his predecessors, and has held it with an amiable distinction that is thoroughly admirable. There are few Ministers in any Government of whom it can be said, "He has made no enemies." My right hon. Friend has had opponents from time to time--people who have disagreed with his emphasis on this or that--but he has made no enemies in the arts world.
I must be frank. When my right hon. Friend became Minister for the Arts there was some scepticism about his appointment, because he had not been publicly identified with the arts before. He quickly showed himself, however, to be the best kind of Minister, a ready listener and a quick learner anxious to master his subject as well as to know his brief--for there is a real difference between the two. My right hon. Friend has travelled around the country. His policy has been that of the open door ; he has never refused to see anyone with a legitimate interest to advance. He has made countless friends and, as I have said, no enemies.
My right hon. Friend's tenure has been very distinguished. Moreover, although the present
Column 90Government's actions have not always earned my unqualified approbation, our arts record has been good. We need look only at the list of our achievements : the creation of the National Heritage Memorial Fund--a particular interest of mine, as my right hon. Friend knows--the Historic Building and Monuments Commission, now more generally known as English Heritage, and the building and opening of the Tate in the north. I could name many more such achievements which I am sure will prove lasting.
Funding, after one or two leaner years, has been nurtured by my right hon. Friend. I entirely support the concept of plurality, but I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea point to the dangers that can be created by too much sponsorship or too much of any kind of individual funding. Too much sponsorship can lead to a lack of initiative and adventure ; too much state funding, on the other hand, can lead to a stultifying of creative endeavour because people feel that they must respond to a particular mood or desire.
That does not mean, however, that I agree with all that the Government have done, even in this regard. I was closely involved in the Select Committee report, published as long ago as 1981. We laboured long with that report, taking evidence in many places and from many people--including the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), whom I hope will have the good fortune to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman gave the Committee some excellent evidence, and we began a friendship that I hope will last while we are both in the House of Commons--which I hope will be a long time for both of us.
The Government did not respond to that important report with the alacrity and comprehensiveness that I should have liked. Many of its recommendations still have not been implemented, although they could and should be. There is certainly no cause for complacency. That is another of the endearing characteristics of my right hon. Friend the Minister. He is not a complacent man.
Despite our lobbying year after year, we still have VAT on repairs to listed buildings. As our heritage is a particular interest of mine, I hope that tomorrow when the Chancellor stands at the Dispatch Box he will be able to excite an extra-fervent cheer from me by announcing a move in the right direction.
Much remains to be done, and my hon. Friend was right to say in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for Hartlepool that we should never be satisfied. A particular cause for concern, if not dissatisfaction, is the crisis--I use the word
deliberately--surrounding one of our greatest national institutions, the Victoria and Albert museum. I do not wish to castigate or pour scorn on any individual, because I believe that that achieves little other than making people angry and resentful, and I should like to see peace break out. It must be acknowledged, however, that the Victoria and Albert museum, which houses one of the greatest collections of collections and is one of the glories of the museum world, is in a sad and sorry state.
My point is not that some of the museum's collections have not seen the light of day for many a long year or that parts of the fabric are in a dangerous condition, although I know both to be true. I am referring to the crisis that has developed in relations between the director and trustees on the one hand and the staff--especially senior staff--on the
Column 91other. I do not seek to apportion blame. I do not wish to impugn anyone's integrity, or to accuse anyone of acting from base motives.
Mr. Cormack : The trouble is that we have reached a stage at which we must put the fun aside and try to solve the problem. It will not help to solve it if we give vent to spleen in the Chamber tonight, amusing as it may be--and I occasionally enjoy jousting in invective with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.
I have received numerous letters--marked "confidential", so I should not dream of naming the authors--from people serving in the V and A who feel deeply disturbed. They are not troublemakers but people who have devoted years, in some cases decades, of their lives to scholarship and to that institution in particular. I am not referring to the eight who have reluctantly accepted redundancy. I refer to others who are still there and are still anxious that the museum should succeed ; who are concerned that visitor figures have plunged from 2 million to 1 million over a relatively short time ; who recognise that there is indeed a managerial problem, and that the time has come when many solutions that might not have been contemplated a few years ago will have to be contemplated. They are not narrow-minded bigots, nor do they refuse to move with the times. They are genuinely troubled servants of a great institution. Those people are troubled, not because someone has proposed a radical solution to their difficulties, but because of the manner in which that solution has been proposed. I hope that nothing that I say this evening will make the position worse, because I hope to do exactly the opposite. I shall make no comment on the trustees, many of whom I know and all whom I know I like and respect. I believe the chairman to be a man of great distinction who has shown--for example, in the selfless service that he has given the Royal Opera House for many years--that his heart is in the right place. Let me nevertheless say to him and to his fellow trustees that, whether they have got the solution right or wrong, they have certainly got the methods wrong. There has been a lack of consideration--or apparent consideration--a lack of sensitivity and, certainly, a lack of consultation. A group of people, many of whom have given years, if not their whole working lives, to the institution, feel that their expertise has been set at naught, their experience ignored, their contribution discounted and a theoretical solution imposed on them without any chance to discuss it. That is how they see it. As hon. Members know, appearances and how things are perceived are terribly important. It is sometimes said that perceptions are more important than realities in politics, and we all have to bear that in mind.
I am not accusing Lord Armstrong or his trustees of anything. I am not suggesting that they have anything other than the future of the museum close to their hearts. I am not suggesting that they are doing anything other than what they consider to be right. But I am telling them as gently and as firmly as I can that their approach is wrong. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts has always demonstrated a genuine belief in the arms length
Column 92principle. He has always taken the line that one appoints trustees and lets them get on with the job, that the trustees appoint a director and let him get on with the job and that it is important that the relationship between the trustees and the director should be right. So far, so good--I do not quarrel with that--but an even more important ingredient for a successful institution is that staff should have confidence in the director and the trustees. The staff of the Victoria and Albert museum, or a great many of them, do not have confidence in their director or the trustees. It may be due to misunderstandings, misinterpretations or over-hasty reactions--I am certainly not suggesting that all is right on the one side and all wrong on the other--but the staff do not have that confidence and we would be doing them, the nation, and one of its greatest institutions a disservice if we pretended otherwise.
There comes a time when the Minister has a role to play. I know that my right hon. Friend would be reluctant to acknowledge that. If I were in his position--and I sometimes wish that I were--I should have an equal reluctance, so I do not criticise him. But when a crisis of confidence has reached such proportions, someone has to step in, and the obvious person is the Minister. At the very least he should try to initiate some proper discussions conducted with equal respect on each side. The trustees, or a group of them, and the senior employees, or a group of them, should sit down together and discuss where they are going with the Victoria and Albert.
It is important that those who want to make far-reaching changes explain precisely how and why, and answer and argue, in a way that we seek to answer and argue when debate in the House is at its best. It is important that the trustees listen most carefully to the misgivings--they may be misapprehensions--of those over whom they have been set in trust. The Minister must intervene in the gentlest way to get that process going, as that is absolutely essential if the problem is to be resolved. I hope that he will.
I shall not be so presumptiously pompous as to suggest precisely how he should do that, as every Minister has his own approach. My right hon. Friend has shown that he is good at winning people's trust and confidence. He has made a lot of friends and he has no enemies, and he knows many of the people concerned. My suggestion is not a prelude to the sacking of the director. I knew the last director of the Victoria and Albert, Sir Roy Strong, very well indeed. I do not know the present director. I have met her but I have never had a proper conversation with her, so I make no comment about her competence. But if the museum is to take its rightful place in the artistic life of the nation in future, as it has in the past, the director has to enjoy the confidence of the staff, which she does not at the moment.
I am told that the director has not gone around from department to department and discussed in detail how they are run. If that is so, and I hope that she will forgive me for saying so, she has been mistaken, but mistakes can be rectified and the situation is not beyond recall. The talks and correspondence that I have had make it plain that all those people want is for the institution to flourish in future, as it has done in the past. They recognise that there are difficulties, and, as all-party Committees of this House have recognised, they see that things have to be put right. It is not a perfectly run institution and all the objects within it have not been properly displayed or, in some
Column 93cases, conserved. Some things have to be changed, and tighter management may well be needed. But nothing can be achieved until confidence has been restored.
My right hon. Friend did not have a good reputation in the Foreign Office for nothing. I hope that he will use his considerable diplomatic abilities to get the people who matter together and to tell them that the stakes are far too high to allow personal vendettas or petty squabbles to ruin the future of a great institution. The trustees, the director and the staff all have roles to play and they should play them together. If, as a result of tonight's debate, so splendidly initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, there is the beginning of a solution at the Victoria and Albert, we shall not have forgone our parties and our suppers in vain.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). I listened with great interest to the paean of praise that he delivered to the Minister, although a little later he let slip that he would like to be in his place. I think that he would make a very good Minister in a Conservative Government, although he is not always certain that he is wholly with his own party, and for that reason we like him even more. I hope that I do not do him a disservice in urging his appointment on his colleagues, any more than he did for me in revealing to a startled world that we were together last week in the United States of America.
I have one major disappointment I will announce immediately and that is the debate will not be graced by the presence of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) who brings a certain muscular approach to the arts that we find at least amusing, and from time to time he even stumbles on a grain of truth. But we know that his contribution to the arts in Britain resembles that of the Luftwaffe to town planning.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on initiating the debate. Indeed, I was impressed by his range of talents. I am surprised that he bothered to come into politics. He obviously could have pursued a profitable and, who knows, a more rewarding career elsewhere. Perhaps he too aspires to sitting on the Front Bench as Arts Minister. There are quite a few on the Government Benches, and one or two on the Opposition Benches, who would like to be considered if a short list were to be drawn up.
The hon. Member for Battersea commented on the fact that the Prime Minister has been "greened" recently. His one mistake was to bring her into any consideration of artistic matters. We all know that she is into re-reading Freddie Forsyth and going to "The Mousetrap". I suppose that that is a start, but she has a long way to go before she can genuinely claim to be one of the muses-- [Interruption.] I am afraid that good taste makes it impossible for me to answer that question.
I was interested to hear that the hon. Member for Battersea's kids go to the Ernest Read children's concerts at the Royal Festival hall. I acquired what taste I have in musical appreciation by going to the Robert Mayer concerts in the Central hall and then in the Royal Festival hall. I want to say how deeply grateful I am to the Inner London education authority for all the benefits that it gave me through opportunities to go to concerts, plays and
Column 94other artistic events. I hope that the Minister and some of his colleagues realise what great damage they have done to the arts and to the artistic education of young children by destroying ILEA. The hon. Member for Battersea mentioned the Royal Festival hall. I hope that he goes over and enjoys the open foyer policy that was pioneered by the Greater London council when I chaired the arts committee. There was an empty space, much like the empty space in Westminster hall that I complained about earlier this afternoon. It is criminal to have so much empty space when so many young artists--dancers, sculptors or painters --would like to use that space to display their talents to an appreciative world.
I noticed that during the day the Royal Festival hall was used just by people, mostly from Shell middle management, who came to a rather over- priced restaurant. The rest of the place was empty. I thought that the best thing to do was to turn that space to use. It was a great move by the GLC to open up the Royal Festival hall, with 25,000 people a week coming in at lunchtime to enjoy the free music and the various exhibitions, and perhaps overcoming the fear of the threshold that many people have when they view great artistic buildings. The sordid bit that I leave to the end is that it was good value for the ratepayers of London because it made money. The GLC did not turn away from that, because it meant that not only were we involving more people in the arts, but we were providing more funds for other artistic activities in the capital. I am delighted that the South Bank board retained the open foyer policy of the Royal Festival hall that it inherited.
I am alarmed and concerned at the proposals that are emerging from Mr. Stuart Lipton and Mr. Terry Farrell for the south bank. I am sure that Mr. Lipton is altruistic and that his only concern is the welfare of the arts in London, but more cynical Members might suggest that he wants a return on the £200 million of investment that he intends to put into the south bank. I am worried about that because for such investment he will require a commercial return and commercial activity that could grate against what has been achieved so far.
I do not believe that such an important development should be something upon which the Minister says nothing. I am ready to give way to the Minister at any time. The matter is too significant to be left in the hands of a non-elected body--the South Bank
board--accountable to no one save the Arts Council and therefore himself. Certainly, it is not accountable to the people of London, or to the people of Lambeth or Southwark who live in the immediate vicinity. That sort of development should be left to private developers, looking for a return on capital, and to a non-elected body.
That the Minister says nothing about it is not right. It could be argued that it is the cultural centre not only of the capital but of the whole country. That being so, the Minister should intervene and at least let us know exactly what he intends to do. He does not want to intervene. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), the next Arts Minister, wants to intervene. No, he does not.
Mr. Fisher rose--
Mr. Bowis : Let me not come between the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and his Front Bench. Am I not right in saying that just a moment ago the hon. Gentleman was praising the perspicacity and perceptiveness of the South Bank board for what it has done in the open spaces in the Royal Festival hall? Surely that is the board that will have the final say in what goes into the new development. Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that it proposes to extend the artistic provision in that area and on those draughty concrete walkways where, for 35 years in the public sector, nothing happened?
Mr. Banks : The South Bank board retained the open foyer policy because it would have been calamitous and unacceptable if it had done anything else. Of course, the policy was showing a good return as well. I do not say that I have only praise for the South Bank board because what used to be the literary centre set up by the Greater London council in the restaurant to which I referred has now been turned back into a restaurant. So I will not be unqualified in what I say about the South Bank board.
I am concerned about the development that has been proposed. I want genuine public consultation about the scheme. I think that in London we have a right to demand that. Indeed, the House has a right to demand it on behalf of the country as a whole. I do not want to see Disneyland on the south bank. I know that the gentlemen concerned in the new enterprise have to make a return on capital. The South Bank board might not want the scheme but it will have little choice unless the Government are prepared to put up funds through the Arts Council to provide some of the things which the hon. Member for Battersea mentioned, such as covering up those appalling walkways. I want to make sure that decisions are not taken behind closed doors by the South Bank board, with no public involvement and no press or public allowed in to those meetings. I do not want it all to be done cosily by the South Bank board, with us having no influence at all. There is a shopping mall element in the proposals. Probably we will have hamburger stands and sock shops. I do not want those. If I did, I could go to Victoria station. That is not the way to use the South Bank. When I chaired the GLC arts committee I put forward proposals for covering the walkways. If this wretched Government had not abolished the GLC in 1986, against the wishes not only of myself--I agree that I was biased--but of a majority of Londoners, we would have had schemes to cover the walkways. We would not have had McDonald's and sock shops but something that was compatible with the south bank as a centre for the arts in London. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us what thoughts he has had so far about the proposals for the south bank.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Battersea talking about the economic benefits of the arts and saying that they were not a luxury but a necessity. He would not have found favour with his hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington or with other hon. Members who are not here, I am relieved to say, although they might have learnt a few things if they had been. Ministers need to accept that we are talking about a cultural industry and not about something arty-farty, a bit of icing on the cake. We are talking about something that makes a genuine and economic contribution to the fabric of society. Therefore, I do not look on this as a subsidy for the arts. Government funding is an investment in the arts. I can think of few finer forms of public investment than investment in the arts. If
Column 96that approach is taken, I can only say that I do not share the feelings of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South who had such great praise for the Minister. The Minister has done better than some of his predecessors, but that was not very difficult.
Looking at the amount of money that the Government have put into the arts, I challenge the figure that the Minister throws out from time to time--33 per cent. in real terms. When one starts to disaggregate it, it does not look like that at all. Taking into account the money that the Government took away when they abolished the GLC and the metropolitan county councils, as well as investment in the British Library, one gets round to a far more modest figure in terms of the arts--certainly the performing arts--in this country. The Policy Studies Institute has just announced in a report--I do not think that the report has yet been published--that between 1983 and 1988 it was estimated that the growth, in real terms, in arts expenditure was 1 per cent. a year. I am one of those people who would be quite happy to submit these various statistical claims to some arbitrating body so that we might know the truth. We have seen the Government manipulate so many sets of statistics so often that the Minister can hardly be surprised if we find it very difficult to believe everything that he says.
On the rolling programme basis for arts funding, I welcome the idea of providing a degree of certainty. The certainty that the arts seem to have been given here is the certainty that they will lose money next year. As I understand it, we are talking about an increase of 2 or 3 per cent. in the Arts Council's budget for next year. With inflation at 6.5 per cent.--
Mr. Banks : Very well--7 per cent., and rising.--[ Hon. Members : -- "Seven and a half per cent."] Seven and a half per cent. : it is rising so fast that I can scarcely keep up with it. What we are talking about, therefore, is a cut in real terms. The Minister should bear that in mind when next he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about what a wonderful job the Government have done for the arts in this country.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : My hon. Friend keeps calling it a rolling programme. It is not really a rolling programme but a three-year programme. A rolling programme is one in which, each year, thought is given to what will be happening three years ahead, with minimum and maximum expansion percentages.
Mr. Banks : It is rolling rather like a steamroller, and it is going backwards downhill. It is something like that--it is all in there somewhere. Pick the bones out of that, Madam Deputy Speaker. Someone today drew my attention to a figure concerning the Northern Ireland Office. Apparently, it has increased arts expenditure by 21 per cent.
Mr. Banks : I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the shadow Minister, who clearly has the expertise to enable him to switch sides and give us the facts. I hasten to add that we could all switch sides with him.
That increase seems remarkable. I welcome it, of course, but I should like to know the reason behind it. Surely the Minister for the Arts must be very envious of
Column 97the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. If such a large increase is felt to be necessary in Northern Ireland, why not in the rest of the country?
I want to mention something else that I saw in The Times today. Tomorrow is Budget day, and there is just a possibility that the Chancellor will talk more about tax concessions--who knows?--for the arts. A report--again, one yet to be published--quoted in The Times this morning, says :
"Tax concessions on funding for the arts introduced in the 1986 Budget have been a flop.
The changes which took effect from April 1987 were designed to boost company-giving, to introduce payroll-giving and higher rate relief on covenants for individuals.
A draft of the report by the management consultants Touche Ross showed that incentives have not been enough A particular failure has been gifts from individuals. Response to payroll-giving has been negligible--of the 91 organisations which responded to inquiries, six had introduced the scheme and only one still operated it." Of course, the fact is that it has been a flop. So, indeed, I might add, has been much of the Chancellor's economic strategy, but we are concerned about this flop within the arts.
The Minister made great play on the amount of business sponsorship-- contributions from corporations and from individuals that the arts could fall back on. But that simply is not enough. We on this side of the House have no ideological hang-up about accepting private money for the arts. However, it is really just top-up money. It can never be anything more than a little bit on the side--though perhaps that is an unfortunate expression, given the revelations about Members and their research assistants that we have been reading in the newspapers recently.
The Minister should not place too much faith in private sponsorship. Public investment in the arts is generally disinterested--disinterested, in the sense that it is not looking for a commercial return. Business men do not give money for nothing. They do not give it as an act of total generosity. They expect and, indeed, receive a great deal back. In fact, they add very little to the great body of the arts that we have inherited.
The hon. Member for Battersea mentioned the New York Met. He said that it was producing no new work. Of course, the United States relies very heavily, if not exclusively, on private sponsorship of the arts. We are not going to add to our great cultural inheritance in this country if we allow the managing director of Shell, of Metal Box or of GKN to decide who and what is going to be funded in artistic terms. It is not surprising that this scheme has been a flop. I suspect that the Chancellor will not want to refer to it in any great detail tomorrow.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the disturbing features of commercial sponsorship is that the sponsors do not contribute for altruistic reasons? They would gain more credit if they did, with a very small acknowledgment on the back of some card or programme. In fact, they insist on scattering their name and logo over every bit of paper and other material they can lay their hands on. In fact, they are prostituting the arts for the sake of advertising.
Mr. Banks : That is true of the generality of corporate sponsors of the arts. Indeed, they go further. They insist on being allocated large blocks of seats to entertain their clients. The orchestra or the artist is often required to come
Column 98to a reception, perhaps provided by the arts body itself, so that the chairman of the board and the directors, and whoever else is involved, can be seen with famous people. That is the way it is done. These people do not contribute out of altruism ; they contribute--and I do not blame them--because it is very good for public relations. Many of them, when they underwrite exhibitions, for example, do not have to contribute anything at all, particularly if the exhibitions are very successful. They get a very good return in terms of corporate image- building.
As I came in on the District line this morning, my attention was caught by one of the poems on the Underground. Again, this is something in the setting up of which the GLC was very much involved. We wanted far more street murals. We wanted to have poems and paintings on buses and Underground trains. We wanted to take the arts into public places where there was greater democracy and where people could enjoy them whilst going about their daily activities. We wanted to put the arts into public buildings and on to the streets. Too much of a barrier still exists around many of our arts institutions and it deters many people.
In so far as I would ever agree with anything said by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, it would be that so much of the arts have become white middle-class preserves. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is more concerned about them being white or middle-class, but what he said in our last arts debate was something that many of my hon. Friends have been arguing.
That poem on the Underground was by Cicly Herbert and called "Everything Changes". The last line runs :
"We plant trees for those born later."
That should characterise our whole attitude towards the arts. We are planting trees that might not necessarily flourish in our time, but we will have the satisfaction of knowing that they will be in full blossom for the generations that come later. If the Prime Minister is interested in the earth as a whole when she says that we have only a leasehold and that we should make improvements, that should be true for the arts in this country also, so that we really do
"plant trees for those born later."
Public funding is truly disinterested funding. Taste and popularity should not be the dominant considerations in decisions about funding particular art forms. We must continue to build on what we have inherited. If we do so, we shall pass on to the next generation, to those who are not yet born, the arts in the flourishing state in which we would wish them to be.
Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West) : I join my colleagues in paying a warm and generous tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for the manner in which he introduced the debate. I congratulate him on his good fortune in the ballot, on his choice of subject, which has brought us into the Chamber, and on his excellent speech.
It is true that the richness of our culture, our life and our traditions is utterly dependent on the arts. That being so, the Government's record on the arts is worthy of commendation. The House will expect me to prove that, and I shall seek so to do.
Column 99My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts made one of the most courageous statements on the arts ever made in the House. In a written answer on 3 November he said that his aim was
"to give arts bodies a firm basis on which to plan their future activities and to encourage greater self-reliance and diversification in their sources of funding." [ Official Report, 3 November 1988 ; Vol. 139, c. 705 .]
Within the confines of that statement, we have the kernel of success in the arts.
Unlike the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) I am a dedicated disciple of private sponsorship for the arts. We owe a great deal of gratitude to people who sponsor the arts with private funding. At the end of today, I shall walk to my home and pass the wonderful epitaph to Joseph Mallord William Turner, our greatest British painter, whose works are stored and displayed in the Clore gallery. I am unashamedly grateful for the £6 million that was provided after 150 years to house the wonderful collection of Turner's work.
We must not only safeguard our heritage, but following the wonderful tribute to the arts that was picked up on the Circle or Central line--
Dr. Blackburn : Well, it is a piece of good Conservative philosophy that we must look to the future and to future generations because we have a responsibility in such matters. Indeed, we stand united in saying that there can be no dispute on this because the Government have spent record sums on the arts. That is not a matter for debate. Such debates are futile. I, like many hon. Members, have continually stressed that annual funding of the arts is absurd beyond belief. Galleries, museums and theatres could not make positive plans when the arts were financed annually. I pay a warm and generous tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who in future will be known as the Minister who introduced forward planning under the three- year rolling programme. That was a wonderful achievement to the benefit of the arts.
When we read the debate tomorrow in the Official Report, we will note that it centred on the metropolis. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea concentrated his remarks on the metropolis ; my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) centred his remarks on the Victoria and Albert museum ; and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) naturally dealt with the metropolis. I should like to take the debate north of Watford, because until now no reference has been made to the provinces.
It is critical that we consider what is happening to the arts in the provinces. There is a desire for the arts there, which is substantiated by the fact that 70 per cent. of all business sponsorship of the arts is in the provinces and not the metropolis. I was especially encouraged when I discovered that the Royal Ballet is moving to Birmingham, which is tremendous news for the provinces. There is an audience and thirst for the arts, so let us take them northwards.
I speak from rich experience. I remember many years ago visiting the Albert dock in Liverpool. A member of my family was the policeman in charge of a bonded warehouse there for 20 years. It was beyond my wildest dreams that
Column 100one day that bonded tobacco warehouse would become the Tate of the north. It is a miracle that the Tate of the north is situated in Liverpool.
I am sad that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) is not present. He was concerned about the British film industry, to which he paid a correct tribute, which I endorse. Within the past five hours, I have tabled a question to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the film industry. The tenor of it was : what sum was passed to the Secretary of State on the dissolution of the British Film Fund Agency and to what purposes connected with the British film industry will the money be put? That shows my concern for the British film industry and the fact that I believe that there is genius, art and skill within it.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be standing at the Dispatch Box tomorrow and it will be interesting to learn the figures that he may reveal about the earnings from some of those sectors of the art industry. I use the expression "the art industry" deliberately because it is an industry which employs 200, 000 people and produces profits of more than £250 million. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who have just returned from America, will be able to give adequate testimony to the wonderful features of the British theatre industry in the United States.
When we consider the movement of the art world northwards, it would be unfair not to pay a sincere tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has visited my constituency within the past 12 months. While he was there, his first visit was to meet the local people who supported the arts in the Dudley area. He received a warm welcome, especially from the Socialist mayor, and he spent a day looking at the arts coming to life in the black country of the west midlands. I applaud him for that. He was able to see much, although at times with some discomfort, and he was able to climb the ramparts of the 900-year-old Dudley castle. He visited the castle not because of the heritage, but because he could see the potential that we are now exploiting to develop Dudley castle as a centre for the arts in the middle of the west midlands. Dudley castle has not yet fulfilled its destiny. I should like to see the arts come alive there, even at the expense of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill). As has been said, art cannot develop in poverty, and artists cannot display their skills in bad economic circumstances. I shall always take great pride in the fact that I was born in Lancashire, one mile from the little house in which Lowry produced his works. I am now by adoption and tradition a midlander and I join many in the midlands in celebrating this year the centenary of the birth of David Bomberg. He was born in Birmingham, the son of a Polish refugee and one of a family of seven living in one room. He was able to produce the works of art that were shown 12 months ago in the Tate gallery. I bow at the throne of art because it is a place where I find apostles such as Lowry and Bomberg, who have enriched this country by their art. I recommend my right hon. Friend the Minister not only to give great emphasis to the points raised this evening, but to hear my cry that the arts are alive north of Watford and need encouraging.
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Mr. Buchan : I knew that you, Mr. Speaker would know the answer to that, but I was wondering whether the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) could confirm it. I am struck dumb by the hon. Gentleman's remarks--a fact which may be helpful to other hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate. I am reminded of a famous occasion during the folk song revival when an enthusiastic MC said, "Folk song is here to stay." Folk song had been with us since the beginning of time but just because there had been a revival lasting two years people claimed that it was here to stay. What the hell do you mean when you say that the arts are alive north of Watford? They have never been dead. The trouble is that you have not realised it--
The hon. Gentleman referred to the visit by the Minister to a 900-year-old castle, built long before Ministers produced subsidies for art or architecture. The arts have been alive for a very long time. We are talking not just about the narrow meaning of the arts but about British civilisation in general. The arts go very much wider than we often seem to realise in our discussions--art is not merely that which is sponsored or subsidised or funded by the Arts Council.
We have all been disturbed at what has happened at the Victoria and Albert museum, although I am not sure how helpful it is to discuss it here. I think that it would be useful if the Minister tried some approach to those involved. I do not believe that there is malice on either side. The parties are not so far apart in their intentions, but they are finding it difficult to distinguish between the curatorial and administrative functions. The problem ought to be solved and it would be solved if sufficient funding were available. A great deal of strain is being put on the museum, which is being asked to look after the care of the permanent collection while at the same time providing open exhibitions. To a large extent, it is a financial problem and I, for one, am sorry that the director, whose work I know, has felt compelled to act as she has. The matter has been allowed to go too far without anyone intervening.
Another tragedy is that by introducing admission charges the V and A has reduced the numbers of visitors, just as we said that it would. It is nonsense to create a museum for people to visit and then immediately impose a barrier to prevent them from visiting it. This will prevent people from making initial contact and from seeing things that might spark off their interest and develop their awareness and understanding of the arts. I am not talking merely about scholastic or academic considerations--museums can trigger interest and a response, but that function is being blocked by admission charges.
We grossly underfund our museums. Italy has the largest open-air art gallery in the world, which is free to the majority of Italian people. I understand why visitors are
Column 102charged, because the cost of running the collections is enormous. Admittedly, there is a tourist return, but if Italy can offer art free to its people, I do not see why we cannot. Our national museums should be better funded, and above all they should be free. We should not erect barriers at the very point of contact between the public and our collections.
Those who are already experienced or educated or who have been dragged along to museums will continue to go to them when charges are imposed, but some youngsters never get such a chance, because they are never taken to museums. At one time a couple coming to south Kensington from the working- class areas of London could visit the science museum, the Natural History museum and the V and A free, but now they all make a charge, so that opportunity is blocked. I argued the case with Mr. Cossons who, while at Greenwich, was the first to break ranks and advocate charging for entry to a national museum. I said that it was permissible in that case, because people tended deliberately to set off to Greenwich. It was not a matter of dropping in. That gentleman said, "Quite right--I would never have considered doing that in south Kensington." In south Kensington, it would be a matter of dropping in, but now he has taken the same decision in south Kensington, and attendance has dropped. If the Minister could restore funding, he could help to solve the immediate crisis at the V and A.
Secondly, an appalling list of barriers, in the form of specific Government legislation or proposals, have been put in the way of the development of our civilisation. I refer to the Green Paper on libraries. Fortunately, the Government got a bloody nose over it and have withdrawn the main thrust of it. For the first time, a Green Paper had encouraged libraries to charge for the loan of special books, new books and biographies. That encouragement has been rejected. The Government have failed to understand that libraries represent a good deal more than the arts. They are part of our information services. I cannot understand why they should introduce charging for computerised information.
Above all, there is the appalling White Paper on broadcasting. I hope that the Minister for the Arts puts up a fight before that terrible paper was produced. We know the consequences of it, and we knew the problem facing those who produced it. We know the problems in having some kind of direction or control in satellite broadcasting, but we cannot afford to have a Government who surrender to technology and say that they cannot cope. By surrendering to technology, they have carried technology further, so that it now controls us instead of our controlling it. An instrument which could have been a marvellous means of expanding human experience has been chained within the exigencies of market philosophy so that we now have the profit motive instead of the sharing of human experience. The development of satellite television is comparable to the invention of the alphabet. We can speak immediately and simultaneously to the rest of mankind. It is a marvellous instrument, but it has been turned into a financial market operation so that it can be created as cheaply as possible and sold as expensively as possible.
Exactly analogous with entry fees at museums is the movement towards subscription broadcasting. The moment we have subscription broadcasting we shall begin to set up a barrier to contact. I refer to the same example