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It is against that background that I reaffirm the importance I attach to a policy of maximum arm's length so that it is not the Minister and his officials in Whitehall who make the day -to-day decisions about artistic standards and management. The arm's-length principle has been totally supported by successive Governments of both parties since the war. I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) will take the opportunity of this debate to reaffirm his party's support for that principle. It is important to strengthen and preserve artistic freedom. The arm's-length policy, working for example through the Arts Council and other bodies, is a way to achieve this. I know that the council shares my concern to foster the highest standards of artistic excellence and access to the arts by maintaining and developing centres of excellence throughout the country.

In the context of the arm's-length principle, I am concerned to strengthen the accountability of the arts organisations for the taxpayers' money that they receive and I want to see whether the funding structure which we have, through the Arts Council and the regional arts associations, can be improved, so that they are as coherent and efficient as possible. I have therefore commissioned a review, which is now being conducted by Mr. Richard Wilding--formerly permanent head of the Office of Arts and Libraries--who will report to me by 31 October this year. I regard the review as extremely important.

Let me take this opportunity to tell the House about some of the measures that I am taking, along with the arts world, to promote both excellence and access.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North) : My right hon. Friend has referred to access to the past and to the need to develop centres of excellence. Our right hon. Friend's decision about the Rose site is particularly welcome, because access to the past will be provided. Those who are interested--particularly members of the acting profession, who have shown a commendable concern about the need for access to the past--should be encouraged now to direct their attention to a nearby potential centre of excellence. I refer to the site of the Globe theatre, literally yards from the Rose site. The interests of those people, and of my right hon. Friend, in "living stones" can thus provide a forum for excellence in the future rather than access to the past.

Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend has made an important point, not only about the Rose theatre but about the plans for the Globe, which I believe will lead to considerable public support and interest. I am glad to note the progress that has been made in raising funds, and I hope that the construction of the proposed Globe theatre will start soon. I think that it has every prospect of becoming a great centre of excellence, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it. I had begun to focus on the question of excellence, and that of accessibility to it. Let me illustrate that further. The national museums and galleries are in the forefront. For example, the Tate gallery opened the new "Tate in Liverpool" in 1988, and has already attracted nearly half a million visitors in its first six months. The National Portrait Gallery has put an important part of its reserve collection on display in no fewer than four country houses

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--in Somerset, Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales. The British Film Institute's new museum of the moving image has had more than 250,000 visitors since it opened in September 1988, well above the number expected. The Victoria and Albert museum has announced plans to open an outstation in Bradford to house part of its great Indian collection. There are other examples : for instance the imperial war museum and the science museum also have plans.

We have extended the principle to loans and exhibitions, to which considerable importance is attached, not only by me but by many other hon. Members, as they house our greatest objects of art and our greatest collections. The British museum, for example, consistently lends more objects than any other institution in the world--2,500 in 1987. In 1987-88 the Tate gallery, which houses more contemporary works, lent 556, 303 within the United Kingdom and the rest abroad. The Government help the process through their indemnity scheme. In the last financial year, objects valued at £1 billion were indemnified for exhibition. In April 1988 I established the travelling exhibition unit at the Museums and Galleries Commission, and it promoted 10 projects during its first year. I hope that as it expands it will facilitate many other exhibitions around the country.

I also attach great importance to touring. It was in the interests of excellence and access that I gave the Arts Council extra money for its budget, to be earmarked for increased touring. It allocated £1.5 million for the purpose in 1988-89, financing more than 60 weeks of extra touring, including 38 for drama.

By contrast, I was glad, too, to be able to make a contribution of £150,000 to the fund set up by the Carnegie Trust to help make arts venues more accessible to disabled people.

In areas such as inner cities, and in the rural arts, a great deal is being done to open up the prospects of more access to the arts to people who live in those areas. It would be wrong not to mention in particular the city of Glasgow, which has done outstanding work in promoting its arts, using them to bring great benefits to the city and the country. I was glad to be able to make a contribution of £500,000 towards the city's preparations for its role as European city of culture in 1990.

There are other areas as well. For example, in broadcasting I welcome the fact that the Arts Council is doing work on improving access to the arts through broadcasting, and it is developing some proposals in that context.

I regard investment in education as almost the biggest for the longer term. The Education Reform Act ensures a central place for the arts and heritage in the core curriculum and the GCSE examinations. That is why the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I announced in May a joint initiative to emphasise the importance of the arts in the school curriculum.

The public today expect art to be an integral part of the environment In response to that, many local authorities and private companies are initiating imaginative public arts projects. Birmingham leads the way in that, and the British library has some exciting schemes for its new building.

In that connection, there is no finer example of the Government's commitment to these joint objectives of excellence and access than the new British library. For the first time, we are giving the library a purpose- built home,

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bringing together under one roof the majority of its London-based collections in a properly controlled, pollution-free environment. The whole building is due to be completed and fully in use by 1996. Costing well over £400 million in cash terms, it is the Government's largest single civil project. It will be one of Britain's greatest cultural achievements and a significant addition to our heritage. The project shows the importance we attach to the work of scholarship and my concern to marry the best work of our scholars to public access and enjoyment. In this context, I am making a point of visiting national museums and galleries to meet the staff. I have recently been to the V and A and to the national maritime museum, and I have several more visits of that kind planned. I have been impressed by the dedication and hard work that I have seen. In connection with the heritage, I appreciate that there are particular problems and pressures posed by the constant and high price rises in the art market. I am reviewing some of the mechanisms in this sphere to see where I can help, and I will mention a few. Recently there was considerable criticism that the price of Turner's "Seascape, Folkestone" was not published when I announced my recommendation to defer a decision on the export licence application. The reason for the withholding of the Turner price was the option given to owners not to disclose. I shared the concern that was expressed and I am rectifying this anomaly. From now on, if an object is placed under deferral, following consideration by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, the price will be published. Owners will be told this in the letter they receive from the Department of Trade and Industry informing them of an objection to export. I hope that this change will help public collections in their fund-raising, especially where they launch a public appeal. Acknowledging, as I do, this increase in prices, I have decided to revise the limits for export licences very soon. This is in accordance with the recommendations put to me by the export reviewing committee. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I are also well aware of the problems posed by the withdrawal of what is known as the indefinite stop procedure. We are giving urgent attention to finding a solution to that problem.

To give priority to the housing and conservation of existing collections, as the museums and galleries have asked us to do, the Government have been obliged to keep purchase grants at a constant cash level since 1985-86. I am well aware of the problems that this poses and I have already announced that I am considering how to deal with them.

I also conducted a consultation exercise last year on what discretionary powers, if any, museums and galleries should have to dispose of items from their collections. Bearing in mind the responses that I have received, my aim will be to ensure that any relevant powers are, as far as possible, tailor-made to meet the specific requirements of each institution. I hope that it is helpful to the House for me to reaffirm that principle. As I have said, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West will cover other important heritage themes, and the House has already had a brief chance today to discuss the latest developments on the Rose theatre. I shall now deal with the matter of funding. In order to provide excellence for as many people as possible, the arts

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need financial support, and the more sources that they have to draw on the healthier and freer they will be. However, I fully accept that, for the foreseeable future, the taxpayer's role is also important. Let me put Government art funding in perspective. Some people like to suggest that 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and especially 20 years ago, saw the great golden age of the arts. It is important to put that in perspective.

It is interesting to note that, in real terms, the Arts Council receives three times as much from the Government today as it did in the late 1960s. Since its creation by the Goverment in 1980 the national heritage memorial fund has received over £105 million from the taxpayer. The budgets of our national museums and galleries are also at record levels and central Government spending on them has risen by 25 per cent. in real terms since 1979-80. Funding for their building programmes has increased by about 50 per cent. in real terms over the same period.

Let us make no mistake about the achievement of the Government. There has been an overall increase in arts funding of 39 per cent., in real terms, including abolition money, since 1979, and that is a strong achievement. I am especially pleased that I was able to announce in November 1987 a new departure in arts funding in which firm figures were set for the next three years. The object of that is to give arts bodies a firm basis on which to plan their future activities and their various sources of funding, and to encourage greater self-reliance. We are already seeing its results in some excellent forward thinking--for example, in the Arts Council's three-year business plan and in the corporate plans of the museums and galleries.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : The Minister will be aware that I have often congratulated him on the achievement of finding a three-year funding formula of which the whole art world approves and has been seeking for a long time. Does he accept that the second and third years of the formula are at rates well below the rate of inflation, and that any advantages arising from the security of planning are more than offset by the fact that in those two years all arts clients will have a cut in real terms?

Mr. Luce : I shall shortly deal with inflation and respond to the hon. Gentleman's question. I again acknowledge that I am fully aware of the pressures and problems faced by the arts. As the hon. Gentleman has said, first among these is the effect of inflation. The Government's absolute priority is and must be the conquest of inflation. We must continue the battle against it, for the arts as well as for all other areas of activity. We are thinking, as we should in the arts world, of three-year funding in many areas, and the amount of money that we make available must be seen in the context of the three-year total. For the first year, I increased the Arts Council's funding by 10 per cent. It is true that the amount was lower in the second and third years.

Creative funding partnerships are seen throughout the arts, and business sponsorship is a marvellous success story. It has been considerably helped by the Government's business sponsorship incentive scheme administered for me by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. Since its introduction in 1984, it has produced almost £25 million of new money- -£2.40 from the private sector for every £1 from the taxpayer.

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The first-class management of arts bodies is now being recognised and awarded through the incentive funding scheme. I gave the Arts Council money for that in the 1987 settlement--£12.5 million over three years--and 48 awards have already been made to organisations throughout the country. The Arts Council expects the scheme to produce £3 of private sector money for every £1 from the taxpayer. I am extending this incentive approach into all areas of my reponsibility. There is a new incentive scheme for the conservation of manuscripts, and the public library incentive scheme is in its second year.

The contribution of local authorities to arts funding is invaluable. To take just one example, Birmingham city council gives an annual grant of just under £800,000 to the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra, showing its total commitment to this outstanding centre of excellence.

The arts are also immeasurably enriched by many outstanding examples of private generosity. We all know of the Sainsbury family contribution for the new wing at the national gallery. We should refer to the Clore Foundation, which contributed no less than £6 million to the cost of the new gallery for the Turner collection at the Tate, and to the remarkable contribution of Mr. John Paul Getty II, who plans to give £50 million as an endowment fund for the national gallery. He is also a leading private donor to funding for the British Film Institute's highly successful museum of the moving image, which was built for £11 million without a penny from the Government.

A private donation is enabling the Victoria and Albert museum to open a new Chinese gallery and the museum has just received generous donations from the Hinduja foundation and from Jenson and Nicholson for its new gallery of Indian art. It should also be mentioned that, in the past five years the British museum has raised nearly £12 million of private money for building and gallery work. The library and services of the British Theatre Association, which were threatened with closure earlier this year, were saved through the outstanding generosity of Mr. Robert Holmes a Court.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : This is a genuine question. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what efforts are being made to get local business sponsorship and support, because much of what he has said has been in relation to national sponsorship? We no longer have the great shipping magnates in Liverpool and other such cities, where we depended very much on their support. Obviously, we cannot raise all the money at local level through local authorities. This is an important matter and I would like to know how much thought has been given to it and what has been done in that direction.

Mr. Luce : I fully acknowledge the validity of the hon. Gentleman's point. He puts his finger on the problem, which I think is gradually being solved through the business sponsorship incentive scheme. The evidence is that the scheme is successful as a national scheme, not just a London scheme. I have been just as anxious as the hon. Gentleman to encourage sponsorship in Merseyside and Scotland, for example. There is increasing evidence that the scheme is being taken up, sometimes on a modest basis,

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but that does not matter ; once the thing starts, other businesses come in and I believe that the incentive scheme has done a great deal to encourage that.

In this context, I am delighted to tell the House about another noticeable development. The Arts Council has decided to establish an endowment fund to support new and experimental work. It has been launched with a £1.1 million gift to the council from an anonymous legacy. The council is now working on plans to expand the size of the fund to a target of £20 million.

Indeed, great effort from many sources goes into our arts and heritage : into their creation, production and preservation and into funding, supporting and enjoying them.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : It seems appropriate here to raise the question of value added tax on new works of art. Whereas VAT is designed to encourage exports of everything else, it also encourages exports of works of art. If they are sold abroad, they are sold at a discount of 15 per cent. or at the price for which the artist is asking rather than being sold in this country, presumably under the scheme that my right hon. Friend has just announced, with a bare 15 per cent. VAT addition. Would he have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see if that cannot be changed?

Mr. Luce : I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this subject and of course I will raise the point with the Chancellor. There is now a great deal of discussion within the Community of the implications of 1992 for the art trade. But I will, of course, bear the point in mind and raise it with my right hon. Friend.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to blow the trumpet for our marvellous arts organisations and their leadership.

The test of all this is our ability to produce art of lasting quality. As Henry Austin Dobson said : "All passes ; art alone, enduring, stays to us."

There is no reason why we should not be producing the same talent today as we have in previous generations. Just as Shakespeare, Bacon, Gainsborough, Turner, T. S. Eliot, Elgar, Kipling and Byron have endured, so I believe that there are artists of genius today who will be remembered and enjoyed in centuries to come.

Our artistic quality is a true test of the level of our civilisation. Any Arts Minister has the duty to ensure that the outlet for genius and creativity is as strong as ever in the last part of this century. That is the duty which I try to fulfil. 4.29 pm

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Any congratulations that are due to the Government for this debate on the arts are dwarfed by the timing of the debate. We had an arts debate five years ago on European election day and, by an extraordinary coincidence, once again, on a European election day when hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to be helping in European constituencies, we have another arts debate.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Has the hon. Gentleman thought of that word "dwarfed" in relation to a comparison between the different numbers on the two sides of the House? Despite the difficulties of being present, there are three times as many on Conservative Benches as there are on Opposition Benches.

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Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : It is the quality that is important.

Mr. Fisher : As my right hon. Friend has said, by the end of the debate, we shall be able to judge the quality of the contributions. It is hardly surprising that the hon. Gentleman made that point. There is a simple answer. Tory Members know that they will be thrashed in the European elections, so there is no point in them being in the constituencies. They are better cowering here than facing the electorate. We know that we shall have a triumph in the polls today and my right hon. and hon. Friends are out celebrating in advance the enormous vote of confidence that the electorate are giving us. The difference in enthusiasm in getting out and facing the electorate is hardly surprising. It is interesting that Tory Members are here rather than doing that.

It is not good enough to have the debate on this day. I do not blame the Minister for this. It is the usual channels, or the Chief Whip, or the Leader of the House. [Interruption.] An hon. Member who is not supposed to speak has said that I am not sure who is to blame and that is probably true. The timing of the debate reflects the interest in art and culture among senior members of the Cabinet. In their view, these are unimportant issues that can be debated on what are, in parliamentary terms, non-days. Our contention is that the arts and heritage are vital to the democratic and cultural life, to community identity and cohesion, to employment and the economy. I wish that the Government--I exclude the Minister from this--placed the same importance on the arts and culture as we do. If they did, we would be having this debate in prime time.

I welcome the debate and the chance to respond to the Minister's interesting speech. It gives us an opportunity both to examine the cultural balance sheet in the arts and heritage after 10 years of the Government and to look at it in the light of this European election day and compare our policies and practice with those of our European partners. Statistics are difficult to compare because they are arranged in different definitions in different countries and with different regional and central Government balances. I welcome the fact that the Office of Arts and Libraries is funding a Policy Studies Institute study to look at those comparative statistics. I hope that it will be finished soon and that we can see the published results.

The Minister will not be surprised to learn that I suspect that those results will show that other European countries spend a great deal more on their arts and heritage than we do. The figures available from the Arts Council and others show that France and West Germany spend 0.8 per cent. of total central Government expenditure on the arts when we spend about 0.25 per cent. We spend less than half the level of other countries. On a per capita basis, we spend between £7 and £9 a head--there are different figures in different parts of the United Kingdom--Germany spends about £15 to £16, France about £17 and Sweden about £24. That is an interesting reflection on the relative importance that other countries give to the arts. I welcome the evidence that the Minister is attempting to ascertain the facts. I hope that he will use that material well in getting more money from the Treasury. Currently we are limping behind our European counterparts.

If central Government are not yet responding, local authorities are. The authorities recognise that there is a real demand from audience and artists in the local

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community and they have been increasing their expenditure enormously, and probably at a faster rate than any other set of local authorities in the European Community. I hope that the Government will recognise that local message. The Minister's remarks today about Glasgow and other local communities suggest that he may be aware of it and recognises it. It seems, unfortunately, that the local message is something to which the Government are fairly deaf. I hope that they will listen more attentively.

Let us consider the 10-year balance sheet that sets out the Government's record. The Minister has set out some of the criteria that he thinks we should be examining. I have paid tribute already to the fact that he secured three-year funding. He has made attempts with the Arts Council to devolve more to the regions. I welcome, for example, the move of Sadler's Wells to Birmingham, Tate in the north and other initiatives, on which I congratulate the Minister. However, the Government's record overall is a poor one. I welcome the things that are happening but the Government's response to initiatives has been poor.

Over the past 10 years we have done well in museum terms. We have seen the expansion of industrial museums, but the Government's response has been to allow a real crisis to develop in repairs to and maintenance of our national museums. There has been an exciting increase in the interest of audiences in dance. The Government commissioned, through the Arts Council, the Devlin report, which does not take the French Government's view that we should invest to reflect the increased interest of audiences in dance. The premise of the Devlin report was that there should be no more funding. That is why it came to the conclusion that the Northern Ballet Theatre should be axed. We welcome the fact that it has a two-year breathing space. It is unfortunate that the Government are not responding to exciting developments.

There is a range of opera touring companies, including Opera North and Kent Opera. Unfortunately, there are severe question marks over Kent Opera's future. Given the good work that it is doing, it would be a tragedy if it were to be axed.

In local authorities, whatever the political persuasion, we are seeing an increase in the number of arts officers and the development of arts policy. There is an increase in expenditure in both Conservative and Labour- controlled authorities. This is apparent in shire counties and metropolitan areas. It is taking place in spite of the fact that the Government have taken £28 billion from local authorities through the rate support grant over the past 10 years. The RSG has been cut from 61 per cent. of funding to 45 per cent. The enormously exciting increase in expenditure on the arts by local authorities and local communities has not been taken up by the Government. On the contrary, they have done their best to inhibit it. The Government's role has been shortsighted. At a time of unprecedented interest by audiences and extremely high quality of work by artists and writers throughout the country, the Government's record is a miserable one of neglect, underfunding and missed opportunities.

The Government are out of touch and out of sympathy with what is going on in the arts around the country. That is extremely sad. Both libraries and museums should be enjoying a golden age. I pay tribute to the Government's GCSE syllabus, which put a terrific and new emphasis on children working from primary sources. The opportunities for

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working in libraries and in museums with primary sources is enormous and should mean an expansion of audiences and activities in libraries and museums. We find, however, that, after 10 years of care for libraries by the present Government, fewer public libraries are open. Those that are open are open for fewer hours, and the spending on book funds has fallen.

Everyone agrees that information is the key element in the development of our economy. Our public libraries are the main source of important industrial and community information on patents, standards and legal and tariff barriers. Ten years ago there were 22, 000 requests for information at Birmingham central library. Last year, there were 579,000 requests. That is a 163 per cent. increase, showing an explosion of interest and involvement in the public libraries' information services. However, the Government have been cutting the funding of public libraries.

As a result of the GCSE, there is a need for more library facilities as most schools are struggling to keep up their book funds. Very few schools have professional chartered librarians. My four children have now been through the state system and none of them attended a high school or primary school which had a chartered librarian. In school, they had virtually no experience of professional libraries. That is a wasted opportunity and a tragedy. There has been a general collapse in national and regional libraries. Over the past year there have been reports from the Museums and Galleries Commission, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee which all tell the Minister the same story. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is hearing evidence from the directors of our major national museums. Mr. Neil MacGregor recently explained to that Select Committee the problems facing his gallery.

When will the Government recognise the crisis? When will they recognise that the Tate gallery needs £27 million for repairs and maintenance of basics like wiring, safety procedures and security? The Victoria and Albert museum has a £50 million backlog of repairs and maintenance and anticipates that it will need £120 million over the next five years. The National Maritime museum needs £19 million for repairs and maintenance. How much more evidence must be put in front of the Minister before he does something about the fabric of our great national museums?

Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman takes no notice when we announce positive decisions. He is either deaf or does not want to listen. Does he acknowledge that, as a result of representations about the structure of our important national institutions, I have decided to shift resources to building and maintenance to the tune of an extra 55 per cent. over a four- year period in acknowledgment of that very problem? It is very difficult to take the hon. Gentleman seriously if he does not acknowledge that the Government are trying to do something about it.

Mr. Fisher : Of course we acknowledge that the Government are trying to do something. However, the Minister must understand that the initiative which he has announced, in comparison to the evidence before him, is completely inadequate. Even after the Minister's initiative, the museums are going backwards. He should ask himself

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why those major museums, 15 months after they were given the opportunity to take over the running of their properties from the Property Services Agency, are still reluctant to take on that responsibility. Instead of being given an opportunity by the Government, they know that they are being handed a load of debt and problems.

In welcoming any small moves which the Minister has made, he must understand that he has made an inadequate response to what is becoming a national scandal about the state of the fabric of our national museums. That point is highlighted particularly by the problems facing the Victoria and Albert museum over the past few months, but the problems are not confined to that museum. The problems in libraries and museums have been increasing over the past few years. However, this year, the tenth year of the Prime Minister's reign, has been the worst. The Minister has spent the whole year fire-fighting problems which all stem from the problems that have developed over the past 10 years. He should not have had to do that.

For example, the British Theatre Association library was saved by a benefactor, no thanks to the Minister or the Government. We cannot rely on people like Mr. Holmes a Court to come along and bale out the Government, who have a public and national responsibility for a unique archive and resource.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I have been looking at the figures because the hon. Gentleman painted an abysmal picture of libraries. I cannot reconcile what he said with the facts. The number of service points for libraries has increased from 14,000 to 18,000. There has been no fall in the number of books purchased and 11 million books are purchased every year. Library book stocks have increased from 110 million to 116 million and library staffing is at its highest level for 10 years.

Mr. Fisher : The hon. Gentleman should try to understand the figures that he has quoted or with which the Office of Arts and Libraries has provided him. He is not quoting the number of public libraries ; he is quoting public book stocks in hospitals and old people's homes. There are not 14,000 or 20,000 public libraries in this country. There are actually--

Mr. Bowis : No, service points.

Mr. Fisher : Service points are not the important thing. The important thing is that there are 4,000 public libraries in this country. There has been a drop of 200 libraries. No one disputes that, with an aging population, there are more service points in old people's homes and hospitals. However, the number of libraries open to the public has fallen. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who I am sure looks at these matters fairly, should recognise that. This year there was a missed opportunity with the British Theatre Association library. A similar opportunity was missed with the Northern Ballet Theatre. The Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court and the Studio Theatre at the Theatre Royal in Bristol--the Bristol Old Vic--have had to close. Children's theatres such as the Polka and the Unicorn are facing real problems as a result of new regulations which inhibit children and prevent them leaving schools in organised parties to visit theatre performances.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North -West (Mr. Banks) will consider heritage later. The problems at Huggin Hill have matched those of the Rose theatre. We will also have problems very soon about the archaeological remains at the King's Cross site. We shall have similar problems along the route of the Channel tunnel. The problems are stacking up.

This tenth year of Thatcherism has been a very bad year for the Government quite apart from the missed opportunities at Covent Garden, King's Cross, in Docklands and on the South Bank where there are major international opportunities for the Government to make a formidable statement about how much we care about our culture. However, the Government are standing idly by and letting the private sector get on with it.

The Minister made an interesting speech this afternoon. I have often berated him about his lack of policy and vision. I recognise that this afternoon he attempted to address those problems. Many of his aspirations on more opportunities for all, on audience participation, on pride in arts achievements in this country, on arts in schools, devolution, access and excellence were all fine aspirations and fine words which hon. Members on both sides of the House would share and applaud in full.

The Minister asked me to respond in particular to his remarks about the arm's-length principle and the future of the Arts Council. This Government and other Governments have considered the arm's-length principle to involve what is at the end of the arm. The fact that the arm is extended does not mean to say that the Government do not control, at the end of the arm, the Arts Council through Government funding limits. That has become true over the past few years when the arts world has considered that the Arts Council is moving closer to the Government.

We believe that a truly independent Arts Council is one that can speak for the arts world to the Government instead of to the arts world on behalf of the Government as, on occasion, the Arts Council appears to have done over the past few years. There are exceptions to that. It took an honourable, principled and brave stand on clause 28 last year and told the Government that they were wrong. However, too often companies in the arts world feel that the Arts Council must, because of its funding relationship with the Government, speak too much on behalf of the Government instead of to the Government. We would seek to reduce the patronage of the Arts Council to have an independent Arts Council which spoke for, and on behalf of, the arts world. We shall submit evidence to Mr. Wilding's inquiry which we welcome. No doubt we will debate those matters at greater length in future.

I welcome the Minister's announcement about the innovation endowment fund. The need for innovation is great. However, I doubt whether that, of itself, is an adequate or sufficient solution and whether money solely dispensed by the Arts Council from the centre--from London, from the top--is the best way to stimulate innovation in all forms of arts and culture. Innovation is best developed at regional and local level. However, I welcome the initiative, as far as it goes.

Innovation is not simply a question of providing £1 million and thinking that that will suffice. Companies ought to be sufficiently well funded to feel that they have the right to fail. Recently the National Theatre bravely staged a play called "Ghetto". A lot of money was spent on it. It was unlikely to be a box office success. If the reviews had been bad and if audiences had not turned up,

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the whole season at the National Theatre would have been put at risk. Theatre companies should not have to risk a whole season in that way. The right to fail and to experiment must be built into their budgets.

The very brave work that Annie Castledine has been doing at the Derby Playhouse does not easily attract audiences, but audiences are being built up for it. The critical appreciation is enormous. Local audiences are responding, so work of that sort needs to be backed. A theatre that has no room for the sort of work that Annie Castledine is doing at Derby is not a theatre which is in good shape.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the way to guarantee box office success is to reduce income tax? It has been reduced from 83 per cent. to 40 per cent. People now have some money to spend on the arts.

Mr. Fisher : The Government are always telling us that people now have very much more money in their pockets, but spending on the arts by audiences is not necessarily the answer to the problem. Most of the companies that I am talking about, which play to large audiences, cannot increase their box office revenue. The Royal Opera House is playing to 96 to 97 per cent. capacity audiences.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : Of course it plays to 96 per cent. capacity audiences. That is because 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. of the seat price is paid for by the rest of us.

Mr. Fisher : I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want there to be success at the box office, and 96 per cent. or 97 per cent. at the box office is a good indication of how popular the Royal Opera House and English National Opera programmes are. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome popular success, but it seems that he is never satisfied.

The real reason for these problems is that the Government are hoist on their policy of relying on the private sector and market forces. I remind the Minister yet again about his statement to the conference at Newcastle of the Council of Regional Arts Associations. I hope that he will take this opportunity to say that he has changed his mind and that that statement is no longer Government policy. He said :

"The objective of this Government is to reduce the role of the state."

Is that still the Government's objective? If so, I suspect that he has had great success, because most companies reckon that they are getting less state support. However, that is not in the interests of innovation or quality, or of widening access to the arts, even though that is his ambition.

The Minister went on to say :

"Too many in the arts world have yet to be weaned away from the welfare state mentality."

I do not believe that they ever had such a mentality. People in the arts world have always fought for audiences. They are very keen to increase their audiences. Performing artistes want as many people as possible to see their work. I think that they found that remark deeply offensive and deeply insulting.

Is it still the Government's view that a welfare state mentality still exists in the arts? I hope that the Minister will rise to his feet and say that that is not so--that he recognises that the arts are very good at marketing

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themselves and selling themselves to audiences. The Minister seems to be reluctant to take the opportunity I have offered to him to take back a remark that does him no credit. I regret that he does not intend to do so. The arts world will regret it, too, and note the reality of the Government's attitude, beneath all their fine words. As for funding, the Minister said that three times as much money is devoted now to the arts as in the 1960s. Of course it is, but the demand is much greater and there are many more Arts Council and regional arts association clients. The expansion of the arts has been enormous. However, can the Minister name one arts client who is getting more money now and who feels that the opportunities are greater as a result of central Government policy and funding? Can he name a single company--the Royal Shakespeare theatre or the National theatre, perhaps--that is prepared to go on record and say that it is better off now than it was before, thanks to the Government ; that it is able to mount more programmes ; that it is able to do more interesting and innovative work and that it is able to employ better designers and expand its activities?

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : The hon. Gentleman seems to be coming round to making the case for a centralised arts policy. He has not yet answered the question that my right hon. Friend put to him earlier : whether the Labour party is still committed to an arm's-length policy. Does he still believe in the policy, advocated by his predecessor, of a centralised system, on the basis that he who pays the piper calls the tune? That appears to be the policy that the Labour party advocates. It would pay for the arts and determine what is done by the arts.

Mr. Fisher : The hon. Gentleman should know what Labour policy is because he has been taking part in these debates for a long time. Labour party policy is that there should be an expansion of the arts at local authority level, in response to what local communities, local audiences and local artists want. There should be real devolution. The arts should be encouraged at local authority level by making the arts, for the first time ever, a statutory responsibility of local authorities. The arts are just as important as housing, social services or libraries. That is the way to expand the arts. That is a genuine devolution. It is not centralisation. However, the Government want to control the arts through the Arts Council. They want to control the arts from the centre.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : The hon. Gentleman is arguing against himself now. He said earlier that companies should have the right to put on whatever productions they want, that they should have the right to fail and that we should subsidise them, even if nobody wants to see their productions. Now he is saying that he wants the arts to be funded at local level so that people can be given what they want. If people want something, they will go and see it. If they do not want it, they will not go and see it. Which way does he want it to be?

Mr. Fisher : I thought that I had made the Labour party's policy quite clear. We believe in expansion at local authority level by placing on local authorities a statutory responsibility for the arts and by funding the arts through

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the rate support grant. There would then be a flowering of activity in response to local needs. That would be genuine devolution. The response would be different, because different communities would have different arts needs. The needs in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Glasgow--even in Grantham--will be different. That would be a truly local policy which would be welcomed by the arts world.

It is interesting to note that neither the Minister nor any of his Back Benchers can name a single company that believes that it is better off after 10 years of Conservative Government. That says it all. The Minister always talks about sponsorship and makes great play of it. He refers to the admirable gifts of people such as Lord Sainsbury, Mr. Clore and Mr. Getty. He should also pay tribute perhaps to Mr. Annenberg at the National gallery.

The Minister has missed the point about sponsorship. In France, private sector sponsorship is far greater than it is here. The reason is that the French Government believe in an arts policy. They are prepared to fund the arts. That attracts individual sponsors. Why should the corporate sector fund the arts when the Government do not have confidence in the importance of an arts policy? When he calculates his European figures, in the Policy Studies Institute study, I hope that they will include sponsorship. That would prove my point that private sector funding of the arts is much greater in those countries where the Government take a lead and say that they believe in funding the arts. That gives confidence to the private sector and a context within which the private sector can work. The Government are totally at odds with audiences, with what is happening at local authority level and with what is happening in Europe and further afield. The Prime Minister is apparently taking an interest now in the arts. She has not yet exhibited her interest, but I am told that her speeches are beginning to include little phrases, written for her by other people, about how good and important the arts are. I welcome that. I hope that she will go to the theatre or to a concert--even a pop concert. It would be very interesting to see her there. Until she shows a personal interest in the arts, people will treat her statements with some scepticism. The Prime Minister and the Government display a grudging attitude to the arts. They say, "Let somebody else do it." We applaud what is happening in the arts, but the Government appear to be saying that they want somebody else to be responsible for the arts. The Minister commented in his infamous Newcastle speech :

"The arts world must accept the economic and political climate in which we operate."

The arts world does not accept it. It does not like it, and I suspect that people throughout the arts are casting their votes against the Government at the polls today because of their poor policies.

I conclude by referring the Minister to a quote from Bernard Shaw's "Back to Methuselah", in which, in act 1, the serpent says to Adam, "You see things and you say why? But I dream things that never were and I say why not?'

The Government ask themselves why they should fund the arts, but we--and the country will show that it is with us--ask : why not? The arts are a vital part of our local and national life and identity and deserve to be funded. The Government should recognise the success that is our country's arts and heritage, and should acknowledge the country's mood and back them.

Several Hon. Members rose --

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I remind the House that the debate must finish at 7 o'clock. As many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, I hope that contributions will be brief. 5 pm

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