|Previous Section||Home Page|
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : My right hon. Friend the Minister will forgive me if I do not follow him in his opening the debate on the arts but instead open the second subject for debate, our heritage. In that respect, the first report from the Environment Select Committee, "Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments", is relevant, and I regret that it has taken two and half years since publication for it to come before the House in today's debate. A year after that report's publication, a response by the Department of the Environment was published on 20 January 1988, including replies from the standing conference of deans and provosts of English cathedrals and from the dean and chapter of Ely cathedral.
Generally speaking, the Select Committee report was warmly welcomed. In a letter to me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, as well as indicating his approval of much of the contents of the report, commented :
"On those matters where we have not felt able to follow your suggestions you should not feel that the door is necessarily closed for all time. We shall naturally keep our legislative and administrative procedures under review and will remain receptive to imaginative, new ideas for the conservation and preservation of our heritage."
I take this opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made in the past two and a half years with matters which have remained outstanding since the Select Committee report and the Government's response. The Select Committee raised three main issues, as well as a number of miscellaneous matters. Those main issues were the multiplicity of agencies responsible for heritage, the listing and scheduling system for buildings and monuments, and the allocation of financial resources for heritage purposes. The Committee found that the existing multiplicity of agencies with overlapping responsibilities resulted in a dissipation of energies. That was among the matters that we said should be examined, and we recommended that more powers and responsibilities--and, it follows, more resources--should be devolved to English Heritage.
The Committee concluded, and the Government agreed, that too little weight was placed on tourism relating to historic buildings and ancient monuments. In his letter to me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State remarked :
"Better public access and increased numbers of tourists can make a significant contribution to the upkeep and preservation of the heritage by providing income and enhanced public awareness. But if the longer term effects are to be positive, it is important that tourism is properly managed and controlled. This requires a degree of expertise and close liaison between the various agencies involved, both nationally and locally. The Government is pursuing these objectives "
In the 18 months since that letter was written, how far have the Government progressed in pursuing those objectives on which the Select Committee and the Government were wholly in agreement? The Select Committee found that the listing of historic buildings was basically sound, but recommended that that responsibility be transferred to English Heritage together
Column 1150with the power to serve building preservation notices--which it already has in respect of London. I regret that, so far, the Government have not thought it right to adopt that particular recommendation, on the ground of political accountability. Nevertheless, we could still raise such matters in the House even though, in the view of the Select Committee, English Heritage should be given prime responsibility.
As to the scheduling of ancient monuments, in the light of very recent experience, the Committee's recommendations are even more relevant today. Earlier this afternoon there was a private notice question on the subject of the Rose theatre. The Committee suggested that the Government should ensure that areas of archaeological importance were extended. Where such areas are declared under an arrangement between local and central Government, prior notice would be required for any operation which disturbed the ground in the area concerned--including flooding and tipping as well as development. Thereafter, a team could be appointed with the power to enter and investigate, and to excavate the site for up to four months. Alternatively, the team could hold a watching brief while the development progressed.
It is possible that in the case of the Rose theatre such an arrangement would have been unnecessary, because we and the country were fortunate that the developers involved took a very responsible attitude to the discovery, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment moved in with £1 million to enable the developers to investigate what measures were necessary to preserve the Rose, which they did with very satisfactory results, having regard to the special situation.
What would have been the outcome if a responsible developer had not been involved in that case? As city centres are redeveloped as part of inner city regeneration, it is likely that many other important remains will be uncovered. What is the Government's current view both of funding to rescue archaeology and of the protection of sites of outstanding historical importance? I emphasise again that we cannot always be sure that redevelopment will be in the hands of responsible developers.
The Select Committee's third major point concerned the financing of our heritage. We were critical of the fact that grants could be applied only when the building qualified as "outstanding". We feel that all grade I buildings without exception should qualify for grant automatically, or they should not be grade I in the first place. The matter which caused the greatest controversy and which the media enjoyed more than anything else was the suggestion that cathedrals which are not subject to grant should become subject to grant once they had shown that they had done everything in their power to raise the necessary funds for the maintenance, repair and restoration of their buildings. We had the temerity to suggest that perhaps for tourists, as distinct from worshippers--they can readily be defined-- there should be a charge of at least £1 per person. In putting forward that suggestion, we realised that we were touching a sensitive area as some people say that there should not be a charge to enter the House of God. As one who likes to attend church regularly, I understand that sentiment. However, we are not talking about people from the locality of the cathedral, for whom a part can always be set aside, but about chara- trippers who arrive in multitudes and by the mere weight of their feet and the probing of
Column 1151their fingers cause perhaps as much erosion of the fabric of the cathedral as the exterior suffers through acid rain, which is the subject of another report upon which I shall not dwell now.
Mr. Fisher : Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be extremely apprehensive to hear the hon. Gentleman talking about a charge for tourists. How on earth can one distinguish between tourists and residents? Have not tourists the right to worship and pray in cathedrals? When considering funding, did his Committee look at the experience of Germany and other European countries where the state provides some funding through the taxation system and gets around the problem of making a totally impossible distinction between those who wish to pray and those who wish to look at a museum?
Sir Hugh Rossi : Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has not had the advantage of studying the report, although it has been in the Library for two and a half years. We went to Germany to look at the German experience, which involves one third funding from central Government, one third from local government and one third from voluntary subscriptions. If the hon. Gentleman had read the reasons that we received from the deans and provosts of English cathedrals and from the dean and chapter of Ely cathedral, he might have thought a little before leaping in with the question that he has just asked. The dean and chapter of Ely cathedral wrote :
"It is not our experience, after nearly two years of weekday admission charges at Ely, that an entrance charge militates against the character of a Cathedral as a House of God. On the contrary, the prayer board at the far end of the charging area upon which visitors are encouraged to leave intercessions to be used at daily Evensong, has been so full of prayers during the past summer that it has been an embarrassment to recite them adequately at the Service. Moreover, our experience of charging is that visitors stay far longer in the cathedral having come for a deliberate visit rather than using the buildings as a wet weather call. Problems of noisy parties rushing through the building in ten minutes and of misconduct of bored visitors have practically disappeared."
That is the experience of one cathedral that has followed the advice given by the Select Committee. The practice predated the Committee. That experience prompted us to include the suggestion and recommendation in our report.
The consequence is that Ely cathedral, although it is not on the usual tourist route as York and Durham are, now has an annual fund available to follow a programme of proper maintenance and repair to its building and a surplus which it sends to the diocesan fund. The Select Committee recommendation was that if the popular cathedrals--in tourist terms--were to adopt that policy, the surplus could then be used to set up a national fund for the preservation of those cathedrals which are off the tourist beaten track.
I realise that that view is not shared by every dean and chapter of every cathedral. The pious hope expressed by the provosts is : "it is the pastoral task of a cathedral to turn tourists into visitors, visitors into guests, guests into pilgrims, and pilgrims into worshippers."
That is a laudable ambition, but whether it has much relation to the way in which tourists react today is open to question. We rely very much on the experience of one cathedral which has had the courage to follow that course
Column 1152and has solved its financial problems without in any way detracting from the nature of the cathedral or causing any disturbance whatsoever to the worshippers.
Mr. Heffer : I find what the hon. Gentleman said fascinating. As a member of the Church, I would strongly object to anyone having to pay to enter our cathedrals. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visit Italy regularly. Perhaps he knows more about this than I do, but I can think of no cathedral or church that I have visited--I go to as many as I can--in Venice or anywhere else in Italy where one has to pay. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can point one out to me.
Sir Hugh Rossi : One in Venice immediately comes to mind--Santa Maria Maggiore, Vergine, or some similar name--and I have a photograph of a plaque outside saying that visitors are requested to put 1,500 lire in the box on entering.
I shall leave that point as it is not strictly a matter for the Government. It is a matter for the church authorities, who must decide for themselves what to do. I raised the matter because the question has crossed my mind more than once in relation to the problems faced by Hereford cathedral, which has refused to follow Ely and impose a charge. The money needed for repairs could not be raised by appeal. It then went through the dreadful experience over Mappa Mundi and failed to raise money. Its appeal has failed and it is now in dire straits financially. It does not know which way to turn, but perhaps Ely has pointed the way.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : The Minister spoke not with complacency but with astonishing insensitivity for the feelings of many people in the arts world and beyond. It is strange that he should have spoken in that tone, because he referred to the general background in which a Minister for the Arts has to operate. He is concerned not only with artistic matters but with the cultural background of the country. It is astonishing that a Minister in that position should speak in such a tone. He has only to use his eyes, ears and intelligence--I am sure he has all three--to find out what is being said in many different circles.
The Minister referred to the universities and the new examination. I am sure that I meet a different type of person at universities from the right hon. Gentleman and others. My experience is that there is more depression and lower morale in the universities than at any time I can remember, except when the Government were pushing through their Bill affecting universities and threatening action against them. Those threats were partly withdrawn at the last moment. Even the universities with the best funding are complaining about depression and low morale.
Fewer people will be recruited as history teachers in universities. The brain drain is happening. If anybody
Column 1153cares to read the details, there was another report in The Guardian yesterday. Anyone who does not understand the depression in the universities does not understand the real mood among academics in this country.
A more obvious example, to which the Minister also referred, is broadcasting. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that there is confidence within those circles, that morale is high and that they are sharing in the supposed great fruits of 10 years of wonderful industrial and economic progress? There is no such mood. There is a mood of fright and alarm. If the Minister cared to open the newspapers, he could read about that almost every day.
There is also the strike at the BBC. There was a much bigger response to strike action than most people had calculated. It is just one expression of the feeling inside the BBC. The morale within the BBC is even worse than that in private companies. It is alarmed at what the Government intend to do, and it has every right to be alarmed. An excellent article in The Independent described the widespread, corrosive fears of privatisation within the BBC and how it thinks it is being pushed in that direction. If the Minister does not think that that is the mood, he should talk to some of the people in charge. He should also talk to those who manage his financial affairs. He is supposed to be one of the great experts because of the way in which he responds to questions by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The BBC overseas service is one of the finest institutions in the country. It has to grapple with the Government's refusal and failure year after year to match the inflation rate with the money they provide. If the Minister disputes the figures, he has not listened to the people who do the job. The overseas service is magnificent : hon. Members on both sides of the House say that constantly whenever we debate it.
Those who run the overseas service make the best possible use of the small resources available. I am not criticising the people who run it. However, the Government, by implication, are constantly criticising because they are constantly squeezing the amount available to spend. Therefore, in the past few years the overseas service has had to be restricted in many ways. There has been a good example of that in the past week. I am sure that millions of people across China would have been eager to hear the BBC reports on the circumstances there. However, fewer people in China are able to hear those reports than some years ago. That is partly because of the financial squeeze. The BBC has hardly enough money to place telephone calls to China, let alone to provide a broadcast service in that part of the world.
It is not a laughing matter. The Government should be considering a major expansion of the money allocated to the BBC overseas service and the BBC generally so that it can overcome the shockingly low morale that exists. The BBC is one of the best institutions in the country. The Prime Minister cannot bear to see an organisation that has performed well for the nation over the years. She has always got to see whether she can shake it up or change it. She has already shown what a catastrophe such action can cause by the changes in the National Health Service. The same thing has happened with the universities and broadcasting. In the face of all that, it is wrong for the Minister to be so complacent.
I seek to reply to those general arguments because they were raised by the Minister. Usually in such debates my
Column 1154hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) is present to put his arguments. He is not here today because of illness, so he cannot give us his assistance. However, he has done the next best thing by producing a book on the subject. I am sure that it has been read by all Opposition Members but some Conservative Members may not have completed their education. I recommend it most strongly. It is entitled "Glasnost in Britain". It is published by Macmillan and edited by Norman Buchan and Tricia Sumner. It is a fine book and gives a clearer picture of what has happened in the past 10 years than anything we have heard from the Minister.
The articles in the book cover the many different themes that are relevant to the debate, but I shall quote a sentence
prophylactically. It is from an article by the Earl of Stockton. I know that his grandfather is not regarded favourably by the Government but I hope that they will not visit the sins of the grandfather on the grandson, particularly when he has written an excellent and witty article. He has inherited his grandfather's gift in that respect. The Earl of Stockton warns about VAT on books and says that that issue has not yet been settled. He wants to ensure that it is settled. I should like an absolute assurance from the Government that there will be no retreat on VAT on books. The excellent article says :
"There is a certain Orwellian irony that the last time we defended the printed word was in 1984."
He was referring to the campaign in 1984 to fend off the imposition of VAT on books. He goes on to say :
"There are those who say that the book trade is unduly alarmist. Well, I am not a hysteric, but nor am I an ostrich. The threat of taxation on the printed word is not only unnecessary, uneconomic and essentially illiberal, but the mechanisms of its impositions are, I suspect, probably corrupt and tyrannical in the most insidious fashion".
The article elaborates that case.
I hope that the Government will now give us an absolute assurance that, whatever happens and whatever the dispute is about, whether or not it is about how the new Common Market is to be dealt with, there will be no departure from the absolute undertaking that there will be no VAT on books and that the Government are not prepared to allow that to go through.
That article should be circulated to every Government Member. I am sure that, on that matter at least, the Minister for the Arts will agree with what I am saying and he is the best person to know how many of his Cabinet colleagues need educating on the subject. Let me come now to a more major matter that concerns the right hon. Gentleman. About a year ago, in a debate on the arts, we discussed whether the amounts of money that the museums had to spend had been properly increased over the previous few years, whatever might be the promise for the next year or two. As I recall, at that time we had just had the report from the independent committee which had investigated those matters. It showed that, just as there has been a squeeze on the BBC, the universities and others, so a squeeze had been put on the museums. By not making up their money to cover inflation, the Government were, in effect, imposing a cut. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that that report discussed how museum staff throughout Britain were having to bear the burden of the Government's failure to deal with such matters. In case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he does not have any special responsibility in such matters, let me
Column 1155make the point even more directly. He referred to the Victoria and Albert museum. In a year when there has been such a crisis in that institution, the right hon. Gentleman's references to the subject were derisory. He did not even attempt to discuss the major questions. It is no good him saying that he has mentioned them on other occasions so that there is no need to do so again. He made one reference to the museum, but he did not make any reference to the crisis there. Does he deny that there is a crisis? If he does, he should study the debate that took place in the other place on 22 and 23 March on that subject initiated by Lord Annan. I am sure that he has done so already, but I invite other hon. Members to do so. The noble Lord Annan is not a scaremonger, but he was outraged by what had happened at the Victoria and Albert museum, and he used many pertinent and potent phrases to describe it. He said that the way in which some of the people had been sacked was vulgar and brutal. He used a series of further words to describe the situation--charges with which I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have had some sympathy. I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman, or any civilised hon. Member, could think that to sack people in the way that they were was the proper way in which to act.
But the background to the matter affects the right hon. Gentleman even more directly. The noble Lord Annan gave details of the Victoria and Albert museum's finances, which showed that its crisis was largely provoked by the lack of money. If the right hon. Gentleman questions what I say, he need only read what the noble Lord Annan said. He did not just give his own figures. He said :
"However, there is a far more serious charge for the Government to face. The deputy chairman of the trustees, Sir Michael Butler, tells us that the finances of the Victoria and Albert have been cut each year for the past 13 years by 3 per cent. Now the Government are not honouring the pay awards to which they are a party By 1992, so I understand, the V & A will be in deficit unless it gets rid of staff. Is that one reason why eight curatorial staff have been asked to take voluntary retirement?"
He went on :
"I call this policy dishonest and dishonourable".
Those charges are serious and they were sustained by many others who spoke in the debate. No one need take my word for that ; they can read the speeches of the noble Lords who supported the noble Lord Annan.
At least the Government's policy towards the Victoria and Albert has made a great contribution to Britain's anthology of invective. The mastery of invective shown in the other place to describe what had happened in the Victoria and Albert was considerable. As I have said, the noble Lord Annan presented the case strongly, but I think that the prize should go to the noble Lord Goodman, who certainly knows something about these matters, and neither the right hon. Gentleman nor anybody else should try to push aside what he had to say. He described what had happened in a paragraph which must have caused a shudder throughout the other place. I shall not quote it now, but anyone who says that I am exaggerating should read that debate. I promise that they will not have any difficulty in doing so because the case against what was done was stated by masters of the English language.
The Government had two replies and two spokesmen in that debate. Neither replied on the question of the money, the one that affects the right hon. Gentleman. Neither
Column 1156replied to the charge made by the noble Lord Annan, and sustained by others, that the real money that can be spent on maintaining the museum--some of its money goes on repairs, and so on-- has been cut and cut, and that, under the prospective plans, there will be still further cuts. The Government made no consistent or reputable reply to that charge, despite the fact that they answered in two different ways. On one happly occasion--again, if anyone thinks that I am exaggerating he can read the debate--the two Government spokesmen found themselves repudiating each other because they got mixed up about who had given the orders to the trustees and those who run the Victoria and Albert to sack the people involved.
Even at the end of the debate, there was no agreement between the noble Lord Armstrong and the other Government spokesmen about who had given the instructions. The noble Lord Armstrong is an interesting spokesman on the subject. He has a reputation of being, in that famous phrase, economical with the truth. I do not wish to make any such platitudinous reference. He almost has a taste for extravagant platitude as well. Explaining the situation, Lord Armstrong said : "There is some suggestion that we are all appointed with some undisclosed and sinister mandate from the Prime Minister. We are of course all appointed by the Prime Minister because that is how Parliament said that we should be appointed in the National Heritage Act".--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 22 March 1989 ; Vol. 505, c. 766-97.]
It is perfectly true that a decision was made along those lines, but nobody then thought that the Prime Minister's power of appointment would be used so swiftly in such a critical case as this to appoint someone such as Lord Armstrong. He is certainly one of them--in that sense, he has great qualifications--but his appointment was bound to give rise to anxieties among the people who run the museum.
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is nonsense and that I am exaggerating the importance of the matter, he should have taken the opportunity to say what will happen at the Victoria and Albert. Is the right hon. Gentleman merely going to accept the fait accompli imposed by Lord Armstrong and others with the approval, concurrence and incitement of the Prime Minister?
If anyone questions what I say, I invite them to read the article written on this subject by someone who knows far more about the Victoria and Albert museum than anyone in this House, or in the other place, and far more than Lord Armstrong, Lord Carrington and the others who were appointed for a year or two. That article was written for the New York Review of Books and I am glad to say that The Guardian republished it in this country. That article on what has happened to one of our greatest museums represents the most serious discussion on it that has been published in the whole of the controversy.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is familiar with the article and I am sure that his civil servants gave it to him. If that is so, what is the Minister's answer to it? The article is entitled "The Fall of a Great Museum" and it was written by John Pope-Hennessy. He had great experience at that museum and at other museums since. I have not heard anyone--not even a Government Whip--try to blacken the reputation of John Pope-Hennessy and his right to speak on such matters.
Anyone who reads that article will see that it adds up to an appalling indictment of the Government's misuse of power. It outlines the extremely serious consequences for
Column 1157the future of the museum. I shall give one quote from many. He talks of the danger of sacking people of such qualification and says :
"If the dismissals are persisted the Victoria"--
Mr. Dicks : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I appreciate his interest in this matter, but he has been speaking for 20 mintues. This is a short debate and, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that many of us still want to speak.
The serious charge in the article reads :
"If the dismissals are persisted the Victoria and Albert will be more ignorant than at any other period in this century."
The museum relies on the advice of its experts. The article concludes :
"When universities are starved of funds there is no means by which members of the public can assess the consequences, but when a vast museum with an international reputation is reduced to an object of ridicule, the result is all too evident. To repair the damage and to get the museum once more into decent working order, some form of special grant may be required, but it will be justified because in its future not only the fate of a magnificent collection, but national self-respect is inescapably involved."
The Minister is as directly responsible as anyone in government and he should give us the reassurances and the funds required so that this appalling catastrophe--the fall of a great museum--is remedied. I happened to go to Paris last week and I saw what has been done at the new muse e d'Orsay. We have some magnificent museums, but anyone who has seen what has been done in France in the past four years could not quarrel too much about the extra money that would be required to bring our museums up to the French standard. The President has some understanding of such matters and the French have created a magnificent new museum in which some of the greatest treasures of French art will be displayed. The French Government are wise enough to know that no single investment since 1945 compares with their investment in that museum.
The Victoria and Albert museum has every right and claim to be a wonderful organisation. In this tenth year of the Prime Minister's operations, the Government should compare what has happened this year to the Victoria and Albert with the new museum in France ; they should take that comparison to heart.
I apologise to other hon. Members, but I want to say something further about a matter that is still of great importance to this House and which should be watched with great care--the Rose theatre. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) on his vigilance in this matter. I do not believe that the question is settled yet. The Secretary of State for the Environment today seemed uncertain about whether it was an importance matter after all. He demurred from making such a claim. He does not normally show such bashfulness or parade his humility, but today he said that he did not wish to be too assertive about whether the Rose theatre was such a treasure after all.
I am sure that the Minister is aware of the appeals that have been made for that theatre. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has visited the site and has heard the direct appeals from people such as Dame Peggy Ashcroft and others who have spoken so
Column 1158eloquently upon the matter. I assure Ministers that those people will continue to campaign until the matter is settled properly. If Ministers have any doubts about the theatre, I commend to them the last paragraph of the article on this subject that appeared in The Times Literary Supplement of last week :
"The Rose is a unique phenomenon. Its dates put it, and the changes Henslowe made to it, at the height of the evolution of the Elizabethan playhouse design, neatly disposed between the Theatre of 1576 in Shoreditch, which gave up its timber frame to make the original Globe, and the Swan and Globe alongside the Rose in 1595 and 1599. It gave Marlowe his early chance, and he gave it the first great stage successes of the London theatre. It may well have been Shakespeare's own training ground. In the last three months" I stress, three months--
"theatre historians have been given more fresh and utterly reliable information about the design of the Shakespearean stage than they have managed to scrape together from written-sources in the past three centuries. To lose it would be a new kind of Shakespearean tragedy."
It is our business in this House to ensure that that tragedy does not occur. We have not had such assurance from the right hon. Gentleman yet. I am sure that people in all constituencies and the leaders of the theatre world, Dame Peggy Ashcroft at their head, will make certain that that new Shakespearean tragedy shall not be permitted.
Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury) : The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has just referred to the creation of the muse e d'Orsay in Paris. Anyone who has seen it would agree that it is a fantastic museum. The right hon. Gentleman's contribution was characteristic of the Opposition as it showed a total lack of appreciation of the outstanding successes being achieved in the arts and the current strength of the British arts.
I, too, was in Paris just a few days ago when the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, of which I am lucky enough to be Chairman, was considering the French museums. We saw the great achievements, but we also heard that the position regarding acquisitions is worse for the great French museums than it is for the great British museums. There are also other respects in which the French look to us rather wistfully, one of them being the amount of private support and private patronage that we have been able to generate in our system.
If we recognise the greatness of the muse e d'Orsay and dwell with fascination upon the pyramid at the Louvre--both great achievements--we can also talk enthusiastically of what is about to happen to the National gallery and the arrival of the Tate in Liverpool. We can also talk about the Burrell collection and the Clore gallery. We have many things in this country of which we can be proud and in relation to which the Government have played a full part.
Obviously, I do not accept the point of view of the hon. Member for Stoke- on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) who talked about a cultural balance sheet but then made it clear that he was interested only in public expenditure. Although that is not right, I believe profoundly that the state is a crucial provider of the arts and would not accept for one moment that any other argument makes sense. We have achieved a good balance between public and private provision. That strategy has been developed effectively in recent years and long may it continue.
Column 1159One cannot help thinking of the enormous contributions made by people who are not essentially part of the state apparatus. One such person was Robin Howard, who died a day or two ago and who made a unique contribution to British contemporary dance. Those who knew him knew that he was a buccaneer, not a bureaucrat. A system that allows for that while also providing a national theatre of the present quality is well founded.
In the last couple of years, we in London have been privileged to see more great paintings than I imagine have ever been open to view in our history. We have had a succession of marvellous exhibitions, covering many different types of works of art. Often they have appeared in places such as the National gallery or the Hayward, to which I pay tribute, but such exhibitions have also been sponsored by our large industrial companies.
Such partnerships seem to work also for the good of those people who are lucky enough to be able to see the things that we can see in London. My right hon. Friend the Minister rightly emphasised what is happening in other parts of the country. Indeed, that was an important element in the Art Council's famous policy document of a year or two ago.
The wonderful developments in touring opera in this country have already been mentioned. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central talked about the difficulties encountered by Kent Opera. Today, as throughout the past, a feature of supporting the arts is that one encounters ups and downs. We shall never have--I certainly hope that we do not--a position in which one can simply collect a cheque from the powers that be without anybody discussing it.
Against that, we have an array of astonishingly good opera companies. I have been lucky enough to see two of them in the past few days. One was Opera 80 which did an absolutely magnificent production of "Figaro" and the other was Pavilion Opera, which has just had a coup in performing in Versailles and, unusually, with an orchestra rather than with the gifted pianist who normally accompanies the company. I gather that all Paris thought that that was the cat's whiskers, or whatever the French equivalent may be. That shows the strength and diversity of what we can see in this country at present.
At the local level I am engaged in an exercise to upgrade Buckinghamshire's county museum. The local county council is taking a sympathetic view. Again, good things are happening in other parts of the country as well as in the capital.
The Government's funding policy is not directed at supporting only the classical and traditional arts. It is genuinely designed to allow the avant garde to flourish, even if occasionally that may cause some slight embarrassment to Ministers. Indeed, such occurrences are very good for Ministers. We are in a strong position.
The Arts Council very much appreciates its three-year funding, although there is a problem with inflation. We all know perfectly well that inflation is now running at a higher rate than any of us would have wished. When the Select Committee of which I am Chairman looked at that matter, we decided that the possibility of inflation was a price worth paying for the certainty, security and ability to plan. We felt that the benefits of the three-year funding scheme outweighed the risks of inflation. However, we also
Column 1160stated that if things got out of hand we hoped that the scheme could be reconsidered. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to have a three-year funding policy and to stick to it.
As another sign of the Government's support for the arts, I must add that as a vice-chairman of the British Council I am delighted that this year the council is receiving an extra £6 million of new money. That is welcome in our work to present the excellence of British arts in other parts of the world. The picture is encouraging in many ways.
I should like to draw the attention of the Labour party to what happened with the abolition of the Greater London council and of the metropolitan county councils. Those who sat through the prolonged debates and listened to the saga of grief, horror and angst that was portrayed by the opponents of our provisions, who said that we would be destroying the arts in London and in the other great metropolitan areas, must now face the fact that the record shows that, far from arts funding declining following abolition, it has increased. That is clearly the view of the Arts Council and can be seen from the statistics given in evidence to the Select Committee. I confess that over time it will become harder to tell what the real picture is because those statistics cannot be used for ever. However, it is clear that there has been an increase rather than a decrease in support for the arts.
I am happy to note that the credit for that lies with local government in particular. As one had always believed would happen, the successor local authorities have not said, "We are not interested in the arts and will do nothing about them" ; with help from central Government they have picked up the shortfall that would otherwise have occurred. Again, that supports the premise that the Labour party is too interested in alarmism and is not sufficiently willing to look at the facts.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent referred to the importance of broadcasting to the life of the arts. We know perfectly well that the BBC is a major and fundamental provider of the arts in this country. Although like any institution it has its ups and downs, nevertheless we accept that it has generally been devoted to quality. Important reassurances have recently been given by the Government that the crucial instruments will remain as they are. We have now had the announcement about the future of Channel 4, which seems a fairly good safeguard to ensure the quality of that important station. It is clear that the review of broadcasting will not leave the BBC as a whole in a weakened position. There is every reason to believe that Channel 2 will continue to be a major provider of the arts. We must watch carefully to see what happens in relation to radio. However, I believe that the Government's decisions on broadcasting will ensure that our heritage in broadcasting presentation of the arts will be preserved.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts rightly paid tribute to the way in which the Secretary of State for Education and Science has brought forward the national curriculum. I am sure that all hon. Members welcome the fact that art and music are clearly specified as being among the guaranteed subjects in the national curriculum. However, I accept that there is a problem with music because the shortage of music teachers looks like being serious. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is considering the issue of supply teachers in the 1990s at the moment and I hope that we shall be able to make
Column 1161some constructive and useful comments. If my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts knows of any ways in which he can support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in this matter, I hope that he will do so. It is absolutely right to spread music through the curriculum and I hope and believe that we can make a success of that.
What we are seeing today in the arts is a richness previously unparalleled in this country. Last summer I visited Siena. In the cathedral museum I read an account of how, when Duccio had finished painting the Maesta, that supreme work of art, it was carried in triumph through the streets of Siena and the whole town had three days' holiday. That is the desirable ultimate objective that I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to achieve. In the meanwhile, and even if it takes a year or two to bring about, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he is doing and wish him all power to his elbow.