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The financial crisis first became acute as long ago as 1986-87, when the RSC suffered from the downturn in audiences due to the falling off of American tourism that year. There is now no way out other than a substantial increase in the funding of that company. Mr. Ian Rushden, chief executive of the Royal Insurance Company--the major sponsor of the RSC, giving more than £1 million a year--said : "If we pare to the bone every last financial commitment, leaving no reserve for the risk which goes wrong, then the world-wide reputation of the British arts will be the poorer. That is the danger of current British Government policy. The strength of plural funding depends on all parties pulling their weight, the Government maintaining their grant levels in real terms, the sponsors maintaining their commitment for the agreed period and budgeted audience figures being set at a reasonable level."

Despite high inflation, a squeeze on personal incomes and an increase in the price of seats, audience numbers at the RSC have remained high--at a level well above that which the commercial theatre would regard as necessary to achieve success. The Barbican is now the highest priced theatre in London, and since 1985 seat prices have increased by 47.5 per cent. There is no scope for further price increases without the charitable objectives of the RSC's charter being infringed.

It is accepted as a matter of fact--the Minister did not allude to it, but I assume that he accepts it--that even with the increase of 11 per cent. in the subsidy of the RSC this year, it is over £1.5 million short of what is needed for the current year, and there is a cumulative shortfall in subsidy of £5.7 million. That will be reduced by only £1.3 million as a result of the closure of the Barbican and Pit theatres.

The Minister owes it to the arts, and to the RSC in particular, to explain with precision what his predecessor meant when he said in 1984-85 :

"provision will also be made for subsequent years."

I understand that the Arts Council has repeatedly drawn the Government's attention to that commitment in the annual negotiations on its budget, but no account appears to have been taken of it by the Government in settling the Arts Council's vote.

Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman says that no account has been taken of such matters. Has he acknowledged that in the next financial year the Arts Council will get a cash increase of £20 million and that that increase in percentage terms is 12.5 per cent.? Does he not acknowledge that, when discussions take place with the Chief Secretary, all such factors--not just the Royal Shakespeare Company but the many other problems that are faced by the Arts Council--are taken fully into account?

Mr. Maclennan : I shall not be diverted from the subject of the predicament of the RSC and other national theatre companies by the Minister's attempt to divert attention from that predicament. I have given the Minister the figures. The money that he has obtained is not adequate to meet the gap, never mind to meet the kind of developments of theatre in this country that were recommended by Sir Kenneth Cork all that time ago.

The right hon. Gentleman is the responsible Minister. He is failing the arts and it will not do for him to pray in aid the difficulties that he has with his Treasury colleagues. Beyond that, because I do not wish to take up too much time, I will not go into the economic arguments for the

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right hon. Gentleman's Treasury colleagues to meet the challenge that is before the country and the opportunity of drawing in more tourists to see our great companies.

The director of drama of the Arts Council, speaking last night at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, asked :

"For how long can we in the Arts Council go on holding the bits together? Something is liable to give if additional funds are not available."

Those companies look to Parliament to offer some solution. This debate will not have achieved much if it degenerates simply into a situation in which

"Two men look out through the same bars ;

One sees the mud, the other sees stars."

The reality is a much more mixed picture than the Minister painted today. There are good and extremely bad things on the arts scene. A bad thing is the fact that the fabric of our national collections is disintegrating and that more resources are not being made available. Also among the bad things is the predicament in which all the national companies aided by central Government funds find themselves.

I took some encouragement from the remarks of the Prime Minister when she reopened the Tate gallery last month. In a notable comment, she said :

"It is not enough to conserve the heritage : we have to enlarge it before we pass it on."

Will the Minister pass that message to his Treasury colleagues in coming to grips with this crisis?

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Many hon. Members wish to speak, but time is getting short.

8.58 pm

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) made a cross-gartered speech, which I shall not follow.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has performed a service by bringing to our attention the plight and predicament of a great national company, but his utterances were not balanced ; there was much sound and fury, but not much else. By nodding as my right hon. Friend the Minister spoke, he was giving a truer indication of his appreciation of the state of the arts today. My right hon. Friend spoke eloquently of a record of which he has no reason to be ashamed.

I was most interested when the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) quoted Sir Roy Strong--I am delighted to name Sir Roy Strong among my friends--but, like the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, he got the thing out of balance.

My right hon. Friend was right to speak of the many achievements in the arts over the past 10 years, of the burgeoning of interest and the burgeoning of success, but, as he knows, I believe that all is not well. It is right to use tonight's opportunity to focus--I shall relate my brief remarks to what we are debating--on the plight of this great national company.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is unique. It is a great national company with two full-time national bases. At the Barbican, to the delight of hundreds of thousands of people, it performs the plays of Shakespeare. In Stratford, the birthplace of our great national poet and

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playwright, we have, if I may paraphrase the Arts Council's recent publication, the "glory of the garden" itself.

The activities of the Royal Shakespeare Company must be conducted on a budget of £6 million a year--about £3 million less than that of the national theatre. I would not wish to decry the national theatre, of which we are all properly proud, but one must recognise that, under its charter, the Royal Shakespeare Company must concentrate on the works of Shakespeare, which, as most of us know, call for large casts. They are inevitably large productions to mount.

No one could deny that the Royal Shakespeare Company has done everything possible to maximise its resources. It has been at the forefront in obtaining sponsorship. It has never lagged behind in innovative techniques, consistent with the quality of the works that it portrays, and it has always brought much credit on this country wherever it has performed. It has performed abroad, and every year it puts on 136 weeks of drama in Stratford, London and on tour. It is sad when such a company is faced with such problems. I hope that we can send a message from the House that we are troubled by them. I do not want the Barbican to go dark for four months this year--I do not think that any hon. Member wants that--but what can we do? It is right and proper that we send a message to the Arts Council.

Perhaps we could also send a message to Lady Porter. If she had done her thing by the English national opera, the Arts Council would have had a £2 million contingency fund that it might have felt inclined to use to help the Royal Shakespeare Company. We must never lose sight of the balance and plurality of funding--state, local authority and private--but I am very disturbed, and rather angry, about what Westminster city council has done recently.

What should we do to help the Royal Shakespeare Company? We should consider what Priestley said about underfunding--I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will reflect on this--and the specific and particular problems of the great national companies. It is no disservice to the arts or to the nation to say that, if we allow the lights to go out in London, we are diminishing the arts throughout the nation. It is also appropriate to recognise that the great national companies, which have a particular national responsibility, deserve special regard when it comes to funding.

My right hon. Friend the Minister has many times given the lie to the view that he relies--or wants to rely--solely on sponsorship. Of course he does not. He has a good record as Minister for the Arts in battles with the Treasury--a record that has been acknowledged in the past by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central.

Mr. Fisher : For this year.

Mr. Cormack : No, it is a good record overall. It was dented by an unfortunate rise in inflation. My right hon. Friend came back and obtained more. Last year's funding put the matter more or less right, although that does not mean that we do not want more. My right hon. Friend has a good record on considering the Exchequer and its responsibilities.

Mr. Fisher : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I paid tribute to the Minister when he obtained the increase last

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year, although it cannot repair the damage, as I said earlier, of 10 years of underfunding. The hon. Gentleman will know of the figures that the Royal Shakespeare Company has issued. In every year of the previous five years, the figure has been below the rate of inflation. It was not just an accidental oversight that, in all but one year following Priestley, the inflation level should not even be reached. Every year since Priestley, until last year, the figures under-performed on inflation.

Mr. Cormack : I know that, and I know that the Royal Shakespeare Company has done well to try to bring money in from "Les Miserables", for example. I also know that, if the RSC had been able to take up the option to invest in the American production, we should not be having this debate today.

Mr. Fisher rose--

Mr. Cormack : The hon. Member has made his speech, and I hope that he will let me make mine.

The royal national theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the royal opera and English national opera stand in a special position. It is unfair to put a responsibility on the Arts Council which, if it has regard to all its other responsibilities, it cannot always adequately discharge. We should consider more earmarking and special funding for our great national institutions.

That point has been brought home in the last week by the predicament of the Royal Shakespeare Company. We considered the matter at the beginning of the 1980s in the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, of which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is an active and distinguished member. We took evidence from Mr. Priestley and from Sir Kenneth Cork. One could never say that a company over whose finances Sir Kenneth Cork has presided is profligate. That is nonsense.

We took evidence from them, and the needs became clear. It is clear that, if we want a Royal Shakespeare Company that will always be able to do honour to the greatest name in English literature, it must be paid for. That means being paid for by us, as well as by sponsors and by local authorities.

Mr. Maclennan rose--

Mr. Cormack : I shall not give way again, because several other hon. Members want to take part in the debate, and however brief interventions are, they distract from and prolong speeches. I say to my right hon. Friend that we should let the message go out to the Arts Council. My right hon. Friend has nothing to be ashamed about in his record, but in the next few months, as we move towards the next annual round, let us look specifically and in great detail at the role and needs of our great national companies. Let us see whether they could not be better served and more adequately provided for if we had more earmarked funding.

Mr. Maclennan : At arm's length.

Mr. Cormack : It could be. I am not suggesting that my right hon. Friend should make the final decision on what the Royal Shakespeare Company has and what the national theatre has. Perhaps we should have a special committee of the Arts Council, and there may even be a case for a special body. If we are to sustain excellence in the

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capital city--and we have excellence in the capital city--and if we are to promote the flourishing glory in the garden about which the Arts Council spoke, what we already have--good as it is and creditable as my right hon. Friend's record is not enough.

Let no one say in interjection at that point that I am asking for an open- ended subsidy, because I am not. But if one weighs in the balance what is spent on the arts and recognises their contribution to the spiritual and cultural life of the nation, and to its tourist potential and economy, one sees that we get marvellous value for very little money.

That is also the lesson of the RSC. It has made a hard commercial decision in deciding to close for four months. Given the figures, it had no alternative. I hope that, during the next few months, something will happen that will enable it to stay open throughout the year. I hope that we will be able to use the debate as an opportunity to concentrate our minds on the very special position of those who honour our capital city and, in so doing, bring great credit to the nation.

9.10 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) always speaks well and eloquently for the arts. I am sure he will join me in accepting that some words of John Masefield form a suitable text for the debate : "Some day, in this England that has so often borne beauty, her genius will again move,

in the unexpected ways of insight,

Man will recreate the arts, or die."

Part of the genius of England is Shakespeare and part of the genius of Great Britain is the Royal Shakespeare Company. In accordance with Masefield's text, we should never let either the spirit or the drama of Shakespeare die but always seek to renew or recreate it. If we are to be true to Masefield's text we need more, not less, plays of the calibre and standard set by the productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company of "King Lear", "Romeo and Juliet" and "Hamlet".

To be fair, I know of two Ministers who wholeheartedly believe in Masefield's text. Unfortunately for lovers of Shakespeare, however, both are French. One is President Francois Mitterrand and the other is Minister of Culture Jack Lang. Whereas Francois Mitterrand is the greatest patron of the arts since Louis XIV, our Prime Minister is a legendary philistine. She simply does not understand how Shakespeare moves the human spirit, delights the senses and excites the imagination. She cannot understand Shakespeare because she does not have a sense of humour or a proper sense of tragedy, nor can she cope with irony, which is essential to understanding Shakespeare. Jack Lang is perhaps the most popular Minister in the French Government. With great respect, I have to say to our Minister that only his close relatives and the fawningly obsequious would put him in that category. The truth is that, unless he has something special to tell us when he replies, he has not lifted a finger to help the Royal Shakespeare Company in the current crisis. In answer to parliamentary questions put down by myself, he has hidden behind the arm's-length principle. That is what he has done in the amendment. In so doing, he seeks to put the blame on the Arts Council. The Government and the Arts Council between them are seeking to get out of the mess by playing off high art against popular culture, the

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regions against London, and inner-city London against central London. As an inner-city London Member, let me say that we should have none of it.

It is perhaps not surprising that the Arts Council, having created the present shambolic position by underfunding the RSC since the 1984 Cabinet report, has reacted pathetically. It may be time for high Tory Peter Palumbo, chairman of the Arts Council, to follow Shakespeare's Richard II and think of giving up his empire. " for a little grave,

A little little grave, an obscure grave",

as befits his little, little, obscure talents. If the real value of the subsidy recommended by the Cabinet Office in the 1984 report had been instituted, we should not be here today talking about closing down the Barbican and the Pit theatres, because the Arts Council grant to the RSC for 1990 would be £1,525,500 more than is proposed. The cumulative shortfall that we would pay to the RSC would be £5,708,479.10.

Some 40 Labour Members have condemned the conduct of the Arts Council in that Back Bench affair. No Back-Bench Tory Member has come to their aid with amendments to the motion on the Order Paper. In early-day motion 505, Members from all parts of the kingdom called on Peter Palumbo either to find more money for the RSC or to resign. No Conservative Member has come to his rescue. Peter Palumbo has shown that he is not up to the job. He is in danger of turning the RSC--a priceless national asset--into a national liability. In my view, he should seriously consider resigning, not as some dramatic gesture to the people in the Gallery but as part of the desperate need to bring home to both the public and the Government just how deep the crisis is.

Some people have asked me why the Arts Council has suddenly come forward with money for the English national opera but has not found extra money for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I should say immediately that I am pleased that English national opera has been given more money. I like opera. When I leave this lunatic asylum tonight, as on most evenings, I shall play some opera records. When I go to hear live opera in this country, I usually visit the ENO. What the Government have done is odd, because the RSC fits the Government's model better than ENO. The RSC obtains 51 per cent. of its income from the box office, whereas only 30 per cent of ENO's income comes from the box office. The Government's subsidy to the RSC is only 32 per cent. of its total income, whereas the subsidy to ENO is 50 per cent.

What is the reason for the discrepancy in the Government's approach to those two institutions? In theory the market orientated approach of the RSC should please the Government more than the approach of ENO. The answer is simple. Despite what the Minister has said, the Government effectively abandoned the arm's-length principle when they made it clear to the Arts Council that, out of the extra funding they gave it not so long ago, they expected it to give more money to ENO. The Government do not care about the RSC. I challenge the Minister on this. It was not me, but Roger Bramble from Westminster city council, who said that the Minister knows full well that some of the extra cash given to the Arts Council was earmarked for ENO and the

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English national ballet. That does not say much for the arm's length principle, which I do not consider to be important. If I may use a little irony, I do not suppose that the extra money for ENO has anything to do with the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has provided the extra cash for the arts, lists his recreation in "Who's Who" as opera or the fact that his wife is an opera singer, an opera buff and an opera biographer. Although I have nothing against grants for the arts being distributed on the basis of the sexual politics of the Chancellor's bedroom, that way of settling matters certainly can cause problems.

If I wanted more money for the RSC, what should I do? Clearly, I would not go to the Arts Council or the Minister because they do not have the power to provide more money. I am loth to approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer direct because, in the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, I constantly accuse him of being an economic illiterate. It seems that my only hope would be to try to form a liaison dangereuse with the Chancellor's wife, persuade her to act as an agent provocateur and hope that the esprit de la chambre a coucher will triumph. I know that we have to translate our foreign language phrases in the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Roughly translated, that means that the only way for me to obtain more money for the RSC is to have an illicit affair with the Chancellor's wife and hope that she will use her seductive wiles to obtain the money.

Talking more seriously about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the report of Terry Hands, who I see in the Gallery-- [Hon. Members :-- "Order."]- -the report of the person whom I do not see in the Gallery, to the council of the Royal Shakespeare company on 7 February this year, showed how the Chancellor's economic policies of high inflation and high interest rates have pushed RSC audiences down to 75 per cent. of capacity. Although that figure is still astonishingly high, it means that there is bound to be another substantial operating deficit for the RSC this year.

Terry Hands has made it clear that we are fighting an ideological battle for the hearts and minds, the intellect and the imagination of the British people. We are fighting an ideological battle between the materialists, the philistines and the fashionably vulgar in modern Conservative Britain, and the civilised, educated and cultured Britain to which the rest of us aspire.

As the Minister for the Arts goes into the Lobby tonight to vote against us, he will carry with him our contempt, our scorn and our ridicule. We must all hope that the evil that he does in the Lobby tonight will not live after him but be interred with his bones. 9.20 pm

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : I have sat in the Chamber since 7 o'clock, and I have not heard so much pompous nonsense in all my life. As always in arts debates, the great and the good come forward in their droves and talk a lot of nonsense, expecting all the ordinary people in this country to believe it.

What surprises me most is that, with all the problems that the Labour party alleges are happening nationally and internationally, Opposition Members could find nothing better to discuss this evening than the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, I think that I know the answer to

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that. It is because their leading spokesman and his deputy--a couple of middle-class socialists--know much less about the working class than I do.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : Upper-class, not middle-class.

Mr. Dicks : I apologise : I understand that they are upper-class, not middle-class.

Arts grants have increased by £33 million this year and now approach £500 million. That is a 12 per cent. increase. The Arts Council grant is now about £175 million. In a recent debate, the Minister said that that is because inflation has gone ahead faster than the allowance that he fed into the figures and he almost apologised for the suffering caused to the arts world as a result. But there have been no apologies elsewhere about the suffering caused to ordinary people because the money that they receive does not keep up with inflation.

At the time, the arts lobby, and especially the hon. Member for Stoke-on- Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) were delighted by the grant. The Minister was tremendously praised for his efforts. I should like to ask a couple of questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is no longer in his place--

Mr. Jessel : I am here.

Mr. Dicks : I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. My hon. Friend said that the arts contribute to the quality of life. Perhaps he could explain to me one day how the arts' contribution to the quality of life affects my pensioners and ordinary people who want to buy a pint and have a game of bingo-- [Interruption.] Their quality of life is not enhanced by seeing some man prance about in a box or by listening to the different range of an opera singer.

Other questions that I should like to ask--which nobody answers, certainly not any of the great and the good on the Opposition Benches--is, what is art? What is culture? Who defines it? The answers to those questions are personal, but I know who the hell pays for it. The ordinary chap down the street pays for most of it, while the great and the good take advantage.

We have heard about the royal opera house. I shall show the way in which it thinks about money. I gather that it is about £3 million in debt. It spent £200,000 recently on a production. It has agreed to a 15 per cent. increase for ballet dancers who prance around, pretending they are toys, at an annual cost of £600,000. I find it strange that the arts world is up in arms about the lack of money yet ballet dancers can get a 15 per cent. increase, which is twice the rate of inflation. Nobody mentions that--certainly no Opposition Member has mentioned it. When extra money is called for, all the whingers appear on both sides of the Chamber [Interruption.] Every man, well and good, appears. Nobody should need to question the situation : everyone should understand what needs to be done. Why should we subsidise old pros dressed in doublets and hose? I do not understand.

In common with my right hon. Friend the Minister, I could say that it is all "Much Ado About Nothing", but I am not an expert on Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company has made its bed and it must lie on it. I see no justification for a grant increase, nor can I see any justification for any grant. No one in the working class, or

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the people I represent, could give a toss about the Royal Shakespeare Company staying open or closing down. There is nothing special about it.

One can compare and contrast the RSC with the commercial theatre, which must survive by putting on a programme that people are prepared to pay an economic cost to see. The same argument applies to professional football. In common, I am sure, with many colleagues I received a copy of a letter from Ken Bates, who is the chairman of Chelsea football club. He says :

"The Arts Council grant to the Opera House this year is more than £13.3 million, or £75,000 a week I'd be interested to know what percentage that is of the Opera House's total income."

So would I.

"Far from offering us any subsidy or assistance, it"--

the Government--

"takes £300 million a year in betting tax out of the game, which is equal to £3 million per Football League club"

Is it not strange that the working-class pastime gets hammered by the taxman while the upper-class pastime--I notice that a member of the middle class is sitting next to the upper-class man on the Opposition Front Bench- -is subsidised all the time by the rest of us. The poor chap down the road must pay the full whack to see Brentford or Chelsea, apart from the cost that he must meet in the future towards increased safety in those football grounds. He must pay for that ticket from his own pocket, but the great and the good, in their bow ties and long frocks, get them paid for by someone else. It is strange that we adopt such an approach to the upper class in this House and we forget the ordinary people who put us here. [ Hon. Members-- : "Hear, hear."] I am glad that the audience is so good, and that most of the audience have had a good dinner.

Child benefit has not been uprated for a couple of years and the ambulance men are being offered only 6.5 per cent. for this year--

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : What has the hon. Gentleman done about that?

Mr. Dicks : I spoke against the decision not to give the ambulance men that increase, so I am on the right side. On the community charge, only 4 per cent. is allowed for inflation in the rate support grant settlement ; that is why I voted against it recently. All those figures are way below inflation, but 12 per cent. funding was given to the arts this year, and I believe that 11 per cent. will be given to the arts next year. Why is that genuine need, as represented by child benefit, the ambulance men or an inflation allowance in the rate support grant are downgraded when they receive Government grant, yet the arts receive 12 per cent. funding, way above inflation? The arts are the only areas of activity not looked at by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but every other aspect of Government spending is examined year by year to see if it is fair. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) has a point, bearing in mind his views about the background of the Chancellor and of his wife. The Government emphasis on public expenditure control cannot be as firm as they claim when they give money to the arts.

I can see no case for any arts subsidy, and there is no case for helping the Royal Shakespeare Company. Economic costing is the only fair way in which to operate. If people think that something is that good, they are prepared to pay the full cost. The only reason why people

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go to the RSC now is that the rest of us pay 30 quid towards their seat. That cannot be right. No leisure pursuit, mine or anyone else's, should be subsidised. My football watching and old-age pensioners' bingo playing have as much right to be subsidised as the arts although, preferably, nobody should be subsidised.

The definition of what is or is not art has never been given by the arty- farty crowd opposite-- [Laughter.] I am sorry if I used the wrong word, but I do not know the French equivalent. To subsidise or not to subsidise, that is the question. In my view, the answer should be an emphatic no.

9.30 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : That really was a two-faced contribution. I watch what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) does in this Chamber : whenever a proposal that the Government oppose is made from the Opposition Dispatch Box in the interests of those people at the lower end of the scale, particularly the lower-paid workers, the hon. Gentleman goes into the No Lobby. He does not support us, and that is why his contribution was two-faced. He does not realise that many people in the lower income group are interested in the arts. [ An Hon. Member : -- "Rubbish."] Who said rubbish? This is wrong--we have the deputy Chief Whip saying, "Rubbish," to a contribution that was made by the Opposition. I shall have to refer him to the Chief Whip for the contribution that he has just made.

It is important to note that the two-faced contribution of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington was as bad as the Minister's speech. The Minister is not listening, but talking to the deputy Chief Whip who just said, "Rubbish." I said that the Minister's speech was as bad as the hon. Gentleman's speech because the Minister put on a lot of gloss and left out much of the substance underneath. The Minister should realise that there is a lot of suffering in the arts. There is a crisis, and not just in the London area, where everyone wants to come to work, live and make pots of money. I live in a constituency up in the east midlands, where people struggle. We have an interest in the arts, but slowly but surely, because of the Government's attitude, we are losing it. The Minister has some responsibility for that. They tell me that he is Minister for the Arts, yet he can stand up at the Dispatch Box and say, "It's his responsibility and his responsibility, but not mine." Who is he kidding? The Prime Minister appointed him to do a job on behalf of the arts of this country. It is high time he started to do it properly.

The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) has a smile on his face. I shall remind the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes that not long ago we had a first- class debate on the film industry. I remember talking about his beautiful mother who worked in that industry--she is gorgeous. I am not afraid to say that I have held her in my arms-- [Laughter.] I am talking about real art.

Nottinghamshire county council and my own Ashfield district council contribute fairly strongly to the arts locally, but the Government destroy them by the cuts that they have made in grants to local authorities. That means

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that there have to be cuts here, there and everywhere. That is what they are like ; that is what they are all about. They make cuts here, there and everywhere.

The Minister must realise that there is real quality in the arts at the lower end of the scale, and we want to lift the people who provide that into the gloss about which the Minister talked earlier. The gloss can look after itself, but what is beneath that needs looking after and the Minister is responsible for that. That is why we have had this debate today. That is why we want to tell the Minister in no uncertain terms how we feel and what should be done. We do not want to listen to stupid contributions such as the one we have just heard from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. There is a crisis in the arts throughout Britain. The Minister made a little comment to me at the last Question Time on the arts. He made a marvellous contribution today, which was real acting : it was not honest ; it was not true. I suggest that you, Mr. Speaker, consult the powers that be with a view to providing a drama award in the House. Let the first award be made to the Minister for the Arts. I have got my own back, have I not? I was waiting for the opportunity and, by God, it came along tonight. I have had to wait since 2.30 but, by God, it was worth it.

9.35 pm

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