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Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich) : I have been called upon, Mr. Speaker, to do the impossible--to follow two magnificent acts. It only goes to prove the old theatrical principle that the audience will follow a star performer. To see hon. Members return to the Chamber when my hon. Friend for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) rose to his feet was a measure of the significance and great importance of his contribution to the arts and to the debate in the House.
The subject that we are debating causes sadness and regret on both sides of the House. When a great, much respected and much loved company which gives so much pleasure to so many finds it necessary to cut the number of its performances and productions, we must feel some sadness. We recognise that the theatre presents the world of fantasy upon the stage, but we must also realise that it lives in the world of reality offstage. It has to make many artistic judgments and, at the same time, many commercial judgments. The need to bring those two judgments into balance is one of the great difficulties with which all cultural and artistic endeavour has to wrestle. Today we recognise that the cultural and the commercial, the artistic and the real, produce a tension which is of value in espousing and encouraging cultural endeavour.
The threat to the Royal Shakespeare Company comes from its presentation of classical drama. It has been innovative and has encouraged wider development, but the time has come for it to consider its identity, to think about the thing that it does best, to bring into balance its commercial and cultural concerns and to look to the future in a spirit of positive optimism, not with regret that it has had to close one of its stages for a short time during the year.
The debate also raises the wider issue of what should be a Government's policy in such a situation. Conservative Members have endorsed the Government's policy that the arm's-length principle should apply--that money should be given to an intermediary, which is independent and
Column 873objective in its artistic judgment, to ensure that the money is allocated in the best possible way without any direct Government interference in the cultural or artistic input.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and other Opposition Members have paid lip service to the arm's-length principle, but I suspect that that implied a financial finger firmly in the artistic pie. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the arts should rely on state subsidies, on public money, as their main source of support. I believe that the arts have blossomed by virtue of the diversity of their funding. Money should and does come from the state, in the form of public subsidy through the Arts Council, but it should also come from sponsorship, for corporate reasons, from individual firms, whose motives may be higher in some cases than in others. A third but most important ingredient is the box office-- the individual contribution and desire to pay the price of a ticket to see a production.
The benefit to the arts of receiving funding from those three sources is inestimable. The danger of any arts organisation, institution or theatre relying for its funding on a single source is that it will become wholly dependent on that source. We have known instances in the past when an entirety of public funding has brought with it implications of corruption.
The Government's policy of a plurality of funding has brought about a flourishing of the arts, the like of which has not been seen before this century. It has brought about a diversity of the arts. A diversity of funding brings about a diversity of production, and that should be applauded.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend the shadow Arts Minister, the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) on being so determined to arrange this debate in what is obviously Opposition prime time. They had to face a bit of flak from their own side, because the Terry Dicks tendency is behind us as well as in front of us.
My right hon. and hon. Friends know that an economically efficient and socially just society will not only address the problems of homelessness, poverty and unemployment that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) mentioned. Such a society will support also a thriving and burgeoning arts expenditure. It is a mark of a confident and strong society that it encourages and nurtures the arts. The Victorians did it in the past in this country, and the French, Germans and Italians do it today.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is not in his place, because listening to him opining on the arts is rather like listening to Vlad the Impaler presenting "Blue Peter". The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly living proof that a pig's bladder on a stick can be elected as a Member of Parliament.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 874It is a comment on the depressing state of Britain today, with all its economic inefficiencies and social injustices, that a great cultural institution such as the Royal Shakespeare Company faces the crisis that it does. I speak of the theatre that bears and propagates the name of the greatest English playwright. However, the crisis that afflicts the RSC is not confined to that company. The English national opera, royal opera house, south bank centre, London Festival Ballet and royal national theatre all face similar problems. Those problems extend to our museums and art galleries. We have heard complaints about the crumbling fabric of the Victoria and Albert museum and of the British museum that should shame us all. We are squandering a wonderful inheritance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central mentioned regional arts institutions, which are struggling to survive. We are not just talking about high art or middle-class art, which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned, but all the provincial and municipal theatres in towns and cities throughout the country, which provide a lot of pleasure for working-class people and are also facing a crisis.
My own theatre, the Theatre royal, Stratford, is one
Mr. Banks : is a damn sight more compensated and better heeled than my own, which has seven new productions a year. We have tried to get business sponsorship for the theatre in Stratford. Perhaps hon. Members remember seeing the comment in the article in The Stage by the Minister--
"Private funding is the engine of arts expansion".
That is where the Minister thinks the real money for the future is coming from. However, The Stage shortly afterwards said : " We've been lumbered' say arts sponsors"--
because the businesses and companies that sponsor the arts realise that they will be left holding the baby, and that they will attract great odium if they withdraw the sponsorship, which they provided as top-up money, only to find that they are held responsible for the collapse of a particular arts institution. The future does not lie with business sponsorship, as the Minister implied in that article. We face a depressing scenario in the arts, but one which is typical of the Prime Minister's philistinism and the unimaginative, shoddy, second-rate Government that run the country. It is typical of a Prime Minister who goes to see "The Mousetrap" and re-reads whodunits. Who has to read a whodunit, when she knew whodunit when she read it again? It is typical of a Prime Minister who is happier getting in and out of tanks than in and out of museums or theatre seats, and who seems to derive more pleasure from admiring new missiles than great works of art. What else can we expect from an ex-Spam hoarder from Grantham, presiding over the social and economic decline of our country?
Why are the Royal Shakespeare Company and the arts so important? I say to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, who is now back in his place, that the arts are certainly not more important than homelessness, unemployment and the transport chaos that we have in this country, but the arts are as important as those areas of expenditure.
Column 875I have two reasons for saying that. First, an age is more likely to be judged by the standards and the excellence of its architecture, music, painting, sculpture and literature than by obsolete weapons of death and destruction. Involvement in the arts, either as a creator or a consumer, is one of the finest forms of human activity that we can encourage. I remind Conservative Members that there is very little crowd violence at the opera houses these days.
Secondly--this should appeal to the monetarists opposite--the economic significance of the arts is continually underestimated and undervalued. They have a £12 billion turnover ; the industry employs some 450,000 people ; it contributes £4 billion to the balance of payments. That is a record of economic achievement that should have everyone in the House applauding.
People do not come to this country to see office blocks, Third-world roads or crumbling transport infrastructure, or to learn how to control inflation or enjoy traffic jams. They come here to enjoy the enormously rich art legacy that we have inherited. The come for theatres, art galleries and museums. I remind Conservative Members that that legacy is as important as North sea oil, but unlike oil, it will not run out. However, it can be run down, and that is what is happening to the arts in this country today.
It is our responsibility to build on what we have, and to invest in the arts, because it is one of the finest forms of public expenditure investment that any Government can make.
The Minister made great play of the recent increase in subsidy for the arts. We told him that he has done better this year than before, and better than some other Ministers, and we praise him for that, but in 1990-91, arts expenditure will be one third of 1 per cent. of public expenditure, while defence expenditure will be 11.8 per cent. It is interesting that we should have one of the highest defence budgets in western Europe, and one of the smallest arts budgets. The current events in eastern Europe provide previously undreamed-of opportunities for world peace and harmony. We must match those great events with bold, imaginative political leadership. We need the vision and confidence in Britain that will allow us to turn tanks into tractors, bullets into ballet and bombs into books. There is no such vision and confidence among the clapped-out second-raters on the Conservative Benches, but those qualities are present in abundance among Opposition Members.
The Government's time is almost finished : Labour is poised on the threshold of a golden future. The arts need a Labour victory, and they will soon get one.
Mr. Luce : Without a shadow of doubt, the debate has been both colourful and entertaining. I have been recommended for one or two things in my life, but never for a drama award, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) for suggesting it. I found myself buffeted between two extraordinary speeches--one by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). One condemned me for my almost evil approach to policy and to tonight's vote ; the other stated that it was
Column 876disgraceful of me to increase taxpayers' support for the arts. I am beginning to think that perhaps I have got the balance about right. Although the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) focused mainly on the Royal Shakespeare company in both the motion and the opening of his speech, this was a broad-ranging motion relating to every aspect of the arts. I welcomed that, although some hon. Members clearly thought otherwise.
As always, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made a colourful and enjoyable speech ; nevertheless, when I came to assess the value of what he said, I found it very difficult. One strand was clear from the beginning--his contempt for the private sector's role in supporting the arts. He said at the outset that he despised it.
The Government's role, as I see it, is to underpin arts support with taxpayers' money--and we are maintaining that commitment with public funding for the next three years--but also to provide a climate for the expansion of the arts through the private sector. Spokesmen for the arts say repeatedly that the arts thrive on independence and freedom of expression. I believe that that should be encouraged, but success is possible only if the arts are not wholly dependent on the taxpayer and the ratepayer through central Government or local authorities. That is not to reject the importance of the role of taxpayer and ratepayer, but it highlights the important role that the private sector can play in sustaining the self-reliance and independence of the arts world.
The arts deserve to be congratulated on what they have achieved over the past five years. They have diversified their sources of funding and have sought to increase audiences through sheer professional management, sponsorship, patronage and increased contributions from individuals as well as corporations. I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) for stressing the need for plurality of funding to secure that independence.
I must pick on the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch again. I always think that a person shows great weakness or paucity of argument if all that he can do is indulge in personal abuse. That is what the hon. Gentleman did. He abused my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and the chairman of the Arts Council. He made disgraceful remarks about Mr. Palumbo. The chairman of the Arts Council loves the arts. He is prepared to dedicate his time to leadership of the Arts Council. He commands the respect of those in the arts world. He has travelled all around the country. The hon. Gentleman should not have made such disgraceful remarks about the chairman of the Arts Council.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) made a most reflective and interesting speech. He has a great knowledge and feeling for our heritage and the arts. He referred to the Barbican. It is interesting that the Barbican has not featured greatly in the debate. During the past eight years, however, it has made a great contribution to increasing support for the arts through the range of entertainment that it provides.
I understand that broad agreement has been reached between the Barbican and the Royal Shakespeare Company about arrangements. It is only right that we should acknowledge the Barbican's role, as well as that of the City of London, in supporting the arts in London, and
Column 877generally, directly and also indirectly. I take seriously what my hon. Friend said in his notable speech and I am grateful for what he said.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to a number of issues, but he spoke principally about the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also referred to support for the arts in London, in centres of excellence and in the regions. Having been to Inverness, I know that the Eden Court theatre, although it is not in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, provides outstanding quality and does a great service to that part of Scotland.
There is already a formula for the disbursement of funds to both Wales and Scotland. It is known as the Goschen formula. It gives a reasonable deal to Scotland. I admire very much the Scottish Arts Council's support for the highest standards of excellence in the arts. It is always difficult to achieve the right balance between the centre and the regions, but I believe that the Arts Council has got it about right. It is for the Arts Council to decide how much money should be given to the flagships, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, and how much should be given to others.
The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) also made an important speech. I gladly congratulate Glasgow on its enormous contribution to the arts--its art collections, art galleries and the remarkable ballet and opera companies and orchestras that are based in Glasgow. I have great faith that next year will be a tremendous year for Glasgow and for this country.
The hon. Member for Paisley, South referred also to the fabric of our national museums and galleries. This is the first Government to give a clear commitment that during the 1990s we shall ensure that sufficient money is spent--principally by Her Majesty's Government, because it is taxpayers' money which has to be spent on the fabric--on ensuring that the fabric of these institutions is in good shape. If the private sector is prepared to play a role, I shall welcome it--as, I am sure, will the hon. Member for Paisley, South.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) made an excellent speech. He drew attention to the importance of quality in the arts and to the royal charter of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Its charter emphasises the important balance which has to be struck between performances not just of Shakespeare but drama of all kinds. Much of the focus has been on the Royal Shakespeare Company. As I said in my opening speech, it is a great centre of excellence and it should be given high priority. It is therefore right that the Arts Council decided to increase funding by 11 per cent. in the coming year so that its funding is more than £6 million, but equally, it is for the Arts Council to argue the case to me on behalf of all the arts, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, and for me then to discuss with my colleagues what overall resources should be available. With that in mind, there has been a £20 million increase in cash terms for the Arts Council for next year and a 22 per cent. increase for the next three years. That is a real indication of the Government's commitment to the arts.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :--
The House divided : Ayes 201, Noes 272.
Column 878Division No. 86] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Dr John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Heffer, Eric S.
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Sir Russell
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Macdonald, Calum A.
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley