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April has been less cruel than momentous. From the first of the month, the Arts Council of Great Britain ceased to operate, and was succeeded by the Arts Councils of England, Scotland and Wales. Each of those bodies is now autonomous, and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales now have responsibility for the arts in their countries.

A new council meant a new royal charter and a new chairman. The noble Lord Palumbo has given distinguished service to the council and to the entire arts world as chairman since 1989. The noble Lord Gowrie, as the first chairman of the new body, has already started to make his mark. His ringing cheers for Harrison Birtwhistle's "Gawain" show his willingness to share his wholehearted enthusiasm for the arts.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman's very interesting speech. Does he not think that, as Lord Gowrie was a former Conservative Arts Minister, his employment as the new chairman of the Arts Council does away with the arm's-length principle ? How can we feel confident that a Tory ex-Minister will take on a Conservative Government on behalf of the arts in the way that we would expect the chairman of the Arts Council to do ?

Mr. Brooke : All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that Lord Gowrie has been considerably ruder about the Government since he took office than his predecessor was. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should raise that sceptical note, because the appointment of Lord Gowrie as chairman has been widely welcomed, not only throughout the arts constituency but within the Arts Council itself.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : On the appointment of Lord Gowrie and the fact that April is a cruel month, a moment ago I opened a letter from Lord Gowrie, which I had just had passed to me, in which he writes :

"We may be able to cope just with static funding in real terms ; a cut sends many of the arts organisations the Council funds to the emergency ward. Over the next four years, we have been told to expect a 13 per cent. real terms reduction in the grants to the arts." The House need have no worry that Lord Gowrie will be a creature of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful for quotations from Lord Gowrie, who has made reasonably clear the strenuousness with which he will fight on that issue. I remark, absolutely in passing, that the last time there was a real -terms cut in the arts funding budget when the Opposition were in power was an occasion when the Labour Government of the day were supported by the Lib -Lab pact.

April also saw the appointment of a new secretary general for the council. The incumbent of that post, together with the chairman, is, for the majority of people, the public face of the council. It is a demanding job, and one which I am sure appears thankless from time to time. Ministers understand that position only too well. But the health of the Arts Council is intimately connected with the health of the arts, and hon Members will wish to join me in wishing Mary Allen and Lord Gowrie godspeed as their new ship puts out into what have of late been stormy waters.

April saw other changes, notably the delegation, which I announced 16 months ago, of a further 42 arts organisations to the regional arts boards. That reflects the Government's belief that decisions are often best taken

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close to those who will be affected by them. The transfer of responsibilities for the Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils is further evidence of that belief.

I hope that I have demonstrated by what I have said so far that the arts in this country are flourishing, and that they are served by a dynamic funding system. Let me now say a little more about that funding system, the players in it and the Government's role. Since the Wilding report in 1989, the arts funding system has gone through a significant period of change, and is now in the process of ensuring that it is in good shape to meet the undoubted challenges to come. In particular, the Arts Council itself has undergone a series of reviews, the end of which was signalled by my statement to the House in November. The outcome of those reviews is that there is common ground between the council, Ministers and the wider world on a number of points.

I would like to talk about the arm's-length principle. This is the principle which has governed the relationship between Ministers and the council since it was founded, and which keeps the funding of individual arts organisations out of the political arena. It follows, therefore, that it is not for the Government to seek to intervene in matters of artistic judgment, although there can be occasions when it is right for Ministers to convey to the Arts Council public and political opinion which has been expressed to them.

"Arm's length" is a slogan that trips easily off the tongue, but a concept which many people, I fear, seem to have difficulty in accepting. I can assure the House that we understand it on the Government Benches, and adhere to it. I think that most people would agree that the principle has served the country well for very nearly 50 years.

It is therefore with some surprise that I read recent statements attributed to the hon. Member for Redcar which suggest that the Labour party may not have the same level of commitment to the arm's-length principle ; indeed, that it would effectively end it. The hon. Member for Redcar brushes off this momentous change with the words :

"The Government is elected to make policy."

Up to a point, Lord Copper. I think it would be a tragic day for the arts in Britain were a Government to develop, as the Labour party seems to threaten, a policy for each art form. No wonder there has been such exponential growth in the number of departmental shadows. It took four Jack Lang wannabes to think up that nonsensical Ministry of Culture, a recipe for bureaucratic strangulation and political interference.

The productivity of Conservative Members is rather more impressive. I can safely say that either I or my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat) could have jettisoned such lunacy all on our own. To be fair, the shadow spokesmen are arrogating to themselves other responsibilities, such as measuring the dimensions of council house passageways. What the single genius of Sir Parker Morris accomplished before will no doubt be less productively achieved by the less formidable partnership of Fisher-Corbett. We also admire their sartorial self-confidence of seeking to take responsibility for fashion design as well.

Thank goodness the shadows will remain insubstantial. I have perhaps thought of a better purpose for them. When Marsham street, a building of suitably eastern European

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design, is finally emptied, the shadow National Heritage spokesmen--who by then will presumably number dozens--can be let loose inside to caretake. They will pass their days out of harm's way, dreaming of a Ministry of Culture, measuring corridors and calibrating views.

To return to reality, as I have said, we all want the widest possible access to the arts.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex) : I have been following what my right hon. Friend has said with great interest. If I have any fortune in catching your eye, Madam Speaker, I might refer to it later. I am a little surprised by my right hon. Friend's references to the French Ministry of Culture under Jack Lang. I was fortunate enough, when I was Minister for the Arts, to meet Jack Lang several times, and I have to say that, as his Ministry is strictly hands-on--it gets its budget directly from the French Tre sor, and no one is allowed to interfere with that--Jack Lang certainly was an interventionist, but he was a successful interventionist in many ways, and he was extremely successful in getting the grands oeuvres of President Mitterrand built quickly. The Richelieu wing of the Louvre and the new music conservatory at La Villette, to mention only two, are the result of very direct interventionism by a French Minister of Culture.

Mr. Tony Banks : Hell hath no fury like an Arts Minister scorned.

Mr. Brooke : My right hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that he seemed to deliver most of his speech in the course of that intervention.

Mr. Banks : It is getting vicious.

Mr. Brooke : In response to my right hon. Friend, of course I acknowledge the particular French genius and am happy to listen on the occasions when we are told that those matters are ordered better in France.

The fact remains that, as it comes out of a different culture, it comes out of a different national temperament, and the manner in which those matters are managed reflects the temperament and history of the respective countries. I am also gratified--it is testimony to the partnership that exists between us, fostered by my right hon. Friend in his day--at the degree of inquiry from Paris about the manner in which we order certain things ourselves, not least in the museums world.

As I have said, we all want the widest possible access to the arts. That objective is shared by Government, the arts councils, the regional arts boards and arts organisations everywhere, but to be achieved it needs hard work.

My Department launched its access initiative last year in consultation with our sponsored bodies. At one level, the initiative will establish what each of our sponsored bodies means by widening access, how successful policies are at present, what might more realistically be achieved, and whether that suggests the adoption of new policies and priorities. At the operational level, the initiative aims to provide information, encourage networking between organisations and take up common causes. The Department will especially work to collect and disseminate statistical information and examples of good practice.

Another priority of mine, which is accepted by the Arts Council, is that the council must be ready to explain the basis for its decisions more clearly. The council has put forward many ideas for doing so. I was especially impressed by the willingness shown by representatives of

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the council to expose themselves to a potentially hostile audience at the seminar organised by the National Campaign for the Arts. Opportunities such as that seminar and an openness on all sides can only lead to greater understanding.

I also feel that we need still further to streamline the system. Last November, I set the Arts Council a target of gross savings in its administration costs of 8 per cent. in a full year ; money which can feed through into support for the arts. Those savings are being implemented, and the administrative costs of the council and the remainder of the system will continue to be closely watched.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : The Secretary of State is encouraging people to do good housekeeping. How does he explain the administrative costs of his own Department, which have gone up by 150 per cent. since the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) was Minister ? It now costs £25 million in bureaucracy to administer Government policy.

Mr. Brooke : I am diffident about making this rejoinder to the hon. Gentleman, but the responsibilities of the Department of National Heritage exceed by a factor of 150 per cent. the responsibilities which we inherited from my right hon. Friend.

The scene is now set for a strong and effective Arts Council, working in a clear and well structured relationship with Government for the good of the arts in Britain. The continued vitality of our artistic life depends on fostering a range of sources of support : the audience ; central and local government ; the private sector ; and individual patrons.

The Government are committed to supporting the arts in three broad ways : by continuing to invest in the arts, mainly through providing grant in aid to the Arts Council ; by encouraging a greater sense of independence and self-reliance within the arts community itself ; and by encouraging the ever closer involvement of the business community and individual patrons.

In terms of direct investment, the Government's commitment has been amply demonstrated over the years, with significant increases in real terms in the Arts Council's grant in aid. Between 1979 and 1993, the real-terms increase was some 45 per cent. Against that background, I cannot accept that this year's provision should have been greeted with such criticism. Government funding remains substantial, but subsidy for the arts is a call on the public purse and must be considered alongside all other such calls.

The economic climate is, and has been, very difficult, which has inevitably meant that some organisations have needed to cut their coats according to a smaller piece of cloth. Over a year ago, in the 1992 public spending round, against the background of those economic difficulties, the Government signalled a reduction in Arts Council funding for 1994-95. That is the basis on which the Arts Council had to plan throughout last year. Nevertheless, last November, despite the continuing need to keep a tight rein on public expenditure, I managed to find more money than was planned for the arts. Against earlier plans, the Arts Council is to receive an extra £800,000 this year, resulting in grant in aid of £186 million, and an extra £1.6 million in 1995-96, which will be maintained in 1996-97. In allocating those funds for 1994-95, the Council has managed, in the vast majority of

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cases, to protect funding for revenue clients. There will be some reduction in the amount of developmental work, but regional theatres and national companies, among others, will receive the same amounts as this year.

Since last November, extraordinary credence has been given to the suggestion that the Albert memorial is to benefit at the expense of the arts. Before hon. Members try to make something of that peculiar idea, let me put the record straight.

Queen Victoria's consort may not now be much in favour, and the style of his memorial may not be to everyone's taste, but it is a landmark in London, forming the northern focus of that celebration of arts and sciences now known as "Albertopolis". It needs restoration. I remark in passing that it is in my constituency, and I am proud of it.

The announcement last November that work on the memorial could start in 1994-95--an announcement which I should have thought would be welcomed by such as the Evening Standard , which had been campaigning for the restoration--gave birth to the odd belief that I had punished the arts in order to restore Albert. The Prince Consort, an accomplished musician and composer and the visionary force behind the Great Exhibition of 1851, would certainly not have put preservation before innovation.

English Heritage published its "Forward Strategy" in autumn 1992, and the organisational changes resulting from its implementation have enabled substantial sums to be deployed away from administrative costs. One of the benefits of those changes is that English Heritage has been able to make up to £1 million available in 1994-95 to allow the restoration of the memorial to start.

Some commentators have also suggested that the new British library is being built at the expense of the arts. It is extraordinary to suggest, as at least one has done, that nobody wants the new building. We have in this country one of the greatest libraries in the world : a vast store of human knowledge which encompasses all other aspects of our heritage. As a Sunday newspaper used proudly to boast, all human life is there. Such a treasure deserves to be housed appropriately.

But, having said that, the development is still proceeding within the total funding allowed. For 1994-95, I was able to bring forward some agreed expenditure, but again this was not new money.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that many people think that it is a scandal that the Albert memorial has been left sheathed as it has been for so long ? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the land adjacent to the British library will not be sold so that the library never has a chance to expand ?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remark about the Albert memorial. It is for the British library to state what purpose it might intend for the land which is surplus to its requirements. Local authorities are also key patrons of the arts--providing direct funding for arts organisations and for individuals, supporting arts buildings and incorporating public art into regeneration schemes. A substantial survey recently undertaken by the Arts Council has shown that local authorities are broadly maintaining their level of support for the arts, which is roughly equivalent to that provided by central Government.

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I pay tribute to the enormous amount of valuable support that local authorities give to the arts. They are major funders of some of the most famous of our regional theatres, providing large-scale arts and entertainment programmes for very large audiences. Just as important is the smaller scale, where a local service is necessary to support local arts ; that often means the amateur sector, a large and important sector which we all know well within our constituencies. The list of local authorities that make imaginative and substantial contributions is a long one, and I mean no disservice to any other on that list if I mention only Nottingham, Cambridge, Derby, Southampton and--dare I say it, at the risk of influencing today's poll--the cities of London and Westminster.

When I have attended my Department's regional conferences over the past few months, I have been made aware of concerns that those involved in the arts and recreation have about the proposed changes in the structure of local government. It is important to ensure that there are effective arrangements in place for the delivery of recreational and cultural services, and I hope that reorganisation will be seen as an opportunity to create new structures within local government to improve provision in those sectors.

The past 20 years or so have seen a quite remarkable increase in business sponsorship of the arts. In 1976, business sponsorship stood at a modest half a million pounds. By 1992-93, business support amounted to some £58 million. Much credit for that steady and significant growth goes to the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, which has developed a pivotal position in business investment in the arts.

The Government's own initiative--the business sponsorship incentive scheme- -has also played its part. Established in 1984, the scheme has so far attracted nearly £70 million in new money for the arts, £46.5 million from business sponsors and £22.7 million from Government awards.

The underlying trend remains very healthy. In recognition of the success of the business sponsorship incentive scheme, the Government are giving an additional £300,000 for the scheme in each of the next three years. This year so far, we have seen the announcement of the splendid new partnership between Allied Lyons and the Royal Shakespeare company of £3.3 million over the next three years, and British Telecom's new three-year commitment, worth more than half a million pounds, to British orchestras. Only last week, I attended the launch of KPMG's interesting new "Go Opera" scheme.

For the future--and it is getting close now--there is the exciting prospect of the national lottery. By early next year, that should be providing significant sums on a continuing basis for the arts, sport, heritage, charities and millennium projects. Money for new buildings, for badly needed refurbishment of existing ones and for new equipment, could all come from lottery proceeds. The Arts Council will be distributing those funds for the arts, including film and crafts. Subject to the directions that I will be issuing, it will be able to decide on priorities in its own area against which to assess applications. The lottery will be able to fund projects that are important to the nation's quality of life,

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but do not have first call on public expenditure. That extra money will make a huge impact in improving provision of and access to the arts in this country.

I hope that the House will join me in celebrating the arts in this country. The arts serve as a measure of the level of our civilisation, and I believe that we are fortunate to be living in a period when such vitality and diversity add immeasurably to the life of the nation.

Mr. Dicks : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a tradition of the House that an Opposition Member follows a speaker from the Government Front Bench. That is normal, because those opposite usually oppose what has been said. In this instance, there is no real opposition in principle from the other side--there is just argument about detail. As I am the only legitimate opposition speaker present, I wonder whether I should be called next.

Madam Speaker : That is a very good try by the hon. Gentleman. I shall certainly look his way in due course.

4.24 pm

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) is patient, he will hear plenty of opposition to a thoroughly inadequate presentation by the Secretary of State over the past half hour. As the Secretary of State pointed out, there has been no debate about the arts since July 1990--almost four years ago.

The Government have shown a remarkable lack of enthusiasm to account for their policies on the arts. In that time, there has been a new Department of state and two Secretaries of State. The present Secretary of State has been in his post for 20 months and this is the first time that he has come to the House to account for his policies. His lack of enthusiasm--the hon. Gentleman will understand that--is hardly surprising, given the Government's poor record in the arts. The Government's record is terrible ; they have been wasteful, incompetent and feeble. If the best that they can do is the sort of speech that the Secretary of State just made, that illustrates my point. His speech was benign and patrician ; it failed to address any of the problems that his Government have created in the cultural life of this country. The Secretary of State ought to be ashamed of himself.

He painted a very upbeat picture. He took us on a Brooke's tour of the arts. He simply quoted what was on offer, mainly in London but around the country to some extent. He is correct : there are some remarkable companies and artists and amazing museums. But, on the whole, they are existing and innovating in spite of, rather than because of, the Government's policies which have been so deficient in many respects.

The Government have put all of the companies that the Minister mentioned today in impossible positions--almost all have had to cut their programmes, cut their staff numbers and cut back on commissioning new work. The Secretary of State had a remarkable nerve to take credit for their activities in that smug and complacent way. They are surviving through their ingenuity and determination in spite of, rather than because of, the Government.

The Secretary of State also took credit for what local authorities are doing. He mentioned some cities. It is they, rather than his Government, which have supported the arts

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for the past 15 years, but they have done so in the teeth of the Government's incredible dogmatic hostility to any expenditure by local authorities.

What local authorities all over the country--of both political persuasions, but mainly those under Labour control--have invested in the cultural life of their cities is remarkable. Every time that they have increased expenditure, they have done so without the support of central Government. Indeed, they have increased expenditure with central Government sneering and carping and saying that any investment by local authorities is, per se, bad.

There is dogmatic and idiotic hostility to local government expenditure, whatever it is. Whether it is competent, imaginative, profitable or whether it helps the long-term cultural or economic life of a city, the Government are opposed to it. They have put every obstacle in the way of local authorities through targeting, rate capping, poll tax, council tax and all of the other penalties which have been imposed on local authorities.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) rose

Mr. Fisher : I will not give way ; I will finish the point that I am making to the Secretary of State. For him to take any credit for what local authorities have done in the teeth of 15 years sustained hostility from central Government is breathtaking. He should have the grace to acknowledge that. He has not supported local authorities ; he has attacked them for 15 years.

Mr. Jessel : Did not the hon. Gentleman hear any of what was said ? Before he went into his string of adjectives, did not he hear that there has been a 45 per cent. increase in real terms in the Arts Council budget since 1979 ? Did not he hear about the hundred fold increase in business sponsorship ? Did not he hear what is to come in the national lottery ?

Mr. Fisher : The hon. Gentleman always contributes to our debates and almost always gets his facts wrong. There has not been a 45 per cent. increase in Arts Council expenditure since 1979. Those figures have been conclusively rubbished and discredited. Arts sponsorship has gone up and I welcome that, but it increased from nothing to something and has fallen back over the past year. The hon. Gentleman ought to do his homework before he intervenes in our debates. Let me return to the record of the Secretary of State and the Government. The idea that he should take any credit for what has happened in cities and country is breathtaking. The Government's hostility to what has been happening has caused much frustration and anger around the country. The Government cannot understand the cultural importance of what has happened. It is extraordinary for a Conservative Government, who pride themselves on having some understanding of the economy and what happens in business, not to understand that, despite them, those cities have built hugely profitable cultural industries employing more than 500,000 people, earning huge amounts of exports and attracting tourists to Britain. They are a key part of our economy.

For the sake of underfunding the seedcorn--the small sums of money to the Arts Council--and trying to constrain local authorities in their seedcorn investment, the

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Government are diminishing the impact of our important cultural industries--publishing, the record industry, broadcasting, film and the design industries.

The Secretary of State sneered at the importance of design. He does not seem to understand that design is something that Britain does best and that the Government spend £73 billion of taxpayers' money on goods and services that need the input of a designer. Those are the Government's own figures given in answer to a parliamentary question. He sneered at designers. He does not understand the importance of design as an industry as well as to the quality of our cultural life. That lack of perspective running through his speech is the reason why his policies have been not only ineffective but wrong.

The Government have done one good thing in the past two years--they set up this Department of State. Throughout the 1980s, the Labour party, supported by the Liberal Democrats, argued that there should be a coherent Ministry covering the arts, the media and the cultural industries. Throughout those years, Tory Members and former Ministers sneered at the idea and ridiculed it in the same words as the Secretary of State ridiculed the idea of a Ministry of Culture and said that it would never work. I am delighted that the Government saw sense at the last election, nicked our policy and adopted it. I congratulate them on that, but it is the only good thing in the past two years.

Mr. Brooke : My strong recollection is that Norman Buchan declined holding office in the shadow Administration because the Labour party would not include broadcasting in the Department to which the hon. Gentleman is referring.

Mr. Fisher : If the Minister had taken the trouble to read our long cultural policy at the last general election, headed

"Arts and Media--our cultural future",

he would have seen that we were proposing precisely the Ministry that he was. We proposed it in debate after debate in the House. It included responsibility for broadcasting. It did not include sport and tourism. That was the only change that the Government made--an interesting change and not one that we oppose. Otherwise, it was what we were proposing--a coherent cultural Ministry. The Government had the sense to set it up and I congratulate them. It was long overdue and I am glad they did it. However, it has not had a policy. Because it was a piece of opportunism--it grew out of years of opposition to the idea--there was no policy to hold it together.

Many people around the country would agree with me that, while the Government have brought together all these functions within one Department of State, they are all operating separately. The broadcasting side is operating separately from the arts and libraries side and the other sectors have not been brought together by a coherent policy. The Secretary of State has to address that important policy vacuum. In his heart of hearts he probably understands and knows that, but it is difficult for him to develop a cultural policy that unites those functions, which he has rightly brought together in one Department of State.

Behind all this, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged today, is the key area of funding. It is by no means the only criterion by which the Government should be judged. There are other important ones, such as their attitudes to education, training and access, and to changing our monocultural domination--the traditions of the sole

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use of the English language in a multicultural society, and so on. Nevertheless, funding is one of the key criteria by which the Department will continue to be judged.

In spite of the right hon. Gentleman's attempts to wriggle out of it, the record is a poor one. The Arts Council grant has been cut for the first time in years--a cut of £3.3 million, which the Arts Council tells us will translate, in real terms, into more than £7 million worth of cuts in grant. That represents a broken promise. The Government did not make many promises about the cultural life of the country in their manifesto, but they did make the simple statement that they would maintain support for the arts. That they have not done. This is just another broken promise, rather like their broken promises on taxation and many other matters

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam) : Get on with it.

Mr. Fisher : I will not get on with it. The people need to be reminded of that, and they are only too ready to listen to the catalogue of promises that the Government have broken. There could not have been a clearer commitment than the Government's pledge to maintain support for the arts, but this year they have not done so. Support for the arts will be less this year.

Interestingly enough, the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in Scotland and Wales did recognise that commitment. The relevant Secretaries of State have topped up Arts Council grants for Scotland and Wales, but this Secretary of State has not done so for England. Why is England, uniquely, to be disadvantaged ? Is it that the Secretary of State lacks the will ? Did he not care enough, was he not prepared to fight for his budget as hard as his colleagues fought for theirs ?

Mr. Brooke : Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that decisions about Arts Council funding have always been affected by the general economic climate ? If he is about to attack the Government for their funding decisions, will he explain--allowing for the length of time that his party was in office--why the Labour party cut the Arts Council budget disproportionately more often than we have, taking into account the fact that it has been cut in real terms on 11 occasions ?

Mr. Fisher : We are debating the policies of the Government over the past 15 years. If, on a different occasion, the Minister wants to debate political history--I regret to say that Labour Governments are a matter of political history--we shall be happy to engage him in such a debate. Today, the Government must be held accountable for their own policies, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that they have cut the grant.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds) : The hon. Gentleman has given us a long shock-horror catalogue of the state of the arts which no one who takes an interest in those matters would begin to recognise. What spending pledge would he like to give, to make good the shortfall which he alleges exists ? Shall we hear anything about that from the Labour party this afternoon ?

Mr. Fisher : No, we are debating Government policies this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman has obviously been asleep. I have not yet delivered any catalogue of shock-horror disasters. I intend to come to some of the

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problems that the Minister has created, but I have not yet identified any company, or the size of its deficit, although many of them certainly face problems--orchestras, theatres and opera companies. Had the hon. Gentleman remained awake he would have realised that.

The Secretary of State cannot get away with saying that he has to cut in relation to the economic climate. He should be fighting for his new Department's funding ; moreover, as he said only too clearly, he has been able to find money for other important works. I do not dispute the fact that the British library needs finishing. The Minister, I noted, was not too keen to discuss it, apart from in funding terms, as the library is probably the greatest single public expenditure disaster of the past 15 years, given the overrun on expenditure, the lack of scrutiny of its budget, the changes to its contracting and legal status. The Government have an appalling record here. However, I entirely agree that we need the British library. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's point about the land behind it. That is very important to the library's development, but it is a matter to which the Government have not yet given the necessary attention.

The Secretary of State can find money for the projects that he wants, such as the British library and the Albert memorial. I agree that it is nonsensical that the Albert memorial should have been under that great pall of scaffolding for so many years. When the right hon. Gentleman could find money for this purpose, why did he cut by £3.3 million the amount available to the Arts Council ? He could have protected the budget. As we are debating the arts today, I have to make the point that the right hon. Gentleman did not protect his budget in the way that the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales protected theirs.

Mr. Brooke : I am sorry to go back over ground that was covered in my speech, but I have to say that I made it perfectly clear that the Government have not found any money for the Albert memorial next year and that the amount available to the Arts Council was not cut because we were providing such funds. I said that English Heritage, out of its savings, had been able to make a contribution.

Mr. Fisher : English Heritage comes under the right hon. Gentleman's Department. However, I accept the detailed point that he did find money for the royal palaces and for the British library. He knows perfectly well that the cuts were not made in all parts of his departmental budget. The Arts Council was singled out for treatment. It is baffling why it should be so. I hope that the noble Lord Gowrie will explain to the Secretary of State-- he probably has done so already--the impact of such a small amount of money. Indeed, the sum is insignificant in the context of the Department's expenditure, including an outlay of £25 million on administration. The Secretary of State has not made any attempt to cut that figure, yet he has taken £3 million from the Arts Council. That cut has had a disproportionately malign effect on companies all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman must understand the simple point that, for very small savings in his departmental budget--petty change even in the context of that budget--he has done enormous harm to the Arts Council at a very difficult time.

The Government are setting a very difficult--almost impossible--task for the new chairman, Lord Gowrie, and the new secretary general, Mary Allen. The Opposition

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congratulate those two people and wish them well. We want the Arts Council to succeed. Lord Gowrie and Ms Allen know that their problem is that, because of the Government's stupid minimal and mean-minded cuts, they are inheriting a demoralised arts administration world at a time when the Arts Council already suffers from the lack of the credibility that has been enjoyed in the past and does not have a reputation for competence. I do not believe that that is the fault of the previous chairman, who, in many ways, did an extremely good job and was a brave advocate for the arts. In administration--particularly in relation to the so-called initiative concerning the London orchestras and the attempt last year to cut six regional theatres--the Arts Council has been left a difficult legacy, which has been made far worse by the Secretary of State.

The Arts Council must do various things very quickly. It must speak up for the arts world and explain some basic truths to the Secretary of State. Like the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), I was much encouraged by Lord Gowrie's letter to Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. That letter, received today, says :

"Arts activity cannot be sustained against this background of cuts."

I am glad that the new chairman will be critical when criticism is necessary. That is a good start. The Government must listen. The Secretary of State appointed the chairman and he must take account of his advice, but the right hon. Gentleman must also find an approach to restore the Arts Council's credibility. We all want it to succeed. We need such a national body.

I shall not engage in the rather silly debate about the arm's-length principle. The Secretary of State, who started the debate, knows that the Opposition are committed to that principle in that it applies to non- interference in the artistic decisions and the independence of companies. We have always been, and remain, committed to those things, as the Secretary of State knows. Equally, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the argument is much more complicated. There is no arm's-length principle in respect of museums, galleries and many other parts of the right hon. Gentleman's brief. Those are funded directly by the Department, in precisely the way that the Arts Council protects the Secretary of State from funding the national theatre. The Tate gallery is funded directly ; the national theatre is not.

The Secretary of State knows that in many sectors--particularly with local authorities, which he rightly praised--there is no arm's-length principle. We have no tradition, at either central or local government level, of interference in the artistic judgment and decisions of companies. That is a position with which hon. Members on both sides of the House and people throughout the country agree, and it will remain. It is a strength of the cultural life of the country.

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