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Mr. Brooke : I apologise for intervening again, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way once more. By virtue of the number of hon. Members present, we have an opportunity to make this a proper debate.
Does the hon. Gentleman, like many people on the continent, acknowledge that one of the glories of our system is the trustee principle in the case of the national museums ? The funding of museums on the continent is subject to a great deal more interference and intervention. In our case, the trustees are remarkably robust in making it clear that the running of museums is a matter for them.
Mr. Fisher : I certainly share that view, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman bases the arm's-length principle on the existence of trustees. The national theatre has a board of trustees, but many people would say--correctly, in my view--that if the Arts Council were abolished and the national theatre were funded directly by the Department, there would be a risk of destroying the arm's-length principle, despite the existence of the board of trustees. The essence of the arm's-length principle is not the relationship but the lack of interference in artistic decisions. The Secretary of State knows that, and his argument was a false and rather blustering one.
In an interesting intervention, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) praised the French system. I share the praise for what was done by Jack Lang to raise the importance and the profile of cultural life in France, but I disagree entirely with the way in which the French system runs everything from the ministry. Grants are administered directly by civil servants. That is wasteful, bureaucratic and centralist, but it is a long-standing French tradition to run things from the top down--from Paris down. It is not our way. In particular, it is not the way of the Labour party, which believes in devolution and in trusting local authorities, whether Labour or Conservative.
Local authorities should be allowed to get on and develop cultural life in their own areas. That is true devolution. Unfortunately, the Government do not believe in true devolution. The Greater London council started the whole movement towards local authorities believing in the arts and developing the cultural life of the city. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who, sadly, is not in the Chamber, was chairman of the relevant committee. He was harassed by the Conservative Government. Indeed, the Government so deplored the council that it was abolished. The Secretary of State must know that, leaving aside individual decisions of the Greater London council, everything he has said about local authorities goes back to the lead that was given by that body's understanding of the importance of investing in the cultural life of London. The lack of strategic planning of the cultural life of the city is undermining its cultural strength, to which, referring to the west end theatres, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute. As there is no coherent strategy, many cultural opportunities in London are going amiss.
I hope that Lord Gowrie will not see the Arts Council's problems purely in managerial terms. It is important that the council gets things right. Decisions must be taken more quickly and more cheaply. Now that the council's clients have been devolved, there are fewer staff, but this is not solely a managerial problem. The council must find a new role and must reassert old ones. It must find a new relationship with the regional arts boards and local authorities. There must be a genuine partnership. The council must pursue the agendas that it has been pursuing quite well in recent years, breaking down the monoculture and creating opportunities for disabled people, for women and for people whose mother tongue is not English. In particular, it could adopt a huge new role on innovation. For 20 years, arts administration and policy, at national and local levels, concentrated on audiences and access. It was quite right that that should be so. We needed to enlarge audiences and to widen access. The education and community and outreach work that the Secretary of State has mentioned has furthered that cause. However, we need to emphasise once again the need for innovation and for
Column 867support for the individual and creative genius of companies and of individuals. Here, the Arts Council has a role in finding new ways to encourage innovation, particularly with the funding, through the national lottery and the millennium fund, of the new generation of buildings. We welcome that new generation of buildings because the arts have lacked capital investment.
If thinking and debate about the nature of such buildings and the needs that they should serve are not led now by the Secretary of State and the Arts Council, we could end up repeating the 20th century in the 21st century rather than understanding cultural needs over the next 50 years. The Secretary of State will have noted the breakdown in the divisions between dance, drama and music. Those require different sorts of venues and we should take care before building a generation of proscenium arch theatres or more concert halls.
I join the Secretary of State in welcoming developments at Basingstoke. Many high-quality, beautiful and much-needed concert halls have been built in the past 10 years, but they are basically 19th century structures. For the performing arts and especially for theatre and dance I suspect that a different sort of space is needed. We certainly need a debate on that and on how they should be funded--via the companies that play there or the venues themselves. Those are difficult decisions but all hon. Members should have a common interest in them and the Arts Council has an opportunity to lead that innovative debate.
The Secretary of State will know that Mr. Peter Brook has come back this year with a new production. He had to leave the country because it could not provide the sort of imaginative and long-term support for the innovative work that he wanted to do or the spaces in which he wanted to do it. I suspect that his work is being repeated in different ways by the Theatre de Complicite , by Opera Factory, by the work that Ruth Mackenzie is doing at the Nottingham Playhouse and by the Tramway in Glasgow.
This is a new way of looking at the arts that breaks down the barriers between dance, drama and music. The national lottery and the millennium fund provide a chance to help that and to find new and exciting ways to sustain it. If we do not sustain it we shall simply repeat 19th century or, at best, 20th century houses. There is a big role for the Arts Council in this development, and I hope that the Secretary of State will help it to fulfil that role.
The Secretary of State has had difficulty in developing a policy and in defending his budget because he has not been long in office and has not been able to develop in his Department a strategy for our cultural life. Now that his Department is up and running, he should turn to that. He had some fun mocking the Labour party's development of ideas of a cultural policy, but he would do well to be a little more modest and to discover what that means. The distinction between that cultural policy and arts funding policy, which is what the Secretary of State is pursuing although not very well because he is cutting funding, is crucial.
A cultural policy recognises that cultural life does not just happen in the arts organisations that it funds or in those that are funded by the Arts Council, local authorities and other bodies : it happens in the commercial world and in the voluntary side of our culture, which are very important. It
Column 868is only when we examine the scale of those and the number of people who earn a living from them that we recognise their importance to the economy and how they permeate medicine, hospitals, prisons, the environment, open spaces, buildings, parks and their design and public art. They make a great contribution and the Government have an enormous responsibility in all those sectors.
An arts funding policy that concentrates solely on how much or how little is given to the existing companies is wholly inadequate. A cultural policy must recognise that our cultural life is what happens in Penguin or in record shops or--the Secretary of State sneered at this--in the design of clothes or furniture. Those are as important as what happens in our theatres, and until the Government understand that basic truth they will not get arts funding right. Until they have a cultural policy they cannot have an adequate arts funding policy.
With the national lottery and the millennium fund the Minister has a real responsibility. The new European directive on architectural competition lays a responsibility on the Government to employ architects for the first time for those buildings and to hold design competitions on various scales. That will not necessarily be expensive or cumbersome. I share the praise of the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex for what the French have done but the French Government had specific legislation on architecture that brought on a new generation of architects and made sure that Government expenditure on architecture carried weight and led with good design. The Secretary of State may not appreciate that, between them, other Departments are spending £5,000 million of taxpayers' money on new buildings and on renovating old buildings. There is no Government policy on that, no co-ordinated approach and no fostering of design or good architects. Until we have that, the incredible amount of taxpayers' money that is already being spent before the national lottery or the millennium fund come on stream will not carry its full weight.
There are plenty of examples of good Government-funded buildings such as Waterloo station but there are also some rotten examples. The Minister ought to recognise that that is as important to our cultural life as what happens in theatres or concert halls. The Government can grasp that responsibility only by supporting a cultural rather than an arts funding policy and particularly one that incorporates the role of the Department for Education in promoting art in schools and in training. The Minister knows that there is a crisis there. I accept that he is not responsible, but this is a debate on Government policy on the arts and the Government's policy on the arts in schools is a disaster. The number of advisory posts has dropped by almost half and the Secretary of State knows that there is a crisis of morale and lack of opportunity in the school library and museum services and in music teaching.
The right hon. Member for Bexley and Old Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) did much to support music in this country. We have great orchestras because we gave young people a chance to discover their skills at playing instruments in primary school and trained them, but that no longer happens under many local authorities. In whole swathes of the country children never get a chance to discover whether they can play an instrument. That is a disgrace and the Government should put it right by remedying their policy on discretionary grants to drama and dance schools.
The Minister has had all the evidence from the Gulbenkian report, which the Government co-funded. He
Column 869should look at that and recognise that for very small sums of Government money he could put that right and make sure that a small number of accredited drama and dance schools were able to take the students that they want because they think that they will be the professional dancers and actors of the future. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, he is denying opportunities and skills and undermining his policies for the future.
Those are Government policies rather than the policies of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but they point up our assertion that the arts and our cultural life do not depend solely on his Department. All Departments make decisions every week that affect our cultural life. If a Labour Government were in power, the right hon. Gentleman's Department would not interfere in the activities of other Departments but would co-ordinate them. That is difficult because it runs counter to the whole Gladstonian structure of Departments and civil service responsibilities and empires.
The Minister knows that Departments such as the Department for Education, the Departments of Transport and of Health and Departments responsible for training make cultural decisions. They are making them in isolation, without the Secretary of State's advice and without understanding their cultural impact. That is wrong, and that is why we need a cultural policy that supports rather than attacks local authorities. They want to get on with investing in the life of their cities and should have Government support. Until the Government recognise their importance and the importance of a cultural policy, they will continue to get arts funding wrong in the way that they have got it wrong over the past year.
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage for missing the first few minutes of his speech. I had a hint that it was necessary for me to vote in Westminster and I felt that it was desirable and necessary to carry out that request. However, I listened with the greatest interest to the rest of my hon. Friend's speech.
It is disquieting that the Government should have chosen to have an arts debate on the one day in the year on which they were bound to find the House almost empty because hon. Members are active on the electoral scene. The only consolation is that, whereas there are four hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, there are eight on ours. To have 100 per cent. more than the Opposition is in itself some small consolation.
The arts are particularly important for the Conservative party and we must be seen publicly to be full in our support for them. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the Conservatives had all too deep a reputation for being hard-nosed monetary people, naturally containing the wealthy, who were able to enjoy their opera and music because they could afford to pay for it. The rest of the population had great difficulty in doing that. All of that changed after the second world war. We must be careful in preserving the reputation that we have since established. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)--I think that he is a friend--shouted out earlier that those things are nothing whatever to do with the Government. I completely disagree with him on that. He is representing what I have described as the hard-nosed monetary side of
Column 870the Conservative party. The Government have a very great responsibility for the arts. My anxiety is that they should maintain that responsibility.
I must confess that I did not find the speech of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), particularly appealing, being somewhat vitriolic in its nature. There were valid points, but, if I may say so, he might have more influence if he put things rather more gently and explained how he thinks that they could be done. He emphasised what needs to be done, and on some points I would not challenge him for one moment, but there was little indication of how it could be done. If I were still as deeply involved in the arts and the world outside as I once was, I am not sure that I should be very attracted by the hon. Gentleman's approach. I would find the thought of meeting him in his room rather devastating. In fact, the box office would probably be closed before he finished telling me exactly what he was thinking. Nevertheless, I am sure that his contribution can be valuable from time to time. The hon. Gentleman emphasised funding. I do not accept that if the Government are forced into economies we should have a level playing field all round. I take exactly the opposite view : I believe that some items of expenditure should be exempt in an economy drive. Indeed, I would go further and say that some types of expenditure, the arts being one, should continue to be increased. I recall that when the Treasury, through its second or third Secretary, was responsible for funding the arts, the arts got the best deal that they had ever had. It was, if I may say so, the cultured at the summit at the Treasury who said to their pals, "Look, we are not going to damage the things that we enjoy." That was when the arts got a really good deal. I am not saying for one moment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage does not personally take that view, as I know that he does, but he has considerable weight against him on that point.
There was once a time when if I went to the Festival hall or Covent garden or elsewhere I could depend on seeing a considerable number of colleagues. It seems to be a rather different situation today. Whether it is the depression, I do not know, but seldom at Covent garden or at any musical festival do I see a large number of my colleagues anxiously waiting to imbibe culture. So one can weigh up the problems that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has in funding the arts.
I am concerned at the situation in the schools, about which we have just heard. When one considers the arts in this country over the past century, one sees that there has been a remarkable transformation. It is quite extraordinary. One can trace it back to the start of the promenade concerts with Sir Henry Wood. When I was a kid in the 1930s, I used to cycle 73 miles from my home to London, stay with friends for a week, go to the prom each night, paying two shillings, and then cycle 73 miles back again. That was worth while. If we wanted it, that was what we did. In those days, the prom gave one an education in classical music, with some modern works. There was the Wagner night, the Haydn and Schubert night, the Beethoven night on the Friday, the mixed night on the Saturday, and new ones on the Tuesday. It was a well-balanced performance. I believe that the BBC has gone too far now : that basic education is no longer in the proms because it has moved too far in the other direction.
Column 871I do not want anybody to accuse me of going "back to basics", because that is not my attitude. On the other hand, I am not prepared to produce a full-blooded condemnation of atonality and those people referring to it. If one looks at the past, one finds that Beethoven was deeply criticised for his seventh symphony : it was considered far too modern and something that people did not want to listen to. Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" was shouted down in Paris in 1913 when it was first performed. I went to the 50th anniversary performance in the Albert hall, with Stravinsky sitting beside me and Monteux, the original conductor, conducting it again. The Albert hall was packed to the ceiling with people who stood and cheered afterwards for minute after minute. One cannot be condemnatory about such things in a general way, however well versed one is in the arts and however high one's position in the country.
Look at what happened to the pictorial arts at the end of the 19th century and to the impressionists when their works were first produced. It took two intelligent Russians to go to Paris constantly and buy up the works so that today the Hermitage in St. Petersburg has the finest collection of impressionists. The same is true with the galleries in Moscow. What about Picasso ? Look at the reception that he received when he first changed his styles. Now one has to pays millions if one wants a Picasso. We must be careful about saying that we must stick to the basics, because I do not believe that that is justifiable in any way.
After the Education Act 1944, on the basis of what we had on the proms, and the Saturday morning concerts, which were privately financed by Sir Robert Mayer, the educational addition produced the results that we have seen in the past few years. I have already cited the example of the European Community youth orchestra, as it then was. I was one of those who founded it. Our purpose was to show that our continent had a common heritage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the French heritage is different from ours, but I would not go far with him on that. The method by which they fund it might be different, but we have a common heritage. When I hear opponents of the European Union saying that we must keep our national heritage, I ask myself what on earth they mean. Are they saying that Shakespeare can be performed only in Stratford-on-Avon and that we should not play Bach, Beethoven or Brahms ? That makes no sense whatever. We have a European culture in the widest sense, and that is what we want to continue to maintain. The European Community youth orchestra was formed to show that we were not concerned only with tariffs, agricultural policy, the price of meat, and so on, but that we had a common heritage which we wanted everybody--particularly the young--to share.
Music has the advantage of a common language. Had we gone for the theatre, we would have been in difficulty straightaway. Ballet was possible, but more difficult. We had a competition for members of the orchestra. At first the Germans did not want to take part, as they thought that it would affect their youth orchestras. After the first year, however, they realised that they were missing out on a good enterprise--a European culture--and they came in. We had the same assessment committee--at least two members of it, but a national assessment committee--in each country. I remember the difficulty in which I found
Column 872myself in the last year that I advised and conducted that orchestra. Of its 126 members, 66--on merit--came from this country. That was entirely due to our educational system and to the youth orchestras that had been built up. For example, many countries could not produce double bass players or people who could play the larger wind instruments. Britain could produce all types of musicians. I had to say that 66 members out of 126 was too big a proportion for one country and that the orchestra's membership had to be spread further, and that was done. That is how we developed what is now the European Union youth orchestra.
My concern is that music education is dropping back. It is difficult to obtain exact expenditure figures because they are accumulated with other types of expenditure, but one can identify the number of children aged 11 or over who are receiving music education, and there is no doubt that there has been a drop of as much as 5 per cent.--I am sure of that. People write to me from all over the country saying, "Our school no longer has a music teacher--it cannot pay for a music teacher." That is a loss. Other people write to me, "Can you help us to buy an instrument for our daughter, who is proving to be a good violinist ?" There is a limit to what one can do in that way, however deserving the cause. Those are real needs. If one is to deal fully with the problem, one must focus attention on those real needs rather than make critical remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If that is done, we may secure continued support for other aspects of the arts.
There is no doubt that private funding fell in the recession. That is pointed out by people who have the figures. It may take some years before we retrieve that funding. If one makes cuts in music, one loses out for a long period, and it takes a long time to make that up. If one postpones a construction job for one or two years, it can be restarted, but the same cannot be done with the arts. It cannot be done with young people in orchestras or theatres or in other artistic disciplines such as design. That is why I am much against so-called temporary cuts. Their impact is lengthy and it takes a long time to make up that loss.
Both the Arts Council and our orchestras face difficulties. I hope that my noble Friend Lord Gowrie will review that issue philosophically. I am sure that he will. I have no doubts about his power to put his own views and those of the Arts Council strongly. In the latest episode, the Arts Council wanted a super-orchestra--or two--in London. At present, London has five major symphony orchestras and a growing number of smaller string orchestras and chamber orchestras. The Arts Council concluded that it was not possible for those five to reach the standard of the major orchestras of the world such as the Berlin, Amsterdam, Venice, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York orchestras, and there are people who support the Arts Council in that view. Leading world conductors will come to London if they can bring their own orchestras, but not otherwise. That is partly due to standards and partly because London will not pay the fees that they receive elsewhere. That also comes down to funding.
A growing difficulty in the past two or three years is that fewer musicians want to be contracted to an orchestra permanently or for a period of years. They say, "We would rather keep our freedom ; if you want us, telephone us beforehand and we will say whether we are available." That is bound to weaken the strength of a major symphony
Column 873orchestra. In some cases, 30 per cent. of an orchestra's strength has to be made up by telephoning musicians who are not contracted to it.
That situation leads to far too low a level of rehearsing. I have known all too many cases of inadequate rehearsing. When I was asked to conduct a Coronation anniversary concert at Kenwood last year, I said that I must have two rehearsals. They said, "You are being very difficult--but if you insist." I said that my second stipulation was that the musicians who played in the first rehearsal must play in the second rehearsal. They said, "Now you are being really difficult--but all right, if you insist." I said that there was a third stipulation--that the musicians who played in the two rehearsals must also play in the concert. They said, "That is going too far--you are asking too much." But they agreed in the end.
There was a previous attempt to establish a super-orchestra, 30 years ago. It was decided that one of the symphony orchestras must go. At the time, I was a trustee of the London symphony orchestra. To everybody's surprise, the doomed orchestra, the philharmonic, suddenly received royal support and became the Royal Philharmonic orchestra--so then they could not get rid of it. Thirty years later, that has been tried again and ended in failure. My only advice is that everything must be worked out and agreed beforehand, and then be carried through. Otherwise one suffers, as Lord Palumbo unfortunately suffered, from a complete turnround in orchestras.
The Birmingham symphony and Halle orchestras also had intense financial difficulties. Simon Rattle said, "Unless you get this, I go." That is a most unhappy position. I want the funding of orchestras improved, and I will give figures to illustrate my argument.
The Berlin philharmonic has a total income of £16.2 million. All its members are on contract. They are ordered when to go on holiday, and they are forbidden to play anywhere else when they are on holiday. They meet all their obligations to the Berliners. The Chicago orchestra has an income of £22.55 million, and the New York philharmonic has £16.7 million. The orchestra with the largest financing in this country is the London symphony orchestra, with £7.7 million--only one third Chicago's income. The Bournemouth, which I admit is my local orchestra, has an income of £4.82 million, which is only about half that of the London symphony orchestra. The contrasts are immense.
In the United States, almost all the funding is from private sources--from concert revenue or from supporters. That is because the Americans have a tradition of private charity, and tax incentives to make donations are considerable whereas those in this country are not. The tax incentives in the UK to keep one's money in a family trust are great, and there is not the incentive to use money from a trust to support orchestras or other forms of the arts. I suggest to those who are working on the issue that tax changes could be enormously influential in persuading companies and individuals to be charitable towards the arts and towards musicians in particular.
Mr. Jessel : Although I accept some of my right hon. Friend's points, is he not denigrating some of our symphony orchestras a little too much ? Some of our best orchestras play to a brilliant, precise and inspired standard and display a high level of musicianship. With the greatest respect, my right hon. Friend should pay more tribute to those orchestras' strengths and standards.
Sir Edward Heath : I am trying to put our orchestras in a world perspective. Orchestra players know the position perfectly well. Many of them are no longer contracted to a symphony orchestra because they prefer to keep their individual freedom and perform when they feel like it, which I regret. If my hon. Friend is asking how our orchestras compare, I will give him my view in private. I am not denigrating any of the British orchestras--I am pointing out the difficulties that they face. We shall get nowhere and do no one any good if we do not acknowledge those difficulties. The only way to improve matters is by recognising them and describing what action should be taken.
The Berlin philharmonic has an income of £16.2 million. Income from its concerts totals £6.9 million ; the rest of its revenue comes from Berlin's local government, the state or Bonn. The position is the same in Hamburg. I do not have the figures for Hamburg, but they may be higher as Hamburg has the opera. In Europe, Governments willingly make full contributions because they realise the importance of music and the arts to their countries.
The facts are there for all of us to see. In the rest of the arts--for example, in architecture and in pictures--we have done very well, but the remarkable achievements of this century and, in particular, of the past 50 years should not be gradually whittled away by a number of forces, some of which I have described. I give the Secretary of State my full support for everything that he wants to do to reach the position that the public and those involved with the arts want to reach. The interest and demand is there. That is why so many people are sad about what is happening in our schools and that we cannot give greater support to the things that they value.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) not only because of his knowledge of these matters but because of his insight into what he described as the more monetarist wing of the Conservative party and the things for which it was responsible. Some of my speech will relate to that more monetarist wing. I can only sadly reflect, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does, that some of the policies that that wing proposed, not least the Broadcasting Act 1990, would never have been enacted if the less monetarist wing of the Conservative party had not been prepared to vote for it. I want to deal with those who suffered the consequences of that Act. The Secretary of State did not refer to broadcasting in his opening speech, but I make no apology for doing so. I am sure that the House supports the view that broadcasting policy is of enormous importance in any debate on the arts.
Mr. Dicks : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This, too, is of importance. As usual, there is an awful smell of cooking coming up as a result of the artistic creativity of the chefs in the kitchen. Will someone ask them to redirect the smells elsewhere ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The matter will be looked into.
Mr. Grocott : I am enjoying the smell of cooking ; we should have a vote before anything precipitate is done.
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to the way in which events have developed, including the proms. If I am to justify concentrating my
Column 875remarks on broadcasting, I need do no more than to say that it is only via broadcasting that the arts are made available to millions of people. I confess that I am not a great fan of the proms or of the last night of the proms, but I acknowledge that 5 million people watched it on television on 11 September last year and that the "Young Musician of the Year" finals this year, which I watched and enjoyed, were watched by 1.3 million people. That attracted a smaller audience for a less widely publicised event. None the less, a huge number of people watched it. I always measure audiences against the number of people at Wembley on cup final day. The audience for the "Young Musician of the Year" finals was about 13 times as high as the number at Wembley on cup final day. That audience was of tremendous importance.
I say with a great sense of urgency that something precious in this country --the structure of broadcasting and the quality of programmes that it delivers--is in danger of collapsing. It is the Secretary of State's responsibility to ensure that it does not do so. I will not say that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup reflects a golden age because I did not regard the years 1970 to 1974 as such, but some of the things that have happened to broadcasting as a result of deliberate Government policy would have been unthinkable during that earlier Tory Administration or under any Labour Administration. I do not need to establish the credentials of British broadcasting, which are well known and understood. British television is recognised as being among the best, if not the best, in the world. It broadcasts a huge range of high-quality programmes and transmits to most homes in this country--21.5 million, or 98 per cent. of households that have access to terrestrial television. That is almost everyone. The threat to terrestrial television must be dealt with urgently by the Government. At its best, broadcasting enriches our lives. We watch, on average, 25 hours of television a week. That is a lot of hours a week, but television is far more important to the housebound, the elderly, people with disabilities and children. A lot has been said recently about the damaging effect of television on children. Good-quality children's programmes enhance children's lives, just as directed programming enhances the lives of other groups in the community.
It is no understatement to say that broadcasting is in a state of crisis. I shall give specific examples that need to be dealt with rapidly. The first relates to job losses. I should declare a degree of self-interest in that matter, although I no longer have a direct interest. The television industry has suffered enormous job losses in the past seven years, before and immediately after the implementation of the Broadcasting Act. In 1987, 16,937 people were employed in ITV ; by 1993, the number had halved to 8,000. In the same period, the BBC shed one in four jobs. A lot of people will say that the job losses were among bureaucrats, who we could do without. But if he is honest, the Secretary of State will know from his visits to different television centres that many of those who lost their jobs were highly skilled and well trained : they included sound engineers, vision mixers, production assistants, directors, and producers, who had a range of broadcasting skills. They have been lost and they will be extraordinarily difficult to
Column 876replace. It will not happen through the so- called independent sector, which lives off the experience and expertise that was built up in the public sector of old.
Secondly, as many of us predicted, there has been an almost inevitable lowering of standards in broadcasting. I am talking about a deterioration not in the quality of programmes but in the ethos surrounding their production. Not long ago, the Public Accounts Committee published a report on the way in which the ethos of the civil service has steadily gone down hill. The same is happening rapidly in broadcasting. It is all to do with the creeping and overlapping commercial interests that come into the production of programmes. Am I the only person in the country who does not like programmes being sponsored by commercial organisations ? Does it really add anything to "Play Your Cards Right" that it is sponsored by The Sun newspaper ? Does it add anything to "Rumpole" to say that a particular brand of drink is sponsoring it ? Is there any limit to the amount of sponsorship money that will go to programmes ?
Let us take the example of programmes of national interest. I am not being entirely facetious in saying that, if present trends continue, the state opening of Parliament will one day be sponsored by a tobacco company and will be available exclusively on Sky. That is the logic of the way in which the financing of programmes is developing. Programmes go to the highest bidder. That includes the largest amount of sponsorship money that happens to be available. If the programme is available only to a restricted audience, so be it. That is the response of so many people.
On the next matter, perhaps I may appeal to the Secretary of State, with his love of sport. Predictably--I am not being wise after the event ; many of us have said this time and again--the proliferation of channels does not mean the extension of choice. It is not an inevitable consequence of the number of channels being increased that we get more choice. If the channels all produce the same stuff and a lot of it is dross, there is no extension of choice whatever. We know one specific way in which there has been a reduction in choice. Again, I appeal to the Secretary of State.
Mr. Dicks : The hon. Gentleman uses the phrase, "It is dross". With respect, who is he to decide what someone else wants to watch and what they find interesting ?
Mr. Grocott : I have heard the hon. Gentleman develop that argument in the past. He knows very little if he thinks that the delivery of television programmes, even on totally deregulated commercial channels, is entirely a matter of what the audience wants. It is not merely a matter of responding to audiences in the way that the hon. Gentleman, in his populist way, wants. Let me assure him that it is all to do with much more complicated machinations between advertisers, money men and accountants. The type of television that he seems to want is dominated by the accountants and advertisers, not by the programme makers and the people.
One area in which we have restricted choice is the availability of many key sporting events to most of our constituents. At one stage, we would have been able to watch Brian Lara score his 375 the other day live on terrestrial television. We certainly would have been able to see the edited highlights in a package in the evening. We cannot see it now. It is available only to people who have access to Sky. We shall not be able to watch the Ryder Cup
Column 877next time round. We cannot watch the key premier league football games. Again, football is a national sport. Those of us who not only watch it on television but go to matches regularly want to see the best of British football on television.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : One can see the rugby league.
Mr. Grocott : My hon. Friend is right. We can see the rugby league-- but for how much longer if present trends continue, I do not know. What else will go before long ? Will it be Wimbledon next ? It may well be. I am less concerned about Wimbledon than about premier league football, but they are both national events and part of our national heritage. If we make them exclusive to satellite television, we shall lose something valuable and important. Our choice is being restricted, as many of us predicted it would, with the deregulation of the media.
What else is happening ? We are seeing the inevitable and inexorable growth of monopoly power within the media. We must deal with that because it is extremely important. It has been dramatic in independent television. We all know that, in effect, independent television is controlled by three people : Messrs. Green, Hollick and Robinson. I make no comment about them as individuals except to describe how rapid the change has been.
Two years ago, Michael Green, or his company, did not own one television company. He acquired the franchise for Carlton. Within a short period, the bosses of television managed to persuade the Secretary of State that the rules by which they had happily been prepared to abide when they bid for the franchises were no good. They said that they were wrong and unfair to them. So the rules were relaxed and Carlton acquired Central, which in turn has shares in GMTV and substantial interests in ITN. So, from nowhere, one individual has acquired a tremendously powerful voice within the world of commercial television. I do not like such growths in monopoly control.
There is also the scandal of the protected position of Sky Television and Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps some Conservative Members have more detached views of Rupert Murdoch these days than they did when the privileges were announced. His newspapers are temporarily not quite so friendly to the Conservative party as they were a few years ago. Suddenly and rather belatedly the Prime Minister and perhaps the Secretary of State have discovered that the tabloid newspapers influence people. Ministers complain about tabloid newspapers determining who is in the Cabinet. The Secretary of State's predecessor was particularly vitriolic on that point.
Opposition Members have for many years complained that tabloid newspapers can be an important determining factor in who wins general elections. So perhaps the growth of monopoly power should concern us all. We should be worried that, as well as owning all the Sky channels, one individual owns 35 per cent. of the newspapers in Britain.
I had a real insight into the power that cross-media ownership brings with it when a few weeks ago I talked to an experienced producer who had made a programme for Sky Television. He had made dozens of programmes previously for terrestrial television. The usual programme launch was held. The press were invited along and told that it would be a splendid programme
Mr. Cormack : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt, but the Order Paper says that this is a debate on the arts. Although the hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to the arts at the beginning of his speech, he seems to be talking about all the other responsibilities of the Secretary of State and not about the arts.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but the debate is actually on the Adjournment. That is the real debate.
Mr. Grocott : I expected a challenge along those lines, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to speak. Perhaps he was motivated, at least in part, by a hope that I would sit down fairly soon. I can assure him that I shall do just that. I do not think that it would need a great deal to persuade the House that if broadcasting in the public service sense to which we have been accustomed in Britain collapsed--in many respects it is in danger of doing just that--the arts of which the hon. Gentleman is so fond would lose a massive part of their audience.
I shall finish the true tale about the experience of the producer who found himself launching a programme that he had made for Sky rather than for the terrestrial channels for which he had always worked in the past. To his absolute amazement, the press attended in great numbers the routine press call to the launch of a programme. The producer suddenly realised that the journalists were there because the newspapers were owned by the same people who owned the television station for which he had made the programme. Sure enough, there were splendid write-ups in the said newspapers the following day. That is the implication of cross-media ownership. If Conservative Members cannot see the importance of that, I shall be very concerned indeed.
The Secretary of State has made one mistake in allowing television companies to take one another over. I hope that he does not make another mistake by allowing newspapers and television companies to become even more enmeshed with one another than they have been in the past.
I shall now suggest what the Secretary of State should consider. My first suggestion is a pretty impassioned plea. I get sick and tired of people being mesmerised by technology. I hear all sorts of talk about communications super-highways. I appeal to the Secretary of State to understand--I am sure that he does--that the fact that the same technology may be used to order a takeaway pizza as could be used to deliver live the film of the dismantling of the Berlin wall does not mean that the two are of equal importance or need the same regulatory system. The right hon. Gentleman's area of responsibility is crucially different from that of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I hope that he will not neglect the importance of preserving and defending standards in that area of responsibility. Secondly, the Secretary of State should not be mesmerised by all the talk about the viewer penetration achieved by Sky, cable and satellite television. As I said, 21.5 million households have access to terrestrial channels. A staggering audience of 24 million people recently watched Torvill and Dean in the finals of a competition. However, only 3 million households have satellite and cable television and even the industry estimates that there
Column 879will only be about 10 million households by 2000. No cable or satellite channel will be able to reach the audience that terrestrial television reaches today within the lifetime of anyone present. Therefore, if the Secretary of State does not concentrate on defending and protecting terrestrial television, with all its qualities, he will not be devoting himself to the most important task.
I must add a rider. At the moment there is no level playing field : the contest between cable and satellite television and the terrestrial channels is just not fair. No rules worth speaking of govern cable and satellite channels. They are not required to buy British or even European Community productions. The controls over what they can do, for example with sponsorship and advertising, are much looser.
Mr. Brooke : Quotas are set out governing European productions because they emanate from a European Union directive--British production obviously falls within that quota. How does the hon. Gentleman square those quotas, on which the channels are obliged to report and to which we have frequently referred in the House, with his statement that such channels are not subject to any controls ?
Mr. Grocott : I can only give the right hon. Gentleman the statistics for the proportion of domestically produced material used. In 1992, 65 per cent. of BBC 1 and BBC 2 output was made up of original home- produced material and 60 per cent. of ITV and Channel 4 material was home produced. In the same year, 29 per cent. of material used by BSkyB was home produced and most of it was news and sport.
Whatever the rules and regulations, the expansion of cable and satellite television has not benefited British or even European Community domestic production. By and large, that expansion has been fuelled through cheap imports and the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly how the system operates.
Mr. Brooke : I was merely querying the hon. Gentleman's statement that those companies are under no controls. The directive establishes an obligation to meet the quotas where practical. The obligation is subject to that condition and the Commission takes that into account. However, the upward thrust of production must be towards meeting the quota figures.
Mr. Grocott : The right hon. Gentleman has answered his own intervention. There is no effective control--perhaps I missed a word out-- and the rules do not apply equally to cable, satellite and terrestrial channels. No amount of playing with words will alter that fact.
I had not intended to go down that road, but since the Secretary of State tempts me I shall do so. I was stunned to learn today that, under the British regulatory framework, GMTV--the morning breakfast television programme--has had its regulations loosened by the television authority. The company was established only 18 months ago and knew what it was bidding for. It knew the rules, the terms and all the rest and worked out the price, but it has had its obligations eased unilaterally. What is worse, according to the report in the Financial Times today, GMTV said that it had implemented the reduction in the quotas--it broke the rules--in advance of the television authority's ruling and
Column 880took "a calculated risk". Is that the way to regulate ? The company hoped that the regulators would change their minds and ignored the regulations for the time being. That is not a regulatory system ; it is a disgrace.
Added to that, GMTV is substantially owned by two of the moguls of the independent television industry, Carlton Communications and Granada--not exactly companies that have had it rough since the Broadcasting Act was passed. They seem to have been continuously successful in lobbying to have the rules changed in their favour, despite the fact that they committed themselves so recently to the system.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : Is my hon. Friend aware that the same thing is happening in radio ? Jazz FM quite properly submitted a bid to produce a jazz network, but has largely become a purveyor of American soul and alternative pop music, which is a great shame. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) objected that my hon. Friend's contribution did not deal with the arts, but television is at the heart of that subject. By the turn of the century the entertainment industry will be bigger than any other industry in America. It will be the biggest money earner. If we lose our ability to produce television programmes, radio programmes and films, we will also lose an important amount of money-- perhaps our most important money earner--as well as our production ability in many sectors of the arts.
Mr. Grocott : I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend and I know that he cares as passionately as I do about such matters. I am conscious of the time. Hon. Members may be looking nervously at my notes, fearing that I will go on for much longer and I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to many other subjects, but perhaps I can do so in correspondence rather than by taking up the time of the House.
The Secretary of State normally has a gentle and timeless approach to some of these problems and I urge him to realise that they are a matter of urgency. During the past few years one of the best broadcasting systems in the world has gone down hill rapidly because of the Government's lack of willingness to understand that technology is the servant, not the master, and that free market forces will not deliver quality programmes. If I can only persuade the right hon. Gentleman of those two facts, I will not have wasted my time. 5.47 pm
Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex) : I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) by devoting the greater part of my remarks to broadcasting, although I understand that his passion and enthusiasm for the subject led him to do so.
While I was at the Home Office, I was one of the architects of the Broadcasting Act 1990. The hon. Member for The Wrekin should surely bear in mind that, by agreeing to the mergers, for example, between Carlton and Central, to which he referred, three companies--Carlton, Meridian and Granada--dominate the ITV world and that one of the reasons for the mergers was to ensure that, when competing with Sky and the BBC, the ITV companies were substantial enough to deliver the hours of creative programming of good quality that they had committed themselves to in their franchise applications.
Column 881There is no point in having 10, 12 or 14 independent television companies all committed, under their franchise applications, to creative and constructive programming if their budgets are so small and their audience figures so limited that that programming has little worth or value. That is one of the aspects that the hon. Member for The Wrekin ignored.
I fully understand some of the hon. Member's other arguments and share his concern about the growing dominance of Sky in television, but a very important function of the mergers is that the Independent Television Commission, with the majors that have survived, should make absolutely certain that the commitments to important new creative programming are maintained. They should offer programming that not only we can enjoy, but produce programmes such as "Jewel in the Crown", which is so often quoted, that have a ready appeal on the world markets.
Mr. Maclennan : Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that when those companies gave their undertakings to obtain the franchise they did not expect to be able to give full weight to those undertakings unless they were involved in mergers ? That was not the impression that they gave.