Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. In defence of the previous Conservative government, does she acknowledge the fantastic contribution to the arts made as a result of the establishment of the national lottery, which was the former Prime Minister's initiative?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course I acknowledge that, as when we were in opposition we supported both the introduction of the national lottery and that it should be used to support work in the arts. However, as the noble Lord knows, much of the lottery funding went on capital projects. It is extremely important that we should have money for current spending.

The extra money that we have put in is being used to good effect. We put in 25 million to theatres as part of the theatre review, and audiences are increasing, work is diversifying and there is a feeling that British theatre can enter a new era of creativity and innovation. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sheldon, who mentioned the theatre, will accept the claims that I make on that subject.

Throughout the arts scene, the lottery has produced some stunning buildings, with stunning work going on inside those buildings, but we have not finished yet. When the Coliseum refurbishment is complete, English National Opera will have for the first time a world-class opera house. We will transform the South Bank Centre, beginning with the Festival Hall, creating a really bold, world-class centre for the arts on one of the most important sites in central London. Again, that was neglected for almost 20 years.

Several speakers, including my noble friends Lord Sheldon and Lord Moser, rightly referred to the tremendous challenge of giving children what my noble friend Lord Moser called a "foothold" in the joys of the arts. In education we have introduced Creative Partnerships, a 40 million pilot in 16 deprived areas,

12 Feb 2003 : Column 711

bringing culture back into the heart of the lives of children and young people in the schools taking part. With our new money, that will expand to more than 70 million and will at least double the number of areas involved. Already this project is making a substantial difference to the lives of young people. It deserves our support.

We will also widen access with Culture Online, which will spend 13 million during the next two years to create between 20 and 40 projects that will increase access to arts and culture through the use of new technologies. It will work with a range of cultural and commercial organisations to present the nation's cultural heritage in new and imaginative ways.

Few speakers referred to the Arts Council, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Coe, who berated it for not providing as much money as he would like for jazz. As he knows, we work with the Arts Council on the arm's length principle, and do not instruct it on what it should spend on individual art forms or organisations. It is spending something like 1.7 million on funding for jazz, which is an increase, as the noble Lord recognised.

We have reorganised the Arts Council this year. It is now a truly national organisation with the regions at its heart, decentralising its functions and reducing the number of staff at the centre. I know that Gerry Robinson, the Arts Council chairman, is determined that the reorganisation of the Arts Council delivers a better service to the arts. In the next three years, more than 20 million will be taken from administration and given to arts organisations. We want the new Arts Council to be bold and brave, as well as upholding the highest standards of accountability and probity, and to make tough decisions about funding where necessary. When there is a reason to make tough decisions, it should not be afraid to do so.

The spending review's 75 million increase for the arts was ring-fenced by the Chancellor, reflecting the high importance attached to the arts by the Government. First and foremost, we want the money to be used as far as possible to put right some of the damage done over the years to the ability of our institutions and artists to aspire to be world class in everything they do. That they have not given up trying, despite the difficulties that they have faced, is a tribute to the tenacity of artists and the institutions in which they practise all over the country. We want the Arts Council to use the extra money to reinvigorate excellence, energy and innovation.

In funding world-class artistic endeavour, we want to put in place strategies to ensure that that endeavour really is accessible to as many people as possible. That means continuing the work that has already been started to pull down barriers to attendance and participation, building the audiences of tomorrow, and giving as many people as possible an opportunity to experience the transformational experience and inspiration of the arts.

12 Feb 2003 : Column 712

Of course we want to maximise and exploit the contribution of the arts to core policies including education, health, crime, regeneration and the well-being of the population at large. It is up to my department to make culture available and to fly the flag for culture within government. Various speakers asked about the work that we are doing with our colleagues in the educational world. We are working very closely with the Department for Education and Skills on creative partnerships, museums education, music education and dance and drama awards.

I have not had time to rehearse the many other contributions that culture makes to the life of the nation. Culture is, for example, a driver for regeneration. None of the speakers mentioned the competition to select the UK's nomination for European Capital of Culture 2008. I think that that competition has revealed the extent to which a number of our cities are absolutely committed to using culture to improve the quality of life for those who live in those cities. I am absolutely delighted by that commitment.

On a perhaps related point, culture—as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lord Bragg mentioned—also provides a spur to tourism. I do not have time to give all the figures, but we know that, when questioned, substantial numbers of people say that they come to this country because they want to visit our heritage sites, museums and galleries and our performing arts. Those are three of the most important factors that people cite as reasons for coming to this country.

As much as our performing arts institutions, we believe that our museums and galleries have an important role to play in the cultural life of this country. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that our investment in our national museums and galleries is, per museum, among the highest in Europe—greater than, for example, in Germany, Sweden and France. We believe that everyone should have access to our great national treasures. Free admission is the cornerstone of that policy, but the overall aim is to broaden access. Although that will not be achieved by free admission alone, no one can seriously doubt that free admission is a major step in the right direction.

Let us briefly look at the evidence. Back in 1997–98, there were about 24 million visitors to our national museums and galleries. Since the introduction of free access, visitor numbers have increased to more than 30 million. In the 12 months since 1st December 2001, the number of visitors to the former charging museums has increased by 70 per cent—some 5 million more than in the previous year. The number of child visitors has increased by an even larger number, and the number of visitors from among those over 60 has increased by 93 per cent.

I therefore think it reasonable to claim that free admission is making a very significant impact on diversity. The latest returns from our sponsored museums and galleries show that, following the introduction of free access, the number of visitors from the C2, D and E socio-economic groups has increased

12 Feb 2003 : Column 713

by 30 per cent at the former charging museums. We need to do more to encourage greater diversity of social mix among those who visit our museums and galleries. I could cite many examples of the way in which our national museums and galleries are working to achieve just that, but I do not have time to do so today.

A number of sceptics in this debate have challenged our ability to sustain the costs of free access to our national museums. We are committed to doing so as part of our total funding package for our national museums. By 2005–06, their funding will amount to nearly 300 million per annum, which is a substantial increase. Again, I was surprised by some of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport showed that, since 1997–98, there has been a 19 per cent real-terms funding increase for those institutions compared with a decrease of 0.4 per cent in the previous decade. So I think that we are making very important progress in that respect.

Various speakers commented on the report of my noble friend Lord Evans entitled Renaissance in the Regions. The Government greatly welcomed that report, which is the foundation for the development of our current policy for regional museums. There are two main thrusts to the policy. The first is to provide, through Resource, additional financial support for regional museums. The second is designed to build on and develop effective partnerships between national and regional museums. The focus will be on the development of specific educational projects; on making national cultural treasures more accessible to people living in the regions through support for, for example, touring exhibitions and loans of objects; and on investment that strengthens the role of museums in the regions in engaging their local communities more effectively. I certainly believe in assisting the quality of the curatorial work in those museums.

What I must be clear about, however, is that our policy for museums in the regions is about better delivery of cultural policy as part of a more integrated and coherent approach. It is certainly not about greater centralisation in how regional museums are run. It is also not our intention to take over responsibility from others for the provision of their core funding. Similarly, it is a matter for their governing authorities to decide whether they wish to offer free admission. Many already do so.

I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who specifically asked when the hubs would receive their extra money. That is of course a matter for Resource, which is in discussion with them. However, I can say that it will be very soon.

I began by suggesting that, as a nation, we seem a little reticent about talking up the arts. I am glad to say that today, on the whole, we have talked up the arts as we should. I do not think that we can overestimate the importance of their contribution to our society. The arts and culture are flourishing in this country. Indeed, I believe that they are flourishing here as they have never done before. We can be immensely proud of the

12 Feb 2003 : Column 714

achievement of our artists and our great cultural institutions. I want to see a continuing, vigorous debate on their importance. Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing this debate and all noble Lords who participated.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page