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Commons Chamber

Volume 886: debated on Monday 10 February 1975

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House Of Commons

Monday 10th February 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Prices And Consumer Protection

Sugar (Conditional Sales)


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how many complaints of sugar purchases being restricted to those who buy a minimum of £1 worth of other goods have been received by her Department and if she will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representations she has received on the subject of supermarkets only being prepared to supply goods in short supply, subject to the purchase of a minimum amount or value of other goods.

The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. Alan Williams)

The 680 complaints about conditional sales which have been received since last July have all concerned sugar. About half quoted £1 as the minimum sum to be spent on other goods in order to obtain sugar. This practice is not illegal but I again urge that it should be applied with care to avoid unnecessary hardship.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he feel that he is speaking strongly enough to the stores concerned about this practice, bearing in mind the fact that the new sugar agreement which the Government have negotiated makes it less likely that supplies have to be restricted in this way? Is he aware that old-age pensioners especially are suffering from this restriction levied on them by the stores?

As my hon. Friend has said, it is less likely that this sort of practice will be needed in the future. I notice that many stores seem to have stopped the practice now. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, in advice to the trade, indicated that it was essential that it should take account of the needs of pensioners, those on low incomes and, where possible, regular customers. However, with mass supermarkets it is not always possible to identify the regular customer.

Does the Minister agree that, although restriction is clumsy and unfair, there is nothing wrong with a shop trying to ensure that regular customers receive supplies of sugar which are short?

This is the practical quandary. I am sure most hon. Members will recognise that shops wanting to be fair find themselves faced with individuals sometimes shopping around buying as much sugar as they can, and going back to the same store again and again. Perhaps it is a great pity that the practice of hoarding has been given the stamp of approval by the Conservative Party.

European Economic Community


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what effect her Department estimates Great Britain's membership of the EEC has had on prices and on the other consumer matters for which her Department is responsible.

While it is difficult to estimate the total effect of EEC membership on prices, prices of imported industrial goods from both the EEC and other parts of the world will be less because of reductions in tariffs; food prides are also at present slightly below what they would have been had we not been members. Community work on consumer protection is at an early stage, but I very much welcome the Commission's recent Programme for Consumer Protection and Information.

Will my right hon. Friend state her view whether the flexibility shown by our European partners in these matters will enable us to meet the manifesto commitment on them?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that there are still outstanding matters being negotiated and that we are anxious to see the common agricultural policy more flexible on such matters as direct national payments for agriculture and the variable beef premium. It is encouraging that in such matters as sugar and beef the EEC shows a degree of flexibility which I do not think it showed a year ago.

Will the Secretary of State give us an up-to-date indication of the main foodstuffs which are now cheaper because we are in the EEC than they would be if we kicked ourselves out?

I ask the hon. Gentleman to await a further Question on the Order Paper which deals precisely with that point.

Retail Price Index


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the current rate of price increases, based upon the last three months of the retail price index grossed up to an annual rate.


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what she estimates the annual rate of increase in the detail price index now to be.


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the increase in the cost of living since February 1974


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is her latest estimate for the rise in the cost of living during the past 12 months.

The retail price index rose by 19·1 per cent. in the 12 months to December 1974 and the increase over the three months to December, expressed at an annual rate, was 25·2 per cent. Since February 1974 the actual increase was 14·9 per cent.

Are the Government trying to fool the country by pretending they can stem the tide of inflation by indiscriminate food subsidies when this additional Government spending is simply adding to the pressures of inflation?

The Government are not trying to fool anybody. From the beginning we pointed out what subsidies could do and what they could not do. Nevertheless it is true that subsidies have reduced the food index by six points, and in consequence the food index in the whole of this year has not yet reached the levels that it reached when the last Conservative administration left office.

Is not the right hon. Lady disappointed by the figures which she has quoted in view of what was promised to the electorate before the 1974 election?

The promises which we made have been carried out. They include such matters as maximum price orders, food subsidies and display requirements. All are being introduced on to the statute book. I am, however, disappointed by a rate of inflation which is as high as 20 per cent. a year. The factors involved in that, as the hon. Gentleman will know, include such matters as the level of the value of sterling, the recent very sharp increase in some food raw materials, especially sugar, and, as my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have made clear, our considerable concern about the level of at least a minority of the income and wage settlements being made. But this is not entirely due to those who are within the social contract. Some of the highest settlements are being proposed by professional groups and others outside it.

On the basis of the figure of 25·2 per cent. being the rate of inflation over the past three months, will the right hon. Lady say what the rate of inflation would have been had there been no food subsidies?

I have said already that the rate of inflation over the RPI generally would have been between 1½ and 2 per cent. higher. The food index would have been 6·.8 per cent. higher. The 25·2 per cent. figure is misleading because it is based on a 13-week and not a 12-week period, which is the normal period.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable confusion amongst housewives about what are genuine prices? Is there a problem in recruiting qualified staff in the weights and measures departments of the responsible authority?

There is a problem here, and my hon. Friend will agree, I am sure, that this is one reason why the Government want to make as widely available as possible both comparisons of prices and full display of maximum prices where these apply. We are anxious to involve the housewife in supporting trading standards officers in bringing this about.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an important component in the retail prices index, especially for pensioners, is the price of fuel? Although my right hon. Friend's Department appears to have the food situation under control, there is considerable doubt whether the price of fuel is to be controlled properly.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the efforts being made by the Government to try to restructure tariffs so as to assist the small and less-well-off consumer. Incidentally, this is the first time that that has been undertaken by a Government in respect of the nationalised industries.

As the right hon. Lady's prognostications about the rate of inflation have been somewhat variable, volatile and subject to seasonal fluctuations, will she now say what she expects the rate of inflation to be over the coming 12 months, what the main contributing factors are likely to be and how long it will be before a packet of crisps costs £10 if claim settlements at the rate of the present miners' settlement are allowed?

If I were unwise enough to enter the hypothetical stakes suggested by the hon. Lady, I might have to put in for the leadership of a party different from my own.

Has not the rate of inflation something to do with the borrowing requirement in respect of State expenditure in this and previous years?

The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that one of the inflationary factors is the public sector borrowing requirement. However, I have always made it clear that food subsidies are offset almost entirely by the increased taxation introduced in the April 1974 Budget.

Sugar Prices


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will take steps to ensure that the Price Commission takes into account the increased profits of the sugar industry in determining the price of sugar to the housewife.


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will ask the Price Commission to take into account the increased profits of the sugar industry when considering retail sugar prices.

This happens already. The net profit margins of the sugar refiners on their operations in the United Kingdom, though not their overseas operations, are limited by the Price Code in the same way as those of other enterprises. They are always taken into account by the Price Commission when an increase in the price of sugar is notified. Both the cane-refining companies have recently reported substantially reduced profits on their United Kingdom refining interests.

Will my hon Friend bear in mind that, although home profits have reduced because of the sugar shortage last year, the advertisement of the record profits that Mr. Cube made last year list those who benefit as including the Government, the economy, investors and the industry's employees and partners? Bearing in mind the level of these profits, would not it be a good idea if the consumers benefited also?

I understand my hen. Friend's reaction to the advertisement. Frankly, I thought that in the present context, whatever its managerial justification, it lacked a certain sensitivity. But we must be fair and make it clear that the sugar refiners have co-operated fully with the Government during this period of shortage and have been very careful not to exploit the situation.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made his statement on his return from Brussels, he said that there would be no retail price rise as a result of his sugar agreement? Is he aware, further, that the 48 per cent. of raw sugar which is used in food manufacturing and drinks will find its way into retail prices, and can he indicate what will be the rise in the food index as a result of the sugar agreement?

The ultimate price of sugar will depend on the mix of sources of supply and the balance of supply between the various sources. Until we have a clearer picture of the proportions in which the sugar will come from the different sources, it is impossible to predict whether the price will be stable or variable.

Can the hon. Gentleman add a little to what he said about the price factor on sugar? The Minister of Agriculture said that there would be an equalising factor coming in from the sugar purchased through the EEC and subsidised by the EEC. What will that be in terms of a price saving to the housewife on a 2-lb bag?

It is not possible to quantify in that way. The equalisation scheme is operating at the moment because sugar is obtained from different sources at widely differing prices. To avoid vast increases in price on shop shelves, with the co-operation of the industry we introduced the equalisation scheme. The exact level at which the equalisation figure pitches depends on the ultimate proportions of supplies from the different suppliers.

Price Increases


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection by how much food prices have increased in the United Kingdom since 1st January 1973; and what proportion of this figure can be attributed to membership of the EEC.

The food price index rose by 37·4 per cent. between January 1973 and December 1974. Latest official estimates indicate that food prices are, on balance, very slightly lower than they would have been were we not members of the Community. But the further we get from the date of entry into the Community, the harder it is to calculate what food prices would have been if we had stayed out.

Will the right hon. Lady say whether any items of food which are imported from the EEC have been subjected to the kind of almost extortionate increases to which certain imports of food from other quarters have been subject?

The most dramatic increases in prices have been in fuel and sugar, and there are no such dramatic increases which can be associated with the EEC countries. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, it is still true that butter, cheese and Iamb from New Zealand are cheaper than they are from EEC sources whereas, largely because of the monetary compensatory amounts, wheat, beef and sugar are now less expensive from EEC sources than from outside.

Although that answer is very encouraging, does the right hon. Lady agree that world prices come down easier than Common Market prices?

It is difficult to predict what will be the pattern of world prices in the next year or so. Obviously there is more volatility in world prices, upwards and downwards, because they are not subject to the kind of regime that the common agricultural policy involves.

Food Prices


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether, further to the answer on 27th November 1974 [col. 190], she is able to give examples in terms of items bought by the average housewife of the specific saving involved in the costs of cereals, beef, butter and sugar as a result of British Membership of the EEC.


asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she can now give examples, in terms of items bought by the average housewife, of the specific saving in the cost of cereals, beef, butter and sugar as a result of British membership of the EEC.

The Under-Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. Robert Maclennan)

The commodities mentioned benefit from EEC measures such as monetary compensatory amounts on imports and Community-financed subsidies. As a number of qualifications have to be made about the calculation, I will, with permission, circulate the information in the Official Report.

Is the Minister aware of the forecast made at the recent World Food Conference, by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, of a continuing shortage of world food? If those forecasts are justified, does not this mean that there will be continuing advantages to us both in terms of supply and in terms of price from membership of the Community?

My right hon. Friends have made plain that changes in the pattern of production and demand in the world market make it more important for us to be self-sufficient in the production of food.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Britain's entry into the Common Market has affected most of our Commonwealth markets? Will he give his mind to the increased prices which have resulted from our leaving the Commonwealth market and joining the EEC?

We are aware of that. My hon. Friend will also be aware that New Zealand has not been able to make full provision for our cheese requirements which we negotiated with the EEC, and that some of our difficulties with sugar stem from the attractiveness of the world market to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Will not the hon. Gentleman assure his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) that our problem with sugar and other commodities in recent months has often been the inability of our former Commonwealth suppliers to supply us, and that we should have been in a very poor position if sugar had not been made available to us under the Lardinois plan?

Following is the information:

Possible United Kingdom consumer benefits on certain foodstuffs from monetary compensatory amounts on imports and from community financed subsidies during the week 3rd-9th February 1975.

1. Bread

  • (a) MCAs are paid on imports of wheat from the EEC and third countries (mainly USA and Canada) and are currently worth £6·93 per ton. Assuming that the UK bread grist is now about 55 per cent. imported wheat the mca subsidy is equivalent to about 0·3 per large loaf (28 ounces).
  • (b) Until recently, levies on EEC wheat exports to third countries have meant that the UK was able to import EEC wheat cheaper than if she were outside the EEC Export levies are not at this point in time being charged and so no consumer benefit is now assumed.
  • 2. Beef

  • (a) A social beef subsidy is now payable to virtually all pensioners in the form of a token, worth 20p a week, which can be redeemed for beef and veal. The precise value of this subsidy in terms of beef prices therefore depends upon the quality and quantity of beef purchased.
  • (b) MCAs are now payable on imports from the EEC and on imports under the GATT levy free quota. The amount varies considerably according to the form in which it is imported. But for imports of fresh or chilled carcase beef (and other bone-in cuts), which is a typical form of imports at present, the mca amounts to f125·02 per ton or about 5p per lb on imported beef only. It would be misleading to spread this benefit over all beef sold in the shops, including home produced.
  • 3. Butter

  • (a) The general consumer subsidy on butter is paid in part by FEOGA, and this portion is worth £25·33 per ton, equivalent to about 1p per lb.
  • (b) The mca which is paid on imports is now worth between f8885 per ton (80 per cent. fat) and 01·08 per ton (82 per cent. fat) This is equivalent to about 4p per lb.
  • 4. Sugar

  • (a) The United Kingdom is benefiting from an EEC scheme to import sugar from world markets with the aid of a FEOGA subsidy. In the first tranche of 200,000 metric tons of raw sugar the United Kingdom is expected to receive 155,500 metric tons, and the subsidy on this to average £224·9 per ton (white). This is equivalent to a saving of about 20p per 2 lb bag on just over 3 weeks' total United Kingdom supplies. Total EEC imports of a further 300,000 metric tons have been agreed in princple, but tenders have not yet been accepted by the EEC and therefore the benefits cannot be assessed.
  • (b) MCAs are payable on our imports from EEC countries. These now amount to £18·78 per ton for raw sugar and £22·14 per ton for white sugar. This subsidy is equivalent to about 2p per 2 lb bag.
  • 25.

    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will list the items of food which are cheaper outside the EEC than inside.

    I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade on 23rd January 1975 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay).—[Vol. 884, c. 484]

    Is it not true that since then grain prices have dropped and are dropping seriously? May we have the hon. Gentleman's views on that matter?

    I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his keen sense of timing in getting here to ask his Question.

    I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not think he has been deciding it. He should also take into account in his estimate monetary compensatory amounts.

    In terms of food prices has any calculation been made of whether we would be better off outside or inside the Common Market?

    I refer my hon. Friend to the earlier reply to which I referred because it gives a considerable amount of detail on the breakdown of prices. He will, however, appreciate that prices vary considerably according to quality and grading and harvest factors.

    I understand the dangers of doing what is proposed and the difficulties of timing, but is it the Government's intention, nearer the time of the referendum, to give the public any information about prices inside and outside the Common Market?

    I should have thought that the Government's intention was to give the maximum possible information so that the discussions and deliberations could be as well informed as possible.



    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will make a study of the Bill which the French Health Minister is proposing to introduce to tighten controls on cosmetics, including a declaration of ingredients, with a view to introducing similar legislation; and if she will make a statement.

    I am aware of the proposed French legislation. It is my intention to make regulations relating to the safety of cosmetic products on sale in this country, and their preparation will begin as soon as the proposed EEC directive on cosmetics, now under consideration by the Council of Ministers, is adopted.

    Will my hon. Friend say whether the French proposals come within the scope of the EEC cosmetics directive or go beyond it? Will his proposed regulations include a declaration of ingredients, as consumers here are anxious to have that information?

    The directive is not yet finalised. My understanding is that the French legislation is intended to implement the general purposes of the directive. I am looking at the possibility of requiring notification of ingredients even if we do not go as far as requiring the full ingredients to be listed on the label.

    I welcome the Minister's pronouncements on ingredients, but will he also take the opportunity of investigating the quantities in which cosmetics are sold, as that is a vexed and long-standing problem?



    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the annual rate of inflation based on the Price Commission's index for the last three months.


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what have been the main factors responsible for the increase in the Price Corn-mission's index since October.

    The Price Commission's index for the latest available period, which is 1st September to 30th November 1974, showed an annual rate of 191 per cent. The upward swing reflects, as the Price Commission said in its report, increases throughout the energy sector, especially for oil, and rising costs of wages and salaries in all sectors. Revision of these prices is comparatively in frequent and the combined effect of these increases may have exaggerated the upward movement.

    May I remind the right hon. Lady of the remark of her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the election that the rate of inflation as a result of his splendid achievements had been brought down to 8·4 per cent.? Was the Chancellor fabricating that statement, or is the right hon. Lady now saying that, in spite of the achievements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues, since then the situation has got totally out of control under the guidance of the Government?

    The hon. Gentleman would be unwise to follow that path too far. In the winter of 1973–74 the rate of increase in inflation according to the Price Commission's index was not the 19½ per cent. of today but 23 per cent. It fell to 16 per cent. in the spring and to 9½ per cent. in the summer, which is the period to which my right hon. Friend was referring. There is no doubt that the fall had taken place by the summer and that my right hon. Friend was basing what he said directly on the statistics available to the Price Commission.

    Does the right hon. Lady agree with the Price Commission that any hope of avoiding massive price increases has been swept away by the rising tide of higher wages? Does not this underline the ultimate futility of maintaining price control while abolishing the Pay Board? Does not the right hon. Lady agree that unless she can persuade her colleagues to control the massive explosion in wages she and her Department might just as well pack up and go home?

    The Price Commission did not say what the hon. Gentleman has attributed to it. First, the commission said that inflation was increasingly coming within our control and it asked us to draw lessons from that. Secondly, the Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Mr. Murray, has specifically urged upon his fellow trade unionists and those who are not trade unionists the need to follow very closely the guidance given under the social contract. Thirdly, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, about three-quarters of trade unionists are settling within the social contract and not all the pressure for breaking it comes from trade unions.

    Would it not be easier for the Government to continue their persuasive efforts to contain inflation if over the Christmas period they had not sanctioned increases in top salaries.

    That is a matter primarily for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

    The right hon. Lady scouted around the Chancellor's statement at the General Election about the 8·4 per cent., but the Chancellor also said that he thought we could contain inflation and get it down to a level of 10 per cent. per anum by the end of this year. The right hon. Lady will not give an estimate. How can those who are trying to stick to the social contract pitch their wage claims to take account of forthcoming inflation, as they are allowed to do, unless she makes an estimate of what it will be?

    The hon. Gentleman has got himself into a tangle. First, I repeated exactly the figures that were available to the Price Commission and the Government, which are close to those quoted by my right hon. Friend after the summer when he made his statement. Secondly, the TUC's guidelines ask those who settle to have regard to the previous rate of increase and not to a prospective rate of increase. That was once again underlined by Mr. Murray in his advice to the trade unions only a few days ago. If that were done, we should be in a fairly strong position to achieve a decline in the rate of inflation.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of us are getting fed up with Opposition Members who, while apparently concerned about inflation, are taking every opportunity to knock the social contract, particularly when in the week before last, those hon. Members went through the Lobby to take a decision which will force up the public borrowing requirement and thereby stimulate the inflation about which they are allegedly concerned?

    I support what my hon. Friend says. It is not notable that the Opposition condemn the pressure for settlement far outside the social con tract from the professions and others whom they obviously do not regard as being bound by the battle against inflation.

    Is the right hon. Lady aware that she seems to be in conflict not only with the Chancellor of the Exchequer but with the Prime Minister? What did she mean by saying that some wage claims were being made by people who were outside the social contract? The Prime Minister said that all useful people were within the social contract.

    With respect. I said that this did not apply only to those trade unionists who regarded themselves as bound by the social contract. It applies to professionals and others outside the original TUC settlement.

    Will my right hon. Friend consider the formulation of a specialised price index based on the cost of living of the lower income group?

    My hon. Friend will be aware that there is already an index which deals with pensioners' expenditure, and we are exploring whether there should be further indices of this kind.

    Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that the rate of inflation during the period she has covered is over twice the figure in the previous year? Will she indicate what rate of inflation she expects next year? The Government have just published their public expenditure figures for the February subsidy and they show that the Government must have thought hard about the inflation rate. What does the Secretary of State expect it to be?

    I find the hon. Gentleman's remark most extraordinary, because last January the food index was running at 19·5 per cent., in February it was 20 per cent., and according to the Price Commission's own commentary it was running at 23 per cent. last winter. Therefore, I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's point.

    Food Mixer Demonstration Company


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions the activities of a company, whose name has been supplied to her, in demonstrating food mixers, taking customers' money and not delivering.

    I understand that the company is now in voluntary liquidation. Under the provisions of Section 334 of the Companies Act 1948, the liquidator is required to report to the Director of Public Prosecutions if it appears to him that criminal offences have occurred in relation to the company. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade also proposes to make certain inquiries under the provisions of the Companies Act.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that over the last year a large number of people have lost a lot of money as a result of the activities of this company? Is he also aware that there is evidence to suggest that the company's representatives have continued their activities in seeking to obtain money after the company was known to be failing?

    I am aware that a great many people have lost money or are in danger of losing money as a result of the activities of this company. However, in view of the nature of the inquiries which are now taking place I believe that it would be inappropriate for me to say more.

    Prices (Voluntary Agreement)


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection by how much the items in the voluntary agreement taken both collectively and individually, have risen since the agreement was made.

    The collective price of the goods in the voluntary agreement increased by 4·9 per cent. between May and December 1974, the latest month for which figures are available. This compares with a rise in the retail price index of 8·6 per cent. With permission, I will provide detailed information on individual commodities in the Official Report.

    Will the Minister say how widespread is the departmental monitoring of these figures and why his answer conflicts so sharply with the evidence in the Grocer in January—namely, that promotional offers in relation to the items on the right hon. Lady's list of goods which may be on continuous offer at all times were curtailed by 30 per cent. and that 15 items advertised by the Co-op the day after the announcement of "Shirley's special price offers" were found to be on sale in a Co-op during the weekend at 28 per cent. more?

    The hon. Lady should be satisfied that the voluntary agreement is being monitored most carefully by my Department. We are basing the matter on a calculation of price indices and the monitoring of the promotional material that is available to us. The hon. Lady should also realise that resources for the agreement were provided largely by the 10 per cent. cut in gross margin reference levels. While we are not endeavouring to seek price stability over the entire front, we are endeavouring to concentrate on cutting reference levels for items of particular importance. We believe that this is effectively being achieved.

    Is the Minister aware that those of us who are involved in the co-operative movement condemn the sort of instance purported to be put forward by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) as the true state of affairs? The hon. Lady cannot have the argument both ways. She cannot on the one hand claim that her friends in the distributive trades are maintaining the agreement and on the other hand attack the Government for the failure of the agreement.

    It is curious that the Opposition have never given full-hearted support to the voluntary agreement—an agreement which the trade has been anxious to support.

    Will the Minister agree that since there has been a 4·6 per cent. price increase through the voluntary agreement against an increase of 8·6 per cent. in the Price Code, the Government should abandon the Price Code and stick by the voluntary agreement?

    I suggest that the hon. Gentleman can have put forward that view only in a spirit of levity. However, the voluntary agreement comes to an end at the end of March, and we shall be considering whether it is the most appropriate method of seeking to concentrate benefits on the shopping baskets of housewives. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the Opposition have other methods in mind, I have no doubt that we shall consider them very carefully.

    Is the Minister honestly saying that the statement in the Grocer to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) drew attention was totally erroneous?

    Is the Minister aware that no charge of levity could ever be raised against him?

    Following is the information:


    Pecenrage changes in Price Indices

    Percentage increase May-Dec. 1974
    Bread (per loaf) large white small white0·5
    Cheese (cheddar type)10·1
    Butter (NZ)8·8
    Milk-based infant food (full cream) (per 16 oz. tin)14·8
    Self-raising flour (per 3 lb.)-2·1
    Apples (dessert)7·4
    Beef (all cuts home and imported)-0·4
    Lamb (cheap cuts home and imported)-10·1
    Chicken portions*10·5
    Biscuits (sweet lower priced)24·9
    Electric light bulbs3·8
    Toilet soap15·9


    *Chickens—Frozen 3 lb. and fresh and chilled 4 lb.
    Chicken portions—using index for frozen 3 lb. chickens.

    Percentage increase May-Dec. 1974
    Sausages (pork and beef)5·6
    Cooking fat and lard (lard price only)16·5
    Tea (lower and medium priced) (per ¼ lb.)-2·8
    Breakfast cereals20·5
    Fish fingers-0·2
    Frozen peas and beans10·8
    Instant coffee (per 4 oz.)15·2
    Baby (infant) foods (per jar)30·0
    Canned beans in tomato sauce10·5
    Canned soup26·2


    Food Subsidies


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she intends to increase expenditure on food subsidies.

    As I told the House on 30th January, the Government intend to continue the food subsidies programme during the coming year at broadly its present level.

    Does the Secretary of State draw any conclusion from an answer given to me last Thursday by the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security that even on the most favourable assumption to the Government it would be cheaper to increase pensions, supplementary benefits, family income supplement and family allowances by the exact financial weekly benefit of the food subsidy than to continue with this wasteful subsidy?

    I wish that the hon. Gentleman had paid us the courtesy of being present for the Second Reading of the Prices Bill, when this matter was discussed at great length.

    If so, he will know that one of the points made was that while the Government have introduced food subsidies they have also increased pensions and supplementary benefits and intend to increase family allowances to boot. In other words, we are doing both these things.

    Is the right hon. Lady aware that one of my constituents is very fond of cats, orders 14 pints of milk a week to feed them and is unwillingly being heavily subsidised by the taxpayer? Does not this show how ludicrous the food subsidy is?

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should also tell his constituent that the Conservative Government introduced the subsidy on milk and, therefore, helped her cats long ago.

    Is the right hon. Lady happy that the Government have abandoned the family endowment programme? Does she not agree that it would have been better to accept the proposal for family allowances for the first child?

    The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I made clear during the Second Reading of the new Prices Bill that the Government intend to extend family allowances to the first child but that this is a matter which requires a good deal of fresh administration. We see the subsidy programme as being linked to the phasing-in of this new benefit.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives are displaying a magnificent example of their unawareness of the circumstances of life since they do not realise that it is only by subsidising the staple foods that one helps the families who could be categorised as poor?

    My hon. Friend will be aware that the take-up of means-tested benefits has not been anything like the entitlement of those whom it is intended to benefit.

    Will the right hon. Lady make a start in reducing food subsidies by doing away with the interim bread subsidy which was brought in to pay for a wage settlement?

    The hon. Gentleman knows that we are awaiting from the Price Commission a full report on various applications made to it, including that based on recent increases in the price of world wheat.

    How much of the extra costs of the food subsidy will be printed by the Government, and how much will come out of Government taxation?

    I hope that we can rely on the hon. Gentleman's support in taking it out of taxation.

    Although most Members on the Labour benches readily support the fact that Conservative Members are now calling for allowances for the first child, does not this show that a system of food subsidies is an essential part of the redistributive process in the foreseeable future?

    My hon. Friend will also recall that over a long period of time the Conservative Government did nothing to increase family allowances and nothing to extend them to the first child.

    Does the right hon. Lady recall that when the Home Secretary recently made a statement about the increase in television licence fees there was a strong request from the Labour benches that old-age pensioners should be subsidised the full amount of that increase? Does she remember that her right hon. Friend made it clear that in the Government's view it was wrong to subsidise people in that blanket fashion and that he proposed that it should be done by increasing old-age pensions and not by acting indirectly? Does not this contradict the argument which is always being advanced about food subsidies?

    There seems to be some dispute about whether my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been directly and correctly reported, but I must point out that the increase in the black-and-white television licence fee is far less than that in the colour television licence fee because most low-income families have access to black-and-white television and not to colour television.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware of the high indirect subsidies paid on expensive foodstuffs to business men who live on expense accounts?

    My hon. Friend has raised a very fair point, and I hope that very shortly my right hon. Friend will stop up this food loophole, too.

    In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she intends to subsidise any further foodstuffs.

    I have no plans at present for introducing new subsidy schemes.

    Does the right hon. Lady have any programme for reducing the amount of subsidies in view of the burden on the public purse?

    It has been indicated that under the present subsidy arrangements there will be a slight diminution in the level of subsidies in 1975–76.

    Will my right hon. Friend accept with what deep sorrow I heard what she has just said? Does she realise that many of us feel that it is time to consider the extension of subsidies not only to essential foodstuffs but to other essential consumer goods?

    I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks, but I can assure him that the diminution will be small.

    Will the right hon. Lady go a little further? I appreciate that in the Prices Bill there is a limit on the amount of money she is seeking, but does she agree that as there has been a reduction in the subsidy element in nationalised industries' prices there should be a comparable reduction in the subsidy element in food prices?

    It might be argued that the opposite is the case. However, the crucial point about nationalised industries' subsidies is to try to protect the less well off, and that it what the Government are trying to do.

    Following the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) about increase ing the indiscriminate use of subsidies, may I inform the right hon. Lady that in Lymington there is a tremendous shortage of wide-necked bottles of Heinz tomato ketchup? When will she start to subsidise them?

    I shall leave it to the Conservative Party, when it comes to office, to do that in the indiscriminate way in which it subsidised all nationalised industry prices.

    The right hon. Lady has said that food subsidies will be met by increases in taxation. Since it is clear that there will be a deficit on the Government's borrowing requirement, how is it that only her subsidies are met by taxation and the increased expenditure of all other Departments is met by the printing of money?

    The hon. Gentleman would lead me down a long path if I were to pursue that matter too far. However, the nationalised industries' subsidy level, as the Government have made clear, is subject to gradual narrowing as we begin to bring prices up to commercial viability. Secondly, the great bulk of the food subsidy expenditure has been met—not "will be", but "has been"—by the additional income taxation and value added taxation raised in the April 1974 Budget.

    If there is a diminution in the amount of food subsidies in 1975–76, why is the Secretary of State asking for a sum of money which will enable her to increase them?

    The hon. Gentleman will be aware, as he was told during the Second Reading of the Prices Bill, that there will be a slight decline in our proposed expenditure in 1975–76.


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the latest estimate of the cost of food subsidies during the current financial year; and what is the estimated cost for the financial year ending 5th April 1976.

    The estimated cost in the current financial year is about £510 million. The cost in 1975–76 is expected to be of the order of £550 million—that is in real terms, of course —and detailed Estimates will be presented to the House in due course.

    Will the right hon. Lady tell the House how she reconciles her previous statement that she hopes to phase out food subsidies with her statement today that she proposes to increase them during the forthcoming financial year?

    The hon. Gentleman has got it very badly wrong. He should remember that a number of schemes for subsidies were introduced late in the financial year 1974–75. Therefore, we are not talking about a full year when I give him the estimated cost of £510 million. For example, tea was brought in very late in the financial year. The cost of the subsidies in a full year is estimated at £550 million. That does not allow for what changes may be made in the year. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman has based the wrong conclusion on the wrong premises.

    Will my right hon. Friend continue to subsidise the staple foods to ensure that the benefit goes to people on low incomes? However, will she bear in mind that the large companies—wholesalers and some retailers—should not be allowed to take advantage of subsidies to the extent that some of them do?

    It is my intention to do what my hon. Friend suggests in the first part of his supplementary question until there is full compensation through social benefit. I have said that to the House before. Secondly, we have no evidence that any subsidy is going to the benefit of manufacturers or retailers. However, if my hon. Friend has any evidence to the contrary I shall be grateful if he will let us have it and we will then pursue the matter with the utmost determination.

    Maximum Price Notices


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how many traders have been prosecuted for failure to display notices of maximum prices.

    I have not been notified of any by the prosecution authorities in the 63 days since the only display requirements now in force—those for bread—came into operation.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it has been widely held that these notices are confusing to such consumers as read them? Even weights and measures inspectors have found them to be confusing. Therefore, would it not be wise to postpone the introduction into the shops of yet further maximum price orders—butter and cheese orders are due on 17th February—until the matter can be considered during the Committee stage of the Prices Bill?

    Consumers are entitled to have available to them in every shop complete information about the maximum prices for subsidised foods. Under the present powers this has not been achieved by the public display notices. However, the Prices Bill contains other proposals which will, I think, provide for greater flexibility.

    Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate how the regulation is confusing small shopkeepers? Surely he can make a concession to stop them having to exhibit printed notices like marriage banns on the church door.

    The hon. Gentleman appears to be under a misapprehension. The design of the notices has been subject to discussion with the trade and we have modified greatly the original requirements to allow the sort of informality which I know he would welcome.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that the present situation—in other words, the absence of display notices—is even more confusing to thousands of my constituents who do not know the prices of various goods in shops, and particularly in public houses?

    My hon. Friend is quite right to express the view that many people would welcome the provision of information of this kind, and the Government are committed by the February manifesto to providing it.

    As the proposed Prices Bill amendment would exempt some shopkeepers from displaying these notices, will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the Government will reimburse small shopkeepers who have already been involved in considerable and unnecessary expense?

    That matter seems appropriate for discussion during the Committee stage of the Prices Bill.

    Firework Casualties


    asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she is now able to issue the firework casualty figures for November 1974; and if she will make a statement.

    Statistics based on information provided by hospitals in England and Wales relating to persons who received hospital treatment for injuries caused by fireworks during the period 13th October to 9th November 1974 have just become available. I will, with permission circulate them in the Official Report, with the figures for the comparable periods in the four preceding years.

    While not expecting an answer today, may I have an assurance that as soon as these figures are published the Minister will forthwith have consultative studies and then call a conference of all the bodies and organisations interested, particularly those concerned with the campaign for firework reform?

    I have indicated that I am publishing the figures in the Official Report. I am sure that my hon. Friend, whose deep interest in this matter

    FIREWORK INJURIES IN ENGLAND AND WALES (4-week period in October/November)







    1. Family or private party267385441382433
    2. Public or semi-public party137153166139155
    3. Casual incident in street etc272422422349399
    4. Other place89119958887
    5. Do not know11810713610190
    1. Banger228356369316359
    2. Rocket70118129126160
    3. Jumping Cracker4258514746
    4. Other flyabout (flying saucer, helicopter, whirlibird etc.)52Included in 7
    5. Display Firework (e.g. Roman Candle or Coloured Fires etc.)151280262223250
    6. Home made or extracted powder2938545748
    7. Other6079838295
    8. Do not know251257312208206

    I well understand, will welcome the fact that the injuries figure for last year, the lowest ever, represents a 25 per cent. fall compared with the previous year.

    I have already given a commitment to the House that I will issue a consultative document. I hope to get it out by the end of March. Every group with a special interest and information will have the right to participate in the discussion. I doubt whether a conference as such would be the most appropriate way of dealing with this matter. This is the kind of issue in which the individual details need to be argued in depth.

    We greatly welcome the steps being taken by my hon. Friend. However, when this was a matter for the Home Office many of us had hoped to see legislation before another 5th November. I would earnestly point out that my hon. Friend must get cracking if something is to be done before then.

    Having the generosity to interpret that as an unintentional pun, I should point out that when my hon. Friend looks at the figures he will find that we were justified in waiting to see them as they may upset certain preconceived positions taken by some individuals. For example, the accident trend with organised firework displays is not as encouraging as the figures generally. Important matters of public interest are involved which merit full public discussion.

    1. Died00010
    2. Detained more than one night7080916974
    3. Sufficient to cause absence from work or equivalent12117814388104
    4. Minor injury6548921,009879965
    5. Do not know3836172221
    Over 21131195167145184
    Under 13510669768648658
    Not recorded1350
    EYE INJURIES372448449386418

    Agriculture (Price Margins)


    asked the Secretary of State for prices and Consumer Protection what progress she has made in her inquiries into the causes of the gap between the retail price of agricultural products such as beef and leather and the prices the farmer receives for cattle and hides.

    There is no special inquiry concerning agricultural products generally, but the Price Commission's study of the meat industry is continuing. My right hon. Friend has asked that it be given the highest priority.

    I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that the study is continuing. Could it be broadened into a general inquiry into why everything that the farmer has to sell has fallen in price whereas everything that he has to buy has risen in price? Surely this shows the fault in the whole marketing system which farmers' organisations and other would like to see put right, but first we must know why this is so.

    The Government are consulting the agriculture industry about the current price review. Some of the considerations to which the right hon. Gentleman has given expression will be borne in mind.

    Will the Minister assure the House that he will bring all possible influence on the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to support the National Farmers' Union in its drive for marketing boards?

    I understand that the National Farmers' Union is consulting its membership on a county-by-county basis about its reactions. We shall be interested in the outcome of the inquiries.


    Airline Passengers (Infectious Diseases)


    asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will set up a departmental inquiry into the circumstances whereby a Sabena airline's passenger reported to have been suffering from Lassa fever was carried from Nigeria to London Airport via Brussels in unrestricted contact with other passengers and to examine what international guidelines exist covering the transportation by commercial airlines of passengers known to be suffering from infectious diseases; and if he will make a statement.

    On 30th January my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security stated that the circumstances of this case had been fully investigated, and indicated that his chief medical officer was examining the issues with a view to minimising any risk.

    The International Air Transport Association has recommended practices in connection with the carriage of sick or infectious persons, and many airlines—including British Airways and British Caledonian Airways—have special internal instructions. The World Health Organisation has recently issued specific guidance about the handling of Lassa fever victims and suspects and their transport, where assential. If an airline captain has doubts about a passenger's health, he would normally require medical clearance before accepting him, as I understand was done in the recent case. I shall examine with my hon. Friend the possible scope for further safeguards in this matter, but the real problem seems to lie in diagnosing the infection prior to embarkation.

    Is the Minister aware that the House will be grateful for his reply? Is he also aware that his hon. Friend the Minister of State in his answer to me on 30th January said:

    "To refuse admission to this country to any British person who was unwell and who wished to return to the United Kingdom for treatment from a tropical area would raise very serious issues of principle and practicability."—[Official Report, 30th January 1975; Vol. 885, c. 302.]
    Will he, therefore, consider what steps can be taken to reach international agreement on substantially improved arrangements for transporting passengers by air to this country when they are returning with infectious tropical diseases?

    I have already indicated in what was perhaps a rather long answer that IATA has recommended practices relating to the carriage of sick or infectious persons and that the World Health Organisation issued specific guidance about this particular disease some little time ago. Therefore, international action is being taken. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government do not view the matter with any degree of complacency.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that, while we sympathise very much with the captain of the aircraft who must have had to take the medical opinion of people at the airport, it is important that these international rules should be enforced, because there is a great likelihood that people who come into contact with Lassa fever will not only take the infection themselves but spread it widely? Will he, therefore, ensure that the airlines concerned take special precautions when they know that these regulations exist?

    My hon. Friend must realise that all responsible airlines take this matter most seriously. There is no evidence to suggest the contrary. The difficulty with this particular disease is its diagnosis. I am advised that it is very difficult to diagnose the disease and that there is at present only one organisation in the world, in Atlanta, Georgia, which has the facilities to carry out the necessary analyses that make diagnosis possible.

    Is the Minister aware that there is widespread concern about this issue and that recommendations and guidance may not be sufficient? Will he consider whether regulations should be introduced? Would not the ICAO have a rôle to play in this direction?

    If additional regulations might be of help, we will consider the matter. However, as I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), the difficulty lies not in having regulations but in having effective diagnosis. This is most difficult with a rare disease, as this one is.


    Shipbuilding (Public Ownership)


    asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he proposes to publish the White Paper on the public ownership of the shipbuilding industry.

    It will not be possible to publish a White Paper in the time available, but a full statement on the Government's proposals will be made as soon as possible.

    I welcome the news that there will not be a White Paper, because both those in favour of and those against the proposed legislation are anxious that it should be introduced as soon as possible. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that some shipbuilders feel that their prospective plans are prejudiced until the publication of the Bill? Will he therefore do his utmost to ensure that the legislation is expedited?

    I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's remarks. We are conscious that the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association has made clear that it accepts in principle the fact of nationalisation and is anxious to ensure the best possible organisation. We shall certainly hope to co-operate closely with the association to secure that result.

    Will the Minister ensure that in any statement which is made the greatest possible care will be given to alternative forms of calculation of any compensation, bearing in mind the alternatives of valuing on a net asset basis, and earnings basis or share price value? These are extremely important considerations in ensuring fairness in any announcement which is made.

    I am well aware of the point being made by the hon. Gentleman and of the fact that there are these alternative bases for the calculation of compensation. He will understand that I cannot at this stage indicate precisely what the form of compensation will be, otherwise there may be a good deal of undesirable speculation.

    Will my hon. Friend accept that the shorter the period of uncertainty the better, and that the sooner we get the Bill the happier we shall all be?

    I am glad to assure my hon. Friend that we propose to bring in the Bill with the minimum delay.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a large number of overseas customers for ships being built in this country will be reluctant to purchase from a company which is owned by the State and that loss of orders will mean the loss of jobs? What is the hon. Gentleman going to do about that?

    I do not believe there is any evidence that foreign ship owners will be unwilling to purchase from United Kingdom shipyards. What they will be concerned about will be the quality of the product, price and delivery date, and in all those we hope to produce improvements.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that concern about this matter is as great on the Tyne as on the Wear? We do not share the prejudices and fears of Conservative Members about this matter. We want to get it expedited for the benefit of both workers and management.

    I can only again emphasise to my hon. Friend that it is our intention to introduce the Bill at the earliest possible moment. I am sure it will produce the kind of security and support that is wanted for workers at Swan Hunter as at other shipyards in the United Kingdom.

    Can the hon. Gentleman say what possible advantage can accrue to the nation by nationalising the ship repairing industry, and precisely how I can explain to my constituents in Glasgow that the Government apparently have millions of pounds to spare to nationalise industry at the same time as they have reduced the school building programme by £30 million for the current year?

    The PA Consultants' report of last year indicated considerable weaknesses in the performance of the ship repairing industry. In particular it drew attention to low investment, poor labour relations and the need for a new dry dock. Furthermore, the report indicated that the magnitude of the demand for new resources to ensure that this industry performs as well as possible was unlikely to be met from private sources.

    The hon. Gentleman is well known for his rash public statements. Can he confirm what he said, namely, that the shipbuilding industry accepts nationalisation in principle, when it must be well known to him that Vosper Thorneycroft and Swan Hunter do not? Would he like to comment on that?

    The hon. Gentleman having, as an exponent of open Government, said that there will be no White Paper, will he make sure that his further statement—which we shall all welcome—covers those matters not covered in the consultative document on the aircraft industry—namely, how much it will cost, whether it fits in with our obligations to the European Economic Community, and why he thinks it will produce a single extra ship or sell a single extra ship on foreign markets?

    The hon. Gentleman has asked at least half a dozen questions. The answer to his first question is that the SRNA has told us that it accepts nationalisation as a fact of life and is anxious to achieve the kind of organisation that will be most suitable. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the workers in the industry, who in terms of numbers form a great deal more than half of it, are satisfied and wish to press on with nationalisation as soon as possible.

    I have already indicated that because of speculation it is not possible at this stage to make clear the basis on which compensation will operate. We intend to introduce the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity.

    There is no question of any conflict with the EEC. There is nothing in the Treaty of Rome which prevents the nationalisation of industries.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think it will be within your recollection that the Minister said that the industry accepts the fact of nationalisation. Is not that a matter for the House to decide?

    Statutory Instruments


    That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Determination of Requirements) Regulations 1975 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.—[Mr. Pendry.]


    That the draft Medicines (Dental Filling Substances) Order 1975 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.—[Mr. Pendry.]

    The Arts

    3.34 p.m.

    I beg to move,

    That this House draws attention to the fact that we are now in a period, like the Second World War, which is an appropriate time to multiply public support for the arts; and calls on the Government to take appropriate measures to this end and to encourage local authorities to do likewise.
    One of the salient characteristics of our method of controlling public expenditure in this country is that increases in public expenditure tend to be incremental. We always find ourselves struggling to get 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. added to the expenditure of a particular Department, or subtracted from the expenditure of a particular Department, but it means that the struggle for the use of scarce resources, which is such an important part of the political process, tends always to take place on the margin of the expenditure of important Departments.

    One consequence of this is that those Members in this House who think that the whole pattern of expenditure is mistaken, those who would like to see the national cake cut up into slices of entirely different proportions, have an almost insuperably difficult task ahead of them, but there are exceptions to this. The exceptions occur when the total amounts are exceedingly small, and I think that for that reason public expenditure on the arts is such an exception.

    The central thesis of my speech is that Government expenditure on the arts should be doubled, and that local authority expenditure on the arts should be more than doubled. That is why I have used the word "multiply" in my motion. I think that the smallness of the sums involved makes this practicable, and I shall argue that the benefits that will accrue from that are out of all proportion to the size of the sums involved.

    I must meet the argument, because it is the most important argument against what I have to say, that, although all these things are desirable in themselves, we cannot afford them now. I shall try to argue the positive case for the increases for which I am calling on three grounds: first, the unique value of the arts to this country especially at this time; secondly, comparisons with what other genuinely comparable countries are doing; thirdly, and perhaps most important and most specific, the unmet needs for which the extra money is required.

    First let me make it clear exactly what sums we are talking about, and what is the order of expenditure that we are to discuss. In the financial year 1973–74 the Government spent £47½ million on the arts. That was one quarter of 1 per cent. of total Government expenditure. Of that £47½ million, almost exactly half—that is to say, £23·4 million—went to the Arts Council to be further redistributed at its discretion, and £9·8 million went to sustain national and provincial art galleries and museums.

    Local authority expenditure on the arts is extremely important, but local authorities are not required to give returns for their expenditure in this field and, therefore, any estimate has to be precisely that—an estimate—but the research staff of our House of Commons Library have been to great trouble to get me an informed estimate of the figures of local authority expenditure on the arts. For the financial year 1972–73 that amounted to £15½ million, which is 0·2 per cent. of total local authority expenditure.

    In the financial year 1973–74, total expenditure on the arts in this country was approximately £63 million, or if we add to that the expenditure of local authorities on art galleries and museums it can be made up to £75 million. There is a further important source of patronage of the arts, and that is the private patron. Again, for obvious reasons it is impossible to put a precise figure on this, but informed estimates reckon that to be about £1½ million a year. At this point, as I shall not mention them again, I should like to say how grateful I am to the research staff in the House of Commons Library for getting these figures for me and, indeed, a number of figures that I shall use later in my speech.

    I should like to say, in defence of the figures and of the staff who have worked so hard to provide them, that I do not want to hinge any of my arguments on the nice exactitude of figures. The fact that some of them are unavoidably estimates means that other speakers may, if they wish, by using a different basis of calculation, arrive at different estimates. The main point at issue in this debate is not the precise sums about which we are talking but their order of magnitude, and it is upon this that what I have to say depends.

    Looked at from one point of view, the figures I have just read out illustrate a success story, because we have reached that level of public expenditure on the arts by a continuous upward development from a starting point in the Second World War, and that upward development, that growth of public expenditure on the arts, had to be fought for every inch of the way by people, some of whom are still fondly remembered for their work in this direction. When I talk of the unmet needs or criticise our attitude as a society to our willingness to spend money on the arts, I do not want anything that I say to be taken as reflecting on those who fought so very hard to get us to the present situation. On the contrary, what I shall say is that we in our time should adopt the same irreverent and pioneering attitude to public expenditure on the arts, the same unwillingness to stop at and be bound by the existing levels of public expenditure that we inherited, that those people did in their time.

    I shall not debate this matter as a party matter. This is an area of activity in which the party to which I belong has a particularly fine record, of which one can be especially proud. No doubt the various parties on the Opposition benches can also point to achievements of which they are justly proud. I shall not be making any party points during the debate, so I hope that no one who speaks after me will feel any need to be defensive in his comments. I say that especially of my hon. Friend the Minister. The proposals I shall make for things which I hope the Minister will do with the backing of the Government, whom I support, are in no way meant to be criticisms either of him or of the Government's record so far. But I am talking now of unfinished business, of urgent needs for the future.

    In one sense there is only one important argument against what I am proposing, because almost any civilised person is likely to have the view that in itself it is desirable for public expenditure on the arts to be increased. The only possible objection there can be to our doing so is the economic plight that the country is in at present. The only possible objection can consist in the assertion that, desirable though it is, we cannot possibly afford it. That is the only argument against my motion which I respect, because anyone who thinks on any other ground that it is not desirable to enrich and expand the arts in this country is unlikely in most circumstances to be an opponent with whom it is worth arguing.

    But to those who say that we cannot afford it, I would say this: public financial support for the arts began, on any substantial and organised scale, during the darkest years of the Second World War, when we in this country were fighting for our survival against an enemy far more terrible than inflation, when we as a country were far poorer than we are today, when the average standard of living of most of the members of our community was immeasurably lower than standards of living today and when every penny which could be found of public money was diverted for other purposes. That is why I mention the Second World War in the wording of my motion. Anyone who says that we cannot afford it now must explain why, bad though our situation is now, we are less well able to afford what was afforded in far more terrible and dangerous times, when public subsidy of the arts began.

    These public subsidies which first became an important factor in our national life and which revolutionised the theatre, music, opera and the performing arts generally, were continued by the post-war Labour Government in years which were again, though peacetime years, years of bleak financial austerity, shortage and continued wartime rationing. It was in those grey years that the Arts Council was incorporated, in August 1946. It was in those years that we had the Festival of Britain and built the Royal Festival Hall, which has so enriched the musical life of our capital city. There were plenty of voices raised in those days to say that we could not afford it. I remember fulminations in the editorial columns of national and local newspapers saying that we should not have the Festival Hall because we could not afford it. But there is no one now with the slightest concern for the arts who would unwish that building and the difference that it has made to the cultural life of this country, and particularly this capital, in the last 20 years.

    It is not only our society which has behaved in this way and spent money on the expansion of the arts, especially the performing arts, in what were some of the darkest and most difficult days of our history. The brilliant director of the National Theatre, Peter Hall, has carried with him for most of his life memories of a vivid kind from his experience in post-war Germany as a young National Service man. In the current issue of the magazine "Opera" he recalls them, saying:
    "I have memories of Germany in 1949–50, still poor, still ruined, yet to my amazement spending money on the arts. No houses, yet building new opera houses. Making sure that the opera was going, the orchestras were subsidised, that the theatres were there. It was a revelation to me, as I had left a country where the Arts Council was a very under-subsidised struggling organization, where art was not in the centre of a town's life."
    I have very similar memories from a similar time, in fact a year before Peter Hall's, when I was a young Service man in Austria. I vividly remember the Austrians, even poorer than the Germans, their cities destroyed by the war, insisting on the priority of having the Vienna State Opera rebuilt. In the remote country town where I happened to be stationed. I remember subsidised music and subsidised concerts of Schubert and Mozart, to which the audiences, consisting of farm labourers and peasant women, came in their droves.

    Coming back to even later peacetime England, when the Labour Government came to power in 1964 after 13 years in Opposition, we came back to power in the middle of what was then the worst economic crisis there had been since the immediate post-war years, and yet again precisely at that time, for the first time, a Minister responsible for the arts was appointed. In those very difficult financial days, Jennie Lee, with the co-operation of Lord Goodman on the Arts Council, did creative and pioneering work of permanent importance which is still smilingly remembered and very gratefully remembered in the world of the arts in this country.

    I would say that the argument that we cannot afford it because times are bad really holds no water in a historical context. It has always been when times were bad that some of the most valuable things of this kind were done in our society, and as far back as one goes, in times of great social upheaval, even civil war, one finds that that has been the time when some of the most important and lastingly valuable public projects, such as cathedrals, churches, public buildings and so on, have been created.

    One might even say, as I would, that it is when times are bad that we need these things most. That is particularly true in an age like ours, when the consolations of religion are not accessible to large numbers of people and when the deepest emotional and, if I dare use the word, spiritual experiences which are available to many, perhaps even to most, people are those provided by the arts and it is through the arts that increasing numbers of people find their deepest sense of contact with enduring realities and values.

    In the light of the importance of the arts and of the considerations which I have outlined, it is footling to say that we cannot afford increases of expenditure of the order that I am asking for, especially when we consider just what other things we as a society spend immense sums on. Considering what we as a community spend on things like drinking, tobacco and gambling, all of which incidentally have given me enormous pleasure, the sums involved for the arts are miniscule and almost invisible.

    Since we are talking about Government expenditure, perhaps I should make a comparison with Government revenue from these sources. The estimated Government revenue this year from alcoholic drinks is £1,110 million, from tobacco £1,325 million and from gambling a mere £240 million. The figure of additional Government expenditure on the arts for which I am asking is less than a quarter of the smallest of those figures.

    There is no other sphere in our national life in which such a small expenditure could make such an enormous difference or, indeed, where Britain is so preeminenly in the forefront in world terms. When one considers what Britain has done since the end of the Second World War in a global context, one sees that there are only about two things for which we are really outstanding. One is the grace with which we have divested ourselves of what must have been much the largest empire that the world has ever seen and the fact that we managed to do so in a comparatively peaceful and civilised way.

    The other is that Britain, or at any rate London, has became the world's artistic centre. We are acknowledged throughout the world to have the finest theatre. We are far and away the most important centre in the world for the public performance of music. More books are published here than anywhere else in the world, more gramophone records are made here and I believe that we are the world centre for dealing in works of art. This has happened in London in about the last 20 years. So there is no other sphere which so deserves our support and the financial nourishment which it is within the power of the Government to bestow.

    But even if we consider this matter in vulgar terms of money, prestige and promotion, there is an enormous return to be got from our arts. There is, first, the incalculable prestige and promotion value of the foreign tours by the Royal Opera Company and the Royal Ballet Company. There are the gramophone records which sell by the million all over the world and the revenue that they bring. There is our world trade in books and the revenue that that brings.

    But the specific example that I would give is the theatre, which, to put it no more highly, is an enormous earner of foreign currency. The tourist authorities have discovered in their investigations and surveys that over half of all the foreign tourists who visit this country give going to the theatre as one of their reasons for doing so. In, 1973, for example, of 1,300,000 American tourists over 1 million went to the theatre. So this is not just something that visitors say they will do: they actually do it. It clearly is one of the reasons for coming to this country, because it is something which can be found here which can be found almost nowhere else in the same quantity and quality. Bearing in mind the fact that the total spent by tourists in 1972–73 was £682 million, it is clear that the theatre alone makes an enormous, indirect, but very real, contribution to the earning of large sums of foreign currency.

    We get revenue from our theatre in other ways. For example, it is the actors, writers, directors, designers and producers who work their way up through the live theatre, through repertory companies, and so on, who sustain the whole of the acting side of our television industry and the Anglo-American film industry, from which even those who do not go to the live theatre benefit.

    Yet this goose which lays such golden eggs, the live theatre, we are in danger of allowing to die from starvation. At the moment, of 60 provincial theatres no fewer than 11 are having seriously to consider the possibility of closing. In London's West End half a dozen theatres are dark and two are given over to one-man shows. It has become almost impossible for an unsubsidised commercial management to put on a play which has a large cast and requires several changes of scene. It simply is no longer economically possible.

    Last year was a disaster, financially, for the Royal Shakespeare Company and there has been talk, which I hope will come to nothing, of a merger between that company and the National Theatre Company. Talking of the latter, it has now become clear that for financial as well as other reasons the new building for the National Theatre Company will not open—estimates differ, but this would be mine—until summer next year at the earliest and possibly not until the autumn.

    What can the Government do to help the theatre in its present straits? There are many things that the Government can do. The first thing that they can do, and immediately, is zero-rate the theatre for VAT. I would beg the Government to do so for all the performing arts. We all know from personal experience as ticket buyers for any form of entertainment that the law of supply and demand operates powerfully in ticket prices. Other things being equal, the cheaper the tickets are the more people buy them and the more expensive they are the fewer people buy them.

    The fact that all the performing arts are being required to collect a tax of 8 per cent. on the tickets they sell artificially lowers their audiences or their income, depending on how one looks at it. It means that if they were able to charge what they themselves collect—in other words, if they could charge the lower seat prices without the 8 per cent. VAT—they would get a substantially larger audience. Conversely—this is what I suggest they be encouraged to do—if the performing arts were zero-rated but encouraged to keep their prices at the existing level, this would be an enormous immediate increase in revenue without any increase in seat prices or loss of audience. For even a comparatively small theatre in London's West End this would make a difference of some hundreds of pounds a week. In this way, by immediate action, the Government could help greatly to increase the amount of money available to the theatre and to the performing arts generally.

    There are other ways in which the Government could help in the present situation. They could greatly increase the amount made available through the Arts Council for distribution to the arts generally. Here, since I am discussing specific ways in which the Government could assist the arts, I underline that they could make some changes which would in themselves cost the Government no money.

    One important change would be to return to the triennial system of financing the Arts Council. At present, the Arts Council is on an annual budget, and we have the extraordinary state of affairs that less than eight weeks from the beginning of the next financial year the Arts Council still has not been officially informed what its grant for next year will be, which, in turn, means that it is unable to inform all those multitudinous organisations whose survival depends on it what their income for next year will be.

    This is a disastrous situation for any organisation, but for certain organisations dependent on the Arts Council—for example, Covent Garden, whose budget runs literally into millions—it is preposterous.

    The Arts Council would benefit enormously if it were allowed to go back to the old system of triennial finance. Under that system, in June of each year the Arts Council would be given an estimate of the grant likely to be made available to it in the following financial year, with further estimates of what would be available in the second and third financial years beyond that. At the beginning of the following calendar year, in about January, the estimate for the next financial year would be made firm, and the estimates for the second and third years would be revised in the light of inflation or any other relevant considerations. I plead with the Government, through my hon. Friend the Minister, to give serious consideration to returning to that system of finance.

    There is yet another way in which the Government could give enormous assistance to the performing arts without themselves directly spending money—that is, to take steps to preserve the buildings in which performances of the arts occur, notably the theatres.

    Theatres considered as buildings are subject to some very odd influences in our market economy. For obvious reasons, they tend to be in the centre of cities, and they tend, therefore, to be in those parts of cities which have maximum site values. London's theatres, of course, are concentrated in the West End, where site values are among the highest in the land. Moreover, because of their nature, theatres, though large buildings, are in use for only a few hours out of the 24. This means that, considered brutally in exclusively economic terms, they are uneconomic buildings, and this makes them a standing temptation to the property developer.

    If market forces alone are to be allowed to determine the future of our theatres, I fear that many of them will have no future at all, because it will always be more profitable in purely monetary terms to knock down these buildings in the centre of cities, especially in London's West End, and replace them with multi-storey office blocks. If that is allowed to happen—it has already happened in a number of cases in London, which has lost some of its best loved theatres purely to the greed of the property developers—the future for the theatre will be dark indeed. It is within the Government's power, without spending money, to preserve these buildings for their existing use.

    I shall not make specific suggestions as to how this might be done. Many suggestions have been made. Equity, the actors' union, has asked the Government to consider nationalising the buildings. A body which has been set up to try to save London's theatres has made the alternative suggestion that the sites might be nationalised. It would be possible to list the theatres so that either the buildings or the sites could be used only for their existing purposes, without nationalising either.

    The Government should consider those possibilities carefully, and I beg them in any event not only to consider the problem but to choose one or other solution so that, without involving themselves in expenditure, they ensure that the theatre buildings themselves are preserved.

    The Government could help also with the National Theatre building itself. In the light of the history of this project, it is interesting to consider its present position. For decades, radicals in the theatre have been campaigning to have a National Theatre and a National Theatre building. But, now that we are on the verge of having one, it begins to look to some people as though it is part of the establishment and we are in the paradoxical and ironical situation of seeing radicals in the theatre now campaigning against it.

    The true explanation, when one looks into it, I think, is that in our present state of financial stringency, when the sums of money made available to the arts are so small, people working in other parts of the theatre are afraid that a gigantic institution such as the National Theatre—as it undoubtedly will be when the building is open and running, with all three auditoria—will pre-empt scarce resources and starve the rest of the theatre. It seems to me that their hostility to the opening of our National Theatre is based straightforwardly on a fear of the consequences for them. This fear could be assuaged, or entirely removed, and the conflict within the world of the theatre removed, by the assurance of additional resources which it is in the Government's power to bestow.

    One of the undesirable consequences of the extreme shortage of money for the art which characterises our national life is that it incites conflict within the arts of the kind I have just instanced. It makes artistes in the same field jealous and frightened of one another, and, worst of all, it makes artistes in the same field frightened of expansion on the part of rivals because of the effect which that has on the availability of scarce resources.

    The biggest target of that fear and jealousy over a number of years—certainly in London, and probably in the country as a whole—has been Covent Garden. It is natural that this should be so, because the Royal Opera House is far and away the biggest single spender of Arts Council money. For many years now, voices have been raised to say that Covent Garden should have less so that other artistic enterprises in the country could have more.

    I believe that this hostility—financial hostility—to Covent Garden is misplaced for many reasons. One reason is that, in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles with which it has had to contend, Covent Garden has raised its standards during the past 20 years until they are at their best equivalent to any to be found anywhere in the world, and it has done this, and is continuing to do so, in spite of extreme shortage of money in its own operations.

    The chorus at Covent Garden is far too small; it is smaller than that of the English National Opera at the Coliseum. The workship capacity is too small. Its backstage facilities generally are too small. The orchestra is too small, with the result that members of the orchestra are overworked and orchestral standards are lower than they would otherwise be, and lower than they need be.

    There is need for a bigger orchestra pit at Covent Garden. In fact, the need is of two kinds—need for room to accommodate a larger number of musicians, and need also for room to improve the orchestral sound. Acoustics experts have advised that one reason why the quality of orchestral sound at Covent Garden is not as good as it might be is that the pit is so constricted that there is insufficient reverberation of sound in the pit before it emerges into the auditorium. What is desirable at Covent Garden therefore, is that the front row of the stalls should be removed entirely and the orchestra pit extended so that it could take the greater number of players needed and at the same time give the improved quality of sound which is so much needed. Again the obstacles to this are purely financial. To remove that one row of the stalls permanently would cost Covent Garden between £30,000 and £40,000 in revenue a year. In its present financial state it cannot afford to meet that expenditure.

    Covent Garden is suffering in all sorts of ways. It has had to abandon some productions and postpone others. Completion of "The Ring" has had to be postponed until next year. Covent Garden is still hundreds of thousands of pounds short of the money that it requires even for the coming financial year. In this situation standards are not merely threatened; I am afraid that already standards are falling. I do not think that anyone who is familiar with what goes on at Covent Garden would deny—though perhaps many would not wish to say so in public—that artistic standards there are lower now than they were four years ago. I repeat that for an organisation of that size and degree of complexity—which, if it is to compete in the international market for singers and conductors, must lock itself into contracts with artistes two years ahead—not even to know what its income is going to be eight weeks ahead is to put it under almost crippling financial disabilities. I do not know what its income for next year will be. I suppose it will be about £3 million, or slightly more, but it would be surprising if it were as much as £3¼ million. The need, if it is to maintain its standards, is for about £4 million.

    I should like to make some comparisons with the situation abroad. For example, the opera company at Frankfurt, in Germany, does not pretend to be one of the world's front-line opera houses. It does not imagine that it is in the same league as those companies in its own country such as Hamburg and Munich. Yet last year the Frankfurt Opera Company had a public subsidy of £4 million, and the public subsidy for this coming calendar year, in 1975, of £5 million was already voted on and committed at the beginning of last year. Subsidies of this order, almost twice what our national opera house gets, come not from the Federal Government of Germany but from the city authority of Frankfurt.

    Something of this kind happens to the even more important and better opera houses in Hamburg and Munich. Those opera companies are all subsidised to the extent of about £6 million a year, and that is the order of subsidy which all the international opera houses, except for Covent Garden, enjoy. It is the order of subsidy for opera houses such as La Scala and Vienna. Hamburg and Munich get these subsidies of £6 million not from the national government but from the regional government, from the Bavarian Government in the case of Munich and from the Hamburger Land Government in the other case. What a contrast with the picture of public subsidy in this country.

    Another extremely important effect of public subsidies in the performing arts is to enable ticket prices to be kept lower than would otherwise be the case. This is especially so with opera. It is particularly important for social reasons, if for no other, that ticket prices should not be allowed to rise the slightest fraction more than is absolutely necessary. It is only by public subsidy, especially of the most expensive of all the performing arts, which is opera, that ticket prices can be kept down to a reasonable level.

    I turn to the situation of orchestras in this country, and this is the last of the specific examples which I want to give. The situation governing orchestras in this country parallels that which governs the theatre and opera houses of which I have been speaking. In London we are uniquely favoured by the number of first-class orchestras which we have. There are four symphony orchestras in London, in addition to the symphony orchestras of the BBC, our outstandingly fine chamber orchestras, the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields and the English Chamber Orchestra and the orchestras of our major opera houses. No other city in the world has that number of orchestras and, in consequence, this amount of first-rate orchestral music. We give, of public money, to each of our four London symphony orchestras about £120,000 a year. The major orchestras in other countries with which they have to compete get subsidies of over £1 million a year. Even the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam—and I remind the House that Holland is much smaller than this country and has a much lower level of national resources—gets over £1 million in public subsidy, as indeed does the orchestra in Paris, while the orchestra in Berlin gets over £2 million of public money.

    People may think that in the United States the situation is significantly different. Most of us have a picture of the arts in America as being entirely dependent on private patrons and very little provided for by public money. By our standards that is not the case. Recently I met in London the man who manages the Los Angeles Orchestra, which would not claim to be one of the front-line American orchestras. It is not an orchestra of world class like Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago or Cleveland. Yet the Los Angeles Orchestra gets a subsidy of $500,000 a year from the county authority. The county government of Los Angeles makes available another $500,000 for facilities such as the free use of the Hollywood Bowl for its concerts. Therefore, from the county authority the orchestra gets a total subsidy of $1 million a year. The Los Angeles city gives the orchestra $65,000 a year in addition.

    I am not asking the Government to give subsidies of this order to all four of London's symphony orchestras. That could not be justified on artistic grounds, let alone financial grounds. There is not the artistic need or the possibility of having four world-class orchestras in London. But what I should like to see happen—and it is within the Government's power to help it to happen—is the amalgamation of those four orchestras into two, one based at the Royal Festival Hall and the other based at the Barbican Hall, which is due to open later in this decade. I should like to see those two properly established orchestras absorb the other two, and those musicians in the other two who were not absorbed into the two established symphony orchestras would be very much needed by the orchestras of our national opera houses where orchestral standards are not as high as they could be or need to be.

    One aspect of the question which we are discussing concerns the working lives of the artistes involved in the arts. One of the most important ways in which the arts are subsidised at the moment, and should not be subsidised, is by sacrifices made by the performing artistes. It is possible for our symphony orchestras to produce works at the level at which they do produce them only because the musicians are overworked; they work many weeks at a stretch and often without a day off. They have low salaries, with low or no pensions. They have very bad rehearsal facilities in outlying places, involving them in yet more burdensome travel at difficult hours. This kind of subsidy for our arts is the one kind of subsidy that we ought to try to abolish. One of our aims in reestablishing, for example, the symphony orchestras of London on a different foundation should be to transform completely the working conditions of the musicians.

    There is no doubt, and I do not think anyone involved with these things will question what I am saying, that an improvement in the working and living conditions and the security of the artistes concerned would have a considerable artistic bonus. It would result in a considerable rise in standards, and the better these people are the more money they make, so there is even a financial aspect to that matter, too.

    So far I have spoken only of London, and I have done so for some very good reasons. In a country as tiny as ours it is inevitable that artistic ventures should be concentrated in the capital city. It is also unavoidable that centres of excellence in a small society like ours have a profound effect throughout the whole of society and influence artistic activities taking place everywhere else. However, there is another side to the coin, and that is the artistic improverishment of the regions. The situation is utterly extraordinary when compared with the situation in Germany, Italy or even in some respects France and the United States.

    It is not possible for our excellent London-based ochestras and opera and ballet companies to meet the need in the regions by touring because there simply are not the places for them to visit and perform in. It is an astounding fact that outside London there is no theatre which can take the full stage productions of the Royal Opera Company of Covent Garden. With the doubtful exception of the Hippodrome in Bristol, there is not a single theatre which can accommodate the productions of the Royal Ballet Company of Covent Garden. Outside London there is only one fully-equipped concert hall, and that is in Liverpool. This is a fantastic degree of improverishment. I shall not launch into comparisons between this country and other countries because on that front they would be painful to any patriotic Englishman.

    When considering spending money on the arts, especially the arts in the regions, we should consider the effect the arts have on community life in ways which are not directly artistic. We have seen what can happen in the case of many repertory theatres in the regions. The buildings become social centres with restaurants, coffee shops, clubs, jazz concerts, lectures, film shows and so on. But they can also become centres from which people move out into the community. The actors in these repertory theatres can, and do, get involved with amateur theatrical enterprises in the communities in which they live. Perhaps most important, the actors and musicians can be made available for work in schools.

    Here enormously valuable work can be done and has begun to be done. I have in mind not just that actors should visit schools and put on plays, or that musicians should visit and give concerts, but that they should actually rehearse with the children, direct them in plays and concerts, and sit around with them in seminars or in the classroom to discuss what they are doing. In other words, the professional artistes should create a workshop situation in the schools. This can be done, and the means to do it are there if the artistes are there. Young actors—and most of them are young—have shown themselves to be extremely enthusiastic for enterprises of this kind, and all that is needed is encouragement and a bit of money from the local authority.

    The local authorities have so far shown themselves unwilling to spend more than a pitiful amount on promoting activities of this kind. In 1972–73 they spent £2,500 million on education, yet they spent less than £16 million on the arts. The training that it is possible to give children by bringing artistes, in co-operation with the local authority, into the schools is of incalculable value in all sorts of ways. Not only should all our children be involved in the theatre, drama, painting and music as a normal part of education, but everyone should be taught to read music as one is taught to read a language and everyone should be taught to play an instrument.

    This is training not only the professional artistes of the future, who are a very small proportion of the children involved. It is preparing the audiences of the future and even the patrons of the future. Some of these children will be local councillors or will work in firms and schools. They will have a hand in buying pictures and commissioning artists in all sorts of ways. I know that local authorities face their worst financial crisis for a long time, but I apply the same argument to them as I applied to the national Government at the beginning of my speech. Because times are bad and the need is great, now is the time for them seriously to rethink their priorities. In times of extreme financial stringency I do not believe in making cuts across the board. When the authorities have to cut they must most seriously consider which things can be done without. They must be prepared actually to increase expenditure in some other areas. We did precisely that during the war, and the arts were beneficiaries, and we should do it now.

    There is one other source of patronage, and that is the private patron. We have a number of private patrons in Britain. The Guinness company assists the Wexford Festival, the Wills company the London Philharmonic, the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation assists the London Symphony Orchestra and, most imaginative, the Midland Bank gives help to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet Companies at Covent Garden. What these private firms do is itself an indication of how much more can be done with Government encouragement. I plead with the Government most seriously to consider emulating the United States and other countries in making the money that is given to the arts by private individuals and business firms exempt from tax to some degree. That kind of encouragement for the private patron would be of enormous benefit to the arts.

    It is of great advantage to the arts that there should be a multiplicity of patrons. It is not good for the arts or the patronage that all the commissions should come from one source or that they should all come from sources of one particular kind, like local authorities. It is considerably to the advantage of the arts that they should come from as many different sources as possible, and the very quirkiness and eccentricity of the private patron often adds to the value of his patronage and to what comes out of it.

    I am not speaking of one side of industry. The TUC should get much more involved in the arts than it has done in the past. I am pleased to say that it has at least set up a special committee to deal with the subject. I hope that the trade unions here will learn many lessons from the Scandinavian trade unions, which have been fruitful patrons of the arts.

    I hope there will be more co-operation of another kind from some of the trade unions involved in artistic ventures. The technicians, electricians, stage hands and so on who work behind the scenes in the performing arts are every bit as indispensable to the success of performances as the actors and singers. They do not always behave in that way, however, and, to do them justice, they have not always been treated as if they are indispensable. They should be brought into the community enterprise and made to feel part of it, and I hope that in response to that kind of approach they would be much more co-operative—I am thinking in particular of the recent dispute at the Coliseum—than they have sometimes been in the past. In disputes of that kind there are two sides, and one of the two sides at fault was certainly the union side.

    Yet another way of financing the arts which would not cost the Government anything would be the use of the lottery system. I would very much like to see lotteries used to finance artistic enterprises. Almost every one of the buildings, for example, of the kind for which I listed the need earlier could be paid for by one monthly national lottery of the sort that is employed in France. I have listed a catalogue of specific needs that exist in the world of the arts. They are needs which it is within the power of government to meet.

    Although I have spoken at great length, the case that I have made is in many important respects incomplete, and I shall leave it incomplete. I have said virtually nothing about the visual arts. I have said virtually nothing about the need to subsidise creative artists as distinct from performing artistes. I have talked almost entirely about the performing arts for two good reasons. The first reason is that by far and away the biggest spenders of public money are the performing artistes. It is therefore more relevant to talk about them than about any other kind of artistes in the context of a debate of this kind. The second reason is that I happen to have had a lifelong involvement in one capacity or another with the performing arts. It is a subject of which I have some knowledge. I know something about the organisation and running of that sector of the arts.

    I have not talked about all the major areas of need in the performing arts. I have said almost nothing about ballet, for example, yet we have a world famous ballet company—it is widely thought to be the best ballet company in the world—that does not even have a theatre of its own. It can perform on only half the evenings of the week in a theatre which it shares with an opera company.

    I have said nothing about the film industry, yet it is moribund for lack of public money. It desperately needs public finance. I will give one figure and from that one comparison hon. Members can draw all the lessons that I wish to draw. The British Film Institute now provides for the British film industry £110,000 a year in subsidy. France subsidises films to the tune of £13 million a year. Italy subsidies its film industry to the extent of £14 million a year. The incompleteness of my case and the fact that I have left out so many deserving areas of artistic activity means that the case is very much stronger than that which I have been able to make even in the time available. I am sure that the case will be much strengthened by other speakers.

    My last point is that all the needs that I have instanced could be met by one man if he were determined and if he had the imagination and the political will to do so. They could be met by one decision from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The total increase in central Government expenditure that we are talking of is of the order of £50 million a year or less. It may be tactless of me to recall it, but there was an incident in this Chamber only a week ago last Wedesday in which, contrary to the Chancellor's expectations, he found himself called upon by a vote of this House to find an extra £54 million in his forthcoming Budget for expenditure in the next year. I cannot pretend that he was pleased by that. He lost his temper and shouted at many people, including me.

    I am prepared to forgive my right hon. Friend for that. I am prepared to overlook that incident, on condition that he listens to me in the context of this debate. The example to which I have referred shows that the Chancellor can, if called upon, find a sum of that magnitude in the Budget even at short notice. If we look more than one year ahead it can be done given the political will.

    It is something of a paradox that the survival of the creative arts depends on money which is made available by party politicians. Given that that is the case, there is nothing that we can do collectively or individually which is of greater value and enrichment to our national life and the community that we are supposed to serve than to increase the money which it is in the power of the Government, drawn from our numbers and sustained by us in office to give, and without which the arts cannot survive.

    I remind the House that this is a brief debate. Unless there can be less enthusiasm there will be a great deal of frustrated oratory.

    4.36 p.m.

    I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) and I thank him for giving us this opportunity to debate an important subject. Already a third of our time for the debate has gone. I hope that the Minister will seek other opportunities to debate this matter. If he wanted to do so he could find the time even if he cannot find the money for the arts.

    I wish to make a brief and unembroidered intervention. I share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm but he must know that we cannot all do it his way. He must know in his heart that he will not get the total amount of money required from the Chancellor. It would be demoralising and initiative-sapping if all the money came from the Exchequer.

    I hope that the Minister has come here today, despite the present financial stringency, with a few new ideas. I hope that he will present some ideas in terms of the new ground which could be broken. I also hope that he will say something about his position in the Government. We do our best to bolster him up on occasions. It is not all criticism and attack. For instance, what is his relationship with the Department of the Environment, which owns the greater part of our national heritage that is in public hands and with which the Minister's Department must be greatly involved? What is his relationship with broadcasting, the outlet for much of that which the Minister subsidises? What is he doing about industrial design and the great Department of State involved there?

    I share the hope that we shall have some continuity in arts finance. It is not satisfactory to leave the Arts Council guessing right up to this moment, even though it has had a few gentle hints from the Minister. It cannot make any planned progress unless it knows where it is. Although I cannot go as far as the hon. Member for Leyton, it surely should be a growth industry and not a stagnant or declining affair.

    I come straight to some proposals for alternative finance. We must be realists. There have been some notable examples of patronage on the part of industry despite its present difficulties. Local authorities cannot be expected to do much more at present. So far their efforts have proved extraordinarily uneven. An influential and persuasive Minister could persuade some of them that are not doing their bit by pledging a little for the future if they are not prepared to do it now.

    We must consider bringing finance back into the arts from the public and private sectors of broadcasting. The Under-Secretary of State was present when I had words the other day with the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is responsible for broadcasting. I suggested that because BBC 2 would obviously have to suffer some financial stringency because of the present BBC licence proposals, there would be a considerable loss to the arts. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was not his affair but the affair of the Under-Secretary of State. I hope that he will mention that matter.

    Next, there is the missed opportunity of ITV 2 which many of my hon. Friends wish had been introduced some time ago. I hope that the Minister will give some thoughts about what he might say to the Annan Committee. There is no doubt that out of the Annan Report should come more finance for the arts. I hope that the Minister will not be shy to give evidence to Annan by whatever process is appropriate.

    We have heard a little about opera. It must be true that more people could see the opera on the television in one week than could possibly get into Covent Garden between now and the end of the century. Any of the unkind and jealous remarks made about Covent Garden could surely be set at nought if only the opera were to be televised a great deal more. In one of the national papers today a headline suggests that we can now all go to the opera. That is because there is to be televised by the BBC the present production of Verdi's "The Masked Ball". The production is possible because of the finance put into the production by the Imperial Tobacco Company and the National Westminster Bank. I feel that I, too, have a part to play in this matter because, running a struggling stately home, I have paid the National Westminster branch in South Street, Dorchester, enough in interest charges in recent years to have given a considerable boost to that production. I am glad that at least some of the money has gone to a good cause.

    The point about this initiative by these two great public companies—national institutions, one might call them—is that they will get no credits on the television screen for financing the production. That would be against the rules of the BBC. The BBC is not allowed to say, "by courtesy of" or "sponsored by".

    I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give attention to this aspect. After all, a great deal of advertising goes on through the BBC now. It frequently shows sporting events sponsored, rightly, by great companies, and one sees their names through the camera, even if, as it were, it is accidental. Indeed, there have been complaints about it. If we want great companies to do these good things for the arts and sporting events, they must be allowed some public credit for it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will talk to his colleagues in the Home Office about this matter.

    I welcome also the way in which the unions are at last showing common sense in this matter. It was not possible at one time to televise opera productions because of the vast fees asked by some performers. Now they are being more realistic and are embracing television as a friend and not regarding it as an enemy.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will adopt a flexible approach towards housing the arts. We must make greater use of our historic buildings, including redundant churches. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know how in the land of your fathers so much of your music is generated in churches and chapels. Incidentally Wales was the land of my birth. We should make more use not only of redundant churches but of our living cathedrals.

    How many cathedrals are fully used for artistic and cultural activities? Has the hon. Gentleman any figures? It does not look as if he has any. Perhaps he can go into the subject with some care, because a little or even no help could make it possible for many people to enjoy performances by national orchestras and others in our cathedrals. Cathedrals are the ideal places for a certain kind of music. Some of the more recent works of contemporary composers are perhaps hardly suitable for ecclesiastical buildings, but some of the earlier music—the sort which I prefer, in any case—is often very suitable to gothic architecture. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think about that.

    Museums and galleries are having a difficult time. What can we do to bring them to a wider public? Some already do a splendid job. Some of our national institutions do better than others. Some local museums are quite splendid in serving the community. One of these is the Dorset County Museum—a private enterprise concern, which is not run by the county council, although the council does give a little help. There is a tremendous expansion under way, with new buildings and the funds being raised by private subscription. If that museum and others, such as the Kendal Museum, can do it, so could local authority museums.

    The hon. Gentleman is the catalyst in this matter. He has a unique opportunity to encourage museums and galleries.

    In the theatre the problem of value added tax looms large. It is a compre hensive tax. We knew when it was introduced that it would produce considerable difficulties in certain directions, but we never intended that the performing arts should be crippled through it. If the Government remove VAT from theatre tickets, they must also do so for museums and galleries and so on.

    The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and I combined recently to do our little towards saving the national heritage, at least in part, from the threat of taxation. It was all due to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and her team on the Finance Bill that we got the concession that the Government have announced in Committee upstairs. The Government have given a firm pledge, but we need to see the details. We cannot preserve the national heritage without the resources, so the concession will have to encompass houses, contents, gardens, supporting estates, and, in some cases, trust funds as well.

    The hon. Member for Leyton spoke at some length about theatre buildings. The Under-Secretary of State and I have had exchanges in Standing Committee, when he showed how concerned he is not only to preserve the fabric but the use of such buildings. I hope that he still bears this in mind.

    There is the problem of the theatre museum. Perhaps we made a mistake in thinking that Somerset House would be ideal. Of course we must have a theatre museum, but I wonder whether the wealth of material can properly be displayed in the fine rooms there. The commitment so far is that there should be a theatre museum. It is not an irrevocable commitment that it should be in Somerset House. There is the rival claim now of the Turner Collection. Probably, with the fine rooms and one side of the courtyard, the Turner Collection could be well displayed in Somerset House which might be more suitably for it than a theatre museum. Surely, in the Covent Garden area, among the buildings which are now vacant there is room for a theatre museum which would be far better than we could have in Somerset House.

    There is also the question of Public Lending Rights. Could not a self-financing scheme be used to get over this problem? Could there not be, for example, some scheme of extended copyright to 60 years with the extra 10 years for living authors. The hon. Gentleman will understand what I mean.

    Another problem is that of the crafts. A number of private enterprise institutions such as West Dean Crofts College, do a splendid job. But could we not have an agency to collect the work of craftsmen and market it? Many craftsmen have considerable problems in marketing their work.

    There is also the problem of the national film archives as well as the British Film Institute. A little help here could make a great deal of difference. Many films will be lost for ever unless we do something quickly.

    Art teaching in schools is important. Art is about life. Let it be integrated with life and not taken in isolation.

    What is the Under-Secretary of State doing about the European Architectural Heritage Year and about the international influence that this country could have across the whole spectrum of the arts? I would like him to be our ambassador of the arts and tell people abroad about the good things that we are doing and that we have, and also to bring back ideas to us.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman has anticipated my questions and is receptive to my suggestions. He has a difficult responsibility to fulfil. He will have our support if he displays energy and force in working towards what are, after all, our shared objectives.

    4.48 p.m.

    We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) for raising this very important subject today. He gave us an informative and persuasive speech covering the whole range of the nationally-sponsored arts. His speech was not a moment too long, and I am grateful to him for his wide range as it enables me to make my speech much shorter than it would otherwise have been. Unlike certain hon. Members, I have a strong aversion to making points in a debate which have already been made by other hon. Members, particularly if they have been made better than I could make them. I shall confine myself to very few remarks, addressed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on one or two important questions.

    I endorse almost everything that the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) said, but I was a little surprised that when he mentioned museums and galleries there was not a blush of humiliation and guilt on his face, because if there is one thing that he and his colleagues in the Conservative Party will never be forgiven for it is their criminal attitude to museums and galleries when they tried to erect a financial barrier between the cultural heritage they contain and the viewing public.

    I want to ask some questions which I think my hon. Friend will be able to answer easily. It would be useful if he could reiterate some of the assurances he has given recently. Many people are worried that the amount of money available to the Arts Council has not yet been settled by the Treasury, and, in turn, the Arts Council has not yet found it possible to give a definitive undertaking to its various beneficiaries as to what they will get in the coming year.

    There is anxiety amongst those bodies that the undertakings on these matters given by the Government may not be wholly fulfilled. We have been led to believe that it is the purpose of the Government, fully supported by the Minister responsible for the arts, that the support for the arts by the Arts Council will not be allowed to suffer as a result of inflation, and that all enterprises supported by the Arts Council will receive sufficient grants to enable them to carry on at the same standards as in the past.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton asked for much more than that. He wants the Arts Council grant doubled, if not trebled. That would be lovely, but I do not think we can expect it. I shall be satisfied if, during this year, they receive from the Treasury sufficient money to ensure that the present standard of excellence achieved by the theatres and other Arts Council supported bodies, including museums and galleries, can continue at the same level, with the prospect of a substantial increase next year and in the year, to come. Will my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the arts, repeat his assurance?

    One of the reasons why there is some anxiety on this matter is that in their speeches some Ministers, perhaps unintentionally, have given rise to doubts as to what will happen. A short time ago the Lord President of the Council said that everybody, including actors, would have to tighten their belts. I cannot believe he meant that. May we have some reassurance that the money available for the arts will not be reduced; that it will not be too long before the amounts are announced, and that the arts will not suffer as a result of inflation. It would indeed be foolish and tragic if we allowed the standards of excellence which have been built up, especially in the performing arts, to be reduced because of inflation. Once the standard of an artistic enterprise, such as the theatre, opera or ballet, is allowed to fall, it is difficult to recover it, and irremedial damage can be done.

    I should like to say a word in support of the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton—which I know the Minister responsible for the arts has very much at heart—for the preservation of our existing theatres, not only for the reasons he gave but for the reasons which I believe are very important. I do not believe that the theatres can now be built which are as attractive for drama, ballet or opera as theatres built in the latter part of the last century and the early part of this century. These have a warmth and a welcome which enchants any audience the moment it enters the theatre, and which, in turn, must be encouraging to actors and actresses. However fine and magnificent the new theatres may be, and however acoustically perfect, all those I have seen lack—I am a little fearful that even the National Theatre may lack it—that atmosphere which can be found only in theatres built in the 50 years between 1890 and 1940.

    I ask the Minister responsible for the arts what is happening to the National Theatre. We know that, through no fault of the National Theatre Board, further delays are occurring. First, we were told that the National Theatre was likely to open last year. Then we were told that it was likely to open in the early part of this year. Then we were led to expect that it would open in the latter part of this year. Now we understand that it will probably not be opening before the early part of next year. That is the fault not of the National Theatre Board but of the construction industry. Never mind whose fault it is. It is not only exceedingly disappointing but very costly, as every time it is announced that the builders expect that the theatre will be ready by a certain date, the theatre board becomes active, employs technicians, engages staff, and makes arrangements to open all at great expense. That expense is particularly infuriating if, a short time later, the whole project has to be cancelled.

    I ask my hon. Friend what is the present position of the National Theatre. Can we receive any assurance on the matter? Many questions were asked about this when we discussed the National Theatre a short while ago; in particular, whether, in spite of all the delays and the increased cost, due to inflation, which will arise as a result of those delays, the additional amounts, supplied by the Arts Council to support its other sponsored activities, will not prevent the full operation of the National Theatre when construction is finally completed.

    In an earlier debate I expressed my hope that the desire of some people to turn the Old Vic, when the National Theatre leaves it, into an opera or ballet theatre, should be turned down. It would mean extensive reconstruction of the auditorium of the Old Vic and would seriously damage its atmosphere. I am glad now to learn that the Old Vic will continue, as it traditionally has been, a theatre—its delightful auditorium preserved—showing classical plays, and will not be used for other purposes.

    Museums and galleries are late, too, in receiving information from the Government about the amount of their annual grants. I assume that the delay—possibly inevitable because of the economic circumstances of today, does not mean any reduction, and that museums and galleries will receive, like the theatres, an increased allocation to make up for inflation.

    I have heard a rumour—I do not know whether it is true; perhaps the Minister will comment on it—that there is a proposal that some of the museums and galleries in London will suffer a diminution in Government financial support for the benefit of museums and galleries in the regions. I am all for increasing the money and contributions to the regions, which I think may need it as much as, and perhaps more than, London. However, I do not think that that should be used as an excuse to reduce the contributions at present paid to London galleries and museums.

    We have heard of the proposal, advanced in responsible circles, to house the Turner pictures in Somerset House. That matters was touched upon by the hon. Member for Bristol, West. Many people feel keenly about the matter, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). Both Sir John Betjeman and Mr. Henry Moore suggest that this would be an appropriate place in which to house permanently this great collection of pictures. Many of us have seen it recently at Burlington House.

    At first, I was entranced by the idea, but, reluctantly, I have reached the conclusion that it is a doubtful proposal. I am unwilling to disagree with the views of Mr. Henry Moore, who is a warm friend of mine as I accept his views on all artistic matters. But I wonder whether it is a good idea to concentrate the works of a great artist like Turner in one place. Is it not far better to maintain a policy of dispersal? The Turner pictures are pretty well dispersed at the moment. There is a magnificent collection at the Tate, where they can be seen together with the gallery's exhibition of other English artists. I should like to see Turner pictures in galleries throughout the country. The idea of concentrating them in one place and therefore making them much more difficult for visitors to see when they go to a gallery to see a wide range of pictures, possibly for comparison purposes, is a doubtful one.

    There are technical reasons, too, why it would be unwise to put these pictures in Somerset House. There are lighting difficulties. There would have to be artificial lighting which would be expensive and difficult to arrange. Water colours could be exhibited only for a short time, or they deteriorate. On the face of it, this is an attractive suggestion, but I feel it should be considered carefully before it is accepted.

    Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East believes, in my view the suggested use of Somerset House for a theatre museum should not be abandoned. The idea of a theatre museum has been discussed for many years. There is a strong case for putting together the magnificent collections which now exist in the Victoria and Albert, Leighton House and many other places, of costumes, documents, scenery and other evidence of our theatrical history. They should be put together for the benefit of historians and the public.

    After much discussion it has been agreed that Somerset House would be a good place in which to house such a comprehensive theatre museum. Under the auspices of the Victoria and Albert, the project has now been organised and settled. It is hoped to open the museum in about a year.

    Somerset House may not be the ideal place. The ideal arrangement would be to build a new museum. But Somerset House is there. It is a lovely building, and it would be more than adequate. Of course, if we were prepared to spend the money we could readopt some of the buildings which have been abandoned in the Covent Garden area. I am told, for example, that at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of pounds the Flower Market would make an even better museum. But unless that is guaranteed, it would be unwise to abandon the Somerset House project. The theatre is the art form in which this country is outstanding, and to have a museum devoted to it is a good idea, which should not be jeopardised. This is a minor problem for my hon. Friend the Minister, but it is being persuasively urged upon him from many authoritative directions which cannot be ignored. I ask him to act cautiously.

    Above all else, I want the assurance from the Minister asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton that the amount of money to be made available by the Government to the Arts Council will be maintained at least at its present level in the next year or two. We are fortunate in having Ministers responsible for the arts who have such a deep personal interest in them. The Labour Party is on record as having, on all occasions, both in this House and in local government, endeavoured to carry out its philosophy of giving high priority to the arts and public availability of the arts.

    In this House, we now have a Minister responsible for the arts who from personal experience is deeply involved in one aspect of the arts, and I know that he is equally interested in many others. We have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is similarly interested in and devoted to the arts. He has always taken an immense interest in their development. We also have a Financial Secretary to the Treasury interested in the arts. He is a key man in the Government set-up, as it is he who considers and, if necessary, vetoes all requests which come to the Treasury for departmental expenditure. We have, therefore, three people who are anxious to do all in their power to help the arts and to prevent any deterioration during the period of inflation.

    I am therefore sure that the Minister will give the House satisfactory replies to the questions which I and others have asked. I await his reply with confidence.

    5.6 p.m.

    I wish to emphasise two points which have been made already. The first is that the Arts Council should be told as soon as possible what its allocation is to be. The second is that there should be a triennial budget for the arts.

    Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I welcome this opportunity to debate this important subject of support for the arts. If I appear to approach it from a slightly different angle from that of previous speakers in the debate, it is not because of any conceivable antagonism either to the motives which have led them to make their speeches or to the arts themselves.

    We are bound to ask not only that adequate resources are made available to the arts but for what purpose these resources are to be used. I was impressed greatly by the annual report of the Arts Council, but I had one slight reservation about it. It seemed to be saying that there must always be an increase in real terms in the amount of resources available to the arts.

    I question that approach. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) that the amounts in question are very small and that the time is very apposite for giving the nation some sort of lift. But the Government must be beset by people demanding more resources, all pointing out that the amounts are very small and that this is the moment for their projects to be carried out. The fact is that, unfortunately, production of all sorts in this country is not rising.

    I do not believe that all-round increased expenditure necessarily encourages creativity, and it is about the encouragement of creativity that we should be most concerned. Further, for reasons which go wider, I question the attitude which judges the success of Ministers in charge of the arts, of members of the Arts Council and of museum and gallery curators simply by the amount of public money that they can squeeze out of the Treasury.

    We live in times when the nation is split into innumerable bureaucracies each claiming more in terms of salaries, pensions, payments in kind, perquisites and funds to be spent. We still have "growth", no matter what sort, as our dominant fashion. Public authorities especially must use more of everything. In this process values go by the board.

    This seems to be the onset of barbarism. The Barbarians grabbed what they could and were incapable of economy or restraint. They had little regard for the past and still less for the future. Above all, they had no respect for individual flowering, freedom or the common good of communities.

    Civilisation has not only accepted economy, it has seen economy as being essential to its values. Civilisation has stood for the individual and for individual choice in a decent society. Civilisation has never been achieved by the worship of size, the pursuit of growth for growth's sake or the spectacular waste which is the feature of much public wisdom today. Art is intimately concerned with civilisation, and it is indeed the core of the civilising values which have fought against barbarism.

    Painters have never demanded more and more colours on their palettes. Art in general has been a matter of choice and of making use of hard materials. Very often it has been a matter of some astringency. I regard art as the main hope of the twentieth century in its struggle against dehumanised, wasteful and self-destructive attitudes—bureaucratic attitudes. I must, therefore, be disturbed that sometimes the arts seem to be in danger of bureaucracy and in danger of catching the fatal disease that we must all always demand more and more.

    I welcome the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) that we should look to the use of cathedrals for concerts. My own county of Orkney has a beautiful Norman cathedral, Kirkwall, which is used for many public occasions and for concerts.

    There are two matters which I wish to mention. I put forward the first with great diffidence. It might be said to be outside the main theme of the speech made by the hon. Member for Leyton. He, quite rightly, was concerned with the living and performing artist. My point is about the policy of art galleries and museums. I make it with diffidence because many people, better qualified than I, take a different view. I believe that the buying up of pictures, china and furniture by the great public galleries needs to be done with extreme care and in moderation. I cannot believe that the £1 million spent on "Diana and Actaeon" was well spent. There are many Titians in the National Gallery. Pictures which go abroad are not destroyed: they are enjoyed by other people. On the other hand, if public money is not available for the preservation of buildings, they are destroyed. If money is not available for the provision of opera houses and theatres, performances do not take place. The Prado buys no more pictures, and I believe that to be right. The Wallace Collection would not benefit if it went on accumulating French furniture.

    In every debate of this sort in which I take part I make a plea that the dozens if not hundreds of pictures kept in the basements of galleries which the public never see should either be exposed to view or ultimately be disposed of by those galleries to people who can enjoy them and see them. I reject the view that huge sums must be spent for prestige purposes. Still more do I reject the view that the buying of art is a good investment.

    The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) touched on the question of the Turners. I agree with him. The main reason for considering housing the Turners in Somerset House is to free space in the Tate Gallery. The Tate has a great many pictures which are seldom if ever seen by the public. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. A hundred Turners would be admirable but 500 or 600 would be too much. I very much enjoy going to the National Gallery in Edinburgh and seeing "Summerhill". I hope very much that the pictures of King George IV's visit to Edinburgh will be returned. I do not think that those pictures would be more enjoyable were they to be with the innumerable Turners in the Tate.

    There seems to be some point in buying pictures which are intimately connected with the history of the country, and I am more sympathetic, though not entirely sympathetic, to the demands of portrait galleries. It may be right to buy a picture of Sterne to keep in England. I regret the dispersal of the remarkable series of pictures at Gifford House outside Edinburgh. I hope that it might be possible to get the great galleries of the world to enter into a mutual self-denying ordinance not to put up the prices of old masters to astronomical limits. It is done simply for prestige purposes and I am sure that it is not a useful use of public funds.

    A purpose for which public money is much needed is the preservation of buildings and areas of cities which are of great beauty and for opera houses and theatres for the performing arts. In this regard I touch on the delicate state of our architecture. Our opera, our music and to a great extent our visual art and our design—I think of the designs of Mary Quant 15 years ago—and of the reputation of our art schools over the last 30 years have reached an international level which has seldom been seen in British art. At the same time our architecture has been appalling. Cannot the Government, the Arts Council or someone do something about the training of architects?

    First, there has been the destruction of Birmingham. That is now being repeated in Glasgow. The Scotsman on Saturday contained an article on Glasgow. What is said in the article is true. Glasgow is awful. Even so, the article does not mention the horrors that have been perpetrated in Glasgow's vast bleak housing schemes or in those inverted matchboxes in the Gorbals. Those atrocities have not been committed by wicked private landlords. They have been committed by public authorities employing supposedly highly qualified architects.

    At least, we should give up believing that architects are fit to plan. If one takes a visitor round the universities and the great cities one sees that the number of buildings built in the last 30 years that are worth looking at can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and most of them were designed by foreigners. Are we to go on pretending that this dehumanised profession which cannot even carry out its proper task properly should be put in charge of the planning of human communities?

    The three points which I wish to put forward are these. First, it is not so important how much money we give to the arts but that we should judge its results by different criteria from expenditure. We should judge its results by the art which flows from it. Secondly, we should concentrate on the living arts, the performing arts, providing artistes with a means of performance and encouraging them, cutting down if necessary upon the accumulation of pictures which are of the greatest artistic merit from the past but which will never-the less be preserved, if not in this country then somewhere else. Thirdly, we should pay attention, particularly in this year, to our legacy of buildings and beautiful cities and villages and do something to improve the standard of architectural training.

    5.20 p.m.

    I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) on his choice of subject. We get few opportunities to debate the organisation and future of the arts. I am sorry that this subject appears to be such a minority interest since the arts comprise a very important part of our lives. Therefore, we should seize this opportunity to make our contributions and we hope that, even in this short debate, our speeches will be read by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with great care.

    I should at the outset declare a certain interest. I hasten to say that it is not a financial interest but its brings me a fair amount of work. I refer to the fact that I followed my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science as Chairman of the Theatre Advisory Council when he relinquished that post to take up his present appointment.

    On 2nd December I took a deputation from the council to see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the vexed problem of VAT on the theatre. The Theatre Advisory Council represents the independent and the subsidised theatres. It represents the Arts Council, the London West End managers and the provincial theatres. The unions in the entertainment world are represented by the Musicians' Union and Equity. Therefore, the council is a very representative body, and when we visited my right hon. Friend we were speaking for the whole of the entertainment industry. I think I can say that he listened to us sympathetically.

    Since that time the Evening Standard has taken up the campaign and it is being supported by members of the theatrical profession. Although not a large amount of money is involved, a very important principle is at stake. I support the view that the price of theatre and concert tickets should not be kept as high as it is at present, for if it is we shall have falling audiences in our theatres and attendances will decline even more than they have declined in latter years.

    I am concerned at the view that the theatre and opera appeal to only a minority of the community. We need to examine the way in which the money now used in the arts is employed. We have a difficult problem of trying to persuade whole sections of the community that the theatre is a place for them. I am afraid that the theatre is regarded as an upper middle-class entertainment. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) mentioned the City of Birmingham and its buildings. It is a surprising fact that although many cities have been rebuilt since the war, the threatres within them are still not supported by the large mass of the people.

    I also happen to be a member of the Round House Management Council, and recently we have been trying to raise money for the redevelopment of that theatre. We seek to transform it into a real community arts centre embracing all sorts of activities and this, I believe will reflect the future development of the theatre. It is a building in which the public can view plays and in which people can put on theatre workshop productions; where they can do photography where amateurs can stage their performances, and indeed where the public can go in much the same way as they attend functions in public houses. People can also take their children in the centre and involve them in play groups, drama and all the rest of it.

    We envisage a building that will be open seven days a week, from 10 o'clock in the morning until midnight or beyond. Films could be screened and late-night pop concerts could be staged. Classical concerts and other activities could also be put on. All these activities would amount to a stimulating and exciting form of community centre.

    We are trying—with limited funds and, I am glad to say, with some help from the Arts Council—to organise the rebuilding of what was an old engine shed at Chalk Farm. To supplement the funds we receive from the Arts Council, we decided to launch an appeal. The appeal was aimed at firms, organisations, trade unions, and so on. I regret to say that the result has been absolutely depressing. We have reached only a small part of our total target. We found very few firms willing to risk even a few thousand pounds, which is not a lot of money for a flourishing and well-established firm to donate. We found the trade unions similarly timid about providing any money at all for what we hoped the trade union movement would regard as a rather exciting project. Therefore, we cannot be sanguine about what can be achieved by such approaches.

    I believe that we shall achieve a thriving and flourishing theatre only if we are able to stimulate all sections of the community to think that the theatre is something for them and something in which they must be involved. Therefore, we need to look at ways and means of attracting people into the theatre, whether it be the drama, ballet or whatever it may be. We might have more success with our efforts if we transform some of our conventional theatres into community arts centres of the kind I have described, and, above all, if those centres were situated in places where people live and work rather than in some beautiful park remote from the community.

    One way in which we could upgrade the whole business of support for the theatre would be by making sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is to reply to the debate, becomes a fully-fledged Minister with his own Department. I believe that there should be such a Minister responsible for this important part of our national life and that he should have the proper backing and support. This will mean nothing less than a Minister with his own Department and entitled Minister for Arts, Culture and Entertainment, or the Minister of Arts and Leisure, or whatever it may be. I hope that this proposal will be considered.

    What has been said so far in the debate about the value of the theatre economically is quite irrefutable. The fact is that in 1973 tourists to Great Britain spent the staggering sum of £872 million. The fact that visits to the London theatres can be put up by travel agents as a bait to travellers is a very important matter to be considered. I know that the theatre is often put forward as a tourist attraction when visits to this country are advertised in the United States.

    One theatre management responsible for four West End theatres has kept a close check on the box office. That management submitted evidence to the Chancellor that about 30 per cent. of its total clientele throughout the year comes from abroad. The theatre is a very important foreign currency earner.

    A total of £3½ million would flow back to theatres if the theatre were zero-rated. This would be excellent insurance to make sure that the money which flows into the country through tourism does not decline. Certainly over the years the total sum flowing from foreign earnings into the United Kingdom has increased, and that is something we want to encourage.

    There is no doubt that many theatres are in darkness because of the existence of VAT. It makes all the difference between a successful show and one which cannot continue because of the increased costs—costs which are being met by theatre managements all over the country.

    I suggest that if we promote my hon. Friend as a fully fledged Minister—and I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State has returned to the Front Bench, since I am anxious to elevate him—and if we develop our theatres on the lines of community art centres, we shall fully involve the whole of the population in all that is going on. I believe that this is a vital way to bring more people into the theatre and with them more financial support.

    I hope it is not too ambiguous to say that, if the Ministry was established on these lines, to aim for about 5 per cent. of the total education Vote might not be unrealistic, not this year or next year, but over three or four years. I do not think it would be unreasonable to hope to get that in order to expand the theatre and music and to stimulate activities of all kinds. We must stimulate creativity by giving opportunities to those who are trained to do the job for which they are trained, and to work in the art form of their choice.

    This is probably one way in which we can stimulate more interest in the theatre and in the arts. Without it I do not think we shall achieve the sort of development that all of us would wish. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to indicate that he is prepared to press on these lines for this additional help.

    I was impressed by what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said about the training of architects. I am not clear whether he was referring to training architects for house building or for the kind of buildings that we are considering today. There is an urgent need to train architects to build the kind of buildings that we shall need in future, such as community art centres or theatres. But theatres tend to be one-off jobs by architects. We have no tradition in the kind of theatre buildings that are needed. I agree that theatres built before 1912 are delightful and beautiful places and most of them ought to be preserved. My hon. Friend would do a great service if he could stimulate architects into designing the kind of buildings that we need for the future.

    5.33 p.m.

    It is an inevitable concept at present that all services which the State subsidises or supplies should be retracted and that logically each should be retracted by a similar amount. In my view, that is a false attitude.

    If there is one area in which the confidence, imagination and development of this country has had success in the past 10 or 15 years, it is in the increase in our cultural stature. Here I pay tribute to the late Aneurin Bevan, who insisted on giving local authorities the capability to make provision for this purpose in the local authority grant to the extent of 4¼d in England and 3¾d in Scotland.

    I have a broad interest in these matters. I was responsible for the development and the existence of the modern Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. I have served on the Edinburgh Festival Council which might be regarded as a more traditional art form. I have been responsible to an extent for the development of various art galleries and theatres in Edinburgh. I have heard a lot today about Covent Garden, Turner, and so forth. Needless to say there are no Scottish Nationalists here, because they belong to a separatist party and not a Scottish party. In the regions—I do not exclude Wales, Mr. Deputy Speaker—there have been remarkable stimuli of cultural capability on very small budgets. I think that this is a matter which must be advanced and not restricted.

    Art is about perfection. It is about élitism and excellence. One cannot cut down on a standard of excellence or artificially stop a movement towards excellence. It is often said—and this argument has been put forward in committee on the Edinburgh Festival—that art is a middle-class or upper-class entertainment. I do not accept that. That is an utterly false attitude. Art is perfection and it is élitist. Unless art is perfection, it is nothing.

    I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. To take a balance of art is wrong. Architecture involves the environment in which all of us live. We allow buildings which are either good or bad works of art to be put up or destroyed. We do not have the same bad standards in other visual concepts.

    Is art a good investment? I think that it is an extremely good investment. I hope that what I propose to say is not too nationalistic, but the Scottish Arts Council exists on £1·9 million. It spends on culture, on a conservative estimate, one-fiftieth of what is spent on the bread subsidy in Scotland. About one-tenth, £274,000, is spent on housing the arts, and that is less than the Government spent on creating four new toll booths at the Forth Bridge Road. The Edinburgh Festival, which is without question the major unchallenged international festival, existed last year on a subsidy of £275,000—less than the cost of four toll booths and their associated lights.

    Now we begin to get the matter into proportion. If the Philadelphia Report is correct, the annual income to the Edinburgh area from those who go there is about £16 million. From this small investment, trade and income worth £16 million is being generated. I pay tribute to Dr. Diamand and those who are involved in the festival for having maintained the standard with so small an investment.

    In Edinburgh there is also the question of the Opera House. In this respect I make a plea to the Minister. When I was first involved in the question of the Opera House it was to cost £2·4 million, but by the time they had dithered the cost had risen to the astronomic sum of £4 million. There has been a futile delay and now the cost is £20 million. If there is one lesson to be learned in the arts, it is that we must invest in the capital of the arts rather than in the income. Although it is normally thought that now is a bad time to invest in the arts, the lesson should be learned by the Minister and impressed on the Chancellor of the Exchequer that now is the best time. Tomorrow is always a worse time.

    The arts cannot drop their standards. If we allow the income of the arts to fall, it will not be possible to run festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival. We cannot have a low-standard international event. Whatever people's incomes may increase to, there is a psychological point above which we cannot raise a price. In the theatre and the arts we have almost reached that point. We shall therefore have to find a way of raising more money.

    I am anxious that there should be more community participation in the arts. I do not like public subsidy of the arts in the way in which the Treasury subsidises false teeth. That is not a good system. I should like the Minister to allow tax relief to companies and individuals so that they can indulge in patronage of a capital object, such as a theatre, opera house or orchestra. That would be of great benefit. If they do not have strong feelings for one or another, let the money be put in a fund which the Arts Council can run. It is bad to have annual accounts, but it is important, when dealing with a subject concerning the way in which the world will judge our civilization, that we should realise that good opera companies, good festivals, good buildings and good exhibitions have an investment value which goes far beyond trivial financial considerations.

    I should be the last person to advocate an increase in Government expenditure, but we must sustain the arts and the quality of the arts—which essentially is in a labour-intensive and therefore inflation-vulnerable sphere of investment—and whatever else we allow to drop and whatever other national difficulties there may be, we must keep our culture and civilisation at a level which all other countries will envy.

    5.43 p.m.

    It is curious that in any discussion of the arts a differentiation soon creeps in between the architects and the remainder of the arts. That was apparent in the speeches of the right hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). It may be a psychological fact of deeper significance than we think.

    Usually artistes are renowned, certainly in literature, for the gaiety of their lives—the demi-monde in which they live and the general attractiveness and sometimes advanced character of their way of life. But it has been pointed out by a great literary authority that it is a curious fact in the history of fiction and literature that there is no recorded case of a heroine in literature losing her reputation or virginity in the company of an architect. That may be a fact of some importance in the diverse considerations which have to be applied first to architecture and then to the other arts.

    Being a county councillor, I declare an interest in this debate as a member of a local authority. I wish to say a few words about the last sentence of the motion so ably moved by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), which proposes that the House should call
    "on the Government to take appropriate measures … to encourage local authorities to"
    multiply public support for the arts.

    Local authorities are in a difficult position. They can ignore the other arts if they wish to do so, but they cannot ignore architecture because of the obligations and powers laid on them by the planning Acts, and increasingly they are, facing practical problems which they cannot avoid relating to historic houses, listed buildings and schemes for maintaining the centres of beautiful towns. Increasingly they face situations in which a building needs to be preserved, a large sum of money is needed to repair it and the owner says to the local authority, "You wish this building to be preserved. What are you prepared to pay towards the cost? "If the bill is to be several thousands of pounds, the local authority usually produces a few hundred pounds. That is unsatisfactory and leaves everyone in a false position—local authority, ratepayers, owner, and the Department of the Environment, which wants the building to be preserved. The public are left in a false position, if they are interested, or, if they are not, think that the money has been wasted.

    That is one aspect of the problem which affects local authorities, but looking at the matter financially it is part of the general problem of the extent to which local authorities should or could contribute to the cause. In local government, now is not an appropriate time to multiply public support for the arts. According to the Government and all the powers-that-be, it is an appropriate, and indeed imperative, time for economising on almost every aspect of local government expenditure. It is not easy to say to local authorities that they must economise and yet spend more money on the arts.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) referred to the forward step taken by the late Aneurin Bevan when he created for local authorities the special capability to spend so much in the pound on the arts. But, in practice, that has not been enough. If we want local authorities to take action, should there not be a new system of finance between central Government and local authorities—in other words, a specific optional grant from the Government in aid of the arts to be administered by local authorities?

    There might be great resentment if a special rate subsidy were paid or authorised every year by the Government, but there should be created a scheme of proportionate or percentage grant whereby up to a stated limit of expenditure local authorities could be told, "To anything which you spend up to this level in the cause of the arts in your area the Government will contribute such-and-such a percentage". That would be a specific encouragement to local authorities and might prevent the reproach that local authorities are not interested in this all-important sphere of their activities.

    5.49 p.m.

    I am specially interested in the way in which we can encourage local authorities and others to support developments in the arts on a regional basis. While I was not a Member of the House for a time, I had the opportunity of helping to establish the Northern Arts Association, or, as it was then, the North-Eastern Association for the Arts, which has proved to be a trail blazer for the other regional bodies which have since been established.

    I welcome the support given to that concept by Governments of both parties. There was the work of Baroness Lee as the Minister with special responsibility for the arts. I am particularly glad that the Government have indicated their good will towards this concept. The Arts Council, in its last published report, said that it welcomed this approach and had every intention of maintaining support on a regional basis. It also called attention to the fact that it is not wholly satisfactory that too great a proportion of the support should come direct from central funds, whether the Arts Council or the Government.

    There is a great deal to be said for insisting that local authorities should face this problem and the inevitable criticism that is bound to come. If local authorities—in a sense, local communities—do not indicate in a fairly clear way their concern about the position, it is unreasonable to expect either the Arts Council or the Government direct to step in and take their place.

    We want some effective form of parnership. I share some of the anxiety expressed by the Arts Council in its last report where it points out that recent figures suggest that it is contributing more than half towards the support of regional work.

    At a time of obvious difficulty and pressure upon local authorities, I am happy that support for the arts in the North has been maintained as well as it has. Since we established the Northern Association for the Arts, support for the arts has increasingly become accepted as a proper and reasonable sphere for public patronage. That was not the position in the past. We had a considerable battle to get this concept accepted, but I am glad that, at least to some degree, it has been achieved.

    I should be happy if local authorities could be persuaded to contribute a good deal more. We cannot burke the issue. It should be discussed openly in our local communities to win the understanding and good will of people for this activity. Broadly speaking, that is what we have been able to do in the North.

    I turn now to the important issue: on what area should we concentrate our support of the arts? Inevitably, there is conflict about this matter. There was a great deal of conflict when I was involved in it. Some of my political friends and others would ask, "How can you justify spending public funds in this way when those who are benefiting or seeking the opportunity of going to the concerts and other works that we are helping to finance largely come from one stratum of society? You are encouraging one group—an élite—and making it possible for them to enjoy what they want to see, but you are not necessarily making a contribution to widening the scope of artistic enjoyment." That is a real problem.

    The frontiers of experience and enjoyment of some of the highest standards of artistic production, whether in music, the theatre, opera, ballet, and so on, are being steadily pushed out. The idea that such works were for a narrow élite group to enjoy is gradually being broken down. There is still a lot of this feeling. We must try to overcome it by encouraging support for a wide range of activities, some of which clearly have much wider support than others. This is where locally-based organisations, regional bodies, are in a better position to pick and choose and to decide what should be given encouragement than is a central body such as the Arts Council.

    In the North we have band contests. Some areas in Northumberland and on Tyneside are still rich in some of the remaining colliery bands. Some famous festivals have been staged over many years. Basically, they were provided for band contests, but they included a good deal of local music, too. These activities have been encouraged and developed with support from the regional centre. What was undoubtedly a limited form of activity has been broadened, and we now have a more extensive and widely supported festival because of the support that has been given by the Regional Arts Council. Because of its interest, a great number of local arts associations have been established which encourage all kinds of local activities, both professional and amateur.

    I believe that the Arts Council has rightly concentrated its whole effort on the support and maintenance of a high standard of excellence of professional work. We would have no hope of seeing ballet, opera, or many of our great orchestras without that support. But we should also encourage effective amateur work. A serious effort should be made to establish a reasonable standard of work. Again, a regional body can do a considerable amount to help for relatively small expenditure. I support the motion because expenditure in this area can do a great deal to fructify a lot of other activity of both an amateur and a professional kind which otherwise would not be available.

    I pay tribute to all those who have helped to ensure that projects started on a regional basis have become nation-wide and we have a level of support which some years ago seemed hopeless even to dream of. They are all under the grip of inflation, like everything else, and therefore need all the support that we can give them. I hope very much that my hon. Friend will be able to increase the support wherever he can so that the standards which we have managed to achieve can be maintained.

    6.0 p.m.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) on his motion, the terms of which I entirely agree with. I read in my Evening Standard yesterday that he said:

    "I am likely to speak for quite some time",
    and I think the hon. Gentleman kept his word. We had not only a tour d'horizon but a tour de sous sol as well.

    I must not complain about that, because the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman closely parallel the views which I have been expressing for a considerable time. If I may allow myself the luxury and indulgence of quoting from an article of my own without, I hope, being mistaken for the Prime Minister, I refer the House to the Sunday Times of 17th November, in which I wrote:
    "With an arts budget so minuscule a substantial increase would have a negligible effect on the economy. Doubling the arts appropriation—and the Arts Minister should demand no less—would still further revitalise the artistic scene in Britain; it would be an investment which would bring immense returns, not only in artistic achievement but in national self-confidence and prestige abroad, and reverberate helpfully even in that most mundane of spheres, the balance of payments."
    It was also the view of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), expressed in a paper called a "Practical Arts Policy" in June 1973, that the amount spent on the arts should be doubled. The hon. Gentleman, who, alas, is not present now, is the best Minister for the Arts that we have not got, and if only the Under-Secretary of State would join us in this campaign for doubling the amount of money spent on the arts harmony and concord would reign in what would become a truly ecumenical endeavour.

    I want to deal first with the general question of principle. It would need a decision at Cabinet level to double the amount of money devoted to the arts. They would have to be treated as a special case and exempted from the cuts in public expenditure. I do not see why that should not be done. I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who has also disappeared at an untimely moment, that it would be a help if the Under-Secretary of State were a full Minister, with his own Department. However, I would go further. The hon. Lady said that she wished to elevate her hon. Friend. I suggest that the Minister for the Arts should be in the Cabinet. The hon. Gentleman looks nervous, but I assure him that he has both the temperament and the profile for it.

    There are three practical reasons why we should support this increase in the arts budget. First, our great successes since the war have been in the arts, and in the performing arts in particular. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbaim)—he, too, has vanished; I hope it is not the effect of my rising to my feet that has denuded the Chamber—that this priority would be in the national interest. We have led the way in ballet, opera and the theatre since the war.

    Secondly—the point has been made frequently during this debate—the sums are small. The grant to the Arts Council last year was £19 million. If that were doubled the sum would hardly be noticed in an education budget approaching £4,000 million. The amount spent on the Arts Council at the moment is less than the cheese subsidy, and palls into significance when one considers other items in the budget which have been detailed by the hon. Member for Leyton.

    The third point is that there would be a direct return on the balance of payments. I yield to no one in my espousal of ars gratia artis, but the arts are not only justified on their own merit; they pay their way. It is perhaps because I am not as middle class as the hon. Member for Leyton that I consider there is nothing vulgar about referring to money in relation to the arts. We want to cornsider money, and the amount the arts earn, because that gets down to the nitty-gritty of the subject. It is true that all the arts, but the performing arts in particular, earn money for this country.

    Many people come to this country for the theatre. In 1971 it was said that 58 per cent. of the tourists coming here gave as a reason for visiting Britain their desire to participate in our theatre. In 1973, in the West End alone, the theatre—that excludes Stratford, Glyndebourne, Edinburgh and the other great regional centres—contributed £12 million to the balance of payments. In 1974, a research project showed that overseas visitors at four West End theatres contributed 35 per cent. of the cash at the box office. Also, there are great gains for exports in the arts. One has only to look at Broadway, New York, and see that of the 21 shows running there 11 are British to realise what a contribution the theatre is making to our balance of payments.

    Compared with what other countries spend on the arts, what we spend is small indeed. France spends a mere £118 million, but that is four times as much as we spend in Britain. Germany spends five times as much as we do, and in Italy expenditure on opera, ballet and drama alone, at £23½ million, exceeds the whole Arts Council grant, so there is room here for considerable improvement. I think that both in principle and in practice it would be desirable to double the amount spent on the arts.

    What are the sources to which we could look? First, there is the Exchequer making grants through the Arts Council, but local government is just as important, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) that there is a dilemma here. We are calling upon local authorities to economise, and at the same time we are asking them to spend more money on particular projects, but I plead in aid once again the smallness of the sums involved.

    When, in July 1973, as a Minister, I addressed the Standing Conference of Regional Arts Associations, I suggested that the desirable division between the Arts Council, the regions and private sources was one-third each. In 1973–74, unhappily the balance had tipped further away in favour of central Government. Seventy per cent. came from the Arts Council, local authorities, provided 20 per cent., and 8 per cent. came from other sources. I ask the Minister what he intends doing about this.