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Cultural Co-Operation

Volume 124: debated on Monday 14 December 1987

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To ask the Minister for the Arts what steps he is taking to further European cultural co-operation.

I attended an informal meeting in Copenhagen last week of European Community Ministers responsible for cultural affairs. This provided a useful exchange of views on a variety of matters which are to be considered subsequently in more detail at official level. In September I attended the fifth conference of Council of Europe Ministers responsible for cultural affairs in Portugal, at which public and private funding of the arts was the major topic.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom's bilateral co-operation with our EEC partners, including Greece, is in good repair? In view of the great budgetary pressures on the EEC, will he discourage grandiose and expensive schemes from Europe which would pre-empt large national contributions?

I can confirm that bilateral relations in respect of cultural affairs with all our European partners seem to be in good order. So far as the wider front of Community action is concerned, I agree with my hon. Friend's comments that we do not gain, either in this country or elsewhere, from vast grandiose schemes in the European Community. However, there are certain matters, for example, sponsorship and heritage conservation, where we can all gain from co-operation. I am glad that, as a result of the meeting last week, we agreed that we should take the pragmatic and practical approach to these matters.

In encouraging European cultural co-operation, will the Minister give an assurance that he will not overlook the needs of minority cultures, particularly Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales?

These matters have come up from time to time and they featured last week. It is worth making the point that a resolution was passed during the British presidency a year ago supporting the idea that money should he made available for translations of works, particularly from minority communities. I hope that that will be a contribution.

Has my right hon. Friend thought of getting all the European Ministers for Arts and Culture together to persuade the Finance Ministers that we in Britain have by far the best system of VAT when it comes to literature and reading matter?

Given that, in our imperialist past, we looted many of the art treasures of Europe and brought them here—I am thinking primarily of the Parthenon marbles — does the Minister think that it is now appropriate to initiate a general discussion between Culture Ministers in Europe to try to eliminate the legacy of bitterness brought about by that theft? Does he further agree that arrangements could perhaps be made for a civilised exchange of various national art treasures looted from one European country by another?

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the oceans of the world would be extremely busy in all directions if we were to fulfil what he is advocating. It is not just a matter of objects of art in this country which, for one reason or another, originated from other countries. The same applies to many other parts of the world. If we start down that road, where shall we end?