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Commons Chamber
05 May 1994
Volume 242

House Of Commons

Thursday 5 May 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Federation Of Street Traders Union (London Local Authorities Act 1990) (Amendment) Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 12 May.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Sugar, Bananas And Rum

1.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consideration she has given, in the context of the Lomé review, to improvements to the protocols on sugar, bananas and rum; and if she will make a statement.

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I confirm that the United Kingdom would welcome some improvements in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries' access to European Union markets for rum, sugar and bananas.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but he will recognise that the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations, on which so much praise has been lavished, has been a disaster for many developing countries, particularly those that had special access to the European Community under Lomé. When he considers common agricultural policy reform, therefore, will he think laterally as well as longitudinally, and look to the outside as well as the inside to ensure that there is no effect on third world countries? In particular, will he persuade the rest of the Ministry of that, including his redoubtable Europhile boss?

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My boss is a redoubtable person, but the hon. Gentleman's other comments are a matter for another place and another debate. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the various protocols on trade in rum, sugar and bananas between the ACP countries and the European Union are discussed by separate regimes. Difficulties have arisen with the banana regime as a direct consequence of the GATT negotiations, but sugar and rum essentially remain free of that encumbrance. In considering both GATT and the European Union-ACP relationship, we fight hard for producing countries with special interests in rum, bananas and sugar. The hon. Gentleman has a special and continuing interest in the matter and I will gladly afford him the opportunity to hold a further meeting to discuss it more fully.

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Is not the situation extremely serious for many of our former colonies which produce bananas? The banana police, or whoever supervises such matters, have not been sufficiently active. The French are subsidising their former colonies. What does the Minister propose to do to deal with the serious problem faced by the unfortunate people in our former colonies?

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With respect, the serious problem with which we had to deal involved a challenge from the banana-producing Latin America countries, which lodged a complaint within GATT. That challenge has been successfully resolved. The resolution of that problem was the inhibiting factor which presented a major challenge to the opportunities available to our Caribbean producers as well as those in Africa and others associated with the European Union. Further opportunities remain for ACP banana producers to expand their commercial chances of selling their bananas in the European Union.

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Is the Minister aware that consumers in this country want bananas that taste like bananas? If we continually import central American bananas, which taste like soap, he will not fulfil his task in relation to the British consumer or to producers in the Caribbean, who are dependent on that crop for their income.

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We have fought tirelessly for the interests of Caribbean banana producers. We are particularly aware of the acute difficulties of Belize and the Windward Islands in that respect. I take my hat off to those Caribbean states for their attempts to improve the quality of their bananas. The hon. Lady practises an unfortunate discrimination. The consumer must have freedom of choice, in which Conservative Members passionately believe.

Organic Aid Scheme

2.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps are being taken to promote the new organic aid scheme.

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Once the scheme has been given approval by the Commission, we plan to give it full publicity.

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My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the excellent Luddesdown Court organic farm in my constituency. In what way will the new scheme assist farmers to bring further acreage into organic farming?

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I am indeed aware of the excellence of Luddesdown Court in my hon. Friend's constituency. When the scheme is approved, we shall be able to increase the number of organic producers. We plan to increase their number threefold so that the excellence that my hon. Friend describes in his constituency of Gravesham will, we hope, be replicated elsewhere.

Milk Marketing

3.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement on the talks between her Department and the milk marketing board on the question of vesting day.

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The milk marketing board has proposed a vesting day of 1 November 1994 in its reorganisation scheme.

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I am a little concerned about the reply that the Minister has just given. She has not yet stated that 1 November is a definite date. In that context, may I remind her that lethargy on the part of her Ministry has delayed vesting day by some six months and that the delay is likely to cost the dairy industry some £60 million or more? If there is a delay beyond 1 November, will she underwrite any further losses that the dairy industry is likely to suffer as a consequence?

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I see no reason at present for speculation that the 1 November vesting day will have to be postponed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have just been out to consultation on the board's amended scheme. Obviously, we are considering carefully all the comments that we have received before we decide whether to approve the scheme under the terms of the Agriculture Act 1993. We will make our decision as quickly as we can, within our responsibilities as outlined in the Act. The hon. Gentleman should understand—no doubt he does—that it is vital that the scheme should be right, given the importance and in some cases the vulnerability of the 29,000 milk producers in Britain and the 50 million consumers.

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First, I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting my constituency of Macclesfield last Friday. During that visit, she met a large number of representatives of the National Farmers Union, many of whom are among the 29,000 milk producers whom she has just mentioned. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is immense support among my farmers for Milk Marque and the wonderful job that the milk marketing board has done? Is she aware that they want to be reassured that in any future system those farmers who produce milk on hill or marginal land will still be able to have their milk collected daily so that farms continue to be viable in those critical areas?

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I greatly enjoyed my visit to Macclesfield and found my conversations with my hon. Friend's farmers of great value. I am aware of the concern among those producers, some of whom are, indeed, very vulnerable and dependent on the arrival of the milk lorry and, equally, on the arrival of the milk cheque, which is just as important. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are sympathetic to the principle of the establishment of a single voluntary body to succeed the MMB, which has done good service for the past 60 years. That is why we are taking so seriously our consideration of the board's proposals before giving our final approval.

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In considering at what point to make her statement, will the Minister consider the possibility of obtaining a cast iron guarantee from those organisations that have indulged in delaying tactics—notably the Dairy Trade Federation—that they will not seek to delay the scheme any further after her decision by, for example, referring the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission or the European Commission or seeking an injunction in the courts? Will she obtain that guarantee so that milk producers throughout the country can be assured that we can progress towards a successful conclusion of the talks?

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I would certainly deplore any delaying tactics from whichever source they came.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that milk farmers in my constituency—those who are in favour of Milk Marque as well as those who wish to join some other marketing scheme—are sick and tired of the delays in ending this problem? Will she take on board not only what has been said in the House today but the many letters that I know she has received from farmers throughout the country? Does she agree that it would be wrong to put in place a scheme that could suddenly be challenged by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission or even by the European Commission and that we want a scheme that will last as long as the milk marketing board has lasted?

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Of course the delay is unwelcome. It is also very worrying for milk producers and everyone else involved in the milk industry. My hon. Friend was right to underline the importance of getting the scheme right, particularly those aspects that might be of interest to the competition authorities.

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As the first vesting date was postponed, there is no reason to assume that the new vesting date of 1 November will not also be postponed. Does the right hon. Lady accept that the longer the delay, the greater the number of producers who will sign up with other creameries? That will leave a much smaller number of producers to sign up for the revised scheme proposed by the MMB. Therefore, the delay is very damaging. Will the right hon. Lady make the very earliest decision on the revised scheme that has been submitted to her for approval?

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I stress again that I deplore the delay. It is unsettling and sometimes has the results and effects described by the right hon. Gentleman. I assure him that no unnecessary delay will emanate from the Ministry, but we need to get the scheme right.

Farm Diversification

4.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement about the Government's policy on farm diversification.

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My right hon. Friend has recently launched four rural economy booklets whose intention is to provide farmers with easy access to information on how to develop, diversify and improve their businesses.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government's support for diversification is being threatened by an Inland Revenue decision that the various components of a diverse rural enterprise should be treated as discrete entities for tax purposes? Will he and his colleagues, both in MAFF and in other Departments, take seriously the constructive proposals from the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association on how the problem might be overcome?

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My hon. Friend asks his question at an appropriate time because currently £70 million of farm output in England and Wales is accounted for by diversified activity. At the heart of his question lies a report by Sir Michael Bunbury, which has already been the subject of discussion with my colleagues at the Treasury. As a result of that, I understand that Sir Michael has been asked to do further work on the subject. That is where the matter rests, but I will draw my hon. Friend's concern to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury.

Common Agricultural Policy

5.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress she has made in seeking a common agricultural policy which gives better value for money.

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The UK played a major part in achieving the 1992 CAP reform, which is progressively encouraging farmers to depend less on price support and more on the market.

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Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that in the further negotiations on the CAP, Britain and the Commission will do everything possible to put a high priority on combating fraud, which is causing some concern to my constituents in Basildon?

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I am happy to give that reassurance to my hon. Friend and his constituents. The people of Basildon and elsewhere in the UK feel strongly about this matter and they expect the Government to pursue fraud wherever it occurs. I assure my hon. Friend that I intend to do that with all the force of which I am capable.

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As there are now to be four new members of the European Union is it not time to get rid of the sillier features of its arrangements? The CAP certainly qualifies in that respect. Not one change to the CAP resulted from Maastricht—indeed, the treaty made no reference to agriculture. Surely we now have a great opportunity to get rid of anti-social and anti-democratic measures.

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The common agricultural policy has a number of unwelcome features. One is that its cost is far too high and is not sustainable. We cannot expect agriculture, which represents 5 per cent. of the Community's gross domestic product, to continue to account for 54 per cent. of the EC budget. That is why the Government constantly argue that the cost of the CAP should be brought down and that some of its other features that distort the market and restrain competitiveness and innovation, such as quotas and supply controls, should be removed.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proportion of the EC budget that has gone to maintain the CAP fell from 70 per cent. in 1988 to 50 per cent this year? While that is a welcome move, it is not nearly enough. We must move much further in that direction because, among other things, the CAP charges taxpayers tax so that food can be sold back to them at a higher price than they would otherwise have had to pay.

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The reformed CAP will result in reduced prices for consumers—something like £2 billion less for taxpayers and consumers in Britain by the end of the period. Nevertheless, as I said, such a high percentage —54 per cent. to benefit 5 per cent. of EC gross domestic product—is not acceptable or sustainable in the longer term.

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Does the Minister agree that it is costing approximately £28 a week for every family in Britain to sustain the CAP? Since she has the ear of the Prime Minister and speaks up for him on occasion, albeit misguidedly, as she did last weekend, can she tell us whether she has consulted him on the idea that is being floated—that there should be a referendum on Europe to resolve the Common Market problem—and tell me what the answer is?

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I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's figures, which are misguided. Nor do I agree with anything else that he says at any time, including his suggestion about a referendum.

Animal Diseases

7.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement on progress on the steps taken to prevent the spread of animal diseases from abroad.

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We recently announced newly strengthened measures to monitor imports of live animals to ensure that our very high animal health status is safeguarded.

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Is my hon. Friend aware of the great dangers posed by the possible importation of warbled cattle from France? Can he assure the House that the strongest possible representations are being made to French vets to ensure the continuing good health of our livestock?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is clearly voicing the concerns of farmers in his constituency. That matter is of profound concern to farmers and I am happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. A number of consignments of warbled cattle from France have been discovered through post-import checks by our vets. Following the most strenuous representations by the chief veterinary officer to his opposite number in France, the cattle have been returned whence they came.

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Is the Minister aware that evidence given to me and to the Select Committee on Agriculture suggests that potentially infected imported cattle are being distributed from places other than registered dealers without any checks by Ministry officials? Will he ensure that all imported cattle can be reliably tracked within the European Union and the United Kingdom, or will we face the prospect of disease epidemics in the UK?

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The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the great concern, energy and effort that the Ministry puts into the matter. I am happy to give him the assurances that he seeks. Furthermore, the regime that we have applied includes extensive checks other than those that are statutorily required. We will continue to maintain our high animal health status, which is a very high priority for the Department. I should be happy if the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to send me whatever evidence he has so that we can pursue the matter.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that Gloucester market is one of those through which many warble-infected cattle have been sold and that my constituents and Gloucestershire farmers will be pleased to hear what he has said on the matter?

Is he further aware that considerable difficulties are being caused in west Gloucestershire, where cattle have caught tuberculosis from TB-infected badgers? I know that my hon. Friend is making strenuous efforts to control the infected badger population throughout the west country. Will he have a purge of TB-infected badgers in west Gloucestershire in the interests of farmers and of public health?

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My hon. Friend is right to say that TB in badgers is a matter of prime concern to farmers. I know from the representations that he has already made to me of the great concern felt in west Gloucestershire about it. I can assure my hon. Friend—

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Reassure him.

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I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Ministry will not rest until we have managed to bring the problem under control. Because of the scale and seriousness of the problem, it takes a great deal of time to catch badgers, test them and deal with them in a humane and proper manner. We have a big problem on our hands and we must get on to it. The work of the technicians involved is not helped by those who seek to disrupt it in a fundamentally irresponsible manner.

Milk Marketing Board

8.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made concerning the future of the milk marketing board; and if she will make a statement.

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I will decide whether to approve the board's reorganisation scheme as quickly as our responsibilities under the Agriculture Act 1993 allow.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that farmers in my constituency of High Peak share the concern of other farmers at the delay in announcing the new structure for the milk marketing board? Can she reassure the House that the final structure will properly reflect the interests of the small dairy farmers and not simply the interests of large commercial milk producers?

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One of the reasons why we need to examine the board's proposals so carefully is precisely the need to consider the concerns and interests of 29,000 milk producers, 50 million consumers and those whose business is connected with the milk industry. I greatly regret the delay, but I do not see any reason why we should put off approval after 1 November. Any sort of delaying tactics on the part of any of the parties involved will not be accepted.

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Is it not true that if Mr. Andrew Dare and his colleagues had submitted the right scheme some time ago there would have been no delay and no need for complaints to be made in Parliament? May I ask the right hon. Lady a very simple question? Is the principle of regional crops completely off the agenda?

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I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the main thrust of the Agriculture Act 1993 is that there should be a strong voluntary co-operative, which also offers market freedom for other producers to sign up to sell their milk where they find it in their best interest to do so. The first submission from the milk marketing board required a great deal of work and it is true that that has caused some of the delay.

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Is it not preposterous that earlier this afternoon the right hon. Lady deplored and blamed on others a delay which derives from legislation? As the Opposition argued during the passage of the 1993 Act, it is absolutely clear that if responsibility for the reorganisation scheme had been given to the Government and not to the milk marketing boards this state of affairs would never have occurred. Does the Minister accept that radical changes are no longer consistent with starting the new arrangements on 1 November?

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The hon. Gentleman's hostility to a freer market for milk is well known and was well rehearsed during the passage of the 1993 Act. I repeat that no delay has been caused by the Ministry. We want that delay, which is causing so much anxiety to producers, to be brought to a speedy end.

Woodlands

9.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture,Fisheries and Food what progress she has made on reaching a conclusion on the future of woodlands owned by the Forestry Commission in England; and if she will make a statement.

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The report of the Forestry Review Group was submitted to Ministers on 28 February. We are now considering the report carefully and will make an announcement in due course.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Current Forestry Commission policy takes due account of landscape protection, nature conservation and broad-leaved planting. Many of my constituents in Blaby are concerned that any future plans arising from decisions of the Forestry Review Group should take due account of those issues and especially of the so-called freedom to roam and of access to forests. Will my hon. Friend please reassure my constituents on those matters?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that matter on behalf of his constituents, who enjoy opportunities to roam freely, as he said, in the existing forest environment. We asked the Forestry Review Group to consider that specific issue and have received about 3,600 individual representations, all emphasising people's anxieties about this important matter. Ministers now considering that report will bear fully in mind the representations of my hon. Friend and others.

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Is my hon. Friend aware of representations that we are receiving from our constituents —and, in my case, people living in Norfolk—about access to Forestry Commission woodlands? Will he reassure my constituents and others who are genuinely worried about that matter?

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I can certainly underline what I have just said in reply to the question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)—that this has been one of the central issues that the Forestry Review Group has considered. In addition to the 3,600 individual representations, about 600 organisations have made representations, many of them emphasising their anxieties about the central issue to which my hon. Friend referred. I can say to him unequivocally that the importance of the point is lost neither on the Forestry Review Group nor on Ministers, who are considering it.

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But surely the Minister understands that hundreds of thousands of people in this country enjoy walking and cycling—indeed, they enjoy doing all sorts of things in our state forests. Surely he also understands that when a state forest is privatised, public access is restricted or totally prohibited. Whether it is in relation to forestry, railways or local government services, is the Minister aware that the vast majority of the people of the country are fed up with privatisation, and that that is only one reason why so many of them will vote against the Conservative party today?

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The hon. Gentleman's question shows that he definitely cannot see the woods for the trees. I shall not comment on what he and his hon. Friends may be doing in the woods, but I repeat that Ministers are considering the conclusions to be reached from the results of the work of the Forestry Review Group. He will know that, in cases where forest land has been sold, a safeguard to access already exists in the form of access agreements reached with local authorities before the sale of that land. Sadly, the opportunities have not been taken up as widely as they might have been. Whatever the results of the review may be—and those results have not yet been decided—those mechanisms exist to protect the important rights of access for the enjoyment of our citizenry.

I think that when members of the public reflect on the broad-based, full exercise that we are conducting in considering forestry arrangements, they will consider supporting us through the ballot box this afternoon.

Agricultural Tenancies

11.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made concerning reform of the agricultural tenancy laws.

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The details of new legislation are being finalised. We are keen to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time is available.

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I am grateful for that answer, but does my right hon. Friend accept that the widespread agreement among all interested organisations last December clearly demonstrated that it is widely recognised that there is an urgent need for agricultural tenancy reform—a need to which we should respond?

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I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that there is real need for reform. He may know that the agricultural valuers produced a survey which demonstrated that, when tenancies end, only 10 per cent. of landlords who have a free choice choose to re-let holdings on full tenancies. In other words, the lack of reform is paralysing that sector of the industry. It was very good news that all the organisations concerned reached agreement last December, which is why we hope to build on that agreement by pressing for parliamentary time.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in Norfolk and East Anglia, where many young people want to go into farming, there is a problem with the availability of tenancies? Does she also agree that, so long as we achieve complete agreement on all sides, there should be complete freedom of contract for all new tenancies?

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Yes. We do, indeed, need reform to increase lettings. We want to increase opportunities for new entrants and to help the industry to respond to market and policy changes. There is no reason why arrangements between landlords and tenants in that sector should differ substantially from such arrangements in other sectors.

Livestock Identification

12.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations she has received about difficulties experienced in the industry with livestock identification systems.

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A lengthy consultation exercise was held last year on the proposals to implement EC directive 92/102 on the identification and registration of livestock. There were 60 responses to the consultation document, and many meetings with interested organisations. Their views have been taken into consideration.

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Have not the present arrangements for tracing animals to control fraud and outbreaks of disease proved to be inadequate? Has not the Government's mishandling of the new system caused a delay, with the result that the new arrangements will be implemented not on 1 July but on 1 November, four months later than expected?

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The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect only: plainly, the scheme is important not only for the prevention of fraud but for the control of disease. Following the consultation exercise with the industry, we have been in close and regular contact with the industry organisations on the detailed arrangements. Our aim is to achieve a smooth transition to the new arrangements. To that end, we have decided to allow an extra three months, between 1 July and 30 September this year, during which calves may be marked with either new or old-style ear tags. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to describe that arrangement as having been a muddle. It has been carried out in an orderly, sensible and proper fashion, allowing people the right amount of time to get organised.

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I welcome the news that EC directive 92/102 is being given more time to be considered, but would point out that it is one of a series of alterations to cattle identification that have taken place in the past few years. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that it will be the last alteration for some time and that the system will be clear when it is altered?

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My hon. Friend will agree that the position will be perfectly clear when that regime comes into play. I can reassure him that we take seriously the point that he makes, which is consistent with the fact that, to protect the consumer and prevent fraud, the correct identification of cattle throughout the European Union is a matter of cardinal importance.

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Is there evidence to indicate that cattle from English farms are going through the Province of Northern Ireland into the Republic and then being transported to other parts of the European Union?

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I have read the reports to which the hon. Gentleman alludes and I think that it is inherently unlikely that anything so complicated could be dreamed up.

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Will my hon. Friend confirm that something along the lines of this particular scheme, together with the burdensome but necessary integrated administration and control system, is vital to control fraud and assure proper allocation of Community money, as referred to in an earlier question? As a member of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, which has occasionally delivered the odd brickbat against my hon. Friend's Department, may I say how much farmers in my constituency and elsewhere appreciate the help that they received last year and, we hope, will receive this year, from departmental officials in responding to those complex schemes for the evasion of fraud?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to pay tribute to the work of the regional offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the marvellous staff, who do a tremendous job in assisting farmers with those schemes, which are—as he knows because he has been in close touch with us on those matters —more complicated than we would wish. The schemes are essential and it is our intention to ensure that they are pragmatically, efficiently and sensibly handled. To that end, I am glad to have my hon. Friend's endorsement of the steps that we have taken to introduce the animal identification scheme in a sensible and orderly manner.

Environmentally Sensitive Areas

13.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will report on progress on the introduction of the new environmentally sensitive areas.

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I am pleased to be able to confirm to the House that six new environmentally sensitive areas were launched on 16 March, bringing the total number in England to 22. Those cover more than 1 million hectares or 10 per cent. of English farmland.

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My hon. Friend is aware of the beautiful countryside of Surrey in which my constituency is located and so will appreciate my constituents' great interest in environmental matters. How much is he spending on the new environmentally sensitive areas and how much is he spending on environmental protection generally?

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I hope that many of my hon. Friend's constituents will be able to enjoy the delights of the environmentally sensitive areas, particularly those in the upper Thames region. Current expenditure will be £18 million, and, with the enlargement to 22 environmentally sensitive areas, that sum will increase to £43 million in 1995–96. In that financial year, the proposals will take their part in a programme valued at more than £100 million, which covers a wide range of environmental schemes.

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Has the Minister heard stories of some very large payments of hundreds of thousands of pounds being made to some farmers in various parts of the United Kingdom? Is he absolutely satisfied that the amounts of money that are being paid in some cases are warranted?

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The word "stories" implies a lack of precision and a great deal of rumour. I have had reports of accurate payments to farmers. Under the integrated administration and control system, arable area payments have been correctly and properly administered. If the hon. Gentleman has stories about that scheme or about environmentally sensitive areas and lets me know, I will look into them.

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In considering environmental sensitivity, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that a large number of people suffer from hay fever? Oilseed rape is a particularly virulent source of that affliction. Will he seek to balance the interests of farming prosperity with the interests of the health and well-being of people who live in country areas and pursue work through the research councils with a view to ensuring that this unfortunate by-product of some of our staple crops is reduced and perhaps eliminated?

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I can confirm that there is much research going on in that subject. I feel that the thrust of my hon. Friend's question is better directed to the Department of Health and to those who issue weather and pollen forecasts. There is much interest in growing oilseed rape, which is an important crop for our farmers. There are other ways of dealing with the problems encountered by individuals.

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I welcome that reply, but does my hon. Friend accept that environmentally sensitive areas and other forms of area designation must be considered in conjunction with industry's legitimate needs? If we pay too much attention to the environment—given the pressures that can exist—we can sometimes positively damage rather than enhance it. Unfashionable though it may be to say it, we must achieve the right balance.

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My hon. Friend may have noted that implicit in an earlier answer that I gave on farm diversification was the message that we want economic activity to develop in the countryside. Part of the key to achieving that is to take a sensible and flexible approach to planning. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Ministry is involved in seminars dealing with those particular issues. The Department of the Environment is aware of the sensitivities of the matters that lie at the heart of my hon. Friend's question.

Fruit And Vegetables

14.

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pursuant to her answer of 19 April, Official Report, column 443, what was the cost to the EC of destruction and disposal of fruit and vegetables in 1991–92.

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Based on information provided by the Commission, the total cost to the European Union of withdrawing all eligible produce throughout the Community in 1991–92 was £104.35 million.

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Is not it sickening that that vast sum is being spent on the destruction of 751,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables for the sole purpose of keeping prices high, thereby damaging the poorest families in the land? Rather than just deploring this cruel nonsense, could not the Government say that there is no way that they will present any legislation to the House of Commons to increase the resources of the Economic Community until something is done about this nonsense, which is sickening and wrong?

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Had my hon. Friend been here a little earlier, he would have heard what I said in response to other questions about the efforts that this Government have made to control European Union spending and the agriculture budget. On the question of the intervention scheme for fruit and vegetables, we are at one with my hon. Friend in seeking radical reform of the regime. It is doing significant damage to the prospects of our apple growers, for example, and in the Council of Ministers we are pursuing that line of argument very vigorously indeed.

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What progress is being made in the talks in the Council of Ministers about the fruit and vegetable regime?

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We are currently preparing a detailed submission about the types of reforms that we should like to see in this area. We have listened very carefully to the industry. I know that the industry understands that if its objective to receive a grubbing-up grant is to be achieved, for example, we must also have a parallel development in the form of the removal of the intervention scheme, particularly as it affects apples.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

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In marking this month the 50th anniversary of R. A. Butler's Education Act, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government's commitment to ensuring that every child in this country receives a rigorous, demanding and high-quality education? Will he reaffirm the Government's commitment to enlarging choice and opportunity for parents and pupils alike?

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That Act was certainly a very revolutionary Act of Parliament, and one which has made a great difference to our education system over the years. At that time, eight out of 10 children left school at age 14. Thankfully, today almost one in three children go on to higher education. What we need to do—I hope that this is a view shared by the whole House—is build on that achievement by giving parents more choice, raising standards in schools and creating opportunities for every child to make the most of his or her abilities.

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Can the Prime Minister tell us why changes in gas pricing are being planned which will put substantial increases on the gas bills of 12 million ordinary people—the very same people who will have to pay 8 per cent. VAT this year and 17.5 per cent. next year? Does not he think that they are paying enough already?

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The right hon. and learned Gentleman would be wise to wait and find out what really happens. I have seen myself the newspaper reports on which he is no doubt basing his remarks. I understand that the gas regulator believes that there is no evidence to back up those claims and that the director of the Gas Consumers Council has said that British Gas was scaremongering.

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If the Prime Minister is so confident about that, can he specifically deny that pensioners on a basic rate pension will face a 21 per cent. increase in their gas bills? Can he give them that guarantee today?

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The right hon. and learned Gentleman is yet again—

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We want a guarantee.

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If the hon. Gentleman will wait. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is yet again taking a story and attempting to erect a scare to frighten vulnerable people. He knows very well that the Department of Trade and Industry and the gas regulator will be issuing a consultative document shortly.

I suggest that, before he peddles more scares, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have the grace to wait for that document. I also remind the House that British Gas tariff prices were reduced from July 1992, reduced further from October 1992 and have fallen by more than 4 per cent. in cash terms and 6.5 per cent. in real terms in the past year.

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Does not the Prime Minister recognise that the Gas Consumers Council has not only complained; it has pointed out that the consultative document was agreed last month but is being delayed because of today's elections? Does not the Prime Minister understand that delaying bad news until after elections is the sort of behaviour that is bringing the Conservative party into the disrepute for which it will suffer at the polls today?

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The right hon. and learned Gentleman is earning himself a deserved reputation for smears that will do him and his party no good. What is proposed in due course is a consultative document that will be published shortly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would be wise to wait until he reads that consultative document; he would be wise not to misrepresent it and he would be wise to remind everybody how real prices in gas have fallen as a result of measures taken in the past.

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Does my right hon. Friend share my contempt for those who seek to make £1 million from the sale of secretly taken photographs, irrespective of whether the victim is a member of the royal family or an individual private citizen? What steps can the Government take to stop people in Britain profiting from such despicable behaviour?

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My hon. Friend will speak for millions of people in this country in the remarks that he has made. I will reflect on the second half of his question.

Q2.

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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I refer the hon. and learned Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

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Does the Prime Minister accept the view of senior defence chiefs that, as a result of cuts in the defence budget, Britain could no longer mount an operation even on the scale of our part in the Gulf war? Is not it a grotesque betrayal of this country that his party, which has so long and so wrongly accused the Labour party of stripping Britain of its defences, has now done just that?

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For years, the hon. and learned Gentleman's party and Front-Bench spokesmen have sought to strip Britain of its nuclear weapons, dismantle a large part of its armed forces and cut down substantial expenditure on the armed forces. The one party in Parliament that consistently ensures this country's capacity to defend itself is this party—and this Government. That has been the case in the past, it is the case now and it will remain the case in future, however much the hon. and learned Gentleman tries to distort reality.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a solution to the sale of photographs of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales for £1 million: we could swiftly introduce a privacy Bill and ensure that there is no public interest defence available in that Bill?

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I note carefully my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Q3.

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

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In view of the latest Home Office estimates suggesting that it will cost £475 million to issue identity cards in Britain, with ongoing costs of £50 million to £100 million each year, is the Prime Minister now prepared to abandon his scheme and put some of that money into my constituency, which is sixteenth in the whole of Great Britain in terms of unemployment? Would not the money be better spent on the regeneration of the city of Nottingham?

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The hon. Gentleman neglected to mention that unemployment has fallen 27 per cent. in his constituency.

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I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. It has fallen in his constituency, but in the constituency of the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), who may not mention unemployment, it has dropped 27 per cent. On the question raised by the hon. Gentleman, I made it clear the other day that we are examining the question of identity cards, and I think that if the hon. Gentleman were to go to his constituency and ask his constituents, he would find a very high level of support for the principle of identity cards provided that we are able to overcome the practical difficulties in introducing them.

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Has my right hon. Friend had the chance to look at this week's figures which show a dramatic reduction in the number of home repossessions and which come on top of figures showing that the number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has fallen by two thirds in the past two years, and that the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London is also down by two thirds? Does not that show that the Government's policies to tackle homelessness are clearly working?

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Yes, the figures are certainly very encouraging. There is no doubt that the number of repossessions has been falling for some time, and fortunately shows signs of continuing to fall. Moreover, the housing market seems to be picking up, and new construction orders are on the increase.

This is all part of the much brighter economic picture that is becoming clearer as day succeeds day.

Q4.

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

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I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has the right answer this time.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, according to its chief executive, the Child Support Agency is now collecting less than the DSS did last year? Is he further aware that, on top of the fact that the CSA is chasing millions of the wrong people and causing misery to many more, and the fact that it has cost £146 million to set up, it is time for a review of the agency so that it can start to chase the right people who are paying nothing at all?

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If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he might care to check his figures before asking any future questions. The agency, is bringing in a significant new system from scratch. That system has broad support right across the House and beyond it. It is in its first year—the first of a series of years in which the strategy will be examined. I do not think that it can be compared simplistically with past figures. We are seeking to bring in a new system that is right in principle. I have made it clear before, and I reiterate now, that, if there are any wrinkles, we will keep them under examination and correct them.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware—further to his answer to a question about whether we could fight the Gulf war now on our present defence programme—that if we followed the policy of the Labour party, which proposes a £6 billion cut in our defences, it would be impossible to provide our forces with the equipment that they need? With the new order for Challenger tanks, with the Warrior, and with the European fighter aircraft, the answer to the question about the Gulf war is surely a definite yes: we would be well equipped for any such future campaign.

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My right hon. Friend speaks with the authority of a former Secretary of State for Defence, and I entirely agree with what he had to say. A great many extra resources have been put into providing the best, most modern equipment for our armed forces.

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No, they have not.

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A great deal of expenditure has been put into providing the best equipment for the armed forces. If the hon. Gentleman does not think so, perhaps he will go and ask Vickers and some other companies what they think they are producing.

Q5.

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

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In 1988, the Government decided that they would allow pensioners claiming rebates to have £3,000 in savings. Since then, the figure has never been index-linked, and in relative values it would now be worth £3,960. When will the Government review it?

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The figure is reviewed from time to time. I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that it has not been changed since 1981. It is reviewed on each occasion on which we look at the uprating of pensions and other social security benefits.

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I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the grim tragedy that overwhelmed my constituency in the early hours of this morning, when a 33–year-old mother and her baby were killed in a fire at a DSS hostel in Scarborough. In March, the Government announced that they would consider a licensing scheme for such hostels. In view of this distressing incident, will the Prime Minister ask the Secretary of State to proceed with that scheme as a matter of urgency?

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I was very concerned to hear about the tragic loss of life and the appalling injuries in the fire. We are, as my hon. Friend intimates, investigating the feasibility of introducing a licensing system to control such establishments. There are of course wide-ranging powers for local authorities to enforce fire safety standards in such hostels, and a full inquiry by the fire brigade into the cause of the blaze has already begun. I will of course look carefully at my hon. Friend's request.

Q6.

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

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Can the Prime Minister tell us why his Government are failing to collect the £240 million a year in national insurance contributions due from employers, as outlined in today's Financial Times? Is not this another example of the waste and inefficiency of the Government that the right hon. Gentleman leads? Why does not he do something to ensure that that money is collected, instead of slapping massive tax increases on ordinary families?

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The Inland Revenue certainly tries to collect all the tax that is available. That has always been the case. If tax is due, everything is done to ensure that it is paid. I hope that the hon. Lady will address her strictures also to the large number of Labour authorities that do not collect rents or council taxes and have run up quite shocking debts—not on one or two isolated occasions, but on a very large number of occasions.

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Like Westminster.

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If the hon. Gentleman who has shouted "Like Westminster" wants to know which local authorities have rent arrears, I shall tell him: Hackney, run by Labour; Southwark, run by Labour. One could extend the list. Seven out of the top 10 authorities on it are run by Labour. They do not collect rents or council taxes and are just plain inefficient.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

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Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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Yes, Madam. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 9 MAY—Motion on the Draft Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs.

Motion on the Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order.

Motion on the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) (Amendment) Order.

Motion on the Merchant Shipping (Ro-ro Passenger Ship Survivability) (No. 2) Regulations.

Motion on the immigration (European Economic Area) Order.

Motion to take note of EC Documents Nos. 10166/93 and 11317/93 relating to aid for restructuring the Italian steel industry. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC Document No. 6703/88 relating to equal pay and equal treatment (burden of proof). Details will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 10 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

WEDNESDAY 11 MAY—Opposition Day (12th allotted day) (first part). Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "Europe and the Environment" on an Opposition motion.

Debate on the Procedure Committee report on "Parliamentary Scrutiny of Deregulation Orders" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 12 MAY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

FRIDAY 13 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 16 MAY—There will be debate on the European Union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 10 May to consider the presidency report on the results of negotiations on the accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the European Union and the draft accession treaty.

[Relevant documents:

Monday 9 May:
European Community documents: 10166/93 and 11317/ 93 State aid to the steel industry; Relevant European Legislation Committee Report: HC 48-iv (1993–94). European Community document: 6703/82 Burden of Proof (Equal opportunities); European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 43-xxxiv (1987–88), HC 15-iv (1988–89), HC 15-xxv (1988–89), HC 79-i (1992–93) and HC 48-v (1993–94).

Tuesday 10 May:
European Standing Committee B—European Community documents: (a) Presidency report and addendum on results of negotiations on the accession of Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the European Union; (b) Draft accession treaty. European Legislation Committee Reports: HC 48-xiv (1993–94) and HC 48-xv (1993–94).]

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I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to try to arrange an early statement on the impact on gas prices of the changes that are currently being considered? The Prime Minister has just told us that we are scaremongering when we raise the issue of the impact of these changes on low-income families—indeed, on all families—but, as disgraceful scaremongering is what he said we were engaging in when we said that VAT might be extended if the Conservative party were to win the last general election, this does not exactly strike confidence in our hearts. Thus, we should like to have an early statement on the issue.

Secondly, I should like to ask the Leader of the House to try to persuade the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the increase of 50 per cent. in the number of complaints about the health service. I realise that this will be difficult, as the right hon. Lady does not care to come to the House. It will be within the recollection of all hon. Members that the increase to which I refer is completely contrary to the statements that the right hon. Lady repeatedly makes about growing confidence in the health service. It would be helpful if she could be brought to the House to explain the discrepancy between her statements and the facts.

Finally, I noticed the Lord President's reference to consideration of the enlargement of the European Community. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the Government's decision that that debate should be held in Standing Committee B? As I know he will recall, in March the Select Committee on European Legislation said that it had no hesitation in recommending that that debate be taken on the Floor of the House because the issues that it raised were so important. I know that it is a matter of concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House.

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I entirely reject the right hon. Lady's observation and notion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is unwilling to come to the House when it is appropriate. Of course I shall draw the right hon. Lady's request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

The right hon. Lady spoke about gas prices and acknowledged that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had just commented on that matter. I remind her that the word "scaremongering" was introduced by way of a quotation by the director of the Gas Consumers Council. The right hon. Lady might like to bear that in mind.

The right hon. Lady spoke about my announcement of a debate in European Standing Committee B on accession matters. Perhaps I may straightforwardly explain the problem. As is readily ascertainable from today's newspapers, the European Parliament only yesterday gave its assent to the treaty, and a formal decision may be expected at the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 and 17 May.

The only practicable way that we could see to undertake debate in the relatively short time available was in European Standing Committee B. The House will also bear in mind that I have announced for Monday week a wide-ranging debate on European matters as a whole, in which accession matters could be referred to.

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Has my right hon. Friend noticed that Chancellor Kohl of Germany has invited the European Parliament to participate in the discussions on the reshaping of Europe up to the treaty re-examination of 1996? Has my right hon. Friend given some thought, or would he like to before the debate on the European Union, to ways in which national Parliaments, and particularly this national Parliament, can also participate in that process, as suggested in the Maastricht treaty?

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I had indeed noticed those reports, and I shall give thought to the matter that my right hon. Friend raises. I merely observe wryly that my experience over the past couple of years is that hon. Members find many ways to express their views on these matters.

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Does the Leader of the House accept that, now that the normal working relationship has been re-established between the Government and the official Opposition following the recent period of attrition between the two Front Benches, this would be a good moment to try to establish common ground on both sides to get reform of procedures of the House? Would he convene a meeting of the interested parties to see what common ground there is in advance of a debate on the Standing Orders that would be necessary to reform our procedures?

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the way that things were moving before the usual channels were broken. Of course, I hope to resume progress in the way that was then indicated. I know that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) will not mind if I advert to the fact that I have already had informal words with her about, if you like, resuming talks about talks. I shall undertake to have such talks with the hon. Gentleman as well.

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My right hon. Friend will have heard the exchanges earlier about the possible unfortunate publication of photographs of the Princess of Wales. Requests were made for legislation on privacy. I would not support a privacy Bill, but does my right hon. Friend accept that the measures on bugging and the intrusion of telephoto lenses and one or two others that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage has suggested require the urgent consideration of the House?

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My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister undertake to reflect on points that were made, I think twice, during Prime Minister's questions. I am sure that the Prime Minister will also wish to reflect on my hon. Friend's slightly different remarks.

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Is the Leader of the House aware that it has been shown that the London borough of Newham and its people have been defrauded of £20 million of expenditure under the Government's formula for local government grant? Is he also aware that, nationally and in Newham, it is believed that the formula is fixed to favour Conservative councils? If he cannot refute that now, will he please say when we may have a debate in which it can be demonstrated?

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I will observe only that I can think of quite a number of areas, where the council is under different control, where they equally believe that the rules are rigged to help some other kind of authority. It is a field in which the difficulties are well known. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

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As the House knows, I have been drawing to the attention of the House the amount of money that is wasted in this place. Will my right hon. Friend call an urgent meeting to find out why so many of the filing cabinets in the Palace of Westminster—

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Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-serving parliamentarian, and he knows that the Leader of the House should not be asked questions about House matters during business questions. Those questions should be put to the Leader of the House during his own Question Time. This is about the business for next week, not House matters or filing cabinets. [An HON. MEMBER: "He wants to ask about business for next week."] I know what the hon. Gentleman wants, but if he is not capable of phrasing his question properly, I am not out to help him to do so.

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I found that advice very helpful.

Could I ask the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate early next week on why the filing cabinets in the Palace of Westminster are to be scrapped—they do not contain an anti-tilting mechanism as recommended by EEC directives? Will he consider why we must replace all the desks in the Palace of Westminster—they are not high enough—and why every power point in the Palace of Westminster must be numbered, because of the electricity at work regulations, which are not compulsory, merely advisory? Surely we should put our own house in order here, and not allow officials to run this place, spending public money.

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I cannot, despite my hon. Friend's blandishments, promise a debate, but I can promise to bring his remarks to the attention of the appropriate Committee and, indeed, the House authorities. I will endeavour to ensure that I am able to respond to him in some other way.

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The Leader of the House will have read this week the report prepared by the Carers National Association, "Community Care: A Fairy Tale". I am sure, therefore, that he will be prepared to ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week to discuss why nearly one third of the people in need of assessments have not received them, and why many of them do not even know that community care exists. That is a horrifying situation. Will he please see that we debate it next week?

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As it happens, because of my previous ministerial record, I know the people concerned with the Carers National Association very well, and, indeed, respect them, but, on this front, I simply do not agree with them. The foundations have been laid and are beginning to produce a significant improvement in care. I am bound to say that some of the voluntary organisations in my constituency have acknowledged that very clearly in meetings with me.

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Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1158, which refers to myself?

[That this House deplores the remarks alleged to have been made by the honourable Member for the Isle of Wightduring a discussion on the revitalisation of Coventry's city centre by members of the Select Committee of the Environment and reported in The Sunday Mercury and The Coventry Evening Telegraph; notes that the honourable Member for the Isle of Wight is reported to have interjected and said 'Bomb it again'; and therefore, demands that the honourable Member for the Isle of Wight withdraw his tasteless remarks and apologise to the people of Coventry who suffered greatly from Luftwaffe bombing raids during the War and whose courage was a symbol of hope, peace and reconciliation for the world.]

Can we have a debate on that as soon as possible, as the transcript of evidence of the Environment Select Committee does not contain the alleged remarks referred to in that early-day motion and, because of the rules of the House, the evidence cannot be made available to the press probably until the autumn when the report is published, and neither the media nor the public understand those rules, or how it is possible for an early-day motion to be laid before the House about proceedings which are not yet publicly available, and which even my right hon. Friend is not able to see?

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It is certainly the case, of course, that, not being a member of the Select Committee, I would not have been able to see the document to which my hon. Friend referred, but I am very ready to accept his assurances about what he did or did not say. As it happens, I have in front of me a line to take—in the helpful way in which such things are provided—which says:

"It is hardly for me to comment on reports of remarks in local newspapers. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight is quite capable of looking after himself."
I think that he has confirmed that.

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Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in the very near future about the role of the United Nations and the changing patterns, where it expects regional organisations to do some of the policing in their regions? It would allow us to clarify issues and, at the same time, encourage nations in the United Nations that vote and thereafter do not participate. In particular, may I draw attention to the situation in Rwanda, where the Organisation of African Unity could do more to protect the Rwandan people?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful and thought-provoking remarks. Although they do not enable me to promise a debate, I am sure that they will be studied with interest by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

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The European Commission issued yesterday and today the most harsh quotas under Chinese trade restrictions—approved by the EC, but voted against by the Government. The PMS company of Southend has been told to reduce its business from £14 million to £3.5 million, although it employs 200 people, is a good employer and is expanding. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, next Thursday, the House can have some discussion of those lunatic trade restrictions introduced by the EC, which simply destroy jobs and do no good to anyone?

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In view of my hon. Friend's strong constituency interests, I well understand why he raised that matter. I am mildly puzzled by his reference to next Thursday, but he could be provided with opportunities to raise the issue during Department of Trade and Industry questions on Wednesday 11 May, or in the European Union debate that I announced for Monday 16 May.

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Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made by the appropriate Minister about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which will be before the House again tomorrow, when only limited time will be available? Last Friday, the House voted unanimously for the Government to progress that Bill, which would help about 10 million disabled people to enjoy equal rights.

In view of today's scandalous report that the House will rise on 15 July, will the Leader of the House give a reassurance that at least one day, but certainly enough time necessary, will be available to allow the Bill to pass? If the House can tool up in the middle of July for three months, surely to God there should be enough time to get through that Bill for disabled people?

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I note the hon. Gentleman's comments. I would not wish to excite his hopes or those of others over speculation concerning 15 July. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has made absolutely clear throughout the Government's wish to make constructive progress in a practical way in improving opportunities for disabled people. He will seek to advance that general cause with his comments tomorrow.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on the costs of rail privatisation, and explain how £446 million has been spent so far on that totally unnecessary and unwanted measure? The Secretary of State could also acknowledge that, for a fraction of that cost, the line could have been electrified beyond Shrewsbury, Wellington station could have been refurbished, and the freight line to Donington and our InterCity links could have been reinstated. That would seem far better value for money.

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The hon. Gentleman's figure of £446 million bears no relation to any that I recognise. Leaving that aside, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be in the House to answer questions next Monday.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware that the House debated the Army yesterday. Some three dozen of my right hon. and hon. Friends attended, and many of us were disappointed that we were unable to contribute. Notwithstanding the remarks earlier of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), there was almost no one on the Opposition Benches, and Labour's Front-Bench spokesman had to speak for 69 minutes to conceal his colleagues' absence.

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a further debate on the armed forces, so that those of us who are concerned about the defence of this country may be able to speak on the subject—and so that Labour Members, who have no interest in the defence of the realm, can be exposed yet again?

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Not having been present myself to a great extent yesterday, I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's comments. I did not find them particularly surprising. Even so, I cannot promise a further debate in the near future —but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be answering questions next Tuesday.

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I seek the assistance of the Leader of the House in respect of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which will be debated next week. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that new clauses 22, 23 and 24 would remove from local authorities the right to control markets within a radius of six and two thirds miles. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept the growing consensus that some change has to be made, and that any change that is approved should include the whole area of a local authority.

The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that there will be a problem if the local authority area has a radius of more than six and two thirds miles. It could be argued that that will increase regulation rather than deregulation. Will he turn his mind to the question and tell those hon. Members, including myself, who wish to table amendments on local authority areas how to overcome that apparently insurmountable obstacle?

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I am aware of some of the points that have been made about the new clauses, and of the difficulties that have arisen. I would be unwise to seek to advise the hon. Gentleman immediately from the Dispatch Box, but I shall reflect on the argument that he has advanced.

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Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the recently released crime figures for last year, in which I and other hon. Members could draw attention to the outstanding performance of Cleveland constabulary, where recorded crime fell last year by 7 per cent., seven times the national average? We could also draw attention to the fact that it has achieved that excellent performance despite being underfunded to the tune of £1.8 million by Labour-controlled Cleveland county council.

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My hon. Friend makes some good and interesting points. I am glad that he has had the opportunity to put them on the record without my being able to provide a full debate.

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I congratulate the Government on their speedy response to requests made in the Chamber for emergency aid to save the giant tortoises in the Galapagos islands. The money that the Government made available was put to good and efficient use. May I push the Leader of the House a bit further today? Could we have a debate in Government time on the threat to endangered species such as tigers and black rhinos, the population of which is reaching such a level that they may be driven into extinction?

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I cannot promise a debate on the second issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. It strikes me that such remarks could be in order, subject to your view, Madam Speaker, in the Opposition debate on Europe and the environment on Wednesday 11 May. I thank him for the generous way in which he acknowledged the action that has been taken.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware that I feel an irresistible urge to congratulate him on holding a debate on the European Union on Monday week, which is very timely? Will he confirm that this Parliament, contrary to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) implied, may be the first of all the national Parliaments of the 12 member states in the European Community to discuss the matter before the intergovernmental conference in 1996?

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My hon. Friend advances a good argument. I am glad that he did not resist the temptation to be nice to me, and I hope that his example will be followed by other hon. Members.

The Arts

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Michael Brown.]

3.52 pm

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It is some time since the House has had the opportunity to debate the arts, and I welcome the opportunity to open the debate.

The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) was courteous enough to warn me that she would be unable to attend the debate because she is in Washington. I am sorry that she is not here, as I was impatient to hear more of the Kulturmeisterplan which I understand she has been cooking up, but of which only tantalising appetisers have thus far been served. At the risk of offending the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I should say that in France the shadow Cabinet is called the Cabinet fantöme. A new phantom of the opera is even now in gestation.

Every cloud, however, has a silver lining, and today it takes the form of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who can take comfort from Winston Churchill's judgment on the Margrave of Baden, the ally of the 1st Duke of Marlborough and the Prince Eugen:

"His military epitaph for all time must be that the two greatest captains of his age, pre-eminent and renowned in all the annals of war, rated, by actions more expressive than words, his absence from a decisive battlefield well worth fifteen thousand men."
I understand that, while the hon. Member for Redcar may have been responsible for giving birth to the putative Ministry of Culture, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central is claiming paternity. Doubtless the more acute among my hon. Friends will be able to spot with a subtle eye which of the genetic traits of their new offspring he apportions to Redcar and which he claims for himself. I wonder whether we will spot a little blush as the arm's length is atrophied.

Many hon. Members are deeply knowledgeable in the arts, and almost all will have their own artistic interests. This afternoon, I want to give the House some indication of how we perceive the state of the arts in Britain today, to demonstrate the Government's wholehearted commitment to the arts, and to touch on the exciting possibilities ahead.

No one can doubt the vital part that the arts play in all our lives.

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Oh, yes we can.

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I was gratified to learn that my hon. Friend would be in the Chamber for the debate.

They have the ability to educate, stimulate, calm, excite, amuse, and, in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), annoy—sometimes at the same time. More and more people are using their leisure time to participate in the arts, either as viewers or as practitioners. Since 1986, there has been a 19 per cent. increase in the number of people attending opera, and a 5 per cent. increase in those attending the ballet.

Despite all the other pressures on the spending power of the individual, the numbers of people attending plays, classical music concerts and art galleries have held up well in the recession. Thirty-six per cent. of adults in Great Britain attend events in one or more of the major art forms, and half of those go more than once a year.

Britain is, of course, greatly privileged to have an enormous wealth of talent, and a magnificent tradition in the arts. Our literary heritage is unrivalled. Our performers in music, drama and dance are feted throughout the world. Our artists are represented in major collections everywhere. The quality and diversity of our artistic provision are exceptional. I could fill the time available to me this afternoon easily by simply reciting from the press what is on offer this week in any of our major cities.

London is especially privileged in being the home of several of our national companies. Tonight, for example, hon. Members could choose between a new production of "Cosi Fan Tutte" at the Coliseum, "Carmen" at the Royal Opera house, Cocteau at the national theatre or Berio on the south bank; they could spend "A Month in the Country" at the Albery or take in "An Absolute Turkey" at the Globe—soon, I am pleased to say, to be renamed the Gielgud.

This is only to scratch the surface of the performing arts provision in London. While time permits, hon. Members could see world-class exhibitions of the work of Dali, Goya, Picasso, and any number of smaller shows of contemporary artists from this country and all over the world. If one's taste is for the applied arts, the new glass gallery at the Victoria and Albert museum or the vibrant "Colour into Cloth" exhibition at the Crafts Council provide an impressive depth of coverage.

Outside London, the scene is no less rich and varied. The past 10 years have seen a remarkable trend in major capital developments in the arts: we have seen new theatres such as the West Yorkshire playhouse, and concert halls such as St David's hall in Cardiff, the symphony hall in Birmingham, and Glasgow royal concert hall. There is now a Tate of the North and a Tate St. Ives. The refurbishment of the gas hall in Birmingham has provided us with the imaginative juxtaposition of sublime paintings by Canaletto and the far from ridiculous decoration of motor cycles. I am confident that the prospect of funds from the national lottery, a subject to which I shall return, will inspire many more equally imaginative projects.

Our major cities have always played a significant part in the cultural life of the country, and it is gratifying that the newer centres of population that have grown up more recently have also recognised the need to provide for the cultural life of their citizens. The most recent example—I am pleased to be able to mention it today—is the Anvil arts centre at Basingstoke, which opened last week with, among other things, the world premiere of a new work by John Tavener.

Many developing centres have chosen to promote themselves and their people in the traditional way by holding a festival. It is astonishing that this year there will be more than 500 official arts festivals in Britain—half of which have been going only since 1980—and that they will be enjoyed by around 4 million people.

My Department is committed to encouraging the widest possible access to all its fields of responsibilities. In the arts, one of the greatest contributions to that goal is the work done by the Arts Council and the regional arts boards to promote touring. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to see our great companies performing around the country, and those performances have introduced many people to the delights of drama, opera or dance. Exhibitions of contemporary fine and applied art also reach a much wider public through the efforts of the arts and crafts councils.

The growth of community arts, whether in cities or rural communities, is one of the most encouraging recent developments in the arts. At a recent conference organised by my Department in the west midlands, I heard of projects to stage contemporary works in properties run by English Heritage. Not only does that give an excellent example of co-operation between bodies operating in different areas of interest to my Department: it also shows how local people can be made more aware of their own heritage through art and performance.

It also demonstrates the way in which education can be provided through art. The links between education and art are long-established and strong, but they are not rigid. Each generation can discover for itself the power of art and the fascination of creativity.

The development of education units in our great companies has been a great success story in recent years. Symphony orchestras, opera houses and theatres all run education programmes designed to introduce young people to music and drama. Young people can be suspicious of art forms whose relevance to their lives they cannot immediately see, but the benefits that they and the musicians and actors who participate in the schemes gain are tremendous.

In music, the national curriculum now provides that pupils should perform and listen to music of the European "classical" tradition from its earliest roots to the present day. Popular and rock music, indigenous music of the countries of these islands, and music from a variety of western and non-western cultures can all expect to receive attention in schools. A wide-ranging course of study has been laid down, which will encourage the appreciation and enjoyment of music in all forms and lay the foundations for future generations to gain even more pleasure from listening and playing.

In the community-based arts, we have also seen an enormous increase in the provision of events that reflect the exciting diversity of our culture today. The variety and richness of what is on offer throughout the country, from African, Bangladeshi, Chinese and many other cultures, is staggering, and I am pleased to see that the representation of ethnic arts in mainstream houses is increasing all the time, to the great benefit of us all.

I should here pay tribute to the regional arts boards for their success in developing the arts in local communities. The health of the arts depends on bringing some often disparate parties together to form productive and lasting partnerships. The regional arts boards combine local knowledge with a regional perspective and have developed an unrivalled expertise in creating those partnerships.

What has that flowering of artistic and creative activity to do with the Government? The people of this country show a clear and enthusiastic interest in the arts, and it is the Government's job, through my Department, to cater for that interest by helping to create the culture of today, to add to the heritage for future generations and to broaden opportunities for people to enjoy the benefits of their heritage and culture. That is the case for all my responsibilities.

For the arts, the Government make their rnain contribution by funding the Arts Council. I shall say more in a moment about how they do so, and the relationship between the council and Government.

T. S. Eliot said:
"April is the cruellest month".
He may have had cricket in mind. For the arts world, this April has been less cruel than momentous. From the first of the month, the Arts Council of Great Britain ceased to operate, and was succeeded by the Arts Councils of England, Scotland and Wales. Each of those bodies is now autonomous, and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales now have responsibility for the arts in their countries.

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

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

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

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On the appointment of Lord Gowrie and the fact that April is a cruel month, a moment ago I opened a letter from Lord Gowrie, which I had just had passed to me, in which he writes:

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

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

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

April saw other changes, notably the delegation, which I announced 16 months ago, of a further 42 arts organisations to the regional arts boards. That reflects the Government's belief that decisions are often best taken close to those who will be affected by them. The transfer of responsibilities for the Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils is further evidence of that belief.

I hope that I have demonstrated by what I have said so far that the arts in this country are flourishing, and that they are served by a dynamic funding system. Let me now say a little more about that funding system, the players in it and the Government's role.

Since the Wilding report in 1989, the arts funding system has gone through a significant period of change, and is now in the process of ensuring that it is in good shape to meet the undoubted challenges to come. In particular, the Arts Council itself has undergone a series of reviews, the end of which was signalled by my statement to the House in November. The outcome of those reviews is that there is common ground between the council, Ministers and the wider world on a number of points.

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

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

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

The hon. Member for Redcar brushes off this momentous change with the words:
"The Government is elected to make policy."
Up to a point, Lord Copper. I think it would be a tragic day for the arts in Britain were a Government to develop, as the Labour party seems to threaten, a policy for each art form. No wonder there has been such exponential growth in the number of departmental shadows. It took four Jack Lang wannabes to think up that nonsensical Ministry of Culture, a recipe for bureaucratic strangulation and political interference.

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

Thank goodness the shadows will remain insubstantial. I have perhaps thought of a better purpose for them. When Marsham street, a building of suitably eastern European design, is finally emptied, the shadow National Heritage spokesmen—who by then will presumably number dozens —can be let loose inside to caretake. They will pass their days out of harm's way, dreaming of a Ministry of Culture, measuring corridors and calibrating views.

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

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

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Hell hath no fury like an Arts Minister scorned.

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

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It is getting vicious.

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

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

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

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

Another priority of mine, which is accepted by the Arts Council, is that the council must be ready to explain the basis for its decisions more clearly. The council has put forward many ideas for doing so: I was especially impressed by the willingness shown by representatives of the council to expose themselves to a potentially hostile audience at the seminar organised by the National Campaign for the Arts. Opportunities such as that seminar and an openness on all sides can only lead to greater understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The economic climate is, and has been, very difficult, which has inevitably meant that some organisations have needed to cut their coats according to a smaller piece of cloth. Over a year ago, in the 1992 public spending round, against the background of those economic difficulties, the Government signalled a reduction in Arts Council funding for 1994–95. That is the basis on which the Arts Council had to plan throughout last year. Nevertheless, last November, despite the continuing need to keep a tight rein on public expenditure, I managed to find more money than was planned for the arts.

Against earlier plans, the Arts Council is to receive an extra £800,000 this year, resulting in grant in aid of £186 million, and an extra £1.6 million in 1995–96, which will be maintained in 1996–97. In allocating those funds for 1994–95, the Council has managed, in the vast majority of cases, to protect funding for revenue clients. There will be some reduction in the amount of developmental work, but regional theatres and national companies, among others, will receive the same amounts as this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remark about the Albert memorial. It is for the British library to state what purpose it might intend for the land which is surplus to its requirements.

Local authorities are also key patrons of the arts—providing direct funding for arts organisations and for individuals, supporting arts buildings and incorporating public art into regeneration schemes. A substantial survey recently undertaken by the Arts Council has shown that local authorities are broadly maintaining their level of support for the arts, which is roughly equivalent to that provided by central Government.

I pay tribute to the enormous amount of valuable support that local authorities give to the arts. They are major funders of some of the most famous of our regional theatres, providing large-scale arts and entertainment programmes for very large audiences. Just as important is the smaller scale, where a local service is necessary to support local arts; that often means the amateur sector, a large and important sector which we all know well within our constituencies.

The list of local authorities that make imaginative and substantial contributions is a long one, and I mean no disservice to any other on that list if I mention only Nottingham, Cambridge, Derby, Southampton and—dare I say it, at the risk of influencing today's poll—the cities of London and Westminster.

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

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

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

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

For the future—and it is getting close now—there is the exciting prospect of the national lottery. By early next year, that should be providing significant sums on a continuing basis for the arts, sport, heritage, charities and millennium projects. Money for new buildings, for badly needed refurbishment of existing ones and for new equipment, could all come from lottery proceeds. The Arts Council will be distributing those funds for the arts, including film and crafts.

Subject to the directions that I will be issuing, it will be able to decide on priorities in its own area against which to assess applications. The lottery will be able to fund projects that are important to the nation's quality of life, but do not have first call on public expenditure. That extra money will make a huge impact in improving provision of and access to the arts in this country.

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

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

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

4.24 pm

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

The Government have shown a remarkable lack of enthusiasm to account for their policies on the arts. In that time, there has been a new Department of state and two Secretaries of State. The present Secretary of State has been in his post for 20 months and this is the first time that he has come to the House to account for his policies. His lack of enthusiasm—the hon. Gentleman will understand that—is hardly surprising, given the Government's poor record in the arts.

The Government's record is terrible; they have been wasteful, incompetent and feeble. If the best that they can do is the sort of speech that the Secretary of State just made, that illustrates my point. His speech was benign and patrician; it failed to address any of the problems that his Government have created in the cultural life of this country. The Secretary of State ought to be ashamed of himself.

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

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

The Secretary of State also took credit for what local authorities are doing. He mentioned some cities. It is they, rather than his Government, which have supported the arts for the past 15 years, but they have done so in the teeth of the Government's incredible dogmatic hostility to any expenditure by local authorities.

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

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

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rose

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

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

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The hon. Gentleman always contributes to our debates and almost always gets his facts wrong. There has not been a 45 per cent. increase in Arts Council expenditure since 1979. Those figures have been conclusively rubbished and discredited. Arts sponsorship has gone up and I welcome that, but it increased from nothing to something and has fallen back over the past year. The hon. Gentleman ought to do his homework before he intervenes in our debates.

Let me return to the record of the Secretary of State and the Government. The idea that he should take any credit for what has happened in cities and country is breathtaking. The Government's hostility to what has been happening has caused much frustration and anger around the country. The Government cannot understand the cultural importance of what has happened. It is extraordinary for a Conservative Government, who pride themselves on having some understanding of the economy and what happens in business, not to understand that, despite them, those cities have built hugely profitable cultural industries employing more than 500,000 people, earning huge amounts of exports and attracting tourists to Britain. They are a key part of our economy.

For the sake of underfunding the seedcorn—the small sums of money to the Arts Council—and trying to constrain local authorities in their seedcorn investment, the Government are diminishing the impact of our important cultural industries—publishing, the record industry, broadcasting, film and the design industries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind all this, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged today, is the key area of funding. It is by no means the only criterion by which the Government should be judged. There are other important ones, such as their attitudes to education, training and access, and to changing our monocultural domination—the traditions of the sole use of the English language in a multicultural society, and so on. Nevertheless, funding is one of the key criteria by which the Department will continue to be judged.

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

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Get on with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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No, we are debating Government policies this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman has obviously been asleep. I have not yet delivered any catalogue of shock-horror disasters. I intend to come to some of the problems that the Minister has created, but I have not yet identified any company, or the size of its deficit, although many of them certainly face problems—orchestras, theatres and opera companies. Had the hon. Gentleman remained awake he would have realised that.

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

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

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

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

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

The Arts Council must do various things very quickly. It must speak up for the arts world and explain some basic truths to the Secretary of State. Like the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), I was much encouraged by Lord Gowrie's letter to Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. That letter, received today, says:
"Arts activity cannot be sustained against this background of cuts."
I am glad that the new chairman will be critical when criticism is necessary. That is a good start. The Government must listen. The Secretary of State appointed the chairman and he must take account of his advice, but the right hon. Gentleman must also find an approach to restore the Arts Council's credibility. We all want it to succeed. We need such a national body.

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

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

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I apologise for intervening again, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way once more. By virtue of the number of hon. Members present, we have an opportunity to make this a proper debate.

Does the hon. Gentleman, like many people on the continent, acknowledge that one of the glories of our system is the trustee principle in the case of the national museums? The funding of museums on the continent is subject to a great deal more interference and intervention. In our case, the trustees are remarkably robust in making it clear that the running of museums is a matter for them.

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I certainly share that view, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman bases the arm's-length principle on the existence of trustees. The national theatre has a board of trustees, but many people would say—correctly, in my view—that if the Arts Council were abolished and the national theatre were funded directly by the Department, there would be a risk of destroying the arm's-length principle, despite the existence of the board of trustees. The essence of the arm's-length principle is not the relationship but the lack of interference in artistic decisions. The Secretary of State knows that, and his argument was a false and rather blustering one.

In an interesting intervention, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) praised the French system. I share the praise for what was done by Jack Lang to raise the importance and the profile of cultural life in France, but I disagree entirely with the way in which the French system runs everything from the ministry. Grants are administered directly by civil servants. That is wasteful, bureaucratic and centralist, but it is a long-standing French tradition to run things from the top down—from Paris down. It is not our way. In particular, it is not the way of the Labour party, which believes in devolution and in trusting local authorities, whether Labour or Conservative.

Local authorities should be allowed to get on and develop cultural life in their own areas. That is true devolution. Unfortunately, the Government do not believe in true devolution. The Greater London council started the whole movement towards local authorities believing in the arts and developing the cultural life of the city. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who, sadly, is not in the Chamber, was chairman of the relevant committee. He was harassed by the Conservative Government. Indeed, the Government so deplored the council that it was abolished.

The Secretary of State must know that, leaving aside individual decisions of the Greater London council, everything he has said about local authorities goes back to the lead that was given by that body's understanding of the importance of investing in the cultural life of London. The lack of strategic planning of the cultural life of the city is undermining its cultural strength, to which, referring to the west end theatres, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute. As there is no coherent strategy, many cultural opportunities in London are going amiss.

I hope that Lord Gowrie will not see the Arts Council's problems purely in managerial terms. It is important that the council gets things right. Decisions must be taken more quickly and more cheaply. Now that the council's clients have been devolved, there are fewer staff, but this is not solely a managerial problem. The council must find a new role and must reassert old ones. It must find a new relationship with the regional arts boards and local authorities. There must be a genuine partnership. The council must pursue the agendas that it has been pursuing quite well in recent years, breaking down the monoculture and creating opportunities for disabled people, for women and for people whose mother tongue is not English. In particular, it could adopt a huge new role on innovation.

For 20 years, arts administration and policy, at national and local levels, concentrated on audiences and access. It was quite right that that should be so. We needed to enlarge audiences and to widen access. The education and community and outreach work that the Secretary of State has mentioned has furthered that cause. However, we need to emphasise once again the need for innovation and for support for the individual and creative genius of companies and of individuals. Here, the Arts Council has a role in finding new ways to encourage innovation, particularly with the funding, through the national lottery and the millennium fund, of the new generation of buildings. We welcome that new generation of buildings because the arts have lacked capital investment.

If thinking and debate about the nature of such buildings and the needs that they should serve are not led now by the Secretary of State and the Arts Council, we could end up repeating the 20th century in the 21st century rather than understanding cultural needs over the next 50 years. The Secretary of State will have noted the breakdown in the divisions between dance, drama and music. Those require different sorts of venues and we should take care before building a generation of proscenium arch theatres or more concert halls.

I join the Secretary of State in welcoming developments at Basingstoke. Many high-quality, beautiful and much-needed concert halls have been built in the past 10 years, but they are basically 19th century structures. For the performing arts and especially for theatre and dance I suspect that a different sort of space is needed. We certainly need a debate on that and on how they should be funded—via the companies that play there or the venues themselves. Those are difficult decisions but all hon. Members should have a common interest in them and the Arts Council has an opportunity to lead that innovative debate.

The Secretary of State will know that Mr. Peter Brook has come back this year with a new production. He had to leave the country because it could not provide the sort of imaginative and long-term support for the innovative work that he wanted to do or the spaces in which he wanted to do it. I suspect that his work is being repeated in different ways by the Theatre de Complicité by Opera Factory, by the work that Ruth Mackenzie is doing at the Nottingham Playhouse and by the Tramway in Glasgow.

This is a new way of looking at the arts that breaks down the barriers between dance, drama and music. The national lottery and the millennium fund provide a chance to help that and to find new and exciting ways to sustain it. If we do not sustain it we shall simply repeat 19th century or, at best, 20th century houses. There is a big role for the Arts Council in this development, and I hope that the Secretary of State will help it to fulfil that role.

The Secretary of State has had difficulty in developing a policy and in defending his budget because he has not been long in office and has not been able to develop in his Department a strategy for our cultural life. Now that his Department is up and running, he should turn to that. He had some fun mocking the Labour party's development of ideas of a cultural policy, but he would do well to be a little more modest and to discover what that means. The distinction between that cultural policy and arts funding policy, which is what the Secretary of State is pursuing although not very well because he is cutting funding, is crucial.

A cultural policy recognises that cultural life does not just happen in the arts organisations that it funds or in those that are funded by the Arts Council, local authorities and other bodies: it happens in the commercial world and in the voluntary side of our culture, which are very important. It is only when we examine the scale of those and the number of people who earn a living from them that we recognise their importance to the economy and how they permeate medicine, hospitals, prisons, the environment, open spaces, buildings, parks and their design and public art. They make a great contribution and the Government have an enormous responsibility in all those sectors.

An arts funding policy that concentrates solely on how much or how little is given to the existing companies is wholly inadequate. A cultural policy must recognise that our cultural life is what happens in Penguin or in record shops or—the Secretary of State sneered at this—in the design of clothes or furniture. Those are as important as what happens in our theatres, and until the Government understand that basic truth they will not get arts funding right. Until they have a cultural policy they cannot have an adequate arts funding policy.

With the national lottery and the millennium fund the Minister has a real responsibility. The new European directive on architectural competition lays a responsibility on the Government to employ architects for the first time for those buildings and to hold design competitions on various scales. That will not necessarily be expensive or cumbersome. I share the praise of the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex for what the French have done but the French Government had specific legislation on architecture that brought on a new generation of architects and made sure that Government expenditure on architecture carried weight and led with good design.

The Secretary of State may not appreciate that, between them, other Departments are spending £5,000 million of taxpayers' money on new buildings and on renovating old buildings. There is no Government policy on that, no co-ordinated approach and no fostering of design or good architects. Until we have that, the incredible amount of taxpayers' money that is already being spent before the national lottery or the millennium fund come on stream will not carry its full weight.

There are plenty of examples of good Government-funded buildings such as Waterloo station but there are also some rotten examples. The Minister ought to recognise that that is as important to our cultural life as what happens in theatres or concert halls. The Government can grasp that responsibility only by supporting a cultural rather than an arts funding policy and particularly one that incorporates the role of the Department for Education in promoting art in schools and in training. The Minister knows that there is a crisis there. I accept that he is not responsible, but this is a debate on Government policy on the arts and the Government's policy on the arts in schools is a disaster. The number of advisory posts has dropped by almost half and the Secretary of State knows that there is a crisis of morale and lack of opportunity in the school library and museum services and in music teaching.

The right hon. Member for Bexley and Old Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) did much to support music in this country. We have great orchestras because we gave young people a chance to discover their skills at playing instruments in primary school and trained them, but that no longer happens under many local authorities. In whole swathes of the country children never get a chance to discover whether they can play an instrument. That is a disgrace and the Government should put it right by remedying their policy on discretionary grants to drama and dance schools.

The Minister has had all the evidence from the Gulbenkian report, which the Government co-funded. He should look at that and recognise that for very small sums of Government money he could put that right and make sure that a small number of accredited drama and dance schools were able to take the students that they want because they think that they will be the professional dancers and actors of the future. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, he is denying opportunities and skills and undermining his policies for the future.

Those are Government policies rather than the policies of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but they point up our assertion that the arts and our cultural life do not depend solely on his Department. All Departments make decisions every week that affect our cultural life. If a Labour Government were in power, the right hon. Gentleman's Department would not interfere in the activities of other Departments but would co-ordinate them. That is difficult because it runs counter to the whole Gladstonian structure of Departments and civil service responsibilities and empires.

The Minister knows that Departments such as the Department for Education, the Departments of Transport and of Health and Departments responsible for training make cultural decisions. They are making them in isolation, without the Secretary of State's advice and without understanding their cultural impact. That is wrong, and that is why we need a cultural policy that supports rather than attacks local authorities. They want to get on with investing in the life of their cities and should have Government support. Until the Government recognise their importance and the importance of a cultural policy, they will continue to get arts funding wrong in the way that they have got it wrong over the past year.

4.58 pm

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I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage for missing the first few minutes of his speech. I had a hint that it was necessary for me to vote in Westminster and I felt that it was desirable and necessary to carry out that request. However, I listened with the greatest interest to the rest of my hon. Friend's speech.

It is disquieting that the Government should have chosen to have an arts debate on the one day in the year on which they were bound to find the House almost empty because hon. Members are active on the electoral scene. The only consolation is that, whereas there are four hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, there are eight on ours. To have 100 per cent. more than the Opposition is in itself some small consolation.

The arts are particularly important for the Conservative party and we must be seen publicly to be full in our support for them. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the Conservatives had all too deep a reputation for being hard-nosed monetary people, naturally containing the wealthy, who were able to enjoy their opera and music because they could afford to pay for it. The rest of the population had great difficulty in doing that. All of that changed after the second world war. We must be careful in preserving the reputation that we have since established. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)—I think that he is a friend—shouted out earlier that those things are nothing whatever to do with the Government. I completely disagree with him on that. He is representing what I have described as the hard-nosed monetary side of the Conservative party. The Government have a very great responsibility for the arts. My anxiety is that they should maintain that responsibility.

I must confess that I did not find the speech of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), particularly appealing, being somewhat vitriolic in its nature. There were valid points, but, if I may say so, he might have more influence if he put things rather more gently and explained how he thinks that they could be done. He emphasised what needs to be done, and on some points I would not challenge him for one moment, but there was little indication of how it could be done. If I were still as deeply involved in the arts and the world outside as I once was, I am not sure that I should be very attracted by the hon. Gentleman's approach. I would find the thought of meeting him in his room rather devastating. In fact, the box office would probably be closed before he finished telling me exactly what he was thinking. Nevertheless, I am sure that his contribution can be valuable from time to time.

The hon. Gentleman emphasised funding. I do not accept that if the Government are forced into economies we should have a level playing field all round. I take exactly the opposite view: I believe that some items of expenditure should be exempt in an economy drive. Indeed, I would go further and say that some types of expenditure, the arts being one, should continue to be increased. I recall that when the Treasury, through its second or third Secretary, was responsible for funding the arts, the arts got the best deal that they had ever had. It was, if I may say so, the cultured at the summit at the Treasury who said to their pals, "Look, we are not going to damage the things that we enjoy." That was when the arts got a really good deal. I am not saying for one moment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage does not personally take that view, as I know that he does, but he has considerable weight against him on that point.

There was once a time when if I went to the Festival hall or Covent garden or elsewhere I could depend on seeing a considerable number of colleagues. It seems to be a rather different situation today. Whether it is the depression, I do not know, but seldom at Covent garden or at any musical festival do I see a large number of my colleagues anxiously waiting to imbibe culture. So one can weigh up the problems that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has in funding the arts.

I am concerned at the situation in the schools, about which we have just heard. When one considers the arts in this country over the past century, one sees that there has been a remarkable transformation. It is quite extraordinary. One can trace it back to the start of the promenade concerts with Sir Henry Wood. When I was a kid in the 1930s, I used to cycle 73 miles from my home to London, stay with friends for a week, go to the prom each night, paying two shillings, and then cycle 73 miles back again. That was worth while. If we wanted it, that was what we did. In those days, the prom gave one an education in classical music, with some modern works. There was the Wagner night, the Haydn and Schubert night, the Beethoven night on the Friday, the mixed night on the Saturday, and new ones on the Tuesday. It was a well-balanced performance. I believe that the BBC has gone too far now: that basic education is no longer in the proms because it has moved too far in the other direction. I do not want anybody to accuse me of going "back to basics", because that is not my attitude. On the other hand, I am not prepared to produce a full-blooded condemnation of atonality and those people referring to it. If one looks at the past, one finds that Beethoven was deeply criticised for his seventh symphony: it was considered far too modern and something that people did not want to listen to. Stravinsky's "Le Sacré du Printemps" was shouted down in Paris in 1913 when it was first performed. I went to the 50th anniversary performance in the Albert hall, with Stravinsky sitting beside me and Monteux, the original conductor, conducting it again. The Albert hall was packed to the ceiling with people who stood and cheered afterwards for minute after minute. One cannot be condemnatory about such things in a general way, however well versed one is in the arts and however high one's position in the country.

Look at what happened to the pictorial arts at the end of the 19th century and to the impressionists when their works were first produced. It took two intelligent Russians to go to Paris constantly and buy up the works so that today the Hermitage in St. Petersburg has the finest collection of impressionists. The same is true with the galleries in Moscow. What about Picasso? Look at the reception that he received when he first changed his styles. Now one has to pays millions if one wants a Picasso. We must be careful about saying that we must stick to the basics, because I do not believe that that is justifiable in any way.

After the Education Act 1944, on the basis of what we had on the proms, and the Saturday morning concerts, which were privately financed by Sir Robert Mayer, the educational addition produced the results that we have seen in the past few years. I have already cited the example of the European Community youth orchestra, as it then was. I was one of those who founded it. Our purpose was to show that our continent had a common heritage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the French heritage is different from ours, but I would not go far with him on that. The method by which they fund it might be different, but we have a common heritage. When I hear opponents of the European Union saying that we must keep our national heritage, I ask myself what on earth they mean. Are they saying that Shakespeare can be performed only in Stratford-on-Avon and that we should not play Bach, Beethoven or Brahms? That makes no sense whatever. We have a European culture in the widest sense, and that is what we want to continue to maintain. The European Community youth orchestra was formed to show that we were not concerned only with tariffs, agricultural policy, the price of meat, and so on, but that we had a common heritage which we wanted everybody—particularly the young—to share.

Music has the advantage of a common language. Had we gone for the theatre, we would have been in difficulty straightaway. Ballet was possible, but more difficult. We had a competition for members of the orchestra. At first the Germans did not want to take part, as they thought that it would affect their youth orchestras. After the first year, however, they realised that they were missing out on a good enterprise—a European culture—and they came in. We had the same assessment committee—at least two members of it, but a national assessment committee—in each country. I remember the difficulty in which I found myself in the last year that I advised and conducted that orchestra. Of its 126 members, 66—on merit—came from this country. That was entirely due to our educational system and to the youth orchestras that had been built up. For example, many countries could not produce double bass players or people who could play the larger wind instruments. Britain could produce all types of musicians. I had to say that 66 members out of 126 was too big a proportion for one country and that the orchestra's membership had to be spread further, and that was done. That is how we developed what is now the European Union youth orchestra.

My concern is that music education is dropping back. It is difficult to obtain exact expenditure figures because they are accumulated with other types of expenditure, but one can identify the number of children aged 11 or over who are receiving music education, and there is no doubt that there has been a drop of as much as 5 per cent.—I am sure of that. People write to me from all over the country saying, "Our school no longer has a music teacher—it cannot pay for a music teacher." That is a loss. Other people write to me, "Can you help us to buy an instrument for our daughter, who is proving to be a good violinist?" There is a limit to what one can do in that way, however deserving the cause. Those are real needs. If one is to deal fully with the problem, one must focus attention on those real needs rather than make critical remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If that is done, we may secure continued support for other aspects of the arts.

There is no doubt that private funding fell in the recession. That is pointed out by people who have the figures. It may take some years before we retrieve that funding. If one makes cuts in music, one loses out for a long period, and it takes a long time to make that up. If one postpones a construction job for one or two years, it can be restarted, but the same cannot be done with the arts. It cannot be done with young people in orchestras or theatres or in other artistic disciplines such as design. That is why I am much against so-called temporary cuts. Their impact is lengthy and it takes a long time to make up that loss.

Both the Arts Council and our orchestras face difficulties. I hope that my noble Friend Lord Gowrie will review that issue philosophically. I am sure that he will. I have no doubts about his power to put his own views and those of the Arts Council strongly. In the latest episode, the Arts Council wanted a super-orchestra—or two—in London. At present, London has five major symphony orchestras and a growing number of smaller string orchestras and chamber orchestras. The Arts Council concluded that it was not possible for those five to reach the standard of the major orchestras of the world such as the Berlin, Amsterdam, Venice, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York orchestras, and there are people who support the Arts Council in that view. Leading world conductors will come to London if they can bring their own orchestras, but not otherwise. That is partly due to standards and partly because London will not pay the fees that they receive elsewhere. That also comes down to funding.

A growing difficulty in the past two or three years is that fewer musicians want to be contracted to an orchestra permanently or for a period of years. They say, "We would rather keep our freedom; if you want us, telephone us beforehand and we will say whether we are available." That is bound to weaken the strength of a major symphony orchestra. In some cases, 30 per cent. of an orchestra's strength has to be made up by telephoning musicians who are not contracted to it.

That situation leads to far too low a level of rehearsing. I have known all too many cases of inadequate rehearsing. When I was asked to conduct a Coronation anniversary concert at Kenwood last year, I said that I must have two rehearsals. They said, "You are being very difficult--but if you insist." I said that my second stipulation was that the musicians who played in the first rehearsal must play in the second rehearsal. They said, "Now you are being really difficult—but all right, if you insist." I said that there was a third stipulation—that the musicians who played in the two rehearsals must also play in the concert. They said, "That is going too far—you are asking too much." But they agreed in the end.

There was a previous attempt to establish a super-orchestra, 30 years ago. It was decided that one of the symphony orchestras must go. At the time, I was a trustee of the London symphony orchestra. To everybody's surprise, the doomed orchestra, the philharmonic, suddenly received royal support and became the Royal Philharmonic orchestra—so then they could not get rid of it. Thirty years later, that has been tried again and ended in failure. My only advice is that everything must be worked out and agreed beforehand, and then be carried through. Otherwise one suffers, as Lord Palumbo unfortunately suffered, from a complete turnround in orchestras.

The Birmingham symphony and Hallé orchestras also had intense financial difficulties. Simon Rattle said, "Unless you get this, I go." That is a most unhappy position. I want the funding of orchestras improved, and I will give figures to illustrate my argument.

The Berlin philharmonic has a total income of £16.2 million. All its members are on contract. They are ordered when to go on holiday, and they are forbidden to play anywhere else when they are on holiday. They meet all their obligations to the Berliners. The Chicago orchestra has an income of £22.55 million, and the New York philharmonic has £16.7 million. The orchestra with the largest financing in this country is the London symphony orchestra, with £7.7 million—only one third Chicago's income. The Bournemouth, which I admit is my local orchestra, has an income of £4.82 million, which is only about half that of the London symphony orchestra. The contrasts are immense.

In the United States, almost all the funding is from private sources—from concert revenue or from supporters. That is because the Americans have a tradition of private charity, and tax incentives to make donations are considerable whereas those in this country are not. The tax incentives in the UK to keep one's money in a family trust are great, and there is not the incentive to use money from a trust to support orchestras or other forms of the arts. I suggest to those who are working on the issue that tax changes could be enormously influential in persuading companies and individuals to be charitable towards the arts and towards musicians in particular.

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Although I accept some of my right hon. Friend's points, is he not denigrating some of our symphony orchestras a little too much? Some of our best orchestras play to a brilliant, precise and inspired standard and display a high level of musicianship. With the greatest respect, my right hon. Friend should pay more tribute to those orchestras' strengths and standards.

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I am trying to put our orchestras in a world perspective. Orchestra players know the position perfectly well. Many of them are no longer contracted to a symphony orchestra because they prefer to keep their individual freedom and perform when they feel like it, which I regret. If my hon. Friend is asking how our orchestras compare, I will give him my view in private. I am not denigrating any of the British orchestras—I am pointing out the difficulties that they face. We shall get nowhere and do no one any good if we do not acknowledge those difficulties. The only way to improve matters is by recognising them and describing what action should be taken.

The Berlin philharmonic has an income of £16.2 million. Income from its concerts totals £6.9 million; the rest of its revenue comes from Berlin's local government, the state or Bonn. The position is the same in Hamburg. I do not have the figures for Hamburg, but they may be higher as Hamburg has the opera. In Europe, Governments willingly make full contributions because they realise the importance of music and the arts to their countries.

The facts are there for all of us to see. In the rest of the arts—for example, in architecture and in pictures—we have done very well, but the remarkable achievements of this century and, in particular, of the past 50 years should not be gradually whittled away by a number of forces, some of which I have described.

I give the Secretary of State my full support for everything that he wants to do to reach the position that the public and those involved with the arts want to reach. The interest and demand is there. That is why so many people are sad about what is happening in our schools and that we cannot give greater support to the things that they value.

5.21 pm

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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) not only because of his knowledge of these matters but because of his insight into what he described as the more monetarist wing of the Conservative party and the things for which it was responsible. Some of my speech will relate to that more monetarist wing. I can only sadly reflect, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does, that some of the policies that that wing proposed, not least the Broadcasting Act 1990, would never have been enacted if the less monetarist wing of the Conservative party had not been prepared to vote for it. I want to deal with those who suffered the consequences of that Act.

The Secretary of State did not refer to broadcasting in his opening speech, but I make no apology for doing so. I am sure that the House supports the view that broadcasting policy is of enormous importance in any debate on the arts.

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This, too, is of importance. As usual, there is an awful smell of cooking coming up as a result of the artistic creativity of the chefs in the kitchen. Will someone ask them to redirect the smells elsewhere?

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The matter will be looked into.

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I am enjoying the smell of cooking; we should have a vote before anything precipitate is done.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to the way in which events have developed, including the proms. If I am to justify concentrating my remarks on broadcasting, I need do no more than to say that it is only via broadcasting that the arts are made available to millions of people. I confess that I am not a great fan of the proms or of the last night of the proms, but I acknowledge that 5 million people watched it on television on 11 September last year and that the "Young Musician of the Year" finals this year, which I watched and enjoyed, were watched by 1.3 million people. That attracted a smaller audience for a less widely publicised event. None the less, a huge number of people watched it. I always measure audiences against the number of people at Wembley on cup final day. The audience for the "Young Musician of the Year" finals was about 13 times as high as the number at Wembley on cup final day. That audience was of tremendous importance.

I say with a great sense of urgency that something precious in this country—the structure of broadcasting and the quality of programmes that it delivers—is in danger of collapsing. It is the Secretary of State's responsibility to ensure that it does not do so. I will not say that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup reflects a golden age because I did not regard the years 1970 to 1974 as such, but some of the things that have happened to broadcasting as a result of deliberate Government policy would have been unthinkable during that earlier Tory Administration or under any Labour Administration.

I do not need to establish the credentials of British broadcasting, which are well known and understood. British television is recognised as being among the best, if not the best, in the world. It broadcasts a huge range of high-quality programmes and transmits to most homes in this country—21.5 million, or 98 per cent. of households that have access to terrestrial television. That is almost everyone.

The threat to terrestrial television must be dealt with urgently by the Government. At its best, broadcasting enriches our lives. We watch, on average, 25 hours of television a week. That is a lot of hours a week, but television is far more important to the housebound, the elderly, people with disabilities and children. A lot has been said recently about the damaging effect of television on children. Good-quality children's programmes enhance children's lives, just as directed programming enhances the lives of other groups in the community.

It is no understatement to say that broadcasting is in a state of crisis. I shall give specific examples that need to be dealt with rapidly. The first relates to job losses. I should declare a degree of self-interest in that matter, although I no longer have a direct interest. The television industry has suffered enormous job losses in the past seven years, before and immediately after the implementation of the Broadcasting Act. In 1987, 16,937 people were employed in ITV; by 1993, the number had halved to 8,000. In the same period, the BBC shed one in four jobs. A lot of people will say that the job losses were among bureaucrats, who we could do without. But if he is honest, the Secretary of State will know from his visits to different television centres that many of those who lost their jobs were highly skilled and well trained: they included sound engineers, vision mixers, production assistants, directors, and producers, who had a range of broadcasting skills. They have been lost and they will be extraordinarily difficult to replace. It will not happen through the so-called independent sector, which lives off the experience and expertise that was built up in the public sector of old.

Secondly, as many of us predicted, there has been an almost inevitable lowering of standards in broadcasting. I am talking about a deterioration not in the quality of programmes but in the ethos surrounding their production. Not long ago, the Public Accounts Committee published a report on the way in which the ethos of the civil service has steadily gone down hill. The same is happening rapidly in broadcasting. It is all to do with the creeping and overlapping commercial interests that come into the production of programmes. Am I the only person in the country who does not like programmes being sponsored by commercial organisations? Does it really add anything to "Play Your Cards Right" that it is sponsored by The Sun newspaper? Does it add anything to "Rumpole" to say that a particular brand of drink is sponsoring it? Is there any limit to the amount of sponsorship money that will go to programmes?

Let us take the example of programmes of national interest. I am not being entirely facetious in saying that, if present trends continue, the state opening of Parliament will one day be sponsored by a tobacco company and will be available exclusively on Sky. That is the logic of the way in which the financing of programmes is developing. Programmes go to the highest bidder. That includes the largest amount of sponsorship money that happens to be available. If the programme is available only to a restricted audience, so be it. That is the response of so many people.

On the next matter, perhaps I may appeal to the Secretary of State, with his love of sport. Predictably—I am not being wise after the event; many of us have said this time and again—the proliferation of channels does not mean the extension of choice. It is not an inevitable consequence of the number of channels being increased that we get more choice. If the channels all produce the same stuff and a lot of it is dross, there is no extension of choice whatever. We know one specific way in which there has been a reduction in choice. Again, I appeal to the Secretary of State.

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The hon. Gentleman uses the phrase, "It is dross". With respect, who is he to decide what someone else wants to watch and what they find interesting?

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I have heard the hon. Gentleman develop that argument in the past. He knows very little if he thinks that the delivery of television programmes, even on totally deregulated commercial channels, is entirely a matter of what the audience wants. It is not merely a matter of responding to audiences in the way that the hon. Gentleman, in his populist way, wants. Let me assure him that it is all to do with much more complicated machinations between advertisers, money men and accountants. The type of television that he seems to want is dominated by the accountants and advertisers, not by the programme makers and the people.

One area in which we have restricted choice is the availability of many key sporting events to most of our constituents. At one stage, we would have been able to watch Brian Lara score his 375 the other day live on terrestrial television. We certainly would have been able to see the edited highlights in a package in the evening. We cannot see it now. It is available only to people who have access to Sky. We shall not be able to watch the Ryder Cup next time round. We cannot watch the key premier league football games. Again, football is a national sport. Those of us who not only watch it on television but go to matches regularly want to see the best of British football on television.

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One can see the rugby league.

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My hon. Friend is right. We can see the rugby league—but for how much longer if present trends continue, I do not know. What else will go before long? Will it be Wimbledon next? It may well be. I am less concerned about Wimbledon than about premier league football, but they are both national events and part of our national heritage. If we make them exclusive to satellite television, we shall lose something valuable and important. Our choice is being restricted, as many of us predicted it would, with the deregulation of the media.

What else is happening? We are seeing the inevitable and inexorable growth of monopoly power within the media. We must deal with that because it is extremely important. It has been dramatic in independent television. We all know that, in effect, independent television is controlled by three people: Messrs. Green, Hollick and Robinson. I make no comment about them as individuals except to describe how rapid the change has been.

Two years ago, Michael Green, or his company, did not own one television company. He acquired the franchise for Carlton. Within a short period, the bosses of television managed to persuade the Secretary of State that the rules by which they had happily been prepared to abide when they bid for the franchises were no good. They said that they were wrong and unfair to them. So the rules were relaxed and Carlton acquired Central, which in turn has shares in GMTV and substantial interests in ITN. So, from nowhere, one individual has acquired a tremendously powerful voice within the world of commercial television. I do not like such growths in monopoly control.

There is also the scandal of the protected position of Sky Television and Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps some Conservative Members have more detached views of Rupert Murdoch these days than they did when the privileges were announced. His newspapers are temporarily not quite so friendly to the Conservative party as they were a few years ago. Suddenly and rather belatedly the Prime Minister and perhaps the Secretary of State have discovered that the tabloid newspapers influence people. Ministers complain about tabloid newspapers determining who is in the Cabinet. The Secretary of State's predecessor was particularly vitriolic on that point.

Opposition Members have for many years complained that tabloid newspapers can be an important determining factor in who wins general elections. So perhaps the growth of monopoly power should concern us all. We should be worried that, as well as owning all the Sky channels, one individual owns 35 per cent. of the newspapers in Britain.

I had a real insight into the power that cross-media ownership brings with it when a few weeks ago I talked to an experienced producer who had made a programme for Sky Television. He had made dozens of programmes previously for terrestrial television. The usual programme launch was held. The press were invited along and told that it would be a splendid programme—

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt, but the Order Paper says that this is a debate on the arts. Although the hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to the arts at the beginning of his speech, he seems to be talking about all the other responsibilities of the Secretary of State and not about the arts.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but the debate is actually on the Adjournment. That is the real debate.

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I expected a challenge along those lines, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to speak. Perhaps he was motivated, at least in part, by a hope that I would sit down fairly soon. I can assure him that I shall do just that. I do not think that it would need a great deal to persuade the House that if broadcasting in the public service sense to which we have been accustomed in Britain collapsed—in many respects it is in danger of doing just that—the arts of which the hon. Gentleman is so fond would lose a massive part of their audience.

I shall finish the true tale about the experience of the producer who found himself launching a programme that he had made for Sky rather than for the terrestrial channels for which he had always worked in the past. To his absolute amazement, the press attended in great numbers the routine press call to the launch of a programme. The producer suddenly realised that the journalists were there because the newspapers were owned by the same people who owned the television station for which he had made the programme. Sure enough, there were splendid write-ups in the said newspapers the following day. That is the implication of cross-media ownership. If Conservative Members cannot see the importance of that, I shall be very concerned indeed.

The Secretary of State has made one mistake in allowing television companies to take one another over. I hope that he does not make another mistake by allowing newspapers and television companies to become even more enmeshed with one another than they have been in the past.

I shall now suggest what the Secretary of State should consider. My first suggestion is a pretty impassioned plea. I get sick and tired of people being mesmerised by technology. I hear all sorts of talk about communications super-highways. I appeal to the Secretary of State to understand—I am sure that he does—that the fact that the same technology may be used to order a takeaway pizza as could be used to deliver live the film of the dismantling of the Berlin wall does not mean that the two are of equal importance or need the same regulatory system. The right hon. Gentleman's area of responsibility is crucially different from that of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I hope that he will not neglect the importance of preserving and defending standards in that area of responsibility.

Secondly, the Secretary of State should not be mesmerised by all the talk about the viewer penetration achieved by Sky, cable and satellite television. As I said, 21.5 million households have access to terrestrial channels. A staggering audience of 24 million people recently watched Torvill and Dean in the finals of a competition. However, only 3 million households have satellite and cable television and even the industry estimates that there will only be about 10 million households by 2000. No cable or satellite channel will be able to reach the audience that terrestrial television reaches today within the lifetime of anyone present. Therefore, if the Secretary of State does not concentrate on defending and protecting terrestrial television, with all its qualities, he will not be devoting himself to the most important task.

I must add a rider. At the moment there is no level playing field: the contest between cable and satellite television and the terrestrial channels is just not fair. No rules worth speaking of govern cable and satellite channels. They are not required to buy British or even European Community productions. The controls over what they can do, for example with sponsorship and advertising, are much looser.

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Quotas are set out governing European productions because they emanate from a European Union directive—British production obviously falls within that quota. How does the hon. Gentleman square those quotas, on which the channels are obliged to report and to which we have frequently referred in the House, with his statement that such channels are not subject to any controls?

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I can only give the right hon. Gentleman the statistics for the proportion of domestically produced material used. In 1992, 65 per cent. of BBC 1 and BBC 2 output was made up of original home-produced material and 60 per cent. of ITV and Channel 4 material was home produced. In the same year, 29 per cent. of material used by BSkyB was home produced and most of it was news and sport.

Whatever the rules and regulations, the expansion of cable and satellite television has not benefited British or even European Community domestic production. By and large, that expansion has been fuelled through cheap imports and the right hon. Gentleman knows exactly how the system operates.

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I was merely querying the hon. Gentleman's statement that those companies are under no controls. The directive establishes an obligation to meet the quotas where practical. The obligation is subject to that condition and the Commission takes that into account. However, the upward thrust of production must be towards meeting the quota figures.

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The right hon. Gentleman has answered his own intervention. There is no effective control—perhaps I missed a word out—and the rules do not apply equally to cable, satellite and terrestrial channels. No amount of playing with words will alter that fact.

I had not intended to go down that road, but since the Secretary of State tempts me I shall do so. I was stunned to learn today that, under the British regulatory framework, GMTV—the morning breakfast television programme—has had its regulations loosened by the television authority. The company was established only 18 months ago and knew what it was bidding for. It knew the rules, the terms and all the rest and worked out the price, but it has had its obligations eased unilaterally. What is worse, according to the report in the Financial Times today, GMTV said that it had implemented the reduction in the quotas—it broke the rules—in advance of the television authority's ruling and took "a calculated risk". Is that the way to regulate? The company hoped that the regulators would change their minds and ignored the regulations for the time being. That is not a regulatory system; it is a disgrace.

Added to that, GMTV is substantially owned by two of the moguls of the independent televisior, industry, Carlton Communications and Granada—not exactly companies that have had it rough since the Broadcasting Act was passed. They seem to have been continuously successful in lobbying to have the rules changed in their favour, despite the fact that they committed themselves so recently to the system.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that the same thing is happening in radio? Jazz FM quite properly submitted a bid to produce a jazz network, but has largely become a purveyor of American soul and alternative pop music, which is a great shame. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) objected that my hon. Friend's contribution did not deal with the arts, but television is at the heart of that subject. By the turn of the century the entertainment industry will be bigger than any other industry in America. It will be the biggest money earner. If we lose our ability to produce television programmes, radio programmes and films, we will also lose an important amount of money—perhaps our most important money earner—as well as our production ability in many sectors of the arts.

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I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend and I know that he cares as passionately as I do about such matters.

I am conscious of the time. Hon. Members may be looking nervously at my notes, fearing that I will go on for much longer and I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to many other subjects, but perhaps I can do so in correspondence rather than by taking up the time of the House.

The Secretary of State normally has a gentle and timeless approach to some of these problems and I urge him to realise that they are a matter of urgency. During the past few years one of the best broadcasting systems in the world has gone down hill rapidly because of the Government's lack of willingness to understand that technology is the servant, not the master, and that free market forces will not deliver quality programmes. If I can only persuade the right hon. Gentleman of those two facts, I will not have wasted my time.

5.47 pm

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I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) by devoting the greater part of my remarks to broadcasting, although I understand that his passion and enthusiasm for the subject led him to do so.

While I was at the Home Office, I was one of the architects of the Broadcasting Act 1990. The hon. Member for The Wrekin should surely bear in mind that, by agreeing to the mergers, for example, between Carlton and Central, to which he referred, three companies—Carlton, Meridian and Granada—dominate the ITV world and that one of the reasons for the mergers was to ensure that, when competing with Sky and the BBC, the ITV companies were substantial enough to deliver the hours of creative programming of good quality that they had committed themselves to in their franchise applications.

There is no point in having 10, 12 or 14 independent television companies all committed, under their franchise applications, to creative and constructive programming if their budgets are so small and their audience figures so limited that that programming has little worth or value. That is one of the aspects that the hon. Member for The Wrekin ignored.

I fully understand some of the hon. Member's other arguments and share his concern about the growing dominance of Sky in television, but a very important function of the mergers is that the Independent Television Commission, with the majors that have survived, should make absolutely certain that the commitments to important new creative programming are maintained. They should offer programming that not only we can enjoy, but produce programmes such as "Jewel in the Crown", which is so often quoted, that have a ready appeal on the world markets.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that when those companies gave their undertakings to obtain the franchise they did not expect to be able to give full weight to those undertakings unless they were involved in mergers? That was not the impression that they gave.

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I will not follow the hon. Gentleman down that path. I am sure that he will try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so he will be able to pursue that argument. Television is a rapidly changing world and competition in it changes quickly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has therefore had to be aware of those changes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) has strong support from me in one respect, because I find the combination of discussing the arts amidst the strong smell of overcooked beef an interesting but unpleasant experience. Perhaps it is the House's definition of nouvelle cuisine. We hear a great deal about the use of new technology in the House, but that combination is a remarkable presentation of it. I hope that your efforts, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to suppress those smells will soon be successful.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not only on the positive, determined and successful role that he has brought to weaving together the different parts of his important Department—heritage, sport and tourism, as well as the arts and broadcasting—but on a rather mundane success: that he has managed to have a debate on the arts today. In the 18 months that I was Arts Minister—I found that a pleasant, happy time—I never succeeded in persuading the business managers that we should have a debate on the arts. Perhaps we should have council elections more frequently, so that we can have more debates on the subject.

One of the permanent features of such debates is the position of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) as Opposition spokesman on the arts. I suspect that he was in the same position in the debate in July 1990.

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And many years before that.

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Yes, indeed.

As I listened to the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, I felt that he was slightly like Sleeping Beauty. He had been in the thicket of briar for so long, frozen into silence, that when he was given the chance to speak the words poured out almost without cessation. At times, listening to him was a little bit like reading a long book by James Joyce, because it was rather hard to know where the commas would come, let alone the full stops or, indeed, where the book would end. I know of his passion for the subject and I admire him for his persistence in speaking about the arts on behalf of the Opposition. Long may he continue to do so.

The hon. Gentleman tends to be a Cassandra in sackcloth and ashes, who runs around complaining that everything is going wrong with the world of the arts. He behaved like that frequently when I was Arts Minister and I used regularly to remind him that in 1989–90 we had managed to get a record 14 per cent. increase in the budget for the Arts Council, which meant another £21 million for it. The hon. Gentleman never listened to me.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said, the hon. Gentleman might do his cause better if he occasionally spoke with more enthusiasm and positive verve about the many good things that are happening in the arts in Britain today, of which he is well aware.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, although Cassandra was all doom and gloom, she was always correct?

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I am not sure whether she was a mythical prophetess or not.

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I thought she was a ballet dancer.

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That shows that some of us have still got a long way to go. Perhaps my hon. Friend's mind will be changed by the end of the debate.

Only this morning, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and I were debating on a programme on Channel 4. I heard much the same notes of Cassandra—I mention the word again—from him then. I reminded him that if we walked just a few hundred yards from 4 Millbank, where the programme was made, we would come to the Tate. Its exhibition on Picasso and the relationship between his paintings and his sculpture is the most successful that it has ever staged. The Tate, funded as it is by the Government, has had a number of extremely successful years and it can now look forward to trying to develop a gallery of modern art on the old Bankside power station site. That example, which is so close to the House, is a living exemplar to us of how one of our major galleries is doing so well and attracting huge crowds.

One of the pleasant things that one notices when driving by the Tate at lunchtime is the enormous number of young people who are congregated on the steps of the gallery. They are there talking, eating sandwiches and using the Tate as a place to get together. That is exactly what a major art gallery should be like.

My old friend, Lord Gowrie, whose letter of 4 May, sent to us all, has already been quoted in the debate, has not only shown, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, that he will be a fierce and independent defender of arts interests as chairman of the Arts Council, but he concluded his letter with the words:
"The arts need nurturing, not spoiling."
The purpose of the debate is to enable us, with our different viewpoints, to consider what is the best way to nurture rather than spoil the arts.

I should declare a number of interests, which are all recorded in the Register of Members' Interests, because I am the patron, trustee or director of a number of arts bodies. I am also the chairman of a small start-up company, Interactive Telephone Services, which has interests in some of these areas. I should like to consider the way in which arts funding takes place. After Lord Palumbo released his mantle of chairman of the Arts Council he took a good swipe at me in an article in The Sunday Times for comments that I had made, as Arts Minister and subsequently, about the future of the Arts Council. Now that the Department of National Heritage and the 10 English regional arts boards are well established, I questioned the future role of the council as another intervening layer—a third layer—of authority, administration, spending and committees, governing how the precious sums of money that are available to the arts are distributed. Now that the Department is so well set, I argue that we should consider whether there was a case for major national clients such as the national theatre, the south bank, the two opera companies in London and national orchestras to be funded directly by my right hon. Friend's Department rather than through the Arts Council.

I have always argued that case with absolutely no ill will to the Arts Council; after all, I have many friends who have served on its committees and board. I wish Lord Gowrie, whom I greatly respect, every possible success in his job. I also wish the same to Mary Allen, who is the new secretary general. She has a good stage career behind her,so she must have learnt a lot from that about the ups and downs of life and must be used to having the spotlight, sometimes a critical one, focused on her.

However, I confess that I was always somewhat surprised at the amount of upset that those remarks of mine caused, not least to Lord Palumbo, because, after all, first the Office of Arts and Libraries and now the Department of National Heritage have funded the major museums and galleries directly. The British museum, the British library, the Tate gallery, the Victoria and Albert museum, the science museum, the natural history museum and the national gallery receive their moneys directly from the Government. Of course, they fight for more money—they use their sharp elbows to try to achieve that end—but, in my experience, that has always been a successful and good relationship.

If the Tate gallery, in the Turner prize awards, shows a collection of extremely modern exhibitions, including 12 tonnes of rice with red neon tubes down the middle, as it did recently, that does not cause the Minister to become upset. He does not say that surely there should be a portrait from the Royal College of Art there—a naturalist portrait —or that a portrait of the Minister should have been on the short list.

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No indeed. I say that only to show that that is a successful, satisfactory relationship. If that is so between the Department and the museums and galleries, why is it thought to be impossible between the Department and the theatres and the orchestras or the opera companies?

I confess that I often felt that the hostility with which my remarks were received by senior people in the Arts Council showed an unwillingness to think the unthinkable, an hostility to considering fundamental change, that is often a characteristic of a dying organisation or an organisation that has been in place for a long time without looking at itself and trying to revive itself actively enough.

There will have to be a change in the organisation of arts funding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reminded us that 42 more organisations had now been delegated to the 10 regional arts boards. I am not surprised by that. I am delighted by it. After all, the regional arts boards are now all set up. By and large, they have strong chairmen, good boards and good directors. I am sure that they will expect to be increasingly responsible for more and more bodies in their areas.

Leading on from that, one must reach the conclusion that, between the Department of National Heritage, the Arts Council and the regional arts boards, three organisations are concerned with arts funding. Is that not one organisation too many, consuming too much administration money, possibly interfering with each other too much? There is another strain to my thought, which is that the advent of large sums from the national lottery, which I greatly welcome—when I was Arts Minister, I always strongly supported the concept that we should have a national lottery—will, in the case of the Arts Council, for example, perhaps double its budget. There will be an enormous increase in the sums of money available to the national heritage memorial fund. That, in turn, should cause radical thinking about the way in which arts funding is organised.

The Millennium Commission, which I greatly welcome, and which will be chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will have to take direct decisions about which project to support for the year 2000. I believe that, in taking those decisions, the Millennium Commission will show that there is a principle of ministerial intervention in deciding the relative importance of one arts project versus another. That principle will be established.

I believe—I realise that what I shall say will cause some disturbance among my friends on the Government Front Bench—that that will lead to a consideration of the validity of the arm's-length principle that Ministers do not, notionally at least, intervene in the way in which arts budgets are spent.

I remember that on the first day that I arrived in the Office of Arts and Libraries I was told about the arm's-length principle. I think that that very afternoon, three Members of Parliament came to see me to plead that London City ballet should continue to receive a large subsidy. I said, "That is nothing to do with me; it is the arm's-length principle. It is entirely up to the Arts Council." I will not say from which side of the House the Members of Parliament came. They said, "Come off it, Minister. You can tell the Arts Council what to do. The London City ballet is very good news and you should jolly well make certain that it continues to receive the money that. they have always had. We like them very much and you should certainly go and tell Lord Palumbo what to do."

Putting the London City ballet on one side, when the Royal Opera house or the national theatre or the south bank need large sums of money for backstage restoration at the opera house, for building repairs at the national theatre, or for redevelopment of the south bank, it is to the Minister that they go. They speak to him about it because they hope that he will find some way of producing a golden key and unlocking a door which will produce funds for them that would not otherwise be available. That happened in the days when my noble Friend Lord Gowrie was Arts Minister, when Sir Richard Luce was Arts Minister and when I was Arts Minister.

When it became possible for the freehold of the Coliseum to be bought because the Holmes-à-Court estate showed its potential willingness to sell it, it was to me as the Minister that English National Opera made its representations, hoping that I would be able to find the money with which the freehold could be purchased. I am glad to say that, in the end, I was able to persuade the Chief Secretary to do just that.

I accept that the arm's-length principle is deeply useful to Ministers. It enables them to say, "This awkward decision is not mine; it is the Arts Council's." There must be a de minimis rule whereby many decisions will be, and should always be, delegated to the Arts Council or the regional arts boards.

However, I do not enormously like pretence. Perhaps that is why I am not a very good politician. I have always thought that there was a good deal of pretence behind the arm's-length principle. In the future, the strength of the regional arts boards, the strong Department of National Heritage with a Secretary of State who sits in the Cabinet, the national lottery moneys and the Millennium Commission will require the Department of National Heritage to be more in the front line, establishing its own priorities, and in the firing line. That does not give me the worries that it appears to give so many other people. I wholly respect my right hon. Friend's judgment in that respect.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cases that he cited as exceptions to the general principle have tended to concentrate on capital projects rather than on the revenue funding of specific artistic institutions and productions, and that he is taking us on to slightly marshy ground if he suggests that Ministers should be involved in lottery distribution? We are determined to make certain that that is additional to public expenditure.

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I accept that and I am wholly behind the principle that the lottery money should be in addition to existing public expenditure. I was only making the subsidiary point because I am not in any sense trying to lay down the rules. However, the Millennium Commission,which my right hon. Friend chairs and on which the President of the Board of Trade sits, I believe, as a second Cabinet Minister, will be required to take decisions about the way in which its share of the lottery money is spent. Those are likely to be capital projects, and Ministers will be in the front line. I welcome that and do not feel the great concern that many others have always shown on that issue.

I am immensely optimistic about the future of art, orchestras and galleries in Britain. Despite all the funding difficulties, the past 10 years have seen a renaissance of all kinds of art—from different cultures and ethnic origins —often helped by local authority money, patronage, sponsorship and the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, and I am sure that that will continue.

A few weekends ago, I visited the Tate of the West for the first time, in the company of Sir Richard Carew Pole, without whose persistence the Tate of the West would not have been built. It was also funded largely by money from the Cornwall county council. It was a joy to be there, not only to see the gallery and look out on the famous beach which Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth looked at, as one painted and the other sculpted, but to hear subsequently from Sir Richard Carew Pole about an investigation that had been conducted in the town only some 10 months after the gallery had opened, in which all local traders were asked what effect the gallery had had on their businesses. The vast majority said that the effect was thoroughly positive—there were more tourists, they were doing more business, and the whole town seemed to have been woken up again. It was more active and lively, and people were looking forward more positively than they had before that relatively small gallery had been built. That is a marvellous example of what artistic rebuilding in the centre of towns throughout the country can do in creating renaissances.

Not long ago, I was asked—I accepted with great pleasure—to review a book by my old friend, Sir Alan Peacock, who was chairman of the Scottish Arts Council and a combination of a formidable brain, a musician, economist and great iconoclast in the arts world. In his book, he quoted with approval the comment of two American professors that
"few of us are willing to take the responsibility of passing on to future generations a country whose beauty has been destroyed".
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will share that sentiment in this unusual arts debate this afternoon. By whatever means we arrive at it, we all wish to ensure that this country's beauty will be not destroyed but indefinitely preserved, added to and made more accessible to more people.

6.12 pm

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The debate has been well justified by all the contributions so far. I only wish that these occasions did not occur simply because the Secretary of State does not want to play a part in the local elections in Westminster.

The debate's reflective tone, exemplified by the former Minister for the Arts, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), is of greater value than the partisan character that tends to divide the House when we debate other matters. It is not because a consensus exists in the House—there are different angles of vision.

The Labour party spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), speaks with great passion on, and an obvious commitment to, these matters. He does not simulate his sense of outrage that the Secretary of State did not do better for the arts in the public expenditure round.

I do not profess to take the same tone, although I share the hon. Gentleman's disappointment, for the reasons that have been spelt out dispassionately by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). He made the important point that, when public spending is cut from the performing arts, it has a permanent or at least long-term effect. The postponement of capital projects is one, thing, but the cutting away of funds from a living performing company can be extremely damaging.

The right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex asked whether the Arts Council was necessary and whether the arm's-length principle was simply a form of humbug. An answer lies in what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said about the history of arts funding. He recalled the lack of support for the arts during the bleak 1930s of his childhood and contrasted it with what happened in the post-war period. It is not entirely a propter hoc fallacy to reflect on the effect on the arts as a result of the report of the committee chaired by Lord Keynes and the setting up of the Arts Council in its early form at the end of the war.

Even more significant than the funding role of the Arts Council in the future may be its role as an advocate for the arts. The transfer of responsibility to the regional arts boards for funding some institutions is a healthy step, as it involves local communities more directly in the choice of institutions that they want to back. But there can never be a substitute for the nationally expressed voice of the Arts Council, which seems to have suffered in recent years. I do not blame Lord Palumbo for that because he had some bright ideas and a difficult row to hoe. He deserves credit for the millennium fund, among other things, which he personally advocated. As he returns to private life, I wish him well.

The Arts Council has not sung with a clear voice in recent years. I hope that, under its new chairman, Lord Gowrie, it will not merely be independent—I have no doubt about that—but will have clear authority when it speaks for the nation on those matters. It is not always open to Ministers of the Crown to speak with authority on those issues, not only because they are understandably reticent about expressing artistic priorities but because, within the scheme of things, the arts inevitably do not have the prominence of some other areas of our national life.

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State mentioned "Albertopolis". I was beginning to look forward to a rendition of "Albert and the Lion" by Stanley Holloway, but perhaps we did not have quite the roar that Holloway would have given us. But the Secretary of State reflected an acceptance that the arts lie at the heart of society and are the basis of the nation's civilisation, and that the ideas and notions that they convey are often inexpressible by other means. What may be peculiar to the arts is the fact that, if they are to be part of our environment, new ideas are the prerequisite of success.

It is in the sphere of novelty and innovation that public funding is important. The market does not automatically provide for new forms of expression; nor does it always go to those parts of our country and communities that have not had the opportunity of hearing or seeing a specific art form before. Public funding will always be necessary in order to increase access to the arts in those areas and to spread experimentation. If we under-resource the nation's arts, we shall have to resign ourselves to a duller society.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to two notable connoisseurs from Russia who had, through their private patronage, brought a wealth of impressionist paintings to the Hermitage. Private patronage has an important part to play in society today —indeed, it always has.

The right hon. Gentleman's reference to those two Russian connoisseurs made me think of a Scottish connoisseur called Alexander Reid, who became a partner in a firm known today as Reid and LeFevre. He spent a formative part of his life in Paris, where he shared accommodation with Vincent Van Gogh. He was the subject of a notable portrait by Van Gogh which, I am happy to say, hangs in the municipal collection in Glasgow. As a result of his wise advice to the tycoons of the day in Glasgow, many of them invested in the purchase of paintings by Sisley, Monet, Pisarro and others whom he had known and admired. Their paintings were, in turn, passed on to the great municipal collection in Glasgow. That happened as a result not of public intervention, but of connoisseurship and wise patronage. That will never be displaced, any more than will the need for public funding.

We cannot rely on sponsorship to provide continuity of artistic endeavour, which is why the Secretary of State must win his battles with the Treasury. There has been generous sponsorship from a number of major national companies. The Secretary of State mentioned two—British Telecom, with its involvement in orchestras, and the Allied Lyons link with the Royal Shakespeare company. Those sponsorships are welcome, but we must remember how private sponsorship failed the Royal Shakespeare company for a time, and there were dark nights in the Barbican. We must recall how close the Barbican came to losing that central part of our current national artistic provision.

Those who sponsor the arts are conscious that they cannot provide core funding, but can only help to boost it and enable those involved in the arts to do better work and to take their work more widely around the country.

I shall spare the Secretary of State a lecture on the importance of the arts, as I do not doubt that he well understands the significance of the arts to our national economy. If he is looking for a job in the future, he could do worse than chair the British Tourist Authority. Were he deployed in that role, his recounting of the excellence to be discovered in Britain today would doubtless bring many more visitors to our shores. He is right to draw attention to the extraordinary quality of work being done in all parts of Britain today—not only by those professionals whose contribution is admired throughout the world, but by amateurs and those who enjoy participating in the arts and the community, even in simple ways. Their contribution to the arts is of immense importance. Our funding policy can never lose sight of the importance of encouraging the young to have an understanding and appreciation of the arts.

Like the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, I am concerned about the evident decline in support for education in the arts. That is not the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State, but it must cause him concern. I hope that he will discuss with his colleagues what more can be done to provide musical instrumental training of the young. The treatment of music in the curriculum and of the arts generally appears not to have fostered the acquisition of those skills. The fact that itinerant, peripatetic music teachers are being withdrawn from schools in rural regions is disturbing.

Another issue for which the Secretary of State is not directly responsible, but which has caused great anxiety in the arts world, is that of discretionary grants for the performing arts in unrecognised institutions. The issue of who enters the performing arts is becoming an increasingly haphazard process which appears to depend increasingly on where one lives and how rich one's parents are, not on one's talent or whether one is likely to become the next Peggy Ashcroft or John Gielgud. That is not acceptable and I hope that the Secretary of State or, when he winds up the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage will mention that problem. It is not directly a matter for them, but it is giving rise to justifiable concern.

The arts play a role in society that goes far beyond the mere provision of leisure occupation. The arts also have a valuable therapeutic role, as those of us who are interested in penal policy—as I am, wearing another hat—can vouchsafe. In prisons we see remarkable examples of prisoners involved both in performing and in sharing the experience. Such activity helps to re-educate them, and to correct their view of themselves and their understanding of the world to which they must ultimately be returned—it should not be left entirely to happenstance.

It is desirable that such a role, as played by artistic organisations, should be enlarged and enhanced for the civilising effect it has on those people in our society who are much in need of it.

Despite the Secretary of State's recitation of the strengths of the arts world in Britain today, there are a number of areas of weakness and great concern. I do not wish to produce a shopping list of demands, because it would be a long one, but I must allude to the plight of the orchestras. Too many of them are in heavy deficit. If I were to single out one orchestra for particular attention, it would be the home orchestra of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup—the Bournemouth symphony orchestra. It services a substantial area of southern England and I understand that it has a deficit of £250,000, but has fewer resources to draw on than some of the better-known London orchestras. Although the Minister takes the view that he does about the arm's-length principle, I hope that he will have a word with Lord Gowrie about that orchestra.

The right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex is correct in recognising that things will change. One should not simply mouth support for the arm's-length principle when, in reality, ministerial influence exists and can be exercised beneficently. But if the Minister seeks to wind up the Arts Council, I think that I am prepared to have my cake and eat it.

I also draw the Secretary of State's attention to the extraordinary importance of the BBC to the arts. It is particularly important to draw attention to it at the time of the review of its charter. The BBC's orchestras alone constitute one of our greatest national advantages. They are particularly important in those parts of the country that do not have great resident orchestras. The orchestras travel to small communities and play new music. Orchestra members are allowed the flexibility to play in small groups and in reduced numbers in halls that could not accommodate full-size orchestras, which, of course, is the case in many parts of the country.

There is evidence that the BBC is looking for ways of disembarrassing itself of the cost of financing its orchestras. If that were to happen on a major scale, the current underfunding problems faced by other orchestras would become immensely more difficult to deal with. Although it may be an historical anomaly that the BBC has been able to create great orchestras, they are an asset which we should not allow to slip away through inadvertence or by putting pressure upon the BBC's funding arrangements and making it rethink the appropriateness of what it does.

That is only one of the many ways in which the BBC is a bountiful donor to the artistic world, but it is perhaps the one which is most seriously at risk at this time.

I hope that the Secretary of State will feel that the debate has been worth while and that he will prevail on his colleagues to make debates about the arts a regular feature of our political life. I think that it has been too long since we last had an opportunity to consider these matters.

6.33 pm

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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in the debate, as 38 years ago I used to play with him in a band. We attended the same college; and the president of our college junior common room was the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

I cannot always agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says, but I share in his tribute to the BBC in respect of music, not only in relation to its splendid seasons of promenade concerts which were mentioned earlier and its upholding of the orchestras to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but also in relation to what it has achieved through BBC Radio 3.

I draw the attention of the Secretary of State—whether or not he discusses it with the new chairman of the Arts Council; I hope that he will—to the whole position of orchestras. The chairman of the Arts Council is also a Balliol man, but I think junior to the other three persons I have mentioned. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the long-term position of serious music in this country after the BBC's next charter, which I hope will take place.

The National Heritage Committee—upon which I sit —in its report last year about the future of the BBC, while recommending the renewal of the BBC's charter for the next 10 years, anticipated that, with the growth in satellite and cable television channels, and as the time would come when people would be able to call up and put on their telephone bill any video that they wanted, then the whole concept of a daily menu of programmes through four television channels, which everyone is used to, would wither away. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who also serves on the committee, will confirm what I am saying.

That can hardly fail to have a knock-on effect in the very long term—looking 15 or 20 years ahead—on the four radio channels, including Radio 3. I think that this could possibly have a serious effect on taste for good music in this country, even despite the tremendous acknowledged success of Classic FM, which most people have admired and which has grown so much in the past year.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, firstly, on the positive survey that he gave the House of the arts scene in Britain and, secondly, on the national lottery. I was glad to hear him say that he was determined to make the proceeds additional to public expenditure. The more often that this is repeated the better, and I was glad to hear him say it again today.I am convinced that history will show that the national lottery was a great achievement for this Parliament and this Government. It will do a tremendous amount of good.

I see Britain as one of the capitals of the arts world. As the Secretary of State said, on any weekday in London there is a vast range of theatres, concerts, opera, ballet, museums, art galleries and special exhibitions. All over Britain there is a tremendous array of cathedrals, abbeys, castles and country houses which are open to the public. It is a tremendous heritage.

My constituency boasts Hampton Court palace and Kneller hall, where the painter used to live and which is now the Royal Military School of Music where British army bands are trained, whose high standards of excellence are the envy of the entire world. We have Horace Walpole's Strawberry hill, which was the beginning of the gothic revival in this country. It gave rise to every neo-gothic building that one can see, whether it is the Palace of Westminster, which was rebuilt after the fire; St. Pancras station; every Victorian town hall; or every Victorian school with pointed windows. All those buildings stem from Horace Walpole's Strawberry hill at Twickenham.

We have Marble Hill park, now excellently run by English Heritage following the abolition of the Greater London council. Last September, I had the tremendous privilege for an amateur pianist of playing with the London Mozart Players at the last outdoor concert of the season in Marble Hill park, which was attended by 5,400 people. We have the art gallery at Orleans house, and many fine Georgian houses.

The whole country has a tremendous range of historic buildings whose preservation we all want to support. English Heritage, for example, maintains more than 400 of them. The National Trust, which is a different kind of body, not only looks after buildings, but has a great deal of beautiful countryside and coastline. It also runs 320 properties, including about 190 historic castles and houses.

The Government have many historic buildings open to the public; local authorities have about 500 buildings open to the public; and in private hands there are about 1,300 members of the Historic Houses Association and those 1,300 houses are open to the public. All these statistics were listed in a report of the Select Committee on the National Heritage which was published a couple of months back.

In the performing arts, we have a huge amount of talent. There is a large number of brilliant actors and actresses, brilliant producers such as my constituent and neighbour Dr. Louis Marks, who produced the BBC series "Middlemarch" which attracted so much favourable comment from all over the world. We have superb musicians; we are one of the most musical countries in the world. Here I have to declare an interest as a member of the council of the Association of British Orchestras—although unpaid.

I am very glad that not only my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), but also the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland mentioned orchestras. I should say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup is a Balliol man as well, which makes five.

Three right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned orchestras. None of us should apologise for doing so. The whole House would hope that the Secretary of State, the new chairman of the Arts Council and his new secretary general should devote particular attention to the problem of orchestras, which they failed so signally to resolve last year.

Despite what my right hon. Friend said, orchestras are one of Britain's success stories. I believe, as I implied in my earlier intervention, that the standards of the top British orchestras are very high indeed. They achieve the most remarkable standards of accuracy, musicianship and spiritual dimension in their performance. They are extremely close in standard to such orchestras as the Chicago, Vienna, Berlin and Amsterdam orchestras, mentioned by my right hon. Friend.

In the richness and diversity of our orchestras, we have a provision unrivalled anywhere in the world. Their repertoire is tremendously varied and adventurous, although some of them face alarming budgetary difficulties. I hope that the whole House will support the most careful study and see if more can be done to find a solution.

I do not think we should ever play down our achievements in the arts. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central was a Cassandra—however Cassandra is defined and whoever Cassandra was. He was rather dismal and gloomy in what he said and I do not think that we should take such a despairing attitude; if we do, it will have a dampening effect on what the arts should achieve. We should build on our strengths and we should uphold the arts, which are largely a success story.

The arts are very important in this country, first and foremost for their intrinsic value, because what people perceive through their eyes and ears in the arts enriches and fulfils their lives and can excite and stimulate them and uplift their spirits. That is the most important thing.

Secondly, the arts have an undoubted economic value. Visitors come to Britain not for our weather but for our traditional scene, our heritage, our monarchy, our royal palaces, such as Hampton Court, our military bands, our cathedrals, our castles, our country houses, our villages and towns—many of which have great character—and our beautiful countryside, as well as our superb theatres and many of our concerts and other live arts performances. That is why visitors come to Britain; and when they do, they spend not only upon the arts and heritage, but upon hotels, restaurants, shopping and internal travel. Many of those activities are labour-ntensive and the visitors, by their spending, generate employment and income and a tax yield to the Government.

It has been estimated by the tourist board that visitors from abroad produce in income about £8 billion a year. Anyone can work out as a piece of simple arithmetic that, in a population of 55 million, that amounts to something like £140 to £150 per head of population, or about £400 per household, per year. That is money in the big league; it is equivalent to not far short of half the cost of the national health service or 5p in the pound on income tax. It is very substantial, and we would be crazy not to go flat out not merely to hold it up, but to increase it still further.

I know from what my right hon. Friend said that he is very much seized of that, and I am glad that his Department, which he is welding together so successfully, covers tourism as well as the arts and heritage, because, from an economic point of view although not in every other sense, these things are linked. That showed not only in what he said today, but in his evidence to the Select Committee on National Heritage.

Business sponsorship is very important, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central seemed to play it down. It is a hundredfold increase, from £500,000 per year in the late 1970sto£58 million a year now. When we compare that with the estimate of £80 million that the national lottery is expected to produce for the arts—or £80 million that it is expected to produce for the heritage—or the Arts Council budget which is of the order of £200 million, when it has found its level, we can see that it is in the same league.

Business sponsorship is very important and my right hon. Friend referred to the generous sponsorship of Allied Lyons for the Royal Shakespeare Company of £3.3 million over three years and the £500,000 from British Telecom to the orchestras.

The one which makes me uneasy is tobacco sponsorship. The purpose of sponsorship is to improve the image of the sponsoring company, to promote goodwill and indirectly to promote the sale of its products.

In a typical constituency with 1,300 15-year-olds, according to the Royal College of Physicians, 24 per cent. of 15–year-olds now smoke and, if there is no change in the pattern, about one-third of them or 100 of the 1,300 will die from smoking or smoking-related diseases. I do not want the arts, about which I care passionately, to be abused to foster goodwill for a product which is lethal. I hope that the arts will take that view and will look harder for other sponsors, and that eventually people will spend less on tobacco and more on other things. I hope that producers of other products will in turn provide the sponsorship for the arts that is currently provided by the tobacco companies.

Many arts events are attended by doctors. It seems that they are often musical. They go to a lot of concerts. I believe that they could make their influence felt rather more if they pulled together. Perhaps they could get the BMA to organise them to do so.

I should like to mention two final matters in which I have an interest. I have three choral societies in my constituency: the Hampton choral society, of which I am president, the Twickenham choral society and the Teddington choral society. All over the country, choral societies perform their range of oratorios, requiems and masses at two or three concerts a year. They are a mainstream British musical tradition. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) is in his place. The three choirs festival, which highlights what I am saying, sprang up in his county in the 19th century; choral concerts now take place all over Britain. This is an important and a particularly English tradition.

In London these choral societies find it increasingly difficult to get funds, because they seek to obtain them from the Greater London Arts Association, which is dominated by politically correct people from inner London. Thus an ethnic body in central London can easily obtain arts funding whereas a choral society in outer London cannot. To some extent, that could threaten the societies' future.

I would ask the Under-Secretary to be kind enough to send for information on this point and, when he has had time to do so, to let me have a letter on how choral societies, not only in my own constituency and in greater London but all over the United Kingdom, can be upheld in the future.

My final point relates to our military heritage. Anyone who travels from Devonshire to Portsmouth can see.HMS Victory in Portsmouth dockyard—and HMS Warrior. These are 19th century ships that have been preserved. However, if people in 100 years' time want to see a second world war ship—apart from HMS Belfast, which has been preserved on the River Thames, and one or two smaller ships—they will find it difficult to do so. Hitherto the preservation of such ships has been effected by a few philanthropists, including our former colleague Sir Philip Goodhart, who has preserved a submarine. It may become increasingly difficult to find a destroyer or a frigate because the only ones left will be those that have been sold to other countries.

I very much hope that the Secretary of State, who has already informed the Select Committee that he is seized of this matter, will give careful consideration to the funding of the preservation of warships, as part of Britain's military heritage. I am thinking not so much of the day-to-day revenue costs of keeping ships open as of the fact that they need major repairs from time to time to enable their hulls to survive. I hope that this activity can be funded by one part or another of the national lottery, so that the warships of the mid-20th century will be preserved for posterity. I should be grateful if the Government would give continuing consideration to that point, and if I could be told what they have in mind.

6.54 pm

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I begin by apologising to the Under-Secretary of State, because I shall have to leave before he makes his response. Nevertheless, I assure him that on Monday morning I shall open my Hansard with trembling fingers and read every word that he utters this evening. I eagerly anticipate that.

The House will be relieved to know that I shall be mercifully brief this evening. It is always a great joy to follow the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who took us on a little tour through the beauties of his constituency. I should like to mention some of the beauties of mine.

We have, for instance, Featherstone Alps, perhaps better known as a pit top, but it looks pretty just after it has snowed. We also have eight pits that have been closed down in the past 18 months. We have empty factories and a great deal of unemployment. Yet I think it crucial to speak in this debate, because it is in times of poverty and near-despair that we need the arts more than ever—and we need them where we live.

I would not want to denigrate Lord Gowrie and the Arts Council. On the whole, I happen to think that the council does an admirable job. It is all too easy to carp, because we all believe that we could do the job better. But it is not the Arts Council's job to look at what is happening deep down in the regions.

One of the problems in the regions is the lack of money given to our local councils. They are certainly not the be-all and end-all for the arts in my part of Yorkshire. They do go in for healthy fights with other bodies, and so they should. Unless, however, they have the money to prompt and to assist, and to fight other interested bodies, the arts do not stand a chance.

I think particularly of the hatchet job that the Secretary of State for Education has done—we are consistently deprived by his actions. He has decreed that education authorities be given only an absolute minimum of central funds. The West Riding used to enjoy a fine musical tradition of orchestras, peripatetic music teachers and so on. That tradition was second to none. If people want to see a dramatic improvement in education standards, they have only to look at the difference between how music, art, the dance and drama were taught a mere 20 years ago and how vibrantly they are taught now.

All this is threatened by imposing on schools the responsibility to duplicate what used to be done by the grand county council of West Riding, which stretched from Dent all the way down to Hemsworth, Barnsley and beyond.

As a result of the change, the quality of artistic back-up, and of the help with starting projects that is so crucial to the arts, no longer exists. The Under-Secretary of State should take up his sword and fight the Department for Education. I applaud what he has done for team games; now I urge him to take on another educational policy which is extremely short-sighted.

We still have a strong tradition of male voice choirs; some of the best ones come from the old West Riding. The tradition of their excellence continues. This relies very heavily on the work of people involved in education. Nonetheless, it includes everyone, from the top people—the miners—right down to the doctors. They all sing together happily, and to some purpose. Indeed, they often come to the Albert hall to bring a little civilisation to this cruel and barbaric city.

The problems of brass band have been compounded. In this context, I must express gratitude to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—this is beginning to sound like a love-in—for his work. I hope that the hon. Gentleman thoroughly enjoyed himself last Saturday, when huge crowds came from the north to the centre of this city and showed it how to behave. With all those people at Wembley, there was not a single arrest. That would not happen in Hayes and Harlington or any other such place.

Brass bands have a very serious problem which I have mentioned in the House previously. This arises from the closure of the pits. Frickley, which is in my constituency, was closed just at Christmas, and with it went the funds for the brass band. Those funds came not from the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation but from individual pits. Money was contributed by individual miners, and a certain amount came from the management.

This did not cover the entire costs, and it did not enable band members to live in luxury or to get off work. Members still went down the pit or went about their other jobs. However, funding was provided for youngsters participating in a village tradition. Those young people simply could not afford to buy such expensive instruments. Purchase was often on a shared basis.

It will be a very serious loss if, now that we have a grand arts Department, this kind of thing ceases. Apart from anything else, there is huge unemployment in my constituency. Youngsters leaving school cannot find work. I am thinking in particular of males. Boys do not have an opportunity to work with men who can show them how to behave and how to do a job.

In such a setting, a young lad stepping out of line was soon dealt with. Now boys are left on the streets. The kind of contact they need is available only through male voice choirs, brass bands and orchestras. Members of brass bands come together with string players to form orchestras, which have been very successful.

This is a fine heritage from the old West Riding, which was controlled, in turn, by Labour and Conservative councils, both of which contributed wholeheartedly to the tradition. The fact that the orchestras are rapidly dying out cannot possibly be blamed on the opting-out of schools, as no schools in the Wakefield area have opted out. The problem arises from the devolution of funding to schools.

I am arguing not that schools should not control their own funds but that the Government ought to recognise that there must be some central financial control if this function is to be properly discharged. It is just as important as the business of controlling truancy, for which central funds are necessary.

I should like to refer to the splendid sculpture park in Bretton, which is in the Wakefield district. If Ministers have not visited the park, I, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), invite them to do so. I shall be there this Saturday to see what is happening before we launch yet more Henry Moore statues.

Few sculpture parks can boast the Barbara Hepworths and the Henry Moores that we can boast. Both those people come from our area, and both were nurtured in the tradition and rigour of the West Riding. That is what informs their work. In Bretton, one can see sculptures in their proper setting. It is marvellous to behold families there on a good day. They take pictures and roam around the Henry Moore. These things are not sacred in that area; they are familiar.

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People can walk through it.

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Indeed, or, as I witnessed not long ago, play hide-and-seek. It is important that such things should become a familiar part of people's lives.

In this area of excellence, there is currently serious underfunding. If I could get hold of the Arts Council, I would make the case that it should be a priority. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will take a close look and see what can be done. The Wakefield council has gallantly set about funding the project. Now its continuation needs to be secured. I am quite sure that, in this regard, I shall have the wholehearted backing of the House and of the Department.

It is sad that a debate on the arts has to take place on an Adjournment motion. It is a great shame that such a discussion cannot be held in the middle of the week, when everything is throbbing and vibrant. However, the quality of the hon. Members present makes up for the lack of numbers.

7.6 pm

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I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright). I agree with much of what he has said and, in particular, with his final remarks. We are all delighted to have this debate, but it is a scandal that the last one took place four years ago. It is equally scandalous that almost every time that we have an arts debate it is held in what could hardly be described as prime time. It is a great pity that, almost certainly, very little of what is said in the Chamber will be reported in the press tomorrow. While talking about the press, perhaps I should say that, although I entirely respect the desire of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to interfere, I hope that he will be able to encourage some of the so-called quality papers to carry a parliamentary page once again.

I was tempted to follow the hon. Member for Hemsworth and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) by going on a scenic tour of my constituency. Sadly, I too can boast empty collieries. However, I can also boast fine historiċ houses, like Weston Park. I do not intend to take hon. Members on such a tour, but I should like to make a number of brief points.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has returned to the Chamber. I regard the hon. Gentleman highly in many ways—as a Staffordshire neighbour and colleague and as the son of a dear friend who had the good sense to sit on the Conservative side of the House. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman, when he speaks in the House, has to sound so totally cross about everything. He is not like that in private life. He is very much nicer than he sounds in the Chamber. His diatribe this afternoon would have made one think that nothing was right, that all was wrong.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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The hon. Gentleman did not give way to me, but I shall give way to him.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. Far from being a diatribe against everything, what I said was a diatribe just against the Government's policy, or lack of it. I have nothing but praise for everything else in the world of the arts, whether at local government level or the work of Lord Gowrie. My speech was an attack on the Government and nothing else.

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I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's speech was not entirely worthy of him. One of the great features of the arts and our heritage is that many of us have struggled to keep them out of the party political arena. I am delighted to be chairman of the all-party committee on arts and heritage, which we founded in the mid-1970s and which has more paid-up members than any other all-party group in either House. We have successfully lobbied successive Governments.

Some of the achievements of the past 15 years include the national heritage memorial fund and the establishment of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, which is now called English Heritage. In that time, too, we have seen the burgeoning of new arts galleries in London. I think of the Clore gallery at the Tate and the Sackler gallery at the Royal Academy. We have every right: to be proud of all that has happened. By no means can all of it be the subject of praise for the Government.

I attended the opening of the Sainsbury wing at the national gallery and in a powerful speech Lord Sainsbury said—I hope that I can paraphrase him with reasonable accuracy—that although the family were delighted to be involved in that munificent gift to the nation—it was munificent—it was a pity that there was not more Government money for similar ventures. I echo that plea, just as I warmly endorse all the thanks that have rightly been bestowed upon the Sainsburys for what they gave to the national gallery.

Britain has incredible riches. The hon. Member for Hemsworth was slightly derogatory about the capital city but I am sure he did not mean it because in many ways London is the richest capital city in the world, although perhaps that is a subjective view. It has theatrical and musical traditions that are second to none and its museums and galleries are collectively the best in the world. We have an enormous amount to be proud of and it is our duty to ensure that when it is passed on to succeeding generations it will be even richer than it is now.

I am concerned about the fairly parlous structural state of some of our museums and galleries. My right hon. Friend, who is the most civilised man imaginable, made a passing reference to the Tate gallery. He was right about the Picasso exhibition but the Tate needs major structural repairs and it is important that they are effected. I hope that a prime task of the millennium fund will be to ensure that the structure of every major gallery and museum, not just in the capital city but in the country, is in a fit state to meet the 21st century.

Often we do not sufficiently appreciate what we have. The hon. Member for Hemsworth rightly spoke about people who have fallen upon hard times getting solace from the arts. Some of the most moving pictures that I have seen in the past two or three years have been those of the citizens of Sarajevo gathering for concerts. There was a marvellous event when Professor Nigel Osborne from Edinburgh sat in the middle of the devastated olympic arena and played a moving cello composition that he had written for the occasion. He played in white tie and tails surrounding by a crowd of people who had literally risked their lives to hear him. Older friends to whom I spoke about that said that it brought back memories of Myra Hess playing in the national gallery to the people of London in the last war.

The arts enrich and sustain. Anyone who had the chance to visit, as I did, one or two communist countries before the collapse of the Berlin wall will know what it meant for the people of those countries to be able to see good theatre, to listen to music and to get books. The arts have an overriding, enriching influence on our lives. As several hon. Members rightly said, the arts also bring money to this country. By jove they do, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said, people come here not for the weather but for our incomparably rich culture.

The letter from Lord Gowrie that has been quoted in the debate should be quoted again. It states:
"Our enviable level of arts activity, with all that implies for employment, foreign exchange and national interests in general, cannot be sustained against this background."
The background that he mentions is the parlous state of public funding. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for what he has done and for what he as a man stands for. There could be no more fitting holder of his office, and I am glad that he is supported and assisted by an Under-Secretary of State who adopts a robust approach to these matters.

However, we need more funding. I remember attending a conference organised by the Conservative party in 1979, shortly before our general election victory 15 years ago.My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham was there and probably remembers it too. Lord St. John of Fawsley, as he now is, was the moving spirit behind it and the Baroness Thatcher of Finchley, as she now is, made a passionate speech about the arts and money and castigated candle-end economies. She said that in the arts a little money goes a long way and that the savings which accrue when the arts budget is cut are minuscule in the context of the national budget. Those words are as true today as they were when she uttered them 15 or more years ago. Therefore, I hope that in the next round of public spending my right hon. Friend, supported by hon. Members from all parts of the House, will fight his corner as he has never fought it before. I make no criticism of his commitment, dedication and knowledge, which is considerable, but we must fight to preserve or increase the arts budget because it is a tiny sum.

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I was the one who raised the issue of the suitability of the noble Earl Gowrie as chairman of the Arts Council. I spoke not against him as an individual but because he is an ex-Conservative Minister. I know the way that these things go. Another reason for Lord Gowrie perhaps not being an ideal choice is that his letter mentions cuts in the arts. The hon. Gentleman said that the Baroness Thatcher spoke about candle-end savings, but many people in the arts have to survive on virtually nothing. I remember Lord Gowrie quitting as Arts Minister because he said he could not live on a salary that at that time was £33,000. That is a strange message to send to artists who live on a mere pittance.

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I cannot quite see the aim of that intervention other than to get something off the hon. Gentleman's chest. His jocularity shows that it was totally irrelevant and I do not intend to be led astray. However, I will say that gamekeepers often prove to be the best poachers and vice versa. Lord Gowrie will fight robustly for the arts and will be an admirable chairman. He is immensely civilised, has a great knowledge of the arts, and is skilful with his pen as well as on his feet. He will prove to be a doughty champion. The Arts Council will be well led by him and will have my complete support.

I understand the reasons for some of the doubts expressed by a former arts Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), but there is a need for an Arts Council. There is a case for all the great nationals to be funded directly as are the great museums and galleries, but I certainly think that there is a continuing role for a robust Arts Council, and I believe that it will be under Lord Gowrie.

I have talked about the Tate and the parlous state of its fabric. We should recognise that our museums suffer not just from leaking roofs but from their frozen purchase grants. Although the national heritage memorial fund does a wonderful job, it is deeply disturbing to me that so many of the important objects, for which the Export Review Committee refuses to give an export licence, eventually go abroad. I am not one of those who would fight to the last to keep every object in this country, as that would be entirely ridiculous, but nevertheless it is disturbing how many of the things that are of great national significance have gone abroad. The prime reason for them going is the level of purchase grant that our museums and galleries have. There is great unease and real concern among trustees—all those whom I know—and the directors on that score. That must be addressed with vigour.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might well say that the lottery will be able to help. As one of those who fought for the lottery, I am delighted about that and welcome the new money but, as has been said on a number of occasions, it is no substitute for Government and national responsibility. It is vital that it should be additional money against an increasing national budget, not against a frozen or decreasing one. That is important and I would welcome assurances from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when he replies. I know that he shares my concern about the wonderful museums that we have throughout the country and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

I have a particular interest in, and concern for, another group of buildings—our historic churches. In so many of our towns and cities, the only building of real historic interest and significance is the church. I speak as church warden of a small village church. The village has a relatively tiny population—under 300 people—and we are raising £100,000 to repair our church. Although we have the aid of a grant from English Heritage, for which we are extremely grateful, we shall have to raise the bulk of the money ourselves. If we have a similar problem in five or six years time, it will be beyond the resources of such a small area to raise a similar sum again. That tale could be repeated time and again up and down the country.

I declare an interest as a trustee of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, which, every year, gives away some £500,000. We are climbing a mountain that is getting bigger by the year. One of the problems is the vexed question of VAT on repairs to listed buildings. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who is a former Treasury Minister and, in that capacity, received me with trustees on that subject some years ago, will talk to the Chancellor and other Treasury colleagues about it. That problem will not go away; indeed, given the increasingly parlous state of the Church of England's finances, it will grow bigger year by year. Any nation that allowed some of its fine historic churches and cathedrals to be put in jeopardy could not call itself civilised.

Only today, incidentally, I received a letter from our former colleague, Sir Hugh Rossi, who heads up the new Historic Chapels Trust. Again—I am not just concerned about the buildings of the established church—there is a real problem. I welcome the new trust and I am sure that Sir Hugh will give it dedicated and splendid leadership, but it does not have funds and resources. He is looking for ways and means of raising the finance to sustain those religious buildings that are no longer used, but that are an important part of the life and history of the country.

In many of the mining towns of Wales, Yorkshire, and even parts of my native Staffordshire, the chapel played a central part, but now, in many cases, a handful of people go, or none at all, and it is redundant. Far too many of those buildings have been turned into furniture repositories, office machinery sales rooms and all sorts of wholly unsuitable uses. It is excellent that Sir Hugh's trust exists to try to preserve redundant chapels but it needs money.

That brings me to the point that I made earlier—the sums that we are talking of are very small. They are tiny in the national budget. My right hon. Friend's Department has, in comparison with other Government Departments, a very small budget. I am not a prodigal spender, and I do not advocate open-ended commitments and blank cheques, but there is a national responsibility. I welcome the establishment of the National Heritage Department, but it is sad that this is the first debate on the arts since it was established. I was one of those who argued for its creation 20 years ago and constantly made reference to the need for uniting arts and heritage under a Cabinet Minister, so of course I am glad that it is there, but if it is to fulfil its potential, it needs a proper budget to meet all of its responsibilities. At the moment, it does not have that, and we should all do everything that we can to try to ensure that it gets greater resources.

We are dealing with one of the most important subjects that Parliament can debate, because, in a few years' time, amid the furore of a Tuesday and Thursday, the particular issues that might have excited passions today on many other fronts will be forgotten. If our civilisation is to survive, it is important that the buildings that encapsulate it and the works of art that speak of our heritage and history are preserved. It is now the responsibility of the National Heritage Department to do that. I am sure that there is not a single hon. Member in the House who would not wish my right hon. and hon. Friends success in their tremendous task, but we need to give higher priority to the subjects that we are debating today, in financial terms as well as parliamentary time.

7.27 pm

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After the last few words of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) I feel almost like breaking out and singing Rule Britannia or perhaps even the national anthem, so deeply do I feel about such matters. This is a club: it is the "we all love the arts" club—the luvvies' club—and I am not a member. I am on the outside —a Philistine. Indeed, if you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will excuse the ethnic expression, if it were down to the unanimity of many hon. Members, I would be blackballed. I am delighted about that, because it is not the sort of club that I want to belong to.

I have heard a couple of things that interest me. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) talked about bringing the arts to prison. The mind boggles. Imagine the Krays dressed up in tights and prancing around—that sounds rather good—or Ronnie Knight singing like an opera singer instead of like a bird? Perhaps we should bring in the Trojan horse for those on the other side—they might be able to use it for other purposes.

In the Whips Office there is a Conservative research department brief on the arts. Under the heading "The Governments's Approach" it says:
"The central aim of Conservative arts policy has always been to encourage wider access to, and higher standards in, the arts. This aim applies at every level of artistic activity, from amateur dramatics to Grand Opera."
That is very good, very narrow, very exclusive and very elitist, is it not? There is no mention of anything but amateur dramatics in the arts. Why not darts? That is a game played in most working men's clubs throughout the world and in this country, particularly in the north-east and north-west, but there is no mention of improving the standard of darts playing. Ten-pin bowling is one of the most enjoyed leisure pursuits. Those who play have to pay the full cost of using the bowling lanes, but there is no mention of the Government becoming involved in improving standards there. The same is true of tiddlywinks. Table tennis is probably played by more people in this country than any other sport, but there is no mention of that. What always angers me about arts debates is that they are too damned elitist and closed shop.

There is no reference to the sports that I mentioned because they are not Establishment sports or pursuits—although given the decimation of the arts world in America and here due to a particular kind of illness, one wonders what the arts world gets up to in respect of some leisure pursuits. Our heritage is what the Establishment says it is. Time and again, I have asked for somebody to tell me in simple words—because I am a simple chap—what is so special about the arts and what is so ordinary about working-class pastimes.

I refer, for example, to the sport of my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe). Watching him dashing for the tape in the Olympics, either just behind or just ahead of Steve Ovett—the sheer form of that man running for his country—was to witness an artistic form. It was something special and really nice. Compare that: with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South about looking at churches, which would bore me to tears. Once, I visited Athens. It seemed like a Wimpey building site and I was absolutely bored. However, that is my view. If somebody else thinks that old broken brick is marvellous, that is up to them—but do not expect me to accept your view of what is special. In the same way, I do not expect you to accept my view of my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne.

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Order. The hon. Gentleman should not bring me into it. He probably did not intend to.

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I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We must be more generous and take a more general view of leisure pursuits. Take Pavarotti. Nowadays, he has to be helped on to the stage and leans against a backdrop. He has to be supported by other singers in case he falls over. He holds a handkerchief that is soaking wet, and he weighs 25 stone. His voice is going now. How on earth can he be seen to be singing a love song to a supposedly young lady but in reality to a woman of the same age and nearly the same weight who rocks and rolls every time she stands up? If others want to say that watching such a performance is their pastime and heritage, let them do so, but they should pay the full cost and not expect me, my constituents or anyone else to put our hands in our pockets to the tune of nearly £40 a seat to support them. If they are daft enough to follow that pursuit, let them be daft enough to pay for it.

For my sins, I have supported Bristol Rovers for 50 years. They are now struggling in the second division of the Endsleigh league. They are not doing well and are almost broke. When I attend their matches, and if I am not invited to the chairman's box, which is just a little wooden structure—nothing like the luxury box in which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) sits when he goes to Chelsea—

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The hon. Gentleman amuses me, but he is not getting away with that calumny. I am a Chelsea season ticket holder and I have been a regular supporter for 40 years. I queue for my ticket, sit in the stands, and pay for my seat—which is more than I can say for some Members of Parliament.

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I will take a guess that the hon. Gentleman has a cup final ticket, which many Chelsea supporters do not—and I bet that he did not have to queue for it. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that those of us who support soccer and appreciate its beauty —and the artistry of Manchester United, Newcastle and Blackburn Rovers in particular—pay the full economic cost of entering the grounds. Nobody says, "The cost of a stand seat is £60, but we will give you £40 towards it because it is important in the wider context of the heritage of our country." I suppose I should go down on one knee when I say that.

Football is our heritage. It was founded in this country, but nobody seems to care whether Hartlepool United goes out of existence, because the luvvies do not watch Hartlepool United but go in their droves to watch opera and ballet, kiss each other on both cheeks and say, "Darling, how nice to see you." That is why poor Hartlepool United and, to a lesser extent, Bristol Rovers have to struggle to make ends meet, week in and week out. I get fed up with it, I am sick and tired of it, and I hope that one day some common sense will be shown by members of my Front Bench and that something will be done.

The Conservative research department brief also states that the west end theatre is a success and that
"11.5 million people attended shows at West End theatres in 1993–94."
However, it does not reveal that the most successful shows are those where supply and demand come together—as in the case of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals—and make a price. The public are prepared to pay the full cost to see a damned good show. They are prepared to queue for tickets, or even to wait three or four months for them. In the arty-farty world, where it is a case of an obscure opera staged in the back of beyond, it is said, "It will go out of business unless we give it money." Of course it will go out of business if it is a load of rubbish and nobody wants to see it unless someone else pays for the ticket. That is the problem with the arts: so much rubbish is put on that nobody wants to see unless someone else makes a contribution.

I mentioned Manchester United and Arsenal. People pay the full cost to see them. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) mentioned the wonderful game that Wigan played against Leeds last Saturday. Everyone involved paid their own way. There was no subsidy of the kind given to transporting musical instruments. Players and fans paid the cost of their own journeys. They went to Wembley, where it cost them a fortune not only to watch the game but to pay for the barrels of beer afterwards—and good luck to them. There is no subsidy for those working-class lads up north who—unlike a load of middle class twits swanning around in their bow ties and long frocks—support their team and pay their own way out of their hard-earned wages. They paid the full cost, and quite right. We are all very proud of them.

The Conservative research document also makes reference to an access initiative,
"aimed at encouraging a wider range of people to participate in the arts, and at"—
this is the best bit—
"improving (or deepening) the quality of their experience of the arts."
Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State share with me—to use the "in" phrase—what is meant by deepening the quality of experience of the arts? That is politically correct tripe of the worst kind. Nobody wants to improve or deepen the quality of my experience of Bristol Rovers, but now we are to have a chap with a little hat and a badge saying, "I can deepen your understanding of the arts—let me talk to you and help you to understand the arts." I have never read so much tripe. If that is the sort of rubbish coming out of central office, God help us.

The briefing also states that
"Conservatives have provided record resources for the Arts Council. Between 1979 and 1993, the Arts Council's grant increased by 45 per cent.—over and above inflation."
What a boast. What a record. Some of my constituents have a job to survive, yet we boast of giving the Arts Council increases "over and above inflation." What sort of society does that? Value added tax has been imposed on domestic fuel because of the need to overcome the Government's debts or the country's debts, yet we can fire off money to arty-farty people and the luvvies. The poor, the sick and the elderly would be offended if they ever bothered to read that. They would ask, "Why do we have to struggle?" Am Ito tell them, "If you cannot heat your flat tonight, I will put you in a car and take you to the Royal Opera house, and the Government will give you £40 to get in—and that will keep you warm as well." That is the logic of this nonsense. How can we talk of making savings to get Government finances right when that sort money is sent down the plughole? It is a disgrace and a shame and I hope that common sense will take hold one day and that some of us will have a chance to put things right.

The briefing adds that although the Arts Council grant will fall in 1994–95 it will still stand at £186 million, which will still be
"£800,000 more than was originally planned in the 1992 autumn statement."
The luvvies will not like that. They will say that it is not enough. On the other hand, an extra £1.6 million will be provided in 1995–96—again, more money wasted.

I did not vote for the national lottery because 20 per cent. of the funds raised will go to the same gang of vested interests who seem able to bend the ear, neck and both legs of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is estimated that that 20 per cent. will be worth £75 million. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: give me that £75 million and I will make the life of some of my constituents a lot better. I could ensure that life was a bit easier for the many old age pensioners who have to live in those dreadful flats in Lambeth and who have to bar themselves in at night because they are unsafe. I would arrange a holiday for them—a cruise—instead of giving money to the plonkers in the arts world. Words fail me.

I have a new definition of the arm's-length principle.The arts world in general, and the luvvies in particular, should be at arm's length from taxpayers' pockets. Their grubby hands should be kept as far away as possible from taxpayers' pockets.

If the European Parliament can have Eurosceptic members, why cannot the Arts Council have "arts-sceptic" members? I am available when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants someone on the council to pull it apart and close it down or to close down his Department, which is costing the taxpayer £1 million.

7.40 pm

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I am still trying to absorb the fusillade of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). I did not expect him to finish so quickly, but I am glad that he did.

I offer my apologies. Like other hon. Members, I have tried to keep in touch with the debate, but I have treated it somewhat like a buffet—dipping in and out while electioneering elsewhere.

I register my support for the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who, like others, complained that this important debate on the arts is being held today. We all know why that is so. If elections are going on in which we have a great interest—why should not we have an interest as politicians of sorts?—the House should rise for a day. We should get away from this nonsense. The last arts debate took place four years ago on the day of the European elections. No doubt the Government's business managers will be thinking of some other subject for 9 June.

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We are not here on 9 June.

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Good. In that case, the Government will not have to think of a subject.

I am not criticising the Secretary of State—no doubt he takes the opportunity that he is given—but such arrangements convince me that the Government use arts debates such as this as a throwaway, a chuckaway and a sort of filling. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made a number of points that are worth dealing with, and it would be worth doing so at a time when the House could consider them properly, without its mind being fixed somewhere else or hon. Members hoping to get away as quickly as possible to do a bit of last-minute fanatical canvassing—not that we need to do so in the London borough of Newham, but I understand why Conservative Members might be panicking tonight.

I always know that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will attend the arts debate, as he knows that I will. He certainly could not be described as a luvvy. There is nothing luvvy about him. He is a sort of artistic anti-Christ who comes into our Chamber. He made a number of arguments, however, that we need to deal with. One thinks of Andy Warhol's dictum that everyone is famous for 15 minutes. It seems a pity that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington always chooses his quarter of a hour in an arts debate. One has the image at times that he would probably be happiest if he were out vandalising a Van Gogh, burning a book or bombing a ballet, but the question that he asked—what is art?—is an important one. Even the ramblings of a lunatic—I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman is a lunatic—contain the odd gem.

We addressed that question when the Labour party controlled the Greater London council. I was fortunate to be chairman of the arts committee and I looked at which organisations were receiving the money. I found that the money was going to the great institutions: the national theatre, English national opera, London Festival ballet and London orchestral concerts. I did not argue with that, but I wondered where the rest of the money was going. Why was not it going to regional organisations, community arts, ethnic arts or working-class activities, a description that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington might prefer? Middle-class people, particularly white middle-class people, were determining what was art. They decided that art was what they liked most. The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on that subject. Often, one found that those people went to opera not because they appreciated the music but because it was a good place to be seen. It makes me want to throw up a bit when I go to an artistic event and see people posing because it is a good place to be seen. I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman because some of the people who attend such events could easily pay a much higher price for their tickets. Why should people in the London borough of Newham subsidise the arts for them?

I want to make opera, ballet and wonderful concert music available to the people of Newham. Subsidies are not targeted, as they should be, to expand audiences for those great art forms; they are targeted at a narrow group of people who have the fortune and economic ability to enjoy those art forms.

One must consider other factors when considering arts funding. In the GLC days, we said that we should not dismiss transport. If there is no public transport or scant public transport by the time concerts, opera and theatre performances finish, ordinary people who do not have cars will not be able to get home. That is another in-built disadvantage that they face and another in-built advantage that those with a higher economic mobility have in enjoying the arts. We must consider the arts in their totality.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is right to point out that one needs to consider carefully who is defining what art is, because when that has been defined public money and investment can be directed to it. I am not arguing against such investment being made—this is where I part company with the hon. Gentleman—but we should ensure that those who could benefit most from investment in the arts do so and that those who could afford to pay somewhat more do so too.

I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech, but it would be almost beyond anyone to deepen the appreciation of Bristol City—

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Rovers.

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Or, indeed, Bristol Rovers. That would probably be even more challenging than deepening an appreciation of Bristol City.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) spoke of the economic advantages of the arts. He has left the Chamber. I will forgive him doing that, but I could forgive him almost anything having sat at a concert in Smith square and having heard him play Mozart. It is fantastic to have such ability and talent, which I did not associate with the hon. Member for Twickenham. Given the way in which he jerks around all over the place, I thought it would be impossible for him to play Mozart, but he did so—and to concert-performance standards. I found that it was a wonderful experience and I am deeply grateful to him for it. I could forgive him anything because of that ability to enrich my life and the lives of others through that beautiful music. He is a talented guy in artistic, if not political, terms.

One should consider some of the arguments that the hon. Member for Twickenham advanced on the economic contribution of the arts. I should have thought that this was something that monetarists could grasp. Although we go over the statistics from time to time, they do not seem to sink in with the Government in the way that they should. London is the region about which I am most concerned. Some 11,700 organisations in the capital are involved in arts, culture and entertainment. They employ more than 200,000 people, which is equal to London's construction industry during the boom and to 6 per cent. of total employment. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington should think about those facts. A number of people from Hayes and Harlington may be employed in the arts industry —not just those who perform, but those who provide the background services, carpenters, scene painters and those who move the sets around. Thousands of people are associated with the arts. They do skilled and unskilled work. There are those who provide the food and so on.

So the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington must think a little beyond the "arty-farty" group, as he describes it, and realise that involved in and supporting the arts are many thousands of Londoners who work hard, not necessarily for large amounts of money, and contribute greatly to the economy of the capital city.

It is estimated that 40 per cent. of all artists in the United Kingdom are based in London. The estimated turnover attributed to all that activity has been put at £7,465 million. That is almost 6 per cent. of our gross domestic product. Public subsidy amounted to no more than £500 million of that. I assume that that is taking central Government and local government investment together. That is a wonderful return. I say that to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington because he is the main, or indeed the only, sceptic here. Such arguments are worth bearing in mind, but he never touches on them during his 15–minute rants in our rare arts debates.

Overseas earnings from the arts were estimated at £3,800 million, against imports of £2,500 million, giving a net balance of £1,300 million to the economy of the capital and the nation. That is a significant economic contribution. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington dismissed the people involved in the arts as luvvies. I have some sympathy with him about some of the people involved in the arts. However, when one examines the people who enjoy the arts, one realises how significant the figures are.

It has been estimated that in 1990 there were 94 million attendances at cultural events, 27 million at the cinema, 21 million at museums and galleries, 17.5 million at clubs and smaller music venues, 12 million at theatre, opera and dance, 11.6 million at historic houses and 4 million at concerts.

I am an avid soccer supporter so I can perhaps say this to the hon. Gentleman more easily than anyone. Those figures are a hell of a lot higher than the figures for those who go to support football, although I take what he said about the fact that football and football supporters often get a rum deal.

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I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman says. All that I am asking is why people want to attend arts events only if part of the cost is paid by someone else. If the hon. Gentleman went to Arsenal, he would have to pay the full cost. I cannot understand why one aspect of life receives a subsidy. I accept the figures that the hon. Gentleman has given, but I do not understand why the arts should expect to be subsidised by the rest of us.

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I am a Chelsea supporter. I would rather die than go to Arsenal.

The reason why the arts expect to be subsidised is that there is a good return on the investment. We invest in education and we invest in the arts. The hon. Gentleman seems to have picked out one area of public investment. I do not like the word "subsidy" for the arts. I think that we subsidise defence, but we invest in the arts and in education. We invest in people's creativity—their manual and their mental creativity. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington should come to the Theatre Royal in my constituency in the London borough of Newham. It is heavily subsidised by the Arts Council, the London arts board and the local authority. It is difficult for us to do that. We have kept seat prices as low as possible because the theatre is in an area of economic deprivation. The hon. Gentleman should come to the theatre and see the pensioners and unemployed people who come and enjoy performances. He tends to confine his criticisms—as I do at times—to something like the Royal Opera house. If he came to the Theatre Royal at Stratford, he might see the type of people whom he would be happy with in Newham or Hayes and Harlington enjoying theatre and receiving the benefit of a seat subsidy. The subsidy costs us dear in the London borough of Newham because we are a hard-stretched local authority.

I should like to deal with local authority support for the arts. The Secretary of State praised local authorities and said what an excellent job they were doing. I wonder how much he appreciates how difficult it is for those local authorities to maintain that level of funding for the arts. During National Heritage questions I often ask—not recently, because I seem to be unlucky in getting into the frame and being called—how many times the Secretary of State has talked not to the Treasury but to the Department of the Environment about the arts provision that local authorities make.

Arts provision is one of the discretionary areas of local government expenditure. If hard-pressed locally elected councils face cuts in statutory areas of expenditure, it is not surprising that they chop away at the discretionary areas. I feel deeply annoyed that Newham and Waltham Forest —two Labour authorities—but mostly Newham, work hard to keep the Theatre Royal open while just down the road in Liberal Democrat Tower Hamlets the council has closed down the Half Moon theatre. It is easy for local authorities to talk about how they show up in terms of overall expenditure. If they shut out discretionary areas of expenditure, they can save money for people in their area, but those people simply move into areas such as Newham. They can use the facilities that the Newham charge payers have to keep going. That is parasitic. That is what is happening in London local authorities.

Newham tries to keep open its recreational facilities such as swimming pools and leisure centres. Other Tory and Liberal authorities close them down. People who live in Tory or Liberal areas cannot be prevented from coming to Newham. It is grotesquely unfair. It is made even worse if Ministers start slagging off my authority for being a high spender. We subsidise people around us in the arts, leisure and recreational facilities and we deeply resent it.

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I take the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. It is one that we have discussed with some of the great city authorities in the context of their regional hinterland. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that it is possible for the process that he describes to work in the opposite direction—that Camden council tax payers can use Westminster facilities and that Westminster maintains a music library on behalf of the whole country?

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Of course I acknowledge that. I was talking about the east end of London. In the spirit of friendship on this rare occasion, I will concede that point to the right hon. Gentleman. But I suggest that he examines the problem. We are talking about discretionary areas of local authority expenditure. Clearly, something has to be done. There must be some acknowledgement that when the Department of the Environment makes its standard spending assessments it looks at what services are provided, not what services are needed in discretionary areas. That is a matter that he could usefully discuss with his colleagues in other Departments.

It is true that in the past two years cultural provision has been seriously affected by the reduction in local authority expenditure on the arts in London. The further reduction of standard spending assessment allowances for London for 1994–95 will exacerbate the position. SSA settlements have seriously affected some of London's poorest boroughs, including my own of Newham, neighbouring Hackney, Haringey, Islington and so on. All those boroughs are associated with strong support for the arts. I acknowledge that the City of London has increased its expenditure on the arts. That is good, but the City is in the unique position of being far and away the wealthiest local authority in the country.

It worries me that there is still so much uncertainty about arts expenditure. The cuts that the Department of National Heritage has announced for the next four years are worrying. We reached a good position when we had a rolling programme and some predictability about arts funding—not about cuts but about an increase. One must pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) for achieving that. Many people said that, for a Tory, he would have made a good Arts Minister. That was until he took the hands-on artistic policy rather too literally. That greater certainty about money for the arts was what was most needed.

I understand that a decision is due any day about the lottery. I am an agnostic on lotteries. I would also like to be seriously rich, so I shall undoubtedly buy some tickets when they come my way. If I win, you will not see my bottom for dust, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and others have said—the money generated by the lottery must be new money for the arts or whatever. Perhaps I am a cynic or suspicious, but I do not think that that will happen, because, when Treasury Ministers make their assessments, they will take into account the global amount of money available.

The Secretary of State, or whichever Conservative—or Labour—Member has the job, will find it difficult to argue that the Treasury should simply dismiss that money and not take it into account when deciding the arts settlement. It is all right to give an undertaking in the House and to set out with good intentions, but I can well imagine the sort of pressures a Secretary of State will be under when faced with that spending round. The Treasury will say, "But hell, you're getting an awful lot of money from the national lottery."

I should like a guarantee from the Secretary of State that Mr. Branson will not get responsibility for running the lottery. My suspicions about Mr. Branson are very deep. I feel that he injected £5 million into the county hall leisure complex recently to bail out the Japanese group Shiryama, which was due to hit the wall. I remain firmly convinced of that. His involvement might have saved the group's bacon and in doing so he has also saved the face of Ministers. If county hall—immediately opposite the Palace of Westminster—had ended up the sort of shell that Battersea power station is, imagine Ministers' embarrassment.

Am I being basely and groundlessly suspicious or could Mr. Branson have been given a nod and a wink that if he stepped in to bail out the county hall project he would get the lottery? I hope that that is not the case, but I shall be watching closely who gets the lottery and I hope that it is not Mr. Branson, or all my suspicions will be proved correct.

I also have a query on the funding for the London and regional orchestras as a result of the £3.2 million cut in grant aid to the Arts Council. I declare an interest as I am the parliamentary adviser to the Musicians Union—something that I thoroughly enjoy. Apart from the London symphony orchestra, London orchestras get a very rough deal and have additionally had to contend with the effects of the Hoffman review, which has caused additional expenditure. They must provide necessary documentation, while sponsorship and future work prospects were blighted by six months' uncertainty over their future.

Dennis Scard, the general secretary of the union, has written to the Secretary of State and I have seen the right hon. Gentleman's reply. He uses the arm's-length principle to wipe his hands of any decision making, which is wrong. That is why I tend to agree with one of his predecessors —it is not good enough for Ministers to use that principle to avoid Government responsibility.

The fact that we cannot sustain our existing orchestras in London is a matter for national shame. Other capital cities manage to do so and it is a cause of enormous shame to all of us that we have not been able to do so in London.

Finally—you will be delighted to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I must return to the discretionary area of local authority spending. Some of my constituents—young unemployed kids, who happen to be black—have come to me because they have tried to get grants from the local authority for dance and drama training, but have got nowhere. Perhaps there is a reason. I do not want to be patronising, but some of our unemployed youth could find a way out of the ghetto through the arts. It is a way out and we have many ghettos—economic, intellectual and cultural—in our country today.

One in six local authorities has a policy of awarding no discretionary grants. The percentage offering full grants for dance and drama has fallen from 83 per cent. in 1987 to 44 per cent. in 1992. About 40 per cent. of dance and drama students are unable to take up the places that they have been offered, which is equivalent to 280 drama students and 590 dance students.

Most dance and drama schools are entirely funded by fees from students and there is a significant shortfall—at present £3,000 per year—between the mandatory grant and the full cost charged by the school. The Government really should decide to make that area of discretion mandatory because so much talent is being wasted. Those kids have no chance of taking advantage of drama and dance courses because they cannot afford them. They come from unemployed families and impoverished backgrounds and they are dealing with local authorities whose discretionary decision making and funding are tightly squeezed, as I explained. The Government must look into the matter and I plead with the Secretary of State to consider it carefully.

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As was said, that matter concerns my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. My question arises from the speech by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Would the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Banks) impose qualitative tests to assess the ability of those kids or is he trying to make the grant an automatic privilege?

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I would like to think about that, but, having done so, I think that there would have to be some sort of qualification. One does not just walk into a university. One has to have qualifications that demonstrate certain academic achievements. One would need evidence that a person would benefit, so that would have to be the case.

What worries me is the fact that I have been advised that some incredibly talented kids have not got grants. Advisers have told me, "They've got it. They could make it." Unfortunately, they cannot give them the grant because they have not got the money. That problem was the subject of a BBC television programme on one of my constituents recently. He has enormous talent. I suppose that, because of that fact, he might find a way out and become well known anyway, but kids with lesser talents are being deprived and it seems a waste of ability. I do not like seeing ability wasted.

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rose

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Yes, there should be some demonstration of ability, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Mr. Fisher) who will undoubtedly have the responsibility for making such a decision in the not-too-distant future.

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May I suggest to my hon. Friend that he should support the approach that would accredit a small number of schools—perhaps 10 dance schools and 10 drama schools. Any students accepted to their courses would automatically get a mandatory full grant and accreditation would be the quality control that he is after. That system would ensure that the most talented students got the grants that their talent entitled them to and it would end the system whereby only people with rich parents or those lucky enough to live in certain local authorities went to such schools.

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That was straight from the horse's mouth. Exactly. That is how we are going to do it. I like the bold and decisive way in which my hon. Friend moved to the Dispatch Box to announce the policy and I look forward to sitting behind him on the Government side of the House in a few months' time and to seeing him announce that policy. What an excellent fellow he is.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has obviously gone off to vandalise that Van Gogh. Why the arts? Because the merits and worth of an age will not be judged by the efficiency with which it can kill people with bombs, bullets and bayonets. It will be judged by future generations on the quality of its architecture, literature, painting, poetry and musicians, such as the hon. Member for Twickenham who has just returned to his place. That is how we will be judged and that is the reason why we should be investing in the arts and why we should stand up and proudly declare so and not be bullied by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and the arts thugs he represent. I am glad to say that there are not many of them.

8.8 pm

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In view of what I want to say, I must declare an interest as a humble painter, who occasionally sells paintings, and, more particularly, as someone who writes the odd novel, for which I am the recipient of benefits from the public lending rights arrangement.

Like the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) raised an important matter when, perhaps for the first time in this debate, he questioned what art is and what it is for. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was right to consider that.

I suppose that a possible definition of art is that it is a physical manifestation of the individual human spirit, which throughout history has invariably acted against the oppression of the state. To that extent, therefore, the arts and state interference are in many respects antithetical.

When, in history, the state has acted as patron of the arts, that is, it has supplied money to artists, it has done so most successfully at the behest not of councils, committees, quangos, royal commissions or even local authorities, but of individuals. The great Medicis, the best of the Doges, Louis XIV and even Prince Albert were, in different ways, artists themselves. They had their own eccentricities and, through their patronage, they expressed their spirit and sense of excellence. Their motivation may have been personal glorification or even the search for short-term popularity, but in their cases the nature of the relationship between the patron and the artist, even when that patron was using public moneys, was one to one. Pork barrel politics and compromises between extraneous sectional interests were minimal.

I hope that Lord Gowrie will display the individualism of a modern Doge, but, more probably, he will be constrained, as his predecessors were, by the paraphernalia of modern statecraft. When state committees, quangos and local authorities interfere, as they invariably do in the modern world, and manage state funds, not only is special pleading of the essence, but so is compromise between interests that have nothing to do with the arts, such as arise out of the regional distribution of moneys and the donation of moneys to sectional interests.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred, for example, to ethnic art. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West offered a new set of criteria for the distribution of moneys, ranging from employment to exports and, I believe I heard him say, the rate of return on capital. The latter criterion was surprising coming from him. Such criteria may be admirable, but, intrinsically, they have nothing to do with the arts. They have more to do with political correctness, to use the words of the heir to the throne.

In such cases, the patronage of the arts becomes, frankly, an extension of social and economic policy and it has little to do with the pursuit of excellence in art. Worse still is when such patronage becomes an overt instrument of state propaganda. That was certainly the case in Nazi Germany and it is the case with the European cultural fund, which is currently running at 70 million ecu or about £50 million—it has increased by almost 50 per cent. in the past two years.

The aim of that fund has nothing to do with the expression of individual spirit, but everything to do with the pursuit of European federalism. A classic recent example of the misuse of those public funds was the financially disastrous sponsorship of the Euro-soap "Riviera", which has proved to be the most expensive and least popular programme of its kind. It was not, luckily, shown in this country. The ratio of money invested to the number of people who watched the programme—to use the return on capital argument of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West—was the highest in the history of television.

Another example of the misuse of that so-called cultural fund was the 10 million ecu given towards the Barcelona Olympic games. That funding had absolutely nothing to do with sponsorship of the arts and everything to do with pursuit of a political ideal.

There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule that the arts and artists are best left alone. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said, it was only when the French impressionists were left alone that they expressed their human spirit effectively. The same was true of the expressionists. That expression was, invariably, directed against the establishment of the day, which, quite probably, was much the same as the will of the state committees and quangos of the day.

The first important exception to the general rule is when intervention is directed towards the preservation and protection of a cultural heritage, for example, buildings and, given what my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, particularly church buildings. There is, for example, a case to establish a centre for the study and propagation of English music. No such centre exists and I believe that Malvern in my constituency would be an excellent place for it, given that it was the home of Elgar.

As several hon. Members have said, there is a weaker case for vast amounts of money to be given to the pursuit of a 16th century and 17th century Italian art form, opera. I always find it surprising when I study the relevant figures. Of the current planned budget of moneys for the arts, for example, which I understand stands at £195 million, more than £30 million will be given to opera—almost one fifth of the total.

There may be a case for some state sponsorship of certain arts with a limited public appeal, the performance of which incur large overheads. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, in terms of preserving our heritage, it would be unsatisfactory if the quality and essential excellence of Royal Shakespeare company productions were lost to our country. I was delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the Allied Lyons tie-up with the RSC, which must be a good thing.

The objective of support from the taxpayer should be to provide a bridge towards funding by those who enjoy the artistic creation in order to ensure, among other things, maximum public participation. The emphasis behind the use of state money should be directed towards promotion, making a work intelligible and ensuring the widest possible display of it. What is less acceptable is that state funds should be focused on subsidising the entertainment budgets of corporate business. One must admit that that seems to be the case at Covent Garden. I was extremely encouraged to hear today that Glyndebourne has been extensively developed at no expense to public funds.

The value and development of culture depend on the efforts and the talents of individuals, not on the injection of state funds. Genuine art will die if it is merely the product of a collectivist state programme, which, as I understand, is the essence of the Labour party's position on that matter —I think that the words that it uses are "cultural policy". I think that that is what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said.

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indicated assent.

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Culture is no more and no less than the sum of its creative parts. I suppose it is because I believe that that I am a Conservative and not a socialist. It is why I believe that the state's role has to be a permissive and generalised one, especially in the context of a state that is giving the money through a network of bureaucracy and committees. It should not have a directional and interventionist role. Its emphasis should be on publicising and promotion rather than on picking winners.

The state bureaucracy is not much good at running businesses. It is even worse at painting pictures or at composing music and it is worst of all, as has been pointed out today by implication, at building buildings. The Department of the Environment building in Marsham street is perhaps a living testimony to that.

The hand of the state, especially its bureaucracy, should be as far removed as possible from the creation of artistic work. Art and government are in many ways opposite ends of a pole. Potentially, the most damaging situation of all arises when they are regarded as inseparable.

8.21 pm

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The speech of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) was very interesting. I was in his constituency only a few weeks ago, at the birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. I wonder whether, if local government had not made it possible for me to have the opportunity to listen to and appreciate the works of Elgar, I would have been in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

This excellent debate has been extremely interesting. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the fact that the timing has been unfortunate: given that four years have elapsed, one might have hoped that we would have been able to debate these matters when more right hon. and hon. Members were able to take part.

The standard and quality of speeches on both sides of the House, with the notable exception of that of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), have been high. The hon. Gentleman's speech reminded me of Disraeli's commentary on Gladstone—about the difference between a disaster and catastrophe. If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington fell into the Thames, it would be classified as a disaster; if one pulled him out again, it would be a catastrophe. I understand that the hon. Gentleman's majority is something approaching 53. I hope that there are 54 or 55 Conservative opera lovers in Hayes and Harlington who may read Hansard and that the House will be rid of the hon. Gentleman by the time of the next election.

The debate has illustrated that the arts and culture—I do not think that there is anything wrong with the word "culture"—play an important role in continually renewing our society. For many of us, the way in which we express ourselves culturally is among our most important experiences; but there is more to it than that. As several of my hon. Friends have said, the cultural industry, if we may call it that, employs a great many people in this country —perhaps 500,000 and has a turnover of about £14 billion, in publishing, broadcasting, film and recording as well as in what one might call the straightforward artistic industries.

I stand at the Dispatch Box tonight because I am the Opposition spokesman on the arts in Wales. In the Principality, at least 5,000 people are employed directly as a result of their involvement in the arts world. In invisible earnings, only banking, travel and shipping earn more than the arts. More than £3 billion has come to this country as a result of invisible earnings from the arts industries.

Cities such as Edinburgh prosper as a result of investment in the arts. Only last year, that city gained £44 million as a result of the Edinburgh festival. In Cardiff, the Welsh national opera, St. David's hall and the Sherman theatre have all brought distinction and prosperity to our city. A number of Conservative Members said that the Opposition should not criticise the Government's arts policy; that was not quite right. It is the job of an Opposition not only to oppose and to highlight such matters but to ensure that there is a proper balanced debate.

This country's spending per person on the arts is less than that of other major Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. This country spends about £10 per person, whereas Germany spends £24; France, £21; Canada, £17; Sweden, £27; and the Netherlands, £20.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) was right to say that some of the criticisms concerning the failures and problems of art and arts policy have not been expressed in the House for about four years. There have been failures in investment. Underfunding has led to disrepair, closures and cuts, increased charges in museums and so on. An Arts Council survey showed that, of 32 theatres, 30 were now in deficit.

The good news about which the Secretary of State spoke is the work of local authorities, which spend perhaps £200 million to £300 million a year on promoting artistic ventures of one kind or another in Glasgow, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow, Sheffield and other places helping to regenerate those cities.

However—and I know that this is the