I paid the first official visit by a British Minister for the Arts to the Soviet Union on 6–12 June. I was warmly welcomed and had the opportunity for a wide-ranging exchange of views with the Soviet Minister of Culture, Mr. Zakharov. I was also able to visit a variety of museums and cultural events in Moscow, Tbilisi and Leningrad.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and for his initiative, because cultural exchanges between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom are a good way of reducing tension. However, is my right hon. Friend confident that there is a satisfactory balance in exchanges between the Soviet Union and Britain?
I agree with my hon. Friend that cultural exchanges of one sort or another can do a great deal to improve understanding between countries. I am satisfied that the memorandum of understanding gives wide scope for exchanges between the two sides. On my hon. Friend's second point, it would be true to say that there are far more Soviet artistic events coming to Britain than is the case the other way. I should like to see that balance made more even in future. I am glad that Mr. Zakharov, the Minister of Culture, will come to Britain, and at that stage we shall review ways in which we can make things easier.
I, too, am happy with my right hon. Friend's reply. However, does he agree that the recent well-publicised difficulties encountered by the English National Theatre on its visit to the Soviet Union will put off many other English or British touring companies that might wish to go to that place?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the problem. Many administrative difficulties are faced by English and British arts organisations when they go to the Soviet Union. I made it plain to Mr. Zakharov that until there is an improvement in the administration of the inflow of the visits it will be difficult to encourage more people to go. The National Theatre experience is just one example of that. I was struck by Mr. Zakharov's reaction to that and his desire to try to put it right in the best way possible.
Does the Minister agree that one way of redressing the balance to which he has referred is to ensure an increase in the funding available to the British Council for its work in the Eastern bloc and for the establishment of a British Council office in Moscow, separate and distinct from the British embassy there?
I had a chance to visit the British Council's office in Moscow and was struck by the work that it does. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has responsibility for the British Council, but I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the work that it does is outstandingly good.
When the Minister was in the Soviet Union, did he mention his continuing and growing enthusiasm for photography and for people to have the opportunity to visit galleries free? Did he tell them about the brilliant Members' exhibition of photographs and our willingness to exchange photographs with Soviet parliamentarians?
I never cease to be amazed by the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in bringing photography to the forefront of artistic activity and exchanges in the House. I admire very much the exhibition, which I have seen, and the artistic quality and ability of hon. Members.
Did my right hon. Friend investigate the funding of the arts in the Soviet Union? Am I right in thinking that while it has high subsidies for the arts, there are comparatively low wages, whereas the position here is the reverse? Which does my right hon. Friend prefer?
The interesting point that my hon. Friend would wish to know is that one of the Soviet Union's objectives in arts, commerce and industry under the new policies of perestroika is to make its arts activities self-financing and self-governing. I wish it every success in that effort. These changes are a matter of great interest to us all.
With the Minister going to the Soviet Union, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) going to China, I am beginning to suspect that there is a Communist plot. Will the Minister say whether we can expect some cultural perestroika in this country, given the damage that has been done to the arts by the Government's policies? Will he say whether his visit to the Soviet Union was coincidental with the fact that the noble Lord Gowrie is trying to earn some Moscow gold this Thursday by selling off Soviet pictures for Sothebys?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his temporary assignment to the Front Bench. He is always entertaining, whether it be from the Front or Back Benches. China and the Soviet Union are interested in what we are doing to fund the arts. The fact that we are undergoing structural changes, in which we are looking to the private sector to play an increasingly important role, was of great interest to the Chinese Minister of Culture when he came here two weeks ago.