I welcome the opportunity to open this debate on the arts and heritage. I intend to concentrate on the broad themes of the Government's arts policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) will answer the debate and dwell in more detail on the heritage.
There are many heartening signs that an increasing number of people are concerned about issues that will affect the quality of life, not only of themselves but their children and grandchildren. The public interest is becoming all-embracing. The natural desire for a pollution-free environment is matched by a growing interest in our architecture—and in the importance of attractive surroundings. There is an increasing ability to turn away from the mundane aspects of daily life to enjoy a range of recreation. The arts fit within this pattern. The criteria are quite clear: that more people want to enjoy leisure and to educate themselves through museums, galleries, theatres, concerts, opera and jazz or by trying out their own creative talents, through crafts, photography or painting. For deep down we know, as Dostoevsky echoed,
Man does not live by bread alone".
We need something deeper to turn to.
As we witness the last lashings of the tail of the dying crocodile of Communism in so many parts of the world, the challenge to genuine democracies lies in demonstrating that we offer real political and economic freedom and the best means of improving our quality of life.
We cannot achieve this unless the culture of wealth creation is deeply embedded in our life. This has become the case under this Government. The search for a higher standard of wealth must be tireless, but now is the time to focus our attention upon how to make the best use of this new climate for the quality of our lives. As we look forward to the turn of the century, we must open up even further the opportunity for individuals to extend their horizons and to enrich their daily lives. We have every reason to be proud of our artistic achievements in this country.
It is an important Government job to create the climate whereby we can achieve the highest standards of excellence and creativity. We want to ensure that all those who wish to do so have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of this or to participate and use their own talents. We best achieve this in a democratic society where the freedom of artistic expression is a central principle. We will best inspire genius and talent by the greatest possible delegation of decision-making from the centre, by encouraging art in our schools and by encouraging financial support from a variety of sources.
The most potent challenge that we face today is the need to ensure that the best our our arts is accessible to all those who have the potential to enjoy it. That is a central part of my strategy and I shall now take a few moments to describe how I am attempting to achieve it.
It is against that background that I reaffirm the importance I attach to a policy of maximum arm's length so that it is not the Minister and his officials in Whitehall who make the day-to-day decisions about artistic standards and management. The arm's-length principle has been totally supported by successive Governments of both parties since the war. I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) will take the opportunity of this debate to reaffirm his party's support for that principle.
It is important to strengthen and preserve artistic freedom. The arm's-length policy, working for example through the Arts Council and other bodies, is a way to achieve this. I know that the council shares my concern to foster the highest standards of artistic excellence and access to the arts by maintaining and developing centres of excellence throughout the country.
In the context of the arm's-length principle, I am concerned to strengthen the accountability of the arts organisations for the taxpayers' money that they receive and I want to see whether the funding structure which we have, through the Arts Council and the regional arts associations, can be improved, so that they are as coherent and efficient as possible. I have therefore commissioned a review, which is now being conducted by Mr. Richard Wilding—formerly permanent head of the Office of Arts and Libraries—who will report to me by 31 October this year. I regard the review as extremely important.
Let me take this opportunity to tell the House about some of the measures that I am taking, along with the arts world, to promote both excellence and access.
My right hon. Friend has referred to access to the past and to the need to develop centres of excellence. Our right hon. Friend's decision about the Rose site is particularly welcome, because access to the past will be provided.
Those who are interested—particularly members of the acting profession, who have shown a commendable concern about the need for access to the past—should be encouraged now to direct their attention to a nearby potential centre of excellence. I refer to the site of the Globe theatre, literally yards from the Rose site. The interests of those people, and of my right hon. Friend, in "living stones" can thus provide a forum for excellence in the future rather than access to the past.
My hon. Friend has made an important point, not only about the Rose theatre but about the plans for the Globe, which I believe will lead to considerable public support and interest. I am glad to note the progress that has been made in raising funds, and I hope that the construction of the proposed Globe theatre will start soon. I think that it has every prospect of becoming a great centre of excellence, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it.
I had begun to focus on the question of excellence, and that of accessibility to it. Let me illustrate that further. The national museums and galleries are in the forefront. For example, the Tate gallery opened the new "Tate in Liverpool" in 1988, and has already attracted nearly half a million visitors in its first six months. The National Portrait Gallery has put an important part of its reserve collection on display in no fewer than four country houses —in Somerset, Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales. The British Film Institute's new museum of the moving image has had more than 250,000 visitors since it opened in September 1988, well above the number expected. The Victoria and Albert museum has announced plans to open an outstation in Bradford to house part of its great Indian collection. There are other examples: for instance the imperial war museum and the science museum also have plans.
We have extended the principle to loans and exhibitions, to which considerable importance is attached, not only by me but by many other hon. Members, as they house our greatest objects of art and our greatest collections. The British museum, for example, consistently lends more objects than any other institution in the world —2,500 in 1987. In 1987–88 the Tate gallery, which houses more contemporary works, lent 556, 303 within the United Kingdom and the rest abroad.
The Government help the process through their indemnity scheme. In the last financial year, objects valued at £1 billion were indemnified for exhibition. In April 1988 I established the travelling exhibition unit at the Museums and Galleries Commission, and it promoted 10 projects during its first year. I hope that as it expands it will facilitate many other exhibitions around the country.
I also attach great importance to touring. It was in the interests of excellence and access that I gave the Arts Council extra money for its budget, to be earmarked for increased touring. It allocated £1·5 million for the purpose in 1988–89, financing more than 60 weeks of extra touring, including 38 for drama.
By contrast, I was glad, too, to be able to make a contribution of £150,000 to the fund set up by the Carnegie Trust to help make arts venues more accessible to disabled people.
In areas such as inner cities, and in the rural arts, a great deal is being done to open up the prospects of more access to the arts to people who live in those areas. It would be wrong not to mention in particular the city of Glasgow, which has done outstanding work in promoting its arts, using them to bring great benefits to the city and the country. I was glad to be able to make a contribution of £500,000 towards the city's preparations for its role as European city of culture in 1990.
There are other areas as well. For example, in broadcasting I welcome the fact that the Arts Council is doing work on improving access to the arts through broadcasting, and it is developing some proposals in that context.
I regard investment in education as almost the biggest for the longer term. The Education Reform Act ensures a central place for the arts and heritage in the core curriculum and the GCSE examinations. That is why the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I announced in May a joint initiative to emphasise the importance of the arts in the school curriculum.
The public today expect art to be an integral part of the environment In response to that, many local authorities and private companies are initiating imaginative public arts projects. Birmingham leads the way in that, and the British library has some exciting schemes for its new building.
In that connection, there is no finer example of the Government's commitment to these joint objectives of excellence and access than the new British library. For the first time, we are giving the library a purpose-built home, bringing together under one roof the majority of its London-based collections in a properly controlled, pollution-free environment. The whole building is due to be completed and fully in use by 1996. Costing well over £400 million in cash terms, it is the Government's largest single civil project. It will be one of Britain's greatest cultural achievements and a significant addition to our heritage.
The project shows the importance we attach to the work of scholarship and my concern to marry the best work of our scholars to public access and enjoyment. In this context, I am making a point of visiting national museums and galleries to meet the staff. I have recently been to the V and A and to the national maritime museum, and I have several more visits of that kind planned. I have been impressed by the dedication and hard work that I have seen.
In connection with the heritage, I appreciate that there are particular problems and pressures posed by the constant and high price rises in the art market. I am reviewing some of the mechanisms in this sphere to see where I can help, and I will mention a few.
Recently there was considerable criticism that the price of Turner's "Seascape, Folkestone" was not published when I announced my recommendation to defer a decision on the export licence application. The reason for the withholding of the Turner price was the option given to owners not to disclose. I shared the concern that was expressed and I am rectifying this anomaly. From now on, if an object is placed under deferral, following consideration by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, the price will be published. Owners will be told this in the letter they receive from the Department of Trade and Industry informing them of an objection to export. I hope that this change will help public collections in their fund-raising, especially where they launch a public appeal.
Acknowledging, as I do, this increase in prices, I have decided to revise the limits for export licences very soon. This is in accordance with the recommendations put to me by the export reviewing committee. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I are also well aware of the problems posed by the withdrawal of what is known as the indefinite stop procedure. We are giving urgent attention to finding a solution to that problem.
To give priority to the housing and conservation of existing collections, as the museums and galleries have asked us to do, the Government have been obliged to keep purchase grants at a constant cash level since 1985–86. I am well aware of the problems that this poses and I have already announced that I am considering how to deal with them.
I also conducted a consultation exercise last year on what discretionary powers, if any, museums and galleries should have to dispose of items from their collections. Bearing in mind the responses that I have received, my aim will be to ensure that any relevant powers are, as far as possible, tailor-made to meet the specific requirements of each institution. I hope that it is helpful to the House for me to reaffirm that principle. As I have said, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West will cover other important heritage themes, and the House has already had a brief chance today to discuss the latest developments on the Rose theatre.
I shall now deal with the matter of funding. In order to provide excellence for as many people as possible, the arts need financial support, and the more sources that they have to draw on the healthier and freer they will be. However, I fully accept that, for the foreseeable future, the taxpayer's role is also important. Let me put Government art funding in perspective. Some people like to suggest that 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and especially 20 years ago, saw the great golden age of the arts. It is important to put that in perspective.
It is interesting to note that, in real terms, the Arts Council receives three times as much from the Government today as it did in the late 1960s. Since its creation by the Goverment in 1980 the national heritage memorial fund has received over £105 million from the taxpayer. The budgets of our national museums and galleries are also at record levels and central Government spending on them has risen by 25 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. Funding for their building programmes has increased by about 50 per cent. in real terms over the same period.
Let us make no mistake about the achievement of the Government. There has been an overall increase in arts funding of 39 per cent., in real terms, including abolition money, since 1979, and that is a strong achievement. I am especially pleased that I was able to announce in November 1987 a new departure in arts funding in which firm figures were set for the next three years. The object of that is to give arts bodies a firm basis on which to plan their future activities and their various sources of funding, and to encourage greater self-reliance. We are already seeing its results in some excellent forward thinking—for example, in the Arts Council's three-year business plan and in the corporate plans of the museums and galleries.
The Minister will be aware that I have often congratulated him on the achievement of finding a three-year funding formula of which the whole art world approves and has been seeking for a long time. Does he accept that the second and third years of the formula are at rates well below the rate of inflation, and that any advantages arising from the security of planning are more than offset by the fact that in those two years all arts clients will have a cut in real terms?
I shall shortly deal with inflation and respond to the hon. Gentleman's question. I again acknowledge that I am fully aware of the pressures and problems faced by the arts. As the hon. Gentleman has said, first among these is the effect of inflation. The Government's absolute priority is and must be the conquest of inflation. We must continue the battle against it, for the arts as well as for all other areas of activity. We are thinking, as we should in the arts world, of three-year funding in many areas, and the amount of money that we make available must be seen in the context of the three-year total. For the first year, I increased the Arts Council's funding by 10 per cent. It is true that the amount was lower in the second and third years.
Creative funding partnerships are seen throughout the arts, and business sponsorship is a marvellous success story. It has been considerably helped by the Government's business sponsorship incentive scheme administered for me by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. Since its introduction in 1984, it has produced almost £25 million of new money—£2·40 from the private sector for every £1 from the taxpayer.
The first-class management of arts bodies is now being recognised and awarded through the incentive funding scheme. I gave the Arts Council money for that in the 1987 settlement—£12·5 million over three years—and 48 awards have already been made to organisations throughout the country. The Arts Council expects the scheme to produce £3 of private sector money for every £1 from the taxpayer.
I am extending this incentive approach into all areas of my reponsibility. There is a new incentive scheme for the conservation of manuscripts, and the public library incentive scheme is in its second year.
The contribution of local authorities to arts funding is invaluable. To take just one example, Birmingham city council gives an annual grant of just under £800,000 to the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra, showing its total commitment to this outstanding centre of excellence.
The arts are also immeasurably enriched by many outstanding examples of private generosity. We all know of the Sainsbury family contribution for the new wing at the national gallery. We should refer to the Clore Foundation, which contributed no less than £6 million to the cost of the new gallery for the Turner collection at the Tate, and to the remarkable contribution of Mr. John Paul Getty 11, who plans to give £50 million as an endowment fund for the national gallery. He is also a leading private donor to funding for the British Film Institute's highly successful museum of the moving image, which was built for £11 million without a penny from the Government.
A private donation is enabling the Victoria and Albert museum to open a new Chinese gallery and the museum has just received generous donations from the Hinduja foundation and from Jenson and Nicholson for its new gallery of Indian art. It should also be mentioned that, in the past five years the British museum has raised nearly £12 million of private money for building and gallery work. The library and services of the British Theatre Association, which were threatened with closure earlier this year, were saved through the outstanding generosity of Mr. Robert Holmes à Court.
Mr. Eric S. Heller:
This is a genuine question. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what efforts are being made to get local business sponsorship and support, because much of what he has said has been in relation to national sponsorship? We no longer have the great shipping magnates in Liverpool and other such cities, where we depended very much on their support. Obviously, we cannot raise all the money at local level through local authorities. This is an important matter and I would like to know how much thought has been given to it and what has been done in that direction.
I fully acknowledge the validity of the hon. Gentleman's point. He puts his finger on the problem, which I think is gradually being solved through the business sponsorship incentive scheme. The evidence is that the scheme is successful as a national scheme, not just a London scheme. I have been just as anxious as the hon. Gentleman to encourage sponsorship in Merseyside and Scotland, for example. There is increasing evidence that the scheme is being taken up, sometimes on a modest basis, but that does not matter; once the thing starts, other businesses come in and I believe that the incentive scheme has done a great deal to encourage that.
In this context, I am delighted to tell the House about another noticeable development. The Arts Council has decided to establish an endowment fund to support new and experimental work. It has been launched with a £1·1 million gift to the council from an anonymous legacy. The council is now working on plans to expand the size of the fund to a target of £20 million.
Indeed, great effort from many sources goes into our arts and heritage: into their creation, production and preservation and into funding, supporting and enjoying them.
It seems appropriate here to raise the question of value added tax on new works of art. Whereas VAT is designed to encourage exports of everything else, it also encourages exports of works of art. If they are sold abroad, they are sold at a discount of 15 per cent. or at the price for which the artist is asking rather than being sold in this country, presumably under the scheme that my right hon. Friend has just announced, with a bare 15 per cent. VAT addition. Would he have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see if that cannot be changed?
I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this subject and of course I will raise the point with the Chancellor. There is now a great deal of discussion within the Community of the implications of 1992 for the art trade. But I will, of course, bear the point in mind and raise it with my right hon. Friend.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to blow the trumpet for our marvellous arts organisations and their leadership.
The test of all this is our ability to produce art of lasting quality. As Henry Austin Dobson said:
All passes; art alone, enduring, stays to us.
There is no reason why we should not be producing the same talent today as we have in previous generations. Just as Shakespeare, Bacon, Gainsborough, Turner, T. S. Eliot, Elgar, Kipling and Byron have endured, so I believe that there are artists of genius today who will be remembered and enjoyed in centuries to come.
Our artistic quality is a true test of the level of our civilisation. Any Arts Minister has the duty to ensure that the outlet for genius and creativity is as strong as ever in the last part of this century. That is the duty which I try to fulfil.
Any congratulations that are due to the Government for this debate on the arts are dwarfed by the timing of the debate. We had an arts debate five years ago on European election day and, by an extraordinary coincidence, once again, on a European election day when hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to be helping in European constituencies, we have another arts debate.
Has the hon. Gentleman thought of that word "dwarfed" in relation to a comparison between the different numbers on the two sides of the House? Despite the difficulties of being present, there are three times as many on Conservative Benches as there are on Opposition Benches.
As my right hon. Friend has said, by the end of the debate, we shall be able to judge the quality of the contributions. It is hardly surprising that the hon. Gentleman made that point. There is a simple answer. Tory Members know that they will be thrashed in the European elections, so there is no point in them being in the constituencies. They are better cowering here than facing the electorate. We know that we shall have a triumph in the polls today and my right hon. and hon. Friends are out celebrating in advance the enormous vote of confidence that the electorate are giving us. The difference in enthusiasm in getting out and facing the electorate is hardly surprising. It is interesting that Tory Members are here rather than doing that.
It is not good enough to have the debate on this day. I do not blame the Minister for this. It is the usual channels, or the Chief Whip, or the Leader of the House. [Interruption.] An hon. Member who is not supposed to speak has said that I am not sure who is to blame and that is probably true. The timing of the debate reflects the interest in art and culture among senior members of the Cabinet. In their view, these are unimportant issues that can be debated on what are, in parliamentary terms, non-days. Our contention is that the arts and heritage are vital to the democratic and cultural life, to community identity and cohesion, to employment and the economy. I wish that the Government—I exclude the Minister from this—placed the same importance on the arts and culture as we do. If they did, we would be having this debate in prime time.
I welcome the debate and the chance to respond to the Minister's interesting speech. It gives us an opportunity both to examine the cultural balance sheet in the arts and heritage after 10 years of the Government and to look at it in the light of this European election day and compare our policies and practice with those of our European partners. Statistics are difficult to compare because they are arranged in different definitions in different countries and with different regional and central Government balances. I welcome the fact that the Office of Arts and Libraries is funding a Policy Studies Institute study to look at those comparative statistics. I hope that it will be finished soon and that we can see the published results.
The Minister will not be surprised to learn that I suspect that those results will show that other European countries spend a great deal more on their arts and heritage than we do. The figures available from the Arts Council and others show that France and West Germany spend 0·8 per cent. of total central Government expenditure on the arts when we spend about 0·25 per cent. We spend less than half the level of other countries. On a per capita basis, we spend between £7 and £9 a head—there are different figures in different parts of the United Kingdom—Germany spends about £15 to £16, France about £17 and Sweden about £24. That is an interesting reflection on the relative importance that other countries give to the arts. I welcome the evidence that the Minister is attempting to ascertain the facts. I hope that he will use that material well in getting more money from the Treasury. Currently we are limping behind our European counterparts.
If central Government are not yet responding, local authorities are. The authorities recognise that there is a real demand from audience and artists in the local community and they have been increasing their expenditure enormously, and probably at a faster rate than any other set of local authorities in the European Community. I hope that the Government will recognise that local message. The Minister's remarks today about Glasgow and other local communities suggest that he may be aware of it and recognises it. It seems, unfortunately, that the local message is something to which the Government are fairly deaf. I hope that they will listen more attentively.
Let us consider the 10-year balance sheet that sets out the Government's record. The Minister has set out some of the criteria that he thinks we should be examining. I have paid tribute already to the fact that he secured three-year funding. He has made attempts with the Arts Council to devolve more to the regions. I welcome, for example, the move of Sadler's Wells to Birmingham, Tate in the north and other initiatives, on which I congratulate the Minister. However, the Government's record overall is a poor one. I welcome the things that are happening but the Government's response to initiatives has been poor.
Over the past 10 years we have done well in museum terms. We have seen the expansion of industrial museums, but the Government's response has been to allow a real crisis to develop in repairs to and maintenance of our national museums. There has been an exciting increase in the interest of audiences in dance. The Government commissioned, through the Arts Council, the Devlin report, which does not take the French Government's view that we should invest to reflect the increased interest of audiences in dance. The premise of the Devlin report was that there should be no more funding. That is why it came to the conclusion that the Northern Ballet Theatre should be axed. We welcome the fact that it has a two-year breathing space. It is unfortunate that the Government are not responding to exciting developments.
There is a range of opera touring companies, including Opera North and Kent Opera. Unfortunately, there are severe question marks over Kent Opera's future. Given the good work that it is doing, it would be a tragedy if it were to be axed.
In local authorities, whatever the political persuasion, we are seeing an increase in the number of arts officers and the development of arts policy. There is an increase in expenditure in both Conservative and Labour-controlled authorities. This is apparent in shire counties and metropolitan areas. It is taking place in spite of the fact that the Government have taken £28 billion from local authorities through the rate support grant over the past 10 years. The RSG has been cut from 61 per cent. of funding to 45 per cent. The enormously exciting increase in expenditure on the arts by local authorities and local communities has not been taken up by the Government. On the contrary, they have done their best to inhibit it. The Government's role has been shortsighted. At a time of unprecedented interest by audiences and extremely high quality of work by artists and writers throughout the country, the Government's record is a miserable one of neglect, underfunding and missed opportunities.
The Government are out of touch and out of sympathy with what is going on in the arts around the country. That is extremely sad.
Both libraries and museums should be enjoying a golden age. I pay tribute to the Government's GCSE syllabus, which put a terrific and new emphasis on children working from primary sources. The opportunities for working in libraries and in museums with primary sources is enormous and should mean an expansion of audiences and activities in libraries and museums. We find, however, that, after 10 years of care for libraries by the present Government, fewer public libraries are open. Those that are open are open for fewer hours, and the spending on book funds has fallen.
Everyone agrees that information is the key element in the development of our economy. Our public libraries are the main source of important industrial and community information on patents, standards and legal and tariff barriers. Ten years ago there were 22,000 requests for information at Birmingham central library. Last year, there were 579,000 requests. That is a 163 per cent. increase, showing an explosion of interest and involvement in the public libraries' information services. However, the Government have been cutting the funding of public libraries.
As a result of the GCSE, there is a need for more library facilities as most schools are struggling to keep up their book funds. Very few schools have professional chartered librarians. My four children have now been through the state system and none of them attended a high school or primary school which had a chartered librarian. In school, they had virtually no experience of professional libraries. That is a wasted opportunity and a tragedy.
There has been a general collapse in national and regional libraries. Over the past year there have been reports from the Museums and Galleries Commission, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee which all tell the Minister the same story. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is hearing evidence from the directors of our major national museums. Mr. Neil MacGregor recently explained to that Select Committee the problems facing his gallery.
When will the Government recognise the crisis? When will they recognise that the Tate gallery needs £27 million for repairs and maintenance of basics like wiring, safety procedures and security? The Victoria and Albert museum has a £50 million backlog of repairs and maintenance and anticipates that it will need £120 million over the next five years. The National Maritime museum needs £19 million for repairs and maintenance. How much more evidence must be put in front of the Minister before he does something about the fabric of our great national museums?
The hon. Gentleman takes no notice when we announce positive decisions. He is either deaf or does not want to listen. Does he acknowledge that, as a result of representations about the structure of our important national institutions, I have decided to shift resources to building and maintenance to the tune of an extra 55 per cent. over a four-year period in acknowledgment of that very problem? It is very difficult to take the hon. Gentleman seriously if he does not acknowledge that the Government are trying to do something about it.
Of course we acknowledge that the Government are trying to do something. However, the Minister must understand that the initiative which he has announced, in comparison to the evidence before him, is completely inadequate. Even after the Minister's initiative, the museums are going backwards. He should ask himself why those major museums, 15 months after they were given the opportunity to take over the running of their properties from the Property Services Agency, are still reluctant to take on that responsibility. Instead of being given an opportunity by the Government, they know that they are being handed a load of debt and problems.
In welcoming any small moves which the Minister has made, he must understand that he has made an inadequate response to what is becoming a national scandal about the state of the fabric of our national museums. That point is highlighted particularly by the problems facing the Victoria and Albert museum over the past few months, but the problems are not confined to that museum.
The problems in libraries and museums have been increasing over the past few years. However, this year, the tenth year of the Prime Minister's reign, has been the worst. The Minister has spent the whole year fire-fighting problems which all stem from the problems that have developed over the past 10 years. He should not have had to do that.
For example, the British Theatre Association library was saved by a benefactor, no thanks to the Minister or the Government. We cannot rely on people like Mr. Holmes a Court to come along and bale out the Government, who have a public and national responsibility for a unique archive and resource.
I have been looking at the figures because the hon. Gentleman painted an abysmal picture of libraries. I cannot reconcile what he said with the facts. The number of service points for libraries has increased from 14,000 to 18,000. There has been no fall in the number of books purchased and 11 million books are purchased every year. Library book stocks have increased from 110 million to 116 million and library staffing is at its highest level for 10 years.
The hon. Gentleman should try to understand the figures that he has quoted or with which the Office of Arts and Libraries has provided him. He is not quoting the number of public libraries; he is quoting public book stocks in hospitals and old people's homes. There are not 14,000 or 20,000 public libraries in this country. There are actually—
Service points are not the important thing. The important thing is that there are 4,000 public libraries in this country. There has been a drop of 200 libraries. No one disputes that, with an aging population, there are more service points in old people's homes and hospitals. However, the number of libraries open to the public has fallen. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who I am sure looks at these matters fairly, should recognise that.
This year there was a missed opportunity with the British Theatre Association library. A similar opportunity was missed with the Northern Ballet Theatre. The Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court and the Studio Theatre at the Theatre Royal in Bristol—the Bristol Old Vic—have had to close. Children's theatres such as the Polka and the Unicorn are facing real problems as a result of new regulations which inhibit children and prevent them leaving schools in organised parties to visit theatre performances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will consider heritage later. The problems at Huggin Hill have matched those of the Rose theatre. We will also have problems very soon about the archaeological remains at the King's Cross site. We shall have similar problems along the route of the Channel tunnel. The problems are stacking up.
This tenth year of Thatcherism has been a very bad year for the Government quite apart from the missed opportunities at Covent Garden, King's Cross, in Docklands and on the South Bank where there are major international opportunities for the Government to make a formidable statement about how much we care about our culture. However, the Government are standing idly by and letting the private sector get on with it.
The Minister made an interesting speech this afternoon. I have often berated him about his lack of policy and vision. I recognise that this afternoon he attempted to address those problems. Many of his aspirations on more opportunities for all, on audience participation, on pride in arts achievements in this country, on arts in schools, devolution, access and excellence were all fine aspirations and fine words which hon. Members on both sides of the House would share and applaud in full.
The Minister asked me to respond in particular to his remarks about the arm's-length principle and the future of the Arts Council. This Government and other Governments have considered the arm's-length principle to involve what is at the end of the arm. The fact that the arm is extended does not mean to say that the Government do not control, at the end of the arm, the Arts Council through Government funding limits. That has become true over the past few years when the arts world has considered that the Arts Council is moving closer to the Government.
We believe that a truly independent Arts Council is one that can speak for the arts world to the Government instead of to the arts world on behalf of the Government as, on occasion, the Arts Council appears to have done over the past few years. There are exceptions to that. It took an honourable, principled and brave stand on clause 28 last year and told the Government that they were wrong. However, too often companies in the arts world feel that the .Arts Council must, because of its funding relationship with the Government, speak too much on behalf of the Government instead of to the Government. We would seek to reduce the patronage of the Arts Council to have an independent Arts Council which spoke for, and on behalf of, the arts world. We shall submit evidence to Mr. Wilding's inquiry which we welcome. No doubt we will debate those matters at greater length in future.
I welcome the Minister's announcement about the innovation endowment fund. The need for innovation is great. However, I doubt whether that, of itself, is an adequate or sufficient solution and whether money solely dispensed by the Arts Council from the centre—from London, from the top—is the best way to stimulate innovation in all forms of arts and culture. Innovation is best developed at regional and local level. However, I welcome the initiative, as far as it goes.
Innovation is not simply a question of providing £1 million and thinking that that will suffice. Companies ought to be sufficiently well funded to feel that they have the right to fail. Recently the National Theatre bravely staged a play called "Ghetto". A lot of money was spent on it. It was unlikely to be a box office success. If the reviews had been had and if audiences had not turned up, the whole season at the National Theatre would have been put at risk. Theatre companies should not have to risk a whole season in that way. The right to fail and to experiment must be built into their budgets.
The very brave work that Annie Castledine has been doing at the Derby Playhouse does not easily attract audiences, but audiences are being built up for it. The critical appreciation is enormous. Local audiences are responding, so work of that sort needs to be backed. A theatre that has no room for the sort of work that Annie Castledine is doing at Derby is not a theatre which is in good shape.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the way to guarantee box office success is to reduce income tax? It has been reduced from 83 per cent. to 40 per cent. People now have some money to spend on the arts.
The Government are always telling us that people now have very much more money in their pockets, but spending on the arts by audiences is not necessarily the answer to the problem. Most of the companies that I am talking about, which play to large audiences, cannot increase their box office revenue. The Royal Opera House is playing to 96 to 97 per cent. capacity audiences.
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want there to be success at the box office, and 96 per cent. or 97 per cent. at the box office is a good indication of how popular the Royal Opera House and English National Opera programmes are. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome popular success, but it seems that he is never satisfied.
The real reason for these problems is that the Government are hoist on their policy of relying on the private sector and market forces. I remind the Minister yet again about his statement to the conference at Newcastle of the Council of Regional Arts Associations. I hope that he will take this opportunity to say that he has changed his mind and that that statement is no longer Government policy. He said:
The objective of this Government is to reduce the role of the state.
Is that still the Government's objective? If so, I suspect that he has had great success, because most companies reckon that they are getting less state support. However, that is not in the interests of innovation or quality, or of widening access to the arts, even though that is his ambition.
The Minister went on to say:
Too many in the arts world have yet to be weaned away from the welfare state mentality.
I do not believe that they ever had such a mentality. People in the arts world have always fought for audiences. They are very keen to increase their audiences. Performing artistes want as many people as possible to see their work. I think that they found that remark deeply offensive and deeply insulting.
Is it still the Government's view that a welfare state mentality still exists in the arts? I hope that the Minister will rise to his feet and say that that is not so—that he recognises that the arts are very good at marketing themselves and selling themselves to audiences. The Minister seems to be reluctant to take the opportunity I have offered to him to take back a remark that does him no credit. I regret that he does not intend to do so. The arts world will regret it, too, and note the reality of the Government's attitude, beneath all their fine words.
As for funding, the Minister said that three times as much money is devoted now to the arts as in the 1960s. Of course it is, but the demand is much greater and there are many more Arts Council and regional arts association clients. The expansion of the arts has been enormous. However, can the Minister name one arts client who is getting more money now and who feels that the opportunities are greater as a result of central Government policy and funding? Can he name a single company—the Royal Shakespeare theatre or the National theatre, perhaps—that is prepared to go on record and say that it is better off now than it was before, thanks to the Government; that it is able to mount more programmes; that it is able to do more interesting and innovative work and that it is able to employ better designers and expand its activities?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be coming round to making the case for a centralised arts policy. He has not yet answered the question that my right hon. Friend put to him earlier: whether the Labour party is still committed to an arm's-length policy. Does he still believe in the policy, advocated by his predecessor, of a centralised system, on the basis that he who pays the piper calls the tune? That appears to be the policy that the Labour party advocates. It would pay for the arts and determine what is done by the arts.
The hon. Gentleman should know what Labour policy is because he has been taking part in these debates for a long time. Labour party policy is that there should be an expansion of the arts at local authority level, in response to what local communities, local audiences and local artists want. There should be real devolution. The arts should be encouraged at local authority level by making the arts, for the first time ever, a statutory responsibility of local authorities. The arts are just as important as housing, social services or libraries. That is the way to expand the arts. That is a genuine devolution. It is not centralisation. However, the Government want to control the arts through the Arts Council. They want to control the arts from the centre.
The hon. Gentleman is arguing against himself now. He said earlier that companies should have the right to put on whatever productions they want, that they should have the right to fail and that we should subsidise them, even if nobody wants to see their productions. Now he is saying that he wants the arts to be funded at local level so that people can be given what they want. If people want something, they will go and see it. If they do not want it, they will not go and see it. Which way does he want it to be?
I thought that I had made the Labour party's policy quite clear. We believe in expansion at local authority level by placing on local authorities a statutory responsibility for the arts and by funding the arts through the rate support grant. There would then be a flowering of activity in response to local needs. That would be genuine devolution. The response would be different, because different communities would have different arts needs. The needs in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Glasgow—even in Grantham—will be different. That would be a truly local policy which would be welcomed by the arts world.
It is interesting to note that neither the Minister nor any of his Back Benchers can name a single company that believes that it is better off after 10 years of Conservative Government. That says it all. The Minister always talks about sponsorship and makes great play of it. He refers to the admirable gifts of people such as Lord Sainsbury, Mr. Clore and Mr. Getty. He should also pay tribute perhaps to Mr. Annenberg at the National gallery.
The Minister has missed the point about sponsorship. In France, private sector sponsorship is far greater than it is here. The reason is that the French Government believe in an arts policy. They are prepared to fund the arts. That attracts individual sponsors. Why should the corporate sector fund the arts when the Government do not have confidence in the importance of an arts policy? When he calculates his European figures, in the Policy Studies Institute study, I hope that they will include sponsorship. That would prove my point that private sector funding of the arts is much greater in those countries where the Government take a lead and say that they believe in funding the arts. That gives confidence to the private sector and a context within which the private sector can work.
The Government are totally at odds with audiences, with what is happening at local authority level and with what is happening in Europe and further afield. The Prime Minister is apparently taking an interest now in the arts. She has not yet exhibited her interest, but I am told that her speeches are beginning to include little phrases, written for her by other people, about how good and important the arts are. I welcome that. I hope that she will go to the theatre or to a concert—even a pop concert. It would be very interesting to see her there. Until she shows a personal interest in the arts, people will treat her statements with some scepticism. The Prime Minister and the Government display a grudging attitude to the arts. They say, "Let somebody else do it." We applaud what is happening in the arts, but the Government appear to be saying that they want somebody else to be responsible for the arts. The Minister commented in his infamous Newcastle speech:
The arts world must accept the economic and political climate in which we operate.
The arts world does not accept it. It does not like it, and I suspect that people throughout the arts are casting their votes against the Government at the polls today because of their poor policies.
I conclude by referring the Minister to a quote from Bernard Shaw's "Back to Methuselah", in which, in act 1, the serpent says to Adam,
You see things and you say why? But I dream things that never were and I say why not?'
The Government ask themselves why they should fund the arts, but we—and the country will show that it is with us—ask: why not? The arts are a vital part of our local and national life and identity and deserve to be funded. The Government should recognise the success that is our country's arts and heritage, and should acknowledge the country's mood and back them.
My right hon. Friend the Minister will forgive me if I do not follow him in his opening the debate on the arts but instead open the second subject for debate, our heritage. In that respect, the first report from the Environment Select Committee, "Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments", is relevant, and I regret that it has taken two and half years since publication for it to come before the House in today's debate. A year after that report's publication, a response by the Department of the Environment was published on 20 January 1988, including replies from the standing conference of deans and provosts of English cathedrals and from the dean and chapter of Ely cathedral.
Generally speaking, the Select Committee report was warmly welcomed. In a letter to me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, as well as indicating his approval of much of the contents of the report, commented:
On those matters where we have not felt able to follow your suggestions you should not feel that the door is necessarily closed for all time. We shall naturally keep our legislative and administrative procedures under review and will remain receptive to imaginative, new ideas for the conservation and preservation of our heritage.
I take this opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made in the past two and a half years with matters which have remained outstanding since the Select Committee report and the Government's response.
The Select Committee raised three main issues, as well as a number of miscellaneous matters. Those main issues were the multiplicity of agencies responsible for heritage, the listing and scheduling system for buildings and monuments, and the allocation of financial resources for heritage purposes. The Committee found that the existing multiplicity of agencies with overlapping responsibilities resulted in a dissipation of energies. That was among the matters that we said should be examined, and we recommended that more powers and responsibilities—and, it follows, more resources—should be devolved to English Heritage.
The Committee concluded, and the Government agreed, that too little weight was placed on tourism relating to historic buildings and ancient monuments. In his letter to me, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State remarked:
Better public access and increased numbers of tourists can … make a significant contribution to the upkeep and preservation of the heritage by providing income and enhanced public awareness. But if the longer term effects are to be positive, it is important that tourism is properly managed and controlled. This requires a degree of expertise and close liaison between the various agencies involved, both nationally and locally. The Government is pursuing these objectives …
In the 18 months since that letter was written, how far have the Government progressed in pursuing those objectives on which the Select Committee and the Government were wholly in agreement?
The Select Committee found that the listing of historic buildings was basically sound, but recommended that that responsibility be transferred to English Heritage together with the power to serve building preservation notices—which it already has in respect of London. I regret that, so far, the Government have not thought it right to adopt that particular recommendation, on the ground of political accountability. Nevertheless, we could still raise such matters in the House even though, in the view of the Select Committee, English Heritage should be given prime responsibility.
As to the scheduling of ancient monuments, in the light of very recent experience, the Committee's recommendations are even more relevant today. Earlier this afternoon there was a private notice question on the subject of the Rose theatre. The Committee suggested that the Government should ensure that areas of archaeological importance were extended. Where such areas are declared under an arrangement between local and central Government, prior notice would be required for any operation which disturbed the ground in the area concerned—including flooding and tipping as well as development. Thereafter, a team could be appointed with the power to enter and investigate, and to excavate the site for up to four months. Alternatively, the team could hold a watching brief while the development progressed.
It is possible that in the case of the Rose theatre such an arrangement would have been unnecessary, because we and the country were fortunate that the developers involved took a very responsible attitude to the discovery, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment moved in with £1 million to enable the developers to investigate what measures were necessary to preserve the Rose, which they did with very satisfactory results, having regard to the special situation.
What would have been the outcome if a responsible developer had not been involved in that case? As city centres are redeveloped as part of inner city regeneration, it is likely that many other important remains will be uncovered. What is the Government's current view both of funding to rescue archaeology and of the protection of sites of outstanding historical importance? I emphasise again that we cannot always be sure that redevelopment will be in the hands of responsible developers.
The Select Committee's third major point concerned the financing of our heritage. We were critical of the fact that grants could be applied only when the building qualified as "outstanding". We feel that all grade I buildings without exception should qualify for grant automatically, or they should not be grade I in the first place.
The matter which caused the greatest controversy and which the media enjoyed more than anything else was the suggestion that cathedrals which are not subject to grant should become subject to grant once they had shown that they had done everything in their power to raise the necessary funds for the maintenance, repair and restoration of their buildings. We had the temerity to suggest that perhaps for tourists, as distinct from worshippers—they can readily be defined—there should be a charge of at least £1 per person. In putting forward that suggestion, we realised that we were touching a sensitive area as some people say that there should not be a charge to enter the House of God. As one who likes to attend church regularly, I understand that sentiment. However, we are not talking about people from the locality of the cathedral, for whom a part can always be set aside, but about chara-trippers who arrive in multitudes and by the mere weight of their feet and the probing of their fingers cause perhaps as much erosion of the fabric of the cathedral as the exterior suffers through acid rain, which is the subject of another report upon which I shall not dwell now.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be extremely apprehensive to hear the hon. Gentleman talking about a charge for tourists. How on earth can one distinguish between tourists and residents? Have not tourists the right to worship and pray in cathedrals? When considering funding, did his Committee look at the experience of Germany and other European countries where the state provides some funding through the taxation system and gets around the problem of making a totally impossible distinction between those who wish to pray and those who wish to look at a museum?
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has not had the advantage of studying the report, although it has been in the Library for two and a half years. We went to Germany to look at the German experience, which involves one third funding from central Government, one third from local government and one third from voluntary subscriptions. If the hon. Gentleman had read the reasons that we received from the deans and provosts of English cathedrals and from the dean and chapter of Ely cathedral, he might have thought a little before leaping in with the question that he has just asked. The dean and chapter of Ely cathedral wrote:
It is not our experience, after nearly two years of weekday admission charges at Ely, that an entrance charge militates against the character of a Cathedral as a House of God. On the contrary, the prayer board at the far end of the charging area upon which visitors are encouraged to leave intercessions to be used at daily Evensong, has been so full of prayers during the past summer that it has been an embarrassment to recite them adequately at the Service.
Moreover, our experience of charging is that visitors stay far longer in the cathedral having come for a deliberate visit rather than using the buildings as a wet weather call. Problems of noisy parties rushing through the building in ten minutes and of misconduct of bored visitors have practically disappeared.
That is the experience of one cathedral that has followed the advice given by the Select Committee. The practice predated the Committee. That experience prompted us to include the suggestion and recommendation in our report.
The consequence is that Ely cathedral, although it is not on the usual tourist route as York and Durham are, now has an annual fund available to follow a programme of proper maintenance and repair to its building and a surplus which it sends to the diocesan fund. The Select Committee recommendation was that if the popular cathedrals—in tourist terms—were to adopt that policy, the surplus could then be used to set up a national fund for the preservation of those cathedrals which are off the tourist beaten track.
I realise that that view is not shared by every dean and chapter of every cathedral. The pious hope expressed by the provosts is:
it is the pastoral task of a cathedral to turn tourists into visitors, visitors into guests, guests into pilgrims, and pilgrims into worshippers.
That is a laudable ambition, but whether it has much relation to the way in which tourists react today is open to question. We rely very much on the experience of one cathedral which has had the courage to follow that course
and has solved its financial problems without in any way detracting from the nature of the cathedral or causing any disturbance whatsoever to the worshippers.
I find what the hon. Gentleman said fascinating. As a member of the Church, I would strongly object to anyone having to pay to enter our cathedrals. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visit Italy regularly. Perhaps he knows more about this than I do, but I can think of no cathedral or church that I have visited—I go to as many as I can—in Venice or anywhere else in Italy where one has to pay. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can point one out to me.
One in Venice immediately comes to mind—Santa Maria Maggiore, Vergine, or some similar name—and I have a photograph of a plaque outside saying that visitors are requested to put 1,500 lire in the box on entering.
If the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to arrange the funds for a visit, I would be happy to join him and point the church out to him.
I shall leave that point as it is not strictly a matter for the Government. It is a matter for the church authorities, who must decide for themselves what to do. I raised the matter because the question has crossed my mind more than once in relation to the problems faced by Hereford cathedral, which has refused to follow Ely and impose a charge. The money needed for repairs could not be raised by appeal. It then went through the dreadful experience over Mappa Mundi and failed to raise money. Its appeal has failed and it is now in dire straits financially. It does not know which way to turn, but perhaps Ely has pointed the way.
The Minister spoke not with complacency but with astonishing insensitivity for the feelings of many people in the arts world and beyond. It is strange that he should have spoken in that tone, because he referred to the general background in which a Minister for the Arts has to operate. He is concerned not only with artistic matters but with the cultural background of the country. It is astonishing that a Minister in that position should speak in such a tone. He has only to use his eyes, ears and intelligence—I am sure he has all three—to find out what is being said in many different circles.
The Minister referred to the universities and the new examination. I am sure that I meet a different type of person at universities from the right hon. Gentleman and others. My experience is that there is more depression and lower morale in the universities than at any time I can remember, except when the Government were pushing through their Bill affecting universities and threatening action against them. Those threats were partly withdrawn at the last moment. Even the universities with the best funding are complaining about depression and low morale.
Fewer people will be recruited as history teachers in universities. The brain drain is happening. If anybody cares to read the details, there was another report in The Guardian yesterday. Anyone who does not understand the depression in the universities does not understand the real mood among academics in this country.
A more obvious example, to which the Minister also referred, is broadcasting. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that there is confidence within those circles, that morale is high and that they are sharing in the supposed great fruits of 10 years of wonderful industrial and economic progress? There is no such mood. There is a mood of fright and alarm. If the Minister cared to open the newspapers, he could read about that almost every day.
There is also the strike at the BBC. There was a much bigger response to strike action than most people had calculated. It is just one expression of the feeling inside the BBC. The morale within the BBC is even worse than that in private companies. It is alarmed at what the Government intend to do, and it has every right to be alarmed. An excellent article in The Independent described the widespread, corrosive fears of privatisation within the BBC and how it thinks it is being pushed in that direction. If the Minister does not think that that is the mood, he should talk to some of the people in charge. He should also talk to those who manage his financial affairs. He is supposed to be one of the great experts because of the way in which he responds to questions by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The BBC overseas service is one of the finest institutions in the country. It has to grapple with the Government's refusal and failure year after year to match the inflation rate with the money they provide. If the Minister disputes the figures, he has not listened to the people who do the job. The overseas service is magnificent: hon. Members on both sides of the House say that constantly whenever we debate it.
Those who run the overseas service make the best possible use of the small resources available. I am not criticising the people who run it. However, the Government, by implication, are constantly criticising because they are constantly squeezing the amount available to spend. Therefore, in the past few years the overseas service has had to be restricted in many ways. There has been a good example of that in the past week. I am sure that millions of people across China would have been eager to hear the BBC reports on the circumstances there. However, fewer people in China are able to hear those reports than some years ago. That is partly because of the financial squeeze. The BBC has hardly enough money to place telephone calls to China, let alone to provide a broadcast service in that part of the world.
It is not a laughing matter. The Government should be considering a major expansion of the money allocated to the BBC overseas service and the BBC generally so that it can overcome the shockingly low morale that exists. The BBC is one of the best institutions in the country. The Prime Minister cannot bear to see an organisation that has performed well for the nation over the years. She has always got to see whether she can shake it up or change it. She has already shown what a catastrophe such action can cause by the changes in the National Health Service. The same thing has happened with the universities and broadcasting. In the face of all that, it is wrong for the Minister to be so complacent.
I seek to reply to those general arguments because they were raised by the Minister. Usually in such debates my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) is present to put his arguments. He is not here today because of illness, so he cannot give us his assistance. However, he has done the next best thing by producing a book on the subject. I am sure that it has been read by all Opposition Members but some Conservative Members may not have completed their education. I recommend it most strongly. It is entitled "Glasnost in Britain". It is published by Macmillan and edited by Norman Buchan and Tricia Sumner. It is a fine book and gives a clearer picture of what has happened in the past 10 years than anything we have heard from the Minister.
The articles in the book cover the many different themes that are relevant to the debate, but I shall quote a sentence prophylactically. It is from an article by the Earl of Stockton. I know that his grandfather is not regarded favourably by the Government but I hope that they will not visit the sins of the grandfather on the grandson, particularly when he has written an excellent and witty article. He has inherited his grandfather's gift in that respect. The Earl of Stockton warns about VAT on books and says that that issue has not yet been settled. He wants to ensure that it is settled. I should like an absolute assurance from the Government that there will be no retreat on VAT on books.
The excellent article says:
There is a certain Orwellian irony that the last time we defended the printed word was in 1984.
He was referring to the campaign in 1984 to fend off the imposition of VAT on books. He goes on to say:
There are those who say that the book trade is unduly alarmist. Well, I am not a hysteric, but nor am I an ostrich. The threat of taxation on the printed word is not only unnecessary, uneconomic and essentially illiberal, but the mechanisms of its impositions are, I suspect, probably corrupt and tyrannical in the most insidious fashion".
The article elaborates that case.
I hope that the Government will now give us an absolute assurance that, whatever happens and whatever the dispute is about, whether or not it is about how the new Common Market is to be dealt with, there will be no departure from the absolute undertaking that there will be no VAT on books and that the Government are not prepared to allow that to go through.
That article should be circulated to every Government Member. I am sure that, on that matter at least, the Minister for the Arts will agree with what I am saying and he is the best person to know how many of his Cabinet colleagues need educating on the subject.
Let me come now to a more major matter that concerns the right hon. Gentleman. About a year ago, in a debate on the arts, we discussed whether the amounts of money that the museums had to spend had been properly increased over the previous few years, whatever might be the promise for the next year or two. As I recall, at that time we had just had the report from the independent committee which had investigated those matters. It showed that, just as there has been a squeeze on the BBC, the universities and others, so a squeeze had been put on the museums. By not making up their money to cover inflation, the Government were, in effect, imposing a cut. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that that report discussed how museum staff throughout Britain were having to bear the burden of the Government's failure to deal with such matters.
In case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he does not have any special responsibility in such matters, let me make the point even more directly. He referred to the Victoria and Albert museum. In a year when there has been such a crisis in that institution, the right hon. Gentleman's references to the subject were derisory. He did not even attempt to discuss the major questions. It is no good him saying that he has mentioned them on other occasions so that there is no need to do so again. He made one reference to the museum, but he did not make any reference to the crisis there. Does he deny that there is a crisis? If he does, he should study the debate that took place in the other place on 22 and 23 March on that subject initiated by Lord Annan. I am sure that he has done so already, but I invite other hon. Members to do so.
The noble Lord Annan is not a scaremonger, but he was outraged by what had happened at the Victoria and Albert museum, and he used many pertinent and potent phrases to describe it. He said that the way in which some of the people had been sacked was vulgar and brutal. He used a series of further words to describe the situation—charges with which I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have had some sympathy. I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman, or any civilised hon. Member, could think that to sack people in the way that they were was the proper way in which to act.
But the background to the matter affects the right hon. Gentleman even more directly. The noble Lord Annan gave details of the Victoria and Albert museum's finances, which showed that its crisis was largely provoked by the lack of money. If the right hon. Gentleman questions what I say, he need only read what the noble Lord Annan said. He did not just give his own figures. He said:
However, there is a far more serious charge for the Government to face. The deputy chairman of the trustees, Sir Michael Butler, tells us that the finances of the Victoria and Albert have been cut each year for the past 13 years by 3 per cent. Now the Government are not honouring the pay awards to which they are a party … By 1992, so I understand, the V & A will be in deficit unless it gets rid of staff. Is that one reason why eight curatorial staff have been asked to take voluntary retirement?
He went on:
I call this policy dishonest and dishonourable".
Those charges are serious and they were sustained by many others who spoke in the debate. No one need take my word for that; they can read the speeches of the noble Lords who supported the noble Lord Annan.
At least the Government's policy towards the Victoria and Albert has made a great contribution to Britain's anthology of invective. The mastery of invective shown in the other place to describe what had happened in the Victoria and Albert was considerable. As I have said, the noble Lord Annan presented the case strongly, but I think that the prize should go to the noble Lord Goodman, who certainly knows something about these matters, and neither the right hon. Gentleman nor anybody else should try to push aside what he had to say. He described what had happened in a paragraph which must have caused a shudder throughout the other place. I shall not quote it now, but anyone who says that I am exaggerating should read that debate. I promise that they will not have any difficulty in doing so because the case against what was done was stated by masters of the English language.
The Government had two replies and two spokesmen in that debate. Neither replied on the question of the money, the one that affects the right hon. Gentleman. Neither replied to the charge made by the noble Lord Annan, and sustained by others, that the real money that can be spent on maintaining the museum—some of its money goes on repairs, and so on—has been cut and cut, and that, under the prospective plans, there will be still further cuts. The Government made no consistent or reputable reply to that charge, despite the fact that they answered in two different ways. On one happly occasion—again, if anyone thinks that I am exaggerating he can read the debate—the two Government spokesmen found themselves repudiating each other because they got mixed up about who had given the orders to the trustees and those who run the Victoria and Albert to sack the people involved.
Even at the end of the debate, there was no agreement between the noble Lord Armstrong and the other Government spokesmen about who had given the instructions. The noble Lord Armstrong is an interesting spokesman on the subject. He has a reputation of being, in that famous phrase, economical with the truth. I do not wish to make any such platitudinous reference. He almost has a taste for extravagant platitude as well. Explaining the situation, Lord Armstrong said:
There is some suggestion that we are all appointed with some undisclosed and sinister mandate from the Prime Minister. We are of course all appointed by the Prime Minister because that is how Parliament said that we should be appointed in the National Heritage Act".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 March 1989; Vol. 505, c. 766–97.]
It is perfectly true that a decision was made along those lines, but nobody then thought that the Prime Minister's power of appointment would be used so swiftly in such a critical case as this to appoint someone such as Lord Armstrong. He is certainly one of them—in that sense, he has great qualifications—but his appointment was bound to give rise to anxieties among the people who run the museum.
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is nonsense and that I am exaggerating the importance of the matter, he should have taken the opportunity to say what will happen at the Victoria and Albert. Is the right hon. Gentleman merely going to accept the fait accompli imposed by Lord Armstrong and others with the approval, concurrence and incitement of the Prime Minister?
If anyone questions what I say, I invite them to read the article written on this subject by someone who knows far more about the Victoria and Albert museum than anyone in this House, or in the other place, and far more than Lord Armstrong, Lord Carrington and the others who were appointed for a year or two. That article was written for the New York Review of Books and I am glad to say that The Guardian republished it in this country. That article on what has happened to one of our greatest museums represents the most serious discussion on it that has been published in the whole of the controversy.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is familiar with the article and I am sure that his civil servants gave it to him. If that is so, what is the Minister's answer to it? The article is entitled "The Fall of a Great Museum" and it was written by John Pope-Hennessy. He had great experience at that museum and at other museums since. I have not heard anyone—not even a Government Whip—try to blacken the reputation of John Pope-Hennessy and his right to speak on such matters.
Anyone who reads that article will see that it adds up to an appalling indictment of the Government's misuse of power. It outlines the extremely serious consequences for
the future of the museum. I shall give one quote from many. He talks of the danger of sacking people of such qualification and says:
If the dismissals are persisted the Victoria"—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I appreciate his interest in this matter, but he has been speaking for 20 mintues. This is a short debate and, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that many of us still want to speak.
I do not believe that that is a point of order, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me proceed.
The serious charge in the article reads:
If the dismissals are persisted the Victoria and Albert will be more ignorant than at any other period in this century.
The museum relies on the advice of its experts. The article concludes:
When universities are starved of funds there is no means by which members of the public can assess the consequences, but when a vast museum with an international reputation is reduced to an object of ridicule, the result is all too evident. To repair the damage and to get the museum once more into decent working order, some form of special grant may be required, but it will be justified because in its future not only the fate of a magnificent collection, but national self-respect is inescapably involved.
The Minister is as directly responsible as anyone in government and he should give us the reassurances and the funds required so that this appalling catastrophe—the fall of a great museum—is remedied.
I happened to go to Paris last week and I saw what has been done at the new musée d'Orsay. We have some magnificent museums, but anyone who has seen what has been done in France in the past four years could not quarrel too much about the extra money that would be required to bring our museums up to the French standard. The President has some understanding of such matters and the French have created a magnificent new museum in which some of the greatest treasures of French art will be displayed. The French Government are wise enough to know that no single investment since 1945 compares with their investment in that museum.
The Victoria and Albert museum has every right and claim to be a wonderful organisation. In this tenth year of the Prime Minister's operations, the Government should compare what has happened this year to the Victoria and Albert with the new museum in France; they should take that comparison to heart.
I apologise to other hon. Members, but I want to say something further about a matter that is still of great importance to this House and which should be watched with great care—the Rose theatre. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) on his vigilance in this matter. I do not believe that the question is settled yet. The Secretary of State for the Environment today seemed uncertain about whether it was an importance matter after all. He demurred from making such a claim. He does not normally show such bashfulness or parade his humility, but today he said that he did not wish to be too assertive about whether the Rose theatre was such a treasure after all.
I am sure that the Minister is aware of the appeals that have been made for that theatre. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has visited the site and has heard the direct appeals from people such as Dame Peggy Ashcroft and others who have spoken so eloquently upon the matter. I assure Ministers that those people will continue to campaign until the matter is settled properly.
If Ministers have any doubts about the theatre, I commend to them the last paragraph of the article on this subject that appeared in The Times Literary Supplement of last week:
The Rose is a unique phenomenon. Its dates put it, and the changes Henslowe made to it, at the height of the evolution of the Elizabethan playhouse design, neatly disposed between the Theatre of 1576 in Shoreditch, which gave up its timber frame to make the original Globe, and the Swan and Globe alongside the Rose in 1595 and 1599. It gave Marlowe his early chance, and he gave it the first great stage successes of the London theatre. It may well have been Shakespeare's own training ground. In the last three months"—
I stress, three months—
theatre historians have been given more fresh and utterly reliable information about the design of the Shakespearean stage than they have managed to scrape together from written-sources in the past three centuries. To lose it would be a new kind of Shakespearean tragedy.
It is our business in this House to ensure that that tragedy does not occur. We have not had such assurance from the right hon. Gentleman yet. I am sure that people in all constituencies and the leaders of the theatre world, Dame Peggy Ashcroft at their head, will make certain that that new Shakespearean tragedy shall not be permitted.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has just referred to the creation of the musée d'Orsay in Paris. Anyone who has seen it would agree that it is a fantastic museum. The right hon. Gentleman's contribution was characteristic of the Opposition as it showed a total lack of appreciation of the outstanding successes being achieved in the arts and the current strength of the British arts.
I, too, was in Paris just a few days ago when the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, of which I am lucky enough to be Chairman, was considering the French museums. We saw the great achievements, but we also heard that the position regarding acquisitions is worse for the great French museums than it is for the great British museums. There are also other respects in which the French look to us rather wistfully, one of them being the amount of private support and private patronage that we have been able to generate in our system.
If we recognise the greatness of the musée d'Orsay and dwell with fascination upon the pyramid at the Louvre—both great achievements—we can also talk enthusiastically of what is about to happen to the National gallery and the arrival of the Tate in Liverpool. We can also talk about the Burrell collection and the Clore gallery. We have many things in this country of which we can be proud and in relation to which the Government have played a full part.
Obviously, I do not accept the point of view of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) who talked about a cultural balance sheet but then made it clear that he was interested only in public expenditure. Although that is not right, I believe profoundly that the state is a crucial provider of the arts and would not accept for one moment that any other argument makes sense. We have achieved a good balance between public and private provision. That strategy has been developed effectively in recent years and long may it continue.
One cannot help thinking of the enormous contributions made by people who are not essentially part of the state apparatus. One such person was Robin Howard, who died a day or two ago and who made a unique contribution to British contemporary dance. Those who knew him knew that he was a buccaneer, not a bureaucrat. A system that allows for that while also providing a national theatre of the present quality is well founded.
In the last couple of years, we in London have been privileged to see more great paintings than I imagine have ever been open to view in our history. We have had a succession of marvellous exhibitions, covering many different types of works of art. Often they have appeared in places such as the National gallery or the Hayward, to which I pay tribute, but such exhibitions have also been sponsored by our large industrial companies.
Such partnerships seem to work also for the good of those people who are lucky enough to be able to see the things that we can see in London. My right hon. Friend the Minister rightly emphasised what is happening in other parts of the country. Indeed, that was an important element in the Art Council's famous policy document of a year or two ago.
The wonderful developments in touring opera in this country have already been mentioned. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central talked about the difficulties encountered by Kent Opera. Today, as throughout the past, a feature of supporting the arts is that one encounters ups and downs. We shall never have—I certainly hope that we do not—a position in which one can simply collect a cheque from the powers that be without anybody discussing it.
Against that, we have an array of astonishingly good opera companies. I have been lucky enough to see two of them in the past few days. One was Opera 80 which did an absolutely magnificent production of "Figaro" and the other was Pavilion Opera, which has just had a coup in performing in Versailles and, unusually, with an orchestra rather than with the gifted pianist who normally accompanies the company. I gather that all Paris thought that that was the cat's whiskers, or whatever the French equivalent may be. That shows the strength and diversity of what we can see in this country at present.
At the local level I am engaged in an exercise to upgrade Buckinghamshire's county museum. The local county council is taking a sympathetic view. Again, good things are happening in other parts of the country as well as in the capital.
The Government's funding policy is not directed at supporting only the classical and traditional arts. It is genuinely designed to allow the avant garde to flourish, even if occasionally that may cause some slight embarrassment to Ministers. Indeed, such occurrences are very good for Ministers. We are in a strong position.
The Arts Council very much appreciates its three-year funding, although there is a problem with inflation. We all know perfectly well that inflation is now running at a higher rate than any of us would have wished. When the Select Committee of which I am Chairman looked at that matter, we decided that the possibility of inflation was a price worth paying for the certainty, security and ability to plan. We felt that the benefits of the three-year funding scheme outweighed the risks of inflation. However, we also stated that if things got out of hand we hoped that the scheme could be reconsidered. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to have a three-year funding policy and to stick to it.
As another sign of the Government's support for the arts, I must add that as a vice-chairman of the British Council I am delighted that this year the council is receiving an extra £6 million of new money. That is welcome in our work to present the excellence of British arts in other parts of the world. The picture is encouraging in many ways.
I should like to draw the attention of the Labour party to what happened with the abolition of the Greater London council and of the metropolitan county councils. Those who sat through the prolonged debates and listened to the saga of grief, horror and angst that was portrayed by the opponents of our provisions, who said that we would be destroying the arts in London and in the other great metropolitan areas, must now face the fact that the record shows that, far from arts funding declining following abolition, it has increased. That is clearly the view of the Arts Council and can be seen from the statistics given in evidence to the Select Committee. I confess that over time it will become harder to tell what the real picture is because those statistics cannot be used for ever. However, it is clear that there has been an increase rather than a decrease in support for the arts.
I am happy to note that the credit for that lies with local government in particular. As one had always believed would happen, the successor local authorities have not said, "We are not interested in the arts and will do nothing about them"; with help from central Government they have picked up the shortfall that would otherwise have occurred. Again, that supports the premise that the Labour party is too interested in alarmism and is not sufficiently willing to look at the facts.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent referred to the importance of broadcasting to the life of the arts. We know perfectly well that the BBC is a major and fundamental provider of the arts in this country. Although like any institution it has its ups and downs, nevertheless we accept that it has generally been devoted to quality. Important reassurances have recently been given by the Government that the crucial instruments will remain as they are. We have now had the announcement about the future of Channel 4, which seems a fairly good safeguard to ensure the quality of that important station. It is clear that the review of broadcasting will not leave the BBC as a whole in a weakened position. There is every reason to believe that Channel 2 will continue to be a major provider of the arts. We must watch carefully to see what happens in relation to radio. However, I believe that the Government's decisions on broadcasting will ensure that our heritage in broadcasting presentation of the arts will be preserved.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts rightly paid tribute to the way in which the Secretary of State for Education and Science has brought forward the national curriculum. I am sure that all hon. Members welcome the fact that art and music are clearly specified as being among the guaranteed subjects in the national curriculum. However, I accept that there is a problem with music because the shortage of music teachers looks like being serious. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is considering the issue of supply teachers in the 1990s at the moment and I hope that we shall be able to make some constructive and useful comments. If my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts knows of any ways in which he can support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in this matter, I hope that he will do so. It is absolutely right to spread music through the curriculum and I hope and believe that we can make a success of that.
What we are seeing today in the arts is a richness previously unparalleled in this country. Last summer I visited Siena. In the cathedral museum I read an account of how, when Duccio had finished painting the Maesta, that supreme work of art, it was carried in triumph through the streets of Siena and the whole town had three days' holiday. That is the desirable ultimate objective that I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to achieve. In the meanwhile, and even if it takes a year or two to bring about, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he is doing and wish him all power to his elbow.
The theme of what I want—briefly—to say concerns tension between culture and commerce, which has been exercising my mind for some weeks.
I do not think that anyone would have put much money on the likelihood of the Rose theatre being the subject of an Adjournment debate and two statements in the House within a couple of months, nor was it predictable that our cultural heritage would be the lead item on the national news for several days. Thankfully, however, that has happened—at the same time, interestingly, as the struggle not hundreds of miles away to find a way of preserving the Mappa Mundi for the people of Hereford. I have an interest in that issue too, because my family comes from the area and I occasionally slip hack to involve myself in that struggle as a change from concentrating exclusively on matters on the south side of the Thames.
The bit of north Southwark which has been in the news recently is, of course, an enormously important part of our national cultural heritage. Not only is it the origin of the pilgrims' journey in "The Canterbury Tales" and the place where Shakespearean England had its most glorious flowering, but it later became the centre of Dickens' world and has been home to many other important authors and artists.
It is interesting to reflect that the current issue of whether the Rose theatre should be scheduled, and how it should be preserved, began with the archaeologists. Academics and authors had predicted that the Rose theatre might be found—as well as the Hope, Swan and Globe—but it took the archaeologists to produce the goods. Archaeology in Britain is considerably underfunded, including rescue archaeology, which should be a preliminary to all development. Of course all that is found cannot always be preserved in this capital city or anywhere else, but we need the mechanism to discover what is there and then to evaluate its importance, which requires well-funded archaeological services. My plea is for better funding in the future.
We have come a long way. Without the Greater London archaeology service we probably would not have found the remains of the Rose. Thirty years ago, in the 1950s, when a previous office block was built in Park street, archaeological investigation did not happen and the Rose was not discovered. The progress that has been made should encourage us, and it should also encourage the Government. The warm response elicited by the excavation and by many others recently should lead the Government to believe that funding such activities more generously from the public purse would be a good investment.
In paragraph 139 of its report on historic buildings and ancient monuments, which is one of the documents informing our debate, the Environment Select Committee recommended that
the Secretary of State should initiate consultations with local authorities with a view to establishing further AAIs"—
that is, areas of archaeological importance. The report is dated January 1987, and the Government response was published in January 1988. The Government were not convinced then—a year and a half ago—that further designations would be justified. They said that they were undertaking a survey of the five areas already so designated. Significantly, those areas—Canterbury, York, Chester, Exeter and Hereford—are five of our most splendid cities and are of enormous archaeological interest.
I have corresponded with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and her predecessor about this and I plead with the Government not to give up the mechanism provided in the Act, so that areas of archaeological importance can continue to be designated. We have areas of listed buildings and conservation areas; areas above ground are marked out as being of particular significance, and logic dictates that the same should apply to areas that are to be unearthed. I hope that the Department's laborious researches finish soon, and that we shall receive confirmation that other areas can be designated. I include north Southwark in that hope, as I would be expected to.
I wish to deal with one or two issues relating specifically to the Rose. The Rose was, is and will continue to be a classic example of the conflict between the rights of the property owner—in this case Postel, the Post Office pensions board—along with those of the developers, Imry, and the wider interest. It was known that the Rose might be there. A 1971 report had warned that there might be a national and international outcry if, when it was discovered, it was not protected. The developers did not embark on the work in ignorance. We cannot say, "Poor developer—fancy turning up something like that unexpectedly in a car park or basement with no foreknowledge."
As evidenced by the history of the discovery of the Rose, it seems that we are still suffering from a lack of intelligent, strategic planning. Surely the logic of events should be this—first excavate, then decide what can be put on top. As the Under-Secretary of State knows, we are now in a crazy, illogical position. Imry submits its first plans and is given planning permission; the Rose theatre is subsequently discovered, and eventually Imry is persuaded not to go ahead. Ministers and English Heritage are very influential. Imry eventually submits its revised and second plans. Even after that—a week or so ago—Imry knows that some of the areas that it intends to pile are too near the theatre, and it still does not take account of the parts that we have not yet had a chance to see.
Only this week a statement was made by the chief archaeologist of English Heritage, saying that if the archaeological work to be done in the next few weeks finds more of the theatre we shall have to go back to Southwark borough council, which must then go back to the developers to ask them to alter their plans again. It is ludicrous to dig and, if something is found, change the plans, and then dig a bit more and perhaps need to change them again.
The reason why there is such a demand for scheduling is that it would give complete protection at law to the site as now excavated, and would give it the status that it clearly deserves. I hope that the Government will change their mind, because I believe that their fear that the cost would be millions or tens of millions of pounds is not justified. There may be some further delay, and that will certainly involve some cost, but I think that a way can be found to meet the cost, and that it will not be enormous. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us the rate of any compensation that might be payable.
Nothing in either the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 or the National Heritage Act 1983 suggests that cost—or, indeed, competing commercial pressures—should be a consideration in the decision whether a site should be scheduled as a national monument. Since the ancestor of a previous colleague of mine, Lord Avebury, campaigned in the 19th century for a list of national monuments, the logic has been the same. Monuments of national importance should be scheduled so that the protection that they deserve will follow as a consequence of their appearing in that list.
The other conflict to which I referred at the outset between culture and commerce is that which has been manifesting itself in Hereford between the cathedral authorities wanting money to look after their cathedral and the commercial pressures militating in favour of selling articles of great value so as to acquire those funds.
I listened with interest to the remarks of the Chairman of the Environment Select Committee, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), about the evidence he had received from Ely cathedral. As the Minister will appreciate, many people still regard it as inappropriate for cathedrals to be among those places which one must pay to visit. I share that view, but I hope we shall not hold up the Mappa Mundi story so far as an example of how it is impossible to raise money in the private sector or from voluntary subscription for the protection of our heritage, ecclesiastical or otherwise.
I think that the Hereford cathedral authorities or their advisers—I say this respectfully, as I have said it to them personally—made a mess of it. Had they asked the public to contribute £100, rather than £1,000, they would have got far more in than they did. Had they taken up the offers of substantial gifts that had been made, they would have been well on their way to raising the money that they wanted. There is of course a national responsibility also to look after our ecclesiastical heritage through taxpayers' money, but there is also an opportunity for private sector contribution, which does not override but is consistent with those other aesthetic, religious and cultural requirements.
I hope that the end of this year's struggles between culture and commerce will be that we shall find ways of protecting the arts in a more logical and far-sighted way.
I refuse to be obsessed by the Rose theatre. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) has made strong and effective representations about it, as no doubt has the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). A satisfactory scheme was announced this afternoon—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—by which what is left of that important relic will be preserved for future generations. It will be shielded by the umbrella of a building, which will protect it from rain, snow, frost and sunshine. Some of those who have been jumping up and down about it have been going over the top, and I believe that Shakespeare would have cared more about the live theatre, to which I shall refer later.
In his excellent speech, the Minister referred to the high standards of art in Britain. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the splendid programme of summer concerts at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, where standards remain as high as ever. British Army bands remain one of our finest traditions. They lift the spirits of the nation. Who does not feel uplifted by the sound and sight of a British Army band? They enhance morale, promote recruitment and, from an artistic point of view, provide a first-class training in the playing of musical instruments and, from an economic point of view, military bands help to attract to our shores visitors whose spending generates employment and income. That point applies to all of the arts and heritage; hence its relevance. Visitors to Britain spend not only on the arts and heritage. They also spend on shopping, hotels, restaurants and internal transport. They thereby create jobs and increase incomes. All that provides a tax yield to the Government.
It is for the arts and heritage that the visitors come. They come to our theatres, operas, ballet, concerts, museums, art galleries, art auctions, historic houses, cathedrals, abbeys, churches and to visit our countryside. They come for our history and traditions and in particular they come because of our royal family. They come to see our processions and parades and our Army bands.
They certainly do not come to Britain for the weather and, if the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) were still in his place, I would have said that they certainly do not come to see our footballers. They come for our arts and heritage and they bring substantial economic benefit to our country, a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) should address if he is fortunate enough to be called to take part in the debate, for he has not previously done so.
Not that economic benefit is the only reason to support the arts, because of course there are many reasons. The arts are a tremendous asset to the nation. We should build on our strengths, and that is what the Minister has done. He is doing a superb job, and the arts in Britain are flourishing as never before. Consider, for example, the London theatre. It is well patronised. It is going like a bomb. For the best plays, it is often difficult to get seats. In Britain as a whole, more people go to the theatre every week than go to football matches. The number going to the theatre is increasing steadily. But I want to raise some specific matters. One is ticket touts. Ticket touting is an unpleasant and greedy trade. It gives a bad impression to foreign visitors and I urge the Government to consider action to deal with it.
The Dominion theatre is an important theatre with 2,000 seats. It could be threatened by a planning application for development on the site. Its loss would be serious, both from an entertainment and planning point of view. I shall be writing to the Under-Secretary who will be responding to this debate, since she deals with planning matters. I realise that she will be unable to give any undertaking at this stage, but I trust that she will consider my points carefully when I have put them in writing to her.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the Dominion theatre in the London scene. At present, the theatre is the home of the London Festival Ballet, the English national ballet, and it and the English National Opera have another crucial problem to face—that of funding, with the change of local government finance affecting Westminster council.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the sensible arrangement that existed between the Department of the Environment and Westminster council on the abolition of the GLC, so that funding could be arranged by and continued through that council. That is no longer possible. I hope that my hon. Friend will ask the Under-Secretary to give an assurance that she will make sure that appropriate funding is carried on so that those two excellent companies can plan ahead with some confidence.
My hon. Friend is right, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm, when she replies to the debate, that she has taken note of that important point, that she will consult the Minister for the Arts and the Minister for Local Government and will try to obtain a solution to a problem which has arisen through no fault of the English National Opera and of the Dominion theatre, both of which are great assets to London and the nation. As for the National theatre, as other hon. Members want to speak, may I express the hope that the Government will continue to look sympathetically at the points raised in his Adjournment last month by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad).
We enjoy a vast range of concerts in London. Attendances at them are increasing steadily. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said that more subsidy was available in Paris. That may be so, but there are fewer concerts in Paris. What on earth is the point of having more subsidy and fewer concerts? I hope that the Government will give a fair wind to the excellent proposals of the South Bank board to develop the facilities available there.
With the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary is responsible for royal parks, such as Bushy park, which is next to Hampton Court in my constituency, where there is a magnificent avenue of chestnut trees. Those trees are greatly cherished by my constituents in Teddington, Hampton, Hampton Wick and Hampton Hill. They are greatly loved and admired. Most of them are sound, although a few were damaged in the 1987 hurricane, and a few others are diseased.
There has been a rumour that there might be a clean sweep, with a large replanting and a new start made. The Under-Secretary was kind enought to see me last month, when I put to her the strong views of my constituents that, except for stunted and badly diseased or badly damaged trees, the whole of the avenue should be retained. I ask her again to note the strong feeling that exists about the matter and I urge her to spare this beautiful avenue of magnificent chestnut trees.
I shall be brief. I am the last Opposition speaker except for my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) who is on the Opposition Front Bench, and I shall give Conservative Members an opportunity to take part in the debate. If they keep their speeches brief, they will all gel: in because the winding-up speeches are to start at 20 minutes to 7.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central on his contribution. I know of his genuine interest in the arts and in our heritage. I also appreciate the interest of the Minister for the Arts, and he knows that I am interested because I am always here when I can be for arts and heritage debates and regularly ask questions. However, I am never satisfied with the right hon. Gentleman's answers about the arts. I also compliment the right hon. Gentleman's parliamentary private secretary, the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who also has a particular interest. We have one massive interest between us in the arts, and that is in the cinema industry. There is much marvellous acting in the cinema and I and the hon. Gentleman frequently talk about it. Of course, I recognise his family connections in the industry and when I meet him I always ask him how his beautiful mother is getting on.
Although the Minister wants to do much, he is pinned down by public expenditure restrictions. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) is always criticising local authorities about their expenditure. He does not realise that local authorities have to spend the money because of Government cuts. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central made that clear in the debate.
We in the beautiful county of Nottinghamshire have a real interest in the arts and in our heritage. It has some beautiful buildings and many people are interested in their preservation and in the activities that go on in the county. Nottinghamshire county council does a first-class finance job and Nottingham city council also contributes. When the beautiful theatre was built in Nottingham the Tories on the city council criticised it. Now they all make good use of it. The Tories in Nottingham always criticise Labour policies, but they make good use of the facilities that are provided.
Everything in the birthplace of D. H. Lawrence in my constituency has been preserved. It is beautiful and people come from all over the world to see it. The local authority is responsible for the upkeep because the Government do not want to know about such expenditure. However, they encourage people to come from abroad because that puts money into the Treasury. But when we ask for help to provide and preserve the proper facilities, the Government do not want to know. I know that the Minister would like to do much more than he is doing. I appeal to him to keep banging on the Treasury door, to keep getting stuck in. Let us have the money to do the things that need to be done. If the Government continue to cut the money to local authorities, we shall really suffer.
I shall finish by speaking about the Byron society in Nottinghamshire. Newstead abbey is a beautiful building. I am a member of the Byron society, as is my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). I had a letter this week from the society's marvellous secretary, Maureen Crisp, appealing to me to buy a society tie. I reminded my right hon. Friend to send his £6·50 for his tie. I have sent for one, and I appeal to hon. Members to send for them as well. That will enable them to contribute to our heritage, and wearing it in this place will show their support for a worthy cause. At the same time they will realise that they are contributing to the preservation of our heritage, as Nottingham city council and Broxtowe borough council are doing.
I am the only authentic opposition voice in the Chamber, bearing in mind the middle-class Opposition Members who are present. I have not been to any wonderful artistic place abroad, although I got my feet wet in the Pacific about a fortnight ago.
The subsidy to the arts is approaching £500 million per annum, and the Arts Council grant increased by 10 per cent. last year to £150 million. It will approach £200 million by the end of next year. The subsidy for two people going to the theatre is almost £60, more than we pay to an unemployed man and his wife to keep themselves. They receive £56 but the middle-class couples and the arty types who want to go to the ballet and the opera receive £60 from public sources. That is a disgrace. The inflation rate last year was about 5 per cent., but we increased the arts grant by 10 per cent. We tell pensioners that pensions can only increase in line with inflation, but for so-called arts lovers the subsidy is increased by more than that so that they can indulge in personal pleasure. That is also a disgrace.
Who benefits from the subsidy? It is certainly not the poor. Those who benefit are the effective arts lobby, the professionals who milk the system, Sir Peter Hall, who got not only a knighthood but a small fortune from public sector funds, and the arts lovers who want to enjoy their pleasures—provided the rest of us subsidise them.
Why should there be subsidies? As I said before, it is said that we are subsidising our heritage. Is a fat Italian singing in his own language supposed to be part of my background? Is the ballet dancer in his female tights and cricket box supposed to be part of my heritage, the heritage of my constituents or of the average person in Britain?
People say that such performances should take place. If they are important enough to be preserved, why do people not want to pay the full price? We are told that the arts are special, but nobody has told me why that is so, or why the commercial theatre is thought to be so ordinary. Commercial entertainment is thought by arts lovers to be ordinary, yet theatres are full. Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals are packed to the doors. The difference between them and the 96 per cent. of subsidised theatres that the Opposition mentioned is that people are prepared to pay the full commercial price to see Webber's shows, while people who go to the ballet and the opera are subsidised.
Why does football have to meet the cost of crowd control while we provide survival grants for the arts? I keep asking what is the difference between the ordinary man in the street who wants to watch professional football, which to him is an art form, and the man who watches opera and ballet? What is so unusual or special about opera and the ballet? The opera recently survived at Earls Court and it has leading singers for about three of the different positions or whatever they are called. It survived because people going to it were asked to pay a price that was economically related to the cost of production. If that can be done and can enable opera to survive at Earls Court, why can it not be done at the Royal Opera House?
The arts subsidy is unnecessary because professionals earn their living and do not need to be subsidised. Subsidy harms the arts, because the Government want control and the performing bodies become institutionalised. Who needs a national theatre building? Are there not enough empty theatres around? It is bound to fail, because public accountability cannot be satisfied. Subsidy is a distortion because it perpetuates the status quo, while encouraging that which is unappealing and abstruse, and it stifles true creativity. It is politically inept and seen to be financially burdensome. Of course Gresham's law applies, which says that spending on the unnecessary drives out spending on the essential.
It is alienating most of the population and it is unpopular per se. It is expensive. Demand is by definition infinite and there are no agreed measures of value for money. It is misapplied because the target, if any, should be amateurs at local level, and training. I have some sympathy with the need to develop locally but none at all with subsidising at the national level. And of course it is completely incompatible with the generality of Government and Conservative philosophy. Avant garde usually means "'aven't a bean".
Heritage is something that I have not touched on before. When we talk about this issue we get pomposity, to say the least. I am sure that the great and good sitting around me at the moment will say that museums and art galleries are vital to the nation. Of course they are, provided that those who do not enjoy them subsidise those who do. What a good way to talk about essential needs to say that museums, art galleries, historic houses, churches and old theatre sites must be preserved for future generations. Yet, when Hereford cathedral tried to raise money to keep the Mappa Mundi—or Tuesday, or Wednesday, whatever it was—it could not be raised. The Church of England has pounds running out of its ears; why does it not itself fund the repair of churches and cathedrals? That is the question that we should be asking, but none of the great and good here bother to do so.
The Rose theatre is a thorn in the side of the Government—a sweet-smelling pile of bricks and rubble. Heritage addicts claim that the rubble must be preserved—provided the rest of us pay for its preservation. They have all been there on site—this well-known actor, that world-acclaimed actress, Sir Richard this, Sir Michael that, the has-beens, the "never-was's". Even the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was there, a man whose contribution to the arts is about the same as Bluebeard's contribution to the institution of marriage. As I understand it, the only VIP not there was Dr. Who with the Tardis.
I understand—although I am open to correction—that when all the people I have mentioned were at the site, a whip-round was suggested towards keeping the Rose theatre in being. All the millionaires who have made a fortune from the public sector got together and whipped up the miserly sum of £200—a major contribution to the effort to preserve the Rose theatre. Obviously, they did not want to devote too much of their millions to this, but they are quick to turn to the public purse when they think something should be done.
Last year the Government saved £450 million on housing benefit to reduce public expenditure. Then they gave £450 million to the art lovers to increase public expenditure. What nonsense! What a stupid way to spend Government money! The people in this country need many things; what they do not need is the subsidising of the arts.
I wrote to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury asking why it was that the arts were the only area of public activity that had a three-year settlement. I asked why the same did not apply to education, the Health Service or local authorities, for example. I was told that the amount of money was only small and that security must be given to their arts friends over a three-year period. If there is one group in our society that does not need security of income and should not have any financial support at all, it is the arts group. We should he telling them that they must survive on their own income like everybody else and will certainly not get a Government subsidy.
The arts must be self-financing. There is nothing special about them. We must ensure that the Peter Halls of this world can never again make a fortune or get a gong because they have milked the public sector. Museums and art galleries must become cost-effective, and if people do not want to pay the full economic price, they will have to do something else about it. The heritage addicts must fund the full cost of restoration and preservation of such things as the Rose theatre. We cannot continue to fund the pleasures of a few art-loving trendies and other pompous twits who operate in the twilight world of Government subsidy while treating the old and the infirm so dreadfully.
The needs of my constituents reflect such things as housing benefit and increased old-age pensions. If I told them that they must contain their spending in line with inflation but if they want to go to the theatre they will get £60, they would give me a very peculiar look. They want money in their pockets. They are not concerned about the Rose theatre, the arts and ballet. They are concerned with living in a reasonable way, here and now.
If ignorance is bliss, my hon. Friend must be an extremely happy man. What his constituents need most of all is a civilised Member of Parliament and perhaps one day they will get one.
On behalf of those of my hon. Friends who, like me, have travelled many hundreds of miles to be here today because of the elections, I think it is most unfortunate that this is such a short debate. There is no reason at all why it should not have been open-ended. We could then have gone on until 8 o'clock or 8.30 and every hon. Member could have had a chance to contribute. Those who arrange these things ought to feel rebuked because they have kept out of the debate a number of hon. Members who have extremely valuable contributions to make.
I am very sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that the usual channels were responsible and obviously I withdraw any criticism of you. But it would have been possible to resume this debate after a certain time.
We are, I think, debating the arts and heritage jointly for the first time. It underlines a point that many of us have made for a very long time, that these two subjects should be taken together.
We have two admirable Ministers at the moment, my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, both of whom show that they have their hearts very much in the right place. But I hope that at some stage the Prime Minister or one of her successors will do as the Select Committee recommended in 1981 and create one Ministry which deals with the arts and heritage. With such a Ministry and with two Ministers such as we have today we would be even better served because the voice of the arts and heritage would be heard much more loudly and in higher places. That is no criticism of or reflection on the two Ministers.
We have spoken before about the Victoria and Albert museum. I was able to make a rather longer speech on another occasion on that. I am deeply disturbed that there is still a real crisis of morale in that great national institution. I am still in regular touch with members of the staff and I have seen Lord Armstrong. I impugn no one's integrity or good faith but it really is important that that crisis of confidence to which the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) referred—I might say at inordinate length—this afternoon is resolved. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts is keeping his eye on that.
I talked about the Mappa Mundi and cathedrals before Christmas and my hon. Friend will have a chance to refer to this matter when she replies. It is high time that the Government recognised that there is a responsibility for making a contribution towards the preservation of the fabric of these, our greatest national buildings. The cathedrals of this country constitute our most important single group of great buildings and it is most regrettable that they alone have no direct access to public funds. I am not advocating the French solution, where the fabric becomes the responsibility of the state. I am not suggesting that cathedrals should not make a proper contribution through appeals and other means. If they wish to charge I have no objection as a churchgoer and I believe that the Ely experiment works very well. Nevertheless, there is a real residual responsibility for the maintenance of these great and glorious buildings and it is time the Government faced up to that.
I would like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, when she replies, to refer to the very real prolem that has been created because of the judgment of the Court of Referees concerning the Kings Cross Railways Bill. To say that English Heritage, which has been quoted with such approbation by the Secretary of State in the House today, has no standing, no locus, when it comes to appealing in the Kings Cross Railway Bill raises serious questions and it is important that the situation be corrected. I hope that the pledges given by my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic in a debate not long ago will be quickly fulfilled.
We have already dealt with the Rose theatre, but another matter that is causing concern is the decision made last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that Mr. Palumbo's scheme should go ahead on the basis that the inspector said that it might be a masterpiece. Whether or not it is a masterpiece, it is clear that a number of important listed buildings and a medieval street pattern will be destroyed for ever. I hope, even at this late stage, there will be some further reflection on that.
Time and time again, when people talk about money for the arts and heritage, they say some extreme things. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) was particularly scathing. Let us remember what the arts and heritage bring to this country. I read an article this morning which said that it has been calculated that the "Gold of the Pharaohs" exhibition in Edinburgh brought in £3·3 million to the city of Edinburgh because of the people who came specifically to see that exhibition. Indirectly, this seven-week exhibition brought in £6·5 million. The arts and heritage bring people in and raise money. They are not a drain on the public purse. Because there happens to be some public responsibility, it does not mean that the Government are being asked to pour money into unproductive effort. Even if one's view is purely economic and even if one is hard-headed to the point of being philistine, one has to recognise that there is a return on investment.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will reply briefly to the points that I have made and I hope that she and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts will continue, as I know that they have done, indefatigably to hammer on the Treasury door, as the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) put it so eloquently.
I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and those hon. Members who were not able to make a speech. We should stop meeting like this, every five years on a European election day, to discuss arts and heritage. It is the intention of the impending Labour Government to include both arts and heritage in a single Ministry.
I am sorry that the unreconstructed hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) has left the Chamber. He has probably gone to vandalise a few paintings somewhere. He is to the arts what Vlad the Impaler was to origami. He gives us a laugh, and all he needs is a pig's bladder on a stick to complete his costume.
I shall devote most of my speech to the heritage because this year archaeologists in London have unearthed two priceless gems, the Roman baths complex at Huggin Hill and the Rose theatre. They have also laid bare the appalling lack of protection under existing laws for sites of archaeological influence. The campaigns surrounding Huggin Hill and the Rose have had a partial success in that neither will be totally destroyed, which was the original intention of their respective developers. However, in the case of the Roman baths, access has been lost, as tonnes of sand have now reburied what one senior archaeologist has described as one of the best preserved and most extensive Roman baths complexes in northern Europe.
I have a few questions to ask the Minister about the Rose theatre, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Any Government truly wedded to the positive promotion of arts and the heritage would have scheduled the Rose theatre site under the relevant Act. How can the Government allow a speculative office block, an excrescence, to be built over the Rose theatre site? The adapted plans put forward to date are wholly unacceptable and I have two questions for the Minister. First, why were the museum of London archaeologists moved off site by English Heritage? Is it because English Heritage felt that the museum of London staff would stand too much by their principles and that English Heritage was in a better position to do a cosy deal with Imry Merchant, the developers? Secondly, why are the excavations of the pile sites going ahead before planning permission has been given by Southwark council or before a possible judicial review has been held?
The facts surrounding the Roman site at Huggin Hill present an unbelievable combination of ineptitude, confusion and vacillation. The facts show clearly that within the span of a few months a Roman site nearly 2,000 years old, described in September 1988 as of "national importance" by English Heritage, was, by February 1989, facing total destruction. It is difficult to exonerate English Heritage from a charge of gross incompetence. One can only assume that, since it is a quango headed up by Thatcherist nominees, advice is given on the basis of what it is believed that political masters want, rather than on what archaeology needs.
No other country in Europe would have allowed its archaeological heritage to be treated in such a shameful and purblind fashion as the Government have treated these two important sites. If property developers were interested in anything other than short-term profits, they might realise that heritage can serve mammon and the muse. The political and media campaigns might have secured a partial victory at Huggin Hill and the Rose, but no one can seriously believe that this piecemeal approach to the preservation of archaeological sites is either efficient or acceptable. The next significant site might be uncovered outside of easy walking distance of London and the press offices. What chance then of salvation?
We can and must learn a number of lessons from recent events. English Heritage as it is organised is incapable of properly serving the interests of archaeological preservation. It is too obviously in the pockets of Ministers and there is no serious money in those pockets for archaeology. We need a wholly independent commission, equipped with legislative teeth and a budget, substantially larger than the miserable £7·2 million, allocated for archaeological investigation and recording. Secondly, the 1986 voluntary code of practice between the British Property Federation and the Standing Conference of Archaeological Managers is highly unsatisfactory. The code is an agreement struck between unequals. It places archaeologists in the position of supplicants, relying almost entirely on the good will of property developers—a group not noted for altruism and selflessness.
The Minister for the Arts said that big business gives millions of pounds a year for archaeological restoration and rescue work. Such sums are pocket change in comparison with the profits made by city developers, and small compensation for the destruction being inflicted on archaeological remains in London and elsewhere. A voluntary code is no substitute for statutory regulations backed up by fines and gaol sentences for those who demolish first and try to avoid awkward questions afterwards. I support the call made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey and others that any developer wanting to develop in an area of archaeological significance as determined by part II of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 should be required to carry out at his own expense a full survey before preliminary planning consent is given.
We want to make sure that part II of that Act is immediately extended to the City of London as it has been to the town centres of York, Chester, Hereford, Exeter and Canterbury. It is ironic that the 1979 Act, which was carried through by the Labour Government, started off as a private Member's Bill introduced by the chairman of the Tory party, who is also the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which Huggin Hill Roman baths are located. As far as I am aware, the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) has not yet found the time to visit the site, nor has he publicly commented on it. One can only assume that the failure to bring the City within part II of the 1979 Act owes much to the cosy relations between Guildhall and the property developers allied to the pusillanimous attitude of English Heritage.
We have to do more for our archaeological heritage. The sign erected over the Rose theatre site reads, "Revealing today's heritage, building tomorrow's". When will it be realised that ugly and short-lived speculative office blocks are no more an acceptable replacement for the past than they are a worthy legacy for the future? The arts and heritage are not safe in the hands of the Government, driven as they are by the do-it-on-the-cheap approach to the arts required by probably the most philistine Prime Minister since the days of Lord Liverpool. It is hardly the mark of a truly civilised society to provide funds galore for defence and then to make the arts rely more and more on the begging bowl and on the good will of big business and the whims of rich men.
We can have no finer role in the world than to become a nation where the artistic skills and creativity of our people are given the maximum encouragement, a nation of craftsmen and craftswomen, painters, writers, poets and sculptors—a Mount Olympus of artistic creativity and excellence. What a prospect. What a vision we can offer the British people. Instead, we are all too often regarded these days as a nation of lager louts with the values of market spivs. I look forward to the vision of a new society, but I know that it will not become a reality until we have a Socialist Government. We shall have a separate Arts Department that will be under the guidance and control of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher).
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised a range of important and interesting issues during the debate that has reflected the importance that we all attach to our heritage and the strength of passion that it can generate. I only feel sad, with others, that so many of my hon. Friends who have been in their places throughout the debate, and who had knowledgeable and detailed contributions to make, have not been able to participate in the debate. To have a debate during which the Chairmen of two Select Committees are able to present their views to the House is, in itself, a mark of distinction.
No arts or heritage debate would be the same without the particularly distinctive contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). He is good at helping us to keep the subject in perspective.
I shall say little about the contribution of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). I thought that he was mean-spirited not to recognise the remarkable contribution that has been made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, who is universally respected and admired. He has done so much to develop and promote business sponsorship of the arts. His efforts have led to a 39 per cent. increase in real terms in arts funding since 1979. My tributes are as nothing compared with those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who in a particularly lucid contribution made only too clear the standing, quality and diversity of British art and the arts generally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) and I normally debate more toxic subjects than the topic of our debate today. My hon. Friend raised a number of detailed matters that I should like to take the opportunity of writing to him about. English Heritage, our adviser, whose work we greatly trust and value, has made significant strides forward since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State replied to the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, which is chaired by my hon. Friend. There are further matters, however, that I would appreciate discussing with my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green referred interestingly to the link between tourism and heritage. I do not take the view that tourism is a form of pollution. My hon. Friend had some important comments to make about the way tourism can be channelled and handled. We have direct responsibility for the royal parks and palaces and we are making strides forward in trying to ensure that the interpretation, handling and management of such magnificent palaces are to the highest standard, especially as we move forward to the establishment of an agency. English Heritage, with its properties in care, is working hard to ensure that the best practices are used and deployed. Its chairman, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, has made a special contribution in that area of work.
Various hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), have referred to the funding of cathedrals. The debate on the future of the Mappa Mundi has generated great interest and has caused the issue to be reconsidered. There is no statutory provision preventing English Heritage or the national heritage memorial fund giving grants to cathedrals. It is entirely for them to determine their priorities in the allocation of their funds. If, in future, English Heritage and the Church of England decide that some measure of assistance should be made available to cathedrals and that additional funds from Government are necessary for the purpose, we would give full consideration to that view. It has always been the view that grant-in-aid should be left for parish churches because they are less well placed to raise money on their own behalf.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) made a special reference to the British Army band. If some of us did not realise that it is a vital part of our national heritage, I am sure that coexistence with my hon. Friend in this place has taught us all to mend our ways. My hon. Friend has a special and close interest in Hampton Court and in Bushy park. He and I have had discussions about the magnificent chestnut avenue. I am able to give him an absolute assurance that the trees are being fully examined and that no tree in the avenue will be removed unless it is a clear danger to the public.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) talked about the English National Ballet and international ballet. I give him the assurance that his concern is shared and that discussions are taking place with the London boroughs to determine how best to meet the concern.
I have not strayed into the remarks of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). I think that they were contentious and provocative, save that he spoke at some length about the Victoria and Albert museum. The developments there are making good progress and there is a clear commitment to improving the quality of the museum. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts will be replying in more detail to the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South.
Many hon. Members have talked about the developments at the Rose theatre. We have already had a statement about the theatre. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has spoken about Huggin Hill on many occasions. We believe that a constructive solution has been achieved for the Rose. I wish to pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard to secure its preservation. The developer of the site in which it was discovered, Imry Merchant, has co-operated in the pursuit of a practical and sensible scheme for preserving the remains of the theatre underneath the new building. It will be possible to prepare the site for public display when the construction works are complete. It is outrageous for Opposition Members to seek to denigrate what by any definition is a significant achievement. The developer has committed itself to providing £10 million in resources towards preserving a wonderful site. It is essential when seeking to secure archaeological remains that effective and realistic proposals are brought forward. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, who seeks frequently to interrupt when this issue is discussed, makes it only too clear that he thinks that the answer to every problem is to write cheques so long as someone else signs them.
The fragile remains of the Rose theatre are not now under threat. The developers propose to preserve them without piling through them. The redesigned scheme allows public access. That is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment sought when he called for a month's delay on 15 May, and that is what the developers now propose. There were previously about 11 piles that potentially might damage the site, and all of these are to be removed to the outer perimeter of the theatre.
I will not.
Much has been achieved. There has been great interest in scheduling, but, as my right hon. Friend informed the House earlier, we do not propose to take that course at this stage. The detailed reason is set out in the letter to the solicitors for the Rose theatre campaign, a copy of which is in the Library.
There is no suggestion that there is any substance in the allegations made by Opposition Members. This is a good and achievable solution. It means that sites will be preserved and fragile ruins protected. The remains of the Rose theatre are already in a vulnerable state as they have been subjected to the elements. That is why English Heritage has worked so hard to secure their preservation and protection. It is essential now that people work together to look to the way forward. They should not seek constantly for means of conflict and confrontation. Instead, they should look for means of co-operation to find ways to ensure that the site—together with the many other sites which commemorate Shakespeare in the area of the constituency of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey—is given proper protection.
I hope that the actors who have done so much will not let the curtain fall now. I hope that in years to come they will continue to come back and participate and give us the benefit of their performances as that site in the constituency of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey becomes what all of us hope it will be, an area in which many of us can commemorate the magnificent Shakespearean legacy which has always been so important to our British heritage.