Arts and Heritage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 15th June 1989.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire 6:34 pm, 15th June 1989

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.