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The Arts

3.9 p.m.

Lord Puttnam rose to call attention to the importance of the arts in the life of the nation; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before raising my cultural banner, may I just say how grateful I am to the extraordinary number of your Lordships who have chosen to speak in this debate. I must admit that in my naivety, when this was first discussed, I thought there was a strong possibility that I would be required to speak for five hours. I saw this as a cynical manoeuvre by the Chief Whip to ensure that the hard-working Peers on this side of the House had an afternoon off. That is clearly not the case.

It is exactly 50 years since T. S. Eliot published a slim volume entitled Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. In it, he asserted:

It is a wonderfully simple formulation. It is an expression of an inner truth with which all of us can surely identify precisely because, I am sure, we have all felt it at one time or another.

The arts are an essential element of the cultural and creative lifeblood of any nation. They sustain the conscience and vitality of a society. One measure of any community wishing to regard itself as truly civilised is the quality and depth of its artistic achievement.

I am extraordinarily honoured to open today's debate, taking place as it does against a backdrop of considerable and well-publicised upheaval in the artistic life of this country. Some of those changes, such as the role of the National Lottery in funding support for the arts, are already having a very profound impact. Other changes may prove more far-reaching and their impact rather less predictable.

I wish to address three principal issues: the nature of change; the "schism" that I believes continues to bedevil our concept of the arts in this country; and the relationship of the arts with government.

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One change is the development of new digital technologies which have the potential to alter radically the way in which art is created, communicated, enjoyed and, some would argue, even defined. Another change is the shift towards a "creative economy" whose principal output depends on the imagination of individuals rather than the manufacture of tangible goods. The results of some of those changes will take time to make themselves felt--10, 15 or perhaps even 20 years.

Ideas about what constitutes art inevitably change with time. That is only healthy. Ideas about the purpose of art may also be subject to earnest and constant debate. But the imaginative power of the arts--their unique capacity to enable us to see the world and ourselves afresh--remains immutable. How many noble Lords sitting in this Chamber 100 years ago would have dreamed that the "kinematograph"--that ghostly medium of moving images then barely two years old--would, along with its progeny, become widely acknowledged as probably the most influential art form of the 20th century?

Many of the self-appointed custodians of traditional culture dismissed cinema as little more than a novelty, another craze for the hoi polloi which would quickly burn itself out amid the gloomy city slums where it had most firmly taken root. Other less mean-spirited souls took a more enlightened and altogether more benevolent view. No less an artist than Tolstoy warmly welcomed the advent of cinema and set his sights on writing a screenplay. Sadly for us, his dream never came to fruition. But in hailing the invention of cinema, Tolstoy recognised that art is first and foremost a means of communicating ideas and emotions. Film was dubbed "the great democratic art" by some early commentators precisely because it could be enjoyed by all, regardless of class, income or educational ability.

As I know from my own experience, for far too long our film industry was bedevilled by a schism between those who saw the cinema solely in terms of art and those who saw it purely through the "box-office" window. So I am delighted that the film industry is at last learning to speak to government with something approaching a single voice. I have no doubt that the resulting dialogue will eventually benefit both the artistic quality and the commercial success of British film-making.

The debate about cinema is just one of a whole series of false dichotomies that have plagued public discussion of the arts in this country; the old versus the new, artistic quality versus commercial imperative and, of course, the most damaging of all, highbrow versus lowbrow.

Our concepts about the form and function of art have undergone many radical shifts in the course of this century. Modernism and post-modernism, in a variety of forms, ignited furious debate. Yet, if the history of the past 100 years has taught us anything, it is that we must continually remain open and receptive to innovation and experiment. What shocks us today becomes mainstream tomorrow. We must actively cultivate that "generosity of vision" which, while remaining critical, can encompass the new.

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Perhaps it was because she understood precisely that point that Jennie Lee, our first Minister for the Arts, once described herself as "the Minister for the Future". But that is only half the story. This country is fortunate in having an extraordinarily rich and diverse artistic heritage. Our poets, playwrights, musicians and painters have all left us works which are enjoyed and admired around the world, in many cases by those who have never had the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom and perhaps never will. The plays of Shakespeare, the prose of Dickens and the music of Elgar: each, in its own way, offers a unique glimpse into the imaginative life of this country. Art is an ambassador on behalf of the nation, helping to shape the way in which others see us. It is also the means by which we accurately calibrate the changes taking place within our society. If I am given a choice between a focus group and the work of a perceptive and independently-minded artist, I know which I should trust for an acute sense of our political reality.

The relationship between the arts and the state is necessarily delicate. The arts cannot survive without the state. But they thrive best at a healthy distance from the state. The 20th century offers plenty of chilling examples of what happens when that distance is diminished. The arts rapidly diminish with it.

Even in the most enlightened state, there will never be enough funding for the arts. However, if we want them, we simply have to find a way of paying for them. It is my hope that today's debate will help to stimulate ideas about how best that might be achieved.

I welcome warmly the announcement made in yesterday's Budget which, against a background of financial constraint, provides evidence of the Government's commitment to excellence in the arts and access to the best of our arts. As well as government, business has a role to play in promoting the arts. Backing from business rose by 20 per cent. in 1996-97 to almost £100 million. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts are undertaking a radical review of how business can be encouraged to give even greater support to the arts.

The National Lottery is an increasingly important source of finance. Some £1.2 billion has been injected through our arts councils over the past three-and-a-half years. For me, the most interesting new initiative arising from that is the arts councils' "stabilisation scheme" which allows selected arts institutions a one-off subvention, akin to a dowry, intended to secure their long-term financial and administrative stability.

A much more difficult task for the long term in arts funding is to find a sustainable equilibrium in our commitment between the past, the present and the future. That is an extraordinarily delicate task and one which I hope some of your Lordships will address. On the one hand, we have a duty to understand, protect and conserve our artistic tradition, our buildings, our paintings, our sculptures and our manuscripts along with all the other concrete expressions of our cultural and spiritual life. The buildings and gardens of this country

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are among our greatest national treasures. As the late Lord Clark of Saltwood put it with characteristic eloquence:

    "If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a Minister of Housing, or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should tend to believe the buildings".

Yet those buildings require constant care and attention if they are to survive for the enjoyment of future generations.

As recent events in the Palace of Westminster demonstrate, undertaking that duty can be a costly and, at times, even an unpopular task. That is no reason for evading the responsibility. Future generations are unlikely to thank us for bending to a fashionable clamour stoked by the media, principally in their own interests.

Some of your Lordships may have seen an article published in The Times last Wednesday in which Mr. John Tusa, director of the Barbican Centre, argued that the Government had effectively abandoned any concern for the traditional arts in favour of courting the luminaries of the shiny new world of the "creative industries"--fashion, pop music and film. In the past, Mr. Tusa has had many important and perceptive things to say about the arts. But in this instance his argument seemed intent on sustaining that desperately damaging and reductive schism between concepts of high and low art to which I referred earlier.

Of course, there will always be those who seek to defend "the purity and integrity" of the higher arts, concerned by the demands--as they would see it, the threatening demands--of greater public access. It has become all too easy to interpret any move to broaden our conception of the arts, to enhance access, as somehow diminishing "quality"; invoking that ubiquitous catchphrase, which even recently--and to my amazement--found its way into your Lordships' Chamber, "dumbing down".

I feel that I owe your Lordships some examples of what I think "access" really might mean. Over 8 million people a month now tune into Classic FM--wildly in excess of anyone's initial expectations. Although sneered at by some purists, it has, to its immense credit, significantly extended the audience for classical music in Britain. It has launched a magazine which is far and away the most successful in the sector, and a record label which will invest over £5 million in recordings of new classic music over the next five years.

A recent production of "Madam Butterfly" at the Royal Albert Hall played to a 96 per cent. capacity audience, 60,000 people, many of whom had never been to a live opera before. Those individual triumphs--and I could cite a dozen more--clearly indicate that traditional forms of art, even "high" art, and broad access are not mutually exclusive.

Reaching out beyond the core audience for any arts activity--be it ballet, dance, theatre, or the fine arts--is always dangerous and never easy. But it can, indeed it must, be done; if artistic endeavour in this country is to have any chance of a vibrant future. Williams Morris, a

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great artist and educationist, and one of my personal heroes, looked forward to a time when, as he put it,

    "all men would be artists, and the audience for art would be nothing short of the whole people".

The arts and education are inextricably intertwined. That has always been true in a cultural sense. But evidence from around the world suggests that, in the 21st century, a successful meshing of arts and education will become ever more essential to social stability and economic success. Much, much more can and must be done if we are to take advantage of the extraordinary stimulus that the arts can offer to the education of the next generation.

In addition to being an invaluable educational asset, the BBC is the most powerful patron of the arts in this country. Its contribution is in every respect vastly greater than the sum total of central government funding. To that extent, it is no exaggeration to say that it fulfils the role once held by the Church. The BBC has served as a unique and honourable example of what politically and commercially disinterested patronage can achieve--from live opera to comedy, from the finest documentary to productions at the cutting edge of contemporary drama. It is an asset whose value to Britain is utterly incalculable.

I believe it is fair to say that, in every country of the developed world, it is now fully accepted that the arts cannot be left totally to the mercy of the market place. That being so, the question is: how do we continue to promote and build on the core values of our cultural heritage without resorting to a suffocating form of "curatorial narrowness?"

We are experiencing the emergence of a new global economy, fundamentally driven by two things--information and images--and these themselves are becoming practically synonymous as a result of digital technology. That may well mean expanding our whole notion of culture to embrace many new areas--for example, fashion, architecture, design, photography and even computer design--which have until now been largely excluded from serious discussion.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has put it:

    "Our future depends on our creativity".

We have to find the energy, the confidence and the organisation to exploit the opportunities that lie ahead, while never ceasing to promote an enduring commitment to excellence. In a world in which the shared assumptions of religion, community and tradition are disintegrating, the arts provide an increasingly vital means of identity and communication between communities and nations.

Art may be used to glorify power. It may celebrate revolution, or reaction. But all true art touches us because it is the expression of the human spirit, of our human spirit, and truly great art can reach out and

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awaken, or reawaken, that shared humanity across generations as much as across cultures. John Ruskin observed:

    "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the other two, but of these three, the only trustworthy one is the last"--

our cultural heritage. It is an honourable and an entirely inspiring thought, and one that I hope we can keep in mind throughout today's debate. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we are truly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for initiating this important and potentially wide-ranging debate, demonstrated by the many distinguished speakers who will take part today. Artistic production is not an imaginative big bang out of nothing. It needs the nourishment that our heritage provides, even if it does so only to reject it. Today's art is tomorrow's heritage.

Many of your Lordships will no doubt be stressing the economic importance of the arts. They employ 2.5 per cent. of our workforce nationally. The performing and contemporary visual arts have an annual turnover of more than £1 billion. Their overseas earnings amount to £6 billion a year and design and related activities are worth £12 billion a year. The film, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" alone grossed £160 million, and the musical "Cats" over £100 million. That is an impressive list of which we can be proud.

The arts are an important part of our national identity. The creation by the previous government of the Department of National Heritage, with a Minister of Cabinet rank, was not only a recognition of its growing economic importance but also of its role in defining our national identity. By creating the National Lottery, the previous government also generated undreamt of funds.

In Italy they go further by combining the position of deputy Prime Minister with that of Culture Minister in the dynamic form, at present, of Walter Veltroni. The trouble only arises, as it did in France, when government interference results in using art to manipulate the national identity. With the rebranding of Britain as "Cool Britannia", Labour has entered the arts world with enthusiasm as if it were some down market shopping mall with, to quote John Humphrys, "infernal muzak"--an image of new Britain filled with possible pitfalls.

First, the polished image of "Cool Britannia" has already been tarnished and scarred by the success of the countryside march and by the accusations of betrayal made in a recent edition of the New Musical Express. Secondly, in its unbalanced approach, Labour has supported the cultural industries; but, by and large, they do not need the Government's support. They are an outstanding success by themselves. The success of British architects, designers, writers and musicians is not due to state intervention: it has come about because people want and appreciate what they produce.

After having accused the Conservatives for years of starving the arts, Labour is now trying to kill them off. The back-tracking on free access to museums is a case

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in point. The measures announced yesterday are divisive and insufficient: £2 million for apparently one year only to maintain free entry to those museums which do not currently charge is, I believe, a sop and not a long-term solution. The radical proposal to privatise the Royal Opera does not reflect Labour's faith in the private sector; it is actually likely to reduce access, which the Labour Party claims it wants to maximise. The rationale, I fear, of the plan lies in the perception that Covent Garden is elitist. Elitism has no place in "Cool Britannia"; populism does. We are back to the old cynical adagio--give them panem et circenses. But what attracts the largest numbers is not always of the highest quality.

Thirdly, the manipulation of identity requires increasing government intervention. Wherever one looks there are signs that the arm's length principle is being eroded by the Government. For example, the National Lottery Bill, which has just completed its passage through your Lordships' House, makes provision for the distributing bodies to draw up strategic plans, the contents of which, though, are under the firm direction of the Secretary of State. With this increased intervention the arts will inevitably decline. The result will be pressure to conform to the overall design of "Cool Britannia", thus totally stifling all originality and creativity.

Finally, last month the Government announced that for two years from September primary schools will no longer be expected to follow the required programmes for art, music and dance. This surely will undermine the development of talent. Our great British talent has been the driving force behind the success not only of the cultural industries but of all the arts of our nation. The Secretary of State may want to reflect on the words of Blake,

    "Let it no more be said that states encourage arts for it is the arts that encourage states".

3.31 p.m.

Lord Jacobs: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on offering albeit small support to museums and art galleries to enable them to continue not to charge entry fees. I hope that when they have all the figures before them the Government will be able to increase that sum in forthcoming years. I am less confident about the proposal to privatise the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden if it is urged at the same time that a limited number of tickets should be priced at a more popular level. I do not believe that one can remove the financial support to the opera house and at the same time hope that a limited number of tickets will be offered at a lower price. That seems to me to be an unusual form of economics.

In discussing the importance of the arts the National Lottery cannot be excluded. Let us consider for a moment that £10 billion will be contributed by the British public over the next five years. I recognise that most of the British public will contribute to that huge sum of money in the expectation that perhaps a dream will be fulfilled. However, most of them agree that the likelihood of that is small. I believe that reflects perhaps undue optimism but at the same time great generosity

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not only of spirit but in terms of money-giving. We should all be grateful for that. How the money will be spent has already, broadly speaking, been decided. There are five, or perhaps now six, different funds under which the money will be distributed. For the arts there are two major funds, the arts lottery fund and the millennium lottery fund. Each of those funds is to receive no less than £2 billion over five years. Those sums are beyond any expectations we might have had just a few years ago. However, I question whether it is possible for the private sector--which is supposed to produce between 25 and 50 per cent. of matching funds--to match these huge sums.

I organised a private survey to determine where the private funding comes from. Some 14 millennium projects were surveyed. The people who were approached all agreed without exception to respond to the survey but unfortunately they asked to withhold their names. Nevertheless the results of the survey were interesting. In every case the projects outside London were fully funded and there was confidence that the projects would go ahead. However, the funding came from European funds and much of it from local authority funds. In some cases local authorities confirmed that they had reciprocal arrangements with other local authorities to provide the necessary funds. As regards 14 major projects we did not trace a single penny of private funding as most of your Lordships would know it; that is, funding from private individuals or corporations. Therefore the funding of these projects is proceeding well, but there is a problem in London.

London, of course, does not have a central local authority with vast sums. It would be easier to support a project in Manchester or Birmingham than in London. Therefore private funding means just that; namely, money has to come from corporations and from private individuals. I share with others a vision of an arts urban regeneration on the South Bank of the Thames. A large number of exciting projects are already in existence there and new ones are being built. At the eastern end there is the Globe Theatre and the Tate Museum of Modern Art, which is of course a new project. The National Theatre is undergoing a vast amount of work. I refer also to the Hayward Gallery and the Festival Hall. About 25 per cent. of the British population can reach those buildings within about one hour's travelling time. Therefore those arts attract not only tourists--of whom there are many millions--but also about a quarter of the British population.

A scheme that has recently been in the news is the South Bank scheme. That is one of the few schemes for which private funding has been secured. However, ironically, public funding is missing in this case and therefore the project cannot proceed. A Member of your Lordships' House has been exceptionally generous in providing the private funding. I am connected with the Tate Gallery project. That project is in a different position from the other projects. The Tate Gallery project is financed by the millennium lottery fund whereas the other projects I have mentioned are financed by the arts lottery fund. One may ask what the difference is. It is simple to explain. The arts lottery fund provides 75 per cent. of all the finance required whereas the millennium lottery fund

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provides 50 per cent. I have asked the Government whether there is a satisfactory explanation for this. The difference between the figures is considerable. The South Bank scheme needed £20 million of private finance. The Tate scheme at £130 million will need £80 million of private finance, of which I think about £3 million will come from local authorities. That is a vast sum and represents no less than 60 per cent. of the total cost of the project.

At the moment the National Theatre is undergoing total restoration. However, it already has three first-class theatres. When £40 million has been spent it will still have three first-class theatres. They will perhaps be a little more attractive, but I do not think they could be more comfortable as they are already comfortable. This is not really a new project. I do not condemn what the National Theatre is doing; I support it. Yet the National Theatre is receiving no less than £30 million out of its £40 million from the arts lottery fund. Of all the projects in London, the Tate Gallery project is, I believe, the one entirely new project. The gallery will open in the year 2000; it did not exist before. That project will receive only £50 million--although that is a significant sum--out of a total of £130 million. This matter needs to be looked at. I believe we all recognise that this country requires additional arts facilities in London as well as additional facilities throughout the country. I remain concerned that London-financed projects are finding the position much more difficult than those financed from outside the capital city.

3.39 p.m.

Lord Birkett: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on an exceedingly timely Motion.

I am increasingly fed up with much of what I read about the arts and much of what I fear about them; not, I hasten to say, in your Lordships' House but often in the newspapers and sometimes on television. I am fed up with the journalistic cliche that the artists of this country are the "luvvies" as though they are effete and mindless creatures, whereas some of the best intellects in the land are to be found among the artists. I am fed up with the fact that the arts are always accused of an endless bleat for more money. If the artists of the land have to speak out every day for more money it is because scarcely within living memory has decent support for the arts existed in this country. I am fed up with the thought that they are somehow spoilt and self-indulgent people, when actually the rigours and disciplines of the arts are as strong as in any manufacturing industry. I am fed up with applause from politicians of any party who have contributed very little by their policy to the wellbeing of the arts. I am fed up with patronising pats on the back for the artists of this country because they have somehow managed to survive with almost no sustenance whatever.

Sustenance is of course necessary. Let us consider the conditions of our orchestras in this country. There is scarcely one which is not teetering on the edge of disaster. How ironic that only a few days ago it was announced in America that the Boston Symphony Orchestra's reserve fund has now reached 100 million

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dollars. And before anyone says, "That's the way to do it", let us not forget that in America there have been tax breaks to encourage sponsorship of the arts--something we have looked for for centuries and found notably missing from yesterday's Budget.

Let us consider the condition of our theatres, some of the most distinguished of them on the point of closure. Look at the condition of our opera houses, in disarray. We are all waiting to read Sir Richard Eyre's report on the daft notion that the Royal Opera House and English National Opera should somehow share their home and physical resources. I regarded that in the light of a well-timed provocation rather than a serious proposition.

What about our museums? They are in danger of their time-honoured free entry being eroded, with the nation having to pay for the treasures in them. Let us not forget that it is most actively in our museums that the past, present and future merge.

When, I ask, will we have a government that will recognise the importance of the arts to this country? When will they recognise that not because the arts are enjoyable, which they often are; not because they are decorative, which they often are; not because they provide an escape, as they often do from the rigours of every day life; and not because they are the jam on top, the reward a nation deserves only if it works hard enough, but because they are important? They are important to education, for example. The whole of history, geography, language and science can be discovered within the arts. They are important to social awareness. They make us more aware of each other. They are also the image of our society. As the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said, culture is what distinguishes the civilised nations from the uncivilised nations. The arts are the poetic voice that teaches us things that nothing else can--no report, no White Paper, no Green Paper and no statistics can possibly teach us such things. It is the singer's voice, the dancer's limbs, the painter's brush, the actor's imagination, or the camera's perception which teach us about society because they teach us about ourselves.

When, I ask, will we have a government who recognise that properly, not in their words only but in their deeds?

3.44 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, although I greatly admired the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, I do not share all the gloom that he expressed although he made a very sound point about the anxiety with regard to operas and orchestras. I go with him that far.

I am sure that I speak for other members of the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group, of which I am joint president, when I welcome the debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for the way in which he introduced it, with moderation and in an informative way.

Art is important in the life of a nation. We should all strive to increase its importance. I hope that this debate may do so. If the arts were even more widely appreciated among the masses--is that a phrase one is allowed to use in our classless society?--I would say

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that there would be less crime, more understanding between various parts of the community and perhaps more national pride.

Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, I wish to stress the importance of the part that the arts should play in our education system. Although it is good that the Government now insist that the curriculum in primary schools should contain English, maths, science and religion, I have to point out that it also includes information technology--a subject of which I must confess I am happily ignorant. Would it not be better if, instead of having to learn information technology while children are still very young, in those formative years they should have the opportunity to learn art, music and drama?

I must confess that from the age of six I was made to recite poetry; and from the age of 14 I was made to act in Shakespearian plays. Of course if such education were to result from the present teaching of English, which is a compulsory subject, that would be splendid. But will there be such a thing as poetry reciting? Will that happen? Britain used to be an international example for the use of drama in schools. But now fewer than half of all local education authorities fund drama teaching. That is a serious omission on the part of those who do not do so. Perhaps they do not have the funds. The Government should consider that.

Under the United Nations charter of human rights, art is a fundamental right for everyone. The noble Lord, Lord Rix--alas he cannot be present because he has another parliamentary commitment this afternoon-- has asked me to mention the arts for people with learning difficulties. That is an expression which I think is less satisfactory than mental handicap. Everyone has a learning difficulty of some kind. I cannot play the piano with more than one finger. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is chairman of MENCAP, of which I am past president. Every year MENCAP holds a wonderful art exhibition. It contains a wide range of artistic skills. Some of the people who exhibit brilliant pictures cannot even talk, but their lives and other people's lives are enriched by what they do. Also we have our MENCAP Gateway Festivals which are wonderful variety shows in which only mentally-handicapped people take part and give splendid performances. The last was in Birmingham last autumn. The performances were very well attended.

Recently, MENCAP started a major project called Dilston College, which is in Northumberland. It is designed to be an international centre of excellence for mentally handicapped people in the performing arts. We are steadily learning to appreciate the talents of people with such handicap and to value their contribution to our shared artistic heritage. Can we hope that the Government will help them to lead a fuller life, perhaps by giving some help at Dilston College? I hope that we shall receive an answer from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is to reply.

I join with others in stressing the vital contribution that the arts make to the economy. They repay many times over the financial support that they receive from the Government. Our art galleries and museums are a

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great tourist attraction, especially when admission is free. The Government should be thanked for what they are attempting to do in that regard. I hope that they will succeed in keeping our museums and galleries free and open. It will benefit the economy by helping the tourist trade.

As mentioned, in 1996 our tourist industries contributed nearly £10 billion to British exports. That is even more than our construction industry earned overseas. Above all, the more the arts are stimulated by government financial help, the more employment will be created. I know that that is a major consideration on the part of the Government.

I wonder whether I may dare to mention this--I hope it is not considered irrelevant or impertinent; and I speak merely as a life Peer. If the hereditary Peers were not allowed to speak in this debate, the number of speakers would be halved.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, as an hereditary Peer, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Like him, I wish to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for initiating this debate. I am also delighted to hear about the Chancellor of the Exchequer's concession over museum charges, which will allow the British Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate to retain free admission, I hope for many years. I thought that the noble Baroness who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench was somewhat ungenerous in her reference to that.

Sadly, the position is not so hopeful concerning our regional collections; and it is about those difficulties that I wish to say a few words. The Museums Act of 1845 enabled town councils to establish public museums of art and science for popular instruction and entertainment. Our Victorian forebears believed, as the present Government believe, that the arts should be for the many and not for the few. The last 40 years of the 19th century saw most of the municipal museums being established. Many industrialists were great philanthropists, like their counterparts in the United States, and they helped to endow their home towns with galleries and museums; and they would often bequeath their own collections to them. The current exhibition at the Royal Academy is most impressive and, I believe, was a revelation. It gives an idea of the wealth that there is of fine paintings and sculpture from over 100 regional collections--a number being of grade A importance. Sadly, some of those works of art have to be kept in the vaults or the reserve collections and are usually not available for public exhibition, due to a lack of funds. Sometimes the local education services provided by the museum have had to be cut. That is because many regional museums are facing a financial crisis, as the local authorities that run them are under severe financial pressure, and museum funding is often a low priority.

The Bowes Museum, for example, a museum of national importance, is facing great difficulties. The hard-pressed local authority, Durham County Council, has been reported as requiring a cut of £30,000 from the

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annual grant for the Bowes, and that could mean that the museum will have to be closed from November to March. I welcome the announcement that was made yesterday by my noble friend Lord McIntosh that the Government have invited Mr. Richard Foster to carry out a review of the present position and to make recommendations. Let us hope that that will help to save the museum and to retain for public view its important collection, which includes an El Greco and a Goya.

At Aylesbury, the Buckinghamshire County Museum has had its grant of £750,000 cut by 30 per cent. by the local authority, and the purchase fund has been reduced by a quarter; that is notwithstanding the fact that, in 1996, Aylesbury won the Museum of the Year award. Government support for the National Heritage Memorial Fund has been much reduced by the previous government in the past few years. I say that particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. In 1993-94 the fund was awarded £12 million; that was reduced to £8.8 million the following year by the previous administration, who again slashed it to £5 million for 1997-98.

Successive governments have always stated that the responsibility for running regional museums rests with local government or the universities. That apparently remains the policy of the present Government. It is surely not enough just to have a designation system to recognise important collections, first set up by the Conservatives and backed by Labour; nor merely to have a code of good practice; nor even to have a new access fund. What is needed is also real financial help from central government for the hard-pressed local authorities. Otherwise, the losers will be the local people, who will be deprived of some of their cultural links.

3.57 p.m.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield: My Lords, first, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on initiating this extremely interesting debate. My intervention will be short and, I hope, sharp. We all know from our study of history how important art and the arts are in all communities. We think of the Greek plays, the history and poetry of Rome and Egypt; and, coming down to modern times, all primitive societies, even the mud men of Papua, New Guinea, have their own form of art, as do the Aborigines of Australia. That is not my subject; noble Lords know about it already. It is merely a matter of interest. I wish to elaborate on a matter that your Lordships may not know about. It was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I refer to the money given to the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

I had the good fortune to be chairman for 12 years of the National Heritage Memorial Fund from the time that it was started, on April Fool's Day 1980. Perhaps I may tell your Lordships how it came about, in case anyone has forgotten. In 1946, the socialist government, with much imagination, set up the National Land Fund with the product of £50 million from the sale of surplus war equipment. It was not placed under private trusteeship but left in the hands of the Treasury. The Treasury did one or two things with the money, but 10 years later, in

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the 1950s, the Conservative government took back the original £50 million, leaving only £10 million. That is a hell of a way to treat a memorial fund. On we went, until we came, in 1978, to Mentmore. The house was up for sale. It and its contents could have been bought for £2½ million. But the Treasury, who were then running the National Land Fund, said, "No, we do not think we can do that." The house was put up for sale and was lost.

Then came a Green Paper, a White Paper, a Bill and the whole rigmarole, setting up in place of the National Land Fund the National Heritage Memorial Fund. That fund had private trustees, not controlled by the Government, and £12.4 million, which was all that was left of the £50 million from 1946. That £50 million would by then have been worth £600 million. I had the great honour of running the fund for the first 12 years of its existence. During that time we managed to spend £130 million. We saved 12 country houses and bought some famous pictures, music scores and all kinds of things. We did a jolly good job.

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