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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Charteris of Amisfield: Thank you very much, my Lords. I was waiting for that! When I left the fund, the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, took it over. At the same time came the National Lottery fund and a lot of money. There are now two funds, the lottery fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, but we should not forget that it is only the National Heritage Memorial Fund which is a memorial to the people who died for this country.

This is how the fund has been financed since I gave up the job: in 1993-94 it received £12 million; in 1994-95, £8.7 million; in 1996-97, £8 million; and in 1997-98, £5 million. In 1998-99 it will receive £2 million, which in my opinion is a damned insult.

I beg your Lordships to remember the memorial aspect. Perhaps it does not matter; I do not know. I believe it does matter. The National Lottery money is very good and keeps coming in, but it may stop one day. There may be reasons why it will change. With the National Heritage Memorial Fund, under separate trustees, there will always be help.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for initiating this debate. I shall follow him on one issue close to home. I am not one of the admirers of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, but I am an admirer of Barry, Pugin and this great building. I am thankful that over the past two decades it has been so splendidly restored. I believe it right that work on the accommodation for the Lord Chancellor should maintain the high standards set elsewhere in the building. I fear that on this subject the criticisms of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor are part of a regrettable attitude to our heritage. That is one of the central themes about which I intend to speak.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, I shall address the balance between the old and the new. For many of us it has been entertaining to observe the speedy

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abandonment of New Labour by so many self-appointed spokesmen of the arts who had so recently prostrated themselves at the feet of Mr. Blair. Amusement, however, is tempered by anxiety about what is now in store for the arts. It is of course true that the arts, particularly museums and the performing sectors--music, theatre and opera--have faced financial difficulties for a good many years. I feel free to speak in strong terms today because I have been a consistent advocate for the arts in government and out, and gave them practical support as a Minister.

I believe it was not wrong for the Conservative Government to expect that a much greater share of arts funding should come from the private sector, particularly after corporate and personal tax rates had been cut. The weakness of the policy was that it demanded too great a change too quickly and underestimated the difficulties that would arise when recession came.

Despite all that, the 'eighties and early 'nineties were years in which the arts in Britain thrived and our worldwide reputation for music, theatre and opera had never been stronger. The threat that now faces the arts is not just a lack of money but of attitude. It is particularly ironic that the trendy populists and the pop artists should now be among the disillusioned after a period when Mr. Blair and his marketing men appear to have believed that only the so-called populist arts mattered. The fear exists that quality is to be pushed on one side in favour of the tawdry gimmick of "Cool Britannia", when what matters is quality. For most arts organisations the central problem remains lack of money and the inability to plan long-term programmes.

The Treasury is unlikely to become more generous. There appear to be only two means of escape from the mess we are in: a tax regime that gives more effective encouragement for private finance and the lottery. Much has been done in the first phase of the lottery, concentrated on capital programmes, to safeguard the nation's heritage and to modernise the buildings in which arts organisations work, though, sadly, not to create great new buildings.

The priority now is different. The urgent, overriding need is to secure adequate revenue funding. For many organisations it is literally a question on which their survival may depend. The 1993 Act provides the power to switch lottery funding from capital to revenue projects. The Government have promised review and action within months. It is important that they deliver. That is my first priority for action.

My second priority is to do something effective to tackle acute problems that face some important provincial and national museums. The Chancellor's small gesture yesterday, discriminating as it does against museums which already make charges, will not resolve those problems.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, spoke of the provincial museums. Top of my list is the need to recreate the British galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum. For too long their condition has been a national disgrace. It is a humiliating experience to visit them after visiting the Indian and Far Eastern galleries,

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for which generous overseas funding has been provided. Plans are being prepared, but the full funding is not yet secure. We have already waited too long. If this country is able to produce hundreds of millions of pounds for a temporary display at Greenwich, we ought to be able to provide the much more modest funds needed to conserve and display the treasures of Britain in the V&A.

This debate coincides with a defining moment in the history of the Arts Council of England. I have no objection if the chairman wishes to reduce the council to manageable size or to prune the overblown bureaucracy. However, reform must not be at the expense of expert knowledge or appropriate regional input; nor should it involve the abandonment of the arm's length principle. Past history and present government attitudes do not encourage the belief that ministerial interference will improve matters. "Dumbing down"--a phrase quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam--and the absurd and potentially disastrous proposals from Ministers about the future of the ENO and Covent Garden provide a stark warning of the dangers of following that route.

Two events, the Millennium and the enlargement of the European Union, and the fact that so many people care for the arts prompt the thought that 2,000 years of European culture--I include cinema--are a heritage, with all its rich diversity and creativity, that we need to carry into the next millennium so that it provides the foundation for further creativity, and caters for the needs and aspirations of vast numbers of people, our minds always open to the new, but never dismissing the old. We must pass on to the next generation quality, creativity and diversity, not just the populist fashions of the moment, represented by presentational gimmicks under a plastic dome.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, in joining in the congratulations rightly pressed upon my noble friend Lord Puttnam on introducing the debate, I was tempted to go over the top and say that it was the best thing he had done since "Chariots of Fire". But that would be entirely untrue: he has done three or four exceedingly good things between "Chariots of Fire" and today.

I hope that this debate may be the Government's chariot of fire. After all, it is their first venture into support of the arts. As a member of the Labour Party, of course, I receive it with rapture--perhaps modified rapture; nevertheless it is a good start. I hope to see them follow that path. There are one or two signs which are encouraging; for example, the need for free entry into national exhibitions. The methods by which the Government are approaching that policy clearly indicate that it is their intention to return to free entry to the national museums. I feel sure that when my noble friend responds to the debate he will not dissent from that. It may be a long way round, but times have changed and it is no longer possible to do it in a week as happened when I was Minister for the Arts.

Perhaps I may commit a solecism in the first of my minutes by quoting myself. After I ceased to be Minister for the Arts I wrote a little book and, if your Lordships

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will permit, I should like to read from it. I state, "From these years"--that is to say, the years immediately prior to that time,

    "stem a number of convictions tested by experience. For example, there is no line to be drawn between the arts and entertainment; high skill can be wasted on trash: and trash can be transmuted by skill into something like art; all art has an economic base; the sources of finance for art and entertainment must be various; in the arts there must be many employers and consumers; artists can easily be corrupted by money and even more easily lost for ever because of lack of money; that to produce an apex of high art it is necessary to have a wide based pyramid of competence".

I learnt too that,

    "geniuses do not spring out of nowhere; art reflects the society that begets it but also influences that society; art can as easily be killed by Government neglect as by Government suppression; it is the duty of Government to provide all those art forms which cannot be sustained by other sources of finance and to provide means for all its people to have access to them; that developments in the arts and communications frequently foreshadow the general trend and direction in which society is moving. As Oscar Wilde said, life imitates art.

    "I also learned that the arts are interdependent upon each other, and should be seen with entertainment, the media of communication and with all the means of mechanical and electronic reproduction of performance as a single area of Government concern; that together the whole area is economically viable but separately must decline".

It seems to me that the Government have learnt that lesson in the formation of the Secretary of State for culture, sport and so forth. I continue in my book:

    "I saw that there must be universality of concern but multiplicity of control; that we must aim towards self-administration of art by artists and their organisations, but that the State has a vital role to play in fostering art and artists and in bringing them to the people.

    "Finally, I became convinced that once men and women were mated and were housed and fed, art was the thing that mattered and many of the other preoccupations of mankind were but chaff in the wind".

I see that the Government have accepted the principle of free entry. I see also that they are beginning to approach one of the great necessities of our time. It is not sufficiently realised that the excellence of our performance over the wider field in films is now building upon "Chariots of Fire". An extraordinary film--I make no comparison between one and the other--was "The Full Monty", which succeeded simultaneously in being both rude and decent. It was a remarkable film; a blockbuster; a world beater. It seems to me that we can do the same in other fields of the arts if we set about it in the right way. My point is that our performance--this applies to musicians as much as to actors--is bred in small groups throughout the country.

I received a letter from a former director of the New Victoria Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. He drew to my attention, and no doubt to the attention of other noble Lords who received the booklet circulated by him, the number of most successful artists who, having started in that small, still struggling theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, have gone on to gain world renown. I refer to such people as Bob Hoskins, Ben Kingsley, Gerda Stevenson, Alison Chitty, Mike Leigh and Alan Ayckbourn.

It is the small theatres throughout the country which are presently in trouble. I hope that when the Government come to examine the subject of distribution and the need for access, they will pay special attention

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to the small theatres because a number have already had to close and several others are in difficulty. Urgent action is needed at this time.

That is the essence of what I wanted to say and although I have not taken all my allotted time--yes, I have--I shall sit down.

4.19 p.m.

Lord Hindlip: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for introducing this debate, in relation to which I suppose I should declare an interest as chairman of Christie's, the auctioneers.

The debate has attracted wide interest, which is in itself encouraging, and, like other noble Lords, I have received a number of letters and briefing papers about it. I was particularly pleased to receive a letter from the National Campaign for the Arts. This quantified what many of us have long suspected--and indeed what the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, was so eloquently fed up with--that a very high proportion of the population of the United Kingdom visit museums--36 per cent. Our museums receive more than 100 million visitors a year. That is an enormous figure which, I am sure, any government would take note of. Despite this, though, the same briefing paper points out that government funding for the arts in the United Kingdom has fallen by £42 million in real terms since 1992 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, pointed out, though lottery funding has gone a long way to redress this drop, it is not guaranteed always to be there. The noble Lord, Lord Charteris, mentioned that aspect.

In fact, I do not take too pessimistic a view. I found three things in yesterday's Budget to encourage us that the Government are taking seriously their role over the arts. I think it would be churlish not to thank the Chancellor, particularly for his promise to ensure free entry to museums. I used to think that government had to take on the role of the leading patron of works of art which private individuals held in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, I am now no longer convinced that this is true. I think it is better for government to try to encourage private patronage rather than become patrons themselves.

Experience tells us that when art is politically motivated it tends to become pompous and pretentious. Fortunately, most of the monuments to fascism and communism have been destroyed. But if you take even a great artist like Rubens, he becomes far less great when he commemorates the life of Marie de Medici. Those noble Lords who were lucky enough to have seen it I am sure would agree that Vaux le Vicomte, built by the same team who constructed Versailles, is a much finer building, with finer contents done for a private individual than for a government.

We also all know the cliche of the camel being a horse designed by a committee. Today, government patronage is bound to be run by committees. Despite the fact that I find the building beautiful, I wonder about what is going to go into the Millennium Dome, and I also wonder whether the money would not be better spent supporting institutions like the National Gallery

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and the Tate Gallery in all its various forms throughout the country, which I am sure noble Lords would agree--in fact several have already said it--represent the best of the past and also give us the best chance of putting great works of art on view for the public in the future.

To revert to the theme of private initiatives, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to three examples of private patronage. One is from the past, a picture by Stubbs, surely England's greatest painter, which has just gone on view in the National Gallery. It was commissioned by a Prime Minister, but in a private capacity. There is a rumour that the picture was to have been an equestrian portrait of King George III. But Lord Rockingham fell out with his monarch and the portrait was never painted. I think it was a good thing.

There are two other examples to which I should like quickly to draw your Lordships' attention. One is the truly remarkable collection of pictures, put together by Janet de Botton, which has just gone on view in the Tate Gallery. It is an extraordinary collection which even the most enlightened museum director could not have formed. It needed the individual taste, flair and determination that only a private individual can bring to collecting works of art. I am sure your Lordships would not approve of everything in that exhibition. I am equally sure that your Lordships would not approve of everything in an exhibition from another great patron of art, the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi. I refer to the Sensations exhibition in the Royal Academy last year. But, interestingly, the Royal Academy's own poll showed a 90 per cent. approval rating for that exhibition. There was nothing androgynous about it. To pick up from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said, that was the full Monty.

Private patrons also supply another vital ingredient. They provide the money to buy works of art. Of course one must look to the public good, particularly when these works of art are acquired or held on to with taxpayers' money. Over the years though, even without tax incentives, private collectors have been extraordinarily generous in lending to museums. We should encourage and promote this partnership between private and public patronage. In my remaining half minute I should like to suggest three ways of doing so.

I should like further to commend--I was very pleased to see that it was mentioned in the Budget--the system of offers of acceptance in lieu. That was strengthened yesterday. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, had anything to do with it, but, on behalf of private owners, I should like to thank the Government very much for doing this. I should also like to commend the system of conditional exemption which again was the subject of mention in the Budget. It has served the country well. Lastly, I should like to suggest that the Government look at the possibility of reducing the level of capital gains tax on works of art. That would be enormously stimulating to private collecting in this country.

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4.27 p.m.

The Marquess of Bath: My Lords, a nation gets awarded the character that it deserves. By neglecting to promote some aspect of this character, that aspect becomes increasingly insignificant within the image which other nations regard as our worth. And this might also hold true for the way future generations of our own nation come to regard what we ourselves were worth.

The evidence is abundant that here in Britain we have the potential to excel in the performance of all the arts. But these arts can only flourish when given patronage and financial encouragement. The potential is certainly there, but it is for society to bring it to fruition; and it is for government to give society the necessary lead on how this can be done.

There is a danger if the arena for artistic performance is permitted to become too centralised, with the regions required to focus upon what is going on within the capital city, to discover the potential of their own individualistic excellence. The situation will become healthier if we can revive the notion of there being a thriving local culture within each region: proud of its own traditions, and of its aesthetic potential.

Government should therefore assume the responsibility to promote the re-emergence of the English regions, so that they are encouraged to create their own local artistic excellence, in distinction from one another, and in competition with one another to draw the maximum number of tourists to come and be entertained in the significant regional manner. But this should involve the creation of regional assemblies whose main purpose will be to tailor the quality of life within that territory, so that its true individualism can be perceived for what it best might become.

It should also be the responsibility of the regional assemblies to promote the full artistic potential of those who are still at school, through the format of the education that they put on offer. There should be state-run schools within each of the regional systems, specialising in some particular aspect of the arts: whether that might be specifically in the arts, in music, drama, ballet or cinema. It could be said in passing that this might be parallelled in schools for sporting excellence, too.

Then once the artists have left the nest, so to speak, government should promote the keenness of regional competition through the constant incentive of prizes--not exclusively for artists who dwell in those regions, but on an international basis, so that artists from other cultures feel encouraged to come to these shores to compete with those of our native talent; and in so doing introducing elements of their own cultures to inspire the participants within ours.

Finally, there is the question of improved display: a display at sites of easy access for the region as a whole. It should not be necessary for an aspirant artist to visit the capital city to discover the inspiration for his native art. The finest collections should be on his very doorstep. The regional assemblies should be in a position to allot funds to transform existing museums so

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that they can fulfil this required function. Funds should also be used to put on arts festivals where the special character of the region can be publicly proclaimed.

The artistic potential of the nation is thus indirectly linked to the government's ability to enable the English regions to re-emerge in a spirit of their most colourful individualism. So the most significant step which government could take today in the encouragement of the arts will be in the creation of our regional assemblies. I urge that this step should be taken without delay.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is to be congratulated on introducing a debate which has managed to produce a speech suggesting that the history of this country be run backwards. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, in his professional capacity, might find some way of doing that. However, I found his own speech a little depressing in that I believe it illustrated one of the worries about the arts that people like myself--they call me a highbrow without causing offence--have reason to feel; that is to say, a certain tendency to regard the arts not as individual expressions of particular human capacities, but as a sort of spectrum running all the way from acknowledged high art--the works of Bach or Beethoven--to any other form of public entertainment which is not itself a simple object of commerce.

The noble Lord was unfair to Mr. John Tusa whose article in The Times did reveal very real worries on the part of many lovers of the arts. It is not only a question of money. Money has figured largely, as might be expected, in our debate and no doubt subsequent speeches will again refer to the importance of public and private patronage.

But there is also the question to which Mr. Tusa drew attention, which is that if one is to have a country vibrating with the enjoyment of art and its creation, it is important that those who set the tone for public life take that into account. It was depressing to many of us that the incoming Prime Minister should, for three much-advertised parties in Downing Street, confine his appreciation of the arts to what I believe is known as "pop music". I do not believe that pop, pop, pop is the sound that we most like coming from No. 10 Downing Street.

Similarly, the Secretary of State for Education, no doubt with the best of intentions of doing something about our apparent inabilities in numeracy, literacy and information technology (whatever that may be), has downgraded the importance of the arts, particularly music, since it is the art with which I am most concerned.

One of the most encouraging things over the past few decades, which have been mostly discouraging, has been the evidence of the widespread interest in the making of music all over the country and the enormous number of young artists of promise, both vocal and instrumental, who have come forward through the competitions at Leeds and the concerts at St. John's Smith Square, which is our local concert hall. If they are no longer to

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have the possibility of taking music lessons in particular in the schools, it is going to be very hard to see where the stream of performance is to come from in the future.

This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Donizetti, a rather more important musician than some of those admired by the Prime Minister. When Donizetti was eight years old he went to a school in Bergamo which provided free teaching of music to the sons of the citizens of that city. I wish that our much richer cities, far away from this little Alpine town, could make sure that if there are Donizettis about, they will not be lost to the British public.

It is important that the difference between art and other forms of entertainment, which are perfectly respectable in their way, should constantly be made clear to the young, otherwise they will fall in with the fashion of peer groups and the fashions transmitted to them by American television and other inroads on our cultural life. They will then be less valuable as citizens because they are less concerned with the things that matter most. It seems to me that Members of your Lordships' House who do not have ancestral mansions or other forms of ability either to acquire or to display works of art can at least take that task upon themselves as they go around the country and meet the young.

I speak with some feeling because one result of my growing infirmity is that I can no longer attend art exhibitions. I can no longer stand in picture galleries without incurring considerable pain, so I am very much restricted to the two institutions which the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, rightly commended to us, Classic FM and the BBC. It is their music which keeps hope alive that this country will still enjoy the artistic renaissance which its young fully deserve.

4.41 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye: My Lords, twice in the past three years I have found myself the only speaker on the arts in the debates following the Queen's Speech, so it is a relief to find that I am one of many speakers today, even if I am No. 13. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on initiating this debate.

Since my last speech, in October 1996, much has happened in the world of the arts, notably a change of government with a new attitude and approach to the arts. While commending much of what the Government have been doing in various other areas, I regret that the arts are not among them. I deplore the worshipping at the populist altar, to the almost total exclusion of an appreciation of the more life-enhancing, lasting and what I consider to be worthwhile forms of artistic expression. Reluctantly, I entirely agree with Sir Peter Hall's opinion that neither of the two major parties cares much about the arts and that most of our present-day politicians are philistines. I say that despite the encouraging news yesterday on museum admission charges.

The last government's preoccupation with market forces above all other considerations inevitably led to a descent to the lowest common denominator, while the monotonous regularity with which they dumped successive Ministers on the arts--most of them quite

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useless appointments--has only been exceeded by the frequency of governmental changes in Italy. Every politician now bares his or her populist credentials: baseball caps worn back to front, and knowledge of and attendance at Britpop awards are deemed obligatory, but surely it is not necessary to resort to such behaviour to earn the respect of the electorate. Far from it--I recall how the late and much lamented leader of the Labour Party was once asked a number of questions about popular culture. I think he got one right.

I must say how much I agree with a recent letter to The Times which suggested that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, far from being censured for availing himself of the opportunity to borrow pictures from the national collections, is to be congratulated. The correspondent went on to say that it ought to be compulsory for all Ministers of the Crown to have at least 30 pictures from the collections and to attend art appreciation courses. What a splendid idea, which I would extend to the Shadow Cabinet!

In a speech at the Mansion House in March 1997, the Prime Minister said:

    "The arts and cultural industries have been on the side-lines for too long. They are not peripheral to our lives. I want them to be part of the main agenda".

Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I sometimes wonder exactly what "the main agenda" is. Some weeks after taking office, the Prime Minister was photographed at a reception at 10 Downing Street talking to a pop music idol whose foul and abusive language on TV and radio, loutish behaviour both on the ground and in the air and open advocacy of drug-taking do irreparable harm, not credit, to this country. My local paper described the conduct of some of the fans of this band in the streets near the performing venue. It was, quite simply, disgusting. I note that some in the pop music world have already started criticising this love affair with the Government, saying that it is bound to end in tears or, in the case of the Deputy Prime Minister, a bucket of iced water. No wonder a British businessman in Tokyo, attending the exhibition of British art on loan from the Tate, remarked,

    "In terms of its image, Britain needs all the help it can get. British culture should be seen to counterbalance bad behaviour".

I dislike intensely this new, so-called "culture" which really consists of a clique of pop stars, record producers, models and fashion designers, and I regret the ostracising of the really important individuals in the arts today. When will leading figures in the theatre, like Peter Hall, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, or in music like Peter Maxwell-Davies, Harrison Birtwistle or Charles Mackerras, or writers such as Ted Hughes, Beryl Bainbridge or Martin Amis be invited to 10 Downing Street? They are the cultural individuals whose work does good for this country, not the "celebrity" icons of "Cool Britannia" which, in reality, is nothing but the trumpeting of the tacky, tawdry, trivial, trite and, above all, the transient.

Simultaneously with the Government's view of the arts, there is a perpetual lowering of standards in the media, which is hardly conducive to the well-being of the arts in the life of the nation. Naturally, no coverage of the arts can be expected in the tabloid

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press--unless it focuses on some scandal--but it has seriously declined in recent times in the so-called "quality press" also. BBC Radio 3 is a travesty of its former self, while Radio 4 is about to axe its excellent programme "Kaleidoscope" and the late Frank Muir's autobiography was thought "too literary" for listeners. Those are just a few examples of a deplorable trend. George Orwell's words apropos Hollywood are entirely applicable here:

    "It is always assumed that anything demanding thought, or even suggesting thought, must be avoided".

I have argued before in this House that the arts ought to be placed alongside education. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, also made that point. I say that despite the dismal level of education that we have reached as a result of the policies pursued during the past 30 years. I am delighted that the Secretary of State is trying to improve education. I am pleased to note that my view was endorsed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who, in an interview in The Times a year ago said:

    "We need to rehabilitate the arts as a legitimate area of public policy. One way is to start putting them back where they belong--at the heart of education. Arts and education feed each other. Schools and colleges are the source both of the artists and the audiences of the future".

I agree with every word of that.

In conclusion, I must express my disquiet at the current state of music in schools. A recent survey has shown a nationwide shortfall of more than 700,000 instruments, and about £40 million is said to have been cut from music teaching budgets in the past three years. Sir Simon Rattle has observed:

    "Having fought the last government about what the curriculum might look and sound like, now to find ourselves at odds whether music is important enough really to be on the curriculum at all is horrifying to all of us, because we see the possibility of a generation of children who never have the chance to discover the power of music".

I earnestly hope that the Government will take heed of those words, spoken by one of our most widely admired personalities in the arts who really does do something to boost the artistic reputation of this country.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover: My Lords, at the time of the election, the Labour Party published a document with the rather ambitious title, Create the Future, in which it was said that British artists and people with creative talent will only be able to fulfil their potential when they have the wholehearted support of a government with an effective strategy. "When indeed?" as the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, asked so eloquently. Today, no one in the arts can believe that that wholehearted support is evident.

I too saw the article by John Tusa and felt that it represented a widely held feeling. For those of your Lordships who did not see it, perhaps I may quote just one sentence. Mr. Tusa said that he thought that the Prime Minister was signalling,

    "that Oasis is as important to Britain as opera, that chat shows are as important as novels, that T.V. soap operas are more valuable than live theatre and that all sorts of other key ingredients of the arts matter not at all".

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In the weekend press there were reports, seemingly emanating from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which was perhaps only kite-flying, that opera at the Royal Opera House was likely to be privatised; in other words, that we should be returning to the 1930s, and discarding our greatest opera company that, despite the crises that affect all opera, has been so successful over the past 50 years.

In the brief time available this afternoon it is upon this apparent danger to the cultural life of the country that I feel as a past chairman of the Royal Opera House I must comment, even though it may be very hard for your Lordships to believe that privatisation can be a serious option. The example to justify so-called privatisation of opera was said to be the Metropolitan Opera House in New York that flourishes without public subsidy. What ignorance that revealed. First, the Met benefits from the economies of scale of having no fewer than 1,700 more seats than Covent Garden. Secondly, the wealth of New York is many times that of London in terms of potential benefactors. Thirdly, the Met, like the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has a huge endowment built up over many years of tax breaks for art patrons and non-socialist governments. Those reasons make New York no model for London.

The comparison that could, and I suggest should, be made is with European opera houses which are similar in size to the Royal Opera House. In London the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera together receive less than £30 million from Arts Council grants. The equivalent figure in Paris for opera and ballet at the Bastille and the Garnier is about £78 million. Berlin's three opera houses receive over £80 million, while Munich has about £66 million. In other words, the Royal Opera House and English National Opera together receive between a half and a third of the subsidy of opera houses in Europe. It is not surprising therefore that seat prices have as a result been much higher in London, although not as high as is often suggested. At the ROH, for example, almost 40 per cent. of all opera seats and over 60 per cent. of all ballet seats in the past season were below £35.

It is six years since I was chairman of the Royal Opera House, but I must declare an interest in the future of the ROH in my present capacity as chairman of the governors of the Royal Ballet, the trustee body that holds the Royal Charter. Sharing the Royal Opera House with the opera company, the ballet will be greatly threatened if opera at the ROH is privatised and consequently reduced to occasional seasons as in the 1930s, or is damaged by gross under-funding in the future. It is hard to believe that at the very time we are to have an opera house properly equipped for the next century, with far better facilities both for the artists and the public, we are to abandon or greatly reduce public support for the opera company and thus make it impossible to achieve the full potential and greatly increase access by being able to give far more performances of opera and ballet than was ever possible in the past.

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The new opera house will also be able to reach out to millions through greatly increased broadcast and television performances. Already between 3 million and 4 million watch ballet and opera on television. Over 2 million watched the Royal Opera House performances over Christmas, and 2.9 million watched the gala at the closure of the opera house.

London must surely continue to enjoy world-class opera and ballet and rival the very best in Europe. Our objective must be to make possible the achievement of the very highest standards. The Royal Opera House as a centre of excellence can bring benefits for all opera and ballet throughout the land, and opera and ballet should be seen by many more millions on television. This deserves what at the election was described as the wholehearted support of the Government.

4.54 p.m.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, in speaking on the importance of literature I must declare an interest, for although I would hardly claim to have contributed literature to the nation I have certainly produced a lot of fiction. As my noble friend Lord Jenkins has just informed the House, there should be no clear line of demarcation between art and entertainment. In 1990, 64,000 books were published in this country. That figure had increased to 102,000 by 1996. The publishing industry contributes about £1 billion per annum to the UK economy through exports. But talk of numbers and sales is rather to state what publishing is worth to the economy than to the nation's cultural and intellectual life. National life benefits enormously from the quality of published material and this is in a healthy and flourishing condition. Perhaps nothing reflects taste among readers so clearly as last Sunday's general bestseller list in the Sunday Times with works by Ted Hughes, Peter Ackroyd and Bill Bryson at its head.

Poetry is enjoying a revival. Some of this interest is due to the Poems in the Underground project which drew the attention of tube train travellers to previously unknown treasures. Both the Whitbread and W. H. Smith awards, although open to fiction, biography and travel-writing, were won by the same book of poetry: Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid. Hundreds of arts festivals are held in the United Kingdom each year, about 50 of which are devoted to literature or include important literary events. Among these are established favourites: the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and the Hay Festivals as well as such relative newcomers to the scene as the Female Eye National Festival of Women's Writing and the Daphne du Maurier Festival at Fowey in Cornwall. The literary festival provides pleasure, instruction and general enjoyment to thousands, encourages reading and does as much as anything to promote love of literature. Creative writing schools also provide great stimulus to potential writers. Many more have been established in recent years. While it may be true that writing cannot be taught, where there is talent, keenness and ambition the latent gift can be encouraged to express itself. The Arvon Foundation has been spectacularly successful at achieving this. In August that veteran assembly the Writers' Summer School will convene for the 50th time at Swanwick in Derbyshire.

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I am concerned by the plight of young writers starting out for whom the public lending right does little, supplying as it does extra funds to those popular authors in little need of it and practically nothing to the young and struggling. There is a case for revision of the public lending right so that it provides more substantial funds to such authors, perhaps by offering a smaller slice of the cake to the successful and popular--or, dare I suggest, nothing at all?--and a bigger slice to those with only one or two literary novels to their name. We are all familiar with the image of the pram in the hall as the enemy of promise but perhaps a more powerful adversary is the spectre of want. Not everyone, however talented, is as motivated as Anthony Trollop and gets up at five and writes before going off to his or her job.

It has been said that our England is a nest of singing birds. I paraphrase that and say, less euphoniously, that our United Kingdom is a nest of singing birds. No doubt some of them will go on singing without outside aid as they have always done, but there is something disquieting about imagining the creative output that may be lost because insufficient attention has been paid to latent talent. However, the National Lottery has enabled the Arts Council to address problems which earlier it was unable to tackle. Since the Arts for Everyone scheme was announced in the autumn of 1996, under the express element, literature awards totalling £1,107,000 have been made for 287 projects and, under the main element, just over £2,000,000 has been awarded to 20 projects. Two more rounds are still to come. Young people and the disabled have been particularly targeted. A sum of £475,000 from Arts for Everyone has gone to the Hi8tus project in Birmingham involving young people in producing television dramas. Bournemouth libraries have benefited through a workshops project linking the creative aspect of writing with an active enjoyment of reading. Thanks to a grant from the same source, the Poetry Society has launched a two-year programme to bring poetry to the people.

Something in the region of 200 literary awards are presented in this country each year. The Arts Council's Writers' Awards go to the winners of 15 separate categories: fiction, poetry, genre fiction, biography and so on. Each award is of £7,000. Such an award is enough to keep a young author during the writing of a book. The Arts Council is presently looking at ways to expand this project and increase the number of categories. Perhaps it should also consider that young creative writers need places in which to work, havens of peace and quiet important to any author, and set aside funds for the setting up of such retreats. The Eastern Arts Board is currently conducting a feasibility study into the possible establishment of a residential centre which would aim to attract professional writers from all over the country seeking a retreat in which to work.

Books need readers. As well as through advertising and the media, literary festivals, book clubs and reading circles, much is being done and needs to be done to reach potential readers by the means of literary evenings in libraries and theatres and author lectures and readings. One enterprising publisher I know takes her young authors into pubs and clubs to read from their work to a clientele who might otherwise never hear of them. The

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buying of books is difficult or impossible for a large number of people and they depend on the public library. It is vital that public libraries are maintained and stocked with the best literature publishing has to offer.

The Arts Council is working intensively through schools and libraries to encourage reading. With the National Year of Reading set to start in September, we note that most libraries in the United Kingdom will be holding special events to encourage involvement. The Library Association's two reading initiatives Sharing a Story and Playing Around with a Book are expected to continue throughout the year and summer reading campaigns are planned. The libraries' involvement is invaluable for their role in highlighting the importance and pleasure of reading. Literature is probably the only branch of the arts which may be enjoyed at no cost at all.

The National Year of Reading should make a significant difference in literacy levels. Exploring values and life itself through literature may be more effective in developing useful and happy citizens than the formal teaching of morality, while violent and anti-social behaviour may to a large extent be the result of lack of experience in the organisation and expression of emotion. The discerning reader learns something new and valuable every day.

Books face great competition from a vast range of entertainment, but literature manages to hold its own. It will only continue to do so through persistent promotion along the lines that I have mentioned and through the encouragement of aspiring writers. In his splendid introduction to the debate my noble friend Lord Puttnam mentioned Tolstoy and the writing of a screenplay. A British Tolstoy may be out there, waiting to be found.

5.2 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell. I am grateful to her, as I am sure all noble Lords are, for having drawn attention to the promotion of literature through prizes. We all--the House, the nation and the arts--owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for initiating the debate. He said that art is an ambassador.

For the past three or four years I have had the pleasure and privilege of working in the Baltic states. Noble Lords may recall that in 1991, after the Berlin Wall came down, the three Baltic states--Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania--which are much undersized states compared with their eastern neighbour, produced what was called a singing revolution. They won through song. They linked hands from Tallinn down to Vilnius, and they held massive singing festivals in Tallinn. The Russians called it a day and walked out. Art has political and cultural significance.

In his maiden speech on 18th December 1997, during the debate on the Unstarred Question on free access to museums, asked by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, at col. 813 of the Official Report said:

    "Victorian Britain was engaged in nothing short of a massive experiment in public education",

in the South Kensington area 150 years ago. Our arts and our culture through our museums need to regenerate that theme and also embark upon a massive experiment in public education.

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Like all noble Lords, I have no constituents. About one morning every fortnight I invite A-level pupils from a variety of schools--from Wells to Harrow. This morning, 10 Harrovians came to your Lordships' House. They sat in the other place and had a tour. One of them said, "We want to know more about the Office of the Lord Chancellor. Can we see where he lives?" I said, "Not yet but when the refurbishment is completed I hope I may be able to take you there".

I salute the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who is not in his place today, for all that he has done to refurbish that once magnificent set of Pugin Rooms. I should be wary of giving the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor advice. The last time that one of my ancestors did so, it was the fifth Lord Carlisle. At the age of 35, like the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is not in his place, he became Foreign Secretary, and like the noble Lord so far, he never held Cabinet office again.

In the 1750s that Lord Carlisle attempted to offer advice to the Lord Chancellor on a measure to facilitate divorce. Lord Hardwicke referred to my ancestor as an adulterous young aristocrat. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is a distinguished advocate and Scotsman. I suggest that he introduces into his chambers a Raeburn portrait of a Scotsman who was also a learned Lord, because last month the National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition of Raeburn paintings. Those noble Lords who visited would not have been disappointed.

That exhibition had several results. It introduced English people to the works of a great Scottish portrait painter. It introduced them to 18th and 19th century Edinburgh. It boosted the numbers of people visiting the National Portrait Gallery, who may never have visited it at all.

I have now another salutation. It is to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and his colleague on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. Since 14th May they have persistently and determinedly encouraged and exhorted, and no doubt provoked, the Treasury Bench with string after string of well-worded, incisive Questions.

I know that he does not like being called the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, but I salute him and his team in his department for enabling free access to museums for the foreseeable future. When he replies perhaps he will explain the words, "for the foreseeable future".

I shall explain what Dr. Charles Saumarez-Smith and the National Portrait Gallery are doing to encourage energetic and imaginative access. First, they are building a £10 million restaurant on the top of the museum, which may generate wealth to be spent on the museum, and enable more people to see around it and, it is hoped, make donations. Secondly, it is installing an escalator to enable people to get to the top floor. It will need private sponsorship and the support of everyone.

When showing people around this House, I realise that our young people are deficient in their basic knowledge of British history. Our museums and galleries, in particular the National Portrait Gallery, have a substantial role to play.

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There is an omission in the debate. No Member of the Bishops' Benches is to speak. Perhaps one of them will speak in the gap. I wish to draw attention to our nation's greatest, sublime and soaring monuments; the cathedrals. I hope that when necessary the Bishops will apply to the National Lottery because it would be a tragedy if we allowed the cathedrals to return to their condition at the end of the Second World War.

My final point--

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