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House of Lords

Tuesday, 27th April 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Lord Dinevor--Took the Oath.

Shadow Arts Council

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the establishment of a shadow arts council.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we welcome any contribution to mature debate on the arts in Britain, but we cannot agree with Sir Peter Hall's analysis. This Government are passionate about the arts and have translated that commitment into the largest increase in funding for the arts in a generation.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. However, perhaps I may offer him my deepest sympathy for the quandary in which the Labour Government find themselves with regard to the arts. After all, it is only six or nine months since the Prime Minister, at a Downing Street seminar on the arts, said that he intended to write the arts into Labour's core script. What does the Minister think has gone wrong? Why have people as famous and diverse as John Tusa, Howard Hodgkin, Harold Pinter and Peter Hall decided that the arts are in danger? Could it be that the Arts Council, for example, is now seen only as the corporate finance management division of an increasingly interventionist Minister of Culture?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's sympathy, but it is totally misplaced. There is no change whatever in this Government's commitment to the arts, as was made clear in the announcement of funding made by the Secretary of State on 1st April. The noble Lord mentioned Sir Howard Hodgkin as being a supporter of a shadow arts council. I need only mention those who have been reported as dissociating themselves from the shadow arts council; that is, Simon Rattle, Richard Eyre, Tom Stoppard, Jeremy Isaacs, Alan Ayckbourn, Harrison Birtwistle and Howard Hodgkin. They are the knights; we have not yet come to the commoners. The crocodile tears expressed by the noble Lord are totally misplaced.

Lord Gibson: My Lords--

Lord Bragg: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Cross-Bench!

Lord Gibson: My Lords, what future do the Government envisage for the Arts Council, given that it

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is now devolving most of its grant-making functions to the regions, which is perfectly sensible so far as is practical? On the other hand, when a national company gets into trouble, as Covent Garden did recently, the Minister assumes the role which previously was thought appropriate for the Arts Council. What is left for the Arts Council to do? Is it just to speak up for the arts? If so, is it perhaps that role which the shadow arts council, with which I am not associated, thinks it would perform more effectively?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is right up to a point. The Arts Council has decided to devolve a fair amount of its responsibilities to the regional arts boards, where local funding of the arts can be closer to the point of sale, so to speak. However, we must not exaggerate the extent of that change. Thirty-six organisations with a total funding of £15 million have been devolved to the regional arts boards. The Arts Council will still have a very important role in relation to national bodies and it will, of course, make economies in its staffing. However, together with the regional arts boards, the Government are convinced that we shall have adequate coverage of arm's length funding of the arts in this country.

Lord Bragg: My Lords--

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, there is about as much sense in having a shadow arts council as there would be in having a shadow Bank of England, for example.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am interested in my noble friend's suggestion, and I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be as interested in that as I am.

Lord Bragg: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their generosity in allowing me to speak. Is the Minister aware that the arts are in better shape in this country than they have been since 1979? Could he, for our information and delight, expand on that a little?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I was prepared to go back to the term of office of the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, as Minister for the Arts in 1990-92, when it is certainly true that he commanded a larger arts budget than any of his successors in the Conservative Government. However, I think the noble Lord will recognise that funding over the next few years is greater in real terms than it was when he was Minister for the Arts, and certainly very much greater than it was under the regime of his successors.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that kind reference. Indeed, I was able to obtain £28 million extra for arts funding in the year when I was Minister for the Arts. However, surely he must recognise the basic fact that there is now approximately double the amount of money available for funding the arts that there used to be because of the

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National Lottery, which was introduced by the Government of which I was a member. That is a fundamental fact. Surely the Minister would agree that it is against that background that the present dissatisfaction in the arts is so surprising.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in that case it is even more remarkable that the Government, apart from the National Lottery, have found an extra £125 million for the arts over the next three years. I would have thought the former Minister would congratulate us on that. The dissatisfaction is very limited. We are happy to talk to those who are dissatisfied, and we always have been, but we still do not need any sympathy from the noble Lord.

Kosovo: Humanitarian Assistance

2.42 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to assist refugees from Kosovo.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have played a major role in international efforts to bring humanitarian assistance to the refugees from Kosovo. We are focusing our help on the countries where they first sought safety, primarily Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. We are providing airlifts of emergency personnel and relief supplies, a truck convoy, logistics personnel and equipment, and support for the refugee camps which NATO forces have established. The offices which we have established in Skopje and Tirana are helping us to identify priorities for further assistance.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that full reply. Will she confirm that the basic purpose of the NATO bombardment of Serbian targets is to seek to protect the Kosovar Albanians from widespread and murderous ethnic cleansing by the Serbian militia? Will my noble friend also agree that if NATO's policy is to succeed, then at some stage NATO forces will have to occupy Kosovo? That may take some considerable time. In those circumstances, will she agree that on humanitarian grounds there is a considerable case to be made for removing all women and children from the dreadful refugee camps on the Kosovan borders and relocating them in NATO countries until such time as they can return in safety to Kosovo and their menfolk?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, I confirm that our priority is to ensure that in the main Kosovar refugees receive care in the region so that they can return easily to their homes when it is safe for them to do so. I share the anxieties identified by my noble friend as regards what is happening to women and children. Noble Lords who heard the Statement made

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yesterday by the Prime Minister in relation to the NATO summit will be aware that several atrocities are being carried out against women and children. We are extremely concerned in that regard.

As to the position regarding ground troops, it has always been envisaged that at some stage ground troops will go in as part of the end game. However, there is no intention to mount a forced invasion of Kosovo. The NATO Secretary-General asked the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe to reassess ground troop options. That is part of the process of assessing all possible options for bringing about the peaceful return of the Kosovar Albanians.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me with a question which her noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean failed to answer yesterday; namely, before the bombing started, how many Kosovar Albanians were estimated to be in Kosovo? Also, how many are now estimated to have been driven over the border? How many are left in Kosovo? And, if possible, is there an estimate of how many have actually been killed by this murderous regime?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am unable to give the kind of detail the noble Lord requests. However, since 24th March just under 625,000 people have left Kosovo and are refugees in a variety of countries across the region. I am unable to give reliable figures in relation to the number of people left in Kosovo or in relation to the number of people who have been killed.

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