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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Does the Minister agree that it is absurd to force local authorities by law to provide concessionary fares and ultimately free travel to everybody over the age of 65 irrespective of their financial background?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in a large part of the country local authorities of all political persuasions have regarded it as part of their job to ensure access to public transport for our senior citizens.
I am surprised at the approach of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I believe that it is recognised as a good thing throughout the country. However, a few areas have no such scheme. We felt it right, therefore, to introduce a minimum level concessionary scheme, as we announced in our White Paper in July.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is a well-established principle between central and local government that central government frequently sets minimum standards and local authorities have the ability to improve on them. That is precisely the situation we propose to introduce in this area.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government's plans are in our recent White Paper. We do not propose to change the local government voting system other than the possible introduction of the supplementary vote for the election of directly elected mayors.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat disappointing reply. Is the noble Baroness aware that when the Nolan Committee considered standards in local government it found that, irrespective of political persuasion, abuses were by and large associated with an excessive degree of one-party dominance.
Against that background, would not one of the best ways to improve standards in local government be to introduce some form of proportional voting, as the Government have done for the new Parliament of Scotland, the Welsh Assembly and now the European Union elections?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will wish to join me in paying tribute to the large number of councillors and officers who do excellent work in majority as well as minority authorities. However, it is true that we have studied carefully the issue of possible corruption in local government. For that reason we shall publish soon a draft Bill which will include a new ethical framework
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many people would welcome the Answer she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, in particular as, contrary to what the noble Lord seemed to suggest, all forms of proportional representation tend to lead to an increase in power for the party apparat at the expense of the individual voter? That applies as much to local government as to national elections.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as always, the noble Viscount makes an interesting point. As he knows, for example, with regard to the European parliamentary elections, the Government's position is that different systems may be appropriate for different types of election. However, on behalf of the Government, I welcome his support for the position we take on local government.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, when considering systems of proportional representation, will the Minister take into account the background to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson? It may be less to do with the purity of democracy but more about seeking to increase Liberal Democrat representation on local authorities. Will my noble friend also take into account the behaviour on the doorstep of Liberal Democrat councillors which bodes ill for the integrity of councils in which there are more of them?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend has in mind a specific experience. It is my experience in local government that candidates and councillors in all parties behave with scrupulous integrity on the doorstep when they seek support. Occasionally other types of people become involved despite the careful scrutiny of the political parties. I should not like to hazard a guess or to demonstrate any personal bias by attributing percentages to the different parties.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many independent members are still elected to local authorities? That is an advantage which the Government should do their best to maintain. Proportional representation would prevent it.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, some systems of proportional representation fully allow the local electorate to choose freely to support an independent candidate in local elections. When I was chair of the Association of County Councils for England and Wales, a wide range of views was held by independent candidates from the Principality. In some cases they fully reflected the views of their local communities.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is right. No political system of election can do that. But we believe that a new ethical framework, which will implement the policy that after a single strike of misbehaviour one is out, is to be welcomed by all parties.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Freyberg set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Earl of Listowel to two-and-a-half hours.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
My pleasure arises chiefly from the fact that this Government appear to take the arts seriously, are on occasion prepared to make more resources available for them, and believe that the arts in general have a vital role to play in Britain's economy and social wellbeing. Such a view is a quantum leap from that of their predecessor, whom many have described as having a "policy vacuum" towards the arts--and indeed no government in the past 20 years have set forth their policy objectives for the arts or guidelines for the cultural sector as a whole. I therefore welcome the recently published Cultural Framework, following the DCMS comprehensive spending review. This is, moreover, the first occasion it has been possible to discuss the ideas contained in it since its publication on 14th December 1998.
Many of the proposals strike me as sensible and practical, including the streamlining of bodies that share similar briefs, for example on architecture, museums and the arts in general, and the introduction of a three-year funding plan. It is an impressively wide-ranging survey of funding and organisation. However, its very nature and scale mean that new problems are inevitably thrown up as well as solutions to current shortcomings. While remaining positive in
Regionalism is one of the most dominant themes of the Cultural Framework along with the proposed increase in English regional powers (under devolution, Scotland and Wales will make their own arrangements). The nine regions form a layer of bureaucracy between central government and local or county administration. Labour's longstanding commitment to devolving administration to the regions is understandably regarded with caution by the quite separate counties and metropolitan districts that already exercise considerable powers over quite large areas. Furthermore, regional loyalty in England is on the whole weak. Most people identify either with their locality or with the whole country and not much in between.
The current regional cultural bodies include Government Offices for the Regions (created in 1994) and unelected bodies such as tourist boards, regional arts boards and area museum councils. The Cultural Framework proposes establishing a new strategic body in each region to provide a strong voice for all cultural interests. At first glance, it seems a good idea to create bodies to champion the arts: it is also an undeniable fact that when local authorities are hard pressed it is all too often arts funding that suffers. Only last week, Westminster City Council drastically reduced its funding to such major arts institutions as the ICA, English National Ballet, English National Opera and the Serpentine as a way of offsetting the cost of looking after large numbers of refugees. The Orchestra of St. John's Smith Square and the Photographers' Gallery lost their grants altogether. It would be interesting to know whether a strengthened regional arts board would have had any effect on this or similar decisions.
The precedents are not encouraging. During the last Labour administration, in the late 1970s, greater regionalism did not prove to be a noticeable success. Simply moving decision-making to a town closer to local authorities did not appear radically to alter or improve the nature of decisions made to anyone's satisfaction. The same dilemmas exist now as existed then; namely, the lack of demand for regional government, the problem of what functions should be allocated to the regions, and the boundary issues.
It should also be remembered that stronger regional representation for the arts counts for nothing if funding at local level remains static or even decreases. This appears to be the case for the next few years. In July 1998, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that government resources to local authorities in three years 1999 to 2002 would increase.
Gathering reliable data on local authority expenditure on cultural provision is difficult because of lack of comparable and consistent data. However, there is no question that cultural services have over the past two decades been given relatively weak financial support by local authorities. For example, just over half spend less than 0.5 per cent. of their total net revenue on the arts and 84 per cent. spend less than 2 per cent. The size of these budgets may well reflect the perceived importance of the arts among elected members, but one could argue that this is because the arts are usually in the charge of members elected on the basis of their political preferences rather than those who have a particular interest or expertise in the arts per se.
Local authorities have endeavoured to save money on cultural services in a number of ways: by restructuring departments, which is almost an annual event in some authorities; by leaving vacant posts unfilled and merging others. The level of service has inevitably suffered. For example, small branch libraries with low issues have frequently been targeted for closure, opening hours reduced and specialised services come under threat. There has also been a corresponding drive to increase income from both "unearned" sources such as grants, and "earned" sources, such as retailing and catering. Between 1982 and 1992, self-generated income as a part of local authority museum expenditure rose from 5 per cent. to 18 per cent., though the growth plateaued out after 1992 suggesting that museums found it hard to improve on this performance.
Part of the problem is that most local authority cultural services are discretionary, although library services are statutory. The enormous pressure on discretionary services has forced many local authorities drastically to slim down or abolish specialist committees, leaving fewer knowledgeable parties to argue the cause of each specialism. Since the reorganisation of local government in 1974, libraries and achives, museums and art galleries and the performing arts have increasingly been grouped together as similar services and this has led to tensions.
Even more unsatisfactory has been the amalgamation of cultural services with leisure services. Cultural committees therefore have to deal not only with libraries, theatres and museums, but also with parks, sports centres and other leisure facilities. Cultural services have even on occasion been split between education, environment and a central administrative grouping. The result has been a miserable diminution of standards and provisions at a local level. Local authority cultural services have the disadvantage of not being independently governed; most members are elected because of political preferences not because of interest
Another worrying trend is the increasingly impatient attitude of central government to the local variety. The White Paper of August 1998, Modern local government--in touch with the people, offers an exciting vision for local government, but also expresses distrust and threatens penalties and sanctions if local authorities do not comply with what central government think is appropriate. The tension between local and central government is intensified by suspicions that government Ministers are more sympathetic to the idea of regional government than the reality of local government.
The Cultural Framework states that existing regional cultural forums--essentially communication bodies--are to be strengthened by the establishment of strategic bodies in each region. This raises some critical issues about the place of regional agencies in cultural development. What will the relationship between regional and local strategies comprise? What underlies the assumption that it is appropriate to have a cultural strategy at regional level? There may be a great deal of sense in being able to determine regional priorities for funding if government, or other funders such as lottery boards, provide a regional allocation--especially if it is significantly level and free of pre-determined decisions. But in the absence of substantial research on regional cultural mapping (the incidence of "culture" and the audiences for it) it may be difficult convincingly to move away from the historical priorities of, for example, the Arts Council of England.
Another trend in which local authorities are taking a keen interest is that of turning museums into independent trusts, thus relieving the authority of some of the museum's financial burden. This has worrying implications. While the move has many attractions--giving museum directors greater freedom to manage and other incentives such as being allowed substantially to increase sponsorship income--it can also seriously impede programmes not dependent on earned income and renders social and educational agendas less likely. A particularly alarming example is that of Buckinghamshire County Museum, opened by Buckinghamshire County Council in 1996 after a £4 million redevelopment. Visitor numbers leapt up--66 per cent. more in 1998 than in 1988--and an award-winning Roald Dahl's Children's Gallery was also opened.
Another cautionary tale is that of the Museum of Kent Life, operated by Kent County Council, and founded in 1983, which became a charitable trust in 1993. Its revenue went up from 25 per cent. of its total income in 1992 to almost 75 per cent. in 1997-98, but at the same time the county council support was cut. Its revenue grant fell by 50 per cent. over four years, and its capital grant disappeared altogether. The cut in the museum's revenue grant was 12 per cent. greater than the average for the council. These two examples demonstrate that unless there is either an endowment for the trust, guaranteed fixed revenue grant, or support from the local authority (always hard to secure) the independent trust option will always be high risk.
The problem of funding museums has grown enormously in the past 30 years. Some 75 per cent. of England's 2,000 museums have been created since 1970, and many have persuaded local authorities to support them with grants. They are competing with each other for visitors and resources. This is a continuing problem, with many of the new institutions falling short of the traditional criteria of a museum.
But what has really bedeviled the arts divisions of local authorities is the obligation to focus on cost-cutting rather than what people want or need from a service. It has also, in the past two decades, been a major factor in preventing local authorities from taking a strategic view of the arts. To counter this short-term tendency, the Government are introducing one of its most interesting concepts, that of "best value".
"Best value" considers the effectiveness and the quality of local services alongside their cost. It was developed by the Labour Party when in opposition and its 12 guiding principles represent an attempt to consult with people on what they want from a particular service, while maintaining high efficiency--hence "best value" in the delivery of local government services. It is to replace compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) as the guiding criteria for individual services.
Many of the ideas of "best value" come from the private or business sector and in general local authorities have been obliged to follow more corporate goals. Those who have resisted have suffered heavily in annual allocations. Cultural services have had to reinvent themselves in corporate terms or be relegated down the authority's ladder of priorities. The language of the Cultural Framework suggest that the Government also believe in redefining the arts, in their case as a social and educational tool.
There is no harm in this per se, for the arts are wonderfully multi-purpose and the more people they give pleasure and sustenance to the better. If the Government can find a way to work out the complex
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, for initiating this debate and for tabling his Motion in fairly wide terms so that the House will have an opportunity to deal with different aspects of this important subject. I should like to congratulate him on his wide-ranging, eloquent and perceptive speech. I should also like to congratulate my right honourable friend the Cultural Secretary on obtaining from the Treasury an extra £290 million for the arts over the next three years.
In the limited time at my disposal, I wish to speak about the problems concerning the export of works of art and the effect that that will have on our national heritage. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to accept the Sherborne Missal in lieu of some of the inheritance tax on the Northumberland estate. The missal is one of the greatest masterpieces of medieval art and had been on extended and generous loan by the late Duke of Northumberland to the British Library where, I am glad to say, it will now be able to remain permanently.
That important national treasure has been retained in this country but, notwithstanding that, there is still a constant flow abroad of works of art. According to the latest report of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, only about 50 per cent. of items for which the committee has recommended that an export licence be deferred in order to give museums the opportunity to raise funds, stay in this country.
The Heritage Lottery Fund's grants for items of over £100,000 in value are awarded at up to 75 per cent., leaving a museum to raise at least 25 per cent. of the cost. That can be quite substantial. For example, on a £5 million painting, which is not unusual, the museum would have to raise £1.25 million from its own resources, which is often impossible. I suggest that there is a case for changing those terms and for allowing the Heritage Lottery Fund to contribute up to 100 per cent. for important art works which are under threat of export.
The National Art Collections Funds does sterling work but its funds, which are provided by its members and by legacies, are somewhat limited. Nevertheless, the NACF contributed nearly £263,000--half the price--to the purchase of Hugh Douglas Hamilton's marvellous 18th century pastel of Canova in his studio, which is a wonderful souvenir of the Grand Tour. It met all three of the Waverley criteria and is now, I am glad to say, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, having originally been destined for the Getty Museum in California.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund, which is a fund of last resort, has suffered from annual raids by the Treasury and has been cut from £12 million in 1993-94 to only £2 million in 1997-98. I am glad that the
Non-charging museums, when making an offer for a deferred item, must include 17.5 per cent. to cover VAT. That puts them at a disadvantage against overseas buyers who do not have to pay VAT. Those rules are governed by EU directives and I hope that the Government will press for changes, including the well-meaning but totally misguided proposal on droit de suite. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hindlip, is to speak on that in the debate. He and I have spoken on it on various occasions beforehand and I shall leave that to him.
The inheritance tax concession for conditionally exempt items, allowing the owner of a small house to give public access by prior appointment, has been withdrawn, I am sorry to say. In these difficult times there will be problems for the owners of small houses in relation to security if there is to be open access at any time. It is right that if owners of valuable works of art are able to escape the tax due on them and still keep them in their homes, it gives them a distinct advantage over other people who must pay the full amount of tax. The least they can do is to provide access. Therefore, I do not hold any particular brief in that respect. Nevertheless--and this is the point I submit--the effect of open access on small households will be to drive more objects onto the market and no doubt for export.
The reviewing committee believes that the Waverley system works well on the whole, but times have changed since that system was set up nearly 50 years ago. I agree with the committee that there is a need for new legislation. I hope that my noble friend and his colleagues in the Government will consider that.
I do not suggest that we should initiate tighter controls. As regards the EU, that would be impossible and many of our art treasures are deeply appreciated, particularly in the United States. But there should be a level playing field and we suffer from the handicap of the various measures that I have attempted to outline. I hope that the Government will consider how some of those might be mitigated so as to work less adversely against the retention of so much of our patrimony.
My own cultural life started with church choirs and the radio hero, Dick Barton--whom all your Lordships are too young to remember. The former were consistent; the latter and his pals usually escaped from a terrible fate a minute or so before the show ended. Life in the funded arts system is much more Dick Barton than Thomas Tallis or Vaughan Williams. But with one bound the Secretary of State has allowed us to break out of what I described in your Lordships' House when I was chairing the Arts Council of England as a "mad hatter's tea party" and, last year, as,
If I may drop names for a moment, the present Prime Minister shares with his predecessor great good manners and generosity with his time. As Leader of the Opposition he gave me the opportunity to tell him that when push comes to shove, as the Americans say, only 10 Downing Street can protect the minute but vital budgets: culture, the BBC World Service and the British Council. It was certainly so when I was arts Minister. The Treasury said "No" as it is paid to do. My noble friend, the then Prime Minister said, "Yes, dear, so long as you do not crow about it and irritate the colleagues". I discovered that if I attacked the arts establishment in Cabinet and in the press, I was cheered and given more money to give to that same establishment. Dick Barton ran a fifth column.
The huge sums distributed by the council in my time through the infant National Lottery put paid--or rather unpaid--to most schemes transparent or full of guile for current funding. However often we said so, the public, the press and Parliament, and sometimes the Government themselves, refused to believe that the Arts Council was not rolling in money. This was the mad hatter's tea party. We could buy expensive porcelain and teapots in terms of capital projects, but we could not buy any tea or cakes.
It damaged the then Prime Minister's sublime vision. The unsung villain was the otherwise saintly Sir Terry Burns. He and his colleagues loathed the lottery: backdoor hypothecated taxation; a sin against the fiscal equivalent of the Holy Ghost. The present Government, admittedly after pinching a sixth of the lottery loot for other purposes, have given the council control--as we asked--over the totality of lottery allowance and grant-in-aid; and that is good.
I am afraid that having thus far said to the actors--the Government--"Darlings, you were wonderful!", I do have to criticise quite a lot of the play. In spite of the good news, living arts funding remains a good 10 per cent. lower in real terms annually than six years ago. This is part of a national pattern. Governments wait until the funded arts system is on the verge of collapse--in spite of self-help, philanthropy or the huge rise in business sponsorship, which I am proud to say I initiated with the "pairing" scheme--and then bail out the system but not back to level pegging terms.
The living arts in this country are not Oliver Twists; they never get more. They are not scroungers. They earn domestic and overseas revenue, international acclaim (look at the Oscar nominations only last night) and they employ hundreds of thousands of people both directly and in terms of ancillary workers. It is not realistic against a backdrop of public concern for the health service or the nurses for the arts to receive more. They do deserve to break even and keep on doing so. The year 1993 was in no sense a bonanza year for the arts, yet it would be a triumph for the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to get back to it. "Come on Tony;
I shall turn quickly to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. In my time there was and still is excellent management within the arts funding system. In London alone (there are more outside it) we have the London Symphony Orchestra, the Serpentine Gallery and the Almeida Theatre--a whale, a salmon and a minnow. At last both major opera houses appear to be in consistently reliable hands. Let the Government and the council now turn attention to better funding for the great Welsh National Opera and Opera North. All our orchestras have been on a four or five year pay freeze at base levels of sometimes less than £25,000 a year: those who fund them, departmental and Arts Council officials, have not. You need as much training to be a good orchestral musician as to be a medical specialist or a surgeon; but not a general practitioner, however worthy.
There has been poor and mixed management. Let us draw a veil and get on with improving it. I remain unconvinced that there is a better way of arts funding than the ministry giving part of its voted expenditure to an arm's length body. There are always arguments about the lengths of the arms. But it is true that the scale of the lottery success did implicate the department and the Treasury more than is healthy. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, that insufficient attention is paid to the role of local government--essential co-funders within the natural system. After food, shelter and basic healthcare, the quality of life and the plural excitements of our multicultural society are essential to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is rubbish to say that opera is more "elitist"--well done Rory Bremner for coming out in its favour--than rap or reggae.
I close with two quick questions to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I am in favour of a mayor for London but the Greater London Authority Bill, where culture is concerned, is a cat's cradle of duplicated bodies, duplicated consultancies and duplicated strategies. It makes little sense in English and less on the ground. This House must look at it closely when it comes here. However, can the noble Lord shed a little intermediate light on what is to be the relationship between the mayor, the London Arts Board and the City of London Corporation?
London is a global attraction and the most valuable farm on the national estate. It must think as a world city. Alas, my political friends at Westminster City Council appear more benighted even than Gowrie--a place in Iowa once chosen by the New York Times as an archetypically boom dock town. Finally, has the noble Lord any information on the progress of cross-border touring between England and Scotland? Devolved Scotland may be, but the voteless English taxpayer still pays the piper for his tune.
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