Labour proposes ministry of culture: Policies would have an impact on fashion, design and architecture. David Lister reports

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THE Labour Party is drawing up the most wide-ranging cultural policy the country has seen.

Under plans being prepared by its heritage spokeswoman, Mo Mowlam, a Labour government would have policy on matters ranging from architecture to fashion design. The culture policy would cut across nearly every government department, including, for example, the design of new council houses.

There would be government- sponsored architectural competitions for all major new public buildings. And the new culture ministry would draw up policy on art and music teaching in schools.

Other Labour plans include:

changing the name of the Department Of National Heritage to the Ministry of Culture;

severely curtailing the powers of the Arts Council;

and bringing arts policy-making back into central government and effectively ending the arm's length principle in arts policy that has prevailed since 1945.

The party was unhappy about the appointment of a former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord Gowrie, as Arts Council chairman, and Ms Mowlam has told him he has two years to improve the council's performance.

Ms Mowlam said: 'The Government is elected to make policy. I am not saying we will abolish the Arts Council. It will make individual decisions, but it would have a very different role under a Labour government. We would set the directions, parameters and strategy.' She added that cultural policy would permeate every government department. It was mad, she said, that some council homes did not have a passageway big enough for a double buggy because nobody had thought about design. 'We must be sure they are decent houses to look at and are user- friendly. People do actually like to look out of their windows and not look into somebody else's'

Over the next two years she would be drawing up a cultural policy which would touch every corner of people's lives. The Labour leader, John Smith, was supportive, she said, though she refused to reveal any costings.

Mark Fisher, Labour's arts and media spokesman until the last election, is helping Ms Mowlam. He said that, for the first time, a government would have a policy about fashion, and give incentives to British designers to help make London a fashion capital to compete with Paris and Milan.

Mr Fisher said: 'Every department of state is making decisions every week that have an impact on the cultural quality of life throughout the country, but this is not coordinated. pounds 4.7bn is spent per year on public buildings and pounds 37bn on goods and services that need to be designed. Our cultural policy will run through the Government.'

Ms Mowlam commented: 'The public know that when we're looking at a commitment to full employment, alongside full employment goes full enjoyment. We're no longer talking about leisure activities, but something that's economically crucial for the country.'