Queen's speech to exclude arts Web site scheme

Government struggles to proceed with plans to put the arts online, but says the £150m scheme has not been shelved

A £150m scheme to put the cream of Britain's arts online is unlikely to be included within the Queen's speech on Wednesday, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) admitted today.

The Culture Online venture proposed by former culture secretary Chris Smith, was contained within the Culture and Recreation Bill that had reached its second reading in the House of Lords. "The Bill fell with the election, and so we now need to think of a new way of moving forward with the project," confirmed a DCMS spokesman.

The government is denying accusations that -- contrary to reports -- the Internet scheme has been shelved. Despite the DCMS' hesitancy about the Culture and Recreation Bill being included in the new legislative programme to be announced by the Queen tomorrow, it is confident that the pilot scheme will still go ahead.

"The initiative was in the Labour party manifesto, and money has been set aside to develop it already," said the spokesman.

The Internet venture unveiled by Smith at the Labour party conference last year was hoped to allow the nation to watch and interact with Royal Shakespeare Company actors or members of the London Symphony Orchestra on the Web. It promised to put the best of British comedy, drama poetry and sport on the Internet.

Smith had hailed the initiative as "what the Open University was to the sixties and Channel 4 was to the eighties". But the launch of a pilot version has been hampered by the need for new legislation to bring it into being.

The DCMS will confirm the go-ahead for Culture Online later this week, once the government's new legislative programme has been announced.

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