HC Deb 12 March 1957 vol 566 cc976-7
46. Sir R. Boothby

asked the Prime Minister whether he will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to review and inquire into the question of Government patronage of the arts, including the present grants to the Arts Council, museums, galleries, musical institutions, academies, libraries, films and broadcasting, and make recommendations regarding the principles which should guide the policy of the Government in the whole field of artistic activity, and their practical application.

The Prime Minister

I have seen the arguments in support of my hon. Friend's suggestion, but I am not persuaded that a Royal Commission would be suitable machinery for a review covering so wide and disparate a field.

Sir R. Boothby

Does not the Prime Minister think that the present chaos in which all these organisations are competing desperately against each other for public funds, without any system or principle behind the allocation of public funds, is really unworthy of a civilised country?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. There is one fact in common linking all these bodies and services—that they are self-governing. Considerations which apply to the various methods of financing them are very different—for instance, as between museums and broadcasting—and I should hardly have thought that a single inquiry was the right way to deal with so tremendously wide a subject.

Dr. Stross

Will not the right hon. Gentleman give some heed to the desperate plight of provincial museums and galleries and consider the request for a Royal Commission, if necessary for them alone? Is he aware that private bequests are not very valuable now after the many years which have gone by since they were first offered, and that some of our institutions—very valuable ones—are threatened with closure and many with decay?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but that is a matter that the Government have to consider and for which they must be responsible. I am only answering whether a Royal Commission over this whole wide field as has been suggested would serve a useful purpose. If I thought that it would, I should certainly try to get it appointed, but I do not feel that that is really the right way.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that over a very wide field people think that there ought to be some investigation, and if a Royal Commission is not the appropriate method of making that investigation, can my right hon. Friend suggest how we are going to get at the problem of a proper division of money for all these very important cultural activities?

The Prime Minister

These activities are considered year by year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day and sometimes the money is distributed through organisations like the Arts Council, which I think is a good system, but others are dealt with in different ways. They all vary. I think that the reason they vary is the very wide type of activity with which we have to deal.

Mr. Gaitskell

I appreciate the point made by the Prime Minister that a single Royal Commission might not be appropriate for this purpose, but did not his reply suggest that he himself perhaps would consider some other form of inquiry, not necessarily for every one of these matters, but at any rate covering the major part of the field?

The Prime Minister

I would consider that but that would be perhaps the extension of the function of one of these distributing bodies.