HC Deb 09 April 1970 vol 799 cc738-40
31. Mr. Silvester

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much grant is available during the current year for the activities supported by the New Activities Committee of the Arts Council.

Miss Jennie Lee

I am grateful to the hon. Member for this Question, because I think that the House should know that a great deal of silly nonsense has been talked. The Arts Council has a responsibility, as well as to the established arts, to find out what young experimental writers are doing. It allocated a mere £15,000, which is about 0.2 per cent. of its budget, for supporting new activities in 1969–70. It will determine the level of grant for 1970–71 in the light of a report prepared by the New Activities Committee on the policy to be adopted by the council towards new activities.

Mr. Silvester

Is the right hon. Lady not sensitive to the fact that there could be a substantial withdrawal of public support of money for the arts when people can read that this committee was prepared to delegate its responsibilities to a selection committee whose view, apparently, of new art forms included the payment of fines—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is a Question on this subject later on the Order Paper.

Mr. Silvester

That concludes my question.

Miss Lee

I am doubly grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because the dangerous characters who were let loose in this sensitive field of the new arts included Mr. Michael Astor, a former Conservative Member, who heroically became chairman. Another dangerous revolutionary involved is the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle). In other words, a most responsible committee of the Arts Council called in some young artists to express their views before action was taken. When one is dealing with the young and the new in the arts, there is some wantonness and some comments may be made of which one may approve or disapprove. But, whatever it is, the House must realise that we have a serious Arts Council and that it is not good enough for members of the public or hon. Members to give the impression that public money is being spent in an irresponsible manner.

33. Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if the will obtain the report of the New Activities Committee of the Arts Council; and if he will make a statement.

Miss Lee

The Arts Council will shortly be considering a report which is being prepared by the New Activities Committee. Action on the report is a matter for the Council.

I reiterate that young artists have been brought in to have a say. Any evidence they give or suggestions they make go to responsible panels and committees and finally to the Arts Council. Public money is not involved unless, after the most serious and careful consideration, it is found that young artists are doing creative work that deserves help.

Mr. Godman Irvine

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the nonsense which appeared in the sub-committee report which was to be considered by the New Activities Committee of the Arts Council caused a great deal of consternation among taxpayers? Is she aware that her statement will do a great deal to allay that anxiety?

Miss Lee

I am grateful for this opportunity to make the position clear. It is too bad when certain irresponsible elements of the Press print material that is wrong and, when informed by the Chairman of the Arts Council that they are wrong and are offered an article by him to put the facts right, refuse to print that article. I am, therefore, grateful for this opportunity to get the matter in perspective.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

What are the new activities, and is my right hon. Friend sure that they are new?

Miss Lee

My hon. Friend makes a good point because there is nothing really new about being young, rebellious, wanton or wanting to do experimental things. I do not think that there has ever been a period in history when the more sedate and established forms of art and art patron have quite understood what was happening among the younger generation.