HC Deb 07 May 1970 vol 801 cc552-3
2. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he is taking to encourage local authorities to support the arts. Miss Jennie Lee: We are setting local authorities a good example. Government expenditure has almost trebled since 1964. We have now 10 regional arts associations which co-ordinate the activities of local authorities and other bodies. As to the 6d. rate, we encourage use of it, but we have no power to compel local authorities to spend all or part of it.

Mrs. Short

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a small number of authorities are pulling their weight and are making a vital and valuable contribution to the "Housing of the Arts Fund" while the great majority do nothing at all? Does she not think that it would be a good idea to make representations to the local authority associations and perhaps organise a conference in London when this whole matter can be discussed and ideas exchanged?

Miss Lee

We have established 10 regional arts associations and I believe that the encouragement and explanations are better at the regional end. I repeat that there is a new attitude in local authorities towards the importance of the arts, a new attitude towards building funds and making available wider facilities. I do not think that this is the moment to give a bad conduct mark to local authorities, considering their other responsibilities. I am encouraged by the response I am getting from some quarters.

Mr. Channon

Would the right hon. Lady agree that local authorities often show a great deal of will to help the arts but have appalling financial difficulties in other directions? Would she not agree that while all of us would like them to increase the amount of money they can spend, they have many other pressing claims on their finances?

Miss Lee

I entirely agree. The local authorities are in the same position as the central Government—there are many other calls on their resources. The test of a civilised authority, whether at the centre or at regional level, is its priorities. I have always contended that at either central or local level we should keep in mind that the arts are not a peripheral activity but a central part of our life.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Lord Goodman has expressed the view that the 6d. rate should be mandatory. While some of us might not be prepared to go along with that, could not the Government take a little more effective action to encourage local authorities o do this themselves, for example, by offering to spend, in suitable cases, £1 for every £1 raised by a local authority?

Miss Lee

I a under pressure from one or two local uthorities, particularly in new towns, to make it possible for them to spend rather more than the 6d. rate. They are already spending that. There are a great many diversities. When it comes to the contributions as between central and local government it would be wrong to give as much as 50 per cent. in some circumstances and wrong to give as little as that in others. A rigid line would be quite wrong. I appreciate the spirit of my hon. Friend's question. We want more help to come in from other sources and in this atmosphere we must remain flexible.