HC Deb 06 May 1971 vol 816 cc1629-31
25. Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress she has made in her discussions with the Arts Council on the withholding of subsidies from subsidised theatre organisations on the ground of the possible offensive nature of the plays they intend to produce; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. van Straubenzee

A statement published on 30th April has now been made by the Arts Council.

Mr. Strauss

Do I take it that the Minister accepts the Arts Council's admirable declaration which, in effect, says that it would not impose any censorship or control over the artistic theatrical bodies it subsidises?

Mr. van Straubenzee

The Arts Council was never asked to act as censor. It is a very useful statement which says that it is necessary to recognise that the welcome increase in the amount of subsidy, its deployment and distribution is very properly the subject of special and concentrated public scrutiny. It is a notable step forward that this has been so.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is not the only desirable form of censorship self-censorship? Have not the remarks of my noble Friend in the other place contributed notably to that end?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I believe that to be so.

Mr. Faulds

Come, come. Does the Minister realise—

Mr. Marten

Hit her with your handbag.

Mr. Faulds

I am not one of those who ever carry one. There can be no doubt about that.

Mr. Speaker

Come, come.

Mr. Faulds

I will obey your admonition, Mr. Speaker. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that we are well aware that there have been pressures from the Paymaster-General on this issue? Will the hon. Gentleman now publicly share our delight that the Arts Council has resisted such improper pressures and has, in effect, told the Paymaster-General to take a running jump?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I do not think that a statement which includes the phrase as subsidy increases it behoves the recipients of grants to justify that increase in terms of the general quality of the productions is anything that can be described in those words. My view is that this is a very useful statement indeed.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will my hon. friend make it clear to the House that our noble Friend in another place has never suggested that there should be any censorship of any kind? Will my hon. Friend make the speech of my noble Friend compulsory reading for certain hon. Members opposite?

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is absolutely so. There has never been any suggestion that either my noble Friend or the Arts Council should be censors, but there has been a strong feeling—I think that this is a very successful outcome—that it is not proper for public money to be used without any kind of thought being given to the matter of productions which cause grave offence to a very wide number of people.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the statement issued by the Arts Council is a statement of its previous policy which it proposes to continue in future? As it is acceptable to his noble Friend, is this not a consummation about which everybody can be happy?

Mr. van Stranbenzee

I understand the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment. After all, he said publicly in the House that he would advise his colleagues to enter into no statement of any kind. We will spare his blushes.