HC Deb 11 December 1973 vol 866 cc174-6
3. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the for Education and Science whether it remains the policy of the Government that the Arts Council should not be subject to ministerial influence.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The Arts Council will, of course, continue to take independent decisions within its field. Its charter requires it to advise and co-operate with the Government, and Ministers will continue to discuss with the council its needs for resources and other matters of common concern.

Mr. Jenkins

Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is a pleasure to be able to question the Minister responsible for the arts across the Floor of the Chamber? Will he further recognise that while he occupies his present position he should exercise a self-denying ordinance on the question of public criticism of the arts? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Arts Council would not be doing its job properly if it were not sometimes to risk a little money on what have been called "dotty experiments".

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. May I extend the same to him on his appointment? I also extend the gratitude of the House to his predecessor, who made such a notable contribution to the arts in the House.

The Arts Council must take its own decisions—but I might be considered an expert on "dotty experiments".

Mr. Robert Cooke

I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and associate myself with the remarks made about the hon. Gentleman's predecessor. Will my hon. Friend continue to be in close touch with the Arts Council, reflecting the views of the elected representatives of the people in this House so that the council can make sure that it reflects the interests of the people at large, particularly in provincial emphasis in its activities?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind congratulations. I assure him that I am most willing to receive Members from any part of the House to share ideas on the arts, as I regard the arts as a community of interest in which we all participate.

25. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will increase the grant to the Arts Council.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Under the present triennial arrangements the Arts Council has had an indication of the maximum size of its grant, subject to parliamentary approval and to revaluation, for the years 1974–75 and 1975–76. In the new year I hope to be able to give the council, subject to the same qualification, a further indication, extending, for planning purposes, to 1976–77.

Mrs. Short

That is a long answer which does not say very much. May I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to two areas where there is a need for increased financial help? First, theatres that are trying to carry out improvements and extensions need help because of the high costs of building materials and steel, which have doubled in price in the past year. Secondly, the declining film industry, which is one of the best in the world, needs a shot in the arm from the hon. Gentleman. Will he assure us that he will look urgently at these two matters?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, I certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. The responsibility for giving grants to individual branches of the arts is with the Arts Council. If the hon. Lady will come to see me at Belgrave Square we can have a full discussion.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Will my hon. Friend remember that although the Government have given twice as much to the arts as did the Labour Government we still give only the same amount as does the city of Munich? Will he treat this matter as top priority?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, I cerainly shall. We are making progress. We are, in those immortal words, "on our way".

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in making allocations to the Arts Council he must take into account the considerable inflation that has occurred under this Government? Does he agree that the needs of the Arts Council in the immediate future are likely to amount to about £20 million?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The grants to the Arts Council are made at constant prices and are therefore revised in accordance with the change in the value of money.