HC Deb 02 April 1974 vol 871 cc1080-2
9. Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he proposes to take to strengthen the regional arts associations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)

The Arts Council will, I am confident, continue to give a high priority to the support of the associations in partnership with the local authorities and other contributors. I hope to meet representatives of the associations in the coming weeks and months and get to know more of their plans and problems at first hand.

Mr. Strauss

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his promotion to his present position of responsibility, which, in view of his knowledge of and interest in the arts, he will no doubt occupy with distinction. As to his reply, everybody has long been anxious that these art associations should become more effective? Has my hon. Friend any specific plans to attract more funds to them, either nationally or locally?

Mr. Jenkins

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for the kindness of his remarks. The present income of the associations is about f1.6 million, and of that over £1.1 million is contributed by the Arts Council. My right hon. Friend will readily see that if it became possible for local authorities to increase the proportion of their contributions, it would be a consummation devoutly to be wished. We hope that when economic circumstances permit, local authorities will increase their level of contributions, so increasing the total revenue of the associations.

Mr. Robert Cooke

As this is the first time that we have faced each other across the Dispatch Box, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to his important office and wish him well in continuing the good work of his three predecessors? Does he not agree that even within a restricted national arts budget the regional arts deserve a high place because of the good work that they can do, even with modest public money, in partnership with local enterprise, thus enriching the lives of many thousands of people?

Mr. Jenkins

I thank the hon. Gentleman and join in the tributes to his hon. Friend on the Front Bench, whose contribution to the arts, particularly in his non-ministerial capacity, has been very great. I also agree with the point he made. It will be our endeavour—in this respect the previous Government moved a little in that direction—to move more effectively in the direction of developing a more equal distribution of artistic economic support. It is true that we are in this respect, as in some others, over-centralised.

Mr. Faulds

May I extend to my hon. Friend my congratulations—to be honest, my qualified congratulations—on his appointment and wish him well in the job?

Would not the scope and liveliness of arts activities throughout the country be enormously enhanced if a mandatory arts rate were laid upon local authorities? Will my hon. Friend consider this matter seriously?

Mr. Jenkins

This is a question which we shall be considering in the future. May I pause again to express my warmest possible thanks for my hon. Friend's congratulations, which are particularly welcome.

Mr. Davidson


Mr. Jenkins

My unqualified thanks. It is important to maintain the independence of the regional arts associations. One reason I should like to see their financial support more locally based is that if they are dependent upon a single source of revenue their independence may be ques- tioned. If they can be supported to a greater degree from local sources, they are more able to maintain their independence. I regard that as important.