HC Deb 17 December 1974 vol 883 cc1332-3
5. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what provisions he proposes to make for the Arts Council for 1975–76.

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

The hon. Member must await the presentation of the 1975–76 Estimates to Parliament. He will, however, have noted already that a Supplementary Estimate for £14.75 million for the Arts Council in the current year was presented to Parliament on 9th December. If approved, this will raise the total of recurrent grant voted to the council to £204.785 million for the current year.

Mr. Jessel

In real terms is that not a reduction in the amount to be spent, after inflation has been allowed for? Will the Minister assure the House that he will follow the example of the Conservative Government and provide for an expansion in arts expenditure, in real terms, of 10 per cent. per annum? Is he aware that the arts world is in a state of crisis and confusion because he has departed from the normal practice and has failed to give any advance indication of what the total amount is to be, so that no forward planning can be undertaken?

Mr. Jenkins

On the question of the present figure, on the contrary, the position is that as a result of sums which have been added, the Arts Council has been shielded to some extent from the consequences of inflation. The hon. Gentleman will recall that last December the Conservative Government reduced to 3 per cent. the old 10 per cent. rate—a rate which had been preserved in real terms over a period of years. The sum has since depreciated further still because of inflation, and the present difficulties experienced by the Arts Council stem from that decision. I am confident that we shall overcome the problem.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Apart from following the example of the Conservative Government, who secured a high rate of growth over the years, will the Minister also follow their example in letting the Arts Council know in advance what sum it is likely to receive for the following year? If he does not make that information available, the council cannot undertake forward planning. Will the Minister today give a forthright statement, first, that the Arts Council grant will take account of inflation, and, secondly, that the arts will share in the 5 per cent. growth rate which the Secretary of State for Education and Science adumbrated in terms of the education budget?

Mr. Jenkins

What my right hon. Friend said referred to the rate support grant, which has nothing whatever to do with the Arts Council. If I may seek to answer the valid point put forward by the hon. Gentleman, the old system of prior notification broke down last December, when cuts were imposed by the then Government. Prior notification assumes the continuation of a long-standing rate. The Conservative Government reduced the rate from 10 per cent. to 3 per cent. I know that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is not as numerate as he is literate, but if he can follow the point he will understand that if one reduces the rate from 10 per cent. to 3 per cent. one cannot immediately remedy the consequences of that action. Over a period of time—I hope not long— I trust that it will be possible to give the Arts Council as much forenotice as possible. I hope to reinstate the old system as soon as I can.