HC Deb 19 April 1977 vol 930 cc20-1
18. Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what she estimates will be the actual average increase in grants that the Arts Council will be able to make to its subsidised activities during 1977–78 after taking into account the demands arising from the new enterprises that have recently been launched or are planned to come into operation, such as the National Theatre.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The council's grant for recurrent expenses has been increased from £36 million last year to £41.2 million for 1977–78—an increase of 14.4 per cent.

Mr. Alan Williams

Far too much.

Mrs. Williams

It is for the council to decide how this increase is distributed among its clients.

Mr. Strauss

We all appreciate that there has been a considerable increase in the Treasury grant to the Arts Council, but is my right hon. Friend aware that a significant part of that goes to new enterprises, such as the National Theatre and the new Bromley theatre? That means that unless compensatory action is taken existing enterprises—musical and dramatic—will suffer a significant cut in their Arts Council subsidy this year and that quality will suffer accordingly. Is that my right hon. Friend's policy, or is she prepared to take action to prevent this serious cut in the artistic standards of the organisations that are helped by the Arts Council? [Interruption.]

Mrs. Williams

I shall ignore the backwoods hoots from some of the Opposition Benches and say straight away that the increase in the grant for the Arts Council compares favourably with that for other aspects of education. However, I do not think that it would be right totally to exclude the arts from any of the constraints and severities of our present financial situation. We give the arts a certain preference, but I do not believe that they can be wholly exempted from as rigid a view of their priorities as the rest of education and science, nor do I think that that would be right.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If I may give a Front Bench hoot in general agreement with what the Secretary of State has said, does she agree also that it is as important for the Arts Council to have adequate notice of what it is to receive as of the amount that it is to receive? As, this year, the council received notice only a few days before the opening of the financial year, will the right hon. Lady set about remedying the situation so that in future the council receives six months' notice at least? Better still, why not go back to the old system of making triennial grants to the council?

Mrs. Williams

As the hon. Gentleman will know, from the parallel of the universities, we are trying to move back to a longer-term approach to the financing of bodies such as the Arts Council, but there were particular difficulties this year. I also add, however, that some new ventures are supported from outside the Arts Council. The point raised by my right hon. Friend about the National Theatre is a good example. The National Theatre is supported, in capital terms, by a direct grant-in-aid from the South Bank Theatre Board and not by the Arts Council.