HC Deb 14 February 1978 vol 944 cc224-6
6. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she intends to announce the Arts Council's grant for 1978–79; and what representations she has received about the need to improve Arts Council support.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Subject to parliamentary approval, the grant-in-aid for 1978–79 will be £49 million. As is the usual practice, details will be announced when the Supply Estimates are presented to Parliament. The increase of £7.3 million over the current year's total takes account of the Arts Council's case for a substantial increase and of the current financial restraints.

Mrs. Short

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for her reply, but is she aware that the increase she has announced is not sufficient to take account of the rate of inflation that the arts have experienced, which has been agreed at 21 per cent.? Will she undertake to put further pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that the inflation rate is met and that over and above that there will be room for expansion? The present amount allows no room for expansion over and above the inflation rate.

Mrs. Williams

I recognise my hon. Friend's championship of the arts, but I think many hon. Members will recognise that a 17½ per cent. increase in the arts budget is not bad going against the comparative rate of inflation.

Mr. Freud

Is the Secretary of State aware of the disservice occasioned to the arts by the late announcement of the grant-in-aid? Is she further aware of the distress that this causes to provincial repertory theatres and to the national operatic companies, which would dearly like to have known before this date what they could expect?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman might have been a little more generous, because this is the earliest date at which the arts budget has been declared for many years. I am sure that it would be helpful to declare it yet earlier, but I hope that he will give the Government some credit for making the announcement at the earliest date yet.

Mr. Stan Crowther

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the extent to which the provinces, as distinct from Greater London and the cities, get their fair share of touring theatre, which is grant-aided by the Arts Council? If she is not so satisfied—and I am not satisfied—will she take steps to put that position right?

Mrs. Williams

I think it is worth saying that there has been a steady shift towards regional support for the arts, although I recognise that many hon. Members would like it to go further. It is fair to put on record that there has been a shift proportionately to areas outside the capital, and I am all in favour of that.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I support very strongly what was said by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who has made such an important contribution to our discussion of the arts in this House. I also, in an ecumenical mood, support the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) on the question of timing, because I believe that his point was a valid one.

Will the Secretary of State consider in her Department going back to a modified triennial system of support for the arts, allowing for the higher rate of inflation that we have had in recent years?

Mrs. Williams

I can see that there is a strong argument for what the hon. Gentleman suggested in the second part of his question, but he will recognise that we have not waited for the Estimates to be presented to Parliament before making an overall statement about the arts budget. There are difficulties in giving detailed statements when this budget, like so many others, is tied to the Supply Estimates. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to speak to his own party on this matter, and I shall be happy to speak to mine about it.