HC Deb 06 February 1979 vol 962 cc181-3
1. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will seek a supplementary estimate to enable her to meet claims for greater financial aid to the arts.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion. I can assure him that I shall not overlook any opportunity of increasing the resources available for the arts.

Mr. Jenkins

I am equally grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. When she is putting in further applications for financial assistance for the arts will she take into consideration the present peril of the actual buildings? Will she consider the position of the Theatres Trust, which at present exists without any Government aid, and the possibility of coming to its aid, thereby enabling it, in turn, to ensure that theatrical buildings continue to exist and carry out the essential task which they perform, both in our artistic and economic life?

Mrs. Williams

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. As he will know, provision is already being considered by the Arts Council for those poorer provincial theatres that are in some difficulty.

Mr. Hannam

Will the Secretary of State clarify the situation regarding the land fund? Why are the Government blocking the very worthwhile National Heritage Fund Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) especially in view of the Prime Minister's declaration last September that this matter would be referred to the Think Tank for its proposals? What has happened to the Minister with responsibility for the Arts? Is he on strike?

Mrs. Williams

If he waits for a little while the hon. Gentleman will hear that a full statement is about to be made on the whole question of the land fund and the national heritage.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is an urgent need for much more support for the arts in the regions and for a new museums' council to be set up so that some of our collections can be taken out of storage? Will she also take on board the need to preserve some of our theatre buildings which are under threat of redevelopment, such as the London Pavilion? All these matters require resources from her Department.

Mrs. Williams

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in the arts. Last year a substantial increase was made in the arts budget which was well above the normal rate of inflation. I do not think that my hon. Friend will be too dissatisfied with the programme that will shortly be announced for next year.

Mr. Silvester

Does the Secretary of State accept the main conclusions of the Drew report, and in particular the granting of central funds to the seven designated provincial museums?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will shortly hear our conclusions on the Drew report. May I say to him, loudly and clearly, that it is very important that national resources that are made available for the arts on a rising line should be complemented by contributions from local authorities. Local authorities are not always as forthcoming as they should be.

Mr. Faulds

May I simply underline to my right hon. Friend that many of us are eager to hear the Government's reactions to the recommendations in the Drew report? When may we expect a statement on this matter?

Mrs. Williams

I have already indicated that a statement will be made fairly shortly. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased when he hears it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We were glad to read in The Daily Telegraph this morning of the increased touring grant to the Prospect Theatre Company. Will the Secretary of State look into the question of what further financial aid—of either a capital or current nature—can be made to that excellent company in order that it may remain based at the Old Vic?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will realise that this is a matter for the decision of the Arts Council. But I can assure him that the council was last year, and will I hope very shortly be, in a position to make decisions about new projects as well as about continuing existing projects. The Government have given pretty generous support to the arts in the past couple of years.

Mr. Speaker

I shall have to call fewer supplementary questions on the rest of the questions if we are to make progress.