HC Deb 18 June 1979 vol 968 cc900-3
26. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will oppose any moves to cut expenditure on the arts.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The arts must make their contribution to any savings in public expenditure needed to put the economy on a sound footing. Only a healthy economy gives full scope for the private and the public patronage of the arts.

Mr. Canavan

As the future increase in leisure time should mean an increase rather than a decrease in public expenditure on the arts, is the £2½ million Budget cut an attempt to make everybody as uncultured as the philistine public school boys in the Cabinet?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I defer to the hon. Gentleman's expert knowledge of the culture supplied by the public schools. In effect, the £2½ million cut to which he refers represents a reasonable, but by no means excessive, contribution to the cuts. I do not want to exaggerate this point, because if I were to say to the hon. Gentleman what I should like to say I would be asking the Treasury to attack me from the other side. It would be like being between Scylla and Charybdis.

Mr. Cormack

As a non-philistine, non-public school boy, not in the Cabinet, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that the recent announcements do not mean that the National Heritage Fund will be held back but that it will be inaugurated soon? Will he also confirm that the recent announcements do not mean that bodies such as the Royal Academy will be denied assistance if they ask for it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The question of the National Heritage Fund is being considered, although no decision on Government policy has been reached. If my hon. Friend examines the Gracious Speech, he will find some comfort there in a passage about the heritage. I note my hon. Friend's three deficiencies. I hope that in due course the last one will be remedied.

Mr. Douglas

Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the present Government often make comparison with our partners in the EEC? Therefore, will he publish the statistics showing the subvention of public funds from all members of the Community? If he does so, I am sure it will be seen that we come very low in the league.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree that that would be a useful exercise, but we must remember that, unfortunately, we are one of the poorest members of the Community and that we must cut our coat according to our cloth.

Mr. Freud

In view of the many arts projects, such as the Farmland Museum in my constituency, which will not now be able to obtain finance following cuts in the Arts Council grant, will the right hon. Gentleman consider having a liaison officer in the Arts Council with the task of pointing prospective users of artistic finance to private companies which are happy to provide it? I am sure he will accept that a vast amount of time and money is wasted by people looking for the right person, and equally that money is wasted by private industry which would like to sponsor the arts but cannot find the right projects—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is advancing an argument rather than asking a question.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Arts Council is free to apply the savings where it can. The hon. Gentleman should not give up hope on any particular project. I agree that we should try to encourage private patronage.

Mr. Foot

May I revert to an earlier reply by the right hon. Gentleman? Does he not agree that his navigating skill is such that he is probably the first sailor in history who has managed to impale himself on Scylla and Charybdis at the same time on the same voyage? He appears to have encountered the hostility of the Treasury and of those who want to sustain the arts. In view of his earlier statement to the public, will he undertake to set out in the Official Report the exact effects of the cuts and say when he believes expenditure will be restored to the level at which he found it when he was appointed?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is easy to exaggerate the extent of the cuts. I believe that they are of a moderate and modest nature. As for the right hon. Gentleman's reference to Scylla and Charybdis, if I as a saidor managed to impale myself on a whirlpool, I should be able and agile indeed.

Mr. Robert Atkins

In the course of consideration of matters affecting expenditure, will my right hon. Friend give favourable attention to the report of the Turner Society, published in The Daily Telegraph today, requesting the urgent implementation of the Turner bequest?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. The report has just been received today, and we are considering it.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the major needs in the arts at present is funding of a three-year rolling programme? That happened for a short period and was then changed. Will he see what he can do to restore the expenditure that has been cut, to ensure that companies and theatres have some security for the future?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of that important point, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it. I hope that she will put forward further constructive suggestions on the arts.

30. Mr. Coleman

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how he intends to implement the restraint on public expenditure that stem from the Budget in respect of the arts.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) on 15 June.—[Vol. 968, c. 352.]

Mr. Coleman

Despite that, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no interference with, and no diminution of, the provision made for the development of the Covent Garden Opera, begun by the previous Administration?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, Sir. It is our hope that the development of Covent Garden Opera will go ahead as scheduled. The appeal is progressing extremely well. I am delighted to report on that to the House, although the appeal is not my direct responsibility.

Mr. Goodlad

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all subsidies to minority tastes, such as those of the hon. Members for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and Keighley (Mr. Cryer), should be subject to the closest scrutiny, and that the criterion that he should have in mind is quality rather than quantity?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In a sense, where taste is concerned we are all minorities. However, I think that it is essential—it certainly will be the policy of the office of arts and libraries—not to cater for a minority. We want to keep up high standards in the arts and make those standards available to all.