HC Deb 05 November 1979 vol 973 cc22-4
24. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representation he has received about the proposed cuts in Government expenditure on the arts.

28. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the proposed cuts in expenditure on the arts.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have received a number of letters from a wide range of people and organisations about the level of Government expenditure on the arts. The White Paper on the Government's public expenditure plans for 1980–81, which was published last Thursday, said: Direct central government expenditure in support of museums, libraries and the live arts in 1980–81 should allow a continuation of activities at a level broadly comparable to what has been possible in the current year.

Mr. Canavan

Since the arts will undoubtedly suffer from the cuts in Government expenditure and the doubling of VAT, is it not rather dishonest of the Government to claim in last week's White Paper that Government expenditure on the arts should allow a continuation of activities broadly comparable with those at present? Is the right hon. Gentleman not ashamed of the fact that, with regard to Government support for the arts, this Government are nearly at the bottom of the European league?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As to being bottom of the European league, I am afraid that it is in leagues other than the arts league that we do not figure very highly. These facts are inter-connected. With regard to the public expenditure White Paper, far from being ashamed of it I am proud of the statement about direct Government support that it contains.

Mr. Hamilton

In his quotation from paragraph 36 of the White Paper, will the right hon. Gentleman also include the part which says that local government expenditure on libraries, galleries and museums will fall as a direct consequence of Government policy? Since the right hon. Gentleman was, at one time, associated with the installation of turnstiles in art galleries, can he give an assurance that he will not be party to any nonsense of that kind in the future and that he will abhor any possibility of the closure of libraries and galleries at local level as a direct consequence of the Government's policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With regard to local government expenditure, it is right that the arts and libraries should bear their fair share of any reduction in expenditure at that level. However, I would certainly deplore any discrimination against the arts and libraries. If the hon. Gentleman is asking for my views on library or museum charges, I am against them—

Mr. Hamilton


Mr. St. John-Stevas

My association with turnstiles occurred in the previous brief period when I was a Minister, and the arrangement was to allow the takings at turnstiles to be kept by the museums so that old age pensioners, students and the disabled could go in free.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that £108,000 was granted from public funds last year to help make two pornographic films? Is that not an instance where some savings could, perhaps, be made?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am certainly not in favour of any subsidy to pornography. I shall certainly have this matter investigated.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the local authority contribution to the arts is basically financed from the rate support grant? Is it not the case that the Government are clearing their own conscience by saying that their contribution to the arts will be maintained in order to allow the level of activity to continue as at present, while at the same time they are taking away the local authority contribution through a possibly serious reduction in the rate support grant? How does the right hon. Gentleman view the possibility of children having to pay more to borrow books from libraries and having to pay increased charges for visiting museums and art galleries? Surely that is contrary to everything that the right hon. Gentleman has stood for. He has said that he is against these charges. Will he give the House an assurance that if those charges are increased he will resign?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), which is that within the parameters of the rate support grant I shall oppose any discrimination against local libraries and museums. However, the figures have not yet been announced. As to library charges, I have made it quite clear that the Government's policy is not to support them.

Mr. Dubs

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the borough of Wandsworth there is now a council proposal to close down the Battersea arts centre? Will he join me in deploring that proposal, and can he offer any help and comfort to the people of Battersea to ensure that the arts centre is retained?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have noticed the possible closure of that arts centre, which I would certainly regret. I am afraid that this is a matter for the local authority, but I am keeping the question under constant review and I would be happy to consult the hon. Gentleman to see whether there is anything that can be done.