HC Deb 20 December 1982 vol 34 cc664-6
25. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what will be the level of support for the Arts Council for the coming year; and what percentage increase over the current figure this represents.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Paul Channon)

Subject to parliamentary approval, the grant to the Arts Council for 1983–84 will be £92 million. This is within the total provision for arts and libraries announced in the Chancellor's autumn statement. In addition, £5 million supplementary provision will be taken during the present financial year to enable the council to reduce deficits and contribute towards other expenditure currently being incurred by many performing arts companies. This will be found from within the Contingency Reserve. I propose also to have a special financial scrutiny of the operations of one or more major companies. The grant for 1983–84 will represent an increase of 7 per cent. on 1982–83.

Mr. Whitehead

While 7 per cent. is an improvement on the 4 per cent. that the Minister was offered, is he aware that that is considerably less than the 14 per cent. that the Arts Council said it needed to maintain current operations? Will he recommend to the Arts Council that the cuts which there may have to be should fall on the national companies, in which he now seems to be taking a hand, or on the already impoverished local areas, or is there to be general equality of misery?

Mr. Channon

I am utterly certain that the hon. Gentleman's forecast will be proved to be wholly unfounded. What he fails to take into account is that I have also announced an additional £5 million this year, and those two taken together will remove all those problems.

Mr. Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the two figures add up to £97 million, which is about £1 million less than the Arts Council asked for when it pitched its request a short time ago? Will he, therefore, accept the thanks of those who are concerned about the future of the arts in this country for a valiant fight put up in difficult times? Will he also accept that there are still difficult times ahead and that this must merely be seen as a good instalment of a rather difficult story?

Mr. Channon

Of course problems lie ahead, but I am entitled to claim on the evidence so far submitted to me that the major problems that so many arts organisations told me would exist next year no longer need to be feared.

Mr. McNally

Will the Minister inform the Arts Council and those London-based organisations that are in receipt of Arts Council money that many hon. Members who represent the regions will closely scrutinise the behaviour of those organisations to ensure that they realise that the money that they receive is national tax money and that they expect from them a national performance, including activity in the regions?

Mr. Channon

Yes, most certainly. It has been an increasing trend in recent years for the Arts Council grant to be switched more towards the regions. I am sure that that will continue to be the trend.

Mrs. Renée Short

The Minister will be aware that a number of the theatres that are threatened with closure at present have been carrying out valuable experimental work. How many of those will the additional £5 million rescue and allow to continue? Will his request to the Arts Council to examine the way in which resources are spent by some of the large spenders include the manager who recently announced that unless he had another £1 million he would close down the company?

Mr. Channon

I am not sure at the moment that I know what the hon. Lady is referring to. With regard to the first part of her question, it is for the Arts Council to make the allocations when it considers the detailed grant. All I am saying is that a great many of the exaggerated fears that have been expressed over recent months will not be brought to fruition.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of Conservative Members on getting as much money for the arts as he has been able to prise out of the Treasury? Will he confirm that this will mean that regional activities, particularly those in the South-West, will be able to continue at the same level as has been enjoyed during the past 12 months? That is what affects most of the people who do not live in London.

Mr. Channon

I cannot comment on individual operations, but in general the answer to my hon. Friend's question is "Yes".

Mr. Greville Janner

Does the Minister understand the agonising uncertainty that afflicts provincial theatres such as the Haymarket and the Phoenix theatres in Leicester, when they do not know from year to year what level of grant they will receive? As part of his Christmas era of goodwill, will he give an undertaking that the Arts Council grants will be continued to provincial theatres in future years so that the people who work in them so well can have a feeling of certainty for the future?

Mr. Channon

It is jolly nice of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) to assume that I shall be at the Dispatch Box for many more years. Perhaps he is right. I am trying to remove a great deal of the agonising uncertainty by announcing this figure today.