HC Deb 12 December 1983 vol 50 cc671-4
27. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if he will discuss the effects of cuts on the arts with the Arts Council before announcing the next annual Government grant.

Mr. Waldegrave

My noble Friend is in regular touch with the chairman of the Arts Council on grant requirements and other matters.

Mr. Banks

Will the Minister confirm that the Arts Council has asked for a 20 per cent. increase in funding, the majority of which would be used to clear outstanding deficits to its clients? What is the amount of those deficits?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman with regard to the second part of his question. I can confirm that the Arts Council believes that it needs more money than can be given to it in present circumstances. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that the central component of the arts budget shows a small but welcome increase in real terms for next year.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister agree that one of the problems associated with funding the arts is that his noble Friend, while being responsible for the arts, also represents the Treasury in another place and is responsible for Civil Service personnel and management? Does he further agree that that schizophrenic role cannot give any assurance to the Arts Council that it will be properly funded? Is the Minister aware that that view is now shared by 500 people, who have been prompted to form the first national lobby for the arts, that they met yesterday and that they made it quite clear that they believe the Government are doing a bad job?

Mr. Waldegrave

My noble Friend's relative success with regard to next year's arts budget might lead us to believe that his position in relation to the Treasury has been used to the benefit of the arts. With regard to the conclusions of yesterday's lobby, I was interested in what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said on the radio this morning. He perfectly fairly pointed out that it is necessary for the arts to put its case strongly under all Governments.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Why, when we have to cut essential services, is it considered essential to support arts which are unpopular with the great body of people who find that more essential services have been cut? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that many of the people who support minority arts are able to pay the full economic price for their tickets whereas those who need essential services are not able to pay the full price for them?

Mr. Waldegrave

The state makes quite a small contribution to funding the arts as compared with what is paid by individuals. Many hon. Members would regret it if the state did not play its proper role in these matters.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is the Minister aware that the Grand theatre, Wolverhampton is being renovated at considerable cost and with local effort? Is he aware that it is now as beautiful as the Old Vic, although it is a smaller house? Will he ask his noble Friend to bear in mind, when he considers next year's grants for the Arts Council, the fact that it is necessary to support local theatres which are being put into good condition as a result of local efforts, so that they can continue to serve the public?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall report that concern to my noble Friend. I recently saw the list of theatres in different towns in the provinces that have been supported by the Arts Council over the years. It is an impressive list.

Sir Raymond Gower

With reference to the question asked by my hon. Friend for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), when we are faced with these difficult choices, might it not be salutary if we recalled the example of some of the continental countries after the bombing of the last war, which, faced with great problems of reconstruction and housing, gave priority to the arts?

Mr. Waldegrave

I personally believe that in terms of the maintenance of a civilised society there is a proper role for the state to play in subsidising the arts.

Mr. Radice

Has the Minister noted that the chairman of the Arts Council, Sir William Rees-Mogg, hardly noted for his support of profligate public spending, was reported in The Times of 24 November as saying: Many of the organisations supported by the council currently face very serious problems in maintaining their existence in the present restricted financial climate. Does the Minister think that the Arts Council budget will enable those organisations to survive?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is wrong now, as it was in the past, and as it will be in the future, to guarantee that every organisation supported by the Arts Council will survive or, in certain circumstances, should survive. However, there has been a real terms increase for next year in the Government component of the arts budget, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomes, as I do.

28. Mr. Murphy

asked the Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if he has yet received the response of the Arts Council to the consultation paper on the future funding of the arts after the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan county councils.

Mr. Waldegrave

No, Sir.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that consideration will be given to an arts and heritage council to co-ordinate the funding and administration of the arts in London?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall draw my hon. Friend's suggestion to the attention of my noble Friend and of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Fisher

How many representations has the Minister's noble Friend received on those proposals, and has any single one been in support of the proposals?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman on both those points, but I confirm the implication of what he said, that most of the representations have been in favour of the status quo.

Mr. Greenway

Although many present Greater London council grants are well directed, will my hon. Friend note that some of those grants are directed in weird directions that are unacceptable to the ratepayers of London?

Mr. Waldegrave

It would be naive not to agree that, to some extent, there is a widening of sponsorship in a highly politicised direction which, perhaps, is not comparable with what has gone on before.

Mr. Mason

Is the Minister aware that if the South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire county councils are abolished, that will place in jeopardy Opera North, the Leeds Playhouse and the Sheffield Crucible theatre, which are at present funded at the rate of over £200,000 a year? How do the Government propose to save those enterprises in the event of abolition?

Mr. Waldegrave

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Opera North is on the list in the consultation document issued by my noble Friend, and is one of the theatres that will receive Government support. The consultation period for that document is still open. The right hon. Gentleman can make representations to my noble Friend that other theatres should be added to the list. However, it remains essential for the districts that will be the successor authorities to play their part in the support of arts organisations.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Minister still believe that the £11 million deficit will be made up by the districts, although the evidence from the districts since he last put forward that opinion is that they are already doing what they can and do not feel able to support functions that are clearly regional in their implications and not just local?

Mr. Waldegrave

I remain of the opinion that the districts and, in London, the boroughs can play a significant part in maintaining those organisations for which there is real public demand. The consultation period remains open for additions to the national list.

Mr. Faulds

Regarding the arm's length principle for the future funding of the arts through local authorities and, primarily, through the Arts Council, has the Minister had drawn to his attention the dangerous implications of the introduction of earmarked moneys, which removes the responsibility for decisions from those bodies?

Mr. Waldegrave

Those issues were drawn to the attention of my noble Friend during the debate on the Priestley report. No one is in doubt about his opinions on that matter.