HC Deb 07 March 1983 vol 38 cc560-1
28. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether the members of the Rayner scrutiny team into national arts bodies will be called upon to exercise their artistic judgment.

Mr. Channon

Questions of artistic judgment will undoubtedly arise. The team proposes to draw on the advice of people qualified to help it, as well as, of course, to discuss such questions with the companies themselves.

Mr. Price

Does the Minister agree that the precedent of asking Mr. Burrett to look at the theatre museum was not a happy one? What are Mr. Priestley's artistic qualifications? If he will not use his own artistic judgment, on whose advice will the right hon. Gentleman draw in coming to judgments involving decisions about artistic merit?

Mr. Channon

I deplore what the hon. Gentleman has said about a previous scrutiny. It is unfair personally to attack it. In this case, a team will be able to call on special assistance in financial and other areas that it judges necessary. The team has yet to appoint any advisers, but it will be able to do so and its selection will be discussed with me and the chairmen of the companies concerned. In that way, I believe that the points raised by the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend recall that Lord Shinwell, as Minister of Defence, threatened to make military judgments when Field Marshal Montgomery was Chief of Defence Staff and made political judgments? May not national arts bodies make dangerous economic judgments if Rayner forces upon them unacceptable artistic judgments?

Mr. Channon

There is no question of unacceptable artistic judgments being forced on anyone. In areas where large sums of public money are spent on the arts I should have thought that the House would be anxious to ensure that value for money was obtained. It is only right that there should be a Rayner scrutiny into these two areas so that we can establish the proof.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the study group be empowered to hear evidence from the regions as well as from London so that it can look in depth at the imbalance between the funding of opera in London and opera elsewhere in the country? That matter has just been brought to the attention of the House and the country by Dr. Hoggart's study for the Arts Council.

Mr. Channon

It will be able to take evidence from anywhere it thinks fit. Indeed, it has specifically written to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West, (Mr. Price), asking for his views as Chairman of the Select Committee. It is looking forward to receiving them. Of course the group will take evidence. The Hoggart report is, of course, a discussion document at this stage and no decisions have been taken upon it.

Mr. Cormack

Without discussing the merits of individuals, does my right hon. Friend accept that the last scrutiny left much to be desired? That was the view of the Select Committee and almost everyone who knew anything about the subject and read the report. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that those lessons have been taken on board?

Mr. Channon

I can assure my hon. Friend that an immense amount of trouble has been taken over this scrutiny. The people involved will do it extremely well. They have great financial experience and will have the opportunity of calling on expert advice in other areas. I hope and believe that both my hon. Friend and the House will think the report worth while.