HC Deb 26 March 1984 vol 57 cc16-7
27. Mr. Fisher

asked the Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts whether the Minister for the Arts has any plans for altering the structure of the Arts Council of Great Britain and its relationship with regional arts associations.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

My noble Friend awaits with interest the views of the Arts Council following its review of arts development strategy, which will no doubt encompass questions of structure.

Mr. Fisher

On the question of the regional arts associations, will the Under-Secretary take the opportunity now to deny rumours in the press this weekend that the price for improving the financial position of the regions, which he knows that I support, will be the removal of grant from the Royal Court, the Riverside studios, the Hayward gallery and the Arts Council's literary department? Does he not agree that such a price would be totally unacceptable and an act of artistic vandalism?

Mr. Waldegrave

The report has not been received yet, so it would be premature to comment on rumours. In so far as the Arts Council, within a budget which, over the years, has increased, is trying to find room to fund new developments, it must be right that it should look at diminishing resources for some other parts of its empire. This seems to me inevitable.

Sir David Price

Does my hon. Friend agree that, when the metropolitan counties cease to exist, most of the current sponsorship role of the metropolitan counties will be taken over by the metropolitan districts, but there will be a residual and enhanced role for regional arts associations?

Mr. Waldegrave

My noble Friend has made it clear that he believes that there is a role for the Arts Council and the regional arts associations in taking some of the strain, but it is obviously very important for the district councils to play a full role, and some of them have made it clear that they are willing to do so.

Mr. Freud

On that point, does the Minister feel that regional arts associations are vested with sufficient power to do the work which will doubtless be theirs after the abolition?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is exactly at that kind of question that the Arts Council review is looking, as I understand it. We have not yet received the report, but obviously, if there is an enhanced role, the whole structure must be looked at.

Mr. Jessel

On the question of the balance between the regions and London, will my hon. Friend remind the Arts Council that the live arts require audiences, that audiences require population catchment areas from which to draw, and so the arts naturally tend to be centred on large centres of population, in particular on very large cities, and that any attempt to militate against that will be damaging to the arts?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have noticed, since I have been carrying out the function of arts spokesman, that there is strong pressure on the regions. This is part of the circle that the chairman of the Arts Council has to square. One has to set against what my hon. Friend has said, which is true, the fact that the capital has very great resources of its own.

Mr. Faulds

As it is now crystal clear that the arts throughout Great Britain are facing potential disaster, would it not be advisable for the Government to look again at their negative and shallow response to the report of the Committee on Education, Science and Arts entitled "Public and Private Funding of the Arts", which called for substantial increases in the level of public spending on the arts, long-tenn planning of the arts development, and for a Minister for the Arts with much wider responsibilities, greater power and greater knowledge than the present one?

Mr. Waldegrave

I refute the allegation that the arts are facing disaster. There is no question of that. The arts are facing change in some respects, but the handling of that change will be such as to avoid disaster.

Mr. Stanbrook

Would not the Arts Council have much more money to spend on regional arts if it moved out of its luxurious and expensive premises in Piccadilly?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is a matter for the Arts Council. I am sure that it pays great attention to its overhead costs.

Mr. Buchan

If the Minister thinks that the arts are not in crisis, he is about the only person in Britain who does. The Arts Council, the local authorities, the regional associations and Lord Goodman recognise the desperate position of the arts. Is not the reason for that the Government's function of cutting back on arts expenditure, with the exception of opera—which means that the rest receive grants that are not in line with inflation—and their twofold attack on local authorities through abolition or rate-capping? In that context, how can we save the arts?

Mr. Waldegrave

In the 20 or so years that I have taken an interest in politics the message has always been the same, although resources have steadily increased. A rather good article was featured in The Guardian last week which showed how increases in expenditure on the arts since the war have done nothing to diminish the cries of crisis. We must moderate our language.

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