HC Deb 04 March 1985 vol 74 cc651-3
25. Mr. Murphy

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if he will initiate further independent inquiries into the funding and efficiency of arts bodies which are major recipients of public finance.

Mr. Waldegrave

No, Sir. My noble Friend sees no case for doing so.

Mr. Murphy

Does my hon. Friend agree that if such inquiries took place the facts could be established, and they might be preferable to the wringing of hands and to the chorus of woe, gloom and doom that we hear from the Greek chorus on the subject of arts funding?

Mr. Waldegrave

I concede that that would be useful. On the other hand, we are rightly constantly pressed to keep the position of the Arts Council at arm's length from the Government. If there were a whole galaxy of separate inquiries, I am not quite sure where the Arts Council would be left.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Does my hon. Friend accept that a particular problem has been caused by the activities of the GLC in threatening to withdraw funding from national companies? Will my hon. Friend give a progress report on the situation? Does he agree that the difficulties and uncertainty which the GLC has created show exactly why it should be abolished?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree that the extra uncertainty created by the GLC's brinkmanship is to be regretted. I hope that it will clarify its plans and remove the uncertainty that it has caused.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

Does the Minister recall that when the Prime Minister took office she said that there would be no candle end economies in the arts? In view of that statement, the dismay, consternation and frustration expressed in the arts world by such eminent persons as Sir Peter Hall, the fact that seven members of the drama panel of the Arts Council have resigned and that last weekend 11 leading London theatre groups expressed their opposition to the arts cuts, will the Minister now join me and the Opposition in calling for the resignation of the worst Minister for the Arts that we have ever had, the worst chairman of the Arts Council that we have ever had and the worst secretary of the Arts Council that we have ever had before the candle is finally snuffed out for the arts?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is an example of the type of lobbying which does not help the arts. There has been an 18 per cent. real terms increase in spending on the arts. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan), coming from that area, should show some gratitude for the fact that one of the problems with which the Arts Council is grappling is directing more resources to the provinces and away from London.

Mr. Sedgemore

Is it not time for an inquiry into the funding and inefficiency of the Arts Council, as it has completely lost the confidence of the art world and is widely regarded as a subservient arm of the Government?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is widely regarded in that way by people who want to cause mischief. I am sure that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) wants a politicised Arts Council. The Arts Council is wholly at arm's length from the Government, and that is how it should be.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anxiety in outer London about the transfer of music, choral and orchestral societies' funding to the Greater London Arts Association from the Arts Council, which, it is feared, will be to the detriment of outer London? Will he look into that?

Mr. Waldegrave

I was not aware of that until my hon. Friend drew it to my attention. I shall ensure that the chairmen of the Arts Council and of the GLAA are made aware of those worries, which are important.

Mr. Buchan

Is not the truth that the arts have been grossly under-funded this year, with less than half of the inflation rate being accounted for? Not only the National Theatre, but almost every theatre in Britain is affected. Is that not the reason why the directors of almost every theatre in Britain will be meeting tomorrow to give their views on the crisis? Will the Minister tell the Minister for the Arts that if he cuts the Arts Council's funds he should at least persuade the Government not to cut back local authorities' funds? Is he aware that the GLC alone has intervened to save the National Theatre? What a disgrace for a Conservative Government.

Mr. Waldegrave

There has been a large real terms increase in funding since this Government were elected. I thought that the chairman of the Arts Council came out much the better in the interchange in the Sunday papers.