HC Deb 03 March 1986 vol 93 cc17-8
33. Mr. Alton

asked the Minister for the Arts what recent representations he has received from those theatres and concert halls threatened with closure as a result of the abolition of the metropolitan authorities.

Mr. Luce

I have received a number of representations about some of those theatres and concert halls, and I have discussed their concerns with the Arts Council. As the House will know, good progress is being made on a number of issues, including Sadler's Wells, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Liverpool Empire.

Mr. Alton

Notwithstanding that reply, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that the director of the Merseyside Arts Association, Mr. Peter Booth, is reported as having said last Friday that he is fed up with hearing that everything is safe, that the crisis is still a deep one, and that some £600,000 will be required to save the philharmonic, the Everyman, the Playhouse and 30 other smaller art groups on Merseyside? What hope is there of that £600,000 being found? What co-operation is the Minister receiving from the five district councils on Merseyside?

Mr. Luce

The Arts Council, under the chairmanship of Sir William Rees-Mogg, is doing an excellent job in trying to solve all these problems in turn. On Merseyside, the local authorities are being asked to take a small burden. I emphasise that it is small, because I know that the hon. Gentleman is deeply worried about the continuity of the arts on Merseyside. The local authorities are being asked to pay only 10 per cent. of what they are being precepted until 1 April. The whole burden of supporting museums and galleries is being assumed by central Government on behalf of taxpayers. That is a genuine demonstration of the Government's anxiety to ensure that we play our part. We now look to the local authorities to pay their share of the matter.

Mr. Hanley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following the abolition of the Greater London council and metropolitan county councils, such halls and theatres will have to survive because of the plural funding, which he mentioned earlier, from local authorities, the Arts Council, business sponsorship and one group that has so far not been mentioned—the public, who attend such shows? Does my right hon. Friend further believe that some sensible taxation reforms may help to encourage more people to donate money to their local theatres and concert halls?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is right about the paying public being important. Indeed, at present they are the largest supporters and funders of the arts—way beyond any other source of funding. The Government have already made some tax concessions to encourage people to give to the arts, and we are concerned to ensure that everything possible is being done to improve on that.

Mr. Wareing

Does the Minister realise that, despite being within one month of the abolition of Merseyside county council, many arts facilities on Merseyside still do not know whether they will be open or closed after 1 April? Is he aware that Liverpool city council, which is short of resources and is being rate-capped, cannot finance all those services? He has had correspondence over the Croxteth hall and community park, for example. Is he about to respond to my request that he visits the area and sees the people concerned with that hall and park?

Mr. Luce

The hon. Gentleman is not quite with it. As I said in Friday's debate, I have already visited Merseyside and seen a large cross-section of the arts. On the question of funding, which is important for the continuity of the arts, Arts Council clients which are not affected by the abolition of the metropolitan county councils have been informed of their allocation for 1986–87, and those affected by abolition are being given interim assurances that their Arts Council funding will be no less than at present. Their final figures will depend on the outcome of negotiations with local authorities. It is now up to local authorities to show that they wish to play their part in the partnership.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Will there not be a genuine problem if the various local authorities taking over responsibilities for such things as health, safety, fire precautions, and so on, make differing interpretations of their duties, which could affect, for example, the activities of touring companies? Will my right hon. Friend keep an eye on this and help to bring a balanced and reasonable approach across the board wherever he can?

Mr. Luce

Although I have been somewhat critical of some local authorities, principally Merseyside and Islington, in the large bulk of the cases, including Tyne and Wear, Manchester arid South Yorkshire, local authorities have been co-operating extremely well with the Arts Council in negotiations to deal with abolition problems. They have set a good lead and we look to other local authorities to follow their good example.