HC Deb 24 March 1986 vol 94 cc606-8
27. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Minister for the Arts if he intends to monitor the impact on the funding of the arts of the abolition of the Greater London council; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

I shall, of course, continue to take a close interest in the progress of the arts in the abolition areas, and I have confidence in their future.

Mr. Banks

Is the Minister aware that in the GLC's so-called spending spree, £4.6 million is earmarked for the arts in London? Indeed, this issue is the subject of a case at present being dealt with in the other place. Is the Minister prepared to use his good offices, as a member of the Tory party, to persuade Westminster to drop its pernicious action against the GLC? If he is not prepared to do so and the case goes against the GLC, will he put pressure on the London Residuary Body to ensure that that money goes to the Richmond scheme so that the arts in London benefit?

Mrs. Kellet-Bowman


Mr. Banks

It was a better speech than the hon. Lady will ever make.

Mr. Luce

I note that the Court of Appeal has upheld Westminster city council's challenge as to the legality of the GLC's spending plans. I understand that the GLC has sought leave to appeal, and I cannot therefore comment on the court's decision. However, I must make the Government's position in general quite clear. We do not consider it appropriate that the GLC or the metropolitan county councils should, at this late stage, incur significant expenditure on new initiatives without the approval of the successor authorities. That is our position.

Mr. Jessel

Does my right hon. Friend agree that real art, which excites, inspires, uplifts and enriches people's lives can be greatly benefited by a budget, whereas the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and his friends on the GLC gave a significant part of their budget for the promotion of degrading and decadent rubbish?

Mr. Luce

I agree with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) should end his obsession with the past and look with a bit more optimism to the exciting things that can happen in future in the Greater London area. I also agree with my hon. Friend that the tax relief that is to be provided for single gifts to charities by companies will make a positive contribution to the arts. Arts organisations should now go out and try to persuade businesses to give them their support.

Mr. Buchan

Does the Minister recognise that if it were not for the malevolent and foolish actions of both his Government and Westminster council the GLC would now be able to save some of the arts described by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel)? The GLC could come to the rescue of the Victoria and Albert museum in the same way as it came to the rescue of the Cottesloe theatre. Will the Minister fill the place of the GLC? Will he give the proper funds to the Victoria and Albert to repair the damage caused by the flood?

Mr. Luce

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Westminster council. It should be strongly praised for agreeing to provide £3 million for the arts in the Greater London area. If other councils, such as Islington borough council, followed the Westminster example we would make some progress. I have a great deal of sympathy, as I am sure does the whole House, for Sir Roy Strong and his staff, who have done a magnificent job over the weekend following the tragic accident at the museum. I and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) will, immediately after Question Time, go to the Victoria and Albert to see the scale of the damage and to discuss the situation with Sir Roy Strong. We are considering whether there should be an inquiry. This accident occurred because of leakage from a temporary joint on water piping. It is against that background that we are considering an inquiry.

Sir David Price

Does my right hon. Friend agree that dealing with the flooding of the Victoria and Albert on Saturday is the most urgent artistic problem in London? On his visit today he will carry with him the full support of the House and will go in the knowledge that if he wishes to ask for extra money to fund the repairs the House will view the request sympathetically.

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I say, in the next hour or so I will see the full extent of the damage. I take full account of what my hon. Friend has said.

28. Mr. Chris Smith

asked the Minister for the Arts what assessment he has made of the impact on the 1986–87 funding position of arts' organisations in Islington of the abolition of the Greater London council; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Luce

I refer the hon. Member to my reply of 10 February about Sadler's Wells theatre, for which the prospects are now good. Discussions continue between the Arts Council and Islington borough council about the funding of other arts bodies in the borough.

Mr. Smith

Is the Minister aware that among the many valued theatrical institutions in the borough of Islington is the Almeida theatre? Is he also aware that many theatregoers, not just from Islington but from the whole of London, are greatly worried about the threat to that theatre? Will he make sure that the Arts Council looks favourably at future funding of the Almeida theatre, and will he also make representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that before insisting that Islington council picks up the bill, it is not ratecapped?

Mr. Luce

Like other borough councils, Islington has been relieved of the rate precept and the bill that it had to pay for the arts from the GLC. That will apply in the coming year. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Almeida theatre is extremely good and has a high reputation. For that reason, it is not unreasonable to look to Islington borough council to play its part. On 2 April the Arts Council will announce its budgets for all those areas where borough councils have agreed to co-operate. The Islington council has not agreed to co-operate, but I hope that it will reconsider its position.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, since the Budget, the debate on funding for the arts has to be conducted in new terms, and that arts organisations which have been accustomed to look to central and local government for funding should look also for tax-favoured charitable donations? We on the Tory Benches offer our warmest congratulations to the Minister and to the Government on a creative initiative which will release significant additional sums for the arts.

Mr. Luce

I strongly acknowledge the role that my hon. Friend has played and the strong views that he has expressed in previous months. I am convinced that the Budget measures will transform the arts climate and encourage still further the amount of giving, not only to charitable bodies, but to the arts world. I hope that all hon. Members will do their utmost to persuade businesses and, later, individuals to give to the arts.

Mr. Buchan

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, not only in Islington, but in the surrounding boroughs of London and in the metropolitan counties, it is a sick joke to suggest that they have the moneys to replace the missing funding? There are at least half a dozen extremely important and major artistic events in Islington, including theatres. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that his predecessor gave a pledge that the arts would not suffer and that the money would be replaced? Quite apart from what the right hon. Gentleman expects of the boroughs, will he fulfil that pledge?

Mr. Luce

We have clear evidence, not only in Greater London, but outside London, that all these issues are being tackled sensitively and properly one by one. There are already agreements on these matters in Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear and other areas. Only a few district council successor authorities are holding back the prospects of a sensible settlement. Islington borough council still has not made a clear decision. Other borough councils, including Hammersmith and Westminster, have agreed, and their lead should be followed.

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