HC Deb 25 July 1988 vol 138 cc13-4
46. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

To ask the Minister for the Arts, if he will make a statement on the progress of his policy to promote business spending on the arts.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

I was glad to participate in the launch of the business in the arts scheme by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts last week. I shall be supporting it with £25,000 for each of the first two years. It joins the already successful business sponsorship incentive scheme in promoting business spending and practical help for the arts.

Mrs. Bottomley

As a member of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, I welcome my right hon. Friend's new initiative and his encouragement of partnership between business and the arts, which has led to the development of high-quality art. Will my right hon. Friend outline the objectives of the new scheme? What steps will he take to spread further information about it?

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has continued to give encouragement to business support for the arts. The purpose of the scheme, which is organised independently by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, is to complement and supplement sponsorship and donations from business to the arts by giving practical support by the provision of expertise, which many businesses in the arts world and arts organisations will welcome most warmly, the loan of people with particular expertise in specific areas, and generally to help to provide training for people in the arts world in the organisation of their businesses. I am glad to say that eight businesses have come in as sponsors, and I have made a Government contribution to this exercise.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

I welcome any business spending on the arts, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider the reverse aspect—business-spoilation of the arts? I am referring to the sale of the Lyceum theatre, which is a disgraceful business. Will the Minister ensure that he investigates this matter thoroughly with a view to ending this shameful episode in the history of the Lyceum and gets it restored as a proper theatre in London?

Mr. Luce

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman supports more business spending and support for the arts world. I understand the concern and anxieties that have been expressed by many people in the London arts world about the future use of the Lyceum theatre. It is, of course, principally the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, with whom I am presently in touch. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is a complex problem and that it is not straightforward. There are certain obligations that the residuary body must discharge to the London ratepayers. Nevertheless, I am keeping a close interest in this matter.

Mr. Jessel

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 50-fold increase in business sponsorship of the arts from £600,000 in 1976 to £30 million in 1987 is a tremendous success story, which has benefited audiences, artists and sponsors alike?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is absolutely right It is interesting to note that the business sponsorship incentive scheme has now generated, as a result of the awards that we shall announce this week, £20 million of additional money for the arts. We now have 770 first-time sponsors as a result of the scheme and all the evidence suggests that the vast majority of those sponsors wish to support the arts for a long time.

Mr. Fisher

Returning to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), why has the Minister for the Arts not spoken out about the Lyceum before? Everyone else has—the Arts Council, the Theatres Trust—but there has been a deafening silence from the Minister on this subject. Will he now approach the London Residuary Body and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and urge them to do what they have the power to do and use their discretion to consider some of the other bids, which would preserve this great theatre as a theatre?

Mr. Luce

I have, of course, retained an interest in this problem, but, as I have already told the House, it is not my direct responsibility. It is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He has certain obligations, and so does the London Residuary Body. Those obligations are laid down and clearly stated. My right hon. Friend has obligations towards the ratepayers of London. All these factors must be taken into account. I made my position clear in answer to the earlier question.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his sympathy, which was evident in his reply to the last question and to that of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), will be much appreciated? I express the hope that he will be able to persuade our right hon. Friend that the theatre should be saved.

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who retains a close interest in all these subjects. I should remind him and the House that this is not a straightforward issue. There are many complex aspects to it. As I understand it, an appeal is pending with regard to whether Mecca will continue to have responsibility for the Lyceum. All these factors must be taken into account

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