HC Deb 19 December 1990 vol 183 cc300-11 4.11 pm
The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the structure of arts funding in England.

On 13 March my right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), whom I am delighted to see in his place, announced to the House a series of structural changes in the system of arts funding that had evolved since the foundation of the Arts Council. A cardinal change was a national strategic role for the Arts Council. I shall look to the Arts Council to develop, for the first time, a comprehensive national arts strategy, which will give us clear ideas and goals for the arts throughout the 1990s and into the new century. I expect to receive this by the summer of 1992.

The Arts Council's new role was accompanied by a substantial transfer of responsibility for funding regional clients to a smaller number of new incorporated regional arts boards, with fewer members representing a wider range of interests throughout the region. The new boards would account to the Arts Council through a new system of planning, budgeting and monitoring.

The purpose of the reforms was better co-ordination of overall funding policy and strengthened regional accountability for large and growing sums of public money so as to get the best value for the arts and for the taxpayer who supports them. Their ultimate objective is to help the arts, in all their forms, to flourish throughout the country, and to create a closer relationship between the regional art organisations and the soil from which they spring.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) subsequently proposed and consulted widely on a number of additional changes designed to ensure that the new boards could discharge their enlarged responsibilities effectively and so maintain and enhance high standards of arts provision.

In the light of advice from the Arts Council on these additional changes, and on the transfer of funding responsibilities, and after meeting local authority arid regional representatives, I have now reviewed the overall process of reform and propose to take it forward in the following ways.

I fully support the aims and direction of the reforms, including the principle of significant delegation of responsibility for funding regional clients to the new boards. The general criteria for determining this delegation, agreed by the Arts Council in June, are also a sensible starting point for further work. At the same time, I recognise the force of the concerns of some arts organisations about the transfer of their funding to bodies not yet in place and which will need a proper period to become fully established. It is essential that the reforms have the confidence of all whose interests the funding system exists to serve, consumer, artist and taxpayer alike. I have therefore decided that it would be prudent for delegation to take place in stages.

The initial stage of delegation will go ahead as planned from 1 April 1992, and I have asked the Arts Council to advise me by 1 April 1991 what scale of delegation would then be appropriate. By October 1992, the Arts Council will advise me on the scale and timing of further delegation. An important benefit of staging in this way will be that later decisions can be informed by progress in the development of the new national arts strategy. I wish to see the regional arts boards playing the fullest possible part in this development.

No less importantly, it will also enable me to satisfy myself, as I must, that the new boards will have the capacity to take on further responsibilities, that there will be a reduction in the administration costs of the system as a whole, that high standards of arts provision will be maintained, and that the new system will provide a mechanism that will enable ever higher standards to be achieved.

In response to the report of the review team established by the Arts Council, I have taken further decisions as follows. The governing boards of the new RABs should be as small as possible, within a range of 12 to 18 members. In exceptional circumstances, however, I will consider boards of no more than 24 members. I have decided that a maximum of one third of the places should be reserved for local authority nominees. I am content for local authorities to select these as best suits regional circumstances. Other board members will be selected by a panel of regional and Arts Council representatives, and their appointments will require Arts council approval. The chairmen of boards will be selected in a similar way, but these important appointments will also require my consent. Senior executives will sit on boards at regional discretion but within the limits on the size of boards that I have already described. I have also endorsed the idea of more widely representative consultative forums for local authority and other regional interests which may form an integral part of the new RAB company structures.

In all other respects, changes already announced will go ahead. This includes the merger of a number of the existing regional bodies, and I warmly welcome the good progress that they are making in achieving this. The new boards should be in place by no later than 1 October 1991. I have asked the Arts Council and the regional arts authorities to undertake an urgent review of the staffing needs and costs of the new system and to report to me by April 1991. I have today written to the chairman of the Arts Council setting out my decisions in greater detail, and a copy of my letter has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

My overriding objective in making these further changes is to ensure that the new regional boards are balanced and effective for the tasks that they will have to perform, paying due regard to the need for regional backgrounds and involvement, more effective accountability, value for money and, most important, continued high standards of arts provision. The structure and strategy of arts funding play an important part in the enhancement of the creative spirit in all its forms. In deciding these reforms, I have thought of the needs of both artist and the public and of our ultimate goal—encouragement of artistic excellence at every level in every area.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I welcome much of the approach of the Minister's statement and some of its content. In particular, the arts will be reassured that the Minister will not pursue the centralised tendencies of his immediate predecessor but will allow local authorities and regional arts boards considerably more say in regional representation. It was quite wrong for the former Minister to seek personally to appoint the chairmen of regional arts boards, and the Minister has been wise to reject that route.

However, I am extremely critical of the Minister's attitude towards the delegation of arts clients. By opting for a phased two stage delegation of clients, the Minister may feel that he is being cautious and pragmatic, but he is wrong. He is creating a two-tier system of clients for the immediate future. Some will be funded centrally and they will be seen as first division clients. Those who are funded regionally will be seen as second-division clients. That will divide and demoralise the arts world, and be extremely counter-productive.

Did the Minister consult on this? If he did, whom did he consult? Why did he ignore the explicit advice of the Arts Council, which recently heard 30 appeals against delegation, and rejected all of them with one exception? He should have taken that advice because the Arts Council, unlike him, understands the dangers of a two-tier system. More crucially, why has he not provided a list of delegated companies to the House? By announcing a two-tier system and not telling hon. Members and the companies they represent who will and who will not be delegated he is stoking up anger and confusion.

Will the Minister place that list of delegated client companies in the Library at once? If he does not do so, hon. Members will not know whether the Belgrade theatre, Coventry, or the West Yorkshire playhouse or the Theatre Royal in York will be delegated. Will they be first or second-tier? Hon. Members on both sides of the House have a right to tell their constituents the implications of the

The Minister has not told the House what the financial implications of his statement will be. He referred to a reduction in administrative cuts, but he should know that the £2 million saving originally envisaged by Mr. Richard Wilding in his report has long since disappeared and everyone in the arts world estimates that it will cost an extra £2 million to implement his reorganisation strategy, and that that money will have to come from top slicing arts clients.

The confidence of those regional clients in the Government's seriousness about devolution and delegation will be dented not only by the Minister's reluctance to say who will and who will not be delegated but by the Art Council's announcement yesterday of grants and the dispersal of the enhancement funds, welcome though those moneys are. Some national companies did well. The Royal Shakespeare Company will be able to close the gap in its deficit, although not eliminate it. Some did badly—the South Bank will have a 5 per cent. cut in real terms. Other organisations did well only at the expense of regional companies.

Some theatres appear to have got nothing at all. They include both theatres in Liverpool, the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, the Lyric theatre, Hammersmith, the Crucible in Sheffield and the Northern Ballet theatre. Some have had cuts, including the Northern Stage Company, with a cut of 20 per cent., and the Scottish Opera touring branch, with a cut of 11 per cent. There is a serious threat to the Welsh National Opera touring company, a point that my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Wales will be pursuing. Others have had cuts in real terms, such as the Theatre Royal in Manchester, and the New Victoria theatre in my constituency.

How can we take the Minister's welcome words about delegation seriously when we see the list? Is this the financial reality of his statement—more money to the centre, less to the regions, and nothing to the community arts or to theatre in education? In the regions, the arts policies of local authorities are being butchered by the poll tax and by poll tax capping.

Although the Minister's remarks about recognising local authority importance are welcome, he has failed to pin local authorities financially into his statement. He appears to be penalising those which are already being poll tax capped because they cannot match Arts Council funding. Will he understand at this late stage that what he was reported as saying in The Times the other day was right? Local authorities should have a statutory responsibility for arts funding and therefore attract and be eligible for revenue support grants. If he ensured that, his words on delegation would have some real substance.

We welcome the Minister's attitude against centralisation and we welcome what he said about delegation, but until he gives us the list and improves the financial context in which it is happening, the House will have severe reservations about his statement today.

Mr. Renton

Oh dear, oh dear. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) was so anxious to be indignant about something that I feel he did not listen attentively to my statement. I shall start at the beginning. Let me make it plain: there is no current list of clients of the Arts Council who are to be delegated. I made it abundantly plain that I asked the council to produce a first list for me by April 1991. I repeat: there is no current list.

Of course there was consultation. I consulted the chairman and the secretary general of the Arts Council. I consulted representatives of the regional arts associations and representatives of local authorities. I mentioned that in my statement.

I disagree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central that there will be division between those who are on the first list, when that is announced after it is given to me by the Arts Council by April 1991, and those who will be deferred for further consideration on a second list, and that that will lead to demoralisation. Different criteria may apply. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) made it plain when he made his statement earlier in the year that he accepted phased delegation and did not expect delegation to finish before the time scale which I have set.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central was so anxious to wax angry that he did not listen to what I said about costs. I made it abundantly plain that I had asked for a report from the Arts Council to be given to me by 1 April 1991 on the costs of the new integrated system and of the new integrated staffing structure. That report is not yet available. That is one reason why I have decided today to apply the brakes and to proceed in the phased manner that I have described. I think that the entire House takes the view that the new regional arts boards should not be required to take on further responsibilities by delegation until they have ready the structure, staff and expertise to justify them being given that responsibility.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central talked about the enhancement fund. It is all too easy to pick out from the fund the names of the organisations which did not get any money. I could run through the list and give the names of those which did get money. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), who is now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, made it clear that he was establishing the fund—about £7 million for each of the next three years—he made it abundantly plain that it would not be available to all the clients of the Arts Council. He said that that could not possibly happen.

It is true that the Welsh National Opera company did not receive anything from the enhancement fund. Nor did the Royal National theatre and the South Bank. On the other hand, the Arts Council has announced an increase of 11 per cent. in 1991 for the WNO's touring expenses. Its grant will increase from £2.8 million to £3.1 million. The Welsh Arts Council announced this morning that from its enhancement fund of £410,000 it will make available £175,000 to the WNO. When those factors are considered together, I do not think that it is realistic to say that the WNO has been treated badly by the Arts Council.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Come on.

Mr. Renton

No, not at all. I insist that it is the Arts Council that decides on allocations to individual clients, not myself.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central appeared to be concerned that all the money was going to London. Fifty-one per cent. of enhancement fund moneys will go to Greater London and 49 per cent. to the regions. That is the same split as that which was made of the total Arts Council funding for English revenue clients for 1989–90.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to balance the interests of hon. Members who are waiting for the Christmas Adjournment and Consolidated Fund debates against the interests of hon. Members who are hoping to catch my eye now. I shall endeavour to call all hon. Members, but, as it appears that this will be a fairly long process, I must ask for single questions only. We will have to move on at 5 o'clock, irrespective of whether all hon. Members have been called. Whether or not I can call all hon. Members depends on the hon. Members concerned.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. Will he invite the Arts Council to accept that symphony orchestras and concerts play a most important part in the cultural and artistic life of this country, and at least as important as opera? That applies to both London and provincial orchestras. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the position of the South Bank and the Royal Festival hall, as the home of symphony concerts in London and the south-east?

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for his supportive remarks. South Bank is to get a 5.5 per cent. revenue increase in the year ahead. I realise that that is disappointing for the South Bank management, but the decision' was the Arts Council's not mine. However, there is good management at the South Bank, and it is making good progress in dealing with its deficit. I am told by the Arts Council that it hopes that that 5.5 per cent. increase will be sufficient to enable it to write off its deficit in the year ahead.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Is the Minister aware that he inherited a confused position, and that he has confounded it further by leaving until the summer of 1992 the point at which the Arts Council must produce its national strategy when it is clear that the Arts Council is having to produce a strategy now, and that it is one of cuts, especially in the funding of companies in the regions? The companies that have been dependent on regional arts association funding will be especially heavily hit by the proposals. How is that gap in time to be filled? Will it be filled by further closures of theatres throughout the country?

Mr. Renton

I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will not mind my saying that I saw him in Glasgow at the new concert hall two weeks ago. Glasgow has been a magnificent example of successful arts programmes throughout the year. There has been a great revival in that city. A new concert hall has been built, and there have been more than 3,000 artistic performances in Glasgow this year. To talk in such dire and critical terms is unrealistic—[ Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman represents a Scottish constituency, and I thought that he was talking about Scotland.

The Arts Council has received an increase of 13 per cent. in its funding from my Department this year. It will receive an increase of 11.5 per cent. in the year ahead, well above the expected rate of inflation. Because of that, the Arts Council was able yesterday to announce favourable decisions about the enhancement fund.

Mr. Richard Luce (Shoreham)

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to pursue the principles of devolution of funding for the arts and a strengthening of accountability. Can he make it clear beyond doubt that the Arts Council will continue to have a singularly important role to play, especially in devising a national strategy for the arts, and that there will be no substantial further devolution until my right hon. Friend is satisfied about the standard and calibre of all the regional arts boards?

Mr. Renton

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support. I am aware that it was he who originally commissioned the Wilding report in 1988, which pointed us in this direction. Indeed, my right hon. Friend announced these reforms earlier this year.

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend that the Arts Council should continue to have a central role, not least in developing a national arts strategy, the aim of which will be to set out our medium and long-term objectives for support of the arts, against the charted objectives of the Arts Council itself. That will be an important role for the Arts Council.

One of the reasons for the phasing of the delegation is to give me time to make certain that the new regional arts boards are capable, confident and properly staffed to take on further responsibilities before we ask major clients to move across to them.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

Will the Minister confirm that, despite what he has said about the Welsh National Opera company, that part of the company's grant which is applied to touring in England is to be cut? Does not he realise the adverse effect that that will have on audiences so successfully built up in England and on the survival of the company? Will he seek to have the matter reopened by the Arts Council, to reassess the situation and to recognise the value of the Welsh National Opera company not only to Wales but to the whole of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Renton

I am delighted to give the hon. Gentleman the categoric assurance that he is wrong. I repeat, because the hon. Gentleman does not seem to have heard me, that the Arts Council of Great Britain has already announced an increase of 11 per cent. in the grant for 1991–92 to Welsh National Opera for touring in England, taking the total grant from £2.8 million to £3.1 million, an increase well above the rate of inflation and nothing for the Welsh National Opera to complain about.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his vigorous and imaginative approach, but will he look again at the position of Welsh National Opera? Is he aware that I was told by my noble Friend Lord Crickhowell, a former Secretary of State for Wales, that this morning the Welsh National Opera company's finance and general purposes committee decided that the company may have to close? Will he, therefore, as a matter of urgency, call in Mr. Peter Palumbo to discuss the matter? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree with me that the Welsh National Opera is an international asset of priceless worth.

Mr. Renton

It would be wrong for me to pretend that my noble Friend Lord Crickhowell has not been in touch with me as well, because he has. I repeat that the Welsh National Opera's touring grant has been increased by 11 per cent. The Welsh Arts Council announced this morning an enhancement fund of £175,000 for Welsh National Opera, information which may not have reached the finance and general purposes committee when it met. The revenue funding by the Welsh Arts Council is still to be announced, but against that background, Welsh National Opera's management may, on reflection, have second thoughts about its initial reaction. We all recognise the superb quality of the Welsh National Opera's productions, which we have all enjoyed in the past.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Two thirds of Welsh National Opera's touring work is in England, and it is the major touring company in England, yet Opera North and English National Opera are receiving £600,000, while Welsh National Opera is receiving no enhancement at all. Notwithstanding any increase in inflation, that is biting into the company's financial plans for this year, so much so that it announced this morning that, unless a decision is made on further funding by 21 January, it will have no choice but to close in July.

As the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor came to an agreement that there would be joint funding of £175,000 from the Welsh Arts Council and £350,000 from the enhancement fund, why has the right hon. Gentleman allowed that agreement to be reneged on and the settlement to go forward with such devastating effect?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the position. I have checked it with my right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), the former Minister for the Arts. Arts Ministers do not decide on individual applications, and the reaction of Welsh Members this afternoon makes me glad about that. If they did, we would be constantly pressurised by one hon. Member or another asking why Y had done badly when X had done well.

I repeat that the Welsh Arts Council, out of its total enhancement fund grant of £410,000, is giving £175,000 to Welsh National Opera. The Scottish Arts Council has received an enhancement fund grant of £700,000 or £800,000, and doubtless out of that it will give something to Scottish Opera. Scottish Opera has not received anything directly from the enhancement fund either.

I have been told that no immediate decisions to make cuts were taken at this morning's meeting of Welsh National Opera, and I am sure that the whole House will be delighted to hear that. It intends to discuss the position further with the Arts Council of Great Britain—which is quite right, if that is what it wants—and they intend to meet in late January. I fully share the hon. Gentleman's wish to achieve a satisfactory resolution that will enable Welsh National Opera to run a full programme during 1991.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

When all the changes have been implemented, what alteration in the balance of expenditure in the Arts Council vote does my right hon. Friend foresee? What will be spent centrally, and what will be spent regionally? Within a typical regional budget, what percentage will be Arts Council funding, and what percentage will come from the local authority? That is germane to the question of the balance of representation in regional arts.

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend asks precisely the same questions that I have been asking since I took up the job of Minister for the Arts. The answer to his first question is that the figures are not yet available, and I have postponed moving to delegation until a detailed plan of costs and administrative structure is available to me. My hon. Friend's second question follows from his first. I cannot say now what the balance will be between the money that goes to the performing artist and that which is spent on administration. I do not want to move forward wholeheartedly until I am certain that a lower proportion of the money available will be spent on meeting administrative costs.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I want to express my pleasure that the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, which is in my constituency, is to receive £75,000, which is well deserved. I hope that the Minister will come to Newham to see what the borough is doing to support the arts, and that he will have discussions with the Secretary of State for the Environment to establish what additional resources can be made available to local authorities—perhaps recognising their support for the arts through the standard spending assessment. A number of local authorities are under great pressure, because, as we know, the arts are not a compulsory area of expenditure for them. What discussions are the Minister prepared to have with the Secretary of State for the Environment on that important matter?

Mr. Renton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. It is always nice to receive support, even if it is from an unusual quarter of the House. I was particularly pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman's support for the grant decided upon by the Arts Council for the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. I read in the newspapers this morning that its director was rather surprised at receiving a grant at all, so presumably it made a very good Christmas present for him. I know from that theatre's work that the grant is very well deserved. If an opportunity presents itself, I shall be delighted to visit that theatre with the hon. Gentleman.

During Question Time a few days ago, I told the hon. Gentleman that if there is clear evidence that local authorities are unnecessarily or excessively cutting arts spending, I would certainly consider that question and seek to discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have no statutory responsibilities in that regard, but, with the hon. Gentleman's help, I will gladly keep a close eye on the situation.

Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

Will my right hon. Friend accept my warm and generous personal congratulations on his appointment, and on his infinite wisdom in selecting my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) as his Parliamentary Private Secretary?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no cultural or artistic desert north of Watford, and that that is particularly true of the west midlands, where the arts are flourishing? The arts world will welcome with acclamation my right hon. Friend's statement, for which I applaud him, that 49 per cent. of the funding will go to the provinces.

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for his supportive remarks, and can only endorse his comments on my wisdom in appointing as my Parliamentary Private Secretary my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), who is well known for his interest in the arts. I was glad that he accepted.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I get the awful feeling that we have been conned again. I can read this Minister like a book. I want to know what help will be given to the east midlands—never mind the first division that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), or even the second division. We are a non-league club, and I want to know what the Minister is going to do about it.

Mr. Renton

If, from my quick reading of the list, I have interpreted the acronyms correctly, I suspect that the Firebird trust is in the east midlands, and I note that it is receiving an enhancement award of £24,000. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of visiting that trust during the Christmas holidays to establish how it is planning to spend that money.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a balance must be struck between the benefits of delegation and those of devolution, and that the companies concerned must have confidence in their funding bodies? Will he take great care not to devolve responsibility for companies having national and international reputations until, and unless, they confirm that they have confidence in the regional body as opposed to the national body?

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend makes the point extremely well. It is precisely the case that I want the regional arts boards to be known and respected in their areas—as a consequence of their chairmen, staff, and the professional advice available to them—before major delegation takes place.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Is not the Minister being a bit complacent? He is failing to acknowledge the consternation that he has caused to supporters of the Welsh National Opera throughout the country. Will he make whatever representations are necessary to end the confusion and to secure WNO's future?

Mr. Renton

I stress that the decisions in question are taken by the Arts Council, not by the Minister for the Arts. I do not want to repeat the figures, but I acknowledge the proper feeling of caring and love for the Welsh National Opera that is shared by the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies. I hope that, when he reconsiders the figures that I mentioned today on the increased touring grant, and the enhancement money and increase in revenue funding from the Arts Council, he and the company will arrive at the conclusion that, in all the circumstances, the Welsh National Opera has done quite well. Naturally it would have liked to receive more—but which arts customer in this country would not like that?

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Will my right hon. Friend put some flesh on his comments about local authority representation on the regional boards? Will he ensure wherever possible that each county has a representative on the regional authority? For example, it would be deeply unacceptable if Nottinghamshire were to be represented by someone from Leicestershire or Derbyshire. I refer to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) my right hon. Friend's remarks about the grant to the Firebird trust. Neither the hon. Member for Ashfield nor I have ever heard of its activities in north Nottinghamshire, and that concerns us.

Mr. Renton

Perhaps my hon. Friend will also want toi inform his ignorance during the Christmas holiday, and will tell me the result of his investigations when we meet again in January. To allow more flexible local authority representation on the boards, I moved on from the decisions taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). I decided that, although the membership of the boards should be kept as small as possible, they could be increased to 18 if necessary; and that if local authorities really considered that number unsatisfactory and still too small, they could make representations to the Arts Council and to myself to increase it up to 24 members, of which one third could be local authority representatives.

How the local authorities choose those representatives is up to them. I do not want to impose a rigid arrangement, because the situation will differ from area to area. One way would be for all local authorities to meet together in the consultative forum that I mentioned, and there elect their representatives on the arts boards. It will be better for them to decide for themselves rather than have the selection method imposed by me, from the centre.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What about money for libraries—and for books in particular? What is the situation in respect of the natural history museum, where, for the sake of £80,000 to £100,000, a very important scientific reference section is in crisis, and of the British library, which cannot even afford subscriptions to some of the scientific periodicals that it most certainly ought to be able to afford?

Mr. Renton

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for many years, will not fall into the trap into which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) falls of always using the word "crisis" whenever he talks about arts or library funding. As to the natural history museum, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) knows, precise allocation of funds within the museum is a matter for its director and trustees; it is not a matter for me. As the hon. Gentleman also knows, the recent public expenditure settlements gave museums and galleries an average 8.5 per cent. increase in running costs.

I met the chairman of the British library this morning, and we had a long talk about the development of the British library building. I cannot say that he pointed me in the direction of the crisis in running costs that the hon Gentleman has just mentioned.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today's news that Opera North is to receive £650,000 from the enhancement fund has been warmly welcomed in Leeds and the north of England? It should also be welcomed in the east midlands, as Opera North tours regularly to Nottingham. Without that extra money Opera North, and not the Welsh National Opera, would have folded. It is already having to cut its current Christmas and new year programme. Does he agree that, if we are to move towards more devolution to the regions—and perhaps if one day Opera North devolves to the Yorkshire region—it is crucial that we have a fair distribution of resources? Despite this welcome news, will my right hon. Friend ignore the special pleading of Welsh National Opera, as it is still the best-funded regional opera company in Great Britain, and we must move towards greater parity of opera funding?

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend's comments again make me glad that I have the Arts Council as a filter between me and representations made by hon. Members. I am pleased with his comments about Opera North. It is true that it has received a substantial sum from the enhancement fund and that it does not confine its activities to the north of England. In conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare company, it put on the extremely successful performance of "Showboat" in London this year. The only trouble was that it was such a sell-out that many people who wished to see it could not get tickets.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

I hope that the Minister will not ignore the representations made on behalf of the Welsh National Opera company. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) spoke about the way in which moneys were to be divided up after the reorganisation. I make a plea on behalf of writers, artists and potters and others who should be receiving money that it does not go into the pockets of the professional aesthetes and fat cats who sit on the quangos which so often govern the arts in the regions.

Mr. Renton

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not ignore the points put to me about Welsh National Opera. In answering a number of serious questions on that subject this afternoon, I have pointed out that the balance of the funding to be made available to Welsh National Opera in the year ahead is rather better than it seemed at first sight. I hope that their initial reaction will be slightly different after they have thought a little more about it.

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman's second point. Indeed, to make certain that there is no increase in administrative costs, I have asked to receive the report by April 1991. In all fairness, it must be said that there are many people who sit on such quangos, or non-governmental bodies, to help us with advice about the arts—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Government were going to get rid of quangos.

Mr. Renton

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits a minute. Those people give their service free of charge, and we are grateful that they do so.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

If a regional arts board wishes to supplement its income by running a lottery, will it be allowed to do so, or would that cut across any plans that the Government might have for running a national lottery to supplement the arts?

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend will know that that question should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary rather than to me. The Home Office has overall responsibility for policy on lotteries. At the moment, if the lottery had a limited prize it would be within the law, but if it were substantial, it would not be. I will certainly bring my hon. Friends remarks about lotteries to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the granting of public money to the regions will be fairly balanced so that areas such as Yorkshire compare favourably with Wales, Scotland and elsewhere, taking into account the size of their populations?

Mr. Renton

That is an extremely interesting point. At the moment there is a great imbalance between what London receives, in pounds per head of population, and what some of the regions receive. I am sure that, as we develop the national arts strategy, that is one of the aspects which should be considered. If it is in order, Mr. Speaker, may I say that, when I looked at the figures this morning, I realised that my region, South East Arts, gets the lowest grant per head of population in the kingdom?