HC Deb 26 November 1990 vol 181 cc612-3
29. Mrs. Golding

To ask the Minister for the Arts what criteria he will employ when distributing his new enhancement fund.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. David Mellor)

The enhancement fund will help arts organisations to enhance the quality of their output and management. I have asked the Arts Council to propose criteria that will achieve those objectives.

Mrs. Golding

The Minister will be aware of the concern that the fund will not be used to help smaller regional theatres. What reassurance can he give to theatres such as the New Victoria theatre in my constituency, which has operated for the past four years on a subsidy grant less than that agreed by the Arts Council?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Lady will understand that I mean no disrespect to that theatre when I say that I cannot comment specifically on it. The fund represents moneys that were made available to meet the needs of the hour. They are not confined to the great national companies but include the needs of local companies. I hope that the Arts Council will propose a range of uses of the enhancement fund that will meet local and national needs.

Mr. Luce

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury most warmly on their remarkable achievement in substantially increasing the overall amount of money for the arts which demonstrates the Government's continuing commitment to the arts? Will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify and make it quite plain that one objective of the imaginative enhancement fund is to make it easier for the Arts Council to channel more money to arts bodies that provide art of the highest quality?

Mr. Mellor

My right hon. Friend is an extremely hard act to follow. This year's good settlement merely follows on from his tremendous efforts during his five years as Minister for the Arts, culminating in last year's settlement. The aim of the enhancement fund is to enhance the activities of excellent companies. It is not confined to companies that have run up deficits.

Mr. Maclennan

When the Minister first announced the enhancement fund he said that he would take a close look at the proposals. Does his close look constitute a different approach to the arm's length principle from that of previous Ministers for the Arts?

Mr. Mellor

No, it certainly does not. In previous years my right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) very properly top-sliced certain sums of money for particular uses. For instance, there was an incentive fund of £5 million and my right hon. Friend made provision for an additional £3 million this year for different sorts of incentive schemes. Because of present needs, it is right that there should be an enhancement fund, but I do not propose to enter into the details of its distribution. If, however, I obtain money from the Treasury on the basis that there are needs to be met, I am entitled to examine whether those needs have been met.

I do not believe that the arm's-length principle means that Ministers should resemble the Frankenstein monster, although some may see a comparison, with life breathed into one in September to argue with the Treasury in October, to announce the provision of money in November and then to go back to sleep again in December for eight months. My duty is to ensure that the arts are safeguarded by the proper distribution of funds.

Mr. Cormack

I, too, congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on an excellent settlement. May I thank him for his approach to arts matters? Will he confirm that both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera house will be eligible for further assistance from the fund?

Mr. Mellor

They will certainly be eligible, but we shall have to await the Arts Council's deliberations.

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