§ 30. Mr. Simon Hughes
To ask the Minister for the Arts what proposals he has for ensuring the future of the London City Ballet.
§ Mr. Renton
I very much hope that a solution can be found to the company's financial difficulties. The Arts Council makes decisions relating to the funding of individual arts bodies. I understand that recent discussions between the council and the company have been constructive and moderately encouraging.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to the Minister for what may give some hope to London City Ballet. Does he accept that over 13 years the ballet company has built up a reputation as one of the leading classical ballet companies in the country, that it tours to about 26 venues, that attendances are over 80 per cent., that it has a leading educational programme and that its closure and disappearance this summer would be a grave blow not just to London but to ballet and the arts countrywide? Will he personally take an interest in the matter so as to ensure that London City Ballet survives and is funded properly?
§ Mr. Renton
I saw the chairman of London City Ballet last week and had a long discussion with him. I agree with many of the comments that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has made about the artistic work of the company. I saw its "Cinderella" production at Sadler's Wells just before Christmas, and it was very good indeed, However, the hon. Gentleman, as a fair man, knows the difficulties. He knows that the Arts Council's budget for dance, including ballet, is fully committed. It is a strange notion that the support of a group of successful business men who, by their own endeavours, have funded the London City Ballet for the past 13 years, while the company was being built up, should automatically be replaced by Government support. It is rather difficult to accept that the Government should automatically pick up the bill when that group, for its own reasons, decides to withdraw funding. London City Ballet received a touring grant of £100,000 last year. This year, in view of the slightly smaller number of touring weeks, the grant will be £89,000.
§ Mr. Tracey
Will my right hon. Friend look seriously at some of the points that have been made about the London borough grant scheme? There is no doubt that among 17 London Members of Parliament there is serious bias over the provision of grants for honourable causes. I want aid to be provided for particularly honourable causes in our boroughs.
§ Mr. Renton
The decision as to who is aided under the London borough grant scheme is one for the scheme's board, on which there is a Labour-Liberal majority. I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to do everything possible to ensure that the LBG's budget allocation this year is decided quickly and that it is as large as possible. Within those parameters, the Secretary of State for the Environment recommended total grants of more than £30 million. At present, councillors are talking about a somewhat lower level. That is what lies at the heart of the difficulties concerning arts clients. I repeat that it is Labour councillors who, one after another, are jettisoning their arts clients.