HC Deb 02 December 1991 vol 200 cc14-5
30. Mr. Burt

To ask the Minister for the Arts what increases in funding he proposes for the Arts Council in the current financial year.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)

As I announced on 7 November, the Arts Council's grant in aid for 1992–93 will rise by 13.9 per cent. to £221.2 million. This is a marvellous settlement, the third record increase in a row. Once again, the Government have demonstrated their firm commitment to the arts.

Mr. Burt

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread welcome in the north-west for the substantial increase that he has achieved and in particular the increase for the Hallé orchestra, Britain's premier regional orchestra? Can he confirm that that increase in funding to the north-west in general further establishes the reputation of the north-west as the leading centre for arts under this Government?

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for his warm support for the settlement and I am delighted to confirm what he said. I have managed to visit the new North West Arts board already and I realise how committed it is to development of the arts in the north-west. I am particularly pleased to learn that the Hallé orchestra will receive an 18 per cent. increase in funding next year. With the appointment to that orchestra of Kent Nagano, one of the most exciting new conductors, it has a great future.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

I congratulate the Minister on providing a substantial increase in funding for the arts. However, will he get the Arts Council to explain more clearly the somewhat arbitrary decisions that it makes? For example, the Royal Philharmonic orchestra has been told that it will not get as much money as it needs because it is not adventurous enough. Could not it get the money first and then, if it was not adventurous enough, the Arts Council could postpone any subsequent increase? It needs to explain its policies rather more clearly to some of us who take these matters seriously.

Mr. Renton

I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman says and I am sure that he takes these matters seriously. So do I and so does the Arts Council. He will appreciate that I do not interfere in individual decisions about the levels of funding to arts organisations, but I understand that the RPO has written to the Arts Council about the level of its 1992–93 grant. The Arts Council will respond to all the points that have been made as quickly as it can and will take into account the concern that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed.

Sir Richard Luce

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend most warmly on the substantial extra resources that he has raised for the arts which will provide a foundation for expansion for the arts in the years ahead? Does he agree, however, that if we look ahead we see several arts requirements in areas in which it is not possible to derive all funding from the taxpayer—for example, the fabric of theatres? Does he agree that the best answer to the problem is to introduce a national lottery?

Mr. Renton

I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support because it was he, during his long and noteworthy tenure as Minister for the Arts, who introduced two years ago the first of the three major increases—that of 11 per cent. It set us on course for the substantial increase in funding for the Arts Council that we now see. I was delighted to read, in the Financial Times on Saturday, Anthony Thorncroft talking about levels of grant to arts organisations that go well beyond the munificence of the days of Jennie Lee and Lord Goodman. After allowing for inflation, grants are now nearly three times the level of Jennie Lee's. I fully understand my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm for a lottery and have some of the same enthusiasm myself. I understand that it is possible that we shall see a private Member's Bill on the subject.

Mr. Fisher

I welcome the Arts Council settlement and congratulate the Minister. Does he recognise that while he and the Treasury are helping the Arts Council and regional arts boards to give increased grants to arts bodies, the Secretary of State for the Environment has set poll tax levels that will force local authorities to cut their grants to many of precisely the same arts bodies? Does he understand that the Government are giving with one hand and taking away with the other? Does he support the Secretary of State for the Environment in the policies that will force cuts to be made in local authority grants to arts companies throughout the country?

Mr. Renton

The shadow Minister for the Arts really should stop using Cassandra as his role model. Cassandra's gloomy prophecies came true while, thankfully, the hon. Gentleman's do not. Local authorities throughout the country—the hon. Gentleman and I have both visited many of them—are determined to continue their arts spending. It is not a large part of their budgets and they realise how successful it is, especially in the context of plural funding. Many other sources help the funding. If local authorities removed their support, the other sources might disappear. I do not believe that many local authorities will follow that course.

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