HC Deb 22 July 1991 vol 195 cc747-8
26. Mr. Hain

To ask the Minister for the Arts when he last met the Arts Council for Wales to discuss funding.

Mr. Renton

I meet the chairman of the Welsh Arts Council from time to time to discuss topics of mutual interest. I visited the Welsh Arts Council's offices on 2 May and met the chairman and staff for a very useful meeting.

Mr. Hain

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Neath-based West Glamorgan Theatre Company on its pioneering work in Welsh language productions, but will he recognise that it needs more funding, especially in view of the reductions in the centrally held funds of educational authorities? Will the Minister also encourage extra funding for the excellent Pontardawe music festival, which will be attended by 20,000 people on the weekend of 16 to 18 August but receives a derisory Arts Council grant of just £1,275, which would not even buy four seats in a box at Covent Garden? Does the Minister agree that our rich arts culture cannot survive on voluntary enthusiasm and dedication alone?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman has a point, but it is also true that that culture should not survive on public subsidy alone. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence to persuade the local authorities in Wales to ensure that they, too, make their contribution to support the activities to which he referred. I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that, following a series of constructive meetings with the festival arts organisers, West Wales Arts will be providing additional support. A joint action plan has also been agreed that will allow West Wales Arts to be more closely involved in the festival, particularly in its marketing activities. I wish the festival every success.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a national lottery would help not only Wales, but other areas of the country? My right hon. Friend will be aware that I am a member of the Brighton Festival Trust, which raises a great deal of money both from business sponsorship and from affluent individuals. However, that trust would be helped immensely if ordinary citizens in the street could subscribe, as in many ways they would like to, through a national lottery.

Mr. Renton

I note what my hon. Friend says. I had the great pleasure of opening the Brighton festival a few weeks ago. At the moment we are set on the course of the Pools Foundation for Sports and the Arts, which will provide about £40 millon per year to help sports and £20 million to help the arts, which will be beneficial to both those activities. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is worth while in the long run to consider how a national lottery, if a great many people subscribed to it, could help arts festivals as well as the fabric of art buildings.

Mr. Fisher

When the Minister considers funding of arts in Wales, following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), will he consider conducting a survey of Welsh local authorities to see the impact of the poll tax on their arts and library budgets? A Labour party survey of the London boroughs revealed that more than £9 million this year has been squeezed out of local authority budgets by the Government's poll tax policies. Does the right hon. Gentleman have the courage to conduct such a survey in Wales to establish the facts and to see the malign effect that his Government's policies are having on the very local authorities that he is urging to back the arts in Wales?

Mr. Renton

Listening to the hon. Gentleman's nightmare prescriptions, I sometimes wonder whether, unlike Glasgow city corporation, he knows his art from his elbow. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that under this Government the arts have flourished up and down the country. The only difficulty at the moment lies with some local authorities—in Bristol and in London for instance—which are hesitant in matching the amount of money that I am contributing through the Arts Council. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having delivered the last of the lectures paid for by that well-known Labour supporter, Paul Hamlyn. He has become the paid piper of Hamlyn.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of using the millennium to triumph abroad the cultural achievements of this country. I agree with him about that, but his words would carry more weight if he learned how to spell "millennium" which has two n's and not one.