HC Deb 11 December 1992 vol 215 cc1123-33

11 am

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the funding of the arts.

Over the past two years, there have been a number of significant developments or commitments in relation to the funding of the arts. First, at regional level, arts associations have been replaced with incorporated regional arts boards and the development of a system of integrated planning and accountability. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) announced in December 1990 that final decisions on the extent of funding responsibility for regional arts boards would be taken after the new boards had had time to establish themselves.

Secondly, a national arts and media strategy, entitled "A Creative Future", has now been completed by the Arts Council. I am grateful to all those who contributed to the extensive consultations involved in its preparation. It will form an important point of departure for future decisions. Thirdly, in the Conservative party election manifesto, the Government committed themselves to re-examining the role of the Arts Council.

I must say that it is difficult to decide the right balance between local and central decision making. I have consulted arts organisations widely and found that there is no clear consensus on the way forward. When it met to consider the issue on 3 November, the Arts Council itself did not reach a unanimous view. However, we are now in a position to be clear about the roles and responsibilities of those who operate the funding system, and there is need for a firm decision after such a long period of expectation.

I should like to confirm the earlier decision taken by my former right hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham, who was then the Minister responsible for the arts, that the Arts Council should retain its funding responsibility for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National theatre, the Royal Opera house, the English National Opera and the south bank and for those clients who have a nationwide distribution base, either because they tour or because they publish.

However, at a time of public expenditure restraint, I do not want to add to administrative costs by duplicating unnecessarily staff at central and regional levels. I have therefore decided that the Arts Council should retain funding responsibility for those other arts organisations whose comparators are so few and far between that they can be properly assessed only at national level. All other clients will be delegated to the regional arts boards.

I am arranging for lists of both sets of organisations, drawn up in line with these criteria on the basis of Arts Council advice, to appear in the Official Report. In all, a further 42 clients will be delegated in addition to the 22 already delegated on 1 April this year.

Within that system, I as Secretary of State will remain accountable to the House for the way in which the Arts Council decides to spend the grant in aid. In particular, I have a close interest in the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which that money is spent; in the appropriate balance between public and private sector funding; and in such matters as the emphasis to be given to touring, access for disabled people and educational work by arts organisations.

As a result of the decisions, the regional arts boards will have responsibility for a wider range of clients. It is right that decisions should be taken as close as possible to those affected by them, within an overall policy framework. The Arts Council will continue to have a central role in providing that framework and in managing the funding system. It will continue to fund a number of clients directly. It will decide how much of its grant in aid should be allocated to each board on the basis of the corporate plans submitted by the boards and of the comparative evaluation of arts organisations across the country. The council will also continue to play a crucial role in monitoring developments in each region, in setting standards, in joint assessments of clients and through its continuing involvement in periodic in-depth appraisals of delegated clients.

Those conclusions carry organisational implications for the size and organisation of the Arts Council. The council also needs to consider what scope it has for introducing further market testing and subsequent contracting out of those services that do not constitute its core functions of grant allocation and client assessment. In addition, I shall shortly be announcing the implications of the new national lottery for the work of the Arts Council.

I am therefore commissioning consultants to examine the council's existing structures and to make proposals for change to be implemented progressively from April 1993. I shall also be asking the council to report to me by the end of next June on whether the existing regional arts board staffing and structures offer the expertise and value for money needed to operate the new funding system effectively. I expect the new system as a whole to produce administrative savings.

The organisational changes need to be completed before delegation is introduced if the exercise is to be successful. I have therefore decided that delegation should now take place one year later than originally envisaged—that is, on 1 April 1994. The Arts Council and the regional arts boards have also been considering the extent to which responsibility for schemes and projects should he delegated. I should like discussions concluded by next May, with delegation in this area completed by 1 April 1994. A common framework for delegated schemes arid projects will be in the best interests of artists around the country.

The debate over delegation has been prolonged and the resulting uncertainty has not been helpful. However, I believe that, in current circumstances, the decisions I have announced will best meet the longer-term interests of the arts organisations that the funding system has been created to serve. In order to provide a much-needed period of stability, I do not plan to reopen the issue in the lifetime of this Parliament.

Following are the lists:

Arts organisations for which funding responsibility will be retained by the Arts Council.

In addition to the national companies, including the south bank, touring companies and publications with a nation-wide remit, the following will continue to be directly funded by the Arts Council:

  • Northern Ballet Theatre
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • London Symphony Orchestra
  • Philharmonia
  • Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Hallé Orchestra
  • 1125
  • Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Western Orchestral Society
  • Opera North
  • Northern Sinfonia
  • City of Birmingham Touring Opera
  • Serpentine Gallery
  • Whitechapel Art Gallery
  • Museum of Modern Art, Oxford
  • Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol
  • Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
  • English Stage Company (The Royal Court)
  • Institute of Contemporary Arts

Funding responsibility for the following arts organisations will be delegated to the Regional Arts Boards from 1 April 1994
Kokuma West Midlands Arts
Ipswich: Wolsey Theatre Eastern Arts
Watford Palace Theatre Eastern Arts
Leicester Haymarket East Midlands Arts
Nottingham Playhouse East Midlands Arts
Alternative Theatre Company (The Bush) London Arts
Black Theatre Forum London Arts
Caryl Jenner Productions (Unicorn Theatre) London Arts
Greenwich Theatre London Arts
Hampstead Theatre London Arts
London International Festival of Theatre London Arts
Lyric Theatre Hammersmith London Arts
Polka Children's Theatre London Arts
Soho Theatre Company (Soho Poly) London Arts
Talawa Theatre Company London Arts
Young Vic London Arts
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester North West Arts
Bolton Octagon Theatre North West Arts
Liverpool Repertory Theatre North West Arts
Merseyside Everyman Theatre North West Arts
Oldham Coliseum Theatre North West Arts
Manchester Young People's Theatre(Contact) North West Arts
Tyne and Wear Theatre, Newcastle Northern Arts
Salisbury Playhouse Southern Arts
Nuffield Theatre, Southampton Southern Arts
Bristol Old Vic South West Arts
Northcott Theatre, Exeter South West Arts
Plymouth Theatre Royal South West Arts
Birmingham Repertory Theatre West Midlands Arts
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry West Midlands Arts
New Victoria Theatre, North Staffs West Midlands Arts
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Yorkshire and Humberside Arts
Sheffield Crucible Theatre Yorkshire and Humberside Arts
York Citizens Theatre (Theatre Royal) Yorkshire and Humberside Arts
Bath Festival South West Arts
Eastern Orchestral Board Eastern Arts
Wigmore Hall London Arts
Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Committee London Arts
Photographers' Gallery London Arts
Wolverhampton Art Gallery West Midlands Arts
Stoke City Musem and Art Gallery West Midlands Arts
Walsall Art Gallery West Midlands Arts
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

It is regrettable that an important statement on the future of arts funding should have been smuggled into the House on a Friday morning in the middle of the Edinburgh summit. The regions affected by the Minister's proposals should have the widest possible representation by hon. Members on such occasions.

I welcome the general approach of the statement, and some of its contents. In particular, the arts world will be reassured that the Minister does not propose to continue to pursue the centralising tendencies of the Government but will allow regional arts boards considerably more say.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, however, that he is continuing to create a two-tier system of clients for the immediate future? Some will be funded centrally, and they will be seen as first division clients, but those who are funded regionally will be seen as second division clients. That will divide and demoralise the arts world and will be extremely counter-productive.

The Minister has referred to "accountability" and "cutting administrative costs". The Opposition know that those are weasel words. The right hon. Gentleman has not made it clear what the financial implications of his statement will be. He referred to a reduction in administrative costs. 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 many extra millions of pounds to implement the reorganisation strategy. Can the Minister assure us that that money will not come from the top-slicing of arts clients?

In the regions, the arts policies of local authorities are being butchered by the Government's policies, including the poll tax and poll tax capping. The Minister said that the regions were important. He should understand that his policy should give local authorities statutory responsibility for arts funding and thus attract and be eligible for revenue support grant in that regard. That is the Labour party's policy. If the Minister could confirm that that might also be his policy in the future, his words on delegation would have some real substance. However, we welcome the Minister's attitude against centralisation and towards devolution. Although we realise that the word "devolution" is anathema to the Conservative party, considerable devolution to the regions is continuing on the arts side at least. We clearly welcome that.

The Conservative party promised in its election manifesto to maintain support for the arts. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did just the opposite in the autumn statement. The Secretary of State referred this morning to the future role for the Arts Council and spoke about the implications of the new national lottery for the work of the Arts Council.

There is considerable interest in the implications of the new national lottery for sports and the arts. Does the Secretary of State propose to ring-fence money for the arts? Will the national lottery money be additional to that ring-fenced money? We should like that assurance this morning.

Putting off devolution for yet another year is unfortunate and will cause considerable unease. I wonder precisely why the Secretary of State has decided to put it off for another year. He referred to uncertainty, and to the debate on devolution being prolonged. How far is that uncertainty due to the indecision of the Government? I believe that we know the answer to that.

Many aspects of the statement need further and detailed consideration. The Secretary of State referred to the Arts Council retaining funding responsibility for the other arts organisations, and to other clients being delegated to the regional arts boards. Does that mean that there will be more or less than originally envisaged? Is the Secretary of State confident that financial arrangements to deal with the extended devolution will be suitable and considerable and enough to cover the work that he expects the regional arts boards to carry out? Has the framework been put in place?

Many of my hon. Friends will want to consider in some detail the implications of the list announced by the Secretary of State. However, I stress once more that if decisions are to be taken—as the Secretary of State said—as close as possible to those affected by them, why does not the right hon. Gentleman say today that he is prepared to involve the local authorities as well as the regional arts boards in his plans?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has asked me a significant number of questions, and I will seek to respond to them in the order that she asked them.

I appreciate the inconvenience of taking a statement like this on a Friday morning. Frankly, my preoccupation was to make absolutely certain that we made the statement before Christmas because of the uncertainty that has bedevilled this particular issue. It would obviously have been desirable if we could have made the statement last month.

I have consulted widely with the interested parties before making the decision, as that seemed the right thing to do. I am afraid that that has caused us to be a little behind our programme.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for welcoming the Government's general approach. I hope that the chalice that she has handed across the Dispatch Box will not too greatly poison my relations with my colleagues on the Back Benches. However, if we can maintain a bipartisan approach on the arts, that is all to the good.

The hon. Lady said that she feared that we were creating a two-tier system. When we consider the specific categories of the theatres, the visual arts and the orchestras, it is clear that specific criteria have determined our particular choices. In the context of the theatres, the hon. Lady will see that the Royal Court is the only theatre that I have added to the previous list. All other theatres have been delegated. That would be at variance with a two-tier suggestion. The decisions that we have made are extremely close to those originally recommended by Mr. Wilding.

The hon. Lady necessarily became rather more partisan in her reference to weasel words. Words like "accountability" have significance on the Conservative Benches. They also have significance in the country at large.

The House will be glad to hear that the regional arts boards are now costing less to run than the regional arts associations before them. The decisions about the allocation of funding will, of course, necessarily be taken by the Arts Council.

While I understand the Labour party's position in respect of local authorities, the Government and a. large number of local authorities do not agree with that view and wish to maintain as much freedom as they can in the allocation of their expenditure.

In terms of the role of the Arts Council, the hon. Lady's reference to the national lottery and the ring-fencing of money for the arts, I should stress that it is envisaged that the national lottery will not in any way be a substitute for public expenditure. In those circumstances, it will be necessary for those who are responsible for distributing it to ensure that they are distributing it to things for which' there would not be an ordinary public expenditure equivalent. That constitutes the kind of ring fencing that the hon. Lady seeks.

The hon. Lady said that delay is potentially causing unease. The benefit of announcing a decision, even if it is for implementation in 1994, is that it removes the uncertainty that has surrounded these matters over the past two years. As for the period between now and 1994, there would have been much greater unease if we had sought to go forward on 1 April 1993, because of the lack of total preparation for the changes.

I have announced consulting work in connection with the Arts Council, and I have indicated that there will be an analysis in the summer to discover whether the regional arts boards are administratively prepared for the extra duties to be passed to them.

I must apologise to the hon. Lady because I did not catch her penultimate question. However, I will read it in Hansard. If she passes her question across the Dispatch Box to me, I will try to answer it today.

In respect of the process of delegation, there is already in place an integrated planning system which will of course be further refined during the next 15 months. That is intended to cover the specific questions that the hon. Lady asked about the monitoring of delegation.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

In responding immediately to a rather complicated statement, may I ask my right hon. Friend what decision making he will be passing down the line to the incorporated regional arts boards to tap and encourage local sources of funds from local government, individual benevolence or local businesses? In parentheses, I hope that nothing that he has said today will have an adverse effect on the quite excellent business sponsorship of the arts that has been going on for so long.

In the context of the national lottery, which will soon be with us, will my right hon. Friend also elaborate on whether local fund-raising activities will be given the same freedom to tap sources of funds as will be given to the national lottery when it is launched? That is important, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would wish to allay any fears on that point.

Mr. Brooke

In the context of the responsibilities of the regional arts boards, I can confirm that one of the powerful sources of energy that has flowed from existing transfers is the enthusiasm that can be generated locally for particular projects. An encouraging feature of the developments in business sponsorship of the arts this year has been the fact that, although some of the larger sponsors have reduced their funding during the recession, the amount of overall sponsorship has been rising. That is because of the very large number of smaller contributors who have been doing things locally—for instance, jazz festivals in their immediate neighbourhoods. In that respect, we will add further impetus to the calculations.

I fear that I missed one word of my hon. Friend's question about the national lottery. He was concerned about somebody in particular being disadvantaged. It would assist me if he would say on whose behalf he was speaking.

Mr. Rathbone

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All other fund-raising bodies or potential fund-raising bodies which may be circumscribed in their abilities to appeal for funds, as compared with the freedoms being given for fund raising through the national lottery.

Mr. Brooke

I think that I take my hon. Friend conceivably to be asking a coded question in relation to charities which are potentially affected by the national lottery. I assure my hon. Friend that those considerations have been taken into account in our preparation for the Bill.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the effectiveness of his proposals for the transfer of responsibility to regional arts boards cannot be judged until some time has passed, and that it will be judged by the extent to which they increase access to the arts and help to redress the metropolitan bias of arts funding, to which the Arts Council has drawn attention in the national strategy for arts and media?

The right hon. Gentleman's desire to achieve stability, in view of the uncertainties flowing from five Secretaries of State or equivalent Ministers in rather fewer years, is desirable. It is not possible to close down the debate in the manner that he described at the end of his statement, for substantial parts of the country lack facilities that will be required to be built up and, in practice, his proposals might require to be looked at with flexibility which should not undermine the certainty that he seeks to achieve.

Does the Secretary of State also recognise that the effectiveness of the structural proposals will be undermined if funding is not placed on a more secure basis than the autumn statement provided, that triennial funding is to be preferred to annual funding, and that a separation of structure from funding cannot be total?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman's question about effectiveness is obviously well targeted. I agree that the test of the decisions that I announced today, in line with previous policy under previous Ministers, will be the extent to which the arts flourish. The success of the arts organisations in the response that they evoke from the nation is the critical criterion.

One of the disadvantages of the uncertainty of the past couple of years, when decisions were quite properly and deliberately delayed, has been not properly to test the ability of regional arts boards to handle the issues concerned. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we will consider the manner in which they handle responsibilities now that that uncertainty has been removed.

On the hon. Gentleman's question about the absence of facilities in certain parts of the country, one of the attractions of the national lottery—again I refer to what I said earlier about its not being a substitute for public expenditure—is that it will be possible to envisage capital projects that are clearly one-off events and are not instead of anything that might be happening at the relevant time. I have said that we will obviously keep matters under review. I was seeking to say that we will not pull up the system by its roots during the life of this Parliament, because that would be the worst possible development in terms of uncertainty.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

I invite my right hon. Friend to comment on one respect in which the moneys that were announced today will be spent, and that is the extent to which the Arts Council is or is not entitled to appoint its own members to the boards of artistic companies. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend cannot comment on a specific example, but may I none the less cite one?

I refer to a constituent, Dr. Mary Malecka, who used to sit on the board of the Haymarket theatre in Leicester. She received a letter saying that she was no longer able to do so. That letter came not from the Haymarket theatre but from the Arts Council. To what extent is the Arts Council risking going beyond its statutory position in doing that, and is it in the interests of artistic freedom that we should allow it such licence?

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend was kind enough to say that I would not be able to comment on the specific constituency case that he mentioned. I will certainly consider the circumstances that he addressed.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Is there not a danger that there will be less money for London arts, ethnic minority arts and disabled persons arts? What does the Secretary of State mean by the Arts Council "privatising" client assessment? Does that mean that it will hire private detectives at great cost to snoop on drama groups and artists? Should not the Government make extra funds available to the arts in advance of the national lottery?

Mr. Brooke

The Arts Council will, of course, make decisions about its allocation of funds to the regional arts boards on the basis of the responsibility that those boards have. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, also as a London Member, will share my pride in the reputation that the London arts board has built up since its inception. As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I am conscious that, from time to time, we enter the wilder forms of conspiracy theory, but I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman has suggested is likely to occur.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I thank my right hon. Friend for using this opportunity to end the uncertainty in arts funding and for confirming that the Arts Council will continue to support the great British arts institutions—ballet, theatre, music and opera. What effect will my right hon. Friend's statement have on popular bodies such as the Bournemouth symphony orchestra, which successfully performs in not just one but several regions in this country, as well as internationally? Will it be entitled to grant aid not just from its own regional body but from any of the others?

Mr. Brooke

I am conscious that my hon. Friend has a certain orchestra in mind. That orchestra will remain with the Arts Council. Touring is considered as a separate element.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

In welcoming the Secretary of State's statement we have to congratulate him on its clarity and the speed with which he made the decisions since his recent appointment.

More than any right hon. or hon. Member, the Secretary of State knows about the vitality of the arts throughout the Province of Northern Ireland. He will know also that we in Northern Ireland, as United Kingdom taxpayers, contribute to the national Exchequer in the same way as other citizens of the United Kingdom, and that therefore, in some respects, we have an interest in the national Arts Council. However, There is a feeling in Northern Ireland that the national arts institutions that tour the United Kingdom do not go to Northern Ireland to the same extent as they go to other parts of Great Britain. That raises the question whether it is wise to retain a separate arts council in Northern Ireland.

I wish that the Secretary of State had given some attention in his statement to whether it would now be better for Northern Ireland to have a regional arts board, just as other regions in Great Britain have regional arts boards, so that we could have shared more equitably in national institutions' tours of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State said that the national lottery might be used to fund the arts. If it is intended to keep the Arts Council in Northern Ireland as a separate institution and not to allow it to become part of the network of regional arts hoards, will the national lottery be used to finance the separate Arts Council in Northern Ireland as well as the Arts Council in Great Britain?

Mr. Brooke

The right hon. Gentleman was kind in his initial remark, and asked two specific questions. I have many reasons for regretting that I no longer serve the Province, and the issue of the vitality of the arts in Northern Ireland is one of them. I am greatly encouraged when I go round and see the national companies and touring companies which, perhaps because of my previous tour of service in the Province, know me and show their enthusiasm for touring. I shall do everything that I can to encourage them.

The distributor of funds for the arts will clearly take Northern Ireland into account, but it would be wrong for me to say how that will be done. The matter of the Northern Ireland Arts Council is one for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I shall draw his attention to the interest in the matter shown by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor).

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

I understand that my right hon. Friend's Department publishes guidelines for client selection. Will he give priority to the touring that he mentioned in his statement? It is important that those in the regions are able to see the well-proven popular shows performed in other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly the cities, that they may not otherwise be able to afford to travel to see. That issue must take priority over funding minority interest events, which not many people would go to see even if they could afford to do so.

Mr. Brooke

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Arts Council will continue to have particular responsibility for touring. I know that it wants to ensure that we operate a national system.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the Minister agree that art reflects society at any given time? The arts of the 1990s will probably reflect the slump throughout the decade. Is the Secretary of State aware of the fact that he cannot rely on business paying too much money into the arts, because every hour of every day, three businesses go under the hammer and bankruptcy proceedings are taken out against them? Is he also aware that, if he uses the national lottery to finance the arts, he will be calling on working-class people in villages where pits are being closed and, with them, brass bands—which are part of the culture of those villages, in some cases, the only art form—to buy national lottery tickets so that other people in the metropolis can go to the ballet and the opera?

Mr. Brooke

The issue of art reflecting society leads on to a larger debate——

Mr. Skinner

It is true.

Mr. Brooke

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's main thesis. The amount of money, in real terms, spent on the arts is now 44 per cent. above what it was when the Labour Government left office.

As for business sponsorship of the arts. I reiterate what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) that the amount of sponsorship continues to rise in absolute terms, partly because the network of sponsors is steadily spreading. I have said before from the Dispatch Box that I regard brass bands as part of our national heritage, and have spoken of my interest in their future. However, the decision whether to buy a national lottery ticket is a matter for the individual. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is wrong to suggest that the proceeds from the tickets would necessarily go to metropolitan arts. They will be allocated by the distributor, whoever that may be, on a national basis. They are not intended as a substitute for public expenditure.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

The Welsh Arts Council is currently funded directly by the Arts Council of Great Britain, which is an anomaly, as other organisations such as the Welsh tourist board are funded directly from the Welsh Office. During the examination of the structure of the Arts Council of Great Britain, will the possibility of direct Welsh Office funding for the Welsh Arts Council be considered? If that is not the current intention, when is such consideration likely to take place?

Mr. Brooke

The decisions today relate to the balance of responsibility between the arts councils and the regional arts boards. Therefore, they have no direct impact on the Scottish and Welsh arts councils. However, it will be appropriate to consider that issue in future, and I do not rule it out.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Secretary of State said that the national lottery was not meant to substitute for Government expenditure on the arts and sports. Will he today give a firm guarantee that there will be no national lottery substitution for public expenditure on arts and sports funding in any way during the course of this Parliament? I want that guarantee today.

Mr. Brooke

I reiterate that the national lottery is not intended——

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is different. We want a guarantee.

Mr. Brooke

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying; he and I have had many gracious exchanges over the years, and I should be grateful if he would allow me to finish my paragraph. The national lottery will not be a substitute for public expenditure——

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In this Parliament?

Mr. Brooke

It will not be a substitute in the next Parliament, either. The clear statement has been made that it is not intended to be a substitute for public expenditure.

Therefore, it is important that those who allocate the funds should not do so to recipients normally funded through public expenditure.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

It seems unfortunate that we have lapsed back into the practice of having important arts statements on Fridays. National Heritage questions were held earlier this week, and it seems that today's important statement should have been made then—there is no reason why it should not have been. I notice that the Secretary of State is missing an important event—the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts awards at the national theatre. However, he will arrive there in time for a light buffet at 12.30 pm, but the statement means that I shall not get there for either event, so perhaps he will give my apologies to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who I know will miss me sorely.

Will there be a period of public consultation on the issue of the organisational changes? Will the Secretary of State give the House a guarantee that he will speak to the Leader of the House so that we may have a full debate on the Floor of the House on today's important statement about the future organisation and funding of the arts in Great Britain? We should not merely have to rely on a statement slipped out on a Friday, which almost leads us to believe that the Secretary of State felt ashamed of what he was saying.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman's final observation is totally wrong. By helpfully reminding the House that the ABSA awards are taking place today, which he might have attended, as might the hon. Members for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd)——

Mr. Skinner

And me.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) particularly regrets not being present. That in itself is a sign of how inconvenient it has been to have the statement on a Friday. I acknowledge that inconvenience, but we were determined to have the statement before Christmas. This is not a consultative exercise. The decisions have been announced as decisions; they have been pressed on us for a significant length of time by the interested parties, who have wanted a firm decision to be taken. Of course there will be an opportunity to discuss them; and I should certainly welcome an arts debate, whatever form it took.