HC Deb 15 June 1992 vol 209 cc638-9
5. Mr. Hall

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he last met the chairman of the Arts Council to discuss the national arts and media strategy document.

Mr. Mellor

I regularly talk to the chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. I last saw him on 2 June to discuss a range of issues, including progress on the Arts Council's national arts and media strategy.

Mr. Hall

I am grateful for that answer. Does the Secretary of State recognise the excellence of the work done by local authorities in promoting the arts? For example, my own borough of Warrington has spent £350,000 on refurbishing its art gallery. It has staged several art exhibitions and in July will hold the premiere exhibition in the United Kingdom of the exciting Czech artist Jaroslav Cita. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that he will fully consult local authorities in drawing up any future arts and media strategies and that they will be fully involved in the delivery of that strategy?

Mr. Mellor

I hope to have an opportunity to see for myself what Warrington does during one of my visits to the north-west. I have no doubt that the arts benefit most through generous Arts Council funding, combined with strong support from local authorities for local artistic activity. When I was Minister for the Arts, I had regular contact with local authority representatives, who serve on regional arts boards and who meet formally under the umbrella of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I look forward to continuing to meet those representatives in my new post.

Mr. Jessel

I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government on the substantial increase in funding for the Arts Council in recent years. Has he noticed, however, that the Arts Council document makes scant reference to the fact that much of the greatest heritage in British and European art has a religious or patriotic inspiration? The document contains long sections on women's and feminist art, black art, disabled art, gay and lesbian art, young people's art, old people's art, and so on. Have the authors got their priorities right?

Mr. Mellor

I am sure that that is a perfectly legitimate question for my hon. Friend to direct to the authors of the document. At present, it is only a consultative document. I gather that I am to receive the finished product in September, and I shall read it with interest then.

Mr. Tony Banks

I realise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be very much a hands-on Minister, and he has an awful lot of things to put his hands on. If, however, responsibility for funding the national arts bodies is to be taken away from the Arts Council, has it a future? Does the Minister envisage it remaining in its present form during, say, the next 12 months?

Mr. Mellor

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked me that. I have no ambitions to take over the funding of national bodies. Given a structure in which more funding decisions are made regionally, I think that the key question is what size the Arts Council should be. I also think, however, that the continuation of the Arts Council should be very much part of my plans—although we should seek mechanisms to ensure that the maximum amount spent by the Treasury for the benefit of the arts goes to arts organisations, and is not syphoned into excessive bureaucracy.

Mr. Brandreth

I bring my right hon. and learned Friend greetings from the city of Chester, which is the European capital of national heritage, and salute the Government for increasing arts funding by 60 per cent. in the past 12 years or so. May I remind my right hon. and learned Friend, however, that in his considerations with the Arts Council it is important to bear in mind the contribution of the amateur, as well as that of the professional to the world of arts?

Mr. Mellor

Yes—and I am sure that that is true in politics as well.