HC Deb 22 April 1993 vol 223 cc501-2
6. Mr. Hague

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to reform the Arts Council for Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hanley

On 30 March, I made a statement announcing the Government's decision to appoint a new Arts Council for Northern Ireland on a statutory basis. The chairman of the new body will be Mr. Donnell Deeny QC, and I have invited suggestions for membership. I have arranged for copies of my statement to be placed in the Library of the House of Commons.

Mr. Hague

Can my hon. Friend confirm that Government support for expenditure on the arts has risen considerably in recent years in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the country? Therefore, is it not right that the Arts Council for Northern Ireland should be fully accountable to Parliament? Will my hon. Friend complement that by ensuring that there are links with district authorities so that there is also a local influence?

Mr. Hanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Expenditure on the arts in Northern Ireland has increased considerably in recent years. Following the recent announcement of an extra £300,000 at the end of the last financial year, we almost have parity per capita with Great Britain. My hon. Friend is right: because of extra expenditure, extra revenue and the proceeds that could flow from the national lottery, it is right that the Arts Council for Northern Ireland should be accountable to Parliament.

I pay a tribute to Professor Radford and the existing council, and also to Clive Priestley who wrote the report on which the new council is based. It is right that we should have people who are properly qualified to carry out the role. In no way does that denigrate the existing qualities of the council. It is also vital that district councils should have a role. I am therefore considering making it statutory that the new Arts Council for Northern Ireland shall deal with district councils in a forum in which at least one person from each council is represented and which is consulted at least annually. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need a balance between experience and consultation with

Mr. John D. Taylor

Is the Minister aware that in the past few years there has been increasing anxiety across the community in Northern Ireland that there is an imbalance of interest in the Arts Council and in particular that it does not give sufficient support or take sufficient interest in the cultural activities of the majority community in Northern Ireland? Will he ensure that in future the Arts Council membership reflects the strength and supports the cultural interest of the majority community in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hanley

In the reform of the Arts Council in Northern Ireland I am pleased and regard it as highly desirable that the council's independence as the Government's advisers on our policies has been retained. It is therefore the decision taker on the allocation of resources for the arts. I hope that that will remain the position for good and all. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make his comments to the chairman. If he has any criticisms, he can take them up with the new Arts Council.