HC Deb 12 July 1993 vol 228 cc657-8
5. Mr. Luff

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations his Department has received about the impact on British performing arts of local authority discretionary grant policy.

Mr. Sproat

Since the establishment of the Department of National Heritage last year, we have received more than 300 letters about local authority discretionary grant policy and its impact on students of dance and drama.

Mr. Luff

Does my hon. Friend agree that the British performing arts make an enormous contribution not only to cultural life but to the economy? Is he aware that the local education authority discretionary grant policy in many counties, including my county of Hereford and Worcester, means that many talented young people are unable to play their full part in that success story? Does he share my concern at the damage that that is doing to the future success of the British performing arts?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend has been a persistent and assiduous campaigner for this important subject. It is certainly true that most of the letters and representations that we have had have shown that an awful lot of students are not able to take up places because local authorities have declined, for whatever reasons, to fund them—

Mr. Tony Banks

Your lot did it.

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman should wait. I accept that there is a serious problem. It may well be that there is a genuine shortage of money, although local authorities were given sums that the Department of the Environment thought sufficient. To settle the matter, the National Foundation for Educational Research will examine precisely what the facts are. Depending on what those facts are, the Secretary of State and I will speak to the Department for Education, which has a lead in the matter, to see what needs to be done to sort it out.

Ms Glenda Jackson

I welcome the Minister's response to the previous question—that there could indeed be a financial shortfall, which is having a deleterious effect on those young people who manage to gain the very few and highly contested places in drama schools—but does he agree that there is little or no point in any young person taking a place in a drama school if the Arts Council is allowed to pursue its stated policy of closing 10 regional theatres? Is there any aspect of the cultural life of this country for which the Government take responsibility?

Mr. Sproat

We certainly take responsibility and the £225.6 million that we shall give to the Arts Council this financial year is proof of that. That sum will be spent at the decision of the Arts Council. It has taken decisions that are nothing to do with me. Indeed, I am prevented by the arm's-length principle from lavishing so much as a breath of praise or dispraise upon it. It is up to the Arts Council. If the hon. Lady disagrees with the Arts Council's policy of moving away from drama and music towards contemporary dance, she should lose no opportunity of telling it so.

Mr. Dickens

Is the Minister aware that in the borough of Oldham, we have a theatre workshop, the Oldham Coliseum theatre and one of the best repertory companies in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that it is important not only that funding reaches those worthy causes but that all hon. Members who purport to support the arts should help the National Lottery, etc. Bill complete its passage through Parliament before the summer recess?

Mr. Sproat

I hope that the Bill will get its Royal Assent before the recess. Otherwise, I agree, as so often, with my hon. Friend's words of wisdom.

Mr. Corbett

Does the Minister care that 23 theatre in education companies in England and Wales, including the Collar and Tie in the constituency of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), have lost around £1 million in grants this year, mainly because of cuts in what the Government will allow local authorities to spend, and that they face further cuts because of money being taken from the Arts Council grant? Does he understand that this may see the end of the unique blend of theatre and educational drama, mainly for children in areas where no other theatre exists? Will he set up an independent inquiry into how theatre in education companies can be funded from next April or is he content simply to see another slice of our theatre wither away?

Mr. Sproat

The issue arises on a later question and if the hon. Member will contain himself in patience, he will get a powerful answer at that point. However, I fear that I would be trespassing on your patience, Madam Speaker, if I gave a longer answer on that now.