HC Deb 23 May 1994 vol 244 cc5-7
6. Mr. Jessel

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy for the Arts Council; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke

The Arts Council of England is the main channel for central Government funding of the arts. Under its new chairman and council and with very substantial public resources, it is responsible for providing a strategic policy framework for the arts; for managing grant in aid; and for the monitoring and appraisal of arts organisations. The council carries out those functions at arm's length from the Government.

Mr. Jessel

Having made excellent appointments in Lord Gowrie and Miss Allen to head the Arts Council, will my right hon. Friend always strongly uphold the arm's-length principle to ensure that it is the Arts Council which decides which grants go where and that Ministers cannot be pressurised by endless arguments about the artistic merits of different artists and performers?

Mr. Brooke

I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend about upholding that principle. One of the minor disappointments of the recent arts debate was that we did not obtain a gloss on the Opposition's attitude to that principle, arising as it did out of plans that fell off the back of a lorry a little before the debate took place.

Mr. Fisher

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the record he will see a clear statement of our position on the Arts Council and the arm's-length principle.

Does the right hon. Gentleman support the Arts Council's cutting of its disability arts unit? Does his Department have a policy on the rights of disabled people, either as artists or audiences, that he can explain to the large lobby of disabled people outside the House today, who are rightly furious about the Government's shabby and dishonourable treatment of disabled people on Friday?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman referred to the arts debate, during which he was kind enough to call me a patrician—the first time I had ever been so called by an old Etonian. I want to take this first opportunity to return the compliment.

On the hon. Gentleman's question about the Arts Council's disability unit, as he well knows, the council has rearranged its affairs so that those services continue to be performed, but in a different part of the council's organisation.

Mr. Oppenheim

Will my right hon. Friend join the chairman of the Arts Council in warmly commending the smash-hit British film "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Next time highly paid actors and film makers come to him saying that they need taxpayers' funds to make and distribute successful films, will he point out to them that the message of that success is that, if they get their snouts out of the trough and make films that people want to see, they will be able to achieve success without dipping their hands into the pockets of people who are very much less well off than they are?

Mr. Brooke

Inclement weather on Saturday afternoon drove me into the cinema, and I saw the film to which my hon. Friend has just alluded. I join him in congratulating its makers and actors on a remarkable film, but that does not of itself provide a reason for ending the dialogue between the Government and the British film industry on how the industry's success can be fully renewed.

7. Mr. Sheldon

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will publish the minutes of meetings with the chairman of the Arts Council.

Mr. Brooke

I meet the chairman of the Arts Council on an irregular basis, as the need arises. The nature of those meetings is not such that publication of the minutes would be appropriate.

Mr. Sheldon

Is the Secretary of State aware that that question was tabled to try to elucidate just what goes on in the meetings between him and the chairman of the Arts Council? Do they talk about projects? Do they talk about the importance of the arts? Or do they just talk money? Can we have a bit of light shed on those very important meetings?

Mr. Brooke

I am sorry that, having been tabled for that purpose, the question has not elicited information that would sustain the questions that the right hon. Gentleman subsequently asked, but I repeat that the nature of the meetings is irregular. We have a widespread agenda and it would be inappropriate for us to publish the conversations that we have in the context of specific arts institutions. The new code of practice under the open government initiative commits us to making available facts and analysis underlying policy decisions. It does not require the publication of minutes of meetings.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with the new chairman of the Arts Council his attitude towards the previous regime's policy of organising a beauty contest for the London orchestras? Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to tell the new chairman of the total opposition of the House to that proposal? Has he had the reassuring news from the new chairman that he proposes to drop any suggestion in future of reducing the funding to the London orchestras and thus the number of orchestras that remain in existence?

Mr. Brooke

The issue to which my hon. Friend refers arose under the previous chairman of the Arts Council, but a line was drawn under that project. I do not think that there is any doubt that the Arts Council is fully apprised of the attitude of the House towards the exercise in which it engaged last year.