HC Deb 20 April 1998 vol 310 cc463-4
4. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

What proposals he has to encourage the arts outside London; and if he will make a statement. [37407]

The Minister for Arts (Mr. Mark Fisher)

The Government are determined that the arts and the work of artists should be encouraged and supported in every part of this country, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a new £5 million fund, the new audiences initiative, at the time of the Budget.

Mr. Waterson

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that many genuinely community-based groups in every aspect of the arts—for example, the Rude Mechanicals theatre group in my constituency—are benefiting or should benefit from funding through the Arts Council or through lottery funding every bit as much as high-profile organisations such as Covent Garden?

Mr. Fisher

I entirely agree, and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is obviously getting some early midsummer night's dreaming in with his Rude Mechanicals. Of course he is right. It is a well made point because it is the community arts, and particularly the non-professional arts, that contribute so much to cultural life and do not receive enough consideration either in the House or in the media.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will my hon. Friend consider carefully the question of music in the sense both of music making and providing music? In the north-west, we have a vigorous tradition of excellent music, but, sadly, it looks as though some music teaching is to be abandoned in the education service, which is very worrying. It will deprive us of a whole sector of important cultural activity.

Mr. Fisher

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is underlined by, for example, last year's report of the associated board of the Royal Schools of Music, which shows a worrying trend and a decline in the number of people learning and teaching music. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are examining the matter with considerable urgency, and hope to make a substantial announcement later in the summer, with some new initiatives to kick-start the teaching of music in schools and for young people. The new initiatives that we are providing in the National Lottery Bill may help us to do that.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

In view of the pressure on the arts budget, particularly now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has helped himself to so much lottery funding, does the hon. Gentleman have any plans to ensure that some of the major national London arts groups are funded directly by his Department rather than through the Arts Council? Does he intend that the Royal Opera house or English National Opera will be a direct client of his Department, as the museums are, and will no longer be, as I say, the Arts Council's responsibility, which would clear its desk, so that it could help the arts outside London more evenly?

Mr. Fisher

No. We have no such plans, although, as part of our departmental spending review, we are examining the whole way in which our Department allocates its expenditure.

On the right hon. Lady's first point, she must not continue to make a point that she knows is not correct. As a result of the national lottery, £10 billion comes to cultural life and the good causes. That money is still coming, and it is going to do good throughout the country. She should recognise and welcome that.