HC Deb 27 July 1998 vol 317 cc6-8
7. Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

What steps he is taking to open up careers in film, theatre and the arts to a broader social range of the UK population. [50773]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

The performing arts and creative industries in this country are a thriving economic force, attracting talented young people from across the social spectrum. My Department has set up the creative industries task force and the Music Industry Forum, which are looking at ways of promoting creativity so that young people—whatever their background—can contribute to the continued growth of those important sectors.

Mr. Sheerman

Will my right hon. Friend promise me that he will look a little more closely at recruitment and perhaps carry out a survey of young people leaving school or university as to their perception of the accessibility of careers in those sectors? Most of us get the picture that young people believe that a closet coterie of people are appointed to the BBC or the Arts Council and get insider jobs. That puts off many talented young people from the ethnic minorities or from the regions—places such as Dewsbury—who feel that it is a magic world and if one's name is not Dimbleby, it is not worth applying.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend makes a valid general point. It is important that opportunities in the performing arts and arts administration and even in broadcasting are available to everyone and that what ought to count is talent and not whom one happens to know, what one's name is or what social background one is from. We are already taking steps to ensure that that can happen. The establishment of the Youth Music Trust, the new deal work that we are doing with the music industry for talented young musicians and the work that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts has been doing with the Department for Education and Employment on dance and drama awards for students are all ways in which we are trying to establish exactly the point that my hon. Friend is making.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Although I understand the concern of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that all the plum jobs in the media and the arts tend to go only to close friends of the Prime Minister, will the Secretary of Secretary nevertheless confirm that he is personally, and the Government are collectively, opposed to positive discrimination as a means by which to secure the desirable outcome of an increased range of social participation? Does he acknowledge that information, encouragement and persuasion are of the essence, but positive discrimination not only is undesirable but would be a deeply retrograde step?

Mr. Smith

Appointments are made entirely on merit, and so they should be. I notice that that does not apply to the Conservative party.

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

We are all becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the British film industry, both economically and in terms of providing opportunities for people to participate in the arts. Will my right hon. Friend outline the progress that has been made in setting up a British film office in the United States with that intention in mind?

Mr. Smith

I am happy to say that the new film office in Los Angeles for the British film industry is already working. It has received a tremendous welcome from the film industry in Los Angeles and I hope that great things will come of it.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

I welcome the emphasis on access and quality in the Minister's paper, produced outside the House on Friday, but I was disappointed that so little was said about the training of young talented people and their inability to get to first base as performing artists because their local authorities are not able or willing to fund their training. Is the Secretary of State getting to rips with the problem of such diversities throughout the country?

Mr. Smith

The announcements that we made on Friday were tabled at 9 o'clock in this House—at least an hour before the press conference was held outside the House. We are getting to grips with the needs of talented young people, particularly prospective students, in dance and drama. They have great difficulty at the moment. There is a temporary scheme that benefits from lottery funding, but that is not a long-term solution. We are working on a long-term solution and will make a further announcement in a few months.