HC Deb 22 November 1999 vol 339 cc330-1
5. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

What assessment he has made of funding levels for the arts in Britain since May 1997. [98971]

0The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

The Government have made available an additional £125 million to the arts over this and the next two years. That is a step change in funding for the arts in this country.

Mrs. Lait

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, if that sum is so generous, why is it that everyone I meet in the arts feels let down by the Government? Is it because they were led to believe that they would receive £290 million, rather than £125 million? Is it also because they feel cheated by the raid on the lottery for money that should have gone to the arts, but is being used for social programmes?

Mr. Howarth

I do not know to whom the hon. Lady has been talking, but I believe that a new and very positive atmosphere surrounds the arts in this country. It is very much to do with my right hon. Friend's success in securing the best ever arts funding settlement, and also with the fact that we have a policy. The Conservative party has no policy—it does not believe that it should because, deep down, it does not really believe in Government responsibility for the arts. We do, and our policy is to promote excellence and access, to ensure that education plays its full part in support of the arts—and vice versa—and that we support the creative economy. There is extensive recognition and appreciation of that among people who care about the arts in Britain.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the example of the Queen's theatre in Hornchurch when it comes to funding? It is one of the most successful theatres of its type in Britain, and has had an enormous increase in audiences of about 90 per cent. over the past two years. Will my hon. Friend try to bring pressure to bear on the chair of the London Arts Board—one Trevor Phillips—to ensure that in future the Queen's theatre's plea for regular funding is not brushed aside but taken seriously?

Mr. Howarth

There has been an extensive increase in funding for the London Arts Board of about 10 per cent. It will, I trust, give the board some margin with which to respond to what my hon. Friend very understandably calls for. Moreover, we have asked the Arts Council to conduct a review of the condition of theatre in the country at large, and it has willingly agreed to do so. I do not doubt that the issues surrounding the Queen's theatre will be characteristic of those that it will examine.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

When Trevor Phillips is able to identify the extraordinary developments in the arts in London that have been achieved as a result of the lottery, he may also be able to inform the Minister of the dramatic reduction in arts funding that has taken place as a result of the £200 million that has been confiscated and given to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his pet projects. What disappointment does the hon. Gentleman hold in store following the next election when, presumably, on the basis of precedent, there will be a further raid on arts lottery funding?

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Lady's mathematics is surreal. We have committed one sixth of the proceeds of the lottery to the arts, with a guarantee that that amount will be provided for the arts for the whole of the next 10 years and beyond. The arts, heritage, sport and charity sectors can each count on £1.9 billion in the present licence period—that is £100 million more than the right hon. Lady's Government forecast.

Forward to