HL Deb 14 November 1985 vol 468 cc398-406

4.25 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the level of Arts Council grant for 1986–87 currently being made by my honourable friend the Minister for the Arts in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"I have decided to announce the Arts Council's grant-in-aid for 1986–87 now to meet the need for the earliest possible indication of provision for the arts after abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. Subject to parliamentary approval, the grant for the Arts Council next year will be £135.6 million. I understand that this will enable the Arts Council, in accordance with its normal practice, to enter into commitments worth nearly £137 million for the financial year.

"The grant of £135.6 million is a substantial increase above both the current year's (1985–86) grant of £105 million and the provisional planning figure of £122 million originally set for next year.

"Last year my predecessor announced £16 million in additional central funding for the performing arts, and £1 million for film, in the abolition areas. Since then a strong case has been made for more funding. The Government have decided to respond. I am therefore raising the £ 16 million to £25 million for the Arts Council and the £1 million to £1.3 million for the British Film Institute. With the £ 17 million already announced for museums, this brings the total of additional central funding for the arts in the abolition areas next year to over £43 million.

"The remaining basic provision of £110.6 million for the Arts Council (a further increase on the originally planned £106 million for next year) is intended to meet other special needs which have been put to me by the Arts Council, especially to continue its strategy of regional arts development. It also includes £0.6 million of continued special support for the Scottish national companies, made necessary following changed responsibilities in local government in Scotland.

"These additional sums are a demonstration of my determination to keep up the Government's support and, in particular, to give arts bodies in the GLC and metropolitan areas a good foundation on which to build. In that context I invite the districts and boroughs in those areas to give early and constructive thought to the contribution they can make to this joint venture. They have an important role to play.

"So have private companies. I hope that business sponsorship of the arts will continue to grow in the abolition areas as in the country as a whole. I shall be looking to see what further action I can take to encourage this through the business sponsorship incentive scheme next year.

"Some uncertainty is inevitable at the beginning of a period of transition. For this reason, I propose to give maximum help to the Arts Council in the first year. As time goes on, local authorities which have been relieved of GLC and MCC precepts should be able to increase their share. The central Government's contribution of £25 million for the Arts Council will accordingly be tapered down. It will be about £21 million in 1987–88 and about £20 million in 1988–89. All other grants within my arts programme will be announced in a more detailed statement in December.

"I have not yet taken decisions on the allocation for individual arts bodies but in overall terms the amounts available will be broadly at the levels which were allowed for in the last public expenditure White Paper and subsequently communicated for planning purposes to the bodies concerned."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, may I.thank the Minister for reading the Statement which was made by the Minister for the Arts in another place. I shall begin by saying that the one thing I can welcome, and I am sure the Arts Council do as well, is that there has been an early announcement of the Government's intentions. Having said that, I think that the rest of the Statement is really extremely disappointing. The increase in the base budget barely covers the rate of inflation at or around 4 per cent. What it really means is an increase—and I am talking now about the base budget—of £4 million on the £ 106 million the Arts Council had last year. So in fact there has been a real cut in their base budget.

This means that there will be little scope for the jobs and increased employment which arts activities have been able to give and which were stressed by the Arts Council when they produced the "Great Success Story" in September of this year. These opportunities will obviously be cut down, as indeed will the Arts Council's strategy of regional arts development which the Minister mentioned in the Statement. It is difficult to see how this, which is of such great importance to the country and is recognised as such by the Arts Council, can in fact be increased or carried on. How can that possibly be so when the increase barely covers inflation? I think the other very important part of the Statement concerns the making up, or the attempted make up, of the short-fall, between what is being lost to the arts by the abolition of the GLC and the other metropolitan counties and what the Government are doing. As mentioned in the Statement, and as we all knew at the time, the former Arts Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, announced an amount of £16 million. This has now been raised to £25 million, but the Arts Council themselves asked as a minimum for £35 million. Other bodies all over the country have, in fact, put that as a very low figure, and the figure of £44 million has been mentioned. In this country we are giving far less Government support to the arts than in comparable countries in Europe, such as France and Germany.

The paragraph which really worries me very considerably is the invitation to the districts and boroughs to give early and constructive thought to the contribution which they can make. They have not been able to do it in the past, and some have been unwilling to do so. There is no statutory duty on boroughs and districts to do so. I ask the Minister, who also wears an environment hat on other occasions, how they can do this when many of them are rate-capped and when they are being squeezed? Can he give an undertaking that there will be an increase in the rate support grant which can be used for the arts? Otherwise there will be a shrinkage which will go on and on.

I am also very concerned that, as is stated here, this is the maximum help in the first year, and that as time goes on local authorities which have been relieved of their precept should be able to increase their share. I think that is highly doubtful; in fact, put like that, I believe it is an understatement. If, as the Government say in this Statement, they are going to taper down closing this gap, then the help to the arts generally will be tapered down and a great shrinkage will occur in the arts.

Is the Minister aware that the expansion in the GLC and the metropolitan counties in spending on the arts has been going on for a very considerable time and there can be no further development since the bodies will not now be there, and the boroughs and districts will be quite unable to do this? With the best will in the world I do not think that I can say that this Statement can bring much encouragement to those of us who are greatly concerned with the arts in this country.

Viscount Chandos

My Lords, on behalf of the Social Democrat and Liberal Benches I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for repeating the timely Statement on the funding of the arts. As the noble Baroness has said, the promptness of the announcement of the grant-in-aid for the Arts Council is a valuable and welcome development, since every arts organisation, large or small, needs to plan ahead to provide its services to the public as well and as economically as possible.

The increase in the funding designated for the abolition areas is of course also welcome, albeit only as a mitigation of the effect of the Government's ill-considered changes to the structure of local government. Can the noble Lord the Minister provide an accurate comparison of the total funding available for the arts across the country from central and local government in this year and that which is projected for next? Furthermore, can the noble Lord assure your Lordships' House that such a comparison would be widely and generally publicised, to ensure that the large nominal increase in the grant-in-aid is not misunderstood by the public?

Unlike the noble Baroness, I think that the Alliance would join the Government in encouraging the districts and boroughs to take the place of the GLC and the metropolitan councils as far as they can, since the active participation of local government and local people in the artistic endeavours in their areas is at the very centre of a vibrant community. The sponsorship of private companies should undoubtedly also be encouraged; but so equally should the support of private individuals, even though there can be no question of such private sponsorship in aggregate ever relieving the Government of their obligation to the arts.

Can the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, say whether the Government intend to extend the scheme to match private contributions on a pound for pound basis? Does he agree that this might be preferable to increasing tax relief on arts sponsorship from either companies or individuals?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am grateful both to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for their reception of this Statement, at any rate in part. They were both generous enough to say that the fact that it was being made early or promptly would be a great help to both the Arts Council and the various organisations, such as museums and so on, which the Arts Council support.

Not surprisingly, both the noble Baroness and the noble Viscount zeroed in on the abolition part of this Statement. I can tell them, as indeed the noble Baroness said, that the Arts Council's bid—revised bid, I might say—was for £35 million of additional money for this purpose. But the Government do not accept that the need for new central money is as high as this. For example, the bid included over £4 million for essentially local activities and excessive allowance for inflation as well as sums for other bodies such as Riverside, which seemed to us distinctly on the high side. Of course, I accept that the £25 million does not meet the total need for arts support in the abolition areas. It is not meant to. The gap remaining is one which the districts and boroughs can and should pick up.

We have always said in the context of abolition that the lower tier authorities will have extra money for spending on the new burdens that they are acquiring. Grant related expenditure figures for individual local authorities were announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in October. Those figures for the lower tier successor authorities take into account additional expenditure following abolition. It is of course for individual authorities to determine how much they spend on individual services, including in this case expenditure on the arts, within their overall expenditure level. It is an increase of £560 million for the metropolitan districts and £480 million for the London boroughs. As the noble Baroness well knows, the rate support grant is calculated on the basis of grant related expenditure. The amount that has been announced today is only one-seventh of 1 per cent. of the total budgets of lower tier successor authorities. I really cannot believe that they will be incapable of making that expenditure.

With regard to the whole amount for the Arts Council, the noble Baroness asked me about the increase in the budget as reflected by the increase in inflation. Excluding abolition money, the increase is from £105 million this year to £110.6 million next. That maintains the level of funding in real terms. It means an increase of over 7 per cent. in real terms in Arts Council grant since 1979–80.

I readily understand the point that expansion in the arts in the GLC and the metropolitan counties has been going on for a very long time. The Statement admits that this coming year or the next two years will be a time of some uncertainty. But as I have already said, I do not believe that the authorities will be so impoverished as not to be able to fill the gap.

The noble Viscount asked me for an accurate comparison in funding of the arts from both central and local government between this current year and the next. As I have already explained, we cannot say how local authority spending on the arts next year will turn out, and so I cannot give him that comparison. The other point that he made interests me. It is a good idea and I shall certainly take it further. He suggested pound for pound funding. As the House knows, that has worked extremely well in other areas and I can see no reason why it should not work well in this one.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I clear up one point? Am I right in thinking that he said that the increase in real terms in the Arts Council grant from 1979 to 1985–86 was 7 per cent?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, that is exactly what I said.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that that is a very small increase in relation to the demand?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as I understand it, it is more than the average level of inflation.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Gowrie did very well by the arts, and I am glad to see that Mr. Richard Luce in another place is continuing to do well by the arts. Surely the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, is right: we cannot rely on subsidies all the time. Subsidies to artistic bodies tend to create either elites or small political groups. What we want is the community to be associated with the arts; and therefore some form of tax relief, as is done so successfully in America, is what we need here. Will my noble friend convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is high time that he thought about giving some form of tax relief to small subscriptions from the ordinary person who is interested in the arts?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, I shall most certainly pass on my noble friend's suggestion. I must confess that I share his intense dislike of subsidies and that was exactly why I commended the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for his suggestion of a pound for pound scheme.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, if I may do so without being out of order, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Birk on her first appearance as our principal spokesman on the arts. She acquitted herself with her customary distinction.

Is the Minister aware that, though the early announcement of the Arts Council offer is welcome, as has been said, it is hopelessly inadequate, and a suggestion that it is not will not stand examination? Is he further aware that the hope that the districts and boroughs will step into the breach is negated by the Government's refusal to exempt expenditure from rate capping? Will he look into that? It is impossible, on the one hand, to say "You will take on the burden" and, on the other "You will not because we will not allow you to do so". That is absurd. That is the point that my noble friend was making. She was not saying, as the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, suggested, that she did not want the local authorities to do their best to step into the position. She was saying that they would be unable to do so, and that clearly is the case. I hope that the Minister will give us an undertaking that his noble friend will look into the possibility of exempting arts expenditure from rate capping. If he does that, the undertaking here will have more substance to it. Finally, will he undertake that the national museums and galleries will be funded on a sufficient basis to enable them to retain free entry for all, as most of them would wish to do?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, to take the last point first, the charging of entry fees by museums and galleries is entirely a matter for them. I stand corrected by the noble Lord. I should have welcomed the noble Baroness to her new position, but as for rather longer than I she has been hovering round the arts fringes—if I may put it that way—I confess that the matter escaped my mind.

Whether rate capped or not, local authorities should recognise that the arts are important economically as well as socially. As I have already said, the amount required for arts subsidy is a small part of the authorities' total resources. If they do not help, it calls into question whether the arts are meeting a local need, and the central taxpayer should not be expected to pay for arts activities where the local population shows no interest. If there is a need for them out and about in the country, which I believe there is, the local authorities will do their bit to pay for them.

Lord Polwarth

My Lords, rather than carp at the figures given by my noble friend when he repeated the Statement, may I just assure him that there will be considerable relief among those responsible for running the major Scottish national companies—the orchestras, the opera and the ballet—of whom I was once one, at the decision to continue the special grant given to recognise the problem following reorganisation of local government and its contributions in Scotland? I suspect that that owes not a little to the great interest taken by the former Minister, my noble friend Lord Gowrie, in the arts in Scotland and his regular visits there, particularly to the last Edinburgh Festival. We are grateful.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. He is absolutely correct. My noble friend Lord Gowrie took a particular interest in the arts in Scotland and was successful in persuading his Scottish Office colleagues to do the same.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, may I ask the Minister what proportion of the increase in the grant to the Arts Council has been earmarked for the running of the South Bank complex?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, to the best of my knowledge, the amount is global and has not been allocated. If I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, may I briefly, but nevertheless sincerely, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the Government on choosing this afternoon of all afternoons to announce their support of the arts? One of the most moving parts of the great address given to us this afternoon by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, referred to the social effect of new technologies on individuals. He stressed the importance of the Government recognising that there are many people working in this country and creating wealth who should also be encouraged to follow the arts and to supplement their working lives by leisure activities associated with the arts.

The only question I want to ask the noble Lord—perhaps it is not a question; it may be merely a plea—is whether he will direct the attention of the Minister dealing with the arts to the condition of the arts in the North-West and the North-East of this country, rather than that all these wonderful schemes for art development should be associated only with the South. The North-West and the North-East deserve great attention in relation to the arts.

I must now declare an interest. For the last two and a half decades it has been the privilege of my family and myself to rescue a derelict house in the Lake District that used to be the home of John Ruskin. John Ruskin, a great Victorian, a great art critic, a great philosopher and a great social reformer, tried to encourage what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, mentioned a little while ago—the great importance of involving the community in the arts. For the 30 years that he lived in Brantwood on Coniston he was derided by so many people. But now, again, his basic themes are beginning to show themselves as important.

We now have 20,000 visitors a year coming to the house. Only two members of the Cabinet remain to be encouraged by myself to visit it—the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, who used to have a constituency in the area, and the right honourable gentleman Michael Jopling, both of whom we hope can be encouraged to come to Brantwood. The importance of developing the arts and giving support to the arts in the North-West and in the North-East in relation to the community is very great.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, will know, the Arts Council has a regional policy known as The Glory of the Garden. It is pursuing this vigorously. In what direction geographically and to what bodies specifically the Arts Council decides to allocate particular sums of money is a matter for the council.

The noble Lord has mentioned this afternoon's very interesting debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Stockton. I would remind the House that there is a greater correlation between new technology and the arts than even the noble Lord himself thought. I think, for example, of lighting in the theatre.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is much to commend in this Statement? Is he aware that there is an urgent need for some kind of tax relief for provincial repertory theatres and those who are benefactors towards them? Is he aware that many West End productions begin at small repertory theatres such as one in Surrey of which I am a former trustee? Will he encourage the Treasury, or whoever it may concern, to treat this as a matter of extreme urgency?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, my noble friend will realise that there are particular problems with specific taxation relief. I have already told my noble friend Lord Eccles that I will refer the matter of arts taxation relief to my right honourable friend the Chancellor. I say exactly the same to my noble friend.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry to have to speak again and to hold up the debate, but I cannot leave the answer that the noble Lord gave about the contribution by local authorities. It is not a case, in most instances, of whether they choose to support the arts: it is whether they are able to do so. When a local authority is faced with having to make provision for old people, for recreational facilities for young people or for any of the myriad of things on which they are pressed to make choices and decide priorities, it is inevitable, unfortunately, that the arts have to be pushed down lower in the list, however much the local authority may dislike having to do that. Will the noble Lord not agree that at a time of very high unemployment and disturbances in the inner cities the quality of life for people needs to be encouraged and improved? It is not the time to make cuts.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we are not making any cuts. I have already explained exactly the position of local authorities and the increase in their GRE. If local authorities are unable to find one-seventh of 1 per cent. of their total budget for this purpose, I really despair of local authorities.