HL Deb 24 April 1986 vol 473 cc1279-81

3.26 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are considering making an order under Section 48 of the Local Government Act 1985 to limit the London Boroughs Grant Scheme expenditure in respect of voluntary bodies and arts organisations.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)

Yes, my Lords. The Government's decision will be announced in due course.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, how does the Minister reconcile that reply with the statement made by the Arts Minister on 14th November in another place, and repeated in this House, in which he stated, when explaining the rundown in abolition replacement money, that: As time goes on, local authorities which have been relieved of GLC and MCC precepts should be able to increase their share".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/85; col. 700.] Does that not indicate a difference of opinion in that respect between the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for the Arts?

Furthermore, does not the use of arbitrary capping of that kind undermine the duty placed on boroughs under Section 48(10) of that same Local Government Act, which places on boroughs a duty to pay due regard to the needs of Greater London? That is being entirely swept aside.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Baroness apparently anticipates both the result of the consideration that we are giving and the level of the absolute figure that we would put into an order if we were to put in an order. I repeat that we are considering whether or not there should be a limit for the reasons that the provision for the limit was put into the Bill and which I explained when we put it there.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, then I must ask the Minister: what are the reasons for talking about putting in an order at this moment when the £27 million has been agreed and accepted, and the draft order that has been sent out, as the Minister knows, does not make any provision for a review but provides for £27 million irrespective of inflation or increased needs, just to continue until another order is put forward? What are the reasons for that?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the figure of £27 million is that arrived at by the London Section 48 scheme known as the Richmond Scheme in its budget, and it was the obvious figure on which to consult. The purpose of having the provision in the Act was to provide against the contingency that a minority of boroughs, after they have arrived at their budgets, might have imposed upon them by a two-thirds majority, as required under the Act, a figure that they would find unacceptable after the beginning of their financial year. The purpose of consulting is to see whether it is necessary or appropriate so to do.

The noble Baroness may perhaps not be aware that the rules that the Richmond Committee has set for itself do not allow for a variation of its budget between one year and the next. However, those rules could of course be changed.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, in considering this order will the Government take particular note of the arts support organisations, which seem to have fallen out of consideration in this matter? The Government have made some attempt—to what degree we shall discover in due course—to replace the GLC and the metropolitan counties in so far as arts organisations directly are concerned. However, there are arts support organisations—I take, for example, not the Theatres Trust, with which I am concerned, but the British Theatre Association—which have very much fallen by the wayside. They are already underfunded. The BTA, for example, has lost its Arts Council grant and its GLC grant and the whole organisation is in very difficult financial circumstances. Will the Minister look at those organisations which seem to have fallen by the wayside in the course of this reorganisation?

Lord Elton

My Lords, of course we shall look at the context in which the order, if there is to be an order, is laid. We have not yet decided to lay an order. I point out that the responsibility for funding the voluntary sector London-wide now rests with the Section 48 scheme, known as the Richmond scheme, and I also point out the the total volume of money available to the voluntary sector in London is likely to be between £50 million and £60 million, which compares closely (does it not?) with the £56 million funded by the GLC in the financial year 1984–85.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I hope that I have not misunderstood the noble Lord. Did he say in the final part of his previous answer that if an order is made it will not vary from one year to the next? Surely some consideration will be given to inflation. Will that at least be included in the order if the Government decide to issue one?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his misunderstanding because it enables me to put right something which I do not think I said at all but which has been, as it were, imputed to me. The duration of the order is simply until the next order and a new order can be made and proposed at any stage, not merely at the end of the financial year. What cannot at present be changed during a financial year is the Richmond budget itself and that is because of a decision by the Richmond Committee as to how to conduct its own business. It is not a matter for government decision.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, am I not right in thinking in relation to the supplementary question put by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, that these arts support organisations come to some extent within the remit of the Department of Education and Science?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think it depends on what aspect of their activities one looks at.

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