HL Deb 13 January 1992 vol 534 cc8-10

2.59 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the Northern Ireland Arts Council budget is not being increased pro rata to the increase announced for the funding of the Arts Council in Britain.

The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead)

The funding for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is not directly linked to that of the Arts Council in Britain, although in recent years we have been able to match per capita spending by government on the arts in Northern Ireland with that in Great Britain. This has not been possible for the 1992–93 financial year because of other pressures on the Northern Ireland budget.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer and for his reply to my earlier written Question on the same subject. Is he aware that to those who welcome, as we certainly do on these Benches, the substantial increase in the Arts Council budget of £27 million, or nearly 14 per cent., the fact that the increase in Northern Ireland is only half that level seems inexplicable? Is he further aware that the burgeoning arts scene in Northern Ireland is full of vitality and innovation and that it cuts across the sectarian divide? Does he agree that, in the tragically divided Province with which he and his colleagues have to grapple and about which we are all concerned in this House, anything that makes a positive contribution to the common life in Northern Ireland deserves the fullest possible support?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the Government agree with a great deal that the noble Lord has said about the importance of encouraging the arts in Northern Ireland. The up-rating by almost 7.5 per cent. for next year with regard to Northern Ireland should allow the Arts Council there some development of its programmes. In his Question the noble Lord said that the difference between that figure and the figure for Great Britain was inexplicable. It is a result of pressures across the whole of the Northern Ireland bloc, including the payment of substantial sums for compensation for terrorist outrages. Tragically, those outrages include the arts area where at present there is extensive damage, and the rebuilding of the Opera House in Belfast. The Arts Council's gallery in central Belfast is also awaiting work.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord explain how the Arts Council in Northern Ireland has come off so much worse than the Arts Council in Great Britain? What is the arrangement between himself and the Treasury that has enabled that unsatisfactory position to be brought about?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I said in my original Answer that there is no linkage between the two arts councils. Nonetheless, we achieved parity in per capita funding three years ago and have managed to maintain that until the last public expenditure round. I have already explained to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, why there has been a difference in this public expenditure round.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does not the damage done to the Opera House and the art gallery to which the noble Lord referred provide an excellent reason for increasing, not decreasing, the grant to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, support for the arts in Northern Ireland has continued to increase. Per capita funding has increased for the past three years and I am glad to say that, as a result of this year's public expenditure round, it will increase again next year.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I must briefly support my noble friend's Question because he pointed out that in Northern Ireland one of the few things that crosses party divergences and leads people to work together is the development of the arts. As an instance, the Ulster Orchestra, which appears almost weekly on the BBC, is excellent. Does the noble Lord agree that such things cannot be maintained unless they are given proper support and that anything less than that which is given in England and Scotland is certainly too little?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks from firsthand experience, having had responsibility for those matters in Northern Ireland in the past. I accept the general thrust of what he says. I should like to give him an assurance that we shall consider the needs of the arts during the current financial year.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House when he or any of his ministerial colleagues last formally met the Northern Ireland arts associations' client bodies or their representatives to discuss the problem of arts funding in Northern Ireland, and what other meetings are scheduled for the immediate future?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I met the Arts Council of Northern Ireland only about two and a half months ago and we discussed a variety of matters.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the careful and thoughtful way in which he has dealt with the Question. However, does he agree that, if his response is that the bombing of both the Opera House and the Arts Council building is a reason for not giving more adequate support to the arts in Northern Ireland, perversely and paradoxically that will have the effect of encouraging those thugs to think that they can cut down on the communal life by their activities?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a fair point but, with respect, it is not an entirely accurate point. I said in my original reply and then in answer to the noble Lord's supplementary question that there are other pressures—and they are very great pressures—on the Northern Ireland bloc as a whole. I simply gave as an example the fact that compensation for terrorist outrages is one of those pressures. Tragically, it so happens that compensation must be paid as regards the Opera House and, I suspect, as regards the Arts Council gallery.