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Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how support for the arts in the United Kingdom compares with that given in other member countries of the EEC.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Following the hon. Lady's question of 25 July—[Vol. 971, c. 255–56]—I have made extensive inquiries into this matter. I regret to say that it has not been possible to obtain the statistics on which to make a reliable comparison. I can, however, say that central and local government support for the arts, museums and galleries and libraries in the United Kingdom is broadly of the order of £7 a head.

I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy for his reply, which I suppose I would not have received if I had not put down the question again, having waited since 25 July. However, is he aware that every country in the EEC provides much more support for the arts as a whole and that many cities put our contribution to shame? If the right hon. Gentleman does not have the correct information, I should be glad to let him have it.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important question. I have a number of figures in front of me which indicate that we are not bottom of the EEC league. I shall gladly send her those figures, because I know that she is in a position to make them widely known.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there is any hope of the arts in this country and in other member countries of the EEC obtaining a grant from the EEC budget?

That is an interesting suggestion. There is a certain amount of trouble going on at the moment and perhaps this might not be the best moment to raise the matter. However, when that little local difficulty is out of the way I shall pursue my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that I revealed to him during the VAT debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill comparative figures of EEC expenditure on the arts? If he does not remember that, perhaps he will get one of his civil servants to look up those figures and inform him of them.

I remember all the hon. Gentleman's revelations. If his hon. Friend the Member for Wolver Hampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) agrees, I shall send him a copy of the letter that I am sending to her. He will then find that the position is not quite as bad as he thinks.

With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, most EEC countries support their provincial theatres far better than Britain does. There is a clear indication that, far from receiving support, provincial theatres, like the one in my constituency, will have their allocations cut.

I am afraid that the standards of living and work in most EEC countries are higher than they are here. That is inevitably reflected in the level of support that can be given to the arts.