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Arts Council

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Arts Council.

Is my righthon. Friend aware of the serious threat that is posed to small orchestral budgets by the decision of the DHSS to exact national insurance contributions from employers of casual musicians? Will he persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to withdraw his predecessor's ruling and take the case out of the courts forthwith?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter. I shall certainly raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the most successful opera companies still require outside subsidy? Will he assure the chairman of the Arts Council when he meets him that the Government will guarantee the survival of full-time opera companies in this country, including the remarkably successful English National Opera North, which has been the most successful artistic innovation in the North for a decade?

I shall do my best to secure anoverall grant for the Arts Council that will enable it to discharge its responsibilities. However, under our constitution, how that grant is spent is a matter for the council. Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I appreciate the excellent work done by the English National Opera as well as by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I wish that the Royal Opera House directors would wait to see the outcome of the Arts Council decisions before claiming that it is about to be closed down.

Since it is a good Conservative principle to invest in success, will my right hon. Friend advise his Cabinet colleagues that the one thing that we are good at in this country is the arts and that money is much better spent on that than on propping up industries that are about to collapse?

We are extremely good at the arts. However, I would not go as far as my hon. Friend and say that that was the only thing we are good at. We are good at that, among a whole range of things.

I should like to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman because, as the House knows, there is considerable personal affection between us. [Interruption.] Why not? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in a public speech a few days ago he compared the State subvention of the arts—he gave a figure of £120 million or £140 million—to private and industrial patronage, which is running at about £5 million? Will he make a personal declaration of faith in the public subvention of the arts?

I am delighted to make a declaration—more than a declaration of faith, a declaration of fact, of the Government's support for the public sector. Of course that is and will be the major component in the support of the arts. I have made clear that we hope that the general level in the coming year will be the same as last year. However, I am looking for extra money from the private sector.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his declaration of affection. I remember that he raised the question of my wedding before. I shall certainly ask him to be a bridesmaid at it, when it occurs.