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Arts Council

Volume 22: debated on Monday 19 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science, further to his statement of 22 February, Official Report, c. 643, what progress has been made in his discussions with the Arts Council cm the proportion of its budget spent outside London.

Over 60 per cent. of the Arts Council grant is spent outside London and I am satisfied that the Arts Council is well aware of the importance of helping the arts in the regions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to encourage the development of the arts in the regions, so that every one has the maximum opportunity to benefit from and enjoy them?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am glad to say that the proportion of the grant spent outside London has increased substantially over the past 20 years or so, and I hope that that trend will continue.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that under the present Secretary-General there has been a large change in the proportion spent in the regions and in the Metropolis? For once, due credit should be given to the gentleman who is responsible for that policy.

Is it a matter of Government policy what proportion of the funds available to the arts is spent on professionals putting on exhibitions, theatre and opera? Is the proportion that is spent on amateurs performing in the arts in youth orchestras or dramatics of one kind or another a matter of Government policy, or is it entirely at the discretion of the Arts Council?

No. On the whole, the Arts Council's charter restricts its ability to support organisations other than professional organisations. In its charter it has no power to support amateur organisations. The money that it gives is restricted to the professional theatre arid professional organisations.

A few moments ago the Minister said that the contributions made by the local authorities in the regions are not as great as previously. Has he had representations on the matter? Does he agree that it is an extremely important matter? Is it not true that the arts are suffering as a result of the Government's policy of reducing Exchequer grants to local authorities, not least in the Northern region?

No. I think that the hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. I said that I was delighted that local authorities had not been reducing their expenditure on the arts by a substantial amount. In fact, most local authorities have been giving roughly the same amount as before. I told the hon. Gentleman, I think in reply to a question at our last Question Time, that the Northern area was getting a higher proportion of Government support for the arts than almost anywhere else.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Arts Council to continue to maintain its sense of balance in this matter, because London is the arts capital of the world, and that is a tremendous national asset? Many people live in London and many people enjoy coming into London from outside to enjoy arts events which, by their very nature, require large gatherings of people.

Yes. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members agree that a substantial proportion has to be spent on London, because that is where many of the centres of national excellence are. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend.

Is the Minister not aware, unlike the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), that it is not London that is the arts capital of the world, but Hammersmith, North? A number of arts and theatre groups there are in acute financial trouble, partly because of Government cuts in the arts generally. We should be talking not just about the proportion spent on London, as opposed to the rest of Britain, but about the total amount.

That cannot be right. Some groups may be in trouble, but it is not because of Government cuts. The Government have increased the Arts Council grant by a respectable amount considering the difficult economic circumstances. It is open to local authorities and the Greater London Arts Association to help those groups that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to discuss the future of the Arts Council in detail with Sir William Rees-Mogg?

Not as yet. Sir William Rees-Mogg's period of office does not begin until early May. After that, I shall naturally hope to hold a series of discussions with him about the future of the Arts Council.