asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the amount of support provided from all sources for the arts in the North-West.
I am never satisfied, but in general I am impressed by what is achieved in this field in the North-West.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the arts are an important element in the attractiveness, and therefore in the economy, of the region? Does he therefore agree that it is distressing to see what is happening to the Hallé orchestra, which is being squeezed by a reduction in grant and an increase in charges by the local authority—and is in a static position with the Arts Council—before it can do anything about raising private funds? Would my right hon. Friend care to comment?
It is a great pity that the Hallé orchestra is being squeezed in this way. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his influence to try to persuade the local authority to reconsider its decision, which is small in cash terms but important to the orchestra. In answer to my hon. Friend's question about private help to the arts in the North-West, I hope that there will be an increase in business sponsorship, and I hope to have a meeting there in the not-too-distant future.
The Hallé orchestra forms an important part of the cultural life in the whole of the North-West. In view of the local authority decision, will the Minister look at the matter again and see what direct help he can give to maintain this important cultural achievement in the area?
I cannot ask the Arts Council to pay extra money when local authorities are reducing their grants to a particular orchestra. Otherwise, many local authorities would do exactly the same and it would be a great disincentive to people to continue to support them. I hope that hon. Members in the North-West will use their influence to try to make sure that the Hallé is not squeezed in this way by Manchester city.
Will the Minister accept that counties north-west of Southend are equally deprived of arts finance, and will he use his best endeavours to persuade his own county councillors and those around East Anglia to contribute more generously to the arts?
The hon. Gentleman has a valid point, and it is one that I discussed with him recently. Certainly I have it much in mind.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bring his good offices to bear on the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is much to blame for some of the damage that has been done to these activities throughout the regions?
I certainly do not accept that. It has been interesting to see how local authorities have reacted. Most of them have helped the arts considerably, bearing in mind the present difficulties. It is a great pity that a few of them have reduced their support for the arts in cash terms.