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Education And Science

Volume 22: debated on Monday 19 April 1982

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Films (Appreciation)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to encourage the appreciation of films.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take further steps to encourage the appreciation of films.

My responsibilities are limited to film as an art form and the preservation of historical material. I have increased the grant to the British Film Institute to assist with its production and archive activities, and its support for regional film appreciation.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he takes too narrow a view of his responsibilities for films? In view of the current success of British films, will he take the initiative with his ministerial colleagues in urging the establishment of a British film laboratory, as was strongly recommended recently by the Wilson committee? Would that not assist in maintaining standards, and is that not what a Minister responsible for the arts is supposed to do?

I think that the hon. Gentleman's question is based on a misapprehension. I am not responsible for that matter, which is entirely the responsibility of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, a former Secretary of State for Trade, confirms my view. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman addresses his question to the Department of Trade.

As hardly any hon. Members remember the Roman conquest, will the Minister use his best efforts to persuade film makers to put the dates of films in proper numerals instead of in Latin lettering?

I shall certainly consider that point, but I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be well able to read the dates of films and I am sure that all other hon. Members, apart from those educated at Eton, are able to do likewise.

I am sure that the Minister will be able to read the voluminous reports that have been produced from many quarters showing that the British film industry is probably now in a better position to advance than at any time since the 'forties? Will the Minister and his Department give the fullest and strongest commitment to do whatever is possible to improve and preserve the British film industry?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he should address his question to the Secretary of State for Trade, who is responsible for the commercial film industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee recently made an excellent report on the preservation of the film archives? When can we expect the Government's response?

Is the Minister happy with the present situation in the Government, whereby he is responsible for "arty" films and the Department of Trade is responsible for all other films? What is he doing in all those Cabinet Committees to achieve a situation whereby one Minister is in charge of the whole industry?

Fortunately, it is not for me to decide on the allocation of ministerial duties. That is the position, and it has been so for a considerable time, and not only under this Government. It would help if the film industry had united views about the Department to which it would like to be responsible.

Has not the Minister the sensitivity to feel that there is growing concern in the House that matters concerning the film industry in this country are extremely badly ordered? Does he agree—a simple assertion of agreement would do a power of good—that every aspect of films and film making would fare much better in Britain if the responsibility for films were taken away from his colleague in the Department of Trade and put under his cultural concern, where they should more properly be?

I am grateful that hon. Members wish to thrust these important responsibilities on me, but I should be grateful if they would take up this matter with the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the allocation of duties, not I.

The Arts

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.

National Gallery

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will arrange for the responsibility for the buildings occupied by the National gallery to be vested in the trustees of the National gallery.

The ownership of the National gallery premises is vested in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on behalf of the Crown. I have had no representations from the trustees that this arrangement is unsatisfactory.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the intervention of the Property Services Agency, in respect of the internal/external fabric of the buildings of the National gallery, means divided responsibility on the part of the trustees? If the trustees are regarded as competent to look after the pictures, which are very much more valuable than the buildings, surely it would be right for them to look after the buildings as well?

I have had no representations from the trustees about the matter, but I shall willingly discuss the matter with them. The situation of the National gallery is exactly the same as that of every other gallery, except the British museum, where, under the British Museum Act, the trustees own the buildings.

Arts Council

21.

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.