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The Arts

Volume 79: debated on Monday 20 May 1985

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Welsh Language

18.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if the Minister for the Arts will increase the allocation in the Arts budget for Welsh language activities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. William Waldegrave)

The Welsh Arts Council and not my right hon. and noble Friend determines the distribution of the grant it receives from the Arts Council of Great Britain. That grant was increased to £7·14 million in 1985–86, an increase of 3·2 per cent. over the 1984–85 figure.

Does the Under-Secretary not realise that an increase of just over 3 per cent. is wretchedly mean ? Is he aware that the consequence is that many groups and companies wishing to perform plays in the Welsh language are now having to cut their programmes, which is causing real, widespread and justified resentment throughout Wales ?

I know that the figure is not as high as many people would like. However, I also know that the public funding of the arts should be a matter of seeking priorities and giving the money to the most valuable activities, and there is no escaping that.

Does my hon. Friend realise that a large number of monoglot English-speaking people living in Wales wish to learn the Welsh language ? Is not one of the most attractive and encouraging ways of doing that by seeing the arts performed in the Welsh language ?

Primarily the Welsh Office budget supports the Welsh language qua Welsh language, and does so generously. The principle behind support for the arts has always been that they should not be supported simply because they are in Welsh, but because they are of outstanding quality. I think that there has always been a great deal to be subsidised on that basis.

Does the Minister accept that, with inflation running at 5 or 6 per cent., an increase of only 3 per cent. means a reduction in real support for Welsh language productions ? Does he further accept that there is a universal feeling on both sides of the House that such productions are worth supporting ? Will he inquire whether more funds can be made available for that purpose ?

I shall report what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. and noble Friend. There is no question but that arts funding is tight. At a time when all programmes are under pressure, I think that my right hon. and noble Friend has secured a reasonable settlement this year.

Tobacco Sponsorship

19.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts what representations the Minister for the Arts has received from tobacco product manufacturers about tobacco sponsorship of the arts; and if he will make a statement.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that he welcomes sponsorship for the arts from tobacco product manufacturers ?

The Government's decision is that the arts are entirely free to seek sponsorship from wherever they can find it. It is very welcome if public or other companies wish to support the arts, and much valuable activity is supported in that way.

Is not this begging-bowl approach to sponsoring the arts based on this Government's almost malicious contempt for culture ? Is that not to be rejected by the British people ? Why do the Government not rescind some of the tax reductions that they have given in capital transfer and capital gains tax during the past few years and channel that money into supporting the arts, thereby dealing with the contempt and disrespect for the Government felt by many people who perform and support the arts ?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman, who is a fair man, was having some difficulty in keeping a straight face as he asked that supplementary question. Labour Members often criticise the Government for not cutting taxes enough, though when it suits them they criticise us in the opposite direction. There is no contempt for culture on the part of the Government, and real term support for the arts has increased since 1979.

I suggest that there is a great deal of contempt for culture when the Minister can say that it does not matter which bodies provide money for the arts so long as money comes forward. Is it not a fact that, were it not for the cuts that the Government are imposing on the arts, and the absence of proper public funding, we should not require this additional fl million or so from cigarette and tobacco advertising ? Is it not also a fact that total public expenditure on the arts, compared with the amount coming to the arts from tobacco advertising, is as 100,000 to one ? An increase of only one hundred thousandth in public expenditure would enable us to do without such meretricious advertising.

The hon. Gentleman is taking a different position from that which he normally takes on this issue, because we are normally agreed that the search for additional sources of funds for the arts — from businesses and anywhere—represents a useful addition to the pluralistic source of funds. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that his party would make it illegal for tobacco companies or companies with interests in tobacco—which covers a wide range of companies—to support the arts, or to support other things, he should say so.

Foreign Currency Earnings

20.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts if he will estimate the amount of foreign currency earned by the performing arts both from tours abroad and from performances within the United Kingdom during the last financial year.

The information is not available. However, my right hon. and noble Friend is commission-ing a study of the economic impact of the arts by the Policy Studies Institute, which should provide a relevant assessment.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the foreign currency earnings of such tours are, in the opinion of everyone connected with the arts, very substantial indeed ? Will he do everything possible to encourage the benefits for the nation, which are both financial and cultural, from tours of the performing arts ?

Yes, and I can confirm that the great majority of such tours turn out in the end to be money-spinners as well as important cultural activities, which is their fundamental purpose. The study, which is being jointly funded with the Gulbenkian foundation, is aimed at providing some measurement of the scale of the money involved, and that will be useful.

We look forward to seeing the results of the study. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is important to bear in mind the number of tourists who come to this country — as anybody can see when queueing at box offices—to enjoy our cultural heritage ? It is vital for us to retain and advance that.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, though, as I have sometimes made myself unpopular in the House by saying, I do not believe that we should try to defend the arts primarily as a source of tourism. The same applies to any economic activity. Tourists come to see the commercial theatre just as much as the subsidised theatre. Down that route lies an argument for the withdrawal of subsidy from many minority, specialist and fringe artistic activities.

Acceptances In Lieu Of Tax

21.

asked the Parliamentary-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts whether it is policy of the Minister for the Arts to discourage tax debtors from making applications in excess of an overall token figure covering annual discharges in kind of capital transfer tax liabilities which had previously been established administratively, for the statutory provision to be brought into effect whereby pre-eminent objects may be accepted in satisfaction of such tax liabilities; and if he will make a statement.

There has been no recent change, but, as my right hon. and noble Friend said recently in another place, the Government are looking again at the arrangements whereby the cost of acceptances in lieu of tax is met from the Votes of our respective Departments.

Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the reason for so prolonged a delay ? Has his noble Friend consulted the Museums and Galleries Commission, which adminis-ters the scheme ? If not, can the Under-Secretary give an explanation for that unhappy omission ?

I will check and write to the hon. Gentleman as to exactly who has been consulted. I hope that there will not be a long delay. I believe that the studies should be completed within the next month or two. It is an important matter to get right.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his last remarks are not reassuring, because a month or two can soon become three or four ? Is he aware that it is vital that the pledge that our noble Friend gave in another place should be redeemed at the earliest possible opportunity ? Does my hon. Friend agree that as our noble Friend is also a Treasury Minister, he should be in a happy position to resolve this quite difficult problem ?

I note the remarks of my hon. Friend, who, I am sure, will wish to pay tribute to the Government for again this year finding a large sum, £25 million, for the rescue of the three great houses and for finding additional funds the year before for the support of Calke. In other words, I am sure that as well as pressing my noble Friend, he will want to give credit where credit is due.

Surely much of the tax arrangement is purely notional and has the effect of restricting the possibility of works of art passing into public hands. The time has come to stop this nonsense. The traffic in art is becoming positively obscene. Is the Minister aware that the National gallery could afford only about one third of the canvas area of the last Turner to be sold because of the level of its annual grant ? One way forward, even for this Government, would be to remove the ceiling and to alter the restrictions.

It is a new degradation of language to apply obscenity, which is often misused, to trade in works of art. We are not talking about notional money. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) argued that the cut in taxes was a disgrace. If taxes are cut by the giving of tax allowances, it is real money and not notional money that is not taken in tax.