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.