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The Arts

Volume 116: debated on Monday 11 May 1987

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asked the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement on his policy towards fulfilling the commercial potential of films produced by students.

I have ministerial responsibility for the National Film and Television School. The main purpose of the school's film-making is educational. Where opportunities arise, the films are distributed commercially. A recent example is "Home from the Hill", a successful documentary that was broadcast on BBC television.

I think I am right in saying that the film and television industries derive great benefit from the school and, of course, from its students. What part do the industries play in supporting the school, and should they not play a greater part?

My hon. Friend is right. The school produces people who are expert in the television and film worlds and provides a fund of talent, especially for the television industry. Therefore, the television industry and the film industry produce about half the funds. I welcome that, and there is scope for more funding on their part.

East Midlands


asked the Minister for the Arts what representations he has received about the level of financial support for the arts by local authorities in the east midlands.

I have no record of recent representations about the level of financial support for the arts by specific local authority areas. The level of support is, of course, within the responsibility of each local authority.

Will the Minister join me in recognising the efforts being made in Nottingham and in my constituency with a view to providing more cinema screens and to encourage Nottingham city council to go along with the appropriate scheme that is on offer? At the same time, will he encourage the British Film Institute, the county council and those authorities that have been involved, and will he provide some money to help them with this wonderful project?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the way in which the arts are expanding in the east midlands. I welcome his support and encouragement. The Government have injected considerable extra resources into the east midlands regional arts association. Support has gone up by 146 per cent. in real terms since 1979. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises and acknowledges that and that he will encourage his own district authority, Ashficld, to give some money to the arts. It does not do that at present.

In the light of that reply, will my right hon. Friend assure the authorities in the east midlands that he utterly rejects the policy put forward by the Adam Smith Institute and reported in The Daily Telegraph today that public support of the arts should cease? Will he give the House an undertaking that he will continue the Government's supportive policy and that he will build upon it?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. He served with great distinction as Minister for the Arts. I am glad to reaffirm that the Government believe that taxpayers' support for the arts has an important role to play alongside private sector support.

On this question of the arts and the east midlands, why is it that the Tory Government and other Governments before them never seem to recognise that pit brass bands are part of the culture of that area? Is he aware that they are spending considerable amounts of money on their instruments as a result of having to lead the marches against this Government's policies over the past 10 years? In the interests of fairness, it is high time that some money was given to them as well as to opera and all the rest.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's new-found interest in the arts, and I acknowledge the important role that brass bands play, particularly in northern areas. I have heard a number of them myself.

"The Milkman's On His Way"


asked the Minister for the Arts if he has received a copy of the book, "The Milkman's on His Way"; and if he will make a statement on his policy with regard to the availability of this book in public libraries.

I have seen this book. In my view it is riot suitable to be stocked in a children's library.

If the children's sections of libraries such as Haringey library persist in stocking such depraved and corrupt literature, what action can my right hon. Friend, or indeed the ratepayers, take?

I agree with my hon. Friend's reflections on the book, which does a great deal to undermine family life and moral standards. I feel that it is right for anyone who sees such books to speak up strongly. The ratepayers in individual local authorities are the most important people to make representations to those authorities. I have no powers to intervene. It is up to the ratepayers to make their views known. The matter is in their hands.

I have here a letter sent by the chairman of the Conservative party to the "proprietor" of St. Pancras library, at No. 100 Euston road. We all know that the chairman of the Conservative party comes from the "burn-the-books" school of Toryism, but will the Minister give the House an assurance that, in the regrettable and miserable event of his Government being re-elected, that will not form part of their hidden manifesto and that the existence of a "proprietor" of St. Pancras library is not an indication that a future Conservative Government would privatise the libraries?

The hon. Gentleman seems a hit jittery this afternoon. I regret that he did not join my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) in condemning the books that we see in some boroughs, particularly in London, and I hope that he will reconsider. As for our general public libraries, they are outstanding. They include some of the best libraries in the world, and we have every intention of maintaining them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with those local authorities that seem to regard the works of Enid Blyton—which are certainly not great literature—as subversive?

It is true that some local authorities have said that Enid Blyton is sexist, which I find extraordinary. Again, however, it is ultimately in the hands of ratepayers to make their views known, and I hope that more of them will do so.

London Local Authorities


asked the Minister for the Arts what discussions he has had in the last month with arts organisations in London about the level of financial support from local authorities.

I regularly visit arts organisations in London, and their representatives come to see me. We discuss the level of support from local authorities whenever the question of finance arises.

Have not the Tory Government savaged public support for the arts in London by abolishing the GLC and making cuts in local authorities finances? Have not the Liberals, when they have had control in Tower Hamlets, also devastated their local arts? Is it not the case that Londoners who want access to their own culture, recreation and heritage without paying through the nose will have to support Labour?

The hon. Gentleman is living in a world of his own if he thinks that there was a cutback in arts support as a result of the abolition of the GLC or the metropolitan authorities. The opposite happened. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the metropolitan counties throughout the country, he will see that there was a net increase in overall resources made available to the arts as a result of abolition. The local authorities produce more money than before abolition, and it is time that the hon. Gentleman recognised that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that arts organisations in London need funding not only from local authorities but from business sponsorship schemes? Will he report progress on that, and will he say whether the recent reports are true about a deathbed conversion on the part of the Labour party in favour of encouraging business sponsorship of the arts?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who repeatedly in the past has supported business sponsorship. It is making an increasingly important contribution to the arts. As a result of the business sponsorship incentive scheme, over 450 new businesses now support the arts. That is yet another important way in which we can add to the overall resources of the arts. As for the Labour party, it is for it to speak for itself, not for me to do that.

I confirm that when they are in office in a month's time the next Labour Government will continue the business incentive sponsorship scheme. However, does the Minister agree that that scheme is totally irrelevant to Tower Hamlets, and will he join me in condemning the actions of the Liberal-controlled group in Tower Hamlets, which has annihilated arts spending there? The Minister is quite wrong to say that his hands are clean, because it was the abolition of the Greater London council that put pressure on that group, and funding for the arts in London will continue to be under threat while this Government are so hostile to local government expenditure.

I should start by welcoming most warmly the fact that the hon. Gentleman has changed the views of the Labour party. Last week he opposed the business sponsorship incentive scheme. Now he says positively that the Labour party will support it. Even though it may be a deathbed repentance, I welcome it most warmly. It is absolutely true that the alliance-dominated council in Tower Hamlets has cut back its expenditure on the arts to such an extent that the Whitechapel art gallery has had its overall finances reduced and the Half Moon theatre has also had its finances reduced. I very much regret that.