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Arts and Culture

Volume 574: debated on Thursday 30 January 2014

Over the life of this Parliament, the Government are investing nearly £3 billion of public and lottery funding in the arts in England; £2.3 billion in museums; and more than £2.1 billion in our heritage. We are championing the role that culture plays in the economic, social and cultural life of our country.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Harlow is the cultural capital of the east of England? [Interruption.] Oh yes. Not only are we officially a sculpture town where the family of Henry Moore reside, we are the birthplace of fibre-optic communications. Will my right hon. Friend come to Harlow to visit the excellent Gibberd gallery, Gatehouse Arts and Parndon Mill, so she can see for herself the excellence of art in Essex?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of his constituency. I will do everything I can to come and support the work he is doing to support culture and the arts in his area. We should recognise that culture, the arts and our heritage play an intrinsically important role in all our constituencies. We all have a duty to support them.

May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to research, published today by the shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, which shows that the most deprived communities will suffer the biggest cuts to their councils’ spending power? As council funding is even more important for the arts than central Government funding, this will have a massive impact on the arts in those areas, especially as they are the least able to mobilise philanthropy and people have less money in their pockets to spend on participating in the arts. With the lion’s share of Arts Council funding going to London, what will the Secretary of State do to back up councils and support their vital work in trying to ensure that the arts are for all and flourish in deprived, as well as well-off, areas?

The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to say that it is important that every community has the opportunity to appreciate the importance of arts, culture and heritage, and that this is at the heart of the work of the Arts Council. She is right that some, perhaps less enlightened, councils are not investing as they should, and I hope she would join me in encouraging all to recognise the importance of culture and heritage, and support them through these difficult times. I would, however, pick her up on something. We are doing what we can to redress the situation we inherited. Some 70% of the Arts Council’s lottery investment now goes to projects outside London. Sir Peter Bazalgette has made it clear that he will be doing much more on that, but obviously we cannot change overnight the situation we inherited.

In 2004, English Heritage considered the question of disposal of all 44 bishops’ houses by the Church Commissioners and reported that the eight historically most significant, including the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, should be kept in use. Will the Secretary of State meet me to clarify what advice her Department has received from English Heritage on what is meant by keeping a palace in use, and whether, pursuant to English Heritage’s ongoing conversation with the Church Commissioners, that means being used by our bishops?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The bishops’ palaces are an important part of our cultural heritage. I was in Wells recently meeting pupils of the Cathedral school benefiting from the music and dance scheme funded by the Department for Education. Wells has a proud tradition, and on this matter I will try to support her.