Skip to main content

Devolution: Arts and Culture

Volume 758: debated on Monday 15 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect of devolution on arts and culture within the United Kingdom.

My Lords, responsibility for arts and culture is devolved within the United Kingdom. Arts Council England works closely with its counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and together they share a collective aim of ensuring that arts and culture across the United Kingdom are available to all.

My Lords, does not the Minister believe that, for regions to fund the arts properly, a provision for arts and cultural production—as a major contributor to a region’s cultural identity—should form a significant aspect of devolutionary arrangements? A prime example of much that is now under threat is the Ulster Orchestra, whose future is of concern not only to Northern Ireland but to the UK as a whole.

My Lords, decisions regarding the Ulster Orchestra are, of course, matters for the Northern Ireland Executive. I know that meetings have been held with the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and, indeed, with Belfast City Council. I very much hope that those parties can work together to find solutions, but of course the UK Government have a role to play. That is absolutely why all the creative tax reliefs—there are now five and I hope there will be six, with orchestras under consultation—are going to play a very big part in helping creative industries.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the coming year, 2015, is one in which we in Wales are celebrating the cultural links arising from the establishment of the Welsh community in Patagonia?

I gather from that response that there may not be total awareness of that fact.

Will the UK Government give positive support to the celebrations, as indeed are the Government of Wales and the Government of Argentina? Does the Minister consider that the Government might look on these cultural links as an opportunity and a context in which to seek to improve the relationship between the United Kingdom and Argentina?

My Lords, culture plays a big part in our relationship with many countries around the world. I am not briefed on whether the UK Government themselves are helping with the Patagonian exchange, but if one goes to Patagonia, there are Welsh-speaking villages and communities there, so it is important that Patagonia is part of our cultural links. I very much support what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, in the days when local government was treated with respect and enjoyed large freedoms, accountable not to the Treasury but to its own ratepayers, cities thrived and many of them engaged in remarkable patronage of the arts? Unless the Government are willing to allow greater freedoms to cities across the United Kingdom and not just the ones that the Chancellor particularly favours, will not the prospects for funding for the arts outside London be pretty bleak?

My Lords, in fairness I do not think that the prospect for arts funding outside London is bleak. The increase in funding outside London is welcome. The noble Lord mentioned the Chancellor, but the Autumn Statement mentioned government support for £79 million of capital funding towards the construction of a new theatre and exhibition space, Factory, in Manchester, and the Great Exhibition, which is of course across all northern towns. The Government are also supporting the Glasgow School of Art, for example, following the devastating fire there. There are many examples of what is happening around the country.

Following on from the question by my noble friend Lord Howarth, has the Minister read the article in today’s Guardian by Charlotte Higgins about what has happened in Newcastle over recent years as a result of the local authority there seeking to withdraw all its funding from its local arts organisations? Does he agree that with the inexorable move towards greater regional autonomy, it is absolutely essential that the arts and culture are built into the core provision that any local authority should be expected to make available to its citizens?

My Lords, there are many good examples of cities and towns that realise that arts and culture are at the very heart of their opportunity for economic growth. I very much hope that Newcastle will take a different turn, because cities such as Derry/Londonderry, or Hull, which will soon be City of Culture, have recognised that there is an opportunity. I very much encourage Newcastle to think the same.

My Lords, in relation to broadcasting in Wales, will the Minister undertake that the Welsh broadcasting authority, S4C, will be given a special status and strength either by statute or in the new charter for the BBC, which comes into force on 31 December 2016? That would honour the solemn pledge given by the Prime Minister in the heady days following the Scottish independence referendum that Wales would be at the very heart of the devolution settlement.

My Lords, I will reflect on what the noble Lord said. I would want to think about it, but the devolution arrangements that we want to have in place are so that there is local identity and national identity. Welsh language and culture are very important.

Does my noble friend accept that the arts are a unifying force throughout the United Kingdom? Does he also accept that there is considerable unease at the withdrawing of funds from musical education? Nothing is more calculated to bring young people together than a common love of music. This is a cause of real concern.

My Lords, I do not have the figures in front of me but I know that there are robust figures about what the DfE is undertaking in music education, the importance of music education and the opportunities it brings. When I have the figures in front of me I shall speak to my noble friend.

My Lords, the Minister failed to answer the question put by my noble friend Lady Nye on 20 November, which concerned National Lottery funding for the arts and the current unequal impact this has on the arts in the regions. Does the Minister agree with those who argue that National Lottery funding for the arts should be allocated on an equal per capita basis?

My Lords, the funding for the lottery is on a capita basis but deprivation is part of its consideration.

Does my noble friend accept that an individual new development in the regions, such as the Lowry in Salford, can have a much wider regenerative effect when it is coupled with, say, the Imperial War Museum of the North and the BBC? The wider regenerative effect of a cluster can be much greater in the regions than in, say, our capital city.

My Lords, again, there are very good examples of where regeneration and the arts run hand in hand. In Northern Ireland, for instance, the creative industries are worth half a billion pounds a year, and there are areas around Belfast cathedral where creative industries are centred, which is very much part of the regeneration of that great city.