I wish to return to two matters on which I have not received a satisfactory reply. [Interruption.] They relate to the same subject. Has the right hon. Gentleman replied to the chairman of the Arts Council? If so, what were the terms of that reply and will be publish the correspondence? The original letter was a public letter. What comments has the Minister to make on statements by two of four major national companies now operating in London to the effect that they are experiencing severe financial difficulties as a result of constraints under this Government?
I have not replied to the chairman of the Arts Council. The reply will be made when the Arts Council grants are announced in due course. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has failed to follow up the original question that he put to me. So far as I can see, whenever the Labour Party has been in power, the Arts Council grants have not been announced much before February. I hope to announce them this year.
If the hon. Gentleman will be good not enough to put down that question to my right hon. Friend, he will recieve an accurate answer. My guess is that the answer is "Yes".
Will the allocation take account especially of the problems of university museums, not least the Fitzwilliam museum at Cambridge, and also of the problems of regional orchestras?
It will certainly take account of regional orchestras. Regional museums will be dealt with through the rate support grant. This is a matter for local authorities. The Government do not fund directly university or regional museums. I am aware that my hon. Friend is especially concerned about university museums. This is mainly a matter for the University Grants Committee and the museums themselves. I am, however, aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention.
Will the Minister give a straightforward answer to a question already put to him? It seems likely that the Government will reduce the grant for next year to 4 per cent. If that is the case, the figure will be substantially lower than the inflation rate and arts councils will suffer. Will the Minister recognise that the Northern area, reputed, quite wrongly, to be grimy and uncultured, is the sort of area where there should be positive discrimination by way of an increase far above 4 per cent?
There is a question on the Order Paper about the Northern region, which will be reached in a moment. The rate of inflation next year is likely to be 5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman is guessing about the level of the Arts Council grant. We shall have to see. With the rate of inflation in the economy generally standing at 5 per cent., even the prospect that the hon. Gentleman holds out does not sound so disastrous as he maintains.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Northern region receives more in grant for the arts than any other region? Does he agree that comments about the region lacking in artistic support are bad for it and do no good at all?
The hon. Gentleman may take the view that it is peanuts. It is a great deal higher than the amount for other regions outside Scotland and Wales. Most people believe that Northern arts do very well.