Orders of the Day — Arts (Funding)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:09 pm on 26th March 1985.

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Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham 10:09 pm, 26th March 1985

I listened to the first two speakers in the debate with total amazement. Government support for the arts should take three forms — subsidy by the Arts Council, tax relief and the encouragement of business sponsorship. These are not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude) suggested, to be seen as alternatives; they can and should be complementary. We need all three.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) pretended that Government support for the arts has been cut. That is not so. The budget for the arts and libraries increased from £124 million in 1978–79, when his party went out of office, to £272 million for 1985–86, the year that is about to begin. That is a rise in real terms of 18 per cent. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. The increase for next year will be 5·8 per cent. I wish it could be more still. Anyway, it is slightly more than inflation. In London £16 million is to be made available to the Arts Council to make up for the abolition of the Greater London Council.

The arts are enormously important because of the way in which they enrich and enlarge people's lives and the enjoyment they give. Even if the arts are seen merely from an economic aspect, they are of tremendous value to Britain. The arts, the heritage and the monarchy, to which the heritage is linked, comprise the main attraction which draws people to Britain. Foreigners come here not for our weather but to see our old towns and cities, our historic houses, churches and cathedrals, our art galleries and museums, the royal family and everything to do with it, our theatres, concerts, opera and ballet.

The chairman of the Arts Council, Sir William Rees-Mogg, in a remarkable address earlier this month, said: The arts are to British tourism what the sun is to Spain … As British manufacturing declines, there must be investment in the expansion of invisible earnings; and the arts are an essential part of any rational policy for such investment. He also said: The state also has important benefits in tourist revenue".

In a pamphlet published recently entitled "New Jobs from Pleasure" my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) wrote: Tourism is Britain's biggest growth industry. According to the English Tourist Board it employs about 1,300,000 people, has a turnover of £10,000 million and generated £4,150 million in foreign exchange earnings last year. It is creating more new jobs than any other industry—about 50,000 a year. Tourism is an unsung hero of the British economy. Later he wrote: Fine art and drama continue to help make London one of the world's major tourist centres. Indeed, London is the arts capital of the world; and there is a great deal else in the arts in other parts of the country.

We will be crazy if we do not continue to build on our strength. Last year 12 million visitors came to this country. The number is increasing. It could increase faster still. The arts need a little more pump priming by the Government. The budget of the Arts Council, which is the main instrument for support of the arts, was £100 million last year. That is only one thirteen hundredth part of public expenditure.