Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts was taken ill today and I am standing in for him at short notice. He sends his apologies to the House.
My hon. Friend met the chairmen and directors of all the regional arts associations on 18 October. He has also received a deputation from Merseyside arts bodies, and has corresponded with representatives of other regions. The allocation of resources is a matter for the Arts Council.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will convey to his hon. Friend our regret that he is unwell. We particularly wish to assist him in his new task. Is the Minister aware that in West Yorkshire, as in other metropolitan areas, there is worry about what will happen when the metropolitan county councils are abolished? When will the Minister respond to the Arts Council's bid for £35 million to replace the metropolitan county money, and what further guidance is to be given via the rate support grant formula to assist district councils in developing their arts funding?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his kind words about my hon. Friend. I spoke to my hon. Friend a few minutes ago and I found him very much like Florestan at the beginning of the second act of Fidelio. I am sure that he will recover. On the second point, my hon. Friend hopes to make an announcement about the allocations for next year, in December. On the matter of post-abolition funding, as the hon. Member knows, we have already committed £34 million of additional central funding for the arts after abolition. The Arts Council subsequently made a bid for more resources, which we will have to consider in the context of the public expenditure discussions. As I think the hon. Member will know, that will have to await the broader considerations that are being discussed at the moment.
We are all pleased to learn that at least the Minister for the Arts is in a better condition than I fear most of the arts are. We pass on our good wishes, and no doubt we shall meet him in a few weeks' time. Will the Under-Secretary of State remind him that the arts crisis, the cataclysmic collapse in arts funding. is the worst ever? Will he also remind him that this is due to the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC? Thirdly, will he remind his hon. Friend of the promise given to me on 2 August last year by the previous Minister that the present level of public support for the arts would be maintained? When are we to get that assurance from the present Minister?
I reject the assumption behind the hon. Gentleman's question. In our manifesto in 1983 we said that we would keep up the level of support for the arts, and our record shows that we have done better than that. From 1978–79 to date the central Government arts budget has more than doubled in cash terms, that is, a real terms increase of nearly 18 per cent. This year's budget is almost 6 per cent. up in cash terms on last year's budget. In the context of the very difficult decisions that the Government have had to take on public expenditure, the arts have done quite well.