Government Achievements

Oral Answers to Questions — The Arts – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th June 1986.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Murphy Mr Christopher Murphy , Welwyn Hatfield 12:00 am, 16th June 1986

asked the Minister for the Arts if he will indicate the main achievements of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the Arts in the last seven years.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

The main achievements include increasing arts expenditure in real terms, safeguarding the arts against the abolition of the GLC and metropolitan counties, accelerating a major museum building programme, introducing a new scheme to encourage museums to increase their receipts, beginning the major new building for the British library, introducing public lending right and the business sponsorship incentive scheme, creating the National Heritage memorial fund, saving many heritage items and improving the arrangements for acceptance in lieu. These are some of the achievements.

Photo of Mr Christopher Murphy Mr Christopher Murphy , Welwyn Hatfield

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his brief synopsis of his achievements and those of his predecessors in honouring their commitments to the arts. Can he say where he thinks future expenditure will come from, bearing in mind the increasing quality and quantity of the arts?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government will maintain their support. The overall pattern should be that increased resources come from the private sector in a variety of ways. The Budget proposals should be a help in that direction. The business sponsorship scheme should be a help also. There are a variety of other measures that are designed to encourage extra money to be made available from the private sector. I see that as being the fuel for growth.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

Despite his answer, does the Minister accept that there are now smaller audiences, greater unemployment among Equity members and more disenchantment amoung theatre administrators than there has ever been? If the right hon. Gentleman would like to be remembered as a caring Minister for the Arts, will he do what he can to stop the imposition of VAT on the living theatre, because VAT is the single greatest evil now to befall the theatre?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest, but he gives a poor reflection of the true picture in the theatre world. I accept entirely that there has been a reduction in theatre attendances in recent weeks and months, but over the past two to three years—the hon. Gentleman must know this — attendances have been extremely high. Theatre attendances are higher overall than attendances at football matches. That shows the amount of interest that there is in the theatre.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his predecessors on their achievements. Has he assessed what the arts have achieved during the past seven years, especially in terms of earning currency for Britain?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I do not think there is any doubt that the wide range of facilities and excellence in the arts attract many tourists, not only to London, but to our other great cities and to many other parts of the country, and make a strong contribution to tourism.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South

Will the Minister add to his expected lists of achievements the following? Does he accept that we have seen the disappearance of the best supporters of the arts — the GLC and the metropolitan counties — due entirely to the Government's actions? Will he add to his achievements the crisis into which he has plunged theatres such as Sadler's Wells for the future, despite the present position? Will he add to his list of achievements the fate of arts administrators, who have to spend their time, as they tell us, squabbling for alternative sources of funding as a result of Government cuts? Is it an achievement that our National theatre had to close one of its theatres and allow itself to be saved by the GLC? Is he aware that the director of one of our major museums tells us that for the first time he is running into the red? Is he happy that funding of the arts over seven years has collapsed by 4·7 per cent. in real terms if we use the honest indicator of the retail prices index?

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. When I first became Minister for the Arts 10 months ago, the hon. Gentleman was preaching doom and despondency as a result of the abolition of the GLC and metropolitan authorities. He said that there was a major crisis in the arts, yet there has not been. Thanks to the co-operation, not only of the Arts Council, but of the regional arts associations and local authorities, the arts organisations are surviving—indeed, they are flourishing. Only last Friday the last outstanding problem on Merseyside was concluded with an injection of £1·7 million by the Arts Council and the local authorities into the region. That concludes the outstanding problems in all the regions following abolition. I think that the record is a fine one.