In December 1988 I commissioned a study of the system which exists for funding the arts in England through the Arts Council and the regional arts associations. My object was to ensure that we have the best funding structure for the arts in the 1990s.
The review was conducted by Mr. Richard Wilding, formerly head of the Office of Arts and Libraries, who presented his report to me in September 1989. Copies were placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I thank Mr. Wilding for his excellent work, a deep analysis of the problems and their possible solutions.
Following receipt of the report, I initiated an intensive period of consultation during which I received more than 6,000 written responses, had discussions with all interested parties and met several delegations of hon. Members and regional representatives. I asked Mr. Wilding to pay particular attention to the following objectives : coherence between the national funding bodies and the regional arts associations in the formulation and delivery of policy ; strengthening accountability for the public money spent by the regional arts associations ; improving structures for the handling of business ; considering the administrative cost of the whole system so as to get the best value for the arts.
Working on the basis of Mr. Wilding's recommendations, I have taken broad decisions that combine greater devolution with strengthened accountability.
First, I look to the Arts Council to formulate a national strategy for the arts and to monitor its operation throughout the country. The council will retain overall responsibility for strategic issues such as training, education, research, touring, innovation, broadcasting and international affairs. The Arts Council will continue to fund the national companies and some other organisations.
Secondly, I have decided that there should be a further shift in grant- giving responsibilities from the Arts Council to the regional arts associations. The associations will be responsible for most clients, although as the devolution process takes shape I shall need to be satisfied that it will both maintain and enhance standards of excellence throughout the country.
Thirdly, devolution to the regional arts associations will be accompanied by greater accountability for the larger sums of public money at their disposal, through a system of forward planning and budgeting under the direction of the Arts Council.
Fourthly, it will be important to have strongly based and well-resourced regional arts associations to deal with their enhanced responsibilities. The statistics show clearly that Merseyside Arts and Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts are, in terms of budget, population and the number of local authorities in the region, considerably smaller than the other 10 regional arts associations. I have, therefore, decided that, with effect from April 1991, Merseyside Arts should merge with North West Arts, Humberside should join Yorkshire Arts and Lincolnshire should become part of Eastern Arts.
Column 156I fully acknowledge the specific and unique cultural identity of Merseyside and the vital role that Merseyside Arts has played in the regeneration of the area. A regional arts office will be maintained in Liverpool for the foreseeable future, although Manchester will be the new regional headquarters.
Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts has also been a tireless promoter of the arts in its area. I shall ensure that satisfactory arrangements are made for the future well-being of the arts in Lincolnshire, and to preserve its cultural identity.
There will also be other boundary adjustments. The new regional arts associations will become regional arts boards. The chairman should be elected by the board and I have not accepted the recommendation that local authority councillors should be debarred from the chairmanship.
I recognise and welcome the important role of local authorities as funders of the arts, and I have decided they should have substantial representation on these new regional boards, provided it is less than a majority.
The Arts Council should have no more than 20 members. The number of regional representatives should be increased from three to five to reflect the enhanced role of the regional arts boards. Its decision will also be assisted by a newly established consultative body consisting of the chairman of the Arts Council, the chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils, and, if he so wishes, the chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Fifthly, the Crafts Council will remain an independent body. It should explore with the Arts Council ways of achieving closer co-ordination and co -operation to prevent duplication of effort. I am inviting the Crafts Council to reassess its corporate strategy in the light of my announcement.
Sixthly, I have set out more clearly defined roles for the British Film Institute.
Lastly, we should aim for the overall changes to be completed by April 1993. I am establishing a steering group to be responsible for implementing the changes. This group will report to me. I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Timothy Mason, at present director of the Scottish Arts Council, to manage these reforms.
I have set out all these arrangements in more detail in a letter to the chairman of the Arts Council, a copy of which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : We warmly welcome the Minister's announcement of a major devolution of power and responsibility from the Arts Council in London to the regions, but where is the new money, where is the investment, with which to take advantage of the opportunities which the Minister has quite correctly and positively created today?
Devolution is an essential step towards providing a structure for the expansion of the arts throughout this country in the 1990s, but it will be realised only if the Minister can back his structural alterations by showing similar courage and foresight in providing money.
The Minister has demonstrated that he has listened to the 6,000-odd representations that he has received from all over the country and to the, I understand, nearly 200 hon. Members who have written to him and with whom he has had meetings. We wish that more Ministers would listen so constructively to representations made to them, and we wish that more Ministers would take such an interest in
Column 157devolving power from the capital to the regions. We commend both those initiatives to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She might well learn from the right hon. Gentleman.
We welcome the new strategic role for the Arts Council, but we have to ask how radical a devolution it is to be. We note that the Arts Council will retain the national companies and some other organisations. Will the Minister tell the House today how many other organisations, and which ones? Will it include the orchestras, Opera North, the English Stage Company and others? Does he accept that if he lengthens the list too much he will weaken the positive move towards devolution that he has announced? He has a difficult job there, and I think that the House needs to hear more from him on that.
We regret that the Minister has not had the courage to follow the logic of his devolutionary statement and allow all the regional arts boards to be represented as of right on the Arts Council. If he is serious about regional devolution, why will there be only five regional members out of 20 on the Arts Council? How will those five be determined, who will choose them, and why, if he is giving them more power, does he not trust the regions to have a voice and act in the national interest when they are represented on the Arts Council? Will there be an inner cabinet with this new consultative body that he is setting up? Will he tell the House rather more about the consultative inner group that he mentioned?
We are extremely enthusiastic about his belief in strongly based regions and we noticed that he said that they should be well resourced. We, of course, concur with that. They are not well resourced at the moment. Is he intimating that there will be new money?
I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends from Merseyside will require a great deal more from the Minister than the kind words and the cuts that we have had this afternoon. Will he explain and justify further his thinking behind picking out Merseyside and Lincolnshire and Humberside as the only areas that should be axed? Will he give positive reassurance to my hon. Friends and others about the local roots and contacts with companies in Merseyside and the expertise and skills in that regional arts association? Will he ensure that there are no job losses and that the structure can maintain the excellent cultural life of Merseyside and of Lincolnshire and of Humberside? We are delighted that the Minister has given assurances that councillors will be eligible, as they should be, to be chairmen of regional arts bodies. We recognise that the important role of local authorities has been mentioned by the Minister. Will he say more about that? Does he join us in believing that the real expansion in the 1990s in our cultural life will come through local authorities? If so, how does that square with the poll tax?
On timing, we believe that this may be too slow. Will the Minister consider ways of speeding up the process, and who will bear the cost of the changes? It would be wrong to devolve and then ask the regions to bear all the costs for that decision. The regions will welcome the decision, but they should not bear the cost.
The House will note that there were two omissions from the Minister's statement. One is the mention of tiers, of which Mr. Wilding made great play. Will the Minister join us in confirming that the tier structure will not feature in his plans? What has happened to the federal structure to which Mr. Wilding referred?
Column 158This is an important day for the arts. The Minister has made a brave and good start on a framework for the arts in the 1990s, but he knows that new funding is needed not only for the national companies, which are acutely in deficit, but for the new opportunities that he has created in the regions. There is demand not only from the West Yorkshire playhouse and the Lyceum in Sheffield but from theatres in Cumbria and galleries and art centres all over the country. Will the Minister recognise that the poll tax could damage greatly what he is attempting to do in the regions? Will he take that on and fund arts at local government and regional level? If so, he will have the support of the whole House.
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, if I understood him aright, for his general support for the statement on the structure of funding for the arts into the 1990s and into the next century. It is very important for it to be coherent and to get the right structure so that it commands the confidence of the arts world and of Parliament.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about devolution, does he remember that just before Christmas he was generous enough to congratulate the Government on the 24 per cent. increase in the next three years in the total amount of financial support for the arts? If that is not a commitment by the Government to the arts, what is? That is a substantial commitment against the background of three-year funding which has been introduced for the first time.
On the scale of devolution, if, when the hon. Gentleman has time, he studies the letter which I have sent to Mr. Palumbo, the chairman of the Arts Council, he will see the broad guidelines that I have set for devolution. A copy of that letter is in the Library. Broadly speaking, I accept the recommendations of the Wilding report, but I also ask that we should consider the possibility of further devolution. I have extended the number of years before which it must be implemented to three to give time to assess it. It will be up to Mr. Mason, who is managing the reform, to recommend which of the main parts of the Arts Council, which are centres of excellence in the regions, would be suitable for devolution. But I would want to be reassured that they remain centres of excellence and that nothing was done to undermine that.
There will be 10 regional arts boards, and five representatives will serve on the Arts Council. I am anxious not to have a large Arts Council. For that reason I decided that membership should be limited to 20. I hope and believe that the regions will feel that they are well represented.
I am conscious of the important role that Merseyside and Lincolnshire have played in the arts over many years. There is a strength and a cultural identity in both areas. I am aware of that and I am asking the manager, Mr. Mason, to make absolutely sure that in any transitional period they do not suffer in any way and that their cultural identity is properly acknowledged.
I have decided that the tier system recommended by Mr. Wilding is not the right way to proceed because it would lead to confusion. The hon. Gentleman referred to a federal partnership. I am looking for a partnership between the Arts Council and the regional arts bodies. They will be accountable to the Arts Council and they will have to account for the expenditure of taxpayers' money, but they must work in partnership.
Column 159Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. Before I call Back Benchers, I remind the House that we have an important day ahead of us, with 43 new clauses and numerous other amendments to be debated. I ask hon. Members to ask single questions rather than multiple questions.
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the continued independence of the Crafts Council will be most warmly welcomed? Does he foresee increased regional control leading to more local accountability? Will the balance within each region be fairly ensured? For example, in Greater London, will there be a sanction to ensure that outer London is not treated worse than inner London from an artistic and cultural point of view?
Mr. Luce : I believe that I have taken the right decision about the Crafts Council in that it should be independent. The role of the Crafts Council in relation to craftsmen is slightly different from the role of the Arts Council in relation to artists. The Crafts Council has a hands-on role. However, I am anxious to ensure that resources are not wasted and that there is proper co-operation between regional arts and the crafts organisations.
I will summarise the regional arrangements for my hon. Friend. The basis of my announcement is that, on the one hand, there should be more devolution and responsibility in the regions, while, on the other, there should be an effective system of accountability for the use of taxpayers' money for which the Arts Council will hold ultimate responsibility to me and, through me, to Parliament. That is the basis of the system that I am advocating. Greater London Arts is responsible for the Greater London area and its job is to ensure that the arts flourish in all parts of London.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : How will the strategic role of the Arts Council be strengthened, particularly in its co- operation with the regions, if only a quarter of the members of the new Arts Council are to be drawn from the regional arts associations? Who will elect the regional arts boards? What additional funds will be made available to local authorities for their work in that area?
Mr. Luce : The local authorities already play an important role in supporting the arts. That role varies and is patchy in some areas, but it has increased over the years. Fifteen per cent. of the overall resources of the regional arts boards--as they are now to be called--presently come from local authorities. I want them to play an important role, although their members must be under the majority of the board.
With regard to the Arts Council and the appointment of five regional arts representatives, I am anxious that the members of the Arts Council should remain small in number and not more than 20. Theirs is a strategic job. They must look at the national picture--whether that is Scotland, Wales or the whole of England--and take decisions on that basis. Therefore, representatives should cover a cross-section of interests in the country, both in the arts and in the non-arts areas, and ensure that they consider things in the broadest possible sense. However, I believe the regional arts bodies will find that by having five representatives their interests are taken fully into account.
Mr. Timothy Raison (Alyesbury) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on another excellent series of decisions. In view of the concern in Buckinghamshire about our having to belong to an extremely large Eastern Arts region, will Bucks go to the Eastern region or elsewhere?
Mr. Luce : In my letter to Mr. Palumbo I said that as Eastern Arts is taking on Lincolnshire, I did not think that Buckinghamshire should become part of Eastern Arts. Bucks is part of the East Midlands area at the moment, but I have asked Mr. Mason to consult Buckinghamshire to see whether it wants to be part of the East Midlands area or part of Southern Arts. I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's support.
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne) : The House will have received the right hon. Gentleman's most welcome statement with pleasure. However, is he aware that if he is to achieve a diffusion of the strength of the arts in London into the regions, he will need to develop the strength of the regional boards? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on- Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has said, that will need money. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is providing some money, but more will be needed.
Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that one of the great strengths of which he ought to be able to make use when approaching the Treasury is that Britain is the centre of the arts for the English-speaking world? That is an enormous strength. People come to this country not because of our weather or necessarily because of the type of people that we are, but because of the strength of the arts. If we can spread that strength through the regions, that should provide the right hon. Gentleman with a marvellous claim that he can present to the Treasury in due course.
Mr. Luce : I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support for the broad thrust of the announcement. Of course, I acknowledge the important role of the arts in this country--I have said that time and again. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that a 24 per cent. cash increase over the next three years is a substantial commitment by the Government to the arts in this country. I hope and believe that that is the case.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is important that the regional arts boards should be robust and strong and able to manage a wide range of arts activities, from important centres of national excellence to local community arts. At the moment, they handle £30 million-worth of resources and will have a considerable further shift. That is why it is important that their boards should represent a cross-section of interests.
Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby) : May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his decision, which will be widely welcomed in the arts world and provide a satisfactory framework for the future? However, is he aware that there will be some dismay on Merseyside about the fact that we appear to be losing our identity in the north-west? Will he assure us that the office that will be established in Merseyside will protect not only the funding that Merseyside Arts receives but the excellent innovations of and the unique place that Merseyside Arts has in this country?
Column 161I have paid many visits to Merseyside and have seen the arts in that area and the work of Merseyside Arts. As I said in my statement, I entirely accept that there is a clear and distinct cultural identity in the Merseyside area. If Merseyside Arts were to continue as it is, it would be too small an organisation to manage the large-scale devolution that is taking place. However, because I believe that it is so important to have strong arts on Merseyside, I have acknowledged that there should be a regional office, which will have considerable freedom, working with North-West Arts. I hope that that acknowledges my hon. Friend's important point.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Notwithstanding that answer, does the Minister realise that to the people of Merseyside his announcement will look like devolution in reverse? They will be concerned to ensure that the regional office is staffed as well as Merseyside Arts is staffed at present. Will the Minister assure us that there will not be any redundancies? Will Merseyside be assured of proper representation on the North West Arts board?
Mr. Luce : On the latter point, it will be exceedingly important that those organisations integrate and work closely together. I believe that there can and will be advantages to Merseyside in being part of that larger organisation while preserving its own identity through a strong regional office.
It would be wrong and misleading of me to suggest that there will not be any redundancies. At this stage, it is not possible exactly to determine the scale of staffing. There will have to be intensive discussions between Merseyside Arts and North West Arts to decide how they will work effectively together. Overall, we should not lose sight of the importance of the possible benefits to be derived from a bigger organisation.
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for making the case for Merseyside and its unique position in the arts. I have tried to follow all his arguments about administration, but I am more interested in the Liverpool Playhouse and the Everyman theatre. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to help me about the representations that he has received. While the reorganisation is taking place and the balance of power shifts to Manchester, will the Liverpool Playhouse and the Everyman theatre continue to exist, or are we to have the "Terry Dicks memorial desert"?
Mr. Luce : As my hon. Friend knows so well, the arts in Merseyside are wide ranging and strong. They range from the national institutions--the national museums and galleries to which I gave national status three or four years ago--to the wide range of performing arts, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra and the excellent theatres and playhouses. The range of arts activities on Merseyside is strong and important, and I acknowledge that. How they are funded is a matter, now and in the future, for the regional arts associations to work out in conjuction with the Arts Council. I am convinced that the important role that Merseyside plays in the arts will continue to be acknowledged.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Many of us believe that the right hon. Gentleman is doing as good a job as Minister for the Arts as anyone could do under the circumstances of the Government. Nevertheless, we are
Column 162disappointed at his decision not to agree that the Merseyside Arts Association should be the basis of the regional arts body. When we met him he agreed with us--and he said it again today-- that Merseyside has a special and, as it were, peculiar position in the arts, based on years of great artistic activity. It has a special role to play. After a time, once the district office has been running for a while-- clearly the decision will not be reversed--after, say, two or three years, will he reconsider it to see how it is functioning and whether it could be upgraded again to a regional arts body, as we on Merseyside believe that it should be?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he approaches the problem. I sought to take on board the strong views that he and his colleagues expressed to me about cultural identity. I believe that the new arrangement will not undermine the strength and importance of the arts in Merseyside. Of course, I undertake to watch developments closely. I shall ask Mr. Timothy Mason, the manager of the reforms to take into account the views that the hon. Gentleman expressed. I believe that by close co-operation between the regional office on Merseyside and North West Arts we shall find that the Merseyside area will not suffer.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the positive and thoughtful way in which he has responded to a constructive report has been widely welcomed. Does he accept that there will be continuing anxiety on two issues? The first is regional representation on the Arts Council. Will he take steps to ensure that there is a rotating system so that all the regions in turn are represented on the Arts Council? Secondly, does he recognise that there is still anxiety about the future of our great national companies, especially the Royal Shakespeare Company?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his continual support of the Government's work in the arts. I shall take his two points in turn. I have thought carefully about regional representation on the Arts Council. It is a difficult balance to strike, but the number of regional arts associations has been reduced from 12 to 10. It is reasonable to say that half of those--five--should be represented on the Arts Council. How they are selected is a matter that I am discussing with Mr. Mason, the new manager of the reforms. It will be a matter of the associations devising a system that enables them to elect either an alternative chairman or other suitable representatives, if they so choose.
I confirm that the national companies will remain firmly the responsibility of the Arts Council. That is right for them. They will receive an 11 per cent. increase in the coming financial year. Their role in this country remains exceedingly important in maintaining the highest standards of excellence.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : It may be helpful if I congratulate the Minister on appointing Tim Mason from north of the border to advise on the consultative body. Obviously, I welcome the regional and devolutionary emphasis, but devolution requires a national strategy. It is not sufficient merely to devolve ; there must be a national strategy. Are the boards to be development boards? Will they be a rather more hands-on body involved in the development of the arts? None of this will
Column 163be possible, not even the new structure, unless money is available. The boards may have their bones, but where is the meat? That is what is required.
Mr. Luce : On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I must reiterate that there is a propensity to ignore that there will be a 24 per cent. overall increase in the arts budget in three years. The Arts Council will get a 22 per cent. increase. In cash terms next year it will be 12.5 per cent., which is £20 million. That is a substantial increase in the Government's commitment to the arts. I attach great importance to the financial and management strength of the regional arts boards. As I say in my letter to Mr. Palumbo, it would be right for them to be incorporated. They should move in that direction because it will strengthen them in the important range of tasks that they must fulfil.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : Despite the compelling logic of my right hon. Friend's proposals, does he recognise that there will be genuine anxiety? He will understand the anxiety in Lincolnshire. I am grateful for his assurance that Lincolnshire's cultural identity will continue to be respected. Will he go further and give the essential, explicit reassurance that there will be no net loss of resources to Lincolnshire as a result of the introduction of the new system?
Mr. Luce : I appreciate the anxiety that my hon. Friend has expressed. Obviously, it is important that we preserve the cultural strength of the arts throughout Lincolnshire. For that reason I said in my statement that I would ask the manager of the reforms to embark on discussions with the arts association in Lincolnshire, Eastern Arts, to work out a system that ensures that we preserve its cultural identity and strength of funding. I see no reason why Lincolnshire should in any way lose out. As part of the bigger organisation, Eastern Arts, in the long term Lincolnshire does not stand to lose ; if anything, it stands to gain.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : Although the Unionist party welcomes devolution from the centre to local bodies, as it will mean that local cultural traditions will be strengthened and enhanced, we are anxious that there should be a strong fertilisation at the centre so that we do not all drift too far apart. In the light of that, why is the Minister allowing the chairman of the Northern Ireland Arts Council to attend, or not attend, the consultative body at his whim? Surely he should have to attend in the same way as the chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh arts councils?
Mr. Luce : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about the need to ensure that there is a national approach and strategy on the arts. For that reason I decided that there should be a consultative body consisting of the chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh arts councils as well as the chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. The Arts Council of Great Britain does not fund directly the Northern Ireland arts, so I used a slightly different form of words. It is my wish and hope that the chairman of the body in Northern Ireland that looks after the arts will participate in the consultative group.
Column 164representations and not merging South East and Southern Arts, as Richard Wilding proposed? Will he confirm that in his future model he sees the regional arts associations extending deep down into the community and working closely with the counties and all other district and borough councils in their area?
Mr. Luce : I confirm that in the 1990s I look to the regional arts boards, as they are to be called, to play an increasingly important role in strengthening the arts in co-operation with the local authorities. To achieve that, it is right to reduce the number from 12 to 10. That will provide both more scope to strengthen the boards of management and for a cross-section of people to be
representatives--people from the business community, voluntary bodies and the arts--to ensure that the boards are as robust as possible to cope with what will be a great firing of and expansion in the arts as we approach the turn of the century.
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : May I simply congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most warmly on this admirable new projection of policy? What an excellent Arts Minister he has become. But is he aware that some of us were proposing somewhat similar arrangements and responsibilities for the regional areas in the early 1970s and 1980s but we were, unfortunately, prevented from pursuing those matters by lack of vision of a couple of our leaders?
Mr. Luce : I shall leave it to the House to draw its own conclusions from the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I appreciate the strong support that he has given to the announcement, given his well-known and well-established interest in the arts.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Northern region there will be a huge sigh of relief that Northern Arts is not to be merged with Yorkshire, although from the outset that was the most unlikely prospect among all the regional arts associations? Is he also aware that the real strength of the proposals is that there will be greater accountability for regional arts associations, there will be a much-strengthened structure for regional arts bodies and that, as a result of the Wilding report, the pressure put on Northern Arts means that a new arts strategy has been brought to Teesside?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in the arts. I stress that, while devolution is taking place, accountability back through the Arts Council will be more coherent and consistent than the way in which it operates at present. That will give the Arts Council a singularly important role in accounting for a national strategy for the arts and ensuring that it works in partnership with regional arts associations to benefit the arts in Britain as best it can.
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) : I congratulate the Minister on listening to our representations about Northern Arts. Can he assure the House that the new regional authorities will have new money commensurate with their new responsibilities?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The scale of the shift in resources from the Arts Council to the regional arts associations will flow from the decisions that I have taken, and it will be for Mr. Mason, the manager
Column 165implementing the reforms, to determine over the next three years, which is the time span that I have given for devolution. I expect a substantial shift in the number of clients away from the Arts Council to the regional arts associations, while the Arts Council will gain great strength for its strategic role. As far as money is concerned, I can only repeat that overall resources to the arts will increase by 24 per cent. in three years.
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on combining the new strategic role for the Arts Council nationally with an ever-increasing role for arts bodies in the regions. I add my congratulations to him for listening to the views of people in the north- east who insisted that we should retain an independent identity through the successful Northern Arts. Can he confirm that there will be no change in the boundaries of Northern Arts?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has robustly made his views known to me for a number of months. I have taken his views and those of many other people seriously, and I have come to the conclusion that it would not be right to adjust the boundaries of Northern Arts, because it is a clearly identifiable area, and it should remain as such.
Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : I welcome the fact that the Minister ruled against the proposal to merge Northern Arts and Yorkshire Arts as it was resented in both regions. In future, under the system of regional representation on the Arts Council, will the Minister bear in mind the suggestion about rotating positions on the council? Will he ensure that no region is unrepresented on the Arts Council for more than a year at a time?
Mr. Luce : I shall take into account the views that the hon. Lady has expressed about the system of rotation, which still has to be worked out. I did not want to lay down dogmatically precisely how it should operate, but I think that something can be worked out that will make sense.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady's views on Northern Arts and Yorkshire Arts. Despite my decision, I hope that there will be closer collaboration between the Northern arts board and the Yorkshire arts board.
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : Does the Minister accept that, from the point of view of my constituency and the south-east, everything that he has said and the reassurances that he has given mark him as the Minister who has made the most positive announcement in the House at any time since the Conservative party returned to power?
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : The Minister's statement will be widely welcomed by people in the Northern region, with the possible exception of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), whose conversion we also welcome, since originally he was in favour of a mega-region for the north. Does the Minister acknowledge the contribution made to the arts by local authorities in the area? I refer in particular to the metropolitan borough of Gateshead, with its policy of providing art in public places, and the city of Newcastle, which boasts some of the finest theatres in the country.
Column 166However, will the Minister consider specifically the present per capita basis for the distribution of Arts Council grants, which seems to me to work against regions such as the north?
Mr. Luce : I have paid a number of visits to the Newcastle area and to Northern Arts. I very much appreciate the work that is going on there. The collaboration between Northern Arts and the local authorities is strong and effective and produces excellent results for the arts. I am grateful to local authorities for the role that they play. Support for the arts throughout the country does not require vast sums of local authority money ; often it requires only modest sums. Through collaboration with the regional arts associations we can see what benefits that brings.
Per capita support for the arts in the Northern region is a matter for the Arts Council. It has to decide how to distribute the money, taking into account the overall support per capita for the population of the area, as opposed to the rest of the country, and other factors, including the strength of the arts in the area.
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark) : I join hon. Members in welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, but I ask him to look yet again at regional representation. Does he not realise that those authorities that have no Arts Council representation will resent the fact that no one is batting for them? Would it not be possible to avoid that resentment by providing five additional seats? It would avoid rotation, elections and the sort of thing that my right hon. Friend has described.
Mr. Luce : I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. However, there is already a system under which, by means of a kind of electoral college, there are three representatives from the regions--one from the northern area, one from the midlands and one from the south. That has been operating fairly effectively and fairly well for two or three years. I am expanding that mechanism to ensure that instead of three representatives there are five. It will be possible to work out a sensible formula. I want the size of the Arts Council to remain modest. Such bodies can become too large and cumbersome. In this way I believe that we shall ensure that the regions are well represented. However, I shall think about my hon. Friend's point.
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) : I genuinely welcome the proposals, unlike some hon. Members who seem to have changed their minds. I congratulate the Minister on taking notice of the representations regarding Northern Arts and the courtesy that he extended to us when we met him. It must be the first time that a Minister has taken notice of representations.
I welcome the decentralisation of arts and local government involvement. The Minister referred to resources. I urge him to keep a constant eye on resources, in particular for Northern Arts so that it does not find that it is without the funds that are necessary to make a success of decentralisation.
Mr. Luce : Yes, of course--to the extent that there is a considerable measure of devolution. The amount of money that follows devolution will have to be discussed by the Arts Council, the regional arts associations and Mr. Mason, who will be implementing the changes. Those factors will be taken seriously into account.