Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I very much welcome this opportunity to debate the arts and creative industries. Although I of course support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the spirit of consensus that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport always tries to achieve, I have to say that I can find nothing in the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition that I disagree with.
As a believer in free markets, I am not normally a supporter of public subsidy. However, I am convinced of the benefits of public subsidy in the case of the arts—not just the economic benefits, which the Secretary of State quite rightly spelt out in her speech. The arts are hugely important to people’s quality of life in this country, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said, and many other benefits flow from that in education, health, community cohesion and so much more.
Under the previous Government, the arts enjoyed years of plenty; under this Government, we are facing lean years for the arts. That is absolutely inevitable. This Government have the higher priority of trying to clear up the enormous mountain of borrowing and debt that we inherited, and it would be wrong to exclude the arts from having to play a part in that. However, when we on the Select Committee looked at funding of the arts immediately after the election, we said that it would result in some difficult decisions and that some institutions would probably close as a result. I am delighted to hear from the Secretary of State that she has done well in her debate with colleagues in the Treasury for this year’s spending settlement, but I understand from what I have read and what she has said that we can anticipate still further reductions. That means that more institutions will probably have to close, which will be a tragedy.