HC Deb 12 June 1956 vol 554 cc228-30
32. Mr. G. Jeger

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the financial loss last year at the Covent Garden Opera House; and whether he will make an addition to the grant to the Arts Council for the specific purpose of increasing the subsidy to the Opera House.

37. Sir R. Boothby

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will increase the subsidy to the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, from £250,000 to £350,000.

41. Mr. Janner

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the report of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which indicates that this undertaking needs £100,000 a year more as a grant-in-aid from the Government if it wishes to continue to function at the present standard; and what action he proposes to take in the matter.

Mr. H. Macmillan

Covent Garden Opera House has made losses every year since it reopened after the war. Towards covering these losses £1,778,000 has been provided from public funds, and a smaller sum has been borrowed on overdraft.

The grant-in-aid which I propose for the Arts Council this year is the amount shown in the Estimates, £885,000. It is for the Arts Council to divide this sum as it thinks best between Covent Garden and the many other organisations which it supports. I understand that the Arts Council has decided, in the fullest knowledge of Covent Garden's financial position, that its grant to Covent Garden this year should be £270,000, which is £20,000 more than was given last year.

Mr. Jeger

But does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that we treat the arts in this country in much more beggarly fashion than do many other countries whose budgets are smaller than ours and who have less pretensions to culture than we have? Will not the right hon. Gentleman increase the grant to the Arts Council this year with the definite proviso that it should go towards the upkeep of Covent Garden?

Mr. Macmillan

No, Sir. I think that this system of using the Arts Council as the governing machinery is one which has worked since the war, and on the whole is the best one. The amount that can be given in any one year has always to be a matter of discussion, but I am happy to feel that this increase is coming to Covent Garden from the Arts Council.

Mr. K. Thompson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Provinces there is a very firm feeling that far too large a proportion of Arts Council money is gobbled up in London? Will he give the Arts Council advice to ensure that these resources are properly distributed over the whole country?

Mr. Macmillan

That shows how wise is was for me and my predecessors to use the Arts Council to distribute this money.

Mr. Snow

Further to the point about provincial interests, is it not a fact that English art has a right to be encouraged?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir, and it is, to the extent that £885,000 can encourage art.

Mr. Snow

Mostly to bring German artistes to Covent Garden.

Sir B. Baxter

Whilst agreeing that Covent Garden must inevitably run at a loss, may I suggest that some inquiry should be made into the artistic direction of Covent Garden? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many who believe that it is not being directed as well and as shrewdly as it should be?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir, but I still rather wonder whether the Treasury is the right body to conduct that inquiry.

Mr. Isaacs

I do not want to strike any jarring note, but if people do not want to pay to go to see these things, why should the country give money away to support them?