HC Deb 30 June 1964 vol 697 cc1114-6
6. Mr. Ridley

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make it a condition of his grant to the Arts Council for the next financial year that they conduct a survey of those who obtain seats at Covent Garden.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

No, Sir.

Mr. Ridley

Would my hon. Friend agree that; there are a considerable number of probably ill-informed criticisms going around about this matter? Would he not further agree that it would be better to bring the matter out into the open by having this inquiry or publishing some analysis of how the seats are allocated so that the good name of the theatre can be cleared?

Mr. Macmillan

My hon. Friend is right. There is a belief that Covent Garden seats are allocated unfairly, but I am assured that this is not so. The box office system is designed to make seats available to the public as widely as possible. One of the difficulties is that the most popular performances are not performed very often and, therefore, the demand far exceeds the supply.

Mr. Snow

If the Question is intended to include the allocation of complimentary seats, is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is some support for the general proposition that this needs looking into? Is he aware that it is unfair to provincial attenders at Covent Garden who never seem to be able to get seats on first nights, and that a casual scrutiny of gossip columns in the popular daily Press, including such masterpieces as "Jennifer's Diary," would seem to suggest that there is a rather common factor of people who attend first nights?

Mr. Macmillan

The only priority booking is given to holders of subscription vouchers, which any member of the public is entitled to buy, and that gives a limited degree of priority of consideration. There are also premium stalls or boxes which can be bought regularly for every or every other performance. These not unnaturally carry with them the burden that one has to pay for the less popular performances as well as for the more popular. For the rest, I think that the box office system operates as fairly as possible. The full first night list is of very limited proportions, being confined to about 134 seats in all.

Mr. Ridley

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, could he publish some statement as to how the system is worked so that we can all be clear and so that the name of the opera can be cleared over this matter?

Mr. Macmillan

I think that the sort of inquiry which my hon. Friend originally suggested would be more expensive to carry out than the probable results would justify, but I will ask the Arts Council to request Covent Garden to prepare a factual note about how the box office system operates, and I will then make copies available to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members in the Library.

Sir B. Stross

Is the Economic Secretary aware that, until recently, there was some ground for criticism in view of the fact that students were getting preferential treatment and obtaining a fairly large number of tickets which they themselves did not use but sold to their own advantage, and that this has now been stopped? Is he further aware that what appears from the Question is quite evident, namely, that we need further patronage for opera and another opera house? There is really not enough for the people who would like to see opera at its best.

Mr. Macmillan

I am aware of the considerations which the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I am happy to confirm that such abuses as there were have been put right. I think that the difficulty about the demand for opera is that it is very uneven. It is the star performances which attract a very heavy demand. With some of the other performances there is not quite the same difficulty in getting seats. I would suspect that the demand, though limited, is extremely intense, and it is the intensity which has caused some of the ill-feeling, because from the point of view of the customers the only successful box office policy is one which enables each individual to get the seat he requires when he requires it.

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