HC Deb 05 March 1970 vol 797 cc605-6
15. Mr. Worsley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science, in view of the recommendations in the White Paper, "Public Expenditure 1968–69 to 1973–74", what steps he is taking to enable the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to plan its programmes for some years ahead.

Miss Jennie Lee

The Department is now working out a system which will give the Arts Council forward figures for planning purposes on a rolling triennial basis. Such a system would enable the Council to give forward notification to its major clients, including the Royal Opera House.

Mr. Worsley

Does the Minister agree that this sort of forward planning is essential for opera? Can she give any indication when the arrangements in this regard will be finalised?

Miss Lee

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are very much concerned to make progress in the matter. The essential facts are already known, but it is better that we have the whole thing put on a proper technical basis. There is a number of rather difficult questions. The two most important problems are the incidence in any one year of capital expenditure and provision for pay and price increases. But I think that the essential victory has been won.

Mr. Snow

Is my right hon. Friend prepared to tell the Arts Council that it might with advantage scrutinise the free lists in operation at Covent Garden whereby many people in society life appear to be able to get into first houses and subsequent performances, whereas my constituents in the provinces cannot? Is she aware that a few years ago during the Conservative Administration I asked the same question and a member of the box office staff at Covent Garden wrote to me saying that I was justified in my complaints, but that it was as much as his job was worth to let me have the information?

Miss Lee

My hon. Friend has a public duty to let us know whom he is talking about. Gossip takes us nowhere. A great many distinguished people give unpaid public service, and if in return they perhaps have the opportunity to buy a seat on special occasions, I do not think that that is excessive reward. At the same time, there are usually seats available. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about this.