HC Deb 18 January 1982 vol 16 cc15-6
18. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received within the last year on the funding of opera and ballet.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Paul Channon)

I have had discussions about funding with the chairmen and officers of the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera. I have also had many informal talks with people in the opera and ballet world.

Mr. Jessel

May I say that it is not only the distinguished intake of 1945 that has had to take to wearing spectacles? As London is one of the musical centres of the world, and as opera and ballet are a major draw to tourists, following the substantial increase in real terms of the grant to the Arts Council—on which many of us signed a motion congratulating my right hon. Friend—will my right hon. Friend encourage the Arts Council to see that opera and ballet in London receive at least a proportionate share of that increase?

Mr. Channon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I assure him that the Arts Council proposes to devote a substantial portion of its resources to that area. It will be at least as good as the overall increase in the grant that it has received.

Mr. Faulds

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that national excellence and international reputation in those areas of the arts must depend on Government willingness to sustain them financially with whatever resources are necessary to do the job properly? May I temper the right hon. Gentleman's happiness about the Arts Council grant by reminding him that, while inflation is running at 11.7 per cent. or 11.9 per cent., the Arts Council's grant increase was only 7.5 per cent.?

Mr. Jessel

In real terms.

Mr. Channon

The cash grant revenue increase for next year for the Arts Council is about 9 per cent.—from £77½ million to £84½ million. Everyone in the arts world to whom I have spoken thinks that it has done well. I have had innumerable expressions of appreciation.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is considerable concern about the allocation of Arts Council funds both in regard to the d'Oyly Carte Opera Company and generally, as evidenced by the representations by my constituent, Mr. Gower of Sawbridgeworth, in regard to which my right hon. Friend and I are in correspondence? Will my right hon. Friend respond to my request to him to deal with the constitutional position of the accountability and responsibility of the Arts Council in this context, bearing in mind the classic definition of power without responsibility being the prerogative of the harlot through the ages?

Mr. Channon

I well recall Mr. Gower's letter and my right hon. and learned Friend's letter to me. I am studying the matter with considerable care. However, in general terms I must say that that position has been accepted since the foundation of the Arts Council. In general, it works according to the arm's length principle that the Minister of the day does not interfere with the detailed allocation of the grant.