HC Deb 22 November 1982 vol 32 cc580-2
26. Mr. Eastham

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the total expenditure on the arts in the North-West region in the current financial year.

28. Mr. Robert Sheldon

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the provision for the arts in the North-West.

Mr. Channon

The level of regional provision is a matter for the Arts Council. I understand that the allocation to the North-West for 1982–83 is just under £2.4 million, an increase of nearly 11 per cent. over the previous year.

Mr. Eastham

I thank the Minister for his reply. I wish to refer again to the recent expressions of disgust and anger in the North-West over the statement by the Royal Opera House that it will not visit Manchester next year. Will the Minister undertake to have an urgent meeting on behalf of North-West Members or issue an ultimatum to those concerned to the effect that he will discontinue funds to the Arts Council?

Mr. Channon

No. I do not think I shall do that. I believe that the Greater Manchester council wishes to seek a meeting with the Arts Council about the Palace theatre, Manchester. If the council wishes to see me following that meeting, I shall be delighted. I can well understand the feelings that have arisen in the North-West. This is an extremely complicated matter that is difficult to resolve briefly at Question Time.

Mr. Sheldon

Is the Minister not aware that there is extreme anger and anxiety over the bad faith shown by the Royal Opera House in cancelling unilaterally the proposed tour to the North-West? Is he aware that substantial sums were spent in the Manchester area to bring the Palace theatre up to the standard required? It is unjustifiable to say, without any consultation, that this arrangement for next year has come to an end. Is the Minister aware that this action merits the strongest direct representation on his part to those concerned?

Mr. Channon

I am aware of the strong feelings that have been aroused in the North-West. If I had not been aware, the early-day motion, to which there are a large number of signatures, would have made me aware of them. The Royal Opera House estimated that it would have cost about £370,000 extra out of its grant to go to Manchester. It already has substantial financial problems. That is why the decision has been taken. However, as I have said, I shall be delighted to receive representations from the Greater Manchester council, should it wish to make them after it has seen the Arts Council.

Mr. Whitehead

I know that the Minister cannot answer for the Arts Council, but does he agree that it would be a complete scandal if the £1½ million invested in the Palace theatre were to be wasted and if the people were to be deprived of opera in the Manchester region purely because of a decision taken one year in advance, before the Royal Opera House could know what financial support it could get in the locality?

Mr. Channon

It is not as if the people in Manchester are being deprived of opera. There are plenty of regional opera companies. It is arguable whether it is better, both artistically and financially, to build up to greater heights the excellent touring opera companies, such as those of Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Opera North rather than have occasional tours by Covent Garden, which cost larger sums of money. I am not sure that they do as much good as would the raising of the standards of regional opera companies. However, I understand the feelings of the House.