HC Deb 19 November 1984 vol 68 cc15-6
28. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts how many times the Minister for the Arts met the chairman of the English National Opera prior to the commencement of the company's North American tour to discuss financial arrangements; what indications were given of likely financial support for the tour from the Government; and if he is considering providing additional funds to assist the English National Opera to meet the £700,000 tour deficit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

My right hon. and noble Friend met the chairman of the ENO informally on four occasions before the tour; no indication of Government financial support was given. The deficit on the tour is a matter for the Arts Council and the company.

Mr. Banks

Is the Minister aware that according to the minutes of the ENO board the Minister for the Arts emphasised the Government's desire for the tour to go ahead and that the Minister also gave a heavy hint of additional Government financing for the tour? The tour then proceeded. In view of those two statements, should not the Minister for the Arts now come forward with the money for the ENO, or resign?

Mr. Waldegrave

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is correct. The Minister hoped that the tour would take place. Indeed, it was a triumphant success. The records show that the Minister did not offer Government support in advance of the tour. When the money-raising went wrong, and as on other occasions and with other companies, he offered his good offices to raise private money to help, but that is a very different matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has rendered a service to the Minister for the Arts by leaking those minutes to the press, because after reading them no reasonable person could conclude that any pledge of Government finance had been given? Having said that, in view of the phenomenal success of the ENO tour in the United States, and given that the company was let down by certain Amercian sponsors, will my hon. Friend ask his right hon. and noble Friend to launch an appeal, publicly and privately funded, to meet this deficit and to save this company, which has made such great contributions to our cultural life?

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend's initial remarks are entirely right. I again confirm that the tour was a tremendous success. My right hon. and noble Friend has already taken some steps to help find private money, and I shall report to him the idea that my right hon. Friend has put forward.

Mr. Buchan

It is not good enough for the Minister to give the answer that he has. Like others, I have seen the minutes, and there is no doubt whatever that the tour went ahead with the encouragement of the Minister. Therefore, as a matter of honour, the Minister for the Arts has a moral duty to help the company. It would not have undertaken the tour without his prior imprimatur. The Minister's honour is now at stake. It is insufficient to leave this to private funds. The Government must come clean and meet the deficit.

Mr. Waldegrave

That is not fair. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) more accurately described what happened. The ENO knew perfectly well that Arts Council funds cannot be used for foreign touring. My right hon. and noble Friend wanted the tour to go ahead, as we all did. Now that the ENO has been let down by some of the American backers who promised it money, my right hon. and noble Friend and a number of others are seeing what can be done to help.

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