HC Deb 17 December 1990 vol 183 cc13-5
27. Dr. Kim Howells

To ask the Minister for the Arts if he will provide the management of the Royal Opera house with the funds required to undertake remedial construction tasks at that establishment.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Tim Renton)

Development of the Royal Opera house will be funded principally from the proceeds of the development of land and commercial properties gifted to it by successive Governments. As my right hon. and learned Friend the former Minister for the Arts recently made clear, the Government are unable to make a further capital contribution. I am in close touch with the Royal Opera house management, which is now reconsidering the phasing and content of the project.

Dr. Howells

Is the Minister aware that although many people in this country admire the work of the Royal Opera house, there is nevertheless the feeling that the additional funds that are being made available for the sort of schemes which the Royal Opera house management wants to pursue will simply mean that additional precious funding will go towards putting some of the best-clad backsides in this country on some very expensive seats for a night out at the opera and that that will be done at the expense of many arts groups and organisations in other areas, especially Wales and the English regions?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman is being somewhat unfair. The Royal Opera house has increased its revenue both from sponsorship and from the box office sale of tickets in the past year. The amount of revenue that it receives in subsidy from the Arts Council has fallen as a percentage of its total revenue. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is thinking especially of the Welsh National Opera, for which he must naturally have a good deal of sympathy and support, which receives more than £2.5 million in grant from the Arts Council and £1.7 million from the Welsh Arts Council. I do not think that any other major organisation has its funding split in that manner.

Mr. Cormack

May I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post and wish him every success in it? I thank him for the answer that he has just given, which showed a greater appreciation of the problem than did the questioner. Will he pay an early visit to the opera house to discuss the plans with the chairman and director, remembering that there is enormous earning potential from that development?

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I realise that he has had a strong interest in the arts and heritage for many years. One of my first onerous duties as Minister for the Arts was to visit the Royal Opera house, where I had the great pleasure of seeing the Scottish Opera production of "Les Troyens". I was taken backstage after the performance not only to meet members of the cast, but to have pointed out to me how much the backstage area needs repair and redevelopment.

Mr. Fisher

May I welcome the Minister to his new job as the third holder of the office this year? I wish him well in his endeavours on behalf of the arts. He will be aware of the problems that he inherits from his predecessors, not least in general remedial construction—the crisis in our cultural buildings. There are holes in the roof of the Tate, the Victoria and Albert museum needs £100 million spent on it and the chairman of the Arts Council, Mr. Peter Palumbo, guesstimates that at least £1,000 million needs to be spent on our cultural buildings. In that new situation —at least it is new to him—will the Minister have the courage that his predecessors did not and face up to the evidence and the facts? Will he commission a national audit of arts buildings so that people round the country and hon. Members on both sides of the House can know the real position and how great is the task to be undertaken over the next 10 years?

Mr. Renton

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks at the beginning of his questions. Secondly, he may have noticed that I have already answered a parliamentary question on our cultural buildings. I said that I was commissioning a survey to be carried out by a multi-faceted professional company into the building requirements of the major museums and galleries. I have asked for the company to report to me by summer next year. The hon. Gentleman should not underrate the settlements that both my predecessors obtained in the public expenditure rounds. In both cases, the settlements were well ahead of the rate of inflation and were welcomed as that.

I had been warned that in his questions the hon. Gentleman would almost invariably use the word "crisis." I suggest that he takes a leaf out of the book of Corporal Jones in "Dad's Army" and, instead of always throwing his arms in the air and shouting, "Crisis", he shouts "Don't panic!"

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Minister recognise that a commitment to the arts will be met if he takes on board the recommendation of the National Campaign for the Arts on the proportion of public spending which should be devoted to the arts—a modest 1 per cent. of gross domestic product, substantially below that of other European countries with comparable populations and revenues?

Mr. Renton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking that. I have looked briefly at that survey and at the campaign. But as a fair-minded person the hon. Gentleman will realise that it is extremely difficult to compare like with like in this matter. As I understand it, the comparative figure given for France, for example, does not take into account either the business sponsorship or private patronage that we have in Britain. The matter is well worth close study, but I doubt that whether is a case for leaping ahead in the manner in which the NCA suggests.

Back to