HC Deb 07 December 1992 vol 215 cc582-3
6. Mr. Bowis

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what support he gives to youth orchestras and bands.

Mr. Key

In financial terms the Arts Council intends to spend £239,000 this year in support of youth activities, an increase of 200 per cent. on 1991–92. In addition, we acknowledge and encourage the many thousands of youth orchestras and bands up and down the country, whether they perform pop music, jazz, classical or other styles of music.

Mr. Bowis

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. As he will know, our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was present the other day at the Royal Albert hall to hear the superlative performances by county and borough youth orchestras, choirs and bands at the school prom. Does he accept that that was a great tribute to the young musicians, their teachers and those who initiate and support county and borough-based groupings—in many cases the local education authority? Will he talk to his colleagues at the Department for Education to ensure that, with the changing nature of LEAs in the future, such quality is not allowed to wither and that we can enhance the standards of musicianship?

Mr. Key

Yes, that is extremely important. My hon. Friend has put his finger on a problem which has been faced. The Arts Council of Great Britain has produced a recent report stating that, although about a third of local education authorities have cut music service budgets since 1989, the majority have experienced no change and a few have expanded and improved provision.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for Wales propose in the Education Bill that there should be a two-year transitional period during which LEAs will be able to sell designated services to grant-maintained schools, which will offer sufficient time for private suppliers to move in.

Mr. Michael

Does the Minister not recognise that that is a disgraceful response to a serious crisis that faces many excellent orchestras and bands around the country such as the South Glamorgan youth orchestra and the many junior orchestras and choirs which involve hundreds of young people in high-quality music? Those young people will not have that opportunity if the legislation goes through, if education is organised in the way in which the Minister and his colleagues seem to want, and if we have such a low settlement for local authorities. There will not be such a thing for the Minister to be proud of in the future unless he acts now.

Mr. Key

I have rarely heard such arrant nonsense from any hon. Member of the House. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is saying that he wishes to substitute his judgment for the judgment of the individual schools involved. Those schools will ensure that there is excellent musical provision for their pupils and that provision will continue to be made.