§ 3. Mr. Barry Jones
To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy on regional orchestras; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Sproat
The Arts Council and the BBC are responsible for formulating policy relating to regional orchestras. They are collaborating on a joint review of orchestral provision, and a report will be considered by their governing councils later this year. A period of public consultation is planned subsequently.
§ Mr. Jones
Bearing in mind the pressure on the Arts Council budget, what is the future for great northern orchestras, such as the Liverpool Philharmonic and Manchester Hallé? I declare my interest as a life member of the Liverpool Philharmonic and as a friend and subscriber.
Does the Minister accept that the Liverpool Philharmonic has considerable financial difficulities? Will he explain how he may help that great orchestra, as it has a great record of touring and artistic success, and has a charismatic maestro in the person of Libor Pesak? I think that he will agree that Liverpool is now making a new economic future. it is proud of its orchestra and to make the best of its prospects, Liverpool needs the Philharmonic to have the best possible financial backing. What can he do to help that great orchestra?
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I share his view of the high qualities of the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Hallé. I can tell him—these are not glib words—that the Arts Council increased the grant to both orchestras by more than 6 per cent. last year, which was more than other main regional orchestras got. That was more than £1 million to each. We are both seized of the importance of the artistic quality to which he referred and, through the Arts Council, are doing something specific and considerable about it.
§ Mr. Dickens
Will my hon. Friend concede that the Hallé is one of the finest orchestras in the world? It gives great pleasure in Manchester and the north-west—and, indeed, internationally: it is admired throughout the world. Can we assume from the assurances that my hon. Friend has given that he will ensure that our northern orchestras are properly funded?
§ Mr. Sproat
I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. It is a great tribute to the Hallé orchestra that its standards have never been higher than they are today, even in the days of Sir John Barbirolli. We are determined to maintain those high standards, both for the people of Manchester and around the world, where the orchestra tours.