HC Deb 18 April 1994 vol 241 cc621-2
1. Mr. Jenkin

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what research he has conducted into the popularity of opera; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)

Opera in this country continues to attract an unprecedented degree of public interest and support. Recent research published by the Arts Council claims that 2.8 million—or more than 6 per cent.—of the adult population attend opera performances.

Mr. Jenkin

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the orchestra of English National Opera, which at the Olivier awards ceremony received the award for outstanding achievement in opera? Does not that demonstrate that although British opera receives a limited subsidy, there is extremely good value for the taxpayer?

Mr. Sproat

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the ENO on its award last night; it does marvellous work.

Mr. Sheldon

Yes, but given that there is far more interest in opera as a result of a number of activities over the past couple of years, is not it fitting that there should be greater recognition of that interest, both by the Department and by the Arts Council, in terms of funding?

Mr. Sproat

Opera gets a great deal of support already—£40 million from the various Arts Councils around the country. That is well merited, but it is a substantial sum.

Mr. Dicks

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason why opera is so popular is that it is funded by the rest of us mugs called taxpayers? If people who went to the opera had to pay the full cost, half of them would not go.

Mr. Sproat

In fact, we are lucky in this country in that a lot of the funding for opera comes from partnership deals—from sponsorship from business, in which we lead the world. The prices of a growing number of opera companies, such as English Touring Opera, are extremely reasonable.

Mr. Fisher

What are the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State doing to back up their congratulations with some action? Why is not the Minister helping local authorities to support the excellent education and opera schemes in which most companies are engaged? Why is not he helping local authorities to back excellent touring opera companies, such as the City of Birmingham Touring Opera, Music Theatre Wales or Opera Factory? What is he actually doing? Why is not he even talking to the opera world to discuss the benefit of the schemes—as the Labour party is, with an opera seminar next Monday? Will he stop just talking about opera and use the power that he and his right hon. Friend have to do something to back opera?

Mr. Sproat

I have already said that we are doing a great deal to back opera. Through the various Arts Councils, we are giving £40 million. If any member of the opera community wishes to discuss matters further with me, I shall be delighted.

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