HC Deb 11 July 1994 vol 246 cc656-7
12. Mr. Gunnell

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what were the total number of opera performances and the total attendances for companies supported by the Arts Council in 1983–84 and 1993–94.

Mr. Brooke

In 1983–84, the total number of performances and the total attendances for the major opera companies supported by the Arts Council were 611 and 875,853 respectively. In 1993–94, those figures rose to 690 performances and 904,069 attendances.

Mr. Gunnell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, despite the loss of opera companies over the past decade, those increases in figures show the strength of our resident opera companies? Are not the restrictions on Arts Council funding a threat to their quality? Will he ensure that if the Government go ahead in getting rid of some of the authorities that support opera companies, the Department will put a scheme in place to ensure that funds are available?

Mr. Brooke

My answer referred to major companies. There has been a burgeoning of opera in the middle scale, with 50 companies now in existence. Together with small-scale organisations such as Pimlico Opera, those opera companies are reaching new audiences in a large number of venues that are unable to host larger-scale productions.

The comparable funding for the other companies from the Arts Council—I am including Scotland and Wales—was £16.5 million in 1983–84 and more than £38 million in 1994–95. Therefore, although funding decisions are for the Arts Council, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there has been a steady increase in public funding.

Mr. Rowe

Is not it an extraordinary tribute to the astonishing increase in the quality of orchestral music and operatic singers music that so many people are now interested in opera? Given that solid base, will my right hon. Friend ensure that producers of publicly supported operas will use as much ingenuity in staging economical productions as they do when seeking subsidies?

Mr. Brooke

My experience of companies funded by the Arts Council is that they concentrate on doing that which my hon. Friend suggested across the whole range of arts, and that the practice is not confined to opera.