HC Deb 20 May 1996 vol 278 cc11-3
11. Mr. Gunnell

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans she has for making lottery funding available for the development of expertise in ballet and opera. [28767]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Support to students of dance and drama is administered through discretionary grants by local authorities under the overall responsibility of the Department for Education and Employment. I share the concern of many hon. Members about the availability of such grants. On 1 April, I announced changes to the lottery rules requiring the Arts Council to take account of the need to develop the skills, talents and creative abilities of young people. The council is now considering how to implement the new direction, and it must do so in a way that does not substitute for existing public expenditure.

Mr. Gunnell

I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that that is not satisfactory. I am sure that she will confirm that the Arts Council is not able to make grants for dance students, for drama students and for opera students at the national opera studio. The students are not allowed to apply for national lottery funding, so they must approach local authorities. I am sure that the Secretary of State will confirm that fewer and fewer local authorities are able to fund discretionary awards in these areas—in fact, many have stopped doing so—so many students from many areas will not receive funding for training in dance, drama or opera. There is an urgent need to find a way for such grants to proceed. The experts in these disciplines provide a great deal of income for the country through their performances abroad. I believe that we should continue to make expertise available.

Mrs. Bottomley

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. His part of the country has received lottery awards for significant arts projects, including three for dance. He will know that the number of mandatory grants for dance and drama has increased as the number of degree courses has increased. However, the degree to which local authorities fund discretionary awards is up to them. The hon. Gentleman will welcome, as I do, last week's announcement by the Arts Council that it has asked the chairman of the London arts board, Clive Priestly, to look at this area to see whether further steps can be taken and whether the new Arts Council lottery direction that I announced recently can be used to good effect.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is it not ironic that, when the success of the national lottery is offering hundreds of millions of pounds of extra support for charities, sport and the arts, the D'Oyly Carte Company—the principal custodian of the unique British tradition of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas—receives only £18,000 a year in public funds? Will my right hon. Friend take urgent action, either by issuing new directions on stabilisation funding or by other means, to avert the closure of that company—its current season ends this week, and its autumn season has been cancelled— so as to ensure the survival of this much-loved tradition for our generation and generations to come?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend speaks for many hon. Members in his strong support for the D'Oyly Carte. A number of plans are under way, and I think that the Arts Council is now well aware of the strength of feeling on this matter. A moment ago, my hon. Friend the Minister of State outlined the development in stabilisation funds— another way in which we are trying to make the lottery more flexible so as to deal with some of the longer-term needs of arts organisations. We have listened to the concern that capital grants alone may not be sufficient to perform the task. We believe that greater flexibility will mean that more arts organisations will have a more flourishing future.

Mr. Jamieson

Does the Secretary of State recall the correspondence between her Department and me about Natasha Cornish, a very talented young dancer in my constituency, who was advised to contact the Arts Council with a view to receiving grant aid? As the Secretary of State's Department has directed the Arts Council that it should not undertake any long-term funding, how will the Arts Council fund students during two to three-year periods? Does she agree that we must iron out this anomaly if we are to help some of our brightest and best young dancers?

Mrs. Bottomley

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not regard two or three years as long-term funding. It is perfectly possible for the Arts Council, with the changed direction that we have announced for it, to address that issue. Such funding formally remains the responsibility of local authorities, through discretionary grants, and it is for them to decide what priority to give such awards. Clive Priestly intends to report to the chairman of the Arts Council precisely to deal with that interface. It will be a very timely report, and I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to Mr. Priestly.

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