HC Deb 19 January 1998 vol 304 cc675-6
3. Mr. Mackinlay

What investment he is proposing to increase awareness in, and to promote appreciation of, the performing arts among children and young people. [21442]

The Minister for Arts (Mr. Mark Fisher)

The lottery is helping schools to extend and widen their arts activities. The National Lottery Bill, when approved, will enable the lottery to fund a still wider range of out-of-school hours arts activities.

Mr. Mackinlay

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he understand that many of us hope that, during this Parliament, the Government can do much more to extend opportunities for young people to enjoy the performing arts? I feel particularly strongly about this because I saw my first ballet in Bratislava when I was 46 years of age. I was very angry that the system had denied me that wonderful opportunity for so long. The Government's task is to extend life's experiences, liberate young people and give them the opportunity of seeing the performing arts, which the class structure in this society so often denies them, leaving the performing arts as almost the exclusive privilege of people in middle-income groups and above.

Mr. Fisher

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has come to the joys and delights of ballet—even at this late stage. He is right: it is important that children should be given the chance to experience theatre, dance and music of all sorts if they are to have a proper and wide-ranging education. That comprises a comprehensive education.

Children are both the artists and the audiences of the future. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we have a responsibility to ensure that children have the widest opportunities to avoid the fate that has befallen him.

Mr. Greenway

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is no need for anyone to wait until they are 46 years of age to go to a ballet, because people can attend many of the matinee performances that are put on, especially for schools, by the Royal Ballet. Indeed, people can take part in many of the community projects that are put on by companies such as Opera North. Will the Minister confirm that the availability of matinee performances to schools—that means not one but two houses in London—will be a central part of the Eyre inquiry?

Mr. Fisher

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he pays tribute to the work of arts companies across all art forms in arts education. The schemes run by the English National Opera, Opera North and the Royal Shakespeare Company with schools are remarkable; they are introducing children to art forms at a very early age and are doing so very well. Although the Eyre inquiry is a matter for Sir Richard Eyre, I am sure that, given his record of a superb schools programme at the national theatre, such matters will be at the forefront of his mind.

Ms Blears

As my hon. Friend is aware, in Salford at this very moment we are building the Lowry centre, which will be a magnificent centre for the performing arts, with a particular emphasis on children. In view of the appalling viewing figures for opera which were released this morning—it seems that few people watch opera on television—does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital to make opera and ballet relevant and accessible to a much wider range of working people, as we intend to do in the magnificent Lowry centre in Salford?

Mr. Fisher

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Lowry centre will be a real addition to the cultural life of the north west. It will be a superb piece of architecture and a focus for widening the access to the arts in the north-west.