HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc511-2
7. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the use of public funds to ensure that tickets at the Royal Opera house are being sold at a lower price than before the refurbishment took place. [102001]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

We believe that the board and management of the Royal Opera house have responded to the Government's desire for Covent Garden to be open to a broader audience and for the public to have the widest possible access to performances—for instance, through lower ticket prices. I understand that the Royal Opera house will keep the pricing structure under review and will continue to ensure that tickets are available at a wide range of prices.

Mr. Rendel

Does the Secretary of State realise that a couple on the basic state pension would now have to spend about a third of their weekly income to buy a couple of tickets for the Royal Opera house, even at the lowest price? How does that square with what was said by the Minister for the Arts in an Adjournment debate on Government funding for the arts only three weeks ago? He said then that he was

"unashamedly committed to making culture accessible to the many, not the few".—[Official Report, 26 November 1999; Vol. 339, c. 914.]

Does that mean culture, except the Royal Opera house?

Mr. Smith

No; it means culture, including the Royal Opera house. In fact—this may be of particular interest to the pensioner couple to whom the hon. Gentleman referred—222 tickets are available, at £6 each, for matinee performances of a full-length opera there.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

That is good news for all of us, including the impoverished and the old.

Will my right hon. Friend talk seriously to those at the Royal Opera house about provision for the disabled? There is a real problem in that regard, and, if they are genuinely concerned, they must allow free access for all. I sent in some distressing details today, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will have a right go at them.

Mr. Smith

I very much take on board my hon. Friend's point. The issue of access to the Royal Opera house for those with disabilities is crucial. The building work that has been undertaken has resulted in substantial improvements, but there is room for further progress, and I will consider carefully what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Is it true that the Secretary of State has sought an assurance from the Royal Opera house that there will be no more "black tie" evenings? If so, why?

Mr. Smith


Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

I welcome the new price structure, which is definitely an improvement, but is my right hon. Friend aware that the Royal Opera house has discontinued the practice of selling a number of tickets in the gods on the day of performances? Does he agree that that limits accessibility, particularly to those less well off opera fans who do not have the luxury of planning their lives for months ahead? Will he use whatever influence he has to try to make the Royal Opera house think again about that practice?

Mr. Smith

I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of the Royal Opera house authorities. However, in their defence, for the first three months of programming since the Royal Opera house re-opened, some 88,000 tickets have been available for public sale at the box office.