HL Deb 15 July 1959 vol 218 cc7-10

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the meeting between the Arts Council and the Carl Rosa Trust, to which the noble Earl, Lard Dundee, referred on November 27, 1958, has yet taken place and whether a satisfactory arrangement has now been reached to enable the Carl Rosa to present opera in the provinces in accordance with its established tradition.]


My Lords, since the publication of the Thirteenth Annual Report of the Arts Council last October, there has been correspondence between the Arts Council and the Carl Rosa Trust on the possibility of a further meeting. On June 2 the Arts Council agreed to meet the Trust and listen to anything they liked to say about the future activities of Carl Rosa. The Trust have not yet said whether they will accept this invitation.


My Lords, does it not seem an extraordinary thing that the noble Earl, who is always so obliging to the House and whom we trust so much, should have been so much misled, obviously, last November to say that a meeting was going to be arranged, when nothing happened until the offer was made on June 2 and this very important service which has been given for over sixty years for providing opera in the Provinces has been broken into in consequence? May I ask him whether, as we are not allowed apparently to take any revisionary action in regard to the Arts Council in Parliament, he, on behalf of the Treasury, can make some progress to see that justice is done to the Carl Rosa?


My Lords, perhaps I had better read out the passage I referred to from the Report of the Arts Council, published last October, which said: The Arts Council proposes to continue discussions with the present members of the Carl Rosa and to consider further its attitude towards a body which has for so long been acutely divided in matters of policy and method. I quoted that in reply to a question from a noble Lord as to what was going to happen. I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 212 (No. 15), col. 968]: I do not know what is going to happen now, but in their Report the Arts Council say"— and then I quoted this passage. As I have indicated in my reply, since then there has only been correspondence about a possible meeting. I do not want to express any opinion as to whether a different approach ought to have been made by either of the parties to this dispute, because, as I think I made plain to your Lordships last year, the grant in aid is voted to the Arts Council with complete discretion as to how it shall be spent for the benefit of art, and we do not give the Arts Council any instructions either as to how they shall allocate this grant among the applicants for financial aid or as to what discussions, if any, they shall hold with any of these applicants.


But the noble Earl, when the matter was raised in this House, I think, in March or April, did express an opinion that there had been an unfortunate quarrel—he used the term "unfortunate". Could we know what that quarrel was about?


My Lords, I think we are only too well aware what the quarrel was about from your Lordships' debate last November, and what I would try to impress upon your Lordships is that the Government are determined not to take any part in this quarrel.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for his reply, and I will make further inquiries and come back to it. But may I ask whether the Government will not consider the advisability of changing this practice with the Arts Council as they are now handling such large sums of money? Surely, in the long run, the voting of public money should be under some public control.


My Lords, that is of course a matter for Parliament to decide. What I think I explained to your Lordships last year was that in Great Britain we have not got any Government Department or any trained staff capable of carrying out the functions of a Ministry of Fine Arts, such as they have in some Continental countries. Our present alternatives really are either not to give any money to the arts at all, or to give it to some body such as the Arts Council with discretion to spend it in the best way. I think that if Parliament or the Treasury were to try to allocate this grant in aid money to the different applicants there would probably be continual uproar.


With the permission of your Lordships, I would put only this point. Remembering some of the charming musical performances that I have heard in Westminster Hall from the staff of the Treasury, I should have thought that they could have found somebody who could judge musical products.


My Lords, as a new member of the Arts Council, which has a meeting next week, I will see that the noble Viscount's views are put before the Committee.


I am much obliged to the noble Viscount.