HL Deb 28 April 1982 vol 429 cc934-52

7.29 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to give more support and encouragement to orchestras in the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. The problem of providing more help and encouragement for the orchestras of the United Kingdom is becoming more acute. This is particularly the case since their finance comes from several sources. These sources are mainly, as your Lordships are aware, the Government, through the Arts Council, and the local authorities, backed up by sponsorship. There seems to be no clear line of responsibility, with certain difficulties in the way, when, as I shall hope to show, these interested bodies conflict, as they sometimes do.

The Government have increased the Arts Council grant for the live and performing arts by 9 per cent. The Minister for the Arts, Mr. Paul Channon, whose heart I know is in the right place, has done well to squeeze that out of the Treasury; the right honourable gentleman's name stands rather high in the list of Arts Ministers who have been successful in getting funds from the Treasury, and I know from experience what a difficult job that is.

I know the Arts Council is independent of ministerial control in the way it spends its allocation, but I wonder if the council's policy is as helpful as it might be so far as the orchestras are concerned. There have been complaints from the orchestras that they are not always fully consulted by the Arts Council. Moreover, the Arts Council want to see an increase in contemporary music being played as well as being commissioned. At the same time, though, the Arts Council are anxious for the orchestras to attract more concert-goers. I am sorry to say that, on the whole, those two aims are mutually exclusive. If large new audiences are to be attracted, they will want to hear classical music that is approached easily and, frankly, much contemporary music, however laudable, has little popular appeal.

The Arts Council seem to interpret their mission as being to bring contemporary arts to the people, although there is nothing, so far as I can see, in their charter about that; the charter talks about bringing the arts in general to the people. Yet the only musical touring activity the Arts Council assists is the Contemporary Music Network, which has a limited appeal and draws only moderate audiences. It is clear, if one analyses the Arts Council accounts, that the proportion of the grant applied to the Music Department—if one excludes music and dance and touring—has declined gradually over the last 15 years, making music the Cinderella of the arts compared with drama, and I hope the Arts Council will try to rectify that. If the council insist on more contemporary music being played, they should provide a substantial additional subsidy to balance the consequent drop in box-office income.

The Association of British Orchestras, in their evidence to the Select Committee of another place, also opposed the concept that they should be required, as a condition of grant aid, to perform a specific quota of British music. Rather do they see themselves, rightly in my view, as guardians of a musical heritage that is international in scope. The Government's financial squeeze has meant that local authorities are no longer able to be equal partners with the Arts Council in financing orchestras. At the same time, I understand that the Treasury has forbidden the Arts Council to make up any shortfall. The losers are, therefore, the orchestras and the concert-going public, as the prices of seats continue to rise beyond the means of the average music-lover.

I welcome at a time of financial stringency the decision of the GLC to increase their arts budget by about 34 per cent. for the coming year. That includes an increase of over 9 per cent. for the London Orchestral Concerts Board, and the chairman of the GLC Arts Committee has said that more may be provided during the year. The GLC have given a generous grant for the London Symphony Orchestra's season at the Barbican. Let us hope that that will be continued, although I realise that the GLC consider that the South Bank should be their main responsibility. I welcome as well the most generous support that the City of London Corporation is giving.

But as a country, Britain lags behind her continental neighbours in official support for music and opera. On the Continent, the larger countries provided much bigger subsidies, with audiences paying about 20 per cent. of the cost, the rest Coming from official sources. Here, the situation is reversed; the official sources—that is, the Arts Council and local authorities —provide only 20 per cent., with the audience plus business sponsors having to provide 80 per cent. of the total. A small country such as Austria provides a subsidy of £15 million for the Vienna State Opera, compared with the £9 million that Covent Garden gets annually.

In the case of the Hallé Orchestra, the local authority, which is Manchester City Council, has reduced the grant by £30,000 and is increasing the charges for the Free Trade Hall by £50,000 a year. That Orchestra plays a very important part in the cultural life of the North-West. The alternative facing the Hallé Orchestra is to increase ticket prices by 25 per cent., which is more than the public can be expected to pay, or to cut down the number of concerts, to the detriment of Manchester's musical life. The Arts Council is not allowed to fill the gap, as I said, when the local authority is forced by the Department of the Environment to make savage cuts of that kind. A fine orchestra with a great tradition is therefore in danger.

Then there is the question of the Scottish National Orchestra. Local authority support has decreased and the Arts Council have said that the SNO should cut down the number of players. The effect will be that the SNO will cease to be a front-rank orchestra. Over 90 players at least are essential for many major classical works, such as much of Berlioz, most of the Mahler symphonies, much of Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Verdi's Requiem Mass. The orchestra is an essential part of the cultural life of Scotland and attendances at SNO concerts in Scotland totalled nearly 180,000 last year. The children's concerts drew a total audience of 20,000. Since the reorganisation of local government in Scotland, the responsibility for funding with the Scottish Arts Council has passed to the regions. The effect of that change, combined with the Government's squeeze, has meant that support for the SNO has fallen substantially in real terms.

On the question of VAT, the all-party Select Committee of another place recommended that arts organisations should he exempt from VAT by 1985 and that until then they should be taxed at five points below the standard VAT rate. VAT is becoming an ever-increasing burden on the performing arts, particularly since the rate was raised from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent. in June 1979 by the present Government. The result has been to inflate ticket prices substantially, although grants have not been increased in line with costs. It would be interesting to know how much is received by the Treasury in VAT from the arts compared with the amount of grant given in support. Certainly the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, after their popular concerts in the Fairfield Hall at Croydon, paid more in VAT than they received in subsidy, and that was part of their evidence to the Select Committee.

We are the only EEC country that levies VAT on cultural services at the standard rate without any relief or exemptions whatever. Other countries, particularly France and Germany, have been able to distinguish between various forms of entertainment. It is to be deplored that the Government continue stubbornly along this philistine road in defiance of the 1977 EEC directive which commits us to exempt theatres, concerts and other cultural events from VAT. VAT has never been levied on books. Early in World War II, when the then Government proposed this (or purchase tax as it was then), the Members of another place threw out the proposal—and rightly so. No Government, of whatever party, have ever dared since to reintroduce it. I hope that one day the other arts will be able to join literature in gaining exemption.

I believe it is true to say that if it were not for commerical sponsorship, the orchestras would not be able to maintain the required standards. On the other hand, there is some natural reluctance on the part of sponsors to back contemporary music if this does not have any general appeal to audiences. But sponsorship does free resources from an orchestra, so that it can finance the performance of other works.

But this is sometimes nullified if the Arts Council and the London Orchestral Concerts Board have cut the orchestra's grant because the orchestra has been performing too many popular works—and here I am using the word "popular" in the widest sense. Beethoven and Mozart are both popular audience-pulling composers—and rightly so. Boulez and Messiaen are not.

I think that if we are to encourage more sponsorship, the Government should consider giving more tangible recognition. There is already the ABSA/Daily Telegraph annual award for the best and most imaginative sponsorship of the year. Perhaps we need something also on the lines of the Queen's Award, so that sponsorship has official recognition. Nevertheless, my Lords, I am glad to say that there is a healthy growth. The Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts tells me that the number of sponsoring companies has doubled during the last five years. There are now almost 100 companies sponsoring nearly 1,500 artistic projects. Many of these are musical projects, where concerts and operas have been sponsored by all kinds of industrial and commercial companies, both large and small. These are banks, insurance companies, oil companies, tobacco companies, brewers, wine importers, and retail stores—to name just a few of the companies providing funds to enable musical events to take place throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

I understand that it is the policy of the Minister for the Arts to encourage as much commercial sponsorship as possible, and this I welcome. But there are problems. I am told that the most regular problem faced by corporate sponsors is that of failing to achieve media recognition in the press, and particularly on the BBC and the IBA. This tends to discourage some sponsors after an initial trial period, since media recognition plays an important part in attracting sponsors to a particular project. On the whole, newspapers are giving more credit, when reporting a musical event, than they did five years ago, but some editors still delegate the decision to the critic writing the piece.

The BBC's official attitude seems to be that credit is available, which is a concession to arts' sponsors, but, in the event, it is left to the individual producer to decide, and many producers have an ingrained distaste for giving any kind of corporate credit. The IBA ruling is much the same, I gather, although the independent channel has been slightly more generous and sympathetic.

The BBC, I agree, has been fairly liberal in giving credit when reporting sporting events, but the corporation still prefers, for some obscure reason, to continue to apply a stricter policy over the coverage of musical events. This must be holding back many potential music sponsors. Indeed, according to press reports yesterday, one important sponsor of the Edinburgh International Festival, concerned about lack of acknowledgement from broadcasting companies, has pulled out entirely.

Perhaps the Government could let the House know what could be done to encourage the media, of course without interfering with their independence, to adopt a more flexible attitude and policy, so that decisions on credits are not invariably left to individual producers and critics.

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply will let the House have the Government's answers to some of these questions. Music is surely the greatest of the performing arts, and the art that gives most pleasure to the greatest number of people. It is, however, in my submission, deserving of more help and recognition from all concerned than it has received in recent years. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for introducing this subject tonight. It is perhaps not a subject likely to command the headlines in the morning papers, or even to get more than a minute or two on "Today in Parliament", but I believe that it is an important function of your Lordships' House to discuss matters of this kind which are indeed significant in the life of the country. I apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, whom I am sure would have spoken from these Benches, but he had a previous engagement, and I have been thrust into the breach. I make no claims to be an expert on the subject, beyond having been interested in music for a number of years; but I have no great expertise in it. Already twice tonight I have been asked what instruments I play, and I think that they are less frightening than some of the instruments which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, threatened to produce in your Lordships' House some weeks ago.

We may be accused of taking a somewhat elitist view of this subject, and one can see that from a purely populist point of view. Nevertheless not only is music, and in particular symphony orchestras, important to the cultural life of the nation—and I believe that symphony orchestras are a focal point, the pinnacle of the cultural life of the country—but it is also part of a very important industry. The music industry of this country is important. It has a good record—if your Lordships will forgive the pun—for exports. I believe that the record industry commands 25 per cent. of the American market, for instance, which is no mean achievement, and it values its trading at a total of £1,500 million. Although symphony orchestras are a part of the industry, I repeat that they are the pinnacle of the musical achievement of this country. The industry employs 40,000 people.

Music is equally crucial to the cultural life of our country, and I speak as one who was introduced to music in Manchester, through the Hallé in 1943, when John Barbirolli came back from the States and rebuilt that great orchestra. Therefore, I felt particularly sad when I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said about the Hallé, and it would be a desperate situation if that orchestra were again to fall into disarray. I remember that at the time when Barbirolli came hack from the States the orchestra had been forced into a position where musicians were having to double between the BBC Northern Orchestra and the Hallé in order to eke out a living. Thanks to support from the city fathers in Manchester, thanks to the work of the Hallé Concerts Society, and thanks indeed to the inspiration of John Barbirolli, the orchestra was rebuilt so as to become one of the great orchestras of the world.

From that small beginning as a boy going to the Kings Hall, at Belle Vue—not a particularly great concert hall; it was designed for circuses rather than for music—it has become a great joy of my life to listen to music, though as I have said, I am no great expert on the subject. I am quite sure that music has similarly given great joy and great satisfaction to many young people, and has set them on the road towards a broader, more tolerant, view of life than they would otherwise have had. So personally I have a great respect for the symphony orchestras of this country.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I am informed that we are providing only about 20 per cent. of the funding for orchestras from public sources, while the Berlin Philharmonic and the Amsterdam Orchestra with the unpronounceable name receive about 80 per cent. The percentage of money going from the Arts Council to orchestras, compared with the amount going to theatre and opera, has declined; and as someone pointed out to me recently, this is because the Arts Council believes that there are "no new vibrant ideas" coming from symphony orchestras. I suppose they could perform Verdi's Requiem seated on coffins, or they could perform Beethoven's Ninth in the nude. That might make it vibrant, but it would not make it more musical. The fact is that there are only so many things you can do with a well-known symphony or with a well-known concerto.

Of course, you can introduce experimental music, but the noble Lord has shown the problems of that in relation to everyday concerts. I believe it is possible, but I think it is only possible in what one might describe as a stable situation, and the situation for many of our orchestras is very far from stable. They have to be far too peripatetic, and it is very difficult for them, particularly in London, where, of course, the situation has now improved with the LSO having a home of its own. It is difficult for an orchestra to build up a regular clientele unless it has a home of its own; and I believe that this is an area where, if more money is going to go into orchestras, the Government should consider putting some of that money.

We are short of good concert halls in this country. In London we now have two (three if you include the Fairfield Halls), but that is for five orchestras, if you include the BBC Symphony Orchestra. You may well say, as has been said, that there are too many orchestras in London. It has been suggested that there is a demand for three-and-a-half orchestras in this great city, and we have four, again excluding the BBC Symphony. One possibility would be to build a large concert hall in the north of London to expand the undoubted surburban audience which exists in that part of the country and to provide a home for one of the remaining orchestras.

In the North, again, in Manchester, we have the Hallé and the Northern Symphony Orchestra. It seems to me that the BBC might be persuaded to move the Northern Symphony Orchestra to Leeds; and similarly the Scottish Symphony Orchestra from Glasgow to Edinburgh, since in Glasgow also they have two major orchestras. I understand that in Cardiff and in Nottingham work is being carried out on two new concert halls and that some sort of local funding coupled with a subsidy is being contemplated. If that is so, then it is greatly to the credit of the sponsors; because one of the problems we have at the moment, of course, is that the Arts Council is giving less money—or I believe no money—for London orchestras to tour the country. If so, that, again, is a great deprivation for those areas which are outside both the Metropolitan area and the conurbations, such as Manchester.

I also understand that the British Council has reduced its number of tours abroad. Although there has been some criticism of the British Council's selection of places to tour—one feels that they are perhaps chosen on a political basis rather than on a musical basis—nevertheless I think the experience of British orchestras being able to get overseas and to show what British music is about has been a valuable one in the period since the war.

My Lords, there is no doubt that new methods of funding need to be looked for. I can well understand that the Government are not going suddenly to dip their hands into that bottomless purse that all of us on this side of the House pretend they have. But I hope that some method of finding new sources of funds can be achieved. Of course, one area for this is the area of musical tapes, or of blank tapes. The whole question of piracy of records would take too long to discuss in detail in your Lordships' House tonight, but there is no doubt that it poses a serious threat to the livelihood of musicians, and the only way round that problem, certainly so far as we are concerned, would seem to be some sort of levy on blank tapes, which money could then be devoted, at least in part, to the artists.

The orchestras are at the moment surviving, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has said, on sponsorship. There is nothing wrong with sponsorship, in my view, although I must declare an interest here in that I am indirectly associated with a company sponsoring the London Symphony Orchestra to some considerable extent. One of the joys of my annual round is to go to the youth scholarship auditions and awards and see these young people being tutored in the workshops by the principals of the LSO and to see the almost immediate effect on their playing of being in the hands, even if only for a few minutes, of men and women who spend their lives in a large symphony orchestra. Not only do the children get an awful lot out of it; it is a delight to see the pleasure which the musicians themselves get out of it, and I think they are greatly to be commended for the work that they do.

Nevertheless, sponsorship is fickle, particularly in these days of industrial hardship. Even our major companies are having to look carefully at their grants and donation budgets, even if they consider such expenditure as part of their advertising programme, which I must say my own particular company does not. It is not easy to justify to the shareholders, and to the auditors, perhaps, some of the large amounts of money which are necessary for the sponsorship of the major symphony orchestras.

So there is a real need for further public funding, and even if that is not going to come immediately I hope the Government will at least express a belief in the need for it and a real desire to seek different ways, new ways, of supporting other forms of funding. In America, of course, one might believe that in that great free enterprise society everybody paid for their tickets at full price. In practice, of course, the American orchestras survive on sponsorship, but on sponsorship based on tax deductibility. Perhaps the Government might look at that at some stage in the future.

I endorse everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on the subject of VAT. But whichever route it is—and it is going to be a combination of many of these—I hope that, tonight, the Government will give some indication of serious sympathy for the problems which trouble this great cultural heritage that we have.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for raising this important matter in your Lordships' House tonight. Like him, I think it is a tribute to the Minister for the Arts that he has managed to get an extra 9 per cent. this year. He is a distinguished Minister, of course, but there have been other distinguished Ministers, including one sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, tonight—Lord Jenkins of Putney, who I think was a very distinguished Minister indeed, and who I am glad to see is taking part in this debate.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in almost every respect. I think the only difference I would wish to have with him is on the rather vexed topic of contemporary music. He very neatly pointed to the trouble, which is that if you want to attract an audience you have to play Beethoven and Mozart, whereas if you want to keep up with the times you play a contemporary composer and the audience does not come; so you are therefore, as it were, in a cleft stick. But I must candidly say that I think that the Arts Council are right. In these islands we have a very distinguished tradition of composing, more especially, I think, probably, in England and Wales than in Ireland or Scotland; but it is a distinguished one, and one which has been very greatly reinforced in the 20th century, as a matter of fact. It would be a great pity if the young composers coming forward in increasing numbers, and of high quality, were not given some opportunities to hear their works performed as full orchestral sound. I think that is rather a central point and it would be a pity if it were lost because of a rabid pursuit of audience numbers.

I should like to draw attention to one aspect of the matter which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, did not dwell upon but which was implicit in the Question. I happened to be chairman of the Gulbenkian Committee on the training of musicians. We sat for some time and produced a unanimous report. It is one of the few reports of which I can proudly say that 95 per cent. of the recommendations have been carried into practice, mainly because, I suspect, we set as one of our parameters (to use a fasionable technical planning word) that we would not ask the Government for any more money. So the Government did not know how to respond to this report. They had prepared a brief to say, "We approve of your report but we cannot allow you any resources". We were able to say, "We did not ask for any".

The principal thing I learned on that inquiry was the high quality of our orchestras—and they are of world class; they may not be the greatest in the world but they are in the first rank. What is quite amazing is the genuinely high quality that almost all of them have. That is due largely to the very high technical quality of the musicians, which in turn appears to be due to their training. Nevertheless, we pointed to serious gaps in their training. One serious gap was the point between leaving a music college and becoming a fully-fledged member of an orchestra. We were told that the way they used to do it was through a local orchestra and up into a medium-sized orchestra. I think that one of the things which have happened with the coming of gramophone records and television, and now tapes, is that the local orchestra which used to play on the pier has disappeared. That step in the ladder has gone.

We recommended that there should be established a national centre for orchestral studies where promising young musicians could be trained in orchestral playing to a very high standard. This was partly to replace the BBC academy in Bristol which, for some reason or the other, had not been particularly successful. This enterprise went ahead and there is now a national centre run by a distinguished musician, Nick Tschaikov, and financed by the Association of British Orchestras, the Musicians' Union, the BBC and the independent programme contractors to television. Goldsmith College has given it an academic and physical home in New Cross. It is doing increasingly well. People who have the opportunity to go to the concerts it gives in Greenwich Borough Hall or in St. John's, Smith Square, will find that it is doing a first-class piece of work. It is filling in a gap that was very keenly felt.

I come now to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who said, rightly, following the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that the Greater London Council regards the South Bank as its "baby", and the Corporation of the City of London generously supported this magnificent development in the Barbican—and it is a really splendid development. The National Centre for Orchestral Studies have a lease of the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music, which is about six miles to the South-East of London, on the borders of the London Borough of Lewisham and the London Borough of Greenwich. It will cost about half a million to turn the conservatoire, an extremely distinguished building, a neo-Tudor building of the 1890s, into a first-class orchestral centre.

An appeal is now about to be launched to raise the money to finance it. I must declare an interest because I am president of the Blackheath Society, and this place belongs to the Blackheath Society which goes around renovating old buildings. The idea is that this would provide a concert venue for the very large population which lives in South-East London boroughs such as Bromley, Bexley, Greenwich, Lewisham and so on, and it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone: to provide a good, new, purpose-built orchestral hall which already exists but is not of first-class national quality, and to give a home to the National Centre for Orchestral Studies.

I shall not expect my noble friend to get up tonight and say that it has been in his mind—and he has had a word with his right honourable friend in another place—to give half a million to the National Centre for Orchestral Studies. But I should like to seize the opportunity to put in a word about this because it will becoming along and is something to which everybody will be asked to chip in: the Arts Council, the GLC, the London boroughs and the big companies, opera- and concert-goers, and so on. Ultimately the strength of the orchestras to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, paid such high tribute, relies on the quality of the training of the musicians. That is what must be safeguarded. It is very interestingly being safeguarded by the fact that the employers, the Association of British Orchestras, and the union have come together to finance and to supervise training. If only the rest of British society could co-operate along those lines, this would be a happier and nicer country to live in.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Somers

My Lords, every noble Lord interested in the arts will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for having asked this Unstarred Question. I am sorry that more have not demonstrated their gratitude by being here in the Chamber. Unfortunately, that is the fate of those who ask Unstarred Questions. They generally have to face an empty Chamber.

The noble Lord spoke of the gap between what British orchestras receive in the way of grants and those which Continental orchestras receive. It is certainly terrible that we are so much behind. The expenses of an orchestra are very heavy. They have, among other things, the hire of halls, they have travelling expenses, they have to maintain a van to transport their instruments from place to place. They have the hire and purchase of music which they require from time to time and then they have to pay the players' fees. The noble Lord said that there were about 90 in an orchestra. That figure may vary. It depends on the programme. If it is an early classical programme you may have no more than 60 but, certainly, if you are doing a programme which includes, say, Wagner, you will have quite 90.

All that is expensive. That, incidentally, is one of the reasons why some modern composers cannot get their works performed. It is because they ask for quite unusual instruments, the players of which have to be employed from outside and mean extra expense for the orchestra. It is a practical problem. Then one must remember that the rehearsals, of which there must be one before every concert, are counted, as far as fees are concerned, as concerts.

Let me not imply that the orchestral player does not earn every penny he gets. He does. Orchestral life is a very hard one. During the concert season, it is not very likely that an orchestral player will see a great deal of home life at all. He has a concert every night, a rehearsal almost every afternoon and is constantly travelling around various parts of the country. He certainly earns his money. There is no doubt that the orchestras do not find the financial position easy. Their expenses altogether come to about £1 million a year. Their earned income from the sale of tickets amounts to about £300,000. Incidentally, I should like to say how much I agree with the noble Lord in what he said about VAT. It is a most unfair charge on concert tickets to have the current rate, or to have it at all for that matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that there was a great need for more concert halls. I agree. I hope that if we build any more we shall consult an expert on acoustics. Frankly, the Festival Hall has never been successful in that way. I believe there is every hope that there may be a concert hall in North London. It has been suggested that when Alexandra Palace is rebuilt there will be one there. What it will be like for sound I cannot say.

A lot of people talk about there being four London orchestras and that is much too much. But they are not London orchestras in that sense. They are based in London, certainly, but they are national—in fact, international—orchestras. They play all over the place and it is nonsense to say that simply because they are based in London it is too many to have. We want all that they can give us at present in the way of concerts.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, raised another interesting point. He was saying that the Arts Council are very desirous that audiences should be larger but at the same time that more contemporary music should be played, and that the two seemed to contradict each other. Being a contemporary composer myself, I have found that very true indeed. But, of course, the trouble is that we are a nation who really only like to hear what we already know. That is a pity. That can be overcome by gradual, possibly not very noticeable, education. After all, every composer in the world was contemporary while he was alive. Even Bach was a contemporary composer during his lifetime. I believe he had some very rude remarks made to him over the horrible noises that he was making on the organ. So one has to realise that until one hears modern music and gets to know it—I am not saying all of it is worth hearing a second time, some is not—one cannot say whether it is worthwhile or not.

Possibly the mistake that the orchestras make here is in compiling their programmes which are either of completely classical or completely contemporary music. If they were to mix the two a little more, and include one contemporary work in a programme of classical music, they might get people who could sit it out and see what it was like.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said something about there being a gap in the training of orchestral players. I can assure him that that is not so. They are pouring out of the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy and the Guildhall every year. However, they cannot of course just walk into orchestras like that; they have to wait until there is a vacancy. An orchestra cannot employ more than a certain number, particularly outside the strings. In the wind or brass, they can have only two oboes, two flutes, two bassoons and two clarinets. They do not want any more. They want some reserves, of course, but they cannot employ more than a limited number. Therefore, I do not think that there is any gap in their training. The gap is simply in opportunity.

These orchestras are tremendous value. They provide employment when it is possible for young orchestral players. They make it possible for composers to hear their own works well played—again, when that is possible. They keep the public in touch with music of the best kind. We should be very, very much poorer without them and I hope that everybody realises that.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, commented on professional commercial sponsorship. That is excellent and most orchestras today depend on it. But it can only go so far. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who said that things are not getting any easier for the firms these days. If the present trend continues I do not think that it will be possible for orchestras to bank on getting commercial support, though I hope that possibly it will go on to at any rate a certain degree. I sincerely hope that the Government will do something to make the position of orchestras a little more secure.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to support my noble friend Lord Strabolgi in his Unstarred Question. He and I had a very pleasant relationship when I was Minister and he was the spokesman in this Chamber, and I was delighted to receive the generous comment from the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who was kind enough to commend our efforts over that interesting period of two years. He himself has made a valuable contribution to this discussion. He has a special knowledge of the subject and of course he is married to one of our most distinguished art critics. He moves in an artistic sphere and therefore is well able to contribute from a background of knowledge of the subject. Every noble Lord who has spoken has contributed to the debate from specialised knowledge or his own area of appreciation. In listening to it I certainly have benefited and we are all grateful to my noble friend for asking the Unstarred Question.

Many years ago I remember seeing a fairly early sound film called "A 100 men and a Girl" which had Deanna Durbin in it. I was young at the time—not too young but younger than I am now! It impressed upon me the size of an orchestra. This was about the figure—and of course one can get below that—but the truth of the matter is you need at least 100 people to draw on if you are going to have a major orchestra. That is the size of the problem. If you are going to employ 100 people it cannot be done easily or cheaply.

Our major orchestras are remarkable institutions. They are co-operative organisations. They work together; they create their own persona; they quite frequently engage very distinguished conductors and are an example, I think, of self-help. Where we have such an example, I think it is up to us to see what we can do to help them.

I am not sure whether I am right but I hope that noble Lords will agree with me that London is still the muscial capital of the world. When one looks at the Sunday papers and sees the massive amount of musical possibilities available to London, it seems to me we are extremely fortunate in that on any day we can go and select from an enormously wide variety of music. It is highly desirable that we should do what we can to sustain that situation in a difficult time.

One problem is the recession in the recording industry at the present moment, and that is a great problem because our orchestras, to a greater degree than any others, depend on their recordings. One of the problems of the recording recession is that the recording companies, who have done that very well-known thing in the entertainment industry of benefiting the classical from the pot-boiler, from the pop, are now running down their classical albums because there is not so much profit coming in from the pop side. So one of the main sources of revenue for orchestras is declining. It is this, among other things, which has helped to create a sense of crisis which has possibly motivated my noble friend in raising this Unstarred Question tonight.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that one of the ways of dealing with this that we might consider was the way which was suggested in a debate in this Chamber a short time ago—the idea of putting a levy on home taping. I hope that the Government, following that debate, are looking at that proposal. It seems to me this would be a way of obtaining extra revenue for orchestras which is well worth examining. It may be one way of dealing with the problem by tackling the source of the trouble.

I should also like to say that I agree with those who have said that the Minister has done a great deal better than some people thought he might have done, following, as he did, in the footsteps of a somewhat charismatic predecessor. I think he is to be congratulated, especially as he has had some rather difficult Treasury Ministers to deal with. Treasury Ministers are always difficult, but I have a shrewd suspicion that these particular Treasury Ministers are rather more difficult to deal with than most. As has been said already, British orchestras are self-supporting to a much greater degree than many others. I think they deserve Government help and I hope they are going to get it.

I should like to make one point about value added tax. My noble friend suggested that exemption was the right course, and in saying that he followed the suggestion made by the Commons committee on the subject. With some temerity, I venture to suggest they were probably wrong there. I believe that what is necessary in this area is not exemption but zero rating. I shall not go into the reasons for that, but anyone who has had problems of handling value added tax will know it is very much better to pay 1 per cent. tax, or even a slightly larger rate, than to have total exemption. Noble Lords will not want me to go into the reasons for that, but I think it will be readily accepted by people who have dealt with value added tax.

Music is an excellent field for business sponsorship. It does not have the controversial elements which sometimes enter into other things. I would not say that music is non-controversial: on the contrary, the public, if it has views about the music, stays away.

I have much sympathy with the modern composer. It has been said that musicians have a hard time of it, but the modern composer has an even harder time. The musician is in work, but quite often the modern composer is pushing out music all the time and has problems in getting it performed at all. So I rather hope that the Government will think of the possibility of helping the Arts Council to assist in the performance of a certain amount of modern music. Business sponsorship, which is most valuable, could concentrate on the more popular area and the Arts Council support could be geared in the direction of more modern composers. That might be a good combination.

My noble friend said that in certain circumstances the Arts Council were not allowed to give money. I rather suspect it may be the case that they have not got the money rather than that they are actually told not to find it. It may be that if the Arts Council were given more money they would be ready to pass it on, and I hope the Government will give us a hint that they may look favourably on that.

Finally, I should like to say one word about the amateur music area. For various historic reasons, there does not exist in music the same hard and fast distinction between amateur and professional as exists in the drama world, which I know rather better than the musical world. There is a mixture of professional, semi-professional and amateur in music which provides an enormous amount of pleasure not only to those who listen to it in different parts of the country but also to those who perform it.

That is not to be despised—the thrill which amateur orchestral players get out of participating in music making. I have followed the fortunes of the Wands-worth Symphony Orchestra since their formation about 15 years ago under a gifted conductor, Keith Stent. With the injection of a little professional strength, with a professional leader provided by the GLC or the ILEA—I forget which—and one or two leaders of different sections, with about five very good professionals, this orchestra has raised its standard over the past 15 years and is now capable of giving a concert which can be enjoyed by anybody. That is something which, quite apart from the major scene, gives an enormous amount of pleasure all over the country. I should like to repeat my appreciation to my noble friend and I look forward with great interest to the noble Earl's reply.

8.28 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to respond to this debate about the state of orchestras in the United Kingdom and to comment on the public support and encouragement which they are given. I am slightly surprised to be called by my noble friend Lord Vaizey "an ornament on the Front Bench". As somebody who has already today talked about rear fog lamps, recruiting for the RAF reserve and now orchestras, I must be rather a talkative ornament!

I share with other noble Lords the gratitude of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for raising this topic this evening. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that it has certainly been a most worthwhile debate, with a lot of excellent contributions, and not least his own. I believe we have a record in this country of orchestral development of which we can really be proud, and a system of public funding which meets a wide range of needs.

Above all, our orchestras maintain a remarkably high level of achievement; indeed I should like to pay particular tribute to the dedication and hard work of all who perform in them. The reputation of our orchestras is high at home and abroad. This country enjoys a very wide range of orchestral music, and there is strong support for orchestras among a very substantial and dedicated concert-going public. In spite of the difficulties, many of which have been touched on this evening, we can have a justifiable pride at both national and local level in our achievements.

The difficulties, as has been recognised, are largely matters of amounts of funding which can be made available at the present time, which as we all know well is the case in so many fields of public support. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts, about whom many noble Lords have made generous remarks this evening, is deeply committed to a programme of support for the arts, and it has generally been agreed that this programme, in spite of our present financial difficulties, has enabled the development of our artistic life to be continued by a wide range of arts organisations. But I must emphasise that he does not control, nor would he wish to control, the grants to individual orchestras. This is a matter for the Arts Council, exercised through the London Orchestral Concert Board and in other ways, as well as for the local authorities and for other public and private interests. In particular, I pay tribute, as did the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, to the growing, and very important, contribution made by business sponsorship.

I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, about the various sources from which funds come, but in a way this must be inevitable if maximum advantage is to be taken. For the Arts Council itself, there are many pressures, and the given level of funding will never be enough to meet all the requests it receives. However, central Government support, through the Arts Council, should not be seen as the only, or necessarily the most important, source of finance for our musical life. Nevertheless, the Arts Council has demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, a deep commitment to the basic needs of orchestras in this country, within the funds available. Its total grant allocation for music in the current financial year, most of which will be for orchestral support in one or another form, is well over £5½ million. Whatever may be said about the individual problems of the moment, the fact that so many orchestras of repute are able not merely to keep going but to flourish is evidence that the overall needs continue, by and large, to be met. Here I pay tribute to the expert intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and I was fascinated to hear his remarks underlining both the work and the financing of orchestras.

If I may, I should now like to turn to some individual components of the orchestral scene which have been raised this evening. I recognise what has been said about the problems of the Hallé and the Scottish National Orchestra. The Government equally recognise that local authorities are having to make reductions in their total expenditure and that it is ultimately the responsibility of each authority to determine where economies can best he made. However, my right honourable friend the Minister is constantly urging local authorities not to discriminate against the arts by asking them to bear more than their fair share of reductions. I hope this point will be very much borne in mind by those concerned in all their negotiations. We trust that at the end of the day arrangements can be arrived at which allow all our orchestras to continue the proud traditions they have established.

It is a major achievement that, in our great cities, the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Bournemouth Symphony and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta are all full-time contract orchestras. They are funded by a combination of means, and attract sponsorship in varying degrees. In turn, they provide concert facilities for wide regional areas. I hope that this point will not be lost on those responsible for local support, in both the public and the private sectors.

In his interesting contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, managed to tread very delicately while suggesting one or two moves in the regional areas, which is a path which, I must confess, I hesitate to follow. The several suggestions that we have had tonight on halls are very interesting. I carefully noted them and will sec that they are investigated.

So far as the Government's position is concerned, the regional orchestras have attracted high Arts Council priority in the last two years. The increase in the Arts Council's grant to regional orchestras in 1981–82 was more than 19 per cent. compared with the previous year; the increase in the allocation for 1982–83 is just under 10 per cent. over the previous year. I believe that such figures demonstrate a clear commitment to supporting regional orchestras, at a time when the Arts Council's grant itself has been under considerable restraint. This level of funding does not mean, however, that the council does not look carefully at the quality of the product it is supporting: it does that. A regular assessment is made of orchestral performance, with a close eye on standards, repertoire, including the contribution to the development of contemporary music, and on overall financial management.

The Arts Council deliberately earmarks a proportion of its grant to the London Orchestras Concert Board to encourage the performance of contemporary music, since it feels strongly that it is its duty to support works by living composers. In some way to answer the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, it believes that only when audiences are able to increase their familiarity with contemporary music will they begin fully to appreciate and enjoy it. The whole course of history has shown that works by contemporary artists have frequently been unpopular in their own time, but that support has subsequently been justified. However, I am sure that the council will take on board the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, this evening. There is a constant dialogue between the Arts Council and individual orchestras, since the council is represented by an assessor on the board of every orchestra that receives a grant. In this way, the council is very well aware of the needs of individual orchestras, and I think helps greatly towards liaison.

If I may turn for a minute to the London orchestras, the four London-based orchestras—the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra—are supported by the London Orchestra Concert Board which represents the Arts Council, and by the GLC, both of whom provide specific funds to the board. I should like at this point to pay tribute to the efforts of these four orchestras to obtain profitable engagements, foreign tours, recording contracts and other sources of income which are essential to help with their promotions, in addition to the funds provided from public sources. The main part of the orchestral board's assistance is given in the form of concert guar- antees. These will vary according to circumstances; for example, in the 1982–83 season the Royal Festival Hall figure will be £5,000 per concert. The Government believe that this approach, taken together with the sponsorship opportunities which the orchestras are well able to engender, is the right one to sustain the present level of concert activity.

If I may now come to the orchestras in Scotland, the Scottish Arts Council supports the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Scottish National Orchestra, which has been given an above average increase in its grant for the current year. The BBC supports the BBC Scottish Symphony, and there are also the orchestras of the Scottish Opera and the Scottish Ballet, both supported by the Scottish Arts Council. I do not think it can be said that this is in any way a paucity of provision, even though there may be problems about the adequacy of the funding from time to time.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to the possible effect on the Scottish National Orchestra of local government reorganisation. While this reorganisation—which, incidentally, has not yet come into effect—will remove the statutory obligation on regional authorities to provide support for cultural activities, there is no reason why they should not continue to do so voluntarily and, indeed, I hope very much that they will. As to the transfer of responsibility to the district councils to support the arts, it will, of course, be for each council to decide what level of support it provides, and I would urge them to ensure in taking their decisions that the arts do not bear a disproportionate share of any economies.

At this stage, I should like to pay a separate tribute to the major contribution to the orchestral life of this country which is made by the BBC. In the words of the corporation's own memorandum to the Select Committee The BBC's direct and indirect patronage of music—both in creation and performance—is in all probability the most substantial of any broadcasting organisation in the world: and … in extent the BBC is the most far-ranging of any musical employing agency". The BBC is almost certainly the world's largest single employer of professional symphonic musicians. Apart from its orchestras in Scotland and Wales, it maintains, of course, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the many hours of broadcast music by BBC orchestras, they perform both at their home bases and tour extensively to ensure that live orchestral music is heard. This is a public service for which the country as a whole is greatly indebted to the corporation.

As well as the symphony orchestras that I have described, there are a number of chamber orchestras which are based on freelance players; for example, the English Chamber Orchestra, the London Mozart Players and the Orchestra of St. John's, Smith Square, close to us. All contribute to the richness of our musical life; and I should like specifically to mention, in addition, the London Sinfonietta, whose policy is to perform and promote contemporary music. It has in this respect reached a standard of excellence which makes it unique in this country and possibly in Europe. Again, these orchestras are financed through the London Orchestral Concert Board by public money, which is perhaps an indication of the importance that is attached to their work.

I should like to say a word about the training of orchestras, especially as my noble friend Lord Vaizey has spoken on the subject. We are fortunate in that our educational system continues to produce a steady flow of first-class young musicians into the musical profession. There are two post-graduate orchestras devoted solely to training professional orchestral musicians: the Orchestra of the National Centre of Orchestral Studies, a full symphony orchestra based at Goldsmiths' College, and the Royal Northern College of Music Sinfonia, a chamber orchestra based at the Royal Northern College in Manchester. Both of these orchestras received direct financial support from the BBC and the Musicians' Union, and indirect support through bursaries awarded by the Arts Council. Both are newly established, but the indications are that they do a very good job in preparing students to enter the profession and that their value is much appreciated by the professional orchestras.

A further mark of our musical strength is the variety of youth orchestras throughout the country, attached to and funded by local education authorities. The National Youth Orchestra draws on the cream of young musicians and is rightly held in very high esteem both at home and abroad.

As I bring my remarks to a close, I should like to come to the subject of sponsorship. Music continues to be the most heavily sponsored of the arts, and it continues to receive valuable supplementary income from a wide range of business sources. It would be invidious of me to single out particular examples of sponsorship for commendation, but I am sure that many examples will be known to members of this House. A properly organised sponsorship deal can provide considerable benefit to both parties: an extra source of income for the orchestra and an association with a quality product for the business. Such activities are greatly to be commended.

My right honourable friend the Minister has recently begun a series of regional sponsorship meetings to emphasise the need for a much greater level of local sponsorship. This could have particular importance for regional musical activities. The same principles of sponsorship apply but the difference is one of scale. A number of regional orchestras already receive substantial income from sponsorship, but I hope that this will increase as the benefits of such an arrangement are more widely understood and accepted.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has raised with me on more than one occasion, credits for sponsorship. As far as the BBC is concerned, I understand that there is a general policy to give a sponsor one credit at the beginning and end of each broadcast and an additional visual credit at the beginning and end of televised transmissions. Although this policy appears to have been followed on many occasions there have been notable omissions, and these have given rise to disquiet. I am sure that bringing to public attention in debates such as these the increased importance and value of sponsorship is essential. As to the national press, I understand that there has been disquiet for some time about the inconsistent treatment of sponsored events, particularly the lack of credits in critics' reviews. This problem has been brought to the attention of editors in the past and it is helpful if all of us continue, as we have this evening, to use every opportunity to raise the matter.

As for the subject of VAT, I have noted what all noble Lords have said, but at the moment this is the subject of the Select Committee's Report which is now under consideration, and I do not think I can comment on it before the Government have responded to that report. Nor do I think I ought to be drawn down the path suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. A comment was made about the Arts Council not being allowed to make up the local authority shortfall. I am not aware of this. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said, I think that this is just a question of a lack of funds.

There is one other matter which I should like to mention. One or two comparisons were made with foreign orchestras. The difficulty about comparing like with like in these cases is the number of orchestras which we have in this country as against those in some other countries which have been mentioned. And, finally, it is a question of what we can afford.

I hope I have said enough to indicate that, despite some of the difficulties which have been mentioned, there is major provision for orchestral activity in this country which sustains a great deal of work. I shall read the debate in detail and draw the numerous interesting points which have been made—from taping to the redevelopment of halls—to the attention of my right honourable friend. Financial difficulties are bound to continue in individual cases and it would not be appropriate for the Government to make up the withdrawal of grant from other sources. But a great deal can be achieved by the combined efforts of central funding bodies, local authorities and business sponsorship.

This is the direction in which we must continue to move. It is a remarkable tribute to the effectiveness of the system we have evolved that such an abundance of live music of a very high standard continues to be performed by so many different orchestras in this country. I believe that this represents quite remarkable value for money and the efforts of my right honourable friend will continue to be on sustaining what has been achieved.

I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for giving the House the opportunity this evening to discuss our orchestras, and for enabling me to re-assert the Government's continued support and encouragement.