HL Deb 21 May 1985 vol 464 cc161-3

3 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they support the findings of the Priestley Report on The Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, the Government did accept the main findings and conclusions of the Priestley scrutiny and included an additional £2.8 million in the Arts Council's grant for 1984–85, which was passed on to the Royal Opera House and has been built into the Opera House's baseline funding for 1985–86.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for that welcome Answer—he is a sparkling champion of cultural activities—may I ask whether he is aware that with modern techniques for putting on film the instantaneous translation of operas as they are being sung, music is being brought to the people? Does he agree that television is to be congratulated upon this facility by which words written in English can be seen as they are sung by the artist, so bringing to the people great operas and ballets such as "Don Giovanni", "Swan Lake" and others? I hope that the Government will encourage this.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, as a long-time fan of opera, I very much agree with the noble Lord. I welcome the enormous interest in opera that television and video have brought, even though I recognise that this brings any arts Minister a certain amount of headache.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that Sir Claus Moser is on record as saying that at the Royal Opera House they are in despair about the grant and face draconian cuts? Will he launch an urgent inquiry to see what effect these are having on operatic standards?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am well aware of Sir Claus's despair, which I find a little operatic. In 1983–84, the Royal Opera House got a rise, so to say, of 10 per cent; in 1984–85 a rise of 7 per cent. Last year—I recognise that this poses real difficulty for Sir Claus and his board—the rise was only 2 per cent. But one cannot have a good year every year.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if the sparkle discerned in him by my noble friend is not apparent at the Royal Opera House, it is even less apparent elsewhere in the country? Will he look again at the whole question of funding? Does he agree that the underfunding discerned by Priestley at the Royal Opera House is rife throughout the country? Will he do something to put it right generally?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I have to say that I do not believe in an ever upward movement of funding for the arts. I believe in a good baseline of Government subsidy that is supplemented by an inflow of private funds. I am glad to say that this is taking place.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, with the permission of the House, whether he will consider removing value added tax from cultural and musical activities, as happens in many parts of Europe?

The Earl of Cowrie

My Lords, I do not think that any Government would contemplate that. It would be very difficult to ring fence the arts, culture or music from a general demand to be removed from a tax which, whatever one thinks of it, is needed and is very efficient to gather.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, will the noble Earl remind us of the fall in the grant in real terms in the current year?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I do not have that information. There is some fall, but that is compensated for by the fact that there have been real term rises in previous years.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that some of us take a different view about the Royal Opera House and feel that the patrons of Covent Garden, in the main, could afford to pay a great deal more than they do? Is he aware that the money saved could be devoted to the provinces where incomes are lower and the need very much greater?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, will perhaps be aware that one of the reasons why the Opera House finds itself in some difficulties—I have every sympathy for that—is that the Arts Council has decided to divert a greater portion of its grant towards the regions, including of course opera companies in the regions.

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