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Ballet and Opera

11. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans she has for making lottery funding available for the development of expertise in ballet and opera.[28767]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: Support to students of dance and drama is administered through discretionary grants by local authorities under the overall responsibility of the Department for Education and Employment. I share the concern of many hon. Members about the availability of such grants. On 1 April, I announced changes to the lottery rules requiring the Arts Council to take account of

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the need to develop the skills, talents and creative abilities of young people. The council is now considering how to implement the new direction, and it must do so in a way that does not substitute for existing public expenditure.

Mr. Gunnell: I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that that is not satisfactory. I am sure that she will confirm that the Arts Council is not able to make grants for dance students, for drama students and for opera students at the national opera studio. The students are not allowed to apply for national lottery funding, so they must approach local authorities. I am sure that the Secretary of State will confirm that fewer and fewer local authorities are able to fund discretionary awards in these areas--in fact, many have stopped doing so--so many students from many areas will not receive funding for training in dance, drama or opera. There is an urgent need to find a way for such grants to proceed. The experts in these disciplines provide a great deal of income for the country through their performances abroad. I believe that we should continue to make expertise available.

Mrs. Bottomley: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. His part of the country has received lottery awards for significant arts projects, including three for dance. He will know that the number of mandatory grants for dance and drama has increased as the number of degree courses has increased. However, the degree to which local authorities fund discretionary awards is up to them. The hon. Gentleman will welcome, as I do, last week's announcement by the Arts Council that it has asked the chairman of the London arts board, Clive Priestly, to look at this area to see whether further steps can be taken and whether the new Arts Council lottery direction that I announced recently can be used to good effect.

Sir Michael Neubert: Is it not ironic that, when the success of the national lottery is offering hundreds of millions of pounds of extra support for charities, sport and the arts, the D'Oyly Carte Company--the principal custodian of the unique British tradition of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas--receives only £18,000 a year in public funds? Will my right hon. Friend take urgent action, either by issuing new directions on stabilisation funding or by other means, to avert the closure of that company--its current season ends this week, and its autumn season has been cancelled--so as to ensure the survival of this much-loved tradition for our generation and generations to come?

Mrs. Bottomley: My hon. Friend speaks for many hon. Members in his strong support for the D'Oyly Carte. A number of plans are under way, and I think that the Arts Council is now well aware of the strength of feeling on this matter. A moment ago, my hon. Friend the Minister of State outlined the development in stabilisation funds--another way in which we are trying to make the lottery more flexible so as to deal with some of the longer-term needs of arts organisations. We have listened to the concern that capital grants alone may not be sufficient to perform the task. We believe that greater flexibility will mean that more arts organisations will have a more flourishing future.

Mr. Jamieson: Does the Secretary of State recall the correspondence between her Department and me about Natasha Cornish, a very talented young dancer in my

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constituency, who was advised to contact the Arts Council with a view to receiving grant aid? As the Secretary of State's Department has directed the Arts Council that it should not undertake any long-term funding, how will the Arts Council fund students during two to three-year periods? Does she agree that we must iron out this anomaly if we are to help some of our brightest and best young dancers?

Mrs. Bottomley: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not regard two or three years as long-term funding. It is perfectly possible for the Arts Council, with the changed direction that we have announced for it, to address that issue. Such funding formally remains the responsibility of local authorities, through discretionary grants, and it is for them to decide what priority to give such awards. Clive Priestly intends to report to the chairman of the Arts Council precisely to deal with that interface. It will be a very timely report, and I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to Mr. Priestly.

Light Opera

12. Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans she has to fund touring productions of light opera in provincial towns in Britain.[28768]

Mr. Sproat: Specific arts funding decisions are, of course, taken at arm's length from the Government by the Arts Council of England and the regional arts boards. Ministers will consider shortly the Arts Council's proposals to use lottery funds to support the financial stabilisation of some arts companies. The Arts Council's chairman, Lord Gowrie, has recently written to me suggesting that D'Oyly Carte might be part of an associated pilot project.

Mr. Steen: The problem is with the Government--[Hon. Members: Hear, hear."] Wait a moment. The D'Oyly Carte has been in touch with the Arts Council for three years, asking for some money. All that it gets from the Government is 10 per cent. of its running costs, whereas grand opera gets 90 per cent. of its running costs. Are the Government going to allow one of the great and most cherished institutions in the country to collapse when there is £300 million of Arts Council money in the lottery that is not being used? It is the Secretary of State's problem--it has nothing to do with the Arts Council.

Mr. Sproat: The House will be pleased to know that, since our most recent Question Time--after the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)--I wrote to the chairman of the Arts Council, who wrote back. The Arts Council will now investigate whether the stabilisation fund can be applied to D'Oyly Carte as part of a pilot project. The Government are of course acutely aware of the great value of D'Oyly Carte and of the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon. The Arts Council provides those moneys. The Government have no money with which they directly fund organisations, whether D'Oyly Carte or any other, but I hope that the Arts Council will do what the great majority of hon. Members and the country want it to do.

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Rugby Football (Wales)

13. Mr. Sweeney: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps she is taking to encourage rugby football in Wales.[28769]

Mr. Sproat: Government responsibility for sport in Wales rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. Central Government funding for sport in Wales is channelled through the Sports Council for Wales.

Mr. Sweeney: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important to ensure that young people in Wales have the opportunity at school and outside school to play competitive sports such as rugby and soccer? Will he confirm that he will co-operate fully with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to ensure that such opportunities are made available?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, I will. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales produced a Welsh document that was the equivalent of "Raising the Game", in which he placed similar emphasis on the importance of competitive games at school. Rugby has received about £235,000 in Wales from Sportsmatch, and another £1.3 million from the lottery. Rugby is doing pretty well in the context of sport in Wales. When Wales has a few rugby league players playing for it again, it might do even better.

Mr. Barry Jones: Would the Minister and the Secretary of State like to congratulate Buckleigh primary school in my constituency, which reached the finals of its district rugby union competition recently, and to which I had the honour of presenting some awards? Will the Minister consider visiting the school and, in so doing, take into account especially the cost of kit? The necessary sportswear is expensive. If there is unemployment and difficulty in an area, the problems are even greater. Will the Minister comment on that?

Mr. Sproat: Certainly. I congratulate Buckleigh primary school. It is one of the prime aims of "Raising the Game" that exactly what the hon. Gentleman has described happens. The provision of kit is a difficult problem for many schools. The Sports Council will agree to help fund schemes where schools are linked to local clubs. The provision of kit could be part of such a deal. If the hon. Gentleman would like to get in touch with me, I shall make him aware of the details of the scheme.

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