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That is the position in which the elite brass bands find themselves.

I have been more personally involved in the second example, which is of securing funding for my brass band—Grimethorpe Colliery band. We are all aware of the history of the elite brass bands, which were founded in the staple industries of the areas. It was a way for the textile owners or the pit owners to show respect for their communities. In those days, the local mine owner provided everything—for example, the football and playing facilities. In Grimethorpe we also have an excellent first aid team; last year the Grimethorpe colliery first aid team reached the world championships in Australia. Everything surrounded the pit. It was exactly the same in the textile villages, such as where the Black Dyke Mills band is from. It showed the culture of the place and the respect that people had for their communities.

In the old days, the players from the Grimethorpe Colliery band worked down the pit. I say that they worked down the pit: they were on the colliery books, but they probably did about two or three shifts a year. The rest of the time, they were crafting their expertise in music, and they were fantastic musicians.

Times have changed, and only one member of Grimethorpe Colliery band still lives in Grimethorpe. Musicians come from all over the country for the privilege of playing in Grimethorpe Colliery band. One bandsman travels twice a week, every week, from Essex to rehearse in Grimethorpe because he feels proud and privileged to play for a such a band.

After the pits closed, we originally got sponsorship from UK Coal, of about £150,000 a year, but that then dried up. We now get funding from Powerfuel, which is a small coal-operating company owned by Richard Budge.

A few years ago, however, Grimethorpe went through a funding crisis, so I had to write to all the big companies and building societies in Yorkshire, including the Yorkshire building society, Halifax, the Barnsley building society, Asda, Morrisons and so on, to see whether I could get some money. I managed to get £15,000 from HBOS—Halifax Bank of Scotland—and £5,000 from Asda. They were the only two big Yorkshire companies that responded.

I pay tribute to the corporate social responsibility that those national and international organisations have shown to my community, but I should not have to be sending begging letters to big companies in Yorkshire for the best brass band in the world. The Arts Council has one third of a billion pounds a year to give out to musical companies and what have you, but Grimethorpe has not been able to tap into a penny of it. Grimethorpe got a small grant from the national lottery about 10 years ago, and I have already mentioned this year’s experience, when the band applied to the Arts Council for expenses to travel to the Kent brass band festival, but was told that it was too late.

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I have been criticised in the past for making comparisons and trying to make this a class issue—that is, of working class against middle class, which it is not—or the high arts against brass bands and all that. I have been criticised for comparing brass bands to orchestras and the ballet, so let me put that to one side. I think that brass bands can be compared to orchestras, so recently I tabled the following question, to which the Minister will know the response:

In the past five years, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra received £3.8 million, the Hallé concerts society received £9.589 million and the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra received £9.6 million.

Grimethorpe Colliery band and the Black Dyke Mills band both received zero pounds. That is my main point tonight. That is a national scandal. We have bands of the likes of Grimethorpe Colliery band, which played at the Proms last year, with the Black Dyke Mills band on different nights. They have played at Carnegie hall and the Sydney opera house; they are world famous. Indeed, only last week I was talking to an Australian member of the New South Wales assembly, Noreen Hay, who represents Wollongong. She was telling me what a great band she had in the Wollongong United Mine Workers band, and about how proud she was to have a band like that in New South Wales. When I told her that I was from Grimethorpe—from “Brassed Off” country—she could not believe it. She was really pleased to meet me. It was fantastic.

David Taylor: Part of the renaissance in brass bands that has occurred was of course triggered by the film “Brassed Off”, to which my hon. Friend has referred. Does he agree that the major national broadcasting organisations ought to give more air time to brass bands, to sustain the support that we know is out there? People will not necessarily be able to see Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald playing the solo in Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”, but there is nevertheless an audience out there waiting for that type of broadcasting. We can build public support, but only if those organisations play their part.

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I do not know whether hon. Members remember, but when we had the Commonwealth games in Manchester, a brass band played at the opening or closing ceremony—I forget which. To be fair to the Minister, she has suggested that we ought to try to incorporate a brass band into the 2012 Olympics, in either the opening or the closing ceremony. When she made that suggestion, the representatives from the brass bands thought that she could walk on water, for want of a better expression. She has shown her commitment to brass bands and I commend her for that.

The new chief executive of the Arts Council is a great guy. He is a Geordie, and he is fully behind my campaign. The problem is that the funding package from the Arts Council for the regularly funded organisations has now been agreed for the next three years. On paper, that
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means that no brass band can tap into that funding until 2011. The new chief exec of the Arts Council feels that his hands are slightly tied by this.

It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Jeff Ennis: The chief exec of the Arts Council feels that his hands are tied because of the funding package. We all know why the Government introduced three-year funding packages for the voluntary sector and for other organisations. They did so because it makes sense, because people need to know where they stand. I support the principle of three-year funding packages, but the elite brass bands have now been excluded from Arts Council funding and cast outside the door for the next three years. That is an issue that the Minister needs to address, and I would like her to have an urgent meeting with the new chief executive of the Arts Council during the summer recess, to see whether there are any ways and means of getting round this technicality. I believe that this issue must be addressed, and that is one of the reasons why I recently set up the all-party group on brass bands that I mentioned earlier. I know that it will be a very popular group.

When this issue was covered on “The Politics Show” on BBC2 a couple of months ago, Sir John Tusa, the chair of the University of the Arts, was vociferous in his support of my campaign. He said that it ticked all the right Government boxes, as one of my hon. Friends has already said. It ticks the boxes marked “social cohesion”, “outreach”, “widening participation in higher education”, “youth involvement” and “social inclusion”. Even Sir John Tusa, who is recognised as one of the high arts prima donnas—for want of a better expression—is supportive of my campaign.

I can tell the Minister that the other members of the all-party group and I will be keeping a close eye on developments between her and the Arts Council over the summer. I look forward to hearing her response to the many points that I have raised tonight.

10.2 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I shall be brief, partly because I took up the Minister’s time last Monday, when we had a lovely debate on listed buildings—although I know that Adjournment debates on Mondays tend to get more time. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis). I know how passionately he feels about this subject, and he has demonstrated that again tonight.

Besides being the centre of the universe for listed buildings, Stroud also has some notoriety for brass bands. We have had a brass band festival for the past 40 years or more, set up by my dear, late lamented friend, Ossie Stephens. His comrade in arms, Bill Brunt—sadly, he is no longer with us either—was the most amusing compère. He could bring tears to the eyes, even at the most dry-as-dust concert. We have many people who spend their time keeping the festival going. I should like to mention in passing Trevor Pickens, who is currently the honorary president of the Stroud brass band festival, and Ken Gracie, who is involved in many things.

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I hope that the Minister will reflect on the fact that these people are all volunteers. They have spent many hours bringing the best bands to Stroud over the years. They steward, they host, they collect the tickets and they sell the ice creams. They make the festival a wonderful occasion. Every month during the winter, we get bands to perform. Sometimes, we get world-famous bands such as Grimethorpe—although we have not had the Black Dyke Mills band for a long time—and the Yorkshire colliery bands.

We also have up-and-coming bands, and I have to declare a personal interest at this point. Until recently, my son Christopher and my daughter Esther played euphonium and tenor horn in the Nailsworth silver band. We also have the Chalford band, which is very good. My in-laws go all over the country—indeed, all over Europe. They are called Brian and Sheila Baker; when I see them on Thursday, I hope I shall get their commendation. What my hon. Friend says is absolutely true: such people go everywhere; they support these activities, and it is all made possible by volunteering.

Let me make a couple of points that have not been brought out so far. First, there are also military bands. Stroud tends to get a military band at least once every other season. It is part of the comradeship of the military to have marching bands and performing bands, which I would not like to lose. Having younger players is important. I have talked to people who have been involved with the festival for a long time, and they are all getting older. They are worrying about where the new generation of players and activists, as well as the people who do the organising, are going to come from. That is why we need some pump-priming finance.

We used to get quite good sponsorship at the local level, but it has begun to dry up, as the organisers keep going to the same people. As my hon. Friend rightly says, funding a band with new instruments is expensive, and the cost of travel is escalating. When these people involved in brass bands come to Stroud, they do not get back to their part of the north until the very early hours of the morning. That shows their huge dedication. World-class instrumentalists and conductors can be giving up their time, which is why we ask for some fairness and some recognition of the importance of these social institutions. We are talking about wonderful examples of the best of British culture. That is why brass bands are so important to all of us, even in the outposts. We have the band Flowers in Cheltenham, which is our claim to fame in the top 20; we always get one band there, but we cannot compete with the north. The north always comes to us.

David Taylor: One source of funding for the brass band movement not yet referred to is local authorities, which are well aware of the promotional potential of such bands for their own districts and counties. It helps them to be associated with a successful brass band. Let us at least recognise that, with all the pressures they face, local authorities do quite a lot in that regard.

Mr. Drew: That has been absolutely true of Stroud district council for a long time; I am sure it still provides sponsorship and help for events in our main venue, the Subscription Rooms. It gives financial help and help in kind.

Let me make a final plea to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has some time to respond. This issue is greatly underestimated. As my hon. Friend the Member
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for Barnsley, East and Mexborough said, we are not trying to smash ballet or other cultural expressions; we are not saying that brass bands deserve parity. All we want is a seat at the table, which is not unreasonable in view of the millions of people who find enjoyment in this activity. Brass bands are not passing away slowly; they are very much alive, but they are facing financial problems, as it is expensive to run a brass band. The very best have to stay at the top.

Pleasingly, this issue also brings Europe together. Many bands are developing in parts of the world such as the new Europe, which pride themselves on their ability—but they look to Britain as the home country, so to speak, so it is wrong that we find it so difficult to fund our bands properly. I hope that there will be some good news, and that we will recognise properly how important brass bands are to this country’s culture.

10.8 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) on securing this debate, particularly so close to the summer recess, and providing us with the opportunity to talk about this really important subject. I would also like to congratulate Grimethorpe Colliery band on becoming top of the league for the second year running and winning the English national brass band competition. I thank other hon. Friends for participating in this evening’s debate: my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew).

Jeff Ennis: Every Member who has spoken in the debate—and I thank my hon. Friends for contributing—represents a different region of the country, or a different country in the case of Wales. Does that not underline the fact that brass bands represent every community and region of the country?

Margaret Hodge: I agree. They are essentially British, and symbolise British history and culture, and are therefore important.

My hon. Friend has led a long and honourable campaign on behalf of brass bands. I have had meetings with him, and he has gained a lot of publicity and support on the issues that he has raised. When we have had discussions, I hope that he has had the impression that he is at least heard with a friendly ear, even if I cannot always deliver for him. That ear is friendly because I am a passionate believer in the power of music, in all its genres and forms, to inspire and transform lives. I, too, enjoy brass bands and brass band music, and recognise that it can foster community spirit and strengthen neighbourhood relationships.

The debate has brought to public attention the importance of brass bands to our musical heritage and to the lives of individuals and communities across the country. The importance of music has been raised by a number of Members who have contributed to the debate. Music lifts my soul and enriches my spirit in a way that other art forms do not. Those of us who are committed to music, of whatever form, find that to be the case.

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Music can also bring people together, because they must practise and play together in a group, especially in bands and orchestras. That is a powerful element. Young people can learn a variety of skills from participating in music. They learn to work in a team, which is hugely important in later life. They learn to understand patterns and shapes, which is important in developing basic literacy and numeracy skills. They learn to develop creativity, which we all talk about as an important skill for survival in the increasingly competitive global economy. Therefore, it is hugely important that music should form a part of children’s and young people’s education. Brass bands in particular can become a symbol of community identity and pride, which is very important for social cohesion.

Brass bands have a history and distinctiveness that cannot but conjure up a sense of Britishness the moment that they are heard. Whether it is the Salvation Army playing in a shopping centre at Christmas, a Sunday afternoon bandstand performance in a public park, or a young person’s concert band playing at a school open day, the sound is utterly unique and finds its most powerful and, for me, emotive expression in the colliery bands, whose plight in the late ’80s was so movingly expressed, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire has said, in the film, “Brassed Off”. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough kindly gave me another DVD copy of “Brassed Off” the last time we met, and I have enjoyed watching it. It is a very good film.

Michael Jabez Foster: My right hon. Friend is diplomatic in the way that she describes the importance of music in all its forms. But is it not true that brass bands are important because people do not have to be posh to take part in a brass band, whereas in many other forms of music, whether rightly or wrongly, people feel inhibited and excluded?

Margaret Hodge: Actually, I do not agree, because I am a passionate supporter of music. I am very pleased that the Government have been able to fund a pilot project similar to El Sistema in Venezuela. One of its orchestras also played at last year’s Proms. The Government in Venezuela, at national, federal or regional level, fund music for street kids, paying for musical instruments for children who are poverty-stricken and have no opportunities of any kind. Children with very little support from their parents, very low aspirations, no money and no access to any material goods are expected to engage in four hours of solid practice every day, and have become so wonderfully proficient that they perform in international concerts such as the Proms. Indeed, theirs was probably one of the most successful performances that we heard at the Proms last year.

David Taylor: Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster), we have moved on since the days when the then Member for Hayes and Harlington—Mr. Terry Dicks, a working-class Tory—described opera as “fat Italians in tights”. Working-class people enjoy opera and ballet as much as any other members of society. However, they are not necessarily given the access to opera and ballet, and the encouragement to participate, that constitute a routine part of the way in which brass bands operate.

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