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21 July 2008 : Column 638

Margaret Hodge: I could wax lyrical about opera as well. In Italy, it is a very working-class pursuit. Indeed, it is enjoyed by all classes and cultures. My mission, ambition and passion are to ensure that we spread the love of music in all its genres and forms to all people. That is why I am so pleased that the Government—through the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which has rather more money than the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—have invested more than £330 million in music education, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough. That is of prime importance. It means that every primary school child will be able to have at least one year’s tuition in an orchestral instrument, which is fantastically important.

In my constituency, which was lucky enough to benefit from the early phase of the roll-out of the programme to which I referred, I went to hear a group of about 100 eight and nine-year-olds play. Music was not a natural part of their culture and upbringing, and they had undergone a year of tuition for perhaps an hour and a half or two hours a week. It was really to heartening to see them bounce around, playing their instruments in time in a big group. I know that 50 per cent. of the children involved in the first year of that experiment have chosen to continue learning their instruments in the second and third years. We must do more to spread the fantastic pleasure that music can bring to many more people, and that includes the pleasure of brass bands. I do not exclude brass bands, but I do not want them to be seen as the only way in which we can engage children from all communities and backgrounds in music.

I am proud of what the Labour Government have done for the arts over the last 10 or 11 years. When we first came to office the arts were terribly underfunded, but we have managed to increase funding by 73 per cent. in real terms, and even in the latest tight fiscal spending round we managed to obtain a real-terms increase of £50 million—3.3 per cent.—for the Arts Council. As a result the arts are now flourishing, and we are considered worldwide to have some of the most excellent orchestras, theatre companies, dance companies and fine arts institutions. We should be proud of that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough is right that the Arts Council funds almost 900 regularly funded organisations. He is also right that that funding is for three years. There is a reason for that, which I hope he appreciates. Many of these organisations are quite fragile. It is easy to pick the one or two big nationals, but many of them are very local, very innovative and very much at the cutting edge. As they are fragile, if we were not to give them that three-year security in funding, they might not be able to undertake the innovation that puts them at the cutting edge, and that is the basis of so much of the creativity and excellence that we in the UK enjoy today. While I accept that it is sad that no elite brass band is funded in this round, I hope my hon. Friend will accept that we were right to go for the three-year funding pattern.

I am sure Arts Council representatives will be listening to this debate, but it is very important that we maintain the arm’s length principle in the way in which we fund arts in this country. We allocate the money to a non-governmental body, and it is for it to determine, within the broad parameters and framework we set it, which organisations to fund. I can give a very good reason for that. The Leader of the Opposition recently went to a
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lunch with representatives of the Arts Council at which he is purported to have said that he hoped it was not funding—

Mr. Speaker: Order. If there is to be a criticism of any Member, the convention is to give warning of that. Therefore, this matter might instead be raised in a private conversation in the Tea Room.

Margaret Hodge: Thank you for drawing that to my attention, Mr. Speaker. I will not pursue that remark, but what I will say is that it is very important that there is no political interference in Arts Council decisions.

Jeff Ennis: As I expected, the Minister has given an excellent response so far, picking out all the main points I made. However, is it not the case that the Arts Council has just agreed to fund an extra 80 new regularly funded organisations but not one of them is a brass band? I agree with the arm’s length point, and I also agree with the three-year funding package, but when that leads to the exclusion for three years of a major British art form—because that is what we are talking about—that is a serious omission, and it is an omission that needs to be addressed before 2011.

Margaret Hodge: I hear what my hon. Friend says, and no doubt Arts Council representatives will hear it, too. Let me just tell him something that might surprise him, however. Recently, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, working together with the Arts Council, undertook a review of the entire amateur and voluntary sector in the arts, and we have published a report called “Our Creative Talent”. It emerged that there are currently almost 50,000 voluntary groups in the arts—from bands, brass bands and orchestras to book clubs, and from lace-making to dance clubs—and there are 5.9 million members of those groups, and an additional 3.5 million volunteers who are either extras or helpers. That is a huge number of people—more than 9.4 million—who are engaged in one way or another in voluntary or amateur arts activities.

In the course of that report, the question arose of where these organisations most sought help, and the answer was interesting. It was not so much direct funding that organisations wanted; it was much more support in finding premises. This is where we come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire. I accept the point about elite brass bands, but in general, we need local authorities to assist in ensuring that the conditions exist where these thousands and thousands of voluntary arts organisations, all of which bring joy to lots of people’s hearts and contribute massively to the well-being of communities, can prosper. Part of that relates to premises and part relates to advice; it is about simple things such as health and safety advice, and ensuring that if children are engaged in these activities, the necessary permissions and child protection issues are covered, because the organisations involved demand such things.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire mentioned local authorities, because I am convinced that as well as the Arts Council playing its role, local authorities should see that these organisations are at the heart of their communities. To the extent that local authorities are therefore responsible for place making, they should invest in those organisations.

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The new programme that we have launched together with the Department for Children, Schools and Families—the “Find your talent” programme—is another innovation that I hope will help brass bands to find the next generation of talented young people who can grow up to play, in one way or another, in community and amateur brass bands, bringing joy to their communities. Under the “Find your talent” scheme, we hope that every child—certainly those in the 10 pilot areas—will have access to between two and five hours of culture a week, equivalent to what more than 80 per cent. of children now enjoy in relation to sport. That is a wide menu of potential activities, including not only going to concerts, but participating in learning instruments, and not only going to theatres, but participating in dramatic activities in the schools. If the pilots, which are located all over the country—there are pilots in Leeds, Bolton, Liverpool, Tyneside, Telford and Wrekin, Folkestone and Tower Hamlets—are successful and we can prove their worth, I hope that the Chancellor will consider funding this programme, so that we can roll it out across the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough discussed the funding that the Arts Council gives brass bands. The YouthMusic funding is important, because through the YouthMusic arm of the Arts Council, the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain receives nearly £125,000 a year. I should put on the record the fact that this year, a former member of that band became the youngest ever winner of the BBC’s “Young Musician of the Year”, and we should all applaud that. My hon. Friend rightly said that only 16 applications were made under the grants for the arts programme—perhaps he will work with others to secure more —of which seven were successful, which is about the success rate for all applications that are made under the scheme.

I have talked to my hon. Friend before about the role of regional development agencies, and I am pleased to hear that he has had discussions with Yorkshire’s RDA since we met. I am convinced that the Arts Council could do more—that would be a decision for it to take—but both local authorities and regional authorities must also do their part in ensuring that this very important community activity is sustained.

My hon. Friend was kind enough to mention the fact that 2012 gives us an enormous opportunity to blow the trumpet—or play whatever instrument one chooses—of the brass band. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games—LOCOG—is responsible for developing the opening and closing ceremonies for 2012, not the Government. He will be delighted to hear that at every meeting I have with LOCOG, I say, “Have you got a brass band in yet?”. I think that doing so would be one of the very symbolic ways in which we could celebrate the greatness of Britain during the great year of the 2012 Olympics, and I hope that he will join me in campaigning for that, so that we can put brass bands at the heart of our communities and at the heart of Britain.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Ten o’clock.

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