Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I leave on one side the question of whether I have any brains: I did not play Private Willis in "Iolanthe", but I did play Strephon and your Lordships will remember that Strephon was put into Parliament by the Queen of the Fairies and given amazing powers. Your Lordships will also remember that, as the Queen of the Fairies said--and I do not have to sing this because she did not--

Their Lordships did not care for that, but they did not care even more for the next one--

    "You shall sit, if he sees reason, through the grouse and salmon season".
I have no such powers, and I shall be a sore disappointment to your Lordships. It is clear, I hope, from what I have said or sung so far that I and my colleagues in government are very well aware of the seriousness of the problems facing the D'Oyly Carte Opera and the unanimous view of your Lordships, and indeed of those in another place who expressed their views this morning about the future of D'Oyly Carte.

1 Apr 1998 : Column 373

What all of you have been saying--and I can say "you" because I am referring to Members of Parliament as well--is that government should do more.

Well, I have to say that the Government are of course keen to see that the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition and the D'Oyly Carte tradition continue. They are keen to see that there should be viable ways of funding the company to ensure that it does continue. However, your Lordships will know, as my right honourable friend Tom Clarke had to say this morning, that the arts funding system in this country does not work that way. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company has responsibility itself: it is not responsible to the Arts Council or anyone else for the management of its operations and for the artistic quality of its productions. It is responsible to its board and to its backers, not to the outside world.

The Government have a duty of providing a framework in which the arts will flourish, and they delegate the responsibility for individual spending decisions to the Arts Council for England. Of course the Government have the ability and a duty to listen and to pass on the views of your Lordships and of Members of another place, and they have opportunities from time to time to improve the conditions under which the Arts Council and other funding bodies make the decisions that they do. The National Lottery Bill which was passed in this House does shift the emphasis for lottery money on to the arts and other good causes between capital and revenue. We give greater recognition now to the need for finding funding for lottery money for funding as well as assets. That is essential, because you can have artistic centres, but unless you have artists who can afford to work in them nothing will happen as a result.

I hope that when that Bill becomes law later this year there will be greater flexibility for the Arts Council and others to look at the way in which they allocate public money. But, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, in particular will know, we were elected on the undertaking not to change the previous government's spending plans for two years. That means that the £184.6 million which the Arts Council has been allocated for 1998-99 is a planning total which it has known for 18 months. It would not be good enough for it to say that extra cuts have been imposed on it. Nothing has been cut: it has been told a figure it already knew.

I think it is right that we should stick to what we said before the election. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, has so far departed from his lifelong principles as to be finding excuses for additional public expenditure. I can assure him that the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary are more firm in their principles as regards public expenditure than he is. I hope that he will go away and reflect again in his Lord Chancellor's nightmares tonight about what he has said this evening.

1 Apr 1998 : Column 374

There are other points which the Government have to make which are relevant to the funding of the arts and relevant in particular to the debate tonight. We have taken the view, whenever we have had to take a policy decision about the arts, that we should be concerned with wider access. That applies to the Royal Opera House, to museums and galleries and to all aspects of the arts. It applies to D'Oyly Carte as well, of course, because it has been well said by many speakers this evening that D'Oyly Carte is itself a popular art form.

We have set up a new audiences fund of £5 million, announced in the Budget two weeks ago, which will encourage wider access to all forms of artistic activity, including music and the opera. We are very pleased that, although it is not the responsibility of the Government, in the three years leading up to March 1997 the Arts Council of England has found funding of over £4 million for accessible touring operetta. There is not any prejudice against operetta or Gilbert and Sullivan there.

Having said that, despite what noble Lords say, we must maintain the arm's length principle. What is the message which I think noble Lords will wish to be carried back to the Government and the Arts Council? First, we have heard this evening, as the House of Commons heard this morning, strong support for Gilbert and Sullivan and in particular for the D'Oyly Carte Company. Secondly, we draw the conclusion from that that the funding decisions of the Arts Council--and I know that they would agree with this--should be based on quality, not on any distinction between high and low culture. As was clear from our lengthy debate on the arts in this House only two weeks ago, many of us feel that the distinction between high and low culture is artificial and many of us are aware that views about what constitutes high and low culture vary from time to time. My noble friend Lord Puttnam was very eloquent on that point. It is quality of whatever kind of artistic endeavour with which the Arts Council should be concerned. It follows from that that we believe that the Arts Council should support a wide range of artistic activities.

I think we can draw our own conclusions from that, can we not? We shall not intervene in the Arts Council; we shall not tell them how the money should be spent. Despite all the powers that Strephon might have, we have no powers to find pots of money, at the foot of the rainbow or anywhere else. But the views that your Lordships have expressed will certainly be conveyed back to the Arts Council and all those responsible. It was, however, Gilbert and Sullivan who referred to the need for the House of Peers to restrain its legislative hand and,

    "noble statesmen do not itch to interfere with matters which they do not understand".
I think your Lordships well understand the issues. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for asking his Question.

        House adjourned at four minutes past nine o'clock.

1 Apr 1998 : Column 373

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page