Arts and Culture — Question for Short Debate
Baroness Hooper (Conservative)
My Lords, as vice-chairman of the All-Party Group for Dance and a former governor of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Academy of Dance, I intend to dwell on dance this evening. The prestige and super standards of the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet attract not only international audiences but international performers from around the world, but there are many other dance companies, in London and in the regions: the Rambert Dance Company, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Northern Ballet and the Scottish Ballet, to name but a few. They are equally international and do an enormous amount to bring ballet to the people with their touring companies and outreach programmes. Large numbers of young people are now considering ballet as a career who would not have dreamt of it before-mind you, "Billy Elliot" probably had quite a lot to do with that. All these companies also demonstrate the work of some dynamic young choreographers, who are, after all, our future.
Dance comes into my definition of soft diplomacy and improves multicultural understanding and good will. Only last week, there were two events in Westminster Hall-the Commonwealth Carnival of Music and an Indian dance group performance on Thursday-emphasising the cultural diversity of our country and, indeed, of our Parliament. I feel sure that in your Lordships' House I do not need to enlarge further on the contribution made by classical ballet in particular and by dance in general to the artistic life of this country. The object of this short debate is to ask what the Government's long-term strategy is. It is vital. My objective is to plead that dance be recognised as a full and important part of that strategy.
Adequate funding is, of course, important, but there are also other ways of supporting and encouraging this part of the performing arts. Joined-up government is of equal importance to ensure, for example, that dance teachers are not forgotten when teacher training and the school syllabus are under discussion, so both education departments need to be involved. Tax incentives have been mentioned, and that brings the Treasury in. The visa regime also impinges on performing artists and on students coming to train and study in this country, and paying their way to do so, so the Home Office needs to be involved. Health can also be relevant, and may I welcome the new National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, which now operates from within the National Health Service and specialises in dance injuries? The Foreign Office, too, underlines the contribution of soft diplomacy and brings in the British Council, and so it goes on.
It is not just that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has to take the lead; it also has to act as co-ordinator. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister and I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for giving us this opportunity.