The latest figures available for subsidised performances show that 1,080,000 people visited the opera in 1987–88. No figures are available for privately funded opera companies.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend welcomes the recent success of the "Carmen" production at Earl's Court, given that the two London opera companies receive the lion's share of the Arts Council's support for opera. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for the regional opera companies, Arts Council arid local authority funding is vital to their existence and to achieving a wider audience? Is he aware that, in its 10th anniversary season, Opera North achieved 90 per cent. audience penetration?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's close interest in Opera North, which is based in Leeds and sets high standards. Regional opera has been able to achieve the highest possible quality only through a measure of taxpayers' support. My hon. Friend rightly drew attention to other private sector activities, such as Carmen at Earl's Court. I understand that recent performances attracted audiences of 95,000. Other companies in the private sector, such as D'Oyly Carte opera company, are attracting large audiences.
Is the Minister aware that Opera North receives money from local government? I congratulate him on being the first Minister whom I have heard express a squeak of concern about the implications of the community charge. I suggest that as well as addressing those concerns to the chairmen of various boards, he addresses them forcefully to his colleagues in Government, who have been oblivious to the effects of the poll tax on local authorities' ability to raise and spend money at their discretion on projects, including the arts, that benefit the community.
My earlier answer on the community charge was related especially to Westminster city council, which has indicated that it has particular problems, unlike other authorities. I hope that borough councils in London will play their part in supporting the important English National Ballet and English National Opera.