Covid-19: Cultural and Entertainment Sectors

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 2nd March 2021.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 6:40 pm, 2nd March 2021

The performing arts and live music enrich lives, challenge, entertain, inform and stretch horizons, and all genres are important to us. I declare a particular interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on opera, which brings many of those genres together. Britain’s opera scene is thriving, with a massive international reputation at every level, from our great international houses such as Covent Garden right the way down to grassroots opera. I could take up the whole of my speech and beyond by just listing the names of the many small-scale opera companies that bring the genre to people right across the country—giving the lie to the idea that opera is elitist—performing in pubs, clubs and sometimes in prisons, and taking opera into schools, hospitals and care homes.

However, all those companies are struggling. Like in the theatre world, opera artists are overwhelmingly freelancers—71% or so—and they have not all benefited from the subsidies that I am delighted the Government have put in place. The Government have done great work with the culture recovery fund, but it has tended to be skewed towards institutions. We need to support the performers as well, and that goes from the most distinguished soloist right down to the technicians behind the scenes.

I am particularly worried for the young singers, musicians and actors who are trying to make their way at the beginning of their careers, and for the venues that struggle to find insurance, so some Government-backed scheme would be important as theatres reopen. As for medium-sized venues, the Churchill Theatre in Bromley has been supported well by the culture recovery fund, and we are grateful for that. However, support is also required through the tax arrangements for theatre tickets.

Above all, we need to get live music and song performing once again. I hope the Government and Public Health England will look imaginatively at Lord Lloyd Webber’s suggestions to get performing arts going again in the west end. The same will apply to our opera companies. A great deal of imagination has been shown—English National Opera performing in the car park at Alexandra Palace and the great community work of Opera Holland Park are just two examples—but if this sector is to survive, flourish and punch at a world-class level, it needs support, and the particular challenges that a complicated art form brings to the table need to be recognised. I hope that the Government will recognise them and that my right hon. Friend the Minister will feed that back not only to the Secretary of State, but to the Chancellor both before the Budget and beyond.