Classical Music - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:27 am on 7 December 2023.

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Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 11:27, 7 December 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they intend to take steps to improve support for classical music, particularly for orchestras and opera companies.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, opera, orchestras and classical music enrich our lives. Through its investment programme, Arts Council England is spending almost £60 million per year on classical music and opera. More opera organisations are being funded than previously, and support for orchestral organisations has increased in both number and value, with nearly two dozen sharing over £21 million a year. We have also extended the higher rate of cultural tax reliefs, including orchestra tax relief.

Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench

My Lords, many of us will no doubt have had recent listening experiences which give us hope that there is a future for classical music in this country. But will the Minister accept that this excellence does not describe the wider narrative of declining educational opportunities and funding cuts, which have led inevitably to a necessarily costlier art form being under considerable threat wherever it is located? Among numerous concerns, can a way can be found to retain orchestra tax relief claims on EEA expenditure as, on top of Brexit, this may otherwise prove disastrous for touring in Europe?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

Since it was introduced in 2016, £75 million has been paid out through orchestra tax relief. We have extended it at the headline rates for another two years and are grateful to the Association of British Orchestras and many others who have joined the consultation since that was announced in the Budget. Since our departure from the EU, we are of course bringing our tax reliefs in line with World Trade Organization rules. I am grateful for the collaboration we have had. We have made changes on connected party transactions and the going concern rule, and we are keen to continue discussion with orchestras to ensure that they know that only 10% of orchestral output needs to be produced in this country; they will still be able to tour around the world, so that people overseas as well as here may enjoy their brilliant work.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will reflect, along with the Arts Council, on the situation in the north of England. With the move of English National Opera to Manchester, the Hallé Orchestra being in Manchester and the Liverpool Philharmonic patently being in Liverpool, east of the Pennines is somewhat bereft of a critical mass, which can be absolutely crucial in encouraging young people to come forward into this critical cultural area. Perhaps the Minister will talk to the Arts Council about this.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

Well, I have had the pleasure of hearing both the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Hallé perform. Of course, as the noble Lord may know, English National Opera has this week announced its intention to base itself in Greater Manchester, as well as continuing its season at the London Coliseum. It is doing so partly because of the great strength of classical music across the north-west of England. The Arts Council, of course, is spending its money more equitably across the country. More organisations are being funded than ever before in more parts of the country, and we want to see people wherever they live benefiting from world-class cultural and artistic output.

Photo of Baroness Fleet Baroness Fleet Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend will know that orchestras need a strong pipeline of talent. This will be achieved only when high-quality music education is available for all across all the country, and particularly those with potential. The national plan for music education, which I chaired, will help—when it is finally implemented. Many schools and music teachers are already doing remarkable work, but they would certainly welcome some encouragement. When can we expect to see senior members of government cheering our brilliant orchestras, choirs and young musicians from the front rows of our concert halls, and in schools?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I am delighted to tell my noble friend that last night, while some of us were voting on four regret amendments, our right honourable friend the Chancellor was at the Royal Festival Hall enjoying the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”, which he tells me was a fantastic production. So, I hope that my noble friend will be glad to hear that members of His Majesty’s Government do go and enjoy the output of our world-class orchestras. I commend her for the work she did on the national plan for music education, which will ensure that more people from this country are able to forge careers and continue producing that wonderful output which makes us all very proud.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, anyone who has heard the annual performance of “Messiah” by the Halifax Choral Society, with the Black Dyke Mills Band and orchestra, will know that we are not entirely without some high-quality music in Yorkshire. The classical music industry is a net surplus invisible exporter for this country, and it is absolutely vital that we keep supporting it. I declare an interest as a former chair of Voces8, which spends quite a lot of time touring on the continent and in North America. Are the Government now within sight of getting rid of these bilateral arrangements, which do not really provide for orchestras and others to do proper tours of the continent—all the way from school orchestras such as the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, which is superb, to classical orchestras as such?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

We are tripling funding for the Music Export Growth Scheme to more than £3 million over the next two years, which will enable more touring artists to break into new international markets. We are also expanding our Export Support Service to further help creative exporters, including touring musicians. We want our musicians to tour the world so that their work can be enjoyed overseas, just as it is here in the UK—including in Yorkshire.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench

May I ask the Minister to comment at a more grass-roots level? In the last few months, we have lost the Dartington summer festival, which is educational as well; we have lost Oxford Brookes University teaching music; and we have lost a lot of the Cheltenham Festivals’ work. I declare my interest as an ex-director of the Cheltenham international festival of music. I was there for 10 years and commissioned works—more than 100—as my successors continue to do. Not only are we losing this commissioning opportunity, which is so important for young composers, but local audiences in places that identify as being under-resourced in music are losing out.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

On a recent visit to Devon, I had the opportunity to meet the new chief executive of Dartington Trust. The noble Lord is right to point to the brilliant work done by Cheltenham Festivals in his time and subsequently. Arts Council England has maintained its level of funding for Cheltenham Festivals at £217,000 per year, but I would be very happy to meet people from Cheltenham Festivals as well as others.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords), Chair, Services Committee, Chair, Services Committee

The Minister will be aware that opera and classical music still suffer from a quite widespread perception that they are not for anything other than a very small audience. This makes fundraising extremely difficult for small organisations such as OperaUpClose, with which I declare a personal connection, which are trying to take high-quality music and opera into communities where they are not generally available and to engage them in that work. By the way, they are also commissioning young composers. Can the Government encourage a better fundraising environment for those companies, particularly by encouraging, for example, match-funding schemes such as the Big Give, which closed this week?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I congratulate OperaUpClose, which is one of the new operatic organisations that have joined the Arts Council national portfolio. I met another, Pegasus Opera, which is doing great work as well in encouraging new audiences and new compositions so that opera can continue to be a rich art form that people of all backgrounds get to enjoy. The noble Baroness is right that private philanthropy as well as public subsidy plays an important part. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I have had meetings with arts organisations and funding bodies to look at ways in which we might be able to create further incentives for giving. But I hope that people will be able to leverage their part in the national portfolio through the Arts Council—not just to spend the public subsidy that is given but also to be part of that network, which they now are.

Photo of Lord Vaizey of Didcot Lord Vaizey of Didcot Conservative

My Lords, leaving aside the extreme concern that the Chancellor is favouring EU composers over British composers—I hope that nobody tells the Prime Minister that—may I ask my noble friend what he is doing to increase diversity in classical music? Will he join me in congratulating the Chineke! Orchestra on its success and all it has done to increase diversity in our orchestras, and perhaps illuminate us regarding the discussions he has had with the Arts Council to continue this impressive progress?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

The Arts Council did a very valuable study on diversity in classical music—diversity in every form. As I say, companies such as Pegasus Opera are doing important work in bringing people from diverse backgrounds into art forms that we can all enjoy, as are the Chineke! Orchestra and many others. Through its new national portfolio, the Arts Council is investing in more companies and organisations in more parts of the country than ever before, including those led by a more diverse range of people.