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Classical Music: Funding and Support

Volume 730: debated on Wednesday 29 March 2023

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)

I thank the many constituents who contacted me to ask for this debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who cannot speak in this debate owing to her Front-Bench role. I know that she, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), has been campaigning on behalf of the BBC orchestras and the BBC Singers.

The subject of classical music is close to my heart, with a number of musicians living in my Enfield Southgate constituency. Classical music is a crucial part of the cultural infrastructure of London and the UK. Our orchestras are world renowned, as are our opera companies, chamber music groups and highly skilled freelance classical musicians. It is no coincidence that a large number of Hollywood and UK producers choose to have film and TV soundtracks recorded at Abbey Road Studios or AIR Studios in London. Producers choose to have recordings made in London because of the renowned ability of the UK’s classical musicians to sight-read brilliantly and accurately. Classically trained musicians are therefore at the forefront of one of the sectors that is currently driving economic growth in the UK, despite the low overall growth of the economy.

The music sector adds significantly to the economy—£4 billion in 2021—and is part of our cultural backbone and national identity. Our classical music scene is rightly a source of pride here at home and a source of admiration abroad. Yet despite the UK’s international reputation in the field, we have recently seen several devastating funding decisions for the whole of the UK classical music ecosystem. It is important to stress that the classical music industry is indeed an ecosystem.

In the UK, our highly trained classical musicians tend to move between freelance and employed roles in both commercial and less commercial employment. For instance, many forge their careers in orchestral positions before going freelance in the recording session world, or vice versa. Damage to one part of that infrastructure therefore damages all of it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing a debate on this massive issue. He is right about the creation of jobs in classical music. I make this point for those who are at a very early stage —those who are school-age and in education. Some people back home in my constituency of Strangford forged their opportunity through education. They had the chance to play classical instruments in their formative years, and tuition and instruments were available as well. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should think about those who, had they not had that opportunity at school and in education, would never have reached the pinnacle of achievement they have reached? We look to the Minister and the Department to ensure that young people have that opportunity and can thereby forge that classical route for the rest of their life and give enjoyment to everyone else.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Music education should also be part of this conversation. It may be outside the scope of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but we need to make sure that young people have that musical education and also careers to go into. If we cut the orchestras, we cut the opportunities for people who pick up a musical instrument in school and want to progress in the field of music.

The recent devastating decisions to which I just referred are, of course, those taken by bodies such as Arts Council England and the BBC. They are going to negatively affect the funding of the English National Opera, the Britten Sinfonia, the Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne’s touring opera and, of course, all the BBC orchestras in England. In addition, decisions have been taken to reduce funding to established orchestras such as the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia.

Thankfully, we heard last week that the BBC Singers have been given a temporary stay of execution, but this reversal came only after a huge public outcry, and the reversal itself calls into question how such decisions have been taken. More than 150,000 people have signed a petition condemning the cuts, and there have been open letters from appalled global leaders in classical music, including more than 800 composers and many choral groups.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He and I were at a meeting yesterday with members of the company of the English National Opera. They are in the most precarious situation, because they simply do not know whether they will have sufficient work to keep their families in necessities after the end of this season. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the behaviour of the Arts Council—the supposed promoter of excellence in the arts in England—has actually been the reverse of what is supposed to happen? By hitting companies such as the English National Opera, the most accessible of our opera companies, and touring companies such as Glyndebourne and the English tours of the Welsh National Opera, the Arts Council is reducing the spread of excellence in art to people outside London, rather than spreading it out. That is the exact reverse of what the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), told it to do. It makes no sense at all, does it?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I will address that issue later, but it is true that the companies that have been cut do a lot of touring work and provide access to parts of the UK that would not necessarily be able to access orchestras or opera.

It is important to note that the BBC Singers’ future still remains highly uncertain, with no plan outlined for their future security. Meanwhile, the BBC is still planning to cut the budgets of its concert, philharmonic and symphony orchestras by 20%. I know that the Minister will argue that the Government do not have direct responsibility for the cuts I am referring to, made as they are by both the BBC and Arts Council England, but let us be clear: the relationships that the Government have with those bodies have a profound influence on the decisions that are taken. It is the Government who set the political environment and the cultural zeitgeist in which decisions are taken. While it is right that the arm’s length bodies are operationally independent, it is also right that major decisions that impact on our cultural and artistic ecosystem can be challenged and questioned.

In the case of the Arts Council England funding announcement for 2023 to 2026, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), set a directive that told the body where its funding should go. That brings into question the arm’s length principle on which Arts Council England was founded. There is a lack of transparency in how recent decisions at the BBC and the Arts Council have been reached. The Government can, if they choose, create an environment in which classical music is nurtured by the arm’s length bodies taking decisions on the ground, but sadly, what we see at the moment is the opposite. Therefore, I would be very interested to hear from the Minister how the Government plan to support our classical music infrastructure against the recent onslaught of damaging decisions.

First, I want to speak in more detail about a couple of those decisions. Let us look at Arts Council England’s decision to cut the English National Opera’s annual grant of £12.6 million and replace it with £17 million over three years, with a stipulation that the ENO must move out of London. That decision was announced in November 2022, but in January of this year, Arts Council England announced a review of opera and musical theatre. That review is called “Let’s Create”, but some may think it would be better named “Let’s Destroy” following Arts Council England’s cuts to the ENO and other national portfolio organisations. What sort of chaotic organisation makes the decision to cut first and carry out a review later?

Following a large public outcry and campaigns by the Musicians’ Union and Equity, it was announced in January that the national lottery would make an additional grant to the ENO of £11.46 million. That still represents a cut of 9%, and the uncertainty about the ENO’s future and its need to relocate has meant that productions for this year have been cancelled. Redundancies have also been made in the ENO Chorus, which is one of the most diverse choruses in Europe.

Those decisions by Arts Council England appear to have been informed by the levelling-up agenda, plus the direct instruction of the then Secretary of State to move money away from London. However, the ENO has long been at the forefront of offering a commendable outreach programme to local communities and has a strong record of supplying free tickets to the young, as well as relaxed performances for those with sensory needs. Forcing the move of the ENO with the likely loss of its existing orchestra and technicians will not lead to levelling up, but to levelling down overall. The Government really need to step in to ensure that the cultural infrastructure of London is not damaged irrevocably by decisions such as this and the others I mentioned earlier. One area’s cultural offer should not be damaged in the name of another’s.

That brings me to another set of worrying decisions: those taken at the BBC. Again, these have taken place within the cultural climate and overall policy agenda set by the Government. As I stated before, the BBC’s decision to take the axe to the BBC Singers appears to have been reversed for now, but how appalling it is to even contemplate dismantling one of the world’s most renowned ensembles in what will be its centenary year.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the BBC needs to be very careful about the licence fee? My understanding is that we pay the licence fee so that the BBC can have top-notch news coverage and to support all of our most important cultural attributes as a nation, including classical music and opera. Is the BBC not treading on thin ice by taking these sorts of decisions? It is the breadth and depth of its cultural and news offering that makes the BBC what it is.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the BBC is a public broadcaster, and it therefore has a public duty to do things that are not available elsewhere. However, we have to look at that in the context of what the BBC has been forced to do. It, too, has had to make cuts because the licence fee has been frozen—something that I will come to later on in my speech. The hon. Gentleman is right, though, about the duty of the BBC to provide things that are not provided elsewhere, which I will also come to in a second.

The most serious threat to the BBC orchestras remains, which is the proposed cut to 20% of orchestral jobs across the BBC’s English orchestras. It is important to note that these cuts come after more than a decade of successive Conservative Governments hammering the BBC’s funding. Ever since 2010, the BBC has faced repeated and deep real-terms spending cuts, and in 2022 the licence fee was frozen for two years. The BBC has said that that is expected to create a funding gap of about £400 million by 2027. That is the important context in which the BBC has taken these decisions. While it is right that the BBC is operationally independent, it is also right that major decisions that impact on our cultural and artistic ecosystem can be challenged and questioned. As a public service broadcaster, the BBC has a public duty of care to its orchestras and ensembles, and it also has a duty to provide excellent, accessible and inspiring content to the public.

Make no mistake: the proposed 20% loss of jobs across the BBC’s English orchestras is devastating to our classical music infrastructure. The cuts are of course damaging to the highly skilled musicians who face losing their jobs, but they also have serious implications for the wider classical music industry. The BBC has often nurtured new orchestral talent with the career pathway it provides for orchestral players. The BBC is also the largest employer of musicians in the classical music workforce, which is generally insecure and freelance.

Let us be clear about what these orchestras represent: the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra are internationally renowned and made up of some of the world’s finest musicians. They are loved across the country for their touring role and for performing at the BBC Proms, including opening and closing the festival. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South has rightly praised the importance of the BBC orchestras to the quality of the UK’s classical music output and the musicians’ ability to adapt rapidly to new commissions and audiences.

The BBC also appears to be sending mixed messages; it says it is increasing investment in musical education, but it is cutting the jobs to which music students aspire. That makes no sense at all. Even the BBC’s own classical music review has said that the BBC performing groups play a vital role in the pipeline of new talent. These cuts therefore have huge negative implications for future generations of musicians and our wider musical infrastructure.

The cuts also have negative implications for the cultural life of the regions. The BBC’s classical music review has found that the BBC orchestras perform in parts of the UK that would otherwise not be covered by major orchestras. The loss of a fifth of orchestral jobs in the BBC orchestras can therefore have only a negative impact on the cultural experiences of people living outside London or other main urban areas. Again, as with the cuts to the ENO and all the other institutions I named at the beginning, the BBC orchestral cuts threaten a levelling-down effect and a serious downgrading of the cultural life of the UK.

Let us put all this into a wider financial context. As Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian pointed out last week, the BBC orchestras are being cut and the BBC Singers’ future made uncertain for the want of a reported £5 million saving to the BBC. Meanwhile, the Government are trying to claw back £122 million from PPE Medpro, the company recommended by Baroness Mone as a supplier of personal protective equipment to the NHS during the pandemic. The sums of investment needed to secure key parts of our classical music industry are therefore small when compared with the vast amounts wasted by this Government. It makes absolutely no economic or cultural sense to allow the devastation of our classical music industry when it can be supported for a fraction of what the Government have wasted on PPE contracts. We need to remember, as I stated earlier, that the music sector adds significantly to our economy; it was £4 billion in 2021.

There are some other practical things that the Government could do right now to redress some of the damage done to the classical music industry. The following are just some suggestions, any of which would be a small step towards supporting our classical music infrastructure. For instance, VAT on live events, such as music and theatre events, could be reduced to bring the UK more in line with EU nations and to help to stimulate live music. The Government could look at measures such as reducing business rates on live music venues and studios. The classical music industry could be given help through extra support to venues, studios and music spaces hit by soaring energy bills. If they wanted to, the Government could create a new tax relief for the music industry, like those enjoyed by film and TV, to boost music production.

The hon. Member is making a thoughtful speech, to say the least. There is an international dimension to this, taking forward his point. Last year, two Ukrainian players, Oleksii and Igor, came to perform in St Finbarr’s church in Dornoch in my constituency. That was an expression of determination that Ukraine would not be crushed and an opportunity for us to say, “We are with you, Ukraine.” The Government could look at that—perhaps they do already—and say, “Let us have more Ukrainian players. Let us use this as our soft power.” Music speaks to everyone. It is an international language, so there is a great opportunity here for us to do more and to stand with brave Ukraine.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Music is international and musicians perform internationally. The reputation that some of the orchestras and ensembles in the UK have is worldwide and they would of course show solidarity with the Ukrainians. We certainly welcome them here to hear them play and other orchestras playing abroad. That is one of the soft power things we can do. The reputation of the classical music world is first class across the world.

Many classical musicians have felt a negative impact from Brexit, with touring opportunities lessened. The Government could set up a new music export office to drive British music exports and help future talents to grow their international audiences. Classical musicians have been hit by a squeeze on salaries, as well as the cost of living crisis and the terrible impact of covid. On top of this, classical musicians are unfairly deprived of income from streaming platforms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) has argued, there is a dire need for equitable remuneration for musicians. At the moment, classical orchestral musicians see all the profits from their work on streaming platforms hoovered up by big corporate record companies and the platforms themselves. The Government could change the law in this regard so that classical musicians get a fair share of the proceeds from their work.

There is therefore much the Government could do. The Government must support the call on the BBC to set the BBC Singers on a long-term footing as soon as possible and remove the threat to jobs in the BBC Philharmonic, Concert and Symphony orchestras. The Government should also closely examine the decisions by Arts Council England, and ensure the protection of the many fine classical music institutions that now face deep uncertainty. Future decisions must involve improved consultation with the musicians involved, and decisions should be more informed by classical music experts, musicians and our musical infrastructure. We know that investment made in the classical music industry will be repaid many times over by the economic and cultural contribution it makes. It is simply a false economy to stand back and allow the devastation of a classical music scene that contributes so much.

It is time for the Government to step up to the challenge of protecting and promoting classical music in the UK. It is time for the Government to pick up the baton and change the tempo for the final movement of this discordant cacophony, and to stop the irreparable damage being done to some of the finest orchestras and ensembles. I look forward to the Minister’s response on all these matters.

I only intervene briefly in this debate to repeat my congratulations to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) on securing it, and to make a few quick points to the Minister to supplement those that he has already made.

I declare my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on opera, and I have performers in my family as well. It is precisely because of that connection that I have seen at first hand the effect that the cuts imposed by Arts Council England have had on people who are dedicated professionals and who contribute to the economy of this country in a significant manner. We should not forget the value of classical music to the arts offer of this country, but it also makes a massive change in enriching lives—be it teachers in schools enriching the lives of children—and in enriching communities through community choirs and concerts such as the Bromley festival of speech and music, of which I have the honour to be joint president with my wife, bringing folk together and using music to pull them together.

However, all that needs an infrastructure and an ecosystem to support it, and some of that requires public support. By the nature of the profession, it cannot entirely operate from the ticket office. That is why the damage done by Arts Council England’s behaviour is so extreme and egregious. To cut the very companies that have done more to promote access to the arts is perverse in the extreme.

English National Opera in particular performs in English—it is the only company that does—and it is more than willing to tour outside London, if given the chance, but it has not been. It has a more diverse audience and a more diverse workforce than any other company. It is much more user-friendly, if I can put it that way, to those who have not had an experience in classical music and the arts to get into. I have been to recent productions at the ENO. It has a much younger, more diverse and enthusiastic audience than might be seen in many other houses. Every one of its performances is selling at about 95% box office capacity.

We have the perverse situation of the director of music, heaven forbid, for Arts Council England claiming that she did not believe there is any longer an audience for “grand opera”, whatever she meant by that. I always rather thought grand opera was in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer in Paris in the 1850s. It is not putting on La Bohème, Carmen or Akhnaten, a modern opera by Philip Glass that is sold out at the ENO. If the people who are supposed to be running the arts do not understand the art form themselves, where on earth are we going to get to?

The behaviour of Arts Council England has left Ministers exposed to criticism, because although it is an arms-length body, ultimately the blame will fall on Government. It also demonstrates that there are serious questions about its current viability as the guardians of arts in England. Its mission statement, when it was created, was to spread excellence in the arts throughout the country and to make excellence more accessible. As I pointed out earlier, and as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate rightly said, its decisions have actually been the reverse. The former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), condemned the way Arts Council England carried out her ministerial instruction. Ministers can give strategic instruction to Arts Council England, although, of course, they do not get involved in individual funding decisions. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister: that which is instructed can also be uninstructed. There is no doubt that Ministers can set the tone in the way in which Arts Council England supports things.

There is a way forward to save the ENO, with sensible compromise and a very modest injection of funds in the overall scheme of things, which will keep the company in being and enable it to continue to do good work. I hope the same will be done with such things as the Glyndebourne tour. It is bizarre that some of my friends in the corporate world—my corporate lawyer friends, dare I say it?—will be able to pay the prices to go to the Glyndebourne festival, where there is no cost to the public purse, but the public funding that enabled Glyndebourne to go out to non-traditional audiences in places such as the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, or to Northampton or to Norwich, is the very thing that has been cut. It is exactly the reverse of what was intended. An organisation that does that has to answer serious questions about both its competence and its processes.

I hope the Minister will reflect on three points. First, Arts Council England announced it will have an independent review of its approach to opera and classical music. I think the Minister is entitled to say to it, as a matter of strategic importance, that that must be genuinely independent. At the moment, there is a real suggestion and concern that Arts Council England—its members have about 162 notes in their register of interests within the same sector—will be marking its own homework. There has to be a properly independent and rigorous review with the involvement of people—there are many of them in the UK—who are active professionals.

Secondly, Arts Council England itself needs a review. It is due for a departmental review before too long anyway, as it is some time since its last one. It ought to look at its transparency and decision-making processes. The board papers are never published. The information available would never pass muster in a local authority or health service trust, for example. That must change and the review should look at that, as it should at the composition of the board and the recruitment of its executive team.

Thirdly, if I might return to a separate matter, touring visas have been a real problem for many people. Now that we are in a much better position with the Windsor agreement and a better relationship with the European Union, there is the suggestion, which has been signed off as being entirely consistent with the trade and co-operation agreement by Sarah Lee KC, that we could have a bespoke visa-waiver agreement with the EU for touring artists for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days. That would be doable and we would not have to reopen the TCA. With the better atmosphere that the Prime Minister has now created, that would be a practical way forward.

Those are sensible points that I hope the Minister will say she will take away and act on.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) for securing this debate and for allowing me to speak. I knew that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) would be here, and I wish him a belated happy birthday for last Saturday. I, too, want to acknowledge the role that my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) has played in securing widespread support for the BBC Singers. The fight is not over; she will continue, and we will support her.

I add my voice to everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, has said, although, hon. Members will be pleased to hear, not in song—I will stick to words. This is an extremely important topic. I start with classical music’s large body of work. I was taught the piano by my mother Merlyn when I was quite young. My first piece was Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”, prelude No. 1. I still empty the room when I practise it. My daughter Liberty plays the violin and piano. She did an extended project for her A-level, entitled “Does exposure to music make you more intelligent?” She came down saying yes, it does, but if we have active participation.

I appreciate that the Minister is going to give birth fairly soon. She does not need to buy “Baby Mozart”, but I encourage her to listen to relax. It is important for children to hear music in the womb it, and later on. The brain waves change when people listen to music. The same can be said of classical Indian music—Ravi Shankar with the sitar, which takes years to learn how to play, has exactly the same effect.

We know how important music is for children. When I first came here in 2010, I asked the then Education Secretary to make sure that there is a piano in every school, because I grew up surrounded by music. José Abreu suggested that children can benefit from it and formed El Sistema, which has transformed children’s lives in Venezuela. It has now been rolled out throughout the world.

We are lucky to have very good radio here. Classic FM is a must to listen to, and public broadcasting is important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, mentioned, as did the hon. Member for Woking (Mr Lord) in his intervention. We have BBC Radio 3—I do not know whether other hon. Members listen to “Building a Library”, but it is a fantastic programme. The Proms is the biggest music festival in the world—way before Glastonbury. It is so important that international artists come here from around the world. What our public broadcasters do is so important.

I stumbled upon a documentary about the amazing genius that is Daniel Barenboim on BBC Four last week. The BBC had captured him at 25, conducting a masterclass. It was amazing. Even if someone did not know anything about music, they could see how he explained to the two pianists how they could change and make their music sound better. Added to that, he formed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Edward Said. That is how amazing he is. They brought together young people from Israel, Palestine, Egypt and all across the middle east to play together. Daniel Barenboim said that when they play music, they are all equal—they are just playing Beethoven. It is so important that that continues. I missed the Prom where Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim played the piano together, but it was captured at the end of the documentary. I suggest that everyone tries to listen to it.

Music is inspirational. We can see our achievement as human beings, because a few notes can show what creative people we are. It can start with classical music and move to other forms of music such as jazz and modern music. It forms the basis of every aspect of our life. We need to protect that, because music moves us—it moves our emotions and it speaks to our soul. I hope that the Minister will protect it.

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to say two things. First, the funding cuts and the change of direction, particularly for the English National Opera, really affect some of our constituents, including musicians and singers in my constituency. Out of a clear blue sky, an organisation that is not just nationally famous but world famous and that undertakes all the tours that could be reasonably expected on the budget that it has, as well as performing happily at its home in London where it has made its name, has been subject to an Arts Council change that chucks everything up in the air. That is not acceptable, and I am pleased that there will be a review.

Secondly, I congratulate both the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) on securing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) on his work and campaigning. My hon. Friend spoke eloquently about the ENO; I agree with what he said, with the key questions he posed to the Minister and with the remedies he set out. We are still looking for a reasonable and satisfactory outcome for this world-famous opera company, and we look to the Minister for answers to those questions.

We hope the Government will make the right recommendations and ultimately guide the House, but let us not take time over that. The problem is that now everything is up in the air and people are being made redundant. We need some certainty for the future, so let us have a review, but in the meantime let us ensure the support needed is there. I look to the Minister for replies that will help my constituents and, more importantly, help the opera-loving public and that wonderful opera company.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I apologise for anticipating my cue when one was not given.

I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) for securing this debate on what is obviously a popular topic, and for highlighting some of the fantastic work that orchestras, choirs and opera companies are doing to bring classical music to people across the country. I too have been contacted by constituents about this issue. The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on the quality of our musicians as a selling point of our very successful film and television industry. The creative industries form part of my portfolio, and he is right to point out the contribution of film scores.

The hon. Gentleman covered a lot of ground, so I will try to cover the topics he included in his speech. As he said, classical music in Britain continues to be a source of national pride and inspires not just the people of our country but the entire world. As other hon. Members have pointed out, it feeds our souls. He rightly talked about the classical ecosystem. From the smaller but rapidly developing new orchestras, such as the Multi-Story Orchestra, to the long-established giants such as the London Symphony Orchestra or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestras of this country have a rich history of excellence and innovation. That has a profound impact on the world of classical music.

The classical music sector creates jobs, supports local businesses and generates revenue for the local and national economy. It attracts tourists from across the world who come to see performances by renowned orchestras and musicians. More importantly than any of that, classical music, whether performed by orchestras, choirs, quartets or soloists, whether professional or amateur, has the ability to fascinate, inspire and enthral us. That is why it is an art form that this Government support consistently, gladly and proudly.

I welcome the birthing tips from the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). Classic FM got a lot of us through lockdown; I shall be thinking of it and perhaps playing it when the moment comes, hopefully not too imminently. We published the draft Media Bill today, which includes provisions on radio that a number of hon. Members are calling for. I hope the Bill will support the growth and future of our radio sector, including Classic FM, and that it will continue to be a means through which people can access classical music.

I want to address up front some concerns that have been raised about recent announcements by the BBC in relation to its symphony, concert and philharmonic orchestras. As hon. Members have noted, the BBC is an operationally and editorially independent organisation, and the Government have no role in its strategy for classical music, so any decisions on the matter are for it to take independently. However, of course I recognise how valuable the BBC orchestras and singers are to many individuals and communities across the UK. Having encouraged in this House a response—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)

The choreography of tonight’s debate is intriguing, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is new to me, so I apologise if I am not playing my part very successfully.

It is always a surprise when the motion lapses at 7 o’clock. I assure the Minister that many Ministers are caught out slightly.

I appreciate that reassurance, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is all good exercise for me as I try to maintain my mobility over the coming weeks.

I was about to say that I encouraged, on the Floor of the House, staff members to engage vigorously in the consultation that the BBC was running on the recent announcement. I was very glad that the BBC said last week that it will now undertake further work, in discussion with the Musicians’ Union, on the future of the BBC Singers. I also welcome the update that the BBC is engaging with the Musicians’ Union and other unions on its proposals on its English orchestras.

We agree, however, that the BBC should focus on prioritising value for licence fee payers. We welcome the intent to pursue greater distinctiveness while increasing the regional and educational impact of the BBC’s performing groups. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr Lord) pointed out in relation to the licence fee, the BBC is required to deliver the remit set out in its charter, which includes a mission to serve

“all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain”.

We think that the BBC should be prioritising using its £3.8 billion annual licence fee income to deliver that remit, which includes culturally distinctive content.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate laments the £3.8 billion that the BBC gets. We think that it is a substantial sum. Given the cost of living challenges that our constituents face, we did not feel it right to increase the licence fee by more. There is also a balance to be struck in maintaining consent for the licence fee. We think there was a risk that if the licence fee had been increased substantially, it would have reduced the public support for the organisation.

I highlight again the fact that today we published the draft Media Bill, which is about underpinning our public service broadcasters in an increasingly competitive media environment. We hope that in doing so we will in turn underpin the future of British creativity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept and welcome those proposals, which are substantial.

Beyond the recent discussion of the BBC’s strategy for classical music, I want to recognise the wider support that the Government give to the arts. As has been highlighted, it is primarily delivered by an arm’s length body, Arts Council England. The policy area is within the remit of the arts and heritage Minister, Lord Parkinson, on whose behalf I speak today; I know that he has engaged extensively with hon. Members’ concerns, and I shall raise with him the suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) about the potential Arts Council review and about transparency.

To read some of the public narrative around the Arts Council, one would think that funding or support for classical music had ceased altogether, so I would like to put some context around some of the concerns that have been raised. In November last year, ACE announced the outcome of its major investment programme, which is known as the national portfolio. It is the largest national portfolio so far: 990 organisations are receiving funding, compared with 814 between 2018 and 2022, and 663 between 2015 and 2018.

Overall, the investment programme is good news for orchestras and for classical music. Investment remains high in classical music and particularly in orchestral music organisations: 23 orchestral music organisations are being funded—an increase from 19 in the last round—at approximately £21 million per annum, which is £2 million more than in the previous year.

Those statistics do not include some of the largest and best-funded organisations, including the Southbank Centre, which are not specifically focused on classical music but which play an important role in its success. Organisations including the Multi-Story Orchestra, Orchestras for All, Paraorchestra, the People’s Orchestra and Pegasus Opera are joining the national portfolio for the first time. We think that that will help to bring down barriers to classical music and celebrate the power that it can have in people’s lives, which several hon. Members have referred to this evening. We think that the new portfolio has particular strengths in supporting young people in classical music. It has new funding for Awards for Young Musicians and the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain. There is also an increase in funding for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and the National Youth Orchestra.

The Arts Council has been thinking about how to build a fairer, more diverse classical music sector, and has commissioned a study entitled “Creating a More Inclusive Classical Music” to help it to understand the workforce, examine talent pathways, and think about how we might improve inclusion. A great deal of work has been done, not least through the broadening of the national portfolio, but the Arts Council will produce an update on its plans in the coming months. Its support for classical music goes well beyond orchestras. Some recent Arts Council support through lottery money includes backing for the Schubert 200 project, which will see Die Schöne Müllerin, Winterreise and Schwanengesang—I apologise for my pronunciation; I am relying on GCSE German—performed in new arrangements using period instruments and animated with puppetry, and £50,000 for one of our leading professional chamber choirs, The Sixteen, to support its summer pilgrimage.

Concern has been expressed across the sector about the work of English National Opera and the outcome of the new portfolio. The Arts Council and ENO are working closely to reach an agreement on ENO’s future funding and business model. As I mentioned earlier, Lord Parkinson has met representatives of ENO and Members of Parliament to discuss this issue, the context being that the Arts Council made all its decisions independently of Government.

Let me say as a Mancunian that English National Opera would be more than welcome in Manchester, either to reside or to visit, but as a former director of the Hallé, I want to assure the people of this country that the classical ecosystem in our great city is well served. Will the Minister join me in welcoming Debbie Francis, OBE, as the new chair of the Hallé Concerts Society? She is the first woman to do that job in its 165-year history.

I do indeed welcome Debbie Francis to her position, and congratulate her on her success as the first female in the role.

Questions have been raised about the overall strategic direction from the Secretary of State. The view was taken that London has a huge number of incredibly important cultural organisations, but that the value to be obtained from them should be spread more fairly across the country. As a London Member, I am always anxious to ensure that levelling up does not necessarily mean removing a resource from London, which is a city of 8 million people consisting of a huge range of communities with different needs and different levels of wealth. I do not believe that this should be a zero-sum game. However, a range of organisations in the rest of the country do not have such a strong voice in this place, and I think it important that communities throughout the country are benefiting from this funding, some of them for the first time. We should accept that that will make a huge and enriching contribution to people’s lives.

Let me add my congratulations to the Minister on what will happen in the coming weeks. I hope she will accept that there is a particular issue in relation to London, which professionals will clarify for anyone who talks to them. Most choristers in opera companies or orchestral players, for instance, will not rely entirely on their work for the opera company or orchestra concerned for their income; they top it up because they are able to do outside freelance work, such as session work, and also teaching work, sometimes at the colleges in London. There is an ecosystem that supports them and enables them to do their mainstream classical work, which is not the best paid. If they are taken out of the area where that ecosystem is, and where those alternative or additional employment opportunities are, it becomes much harder for them to survive. That is why plucking them out of London, or Manchester for that matter, does not work in practice in the way in which it may seem to work in theory.

I was going to make the same point about the importance of the ecosystem. However, these things can become self-fulfilling, and if we never attempt to spread the benefits of the arts beyond the capital city, they are always going to happen. This is about trying to achieve a balance. As London MPs, it is incumbent on us not to be over the top about the level of funding that has gone outside the capital. The capital still receives by far the lion’s share of arts funding and we are grateful for the richness it gives our capital, but we should bear in mind that a lot of communities have no arts funding at all and it is important they should have access.

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) and I made the point that many of these orchestras and opera companies tour, providing access to classical music in areas that would never otherwise have that access. By cutting or getting rid of some of these organisations, the Government are cutting back on the ability of people in other parts of the country to access the amazing classical work that they provide. It is not just about where the organisations are located; it is also about what they provide by touring.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of touring. I would also say that a lot of creators and musicians would like to have opportunities beyond London. London is not a cheap place to live, and they might welcome the idea that they might not have to concentrate their entire career in the capital, where housing is expensive and there are other challenges in relation to the cost of transport and so on. As the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) said in that context, Manchester is not all that far away. It is important not to forget that a lot of people want opportunity to be spread across the country rather than concentrated in a single place—notwithstanding the fact that I am also a London MP and I totally understand the importance of our capital thriving, as it should.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted the importance of early music education. That is something that Lord Parkinson and I are working on with the Department for Education. Classical music ensembles play a crucial role in cultural education and the development of young musicians. The inclusion of so many organisations that run music education programmes in the Arts Council portfolio speaks to the importance of providing a strong foundation in music from a young age.

We have a refreshed national plan for music education. It launched last June and it aims to provide music opportunities for all children and young people, regardless of background, circumstances, need or geography. As part of the commitments we have made alongside that plan, £25 million of new funding has been made available so that we can purchase hundreds of thousands of musical instruments and equipment for young people, including adaptive instruments for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities so that they, too, can share the joy that music can provide. The refreshed plan also renews its commitment to the music hubs programme, which is delivered by the Arts Council and provides £79 million every year until 2025.

Alongside these programmes, the Department co-funds the national youth music organisation programme with the Arts Council. All 15 national youth music organisations will receive Arts Council funding for the next three years, and earlier this week I was pleased to hear that the Department for Education had recognised this outstanding work and agreed to commit a further £1.5 million over the next three years as well. That is fantastic news because this programme will lead the way in developing young musicians and music makers.

With the indulgence of the House, I would like to make a point about young musicians. Towards the end of last year I went to the final of the Woking young musician of the year competition. The standard was extraordinarily high, and it is a competition that does not cost the council or the taxpayer any money. It gives mentoring and advice to all the young musicians who put themselves forward for the competition. The big final had an extraordinarily high standard of musicianship. It has provided finalists and also a winner of the BBC musician of the year competition. I would encourage colleagues to encourage that sort of support locally.

One other thing I would like to mention is that last year I attended the 100th concert of the Breinton concert series, in which a local family open their house to fantastic young and up-and-coming musicians of enormous talent. They have classical concerts and little bits of operetta, and as they are blessed with good grounds, in the summer people come and hear these amazing, normally young, musicians. Again, it is entirely self-funding. I would like to congratulate the organisers of the Breinton concerts, and it would be lovely to see that happen elsewhere in the south-east and in the country at large.

My hon. Friend does a wonderful job of highlighting all the wonderful activity in his constituency, including Woking young musician of the year. He highlights the joy of music and its huge impact on communities.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate raised the issue of tax reliefs. He will be aware that, in the spring statement, the Chancellor extended the higher rates of theatre tax relief, orchestra tax relief, and museums and galleries exhibition tax relief for a further two years. This will help to offset some of the ongoing economic pressures and boost investment in our cultural sectors, which we have been supporting substantially through some very difficult times, not least through covid and the energy challenges. This will ensure that they can continue to showcase the very best of British talent, not only in our recognised concert halls and theatres but in the many museums and other arts venues across the nation. The changes made in the Budget are estimated to be worth some £350 million, which is as strong a signal as we can send of the Government’s faith and support for our cultural sector.

A wide range of other topics have been raised, including grassroots music venues. Today I met Mark Davyd, who represents grassroots music venues, to discuss support for such venues. We are looking at a range of measures that we might be able to take to support him. He was particularly grateful for some of the things the Government did through the pandemic and beyond. We are also working closely with the Intellectual Property Office, and with the industry itself, on some of the streaming questions.

Exports have been raised, and we are considering the expansion of the music export growth scheme. We are also doing lots of work on touring, which was also raised in this debate. Discussions will continue on improving the touring offer, but we have already made quite substantial progress.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) talks about the importance of soft power and our relationship with Ukraine. It may have escaped his attention, but we will shortly host the Eurovision song contest on Ukraine’s behalf. We also have a huge package of cultural partnerships with Ukraine, so we are already doing a lot in that space.

Of course, our flagship levelling-up fund is also supporting access to culture and the performing arts across the UK. The second round of funding was announced in January 2022, and it made 31 culture and heritage awards to projects across the country, to the tune of some £546 million. Chamber ensembles, soloists, orchestras and many more will now be able to perform in state-of-the-art spaces across our country, all because of that fund. This includes a new state-of-the-art site at Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, which opened late last year and includes the first public concert hall to open in London in more than 13 years. We should recognise the huge investment we are making in our capital.

Our cultural development fund has just launched, and the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) will be pleased to learn that Walsall Council will receive £3.7 million in that round to refurbish a currently unused grade II-listed building in the centre of the St Matthew’s quarter, and to deliver a three-year cultural activity plan that we hope will enliven and invigorate Walsall town centre.

I hope Members will feel reassured by the support we give to classical music, which takes many forms. By investing in music education, supporting classical music organisations and promoting the industry, we are ensuring that classical music continues to thrive in this country. It remains an important contributor to our economy and to our cultural and social wellbeing. We hope that, now and for many years to come, people can continue to experience its many wonders.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.