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Youth Orchestras

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 7 December 2017


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of youth orchestras in the United Kingdom and the frequency of their performances, and what steps they are taking to support youth orchestras, particularly in the light of Brexit.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government support a number of national young music organisations, including the national youth music orchestra, with over £1 million of public funding a year confirmed until 2020. These organisations undertook at least 125 performances across the country in 2016-17. The Government remain committed to supporting our orchestras and classical music organisations across the country and at all scales. Music, as well as art and design, is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum for five to 14 year-olds.

I thank the Minister for his reply and the importance the Government attach to these orchestras. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that, if we were to leave the EU, the finance given to youth orchestras and to other cultural institutions, for example for touring, will continue?

I can confirm that, when we leave the EU, the existing amounts that we spend on British youth orchestras will continue. For example, the total Arts Council investment, which includes music, has been guaranteed until 2020.

My Lords, one answer to the noble Baroness’s concern is the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, which I think the Government currently support, and I hope they will continue to do so strongly.

I am sure the Minister is aware that youth orchestras in this country, and indeed elsewhere, perform to an extremely high standard, and that the young people who participate put in hours and hours of work although not all—fewer than half of them—actually anticipate having a career as a professional musician. What we need in order to keep those standards up is a good supply of young people who have the skills to take part. What proportion of children and young people in the maintained sector have affordable access to music tuition for long enough to bed in the skills that they need to perform to that standard?

I cannot give exactly the proportions that the noble Baroness has asked for. I can say that we have music education hubs, which were established after the Henley review into music education in 2011. There are 120 music education hubs in place, and they are funded by the Department for Education and overseen by Arts Council England. They create joined-up, high-quality music opportunities for all children and young people in and out of school, and the Government spend £75 million a year on this.

My Lords, I declare my interest as patron of the South Glamorgan Youth Orchestra, now the Cardiff County and Vale of Glamorgan Youth Orchestra. Do the Government recognise the importance of music in intellectual development, with a crossover into the sciences and mathematical skills, and therefore that it is very important to have feeder orchestras from junior schools, school transition and so on finally feeding into youth orchestras? Some children do not achieve that but they achieve the intellectual development necessary to underpin our national development of skills.

I agree with the noble Baroness. I think we realise that music has particular relevance to mathematics and science. That is why music is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum and why we continue to invest in music in our schools.

My Lords, this takes me back to my trumpet-playing days at school, which I will not inflict on your Lordships’ House. The Minister has heard from across the House great pride in our youth orchestras. Not only is our cultural and social life enriched by them but the economic life of the country gains. I have heard the Minister talk about the funding for youth orchestras, but do the notes in his folder tell him that since 2010 this Government have taken £48 million away from the arts councils that support them? I accept that he understands the importance of this. Does he not therefore think it is time to ensure that every primary school in the country has money available so that they can enhance the cultural life of all pupils?

I am tempted to bring my trumpet in to have a duet with the noble Baroness, but I am sure she is better at it than I am. I have said that we agree that art and music are important, which is why they are part of the national curriculum. Arts Council England has increased funding for music since 2014-15, so in the difficult choices that have had to be made we think we have sustained our support for the arts. We recognise that the arts, including music, are important as part of an overall education.

What reassurance can the Government offer the National Youth String Orchestra, of which I am patron, whose concerns over things like insurance cover and the movement of musical instruments across borders after Brexit have led it to consider abandoning its customary European tours?

I think the orchestra should check with its insurance broker because I am not sure whether that is a critical factor for travelling orchestras. Much more important is the visa requirements that will be needed after Brexit, and we are working hard with the Home Office to ensure that they are acceptable. The other measure that we are taking is the orchestra tax relief, which allows orchestras to travel.

My Lords, is the Minister concerned at the continuing fall in income from the National Lottery—the lottery benefiting youth orchestras alongside other areas of the art—and, if so, what measures might be taken to reverse this trend?

The noble Earl is a doughty champion of the arts, for which I pay tribute to him. Of course we are concerned that lottery receipts are reducing. I believe work is under way to look at that. I do not have the information to hand but the Minister responsible in my department is looking at it very closely.