Classical Music: Funding and Support

Julia Lopez Excerpts
Wednesday 29th March 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I call Jonathan Lord to make a brief contribution.

--- Later in debate ---
Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Julia Lopez)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

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—

--- Later in debate ---
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)
Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - -

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.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - -

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.

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - -

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.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - -

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.

Bambos Charalambous Portrait Bambos Charalambous
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - -

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.

Jonathan Lord Portrait Mr Lord
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Hansard - -

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.