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Baroness Ludford: My Lords, would the Minister agree that a more useful arrangement to support refugees would be to bring back some kind of national support, instead of leaving the matter to local authorities which puts them and their communities under strain?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, sometimes it might be quite a useful device to read the White Paper. I put that entirely neutrally. Many of the proposed reforms are included in the White Paper and were put out for consultation with a very clear indication that

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many of the desired changes would require primary legislation. And before anyone asks me, I am not allowed to prejudge anything in the Queen's Speech.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that again I am grateful to him for being non-partisan and for making favourable reference to the decisions taken on East Africa in the early 1970s, because I was a member of that Cabinet which took the decisions? What actions are the Government taking to curb the activities of the unscrupulous advisers who encourage applicants to make bogus claims and appeals, as described in the White Paper which I, for one, have read from cover to cover?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in my experience the noble Lord always asks questions on the basis of informed research and I am happy to repeat that. He will know that proposals are being put forward to register those who advise immigrants, whether or not they are qualified. I can tell your Lordships that the Home Secretary is in correspondence with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about how one registers someone who wants to offer advice in this field, whether they are members of the Bar or the Law Society, or simply unqualified scoundrels.

Royal Opera House

2.55 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that the refurbished Royal Opera House opens on time and with a full cast.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are wholly committed to a secure long-term future for opera and ballet of the highest quality in the redeveloped Royal Opera House. The building work at Covent Garden is now well advanced. We expect the house to reopen in late 1999, on time and on budget. Covent Garden will be one of the most advanced and exciting venues for lyric theatre anywhere and will provide the stage for world-class opera and ballet.

In September the Royal Opera House Board announced a radical strategy to put the house's affairs on a proper footing. The Government fully support this strategy. Constructive discussions have taken place between the management and trade unions towards flexible new working arrangements. Another key element of the strategy will be the continued support of the private and corporate donors, whose generosity and commitment to the house should be applauded. It is the partnership of public and private investment which will provide a fitting stage for the dedicated artists of the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer, I have to say that fine words butter no parsnips. Does he recall that Sir Colin Southgate, the new chairman of the Royal

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Opera House, appointed by the Government, has said quite clearly that it will need another £15 million a year to cover current costs? Given that the Royal Opera has received only about 25 per cent. of its current costs from public subsidy, as compared with between 70 and 80 per cent. in France and Italy and 90 per cent. in Frankfurt, does not the Minister agree that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will have to dip into his department's budget to find that extra money if he wants to have a "new dawn" rather than a "twilight of the gods".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I must remind the noble Lord that previous government spending on the arts was at a standstill for many years and was just less than £15 million a year. The Royal Opera House is now asking for a total of £25 million for 2000-01, which is to include £5 million from the private sector. I know that the noble Lord's concern will be taken into account when the Arts Council announces its allocation for future years in December.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, as my noble friend has said, there have been discussions between the Royal Opera House management and the appropriate trade unions. Is he also aware that in the case of the dancers and singers there is no agreement? Is he further aware that the reason is that the management's proposals are quite unacceptable? Your Lordships may agree that they are outrageous when I say that the dancers are being asked to sign a contract which will oblige them to accept up to a 12-hour day and that, since opera is planned to take place for only three months, the singers are being asked to accept nine months' unemployment.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, under those circumstances, is my noble friend not surprised that there is doubt about whether the agreement to which he looks forward can be reached? Will he suggest to the Royal Opera House management that it must be more generous at the lower level even if it has to economise at a higher level?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not accept my noble friend's description of the situation in the negotiations. Negotiations with the Musicians' Union are almost complete. There are some residual negotiations about broadcasting, and tripartite discussions with the BBC are being pursued. Negotiations with Equity, which represents the dancers and chorus, will result in a ballot of the chorus in the next few days. There is no intention that there will be any compulsory redundancies among the performing staff.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye: My Lords, does the Minister happen to know whether Mr. Bernard Haitink has been asked to rescind his resignation? If he has not, it is eminently regrettable since he is by far the Royal

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Opera House's greatest asset and is of infinitely more value than the maladroit and muddled management, both past and present.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not give a government judgment on Bernard Haitink's musical qualities but I am happy to give my own opinion, which coincides with that of the noble Lord. The Secretary of State is meeting Mr. Haitink today and it is inconceivable that he will not ask him to rescind his resignation.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that pleas for resources for the Royal Opera House take place against a background of highly sceptical public opinion and that any further resources for the Royal Opera House should be measured against proper financial management? Indeed, if it wishes to win public esteem "The Threepenny Opera" may be the best opening production.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am aware of the well-publicised antagonism to the Royal Opera House. But the background against which the allocation of funding for the Royal Opera House should be seen--and this is not in any way prejudging what the Arts Council will say--is that there has been an increase in the budget of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the next three years of £290 million, of which £124 million will go to the arts.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House why the Government are not putting forward proposals to change the taxation rules along the US model to encourage further serious private donations, which play such a crucial role in the finances of the Royal Opera House? As the Minister knows, the Royal Opera House, like the Palace of Westminster, was built by Barry in the 19th century and is state owned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have already paid tribute to the substantial donations which have been given to the opera house by private and corporate donors. They have not been particularly influenced by any tax differentials. We continue to look for new donors, both in the form of sponsorship of productions and for the running costs and the redevelopment of the opera house itself.

Regional Development Agencies Bill

3.2 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 7 [Strategy]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert (", and
(c) have regard to regional planning guidance issued by the Secretary of State for its area.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I always feel at this point in the afternoon's proceedings that one needs to have a sentence or two which is not germane to the

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argument in order that noble Lords need not strain to hear it. Amendment No. 1 deals with a matter which your Lordships have addressed previously. It proposes that in formulating its strategy the regional development agency shall have regard to regional planning guidance for its area. At the last stage of the Bill the Minister rightly pointed out that there was a slight flaw in the drafting in that the regional planning guidance referred to was not limited to that issue--

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I ask noble Lords to show some consideration for the noble Baroness who is trying to speak in the Chamber.

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