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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is fully aware that, because of the arm's length principle, it would be entirely wrong for Ministers to intervene in detailed management issues that are for the board and the senior management of the ENO. The noble Lord is absolutely right to imply in his question that the Arts Council has a role in this respect. I can reassure him that the Arts Council is in
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, the Minister should know better than anyone in your Lordships' House that selling the arts to the public is an inherently risky business and that management, by its very nature, does not like risk. So, when things go wrong, management tends to look at the heart of the business, which is the risky partin this case it is obviousand usually it has the good sense to look elsewhere for cuts. In this case it is looking at the heart of the businessthat is, the orchestra and the choir. Does the Minister agree that the only way this company will get out of trouble is by singing and playing its way out? Let us have less management and fewer accountants, if anything.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course the chorus and the orchestra are central to the success of the English National Opera, as they are in any other opera company. I do not think that it would be fair to say that the English National Opera does not take some justifiable artistic risks in the kind of productions it stages, nor would it be fair to say that it does not also meet the need for popular works to be shown in a city such as London. The ENO is currently looking at a whole range of different measures to ensure that its financial position can be put right. It is not looking only at the size of the chorus and the contracts of the orchestra.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are strong analogies between the state of the Royal Opera House 10 years ago and the present parlous state of the Coliseum? The difference is partly in the changes that have come about in the Arts Council during the past decade. Do not the Government recognise that they have some responsibilityin spite of the arm's length principletowards preventing the demise of the great opera houses of this country? Do they not agree that it is no use insisting on the arm's length principle if what lies at the end of the armthe hand, the operative parthas become so paralytically incompetent, as the Arts Council seems to have become?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I could not disagree more with what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said about the Arts Council as it is currently operating. It is not in any way paralysed and is undertaking its work in an excellent way. Ministers are constantly in touch with the Arts Council about the problems of the ENO and, indeed, about many of the other issues faced by the Arts Council. The noble Baroness is unduly pessimistic in suggesting that the great opera companies in this country are, in some
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is a classic industrial dispute? On the one hand, the management want to get rid of what used to be known as Spanish practices in the chorus; and, on the other hand, Equity, the trade union, has put forward other proposals. Could not this matter reasonably be referred to ACAS?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. This is a classic dispute between management and the employees of a particular organisation, albeit a special kind of organisation. As I understand it, ACAS is willing to intervene if it is requested to do so by the parties to the dispute.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, is the Minister awareI am sure she isthat the more grand operas a company undertakes and the larger the house in which it performs, the more choristers it requires; and that a company which performs a large number of grand operas in a large house is unlikely to save much money, if any, by cutting the size of its permanent chorus and engaging freelance choristers where necessary? Is she further aware that the ENO's problems with its chorus are symptomatic of much wider and more fundamental problems of a kind that have bedevilled it intermittently since it moved to the Coliseum? We need an English National Opera company. If we cannot afford the ENO as it is, with its existing repertory policy and performing mainly in the Coliseum, will the Government consider setting up an inquiry, or asking the Arts Council to do so, to review what the role of the ENO should be within the national operatic framework, what repertory policy it should follow and where its home base should be?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there are many questions in what the noble Lord proposes. I do not agree that there is a need for the kind of review that he suggests. Substantial lottery funds are being spent on improving the Coliseum for use by the ENO. That project is working on budget and to time. I believe that the Coliseum is an appropriate venue for the English National Opera.
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