HC Deb 23 March 1948 vol 448 cc2774-6

The following Question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. OLIVER LYTTELTON:

59. To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has any statement to make on the National Theatre.

Sir S. Cripps

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to give the reply to Question No. 59.

I understand that the L.C.C. are willing to reserve space for a National Theatre on the site which they propose to develop on the South Bank as a cultural centre, and to make the land available rent-free in exchange for the site already acquired by the National Theatre Committee in South Kensington. But they have asked for an assurance that the necessary funds will be forthcoming to build the theatre. The National Theatre Committee so far have some £70,000 in cash, but this will be quite inadequate to meet the cost of building a theatre, which is now estimated to be in the region of £1 million. There can obviously be no certainty of their being able to raise the rest of the money from private sources. The Joint Council of the National Theatre and the Old Vic have therefore approached the Government with a request that the Government would stand behind the project so that the necessary assurance can be given to the L.C.C.

The Government take the view that the establishment of a theatre to be operated under public auspices, which will set a standard for the production of drama in a national setting worthy of Shakespeare and the British tradition, is a scheme to which the State should contribute. I am, therefore, proposing to ask for powers to provide a substantial part of the capital cost from public funds. Since, however, it is most unlikely that it will be possible to make a start on the building within the life of the present Parliament, I propose to introduce legislation during the present Parliament to the effect that, if the L.C.C. provide a suitable site for the purpose of a National Theatre, the Treasury may make a contribution not exceeding £1 million towards the cost of building the theatre. If the House is willing to pass such legislation, the requisite powers will be on the Statute Book to be used by the Government of the day as soon as it becomes possible to make a start on the scheme. The actual amount to be provided by the Treasury would, of course, depend on the total contributions which may have become available from other sources at the time.

The arrangements for the operation and management of the theatre will need further consideration. My purpose in making this announcement at the present time, and in taking the steps I have stated, is to give an assurance to the parties concerned so that they can proceed with their plans in the knowledge that they have the full sympathy and practical support of His Majesty's Government and of this House.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Is the legislation to which the Chancellor refers to form part of the Finance Bill, or will it be a separate Bill?

Sir S. Cripps

I am not quite sure. We are considering that matter at the moment.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

If a similar plan were submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would he give sympathetic consideration to a National Theatre being established in Edinburgh?

Sir S. Cripps

We certainly hope that the people of Edinburgh will also raise funds in order to make it possible.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft

Will the Chancellor make it perfectly plain that, in the present state of the country's financial position, no one will be permitted to embark upon a theatre project of this kind?

Sir S. Cripps

I think I have made that quite clear.