HC Deb 04 February 1949 vol 460 cc1973-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I should have been delighted if we had been able to let this Bill go through this morning without discussion, owing to the unanimity which greated this proposal on Second Reading, but in the interval a statement has been made by the Prime Minister about which I should like to get an assurance from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. It was unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) put a Question to the Prime Minister in the following terms on 1st February: whether he is prepared to make an announcement offering financial support for the establishment of a national theatre for Wales."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 1507.] I believe that those were completely mistaken tactics. My hon. Friend should have let well enough alone.

The Chairman

I am afraid the Bill deals only with a national theatre in London, and has no reference to the question of a national theatre for Wales. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is out of Order.

Mr. Hughes

I only wish to point out that this is highly relevant to the question, and that the whole matter was discussed on Second Reading, when questions of national theatres were in Order. I suppose that the £1 million which will fall on the Exchequer—

The Chairman

I am sorry, but I am afraid the hon. Member is in error. It is quite in Order on Second Reading to discuss many things which are not appropriate or in Order on the Committee stage. If the hon. Member will look at the marginal note to Clause I, he will see that it says "Powers of Treasury to contribute to cost of national theatre". I am afraid that questions of other theatres are, therefore, out of Order.

Mr. Hughes

I wanted to raise the question of Scotland. Is Scotland going to be asked to contribute to this £1 million to a national theatre without adequate guarantees that similar provision will be made in Scotland? I did not wish to deal with the question of a theatre for Wales.

The Chairman

I am sorry, but the hon. Member is not in Order.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

11.11 a.m.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

As I was not able to be present at the Second Reading of the Bill, I am very glad to have this opportunity of saying, before it leaves this Chamber, what very great pleasure its presentation has meant to me. A very noticeable feature of the Second Reading Debate was the number of hon. Members, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who spoke with such felicity, èho referred to the influence upon their lives since childhood of Shakespeare and the classical stage generally.

In this country today there are hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of children who have never had the opportunity of seeing the living theatre. It is impossible for us to say to our children "Look upon this picture and upon that"; there is only one picture upon which they can look. I wish to say nothing to denigrate the cinema, for which I have considerable respect; nevertheless, it is very unfortunate that our children today have so little chance of hearing beautiful English beautifully spoken. I do not take the line of the hon. Gentleman opposite who thinks that because the national theatre is to be sited in London it will not therefore affect the whole of the rest of the country. During the Second Reading Debate a very strange phrase was used about "Proliferating rubbish." I am sure that the sitting of the national theatre here in London will help to proliferate beauty over the whole country.

Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I think I ought to let her know that over 100,000 school children have seen the productions of the New Vic touring company which has been playing Shakespeare throughout the country.

Mrs. Manning

I am of course well aware of that, and have taken a very great interest in the whole of the movement for the children's theatre, but that does not necessarily mean that anything like the number of children in this country see the living theatre who might otherwise do so. The siting of the national theatre here in London will give a great impetus to that movement. So many of our children speak in clipped and ugly tones, using inelegant American idioms. We do not expect them to make love as Romeo made love to the young Juliet; but there is certainly room for an improvement from "Shall us? Let's." An improvement in this unfortunate trend will be one of the results, at least, of the national theatre.

Many of us have seen the children of other countries delighting in the theatre. In the U.S.S.R. the children's theatre flourishes and is immensely enjoyed. Even in Berlin in the old days I once saw many thousands of children enjoying "The Dream" in the great State theatre. The possibility of doing far more for our children is one of the reasons why this Bill gives me so much pleasure. May I conclude by quoting the words of the old Persian poet, If you have two loaves, sell one and buy a pot of hyacinths. We may not have two loaves, but at least we can sell part of one of our loaves in order to buy and site here in London a national theatre whose beauty and fragrance shall go out to the whole of the country.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I, too, welcome the Bill very cordially. On the occasion of its Second Reading we had a unanimous and very appreciative Debate. This morning, however, our enthusiasm is rather tempered by a statement made by the Prime Minister on 1st February. If only the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) had left well alone, I think we should have been getting on very well with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. We had had specific assurances and guarantees, with enthusiastic support from all sides of this House, that this Measure was a preliminary step and that other schemes would be considered for other parts of the country.

Mr. Speaker

Other schemes do not come within the scope of this Debate. The Bill deals only with the memorial to William Shakespeare … in the borough of Lambeth. That is the only site with which we are now dealing.

Mr. Hughes

I should like to read the Prime Minister's explanation by way of a report upon the Bill which is now before us. This is what he said on 1st February: The proposals of the Government for facilitating the provision of a national theatre in London were made as a result of an approach to them by a body of trustees having at their disposal substantial resources already collected for this purpose and a site upon which to build. Similar evidence of public support elsewhere would be needed before we could consider taking any further action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1949; vol. 460, c. 1507.] That was the position taken up by the Prime Minister. All I ask this morning is that, as far as possible, the Prime Minister should be left out of these future negotiations. Now that we have agreement, when this national theatre for London has the blessing of Wales and Scotland, we do not want the Prime Minister coming along and playing the part of a Shylock. I do not wish to trespass upon your patience, Mr. Speaker, but I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to have a private talk with the Prime Minister and try to convey to him the feeling which was expressed during our Second Reading Debate.

11.17 a.m.

Mr. Berry (Woolwich, West)

I should not have intervened in this Third Reading Debate but for the reference to Shylock by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) I think that an hon. Member with a Welsh name and representing a Scottish constituency ought to be a good judge of Shylocks.

I am very glad that the Bill has progressed so far. I was connected with the very early stages of the movement for a national theatre. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) will remember the way in which Mr. J. P. Blake wooed the London County Council, and in that wooing of the L.C.C. he had to woo me. I say that not by way of arrogance, but because I happened to be chairman at that time of a responsible committee of the L.C.C.

The siting of this theatre in London need not give rise to jealousy in any other part of the country. Although the fact is sometimes ignored, London is, of course, the capital of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is very appropriate, therefore, that a memorial theatre of this character to William Shakespeare, the greatest of British writers, should be situated in London. My great hope is that all of us present may live long enough to see this theatre take its final form. It has, I am sure, a very hearty welcome from everyone.

11.18 a.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I think that almost everything that needed saying about this Bill was said when we had such a delightful time on 21st January during the Second Reading Debate. Before we finally pass the Bill, however, I should perhaps say that I think that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will share the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). One of the things to which we all look forward is that Shakespeare will be available to children just as much as to adults.

I should be out of Order, Mr. Speaker, if I attempted to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), but I should like to put him right on one point. In my Second Reading speech, I did not give assurances and guarantees that theatres would be established elsewhere than in London. If he will look again at what I said on this point, and compare it with what the Prime Minister said, he will find that there is no conflict between the two statements. The initiative, as is made clear in the Preamble, lies with those outside, to build up funds, find sites, and so on.

Before we finally part with the Measure, I wish to pay tribute to one man in particular who was not referred to when we dealt with it on Second Reading. On both sides of the House tributes were paid to a number of individuals who had contributed to the project which is now beginning to take shape. By a peculiar oversight, because we all remember him, no one on either side referred to the great work done by Mr. Geoffrey Whitworth, who was the founder of the British Drama League. He has been, for 18 years I believe, the honorary secretary of the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee and, with the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), a member of the Joint Council. He has collected funds, made speeches, written articles and shown enormous enthusiasm, and we certainly owe him a debt of gratitude. It would not have been right if we had parted with this Bill without someone paying tribute to the great work he has done for a national theatre.

I am glad that I have been associated with this Bill and, when it reaches the Statute Book and when, at I hope no distant date, the theatre itself begins to take shape, I am sure that hon. Members who have helped in its passing, will take pride in the achievement.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

I should like to correct the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in one particular, when he said that on Second Reading no one had paid tribute to Mr. Whit-worth's work. I did so, and as I was so long associated with him, I would not like the House to think that I had forgotten his services. I also mentioned the services of Lord Lytton, who for a long time was closely associated with the project, and it is a matter of great sorrow that he has not lived to see the introduction of this Bill.

I wish to say how much I appreciate what the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) said, particularly about the point I mentioned on Second Reading, that the national theatre, playing at the highest standards of which we are capable, will do something which no one will say is not needed, to preserve the purity of the English language and try to make better and more tuneful the accents in which it is pronounced. Many hon. Members will have seen a delightful parody of an American mother teaching her child to say: Hail to thee blithe spirit Bird thou never wert. Such accents as she used, will, we hope be expunged from our national life.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.