HC Deb 21 January 1949 vol 460 cc437-503

Order for Second Reading read.

11.6 a.m.

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

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a small Bill with a very great purpose, and I am glad that it has fallen to my lot to introduce it. It implements the announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March of last year, that Parliament would be invited to provide State assistance towards the establishment of a national theatre. That such a theatre should be established in this country, devoted to the presentation of the best plays, past and present, produced with distinction, performed by actors of merit and where the dignity of the playwright's art would be maintained in a worthy setting has long been the dream of many people in all walks of life.

National theatres have existed for many years in other European countries. In France, for example, they have had such an institution for nearly 270 years. Therefore, it is, in my view altogether fitting that we who live in the land which gave birth and language to the greatest dramatist that the world has yet seen, should now think seriously of erecting such a centre here in London, notwithstanding the fact that we are all pre-occupied with other and more pressing matters.

The patronage of the Court had a good deal to do with the flowering of British drama in its greatest period. Today there is a sharp division of opinion as to the extent to which the State should interfere in various sections of our national life, but there is no doubt that most, if not all, of us believe that it is right and proper that the State should come to the assistance of the arts. As the House is well aware, a beginning in that direction has already been made. Although it is a comparatively recent development, the encouragement of the arts by the State is something which has met with the wholehearted approval and support of hon. Members in all quarters of the House. On the dramatic side it took, until recently, the shape of exempting from Entertainment Duty performances which could be considered as mainly of an educational character. During the war, it took a more direct form when the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts—which was a war-time organisation—was given a grant from public funds by, I think, the National Government in 1940. C.E.M.A. has been succeeded by the Arts Council and last year the grant to the Arts Council had risen to no less than £575,000. So far as I know, very little objection has been raised when these Estimates have been presented to the House, although I suppose that earlier generations would have considered a sum of that magnitude to be rather excessive. It is an indication of how we have advanced in our views on these matters.

The first plans for a national theatre to be built by public subscription were laid by Harley Granville Barker, whom some of the older Members of this House will remember for the work he did at the Court Theatre, and William Archer, in 1903. Seven years later their scheme was combined with another which was already in existence to provide a national memorial to William Shakespeare. The appeal then launched by the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee attracted many distinguished supporters and some contributions. The largest contributor was Sir Carl Meyer, who made a donation of £70,000 towards the cost of building a theatre which it was hoped to open in 1916 in celebration of the tercentenary of Shakespeare's death. But war came in 1914, and it was quite impossible to carry that project to maturity.

It was not until 1937 that a site of one acre in Cromwell Gardens, opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum, was purchased. Here it was proposed to erect the National Theatre for which the Committee had been collecting subscriptions. The selection of that particular site met with a very mixed reception. Some people thought that an acre was not enough for a memorial of the kind which many people contemplated. Others thought that South Kensington, being as it is, some distance from the centre of London and from theatreland, was not an appropriate place in which to erect such a building. It is, I agree, a long way from Shaftesbury Avenue to Cromwell Gardens, in atmosphere at any rate. Nevertheless, there were people then, and I believe that there are still some, including our greatest living dramatist, Bernard Shaw, who believe that a site such as South Kensington would be the most fitting setting for a building of this kind.

However, the discussion whether the theatre should be in South Kensington or elsewhere can now be considered merely academic, because those who have read the Preamble of the Bill will have seen that events have marched a good deal since the days when that controversy raged. It has now been decided that the theatre, as and when it is built, shall be in a more central locality. The London County Council, as the House is aware, has for many years contemplated developing the South Bank of the Thames, and most of us would say "not before it was time." They contemplate setting up a cultural centre in the area between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge, and have been negotiating with the Joint Council of the National Theatre and the Old Vic. The negotiations have resulted in an offer by the London County Council to exchange a site of rather more than one acre on the South Bank of the Thames for the acre in Cromwell Gardens which had been purchased earlier and is still in the hands of the National Theatre Committee. Not only will there be more room on the South Bank of the Thames, but the London County Council have intimated that they will be willing to provide approaches and roadways to the theatre when it is built.

When they made their offer, the London County Council not unnaturally wanted some kind of assurance that the project would mature. It would be no use their offering a site of this magnitude in the centre of what is to be a well-planned cultural centre, unless they knew that the money for erecting the building could be raised within a measurable time. The Joint Council has at its disposal at the moment about £70,000. There is no doubt that, if a public appeal were made, that amount would be greatly increased; but it is estimated that it will cost about £1 million to build a memorial theatre of the kind we contemplate, worthy of the name of Shakespeare and worthy of this country. This sum is completely outside the range of the Joint Council and not within their power to collect in a measurable time.

As the L.C.C. and the Joint Council were anxious that the project should go forward, it was decided that the Government should be approached to see whether Parliament would be willing to underwrite it and to give guarantees and assurances that money up to £1 million would be forthcoming as soon as it was possible to erect this theatre. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated when he made the announcement to the House, the Government willingly acceded to the representations which were made. They felt sure, as I feel sure today, that the House would give a willing assent to this Bill and that they would agree to the proposal which is now being made.

Clause 1, therefore, provides that the Treasury may make a contribution not exceeding £1 million towards erecting and equipping such a theatre. Clause 2 is the only other operative Clause in the Bill. When this public money is advanced, it is essential that the theatre should really be a national institution and that the Government should have some control over it. That being so, Clause 2 provides that Section 36 of the Trustee Act, 1925, notwithstanding, the number of trustees of the National Theatre may be raised to seven, and that the Treasury, acting for the nation, shall approve the appointments of trustees as and when vacancies occur.

This is a non-party, non-political and I hope non-controversial Measure. It is only a three-Clause Bill and I do not want to say much more about it However, the House will perhaps expect me to give them all the details which we have as to the kind of building that will be erected and how it will be managed.

The Joint Council of the National Theatre and the Old Vic have already appointed architects to draw up the plans and have set up a building sub-committee. Plans provide for a building containing two theatres, one seating about 1,200 people and the other about 500. There will be, we hope, and indeed there should be, special accommodation for workshops, for stores, for conference rooms, for a library, for canteens, for a public restaurant and for all the other numerous offices that should go with such a centre. It is indeed intended to provide not only a first rate national theatre in London, but a centre, in every sense of the word, for the development of dramatic art.

It is also intended to stimulate the art of the theatre through other possible and suitable means, to organise national theatre tours throughout the country and overseas. It may well be that, during the discussion, hon. Members may ask when a national theatre is to be built in Scotland and when Wales is to have one of its own. I see no reason why this project should prevent Scotland or Wales from going forward with a similar proposal, if they so desire. In fact, I think nothing would please me better than to know that Scotland, realising that we were serious in London, wished to follow that example.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

May I interrupt? I understand this is the result of negotiations between the London County Council and the Government. Do I understand that this is an invitation and that if the Edinburgh Corporation came along with a similar suggestion the Government would welome it?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Negotiations have not taken place between the Government and the London County Council. In the first instance, negotiations took place between the Joint Council representing the Old Vic, which for many years now has watched over the Shakespearian and the more serious drama in this country, and the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee. Those two have come together, and they have been negotiating with the London County Council, and it was on joint representations from those two bodies that the Government, in the end, were brought in. If the hon. Member for South Aryshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) feels that a similar movement should be considered, for Scotland, and if it reaches the stage when the Government themselves might be interested—whatever Government there might be at that time—I am sure he will find a ready ear for any reasonable request that he might make.

The Bill does not go into any detail as to what management should be set up. That will have to be worked out in the interval between the passing of the Bill through Parliament and the completion of the theatre. I imagine that the trustees will probably not desire to manage the theatre themselves. They may prefer to lease it to a new ad hoc body which might be set up, or even to the Old Vic, which for many years now has earned the respect and gratitude of the nation. However, that is not a matter for us to consider too deeply at the moment. It is one that will have to be gone into as the building and the project matures.

Nor has provision been made in the Bill for any assistance towards the running costs of the theatre, once it is built. There will be no land charges to begin with. The land will be rent-free. Whether rates will fall on the building has yet to be seen. It may be that the committee or the trustees will find that they may be able to establish a claim under the Scientific Societies Act, 1843, and by that means avoid even the payment of rates. But, if in the future, some sort of assistance does become necessary, it is our view that it would be for the Arts Council to give it.

It is obviously desirable that the prices of the seats should be reasonable. I am sure all of us hope that everyone, regardless of the state of his pocket, will be able to enjoy the plays that will be put on in this theatre. I would like to see many seats sold at sixpence.

I should perhaps utter a word of warning as to when this project may begin to mature. It is quite obvious to the Government that it will be some little time before the building can be started. We take the view that we should not be justified in diverting resources of labour and materials urgently needed for housing and other constructional work contributing to our economic recovery. It is correct that plans have been laid for a concert hall on the South Bank and also to re-build the Queen's Hall. In view of this, it may well be that some hon. Members may ask why this project cannot go forward at the same time. We take the view—and I hope that the House will agree—that, desirable as it is that the National theatre should be erected as soon as possible, there are many theatres in London at the present time, whereas there are no concert halls where we can have a full scale orchestral concert production. That is a great lack which we should remedy at the earliest possible moment.

I commend this Bill to the House as one which I hope all will approve. I trust that we shall soon see arising on the south bank of the river a memorial worthy both of William Shakespeare and of the people of this country.

11.28 a.m.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

I should begin by disclosing my interest, and by telling the House that I am a "tainted party." I have been a trustee of the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre for a great many years. I think I was appointed in 1936. Since 1945 I have been chairman of the joint council of the Old Vic and the National Theatre. As the Financial Secretary mentioned the subject of Scotland, and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) mentioned Scotland, I may say that I am half Scots myself, and that any time the Scottish nation wish to call upon my services to conduct negotiations with the Government I shall be only too ready to step forward.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

The right hon. Member will know that there is a place called Manchester.

Mr. Lyttelton

Yes, indeed. I will refer to that later on. We are on a broad national basis at the moment. My real interest dates long before this. My father and mother were both concerned with the original project nearly 40 years ago, and I am very glad to think that my mother lived long enough to know of the introduction of this Bill. So I support the Bill wholeheartedly on its merits. I support it also out of filial piety and from the association, not a short one, which I have had with the project.

The Financial Secretary has made my task very easy, because he has given the background. I should like to fill in one or two other details which I hope will be of some interest to the House. When I was appointed a trustee, the three trustees were Lord Lytton, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and myself. When Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson died, I persuaded a friend of mine, Mr. J. P. Blake, a member of the party opposite, to fill the vacancy. Mr. Blake is a devoted supporter of the drama. Hon. Members will recall that he was subsequently Chairman of the London County Council, so that at least on this occasion the Financial Secretary will agree that I picked a winner. It was also, as the Financial Secretary has said, Sir Carl Meyer, whose grandson, by the way, is at present a trustee, who originally made the donation which gave life to the project.

By the 1930's, £150,000 had been collected. In collecting these sums, and in all these matters, Mr. Geoffrey Whitworth, the founder of the British Drama League, was most active and indefatigable. In 1937 the South Kensington site was bought and, shortly after that a suggestion was made that we should negotiate with the London County Council in order to change this site which I believe is of some importance to the London County Council under the Bressey scheme, for a site on the South Bank. If my memory serves me, I think that suggestion came from Mr. Blake; at any rate, it was one which I readily accepted and followed.

One of the reasons why I am going over this ground again is that I feel that it would be most unseemly if I did not say here and now how very grateful we were for the most generous attitude which the London County Council adopted. They approved the idea which underlay our proposal. It came to our knowledge that the London County Council intended to develop the site on the South Bank between Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge on a grand and imaginative scale. There was to be what I was sorry to hear the Financial Secretary again describe as a cultural centre. I should not like hon. Members to be turned against the project by the somewhat repellent nature of the language in which it is described. I think the French have something over us when they describe a building as an "Eácole des Beaux Arts," or a Ministry as a Ministry of the Fine Arts. I believe that the Muses themselves would feel a little uncomfortable in a cultural centre. Be that as it may, the London County Council had this idea, and it seemed to us, and subsequently to them, very appropriate that a national threatre should be erected on that site and as part of the scheme to foster the fine arts. The site is a very noble one of more than an acre and a quarter, and I am sure that most hon. Members will agree that it is the finest site in the whole of London we could wish for on which to erect a theatre.

When these negotiations with the London County Council were beginning, I formed the idea that it was quite wrong that two bodies—namely, the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre and the Old Vic—should be appealing to the public and, incidentally, to the Arts Council, for what was essentially the same object. I, therefore, put down on paper a scheme by which these two bodies should act in concert. That scheme was agreed to and accepted. The committee or council which combined these interests has, of course, as hon. Members will realise, no legal existence, but it has nevertheless the force of authority, because it numbers amongst its members most of those who are, in some way or another, responsible for the affairs both of the Old Vic and of the National Theatre. I think I must say who are the members of this body. First, on the Old Vic side—if I may use that term—there are the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot), my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. O. Poole), Miss Barbara Ward and Alderman Mrs. L'Estrange Malone. On the National Theatre side there are Lord Esher, Sir Bronson Albery, Mr. J. P. Blake and Mr. Geoffrey Whitworth. This distinguished body is under my chairmanship.

It seemed to my colleagues and me that the betrothal of these two parties was a very happy event. The National Theatre, on the one hand, had the promise of the London County Council for this site, and the Old Vic could point to a long record of successes, to the achievement of Miss Bayliss's original idea in the Old Vic, and to many recent theatrical successes. It seemed to my colleagues and myself clearly right to try to combine a body whose resources could only be used for the building of a theatre, because they were limited by their trust, with that of another body which represented a company of actors and actresses, or what might be termed the living side of the theatre. So it was that this amalgamation was made, the policy governing both bodies has been agreed, and I think I may say that very happy relations have been established. Should I be pitching it too high if I said that possibly here there was a felicitous combination of private enterprise, municipal generosity and State aid? I hope not.

After this short and no doubt rather tiresome historical survey, which I hope will serve to explain the interest I have in the project, I now turn to the actual Bill. Let me state my own view quite plainly. It may be an unusual view for me to express. I hope hon. Members will not ask me to widen my remarks beyond this occasion. My view is that on this occasion His Majesty's Government have in presenting this Bill shown great boldness and imagination. I think they are to be congratulated upon these two qualities. I have often been asked, as a sponsor of this project, what is the necessity for a National Theatre? This of course, is a question which perhaps only the Secretary of the Philistine Society, if there is such a body, could appropriately ask. I usually reply in a rather conventional way by asking what is the need, come to that, for the National Gallery, for St. Paul's Cathedral, "Lycidas" or the "Eroica" Symphony of Beethoven. These works are not necessities in the sense that the President of the Board of Trade and others use the term when speaking about clothes, food, or houses. In fact, we only begin to enter the realms of art when we begin to leave the realms of necessity.

A national theatre aims to set the highest standard of performance of the drama—just that and no more. This country has made probably the greatest contribution in modern times to the drama, and might have some claims to have made as great a contribution, not excluding Greece to drama as any country in history. Almost all other countries which have been the nurseries of the arts and the cradles of great composers or authors have State theatres or opera houses which are assisted in some way by government funds. The most obvious examples of this policy are the ones the Financial Secretary mentioned—the Comeádie Francaise and La Scala in Milan—but in drama, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland and Belgium, to name the first countries that come into one's mind, have theatres assisted by the State or by the municipality.

I should like to emphasise the point that these theatres with State help, such as the Comédie Francaise, not only set a standard for the drama but also preserve from pollution the language in which these dramatic works are played. A national theatre in Great Britain would help to keep undefiled the purity of the English language, the accents in which it is uttered, the grammar and the syntax in which it is cast, by setting a standard springing from the glorious English of Shakespeare of which we are the proud but I must say somewhat negligent heirs. But it is unfortunately the fact that if the classical drama or classical opera is to be performed and declaimed or sung by the leading artists of the day, it is most unlikely that the theatre, and quite certain that the opera house, will not be self-supporting. It is, of course, possible by private subscription, by guest artists and by cheap and improvised productions to keep classical drama in front of the public, but it is not possible without some kind of help to play the classical drama at cheap and popular prices—to which I must, in parenthesis, say I attach as much importance as the Financial Secretary—with a good standard of production. This is the fundamental reason why Great Britain should have a national theatre.

Some objections—if that is the right word; I do not think it is—have been raised to State money being devoted and destined for a national theatre in London, but I am sure the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), when he hears what I have to say, will change his objections to enthusiasm, because I know he is in favour of the general project. I think I understand the reasons for this criticism. If this criticism of London as the home of the national theatre meant that London is to be the only centre worthy of support in the furtherance of the drama, I would agree with that criticism wholeheartedly, but a start has to be made somewhere, and a standard—the highest which we can achieve in our country—has to be set.

We should all agree at the outset that these objects can best be achieved by siting the national theatre in the capital city of the Commonwealth and Empire; but I do not go further than that, and I do not at all say that London should be the only recipient of State or municipal help in the theatre. As I say, I have already offered my services to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It is part of the project of the national theatre to have stock companies travelling a large part of the year which will play in the great provincial cities, and therefore serve to stimulate the spread of this movement; and as time goes on we may hope to see other theatres with State or municipal support established outside London. I have not studied the Measure very carefully, but I believe the vehicle for carrying out the development of the theatre in other parts of the country is contained in the Local Government Act, 1948.

The next question I wish to ask and, in fact, to answer is: why do the Government bring forward this project at this time, when we are trying to struggle out of our economic difficulties and when we are admittedly living to a large extent upon aid from the United States? The Financial Secretary touched on this question which is not an awkward one at all. It is perfectly simple, and the answer is that the London County Council, having seen the good sense as we think of having a national theatre on the south bank, naturally would require some earnest or guarantee that, having reserved the site, the funds are going to be available for building the theatre. That is the reason why, I take it, the Government are bringing forward the Measure now. It is at least doubtful whether any private individual or body in these days of taxation would ever have the resources to bring this very long delayed project to life. It is for this reason that we who are connected with the movement approached His Majesty's Government.

The negotiations with the Government were conducted by Lord Esher. It would be most ungenerous of me not to acknowledge the greatness of the services to the cause of the national theatre which have been performed by Lord Esher, and I take this opportunity of doing so and paying a tribute to him in the warmest terms that I can command. It has not been Lord Esher's privilege or good fortune to live in an age when, as a Maecenas, he could have supported the drama out of his own resources, but within the limits of what is possible in our age no one has worked more devotedly than he.

I turn to the last part of my subject, and to answer the question whether it is wise on general or economic grounds for the Government to introduce the Bill now. The word "economic" seems to dog my footsteps, and I cannot get away from it even this morning. I would draw the attention of hon. Members who are not particularly interested in the drama—I think there are very few of them; they are certainly not here—to the economic aspects of this question and, in particular, to the White Paper on Full Employment. This White Paper was the product of the Coalition Government in which there was a large Conservative majority, so that the party on this side of the House is even more committed to that White Paper than the party on the other, but it suffices for my purpose to say that it was a joint White Paper. The very essence of that White Paper is that in times of great trade activity when we have full employment, a Government should prepare schemes which will be to the profit or advantage of the community, and put them on the shelves so that if at any time the trade cycle should recede and a trade depression, perhaps imported from abroad, should spread its chill hand once again upon our lives, then there should be in the pigeon-holes, Government schemes and particularly building schemes, ready to be put into force and to make their contribution to the reinstatement of the trade cycle and to employment.

I have tried to show that a national theatre is a scheme to which, as civilised human beings and civilised British citizens, we should subscribe. I would add that those who voted for the White Paper on Full Employment should also agree to the general idea of having such a scheme in the pigeon holes of the Government on economic grounds. As the Financial Secretary has said, no building will begin until the Treasury presses the button, and no arguments therefore which seek to show that this is not the right time to build the national theatre have any validity. It is not the right time, clearly, and in fact I suppose the theatre cannot be begun until after 1951, because I believe that the site is going to be used for the Exhibition of that year.

I do not wish to be dogmatic, but I conclude by saying that those who are opposed to the national theatre of Great Britain for the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Congreve and Bernard Shaw are only fitted to be enrolled amongst the ranks of the Philistines, and I suggest that those who oppose the introduction of this Bill, if there are such, upon economic grounds are taking up a false position. I commend this Bill to my hon. Friends on this side of the House and to the House in general. I find myself in the unusual but agreeable rôle of congratulating the Government for imagination and audacity in introducing it at this moment, and I trust very much that it will be given its Second Reading without a Division.

11.50 a.m.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)

May I follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) by congratulating him on his extremely fine speech. It is a great moment when both sides of the House join in agreeing on an "imaginative and bold scheme," as the right hon. Gentleman so rightly described this scheme for a national theatre.

This theatre is long overdue and I am divided between rejoicing, on the one hand, that a Labour Government should have the honour and imagination to introduce this Bill and sorrow, on the other hand, that the national theatre was not built long ago, when it should have been built, before the war and before there were all these difficulties about building which inevitably will mean a long delay. On the whole, I think my rejoicing is greater even than my disappointment that we have not previously had a national theatre in this country. As has been pointed out, it is a dreadful thing that in Britain, the home of Shakespeare and other great playwrights. there has been no national theatre when they have existed for so long in nearly all the countries of Europe.

I have been looking, as no doubt have other hon. Members, at the statistics of national theatres and I find that practically every European country, certainly in Western Europe, has had one national theatre for a long time, and in some cases several. For instance, Sweden, with a population not much over one-tenth the size of ours, has three national theatres, and magnificent theatres they are. They run opera, ballet and drama in all these three theatres which are situated in Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg, three centres considerably far apart in mileage. When our theatre is built we shall have at least two theatres. We already have Covent Garden, for opera and ballet, which is doing extraordinarily well, and we shall have our national theatre for straight drama.

I very much agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot said about safeguarding the kind of production which we put on. I think that is one of the most important functions of a national theatre. It reminded me of an experience I had, when I was a school girl and lived near a repertory theatre and spent most of my pocket money in attending various performances on Saturday afternoons. One week "Charley's Aunt" was played very successfully. The next week "Hamlet" was very indifferently played and it would be little exaggeration to say that at the end of the play the rather small stage was fairly stacked with corpses. Two people were sitting in front of me in the gallery and as the curtain went down one of them turned to the other and said, "Well, of course, it is all right, but it does not make a laugh like Charley's Aunt,'" I think not only will such an occurrence never happen in a national theatre, but the standard throughout the country will be so raised that even the less important repertory theatres will not provide that kind of experience.

I want to put in a word for the provinces, and when I say "the provinces" I am sure hon. Members will realise that I would not dare for one moment to describe the other countries of the British Isles as "provinces." I am not speaking of Scotland or Wales; of course, they should have their national theatres, but they are not the only places which should have them. There should be national and municipal theatres in Manchester, Leeds and all the towns of any size. I very much hope that in the not far distant future municipalities will be encouraged by the Government, through some sort of conditional grants, to build these national theatres in all the bigger centres.

As my right hon. Friend said in his opening speech, it is most undesirable that people should be prevented from seeing fine performances because of their pockets. As a matter of fact, however low the prices are in a London theatre a very large section of the population will be prevented from seeing the performances because their pockets do not allow them to travel to London. Therefore, if this bold and imaginative scheme is effectively to operate for the whole of the population of Britain, we must not only build one national theatre—which is a magnificient start—but we must encourage similar theatres on a smaller scale to be erected in all the suitable centres in the country, as has already been done in Sweden, despite their tiny population.

I think today is a red letter day in the history of British Government. It will go down to history as one of the days when a magnificent step forward was taken and a great scheme was promoted in a Bill by this Labour Government.

11.57 a.m.

Captain Bullock (Waterloo)

I am very glad to be able to welcome this Bill. As long as I can remember I have taken an interest in the theatre, entirely from the point of view of the ordinary spectator, and for some ten years I worked in conjunction with the late Lord Hamilton to try to get Miss Bayliss to fill her dress circle and stalls at the Old Vic. We had a small society formed for that particular reason. Miss Bayliss had all the right ideas about the theatre, but she thought only of the cheap seats and if she could fill seats which were given free she was even more delighted. Then she used to wonder why she could not make ends meet. We formed this little society, which was an extremely successful society, to fill the dress circle and the stalls.

There are one or two points I want to raise with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He referred to the National Theatre as being called the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. I hope it will always be referred to as the National Theatre, because that would prevent any confusion with Stratford. I want to ask him if there is any thought of working with Stratford or whether Stratford will always remain something apart from the National Theatre scheme.

I agree that there should be a large proportion of very cheap seats, but I want to make the point that every seat should be a good seat. That does not apply to many of the Continental theatres where there are a great many cheap seats in which one cannot breathe, hear or see. I hope every seat in both theatres will be a good seat. One theatre which has not been mentioned is the Vienna Theatre, the Burgtheater, which has a very high tradition and which I think is better than any German theatre—better than the Berlin Theatre. It had a magnificent artistic production and it also had the two theatres scheme; it had a small theatre called the Academy Theatre which, unfortunately, was not under the same roof, consequently causing great difficulty in changing casts and scenery. Nevertheless, I hope the working of the Burgtheater will be studied because there are many points of value to be learned from that State theatre.

Speakers have referred to classical productions and to Bernard Shaw, upon whom I look now as a classic. Surely, however, in the National Theatre new plays should be encouraged. They are in France, where there are new plays by young authors. While talking of French productions I should like to say that I hope that the work done by M. Bourdet, the late director—unhappily, he is now dead—of the Francaise will be studied, because he revived the spirit of the Francaise and the Odéon, which had fallen to a fairly low level between the wars. They had a good, old tradition, but needed a good deal of uplifting, and M. Bourdet threw himself into stimulating it. The productions now are of a very high level.

I should like to ask what is proposed to be done about a pension scheme in connection with the National Theatre? That is very important. I have had letters connected with people from the theatre who assure me that this country has not a tradition of a national theatre. I think that that suggestion has been answered already, and, indeed, it is answered by the fact that we had the Court Theatre of old days, and the Henry Irving productions, and, more recently, we have had the Old Vic and the provincial repertory theatres. I am sure we have the complete position of a national theatre.

There is another question. Is it to be contemplated that the time has now come when we should have a Minister—not a Ministry—of Fine Arts? I personally believe that the time has come when it is necessary to have a Minister of Fine Art. He should stand apart from party politics, and be responsible for all the money which is being spent by the Arts Council, and be in general control of the fine arts in this country. I think that with this Bill the moment has come for some decision to be taken about that question, and that such a Minister should be a peer, outside of party politics.

As the Financial Secretary said, it is very necessary to keep party politics out of national theatres. We have not had experience of that before, but I have seen it in France. I have seen in European State theatres foreign Cabinet Ministers making little arrangements for their friends to walk on in small parts, or to be given bigger ones for which they were not fitted. I have seen it amongst the Nazis, when a tenor was removed from the Vienna Opera, and a fine actor was removed from the Burgtheater to make room for a good party member who could neither act nor sing. That sort of thing must be avoided. It would be only too easy for the Prime Minister to do that sort of thing. I am not saying that the Prime Minister of the moment would do such a thing. However, one can imagine the kind of resignation letters that could be written, such as "My dear So-and-so. You have done magnificently at the,"—say, Ministry of Food—" but I have always looked upon you as a Hamlet, and your Parliamentary Secretary has to my mind been the perfect Lady Macbeth, for I have always seen her saying, 'Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers.' Indeed, I fear me that every Government Front Bench has many potential Poloniuses on it. So I would urge that that point be kept in mind all the time—that party politics must not enter the question of the national theatre.

I think that we can also say that the time will come when the national theatre will take the place of all the piecemeal assistance given by remitting Entertainment Duty here and there, and by bol— stering up not very good productions by little grants here and there from the Arts Council. The money spent must be spent on the national theatres. I welcome very much the idea of touring companies. The City of Liverpool has not been mentioned, although almost every other city has been, but I know that Liverpool has a great tradition in the theatre and would welcome a national theatre and touring companies and also welcome the national theatre as a great tourist attraction. We know that the Comádie Francaise and the Burgtheater in Vienna and the Opera were tremendous attractions for tourists. In the tourist season here visitors want to see "Hamlet" or plays by Sheridan, and light productions of a classical sort, such as "You Never Can Tell," but all too often all they can see is "Annie, Get Your Gun," or "Oklahoma," and shows of that sort. I am sure that our visitors from the Dominions would welcome a national theatre. The national theatre would be of great value to our tourist trade.

I know all the obvious reasons why the theatre cannot be started now. I can only say that I hope that I shall live long enough to see the national theatre. There will be small matters to be discussed, such as the question of restaurants in the theatres, which is a very important matter, for nowadays when we cannot get a meal before the play or afterwards—unless we go to very expensive restaurants—the catering side of the theatre is an important consideration, and refreshment ought to be provided in the national theatre. Then there is the question of subscription seats. In the national theatres abroad they have matinees for which one can take 12 seats, say; and that is of great educational value for schools and universities. There are certain nights when more can be charged for the more expensive seats, and nights for subscription seats. All these points will have to be gone into. There are many small matters I should like to mention, but I do not think they are matters to be considered on Second Reading, and, therefore, I would conclude by once more congratulating the Government on having had the courage to bring in this particular Bill at this moment.

12.8 p.m.

Mr. John Wilmot (Deptford)

I am sure that we would all like to help the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo (Captain Bullock) in casting the more histrionic Members of this House for their general parts. We had a part in mind already for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). However, perhaps it would be wiser to leave the matter for now; I, too, congratulate the Government, as all have so far done, upon their wisdom and foresight in introducing this Bill. I would also thank the Financial Secretary for the charming way he presented it to the House. I, too, have to declare my interest. I have, in one way or another, been concerned with the Old Vic for most of my life, first for many years as a patron and later as a governor. I owe most of my love of the drama very largely to that grand old place.

I have heard a great many people say that they are a little worried by this project lest the ambitions and purposes of the Old Vic should be lost. They wonder whether this is really what the great founder, Lilian Bayliss, had in mind as the ultimate purpose of the theatre. On that, I am happy to say we need have no doubt at all. Miss Bayliss left a number of letters, to which I have recently referred, in which she expressed in the most unmistakable terms her desire that the ultimate purpose of the Old Vic should be realised by its being brought into a national theatre. She did, in fact, write to Lord Lytton, who as hon. Members know was chairman of the Memorial Theatre Committee, expressing this hope in these words: I always cherish the hope that eventually we might work together as one. She said she felt that the Old Vic, in its work, had done something to produce not only the actors and the companies which might make the beginnings of the national theatre company, but also the audiences, and those who came after them would heed, and love and use the national theatre. There can be no doubt about that, and it is very fortunate that this noble site, which is available as a result of the foresight of that committee and the London County Council and the Theatre Committee is within a stone's throw of the old theatre in the Waterloo Road, which Hitler destroyed. I am certain that everybody concerned with this project knows the vital importance of providing performances at prices which working people can afford to pay. That was an essential part of the Old Vic policy, and no one need have any doubt that it will be a cardinal principle of the national theatre when it is opened. As the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo said in his most interesting and practical speech, it is extremely important, too, that the seat should be a good seat. It is unfortunately true that in many of the older theatres, especially Drury Lane, many of the cheaper seats are very bad seats. I am sure that the distinguished and technically experienced architects engaged on this project will keep that point very much in mind, as will everybody concerned.

I have had a number of letters from people holding this view, which I share—the necessity of remembering that London is not England, nor Scotland or Wales. Some are critical of this expenditure in London alone. As the right hon. Member for Aldershot said in his most excellent speech, if we looked at this merely as a London project it would not stand. But of course it is not just for London. London is the capital city, and for that reason is bound to be the centre and headquarters of national movements and institutions. In the theatre it is particularly necessary to have the centre in the capital. Nothing could be more constructive in building up what I think is such an essential part of our national life, a chain of municipal and civic and public theatres in every city in the country, than to establish this centre in London from which these activities must radiate. Nor is it a one-way influence. Hon. Members may remember the very successful season at the St. James's Theatre last year, when repertory companies from Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester presented, week after week, plays which they had performed in their own home theatres. And what a brilliant season it was; one of the best pieces of theatrical fare which has been presented to London for a very long time.

I believe it to be just as important for repertory companies of provincial cities to come and play in London as for the London companies to go and play in the provinces. The Old Vic has had some experience of that, in exchanging visits with the company which is running, with the help of the Arts Council, in that remarkably beautiful old theatre, the Theatre Royal in Bristol—probably the only 18th century theatre still working in this country, complete with the original stage gear and mechanism; one of the most charming relics of the 18th century which we possess. The theatre there is running every night, with its own Bristol Old Vic Company. That company comes to London and the London companies go to Bristol, which gives a sense of purpose and vitality in a theatrical enterprise which cannot be obtained in any other way.

I am sure it could be said that in every city and town of Britain the National Theatre Movement and the People's Civic Theatre Movement take a long step forward with the passage of this Bill; for the first time there is to be established in an Act of Parliament what ought to have been done so many years ago. For the first time the State takes its part in the cultivation of the drama as an art, just as it has for long done in painting and sculpture.

There is not very much more to say now upon this most interesting subject, save to congratulate the Government on their wisdom in including in the Local Government Act, 1948, the remarkably far-sighted Section 132, which gives to municipalities power to set up theatres, to run theatrical companies, concerts, exhibitions and the like, and to levy an appropriate rate for the purpose. This really is a charter of the drama in the cities and towns, and the national theatre will assist in this work, and help to lift and maintain the standard. It is tremendously important that the standard should be high. These powers, if wrongly used, could do harm, just as, rightly used, they can do great good. The preparations for the use of the powers given in this far-sighted Section should begin now to take shape in people's minds and efforts, just as the plans for the national theatre will begin to be put into effect as soon as the Royal Assent has been given to this Bill.

This civic theatre movement is gathering strength and purpose, and I am glad to see that the British Drama League, which has done so much for understanding and promotion of the drama in Britain, has issued a most interesting little booklet about the powers of the Bill and how best to make use of them. I am sure that hon. Members would find that of great interest, and they should bring it to the notice of municipalities in their areas. It has been produced by a committee, on which served the indefatigable Mr. Geoffrey Whitworth, whose work for the drama is above praise, under the chairmanship of Lord Esher, to whom I should like to pay my tribute for the work he has done for the Old Vic and the national theatre. I believe that long years hence, this day will be remembered as a great day for the British drama.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I should like to add my congratulations to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) as to the boldness and imagination displayed by the Government in this Bill. I should also like to congratulate the Financial Secretary on the way in which he has presented the Measure to the House. Today it has been a case of "roses, roses all the way" with him, and I should like to shake a few of my petals upon his reverend hairs.

When this Bill was published I regarded it with great interest—an interest which I am bound to declare—with considerable approbation, and with one or two apprehensions which have, I think, in the main been removed by the right hon. Gentleman. I regarded it with interest because, just as an admiral cannot have too many ships, so a dramatist cannot have too many theatres. How they are to be provided is not, of course, a matter of professional concern to him. I consider this Bill to be a tardy measure of justice, and I hope atonement, for the monstrous Entertainment Duty which has been levied for so many years on this living theatre. I know that this is not a subject which forms part of the Bill so I will not say any more about it because I wish to keep most carefully within the bounds of Order.

But I think I am entitled to say that in certain quarters there may be, and no doubt will be, some criticism of Parliament spending £1 million of the nation's money on a theatre project. I have not yet delved into the precise figures but I should not be surprised, and indeed I think it would be a conservative estimate, if the living theatre had not provided successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, during its long existence, with something in the neighbourhood of £30 million of revenue. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer is an austere man, more austere, for instance, than King Claudius of Denmark, but at one point he can be touched. He has a chink in his armour. Clearly, the play's the thing Wherein to catch the conscience of "— the Chancellor. This project will cost £1 million; and, unless my arithmetic is at fault, £1 million in relation to £30 million means giving back to the theatre 3⅓ per cent., which is not over-generous. When one is dealing with what has been called in this House a shabby moneylender, to get a rebate of 3⅓ per cent. is something—in fact, it is quite a lot. Few victims of any Chancellor of the Exchequer achieve so much.

I regard one or two points in the Bill with apprehension, but I will say that the need has been felt for years in the theatre that it should have some fountain head such as a national theatre. We know from the history of this Measure that funds have been raised which have partly enabled this Bill to be brought forward. I agree with the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould), whose sincere enthusiasm and affection for the theatre, and whose very good work on the Arts Council, everybody recognises, that it is very unfortunate that we have not had a national theatre before this. But we have this advantage: by having it now, I am certain that we have a better site. I never was a believer in the Cromwell-road site. I hope that the Government will see to it that this national theatre never gets into the guiding hands of any bunch of amateur dilettanti. We do need experts in a national theatre—experts in every branch of theatrical art. There are, nevertheless, certain opposing points of view on this subject. My friend, Mr. J. B. Priestley, says: A national theatre can do little for the general theatrical activity of the country. I profoundly disagree. I am of the opinion that a national theatre, suitably planned and organised, can be of inestimable benefit to the general theatrical activity of the country.

I should like to touch upon one or two points about which I have felt a little frightened. I am sure of one thing; we do not want, in regard to the national theatre on the South Bank of the Thames, to see a white elephant of the Covent Garden or Drury Lane type. I am not saying a word against either of those great and historic theatres, but they are only suitable to productions of a gargantuan character. The true genius of the English theatre consists in its essential intimacy. That is true of Shakespeare just as it is of much more modern dramatists. The last thing we want is one huge auditorium, with every modern technical device, where our best plays will never be heard, and often not properly seen. I think that fear has been largely dispelled by what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Rather than have two theatres it might be a good thing to have three, perhaps each one bigger than the 500 capacity and slightly smaller than the 1,200. The first would be specially designed for the presentation of classical drama, not merely the ancient classics but down to Elizabethan times and even later. The second would be designed for the presentation of modern drama, and the third for the presentation of intimate opera; we have no theatre at all in London specially designed for the presentation of what I have described as intimate opera, in which we could have also ballet and the showing of special films. I beg the Government, if they can, not to be grandiose in the matter of architecture; and not to be led astray by the enthusiasm of architects, who are always prone to exaggerate the importance of their own art. After all, "aren't we all?" I beg them to consider the quantity and the quality of the productions, rather than any exaggerated grandeur of the producing medium. I believe, too, that by adopting suggestions such as these we shall make the national theatre far more prosperous because, on balance, many more people will choose to go to it; and, what is of infinitely greater importance, more theatrical workers—players, producers, authors and stage staff—will find lasting and remunerative employment.

I shall not sit in this House very much longer because I shall leave its purlieus when the present Government is defeated, which will be at the next General Election. There are three of my craft in this House. We have been a pretty quarrelsome trio, but we are united, as I believe the whole House is united, in one thing and that is our genuine love for the theatre. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) has, like myself, decided to retire. The junior burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) has been deprived of his seat by the votes of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am afraid that we shall not very much longer amuse the House on Budget day by tumbling into the ring and hurling custard pies at one another. Some hon. Members may think that is a loss. Others, no doubt wiser, will regard it as a gain. But, if these were the last words I should say in this Chamber, I would dedicate them as a valedictory message to my friends and my opponents to do all they possibly can, when this national theatre comes to be built, to ensure that the advantages of this Bill are given the fullest and most practical effect.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

I am in favour of national theatres, but there is no provision made in the Bill for national theatres. I approach this question in the same way as I think Lord Morley would have done. I forget his exact words on this subject but they were something like this: "If you do a thing in a relatively small way it often prevents you from doing it later in a big way." The taxpayers of this country are already financing activities in London, costing approximately £22½ million, activities which they never see. For the people in the North it has been for generations "Work, work, work." Now it is "Work harder and faster than ever." The Bill provides another £1 million. The Financial Secretary will be the first to admit that, with the increased cost of all the equipment, we shall never construct a national theatre for £1 million. In addition, the public works for the Festival of Britain will cost another £2 million; near that site a concert hall costing £1½ million is to be built, and there will also be a Festival of Britain building costing £750,000; that is another £5 million.

Where will this stop? Where does the North come in? When will the North come in? The Bill ought to have taken account of the area north of the Trent and something ought to have been provided within a few miles of Manchester, Buxton, and such places. The Austrians develop art and music throughout their country, and the same thing happens in Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and even in Germany, with Hamburg, Dresden and Leipzig; but in Britain everything is still confined to London. For the North remain the black monumental areas of a hundred years ago. The Bill perpetuates that position.

Let me give credit where it is due, to the staff of the Library of this House. Friends of ours who are no longer hon. Members would not know the very fine services which we are now privileged to have as a result of the development of the librarian's staff. For practically every Bill we are provided with a bibliography and there is now no excuse for any hon. Member not being well informed on subjects like this. If any hon. Member disagrees with me, all I ask him to do is to go to the Library and get a copy of this bibliography and there he will see every word I shall use fully endorsed.

According to Press reports—I take this from the recent Sir Thomas Beecham controversy with a right hon. Gentleman opposite; they differ from the Reports of the Arts Council for 1947 and 1948—the Arts Council granted the Covent Garden Company £89,000 for 1948 and £120,000 for 1949. Now it is suggested that there should be a national theatre in London. All this is superimposed on the £25 million which the ratepayers of the country are paying for activities in London which they never see. I do not want the Financial Secretary to take this in any personal sense—I have had the pleasure of working with him and have a very high regard for his character and understanding of the philosophy which we are supposed to hold—but I must ask him where the Hallé Orchestra comes in. Great work is being done and great sacrifices are being made to keep the Hallé Orchestra going. There is not one word about it in the Bill.

Am I correct in understanding that negotiations have been opened or are to be opened with a view to the Ministry of Works taking over the lease of Covent Garden? Thousands of pounds are being given to Covent Garden and other activities in London, and that is looked upon by people in other parts of the country as a subsidy to those activities when in the main the people who attend them could easily pay much more for their seats, which others never have a chance to occupy. The Covent Garden audiences are exclusive. One has only to stand and watch the people entering and leaving to come to that conclusion.

When will this kind of activity be extended to other parts of the country? We hear a good deal about Scotland and Wales, but there are parts of England besides London. Thousands of people who have seen that greatest of films, "Hamlet," now have a greater appreciation of the world's greatest poet, Shakespeare. Are we to cater for that greater appreciation only in London? Where is our vision and our pride in our country and our people if we allow this kind of activity to be limited in the main to the London area?

The following should have been done before this Bill was introduced. It can still be done. I ask my right hon. Friend to be good enough to consult his colleague with a view to having something done on these lines. Before this Bill was introduced there ought to have been set up a theatre working party, an entertainments committee of investigation or an entertainments working party. Up to the present, progress has not been planned. Everything has just grown in a haphazard manner, and the result is the present chaos in the country in this field. My suggestion would have resulted in an examination of the provision of art and entertainment, the financing of theatres, censorship, the development of cultural activities in parts of the country other than London and the relationship between the theatre, films, radio and other activities.

During the war the people engaged in this kind of work were greatly encouraged by their reception when they provided plays and other activities of this kind before the Forces in all parts of the world and before the people engaged in the supply industries. In Manchester we have the St. James's Hall, the Free Trade Hall, the Gaiety, the Tivoli and the Royal. Not one concert hall is left in Manchester. There are plenty in London. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I mean the kind of places which can be used for that purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then where does the Hallé Orchestra play when it comes to London, where does the London Symphony Orchestra play, and where did the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra play when it came here recently?

Mr. Wilmot

They play in the vast echoing corridors of the Albert Hall.

Mr. Ellis Smith

That is good.

Mr. Wilmot

It is frightfully bad.

Mr. Ellis Smith

In Manchester there is no hall at all. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Bellevue."] if anyone is trying to be funny it is true that there is Bellevue, and it is a real tragedy that a magnificent orchestra is forced to go six miles outside the centre of the city. That is the point I am making. It is in the North in the main where the great contribution is being made to the economic recovery of this country, and the people are getting tired of just working while all these developments are taking place in the South. While I give all credit where it is due, it is time somebody spoke out for the people who are toiling now, and who have been doing it for centuries, and nobody knows it better than the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore I am saying it is time that more attention was devoted not only to building a national theatre in London but to providing similar places in the great centres like Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, and other such places. If these centres could be used for war purposes such as the place where the Bank of England was taken, then they can be used as national centres, and used also during the Festival of Britain.

In regard to Covent Garden and other places, perhaps my right hon Friend will listen to how other people who are not Londoners look upon some of these activities. One writes: Many times I have left Lords and gone in the evening to Queen's Hall or Covent Garden and, as I have changed from one place to another, I have felt the acute lowering not only of standards of skill but of genuine English character; for taking them as a whole the concert and opera audiences in London do not ring true, with their absurd fashions, their whoopings and screamings in the corridors. That was written by the second of the greatest musical critics of our day. I place as the first Sam Langford, who was a very great man, and the second, who wrote that letter, Neville Cardus. He went on to say about the area for which I am pleading: The Beecham opera of 1916 which could fill Manchester's largest theatre for three months at a stretch, eight performances weekly, was the best in range and finish of style ever known in England. Thanks to the B.B.C., thanks to recording, thanks to the development of the Hallé Orchestra and others, we are getting an increased interest in this work, and it is in order to harness and encourage that interest that I am pleading in this way. On behalf of the toiling millions of the North who have made this country great, and who are still making their contribution, I say that the time has arrived when, if we are to be worthy of them, we should be catering for them in the same way as other countries on the Continent have catered for them for so long.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

Two of my distinguished colleagues, the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) have already spoken in this Debate and I who, as the House has already been told, have the honour to be a governor of the Old Vic and a member of the Joint Council of the National Theatre and the Old Vic, propose only to say two or three paragraphs and not to repeat anything they have said.

I was most interested in, and listened with great care to, the speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith). Whereas he will not expect me to agree with all that he has said, I should like to make these comments. Those of us who have any responsibility at all for the conduct of the National Theatre have a great responsibility to do three things. The first is to ensure that the highest standard of dramatic art is obtained; secondly, that it is done at a reasonably economic cost; thirdly, that although it may be in London or any other one place, its advantages, and the companies that go from it, are spread all over the country. Many of the points about the advantages that we hope the North of England and parts of Scotland and Wales will get from the establishment of a national theatre have been made by the right hon. Member for Deptford.

Those who are governors or members of these institutions and establishments must remember that there are many people in the country, particularly in the North of England, who do not have these advantages who feel as the hon. Gentleman does, and it is up to us not only to justify our activities to ourselves and to the people in London and the South of England, but also to ensure that never are the opinions of the people of the North of England forgotten. While I do not agree with much of what the hon. Member for Stoke said—and I would argue with him at other times the various points he has raised—I am aware, as I am sure are my distinguished colleagues, of a great deal of what he said, and that it represents the opinion of many responsible people.

When the Financial Secretary so felicitously moved this Measure, he referred to the trend from royal court patronage in the past to State patronage abroad, and showed how in England we have until now had almost a private patronage of art. Nowadays it is agreed by almost every one that this is impossible, and that we are in a new sphere of State assistance for all our artistic affairs. However, I do not think anybody—either in the Arts Council or in the Government or on any of the bodies with which I am associated—thinks for one minute that we have a complete solution. It is not an easy matter to ensure that what is produced by State aid is a great centre of the fine arts and not a civic cultural centre, because the one thing that is quite certain about any artistic development is that it is not produced either by boards of governors or councils or by aid from the Treasury; it is done by the inspiration of one or two devoted people who provide it. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Waterloo (Captain Bullock) pointed out, when one reads the history of the Comédie Française it will be found that in its successful periods it was the inspiration of one or two people.

Therefore we must not be dogmatic in these matters, particularly at this stage in our affairs. This Bill is a tremendous step forward, and I should like to add my congratulations to the Government on taking that step. This Bill makes possible the building of such a centre, but do not let the Government, or anybody associated with the project, think that by erecting this large building that will in itself create a National Theatre. A great deal more than that has to be done, and that is the responsibility which falls upon us. I do not for a moment think that the theatre, or art of any kind, can only be developed in one way. I do not see any threat to private enterprise drama by the establishment of a national theatre; in fact, I am closely associated with a commercial picture gallery in the West End of London which is established purely for the purposes of making profit for myself, and I do not see any threat to myself in the Arts Council showing people pictures all over the country for nothing. The very reverse, of course, is the truth. The greater the interest established in pictures and drama, the better it will be for those commercially connected with them. Both those who are so engaged for commercial reasons, and those whose endeavour is to provide a National Theatre and to subsidise the provision of picture galleries and the like, have a real part to play in the development of our artistic life.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) referred to the economic side of the project. Hon. Members probably are aware that on the few occasions on which I speak I do so generally more on finance than on art. Not only is the Bill a great milestone in the dramatic life of this country; this is the first time that a project has been laid before the House which is in exact accordance with the modern ideas of how budgetary influence and public works can prevent the impact of the slump and the boom upon the country. This is an aspect which we should not overlook.

It is not for me to try to put forward the views of either the governors of the Old Vic or the National Theatre, for that was done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot. But I would say to the hon. Member for Stoke and to those who think as he does that we appreciate very much indeed the points he has made and that it is our desire to try to overcome the difficulties which he can see. We urge him, however, not to say that because this job is not being sufficiently done we should not do it at all. It is far better to do one thing first, particularly in the field of art, rather than to wait until we can tackle the whole field, when it may be found that we cannot start at all. For my part, I am anxious to assist in any way I can the development of this national theatre and to see that when it is built it really justifies the confidence shown it in by all sides of the House.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. Skeffington (Lewisham, West)

As one born and bred in our great city, educated in its university, and the representative of a constituency on the south side of the river, I am naturally delighted to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I welcome it also as one who is very fond of the theatre and all that it means to us. Many of the hon. Members who have spoken—and, indeed, most people who take the theatre seriously—realise it has been a standing disgrace that we in Great Britain have had no national theatre. Literature, and dramatic literature in particular, is that branch of art in which this country has achieved its greatest prominence and has sustained that pre-eminence for centuries. The country which has produced the greatest playwright of all times and a whole host of very worthy successors has always lacked adequate means for staging their immortal works. The Bill will, at last, take the first steps in remedying that very great deficiency.

This unfortunate condition has continued for many hundreds of years, but I am glad that while we are considering the proposals for a national theatre today mention has been made of the attempts in the 19th century to remedy to some extent this defect. For it was then that Miss Emma Cons began to transform the Old Victorian Music Hall into the Old Vic as we knew it. It is fitting, I think, that on this occasion we should realise that Miss Cons and, afterwards Miss Lilian Bayliss succeeded in providing in London one place at least where dramatic and classical works and opera could be shown to the ordinary people at reasonable prices. It is pathetic to recall that in that great venture of the Old Vic no Government of the day ever gave its financial support. There were always, I happen to know, recurring financial crises and uncertainty whether the curtain would be able to go up the following week. We ought to thank all those who have made such a magnificent contribution in so many ways to the Old Vic. Many of our great artistes went to the Old Vic for a whole season at very much below normal salaries in order that it could carry on its great work. It is right, I think, to give a thought to all those people who helped to provide this dramatic centre in London.

Although I occasionally go to the Old Vic in its temporary home in perhaps a nicer quarter of the town, it never has quite the attraction which it had for me when all the great works of Shakespeare were mine for sixpence, or ninepence if I went in at the early door. The atmosphere of the theatre seems different and now-a-days I never get quite the same stimulus. I am very glad also that in the Bill not only are steps being taken to provide for the first time a theatre really worthy of our great literary heritage, but that it is to be placed on the south side of the river.

For the first time for 400 years Londoners will be crossing the river once again to go to the theatre, very much as they did in the days of the old Globe. I hoped at one time that the site for the National Theatre might have been nearer to that of the old Globe than is proposed, but the Government may not wish to stir up the controversies which still exist in Southwark as to the real site of the Globe. There are two different schools of thought, one believing it stood where a tea warehouse now stands and the other that the site of the Globe was that now occupied by a celebrated brewery, which I do not propose to advertise within these four walls. The controversy is still so very strong in Southwark that workers in the tea warehouse will never drink the beer brewed by those they regard as their unworthy rivals; the brewers' men, on their side, never take that particular blend of tea. Perhaps it is that the Government have decided not to rekindle the flames of controversy but to choose instead a site which is neutral.

I was pleased to hear from the Financial Secretary of the proposal that in the new buildings apart from the theatre, there shall he adequate conference rooms and pleasant restaurants. The fellowship of the theatre, of course, is almost as important as the actual performance of the plays. In the old days of the Old Vic Cevile did great work in bringing together players and members of the audience but was always handicapped because of inadequate space and facilities for proper contacts. It is essential that the outstage arrangements of the theatre should be adequate for such contacts and for stimulating that kind of fellowship.

I hope, as did the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. O. Poole), that the hon. Member for Stoke and those who think with him will not imagine that in our support of the National Theatre we are forgetting the people of the North or that we are looking upon the theatre as being a London or a municipal theatre. Spokesmen of the London County Council have made it quite clear that they regard the proposed theatre not as a municipal theatre but as a national asset. This, I think, is very important. It should be realised by the hon. Member for Stoke that without a proper well equipped national centre it is not possible really to create companies of the right standing to go out to the North and elsewhere. We must have a proper centre, provided with adequate finance, before we can reach the proper standards which are rightly demanded for companies which are to visit other parts of the country.

The hon. Member for Stoke, with other hon. Members, has sometimes exaggerated the difficulties of travel for people coming to London to a national centre. The hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well, however, that if Stoke City were playing the Arsenal there would be no difficulties then about transport. We should see thousands of his friends—and should be very glad for them to be here—and they would be paying, probably, higher prices for admission to the football match than we hope they will have to pay when they come to the National Theatre. We should not exaggerate the difficulties, although I hope the hon. Member will not encourage anyone to think that we believe that London is the only place for the theatre, and the only people who want to appreciate it are in London. That is not our view at all.

I believe, as others have said, that the Bill marks a very decided change of attitude towards the theatre. As a Londoner, I am glad to welcome the Bill, for it marks a further development of the South Bank, which is once more going to come into its own. I am sure that all those interested in the theatre will give this Bill their wholehearted support.

1.1 p.m.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

The right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury seems to enjoy two experiences in this House—either the House is entirely with him, and he has nothing but roses all the way, which is, perhaps, proper compensation for his other experience on Budget occasions, or he seems to have no friends at all. I only ask him to remember on the occasion of the next Budget that on this occasion he is disposing quite easily and happily of £1 million, with a promise of more assistance to come should this national theatre when established not be self-supporting, and not to be too hard-hearted when we ask him for a remission of tax amounting, perhaps, to something like £20,000 or £30,000 during a full financial year.

While wishing to support this Bill very warmly, I think it is well worth while not to do it from any controversial point of view, but simply to raise one or two points which I believe are of importance in considering how to make the national theatre a great success. The hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington) pointed out that, for the first time for 400 years, Londoners will be crossing the river to visit the theatre. It is nice to think that we are reverting to the customs of our ancestors, but let us examine the fact that, at the moment, the theatreland of London is a very clearly defined area, and that we are asking people to adopt new habits and to cross the river to visit the theatre.

At the moment, theatreland could be defined as being in that small area bounded to the East by Kingsway, to the South by the river, to the North by Oxford Circus, and to the West perhaps somewhere near Park Lane. In that area, almost all the cultural and theatrical enterprises and spectacles take place at the present time, and, as in all cities, there is a West End area devoted to amusement after dark. We are making a great experiment in asking the theatre-going population to cross the river in order to visit this magnificent site on the south bank. We all hope that it will be a very great success, but there is a great duty resting on those responsible, particularly the London County Council and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, to make quite sure that the new site is attractive, not so much from the point of view of the terms of the Bill—as the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) said, the Bill is not of such great importance—as from the point of view of surroundings and the facilities available to people for getting to and from the theatre.

Those who have been trained in the valuation of property know that for particular trades there are certain areas more favourable than others; one side of the road is more favourable than the other. Therefore, to suggest that the public who wish to purchase a certain article will not cross the road may sound ridiculous, but, nevertheless, it is a commercial fact that people are not prepared to do that. Similarly, a shop which is placed between two banks which are without illuminated shop fronts is of less value than one in a brightly lighted area. That being so, when we examine this theatre project on the south side of the river, we must, first of all, make sure of three things.

First, we must be certain that it is easy of access, that there is adequate accommodation for the parking of cars, for the discharge of the occupants of taxis and for the waiting of taxis for the purpose of picking up passengers, and that the theatre is on a proper bus route. We should consult the transport authorities in order to make sure that at the time the theatre empties there is an adequate supply of buses to take the people away. Secondly, there must be adequate accommodation for meals at all prices, so as to cater for those who just want a quick snack on their way home as well as for those who wish to sit and entertain their friends after the theatrical performance. This is very necessary, because I doubt whether the time when we shall feed before we go to the theatre will come again for a very long time. If proper thought is given to these matters, then the great experiment of trying to draw people across the river may he a success.

The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) mentioned the provinces and his desire for entertainment working parties. Working parties have suddenly become fashionable in this country, but they are not the lines upon which the life of this country has developed, particularly in cultural and architectural matters. The hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) said she wished that the plan had been wider in order to spread culture throughout the countryside, particularly with regard to the theatre. I agree with her, but, nevertheless, the fact must be faced that here we do not start off with large plans and implement them on a methodical basis. We start with one obtainable objective and go on to the next. I agree with that. Therefore, this Bill must be welcomed not to the exclusion of the provinces or of anything else, but as the right, proper, and reasonable thing to do at the moment.

I regret that we should be contemplating a theatre which will not be built earlier than 1951, and that we are not doing something more about existing theatres which would rapidly be made available for their proper use at the present time. Almost opposite the site of .this new theatre, we have the Gaiety which, if the London County Council would allow the present tenants to restore it, could be put into service once more as a theatre. Quite close to it is the old Lyceum, now used as a dance hall. Why should not that theatre also be brought back in the near future to its proper and legitimate use? His Majesty's Theatre has recently been sold to the New Zealand Government. While the people of this country have received every kindness in the past from the New Zealanders, as no doubt they will in the future, the one unkind thing that they risk doing to us is that this theatre, which is in a good position, may be alienated from the purposes of the drama. I hope that, whilst supporting plans for a brand new building on a brand new site, we will also take practical measures in the meantime to see that such theatres as I have mentioned will be used for their proper purposes, and that we shall make sure that we do not lose more buildings devoted to the art of the living theatre.

There is one other thing with which I wish to deal—the question of the balancing of the running charges of the theatre to which the Financial Secretary referred. He said that there would be quite a number of seats priced at 6d. That sounds admirable. The hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo (Captain Bullock) suggested that this theatre should make some contribution to the development of the tourist trade, which is equally admirable. But I cannot see that there is going to be an enormous gain in dollars if we are selling our seats at a nickel a time. Surely, the right and proper thing to do is not to require that every production should endeavour to make a profit. That, I believe, is impossible. While, perhaps, it would be impossible for the theatre to make a profit every year, I believe it should be run on the basis of the nationalised industries, and that, taking one year with another, it should not show a loss.

The price of the seats should be arranged in that way. I believe that in this National Theatre there could be a wide divergence of prices going perhaps as low as the Financial Secretary has said, though I am bound to say that to bring down the price of seeing a performance at the living theatre to the equivalent of three cigarettes seems to be bringing it lower than really need be done at the present time. On the other hand, I advocate charging high prices, where the best that English literature and English acting can give is expected, to our visitors from overseas, with great gain to us in every respect.

The theatre does not only consist of the building. On the whole, that is the least important matter. We have the plays in this country, we believe that the plays of dramatists past and present can add to the cultural life of the community; we believe that in this country we have players second to none. Finally, we believe that given scope and opportunity, the audiences will be worthy both of the play and the players.

1.11 p.m.

Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)

This Debate, as a Debate, has had to labour under the burden of perhaps an excessive unanimity. I cannot find it in my heart to regret this because it is a Bill which I consider to be entirely admirable. Nor am I surpised at the unanimity after the excellent speech with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) led the Opposition. But it was a little refreshing that one breath of criticism did come from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and I should like to refer to it in a few minutes.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Constructive critcism.

Mr. Levy

Constructive criticism. Although there has been very little criticism in this House today, there has been from time to time during the past years considerable criticism in the country about the whole project, and it is fair that this occasion should be taken for us to try to meet that criticism here. On the whole criticism has fallen under three counts. There are those who say or have said, Why is there any need for a national theatre at all? There are those who have said, If there is to be a national theatre, why should it be exclusively centred upon London? Then there are those who say, If there is to be a national theatre, and it is to be in London, why should it be on the South Bank? I should like to say a word on each of those points.

The right hon. Member for Aldershot advanced the most unanswerable argument which, as he admitted, is also the most familiar one, when he pointed to the analogy of the National Gallery and the British Museum. I would supplement that by suggesting that the field of drama is certainly no less, possibly it could be argued an even more desirable field for that kind of institution because there is one way in which it is fair and valuable to regard a national theatre, that is as a kind of living library. It is perfectly true that plays are printed and are stored in the Library of the British Museum and elsewhere, but a play is incomplete until it is on the stage. There is no way of maintaining it, in the same way as books are maintained in a library, unless we have a national theatre. The difference between a bookshop and a public library is that a bookshop naturally concentrates for its own good on bestsellers whereas the public library concentrates on service and on providing for and thus protecting the rights of that minority whose taste may not be for the best-seller.

One would have thought that, if 50,000 people wanted to see a certain play, that was in itself a very good reason why they should be allowed to see it. But at present that is not nearly enough people to command a production. In the commercial theatre unless 300,000 or 400,000 people want to see a play it cannot be done—50,000 people are not sufficient to support it. The minority is therefore prevented by the economics of the situation from seeing the kind of play they want to see when they want to see it. But not only is it necessary for 300,000 or 400,000 people to want to see a given play; it is necessary that they should want to see it at the same time. It is no use for them to straggle in sparsely over a year or 18 months because by that time the unfortunate manager would be in Carey Street.

These are the additional difficulties which do not apply to the publication of a book. If 5,000 people want to read a book the publisher does reasonably well. He is content and the minority is well served. The economics of the matter do not inhibit that minority from enjoying what it wants to enjoy. But when it comes to a question of 300,000 or 400,000 then it becomes extremely difficult. The extreme situation is the case of a film, for if only 300,000 or 400,000 want to see a film that number is not nearly enough. I do not want to digress into that field but that, in effect, is the reason why films must be best sellers or nothing. I hope that the House and people outside will accept this as a major argument in favour of a national theatre, that it is, in short, a kind of device for keeping good plays, as it were, in print, nothing more or less, and in living print.

I know that it can be argued that there have been numerous and distinguished productions of Shakespeare and other classics from time to time without a national theatre; and it is true that we have been extremely lucky of late years in that respect. Most distinguished classical revivals have been current and abundant, but we have been lucky rather by accident. We have been lucky through the extent of the success of the Old Vic; but the Old Vic has not been a money-making concern. It is, in fact, an embryonic national theatre. In spite of the glamour of a large star company—working at far below their normal salaries—I believe that only one season made money. The others have had to be subsidised.

If one goes further back to the period when Irving produced a great number of classical productions at the Lyceum, and Tree did the same thing at His Majesty's, one will find that they too did not make money. In spite of the fact, in the case of Irving, that there were all the prestige and attraction of his own name and that of Ellen Terry, few if any of the productions of Shakespeare at the Lyceum made money, despite the fact that Irving also made cuts and alterations and generally corsetted the play into the current Victorian fashion to such a degree that we should be shocked if we now saw his scripts. Even these essays in appeasement were not sufficient and he had to make his money on tour—which is a point I willingly give to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke—and by putting on other productions like "The Bells," and "The Corsican Brothers," etc.

Quite clearly this is not a job which the commercial managements can do. I say this in no disparagement of commercial management. I wish to say publicly that, although many bricks are cast at the commercial theatre, one curious thing is true. The majority of these connected with the business side of the theatre love the theatre very deeply. Many of them deliberately lose money on ventures which satisfy their own artistic aspirations. Irving was one and I could quote many more. But it is just not possible for us to rely on the good will and sacrifice of commercial managements and on leading players accepting salaries far less than they could otherwise get. That is one reason why it is abundantly clear that it is right to put this thing on the proper basis of a national theatre.

The second criticism, which has been voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke, raises the question of London or the provinces. He paid a tribute to the bibliographers in the Library, and he heard me agree with him. His jubilation was premature, because that is the only point with which I will agree—at least. I may have to modify that statement later, because I am not entirely sure that I understood the whole of his argument. If it is what I think it is, I certainly must dissent. It is, of course, perfectly true that it would be very unfair if this National Theatre were confined to London, even though London is the capital. But, as has already been pointed out by the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington), the plan of this National Theatre is that London should provide the building which is, as it were, the workshop and centre. It has never been envisaged that it shall not be a centre from which extensive tours shall operate.

I hope, therefore, that I did not understand my hon. Friend to be maintaining, as was recently maintained I regret to say by my friend Mr. Ivor Brown, a distinguished critic and a man of letters, that this project should wait until—I would emphasise until—other projects of a similar kind have been established elsewhere. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend shakes his head because this is surely wholly unreasonable. He said just now that what he had in mind was constructive criticism. I would like to reinforce that constructive criticism, now that I gather we are not so far apart.

In fact, some of us have already been thinking along these lines and we have devised a scheme which I hope he will support, and which I believe will meet his point. It is this. The Government, by the Local Government Act, have provided facilities for municipal expenditure up to a 6d. rate. I believe that that is an even more important Measure than this one. It is a most far-reaching measure which may well have incalculably beneficial consequences. I wish to reinforce it with a plan of this kind; namely that there should be provided from the Treasury to local authorities a sum, pound for pound, equivalent to what is provided by the local ratepayer, after the local ratepayer had expended up to 2d. in the £. Thus the first 2d. would be carried by the municipality alone as an earnest of their real desire for activities of this kind, and then thereafter it should be supplemented by the Treasury. This would not involve a large expenditure and there is nothing to delay it being introduced into the next Budget. I hope that my hon. Friends, and hon. Members on the other side of the House too, will support this proposal because this is no Party measure and may be very valuable indeed.

Finally, there is the question of the South Bank. Mr. Bernard Shaw, it may have been noticed, has complained—and this of course is the opposite argument to that of the hon. Member for Stoke—that the national theatre is to be sited, not too centrally but not centrally enough. He demanded that it be not in Southwark, but in London, a delightful antithesis. I appreciate in this connection very much the caveat entered by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher). There is undoubtedly a danger that this National Theatre may be out of the main stream of evening life. I would therefore strongly reinforce the plea that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the relevant committees of the London County Council should be at the greatest pains to ensure, not merely that there will be all the necessary easy transport—an undertaking to that effect was given by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech—but also that the planning of the South Bank should be the planning of a live and not a dead area. It is of the first importance that this new area should not consist exclusively of Government offices, municipal parades, a National Theatre and nothing else. There must be cafes and restaurants and shops and cinemas, and all the "rubbish" which helps to make the life of a district. All this should be not only allowed to proliferate, but encouraged to proliferate. —[Laughter.] This is an enormously important point and it is a point which is very difficult for this House of Commons to find an opportunity to discuss, because it is largely a matter for the London County Council.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Waterloo Division of Liverpool (Captain Bullock) painted in his very witty speech an attractive picture of the time, now it seems not far distant, when Members of Front Benches would look forward, if they were ambitious enough, not to directorships of a joint stock bank but to the opportunity of playing Polonius in the National Theatre. That is a very attractive thought, but it has a certain symbolical significance. It may have been a lighthearted analogy by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but it implied an enhanced dignity for the theatre. It is not wholly a joke because the importance of this National Theatre is largely a symbolical importance. It does indeed raise the status of the theatre to a dignity which all of us would welcome. I, for my part, am very proud that this Bill has been brought in by a Labour Government. I think that even hon. Members opposite would concede that this Government has a very notable record of enlightened legislation in respect of the arts. It is a remarkable record. There is the Local Government Bill, an extremely important Measure to which I have already referred. There is this Bill we are now discussing. There are increased grants to the Arts Council and to the universities. There has even been a remission of Entertainments Duty which, although I personally believe it may turn out to be an unfortunate Measure, was at least done with the best of intentions even if it was misguided.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Mr. Levy

Yes, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as well. All these achievements in the life of a Government harassed as no other Government has been, with enormous burdens, justify I feel the congratulations which have been showered today from all sides of the House.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) seemed a little taken aback for a moment at our unseemly interruption of his speech. I can assure him that our laughter was friendly. It was simply his image of the Minister of Town and Country Planning "encouraging rubbish to proliferate" that struck us for a moment as a trifle quaint. I did think that his speech was a most notable and interesting contribution to a Debate which for the most part has been agreeably placid and whose elevated tone was set by the two speeches from the Front Benches which opened it. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) was correct, of course, in stressing that at this time what he referred to as necessities must come first, that the building of this theatre cannot be expected to take priority over housing and so forth. Nonetheless, I would venture to emphasise that the kind of goods which we are discussing today, which are among the spiritual necessities, are just as truly necessities in any civilisation as are the material goods, and that no nation and no society which neglects them can dare to call itself civilised. In the same passage of his speech the right hon. Gentleman also referred to the inevitable delay before the theatre is actually built. He seemed to be suggesting that the plans might even be kept in a pigeon hole against the risk of slump and consequent unemployment. I know that he did not really mean to imply that there should be undue delay. I am sure that we all hope and believe that there is no need for any mass unemployment in the future, and also that there is no need to delay the building of this theatre unduly long.

At this point some comment is perhaps permissible on one point made by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher). There is a lot to be said for his suggestion that, since there must be some delay, something should be done meanwhile to revitalise theatres which have fallen out of use. Obviously, that could not be done within the scope of the present Bill—the money voted with the present Bill refers to a particular site in Lambeth—but I quite agree that some further legislation, if necessary, should be devoted to such an end. It should be devoted to the restoration not only of the Gaiety Theatre and the Lyceum, but also—and this fits in with the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith)—of some of the provincial theatres. There are all too few living theatres in the provinces. Constantly one hears of living theatres being turned into cinemas or even into warehouses or something like that.

It is clear from what has been said about the delay—indeed, it is obvious common sense—that this theatre cannot be built anywhere near in time for the 1951 Festival. This Bill has no relation to that at all. I should, however, like to refer to some remarks made the other day by the Lord President of the Council which rather puzzled me. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can throw any light on what the Lord President meant. In a speech in the country he threw out a semi-informal appeal to some philanthropist to come forward and build some kind of replica or reproduction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Clearly, he was referring to the South Bank. Does that project, if it is more than just a passing fancy of the Lord President's, have any bearing on the National Theatre project or on the 1951 Festival project?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

No. It is further along Bankside.

Mr. Driberg

Does it refer to a totally different site?

Mr. Glenvil Hall


Mr. Driberg

In that case I am not quite sure of the wisdom of such a project. I am not sure whether London and the South Bank could take two completely new major Shakespearean theatres. Also, I should be extremely doubtful of the wisdom of building something that was a mere reproduction antique. There is something to be said for a modern theatre incorporating an Elizabethan apron stage perhaps as part of the National Theatre. But if the suggestion is that there should be a theatre, no doubt of ferro-concrete underneath, but plastered over with bogus Tudor timbering, then I for one should regard that as an artistic solecism as monstrous as the project, put forward a year or two ago by some other eccentric philanthropist, to build a gargantuan statue of the Leader of the Opposition on Dover Cliffs, complete with illuminated cigar.

I want to say a few words about an aspect of the subject which I do not think has been touched on very much yet. This is what I have just been talking about—the kind of architecture. It has been stated in public that the architects have already been selected. If that is wrong, I hope my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will correct me. If that is right, I hope that he can tell us who they are. Personally, I think that it might have been preferable if there had been either an open competition or a semi-open competition for this great project. It would be rather regrettable if, just because it was "the thing to do" for big public buildings, this work were automatically allocated to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott or somebody of his school—with all respect to one who, in many respects. is a highly talented architect. I hope that when this building is complete, and in future centuries, it will be recognisably a product, and one of the finest architectural products, of the 20th century.

Another, perhaps minor, partly architectural point is this. The art of acoustics seems to be much more mysterious to modern architects than it was to their predecessors in ancient times. I hope that we shall have a theatre whose acoustics are good. I hope also that the actors and actresses who play in it will be trained to be audible. Recent visits to the West End theatre have convinced me that, with very few exceptions indeed, the only living actors and actresses who are audible at all in London today are either Americans—and often they are inclined to bawl at the tops of their voices all the time—or English actors and actresses over 45 or 50 years old, who were, of course, trained in the good old days before microphones were thought necessary. In one school of modern comedy the aside, I am afraid, has become the main line. That is a regrettable tendency which should be corrected.

Several hon. Members opposite, including, I think, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith), and the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo (Captain Bullock), in what was, if I may say so, an extremely entertaining and civilised speech—he might almost, in this connection, be described as the hon. Member for Waterloo Road—mentioned the possibility that there might be within the one building more than one theatre. That was an excellent suggestion. I think there might even be a small model cinema with a permanent repertory of good early films, such as exists in the Musuem of Modern Art in New York: there is nothing quite like it in London.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

Shakespearian films.

Mr. Driberg

Certainly. It would be interesting to see Sir Laurence Olivier in "Hamlet" on the stage and then go downstairs and see him in "Hamlet" on the screen. There should be one major theatre of a fair size and one small theatre in which could be staged what are described as experimental plays of various kinds—not amateur but experimental, in production techniques and in other respects. I emphasise this point because one of the dangers attaching to the whole conception of a National Theatre—although I agree with what the right hon. Member for Aldershot said about classicism and so on—is the danger of the imposition of too rigid academic canons. We do not want to stifle experimental work in the living theatre. I am inclined to think that the Arts Council, which is no doubt a precedent for what will be done, has been sometimes a little apt to neglect the work of purely experimental groups, such as "Theatre Workshop," and to prefer to support what are obviously the established successes. I do not mean that in any derogatory or commercial sense. Therefore, I urge that a small experimental theatre should be incorporated in the same building.

I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo said about the dangers of political interference, but of course that should not mean that there should be any bar on plays with a political content. That is quite a different matter.

I am sorry to have gone on so long when there are so many other hon. Members who are much more expert than I on this subject; I would like, in closing, to support in general what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) said about the importance of the provinces. Of course, we have to strike a balance between over-centralisation and mere parochialism. We do not want to be like the old farmer in Dorset who, when told by a visitor that London was the centre of everything, said "Well, 'taint the centre of Dorset." There is no need for me to argue this case; others have argued it so eloquently already. I would only point out that we fall down very badly, in this respect also, by comparison with other countries which have not only national theatres but also well-distributed national and municipal theatres.

Sweden, I think, has already been mentioned, so I need not quote instances from Sweden. One country which has not been mentioned is Czechoslovakia. In a typical small Czech town, Ostrava—a town of only 30,000 inhabitants—500 are employed directly by the municipal theatre. The average theatre company in Czechoslovakia has 180 actors in it. That includes an opera and a ballet company. A typical somewhat larger provincial Czech town, Bratislava, has a national theatre with an annual guarantee of £215,000. This is normally, I gather, in excess of actual requirements.

The same is true of Germany, even today. Cities such as Hamburg have at least three national and municipal theatres with almost unlimited guarantees, including opera and ballet companies. In Germany, too, one finds a realisation of the importance of regional culture, such as the Bavarian and Saxon regional cultures. In the Soviet Union also there has been a great revival of the purely regional culture—language, dances and so on—in Georgia and in other republics of that Union. That is extremely important. I do not know to what extent it can be borne out in practice in so small a country as this, but the centralisation which is to some extent inevitable, geographically and materially, should not imply an over-centralisation culturally. Incidentally, there is no suggestion in any of these European countries, as far as I know, that these theatres should be expected to pay their way; for the most part, they cannot do so; but what does result from the systems in operation there is full theatres and high standards of presentation both in and out of the capital cities.

With those few reflections and qualifications I join with all the other Members who have spoken in congratulating the Government very warmly on having introduced this Measure, and in supporting it.

1.47 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will, no doubt, regard this day as one of the most pleasing and agreeable that he has enjoyed in this present Parliament because, as has been made quite clear, there is an astonishing unanimity of opinion concerning this Bill.

I rise to take part in this Debate from a rather more local angle than preceding speakers, because I have the honour to represent a Parliamentary division of the Borough of Lambeth within whose confines the National Theatre will be built and will, we hope, prosper. Whenever any Government Department, such as the Ministry of Town and Country Planning or any of the Service Departments, proposes to embark upon some activity in one part of the country or another, there is usually to be found a greater or lesser volume of vociferous local opposition to whatever plan the Government have in mind. On this occasion, if I may presume to speak on behalf of the citizens of Lambeth or in the name of the metropolitan Borough of Lambeth, I think I can assure my right hon. Friend that the idea of having the National Theatre in Lambeth will be cordially welcomed and will not be resisted or criticised by any section of the local population. After all, the Borough of Lambeth has a tradition in this respect because, as has been rightly pointed out by preceding speakers, the trail for the National Theatre has been blazed by the Old Vic, more correctly described as the Royal Victoria Hall, to give it its official title.

I should like in passing to controvert the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington), who suggested that with the initiation of the proposed National Theatre, the people of fashionable London would for the first time in 400 years be crossing from the North to the South Bank for the purpose of enjoying theatrical entertainment. That is not correct. Very shortly after the Old Vic was established, it enjoyed a brief session of fashionable splendour when it was visited by Queen Victoria in the years just preceding her accession to the Throne, and, when accompanied by linkmen, she made her way through what is now known as the Lower Marsh to what was originally known as the Royal Coburg and afterwards called the Royal Victoria Hall.

It is therefore not quite correct to say that for the first time in 400 years fashionable London will be going to the South Bank for the purposes of theatrical entertainment. I am quite prepared to admit that, after the brief period of social splendour to which I have referred, the Old Vic declined. As a matter of fact, it was criticised by Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley as a sink of iniquity and a haunt of drunken hooligans. I am quite sure that that is a prospect which we need not anticipate as far as the new National Theatre is concerned.

This period of decline did not last very long because Emma Cons and Lilian Bayliss, whose names have been rightly mentioned in connection with the Old Vic, effected considerable reforms and improvements. In respect of the prices to be charged for admission to the new National Theatre, my right hon. Friend cannot possibly do better than confine the prices to what Emma Cons herself described as "within the range of artisans and labourers." If my right hon. Friend keeps prices of admission to the National Theatre within that range, he will ensure that the public as a whole will be able to enjoy the actual advantages of the theatre.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not give his official sanction to the term "cultural centre" because it has been pointed out that nothing is more calculated to damn any particular neighbourhood than to call it a cultural centre. I want to stress that the people of Lambeth will welcome the arrival of the National Theatre. In Lambeth we are very proud of our associations with the Old Vic which might be regarded as the embryonic National Theatre from which the new proposal has developed. We have already named two of our streets after Emma Cons and Lilian Bayliss. On the Tanswell Street Estate which is quite near the present site of the Old Vic, blocks of dwellings have been named after artists associated with the Old Vic, among them Cole, Davidge, Reeves, Santley and Greet. The last name is one which I think should be mentioned today and not overlooked in connection with Shakespearian repertory at the Old Vic in years gone by.

I hope that in the course of the construction of the National Theatre on the South Bank in Lambeth, which I consider to be the most appropriate place in London for the purpose, the builders will be as successful or as fortunate as the builders were when they were preparing the site for the present County Hall. Some hon. Members will recall that in the course of the excavations a perfect specimen of a Roman galley was discovered and it is now one of London's treasured possessions. I hope that instructions will be given to those who are responsible for working on the site of the National Theatre to have an eye to similar possibilities and that other remains of Roman Britain of equal interest and historical value will be discovered. On behalf of the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed National Theatre and on behalf of the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth I extend a very cordial welcome to what we hope will be one of our most distinguished public buildings.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I can understand the enthusiasm of the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) for this Bill. As he was talking about north and south of the river I began to wonder whether people in the metropolis think there is only one river in this country. I am inclined to be more interested not in what is likely to happen on the south bank of the River Thames but what is likely to happen on the north bank of the Tweed.

When I first came to this House I had a word of advice from Mr. Bernard Shaw, who has been quoted frequently in this Debate this afternoon. It was, "Don't waste too much time in the gabble shop." I am convinced that Mr. Bernard Shaw would be quite pleased with this Bill and the prospects which it opens for the national theatre. In fact, I have here a few words from him on matters which have been mentioned today and which I think might be of interest to the House. Mr. Shaw says: The question of a national theatre is not the same as the question of the proper site for it. Southwark is not metropolitan London: nothing can make Southwark cathedral, venerable as it is, be national in the sense that St. Pauls, Westminster Abbey, The National Gallery, The Bank of England, The London University, and The Imperial Institute and Albert Memorial are metropolitan. That is why I maintain that the Kensington site is the right one. The national theatre need not be a big affair, nor does it greatly matter what they perform there or what prices: its function is to consecrate the theatre as a cultural institution. But Mr. Shaw does not bother about the site. He goes on to say: But by all means let us collar the million for a great municipal theatre on the south bank large enough to pay its way with seats costing from sixpence to half-a-crown (perhaps on one night and one matinée a week with West End prices) setting the example for similar municipal theatres all over the country. That is surely the distinctive Labour policy. It can be done for the million of money without touching the Shakespeare National Memorial Funds or selling the Kensington site. In order to encourage the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton may I say that he pays this tribute in a postscript: What we should go for before all is great sixpenny theatres everywhere. London should have at least six of them. Southwark has such magnificent thoroughfares that its future is incalculable; but the north bank will still be the cultural capital. If Mr. Bernard Shaw is arguing for at least six municipal theatres in the London area, surely the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) is entitled to put in a word for the North of England and I am entitled to put in a word for Scotland. I have listened with very great thankfulness and gratitude to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury telling us that Scotland might follow the precedent set in this Bill. I have noted very carefully both the promise on behalf of the Treasury and the promise of cordial support from the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) when we come along, as quickly as possible, with a similar Bill to establish a national theatre in Scotland. After all, Shakespeare was indebted to Scotland——

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

And to Wales.

Mr. Hughes

—and to Wales. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) will be able to quote his references to Wales, but I think there is no doubt at all that "Macbeth" would never have been written if Scotland had not given its co-operation to Mr. William Shakespeare. In Scotland dramatic art, the art of the theatre, is very much alive. I shall not go through the list of the great Scottish dramatists but may merely mention two of our own times, Barrie and Bridie. Throughout Scotland, even in the remotest villages of the Highlands and Islands, there is live dramatic art. Let us hope that this Bill will be the beginning of increasing its vitality. We have had some unfortunate experiences recently in attempting to establish a National Theatre. On one occasion we were offered a gift of £5,000 for a Burns Theatre from Mr. Butlin. Naturally, £5,000 does not go very far towards the cost of a National Theatre, and we were horrified at some of the plays that were produced in the theatre of Mr. Butlin—at such things as Robert Burns being made to get up off his death bed to sing "Bonnie Mary of Argyll."

This Bill has come about, I understand, because the Shakespeare Memorial Committee combined with the London County Council in going to the Treasury about the National Theatre, so that the Treasury said, "Very well, you shall have £1,000,000." No doubt, in due course we from Scotland are likely to come along to ask for our National Theatre—a Burns federation in alliance with Glasgow Corporation and the Edinburgh Corporation or even the Ayr Town Council or the Ayrshire County Council to say, "Look what support we in Scotland gave to you in England." I hope that when I ask the Leader of the House on a Thursday when an opportunity will be given for debating the Scottish Bill the right hon. Member for Aldershot will say, "England has had her share and Scotland ought to have her share, also." This need not be a charity. Dramatic art can pay. We in Edinburgh have led the way with a great National Festival which has not only been a great theatrical and dramatic and musical success, but—and this is what has endeared it most to the heart of Scotland—it has paid.

So I give my benediction to the Bill as one from what is sometimes regarded in this House as a hostile power. After the promises given in this House today I hope that when Scotland comes along—as I am sure she speedily will—to ask for some financial help—I dare not say for £1,000,000—with some modest demand, she will be considered sympathetically, and I hope that the House will then be in a similarly generous mood and say, "Certainly, go ahead as we have done in England."

2.3 p.m.

Mr. Braddock (Mitcham)

The course taken by this Debate has been most welcome and, so far as I am concerned, unexpected, for I had thought that we should discuss a memorial theatre. It rather looked as if any prospect of putting on plays and operas of the old masters was absolutely impossible in this country unless heavily subsidised by the State or by municipal authorities. So far as this particular project is concerned, that is the position. Apparently, in London at present it is impossible to expect the general public to pay a normal economic price for theatre seats to see such plays. However, I gather from the discussion that has taken place that that is not really the project. We are starting a revival in this country of the appreciation of the works of the great geniuses. I only hope that that may be the case.

But are we so certain that there is in this country a sufficient number of people prepared to see Shakespeare's plays and not merely to read them. It rather looks as if this Bill—I see that it is backed by the Minister of Education—should have been brought forward by the Minister of Education, because the approach to the project is apparently on educational grounds, on the grounds that these great works of drama are necessary for the spiritual welfare of our people, and that we have to put it over to them in that way whether they like it or not. We apparently say that if they are not prepared to pay commercial prices for theatre seats we ought to be prepared through the municipal authorities or the national Exchequer to subsidise these productions. I quite agree. I believe there would be great benefit in that. However, we have to be prepared to face this criticism, that those who like to see such shows as "Annie, Get Your Gun" will ask why they who go to the theatre for amusement, should be obliged to contribute through their taxes to the theatregoing of those people who prefer other plays, such as "Hamlet."

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

Why should not people go to both sorts of plays? In fact, do not people go to both kinds?

Mr. Braddock

When people really want amusement they are prepared to pay for it, but when it is a matter of going to see Shakespeare's plays, and so on, they have to be subsidised by the State or municipal authorities. I mention the fact as a problem we have to meet. We have to take that type of criticism into consideration. It has some weight, because if those people who prefer that type of play are not prepared to pay for superior entertainment they have to be given some strong reasons why there should be Exchequer assistance.

Even from the architectural point of view this is an important project. The Government are to contribute £1 million and the London County Council are, apparently, to contribute the same. I do not think that sum is sufficient to do the job properly. I am rather doubtful whether an acre and a quarter of land is sufficient, after looking at the great plans of some of the modern theatres in Sweden. I imagine a great deal more space is necessary. We want a gracious lay-out, not a jumble of buildings, and it is necessary that we should have a really modern approach. I am glad that an hon. Member opposite suggested that there should be restaurant accommodation in the National Theatre. However, the more the accommodation that is provided, the more space is required, and plenty of open ground will be necessary.

There is no urgency about the matter. It is unfortunate that we cannot go on with it immediately. The Financial Secretary has made it quite clear that that will not be possible. I suggest, with all the emphasis I can command, that the Government should use their influence to get those in charge of this project to put it out to open architectural competition, because by that method we should get the best and most economical building. I have spoken on this subject before, but since I last spoke—in connection with the Colonial offices—we have had in London a great example of what can be done by open architectural competition. I refer to the new T.U.C. building in Great Russell Street, a project presenting tremendous difficulties to the architect; the site was much too small and the accommodation the promoters required to be put on it presented a difficult problem. The method of open competition attracted to the project an architect who would never have been found under other conditions. I myself entered the competition, so I know what the difficulties were, and it is clear that the competition has produced a work of great genius which could not have been obtained in any other way.

Whatever may have been done up to now about seeking professional advice, I hope that, as there is plenty of time for running a competition, the same method will be used for this project as was used for the T.U.C. building, to give the young architects of our country a chance to come forward. Only by doing, that shall we be able to spend the people's money to the best advantage, take the fullest possible advantage of the site and produce a building, essentially modern, which will be an example of fine building on the magnificent site which the London County Council have placed at our disposal.

Mr. Parker (Dagenham)

I shall begin by replying to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock). It seems that there is in this country at the present time a growing number of people who appreciate what is good in the drama, films and music, and in all the arts. It is only right and proper that the community should encourage those people, because to my mind good taste develops through opportunity for appreciation. The opportunity of seeing good plays and hearing good music develops the taste and enables a person to enjoy them more. It is particularly desirable that prices should be such that the young can, when they have not got much money, have the opportunity to develop their tastes, because what they then gain will be with them throughout their lives. I do not see that there is any reason why we should not use part of the taxation derived from commercial theatrical projects, specially diverted by the State for that purpose.

Next I wish to support my hon. Friends the Members for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) on the need for having some of these good things in the North and in Scotland. I should like to put in a claim for the East side of London. In the London area there is a concentration in the West End of facilities for enjoying the arts. In the East End of London, apart from the People's Palace in Mile End and a theatre in Stratford, and West Ham, there is not one theatre all the way out to Upminster or Brentwood to cater for the whole of a very large population. There is a very strong case for continuing the good work done by the People's Palace by having another such theatre in that part of London.

The people of the East End live much farther out today than they used to. I should say that at Heathway, or somewhere else in the Dagenham area, there was room for a theatre supported, not by one municipality alone but by a number of municipalities, and by the State, which could be a real cultural centre. I use the word "cultural" without shame, because I think it is a good word in this connection. The very large population to the east of London ought to be able to get the benefit from such a project without having to travel a long journey in and out of London, which they have to do at present. For people working in the City, attendance at theatres in the West End of London is easy; but for people working at Ford's in Dagenham, or elsewhere in that area, the long journey in and out again is a serious obstacle, and prevents many from attending these shows. When considering the development of the National Theatre we should also consider having something farther out for the benefit of East London.

I support the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo (Captain Bullock) in what he said about the importance from the economic point of view of a national theatre as a real attraction to tourists. I believe that to be the case, but it means that we should have to arrange programmes specially designed to interest visitors to this country during what has been the dead season in the theatre. That should be borne in mind by those who run this national theatre. I should like to go further, because I believe that this country, as the fountain head of the English-speaking peoples of the world, has a very special duty. We in this country should give a lead in the cultural field, not only to people in this island, and not only to the Commonwealth, but also to America and to all the English-speaking peoples of the world.

I have just been on a tour in America, speaking particularly at many universities and colleges, and I was very struck over there by the large number of, not only teachers, but young men and women in the universities who had a great admiration for this country, not particularly because they agreed with its politics but because they appreciated the British cultural tradition. They had had very little opportunity of seeing the best things this country has produced in the past, and they very much appreciated the best British films when they arrived. Occasionally they had seen good productions with British artists, such as in Gilbert and Sullivan operas, or people like the Oliviers, and they were appreciated. But at present only a very small part of the American population can see those things. I was much impressed that many of those who admired the British cultural tradition were obviously, to judge from their names, not of British origin.

From a political point of view it is very important that we as a nation should make much of our cultural tradition. Other people admire it, and it is something we have to offer the world. Indeed, I believe it is our duty, as the fountain head of the English-speaking peoples, to give a lead in this field to all the English-speaking peoples of the world. When this national theatre has got going I hope that the productions will not only be those by people in this Island. We should show good plays from other English-speaking peoples, which will be coming forward increasingly in the future. America not only produces productions such as "Oklahoma," and we should be prepared to show good American plays. Also, plays will be coming from Australia and New Zealand, and maybe from places like the West Indies, and we should be prepared to show them.

After my American tour I had a very interesting visit to Jamaica. While there I was struck particularly by the very good work being done by the British Council in making English culture available to those people. A very important job which we, as the centre of the Commonwealth, have to consider is how we can get over to people in other parts of the Commonwealth British culture and traditions. Many of these people use the English language naturally, as their major language, and others use it for educational purposes, but all would like the opportunity to appreciate the good things that have been written in English. To Jamaica there has just returned a young man who had been training at the Old Vic, and who was about to undertake the job of trying to develop there a repertory theatre in the English tradition, because he very much appreciated the English tradition which he had absorbed while in this country.

I am sure there is a great rôle to be played by this National Theatre in helping to create that tradition in various parts of the Commonwealth. I instance particularly the British West Indies, because there a particularly interesting community is developing, largely black in colour but with definitely British traditions. Their tradition is quite different from that of the Negro in the Southern States of America and will produce a valuable contribution to the future English-speaking culture. We must consider this National Theatre as a centre for all the English-speaking peoples of the world, and not merely for this island; it must be the fountain head to which people can come for training, and through which ideas can be exchanged. I am certain that the Scottish theatre, if I may take up a point mentioned by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire will not want to be limited to productions of Barrie and Bridie. Bernard Shaw would not have been pleased if he had been restricted to Dublin, and we should all have been poorer. We do not want to be too narrow. All sections of English-speaking peoples have their traditions and we want them to have centres where they can develop their traditions. We also want an exchange of experiences and ideas throughout the whole community of English-speaking nations.

I welcome very much the idea put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo of having a Minister of the Fine Arts, to be responsible in this House for the spending of money upon various cultural activities, and who would coordinate those activities. I am certain that repertory theatres in the British Isles and Commonwealth can exchange programmes, but such plans need to be organised. The Arts Council can assist in that work but someone ought to be responsible in this House for keeping an eye on these matters and seeing that the money does not all go in salaries.

I remember in my youth that we had a very small repertory company in Bristol. The local authority allowed them to have the use of a small hall rent free. That was the local authority's way of sidising a theatre when there was no legal possibility of doing so in any other way. The company produced a different play every week. The small group of actors were acting one play and rehearsing the next one each week. The strain must have been extremely great on that group. It would have been very much better if each play could have been performed for three weeks at a number of different theatres, the companies changing round, instead of one group having to undergo that great strain. That kind of exchange needs to be organised. It is the sort of thing a Minister could keep an eye on. He would watch all these matters in the interests of our culture as a whole, and what we ought to be giving to the English-speaking peoples of the world. I welcome the Bill as the first important move in the kind of progress we have been speaking of today.

2.24 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

We get three types of legislation before this House. The first is extremely controversial and feeling frequently runs high. The second type is that in which few people are interested so that the business almost goes through on the nod. The third type concerns some vitally important phase of our national life on which there is almost a unanimous view in favour of what is proposed. The present Bill falls into the third category. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Debate, which has been upon an extremely high level. There has been almost unanimous approval for the Bill.

The only real criticism came from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith). If I understood aright what he said, his view is not so much against the proposal for a National Theatre as against its beginning in London. He thinks that we ought to begin in the provinces where the need is very much greater. My hon. Friend would probably like the first National Theatre to be built in Stoke. Quite a number of Members have replied to his criticisms. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington) and some hon. Members on the opposite side of the House have pointed out that it is natural for the main National Theatre to be built in the capital of the Commonwealth and Empire. But, as I said in my opening speech, the National Theatre will arrange tours throughout the provinces and overseas. It will be as much a national theatrical centre as a National Theatre for the capital of the Commonwealth. Quite a number of hon. Members have reminded us that there is an Act of 1948 under which municipalities can start to build municipal theatres and civic centres, so that they can receive the repertory companies and other players who will undoubtedly begin to tour from this national centre.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). It was graceful, forceful and knowledgeable and it was delivered by a man who obviously feels very strongly about the drama and the desirability of everything possible being done to fortify and assist it. He himself has done and is still doing a great deal for British drama as chairman of the Joint Council of the National Theatre and the Old Vic. Lord Esher is another great enthusiast. I should like to share in the expression of thanks to which the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) gave voice and in the tributes they paid to Lord Esher. It was Lord Esher who came to the Treasury and helped considerably in the negotiations which have resulted in this Bill.

May I come to the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo, who made an extremely witty speech? He asked us to remember that this was not a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, but a National Theatre and he expressed the hope that we would not think of it as a memorial to Shakespeare, if for no other reason than that there is already a memorial to the great bard at Stratford-on-Avon. I share his view. We wish to remember Shakespeare—not that we shall ever forget him—but it would be unfair to Stratford-on-Avon if the proposed theatre were looked upon solely as a memorial to Shakespeare. I hope that it will rather be one of the first of a chain of living theatres throughout the country and, in particular, around Manchester, Stoke and the Five Towns.

The hon. and gallant Member also asked that we should make it plain that present as well as past plays would be performed. If he will look at my speech again, he will see that I emphasised that contemporary plays would be produced. Undoubtedly new playwrights arise, and we want to encourage them. Shakespeare was a young playwright once, and so was George Bernard Shaw. The hon. and gallant Member also suggested that we should have a Minister of Fine Arts who was well above the political battle. It occurred to me, as he spoke, that it would have been an ideal position for the late Lord Keynes who took a very great interest in these matters, particularly in ballet and music, and did a great deal for them.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said one thing with which I would not agree. I gathered that he thought that the grants which might be made through the Arts Council—they are in fact made—should be concentrated on the national theatre. I am not sure that this would be wise. We want to encourage drama and the arts all over the country and not only in London, and therefore it is much better to spread it as far as we can to other localities——

Captain Bullock

I meant to refer to London only. I meant that only the theatre in London should be concentrated on National Theatre drama.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I am not sure that we ought to do even that. London is a big place and it sprawls very widely as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said. It might be desirable to use some State money to encourage local talent in the outer suburbs, and it would be a pity if that could not happen. The hon. and gallant Member also asked me what was to be done about a pensions scheme. That is rather outside the scope of our discussion. All that the Government are doing is to underwrite the proposal for a national theatre. Although the trustees properly and naturally will have an overriding responsibility for this project and those engaged in and about the theatre, it may well be that they will have no direct responsibility for staff. However, past experience leads us to share his view that, when starting anything new like this, one ought to see that the conditions of work and provision for retirement are safeguarded from the beginning.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) did not, as did other hon. Members, disclose his interest when he got up to speak——

Mr. E. P. Smith

Excuse me.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

—but, as one of the three distinguished playwrights in this Chamber, he ought to have a greater interest in having another theatre built than almost anyone else. I gather we shall lose him from the Chamber. We shall regret it, particularly if he would always make the type of speech he made today. Nevertheless, we look forward to having some of his plays put on not far from where Shakespeare played in the Globe.

He said something with which I agree. He hoped that the authorities would not concentrate on a grandiose building. We must remember what we are doing. We are not putting up a memorial to anybody. We do not want people visiting the place solely to remark that it is a fine and noble building. We want a good building but we must not forget that it is there for a. purpose. I am sure that those who are engaged in designing it will read what has been said about what it should contain. I understand that only two theatres are contemplated, one to hold about 1,200 people and another to hold about 500. However, there is no reason why the plans should not be changed in detail, though that is not for me to decide. But, there seems to be everything to be said for having the theatres as intimate as is possible in the circumstances.

The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) is anxious that the travel and access facilities shall be adequate. I can assure him that one thing which will help to make the travel facilities to this part of London adequate is the fact that the Festival of Britain will be produced there in two years' time. As part of the preparatory work for that Festival—which is, of course, temporary and many of the buildings will only be temporary—a great deal of permanent work will be done. It will be designed with an eye on what is to follow. It will mean new escalators and new subways from the Underground at Charing Cross and Waterloo, new approaches, car parks, bus stops and even piers on the river frontage for water buses. All that will be largely of a permanent nature, and it will be used later when we come to popularise the South side of the river just as the North side has been popularised. We never visit the very beautiful city of Paris without being slightly ashamed that we have failed to take advantage of both the fronts of our river. First in connection with the Festival, and then with the cultural centre and theatre, we have a chance to persuade the people living north of the river to cross to the other side.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) asked whether the architects had been appointed. I understand that they have, although that is rather outside the scope of our Debate. I understand that Mr. Brian O'Rourke and Mr. Cecil Masey have been appointed as result of the recommendation of an architectural advisory sub-committee which consisted of people like Sir Patrick Abercrombie and the Earl of Crawford. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who knows much more about this than I do, because he is the chairman of the Joint Council, could have told the House that the members of the building sub-committee have travelled to Scandinavia, to the United States and on the Continent in order to see what is being done in those places. I understand that it is proposed that the building plans shall later be submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Mr. Lyttelton

The Fine Art Commission, to whom we referred for advice on the selection, recommended the architect. Although I do not think it is fair to say they take responsibility for it, it was under their influence that Mr. O'Rourke was appointed.

Mr. Driberg

Was there a competition?

Mr. Lyttelton

No, not a competition.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification.

I come now to almost the final speech made on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) began by saying that, when he came to this House, Mr. Bernard Shaw gave him one piece of advice, that was not to spend too much time in the gabble shop. It occurred to me that although Mr. Bernard Shaw may have given him that advice, the hon. Member did not follow it. Ever since he has been here, he has been a most persistent intervener in our Debates. This morning I thought his intervention was of great interest, particularly as he quoted a fairly lengthy letter he had received from the greatest living British dramatist. I knew that Mr. Shaw was of the opinion that the South Kensington site was better than the one that has been chosen. I do not know how many other people agree with him but, to me, that part of London is a reminder of early Victorian times and Prince Albert and all that he means to this generation. I have not the slightest doubt that if the theatre had been built there people would have learned to find their way to it. But so far as I can visualise the future, it appears to me that the new site of the South Bank, which is more central and will be part of a larger scheme, will be found to be the better.

I think I have covered most of the points made. There is one that has occurred over and over again and has been answered repeatedly; that is the question which it is suggested will be asked by a large number of people, why should London enjoy the expenditure of anything up to a million of the taxpayers' money when other things are much more needed and the provinces will have to go without. I do not think that argument is legitimate or holds water. I pay my wireless licence and I do not object to the fact that quite often I turn the knob and hear someone crooning. If there is anything in this world I dislike it is jazz and crooning, but I know that some people like it. I cannot understand why, but it takes all sorts to make a world. Therefore, without complaint, I pay my licence and choose my programmes. People will have to learn to do the same here. Some want Shakespeare and some want music hall. At the moment music hall is said to pay commercially, while Shakespeare, to our disgrace, does not. Here we are helping the drama in a small way. I hope it will eventually be in a big way.

On behalf of the Government, I should like to say that we are grateful for the way in which the House has received this Bill. We believe, with the hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate today, that this should be the beginning of something which will be of great benefit to the people of this country and to those who invest their lives in this side of its activities.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Adams.]