HC Deb 21 March 1968 vol 761 cc577-8
19. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations he has with the Arts Council about the Nottingham Theatre Board; and if he will make a statement.

Miss Jennie Lee

I have received letters about the Nottingham Playhouse controversy and have discussed these with the Chairman of the Arts Council. The Council does not seek to interfere with local autonomy. It is, however, considering whether it would be helpful to issue some general guidance about the composition of theatre boards and their relationship with other bodies.

Dame Irene Ward

In view of the fact that the Arts Council spoke with two voices over Nottingham Playhouse, resulting I am afraid in the departure of Mr. Neville which was greatly regretted, may I have an assurance from the right hon. Lady that the views of those concerned with the Nottingham Playhouse will be properly and adequately considered, and that proper guidance, advice and help will be given?

Miss Lee

All I can answer is that the Chairman of the Arts Council was good enough to speak to me when this controversy was beginning. We were delighted at that point to know that Mr. John Neville had been asked to withdraw his resignation. It would have been quite improper for the Arts Council, and still more for me, to intervene directly, but once the invitation to withdraw was made we were certainly extremely pleased about it. I am very sorry that afterwards the situation developed so badly.

Mr. Gardner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her Answer to the hon. Lady for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) is very welcome indeed? When discussing these matters with the Arts Council, will she consider whether some advice can be given on the question of whether or not playgoers should have some say in the administration of the theatre?

Miss Lee

The amount of public interest—and proper interest—in this subject means that the Arts Council is trying to do a very hard job. It is trying to refrain from intervening in areas of local autonomy while at the same time seeing that the interests of playgoers and everyone concerned are properly looked after.

Mr. Channon

Is the right hon. Lady aware that there has been much public concern about this very sad controversy? Is she also aware that it would be very much in the interests of everyone if the Arts Council could give some general guidance about theatre hoards? Although everyone agrees that they must not interfere with local autonomy, we are sure that they can find some way to pursue this difficult path.

Miss Lee

I am sure that they will pay attention to that.