§ 10.30 a.m.
That if the proceedings on the National Theatre Bill are not completed at this day's Sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesday next at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Miss Jennie Lee.]
§ 10.31 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Jennie Lee)
I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the National Theatre Bill ought to be read a Second time.
In preparation for this morning I thought that I would refresh my memory of the debate which took place 20 years ago. My guess is that quite a number of hon. Members have done the same. I 1502 found it fascinating in the extreme. I doubt whether a single argument will be advanced today that had not been thought about and discussed 20 long years ago.
I notice, for example, that the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Glenvil Hall, moved the Second Reading and warned the Committee:… 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 21st January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 440.]We all know how money values have changed since then. Equally fascinating is to read his hope thateveryone, 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 442.]1503 One cannot buy a pop record or a paperback for sixpence today. However, I am sure that we endorse the sentiments that the National Theatre must be a place which gives a warm welcome to the young and all others with modest incomes.
Following the Financial Secretary came a speech by Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, now Lord Chandos. Everyone reading it will be touched by his opening remarks, where he said that he had a vested interest to declare. He went on: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 443.]Lord Chandos is Chairman of the National Theatre Board and a member of the South Bank Theatre Board. I hope that not only will he live to see the National Theatre, which he and his family have cared about so much, erected and occupied; I hope, too, that for many years he will have the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of this very important national project which he has worked so hard to establish.
The whole debate 20 years ago reflected not only the concern that the National Theatre should be truly national and should welcome all kinds of people of all classes and ages, but also that it should mean something not only to Londoners but to people all over the country.
In the financial provision which we are considering the Government are asking permission from Parliament to contribute £3¾ million, with an equivalent amount to be contributed by the G.L.C. which, in addition, is providing a valuable site. When it comes to the running costs of the National Theatre, I might point out that, in the past five years that we have had the National Theatre Company, for every £1 contributed by the Greater London Council, £4 has been contributed by the Government, channelled through the Arts Council. I underline that point to make it clear that we are not discussing a municipal theatre but the National Theatre, and we hope that that National Theatre will spend even more time than now in visiting other parts of the country and making frequent tours abroad.
1504 When this great National Theatre is established, there may not be two companies but certainly there will have to be a much enlarged company, and those who have a special responsibility for the development of the arts in Scotland, Wales, the North and elsewhere, will join with me in rejoicing that, at long last, the National Theatre is to become a reality. It is not something which will detract from the efforts to establish first-rate theatres in other parts of the country. On the contrary, it will stimulate those activities.
I cannot resist making one more quotation, and it is from the speech of Captain Bullock, the hon. and gallant Member for Waterloo. He enlivened the proceedings by pointing out the dangers of political interference or nepotism of any kind. One cardinal feature in the preliminary years during which I have been the Minister responsible has been that this project should be essentially non-party and non-political. However much the activities of certain theatres and actors may be unwelcome in terms of our personal tastes and prejudices, one feature which sets us apart from other countries is that we are totally opposed to political control or direction in this kind of activity. Captain Bullock put the point amusingly and warned the House: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 454.]I think that we would agree whole heartedly with that sentiment.
I have mentioned with gratitude and appreciation the tremendous support and help that I have had from the National Theatre Board and from Lord Chandos, its Chairman. In addition, there has been a wonderful and close liaison between County Hall and Whitehall, between those entrusted with the government of London and the government of the country.
In 1964, I was obliged to appeal to Sir William Fiske when I wanted help in many ways. I was most fortunate. He 1505 responded with generosity and great sensitivity. Already we have begun to establish the same kind of relationships with his successor. However, before either of those two gentlemen led the Council, for many long years Sir Isaac Hayward was the guiding spirit in the old London County Council. A fitting tribute which everyone appreciated came when it was decided that a gallery on the South Bank should be called the Hayward Gallery.
We are very fortunate in that what we are discussing has the blessing of both the national Government and the Greater London Council. I venture to say that all civilised Members of the House of Commons, irrespective of party, will want the project to go ahead. Of course, there are only civilised hon. Members in this Room today.
I do not want to take hon. Members too far back into history, because we hope to make progress in the Committee this morning. However, I would remind hon. Members that this project is not a new idea. A certain London publisher named Wilson was doing his best in 1848 to win support for this concept, and it s obvious that a great country like ours wants a National Theatre.
However my dilemma in 1964 was that, two years' earlier, in agreement with the London County Council, the Government of the day set up the South Bank Theatre and Opera Board to plan and build on the South Bank a national theatre and a new opera house to replace Sadlers Wells. It was made clear to the Board in its terms of reference that the sums available to it were not to exceed £2.3 million, £1 million contributed by the Government under the terms of the 1949 Act, and up to £1.3 million by the L.C.C., which was also contributing the site under an arrangement made in 1946. In 1965, I saw sketch plans which were produced by Mr. Denys Lasdun, the architect. At that time, the estimated cost was over £14 million, exclusive of fees. That was a very very long way from the £2.3 million within which we hoped that the National Theatre Building Committee would operate. The Government made it clear that we could not contribute to the cost of the opera house, and the London County Council said that it could not go ahead on its own. Happily, a solution to the problem of Sadlers 1506 Wells has been found in the Coliseum Theatre—
§ Miss Lee
Yes, only short-term, but we have to live from hand to mouth in this world. It is short-term, but it is satisfactory at the moment. It means that London is doing quite well.
Coming to the National Theatre proper, we had to find means of bringing the cost down to within what we could reasonably hope to get from County Hall and from Whitehall. The agreement is that both will supply £3¾ million.
We have had to make sacrifices to keep within that figure. To begin with, there will not be a restaurant, but there will be space made available for one. Again, a small experimental theatre has to be sacrificed. But in the main, we look forward to a splendid theatre.
Twenty years ago, it was the building which was being discussed, but, even with all our love and respect for the Old Vic, we did not have a great National Theatre Company of the distinction that we have today.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The right hon. Lady said that the experimental theatre is being dispensed with, but there are two theatres, are there not?
§ Miss Lee
I will come to that in a moment. Mr. Denys Lasdun originally planned for three. I will define that more clearly later.
We have had a distinguished National Theatre Company for five years, and at this point in my remarks I want to pay tribute to Sir Laurence Olivier. I received a very moving letter from him the other day. It was an S.O.S. for the setting up of a temporary theatre where a Young Vic company could operate. He pointed out that the great stars come and go, but that the essence of a national theatre is the ensemble. He went on to say that he dared not expose his young company straightaway to the full glare of the National Theatre stage. I am sure that we all appreciate not only his personal distinction but his sense of continuity and, above all, his emphasis on the fact that, however important the great 1507 stars are, it is the quality of the ensemble and the opportunities that its members are given which is the very heart and core of a national theatre.
I doubt whether anyone in the Comittee needs to be persuaded that the Old Vic Theatre is not adequate for present needs. I should like to put on record, because there may be some who wonder whether this is an undue extravagance at such a time, that the Old Vic was not designed for the presentation of full-scale repertory of the high standard expected of a National Theatre Company. It lacks the necessary technical amenities. There is an inadequate lighting system and switchboard, insufficient wing space on stage, insufficient rehearsal rooms, and storage space for only two or three productions. Dressing room conditions are primitive and inadequate for the number of the company required to play both in London, the regions and abroad. From a number of the seats in the theatre it is impossible to see the stage properly. The public cloakrooms, bars and foyer space are both cramped and uncomfortable. Finally, the number of seats, even allowing for those where the vision is inadequate, is not much more than 800. This, of course, leads to a great deal of complaint from the public, especially if there is a performance which they particularly wish to attend.
On the other hand, what are we preparing today? We are making our contribution to the building of a new National Theatre which will have two auditoria, one of the proscenium type seating 900 people and one of the open stage type seating 1,165 people. That means that the total seating capacity of the theatre will, therefore, be over 2,000. The National Theatre Company considers the two auditoria are strictly necessary in order to present plays of wide variety which a National Theatre must include within its repertoire within the type of auditorium most suited to those plays. It can be said that the more intimate type of production will be staged in the proscenium auditorium and the more spectacular production within the open stage type auditorium.
Equally important, backstage facilities including dressing rooms, production department, wardrobe department, rehearsal rooms, etc., will be to the 1508 highest modern standards, while the facilities available to the public will be of the type which they have the right to expect in a capital city which is a major centre of the arts.
I have already indicated the relative contributions of the Government and the Greater London Council, but, in addition, there is a sum of about £100,000 remaining from the Shakespeare Memorial Trust. As I have said before, with this amount of financial backing, and, I hope, moral and every other kind of backing as well, we are confident that we can have a very great theatre worthy of London, worthy of the whole of Great Britain, and occupying a leading place throughout the world.
I will conclude almost at once, because I do not think that the Bill will be hotly contested between the two sides of the Committee, but I would just say that in 1949 there was a cri de coeur that we could not, in the then financial situation, go ahead with this kind of plan. There will be those who ask now whether we have our priorities right, whether this is not one form of expenditure which could very well be put back to some future date. I hope that we will not take that view. I hold that a country which cannot find a place in its thoughts and in its provisions for the highest form of the arts, a country which loses that inspiration and that solace, has no real claim to be called great. There has never been a time in history, in any part of the world, where the great arts have been able to flourish unsubsidised. In a mixed economy we still hope to get private money, trusts and the rest, but I think that we would all agree that it has now become urgent, and, I hope, one of the most pleasant duties of Government, to see that we honour our great country by ensuring all the encouragement that this theatre will give, not just in London, but in Scotland. Wales and throughout the country. This is our privilege and our pleasure this morning. We are now ready to move forward into the final stage of creating a new building in which London and the whole country can take pride. I commend the Bill to the Committee.
§ 10.51 a.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
I join with the right hon. Lady in commending the Bill to the Committee. Like her, I would have been a 1509 great deal happier this morning if all that she and I and others wish to say had not been said already some 20 years ago. I suppose in a way that the Committee of Selection ought to be congratulated, because there are many Members of the House who took part in that debate, but none has been selected to serve on this Committee. I imagine that it would have been too much to have made them go through it again 20 years later when their previous efforts have not, alas, so far been successful.
I agree that the first resolution that the Committee should set itself is to be absolutely certain that we will get a National Theatre and not be sitting here in another 20 years still talking about the problem, by which time the cost will have gone up to £10 million if costs escalate at the same rate as they have in the last 20 years.
I do not intend to go through the history of the National Theatre. It is a very long history. But I think that the Committee would like to pay tribute to all the people who, for so many years, have fought against sometimes overwhelming odds to get this project successfully completed. I was glad that the right hon. Lady used those kind words about my noble Friend, Lord Chandos, who has been connected with the project for so many years and who will be a very happy man when it is completed. He told me that he had been connected with the project for 40 years and was determined that it would not be another 40 years before he went to the first performance.
The right hon. Lady quoted from the 1949 debate. I should like to quote a passage from the speech of Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, as he then was, because I think that he set the case best for a National Theatre. Indeed, it was appropriate that he should do so. He said: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 approprately 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 1510 clothes, food or houses. In fact, we only begin to enter the realms of art when we begin to leave the realms of necessity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1949; Vol. 460, c 446.]I strongly support the plan for a National Theatre, which is long overdue here. The French have had a national theatre for 300 years, and most civilised countries have a record over centuries and considerably greater than ours of supporting their theatres and opera. It is particularly appropriate that we should have a National Theatre because, in the arts, drama has been the great British contribution. The works of innumerable playwrights spring immediately to mind in considering a National Theatre-Shakespeare, Marlowe, Shaw. However, it is interesting that Mr. Shaw was not keen on a National Theatre, at least on the proposed site that we have now suggested. Nor was J. B. Priestley, for that matter. I do not know why it is always these Left Wing playwrights who are against the idea. Everyone else seems to be in favour.
§ Mr. Channon
It was the site to which Shaw objected; but J. B. Priestley was against the whole idea.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
George Bernard Shaw was happy with Malvern. I am the Chairman of that theatre.
§ Mr. Channon
I am sure that he had every reason to be.
At the time that this matter was debated in 1949 there was criticism in distinguished quarters against the idea of a National Theatre. Many people thought it was unnecessary. I think that that thought has now gone completely, and that the National Theatre is welcomed enthusiastically by all in this country who love drama. Perhaps the real reason, as the right hon. Lady said, is the magnificent work done by Sir Laurence Olivier and the National Theatre Company in their difficult conditions during the past five years. I hope that all hon. Members have had an opportunity of seeing some of the performers of the National Theatre Company. The only trouble seems to be that it is almost impossible to get in. However, that is probably a good thing. I have some doubts whether it will be 1511 easier to get into the new National Theatre. This is a fault of success, about which we cannot complain.
It is also a matter for congratulation and happiness that both sides of the Committee can join enthusiastically in supporting the project. Indeed, at different times both major parties have given the National Theatre support when they could. The Government, despite economic difficulties at the moment, are supporting the National Theatre. In 1962. when we also had economic difficulties, though nothing like so severe as those we have been through recently, support was given by the Conservative Government to the National Theatre. It has been an interesting example of co-operation between the Government and the London County Council, and now the G.L.C. In 1949 we had a Labour L.C.C. and a Labour Government. Then we had a Labour L.C.C. and a Tory Government. Now we have this new partnership between the Tory Greater London Council and a Labour Government. My guess is that when the National Theatre is completed the fourth permutation will be the one which will shortly rule our affairs.
§ Mr. Channon
Should that turn out to be the case, I am sure that the National Theatre will have nothing to fear.
I am grateful to the Greater London Council and to the Government for the £3¾ million which they are both to provide for this project. It is understandable that neither side wishes to go further—indeed, they are not committed to anything further—if the Theatre cannot be built for the £7.6 million—because there is the extra £100,000 which has been promised. This goes to show, and it cannot be emphasised too strongly, that the sooner we can get on with the project the more chance there will be of its being completed. If we cannot do it fairly speedily, costs will rise and it will not be possible to build it within the figure of £7.6 million. I would hope and think that that large sum of money is sufficient.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady could tell us what is now the proposed timing of this project? Will it take from now, 12th February 1969, to 1973 or 1974 before 1512 the National Theatre is built? There is every incentive to hurry as fast as possible with the project if we are to get it at all. We cannot afford the risk of building costs escalating again so severely. I think it is a project with which any contractor would be proud to be associated, and there will be an enormous incentive to build it speedily and on time. I very much hope, therefore, that we may have some information about the likely timing of the project.
I expect that most hon. Members have had an opportunity of seeing the distinguished plans which Mr. Lasdun has drawn up. I am sure that Sir Laurence Olivier and all those connected with the project were right to insist that the National Theatre, if it was to be built, should be built to the highest standards. It is dangerous for a layman to express views on the architectural merit of the theatre or on the proposed layout inside as prepared by experts, but I think that it is an exciting building and it seems to have met with general approval.
What criticisms could be levelled against the idea for a National Theatre? Why have a National Theatre at all? I think that few people ask that now. Most people interested in the project think that the criticism really is that we have not had a National Theatre in the past.
I should like to put forward an economic argument, too, which was not touched on by the right hon. Lady. The theatre today provides an enormous asset to our invisible exports. We have an enormous number of tourists attracted to London. I think that the theatre is one reason why they come. If an American tourist is asked why he is here, he invariably says that one reason is to visit the theatre. This is the reason why people go to New York also. I hope that the National Theatre will be an additional reason why people will come to London. This will, of course, mean that it will be even more difficult than it is now to get tickets. Very often our actors and playwrights do not get the credit which they deserve for the earnings which they bring to this country. They do not get credit for their distinguished record in the theatre, not only in this country, but on Broadway, and in all parts of the world. I think that in the long term the National Theatre will prove to be of increasing benefit to our balance of payments.
1513 There are those who ask why the National Theatre should be in London. It is inevitable that it should be in the great capital city of this country. I suppose it is inevitable that Londoners will get more of the benefits than others will, but they are putting up half the cost, and they are entitled to some extra benefit for that.
I hope that when the new Theatre is built the company will seriously consider doing what it can to help the regions. We all know what a tremendous problem the theatre is facing outside London. I hope that the National Theatre will stimulate people into going to the theatre in general. This may be the greatest service it can perform. I know that at the moment the National Theatre Company tours the regions for a minimum of eight weeks every year, and sometimes more than that. I hope that, without imposing too much of a strain on the Company, it will be possible to increase this minimum of eight weeks to, say, twelve weeks, or whatever is considered appropriate, so that the regions may feel that they are getting their share of the money which the country is putting up towards the cost of this Theatre.
I do not consider that the National Theatre will have a bad effect on the commercial theatre. I shall be interested to hear the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) who knows so much about this problem. I hope that it will encourage new audiences to the theatre, and create more interest in it, both outside London and within it.
There may be some people who, in general terms, are in favour of having a National Theatre, but say that the present appalling economic climate is not the moment for it. There will never be a right moment to go ahead with a theatre. There will never be a time when everyone says, "This is the moment when we should press ahead". There will always be some reason why it is an inconvenient moment. There has been very little critiism, either in the House or outside, along those lines.
Considerable long-term economic benefits can be gained from the National Theatre, but perhaps the right hon. Lady will confirm some details about the short-term expenditure. I imagine that there will be comparatively little expenditure 1514 this year, and perhaps not very much next year, either, and that the bulk of the expenditure will be in 1971 or 1972. Surely by then we can expect some improvement in the economic climate? If there is not, it will be a disaster.
I was a little depressed when I read the report of the Press conference which the National Theatre gave in 1967. Sir Laurence Olivier said then:The Prime Minister has promised us a boom in about a year—just the right time to start building.I am afraid that his forecast was out.
§ Mr. Channon
We all know that life is full of disappointments. It is not necessary to remind my hon. Friend of the words of King Lear:Get thee glass eyes;And, like a scurvy politician, seemTo see the things thou dost not.That was what the Prime Minister was doing in that forecast. We all hope that when the bulk of the expenditure for this theatre comes to be made the economic climate will be more favourable.
I think that this great project deserves the enthusiastic support of the Committee and the whole House. I think that it deserves the enthusiastic support of those interested in promoting the theatre. I hope that it will be able to go forward with speed and vigour, and that the National Theatre will be built in the comparatively near future. If it is, it will be an achievement for both sides of the House, and they can take credit for it, because it will be a project which will grow and to which all people can look forward.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
If I may also quote from our national playwright, I do not wish either to paint the lily or to perfume the violet, but I should like to join in the congratulations which have been given by the right hon. Lady and by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) to those who have played a part in bringing this project to fruition. I congratulate, too, both the right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend on the civilising influence, if that is the right word, which they have exercised in the House. 1515 I do not know whether that civilising influence is necessary among our colleagues, but they certainly have exercised it, and this is an encouraging day, for them in particular, and for those who are interested in the theatre.
It is true that the theatre is the one field in which we are pre-eminent. We have an unbroken tradition of English drama, which goes back to the medieval morality and mystery plays, and is carried on not only on this side of the Atlantic, but on the other, where there is a flourishing, vigorous tradition. In the past the flow of talent and inventiveness has not needed a National Theatre. For better or for worse, the age of Royal and private patronage of the theatre is over, but we are in the age of State patronage of the arts, and that being so it is right that the theatre should have its legitimate share.
I have one reservation about the Bill, and that is whether the sum of £7½ million will be enough. It sounds a large sum, half of which will come from the G.L.C., and half from the Treasury, but costs are bound to rise. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West said, most of the building is likely to take place, not in the next year or two, but at the end of four years, and by then costs will have increased considerably. By an extremely ingenious effort the architect has managed to reduce the projected cost from £7½ million to £7.4 million, without interfering with the facilities—in fact he has improved them in some ways—but that leaves only £100,000 to play with. I wonder what will happen by 1972 or 1973. Will the money which we are voting now be sufficient?
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I should like to advise my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who is a good friend, not to encourage the people who will carry out this project to ask for supplementaries. They will come. Supplementary grants will be asked for. I do not think that we should encourage people to ask for them.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I take the point. but my point is not contradictory to that. My hon. Friend and I never disagree on any important matter. My point is that to avoid the need for supplementary estimates we should consider whether, to 1516 get it past the Treasury and the House, this figure is being fixed rather low. We should consider whether it is being fixed at that low figure to avoid opposition now. This is a legitimate political device, but in the long run it may prove to be more costly, in more ways than one.
My second question is, what is going to happen to the Old Vic when this Theatre is built? What plans are there for that? One suggestion which I have seen, and which I support, is that the present National Theatre should be used for putting on plays at low prices, particularly for the young. I suggest to the right hon. Lady that it should be used also in conjunction with what used to be called the University of the Air, a project which I wish well, and regret that my party voted against, or indicated its displeasure about, or its opposition to.
§ Mr. Channon
The criticism of the University of the Air was the choice of priorities, when there were so many other pressing needs. There was no violent opposition to the project itself.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I did not say that there was violent opposition to the project. My very measured words seem to have produced a violent response from my hon. Friend. I regret that that was the order of priority. I should give it a higher priority, but I suggest that the Old Vic might in future be used in association with programmes there.
It is true, also, that this is a National Theatre; it is not a London theatre, even though it is based in London. The right hon. Lady mentioned the importance of regarding this as a theatre based on the nation as a whole. I agree with that, because I imagine that one hopes to develop at the National Theatre—indeed, to a certain extent it has been developed already—a troupe of actors similar to the troupe which exists at certain continental centres, such as at the Comédie Francaise in Paris, or the Berlin Ensemble or the Moscow Arts Theatre. If we are to create that sort of company, we must get people from the provinces as well as from London. It is, therefore, important that the provincial theatre should flourish at the same time.
I see that the right hon. Lady agrees with me. I hope that she will help the Chelmsford Theatre in particular, which at the moment is in need of money.
1517 My final point concerns a rather delicate subject, but I think I must make it. It is that if Parliament grants this large sum of money to the National Theatre those who dispense this money for building the theatre, and those who use the theatre for putting on plays, must have some sense of responsibility to the nation as to what they put on in that theatre. I am not in favour of any form of censorship of the theatre. Indeed, I was one of the sponsors of the Bill, along with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), to abolish the theatrical jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain. If the National Theatre is to command the support and confidence of the nation, there must he certain restraints, and Parliament is entitled to ask for certain assurances of restraint from those responsible for the administration of the National Theatre.
I have in mind the recent proposal to put on at the National Theatre the play "Soldiers", by Hochhuth. That play would have been put on had it not been for the intervention of the noble Lord Lord Chandos who quite properly intervened, exercising his function as Chairman of the Board. I should like to pay a tribute to the noble Lord for his far-sighted action in that matter. I have seen the play. It is a very bad play, but that is not the point. My suggestion is that it is unacceptable at a national institution like the National Theatre to put on a play which insults one of the greatest Englishmen, when his widow and relatives are still alive. This was a gross error of judgment and taste. The Prime Minister himself commented on it only yesterday when he described the play as "scurrilous".
When Parliament is giving these large sums it is entitled to ask that this theatre will not put on plays which insult revered individuals and institutions in this country, such as the Monarchy. Such plays should not be put on at the taxpayers' expense.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I agree with my hon. Friend about the play by Hochhuth at the National Theatre, but is he not putting forward a dangerous proposition? Who in future is to decide what is restrained and what is not? I fully accept that the decision of Lord Chandos was right 1518 and sensible, but is my hon. Friend saying that, in future, Parliament must dictate to those who run the theatre what they should and should not put on? This would be totally unacceptable to me. It is a very dangerous philosophy that Parliament should in any way censor the productions of the National Theatre.
Order. I have no objection to interventions but hon. Members must keep them rather shorter than that.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but whether it be a dangerous philosophy or not is not for me to say, because it is not my philosophy that Parliament should control the day-to-day running of the theatre. I was saying that, unless there were a high standard of responsibility, Parliament would have to intervene, which I would regret. But that is different from my hon. Friend's point.
There must be freedom in the theatre, as throughout the arts, but not without a sense of responsibility. No free institution—that includes Parliament—can flourish without some self-discipline. The wider the freedom, the greater the need for that discipline. When censorship of the theatre has been to all intents and purposes abolished there is a need for a responsible censorship in the theatre as a whole and in the National Theatre in particular. We cannot legislate for good taste: it is difficult to acquire by experience; some are lucky enough to be born with it, and others unfortunate enough to lack it. This is a substantial point which should be made when these large sums of money are being given to an important institution.
§ Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)
When the hon. Gentleman said that, for some reason, the Monarchy must be exempted from critical plays, would he have applied this if he had been living at that time to half the historical plays of Shakespeare, for relatives were living of some of the people whom Shakespeare criticised in his plays? Which should have priority—restraint or artistic plays?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I would reply, Autres temps, autres moeurs. The Elizabethan monarchy was regarded differently from the Monarchy today. The historical background was different. Kings and queens were executed in those 1519 days fairly regularly. We must take into account public feeling on certain matters and not outrage it in a National Theatre.
I am sorry to have injected a note of controversy into these proceedings, so I want to end on a more harmonious note. The achievements of the Director of the National Theatre and those responsible for the direction have been considerable. There has been a wide range of plays, ranging from "A Flea in Her Ear", to "The Dance of Death", beautifully produced and worthy of our national theatrical tradition. The future of the National Theatre, although bright with promise, rests in its own hands, as is true of all free institutions.
§ 11.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)
Although I generally agree with the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) I would strongly dissent from his attempt to put any strictures on the plays which are produced at the National Theatre. It is ludicrous for Members of Parliament to try to arbitrate in artistic matters. There are perfectly good legal provisions governing any defamation, and, as someone who generally agrees with my honourable constituent, I regret that he should contend that there should be any less artistic freedom in the twentieth century than there was in Shakespeare's day. If we were to have a worse state of affairs than that in Elizabethan England, that would not be the right climate in which to launch a National Theatre.
I support what my right hon. Friend said, that there should be complete freedom from political control. When the hon. Member for Chelmsford tried to dress up his penchant for censorship as matters of good taste, he must realise better than anyone that what is good taste to him is poison to many other hon. Members. It is not good enough to say that this is a question of self-imposed censorship, because these are his own particular prejudices.
Many of us would like to pay a short but strong tribute to my right hon. Friend for her strong efforts on behalf not only of the National Theatre but of the arts generally. We are all conscious of the ludicrous situation that the foundation 1520 stone of this theatre has been sitting in solitary state a few yards from where we are now. It is a deplorable saga, equalled only by the state of the Burrell picture collection in Glasgow, which has been neglected year after year equally indefensibly.
I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will give us a target date for the first performance. When is the estimated "curtain up"? She might be well advised to include a strong penalty clause in the contract for the building of the theatre and an incentive bonus for prompt completion, so that there will be every reason for the winner of the contract to stick to the date.
Many hon. Members would regret it if there were any penny pinching. If we are to have a National Theatre for Great Britain, let it be something we are proud of. It would be lamentable if there were no restaurant, as is proposed, and if there were not adequate car parking facilities or adequate facilities both for the players and for the staff behind the scenes, who are often neglected in British theatres because the public do not see the terrible conditions in which they work.
Therefore, could she launch a public subscription? If the Treasury and the Greater London Council have refused to pay a penny more, why should not enlightened contributions come from industry or from trusts and foundations, so that this really is a national theatre of which we can be proud. Many private companies disburse funds to political parties. Might they not contribute to something more estimable, such as a non-party national theatre? A public subscription list might be a very good form of advertising for companies, and some of us might be persuaded to patronise those which spend money in such an enlightened direction, rather than in much less enlightened directions. I hope that this project will go forward as soon as possible.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I believe in the continuity of debate so should like to comment on the pebble thrown into the pond by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). Of course Parliament would always be able to bring back censorship if that were thought right. It was 1521 Parliament which gave the Lord Chamberlain the power in the first place and Parliament which took it away—I think rightly. If those responsible do not attain a level which is just, sensible and clean, Parliament would have to step in. If the self-discipline which my hon. Friend describes is not forthcoming, this might have to happen. I hope that it will not, but the theatre might get into the hands of cranks. Those with the power should remember that at this stage all of us interested in this form of art do not want the censor and hope that he is finished for good, but that is not to say that we have net the power to bring him back, if we thought fit.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) suggested, more in his tone than this words, that industry and the trusts were not contributing to the arts. They are very generous. If they were persuaded to divert considerable funds to the National Theatre other institutions might suffer. There are theatres throughout the country which are always making appeals. They get a very generous response, considering the economic situation. Although I am wholeheartedly in favour of this power under the Bill, I hope that this glamorous National Theatre, with all the headlines it gets, will not attract all the money from those sources, to leave other institutions, in the provinces, to drop out of existence because they are denied their source of funds. The right hon. Lady will have more information on this than I, but it is known that industry and the trusts which it has set up have been generous patrons of the arts. We put out an appeal to them from the Malvern Theatre recently. They have not much money for that today, but we hope that their past generosity will show itself again.
One thing is clear from the speeches this morning—that we want this National Theatre quickly, not just because it is a good thing in itself but also because, if we delay, we shall not be able to afford it. Time is of the essence. I do not entirely follow the theme of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. We should tell the people who have to give effect to the idea of the Bill that they must keep within the limits laid down and the budgets explained to us by the right hon. Lady. This may mean doing with 1522 out restaurants and other facilities for the time being, but it should not be beyond the capacity of a good architect so to plan that when happier times come we can have the full bloom that we want.
Talk of such figures as have been mentioned this morning might frighten people. Members of this Committee are enthusiastic and well advised to be so, but people outside have not the same sympathies because they have not the same understanding of these needs. It would not be sensible to frighten them off by suggesting that the figures should be higher, though no doubt, supplementary estimates will come for items which cannot be foreseen at the moment. The message should be that we want this theatre, we have seen the plans, we believe an excellent edifice can be produced within the figure proposed, and we want the architect to keep within it.
I emphasise the need to pay attention to the National Theatre helping the provinces. At the moment there are in the country between 20 and 30 well-known theatres on the verge of dropping out of existence. If in the next two or three years they do not receive help of some sort we may be short of theatres by that number. I cannot see the force of building an excellent National Theatre in London if it is at the price of 30 other theatres dropping out of existence. The right hon. Lady has shown excellent interest in this matter and she has fire m her belly for the job she is doing. I hope that she will turn her attention to keeping provincial theatres alive. She has encouraged the setting up of a committee of the Arts Council to look into this matter. An interim report has been produced with a view to giving first aid to theatres which may be on the verge of going out of existence. This matter is so urgent that we ought to have a quick reply. Otherwise we shall be paying lip service to this culture only to see it withering away.
The National Theatre can help very much. It does a minimum of eight weeks touring, but rarely exceeds that limit. There are ways and means of letting those responsible know what our views are. If it could be written into the policy of the National Theatre that it must tour the provinces for a minimum of, say, 14 weeks a year, that would be worth doing. Perhaps the running costs would 1523 then be more. The Royal Ballet has "shown that, when trying to do more touring.
However, if it would cost more money it might be worth anticipating the extra running costs in return for spreading the National Theatre's influence in the provinces. If provincial theatres believed that they were within two or three years of receiving such help from the National Theatre it would be an added incentive to their tightening their belts in order to keep alive. If not, this country, which contributes more than any other to this kind of art, may find its influence on world theatre fade.
My answer to the Philistines—of whom there is none present here—is that there is an economic side to this kind of project. The balance of payments of this country through foreign earnings 20 years from now will receive more from the arts, the theatre, television and all the things we call entertainment, than will be received from the sale of motor cars. Other countries are already making motor cars and that market will recede. Only a tiny part of the world has television and theatres and such things which we take for granted. We have the facilities, the know-how and experience by which this country could become to the theatre what Hollywood has become for films. There is a hard economic advantage in having a theatre which is the last word in excellence, which can provide the highest quality performances, and maintain and further establish our lead over America and other countries as the people who can supply the know-how and earn the income.
There are good cultural and social reasons and, I believe, outstanding economic reasons to be enthusiastic about sending this Bill forward with the provision suggested by the right hon. Lady. The benefits I have envisaged, and the vision I have of what could flow from it, depend on our being able to maintain our national interest in the subject. They depend on provincial theatres being maintained. They are old, draughty, out-of-date buildings, not of the best sort, but they have to be kept in use till they can be replaced by new buildings which, I hope, will be financed to some extent by private enterprise. If we allow them to fail we shall not succeed in our object, 1524 but, if we can get this National Theatre, and at the same time maintain and encourage provincial theatres, we shall do a good job.
Because we can together do that I am happy to be on this Committee and to give the right hon. Lady all the support I am able to give.
§ 11.39 a.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend upon getting us here today discussing this Bill. This is a most exciting occasion. If one looks at the projected plans both for the National Theatre and the rebuilding of Covent Garden in due course with the provision of a permanent home for Sadlers Wells and perhaps a London Arts Centre under one roof, one sees that we are on the verge of exciting and stimulating developments affecting not only drama but ballet and the training of dancers, actors and actresses.
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) struck the right note and I wish to follow what he said. We look at the developments for which we have been working for many years, but we see that the state of the theatre is very parlous. The concern which the hon. Member expressed for the lack of health in many of the commercial theatres is well known. I am concerned about the way in which many provincial repertory theatres of the very highest standing, and which are supported by the Arts Council, have to operate on a shoestring. As my right hon. Friend knows I have great personal interest in this. I investigated the Arts Council expenditure last year and had the opportunity of seeing many theatres in England. Scotland and Wales. The idea that the new National Theatre will help to bring some fertilisation and cross-pollination to the provincial theatre is very desirable, but the National Theatre cannot do this unless we provide decent theatres of the right size with the right amenities. These we have not got at present.
I could not follow the hon. Member's suggestion that it should be written into the future contract of the National Theatre that it should tour for 14 weeks. We cannot dictate how much it should tour or where it should tour. Touring is a highly expensive operation, and to be successful it depends on having the 1525 right theatres. It may be that the new National Theatre, with a much larger stage and better facilities than it has now, will do much more ambitious productions with more ambitious staging which could not be adapted to the tiny stages of many provincial theatres. We have to be wary about this suggestion. Neither in touring nor in what should be put on should we attempt to dictate to the National Theatre. This should be left to its good sense and sense of responsibility.
One of the reasons why I welcome the new development is that with the proposals for two theatres under one roof, as it were, and developments for a young people's theatre, which Sir Laurence and Frank Dunlop have very much at heart, there will be more employment for young actors and actresses in this overcrowded profession. They are highly talented people who have been trained in the best schools in the world—the training is superb—but many theatres are closing. Not only are theatres closing, but those which remain are run on a shoestring. Often they can afford to employ only the tinest nucleus of a company. In many theatres supported by the State there is a nucleus of only 10, which is nonsense if we want to support good drama. This is entirely a matter of money.
So, if it provides opportunities to extend employment in the theatrical profession, we should all welcome this proposal. More than half of well-trained actors and actresses—not those who have muscled in by the back door—often do not get employment for a year. That is an indictment of our present care and concern for the arts and the theatre generally. Although I do not want to pour cold water on our happy proceedings, I think we should bear in mind that, while we are looking forward to producing a magnificent workshop for the National Theatre, we must not overlook the provincial theatre's needs, which are very urgent and moving into a state of crisis.
On my visits to the National Theatre I saw enthusiastic, dedicated people who are doing marvellous work, but their conditions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) said, are quite appalling. It is amazing that the present high standard has been maintained for so long under such bad conditions. I am referring not only to mem- 1526 bers of the company, but to those who have to produce the costumes and sets, to paint the scenery and provide the props. They are working under bad conditions of cramped space. A National Theatre should not have to work under those conditions.
I hope that somehow, either by the ideas suggested by my hon. Friend or otherwise, we may persuade those who have not contributed to the development of the arts as they ought to make an adequate contribution. He has suggested a public appeal. However, I wonder if we could make an approach to the Independent Television authorities who, in my opinion, have a very strong moral responsibility. I do not want to discuss their enormous profits but, rather, to what use they put them. Perhaps they could be persuaded to invest some of their profits in the live theatre.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The hon. Lady will recall that we wrote a provision into the last Television Act that they should contribute to some sort of fund which, I thought, was to be used for this very purpose.
§ Mrs. Short
I was not aware that we had written in such a provision. However, the moral obligation is clear. Television tends to use only experienced actors and actresses. To get them, it looks round the provincial repertory theatres and decides which of the actors and actresses are of sufficient experience and talent to use. It creams off young actors who have been trained in the provincial theatres and who have gained their experience through the opportunities given by the investment of public money via the Arts Council. I feel that there is a strong case for suggesting that the television authorities have a responsibility to put something back into the living theatre.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some information about the timing of the development of the Theatre. Like all other hon. Members, I look forward to being able to attend the opening night.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
The right hon. Lady spoke about the debate in the House 20 years ago. My father was an Alderman of the L.C.C., an hon. 1527 Member of this House and, above all, an architect, and I remember how, 35 years ago, he had some very exciting ideas about the layout and design of a National Theatre. Today, nothing must stand in the way of getting the project launched. I am sure that hon. Members want to see the theatre completed. The date aimed at is early 1973. I hope that that will be achieved.
Last summer, I made an extensive tour of the Lincoln Centre in New York. I wanted to discover some of the pitfalls and snags which had been encountered there and what lessons could be learned from what has taken place there in the last few years. It is a wonderful site. The layout is impressive. There is an opera house at one end, a huge concert hall on one side, a theatre for musicals on another, an exciting small theatre with a magnificent stage, and a huge workshop behind it, and, above all, a small museum with an excellent reference library. I felt very much at home, because there was a tremendous piece of sculpture by Henry Moore out in the open.
Having studied these theatres and auditoriums, I think that there are four lessons which we can study. The first concerns finance, which is always a danger. The Lincoln Centre already is running into major financial difficulties, although there are "House Full" notices up every night. Our own National Theatre already lives in the shadow of the balance sheet, and although Parliament has been very generous—and long may this continue—I see difficulties ahead. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) suggested other ways of raising money, such as public appeals for subscriptions, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) spoke about the possibility of the television authorities helping. However, I think that Australia had the right idea, and surmounted a similar problem in a painless way: £20 million was raised to finance the Sydney Opera House by running a national lottery. I want the National Theatre to feel secure from the start. At the moment, it is getting the money, but we must guarantee that it can continue with complete security.
The next two lessons which I learned are minor but important ones. We must construct adequate car parking space and 1528 get-away facilities. In New York, after evening performances, conditions are extremely bad when the weather is cold and wet. People are marooned at the Centre and cannot get away. We must plan adequately for car parking and provide first-class public transport facilities so that people are not stranded on the South Bank.
The third lesson relates to seats. A person going to the theatre wants to relax and enjoy the production. He does not want to sit tense and cramped. In America, there is never enough knee room. Do not let us skimp on our seats and upholstery. It would appear that some of our modern theatres employ dwarfs to design their seats. Some of them are very uncomfortable.
The main lesson which I learned was that it is much more important than having restaurants to have a small museum, a reference library and a tiny cinema. The standard of English drama is the highest in the world, and actors and students come to England to study. There is a need for a small reference library on the spot, so that everyone can know where to find authentic information about the English theatre. Before Mr. Denys Lasdun finalises his plan I hope that a museum, a reference library and a small cinema will be included. I am not suggesting any addition to the financial provision to be made, because, if necessary, they can be built afterwards. If they are not included in the plans, we shall again miss a unique opportunity.
British genius has expressed itself supremely in engineering, seafaring, literature. South Kensington, Greenwich, Bloomsbury have splendid museums which contain all that is needed for research. No major museum exists for English drama and theatrical history. There is the British Theatre Museum at Leighton House in Holland Park Road, Kensington, where there are 40 major collections. However only a few can be displayed, only the tip of the iceberg is on show. Most of them have to be stowed away. It was opened in 1963, and it is a most progressive little gallery, but it is not big enough. Then there are splendid collections of theatrical material in the London Museum, and the Enthoven Collection in the Victoria and Albert. The Garrick Club, too, has a splendid collection of 1529 what I might call "theatricalia"—if such a word exists. But there is no national museum under one roof. We shall miss a unique opportunity unless it is taken now.
If we have a national theatrical museum it must include a reference library with collections of programmes, playbills and prompt scripts. A copy of each new play should be sent there and kept under one roof. Today, all good museums should be divided into two parts, the larger section being devoted to permanent and special exhibitions, the smaller section being reserved for students and researchers. A mini-cinema should also be included, because that is most important for the showing of filmed records and actual theatrical productions. Filming is expensive today, but it could be done with television cameras which need less light and use electronic tapes which are easy to store. The aim is to film a factually accurate record of a given production to show how it was acted, how it was produced and the way that it looked. We live in an age of documentation, and future generations will not thank us if we allow theatrical history to slip through our fingers. Several small organisations are doing it, but there is no one central body.
To summarise, the four lessons which I learnt from the Lincoln Centre are first the financial one. Why not have a national lottery? The second is the provision of car parking and get-away facilities. Third, do let us provide comfortable seats and adequate knee room. Fourth, let us ensure that there is a small museum with a reference library and a minute cinema attached to it. It is still not too late, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will give some thought to these points and try to provide for them in the plans.
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I want to add my voice to the warnings sounded by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) against the words of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who said that, in some way, Parliament should make it clear that, unless certain standards are adhered to, it might have to interfere in the future. Several hon. Members have alluded to Shakespeare. I would remind the hon. Gentleman 1530 of Aristophanes. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows about Aristophanes—
§ Mr. Price
—but, if he wants more information, one of the happier pursuits of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is to be something of an expert on the subject. Greek democracy was the most vibrant democracy ever. It positively thrived on total criticism of living politicians. That very fact was one of the great bastions of strength of that democracy. I hope that Parliament will lay down no lines for the National Theatre, but will trust those in charge of it to judge plays purely on their quality as drama, rather than adopting other criteria.
A fear which I have is that, before very long, this theatre will appear very inflexible and out of date. I am sorry that the third experimental theatre has disappeared. In my view, the proscenium arch has a limited life in this country. Quite the most exciting developments since the war have come from Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop, heavily influenced by Brecht in Berlin. These ideas have infiltrated into the rest of our theatre, and over the next 20 or 30 years I expect to see many more productions like that of the Hochhuth play about the late Sir Winston Churchill. We shall see more theatre of fact—
§ Mr. Price
—and much less traditional melodrama and other types of theatre. In addition, there will be many more attempts to establish theatres as flexible units, such as "theatre in the round". That is why I am sorry that the second theatre is what I might call an orthodox proscenium arch theatre. If we are building this theatre for the next 50, 100 or 200 years, we have to recognise that the theatre is changing from an aristocratic concept into a democratic concept. This may or may not happen, but we can plan for this by planning for flexibility.
I hope very much that, in the final plans, at least as much thought as is given to the kind of plays that people will probably want to put on in this theatre in the next five years, is given to 1531 the developments which might be taking place in the next 25 or 30 years. The Tate Gallery is a good example of what I have in mind. It was designed with prestige and contemporary objects in mind, but 100 years later the building is totally inflexible for the purposes for which we want to use it. That is why we have this expense in trying to mould the Tate into the kind of building we want. I hope that these lessons are not lost on those who design the National Theatre.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
I do not want to take more than a few moments, but I was stung into speaking by a phrase used by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker). Glasgow may seem very far away to those here supporting the project this morning, but this is a very real problem. I wholeheartedly support this project because it will provide the core for this country's great tradition in drama. We who come from 700 miles away support the project with as great enthusiasm as the majority of hon. Members who live in London.
No one has fought longer or more fiercely than I have to have the Burrell Collection displayed. The reason why it is not displayed is that there has not been the cash to provide a gallery for it. So that great collection will have to take its turn in the priorities, although I have long thought that its priority rated very high indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) said that we must consider amateur drama which supports the smaller theatres, and which is seeking money at the moment. I am tempted to remind the Committee, Mr. Robertson, that your own Paisley Grammarians have been chosen as the team to represent Great Britain for the Community Drama in Monte Carlo in September, yet it lacks £500 to get there. This is the kind of thing that inevitably brings criticism vis-à-vis our voting £3¾ million to the National Theatre project today. One of the most encouraging and exciting developments in the arts in Scotland is Scottish Opera, which was born of the enthusiasm of one man, whose passion for opera started at school and has taken 1532 him throughout Europe in command of the Scottish Opera. We should be clear that there are competing claims.
I am glad that there are two theatres in this project. I believe that the smaller theatre will provide opportunity for companies which are, perhaps, more suited for touring, for reasons of unsuitable accommodation, about which we have heard this morning. But when they tour, we who live at a distance have a responsibility. It was my pleasure to attend the National Theatre nightly in Aberdeen last year. The theatre was half empty and I could leave my meeting and walk straight in. That was the National Theatre in Aberdeen a year ago. So when we put our great National Theatre Company on tour we have to impress on the places to which it goes the important link that they can provide by their audience.
This is a great project which I am happy to support today.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee
I am grateful to the Committee for the unanimity of its support. It is doubly appreciated, because everyone who has contributed to the discussion has contributed with an obvious background not only of love for the theatre but of knowledge in many specialised spheres.
We all want to know the opening date. We hope to have the tender accepted and awarded this spring, and that actual work will begin before the end of this year, and that we can look forward to an opening date in 1973. Like everyone else, I protested most loudly. I got into this honourable conspiracy with Lord Chandos on many things. We do not tell people everything. I asked whether there was some way of shortening the period. The Board and everyone concerned are anxious that there should not be a single minute lost and that we shall make maximum speed.
I am in sympathy with the point made about having a penalty Clause, although it is not for me to intervene in that kind of matter. I was impressed by the fact that immediately after the Second World War, when there was a shortage of bricks, cement, and everything else, the Festival Hall was built in two years. There was a 1533 penalty clause in that contract, so it was in the contractor's interest to get ahead as soon as possible.
On timing, we are in complete accord for every possible reason. We know that we can go ahead. We hope that before the end of this year, 1969, a start will have been made, and we must all hope that we may be pleasantly surprised and that 1973 is a conservative estimate. All concerned will have our total support in having an opening date sooner, if possible.
I now come to costs. So far £190,000 has been spent. By the end of 1968–69 the expenditure will probably total about £250,000. The rate of expenditure will move in this way: 1969–70, £440,000; 1970–71, £690,000; 1971–72, £910,000; 1972–73, £900,000; 1973–74, £510,000. Some of those figures may have to be slightly revised, but those are the figures which have been given to me. We want this project to be built, if possible, within the figure which we are agreeing. We must do everything in our power to see that there is no delay in the building, no loose ends, no wastages and no needless extravagance.
I share the regret of others that there is not to be this third experimental theatre. I take a little comfort from the fact that although there will not be a restaurant straightaway, space for it is being provided.
I was impressed by the case put forward by the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom). I, too, would have liked a museum included. All we can do is to go ahead at the maximum speed with what is possible at the moment, hoping and believing that there will not only be the will but the surrounding space and possibility for a museum, cinema and all the rest to follow.
Concerning transport, we shall have parking space for 425 cars, with 160 directly for the theatre. There will be more general parking space for the museum and galleries on the South Bank.
I should like to take this opportunity to give a salesman's talk about a project which will come in the near future. I have always said that we will not really completely democratise our great new galleries and theatres on the South 1534 Bank till we have transport, not only in the form of cars and buses, but in the shape of a great covered travellator across the Thames.
I have many friends now in the Greater London Council and the Government who share this view. We should be able to go from one side to the other out of the wind and rain. At the moment it is an obstacle race to get there. I am fortunate, being a Minister, in having a car for travel on official occasions. It is difficult enough to get away sometimes even in these circumstances. Without a car it would be almost impossible. I was astonished and touched when I went to the Festival Hall on Friday night to hear the great Scottish Orchestra. I did not believe that anyone but myself could get there—or a handful of us who had special help with transport. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the numbers of people who, through every difficulty, had got there. We must consider lame people, for instance, or the young man taking out his best girl with a new hair-do for the occasion. Transport is vital. We should not make an evening's enjoyment so often such a squalid obstacle race as it now is in getting to the other side of the river.
The hon. Member for Leominster also made a cri de coeur about the comfort of the seats. I think that this has been taken care of. There will also be special provision for invalid chairs. There will be a certain number of seats situated where access to them is easier, so that people can be helped in that way.
An important point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) and by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls). While they are totally in support of going ahead with the National Theatre, they suggested that we must be very careful that new developments do not take place in an atmosphere of decay in the old commercial theatres and in many of the regions generally. The Arts Council is hard at work. It has set up a committee and has allocated a certain amount of funds. We believe that there will be a get-together between money from the private and commercial sector and public money in order to build up a scheme by which the State subsidised theatres and 1535 the commercial theatres can be complementary and mutually helpful. But we are still awaiting a report. It would be wrong for me to indicate the lines along which the Arts Council is working. But hon. Members have made a point of the greatest substance.
While we have to go ahead with theatres of first-class status in Scotland and Wales—Wales already has plans for a National Theatre; Scotland has not, but it is forging ahead with its opera plan—I can assure hon. Members who have expressed special concern for Scotland, Wales and Wolverhampton, or wherever it may be, that the National Theatre will truly be a National Theatre. What we are spending on this project will not in the long run deduct from what we are spending in the regions. When we create a climate of opinion in which people are willing to spend in the one sphere, it becomes an added stimulus in the other. Indeed, hon. Members may like to know that the total in 1966–67 for drama outside London amounted to £1.6 million, the following year to £2 million, and this year to about £2.2 million. This includes about £250,000 for the National Theatre. In addition, capital grants and promises of grants have been made to 31 projects totalling about £1.1 million. This is encouraging renovation of theatres and the adaptation of old buildings and the rest. Nothing is going ahead as fast as we might like, but I think that hon. Members know of the concern that is being shown to keep a true balance between the needs of the capital city and the rest of the country.
I also, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, pay tribute not only to the leaders in the theatre but to the young. It is moving to see the dedication of young people before they become great ballet dancers or great dramatists. I thought that I knew their lives, but I have learned a great deal in the last few years. They give so much of themselves and they ask so little. We should endeavour to give them the better buildings which they so very much need. Keeping in mind how not to break the heart of the most talented of our young, we must give them more support than we are now doing, making every allowance for the fact that it is more than in the past.
1536 I am not going to follow the slightly dangerous line of the hon. Member for the Southend, West (Mr. Channon).
§ Miss Lee
I agree. There are no recriminations about the fact that we are 20 years on. There are no recriminations about time lost. It is very much better to look forward than to look back, and I am sure that that is the mood of the Committee.
I have made a number of notes, and I want to make sure that I have not failed to reply to any of the substantial and important matters which were raised. I was asked about the future of the Old Vic. This will be decided by the trustees, but they will do it in consultation with the Arts Council. The matter has not been settled. We know who they are, and we know their interests. It is probable that the matter will be decided in about 1973. Till then the Old Vic will continue to be very much loved, and to make a real contribution in some form or another.
I was asked whether £7½ million would be enough. May we allow that question to lie upon the table? We must do all in our power to ensure that it is enough. To the Arts Council we have added Lord Goodman, an adroit businessman, and a man of great sensitivity. There is also Sir Joseph Lockwood. If he can run E.M.I, he may be able to make a contribution here. We have representatives from the G.L.C., and from the Department. A formidable Board is in control, and I am sure that we can safely leave these matters in their hands. They in turn will be encouraged by the fact that we are so eager for their speedy success.
It is not for the likes of me to interfere with the priorities of the Scottish Arts Council as to what it does with its money. I shall be happy to provide what help I can in getting that Council more than it has had in the past, but I shall not discuss Scottish priorities for burgh collections.
One matter bordering on controversy is that of the degree of freedom to be allowed in the theatre. It is so difficult to decide what is good taste. It may be easier to decide what is freedom. I believe that it is better to take the risk of having a permissive theatre than to have 1537 an authoritarian one. Artists cannot work in a politically-controlled atmosphere.
I conclude by thanking all hon. Members for their work in the Committee this morning, and by thanking you, Mr. Robertson for helping me so much. I thank hon. Members for the immense amount of knowledge as well as good will which has been contributed to our discussion today.
§ Question put and agreed to.
|THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:|
|Robertson, Mr. John (Chairman)||Mitchell, Mr. R. C.|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Channon, Mr.||Price, Mr. Christopher|
|Concannon, Mr.||Royle, Mr. A.|
|Davies, Mr. G. Elfed||St. John-Stevas, Mr.|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Short, Mrs. Renée|
|Lee, Miss Jennie||Whitaker, Mr.|
That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the National Theatre Bill ought to be read a Second time.
I should like to thank the Committee for making my job an easy one on this my debut in the Chair. I hope that in future it will be just as easy.
§ Committee rose at nineteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.