HC Deb 09 November 1972 vol 845 cc1339-62

Order for Second Reading read.

10.23 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

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

I must tell the House—or what is left of the House—how relieved I am to be making a ministerial maiden speech on such an uncontroversial, bipartisan, ecumenical subject. It is very encouraging to propose a measure to enable money to be spent in a good cause. I am advised by my friends that I must make no more jokes and what The Times described in a moment of phantasy as a bird of paradise must now don subfusc: so be it. In politics it is apparently more acceptable to be a co-respondent than a wit.

I must own to one rather odd irony, because I little thought on 9th August. when I put down the Question which enabled the figures to be enshrined in the Bill, that four months later I should be called upon to move the Second Reading of the Bill itself. Everyone, I think, is agreed that we need a worthy National Theatre, and it is at long last in sight.

It is literally in sight in my case because as I look out of the window in my room at the Department of Education and Science I can actually see Denys Lasdun's striking and beautiful building rising half completed on the South Bank. So I shall be able to tell Members in correspondence that I am "keeping the matter under continuous review" and thus adding a third and visual dimension.

I will pass briefly over the history of the matter. It will suffice to say that in 1904 Sir Israel Gollancz pioneered the National Theatre scheme; there was little progress until 1949, when we had the National Theatre Act and the Exchequer authorised expenditure of £1 million, which was no small sum in those days. Again very little happened, apart from changes of site, until 1969, when the sum authorised to be raised by Statute was again increased, because of inflation.

However, it is not only inflation which has altered the picture since those early days. There have been other major changes, not only because it is fortunately no longer the case in Britain that the arts are confined to the privileged few but because the whole attitude of society to the arts has altered. There is today in our society a real and deep appreciation of how much the arts can contribute to the quality of life.

I believe that to be due partly to the movement of history but also because personalities have played their part. In this connection I would pay tribute first to Lady Lee of Asheridge, who achieved so much during that period when she was responsible for the arts, in constructive partnership with Lord Goodman, then Chairman of the Arts Council. I also pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Eccles, who not only contributed to this sphere his intellect and taste but also extracted the cash from the Exchequer. The Arts Council grant for the year 1972–73 is at a record high level of £13.7 million, an increase of nearly one-third in two years. In the year 1971–72 the sum of £2.2 million was devoted to drama.

The second major change since 1949, when we were in isolation after the war, is that Britain has become a centre of the tourist trade. Art for art's sake is a principle which has always appealed to me. However, one must have other considerations when public money is concerned. The tourist trade, particularly when we are about to become part of the European Community, will be even more important. We in Britain are used to the theatre. We are well endowed, not only in the provinces but more especially in London. Possibly, we do not realise how many people come to this country just to see our theatre. If Stratford is the greatest magnet to the Transatlantic tourist, it is London that attracts the short-term visitor who wishes to see English plays. If one visits New York as a short-term visitor, the chances are that by the time one has managed to get into a theatre one's holiday is over. One of the great advantages of the London theatre is that one can still obtain a seat.

This brings me to the third change which has occurred, and that is the creation of the National Theatre Company itself. Its standing is extremely high, but I believe that it will be much higher when we have a National Theatre as a building to house it. I believe that if we have a flourishing National Theatre in its own building it will do something to contribute to the alleviation of what my noble Friend Lord Eccles has called "the spiritual starvation of a technological society."

I am sure that the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) would agree with me that acting is more important than a theatre. I am not of the school of thought in education that thinks one needs a skyscraper to construct a formula; but I believe that a company of such standing deserves a worthy home, and it will now be enabled to have one.

I turn now to the figures in the Bill which, luckily for me and the House—as I am more literate than numerate—are extremely simple. In the 1969 Act the authorised sum was raised from £1 million to £3¾ million and the arrangement was that the Exchequer and the Greater London Council would each provide half of the ultimate cost; so the total figure involved was £7½ million. In addition the GLC provided the site, which was worth £2 million and is now, the GLC estimates, worth £7 million. The GLC has also generously provided car parking facilities which are very extensive and will cost another £600,000.

Since that 1969 Act, however, inflation has had its way again, and this has been especially true in the building industry. It is estimated now that the cost of the work which was agreed in 1969–70 has risen by £1,700,000 over the £7½ million estimated at the time. The fact is that if that money is not provided the work on the theatre will simply come to a stop, and the money will run out completely during the present parliamentary Session unless the House does something about it. The GLC is unwilling to give more than an extra £350,000, so the remaining £1,350,000 has to be found by the Exchequer. Hence this Bill. I should like to assure the House not only that this sum of money is an adequate sum, but that I think it fair to describe it as generous provision for this capital cost.

Almost as important as the bricks and mortar—perhaps one could more accurately call it the steel and concrete—is the interior of the theatre. The construction of the National Theatre is controlled by the South Bank Theatre Board. A number of distinguished men and women serve on the Board, appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Board has on it representatives of the Arts Council, the National Theatre Company, the Greater London Council and the Department of Education and Science; the Board is presided over by Lord Cottesloe, who himself is a former chairman of the Arts Council.

The Board has de facto control over the construction of the Theatre. Naturally it is interested to see that the equipment, the fittings and the extras should be of the highest standard. It is also keen to have an extra auditorium, so it has asked for an additional £1,200,000 for the equipment, the furnishings and the extras.

We fully understand, that if there are to be sophisticated productions in a theatre of this kind, if standards are to be raised and the whole thing is to be run economically and efficiently, there must be the means to do so. Unfortunately the GLC does not feel able to contribute anything to this part of the work and the Government have to limit their contribution to £600,000. The Government would have liked to give more but unfortunately it was not possible within the allocation between priorities of Government spending. However, I emphasise that it is for the board to decide on what it spends the money. It must indicate—in fact it has indicated—its priorities and on what it wishes to spend the £600,000.

The total expenditure on the theatre authorised by the Bill is up from £3,750,000 to £5,700,000, an increase of just under £2 million. I do not wish to sound like Scrooge, especially as it is not my money, but I emphasise that the figure cannot be increased further. It is a statutory figure and it requires an Act of Parliament to put it into effect. There can he no question of supplementary estimates. Whatever is done within the theatre must be done within that estimate unless the money can be raised from other sources. To raise either the figure for the capital expenditure or the figure for the equipment will require another piece of legislation.

I now turn to the Museum of London. I must explain, although I am sure that many hon. Members know, that the Museum of London is part of the Barbican Scheme. It is intended that all that is best in the London Museum, which is now housed in Kensington Palace and the Guildhall Museum, will be put in one place in the City. Therefore, we shall have a new and better museum and we shall have within the City of London a new artistic centre which eventually will include a theatre.

The capital cost of the project is provided by loans which will be raised by the City Corporation. The repayments and the interest will be divided equally between the City, the GLC and the Exchequer—a tripartite acceptance of the burden. Again, the museum will have to be equipped and furnished. It is highly desirable to put old exhibits into new settings. The Exchequer contribution, which was laid down in 1965, amounted to £150,000. That is raised by the Bill to £300,000. That increase is because of the rise in prices since the figures were calculated in 1964.

It is money that will be very well spent. The public will not go into dank, dusty and dreary museums covered in brown paint but will go to attractively set out museums. I can think of museums where the whole situation was changed not by new exhibits but merely by exhibiting the existing ones in an attractive way. The Etruscan Museum in Rome, which was a jumble of shards and pot lids, became a fascinating collection in its new setting. The National Portrait Gallery was similarly transformed and it is now one of the most popular museums in London, whereas previously it was only visited by a few people.

I suppose that in a sense this is a minor Bill. It is a little by-way whereas the main road of politics is filled with the clash of armies over prices and incomes and inflation. It is true that those are important issues. I think, however, that future generations may well not even discuss some of the issues which to us as contemporaries seem so important. Perhaps they will be more affected by our modest little Bill and modest conclave this evening, and the building that will arise out of it as a permanent embellishment of the London scene, than anything that is likely to emerge from the world of telegrams and anger which dominate our discussions so often and to which we this evening are a mere modest footnote.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

May I be the first to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on his deposition from the back benches which he has graced with such nonchalant elegance for such a long time. He is generally regarded by the House—and I am sorry that so few of my colleagues are interested in this topic to be here to listen to the debate—as a Member distinguished by his lucidity, his wit and his good taste. He is an exemplar of parliamentary courtesy, a distinction which, I fear, I cannot claim to share with him.

As we know, apocryphal stories cluster round the characters in this House. As a fellow collector, I am delighted to have heard the story of the hon. Gentleman having been seen passing through the corridors of this place bearing aloft a small embroidered velvet cushion to add to his collection of objects which belonged to our late lamented Queen Victoria, amongst which objects, I am somewhat unreliably informed, there are some garments of intimate apparel suitably ciphered with the Queen's monogram.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having received his cardinal's hat of ministerial eminence. But we are all relieved—I say this with no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman—that this tatty Government of his will not last long enough to see him achieve the triple crown of Prime Ministerial office.—[Interruption.] As a former parliamentarian said, we will wait and see.

Perhaps I should declare my personal interest in this measure. Many of the players who will grace the boards of the National Theatre are old friends of mine, with whom in a previous incarnation—[Interruption]—I do not like that snigger—I have appeared on the radio, on television or in the true theatre. One day if the people of Smethwick so foolishly take it into their minds, I may have to apply humbly and eagerly to rejoin my old friends and traipse across that stage carrying a spear, murmuring a "rhubarb" or two. I think they have too much sense to be rid of me, and hon. Members will have to put up with me here.

We are the fortunate generation who will see the fulfilment of a dream which has fired the imaginations of earlier generations—a theatre worthy of our great dramatic writers—and they have produced a canon of work which it is possible to compare only with the works of classical Greece—and worthy of the unmatched skill of British actors. But it is only proper—and the hon. Gentleman was less than forthright about this—that I should restate the happy fact that it was a Labour Government, in the bleak days after the war, which took the crucial step of seeding the project with finance until now the roots have taken hold on the South Bank. Happily they have taken hold not too far from the spot where the Cockney groundlings and the aristocrats of Elizabeth's court clustered, in sweat and high expectation, to watch in the light of London's dull afternoons the first performance of Master Shakespeare's latest piece with its all-male cast. That would not have appealed to me. There may be those who like that sort of thing.

Sir Stafford Cripps' £1 million in 1948 could not, in the strained circumstances of the time, be used to construct the building that was desired. All those who took part in the historic Second Reading of the National Theatre Bill of 1949 knew that they were talking in a sense in an enforced vacuum in time. Perhaps the project was not helped by the unfortunate fact that one of the speakers was ill-advised enough to quote from Shakespeare's play about a Scottish king, which everyone in the business realises should never even be named, let alone quoted from.

Time trundled on and still no theatre took shape. Twenty years passed and again it was under a Labour Government that in 1969 the then Jennie Lee got agreement that the Government and the Greater London Council should both put forward £3,750,000, and building at last got under way. But as the present Lady Lee, our first Minister of the Arts, explained to the Second Reading Committee on 12th February, 1969, certain sacrifices had to be made to allow the plan to go ahead. The restaurant would not be included and a small experimental theatre had to be excluded. However, the wardrobe, dressing rooms, green room and offices would be of the highest standard.

In that Committee, however, the hon. Gentleman, now sporting such a gay kerchief, showed remarkable prescience. He said: 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 GLC and half from the Treasury, but costs are bound to rise … I wonder what will happen by 1972 or 1973 Will the money which we are voting now be sufficient?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT., Second Reading Committee, 12th February, 1969; Vol 777, c. 1515.] He was absolutely right, which is why two or three of us are gathered here tonight—to raise the Government's contribution.

I must ask the hon. Gentleman whether he really believes, remembering his sagacious foresight, that this intended increase is really sufficient to do the job properly. I know that a restaurant is now an integral part of the building and that its finish in furnishing and lighting is to be to a higher standard. I know that the experimental studio theatre room is back in the building. I know that the mechanical equipment in the two auditoria is to be better than was at one time expected. But I know, too, that there will not be enough money to provide proper equipment for the small studio theatre, and the hon. Gentleman admits that more money is needed for internal furnishing than is to be made available. In bringing forward the Bill at this time, why spoil the ship for a piddling drop or two of tar? It is ludicrous. In a freer moment, I think that the hon. Gentleman would have supported my argument. Has sufficient allowance been made for the appalling inflationary consequences of the Government's policies?

The other facet of the Bill is the raising of the moneys for the furnishing and equipping of the premises of the new Museum of London. My understanding is that this increase to £300,000 represents not munificence but meanness on the part of the Government. I gather that the board of governors had it from surveyors' estimates that the sum required to do the job of fitting out this museum properly is nearer £360,000 and that with inflation it may well be about £400,000-plus.

Have the Government simply dug their heels in and, in view of the tripartite nature of the responsibility for this new museum, snapped their purse shut in the happy hope, which will not transpire, that the GLC or the City Corporation will cough up the lolly to make good the difference? If so, the Government must disabuse themselves because, on 4th February, 1965, the then Financial Secretary spelt out the Exchequer's responsibility clearly. He said: In addition, the agreement provides that the Exchequer shall bear the initial cost of the furniture and equipment, and there is provision in the Bill for a sum of up to £150,000 to be made available for that purupose. That figure is now raised to £300,000 for this express purpose stated in the Bill. That was also the understanding of the then right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth, now Lord Boyle of Handsworth, who said: The Treasury is to pay more than one-third of the total capital cost, when the furniture is added to the Treasury's share of the cost of the building. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th February, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 1302, 1308.] That is spelt out quite clearly by both of those speakers, sadly no longer with us, on Second Reading.

The trouble may be that the phrase in the Bill furnishing and equipping of the premises is somewhat imprecise. Does it mean the basic provison of fitments or does it include the full presentation requirements of a modern museum in design and display? That is a very important difference.

If the latter definition is right, the sum in the Bill is certainly insufficient. What will happen to the proper completion of the museum? Will the quality of the finish of the floors and ceilings and surfaces suffer from enforced penny-pinching, or will the totality of the museum's display be curtailed? It is intended as a history of London from before its swampy dinosaur days, through the Roman settlement, through the stench of its mediaeval middens, through the contrasted poverty and elegance of its Georgian development, the stink and squalor of Dickensian London and the suffering and heroism of the blitz, up to the present day, because history is something that Londoners are still making.

Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)

And the traffic congestion?

Mr. Faulds

Yes, the traffic is still part of the history. Is that vast canvas to be cut and the story of London's life to be truncated, say, at the end of the eighteenth century? I hope that the Minister will answer the questions about display and policy.

Finally, I am led to believe that the new museum will serve a non-paying public because, and I believe it to be the legal advice available to the City Corporation, an amendment to the 1965 Act would be necessary before charges could be imposed. Will the Minister confirm that fact? May I add how relieved we are on the Opposition side, in common with many hon. Members on the Government side, that the ludicrous charges imposed by the hon. Gentleman's cultural boss, the Minister for the Arts, have had to be postponed yet again? It is two years since the proposal was introduced. This postponement of course is due to the Government's freeze. The greatest service the new boy could do to his Prime Minister would be to convince him that the Paymaster-General's scheme of charges should be dispensed with forthwith—as, of course, should the Paymaster General.

I should like to express the hope that the Under-Secretary and I will be able to work together in this sphere of the arts. I am sure that will he possible if he restrains the lesser and greater lunacies of his Lordship and imposes his own good taste and judgment on the matters pertaining to his office. Good luck, "Boyo".

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)

May I be the first from the Government side of the House to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on his rise to the Front Bench? Many of my hon. Friends and I have known him for some years and we were delighted by the appointment. I called for the resignation of his predecessor only two weeks ago, and the Prime Minister took that advice and made him a Minister of State. I hope that I shall find it easier, as I am sure I shall, to support the new Under-Secretary.

We believe that this will be the finest theatre in the world. It will be a great opportunity for Britain. The present situation of having probably the greatest set of actors acting in the Old Vic is a farce that has existed for too long. It will be a pleasant day when we see the new theatre opened.

The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) stood at the Dispatch Box with great pride and instructed the House on how the Labour Government had single-handed dreamt the scheme up and made sure that it came to maturity.

Mr. Faulds

I said no such thing.

Mr. Archer

The hon. Gentleman led us to believe that. I happened to be on the Greater London Council when the decision was made, and the latest decision was a Greater London Council decision, first, to give the land, and, secondly, to give half the money and to ask the Government to support it with the other half. If the Greater London Council, which was then a Conservative-run council, had not made that decision, it would not have been made in the House.

Mr. Faulds

It was a Labour Government.

Mr. Archer

We set the example, and they followed us.

We have on the South Bank an outstanding building in the Festival Hall and one that I do not like quite as much, the Hayward Gallery. The new building will be the third one, and it should have been the first.

It is never the right time to give more money to something, because it will always be more expensive than it was, but we must do it, and I am delighted to see a member of the finance team on the Treasury Bench. I hope that we on this side will give the money willingly. We are so often accused of being the dinosaurs of the arts, yet whenever there is a debate on the arts there are about 15 of us and two Opposition Members present. The hon. Member for Smethwick is sure to appear on a radio programme tomorrow morning and say that the dinosaurs have only just got this right, and he will no doubt talk again about museum charges or something else that we have got wrong.

Both sides of the House will be delighted to see the National Theatre. I speak for many back benchers when I say that it will give immense pleasure to the country. We lead the world in the acting profession. I look forward to the success the theatre will bring as measured by the number of visitors and all the other financial aspects, and I am pleased that this great project was initiated in the time of a Conservative Greater London Council and a Conservative Government.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

The struggle to contain my admiration for the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is one in which victory has always come fairly easily to me. But on this occasion he may well prove to be a square peg in a square hole, and to that extent I welcome him to his new position. As he said, his is a job in which money must be spent, and it must not only be spent but must be got. It is always very difficult to get money out of the Treasury. As this Chamber is the one mainly concerned with money, it is very appropriate and more hopeful for the arts generally to have the Minister with the duty of obtaining that money from the Treasury here rather than in the other place. Therefore I hope that possibly in the course of time, perhaps not too long a time, the hon. Gentleman will succeed to the senior position, and that the duty of obtaining the money will fall to him. I have sufficient confidence in him to believe that he wilt struggle manfully—

Mr. Faulds

For a brief spell.

Mr. Jenkins

—for such time as the present Government remain in power, which may not be too long. I am sure that while he is there the hon. Gentleman will work hard.

I should like to refresh the memory of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) about the real background of the national theatre. The reason for the curious form of the Bill is to be found in the history of the matter. I should also like to suggest an amendment which I hope the Minister will feel able to accept at a later stage.

The Bill takes its rather odd form because of the sharing of responsibility between this House and the one across the water. That stems from a rather curious incident rather earlier than that which the hon. Member for Louth drew to our attention.

When I became a member of the L.C.C. as it then was, in 1958, I went to see Sir Isaac Hayward, who was then Labour Leader of the L.C.C. and said, "Why don't we do something about the National Theatre?" He said, "Those chaps over there have put aside £1 million some years ago"—that was 1949—"but they won't release it. The £1 million is theoretically there but we cannot get hold of it." I said, "Why don't we tell them that we will bear half the cost?" He said, "That is not a bad idea. I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll put down a motion here and if we carry that unanimously I shall be able to go across the water and say that not only the Labour majority but also the Tories on the other side believe that we should build this National Theatre." This will carry more weight.

We put the motion and carried it. He came across the water—[An HON. MEMBER: "Walked?"] At the time it was reliably reported that he could have done that had he so chosen. We decided to go across the bridge so as not to attract attention.

When he got over here he put the proposal and after some struggle the Government of the time, which was a Conservative Government—it is often the case that there is a Government of a different political complexion on this side of the water from the party in power on the other side of the water—said, "We will release our £1 million, providing that that is the extent of our expenditure. The rest of the cost must fall upon you. Our commitment is £1 million and yours is £1 million plus the rest." This proposition was accepted by the Labour L.C.C. which got the open end of the stick.

The rôles were reversed in 1969 and we had the situation when there was a Conservative Government across the water and a Labour Government over here. When the costs went up the Conserva- tives on the other side said, "No, it will be the other way about this time, boys. So far as we are concerned the Labour Government on that side will carry the open end of the stick and we will close our end."

That is why we have this Bill. The Conservative members of the GLC put a ceiling on their expenditure. Some hon. Members may regard this as a proper Conservative principle but I regard it as excessive when applied to the arts. We see the attitude of the two parties. They put the lid on and we therefore have this Bill because the excess of the cost is now to be carried over here.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

The hon. Gentleman says that in 1958 he came across the water to say that we must release our £1 million and the Labour LCC would pay for the rest. This was reversed in 1969. What did he do in the years between?

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the LCC was not master in its own house because by then it was in partnership with a Conservative Government. This is something which I hope will not continue for long because I hope that next April a Labour administration will be in power over there, and I hope that we shall have a Labour Government here soon. The other mixture is a recipe for stalemate.

To return to the Bill. The Bill takes this form because of this background history and this is why we have the problem. It seems to be a peculiar thing, as the Minister rather suggested, to have the possibility of introducing fresh Acts to cater for a universal inflation. There is no other area of expenditure, so far as I know, in which we need a fresh Act every so often to deal with the normal course of events.

It would be perfectly possible to transfer this expense to the ordinary annual expenditure. We have an item in the Supply Estimates of Arts Council expenditure of some £13 million and included in that is an item of £770,000 for housing the arts. I should like hon. Members to compare that—and this is a Government which is supposed to be concerned for the region—with a sum of £5 million for one theatre in London. I hope the Under-Secretary will pay attention to this because the arts outside London are starved. If we have that grant on the Supply Estimates over the years, it should also be possible to include every year a provision whereby any expenditure of this sort was put under the general supervision of the Chancellor, in the sums he presents to the House every year. This would avoid the necessity of a fresh Act of Parliament if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) suggested, there is further escalation of costs in future.

I doubt whether it is possible at this stage to make this transfer, but we should end the nonsense of having to have fresh Acts when the only change taking place is one of cost. Changes of cost should be contained in the annual budget and that should be perfectly practicable with a change in the worlding of future Bills.

It would be possible, without a general change, to provide in this Bill for the eventuality which my hon. Friend suggested, that this might not be the final Bill on this subject, by changing the wording from: for the words '(not exceeding £3,750,000)' there shall be substituted the words '(not exceeding £5,700,000)' to: such sums as the Secretary of State may determine".

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

What about alternatives?

Mr. Jenkins

There could be alternatives, of course, but the carrying of fresh legislation every time there is an increase in cost is needless. Although the Under-Secretary has indicated that he feels the sum fixed is generous, there are some people on the Board of the National Theatre who do not entirely share that view, and feel that the sum allocated will barely do the job. It is possible that they may find themselves, in the final stages, very "tight" for money. In that case they may have to raise it from the Greater London Council and I hope that the council will then be under political control which makes it easier to get the money. However, it would be better if this House could make a further concession without another Act. I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider, in Committee an amendment to make that possible.

I should like, from these back benches, to say that although I have made some criticism about the past, I do not wish in any way to detract from the importance of this provision of a National Theatre. Although I have been travelling in the provinces a little lately, attending conferences of theatrical people at weekends—

Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)

I am sorry that the hon. Member was not at the conference of the Playgoers' Society in my constituency at a recent weekend. He would have been welcome.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

No, but I was at Birmingham last weekend and a feeling was expressed to me that far too much was being spent in the capital and not enough outside London. This is a fairly widespread feeling. I think it is a feeling for which there is some ground, though not quite as much as people outside London think there is.

In this case the expenditure is entirely justified. The National Theatre will give a standing and a cachet to the British theatre as a whole, and that will be recognised not only in this country outside of London but throughout the world. It will maintain throughout the world the standing of the British theatre, which is not only one of our most important artistic assets but, economically, is far more important to the people of this country than is generally understood.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)

Like my friend the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), I welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on the Government Front Bench. He will, I have no doubt, catch the elegance of the hon. Member for Smethwick in our debates. He will, I have no doubt, surpass his eloquence. I am sure he will bring into our debates on the arts one precious quality which is sometimes lacking, and that is sagacity.

I was particularly pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer)—and here I straightaway confess an interest as a member of the Greater London Council's arts committee—pay tribute to that body for what it did not only in the recent establishment of the National Theatre but also, if I can without embarrassment pay a tribute to a body of which I am a co-opted member, for the money which it now spends on the arts, and which has been enormously stepped up over the last few years. If any capital city has a right to be proud of spending so much on the arts we have every right to be proud of the Greater London Council's spending in this direction.

I take three general points quickly. We are all glad that at long last the National Theatre is to be turned from the realms of aspiration into the realms of bricks and mortar, but this is not an occasion for self-congratulation or pride. We all of us, on both sides of the House, ought to be extremely ashamed of ourselves, because this project has been in being for over 20, very nearly 30, years, and it has only been the lack of courage which successive Governments have shown on this issue that an inspiration which started with George Bernard Shaw, and in which the first stone was laid by King George VI, is only now, in the 1970s coming to fruition.

Mr. Faulds

I think the hon. Member is being historically slightly unfair to some of the earlier figures involved in this project. He is completely forgetting people like William Archer and Harley Granville-Barker, who were the begetters of this soon after the turn of the century.

Mr. Money

I accept that, and add the name of Nugent Monk, but I was speaking in terms of this House. So far as the House is concerned, this is a development which has been considered for well over 20 years and is only now being brought to fruition. That is not something to be proud of. This is a belated act of justice to the British theatre, at a very late date.

I turn from that to two of the issues which are of the greatest importance. Thirty years late we are turning the inspiration of which the hon. Member for Smethwick talked into bricks and mortar. Consider this in terms of achievement and in terms of money saved if this had been done 30 years ago. For comparison one can regard what is at last being achieved in Edinburgh under a Conservative Government and 14 years after it could have been done. A crucial lesson in housing the arts is this: capital expenditure earlier, rather than later at a vastly increased rate, is obviously sensible investment.

I turn to a matter which has equal significance. The National Theatre exists not merely in terms of bricks and mortar. Not only have we the Old Vic which is now coming to fruition after many seasons through the new theatre, following a phoenix-like reawakening on the South Bank in the form of the National Theatre, but we have an organisation of which we can be equally proud, namely the Sadler's Wells Opera Company. I hope that one of the things we shall hear from my hon. Friend in his new job is that the Sadler's Wells Opera Company at the Coliseum Theatre will be appointed the national opera company. This would be a major break-through which could be achieved with very little expense indeed. Again this would be a belated act of justice, involving minimum expenditure, and would turn an ideal into a reality. I should be most happy to see this brought into effect.

I turn to deal with the second part of the Bill. I share the affection of the hon. Member for Smethwick for the London Museum, and indeed many of the hon. Gentleman's museum speeches are my favourite museum pieces. I accept the hon. Gentleman's major point, that the initial outlay on the museum must be carefully found. Penny pinching at any point in the creation of the museum may well have harmful long-term effects. The matter must be balanced from all points of view. Having said this, however, achievement lies not only in terms of bricks and mortar, or lavatories, or whatever it may be, but in the general approach to the arts whether in terms of the museum or the theatre.

I hope that we shall not become too involved purely in the buildings but will realise that what we want now will not be something merely on the lines of the Sydney Opera House, which will bring a great prestige but little so far in the way of event, but something which will extract the best from all these many varying fields. The local authorities, heaven knows, spend little enough on the arts and I hope that we shall continue to press the Government to spend more, but we must always bear in mind the ultimate benefits which come to the arts through the support and inspiration of the public in terms of theatre, opera or museum.

I believe we shall never have a finer opportunity than the present one to turn this city, and indeed the country, into a real artistic bonanza.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

I am happy to join with hon. Members on both sides of the House in welcoming our hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on his first appearance as Minister at the Dispatch Box. I am particularly happy that the occasion should be one in which we are all of one mind.

I have long and happy memories of the London Museum, and I also have proleptic memories of the long drawn-out saga of the National Theatre which has now been running for most of the century, even longer than the saga of the inner relief road in my constituency. I am often in doubt whether the latter will ever be brought to an end, but I hope we can rest assured that the saga of the National Theatre is about to reach its climax.

There are one or two questions that I should like to ask my hon. Friend on both these topics. First, echoing the point made by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), I hope we may have an assurance that there is no question of charges to the public for the Museum of London.

Secondly, my hon. Friend has made it clear that the financing of the National Theatre, so far as the Government are concerned, will come to a full-stop with the figure of £5,700,000. The text of the Bill says that this sum is to be for the cost of erecting and equipping a national theatre". That seems to exclude furnishing, because furnishing is specifically mentioned in relation to the London Museum but not to the theatre. I hone that "equipping" is a term that will be interpreted generously in practice and will not be limited, as the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum implies, purely and simply to the construction of a theatre. It would be helpful to know a little more about what is meant by "equipping", and also about the distinction between what appears in the Clause and in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum.

As we are so close to a happy ending to this story, I wonder whether my hon. Friend can say when he expects the first night to take place in the National Theatre and what will be the performance.

Mr. Cormack

Does my hon. Friend agree that a Royal Command performance of "Hadrian VII" would be appropriate?

Mr. Woodhouse

I have another suggestion to make. I was going to remind my hon. Friend that in 1910 Bernard Shaw wrote "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets" expressly to raise money for a national theatre. Presumably the royalties are still accumulating, and these should be helpful to my hon. Friend in eking out the possibly exiguous provision by the Government and the GLC. I hope that he will give his attention to that.

Mr. Money

Would it not be better if the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) returned to the boards in "The Devil's Disciple"?

Mr. Woodhouse

I was about to suggest that he might play the dark lady herself.

Without wishing to be frivolous, I should like to remind the House that, according to a well-established tradition, the dark lady was a resident in my constituency and that she lived at the Golden Cross in Oxford where she used to be visited by Shakespeare. As a result, it is rumoured in Oxford that she became the mother of the page Davenant, but we need not pursue that tonight.

I offer one last quotation from Bernard Shaw's work which he designed—and I say this seriously—expressly for the purpose of financing a national theatre. In the introduction to "The Dark Lady of the Sonnets" he lamented Alas! its appeal for a National Theatre as a monument to Shakespeare failed to touch the very stupid people who cannot see that a National Theatre is worth having for the sake of the National Soul. I am sure that there are no such stupid people on either side of the House tonight, and I have no doubt that the Bill will be warmly approved.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With permission, I should like to try to answer some of the points, some of them very important, which have been raised in this debate. First, I should like to express my appreciation to all the hon. Members who have been so extremely generous in welcoming my appointment and first appearance at this Box. The House of Commons is always very generous when the sun shines, and I have had a little burst recently. I hope that it will be as generous and kind when the clouds gather, as they inevitably will.

I want to thank the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) for his kind remarks. I have always liked the hon. Member for Smethwick—

Mr. Faulds

Thank you.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

—and that shows that my judgment was correct. Anyone considering this debate might think that, with the hon. Member and myself at the Dispatch Boxes, there was little need for a National Theatre building at all.

I must also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) for his kind remarks on what he called my elevation—perhaps "translation" would have been a better word. If the counselling of resignation to my predecessor resulted in his elevation to the position of Minister of State, I hope that it will not be long before he calls for my resignation and the same fate befalls me.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the point, because it has reminded me of something that I should have done at the outset. That is to pay a tribute to my predecessor, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who, in his capacity of Under-Secretary at the Department of Education and Science, did such a good job for education and the arts. He has been extremely kind and helpful to me, despite his own new responsibilities at the Northern Ireland Office, in helping me over the rather difficult three days since I was appointed to this position.

The hon. Member for Smethwick asked whether I could guarantee that the sums in the Bill would be sufficient. Yes—so far as the capital sums for the con- struction are concerned, at least so far as modern costing methods can ensure. The advice that the Government have received is that this should be sufficient, provided that the work proceeds at a normal pace, as it is going now. The hon. Gentleman can be reassured on that point. The equipment of course depends on a number of factors. The theatre equipment depends more on the South Bank Theatre Board than on the Government.

As for the London Museum, we are both, in a sense, right on the figures. The hon. Member's differed rather from mine. I gave the figure of £300,000 which is the Bill, while he, I think, spoke of a figure of £360,000. The figure of £300,000 is to take into account the increase in costs of the specifications originally agreed. Probably there was some under-assessment of needs at the beginning when the decision was taken, and maybe more money will be needed, in which case, there may have to be an appeal by those in charge of the London Museum.

Mr. Faulds

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understood my point—that during the Second Reading debate in 1965 it was clearly spelled out that the matter of furnishing and equipping was the Exchequer's responsibility. It is a bit hopeful now to speak of a public appeal to do the job which the Government undertook to do then.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

One must distinguish between the cost of equipping the museum and the cost of display. I shall have to investigate the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, and we can correspond about it.

I pass to the important point raised by the hon. Member for Smethwick and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) about museum charges. I do not want to spoil the harmony of this debate by going into the question of museum charges in general because we are not discussing them. However, I should like to answer the point as best I can.

The Museum of London will be, not a national institution, but a hybrid institution—both national and local. Therefore, it is not affected by any mandatory imposition of charges. The agreement of the three contracting parties to which I referred earlier is needed to impose charges, and it is a requirement that the governing body should propose to the three parties that charges should be made. Therefore, that matter will be entirely in the hands of the Museum of London.

Mr. Faulds

It is only fitting that it should be so.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is reassured on that point.

I turn to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). I thank him for greeting my appointment with modified rapture. Let me say in return that I have long admired his work in this sphere, and particularly his work on the Arts Council. He referred to the important point of the seeming disparity between an expenditure of more than £5 million on the theatre in London and the expenditure of £770,000 in the regions. There are two points to be made here. First, the theatre may be sited in London, but it is not just a London theatre; it is a national theatre which exists for the whole country.

Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Brighouse and Spenborough)

It is a very long walk from the North-East.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that if it were possible my hon. Friend would be the first one to make it.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Putney is comparing, not like with like, but like with unlike. The figure of £770,000 is an annual recurring figure, whereas the £5 million figure is a once-and-for-all figure.

I hope that I have put the hon. Gentleman's intervention into perspective. My noble Friend and I share his concern for the regions. Those of us who are based in London must always remember that London is not England any more than Paris is France or New York or Washington is America. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that point is very much in the mind of my noble Friend.

I was asked whether we could make the Bill more flexible by making an Amendment allowing for changes in the cost of construction. This point should be discussed in Committee. One hon. Gentle- man said that he would table an amendment to this effect. I hope that he will, because it will give rise to an interesting discussion. I would however draw his attention to the fate of the Sydney Opera House which had a similar kind of open-ended commitment: at the outset it was estimated that it would cost £3½ million and it ended up by costing £27 million.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) made a very moving speech. He has done a great deal of work in the House and in Committees upstairs for the arts. His suggestion that the Sadlers Wells Opera should become the National Opera was very interesting. Were I responsible for this policy I should have accepted it at once. Unfortunately, I am not responsible for it. I will pass my hon. Friend's suggestion on to my noble Friend, who I am sure will give it full consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford asked when the National Theatre would be opened. I could reply in that phrase beloved of the Civil Service, "as soon as may be", or say that I do not know. I can say that I hope that I am still in office when it takes place, because then I shall at least get a free seat. Although it is not possible to be definite to the hour, or to the day for that matter, I understand that it will be either at the end of 1974 or early in 1975. I hope that that good news will encourage my hon. Friend.

This short debate has been very valuable. No one has sought to make a partisan point. Everybody who has been in the Chamber has been here for the sole reason that he is interested in the arts and wants to do all he can to improve the quality of life. We all wish the National Theatre Well. I hope that it will in due course become as famous as the Comedic Française and that, if the Foreign Office will forgive me and will not be too annoyed with me for saying so, it will surpass even the achievements of that very great theatre.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).