HC Deb 15 November 1974 vol 881 cc763-80

11.27 a.m.

The Deputy Chairman

An amendment has been tabled by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor), but before I call him to move it I should tell the Committee that if there is any difficulty it arises from the fact that the Notice Paper has not been printed in the normal white form this morning. However, photocopies of the amendment are available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Robert Taylor (Croydon, North-West)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, leave out from 'theatre)' to end of line 13 and add: 'for the words" (not exceeding £5,700,000)" there shall be substituted the words "(not exceeding £7,000,000)" '. Before tabling the amendment I read with great care the Second Reading debate and I realised that the amendment was in some sense against the consensus in the House, because the Bill was given a warm welcome when it was presented and hon. Members expressed the need for urgency in bringing the project to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. However, I do not believe that by signing a blank cheque, as we are being asked to do today, we are in any way assisting that urgency or helping to achieve that end.

As we are expected to sign this blank cheque at the end of a week during which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has appealed to local authorities to show great regard for all forms of expenditure, I think we are setting the worst possible example which can only create cynicism amongst some local authorities.

I hope that hon. Members, and particularly those on the Front Benches, will believe that I am not being unduly critical if I say that the speeches from the Front Benches on Second Reading appeared to be highly self-congratulatory. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) even went some way towards acknowledging that to be the case when he referred to his own modest contribution.

11.30 a.m.

The time for congratulations will arrive when this important project is completed and not before. We now all accept that the date is not likely—it is impossible —to be that which was planned—St. George's Day 1975. Nevertheless, the Minister gave us no new date on Second Reading. He even went so far as to absolve himself from all responsibility: It is now for the National Theatre Board to decide the new opening date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1323.] In other words, the House is being asked to enter an open-ended financial commitment for an unlimited period. This is something that we should not do. Certainly if the Bill is approved unamended, there will be a great sigh of relief in the offices of the architects and quantity surveyors and in the board room of the general contractor.

I understand that the present policy for the Property Services Agency and for Government Departments involved with the contracting industry is for contracts of 12 months or less to be on a fixed-price basis. We should certainly be within 12 months of the completion of this important project, so why can this House be given no indication of the total commitment that we are asked to approve? Why, at this late stage of the contract, should we have to change the procedure and, instead of a Bill limiting the Government's liability, be asked to approve one which gives carte blanche to the Government to go ahead and spend as much money as is required?

It is not unreasonable to ask for some indication of the amount involved. On Second Reading, the only figure that the Minister gave was an amount "in excess of £1 million". That is a curious statement. It is not a minimum figure that we should concern ourselves with but an approximate maximum figure. We should be told this morning some indication of the maximum commitment for which the Minister is asking. The amendment suggests £1.3 million. If we accept that the project is likely to be completed within 12 months, that gives the Minister a 33⅓ per cent. leeway over his suggested minimum. That should be a reasonable margin.

If the Bill is passed unamended, the House will lose the last vestige of control over this project and that is not something that we should agree to lightly. It is true that, on Second Reading, the Minister said: We have specified that additional resources can be used only for completing already approved work. There can therefore be no question of new requirements being added to the various contracts simply because the statutory ceiling on expenditure is being removed." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1324.] Who are the "we" who made that specification? To whom was it made and what bankable assurance is that to the House? If it were made in a letter from a Minister, another letter could quite easily rescind that specification. That remark of the Minister's is therefore virtually valueless.

I believe that that statement by the Minister displays total ignorance of the ingenuity of contractors, architects and quantity surveyors. For the last 20 years, I have been intimately associated with the contracting industry. I know that there are many ways of spending money on new parts of a contract which do not easily show up in the bills submitted and that amounts are lost because they are entered under other headings. If we relinquish control, we shall provide a classic example of a Government, with the connivance of the Opposition, showing a complete disregard for the taxpayers' money.

The 1973 Act—after all, that is not long ago—placed a limit of £10.55 million on the Government's commitment. That was then, presumably, thought to be sufficient, otherwise it would not have been the figure in the Bill. Under my amendment, coupled with the extra £1 million that the GLC is putting forward, the limit will be raised to £12.85 million, an increase of 21.8 per cent. in a short period. But in spite of this increase, the Minister showed on Second Reading continuing self-congratulation and complete absence of concern, which I believe can easily be read from column 1323.

However worthy support for the arts may become, we should not enter open-ended commitments. It is a very bad precedent that we will set. Here I must disagree, I regret, with my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who ended his speech on Second Reading with the words: … I hope that the Government will ensure that what we are doing tonight will be followed up in the future by every sum that is necessary to sustain this exciting and invigorating new project."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1362.] That is a pretty sweeping statement. It conflicts with what in other respects was a splendid speech by my hon. Friend in the Budget debate this week, when he urged the Chancellor not to supply colour television sets to schools. Yet that was in the same week as he said that there should be unlimited resources for this project. We should be consistent, and consistency leads us to put a limit on our commitment to this project.

The Bill is in the name of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is a resident of Croydon. I am very pleased to see him in his place this morning. About a year ago, when I was seeking to persuade the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), to approve the rebuilding of a school in my constituency, the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me offering full support, which I greatly welcomed. This week, his Minister of State has written to me to say that that project cannot go ahead in the current year. I believe that if we give an open-ended commitment to the Department to go ahead and spend as much money as the Secretary of State likes on the National Theatre, the chances of that school which he offered to assist me in getting rebuilt will not fructify for many years to come.

I recognise that in trying to place a limit on the total of money to be spent on this contract I am likely to be regarded as a Philistine and someone who is speaking out against the arts. That is not my intention at all. I have a great admiration for the form which the building is taking. Provided that the concrete does not discolour, I think it will be a wonderful building which will enhance the architecture of this period. I have visited the Sydney Opera House. I have been all over that spendid concept. I have visited the Nico Malan Opera House in Cape Town, which has only recently been opened. I believe that the National Theatre will take its place among similarly great buildings. But that does not mean that we should let our enthusiasm carry us away and that we should do away with any financial restraint.

My final and very brief point is that on Second Reading the Front Benches seemed to imply that the time had gone when there should be a financial limit placed on contracts of this nature. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said: The Opposition fully support it in principle. Bills with fixed sums upon their faces are always rigid instruments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1326] I do not think it a bad thing to be rigid, because if we pass the Bill unamended today we are establishing a precedent. Those of us who are interested in art and culture know perfectly well that another proposal which is in the pipeline from the same Department is the new National Library, which was mentioned in the Evening Standard last night, and that is likely to be a contract considerably larger than that for the National Theatre. The figures talked about in the construction industry are enormous.

Are the Front Benches suggesting that contracts such as this should be placed without any statutory limit? That is what was implied in that remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. Are we to wash our hands of any financial responsibility for buildings in our enthusiasm to improve the country's culture? If we do, we shall not help culture because culture cannot be bought by pouring money into it.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

I must declare immediately that I would oppose very strongly any attempt to put tight controls of this kind on a particular budgetary figure. However, I am deeply disturbed that even after the Second Reading debate we do not appear to have answers to some of the questions which have been put this morning by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor).

It does not altogether surprise me to hear that the hon. Gentleman knows of many ways in which contracts can absorb sums of money by supplementary headings which are never fully explained to those who are having to foot the bill. That has been my experience in the past.

Although we shall reject the rigidity of the wording of the amendment, I hope that we shall nevertheless hear some answers from the Under-Secretary. When will the building be ready for occupation? On what date? How much money will be made available for the Arts Council grant for the running of the building? I hope that only when we get the answers shall we be able to go ahead with the Bill in its unamended form.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

The speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor) was extremely useful. I for one am very grateful for him having put down the amendment and raised some important questions. It is a good working rule that when the two Front Benches are in agreement, back benchers should at least be suspicious of what is going on.

My hon. Friend is far too modest in thinking that he will be categorised as a Philistine because he is questioning expenditure, because that, after all, is the principal rôle of the House of Commons—not, I am afraid, very adequately discharged, but nevertheless it is the r—le of the House to control expenditure. It is quite right for him to question, to probe and to seek to get the straight answers for which we look to the Under-Secretary and on the paucity of which his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) expressed some dissatisfaction.

However, on the point raised by my hon. Friend on the control of expenditure, it is fair to say that the House of Commons has a whole variety of means of controlling expenditure, only one of which is putting a fixed sum on the face of a Bill. There are the means of debate. There is the control of Treasury Ministers themselves. This device of putting a limit on the face of a Bill is only one method, so it does not mean that if one is against that particular method as being too rigid one is against any form of control of public expenditure. I believe, however, that in this case the Under-Secretary is right in bringing forward the Bill to remove the cost limits. That he has to do, so it is not his fault. It is due to the inflationary situation.

If there was self-congratulation in the previous debate I think it was of a modified kind, because we were concerned that the building should be completed in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost. The project has been compared with the Sydney Opera House. It is most important to stress again that the National Theatre will cost only a fraction of what the Sydney Opera House has cost. The cost of the Sydney Opera House was over £50 million. We await enlightenment from the Under-Secretary, but it is highly unlikely that the cost of this theatre will be much over £12 million.

I should like also to comment in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who incurred some mild censure from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West because he supported the National Theatre but thought that it was not necessary to supply colour television in schools. That is not an unreasonable combination of views. Economy, after all, like indignation, always tends to be selective. One tends to be more enthusiastic for economies on projects of which one does not approve than one is of those of which one does approve. May I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West of the words of the great poet and author, Emerson: Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West had been present today he would have quoted Emerson in his defence. In his absence I do it for him.

We want the Under-Secretary to be a little more specific about this expenditure and, as the hon. Member for Crewe has said, about the opening date, because these two situations are related. One of the reasons why we should like the Under-Secretary to commit himself to a date is precisely that, by committing himself to a date, that might have some effect, however marginal, on the contractors in getting them to finish the building by the date for which the commitment has been made.

We look forward in Committee to something rather more specific than we had on Second Reading. We would like further details of the expenditure, which I understand is likely to be in the region of another £2 million—£1 million from the Government and £1 million from the GLC. The Minister will have all these facts and figures at his disposal and no doubt will be letting us know about them.

That deals with the capital expenditure involved with the theatre. At the moment I am much more concerned about the running costs. I found the reply given to my question on Second Reading—as to whether the Government could give some guarantee that the necessary cash would be forthcoming for running the theatre—extremely unsatisfactory. I hope that by this time the Minister has considered the suggestion I made that a grant-in-aid should be made to the Arts Council for the big four, the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the English National Opera, so that the fears of those in the theatre world that the National Theatre and these other organisations will be starved of funds might be allayed.

If a specific grant of this character were to be made it would go some way to meet the fears and objectives of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West over the control of this public money. I again ask the Minister to give a guarantee that the money needed for running the theatre at full capacity will be forthcoming. That is what we want to hear from him. In this connection we should like to hear something from him about the Royal Opera House which features in the newspapers today. It is facing a desperate crisis.

It is no good producing money for the National Theatre if the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is to collapse. The director has told us that it faces disaster. I quote from The Times today, in which he says: Our survival as the kind of international opera and ballet house that we have become over the last decade or two depends now on getting this level of public support back to where it stood two years ago. I hope that we will hear something from the Minister about his intentions with regard to the Royal Opera House and that he will do something to meet the deficit for this year of £209,000 and the estimated deficit for next year of £500,000.

My other point deals with the question of value added tax in the National Theatre. It would help the finances of the National Theatre greatly if it were to be exempted from the operations of VAT. I ask the Minister seriously to consider this proposal. Of course I should like to see it extended to the theatre as a whole. Indeed I should like to see it extended to the arts as a whole, to all the work of the living art. Let the hon. Gentleman start in a small way and make a statement on the position of the National Theatre in relation to this penal tax.

I hope that the Minister will be in a position to deny a report in yesterday's Guardian by its distinguished arts correspondent Mr. Nicholas De Jongh, who I understand has communication which is both constant and close with the Minister. The report was to the effect that the Minister has lost his battle with the Treasury over VAT and that the tax is to continue to be imposed in a crippling manner on the whole of the theatre and the whole of the arts. I hope he can tell us that that is not so and that the struggle, if there be one, is still going on and that he hopes to win it.

I believe that the National Theatre will make a major contribution to the arts in Britain. It is right that we should watch expenditure carefully to ensure that we get value for money. In that sentiment I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West. It is even more important that we should be generous here and not ruin the National Theatre by cheese-paring economies. People are psychologically divided into two classes, the savers and the spenders. I, unashamedly, am a spender, and I hope that the Minister is too. What the National Theatre needs is a guarantee from him that the Government will provide it with an adequate income to discharge its great cultural tasks in future.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)

The purpose behind the amendment is an admissible one. The object of the exercise is to make sure that public money is not frittered away and wasted. None of us can therefore complain about the objective which the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor) seeks to pursue. Unfortunately it is not the case that his amendment would fulfil the objective he seeks, and I hope to be able to persuade him of that. If I succeed, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

The proposition which the hon. Gentleman has to persuade the Committee is valid is that it is effective to seek to limit the expenditure on buildings by legislation. Not only that, but he must persuade us that it is right to do that by main legislation, not by statutory instruments, not by any question of deciding at any stage whether subsidiary legislation is necessary, but by inserting in the main legislation a limit on the building.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that if we do that the consequence will be that control over expenditure will be more effective than would otherwise be the case. All experience is contrary to that. Knowing that buildings of necessity take a period of time to construct, and knowing that original costs tend not to be adhered to very closely, the tendency is to put in a figure which is known at the time to be lower than the figure which the building is likely to reach. The reason is that if a maximum figure were inserted it would encourage everyone to spend up to that figure. It is thus undesirable when introducing main legislation to insert something into a Bill which would have to be amended the moment the Bill became law.

The whole operation here was not sound from the beginning. There were those of us who objected during the Second Reading of previous Bills. It is known that the cost of the building is to be shared between the GLC and ourselves. The first figure which was inserted was £1 million. That was perhaps even at the time known to be a token figure. If it was a token figure it was a very great mistake to put it in the Bill. It was understandable why it was done. It was done because the suggestion that the building should be begun emanated from the GLC. Sir Isaac Hayward talked to the Government and said "We should like the building to go ahead. Will you provide the money?" and the Government replied "Yes, provided it is not more than £1 million." That is the reason why the figure went into the legislation.

12 noon

From then on, instead of saying "Now that the building is under way and we have made our contribution, we will take it out of the main legislation and introduce a statutory instrument to cover further legislation", we have been forced to resort to further legislation on several occasions. During the course of the construction of the building—and it is roughly 10 years since the decision was taken to begin it—every time, as in the natural course of events, it has been found that the figure was inadequate, a further figure has been put in—first a figure of £3 million and then a figure of £5,700,000 which we seek to remove.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House when in government have committed this mistake. It would be possible to say "We did it wrongly previously and we will continue to do it wrongly", but it would be foolish to do so. We have substituted for this clumsy and inadequate method of control a much more effective method. The Treasury is now responsible not merely for spending the total sum which we now authorise by the Bill but for day-to-day control of expenditure, and no part of the sum authorised under the Bill can be spent without the specific control of the Treasury.

We have also given the undertaking in the House that this is money related to expenditure which is already projected and is in no way intended to be associated with any additional or fresh expenditure. That is the reason why we have adopted this course.

The hon. Gentleman referred to what I said on Second Reading, although he did not quote it. I wish he had. Perhaps he will permit me to do so. What I said on 7th November was that the costs"— of the building— are not out of line with the general rise in building costs for large projects since work on the National Theatre started in earnest in 1969."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 1322–3.] That is the case. It is not the case in relation to the Sydney Opera House. It is not a case in which the expenditure is unreasonably related to the building. This is a building which has, in the nature of things, participated in and has been unable to resist the consequences of inflation, but the expenditure has not been excessive at all.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) that if one is considering the question of being cautious with Government money—and I am fanatically cautious——

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Far too fanatically cautious.

Mr. Jenkins

—the money should be spent well and correctly. Nothing at all is achieved by being rash and by having no control. If one is careless in the expenditure of public money, all one succeeds in doing is in depreciating and not advancing the objective sought.

As to the aim of the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West I make no complaint, but the method by which he seeks to do it is not right. He asks why the Government cannot be more specific. We have been excessively specific before. We have had to come back to the House and say "We have been too specific." I do not want to have to come back to the House for a fourth time and with a fourth National Theatre Bill and say "The building is up. Everything is finished, and I have got to have another amount", whatever the figure may be. I am sure the Committee will agree that this ought to be the final Bill relating to the National Theatre.

If we are not careful, if we were to adopt the suggested method of introducing this fresh figure, we cannot be sure that we would succeed in meeting the limit which the hon. Gentleman seeks to place upon us. I believe he knows more about contracting than I do, but at least I am aware that some of the figures which are finally settled are settled well after the event. Some of the expenditure which we are permitting in the Bill will be met not this year but during the course of next year. The final figure will not be determined, possibly within tens of thousands of pounds, until the final bills are paid. In the nature of things, the final bills will not be paid until after the building is completed.

That fundamentally is why I hope that the hon. Gentleman, having listened to the assurances I have given him and the further assurances which I hope to give him in a moment, will not find it necessary to press the amendment. I think, as he says, that the ingenuity of contractors is indeed infinite. Therefore, in order to cope more adequately with that ingenuity than has been the case in the past—although, as I have said, costs have not been out of line with similar buildings —the GLC and the South Bank Board are setting up a small commitee which will have the duty of following and invigilating this expenditure in every respect.

Mr. Robert Taylor

That is the whole point. The GLC, by the Bill, is at last limited to its contribution. The Bill says that the GLC is committed to LI million and nothing more. It is the Government who are open-ended now with the commitment. The Minister has said that the people who are to watch the expenditure are the GLC and the Arts Council, yet a few minutes ago he said that the day-to-day control of the building would remain in his Department's hands. That is a contradiction. I shall be happy if it remains in his hands because he is the man who is providing the money, but if it is in the hands of the GLC and we are providing the money from the House of Commons the thing will go completely wrong because there will be no restraints whatever.

Mr. Jenkins

I think I can help the hon. Member. The actual proposals for spending money will be studied by the board. The commitee will then submit its recommendations for expenditure to the Treasury, and the Treasury will authorise the actual expenditure of money. That is the difference between the duties. I do not think it is within the bounds of human ingenuity to sew up everything so that there can be no slippage at all, but, so far as it is possible to do so, it seems to me that in respect of this building we have gone much further than any Government have attempted to go in respect of any other building whatsoever.

I wonder why we are so careful about our expenditure in the arts. It may be that I am prejudiced about this, but it seems to me that much higher expenditure for other purposes slips through. We are extremely cautious, and rightly so—I make no comment about that—in our expenditure on the arts. I see that the hon. Member for Chelmsford shakes his head. I am not talking about the amount of expenditure. I am talking about the care devoted to the money which is actually spent. In my belief—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman takes the same view—the more money it is possible for this country to spend upon the arts, within reason and provided that the money is properly spent, the happier I shall be. But I shall be able to achieve that only if I am able to satisfy everyone, including those who do not want money spent on the arts as well as those who do.

We must ensure that the money which is to be spent is properly and reasonably spent under adequate control. That is the matter on which I am endeavouring to satisfy the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West, and in so doing I am in no way suggesting that expenditure on the arts as such is wrong. The cost of this building is about the price of a Boeing aircraft. That is the broad sort of figure, and I cannot help but feel that we are perhaps making a bit of heavy weather about it.

I hope that, on consideration, the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who also raised the matter, will not press me too hard on the question of timing. We have already done a number of things in relation to the building which I do not want to have to repeat. As I said, we have from time to time set a figure and then had to come back to the House and say that it would cost a bit more. I do not want to do that. We have made another error on timing. I say "we", but the responsibility for the particular error rests upon the National Theatre Board, which decided that it would be possible to work for a certain date. Nevertheless, those of us concerned in this matter must recognise that the date was given, and it was given as an indication to the House that we hoped, though I did not say that it was certain, that the theatre could be opened by Her Majesty in April next year. We shall not be able to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe now asks me to give another date. I would rather not do that. I do not want to be specific. The next time we settle the date, we want to be sure that that date will be met. We can-not have a second mistake.

Mrs. Dunwoody

That is all very well, but does not my hon. Friend have some idea of the date which he can put on the opening? I explained, in simple terms I hope, the difficulties faced by professional theatre managements. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands.

No one can plan for budgetary control, for the contracting of actors or for the plays to be put on if he has no idea of the opening date. Will my hon. Friend kindly tell us how long he thinks it will be?

Mr. Jenkins

I already have a pretty close idea of what the opening date will be, but my difficulty is that the announcement of when it is to be must be made by the body contractually responsible for achieving it. It would be entirely improper for me, before that body has finally made up its mind, to announce in advance what I think it will be. Although I know what that body's thinking is, the present position is that it has not made up its mind, but when it has and it knows for certain that this time it will be possible to meet the decided date, I be the first to announce it.

I do not want anyone to imagine, because I am not in a position to announce a date today, that I do not have a pretty good idea of when it will be. It is just that it would be entirely wrong for me as Minister to seek to anticipate or control the decision of a body established by Parliament, through my Department, for the purpose of undertaking this responsibility. The whole tradition in the arts in this country is that we here accept our general responsibility and we then put the particular responsibility upon committees or other bodies which we establish for the purpose. It would be wrong for me to seek to remove that responsibility.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not imagine that anyone will expect the Minister to make a commitment to a specific date in the sense of St. George's Day 1976 or whenever else it might be, but I feel that he could go a little further than he has and give a general indication of the time scale which we are considering. Obviously he is in a position to do that, without committing himself or the body responsible, because he is in constant communication with the board. He is hugging the secret to himself. If he is afraid of the secret getting out, perhaps I may remind him that the best way to keep a secret is to tell it in this Chamber.

Mr. Jenkins

It is not so much a secret it is just that the final decision has not been made. When that final decision has been made, I shall be the first to disclose it, since it is plainly a matter on which everyone wishes to be informed. My problem is that, because the final decision has not been made, I am not in a position to disclose it this morning, and I cannot help the Committee further now.

12.15 p.m.

As I have said, we fully understand the reasons which prompted the hon. Gentleman to move his amendment. However, as future contributions by the Government, even within the figures laid down here, will be subject to the consent of the Treasury, I hope the Committee will feel that, as inflation has made a fixed sum—to quote the hon. Member for Chelmsford—a quite impossible device, it is not persuaded by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West that it is a device which we should adopt but will recognise, on the other hand, that within the bounds of human ingenuity we have this time got it right. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendment.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I must ask the Minister to answer the questions which I put to him but which he has entirely ignored. They are, first, the question of the guarantee of the cash for running the theatre, secondly the important question of exempting tickets and the other activities in the National Theatre from VAT, thirdly the question of grant-in-aid, and fourthly the situation of the opera.

The Deputy Chairman

Order. The question of VAT is out of order in the context of the amendment.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Of course, Mr. Murton, I bow to any ruling you give on that point, but my question regarding VAT related to the National Theatre and I raised it at this stage rather than on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" in order to expedite our proceedings.

Mr. Jenkins

It would be improper for me to talk in general terms about value added tax in this debate. The hon. Member for Chelmsford has made a certain amount of mileage on this question, but he knows as well as I do that his party has not the slightest intention of doing anything about VAT in relation to the arts and entertainment world unless and until the EEC decides to issue a directive.

The problem in this matter is whether it is possible to anticipate that. Plainly the Conservatives have not the slightest intention at any time of anticipating the EEC in the matter. I can at least make this statement on behalf of the Government, however: in respect of value added tax upon the arts and entertainment, the Government will be the first to ratify any decision by the EEC. There can be no doubt about that. My own view is no secret. It has always been my hope that we might be able to do something to anticipate any such decision.

I return now to the question of the National Theatre, having been led somewhat astray by the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It was very fruitful. We have never had that before.

Mr. Jenkins

I usually find it difficult to satisfy the hon. Gentleman, and if I have now succeeded that is something which we have done this morning.

Perhaps I may now add, with specific reference to the National Theatre, that we could not make a particular variation in value added tax in respect of one theatre, national or otherwise. There can be no question of that. I am sure the Committee will agree that one could not contemplate it.

I come now to the running of the theatre. It is the full intention of the Arts Council that the theatre shall operate fully. It follows that, so that it may be able to operate fully, the theatre will have to be funded to a sufficient extent for that purpose. More than that I cannot say at the moment.

I shall not deal with the Covent Garden issue this morning. I should be entirely out of order if I did. I hope the Committee will agree that as far as is possible I have covered the points that have been raised. I hope that the Committee will decide to proceed to the remaining stages of the Bill and that the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West will agree not to press the amendment to a Division.

Mr. Robert Taylor

With the leave of the Committee I shall explain in one sentence why I believe it is right to withdraw my amendment. I believe that the Greater London Council, at a time of inflation, has the better of the Government. Come what may, its responsibility is limited to £1 million. As I represent a London constituency I think that that arrangement is for the benefit of my ratepayers. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, without amendment.

The Deputy Chairman

The Question is, That the Bill be now read——

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth. Central)


The Deputy Chairman

No. The Question must be put forthwith in accordance with Standing Order No. 56.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forth-with pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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