HC Deb 10 November 1980 vol 992 cc22-4
18. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will undertake a study of the effects of taxation, local authority rates and other imposts upon the live theatre.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

I do not think that a formal study would give value for money. These matters are kept under review with the professional organisations and Government Departments involved.

Mr. Atkins

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the British theatre is one of the greatest theatrical centres in the world, if not the greatest, and makes an intellectual, cultural and financial contribution to Britain? Does he not agree that it is dying on its feet because of the imposition of VAT on theatre tickets?

Mr. Macfarlane

I agree with my hon. Friend's analysis of the role and importance of the British theatre to our heritage and culture. But, despite a number of observations from various theatrical organisations and the Royal Shakespeare Company, there is no indication that various impositions of taxation over the last 10 or 15 years have had any direct effect or bearing on the situation.

It is important that all those who are engaged in the theatre should look closely at their community to make sure that they are enlisting the support and sponsorship of all those who might help. It is also of crucial importance that those who are engaged in mounting productions should ensure that the productions are totally acceptable and wanted by the community.

Mr. Tilley

Does not the Minister accept that that answer will be regarded as complacent claptrap by those who are currently involved in the theatre, who are painfully aware that the combined effect of VAT and the recession on people's ability to buy theatre tickets is visible and disastrous?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman overstates his case when he talks about economic claptrap. The Arts Council grant has been increased by about £10 million this year, which should be defrayed by the Arts Council into the various agencies that expect grant support. But at the same time the theatres must put on good productions, become more self-financing, and look to the community that they seek to serve. They are not doing that in every case.

Mr. Jessel

Is not the impact of tax on the theatre compounded by the fact that television is able to offer higher fees, not only to actors and actresses, but to playwrights? In view of the national importance of the theatre and of concerts as a magnet to tourists, is there not an economic case for giving them special tax relief?

Mr. Macfarlane

I have no doubt that if my right hon. Friend considers that there are special cases for providing tax reliefs he will communicate those views to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I accept his analysis that in the past 15 or 20 years there has been a change in the entertainment that people require, and undoubtedly television and other forms of art have become strongly competitive. But the theatres must look to their communities and to their productions, and they must reach out to the community.

Mr. Faulds

Will not the hon. Gentleman listen to that rare creature on his Benches—the chap with some cultural feeling—and take his advice? Will he not try to get his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who understands these matters, to approach his Treasury friends—if I may use such a misnomer, and if indeed he has any—to get VAT lifted from the live theatre, which is one of the immediate ways in which he could help this vital cultural activity?

Mr. Macfarlane

I think that I should make sure that every hon. Member understands that there is not just one hon. Member with cultural experience on this side of the House. They are legion behind me, and I hope that the House recognises that. With regard to discussion between Departments and the analy- sis of the reasons for and the definition of problems, those matters are constantly under review, and a dialogue takes place frequently.

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