HC Deb 05 July 1982 vol 27 cc18-20
29. Mr. Peter Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the present level of funding for the theatre in London.

Mr. Channon

Relevant expenditure by the Arts Council was just under £9 million in 1981–82.

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that there is great satisfaction about the fact that the Old Vic looks as though it will receive a new lease of life without recourse to Exchequer funds? However, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the other bidders for the theatre's management had a proper chance to succeed in their bids?

Mr. Channon

In this case, it was a matter for the Charity Commissioners to decide. It is their job to guide the trustees as to which offer should be accepted. That is for them to decide and it is not for the Government to intervene. I share my hon. Friend's view that it is important that the Old Vic should reopen. I am very glad that that is to happen.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Has the Minister seen the memorandum issued by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury on 29 June in reply to the third report of the Education, Science and Arts Committee, concerning VAT and the theatre, in which he completely fails to understand the impact that doubling VAT has had on the theatre? If the Economic Secretary is not aware of the problems, will the Minister bring himself to explain to the hon. Gentleman what VAT has meant to the theatre?

Mr. Channon

I had a chance to see the letter that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary wrote to the Committee, and I understand the disappointment felt in some parts of the House. The Government clearly explained why, collectively, they did not consider that the case for exempting the arts from VAT had been made. The problems of the commercial theatre go much wider than VAT and involve such matters as travel disruption, parking and the cost of eating out. There are many issues that are even more important than VAT.

Mr. Greenway

Having regard to the answer to the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, in which exemption of VAT on theatre tickets was refused, and in which it was stated that it was better to fund theatres directly, will my right hon. Friend say what would be the difference between the present direct funding level and the cost to the Treasury of relief of VAT on theatre tickets?

Mr. Channon

I could not give an accurate answer without notice, but relief from VAT would apply indiscriminately across the board, whereas grants from public funds can be channelled to activities that are thought to be most deserving of support. I quite understand the feelings of disappointment in many parts of the House.

Mr. Whitehead

Was the rejection of the Select Committee's report made before or after consideration of the present parlous state of the theatre, particularly in London? If it was the former, does the Minister accept that many of us believe that that was an ill-informed decision, and that if it was the latter, it was a stupid and philistine one?

Mr. Channon

Whichever answer I give I shall fail to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. The Government have been considering the Select Committee's report for some time and all relevant factors were taken into account.