HC Deb 11 February 1985 vol 73 cc14-6
23. Mr. Freud

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts what representations Her Majesty's Government have had regarding future funding for the National Theatre; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

My noble Friend had a case put to him and discussed it with the theatre's chairman; but it is for the Arts Council to decide the level of funding.

Mr. Freud

Will the hon. Gentleman persuade his noble Friend to look at separate funding for the National Theatre building, in the way that the National Gallery and the British Museum are separately funded, and thus allow the National Theatre to continue to produce plays of excellence and to collect seven-figure sums in VAT for the Treasury?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is one point which I am sure Sir Peter Hall put to my noble Friend. If it means that, from one source or another, more money is to be spent on the National Theatre, that will have to be met out of the budget somehow.

Mr. Jessel

Does my hon. Friend agree that the superb and brillant standards of acting and production at the National Theatre do not always require quite such lavish sets and costumes and extras as they sometimes receive? Does he agree also that it is not self-evident why a cut of one fiftieth in real terms in the grant should lead to the closure of the Cottesloe Theatre and the sacking of 100 people? Is Sir Peter Hall sacrificing his staff to make a point?

Mr. Waldegrave

I saw a suggeston in an article by Michael Ratcliffe at the weekend that Sir Peter Hall might be closing the Cottesloe to make the maximum stink. I doubt whether that is so. We must remember that the National Theatre has had an increase in its budget from the Arts Council since 1979 of a little more than the inflation rate. Therefore, it should be able to live within those figures.

Mr. Foot

What is the use of having a great and adventurous National Theatre and a Cabinet of barbarians? Cannot we get rid of the second instead of the first?

Mr. Waldegrave

One of the things that soon gets lost in any discussion of money for the arts is relevance to reality. The right hon. Gentleman has given us another example of that. There has been an 18 per cent. real increase in Government spending on the arts since 1978–79, and that is not a record of which to be ashamed.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As my hon. Friend is a distinguished hon. Member and not only not a barbarian, but a Fellow of All Souls, would he care to essay an answer to Machiavelli's question, "What good is power without glory?" Is not the National Theatre one of our greatest glories? I appointed an independent commission to examine the financing of the Victoria and Albert Museum and my successor appointed an independent commission to examine the financing of the Royal Opera House. Could not my hon. Friend do the same for the National Theatre and give satisfaction all round?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind words. Certainly we need the glory, but, as the Arts Council has said, perhaps the glory needs to be spread around the country. That is one reson why some pressure has been brought to bear on the London companies. I believe that an investigation by the National Theatre is already in train. We hope that when other ways of raising money have been examined, the Cottesloe will still be open.

Mr. Meadowcroft

If the Minister believes that Sir Peter Hall is not closing the Cottesloe to make a point, presumably he accepts that it was inexorable that its closure would follow the level of grant given?

Mr. Waldegrave

No, I do not think that that necessarily follows. There must be a whole range of things to which the National Theatre and other companies can look. For example, it is always taken that the level of pay is given in all those matters. I am not sure whether that should be accepted without question.

Mr. Hannam

Does my hon. Friend accept that the investigation by Lord Rayner has already corroborated the need to close the Cottesloe Theatre so that the National Theatre can survive the cuts that are taking place? Does he agree that the Arts Council's reduction in the amount that should have gone to the National Theatre as a result of its policy of taking the arts out to the regions will kill off the main trunk that is necessary to sustain the arts?

Mr. Waldegrave

With respect to my hon. Friend, I think that we must keep some sense of proportion. The National Theatre will still get a larger grant — it is a considerably larger amount — than that of any other theatre company in the country. I believe that just under £7 million in subsidy to the National Theatre is not unfair when taken with the fact that there has been a real increase in its funding since 1978–79.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

If the Cottesloe closes, the Minister's noble Friend will be the first Minister for the Arts to be responsible for shutting rather than opening a theatre that is the subject of public funds Is that not a disgraceful turn of events? Will the hon. Gentleman report to those responsible how the House feels about the matter, and bring about a change in policy?

Mr. Waldegrave

My noble Friend is no more responsible for closing the Cottesloe Theatre than he is for the superlative performance of "Guys and Dolls" which National Theatre put on this year. Those are matters for the management of the theatre, in conjunction with the Arts Council.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend accept that the quality of Sir Peter Hall's work has always been excellent and stimulating? However, does he agree that the National Theatre is receiving a subidy of nearly £7 million a year, and that Sir Peter Hall should be able to cut his coat according to that cloth?

Mr. Waldegrave

Sir Peter Hall's work has always been adventurous and always on a large scale. The successes have been on a large scale and sometimes the failures have also been on a large scale, as we saw with "Jean Seberg". The whole purpose is to be adventurous. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that with such a scale of financing it is possible to produce good theatre in the centre of London.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the Minister aware that there is a link between the low level of settlement which the Government made on the Arts Council this year, rate capping and the abolition of the Greater London council? When will he become alarmed and worried, and indeed honest, and admit that the Government have betrayed the arts?

Mr. Waldegrave

There is no relationship between those things. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the GLC has not yet been abolished, unfortunately; and it may be of interest for him to know that the Arts Council's funding for the National Theatre has increased a little faster than the GLC's funding for the National Theatre since the Labour party took over the GLC.

Mr. Buchan

The Minister must not rest on this business of the amount of money being given to the National Theatre. It is not one theatre, but three. It has been bequeathed an extremely costly building at over £2 million. Is not the truth simply that, not content with running down our manufacturing and coal industries and, for that matter, the pound, the Government are equally complacent about running down one of our national glories? If we have any respect left in the world under the Government, it is with regard to our National Theatre. Will the hon. Gentleman bring the matter back to the Cabinet? He might remind the Prime Minister that the last major play put on at the National Theatre was about Coriolanus, who was not totally dissimilar, apart from his unfortunate predeliction for compassion now and again. The hon. Gentleman might show the same in relation to the arts.

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall not venture into arguments about Coriolanus with the hon. Gentleman. We must remember that funding for the arts has increased sharply since 1978–79—by 18 per cent. in real terms. There has been a real terms increase this year as well.

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