HC Deb 13 December 1993 vol 234 cc673-5
10. Ms Glenda Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received from regional theatres regarding the proposed cuts in funding.

Mr. Brooke

I have received a large number of representations both from and about regional theatres over the past few months.

Ms Jackson

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that several of those representations must have come from those who benefit from the performances of our regional theatres, which are expressing grave disquiet at the possibility that their theatres will disappear? If we wish to protect our children from video violence and video nasties, surely one of the strongest safeguards is to encourage children to go to live theatre. That cannot be possible if the proposed swingeing cuts are made in what is, in effect, the nursery of not only our creative artists but our audiences of the future.

Mr. Brooke

I agree with the hon. Lady about the role that regional theatre fulfils, the apprenticeship which it provides for actors and actresses, enabling them to advance, and the value that that provides. She will be encouraged by the statistics over the past six years, which show that twice as many theatres have opened as have closed; so the news is not altogether bad.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is not simply a question of apprenticeship? Such theatres provide a platform for many touring companies, such as Touring Glyndebourne and the Welsh National Opera, which bring a high degree of excellence to many of our provincial centres. Does he further accept that we are talking about a very small amount of money? Will he please go back to his Treasury colleagues and try to get a little more?

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Arts Council's decisions about the regional theatres were taken against its budget at that time. It made certain determinations. However, I agree with my hon. Friend and with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) about the importance of that art form.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Did not the Arts Council lose a great deal of public confidence by acting the fool over the regional theatres earlier this year? Are not the Government now acting like a knave by introducing cuts that might produce the same deleterious effect?

Mr. Brooke

The chairman of the Arts Council referred to that issue when he spoke recently about the Arts Council's annual results. As for funding for the Arts Council, I was delighted that I was able to make more money available this year than had been stated. I acknowledge that the amount had been cut in the previous year.

Sir Donald Thompson

I recognise that professional theatre is all-important, but will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Foundation for Sport and the Arts on the grant that it recently made to many theatres, including one in my constituency in Todmorden where, on Saturday night, I was pleased and delighted to see a wonderful performance of the "The Wizard of Oz"?

Mr. Brooke

I am absolutely delighted to join my hon. Friend, not only in his congratulations but in his enthusiasm.