HC Deb 26 June 1995 vol 262 cc549-50
2. Mr. Battle

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to meet the chair of the Yorkshire and Humberside arts board to discuss the implications of the Arts Council's consultative paper on regional theatre. [28743]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

I plan to meet the chairmen of the regional arts boards on 28 June.

Mr. Battle

Can I tell the Minister that Leeds really is the artistic capital of the north now? We have Opera North and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which has achieved national standards and pioneered plays that are put on nationally; its education and community policies are an example for the rest of the country. As I am sure the Minister is aware, however, the funding arrangements mean that, although the West Yorkshire Playhouse is a centre of regional excellence, it does not even get the support that national theatres are getting and as a result might well not be able to continue as such in the future. When will the funding arrangements acknowledge the work that it has done and ensure that it gets due rewards?

Mr. Dorrell

I gladly join the hon. Gentleman in paying credit to the work of the various companies in Leeds that he listed, in particular the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It is indeed a regional centre of excellence that is recognised as producing works of a national standard, which often move on from Leeds to other theatres elsewhere in the country. The only element of the success story that the hon. Gentleman neglected to mention is the fact that the West Yorkshire Playhouse is in receipt of just over £840,000 in support from Arts Council funds—a figure that has been increased by £50,000 in the present year.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member for Warley, East will be in order if he wants to go to his usual seat now.

Mr. Faulds

Thank you. I am obliged for your consideration, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Secretary of State accept the view of the Green Paper that, with the exception of various successful companies such as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, regional theatre is on the whole on the brink of an irreversible spiral of decline", and that good theatres, such as Cheltenham, Salisbury and Farnham, are closing for months on end because they cannot afford to stay open"? Has he read the Green Paper and does he intend to respond to what is, on any analysis, a damning criticism of the Government's 16 years of care—or lack of care—for our theatres?

Mr. Dorrell

Yes, I have read the Green Paper. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that it suggests that there is a uniform picture of decay within regional theatre. It points out that there are some real success stories in regional theatre, of which the West Yorkshire Playhouse is one and the recently revived Birmingham Repertory theatre is another. Of course, some theatres will always do better than others. It would be wrong for the Government to react to the Green Paper at this stage as it was put out by the Arts Council for discussion within the theatre world. Each regional arts board is conducting a discussion within its region and two national discussion meetings have been arranged during the process, which closes on 30 July. Once that process is over, it will be for the Arts Council to draw conclusions from the discussion process that it initiated, and I look forward to reading those conclusions.