HC Deb 28 June 1999 vol 334 cc1-3
1. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

If he will make a statement on the future of funding for smaller theatres. [87197]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

It is for the Arts Council and regional arts boards to take decisions on funding for individual organisations, and to formulate policy for individual art forms, including those relating to smaller theatres. I have made it clear to the Arts Council that there is considerable concern about the condition of regional theatre across the country, which needs to be recognised and addressed.

Mrs. Lait

Will the right hon. Gentleman make the same clear to local authorities that contribute to funding small theatres such as the Studio in Beckenham, which is supported by the people who live in deprived wards in my constituency, and which is threatened by the Lib-Lab pact that runs Bromley? Does he agree that in addition to regional theatres, smaller theatres need community support if they are to continue to exist. Is he concerned that cuts in capital funding will threaten the existence of those theatres?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Lady is right to point to the support that local authorities give to small theatres. Indeed, 14 per cent. of all funding for theatres comes from local government. As regards the Studio, the co-leader of Bromley council, Councillor Chris Maines—a Liberal Democrat, I believe—has said: The Studio is too small to be viable and not a lot of people get to see what is put on there…We cannot justify the subsidy Studio gets from the Council. The hon. Lady ought perhaps to address her remarks to Liberal Democrat Members.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement on the future of regional theatre. Will he congratulate the Octagon theatre, Bolton, and, in particular, SCOT—the campaign to support the theatre—which hopes to guarantee continued production from October by raising a large sum of money? Will he agree to the request contained in a petition from the Friends of the Octagon, requesting him to meet representatives of the theatre to discuss their concerns?

Mr. Smith

I recall discussing the Octagon theatre with my hon. Friend and others, and I warmly congratulate those who have raised substantial funds for the theatre. I would be happy to meet representatives of the Octagon and of other theatres in the north-west of England. I have asked the Arts Council, as part of the funding agreement for the coming year, to review the subsidised provision of producing theatre and the associated infrastructure in the regions of England. I want the Arts Council to pay real attention to those issues.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

May I return the right hon. Gentleman to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), which he effectively dodged with a sensible sideswipe at the Liberal Democrats? On capital funding, is he aware of growing concern that, following the 30 per cent. cut in the Arts Council lottery fund and the overall cut in spending on the arts, less money will be available for capital projects in theatres, many of which urgently need refurbishment and restoration if they are to stay open at all? What can he do to dispel the impression that neither he nor the Arts Council care much about smaller regional theatres?

Mr. Smith

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is getting capital and revenue mixed up. The Studio in Beckenham is a capital lottery-funded project, and lottery funds have been made available. Our Government changed the lottery, by means of the National Lottery Act 1998, to ensure that lottery funds can be used to support people and activities, not just bricks and mortar. By doing so, we did something that the hon. Gentleman's Government never did.