HC Deb 25 February 2002 vol 380 cc434-5
9. Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)

What steps the Government are taking to support regional theatres and arts organisations within north-east Essex. [34236]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells)

That is a matter for East England Arts, as the regional body for north-east Essex. By 2003–04 East England Arts' budget, including the regional arts lottery programme, will rise to £12.4 million. That is an increase of 18 per cent. on its current level.

Mr. Henderson

I welcome the Minister's comments and I note the level of Government investment in the Mercury theatre in Colchester, to which many of my constituents enjoy going. However, what support have the Government given to theatres in seaside resorts? Clacton-on-sea has two such theatres: the West Cliff theatre, which is run by the West Cliff theatre trust—a volunteer group that does an excellent job—and the Prince's theatre, the budget for which the local, Tory-led authority has just cut. What support and encouragement will the Minister give to such theatres, which play a major part in the tourism and leisure industry in seaside resorts?

Dr. Howells

I think that an 18 per cent. rise in East England Arts' budget should guarantee the future of perfectly good theatres such as those. If it does not, that will smack of the usual incompetence and heartlessness of Tory-led local authorities.

Bob Russell (Colchester)

I advise the Minister that the cultural capital of Essex appreciates all the support for live theatre in Britain's oldest recorded town. Will he join me in welcoming the imminent opening in Colchester of the Headgate theatre, an amateur theatre that will occupy the premises previously occupied by a failed Labour club?

Dr. Howells

I bet there were some great actors there, as well.