HL Deb 03 March 1949 vol 161 cc168-70

6.32 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Shepherd.)


My Lords, at this late hour I will detain your Lordships for only a few minutes. I regret that I was unable to be present when the Second Reading of the Bill was under consideration. I recognise that it is now too late to alter the practically unanimous decision of both Houses of Parliament, approving the erection of a National Theatre on the south bank of the Thames, immediately adjoining County Hall, when it is just possible that the grandchildren of some of your Lordships may be alive to see this scheme bear fruition. I trust, however, that your Lordships will allow me, as one who has been associated with South Kensington for many years and has represented it in Parliament for twenty-seven years, to say how proud South Kensington is to possess a cultural group such as is essential to the plans for the establishment of a National Theatre. I regret, however, that pending the time when the ambitious proposals recently adumbrated in your Lordships' House by the Lord Chancellor, for the erection of a theatre, a concert hall, a restaurant, workshops and many other amenities, on the south bank of the Thames, materialise, the National Theatre Committee should have decided not to retain the site at South Kensington for the erection of the Theatre there, as originally intended.

Apart from the size of the site, nearly all the requirements for a National Theatre are to be found in the site which was purchased immediately opposite the South Kensington Museum. It is in the middle of a cultural centre, and the initial stages incidental to the locale of a National Theatre are already there. I trust that even now it may not be too late for consideration to be given to the retention of this site, together with the money subscribed for the erection of a theatre thereon, pending the availability of the site, after its use for other purposes, on the south side of the river adjoining County Hall. As was pointed out by the Lord Chancellor a few weeks ago, three purposes have to be served by this site before even an attempt is made at the building of the National Theatre. Your Lordships can therefore imagine how long it will be before any National Theatre actually comes into operation immediately adjoining County Hall.

I am not going into the merits of the case, for it is too late to do that. But, after all, people will use the place mainly at night. When one thinks of that great block of the County Hall, in total darkness at night when all the clerks have left, it is not a very attractive prospect for people to cross the river at that point, in order to go to the National Theatre. The sum of £1,000,000 authorised by Parliament in the Bill should more than provide the necessary funds for the erection in clue course of a. National Theatre, while allowing at the same time for the retention, with the consent of the London County Council, of the present site for the erection of a smaller theatre which, as I have said, meets all the requirements of a National Theatre, because it has all the amenities of a cultural centre already formed. I trust that the trustees will also bear in mind that a considerable sum of money for the erection of a National Theatre was subscribed for the erection of such a Theatre on the site in South Kensington and not on the south side of the river. I hope that these considerations will carry weight with the trustees.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to say one or two words in reply to the noble Lord. First of all, this Bill does not provide for the amalgamation that has taken place and for the exchange of territory upon which the Theatre is to be built. All that the Bill does is to recognise the facts. The Government have been appealed to by the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, for a grant. The Government have responded to that appeal, and are now asking Parliament to make such a grant possible. However, the grant is dependent on the Government being ultimately satisfied that an appropriate scheme has been established or proposed. That scheme will come before the Government, and then the question of the grant will be determined. I can assure the noble Lord that, although he is very late with his remarks, they will be given consideration by the persons concerned.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Lord for his reply.

On Question, Bill read 3a and passed.