HL Deb 21 November 1974 vol 354 cc1151-70

4.45 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, we have been listening to a most important Statement on agricultural matters, and now we resume our earlier debate on another subject which many of us in this House—I should like to think all of us—also consider of immense importance. My first privilege and pleasure is to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, on his maiden speech. I congratulate him both on his wisdom and on his good taste in the subject which he has selected to speak about. I can assure him that in all parts of the House we are only too anxious to have new recruits among those who are going to help us to ensure that the Arts have their proper priorities in any civilised Government decisions. Before this splendid maiden speech, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said many things, with most of which I agreed, and I will come to one or two of his points later. Alas! I have to agree with his opening sentence in which he said that the story of the National Theatre was a sorry story. That is true.

It is just about time that some of our so-called businessmen came to their senses, the people who could put great endeavours in jeopardy by being penny-wise and pound foolish. What I refer to is a black day for the National Theatre, which was February 28, 1968. Until then matters were going extremely well. We had the Greater London Council which had agreed to go 50:50 on the capital costs with the Government; each had agreed to provide £3¾ million on the point of tender. The Greater London Council was both good and generous about the sites of value that we considered. The Greater London Council were also very good and gracious, because the original concept was that there should be an opera house as well as a National Theatre on the South Bank, and the noble Lord, Lord Fiske—who was then Chairman—and others agreed that Manchester, Edinburgh and other parts of the country had a higher priority when it came to an opera house. But we contemplated with enormous enthusiasm the thought that we would have a National Theatre—not a London theatre—that would be really worthwhile.

The black day for this project, as I have said, was February 28, 1968, because that was the date on which the new leaders of the Greater London Council came to see me (as I was then the Minister responsible) and made it quite clear that they were ready to give £3¾ million at point of completion, but not at point of tender. I am not a business woman, but it seemed to me a pretty daft proposition that they were putting, because being tied rigidly to a figure at point of completion at a time when prices were rising meant that all the preparatory work that had been done—the plans of Mr. Denys Lasdun, the architect, and the builders—had to be looked at again and scaled down. Of course, this caused considerable delay, so that at the end of the day instead of saving money this project has cost us more, and instead of looking forward to having the project open by the spring at the latest we now find that we have to wait rather longer.

Later on the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, came to this House and we all supported him when he asked for a supplementary grant of £1.95 million. Changes in the value of money and the rest made it necessary. But, again, I think it would have been more gracious if the Greater London Council had kept to the original bargain, which was honourably made, that it would pay its 50 per cent. Again, spanners were put in the works, and this is one reason why there has been confusion and delay. We had Lord Cottesloe, we had the chairman of a very able board, we had members who were no fools. For the Arts Council, I myself suggested, not two long-haired poets but Lord Goodman, who was then chairman of the Arts Council, and Sir Joseph Lockwood, who was chairman of EMI—both hard-headed businessmen. We were not lacking people of good sense and knowledge. There was also very strict Treasury scrutiny. I think we must say this, because we do not want any more nonsense of this kind. There were delays, there was confusion and at the end of the day there was loss of time, and the project is costing us more than it would have cost if we had gone ahead with our original plans.

Now let us look to the future. We must get on with it now, and we must get it finished as soon as possible. But I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that we must not get it finished at the cost of standards. If we are going to have a National Theatre, let us have a National Theatre. A Statement was made in the other place that the additional money required will not be for new additions, but we certainly do not want to go along like a dog with its tail between its legs. If we are going to have a National Theatre, let us look forward to having it opened with the flags flying and as an occasion for celebration. I know that I am talking on a subject which is not easy for some people to accept—and I have had my difficulties with my own Party. But I happen to think it is important that a democracy, a democratic Government, should have a sense of dignity and vision, because the idea that you are going to get more votes by small, petty-minded cheeseparing is just not true. Our people have minds as well as stomachs.

Again and again we hear references made to what happened in the Second World War. Of course, when you are fighting a war, when people are putting up with every kind of material hardship, you have got to sustain their minds and spirits. But if your Lordships will forgive me—because this debate has gone on a little longer than intended, for reasons outside our control—I want to draw a parallel which I think is more relevant and more important, even, than the parallel with what happened at the time of war. We came out of the war in 1945 with our cities blitzed. I cannot remember the exact words of Mr. Winston Churchill, but he made a statement at the time about us being ruined, about our overseas investments having gone and about our cities and factories having to be reconditioned and all the rest of it. But what did we do? We decided that we were going to have a Festival of Britain; and the first Treasury estimate for that was £14 million. There was a fight in the Cabinet. There is no such thing in any Government as a united Cabinet; you will always get the people with no vision. There was an argument but there was one who said, "Let us go ahead with flags flying and have a Festival of Britain".

In these circumstances—and your Lordships know how much more the money I am about to quote would mean to-day—the first estimate was £14 million. Then the estimate was pared down. Your Lordships will remember that there was the devaluation crisis in the autumn of 1949. When I say that the estimate was £14 million, I have got it slightly wrong because there was an estimated revenue of £2 million. The gross expenditure would have been £12 million with a saving of £2 million. But at the end of the day, even remembering the devaluation crisis and all that went with it in the autumn of 1949, we had a Cabinet which allowed the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide £9 million from the Treasury for the Festival of Britain.

We had on the other side of the river what was then the London County Council. We had Lord Fiske, we had my friend Sir Isaac Hayward and we had others there. It may be that I disagreed with Mr. Herbert Morrison more than did any Member on the Tory Benches. I can hardly remember a political issue on which I did not disagree with him. But he was a Londoner, a proud Londoner; and poor old London, with its factories, its shops and its houses down, nevertheless gave us the Festival Hall, which I consider the kindest building on the other side of the river. It may be that there was more kindness in the air then. It was built from beginning to end in less than two years. It was the London County Council that not only gave us the Festival Hall but was also responsible for all the expenditure incurred in preparing the site of the Embankment.

But, my Lords, that is only the beginning. I hope your Lordships will bear with me if I remind the House (because too many people have forgotten it) that this was not a London occasion. The Festival of Britain was a British occasion; and I have here a document which it is worth looking up. It is the document of the Festival of Britain, and I have been refreshing my own memory about some of the things that we were ready to do then—because it was not only London that was concerned; Coventry was blitzed, as were Birmingham and Glasgow. Which city did not have its problems? Nevertheless—and I am quoting now from this official report: In over 2,000 places in the United Kingdom some festival event was organised by local authorities and voluntary bodies, and many of the projects carried out have remained and are of permanent value. Over 2,000 places, my Lords! Now the Arts Council alone had a London season in May and June. It had 22 official centres in England, Scotland and Wales. It held many minor festivals, concerts, operas, exhibitions and plays up and down the country. The Council commissioned music, opera and ballet; it arranged a competition among the best known British painters; and it arranged competitions for new operas, for music and for poetry.

So there we were, just after the Second World War, with our cities blitzed. We were not saying, "Poor local authorities", "Poor ratepayers". They had their problems then, just as serious, and in some ways more serious, than we have to-day. Of course we had the people who said: "You must not build a Festival Hall, you must not re-open Covent Garden or Drury Lane, or anywhere else, until every problem in housing, health and education is solved". No country works that way. Of the available resources at any time there has got to be a sharing out. We had that sense of the future in those years, with all the difficulties. We were prepared to do all these things. That is why I say, my Lords, that we have got to get off our knees. We have got to remember that it is a National Theatre, not just a London theatre. If we could have 2,000 different projects going on in 1951, if we could have a Chancellor who from the Exchequer alone was providing £9 million—and there was a great deal of local government money spent, private money and the rest of it—should we not start thinking in terms of a national celebration to mark the opening of the National Theatre? Should we not be giving encouragement to all those marvellously talented people in the theatre world, not all young but many of them young, who at the moment are having their hearts broken? Because here again I agree with Lord Eccles when he said that we must not make this a comparison between what is being spent on the great spenders at the centre and what is being spent on the provincial theatres. I agree with him entirely that it would be wrong to have a separate estimate for the four great London spenders. But what is absolutely essential unless we are simply going to haul down the flag, unless we are going to lose so much of the ground we have won, is that we have really got to do this with a bit of panache. We have really got to have the flags flying. We have really got to have every local repertory theatre and every concert hall all over Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales feeling that this is their National Theatre and that they are part of the celebrations.

Finally, my Lords, there is one little item I want to add. We have promised the Government, who have asked for the assurance, that nothing will be added, that the additional money will be just to complete the work which has begun. But I have already talked to the leaders of the Greater London Council and others about a project which I think is absolutely essential if the South Bank is going to really come alive and really belong to London and not just to a small number of Londoners. It is that, instead of having a sleezy walking bridge, Hungerford Bridge, which is used as a public lavatory by tramps and dogs, it is high time we had a travelator over the river and an enclosed bridge so that those of us who are counting our pennies—as we all do—could be out of the wind and rain and could have a glamorous view of the river on one side and have a beautiful board on the other side to show advertisements. I do not think that this is day-dreaming or being impossible.

The difficulty of getting across to the South Bank is bad enough, but getting away from it, even when one has a car—and most people still do not have a car—is awful, especially in bad weather. The Greater London Council did not come up with its fair share when we had the last Supplementary Estimate in the House of Lords, but it made a great parade of the fact that it was going to spend almost half a million pounds on extra car parking. However, it would be very much better if fewer cars were taken on to that side. One could go by bus or taxi or underground, leaving the car at home. One could come right to Charing Cross, cross over and be in the world of the theatre, the concert halls, the National Cinema and the rest with the greatest of ease, and having brought the cost of getting there down to the level which the young and almost everybody else can afford.

I apologise once more, my Lords, for talking at some length, but I feel strongly on this matter. I feel that we must get our priorities right. I think, when we talk about £19 million or about the Arts Council needing another £6 million, that the Arts Council needs to have its money doubled. I am very serious about this. This is not something which is just one side of a balance sheet. There are many things that we spend money on—the sick, people who are criminals, from whom we are getting nothing in return—whereas, when we spend money on the Arts in maintaining and improving our high standards, in sharing them as widely as we can through television and radio and in every possible way, we are earning a very considerable income, not only by adding to the reputation of this country, but—and no other argument is so effective as that of hard cash—by bringing in the tourists who will be attracted by this country so long as we ourselves do not lose our self-confidence.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, on his maiden speech. He has evidently devoted a lot of thought and study to the subject and we must be very grateful for his contribution to the debate. This Bill, which we have to thank Mr. Hugh Jenkins for introducing in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for introducing here so fully and clearly, is certainly an all-Party measure and, though it may raise some questions, it is in essence entirely non-controversial. However, as Chairman of the Board which was appointed to build the theatre, with the advantage of the monies provided under earlier Acts and the additional monies which this Bill seeks to make available, perhaps I may be allowed to welcome it most warmly and gratefully.

My Lords, the great building that is nearing completion on the South Bank opposite Somerset House is the culmination of a long struggle from 1848, when the project for a national theatre was first conceived by Effingham Wilson, to the present time. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, gave an account of its history in introducing the National Theatre Act 1969 and, fascinating though it is, I do not feel that your Lordships would thank me for reciting that history at any very great length to-day. In that long struggle Harley Granville Barker and Sir Carl Meyer played notable parts in the early years of the century and various sites for the theatre were envisaged. A site in Gower Street was bought in 1922 and subsequently sold, and the smaller triangular South Kensington site was bought by the Shakespeare Memorial Trust in 1937 and Sir Edwin Lutyens prepared a design for it. But it was not until 1946 that the LCC offered to provide in exchange for that site a larger and better site on the South Bank—the Shot Tower site—on which in 1951 a foundation stone was laid by Her Majesty the Queen, now Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Even then, there was no finality, for, in the following year, a better site was agreed on near the County Hall, and at long last, in 1962, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed a National Theatre Board to create and manage a National Theatre Company, and—as the noble Baroness. Lady Lee, has said—a South Bank Theatre and Opera House Board to build and equip a National Theatre and a new opera house for Sadler's Wells on the South Bank. That is the date that I think we must really regard as the effective beginning of the enterprise. The London County Council, guided by Sir Isaac Hayward's wonderful vision of a comprehensive centre for the Arts, contemplated making available the broad area between County Hall and Hungerford Bridge in front of the Shell Building for the double requirement, and your Lordships may remember Mr. Denys Lasdun's splendid design for that great theatrical and operatic complex which was embodied in a very beautiful model which was on view in the Royal Gallery in 1965. However, when the Government saw the first estimate of cost for the double building of theatre and opera house of about £16 million, they decided to jettison the opera house and my Board had to change its name and to confine itself to building a National Theatre on yet another site—the superb site of more than four acres (the old South Kensington site was, I think, only about two-thirds of an acre) alongside Waterloo Bridge and opposite Somerset House, the site on which the theatre is now nearing completion.

Meanwhile, the National Theatre Company under the inspired direction of Sir Laurence Olivier—who is now a Member of your Lordships' House—playing in the much-loved but physically quite inadequate building of the Old Vic, was going from strength to strength, the equal, if not indeed the superior, of any dramatic company in the world. The dropping of the opera house—and, on a long view, what a sad misfortune that was—in 1965 and the change to the final site of course involved a complete redesign of the building. Mr. Lasdun had to begin again, even though some elements of the specification for the auditoriums had been clarified, and it was not until 1969 that the Board was in a position to go to tender on an estimated figure of £7½ million, of which the Government and the GLC were to provide equal shares.

Your Lordships may think that progress had been slow, but I suppose that in no other country in the world would a board be set up to design and build a great National Theatre without any funds of its own—not a penny—and subject to two paymasters, the Government and the Greater London Council, who quite properly required to see and approve everything at every stage. Inevitably there were frustrations and delays, such as the requirement to which the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, referred, which was suddenly placed on the Board when the designs were completed, to provide a reserve of £600,000 to cover the normal increase in building costs during the period of construction. This requirement involved omitting the studio theatre, the restaurant and much special stage equipment. What is remarkable is not that under these handicaps the building took some time to get under way, but that it ever got under way at all. I am reminded of Samuel Johnson's remark about, a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all". This building, on the contrary, is done well, but we may indeed be surprised to find it done at all. For that, we are particularly indebted to a number of Ministers and Leaders of the GLC and the LCC. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, herself, Sir Isaac Hayward, the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—names that spring at once to mind.

My Lords, to come now to the period since, on November 3, 1969, Lord Chandos and I, with Miss Jennie Lee and Sir Desmond Plummer started the work on the South Bank by shovelling cement into some shuttering—there was no sod to cut, only a waste of rubble. Work has gone on steadily but too slowly, in spite of the most strenuous efforts of the architects, the quantity surveyor, the contractors and sub-contractors, and the members of my Board and of the National Theatre Board. I may say that there has at all times been the happiest harmony between my Board and the National Theatre Board, with Sir Max Rayne as its Chairman and Mr. Peter Hall as Director of the National Theatre Company. It became evident two years ago, however, that the increasing rate of inflation—and this has greatly accelerated since—would carry final costs over the ceiling set by the monies authorised. My noble friend Lord Eccles, the then Minister for the Arts, introduced in 1973 the National Theatre and Museum of London Bill, which authorised some additional monies. £1.95 million came from the Government, and, the GLC having agreed to find a further sum, the sum available was brought up to £10.55 million, including—for which we were very grateful—£600,000 for the reinstatement of some of the items we had had to cut out to keep within the ceiling figure in 1969, notably the completion of the studio theatre, some important stage equipment and the fitting-out of the restaurant.

These most welcome reinstatements of course entailed some redesigning and amendment of the specification, and these inevitably caused further delays. The recent violently increased rate of inflation in building costs has made it all the more necessary to complete the theatre as quickly as possible and has had a severe impact particularly on some of the subcontractors. They are in difficulty in obtaining some of the specialised supplies that are needed and in some cases are suffering from a lack of liquidity, like many other firms. The Board is making the most strenuous efforts to resolve these difficulties and to clear the bottlenecks, and it has a sub-committee—to which it is greatly indebted—which has devoted and is devoting a great deal of time and energy to this matter.

The sub-committee that we have set up consists of Sir Max Rayne, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and Sir Joseph Lockwood—who could be better than that for this purpose? If they cannot move these matters forward, I do not think anybody in this country can. Even so, in the last four months it has become evident that, although the main structure will be completed in the next few weeks, some of the highly complex structure of stage equipment and controls—never before made, some of them—cannot be installed and completed to allow for the "running-in" period that Mr. Peter Hall very properly requires (upwards of 3 months) and still be ready for an opening ceremony and performance on St. George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday, that is, April 23 next year, which is the date on which we have set our sights. It will not now be possible to fix a definitive date for opening for another two or three months, but as soon as it is possible the date will, of course, be made public and there will be no avoidable delay whatever.

When that day finally comes, the public will see within this great building—with its terraces commanding unrivalled views of the river in its course through London from Westminster to St. Paul's—two theatres that incorporate the most up-to-date ideas and equipment, including revolving drums, electronic lighting controls and all the rest of it. Within them, every member of each audience will have a perfect view of the acting on the stage from a distance at which he will be able to see and hear every inflection of expression, movement and voice.

The Olivier Theatre will hold an audience of nearly 1,200 in an arena with an open stage; the Lyttleton Theatre will hold 900 in an auditorium with an adjustable proscenium opening. There will be foyers and bars, restaurants and canteens, dressing rooms and offices, with car parking under the building. There will be work shops and scenery-painting facilities and all the rest, all concentrated under one roof. There will be a flexible studio theatre seating up to 400, in which experimental work can be developed and publicly performed.

There will, of course, be criticisms, both of the detailed design and the arrangements. The noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, made a reference to this. I recollect saying to my Board at their first meeting that: "We must make up our minds from the start that whatever we do will be wrong and that will leave us free to do what we. in the exercise of our judgment, believe to be best." But I am sure that Mr. Denys Lasdun's grand design will meet with the acclaim it deserves. I am sure the Theatre will be felt to be a worthy setting for the finest dramatic company in this country (which is to say in the world) and I do not doubt that the great British public will feel satisfied that, in this building, they have got their money's worth.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many distinguished speakers on a subject which I regard as being of immense importance even though it is non-controversial. Many of the speakers to-day bear names which are already enshrined in the history of the National Theatre and, indeed, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, his name is enshrined in the very fabric of it. It is also a privilege to be able to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, on a very crisp and articulate maiden speech. I hope that the conventional hope which is always expressed, that he will be heard often in this House, turns out to be true in his case.

This is a money Bill, and money is of the essence. I cannot help feeling that the money concerned is now as much a matter of time as anything else. I had hoped the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, would have even better news than he was able to give your Lordships' House, because it is a fact that until this Theatre is completed, with costs escalating as they are, the Treasury must of necessity be asked to bear a heavier share of the burden. It has never been entirely clear to me—and probably the same is true of many of your Lordships—exactly what has caused the delay among all the contracting parties concerned. Perhaps the matter is—both technically and financially—too complex for an explanation in what has become a somewhat lengthy debate; but at the same time the fact that those delays exist has given rise to an enormous amount of disquiet in the country.

The disquiet bears very little relation to the facts of the matter. The disquiet about the completion of the building is understandable enough. In this direction rumours fly. I heard the other day that now delay had become an accepted fact in the country, workmen from various contracting firms were disappearing. Happily, I was reassured to discover that, on the contrary, the workforce is being increased and a great drive is being made to finish the Theatre. I almost hesitate to mention the fact that I had one thought and discovered it to be false, because nowadays it is the glum news which carries. No sooner had the delay in the opening of this building been announced and made public, than a swarm of crows settled upon the future of the National Theatre with great cries of dismay and alarm and, indeed, almost ill-will towards it.

Many of your Lordships have referred to the disquiet expressed by many of the smaller theatres in the country lest the large sums needed for the National Theatre should overwhelm them, lest they should be starved by the feeding of this new and clamorous cuckoo. That is an understandable worry. It was first voiced in a letter to The Times. It was adequately answered the next day by Mr. Hall on behalf of the National Theatre. In this connection, perhaps I should declare a tenuous interest because I have many friends and some connections with the National Theatre. But what alarmed me was that the letter contained assertions about the numbers of technicians being sought by the National Theatre and the sums being offered to them, assertions which were false. Indeed, these facts were known to be false by the writer of the letter, but since he had obtained the signatures of so many others and could not presumably alter the letter, it was published. The letter, as I have said, was refuted carefully and crisply the next day. One would have thought that would be enough to scotch it; but no, the assertion about the huge and inflated number of people the Theatre was seeking and the inflated salaries it was offering has been perpetuated in weekly magazines, in other correspondence columns, and one hears it in other quarters. "No smoke without fire" used to be a phrase, but in a century long ago the technique was perfected of making smoke without any fire at all.

Other gloomy voices have arisen; even actors and actresses engaged in playing parts within the subsidised companies have started to complain that at a time of financial crisis we should cut back on sets because they say that for years the expense of the sets, the richness of the costumes, have not merely been ruining the subsidised companies, but ruining the psyche of the actors concerned. It passes my comprehension how a yard or two of taffeta can dismay an actor or actress so much that their art suffers from it. It seems an ill-chosen moment to think of these matters. There could be economies, but a wholesale condemnation of everything that the subsidised theatre stands for is not for to-day.

It is a cry immediately taken up. One newspaper pointed out that just at the moment when we are inventing the most expensive, if exciting, theatre complex in Europe, one of our greatest directors temporarily, and through his own volition, has been exiled in Paris where he has produced, with enormous excitement, one of the plays of Shakespeare Timon of Athens, in French, and he is doing it for nothing. The critic said: What a contrast to see this man of genius, producing such a remarkable production with almost no facilities. He has taken an empty and derelict theatre and converted it at no cost whatever and, almost without costumes, has thrilled the theatre world of Paris. I took the opportunity of going to Paris and seeing the production and talked to Mr. Brook about it. It is as magical as everybody says. The "ruined" theatre which he has reclaimed has been carefully and exquisitely "extra-ruined" by one of the greatest art directors in Europe at a cost of £80,000. So the idea that this is an economic set for Timon of Athens by comparison with our National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, for example, will not hold water. This is not to denigrate the work of Mr. Brook because it is as exciting as it is possible to be. One hopes he will come back to this country, perhaps to the Royal Shakespeare Company or the National Theatre. But it shows the danger of assuming something which the world now knows to be wrong, that something can be achieved for nothing, especially in the subsidised world of Europe where the subsidies paid are—and have been for years—enormous by comparison with our own. The extremes are obvious when one hears that in the next season the Paris Opera is offering as much as £4,000 a performance to opera singers going there from this country. One wonders how our own subsidised theatre can possibly survive. That applies to the perhaps even more exaggerated cost of opera; and the National Theatre, obviously confined as it is by its language, does not have the same problems.

We must be aware that we are now in competition with the world even in the theatre. A National Theatre it may be, and I hope it will enshrine everything that is best in our nation so far as theatre is concerned, but it is looked upon by the rest of the world as part of the world Arts complex. The jet aeroplane, newspapers, television, the film and the cassette have made the Arts, above all, an international commodity. There is no going back upon it. Our finances must somehow keep us in the forefront of the Arts, not merely within our own budgetary schemes but within those of Europe and, indeed, the world.

To pass from the gloom that has been spread because of the delay to this Theatre to more cheerful matters, I wish that some of those who wrote to the newspaper could have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, this afternoon because it is her spirit and sense of excitement which has lasted from 1951, and those exciting days right through until to-day, which is needed to-day. Unless we realise that that sense of excitement in the Arts is as necessary in times of crisis as it is in times of easy going, we shall be lost. Unless the Arts can maintain their level through thick and thin, every form of national life and every form of popular art, will be impoverished.

I hope that the words of the noble Baroness will permeate not only your Lordships' House but will also strike home to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who has introduced this debate. I hope that he will pass them on to his right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts, and that the nation will realise the importance of the measure. Make no mistake, what is happening to-day to the National Theatre is not a disaster, it is merely a delay. When it opens, as it surely will, it will be the most exciting event of the century, in theatre terms, not merely for this country, but for the whole world. My Lords, I urge the House most strongly to give this Bill a Second Reading.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very good debate and I should like to thank noble Lords for their support and for the welcome that they have given to this Bill. I should like also to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, for his excellent maiden speech, and add my congratulations to those of my noble friend Lady Lee. The noble Earl showed great interest and considerable knowledge of the subject, and I hope that we shall have the pleasure of hearing from the noble Earl in our Arts debates, and perhaps on other matters, too, on many other occasions. I am particularly grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, for the welcome that he gave to the Bill. I entirely agree with him about Denys Lasdun's building; it is most beautiful and a well-designed theatre. The noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, and I stood in the rain yesterday looking across the river and back at this splendid theatre. We were told how there were going to be trees and lawns in front of it. It will be a beautiful setting as well as an admirable theatre. I am afraid I cannot agree with the noble Viscount about the Hay-ward Gallery. I find that impressive also. The whole great complex on the South Bank, as well as the Festival of Britain, about which my noble friend Lady Lee reminded us, was a concept of the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth. He was always very proud of this and I wish he could see what has happened now.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked for an assurance that nothing has been dropped from the schedule. I believe that the noble Viscount, when he was Minister, allowed the Board £600,000 for the restoration of items to be chosen by them from among items previously cut in order to keep the cost down. The Board decided that some of this should go to restore the third auditorium to a reduced scale. This is still being done and in addition the Government have made a special allowance from the Arts Vote to allow permanent galleries to be installed, and thus increase the seating and therefore also increase revenue-earning capacity.

The noble Viscount also asked the Government about running costs, and asked for an assurance that these would be adequate, and whether the Government accepted that there must be proper forward budgeting. I am sure we can give this assurance. It is of course difficult in this House where we have no control over finance, but I may say that my honourable friend the Minister for the Arts is very clearly aware of the needs of the Arts Council taking into account the needs of the new National Theatre and the claims of the other clients of the Council. I must therefore ask the noble Viscount to await the presentation of Estimates to the other place, the discussions on which are now proceeding in accordance with the usual procedures. But, about the running costs, it would probably be proper for me to quote from the speech that my honourable friend the Minister, Mr. Jenkins, made in the other place on the Second Reading of the Bill. At col. 1377 of Hansard (Commons) of November 7, he said: I have indicated to the House that the Government are fully aware of the problem of running costs and that we have no intention of allowing this great new project to run down for lack of ability to maintain itself.


My Lords, I am grateful for that assurance, but of course it will not be enough just to see that the National Theatre has adequate funds to work to the full unless the other national companies are also treated in the same manner. This is the point on which we need an assurance. I know the noble Lord cannot give it, but would he be kind enough to convey the point to his honourable friend, because there will be very great trouble if this is not achieved.


My Lords, I will certainly convey what the noble Viscount has said to my honourable friend, who is very well aware of these matters, as are the whole Government.

Then, the noble Viscount asked about the Coliseum dispute, which of course is exercising us very much. He asked what Lord Harewood, the manager, was doing about this. This of course is a very difficult situation. There has recently been a proposal for the NATTKE employees concerned to be paid until November 29 and for a panel of two, one from the management and one from the union, to consider the case of each employee concerned by then. This is not accepted by the technicians concerned, and I understand that the NATTKE executive is meeting this weekend to consider the situation. The Department of Employment say that the new independent conciliation and arbitration service is aware of the dispute and is willing to help if requested to do so by the parties concerned.

The noble Viscount mentioned, as did the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, the proposal to bring the theatre before a wider audience. The Arts Council had a small Working Party looking into this matter some time ago but, as I think the noble Viscount said, nothing came of it because of high labour costs. However, I would suggest that here is another opportunity to air this problem now that the Committee on Broadcasting, under the noble Lord, Lord Annan, are sitting and receiving evidence. I suggest this is an appropriate body to consider this matter. This was a point made also by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. We are aware that Mr. Peter Hall, the Director, is concerned to bring the different arts closer together, particularly the arts of the theatre and cinema and television. Indeed, on Monday evening I had the good fortune to see a film which Mr. Hall has made, called Akenfield—the noble Viscount was there and we had a very pleasant evening—not only for cinema but also for television. It is his first venture and he told me afterwards that he is concerned and anxious that the three media should be brought together in this way. We also take note of the valuable suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, for encouraging people to go to the theatre. This point will certainly be reviewed and investigated.

I should like to welcome the support given by my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge. We certainly note her suggestion for a national opening. As the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, reminded us, the Theatre was to have been opened on April 23, 1975, and Her Majesty the Queen had graciously consented to perform the ceremony. This was to be very appropriately on St. George's Day which is also Shakespeare's birthday. It had to be postponed, but the National Theatre is considering the matter of an opening later on at the appropriate time, and it is very much hoped that Her Majesty will be gracious enough to perform the ceremony. My noble friend Lady Lee made the point about better communications. This is one that has been very much in my mind, too. One of the problems of the South Bank is that it is difficult of access. I have already taken this matter up with my honourable friend and with the Department, and we shall certainly take note of what the noble Baroness has said particularly about the travelator. I am not sure whether this would be practical. The trouble is the Thames is rather wide and we probably want something—


My Lords, may I say that I have had the question looked at by very distinguished engineers—quite off the record, not costing the Government one single penny. It is quite practical.


My Lords, I cannot wait to hear more from the noble Baroness. We probably want something also like the Pont des Arts, if the Thames were not so wide, or indeed like that rather convenient tunnel which leads from the Gare d'Orsay and brings one right up in the middle of the Tuileries, and one walks through the gardens to the Louvre; but of course there are problems with our wider river. This is something which is very much in my mind.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, for telling us about some of the history of this project. I fully agree with what he said about the beauty of the building. I am very grateful to him for the trouble he took to show me round it yesterday. I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said, and I was glad to have his support for Mr. Peter Hall's letter about the question of the technicians. My Lords, I hope I have answered all the points that noble Lords have raised and I commend this Bill to your Lordships for a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.