HL Deb 07 June 1978 vol 392 cc1310-3

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As will have been gathered from a speech which I made earlier this afternoon, I always want to be very generous to Scotland, and that is what the Bill which I am now submitting to your Lordships for Second Reading is intended to be. It is a Bill which extends to Scotland the benefits which will flow from a Theatres Trust which was set up in England in 1976 and which has since proved to be very helpful indeed to the possible preservation of the live theatre in England. Scotland was not included in the English Bill, which noble Lords may remember I piloted through its Second Reading on 27th May 1976. All the arguments that I presented thou as to the merits of the Bill are identical. It is merely being extended to apply to Scotland, since Scotland was not included in the previous Bill.

Briefly, this Bill is designed to make it more difficult for anybody to add to the removal of the existing live theatre by demolishing a theatre, by radically changing its nature or by making it in any way unsuitable for live theatre. Under the Bill, such a change would have to be examined by the Theatres Trust which has been set up by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Before any planning authority could agree to any application for change of user that appeared to injure the property continuing to be used as a live theatre, it would have to obtain the approval of this trust. If the trust could show that there was a need for it to continue as a theatre and if after a reasonable time nobody else would provide the finance for it to continue as a theatre, then the trust would be expected to give a lead in finding that finance. If they could not find the finance it would go back again to the normal planning procedures. But this is an extra point of preservation that has been put into the normal planning procedures in order to make it even more difficult than it is now that live theatres should be reduced in number.

I do not think there is any need to extol the necessity for preserving the live theatre. From every point of view it is a very desirable part of our social life and indeed it is a valuable part of our economic existence, too. There is the income it produces from tourism. The leadership which we are giving the world by producing and presenting plays and sending them on tour throughout the world produces a considerable income. We have noted with sorrow that over recent years because of general inflation we have seen the live theatre being reduced in many areas and at a time when perhaps it is more necessary than ever.

This is a minor Bill in terms of the extra powers which are being given, but the good that can flow from those powers is far from minor: it is major and it can be very helpful indeed. So far as England is concerned the Act seems to be working well and to some effect, and in the light of that it was felt desirable to extend the same facilities for preservation to Scotland. I noted with interest that the sponsors of the Bill in another place came from all Parties, including the Scottish Nationalists. Everyone recognises that this is a matter which is outside the field of political controversy. It is a matter of preserving something that belongs to us all, of whatever political colour, and everyone wants to do everything possible to preserve the economic, social and cultural benefits which come from preserving the live theatre.

We are leaders in the world. Indeed, if I am asked today what are the things in which we still excel above all others in the world I think there are only two that we can refer to with all honesty: the one is our Monarchy—and many people are envious of the way that works—and the other is the theatre. We are the leaders in the world so far as the live theatre is concerned. It is a valuable and desirable position to hold, and it is because this Bill, in its small way, is likely to allow that to continue that I commend it to your Lordships with all confidence and ask you to give it a speedy passage. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Harmar-Nicholls.)

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, the Government welcome this short but useful Bill, which will provide worthwhile additional safeguards and assistance for the future wellbeing of Scottish theatres. Like its predecessor, which applied to England and Wales only, this Bill does not commit the Government to making any public money available to the Trust, which will continue to raise any money which may be required to give effect to its recommendations.

Under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, the Theatres Trust has shown itself to be a responsible and imaginative body, and I am glad that it will shortly be enabled to extend its operations to Scotland. I know that this measure will be welcomed north of the Border by the Scottish Arts Council and by other organisations concerned with the development of the theatre in Scotland. The Government are happy to support such a measure. I am grateful to the honourable Member for Canterbury in another place for his efforts in promoting this legislation, and to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, for the precise way in which he has explained the provisions of the Bill to this House. He has described the purpose and content of the Bill with great clarity, and I have no wish to add to what he has said about it at this stage.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls doubly—for the Bill which he piloted through in 1976, concerning theatres south of the Border, and now for having completed the operation by carrying out what is clearly a laudable project and bringing before us similar legislation concerning Scotland. I am sure your Lordships will agree with what he has said about the theatre in Britain and about the need, on occasion, for a trust to come in and help in the way he has described. I am sure that we all owe a debt of gratitude to my noble friend.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.16 p.m. until 8 p.m.]

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