HL Deb 17 July 1980 vol 411 cc2047-79

7.55 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the present difficulties faced by the London Theatres, and what assistance or advice they can render in order to safeguard a unique part of the national heritage and an immeasurable asset of the tourist industry.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the subject of the financial problems facing London theatres is of course not new to my noble friend or indeed to the House. I have put down this Question this evening not only in order to express a very deep-rooted concern about the welfare of one of our priceless national assets, which enriches our culture and heritage, but also to seek from my noble friend information on what further positive steps the Government are considering taking within the limits of their public expenditure policy to create a climate within which the battle for survival and viability can be won.

My Question covers basically three streams of London theatreland, each of which is important and involves slightly differing problems. The first stream comprises the four subsidised theatres which the Arts Council monitors, supports and nourishes. The second is the fringe theatres, which form what I would describe as a very important element of seed corn within the London theatreland. The third stream comprises the commercial theatres, of which I understand there are 40, and to which I am limiting my remarks. Perhaps before doing so I may in anticipation and in advance thank those noble Lords who have indicated that they wish to take part in the debate, of which there has been relatively short notice, and which is coming on at a relatively late hour. Their interventions will no doubt make the debate much more worthwhile. I hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Miles, with his unrivalled knowledge and experience of the practical problems of the acting profession and theatre management, would be able to take part. I now see in fact that he indicates that he will be able to take part, and I am delighted about that.

The general financial climate of the 40 commercial London theatres is already well known to my noble friend. Personally, I doubt whether one should accept the degree of gloom and doom, that one gleans from certain reports in the media, to the effect that we are in sight of the end of a golden era for London theatres. I have great faith in the ingenuity, resilience, determination and will to survive of the London theatre managers. Coupled with that is the fact—and it is a rather fascinating one—that one successful production can turn dark moments into a bright new dawn.

Nevertheless, these London theatres at present face a massive task of remaining viable, and indeed remaining open. Inflation has pushed up production costs to gigantic proportions. I believe that the cheapest play costs at least £50,000 to produce, and recently the cost of the most expensive has been over half a million pounds; and that is before the curtain has gone up and even a single member of the audience has seen the play. My noble friend will know that the running maintenance costs are very high. But coupled with the cost problems has been the very worrying factor of a downturn in ticket sales to both overseas and home markets. I am told that last year £10 million worth of tickets were unsold.

All that has led to a quite natural nervousness about investment in new productions and indeed the "angels", or private backers—I believe that they are now called "saints"—consider with great caution the possibility of supporting any new production. In consequence, we now see seven theatres in darkness, and there is always the added fear, bearing in mind the very fabric of these theatres, that if they remain unused for any length of time, they consequently fall into disrepair, and then become targets for redevelopment schemes or for conversion into cinemas or bingo halls.

Of course, none of these points will be new to my noble friend or, indeed, to the House. Nor, I suspect, would my noble friend disagree with the proposition that the London theatre world still retains its premier position as the most varied selection of talented professional productions anywhere in the world—and that is quite a unique cornerstone of our very culture and heritage. Its value is inestimable, and in the eyes of the British Tourist Authority, who play a very active and valuable role now in support of London theatres, it is one of the jewels that London has to offer overseas visitors. In 1978, 31 per cent. of all overseas visitors enjoyed a London theatre production. In commercial terms, that amounts to £19 million worth of tickets.

I do not expect my noble friend to disagree with the value of London theatres, and perhaps the most important part of his brief, when he comes to reply, is what positive steps can be taken to assist in the present difficult climate. Certainly his right honourable friend's decision to provide £5,000 towards an experimental ticket booth in Leicester Square, to be set up in November, is a very valuable move. Clearly theatre managers have to win back a stronger home market, and indeed the overseas market, by means of more aggressive sales campaigns; and my noble friend will know that the Society of West End Theatres, the trade body of the West End theatres, is actively advising on this at the moment, with such innovations as a rail club package, a ticket and meal package and so on.

My Lords, what are the other measures on which the Government could help? I do not advocate that one should go for a big dip into the public purse, as obviously this is unrealistic; but I do advocate the Government taking further action to help create a climate of confidence, within which this cultural jewel can retain its sparkle. The first and perhaps obvious measure is either to reduce or, indeed, eliminate the VAT on ticket sales. My noble friend knows these arguments so well, but I would tell him that the price of tickets today is a dominating factor in winning back audiences and so ensuring the life blood and the future of London theatres. A gesture by Government would go a long way to restoring confidence. It is time, I believe, that the Treasury removed their dark glasses and accepted in their hardnosed way that the offset gains of a thriving London theatre world well outweigh the fairly paltry returns they at present receive from VAT.

The second measure I would submit to my noble friend is assistance with the "angels". These are individuals who are indeed the lifeblood of new productions. At present, they receive no tax concessions on losses; and when one sees that the odds are getting longer and longer against picking a winner, it is vital to retain their confidence and support. There is an old saying, "No feet, no horse". Indeed, I think the "angels" are very similar in the theatre world.

The third measure I would put to my noble friend concerns the Theatre Investment Fund. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, among his many other good works, steers this fund, and indeed had hoped to take part this evening in this debate if it had not come on at so late an hour. My noble friend will know that the trust has been active now for four years. I believe the previous Administration were responsible; indeed, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. It is a most valuable organisation. It has in a very short time supported over 90 productions. It plays an invaluable role in supporting new productions, in stimulating and fostering new blood and, indeed, in encouraging other private investment. Its capital structure is very modest—only some £250,000. It is a successful mixture of private and state capital. Clearly its capital structure requires to be widened, and I hope my noble friend can say that Her Majesty's Government value this fund and will support it further, particularly on the basis of a mixed economy injection.

The fourth point I should like to put to my noble friend—and this is another avenue which I hope the Government will examine—concerns Independent Television. Independent Television—indeed, television generally—to a large degree feeds on the back of live theatre. Independent Television offers very little in return. It is an obvious avenue which the Government could look at, as to whether some of the sizeable IBA levies should find their way back into the live theatre.

My last suggestion to my noble friend may have an added attraction in that it requires no Government money. It is that the West End at night often appears rather inhospitable to those theatregoers who wish to use private transport. At present there can be an enormous, expensive hassle in parking, and this often leaves an unfavourable memory on what should have been a delightful evening. I hope my noble friend will be able to see whether the GLC could perhaps assist in the way of parking facilities in the West End in the evenings.

My Lords, the value of this debate will be what others who follow me have to say, as they indeed speak with far greater experience. I hope my noble friend will accept, though, that there is a very deep concern about the welfare of the London theatres, their future existence, their value in the widest sense and their importance to our cultural life in London. I hope his reply tonight will give a positive encouragement of Government support for their continued existence.

8.7 p.m.


My Lords, I know that the whole House will be extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for having asked this Question. I am sure that everybody here in what looks a rather slim House, unfortunately, will be wholeheartedly grateful to him, because the theatre is not only one of the great glories of Britain's culture these days; it is also an immense fund of satisfaction and help to a great many of your Lordships and a great many people in Britain today. I think we must try to do as much as we can to keep it that way, because, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said, our theatre is probably the best in the world at the moment, and the most diverse. It is also a great earner of money, both in tourism and in what it sells abroad by way of the prestige it gives to the kind of plays which are now being written for television by some of the playwrights who have served their apprenticeship in the theatre, which plays, again, are sold abroad. The profits to this country—not just monetary, but monetary as well—are enormous.

I think we must not underrate, either, the importance of art in a country which is going through, and will continue to go through, a very difficult economic period. I am not pretending for one second that what happens to the West End theatre is going to affect very much the dole queues in Wigan, but what I do say is that unless you show a healthy art at the top end you do not have a healthy art at the bottom end, and vice versa. The thing is a seamless robe, and we must cultivate the high culture as well as the low. If we allow the theatre life of this country to suffer in any way through the results of inflation, by any means which we could have controlled, then we—and by "we" I mean all of us, including the Government as a right and proper body to intervene—will have a very great deal for which to answer.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has itemised a number of things which are already being done, and this is very important because the theatre is attempting to help itself, and is trying to do so extremely vigorously. It is up to the rest of us to try to see, given this effort by them, what we can do to meet and to help these efforts.

I think there are two primary aims. The first is to get a general acceptance of the real assets that the theatre brings us, such as I have already outlined, and the second is to try to get a number of outside bodies to co-operate with the theatre in producing something which will be of mutual benefit to themselves, because what the Government so often do not seem to realise is that we are not back in a 19th century situation where a single industry or a single firm could produce the results, depending upon what had been put into it.

We live in a much more complicated, symbiotic world where what we need is help to try to put together packages of various industries which will help lead to the solution that we want. I think that the ticket booth which has been set up is a very good idea. The move towards one-price theatres, the move towards series sales—though so far that is mainly concerts and operas, but nevertheless, I suspect that with repertory theatres that is something which can happen—are important and worthwhile steps. But they will not be enough in this period unless the Government are prepared to help a bit more.

Several suggestions have been made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, as to what that help should be. I should like to mention just a couple of them. One is the high level of VAT. We all know how great parts of the entertainment industry were in fact crippled in the period after the war by the entertainments tax. We did very great harm to a lot of our entertainment industries at that time, and I think that is now accepted. We are in danger of doing the same now. There are a number of people who are in favour of zero VAT on the theatre. I must confess that I am not. I suspect that VAT is a tax which should be applied at some rate or another to everybody, but there should be differentials and I think that for the theatre it should be considerably lower than this. That is something the Government could well do; and do extremely soon; and I hope that they will.

The second thing which the Government can do is help the "angels" or "saints" in giving them tax relief from their losses, because, after all, they are taxed on their gains. If this could be done—certainly it should be done and I am sure it could be done—it would be an immense incentive. It is very important that we concentrate to a certain extent on the commercial theatre, not because it is necessarily doing as important a job as our very fine subsidised theatre, though I would hate to make judgments one way or another. But one cannot afford to let the two drift too far apart. The point about the subsidised theatre at the moment is that not only is it subsidised but on its subsidy it does not have to pay VAT, and the thing that VAT is doing to the commercial theatre is spreading further and further the gap between the two sides of the theatre industry. I think that is something we should aim away from.

The third thing the Government should do—it is the last thing I am going to mention—is one that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has also mentioned; that is, investment in the theatre investment fund. Public funding of the TIF would be tremendously important, I would remind this Government, not just in stimulating art but in stimulating imports of foreign currency, in stimulating one of the things in this country which quite genuinely pays profits, although the profits do not always go to the people who put it on, which is why we are in the position that we are in. But quite definitely it brings profits to this country in every kind of form.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said that he was not going to ask for a big dip into the purse. All of us feel very frightened of asking for big dips into the purse, but I must say that with the theatre investment fund I should have thought that a once-and-for-all dip for investment purposes, such as has been made for the film industry, is something which ought to be discussed very seriously at the moment. We are very grateful for what the Government have done. They have put up some money; they have helped with the ticket-selling scheme. We know that in the Minister for the Arts, as with the previous Minister for the Arts, we have someone who very much cares about the whole matter, but it is very important that it should be brought home to the Government how important this is, not from the point of view of highbrows or people who are just interested in airy-fairy things like art, though that is important in itself, but because it is something that can be seen to do this country good, and to pay.

8.17 p.m.


My Lords, the Bard of Avon has told us, "All the world's a stage". The question we invite the Government to consider tonight is: What is the use of a stage without a theatre? I am very happy indeed to follow the two noble Lords who have raised the plight of the theatre and asked the Government to help with regard to it. The enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was so great that, having come in second on deer, he was obviously quite determined to come in second on the theatre, on the dears and darlings of the theatre.


My Lords, I humbly beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon. It was totally inadvertent and I apologise profusely.


As I agree with every word that the noble Lord mentioned, I do not hold anything against him, save that he has denied me the pleasure of making some of the points that he made himself. We are particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, because this is the second time this year that he has very properly drawn attention to the plight of the theatre. The last time was in February, when he made a plea for the elimination or the reduction of VAT. On that occasion I fear that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, hardly gave us cold comfort—no comfort at all. Indeed, he said that as income tax had been so singularly relieved there were plenty of rich members of the public longing to flock to the theatre. It is not a very accurate picture of the situation either of the public or of the theatre. The fact is that since that debate the situation in the theatre has worsened somewhat for the reason which has been pointed out—that the cost of production increases all the time because of inflation. Indeed, I am told by my friends in the theatre who have spoken to me today that the cost of mounting a play has doubled in the last two years through the increased costs of materials and salaries, inadequate as the salaries of most actors may be.

The result of these pressures, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said, is that tonight there are seven theatres in the dark. Seven theatres are dark. It is a horrid thought. Theatres are the place of enlightenment, of enjoyment. They are a crucial part of our own culture in which we have indeed excelled, and a theatre in the dark is a tragedy. It is something that I fear will tend to increase. At least, up till now, permanent closures have been stopped, but we cannot and ought not to tolerate dark theatres, in a city and community that needs more than ever the enlightment, cheer and encouragement of an active theatrical life. Of course, the financial burden of maintaining a dark theatre, an empty theatre, is considerable. I am told that the cost of salaries of theatre staff and maintenance can range from £2,000 to £5,000 a week; so there is a need for help in this situation.

Various valuable suggestions have been made already in the course of the debate. The most oppressive burden is VAT. VAT costs the theatres £20 million a year; yet the theatres contribute substantially to the financial wealth of the country and to that of London, in particular. It is a great inducement to tourists to come here. How the calculation is arrived at I know not, but I am informed from a good source that in 1977, 4 million tourists attended our theatres, mostly the London theatres; and, of course, most of those were Americans, devoted, as they are, to our theatre, devoted, as they are, to the English language. I remember the American Congressman who is supposed to have said, "If the English language was good enough for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is good enough for me". They come, and have come, to the theatres and they bring wealth to the community as a result.

My Lords, there is no time—for I am only an interloper in this matter; but permitted to interlope with the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—to go into what the theatre is doing to improve its own position with various methods of self-help; but perhaps we may hear something about that from the noble Lord, Lord Miles, whom we are delighted to see again among us and to hear. I will not go over again the specific suggestions that have been made—VAT, theatre investment fund and the half dozen more suggestions—but I enthusiastically support the plea to the Government now to do something to save the live theatre.

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, my thanks are first due to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for introducing this subject. Quite apart from anything else, it is very refreshing to talk of something more esoteric than the deluge of legislation which has been the fare of late. It is also a great privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. He said that he was not a man of the theatre but from what he has said it is clear that he is. I must start by declaring an interest, a double interest. First, I am the president of the Redgrave Theatre Trust. The Redgrave Theatre is a provincial theatre in Farnham, named after the distinguished actor, Sir Michael Redgrave. We are a very small part of the subsidised theatre, and I will not refer to it again, because we receive subsidy from the Arts Council for which we are grateful and which enables us to put on a great variety of different types of production. If we did not have that subsidy, we should have a more straightforward commercial type of production in the catchment area that we serve—and that would be a loss to the community. Secondly, I am what has already been referred to in the theatrical parlance by Several noble Lords as an "angel", sometimes referred to nowadays as a "saint". Perhaps other people with a more economic frame of mind might refer to one as a damned fool. But there it is. One is involved in this activity because one believes in it; and I am gratified to hear that there may be some encouragement for those of us who indulge in this particular type of foolishness.

There is no doubt—and noble Lords who have spoken have brought this out already—that there is a real danger that the independent commercial theatre in London could go down. If it did go down—and the noble and learned Lord referred to various theatres which are dark—it is very unlikely that it would return in a hurry. Therefore, it is important (and the Question has drawn attention to the fact that it is part of our national heritage) that we consider this problem seriously. The problem is temporary. The problem is the economy, the lack of tourists coming here, and the multiple effect of the costs of production and the costs of an evening out in the theatre. A large number of the British public who go to the theatre do not go only to the theatre but to the theatre and to dine out also. They must be transported there. It is this multiple effect which has had a damaging impact on the theatre.

Obviously, the theatre public is very much a part of the users of discretionary income. When there is a period of recession it is the least crucial element in their life which tends first to be liquidated and shelved. This crucial part of discretionary income has affected the theatre seriously not only in the United Kingdom but abroad. We are all delighted to have a strong pound, but this has had a detrimental effect on the US tourist trade coming to London; and a very large part of the London theatre is dependent upon the US market. It is a sad fact that fewer people come into London from outside to the commercial theatre than heretofore.

I suspect that one of the reasons why there is less demand inside our own country is the reason given by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull: the problem in the West End itself, the lack of parking. There is no doubt that Soho and the area round Shaftesbury Avenue, which is a major area for the independent commercial theatre, is not as so salubrious as it was. It has a distinctly disadvantageous position compared with other theatres, and not only those in London which, like the National Theatre, have parking and dining on site. Provincial theatres such as those with which I am associated, or at Chichester, or the Yvonne Arnaud at Guildford and many others, have good parking space and eating facilities as an integral part of the premises. That is not the case in London's commercial theatres. If they had access to the buildings to which they are adjacent and if every theatre had a building next door available for dining and other club facilities, that would change the situation.

My Lords, it would be improper to have a debate such as this without mentioning briefly Equity. Equity, the actors' union, has done a great deal for the acting profession in raising standards and raising salaries, and it helps the industry as a whole; but there are two negative points that I should like to mention. One affects production costs. In many small productions today, one set and three actors is the order of the day, but the Equity rules demand that a greater number of people are utilised. This raises costs and restricts production. Of course, one must realise that the acting profession is one of those areas of activity where supply vastly exceeds demand and therefore the natural forces should be allowed to have greater interplay. Secondly, there is no comparable industry where market forces are more apparent in the matter of productivity nor more readily accepted. A case in point is the recent large musical, "Chicago", in which all the people concerned offered to reduce their salaries in order to keep the show going; but there was a certain amount of resistance by Equity. This is perhaps less satisfactory than it should be.

Finally, VAT has been mentioned and, of course, VAT will naturally continue to exist. VAT is an indirect tax and must be more sensible than direct taxation. There is one aspect that has not been mentioned—and I entirely agree with what noble Lords have said—and that is, if one comes from a theatre one can go to a bookshop and buy a magazine, books or pictures of the theatre, or other pictures—whether pornographic or not, depending where the theatre is—and these are not subject to VAT. Therefore, we have a state of affairs where there is a distinct prejudice against the spoken word in favour of the written word. I am sure that this is something which needs to be considered by the Government. As has been mentioned, the London theatre is a great part of our national heritage. There is no substitute for the living theatre.

My Lords, that is all I want to say, except that I can think of no greater honour, having followed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, than to give way to that great tyro of the theatre, the noble Lord, Lord Miles.

8.31 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount and the three noble Lords who preceded him for a delightful though ill-deserved tribute. We are talking about a very deep malaise in our country, and it is a matter of language. We speak the widest and most varied language in the world—a language gathered in from Rome, Greece, Scandinavia, the Low Countries, Germany, India, Africa, China and Malaysia. The other day I read that in 1699 there was an advertisement which said: For tee the Chineans say 'cha'. The Indians say 'tee'. Anyway, we have "cha" firmly nailed down to 1699 and coming from China. Only Russia has a larger vocabulary.

This language has been spread all over the world by soldiers, sailors, merchant adventurers and tourists. It is the lingua franca of science. At conferences in Athens, Istanbul, and Tokyo the language is English. Russian theatre folk, Japanese, South Americans, people from all over the world, write to me and they ask for the paperback copies of plays by our modern dramatists: they would like John Arden, Bob Bolt; have we any Wesker? Are the Stoppard plays printed? They ask for Peter Nicholls, and so on. They only wish that they could get to England to see and hear some of our theatre.

England is the greatest museum in the world. Do not think that I am trying to divert your Lordships from the subject in mind, the theatre. People come from all over the world to see our castles, cathedrals, churches, museums, our great country houses, our libraries and to enjoy our landscapes. All our labelling, our guide books, are in English. So far as possible they comprise a list of Britishness. That Britishness reposes, I believe, largely and most powerfully inside our language.

It has a wide variety of dialect and regional speech. There are 30 or 40 beautiful differences, in one of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, is a master from birth, as well as having gathered in elements on the way of other dialects. There is Geordie, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Black Country, East Anglian, Cockney, West country—you name it, my Lords, and we have it. It is well known that the Elizabethan seamen, Raleigh, Hawkins and Drake—these boys who came up to the Court from the West country—were the people who implanted phonetically into the English language West country sounds which remained in it for many, many years.

So I believe this linguistic richness finds its sharpest form in the theatre; not only in serious theatre but in common, run-of-the-mill, farce, pantomime, and so on. The Elizabethan dramatists—the province of our classical theatres, our subsidised theatres—are packed with it. Shakespeare, Middleton, Dekker, John Ford, Marlowe and the Restoration also; onwards to Christopher Rich, the pantomime tradition, Joe Grimaldi, Marie Lloyd, George Robey, Dan Leno, Syd Field and Henry Irvine. One cannot separate them, they are talking the richest, most varied and most expressive language that has ever been created since language began.

It is a long, unbroken line of performers speaking English; tragical, historical, comical, pastoral; comical, pastoral, historical, tragical—these are the men. On to "Charley's Aunt". My wife and I were in Spain a little while ago and owing to fog we could not get home. We had to stay the night because the 'plane was not flying. Walking along a street in Barcelona we saw billed in enormous headlines on a theatre: "El Tia de Carlo". We passed it and I stopped my wife and said: "'Tia', that is 'Tio Pepe'. That is uncle. So 'Tia' must be aunt". My wife said: "What is 'Carlo'?" I said: "'Charles'—The aunt of Charles". They are performing: 'Charley's Aunt' here". A great Spanish comedian was appearing—the only man dressed in Victorian clothes. The others were in mini skirts and what they had with them. I throw that in as a makeweight, my Lords.

Only a year ago I was invited to go to the Waldorf Hotel to address some ladies who had flown over to England to see our theatre. It appeared that they had come on a 10 day trip and were going to see 14 theatres. I was only a lunch-time makeweight before they went off to have a sleep before going to a 5 o'clock and then an 8.30 performance. At the end I had a note from their guide saying that they had indeed seen 14 British theatres in 10 days—and had survived it!

I think in brief that the theatre can be said to express our natural heartbeat more powerfully than any other means. We look to the Greeks and the Romans; Plautus and Terence; the Moliere; Spain's Calderon; Lope de Vega; Ibsen; Strindberg. Always one keeps finding that what we know of a country is concerned with names. Names like Alexander the Great and Hitler disappear. Names of dramatists, great composers and artists turn up as the prime expression of great countries and their individuality.

However, one could say that much of this—one could say most of it—is available in printed form. This is indeed true. But the bringing it to life for searching its depths, for laughter and tears, for making it sparkle with wit and enchantment, there is the theatre. In the world today there is no theatre like English and no actors better than the British. There are the great Russian actors; but they begin to grow old and they keep them playing Juliet into their 'seventies, and those things which belong to tradition. We do something different in a marvellous way. We do not rehearse for 10, 12 or 20 weeks. We do not rehearse for half a year. In four weeks a play is put on as a result of blinding hard work, discipline, application, marvellous diction and a range of technical ability unrivalled in any country in the world.

Now, for one reason or another, the theatre is going through a hard time. Diminished tourism, inflation and crucifying rising costs have affected the theatre. Our own tiny Mermaid Theatre, which had 500 seats, incurred overheads which multiplied nearly three times in the final five years before we closed. We had customers whom we knew well, who came as they would have gone to see Henry Irving, and whom he and his managers knew. They would come six to eight times a year and then they began to restrict themselves to four, and finally they came twice a year. In the end quite a number of people were bringing their own lunch and dinner packs in greaseproof paper, and were eating sandwiches in our foyer instead of going to the theatre restaurant. So we saw this decline at first hand and in a very, very tragic way.

It is a very high risk business—there is no higher risk business in the world. You take a quite unpredictable dive into the deep end and hope for the best. There is no production line, with other cars being made, taking out one model or two and feeding in other models in order to sustain the whole operation. Every theatre production, certainly in the West End commercial theatre, is a life or death matter; a complete production line in itself; a beginning and an end—and all too often an end.

I do not think there are any simple remedies. Your Lordships, between you, have discussed a number of remedies, all of which have relevance and all of which could provide a pool of ideas for discussion. I will not enlarge on those or duplicate them, but in the end I think we have to face what amounts to a real weakening and erosion of the greatest asset this country possesses: its astounding language, its value and its uses, how they come to life in our most renowned theatre and what can be done to rescue them from their present parlous state. I hope that steps will be taken and that wiser heads than mine, both here and in the other place, where I am told they proliferate—perhaps I should not have said that—will find solutions.

I shall give only one tiny note of cheer, which is that at the moment my wife and I and our group of trustees are in the middle of an appeal to collect half a million pounds in order to give a face-lift to our Mermaid Theatre, which was built in an old warehouse and which it was really impossible to leave there in its present state. By an arrangement with a prestigious finance house, we have managed to get £2 million, but half a million pounds still had to be found for the fittings, furnishings, carpets, new seating, restaurant equipment, refrigera- tors, heaters, tables, chairs, tablecloths and so on. So my wife and I have been out begging—and there is no happier job than going round the City of London.

We have restricted ourselves to just the square mile for the moment, which is perhaps why your Lordships may not have heard of us yet! But I will tell you that the five clearing banks have shown an understanding and a generosity quite unprecedented in our 40 years' experience of the theatre, and have made a substantial contribution towards this half a million pounds, which is now already nudging 50 per cent. of its total. There is one hank in particular, one of the giant banks. If you can get in—and in the end you can get in, with courtesy, great persistence and humour—and if you can make an incision and get your hand in and gently massage, you will find a heart beating and it beats even more strongly as you go on.

In the bank of which I am speaking (one of the Big Five), the chairman and general manager will ask you to tea—I commend this to your Lordships—and he will go to the cupboard and get out a giant home-made fruit cake and will hand you the knife to cut a slice for yourself before sending for the chequebook and sending you home with a handsome contribution towards the fund for which you have come seeking support. I need say no more except to thank your Lordships for such a patient and gentle hearing.

8.45 p.m.


My Lords, we are lucky in this House, are we not? There are only half-a-dozen of us here, but we have had a delightful talk from somebody who really knows what he is talking about and, what is far more important, knows how to talk about it. I was rather surprised at the idea of the five banks being generous: this is something quite new to me. I have not experienced it. In fact I had a go not long ago and failed dismally; but perhaps that was because I am not as plausible and attractive as the noble Lord who has just spoken.

He spoke about language. I agree, and I think the glory of our country is the variety of language. I must tell your Lordships what happened to me after I had been abroad in the war for four-and-a-half years without seeing my family. I came back to Birmingham and I had got a Russian medal in Tehran. My daughter, Rose, aged five, was brought by my wife to meet me at Birmingham and as she came in she said, "Is that the Russian 'un?" That is the way our language varies. In those days she spoke pure Birmingham from beginning to end. Now she speaks "Oxford English" which is not really so attractive.

I must begin what I have to say tonight by declaring an interest. I am the executor of the estate of the late Frederick Lonsdale. He was a playwright of some distinction and one of his plays has just had an enormous success in Chichester—"The Last of Mrs. Cheyney"—which broke all records there. It is coming on again in London. Having declared my interest, your Lordships cannot grumble if I give it a little plug, which I have now done!

There are two problems in the theatre: one is the subsidised theatre and the other is the unsubsidised theatre. There is a little friction between them. The unsubsidised theatre thinks it is rather rot that the National Theatre should put on things like "Plunder", which they think is the sort of thing they ought to put on themselves. But things change so fast that you never know where you are going to be. For example, 20 years ago I do not think you could possibly have made a commercial success of either Ibsen or Strindberg. Now, if you do it well enough you can; and it has been done recently. So it is a very difficult line to draw.

Regarding the subsidised theatre, I should like to put a question to the Minister, which I hope he will answer if he can. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said they paid VAT. I always thought they did, but I spoke to the Arts Council this morning and they told me they did not pay VAT. I should like to be clear about that, because it is an important point. In any case, I am absolutely in favour of subsidising the theatre as well as having a commercial theatre. They are two quite different things and they both have to co-exist. There will always be rows and jealousies and that is what makes the world go round, so I do not grumble at that.

One of the problems of the theatre today is caused by television, which is that people get to want "stars". Although the noble Lord, Lord Miles, is a star, and I do not object to that, a number of performances are very good without great stars; and the local, smaller companies—the kind with which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, is concerned—cannot afford great stars. That is a great problem. The best things do not draw without names, and that is a sad situation, I think.

The local repertory theatres in all parts of the country, and not only in rural areas but in towns, are what I am most worried about. These are the areas from which young men emerge with special talent, and they are suffering very badly at the moment. The position is that the Arts Council has not cut subsidies, but it has not increased them to anything like the level of inflation. So all these companies are in difficulties.

In my opinion, the most important thing in the theatre, from the point of view of creating a new theatre here, is the people who want to get started. I was talking this evening to a girl who wants to get started as a producer. I asked "Where are you going to go?" She said, "I shall have to go outside. I shall never get started in London". These people depend on the success or the stability of the local repertory theatres. There are a good many examples, but I shall quote only one which is the Roundabout Company and which is attached to the Nottingham Playhouse. That has now lost its subsidy from the local authority; and so the Theatre in Education, which they do and which I think is one of the most valuable things in the whole theatrical world, properly done—because it is dealing with the young—is suffering.

As for the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, they are not too bad. They have been reasonably supported this year. They were in some trouble last year, and they may be next year when the RSC moves to the Barbican in May. God knows what will happen then! I hope that it will be all right. Trevor Nunn says that he can do it, and I only hope he can. But, on the whole, they have not been too bad. But the £.8½million, outside of the two big theatre companies, which the Arts Council gives to the repertory companies and the local theatres is very near the bone, and there is real trouble there.

If I may turn now to the unsubsidised theatre, in a different sense exactly the same thing is happening. Tourism is down by 40 per cent.—this is terrific—the pound is up, VAT is 15 per cent., transport is more expensive than it has ever been and it is not surprising that the unsubsidised theatre is having a very difficult time. Mind you, my Lords, good stuff still works. "The Dresser" is making money, but I do not know what other straight play in London is making money—probably one or two, but jolly few. I was talking to a theatre manager this evening and I mentioned a particular play. I said that it is doing 50 per cent., but he said that "It is doing 50 per cent. only because we make up 20 per cent. of it". That is the kind of thing that is going on.

It is very difficult, but one must admit that it is not all the Government's fault. I like to think that most of these things are the Government's fault, but it is not all the Government's fault. One of the difficulties is that there is a very serious lack of good stuff. The theatre managers have difficulty in finding things which they think will make money.

I do not want to go over what has been said before, because the three remedies that I was going to discuss have all been raised not only by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who asked the Question, but by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, as well. There are only three things you can do at this moment to help the theatre. The first is VAT. I fought for three years to try to reduce our VAT of 8 per cent. and failed. But that is no excuse for making it 15 per cent., and I think that in a situation which is really critical the Government could consider taking a risk and saying, "I know that all the football clubs will be very angry, but people are getting very angry with us"—and I can assure your Lordships that they are—"and a little more rage won't hurt." They would be able to save the theatre, if they put the rate down to what it was in our day. This is something which a courageous Government—and I think we have a courageous Prime Minister, even if somewhat wrong-headed—could afford to do.

The next thing you can do, as has been suggested, is to do something for the "angels". I do not think they are saints, but it is a shame that they should be gamblers on a large scale, whom we need—the fact that they are gamblers is all right; they do it to make money, but they do it also for certain other pleasures—and should have to face their own losses, but be taxed on their own profits. I had a chance with the play that I was advertising earlier on, "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney", of putting some money into the London performance which is coming on in October—I hasten to inform your Lordships of that, and I hope you will all come—but I decided not to do so. It is not my business. I do not know enough about it. The London critics are very difficult to please. Provincial audiences are much more sensible. Anyway, I did not. But I think that that is something to go for.

The third thing which has also been mentioned is the Theatre Investment Trust of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. It is a splendid concern. I went to see them when I was a Minister, and they are a most impressive lot of very sober theatre people who know their stuff. They have had great success with what they have done in the first three years, and if you could give them £2 million or £3 million now that would enable them, instead of putting 5 or 10 per cent. into a new play, to put in 15 or 20 per cent. which would make the whole difference to the theatre. So those are the three things which could be done. I wish to say categorically that I do not believe this Government will do any of them.

I wish to end by saying that I deeply regret it, because I believe, as my noble friend Lord Miles and others have said, that the English theatre, the British theatre, is one of our most important and most triumphant assets. We are not allowing the seed corn—that is to say, the young people who start in the provinces—to get a start. This is the kind of short-sighted thing that Governments who are keen on monetarism are apt to do. I only hope that what this debate will have done is to make a dent in the rigidity which the Government show to this and to the arts in general.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, answers—

8.57 p.m.


My Lords, with the greatest respect, we have had the main speakers and the final Opposition speaker. It is not customary at this late hour to have additional speakers. I hope your Lordships will forgive that jarring note. Where else, other than here, could we have possibly found such splendid theatre as we have just heard? I really do congratulate my noble friend Lord Kinnoull on his most distinguished contributors to the discussion this evening, who have raised matters of very considerable topical interest and have put many important questions and proposals. The health of the theatres in our capital city must be a matter of concern to all who are jealous of our cultural heritage, as well as to those who seek no more than a respite from the workaday world and the pressures of modern life. I therefore wish to be as helpful as I possibly can in dealing with the problems that have been ventilated this evening, within the limits of my knowledge of the situation and the powers of the Government to intervene.

I say straight away to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, whose love of all the arts is so well-known, that this Government would do willingly everything that he would do, if we had the finance. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, asked: what is the good of a stage without a theatre? All I can say to him is that, wherever he is, he needs no theatre or stage. Your Lordships will understand, however, that this Government are in a rather detached position relative to the London theatres, of which your Lordships have spoken; namely, the commercial West End theatres.

My right honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for the Arts has a general responsibility and interest in the whole of the theatre, but is, of course, more directly concerned with central government funding of the subsidised theatre. The Arts Council is the agency through which this support is distributed, and it is very gratifying when people such as my noble friend Lord Montgomery express gratitude for this help.

Apart from grants totalling, as has been said, nearly £19 million last year to the four national companies—the Royal Opera House, the English National Opera, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company—the Arts Council, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, correctly said, distributed over £9 million to other drama activities in England, such as regional theatres and touring. I accept that it is near the bone. The commercial West End theatre operates, at least in its management structure and finances, largely independently of this state supported sector, although, as I shall show, they have a good deal to give one another.

But the difficulties which have been referred to are not just those of the subsidised theatre, which for the most part is in new or renovated premises and enjoys a reasonable degree of financial stability. The commercial London theatre, however, is housed in older buildings where security of tenure is by no means guaranteed and where programmes and finances must suffer from a considerable degree of uncertainty. The noble Lord, Lord Miles, referred to it as a high risk business, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein said that he thought that people who went into it were not so much angels and saints as perhaps stupid fools.

The Government and the Minister for the Arts do understand this and are concerned with the general cultural standards and health in the theatre, of which the commercial London theatres are a key feature. Therefore, although this is the private enterprise sector, I take the liberty of offering some observations on the various points which have been raised this evening.

The present difficulties have been attributed, quite correctly, partly to inflation, resulting in high production costs, which of course include recent minimum wage increases for performers, and also to high prices for those accompaniments of an evening out to the theatre, such as travelling, whether by public transport, car, or taxi, and meals and drinks. These high production costs, I appreciate, cannot be offset by increases in productivity, for one performer cannot play two, at any rate major, parts, and there are limits to economising by presenting two-hander plays.

The high price of tickets has also been blamed, and in this connection VAT on theatre tickets has several times been mentioned. I shall come to that point later in my speech. Then again, the haphazard and frequently frustrating business of trying to book and buy theatre tickets, particularly over the telephone, must arouse its own customer resistance. Falling audiences are attributed to a dropping off of tourist custom, not only in numbers but also in their willingness to spend freely on going to the theatre, while the family audiences, which can no longer afford to attend, are not being attracted back to fill the gap. Marketing and publicity have also been mentioned as less than satisfactory and, finally, I would suggest that the quality of the shows offered—the "product" as it is referred to in the business—has come in for some criticism. I have identified these in order to consider more effectively whether the Government can offer any assistance or advice, as my noble friend has requested.

Let me first turn to the matter of assistance. It seems to me that the first thing which has to be attended to is the product which is put before the public, and the Arts Council has increasingly subsidised productions by the national companies or in regional theatres which are able to enjoy an extended life by going on to runs in West End theatres. I have in mind the recent National Theatre production of Alan Ayckbourn's "Bedroom Farce" which, a little while back, transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre before going on to America; the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Once in a Lifetime" and "Piaf", which are currently playing at the Piccadilly Theatre. From the fringe theatre came Belt and Braces' "Accidental Death of an Anarchist", which is now playing at the Wyndham's Theatre, and from the regional theatre, the Leicester Haymarket Trust's "My Fair Lady" which has been an enormous success at the Adelphi, and their "Oklahoma", at present on tour and likely to come into the West End soon.

Equally basic input by the Arts Council into the theatre are the personnel. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, quite rightly drew attention to the plight of young people wishing to gain production experience. This is where the Arts Council are able to help personnel, who are trained under various schemes funded by the council. There are advanced training schemes and bursaries not only for performers already showing promise but also for designers and directors and for skills in particularly short supply—arts administrators trained on courses funded by the Arts Council at the City University, theatre technicians trained at Arts Council expense by the Association of British Theatre Technicians.

Furthermore, the Arts Council funds various theatre writing schemes, such as bursaries and royalty supplements, by which writers are guaranteed a minimum return in royalties to encourage playwrights and to give them the opportunity to develop their professional skills. All of these trainees are available to the commercial theatre, as to any others, and your Lordships will find that many of these—indeed, I would hazard most—who later make their name in the theatre will have started in the subsidised theatre or have received some support from the Arts Council. Last year the council spent some £350,000 on various schemes of training for the theatre.

In other directions, too, the Arts Council has provided some of the initial funding for schemes designed to assist the commercial theatre—not London theatres solely, it is true, but most of it is concentrated there. I have in mind the Theatres Investment Fund, about which noble Lords have spoken, which was created in 1976 to provide investment for productions that might not otherwise get sufficient hackers. My noble friend Lord Kinnoull in particular and other noble Lords were worried about this. The Arts Council provided £100,000, and £150,000 was raised from private sources. Over the years, it has invested in over 80 productions, including such diverse presentations as "Sleuth", "Once a Catholic", "Side by Side by Sondheim" and "Toad of Toad Hall". It is now run down, I regret to say, to rather less than half of its original size and the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is anxious to recapitalise it. However, I regret to say that any increase will have to be found from private investment or from a further contribution by the Arts Council. I am disappointed to have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that a once-and-for-all further dip is not at this moment "on".

Since my noble friend Lord Kinnoull referred to the London theatres as "a unique part of the national heritage", I am reminded that the Theatres Trust, which has also been referred to tonight by noble Lords and which is also chaired by that most splendid colleague of ours, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and which exists to safeguard theatre premises from demolition and change of use, has recently received a grant from the Government to enable it to continue its work. Most recently, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has announced that the Government will provide financial help with a major research project into London theatre audiences which is to he undertaken by the Society for West End Theatre.

Finally, I should like to mention that an extremely successful and much appreciated feature of the London theatre scene is the student standby scheme run by the Society for West End Theatre in collaboration with the National Union of Students and funded with an initial grant from the Arts Council. This scheme whereby students may purchase cut price tickets during the last hour before the performance starts, attracted 70,000 student attendances in its first six months. This surely points the way to ideas that might be developed further in the future.

Apart from schemes run or funded by the Arts Council, other branches of Government are looking at provisions which the theatre might take advantage of, and the clause in the Finance Bill at present under consideration in another place, (which my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and other noble Lords mentioned) whereby investment losses by shareholders may be set off against income tax, may be of benefit to backers of theatrical productions. I understand that discussions about this are shortly to take place between officials of the Office of Arts and Libraries and of the Inland Revenue, with representatives of the commercial theatre. Another provision benefits contributors to charities by the shortening of the covenant period for donations from seven years to four years and allows payments to charities to be deducted from the higher rates of tax up to a maximum of £3,000. Although I imagine that the London commercial theatres are not charities, some subsidised theatres are, and may benefit from private or business sponsorship encouraged by these new measures.

This will give your Lordships some idea of the positive assistance that is already given by the Government, which I hope can be accepted as being substantial and diverse. Assistance on this scale will, I trust, continue to be available; my right honourable friend has been very successful in maintaining until now the level of support for the arts and will use his not inconsiderable advocacy to keep this up. There cannot be more support from the public sector and any development of existing schemes, or any new ones, will need to depend on more contributions from the private sector, and I look forward to a ready response to my right honourable friend's campaign to encourage more business sponsorship of the arts, to assist here. Only last night I went to a party at which he was launching this scheme in front of a goodly array of learned, artistic and financial gentlemen.

The question of VAT was raised this evening and I know this is a matter on which all your Lordships feel strongly. My noble friend Lord Kinnoull, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery were all worried about this. We were told that the spoken word is discriminated against in favour of the written word. I do not know what would happen if we were to discriminate in favour of the spoken word against the written word; that would be awful.

To the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I would say that theatres do not actually pay VAT; it is the customers who pay it. The box office gets the VAT from the customers and passes it on to the Customs and Excise authorities. It does not pay it initially.


My Lords, may I just clear my mind on this. The subsidised theatre behaves in exactly the same way as the unsubsidised, is that not right?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, suggested that that was not so. In my opinion it used not to be so, but it is now.


My Lords, perhaps I may clear this up. Of course it pays VAT in the same way. The point that I was making was that a larger proportion of its income comes from grants, therefore it sells at lower prices and it does not pay VAT on the portion of its income that it gets from grants. That was the point that I was making.


My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord. On the question of VAT, I am afraid that I cannot bring your Lordships much comfort. Of course we should like to see the level of taxation on theatre tickets and on the arts generally, and indeed on all of the accompaniments to an evening out at the theatre, reduced, and I understand the concern of those connected with the theatre about this issue. However, I think the concentration on this point, fanned by some popular, perhaps slightly emotive agitation and fed by some rather unreliable information about the situation elsewhere in the European Community, and about the options open to the Government here, have been more symbolic than real, and this is being used as an excuse for more fundamental difficulties. The problem is that VAT was designed as a broad-based tax on consumer expenditure generally and there are many other candidates in the queue for relief from VAT, who regard themselves as equally deserving as the theatre.

After giving the matter careful and serious consideration, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has decided to adhere to the policy of giving reliefs only where there are compelling social reasons, and limiting them to those items which are the subject of significant and continuing expenditure by ordinary families, such as food, domestic fuel and children's clothing. In the light of this, the theatre therefore cannot be treated as a special case because the pressure from other candidates, would, despite what has been said about the limited effect of relief for the theatre, result in the loss of considerable revenue. Moreover, harmonisation with rates in other community countries, which has also been advocated, cannot be seriously in prospect; apart from the fact that the rates vary in other Community countries, that for the theatre is actually higher in some countries than here. I know that some of your Lordships will be disappointed about this, but it is unrealistic for the theatre to press for exemption or reduction at a time when an essential element of our strategy, which is designed to create a healthy economy, is the shift from direct to indirect taxation.

My Lords, advice is certainly easier to give than assistance, and I do not want to appear irresponsible or to stray into areas where others are more expert than I am, but I have been invited to offer some thoughts by my noble friend in his Question and I do so, drawing to some extent on my own personal view of the situation. The first thing that I would say is that, while problems can never be tackled until they are identified, we should not harp too much on the difficulties and shortcomings of the London theatre. There has been a sense of shock following a number of recent failures of shows shortly after their opening, and at others which are hanging on rather precariously. But shows do come to the end of a natural life, and "Ipi Tombi", for example, closed shortly after moving to the Astoria only after having had long and successful runs at the Cambridge and Whitehall theatres. And the theatre is known, as has been said by my noble friend, to be a risky business in that it is exceedingly difficult to judge the mood of the public, and I am afraid of the critics also, and sudden deaths have always been with us. It is just that they come sooner and more expensive nowadays.

But my first piece of advice would certainly be for the London theatres not to lose hope. We have got to keep up our courage. The well-written, well-presented and publicised, and well-performed play or musical or other theatre presentation will always find an audience, and it is the selling of it rather than the basic product that probably needs more attention. It will not surprise your Lordships to hear that my second piece of advice, in the light of Government assistance that I have already outlined, and consistent with our political philosophy and its encouragement of private enterprise, is to adjure the London theatres to help themselves. My Lords, I thought the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Miles, about what he and his wife had done was absolutely admirable, and if every theatre offered plum cake and then a cheque book afterwards, how much better they would do!


My Lords, the noble Lord received the plum cake as well as the plums.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Miles, has not yet asked me if I would sample his plum cake; no doubt after this he may do. Then not only Government but also, I hope, business and the public will be behind them. Thus it is that I am encouraged and heartened to learn of the initiative of the Society of West End Theatre in developing their plan for more effective marketing of the London theatres announced last week.

Referring to some of the difficulties that I identified earlier, rising costs of production and the complexities of buying seats, these should to some extent be countered by the society's plan for a half-price central ticket booth which is to be opened in the autumn, as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull said, possibly in Leicester Square; that is, of course, provided it can get planning permission from the authorities. If all the seats can be filled, even by selling the balance at reduced prices, this will not only increase takings but, what is probably just as important, provide the incentive for the presenters and performers to give of their best and to enjoy what they are doing, with the hopeful result that the show will receive the kind of publicity from both critics and audience that will get it off to a good start and keep it going.

In the longer-term the society's second project, an in-depth survey of audiences and box office statistics, should prove valuable in tackling the problem of identifying the audience to which the theatres may most successfully address their marketing strategies. If the custom from tourism is falling off, theatres need to be considering what they can do further to encourage domestic audiences. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, quite rightly mentioned the temptation of TV keeping families in. The "family audience" has an old-fashioned ring about it, but it is surely, as he suggested, most important to capture the interest and imagination of the young if a continuing audience for the live theatre is to be guaranteed. At the very least, taking the children to the theatre avoids the baby-sitting problem, and at best the enthusiasm of the parents may produce a lifelong future follower. Such audiences, however, will not be attracted unless there are suitable presentations, attractive prices and better booking arrangements. The students standby scheme to which I have referred points in the right direction and again can no doubt be developed.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, referred to the London theatres' immeasurable assistance to the tourist industry. The British Tourist Authority survey for 1979 indicated that, unlike New York, the theatre is not the primary attraction for visitors to London, since, while it is important, it is only one of the many points of interest for the tourist. The survey shows that the theatre is very low on the list of attractions mentioned by their sample of overseas visitors, since only about one-third of them said that they had been expecting good theatre in London before they arrived. The moral of this surely is that better publicity and marketing abroad must improve the visitors' knowledge and better publicity and marketing at home will get the visitors into the theatre, even though they have come here for other reasons. The good news should then get back home, and so the accelerator effect is started.

Another encouragement, both to domestic and family audiences and to visitors, is the "package" deal whereby the various elements of a visit to the theatre can be rolled up into a more attractive financial deal. Again, I therefore welcome the Theatre Rail Scheme newly introduced by British Rail, whereby travel and admission to a theatre are combined at advantageous prices; this should substantially expand the catchment area for the London theatres. I hope it is successful and that further development on these lines, involving, say, London Transport, and restaurants and stores and so on, will help with another of the problems I have identified—the total cost of the outing.

And, finally, advertising and publicity. I know the London press, and particularly the evening papers, give the London theatres good coverage. I think the radio and television programmes could do more, although there are notable exceptions, such as the BBC's excellent nightly Kaleidoscope programme and Capital Radio's nightly announcement of a selection of theatres offering student standby tickets—mention of which reminds me of Capital Radio's most welcome excursion into theatre management with their taking over the Duke of York's Theatre and the very successful presentation of Rose, their first play in the refurbished premises. If more radio and, particularly, television companies could thereby recognise and acknowledge their debt to the live theatre, it would indeed contribute substantially to the revitalising of the West End theatre.

I have offered a number of thoughts, which I hope your Lordships will not think too trite; a lot more could be said, but the hour is late, and these are some of the important points, as I see them. In conclusion, may I again exhort the London theatres not to lose their confidence. There is no doubt that London is still the theatrical capital of the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Miles, so vividly in his splendid speech-which I hope will be read by a far wider audience than is here tonight—brought out.

Although New York has, over the last five years, come over the hump largely thanks to a massive investment by the Schubert Organisation and modern marketing, Broadway is still heavily dependent on us for plays. We have spent this evening discussing some of the problems of the London theatres, but we must not overlook that the theatre, like so many activities nowadays, is multinational and it is sustained by exchanges of both product and ideas; Evita goes to Broadway, Sweeney Todd comes from Broadway. The New York theatre has lessons which we can learn; I suspect they have learnt quite a lot from us.

We must not be too insular; we must recognise that the theatre is only one means of communication and that all are mutually dependent. Given better publicity throughout the media—press, television, radio—and encouragement from those influential in these areas and from the Government, and given the measures of self-help which are now being developed, there is no reason why the London theatre scene should not be transformed, as the New York scene has been over the last five years; and the help which your Lordships have given in bringing this to public notice will, I am sure, have made a valuable contribution. This evening's discussion stands, to my mind, as an object lesson to the live theatre itself and I wish the London theatre scene an extended and successful run.