HL Deb 22 July 1986 vol 479 cc113-6

2.43 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the annual grant given by the Arts Council to the National Theatre and to the Royal Shakespeare Company; and whether they are satisfied that the financial control of the management in these two theatre groups is adequate to ensure good value to the taxpayer.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the projected grants for 1986–87 are: the National Theatre, £7,811,000 and the Royal Shakespeare Company, £5,592,000. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts has full confidence in the boards of the two companies and in their ability to maintain value for money.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that informative Answer. But is he aware of recent press allegations that the artistic directors of these two theatres have made greater profits out of recent successes in their respective theatres when those successes have gone on to Broadway and other commercial theatres than have the theatres themselves? I listened to my noble friend's reassurance, but does he not think that with such very large sums of taxpayers' money—nearly £13 million—being granted to these two theatres, something more is needed to ensure that they have a fair share when greater profits are made? Will the Minister ensure that measures are taken to give the Arts Council greater control of the management so that the taxpayer who has to finance the losses on these theatres gets a fair crack of the whip when they make big successes?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is certainly within the directors' conditions of service that they should be able to be properly rewarded for their expertise. I think this is a question of balance between what is due to the companies and what is due to the directors. Sir Kenneth Cork is at the moment chairing an Arts Council inquiry into the funding of the live theatre, and my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts has asked Sir Kenneth to look specifically at this issue and to produce guidelines for the future.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I entirely support his answers to this Question? Is he further aware that both these companies have been rigorously examined by the noble Lord, Lord Rayner, and Mr. Clive Priestley and have been given a clean bill of health? Is that scrutiny not to be valued more than the so-called investigative journalism which is really a form of disguised Philistinism?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as the Government's reply which I gave says, my right honourable friend has full confidence in the boards of the two companies—and, incidentally, a senior officer of the Arts Council attends meetings of both boards. Nonetheless, I think that it will be of use generally that the inquiry of Sir Kenneth Cork will be looking at this particular matter. I am sure that it will help.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while it is right that the contract that is entered into as to what the artistic directors can and cannot do and receive in those capacities should be rigorously looked at, it is wrong that the artistic directors in this case should be blackguarded because they have produced a success? The return that they have obtained under the terms of their contract could not have been as high as it was if they had not produced successful productions, and rather than blackguard them for doing it should we not encourage them to continue producing successes of that kind?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that the enormous, popular success of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company are eloquent of the ability of the directors as well as the staff and the performers.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is it not true that these two companies enjoy unique national and international prestige and also earn a great deal financially for Britain? Is it not because they are so successful—and a great deal of the credit for that success must go to their artistic directors—that this matter has arisen? If there are guidelines produced, then it will be a result of their successes. Can the Minister reassure us that, if this controversy is used to attack government investment in the arts, Ministers will resist this action rigorously and loudly?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I did not pick up any attack on the Government's investment in the arts during this Question and Answer session. If I do so, like the noble Baroness I shall resist it. I agree with her about the success of these two great companies.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, accept from someone who, over many years, has been a director of the National Theatre, that in fact there is very great financial control? Would he give appreciation to the fact that two very eminent people—

Noble Lords


Lord Mishcon

My Lords, may I put my remarks in the form of a question? Would the Minister agree—and would the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, listen—that the nation has been privileged to have two directors of two great companies—namely, Sir Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn—as directors of subsidised theatres when the commercial world wanted them very badly and would have paid them very much more?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have already paid tribute to the success of those two great companies. My noble friend Lord Nugent has however asked a serious and important question which has elicited two pieces of information for which I think I should thank my noble friend. The first is that the Government reiterate their confidence in the ability of the boards to maintain value for money, and the second is that nonetheless we think that it is helpful that Sir Kenneth should be looking into the question of balance in these matters.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as the boards of both the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have upon them eminent lawyers, accountants and hard-headed businessmen of all sorts, they are therefore highly capable of making a commercial deal in a commercial world when required; and that the suggestion put about recently in the press that Sir Peter Hall and Mr. Trevor Nunn have somehow pursued their own distinguished careers at the expense of the theatres they direct is patently absurd?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is fair comment. Nonetheless I reiterate that I believe that it will be to everybody's advantage to have some recommen-dations from Sir Kenneth Cork's inquiry about the balance in this matter. I hope that we shall also receive some guidelines for the future.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I greatly welcome Sir Kenneth's inquiry? I shall be only too delighted to hear that it fully confirms the soundness of the present arrange-ment. Is my noble friend also aware that if even 1 per cent. of the huge subsidy could be saved, it would give the Arts Council sufficient elbow room to provide a grant for a hard-press provincial theatre which receives no grant?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not entirely surprised to hear my noble friend ask that question—a question to which I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, arising out of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, will the Minister also bear in mind that a small proportion of the grant which goes to the two theatres could well be used for the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden which is once again held up for lack of funds?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am again not wholly surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, moves on to that particular ground. However, it is ground which lies rather outside the scope of the original Question.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, the arrangements between the RSC and the director with regard to any work that he did outside the theatre and transfers from the theatre were looked into in detail and were approved in every way as being to the advantage of the RSC. Does the Minister agree that the only thing wrong that the two reports found was that both theatres were seriously under-financed? Will he tell the House what the Government intend to do about that finding of those two important reports?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the first question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, but with respect to him, I disagree with his second question. If we take the years 1983–84 to the present financial year, we see that the real term increase for the Royal Shakespeare Company is nearly 6 per cent. and for the National Theatre over 7.5 per cent. They are not doing so badly.

Lord Butterworth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as a result of Mr. Priestley's inquiry into the Royal Shakespeare Company, he found that the company was palpably under-funded, and that, in consequence, the Government made funds available so that the grant for that year could be increased by no less than 22 per cent.?

Lord Belstead

The run of figures for the Royal Shakespeare Company shows a healthy increase. I have given the figures. I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Butterworth, but I think that there is no more that I can possibly add on this matter.