HL Deb 26 February 2004 vol 658 cc410-32

4.1 p.m.

Lord Harrison rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they will respond to the recent report by the Theatres Trust entitled Act Now: Modernising London West End Theatres.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, some three years ago I opened a debate in your Lordships' House concerning the plight of regional theatre. Today I have the privilege of concentrating on London's commercial theatres whose problems and opportunities have been so ably set out in the Theatres Trust's outstanding report entitled Act Now: Modernising London Is West End Theatres.

My reading of the report provokes a real concern about the wellbeing of theatreland, whether we are talking of the support for live drama, of its impact on London's tourist economy or of the conservation of its built environment as represented by its wonderful century-old theatres. I wish to speak about each concern in turn.

First, as regards live drama, it is fashionable in some quarters to criticise the West End as conservative and focused solely on generating long runs and quick profits. It is true that inflated ticket prices and this week's particular problem—the difficulty of buying a single ticket when only pairs are on sale—are criticisms that must be answered. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the blanket criticism is fair. London West End theatre, and its counterpart off the West End, provide an attractive and wide range of live drama.

I have recently enjoyed an excellent version of "The Alchemist" at the tiny, off-West End Courtyard Theatre and, pursuing a Jacobean theme—the original age of commercial theatre in London—I have been thrilled by the Queen's current production of "The Tamer Tamed" and the Gielgud's five Jacobean plays, none necessarily courting commercial success.

For the most part the West End is an inspiration not an inhibition to live drama. After all, it represents an unparalleled concentration of live and musical drama—the envy of the world—and we should cherish it.

Secondly, the world comes to London and its theatres as tourists and visitors, spending money which keeps our economy buoyant. The Wyndham Report of 1998, quoted in Act Now, details the hitherto under-reported £1 billion spent by tourists in the West End, some £200 million of which is passed on to the Exchequer. Theatre is a British export and it is not too fanciful to declare that a buoyant theatre betokens a buoyant economy.

But my principal reason for supporting the Theatres Trust's report is its aspiration to modernise the stunning examples of Britain's outstanding architectural heritage. Most of the 40 or so working theatres are listed; they are authentic, august and available for work—all criteria dear to our Government's heart. But they are in dire need of remodelling.

Act Now vividly describes how these theatres were designed and built for audiences and back-stage staff of some 100 years ago. But modern needs and sensibilities have changed. People have grown larger, requiring bigger seats, more comfortably upholstered and with better sightlines. My wife at a recent performance was unable to see easily over the dress circle balcony without sitting forward. Toilets, foyers and bars are in desperate need of being imaginatively upgraded, and back-stage conditions need to conform to modern health and safety practices.

Theatres must adapt to match the demands of the recent Disability Discrimination Act. Wise investment here will draw in theatre lovers who are currently reluctant to brave a solely able-bodied environment. Apropos of this, I declare an interest as a vice-patron of Vocal Eyes, a charity which enhances the experience of the blind and poorly-sighted visiting our theatres. The use of concealed actors who describe through earpieces what is happening on stage to those with loss of vision of course requires some adaptation of the auditorium. The objective of helping the disabled—and thus attracting new customers into our theatres—is good for everyone.

But all these changes require funds. We need some modern day financial alchemists to turn these 100 year-old theatres into a state of readiness for a new golden age of drama. Indeed, I am conscious that we are joined in the debate today by those who have already willingly contributed to financing the upkeep of these Alhambras of architecture. We should be grateful to entrepreneurs who mix enterprise with a love of theatres. But they cannot do it all and we should now turn to some possible solutions.

The Theatres Trust believes that a minimum of £250 million is needed to bring theatreland up to scratch and that a 15-year programme of some £17 million each year might be a practical way forward. Will my noble friend the Minister consider tax breaks to enable owners to institute programmes of such modernisation? I see the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, in his place and I look forward to his elaboration on the idea of awarding tax breaks to those theatres that follow a strictly agreed, budgeted and monitored programme analogous to the tax breaks available to the British film industry but which avoid some of their current pitfalls.

I hope the Minister can encourage closer scrutiny of the disbursement of national lottery funds dispensed by the Arts Council of England. Although the current regulations do not prohibit application from the commercial theatre sector, hitherto their intimations have been lukewarm. But I believe a compelling case can be made for a one-off programme of refurbishment, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Thirdly, the Government are currently looking very closely at the antiquated planning laws which govern commercial developments in Britain today. Like our theatres, these laws need some updating. Will the Government look at their general reforms to ensure that theatreland's voice is sympathetically heard and the planning system used to promote schemes which will themselves encourage investment aimed at boosting box office sales, thus setting up a pattern of self-financing?

Fourthly, will the Government comment on Mr John Earl's proposal to place a levy on commercial ticket sales? Theatregoers might be the more agreeable if government were to make a matching contribution; nor need it be confined to theatregoers, especially if such a scheme backs London in the year of its Olympic bid. Let me throw in the suggestion that fans at Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea might agree a ticket levy at their theatres of dreams to help the West End's goal of rehabilitation and thus express solidarity.

At the forefront of moves to improve London have been Visit London and the Mayor's office. Their "Get Into London Theatre" campaigns and the 10-year plan for London as a cultural capital are very welcome. A fifth suggestion, then, is that London's Olympic bid might include help to the theatres, which will anyway play an important role in entertaining Olympic fans, who can enjoy jumpers long and high in the afternoon in the Olympic stadium and "Jumpers" in the Shaftesbury Avenue that same evening.

Finally, there is the question of whether the Government will make a direct grant for the £250 million programme. While this is unlikely to find favour with the Treasury, it should be recalled that VAT on West End ticket sales alone each year nets some £48 million, three times the amount needed to start that vital programme of adaptation and refurbishment to ensure that London and Britain, with respect to their theatres, keep top billing. But the clear message is this: if we treasure our past and care for our future, then for our theatres' sake we must indeed "Act Now".

4.11 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, I declare a tiny interest in being related by marriage, but distantly, to both the Albery family and the Holmes à Court family, whose Australian branch took such care of their London theatre estate while they were still proprietors.

This is an excellent report; the only solecism I could see in it was the spelling of the initial name of the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, where an errant "e" was added to the first of those three names, implying that the firm was a candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous.

What comes out of the report is the continuity of London theatre. I cite as an example something which I do not think is in the report—the New London Theatre, one of the only two theatres, with the Donmar, to be built since the war in the area, is based on the site of the Winter Garden Theatre where entertainment has been carried out since Elizabethan times.

The report was excellently introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who is developing a model niche for taking up topical issues such as this. If I may be allowed the pun, in a field full of listed buildings, he is rapidly earning the reputation of being declared a listed Peer for the way in which he takes these topical reports and helps your Lordships' House to secure the opportunity to seek a response from the Government on them. Alas, the buildings were not always listed, and the genius applied by Vanbrugh and Nash to theatrical architecture has been lost down the centuries.

The report is a product of the Theatres Trust and the Society of London Theatre, in the singular. Whether the latter acronym's vowel is short or long, both pronunciations are a great improvement on SWET, the prior acronym of the Society of West End Theatres, whose acronym is as little missed as RAWP and SIFT are in the London NHS scene.

London theatre—again expressed in the singular, as in the Society of London Theatre—is in the same category as our financial services, our Armed Forces and some of our universities as being of world class, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said in his introduction, so a solution to the problem which has been so eloquently expressed in the report is important. The problems have been very well and clearly stated, but solutions are less clear. However, I will add a footnote from the early days of the lottery, as it will no doubt be cited as a potential saviour as it so often is. In the early days of the lottery debate, we discussed the issue of capital as opposed to current expenditure for the use of lottery distributions. Capital had been emphasised in the guidelines to the distributor bodies that I was responsible for writing, because beyond peradventure, it was going to be additional expenditure. The Government had committed themselves to that in introducing the lottery. The lottery would not be used as a substitute for public expenditure that was otherwise occurring.

In those early days, I took the view that, in the context of this particular issue, capital expenditure could be used by the Arts Council—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, the Heritage Lottery Fund—for both facilities and fabric in a way that would have released theatre proprietors from using scarce resources for those areas in which deterioration has been observed. It would have released other money to be put into other aspects of the theatrical estate. I am conscious that, as it says in the report that we are debating, the Arts Council is said to have been able to put only 10 per cent into commercial theatre. Yet the commercial theatre, as the report makes clear, includes a whole host of listed buildings.

I hope that the Government will find ingenious ways of producing a solution to this problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, says, unless we find a solution, we will see a continuing deterioration. In the context of theatre's place on the national and international scene, that would be a tragedy.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is to respond to this debate. He will recall our debate on the Licensing Bill when we expressed concern, to which the report also refers, about anti-social behaviour. Such behaviour in the vicinity of theatres from people who have perhaps drunk too much is deterring people from visiting them. Although that is not the substance of this debate, it is another example of the way that London theatre is under threat and where defences would therefore be all to the good.

4.16 p.m.

Baroness Howells of St Davids

My Lords, I give credit to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for raising this debate and for the customary detail with which he presented his arguments to the House. My contribution is a small intervention in what will be said by other speakers whose knowledge is greater than mine.

The report that we are debating, Act Now: Modernising London's West End Theatres, points to a crisis in theatreland that we must prevent by investing heavily in the restoration of theatres. The report calls for government intervention to save London's theatres. Theatre is one of the major attractions of this city and a major part of our cultural heritage. The report highlights how expectations are continually rising to meet those of the 21st century, such as new health and safety regulations, the Disability Discrimination Act and so forth. They all make demands on theatre budgets at a time when the image of the West End is already tarnished by factors real or imagined, such as crime, litter and transport problems, which act as a deterrent rather than an inducement to those wanting to enjoy the pleasure of the theatre.

Can noble Lords imagine London without its theatres? Here in the capital we have the highest concentration of theatres in the world. Between them they offer an extraordinarily rich dramatic and lyric repertory which attracts audiences from all over London itself, the rest of the UK and overseas. An evening in London without its theatres hardly bears thinking about. The splendid report by the Theatres Trust paints the picture vividly in an honest fashion—the gloom is apparent to all who have read it. Our theatres need an injection of real money and must now look to the Government for support.

In the debate in the House in March 2003 on racism in the theatre, which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, I brought to the attention of noble Lords the lack of a black-led, black-run theatre and the need for a theatre that could be a seedbed for the growing numbers of actors, producers, directors and writers from the black community to display their work. I am sure that noble Lords will be pleased to hear that such a theatre is in the making with the assurance of funding from the LDA, the Arts Council and the lottery and donations from the community. All that will help to make such a theatre a reality.

The Westminster Theatre mentioned in the report as likely to be demolished was demolished and is now earmarked to be replaced by the Jalawa Westminster Theatre. It will be a modern, up-to-date theatre expected to house an audience of between 250 and 300. Jalawa has been in existence for nearly 20 years and has proved its worth in the capital as a touring theatre. With its own home in Westminster, we are convinced that it will bring new life to theatreland and encourage theatre-goers—those who already go to the theatre and new theatre-goers—to enjoy theatre. More importantly, it will bring an extra dimension to theatre in London as it will be purpose built to the required standards of a modern day theatre with the promise of offering high quality theatre in keeping with that offered by London's theatres. Making things better for London theatres must be a priority for the country and, as such, it has to be a priority for government.

I said that my contribution would be short as I do not wish to take too much of the House's time. However, I want to stress that an evening in London without the theatre hardly bears thinking about. I end with the three Ds: dread, dream and dread. It is the metaphor for a sandwich. Act Now encompasses the dread of London without theatres. In the middle of the sandwich is the dream of keeping London's theatres. We must be vigilant that we do not move to the other side of the sandwich; that is, the dread of losing our hold on London theatre.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Lloyd-Webber

My Lords, I must declare an interest in the West End theatre in that it provides me with my living and I have a 50 per cent interest in a company that owns 13 theatres within the West End of London.

People on all sides of the theatre world are extremely grateful that the Government are listening to our problems. I am thrilled that the Minister for the Arts in the other place has agreed to chair a seminar on the subject in April. I hope that we all want to do the best that we can for theatre in general—not only the commercial theatre but also the subsidised theatre.

I wish to give a couple of statistics. I apologise for having given one in this House before. I remind your Lordships that the entire profit of all four Shaftesbury Avenue playhouses from 1945 to the present day is less than the public subsidy given to the Royal Court Theatre. I refer to a matter that I have not mentioned in this House and which I checked today. The company in which I have a 50 per cent interest owns seven musical houses devoted mainly to musicals and six playhouses. Ninety-four per cent of the turnover that we receive comes from the music houses and only 6 per cent from the playhouses.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing the debate this afternoon and for the figures that he gave, but, as a musical theatre animal, I am much more concerned about the playhouses. We in the musical theatre are big boys in one sense. Much of the work that is performed is, I am afraid, getting closer to revivals and shows that may be compilations, and are not what I would necessarily want to see, but we are still there and we are still viable. But we are subsidising the playhouses, certainly in my case, and that leads me to a lot of concerns.

It is beyond the scope of this debate, which is to discuss the fabric of the buildings, to talk about the problems of play producers in London, so I shall not do so. However, we should consider some of the buildings of the playhouses. I am concerned that I shall be thought to be taking issue with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about the whole question of listed buildings and theatres. In saying what I am about to say, I hope that my Victorian credentials are reasonably okay. One of the greatest difficulties that we face with some theatres is the appalling sightlines. They were built as buildings in which people were more to be seen in the audience than to be seen on stage. I am going to say something that I never thought that I would ever say, in this place of all places: I believe that there is a case for the demolition and replacement of some of the playhouses.

The Government have a real problem with helping the commercial sector, although I have the belief that they will help in as many ways as they can. However, in the case of theatres such as the Lyric, which is a wonderful music house although now it is impossible to make it work, and the Apollo, which has a wonderful interior but one can see practically nothing from most of its seats, would it not be better if we did not stay on the heritage side? With the banks in the City of London, English Heritage decided that it would keep the best of them but would allow new development to happen. In the case of the theatres, would it not be better for a partnership to happen with a private developer that would allow a proper 1,000 or 1,300-seat theatre at the entrance to Shaftesbury Avenue? That would then make the whole climate different for people coming from the direction of Piccadilly, and would give us the right sort of house. We in the private theatre cannot compete with the commercial theatre. Of course, I would argue for subsidy for the music houses and, of course, we would like 2 per cent of what has been given to the Coliseum to be given to the Palace, for example, or 1 per cent to be given to the London Palladium. But there I am being pretentious.

Theatres are very expensive pieces of kit to run, the playhouses particularly so, and the playhouses are now in a downward spiral because they are so expensive to keep going and to keep staff on all the year round. In my opinion, they are taking on worse plays than they should be. It is terrific that we can say this afternoon that there are two Shakespeare productions on the Avenue, back to back in the Queen's and the Gielgud. However, that is not happening as often as it should.

I should like to open up this debate, in talking about the fabric, to the possibility that we should consider outside funding being able to come in. In addition, I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic and will consider some help for the buildings that we must keep. Let us keep the best buildings, but let us also consider the future of the playhouses in particular.

4.28 p.m.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, particularly because he has opened up this debate by saying what is for many of us the unsayable.

I hope that what I say will reveal that I have a great deal of sympathy for what he has said about the difficulties of operating as a theatre producer in the buildings that we have in London's West End. However, we should recognise that on top of the undoubted difficulties that those theatres represent, many of them are of considerable architectural merit, and we do have a duty of care to those who come after us, who may have different theatrical tastes from our own. Therefore, I am not sure that I can altogether support what the noble Lord said about bringing in the bulldozers—although he did not of course put it nearly as bluntly as that.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Harrison on introducing this debate, which has clearly already stirred up a good deal of interest. That is a source of considerable congratulation at this time on a Thursday afternoon, when one would not normally expect to have a particularly large audience in this place. The preservation of London theatres is of interest and relevance to a wide variety of people, not all of whom are by any means directly involved in theatre business. As many noble Lords have said, the preservation of the theatre heritage is part of what makes it possible for this city to remain world class, both culturally and economically.

As regards what I am about to say, I must declare an interest, as I am a trustee of the Theatres Trust and a member of the Society of London Theatre. I have been the executive director of the National Theatre. Therefore, I come at this topic from a number of different, but related, angles.

The good health of theatre principally depends on its ability to create productions of a high enough standard to attract audiences. This can be done in many ways, as the diversity of London theatre that we have already heard discussed reveals. However, to some extent it depends on an issue on which I want to concentrate: the symbiotic relationship between a highly productive subsidised sector, which creates a large volume of work that it must turn over quickly, and a commercial sector of theatres that need successful work to fill them, as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, has already pointed out.

When successful work is put in to a commercial theatre in the West End, once it is established it can be left to run until it comes to a natural end. On the whole, this cannot be allowed to happen in the subsidised theatre. In the past 30 years, the West End has provided the opportunity for extended lives for productions from most of our major subsidised theatres. One only has to look at the list of what is on at the moment: the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre are represented, as are others that I could mention.

All these productions are in the West End for two reasons. First, to give more people an opportunity to see them—that is very important—and, secondly, to make money for the theatres where they originated. In doing so, they supplement the funds that are provided by government through the Arts Council or other funders. This is a vital part of the theatre ecology in this country and it ensures that better value is achieved from public funds that are put into the funded sector.

However, there is a problem. We all know that when audiences go to the National Theatre to see a show they visit a fine, modern building. Whether you like it or not, it is fine. It has very good facilities. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, referred to this issue as well. Nowadays, audiences that go to the Royal Court, the Almeida, the newly-built Hampstead Theatre or the Hackney Empire are also able to enjoy facilities that have been sympathetically restored or rebuilt using public funds. Audiences visiting the West End, despite the very best efforts of some of the more enlightened theatre owners, including, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, have all too often an extremely uncomfortable time.

The productions themselves, originating, as they often do, in theatres with modern technology and flexible spaces, are sometimes subjected to compromising modifications in order to accommodate the limitations of 19th century buildings where the relationship between performer and audience is dominated by the proscenium arch. Let us not forget the often woefully inadequate facilities provided for those doing the hard work: the performers. They suffer from the lack of proper provision for their needs in many of the theatres currently operating in the West End.

Surely we can afford to look more creatively at how public money might be allocated to accelerate the improvement of our London theatre stock. The Coliseum has already been mentioned. It is worth noting that it was in private hands until 1992. If it had remained in private hands and had not been bought by the government in 1992 for the English National Opera, the very beautiful restoration job that has been done on it would probably not have been achieved. It has cost a great deal of money, not all of which has come from public sources, although a lot has.

I see that time is up. I do not want to go on at great length, but I want to say that restoration of these fine old buildings to the exacting standards that they deserve is, on the whole, eye-wateringly expensive. Private companies, however wealthy, cannot realistically be expected to undertake this responsibility alone when, in a sense, they hold these theatres in trust for all of us. As I have indicated, the West End is a vital part of the overall UK theatre ecology and the publicly funded sector will be the loser if the commercial sector is not helped to stay in shape.

I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will give us some indication that the Government might now look for ways to assist the long process of recovery, which we urgently need to initiate.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Feldman

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. I have been a smallish shareholder in the Ambassador Theatre Group for several years. It has 11 theatres in London, and another nine around the country. I also add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this debate, based on an excellent report from the Theatres Trust.

I have been a regular theatregoer ever since my early school days. In those days I used to sit in the gods, but now I manage to sit in greater style. I have always believed that, with all the performing arts, you have to "catch them young". Catching them young is an important theme. However, if our theatres are not in a good condition and gradually get worse, then that part of our national life and our cultural life will gradually be lost to the young, and indeed to all of us.

As a member of the English Tourist Board I produced the London Arts Season to promote the arts in London. It ran during 1994, 1995 and 1996, promoting all of London's arts throughout the world. We had help from 60 major names from the arts who acted as our ambassadors. It was successful and—apart from theatre—helped to attract a great number of visitors from all over the world to our opera, concert halls, museums and art galleries.

We arranged that potential overseas visitors could book their arts tickets and hotel reservations from their home by way of a single phone call, thereby avoiding having to rely on the artistic abilities of the hall porter. These visitors also brought additional extra business to London's hotels, restaurants, taxis and shops. However, even in those days we had complaints about the state of West End theatre. Although money has been spent since that time, there is still much to do, as the Theatres Trust report clearly indicates.

For many years now, British film production companies have received substantial tax benefits to enable more films to be made here. I do not argue with that, but I do believe that some similar benefits should be made available to renovate our West End theatres. We know that more overseas tourists are likely to visit theatres than are likely to make trips to the UK especially to see UK films.

I should like us to contrast the way in which the Government have given substantial help to the film industry to make films here in the UK with the way in which they are still to help the theatre. Employment from films produced is relatively low and yet the benefits that have been given are relatively high. I do not wish to inhibit the Government from giving money to British films, but I do want to encourage them to recognise the value of the theatre in London—and, indeed, the country as a whole—as it brings substantial numbers of visitors to our shores as well as substantial related business.

And what about the lottery? I do not believe that London theatres have had enough support from that source either. In addition to making grant aid available to theatres in London, could not the Government also bring about some form of short-term tax benefit, in the same way as they have done for films, to encourage more theatre investment?

There is little doubt that most of London's 40 theatres desperately need refurbishment, and it is clear that the owners will not be able to pay for it all and need help. The issue needs further consideration. Perhaps BES and EIS could produce some help, but there must be many other ways of bringing it about. I would suggest a small group to discuss this, together with the Government. If the Government find a way of giving appropriate help, I would also suggest that they set up as a quid pro quo an Arts Passport for the young, which would give them the right to buy any unsold theatre tickets, say, 15 or 20 minutes before curtain up, at a nominal price. That would help us to "catch them young".

I urge the Government to act now and to make it possible for substantial improvements to be made to London's theatres before it is too late.

4.39 p.m.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Harrison on introducing the debate. It has attracted interest, including among a number of experts, some of whom have spoken already. I am not an expert. Like large numbers of people in this House and elsewhere, I am a devoted customer of the theatre and have been for some 50 years. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, my first introduction was to sit in the gods, but I was also fortunate enough to get some complimentary tickets to sit in the stalls, and to have tea on a tray provided to me in the interval. That was a charm of the 1950s that passed away a long time ago.

Naturally, we have concentrated on the criticisms of the London theatre as it exists at the moment, but the report that we are discussing mentions a number of very positive features. One of them—my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred to it—is that those 40 theatres are all clustered very closely together in the centre of London. Rather like shops in a shopping mall, they all help to sell one another and are a tremendous attraction to people from abroad, as well as from up and down this country.

A second positive feature outlined by the report is that many of the theatres, although not all, are of extreme architectural character and interest—a delight to the eye, both inside and out. Improvements have been made. Recognition has been taken of a point made earlier, which is that we are apparently all larger and taller than our forebears of a century ago. The seats have been extended, so the issue has to some extent been taken care of.

The report says something about the shape of the buildings reflecting, the class structure and social divisions of the period". From this side of the House, I was rather intrigued by that. I have no doubt that it was the case. Certainly when the pit existed, I suppose that it was so. Perhaps from the other side of the House the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, who recalled sitting in the gods, will agree that when we sat in the gods we did not feel socially inferior simply because we had entered the theatre through a different entrance from those going to the more expensive seats, and put up with more Spartan facilities. As the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, said, sightlines are absolutely vital for everyone, wherever they sit and however much or little one has paid.

I do not think that my next point has been mentioned so far. I am to this day concerned about the prices for the young, students and less well-off older people who cannot afford to go to West End theatres very often. I was recently at RC Sherriff's "Journey's End", the play about World War I, the trenches and so on. I paid £37.50 a seat in the stalls. I checked afterwards and the cheapest seat was £15, which seemed quite a lot compared with the cinema and so on, and there were very few of those. In other words, one had to pay something like £37.50 to be sure of a seat; it was a full house that evening.

As others said, the report has made a strong case for the expenditure of £250 million—I have no knowledge of whether that is too high or too low—over the next 15 years on renovation and adaptation. The trouble is that the 40,000 seats a night currently provided will, I fear, have to be reduced in number if some of the deficiencies that exist are to be remedied. We must therefore have some more new theatres. We have lost six since 1950, and have had two new ones. I rather like one of those—the DonmarWarehouse—although I found it a little poky when I was last there, and it is certainly not a model for what one would like to see.

So one does look around to see if some money can he found, not just for renovation as referred to in the report, but for new theatres as well. Where is the money to come from? I sometimes think of all those magnates who, whenever a newspaper is for sale, rush in to buy what is probably a loss-making enterprise. But they are always there. What about some of those individuals—perhaps even a pair of twins—being interested in creating a new theatre or two in London and helping with the renovation of existing ones?

This is a valuable report. I have thrown out a few ideas as someone with no expertise but as a lover of the theatre and as a customer of many years' standing.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we have had an excellent debate and some interesting ideas have been aired. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who keeps the Government aware of the strength of feeling on the issue by his persistence in raising it in your Lordships' House. I must admit that my own theatregoing is, perforce, limited these days. I used to be a regular theatregoer before I became a full-time politician. I admit that my first entry in Who's Who shows theatregoing as one of my hobbies, since when I have scarcely had an opportunity to go to the theatre. However, I hope that will be rectified.

All the relevant issues have been well-aired, but I would like to stress three in particular. The first is the importance of a strong and healthy commercial theatre in London and the West End, not only for subsidised theatre, but also for our regional theatres. Let us not forget that they are the homes of traditional repertory and are great training grounds, not only for actors, but also for other people involved in the theatre as well as for testing public reaction in pre-London runs.

The second point is the issue of tourism. We all know that tourists are necessary for the economic well being of London, as well as for the theatre. It is important that we attract not just numbers of tourists, but the right sort. I believe that those people from overseas and from other parts of this country who are interested in our cultural heritage and who enjoy free access to our national galleries and museums, are just the kind of people who would be willing to pay a fair and reasonable price for theatre tickets. But they also expect the facilities of the theatre to function and the environment to be pleasant and up to date, both front of stage and backstage. The capital costs of improving the fabric of our theatres, which have been drawn to our attention by the Theatres Trust in its excellent report, would go well beyond the pockets of the average theatregoer. So public funds have to come into the equation.

I was delighted to see a feature in yesterday's Evening Standard which showed Jerry Hall performing a tour de force by attending six theatres in one evening to attract attention to the plight of London's West End theatres. It also emphasised the point, already made, that we are fortunate that our theatreland is in a very contained area.

The third point that I wish to emphasise and which is, in a sense, a third way, is the issue of tax incentives and tax breaks. We have to be grateful to our corporate purchasers of expensive tickets to go to the theatre. A company can count its corporate entertaining against tax, so it is important that that principle is extended in an imaginative way to other theatregoers.

I commend the Government on their innovativeness of the gift tax concept for forms of charitable giving. There must be a way of doing something similar to help our theatres. I had hoped to dwell on the matter last year when I tabled an Unstarred Question on the general subject of tax incentives for cultural heritage purposes. Inspired by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, I might have to revive that issue.

I conclude by asking why the Government cannot work with the Theatre Trust for the good of the country and for the good of our theatres. As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, requested at the outset: please will the Government act now?

4.51 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I do not often see eye to eye with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, whether it is on the euro or on hunting. However, I am most grateful to him for securing today's debate. It is of great value to those of us who are interested in the theatre.

I declare my interest as chairman of St Martin's Theatre. St Martin's presents "The Mouse Trap", the world's longest running play. It was probably running before the Minister was walking! St Martin's Theatre was built by my grandfather in 1916 and is one of London's smaller theatres with 546 seats. We are lucky as landlords in having "The Mouse Trap", although we do not experience the highs that are so familiar to my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber or the lows of a dark theatre.

We have been conscientious landlords. We have carried out a total refurbishment of the theatre from top to bottom in keeping with its Edwardian origins. We have installed air-conditioning and we have carried out a number of other improvements. Year-on-year costs are associated with such an old theatre and there are health and safety regulations to comply with and so on. I have no complaint about that—I am proud of what we have achieved at St Martin's Theatre and we will continue to spend money as our budgets allow.

However, I want to pick up on what was so cogently said by my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber. It is my experience as the owner of a small theatre that there is no way in which we can make radical structural alterations to a 1960 building without, first, falling foul of English Heritage and, secondly and more importantly, being made bankrupt. That is why I warmly welcome the report of the Theatre Trust.

There are desirable alterations to be made, whether it is to comply with deregulation such as the Disability Discrimination Act, or simply to give 21st century audiences an experience more in line with 21st century expectations. But, again, there is no way that we, particularly the small and medium-sized theatres, can begin to contemplate major structural alterations out of our current profits.

As noble Lords pointed out in this short debate, West End commercial theatre is a huge revenue earner not just for London but for the Exchequer. It is well beyond the immediate purchase price of tickets. As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, pointed out in his excellent opening speech, the theatres we are talking about are individually and, above all, collectively part of Britain's heritage.

If the National Lottery can give £12 million to a 400-seat theatre—the Royal Court Theatre—and if the Arts Council can give tens of millions of pounds every year to subsidise theatres, I hope that the Government will think it worth while to spare something for owners of commercial theatres. It is in everyone's interests for them to do so.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on initiating this timely debate. In standing in for my noble friend Lord Falkland, I am not sure whether this debate qualifies for inclusion in One Amazing Week. This House is a theatre of a kind, but it is difficult to compete for glamour with Jerry Hall ever since Lady Haden-Guest—AKA Jamie Lee Curtis—last came for the Queen's Speech in 1998.

It is clear that many of us have succumbed to the romance of the theatre. Personally, I was smitten many years ago when I first came to the West End to see Eric Porter in "The Jew of Malta". Later, as a young lawyer, I had professional contact with the likes of Louis Benjamin and other theatrical impresarios. I certainly found those other aspects of the theatre fairly intriguing as well.

We have heard some very authoritative speeches. I recognise that this is very much a debate about the West End theatre but, in passing, I do not want to minimise the importance and role of the theatre in London more widely—that is, in outer London—and the role of children's theatre as well, although today we are concentrating on the West End.

For me, the Theatres Trust report emphasises just how lucky we are that our British theatrical producers have decided to invest not only in productions, risky though they may be, but also in the fabric of our West End theatres. No one could argue that that was a strictly economically rational decision. Nearly all those theatres are either grade I or grade II listed buildings.

Incidentally, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, has contributed to this debate. Through the Really Useful Group he has invested heavily in theatres and I believe that, following this debate, his Victorian credentials are still intact, if I may say so. Of course, that other great British impresario, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, has also invested heavily. He announced last June that he was to spend some £35 million on his theatres—principally the Queens and the Prince of Wales—and that he was to create a new Sondheim Theatre between the Queens and the Gielgud.

Over the years, there has been considerable investment by the Heritage Lottery Fund in the venues of subsidised theatre. One has only to think of the Royal Court (£25 million), the Hackney Empire (£15 million) and the Coliseum (£41 million). But currently, as has been emphasised in the debate, the commercial sector does not benefit from that type of funding. I believe that the report, Act Now!, makes an utterly convincing case, and I am pleased, especially since we debated the Starred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, last year, that the Minister appears to have taken this issue seriously. The report sets out the issues starkly and realistically.

There are huge problems, both back stage and front of house. I thought that we might be slightly larger than our Victorian forebears but, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, pointed out, four inches is a considerable difference. I also suspect that we are considerably fatter.

There is the benefit—I consider it to be a big benefit—of the West End theatres being in relatively few hands, and we have some very competent operators. Quite apart from the Really Useful Group and Delfont Mackintosh, there is the Ambassador Theatre Group. I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord had to say about that because it is one of the fastest-growing private companies in the UK. I am sure that the noble Lord made a very good investment at the time. Clear Channel is a dynamic international entertainment conglomerate. Therefore, the problems of the fabric of the West End theatres are not down to managerial incompetence; the theatres are in the hands of some very competent operators.

Over the years, West End theatres have been increasingly imaginative in attracting audiences, despite the considerable ups and downs in the tourist trade. I believe that the Government, the Mayor and GLA need to match them in commitment and imagination. There is no reason why lottery money should not be granted to them, say, on a matched basis. As the Theatres Trust pointed out, historic houses had that kind of support after the war. All in all, I believe that it is something of a mystery why the Heritage Lottery Fund does not actively regard our West End theatres as heritage sites which are worth funding. On many occasions, my noble friend Lord Falkland has drawn attention to the unspent £3 billion, which appears still to be residing in the coffers of the national lottery. I cannot think of many more deserving causes.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, pointed out, the contribution of the West End theatre to the economy of London is undoubted: some £298 million of sales revenue each year purely from the theatre. The knock-on effects are extraordinarily positive. I believe that if we add together the whole of the entertainment industry, including ancillary aspects, such as people going out for meals, it adds up to something like £25 billion or so, which is directly or indirectly derived from the creative and cultural sector in London.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed out, both in her Starred Question last year and in today's debate, that transfers from subsidised venues to the West End are vital for the health of the subsidised theatre. However, one party by itself cannot resolve all these issues. A partnership between the different agencies is required. It is clear that assistance with revenue by the Arts Council is not enough. Substantial capital funding is needed. It is very difficult to choose priorities in terms of that capital funding. As Equity point out, the importance of backstage is crucial. It is not purely front of house where the investment is needed, and it is not purely the Government to whom our request should be made.

I believe that the Mayor of London has a vital part to play in all of this. The half-price tickets promotion needs to be better targeted. Also, the Mayor needs to take a much more proactive role in tackling some of the concerns people have in travelling in and around the West End. In particular, I believe that the congestion charge is a key issue. My honourable friend Simon Hughes, one of the candidates for Mayor of London, will bring forward proposals which I believe will help in this aspect in terms of helping to ensure that the congestion charge bites earlier but not at the late stage when families want to come in for theatrical entertainment. I believe that the Mayor has a key role in working with theatre groups, local councils, business and tourist organisations to get extra funding and investment for capital projects of the kind we have been debating today. There is a strong leadership role that the Mayor could play.

All of that adds up to a strong and important agenda that must be pursued. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

5.2 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing this important debate in response to the report of the Theatres Trust. I begin by congratulating all of those at the Theatres Trust who have contributed to this excellent and fascinating report.

As noble Lords have said, the report details the findings of a two-year investigation undertaken by the Theatres Trust working closely with representatives of the theatre industry and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. The report concluded that over the next 15 years some £250 million will need to be spent to modernise London's 40 commercially-owned theatres. That amount is by no means insignificant, but never has the plight of London's theatres been so palpable.

One rather takes surroundings for granted when attending the theatre. Indeed, like other noble Lords, I started my life of going to the theatre being involved in amateur dramatics. Occasionally I was lucky enough to appear in West End theatres—always off hours—and as a student was very happy and lucky to go up into "the gods". However, life has moved on. Thanks to Peter Longman, director of the Theatres Trust, I have just had the opportunity of visiting the Garrick Theatre earlier this week. When one visits a theatre, one realises the difficulties and practical constraints, and the necessity for serious thought to be given to how moneys could be injected into restoring our much-loved theatre.

The Garrick Theatre, designed by Emden and Phipps, opened in 1889 and clearly reflects the social and structural class divisions within society that were the norm in Victorian times, with each tier of seating having different levels of facilities. Only those seated in the dress circle or front stalls were granted the privilege of entering through the main front door. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said about not being concerned about theatres being built with these different facilities. However, I am sure that they were built a long time before the noble Lord first attended. We must think about the fabric of the theatre and how it should reflect today's needs.

So there are a number of issues to be taken into account, not least the necessity to comply with today's rigorous health and safety requirements. As with many theatres the seating is cramped and uncomfortable with the poor sight lines, and facilities such as the bar and toilets are considerably limited, reflecting outdated social values and expectations.

My noble friend Lord Feldman referred to the need to "catch them young". I entirely agree that it is so important to encourage young people to go to the theatre. But young people's expectations of what they should enjoy in terms of refreshment facilities and so on has changed hugely in recent years.

A predominant number of theatres in the West End are commercially owned and run. The economics of theatre ownership is more complicated than one might initially assume. I again refer to the Garrick theatre as an example. The theatre is leased to a management company by the freeholder on a long lease, which in turn contracts directly with a producer of a particular production. The producer pays the costs involved and sets the price of the tickets which, to some degree, is limited by the facilities offered by each individual theatre. Statistics show that only one in 10 productions in the West End returns a profit with 70 per cent failing to recoup the initial investment cost. If a profit on a production is returned, the majority of it will go not to the theatre owner but to the producer.

Herein lies the problem. It is not commercially viable for any theatre owner to invest a large amount of capital to undertake extensive restoration of a theatre when there is no prospect of return in the short or even medium term. Although some private individuals have personally invested heavily in their theatres, this cannot be taken for granted. Such investment is very welcome but cannot be seen as the solution to the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, these are very generous individuals but we cannot take them for granted.

Many private theatre owners do not have large amounts of unencumbered capital available and would have to incur considerable debt to fund refurbishment on the scale required. Additionally, whilst restorative works take place, the theatres would have to remain closed, resulting in substantial loss of revenue.

It is vital that our theatres are cherished and preserved. At present, there appears to be no alternatives available to assist commercial theatre owners with these restoration projects. When reading this excellent report, one particular statistic concerned me greatly. In 1914 there were more than 1,100 theatres in the UK; by 1980 that number had declined by 85 per cent—a loss of 935 theatres throughout the country. Yet the number of people visiting the theatre topped 12 million for the first time in 2002. That anomaly highlights the pressing need to find a solution to the predicament that the theatres in London in particular are encountering.

We understand that the Government have welcomed this report. The question is: are there any practical solutions to the problem? As my noble friend Lord Brooke said, there is a problem here. The report in some senses is less clear about the practical solutions proposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked whether tax breaks for owners who invest in capital projects to refurbish theatres could be a possibility. My noble friend Lord Feldman contrasted substantial help to the film industry and asked the Minister to recognise the value of theatre in London and in the country as a whole.

In addition, my noble friend Lord Feldman suggested the possibility of a passport for the young. This is an excellent proposition and one to encourage young people into the theatre. Indeed, there has been some debate this evening on the question of pricing. I know that it is possible. My children attend the theatre and often are able to get in for about £10 each, which is a lot less than they would pay to go to watch Chelsea or Fulham, which is not too far away from the West End; indeed, teenagers on a night out on the town often spend a lot more than £10 on drink. So I think that we should find ways to encourage the young; and a passport for the young to encourage them to pick up the unsold tickets would be enormously beneficial.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber on his brave, innovative suggestion that there may be a case for demolition and replacement of some of our wonderful playhouses. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that that suggestion would require considerable thought, but it is refreshing to confront the fact that some of our theatres have fundamental problems that begin to explain the enormous sums of money that are invested in just one playhouse to modernise it with all the proper facilities, sight lines and comforts that people expect today.

I take on board what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said: the question of architectural merit is important. We are discussing the heritage of future generations. But my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber was suggesting not that we demolish all our theatres but that one or two merit some thought. That would require outside funding and some interesting discussions about heritage.

The report suggests several possible alternatives. Rebuilding theatreland from scratch in future is inconceivable both financially and architecturally, unless some of my noble friend's ideas are taken on board—but only with regard to some of our playhouses. Perhaps, therefore, the only option is to restore the theatres that currently exist. How could that be achieved? As I stated earlier, philanthropy should be welcomed but not taken for granted. A sensible solution may be to fund the restoration of theatres through the Heritage Lottery Fund or the Arts Council, bearing in mind that the level of grant available is limited by the Arts Council's budget. Its capital funding has been greatly reduced in recent years. The Heritage Lottery Fund may also provide an alternative source of funding, yet, once again, awards are limited.

I fear that I have run out of time. There is so much more that I should like to say. I finish by saying that, ultimately, the nature of ownership should not dictate the long-term future of our much-loved theatres, which are an integral part of our cultural heritage. It was the previous Labour government who established the Theatres Trust to protect our theatres. We therefore look forward to hearing how the Minister intends to ensure that that core objective can be achieved. Does the Minister accept in principle that no action is not an option?

5.12 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Harrison asked a Starred Question in November last year in exactly the same terms. I congratulate him on his perseverance in not letting the matter go and securing an Unstarred Question to enable more debate and more demands on the Government to reply than is possible during a Starred Question. I am also grateful, because it gives me an opportunity to update the House on what has happened since the initial Question was asked.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in January, I visited the Theatres Trust and met Peter Longman, the director, and Rupert Rhymes, the chairman, to discuss the findings of the report into the fabric of the West End theatre. Like her, I went round the Garrick. It was a bit of a shock. I do not know whether it is still dark.

Baroness Buscombe

No, my Lords, the lights are on.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Well, my Lords, it was dark in January. Some of the conditions behind and around the theatre are pretty dreadful. That is a theatre of which the Theatres Trust is the ground landlord, although I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, has a greater interest in it. There is certainly no shortage of examples of theatres with serious problems with their fabric. It is right for the noble Baroness to say that no action is not an answer.

This is not my particular area of responsibility, but it is known that Estelle Morris, whose responsibility it is, has held a constructive meeting with Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who, through his company, owns seven theatres. From our meetings—and especially from this valuable debate—we know much more about the concerns. We recognise the difficulties faced by commercial theatre. It was necessary to be reminded of the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, of the profits since 1945 in the four Shaftesbury Avenue theatres. Many of these problems, but surely not all of them, arise from the historic nature of much of the building stock.

Perhaps I may venture a criticism of a report that has been universally applauded. It is slightly unfair to refer everything to the fabric and not in some way to how the theatres are run. I am not sure that theatre timing in the evening or the way in which the bars are run are perfect. I certainly do not think that American visitors who are used to receiving a free playbill in New York theatres are happy about paying £3 for a programme in addition to the cost. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, made reference to how theatres are run, and it must be taken into account as well as the fabric.

As a result of that, we are committed to working closely with those who share our interest in ensuring a sustainable future for West End theatres. I must rise to the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, on credentials. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has been going to the theatre for 50 years; and the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, thinks that I was barely able to walk when "The Mousetrap" started. I must tell him that the first in my massive collection of theatre programmes is from the New Theatre in 1944, with Mr Ralph Richardson and Mr Laurence Olivier, and I have been a fairly constant attender over the past 60 years.

What else has been happening since the report was published and the matter was first raised? The most important matter was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber. We are prepared to act as an honest broker. The Secretary of State has agreed to chair a forum of key stakeholders from across Whitehall, local government, the Mayor's office and other agencies and NDPBs. It is more than the small group that the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, asked for; it certainly will include the Society of London Theatre and everybody involved. We are still working on the detailed arrangements, and invitations will go out in the next few weeks.

The aim of the forum will be to establish a common approach to the issues facing the West End theatre, which are highlighted by the report. We need to agree a consensus on whether there is a viable way forward and, if so, how it can be achieved and by whom. It will be difficult to get a common view from that—there was not exactly a common view today—but we hope that everyone will be committed to finding a successful outcome.

We recognise the thrust of the report: there is a very severe capital need for the West End theatre. One need not go backstage to see what must be done about poor seating, poor sight lines and poor public areas, or the complete absence of them. Those who were lucky enough to attend the reopening of the Coliseum last Saturday will have seen what is possible by imaginative reconstruction of the public areas of the theatre. However, I notice that, even there, the architect, when challenged, could not promise that there would not be queues at the ladies' lavatories at the end of the interval. That problem is endemic in West End theatres.

We need to know more clearly from theatre owners exactly how much they will invest in refurbishing and modernising the theatres. The report simply states that, the total requirement [£250 million] is such that there is no alternative but to look to Government or other outside agencies for some kind of matching assistance". We need to know a little more about what that means: the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made that point. Over 15 years, that means something like £17 million a year. The Society of London Theatres says that £125 million is necessary from what it calls "the sectors". What exactly are "the sectors"? How much of it is new money? Already, £3 million is being spent each year on improvements, and £3 million is being spent on maintenance and upgrading. I am not entirely clear from the report what the figures behind this are. I know that the report is based on three original reports, which for reasons of commercial confidentiality we have not been shown. We need to explore the issues of what is needed a little hit more. Without meaning in any way to denigrate the report, it would be wrong not to ask some tough questions about the financial side of things. However, there are good signs. Cameron Mackintosh said that he intends to spend £30 million of his own money refurbishing and modernising his theatres. He will even build a new venue above the Queen's and Gielgud theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, creating the second London theatre multiplex.

I must be a bit discouraging about some of the sources of finance that have been raised tonight. We remain of the view that the Government's role should be to support the subsidised sector rather than the fully commercial theatre. If we want a theatre that takes artistic risks, sustains the best of tradition, develops new talent, promotes both excellence and access, and feeds the commercial theatre—as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, said—the symbiotic relationship that the subsidised theatre maintains with the commercial theatre is so important. That was even pointed out in the Wyndham report in 1998. Look at the list of Olivier nominations in recent years to see the recent transfers to the West End: "Vincent in Brixton"; "Anything Goes"; "Oklahoma!"; "Lieutenant of Inishmore"; and, more recently, "Jerry Springer: The Opera", which I am summoning up courage to go to see at some stage.

I cannot be enthusiastic about the suggestion of a levy on ticket sales, which my noble friend Lord Harrison raised. There is a levy on ticket sales in New York, but it is voluntary. Is it really desirable to have more expensive tickets for the West End theatre? Issues of VAT are for the Chancellor, and there is nothing that I can add, but the House will be aware of the huge limitations that there are on us in making exceptions in the VAT regime.

The noble Lords, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, Lord Feldman and Lord Willoughby de Broke, all referred to lottery money. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, rightly reminded us of the principle of additionality that must be maintained. The principle surely must be that we will not fund projects that would result in a private gain that is greater than the public benefit. That creates a difficulty with subsidising private theatre. In many ways, the same argument applies to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, about tax breaks. It is difficult to see how we could have tax breaks that would not discriminate in favour of one private, profit-making organisation over another.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that there really is not £3 million of balances. The Arts Council balance in the National Lottery Development Fund that is not committed is only about £14.5 million. There is not that resource anyway.

I have to admit that I am not being very encouraging about new sources of finance. However, we have to put the fabric of the London theatres, which is the subject of this report, into context as part of the tourist, entertainment and hospitality industry in London. It is enormously important. The Wyndham report stated that it is worth £1 billion a year to the local and national economy, and I am sure that that is right. Currently research is being undertaken to update that figure.

Theatre has been a living force in this country for over 500 years, more if one counts the mystery plays. It has helped to shape our cultural heritage and our national consciousness. In the new millennium, it is enormously important that theatre has the power to create a live, shared experience which can move, surprise and engage us in ways that other art forms find difficult to do. I do not have any solutions, but I hope that the forum we are holding in April, to which I referred, will find common ground in addressing the problems which have been raised. Certainly our debate has been of great value to the Government and all the participants in the forum in seeking a solution which will satisfy us all.

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past five o'clock.