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Mr. Cash : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Channon : In a second. There has been near unanimity that I should try to stand firm and oppose the Commission's proposal on the two, three and four-axle limits.

Mr. Cash : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House is very full and that the Commission should note that the House of Commons is taking an extremely active interest in all this?

Mr. Channon : It will become perfectly clear that the House of Commons takes an extremely active interest in this question and is anxious that we should not give way on the question of 40-tonne lorries on our roads. The Commission is saying that we should not be compelled to do so until our bridges are in a fit state. The point of serious disagreement is about when that point will be. For the reasons that I have already given, I do not believe that what the Commission says about our bridges is in any way accurate when compared with what we say.

I have only two minutes and should like to make several brief points. In his excellent two-minute speech my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) referred to trying to get as long a derogation as possible. I take that to heart. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) took us on a charming tour of Cornwall and referred to the cost of road maintenance. I take his point but should point out that we are the only country in Europe that covers its track costs in relation to lorries. However, if the damage that lorries cause to roads were to increase, we should have to increase vehicle excise duty accordingly to ensure that we cover our track costs. We are trying to get the rest of the Community to cover its track costs but so far we are making slow progress.

It being one and half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14(1)(b).

Question agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4311/89 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of Transport on 6th March 1989 on the weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles ; notes the development of the circumstances which justified the derogations accorded to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland from certain provisions of Directive 85/3 ; and supports the Government's intention to ensure that a premature end date to the derogations is not imposed on the United Kingdom.

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That the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 26th October 1988, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.-- [Mr. Heathcoat- Amory.]


That the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]


That the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 8th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]



That the draft Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 (United States of America) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 8th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]


Resolved ,

That the draft Local Elections (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 16th February, be approved.-- [Mr.



Resolved ,

That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 16th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]


Ordered ,


(1) this House do meet on Thursday 23rd March at half-past Nine o'clock ;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 17 (Questions to Members), no Questions shall be taken, provided that at Eleven o'clock Mr. Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit Questions to be asked which are in his opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members ; and (

(3) at half-past Three o'clock Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question, provided that this House shall not adjourn until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts agreed upon by both Houses.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]

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Northern Ballet Theatre

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]

11.31 pm

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : This debate is about the threatened closure of the Northern Ballet Theatre--a ballet company that is based in Manchester, with a national and international reputation. The debate is timely, and, although the company is threatened with closure following a report commissioned by the Arts Council, I hope to prove that the responsibility for its survival rests firmly with the present Government.

What are the facts? The Arts Council commissioned a report, which has now been produced, called "Stepping Forward"--I have a copy with me--which was compiled by Graham Devlin. It states bluntly that the subsidy of £661,500 granted to the Northern Ballet Theatre should end. Graham Devlin is honest enough to admit that, as a drama specialist, he is not qualified to make detailed artistic judgments about dance.

What is the case for the Northern Ballet? I have already mentioned its high standing and only recently it won national and international acclaim for its most celebrated production, a dance drama based on the life of L.S. Lowry and called "A Simple Man".

Not only is it a provincial company, but it resides within an inner-city area of Manchester. In fact, this organisation creates employment for upwards of 100 people which, in an area of high unemployment, is not to be lightly discarded. It is based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland), and close to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). I am pleased to see so many of my hon. Friends in their places, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), and many other hon. Members of all parties.

The Northern Ballet Theatre itself admits that the artistic standards of the company were variable prior to Christopher Gable's arrival. However, his skill in training has transformed the company. It is important to give Christopher Gable three to five years to develop the company. The well- known dancer and choreographer, Dame Ninette de Valois, always said that it took up to five years to get anything accomplished in the world of ballet.

The artistic director of the Bolshoi, Andre Petrov, recently visited the United Kingdom to evaluate the Northern Ballet, as he was considering mounting a work on the company and taking some of its young dancers, average age 21, to Moscow to work with the Bolshoi in a filmed version of the work. He liked what he saw and was highly enthusiastic about the project. It is now being seriously planned with BBC North-West. His is surely a judgment not to be ignored. That is one example of the exciting plans that Christopher has for the company, which may never reach fruition.

Let us consider the hard financial facts. The Northern Ballet Theatre's box office income for 1987-88 was £556,862. The company is beginning to raise significant amounts by way of sponsorship and private funding. From a low base of £14,000 in 1987-88, it hopes to raise £70,000 this year, although that target may not be met, as potential sponsors are, understandably, nervous about the company, and businesses are delaying committing

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themselves because of the threatened closure. The Minister revealed recently that the Northern Ballet Theatre continued to receive less than half the seat subsidy given to any other major dance company.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : Give the figures.

Mr. Orme : I will do that. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford in his place, because the company is close to his constituency.

The figures are revealing. The Festival Ballet receives subsidy of £11 per seat ; the Royal Ballet, £20.25 ; Sadler's Wells, £16.55 ; London Contemporary Dance, £9.50 ; Ballet Rambert, £12.25 ; and the Northern Ballet Theatre, £4.60. That last figure speaks volumes, especially considering the work of this company.

In 1987-88, the Northern Ballet Theatre gave 196 regional performances and had a total audience of 157,780. It received an Arts Council subsidy of £661,500. The Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells and the Festival Ballet combined gave 186, not 196, regional performances. They had a total audience of 248,258--only slightly higher than the Northern Ballet's total audience--and the Arts Council subsidy for those three companies was £7,256,500. That shows the strength of the Northern Ballet Theatre's case.

Graham Devlin makes the point in his report that dance is under-funded in Britain. His suggestion to cut Northern Ballet is made on the premise that the Arts Council--and, implicitly, the Government--will not be able to increase the dance budget. The targeting avoids the need to fund Northern Ballet properly. Mr. Devlin admitted in his report that the company is under-funded to the tune of £100,000 to £150,000. Those are the financial facts. On the Government's role, it is not a policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I welcome support for London-based companies, just as I support regional development in dance, theatre or music. There are outstanding examples in the arts in Manchester ; apart from dance, we have the Halle orchestra and the Royal Exchange theatre. In Leeds there is Opera North. Then there are the Welsh and Scottish opera companies, among others. They cover the whole spectrum of the arts, which are crucial to our cultural life.

The report paints a devastating picture of what is happening to the live arts in Britain. The central issue is that the Arts Council is starved of the necessary money to fund the live arts, whether in London or the provinces. If the report is adopted when the Arts Council considers it in detail in April, it will be the provinces that will suffer major cuts. It is another example of the north-south divide in society and we cannot stand for that.

I understand that the Arts Council's main problem arises from the fact that it can give an increase for the next two years of only 2 per cent. to all organisations, although inflation is running at 7 per cent. Something has to give. What will give initially is the Northern Ballet Theatre, because, against many other artistic developments, it is seen as expendable. It is a northern company ; it is out of sight and does not matter. That view will be taken by some people.

The Government should increase the grant to the Arts Council to cover the rise in inflation. Compared with what is contributed by the Governments in West Germany and France, our contribution is minimal and it should be

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increased. I understand that the Arts Council has applied for an increased grant. I ask the Minister to give the House tonight the Government's reply to that application. That will help resolve the problem. I urge the Minister to accept the arguments that I have put forward and to save an outstanding artistic company.

10.43 pm

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) on his initiative in bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I am grateful to him for allowing me a few minutes of the precious time allocated to him.

Millions more will congratulate my right hon. Friend if he is successful in achieving his aim--the continuation of funding for the Northern Ballet Theatre. I, like other hon. Members from the north-west, have received numerous expressions of concern about the proposal by the Arts Council to cease funding. Without financial support, the Northern Ballet Theatre will not survive. What a tragedy. That ballet company comprises young enthusiastic dancers, musicians and stage staff who have all worked extremely hard and are dedicated. However, they all face redundancy. The pleasure that they give to so many people will be tragically lost.

Although the Northern Ballet Theatre is situated in my constituency, it reaches a much wider audience. It often appears in medium-sized theatres and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East said, it has won national and international acclaim with its ballet "A Simple Man" based on the artist Lowry, who hailed from Salford. I doubt whether people in the south would understand what Lowry's paintings were about. People in the south do not understand what the Northern Ballet Theatre is about. It is England's only regional ballet company and something about which the north- west is proud. In comparison with other regions, the north-west has been deprived in many ways. We talk incessantly about the north-south divide. The disparity between the seat subsidy for London-based dance companies and the Northern Ballet Theatre is a glaring example of that bias, because the Northern Ballet Theatre receives less than half the subsidy given to any other major dance company.

To deprive us further by killing off this young company would be a further erosion of our standard of living and a diminution of our culture. As north -west Members, we strongly protest about this threat to the Northern Ballet Theatre and we urge the Government not to act like Pontius Pilate, but to ensure that the company is not starved out of existence. As the Manchester Evening News reminded its readers, the Minister needs to be told in no uncertain terms that culture does not end north of Covent Garden. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East said, we would like a positive answer tonight.

11.46 pm

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce) : I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) on raising the very important topic of the Northern Ballet Theatre and its future and the much wider question of the funding of the Arts Council. The presence of nearly 18 hon. Members in the Chamber tonight is

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impressive for any Adjournment debate and I acknowledge the importance that hon. Members are paying to this issue. I am also very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) is present tonight, because he has already made representations to me on this issue.

I understand the concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Salford, East about the future of the Northern Ballet Theatre and I will return to that specific issue in a moment. First, I want to put the issue into its proper context in terms of the future of dance in this country and more generally against the whole question of arts funding.

The right hon. Member for Salford, East implied that the threat to the future of the Northern Ballet Theatre is a direct result of the Government's failure to fund the arts adequately. I cannot accept that because that view simply does not square with the facts. Since taking office we have increased spending on the arts by one third in real terms after allowing for general inflation. Within that figure, our grant to the Arts Council has increased by 13 per cent. over the same period. In November 1987 I announced a new departure in arts funding. The figures for the arts budget were set for three years, providing cash increases of 10 per cent. for 1988-89 and 17 per cent. for the period to 1991.

Mr. Orme : Has the Minister taken into account the £25 million with regard to the abolition of the metropolitan counties?

Mr. Luce : When I quote figures, I will explain their context. The increase of 10 per cent. for the Arts Council this year over last year's figure and of 17 per cent. to 1991 is considerable. On 3 November 1988 I announced the rolling forward of the three-year programme to 1991-92 with an expenditure increase of 6 per cent. over the period 1990-91. By any yardstick, those are substantial improvements. This is particularly important in the context of taxpayers' support. I entirely accept that the taxpayer has an important role to play in supporting the highest standards of excellence in the arts. However, this must also be seen against the background of the need for the private sector to play an increasingly important role.

I was glad that the right hon. Member for Salford, East mentioned the important part that sponsorship can play, but I hope that he will agree that, for the private sector, the size of the box office is even more important than sponsorship in generating extra revenue for the arts organisations--that is, in addition to taxpayers' support. I should place on record that many of the most exciting developments that I have seen have taken place outside London. The right hon. Gentleman reinforced the point that many of the exciting developments are taking place in the north of the country and Scotland, in great cities such as Glasgow. We have been experiencing a renaissance in the arts in the great regional centres, with the emergence of Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as many other towns and cities, as the focus for renewed interest in every kind of artistic activity. That has been helped by a shift of resources to the regions.

In 1984, the Arts Council adopted its "Glory of the Garden" strategy to devolve more of its money and responsibilities to the 12 English regional arts associations. The council's grant to the regional arts associations-- excluding abolition money--has doubled in real terms since 1979-80, and today--including abolition--amounts

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to £30 million. Within that context, the regional arts association now spends more than £3 million annually on dance and mime, in addition to the £11.5 million that is given by the Arts Council to dance in one form or another in this country.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : If the Minister's contention is that there is better national funding and the Arts Council has been more sensitive to regional needs, why is Northern Ballet under threat?

Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point, but if he will allow me to develop my arguments he will find that I seek to answer it.

In 1987, I asked the Arts Council to earmark a certain proportion of its grant to increase touring in the regions. It set aside £1.5 million and, in the current financial year, its new Great Britain touring fund has financed, among other things, 12 weeks of dance--both classical and contemporary--in the regions. One hundred and twenty thousand pounds of this money has been made available to dance companies, and £30,000 of that to Northern Ballet. Dance has been able to play a significant part in this expansion. Audiences for classical ballet have increased and tent seasons have afforded reasonably priced seats and newer, younger audiences.

However, the picture is not entirely rosy. Audiences for modern dance have declined in recent years and there has been criticism of the classical touring circuit for lacking imagination and direction. This is part of the background to the independent report entitled "Stepping Forward", which was commissioned by the Arts Council, and which has brought about tonight's debate.

The main point that I would like to emphasise is that the report is not just about the Northern Ballet Theatre. It is an analysis of the whole range of dance in England and sets out a strategy for its future. In particular, it recognises that the Arts Council needs to resolve clients' uncertainties about what is expected of them, and to take on a strategic role in long-term planning. It recommends that the overall objective must be to create a healthy climate in which major touring companies--not all of them necessarily based in London--play in large theatres and are complemented by a range of smaller companies based in smaller-scale venues.

Within this overall context, the report examines the current activities of all the leading companies and makes a number of recommendations about their role. This includes an examination of Northern Ballet Theatre and its future.

I know that the Arts Council is conscious of the valuable work done by the Northern Ballet at theatres throughout England. Before April, there will have been time to examine all the options to ensure the future development of dance. The council also wishes to make it clear that at no time would it consider withdrawing funding from a regional client and directing it to London. Its priority is to increase support for regional work.

It is not my job to make artistic judgments. I would be subjected to much criticism if I sought to do that. It is a job for the Arts Council and its advisers. I do not fund arts organisations directly, either. I fund the arts on the arm's length principle adopted by successive Governments. I

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allocate a sum of money to the Arts Council and it is for it to decide, after making its expert assessments, which groups to fund and what funding strategy to adopt.

I can say, however, that the Arts Council has not yet reached a decision on the recommendations in the report. That is the important point. Neither has it reached a decision on the Northern Ballet Theatre. The report was issued for consultation last month and the council will want to consider carefully all the representations that it has received before coming to a conclusion. I understand that so far a number of respondents have commented positively on the imaginative and comprehensive nature of the proposals.

Of course, concern has been expressed about the future of the Northern Ballet Theatre, and I am quite sure that the Arts Council will carefully note the views expressed in the House this evening. I shall go beyond that and ensure that the chairman and secretary general are made aware tomorrow of the views expressed here tonight.

Mr. Orme : Can the Minister confirm that the Arts Council has applied for an increased grant this year?

Mr. Luce : At this time of year, the Arts Council tends to come forward with proposals for funding for future years. I have not yet received its proposals, but I look forward to doing so.

The independent report is a welcome review of the provision of dance throughout England. This is not a matter of the north against the south, or London against the provinces. The Northern Ballet Theatre performs across the country. The right hon. Member for Salford, East and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) made that point forcefully. Other major companies perform regularly in the north-west. Sadler's Wells royal ballet and the London festival ballet hold regular seasons in Manchester, for example, and I and the Arts Council want that to continue and expand.

What must matter most to us is that excellence in all art forms should be available to a growing number of people throughout the country. That is why I have substantially increased the Arts Council's budget for supporting touring, and, in the context of dance, I have supported the move of the Sadler's Wells royal ballet to Birmingham, with a taxpayers' award of £500,000 to help the process. I want everyone to be able to share in the country's artistic heritage and strength. That is my major objective.

The policies of the Government are doing much to ensure that this is fulfilled, and I know that the Arts Council is determined to support us in this. Against that background, I will ensure that the House's views about the funding of the arts in all parts of England, and the tributes paid to the Northern Ballet, are well and clearly understood by the Arts Council.

11.57 pm

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : The Minister mentioned that 18 Back Benchers were present to hear the debate. That is important. I want to explain why I have come, as my constituency is a little removed from the site of the Northern Ballet Theatre. I came to emphasise the spread of population surrounding this centre of culture in Manchester.

It is necessary to realise that this affair has implications far beyond the bounds of culture of the north-west. Oldham council puts out a brochure to attract

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industrialists to the north-west and mentions the cultural activities there. We believe that if we are to attract major companies, their executives will be more willing to come to the area if we can provide the cultural activities to which they have been accustomed in the larger cities. Support for the arts is important for that reason, as well as being very important for culture itself.

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I welcome the remarks made by the Minister, who has revealed a chink of hope. If he receives an application for an increase from the Arts Council, I sincerely hope that he will bear in mind the strength of feeling that exists among right hon. and hon. Members representing the north-west.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Twelve o'clock.

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