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House of Commons

Monday 20 May 1996

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Tony Banks: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement on the future of locally funded theatres.[28757]

The Minister of State, Department of National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat): Government funding in support of local theatres is channelled through the Arts Council and the regional arts boards. The funding of individual theatres is a matter for those bodies, in conjunction with the local authorities and other funding partners.

Mr. Banks: Is there any way in which I may entice the Minister to come along to the Theatre Royal Stratford East in my constituency? He knows that the theatre, which puts on seven new productions a year, has a very ethnically mixed audience, which it is building well, and receives local authority support from the poorest borough in the country. Funding is vital to us, especially since theatres in boroughs around us are closing down. Through which of the four channels could the Theatre Royal apply

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for lottery money funding of the arts? That is a genuine question, which makes it unusual, and I actually want an answer.

Mr. Sproat: Yes, I would be very interested in accepting the hon. Gentleman's kind invitation and to return to the Theatre Royal in Stratford to see what it is putting on. I need to look at exactly what might be being applied for with regard to the four channels. I know that the local authority is supporting a lottery fund, which will help the theatre and the leisure centre nearby. I shall look at the matter and let the hon. Gentleman know.

Mr. Sykes: If we are in the business of offering invitations, may I invite my hon. Friend to Scarborough--

Mr. Mackinlay: To stay in one of the hotels.

Mr. Sykes: There is nothing wrong with the hotels in Scarborough. I am sure that many hon. Members would rather visit Scarborough than go to Thurrock for their holidays. Would my hon. Friend like to visit the theatre in Scarborough? He will know that it has just opened and that it is a tribute to my constituents. We have just received £1 million-worth of lottery funding, which has helped speed up the process. I assure my hon. Friend that everybody in Scarborough is extremely grateful to the Government for channelling funding in that direction.

Mr. Sproat: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The theatre is indeed a tribute to the people of Scarborough, but it is also an indication of how successful the lottery has been in channelling money into theatres. I gladly accept his invitation.

Mr. Fisher: Contrary to the Minister's bland, not to say complacent, first answer, underfunding of regional theatres should concern him, the Secretary of State and the Government. Is he aware that regional theatres have accumulated deficits of more than £6 million as a direct consequence, not of bad management or lack of

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audiences, but of Government underfunding, especially the Arts Council's cuts in real terms in two of the past three years? What will the Government do about the regional theatres' accumulated deficits, which as the Secretary of State knows, threaten the existence of theatres such as Farnham?

Mr. Sproat: I can give the hon. Gentleman two very direct answers. First, in May last year, the Arts Council produced a green paper on ideas of how funding of regional and other theatres might be improved. As a result, a white paper, as it might be called by the Arts Council, is expected to be published in the summer. We shall study that with great interest. Secondly, a stabilisation fund is being worked out with the Arts Council, precisely to address the type of questions, among others, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Marble Arch

2. Mr. Carrington: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans she has for the refurbishment of Marble Arch; and if she will make a statement.[28758]

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley): The repair and conservation of Marble Arch began on 4 March and is planned for completion by the end of June. The enhancement of our built heritage is based on an active partnership involving my Department, its agencies, sponsored bodies, local authorities and the private sector. I shall be publishing a consultation paper on built heritage later this week.

Mr. Carrington: I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. The appearance of London's historic buildings plays a vital role in making our city beautiful and in attracting tourists. Will she use her powers over the trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum to ensure that, if an extension is built to that museum, it is in accordance with the existing fine and historic character of the buildings?

Mrs. Bottomley: I agree that London's fine buildings are a great attraction to the many tourists who visit the city.

Mr. Tony Banks: What does this have to do with Marble Arch?

Madam Speaker: Order. The Minister extended the question. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was not listening.

Mrs. Bottomley: Investment in many of the major buildings in London has been clearly evident in recent months and years. I suspect that a number of groups will wish to comment on the extension of the V and A, not least the planning authority at Kensington and Chelsea, English Heritage and the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Mr. Mackinlay: Is not the Minister concerned that so many of our ancient and famous buildings are falling into decay as a result of neglect by the Government and related agencies? How does she justify the inordinately long period during which the Albert monument by the Albert

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hall was under drapes? Have not the Government allowed our capital city to run down and neglected much of our national heritage?

Mrs. Bottomley: The hon. Gentleman must be wearing blinkers. Throughout London, an unprecedented number of projects are under way--the Albert memorial restoration, with £8 million to be spent in four years, is but one. There are also plans to carry out further improvements to Parliament square and Trafalgar square, and to introduce pedestrianisation outside Buckingham palace. There are endless examples. The national lottery enables us to do even more to refurbish many of our magnificent buildings, not least the major project to restore the Albert hall.

Mr. Tracey: My right hon. Friend's news on Marble Arch is welcome, as is her grasp of so many of the other heritage memorials of London. But what is she doing to hasten the work on Bankside and the refurbishment of the buildings connected with the Royal Festival hall, which are important to London's culture?

Mrs. Bottomley: My hon. Friend will know only too well that lottery awards are enabling the south bank of the Thames to become a veritable cultural centre, as it includes the Globe and Bankside. In addition, parts of Lambeth and Southwark that were in need of investment are now able to take the opportunity to invest in the future and share in a truly great millennium.

Broadcasting Transmission Network

3. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans she has to protect the needs of remoter areas after the privatisation of the broadcasting transmission network.[28759]

Mr. Sproat: Under the terms of the Broadcasting Act 1990, and the agreement between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the BBC, the Independent Television Commission and the BBC respectively are responsible for establishing and maintaining the standards of coverage, quality and reliability of the four main terrestrial channels. This will not change with the privatisation of the BBC's transmission network.

Mr. Dafis: Nevertheless, is not there concern that the availability of digitised services to remote rural regions is very much in question? Will the Department co-operate with the Department of Trade and Industry to develop an integrated transmissions policy, including matters such as education and multi-media as well as television and radio?

Mr. Sproat: With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he knows that analogue television covers 98.3 per cent. of Wales at the moment, and analogue will not be switched off until a roughly equivalent level of service is provided. The second part of his question was interesting. Although we clearly want an integrated policy, we would also need to involve other Departments, such as the Welsh Office.

Mr. Fabricant: Is my hon. Friend aware that the BBC operates more transmitters in Wales than in the rest of the United Kingdom put together because of the topology of

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the Principality? The only way to get the further 1.7 per cent. coverage that the hon. Gentleman so much wants is through digital transmission by satellite. Would my hon. Friend be surprised to learn that Plaid Cymru and the Labour party have opposed the introduction of satellite television as they opposed the introduction of cable television, ITV and Channel 4?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) has not raised those matters in the Committee that is considering the Broadcasting Bill of which he is a distinguished member, but no doubt he will have an opportunity to do so in the coming weeks.

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