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National Theatres (Regional Tours)

6. Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): What steps she is taking to encourage national theatre companies to undertake more regional tours. [64573]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): Both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre are required to undertake regional touring as part of their funding agreements with the Arts Council.

Helen Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. A few months back, I was lucky enough to see the RSC's touring production of "The Canterbury Tales", which was excellent and packed to the doors, but what can he do to ensure that the two theatres take on   more touring commitments than they currently undertake, so that people in constituencies such as mine,
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who pay towards the theatres' subsidies, get the opportunity to see them, and so that they become truly national theatres, not London or Stratford theatres?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, and I know that she also raised it with one of my predecessors, who has gone to another place. The National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have increased their national touring in the past year—the National Theatre spent 21 weeks touring the regions, and the Royal Shakespeare Company has 150 touring dates in its calendar. Furthermore, the Royal Shakespeare Company will do more regional touring next year because of the changes at Stratford. I know that both of those companies have performed in my hon. Friend's area in Chester, Salford, Manchester and Liverpool, but the people of Warrington should be able to experience the best of our national talent, so I am sure that her comments will be made available to the chairman of the Arts Council.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister is right to address the importance of national companies undertaking regional tours, but it is also important to provide regional arts companies—for example, the Lichfield Garrick theatre—with sufficient funds to conduct tours of their own and to operate as production houses as well as receiving houses. What is the Minister's advice to the chairman of the Arts Council on how to strike that balance?

Mr. Lammy: My advice, which is directed not to the chairman of the Arts Council but to the people of this country, is to vote Labour, because when people vote Labour they get a 70 per cent. increase in Arts Council funding, some of which goes to regional theatres. That is why we have seen an expansion, and that is my advice to his constituents.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): It is quite expensive for my constituents to go to the theatre in London, but they can go to the newly refurbished His Majesty's theatre in Aberdeen, which is a spectacular venue. Back-stage facilities have been expanded—the expansion was partially funded by the lottery—which means that it can now take bigger touring companies. I wish to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) in stressing the importance of national theatres travelling the whole country, which means not only England, but Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right. I have raised the issue with my colleague in Scotland to ensure that as a result of devolution theatre companies from Scotland work across the border in England and vice versa. The National Theatre has worked in Scotland in the past year, and I hope to see the RSC working in Scotland in the next year.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I am sure that it warms your heart, Mr. Speaker, to see such enthusiasm among Opposition Members. The Minister has bandied about statistics, so perhaps he will explain how any extension of regional theatre touring is compatible with the continued standstill in
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central Government grant to the Arts Council for the next two financial years. The 70 per cent. statistic that the Minister has quoted goes back to 1997, and it takes account of inflation and not very much else. As the Minister knows, there are already great pressures on his    Department's non-sports budget due to the 2012 Olympics and the fact that the running costs of the Arts Council are some £50 million a year and rising. Where is the money coming from for the expansion that he so passionately desires in regional theatre?

Mr. Lammy: The money is coming from the reform of the national office, which will allow money to be put precisely into funded organisations so that theatres and musicians receive funds to grow the arts in this country. Labour Members make no apology for increasing Arts Council funding by 70 per cent. since we came to power. I remind the hon. Gentleman that theatre was on its knees in 1997 because the Opposition had starved it of money.


7. Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What steps she is taking to develop and promote cricket among young people; and if she will make a statement. [64574]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government are committed to increasing the amount of physical education and sport played by all young people. Cricket has an important role to play in that. It is one of the 22 key sports within our national school sport strategy and is receiving £1.24 million over the four years to 2007. The 2004–05 school sport survey found that cricket is the sixth most popular sport, with 85 per cent. of schools offering it to their pupils. Interestingly, the survey also found that cricket was the second most popular sport in terms of club links: 46 per cent. of our schools have links with a local cricket club. We hope to reinforce that by investing some £8.5 million in cricket through Sport England during 2006–07.

Mr. Hepburn: One of the best ways of encouraging cricket, certainly in the north-east, would have been to have an Ashes match at Durham. My right hon. Friend will understand the disappointment of old and young cricket fans in the north-east when the decision was made to play the Ashes match in Cardiff, not Durham. I am led to believe that that decision was made largely through the influence of the Welsh Assembly. What does the Minister's Department intend to do to ensure that the north-east, or any other area that does not have the cover of a Welsh, Scottish or London Assembly, is not put at a disadvantage in bidding for major sporting events?

Mr. Caborn: I can obviously understand my hon. Friend's disappointment. I had the opportunity to visit Durham on a couple of occasions last season; it is a fantastic ground. At the end of the day, however, it is for the England and Wales Cricket Board to make those decisions. I know that it was a pretty tough decision. The ECB had several people going around the grounds to evaluate their potential, and that is the decision that it came to; it was not a Government decision. Nevertheless, I can understand my hon. Friend's disappointment.
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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to promoting the sport, what discussions has he had with formerly or currently successful professional cricketers about the possibility of their devoting just a tiny fraction of their spare time to acting as ambassadors for the sport in schools to encourage its take-up or the continued pursuit and development of interest in it?

Mr. Caborn: If there is any sport that one can say has modernised and got itself into the 21st century, it is cricket. The delivery of the Ashes last year says much for Lord MacLaurin's reorganisation of the ECB five or six years ago, including central contracts and 20–20 cricket. Its new academy at Loughborough has been very important, including in relation to the women's team, who also took the Ashes. Every secondary school in the country has appointed a senior person from the ECB, and that is playing a considerable role in enhancing quality. The first grant given by the newly established National Sports Foundation this week goes to cricket. That is a response to the Lords Taverners' initiative whereby it has matched funding of £177,000 to buy kit for schools and clubs. That shows how the ECB and other bodies are rolling out a clear policy of grassroots development. I am sure that that will help us to retain the Ashes when we go down to Australia later this year.

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): In the run-up to 2012, will my right hon. Friend ensure that now cricket is not covered on terrestrial TV, it will be given special attention by his Department so that future cricketing success like last year's Ashes will be repeated and become the norm, and no longer just a rarity?

Mr. Caborn: It would be wrong to run away from the question about broadcasting. Eighty per cent. of the investment that I alluded to came from television. The BBC did not put a bid on the table and some of the bids by other terrestrial channels were well below what had been put on the table by Sky, so the ECB was left with no other option but to accept. Had it not, the central contracts and investment in the grassroots that I mentioned would have been reduced. One cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I hope that the Minister will find it in his heart to congratulate Glamorgan county cricket club on securing the first test match in Wales at its ground in Sophia gardens. Will he join me in urging the Assembly to ensure that there are plenty of facilities, resources and coaches available so that the young people of Wales learn to play cricket well and that plenty of Welshmen represent England in 2009, thus helping us to retain the Ashes?

Mr. Caborn: I congratulate Glamorgan on that achievement. We want the development of grass-roots cricket in Wales to be equal to that in England. Wales made a tremendous contribution to winning the Ashes through the Welsh players in the team. We want to ensure that that continues.
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