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The effect in not only felt in London and the west end theatre; there is council investment. Examples include the Sage in Gateshead or the Lowry in Salford Quays. At the other extreme we find groups such as the Kneehigh Theatre in Cornwall, which has developed over 20 years with Arts Council funding and has increased its audiences by 30 per cent. It tours extensively domestically and abroad and has an international reputation. It works with young people and helps local festivals, bringing a range of benefits.

Some local theatres such as the Pomegranate theatre in Chesterfield simply would not exist without the help of small authorities such as our local borough council. Without them, people who are interested in theatre would have almost no local access to theatre but for an excellent amateur group, the Hasland theatre company, which runs its own small theatre, and various other amateur groups that need venues at which to perform. Instead, people would have to drive some distance to places such as Sheffield or Nottingham.

There are problems across the board. The Arts Council does good work: it is putting £1.8 million into youth theatre and is increasing diversity with the Eclipse theatre that it supports. The fact that it is an arm’s length body is valued, but there is a professional perception that that arm’s length status is being eroded a little and that it has lost some expertise and has scrapped the peer review process when awarding grants. There is also a problem with having to choose between giving organisations some stability of funding and switching funding into new and innovative theatre groups, but that choice has to be made because public funds are so small.

Local authorities are also under pressure. As a result, Battersea arts centre and Northampton’s theatres are under threat. Even in Chesterfield, the Labour Opposition group is arguing, in the local election campaign, that if Labour wins control of the council on 3 May, it will cut funding to the council theatre.

Touring theatre has had difficulty accessing Arts Council funding since the council cut its touring department, and there is a constant tension between funding core costs and funding performances. As we have heard, many theatres are historic, listed buildings that are expensive to maintain, but they are a crucial part of our culture and built heritage. However, there is no point in funding the buildings without enabling performances to take place within them.

Private funding and philanthropy will support a thriving sector that is stimulated by public investment, but, as we saw in the 1980s and 1990s, if public funding is cut, the private sector will not replace that funding. Since the heavy funding cuts of those decades, there has been a welcome reintroduction of funding back to pre-1980 levels. In the 2005-08 spending review, Arts Council grants were frozen by £34 million in real terms, and there is a threat of further cuts or freezes in the next round, up to 2011. Those dangers are made much worse by the threat of a smash-and-grab raid from the lottery, which will further undermine efforts.

In conclusion, the Government must maintain theatre investment. In surveys, 79 per cent. of the public say that they support the concept of public subsidy to the arts. The current subsidy is 0.02 per cent. or less of public spending, for which we get thriving, subsidised theatres that help to stimulate the rest of the sector and make an invaluable contribution to the economy. They also make an invaluable and immeasurable contribution to the social and cultural capital of our nation.

3.52 pm

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I get the impression that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate
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(Glenda Jackson) does not like being complimented, so I shall merely congratulate her on securing the debate. I shall not detain colleagues by praising the elegance, eloquence and passion of her wonderful speech. I was privileged to force a contribution from her in our December debate on British films, which was well worth hearing, as was her contribution today. At that time, I said on my blog that I hoped that the next Prime Minister, who is present in the Chamber, would include her in his ministerial team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, alongside my good friend the Minister with responsibility for the arts.

I thank the various organisations that have provided important briefings for today’s debate: Equity, the actors association; the Theatrical Management Association; the National Campaign for the Arts; and the Society of London Theatre. The other day, my sister’s neighbour, the theatre producer Matthew Byam Shaw, told her that I am not interested in the theatre, because I have not been to see “Frost/Nixon.” In fact, I have been to see it, but my wife and I paid for our tickets—unlike other hon. Members, perhaps. I suspect that that is why I did not appear on his radar screen.

I saw that play a week before the birth of our first child Joseph, six months ago, and I have not been able to go the theatre since. When I was preparing for the debate, I made a list of the plays that I am desperate to see: “The Seagull”, “Rock’n’Roll”, “Whipping it Up”, “Boeing-Boeing”, “The Entertainer” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Roundhouse. That list gives a flavour of the cultural vibrancy in our theatres in London and around the country.

We keep talking about theatre being subsidised, which almost gives the impression that it is somehow a bit-part of our culture and society. The theatre is a mass market. There were 35,000 theatrical performances in the country last year, which is about 100 a day. Almost 20 million tickets were sold, bringing in nearly £500 million in ticket sales alone. The theatre is at the heart of British cultural life and, as many hon. Members have pointed out, boy, do we get bang for our investment buck. For the price of £120 million a year, we get back not only £100 million in VAT, but, it has been argued, almost a £2.6 billion contribution to the economy. On any argument, that is an investment worth making.

I am a friend of the arts lobby, and it upsets me that it seems to be forced on to the ground of its detractors and that it has to respond to the fatuous arguments against subsidising theatre. I expect that the £120 million subsidy is extremely well spent. Some newspapers will alight on a performance that did not work or to which only three people turned up and cite it as an example of waste in the arts, but we should compare that investment with the £1 billion spent on the dome, the tripling of the Olympics budget or the money that might be wasted on an NHS computer system. Compared with all the money spent on public sector organisations—I emphasise that I do not regard the theatre as a public sector organisation—we probably get extremely good value from the theatre.

When I was given the post of shadow Minister with responsibility for the arts, a Labour Member said to me, “Ah, you are representing entertainment that cannot pay its way.” Why do we assume that sport, for example, is not subsidised? Of course it is at its grass roots. The premiership is subsidised by talented footballers who
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get subsidies as they start their careers, so why on earth is it wrong to subsidise the arts and theatre?

Now that I have got all that off my chest, I shall address some of the key arguments that hon. Members made in what I thought was an important outbreak of consensus. I hope that the consensus will continue to the next election and beyond. First, there is no room for complacency. The comprehensive spending review is of huge concern to the arts world and the theatre world. There are two main elements of concern, one of which is the date of the review. It sounds relatively unimportant—when the Chancellor will come to the House to announce the details of the review—but people who work in arts organisations rely on the ability to plan for the long term, and we do not even know the date of the review yet. A hint was given that it might be in the autumn, but arts organisations need to know so that they can plan for the long term.

The second concern about the comprehensive spending review, which is at the heart of the matter, concerns funding. We know that arts and theatre organisations are being told to plan for a 5 per cent. cut or a freeze. We do not know what will emerge, but I tell the House that freezing the arts budget now, after the freeze that began in 2005, will cause immense damage.

Meg Hillier: I hate to inject a partisan note into the consensus, but I want to quote the comments of Michael Lynch, the chief executive of the Southbank centre. He said of the Government’s funding:

Many others from the theatre world have congratulated the Government on their investment in theatre. We must guard against future problems, but will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that this Government have put a lot more money into theatre than the Conservative Government took out?

Mr. Vaizey: I do not regard that comment from the hon. Lady, who is one of my oldest friends and who was a companion at university, as partisan. I agree with her, and I am happy to give the Government praise where praise is due. How nice it is to have a member of the Garrick club join our proceedings as we debate the theatre. I am happy to acknowledge praise where it is due, just as I hope that she will acknowledge criticism where it is due.

That situation explains why there is such concern about the comprehensive spending review. As was mentioned, increasing the arts budget in line with inflation would require a sum in the region of £3.5 million, which these days is the cost of about half a house in some of London’s more affluent parts. Those of us who have read today’s Evening Standard will know that houses in Kensington and Chelsea are now going for about £11 million, so we are talking about a tiny sum—[Interruption.] I am glad that I have stimulated some reaction from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

We are concerned about not only the comprehensive spending review but the continuing raid on the lottery. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), among others, pointed out that the Arts Council is to lose £112.5 million. The Heritage Lottery Fund, to which theatres can turn for some of their capital requirements,
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will also lose a substantial sum. I apologise for banging on about this, but the point of the lottery was to protect our cultural institutions from the rounds of cuts stimulated by political expediency. The lottery was supposed to be separate from all that. That is why it was created and why it is so galling that the lottery is continually raided for political purposes—that must stop.

I should make a couple of quick points before I conclude. I have had only a few minutes to speak; it is testament to the commitment of Members of this House to the theatre that so many hon. Members have spoken in this debate. The point made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) about touring theatres was brought to my attention by the Theatrical Management Association too. There is real concern that the Arts Council has cut its touring unit, because touring theatres are a crucial aspect of the theatrical world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is the co-chair of the all-party group on theatre and a great and passionate supporter in this House of the theatre, discussed the widespread concern among performing companies of all kinds about the digital dividend review and the potential loss of channel 69, on which so many of them rely.

The final issue that I shall raise was brought to my attention by the National Campaign for the Arts, and it relates to changes in immigration law. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on this area. Many of our theatres rely on intercultural exchange and on visiting actors and actresses, so we must consider the rise in the cost of visas. There is also some concern in the arts world about the new points-based system.

I should leave hon. Members in no doubt about the commitment of Conservatives to our subsidised arts and subsidised theatre. In the great scheme of things, we are talking about small sums that are efficiently spent, and which generate an enormous amount of artistic and economic return. Theatre forms an essential part of our civilised society.

4.3 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): I join in the congratulations given to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this debate on public funding for theatre. The way in which she delivered her speech demonstrated what an asset she has been in her career both to this country and to this House. As an arts Minister, I am grateful to have her on my side. The breadth of her contribution indicated what it means to be a cultured and civilised society.

Culture is at the centre of so many of the issues that come before the House at this point in time. Whether we are considering antisocial behaviour, social cohesion, race, faith or environmental stewardship, culture—how we relate to one another—is central. It is obviously my great privilege to attend many of our theatre performances. There is no doubt that across their breadth they deal with some of the essential issues of our time.

Theatre in this country has an outstanding record of achievement. It is easy to forget that just 10 years ago, many of our theatres were struggling to survive and were caught in a downward spiral of deficits and underfunding. As of March 1999, English regional producing theatres carried forward a gross accumulated deficit of £4.4 million. Some 30 out of the top 50 such theatres were in deficit. Many were technically insolvent
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and there was no sign that that trend would be reversed. The debilitating impact of the financial fragility placed major artistic constraints on theatres across the country.

So much of what has been achieved would not have been possible without additional investment by the Government, as my hon. Friend so rightly says. The Government are proud that they have doubled their investment in the arts since 1997—there has been a real terms increase of 73 per cent.—to £412 million this year.

It has been widely acknowledged in the debate that subsidised theatre in this country had been in crisis and that, in large part, the benefit that we have seen over the past few years has come because the Arts Council conducted a theatre review in response to the situation in 2000. Following the review, the Arts Council doubled its funding to theatre to £97.9 million in the past financial year; there are more than 230 regularly funded theatre organisations. That amounts to approximately 24 per cent. of the total grant in aid that the Arts Council funds.

The additional investment has produced results. Research from seven of England’s biggest regional producing theatres compared the situations in 2000 and 2005. It found that in the latter year nearly 3 million people attended performances, which was an increase of almost 40 per cent.; 85 per cent. more new plays were produced in English theatres; nearly 6,000 performances were given at home and on tour; and more than 36,000 young people were involved in education programmes run by theatres, which is an increase of almost 60 per cent.

We are seeing a revival, not only in London, but at the Birmingham Rep, and in Chichester and Sheffield. Right across the country audiences are coming back, attendances have increased, there are quality productions and new work is being performed. Most importantly of all, young people are coming through and a new generation of young people is being exposed to theatre, providing the audiences, the technicians behind the theatre and the actors of the future.

Theatre is popular and people value it. The Department’s taking part survey showed that nearly a quarter of the adult population in England attended a theatre performance in 2005. As I said, we are not just talking about London, because out of the top 10 regularly funded theatre organisations, two are in London and eight are in the regions.

My hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) wanted to illustrate the broader social role of theatre. It is able to reach out to children and young people and to contribute to education objectives. I am pleased to say that the Unicorn children’s centre in Southwark is a great example of how that can be done if an organisation dedicates itself specifically to young people. Theatre is also reaching out in other areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) mentioned the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Meg Hillier: Has my hon. Friend had discussions with his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills about encouraging schools to use those good, professional children’s theatre companies? If not, will he consider doing so?

Mr. Lammy: I am pleased that I have been able to continue discussions with Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills, specifically in relation to creative partnerships—they are, as my hon. Friend knows, joint
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projects with schools—and also in relation to the music manifesto. There are dimensions to the music manifesto and more recently, the dance review that affect theatre. Dance, and its impact on theatre, has been incredibly important.

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow makes about diversity is hugely important. In some of our central debates in society, we can connect with and reach out to some of the Muslim youth in this country and the sort of communities that occupy my constituency to enable them to tell their stories to a wider audience. That is hugely important. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate has the Hampstead theatre in her constituency and will know that it is doing that through many of its productions in new facilities.

We have heard about the economic impact of theatre. Last year, total ticket revenues for the west end theatre broke through the £400 million mark for the first time. The total value of the west end theatre to the economy has been estimated at £1.5 billion, and of theatre beyond the west end an additional £1.1 million.

It is right to acknowledge local authorities’ role—that came up in the debate—and the major contribution that success brings to this country. “The History Boys” is an outstanding example. It began at the National Theatre, won six Tony awards in New York, including best play and, for Nicholas Hytner, best director. It has brought earnings of £1 million to the National Theatre, which will be invested back into programming. The film director, Stephen Frears, said:

Our funding for the arts in this country is based on a mixed economy. We want institutions that can produce revenue, and we want to attract private and commercial investment, but public subsidy is vital to inspire innovation, and to produce core funding to encourage organisations to move forward, and we are committed to that. We are having this debate largely because hon. Members know that we are in a spending review period and they can be assured that we continue to have these discussions with colleagues in the Treasury.

Hon. Members referred to the national lottery. It is important that during its first 10 years more than £441 million of lottery funds were invested by the Arts Council in theatre and drama. We have seen real growth and success from lottery capital funds invested in the sector, with most of the capital projects now completed; for example, the Unicorn and the Young Vic. Throughout the country many of those capital projects have come through.

Existing lottery commitments will not be affected by the recent announcement of lottery contributions towards the Olympics. There will still be almost £500 million of new lottery money for the Arts Council between 2009 and 2012. The total contribution from lottery funds to the arts for the Olympics will be worth £28 million a year if taken over the four years, as we expect, notwithstanding the outcome of the spending review. The total combined Government and lottery investment for this year equates to just 5 per cent. The Olympics are exactly the sort of one-off national event that the lottery was intended to support and the arts will benefit as a result post-2012.

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