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Lord Birkett: Hungry?

Lord Chorley: A lean and hungry man, my Lords. I suspect that the devil is in the Treasury.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Birkett: My Lords, I am relieved to know that the noble Lord is not Brutus after all. Thanks to the noble Viscount, we are debating provincial repertory theatres. But my remarks apply to music and dance, and indeed to all the performing arts. We hear much about education in the arts--by which I mean not only schools, colleges and universities, but all the specialised academies of music, film, dance and drama. Indeed, I am fortunate in being chairman of the governors of a very special school for the performing arts, the BRIT School in Croydon.

We also hear much of the great national showcases--the pinnacles of achievement--the Royal National Theatre; the Royal Shakespeare Company; perhaps

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I may add nowadays the Globe; the Royal Ballet; the English National Ballet; the Royal Opera; the English National Opera; and all the great provincial companies, not to mention the wonderful orchestras of the land.

But between education and those pinnacles of excellence there must be a great hinterland of opportunity. If opportunity to practise their art professionally, within modest circumstances, opportunity to grow, to improve and refine their art, is not provided for our young artists, then the arts themselves will wilt and perish.

Ministers in governments of all complexions are fond of paying tribute to the enormous artistic riches and the brilliant individual talents that are to be found in this country. But, unless governments pay serious and timely heed to this great middle ground of repertory work in all the arts, a nationwide infrastructure of opportunity, there will be no more ministerial speeches of congratulation because this country will no longer be pre-eminent in the performing arts. The speeches may not be missed, but the pre-eminence most surely will. The nation will be the poorer for it.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much for allowing me to speak briefly in the gap. As some may know, I was given the opportunity by the Government this week to contribute somewhat towards discovering, supporting and helping talent in this country. I felt that this debate, thanks to the noble Viscount, was an opportunity to touch on the subject.

What I see as needed in order to bring forth and sustain repertory in this country is something of a new paradigm. There is no point in pretending that things can go on exactly as they have in the past. I spend much of my time at the moment in the North East, I came back last night from Sunderland. What has evolved in the North East over the past half-dozen years is interesting. I would describe it as an instinct for partnership. Brand new forms of partnership are being created, libraries are being reconsidered, museums are being rethought as part of the community. These partnerships tend to be formed between the education sectors, further and higher education colleges, local authorities and the private sector. It is in that area that the future for regional and repertory theatre must lie.

Frankly, we are already benefiting enormously from the enthusiastic co-operation that is arising, but it is arising only patchily and in various parts of the country. I urge the Minister to look at good practice where it occurs around the country, look at where local authorities are showing an interest, look at where universities are becoming involved and interested in the opportunities for theatre in their localities and see what can become of it.

It is clear that the resources are available, the talent is available. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, rightly pointed out that we desperately need the opportunity for talent to display itself and gain the confidence to move on to bigger and, in many cases, better things. I am quite convinced that around the country the opportunity for partnership is bringing together differing groups who

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know that by using the theatre as an essential component of the community they can develop something of which that community will be proud. Eventually, talented people will make us as a country very proud of it.

8.12 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I too thank the noble Viscount for the chance to speak about repertory theatre. I am glad that in the gap we had an interesting and instructive intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. Perhaps I may pick up one point that he made, that it is unrealistic not to expect things to change. I am passionate about performance, whether it be in theatre, dance or film. In my younger years I worked as an agent and I have much experience of repertory from an agent's point of view. I must have travelled the length and breadth of the country, rather like a trainer of race horses, examining how his string was getting along.

To an agent, the repertory system in those days, 30 or 40 years ago, was that if a young student at a drama school was lucky enough to be taken under an agent's wing, the agent would first try to get him into a repertory company. It was all very well to come from a drama school with a good reputation, sometimes with prizes, but students learnt in repertory how to develop a range and to prove their stamina. That is very important in acting, and we have here today the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is a living testament to stamina and good health. That is much needed in the theatre. I do not say that nowadays young people who are not able to get into the fewer repertory companies do not need the qualities of strength and stamina. I am quite sure they do. Those qualities are needed in the fringe theatre which has to an extent taken up some of the students who, 30 years ago, would have gone into repertory.

What worries me is the effect of the decline of repertory companies. If one is realistic, the decline will continue in the same way as music hall unfortunately ultimately came to an end with the disastrous effect that has had on British comedy. I hope that the disappearance of the repertory company will not have the same effect on the legitimate theatre.

I do not know what proposals the Government have, but it seems to me that the training of young talent is one of the most important aspects. As has been mentioned, the drama schools cater for the need in Wales, and LAMDA has been mentioned where the course includes theatre management and other aspects which would have been rare in the old days. Multi-talented graduates are coming out of the drama schools, but whether they will go on to become brilliant performers such as Prunella Scales I do not know. The other night in a fascinating interview on television, she gave great credit to repertory when she was complimented on her great range. She said that without repertory and playing a number of exacting parts over a year, she would not have had the range which has been one of the characteristics of her fine career.

Another point which bothers me is that when and if the repertory theatre almost disappears, I hope that where it is still relatively strong, we shall find a way of sustaining it. I hope that if the repertory theatre goes,

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the great repertoire of British drama which is suitable for repertory will not also disappear. I take a rather sceptical view of radio, but it was one of the great ways of giving young people the opportunity of hearing our drama and encouraging them to go to the theatre when it was available. Scores of plays were regularly broadcast by repertory companies and it would be terrifying if in our great literary culture, they were to disappear. They represent a big link in our great literary tradition which has grown into broadcasting and theatre, and for which we are nationally known.

I end on that note. There is a great need to train young people in a way that makes up not only for the disappearance of repertory companies but also the content of British theatre, which was ably and on low budgets displayed by repertory companies the length and breadth of the country. What will the Government do? Perhaps the Minister will have something to say about it. The Government have a useful role in ensuring that the great repertoire does not disappear.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Montgomery for introducing this debate with impeccable timing, on the very day of the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement.

The Treasury's allocation to the DCMS, representing an extra £290 million over the next three years, is disappointing. As Chris Smith said,

    "Without culture, there can ultimately be no society and no sense of shared identity or worth. For a government elected primarily to try to re-establish that sense of society that we had so painfully lost, this is a very important realisation".

Yet that very same government do not live up to this extraordinary realisation. It does not bode well for the DCMS clients. We urge the Minister to give the House assurances that within those constraints, the provincial repertory theatres are going to be given the utmost priority, not just vague phrases like

    "building new audiences for the performing arts",

to quote from the review.

I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on becoming the first chairman of NESTA. With its initial endowment of £200 million I am sure he will fulfil the role admirably. He was most supportive of NESTA during the lottery Bill and, as a past member of the Arts Council, responsible for distributing funds, he will surely do it well. Knowing his interest in acting, I hope he will not forget the regional theatres, especially as the Government have announced extra funding for the sciences.

I shall not detain the House except to make two points. First, as many noble Lords highlighted tonight, the theatre funding crisis is only partly a problem of revenue funding. Many theatres are in desperate need of refurbishing their buildings, but they are unlikely to benefit from the National Lottery as a consequence of the recently introduced changes.

The Conservatives set up the lottery in recognition of the long-standing neglect of the fabric of our cultural institutions, including theatres. The Theatre Trust

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believes that 10 years of substantial investment would have put right the disrepair of our theatrical heritage. To date only 10 per cent. of the most important theatre buildings in Britain have benefited fully from the lottery. Only three years after its inception this Government diverted lottery funds to new causes and away from the buildings. Theatre people who have worked hard to develop schemes and lottery applications will therefore be bitterly disappointed. We opposed many aspects of the National Lottery Bill and shall continue to expose its pernicious impact on existing good causes.

Secondly, we urge the Government to look properly at the Italian funding arrangements for lyric theatres--adaptable to dramatic theatres. They are neither wholescale privatisation nor mere partnership. I know it is unusual to give an Italian example. However, the Italian Government are seeking to reduce public expenditure by encouraging the private sector to fund theatres up to 40 per cent. of their budget. In order to do so, it allows individuals and businesses to deduct from their tax liability 30 per cent. of contributions of over £300,000 made to a theatre and given repeatedly for three years.

The founders are entitled to AGM votes. If their contribution amounts to 12 per cent. of the grant-in-aid, they are entitled to a place on the board. The board approves the artistic programme, as proposed by the Sovraintendente, who appoints the music and artistic directors and prepares them with the artistic programme. The balance between public and private as well as the management structure appears to shield artistic policy from undue interference on the part of the founders.

Those arrangements would seem to be an imaginative way to secure funding for cultural institutions by creating a private-public partnership--exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said. I trust that he, and it, can be a source of inspiration for the much needed overhaul of arts funding.

8.22 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for introducing this debate on an extremely serious subject and for attracting such a remarkable range of well-informed speakers this evening. It is a tribute to their professional training that they have been able to do it so effectively within the short amount of time available for speeches.

I am only disappointed in the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I thought that, after 10,000 examples, he might have given us a tip or two about how to find one's trousers in a pool around one's shoes. Is it by loosening the braces? Is it by special arrangement connecting the braces and the trousers?

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