§ 30. Mrs. Gorman
To ask the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement of the funding of municipal theatres.
§ Mr. Renton
Municipal theatres, which are an essential part of arts provision in this country, are funded and run by local authorities. As receiving theatres they do not attract direct Arts Council funding, but they benefit from the Arts Council's support for touring which enables more distinctive and varied programmes to be mounted.
§ Mrs. Gorman
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that it is possible, if arts societies stage productions that the population want to see or hear, for those societies to be self-financing—as the society in Billericay is? The arts society there produces an excellent range of cinema, theatre and music, professional and amateur, and last year made a profit of £30,000. By contrast, in nearby Basildon, whose council levies an extortionate community charge, the municipal theatre receives a subsidy of £1.7 million a year and makes a loss of £500,000, which has to be funded out of the pockets of my constituents?
§ Mr. Renton
I hesitate to enter a dispute about the rival merits of these two different establishments. I certainly appreciate the good work done by the establishment in my hon. Friend's constituency which she mentioned first; but I would point out that the Towngate theatre in Basildon also puts on some interesting performances—by Opera 80 and the Second Stride dance company, for instance. I understand that it recently hosted a show by the Chippendales, not a branch of the "Antiques Roadshow" but an American male strip show which played to an all-female audience. That at least shows a certain equality of opportunity.
§ Mr. Fisher
Will the Minister widen his reply to include funding of the national companies, and in particular will he explain the remarks that he made to the Royal Society of Arts last week, when he speculated on the Government funding the national companies directly? Is that ending of the arm's-length principle Government policy or is it another example of a Minister, who knows that he has only another five weeks in the job, making a remark entirely of his own without consulting his civil servants, the Arts Council or any of the national companies? Will he make his position clear: are the Government going to end their arm's-length approach?
§ Mr. Renton
That question is a long way from municipal theatres. However, if the hon. Gentleman had attended the seminar at which I made my remarks last Monday—I greatly regret that he was not there to hear me talk about delegation to the regional arts boards—he would have known that I made the point that if such delegation is fully successful—if the regional arts boards are progressing well—the question whether the five major national companies should continue to be funded by the Arts Council or be funded directly will arise. I framed my remarks in a hypothetical context following on from delegation to the regional arts boards, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not there to listen and to learn.