National Theatre Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 1974.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West 12:00 am, 7th November 1974

That is the object of my saying this. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is saving his skill to deliver the prologue when the National Theatre is finally opened. No one could do it with greater panache or a greater sense of the rhythm of the English language than he.

The words with which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) ended his speech were extremely pertinent. In this House we frequently and quite glibly debate the expenditure of enormous sums of money. I believe that on Monday we shall be debating again the Channel Tunnel—the most expensive hole in history. No doubt before very much longer we shall be debating the new parliamentary building again. The House gave approval, less than a year ago, to the expenditure of £30 million to create a comfortable environment for ourselves.

We talk as though the money spent on the National Theatre is a vast sum. How perverted have our priorities become, how distorted our sense of values, when we can, with a nod and a wave, cheerfully bid farewell to countless millions of pounds of the nation's resources and yet, when it comes to the arts, which sustain and uplift the spirit of man, we think that we are being generous with a million pounds for historic buildings and a few million pounds for the theatre? Then we even pause and consider. I hope that the present Government will reconsider destroying at a stroke some of the priceless artistic heritage of this country with the threat of the wealth tax and all that that implies. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, quite rightly, would rule me out of order if I elaborated on that point, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford on the Opposition Front Bench referred to it and it bears repetition.

It seems to be commonly agreed that we are in a state of national crisis. At such a time we need more than ever to be uplifted and inspired. We in this place have singularly failed to inspire people over the last few years. It is from the arts that many people get their solace and contentment, if they are able to get it anywhere. When the country faces some of its darkest days perhaps for decades, we ought to be determined to spend even more, relatively speaking, on the arts. I say "more, relatively speaking" because with £50 million one can do a vast amount when it comes to the arts. It is a small sum in the budget of the country but it is an enormous one in terms of the nation's heritage and culture.

There is a commercial side to this matter. It has been touched on by several of my hon. Friends—I say "honourable friends" advisedly—on both sides of the Chamber. Millions of tourists come to this country and they come more than ever for what Britain offers in the way of tradition, spectacle, heritage and history. One of the things that they are determined to do when they come to our capital city is to go to the theatre. The money that is attracted by the presence of a living theatre, something that is developing and enhancing our traditions, is enormous. We should never think that we are being munificent and subsidising something from which the country will get no return. The country will get an enormous return from a successful National Theatre, a return out of all proportion to the money we are talking about this evening.

There is one thing which I am just as concerned about as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). It would be wrong in extolling the virtues of this project for us to forget the theatre in the provinces. I am particularly glad that the Lyttelton Theatre, part of this exciting project, will stage productions from Britain's regional theatres. There will be a degree of cross-fertilisation which can only benefit drama as a whole and our national artistic heritage.

Therefore, as we come, I hope, towards the close of the final chapter in the preliminary story of the National Theatre, I hope we shall be determined to make sure that it inherits one motto from a particular commercial theatre. When it is opened let it carry, at least in our hearts and intentions, the motto "We never close", and let it always be there as a hallmark of Britain's artistic greatness and excellence.

I welcome the Bill and I hope that the Government will ensure that what we are doing tonight will be followed up in the future by every sum that is necessary to sustain this exciting and invigorating new project.