We recognise that many theatres in the regions have faced serious problems. We agreed with the Arts Council that it would commission the study that led to the Boyden report. The Arts Council and the regional arts boards are in discussion with local government and the theatre community with a view to developing a national policy for theatre in England. We have provided a 60 per cent. real-terms increase in funding for the arts over five years, which is radically improving the position of regional theatre.
I thank my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that regional theatres, such as the excellent theatres in my Northampton constituency, are important in encouraging and building up live theatre throughout the country? What does my right hon. Friend intend to do to ensure that money identified in the next steps report goes to the English regional theatres? Given theatres' concern about financing, does he agree that it is important for them to know whether the Opposition would maintain the Government's commitment to regional theatre funding if they ever got into power?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the tenacity with which she has championed the Theatre Royal, the Derngate theatre and the Masque theatre company in her constituency, and I hope that she is pleased with the progress that they have made. The merger of the Theatre Royal and the Derngate theatre was assisted by £1 million of Arts Council for England capital lottery money and there has been a 22 per cent. increase in east midlands arts funding.
The Boyden review, and the Arts Council's consideration of it, led to the view that it was important to look at the whole theatre ecology and not simply take regional theatre in isolation. However, we have provided substantial additional funding, which the Arts Council will be able to use. As a result, it has committed itself to an increase of £12 million and, subsequently, £25 million, in funding for theatre. Therefore, the resources will be there to help on a wider front so long as we have a Labour Government, as my hon. Friend suggested. It is all too evident that the Opposition's plans would undermine the Arts Council's capacity to deliver—
We must be approaching the pantomime season, Mr. Speaker.
The crisis in regional theatres is serious and deepening. Is not that partly a result of the complexity of the funding process, which benefits many consultants but is precious little use to theatres? Is it not also caused by an emphasis on funding politically correct activities and on social engineering, which means that the funding of the fabric of theatres takes second place? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that the crisis is caused not least by the net cut in Arts Council funds of £64 million that has been made in the past three years, according to the Government's own figures?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman disparages Mr. Boyden by implication, as I think that he did a remarkable job. I am sorry also that he plainly does not consider it important for us to pursue our strategy to increase access and to encourage and enable a far wider range of citizens to enjoy the theatre. I do not know whether it is in order, Mr. Speaker, for me to note that the hon. Gentleman's protestations about the importance of adequate funding seem hollow in view of the shadow Chancellor's commitment to cut the Government's plans for public expenditure.