I ask you to keep this to yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have always had—do not tell Andrew Lloyd Webber—a burning ambition to sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from “Evita” on the London Palladium stage. That is because I have always had a love of the arts and the theatre. It is embedded in me. One of my earliest memories is of going to see a pantomime at the New Theatre in Cardiff with my nan. It is a shame that Kevin Brennan is no longer here—I am glad that he brought the debate to the Chamber with my hon. Friend Julian Knight—because he will no doubt remember my outstanding stage management of Radyr Comprehensive’s production of “The King and I”. I am therefore so proud of the west end in my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster. It is the heart of arts and culture in this nation.
I was very proud to lead my first ever Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, in which a number of Members spoke about the importance of theatre, live music and cultural venues for local economies. Members from Glasgow, Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Clacton, Northamptonshire and the west country spoke passionately about the arts and culture sectors in their constituencies and their place at the heart of local economies. I have learned, particularly during this dreadful crisis, that theatre and culture play an intrinsic part in the ecosystem of the west end. With the theatres and our marvellous cultural venues closed, such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Coliseum and the Royal Opera House, the heart of the west end has died at the moment. We must get these theatres back.
I pay tribute to the DCMS ministerial team, who have been outstanding during this crisis and led the way. There has been a £1.5 billion support package, which I welcome, and other brilliant support schemes such as the furlough and the VAT cut. I ask Ministers to consider continuing some of those schemes, particularly the VAT cut, and to look at business rates. We need reform in this country. I ask Ministers to extend the rates holiday and—particularly in my constituency, where rateable values are so high—to look at extending the threshold from £51,000 to £150,000. It is a lot of money, but that would make a huge difference to not only the arts and cultural sectors but retail and many other businesses across central London.
We know that this virus is not going away, and I understand that theatres and other venues must stay closed for safety reasons, but the industry needs a date for stage 5, when they can open. I ask the Minister to work with the industry to ensure that we can allow these venues to open as soon as possible. We all know about the importance to local economies, but more importantly, theatre, arts and culture are the soul of our nation, and they are so important for our mental health and wellbeing.