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Theatre Funding

Volume 458: debated on Wednesday 28 March 2007

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr. Caton? It is traditional in the House to offer thanks for the opportunity to introduce such a debate. In one sense I am thankful, but in another, I have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. It seems to me that I, in concert with many others, have been making the case for a secure subsidy to British theatre for the whole of my adult life. Clearly, my arguments have proved remarkably unsuccessful, so let us hope that I will break that trend today.

I want to begin by paying tribute to our Government, who became an oasis in the financial desert of subsidy for British theatre. They listened to the arguments that had been put to them and, in 2000-01, made a subsidy to the theatre of £120 million. Equity—I am tempted to say the actors’ union, but it does not like that phrase and prefers to be called an association—made its case for investment in subsidised theatre in an extremely helpful document called “A Brighter Future”, and it made several important points about the benefits that accrue from subsidy to our theatre. The public, the theatre sector and the economy all benefit.

Equity made the point that, from the Government subsidy of some £120 million, the economy benefits by £2.6 billion annually. As Equity says, the theatre sector as a whole benefits, because subsidised theatre increases interest and attracts greater audiences by virtue of the high-quality and in some instances rather difficult work that it can produce. That has a knock-on effect of enormous benefit to commercial theatre. I am grateful to Visit London for an extremely helpful briefing, which makes precisely that point. Visit London would prefer that we did not use the word “subsidy” but “investment”.

The briefing from the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association, which was furnished to me via Visit London, said that theatre is an enormous attraction for foreign visitors. The briefing gives figures that are exclusively for London, but I am sure that other hon. Members will be able to paint an equally rosy picture of the benefits that have been brought to all the United Kingdom’s regions by virtue of what is, in effect, a small amount of money.

Visit London made the point that

“theatre plays a major role in attracting foreign visitors to London—many of them would simply not have come”—

without the attraction of the theatre. It said that

“2006 was a record year for theatre in London. Ticket revenues rose”—

by almost 5 per cent.—

“and broke the £400m level for the first time, while attendances were at 12.4m. At the end of the year, advance ticket bookings of £57m were double those at the end of 2005.”

Visit London went on to make an interesting point, by saying that the massive revenues generated for the Exchequer would pay for

“the equivalent of 130,669 nurses, 92,690 police officers, 53,760 doctors or 108,387 primary school teachers. Increased investment would see an increase in this return. Tourism is already our fifth biggest industry—in London it generates £15bn of expenditure from visitors, or 10 per cent. of London’s GDP.”

I hope that I have managed to show that a comparatively small amount of national money produces enormous financial benefits for the country. That has undoubtedly been my experience in other parts of the world. For example, in America, I once did a tour of various cities whose indigenous economy had totally disappeared. Great amounts of money had been invested in those cities to try to re-attract business and to bring visitors. The areas in those cities that had created an endemic economy were sited around centres of cultural excellence—theatres, concert halls or art galleries. Those are venues to which people are prepared to go regularly, and other smaller businesses therefore grow up around them: cafés, restaurants, bookshops and art shops. They were the thriving centres.

The argument is virtually irrefutable that culture—certainly theatre—has strong economic drivers. That has never been the reason for my commitment to subsidised theatre. I am grateful for the fact that the theatre produces economic benefits, but it seems that a society that values its theatre and regards it as something for which there should be consistent support by the nation state is one that acknowledges that the spiritual health of the nation—I am tempted to say—benefits from such subsidy. The theatre is not merely entertainment or a place for spectator sport. People should not go to the theatre if their lives are ideally spent as couch potatoes. The theatre makes infinitely greater demands than that on those who participate and those who visit. Only the subsidised theatre can begin to explore such demands if the overwhelming and crushing burden of having to make a profit at the end of every week is lifted from it.

I am not arguing for any kind of feather-bedding for the theatre. My argument has always been that, when the country is doing well and if we genuinely value our theatre, it should have a proper share of the national cake. If the economy is not doing very well, the theatre, along with the other vital factors of a cultivated society, should consider cuts. The central crucial argument for me—it has still not been made, put away and accepted totally—is that theatre is as vital for our society in many ways as anything else that the state regards as a basic function that it should provide for its citizens.

It is entirely shocking and utterly disgraceful that the birthplace of the greatest dramatist that the world has ever and is ever likely to see—William Shakespeare—has still not accepted that argument. Shakespeare did not chose to express his genius by writing a book or a pamphlet, or by putting notices on the wall. He chose the very medium that can most directly and fundamentally express the exchange between what happens in the light and passes through to the dark.

It has always been my somewhat idealistic belief that theatre at its best is a model for an ideal society. What happens when people go to the theatre? It is quite remarkable. For no reason other than that they think, “Oh, I’d like to go and see that tonight”, a large group of strangers decide to go to one theatre on one night of the week. They sit there in the dark, and another group, who are strangers to them, come on into the light. When it is working well, an energy goes from the light into the dark, is reinforced and is sent back. On a really good night, a perfect circle is created. It is a unique and transforming experience. As an actor, it lasted no longer than the walk from the stage to the dressing room. For an audience, it might last no longer than the walk from the seat to the exit. However, it happens; it is real; and it happens nowhere else. It is a remarkably unique experience. It does not happen every time, but it happens often enough for people to have tasted it, to have felt it and to want to experience it again.

I have referred to Shakespeare, and he is not the only reason why theatre’s value in our society should be treasured and valued. We should not have to make the same old argument every decade or so that it must be invested in by the state. I have made the point that the amount of investment from the state can transform not only the theatre and those who practise in it, but attendant industries and businesses. There are other benefits, too.

The Government, to their credit, have acknowledged those benefits. They have supported, for example, programmes that invest in interesting young children in how the theatre can be part and parcel of their lives in the most practical sense. Such programmes work: young people do become interested, and they find that the disciplines that are an absolute requirement of any professional or theatrical performance can have a profound effect on how they view the world. They learn how to work in teams, and take on responsibility and carry it through to the end. I hope that hon. Members will not take this personally, but if this place had to run according to the disciplinary mores of the theatre, we would get through 10 times the amount of business in one quarter of the time and probably at a fraction of the cost.

We have also seen at the other end of the age scale how drama and the telling of a story in an exchange between human beings can have a profound effect—for example, in respect of elderly people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and are losing their memory. An interesting programme of work was carried out by an organisation called Age Exchange. Its director processed her experience in theatre and education into working with elderly people, initially in hospitals and residential homes over a wide area. The work that she did with people who are suffering the loss of memory has been taken on board by the medical profession not only in this country but in other European countries. It has immense potential for the exploration of whether there is some way to break through the barrier of forgetfulness, and it is drama—that exchange—that seems to do it.

We know also of the immensely valuable work that drama can do in assisting people who are in prison. I do not have the actual data on the tip of my tongue, but there is undoubtedly an improvement and a reduction in recidivism when people in prison are engaged in such programmes.

We have seen the enormous benefits of organisations and companies working with homeless people. They give back to people something that is easily lost but can be immensely difficult to restore: a sense of themselves as being human beings who, by virtue of their humanity, are valuable. That is, in essence, one of the most valuable things about theatre, and it is why we would be foolish as a nation to ignore the possibilities to maintain, retain and enlarge it.

To go back to the greatest dramatist that the world has ever seen or is ever likely to see, what are the questions that Shakespeare poses in a variety of guises in pretty much all of his plays? There are three of them, and I have always thought that they are very simple. All he ever asks is, “Who are we?” and “Why are we?” and “What are we?” No one has or ever will have the answers, but the pursuit of the questions and the possibility of answers are central and essential to our being human.

In my humble opinion, there is no better arena for examining and pursuing such quests than the theatre, which is why I hope that the Government, to whom I pay full credit for what they have done in the past, will think about the minute amount of money that is required to maintain British theatre in its excellent state and to give it possibilities of expansion. I understand that the amount is as minuscule as £3.5 million a year. To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, and having mentioned Shakespeare, that is surely a mere spit in the ocean. I have seen the odd nod here and there, so I am fairly certain that other Members will help to ensure that the argument about whether this country should put money into its theatre will never have to be made again.

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, perhaps I should advise Members that I intend to start the winding-up speeches as near to 3.30 as possible, votes in the House permitting. I already have a long list of possible speakers, so would hon. Members please bear that in mind?

Thank you, Mr. Caton. I shall be brief.

It is a great privilege to follow that very fine speech by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). I agree with every word that she said. As I cannot begin to match her eloquence, I shall make a much more pragmatic and mundane contribution to the debate.

I want to speak about one thing. Although I agreed with every word that the hon. Lady said, we must remember that this debate is not just about London, although it is tremendously important. I declare an interest: I am a passionate theatre-goer, and a strong supporter of the Royal Shakespeare Company in particular. I was privileged to see Patrick Stewart’s extraordinary performance as Prospero in “The Tempest” only the week before last. That company gets 43.4 per cent. of its income in grants of one kind or another. For the sake of propriety, I should declare that my son is currently at drama school training to be a stage manager or technical theatre expert.

Theatre, like all art, has always been subsidised. I sometimes hear the argument that art should stand on its own two feet, but great art has almost never done that. There have been patrons of the arts down the centuries: princes, kings, counts, dukes and rich people of one kind or another sought to immortalise themselves through their patronage. The leading patron now perforce must be the state.

I welcome the increase in funding that the Government have made available to the Arts Council over the years, but we must remember two things. First, theatre funding is 0.02 per cent. of all public expenditure, so it is hardly a great sum to maintain against all the other competing priorities. I hope that that will help the Minister in his negotiations with the Chancellor. Secondly, there have been net reductions in real-terms funding for the arts since 2005. I agree that they have been modest, but I hope that we can at least put the arts back into a period of stability again, after the welcome growth that they experienced earlier.

I am concerned about the financial pressures that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England are likely to be under, as their core funding—and, therefore, the funding for individual theatres—is threatened. I am also worried about the lottery, which, since its inception under John Major, has made such a big contribution to theatre life. I do not want to be partisan in what should be a bipartisan debate, but I fear that the rising costs of the Olympics could have serious implications for many theatres the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I look for reassurance from the Minister about how he hopes to maintain the funding streams to performing arts in general and the theatre in particular in the face of that real challenge.

I said that not just London is involved. There is a huge variety of theatre. Theatre companies that serve my constituency, broadly defined, include touring companies such as Shindig, and Collar and Tie, which go to schools and rural communities. We should not forget amateur theatre in this debate. There is a small amateur theatre in Droitwich Spa, the Norbury, which faces huge challenges to keep itself on the road. It would normally have looked to lottery funding to do that.

There is an absolutely fantastic arts centre called No. 8 in Pershore, which is just outside my constituency. We should pay tribute to the work done by many councils. For example, Wychavon district council provides No. 8 with its accommodation at a peppercorn rent, which enables it to do a fantastic job for the people of Pershore. The theatre works almost entirely with volunteer management and staff. It hopes to apply for core funding from the Arts Council, but it thinks that the funding taps are being turned off because of the Olympics and so on and that theatre groups and art centres that are not regularly funded organisations at present will find themselves left out in the cold. Its excellent managing director, Ray Steadman, is genuinely apprehensive that the tendency will be to concentrate money in strategic areas—mainly urban areas—leaving rural areas to suffer.

The financial pressures on Worcestershire county council mean that it no longer has an arts officer or assistant. It will be interesting to see how Arts Council England will negotiate an appropriate settlement for No. 8, should it be minded to pay it at all, because, historically, the advice of the county council has been of great importance to Arts Council England.

I think of Malvern Theatres, which has benefited hugely from lottery funding and modestly from continued funding from Arts Council England. It is privileged to get many west end try-outs. I saw Felicity Kendal in “Amy’s View” there a few weeks ago before its west end run. Again, the facility exists in its current fine form only because of the huge amount of money that it has had from the lottery. The Birmingham Rep is a fine repertory theatre, and the Hippodrome was a huge lottery winner. Millions of pounds were spent on refurbishing that theatre, and many of the companies that perform in it are subsidised by Arts Council England or other parts of the Arts Council budget.

On other parts of the Arts Council, I particularly wish to highlight the threat to funding in Northern Ireland. Those of us in the performing arts alliance group were very disturbed indeed to hear a presentation from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland about the significant real-terms cuts in funding for theatre there. At a time of great hope for peace in Northern Ireland, it would be tragic if the arts, which can make such a major contribution to building a sense of social cohesion, spirit and harmony, were to suffer a significant reduction in their budget. All the evidence points to that happening, and on 21 March “The Stage” website said:

“Northern Ireland’s theatre companies are facing a third successive year of cutbacks after the arts council announced standstill funding allocations for 2007/8.”

Such matters are of real concern, and I want to reinforce everything of a philosophical and powerful nature that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate said. I issue a strong plea from the provinces at all levels for Arts Council of England funding, for adequate funding for councils to do their job and for the lottery, which has done such fantastic work in my constituency and county over the past years. Of course, I also issue a plea on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, whose fine new theatre is shortly to be developed. The last performance in the old theatre will take place some time this week—on Saturday, I think—after which the old auditorium will close for major refurbishment.

I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to one other thing, if he is not already aware of it. Not only does the theatre face significant cuts in funding in real terms, but it may face an increased bill from the Government if Ofcom proceeds with its auction of spectrum, as it currently intends. I have heard hopeful indications that Ofcom is rethinking its position and promising a new consultation paper after the first consultation ends on the programme-making and special events sector, which covers drama, news gathering, sports and all kinds of other sectors, too. If the auction of spectrum proceeds on its current basis and is released for the digital dividend, there is a real risk that the radio microphone frequencies might be no longer available. If theatres cannot get that spectrum, it would mean the end for large swathes of theatre, and if they get it at a high price, it would mean a huge new bill for large sections of the performing arts in the UK. So I plead with the Minister to keep a careful eye not only on the Arts Council of England to negotiate sharply with the Chancellor, but to watch what Ofcom is doing, too. If the Government do not do that, we could land a massive new bill on our theatres with serious consequences for all of them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this important debate—it was not before time. It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend, who is not only a fine friend and parliamentary colleague, but one of our most distinguished actors with whom we cannot hope to compete in terms of speaking ability. I wish to declare an interest as my son is a member of Equity and I love the theatre. Beyond that, theatre is important for all of us—for our culture and our future. That is not just because the greatest playwright of all time is one of our past countrymen, but because it is important to how we develop as human beings.

We are fortunate that we have the English language, which means that we have a thriving commercial theatre in London that serves a massive worldwide English-speaking audience. Many countries do not have that and subsidise their theatres to a much greater extent to sustain their own languages and cultures. We have the benefit of English, but that is not enough. We boast about our wonderful theatres in London but neglect the base from which our performers and domestic audiences come. We must spend more locally and regionally and redevelop a professional theatre at that level.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) said that the arts in general and theatre in particular have always been subsidised. There has been some mass popular theatre, but of course that took a big knock in the 20th century from radio, television and film, which provide a very different experience from a live performance that is life-enhancing and stimulates the imagination. We learn to suspend disbelief when we see a live play on a stage and two or three people pretending to be someone else. That is different from watching soap operas on television that attempt to look like reality. Theatre provides wonderful exercise for the mind, but also looks in a very intense way at the human condition—fear, love, war and all the things that we debate in this Chamber and, indeed, in Parliament can be found in theatre. I sometimes think that we have been half expecting what I would call a “Julius Caesar” moment in our own party—although it will not actually happen as I think that the relevant person is retiring from the scene. Nevertheless, something in Shakespeare will always fit with what we are doing at a particular time in politics. Shakespeare had a wonderful understanding of politics and the things that drive human beings in politics and elsewhere.

My own children both love the theatre and performed when they were young. However, nothing was as great as when the Royal Shakespeare Company once came to Luton about 23 years ago with a travelling theatre—they set up their own stands and seats. Both my children saw Fiona Shaw in “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Merchant of Venice” and went behind the scenes and met the actors. It was an experience that they never forgot, but the Royal Shakespeare Company has never been back. Why not? Why do we not say that the Royal Shakespeare Company should visit every town regularly? That would make a real difference but would require money and subsidy.

I love the familiarity of the magical world of performance and have seen young people transformed by performing at school. However, nothing compares with seeing professionals performing brilliantly, which also provides something to aspire to. Amateur theatre is fine and we all have local amateur theatres that do a great job, but it is not the same as seeing professionals. The same can be said for music, which is another passion of mine. The experience of seeing the great orchestras of the world and musicians play is very different from going to see the local town band—although that is both welcome and enjoyable. It is important for everybody to see the arts at their best and in their locality.

The issue of local theatres is my main theme. Some 40 years ago there were two theatres in Luton, but they were knocked down to make room for a large shopping centre and various car parks, which were considered more important. I consider that an act of barbarism. Since then, we have tried to build a new theatre in Luton, but there has never been enough money. We have a bowling alley and various other enjoyable things that make money, but we do not have a theatre and young people from the schools in the town cannot see a professional performance. I would like to have a subsidised local theatre in all major cities so that every schoolchild would consider it normal to be taken to the theatre during school time to see professional acting, to be inspired and to feel a sense of wonder at proper theatre. Of course, initially some children may find theatres embarrassing because actors are a bit like politicians and when they speak they are rather intense and embarrass people. However, although we happen to be a naturally reserved people, we should perhaps break out of that and learn that intense experiences and understandings deserve to be expressed in an intense manner and there is nothing more intense and wonderful than the theatre. As I have said, theatre is about human relationships, an understanding of the human condition, and politics.

I want local theatres to be expanded and for the Government to spend a lot more on them. My hon. Friend talked about the figure of £3.5 million, but losses from VAT fraud alone amount to £1 billion every month—I want a bit of that. We should collect a bit more VAT with a few more VAT inspectors and spend it on theatre—that would be very good value for money. We still do not take the arts in general and the theatre in particular seriously in this country. On the continent of Europe they spend a lot more on such things.

I will finish with an anecdote. When Vaclav Havel and his new Government first came to Britain to meet Mrs. Thatcher after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, as it was then, he brought about12 people with him. They went to Downing street and Mrs. Thatcher was introduced to the spokesmen for foreign affairs and for energy and transport. There were also five other people there and when she asked who they were President Havel said that they were representatives for culture. It is unimaginable that Britain would take 12 people abroad, five of whom were representatives for culture. I know that he was a playwright and had an interest in such things, but nevertheless I believe that on the continent they take cultural issues more seriously than we do. We should imitate that. As my hon. Friend said, we believe that we have the greatest playwright in history. I certainly believe that, and it is about time that we celebrated it by having a properly funded theatre ourselves.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on obtaining this important debate. I recognise that time is short, so rather than covering the full range of topics I will focus on one issue—the relationship between spending on the 2012 Olympics and funding for the theatre through the lottery. When, in 2005, we heard that London had been awarded the Olympics, it was a moment of joy and celebration for me, as for many people. It meant even more to me when I heard that there was to be a cultural Olympiad. I do not wish to be a pessimist, but it is probably unlikely that in 2012 people will leave London talking about the extraordinary prowess of the British in sports and games. However, there is a good chance that they will go away imbued with admiration and feeling much enriched by the cultural life on offer in London and the United Kingdom. That is something to be valued and we must hold on to it.

In order for that cultural happening to flower, we have to ensure that the roots continue to be nourished. The roots of great theatre in London and of the great performances that we see in the big theatres are to be found in our local theatres, but they have been under pressure and are somewhat in decline. I look with great pain at some of the cuts in lottery funding; they go to the heart of the issue by threatening some of that regional and local theatre funding. I hope that we hear today an assurance that that will not happen, but I have seen the numbers. There is a cut in the Arts Council of England lottery funding of about £112.5 million; for Scotland the figure is £12.5 million; for Wales it is £8.1 million and for Northern Ireland it is £4.5 million. Those are terribly serious numbers for that sector of our communities.

I understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but will she not acknowledge that lottery funding for the theatre rose to £100 million in 2004-05 and then dropped back to £26 million in 2005-06? That shows that the theatre sector is robust and that a lot of grant money has been going to the theatre directly from the Government. Although we all have some concerns about the subject, the hon. Lady should not overplay it.

I thank the hon. Lady, but the community to which I speak expresses a great deal of concern and worry, and it is looking for reassurance.

In my community, we have the Orange Tree theatre. It calls itself a mini-National Theatre, but although it is only one small theatre, the talent that it nurtures stimulates the infrastructure of the commercial theatre in our area. We had a meeting in the House with actors, ranging from those who will be familiar to everyone in the House—many of them at the late end of their careers—and young schoolchildren. The children were incredibly excited and were invigorated by being able to share in that meeting. It struck me then that communities can be built upon the relationship that the theatre uses to bring people together across age groups and generations. In my community and in much of London, that kind of connection is sorely needed.

My community also has the Barton Green theatre. It is a small, amateur youth theatre in the heart of the community, yet virtually nothing else is on offer for the young. It will be applying for lottery funding; otherwise, the roof will fall in. The great fear is that, as all the various sources of funding disappear—a bite taken here and a large chunk taken there—those projects will be the ones to suffer. As the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) so eloquently said, once we lose those theatres the chances of bringing them back are minimal. If the theatres are not there for the oncoming generation, that generation will be lost to the theatre. I am extremely concerned about that.

We have a unique opportunity to use the Olympics to express a great deal more than our sporting prowess; we can use them to build up the arts and culture, and to build up the theatre. As part of that, we must look back to the roots. I should like to hear how the Government intend to fund that sector, and how it is to be protected and nourished.

I have one niggle, but it is not a partisan point. The Olympics funding includes money being set aside for contingencies—in other words, money that people hope will never be spent. For that to be a reason for losing local theatres would be a tragedy. Money provided for the Olympics by the private sector has not yet been pulled together and does not yet seem to be available; that that should be a reason for taking funding from our theatres would be another tragedy. I hope to hear answers on those issues today.

I declare a very minor £1 interest in the National Youth Theatre, as an associate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), not least because in her acting career she did more than many could aspire to do for British theatre, even making some shows commercially viable that many might have considered to be commercially impossible. For instance, productions such as “The White Devil”, “The House of Bernarda Alba” and “Hedda Gabler” are all doing extraordinarily well in this country, and “Hedda Gabler” is also doing very well abroad.

There are many utilitarian reasons why the theatre is vital. Its importance to the economy has been cited. Stratford says that the Royal Shakespeare Company brings to the region about £58 million a year. That simply would not happen if it were not for the theatre. In London, three times more people go to the theatre than attend football matches. Theatre plays a key role in London’s economy.

Theatre also has an important role in education. We will have no great teachers of drama in schools without a strong theatre tradition throughout the United Kingdom. Theatre in schools can make a dramatic difference, enabling some of the kids who have had a difficult family background to achieve self-confidence and the ability to communicate that they would otherwise never achieve. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, that is true also in many prisons. It applies also to youth clubs. The ability to communicate is sought by most employers. Those who do not have the personal confidence that acting on a stage can give—even if only in a small part—will not have such good opportunities at work.

Acting also gives individuals the skill of working in a team and the understanding that it is not enough for them to shine on their own if the entire cast are not performing together, and that if one does not turn up on time, the rehearsals cannot happen. All those disciplines are essential to the skills that people need—in life and in work.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, theatre is important also to the British tourism industry. When questionnaires are put to tourists asking what were their main reasons for coming here, an extraordinary number cite the British theatre; it is either first or second on the list of priorities for the majority of international tourists.

The theatre is vital for training people in the television and film industries. Apart from the United States, Britain is the only country that has a positive balance of trade in television shows. In large measure, that is because of the training that people have had, both backstage and on stage, and the skills that they have acquired through their experience of theatre and of performing before live audiences. The UK can be proud of our Oscar winners; not a single one of them would have risen to prominence without experience in the subsidised theatre. The spin-offs for all sorts of creative industries are dramatic.

The last of the utilitarian reasons why it is important to have a strong theatre industry, but the most important to the Treasury, is the VAT that the theatre pumps into the Treasury—to the tune of £100 million a year. That is only £20 million short of the state’s subsidy for the theatre. The truth is that British theatre receives only £20 million from the state. It is a pretty poor show.

However, there are less tangible reasons why we should be passionate about supporting the theatre. We have referred to Shakespeare, but his understanding of holding a mirror up to nature is vital. Politicians should be forced to go to the theatre more often, especially when it shows us at our worst.

Is it not disappointing that several of our later Prime Ministers appeared to have no interest in the arts, and would it not have done them a lot of good to have been to the theatre?

Funnily enough, apart from in the House, the last time I saw the Prime Minister was in a theatre. I would not go quite as far as my hon. Friend.

In the theatre, the sense of being able to peer into the heart of humanity can be achieved, both to laugh out loud and to enjoy oneself but sometimes to cry with pity at what has been seen. I think of those classic moments of Shakespeare, such as when Cordelia is found dead or when Leontes finds that Hermione is alive despite what he had done to her years before. All those are reasons why we should be passionate about theatre.

However, there are real problems. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate will not mind my mentioning this, but I wrote a rather poor biography of her a few years ago. In the process of doing so, I had to visit an awful lot of people with whom she had worked in the theatre. In their day, many of them had been famous performers, but many were living in abject poverty in retirement. That may have been because of the feast-and-famine nature of many performers’ salaries, but it is also a fact that the theatre’s biggest subsidisers are the actors and performers themselves. In that respect, it is a disgrace that the minimum that can be paid in the west end is as low as £366.82 a week for eight performances, and that should be dramatically higher. Nearly half of all performers earn less than £6,000 a year, and such poverty should not exist when we take so much pride in the theatre.

There is also a problem with west end theatres. Although they are very beautiful—Frank Matcham did a wonderful job in his time—many are now dilapidated and clapped out, and the seats in many of them are too small for modern posteriors. Despite the fact that many are commercial theatres, it is time that the state made an investment in them. The theatre management has no interest in limiting the number of seats, and it is important that we make a contribution. A report in 2003 urged the Government to take action, but there has been none so far, although I note from the DCMS website that discussions are ongoing.

My final point is that the commercial theatre, the subsidised theatre and the amateur dramatic world are one, and we cannot put money into just one of them—they are all part of a whole, which is why we must make a dramatic contribution. In that respect, let me mention another production in which my hon. Friend took part—“Hedda Gabler”. She gave a very fine performance as Hedda, and many hon. Members may have seen it. What is interesting, however, is what the other performers in that production have done since. Pam St. Clement has gone on, most notably, to be in “Eastenders”, which is a very successful television programme. Patrick Stewart has continued to do a great deal of subsidised theatre and is in the subsidised theatre at the moment. Incidentally, he is also a great supporter of the Labour party. He has also done a great deal in television and was in “Star Trek”. Celia Imrie is another television performer, but she is also frequently on the stage. Oz Clarke was also in the production, but he is now better known for his contributions on the subject of wine.

If the Minister has not yet wrestled with the Chancellor over the funding for theatres in the comprehensive spending review, I very much hope that he will wrestle ferociously until he manages to get at least another £20 million out of him.

I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to speak. I welcome the debate and the contributions that have been made so far—particularly the opening speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson).

As my hon. Friend said, a look at the finances and at what has happened over the past few years reveals that the Government were responsible for some massive increases in theatre funding in 2000. There is no question about that—it was absolutely unprecedented. If we compare where we are now with where we were in 1997, we see that Arts Council funding to subsidised theatres has more than doubled in the intervening time. There is therefore no question but that there has been an enormous improvement. However, that improvement has been slowing down, particularly since 2005.

Since 2000, there has also been an increase in private funding to those same theatres, and it is no coincidence that that increase has happened at the same time as the increase in public subsidy, because private investors will put money in when they have some confidence in where the sector is going. In itself, therefore, that increase in private funding illustrates the importance of public funding.

If we look at the consequences of that investment between 2000 and 2005, we see that there has been a dramatic improvement in the financial status of many theatres and that collective deficits have been wiped away. There has also been an increase in the number of performances. In addition, it was striking that the Arts Council submission to the comprehensive spending review, which looked at the effects of the spending that I described, noted that there had been a significant increase in the number of new works that had been commissioned. I shall return to that later, but the number of such new works is a key indicator of the health of the theatre. Between 2000 and 2005, there was a more than 20 per cent. increase in the number of such works.

There have also been increases in the work force and big increases in the levels of educational activity delivered through theatres. In some of the major regional theatres, furthermore, there have been significant increases in attendance. One survey showed that 40 per cent. more people had visited such theatres over the period that I mentioned.

I spent 10 years on the board of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, although I am no longer a board member. The theatre is one of the really important producing theatres in the country and has prided itself on innovation over the years, going back to the time of Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop. It relies on developing new work, not on touring performances or on going back to well-known plays. In particular, it has an outstanding record on developing new work by black and minority ethnic writers and performers.

From my time on the board, I know how important public sector funding is for the theatre, and that includes the funding that it got from the Arts Council and the local authority in Newham, which was a generous supporter of the theatre. Without that funding, the theatre would not have been able to do the work that it did. Nor would it have been able to take the risks that are inherent in being a producing theatre that develops new work. When a theatre does such work, it is inevitable that things will not always come off and that there will be a flop. That is just part of the business of developing new work, but it is difficult for a theatre to take such risks if it feels that it is in the business of having to turn in a profit at the end of every week and every month.

We want to have innovation in the theatre and to encourage new writers, new performers and audiences, particularly among the black and minority ethnic communities in places such as Stratford. We would never have seen such people in the theatre some years ago, but they are now taking part in significant numbers on the stage and in the audience. However, we will not achieve that without the public subsidy to enable theatres to work. If nobody is there doing that work and taking the risks, theatre as a whole will be poorer as a result.

Public subsidy is essential for core funding. It is possible to ask sponsors to sponsor a show, and although they might be interested in big events to which they can attach their name, they are never interested in the core, day-to-day funding that keeps a theatre running. My experience from serving on the board of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, which is, as I said, one of the most important developmental theatres in this country, was that its projects would never have worked without public subsidy. I therefore hope that we shall not go down the road of cutting back. We put in enormous investment in 2000 and we have seen developments, but I hope that we will not see them start to slip away.

Let me just add to the point about the Olympics. I represent one of the five Olympic boroughs, so I shall see some development in my area, but I do not want that to happen at the expense of the arts and the theatre.

Time is short, so I shall not go into detail on some of the issues that have already been raised by other hon. Members. Instead I turn directly to the issue of investment in audience development and diversity. I mention en route that theatre grants between 2001-02 and 2005-06 rose from £58 million to £96 million in addition to the lottery funding for theatre, and in the period from 2002-03 to 2007-08 arts funding as a whole in London has risen nearly fourfold, from £11.6 million to £43 million.

We must still guard against the cumulative effects of funding changes, however. There are issues about how the Arts Council of England puts Government decisions into action, and other parts of Government policy have an impact as well. I hope that the Minister will address those matters if he has time.

I am privileged to represent a borough with a strong reputation for supporting and fostering creativity, including theatre. We have the Arcola theatre, which promotes Turkish and Kurdish theatre in particular and was founded in 2000. There is also Hoxton Hall, the Quicksilver Theatre Company, which I shall mention later, and the physical jewel in the crown of Hackney, the Hackney Empire. The Hackney Empire is a Frank Matcham building and was massively restored between 2001 and 2004, thanks to £17 million of lottery funding and a huge investment by Sir Alan Sugar—a local boy made good, and a benefactor.

The Hackney Empire has put its Arts Council funding of more than £250,000 to good use, but I want to talk mostly about what it is doing to reach new audiences. Hackney has a very diverse population, and it is important to remember that theatre should not be just about art for art’s sake but about audiences and reaching everyone. Hackney Empire has succeeded because diversity is intrinsic to its programming, which includes a range of performances that meet the interests and aspirations of the different groups in Hackney and London. It is not a matter of having token shows written perhaps by a black writer, or of meeting the cultural interests of a Turkish group. The theatre’s audiences number 140,000 a year in total, and 40 per cent. of that number comes from Hackney and reflects the borough’s true diversity. That applies whatever is showing, whether it be opera, ballet, drama, music or comedy.

Ticket prices are always low. The pantomime is now lauded across London as one of the best. I highly recommend it, as do my children. Tickets for it cost from just £15 and are widely popular. That price is significantly lower than at the Old Vic, which I do not patronise as it is not in my constituency. I think that it is important to patronise the Hackney Empire and I enjoy doing so.

I have no doubt of that, but I recommend the Hackney Empire’s performances.

Crucially, the theatre works with schools.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

As I was saying before I was interrupted, crucially the Hackney Empire works with schools on workshops both in the theatre and by going out to schools. It is a fair bet that the 22 per cent. of Hackney’s population who are under 16 make up a lot of its regular audience as well.

In addition to what is happening at the Hackney Empire, there are projects throughout London. One that particularly impresses me is Arts Inform, a project that works to develop theatre-going habits among secondary school children. In a project that it has been leading, 180 pupils aged 11 to 14 from six London comprehensives have been learning to go to the theatre. Each term, they choose a type of theatre. Two of the pupils go on a fact-finding mission and come back and teach the class. Then all the pupils go to the theatre to see a musical, a ballet or even an opera and they write reviews about it. That is doing a great deal to change the habits of a generation and to demystify theatre and performance art. Given the diversity of London schools, the project will, if it can continue to obtain funding, do a great deal to diversify theatre audiences in the long term.

I came across the Arts Inform project when I was investigating the Mayor of London’s plan to subsidise ticket prices in the commercial west end, which was originally a response to the bombings in New York on 11 September 2001. He introduced that the following January. His aim then was to reinvigorate the London economy. A secondary aim was to diversify theatre audiences. The latter aim was highly criticised by the London assembly in a report that we published—I was then an assembly member—in March 2003. Happily, though, these things work out, including my relationship with the Mayor on some issues, and he took on board the criticisms and reshaped the subsidy that he offered, recognising that getting bums on seats in the west end as a form of subsidy to commercial theatre and diversifying audiences require different skills.

I am delighted that in 2006 the Mayor launched a £240,000 drive to increase the number of theatregoers with sensory disabilities, including a guide to assisted performances in London theatres called Access London Theatre. It is part of a three-year programme to increase theatre access for those people as well as for families and young people. The project also includes a kids’ week in the west end for under-fives.

That brings me to the marvellous Quicksilver Theatre, a company of 30 years’ standing based in my constituency that not only writes and performs plays for younger audiences but works to develop young people’s understanding of the theatre. Its artistic director and chief executive Guy Holland says:

“The first 20 years was a story of survival. The last 10 is one of flowering”.

He pays testament to the money that this Labour Government have put into theatre funding in the past 10 years.

Quicksilver Theatre’s most recent project, which I had the chance to visit, was Primary Voices. It involved 600 schoolchildren aged 8 to 10 from 10 Hackney and Islington schools. The children wrote a play that was produced and performed by professional actors. Guy sums up the challenge:

“What I do know, of course, is that all of this is costing money. Much more than is currently provided through traditional channels. This is because of the nature and manner of engagement by children, moving us away from an occasional mass provision of art events towards specific targeting of individuals and groups of individuals who may reap disproportionately large benefits in relation to the investment. Frequently, these are people who do not have the economic resource to meet such engagement and participation objectives from their own purse.”

That theatre company managed to get funding from Anne Currell of Currell Residential, a local estate agent personally committed to its work, but all of them struggle.

I do not have time for the schools’ and pupils’ comments about what they achieved, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) said, it is a mark of a prosperous nation to invest in the arts—particularly for people who do not get the chance to go to the theatre—and to make them available to all. We see the benefits in Hackney—the multicultural challenges that we have managed to address, the help that theatregoing and creativity give in dealing with the huge issues of confidence and self-esteem, creative learning for our children and language development. For all of those we need investment, not just reliance on lottery money.

By way of preface, I pay public penance for missing the performance of “42nd Street” by the Hayes and Harlington Operatic Society, now the Hayes and Harlington Musical Theatre Company. I place on record my grovelling apology. In mitigation, though, as the chair of the Barra hall regeneration committee I announce that last year, as a result of eight years’ work, we renovated our derelict open-air theatre. We reopened it last season with a series of performances—children’s plays and professional productions—and it is a thriving success. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). She proves again that she can work with and without a script on every occasion.

To return to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I am a member of the performers’ alliance parliamentary group, which was formed recently by three unions—Equity, the Musicians Union and the Writers Guild. They have raised with us the issue of poverty wages in the sector. My hon. Friend mentioned that actors are subsidising our theatres, but I did not realise until I received the details of the unions’ briefings just how low the levels of pay are. If the conditions in which such people are having to live as a result of poverty pay were occurring in other sectors of our economy, we would be marching in the streets.

The true picture of actors’ earnings is that in regional subsidised theatre the minimum wage is about £327 for a 36-hour week. That is just £9.08 an hour, which would not be that much even if it were earned for 52 weeks—it would come to just £17,000. But the reality is that most actors do not work for 52 weeks of the year. Most spend significant amounts of time between jobs. In subsidised repertory, the average wage is now only £383 a week. Due to limited work opportunities, the average annual earnings of a British actor are as little as £10,500. Only a tiny fraction of performers, 13 per cent., earn more than £20,000.

In 2004, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport made its own statement about low pay in subsidised theatres:

“It is a scandal that one of the nation’s key cultural activities is in such a state that, at least in part, it relies on professional performers and technicians to pay such a high price by earning such low wages.”

Those are my sentiments entirely. Of course actors undertake the work because it is the work that they love, but as a result of their commitment they are exploited. Research by Equity and the Arts Council of England in the late 1990s discovered that about half of UK actors are now choosing not to work in regional subsidised theatres. An out-of-London allowance is given to subsidise them, amounting to about £114 a week, but by working outside London they lose opportunities for a wide range of work that could be done elsewhere. We have discovered that even in west end theatres, 55 per cent. of actors do casual work during the day to supplement their earnings.

Much has been said about the Government’s investment so far, and I agree. I congratulate the Government on what they did following the theatre review. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) mentioned the increase in the number attending performances, the number of young people participating and the number of plays being produced, but we are finding that as a result of low pay in the sector, many actors cannot travel out of London to work in regional theatre. If they do, they incur significant debts from other responsibilities and are unable to afford a decent standard of living.

I do not believe that we should rely on the exploitation of workers to subsidise the theatre. That is why, like others, I urge the Government to maintain the momentum of the funding that they have achieved and that has been so successful. I share some of the anxieties that the Olympics might draw away theatre funding, but I think that they can be addressed in discussions at the London and national level. However, we need stable and consistent funding, not only so that we can enjoy the theatre but so that actors can enjoy working in it again.

I join hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson). During the opening remarks, I was looking at my notes, hearing what was being said rather than listening to the individual words. It reminded me of something that I realised to be the many impassioned passages that I heard the hon. Lady deliver in her previous career as an actress, for which I admired her greatly at the time.

We have heard eloquent accounts from all Members who have spoken of the value of the theatre to education and society, to the economy and to them personally because of how it moves people. We heard from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about the appallingly low wages that are all too often the norm in the industry.

As we have heard, public subsidy to the theatre is £120 million, but £100 million of it comes back in VAT, so we are talking about not 0.02 per cent. of public spending but less—£20 million net, once the VAT return from the sale of theatre tickets is taken into account. It is a very small sum. What do we get for that small investment? We get a contribution to the UK economy of about £2.6 billion, 19 million theatre visits and the social, not just economic, enrichment of theatre activity.

Public funding is less in this country than in Europe but more than in the USA, where reliance on sponsors puts a dead hand on innovation and the theatre’s ability to experiment. The balance in the UK might be seen as quite a good one. It is enough to encourage innovation and creativity and promote healthy, cutting-edge theatre without creating a complacent, overfunded public sector or imposing the dead hand of commercial sponsorship.

Public investment also enables the development of creative and technical skills on and off stage. It helps subsidised theatre to provide a training ground for many performers and technical staff who then go on to work in commercial theatre. Subsidised theatre is often the breeding ground for performances such as “The History Boys” and “Jerry Springer: The Opera” that go on later to the commercial world. It is the same sort of argument that we often hear, and that I have certainly made, for the BBC and funding through the licence fee, because of the knock-on value to the rest of the sector, although the theatre is much less well funded than the BBC.

The effect in not only felt in London and the west end theatre; there is council investment. Examples include the Sage in Gateshead or the Lowry in Salford Quays. At the other extreme we find groups such as the Kneehigh Theatre in Cornwall, which has developed over 20 years with Arts Council funding and has increased its audiences by 30 per cent. It tours extensively domestically and abroad and has an international reputation. It works with young people and helps local festivals, bringing a range of benefits.

Some local theatres such as the Pomegranate theatre in Chesterfield simply would not exist without the help of small authorities such as our local borough council. Without them, people who are interested in theatre would have almost no local access to theatre but for an excellent amateur group, the Hasland theatre company, which runs its own small theatre, and various other amateur groups that need venues at which to perform. Instead, people would have to drive some distance to places such as Sheffield or Nottingham.

There are problems across the board. The Arts Council does good work: it is putting £1.8 million into youth theatre and is increasing diversity with the Eclipse theatre that it supports. The fact that it is an arm’s length body is valued, but there is a professional perception that that arm’s length status is being eroded a little and that it has lost some expertise and has scrapped the peer review process when awarding grants. There is also a problem with having to choose between giving organisations some stability of funding and switching funding into new and innovative theatre groups, but that choice has to be made because public funds are so small.

Local authorities are also under pressure. As a result, Battersea arts centre and Northampton’s theatres are under threat. Even in Chesterfield, the Labour Opposition group is arguing, in the local election campaign, that if Labour wins control of the council on 3 May, it will cut funding to the council theatre.

Touring theatre has had difficulty accessing Arts Council funding since the council cut its touring department, and there is a constant tension between funding core costs and funding performances. As we have heard, many theatres are historic, listed buildings that are expensive to maintain, but they are a crucial part of our culture and built heritage. However, there is no point in funding the buildings without enabling performances to take place within them.

Private funding and philanthropy will support a thriving sector that is stimulated by public investment, but, as we saw in the 1980s and 1990s, if public funding is cut, the private sector will not replace that funding. Since the heavy funding cuts of those decades, there has been a welcome reintroduction of funding back to pre-1980 levels. In the 2005-08 spending review, Arts Council grants were frozen by £34 million in real terms, and there is a threat of further cuts or freezes in the next round, up to 2011. Those dangers are made much worse by the threat of a smash-and-grab raid from the lottery, which will further undermine efforts.

In conclusion, the Government must maintain theatre investment. In surveys, 79 per cent. of the public say that they support the concept of public subsidy to the arts. The current subsidy is 0.02 per cent. or less of public spending, for which we get thriving, subsidised theatres that help to stimulate the rest of the sector and make an invaluable contribution to the economy. They also make an invaluable and immeasurable contribution to the social and cultural capital of our nation.

I get the impression that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) does not like being complimented, so I shall merely congratulate her on securing the debate. I shall not detain colleagues by praising the elegance, eloquence and passion of her wonderful speech. I was privileged to force a contribution from her in our December debate on British films, which was well worth hearing, as was her contribution today. At that time, I said on my blog that I hoped that the next Prime Minister, who is present in the Chamber, would include her in his ministerial team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, alongside my good friend the Minister with responsibility for the arts.

I thank the various organisations that have provided important briefings for today’s debate: Equity, the actors association; the Theatrical Management Association; the National Campaign for the Arts; and the Society of London Theatre. The other day, my sister’s neighbour, the theatre producer Matthew Byam Shaw, told her that I am not interested in the theatre, because I have not been to see “Frost/Nixon.” In fact, I have been to see it, but my wife and I paid for our tickets—unlike other hon. Members, perhaps. I suspect that that is why I did not appear on his radar screen.

I saw that play a week before the birth of our first child Joseph, six months ago, and I have not been able to go the theatre since. When I was preparing for the debate, I made a list of the plays that I am desperate to see: “The Seagull”, “Rock’n’Roll”, “Whipping it Up”, “Boeing-Boeing”, “The Entertainer” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Roundhouse. That list gives a flavour of the cultural vibrancy in our theatres in London and around the country.

We keep talking about theatre being subsidised, which almost gives the impression that it is somehow a bit-part of our culture and society. The theatre is a mass market. There were 35,000 theatrical performances in the country last year, which is about 100 a day. Almost 20 million tickets were sold, bringing in nearly £500 million in ticket sales alone. The theatre is at the heart of British cultural life and, as many hon. Members have pointed out, boy, do we get bang for our investment buck. For the price of £120 million a year, we get back not only £100 million in VAT, but, it has been argued, almost a £2.6 billion contribution to the economy. On any argument, that is an investment worth making.

I am a friend of the arts lobby, and it upsets me that it seems to be forced on to the ground of its detractors and that it has to respond to the fatuous arguments against subsidising theatre. I expect that the £120 million subsidy is extremely well spent. Some newspapers will alight on a performance that did not work or to which only three people turned up and cite it as an example of waste in the arts, but we should compare that investment with the £1 billion spent on the dome, the tripling of the Olympics budget or the money that might be wasted on an NHS computer system. Compared with all the money spent on public sector organisations—I emphasise that I do not regard the theatre as a public sector organisation—we probably get extremely good value from the theatre.

When I was given the post of shadow Minister with responsibility for the arts, a Labour Member said to me, “Ah, you are representing entertainment that cannot pay its way.” Why do we assume that sport, for example, is not subsidised? Of course it is at its grass roots. The premiership is subsidised by talented footballers who get subsidies as they start their careers, so why on earth is it wrong to subsidise the arts and theatre?

Now that I have got all that off my chest, I shall address some of the key arguments that hon. Members made in what I thought was an important outbreak of consensus. I hope that the consensus will continue to the next election and beyond. First, there is no room for complacency. The comprehensive spending review is of huge concern to the arts world and the theatre world. There are two main elements of concern, one of which is the date of the review. It sounds relatively unimportant—when the Chancellor will come to the House to announce the details of the review—but people who work in arts organisations rely on the ability to plan for the long term, and we do not even know the date of the review yet. A hint was given that it might be in the autumn, but arts organisations need to know so that they can plan for the long term.

The second concern about the comprehensive spending review, which is at the heart of the matter, concerns funding. We know that arts and theatre organisations are being told to plan for a 5 per cent. cut or a freeze. We do not know what will emerge, but I tell the House that freezing the arts budget now, after the freeze that began in 2005, will cause immense damage.

I hate to inject a partisan note into the consensus, but I want to quote the comments of Michael Lynch, the chief executive of the Southbank centre. He said of the Government’s funding:

“The money has been a real achievement. The Government has played a pretty substantial role in these past seven or eight years.”

Many others from the theatre world have congratulated the Government on their investment in theatre. We must guard against future problems, but will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that this Government have put a lot more money into theatre than the Conservative Government took out?

I do not regard that comment from the hon. Lady, who is one of my oldest friends and who was a companion at university, as partisan. I agree with her, and I am happy to give the Government praise where praise is due. How nice it is to have a member of the Garrick club join our proceedings as we debate the theatre. I am happy to acknowledge praise where it is due, just as I hope that she will acknowledge criticism where it is due.

That situation explains why there is such concern about the comprehensive spending review. As was mentioned, increasing the arts budget in line with inflation would require a sum in the region of £3.5 million, which these days is the cost of about half a house in some of London’s more affluent parts. Those of us who have read today’s Evening Standard will know that houses in Kensington and Chelsea are now going for about £11 million, so we are talking about a tiny sum—[Interruption.] I am glad that I have stimulated some reaction from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

We are concerned about not only the comprehensive spending review but the continuing raid on the lottery. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), among others, pointed out that the Arts Council is to lose £112.5 million. The Heritage Lottery Fund, to which theatres can turn for some of their capital requirements, will also lose a substantial sum. I apologise for banging on about this, but the point of the lottery was to protect our cultural institutions from the rounds of cuts stimulated by political expediency. The lottery was supposed to be separate from all that. That is why it was created and why it is so galling that the lottery is continually raided for political purposes—that must stop.

I should make a couple of quick points before I conclude. I have had only a few minutes to speak; it is testament to the commitment of Members of this House to the theatre that so many hon. Members have spoken in this debate. The point made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) about touring theatres was brought to my attention by the Theatrical Management Association too. There is real concern that the Arts Council has cut its touring unit, because touring theatres are a crucial aspect of the theatrical world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is the co-chair of the all-party group on theatre and a great and passionate supporter in this House of the theatre, discussed the widespread concern among performing companies of all kinds about the digital dividend review and the potential loss of channel 69, on which so many of them rely.

The final issue that I shall raise was brought to my attention by the National Campaign for the Arts, and it relates to changes in immigration law. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on this area. Many of our theatres rely on intercultural exchange and on visiting actors and actresses, so we must consider the rise in the cost of visas. There is also some concern in the arts world about the new points-based system.

I should leave hon. Members in no doubt about the commitment of Conservatives to our subsidised arts and subsidised theatre. In the great scheme of things, we are talking about small sums that are efficiently spent, and which generate an enormous amount of artistic and economic return. Theatre forms an essential part of our civilised society.

I join in the congratulations given to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this debate on public funding for theatre. The way in which she delivered her speech demonstrated what an asset she has been in her career both to this country and to this House. As an arts Minister, I am grateful to have her on my side. The breadth of her contribution indicated what it means to be a cultured and civilised society.

Culture is at the centre of so many of the issues that come before the House at this point in time. Whether we are considering antisocial behaviour, social cohesion, race, faith or environmental stewardship, culture—how we relate to one another—is central. It is obviously my great privilege to attend many of our theatre performances. There is no doubt that across their breadth they deal with some of the essential issues of our time.

Theatre in this country has an outstanding record of achievement. It is easy to forget that just 10 years ago, many of our theatres were struggling to survive and were caught in a downward spiral of deficits and underfunding. As of March 1999, English regional producing theatres carried forward a gross accumulated deficit of £4.4 million. Some 30 out of the top 50 such theatres were in deficit. Many were technically insolvent and there was no sign that that trend would be reversed. The debilitating impact of the financial fragility placed major artistic constraints on theatres across the country.

So much of what has been achieved would not have been possible without additional investment by the Government, as my hon. Friend so rightly says. The Government are proud that they have doubled their investment in the arts since 1997—there has been a real terms increase of 73 per cent.—to £412 million this year.

It has been widely acknowledged in the debate that subsidised theatre in this country had been in crisis and that, in large part, the benefit that we have seen over the past few years has come because the Arts Council conducted a theatre review in response to the situation in 2000. Following the review, the Arts Council doubled its funding to theatre to £97.9 million in the past financial year; there are more than 230 regularly funded theatre organisations. That amounts to approximately 24 per cent. of the total grant in aid that the Arts Council funds.

The additional investment has produced results. Research from seven of England’s biggest regional producing theatres compared the situations in 2000 and 2005. It found that in the latter year nearly 3 million people attended performances, which was an increase of almost 40 per cent.; 85 per cent. more new plays were produced in English theatres; nearly 6,000 performances were given at home and on tour; and more than 36,000 young people were involved in education programmes run by theatres, which is an increase of almost 60 per cent.

We are seeing a revival, not only in London, but at the Birmingham Rep, and in Chichester and Sheffield. Right across the country audiences are coming back, attendances have increased, there are quality productions and new work is being performed. Most importantly of all, young people are coming through and a new generation of young people is being exposed to theatre, providing the audiences, the technicians behind the theatre and the actors of the future.

Theatre is popular and people value it. The Department’s taking part survey showed that nearly a quarter of the adult population in England attended a theatre performance in 2005. As I said, we are not just talking about London, because out of the top 10 regularly funded theatre organisations, two are in London and eight are in the regions.

My hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) wanted to illustrate the broader social role of theatre. It is able to reach out to children and young people and to contribute to education objectives. I am pleased to say that the Unicorn children’s centre in Southwark is a great example of how that can be done if an organisation dedicates itself specifically to young people. Theatre is also reaching out in other areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) mentioned the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Has my hon. Friend had discussions with his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills about encouraging schools to use those good, professional children’s theatre companies? If not, will he consider doing so?

I am pleased that I have been able to continue discussions with Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills, specifically in relation to creative partnerships—they are, as my hon. Friend knows, joint projects with schools—and also in relation to the music manifesto. There are dimensions to the music manifesto and more recently, the dance review that affect theatre. Dance, and its impact on theatre, has been incredibly important.

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow makes about diversity is hugely important. In some of our central debates in society, we can connect with and reach out to some of the Muslim youth in this country and the sort of communities that occupy my constituency to enable them to tell their stories to a wider audience. That is hugely important. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate has the Hampstead theatre in her constituency and will know that it is doing that through many of its productions in new facilities.

We have heard about the economic impact of theatre. Last year, total ticket revenues for the west end theatre broke through the £400 million mark for the first time. The total value of the west end theatre to the economy has been estimated at £1.5 billion, and of theatre beyond the west end an additional £1.1 million.

It is right to acknowledge local authorities’ role—that came up in the debate—and the major contribution that success brings to this country. “The History Boys” is an outstanding example. It began at the National Theatre, won six Tony awards in New York, including best play and, for Nicholas Hytner, best director. It has brought earnings of £1 million to the National Theatre, which will be invested back into programming. The film director, Stephen Frears, said:

“Many of us currently earning money for British cinema have spent our lives working within some form of the subsidized arts, and have benefited from the wise decision of the government to support the arts properly.”

Our funding for the arts in this country is based on a mixed economy. We want institutions that can produce revenue, and we want to attract private and commercial investment, but public subsidy is vital to inspire innovation, and to produce core funding to encourage organisations to move forward, and we are committed to that. We are having this debate largely because hon. Members know that we are in a spending review period and they can be assured that we continue to have these discussions with colleagues in the Treasury.

Hon. Members referred to the national lottery. It is important that during its first 10 years more than £441 million of lottery funds were invested by the Arts Council in theatre and drama. We have seen real growth and success from lottery capital funds invested in the sector, with most of the capital projects now completed; for example, the Unicorn and the Young Vic. Throughout the country many of those capital projects have come through.

Existing lottery commitments will not be affected by the recent announcement of lottery contributions towards the Olympics. There will still be almost £500 million of new lottery money for the Arts Council between 2009 and 2012. The total contribution from lottery funds to the arts for the Olympics will be worth £28 million a year if taken over the four years, as we expect, notwithstanding the outcome of the spending review. The total combined Government and lottery investment for this year equates to just 5 per cent. The Olympics are exactly the sort of one-off national event that the lottery was intended to support and the arts will benefit as a result post-2012.