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Regional Theatre

Volume 471: debated on Monday 28 January 2008

9. What the Government’s policy is on regional theatre in England; and if he will make a statement. (182030)

Policy on regional theatre is determined by the Arts Council England. It published its theatre policy document in November 2006, and it is available on its website. The document sets out its priorities for theatre from 2007 to 2011.

While I imagine that most hon. Members on both sides of the House subscribe to the principle of the arm’s-length funding of the arts, which the new Secretary of State has articulated, equally I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will be perplexed and bemused by some of the recent Arts Council decisions with regard to the regional funding of theatres, not least the Bush theatre in London and, more locally to me, the Northcote theatre in Exeter, which has just received £2 million in renovation grants from the Arts Council and was set to receive its budget grant. Now there has been a volte-face, which I welcome. With the new Secretary of State in his post and the outgoing chief executive of the Arts Council, Peter Hewitt, being replaced by Alan Davey from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it is timely to have a fundamental review of the guidelines—my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Select Committee Chairman, just asked the Secretary of State for such a review—outlining what the Arts Council should be doing in the 21st century that does not compromise the principle of arm’s-length funding.

The implication of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks is that the only thing that has gone wrong and on which he wants to intervene is the arm’s-length funding. If we were to interfere with that principle, it would kill off freedom of expression, inhibit artistic freedom and destroy much of the excellence in the arts of which we are so proud in Great Britain today. Beyond that, the Arts Council works to guidelines set by the Department, answerable to Parliament, in each spending review period. Within that framework, it should be left alone to make the best judgments. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, no final decisions have been made yet—they will be made later this week.