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Royal Festival Hall: Foyer Space

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 1 May 1986

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3.21 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the South Bank Board decided to close the "Bookspace" literature centre in the Royal Festival Hall.

My Lords, the South Bank Board are carrying out a full review of the foyer space in the South Bank concert halls, and are considering the relocation of "Bookspace". It is the board's intention to increase the presence of literature on the South Bank.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and accept that a review is being carried out. However, is it not the case that "Bookspace" has been operating for only a few months, has been very successful and is the one way of bringing literature and books together in a cultural mix with the other arts on the South Bank? Will he give us further assurance that space will be made available, even if in the beginning it is on a temporary basis, so that the continuity will not be broken? Is he aware that the year I have heard mentioned is 1988? It would be a great pity if nothing were done about books or literary events until then.

My Lords, the GLC asked the designated South Bank Board whether, if they did install the "Bookspace" area, they would propose to continue to use the space for literature. They were told that the South Bank Board would not so decide to do. It is, therefore, rather surprising that the GLC nonetheless went to the trouble and expense of creating something which they knew would be moved in five months' time.

The second supplementary question of the noble Baroness is perfectly understandable: the noble Baroness wants to see literature provided for. There are many plans, and I am sure that they will be proceeded with as quickly as possible.

My Lords, I bear in mind and appreciate what the Minister has said. However, would he not agree that the Royal Festival Hall is the quality cultural centre of not only London but the United Kingdom, and that there are many people involved in these great activities who are somewhat apprehensive as to its future? Will the Minister give some assurance and make some statement, if not today at some time, to assuage those fears?

My Lords, I can see no reason at all why anybody should be apprehensive about the future of the Festival Hall. It is part of the complex for which the South Bank Board are the ground landlords, and I have every confidence in the South Bank Board.

My Lords, would not the Minister agree that, even by its political opponents, it is generally agreed that the GLC made a great success of the improvements which they carried out at the Royal Festival Hall? Would the noble Lord also agree that the South Bank Board would be well advised to follow up or to carry on that policy, rather than to make changes for the sake of making them?

My Lords, not in this particular case. the fact of the matter is that the area which was called "Bookspace" totally blotted out the splendid view of the Thames and the London skyline, so that nobody could see them at all. Now the South Bank Board have some rather better plans. They are looking into the possibility of accommodating the Arts Council's Poetry Library on the South Bank; they are considering whether the Purcell Room could be more closely identified with literature in performance—for example, poetry readings and play readings—and they are also looking in detail at the scope for exhibitions, and other events related to literature, in the foyer area as a whole.

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but I should like to take up the point about the Poetry Library. The noble Lord mentioned that the Poetry Library will be accommodated on the South Bank. Is it not the case that it has been offered the Waterloo Room, which it believes, quite rightly, is extremely inaccessible, that people just passing through that area will not visit it, and that it is looking into alternatives? Therefore, that situation has also disappointed the "Bookspace" staff and worried them about their future.

My Lords, I do not think that that has very much to do with the "Bookspace" area. I said that this was one of the plans of the South Bank Board. It is being considered, and quite rightly too.

My Lords, I apologise for not allowing the noble Baroness a fair hearing. Is the Minister aware that what we are talking about as regards the "Bookspace" is an area which used to be the restaurant of the Festival Hall, with a beautiful view over the Thames—an area which the new authority intends to return to that use? Is he further aware that the GLC were given full notice of that matter by the South Bank Board? Moreover, in the context of certain questions which have been answered, is he aware that those of us who are regular visitors to the Festival Hall are already heartened and encouraged by the signs of excellence and of standards which have become evident in the activities of the South Bank Board since 1st April?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is absolutely right. The area in question was used as a restaurant, and certainly consideration is being given to returning it to restaurant use again so that people can not only eat there but also enjoy the view. I am particularly glad that the noble Lord has asked his second question, because the Government would most certainly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has said. We believe also that literature has its rightful prominence in the type of centre which is being developed on the South Bank

My Lords, is it true that the restaurant to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, alluded is intended, as part of the plan, to be turned into a private restaurant for the use of sponsors, and its use denied to the public? If that is so, why should it be so?—because sponsors already have the use of the Hungerford Room.

My Lords, I have no information on that matter. It will be a matter for the South Bank Board.