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Racism In The Theatre

Volume 640: debated on Sunday 30 June 2002

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6.34 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with progress made in combating racism in the theatre.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Eclipse conference started from the premise that racism exists within the theatre, and the Eclipse report summarises the discussions that took place there. Ideally, the conference should have been attended by chief executives and artistic directors but, of the 125 theatres invited, fewer than a quarter attended, while some would have preferred to send education officers or marketing managers. A mixed understanding of racism was shown by some and there was a reluctance to accept that it even exists in the United Kingdom.

Twenty-one recommendations were outlined in the report. Those included: advice to all theatre boards to inform themselves of the new amendment to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000; that the Arts Council should implement equal opportunities training for all boards and senior managers; and that, for those boards and senior managers, seminars should be held to discuss and share methods of positive action and equality in employment.

Since the publication of the report, seminars have been held in Yorkshire and in northern, north-west, east England and south-west regions. More will take place during November in the West Midlands and in southern arid south-east England. Representatives from most theatres in those areas attended the first seminars. According to the Arts Council, some were making progress and others had a long way to go.

Unfortunately, the view of some who attended has been that the employment of black and Asian people is a financial risk. They give as grounds that their presence on the stage or in management fails to attract potential audiences. Some active hostility was shown. The old objection to casting—for example, as regards Afro-Caribbeans in roles originally intended for white actors—is still being put forward, in spite of such prejudice having been shown in the majority of cases to be unfounded.

At the other end of the spectrum are theatres which are making real advances. A short time ago, the Theatrical Management Association, together with Barclays Bank, presented for the first time its special award for theatres with the best anti-racism records. Five regional theatres were mentioned at the presentation—the award going to the Contact Theatre in Manchester.

Instrumental in achieving that was Kully Thiarai, who set up the work leading to Contact's success. She then moved to become joint artistic director of the Leicester Haymarket Theatre—one of those among the five with good anti-racism records mentioned at the award presentation. Mandy Stewart, the Haymarket's chief executive, says that the Eclipse report has sharpened awareness but that that theatre has always been committed, particularly through its programming and casting policy, to the representation of ethnic minorities.

Of Leicester's total population of approximately 285,000, about 40 per cent are non-white. The Haymarket employs permanently 70 people, of whom only 10 per cent are non-white. But last year it also employed 99 performers of whom 57 were white and 42 non-white, marking a significant move forward for that theatre.

People sometimes talk as if the work of changing things is a recent development. I quote Neil Bartlett, Artistic Director of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, who says that, in fact,
"some theatres and theatre workers have been quietly and creatively changing both their thinking and their work practices. It is important that this work is recognised alongside the lack of change elsewhere".
The Lyric, Hammersmith, recognises that London is the most ethnically diverse city in the world and it is committed to reflecting that cultural diversity in its staff, board, artistic programme, education activities and audience. As an equal opportunities employer, it has always aimed at encouraging applications from all sections of the community. However, unlike Kully Thiarai's findings in Leicester, the applications received fail to reflect the diverse population of London or the United Kingdom. Consequently, the Lyric remains an overwhelmingly white organisation.

The Lyric will widen its advertising to includeThe Voice, theAsian Timesand the local job centre. It seems therefore that more should be done to encourage applications from those in ethnic minorities aspiring to work in theatres nationwide and that this advertising project should be recommended to theatre managements in general.

The Lyric has introduced a positive action training programme. It is to be developed over the next six months and funding for this development will be sought. When vacancies occur for senior management posts, new job descriptions will state that a commitment to and knowledge of culturally diverse arts practice is essential. The theatre is also ensuring that all staff are informed about the new amendments to the Race Relations Act. In respect of productions, the Lyric will seek to ensure that those featuring all-white casts are the exception rather than the rule and particular care will be taken to audition actors from ethnic minorities while at all times taking care that the policy of best candidate for the job still applies. That, of course, is a valid point and it is important in the theatre and elsewhere that the best candidate factor should never be lost sight of by all employers committed to cultural diversity. It might be well, too, for theatre management always to keep in mind the bad old days when, for instance, Hollywood film makers, in employing actors of African descent, almost invariably cast them in roles as menials or comic relief. I am thinking in particular of "Gone with the Wind".

The Arts Council statistics for 1999 to 2000 show that out of staff then employed in British theatre only 80 were Afro-Caribbean and Asian and out of 463 board members only 16. Kully Thiarai at Leicester is currently the only non-white artistic director of a major mainstream theatre, a fact which may perhaps be an unpleasant surprise to Members of your Lordships' House. Ms Thiarai has listed recommendations to theatre organisations willing to develop a non-racist programme. She writes:
"Small things can have a huge effect".
She suggests:
"A black box office member, a culturally diverse print or image, some non-European food in the bar, all say something about your organization".
She continues:
"Cultural diversity doesn't have to be a burden. It can be hugely liberating, particularly for us as artists".
The Arts Council has declared it a priority and is currently revising its action plan which will take place in 2003 through the Black Regional Theatre Initiative and the Arts Lottery programme. Over 10 per cent of a total of £29 million new funds for the theatre are to be used to support it. The aim is to use it to embrace training initiatives, five training bursaries for black and Asian practitioners and a number of annual bursaries for black and Asian directors.

Five million pounds have been allocated to the Decibel project, a programme of arts events due to take place in 2003–04 and whose object is to challenge the perception of the arts in England to reflect contemporary British society. The project will feature the work of African, Caribbean and Asian artists, develop new networks and co-ordinate a national festival. That means artists as writers, actors and staff in theatres. In 2001–02 there were four Arts Council regularly funded black, Asian and Chinese companies: Nitro, the Tanasha Theatre, the Tara Arts Group and Yellow Earth, and several more touring companies able to function through the national touring programme funds.

All those measures seem promising for a racism-free future in the theatre. The various organisations committed to attaining it are willing and energetic. Funds which appear to be adequate are available. Things are beginning to look hopeful with more and more people involved in the theatre becoming aware that a Utopian vision of a race-equal United Kingdom is not yet in being. W. H. Auden defined civilisation as,
"the degree to which diversity is attained, unity retained".
It is a good definition to bear in mind. Much progress has still to be made and prejudice overcome.

6.44 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the debate. Perhaps I may be permitted to apologise to her for causing her unnecessary anxiety by appearing in the House rather later than I had expected. I congratulate her on an excellent setting out of the issues for consideration today. I declare two interests. I am Principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama; and I am a former executive director of the National Theatre. In that capacity, I failed to attend the Eclipse conference although I had a good excuse. However, I recognise that it was a great disappointment that so few people at the most senior levels of organisations were able to attend.

Ten years ago, the National Theatre, for which I then worked, presented a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's wonderful musical "Carousel", which is set, as many noble Lords will know, in a fishing village in New England in the late 19th century. It was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who is now Director Designate of the Royal National Theatre—and nobody who saw "Carousel" or any of his other productions before or since will be surprised that he was chosen for this most public of theatre jobs. He assembled a fine cast, including a brilliant young singer/actor named Clive Rowe, who played "Mr Snow", a character described by his creators, Rodgers and Hammerstein, as "big, be whiskered, overbearing" and as "narrow-minded and smug, but mustn't alienate the audience, so requires experienced comic actor with immediate warmth". The other essential characteristics for the role are that he should be about 30, with, "a lyric tenor voice with a heroic top A".

Clive Rowe had, and still has, apart from no longer being 30—I am sure he will not mind my revealing that—all the necessary qualities to play the role. Indeed, by the time all avenues had been explored, he was the only actor who really had the lot. He was brilliant—and had a huge personal success in the part.

Clive Rowe, is black and I am sorry to say that this fact caused enormous consternation in the breasts of certain critics who should have known better. "Good heavens", they said, "this is outrageous. There were no successful black fishermen on the New England coast in the 19th century". This was, as they saw it, "political correctness"—that vile, overworked phrase—within the hallowed portals of the National Theatre.

Writing a few months later in theIndependent, Nicholas Hytner said,
"Horrified by the unreality of a black Enoch Snow, what neither of them"—

the critics in question—
"cared to consider was the unreality of the rest of the show. They seemed unconcerned by the constant presence of a 30-piece orchestra, and by the odd propensity of these particular New Englanders to break into song at the drop of a hat, or to employ ballet as a regular means of discourse. It didn't bother them that the sea was represented by blue lino, the shore by green carpet. But a black man representing a herring fisherman—hold the front page".
He continued in the same article:
"An evening in the theatre rests on a sort of imaginative conspiracy between actor and audience …every age—every show—conspires differently to achieve its own reality …what seemed real to movie audiences of the 1920s seems hopelessly artificial now. Although the appearance of non-white actors at Stratford caused a frisson twenty years ago, it now passes without comment"
That was 10 years ago. Does it now pass without comment? You might think we had moved on from that kind of blinkered response. Sadly, however, despite Nick Hytner's optimism, the press still thinks it worth commenting on the fact that, for instance, David Oyelowo played Shakespeare's Henry VI for the RSC recently, or that Adrian Lester is to play Henry V for the Royal National Theatre, directed, unsurprisingly by Nicholas Hytner, not because those actors are among the finest classical players of their generation, which they certainly are, but because they are both black and, as we all know, medieval English kings on the whole were not. It is time we grew up. But whether this can legitimately be seen as a symptom of racism, either in the theatre itself or in the people who attend it or comment upon it, I am not sure.

Those who dwell on these issues in this way are exhibiting something else—a sort of cultural paralysis which results in a depressing inability to recognise that the world has changed. In fact, as far as the employment of performers from ethnic minorities is concerned—and my noble friend has already indicated this—theatre in many of its forms has made a good deal of progress in the past 20 years, as a quick scan of cast lists will reveal. That does not mean, however, that we can afford to be complacent about the many barriers to be overcome by people from minority groups of all kinds. I refer to a recent debate in your Lordships' House on disability in relation to the performing arts where many of the same issues were evident.

Those people from minority groups who wish to make a career in the theatre, or who might form a larger percentage of the audience for theatre if they felt it better represented the true diversity of our culture, still need to be encouraged. I should like to focus briefly on two aspects that need attention. One is recruitment to boards and senior management positions, which my noble friend Lady Rendell has already referred to. The other is the vital importance of training and education in changing attitudes and aspirations.

On the matter of recruitment, until we have enough people from what I hope I can call, without offence, non-traditional backgrounds in leadership roles in arts organizations—that is, fewer people like me and more like Kully Thiarai, who has been referred to already, or like Venu Dhupa, the former executive director of the Nottingham Playhouse, who was instrumental in getting the Arts Council's Eclipse initiative going—I agree with my noble friend that we shall not get the changes which she and others would like to see. Bottom up processes, seeking out and encouraging those who need to be helped to take advantage of the opportunities that theatre offers, are absolutely vital. But theatres, like other businesses, are led from the top. That is where we look for signs that change is not just on its way but that it has actually arrived.

There are still regrettably few chairpeople, artistic directors and chief executives from ethnic minority groups. The Eclipse recommendations are intended to address that issue, among others. Along with my noble friend, I welcome the enormous amount of thought and effort that has gone into developing the action plan, which will be implemented shortly.

On the matter of education and training, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I regard these as the most important mechanisms for combating the effects of racism. I now lead an organisation which prepares young people for careers as musicians, actors, stage managers and stage technicians. We deliver a high quality, specialised education to a relatively small number of talented students. But we also recognise a responsibility to extend the reach of such education in two main ways: first, by developing strategies to widen access so that our students come from the broadest possible range of backgrounds; and, secondly, by ensuring that, while the basis of our education will inevitably remain rooted in western traditions, it also acknowledges that the mere preservation of these traditions will not be enough if arts organisations are to respond and to develop in a changing cultural landscape.

We have developed an innovative programme—CONNECT—within which students and teachers at the Guildhall school are working with education and community partners in Newham, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham to engage young people in those areas. This has required working in a number of different artistic languages, using a variety of creative approaches and leadership skills. These inclusive processes can embrace everything from classical to popular, western and non-western genres, set repertoire—written and oral—and new works created through collaborative workshops. Much of the resulting work takes place in local venues, as well as in established performance spaces, both at the Guildhall school and elsewhere.

These inclusive, collaborative processes can also be seen at work in a ground-breaking project called the Art of Regeneration, which was launched recently at the Albany Centre in Deptford. It is led by the National Theatre, but it works with the London boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich, and a number of other partners, including, I am pleased to say, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It involves the provision of arts-based programmes to people in those boroughs who have so far had little opportunity to participate.

These programmes, such as the Guildhall's CONNECT, are already vastly oversubscribed. Their success depends critically on partnership, flexibility. openness, and encouraging people from diverse backgrounds and with a broad range of skills to embrace new ideas and to learn from each other. It is my firm belief that racism, or any other unacceptable form of exclusion, in the theatre will be combated effectively in the long term only through initiatives of this kind. That is the way we shall grow a generation of audiences and practitioners who have the confidence and the interest to set the agenda for the future. It will take time, and it will take commitment of resources. I know that the Government, and in particular the current Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, understand this very well. Despite the fiscal and political challenges that lie ahead, I hope that the necessary courage and determination to make progress will not fail.

6.55 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for securing this debate. I congratulate her on her dedication in ensuring that black, Asian, Chinese and others are given equal opportunities to enrich the diversity of arts and entertainment in Britain. This Unstarred Question today is a timely and appropriate follow-up to her Question posed nearly two years ago in your Lordships' House.

The Arts Council of England changed its policies in the year 2000 to allocate, over six years, £20 million to fund black, Asian, Chinese and other minority ethnic organisations in new developments, theatres and individual projects. Benefits from this investment have yet to emerge and feed into the Arts Council's initiative, which is called Diversity 2002.

Here I wish to acknowledge the help of Mrs Lee Fulton, a media and culture consultant, and Andy Cheung, who, as an Arts Council Fellow, worked in the Department of Culture, Media and Sports for a limited period. They are my friends and they have provided me with up-to-date relevant information. Positive action training through bursaries and fellowships has begun to enable a diversity of talent from many ethnic backgrounds to acquire experience in a range of organisations from art galleries to theatres. Charities such as the Paul Hamlyn Foundation have funded some bursaries.

But where have these fellows and bursary holders progressed? Has the first group of 15 Arts Council of England Fellows been given sufficient support to enter mainstream arts and culture organisations?

Of the two Chinese artists trained, one is working in Hong Kong but is due to return soon. The other is struggling to survive by writing for a new tourist magazine calledChinatown. So I look to the Minister for answers.

The national training organisation of the arts and entertainment sector, known as Metier, surveyed employers in 2000. It reported serious under-representation of people from minority ethnic descent in the areas of classical drama, music and dance in the roles of performers and managers. Only 2.5 per cent of nearly 3,000 employees in Metier's arts skills 2000 research project were from black, South Asian and Chinese backgrounds.

A welcome development is the extension of positive action schemes beyond London and the South East, such as the North West Arts positive action trainee scheme. In addition, North West Arts will be inviting applications for three-year fixed term funding for theatre organisations in the region. Between one and four awards of between £20,000 and £50,000 per annum are likely to go to culturally diverse companies.

The past 10 years have seen the emergence of a number of performing arts bodies. I shall concentrate on those in the Chinese community. The British Chinese Artists' Association was established in 1992 to address the lack of profile, funding, resources and opportunities for British artists of Chinese descent. It became a registered charity in 1996. Since then the British Chinese Artists' Association has promoted through its specialised audience and artist database more than 100 events in performance, music, dance and visual arts.

The Yellow Earth Theatre is a London-based international touring company formed by five British East Asian performers in 1995. Funded by the Arts Council of England and London Arts, the Yellow Earth Theatre is a pioneering theatre company that celebrates and integrates the best of East-West theatre. It aims to establish an East-Asian arts centre and youth theatre in London. The Mu Lan Chinese Theatre Company has been producing contemporary British/Chinese plays reflecting life in Britain.

Clearly, it is difficult for talented black and minority ethnic artists to progress in British theatre. The number of Equity membership cards is a useful indicator of that progress. I understand that they are difficult to obtain, particularly for newcomers to the theatre such as black and ethnic minority artists.

A further barrier is that of casting where black, Asian, and Chinese artists tend to be limited to parts where their racial background determines the character role that they play. Not surprisingly, this method of casting means that minority ethnic people have few opportunities in mainstream theatre. We heard this evening from the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about recent positive changes, but even when the play, opera, or musical is in a non-European setting—such as Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado" or Puccini's "Madam Butterfly"—how many character parts are played by non-Europeans? Is there a case here of institutional racism for the theatre to answer?

Finally, we are grateful to government for the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which makes it obligatory for all public authorities to take account of the impact of their policies on the ability of black and minority ethnic people to be employed and to have access to their services. All public organisations are expected to produce race equality schemes and to implement them. Should not more be done by theatres, in addition to those measures described by the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act? I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to my questions on the progress made in combating racism in the theatre.

7.2 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Rendell for initiating a discussion on the question of racism in the theatre. The subject is important, because racism is always unacceptable wherever it occurs, particularly in the arts which are based on the principle of equal human worth and, rightly, believe themselves to be free of conventional prejudices.

Two reports in recent years have highlighted the magnitude of racism in the theatre. I have in mind the Glass Ceilings report published in August of this year, and the Eclipse report published just four months earlier. Between them, they showed that, although considerable progress has been made, we still have a long way to go. For example, out of 2,009 permanently employed staff in regional theatres, just over 80—that is to say, about 4 per cent—are from black and Asian communities. At senior levels, there are 463 board members, as mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lady Rendell. Of these, just under 20 are blacks and Asians; that is, about 3.5 per cent of the population.

The depressing picture does not simply end with the under-representation in employment. Both reports point out that the roles in which the blacks and Asians are cast tend to be racially stereotyped. There are hardly any black and Asian stage managers, artistic directors, technicians, designers, or marketing officers. Until recently, there were few scholarships, bursaries, or traineeships for ethnic minorities; and, therefore, no realistic prospect of the ethnic minorities rising to important technical, managerial, or other senior positions in the next few years.

Further, little attempt is being made to draw on the great theatrical traditions of the ethnic minorities and bring them into a creative dialogue with the mainstream Western theatrical tradition. As far as I can see, only a limited attempt is being made to take the theatre to the Asian and black audiences and increase their theatrical literacy. As I observed earlier, and as both my noble friends Lady Rendell and Lady McIntosh most sensibly pointed out, there have been significant changes for the better during the tenure of this Government; for example, £25 million has been specifically set aside for the theatre, 10 per cent of which is earmarked for diversity projects.

The National Theatre has launched its transformation season, which focuses on new writings—some of which are from ethnic minorities. I must also mention the considerable work carried out by the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, despite all this, as both reports point out, and as I said earlier, there are problems requiring urgent attention.

What should we do? I should like to make three or four quick suggestions. First, regional theatres should review their equal opportunity policies, develop positive action programmes, introduce a system of ethnic monitoring, and build up a database of regionally available talents.

Secondly, the Arts Council needs to play a proactive, co-ordinating role in this area. It should build up a national database and website of Afro-Caribbean and artistic talents. It should also introduce companies to venues, bring in blacks and Asians as local and national advisers, act as a broker between touring companies and theatre buildings, and monitor the progress of regional and local theatres. The council should also encourage a more extensive system of bursaries and traineeships, popularise the practices of theatres carrying out good work, and encourage regional theatres to invite blacks and Asians as guest directors from time to time.

It would also help greatly to ask boards appointing artistic directors to include in the job requirement an interest in, and knowledge of—and, perhaps, even a commitment to—minority art and artists. The Arts Council, and other funding agencies, should also encourage boards of theatre companies to recruit ethnic minorities, develop long-term strategies and targets, and foster diversity of themes and cast.

Finally, ways need to be found to attract black and Asian audiences. This would have several advantages. Obviously, it would increase revenue. It would also create a climate conducive to the emergence of artistic talents among the ethnic minorities. Indeed, if I may say so, it would also wean away large chunks of ethnic minorities from addictive and often rather mediocre television to the communal, interactive and living reality of the theatre. The taking of the theatre to the ethnic minorities should also, over time, enrich the mainstream theatrical tradition and output.

How do we achieve that aim? How do we take the theatre to the ethnic minority audiences? There are various ways in which that can be done. Theatrical productions should draw on ethnic minority experiences, both by concentrating on those experiences and by integrating them into mainstream theatre. Theatre timings could also be changed to suit ethnic minority patterns of work and life. There is already a rich theatrical tradition among ethnic minorities, including street theatre, which can be both exploited and brought into a creative dialogue with the mainstream Western tradition. A building dedicated to black theatre would also be helpful. It could act as a focus for ethnic minority interest in the theatre.

I have great confidence in my noble friend Lady Blackstone. Her record in this area of fighting racism is most commendable, as is her commitment to the arts. I can say that from several years of close association with her. I hope that both my noble friend and the Secretary of State will respond positively to many of the constructive suggestions that have been made in the debate by my noble friends and myself.

7.9 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, should like not only to thank my noble friend Lady Rendell for tabling this Unstarred Question, hut also to congratulate her on raising this sensitive issue in your Lordships' House. I did not attend the conference to which my noble friend referred, so I shall give a personal view as a black person. From the introductory remarks of my noble friend and from what other noble Lords have said, the House will have come to the certain knowledge that race matters even today in British society. Racism exists in all our institutions and in the conditioning of British citizens alike.

Some of your Lordships may recall how Stephen Lawrence's life ended in a tragic assassination on a spring evening in Eltham in south-east London. He was an 18 year-old British citizen of Caribbean descent. He was waiting at a bus stop with a friend. The reason for his assassination was sheer bigotry—bigotry over the colour of his skin. The United Kingdom was shaken by that unimaginable act. For most people it was unthinkable, but for black British citizens it was an expression of the racism that affects their daily lives in one way or another.

The country was forced to debunk the idea that there were only a few bad apples in the barrel and confront the fact that its very institutions were racist. Since the Macpherson report, many steps have been taken to introduce laws and rules to get rid of bigotry in all of Britain's institutions. Among them are the strengthening of the Race Relations Acts—which was long overdue—and the setting of targets by many institutions to combat injustice.

As a result, black people have made considerable headway in society. Progress has not been easy, but it has been steady. Black people's progress has been a direct result of pressure placed on institutions to change their structures and systems in the country in order to end discrimination.

Today's debate poses the question whether we are satisfied with the progress made in combating racism in the theatre. Black people find it difficult to envisage a set of criteria to demonstrate results in the highly competitive field of theatre for actors and actresses. But in many of its institutions, the theatre is an employer where black people still remain underrepresented, as evidenced by my noble friend Lady Rendell and other speakers.

That is not to say that there are not trained personnel to take those jobs, but the available figures suggest that the playing field remains uneven and that discrimination continues, because there is no representation of black people where decisions are made. The theatre is almost all white at its top. Black people's interest is not best served when an ethnocentric view is the only deciding factor—whether in employment or in the theatre itself.

It is noticeable that UK institutions go to the United States of America to recruit black actors. Black actors from Britain must go to the United States for any recognition or opportunity. Examining that phenomenon, one comes to the conclusion that there is a lack of exposure for home-grown black actors.

It is often said that there is a natural aptitude for the stage that is ignored by prospective producers. As a race, black people display a natural rhythm—I add that the exception stands before you. Black people feel deeply and express it. I am reliably informed that those two qualities are necessary to create good performers. We cannot afford to allow that lack of exposure to continue. That would be to deny trained actors the right to practise their trade; and to deny our country real engagement with its rich diversity of talent.

In my view, it is impossible to set effective targets. I therefore look to the Government to reconsider how they fund ethnic arts and artists. Funding must be sufficient; it must allow black people autonomy; and it should recognise that in some communities—certainly in my community—it is impossible to raise the match funding that is often required. The lottery has given a grant to a black theatre company, the Talawa Theatre. Match funding has now become a nightmare. The Afro-Caribbean community cannot raise the large sums required to set up and run its own theatre. There is therefore no space for seed-bedding.

In her role as chair of the London Arts Board, Lady Hollick said:
"The innovative and dynamic work created by London's diverse arts community contributes to our capital's status as a world city".
Today, more than one in three Londoners are from black and minority ethnic groups. That represents more than half of the country's culturally diverse residents, yet there is not one theatre in London that is black-owned and black-led to be a showcase for black actors. We must do better.

7.16 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for introducing this debate on her Unstarred Question. I hope that she will feel encouraged after our contributions on what is a complex subject—racism generally and especially in the arts—to introduce a further debate to which more time can be devoted. In my attempt to reduce a complex subject to the proportions that I can discuss tonight, I shall have to fall back on some personal reminiscences.

As a young man first working in London, I was perhaps a little further to the Left than I am now. I was certainly much concerned with racism in this country. I was reminded of that the other evening when I watched an excellent programme on BBC4—now a beacon in public service broadcasting—that demonstrated the disastrous, sad and disgraceful treatment of West Indians in the immediate post-war period. Large numbers of West Indians who, having served in the forces during the Second World War, came here expecting—indeed, having been encouraged to expect—to become part of an integrated multiracial society were soon disappointed. I must mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, who spoke about racism generally, made a moving contribution to that programme.

I used to discuss such matters and the frustration that one had with the lack of progress towards a multiracial society in this country with Lord Pitt of Hampstead, whom I remember fondly. He used to say to me: "My dear boy, if you see what happened to those great ideals in the post-war period, is it any wonder that the ethnic minorities have retreated back into their own cultures, rather than doing what we had all hoped that they would do: try to merge into a multiracial culture in this country?" That is so true and is partly responsible for the continued existence of racism in this country in the terrible way that it is manifest in some areas—that certainly applies to the Macpherson report.

The Macpherson report definition of institutional racism does not necessarily apply to the theatre. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I worked close to the theatre and had the great honour of knowing quite well some performers from the ethnic communities. To give two extremes, I knew Ram Gopal, the great classical dancer and choreographer, and I knew a number of black actors, both male and female, who were just starting their careers in an area in which it was difficult to find work.

I also used to attend many of the drama school productions and was then concerned about how few students there were from the ethnic minorities. It was interesting to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I remember going to the Guildhall, where I felt there was a notable absence, despite the music—and we know of the contribution which people from the West Indies make to that. However, I imagine that after 40 years that has changed and that if I now went to drama schools I would find many young black actors. We see on television how talented so many of them are.

During the 40 years which have elapsed, the role of ethnic minorities has increased and changed in this country. Against the background I have described, we have seen a slow improvement. It has been based, at the worst, on blatant ignorance and seldom on pathological hatred such as the kind I witnessed at the Mosley meetings in North Kensington just after the war. I attended out of curiosity, and I saw that shamed figure unrolling maps at crucial moments in order to show the selected areas where under his scheme the races of the world were to be shoved. That confirmed me in my view that what we needed and wanted was a multiracial society, and I am as disappointed as many to find that that has not happened.

While there is blatant ignorance at one end of the spectrum, there is also, not only in this country but in others, as I discovered when I worked in business, often visiting Africa and other places, a deplorable lack of curiosity by Europeans about the culture of the countries in which they live and work for long periods.

Much has been said about the role of schools and education. I believe that that, too, is vitally important. I remember a debate in your Lordships' House on drama schools and theatre and the need to bring to students who were not making academic headway the usefulness of drama. The debate was picked up by a school in south London, which for the first time decided to put on a drama production, which ambitiously was "Macbeth". The entire cast comprised young black men. They had had a short time to prepare and the text was rough hewn in its production, but the energy and the enthusiasm were fantastic.

I attended one night, and there were several performances. The principal told me that the whole morale of the school had been changed by the production. He said, "It is better than football because they work together and enjoy it". It was a very physical production, but, nevertheless, think of the opportunities given to people from poor, ethnic minority back grounds in south London by having a whole new area of life opened to them. I wish that more schools did such things. Unfortunately, interest in politics andHansardis diminishing, so they do not often read our debates. But I hope that someone in education will pick this one and put on another production. I do not care what it is—probably not "The Importance of Being Earnest", but something more suitable.

That leads me to the problems in the theatre which were dealt with by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. In the professional theatre there is the imperative to attract and hold audiences. That must be balanced against the problems we are discussing today. Understandably, much of the ethnic theatre is didactic and political, which is not often appealing to audiences, particularly in this country, who look for amusement and distraction. There is a great deal of frustration.

There is also the problem of suspension of belief which one must face. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred to that. She was right in saying that "Carousel" is wonderful. People from ethnic minorities can play English kings in opera productions because, like "Carousel", the structure is so extraordinary and imaginative that one can get away with things which cannot be done in the legitimate theatre.

In summary, the situation does not cause me great alarm because I have read the Eclipse report. It is most interesting and I have read it thoroughly. I do not agree with much of it, because it is too political and people are in too great a hurry. However, a deplorable instance is related by one contributor, Tiata Fahodzi, who is the artistic director of a well-known touring company. I am afraid to say that I am not familiar with his work. I shall not mention any names because ultimately he received an apology. But his account is an example of the clumsiness which occurs in this country where race is concerned.

The company was putting on a matinee performance and unfortunately computers were stolen from the building that afternoon. When the performance ended, the management saw fit to disregard the white actors but to take all the black actors and in full view of people leaving the theatre to strip-search them. That of course is disgraceful. It has to be said that an apology was made after the usual excuses one often hears on such occasions. However, that shows the extreme insensitivity which can occur.

I am much heartened by the contribution in the Eclipse report of Tyrone Huggins, Artistic Director of the Theatre of Darkness. I agree with his personal approach and I know his work. He has written a lot of interesting theatre and his attitude to the frustrations and anger felt by many of the ethnic communities is not to take the short-term view. To be realistic, one must take his approach. He hopes that in 20 years' time his nephews and nieces will look at his work and not see it as predominantly Afro-Caribbean but as part of the work of British black people. He hopes that 20 years on from that the situation will have changed, to the extent that people will be curious and interested in the origins of black people and that full integration and understanding will have begun. In conclusion, I want to quote that contributor. He asked whether he was guilty of excessive patience and lack of expectation. He said:
"I don't know and I honestly don't care. I'm playing a very, very long game. Things will change. They have to".

7.28 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, on introducing I he debate. As we have already heard, in April 2002 a number of English theatre groups released a report designed to tackle institutionalised racism in the theatre. The report contains a strategy which is aimed at greatly improving opportunities for black, Asian and Chinese artists working in English theatres. The report addresses issues such as the number and seniority of staff from culturally diverse communities and the programming of work created by black, Asian and Chinese practitioners in theatre.

The Eclipse report was drawn up by the Arts Council of England, the Theatrical Management Association, the East Midlands Arts Board and the Nottingham Playhouse. It also had the backing of the wider theatre sector. It looked at the issues of governance, artistic programming, employment opportunities, professional development and audience development. It was also used to aid the implementation of the arts funding system's national policy for theatre in England, which places a priority on diversity and inclusion.

The recommendations of the Eclipse report followed two one-day conferences at the Nottingham Playhouse theatre in 2001. The aim of the conferences was to set out to encourage debate and solutions to institutional racism in the theatre, starting from the premise that institutional racism exists within the theatre sector. This was determined by the Arts Council statistics for 1998–99 that showed poor representation of black, Asian and Chinese people in particular on the boards and staff of English theatres, and by the findings published in the Macpherson report in 1999, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, referred.

On 29th April this year, my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns asked the Government for their response to the Eclipse report. In particular, my noble friend referred to a target set of March 2003 for every publicly funded theatre organisation in England to have reviewed its equal opportunities policy and ascertained whether the targets set are being achieved, and, if not, to draw up a positive action plan to develop opportunities for African, Caribbean and Asian practitioners. At that time, the Government were not prepared to issue a definitive response, and so we look forward to the Minister's response today.

The Arts Council of England has emphasised the need for the theatre to engage with audiences and artists from a broader, more diverse range of backgrounds. There is a need for the theatre to reflect real life accurately. It is important that the theatre reflects the cultural diversity of society in the 21st century.

Clearly, there are funding issues that must be satisfactorily addressed. In addition, as noble Lords have said, we cannot underestimate the importance of effective training and education. The overall aim must be to ensure representation at all levels. This must mean artists, writers and producers, as well as all levels of management. At the same time, we have to be realistic. It is not only a question of meeting targets—for example, it is probably unrealistic to expect as broad a diversity of communities working in theatre in rural Dorset as in, say, Stratford in east London—there is also bound to be some tension between the wish to attract particular audiences and the need to cover costs. Theatres have to be practical and measure supply and demand if they are to survive.

This particular point was discussed in some detail in a recent edition of the "Front Row" programme that I listened to on Radio 4. It featured Steven Luckie talking to Mark Lawson about an initiative called the "Eclipse Theatre", which is aimed at addressing the lack of black material, black audiences, actors and back-stage personnel in British theatre. Steven Luckie's emphasis happens to be regional theatre, and his initiative is operating in the new Wolsey in Ipswich, the Bristol Old Vic and the Nottingham Playhouse. One of the key priorities of the Eclipse Theatre is audience development.

Of course there are a number of ways to attract diverse audiences, and different objectives can be achieved which help to combat racism. For example, the National Theatre is currently in discussion with the Football Association with regard to the possibility of touring with a relatively new play by Roy Williams, who happens to be a major black playwright. The play is called "Sing your heart out for the lads" and is about a young, black British football fan and the challenges that he faces as a supporter. The aim is to put on this play for the benefit of young football supporters, an idea that links so well with current initiatives being pursued by several football clubs to combat racism.

It is important for those in the theatre to look to other cultural and artistic channels for examples of success in overcoming racism, both for the artists and audiences alike. Last Friday, I attended the official opening of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. I was amazed to find, housed in this new museum, a purpose-built radio broadcasting unit. The museum had obtained a restricted service licence for 22 days to experiment with a new station called "Commonwealth FM". In the first weeks of the museum's life, the unit has broadcast in Punjabi, Somali, Cantonese and Arabic to audiences across Bristol. This museum had made the conscious decision to develop a project that would draw people in from the many different communities in and around Bristol and representatives from those communities were involved in making programmes, presenting, producing, running, editing and researching material of their choice.

Most of the groups covered issues faced by their own communities and, as the project began to gather momentum, individuals simply arrived at the museum having heard about the radio project and were encouraged to take part. The premise of Commonwealth FM was to make radio programmes. It has done this and, at the same time, broken down barriers, with a complete cross-section of age groups, nationalities and cultures all working together in what they can now feel is their local museum—a museum that celebrates diversity through our history. I wish the museum well and I hope that it will repeat this project with a new broadcasting licence in the near future.

Other examples of breaking down barriers from which those in the world of theatre may take heart must include the pop world and television. Role models are surely key to setting the pace for change, whether they be Otis Redding, Freddie Mercury, Jennifer Lopez or Ms Dynamite. The MOBO—Music of Black Origin—Awards play a major part in generating role models and raising the profile of successful artists. On television, "The Cosby Show", the "Fresh Prince of Belair" and "Sister Sister" are great and attract massive audiences, although I do worry that such programmes are rather stereotypical and tend, because they have all black casts, to ghettoise community culture.

In contrast, on the breakfast show "Rise" on Channel 4 this morning, a broad representation of different cultures was present. In my view, this is the better route to effectively breaking down barriers.

This is a timely debate and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, much more could be said in support of all of those, including the Arts Council, National Theatre, the Nottingham Playhouse and others to whom I have already referred, for the valuable work that they have undertaken to combat racism. Of course, one thing that we must never lose sight of is consumer choice. While we support the overall objectives set out in the Eclipse report, consideration has always to be given to presenting works that people want to see, a point made very well by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.

In conclusion, I agree with Peter Hewitt, the chief executive of the Arts Council of England, when he talked about,
"the need to change the mindset and artistic theatre practice to reflect the diverse society of Britain in the 21st century".
It is hoped that the necessary commitment, financial investment and courage to meet this end will prevail.

7.37 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Rendell of Babergh for introducing the debate. It has raised a number of extremely important issues.

In considering the Question, I should like first to make the general point that the Government abhor racism and will do everything they can to ensure that it is eliminated from all forms of public life, whether in the theatre, sport, the way we are governed, the way we are policed, the way we are taught.

The Question asks whether the Government are satisfied with the progress in combating racism in the theatre. The answer has to be that as long as there is any question of there being racism in any walk of public life we must remain dissatisfied.

But let us probe the Question a little further. We should ask ourselves the direct question: is the theatre racist? To answer that we must ask ourselves, first, if the theatre deliberately discriminates on grounds of race in terms of those whose work it promotes and who it welcomes as its audience; and, secondly, whether it deliberately does not promote equality of opportunity.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, my answer is that the theatre does not deliberately set out to do any of this but that sometimes it may do so unthinkingly. Black, Asian and Chinese artists still, perhaps with some justice, may not feel that they get enough exposure on the stage. Black audiences may not feel welcome in some institutions. We have to encourage a change of attitude so that talent will out in terms of artists, and audiences are broadened across all ethnic and social groups. What we have to do is to ensure that theatre, like other art forms, properly reflects the diversity of the population. That is a more helpful starting-point than accusing the theatre of racism.

I am not sure whether the Eclipse report, mentioned by nearly all speakers, definitively proves to us that the theatre is racist. What it does do is tell us that we need to ask a large number of questions about diversity and about discrimination, open or hidden. We need to examine funding streams, appointments to boards and management practice and programming policy. We need to go on asking whether the way in which theatre works allows it truly to reflect the society from which it springs. That is what it has to do.

I start from the belief that theatre, like all the arts. is about opening up possibilities and not about closing them down. It is about talent, not about prejudice. It is about offering opportunity for the spectator to watch interesting, stimulating performances and for the performer to realise his or her art. That is what is important—not the colour of someone's skin, but what he or she can do. Logically, in artistic terms, discrimination of any kind—except artistic discrimination and the ability to enable and support what is truly excellent—has absolutely no part in the modern theatre.

We have to face the facts, too. The Government do not run theatres; nor should they. Some theatres run with the help of public money. Many, including in the West End, run without any at all. So, when we talk about the theatre, we are not talking about homogeneous public sector institutions but about a mixed economy of public and private institutions.

Perhaps I may give some background detail to the Eclipse report. The report is an account of a conference funded by East Midlands Arts, the Theatre Management Association, the Arts Council and the Nottingham Playhouse. It represented the industry itself recognising its own failings and trying to see what more can be done. It is inevitably a snapshot of informed opinion, being an account of a conference that took place with a particular audience at a particular time; nevertheless, it gives us plenty of food for thought.

The conference was aimed at senior managers of middle to large scale presenting and producing theatres and was set up in response to discussions around cultural diversity and the roles and responsibilities of regional theatres.

The report is a useful contribution to the debate and has given the Arts Council a number of things to think hard about. It has identified key areas where funders can implement change. It contains some sobering facts, which may be of particular interest to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall and to the noble Lord, Lord Chan. Employment representation in English theatre for African, Caribbean and Asian staff was 4 per cent in 1998. The latest figures show that this improved to 4.8 per cent in 2001. African, Caribbean and Asian board members represented 3.5 per cent of all members in 1998. That rose quite substantially to 6.3 per cent in 2001. There is clearly some way to go despite those improvements.

Responding to my noble friend Lord Parekh—I am most grateful to him for his generous comments—I should like to add just how much I have learnt from him about the broader area of racial equality in this and other societies. However, I would say to him that both my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I do take the figures that I have just quoted extremely seriously.

The Arts Council, too, is taking the Eclipse report seriously. It is tackling issues of management and governance. It is running regional seminars on positive action and equality of opportunity. A lot of work here is to clarify legislation that already exists through the Race Relations Amendment Act and equal opportunities policies.

Regional Arts Council officers continue to visit the theatres that did not attend the Eclipse conference; and, as part of their funding agreements for 2003–04, all funded theatres are required to review their equal opportunities policies and to set up a positive action plan. I think that that provides the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, with the reply that she was seeking. All theatres involved are to be assessed on an on-going basis, with the emphasis in the first instance being on what support is needed from the regional officers.

Perhaps I may mention one or two other initiatives. The Arts Council is working to improve the numbers of black and Asian actors working in the subsidised theatre and, together with arts and business, it is introducing board training for blacks and Asians. The Arts Council is also launching Decibel—mentioned by my noble friend Lady Rendell—which is a diversity project whose mission is to challenge perceptions of the arts in England to reflect contemporary British society, thus encapsulating the whole ethos of what the Government aim to achieve. Five million pounds has been allocated to that project which will support the national programme of events next year.

The Black Regional Initiative in Theatre is another key strategic development scheme that seeks to develop a more equitable black and Asian theatre across the country.

One way of encouraging change is through funding, as my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids, implied. Apart from using funding agreements to ensure equal opportunities and positive action, the Arts Council is using the funding system to try to make significant changes to the balance of what is funded. In 2001, the Arts Council of England gave a significant boost from lottery funds to the Capital Arts projects, with £29 million being allocated to black, Asian or Chinese arts organisations. Again, this was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Rendell. It is a major step forward.

In addition, in distributing the new £25 million of theatre money from the last spending review, 10 per cent was reserved for ethnically diverse projects— again, a major step forward. For example, Leicester Haymarket will receive an additional £400,000—a 41 per cent increase—to allow it to increase its focus on South Asian theatre.

Perhaps I may give one or two other examples of good practice. Around the country, we do see signs of progress. The Leicester Haymarket is one of the most exciting examples of a theatre meeting its communities' needs. It is the only building base producing theatre with a black artistic director—Kully Thiarai—who is joint artistic director with Paul Kerryson. The work presented at the Haymarket reflects the communities of Leicester in every way. It is an example of the arts infrastructure taking into account the demography of the city in which it is located. The theatre's programming policy is inclusive, casting actors regardless of their race but ensuring that they reflect the local community.

A further example of how energy and collaboration can bring about real results is the creation of Eclipse Theatre. In direct response to the report, Nottingham Playhouse has joined forces with the New Wolsey Theatre, in Ipswich, and the Bristol Old Vic to launch a range of initiatives to develop the national profile of black middle-scale regional theatre.

The Playhouse, the New Wolsey and the Bristol Old Vic will be producing three major pieces of black theatre, the first of which will be a production of Errol John's classic play, "Moon on a Rainbow Shawl" in February next year, directed by the acclaimed black director, Paulette Randall.

Good practice should not just be adopted by the subsidised theatre. We need to see it in the West End too. The success of the West End in promoting shows such as "Umoja" and "Bombay Dreams", which have drawn ethnically diverse audiences to the theatre, is something to celebrate.

As I said at the beginning, I do not think that we should conclude that the theatre is institutionally and systematically racist—but we can conclude from the available evidence that in terms of employment practices it needs better to reflect the diversity of the population; and the theatre must always ensure that it is attracting as wide an audience as possible.

I am glad that we can show that progress is being made. If we tackle the issue of diversity properly, we should in time eliminate racism. I am confident that through the example set by theatres such as the Nottingham Playhouse, the Leicester Playhouse and Tricycle, through the continuing influence of the Eclipse report and the continued action of the Arts Council and the commercial sector, progress can be sustained. But there is still more to do. Am I satisfied with progress? So long as there is progress still to be made in any aspect of policy, I, for one, will not be satisfied. But I am reasonably confident that common sense and pragmatism will prevail. Certainly, as a Government, we will continue to work with ACE and others to try to bring about the necessary changes.

Finally, to pick up a comment by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, I hope that will mean that before long we will no longer need to comment on the fact that a superb performance of "Hamlet" was by a black actor rather than that it was by an outstanding classical actor.

House adjourned at nine minutes before eight o'clock.