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Lord Glentoran: I am very disappointed with what I have heard. I am afraid that I shall change my attitude slightly with regard to this matter. I believe that the argument and the case put forward by the Minister are the first sign of real old-fashioned dogma. It is dogma that a Labour Government who are sensitive to the misuse of something such as this should believe that big landowners might do everything that they can to misuse their privilege. Yet the Government are willing to open up land to other groups of people, including the antis, to misuse the privilege of walking across the land and shooting grouse moors on Saturdays. That is dogma.

The commonsense parts of the arguments that we have heard are still in place. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made two pleas about the value of shooting. She and others have made pleas about the need for conservation. It may interest the Committee to know that some places are sensitive conservation areas. For 52 days a year the RSPB closes everything to the public. It closes every Tuesday. I repeat: 52 days a year.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: Will the noble Lord give way? I may be wrong about the current practice of the RSPB but, certainly when I was its chief executive, if we were closing on 52 days of the year, I was uniquely unaware of the fact.

Lord Glentoran: Minsmere closes every Tuesday for maintenance. It is also closed during its holiday periods. I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention and for correcting me on that point. I should have been more precise. My own knowledge was weak.

However, the point is made. I believe that the inability to close land over a block of time also presents a problem for conservation and farming. Under this proposal, if it is not possible to close on Saturdays and Sundays, there will never be a period of six or seven days when one can, by right, close one's land for a consecutive period. This regime allows only five days in a row on which to restrict access without going through the problems of bureaucracy.

I put forward another small argument. Members of the Committee are well aware that a serious battle is taking place over country sports. One end of it is violent; another end is seriously and professionally orchestrated so far as concerns lobbying. By transferring to the local access authority the decision as to whether the land on which a person who shoots may or may not be closed on a Saturday or Sunday, one is also transferring the burden of resisting the lobby groups, both serious and violent--activists and those who have considerably more money than one could dream of to run heavily orchestrated lobbying.

Perhaps I show a weakness, but I am nervous that the countryside agencies may give way to the lobbyists and the antis--occasionally a little, then a bit more. There may be sympathetic members within local access authorities. Having experienced violence from the antis myself, I believe that that is a serious risk. Such violence is not pleasant and it makes one wonder

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why sometimes one does not simply give in, particularly if one is elderly and weak. It is a very serious issue.

I have made several points, as have many Members of the Committee. I make a final point relating to dogs. As the dog issue has not been settled, we must assume that dogs will be allowed to go free on any Saturday of the year on any area unless we go through a bureaucratic process and think a long way ahead--I do not know how many months. Then the arguments that I have been making about the antis, and so on, come into play. I believe that the present situation is intolerable. We shall return to this matter on Report and I hope that the Minister and the Government--

Viscount Bledisloe: Before the noble Lord decides what he is going to do with his amendment, perhaps I may say that, far from being disappointed with the reply from the Minister, I am very disappointed with the ungrateful and intransigent attitude being taken by the noble Lord and the Conservative Front Bench. I believe that the Minister has gone some way towards recognising that there is a problem. I believe that we should gracefully give him an opportunity to consider the matter and to come back to us.

Lord Glentoran: I am sorry that the noble Viscount did not like the tone of what I said. That is the direction in which I was heading. However, I have every intention of withdrawing the amendment and hope that the Government will return on Report with something with which we can all work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 238 to 241 not moved.]

Lord Carter: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that that we do not continue with the Committee stage before 8.55 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Theatres

7.56 p.m.

Lord Harrison rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the report by Peter Boyden to the Arts Council on English regional producing theatres.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, British boxer, Audley Harrison, winning gold last weekend in the theatre of the Sydney Olympics, was moved to quote French dramatist, Pierre Corneille, in describing his victory:


    "Triumph without hardship is not triumph at all".

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At box offices up and down the land, the act of achieving "triumph through hardship" is experienced by the bands of the happy few who, with ever slenderer means, courageously bring live theatre nightly to our people. English regional-producing theatre is in a parlous financial state. Years of under-funding have led to the closure of houses at Ipswich, Greenwich and Leatherhead and cutbacks at renowned producing theatres, such as the Octagon at Bolton and the Sheffield Crucible.

Retrenchment in theatre has had a deleterious effect on the product itself. Conservative programmes, demoralised staff, restrictive rehearsal times and slashed casts have all taken their toll. For too long we have been cutting down the cherry orchard and, with it, the quality, breadth and reputation associated with English repertory theatre. It is time to bring down the curtain on such cultural suicide.

Theatre is the well-spring of some of our most important, job-creating industries. English tourism owes its pre-eminence to the arts in which live theatre has a pivotal and leading role. The big-bang industries of TV, film and entertainments depend on the actors apprenticed in England's local theatres. But for too long we have treated such theatres as the cheap end of the West End.

Recently I was reappointed as governor of The Gateway Theatre in Chester. I declare an interest. It is a fine playhouse which has struggled financially over the past 20 years, leading to its recent temporary closure. Revived and now producing theatre of the highest quality, it survives on a shoestring. Each night's performance is literally threatened with imminent darkness while we wait for the funds to replace a defective lighting system.

The Gateway's travails illustrate all too tellingly the benighted state of English theatre today as so graphically depicted in tonight's excellent and influential report, The Roles and Functions of the English Regional Reproducing Theatre. How grateful we are for Peter Boyden--at last "The Inspector Calls". Peter Boyden notes the underlying strength of our theatre. Like many of its contemporaries, The Gateway Theatre still produces quality under fire. Indeed, many of the eight challenges promulgated in the national policy of the Arts Council of England, published in July 2000, are already part of The Gateway's central philosophy and culture. Its education work in local schools and youth clubs, in collaboration with the South Cheshire Health Authority, dramatises for instance the problem of drugs for young people in a way that mere prescription and proscription cannot. Its recent production of the Polychronicon illustrating the fascinating story of Chester past and present, using professional actors alongside local school talent brilliantly achieves the ACE's goal of recreating local and regional distinctiveness. The theatre's imaginative collaboration with the BP/Amoco oil company has developed a mode of working way beyond static sponsorship.

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In theatre-based business seminars a better understanding of their industry is inculcated in oil drillers, petrol station forecourt designers, oil-rig health and safety officers, through the parallel study of theatre and the jigsaw of tasks entailed in keeping the show on the road. Theatre as a paradigm of business! Like oil, drama has to be delivered on time, to schedule and at the right price. Business learns from theatre just as theatre learns from business. Theatre can illumine and explain other worlds--the police, the health service to name but two--to the mutual benefit of all. Even your Lordships' House is not unfamiliar with costume drama. Even the Arts Council imperative for theatre to develop a European arm to build an international reputation is not foreign to us in Chester where the last quinquennial production of the medievil cycle of mystery plays was leavened by a contingent of actors from deepest Lapland.

What of the Arts Council's exhortation to reach new audiences, especially for those for whom theatre is the place where the audience dress up more than the actors, and wholly to impress their peers.

I well remember my wife's account of taking her pupils from the local council house/state comprehensive to the Gateway Theatre downtown. For all, it was a crossing of a Berlin Wall of etiquette--"Miss", asked one of her pupils, "do we have to pass the chocolates down the row to all the other theatre goers?" was an excerpt from that particular comedy of manners. But for some, that night at the theatre stirred the imagination and led to the gateway of dreams.

How welcome, then, is Boyden! How timely the Government's response of £25 million of revenue funding to help theatres to produce and actors to act. The money from the alchemist--Gordon Brown--is just the fillip that repertory theatre across the land, experiencing the same privations as The Gateway at Chester, deserve and need. But the year 2003-2004 is a time away. I only hope that the Government's further generosity of an interim £12 million will fend off further closures.

Perhaps my noble friend the Minister might comment on the allocation of the interim funding, on the criteria determining the distribution of the £25 million revenue monies and also on the definition of "theatre". Boyden, one will recall, confines himself to physical playhouses. Are all forms of producing theatre eligible for Boyden funding?

For those whose lives are enriched by a visit to the theatre, the 78 per cent overall increase in arts funding is a godsend--a deus ex machina--as unexpected as it is welcome. A tribute must be paid to the persuasive powers of Gerry Robinson and Chris Smith in achieving it.

Live theatre is a quality of life issue and a national responsibility, or, as Garcia Lorca puts it and as quoted in the preface to Boyden:


    "An intelligent theatre can change the sensibility of the people; a disintegrated theatre, with clumsy hooves instead of wings, can cheapen and lull into sleep an entire nation".

The Government's acknowledgement of the importance of English regional producing theatre is a vote of confidence in a home bred industry.

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Like Audley Harrison, England's theatres in the future will be able to punch above their weight and for the foreseeable future, for our repertory theatres, thankfully, there will be no more "Waiting for Godot".

8.5 p.m.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I have to start by thanking my noble friend, Lord Harrison, for introducing this short debate. I would like to congratulate him on a barnstorming performance. He may have missed his vocation. Certainly, the theatre can do with many advocates of his persuasiveness. I hope that we shall hear much more from him.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this topic, which is quite close to my heart. I declare an interest in this respect: I was consulted in my capacity as a then member of the Board of the Young Vic Theatre by the Boyden team. I would agree with my noble friend, Lord Harrison, that the Boyden Report is an excellent report about which a great deal can be said and has already been said by my noble friend.

In the limited time available I am going to concentrate on two issues to which the report draws attention--the role of regional theatre in the development of creative talent, to which my noble friend has alluded, and the importance to theatre of sustained core funding.

I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House the high regard in which British artists are held worldwide. This year two directors--Sam Mendes and Stephen Daldry--have become the latest to achieve major success in the notoriously difficult and unforgiving world of film. Both of them did their early work in regional theatre and so did the artistic directors of both our national theatre companies, Trevor Nunn and Adrian Noble, as did their predecessors. All these are artists of international standing.

Many of our finest actors obtained their grounding in regional theatre. Many writers in film and television, as well as in theatre, have emerged over the years through the opportunities provided by regional companies. As the Boyden Report states:


    "Years of funding attrition have undoubtedly had a negative impact on the development of creative talent".

The report points to a long-term decline in the numbers of actors employed, in the number of commissions offered to writers, in the number of productions created, and therefore in the number of directors employed. Technical, managerial and production staff have traditionally learned their skills in the regional theatre. These opportunities too have declined and the work that is available is often low paid, with long hours and poor working conditions. The report goes on to say:


    "There is a widening gap between the English Regional Producing Theatre's potential to act as a training ground for creative talent and craft skills and its capacity to do so. The knock-on effect will be felt across the creative industries which require a stream of writing, directing, designing and acting talent as well as of production and technical staff".

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As a long-time observer and employer of theatre professionals, I can say that this effect is already being felt. When I started my career, regional theatre was providing a huge range of opportunity for young practitioners to learn their craft. This is no longer the case. I intend no disrespect to anyone in noting how much we have lost. If we are to ensure that those who come after us can point with pride to the next Nunn or Mendes or Dench or Fiennes--major or minor--then we must reinvest now in the training grounds that they need.

How is this to be achieved? In his recent New Statesman arts lecture, the chairman of the Arts Council of England, Gerry Robinson, stressed three issues in the Arts that he believed required particular attention--education, core funding and theatre.

In emphasising the especially vital importance of sustained core funding, he pointed out that,


    "fixed costs in arts organisations, because they are so labour-intensive, are high".

But provision of adequate core funding has, at least until recently, been a politically sensitive matter. Widespread misunderstanding, sometimes wilful, of the necessarily high costs to which Gerry Robinson referred, led to the accusations of inefficiency over staffing and waste which have bedevilled discussion of the arts for two decades. I can tell your Lordships, speaking from the war zone, that it is a relief to find an acknowledged expert in business saying unambiguously that he has looked closely at the arts world and found a sector with very little slack.

He rightly asserts that cutting back on core funding to arts organisations is counterproductive because fixed costs do not go away; what goes away is the art. Programming is always the first thing to suffer when the financial going gets tough. That is nowhere more evident than in our regional theatres, as Boyden has shown. They have been progressively starved of core funds for years.

But looking forward, there are reasons to be cheerful. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has finally succeeded, as my noble friend Lord Harrison pointed out, through the recent spending review, in doing what few of his predecessors ever achieved; that is, he has wrung a decent settlement for the arts out of the Treasury. I take this opportunity to congratulate him.

A significant sum within that settlement has been earmarked by the Arts Council for addressing the problems in theatre which Boyden has identified. Much can be done with what has been provided but the health and strength of theatre will be achieved only by sustained investment over a long period of time.


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