HC Deb 04 August 1843 vol 71 cc231-4

On the motion that the House resolve itself into committee on the Theatres' Regulation Bill,

Captain Polhill

regretted that so little encouragement was given to dramatic literature in this country, and that royal patronage and favour was so slightly extended to the national drama. He could not conceive any better school for moral instruction than the seeing one of our best dramas with a good moral.

Sir J. Graham

said, that the bill was brought forward with the intention to improve the dramatic art. He believed, that the best course that could be pursued was to place the power of making regulations for the drama in the hands of one responsible person, and to afford opportunities for having dramatic performances of a respectable character. At the present time, it was notorious that the chief plays of this country were now only to be seen at the Haymarket theatre, and that theatre was within the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain. The patent theatres were closed for such a period of the year, that but for the Haymarket theatre, it might be said that Shakespeare's plays could not be played in London, for several months in the year. It had been determined in the reign of William the 4th, by the Lord Chamberlain, and three of the judges who sat upon a petition of Mr. Arnold, for the enlargement of the licence of the English Opera House, that the King in Council had the power of making what alterations he pleased in the privileges of the patent theatres.

Mr. T. Duncombe

had reason to believe, that the reason why the proprietors of Covent-garden theatre could not get a tenant, was in consequence of the high rent they demanded, So far from this bill having au injurious tendency on that description of property, he happened to know that Drury-lane Theatre had been taken in consequence of the introduction of this bill, by a gentleman of great experience in connection with the drama, and extremely well versed in dramatic literature—he meant Mr. Bunn. He had seen a great many persons connected with the drama on the subject of this bill, and they all—managers, actors, and authors—concurred that the present state of the law was so conflicting and injurious in its operation, that they were induced to accept this bill. If the Lord Chamberlain's office administered it in a fair spirit, it would prove a most beneficial measure to the drama, and the amusements of the people would have no unjust restraints thrown in their way.

House in committee.

On clause 3 (what licences shall be granted by the Lord Chamberlain),

Mr. T. Duncombe

proposed that the power of granting licences by the Lord Chamberlain, instead of extending, as was proposed in the bill, to all theatres (not being patent theatres), within the Parliamentary boundaries of the cities of London and Westminster, and of the boroughs of Finsbury, Marylebone, the Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, and Southwark, should extend to the whole of the counties of Middlesex and Surrey. If this were not done, there still would remain conflicting authorities as regarded dramatic licences. The anomaly of licensing places for dramatic performances would be as great as it now was in Oxford-street, where, on one side of the way, a theatre would be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, and on the other by the magistrates.

Sir J. Graham

entertained no great jealousy of proposing in this bill the enlarging of the power of the Lord Chamberlain as regarded licensing places for dramatic performances, for he presumed that the power could be safely entrusted to that officer. The being made responsible for the exercise of his duty in Parliament was infinitely better than the irresponsible power of the magistrates. If the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman were adopted, they would curtail unnecessarily the power of the magistrates in the country districts, and they would be placed on a different footing from the magistrates of any other part of England, for they would have the power of granting music licences, but not dramatic licenses. He thought that the words as they now stood in the clause were amply sufficient, although in principle, he did not object to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman.

Clause agreed to.

Bill went through Committee.

The House resumed. Report to be received.