HC Deb 10 May 1865 vol 179 cc104-5

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move the second reading of the Bill, said, he was not surprised to find that its objects were but little understood, because it contained allusion to several Acts of Parliament about which very few people knew anything at all. This Bill had been objected to generally because it did not go far enough. He confessed he should like it to go farther in some respects, if it were possible to obtain the assent of Parliament to it; but if the House should assent to the second reading, there would be no difficulty in sending it before a Select Committee, where it could be made a perfectly workable measure. It was not until the 10 Geo. II. c. 28, passed in the year 1737, that a distinct law was passed on this subject. Previous to the reign of Elizabeth actors and stage players generally were considered to be rogues and vagabonds, unless the particular theatre in which they performed had been placed under the patronage of some great baron. In the time of Elizabeth their position was somewhat modified, and in the reign of Queen Anne, by Statute 12 Anne c. 23, s. 2, it was rendered somewhat more respectable. The 10 Geo. II. was, however, the first licensing Act. It was passed at the instance of Sir Robert Walpole, with the view of preventing performances at theatres from interfering with his particular views. That Act originated from a play entitled Polly, which succeeded The Beggar's Opera, which was not approved of by the Government of that day. The Lord Chamberlain interfered with the play of Polly, and said that it should not be performed any longer. By the 10 Geo. II. c. 28, the Lord Chamberlain obtained a power of licensing plays, and the performers were required to have a legal settlement, and it was not until the 5 Geo. IV. c. 83 that the players were removed from under the operation of the Vagrant Act. By the 10 Geo. II. c. 28, no one was allowed to act plays for payment or reward unless by patent from the Crown or licence from the Lord Chamberlain, and by section two of that Act, players, with or without a legal settlement, who performed for I hire, were subjected to a penalty of £50. The theatres then patented were Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and the Haymarket. The 28 Geo. II. c. 36, called the Music and Dancing Licensing Act, gave no authority for the sale of refreshments. The minor theatres were placed in a very unfair and anomalous position previous to the enactment of the 6 & 7 Vict., c. 68, for if they could not obtain a licence from the Lord Chamberlain in certain districts of Westminster they did not possess any authority for the performances except under the Music and Dancing Licensing Act of Geo. II., c. 36. By section two of this Act, justices in London and Westminster, or within twenty miles thereof, were empowered, after the 1st of December, 1752, to grant licences for public dancing, music, or other entertainments of the like kind, at Quarter Sessions; and any place kept for that purpose, without such licence, was to be held to be a disorderly house. This licence did not sanction the performance of stage plays, as was decided in the case of "Levy v. Gales," 8 a, & e. 129. The consequence was that in those theatres it was the practice to keep a pianoforte going all through the performance of the plays in order to comply with the provisions of the statute, 28 Geo. II. c. 36. A cry was then raised in favour of free trade in the performance of the regular drama. The result was the appointment of a Committee of the House of Commons, which sat in the years 1831 and 1832, to inquire into the state of the law respecting the acting drama throughout the country. That Committee presented a Report, in which they recommended that all theatres should be thrown open for the performance of the regular drama. In a few years afterwards the 6 & 7 Vict. c. 68, was passed. The hon. and learned Gentleman was proceeding when—it being a quarter before Six o'clock,

Second Heading deferred till To-morrow.