HC Deb 14 November 1927 vol 210 cc723-31
Colonel DAY

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out from the word "the" in line 1 to the word " and" in line 3, and to insert instead thereof the words " tenth day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-seven."

The object of this Amendment is to allow all contracts to be valid which were entered into before the commencement of this Act. The Clause, as it stands at the present time, invalidates any agreements for the showing of films which may have been negotiated and completed before the passage of this Act. As we have tried to demonstrate to the House previously this afternoon, the cinema industry, especially from the exhibitors' point of view, depends greatly on certain arrangements that have been made in advance, and it would be not only unjust, but a very grave injustice, to many exhibitors throughout this country were this Clause to be passed as originally framed. The House will have seen this afternoon that even the right hon. Gentleman has had to admit this by the acceptance, which he has very generously conceded in some cases, of alterations or suggestions which have come from the other side of the House, and I venture to suggest that this is another case where he can very well accept the suggestions which we are-making for the alteration of the Clause-. It will not only assist him in the wording of the Act, but be of very great benefit to the exhibitors of cinema films in this country.


I beg to second the Amendment.


Is it possible for the President of the Board of Trade to accept the Amendment 1 If there be a possibility of coming to terms on this matter, perhaps he could leave it to a free vote of the House. Clause 4 as it stands makes all contracts entered into before the passing of the Act illegal. A great many similar exhibitors have already entered into contracts to fill their theatres, but these contracts will become illegal, and the renters may either demand much bigger prices for showing them or, if they are shown, the exhibitors may refuse to pay. I do not speak in this case in the interest of exhibitors, but in the interest of the whole community. It is not right that we should be able to pass Acts of Parliament which make illegal acts which have been done when they were perfectly legal. I object to the whole Bill making illegal acts, bargains, and arrangements, and definite conclusions, which have been come to between individuals. But to say that an agreement made even a year before this Act becomes law shall become illegal by the passing of the Act is quite a new thing in British law, and I think we ought to have from the learned Solicitor-General a definite statement as to whether there are precedents for legislation of this sort, which make something which was legal when it was done years before illegal by the passing of an Act.

The Amendment which has been put down is a half-way house, and says that at the moment of the introduction of this Bill all the renters and exhibitors of this country had warning that the Government were going, not only to introduce, but to pass, this Bill. There seems to be reasonable ground for saying that agreements which were made before the Bill was introduced on the 10th of March, 1927, are legal, but that anybody entering into an agreement after that date has had full notice, and that therefore their contracts may very well be scrapped. I do not agree, but still there is something to be said for that point of view. I do not agree to scrapping any contracts by retrospective legislation, but there is something to be said for scrapping those made after the introduction of the Bill. We put the Amendment down, and we took this date so that we might have the largest measure of support in this House. I do wish we could get an ordinary, straightforward vote of Members of the Conservative party, because I cannot think that anyone who is a good and sound constitutionalist could vote for a Clause in an Act of Parliament which deliberately scraps contracts in this way.


This question was very fully debated in Committee, and the reason this date was adhered to was that it was felt that full notice had been given in the House of Commons that this legislation would be made retrospective in this sense. It was well-known that discussions were going on to try to frame a definite agreement with the trade; in fact, it was common knowledge that the foreign renter would utilise that period of incubation to force people to enter into long contracts. May I point out that on the 3rd August, 1926, I stated in the House of Commons: Obviously it will be quite impossible for me to make a statement of policy until we have discussed the matter at the Imperial Conference, but I think I should, perhaps, says this: all sections of the trade have known for months past that the Government would have to consider the desirability of legislation, either if the trade recommended agreed proposals, or in default of such agreement. That being so, I think it right to say that in the event of the Government introducing legislation they must not be held to be precluded from making that legislation effective, notwithstanding any trade arrangements which might have been made with a view to nullifying its effect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1926; cols. 2777–78, Vol. 198.] Therefore full notice was given in the House of Commons upon this point, and everybody in the trade knew that quite well. .If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) requires a precedent, he will find it in legislation which took place under Mr. Bonar Law's administration which followed exactly the same precedent as we are folio win?' in this case.


I have listened with great interest to the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman as to why this Clause should remain in the Bill, and why it should be retrospective. I cannot agree that the words which have been quoted from the President's announcement on the 3rd August, 1926, justify the Government in proposing a Clause of this kind. What the right hon. Gentleman said in his warning in August, 1926, was that the Government ought not to be precluded from taking such steps as would be necessary to prevent any arrangement being entered into which would nullify the effect of the Bill. Can it be said that arrangements entered into to put films ahead for one, two or three years do, in fact, nullify the whole section of this Bill 1 I think by introducing a proposal which will make null and void agreements entered into before the passing of this Bill you are taking a very dangerous course. I have no doubt the advisers of the President of the Board of Trade can find precedents, but it is a serious matter for business men to find that, after making a contract, it becomes null and void because they have not the warning which was given by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the supply of films. That seems to me to be quite unreasonable.

I want hon. Members to note the effect on contracts of other kinds which this principle may have in the future. During the whole of the period from 3rd August, 1926, to November, 1927, the whole trade will be in a state of complete uncertainty as to whether there is going to be legislation of this kind or not. During the whole of that time the Government have asked these people not to enter into certain agreements which previously have been perfectly legal. I ask hon. Members who are connected with business to apply the same principle to other businesses. Suppose a similar announcement is made by the head of the Government. Although legislation may be delayed two or three years the particular trade affected during that period will be put into a condition of complete uncertainty as to whether the business men can enter into legal contracts, because legislation of a retrospective character may be passed making such agreements null and void. I think this Clause ought to be wiped out, and the Bill should operate only from the date it becomes law and placed upon the Statute Book.


I understand that the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade was to the effect that in the event of the introduction of legislation of this kind it would be retrospective. I think such legislation is against all sense of justice, and it is certainly against all practice in law. We could understand such proposals as these being put forward in Russia, but we cannot understand their being introduced by a Conservative Government. It is only fair to point out to the President of the Board of Trade that he is setting a remarkable example for those sitting on this side of the House to follow. It seems to me a wicked thing from the point of view of a Conservative Government that they should be setting up such a precedent as this. It is obvious that engagements and contracts may have been entered into since the 3rd August, 1926.

May I give an illustration? When it was proposed to place taxation on foreign

motor cars I know that millions of pounds worth of motor cars evaded the tax simply because the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not ante-date his legislation. There is no difference in the practice adopted between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade in regard to this matter. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer lost a very considerable sum of money in this way in connection with his taxation of motor cars, because in the intervening interval between the announcement of the tax and its passing into law an immense number of motor cars were imported every week into this country. It seems to me to be a very big mistake for the House of Commons to be legislating in this way, because it is bound to make everybody uneasy who enters into contracts as to whether, after all, the whole thing may be set aside, and they may lose very considerable sums of money, although they have made their contracts in a perfectly legal and businesslike manner. Such legislation as this creates uncertainty, and nobody would know from moment to moment when to expect the passing of legislation breaking all sorts of contracts. Legislation of this kind is wrong, and it cannot be made right by any kind of argument. 'It is an undoubted fact that by passing this proposal the House is setting up a precedent which may be followed by other Governments in due course.

Question put, "That the words pre-posed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 213; Noes, 116.

Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Lamb, J. Q. Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Galbraith, J. F. W. Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Savery, S. S.
Ganzonl, Sir John Little, Dr. E. Graham Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Loder, J. de V. Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Gates, Percy Long, Major Eric Shepperson, E. W.
Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Skelton, A. N.
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Goff, Sir Park MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Gower, Sir Robert Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Smithers, Waldron
Grace, John MacIntyre, Ian Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) McLean, Major A. Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Macmillan, Captain H. Sprot, Sir Alexander
Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.
Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London) Mac Robert, Alexander M. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Grotrian, H. Brent Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel- Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Steel, Major Samuel Strang
Gunston, Captain D. W. Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Margesson, Captain D. Streatfeild, Captain S. R.
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwlch) Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.
Hammersley, S. S. Merriman, F. B. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Milne, J. S. Wardlaw- Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Hartington, Marquess of Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Moore, Sir Newton J. Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Henderson, Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd,Henley) Morden, Col. W. Grant Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Henderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle) Nelson, Sir Frank Tinne, J. A.
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Henn, Sir Sydney H. Oakley, T. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. p.
Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton) Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Hills, Major John Waller Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William Warrender, Sir Victor
Hilton, Cecil Penny, Frederick George Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St. Marylebone) Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Perkins. Colonel E. K. Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Pilcher, G. Watts, Dr. T.
Hopkins, J. W. W. Price, Major C. W. M. Wells, S. R.
Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S. Raine, Sir Walter Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay
Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Ramsden, E. Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Hudson, Capt. A. u. M.(Hackney,N.) Rawson, Sir Cooper Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Hume, Sir G. H. Reid, D. D. (County Down) Winby, Colonel L. P.
Huntingfield, Lord Remnant, Sir James Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Hurd, Percy A. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Withers, John James
Hurst, Gerald B. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Wolmer, Viscount
Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint) Womersley, W. J.
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Ropner, Major L. Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A. Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W
Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Rye, F. G. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L
Kennedy A. R. (Preston) Salmon, Major I. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (Norwich)
King, Commodore Henry Douglas Sandeman, N. Stewart
Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Sanderson, Sir Frank TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Knox, Sir Alfred Sandon, Lord Major Sir Harry Barnston and Major the Marquess of Titchfield.
Division No. 326,] AYES. [7.43 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Bullock, Captain M. Cunliffe, Sir Herbert
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Curzon, Captain Viscount
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Campbell, E. T. Dalkeith, Earl of
Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby) Cassels, J. D. Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Davies, Maj. Geo.F.(Somerset,Yeovll)
Barclay-Harvey C. M. Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R.(Prtsmth.S) Davies, Dr. Vernon
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W, Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish- Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Dawson, Sir Philip
Bethel, A. Chamberlain, Rt.Hn.SirJ.A.(Birm.,W.) Dean, Arthur Wellesley
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Chamberlain. Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Drewe, C.
Boothby, R. J. G. Chapman, Sir S. Eden, Captain Anthony
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft. Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Edmondson, Major A. J.
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Clarry, Reginald George Elliot, Major Walter E.
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Cllve Clayton, G. C. Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)
Briggs, J. Harold Cobb, Sir Cyril Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith
Brittain, Sir Harry Cochrane. Commander Hon. A. D. Everard, W. Lindsay
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Conway, Sir W. Martin Fairfax, Captain J. G.
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Couper, J. B. Falle, Sir Bertram G.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C (Berks.Newb'y) Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Fanshawe, Captain G. D.
Buchan, John Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Ford, Sir P. J.
Buckingham, Sir H. Crookshank, Col. C. do W. (Berwick) Foster, Sir Henry S.
Bull, Rt. Hon. sir William James Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro) Foxcroft, Captain C. T.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Forrest, W. Lawrence, Susan
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Gardner, J. P. Lawson, John James
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Gibbins, Joseph Lowth, T.
Attlee, Clement Richard Gillett, George M. Lunn, William
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Gosling, Harry MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon)
Baker, Walter Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Greenall, T. MacNeill-Weir, L.
Barnes, A. Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) March, S.
Batey, Joseph Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Maxton, James
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Bondfield, Margaret Groves. T. Murnin, H.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Grundy, T. W. Naylor, T. E.
Broad, F. A. Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Oliver, George Harold
Bromfield, William Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll Paling, W.
Bromley, J. Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Hardie, George D. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Potts, John S.
Buchanan, G. Hayday, Arthur Riley, Ben
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Ritson, J.
Cape, Thomas Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Robinson, W. C. (Yorks.W.R., Elland
Charleton, H. C. Hirst, G. H. Scrymgeour, E.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Scurr, John
Connolly, M. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Cove, W. G. John, William (Rhondda, West) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Dalton, Hugh Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Day, Colonel Harry Kelly, W. T. Sitch, Charles H.
Dennison, R. Kennedy, T. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe,
Duncan, C. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)
Dunnico, H. Kirkwood, D. Snell, Harry
Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip Varley, Frank B. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Stamford, T. W. Viant, S. P. Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Stephen, Campbell Wallhead, Richard C. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Sullivan, J. Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline) Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Sutton, J. E. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda) Wright, W.
Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby) Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.) Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow) Welsh, J. C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Thurtle, Ernest Westwood, J. Mr. Hayes and Mr. Whiteley.
Tinker, John Joseph Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 8, to leave out the words " thirtieth day of September," and to insert instead thereof the words " thirty-first day of December."

This Amendment is consequential on the postponement of the commencement of the Act until the 1st January of next year. It makes the date one year from the commencement of the Act, and, therefore, brings the Clause, as was intended, exactly into line with Sub-section (2, a) of Clause 2.

Amendment agreed to.