HC Deb 21 March 1928 vol 215 cc380-3

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision with respect to certain agencies and registries; and for purposes in connection therewith. It is with some trepidation that I rise to ask leave at this stage of the Session to introduce a Bill which is admittedly controversial. I am able to assure the House, however, that it is not controversial in any party sense whatever. It is a Bill which must necessarily be controversial, because it aims at a very evil, vested interest. For a long time past an evil has grown up in connection with employment agencies, and especially and particularly in agencies connected with the theatrical and entertainment profession. This Bill seeks, first of all, to restrict the amount of commission chargeable by and payable to employment agencies to 10 per cent. for 10 weeks. That was, roughly, the usual practice throughout the profession until recent years. But the Bill does not confine its operations to one particular profession. We have to pay regard to the fact that this is a rooted and most unsocial evil which has arisen and increased in the course of time. The Bill seeks to place all employment agencies under licence, and to prevent the evil known as commission splitting. Agents are known to have invested moneys in managements on the condition that they are given a monopoly of agency. In many cases it has arisen, and is well known to all of us who know anything about these matters, this kind of thing has grown to such an extent that it is almost impossible now to know whether the manager is the agent or the agent is the manager.

This agitation has enlisted the wholehearted support of nearly everybody except the Agents' Association. A circular has been issued to every Member of Parliament, received to-day, by persons who are evidently so proud of their position that they have not signed their names. There is the mere signature "The Agents' Association." There is no personal signature. Two-fifths of this circular is irrelevant, and the other three-fifths is mendacity. These people say: The promoters of the Bill are calling it 'The Chorus Girls' Charter'. That is what they call it; we have never called it that. They say: That is untrue; as the rules of the Agents' Association prohibit agents from charging any commission whatever either to chorus or small part artistes, unless the salary exceeds £3 per week. We have heard of a certain monarch of whom it is said that he was a saint when he was sick. It seems to me that this claim is a case of an exceedingly sick devil trying vainly to fit on a very unbecoming sort of halo. The. fact of the matter is, that this Bill aims at a great and grave social evil, a growing evil, and something which it is the duty of the legislature either to prevent or modify. The Bill is not presented with any idea of hindering honest and straight-forward agencies. It is aimed only at those who carry on the kind of work of which we complain, and, by carrying it on, inflict an intolerable social hardship upon the poorest of poor people, who have been helpless and inarticulate, because of their helplessness, and whose helplessness has been intensified by the struggle for existence. These people go to agents because the agents represent themselves as, and they are in too many cases, the only avenue by which such people can secure employment.

The Bill has the whole-hearted support of such bodies as the Stage Guild, the Film Artists' Association, the Actors' Association, the Theatrical Managers' Association and the West End Managers' Association, and it is backed in this House by members of all parties. While we heartily agree in suggesting that the object of the Bill ought to receive the sympathetic attention of the Government, we think that it is absolutely necessary the matter should be ventilated and that it cannot be better ventilated than by the introduction of a Bill into this House. Whatever the fate of the Bill may be I suppose no one here would care to prognosticate. We think that it is a Measure that should be given a chance of fair consideration by the House of Commons. It is in that spirit that I ask leave to introduce the Bill.




Does the hon. Member rise to oppose?


Yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Surely, it is within my right if I have an objection to the Bill to explain it to the House, and then the House can use its own discretion whether it thinks my judgment correct or not. While I agree with my hon. Friend in most matters, and while I agree with him in most parts of the Bill as far as the protection of chorus girls is concerned, I think he has a long way overstepped the mark by introducing a Clause to provide that 10 per cent. only be paid to agencies for 10 weeks. Have the promoters of the Bill taken into consideration the fact that an agent sometimes does an enormous amount of work in bringing forward artists, such as Harry Lauder? My hon. Friend laughs, but if he had read the life of Harry Lauder, he would have noticed in that life that Harry Lauder had to walk about London trying very hard to get a job at £3 a week, and could not get it, and that it was only through an agent spending an enormous amount of time that he finally got him a trial show at Gatti's. To say that an agent should be entitled to commission for 10 weeks only in connection with an engagement such as that procured for Harry Lauder, is surely a suggestion which the House will regard as ridiculous. The hon. Member states that the Bill has the whole-hearted support of the profession, but I would remind him that the most powerful organisation in the profession, and one which has done more to uplift the profession than any other body, namely, the Variety Artists' Federation, which is a trade union and has the interests of the artists at heart, is against the Bill and thinks that it ought never to have been introduced. For these reasons, I beg to oppose the Bill.

Question, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision with respect to certain agencies and registries and for purposes in connection therewith. put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Rose, Mrs. Philipson, Mr. Thomas Kennedy, Colonel Burton, Mr. Hayday, Miss Bondfield, Mr. Macpherson, Sir Clement Kinloch-Cook, Mr. Sexton, and Major Sir Archibald Sinclair.