§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
The point that I wish to raise upon this Motion for the Adjournment arises out of the Question which I put to the Home Secretary on Thursday last, which was:whether his attention has been called to the intervention of the cinema trade in the districts where a poll has been taken on the question of Sunday cinema opening; and whether he is prepared to extend the Municipal Elections Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act to cover polls held under the Sunday Entertainments Act?"—["OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1933; col. 337, Vol. 274.]We have just heard three Orders made for the opening of cinemas on Sunday, following a poll taken as provided in the Sunday Entertainments Act of last year. I want to ask the House to consider how those verdicts of the people were obtained in favour of the plea of the cinema trade that they should be able to open their places of entertainment on Sunday. I can show that they were obtained by a lavish expenditure of money only proportional to the immense financial gain that they would have if they could get a verdict of the people in their favour. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department replied to my question that his right hon. Friend was:only aware of one case in which it has been suggested that undue influence has been exercised by the free admission of persons to a cinema on Sunday when a poll was about to be held in pursuance of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932. My right hon. Friend is not satisfied that any legislation is necessary. In any event it would not be practicable to deal with this matter merely by applying the provisions of the Municipal Elections Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act which relate to the election of candidates." —OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1933; col. 338, Vol. 274.]Two points arise on that. Firstly, I am not satisfied with the answer that I received that the Home Secretary sees no reason for legislation being necessary, or secondly, with the answer that the Municipal Elections Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act, applying to municipal elections, would not be ipsissima verba applicable in this case, because it applies to municipal elections where there are 758 candidates on either side, and to what is to take place in regard to candidates' expenditure and so forth. There is a principle underlying that which is applicable, and I shall ask the House to consider whether it is reasonable, considering what we believed when we passed that Act last year to be the procedure, where objection was held in any area to a cinema being opened on Sunday, that the question should be put for decision before the electors of that area.
We imagined, this being a domestic question, that it was going to be settled quite simply by the people being asked whether they were in favour of it or not. Instead of that, we find an elaborate organisation, spending money on a lavish scale far beyond the scale that is allowed to candidates even in Parliamentary elections. The statement I made on Thursday was questioned by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), but I am absolutely correct on that point. I have the very highest direct evidence. On that point the Under-Secretary said:I cannot imagine how anyone could estimate such expenditure either by those who oppose the opening of Sunday cinemas or by those who are in favour of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1933; col. 338, Vol. 274.]So far as expenditure on the part of those who favour Sunday opening is concerned, I can give the House the best possible evidence, namely, that of the organisers of the campaign for opening, the actual people who made the expenditure and who, I might almost say, glory in the amount of the expenditure as showing the extraordinary efficiency of the trade in gaining further concessions and opportunities for making money.
I must first let the House know briefly what has been going on. I shall in almost every case quote the cinema trade papers. They cannot be questioned. They are not papers printed by opponents of Sunday opening or by individuals directed by the Lord's Day Observance Society or anything of that kind. The first quotation is from the "Daily Mail" of the 5th December. Speaking of the poll which took place at Walthamstow, it mentions armies of canvassers and fleets of cars, and says that 500 film trade cars were employed. The second relates to the poll at Croydon, in 759 regard to which the "Kinematograph Weekly" of the 1st December says that well over 300 cars were in commission; and it mentions this detail:A fleet of no fewer than 40 cars was detailed to wait outside the big local gasworks at 5 o'clock, to pick up workpeople as they came out.That is really almost a lesson to any hon. Member who may be standing in a hotly-contested election, as to how to use cars to the greatest possible advantage to get the decision that he wants.
My third quotation is from the "Daily Film Renter" of the 7th January, and relates to the poll at Tottenham. It speaks of myriad hoardings, hundreds of canvassers, and 12 committee rooms,from which an avalanche of propaganda is belched forth daily.That is not very pretty journalese, but still it is forcible in effect.
My fourth quotation is from the "Leyton Express." That is just a local paper, describing what took place at the Leyton and Leytonstone poll with regard to Sunday opening. I particularly commend this to the Under-Secretary, because, in his reply to me, he rather seemed to infer that it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black—that as much was spent by the opponents of Sunday opening as was spent by those who favoured Sunday opening.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and, 40 Members being present—
§ Sir B. PETO
I was saying that my fourth quotation is from the "Leyton Express" of the 21st January. It states that the efforts of the opponents were hardly noticed in the flood of organisation initiated by the champions of Sunday opening. It goes on to speak of 150 cars and 2,000 or 3,000 helpers, and then it says this:Leyton's convincing majority for Sunday cinema opening represents a personal triumph for Mr. E. P. Hall, manager of the Granada Cinema, Walthamstow, who, as honorary secretary of the Sunday Flms Association, was responsible for the campaign undertaken by the association.The last piece of evidence as to the magnitude of the expenditure to which I would call the attention of the House relates to the poll at Edmonton last Saturday week, where a competent 760 observer reported that one poster he saw was 50 feet in length by 10 feet in height, that another was 16 feet by 15 feet, and that he met 25 sandwich-men in a single row.
What does all this cost? In the "Kinematograph Weekly" of the 8th December, Mr. J. S. Richardson, who organised the Croydon campaign, gives the paper his own estimate, which, therefore, cannot be a partial or prejudiced estimate, but is the estimate of the actual organiser of the Croydon campaign. He says:I estimate that to conduct a successful campaign the financial outlay should not be less than 8d. a head of the electorate. In an area embracing 100,000 voters, this means spending £3,500. That may appear a lot of money, but a moment's reflection will convince anyone that the loss resulting from an adverse poll—the penalty, perhaps, of cutting the estimate by only 1d.—would be many times greater.That is what was said by the organiser of the Croydon propaganda for Sunday opening on behalf of the association of the film trade. He was asked his opinion in regard to this, which was the earliest of these different contests by holding a poll of the people.
From that the House will see two things. In the first place, a lavish expenditure was advocated—not a policy of cutting anything down—because the prize for which they are contending is so many times greater than the expenditure. I think that that shows conclusively that I was right in raising the question, and I think I am right in raising it now on the Adjournment, because it is a very serious matter. It shows that the cinema trade is, in effect, out to buy a verdict from the people by lavish expenditure such as, certainly, no one would be allowed to incur in any other public matter concerning a municipality or any similar area. It has defeated the purpose of Parliament as expressed in the Sunday Entertainments Act. That Measure provided for a poll of the people in accordance with the First Schedule of the Borough Funds Act, 1903, paragraphs 3 to 16 of which are incorporated in the Sunday Entertainments Act. It provides that a poll may be required by not less than 100 electors or one-twentieth of the number of electors, whichever may be the less, and that polls on any number of resolutions may be taken at the same time by means of the same voting paper. It also 761 provides that the mayor or chairman shall count or cause to be counted the votes of the poll, and shall as soon as practicable declare the result. I need not trouble the House with further quotations, except to mention that these provisions lay down the method of dealing with a purely local matter, such as the question of the promotion of a Bill before Parliament, or something of that kind; and the same procedure is enacted in the Sunday Entertainments Act. Instead of that, we find fleets of cars, hosts of canvassers, and enormous expenditure altogether out of proportion to what, would be allowed in any local election, and calculated, I think, to defeat the purpose of Parliament as enacted last year, which was that we expected to get a just expression of real local opinion.
The next reason I object to all this is that it undoubtedly introduces undue influence by a trade organisation which would be entirely contrary to the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Acts of 1883 and 1884. The 1884 Act extended it to municipal elections if there was a poll in which candidates were concerned. I object to it, too, because a trade organisation is spending up to four times the legal maximum of 2d. an elector allowed by the Local Expenses Act, 1919. Not only does it exceed what would be allowed to be spent in a Parliamentary election, but the estimate I have given the House, the estimate of the organiser of the Croydon victory, was an expenditure of 8d. per elector, which is exactly four times what is allowed to a candidate at a municipal election. I have a much stronger ground of objection even than that. It defeats the purpose of Parliament when Parliament enacted Clause 34 of the Representation of the People Act, 1918. Prior to that, trade organisations, particularly the licensed trade, had been in the habit of spending a great deal of money in support of a candidate whom they believed would support them by putting up gratis posters, distributing literature and so forth.
It was felt by the Speaker's Conference, which I remember, that this interference by trade organisations in a Parliamentary election was wrong. As far as I am concerned, I have never had any reason to complain of the action the licensed trade took, because they were always on my side. Probably my hon. Friend below me 762 would not always have been so pleased of their intervention in any election in which he was concerned. That, however, is beside the matter. Parliament deliberately said that trade organisations should not interfere with elections. If that is true of elections, why, when you want to get the honest opinion of the people as to whether they want to preserve their Sundays or whether they want cinematograph entertainments on a Sunday afternoon, should you allow any trade organisation to interfere, especially when it is a party to the question and stands to benefit enormously if the decision goes one way?
This is contrary to the whole spirit of the legislation we passed last year. It is making a farce of this remission to the people for their decision of a question that concerns them. It enables an immensely powerful and enormously wealthy organisation to spend unlimited money. There is no limit to the amount they can spend. They can use as many cars as they like, they can convey house wives going out shopping to the poll and then deliver them to any place they want to go to, as has been done in one case. That sort of thing would not be allowed at an election, but it is all right when you are demanding a decision from the people on this question. I was therefore not satisfied with the answer I received that the Home Secretary did not think there was any need for considering legislation. I was not satisfied to be told what I knew perfectly well before, that the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act as it stands could not possibly be applied to these cases. That may be quite true, but it is no reason whatever why, now that we see how these things are being conducted, we should not fill up this obvious gap in the Act of last year, which was passed in order—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member cannot discuss on this Motion matters that require legislation.
§ Sir B. PETO
I may be out of order in asking for legislation, but I am quite sure that there are other means that the Home Secretary can devise to see that what was the intention of Parliament when it passed that Act last year should not be ridden over rough-shod at these elections.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander BOWER
I had not intended to intervene to-night, but I do so as the champion of the common people of this country who wish to spend their Sunday afternoons and evenings as they choose. I belong to a church, as far as I know the only church in this country, which says we have got to go to church on Sunday and thereafter within reasonable limits we do what we like. I fail to see why the hon. Member who has spoken or any other hon. Member of this House should presume to dictate to the people of this country how they should spend their Sundays. I cannot refrain from asking why it is that, although attention has been drawn to what might be described as under influence on one side, no attention has been drawn to the influence equally undue which has been exercised by gentlemen speaking from pulpits and other places six feet above contradiction. There has been just as much interference of that sort, and I cannot help thinking that of the two forms of interference the one I have just mentioned is the worse. Those hon. Members who hold these evangelical points of view can maintain if they like that it is their duty to dictate to the remainder of us, but this is a free country and I cannot believe for one moment that the citizens of this country are to be dictated to in matters of conscience in this way by people who have no more right to decide than they themselves.
Surely this matter can be left to the decision of the individual. After all, these people work all the week and Sunday is their one day of leisure. Surely we have had enough indication in the polls which have taken place all over the country that the people of this country as a whole do not desire interference in this matter from any outside body or from the Members of this House. Our liberties are enough trampled upon in these days without interference of this sort. I would conclude by saying that I, at any rate, felt obliged to stand up here to-night and speak for these tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people who are not articulate but who at any rate know what they want and are prepared, if necessary, to fight for it.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I want to reply, first of all, to the hon. and gallant 764 Member who has just spoken on the liberty of the individual. I can assure him that those who speak as the representatives of the employés of the cinema industry will not be influenced in the least by what he has just said. As a matter of fact, if the view about liberty put forward by the hon. and gallant Member held good, all the shops in this country would always be open until midnight and on Sundays, too. The shop assistants and the trade unions representing them do not agree that opportunity should be given to people to come in at midnight to do their shopping when they can very well do it before six in the afternoon. So much for liberty. Consequently that point is not a difficult one to determine.
I am very pleased indeed that the hon. Baronet has raised this issue of corrupt practices, but I am not going to elaborate upon it. I wish to raise with the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary one or two other points in connection with the administration of the same Act. When I raise the first point I hope to expand what has already transpired in this House some time ago. I was pleased beyond measure to find then practically that every Member of the House whether he agreed with Sunday opening or not, was unwilling—
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I would point out to the House that the hon. Member has given me no notice of any point he is going to raise. All that I know was going to be raised was the point of the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). If the hon. Member intends to raise any point covered by the Sunday Cinematograph Act he must realise that I may not be able to answer him.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I do not know exactly how many questions we can raise this evening. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is going to deal with the administration of the Sunday Entertainments Act, but if he is not in a position to give an adequate reply to my questions I shall not complain in the least. My main point in rising is not so much to get the hon. Gentleman to reply to the issues I raise but to expose what is happening in connection with the administration of this Act of Parliament 765 I will make this observation right away to those who are promoting Orders under this Act, that as far as I am concerned I shall take every opportunity to oppose every Order which comes before this House unless I am satisfied that the labour conditions in the cinema industry in the area covered by the Order are carried out according to law.
I come therefore to the one point which has troubled me for some time past. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Lieut.-Commander Bower) apparently wants liberty for the cinema proprietor to do what he likes. The hon. Gentleman opposite knows all about this point I am sure. It is the Birmingham case. I want to expose it to-night if I may. The law lays it down definitely in the Act already quoted that no employé in the cinema industry shall be engaged on Sunday as well as the six previous days. A few days ago I raised with the hon. Gentleman the point about Birmingham where the cinema industry is allowed to open on Sunday. I was told authoritatively—and it is not disputed by the Home Office—that the employers of the cinema industry there in some cases engaged their employés on Sunday although they employed them also on the previous six days. When they were met with the challenge that they were breaking the law, their answer was that as the employés were working for nothing on Sundays, they were not employed within the meaning of the common law of the land.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I do not want to have to interrupt the hon. Member. I am sure that he does not want to mislead the House grossly. He raised the point by question and answer, and it was explained to him that the particular case was a concert on Hospital Sunday when all the services in the cinema, whether by the employers or employés were given free and the whole of the takings were given to the charities of the town. I think that that explanation was given to the House. It is in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I do not think that it is quite fair of the hon. Gentleman, knowing the real facts, to put it to the House in the manner he has done.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with it in that fashion either. He has been rather biased on this Act from the begining, if he does not mind my saying so. I had complaints 766 from eight employés of one cinema in Birmingham in this way: Would any engine-driver, tramway driver, miner, engineer or any other workman care to work on Sunday in the factory, pit or elsewhere even for charity? I know of no workman who would be willing to give his seventh day in the pit or the engineering shop for charity. He might, of course, do something else for the cause. That is a very strong point. These men have no alternative except to agree to the suggestion of the employer to give a Sunday even for the sake of charity. If they objected they might be dismissed from service. The employer has always that weapon. Let me take the hon. Member a step further since his reply on that issue. What has happened in Birmingham is, I am afraid, possible in other cases. I am not going to emphasise the Birmingham case so much as to expose the tendencies which are possible under this Act. If I can do anything at all to stop those tendencies, I must do so by exposing them in the House of Commons. The point raised in Birmingham since then is that it has been suggested that as they cannot employ their own employés on the seventh day they might get round the law another way. The licensing magistrates very rightly told them what the law is, and I pay tribute to the Home Office in this matter. I think it has given an indication that that could not be done. I am not complaining about the Department of the hon. Gentleman at all. The suggestion that I now object to was made, according to the cinema Press, that while employers might not employ their own employés on the seventh day in Birmingham, according to the injunction of the magistrates, they could, however, go to the outside towns where the Act is not adopted and bring in employés from those towns to work on Sundays in Birmingham when in fact they had already worked for six days a week in those cinemas outside the city. I am not saying that the suggestion was adopted. I cannot tell.
§ Mr. DAVIES
No, it was made, I believe, by one or two licensing magistrates. However strongly this House felt in favour of opening cinemas on Sundays, we were ail agreed on both sides that nothing should be done to violate the six days' labour principle in the cinema industry. That fact was understood by all. May I put another point to the hon. Gentleman? I am sorry that I have not given him notice of this point either. I should like him to look into the complaints with regard to the special fund which is being established under this Act of Parliament. There was a statement made on the authority of the Government in another place in July, 1932, on the same lines as that which has been made by the hon. Gentleman on more than one occasion. Everybody interested in the Bill when it was passing through Committee upstairs did not understand that a committee was to be appointed by the Privy Council to administer the fund which was to be set up under the Measure. I may have been wrong in my assumption on that occasion, but I have always understood that there was to be no special committee appointed. All that was understood was that a fund was to be established. We never got as far, in my recollection, as knowing exactly who was to administer the fund. Now I am told that a committee has already been appointed, and the complaint is made that the committee in the main is representative only of the trade. It was thought that if any committee was to be set up to administer the special fund, at any rate, the organisations representing the cultural side of films should be represented.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Why does the hon. Member press me to give the source of information on points about which I speak?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I thought that if I could check the information I could see whether the authority was as reliable as the other.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The Young Men's Christian Association, as far as I know, is critical of the representation of this proposed council. In conclusion, I hope that it is in the very best spirit that the hon. Gentleman and myself disagree about the main purpose of the Act. There never was any disagreement at all upon the principle—and that is the most important point to-night—of the six days week. I am not complaining in the least about the action of the Home Office in this respect, but I shall be very happy indeed if they will keep their eyes on the situation so that the serious departure I have mentioned may not develop in other parts of the country.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I apologise to the House for replying immediately to the statements made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), but I think it is only right in view of some of the things that he has said, that hon. Members who perhaps may have to leave the House before a reply might otherwise be given should not go away in the belief that there is any substance in any of the accusations that he has made. The hon. Member and I have differed a great deal on this subject but hitherto we have always differed in the most friendly spirit. I do think, however, that to-night he has not been quite fair to those who take a different view from himself on this matter. I have already dealt with the question as to opening in Birmingham. The hon. Member raised it in the House some months ago. He obtained at the time considerable sympathy, until the full facts were made available to the House. I think everybody then agreed that the special circumstances of the case were such that, quite clearly, they did not come within the purview of the discussions we have had on Sunday labour, and the agreements to which we had come. When the hon. Member talks about people who are forced by their employers to go to work on a Sunday for nothing, for charity, when the employers themselves are giving everything, does anyone really think that an employer would dispense with the services of a useful employé, because he refused to come out to 769 work on a Sunday for the benefit, not of the employer, who gets nothing out of it, but of charity?
With regard to the other point which the hon. Member raised as to Birmingham, I think he might have waited. It is only three days ago since he asked me a question in the House. I told him then that the Home Office had no knowledge of the matter, but that I was making inquiries and would let him know as soon as I heard. He knew, therefore, when he raised the point this evening that had I been in a position to give him any further information I should already have done so. There could be no object in raising the point to-night, knowing that he could not get an answer and that I was pressing on the matter of inquiry with the utmost speed, but to raise prejudice in the minds of the House against the operation of the Sunday Cinemas Act. As to the last point in regard to a committee to administer the fund, I do not know whether the committee is to assist the Privy Council or to take the place of the Privy Council, in defiance of the Act of Parliament, but he makes the accusation quite gaily because he says that the Young Men's Christian Association are not satisfied. I can assure him that my authority on this question is even greater than that of the Young Men's Christian Association, that the fund is to be administered by the Privy Council in accordance with the terms of the Act of Parliament which we have passed, and that no such committee to administer the fund has been set up or is contemplated.
I should like now to turn to the main subject of the Debate. I make no complaint. The hon. Baronet was perfectly right in bringing this subject to the attention of the House, but it is unfortunate that he has chosen to do it in this particular way because, as hon. Members know, we cannot to-night discuss anything that needs legislation on this subject. It is clear from the hon. Baronet's own question that if he is right in his contention it can only be dealt with by legislation, and I am precluded to-night therefore from what is really one of the most important branches of this discussion, namely, to discuss how it is possible to extend legislation of the kind mentioned by the hon. Baronet to cases such as this, where there is no candidate who can be held responsible for expenditure on one- 770 side or the other. If hon. Members will think over the matter for themselves they will see the extreme difficulty of legislation of any kind. There is great danger that you might fall between two stools. You might fail to prevent lavish expenditure or you might have to draw your legislation so tightly that the public are not able to get an exposition of the two sides of the case to which they are entitled. No one would say that if you pass an Act of Parliament which prevented any expenditure of any kind by either side, which prevented the hiring of a hall for a meeting, the issuing of a pamphlet, or the issuing of advertisements of any kind, that in these circumstances the electors would really come to a valuable decision on the matter. If you are to get a clear decision on a subject of this kind you must have a chance of putting both sides of the question before the electors. On behalf of the Home Secretary I promise that we will carefully watch the situation as it arises, having in view the very manifold and manifest difficulties of any legislation on the subject.
Passing from the more theoretical consideration and coming down to the practical one, affecting the particular case which the hon. Baronet has in mind, perhaps the worst example is the case of Croydon. I would ask the House whether, after all they have heard, they really think that the example of Croydon is one that makes it necessary for the Government immediately to pledge themselves to legislation of a most dangerous kind. It seems to me that in Croydon of the two sides it was a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. It seems to me to balance out almost exactly. I see from the "Times" of the 30th November that:The Bishop of Croydon himself voted early, in favour of Sunday opening. Lord Rochester the Paymaster-General, drove a car in the opposing interest.I do not know whether a Bishop counts above or below the Paymaster-General, but I think they are probably more or less on a par.Most of the printed exhortations to 'Vote for Sunday cinemas 'were on motor cars—of which there were said to be 800 in use by the two parties—most of the posters offering contrary counsel were displayed in front of churches…. The forces rallied by the opponents of Sunday opening included men and women up to the age of 80771—veterans who often did not trouble to hide their views. The cinema interests complain that young people on whose support they could have counted were largely excluded by the terms of the municipal franchise from recording theirs.Here is a complaint for which the "Times" offers no remedy and for which I am afraid the House of Commons cannot offer one. The "Times report says:The cinemas had, on the other hand, an unfair advantage in the numerous pretty girls who had come from Elstree to take part in the campaign for them. Loud speaker vans, and open-air cinema vans, crocodiles of sandwich-men and hoardings were all impressed into service by one side or the other.Apart from all this talk on one side or the other, apart from the sort of quotation that the hon. Baronet has read from the trade papers, which I should be inclined to discount a little on the ground that they were written by people who had been organising these shows and who, no doubt, were desiring to show the trade what effective organisers they were, in the hope that they would be called upon to organise others in the future—when all that is put on one side, the hon. Baronet's real complaint is that this propaganda is making the decision of Parliament nugatory. I would point out that at Croydon 34,000 people voted for the opening of cinemas on Sunday and 24,000 people voted against. Does the House really think that the 800 motor cars and the expenditure even if it was so lavish on posters, posters even as gargantuan as those referred to, really brought about a result which was not in accordance with the desire of the people in the district? I am sure that the hon. Baronet does not desire to be a bad loser. I have made no secret of the fact that I am in favour of Sunday cinemas, but I do not go about talking of the undue influence of the churches in Oldham, where Sunday cinemas have been rejected, or in Epping where Sunday cinemas have been objected to. Surely the hon. Baronet would not raise a question of this kind unless he thought that the 10,000 majority in Croydon was due entirely to the fact that posters and motor cars were used.
§ Sir B. PETO
Is the Under-Secretary aware that at most of these places only 772 23 per cent., the maximum is 25 per cent., of the electorate voted, and, therefore, any argument must be conditioned by that fact? It is perfectly possible for this gigantic organisation to induce people to vote who would not otherwise have voted.
§ Mr. STANLEY
As a matter of fact, at Croydon there was a vote of well over 50 per cent. of the electorate.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Perhaps the hon. Baronet will correct my figures as we go along. There are 116,000 electors on the roll and 59,000 voted. He will see that that is just over 50 per cent.
§ Sir B. PETO
At Walthamstow, Epping and Tottenham the poll has been only 23 per cent. up to 25 per cent.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Even if it is only 20 per cent., there is not much in the argument. In Croydon the percentage was 50. It is larger than any figure recorded in any local government election in Croydon. Do hon. Members think that a vote of 59,000 really represents the views of Croydon, or do they think that over 10,000 were induced to vote for something to which they are really opposed because of the use of motor cars, posters and leaflets? I promise the House, on behalf of the Home Secretary, that we shall watch the situation carefully, but until we are convinced that what the hon. Baronet says is true, that the results of the elections do not truly represent the will of the people, until then—and I am sure the House will agree—difficult, dangerous and complicated legislation must be postponed
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I did not know that this question was to be raised until the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) rose, and I only intervene because of what has been said in the course of the Debate. I am astonished by some of the arguments brought forward. We have heard of the intervention of the Churches and of those who feel keenly on the subject. Surely, there is all the difference in the world between the leaders of the Churches and others taking part in a controversy and a trade which is inspired simply by a desire for finan- 773 cial gain. Let the preacher preach as fervently as he desires, and the advocate speak with all the zeal he can on public questions, they are making their contribution to public opinion, but the other opinion is quite different. It is a contribution which has behind it the hunger of vested interests. If the argument of the Under-Secretary is pursued to its logical conclusion, you might just as well sweep away all restrictions on our system of elections. We might just as well take away the restrictions upon all activities at elections and allow a free choice of the people.
The reason we have built up all these restrictions on activities at the time of elections is because of the power of vested interests; otherwise, we might have a House of Commons constituted not by the will of the people but as the result of pressure brought to bear by arguments which are not concerned with public interests but with the advantage of vested interests. Very great care has been taken, and if that line is overstepped you have all the procedure of the Petition and all the elaborate machinery of the law brought to bear. Deviation, only by a hair's breadth, may make a difference between a man being elected a Member of this House or being rejected. If that is the Constitution of this House, have we not something else at stake? I remember well the remarkable contribution to the discussion made by the Under-Secretary himself. No one did more than he did at that time to lift that Debate into the higher level of controversy. But I am disappointed with him to-night. He says that they will watch this with careful interest at the Home Office. He is evidently not concerned, to judge by his speech, with what has happened.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am sure that the hon. Member wishes to do me justice. I did explain the difficulty under which I was labouring to-night. We were not allowed to discuss legislation, and I was therefore unable to point out to the House the very great and almost insuperable difficulty which lies in the path of legislation in this matter.
§ Mr. FOOT
I yield to no one in my desire to do justice to the hon. Gentleman in this matter. No one has appreciated more than I have the part he played in it, although I was on the other side. But 774 I listened with great care to him to-night, and from his first words to his last he gave me no evidence of concern, nor did the hon. Baronet behind him, and the same must have been felt by many hon. Members of this House. As a matter of fact, I appealed to those who were supporters of this Measure, and I opposed it in the first instance on the ground that it laid the Sunday open to exploitation. I did not want to interfere with the liberty of people to decide how they would use their Sundays, but I thought that you would lay the Sunday open to exploitation, and that, as soon as you gave the vested interests a chance, they would look round on the untouched areas. Just as a great general looked upon London and said: "What a city to sack!" so these vested interests looked round on the Sunday and said: "What a day to exploit!" It was this exploitation of Sunday that gave us such grave concern. What is happening justifies us in the action we took at that time. I cannot suggest what legislation ought to be introduced; that is not within my right; but I believe that the obligation rests upon the Home Office, and upon those who supported this Measure at that time, to see that the arguments upon which they rested their case shall be maintained by what is happening in the country.
We were told at that time that we could not object to a fair appeal to the public. At present we have not a fair appeal; the scales are not being held evenly. We were told just now—I was astonished to hear the Under-Secretary say—that there was "six of one and half-a-dozen of the other." Does he not know the difference between the defence of a public interest and an attack by a private interest? The private interest is always concentrated. It is always able to launch its attack on a given point. The public interest is always diffused, and whenever there is a fight between a particular and a public interest the particular interest has the advantage. There is all the difference in the world between, on the one hand, making a public appeal in a little township, getting together several people with no concern in the public interest and asking them to make their contribution towards building up an election fund, and on the other hand being able to call upon the concentrated power of a vested trade, that can bring all its 775 apparatus on to the spot within seven days or less and can at once bring to bear resources that are not available to the other side. It is not equal for both sides at the present time. There is not a chance for an equal appeal. The Government are there to see that there is, first of all, a fair chance for the public interest when a private interest is so eager and so concerned.
I should like to support what has been said by the hon. Baronet here to-day. He put his case with great cogency, and did the right thing in quoting from the trade papers themselves. I thought that the Under-Secretary was going beyond his brief in encroaching upon that ground. What better evidence could the hon. Baronet give than the evidence taken from the papers themselves? He brings that evidence to show what pressure is being brought to bear; a pressure that is deflecting public opinion; a pressure that strikes at everything that has built up the electoral law in this country during generations. I ask the Under-Secretary, as representing the Government, to look upon this subject as being one with which we are greatly concerned. The opponents of the Measure are concerned about it, and the supporters of the Measure are concerned. They made their appeal to this House, in what was a Debate of very great interest throughout the country, upon this ground: "Let the people decide for themselves." The hon. Gentleman must be satisfied that that procedure is now being set upon a fair basis. With the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman, let him think of what steps can be taken to give the House of Commons what was promised in the course of that Debate.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I am at a loss to understand the grounds on which the hon. Baronet based his speech. As far as my personal knowledge goes, he was inaccurate at least in some of his points. The evidence he produced was from the "Daily Mail." That is hardly a good source of information on any subject, and it is certainly not a good source of information on this subject. I am a member of the association in the town in which I live, and I know that an accurate record was made of every car that came into the division. The actual numbers 776 reported in were not 500 but 251; that is a very big difference. If the figures quoted by the hon. Baronet in this matter are as inaccurate as those quoted by him in regard to the other, I am afraid that his case is not a very good one. Equally, his percentages of the numbers who recorded their votes are inaccurate. In the case of Walthamstow, one of the towns mentioned, the figures for those who actually voted in the election, at least on the Sunday Cinema Bill, was something like 33 and a decimal per cent. I do not think that there has ever been, either in Walthamstow or in any local election, so high a percentage of voters as there was on the Sunday opening. There again, the hon. Baronet's information, to put it mildly, was very far from being accurate.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last talked about the scales being unequally balanced against those who were in opposition to Sunday opening. That may be so, and is possibly and probably the truth, but it is not their fault that the scales were unequally balanced. They made just as big an effort to get motorcars and other sources of support against Sunday opening as I and others who believe in Sunday opening made to get motor-cars and other means of support for Sunday opening. The only difference between the two sides is that on that occasion I happened to be on the winning side and the hon. Baronet and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) on the losing side. We were more successful in getting means of support than they were. But is not there a good deal of hypocrisy on the part of them both in this matter? Do not both of them in their ordinary elections use every motorcar they can get, and is it not true that in many constituencies—probably in the two represented by both hon. Gentlemen—they use any motor-cars put at their disposal?
§ Mr. McENTEE
I thought that was the remark. Whether it is or is not, the particular division represented by the hon. Baronet is of little consequence, but the fact remains that it is a common thing for six, seven, eight and nine motor-cars to be used in some by-elections in the interests of the party to 777 which both hon. Gentleman apparently belong. We do not squeal in those cases. I have gone to a General Election myself with one motor-car, and that broke down half-way through the first day I had it, and the rest of the election I had to do without it. My opponent probably had 80 or 90 motor-cars, and I did not squeal, although I lost!
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Nobody has objected to the use of motor-cars, that I know of. Certainly I have not. But there is, surely, a difference between a fleet of motor-cars used by a vested interest and by a group of people who are only concerned to defend the public interest.
§ Mr. McENTEE
May I say, in reply, that both hon. Gentlemen have defended vested interests all their lives, and it is the vested interests that supplied the motor-cars that they used during the General Election?
§ Mr. McENTEE
But why use the argument at all? The hon. Gentleman in his interjection said that nobody had mentioned it. I am reminding him that 500 were mentioned in the case of Waltham-stow, and it is only because it was mentioned that I am making this reply to the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). Personally, I do not want to see undue influence used in this matter, but in no election in which I have ever taken part—and I have contested 24 altogether—has undue influence not been used. In many cases it has been used against me, and in some of those cases with considerable success.
After all, however, what is undue influence in regard to Sunday opening? Is it not undue influence for a pretty girl —as the Under-Secretary says—to come over from some of the cinemas or some place connected with cinemas and try to 778 influence the voters? Is it not undue influence when certain clergymen—a great number of them in my constituency, by the way—speak Sunday after Sunday for two or three Sundays before the election against Sunday opening? Is that not undue influence? Undue influence seems only to exist on one side. The hon. Baronet is not quite a good sport. Neither he nor the hon. Gentleman is a good sport; they are being badly beaten, and because they are being badly beaten they are squealing.
With regard to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and others, if I found there was any truth in the statement they made I should certainly be with them in regard to the labour conditions, as I think would most Members of this House who had anything to do with the passing of the Sunday Cinemas Act. It was the definite and, I believe, the unanimous intention of the House, that Sunday opening should not in any way increase beyond six the number of days on which people engaged in the cinema industry were to be employed. Frankly I think I am as much interested in conditions of labour as any Member of the House, and that I have given as much voluntary service as any Member to making those conditions decent. but I have not seen any real evidence of a desire—I do not say there will not be— to extend the hours of labour beyond the six days that the Act contemplated. I hope that those who have been beaten in nearly every contest that has taken place in the constituencies, particularly in and around London, on the question of Sunday opening, will be better "sports" and take their beatings in a better way in future.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Sixteen Minutes after Ten o'Clock.