HC Deb 14 February 1933 vol 274 cc967-76

Resolved, That the Order made by the Secretary of State under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, for extending Section one of that Act to the urban district of Tottenham, which was presented on the 7th day of February, 1933, be approved."—[Mr Stanley.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order made by the Secretary of State under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, for extending Section one of that Act to the urban district of Sid cup, which was presented on the 7th day of February, 1933, be approved."—[Mr. Stanley.]

11.3 p.m.


After a Debate on international affairs it may seem rather small to come down to the urban district council of Sid cup, but I can assure the House that there is a strong feeling against this Order in Sid cup. Some of the points made in the Debate which took place last night on the Adjournment apply with great force to Sid cup; but I will not dwell upon that. It is a case where a general principle laid down by this House to apply to the whole of the country is working harshly in one particular locality. Sid cup is a peculiar and exceptional case. The Act under which these Orders are made was intended to allow local inhabitants to express their opinion as to whether they wished to have Sunday opening of cinemas or not. I am bound, in duty to a large number of my constituents who have made representations to me, to put the position before the House. We have tried, but the time has been very short. My constituents have sent a memorial to me and also sent a deputation to the Home Secretary, but he did not see fit to receive the deputation. I do not complain of that, but as he did not see the deputation only one course is open to me, and that is to raise the matter when the Order is brought before the House. Sid cup I know very well, I was born there. It is the biggest place in my constituency.

I understand that the duty of the Home Office is this: There are certain regulations laid down for a locality to decide for itself whether or not it wishes to have Sunday opening of cinemas, and the only duty of the Home Office is to see that those regulations are properly carried out. They then put a Motion on the Paper, and it is for the House to decide whether the Order shall be carried or not. I have made careful inquiries from the Government and I am given to understand that this is not considered a first-class issue, and that if this Motion is not carried tonight the Government win not resign. So I ask the House as friends to listen to me while I explain the peculiar circumstances of this case.


You are preventing a more important matter from being raised. This is the third time we have been stopped.


This is the first and the only time I have had an opportunity of raising the matter, and I intend to proceed and to put my case.


It is not fair.


I ask the House to listen to the peculiar circumstances and not to pass this Order tonight.


You did not play cricket when you went to school.


I ask the House to imagine that the center of the House is High Street, Sid cup. There is a very curious position in that town. Hazlehurst is the oldest place in the district and Sid cup has grown up since. It is a curious anomaly that the dividing line between the local districts of Chislehurst and Sid cup runs down the middle of High Street, Sid cup. The south side is in Chislehurst and the north side in Sid cup, though anyone going down the High Street would say it was all one small town. The people who live on the south side are not municipal electors in the Sid cup area, and therefore they were not able to express an opinion as to whether there should be Sunday opening or not. I am informed on first-rate authority that people on the south side of the High Street are just as keenly interested in the question of Sunday opening as those on the north side, and that three-quarters of them, if they had the power to vote, would vote against Sunday opening of cinemas.

Another peculiar circumstance is this: For the last two years there has been inquiry conducted through the Ministry of Health whereby the Kent County Council are to have powers to rearrange the local boundaries of that particular district. There will be rural authorities turned into urban authorities, amalgamations will take place between the various areas of the existing local authorities, and new areas will be formed. It is for this reason that I ask that the Order shall not be passed tonight, because quite soon the Kent County Council scheme for the rearrangement of areas will go through and then will be the time when the people who live in the district and who are affected by the Sunday opening will have the right, which they have not now, to vote on this question. To show how extraordinary is the position— [Interruption.]—I would remind hon. Members opposite that if they had some special local topic they wanted to bring forward—


We have a far bigger thing.


They would take the opportunity of doing it, and I intend to exercise my right. I do not mind being interrupted by a back bench Member, but I think it is hardly fair to be interrupted by people who call themselves front bench Members. This area is so much one that it is all one postal area, and the parish church of Sid cup is in reality in the parish of Chisleburst. This district, which has been asking to express its opinion as to Sunday opening, is not able to do so through the force of circumstances. I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to consent to withdraw this Order until the rearrangement of the boundaries has been made, or I must ask the House to support me in this plea for the rejection of the Motion if it is not withdrawn.

11.13 p.m.


I intervene only to explain to the House what the position of the Government is in regard to these Orders. The duty is put on the Home Secretary, wherever certain formalities are complied with in an area, and an Order is submitted to the Home Secretary for approval, to submit that Order to the House. The only responsibility he incurs in doing that is that he has satisfied himself that the formalities of the Act have been carried out. It is for the House to decide whether it will approve or not of the Order. When the hon. Member spoke of the Home Office refusing to receive a deputation he might have explained that we refused because we had no power in the matter, and it would have been waste of time. When he suggests that we should withhold this Order, we have no power to do that either. So far the House has acted on the principle, and I think the right one, that they would only interfere with the declared wishes of the majority of the population in any area on very special grounds. I have no doubt that, in this case, the House will consider whether there is enough in the grounds which my hon. Friend has submitted, to make them reverse the general attitude adopted towards these Orders of accepting the majority decision of the inhabitants of the area as a good and sufficient reason for allowing the Order to pass.

11.16 p.m.


It is true, as the Under-Secretary has said, that the matter is in the hands of the House and not of his Department. Section 1 (5) of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, provides that the opening of cinemas on Sunday shall also extend to any borough or county district to which it may be extended by an Order laid before Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the Schedule to this Act and approved by a Resolution passed by each House of Parliament. These Orders have to be placed on the Table of the House and brought before the House for approval. This is the proper and only occasion on which the House can express any opinion upon such an Order, and I think it is monstrous when, under the Rules of the House, we have an opportunity of this kind, hon. Members should object to any hon. Member bringing forward a case which peculiarly concerns the district which he represents. We debated last night the influence exercised by the trade in these polls. In this particular case it was by the narrowest possible margin that the district of Sid cup decided in favor of Sunday opening. It was by a majority of 154. There is a perfectly arbitrary division between Lower Chislehurst and Sid cup. The cinema theatre in question is actually in this High Street, and so is the church which has been referred to. The people on one side of the street are, generally speaking, opposed to Sunday opening; the people on the other side of the street, by a majority of 154— secured by importing voters from districts which are more nearly connected with Woolwich than with either Chislehurst or Sidcup—decided in favor of Sunday opening.

In these circumstances, conditions have arisen which justify this procedure of asking the House to approve in each individual case, and of giving Members the opportunity of bringing before the House the peculiar circumstances of a case. I cannot imagine a case in which there is more justification for postponing action on the part of the House of Commons than the present case. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Smithers) has pointed out that if the scheme now before the Ministry of Health for the amalgamation of these districts is to be enforced, then the people who have just as great an interest in the question of Sunday opening as those who live on the opposite side of the street, will have a voice in the matter. They have no voice at present. If the matter is postponed for a few weeks then the people affected by the opening of the cinema will be able to decide the matter. That was the purpose of the Act passed last year—that the people in the district affected should have the right of saying whether they wanted Sunday opening or not. In this case only the people on one side of the street in which the cinema is situated have had the opportunity of voting and it is monstrous if those on the other side of the street are to have no say in the matter. I appreciate the position of the Under-Secretary who has proceeded with perfect propriety, as he always does, in the exercise of his office. He is only instructed under the Act to place an Order before the House for the decision of the House as to whether the Order is to be confirmed or not.

I ask the House to say that under the peculiar circumstances of the case, when only the people living in a part of the area affected have had a chance of voting at all, it is not right to pass this Order to-night. I ask whether the Under-Secretary will not withdraw the Order and allow a reasonable delay so that Members may get to know the facts of the case. I knew nothing about this until one o'clock today. It is forced upon us because, in the exercise of his duty, the Under-Secretary of State must put these Orders on the Paper, but now that the matter has been raised surely he will give the House time for reasonable consideration of it. On all the evidence brought before the House the Order should not be confirmed—


On a point of Order. Is it not a fact that this matter can only be postponed till tomorrow, that if the hon. Member's request is acceded to postponement cannot be for an indefinite period, that it must be brought up again day after day, and therefore that the only course to pursue is to vote "Aye" or "No" to-night?


I do not think that is so at all. It could be postponed till any time within the period during which the Order has to lie on the Table.


As I say, the circum-stances are peculiar. They are precisely the circumstances which justify the procedure under the Act which gives the House the right to decide in these matters, and as the House has had no opportunity generally of knowing anything about it until the matter was raised today, at least, even if the hon. Member's point was correct, there would be ample justification for postponing the matter till to-morrow, when the House might be able to decide rightly on this matter. Tonight the House cannot so decide, but in accordance with your Ruling, the matter can be postponed so long as we are within the period of days during which the Order has to lie on the Table of the House.

11.24 p.m.


I wish to support what has fallen from my hon. Friend. It is clear from what has been said by the Under-Secretary of State that in this matter the Government are not intervening of their own volition, but merely mechanically in pursuance of their duty under the Act, and that this is a matter for the House itself to decide. As I understand the scheme of the Act, it was that, as far as possible, the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants, once ascertained, should be respected by this House, and that only in exceptional circumstances should this House intervene to exercise the safeguard of blocking one of these Motions. From what has been said it is clear that we have here both the circumstances fulfilled in which the House should exercise that safeguard. In the first place we have not ascertained the wishes of the majority of the people resident in the area. Owing to the reorganisation of the local government area in question, it is clear that when the reorganisation is completed you will have a new area bound by a decision of the inhabitants of only a part of it, and that therefore we have not ascertained what the people in the area want.

In these circumstances, I submit that it is proper for the House to intervene and wait until the wishes of the real majority who are affected by this Order can be ascertained. In the second place, I would say that this is one of those cases in which the majority given by only a part of the area affected is so narrow as to justify the House in holding the matter up until it can be settled. The main point to bear in mind in this matter is that the wishes of the majority have not been ascertained, and that a great number of people are averse to this in the new area which will soon be joined to Sid cup. Until that reorganisation is complete it will be impossible for the House to be satisfied that the condition precedent for the authorisation of this Order is satisfied. I am sure that none of us who hold certain views in these matters would wish lightly to intervene in these Orders. We believe that when the people of the locality have had an opportunity of expressing their views, this House should not readily interfere with that decision, and should not lightly stop these Orders as they are going through, but in view of what has been said by my hon. Friends it is clear that this is one of those exceptional cases where the House should divide against the Order and thus discharge a duty placed on it when the Act was passed last year. In so doing the House would by no means be going against any decision of the Government, because the Government are merely bringing this forward as in duty bound and as laid down by law, but we should be doing our duty to the inhabitants if we negative the Motion and so allowed the matter to be further considered by the new area.

11.27 p.m.


I want to respond at once to the appeal that was made to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Barn staple (Sir B. Peto), who asked whether it was possible to withhold or postpone this Order for a period. When I spoke originally, I said that the Government could not do that. What I meant was that we had no power to hold the Order over pending a reorganisation which may take place in a few weeks or a few months. That is different from withholding it to suit the convenience of the House of Commons, and, if it is the general view of the House that the Order should be further considered, I am prepared to move the adjournment of the Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Vote!"] I am put in a difficult position when, the hon. Member for Barn staple having been loudly applauded by the House, I rise to accede to what seems to be the general sense of the House. I find that Members are anxious to vote. I am in the hands of the House. If they would rather proceed to a vote immediately, I will not move to adjourn the Debate.

11.29 p.m.


Some of us said "Vote" not with any intention of being discourteous to the hon. Gentleman. The point is, as was said by the previous speakers, that this matter cannot be postponed until the locality has re-considered its decision. Therefore there is no point whatever in merely postponing this present Order. It would postpone it until next week, and we should be in the same position then, and there will not have been a further opportunity for the locality to give a vote. In these circumstances, without prejudice to the ultimate issue, the only possible course to pursue is either to pass the Motion now with all its unfairness to the district concerned, or negative the Motion and allow the reorganized locality to put up another Order.

11.30 p.m.


As a resident of Sid cup I well remember the election which decided this issue. At that election we had an illustration of a very powerful minority utilising all the gaudy procedure of Hollywood, to capture the imagination of a number of people who had just come to reside in the locality, while the quiescent long residents in the neighborhood had no opportunity of deciding the question at all. I hope, therefore, that tonight we will have a vote on this matter, so that the voice of the people may prevail.

Question, "That the Order made by the Secretary of State under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, for extending section one of that Act to the urban district of Sid cup, which was presented on the 7th day of February, 1933, be approved," put, and negatived.

Resolved, That the Order made by the Secretary of State under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, for extending Section one of that Act to the borough of Leyton, which was presented on the 7th day of February, 1933, be approved."—[Mr. Stanley.]

It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.