§ Entertainments Duty within the meaning of the Finance (New Duties) Act, 1916, shall not, as on and after the first day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-three, be charged or levied on payment for admission to any entertainment the performers in which are persoNaily present and performing, and which consists mainly of one or more of the following matters, that is to say:
- (a) a dramatic performance;
- (b) a musical concert, whether vocal or instrumental or both vocal and instrumental;
- (c) a number of variety items or turns such as are ordinarily given in a music hall.—[Mr. Denville.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. DENVILLE
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
After the speech which we have just heard from the Financial Secretary, showing that he is now in a more generous mood, I have the greater confidence in proposing the Second Reading of this new Clause. I am putting forward this proposal for two reasons. First, I do not wish to see the National Government do such an injury to the theatre of William Shakespeare that it will be referred to in future as the Government which put the theatre out of existence. In the second place, I have been prompted to move this new Clause because although the meeting which we had two or three months ago in a room upstairs failed to impress hon. Members yet soon after that when I suggested this new Clause, within 24 hours over 50 hon. Members desired to back the proposal, and Since then at least 200 or 220 hon. Members have expressed their desire to be allowed to help in setting the theatre on its feet. If we had suggested three months ago that the Entertainments Duty was the cause of all the trouble in the theatre, we should have been laughed at, but to-day I think I can show that it is crushing our national theatre out of existence.
When it was first introduced this Entertainments Duty was brought forward purely as a War measure. The House was rather dubious about accepting it, indeed, so dubious that the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time gave a definite pledge that when the War was over the duty would be removed. The War has been over for a long time and the Government have failed to keep that pledge. At the moment the National Government is standing still and allowing the first and foremost entertainment of the British people to disappear altogether. They are failing to see the large number of actors and actresses, musicians, carpenters, electricians, scene painters, canvas movers, and wardrobe mistresses, who are thrown out of work. The duty as it is now imposed applies equally to the theatre and to the cinema. 2165 The same duty is placed on a building which employs a large number of persons as on a building in which the entire company is brought in every Monday in a little round tin can and taken away on the Saturday in a little round tin can. There should be a difference made between the theatre and the cinema, the same difference that is made in France, where the theatre is placed in a privileged position and does not pay any Entertainment Duty whatever until it reaches a certain point. We are entitled to the same form of exemption that is given in Holland where places of entertainment in which 95 per cent. of the human element obtains are exempt.
When the boom was on there was no difficulty about the theatre and cinema carrying on side by side; there was no difficulty about prices. For a time they both did well, but when normality came the theatre with its higher prices and, I say it with shame, with its less comfort, could not compete with the cinema with its lower prices and its greater comfort because it had to pay 50 or 60 more employés every week. It could not expect to carry on in competition with the cinema. I am now speaking from a provincial complex, not from a London complex. The London complex is a different thing altogether. In London we have the great grievance of higher prices and short performances, but I am speaking of the country as a whole, and when a theatre manager has to compete with the talkies he says that the easiest way is that as the cinema has no orchestra he will have no orchestra, and away go 10, or 15 or 18 musicians. In the provInces we have always been noted for the number in our orchestras, they are generally larger than the orchestras in London, but putting in a gramophone in the theatres has made no difference, except that those people who like music and do not like gramophones stay away from the theatre.
The next thing to cut down were the large shows which people had been in the habit of seeing in the provInces, and to put on instead little chamber plays. They saved a considerable amount of stage money. The scenery is set on the stage on the Monday and all that is required is for a man to pull up the curtain and lower it again. In regard to these chamber plays a native of Stockport said 2166 that they were not worth going to see because they only put on furniture which anyone could see in a shop and then folks came on and started talking but did not do much else. But that is what theatre managers have been forced to do. They have been forced to bring in the gramophone and to put on the small play. They have also been forced to put on certain plays which have done no good to the theatre or to the managers; certain plays of a questionable nature which are inspired by America, and which would not have been put on but for the competition of the cinemas because we in the theatrical profession love our profession and do not want to see it degraded.
But what the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to know is how, if he takes the duty off the theatres, he is going to get his money. Every point that I am about to put has been submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that there can be no question of his being taken by surprise, and if he has anything good in his mind to tell me he will have it ready. When the theatres found themselves in this peculiar position they were forced to go in for economy. Taking the average of the middle-class towns in the ProvInces, a No. 2 theatre pays £300 a week. When a touring company visits such a theatre the manager has to hand over £150 a week to the company. Out of the remaining £150 he has to pay anything from £50 to £60 to the workers. He found that he could provide his entertainment for something like 33⅓ per cent. of the gross receipts, instead of 50 per cent., and that if he only played to £100 a week gross, that is one-third of what he had to play to with an acting company, his share was 66| per cent., and he was not only paying his way but making a small profit.
Can anyone wonder, then, that to-day we have to get up in this House and plead for the theatre? The theatre has never had a chance, and it never will have a chance under the present taxation. Ireland saw the mistake and France saw the mistake, but this country has not seen it so far. Let me give some particulars as to the number of workers who have been thrown out of employment within the last few years. In this matter the railways are the best barometer, and their figures have been dropping year by year. This year alone they have dropped 2167 33⅓ per cent. Owing to the persistence of the Entertainments Duty 160 theatres have gone out of existence. I have the list here. This Whitsuntide will see the end of another 21 theatres. These are only going out for the summer for decorations. The number of persons being thrown out of work in those 21 theatres is 1,425. They will go on the dole.
We have asked for information from the Government and others as to the number of workers in the theatrical or the living entertainment industry. Roughly the Government records show that 8,000 are out of work, but that total refers only to those on the dole and does not refer to those who are on public assistance committee relief. Hundreds and hundreds of performers are too proud to accept public assistance committee relief, or they cannot get the dole. There are hundreds and hundreds of actors playing on village greens, in schools, in portable theatres, in barns and public houses and clubs, in order to get a living. The official figures do not take into account a very famous leading lady whose name was a household word a few years ago. She was picked up out of the gutter in a Welsh city during the early part of this year, and was starving. The official figures do not take into account a well-known musician of world-wide fame who was charged with begging at Bow Street the other day. The magistrate and the police took pity on the poor beggar and let him go. The official figures do not include the large number of suicides among theatrical people in the last few years.
We are not asking the Government for a subsidy. Taking off a tax is not giving a subsidy. We are not asking for preferential treatment. We are simply saying that in the case of the theatre the Government will save money by taking off the Entertainments Duty. The number of actors and performers thrown out of work, as certified by the associations to which they are attached, is 5,000, unemployed stage staffs are nearly 10,000 and musicians just over 10,000. Roughly that is 25,000 people. Then there are the scenic artists and the great number of landladies in the towns of the country who depend on the visits of performers to keep them alive. These people are on the dole. It is true that a large number 2168 of musicians have got other employment, and naturally they do not want to give it up in order to go back for an odd week or two to a theatre or music hall. So they stick to their work. If permanent jobs were secured for them in the theatres again there would be employment for others in the jobs that they leave. Our figures show that there are over 20,000 people directly out of work in the theatres because of the Entertainments Duty.
§ Mr. DENVILLE
No. I have here particulars of the last four theatres to close. They are at Southampton, Bournemouth, Swansea and Westcliffe. In one year they paid £10,000 in Entertainments Duty, and lost £11,250. In Swansea, Southampton, Bournemouth and Westcliffe there are 108 theatrical people on the dole or getting public assistance. That is the point at which we are getting. If the payment of £180 per week is kept up, the people who are out of work will receive more money out of public assistance and in other ways than the Entertainments Duty will realise. Taking 300 theatres as compared with 4,531 cinema;;, the theatres are one-fifteenth of the whole and if they were exempted the Government would only lose the one-fifteenth part of the £9,000,000. But they would gain more than that by putting workers into work again. If I were asking for something which I thought the Government could not give, I should not be able to plead justification for my cause as I am doing. But I think, gentlemen—
§ Mr. DENVILLE
I am sorry, Sir Dennis, if I am wrong in addressing Members of the Committee as gentlemen. What I was about to say is that it seems a terrible thing that the land of Shakespeare should allow its theatre to die. We have been prominent as the greatest acting country in the world from the earliest days—the French have been next, the Italians next, and the Americans nowhere.
§ Mr. DENVILLE
I say it seems a terrible thing that we should allow to die that theatre, created by a humble little player who was a member of the company of a former Lord Derby. That Lord Derby was a pilgrim and made voyages all round the world. From his pilgrimages he brought back stories of other lands. He told them to his hack playwright, who sat down and wrote plays upon them—all those beautiful plays of which we are so proud. Those are the plays which are being kept alive to-day in adverse circumstances in theatres like the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells owing to the generosity of actors and of other people who take an interest in them. Our great national writer, the greatest writer the world has ever known, is more highly respected in foreign countries than in his own. But it seems a tragedy that any Government whether it calls itself a National Government or a Socialist Government, should stand by and see our national theatre decline without stretching forth a hand to save it. It would be much better indeed for the Government to give the theatre its death-blow, but I should be sorry to hear of a Chamberlain being its executioner. In the words of poor old Shylock:Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that;You take my house, when you do take the prop:That doth sustain my house: you take my life,When you do take the means whereby I live.You are taking from the actor the means by which he lives. There is one point which I know the Financial Secretary is bubbling over with anxiety to bring forward, but I am going to anticipate him. I am going to cut the ground from underneath his feet. He will say, if the tax is taken off will it improve attendances at theatres? I am not advertising any theatres or any companies here. I do not believe in it, but I have here certain playbills, and I find that in one or two small towns the managers have tried the experiment of paying the tax themselves and thus getting down to the cinema level of prices. They have done so, and they have been able to compete with the 2170 cinemas, and, what is more, they have been able to beat them.
That has been done in one or two towns close to your own doors. I do not know that I ought to mention them because that would be advertising, and this is not a place for advertising people's wares. But not 40 miles from London there are theatres competing with and beating the cinema on its own ground. But at what a price. At the price of the blood and bones of ladies and gentlemen who have learned their profession and who have to live on bread and butter to keep the flag flying. The theatre is being starved. One of these playbills is that of a theatre in which the top price is 3s., the cinema top price being 2s. 6d. Take off the tax, and they can come down at once to the cinema price. In another case if the Government took off the three penny tax on the 1s. 6d. seats and the management took off three pence, back would come the shilling seat, and they could compete with the cinemas.
That is why we say that the tax is more than we can stand at present. If we had not so many people to keep we should be able to pay the Entertainments Duty just as the cinemas do. We should kick against it no doubt, and we should ask for a reduction in the case of the lower-priced seats. But the Government cannot get away from the fact that at present we are keeping people, men and women, living, breathing people, off the streets or rather we are doing our best to keep them off the streets, while under the social system they are being driven on to the streets. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give favourable consideration to the plea that he should do something for the poor actor and actress.
As chairman of a section of the theatrical profession, I can assure the Committee that if this tax were taken off, within three months 100 theatres would be ready to open. I can give the name of a theatre which was under construction—the foundation and the frontage were complete, but work on it was stopped four years ago. The moment the tax was taken off, work on that theatre would be resumed and it could be opened by Christmas. There is another point which is perhaps more important than all the other arguments I have 2171 advanced. Whatever is done for the theatre, if anything, there ought to be a definition of a place of entertainment. It should be defined as a place in which there is an orchestra of not less than so many members, in which there are not less than a certain number of stage hands, and in which there is a company not less than so many strong. A theatre is no good without a proper orchestra and a proper staff and certainly not without a proper company. This is the first time I have occupied so long in addressing hon. Members, and I think I have now completed my little contribution to this Debate. I am not fond of this kind of speaking—I like the footlights in front of me—but I hope that this honourable assembly will consider favourably the plea which I have put forward.
I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be prepared to say, "There is something here that we cannot get at, but if you will let it drop for the moment, we will go into the figures and see if the Government cannot do something for you." Something must be done. If you want to save the theatre, you must do it not to-morrow, but to-day. The theatre is going quickly. There will not be a No. 2 theatre in the provInces by Christmas time if something is not done; there will not be half-a-dozen No. 3 theatres, and there will not be more than eight or 10 No. I theatres. If the Government allow the theatre to disappear, future historians will say of the Government what the Government deserve, and if that is recorded in heaven, all the tears of all the angels will never be able to blot the record out.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I should like to second the appeal that has been made by the hon. Member for Central Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Denville), who speaks with a very real and practical knowledge of his subject, while I speak simply as an ordinary citizen. It seems to me that the question that we have to ask ourselves is, "Are we prepared to lose the theatre as an institution?" Almost daily we hear of theatres being closed, and we know that in the theatrical profession there is destitution and poverty of the most distressing kind. Those who know tell us that if things are permitted to go on as they are going on 2172 now, the theatre in this country will soon be an institution of the past. Are we prepared to face that eventuality? The Committee knows what we owe to the theatre. The Committee knows what a part the drama has played in human life. The whole history of our race, from the Greek times, as the hon. Member said, right down to the present day, is displayed in the drama. May I recall the description of playing given by Hamlet?The purpose of playing …is, to hold, as twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.The drama is a great institution. The greatest Englishman of all, the man with the biggest brain that our race has produced, was a play-actor. I remember reading a story of King Louis XIV of France, who asked the poet Boileau who was the greatest man in his dominions. The poet Boileau replied, "Molière." The King was angry and displeased to think that in his kingdom, full of such distinguished men, the greatest of them all was Molière.
One of the great features of modern times has been the growth of mechanisation. Man is being replaced by the machine, and the theatre is suffering from rivals based on mechanisation. I appeal to this Committee to prevent the complete disappearance of the theatre before mechanisation. May I read a short extract from a letter that appeared in the "Times" the other day, which is, I think, of real practical interest to this Committee? It is a letter by Mr. E. P. P. Rowe, in which he shows the effect of the Entertainments Duty on the theatre, and he write about the "Old Vic" and Sadler's Wells. I am very familiar with the "Old Vic," but Sadler's Wells I have not yet visited. Speaking of those two theatres, he says:The main purpose of these charity foundations is to provide the best drama (especially Shakespeare) and opera at prices which even very poor people can afford. The result of the last two seasons has been a loss, subsequently met by charitable gifts, almost exactly equivalent to the punishing sum exacted for Entertainment Duty. Quite clearly the effect of this duty would be to tax such work out of existence if the loss it inflicts were not met, with effort and difficulty, through appeals to charity.There is a very practical instance of the effect of this tax on the theatres, and I 2173 ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to respond to the appeal so earnestly made on their behalf.
§ Mr. GODFREY WILSON
I rise to support this new Clause, and I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give way on financial grounds. I believe that the Entertainments Duty is killing the theatre, and it is throwing a large number of people out of employment. I believe that the receipts from the tax will diminish, and from every point of view, so far as the money side of the question is concerned, it seems to me that it would be a proper thing for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give way upon this point. I have in my hand a letter which I received yesterday from some people who understand this question thoroughly, in which they state:The position of theatres, especially in the provInces, is becoming so desperate that unless some relief is afforded them they will have to give up their competition with cinemas and close altogether.I am not going to weary the Committee by speaking any longer, but I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer should give way on this point, because I believe that it would pay the country and save money in the long run.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I have great pleasure in supporting the appeal which has been placed before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I do so as one who knows the subject and who has been an actor and is therefore well fitted to deal with this question. I remember in my early days in the green room of a theatre taking a humble position in a well-known theatre in this country, and right from those days up to now, in one way or another, I have been associated with the theatrical profession. I have known men and women of talent, women gifted in elocution, great tragedians on the boards of our theatres, which are the only true and proper schools of the English language, and the loss to this country, if the true stage were to disappear, would be incalculable. The British public have many forms of entertainment, but when one looks back at the early days and remembers the great actors and actresses who have graced the stage, one realises what the loss would be if they had never 2174 been—your Terrys, your Irvings, your Forbes-Robertsons, and so on.
When I think of how poorly paid the people of the theatre are to-day, and when I see this art so depressed, I feel that it is high time to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many of the houses to which the old stock companies used to come are now disappEarlng. If we could give a revival to the theatres we could ease the lot of many of these unfortunate people. One of the tragedies of life is to see the disappearance of orchestras, and the tin music of the cinemas giving place to the instrumentalists who used to grace the theatres. Some of the finest instrumentalists are now on the streets seeking relief. I have come across some of the best of them down and out, and this week I have been told by at least a dozen of the leading players of this country that they are on the poverty line. It is a disgrace to the dramatic art of this nation that so many men should be disappEarlng from the stage and that a helping hand should not be offered to them in a time of dire distress. When theatrical companies go and theatres close we shall have lost everything that is great and glorious from the point of view of the uplift of our people. The stage has had a great influence for good, and it would be of great benefit to the country if the Chancellor could give this help.
I will give one or two instances from Birmingham on the material side of this question. The Chancellor, I think, will have some knowledge of that great city. The Grand Theatre in Birmingham has a staff of 40 and an orchestra of 10, and it is about to close. The Theatre Royal in Birmingham with a staff of 70 and an orchestra of 14, is about to close. The Empire Theatre, with a staff of 46 and an orchestra of 11, is also about to close. I have the figures of one particular theatre, the name of which I will not mention. They show that the total gross receipts, less tax, amounted to £5,969. After all expenses had been paid, the loss was £2,628. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Which theatre is that."] It is the Palace Theatre, Manchester. While they suffered a loss of £2,628, they paid in taxes £1,196 17s. 8d. Owing to that financial loss it will have to close its doors. If these losses continue, there will not only be losses in rent, but losses in rateable value to the cities in which the 2175 theatres are situated. Thousands of actors are being thrown out of work, and the loss from the point of view of public assistance and relief is great. I do not know any more deserving class in this country that ought to be assisted than the theatrical profession, which has done so much for charity and in the day of extremity needs so much help.
§ 9.19 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel JOHN SANDEMAN ALLEN
I do not think that any Member could have listened unmoved to the appeal that was made by the hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville), but we must not let our feelings run away with us. We must come down to earth. I have no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to repeat the arguments which he made against the reduction of the cinema Entertainments Duty, for the same arguments apply to the theatres as to the cinemas. The country must meet its liabilities. That is the whole reason for taxation, and there are two ways of improving things. One is to improve trade and the other is to reduce our liabilities. If we get an improvement of trade, we shall get more from taxation, and then we shall be able to consider a reduction of taxation. Incidentally, I would like to mention to my right hon. Friend that the best stimulus he could give to trade and to the theatres would be a reduction of Income Tax. Why should we give preference to theatres or to any other particular interest? All proposals for the reduction of taxation are popular. We in this House, however, are not here to be popular, but to govern the country. We are inclined to forget that at times by seeking cheap popularity. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the need for reduced expenditure. The country will be most grateful to him if that can be brought about. The theatres would get far more benefit from a general increase of trade which would follow either a reduction of Income Tax or a reduction of expenditure.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
The Committee has listened to a moving description of the plight in which it is alleged the theatres have fallen. My hon. Friend who moved this proposed new Clause to exempt from Entertainments Duty 2176 theatrical and variety performances and concerts, told us that this duty was responsible for 20,000 unemployed, for a number of suicides, and for other evils and distresses which I need not rehearse again. But surely it is going rather far to put the burden of all this complaint upon the Entertainments Duty. There are still theatres which are thriving. Some of those theatres which have made losses would, according to the hon. Gentleman's own figures, have made Josses in any event. No manipulation of the Entertainments Duty could compel people to see bad plays, and it is still possible, I am glad to say, to find in London and the provInces most successful performances still running. I am not in the least trying to minimise the incidence of the tax upon any section of entertainment, but I think that I can carry the Committee with me when I say that it is not right or just to attribute to the Entertainments Duty the decline of British drama, upon the assumption that it has declined. My hon. Friend said that unless we accepted this new Clause and did it now, the theatre would be dead. I do not think that it is as bad as all that.
§ Mr. DENVILLE
I wish the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to keep to the point which I tried to make. It is that if we could get the tax off, we should be able to bring down our prices comparable to the cinemas and employ more people.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I was trying to deal with one of the various points which my hon. Friend made, but I cannot deal with them all simultaneously. I will now pass to the point he mentioned. He complains that the same tax is put upon the admission to theatres as to the admission to cinemas, and he says that because the theatre employs more people than the cinema the theatre should have a remission of the duty. But circuses also pay the tax, and they employ many more people than the theatre. After all, the tax is only upon the price of admission. What my hon. Friend asks is that the theatre should be subsidised at the expense of the cinema by taking off the tax from the theatres and leaving it on the cinemas. It may be that the cinema has taken much of the public from the theatre, but that is hardly the fault of the Entertainments Duty. Bather it is 2177 attributable to the changed tastes of the people. But whatever the merits of my hon. Friend's case may be, I am sure he would not think it proper for us, who have just rejected a Clause bringing relief to the cheaper seats in the cinemas, to lay ourselves open to the charge that we were now giving an advantage to the occupants of the stalls in a theatre. I do not think he could defend an argument at this stage whereby we should accept this Clause although we have rejected the other, but I do commiserate most Sincerely with him and with the theatrical profession generally, which, like every other section of the community, is suffering from the depression. The arguments that my hon. Friend used could be employed with equal validity not only against this tax but against almost every other tax. It only remains for me to say that the cost of accepting his Clause would be £2,000,000.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. HUTCHISON
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury obviously does not understand in what way the theatrical profession would benefit from a reduction of the tax. He says that there are many successful performances both in London and in the ProvInces. I quite agree that in the West End of London there are many successful theatres at present. They are successful because there is still a large public who will pay 38s. for a stall at the opera. At the same time there are many people throughout the country who cannot pay 38s. for a stall at the opera or 12s. 6d. for a stall in the theatre. However, having saved up for several weeks, they come up to London to witness a performance in the West End where they can see a first-class company in a new play. They are not the public that the theatrical profession wish to get. I am convInced that if the Chancellor would say that the Entertainments Duty, as regards performances given by living persons, was not to be levied on prices up to 5s., that would offer an enormous benefit to the theatrical profession. By that I mean circus performers, variety artists, and all the people connected with giving entertainment to the public.
It is the touring company theatre that has been killed recently by the competition of the cinema, by this little extra 2178 on the tax and by the many difficulties with which it has to contend. First of all, the Majority of theatres throughout the country are old buildings, built for the most part in the 'nineties, out-of-date and with seating accommodation which is extremely uncomfortable. At the outside they can give only two performances a day, whereas the cinema can start at noon and go on till midnight. Theatre artists cannot do that because it is a great strain to talk before the public. At the end of an election the Majority of hon. Members are very tired indeed, and if they have any voice left they are extremely lucky. How can you expect the artist to give of his best all day long in competition with the cinema? That the touring theatre has been affected there is not the slightest doubt. The hon. Member for Newcastle Central (Mr. Denville) stated that the railway was a good barometer of the success or otherwise of the theatrical profession. It is a very good barometer indeed, and if hon. Members remember Crewe Station a few years ago, when the theatre was in a thriving state, they will recall the numbers of theatrical companies that used to cross through Crewe Station on a Sunday. If they go there now they will be lucky indeed if they see half a dozen. There is the argument as to where the money is to come from. I suggest that there was the Ray Report and the 1922 Committee Report, neither of which seems to have been acted upon.
In my opinion, the theatre has a more educative value than the cinema. We will admit that there are certain films which have been shown recently which have a distinct educative value, but the theatre has a tremendous educative value. We have already heard the name of William Shakespeare quoted several times this evening. If the Chancellor would talk to the First Commissioner of Works he would realise that the First Commissioner is helping the theatre by allowing open-air performances to take place in Regent's Park. Regent's Park is the same as the West End as regards the number of people who will go to the theatre. You have a much richer and larger population to draw upon. It is an altogether different story from that of the touring theatre, which is in dire distress. If this tax could be reduced only up to the 5s. seats, it would confer a great 2179 benefit and would put many people into employment who need employment badly.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I want to say a word in regard to a section of the entertainment industry to which no reference has been made, and that is the music hall. The music hall is in many respects entirely different from the theatre. Probably some people would not admit it had the same educative value, but it has something that the theatre has not, certainly in the London area. It has a clientele quite different from those who go to the theatre and that clientele is, generally speaking, one of very much poorer circumstances. The appeal I desire to make has already been made by the last speaker. It is that if the Chancellor cannot see his way—apparently he cannot—to grant all that is asked for in the Clause which is now before us, he should give at least some consideration to an industry which we have been told is actually being killed by the imposition of this tax.
I have a letter—I do not propose to read it—from a music hall in my area and they tell me the number of people who are employed there. I know from my own conversations with the people who are responsible for the management of that music hall that they are losing considerable sums of money at present and, like many other such places, they are awaiting the decision of this House as to whether they shall be able to remain open or not. Having seen the figures presented to me, my own view is that probably they will close as a consequence of the vote that will no doubt be given in favour of the decision to which the Chancellor has come. I am concerned mainly with the actual number of persons thrown out of work. We need not accept 20,000, which is the figure that has been quoted; we can put at least 25 per cent. on to that. I think it would be safe to say that at least another 5,000 will be thrown out of work as a consequence of the decision that will be given here to-night. The figure of £2,000,000 which has been quoted as the loss which would be incurred by the Exchequer if this concession were granted is one on which no reliance whatever can be placed. It is hardly fair without considering anything else just to say that if 2180 we remit this tax £2,000,000 will be lost to the Treasury, because it is undoubtedly true that a considerable number of men and women would be put into work.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I was taking the figure given by the Financial Secretary. I think it is grossly exaggerated; if he looked into the figures which could be legitimately placed on the other side of the balance-sheet he would find that sum would be very considerably reduced. In the case of the reduction of the Beer Duty the Chancellor quoted the law of diminishing returns, and by that argument it would be easy to prove that there would be no loss whatever in this case. Further, is no consideration to be given to the health of the people who will be thrown out of work as a consequence of this tax? Is no consideration to be given to the fact that large amounts of Capttal will be lost by people who have invested their money in this industry? Again, it would be interesting to hear what the Chancellor would propose to do with the theatres and music halls which have been closed up already, buildings which are totally unsuitable for any purpose except that for which they were erected, and the further number which will undoubtedly be closed as a consequence of his action to-day. I have listened to many statements here concerning various industries which will suffer as a consequence of this Budget, and I think it would be safe to say no hon. Member can ever remember a Budget which has produced so many reports of serious effects upon different industries as this Budget. I do not, however, accept all the statements made about the dire effects which will result from the imposition of some of the taxes which have been under consideration.
I am speaking as one who has not the slightest interest in theatres in any way. I do not think I have visited theatres more than three times in the last 10 years, and I have no association with the profession or with the interests which manage theatres, but I have been induced to put forward this plea by audited figures which have been put before me showing that theatres must close down if this tax is to be continued in its present incidence and at the present rate. I hope the Chancellor will again go into 2181 the matter, and that he will at any rate induce his Financial Secretary to be more fair when he makes statements in regard to losses to the Exchequer than he has been to-day. It is grossly unfair to say simply that £2,000,000 will be lost to the Exchequer when he knows perfectly well that other figures, which ought to be placed on the other side of the balance-sheet, would reduce that loss very considerably, if not wiping it out altogether. I hope the Chancellor will not allow theatres and music halls to be practically wiped out. I am quite independent in this matter, having no interest except to see the preservation of the theatre primarily and of the music hall secondarily, as well as other forms of entertainment. I appeal to him to give more consideration to the pleas submitted to him to-night than would appear to have been given judging by the very meagre and not very accurate statement made by the Financial Secretary.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I really think the Committee are ready to come to a decision.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.