HC Deb 17 December 1942 vol 385 cc2191-202
Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)

A variety of subjects have been discussed to-day and I now want to turn the attention of the House for a short time to another subject of great importance, especially to those of us who represent Scottish constituencies. I refer to the opening of the cinemas on Sundays in many districts in Scotland. At the same time I would also like to refer to the preservation of the weekly day of rest. What was the position in Scotland in regard to the opening of cinemas on Sunday before the recent development? The cinema trade were opposed to Sunday opening. The Scottish Branch of the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association opposed Sunday opening. On 20th December, 1939, and on various other dates, they affirmed and reaffirmed a resolution stating that the Members of the Scottish Branch at the present time did not wish Sunday opening. In my own constituency the Magistrates called together representatives of the trade and asked whether they would, with a view to helping the war effort, yield this point and in this way raise funds for the war effort. After consideration the trade replied, as was stated in the "Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser" of 8th February last: After full discussion the representatives of the cinema managers expressed themselves as unanimously opposed, on principle, to the opening of the picture houses on Sunday. Then the military authorities stepped in, and the General Officer Commanding the Scottish Command requested the Scottish Branch of the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association: To open the cinemas on Sunday with a view towards helping in a solution in the many problems facing the authorities under war conditions. When it was so put to them the cinema trade—and we can hardly imagine them adopting another course—surrendered in this matter, but insisted on two conditions. The first was that opening should be on a, commercial basis, and the second was that, whatever priority might be given to the Forces, no citizen should be turned away. That is recorded in the resolution of the Scottish branch, and in a letter to the local branches on 22nd October this year there were the words in Article III: "Opening to be at ordinary prices."

What were the reasons behind this change of attitude and practice? First of all it was alleged by some that the Church was not doing all that could be done for the troops. I am not prepared to say that they were, but I have, perhaps, better opportunities than most of knowing what is being done by the Churches, because I am an itinerant parson going from pulpit to pulpit on Sundays, and if time had allowed I could have shown at length what has been done by individual churches, groups of churches, Service Clubs and so on. Secondly, on last Tuesday a serious moral problem was debated in this House, a problem which has been confronting local authorities as well as the churches in Scotland. It was thought that if they could take away from the streets and stations the officers and rank and file, a good deal of the evil might vanish. That is said to have been the motive.

It cannot be said that in this regard much success attended the effort. In the report, as given in the Press, of the results on the first two Sundays on which there was opening of the cinemas in the. City of Glasgow, the highest percentage of the Forces to the whole audience was 41 per cent. There were two cases given where the percentage was 17 per cent., and one case where the Forces represented only 10 per cent. The House might wish to know the summary of the "Glasgow Herald" of the results in that first fortnight of the opening. It appeared in a leading article in the "Glasgow Herald" on 30th October: The Sunday cinema scheme, they said, had failed in its purpose and that because, in their view, there had not been sufficient opening in the centre of the city. But thirdly behind all this, with opinion as it is in Scotland and the aversion to the opening of cinemas on Sunday, there was the fact that unless some pressure were exercised by the military it was not likely that, save in certain cities and districts, cinemas would be opened at all on that day. So they took advantage by bringing in the full weight of military authority, exerted directly on the cinema trade, and indirectly on the local authorities, to accomplish this Sunday opening of cinemas.

I am making no reflection on the action of the authorities, because they are given very wide powers both under general Acts and under local Acts. Least of all am I making any reflection on any action of the Scottish Office in this matter. They have not been called to appear in the matter. The action has come from the source I have named, and so far from blaming the Scottish Office, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, or the Secretary of State himself, so far as the Sabbath question is concerned, I can only give them great praise, because in the action they have taken with regard to the bona fide traveller in Scotland, the action that has been extended to various counties and is increasingly being extended, they have done more to preserve and honour and increase the quiet and sanctity of Sunday than any other action that I have known for a long time. But I look at this point. When the military make a request, in many cases it is equal to a command. When Mr. R. B. Peat, a cinema owner and a former president of the Airdrie and Coatbridge Cinema Managers' Association, made a protest, at a meeting of the Scottish branch of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association on 26th October, 1942, against the opening of cinemas on Sundays on a commercial basis, he was promptly answered in these words: Mr. Peat's cinema can be requisitioned with ten hours' notice from the military not only for entertainment but also for other purposes. That whole procedure in my view is a violation and a fettering of free and full local democracy.

What is behind it all? I was at the trouble to read in the Press some of the general reasons given for this change, and I read: "Glasgow is a dreary place on Sunday"; "the drabness of Glasgow on Sunday nights"; "the gloomy Scottish Sunday." I have heard in this House of the gloomy Scottish Sunday. Of course there are people who think that anything connected with churches or with religion must be gloomy. There are some people who have dwelt so long, to use Bunyan's language, in the dark dungeons of Doubting Castle that they cannot know of the radiance that shines for those who walk on the King's highway. There are spiritual as well as material joys. Robert Burns in one of his later letters, speaking on this subject of spiritual as compared with the material joys, says: These axe no idle pleasures, they are real delights; and I ask what delights, among the sons of men are superior, not to say equal to them. And they have this precious vast addition that conscious virtue stamps them for her own, and lays hold of them to bring herself into the presence of a witnessing and approving God. To go back to the allegation of the gloomy Scottish Sabbath, I own myself a child of the Scottish gloom, and the Scottish Sabbath. I never knew till I came to this House that I had been dwelling so long under a cloud, or had been so long in bondage. There were two characteristics of the Scottish Sabbath as I knew it. The first was that there was no visiting from farm to farm on a Sunday. If we saw a man making for our homestead, we at once concluded that there was illness of man or beast and that some help was needed. There was no ordinary visiting. The other thing was that we were told to sit down and read a good book. That meant a religious book. [An HON. MEMBER: "Progress and Poverty."] That is in a way a religious book. It was not in our category but I know of no book which has more apt or more far-reaching quotations than "Progress and Poverty" from portions of the Scripture itself. I would rather for my purpose take another book—the "Scots Worthies"—written by a humble peasant, John Howie, in my own native parish, which has won merit both for its quaint style and for its amazing historical research.

It being the hour appointed for the Interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put:

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pym]

Mr. Barr

If I may resume, that is how I was brought up. The day came when I proceeded to college. I went up to Glasgow University, in the words of Robert Pollok, "ambitious of no second place." I was engaged in keen competition; but no matter what examinations were before me, every Saturday evening I gathered my university textbooks together, and laid them aside, and never on any occasion opened them till Monday. You may call it narrow, you may count it artificial, but certainly I did not suffer by giving my mind a complete rest on one day in seven. If I may make a still more personal allusion, I have two shelves in my library that I value above all my other possessions. There are 34 volumes bound in the well-known rich Glasgow University binding, 34 volumes of class prizes that I won at Glasgow University. Perhaps the distance of time may excuse my saying that it was something like a record for a lad in the Arts Course at Glasgow University 60 years ago. At any rate they were all secured in strict observance of the Sabbath law.

I did not suffer for it and so I pass on to this, that if an individual does not suffer, neither does a nation suffer for its observance of this law. In a passage of sublime beauty, one of the prophets of Israel gives the assurance that, if a nation will honour the Sabbath law, it will ride on the high places of the earth. The day has gone by, I trust, when we desire to see any nation, least of all our own, riding roughshod over other nations. We do not want that, but in all that makes real greatness and moral leadership and enriching service, in all that makes up the true grandeur of nations, the nation that will observe the Sabbath law and the moral laws that lie beside it, in the best sense of the word, will ride on the high places of the earth till the end of time. I will give an illustration that may be in the minds of some hon. Members from a speech made in the House of Commons by Macaulay on the Ten Hours Bill on 22nd May, 1846. He was answering a previous speaker in the Debate, who had argued that if only Britain had not observed the day of rest, she would have produced far more, and she would have been a far more formidable competitor in the markets of the world. What was Macaulay's answer to this? The arguments of my hon. Friend irresistibly lead to this conclusion that if, during the last three centuries, the Sunday had not been observed as a day of rest, we should have been a far richer and a far more highly civilised people than we are now, and that the labouring classes especially would have been far better off than at present. But does he, does any hon. Member of the House, seriously believe that this would have been the case? For my own part, I have not the smallest doubt that if we and our ancesters had, during the past three centuries, worked just as hard on the Sunday as on the weekdays, we should have been at this moment a poorer people and a less civilised people than we are; that there would have been less production than there has been; that the wages of the labourer would have been lower than they are; and that some other nation would now have been making cotton stuffs and woollen stuffs and cutlery for the whole world. We all know that it is only the folly of mankind that at this moment prevents us sending our choice and coveted finished products to the markets of the world. We are confident too that under a newly constructed society in the days to come, with a freer exchange of goods than we have ever known between land and land, we shall again be sending our cotton stuffs, our woollen stuffs and our cutlery to all the ends of the earth.

The Divine Creator has inscribed this law not only on Tables of Stone. It is written deep and clear on all Nature. It rules in all amusements, in all entertainments and in all sport. It is not perhaps known by hon. Members that in Scotland we had two golfers, father and son, old Tom Morris and young Tom Morris, who had achievements in the golfing world that I do not think have been equalled in any other country. Eight times the two of them together won the Open Championship of Great Britain. Young Tom Morris won it four times, three times in succession. On his monument in St. Andrews there is a tribute composed by the well-known writer, A. K. H. Boyd. He died on Christmas Day, 1875, at the age of 24, and this is the tribute on his tombstone: Deeply regretted by numerous friends and all golfers, He thrice in succession won the champion belt And held it without rivalry, and yet without envy, His many amicable qualities Being no less acknowledged than his golfing achievements. Old Tom Morris kept the green at the famous St. Andrews for many years, and in days when Sunday golf was almost unknown in Scotland he saw two American players come out to tee their balls on the Sunday morning. He was after them in a moment. "What are you up to, boys?" he asked. "Oh," they said, "we are just going to have a game." He replied, "Well, if you don't have the sense to know that you need a rest, I know that the greens need a rest." Yes, Sir, all Nature needs a rest. The animal world needs a rest. On the Seventh Day thou shalt rest that thine ox and thine ass may rest. All machinery needs a rest. Cinemas and Theatres, actors and operators all need a rest.

"But," someone will say, "surely you are forgetting there is a war on, and we cannot recognise all those niceties of law." Someone might even quote from Cicero's "Pro Milone": Laws are silent in the midst of arms. But here is a law that refuses to be silent even in the midst of arms. During the last war a special committee was appointed, consisting of three well known men, Sir George Newman, Sir Thomas Barlow and my right hon. Friend the Member for the Platting Division of Manchester (Mr. Clynes), and this was their finding, their historic pronouncement: Evidence before the committee has led them strongly to hold that, if the maximum output is to be secured and maintained for any length of time, a weekly period of rest must be allowed. Except for quite short periods, continuous work, in their view, is a profound mistake, and does not pay. Output is not increased. Nor is it different in this war. The Select Committee on National Expenditure, appointed by this House, said in their Fifteenth Report, issued on 13th May last year, dealing with aircraft firms: The majority of the firms have stated explicitly that on balance Sunday work is of no value. In their Seventeenth Report, issued on 10th July last year, on "Labour Problems in Filling Factories," they said: Sunday work should be abolished except for maintenance of plant, or in real emergencies. Those declarations of the last war and this ought to be borne in mind, and must be inscribed on any new order we may seek to set up.

There are only two other aspects to which I must refer. Since I came to this House I have often been struck by the unwearied labours that men put forth to secure Sunday closing, or better weekday hours, in their own trade. I think of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) and his labours for better weekday conditions and the abolition of Sunday work in the baking trade. My hon. Friend who was here a moment ago, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie), has laboured in the same way. But perhaps I am making somewhat of a mistake, in singling out hon. Members in the present House of Commons. I will go further back. When I first came to this House there was a Member, a man of very frail body but of a great determination of mind, who was engaged week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out, in securing Sunday closing by means of the Hairdressers' and Barbers' Shops (Sunday Closing) Bill, no easy task for a Private Member, as we know. I remember well that day when at last he succeeded in overcoming all the obstacles; the Third Reading of the Bill was given in this House, and we gathered round to congratulate him. When the Bill became law, on 1st August, 1930, the members of his trade throughout the country thought that there should be some special celebration here in London. They asked me to go and pay the tribute, which I was glad to do. There was a gathering worthy of the occasion. Men representing the hairdressing trades were there from all over the country—but there was no James Stewart, only a vacant chair drawn in where he should have sat. To the cause of Sunday closing the then hon. Member for St. Rollox had given the last full measure of devotion. His frail body and his completed task he laid down at one and the same time. But what is the good of men spending themselves for their own trades, if there are others planning vast schemes of Sunday pleasure and bringing in new forms of Sunday labour? What boots it, at one gate to make defence, And at another to let in the foe? I have only one other allusion, and it is to the great poet of the Sabbath in Scotland, James Grahame. I have often wondered whether more to admire his stirring and majestic poem, or the prose preface with which he sent it forward to the world. The preface contained these words: He who has seen three score and ten years, has lived ten years of Sabbaths. It is this beneficent institution that forms the grand bulwark of poverty against the encroachments of capital. The labouring classes sell their time; the rich are the buyers; at least, they are the chief buyers…Six days of the week are thus disposed of already. If the seventh were in the market, it would find purchasers, too. The abolition of the Sabbath would, in truth, be equivalent to a sentence, adjudging to the rich the services of the poor for life. Yes, I would emphasise those words "the grand bulwark of poverty against the encroachments of capital." I Stand here, in this closing appeal, with all the eagerness, earnestness and energy I can command, appealing to this House that, in its schemes of reconstruction, such as we have been considering, it will' carry over from the old order into the new what is highest and best in the old. I would appeal, if I may, to my own countrymen, that they will stand steadfast by their well proved and cherished traditions. I would venture to appeal even to the Scottish Churches, too many of which in these times are showing themselves weak-kneed, even on this vital question. I would appeal to all whom it may concern that they do not stand idly by while the Scottish Command, in a grave intrusion, would lay in the dust, badly battered as it already is, this grand bulwark of poverty against the ever-increasing encroachments of capital, and against the ever growing usurpations of military power.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

The common sense, sincerity, high idealism and religious fervour in the speech to Which we have just listened have, I am sure, appealed to everyone who has had the pleasure of listening to that splendid speech. It is important that this House should realise that it is not merely the expression of the views of the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr), but that he is expressing the views, in that wonderful language he has used to-day, of thousands of Scottish men and women, a view that is sincerely held by thousands of our people in Scotland, that the Sabbath shall not be broken but the Sabbath shall be kept as of old. I am perfectly sure, having said that, the hon. Member for Coatbridge does not expect me—in fact if he did it would be impossible for me to do so with the limited time at my disposal—to deal in detail, or at any length, with the points he has raised. He has already pointed out that he has no complaint against the Scottish Office. We do not control the opening of cinemas. That power is delegated to the local authorities in Scotland, democratically elected bodies, the power of licensing the cinemas and applying conditions, as they can apply them, to the opening of these cinemas. The existing law is that we cannot, as a Scottish Office, interfere. That was made perfectly clear—and I know the hon. Member will agree with me—in a letter which was sent to him dated 22nd October, giving the clear, legal position so far as Scotland is concerned. There are 600 cinemas in Scotland, and there are only 47 that are open for Sunday performances in accordance with requests that have been made, the 47 being controlled by 34 local authorities. There are 128 local authorities in Scotland that have the power to license cinemas, so there is not either a general demand nor yet is there general agreement about, shall I say, the general opening of places for Sunday entertainment. Quite frankly, speaking for myself, I hope the day will never arrive, so far as Scotland is concerned, when that will be general. But demands have arisen because of the war and because of war conditions. In some cases chief constables are appealing to their local authorities to get the Service men and women off the streets and into the cinemas. Seven chief constables think it would be wise, in the interests of the Services themselves, to open the cinemas. But, despite the appeals which have been made, only 34 authorities have granted the requests, and only 47 cinemas, out of 600, open on Sundays.

My time is up. I thought I would give these facts. There are tens of thousands of people in Scotland who want to see the Sabbath honoured as it should be—and I can speak with the same fervour as that of the hon. Member for my own home, where there is always a special emphasis on Sunday observance, and where if I fall by the roadside sometimes my good wife is always ready to call me to book and to tell me that it is the Sabath—I am proud that there is no general demand for the opening of places of entertainment on Sundays. But there is no responsibility on the Scottish Office in this matter; it is entirely the responsibility of the local authorities in Scotland, and they are responsible to the public in their particular areas.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.