HC Deb 21 April 1943 vol 388 cc1756-63

Tenth Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

I wish to raise a point which interests a number of people who feel that in the matter of the Entertainments Duty they ought to receive somewhat different treatment from that which they are getting. I refer to those who follow pastimes like football and cricket. They feel that these pastimes ought to be treated on something like the same lines as the Chancellor deals with what is called "the living theatre." Those who conduct our ordinary sports, like football and cricket, which fulfil a very useful function in our life, are finding it very difficult to carry on. Most of them only succeed in doing so because to a large extent the on-cost charges, wages, etc., have been reduced considerably. Large numbers of them, particularly in various parts of Scotland, are finding it difficult to continue operations with the Entertainments Duty as it is. I would ask the Chancellor to consider particularly cases where the entertainment is somewhat analogous to that of the living theatre. Occasionally very great crowds are attracted to matches, but in the main the crowds are comparatively small. I understand that representations have already been made to the Chancellor and I would ask him to reconsider this question.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I wish to support the plea made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). Some of us understand a little bit about football. I was never really a professional, but I was a fairly good professional shouter when my team was winning, and I am satisfied that at the present time football matches do meet a great need. All the first division, second division and third division clubs are mulched together. The Attorney-General knows that sometimes Everton play Wrexham and Chester play Liverpool. These matches give a great deal of enjoyment to thousands of those who are working hard in the pits and munition factories and in other industries. These people like to have the Saturday afternoon off. There are not the old travelling facilities allowing people to go from Wrexham to Liverpool or from Sheffield to Leeds or from Sheffield to Birmingham, and the games do not attract the big crowds that used to assemble, and since this additional tax has been put on football clubs are very much disturbed and fear that they will not be able to carry on next season. The season finishes this year on either 8th May or 15th May, and there are certain clubs which are in financial difficulties now and will not be able to go forward if this additional tax is imposed.

I should also like to say a word for the professional footballer. He has sacrificed a lot in wages since the war. Now he gets a paltry 30s. a match. He used to get £8 a week. He may be in some other employment now, but he still carries on with football during the week-end. He has made sacrifices to give spectators the pleasure of seeing matches. I went one day with the chairman of the Arsenal Club—he is one of the Members for Northern Ireland—to a match on the Arsenal ground. I enjoyed every minute of it, and all the others who go enjoy these matches. If these clubs have to close down next season I would remind the Chancellor that his revenue from the Entertainments Duty will go down. He may reply that if the Entertainments Duty goes down then the tax on alcoholic beverages will go up, but I would rather see 10,000 men watching a football match on a Saturday afternoon than see 1,000 men taking alcoholic beverages. That is where I stand. I do ask the Chancellor to consider the position of professional football clubs, in order to save them from closing down and thus depriving the workers of a good Saturday afternoon's sport.

Mr. Benson

I think the division now drawn between the living stage and the non-living stage does not really represent what our attitude towards the stage should be. Before the war, when the living stage was having a very difficult fight with the cinemas, there was, no doubt, some reason for a differentiation between the living and the non-living stage, but nowadays any form of show, apparently, is highly profitable and that differentiation is not quite so important. There is a differentiation, however, which is still important but which depends rather on the quality and the type of the production than on whether actors or celluloid are the source of the pleasure. In this country we are very far behind the Continent in the matter of really first-class productions of opera and the classical drama. Before the war, at any rate, there were some good things in Germany. In practically every small town throughout the length and breadth of Germany the people were familiar with good music and with opera. Almost every small town had its own opera house and opera company. In England we have perhaps one or two touring companies fighting hard for an existence and quite unable to give productions on anything like the scale of those on the Continent. We find opera companies visiting towns like Manchester not more than once in 12 months. I do not know why certain forms of art should be subsidised and subsidised heavily, but practically every town in this country has a municipal art gallery, which is there to provide good pictures free for those who are interested in pictures. There is no reason why we should restrict our subsidies or our communal help to one form of art alone. I know this is rather a dangerous argument, but why should not the Chancellor take this opportunity, when Budgets have not to be balanced, to be a little generous? I think there ought to be a possibility of subsidising the more difficult forms of dramatic art—using the word "difficult" from the box office point of view. I hope the Chancellor will consider the possibility of granting some concession resting not on the question of whether it is living art or not but on the basis of the quality and type of the production.

Mr. Granville

I should like to reinforce the appeal made to the Chancellor by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) to consider the case of professional football clubs. I believe they are in a very difficult way. Sometimes it is extremely difficult for them to get a team together; often they have to rely on getting a member of the Services at the last minute on the Saturday. Although the first, second and third divisions of the League have been abolished, these clubs are still in an extremely difficult way, yet they do afford a great deal of enjoyment to a large number of people. I am not thinking of the cup finals at Wembley, which are attended by Cabinet Ministers and the rest and are very big functions. I am thinking of the ordinary struggling professional teams which are trying to provide entertainment for men on leave from the Services and for munition workers on their Saturday afternoons. "Soccer" is one of our great national institutions, and though I shall not go into the merits of "Soccer" against "Rugger" or the Northern Union game, I hope the Chancellor will give some consideration to this important section of our national pastimes and see whether he cannot save some of the smaller professional clubs from going out of business altogether.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

I want to refer to one aspect of the Entertainments Duty in which the Chancellor might consider its effect upon very valuable work being done among our young people, in the development of amateur dramatic societies. There is an immense amount of expense and labour involved in that work and tremendous difficulty in getting money with which to meet the expense. An amateur dramatic association can only be kept in existence if its members know that their show is to be put on publicly. It is not sufficient inducement for them to go to all the trouble of rehearsals, etc., if there is not to be a public show. The show cannot be put on for a period, but usually only for one or two evenings, and if there are footlights at all, they are usually just fixed up for the purpose. When it comes to getting an audience, obviously the amateurs cannot compete with the professional shows. If the admission prices are too high they will compete with the professional shows, and the amateurs will not get an audience.

Because of those difficulties we do not get more of such shows. Some secondary school children who have helped to put on shows at school and have discovered that they have some measure of histrionic ability have been able to develop their powers of expression and would like to continue it after leaving school, but they often find the thing is far too expensive and difficult. The same is often true of church entertainments. These efforts may flourish for a time, but many of them soon die. It is my opinion that we are losing a very valuable addition to the education of the people. I think it is possible for us to reach a higher degree of culture. I believe the pleasure of life to be very largely found in culture. It is not what you do that matters in life, but the way in which you do it. The characteristics of the British people lend themselves to this very valuable asset of being able to enjoy each other's work. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can consider, in view of the fact that he gets so little out of the Entertainments Duty from these amateur societies, that he would be making a contribution to the national good by relieving them of the tax, and would be giving an inducement to people to continue to develop this very valuable activity.

I do not want to touch on the question, which has been so widely discussed, of juvenile delinquency and the activity that will be required to deal with it, but I do say that young people need something to occupy their minds. They want an interest. The interest which is of most value is that which they have as a result of their ability to express their desires. And because I believe there is educational value in the encouragement of the drama and of the appreciation of good music—not merely being able to appreciate good acting, but being able to take part in it—I believe there is a very valuable educational factor involved. I take this opportunity of bringing the matter to the attention of the Chancellor, because, speaking in broad terms, I believe he would get his money's worth in the benefit given to the people concerned, by letting these amateur shows be relieved of Entertainments Duty, if they proved that they were not run for profit.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I rise to support my hon. Friend in the plea that he has just made. I believe that the expense to the Treasury in granting this concession would be trifling, but the benefit of encouraging amateur performances would be immense. There is such a danger today that the amusements of people of all classes tend to be passive, while this is a creative type of recreation. Those engaged in amateur dramatics are actively exercising some of the finest faculties of their minds, and that ought to be encouraged in every way. It would not be right for us to make a plea to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at such a time if it involved considerable expense or serious loss to the Revenue, but if the safeguards provided that no profit should be made out of the amateur performances, there would be no possibility of serious leakage in the Revenue and very definite encouragement would be given to a form of recreation of the greatest educational value. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give very serious and sympathetic consideration to the pleas that have been made.

Sir K. Wood

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for the Eye division (Mr. Granville) has left us, because I have been very interested in his activity to-day. He has had a regular field day. He was in favour of no further taxation for old age pensioners; I think he would like to see everything go, so far as beer is concerned; and now he is coming forward on behalf of the footballers. He will be able to go back to his division on Saturday and say that he has really done everything he possibly can for everybody in his division. If I followed his advice, he would leave me very little out of my Budget. I can give some assurances to my two hon. Friends who have just mentioned amateur theatrical societies, because if such bodies form themselves, as I think a very large number of them do, into non-profit-making associations, they come within the provisions which have already been made regarding Entertainments Duty. My hon. Friend on these Government Benches asked me to inquire into the operation of the relief which has been given to these and similar undertakings, because he thinks there is some abuse, but the fact remains that they do get assistance and relief from present taxation which we are all glad to see. I share very largely the views that have been stated by my hon. Friends.

I do not think I need defend very much the further preference that I have given in this Budget to the living theatre. It is true, especially here in London, that the theatres are doing very well indeed, and I am very glad they are. I believe in a measure of recreation at this time. People cannot be always thinking about the war—it would be very bad if they did—and I am glad the theatres are doing well. It has been represented to me, however, that that does not apply equally in all parts of the country, and there may be a number of repertory theatres and undertakings of that kind which will appreciate the difference that has been made in this Budget in the imposition of the extra taxes. The feeling of myself and a number of my colleagues is that I should, if possible, endeavour to emphasise the encouragement that we desire to give to what is called the living theatre. I also appreciate what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) on behalf of footballers. It is a good line. Of course, I receive representations equally from those who believe in other kinds of pleasures, but it is not for me, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to come down on the side of one particular recreation or another. I may like greyhound racing. As a matter of fact I have not yet had the pleasure of going to a greyhound race meeting, which I hope yet to do. Others like boxing matches, and I suppose the favourite kind of recreation of others would be horse racing. So I could go on. I am afraid I am not in a position to differentiate in these matters, and I am adhering in this Budget to the same provisions as in the last Budget.

I do not pretend to have examined the matter in detail, but I do not think that the imposition of the tax in this Budget upon entertainments of that character really makes any difference between success and failure. As a matter of fact, if you examine the provision which I have made for the taxation of entertainments it will be seen to be not a very heavy one. I have endeavoured to gather what I could to get the £100,000,000 required, but if hon. Members will examine the contribution that has been made by entertainments generally, they will see that it is not of a very large order when you divide it up among the various undertakings. I would not regard it as a serious imposition, and I have not received any criticism of that kind. It is fair that I should tell the House that the people who are responsible for the major entertainments of the country, such as cinemas and theatres, met me, as I would expect them to do, and have been desirous of meeting my wishes in this matter, on behalf of the House of Commons, so far as they can, by making a further contribution in the present difficult circumstances. I hope that my hon. Friends will understand that in present circumstances I cannot pick and choose. I hope that the whole House will regard the imposition of taxation upon entertainments as not done in the kill-joy spirit or anything of that kind. Everybody has his own form of relaxation, and I am very glad of it. It is impossible for me to make a distinction between one kind of entertainment and another.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

Is it not reasonably true that most of the amateur dramatic societies obtain exemption certificates before they even contemplate putting on a show and that, consequently, probably less than 10 per cent. of the amateur dramatic societies are run with any intention of making any profit at all?

Sir K. Wood

That is so.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

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