HC Deb 19 February 1948 vol 447 cc1343-68

Further considered in Committee (on recommittal).

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

POSTPONED CLAUSE.—(Provision of entertainments.)
(1) A local authority may do, or arrange for the doing of, or contribute towards the expanses of the doing of, anything necessary or expedient for any of the following purposes, that is to say—
5 (a) the provision of an entertainment of any nature or of facilities for dancing;
(b) the provision of a theatre, concert hall, dance hall or other premises suitable for the giving of entertainments or the holding of dances;
(c) the maintenance of a band or orchestra;
10 (d) any purpose incidental to the matters aforesaid, including the provision, in connection with the giving of any entertainment or the holding of any dance, of refreshments or programmes and the advertising of any such entertainment or dance:
Provided that the powers conferred on a local authority by this subsection shall not be exercised in relation to any entertainment or dance held in any place outside the area of that authority, or in relation to a theatre, concert hall, dance hall or other
15 premises situate in any place outside that area, unless—
(i) that place is convenient for residents in the area of that authority;
(ii) the local authority for the area within which that place is situate consent.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions of the preceding subsection, a local authority—
20 (a) may for the purposes therein specified enclose or set apart any part of a park or pleasure ground belonging to the authority or under their control not exceeding one acre or one-tenth of the and of the park or pleasure ground whichever is the greater;
(b) may permit any theatre, concert hall, dance hall or other premises provided by them for the purposes of the preceding subsection and any part of a ark or pleasure ground enclosed or set apart as aforesaid, to be used by any other person, on such terms as to payment or otherwise as the authority think fit, and may authorise that other person to make charges for admission thereto;
30(c) may themselves make charges for admission to any entertainment or dance held by them and for any refreshment or programmes supplied at any such entertainment or dance:
35 Provided that nothing in this subsection shall authorise any authority to contravene any covenant or condition subject to which a gift or lease of a public park or pleasure ground has been accepted or made without the consent of the donor grantor, lessor or other person entitled in law to the benefit of the covenant or condition.
(3) The expenditure of a local authority under this section (excluding capital expenditure, but including loan charges) shall not in any year exceed the product of a rate of sixpence in the pound, plus the net amount of any receipts of the authority from any such charges or payments as are referred to in the last preceding subsection:
40 Provided that where a local authority exercise any powers under any statutory provision other than this Act for the provision by them of entertainments or the holding by them of dances, any expenditure incurred by them under those powers (excluding capital expenditure but including loan charges) less the net amount of the receipts if any, of the authority in respect of the exercise of those powers shall, for the purpose of
45 determining whether any and if so what, expenditure may be incurred in any year under this subsection, be taken into account as if it was expenditure under this section
50 (4) Nothing in this section shall affect the provisions of any enactment by virtue of which a licence is required for the public performance of a stage play or the public exhibition of cinematograph films, or for public music or dancing, or for the sale of intoxicating liquor or tobacco.
(5) In this section, the expression "local authority" means the council of a county borough, metropolitan borough or county district or the common council of the City of London.
55 (6) The following enactments are hereby repealed, that is to say, paragraph (3) of section forty-four of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1003; paragraphs (d),(e) and (h) of subsection (i) of section seventy-six of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1907; subsections (1) to (4) of section fifty-six and the proviso to subsection (1) of

3.43 P.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I count it a real honour to move this new Clause; nothing I have done from this Box so far has given me greater satisfaction. Not that I would seek to take credit for it for my right hon. Friend, except the credit due to him for having agreed with the local authorities. The major credit must go to the local authority associations upon whose unanimous request the Clause has been put down. The local authorities themselves put forward a new Clause which was not quite as we thought it should be, and when it was withdrawn in Standing Committee we undertook to put down a Clause ourselves. I had wondered whether the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) would not claim this as the first fruits of the Conservative gains in the municipal elections, but, since seeing the Amendments, I gather that this Is not so.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me if I remind him that on the Second Reading he lectured my right hon. Friend and me about not listening to what the local authorities said. Here is a case where local authorities are united, and they come together agreed that they want to cultivate this new field.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he is speaking of local authorities in Scotland, as well as in England?

Mr. Edwards

I am not speaking for Scotland; I am speaking for England and Wales. If there is any need, no doubt the Secretary of State for Scotland will say something about Scotland. I thought there was perhaps a chance that hon. Gentlemen opposite would welcome this proposed Clause in the same way as I am certain Government supporters will welcome it. But perhaps that was too much to hope. After all, one does not gather figs from thistles, even when they are somewhat sophisticated thistles which come from the Scottish Universities.

This new Clause is not very different from the one which was put down in Standing Committee and withdrawn. It gives very wide powers to local authorities for the provision of entertainments, various kinds of facilities for dancing, the provision of accommodation like theatres and concert halls, the maintenance or helping in the maintenance of bands and orchestras and so on; and, because we cannot take it for granted that all these activities will pay their way—although I am certain that a large number of them will—we have provided further that local authorities may contribute up to the product of a 6d. rate covering all the various activities outlined in the Clause. For 40 or 50 years, Parliament has agreed that it was right for local authorities to provide entertainments.

One is entitled to ask, "If it is right that a local authority should be able to show a film on disease, why should an authority be prevented from putting on an ordinary feature film?" Why should an amateur play be right, but a professional play wrong? Why should a pierrot show at Southend be right, but a variety show at Blackburn wrong? Obviously if it is contended that one thing is right and the other is wrong, it will not be because of objections either from the audiences, the stage or the musicians. If there be objections, they will obviously come only from the entertainment industry, which fears competition. If it is said that the entertainment industry will be subject to unfair competition, I would point out that private enterprise in this field of public entertainment, whether lowbrow or highbrow entertainment, has only partly met the public need.

It is clear that private enterprise alone is either unable, or unwilling, to deal with the expanding cultural needs of our people. This provision, therefore, will make possible the filling in of the countless gaps which there are in this provision, whether it is, as I say, of the highbrow or low-brow kind. Some time before I entered the Government I prevailed upon Mr. Priestley to write a book which has recently been published under the title of "The Theatre Outlook." In that book there is, among other things, an interesting map which shows the parts of the country which are ten miles or more away from the nearest theatre. Looking at the map, one finds great areas of England and Wales, quite apart from the sparsely populated districts where there is no theatre. This is the kind of thing which I hope will be put right.

May I take another example? When I was in Leeds recently, I learned with great pleasure of the work that had been done by their local symphony orchestra. No one knowing the facts could reach any conclusion other than that the crowded audiences coming to these symphony concerts held in Leeds would not have been able to get high-class music of that sort if it had not been for the vision of the Leeds City Council. One could give other examples of the same kind of thing, where farsighted municipalities have been doing their best, with quite inadequate powers, to help forward the arts in various ways. Even in this House, as far back as 1929, a substantial majority of over 100 agreed to bring in the Municipal Repertory Theatres Bill. It is true that the Bill made little progress, but even as far back as 1929 a majority of the House of Commons, including people on both sides of the House—although the Measure was introduced by a Labour Member—agreed that something of this kind ought to be done.

It may be said that London is already fairly well provided for in this respect. Certainly, London is an oasis by comparison with the rest of the country, but even here in London no one who knows anything about the theatre world can really be happy about a situation in which the control of the fabric of the theatre is sufficient to prevent quite good productions from running at all, and sufficient to permit quite low-class productions going on for a long time. I have the conviction that if the local authorities are given these powers, they will help to deal with the relative cultural poverty of the Provinces, and that they will put private enterprise entertainments very much on their mettle. I hope that local authorities will take the fullest advantage of the provisions of this Clause when the Bill becomes an Act. The local authority is pre-eminently the body which ought to be able, in the light of local circumstances, to interpret popular demand in its own area.

This is not a matter which can be subject to any kind of remote control. That is why we have left out the county councils from the list of the authorities. We take the view that this kind of work can be done much better by the district councils which are on the spot, in touch with their own people. It is the township, the district council, the county borough but not, I think, the county council, that is particularly suited for this kind of work. The work need not be done according to a stereotyped or standard pattern. There is plenty of room for the greatest possible voluntary activity, for voluntary work of one kind or another, backed up by the help, sometimes financial, sometimes by the provision of buildings, which the local authorities will be enabled to give under this Clause.

I commend the Clause to the Committee. It is a signal to show that local authorities, pre-occupied though they have necessarily been with quite utilitarian projects, can see beyond those projects. The councils which, for reasons into which I need not go this afternoon, have had some of their trading functions taken away from them, and some local authorities which have had powers transferred to major authorities, will find here a new field of work which will revive their interest and, I believe, expand their influence over their own people. I believe that the local authorities will bring to this work the same kind of business acumen which they showed in running their trading undertakings. But they will bring more than that. They will help to revive throughout Britain all the cultural activities which are essential to a good democracy.

I think that the local authorities will show that they can approach this matter combining sound business principles with genuine artistic enthusiasm. Perhaps I may he forgiven for placing a bias here on the more highbrow kind of activity. I do not want to rule out the other activities which are covered by this Clause, but we can well learn in this matter from the ancient Greeks, who knew that a live democracy also carried with it certain artistic activities, and that it was part of the public business to cultivate a taste for the drama. These things are matters in which we ought to have leadership from our locally elected bodies. Finally, I would say that this Clause will give an opportunity to local authorities to challenge the assumption all too frequently made by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is only the aristocratically organised community that can be the vehicle of genuine culture.

The Chairman

May I suggest to the Committee that the best course would be to give the Clause a Second Reading and then take the Amendments, and that any general Debate which is required could deal with the Clause in its final form rather than in the form in which it now appears before the Committee, with quite a number of proposed Amendments.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

On that point, Major Milner, I should have thought that the Minister having made an introductory statement, it would only be reasonable that a short Debate should arise on that. I feel that my hon. Friends would take the view that however the Clause may be amended, certain general principles stand out, and the Second Reading stage is obviously the best time for that Debate to take place rather than when the occasion arises to debate the Motion "That the Clause, as amended, be added to the Bill." I do not think that the time of the Committee will be in any way encroached upon if we have the opportunity of a short general Debate before we deal with the Amendments.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

May I suggest that if we have a general Debate now on the general principles of the Clause, the discussion when we reach the Motion "That the Clause be added to the Bill" might be limited to whatever Amendments have been incorporated in the Clause, and that there should not be a repetition of the general Debate?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

That would certainly be agreeable to us on this side of the Committee, and I think it would be of general convenience to the Committee as a whole that the Debate on the Motion "That the Clause be added to the Bill" should be a relatively circumscribed Debate on the Clause as amended.

The Chairman

I am obliged to both right hon. Gentlemen, and am agreeable to that course, on that understanding, namely, that there should be a general discussion on the Motion "That the Clause be read a Second Time," and, if necessary, a limited Debate on the Question, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."

4.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The Clause before us which, by arrangement, we are taking at a time of the clay which permits of the maximum attendance, and I hope the maximum sufferance and consideration, is one which, in many respects, does not arouse any party hostility, either on one side of the Committee or the other. Amendments which will have grave import to the Bill have been put down from both sides of the Committee. There is an Amendment standing in the name of an hon. Member sitting below the Gangway, which he intimated himself last night, was one for which he is prepared to go to considerable lengths. Therefore, I think we shall make more progress if we do not follow too closely the somewhat narrow party line adopted by the Minister in moving the Clause. After all, the provisions of this Clause are provisions which the House has granted for many years to many local authorities in many parts of the country.

Conservative and Liberal Governments have, in the past, been most willing that cultural activities should be pursued by local authorities, and the somewhat naive attempts of the Minister to colour the whole of that great sphere of action as a privilege of himself and his hon. Friends will really not carry conviction. It will certainly not carry con viction with those of us from the City of Glasgow who remember well the great collections formed in that City by the local authority which, at that time, was not drawing any of its strength from the proletarian masses of the City and which had, in many respects, embarked upon artistic and cultural enterprises of a very far-reaching kind. The City of Edinburgh also—and the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) will no doubt speak at a later hour—has only recently given evidence of one of the most striking advances in the cultural field that any city in the country, and no doubt any part of the United Kingdom, has given for many long years past.

We must address ourselves to the practical issues concerned. I would deprecate the attempt of the Minister to hold out these activities as a sort of consolation prize to local authorities who have been deprived of their great business undertakings by the action of this Government. To take away from the working people of this country the opportunities for self-education which are given by the running of a great electricity undertaking, a great gas undertaking or a transport undertaking, and to say that they will find fitting recompense in being allowed to manage a symphony orchestra is scarcely up to the level of argument one would expect in this Committee. These proposals must be justified on their merits. Either it is good or it is not good for a local authority to undertake these things, and the limits of any way in which it is to undertake them should also be laid down.

The hon. Member prayed in aid the great City of Athens and the striking advances that were made by that popular, or rather, I should say, highly aristocratic city, in culture and the provision of opportunities for culture for the citizens. He might have remembered the classical denunciation of Demosthenes against the citizens of Athens, whose ancestors were willing to give up their lives and liberties to defend themselves against their enemies. "And you," he said, "are not willing to sacrifice your theatre tickets." The great argument of Demosthenes against the theatre devotees is rather germane to the very argument that we are now conducting.

One point we would wish to bring forward to the attention of the Committee is the enormously wide limits which are being laid down for these enterprises by the Clause as it is now drawn. In many respects, we consider the objects of this Clause are good, and we seek to amend them so as to define them more closely. We would say, in the first place, that, at the moment when we are adjured by every authority sitting on the Government Front Bench—and many below the Gangway—to limit the opportunities for expenditure in every possible way, to bring in a Measure which allows the expenditure of a 6d. rate over the whole kingdom is really an extravagance for which, at this time, there is no justification. A 6d. rate in the City of Birmingham reaches £188,000. Does the Parliamentary Secretary really seriously contend that the annual loss of £188,000 is a loss he would wish to justify to this Committee? The expenditure of a 6d. rate over the whole country would come to over £8 million.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary seriously argue that the sanctioning at this moment by this House of expenditure running up to £8 million is what he wishes this afternoon? The Minister cannot have it both ways. He said he did not believe that the loss of these enterprises would be anything like the loss provided for. We trust, therefore, he will allow the somewhat modest limit to operate which some of us have suggested by an Amendment. If not, we can only say that his ideas of expenditure suitable for the country at this time differ very radically from our own.

We say, further, that the general procedure here is altogether too lax, and that the procedure by Private Bill, which is still in many ways the most appropriate way of proceeding, might well be supplemented by procedure by affirmative order. That has been found very useful in many relations between the central authority and the local authority. It brings the matter under the review of the House and requires that the purposes for which these powers are sought should be laid before the House and defended by the Minister. That seems to us not at all an unreasonable step to take at this time and not an unreasonable thing for the Committee to ask.

Everyone who has the remotest connection with the entertainment industry knows that there is no field in which one can go wider or lose more money, with less satisfaction to those for whom the money is ostensibly spent, than in the field of entertainment. If this bottomless purse, this £8 million from the rates, is to be thrown into this form of extravagance, then a very dangerous field is opening before us, not only as regards expenditure, but also as regards satisfaction to the public. The final sanction of the public on this matter is staying away from the entertainment—

Mr. Bevan

Or not electing the council.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The right hon. Gentleman will know very well that elections are not turned solely upon the entertainment policy of the authority in question. I can imagine, if it were, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer being almost unanimously turned down by the electors, and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer getting a very high majority indeed. When local authorities are brought into the field of entertainment, perils arise which are graphically described by the recent vote of censure by the Central Committee in Russia upon the music which was being provided by the composers, and the arrogation to itself of a complete power not merely of criticism but of sup- pression of the entertainment which was being provided. I quote from the "Manchester Guardian," and from the resolution of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party published on 12th February: The Party Central Committee considers that the opera, 'The Great Friendship' … is faulty both as regards its music and it, subject and is an unartistic production. The Resolution later says: The Central Party Committee has therefore resolved to instruct the Propaganda and Agitation Administration of the Central Committee and the Arts Committee to bring about an improvement of the state of affairs in Soviet music … Clearly, there are dangers in private enterprise in entertainment, but the Minister will also agree that there are dangers in the public development of this art also. I myself have always taken the very greatest interest in the development of drama and of what might be called cultural activities in the City of Glasgow. I was associated both with the first repertory theatre and with the second repertory theatre, the Citizens' Theatre, now running in that city. But I think that these things are better done by associations of public-minded citizens, rich or poor, than merely by putting the thing on the rates and leaving it unfettered, as it is sought to do in this Clause.

For those reasons, we on this side of the Committee, while not unsympathetic to the general objects which, indeed, are in line with the policy that we have pursued for many years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They are in line with the policy which we have pursued for many years, not merely in Parliament but in the many municipalities which have been in the control of members of the Conservative Party for many years past. We say that we do not find ourselves in opposition to the Clause as a whole, but we certainly will seek to improve it by Amendments. Naturally, we reserve our view on the Clause as amended, until we see it in its final shape.

Mr. Gibson (Kennington)

I wish to support this Clause in general. It is true that most of the local authorities who have any concern for the development of cultural activities among their people, have been asking for these powers for many years. I do not believe that, even if the rate limit of 6d. is left in, there is the slightest danger of any outrageous waste of public money. Some of us are very keen that the local authorities in our districts should be able to meet the needs of the people in a way which, so far, private enterprise has been unable to do. These powers will give the local authorities the opportunity of doing that with some assurance that the cultural needs and desires of our people will be strengthened as time passes.

I should be pleased if the Minister would reply to one small point. When moving the Second Reading of this Clause the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that county councils are excluded from using these powers. I can see a good argument for that over the country as a whole; but it appears to me that it will deny London some of the opportunities of benefiting under this provision. It may be that that is not intended. During the war, at the request of the Government, the London County Council organised widespread "Holidays at Home" entertainments of one kind or another. All of them proved a great success and, in spite of bombs, we had people sitting in open air theatres watching good operas and plays. I would like to know whether that kind of activity, which has become most popular among Londoners, will be excluded if the Clause is adopted in its present form.

4.15 p.m.

I am also anxious that encouragement should be given to large orchestras such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In London, at any rate, the County Council has given considerable financial assistance. I hope that that kind of thing will not be excluded by the wording of this proposal. It is public knowledge that the London County Council has already voted some £20,000 to the Philharmonic Orchestra with a view to encouraging good music among Londoners generally and among school children in particular. The idea is to give to tens of thousands of Londoners, especially children, an opportunity which otherwise they might miss of hearing the best kinds of music. I am afraid that if the permission given by the Minister excludes the county councils as such, the very good work which the London County Council has been doing will be brought to a halt.

We have been trying to widen our activities in this direction. The committees of the London County Council responsible for this type of work have planned some large and widespread public entertainments, including sports, music, plays, dancing and ballet, for the coming summer. I am sure that there is no intention on the part of the Government or the Minister to stop that. I would welcome an assurance that this Clause will not have that effect. Apart from that, I think that this Clause is well supported and that it should have the unanimous support of the Committee. I do not think that there is any danger of gross waste of public money if a limit of a 6d. rate is prescribed.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

I wish to give strong support to this Clause. I thought that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) found himself in a somewhat embarrassing position this afternoon. As spokesman for the Opposition, he felt that he had to criticise anything that came from the Government side of the Committee, but he could not forget that he is also a distinguished representative of the Scottish Universities which stand for so many of the things which this Clause is trying to bring to the masses of the people. Therefore, I thought that he was somewhat half-hearted in his opposition and that while, as a loyal Member of the Opposition, he was willing to wound, as a university Member he was afraid to strike.

I welcome the Clause all the more because the borough which I have the honour to represent already does a great many of these things. Reference was made to the additional glory which the City of Edinburgh recently added to its name by what it did in the way of a musical festival. We in Cheltenham have our festival of contemporary British music which has been a great success and which we propose to extend. We have taken part of a building which was no longer required for its previous purpose and turned it into a civic playhouse. We have found these things, for the most part, a very considerable help to the rates. It is only a measure of precaution that provision is made for the loss of a 6d. rate. Even the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities is prepared, apparently, to see a loss of a 3d rate, so the real difference between the two sides of the Committee is not £8 million, but £4 million. I think it is only pessimism to think that, for the most part, there will be losses of this kind.

I think that my right hon. Friend, in giving these powers to district councils, is really doing something to revivify interest in local government. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities asked whether they could possibly be as interested in this work as in running an electricity undertaking. I have been a member of the electricity committee of my own authority, and I am also a member of the town improvement and entertainments committee, and I know which I find the more interesting—providing cultural entertainment and discussing drama and music or discussing the details of running an electricity undertaking. I believe that we shall, by increasing these powers, bring to local government citizens who normally would not be attracted to local government work, men and women, educated and cultured, whom we ought to bring into this work, but who, for too long, have stayed outside and criticised those who have stepped into the breach. They are people who themselves have a very valuable contribution to make to local government work, and I welcome this proposal as the first step in a new direction by a Government which, in recent times, has tended to move in the wrong direction. Instead of taking away powers from the district councils, the Minister is here giving them an additional and very welcome one.

I believe also that the fears of those in the entertainments industry that this will provide serious competition to themselves is really unfounded. It is wrong to assume that the whole field has already been covered, and that all the people likely to be interested in entertainments are able to have their needs satisfied at present. On the contrary, local authorities have an opportunity to create a new and increased public if they do their job properly in the entertainments world, and, in point of fact, inspired by the competition of the local authorities, perhaps those engaged in the entertainments industry will feel that they will have to give a new direction to some of the entertainments which have hitherto been provided, since they will have to meet additional competition. Anyhow, it ill befits hon. Members of the Opposition to object to increased competition. I thought that that was the whole philo- sophy of their party. For the reasons I have indicated, I wholeheartedly welcome this Clause.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

I only want to intervene for a few minutes in order to reply to the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who assumed that all these entertainments will require the absorption of a 6d. rate. I was convener of the Entertainments Committee in Glasgow for a period of years, and I have to admit that cultural music did involve a loss, but, on the other hand, another convener, who ran our Kelvin Hall, which is very well known to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, for a particular entertainment, year after year made an astounding profit which went to the common good.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman always uses an analogy embarrassing to Labour. He used the analogy of Russia, though I do not know why, because Russia has not got a Labour Government. A little nearer home, however, there is one country which I think stands highest in Europe in entertainments, particularly cultural entertainments, and that is Sweden. Nearer still, there is Norway. Why should we think there is going to be a loss on these entertainments, and, in particular, on cinema entertainments? In Norway, I was taken over the area of a great many of the local authorities last year by members of the Stortinget, and I found that they all have the option of running their own cinemas. All local authorities in Norway have that option, and they may do so or not just as they desire. I found that every local authority ran its own cinema entertainments, and I thought that was rather striking, because there were so many local authorities that were not Labour-controlled.

Why, therefore, did these local authorities run their own cinema entertainments? It was the force of public opinion, and the fact that neighbouring local authorities, which were Labour-controlled, found themselves making a huge profit, and the news spread around. Fredrikstad built its magnificent library from the profits of its municipally owned and run cinema. Therefore, all the other local authorities, Tory or otherwise, insisted that they must have their own municipal cinemas. Those of the delegation who were with me were struck with the remarkable amount of money accruing to the local authorities throughout the whole of Norway from these municipally owned and controlled cinemas. We made inquiries, and also found that British films were the most popular in these cinemas.

Mr. Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)

Were they cultural films?

Mrs. Mann

No, they were all kinds, documentaries, cultural, feature films, and sometimes the double feature. We want to see this introduced into Britain. The Norwegians asked us why we had not introduced it in Britain, and some of us almost felt that we ought to have said, "Because it would be depriving private enterprise of some of its profits," but we did not say so. We did feel, however, that the ratepayers ought to have some of these profits, and that it would be lovely to see some of our beautiful libraries, as in Norway, built out of the profits of municipal cinemas. For those reasons, I very much welcome this Clause.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. S. Marshall

In this Measure, there is much to be commended from many angles, but I am very disappointed to find that anyone should contemplate that we should go in for further expenditure in this field. I know that some people oppose municipal trading of any sort—and I speak with experience over many years—and I know what we can do under present conditions under the 1925 Act, and also under the Education Act of 1944, in regard to the provision of cultural entertainments. This proposal does not suggest for one moment that the 6d. rate is to be used purely for cultural entertainment. I was very amused to hear the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) refer so very clearly—and more than once—to the profit motive. I asked the hon. Lady whether the films, by which the money was to be provided for that intellectual pabulum which is generally associated with the library, were of the cultural type. With a great deal of circumspection she said, "Yes, and certain other films, and two-feature films." I must confess that, as a non-picturegoer, I do not understand that, although I expect that there are hon. Members who do understand what two-feature films might be.

Mrs. Mann

If the hon. Gentleman likes, I will take him to a two-feature film.

Mr. Marshall

Not having been able to go to the cinema for quite a long time, I shall, if this Debate finishes at a reasonable hour tonight, be very pleased to avail myself of the hon. Lady's invitation. If we cannot go tonight, perhaps we can make an assignation for some other time?

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Is not my hon. Friend afraid to go in the dark?

Mr. Piratin (Mile End)

I hope the hon. Member will recall that this is Leap Year.

Mr. Marshall

How does the hon. Gentleman know my marital condition?

I really cannot see why one local authority, a district council, should be enabled to incur still further expenditure in this regard, while the county councils are precluded. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that, owing to the number of duties which have been taken away from the local authorities—he instanced, of course, the electricity and gas undertakings—they would be very glad to turn themselves into entrepreneurs and to provide entertainment. It was even suggested by another speaker that there was no reason why local authorities should not equally be able to provide this sort of entertainment in the same excellent fashion that they ran their electricity and gas undertakings. I can see no connection whatsoever between the two things. I do not know whether hon. Members who have served on electricity or gas committees, which, I understand, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) has done, would like to claim that their experience in running electricity or gas undertakings has qualified them to run the entertainments now proposed.

Mr. Lipson

I am afraid I could not have made myself clear. I did not say that one would learn from serving on an electricity committee how to run this entertainment. Personally, I should find it much more interesting to serve on a committee carrying out the functions of this Clause than on a committee running an electricity undertaking.

Mr. Marshall

I agree with the hon. Member; I am sure it is much more interesting to entertain Danny Kaye and to sponsor an entertainment in the hon. Member's locality by such a personality. It is much more interesting, but is it the right thing to do? The gas or electricity undertakings are obviously carried on by the hon. Member for Cheltenham because of his great sense of duty. But here is an entirely new aspect.

I am very well acquainted with a borough which only recently embarked on running its own municipal dances within a 2d. rate. They are very successful. The excuse given for running those dances is that they will be able to get enough money from them to be able to run symphony concerts next winter. That may sound all right, but does the House seriously believe that, in order to bring culture to the masses, we must, shall I say, with great respect, pander to their cheaper desires for entertainment?

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

That is a shocking thing to say.

Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)

If the hon. Gentleman never goes to the pictures and objects to dances has he any vices at all?

Mr. Marshall

I expected that question from one who is probably a pastmaster of all of them, but I do not wish to cast any aspersions in that regard. I think it is a very cheap and low form of appeal to be asked to run such entertainment for the masses in order to provide cultural entertainment for the rest of the people. I hold no brief for any entertainment society on this matter, but I firmly believe that the entertainment, which it is now suggested local authorities should engage in up to a 6d. rate, is best provided by private enterprise. I cannot imagine the local authorities being the best judges of what kind of films should be shown, nor do I believe that they have the ability which the ordinary entertainment proprietor possesses to put on the entertainment which appeals to the masses.

Is it seriously suggested that, except, perhaps, in the more remote districts which were mentioned by one hon. Member, we cannot provide all the entertainment needed by the people of this country? Are we not pandering too much to people today by endeavouring to provide entertainment for them? Is it not still possible that these people can provide their own entertainment? One hon. Member said that the encouragement of drama could be furthered by this 6d. rate. I know from my own experience that we do not require a 6d. rate in my district in order to encourage the love of drama among the young people. Under the Education Act, 1944, we are able to assist youth councils and youth organisations in their activities. One of the activities in which they are finding their greatest expression today is their amateur dramatic societies.

Mr. H. Hynd (Hackney, Central)

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that that is not private enterprise? That is exactly what he is arguing against. He is arguing that we should not go into private enterprise, but leave it to the private profit seekers.

Mr. Marshall

I said that provision for drama is made under the 1944 Act. We are paying money to these clubs in order to support and encourage them in the production of these dramatic classes.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

That is the second time the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the 1944 Act. For many years it has been possible for youth organisations to engage in drama, but the tragedy is that there is so little public drama which they can go to see when they reach adult age.

Mr. Marshall

In many ways, the 1944 Act enables grants to be made to youth organisations. It is through those grants that these things are encouraged, far beyond the extent to which we were formerly able to encourage them. I still think that the present facilities with regard to the promotion of public entertainment are ample, without adding to them in any way.

The 6d. rate is really an appalling thing. What will happen is that we shall get local authorities with no idea of running entertainment, who will be quite happy and comfortable even if the 6d. rate shows a loss. I am certain that this will not conduce to the provision of better cultural entertainment for the people. I am not in agreement with my hon. Friends to this extent, that I would not go so far as to agree to a 3d. rate. I admit that the principle is the same, whether it is a 3d. rate or a 6d. rate; if one agrees to 6d. or 3d., one might as well agree to is. I do not think any local authority should be encouraged to increase its rates at present. Year after year the local rates continually increase, and surely it is not necessary that public entertainment should be subsidised to the extent proposed. It will only lead to a prodigal expenditure of money compared with any advantages which might accrue.

I know that many people favour this sort of expenditure and do so in the cause of cultural entertainment and advancement. I am not so sure that the people in this country are so ready to be culturally entertained. Those people who desire cultural entertainment already have it provided for them, and they take advantage of it. I cannot for the life of me understand why the district councils should be allowed to spend the product of a 6d. rate on cinema entertainments and such things. I support neither the Amendment which proposes a 3d. rate nor the provision for a 6d. rate in this Clause. The idea seems to be that we are having a "new look" on this sort of thing, and that the Minister, out of the generosity of his heart, has produced this new Clause either to meet the wishes of hon. Members on this side of the Committee or, perhaps, to curry favour.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)

I have listened with very great interest to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall). I did not follow his argument very easily, but I did gather that he does not know very much about the subject. He spoke with some feeling, but I doubt whether he has investigated the differences and the inequalities that exist between one area and another in the Provinces. Those of us on this side of the Committee, and many hon. Members opposite, are entirely agreed that this Clause has not come too soon. If there is any objection at all, it would appear to come from those who speak for the entertainment industry. I agree with the hon. Gentleman for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) that this Clause will enable a great mass of people to become acquainted with all aspects of entertainment and who will, therefore, wish to take advantage of music, drama and ballet for the rest of their lives.

Of course, the last thing in the world we ought to do is to promote a sort of "third programme" type of entertain ment for all of the people; it would not be reasonable. That will not happen so long as the unit which we use is something like the local authority. The local authority will provide some guarantee against cultural snobbery and minority pressure from groups who have peculiar ideas and who are apt to feel that everybody else should feel as they do. This provision is permissive and imposes no obligation. It allows the people to ask for what they want in a normal democratic way. I think it is reasonable to point out what is really self-evident, that just as in the past we have had great inequalities, the fact that we are to have permissive legislation will not mean that we shall iron out those inequalities. In backward areas the councillors and aldermen who represent the point of view which has been expressed by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam are likely to use the same arguments that he used. They may say, "We have got all we require. There is no need to offer anything more to any one. Let them provide their own amenities and find their own method of enjoying themselves. Why should we spend money on them?"

4.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary expressed the hope that this Clause would help to abolish the relative cultural poverty in the Pro Minces. It cannot do that successfully if the unit of administration is too small. If the unit of administration is confined to the county borough, in many cases it will inevitably confine a good deal of our rich heritage of culture to the citizens in that county borough. What will happen just outside, in the small towns and in the country districts? There will inevitably be a great disparity. In the city where I live, I would expect full advantage to be taken of this provision, but just outside the city I would expect nothing, or very little.

How shall we overcome this problem? The solution is not difficult to find. Neither the county borough alone, nor the county council, nor any other area, is necessarily the proper administrative unit. There should be combinations of areas which fall naturally into suitable geographical units, and each of those areas should have a progressive and fairly large town in its centre. These proposals will come to nothing unless we have personnel trained in fairly large numbers, and they should be mostly volunteers, for I agree that we must depend on voluntary movements if we want to reach the people in the most effective way. We must train the personnel, whether as youth leaders or to teach music, or to offer the villages and the small country towns the benefits of drama. They can only be trained in a large central area, and such an area is very often the centre of the county council area or a large county borough.

In North Staffordshire where I live, there is an obvious unit, and one which we shall certainly use. There is included in it Stoke-on-Trent with a quarter of a million people. Round about it is the whole of North Staffordshire which is fairly empty save for small towns. It also includes Burton-on-Trent, a county borough about 30 miles away, and it can act in full liaison with Stafford and the county council itself. We shall combine and associate—we are discussing it already—and we should pool our resources, so that outside our own ambit we can take the benefits of this service to the small town and village where there is a county hall or, if there is not one, where we shall try to build one when possible.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) referred to what Demosthenes said to the Athenians, and I know he will not mind if I refer to what Pericles said when speaking of the Athenians. He suggested that they were the most cultured people in the world and could face any crisis in life with the utmost facility and grace. He described them thus with some justification, because Athens was a democracy—a democracy based upon slavery just as we, in turn, today are becoming a democracy based upon enslavement of the machine. We enslave the machine, but they enslaved human beings from outside, the barbarians. I think we shall go on with our efforts to enslave the machine and to work out our own form of democracy, which I think is the finest. The analogy is correct. It is our duty to offer to all our people, in all our cities, the opportunity of facing any crisis in life with the utmost facility and grace. We shall do best, I am sure, by giving them the opportunities of full emotional education, a life rich in colour and experience, until ultimately, I hope, this small beginning will enable everyone in Britain to boast a true creativeness in the arts instead of being what we have often tended to be in the past—merely watchers of what other people do.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I feel a little embarrassment in following the last speaker from these benches, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall), but then I have not the advantage of his vast and unique ignorance of the subjects about which he was talking. I must declare my interest in this matter. I am a dramatist, and deputy chairman of the League of Dramatists, and, therefore, I speak for myself and for my professional association. It will make a great deal of difference to the stability and comfort of my old age and to the provision which I hope to be able to make for my offspring if this new Clause comes to be accepted; and, therefore, I heartily commend it to the Committee. The Clause is welcomed by the dramatists; it is welcomed by the actors; it is welcomed by the stage hands; and it is welcomed by the commercial production managements and the non-profit-making companies. The plain fact is—we want more theatres. They are the markets where we must sell our wares, and the more markets there are the more of our wares we shall sell. This, of course, is private enterprise in all the beauty of its pure and elemental simplicity.

Objections will be levelled at the Clause, of course, by the theatre landlords—the bricks and mortar men, as they are called—in those areas which may come within the orbit of the Clause. Naturally they object. After all, for the moment they are monopolists, and I would remind the Committee how greatly the theatre has suffered in the past from monopolies, such as the ancient Royal Patents, which have now happily been abolished, and the dramatic censorship, existing down to this day, which we hope will soon similarly disappear. There is no doubt whatever that this Clause will impinge upon these monopolies but, after all, it is only healthy competition, which I hope will be very much on the same terms as that offered by the existing theatres. None of us wishes to see unfair competition by means of a gross subsidy financed out of the rates.

Wartime experience of theatrical entertainment, though in many respects it was deficient, has undoubtedly whetted the appetites of hundreds of thousands of men and women for the product of the living theatre, as opposed to the unsatisfying shadows of the silver screen; and yet, for years to come, it will not be economically possible to build theatres privately which can be let at economic rents to resident or to visiting companies. This new Clause is, therefore, a necessary and imperative part of this Bill, and I am only amazed that the Minister of Health, whom I have hitherto regarded as a moderately intelligent individual, should have had to move a new Clause to give effect to these things. If I had been Minister of Health I should have built my whole Rill around this Clause. It would have been the fons et origo of my measure. Since the Minister comes from Wales, I can only surmise that he suffers from the inhibitions of an inherited Nonconformist conscience, and I congratulate him on having shaken himself free from those ancestral and possibly Druidical tendencies.

Mr. Bevan

It is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to confuse the Druids with a Nonconformist.

Mr. Smith

The Druids were not a conforming sect. What does this Clause do? It gives the local authority power to build a theatre, power to put on a play at its own risk, power to let that theatre to a company for a similar purpose and power to effect the same ends in regard to music, concerts and the drama. I am also very glad to see it gives the local authority power to run a bar for the sale of alcoholic refreshment, because that will ensure the financial solvency and profit of any venture, and so it will raise the level of entertainment, please the patrons, and also enrich the Chancellor of the Exchequer—poor fellow. In commending this new Clause t the Committee, I would ask hon. Members to turn to lines 65 to 80, because here is enshrined the whole pitiful tragedy of the art of entertainment in its relations to politics, and that will perhaps excuse the fervour with which I have spoken. It says that: Nothing in this Section shall have effect so as to extend the powers of the council of a county or of a parish under Section seventy of the Public Health Act, 1925 (which relates to the use of the offices of an authority for entertainments) as applied to those councils by Section four of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, and accordingly the following proviso shall be inserted at the end of Subsection (2) of the said Section four, that is to say— Provided that the following restrictions shall have effect with respect to any concert or other entertainment provided by the council of a county or of a parish by virtue of this Section, that is to say— (i) No stage play shall be performed. Not even a half hour one-act play; not even a 15-minute sketch. Then it says: (ii) the concert or other entertainment shall not include any performance in tin, nature of a variety entertainment. I do not quite know what the definition of variety entertainment is, but I do not think the entertainment envisaged under these provisions could even possibly be called variety entertainment. It goes on to say: (iii) no cinematograph film other than a film illustrative of questions relating to health or disease shall be shown; and (iv) no scenery, theatrical costumes of scenic or theatrical accessories shall be used. 5.0 p.m.

In such event one can imagine that the wife of the chairman of a county council—or, in the case of an entertainment given by a parish council, shall we say the local vicar's wife?—getting up to sing a song would have to remove her ordinary make-up before mounting the platform, that is, if she had a platform and if she had a song. I am really rather amazed that the Minister of Health should have incorporated these odiously restrictive words in what is plainly a liberating Clause.

Mr. Bevan

I am sure—at least, I hope—that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood it. The purpose of the provision is merely to prevent duplication between the functions of county councils and urban districts and between those of county councils, rural districts and parish councils. In the latter case all these functions can be discharged by rural district councils.

Mr. Smith

I appreciate that perfectly. I am merely drawing the attention of the Committee to the conditions, which would seem to me rather horrifying. Nevertheless, the art of entertainment—

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