HC Deb 08 December 1949 vol 470 cc2082-6
57. Mr. Wilson Harris

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the nature of the association between the Arts Council of Great Britain and Tennent Productions, Ltd. in the production of the play "A Streetcar Named Desire"; in what proportion any profits earned by this play are divided between the two bodies; and what restriction is placed on the uses to which such profits may be put.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

The Council's association with Tennent Productions Ltd., which is of long standing and not confined to the production of this particular play, is governed by the Council's standard drama agreement of which I am sending the hon. Member a copy. This agreement neither imposes any financial liability on the Council nor gives it any right to partake in the Company's profits, except in certain circumstances after dissociation; but it provides that all profits made during the period of association can be expended only on objects or activities approved by the Council.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not a case merely of this play? There are five or six plays being run under these joint auspices at present and some are doing business which any commercial theatre might envy. Does he not think that there is a case for inquiry into the administration of Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1946, to ensure that relief goes to deserving plays which may need it, and not to possibly undeserving plays which manifestly do not need it?

Mr. Cooper

Will my right hon. Friend include in his reply some reference to the management fee which is retained by Tennent Productions? Does not that amount to a disguised profit which they receive?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am sorry but I could not hear the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper). I would inform the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) that the Arts Council are represented on the board of this company, and in addition, the Customs and Excise watch matters very closely.

Mr. Wilkes

Is not the case for some review of this relationship very much strengthened by the fact that a British ballet company, the Metropolitan Ballet, has just had to close down because it could obtain no financial support from the Arts Council? Would it not seem that this ballet company is much more deserving of financial support from the Arts Council than a great many other ventures?

Mr. Boothby

Is there absolutely no direct Treasury control over the type of production which receives what amounts to a Government subsidy?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

A company must comply with the terms of the Finance Act to which this House assented. If it does so, and at the moment Customs and Excise do watch these matters closely, we have to assume they are complying, as indeed they are, with the terms of the Act.

Mr. Cooper

Can the Financial Secretary make some reference to the management fee which is charged by Tennent Productions, Ltd., and is not this in fact a disguised profit which they take out of this production of plays?

Earl Winterton

Has the attention of the Financial Secretary been drawn to the fact that during the whole of these questions the Treasury has had no support for its views from any part of the House?

Mr. Blackburn

In support of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, Central (Mr. Wilkes), is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great indignation among British dramatists at the fact that so few British plays and ballets are produced today at the London theatres? Is it not a serious fact that this play is an American play, and will the Arts Council be told to encourage British drama and British ballet?

Mr. E. P. Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, taking in the whole country, the non-profit-making system works extraordinarily well?

Mr. Pickthorn

When the Financial Secretary says that all these matters are watched by Customs and Excise does he include under "these matters" the moral and aesthetic value of the piece presented? Is that watched by Customs and Excise?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The Treasury and Customs and Excise only come into this matter in so far as taxation is concerned, namely, Entertainments Duty, and it any of these bodies fulfil the conditions laid down by Parliament they do not pay the entertainments tax.

Mrs. Manning

In view of all that has been said will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. and learned Friend to look again into this matter, since what has really been said by his right hon. and learned Friend and by himself today, amounts to the fact that, so long as it is this company, Tennents, which put on a play, it does not matter at all what the play is, educational or anything else?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

It does matter, Mr. Speaker, indeed it does. A company has to be non-profit making and in addition it has to be partly educational and partly cultural. It is no part of our job if those conditions are fulfilled to censor any particular production.

Captain Crookshank

Is it not quite clear from the Questions and the answers given this week as well as last week, that while the law may be as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, it is possible to drive a coach-and-four through it? Would not he therefore have the matter properly investigated so that the House can look at it at the time of the next Finance Bill?

Mr. Wyatt

Will my right hon. Friend, before answering that question, consider very carefully how dangerous it would be to try to impose any sort of censorship by Treasury officials on plays to be performed on the stage.

Mr. Boothby

In view of his last reply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman what precise educational value has this particular play?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to, "A Streetcar Named Desire." I have not seen the play myself—

Mr. Boothby

I have—

Mr. Glenvil Hall

—and although obviously opinions may differ as to its merit, I am told that in the United States it has won at least three literary prizes.

Mr. Fernyhough

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that possibly not one in 10 of the critics have seen this play?

Is he further aware that the "Evening Standard" thought it was a great piece of literature, and ran it as a serial?

Mr. Marlowe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this particular play is only educational to those who are ignorant of the facts of life?

Mr. J. Lewis

In view of the interest which the House is showing in this particular play, can my right hon. Friend arrange for hon. Members to see it at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Wilson Harris

In order that the matter may be more fully discussed, I beg to give notice that I shall endeavour to raise it on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.