§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I was given leave to introduce this Bill on 10th March. Since then, I have had many representations from people of every sort and description in the theatrical industry—actors and actresses, producers, managers, etc.—not only in London but up and down the country all of them with a few exceptions, were strongly in favour of the Bill. The exceptions were employees or associates of one or other of the Tennent companies, who are the main beneficiaries of the Entertainments Duty concession about which I shall speak in a few moments.
It has been extremely significant to me that almost invariably those who have made representations to me in favour of the Bill or of one or other aspect of the Bill, have said: "Please do not use my name, because if you do and if it is known that I have made representations to you about this matter, I shall be banned by the Tennent organisation, either from acting or from carrying on my business in the theatrical profession." That shows how great is the power of the Tennent organisation to inspire alarm in those who are engaged in the theatrical industry and fear of offending it in any way. People whose names are very well known in the country have said this to me. Even members of the Society of West End Managers and members of their council have been to see me and have said: "Please do not use my name in connection with the Bill because I shall be penalised mercilessly if you do."
The abuses which need to be remedied arise from Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1946, are much greater than I thought they were when I first sought leave to introduce the Bill. I should like briefly to give the background to the Bill and to explain why I think it is necessary, before I go on to explain the contents of the Bill.
Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1946, lays down that any non-profit-making company whose object and aims are partly educational may be exempted from Enter 834 tainments Duty. That is an extremely valuable provision. It was intended to make it possible for plays of undoubted cultural worth to be presented in London and the provinces which otherwise, because of the expense of Entertainments Duty, might not have been presented. It was also intended that companies anxious to improve the quality of stage productions should have an opportunity to put on from time to time an obviously commercial play in order to balance the loss on their more difficult plays. Quite a large number of companies have been taking advantage of this Entertainments Duty concession, and respecting its terms—in the sense that it was first accepted in the House—which was the purely non-commercial desire to spread a greater knowledge of cultural plays.
The principal company making use of this Entertainments Tax exemption is a company called "Tennent Productions, Ltd." It has done much valuable work in putting on very high quality and high standard productions. I do not think anybody would deny that. But there is another organisation, which is not a non-profit producing company but is openly a profit-making company. It has a similar name, being called H. M. Tennent, Ltd.
That is not the only similarity it has with the former company, because it has the same principal director, who is Mr. H. Beaumont, who runs both companies together. The principal shareholders of H. M. Tennent, Ltd., are Mr. Beaumont; a theatre-owning company called Howard and Wyndham's; and Globe and Queen's, which is another theatre-owning company. They jointly own this theatrical profit-making organisation H. M. Tennent, Ltd.
Mr. Beaumont is one of the few people in the theatrical profession who has made no representations to me about the terms of the Bill, although I have spoken to associates of his and told them that I would be quite willing to see him if he thought there was any defect in the Bill which ought to be remedied. He has not made such representations, so I must assume that the Bill is entirely satisfactory to him and to the object which he seeks to achieve. Mr. Beaumont, who is, understand, an extremely honourable person—I have nothing whatever against him and have never met him—has very skilfully used the Entertainments Duty 835 concession, which is his by law, to build a great theatrical empire. It is probably the greatest theatrical empire that has been seen in London in this century. It has only been built by the use of the Entertainments Duty exemption concession.
At this moment, in London, Tennent Productions Ltd., the non-profit-distributing company, has six plays, five of which are enjoying Entertainments Duty relief, running in six of the best theatres in London. One does not enjoy it because it is a revue called "Going to Town," and even Mr. Beaumont apparently thought it would be stretching it a bit far to ask for Entertainments Duty relief in respect of that production. All the same the company putting it on does not pay Income Tax because, odd though it may seem, Tennent Productions, Ltd., is a charitable trust as well as a theatrical producing company.
H. M. Tennent Ltd., the profit-making company, has four plays running in London at the moment. Therefore, together, the two companies, which are run jointly by the same man, have 10 plays running in London, occupying the very best theatres which many others would be glad to get into but are prevented. There is also one play touring in the country on a non-profit making, and two plays touring on a profit-making basis, and a month ago these companies had another two plays showing in London.
Not only do these companies manage to get the best theatres but they also manage to have the most famous actors and actresses. On the face of it there is nothing wrong in that, but without the advantage of the Entertainments Duty concession they could not do it. As I mentioned on a previous occasion, there is a play running today at the Haymarket Theatre called "A Day by the Sea." It has a very remarkable and accomplished cast including three theatrical knights, a Dame, and a lady, Irene Worth—whose name I forgot to mention on the last occasion though I did not mean any disparagement—who is considered by many to be equally as distinguished as the others I have mentioned.
They all act together in the same play. Some people venture to suggest that it is not a particularly good play but 836 whether or not that is so is not our business. It is our business, however, that this play earns over£3,000 a week and enjoys Entertainments Duty exemption. Were it not for that exemption, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be receiving£500 a week from it now. As he is not receiving the£500. it is, of course, available to pay the very large sums required by such distinguished actors all to appear in the same play.
I should add that no reduction whatever has been made in the prices of the seats because of the Entertainments Duty relief. In fact, the prices of seats have actually been put up. The effect is that none of those actors is available simply to appear in other plays. In my view, they should be appearing in other plays put on by other managements all over England and London.
One or other of the Tennent Companies, I should add, has been in control of the Haymarket Theatre for the last five and a half years.
There is another aspect of the matter which I should mention. The profit-making company charges the non-profit-making company in the Tennent group£40 a week by way of management fee for each production put on by the non-profit-making company. As there are seven of these at the moment,£280 a week is being paid by the non-profit-making company—money which can only be earned by Entertainments Duty exemption—to the profit-making company to pay for the overheads—the secretaries and staff and rents and so on—of the profit-making company.
It was never Parliament's intention that an Entertainments Duty concession of this kind should be so arranged as to provide the basis upon which a profit-making company can operate and manipulate its affairs. This is a very large sum of money. It is well over£10,000 a year received in management fees from the non-profit-making company to bolster up and buttress the profit-making company.
Both these Tennent companies can, by their joint operation, prevent any other company from getting any of the best theatres in London. That is done by the process known as keeping a theatre "warm." That operates in this way. If one has a non-profit-making play which is not doing very well one does not mind 837 too much, because there is no profit to lose and the Entertainments Duty relief helps one to carry on in a way denied to profit-making firms paying Entertainments Duty. One is therefore prepared to go on running the play, even at a loss, for a month or so until one cart bring in, from either one's profit-making or non-profit-making company, a play which one thinks may have a better chance of success. In the meantime other managements anxious to get the threatre are prevented from doing so.
So great is the grip of both these organisations in London today that very few managers dare to upset either of these two companies by allocating to another company a theatre which they have a mind to lease. These two companies therefore are in constant possession of the best theatres all the time. They can also prevent other companies from getting hold of the first-rate actors. They do so by continually employing them themselves, and they make it clear that those actors will be looked after in a general way, and advise them not to work for other people.
The whole of this puts the Tennent companies into an amazingly strong financial position. They can pay higher prices for commercial plays than can any other company. We have the two examples "Streetcar Named Desire" and "Death of a Salesman." In both of those a 17½per cent. royalty or more was paid by the non-profit-making company to put on the play in London—something away beyond the reach of the ordinary profit-making company because it cannot fall back on the advantage of the Entertainments Duty concession.
Although one does not blame the non-profit-distributing company for wishing to make a profit, it is strange that it has been able, by this concession to bid higher than its commercial rivals in the commercial world.
In addition, the companies also can and do offer better terms to prevent others from getting the best provincial theatres. They do so as a result of the Entertainments Duty concession because they can go to the provincial theatre and say, "We do not require so mush from you as would a profit-making company." They can almost share out the relief of Entertainments Duty by taking lower terms than a profit-making company would 838 require. The ordinary managements are consequently unable to get into these theatres.
Tennent Productions, Limited, the non-profit-distributing company, has at least£55,000 reserve in War Loan stocks alone, and has many other valuable assets in the way of ownership of plays and so forth behind it. I therefore do not think that anything in my Bill will hamper the activities of this extremely powerful concern. What all this has led to is a tendency towards monopoly, particularly when it is taken together with the fact that many of the theatre owners are linked in one way or another with H. M. Tennent, Limited, the profit-making firm. Together they are able to control most of the London theatres and a great many of the provincial theatres.
I have been told of cases of actors and actresses who have offended Tennent's and have been told that they would not get a part again in the West End and have found it extremely difficult to do so because agents and other persons connected in one form or another with Tennent's have been afraid to employ them for fear of offending this great and powerful organisation.
I heard the other day of an actress who was offered a very large sum of money indeed by another management, far more than she had ever received from Tennent's, to perform for this other management, but she said that she could not do so because she would have to consult the Tennent organisation before she could accept the offer, even though it was a better one than she had had before. She then had to decline it because Tennents were unwilling for her to perform for this other management.
This sort of thing is going on the whole time. It is not good for the theatre as a whole. It is not good for playwrights because if a play is turned down by the Tennent organisation its author finds it difficult to get the play accepted, if it is an experimental play, by another organisation, for they are driven now, in the main, to performing only very commercial plays in order to be able to survive.
The object of my Bill is to remove some of the undoubted anomalies—I do not think the Financial Secretary would dispute that—created by the present state of the law. It has been welcomed by 839 hundreds of people in the theatrical profession, including people who run repertory companies, small non-profit-making companies, profit-making companies, actors and the like.
I should like to read part of a leading article in a journal called "The Stage," the very old-established journal of the theatrical profession—it was established in 1880—and is a very responsible journal which is regarded as being the authoritative spokesman of the profession. On 8th April they wrote:By divorcing profit-making companies from those non-profit-making concerns which are striving to make a significant contribution to the art of the theatre, the Theatrical Companies Bill aims at breaking the boundless power"—Those are their words, not mine—something in the nature of a monopoly which has been acquired quite legally by certain West End managements. The situation looks like getting out of hand and Mr. Wyatt's Bill is designed to segregate the profit-making and the non-profit-making companies into watertight compartments. Under the new scheme, for instance, it will no longer be possible for a non-profit-making company to present a play in London, while allowing a member of the board to reap the repertory and film rights. Nor would it be possible for any non-profit-making theatrical company to pay to any theatrical producing company or theatrical organisation operating for profit, a fee for executive or administrative services. Smaller managements would stand a better chance of competing with their rivals if Mr. Wyatt's Bill became law. Much good would come of the disentangling of the complicated relationships that exist at the moment between profit-making and non-profit-making concerns. Scores of our finest artists are monopolised by individual managements; they never circulate or become available for employment by other organisations. Similarly, some authors, naturally hoping for the longest possible run for their plays, prefer to associate themselves exclusively with one of the monopolies. The play-going public, it must be admitted, owes much to monopolies, who have been responsible for a number of excellent productions in London during the post-war years, but for all that, a healthier state of affairs would exist if the Theatrical Companies Bill cleared the air by abolishing unfair competition and handicaps and making it possible for all managements to operate with an equal chance of success.The article goes on to say:If the new Bill becomes law the theatre might take on a new lease of life; artists who have been working for years for one of the monopolies might be ingeniously teamed with colleagues normally considered 'outside the ring,' and managements, no longer working under the shadow of frustration and defeatism, 840 might be spurred to experiment in fields considered out of bounds under existing conditions.That is a very remarkable passage from the most respected journal that there is in the theatrical profession.
Equity, the trade union which represents actors and actresses, is also in favour of the Bill. So also is a very distinguished past member of the Arts Council, Mr. Charles Langstone, who served on the theatrical side of the Council and had a great deal to do with the whole business of non-profit-making companies. It was he who originated many of the provisions of the Bill.
The purpose of the Bill is not to prevent a genuine non-profit-distributing company from enjoying an Entertainments Duty concession; it is simply to prevent the use of such companies in order to make larger profits for ordinary commercial companies. The best arrangement, which I urged upon the Chancellor when we discussed the Finance Bill, would be to have no Entertainments Duty at all, but that suggestion was rejected. It is a very remarkable thing that some of the non-profit-making companies do not want the Entertainments Duty removed, because they do so well by having a penalty imposed against their rivals.
If the duty were removed larger subsidies could be directed where they were most needed. Alternatively, there might be no exemption, in which case larger subsidies could also be directed where they were most needed. But I do not think there is any hope of either of those suggestions being adopted, at any rate this afternoon. That is why I am now persisting in the presentation of the Bill. I do not want to bore the House by going into all the details of the Bill. They have been discussed with people who are representative of all aspects of the theatrical profession. Should I be fortunate enough to secure the Second Reading of the Bill, I should be extremely willing to listen to suggestions for improving it in Committee.
Clause 1 has a fairly obvious and straightforward purpose. It simply prevents those who are associated with non-profit-making companies from being associated at the same time with profit-making companies, but it makes a great number of exceptions in the case of 841 organisations such as the Old Vic, Sadler's Wells, Covent Garden Opera House, the Stratford-on-Avon Memorial Theatre, and so forth. I have it in mind to make a further exception, and to provide that the Bill would not apply to persons associated with a non-profit-making company which did not put on more than one production at a time. That will exempt, for example, the organisation run by Mr. John Clements and Miss Kay Hammond, which has recently put on "Pygmalion," by Bernard Shaw. It would enable them to pursue their commercial as well as their non-commercial life, as they do not put on more than one non-commercial production at a time. I am trying to prevent the use of the concession to build up tremendous empires.
Clause 2 regulates the amount of money paid to persons in non-profit-making companies. A limit is fixed to such payments unless the sanction of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise is obtained. I would not persist unnecessarily with this Clause, as the same kind of circumstance is covered by Clause 9. Clause 3, again, is a self-evident Clause, which bans the payment of a managerial fee by a non-profit-making company to a profit-making company. As may be seen from the vast resources of Tennent Productions, Ltd., the non-profit-making companies are well able to pay for their executive and administrative requirements out of their own funds.
Clauses 4 and 5 are designed to prevent a switching back and forth—between profit-making and non-profit-making companies—of various rights which redound only to the advantage of the profit-making companies. All these Clauses have been devised with me by people who have either offended in this way against the spirit, though not the letter, of the legislation, or have been in a position to explain a great deal about the working of these various dodges.
Clauses 6 and 7 apply in much the same way. Clause 6 provides that:No non-profit-making theatrical company shall pay a profit rental on a theatre to any theatrical producing company without the prior approval of the Commissioners.A profit rental is simply this. A secures the lease of a theatre; C wants to use the theatre, and so A says to C, "Although I have no use whatever for 842 this theatre myself, and only got it because I knew you wanted it, I am going to charge you more than I pay," and he may charge£200,£300,£400 or£500 a week above the amount he is paying. This is done very frequently, and unless this provision were in the Bill its other provisions would be avoided and much of its benefit lost by non-profit-making companies being forced to pay absurd rentals to profit-making companies because they have some indirect association with them.
§ Mr. Wyatt
My hon. Friend says it is a racket, and the methods by which the non-profit-making companies are run would appear to ordinary people to be a racket, although they are perfectly within the law at the moment.
I have been careful to try to safeguard the provincial repertory companies, which are the foundation of our theatre, from any possible evil consequences of the Bill, and I think I have done so, but if detailed consideration of the Bill in Committee should reveal that I have not sufficiently safeguarded them, I should be willing to consider any Amendments to ensure doing so.
I may seem to have been rather severe on the non-profit-making companies in some of the Clauses, but in Clause 9 I try to help them a little. One of the curious features of our present legislation is that the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, who give authority for tax exemptions, frequently do not tell the non-profit-making company concerned until the last moment whether a production is to be exempt from tax or not. Consequently, some companies find it very difficult to budget ahead for a production. I am anxious to give them a period in which they know they will have exemption from tax, although the concession as a whole can be removed at the end if it is thought that it has been abused.
A subjective test is being applied today by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, and I should like to remove from them as much as possible the very difficult task of having to judge the literary merits of stage plays, because normally it is not considered to be the function of a Customs officer to tell whether a play is 843 good or bad. It is very difficult sometimes for the Customs officers at the ports of entry to judge whether a play is obscene or not, and to ask them also to judge whether it is good or bad, as well, is, I think, a little hard.
Clause 10 provides that the Commissioners shall examine annually the balance sheets of these non-profit-making companies that enjoy this Entertainments Duty concession, to make sure that no unusual payments have been made, either by or to the companies during the year. That might perhaps avoid most methods of getting round some of the provisions of the Bill. I think it would be perfectly easy for the Commissioners, because of their experience, to ascertain whether a payment was unusual or not and to query it if they thought it was unusual. Clause 11 gives definitions of one or two terms used in the Bill.
I do not think that the passage of the Bill would in any way hamper the original intention of Parliament in regard to the Entertainments Duty concession. It would still be open to as many people as liked to set up non-profit-making companies and get the Entertainments Duty concession. It would still be open, after I have amended Clause 1, for such people also to have a profit-making concern provided that they did not use the non-profit-making one for putting on more than one production at a time.
All that it would do would be to make Mr. Beaumont, the "King" of the London theatre, make up his mind which he wants to be. Does he want to be cultural or does he want to be commercial? If he chooses to be commercial, then he has a very powerful company to fall back upon, and can conduct his affairs, as other managements do, in ordinary rivalry. I understand that it is the concern of the Government and of the party opposite that private enterprise should work fairly.
If, on the other hand, he decides that he would like to be non-commercial he has again another vast company with great resources to fall back upon and he can draw a very substantial salary from that company. It is running six plays in London at the moment and so is not in any danger of collapse from this Bill. All that would happen would be that he would not be able to use the non- 844 profit-making company to increase profits for the profit-making company.
I have been very carefully into the suggestions made that the Bill might conceivably harm certain actors and producers genuinely doing good work. I think that I have met them in every case, but if there are any left over during the Committee stage I shall be very glad to put them right. I am anxious to assist people in the theatre and not harm them. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a non-profit-making company from continuing its activities as before; but the Bill would help to remove a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs that is now developing in the London theatre as a result of the undoubted abuse of the tax concession and of the not very fair use of the power of the Tennent companies to penalise those in the profession for whom they do not care and to operate a very unfair rivalry with other managements.
I hope that the House will allow the Bill to have a Second Reading and that we can go into all the details in Committee and make the Bill as perfect as any Bill can be.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so very briefly, because there is no need to amplify the very cogent arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has put forward in favour of the Bill. In the course of his extremely interesting speech, my hon. Friend has disclosed a very unhealthy situation in the West End theatre. It is no argument against this situation to say that the Tennent organisation puts on some good plays. Undoubtedly it does, though they are by no means all good. To have this near-monopoly in the West End means, at best, that an artificial pattern is imposed upon the London theatre.
Nobody wishes the perfectly reasonable provisions of the 1946 Finance Act to go. My hon. Friend has made it perfectly clear that all he wants to do is to close a loophole which that Act left. Mr. Beaumont and his two Tennent organisations have been able to exploit and abuse this form of Entertainments Duty exemption. I hope that the Bill will have a Second Reading, and I want 845 to make a further appeal, addressed to the Financial Secretary, for the good will of the Government. We all know that at this stage of the Session no Private Member's Bill has any hope of reaching the Statute Book without good will and some facilities on the part of the Government. I hope that the Government will grant those facilities.
The Financial Secretary is a member of a Government who claim to believe in the virtues of fair competition. This twin organisation of Tennent's and Mr. Beaumont's has virtually eliminated fair competition in the West End theatre. The Bill clearly has the support of almost everybody, and every section of the West End theatrical profession and the theatrical industry, except for that of Mr. Beaumont and his two organisations. I should have thought that that fact alone would encourage the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and the Government to give facilities.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. Member says that the Bill has the support of all the West End. That is an appalling exaggeration. Can the hon. Member tell us for how long the Tennent organisation has been doing the things which he is now criticising? Can he give us the number of years?
§ Mr. Robinson
I certainly cannot give the hon. Member the number of years. All I know is that it has been going on far too long and that it is high time it stopped. My hon. Friend has given the House a method of stopping it.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)
This Bill has been brought in at a most inopportune moment and is drafted in a most unfortunate way. I think this is a bad moment because, as the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) would certainly agree, the theatre today is facing extreme competition, not only from what has now become the traditional competition of the cinema but also from television. On the Finance Bill this year the hon. Member for Aston said:In America, radio, television and the cinema have already destroyed the theatre everywhere except in New York…846 At a later point of his speech he said:In Britain today the state of the theatre has become lamentable…any commercial theatre company which has to pay entertainments tax can put on nothing but a very modest production.
§ Mr. Follick
Can the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) give me the name of any good play in the West End of London which is not doing well?
§ Mr. Fisher
That is a totally irrelevant interruption. I am merely quoting the hon. Member for Aston in his speech on the Finance Bill, when he pointed to the precarious state of the theatre in this country and also in America. With the permission of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick), I will continue to quote his hon. Friend a little more, because I think it is very apt to the argument. The hon. Member for Aston said:In a theatre paying entertainments tax any play which hopes to make a profit must be confined to four or five characters and to one set—…A little later in his speech the hon. Member said:Today the position Ls that neither Shaw nor Shakespeare can be performed by other than a non-profit-making company enjoying entertainments tax remission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th May, 1954: Vol. 528, c. 213–15.]I quite agree; there is no argument about that at all.
§ Mr. Wyatt
It is very flattering of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) to read my speech on the Finance Bill, and I appreciate it very much, but he has rather missed the point. At the Haymarket Theatre, for instance, no fewer than five star actors are put on by a non-profit-making company, which makes it difficult for the ordinary manager to get a star for his productions.
§ Mr. Fisher
The hon. Member says that I have missed the point, but I have not come to the point yet. I have been giving the general atmosphere in the London theatre which the hon. Member so ably described in an earlier speech. I am coming to the main point and must be allowed a little time to develop the theme. There always will be those—I hope in very large numbers, and I know the hon. Member is included—who will continue to patronise the live theatre, but we do not yet know at this moment the effect of television as a competitive factor 847 in entertainment, especially in the light of the Government's Television Bill, which—whatever its merits or de-merits—will have the effect of producing better programmes on television, and the competition is likely therefore to be greater rather than less in the future. So, I think it is a bad time at which to impose a new control on the theatre as this Bill proposes, and a pity to do it in this particular way.
The hon. Member for Aston always deploys his case with such charm of manner and technique that he disarms, or tends to disarm, even the most convinced of his opponents. Personally, I almost always disagree with him on practically every issue, but very often I am disarmed. But in this Bill he seeks, as it were, to separate the theatre into two quite artificial and unreal halves—those companies which make profits and those which do not. On the one hand, we have a commercial management which must of course seek to put on sure-fire, long-running successes; and, on the other hand, the other half which is more artistic—if we like educational—
§ Mr. Hobson
Will the hon. Member agree that existing legislation already does that for the purposes of taxation?
§ Mr. Fisher
No. There is now a link between the commercial companies and the non-profit-making companies, but in this Bill the hon. Member for Aston is seeking to break the link and divide the theatre into two quite separate halves, one the commercial side, staging the long-run successes, the other the artistic, educational, intellectual State-aided half, if one likes to put it that way, which apparently, according to Clause 1 of the Bill, is to be directed by people who are to have no association with successful commercial management, and who furthermore must not be paid more than£2,000 a year.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I did say that I am prepared to amend Clause 1 in order to allow people associated with a non-profit-making company which has not more than one production at a time to be exempted from the provisions. In the case of Clause 2, in any case the Commissioners of Customs and Excise have always had authority to permit the payment of more than£2,000 a year, if that is the normal payment.
§ Mr, Fisher
I heard the hon. Member make that point, which so far as it takes us anywhere, is a slight improvement.
I am glad that the hon. Member is prepared to modify his somewhat stringent terms, but it still remains the fact that no one directing can earn more than£2,000 a year. I do not think that is the best way to get the best management for the more serious types of plays. I think that this proposal would make quite an unrealistic division of the British theatre which would do damage to the theatre and those who work for it and write for it.
I do not really believe that the hon. Member quite understands the harm which his Bill would do to the very people whom I know it is designed to help. If the theatre is separated like this into two distinct divisions; if, so to speak, the link between profit-making and non-profit-making companies is broken by compulsion, I believe it will remove all incentive from the theatre. I do not think that there will be enough money to finance non-profit distributing companies, because it is really no incentive to say to someone whose money one seeks, "If we fail in our production you will lose your money, and if we succeed you can have your money back at the end of the run, but, of course, with no interest or profit accruing to your investment."
I believe that the result of this Bill would be that non-profit-making companies would be so short of funds that they would be unable to give the plays they selected the advantages of a first-rate production and a first-rate cast. In many cases it would have the effect that serious plays would never reach the theatre at all. A purely commercial management would perhaps be unlikely to take the risk of launching some new and unknown author on his way because the commercial risk would not be a satisfactory one. Without tax exemption many such plays would either never be seen in the theatre or, if they did, would have very short runs.
The series of plays which some hon. Members will recollect, "Richard III," "The Way of the World "—I cannot remember the name of the third—would have fallen into that category. Dramatists who are thought of by the public as successful have themselves told me that their so-called success has been entirely 849 dependent on tax exemption, and if tax-exempted companies were allowed no link at all with commercial companies, which would be the situation under this Bill, I very much doubt whether they would have either the money or indeed the professional skill to encourage and foster the talents of what I might describe as the more experimental playwrights, such as Christopher Fry and John Whiting.
Clause 1 specifically exempts the Old Vic, Sadler's Wells, the Covent Garden Opera House and the Stratford-on-Avon Memorial Theatre from the provisions of the Bill. It is such an ingenuous exemption that it reveals in one sentence the full danger of the Bill. The hon. Member for Aston is saying, "We knew perfectly well that this Bill will be very harmful to the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells, and we therefore desire to protect them from the effects of the Bill." I do not think that one can read it in any other way. They have to be exempted, otherwise people like Sir Laurence Olivier could never put on plays of this sort at all. The hon. Member is quite ready to protect the works of Shakespeare from his own attacks, but he is not willing to give a helping hand to a living dramatist, a man who may be trying to write serious plays and at the same time to earn a reasonable livelihood for himself and his wife and children.
It is a strange attitude to be taken by the hon. Member who, I know, is interested in the theatre and wishes to help it. Just because Tennents is a successful organisation the hon. Member looks upon it with great suspicion, instead, as I would, of congratulating it on its success. It is rather of a piece with his ideas about the Brigade of Guards about which we have argued on previous occasions. In effect, the basis of his argument seems to be that if you see something really efficient you should try to destroy it. Tennents is doing nothing wrong. It has no monopoly. Its ideas are open to anyone to adopt if they wish to do so. It is committing no crime—
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Supposing someone else did adopt its ideas, perhaps the hon. Member would tell us where they could find a theatre.
§ Mr. Fisher
There are many London theatres standing empty at this moment, as the right hon. Gentleman would know perfectly well if he ever goes to the 850 theatre or takes any interest in these matters. I can assure him that there is no shortage of theatres.
As I have been able to gather from the hon. Member, the only crime committed by Tennents is that it employs Mr. Beaumont who has undoubtedly—as I think the hon. Member will agree—a great flair for theatrical productions and a great ability and experience in this field of enterprise. The hon. Member said that he had never met Mr. Beaumont. Neither have I, and I hold no brief for him. I know nothing about Mr. Beaumont except that he is successful in his own field. But apparently the law must be altered in order to try to make this success into a failure
This Bill would not even do that. It would not seriously prejudice the Tennent organisation at all. In my opinion, it would do far more harm to the small independent manager than to Tennents, because a large concern like Tennents could, if it had to, afford to employ quite separate organisations, separate offices, staffs and wardrobes, etc., and carry on exactly as before.
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not think that small managers who are trying to do what the hon. Members says that Tennents is trying to do would have the necessary resources to divide off their enterprises into two separate departments. That would not be a businesslike way to conduct their affairs but Tennents could do it if necessary.
§ Mr. Fisher
I know that the hon. Member for Aston has a real and genuine feeling for the theatre and is trying to help the theatre. But I do not think that he appreciates the complexity of the issues which his own Bill involves. I say this with respect that, he is, as so often, well intentioned, but on this subject he has been very badly briefed. His Bill would do far more harm than good to the very cause which it seeks to support.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) evidently knows a great deal about the affection of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) for 851 the theatre. I am afraid that I know nothing about that affection at all. I do not know him very well. I do not know why he should be interested in it, but evidently he is. I must apologise to him for not having been able to be here at the start of his speech, but I heard well over half an hour of it and I gather from what my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin said that I got the gist of it.
I interrupted to ask the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) whether he could say for how long Tennent Productions have been doing what he calls these very strange and naughty things, but he was not able to tell me. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can.
§ Mr. Wyatt
They were not doing it before Section 8 of the Finance Act of 1946 was passed, because they could not. They have been doing it since then. It is an easy sum to work out.
§ Mr. Teeling
I do not understand exactly why, eight years afterwards, the hon. Gentleman should suddenly bring forward this Measure. Presumably the Customs and Excise have been able to watch what has been going on during this time. The hon. Gentleman must realise that if anything not quite above board had been going on, it would have been easy in a Finance Bill, introduced either by the last Socialist Government or by the present Government, to tighten up the position if the Government were not satisfied that things were all right.
It would seem that the hon. Member for Aston, instead of doing something to support the theatre, has made a rather bitter attack on it from the point of view of publicity for the theatre. The attack was quite unnecessary. He talked about five of our leading actors being employed by Tennent Productions and implied that it was more or less impossible for other theatres to get anybody who is any good. That is a grave attack upon the theatre.
§ Mr. Teeling
There are many prominent actors. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that there are only five, or perhaps twice that number?
§ Mr. Wyatt
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is deliberately trying 852 to misunderstand what I said. I never said that there were only five actors employed by Tennent Productions. They have 10 plays in London alone running today, in each of which there are probably between five and 10 actors, so there must be nearer 100 in London.
§ Mr. Teeling
The hon. Gentleman knows that there is an appalling unemployment position in the theatre. Surely there is an opportunity for really worthwhile young actors to develop and to appear in other plays. The hon. Gentleman's argument was most illogical and he made an unnecessary attack.
I do not know very much more about Tennent Productions than the hon. Gentleman does himself, but I notice that among the directors are people like Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir John Gielgud and people like that who are prominent actors, and Sir Leigh Ashton, head of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and so on. These people are not likely to put on productions which are not considered to be worth while from a modern and up-to-date point of view. If anything, if Tennent Productions are to be stopped, that will tend to harm the provincial theatre still more considerably. Equally, it will harm the opportunities and possibilities for writers and producers of plays.
It is wrong to try to bring in a Bill like this which has not been properly thought out and which is completely unjustified. I look at the matter from the point of view of the provincial theatre. In my constituency there is a theatre called the Theatre Royal, Brighton. I do not think that it would be an exaggeration to say that it is probably the best of all outside the London theatres for producing plays before they are put on in the West End. The plays are not put on for more than a week or two, but most of the Tennent productions that are put on in London start there. The critics go there from London to see whether the plays are worth while, and it is only after that that they are put on at various theatres in London.
§ Mr. Wyatt
Does not the hon. Member realise that practically no other management is able to secure the Theatre Royal in Brighton because, as a result of the Entertainments Duty concession, Tennent Productions offer better terms to the proprietors of the theatre 853 so that rival managements are excluded? If it were not for that, many other managements would be going there and the hon. Member's constituents would be getting a wider range of plays.
§ Mr. Teeling
If the hon. Member thinks that only plays of the type to which he referred are put on in the Brighton Theatre Royal, he is wrong. Many other plays are put on. He seems to be ignorant about Brighton and does not know that there are three other theatres at which plays can be put on. It is the enterprise of Mr. Beaumont and his organisation which has made possible what I have been describing. It is unnecessary that his organisation should be criticised just because it is enterprising. I see no reason for the attack.
Not long ago the hon. Gentleman spoke on this subject, and he was ably answered by his hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). We do not want to go all over the subject again, and so I suggest that anyone who is sufficiently interested in the subject should read the very effective answer given to the hon. Gentleman at that time. If hon. Members want to go further than that, they can read the statements made at the last big Jubilee performance at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Helens (Sir. H. Shawcross) went to Brighton specially to say how much he thought of what was being done and with the support of the man who is, I suppose, the leading Socialist in the South of England, Mr. Lewis Cohen, who has had the honour of opposing most of us in Brighton as a Labour candidate. Mr. Cohen is one of the directors of the concern, and he spoke highly of what had been done. The issue cannot therefore be political.
The more one goes into what is being done, the more one sees that it is possible for any commercial theatrical concern to run a non-profit-making concern like this. There is nothing to stop it. It just happens that the Tennent company and Mr. Beaumont and his supporters on the board have been extremely effective, intelligent and enterprising. There is an appalling amount of jealousy about that sort of thing, and that jealousy is being interpreted in the House today by the hon. Member for Aston.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I cannot claim that I have any specific interest in the theatre. I have much greater interest in the film world. However, all the Members of the theatre industry to whom I have spoken, and I know many of them intimately, are concerned about the present state of affairs in the theatre. They all feel that there is developing a monopolistic tendency which is detrimental to the vigorous development of the theatre.
My hon. Friends who oppose the Bill have spoken largely in the vein that the effect of the Bill would be to do away with non-profit-making organisations. The criticism which they have advanced might be appropriate if it were desired to do away entirely with remission of Entertainments Duty. Clearly, that is not the intention. What we find in the theatre is that a powerful group is using tax remissions to strengthen what is already a very powerful position.
I have no knowledge of my own about the situation and can only tell the House what very eminent people in the theatre have told me about it in recent months. I do not know how effective the Bill might be, but I feel that, in view of the undoubted need to deal with the situation in some way or another, consideration should be given to it. The mass of the public and the people in the film business all think the remission of tax is a racket, anyhow. There is a desire that in a situation in which there is differential taxation the game shall be played as fairly as possible.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
My hon. Friend said that he has no interest whatever in the theatre and that his interest is in the film world. Might it be that his remarks are slightly influenced by that fact?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I do not think so for a moment. I do not think there is any real clash there. I was merely saying that I think it is very desirable indeed that, if there is any suggestion of such interplay between the profit-making and non-profit-making sides of a particular business, it should be broken. and that. in a matter of this kind, where there is an atmosphere of suspicion, we should do what we can to remove any grounds for it.
855 While I do not know how effective the Bill is—it may be one of the worst Bills ever introduced into this House, for all I know—it ought to be given a Second Reading in order that we may see in Committee what practical value it has. and I shall certainly vote for it.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Yes, I certainly have read it, but I do not possess that clairvoyant capacity for understanding everything in it the first time.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
Though time is very short, in view of the request made by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) that the views of the Government should be indicated, I intervene for a minute or two. At any rate, this is not a Bill on which opinion appears to be divided on party lines, because the House will recall that the Motion of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) for leave to introduce the Bill was opposed from his own benches by no less a person than the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). We can, therefore—and also in view of the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd)—consider this as one of those agreeable occasions on which such division as seems to me to exist on this Bill is not a division that goes along party lines.
I certainly would not wish to do more than indicate certain of the practical difficulties which the administration of this proposed Measure would involve if it were passed into law. I think the hon. Member for Aston indicated that, from his own standpoint, these proposals were a second best, and that what he would really like to see is an amendment of Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1946, which governs certain types of exemption from Entertainments Duty. The hon. Member has concerned himself, as I have good reason to know, very fully and carefully with the operation of this particular exemption. Indeed, he spoke on these lines on Clause 1 of the present Finance Bill, and it is perhaps material to recall that we are dealing with this matter in a 856 way which, even from the standpoint of the promoter of the Bill, is not the best way.
I fully appreciate the procedural difficulties which lay in the hon. Member's way in dealing with the matter in any way. Indeed, I should like to congratulate him on the ingenuity with which he has managed to put forward a Measure which would have the natural effect of imposing greater taxation without, in fact, transgressing the rules of the House, which provide that such a Motion can only be moved from this Bench. It is an extraordinarily ingenious procedure which he has adopted, and, as one who some time ago used to practise a similar procedure, I should like sincerely to congratulate him on his skill and adroitness.
Having said that, it is the inevitable price that one pays for such ingenuity that one does produce something which would be quite extraordinarily difficult to work. What the hon. Member seeks to do in this Bill, as I understand it, is not to withdraw the exemption where he would like to see it withdrawn, but to proceed the other way round and impose statutory limitations upon non-profit-making theatrical companies. That is really almost the whole Bill, with the exception of Clause 9, which would give a certain relaxation of the conditions at present imposed.
One of the complications of this method of procedure is that it produces a whole series of prohibitions which, if enforced and enforceable, might cause the difficulties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) called attention, and which, as far as I can see, carry with them no sanction other than a possible effect upon tax liability. That is inevitably a cumbrous method of procedure. If the House were to decide to send the Bill to a Committee, it is clear that many of its provisions would require very careful analysis because in their present form they are unworkable. I do not want to weary the House at this time with Committee points because they are not matters with which I ought to deal at the moment.
It is important for the House to consider whether the main purpose of the Bill is justifiable. It would undoubtedly have the effect, and indeed the hon. Gentleman told us that it would, of 857 cutting oil the non-profit-making company from the rest of the theatrical world. Its administrators, executors and actors would have to sever virtually all other connections during the time they were employed by the non-profit-making company. That would have important and serious consequences for the non-profit-making company. It would make it much more difficult for such a company to obtain the services of the high-class actors, administrators and so on, who otherwise might be available. This severance from the main body of the theatre would be serious for such a company. It is for the House to consider whether it wishes to do that, particularly in the present circumstances of the theatre of which we have heard something—
§ Mr. Wyatt
No doubt the Financial Secretary will have regard to the fact that I said in my speech that I would he very happy to alter Clause 1 to allow a company which produced only one production at a time to be exempted from the provisions of the Bill; and that all non-profit-making companies would not be cut off from the theatrical world.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is on the assumption that the House accepted the Amendment. That point does not bear on the main principle of the Bill, even though it be limited to exempting the company with only one production at a time. The main principle is severance. That is the way in which the hon. Member sets about giving effect to the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is making three points. He thinks the conditions for exemption under Section 8 of the Finance Act, 1946, are not sufficiently stiff; that certain plays get exemption that ought not to get it; and that certain forms of organisation adopted by particular companies are open to objection. On the first point, it is our duty to watch these concessions. We do so, and will continue to do so, and if we find a serious, abuse of the concessions and a threat to the Revenue we shall not hesitate to take action. We are not satisfied that such abuses exist at the present time as to justify the steps proposed. We are more than willing to take steps when, in our view, a case is made out for preventing an abuse. One has only to look at the present Finance Bill to be reassured on that point. We are not convinced that such a case exists in connection with this matter.
858 With regard to the organisation to which the hon. Member referred, he will understand that it is not possible for me to refer to the taxation affairs of a particular company or taxpayer. I can only say that I will take note of all he has said, but I must not be taken as accepting its accuracy. He will no doubt understand that I am prevented from talking about a particular organisation. As regards future developments, which was the hon. Member's third point, the undertaking which I have given that in any event we shall watch the matter closely also applies.
I have indicated, therefore, that in our view this Bill has serious defects, and I am bound to say I am rather doubtful whether they are curable in Committee. It is for the House to decide, in the light of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides, whether the Bill shall be given a Second Reading, but in reply to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North I must say that the Bill is not one for which the Government feel able to provide special facilities. I am sorry to have to say that because both the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North who seconded it, and the hon. Member for Aston who moved the Motion, did so in most remarkably attractive speeches. That, however, would not justify the Government taking special measures to secure its passage.
In the few minutes available to me, I have tried to indicate the serious defects which we think this Bill has. It is for the House to decide whether, in view of those defects, it wishes to proceed further.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
We are very appreciative on this side of the Financial Secretary's indication that in the months to come the Treasury will watch this matter very carefully. Nevertheless, I am disappointed—as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) who moved the Motion in such felicitous terms will also be—to hear the Financial Secretary advise the House not to give this Bill a Second Reading.
I see no reason why it should not. The main facts as disclosed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston show a state of affairs which obviously should not be 859 allowed to continue. Apart altogether from the fact that the 1946 legislation is being used in a way not intended when it was passed there is on the part of these two companies a tendency to monopolise the London theatre, and indeed most of the actors in London. Surely the party opposite, which has just put through the Television Bill largely on the ground that it wished to break the B.B.C. monopoly, ought to jump—so one would think—at this chance to support my hon. Friend's Bill which is aimed at another form of monopoly.
§ Mr. Burden
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that this company monopolises the London theatre?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present when my hon. Friend made his speech, but I must say that the facts as disclosed by him have not been denied by anyone on that side. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) began his speech in a most naïve way by saying that he knew nothing about the subject. He need not have told us that. It became evident in the course of his speech.
The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) accused me of knowing nothing about the London theatre. To put it quite bluntly to the House—the hon. Gentleman was not here in 1946; I do not think that he came until 1950—the legislation with which we are here dealing was put through by the Labour Government which also, to assist the commercial theatre, lowered the scales of duty for the living theatre both in London and elsewhere. We have, therefore, an excellent record on this matter. I am delighted to think that I and my hon. Friends on this side supported that legislation. We did so with our eyes open and knowing the full facts.
§ Mr. Teelingrose—
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am sorry but I have only another half-minute.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will implement his promise to watch the matter very carefully and I hope the House will accord this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
As I am going to the Grand Theatre, Croydon, this evening to see a play written by somebody in the Channel Islands who is at present unknown, this discussion has been most educative to me, but I should like to draw the attention of the promoter to the fact that the Bill starts off with the wrong description—
§ It being Four o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.