HC Deb 26 June 1956 vol 555 cc322-82

(1) Entertainments duty shall not be chargeable in respect of any entertainment where all the performers whose words or actions constitute the entertainment are actually present and performing and the entertainment consists solely of one or more of the following items, namely, a stage play, a ballet, a performance of music or a music hall or other variety entertainment.

(2) This section shall have effect, and be deemed to have had effect, as regards payments for admission to entertainments held on or after the sixth day of August, nineteen hundred and fifty-six, other than payment made before the sixth day of April in that year.

(3) In this section the expression "stage play" has the meaning assigned to it be section twenty-three of the Theatres Act, 1843.

(4) In relation to entertainments to which this section applies, subsection (2) of section fifteen of the Finance Act, 1950 (which provides for the reduction of entertainments duty in certain cases), shall have effect as if after the word "rates" in that subsection there were added the words "or not at all"—[Dr. Stross.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

6.0 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

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

This is not the first Clause of this kind to be moved in a debate on a Finance Bill. Since 1916, when the Entertainments Duty was first imposed, efforts have been made from year to year to gain some amelioration of the position. No hon. Member will deny that the theatre is in a state of decline. I will give four short points as evidence of that fact.

It is agreed beyond doubt that about 80 provincial theatres have closed down in the past few years. The number in the last year is about two dozen. Secondly, we know that, when the theatre survives, plays tend to be fewer and the casts of individual plays tend to be smaller. Frequently there are no orchestras at all or, if available, they are very small indeed. The third point is that fewer shows are on tour now. The figures are significant. There were 110 on tour in October, 1951. In the same month of 1953 there were only 98. In October, 1955, the number of shows on tour was only 75.

The fourth point is the most distressing of them all, and relates to the rising tide of unemployment in this industry. The number of actors and actresses who are now unemployed total 13 per cent. as compared with the national figure of about 1 per cent. Unemployment is therefore thirteen times as high in the theatre industry as the national figure. The cost of this unemployment is obviously very serious. I am sure that the Financial Secretary would agree that, in attempting to assess what may or may not be the net loss to the Revenue if the plea we are making should be successful, this cost must be taken into account.

The causes of the decline are two and can be described in two words. One word is "competition" and the other word is "taxation". Competition cannot be helped. It is inevitable and it comes from the cinema in the main and secondly from television. I believe there are 5 million subscribers to television, which is the more recent and more formidable competitor than the cinema. The figures of taxation given to me vary. Some documents suggest that it is about 14 per cent. on turnover while from other documents I get the figure of 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. on turnover. The relevant word is "turnover" and that is why with some confidence I say that this is a thoroughly bad tax for it is a tax not on the profits of the individual theatre but on its turnover.

There is a tax on the turnover of this industry, while its most recent and formidable competitor, commercial television, receives a substantial subsidy of £750,000 a year for ten years, with additional capital advances of up to £2 million. We have the interesting situation that a well-tried instrument of culture has been savagely attacked by taxation since 1916, while a new method of offering news, recreation and perhaps culture too, receives a substantial subsidy at the expense of the taxpayer.

The effect of the taxation should be looked at in the light of examples. One of these came to my hands the other day and refers to two theatres. Perhaps the Committee will bear with me and consider them. One example is the Golders Green Hippodrome and the other is the Streatham Hill Theatre. These places give a perfect example of the burden being borne by theatres, other than those in the West End, which appear to be able to bear taxation. Both theatres are owned by the same company and that is why I can give them together as examples.

In 1955 the Golders Green Hippodrome paid £28,250 in taxation. The Streatham Hill Theatre was closed throughout the war owing to war damage and it was opened again in December, 1950. Since that time it has paid £60,000 in taxation. Since 1939 that theatre has not dispersed any dividends, has paid no interest on its debentures and has given no fees to its directors. Obviously it is not difficult to accept the cry of distress from the directors of these two theatres when they say that if this taxation continues both theatres must close.

The directors point out that had the tax been shared between producers and theatre owners in the proportion of 40 per cent. for the landlord and 60 per cent. for the producers of the shows there would have been far better care and maintenance of the theatre itself, the shows would have been more attractive and better staged and they would have been dressed very much better. The theatres would have been able to compete with television and the cinema and—this is a very important point—would have been helping to provide the training ground which television and the cinema must have if they are to be successful and useful to society.

I should like to give two or three more figures for the six weeks ended on 2nd June this year. They are the latest abstract of figures. The Golders Green Hippodrome made a net loss of £650 and during that time the tax paid was £1,437. Streatham Hill Theatre made a net loss of £1,980 and paid tax of £824. These are formidable arguments and I do not need to stress them. No wonder eighty-eight theatres have closed down outside the West End in the last few years. The tax is discriminatory and operates in as negative a way as one could imagine.

The position is obvious, and must be remedied. Unless and until the Government abolish the tax as a whole, then if we wish to discriminate let us do so positively by singling out for direct help such companies and organisations as we wish to assist. In 1946 my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) declared, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there should be no taxation on non-profit-making companies. They were exempted, and remain so. In addition to the fact that non-profit-making companies are exempt, some companies receive a direct subsidy from the Arts Council, so there is indirect assistance and direct assistance. Against that is direct discrimination by means of this deadly, murderous tax. That is the situation today.

In 1948 Sir Stafford Cripps partially exempted the tax and today we are asking that it should be totally abolished. We should start to think again if we are going to help this artistic industry, if we agree that it should be so helped. There have been arguments against the abolition of the tax, and it would be unfair if they were not mentioned. The argument has been pressed most strongly by a former colleague, Mr. Benn Levy, who has shown great persistence in putting his point of view. I should like to put it in fairness to those who accept it.

The argument is that the tax, if remitted, would benefit almost entirely the landlord of the theatre and not the author or the company. A simple example could be given as follows. If the company and the landlord share the takings on a fifty-fifty basis, assuming that the intake of the theatre per week is £1,200, obviously there would be £600 for each if there were no tax. With the tax as it is at roughly 14 per cent. one may say that £200 is the tax on that intake. In a non-profit-making company the £200 is taken from the £1,200, leaving £1,000 so the share-out would be £1,000 on a fifty-fifty basis and each would take £500, but the company would get the £200 tax and the result would be £500 for the landlord and £700 for the company.

If the tax were abolished and the income was £1,200, on a fifty-fifty basis that is £600 for each. Apparently the company would receive £100 less and the landlord would receive £100 more. That is the argument and I hope I have put it as clearly as possible. There is a flaw in the argument, because it assumes that beyond all doubt there would not be a change in the sharing basis if the tax were abolished.

Before I give evidence about the flaw in the argument, may I say that those who wish the tax to remain as at present have three other lines of thought. Firstly, they say, as I have described already, that the rebate would go wholly to the landlord. Secondly, they say that halving the duty in 1948 did not really help the progressive theatre but caused the Young Vic to close because, as a result of the sharing percentage not being altered, in the first year the Young Vic lost between £3,000 and £4,000 and could not remain alive. The third argument is that at present the remission, due to the action taken by the Chancellor in 1946, is conditional and, therefore, funds tend to be reserved for further productions whereas unconditional remission, which we are all asking for, would, it is argued, encourage the dissipation of those funds. I think I have put the case as fairly as I can and fairly fully.

To suggest that there would be no change in the basis of share-out if the tax were abolished cannot be defended, although I admit that in the case of the Young Vic there was no change in the basis. I have a letter in my hand, dated 14th June, which was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger). It was sent by the Secretary of the Theatres' Entertainments Tax Committee and says: Mr. Linnitt has asked me to let you know that at today's meeting of the Theatrical Managers' Association an assurance was given by those responsible for running the great majority of the larger theatres in the provinces that if the tax were abolished they would be quite prepared to adjust their sharing terms so as to ensure that the non-profit distributing touring repertory companies would not in any way be the worse off. This may help to allay any anxiety which may be expressed in the debate on their behalf. 6.15 p.m.

I think I have now put both sides of the case, and I turn to the attitude of the Arts Council. It has been said—I have seen it in print—that the Arts Council is opposed to abolition of the tax. That is not correct. If the Arts Council adopted that attitude it could be described only as unobjective, as its attitude is neutral. It has an interest in twenty touring companies and also in opera on tour. If the tax were abolished, touring repertory companies, supported by direct subsidy from the Arts Council unless the basis on which they share the takings with the owners of the theatres where they play were altered, might be losing something by this change.

The letter I have read would tend to show that those companies would not be worse off, but I know the Committee will not blame me for trying to put this matter as fairly as I can. In one respect there would be a slight change which would not be significant, for the royalties would have to be paid before tax deduction. With no tax the royalties would be paid by the companies in gross takings. The royalties to the author would, therefore, be slightly higher unless there were an agreement about them. We who are interested in authors and artists should not find it very objectionable if authors found themselves slightly better off as a result of the abolition of the tax.

The Arts Council has about twenty companies and the outside figure of the loss it might sustain as a result of a change would be £500 a year for each company. That would be £10,000 and, with opera on tour, another £5,000, so that the effect for the Arts Council would be a figure of something appreciably less than £20,000 a year. The total figure represented in this matter is just a little over £2 million. Naturally, if this change goes through the Arts Council wants to be reimbursed. If it were to be reimbursed I can assure the Committee that the Arts Council would be in favour of the abolition of the tax.

It is also interesting to note that no organisation favours the retention of this tax—certainly not the Council of Repertory Theatres, which is entirely in favour of abolition. The trade union, Actors' Equity, in in favour of abolition and, naturally, the theatre generally is in favour of abolition, also.

I have mentioned that the tax is a little over £2 million. It is falling appreciably each year, for the reasons which I have already given and which are self-evident. This £2 million represents a little less than half of one-farthing in the £ of the total revenue. Against that £2 million, assuming that it is real money which the Treasury receives, we have to offset the cost of paying unemployment benefit to 13 per cent. of the actors and actresses of this country and the indirect loss in revenue resulting from the fact that the theatre is failing, compared with the revenue which would be received, if the theatre were healthy, in Income Tax which would be paid direct to the right hon. Gentleman's Department by people who were working and thriving. It may well be that the net loss if the right hon. Gentleman gave way entirely on this matter would be appreciably less than £1 million, for the people unemployed are drawing nearly £1 million a year in unemployment benefit.

I turn to the last part of my argument, and I remind the Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman in particular, that there was recently on the Order Paper a Motion signed by 358 Members, probably equally from the two sides of the House, asking for the abolition of the tax and for an immediate inquiry, I think, in order that the Treasury should know that it could safely remit this tax. As far as I know, we have not had this inquiry, although possibly the right hon. Gentleman has much information to give us. Are we to assume that the Government intend to continue this harsh treatment of the theatre, an institution which is as old as our own civilisation and an essential part of our life?

I conclude by reminding the right hon. Gentleman that Sir Francis Bacon once said this: But men must know, that in this theatre of man's life it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on. May not we have the right to be allowed to be lookers on at our own mankind's theatre and gain vicariously a little consolation, a little pleasure and perhaps a little experience of life in the best of all possible ways?

Sir Beverley Baxter (Southgate)

It may be remembered that a number of my hon. Friends and myself put down a new Clause dealing with the live theatre, but apparently it was out of order. What we intended to achieve is included in what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has said.

I cannot bring myself to believe that even in these difficult times the Chancellor will not save the theatre from its present impossible plight. If the Chancellor considered it purely as a business proposition, a matter of revenue or of expense, he could be given a paraphrase of Sir Edward Grey's words—using them at the beginning of the speech instead of where they are usually used, towards the peroration—"The footlights are going out one by one all over the country." If this tax is continued the theatre cannot survive. What will the Chancellor do?

I think there is common agreement upon this point: the living theatre supplies the continuing story of our speech and thought through the centuries. If there had been no such thing as the printed word, the theatre itself would have told the continuing story of our people. One Chancellor after another recognises this to be true but somehow does nothing, or so little that the process of decline and fall goes on.

I was born in Toronto before we had the privilege of enjoying television, films, and the rest of the mechanised, recorded age in which we live. We were a far-off country in those days, because we could not cross the sea in a few hours. In Toronto, even in those days, we had four or five theatres. Dramatic companies came from London, with Forbes Robertson, Ellen Terry and the rest of those great actors and actresses who made the London stage a thing of such glory at the time.

This is what helped to bind us to the Mother Country. It is not only the speeches of politicians which bind people together. Sometimes I think the Treasury Bench think that that is their job. In fact, it is the arts and the expression of the soul of a nation which bind people together.

If I may speak personally for a moment, when I came here, during the First World War, I saw London for the first time and was able, even during the war, to go to theatres and to hear English spoken beautifully and as it should be spoken. When we came on leave from France we went to the theatre—not always to the classics, for we were not immune from the young ladies of the chorus and the musical shows. We were very young in those days and there were some very good musical comedies, with some excellent people in them, in London. Nevertheless, it was the theatre which drew us and it is to the theatre today that many of our compatriots look.

Yet one by one the theatres are closing down. The situation becomes worse all the time. I see the Financial Secretary smiling at that, but he is a kindly fellow and I do not believe that he will refuse to listen to our plight. I am sure hon. Members will agree when I say that to tax any business enterprise, whether the theatre or anything else, on its turnover cannot be defended. The theatre is in this absurd situation: if only one person turned up and bought a ticket—perhaps for one of my plays—and no other ticket was sold, the lean fingers of the Treasury would take part of the money.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Mean fingers.

Sir B. Baxter

The lean, grasping fingers of the Treasury would take part of the price of that one ticket. The Committee may think that I am not very strong on economics, but that procedure does not seem to me to be justifiable in any way.

6.30 p.m.

May I ask the Financial Secretary how many more theatres must close before the Government of the day do something to save the living theatre? I should like to think that we were all of one mind on this point. Why not take action now? Why not give the theatre a chance to survive in an age when most of our people, as far as entertainment goes, have forgotten what the human voice really sounds like? They get nothing but animated photography in the form of films or television, a recorded voice. They hardly ever hear the glorious language spoken, as it was intended to be spoken, by human beings. The repertory theatre in my own constituency, Southgate, is still there, but it has such a struggle to survive. Although it provides living actresses and actors and although it puts on good plays to people who enjoy them, it still has to pay Entertainments Duty and I think that it, too, will soon close down.

I feel very strongly about this. I have seen the books of some theatres which have had what would otherwise have been a successful run but which, after paying Entertainments Duty, have had practically nothing left. If something is not done I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides will be bitterly disappointed, and from bitter disappointment to bitter resentment is not such a very wide step. Speaking, as I think I do, for so many of my own party, I ask with all the sincerity I can command that something real and workable be done to keep the living theatre from going to its death.

Dr. King

After the classic statement of the case by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), and the eloquent way in which it was reinforced by the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter), I feel that I ought to begin my less eloquent remarks by quoting Shakespeare: The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. I want to appeal to the Committee to given very earnest consideration to the plight of live entertainment. Those of us who support this Clause do not argue—it would be foolish to do so—that the remission or the abolition of Entertainments Duty would completely solve the problems of the live theatre. The theatre, and other living entertainment, faces all kinds of other handicaps.

There is, for example, competition from T.V., which is subsidised by the State to the extent of £¾ million for the next 10 years, there are the excessively high rentals charged for theatres, and a variety of other burdens which it would be outside the province of this debate to discuss, but we do claim that it can be mathematically proved that some of the theatres are being destroyed by Entertainments Duty. Before I sit down I hope to give some figures which show that, excluding all other factors hostile to live entertainment in this country, Entertainments Duty itself, and itself alone, does compel a number of theatres to close down.

I want to call the Chancellor's attention first to the financial magnitude of the concession that we are seeking. That part of Entertainments Duty derived from theatrical performances is declining, partly because fewer people are going to the theatre and partly because numbers of theatres are going out of business year by year. In 1955, the revenue from theatre Entertainments Duty was £2.17 million. By 31st march, 1956, it had dropped to £2 million. Therefore, the maximum sum involved in this new Clause is £2 million a year—and a £2 million which would further decline if the decline of recent years is to continue into next year.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, what the Chancellor would lose on the swings he would gain on the roundabouts. Some people who would otherwise be unemployed would not be unemployed. Unemployment in the acting and musical professions is about the highest in the country. I understand that it is about 30 per cent.—

Dr. Stross

No—13 per cent.

Dr. King

I am sorry; I meant 13 per cent., but it is still the highest in the country. Many of those who would be employed by theatres kept open would be paying Income Tax instead of drawing National Insurance benefits. The Chancellor would not, therefore, be losing the whole of the £2 million.

The particular aspect which I want to bring to the attention of the Committee is one that appeals to me as a provincial. In 1955, there were only 75 theatrical shows on tour, whereas in 1953 there were 98. The first casualty in the theatre is the decline of that form of entertainment in the provinces.

The hon. Member for Southgate paid tribute to the fact that English actors appeared in Toronto when he was young. I should like to acknowledge what I owe personally, as typical of hundreds of thousands of British provincials, to—if one likes to call them so—the second-grade or even the third-grade touring companies of my young days.

There were people like the Macdona Players introducing Shaw to audiences in the provinces; the Carl Rosa and the Moodie Manners Opera Companies, and Ben Greet taking Shakespeare round the country. There were the companies that brought "The Maid of the Mountains" and "The Chocolate Soldier" and all the repertoire of musical comedy into the lives of many people for whom, otherwise, a whole section of culture—opera, stage-play, musical comedy—might never have existed.

My own town, Southampton, is exceedingly drama-conscious. I should think that in proportion to our population we have almost as many amateur dramatic societies as any other town in the country, yet rarely do the amateur artistes themselves or the general public in Southampton now get an opportunity of seeing dramatic performances by competent professionals. The first casualty is the complete disappearance—and we have seen it approaching in these later years—of the provincial live theatre.

It may be said that London can survive. Roughly speaking, that is true, but it is only true of the outstanding success.

Dr. Stross

And of the West End.

Dr. King

Even in the West End it is only the outstanding success that can survive. The Chancellor might very well argue that the highly successful, topnotch film, the very, very attractive musical comedy, a new masterpiece by a new Shakespeare might get by despite Entertainments Duty and all other handicaps, but if I might seek an illustration by going back two centuries to the theatre in Addison's time, if a play had a run of seven nights that was a colossal success. "The Beggars Opera" was a triumph because it went for about 100 nights, but a London play today has to run for about a year before it begins to tick over or make any profit at all. A show which is a modest average success may be ruined by the Entertainments Duty. The Theatre Entertainments Tax Committee has shown that in 1955, out of 55 London shows only five covered their expenses, and yet the other 45 were not all plays or entertainments which flopped the first night but some were average successes which, because they were not outstanding, could not manage to make a profit.

I am glad that this new Clause mentions the music hall. We have a great British tradition in music hall. We all remember the names in this great field of British popular artistes—the Harry Lauders, the Marie Lloyds and the Wee Georgie Woods. I do not decry the modern radio artiste by any means, but there was something intimate about the live performer and his show. Humble as it may be, the contribution of the music hall artiste to British life has been a worthwhile and a happy one. It would be a pity if it were to perish.

As for the legitimate theatre, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central was right to point out that we are now discussing the peril facing a national inheritance dating back through the centuries, through names like Siddons and Garrick to the men of Shakespeare's time. In our own time, there are, I would suggest, outstanding geniuses, probably more outstanding actors and actresses than ever in our history.

People like the Thorndykes and the Terrys have been mentioned. I would call to the attention of the Committee names like Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Laurence Olivier, actors of international repute. What a bitter thing it would be if the land which had produced Shakespeare turned out to be the only country in the world where Shakespeare's plays were never performed. We are living at a time when drama written in the English language in its range and quality probably outstrips any period in the history of British drama, apart from Shakespeare's time. What a tragedy it would be if the British theatre were to go out of existence during the 50 years which have seen such a remarkable renaissance in our drama.

The simple fact is that some theatres are earning money to give to the Government; they are not only not making a profit, but they are actually paying for the privilege of acting as tax collectors for the Government. I will give the Committee some characteristic figures, taken from a list which many hon. Members will have studied. In the North of England a theatre paid £13,000 in entertainments tax, yet lost £3,000 in the same year; its proprietors paid £3,000 for the privilege of collecting £13,000 for the Chancellor. In the Midlands, a theatre paid £9,000 in tax and lost £1,750 on the year. In Scotland, a theatre paid £17,000 in tax, yet lost £9,000 in that year. In Wales, a theatre paid £7,000 in entertainments tax, yet lost £4,000 in the year. In a London suburb a theatre paid £11,000 entertainments tax, yet lost £9,000 in the year.

That sort of thing cannot go on. No group of citizens, however worthy, are going to be so public-spirited as to lose money for the privilege of collecting taxes for the Government. If the Minister says that what they ought to do is to increase prices for admission, the answer is, as was pointed out in similar circumstances during an earlier debate, that the bulk of any sum by which admission prices are raised goes to the Government tax. Live entertainment faces a heavy burden if it makes a profit; it faces a fantastic and intolerable burden if no profit is made. The live theatre and live musical entertainment is on its way out unless the country does something to save it.

I mention musical entertainment particularly because, paradoxically enough, just as we are living in the great age of drama, we are living—thanks to the B.B.C.—in a time when appreciation of good music is more widespread than it has ever been, when great performances of great orchestras can attract crowded audiences in any part of the country. Yet so high are the costs of a mighty orchestra—thanks to the fact that we are paying professional musicians a decent wage almost for the first time in history—that when entertainments tax falls as an added burden such musical performances labour under almost prohibitive difficulties.

To accept this new Clause would not solve the problem, but not to do what the Clause seeks to do will certainly aggravate it. I would commend to the Minister the simple reminder that the Motion on the Notice Paper calling for the abolition of entertainments tax on live entertainment is signed by probably every hon. Member of the House who is free to sign a Motion of that kind.

[That this House, realising the importance to the prestige, culture and well-being of the nation of preserving the living theatre, and noting with concern the continual closing of theatres and music halls in all parts of the country resulting mainly from losses caused by box office receipts less Entertainments Duty falling below minimum running costs, urges Her Majesty's Government to investigate the situation without delay, and, in particular, to consider to what extent further closings can be avoided by extending the present limited range of exemptions from Entertainments Duty to include all forms of entertainment in which the performers are personally present and performing.]

We understand that members of the Government cannot sign a request to the Government. We understand that dignified members of the, shall one call it, shadow Government, cannot put their names to a Motion on the Notice Paper. But, those groups excepted, I would imagine that every other hon. Member on both sides of the House has signed this Motion. I would, therefore, ask the Minister to give it the full consideration which it deserves and abolish the Entertainments Duty on live entertainment.

6.45 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King), because lately we have had the pleasure of seeing eye to eye on many subjects. I wish to add a special plea for the provincial theatre. In many towns with a population of a quarter of a million or more it is seldom possible now for people to have the opportunity of seeing any stage performance or ballet or to attend a concert, because the only theatre or hall they had has been closed. It is very strange that those people should pay, through taxation, to subsidise Covent Garden and Sadler's Wells, whose performances they never have a chance of seeing and never will see owing to the expense of coming up to London.

In the provinces, certainly in the West Country, it has not been possible to put up the prices of seats because people really cannot afford to pay more. We find that the price of seats ranges between 5s. and 1s. 9d. From the 5s. the Government take in tax 7½d., and, coming down to the 1s. 9d., they take 1½d. The cost of transporting scenery, the cost of players coming down to provincial towns, the cost of heating, lighting and costumes—all have gone up. The theatres cannot afford to carry this extra burden of entertainments tax.

The matter of extra expenditure has been well put by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and by the hon. Member for Itchen. For my part, I would add, on this occasion, an appeal not to the pocket of the Financial Secretary, but to his heart. For quite sentimental reasons, we should try to keep these theatres alive. It has for a great many years been our pleasure to have an annual Christmas pantomime. Now, as the result of the closing of so many of these theatres, there will be literally several million people who will have no opportunity ever again to see a pantomime. Moreover, there will be no opportunity of seeing classical plays, which I consider essential for the education of children.

Tied up with this matter of entertainments tax and the closing of theatres is the question of winter and summer outings employing coaches, and bringing business to local restaurants which very often are attached to local theatres. There are the landladies who put up the people who travel on tour. All these people pay taxes to the Government, and they will not be able to do so in the future. The Government will find that what they would gain on the roundabouts they will lose on the swings.

We are losing a great training ground for young actors, including the educational value to children from the local schools of having the opportunity of seeing live actors, so that they can get an idea of how to stand on the stage, how to speak clearly, and so on, which it is very difficult for a teacher in a class to demonstrate. I suggest that learning the art of speaking is a great asset—possibly the Financial Secretary will wish this afternoon that many people had not learned that art—but I trust that we shall be able to continue the teaching of how to express ourselves fully and in good English in the future.

Many of the port towns have recently lost their theatres, and I should like to emphasise what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) on the subject of people coming from overseas. Plymouth has now no theatre at all. Visiting navies come there, and we have nothing to show them now in the way of our cultural art. Recently, we had visits from the New Zealand and the Pakistan navies. I think that sailors of the British Navy coming into a port also need something, apart from the cinemas, which they can probably attend in other counties to which they travel, but in which they cannot gain that knowledge which they can gain from the British theatre.

The Financial Secretary was very unkind to Plymouth yesterday. He knocked one of our famous sports heavily on the head. I hope that this time he will give us some encouragement so that the people of Plymouth may still have some pleasures left to them. It is rather strange to realise that in a great many of the blitzed towns where theatre buildings were among the few saved from Hitler, those theatres are now being forced to close down at the hands of the Govern- ment. I should like the Financial Secretary to realise that I hope that his reply will show that he also realises that the theatre is as old as civilisation, and I plead with him not to let it down on this occasion.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)

The hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) is not an economist, and I sometimes feel that that may be an advantage when dealing with economics. He has put the general case against this tax very fully and forcibly. I have to confess that I myself was in danger, until a very short time ago, of being in a minority of perhaps one in the whole Committee in thinking that there were dangers in removing this tax because of the advantages which have accrued to non-profit distributing companies in the past by their getting a larger total amount from the receipts.

I was very impressed by the letter which was read by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), giving an assurance that if the tax were removed the non-profit distributing companies, repertory and the rest, would not be worse off in the provinces. I hope that we may get a similar assurance from the theatre landlords in the West End. If we could have that assurance, then the whole basis of the case against removing the tax would be removed. In view of the assurance which we have had, I personally, support the new Clause, and I do so, in part, for particular reasons which come within my own personal experience of the operation of this tax.

One of the features of the tax which I think is wrong, and which has not yet been mentioned, is that it gives to the Customs and Excise Department a job for which it is just not suited. In spite of what was said by one of my hon. Friends on a previous Clause about its abilities in recognising an eisteddfod, it is not, in my opinion, qualified to decide what sort of performance is, for example, partly educational. It has a power which, I think, it sometimes exercises wrongly, and which it ought not to have.

I will give a personal example of the kind of experience which I have had as a director for a very short time of one of these non-profit distributing companies. We wanted to put on a show called "Joan of Arc at the Stake," with Ingrid Bergman, and we wanted to put on another show which was a Japanese ballet. I know that it is difficult to know what is partly educational. I sometimes think that a thing is educational if it is somewhat over my head. The Japanese ballet was wholly educational from that point of view, because I could not understand a word of it. These shows were just the sort of thing that ought to be encouraged to be put on in the London theatre.

We applied for tax exemption under the 1946 Act, and, to our amazement, we were turned down. As a result, we lost about £17,000 and had to fold up. We were turned down because of a ruling of the Customs and Excise Department which, in my opinion, it had no right to make according to the 1946 Act, and over which Parliament had no control. That was because our non-profit making company was receiving a loan from a particular impressario and we could not be considered to be providing that entertainment.

Other impressarios had provided funds for non-profit-making companies to put on shows, so why should we be singled out? The point which I am making is that there was an absolutely arbitrary exercise of power which Customs and Excise had arrogated to itself. That is one of the evils of this tax, and one of the arguments in favour of abolishing it is that a Government Department should not be given that power.

We had, unfortunately, a rather more unpleasant experience than that. When we were told that we could not get tax exemption, we were approached by a group who said that if, under the counter, we would agree to give them 10 per cent. of the tax remission they would undertake to get round the Customs and Excise. I have not the faintest idea whether that was true or not. It may have been absolutely "phoney" and, of course, we would not touch it, but I was interested to find out whether or not it was true.

Accordingly, I tabled a Question, asking the Financial Secretary to let me have a list of the plays and shows which had been granted tax exemption in the past 18 months and by whom they had been provided. The purpose was to see whether this particular group had, in fact, some access to the Customs and Excise Department.

7.0 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, with his usual stonewalling tactics, told me that it was too much trouble to provide the list. To save him trouble, I put down a second Question and asked, not for the names of the shows which had been granted tax exemption in the previous 18 months, but for the names of the shows which had been granted tax exemption in the previous six months. He again said that it was too much trouble.

I simply do not believe that a Government Department which is as competent in ordinary business things as the Customs and Excise does not keep for itself and by its side a simple list of each show to which tax exemption is given. When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury refused to give me that information, it began to make my suspicions become somewhat deeper that in this matter there was something to hide.

It is all wrong that a Government Department should be given this power and authority, which, in my opinion, it is not qualified to exercise, and that it should seem to be subjected to outside pressures of this kind. Because the passing of the Clause would remove the Customs and Excise from this sphere entirely, I very much ask the Financial Secretary to consider not merely the particular experiences which I have put to the Committee, but, far more important than that, the general points which have been so eloquently put by hon. Members on all sides of the Committee.

Sir Herbert Butcher (Holland with Boston)

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) has narrated some interesting experiences. I was glad, however, that he concluded by suggesting that perhaps on the broad and general lines it would be right and proper that exemption from tax should be given in respect of the living theatre. There are certain facts which should be borne in mind, and I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has come to listen to the all-party expressions of view that this tax should be repealed.

I believe that the retention of this tax is an absolute loss to the national Exchequer as a whole in the widest and broadest sense. During the last year, 80 theatres—perhaps more—have closed. They were theatres that were paying rates, consuming light, encouraging public transport and selling excisable liquors and tobacco on which revenue duties were obtained; theatres which were employing people who were making their own contribution to the National Insurance Fund for health and unemployment benefits and who were earning incomes on which tax was paid. Those theatres have closed, and all that revenue has been lost to the nation as a whole.

The maximum amount of tax that the Chancellor could possibly lose by agreeing to the wishes of the 358 Members, drawn from all parties of the House of Commons, who desire to see action in this direction to be taken in the present Finance Bill, is £2 million. He would, however, commence to recover some of that money right away. From any theatre which was making money, as some of them are, he would recover 8s. 6d. in the £ straightaway to the extent of his remission and he would, at the same time, keep other theatres open. This is not the time for long speeches. Rather is it the time for all of us to impress upon the Treasury as much as we can how eager we are that something should be done.

Consider my own constituency. Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) spoke of hers in the far West, I speak of mine in the East. There is no theatre nearer than 40 miles away, and that one is now being converted into a cinema. What chance is there for the children to go to a pantomime, or for anyone to see Shakespeare performed on the stage in costume, as it should be performed? Those are the things we ask the Chancellor to give us.

We believe that if the Chancellor listens to the voice of the House of Commons in these matters rather than to the carefully worded advice on financial matters offered to him by the Treasury, there would be no financial loss in this matter whatever. The Committee will be most grateful to him for any relief he can give.

Mr. G. Jeger

I want to reinforce the arguments which have been put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from both sides of the Committee. I do so from a point of view which is, perhaps, unique in this Committee as far as I am concerned, since I am, I think, the only Member in this Committee who has the day-to-day job of running theatres. Therefore, I can speak from practical experience and, at the same time, declare that I have an interest in the subject under discussion. That gives me an expert point of view upon it.

My interest so far as the cultural life of the theatre is concerned, and the basis of my appeal to the Chancellor to abolish Entertainments Duty entirely, has no connection whatever with my interest in a West End theatre. I share, with other hon. Members who have spoken, the view, based on my experience, that the West End of London is capable of looking after itself and standing on its own feet. I am concerned with the provincial theatre, and it is as one connected with a provincial theatre in the North-East that I want to stress to the Chancellor the plight of the theatre today and to appeal to him to remit this taxation.

It has already been said that this is a bad tax. Its basis is different from that of other taxation. We all object to taxation, but this tax is unique. It is a tax upon the seat of the theatre when the admission charge is paid, irrespective of whether the show or the performance makes a profit or a loss. Very often the taxation which is paid every week means that the theatre sustains a loss instead of paying its way or, perhaps, making a profit.

No theatre owner or manager can survive on perpetual losses, and we have already been given instances of the number of theatres which have closed down since the war. More of them are closing in the provinces each week, and when they close they are being converted to other uses. They are not being bought and reopened by other theatre managers, but are being lost to the theatrical world. Their conversion to factories means that very often they pay only a quarter of their previous rates and the local authority as well as the Chancellor loses revenue, because the premises qualify for the 75 per cent. remission in rates if they are converted to house manufacturing industries. That is happening in many places. It is not easy to convert theatres into offices or into anything other than cinemas, warehouses or factories.

The cost of running a theatre has increased tremendously. There are increased wages all round, increased costs of equipment, of lighting and of rates since the new assessments came into operation. Very often the owners of small theatres in the provinces are faced with the dilemma of whether to run into debt to carry out necessary renewals and repairs in their theatres, whether it is possible for them to renovate the carpets and seating, and whether they can afford to put the boilers into a fit state for the oncoming winter for the convenience of patrons, or whether they should allow matters to drift on and the theatre to get into a state of decay and even semi-ruin. Very often theatre owners cannot afford to keep their theatres in the state in which they should be if they are to compete successfully with modern cinemas and with television at home.

Since the war, there have been only slight increases in the price of theatre seats, because there has been a feeling, as the hon. Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) said, that to increase the price of seats would keep away from the theatre a large number of the people whom we want to get into the theatre. When visiting the provincial theatre with which I am connected, I have always been pleased to see the large number of such people who are going into the theatre. It is the young people whom we want to see educated in speech, diction, walking, deportment and in a love of drama, speech and the classics. Those are the people whom we want to attract to the theatre, and those are the people who demand cheap seats. Consequently, no theatre owner can put up the price of his seats and thus keep out of the theatre the very people whom he wants to attract. They will be the theatregoers of tomorrow; they are the young theatregoers of today who will be educated to be the theatregoers of tomorrow.

We were debating a little while ago a new Clause dealing with eisteddfodau.

The Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)

My hon. Friend's pronunciation breaks my heart.

Mr. Jeger

It is a long time since I lived in Wales, and I must apologise to my hon. Friends for my pronunciation.

However, in that debate we faced one of the anomalies of the Entertainments Duty, when we were told that because nobody pays Entertainments Duty on an eisteddfod, therefore there was no need to grant exemption to the holders of eisteddfodau. That is one of the anomalies with which the law relating to Entertainments Duty is cluttered; an anomaly which has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu).

He talked of the way in which a Treasury official must decide whether an entertainment is of educational value or partly of educational value or not of educational value at all; an anomaly which allows non-profit making companies to flourish side by side and interlocked in various ways with ordinary commercial profit-making concerns; an anomaly that allows music hall artistes, musicians and singers to perform in restaurants or carbarets where no Entertainments Duty is payable, though the moment they step down into a music hall to give the same performances the tax is payable. Anomalies of that kind are hard to understand, and the Financial Secretary himself admitted that they are incomprehensible to the ordinary person and are illogical.

For our cultural and educational life, we need the theatre to continue. That has been acknowledged by the Government by their subsidising various forms of theatrical and musical entertainments through the Arts Council. I am very glad that from year to year the Government increase their subsidy to the Arts Council and consequently allow the Council to spread its blessings wider and wider each year. I wish they would do it even more, because I hate to see any form of cultural entertainment having to go cap in hand to beg of rich patrons or having to run charity performances to pay its way. We as a nation need to provide for this form of entertainment, to keep it alive. The State has an interest, since it is an entertainment which can attract visitors from overseas and because it is a necessity in the cultural and educational life of the nation.

The total amount of tax involved in the Clause is about £2 million. It has already been pointed out that much of that would come back to the Treasury in Profits Tax and Income Tax. Certainly much of the remission benefiting the West End of London would be made good and come back, because profits are already being made in the West End of London, and they would be increased, and consequently there would be more Income Tax and Profits Tax to be paid. The Treasury would not lose very much, but would gain a great deal by sweeping away these anomalies, and by thus bringing benefit to theatres all over the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), in his admirable speech on the Clause, referred to the fact that the Old Vic had lost money despite the fact that undertakings had been entered into affecting it, but I would point out to him that Covent Garden is losing money, that it is in the nature of certain forms of entertainment that they must lose money, and that no attempt at financial jugglery behind the scenes can prevent certain forms of cultural entertainment from having to be subsidised, if they are to continue. I am reminded that the great Edinburgh Festival, already world famous, loses money every year, and yet it is considered to be a cultural necessity to continue the Edinburgh Festival, and I hope we shall always continue it.

I appeal to the Chancellor to consider this new Clause in the broad-minded way of which, I know, he is capable. I would appeal to the Financial Secretary to consider it on the same level as the miniature bottles of spirits, and make the concession for which we are asking. It will cost very little compared with the total Budget, but the cultural advantages will be very great indeed.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. H. Brooke

First, I would pay tribute to the manner in which this new Clause has been moved and supported, and especially to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter), who were the first two to speak in this debate. They stated their case with eloquence and charm and reason. To put it in simple language, they got the debate off to a very good start. I found myself differing from my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate when he imagined that his appeal would especially touch the hearts of Members of Parliament because people so seldom nowadays have an opportunity to hear the human voice. That argument would, perhaps, weigh with others, but hardly with us, I think.

Before I come to the main issue of the debate I should like to say a few words about a speech which was of a rather different character, the speech made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), who was criticising the Customs and Excise in its operation of one of the exemptions. I remember the case well because the hon. Member came to see me at the time and we had more than one talk about it, though I did not know of the offer he appears to have received afterwards from somebody who would get round the Customs if he would give him or her 10 per cent. commission.

I suspect it may have been a she who did that, because we do know of a woman who does go round making that sort of offer to people who have difficulty in gaining exemptions for their productions. Her activities have come to our notice, and, in consequence, I can assure the Committee, the Customs scrutinises with a great deal more than its usual care any application where it has the slightest reason to believe that she has been concerned. So far as I understand, this woman did not intervene in the earlier stages, when the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East came to see me about this matter.

I want to cross swords with the hon. Member on this. He spoke of powers the Customs and Excise had arrogated to itself. I must defend Ministers and officials against any charge of that sort. The Customs and Excise Department, in this case, was carrying out a duty laid upon it by Parliament, carrying out the provisions of the Finance Act, 1946, which require the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to be satisfied of certain things. It is open to any hon. Member to say that that is a piece of bad law, but it is a law passed by Parliament, and when Parliament has declared what is to be the law we surely ought not in Parliament to criticise anybody in an official position who, to the best of his ability, is carrying out a duty laid upon him by Parliament.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

There was nothing in the law as we passed it to say that the help could be provided for one impresario and not to another, and that was the point I was making.

Mr. Brooke

I must go into this in a little more detail. The applications to which, I think, the hon. Member was referring were applications for an enterprise named Musikart to receive exemption for two entertainments, "Joan of Arc at the Stake" and Japanese ballet. Those applications were rejected by the Customs and Excise Department about 18 months ago. There was no suggestion whatever on the part of the Customs that they were not cultural entertainments, but, to gain exemption under Section 8 of the 1946 Finance Act, as the Committee knows, the entertainment must satisfy another condition. It must be provided by a society, institution or committee which is not conducted or established for profit. In this, Parliament has thrown directly on the Customs the duty of satisfying itself whether the conditions laid down by Parliament are satisfied.

In this case, on all the evidence taken together, they felt bound to reach the view that Musikart, a body with a capital of only a few pounds, was not really providing the entertainment in question—a West End entertainment requiring a large investment of capital. In briefest form, that was the issue. That was how the Customs reached its decision, and without going further into the pros and cons of the case again, in view of what the hon. Member has said, I felt that it was right that I should recount the other side of the story.

Now, to revert to the main issue—

Mr. Redhead

The right hon. Gentleman has apparently investigated the matter with great care, as it is obviously his duty to do when a matter like this is brought to his notice. Seeing that there has been a suggestion that there was, perhaps, a reluctance to supply certain information asked for at whatever stage it may have been due, and perhaps something which it was tempting to cover up, will the right hon. Gentleman say that he was satisfied, from the results of his investigations, that whatever may be claimed by any group or persons, there is, in fact, no justication for suggesting that the Customs and Excise is susceptible to improper pressure in a matter of determining its statutory functions?

Mr. Brooke

There is no justification whatever for any charge of that kind against the Customs. In the reference that I made earlier to a certain lady, I proved by that reference that the Customs was on guard against improper pressure of any kind, and, also, that its eyes are not closed when people of that kind are about.

To return to the main issue of the new Clause, as the Committee knows, the Entertainments Duty as a whole brings in an annual yield of £39 million or £40 million. In my speech in the Budget debate—

Mr. H. Wilson

May I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman before we leave the general point? We are all finding the right hon. Gentleman's speech very interesting, but I am sure that, in his rather brief reference to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), he falls between two stools. It might have been better if he had not dealt with it at all, but, if he was going to deal with it, he should have gone on to give a rather fuller and more satisfactory explanation to the Committee of that particular case.

Surely he has not satisfied the Committee on the point raised by my hon. Friend, particularly in his intervention, when he said that in the case of one impressario it was agreed but that in the case of another it was not. Now we are told that it was simply because the capital of the company was small that it was felt that the impressario, who was making a loan for the purpose of this project, was putting up the capital. Is the size of the capital of the company now to be the test?

Mr. Brooke

If the right hon. Gentleman will read my speech as recorded in HANSARD, he will see that I made it perfectly clear that the Customs has to take its decision on all the evidence and on all the circumstances taken together. In this case, one salient fact was that the body which, it was claimed, was providing or was to provide the entertainment, had a capital of about £13, and certainly did not possess assets of its own whereby it could finance the production of a big West End entertainment.

Now, if I may pick up again what I was saying, in the Budget debate I made it clear that we cannot monkey about with different parts of the Entertainments Duty. If we are to make changes at any point, we must review the duty as a whole; otherwise, as with almost any taxation, if we modify one bit of the tax, we find that we have put something out of balance and created some anomalies, and, therefore, we must extend our examination and survey to the whole structure of the duty.

It is perfectly true that, as has been said in this debate, the yield of the various entertainments which fall into the first scale of the duty, the ones we are discussing now, is only £2¼ million. Indeed, if we exclude circuses and things of that kind, to which I do not think hon. Members have been referring, because they were thinking not so much of living animals as of living people, the yield from what we know as the living theatre is £2 million a year.

I must make perfectly clear to the Committee that, financially, this is not just a matter of £2 million and that alone. If there were to be an alteration here, in fairness it would be necessary to re-examine all the rest of the structure of the Entertainments Duty and to bring forward more far-reaching proposals.

Sir H. Butcher

Why does my right hon. Friend say that it will be necessary to bring forward more far-reaching proposals when those at present before the Committee command the assent of a majority of hon. Members?

Mr. Brooke

I am not quite sure whether the proposals to which my hon. Friend refers will command the assent of the majority of the Committee when it has finished hearing me speak.

There has been some reference in the debate to the various exemptions which it is possible now to claim, and I noticed the skill and astuteness with which some hon. Members turned that argument round against me, so to speak, and suggested that because there were these exemptions they were liable to operate unfairly, and that that was an additional reason for getting rid of the whole duty. It is important to appreciate the extent of the exemptions, because I have detected every now and then, in several speeches from both sides of the Committee, an unawareness of the wide variety of entertainments for which exemption can, in fact, be claimed under the existing law.

The most important of the exemptions relate, first, to performances which are wholly amateur; secondly, to shows the proceeds of which are devoted to charity; and, thirdly—and I think this is particularly relevant in the present context—stage plays, ballets, concerts and certain other kinds of entertainment provided by a body which is not conducted or established for profit, and the main aims, objects and activities of which are partly educational. That is commonly known as the partly educational exemption.

In that last exemption alone, there are about 2,000 organisations which obtain relief from duty now amounting to no less than £600,000 a year. These organisations range from the Old Vic and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre to a large number of local societies putting on serious works. They include the majority of the repertory theatres and they also include the major companies presenting ballet and classical opera and the major symphony orchestras.

When reference is made, as I did just now, to the repertory theatre, I prick up my ears when I hear people saying that all the opportunities for young actors are disappearing. I understand that the Arts Council has calculated that the number of permanent repertory theatres permanently open is three times what it was 25 years ago. The chances for young actors and actresses are not as limited as some hon. Members from both sides of the Committee have suggested. It is also of some significance that theatres which did close, or announced their intention of closing, included some which were regularly putting on productions which were exempt from tax. I mention that because it is a mistake to assume that the only reason why the living theatre is meeting with difficulties, or why individual theatres in towns have closed down, is Entertainments Duty. That is far from being the case.

7.30 p.m.

If one analyses the facts, one finds that in some cases the theatre has closed because the lease has been up. In other cases there has been a fire. Various reasons of that kind may be the effective ones in particular cases. I am not for one moment seeking to argue that the theatre is without its difficulties. I readily grant that if the duty were removed from the living theatre, one difficulty, one burden, would be lifted from its shoulders, but do not let anybody suppose that this is the main burden, the crushing burden, and that if only it could be taken away the theatre would flourish and all the difficulties would vanish.

Before the Budget I had the pleasure of receiving an authoritative deputation representing all sides of the industry, including Equity, from the Theatres Entertainments Tax Committee. Unfortunately, the deputation did not include any of the lovely ladies to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate referred as attracting him so much when first he visited London. Indeed, in conversation with the deputation I had to express my personal regret at that omission and to congratulate the members of the deputation on their eloquence rather than on their glamour. Perhaps if they come again that will be corrected.

They certainly made a powerful case. I grant that at once, but let us be equally sure that it is not the case that the living theatre is singled out at present by a tax of particularly vicious incidence. In fact, it is one of the few taxes which are no more severe in their incidence now than they were before the war. This tax amounts to about 12½ per cent. of the box office takings and many of us would find life easier to lead if the rates of tax on other things could all be reduced to 12½ per cent.

It is also interesting to analyse the sources from which the £2 million of revenue come. We have investigated this very carefully and in broad figures about three-quarters of that sum—about £l½ million—comes from variety and musical shows and not more than one-quarter—that is, £500,000—from what we call the straight theatre. If, therefore, the tax were removed, the major advantage would accrue to productions of this type of variety shows. I say that not for one moment to denigrate them, or depreciate their undoubted attractions, but simply to get this matter into perspective. This plea for exemption of tax, which is so often put to the public as a plea for the relief of culture, is, in fact, a plea to a large extent for removing a burden of tax from the seaside variety show.

The hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King) said that the live theatre was on its way out and other hon. Members conveyed the suggestion that the theatre was dying and that in a few more months or years, unless the tax were removed, it might be dead. It is true that the yield of the tax has been falling and that theatre attendances have been diminishing over a period of years. Here again, as I mentioned to the Committee in other sections of entertainment, in the years immediately after the war, when there were not many other things on which they could spend their money, people went to cinemas, theatres, football matches, and so on. Now there are more alternatives and there is also televison and in a number of ways the living theatre has been suffering from loss of revenue at the same time as its costs have been increasing.

However, I am glad to say that recently there has been a turn for the better. The hon. Member for Itchen spoke of the process of this year continuing into next year. In preparation for this debate I got the most recent figures, because I knew that the Committee would wish to be aware of what was thoroughly up to date. The figures for the last six months—that is, from December, 1955, to the end of May, a few weeks ago—show an increase in the revenue of about 3½ per cent. compared with the corresponding period of 1954–55.

On other occasions I have myself argued against using short-term figures as decisive evidence one way or the other, but I am entitled to quote those figures as proof that this is not a continuing decline and that there is now a return, and a welcome return, to the theatre. Nevertheless, I shall not say for one moment that all is well with the living theatre.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the representations made by the Theatre Entertainments Tax Committee in relation to tax revenue in the statement it submitted to him and to other hon. Members that the revenue from Entertainments Duty only in respect of the living theatre has declined? The statement was: The revenue from Entertainments Duty on the living theatre for the year ended 31st March, 1956, amounted to £2 million as against £2.17 million in the previous financial year and £2.4 million the year before. How does the Financial Secretary square his statement with that statement?

Mr. Brooke

I have with me the figures of revenue from theatres and music halls for the past six financial years. As I have been challenged, it is right that I should give them to the Committee. They are: in 1950–51, £2.2 million; in 1951–52, £2.3 million; in 1952–53, £2.4 million; in 1953–54, £2.4 million; in 1954–55, £2.2 million and in 1955–56, £2.1 million. I do not think that there is any difference between us. I frankly agreed that in the last two or three years the yield had been going down. I also made the point that in the last six months there had been an upturn, which was welcome not only to the Chancellor but to the theatre, because it meant that more people were going there.

I have made clear from this Box during our previous long debates that we have had about the other two sections of Entertainments Duty that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor does not feel able to make any change in the duty this year. I refused another suggested tax reduction only two or three hours ago, in another direction. The Chancellor felt convinced that his tax reductions this year must be confined to those which would stimulate savings. Nevertheless, he has authorised me to repeat that he is not satisfied with the structure of Entertainments Duty as it stands, and does not think that it ought to remain indefinitely as it operates at present. He is re-examining the whole matter, in connection not only with the living theatre but the cinema and sports and games of all kinds.

Upon general economic grounds he believes that it would be wholly wrong to announce, this year of all years, that he deemed it the right moment to reduce Entertainments Duty, but he is seriously pledging himself to prepare new plans for the duty, covering a review of all its sections, so that he will be ready, at what he considers to be the appropriate time, to lay fresh proposals before Parliament.

Mr. Gordon Walker

The right hon. Gentleman said that he had told the deputation which came to see him that he could congratulate it upon its eloquence rather than its glamour. I am afraid that I cannot congratulate the right hon. Gentleman either upon his eloquence or his glamour. His was a very dismal performance. It was very disappointing, and it will have offended hon. Members on his own side of the Committee no less than those on this side. He treated the matter in the way that is usual in a Treasury brief, namely, by submitting that the tax is a benefit to all those who have to pay it. We are getting very tired of hearing that argument.

He said that we cannot monkey about with Entertainments Duty. I do not see how he can say that when so many extraordinary anomalies exist in this duty at present, in connection with partly educational, profit making and non-profit making productions. This tax has been monkeyed about with already, and is now riddled with anomalies. The proposal put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would reduce this matter to some sort of order. So far from monkeying about with it, it would make it a sensible and reasonable tax.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we could not do what is proposed without putting something or other in this complicated tax sphere out of balance, but if he will not do anything he will put the theatre out of business. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who know the industry, art and enterprise of the theatre, have made most convincing speeches to show that it is now really in danger. I am glad that the Chancellor has been with us during the debate, because he will have heard speeches from both sides of the Committee, and by Members of all parties, which were unanimous in their plea.

We are very glad that hon. Members opposite—including the hon. Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers)—have spoken, but I would tell them, in all friendliness and sincerity, that there is only one way of getting done what they sincerely want done, and that is by carrying their vote in the same direction as their voices. That is the only way in which we can obtain the real view of the Committee upon the proposal which is before us. The Financial Secretary really cracked the whip, and I hope that his hon. Friends noticed it. He said that after he had sat down they would not vote for the proposal because the opinion of the Committee would be against it. But he cannot have deceived himself into thinking that the arguments which he used convinced anybody. He can only have meant that it was the Whips who would do the convincing.

7.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter), in a very dramatic and telling phrase, said that the footlights are going out one by one—and it is true. In recent years, 80 provincial theatres have shut down. I understand that about 24 closed in 1955. How that fact can be squared with what the right hon. Gentleman has been telling us—that everything is getting better; that the tax yield and profitability are both getting better—I really do not understand. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) so well showed, the numbers of productions on tour are also declining, and that is a very grave matter.

The right hon. Gentleman made the point that the burden of tax is not the sole cause of the theatre's troubles. We all know that. There are many other troubles. The State is subsidising one of its chief competitors, namely, commercial television. That is one of the theatre's troubles. But the tax has the advantage that, unlike the other troubles of the theatre, it can very easily be removed—by a vote of the Committee. It would take a great weight off the theatre. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it would certainly not allow it to bound forward, but it would at least allow it to walk more freely.

When we were discussing a similar tax upon sport, we made the point that this is an extraordinarily bad tax. It is applied whether a profit is made or a loss sustained. It offends all good and proper fiscal principles. Nobody minds a tax which falls upon profits made in the theatre, but this tax falls upon losses as much as upon profits, and in so many cases it makes all the difference between profit and loss. So many times the amount of tax is just that amount which would have been necessary to break even, and a profit which could have enabled the theatre to continue is turned into a loss.

I knew that the right hon. Gentleman would say that the Chancellor does not want to kill the theatre. He said the same thing about sport. He is like the Quaker sea captain who captured a pirate and told him that his principles forbade him killing the pirate, but he would hold the pirate's head under water until it pleased the Lord to take his life away. That is the attitude of the Chancellor to the theatre. He is not killing it; he is letting its life run away because he is holding its head under water. The Financial Secretary's argument is a really miserable one.

This is a matter of vital importance to the culture of the nation. Hon. Members have disagreed on whether the amount involved is £1 million or £2 million, according to whether the net or the gross figure is taken. It is such a small amount for something of such great importance that it is too trivial an argument to put forward seriously from the Treasury Bench. The Chancellor is genuinely interested in the cultural life of the nation. I ask him to realise that the theatre is in danger, and that it is not enough for him to tell us that he is going to think about the problem and try to do something about it later.

The theatre is in danger here and now. Theatres are closing down. As my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) said, the process is irreversible. If a theatre closes down it is not merely a question of suspension, after which the theatre can be used as such again. All too often the building is converted and lost for ever as a theatre.

The argument that certain commercially profitable parts of the theatre would benefit more than other parts from the reduction of tax is not really a good one. The theatre is indivisible. The repertories, the great successes, the musical shows and the good plays all hang together. The theatre cannot survive unless there are places where productions can be put on. Nobody objects to the fact that the removal of the tax would benefit certain popular productions more than others. It would help the theatre as a living, integral whole.

The tax is riddled with anomalies. It is dangerous and damaging to the country. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will continue to press the Chancellor, and that hon. Members opposite will take the matter so seriously that they will be prepared to vote on this issue. It is not a matter of politics but something affecting the cultural life of the nation. I hope that the Chancellor will say, after listening to the debate, that he has been convinced by the arguments advanced from both sides of the Committee.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) referred to the unanimity of opinion expressed in this very harmonious debate. I propose to strike a slightly discordant note, and to support my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. That is not because I do not sympathise with anything which has been said by those hon. Members who support the new Clause, but because I am not so optimistic as are some hon. Members about the results which would follow the removal of this tax.

It has been said by my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members that a large number of theatres, especially repertory theatres, already escape the Entertainments Duty. They gain exemption by putting on plays of cultural or educational interest. The fact is that despite not having to pay Entertainments Duty those theatres are finding it increasingly difficult to survive.

The reason is that people are just not going to the theatre. They do not go because other entertainment attracts them away. There are the cinemas, which themselves have to put on a first-class show today in order to attract people from television. There is also television and radio in the home, where all kinds of variety entertainment can be seen and heard. People ask themselves why they should pay, often quite a substantially bigger sum, to go to the local theatre, where they see brave amateurs, and young professionals learning their job, putting on a play with great enthusiasm and verve and often with great skill, but attaining a standard much lower than that of the West End, when they can see a first-class film or watch television.

I am not convinced that the removal of the Entertainments Duty would have the effect of helping these theatres to continue. But perhaps the Chancellor might consider afresh the whole question of the tax on all entertainments and sports. I agree with the right hon. Member for Smethwick that Entertainments Duty is bad. It results in receipts being taxed and not profits, and in that way it must be a bad tax. In my opinion, there is a strong case for doing what I understood my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to say would be done, having a complete examination of the Entertainments Duty next year and recasting the system of taxation on all forms of entertainment and sport. Although I have supported all the moves made in this House from time to time to remove the impact of tax both from the theatre and the cinema, I do not feel that I can support this Clause, for the reasons which I have given.

The cinema could produce an equally good case. There is no doubt that small cinemas throughout the country are finding their position increasingly difficult. I know a number of cases where small cinemas are closing down, because they find it impossible to continue. They claim that it is because of the impact of tax, and perhaps in some cases there is justification for that claim. But often they have too small a place to attract a large enough audience to give an income sufficient to put on the best films—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Frank Bowles)

Order. The Committee has already discussed the question of the film industry. It is true that the Financial Secretary referred to the whole matter being considered by the Chancellor, but we cannot now discuss the film industry.

Mr. Hall

I appreciate that point. I was merely comparing the theatre and the cinema because they are suffering largely for the same reason, namely, that people will not go to them because they find they can get better entertainment elsewhere.

Even were the Chancellor to give way on this point and remove the Entertainments Duty, I do not think it would have any effect on the increasingly rapid destruction of the theatre in the country as a whole. Theatres in the West End and in the big cities will continue to survive. They can look after themselves quite well. The small theatres will continue to die unless they are helped directly, and not indirectly by the removal of this tax. To be helped directly they would have to receive some kind of subsidy assistance similar to that now given to Covent Garden and other establishments of that kind, and that is not necessarily an idea which would commend itself to many hon. Members.

I consider the position of the small theatre to be a tragedy, because the small theatre has a definite and valuable part to play in the cultural life of our country as a whole. It provides a school where the coming actors may receive their early training. But we must face the fact that people do not want that class of entertainment at the present time. They prefer to go elsewhere and get better entertainment for the same or even less money. Therefore on this occasion I am able—I will not say with pleasure—to support my right hon. Friend; though I hope that the whole question of Entertainments Duty will be examined next year and that the tax will be revised so that it does not have quite the unfortunate effect which it has in some cases today.

Sir Thomas O'Brien (Nottingham, West)

After the benediction pronounced by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) it would appear that there is but one thing left to do, and that is to bury the body. To the everlasting credit of the living theatre, I can say that it is full of healthy and robust optimism about its current difficulties.

We of the theatre do not intend to bury the body, even though the Chancellor is prepared to act as undertaker. The case for the abolition of this tax on the living theatre has been made out overwhelmingly. I am grateful to the Chancellor for the assurance he gave last week, and which has been repeated by the Financial Secretary today, that the whole question of the Entertainments Duty will be examined. As I represent all sections of the entertainment industry. I find that a gratifying assurance. I welcome it, as will the whole industry, provided that the Chancellor means what he says and gets down to the job as quickly as possible.

I wish to try to satisfy the Committee that it is not a question, as was mentioned a moment ago, of giving certain concessions to sections of the industry or monkeying about with the Entertainments Duty as a whole. The Federation of Theatre Unions, of which I am the President, representing the British Actors' Equity, the Association of Musicians and Variety Artistes, and my own union, the Stage Technicians and Staffs, are convinced that we are not playing the "bosses" game in trying to bring about the abolition of this tax so that there may be more profits for the "bosses".

We are satisfied—as the Financial Secretary said he was when he received a deputation from the entire industry—from the star right down to the theatre cleaner, that the theatre is going out of existence. We do not agree with the Financial Secretary when he paints a more colourful picture than is warranted by the facts.

8.0 p.m.

On the trade union side of the theatre we are so convinced that we feel we ought to be able to convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. Many who have to live by the theatre earn only a precarious living and want to have some relief. We do not want another year of uncertainty and of seeing one theatre after another close down. I therefore appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider this matter.

I have already expressed my appreciation of the assurance which has been given about re-examination of the structure of the Entertainments Duty, but the abolition of the duty for the theatre is a surgical operation. The patient is in desperate straits and only a surgical operation can save him. I admit here and now, on behalf of everyone in the entertainment industry, that the cause of the decline of the theatre is not wholly the Entertainments Duty. We want to be perfectly honest about that. We believe that the difficulties are due not entirely but mainly to the duty.

Sir B. Baxter

The hon. Member and I work together on this matter. Knowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer as I do, I believe that the statement made on his behalf by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary is genuine and constructive. I believe that the Chancellor intends to do something. This is an all-party debate and I want to avoid a Division.

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) rose to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Sir T. O'Brien). He must not make a speech.

Sir T. O'Brien

I know that there are difficulties about seaside shows, variety acts and red-nosed comedians, but we cannot separate the living stage and split the theatre up in that way. The theatre is still the source of apprenticeship for other sections of the entertainment industry, including films, television, and broadcasting. Take away that source and everlasting difficulties will be created for the other sections.

I support the appeals that have been made to the Chancellor to have second thoughts on this matter and to get rid of the Entertainments Duty on the theatre once and for all. Knowing the other sections of the industry, I am sure that there will be no jealousies, for example, in the cinema and the sport sections. They have their own case. Sports are not dying. The small cinema is in difficulties, but the cinema industry is not dying. Its existence is not threatened. The existence of the theatre is threatened.

I take this opportunity of thanking the 360 hon. Members on all sides of the Committee for the wonderful support they have given to the case for the abolition of the duty on the theatre. I thank all who have participated in the debate and have supported the proposed new Clause. The Chancellor ought to do something to help the theatre before the end of this year.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

The announcement which has been made on behalf of the Chancellor will have come as a great disappointment to many people in the theatre. I have not so many friends in the theatre as other hon. Members may have, but I have a few friends. They have made very strong pleas to me to use our best efforts this year to get the Entertainments Duty removed. I could not hold out any great hopes to them, but I did hope that within a year we should have a favourable decision on this very important matter.

I was glad to hear the pledge given by the Financial Secretary and I would have received it much more happily if he had added that new proposals would be brought forward next year without fail. I suppose it is almost too much to hope for. I urge the Chancellor to bring forward his fresh proposals about the Entertainments Duty next year for an absolute certainty.

From what I gather, it is unlikely that many theatres will be able to survive for another 12 months, and that must be serious. It is serious for us who live in Middlesex, as I do, and as does my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter). He lives in the northern part of Middlesex and I in south-west Middlesex, where we badly need a theatre. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) knows all about this, as he is in the constituency next door to Heston and Isleworth. For a long time we have wanted a theatre to serve our part of Middlesex.

Who would be so foolish or rash as to try to start a theatre, even a very small one? The odds are too much against it. There may be other odds, apart from Entertainments Duty, like television, and it may be that even if the duty were removed the theatre would still find itself in difficulties. From the lowest political viewpoint, the Government should not put themselves in the position to be accused of helping to kill the theatre. We should do all we can to help it, even though removal of the duty may not do all that is required.

I was sorry to hear the Financial Secretary say that removal of the duty on the theatre would be monkeying about with the duty. The Lord Privy Seal, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, did a little monkeying about with the Entertainments Duty when he exempted cricket. That bit of monkeying about was very favourably received. I hope we have a little more monkeying about with the duty this evening. I am sorry that the Chancellor has not felt it possible to take the action this year which we all so much desire.

If the Chancellor is to examine the Entertainments Duty, I hope that he will make up his mind once and for all to tax not turnover but only profits. Once upon a time, the great call in this country was, "No taxation without representation". Cannot this Conservative Government be the first to introduce the principle, "No taxation without profits"? It is futile that we should go on taxing losses. I do not see what there is to commend that.

It was with very much pleasure that I received the pledge made by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I hope that, before we leave the subject, the Chancellor will tell us that he will bring forward new proposals without fail within twelve months.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

In the 1880s and 1890s, when I used to take part in what was the then recognised form of juvenile dramatics, the Band of Hope, we used to sing a little hymn beginning: 'No' is a very little word. In one short breath we say it. What astonishes me is the number of words which the Financial Secretary has had to say on successive new Clauses in order to utter the single word "No".

I hope that the Chancellor will take the gamble that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to offer. He said, when he was interrupted on one occasion, that he would wait until the arguments that he proposed to put forward had been heard, in the belief that by waiting he would find his hon. Friends behind him converted to his point of view. I watched those hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the Committee, and I am bound to say that I saw no signs of conversion.

Therefore, if we are to rely on the argument, will the Chancellor take off the Whips and let the argument sway the issue and not the question of what will please the Whips? I noticed, a few minutes ago, that a couple of Whips were going round having whispered conversations with two or three hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the Committee. Whether they were merely dissuading them from occupying any further time with speeches or were suggesting that their presence in the right Lobby later on would be regarded not so much as a favour but as a duty, is not for me to speculate upon.

I am bound to say that I am very disappointed with the line taken by the Financial Secretary. The Chancellor seems to be having a tough time this year getting ready for next year's Budget. On every serious Amendment and new Clause that we have moved we have been told, "Not this year, but the Chancellor is carefully examining this subject with a view to doing something next year." I almost began to think that I ought to be putting my money on the possibilities of a General Election somewhere about May or June, 1957, but then I was a little comforted because I recollected that one day, on the Luton Corporation Bill, the Chancellor said, "Next year we will have a scheme for the reorganisation of local government so that I shall not have to ask the House to reject this Bill again," and he left office within three months.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

The right hon. Member is usually so accurate that I would venture only for the record to correct what he said. I made no such statement. I said when I was Minister of Local Government that either there would be a new scheme or I would definitely have to warn hon. Members that there could not be such a scheme and I could not use that as a reason against that Bill. In fact, in the following year I did exactly what I promised to do.

Mr. Ede

As a matter of fact, before the next year came round the right hon. Gentleman had moved to a new office.

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, but my successor carried out exactly what I said. There were arguments whether a review should be carried out without a reorganisation and I said that we would not again use that argument: either we would have it or we would not use the argument against the Bill. I resent the suggestion that I said what the right hon. Member suggested. It is absolutely untrue and a filthy thing to say.

Mr. Ede

The right hon. Gentleman need not get so indignant as all that, because I did not say that he made a false statement. What I said was that he made a statement and that the next year, which was the year to which he had alluded, he was no longer in the office which would enable him to carry out that statement.

Mr. Macmillan

No such statement was made. If the right hon. Member looks it up he will see that the very thing I said would be done was done by my successor.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. This may be entertaining, but it has nothing to do with Entertainments Duty. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will soon bring this part of the discussion to a close.

Mr. Ede

If the right hon. Gentleman will look at columns 712 and 713 of HANSARD for 18th March, 1954, he will see that my statement is amply borne out by the statements he then made. I knew it was, because the other night I looked up the point in order to deal with this same argument which is now being used—"not this year, but next". I had hoped that when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury we would have a real effort this year to deal with this problem, because I have a great admiration for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman, as a rule, deals with this sort of subject, and has done, no matter on which side of the House he may have been sitting at any particular time.

8.15 p.m.

I want to reinforce the plea that has been put forward by more than one hon. Member, by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, about the bad influence that the destruction of the provincial theatre is having on the educational system of the country. If children are to see the great classic authors portrayed on the stage very many of them cannot see such portrayals in London theatres. It will have to be in the provincial theatres, theatres of small towns, and sometimes by performances of gifted amateurs. It is true that amateur performances are exempt from taxation, but the small provincial theatre in such places as Plymouth, which used to be the centre of a very considerable area for south Devonshire and east Cornwall, is disappearing. That is a very considerable loss to the education service. I have been impressed by the rapid disappearance of the theatre in towns even in a county like Surrey, which is comparatively near London. In small towns like Kingston and Guildford considerable efforts have been made to maintain a theatre.

I do not think that we can afford to wait another year for a decision on this matter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the challenge which the Financial Secretary throughout threw out to the hon. Members behind him. They heard the argument. It was quite evident from the expression on their faces and from what followed that everyone except the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall)—who, after all, was not so enthusiastic in support of the Financial Secretary at the end of his speech as he was at the beginning—was disappointed. There was no sign on the benches opposite, apart from that hon. Member, that they had been convinced that the new Clause to which so many of them had put their names had been convincingly answered by the Financial Secretary. I can only hope that they will follow up what they have said, and what they wrote when they put their names to the new Clause, by voting in the Lobby for it tonight.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I wish to strengthen the plea made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. It was rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Sir T. O'Brien) that 368 hon. Members had signed a Motion relating to this matter. Therefore one can assume that if the Government took off the Whips tonight there would be a majority in the House of Commons for the abolition of Entertainments Duty on the living theatre.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) that the British theatre is dying. I have confidence in the theatre and do not believe, whatever the competition it has to face, that the theatre will die. It is a British cultural asset for our cities and towns, and in the schools children are always keen to act. I believe that the living theatre is one of the assets of British life. It is facing great difficulties, and I think that the Chancellor should do his best to overcome those difficulties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) speaks with some practical experience of running a West End theatre, and I agreed with a great many of his remarks, but I do not think that all the West End theatres are having an easy time. My hon. Friend has a remarkable knack of picking winners; I believe there have been only three plays since 1945 at the theatre which he manages. One can point to other West End theatres, however, where often there has been a new play every three weeks and sometimes two or three a month. In view of the very considerable production costs, that is a liability to a theatre.

Some West End theatres do not make a profit, and some have difficulty in maintaining themselves as going concerns. Some theatres were bombed during the war and are unlikely to be rebuilt, some have closed down and others have been sold; and I believe that there are now six West End theatres fewer than there were in 1939.

The theatre faces extra running costs, extra rates, and very hight costs for electricity. A theatre consumes an enormous amount of electricity, for it contains a great deal of electrical apparatus. There must be competent people in charge of it. The theatres come under licensing control, and unless there are competent engineers and others in charge they will not get their licences. They must therefore pay proper trade union rates of wages. If hon. Members saw some of the duties performed in theatres I think they would agree that the staff are not overpaid, either in the West End or in the provinces.

The provincial theatres are vital to the West End theatres. Often where there has been a successful production in the West End it is sent out on what is called a "No. 1 provincial tour." Before the war, as my hon. Friend the Member for Goole well knows, those tours would often be of 50 weeks' duration. That meant that the touring company went out for 50 weeks, and if not much money had been made by the production in the West End, the tour enabled the company nevertheless to make a profit, or recover its losses.

Owing to the closing of so many provincial theatres, it is difficult today to arange even a 15-week tour, and in some cases productions which have been performed in the West End have only a 12-week tour in the provinces. One can therefore see, when dealing with theatres as a whole, that one must link the provincial theatres with the London theatre. Repertory theatres, too, are important to the living theatre for they often produce the star actor of tomorrow. In many small towns repertory theatres have closed down because of the increased cost of production, increased rents and rates and increased maintenance costs. Without the repertory theatre the living theatre in this country will have a lean time.

I therefore make my appeal to the Chancellor. We are not asking for a large sum of money. The living theatre is a British asset which stretches back for centuries. One thinks of Shakespeare, of the strolling players and of plays on the English green. The theatre is a great cultural asset to this country, and I ask the Chancellor to consider its problems, and help it.

As hon. Members know, bids have been made for many provincial and some West End theatres. Building speculators have made bids for them because they occupy valuable sites. Some West End theatres have been bid for by building speculators who would be pleased to buy them in order eventually to replace them by blocks of offices which would provide a much bigger profit. They would not have to pay Entertainments Duty, so the Chancellor would lose that, and the nation would lose the theatres.

The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) spoke about south-west Middlesex. We should like a theatre in south-west Middlesex, but with building costs at their present level that is not a very practical proposition. We have amateur shows, and often they pay Entertainments Duty. I had a complaint from an amateur operatic and dramatic society in my constituency that, although most of its proceeds are given to hospitals and an old folks' home, the society is called upon to pay Income Tax because its expenses have reached a certain sum.

I ask the Chancellor to give this matter careful thought, as the living theatre is a great cultural asset to this country, and reflects the British people, their history and their lives.

Mr. Moyle

Having regard to the very many speeches which have been made in support of the new Clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), my only reason for taking part in the debate is that I do not want the Chancellor in any way to under-estimate the very strong feeling which exists on the issue.

The Financial Secretary, who is a faithful servant to the Chancellor, has had to deal with some pretty fast body-line bowling during the debate on the Bill, but when, on behalf of the Chancellor, he replied to the debate about the tax on the living theatre, I thought he did himself less than justice. The story he told us as the reason for which the Chancellor cannot agree to exempt the living theatre from the tax was precisely the same kind of story as that which he told the sports representatives when they met him in March, as that which he told us last night, and as that which he had repeated this afternoon.

I want to ask the Chancellor to have another look at this matter. At the moment the issue is confined to the living theatre; it is a complete entity which can be dealt with, in my view, separately and independently without in any way giving rise to the reprecussions to which the Financial Secretary has continually referred in emphasising that the Chancellor is unable to do anything for one section of the community because if he did it would upset the whole structure of the Entertainments Duty. I do not believe that that argument has the slightest substance here, because the living theatre is a separate, independent entity raising a revenue of not more than £2 million a year and this revenue is diminishing. A sum of £2 million a year on the total earnings of the theatre means a tax on box office receipts of virtually 14 per cent., but if the Financial Secretary's figure of 12½ per cent. is correct then I submit that 2s. 6d. in the £ is a very heavy tax when imposed on receipts and not on profits.

8.30 p.m.

I suggest that the Chancellor this year could at least look at this matter to see whether he can devise some means of freeing the theatre from the astonishing position of having to pay considerable taxes, when at the same time, it is sometimes unable to meet its wages bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Dr. King) referred to a number of cases in which Entertainments Duty has had to be paid by the theatre while other debts were incurred in order to do so. That is an astonishingly anomalous position. Cannot the Chancellor this year say that, as part of the major consideration which he promises next year, he will lift the theatre out of its present unfortunate position by relating the tax to profits rather than to receipts?

I ask him that because I am perfectly certain, having regard to their background, that both the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary are very conscious of the great contribution which the British theatre has made to our way of life. I imagine that no one in the House is less unaware than they of the theatre's contribution to British education. Is there any community that displays a wider sense of charity than does the theatrical world? How often do we appeal to it to give a helping hand to some deserving charity, whether it be to help ex-Service men or children here or abroad? No matter what aspect of need manifests itself, we ask the theatre to help, and it generously responds.

The Financial Secretary really scratched around to find a case against this demand for exemption. I think it is fair to put it that way—he scratched around for a case. In spite of what he said about the increasing buoyancy of the revenue since the early part of the year, the total number of unemployed in the theatrical world is increasing. I am told that at the moment it is 13 per cent. as against 1 per cent. for the rest of the community.

I was very much impressed by the conciliatory speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Sir T. O'Brien). He spoke in a representative capacity, and I would ask the Chancellor to pay due regard to what he said. He was conscious of the case that had been put to him and his colleagues by the Financial Secretary some months ago on this very issue. The Financial Secretary then stated—and I can only paraphrase what he said, 'I should like to help you, but what can I do? I cannot help you without there being repercussions on the whole structure, which would jeopardise our receiving about £40 million from the entertainment world as a whole."

This afternoon my hon. Friend asked the Chancellor not to be affected unduly by that argument. On behalf of his own people, he said that, if the living theatre were relieved of this tax, that would not be regarded as a precedent upon which to seek further concessions for the cinema and other sections of the entertainment world.

Again, the living theatre is the nursery of many of our entertainments. It is from the theatre that the cinema and television stars are recruited. It is from the British theatre that most of our actors secure an opportunity to give of their best for the good life of this country. Above all, the repertory theatre is the greatest school of apprenticeship in which young actors and actresses can reach professional maturity.

My final word is this. Do not let us forget that these actors and actresses whom we have produced are great dollar earners and our great ambassadors of good will in the United States.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I very much regret that I was not able to hear the opening speeches during the early part of the debate on this new Clause. As I informed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), I had to attend an important meeting in the Prime Minister's room on a very large national issue. However, I was fortunate in missing only about half an hour of what has been a very interesting debate, during which a very large number of speeches have been made from both sides of the Committee with, as sometimes happens—and Chancellors have to put up with it—a great measure of agreement between them.

I should like just to recall to the Committee for a few moments the broad picture within which I have had to work this year. I can only repeat what I have said on other occasions, and I do so with great sincerity. I have budgeted for a Budget surplus of £450 million. I have made increases of £30 million in direct taxation and £27 million in indirect taxation. I have made no remissions. I thought it my duty to make none, though it is always much easier and more popular to do so. I made no remissions nor recommended any to the Committee, except upon one single type of tax where the effect would be, as I hope, and as I think all of us would hope, to tend to increase the total volume of savings, because in this inflationary situation it is savings which may be the biggest and most hopeful cure.

Apart from that remission, there are only two other exceptions, if they can be called remissions, in the realm of family life, where the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill will, of course, cost a few millions this year and more next year, and there will also be the cost of the increased allowance for the third child. Those are the three exceptions.

Naturally enough, as always happens when we get to the Bill itself and come to our new Clauses, we have had new Clause after new Clause where both logic and sentiment sometimes would move the Committee to say that this ought to be given or that ought to be allowed. Sometimes the sums involved are very large. I say quite frankly that I think Chancellors from both sides find those cases the easiest to resist, because if the tax remission suggested involves about £50 million or £100 million it so clearly knocks the whole Budget about that, whatever good it might do, it is not really practical politics within the framework of the Budget.

The smallest ones are, perhaps, the most difficult. The argument is, "It is not a very big thing; it will not cost very much. It is rather mean to resist it. It will not be a precedent; we promise the Chancellor that if it is given in this case nobody else will use it to try and get the same benefit for something analogous." Although I am sure that those promises are given in good faith, that has not been my experience. My experience has been that if any kind of concession is given to anybody, everybody else then tries immediately to prove that he ought to be in that category. We had that same state of affairs even in regard to savings, where people came along and said that they ought to be in it, too. As I say, the smallest cases may sometimes be the most difficult for that very reason.

Apart from Entertainments Duty, we have had new Clause after new Clause, designed to assist worthy causes, which I felt it right to advise the Committee not to accept. Now we come to this matter of Entertainments Duty. We had arguments, first, on behalf of the cinema, particularly the small cinema, arguments which were very well presented. It was said that not so very much is involved, only a few millions. Then we had sport. There were certain discriminations there; some hon. Members disapproved of one sort of sport while particularly favouring their own, and, again, the argument was that it was not such a very large matter, a million or two, and it would not hurt the Budget.

Today, we come to the one which, I am bound to say, presents the strongest and best argument of all—the living theatre. We are told that only about £1½ million is involved; it will not affect the Budget. No one of these, of course, or, indeed, two or three, would affect the mathematical balance of the Budget or what the surplus will be next year. It will not do that. It would be foolish for me to say that.

Nor would I try to argue that I am satisfied with the Entertainments Duty as I find it. It was created during the war and carried on by Chancellors of the Exchequer after the war. It has a great many difficulties and anomalies in it. It is a tax on a great many different kinds of entertainment, and, meanwhile, there have grown up different rival forms of entertainment which have created quite a new situation. I think that there may even be anomalies there in that some of these entertainments—I mean the new ones—are not so heavily taxed as others. Therefore, I say quite frankly that I do not pretend that a million or two here and there—although, if all these millions were added one to the other, they would come to quite a large sum—would absolutely overthrow the balance of the Budget.

Nor am I going to pretend that this tax in its present form is altogether satisfactory. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Sir T. O'Brien) both put this in a most moderate form. I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Southgate, although it was reported to me, but I had the pleasure of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. I do not think that they claimed that the difficulties of certain parts of the theatre or certain forms of the theatre were really created solely by the tax. All kinds of things are happening in the world of entertainment. Nor would they pretend that all which comes under the name of the living theatre is Shakespearean performance or the high drama of which hon. Members have spoken. Quite a lot of it is not that, although a lot of it is. I also do not pretend that whatever may be the difficulties of the theatre they are made easier by their having to bear tax. Of course that is not so.

I will be absolutely frank with the Committee, as I have been throughout. I have great sympathy with the case which has been put and I do not pretend that if this concession were granted it would overthrow the balance of the Budget. At the same time, I have resisted all the claims put forward for the same reasons, and I must ask the Committee to do so on this broad, general ground.

I do not think that it would be fair for me to select this one or that one. We are engaged in a very difficult operation. Perhaps it will succeed; perhaps it will fail. I believe that it will succeed. My hopes for this year may prove illusory—I do not know—but I believe that there is a great measure of agreement in our country, perhaps greater than ever before, about some of the broad problems that confront us as a people. I believe that we are going to succeed. Even with all these cases of one kind and another—sport, Association football, the Rugby League, and the living theatre—I do not want to disturb the broad theme of the Budget.

If this were a Budget in which tax concessions were being made—and I have made none except in the field of savings, which has a quite different purpose—I could not resist some of the claims which have been so well argued. But that is not the theme of the Budget. It is in that sense austere because of the inflationary situation which we are trying to meet. I believe that we will overcome it, but I will say this. I flared up a little, and rightly so, over the matter of the pledge, because I feel strongly about the pledges that I give. I certainly will look very carefully at the structure of Entertainments Duty as a whole. I think that it will have to be remodelled.

Ministers have their duty to do, but I do not believe that in its present form this tax can stand up to the serious criticism that is levelled against it. It will be a strong claimant for some relief when the time comes for relief, and I hope that that may be in the next Budget.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

Is that a promise?

Mr. Macmillan

I shall come to that.

I do not think that the Entertainments Duty as such, which brings in £40 million, is necessarily a very high claimant for total remission. There are much higher claimants than that when it comes to giving benefits or reduction of taxation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would claim it. Certain parts of it require refashioning and remodelling and certain parts could not sustain that examination; and this would apply particularly, I think, to the theatre. The tax as a whole is a big contributor to our taxation and it must broadly be sustained.

8.45 p.m.

Therefore, I give this pledge and I state it quite deliberately. I hope that this will be the last occasion on which it will be necessary for me or for Treasury Ministers to defend the tax upon the living theatre, or, indeed, the Entertainments Duty in its present form.

When I say that it is a pledge, I am a careful man. I am fighting as hard a battle—I have had six months of it—as any man has taken on. We are going to succeed and I will not pledge except to say that when the time comes, as I believe it may well come next year, for making relaxations, instead of this austere building up of a surplus and building it even higher, there are certain parts of this tax, of which the one we have been discussing today is a high claimant, which I will certainly see is part of that general reorganisation. That, I am sure, we can do.

I ask the Committee, however, following the very broad lines which I have taken throughout the debate, which are not easy always to sustain against powerful arguments on an individual case, to

accept them to the end and to let the example which we have made by this whole financial business this year be one which will be followed through the country and will succeed in its broad purpose.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 206, Noes 243.

Division No. 237.] AYES [8.47 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Orbach, M.
Albu, A. H. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Oswald, T.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hale, Leslie Owen, W. J.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Padley, W. E.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hamilton, W. W. Paget, R. T.
Anderson, Frank Hannan, W. Palmer, A. M. F.
Awbery, S. S. Hastings, S. Pargiter, G. A.
Bacon, Miss Alice Hayman, F. H. Parker, J.
Baird, J. Herbison, Miss M. Parkin, B. T.
Balfour, A. Hobson, C. R. Paton, John
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Holman, P. Peart, T. F.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Holmes, Horace Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Benson, G. Holt, A. F. Probert, A. R.
Beswick, F. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Proctor, W. T.
Blackburn, F. Hoy, J. H. Pryde, D. J.
Blenkinsop, A. Hubbard, T. F. Randall, H. E.
Blyton, W. R. Hunter, A. E. Rankin, John
Boardman, H. Irvine. A. J. (Edge Hill) Redhead, E. C.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Irving, S. (Dartford) Reeves, J.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Reid, William
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Janner, B. Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Boyd, T. C. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Jeger, George (Goole) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Brockway, A. F. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Boyle, C.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Johnson, James (Rugby) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Short, E. W.
Burke, W. A. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Callaghan, L. J. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Jones, T. W. (Merloneth) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Chapman, W. D. Kenyon, C. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Clunie, J. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Snow, J. W.
Coldrick, W. King, Dr. H. M Sorensen, R. W.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Sparks, J. A.
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Steele, T.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lindgren, G. S. Stones, W. (Consett)
Cove, W. G. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent. C.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Logan, D. G. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Crossman, R. H. S. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Swingler, S. T.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) MacColl, J. E. Sylvester, G. O.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McGhee, H. G. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Davies, Harold (Leek) McGovern, J. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Deer, G. McInnes, J. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
de Freitas, Geoffrey McKay, John (Wallsend) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Dodds, N. N. McLeavy, Frank Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Donnelly, D. L. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Thornton, E.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Mahon, Simon Timmons, J.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mann, Mrs. Jean Tomney, F.
Edelman, M. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Turner-Samuels, M.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Mason, Roy Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Mayhew, C. P. Usborne, H. C.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Messer, Sir F. Viant, S. P.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Mikardo, Ian Wade, D. W.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Mitchison, G. R. Warbey, W. N.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Monslow, W. Weitzman, D.
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Moody, A. S. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fernyhough, E. Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'h, S.) West, D. G.
Finch, H. J. Mort, D. L. Wheeldon, W. E.
Forman, J. C. Moyle, A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mulley, F. W. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Gibson, C. W. Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Wilkins, W. A.
Gooch, E. G. O'Brien, Sir Thomas Williams, David (Neath)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Oliver, G. H. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tlllery)
Grey, C. F. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Williams, W. R. (Openshaw) Zilliacus, K. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.) Woof, R. E.
Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton) Yates, V. (Ladywood) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Winterbottom, Richard Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Aitken, W. T. Glover, D. Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Godber, J. B. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Alport, C. J. M. Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Maddan, Martin
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Gower, H. R. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Graham, Sir Fergus Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Arbuthnot, John Green, A. Marlowe, A. A. H.
Armstrong, C. W. Gresham Cooke, R. Marples, A. E.
Ashton, H. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Marshall, Douglas
Atkins, H. E Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Mathew, R.
Baldwin, A. E. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Maude, Angus
Balniel, Lord Gurden, Harold Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Barber, Anthony Hall, John (Wycombe) Mawby, R. L.
Barlow, Sir John Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. G.
Barter, John Harris, Reader (Heston) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Harrison, A. B. C. (Malden) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Moore, Sir Thomas
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Nabarro, G. D. N.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Nairn, D. L. S.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Harvie-Watt, Sir George Neave, Airey
Bidgood, J. C. Hay, John Nicholls, Harmar
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Nicolson, N. (B'n'mth, E. & Chr'ch)
Bishop, F. P. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Nield, Basil (Chester)
Black, C. W. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Noble, Comdr, A. H. P.
Body, R. F. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Oakshott, H. D.
Boothby, Sir Robert Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Bossom, Sir A. C. Hirst, Geoffrey Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Holland-Martin, C. J. Page, R. G.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hornby, R. P. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Braine, B. R. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Partridge, E.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Horobin, Sir Ian Peyton, J. W. W.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Howard, John (Test) Pitman, I. J.
Burden, F. F. A. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Powell, J. Enoch
Campbell, Sir David Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Carr, Robert Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Cary, Sir Robert Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Raikes, Sir Victor
Chichester-Clark, R. Irvine, Byrant Godman (Rye) Ramsden, J. E.
Cole, Norman Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Redmayne, M.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Remnant, Hon. P.
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Renton, D. L. M
Cooper-Key, E. M. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Ridsdale, J. E.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Rippon, A. G. F.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Crouch, R. F. Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Robertson, Sir David
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Kaberry, D. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Cunningham, Knox Keegan, D. Robson-Brown, W.
Currie, G. B. H. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Dance, J. C. G. Kerr, H. W. Roper, Sir Harold
Davidson, Viscountess Kershaw, J. A. Russell, R. S.
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kimball, M. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Deedes, W. F. Kirk, P. M. Shepherd, William
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lambert, Hon. G. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Doughty, C. J. A. Leather, E. H. C. Spearman, Sir Alexander
Drayson, G. B. Leavey, J. A. Speir, R. M.
du Cann, E. D. L. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Duthie, W. S. Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Stevens, Geoffrey
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Linstead, Sir H. N. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Errington, Sir Eric Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Studholme, Sir Henry
Erroll, F. J. Longden, Gilbert Summers, Sir Spencer
Farey-Jones, F. W. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Fell, A. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Finlay, Graeme McAdden, S. J. Thompson Kenneth (Walton)
Fisher, Nigel Macdonald, Sir Peter Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. McKibbin, A. J. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Fort, R. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Turner, H. F. L.
Freeth, D. K. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Vane, W. M. F.
Gammans, Sir David McLean, Neil (Inverness) Vickers, Miss J. H.
Garner-Evans, E. H. MacLeod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.) Vosper, D. F.
George, J. C. (Pollok) MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Walker-Smith, D. C.
Gibson-Watt, D.
Wall, Major Patrick Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.) Woollam, John Victor
Ward, Hon. George (Worcester) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth) Wills, G. (Bridgwater) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro) Mr. Bryan and Mr. Hughes-Young.
Webbe, Sir H. Wood, Hon. R.
Mr. H. Wilson

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

My purpose in doing so is not, as might be thought, to draw attention to the dwindling and diminishing majority which the Government were able to command on the last Division, but for a specific purpose which, if met, would find me more than willing to withdraw this Motion very quickly. For the last two days, and indeed for part of last week, we have been debating a series of new Clauses on the subject of Entertainments Duty, and there are still on the Notice Paper a number of new Clauses bearing on Entertainments Duty.

In all these debates, the Treasury spokesman who has replied has made light of the revenue involved, except in the big proposal about cinemas, but in each case has expressed great difficulty about giving way to what were admitted on all sides of the Committee to be reasonable proposals on entirely different grounds. In the case of small cinemas, in the case of sports and in the case of the living theatre, the revenue involved was such, as the Chancellor himself frankly admitted a few moments ago, that they would not one way or the other affect the balance of his Budget.

In each case, the Treasury spokesman has given the impression that the Chancellor finds the system of the Entertainments Duty now so rickety, so riddled with anomalies, inconsistencies and almost indefensible absurdities, that it would be impossible, as he feels—we do not agree with him—to give way to a particular Amendment without creating new anomalies, further demands for concessions and increasing the indefensible nature of the Entertainments Duty system. In these circumstances, and with the idea of facilitating our future progress, because, as I have said, we have other Amendments on the Notice Paper, I want to make a suggestion to the Chancellor which I should think would find him in a receptive mood for once.

In his concluding words on the last proposed new Clause, apart from going a very long way towards anticipating his next Budget statement in a surprising way—not the next one, because the Chancellor was referring to next year; he did seem to give a fairly clear commitment for next year—he had some very strong and I think well-considered words to use about the whole structure of the Entertainments Duty. I have thought for many years that the time is now ripe for a full-dress inquiry into the whole system of Entertainments Duty by an independent committee.

The Chancellor has pledged himself to go very deeply into the issues raised about Entertainments Duty during the next year. He is a very busy Minister, as he has made clear tonight, and we fully understand that. I am sure that it would be the view of all sides of the Committee that the best way in which the matter could be considered would not be by busy Treasury Ministers or by Customs and Excise officials, whose views are to some extent affected by the system which they have been running, very competently but with great difficulty, over a period of time, but by a Royal Commission, a Departmental committee or whatever such body might be appropriate.

9.0 p.m.

I would not necessarily suggest that such a committee, in its terms of reference, should be empowered to play about with the total yield of the revenue. There are so many inconsistencies and anomalies now that the system needs looking at as a whole on different assumptions about revenue. I should be grateful if the Chancellor would tell us that he will consider this suggestion. I do not expect him to announce tonight the establishment of a committee of inquiry, but if he will consider the suggestion it will not only give confidence to those on both sides of the Committee who feel very strongly that the system is breaking down but it will ease the right hon. Gentleman's own labours in the Treasury and those of his officials, and enable us, when next we debate Entertainments Duty, whenever it may be, to do so with the benefit of the advice of an expert committee.

Mr. H. Macmillan

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) has taken rather au unusual course, but he was good enough to warn me that he intended to do so, and I understand that after this interchange we shall resume our business on the rest of the Bill.

I shall, of course, consider what he has said. I do not think, if I might humbly say so, that the appointment of a Royal Commission would be likely to produce anything that would affect the next Budget, or indeed probably two or three Budgets after that. I am rather surprised at this dilatory suggestion from the right hon. Gentleman. I regard it as one of a wrecking character. I do not know how he will get away with it with his hon. Friends, for he has put forward what is clearly a wrecking proposal. But, taking it at its best, I am not frightfully attracted by the idea of a Departmental committee. That is a very peculiar kind of proposal for a matter of this kind.

I undertake to enter into a complete review of this tax and if, God willing, it is my duty to present the result to the House, I propose to keep the inquiry in my own hands and to take charge of it myself. That I will do, and I will see that that inquiry is set about forthwith.

Mr. H. Wilson

That is a very disappointing reply—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—a very disappointing reply. The right hon. Gentleman has been telling us for months that he was conducting a personal inquiry into Entertainments Duty, and tonight a large number of hon. Members opposite have voted against the clear statement of their convictions—and this is evidence of how unsatisfactory this sort of procedure has been in the hands of the present Chancellor.

I suggested the idea of an inquiry. It is true that a number of Royal Commissions have taken a long time to report, and the present Government have taken even longer to act upon those Reports when they have had them. but that was not the purpose of my suggestion. The Chancellor appeared to have some doubt about what a Departmental committee is, but he will find that the setting up of Departmental committees was a practice followed by his predecessor on a number of occasions.

We know how difficult it is for the Chancellor to follow any precedent set by his predecessor, but it will be recalled that in 1952 we debated Purchase Tax, and a number of difficulties were raised about, for instance, the question of uplift, on which I am sure the Chancellor is a great authority, the question of the loss on trading stocks, and all that sort of thing. On that occasion, the Hutton Report of the Committee on Tax-paid Stocks and again, in 1953, the Grant Report of the Purchase Tax (Valuation) Committee were produced well within the year and were of great value to the House. So I shall be very surprised if the Chancellor, when he comes to examine this suggestion, will find that it is anything but a good one. However, we welcome the fact that the Chancellor is apparently once more in jovial mood, which is somewhat of a change from what we have seen of him recently, and he has obviously enjoyed the opportunity of considering the suggestion. I hope that he will consider it more seriously than he has done tonight. In that hope, I suggest that, even if I have received no undertaking, we should now end this little armistice and resume hostilities. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.