HC Deb 15 July 1963 vol 681 cc278-88
Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)

I beg to move, in page 19, line 15. to leave out "three" and to insert "six".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

With this Amendment we can discuss the Amendments in page 19, line 16, leave out "another performance" and insert "other performances", and in line 17, leave out "one day" and insert "three days".

Mr. Bishop

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The three Amendments go together, and they have the very simple and modest object of providing a little more flexibility in the rules governing performances by children without licence. As the Bill stands, two performances are permitted without licences in any period of three months. The effect of the Amendments would be to permit up to four performances in a period of six months. In other words, there would be no increase in the number of permitted performances over a period of six months, but they could be grouped more closely in a series not exceeding four.

The Amendments would be very much to the convenience of a good many people, not excluding local authorities which have the task of issuing licences. I am not here thinking so much of professional performances, which perhaps would hardly be affected, but much more of the sort of competitions which are so popular now on radio and television, and in which young people take part. They often run through several heats, leading up to a final, in which the candidates who are successful in the first heat, or the first two or three heats, are required to appear again in a week's time to see if they can get further.

In cases like this the young people concerned may come from a number of different local authorities, and the Bill provides that it is the local authority in whose area a young person lives which has to issue the licence. It is impossible for the organiser of a competition to know which young people will get through the first two heats, and therefore for which of them licences will ultimately become necessary under the Bill. He will have the alternative either of applying for licences for all the candidates at the beginning, therefore putting a lot of people to a lot of trouble which later proves to be unnecessary, or waiting to see who gets through the rounds and applying to the authorities concerned, with an altogether inadequate time in which to do so.

That is the whole purpose of these Amendments. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will feel able to accept them, and I hope he will not be less disposed to accept them because I do not make a very long speech in moving them.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

Having heard the brief arguments of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop), I would, similarly very briefly, support him in his effort to gain more flexibility for this Clause. I would agree with him particularly that it would be to the administrative convenience of the local authority that it should not be legally required to issue licences for what is after all the world of the amateur performer.

I should like quickly to fill into the argument some things the hon. Gentleman opposite did not say. As he was speaking there came to my mind the position, for example, of schoolchildren acting in a school play which might be running for three or four nights, perhaps even a week, or the situation of a school orchestra performing or wanting to perform on a number of occasions during a week. They might want to run a festival week or something of that kind. I am not quite clear who the bodies are who have children performing without a licence, a body of persons approved for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State", but it seems to me that a junior repertory society sponsored by a private voluntary organisation might be sponsoring dramatic performances or concerts by young people, and it would be for the convenience of such an organisation and of the local authority if more flexibility were given to the Clause.

Since I have some little knowledge of the entertainment industry, in which I worked prior coming to this House, I know that at Bank Holidays, at Christmas, Easter or Whitsuntide, a choir, for example, run by a voluntary organisation or local authority or school may be required to perform on a number of occasions during the holiday period.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is making a very reasonable and modest request which would help the children and those sponsoring these performances and the local authorities, who would otherwise have to issue licences. It gives me pleasure to support the Amendment.

Mr. Brooke

As I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) my impression was confirmed that he was not seeking a larger number of unlicensed performances during the course of the year but only a more flexible distribution of them. He was arguing that whereas in the Bill as it stands there can only be two in three months there might be occasions when it would be much more convenient if a child could appear unlicensed in up to four performances in the period on the understanding that then he would have exhausted his quota, so to speak, for the remainder of the six months' period. I am sure that we must stand by the general purpose of the Clause, but I see no valid objection to giving it an extra flexibility in the way in which my hon. Friend suggests. If I have sensed the atmosphere aright, there seems to be a pleasant unanimity on both sides of the House, and I am willing to advise the House to accept the Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In line 16, leave out "another performance" and insert "other performances".

In line 17, leave out "one day" and insert "three days".—[Mr. Bishop.]

3.30 a.m.

Mr. O'Malley

I beg to move, in page 19, line 23, to leave out from "place" to the end of line 26.

The Amendment would delete the words— and no payment in respect of the child's taking part in the performance is made, whether to him or to any other person, except for defraying expenses. Hon. Members must first observe that whereas subsection (1) deals strictly with commercial entertainment, with the world of the professional, subsection (3) deals with the world of the amateur and of children performing for schools, local authorities and other bodies. One thing which struck me before I came into the House, when I was at the same time an employer of professional musicians and also a sponsor and assistant in voluntary activities of the type envisaged in the subsection, is that, while there is the world of the professional and the world of the amateur, at times the two come together, and at such times there is a tendency to friction and for the amateur to feel frustrated in a position not of his own choosing.

I have moved the Amendment in the interests of the professional musician at a time when the prospects of employment in live music have been deteriorating for some time, but also because it would be some measure of assistance and encouragement to children who are performing as musicians or dramatists.

The background to the Amendment is that subsection (3) allows children under 16 to take part in a public performance, the nature of which is laid down in subsection (2), without a licence in clearly defined circumstances. Such occasional performances without a licence are, as the Clause stands, possible only when they are under arrangements by a school or the local authority in whose area the performance takes place or a body approved for the purpose by the Secretary of State.

In the West Riding of Yorkshire, from which I come, there is a tradition of brass and military bands. For example, in my own home town we have a military band which is not sponsored by a local authority. It is a private voluntary organisation in which a large number of children and young people are trained to play instruments. In some cases the band owns the instruments. In some cases the young people own them. I am not clear whether this subsection deals with such organisations. Perhaps the Home Secretary will be able to clear this up.

The Amendment would remove the restriction that no payment may be made in respect of performances by children except in so far as expenses can be defrayed. It must be recognised that the performances envisaged in this subsection, in view of the restriction on the sponsoring bodies, are largely concerned with school concerts and plays, with the activities of groups of young people in youth orchestras, and with the activities of young people in dramatic performances and choirs organised by local authorities. This is the world of the amateur performance.

Where, as has happened occasionally in the past and as will inevitably happen again, the world of the amateur and that of the professional meet—where, for example, an amateur choir of young children or people under 16, organised by a school or a local authority, is approached by commercial interests—for example, by a television company—a situation then arises which perhaps is not envisaged by the Clause. The two worlds—that of the amateur and that of the professional—have met.

It should be stressed at this stage that we are dealing with responsible organising bodies which are sponsoring this type of concert or dramatic performance. We are dealing with school authorities, with local authorities, and with bodies such as the Home Secretary would find responsible and fit to organise the activities of children without licence. It is logical that such people as responsible people are not likely to abuse any situation in which they find themselves or, indeed, to abuse the services of the children whom they are organising.

Hon. Members will know that school orchestras, particularly youth orchestras, or drama groups under the aegis of local authorities are often short of money. It is the perennial cry that they have not the money with which to buy new instruments. Does the Home Secretary think that it is reasonable to prevent such voluntary organisations from benefiting in some measure from any contacts or approaches that they might have from commercial interests? We all know the difficulty that such organisations often have in purchasing musical instruments, particularly as musical instruments are subject to an iniquitous Purchase Tax burden. We know the difficulty they often have of providing rehearsal rooms. The children sometimes provide their own musical instruments. I can think of a case in point in which a young person who lives quite near to me and plays in a voluntary organisation purchased his own instrument by working at weekends.

One of the weaknesses of the Clause is the limit it imposes by saying that a body sponsoring the performances of children can ask only for sufficient money to defray expenses. Expenses for what? Will travelling expenses for taking children to and from a performance be allowable? What about props and music? When one considers the question of props, rehearsal rooms, instruments, music, clothing, and so on, one appreciates how much expenses can amount to.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that when an organisation sponsoring the activities of children is approached by commercial interests it should have the opportunity of getting more than an amount to defray its expenses. If a television company proposed that a youth symphony orchestra should take part in a television programme I can appreciate the difficulties and I am not suggesting that the present situation should be drastically altered. It would mean that no difficulty would be encountered if commercial interests or a television company wanted children to give a performance.

The Amendment does not say that a payment must be made. We may assume that the types of activities covered by the Clause are generally those where children receive no payment. The Amendment would merely allow an organisation to benefit from a temporary move on the part of its orchestra, band or other activity in to the commercial world. Considering the financial position of many voluntary organisations, it is not unreasonable that they should be able to benefit if commercial interests are willing to use their abilities.

It could be argued that if the question of payment were involved licences could be obtained from the local authority. Since we are not dealing with schools, local authorities and other responsible bodies but just the occasional performance, the Amendment opens no flood gates to abuse, but might give assistance to organisations which are at present hard pushed financially and which need funds to keep going.

3.45 a.m.

Miss Bacon

I hope that the right hon. Member will look favourably on the Amendment, for although, at first sight, it might appear reactionary that we should ask to delete that part of the Clause which prohibits the payment of young performers, the Amendment is desired by the Musicians' Union, which would be the last body to exploit young performers.

My hon. Friend mentioned one example; that of a youth orchestra which might play at the Festival Hall. A television company—perhaps one of the commercial ones—might ask to relay the performance. This rich company would then be prohibited from making a donation to the youth orchestra. That is one example, but many could be given.

These bodies are not very wealthy. The money could be given as block payments to the youth orchestra. As my hon. Friend says, even though we would not like individual performers to be paid, some of them have heavy expenses in buying their own instruments and we do not think that in those cases they should be prohibited from receiving payment of some kind. I am sure that the Musicians' Union would not wish to make any Amendment to the Bill which would mean more exploitation of child performers in any way.

Mr. Brooke

The Amendment has come along not only at an early hour in the morning, but at a late stage in the Bill. I make no complaint about that, but I confess that when I saw it on the Notice Paper I was somewhat puzzled about its purpose. I hope that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) was not wishing lightly to let in the professional performer into these unlicensed performances. I appreciate now that his purpose is to enable the body putting on the performance, rather than the individual child performer, to receive some payment if a television company desired to make some payment.

I think that the Clause is all right as it stands and I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment. If the hon. Member looks at the Amendment carefully he will see that it would open some doors which I do not think it is his intention to open. I should like the House to know that the form of exemption in subsection (3) was discussed by us with the various interested organisations, including the Standing Conference of National Voluntary Youth Organisations, which seemed to be the most representative body with which we could discuss it, and there has been no suggestion from any of these quarters that it would be unsatisfactory.

If the Amendment were to be written into the Bill it would open the door to a professional performer finding that, subject to local authority approval of the body concerned, he could obtain engagements which might be under working conditions below the standards expected under a licence. There would also be a risk, if the Amendment were made, that amateur child performers would again become liable to exploitation, which the Bateson Committee criticised and which we are seeking by the Clause to exclude.

According to advice given to me, the subsection is so drafted as to prevent any payment that might be a form of wages paid either to the child or to somebody else, for example his parents. The words "or to any other person" are put in with the obvious intention of stopping a loophole whereby payment might be made indirectly to the child through some other person. According to my reading of the Clause, these payments, with which the subsection is concerned, are simply payments in respect of the child giving a performance. If, for example, a trust which was sponsoring a youth orchestra wished the orchestra or some particular occasion to appear on television a payment made to the trust would not be such a payment as is prevented by the Clause. It would not be a payment in respect of the child's taking part in the performance. That is how I read it.

Mr. O'Malley

Am I right in understanding that the Home Secretary is saying that if, for example, a youth orchestra takes part in a television broadcast a donation by the commercial interest, the television company, to the funds of that youth orchestra would not be prevented under this Clause as drafted?

Mr. Brooke

That is how I understand it, provided the payment is in no way wages or fee to the children concerned and that it would in no way reach the children, but that it is for the trust or responsible body running the orchestra. It would need to be a responsible body, because the local authority would not otherwise approve it for this purpose. As the House knows, I have no authority to give an interpretation of a Section in an Act; only the courts can do that.

This matter has come up at a late stage, and I confess that until I heard the hon. Member speak I was not clear as to the precise purpose at which this was aimed. He asked me what sort of performances would be covered here, and I certainly can assure him that the power of the local authorities to approve bodies of persons for the purposes of this subsection is a power at large. It is not limited in any way. The local authority can do as it thinks fit.

I am certainly not hostile to what the hon. Member has in mind, but this is the final stage of the Bill and I am bound to advise him that his words, if embodied in the Bill, would go too far and would open loopholes to practices which the Bateson Committee was desirous of stopping. In those circumstances, I must advise the House not to accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Miss Bacon

I beg to move, in page 19, line 42, at the end to insert: (5) Regulations made under the foregoing subsection may provide for the supervision by suitable persons of the children and prescribe the maximum number of children to be supervised by any one person. Under this subsection the Home Secretary is required to make regulations, and we would like him to include in the regulations some conditions concerning the matrons who take charge of the children when they are on tour. We would have liked these matrons to be licensed either by a central authority or by the local authority. But at any rate, we would like the right hon. Gentleman to include in his regulations conditions for the supervision of the children by suitable people—that is, the matrons—and for prescribing the maximum number of children who may be supervised by any one matron. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could give some indication, too, as to the kind of people who should be in charge of these children and whether or not they would be licensed.

We regret that part of this Clause is subject to regulations. We do not know what those regulations are, but I understood in Committee that we shall be able to discuss the regulations when they are laid. However, we do not want the right hon. Gentleman to lose sight of this very important point concerning the matrons who will be in charge of the children.

Mr. Brooke

Equally briefly, I give the hon. Lady the assurance that when I make the regulations, I will bear in mind what she has said. I cannot tell exactly what form the regulations will take, but I have taken note of the point which she has made and it will be my desire to produce regulations that are generally acceptable.

I hope, however, that the hon. Lady will not press me to include the Amendment in the Bill, because I assure her that it appears to be unnecessary. Subsection (5) of the Clause already confers on the Secretary of State a sufficient power to make regulations on matters relating to supervision. It is important that there should be adequate arrangements for supervision and, as the hon. Lady, no doubt, knows, the existing regulations—the Employment of Children in Entertainments Rules, 1933, as amended—provide for a licence to be issued subject, among other things, to a condition prohibiting the employment of a child, if not living with his parents, unless he is in the care of a matron, governess or other fit person approved by the local education authority, who shall be responsible for his welfare, for accompanying him to and from the place of entertainment, and so on.

This is not, therefore, a matter which has been overlooked in the past, and under the existing regulations the person has to be approved by the local education authority. I will not say that we shall do it exactly the same next time, because we will do it in the light of all our experience, but I will bear in mind the general purpose which the hon. Lady has in mind. I am not sure whether it would be right to prescribe the maximum number of children to be supervised by any one person, but we will certainly go into it all and do the best we can.

Amendment negatived.