HL Deb 27 June 1834 vol 24 cc908-12

The Order of the Day for the Committee on the Dramatic Licenses Bill having been read,

The Marquess of Clanricarde moved, that the House resolve itself into Committee.

The Bishop of London

said, it was not his intention to move, that the Bill be committed this day six months, neither did he intend to oppose it, but he must be permitted to repeat now what be stated last year, namely, that the theatres of the metropolis were conducted in a manner that was a scandal to a moral people and a Christian country. He repeated this, notwithstanding all the obloquy and odium to which he had been subjected in consequence of his former declaration to the same effect. He felt, that the mode in which plays were represented at the theatres was subversive of the moral feelings of the people; and if not checked would ultimately tend to shake the State itself, because whatever tended to demoralize the people, would endanger the institutions of the country. He repeated, that he should not oppose the Bill, but if it should go into Committee it was his intention to move, "That the words in the preamble representing theatrical entertainments as having a moral tendency should be expunged."

Lord Segrave

opposed the Bill because he considered it was calculated to interfere with the interests of the two patent theatres. He contended, that additional theatres were not wanted in the metropolis, for the town was already overstocked. With the exception of Mr. Sheridan Knowles, there was hardly a dramatic writer whose works were worthy of being produced on the stage, and therefore it could not be said, that the Bill was required to forward the interest of dramatic authors. Neither could it be urged, that it was necessary to give scope to the talents of good actors, for of actors of eminence there was at present a remarkable scarcity. If this Bill were allowed to pass, the consequence would be, that an unlimited number of theatres would start up from time to time, for the power of licensing them would be vested not only in the Lord Chamberlain, but in the Lord Mayor of London also; so if these two official persons happened to be theatrically inclined, the metropolis would be inundated with minor theatres. Regarding, therefore, the interests of the two great theatres, and considering that the Bill was in other respects likely to be injurious, he felt it his duty to oppose it, and should therefore move, as an Amendment, "that it be committed that day six months."

Lord Wharncliffe

also objected to the Bill, not only because it would infringe upon the rights of the two great theatres, but because it gave the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Mayor the unlimited power of licensing as many theatres as they should think fit. He denied, that the patent theatres established a monopoly, for it could not be contended that the regular drama was not acted at many of the lesser theatres now established. At the Victoria theatre the plays of Shakspeare were constantly performed, and he believed that at other minor theatres—at least if he could judge by the bills—the regular drama was occasionally resorted to. He believed, however, that the taste of the public was no longer inclined for the regular drama; and that being the case, he owned he could not see the justice of charging the two great theatres with monopoly. A sufficient number of theatres were open throughout the year to gratify the desire of the public; and he could not but feel, therefore, that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde), by the introduction of this Bill, had treated too lightly the rights and privileges of the patent theatres. A Bill for the better regulation of the theatres now established might be passed with advantage, and therefore as a question of police he should be inclined to give his support to such a measure. As, however, the objects of this Bill were of a different nature, he must say, that he could not give it his support. He believed that the real object of the Bill was, to promote the interest of two or three theatres that were now good speculations, and would be still more profitable if it were allowed to pass. Some of the smaller theatres were open all the year round; and on the whole, considering that the public had no case of grievance to complain of, he called upon their Lordships not to give their sanction to the Bill, but to vote for the Amendment which had been moved.

The Earl of Mulgrave

was in favour of the principle of the Bill, and considered that it ought to go into Committee, in order that its several provisions might be duly considered. Some measure of the kind was necessary, for the increased and still increasing size of the metropolis called for additional accommodation and greater facilities to meet the inclination of the public to attend theatrical entertainments. The patent theatres exercised a monopoly which ought no longer to exist. The ob- ject of the Bill was misunderstood, it was not to increase the number of theatres already established, but rather to place them under certain regulations by which the public would be better accommodated. If the House would allow the Bill to go into Committee, he believed there would be no difficulty in expunging any clause against which reasonable objections could be urged. He was aware, that their Lordships as a body, did not take much interest in theatrical entertainments. Indeed, it was useless to deny, that their Lordships' tastes were not inclined that way. Whether it was owing to any change which had taken place in their feelings or habits, or whether it was to be attributed to the manner in which the theatres were conducted, he would not stop to inquire; but such was the fact. Their Lordships should consider, however, that as the great body of the people were deeply interested in the drama, it was their duty to afford them every reasonable facility, in order to indulge their tastes for an amusement so rational, and to which they naturally attached so great a degree of interest. Under these circumstances, he hoped that the House would not adopt the amendment proposed, but would rather allow the Bill to go into Committee, for the purpose of considering how far it might be advisable to adopt its provisions.

Lord Wynford

said, that as the proprietors of the two great theatres had vested large sums of money in them, he considered it would be very unjust to interfere with the rights which they enjoyed under the patents which they held. He considered that the number of theatres now established were amply sufficient to meet the wants of the public; and he believed that, as far as the interests of the proprietors of the patent theatres were concerned, they would have no objection that the theatres now existing should continue, provided they were closed according to their licences, and that no others were established within a distance of two miles of the metropolis. If the noble Marquess, who introduced the Bill should not feel disposed to accept that offer on behalf of those whose cause he advocated, he should feel it his duty to oppose the Bill, as he did not think it right that the property vested in the patent theatres should be sacrificed.

The Earl of Malmesbury

objected to the power given to the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Mayor of London to license any number of theatres they might think fit. He confessed, also, that he could not see why every theatre established under the Bill should be made to contain 1,500 persons. The Haymarket theatre, he believed, did not contain so many. For his own part, he preferred a small theatre, where he could see the faces of the performers, and enjoy what was passing much more to his satisfaction than in the larger houses. Under a good regulation, he should have no objection that the number of theatres should be extended, and with that impression he should vote for the Committee.

The Marquess of Westmeath

suggested to the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) to withdraw the Bill, in order to bring it forward in an amended form.

The House divided on the Amendment: Contents 22; Not-contents 8—Majority 14.

Committee postponed for six months.

List of the NOT-CONTENTS.
Clanricarde, Marq. of Mulgrave, Earl of
Denman, Lord Radnor, Earl of
Malmesbury, Earl of Somerset, Duke of
Melbourne, Lord Torrington, Lord