§ *LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the Report from the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons on the Stage Plays (Censorship). The noble Lord said: My Lords, in drawing attention to this Report I should like to make it perfectly plain that I do so, not because I consider the Report of any particular importance, but because I think the time has arrived for the Censor—in other words the noble Lord opposite, Lord Sandhurst—to say something in his own defence. For some considerable time now his opponents have been allowed to go about representing him and his predecessor as a particularly stupid kind of despot, whose great object it has been to wreck and destroy the works of genius. And in giving my noble friend this opportunity of defending himself I 507 should like to point out that I am exercising one of the few remaining privileges of this House—it so happens that the noble Lord cannot be attacked in the House of Commons because his salary does not come upon the Votes—and I have no doubt that we shall be deprived of even this meagre satisfaction before very long.
§ Until about three years ago it is quite safe to assert that not one person in a thousand, or one in ten thousand, as far as that goes, knew that there was such an official as the Censor in existence, and there were still fewer who cared; and the ignorance upon that point is still so great that the public apparently believe that the person who exercises the functions of the Censorship is the Examiner of Plays, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is the noble Lord opposite, and I understand that he is quite ready to accept all responsibility on the point. About three years ago a number of persons banded themselves together and entered upon a campaign against the Censor. These persons consisted of dramatic authors, journalists and members of the House of Commons, and they carried on their agitation so successfully that the Government, which is always ready to make concessions to agitation against law and order, gave way and granted a Joint Committee of the two Houses, of which Committee I was myself a member. This Joint Committee sat for a considerable time and examined a large number of witnesses, who ranged over a large field. They ranged from a right rev. Prelate to the managers of minor music halls in the country quite a numerous class of persons were represented. There were managers, actors, solicitors, agents, critics and dramatic authors, and the members of the two latter classes enjoyed themselves enormously, as was not improbable in view of the fact that everything had been arranged for their especial benefit, and they came with books and bags crammed with jests and epigrams and impromptus and paradoxes, which no doubt to some extent bewildered the intellect of dull and conscientious persons like myself and other noble Lords who were there to adjudicate and report upon the question. But I was not altogether thrown off my intellectual balance, because at the end of the inquiry, in spite of these difficulties, I found myself in precisely the same position that I was in before it began, and having 508 refreshed my memory by going through the evidence, I remain emphatically of the same opinion—namely, that the importance of the whole question is enormously exaggerated, and I was unable to see then, and I am unable to see now, that there is any cause which justifies a change in the present procedure.
§ I am bound to say that that was not the opinion of the rest of the Committee. The Committee, with one solitary exception—namely, myself—decided that in future the office of Censor should be optional. I dissented from this recommendation because it seemed to me somewhat illogical. If you are going to make the Censor optional you may just as well do away with him altogether, and I do not see very much sense in having a Censor for people who want him and no Censor for people who do not want him. With reference to the numerous witnesses who appeared before this Committee, anybody who takes the trouble to read their evidence will realise that every one of them, no matter how anarchical might be his disposition, was in favour of control of some kind or other. He or she, as the case might be, had to admit that some form of control was absolutely necessary. The only question was whether that control should be before or after production, and it will be observed that opinion upon this particular question was very clearly divided. Managers, actors, agents, and all those persons who are interested in the commercial side of the drama, asked for a continuance of the present system, and the present system, to put it shortly, is this—that every theatre and every play has to obtain a licence from the Lord Chamberlain. Although technically a licence of this character does not secure absolute immunity from prosecution, in practice it does secure that immunity, and it is rare that any attempt is ever made to interfere with a play that has once been licensed. As a matter of fact, the Lord Chamberlain's licence acts as a sort of passport which enables the play to travel throughout the country as a rule immune from interference. The contention of these people, to put it shortly, is that the present system affords certainty instead of a state of uncertainty, and that the value of it consists chiefly in the fact that when a theatrical company go upon tour they are protected from the arbitrary and capricious interference of local autho- 509 rities. That is a thing which does not often take place in this country—I believe it is more frequent in America—but there have occasionally been instances in which Local authorities have interfered. I remember one being quoted by au important witness who appeared before us, and who said that when he went to perform in a certain town he found—to use his own words—two enormous policemen upon his stage, and when he asked them what they were doing there they replied, in the words and in the spirit of Mirabeau, "We are here by the will of the people to see that no improprieties are committed." As managers and all business people connected with the stage are satisfied with the present arrangement, it is not necessary to say much about them.
§ And I do not think it is necessary to say much about another class—namely, the critics—because it is perfectly obvious that whether you have a Censor or no Censor, the critic will always have plenty of occupation, and even as it is he can spend almost as much of his time and ingenuity in criticising censored plays as in criticising plays which have successfully passed the test. The only class who really need be considered in connection with this matter ate the dramatic writers themselves. I gather from the evidence which came before the Committee that dramatists consist, roughly speaking, of two classes. There is the class which writes frankly to amuse and to make money, and there is a second class consisting of persons who honestly believe that they have a special mission to improve and to elevate the playgoer; and I do not think it is realised with what portentous solemnity these gentlemen occasionally take themselves. These authors take themselves much more seriously than a Governor, or a right rev. Prelate, or a Minister, and more seriously than any noble Lord upon either of the two Front Benches in this House. But as far as these persons are concerned I personally am quite impartial upon the subject. If it is, any satisfaction to the pioneer authors to know it, I am quite prepared to admit that if I have got to go to the theatre at all, I would sooner go and see one of their plays than I would go and see an adaptation of, say, a Palais Royal farce. The production of the pioneer author would exercise a less depressing effect upon me. But, as a matter of fact, my own opinion is not of any value at all. 510 I should, however, like to say this, that whilst I admire the talent of these gentlemen—talent which is not always as much appreciated as they think ought to be the case—I do not recognise that they have any special mission to improve or to elevate me or anybody else. I am not at all sure that they are capable of doing it, and I am not at all convinced in my own mind that they have anything to teach me. I am disposed to think that if T am really in want of moral elevation I should be more likely to obtain it if, instead of going to a pioneer play, I sat at the feet of one of the right rev. Prelates on the Episcopal Bench opposite.
Now I come to the grievances of these authors. Their grievances are so numerous that it is impossible for me to enumerate them all, but a pamphlet which I received a day or two ago, and which I imagine has been circulated amongst the members of this House, states among other things that—
the continued subjection of authors to the indignity of censorship is not merely an injustice to the general community, hut a personal outrage.
They say, in so many words, "We are in what is little better than an absolute state of servitude—a state of servitude at the hands of an arbitrary and soulless clod in the person of the Censor." Everybody else they exclaim is free. I cannot help being reminded, when I see these expressions, of the lamentations of Mr. Harold Skimpole, who, when he was about to be arrested for debt, exclaimed, " I only ask to be free; the butterflies are free; surely mankind will not deny to me what it concedes to butterflies. "The butterflies who are free, in the opinion of these authors, are the persons who represent music, painting, the Press, literature and public speakers. "All these, "they say," are free and untrammelled. They are not subjected to the indignity from which we suffer." I am not in the least prepared to admit that this is a correct statement. All a re subject to censorship of some kind.
§ It is true that it would be difficult to say that music was subjected to a censorship, although I believe that in Ireland censorship is passed occasionally upon patriotic tunes. But painting can hardly be said to be altogether exempt from censorship. If a man paints a picture and wishes to send it to an exhibition, 511 that picture has to run the gauntlet of a jury of some kind, and the indignity of having a picture rejected seems to me to be as great as the indignity of having a play refused. I do not think it is correct to say that the Press is absolutely free. The journalist, if I mistake not, has to submit his "copy" to an editor; he has no appeal from the editor, and it would not be the slightest use his making any protest at all. Literature, again, can hardly be said to be absolutely free from censorship. It so happens that I am engaged upon a modest literary work myself. Before that work is produced I believe I shall have to submit it to the censorship of the Foreign Office, but that does not weigh upon me like a sort of sword of Damocles. I do not feel any more mournful or depressed in consequence, though I might think that my opinion on the subject was quite as good as that of the Foreign Office censor. And you can hardly maintain that speech is absolutely free. In the House of Commons a Member cannot put a Question on the Paper without its being submitted to the censorship of the Speaker and the Clerks at the Table. The same thing applies here—one of the last remaining homes of free speech—and, as far as that goes, anybody making a speech here is liable to the censorship of the youngest and most inexperienced member of this House.
§ "But," say these people, "not only are we humiliated personally, but art is confined and hampered; the world is deprived of masterpieces because we are so sensitive that we refuse to submit them to the uncongenial personality of the Censor. "In other words, they maintain that there is a vast amount of original matter of the highest value which is never produced at all. I do not see that there is very much foundation for this particular complaint. It came out in the course of the Committee's proceedings that out of 7,000 plays during ten years only thirty had been rejected. Since the Committee reported I understand that something like 1,800 plays have been passed, 14 have been licensed subject to slight alteration, and 12 have been rejected altogether. "But," say these dissatisfied dramatists, "you must not look at it from the point of view of quantity at all. What you must consider is the quality of the work which has been lost to the public. Our work represents a kind of intellectual 512 radium; not the smallest atom of it should be lost, otherwise the whole universe will suffer—"Then they say, "Think of the number of geniuses who have been dissuaded from writing by this particular fear." When pressed on the matter and asked to mention people who had been dissuaded from writing plays they, as a rule, are quite unable to mention anybody. In the course of our proceedings I can remember the name being given of only one eminent man who had been dissuaded for this reason from writing a play. Yet as a matter of fact a play by this gentleman is being acted at the present moment. On the whole, I do not think it is very uncharitable to conclude that people who do not write plays do not write them because they are unable to write them. That seems to me the most simple and obvious explanation.
§ I think it is only fair, in justice to the Censor, to point out that some of the most distinguished playwrights admitted that they had no grievance whatsoever, that they had never had any trouble with him at all. Mr. Barrie had to admit that he had never had any trouble with the Censor; Sir Arthur Pinero also admitted that he had never had any trouble with the Censor; the late Sir William Gilbert, whose works will, in all probability, live quite as long as any of the works of the pioneer author, said that he had only once had a difficulty with the Censor, and that was the occasion on which the Lord Chamberlain of the day was apparently of the opinion that the music of 'o The Mikado "and the Japanese National Anthem were one and the same thing. In the pamphlet to which I have alluded other grievances are pointed out. Why, it is asked, cannot the dramatist be treated in the same way as the novelist; and the writer of the pamphlet appears to consider it a crying injustice that whereas the novelist, in the story of " Robinson Crusoe," had been allowed to describe a naked savage, yet if that naked savage were introduced on the stage the man who was responsible for his introduction would be arrested by the police and severely punished. Personally, I do not see that he would have very much to complain of if such a thing did occur. But you do not want to be very clever, you do not want to have any knowledge of what I believe is called the psychology of crowds, to recognise the distinction between litera- 513 ture and the drama. We all of us can read about very unpleasant incidents, very sordid details—at all events I am sure that I can—without suffering what Mr. Kruger would have called "moral and intellectual damage"; but if we were to see these kind of things represented on the stage, all right-feeling persons would be filled, not only with disgust, but with indignation. Another contention which was dwelt upon a good deal was that art should be dissociated from commercialism. To do pioneer authors justice, I must admit that none of them, so far as I can remember, complained of losing money. It appeared from the evidence—it was a fact of which I was not aware myself—that theatrical audiences consist mainly of intensely respectable people who appreciate virtue very much and flock in large numbers to theatres which deal in virtue; and, as a gentleman who appeared as an opponent of the Censor admitted, a theatre which deals in virtue takes more money in a week than a theatre which deals in curious subjects will take in a year. To put it quite shortly, there appears to be no money in pioneer plays.
§ This by no means exhausts the list of complaints. One complaint which was very frequently uttered was that the Censor ought to be a man of the world, and not a retired bank manager, and it was also suggested that there ought to be sonic form of appeal. It was constantly pointed out that control should he subsequent to production, and not prior to production; that theatres should be placed upon the same footing as music-halls; and, finally, that the Censor himself acted in a capricious and inconsistent manner. As regards control after production and assimilating the practice to that which prevails in the case of music-halls, I will leave my noble friend opposite to deal with that particular point. But I think it must be fairly obvious to anybody that a prior censorship of music-hall performances would be practically an impossibility, because it would require the staff of a complete Government Department to undertake the work. As regards their last charge, that the Censor acts in a capricious and inconsistent manner, I must freely admit that this is the one complaint which appears to me to have some force in it. I am afraid that it must be admitted that, upon the face of it, the Censor is both capricious and inconsistent. I have seen 514 pieces comparatively recently which I have been somewhat surprised to find had evaded, so to speak, his net. But I do not think that my noble friend will have any trouble in showing that he has done his best to meet the complaints which were lodged against him.
§ As regards the question of having a man of the world as Censor, I do not know whether my noble friend would be gratified by hearing himself described as a man of the world or not; but upon the whole I should say that a man who had been considered good enough to govern a good many millions of our fellow-subjects, and who had also been considered good enough to form part of a Liberal Ministry, was, upon the whole, good enough to decide whether a play was or was not fit for presentation; and as for his lieutenant, Sir Douglas Dawson, he appears to me to be about as suitable a person for the place as you could well find. Sir Douglas Dawson is not only an admirable linguist, but he has filled an important military post at two of the most fashionable cities in Europe, and upon the whole I am inclined to think he would be the precise type of person who would be selected on the stage to depict the absolutely perfect man of the world. So far from these two personages acting in a brutal and despotic manner towards dramatic authors, they always strike me as a pair of singularly meek official lambs, if I may say so without offence, who are perpetually shrinking from attacks on the part of wolves in the shape of authors.
§ The process, as I understand it, by which a play is passed is that it is first of all read by one of two examiners. It then passes to Sir Douglas Dawson. Sir Douglas Dawson consults with the Censor—in other words, with the Lord Chamberlain—and if they think that there is anything which is objectionable or likely to be thought objectionable about the play, it is submitted to an Advisory Committee, which forms that appeal which the authors demand, and the constitution of this particular Committee is one which I should have thought would have satisfied most people. It includes two very distinguished lawyers, it includes one of the most distinguished literary men in the country, and it includes also, if I am not mistaken, two retired actors of considerable 515 eminence. If I might venture a suggestion to the noble Lord, if he desired to improve his Committee, in his place I should invite the Society of Authors to delegate somebody to sit upon it, and I should also invite a woman to form one of its members because I cannot help thinking that her presence might occasionally be found extremely useful. It scarcely ever happens that a play is refused outright. What does happen is that occasionally there are passages to which objection might be taken, and the author or his representative is sent for and asked in the friendliest possible way to make certain alterations. Probably the Censor says to him, "Here is a passage in your play which might offend Exeter Hall, or the Anti-Gambling League, or the President of the Chinese Republic. Don't you think that you might tone it down and make it a little less strong? "The reply of the author apparently is almost invariably, "What you are proposing to me is little short of an insult. You do not seem to recognise that my special quality is sensitiveness. I am full of sensitiveness as regards myself, but I have no sensitiveness whatever with regard to other people and to other people's feelings. I do not care the least what the feelings of the Anti-Gambling League or anybody else may be. What I do protest against is that you should call upon me to make any alteration in my masterpiece, however small it may be, and I will see you somewhere before I will do it. More than that, I will turn my trade union on to you. I will turn the Press on to you. I will get a Question asked about the matter in the House of Commons, and altogether I will end by making your life a burden to you. "In these circumstances, and if the author absolutely refuses to water down an adjective—and sometimes it does not amount to more than that—what is an official, however lamblike, to do? He is there for a particular purpose, and if the man will not advance a single inch to meet him he has no alternative but to say, "I regret it very much, but I am unable to license your play unless you will make the trivial alteration which I am asking you to make." That is the kind of thing which has frequently happened lately.
§ I confess that it is an extraordinary thing to me that these very clever people, who, of course, are very much cleverer than I am or than is any noble Lord sitting 516 here to-day, do not recognise what an extraordinary benefit the Censor is to them. Sometimes I think that they really must realise the benefit although they deny it, and that nothing would distress them more than if the Censor were abolished, just as I believe nothing would distress certain people more than if Home Rule were to come into operation. Look at the advantages which they enjoy with the Censor there. Supposing their play passes, they are in precisely the same position as anybody else and enjoy equal advantages; but if he refuses to pass it, then at once they obtain notoriety. Their trade union takes up their case; eminent people write to The Times and say they have never known an instance of such stupid bureaucracy in the course of their existence; petitions are got up; publishers and booksellers sell an enormous number of copies of the censored play with the word "censored" printed in large letters at the particular points; and in many cases the play is performed. The censored author can get his play performed in Ireland whenever he likes. But the chances are that he gets his play produced in London by private enterprise, and, while it lasts, numbers of people crowd to see it. For instance, my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale, I observed, went the other day to see a censored play, and having seen it he wrote darkly warning us that terrible consequences might ensue if the present practice was allowed to continue. And, of course, he and other people also wrote and said that having seen the play, they could not see any harm in it. My experience of censored plays is small, but what I am given to understand is that in many cases they are so tedious, that even if there was anything objectionable in them it would be difficult for the person seeing them to keep his attention so concentrated on the piece as to notice where objectionable passages occur.
§ But supposing these people are right from their point of view, their opinion would not weigh with me in the least. The people who go to these performances under the auspices of the authors' trade union would be the very first to admit, or rather to claim, that they are very superior people indeed. They are all very superior and very clever people, and they can attach meanings to things to which the ordinary person attaches a totally different meaning, and I am quite 517 sure that if these people were to go and see a piece in which everybody appeared on the stage with no clothes at all, they are so clever and so ingenious that they would be able to prove that a spectacle of this kind was infinitely more stimulating and intellectual than if the actors appeared in the garb of ordinary life. As a matter of fact, these people are perfectly well able to protect themselves and do not require any Censor at all—Lord Ribblesdale is, I am sure, quite independent of any assistance of the kind—but they do not represent in the least the general public. There are, as a matter of fact, two publics—one enlightened and interested in advanced ideas, represented, shall we say, by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Ribblesdale, and the other the general public. It is for the protection of the general public that the Censor exists, and although the Censor may be capricious and although he may make mistakes, not being infallible, yet upon the whole he affords a sort of rough protection; although he does not make you absolutely immune, yet he fulfils very much the same purpose as the certificate which you get from sonic sanitary authority as to the condition of a house before you take possession of it. He, in fact, is a sort of rough safeguard, which is in accordance with the wishes of the majority; and upon the whole it may be confidently asserted that it is better to have him than nothing at all, and that has been the opinion formed at all previous inquiries. There was an inquiry in 1853, another in 1866, and another in 1892, and in each case it was found that there was no justification whatever for interfering with this important official.
§ The whole question is really whether there should be control before or after performance. If you are going to substitute control after performance for the present system, it means common informers, public prosecutors, attorney-generals, the interference of local authorities, disturbances in theatres, agitations in the Press, and discussions in Parliament. On the other hand, if you retain the present system, all that happens is that a certain number of persons are undoubtedly aggrieved. Well, I am sorry that this should be the case, but upon the whole this is most emphatically one of those cases in which, to use the words of Mr. Birrell, minorities must suffer; and 518 although I repeat that I am sorry that they or anybody else should suffer, it seems to me that as their sufferings are greatly exaggerated, and to an even greater extent self-inflicted, it is quite unnecessary to waste too much sympathy upon them, more especially if that sympathy should lead us to do away with a safeguard which, as far as we can tell, is in accordance with the wishes of the greater portion of the community.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords. I think it was Charles II who was fond of coming down to the House of Lords for the reason that it amused him as much as going to a play. I feel certain that if Charles II had been here this evening he would have said that in spite of the vicissitudes which have attended this Assembly in the lapse of centuries, he had still every reason to be entertained if he heard such a speech as that to which we have just listened from the noble Lord opposite. Like Lord Newton, I had the honour, and indeed the intellectual pleasure, which he does not seem to have shared, of serving upon the Dramatic Censorship Committee. But, unlike Lord Newton, I did change my mind to sonic extent during the proceedings of that Committee and on the strength of the evidence I heard. I went into the Committee taking the view, which Lord Newton quoted just now as that of Mr. Skimpole, that everything should be free, and holding strongly from my own point of view that nothing in the form of censorship should interfere with the free play of ideas or even of opinions. I agree with the noble Lord that the whole question of the Censorship as presented to us in that Committee teemed with difficulties, and I came round to a rather different view and was willing to sign cheerfully the rather compromising Report which the Committee ultimately decided upon.
The reasons I came rather round to this change of ideas proceeded on two main grounds. One is that you have this difference between London and Paris. In Paris you have a playgoing public perfectly well able to take care of itself, and in London you have a public which goes to the play, and you have that enormous suburban residential district all round London from which people bring up their sons and daughters at considerable expense to see the play; and I believe that that large playgoing public, however frail a 519 fence the Censorship may be—and it would be but frail if the Report of the Committee were adopted—rather likes the idea of a fence of some kind. That was one reason. The other reason was that the advantage of the Censorship at present is that it makes a play a commercial commodity, and so I think to some extent it encourages managers and indirectly writers to produce good plays. I am afraid that if we had no Censorship we should have to prepare ourselves for an era of dull drama, for the actor-manager, who is the man who has to stand the shot of the money, would never dare to produce a play, because, as Lord Newton said, he would be afraid of local authorities, watch committees, and so on. I should be very sorry to see a dull period of drama which would prevent altogether our getting the good plays, many of which pass the Censor now, which I think Lord Newton called the plays of the advanced writers.
I am not going back in any detail to the Report of the Committee or to its controversies. My apprehensive eyes are much more fixed upon what is to happen in the future. As Lord Newton told the House, I went the other night to see the play "The Secret Woman." I will not follow him into that. I do not think I said that I could not discover the passages which could possibly be objected to. What I. said was that if a play like that was censored under the new arrangement of this Advisory Committee which had been added to the Lord Chamberlain's staff, I felt a little nervous of what the future of the drama was going to be, and it is to that that I mean to direct the few observations which I shall make this evening. Your Lordships know that this Advisory Committee which has been appointed was not considered a very good thing by the Joint Committee. In our Report we say that although such a committee might perform some useful functions, it would be quite inadequate to the solution of the question. To lead your minds a little in the direction which I believe to be necessary and requisite to any fair consideration of the question of the Censorship with a power of veto before production, I will read two or three sentences from the Committee's Report. Lord Newton did rather scant justice to the able school of writers who devote themselves to the treatment of a particular kind of idea or 520 problem which he finds tedious, and of which, in short, he does not approve. That, of course, is a matter of opinion, and his opinion is as good as anybody else's, though I do not think that I am altogether prepared to congratulate him on that sort of stock-in-trade opinions. This is what the Committee say in their Report—More and more the theatre is attracting writers of intellect who desire to present through its agency sincere and serious dramas, critical of existing conventions. It is this fact, rather than any greater stringency than hitherto on the part of the Censor, which is the cause of the complaints that have found powerful expression before us.Then the Report goes on to say that practically very few plays had been censored. Lord Newton was quite right in saying that the number was about 30 out of some 7,000. Then we go on to say—This is not the measure of the activities of the Censorship or of its effects. We were informed by the Examiner that almost every week plays are modified in greater or less degree to meet the objections of the Censorship; and we have been assured by playwrights that the fear of its intervention seriously hampers their work. To what extent these considerations operate is obviously incapable of measurement. A censorship of the Press might not touch one newspaper article in a thousand submitted to it, but its effect might be immense.Then we go on to say that many people regard the drama as—a most useful vehicle by which great ideas, of profound importance to human well-being, whether touching on the relationships between the sexes or on other problems of human society, may be communicated by the thinkers to the citizens at large. Into this controversy we need not enter. It is clearly not the duty of the State to enforce by law the opinions of those who hold the former view, even if it be correct, upon those who hold the latter.That I conceive to be important if we are to form any real impression of the difficulties of the Censorship.
What I am going to refer to particularly this evening is the Advisory Committee which has been added to the Lord Chamberlain's Department, and which I suppose is a powerful auxiliary of the Lord Chamberlain's. Lord Newton has told us who these gentlemen are, and I recognise at once that they are a panel of highly superior people in every way. You cannot have better men as representing law or as representing letters, or as representing the early Victorian notions of the drama in which I was myself nurtured. But by their fruits we must know them. We have 521 not seen many yet; but the first thing they appear to have done was to censor the particular play which was referred to just now, and I admit that that makes me rather uncomfortable. In the Daily Telegraph of January 31 there was one of those inspired interviews which we occasionally read in the newspapers. A representative of the Daily Telegraph went down to the Lord Chamberlain's Department, and I need hardly say he was received with great courtesy, which is duly dwelt upon in the article. In this interview which is of considerable length, these words occur—Another subject touched upon was the work of the Advisory Board, the importance of which it was hinted had not, perhaps, been sufficiently appreciated in certain quarters.I do not know what those quarters are, but I am inclined to think that the work of this Advisory Committee is likely to be very important, and it is on that point that I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, three or four questions.
Being a fair-minded man, I took the precaution of submitting to my noble friend in a pretty defined way all the questions I intended to ask. The first question I should like to ask is, How does this Advisory Committee exercise its functions? Let me first of all remind your Lordships of the names of the members of the Committee. They are Sir Edward Carson, Mr. Buck-master, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Squire Bancroft and Sir Douglas Dawson. The Controller, in describing it to the Joint Committee, told us that the opinion of the Advisory Committee, if it was constituted, would only be called for when negotiations between the Department and managers had come to a deadlock. I should like to ask my noble friend whether this is so. In practice I believe I am right in saying that the decision of the Advisory Committee on the question of "The Secret Woman" was taken by the Department upon the first application for a licence. Then I should like to ask whether the members of the Committee themselves read the plays on which their opinion is asked. No doubt it could be got over by a number of typewritten copies, but it is hardly conceivable that people who are so occupied as Sir Edward Carson, Mr. Buck-master and Sir Walter Raleigh, who I believe is a lecturer at Oxford and a very eminent man of letters, would have time to read all the plays submitted to the Lord Chamberlain's Department. If they do not read all the plays, how is it done? Are the 522 plays read to them? That is hardly conceivable. If the whole play is not read, I assume that isolated passages are read to them—that is, the passages to which the Examiner of Plays has taken exception. Well, are these passages read by the person who has taken exception to them? Because it is perfectly clear that the man who has interpreted the point in some particular way is hardly the person to put that point to the body whose opinion lie is asking. Then I should like to ask whether a manager or a writer is able to appear in his own defence before the Advisory Committee, or whether, as it were, only the case for the prosecution is heard.
The other two questions are, I think, very minor ones. I should like to know how many members of the Advisory Committee form a quorum, and whether on the minutes or in any other way a record is kept of the opinions of the various members of the Advisory Committee. The Lord Chamberlain knows, and we all know, that one of the reasons for the great exception taken by those who do not agree with the Censorship is the secrecy of the Censorship proceedings. If under existing circumstances records are kept of the views taken by the Advisory Committee it might be a very good thing, and it would possibly remove that notion of secrecy and covering up if some sort of idea was given to the writers of the view taken by the members of the Advisory Committee. I have nothing more to say. Speaking for myself, I very much prefer the old Censorship, the whole responsibility resting on the Lord Chamberlain, to the new arrangement by which this Advisory Committee has been created. On the other hand, the noble Lord below me (Lord Sandhurst) may be able to give me satisfactory answers to the four or five questions I have put to him, and, if that is so, my apprehensions as to the future will be to some extent removed.
THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, may I add one question to those which have been put to the Lord Chamberlain. I was one of those who signed the Report of the Joint Committee, and the question that I should like to put is whether the noble Lord can inform me what the views of His Majesty's Government are with regard to this Report, and whether there is any prospect of their acting upon it. That was not at all, I know, the intention of my noble friend behind me, Lord Newton. I do not think he desires that His Majesty's Government should act upon the Committee's 523 Report. The noble Lord, I venture to think, made rather light of the authors in this matter. It came really to this, that the main difference of opinion was between the authors and the managers of theatres, and it was the hope and intention of the Joint Committee that they had arrived at some solution which, I do not say would satisfy either of these two parties, but which would not be unsatisfactory—that is, by giving certain relief to the authors and at the same time giving that security to the managers to which they thought they were entitled; and so this solution was arrived at of retaining the Censorship, but of allowing authors, if they could Lind managers to act with them, to produce plays if they pleased which had not been brought before the Censor. I do not desire now to go any further into the details of the Committee's Report, but I would like to ask whether there is any prospect of His Majesty's Government taking any action upon that Report.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, this debate was introduced by my noble friend Lord Newton in a speech full of his characteristic humour and spirit of chaff, but I am afraid I cannot share my noble friend's opinion that the whole question is a matter of no importance and of very little interest to other than a limited number of persons. I am not a dramatic author, but I am afraid I must plead guilty to regarding this question with that "portentous seriousness" of which my noble friend complains. Lord Newton said that until three years ago nobody, or rather I think he said only one person in a thousand, had ever heard that there was a Censor or knew what the operation of the Dramatic Censorship was. I think it right, therefore, to remind my noble friend that the history of the opposition to the Censorship is a little older than that. In fact I have myself, if I may say so, an hereditary interest in the question, because it is now just eighty years ago that the question was raised in Parliament by my grandfather, who emphatically condemned the operation of the Censorship, and urged that—the public taste, backed by the vigilant admonition of the public Press, may be more safely trusted for the preservation of theatrical decorum than any ignorant and bungling Censor, who (however well the office may be now fulfilled) might be appointed hereafter, who, while lie might strain at gnats and cavil at straws, would be without any other real power than that of preventing men of genius from submitting to the caprice of his opinions.524 I have been interested in reading the debates of that time and in noticing some of the arguments by which the Censorship was then supported.
One of the strongest opponents of my grandfather's Motion, one of the strongest supporters of the Dramatic Censorship in those clays, said that it would be impossible to mention a single case in which the Lord Chamberlain had refused to license a drama which could with any propriety have been played. I think even my noble friend Lord Newton would not be bold enough to make any such challenge to-day. He has himself reminded us that plays which had at one time been censored have afterwards been produced with the Lord Chamberlain's licence, and that many others that have failed to pass the Censor have been privately acted. Both he and Lord Ribblesdale referred to a play recently censored by the Lord Chamberlain which was privately produced within the last few weeks. Possibly some of your Lordships may have seen that play. If so, I do not think that any one of you would be prepared to say that it was unfit for production on the public stage. I am one of those who oppose very strongly the institution of the Dramatic Censor, but I hope that in anything I say on the subject it will be understood that I am not making anything in the nature of a personal attack upon the present holder of the office. It is the institution, and not the Lord Chamberlain, to which I object, and I hold that the operation of the Censor would be equally obnoxious, no matter in whose hands it was placed.
The Notice which my noble friend Lord Newton placed upon the Paper was to call attention to the Report from the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons on the Stage Plays (Censorship), but I noticed that in his speech he was careful to refrain from calling attention at all to that Report. So far as I am aware, he never mentioned it beyond saying that he was in total disagreement with the recommendations to which his name was attached. I must therefore ask your Lordships to consider for a moment this Report, which is really the subject of our debate this evening. It is, to my mind, remarkable for two things. First of all, for the full admission which it makes of the justice of the case brought 525 by the dramatic authors against the Censorship and of the theatrical managers in support of it. Secondly, it seems to me remarkable for the childlike simplicity with which the members of the Committee propose to take away the censorship from dramatic authors who object to it and to give it back, on the other hand, to managers who are in favour of it.
What was the case laid before the Committee? It was two-fold. First of all, there was the case of dramatic authors, who were quite unanimous in saying that the Censorship was a great hindrance to the development of serious drama. Now this contention was fully admitted by the members of the Joint Committee. They say on Pages VIII and IX of their Report—A Censorship with a power of veto before production is open to grave objection. Secret in its operation, subject to no effective control by public opinion, its effect can hardly fail to be to coerce into conformity with the conventional standards of the day dramatists who may he sucking to amend them. Those standards are not absolute. It is an axiom underlying all our legislation that only through the toleration of that which one age thinks to be error can the next ago progress further in the pursuit of truth.And they sum up their opinion on this subject by saying—In view of the danger that official control over plays before their production may hinder the growth of a great and serious national drama, and of the grave injury that such hindrance would do to the development of thought and of art, we conclude that the licensing authority, which we desire to see maintained, should not have power to impose a veto on the production of plays.The second case which was laid before the Committee was that of the theatrical managers, who with almost equal unanimity claimed that the licensing of a play before production was essential as affording them some security for the conduct of their business; and the Committee just as fully admit the justice of their contention, and just as emphatically recommend that the producers of plays should have access prior to their production to a public authority, which should have power to license the play as suitable for performance. If I may mention another instance of the contradictory nature of this Report, I would refer to what the Committee say on Page XIII, where they recommend the creation of an Advisory Committee, having already heard in evidence that this course was in contemplation by the Lord Chamberlain. They say that he would be well advised 526 to pursue his intention of appointing his Committee; but at the same time, recollecting, perhaps, some of the criticisms made by other witnesses against such a Committee, they add that they do not regard its formation as at all adequate for the solution of the question, and they point out that in course of years precisely the same objections would attach to an Advisory Committee as already attach to an individual Censor. In effect, therefore, it comes to this, that in the opinion of the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament who inquired into this matter, the Censorship of the Lord Chamberlain is in many respects admirable and ought to be continued, but in future nobody should be required to pay any attention to it. Secondly, that the obligatory licensing of a play is for many other reasons highly objectionable, and therefore ought to be abolished, but at the same time the owners of theatres may refuse to allow other than licensed plays to be produced at the theatres belonging to them, thereby making once more the Lord Chamberlain's licence obligatory for every play.
Then, again, the secret and irresponsible character of the Lord Chamberlain's veto is, in the opinion of these gentlemen, a hindrance to the production of serious drama, to protect which they suggest that a Committee of the Privy Council, equally secret in its proceedings and equally irresponsible is to be given powers even more sweeping than those of the Lord Chamberlain; and lastly, they recommend an Advisory Committee to assist the Lord Chamberlain, although they admit that that body will possess all the disadvantages which attach to the Lord Chamberlain's Office itself. The fact is, that a most heroic attempt has been made by these gentlemen to please everybody, and the result is they have met the fate common to such ambitious persons—they have pleased no one, not even themselves. My noble friend Lord Newton repudiated the whole Report; Lord Gorell has pointed out the strong legal objections to setting up a law which is no law, a Censorship which is no Censorship; Lord Ribblesdale told us that, having seen in the last few days a play which had received the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain, he was now inclined to consider the question of abolishing the Censorship. The authors are not satisfied; they realise that the concessions made to them by the Committee 527 were entirely illusory. Lastly, I feel quite sure that the Lord Chamberlain himself is well aware of the impossible position in which be would be placed under the recommendations of the Committee, and therefore he ignores their recommendations, and up to the present nothing whatever has been done. Of course, when I say that he ignores their recommendations and that nothing has been clone, I do not forget the one exception of the Advisory Committee. And, my Lords, I am not at all surprised that that should have been the one recommendation of the Committee which he has adopted. In the first place, it was his own suggestion, made without consulting the Committee at all; and, secondly, it seems to me to be a practice of our modern life which is rapidly becoming almost universal, that wherever the smallest relic of individual responsibility can be detected—and evidence of real responsibility is becoming as rare as a white blackbird—you should immediately smother it up by appointing some sort of Committee. Already the responsibility of the Lord Chamberlain is diluted and shared with two Examiners of Plays and their staff, but still the act of censorship exercised by the Lord Chamberlain is one of the few remaining acts of government the responsibility for which can more or less be traced to a single individual. I am not surprised, therefore, that the Lord Chamberlain, who happens to be the responsible person in this case, should have hastened to screen himself behind the inevitable Committee.
Now, if the recommendations of the Joint Committee are so contradictory and unsatisfactory in their nature, it is only fair to ask, What then is the remedy for dealing with the question of the production of plays? I have no hesitation in saying that the only remedy to my mind is the frank abolition of the power to censor a play in manuscript previous to its production—a power which is simply an obsolete survival of a bygone age, which is hopelessly out of date at the present time and entirely mischievous in its operation. Other speakers have referred to the fact that most of the witnesses before the Joint Committee dwelt upon the necessity of exercising some sort of control of dramatic performances. I quite admit that, but control of performances is a very different thing from censorship of manuscripts. If after production it 528 can be proved that the performance of any play is attended with consequences seriously detrimental to the public interest, then let it be dealt with by the machinery of the ordinary law. But the law which gives protection to the public in these matters must also give protection to those who are concerned in the production of plays. To place the producers of a play, the authors and the managers, at the mercy of any chance individual, would simply be to set up a censorship much more rigorous and much more arbitrary than that of which we complain to-day. At the present moment the manager of a theatre, on the payment of two guineas, can secure a licence for a play from the Lord Chamberlain which practically gives him indemnity against any objection which may subsequently be raised to the production of that play. I object to this patronage of the Lord Chamberlain just as strongly as I object to his veto, and I hold that it is only right that those who make a profit out of producing plays should bear the responsibility for any consequences which may result therefrom. It is, therefore, in my opinion the theatre which ought to be licensed and not the play, and just as in the case of the licence of a public house, the licence of a theatre ought not to be forfeitable for anything except a judicial reason. I hold that there is nothing to justify in the case of dramatic performances any exceptional machinery in the shape of individuals, or committees, sitting in camera. If there is to be any control, make your law as definite and adequate as you please, but let it be law and not private opinion which shall determine these matters.
There are some people who claim that a play differs so markedly and entirely from any other method of expressing or influencing opinion that it must receive exceptional treatment. I want to examine this contention for a moment. What is the justification for imposing upon plays a censorship which would never be tolerated for a moment in any other department of intellectual thought? My noble friend Lord Newton says that we have in fact a censorship to-day of books and newspapers and pictures and even of public speeches, but when he endeavoured to explain to your Lordships what that censorship was it simply amounted to this, that the censorship of a book was that of a publisher in the first instance and 529 afterwards of the public; that the censorship of a picture was that of the Gallery to which the artist sent it; and that the censorship of a public speech was that of the audience to whom the speech was addressed. Quite apart from the Lord Chamberlain, such censorship does and always will exist in the case of a play. The theatrical manager corresponds to the publisher or the editor or the hanging committee of an Art Gallery, and the censorship of the public is the same in all cases. No one objects to these things or wants to get rid of them. My only contention is that the opinion of the Lord Chamberlain is no more required before the production of a play than before that of a book, a picture, a newspaper, or a speech. Freedom of expression, whether in writing or in speech—although I am afraid my noble friend will call this "portentous seriousness"—is one of the first indispensable liberties of a free people. We believe that we have that liberty in this country. Lord Newton very much doubts it, but we believe that we possess that liberty, and we are just as proud of it as we are of our Constitution—if we are still proud of that—of our Fleet, of our Courts of Law, of our roast beef, or of any of the other institutions which we regard as especially English, and, unless we are wholly hypocritical and insincere in the eulogies we shower on this precious liberty and the condemnation which we pass upon every infringement of it in other countries, the censorship of plays ought to be just as objectionable and odious as any other kind of censorship, and, if it is tolerable at all, only tolerable because of some special justification which distinguishes a play from any other form of expressed opinion.
The only justification that I have ever heard, and the only justification which my noble friend Lord Newton gave to the House to-day is that a play differs from a book in this one respect—that the words of a play are accompanied by action, and that they are not read in silence by scattered individuals, but spoken by an interpreter to a collection of human beings. Of course, all that is perfectly obvious; no one disputes it for a moment; and to a certain extent it is an argument, not in favour, but against the censorship of the manuscript of a play before its production; because if there is anything in the argument at all it comes to this, that it is the spoken 530 and acted word, and not the written word of the author, which ought to be submitted for judgment. I quite agree that that difference between a play and a book or a speech is a sufficient ground for imposing certain legal restrictions upon the places where plays are performed. But, my Lords, it is no sort of justification at all for superseding in the case of a play the ordinary law, and setting up one man or a committee of individuals to be arbiters over other men's opinions. The drink shop differs in precisely the same way from a book shop. There are ninny people who think that the evils of selling drink are so great that drink shops, ought to be put down altogether. Many people deplore the effects of the sale of liquor, but no one would suggest that the Master of the King's Household, and he alone, should determine what liquor should be sold in every public house in the country. Whatever may be the difference between the influence exercised by a play and by a book or a speech or any other method of expressing opinion, the arguments put forward by way of justification for requiring the author to submit his writings to a Court official before they are reproduced on the stage are precisely the same. They do not differ in the least from, or are not at all more convincing than, the arguments which could be used in favour of establishing a censorship of newspapers or books or speeches.
But I may be told that if we establish complete freedom of the stage it may be abused; that it may lead to the presentation of sentiments or opinions and scenes which would shock the susceptibility of certain individuals. Of course it will be abused, just as absolute freedom in newspapers or in books or in speeches or any other matters is abused. I have no doubt my noble friend Lord Newton feels that if no opinions other than those licensed by himself, or the Lord Chamberlain, or by some other "man of the world," were to be uttered in a book or a speech, the influence of our literature, of the Press, and of our public platforms in this country would be very much more wholesome and beneficial than is the case to-day. All that may be very true. But let my noble friend introduce a Bill in which he attempts to enforce a censorship of that kind, and I am sure it would not be long before he found out the reception it would receive 531 even in this House. But, my Lords, I do not want to argue this question simply and solely on the grounds of abstract theory. I am just as much concerned in protecting the interests of the drama as I am in defending popular liberties. The fact is that the Royal licence obtained for a play at the present day is already just as much abused as the fullest possible measure of liberty could be. The Lord Chamberlain's licence does not ensure a high moral standard of dramatic art. Its only effect is to protect the particular moral conventions of the day. Problems of sex, marriage, politics and religion are all discussed, on the stage, and so long as they are treated in a light-hearted manner—like my noble friend Lord Newton's speeches—so long as there is plenty of make-believe in them, and so long as they are put forth in a conventional setting, they are stamped with the approval of the Crown and receive Royal licence and patronage.
But it is precisely the conventional standards of their day that the protestants of every age—"the pioneer authors," as Lord Newton calls them—are concerned to challenge. When they believe that conventional standards are misleading, it is only by a direct assault on those standards that they can hope to arrest the attention of the people whom they are trying to influence. Therefore the very first object of these men is to shock people out of their complacency. Their purpose is to shock. That is their object—to make people thoroughly uncomfortable, by forcing them to look unpalateable truths in the face. It is precisely against these people that any kind of censorship, no matter by whom exercised—whether by the Lord Chamberlain or by an Advisory Committee—must inevitably erect an insuperable barrier. It is just that which is the business of a Censor. It is his business to prevent people from being shocked. They may be amused by witty representations of profligacy; they may lie harrowed by realistic representations of crime, or bored by moral lessons which deal with only obvious matters; they may even be corrupted by a subtle process which familiarises them with, and leads them to be entirely indifferent to, the social evils by which they are surrounded. All that may pass any Censor; but people must never be offended by any representation of the ugly realities of human conduct and 532 human motive. That is why a number of writers, who as my noble friend thinks have such an exaggerated idea of their own importance, those who are protestants against what they consider to be false and misleading conventional standards, feel that they are debarred from writing for the stage, and that is why the drama has failed to fulfil its proper share in contributing to the progress and enlightenment of human thought. [LORD NEWTON: How many?] My noble friend asks how many dramatic authors are debarred from writing for the stage. How can I tell him how many? A child once said that a pin had saved a multitude of lives by people not swallowing it. I cannot say how many lives a pin has saved, nor how many dramatists the Lord Chamberlain has discouraged. But if my noble friend will study the evidence brought before his own Committee he will see that one witness read letters from many of the best known authors of the present day in which they declared that among the reasons which had deterred them from writing for the stage was the feeling that they could not express themselves with freedom because of the operation of the' Censorship. Supporters of the Censorship draw a terrible picture of the evils which would result from establishing complete dramatic freedom. I am left entirely unmoved by these suggestions that if you were to do away with the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain disastrous consequences would overtake the country. I reply to these prophets of evil that we have already examples in America, in our Colonies, in Ireland, and even in the music-halls of this country. In all those places there is no Censorship to-day, and yet the disastrous consequence, the reign of profligacy and debauchery with which we are menaced without Censorship, is not to be found there. If it is true that an unfettered stage is capable of a considerable amount of harm, it is also true that it is capable of a considerable amount of good, and I am quite prepared to see the dramatic authors of this country fight out this battle of good and evil among themselves before the play-going public. I am quite confident that without the assistance of the Lord Chamberlain at all in any age and in any country serious writers, co-operating with serious actors and actresses, can be relied upon to ensure that the influence of the drama shall be a wholesome one in our national life.
533 I feel sure that it is quite unnecessary for me to disclaim any desire to provide immunity for those persons, if there be any, who want to make the influence of the stage more licentious or the drama a vehicle for obscene or scurrilous or seditious ideas. I feel sure that no one would accuse me of such a motive. Among all those persons—and they are more numerous than my noble friend thinks—who are opposed to the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain there is not one who does not oppose that institution from the highest possible motives and in the best interests of the drama itself. We who oppose the Censorship do so because we believe that the arbitrary interference of a State official with the work of dramatic authors is hostile to the best interests of the drama by discouraging able writers from devoting their efforts to that particular sphere of literature, by placing the seal of official approval upon many plays which are entirely frivolous and some which are even pernicious, while at the same time prohibiting others which have a high moral purpose; and we believe that if the stage is left free from all restrictions except those which are imposed by the ordinary law of the land, its influence will be better and not worse as the result.
My Lords, the occasions on which the Lord Chamberlain addresses your Lordships are so infrequent that during the long time I have been a member of your Lordships' House I do not think I have ever heard a Lord Chamberlain called upon to say anything on behalf of his Department. That being so, I feel inclined to begin the few remarks I want to make with a sentence which. I tremblingly uttered in this House over thirty years ago, in which I asked for your patience and indulgence on account of my then youth and inexperience. I am quite certain that I need all your Lordships' indulgence to-day, though I cannot claim it on the former grounds.
My Lords, I am not sorry that this debate has taken place. I will even say that I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Newton for having brought it forward, because for some time—long before I had the honour of becoming Lord Chamberlain—there has been a certain amount of indiscriminate criticism as regards the Office of what is called the Censor of Plays, and I think it is an advantage that I should 534 put clearly before your Lordships where the actual and practical responsibility does rest, and also the procedure by which these matters are conducted. Lord Newton was very complimentary to the Advisory Committee. I think he called me and the Controller of my Department a couple of innocent lambs. I sincerely trust that we shall not be offered up for immediate slaughter. I also Lope that your Lordships will find that I shall not shrink from the responsibility which is undoubtedly my own. Lord Plymouth asked whether there was any intention of the Government acting on the Report of the Joint Committee. In reply to that question I have to say that the Report has not yet been considered by the Government with a view to legislation.
My noble friend Lord Ribblesdale asked me five very clear questions to which I think I shall be able to give him an answer which he will think equally clear; hut if he will allow me, I will do it when I come to the portion of my remarks under procedure, and if by any mistake my answer is not categorical enough I shill be very glad, with the leave of the House, to make the matter clearer. In the interesting speech to which we listened just now from the noble Earl Lord Lytton, he very truly said that he had a hereditary interest in this question, for Lord Lytton represents the third generation of a family whose distinction in art and literature has been recognised for a very long period of years. But if we did anything of the description that my noble friend wishes, I think it could only be done under legislation specifically brought in for that purpose.
Two noble Lords have quoted extracts from the Report, and perhaps your Lordships will allow me to sketch very briefly the process or the processes in regard to the Office of the Lord Chamberlain. I do not know whether your Lordships have studied the Report on these matters or not, but it states that the theatres were connected with the Court at any rate since the time of Henry and were under a Master of the Revels. In 1628, according to the records in the Lord Chamberlain's Office, the Lord Chamberlain personally, or through the Master of the Revels, licensed theatres or closed them and had a general control over the work of dramatists. In 1737 was passed Walpole's Act, which made the functions of the Lord Chamberlain statutory. I think it was then that the office of Examiner of 535 Plays was created, and it has existed from that day to this. The first Parliamentary Committee dealing with the matter was held under the presidency of the grandfather of the noble Earl opposite in 1832. That Committee reported in favour of some changes as to the licensing authorities, but the Report says that the Lord Chamberlain should have control. In 1843 was passed the Act which replaced Walpole's Act of 1737, and which is now the statutory authority under which the Lord Chamberlain acts. In 1853 a House of Commons Committee reported that the Censorship had worked well and should be maintained. In 1866 another Committee, having heard much evidence from people who were opposed to the Censorship, reported that the censorship of plays had worked satisfactorily, and that it was not, desirable that it should be discontinued. In 1892 there was a fourth Committee, which endorsed the judgments of its predecessors; and in 1909 the Report which we are discussing this evening recommended that the licensing of plays should remain under the control of the Lord Chamberlain and that the office of Examiner of Plays should be continued.
Then in regard to the Advisory Committee, it has been said that the statement in the Report is half-hearted, but still this phrase does occur—We consider that the Lord Chamberlain would be well advised to proceed with the formation of a Consultative Committee such as he was about to constitute when our inquiry was begun,and the Report goes on to express the hope that no undue delay should occur. And as to the access of authors to the licenser, the Committee declare against the proposal unless the authors as a body desire it. Now my Lords, I have ventured to show that since 1832 successive Committees have held the view that the Office should be in the hands of the Lord Chamberlain, that the Examiner of Plays should continue, and that the Lord Chamberlain should have control; and that position was endorsed and made statutory, as I have pointed out, by the Act of 1843.
I desire, as I said just now, to make the position perfectly clear as to where the responsibility rests, and also to make clear the procedure with regard to the office of Lord Chamberlain. Much has been said of the power of the Censor. The whole responsibility rests, not with the reader or the examiner, but with the man who for the 536 time being is Lord Chamberlain. When the Committee reported, they recommended that there should be an Advisory Committee; and as has already been shown by Lord Newton, that Committee was already in process of formation before this Joint Committee was appointed in the days of my predecessor. It naturally took some time to arrange, because the selection of names was by no means easy. There was naturally anxiety to get the very best, possible Advisory Committee together, and when the names had been selected the Lord Chamberlain of the day thought it wise to hang it up for a short time in view of the Parliamentary Committee that had been appointed.
Reference has been made to the names of the members of the Advisory Committee—Sir Edward Carson, Mr. Buckmaster, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Squire Bancroft and Sir Douglas Dawson. Of course, those of us who take an interest in politics know all about Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Buckmaster. They are at or near the head of the learned profession which they adorn. Sir Squire Bancroft has over fifty years' experience of acting and actors, and for a long time was a very successful actor-manager. Sir Walter Raleigh is an Oxford Professor of Literature, and it also happens, as I think my noble friend Lord Newton pointed out, that Sir Douglas Dawson, who as Controller is ex officio a member of this Committee, is in the position of having been in foreign capitals for a large number of years. He also is a profound French and German scholar, and I know that the rest of the Committee have found his knowledge of languages of very great assistance in these matters. Sir John Hare was a member of the Committee until he was reluctantly obliged to resign owing to returning to the stage. Now I venture to say, my Lords, that this Advisory Committee is a body which certainly is entitled to command confidence. My noble friend Lord Ribblesdale asked what constituted a quolum. There is no quorum for this simple reason, that, it would be almost impossible to get these gentlemen to come together at any particular time. I will explain how that is in a moment.
I now come to the actual procedure. The play is received by the Lord Chamberlain It is referred to a reader, and comes back to the Lord Chamberlain with a synopsis attached, and I beg to point this out to your 537 Lordships that it is the play and not the synopsis which is the predominant partner of those two things. A play may appear objectionable as a whole, or certain phrases or passages in it may appear objectionable to the reader. Then the play comes to me, and after I have seen it and been through these objections—that is, the play, not the synopsis—the play is then circulated to the various members of the Advisory Committee, who furnish me with their views upon the objections. Each member of the Advisory Committee reads the play and attaches his opinion of it in writing, and with the play those opinions are recorded. The play may possibly be so objectionable as a whole that on the advice of the Advisory Committee I should hardly feel justified in giving the licence to it; or the objections to certain phrases or passages may be upheld by the Advisory Committee. Then the usual course would be that I should be advised by them that the play may be licensed subject to the deletion or the alteration of these phrases, and it frequently happens, after correspondence or an interview with the author or with the manager of the theatre, that these objectionable phrases are deleted or changed, and the licence is granted. But supposing that we cannot come to terms, further communications and further interviews take place so as to see if matters can be arranged. If, however, the objectionable phrases are adhered to, the licence can be given subject to the deletion of those phrases, and the licence is so endorsed. But again, my Lords, this may happen, and does happen. The Advisory Committee may advise me that they do not see any objection in the phrases to which the reader may have taken objection, and in that case it is for me to decide whether or not the licence should be granted. I apologise for using the personal pronoun so much, but of course I am referring to the office of the Lord Chamberlain. While we have heard a lot from time to time of the power of the Censor to discard this work and to throw out that work, what I have just said points to this, that the reader's view is not always taken.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
Might I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I am afraid he has passed away from my questions. There is one question which he took no notice of—not wilfully, of course. The question I asked was whether a manager or an author was allowed to submit any defence to the Advisory Committee. 538 If the Advisory Committee never meets because they can never get a quorum, apparently that would be impossible. Therefore I ask what access has he to the Advisory Committee? Is it only by correspondence?
I do not know that he has any access to the Advisory Committee, but he has plenty of opportunity of coming to the Lord Chamberlain, who is the person really responsible for the granting of the licence. It would be almost impossible to get the Advisory Committee to meet, certainly frequently, because the members of it are men of great eminence, and naturally rues of many Occupations which would preclude them from coming together, at any rate often; but, as I said just now, matters frequently are arranged between authors and managers at the Lord Chamberlain's office, and I need hardly say that it is our wish to work this business as sympathetically as we possibly can. I am sorry if my noble friend thought that I overlooked his question, but I thought that it was partially answered by the foregoing sentences.
I venture to submit to your Lordships that there can be no indignity in the process I have described. I think indignity was the word used by my noble friend Lord Lytton; but with all the care that I have endeavoured and shall endeavour to exercise in this matter, and seeing, while I do not give away an atom of the responsibility that rests on me, that I have a good and capable Advisory Committee to assist me, I do not think the procedure can be called either arbitrary or autocratic. It will be seen that it is not the exercise of a single opinion as to the propriety or fitness of a play vested in one individual with power to set aside the work of the author. It is not merely the opinion of one man against another. As I have shown, the reader is not the Censor; the reader's opinions have to run the gauntlet of the Advisory Committee, and I can assure my noble friends who have spoken strongly on behalf of authors that the greatest care and thought are bestowed and every effort is made before a decision is come to.
Speaking for myself, I certainly am of opinion that there must he a control in these matters by the Lord Chamberlain or by some body. I am quite convinced of that. Various Committees have advised it, and the Act of 1843 endorsed it. The Report suggests certain changes by legisla- 539 tion. Well, the Report, as I told Lord Plymouth, has not been considered by the Government with a view to legislation, and I think noble Lords would not expect me to commit myself, without further experience at any rate, one way or the other. But perhaps I may be allowed to say two things. One is that, speaking for myself, I do consider that the present plan is prompt and inexpensive. It has the approval and support of the mass of the managers, and I really do believe that on the whole, which is as much as we can say of anything, it has worked well. It is not impossible, on the other hand, that with changes on certain lines suggested there might be greater expense to all parties concerned. There might be found difficulties of working. There might be found insecurity to managers and the vast number of people whom they employ, and there might be considerable delay in settling differences. Beyond those hints I do not say anything, except perhaps that I might be allowed to add that, supposing some alterations in these directions were made, it is not by any means impossible that the alterations might act to the prejudice of the authors themselves. I can well believe that many managers would be chary of accepting plays on certain subjects, and in that way the author's position might be more difficult than before.
It has been said that there is a feeling amongst some authors and some men of very distinguished literary ability that their work should not in any way be interfered with. I am afraid I cannot share that view. It cannot be denied, I think, that some protection to the public is necessary as regards stage plays, and also I venture to say in regard to the drama itself. In some quarters there is an assertion that the doors of the Lord Chamberlain's office are closed to authors. I can assure your Lordships that there is no ground whatever for this assertion. I have endeavoured to show, by what I have said about correspondence and interview, that this is contrary to the fact. I can also emphatically say that every play, ether constructed on conventional lines or dealing with interesting problems of human nature by new methods, does receive and will receive equal and unbiassed consideration. I am grateful to your Lordships for your kindness to me on the first occasion that I appear in this capacity. In conclusion, I roust say that it seems to me to be the fact that in dealing with these matters in regard to stage plays 540 and the Censorship the position is very much as in dealing with other delicate matters where the personal question comes in and where control has to be exercised. I certainly can truly say that I most sincerely recognise that these matters have to be dealt with with much patience, with the greatest consideration, and with the most tactful endeavours to satisfy those with whom we come in contact, and with the aid of the advisers who are at my disposal I shall endeavour to work on these lines.