HL Deb 22 June 1926 vol 64 cc491-6

The King's consent signified, and Bill read 3a.

Clause 25:

Provision of concerts entertainments etc.

(2) Provided that— (a) Nothing in this section contained shall enable the Corporation themselves to use any public hall pavilion assembly room or other public building erected under the powers of this Act for the purpose of the performance of stage plays by professional companies of performers or enable the Corporation themselves to carry on therein the business of a cinema theatre;

LORD NEWTON moved to leave out proviso (a), and to insert: Nothing in this section contained shall enable the corporation themselves to use any public hall, pavilion, bandstand, assembly room or other public building erected under the powers of this Act for the purpose of the performance of stage plays by professional companies of performers, or enable the Corporation themselves to carry on therein any performance in the nature of a variety entertainment or the business of a cinema theatre.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is precisely similar to an Amendment moved to a precisely similar Bill by my noble friend Lord Jessel a few days ago, and I presume, therefore, that it will be accepted, as was the Amendment of my noble friend. In the meantime the promoters of this Bill have been circularising the House and I am told that they have made certain statements in it which are quite inaccurate, and that this particular question never came before the Committee at all.

What I observe is stated in the circular is that Southend occupies a totally exceptional position. I have looked into this matter and so far as I am able to dis- cover Southend does stand in an exceptional position in that it seems to have more theatres and places of amusement than other towns of the same size. I find, for instance, that there is an establishment called a Hippodrome, described as a first class variety house, controlled by Mr. Gulliver, whoever he may be. There is the Palace Theatre, also a first class theatre giving representations by London stars. There is the Ambassadors Theatre, which appears to be a repertory theatre with a resident company. There is the Kursaal fair-ground, with a big pavilion and all forms of fair-ground amusements, controlled by a syndicate. There is a pier pavilion controlled by the Corporation, which provides bands and concerts; there are the Shorncliffe Gardens, consisting of a café and resident concert party and pierrots. There is a Happy Valley pavilion which also boasts of a resident concert party and pierrots into the bargain. In addition to that there are numerous first class cinemas, all, I am told, new and thoroughly up to date, and there are also a number of cinemas of not quite equal quality. I take no sort of interest in Southend and I was going to say I take no interest in this Bill, but in the circumstances it does seem to me a most extraordinary thing that with all these facilities for amusement the Corporation of Southend should be anxious to engage in a kind of gamble in connection with amusements.

I have had some experience of Private Bill Committees and I realise that it is a very questionable course to take to ask the House to reject the decision arrived at by a Committee. At the same time what always struck me with regard to the work of Private Bill Committees was that the most important thing of all is that there should be definite principles laid down upon which those Committees should act. In this particular case the line of action would appear to have been laid down by the Public Health Act which was passed last year. In the course of the discussions on that Bill the noble Lord in charge of it, Lord Emmott, accepted an Amendment which exactly covers the point that I am raising this afternoon. I submit that on the whole it is important that these definite forms of policy should be adhered to even if it means occasionally over-riding the Committee, but upon this point I am prepared to accept the opinion of my noble friend the Lord Chairman, If he is strongly against my Amendment I do not propose to press it because I should possibly only be prejudicing the theatrical interest. I can, however, see no reason whatever why this place should be treated in an exceptional manner. Therefore I do hope that he will receive my Amendment favourably.

Amendment moved— Page 25, leave out lines 20 to 26, and insert the said words.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, I think we are concerned really with two questions this afternoon, on one of which I should have no disagreement with my noble friend, and I hope I should not have much disagreement with him on the other. One is a question of merits, the other a question of procedure. On merits I have no strong view because I have not heard the case. I have not been to Southend for the last week-end and I do not know what goes on there, but I can point out to your Lordships what has happened in this case and the reasons that impelled me to appeal to my noble friend not to press this Amendment as a Third Reading Amendment now. First of all, let me say quite frankly that there is no comparison between this Bill and the Chorley Bill.




Does not my noble friend know the two places? I think he does. The circumstances are obviously quite different in the two places. On the general principle, of course, none of your Lordships, I think, would disagree that the Public Health Act of last year laid down an ideal state of things, but Parliament has always recognised that exceptions are justifiable. There are about thirty authorities now which have powers differing from those laid down in the Public Health Act and in each case those powers have been granted after careful and detailed inquiry, generally by a Committee of both Houses, as to whether the particular circumstances in each case justify a departure. That might have been followed in the case of this Bill and I am sorry it was not. I understand that there are three organisations which take an active interest in this entertainment clause. With two of those the pro- moters have settled the form of the clause and those two are satisfied with the clause as it is now in the Bill.

There is a third organisation, which I assume to be an organisation with which my noble friend is acting in harmony this afternoon. They did not petition against this clause in Committee, so that their case was not heard, and the case for the promoters has not been heard by a Committee of your Lordships' House. I do not think my noble friend will deny that the promoters actually advised his friends to petition and they rejected that advice. That being so, it would be inconvenient, I think, for us to decide this matter this afternoon by speeches delivered on both sides here that would not go into the matter as satisfactorily as does the procedure upstairs, where there is counsel and evidence is called—a short procedure, but one which would be more likely to bring about a satisfactory conclusion than one arrived at here. Your Lordships, however, will have noticed that this is a First House Bill. It is a Bill that will have to go to the Local Legislation Committee in the House of Commons and there is ample opportunity for the friends of my noble friend to deposit a Petition there and be heard in the ordinary way. I am quite certain that in this particular case we are more likely to have justice done if that procedure is followed, and I do appeal to my noble friend, therefore, in view of the fact that his friends did not take the opportunity open to them to be heard in Committee upstairs, not to press this matter on Third Reading, but to let it go through the further stage that is available for it. In that way I am certain we are more likely to reach a just conclusion.


My Lords, I will only detain your Lordships for a moment or so on this matter. I hope very much, after what the Lord Chairman has said, that this Amendment will not be pressed. I merely rise for the purpose of saying one or two words about the speech of my noble friend Lord Newton. He began by comparing this case to the case of the Chorley Corporation Bill. The Lord Chairman has already dealt with that in one sentence, but there is a futher observation which, I think, might be made and it is this. When the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, brought forward his Amendment upon the Chorley Bill he explained to your Lordships that he was sorry the matter could not be raised in Committee owing to the illness of some official, or something of that sort. Therefore that case is not really analogous to this. As the Lord Chairman has pointed out, this Bill has not been challenged in Committee and it is really very difficult, I think, for your Lordships' House to take what really would be, in a sense, expert opinion upon this point.

The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that he could not see the smallest difference between Southend and any other place. There is, of course, an enormous difference between Southend and nearly every other place. As a matter of fact, Southend has increased in population during the last 25 years much more than any other place in the United Kingdom. It has increased from 28,000 to 117,000 and it lives almost entirely upon visitors. Obviously it is a special case which requires special consideration. With reference to the Public Health Act, there is one word that I wish to say and it is this. Subsequent to the passing of that Act, with the clause upon which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and his friends base their case, the Bexhill Corporation brought forward a Bill, and they argued out this matter. Though the cases are to some extent in the same category, I do not think they are quite the same. The Bexhill case went before a Committee of your Lordships' House and a Committee in another place on this point, and was won. I think therefore it is quite clear, at any rate, to put it no higher, that there is prima facie a strong case to go before a Committee. In the circumstances I hope the noble Lord will not press the matter, but will follow the procedure outlined by the Lord Chairman.


My Lords, I only want to point out one thing. As the noble Lord who has just sat down said, there is a difference between Chorley and Southend. The Chorley Bill was not opposed upstairs. This Bill has gone through Committee and through the ordinary course. As regards the Bexhill Bill, that Bill slipped through in an extraordinary way. I think it was passed before the Royal Assent was given to the Public Health Act. I dare say the noble Lord who sits on the left of Lord Arnold would perhaps be responsible for that difficult piece of Parliamentary manœuvring.


I do not know anything about it.


I am glad to welcome the disclaimer, but at all events it was an extraordinary incident. I do think that, as there is another opportunity in another place, as the Lord Chairman has pointed out, and the Bill is in a different category because Chorley was unopposed and this Bill is opposed, those who are interested in upholding variety entertainments and opposed to municipal trading would be well advised if they accepted the Lord Chairman's advice.


My Lords, may I add a word from the point of view of the Association of Municipal Corporations? We do feel that it is very desirable that a point of this kind should be thrashed out on its merits before a Committee. As my noble friend Lord Newton said, it is desirable that there should be some general principle laid down. So far as a principle has been laid down, the general inclination of Parliament is averse from powers of this kind being given to a Corporation, and it is unthinkable that any Committee should pass the proposal of the Southend Corporation unless a special case can clearly be made out. Surely it is desirable that a Committee should determine whether the Southend Corporation are right in their allegation of a special case rather than that we should decide it in a debate like this. I do not say one word about the merits of this proposal. I imagine that if they were before us I should be very likely to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newton, but I do urge that it is clearly desirable that a municipal corporation should have the chance given it of making out the special case which it alleges before a Select Committee.


My Lords, in view of what has been said by my noble friend the Lord Chairman, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.