HL Deb 15 March 1927 vol 66 cc454-78

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill to make further provision for the maintenance of the Royal Albert Hall, to provide for a rate on seats therein, and for other purposes. Your Lordships will doubtless remember the circumstances in which the Albert Hall was built. It was erected by private subscription, by a body known as the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences, and this body has a lease of 999 years granted by the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851 at a rent of one shilling per year. For every £100 subscribed for the building of the Hall the subscriber had a right to a seat in perpetuity without further payment. It was hoped that this scheme would be self-supporting and one cannot help acknowledging the very great services that the Committee of this Association have performed in the interests of art, and especially of music, in London.

Unfortunately, the income derived from letting was found to be insufficient to meet the necessary expenses and by an Act of Parliament in 1876 a majority of the members were allowed to impose a rate on every seat of £2 a year. That provision was cheerfully accepted. It was, however, again found that the revenue derived from letting was insufficient for maintenance and repair, and a supplementary Charter was granted in 1888 giving the Committee power to exclude members ten times in every year and to let the seats that belonged to them. A higher rate was generally received for those occasions. In addition, many voluntary surrenders of seats have since taken place. No fewer than twenty-one seat-holders surrendered their seats last year in addition to the ten surrendered under the Act of 1876. There are now 395 members holding 1,241 seats.

After the War the cost of maintenance increased. An Act of 1913 subjected the Hall to certain powers conferred on the London County Council as to means of escape in case of fire and the County Council have demanded some £16,000 from the proprietors towards the cost of making good the necessary alterations. I understand that a further capital expenditure of from £6,000 to £7,000 is necessary in order to put the Hall into a proper condition for public meetings. As your Lordships know, no profits can be divided: whatever surplus revenue comes from the use of the Hall must, under the Charter, be devoted to the furtherance of art or some object of that kind, and for the public benefit. The original subscribers have contributed £164,000 to the maintenance above the original subscription and the value of their seats is very much less than it was supposed to be when the subscription was taken up. Nevertheless, they are prepared, in the public interest, to make any further sacrifices that may be required. Your Lordships will see that Clause 3 provides for a further compulsory seat rate of £3 per annum for six years levied on every seat holder. This is intended to form a security for borrowing money for the purposes of the undertaking. There is also power afterwards to increase the seat rates from 22 to £3. Clause 16 allows theatrical, operatic and other performances, and there are various powers for facilitating the letting of seats.

One would have thought that a Bill of this kind would meet with no opposition, but I understand that the noble Duke opposite, the Duke of Atholl, is supporting a Petition that has been presented by a body called the Royal Choral Society. This is a body that is very well-known in London for the excellent concerts that it has given for many years, a body of which one cannot speak too highly. That society has had the use of the Albert Hall for many years, paying, of course, a certain rent, but a rent much less than is usually exacted from the promoters of concerts in the Hall. The society has had the use of the staff, the building, the ticket offices, and rooms for practice. I believe that they practice every week during the winter season without any charge at all. Having enjoyed all these privileges, none of which amounts to a legal right in any sense of the word, they are quite indignant at the idea of anything being done which might prevent their enjoying the same advantages in the future. I may say at once that the members of the Committee have not the slightest intention of diminishing in any way the advantages enjoyed by this excellent society, but they naturally regard them in the same light as anybody else who comes along and desires to use the Hall for any purpose whatever.

It appears, however, that on account of the special favour that we have accorded to this society they are going to oppose the Bill. I do not understand what other grounds they have. We cannot promise them particular nights, because the state of our finances will not allow us to do so. The object of the Bill is to overcome financial difficulties, and nothing else, but apparently its promoters, if the opposition succeeds, are to be made to suffer for their generosity in the past. These people, however, have no locus standi whatever and, so far as I know, under the Rules of Parliament they could not even be heard before a Private Bill Committee. They are not injuriously affected. They coveted another man's property. It only shows how these Socialistic ideas are permeating even the most exalted minds. You might as well say that people who exhibit pictures at the Royal Academy have a right to interfere with the administration of that institution. You might have those who promote prize fighting exhibitions, or the Salvation Army or anybody who has had the privilege of organising a show in that building coming and claiming the same rights as those who have the real and absolute rights in the property. I cannot think that that is a proposition which will find favour in your Lordships' House. It seems to me an absolute interference with private property and with a body of men who are trying to do their best for the public. For sheer audacity I never remember a proposition of a more extraordinary character, and without further words I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Aberconway.)


, who had given Notice to move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, we have all listened with great interest to what Lord Aberconway has said. First of all, may I assure the House that I have, not yet turned "Bolshie"—not even Socialistic—although I do expect, quite contrary to the views expressed, that we may secure this afternoon certain Socialistic votes, if there be any, on our side. Unfortunately, Lord Shaftesbury cannot be here to-day as he is at present indisposed; otherwise he would be in my place. I must say that I feel it is almost a national disgrace that the spirit of the Trust erected by the original promoters of the Albert Hall of Science and Art, which I notice that the noble Lord emphasised, should be broken and that the Albert Hall should be able to be let, without any safeguards whatsoever, for a period of twenty-one years to the highest bidder, without any conditions of any sort and used for the purpose or purposes of a variety theatre. That is what your Lordships are being asked to do this afternoon.

My immediate purpose in moving the rejection of the Bill is to take this, the only, opportunity of safeguarding the interests of music lovers in general in this country. I am not particularly interested in the possible fate of the Royal Choral Society. We have to consider a far wider public than the Royal Choral Society. There are the Royal College of Music, the Royal Amateur Orchestral Society, the Royal Choral Society and kindred associations. In the last four months we have seen three most magnificent meetings at the Albert Hall for community singing, and that is what I might call the democratic way which the musical public has of declaring itself. Anything of that sort would be threatened under this Bill. Then you have to look at the way they treated their own particular orchestra. Sir Landon Ronald's orchestra was kicked out neck and crop because it was only making a profit for them of £2,000. It was turned out at a moment's notice and someone else, I think an ordinary musical agent, was put in because he offered to give them a larger sum and to give a very different type or class of music.

I would explain that the Royal Albert Hall was built on a site owned by the Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 and with their financial aid. The Commissioners had for their object the promotion of artistic and scientific education by means of a fund derived from the Kensington Estate purchased from the surplus left over from the Great Exhibition. The Commissioners of the Exhibition, having finished their immediate work:, entrusted the management of the Albert Hall to a Provisional Committee, and when the Hall was completed and opened, handed over their Trust to the Council of the Hall; and it will no doubt be made clear, almost clearer than Lord Aberconway has made it, how the Council, known as the Corporation of Arts and Sciences, has carried out its work. The lease speaks of the Corporation building and maintaining a hall for the purpose of science and art, music, including performances on the organ, industrial exhibitions by the artisan classes and the general purposes of science and art. You cannot have it very much more clear that that. I might go on and give many quotations from the Charter which are similar and even stronger.

The Report of the Provisional Committee of the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, to which reference has been made, appointed by the promoters in April, 1867, and signed by His late Majesty, then Prince of Wales, is not without interest, because in Clause 13 the Commissioners especially commend to the care of the Corporation "A series of cheap concerts for the people"; "a society of amateurs of all classes for instrumental music"; and "a national training school for music." Then Clause 14 of the same Report tells us that the Committee have made arrangements for various other concerts, and that they have undertaken, on the part of the Corporation, that they shall have a series of eighteen concerts. They have established a Choral Society of 1,000 selected and well trained voices, and the Committee consider that it is likely to be of great and permanent value to the Hall. In this case you may not unreasonably, for "the Hall," read "the public." In the Appendix to the Report to which I have referred one finds considerable reference to musical performances and subscription concerts, and a prospectus for the formation of a choral society in connection with the Albert Hall, consisting of 1,600 voices carefully selected and tested, and various regulations that refer to the membership of the choral society.

The choral society, which is now the Royal Choral Society, has been carrying on uninterruptedly, with the exception of the period of the War, since 1872. It has its offices in the building, and since the War has annually held, I think, eight or ten concerts, as well as some thirty rehearsals. If nothing else did, I should have thought that that at least would have entitled it to some consideration, and possibly the law of prescription might come in. But I am not really basing my arguments on the law, but on the general idea of what, in the view of its promoters, the Albert Hall should be. I feel that there are many other places where the purposes to which it is now proposed to put it could be carried on equally well or badly. The National Training School for Music, now the Royal College of Music, found premises of its own, but is still linked up with the Royal Choral Society. Those musical societies have strictly kept their side of the bargain, and it is now proposed, so far as I can ascertain, to kick them out bag and baggage. The noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, dissents, but the reason why I say so is that they have absolutely refused up till now to put any single thing in writing. As a result the Royal Choral Society will disappear, or is in great danger of disappearing, and the last place for what I may call big music on popular lines, now that the Queen's Hall is going, will cease to exist. I believe that these people, when they protested very mildly, were told that they were like vipers in the bosom. I have an idea that what was really desired was that they should emulate the proverbial eel and like to be skinned.

On February 10, on looking into the proposals of this Bill, the Royal Choral Society wrote to Lord Howe, the President of the Council of the Royal Albert Hall, saying that they were advised by solicitors, in order to safeguard their position under provisions of the Bill, to oppose it, in an entirely friendly way. They asked if the Council would accept an amended clause which would safeguard their position. They did not want to have rights, but they wanted to be certain that they would not be turned out. The reply was received that Lord Howe was ill and was prevented from taking any part in the proceedings, but that the letter of the Royal Choral Society had been referred to Mr. Cochran, the manager, who would bring it to the notice of the Council. No reply at all was sent to the letter and the whole matter was dropped with the contempt that it did not, in my opinion, deserve. Presumably the reason was that the belief was held that the Royal Choral Society had really no legal standing—a matter possibly of ancient neglect; but it was founded by the Council and has been there through what I may term the good will of the Council, by reason of the good work it has done, and by its popularity. It is not only generally looked upon as an integral part of the Albert Hall, but it is enshrined in the minds of the people, and rightly so, as one of the main objects and chief delights of the Albert Hall. It is, of course, a moot point as to whether the Royal Choral Society, owing to fifty years of good work, faithfully done, with the direct encouragement of the Council, has not acquired some form of prescriptive right.

In all the original Charters or official instructions that have been issued since the Albert Hall was started it has been expressly stated that it was intended for the promotion of science and art, and more particularly that the Hall could only be let for a limited period; it has been expressly stated also that the Albert Hall shall not be used for theatrical entertainments and the like. I could give quotations from the various Charters, but these are facts, and I have no doubt they will not be disputed. The Committee, however, now come to Parliament and ask for leave to let the Albert Hall for twenty-one years and to permit theatrical entertainments to be carried on. The Albert Hall, presumably, is to be let to what I may call a second sub-tenant at a high price, and whoever that sub-tenant may be, owing to high rent he will only be able to make both ends meet and pay his rent if he indulges in a competition of vulgarity with the various so-called entertainments which are found so much more suitably housed in other parts of the Metropolis. Anyhow, such entertainments are certainly not the objects for which the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held and the Albert Hall erected in 1871, and I shall be interested to see what people who are specially interested in the moral welfare of the country have to say on the subject once they realise what is about to be done.

One idea, I understand, is to turn the Albert Hall into a vast arena for a circus next winter. Whether this be true or not, there is no doubt that the entire character of the Hall is to be changed, not for the good of the Hall, and not for the good of the people. It seems fairly obvious also that this is to happen in view of the fact that the manager—and I sincerely hope that it will not be thought that I am attacking him personally—has been chosen, not so much because he was a financial genius or a great business manager in the way of controlling a great hall, but rather because he was a great organiser and entrepreneur of variety entertainments, many items of which on more than one occasion have had some difficulty in passing the censor. This surely shows, when he was appointed manager, what was the general line in view for the future of the Albert Hall.

I am still not persuaded that the financial position of the Albert. Hall is really as bad as has been represented. If it is at all financially unsound it might require what is technically known in these days as reconstruction. But anything would be better than putting it to purposes very much more base than those for which it was intended and doing away with the best chances that people will get hereafter of hearing good music in London. I have reason to believe that since the change of management there have been entertainments of a much more questionable character than those which formerly took place there. I am told that the Charleston Ball held on Boxing Day was not altogether of an edifying nature. I have the ticket here, and it does not suggest the purpose, the promotion of science and art, which was in the minds of the founders of the Hall. The ticket runs as follows:— Boxing Day. Charleston Ball. Competitions and Cabarets. Another Cochran Show. 12 Hours' Dancing and a Great Show for 5s. 2 p.m. 2 a.m. Royal Albert Hall. That itself speaks for the class of entertainment given there.


All these entertainments are given, and legally given, under the existing powers of the Charter.


I go a great deal further. I object to a good many of the uses to which the Albert Hall has been put. If this is what they do now, what would they do later? Great play is made of the fact that the main object of the Bill is financial and your Lordships are asked to help the Hall to make itself self-supporting. The immediate cause of the trouble is that the London County Council has asked that the Hall should be brought up-to-date structurally. A statement was circulated to your Lordships to-day stating that this is to cost £16,000. That is an extraordinary statement. We are told a great many things in it, but are not told a great deal about other things. As a matter of fact, it is not stated that, of the £16,000 which is required £7,800 has already been paid. I think, therefore, that it is misleading to send that statement round when only £8,200 has to be budgeted for; I maintain that that sum can very easily be got out of the increased money to be obtained from the seat-holders without having to let the Hall for purposes for which it was never intended and without having to kick out the musical side of the programme. Nor does the statement say that part of this £16,000 that is required is the balance of a debt due upon the organ, which amounts to something like £5,000. I do not see what the organ has to do with the London County Council. The whole statement is misleading. If you deduct what is still due on the organ the real balance required for the London County Council would appear to be in the neighbourhood of £3,000.

I do not want to delay your Lordships longer, but it seems perfectly obvious that if the price of the seats is increased, as proposed, the increased rent will very easily cover the expenses about which the noble Lord made such a song just now. I will also remind your Lordships that paragraph 6 of the original Charter states that no dividend shall be payable to any member of the Corporation, but shall be applied in carrying into effect the purpose of the Corporation, which is the promotion of science and art. I consider that the Bill proposed by this Corporation goes much too far and should only go to the extent of what is necessary to enable the fabric to be preserved and used for science and art The Bill includes power to let for twenty one years and makes the purpose in view to be "anything that the Council thinks is for the benefit of the members," which would render the Charter any longer meaningless as regards the original object. It is not going to be carried out for ideals or objects any more, but for the benefit of the members and nothing else. That is how I read the statement that I received this morning.

I want to point out to your Lordships that the Royal Choral Society have done everything they could to come to some reasonable agreement. They have in the past been entitled to some eighteen concerts and twenty-six rehearsals. A great point was made of the expenses of these rehearsals, which was given as one of the reasons for removing them. If that reason were valid I think I should probably be supporting Lord Aberconway, but as a matter of fact that is far from being the case. I myself met the advisers of the promoters of this Bill and was asked to withdraw my opposition and the Royal Choral Society were also asked to withdraw their Petition, it being alleged that this Bill in no way interfered with the present arrangements that the Royal Choral Society enjoy. We were told, in effect: "This Bill is not going to interfere with you in the least, so you really can withdraw your Petition. All you have to do is to let the Bill go through and go to the Council at its next meeting and you will find that the great majority of the Council will be in your favour and continue your concerts and rehearsals." I very naturally replied that I fully appreciated their points and that the Royal Choral Society intended to be reasonable, but I pointed out that the Council probably would not meet for some months and that in the meantime there was nothing to prevent the Hall being permanently let to a third party. Would they, therefore, undertake if the Hall were let, that it would be subject to permission to the Royal Choral Society to hold a certain number of concerts? That was a very reasonable request considering that they had been there for fifty years. But that request was absolutely refused.

I also suggested that as the Council was apparently so strongly in favour of the continuance of these concerts there could be no reason why they should not give me some undertaking in writing in favour of the Choral Society. I said that we were quite reasonable and we were prepared to cut down the number of concerts from eighteen, which were allowed under the Charter, to eight, and do away with all the rehearsals. Where is the noble Lord's grievance? He cannot even promise eight concerts. We offered to do the rehearsals else-where, yet a great deal is made in this statement about the rehearsals and concerts. That gives only one side of the story. With regard to the expense to the boxholders I pointed out that if they agreed and we withdrew the Petition for this year, at least the expense to the boxholders would probably be considerably less than opposition to the Bill, especially when you consider the concession in regard to the concerts and rehearsals to which I have just referred. I had the greatest hopes that this offer would be accepted. I went to Scotland that night and that shows my faith in the matter. They then asked me, somewhat ingenuously, again to withdraw my opposition and the Royal Choral Society their Petition. I said: "Certainly, this moment, if you will give me in writing what you now profess to undertake." But this was refused.

How fortunate it is that I did not do so is borne out, by the fact that the Royal Choral Society's legal advisers received the following letter from the Albert Hall Committee:— The Corporation has every intention to give to the Royal Choral Society preferential treatment so that the society may have in the Hall, say, from four to eight concerts in the winter session to be mutually arranged, but it must be understood that the proper financial working of the Hall cannot be jeopardised and this must not be taken to be anything in the nature of a binding agreement. This, of course, is not worth the paper it is written on. The noble Lord said that it was impossible to fix any dates beforehand. But dates have always been fixed beforehand. How does the noble Lord expect that any society can arrange a great concert to be taken part in by six or eight hundred voices and to have rehearsals and arrange for the people to come from all over England without being able to settle beforehand the date on which the concert is to be given? It is absurd to think that it could be done. Whatever happens the date must be fixed a reasonable time in advance. We again tried to persuade them to make certain modifications and I think probably, if left alone by the legal advisers, I could have come to some reasonable conclusion, but the matter was referred to Mr. Cochran, who is supreme. If this measure goes through in its present form, I will not say that the fate of the Royal Choral Society is sealed, but its position will be a very dangerous one.

I would like to say one word more. The Bill gives power to let for twenty-one years and makes the purposes anything that the Council think is for the benefit of the members. This would make the Charter no longer mean anything as regards objects. The amount of consideration which those for whose benefit the Charter was granted may expect to receive is shown by the fact that the promoters say openly they will object to the Choral Society even being heard by the House of Lords Committee. They say that they have got no legal standing, no locus standi, and for that reason when the Bill goes to Committee they are going to move that they be not heard. That means that the merits of the Bill will not be discussed and that all discussion as regards music will be completely stifled. One would at least have thought that they would have left it to your Lordships to decide whether you would wish to hear both sides of the question or not. It is quite open to the Corporation to go to the Privy Council to get their Charter extended, but they did not dare to do it because, if they did, anybody interested in the Albert Hall would have had a right to be heard; and they hope that, here they will not have the right to be heard.

I mention all these matters to show that I could have a very good cause for opposing the Bill in its entirety, but even at the last moment, if I receive assurances that guarantees will be given that the reasonable interests of the Royal Choral Society and other musical societies at present interested in the Albert Hall will be reasonably safeguarded, and if I am also given the assurance that Petitioners may be heard in Committee, then I am prepared not to oppose the Bill to-day. Otherwise I much regret I shall have to press my Amendment that it be read a second time this day six months as I now do.


My Lords, the speeches that we have just heard have, quite naturally and I have no doubt properly, been almost entirely confined to the aspects of this case as it affects the Royal Choral Society. They are apparently the only Petitioners against the Bill and it is therefore natural and proper that their claim should be the chief subject of discussion. But I would venture to ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, who is going to explain the position, whether there is not, behind the particular quarrel between the Royal Choral Society and the noble Lord opposite, a larger public question involved, and whether that larger public question could or could not be properly dealt with by the Private Bill procedure of your Lordships' House.

As I understand the matter—I am not talking of it from the strictly legal point of view but from a somewhat larger point of view—the Albert Hall was built partly out of public money and at all events on lands which were bought out of the money belonging to the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851. The use to which that great block of land, including the Albert Hall and running down southwards, has been put is really on the whole—in spite of all the criticisms that have been made of it from an architectural or from any other point of view—a very great public benefit and it is, so far as I know, unique in this country. I am not aware, in fact, that there is anything quite parallel to it in any other country. It includes the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Imperial College, and many other buildings devoted to the higher works of art and science, forming together a group of edifices unparalleled in any other part of this kingdom and perhaps in any other kingdom. Of that group of buildings one of the most important is the Albert Hall—one of the most important in point of bulk and one of the most important as regards the uses to which it has been put.

Is it not a very serious thing that we should divert from its original purposes this particular building? I am aware that there may be financial reasons. I do not doubt that there are financial reasons which make some change necessary. I do not go into that and I am not qualified to do so. But in my long experience of London and of places in London where great choral performances could be adequately held, I have seen, I am sorry to say, a diminution rather than an extension of the opportunities at present available to musicians. When I was young and also when I was middle aged, there were great choral performances at St. James's Hall and at the then Exeter Hall. Both of those have vanished. Of the Queen's Hall, which is still with us, I hear rather depressing rumours. I am not aware that there is in existence in London any other great hall, in which choral performances can be adequately held. I do not think that, excellent as it is as a place for musical performances, the Central Hall at Westminster, within a stone's throw of this House, is quite of the size of the halls of which I have been speaking, and of course it is far inferior in point of accommodation to anything that can be given in the Albert Hall.

I frankly admit that I cannot without great misgivings, in regard to a building, which is of a semi-public kind, in a Metropolis where we are all too poor at present in accommodation for musical entertainments and musical performances of this kind, see an alteration of its status, which I do not fully understand, but which—if the noble Duke who has just sat down has not been obsessed by very unnecessary misgivings—may entirely or largely deprive us of the Albert Hall as a place for great musical performances and may, on the other hand, make it a theatre of operations for entertainments which, however excellent, can find a resting place or an opportunity of exhibition in many places in this Metropolis. I do not think we are under-theatred. I am not qualified to speak, but I do not think so. Whether we are or not, we are certainly under-supplied with the kind of accommodation which the Albert Hall was built originally to satisfy. That being so, I rather hope that, either at this stage or at some later stage in your Lordships' House, or in another place, an opportunity will be found for considering the wider aspects of this subject, removing it from a controversy between the promoters of the Bill and the defenders of this Choral Society and looking at it as a part of the intellectual inheritance of the Metropolis. I have to admit that, if the result of this Bill—on which I do not dogmatise—is what I fear and what the noble Duke fears, I think the Hall's conversion by law from its present uses will be a step down in the civilisation of London.


My Lords, with the whole of the speech which the noble Earl has just delivered I entirely agree. I think, if there was the danger before us which the speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, has evidently instilled into the mind of the noble Earl, we should be in danger by reading this Bill a second time of injuring the artistic and musical future of the Metropolis. When I heard the speech of my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, I asked myself whether he had read the Bill, because seven-eighths of what he said had nothing whatever to do with the Bill, which is almost purely a financial Bill. Let me take your Lordships very briefly through the marginal notes of the Bill. The first clause is the short title. The second clause is the ordinary interpretation clause. Clause 3 deals with the seat rates, which are now £2—many of your Lordship; have to pay that, as I do—and are to be increased to £3 for the next six years. That clause also deals with the machinery by which they are to be collected. Clause 4 gives power to recover by action if the seat rates have not been paid. That in no way affects the musical future of London. Clause 5 sets up a new fund into which the seat rates will be paid, and Clause 6 deals with the same point—a new fund that is to be called the Endowment Fund. The marginal note to Clause 7 reads: "As to moneys paid to Special Maintenance Account" and the existing account is merely qualified by this. Clause 8 applies certain sections of the Act of 1876.

I am in no way connected with the Albert Hall at present, but it is fair that I should tell your Lordships that I was at one time a member of the Council, and I remember that one of our difficulties was that if we had to borrow we were not able to offer legal security. Clause 9 puts that right. Clause 10 deals with the form of mortgage and Clause 11 with protection of lenders from inquiry. That appears, of course, in every Corporation Bill. Clause 12 says that the corporation is not to regard trusts. That is a common form of clause. Clause 13 deals with the appointment of receiver and Clause 14 with transfers of mortgages. The fifteenth clause is a clause dealing with a fund for the repayment of borrowed moneys. The sixteenth clause is an amendment of the Supplemental Charter, a power which is required because it is important to lay it down that entertainments may be given in costume. I may say that the promoters have undertaken to introduce an Amendment to bring that matter under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain.


May I ask the noble Earl to read that clause? It is a short one.


The clause reads thus:— Notwithstanding anything in the Charter or in Article 9 of the Supplemental Charter the Hall may be appropriated to the purposes of and used for theatrical entertainments operatic performances and such other purposes as the Council may consider to be for the benefit of the members. I think that is not a new power, but there has been doubt about it.


I do not want to interrupt, except in case of necessity, but what costume is to be worn? Some people might be wearing none; I do not know.


I should be prepared to argue that with the noble Duke at the Garrick Club. I think the argument would be more appropriate there than here. Clause 17 deals with a very small point, with the occupation in certain circumstances of the amphitheatre stalls. Clause 18 is a clause to which the noble Lord has referred in which there is a variation of the old provision in the Charter. The nineteenth clause deals with the future letting of the Hall. The authorities of the Hall say that they have always had that power. Their legal advisers have always advised them that they had the power, but their members have not always thought that they had. That is the whole of the Bill. Your Lordships will therefore see that a number of the things which the noble Duke fears and criticises are within the powers of the authorities of the Hall at this moment.


Does the noble Earl know anything about a ball recently held there?


The noble Duke forces from me the embarrassing confession that I did attend. It was not a ball in the common sense of the word. It was a competition in a particular dance—and a very ugly dance, I think—open to the whole British Isles. I think it was not unedifying, although, in my judgment, ugly. Really the vast majority of these complaints do not come within the ambit of this Bill. It is a quarrel as between the Royal Choral Society and the Royal Albert Hall and does not come within the ambit of the Bill. My noble friend has spoken of the Royal Choral Society giving up the right to rehearsals. They have never had that right. They have been given the privilege of rehearsals on a number of occasions, but that does not confer any right. I can meet the noble Duke to this extent, that although I do not believe the Royal Choral Society has any right in the Royal Albert Hall, I think it would be a calamity if the society disappeared from the Hall. The noble Duke referred to my noble friend Earl Howe, with whom, in the cause of his absence, we all sympathise. He referred to Earl Howe as Chairman of the Royal Albert Hall, but he is also a member of the Council of the Royal Choral Society.


But he never attends its meetings.


That is a matter of which I have no knowledge. Really this is not much more than a storm in a teacup. I say quite frankly that if the Royal Albert Hall excluded the Royal Choral Society from the Hall it would be a calamity from the point of view of London music. But it is not necessary to reject this Bill to secure the noble Duke's object. This is a Bill which is the result of months of financial anxiety and hard work. Surely a small point like that can be settled. I cannot believe that it will be impossible to secure a settlement before the Third Reading.


My Lords, I only wish to say a word or two on this Bill. I think the real point is this. The only real chance of the Royal Choral Society getting what it desires is that this Bill should pass. If it does not pass there is danger of the Royal Albert Hall disappearing altogether. It is obviously in great financial difficulties. It has been called on by the London County Council to raise £16,000 for purposes necessary in the public interest. How is it going to raise that money? As the position now stands I would not advise any one—and I have had some experience of these things—to lend one penny on the present security.

The object of the Bill is to put the Corporation in the position of an ordinary owner of property and enable it to offer security. If that is so, all the rest is matter for investigation in Committee. There may be a great deal in the points of which the noble Earl has spoken. I do not go into them—they are not points which concern me at the moment—but they are points which would properly come before a Committee and undertakings have been indicated to-day which will assist when that inquiry takes place. For the present our proper course—the course which is always taken, except in the rarest cases—is to read the Bill a second time and send it to a Select Committee where it can be investigated.


My Lords, there has been a certain amount of discussion as to what are the real objects of this Bill and I am not surprised because, as not infrequently happens, the persons chiefly concerned are absent from the debate. The two persons chiefly concerned, the persons who know all about the rights and wrongs of the matter, are Earl Howe and the Earl of Shaftesbury, who represents the musical interest. It is unfortunate that neither of them is able to be present this afternoon, and what is still more unfortunate is the fact, now disclosed to the public, that there appears to be no future for serious music in this country.

The facts with regard to this question seem to be fairly clear. Everybody knows that the Albert Hall has been in a bad way for a long time, and the climax seems to have come when the London County Council came down upon them for a good many thousand pounds. It is disputed whether the amount is £16,000 or £8,000, but at any rate it is a substantial sum. In their extremity and distress they looked about for someone to rescue them from their position, and their choice has fallen upon a certain Mr. Cochran. Mr. Cochran—for the benefit of noble Lords who have never heard of him before—is, if I may so describe him, a sort of British Barnum; he is a sort of idol of the sensational Press and, I should think, a man after Lord Beaverbrook's own heart. I suppose he would describe himself as "one of the world's great showmen" or, perhaps, "the greatest showman on earth." He is ready to organise and to exhibit anything. He would be ready, I should think, at the shortest notice to organise anything from a Pan-Anglican Synod to a nigger minstrel entertainment, and the last thing that this gentleman would have any use for would be, to use his own expression, "highbrow" music. I can well imagine that an oratorio, for instance, would fill him with the most profound feeling of contempt.

What this gentleman will do when he gets control of the building is perfectly obvious. He will probably, in the first place, to use his own language, "stage" a gigantic prize fight, one of those competitions in which a man earns a great many times the amount of a Cabinet Minister's salary for being knocked out in the space of a minute or two. He might, as an alternative, turn the place into a circus, and then, if the circus is successful, what chance is the Choral Society or anybody else going to have of practising their art? If the circus is a failure he will have a third alternative; he may turn the place into a dancing hall. At any rate there seems to be no probability that the hall will be used for the purpose for which it was originally intended. As has been remarked over and over again in the course of the debate, this place was founded in order to advance science and art. I cannot help thinking that under this prospective management art will take a very modest place. I should say that, upon the whole, the art of self-defence is the only one that will have any prominence. The re-salt will be that the original purposes of this building will disappear altogether, and the Royal Choral Society will be deprived of the place that they have been allowed to use for many years and will probably have to take refuge in community singing or something of the kind. They are evidently going to be crowded out altogether, and I confess that I feel considerable sympathy, not only with my noble friend, but also with these unfortunate "highbrow" musicians who are to be driven out of this place and who will have no future.

But at the same time, although my noble friend seems to have a good case, I am not sure that he is well advised in moving the rejection of this Bill. I think that the issues involved in the Bill are rather more important than they were represented to be by my noble friend Lord Donoughmore, and it seems to me that they are almost too important to be decided by a casual Committee of this House. What I would suggest to my noble friend is—unless he feels sure that he can win on a Division—that he should not press his Motion for the rejection of the Bill, on the understanding that the musical interest is allowed to be heard during the proceedings. So far as I can understand, the Royal Choral Society, who are the real opponents of this Bill, do not appear to have a technical locus standi, but it ought not to be beyond the power of my noble friend Lord Donoughmore and the officers of this House to ensure, somehow or other, that these people should obtain a hearing. I cannot help thinking that, if something of the sort could be done and if the Second Reading were agreed to only on an undertaking that a locus standi is given to these people, it is highly probable that an agreement would be arrived at between the contending parties and that everybody would be satisfied.


My Lords, I should like to say one word as regards the method of procedure suggested by the noble Lord opposite. I entirely agree with what he has said. I have had much experience, as has my noble friend Lord Aberconway, of Private Bill procedure on questions of this kind, and I agree that, if this Bill were merely read a second time in its present form, the Choral Society would have no locus standi, nor would the larger question that has been raised by the noble Earl opposite come in any way before the Select Committee. It is quite possible, however—I have seen eases where it has been done, both in the old days and recently—that although a technical locus standi does not exist, yet, when the promoters come and ask for statutory rights—and this is the real point, for they cannot do what they want without statutory rights—they can be put in a position of being forced to allow opposing interests, which really ought to be heard on the substance of the matter, to come before the Committee, although technically, according to the rules of our procedure, they would have no right to be heard at all. They would have no such right in the present case, but only if their property were actually being taken away. There is no suggestion that they have any property in that sense. I hope that the Second Reading may be allowed to proceed on condition that permission is given to the persons who otherwise could not be heard to put their case, and that the other interests to which the noble Lord has referred will also have a chance of being heard on the Committee stage, after the Second Beading has been allowed.


My Lords, I venture with great diffidence to suggest that your Lordships should go a little further than is proposed by the two noble Lords who have jug addressed you. If this Bill is read a second time, I should wish to move that it be referred to a Select Committee of the public order. There is no doubt, as the noble and learned Lord has just said, that under the rules of procedure musical societies and other persons who, in a sense, represent the public in this matter would not have a locus standi, and, even if special permission were given and exception made, I do not think that this would entirely meet the necessities of the case. After all, the Albert Hall is a definite part of the Victoria tradition, no matter how much artistic criticism may have been directed against it. It cannot be treated as if it were private property of the ordinary kind. The purposes of its origin were originally public purposes, as the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, has said, the funds were provided by a public body and they were got together by subscriptions that were obtained on public grounds.

Accordingly I venture to think that it would be a great mistake to act as if we had no public responsibility in this matter. We cannot deceive ourselves. It is intended to make a great change in the use of the Hall for the purpose of public entertainment. In spite of what the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, has said, it would become a music hall of the ordinary kind, in which there would be theatrical performances that might be more or less good and decent but that would not be of the character to which the Hall has been accustomed, and undoubtedly would not partake of the nature of the original foundation. Supposing you refer this Bill to a Select Committee, there would be no question of locus standi, for any of the bodies who wish to appear before it. Evidence could be given from the public point of view, and one hopes that there might be even some recommendation made that the greatest local authority in the country, the London County Council, might do well to treat it as a place of public education as well as of public entertainment. I therefore should like to vary the Motion which would be made after the Bill had been read a second time, so as definitely to secure public interests in this matter. I believe they do exist, and I am quite certain that if this is only treated in the ordinary way as a matter of Private Bill legislation, those interests cannot be considered.


My Lords, I should like to intervene for a moment, because I have been interested in the Albert Hall for some time owing to my association with the British Broadcasting Corporation, which has had to consider where music could best be broadcast from various halls and institutions in this country. I am very anxious that this Bill should be given a Second Reading without being sent to a Select Committee; because I am practically authorised by the promoters to say on their behalf, that they will take no exception whatever to musical societies, and especially the Choral Society, being heard. In those circumstances I think that the noble Duke, after what he has said, should not further press his opposition to the measure. The whole principle of the Bill is of a financial character, and it is necessary really that the funds of those who are responsible for the Albert Hall should be made adequate to meet the expenses which they are bound to incur in these days.


My Lords, I cannot but think that unless the promoters undertake to withdraw Clause 19, our proper course is to reject this Bill on Second Reading. Clause 19 is the mischief. I know that the noble Chairman says that the authorities of the Hall believe that they have the right. Then they do not want the clause. It is because there is a doubt that they want the clause. Do not let your Lordships give it them. After all, this is not private property. If it were, they would not be coming here for an Act of Parliament. No doubt the Hall has been raised from private contributions and private funds, and those private people have great rights, but the Hall has been raised upon public ground, on valuable public soil, let at a nominal figure, and under the terms of a Royal Charter or Charters, and I do not think that we ought to allow this body, if they have not the power already, to have the power of letting this Hall for twenty-one years, away from any control, and apparently without any provision as to how it is to be controlled. For my own part I think several exhibitions have taken place in the Albert Hall which never should have taken place, and I fear that many more are likely to occur. So far as the County Council wishes to ensure against its being destroyed by fire, I can imagine worse evils than its being burnt down.


My Lords, I am perfectly willing to withdraw my Amendment if I can have an undertaking. I only want to safeguard the interests of music. At the present moment, if I give way entirely, then the interests of music cannot be heard before the ordinary Committee, and I should certainly prefer not to withdraw unless I have an undertaking.


My Lords, I hope that the proposal for a Select Committee, as opposed to the Committee upstairs, will not be pressed for consideration. Really it will be doing the same thing at five or six times the expense. I desire to support what Lord Gainford has said. The promoters have indicated to us that they would not object to the Royal Choral Society being heard before the Committee to which the Bill is referred. I hope that will satisfy the noble Duke, it being always remembered that he reserves all his rights on the Third Reading.


My Lords, I have always great reluctance to intervene in these Private Bill discussions, because I think they ought to be decided without any reference to the ordinary Party divisions of this House, or to the organisations whit exist for conducting those Parties. We are always sitting, I think, in respect of these Bills, in a special judicial capacity, in which we ought to decide without reference to Party connection, and on what we believe to be the merits of the case. I do not think, however, that any one could have listened to this debate without realising the great interest which has been aroused in the Bill in certain circles which deserve from this House the highest attention and the greatest regard for their feelings. We do not want to see the Albert Hall degraded in any sense. I believe that there is profound feeling, and I suspect that it is entertained by a vast majority of the House. I am therefore very anxious indeed, if we agree to Second Reading—I personally wish it should be agreed—that the status of the Hall should be absolutely safeguarded.

I ask myself what tribunal would be most likely absolutely to safeguard the status of the Albert Hall, of course paling duo respect to the financial difficulties which exist. I am very much afraid that a Private Bill Committee ordinarily, without any action of the House, cannot be thoroughly relied upon for that purpose. I have been debating in my own mind whether the better course would be to have an instruction moved to make it certain that these musical interests should be heard, or whether it would be better to go a step further and send the Bill to a Select Committee. There is no doubt that if you could be certain you would enumerate the proper interests in the form of the instruction, that might be sufficient, but I am a little doubtful. I have not the technical equipment to mention straight off the interests which ought to be heard, and which ought to be included in the form of the instruction. If that be true, the better course would be to send the Bill to an ordinary Select Committee of the House. Then we should be quite certain that all the necessary interests would be heard.

Speaking for myself, and not in any sense as the Leader of a political Party, I certainly would not be satisfied if the Second Reading went through quite by itself. I think there must be some further step taken, either in the form of an instruction or by reference to a Select Committee. I do not desire to be dogmatic on either of those courses. I think on the whole, with some acquaintance with your Lordships' House, that the Select Committee would be the more complete of the two, and would be more satisfactory to public opinion. After all, you have to satisfy public opinion outside. That is very important in a matter of this kind, and I think the Select Committee would probably satisfy it better ban anything else.


I am quite prepared to agree to a Select Committee. The Bill would, of course, have to go afterwards through the procedure in another place, but if it passed the Select Committee of this House it would help enormously. I do not want to "down" the Albert Hall at all, but I also do not want the musical interest to be "downed."


I think your Lordships might pass the Second Reading. An Order has already been made by the House provisionally referring this Bill to a Select Committee. I will, of course, see that that Order is delayed in order to give my noble friend an opportunity at the time he selects to give notice to raise a debate.

On Question, Bill read 2a.