HL Deb 07 October 1931 vol 82 cc296-300

Brought from the Commons, and read 1a.


My Lords, in rising to move that this Bill be now read a second time, perhaps I may very briefly explain the situation which has arisen in regard to it. No doubt your Lordships have read in the public Press a good deal in regard to the Sunday Observance Bill and the Sunday Performances Bill earlier in the year. The Bill now before your Lordships is quite a different Bill from that described in the public Press. That Bill was brought in by the late Government, by Mr. Clynes the then Home Secretary, and raised a question of principle. It was a non-Party Bill, and was put to a free vote in another place, and then it had a very difficult career in Committee. That Bill was brought in to deal with a very curious situation that perhaps I might briefly describe to your Lordships. Concerts began to be held in London somewhere about 1899, or even earlier, and nobody objected to that at all until one day in 1897, when the London County Council's attitude was challenged in the Courts, and the London County Council's licensing of these concerts was upheld in the Courts. Things remained quiescent until cinemas began to come into use, and eventually they began to hold entertainments on Sundays from 1916 onwards. In addition to London there are 96 other areas in which cinemas are open on Sundays. Stage plays and music hall entertainments have never been permitted on Sundays. In London the licensing authority is the Lord Chamberlain, and elsewhere the justices, but neither have agreed to stage plays being performed on Sundays.

That was the situation which we desire to retain by this Bill. What has hap- pened in the interval to make the Bill necessary is this. At the end of 1930 there was an action in the High Court under the Sunday Observance Act, 1780. In the course of the judgment it was decided by the Court that cinemas were illegal on Sundays, and doubt was even cast on Sunday concerts, and possibly on such harmless entertainments as the Zoological Gardens, debates and lectures, for which payment was demanded from those who came to attend them. Your Lordships will realise that the penalties are very material when I tell you that a common informer can obtain up to £200 for every Sunday on which there is a performance. Perhaps some of you may feel it is just as well if the common informer should be given those powers, and the local authorities be compelled to follow the law, but that is not the whole story, because undoubtedly, now that local authorities realise that they have no authority to control the character of performances, the cinemas are beginning to think about giving variety entertainments, which are a very different story from the ordinary picture performances.

The present Bill is merely a stop-gap measure. Its duration is limited to one year from the passing of the Act. It does not add to the number of performances which may be given on Sundays, because only those licensing authorities which have within a period of one year before the passing of this Bill allowed Sunday opening of places of entertainment may continue to do so. In those cases, and only in those cases, may the local authorities continue to license. Where entertainments have not been given on Sundays no power is given in this Bill to allow them to be held. In Clause 1, subsection (1), of the Bill there is a condition which I think your Lordships will approve, whatever your views may be with regard to these entertainments on Sundays, and that is that the licensing authorities can impose such conditions as they may think fit. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is very necessary that the licensing authorities should continue to exercise those powers.

As regards the entertainments which may be given there is a definition in subsection (2) of Clause 1, in which it is made quite clear that a cinematograph entertainment means merely the exhibition of pictures, with or without mechanical reproduction of sound, and that it does not include a variety entertainment of any sort or kind, and that a musical entertainment means "a concert or similar entertainment consisting of the performance of music, with or without singing or recitation." The matter was raised in another place when the Bill was discussed two days ago, but I think that House was satisfied with the explanation given by the Attorney-General that the definition was quite clear and adequate to meet the case.

I may perhaps say a word or two with regard to Clause 2. The effect is merely this. There are a certain number of actions pending, and the Home Secretary has the power to rescind any penalties which are imposed when somebody brings a case in respect of a cinematograph entertainment, but the Home Secretary has no power to remit the costs of the action. It is felt that where a case has been brought subsequent to the introduction of the big Bill earlier in the year, the common informer had full notice that Parliament intended to deal with the subject, and therefore it was felt that it was only right that the Home Secretary should have power to remit the costs of the action as well as the penalty. Where, however, a case was brought before the Bill was introduced on April 2 last, there costs shall be levied, subject, of course, to the decision of the Court or Judge, and in those cases it shall be the Court or Judge who shall decide.

There are a few words at the end of Clause 2 which perhaps require a little explanation. There is no licensing authority for such entertainments as those to which I referred earlier—namely, the Zoo, lectures and so forth. Therefore it might be that a common informer might bring an action against them, and the Bill introduces words which prevent such an action from being brought without the approval of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General. That would prevent proceedings from being taken in such harmless cases.

This Bill will not extend to Scotland, because the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, also did not apply to Scotland. As regards Northern Ireland, the Parliament there has sufficient power to take such action as may be considered necessary, and therefore it is not necessary for this Parliament to deal with the situation. Wales is brought into the Bill, although I believe it is the case that there is only one place in Wales where cinematograph performances are given, although, the Welsh being a very musical people, there are a large number of places where concerts are given, and those might have been attacked. The duration of this Bill is limited to one year from the passing thereof, and therefore I hope I have given an accurate description when I say that it is merely a stop-gap Bill, until Parliament has more opportunity for dealing with the larger question and considering it on its merits. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, It is not my intention to offer any opposition to the Bill. On the contrary, I wish to give it every possible support, on the understanding, of course, that it is an emergency measure to see us through the present time, until the whole situation can be explored and properly dealt with. On that understanding we give the Bill our hearty support. I was interested to hear the noble Earl suggest that lectures take the form of an entertainment. I have always been afraid, when I have been a lecturer, that they were in the form of an infliction. But I am glad to feel that they are not to be made the subject of a prosecution. A point I wanted to clear up was this. I really do not understand what is the position of a cinema that has been open for eleven months, or nine months, or six months before the passing of this Bill. Is it not rather hard to make it depend upon that arbitrary date? Why should not all cinemas that have been opened be immune from prosecution? In a rapidly changing industry, such as the cinema industry, I can conceive that during the last twelve months there have been quite a lot of cinemas opened on Sundays, and it seems rather a pity to make them liable to prosecution.


It is not a question of cinemas having been open for a year; it is a question of whether a local authority has taken powers to license such entertainments within their area during the year.


It refers to the area, and not to the cinema?


Yes. There may be hard cases even under that provision, but, of course, we have to make a line somewhere, and that always entails hard eases wherever the line is drawn, as the noble Lord knows.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.

House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment:

Bill read 3a, and passed.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.