§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL rose to call attention to the provision of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, which discriminates against Sunday opening of cinemas; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for initiating a debate at this late hour, but I will try to be brief. Your Lordships have recently discussed the Cinematograph Films Bill, and it was only yesterday that your Lordships gave the Bill a Third Reading. That Bill in no way touches on the point which is the subject of my Motion. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on the Second Reading of the Bill in December of last year, made some pertinent observations on the unfairness of what is known as the "Sunday charity contribution," and asked that this matter should receive the serious attention of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in winding up (he was in what I call one of his "racy" moods that afternoon), never dealt with the subject at all, as he was quite entitled to do. I thought it only fair to the exhibitors that I should put down this Motion in an attempt to find out exactly how Her Majesty's Government stand on this matter. One result of my putting down this Motion has been that it has led me into unexpected company. Two Bishops have spoken to me, and the Lord's Day Observance Society have written me a letter. I think it is true to say that the bulk of the general public in this country are quite unaware of the existence of the Sunday charity contribution, so it is almost impossible to guess what public opinion is on this matter.
§ Before dealing with the situation as it exists to-day, I think it would be helpful if I said a few words about the events leading up to the passing of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932. Prior to then, under the provisions of the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, it was an offence for any premises to which the public paid for admission to be used for public entertainment or amusement on Sundays. But licensing authorities—those authorities which license cinemas which are open during the week—did, occasionally, give informal permission for Sunday opening 1129 for concerts, et cetera. But this permission was subject to several conditions; for instance, no make-up was allowed; no dancing; and the bulk of the proceeds had to go to charity—which in those days usually meant the voluntary hospitals. This method of Sunday opening was not satisfactory, and it left the proprietors of the cinema or concert hall open to action by common informers under the Sunday Observance Act. So, in 1932, the position of Sunday opening of cinemas was regularised by the passing of the Sunday Entertainments Act. This Act operates a kind of local option. Where the majority of the electorate express the wish for Sunday opening, it is allowed, subject to the provisions of the Act, the most important of which is to ensure that those who work on Sundays should have a day off during the previous week.
§ There is also the clause under which the local licensing authority is called upon to require payment to charities of such sums as it thinks fit, not exceeding the amount it: estimates as the amount of Sunday opening profits. This is what is known as the Sunday charity contribution, or the Sunday cinema levy. I should add that the first 5 per cent. of the Sunday opening profits have to be paid to the Cinematograph Fund, which is a Government-sponsored body, and the money is used to subsidise the British Films Institute. At the present time, the total amount collected by licensing authorities from cinema exhibitors in respect of the Sunday charity contribution exceeds £400,000 a year. And this is on top of the entertainments tax and represents an additional burden on the exhibitors.
But it is not so much the money as the principle to which the exhibitors object. Admittedly there is a demand for Sunday opening, because 2½ million people go to the films every Sunday. Why, then, should the exhibitors have to pay this special tax which no other form of Sunday trading has to bear? Sunday television and Sunday newspapers are not discriminated against in this manner. On the aspect of television, it was only this morning that I received a letter from which, with your Lordships' permission, will quote, because I think it makes my point very well. It says:
But I.T.V. is a purely profit-making concern; only difference between films shown in a cinema on Sunday and films televised on
Sunday is that the cinema is obliged to pay both entertainments tax and a contribution to charity.
As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked, in the speech to which I have previously referred, "Does this payment represent conscience money?" He went on to say that the tax was not paid by the "sinners ", the people who go to the cinema on Sunday, but by the owners of the cinemas—because I would remind your Lordships that the admission price on Sundays is exactly the same as that during the week. The Lord's Day Observance Society, in their letter to the Home Secretary in March, 1956 (I know they will not mind my quoting it, because they sent me a copy), said:
No Christian or body of Christians would regard the Sunday opening of cinemas as less subversive of the sanctity of the Christian Sunday because money is paid to charities therefrom.
So much for the moral issue.
§ Then there is the question of the unsatisfactory method of collecting and allocating this Sunday charity contribution. I know that my noble friend Lord Westwood, who has spent most of his working life in the cinema industry, is going to tell us something about this aspect. All I would say is that there is no uniformity of practice in the method of computing the amount of the contribution. To give a fictitious example, in Brighton it might be 5 per cent. of the profits, and in Newcastle it might be 50 per cent. Equally haphazard is the method by which the money, once collected, is distributed. Before the nationalisation of the voluntary hospitals they were the chief beneficiaries, but now, of course, the hospitals do not depend on charity. I know that the word "charity" has a wide meaning, but can it really be argued that contributions to such organisations as the Family Planning Association, the Marriage Guidance Council, the Citizens' Advice Bureau, and a Hard-of Hearing Group, were really contemplated as recipient of this charity under the 1932 Act? Sometimes, the licensing authorities cannot even make up their minds as to how to allocate the money, and I am told that they "sit on" it for many years. Also, in tome areas, the exhibitors never know what eventually happens to the contribution that has been taken from them.
Since 1932, for better or for worse, there has been a great change in public
habits. There was no television in those days. The number of cinemas opening on Sunday was comparatively small, and mostly confined to the big towns. Now, aproximately two out of three cinemas open every Sunday: it is an accepted part of the national life. Surely the time has come when the section of the 1932 Act under which the levy is imposed should be abolished. Foreigners have often called us a nation of hypocrites, and we deserve this description if we allow this type of law to continue to operate. Your Lordships are familiar with the quotation from Macaulay.
The Puritans hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
Sunday cinemas certainly give little pain, but they can give pleasure; and to-day they are paying a special, unique tax for the privilege. I know that there is little Parliamentary time available this Session, but I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, when he conies to reply, will give me some encouragement and say that Her Majesty's Government realise that this Sunday charity contribution is unfair, out of date and should be discontinued. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, I intervene in this debate only for the reason that during the passage of the Cinematograph Films Bill through your Lordships' House I raised this matter of the Sunday entertainment levy upon the cinemas of this country. I asked the Government to accept an Amendment dealing with the manner in which this Sunday entertainment levy should be treated before the statutory levy was deducted from the profits of cinemas. I will read to your Lordships the Amendment that I put down [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 201 (No. 27), col. 383]:An exhibitor shall be entitled to deduct from his box office takings an amount equal to any levy payment made by him under this part of this Act in respect of any performance given on a Sunday before calculating any sum payable under paragraph (a) of section one of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, in connection with such Sunday performance when the sum is calculated by reference to a percentage of the box office takings or some part thereof.Under the Bill that left your Lordships' House only yesterday, a statutory levy is 1132 now imposed on the takings of a cinema on week-days as well as on Sundays. This is an extra levy, imposed under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, and I wanted to make sure that that was taken out before the other levy was imposed.
During the course of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who was speaking on behalf of the Government, was very sympathetic and said [Col. 390]:I am not entirely happy about the position, and I think that to turn it down out of hand"—that is, the Amendment—and to say that nothing should be done about it would be quite wrong. If the noble Lord will accept that assurance from me, without any question of accepting his Amendment, of course, I will certainly see that his observations and those of other noble Lords are given second thoughts, and we will see what we can do along those lines.Just previous to that the noble Lord said:I will go back to my right honourable friend on this matter generally and consult with him.In withdrawing the Amendment, I said:… with the proviso that I shall wait for him at some convenient time to tell the House the result of his deliberations with his right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, and we can then see how to proceed. I will leave it to him to make the next gesture.On that understanding, I withdrew my Amendment. I hope the noble Viscount who is now going to reply on behalf of the Government will see whether he cannot implement in some way that undertaking, and whether his right honourable friend can at least do something about this aspect of the case, if he cannot do anything with the general aspect raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, while the Bill which has now left your Lordships' House is making progress in another place.
I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Jessel. The Sunday Entertainments Act is a most peculiar Act. I am not going into the virtues or the vices of the Sunday opening of cinemas. The Act allows the local populace to decide that by vote, and I am quite prepared to leave it to them. But one of the mistakes it contains is this—and the noble Viscount, I expect, is quite conversant with the Act—first, that the local authority can make a levy on the takings up to the amount of the profit, and they can decide how the profit is arrived at. The local 1133 authority can demand the takings of a cinema on a Sunday and, so long as they do not extract a levy which is in excess of the profit, they can extract any amount. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Jesse, has said, they can hand it over to charity. But in the Bill there is no definition of "charity." As the noble Lord has quite rightly said, in the days of the voluntary hospitals it was the usual practice to hand it over to the hospitals.
I have made some researches into how the local authority get rid of this levy, which in sonic cases is of a substantial amount. I believe that in Nottingham it has worked out at up to £30,000. Some of the things that the noble Lord has mentioned I myself would not consider as coming within the category of "charity". For instance, I understand that the local authority in Wigan has allocated certain sums out of this Sunday entertainments levy so that the old folk of Wigan cart ride in public transport free of charge—a laudable thought, but hardly, I should think, coming within the category of "charity".
The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, has mentioned the Family Planning Association. I have made some investigations into that. I see in the report of this body that the L.C.C. Sunday Cinema Fund voted £200. Then, when I turn over the page and sec the objects of the Family Planning Association, I observe right at the top that their main object isto advocate and promote the provision of facilities for scientific contraception.I would not say that that fell within the category of "charity." I am not going to make any comment about the laudability or otherwise of the Family Planning Association or of many of these other things, but, surely, if we are going to carry on what I think is a very out-of-date Act—arid as the noble Lord has said, the need of the original charitable donations to the local hospitals has more or less been done away with—consideration should be given to whether or not there should be some regulation.
I would ask the noble Viscount to consult with his right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade and endeavour to see that the amount taken is the same all over the country. As the noble Lord has said, some local authorities take a percentage of the takings, some have a block amount and 1134 some do not take any at all or take just a nominal amount. Here is an industry which is struggling. We passed a Bill only the other day imposing on it a levy of anything from £2 million to £5 million a year, and cinemas are being shut down. As your Lordships know, 179 cinemas shut down last year. Here they are, competing against 8 million private cinemas every Sunday, the 8 million private enemas being all the homes in this country that have a television set. That is the householder's private cinema. That does not have to pay any charitable donation; it has not to pay any entertainments tax, yet it takes away the custom of the local cinema which is now struggling. I would support the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, in saying that this contribution should be abolished. I see no reason for it at the present time. It seems hard that one section of the community, the cinema proprietors, who may be losing money to-day, should have to give their takings to a charity when they are far more deserving of charity than the recipient.
Some noble Lords may ask, "Why does the cinema proprietor open on Sunday?" That is a good point. There are various reasons why he may keep open on Sunday: for contract purposes, film hire purposes and things of that sort, the techniques of which I will not go into. I leave it to other noble Lords to develop other aspects of this matter. I am concerned to press the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to implement the undertaking which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft gave when he was speaking on behalf of the Government throughout the Committee stage of the Cinematograph Films Bill. He said that the Government were unhappy about the incidence of this matter. Therefore would the noble Viscount consult with his right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, to see whether he can get two things regularised while the Bill is passing through another place: first of all, that the deduction of the Sunday levy is made before the statutory levy is arrived at secondly, that there is some uniformity or some flat rate of deduction throughout the country?
May I conclude by asking your Lordships to extend your consideration to me? Owing to the Welsh valleys and the Liverpool waters overflowing, I shall have to leave in a very few minutes, as I have an 1135 important engagement. I felt it my duty to try to put my case before I left. I hope that the noble Lord will not take it in any way amiss if I leave in about five minutes' time. I apologise to your Lordships for doing so, but I am afraid that the circumstances are outside my control.
§ 6.3 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I shall probably be in a minority in this debate in the contention which I am hoping to make. Before embarking on the main discussion, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, for giving me beforehand the gist of the complaints or arguments against the continuance of this contribution to charity. The burden of the noble Lord's contention is that the contribution to charity which Sunday cinemas are compelled to make is unreasonable and unfair.
In order to see this matter in its right perspective, it is necessary to look to the time and the conditions when the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, was passed. It was the result of a good deal of agitation, a great deal of controversy and quite a lot of compromise; but strongly behind the Act stood the cinematograph business. The other day I looked up some parts of the debate, and I should like to quote from one in which I found that Mr. Rhys-Davies, speaking on an Amendment on June 29, 1932, said this:When the Bill was first mooted, the cinematograph exhibitors said to the London County Council in particular, 'If you will let us open on Sundays we will give something to charity.'Then, to continue the quotation, he said:There was no argument then against charity. But once they felt that they had established the right to open on Sundays, the idea of charity began to wane. It was used as a lever … to open the places.The idea of charity began to wane once the opening battle was won. How like human nature! Human nature does not change very much, or very quickly.
At that time, the proposal to contribute to charity came, I understand, from the trade itself and was supported by it. The proposed contribution to charity was used as a very strong influence in securing the passage of the Bill. That is a fact that must not be lost sight of. There was no contention that it was unfair or 1136 unreasonable. A Bill was wanted, and this was a useful way of helping to get it. No one supposed that the cinematograph industry was more charitably disposed than any other industry, but it used charity as a strong inducement to secure the privileged position it gained in opening the cinemas on the most leisured day of the week. For thirty years they have been exploiting that day, the only condition being that they contribute to charity. But that condition was freely accepted. It was not regarded as unreasonable when the Bill was being promoted, and after the Bill was passed was not regarded as an unreasonable way of trying to persuade local constituencies to vote for the opening of cinemas. Throughout these local campaigns, again and again this has been used as a way of winning people to vote for the opening of cinemas. I can remember well such slogans as "Help the hospitals by voting for Sunday cinemas," and "Sunday cinemas will help your local charities." In these campaigns there was no complaint about the unfairness or unreasonableness of this contribution to charity.
§ LORD JESSEL
May I just interrupt for one moment the right reverend Prelate's argument? What was the incidence of entertainments tax in those days?—nothing comparable with to-day.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I would contend that the principle, which was freely accepted and embedded in the Act, is not at all affected by the imposition of an entertainments tax, which all other entertainments have to pay as well. I think it is clear that the objection is not really to the principle of the contribution to charity, but to the fact that the profits in the cinematograph business have decreased.
Here we and the trade are faced with a basic difficulty. It would be callous not to appreciate that problem or to be indifferent to it, and I do not come here to say one word of disparagement about the trade, or to gloat in any way over the difficulties which confront that business—far from it. I want to consider this matter quite sympathetically and without emotion. I am told that cinematograph profits have decreased considerably. It has been pointed out television has come in as a serious rival. The noble Lord, 1137 Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned that, and he seemed to imply that it was unfair that people should be able to sit in their own home and see pictures without having to pay something comparable to entertainments tax or to charity. I hope it will be a long time before we contemplate taxing people for entertainment in their own homes. Surely every business is confronted with new rivals from time to time; and television is a very legitimate rival.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, may I interrupt the right reverend Prelate for a moment, in order to follow his argument? Is the right reverend Prelate trying to argue that Sunday entertainment is all right if it is in private but not if it is in public?
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I am not discussing that, nor do I think that the question of the rightness or wrongness of entertainment on Sunday comes into this Motion at all. We are faced with the fact that cinemas have a right to open, and we are not trying to take away that right. What some of us are saying is that they should continue to observe the condition imposed when they secured the right; and it is only that condition that is being discussed in this Motion. I think it is fair and reasonable to say to the cinemas, "As you have the right to open through accepting a condition, you must abide by that condition unless you can show very strong reasons for departing from it." That condition was deliberately embedded in the Act, and the principle of the compulsory contribution to charity is as much a principle of the Act as local option.
I want to consider this matter sympathetically, and I ask: why are the profits falling? The fall may be due to television, but that is a legitimate rival. It may be due to other causes, some of which have been mentioned to me. It is contended that Sunday films are often not of very good quality, that a large number of old films have been brought out from dusty cupboards and shown. I do not know what truth there is in that contention. We may have reached a stage when people are growing a little weary of passive entertainment, or are becoming satiated with the kind of pictures shown. These are possible causes. There may be another reason: that too many cinemas are opening on Sunday, more than the 1138 number for which there is a just demand. Your Lordships will know that the propaganda for the Sunday opening of cinemas has been so fierce and so powerfully organised, well supported by glamorous film stars, that I sometimes begin to think that the promoters of cinematograph films on Sundays have been deceived by their own propaganda into thinking that the demand is greater than it really is. Consequently, more cinemas may be opening than are necessary.
Whatever the cause, the reduction of profits is a fact which has to be faced. How are these profits affected by the charity contribution? If the cinemas have reached the stage where their future well-being is dependent on the abolition of this small contribution to charity, then I am afraid that its abolition will not preserve them for very long. But I believe that there is another way of easing the difficulties which confront cinematograph promoters. That is the way that is embedded in the Act, through the power vested in the local licensing authority. There is no statutory amount demanded for Sunday opening. The amount contributed is decided by the local licensing authority. No uniform method is used. In some cases the amount is in proportion to the rateable value of the cinema; in twenty-eight places, a percentage of the takings is asked for; in thirty-five places, a lump sum is paid annually, and in some other cases a charge is made for charity of ¼d. or ½d. per seat, according to price.
Only the principle is laid down in the Act. This is the main bone of my contention. The working out of the principle is left to the local licensing authority, and there is no rigid or uniform method applied. Every constituency is considered in the light of local conditions. The Act allows flexibility and wide power of discretion to the local licensing authority, but that authority will consider the matter only where it can be shown that it is fair and reasonable so to do. Let the local cinema promoters put their case before the local committees and seek relief in that way. A great many other enterprises have to do that kind of thing. This method of action is inherent in the principle of local option; it is a method which is part and parcel of our way of doing things. It will be no use the trade making vague claims that profits are not 1139 so good as they would like. They never are, are they? The promoters must put their cards on the table and reveal their takings, their expenses and their profits. If they can make a fair and good case, I am convinced that they will receive fair treatment and that the contributory assessment will be appropriately reduced. As I have said, it can be reduced almost to nothing.
In my submission, it would be far better and wiser to proceed in this way than to try to alter an Act which was passed after much controversy and compromise. It is better to try to take full advantage of the easements which may be secured through local consultation; and if the cinema promoters' case is good, their legitimate grievances can be met and the principle of the charitable contribution still preserved. This principle, which had to be embedded in the Act, bears witness to a recognition that Sunday is a day different from other days in the week. I put this point just like that. It is only in the Act because it bears witness to the fact that Sunday is a different kind of day, and a man does not need to commit himself to any rigid Sabbatarianism in order to contend that Sunday is a special day; that it has made a special contribution to our way of life, and that it ought to be cherished for the spiritual, cultural and social opportunities which it offers. The faster and noisier life becomes, the greater is the need to value Sunday as a day different from others, a day when the soul of man can find some relief from the many materialistic pressures which are on all of us, from Monday morning to Saturday night. We have to safeguard our mind and spirit against that continuous pressure which is far more dangerous to our life than materialistic ideas that are propagated from abroad.
I should hope that in all legislation affecting Sunday the need to safeguard it against commercial or financial exploitation will be fully recognised. It is so recognised in the Act under consideration, and I plead for the retention of its principle, on the broad grounds that the preservation of Sunday as a day different from other days is in the interests of the nation as a whole and contributes to the well-being of our national and social life. I plead for retention of the principle, believing that the difficulty which confronts 1140 the cinema trade can be dealt with sympathetically and fairly, by the machinery which the Act sets up, through the local licensing committees. I believe that this principle can be retained, and that the legitimate grievances and difficulties of the trade can be ironed out. The day may come again—indeed, I expect it will come, and I shall be happy to see it—when the cinemas will be making profits. And I like to think that, when that time comes, the generous hearts of the promoters who prompted the principle in the Act, and the equally generous hearts of those who continue the showing of films, will not be saddened by the reflection that in the time of misfortune the first casualty was this contribution to charity.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD WESTWOOD
My Lords, as I am associated with the cinematograph industry, I am greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Jessel for initiating this debate to-day, and also for the able manner in which he has put the case before the House. Practically every week, as your Lordships well know, Motions are submitted and agreed to in this House whereby an Order is made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department for extending Section 1 of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, to some local authority. In many of those cases, the opening of the cinemas on Sundays has been brought about only by the laborious procedure of towns meetings, which are followed by a plebiscite of the electorate, all of which are carried out at some considerable expense. It is my opinion—and it is shared by the cinema industry as a whole—that the method of obtaining the opening of cinemas on Sundays is archaic and outmoded and the time has now arrived when the whole system of the Sunday Entertainments Act should be overhauled and revised in the light of modern experience.
To-day, we are not debating the rights or wrongs of Sunday opening of cinemas—the case for Sunday cinemas has been fully justified by the fact that there are nearly 3,000 cinemas open on Sundays out of a total of 4,500; in other words, two out of every three cinemas open on Sundays. It has been my experience during the past twenty-five years that when local polls are held to determine whether cinemas should or should not 1141 open on Sundays the votes which are cast in favour of Sunday opening outweigh the other votes by very substantial majorities. In some cases, the majorities are four or five or even six to one, which proves to me that the members of the public look upon their local cinema as an amenity and a public service which they can enjoy when they please. The trouble arises after permission has been granted to open the cinemas. It is then that the local authorities levy the Sunday charity contribution, which they are empowered to do under Section 1 of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932. This charity contribution, as it is called, can be the whole of the cinema exhibitor's profits for that Sunday upon which he opens his theatre. I actually know of one case, in my part of the country, where a cinema's total profits for the year from opening on Sundays, amounted to £113, and the local licensing authority assessed the charity contribution at £110, which left the cinema owner with the sum of £3 as a result of opening his cinema for fifty-two Sundays—a profit, in other words, of 1s. 2d. per Sunday.
The Sunday charity contribution is assessed, as you have heard, in various ways in different parts of the country. There are cases where a cinema on one side of a street is assessed at a different rate from another cinema on the opposite side of the street, simply because they are in separate licensing areas. The methods of assessment are: one, a flat rate irrespective of box office receipts; two, an assessment on a seating basis; three, a percentage of the rateable value of the premises; and four, a percentage of the net receipts. The amounts and the system of calculating this levy are entirely at the discretion of the local licensing authorities, and whilst there are many who are fairly reasonable in their demands, I am sorry to say that there are others who, unfortunately, look upon cinemas as suitable sources of revenue from which to extract as much as they possibly can. There is no appeal from this imposition, except to the authority itself, which thus assumes the role of both judge and jury.
Prior to the war, those so-called charity contributions proved very helpful indeed to hospitals and other worthy institutions, but with the introduction of the Nat ional Health Service this need was considerably reduced and, as you have 1142 been told by my noble friend Lord Jesse', there are some local authorities who have found it very difficult to distribute the money because of the lack of suitable charitable objects. Since the year 1942, the total amount paid over by the cinema exhibitors has been £6,469,700, and the sum paid over for last year was £436,700. This is a large sum of money, and, as your Lordships heard during the recent debates cm the new Cinematograph Films Bill, it would have been very welcome indeed to help out and assist those exhibitors who are losing their businesses through the burden of the heavy entertainment taxation. It might even have been the means of saving some of them from closing their doors.
Out of the 3,000 cinemas which open on Sundays, over 2,000 are situated in industrial areas, which, in my opinion, proves that the majority of people who attend Sunday performances are the masses—the people who want to get away for two or three hours from their everyday worries and problems and relax During a recent campaign, which ended in favour of Sunday opening by a very large majority, the Lord's Day Observance Society issued a pamphlet which read:Sunday cinemas are a charity farce. No one should be deceived by it.Then it went on to refer to the charity levy as a sop. My Lords, it is a sop—make no mistake about it—but it is a very expulsive one and a very unfair one.
I am glad to say that there are a few licensing authorities who are fully alive to this iniquity. In Hove, for example, I am informed that the contribution has now been fixed at Is. per cinema per Sunday for the large theatres and 1s. per cinema per Sunday for the smaller ones. As I see it, the main factors against the continuation of this injustice are as follows. First, there is no other service called upon to pay a tax for the privilege of trading on Sundays. Secondly, the charity contribution is an unjust imposition and totally foreign to our idea of British fair play. Thirdly, the cinemas are open on Sundays by the will and desire of the people of this country. Fourthly, cinema owners maintain—and I think rightly—that they are performing a valuable public service and they ought not to be penalised for doing it. Fifthly, since the end of the war, conditions have changed and charities such as hospitals, which 1143 were originally intended to benefit, are now the responsibility of the State. Sixthly, with the advent of television, plus the new commercial television, entertainments are now projected right into the homes of the people and there is no charity tax or entertainments tax payable on that entertainment. Seventhly, and this is a very important point, the police authorities throughout the country always welcome the opening of cinemas on Sunday because they keep young men and women off the streets and out of the public houses
These seven points are fully appreciated by the exhibitors, who look upon this financial burden as an imposition which should be abolished with as little delay as possible. In this they have the full support of the trade union movement. In fact, it was Sir Tom O'Brien. M.P., the general secretary of the National Association of Theatre and Kinema Employees, who recently referred to the Sunday charity levy as "legalised blackmail"—a very apt description of it. Another M.P. has called it, "money paid to the devil". I have never been able to correlate public conscience and Sunday opening with the Sunday charity levy. I have never been able to understand why it is wrong in the minds of some people to open cinemas on Sunday, but it is all right if you give something to charity. It will be a very sad day for this country if consciences can be purchased so easily.
The whole principle is wrong. Every Government have been reluctant to tackle this problem, as they know it would be likely to get them into bad odour with the people who take an interest in the charities which benefit or with those other people who still oppose the opening of the cinemas on Sundays and who have votes to use at election time. The Sunday charity contribution was never meant to be a penalty. It puts the exhibitors, to my mind, in the same category as a naughty schoolboy who has been ordered to stand in the corner for some misdeed. So often have the exhibitors been told by various Governments that there is little hope of getting this levy removed by legislation. Could the Government, as an alternative to the complete removal of the levy, recommend to the local licensing authorities that they should reduce the sum to a very small amount whereby its total removal will 1144 be no more than its irritation value? That would be some help to the cinema exhibitors.
There is just one other matter I will touch upon regarding discrimination, and that refers to the showing of Category X films on Sundays. Some local licensing authorities have prohibited the showing of those films on Sundays, with the result that special programmes have to be booked for Sunday performances. I cannot see the reason why cinemas are not allowed to show these films on Sundays when they are shown for the remainder of the week. In my opinion, this discrimination is not sensible when you consider some of the television programmes which go into the homes and which children look at. Cinema audiences on Sundays are in the main adult audiences, and if they are permitted to see Category X films during the week, surely they can see them on Sunday. The principle of Sunday opening has been accepted and approved by the majority of the public. It is only right and proper that the principle be stripped clean of the hypocrisy and cant that has stuck to it for the past twenty-five years, and I am hopeful that this debate has done something to bring this about.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jessel was kind enough to refer to the speech I made during the Second Reading of the Cinematograph Films Bill. As he says, I feel strongly about this matter, and I am glad that he has brought this Motion before the House to-day. We are all grateful to him, because it has given rise to an interesting debate. I think that the 3.000 cinema owners in this country and the 2½ million people who go to cinemas on Sunday will also be grateful to him.
Before the passing of the Act of 1932, certain cinemas did open on Sundays, and they paid a charitable contribution which at that time was entirely voluntary. At the time of the passing of the Act, the cinema industry was favourable to the payment of this contribution, but that was twenty-five years ago. Much has happened since then. The hospitals, for instance, who were one of the main recipients of this contribution, have been nationalised, and there has also been the advent of television. I cannot help feeling that if television had been in existence 1145 at the time of the passing of the Act, this voluntary charitable contribution would not have been made statutory. The cinemas exhibitors feel strongly about this contribution. If I understood him aright, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle did not object to the opening of cinemas on Sunday and thought that it was justified by the payment of the charitable contribution.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I should like to correct that. I said that I was not discussing the rights or wrongs of Sunday opening; I was merely saying that this principle was put into being in order to secure the opening of cinemas. It has no effect upon the moral aspect of the question at all. The only aspect is whether it is right, when you have used the principle, to throw it away.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that explanation, but I cannot sec why, just because something was so at the time, it should always remain so. There may have been a case for this contribution, and the cinema industry might even have been in favour of it twenty-five years ago, but I cannot see that there is any case for it on ethical grounds to-day. Furthermore, the industry is burdened with a high rate of entertainments tax in addition to this contribution. As the noble Lord, Lord Westwood, has pointed out, the cinema exhibitors cannot understand why they, alone of all who provide Sunday entertainment, should be singled out to pay sums to charity. For example, publicans do not have to do this. A publican is not expected to put something in the collecting box every time he serves a drink to one of his customers, though I am sure many of them do that voluntarily; but it is not so required by law.
I cannot understand why it is considered, if not wrong at least something which should be atoned for by payment of money to charity, to go to a public showing of a film in a cinema on Sunday, when it is not wrong to see the film on television. I feel that the whole situation is hypocritical, and the cinema trade feel that this is a form of conscience money. As my noble friend Lord Jessel pointed out, we are sometimes accused by other countries of being hypocrites, 1146 I think in many cases quite unreasonably, but this would seem to be a case when possibly their criticism has some justification.
I should like to dwell on some of the charities which benefit from this so-called Sunday charity contribution. Many of them were not in existence in 1932, at the time of the passing of the Act. Furthermore, I cannot see why these charities should not be helped by local councils from the rates. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has drawn attention to the allocation of £100 from this contribution by the Corporation of Wigan to provide free or cheap facilities on their buses for old people. That is a most worthy object. But surely this should be a charge on the rates.
§ THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
No doubt the noble Lord has overlooked for the moment that such a charge was held to be illegal in the High Court, I think, a year ago.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for pointing out that fact. But while that may be so, I still Jo not see why the cinema proprietor should be called upon to fill the breach. Then, as has also been pointed out, another corporation has accumulated £30,000 over the last ten years which it has not spent at all. I happen to know of another case where the local council fixed the amount per cinema as round sum per annum, to be paid half yearly. One cinema in the area which had been closed for some time was reopened on almost the last Sunday in the half-yearly period. Notwithstanding that, the local council obliged them to pay the charity contribution as if they had been open for the whole period. That seems to me to have been most unfair. Indeed, the exhibitor concerned felt so strongly about it that, through his association, he took up the matter with the local council, who said in reply that he should have taken this into account when determining his anticipated profits before deciding to open. That seems to me to be a case of putting the cart before the horse, because surely this contribution is based on the profits, and should not be taken into account in calculating what they may be.
The cinema industry do not object to giving money to charity; indeed, I think 1147 they have a fine record of contributions to charity—as fine as any industry in the country. They are most generous in giving their houses for premières, and they also have collections in their cinemas. I think that during the Second World War they raised £1 million for the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund, and during the last ten years they have raised another £1 million. What they object to is that this money should be extorted from them by Statute when they themselves, like most other industries in this country, are voluntarily contributing handsomely to deserving charities. As has already been mentioned in this debate, 5 per cent. of this contribution is paid to the British Film Institute; it is paid to a fund which is known as the Cinemtaograph Fund, which I believe is under the control of the Privy Council. The British Film Institute is partly subsidised from this fund; and I believe that the Government give a contribution. The figures for the year ended March 31, 1956, were as follows: the Government contributed £42,900, and the Cinematograph Fund, from the Sunday charity contribution, £22,000. The Institute, of course, also received a revenue from subscriptions, publications et cetera of another £30,000 This institute is a Government-sponsored and controlled body, and I cannot understand why the Government should not assume complete financial responsibility for it. They already pay two-thirds of the subsidy, and I think it would be an excellent thing if they paid the whole amount.
The British Film Institute does most important work. It maintains the National Film Theatre on the South Bank; it arranges, in conjunction with the London County Council, lectures on films for children, and it maintains a distribution library. I think we all agree that this work is most important to the film industry; but I see no more reason why the exhibitors should have to pay a contribution towards the subsidy for this Institute than, for instance, the antique dealers or art dealers of this country should help to pay towards maintaining the Victoria and Albert Museum, which does for the fine arts a similar kind of work to that done by the Film Institute for the art of the film. The antique dealers and art dealers contribute handsomely to the arts through the National Art Collections Fund, but 1148 it is a voluntary contribution and is not extorted from them by Statute. I would suggest to the Government that they should, perhaps, take over the whole of this subsidy and relieve the cinema trade of the 5 per cent. To sum up, I think that deserving local objects should be helped from the rates, if possible; or, if that is not legally possible, from some other source, and that the Film Institute should be helped by a direct grant from the Treasury, as indeed the Treasury help already by providing two-thirds of the sum.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, replies, I should like to say a word or two. We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, for introducing this debate this afternoon. One must appreciate that the Act has now been in operation for some twenty-five years, and obviously, if there is to be a change in the law, the local authorities will have to be consulted. The second thing I want to say is that many charities have been helped over the last twenty-five years. I will not say that they have been able to get a vested interest in these contributions from the Sunday entertainment fund, but in any case, I should imagine that many of them will be quite vocal if any change in the law is made. But, as has been repeatedly pointed out this afternoon, local authorities to-day have far greater freedom to help voluntary bodies from their own funds under the Local Government Act, 1948, than they had in 1932. Whether they will show the same readiness to help these voluntary bodies when the ratepayers have to find the money as they do when somebody else finds it remains to be seen.
Noble Lords this afternoon have talked about the differences between the methods of assessment adopted by various local authorities. As one who had some part in placing this levy on cinemas in my own locality, perhaps I can give your Lordships an instance of how it was done. This was in 1934, when I happened to be the mayor of the borough in question. Along with the town clerk, I was instructed to negotiate a settlement with the local cinemas. In the course of the negotiations, for some reason which has never been explained to me the late town 1149 clerk displayed a striking hostility to the cinema industry. I can assure your Lordships that it was not on Sabbatarian grounds, but I will not develop that matter. A hard bargain was driven, and he threatened the cinemas that unless the figures which had been agreed to were accepted, he would insist upon the books for each cinema, showing everything for the particular Sunday, being produced to his council. The figures were very substantial for each of the theatres.
I do not know what went on between the agreement which I arrived at as mayor of the borough and the meeting of the council, except that there was an extraordinary unanimity between both Parties on the motion to increase what had been agreed upon by 10 per cent. I mention that to illustrate the haphazard way in which this levy is placed on the cinemas. One knows, too, the scramble which goes on, and the pressure which is put upon members of a council by various bodies in order to have a share in the money which is available.
The noble Lord, Lord Westwood, put forward seven admirable reasons for dealing with this matter. I venture to put forward an eighth. Like the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, I have been refreshing my mind from the debates in 1932, and I found this justification for the levy from the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. Incidentally, the Bill was introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and his Parliamentary Secretary was replying to the debate on it. He put forward this justification for the levy:If you take the view that this is a service which the public demand and to which they are entitled upon a Sunday, then you must logically take the view that the people who provide that service are entitled to a reasonable profit for that service, just as they are entitled to a reasonable profit on any other service they provide. What I do say is that though they are entitled to a reasonable profit for the service they provide, it is not right that there should be a particular inducement to make Sunday a day upon which, of all others, they expect to secure a profitable return—in fact to make Sunday opening more profitable to them than opening on any other day. It is therefore quite logical that, while you allow a reasonable profit to those who provide the service, you should be entitled to take some proportion for the sake of charitable objects in the neighbourhood.Looking at that quite fairly and impartially, I think it is a good logical statement for the imposition of the Sunday 1150 levy. But the whole basis of the argument has now been destroyed, because the cinema industry in this country, on the last published figures for production, distribution and exhibition, shows a loss of over £1 million, and one man of note in that industry has said that the profits of the cinemas to-day depend upon the sale of ice-cream, chocolates and things of that kind. If that is so, I suggest that the whole basis on which a levy was defended by the Government of that time has been destroyed. The local authorities now have greater freedom in regard to helping charitable objects, and the time has come when, if this matter cannot he looked at separately, consideration should be given to the whole problem of the finance of the industry. I am convinced—and I hope I am not taking too pessimistic a view—that unless something is done, in view of the powerful competitors which they have to-day in the form of Government-sponsored television, and so on, the cinema industry will be facing a crisis which it might not survive. I therefore hope that, as a result of this debate, the Government will take the whole problem of cinema finance into careful and urgent consideration.
My Lords, may I ask one question with regard to a point raised by the noble Lord. Lord Burden? If there is no profit, is there any levy?
§ 6.58 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to say a few brief words from the point of view of the charities which benefit from this Sunday levy. Unfortunately, I was unable to be in the House to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, and I have already apologised to him. I think the wrong impression has been given by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Lord, Lord Westwood, that in these days of the Welfare Stile, and as the hospitals are no longer dependent on charity, there are few worthy charitable objects. Of course, that is not so. This impression that the local authorities are scratching around to find suitable charities, I do not think bears investigation.
I happen to be on the council of a charity which sends away to the country from the London area large numbers of 1151 children who would not otherwise get a holiday. I would estimate that what we receive from this Sunday opening fund enables us to send at least 50 or 100 children a year for a well deserved holiday. We do not receive large sums, but at the same time it would hit this particular charity—and I know of many others—if this small source of income was taken away from us. I am speaking, of course, mainly for the London area. I am sure there is no difficulty in finding recipients, because we by no means receive support every year. We have to take our turn with many other probably equally deserving objects.
I thought a good case was put by the noble Lord, Lord Westwood, for more uniformity in the way in which these levies are made, and certainly there is a very good case in some areas where they are probably too onerous. But I thought the noble Lord was a little hard when he talked about the "cant" and "hypocrisy" of this arrangement. I believe that if the matter were put properly to those who patronise the cinemas on Sunday, they would not grudge the small amount which does so much good.
§ LORD WESTWOOD
My Lords, may I rise on that point? It is the cinema owners, not the public, who pay the charity.
I am coming to that point. I am putting this forward as a suggestion, but it may not be practical. Is there any reason why a small additional sum should not be charged to the public on Sundays, which it would be known to those who attended the cinema was specifically for this charitable purpose? Thereby the cost would be passed on to those who patronised the cinema on Sunday. That is all I wish to say. I felt that the point of view of the charities which are helped by this arrangement ought to be put before your Lordships.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, quite a number of different points have been raised in this debate. The mover of the Motion has made a thorough-going demand for the abolition of the levy and, as I understand it, that is the only attitude which would meet with the support of those whose views he represents. However, 1152 in the course of the discussion, a certain number of criticisms of a lesser nature have been levelled at the levy—its want of uniformity over the country, the alleged lack of suitable objects, and other points of one sort or another. There has even emerged, as there always does on every debate, a demand that the taxpayer and the ratepayer should shoulder the burden instead of the cinema industry.
I begin by saying that there is not the smallest chance of my recommending that—and I hope that I shall have the support of your Lordships in not doing so. We must be realistic on these things. It does not seem to me in the least desirable that either the local rates or the taxpayer should bear this burden. The choice would have to be between abolition and retention or some form of revision. I am bound to say that I can see no prospect of Government legislation on this matter either this Session or in the immediately foreseeable future. The reason is not, as my noble friend Lord Westwood suggested, any particular fear of the Government of any particular interest on one side or the other. On the contrary, the long tradition since 1932 has been that Governments have sought to be impartial in such matters, but I see, from the knowledge that I have of the pressure upon Parliamentary time, that there is not the smallest prospect of a measure of the kind contemplated being sponsored by the Government unless it was known to be so uncontroversial as to go through without discussion.
There are, I fear, other and more pressing things to be dealt with. If a noble Lord or some private Member in another place were to introduce a Private Member's Bill, the Government would, I think, undertake to scrutinise its terms; but, for reasons which I am about to give, based on an experience of twenty-five years, the view which the Government are bound to come to is that the chances of such a Bill becoming law without controversy would be very small indeed. Therefore, although we should not seek in any way to discourage such a measure, we should not like to encourage the enthusiasts for it to believe that it would stand a very easy prospect of passage through the Houses of Parliament.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
May I interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment, in order to follow him more closely? Surely the controversy is about the Sunday 1153 opening of cinemas, not about the paying of conscience money. There can be no controversy about that.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The view that Her Majesty's Government have is that controversy rages about every aspect of this topic, and will continue to do so, whatever course either the Government or private Members may take. I should have thought that the two speeches to which we have listened, from the right reverend Prelate and from my noble friend behind me, Lord Clifford, gave some support, even in this thinly attended House, for exactly the proposition which the Government believe to be true. Pragmatism is too often mistaken for hypocrisy, in this country and elsewhere. I am bound to say that my own approach to this matter is severely pragmatic. No one would suggest—at least I should not—that the law on Sunday observance in this country is, in this or in any other respect, ideally logical. It may be that some day we shall reach a unanimity of opinion in our ranks which will enable it to be made so, either in one direction or in another, but it is no good complaining to the Government about the confused state of public opinion upon this complicated and highly controversial subject.
The history of this matter is of some considerable importance in evaluating the cogency of some of the arguments which have been adduced. The general law is as stated by the mover of the Motion, that by the Act of 1780 places to which the public go for entertainment or amusement, and to which the public are admitted on payment, are prohibited by the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, from opening on Sunday. Sunday opening is, accordingly, a privilege. It is a privilege, I must remind your Lordships, not accorded at all to theatres, not accorded at all to music halls, dance halls, boxing, football and many other types of public entertainment. The cinema industry is u privileged exception to that general rule. They bought that privilege, as the right reverend Prelate told us, by a very hard bargain, which was driven, in circumstances that I will presently relate, with the opponents of Sunday opening, in another place in 1932. They now seek to be rid of the terms of the bargain which they hold to be inapplicable. It may be 1154 True—though I myself do not think it is—that there is an element of hypocrisy in suggesting that there should be a compulsory levy to charity on such occasions. If so, I am bound to say that I think the right reverend Prelate was right; that the element of hypocrisy was not necessarily introduced by the Church or the Sabbatarians, and certainly not by the Government of the day.
The situation which one is bound to say will be held, I think, by this and by any other Government, is this. When a compromise has been reached as a result of hard argument between hotly held points of view, it must inevitably be the inclination of any Government to leave things as they are, so long as the compromise remains workable and so long as there is no clear evidence that the matter has ceased to be controversial. Of course, I will report to my right honourable friend the viewpoints which have been expressed i1 this debate, and it may be, having regard to the strongly expressed views on bolt sides of the House, that he, too, will think that the matter has ceased to be controversial. Personally, I do not. I shall certainly not seek to persuade him that my view is right against those views of other noble Lords.
My own feeling is that this matter continues to be controversial in the precise way in which it was controversial in 1932. I must remind your Lordships that as recently as 1953 a Sunday Observance Bill was refused a Second Reading in another place by a large majority. The House of Commons and the House of Lords have proved singularly sensitive to measures of this kind, and it seems to me highly unlikely that any measure, whether sponsored by the Government or by a private Member, to eradicate what is alleged to be an injustice of this kind is likely to get through. I must point out that the charity contribution, such as it is, is paid out of profits. The horrible picture which the noble Lord, Lord Burden, painted, of a cinema industry faced with bankruptcy and saved from disaster only by the abolition of a levy which yields £400,000 a year out of profits, is not one which can bear any scrutiny at all. Where there are no profits there is no levy. It may be undesirable that the levy should be 1155 imposed, but if the industry were, in fact, liable to go bankrupt, it would not be prevented from doing so by the abolition of the levy.
The history of the matter is as follows—and I am bound to say that this is somewhat relevant, in view of the rather wild words that have been introduced about hypocrisy. After the passing of the Cinematograph Act, 1909, a number of local authorities, of which the London County Council was the chief, began to issue de facto licences, which turned out to be quite illegal, that cinemas should disregard the terms of the Sunday Observance Act. In so doing the Council imposed certain conditions. One of these conditions, at least in the case of the London County Council, was that an amount determined by the Council as representing the profit derived from the Sunday performances, should be paid to charity. In computing the profits the Council allowed as chargeable against receipts certain overhead expenses, such as rent, rates and so on, so that Sunday opening, based on the terms laid down by the Council, was to some extent financially advantageous to the cinema proprietors. The proprietors found themselves quite happy to fall in with this suggestion with that limitation, although no doubt they would have been even happier to open without the condition. They have, in fact, tended to open their cinemas on Sundays in increasing numbers ever since, and only last week, I think, another six localities were added to the distinguished list of those places which, largely on the initiative of the trade, had decided to go in for Sunday opening.
The result of that was that in 1930 the theatres, who felt themselves to be unfairly competed against by the cinemas, initiated litigation against the cinemas and the London County Council to prove that what was being done was illegal. They won their case in an action called The King v. the London County Council, ex parse the Entertainments Protection Association Limited, which the curious may find reported in The Times Law Reports. The result was that a Bill was introduced by the then Labour Government in April, 1931, called the Sunday Performances (Regulations) Bill which 1156 was given a Second Reading in the House of Commons on a free vote by a rather narrow majority, and was thereafter dropped by the succeeding National Government as it was thought that it would have no real chance of getting through. A sort of armistice or standstill arrangement was come to which enabled twelve months' reflection to be obtained by Parliament, and under the cover of this armistice a new Bill was produced in the following year for similar purposes. This Bill received a Second Reading by an even narrower majority than the first, and it was dropped later for the same reason—that it did not stand a chance of getting through.
It was then that negotiations began between the trade and the Sabbatarians, resulting in the compromise; and it was discovered that a Bill which provided as a condition that some part of the profit of the performance should be levied for charity and should be paid by the trade, would stand some chance of being passed. Such turned out to be the case, and the present Act received a Second Reading majority of 237 to 61, and now stands on the Statute Book.
Whether or not this is hypocrisy I am no judge. I know it was a compromise introduced by those who wanted to open their cinemas on Sundays. I am bound to say that I do not think there is anything particularly hypocritical that something which competes with the churches should contribute to a charity of some sort on Sundays. When I go to my place of assembly on a Sunday I undoubtedly pay a levy to charity—a man comes round with a plate or a little bag. I admit that I do not have to pay as a condition of the place being open, but it seems to me almost as obligatory in its own way. I never thought that it was conscience money, in the sense that I was being asked for something that I did not have to pay.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
The noble Viscount's contribution to charity, as he calls it, in church, goes to an object about which he knows; he knows what he is paying for. But the levy for the Sunday charity is something over which the 1157 exhibitor has no control in regard to which charity it goes.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Lord evidently attends a different place of worship from that to which I go, because I have not the faintest idea where the collection goes. I should indeed be reassured if I knew that in some cases the local authority was going to determine its objective. However, perhaps I was drawing a rather far-fetched analogy at this late hour, and I do not want to press it too far. There is the genesis of this matter. If we could have some indication that this question had ceased to be controversial, obviously it would be a fertile field for a law reform Bill which might be suitable to everybody and satisfy everybody.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked me about the prospect of an Amendment to the Cinematograph Films Bill. I think the noble Lord, Lord Burden, provided the answer to that. The Government could not contemplate such an Amendment during the passage of the Bill through another place without consultation with the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations and the London County Council. They have been consulted, and they all took the view that if a change is to be made in regard to a matter which is at present a fundamental part of the Sunday Entertainments Act, it would be inappropriate for it to be made in the Cinematograph Films Bill and it ought not to be made without time for proper consideration by the Associations and by the Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, also suggested a sort of Act of uniformity which would take away the local authorities' option and impose a general charge upon the industry, if a total abolition could not be effected. If it were pressed, obviously that is a matter which should be considered. The present view held by those who have been advising me in this matter is that it is most unlikely that such a general charge would be a lesser burden to the trade, and therefore it is unlikely that it would meet with, their approval. Certainly, the Government could not think of giving directions or making pointed suggestions to local authorities that they should 1158 follow a uniform practice of disregarding the law by imposing purely nominal charges. If Parliament wishes the law to be altered the law will be altered, but it does not rest with the Government of the day to dispense with the law by seeking to make it ridiculous.
My Louis, I am fully aware that the law on this subject is not very satisfactory, riot very logical, and has its origin in a series of Parliamentary bargains in another place to which neither the Government in general nor, I think, any member of it in particular were ever parties. I am always aware of the lameness, if I may use, the phrase, of saying that Parliamentary time cannot be made available, but noble Lords who have spent longer in this House than I have know very well that it is a perfectly genuine feature of our Parliamentary life. I myself utterly refuse to accept the view that there are no suitable charities. It may be that some local authorities are singularly ill-advised, or possibly uninspired in their choke of possible objectives. If they cared to get in touch with me privately, I could suggest hundreds of objectives which could absorb many times the £400,000 which apparently is available every year. However that may be, the only thing my noble friend has to do is to persuade public opinion. I shall certainly not endeavour to stop his doing so, because there is nothing I should welcome more than unanimity of public opinion on Sunday observance; but I am bound to add that I do not see very much prospect of either his or my getting it.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, at this late hour I certainly do not intend to detain your Lordships a moment longer than is necessary, but I should like, first of all, to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, on whatever side they have spoken. There is just one point that I should like to make, arising out of the speech of the right reverend Prelate. He seemed to think (at least that was the impression I had) that because a bargain was made in 1932 that law must go on for ever. I am quite sure that the noble and learned Viscount who has just replied would not subscribe to that theory. Laws are constant y being altered and constantly being brought up to date, owing to changing conditions and changing public opinion.
1159 The noble and learned Viscount made the point that he wanted to be satisfied that public opinion had sufficiently changed before he was prepared to do anything for us. I think that is a perfectly reasonable attitude. If this debate has done nothing else, it has ventilated very thoroughly viewpoints on both sides and has made Her Majesty's Government, 1160 who may possibly have gone to sleep on the matter for the last two years, think again. For that we should be grateful. In the meantime, I have pleasure in asking leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past seven o'clock.