HL Deb 30 July 1957 vol 205 cc346-93

6.20 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, no action should be taken to demolish or otherwise prejudice the continued use of the St. James's Theatre as a theatre pending a decision on the matter by both Houses of Parliament. The noble Lord said: My Lords, at last I am able to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It was down for the 25th of this month, but on that occasion it was overshadowed by a United Nations debate. To-day we were threatened with its being overshadowed by a financial debate. I am very grateful that we are able to begin discussion of the Motion at a reasonable time. I do not want to repeat the case that I made on July 9. On that occasion, the House may remember, I put an Unstarred Question asking the Government for information as to the fate of the St. James's Theatre. In accordance with the rule of this House, I was able to make a few preliminary observations in putting that Question, but I had no right of reply. I do not desire to repeat at any length what I said then, but I did make four points in justification of the retention of the St. James's Theatre. I will just set them out very briefly.

The first was its history and tradition. There is nothing I want to add to that except that I am informed that Rachel once performed there, and that Charlotte Brontë visited the theatre and saw some of its productions. It has a very great history and tradition. The second point I made was the architectural merit of the theatre. I described it as Georgian. The noble Lord, Lord Blackford who, I understand, is to speak in this debate to-day, challenged that and said that the theatre was built in the reign of William IV. Historically, he is right; architecturally, he is wrong. The theatre is one of the two Georgian theatres. It has architectural merit, and has been accepted as such because it is on a list which is made by a body of eminent architects presided over by Sir William Holford. It is true that it is not in the highest priority, and no one would claim—certainly I do not claim—that it is, the finest work of architecture in London. I did not put that forward as my main argument, but the building has architectural merit.

The third point I tried to make was that London could ill afford to lose one more theatre, and an important one. In recent years we have lost a considerable number of theatres, and we are threatened with the loss of even more. It is not from the point of view only of the British public that we want to retain as many theatres as possible (and we do want to retain this one) but equally from the point of view of the tourist who comes here and wants to visit the theatre. The St. James's Theatre is one of those to which tourists want to go because of its high tradition. It seems to me to be an extraordinarily foolish policy to allow a theatre which we badly need to be destroyed.

The fourth point I made was that to destroy this theatre, and to allow offices to be built in its place, was contrary to the planning policy which we ourselves have laid down as being desirable. It is true that at the time when the planning permission was given the London County Council had provided for offices to be built on the site of the theatre, should the owners so desire; but that policy was soon found to be wrong, and to-day, if such an application were made, it would undoubtedly be refused. There is no doubt about that at all. No one would dream to-day of giving permission for the demolition of this theatre and the erection on the site of a block of offices. And that is not merely because we do not want any more offices in that part of London (although, as I had to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, on the last occasion, it is not that there would not be a demand for them) but also because of the consequent traffic dislocation which the construction of new offices would bring about, and the difficulties of housing additional workers. So we should not to-day have allowed this. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said on the last occasion that he was entirely sympathetic to what we wanted to do, and that the Government deplored the destruction of the theatre. Mr. Duncan Sandys said that it had "somehow slipped through the net"—which I take to mean that it was a mistake. I assume that he thought it was a mistaken decision to allow this theatre to go.

Those, my Lords, are the facts, and the question is: are we too late to put right what most people—indeed, I would say almost everyone except the noble Lord, Lord Blackford—would agree was a mistake at the time and which would certainly be an even greater mistake to-day? Are we too late? I should like to deal with one or two of the arguments that have been put forward to justify persistence with this mistake. One is that you cannot compel a person to run a theatre at a loss, or even, I suppose, at a profit. If the proprietors of the theatre wanted to demolish it, they could do so. It is quite a mistake to suggest that this theatre has been run at a loss. I have in front of me the figures of the net profits which have been made in this theatre over the past seven years. They vary considerably, but if my arithmetic is right the average net profit over the past seven years was £27,000 a year. That is a not inconsiderable figure, and therefore no question of running the theatre at a loss arises. Of course, if the owners want to demolish and destroy their £27,000 a year they are possibly free to do so. But if they will not be allowed to put up anything else but a theatre in its place, I can see no wisdom in their wishing to destroy the existing theatre.

May I say, in passing, that one of the things which disturbed me was the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, as to the action of the owners of the theatre. I gathered from him that they had definitely stated to Mr. Duncan Sandys that they had no intention of selling the theatre: they had no intention of using it for any other purpose but a theatre, and they definitely intended to run it as a theatre. It was probably relying on that assurance that Mr. Duncan Sandys, after the decision of the London County Council had been given in principle, took no further action. I have very little doubt, knowing Mr. Duncan Sandys as I do, and as any noble Lord who knows him will agree, that if he had for a moment believed that the theatre was in danger he would have taken action at that time. But he relied on the assurance of the owners that no such action was contemplated; and he allowed it to go.

One of the difficulties, which possibly is inherent in a question of this kind, is that the public get to know about these decisions too late. We were all lulled into a sense of false security. I do not think that the public realised in 1954 that a decision in principle had been taken. As the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, elicited yesterday, it was made by the vice-chairman of the town planning committee of the London County Council, on his own responsibility. I make no criticism of that; that is the procedure which is now adopted. In the days when I was chairman of the town planning committee, such a decision would not have been given by one person alone on his own responsibility. If a matter of this kind had come up, even the chairman would have been wise—and I hope that I should have been sufficiently wise—to bring it before the committee and not take the whole responsibility upon himself. But I can well understand, with the large number of applications which come before the London County Council, and because, on the face of it, it seemed to comply with the development plan as it was at that time, how (to use the words of Mr. Duncan Sandys) this matter "slipped through." But the difficulty we were all in was that none of us knew about this decision in principle about this decision to permit the building of offices in place of the theatre, until a few days before the date of the debate on July 9. Now we learn that demolition is to begin next month.

Since our previous debate, we have heard a number of derogatory statements about the theatre itself. Mr. St. John Ervine says that the theatre is in the wrong place. It has been in the wrong place for a very long time without much criticism; and, moreover, has been able to earn an average net profit of £27,000 a year. That indicates that there is not much wrong with the site of the theatre. In my view, and I hope in the view of a good many of your Lordships, it is not necessarily a good thing that all theatres should be congregated together. The argument, I would remind your Lordships, is that if you queue up at one theatre and find that you are not likely to get in, you can "nip along" to another theatre very quickly and join another queue with a better chance of getting in. I think that that argument has only to be stated for the absurdity of it to be appreciated.

There was the argument, which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, put before your Lordships, that even if action were taken to prevent the erection of offices, there would be nothing to prevent the use of the theatre by the owner as a skating rink. I think the noble Lord said—


Turkish baths, the noble Lord said.


—or for some other purpose. I think that it would be possible to prevent that under our planning legislation. I do not want to go into technicalities, but there is no reason why the London County Council cannot restrict the use to a theatre if they wish to do so. Then we have been told, since the debate, that this theatre does not comply with certain by-laws—that it is a fire trap and so on. I do not know whether that is correct or not; it is the first I have heard of it. Certainly the London County Council have taken no action to enforce the by-laws all this time, and no question has been raised about them. But if there are any fire difficulties, is there any inherent reason why they should not be put right?

The purpose of my Motion is to get a breathing space, and, if possible, to prevent demolition starting in the next few days. One method of doing that would be to revoke the decision of the Council; and, of course, the Minister can do that, subject to the right of whoever is the owner at the present time to have a public inquiry and to receive compensation if the revocation is upheld. If there are other means of preventing demolition, possibly by agreement, so much the better. The fact is that even though it may be regarded as improper to enforce upon the ratepayers of London, or upon the taxpayers, the burden of paying compensation, there are people who care for this theatre sufficiently to contribute towards the cost of paying the proper compensation and so ensuring its future. What I am asking the Government to do is to give us the necessary time to ensure that sufficient money, as we think necessary, can be raised.

We have had a wonderful lead from Sir Winston Churchill, who has promised, if a fund is started, to contribute £500. I am informed, and verily believe—I can only speak from information—that there are two American millionaires (whether they are millionaires in dollars or millionaires in pounds, I do not know) who are prepared to make substantial contributions towards saving this theatre and, I gather, not merely in order to pay compensation but to ensure that in future the theatre will be retained as a theatre. I am authorised to give their names; I would not have done so otherwise. One is Mr. Huntington-Hartford and the other is a Mr. Cort. I am also authorised to say that the Piccadilly and St. James's Association, which is an association of large industrialists, and not of artists of any kind, is prepared to sponsor a fund to raise the money to save the theatre. One of the objects of the Association is to safeguard the historic tradition of the area, and the Association would regard the sponsoring of such a fund as in keeping with the objects it is trying to achieve.

That is all that I wish to say. I hope that, even at this late hour, the Government will not say, "No," to this modest request for somehow holding up the demolition of the theatre until it has been possible to raise the necessary money and, in the terms of my Motion, until there has been an opportunity for Parliament to declare its view on the subject. I fully realise the difficulty of expecting at the present time that the whole of 'his compensation, or even a substantial amount of it, should be met out of public funds. From that point of view, I could not possibly have chosen a worse day than to-day, after the debate on the Finance Bill. But it is not the purpose of this Resolution to ask for public money. We hope and believe that there will be sufficient private money available to save this theatre, and we are simply asking that sufficient time should be afforded to us to see whether that is so. If we fail, then I am afraid that the cause is lost. But if we are able to succeed, in my view it would be criminal on the part of the Government to allow this mistake, this thing that they deplore, to happen without giving us a chance to make our final effort. I beg to move.

Moved, to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, no action should be taken to demolish or otherwise prejudice the continued use of the St. James's Theatre as a theatre pending a decision on the matter by both Houses of Parliament.—(Lord Silkin.)

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of the noble Lord. Lord Silkin. He has rightly and inevitably referred to the debate on the subject that took place in this House on the 9th of this month. Like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I do not wish to repeat in detail the arguments which I then advanced, but it is necessary to give them in outline, because those arguments have not changed. The first point, and, I think, the most vital one for the House to hear in mind is the last of those put by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in recapitulating the points that he made in the earlier debate. It concerns the question: What is the development which the local planning authority have sanctioned? That development is the erection of a great office building.

The first thing that the House must bear in mind is that that development would be demonstrably contrary to the public interest, apart from the theatre altogether. It is most vital that that point should not be overlooked. The point has been admitted by the local planning authority, who say that they regret their action and would not do it now. It was admitted by the present Minister's predecessor, when he talked about this case as "one that had slipped through." It has on several occasions been admitted by the present Minister, and it is set forth at length in the annual Report of his Department published a short time ago; and it has been admitted by him in answer to Parliamentary Questions in another place. The point is really not the subject of dispute at all.

The House may have observed that the London County Council recently published some illustrations of what they call their scheme for the St. James's area, a scheme definitely laying down that office accommodation, unaccompanied by housing and so forth, was here contrary to the public interest. Therefore I say, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no dispute anywhere that the development which has been sanctioned and which, unless it is stopped, will take place, is a development admittedly contrary to the public interest. That is the first point, and not a negligible one. I ventured on the last occasion to quote some acute observations from the Economist on this subject, but I do not intend to repeat them. The noble Lord, Lord Si1kin, mentioned part of the argument. This continued building of great office accommodation in the centre of London is gradually bringing London to a standstill and is utterly undesirable.

I pass to the second point: that this undesirable development involves an act of vandalism. It involves the destruction of a well-loved London theatre, which is serving its purpose: it is one of the best theatres for the type of comedy which has been one of the glories both of the English stage and of English acting, and it is a great draw for overseas visitors. It will be observed that I put this point as the second point. It is absurd to justify what is admittedly contrary to the public interest by saying that in this case it is also to be accompanied by an act of vandalism.

What then, my Lords, is the duty of the Minister in that condition of affairs? On the last occasion I ventured to express a legal doubt about the advice that must have been given him. I make no complaint whatever that the Minister who replied to that debate was not immediately then able to deal with my legal point, but I shall be interested to hear what he has to say on the matter to-day. I am certain that there were passages in his speech on that occasion which would not: have been included, if my legal point had been raised before that debate took place. I do not wish to indulge in many technicalities, but I should like to remind the House of certain points regarding the scheme of our planning legislation. Since 1943 we have had a Minister with responsibility for national policy with regard to the use and development of land throughout this country. In 1943 it was the newly created Minister of Town and Country Planning, but the Minister now is the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

What is the working of our planning machinery under the supervision of that Minister? The working is this. Every application for leave to develop land goes, in the first instance, to the local planning authority for decision, and in most cases what the local planning authority decide is not questioned. It has, however, long been recognised, and universally recog nised by every person interested in town and country planning, that there are two ways in which the local planning authority can go wrong. The local planning authority can go wrong by refusing consent in a case where consent ought to be granted, or by granting consent in a case where consent ought not to be granted. Each of those mistakes was a mistake which the local planning authority might make, and it was, therefore, necessary under our planning legislation to take steps to provide against both those two classes of mistake. In the former class, the case where the applicant is refused consent by the local authority, the applicant has, and always has had the right of appeal to the Minister. In the latter class, the case where consent is given, but where in the public interest it ought not to have been given, the Minister can himself cause a revocation of the consent. While the first of those rights existed from the very beginning of planning legislation, the second one only came into existence subsequently to 1943. I am delighted to see on the Front Bench opposite the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, because he may remember that he and I were both engaged in considering what should be the planning machinery which began to be brought into existence in the year 1943.

In the first case I have described, the case where a man had been refused permission to develop land, of course it was quite simple to give him a right of appeal, but in the latter case, where permission had been granted but in the public interest ought to be questioned, there was no obvious person to whom to give the right of appeal. It might be general damage to the public interest, and for that reason it was decided not to give any specific person or body a right of appeal against the consent but to empower the Minister to revoke it. I venture to remind the House of those facts because they are very material for understanding what it is now proper for the Minister to do and for understanding where the noble Lord who replied to the last debate and who is to reply again to-night went wrong, in my respectful submission, on the last occasion.

The Minister, in the passage in his speech which I wish to question, treated as quite normal the fact that the Minister might have to interfere with the local planning authority's decision when it had refused an application to develop, but said it would be quite inconsistent with that if, except on the rarest conceivable occasion, he interfered with a planning decision granting the application. In my respectful submission the Minister was quite wrong. There is no contrast between the duties of the Minister in these two sets of circumstances. In either case, when he has to review the decision of the local planning authority, he has to consider: is this, or is it not, the right use of this particular piece of land? If it is the wrong use, then it is just as much his duty to use his power to stop it as it is, in a proper case, to grant the appeal of an aggrieved person who wishes to develop.

But my noble friend had another passage in the same part of his speech in which, in my submission, he went wrong again. He said that, if the Minister revoked or caused the revocation of the permission to develop the land, injustice would be suffered. But Parliament in its wisdom has specifically made provision in the planning legislation to prevent injustice, should there be a revocation. It is contained in the two sections mentioned by my noble friend in answer to a Parliamentary Question which I asked him. It is the compensation given by Section 22 of the Act of 1947 as amended by Section 38 of the Act of 1954. I will not trouble the House by referring to earlier statutory powers to revoke permission wrongly given. They are now contained in Section 100 of the Act of 1947. It has been admitted, as I say, by the London County Council, and admitted by the present Minister and his predecessor, that the proposed development is wrong and contrary to public policy. I submit that in these circumstances it is the Minister's duty to use his powers under Section 100 of the 1947 Act to remedy the evil.

I now come to the point with which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already dealt: what would be the good of revoking this permission? My first observation is that, if it is the duty of the Minister to revoke it in order to correct a mistake, he should do so in any event, whether or not it would save the theatre. But, as a matter of fact, there is no reason whatever to suppose that it would not save the theatre. I was astonished by some of the suggestions in the Minister's speech of July 9 that revocation would be useless. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, nor I, nor as far as I know anybody else, has ever suggested that there ought to be a building preservation order for this particular theatre. But in answer to a Parliamentary Question, in which I asked about the history of the transactions and who would now have a claim for compensation and what was the basis of the estimate of its amount that had been made, the Minister, having answered my Question to the best of his ability, then went on with the utterly irrelevant information, for which nobody had asked him [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 205 (No. 94), col. 32]: Even if permission to erect an office block on the site of the St. James's Theatre were revoked, and compensation paid, that would provide no guarantee of the St. James's Theatre continuing in existence as a theatre. The owner could pull it down, or keep it empty, or turn it into a Turkish bath or cinema, without permission from anybody. That is very interesting, and a similar point was made by Mr. Hayward, the leader of the London County Council majority Party, in a letter to The Times, when he pointed out that, even if there were revocation, it would still be possible to develop the site for any use under the general heading of places of assembly.

I submit that it is irrelevant to the duty of the Minister, as I have explained it, that, if he withdrew the consent, it would not save the theatre. But why on earth should it be assumed that the present owner would do any of these things? He may be disappointed, no doubt, that he cannot make the profit which he contemplated by letting or selling a new building for offices. But why should Ministers assume that he would be so utterly irresponsible or filled with such sadistic malice towards the people of London that he would pull down the theatre simply in order to vent his anger? There is no reason to suppose—at least, I hope not—that he would do anything of the kind. I do not know the new owner, but I should hesitate before I entertained so gloomy a view of the character of any man.

I have given some description of what I conceive to be the law applicable to this case, and some of it may have appeared technical. I admit that I am moved in this matter not by legal considerations, though I hope I have stated them correctly, but by a passionate love of my native city, where I still live, and by my conception of patriotism. London is a unique city. It is the greatest, and can remain the greatest, of all world capitals. That does not depend only upon the spirit of the people; it depends in part on their traditions, their surroundings and so forth. I believe this threat to the St. James's Theatre is part of a far greater threat. It is true that it is a great threat to the English stage for reasons admirably explained by Mr. Darlington in the Daily Telegraph of the 27th of this month.

But the destruction of the St. James's Theatre does not stand alone. In conversations which I have had with my friends here and elsewhere, they ask, "Why do you care so much?", and then go on to put one of two alternative suggestions. They say, "Why not let this one go and make a fuss on the next occasion?" Or, alternatively, "Why do you bother at all? Do you not see that London is now past saving? Do you not see that the things you love have been handed over to the whims of speculators?" I see none of those things. I think London can still be saved and I know that it is worth saving. I think it was General Goering who said that, whenever he heard anybody mention the word "culture", he felt for his revolver. There are many people in this country to-day in the Goering tradition, and many of them have great influence in certain organs of the Press. I know that certain papers will give a whoop of delight, if we fail this evening, when the first man takes the pickaxe to the St. James's Theatre. The only thing that will increase their joy is when the London Library follows and shares the same fate, and when the axe is laid to the Nash terraces round Regent's Park.

I believe, my Lords, that there is a great deal to be said for an earlier belief in London. I would counsel every Member of the House to refresh his memory of the magnificent passage in Areopagitica, where the blind Milton starts a great period with: Behold now this vast city; a city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty … My Lords, I expect some people may say all this is sentiment. I therefore pass to some support which I think will not be open to that accusation. Many may be familiar with the Piccadilly and St. James's Association, formed as recently as 1950, an Association enjoying a membership of world-famous houses and businesses in this area. On the 12th of this month, less than three weeks ago, the Secretary of the Association wrote to his members about saving the St. James's Theatre. The response was overwhelmingly in favour. I have this package of repiies, but owing to the number of those who wish to speak I do not propose to read any of them. Some of them are very moving, from famous houses. Here I have one from Anthony Berry, of the famous Berry Brothers & Rudd, Limited, in those beautiful premises in St. James's Street. Another one I might mention is from the British Travel and Holidays Association. My Lords, in this overwhelming volume of correspondence the point is made that the St. James's Treatre should be saved in the interests of London, in the interests of business in the area, in the interests of the tourist trade, and in the national interest.

I do not think that the Minister's direction to revoke the consent that has been given should depend on a fund being raised. I have given my reasons for that. Nevertheless, I would add this: that I have little doubt that, if the Government will give the necessary time, the required funds will be raised and that this Association will play a leading part in raising them. In my speech of July 9 I pointed out that the Minister could easily (under Section 100 of the Act of 1947) revoke the permission that had been given, but I said, even if it had been difficult to do this, what would have happened if a Minister had said: "This is a mischief which ought to be stopped but I do not see any easy way of stopping it" in any Administration over which Sir Winston Churchill presided? Well, my Lords, we know the answer to that one. I do not know if anybody thinks that any Party issue is involved tonight. I think there is none. But I say that no Conservative need hesitate to follow the advice of Sir Winston Churchill. My Lords, I beg the Government to do their duty. It is not too late. They can still save not only the St. James's Theatre but their own good name.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, when I spoke on this matter in an earlier debate I was commenting upon an Unstarred Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I spoke spontaneously without any preparation whatever. In the course of my remarks I made an error, of taste, I think. I drew a comparison between the St. James's Theatre and another one, namely the Lyric, Hammersmith and comparisons are odious. I confess that I have not been to the Lyric, Hammersmith, for about four years, but my recollection then was of very uncomfortable seats and cold draughts. After my remarks I received a most courteous letter from the managing director of the Lyric, Hammersmith, in which he said that during the last four years he had entirely re-seated his theatre and had furnished it with electric heating, and that he thought it would compare in comfort with any West End theatre. I take his word for it, and I wish to apologise to him publicly for having drawn that odious comparison.

Now, my Lords, with regard to the St. James's Theatre, I have received, of course, the usual number of abusive letters calling me an enemy of art and so forth—which is exactly the opposite of the truth. Far from being an enemy of the arts, I love all the arts. But I am an enemy of the proposition to wish this uneconomic affair on to the ratepayer or the taxpayer. That is all I am interested in. I do not wish the taxpayer or the ratepayer to be saddled with the purchase of the St. James's Theatre, or its future upkeep, because I believe that to be an uneconomic proposition.

After my spontaneous speech in the last debate I thought I had better take the trouble to inform myself a little bit better about this subject, and so I went to see Mr. Prince Littler, the late owner, himself. I do not wish to become involved in controversy with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, over the merits of this structure. All I would say is that Mr. Littler himself, a life-long man of the theatre, described it, in a letter to the Daily Express, as "archaic." He showed me a diagram of the two circles, the upper circle and the dress circle, which showed that 51 seats in each circle faced the stage but that 146 seats in each circle did not face the stage and were badly sited. He reminded me of the fact that although Sir Laurence Olivier had taken a lease of the theatre for seven years he put on only three productions there, and was constantly complaining, throughout the two successful productions during his management, of the bad seating arrangements and inconvenience of the theatre. Mr. Littler went on to say that sanitary accommodation is really bad beyond description, and that it is almost impossible to improve it, owing to its siting, in the cellar, and the plumbing difficulties involved. He also reminded me that twenty years ago his partner, Mr. Gilbert Millar, had applied to the London County Council for permission to refurbish and modernise this structure altogether, and that the L.C.C. had refused that permission. Very well then. In my opinion, the future of that theatre is bound to be very expensive and very uneconomic. That certainly is Mr. Littler's opinion, because he sold it.

He told me that he had sold it as a going concern for £250,000, and that he had received a deposit. Lord Silkin tells us that the profit on the theatre for several years past averaged £27,000 a year net, which must be something like £45,000 a year gross, which would be an excellent return on £250,000. If Lord Silkin's figures are correct, and apply only to the St. James's Theatre and not to the accounts of a company which may include the St. James's Theatre amongst its other holdings (I do not want to go into that), it surprises me immensely that Mr. Littler, a business man who has been connected with the theatre all his life, and who is also a lover of the theatre, should sell such an apparently highly paying proposition as the one which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, describes. I should want a great deal more evidence of the net profit of the St. James's Theatre by itself—although it would, of course, be insulting if I were to say that I do not believe what the noble Lord said. But it seems to me that that point may require further investigation.

Now, as a matter of "brass tacks", what is the present position? A contract has been entered into, and has been carried to fruition, by which Mr. Littler has sold that theatre for £250.000 to a buyer, whom I will call "Mr. Fenston", because that is the only name that has been mentioned in public in that connection; and I presume that Mr. Fenston is now the owner of the theatre. What is it proposed to do? The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was directed to an argument in favour of revoking the planning permission which was given by the London County Council. Of course, it is for the Minister, as the responsible person in this House to reply to the debate, to say whether retrospective legislation of that kind is the sort of thing which is likely to interest the Conservative Party.


There is no question of retrospective legislation. It is the provisions of Section 100 of the 1947 Statute, an Act now amended by a Conservative Government.


Yes, but the point surely is that a contract has been entered into by this buyer and this seller under a certain planning permission which has been given. The noble Lord wishes to revoke that planning permission and thereby to invalidate the contract.




Not to invalidate the contract? Then what has been gained by that, because the contract stands? I should like to know how noble Lords intend to invalidate that contract because, if they cannot do it, then where are they? But, if they can do it, will not an action for damages lie by the purchaser or the seller against the London County Council in that connection? In the presence of so many legal luminaries, from an ex-Lord Chancellor downwards, I hesitate to go further into that matter, but it would seem to me that they have to answer that question: how are you going to get out of a contract which has been entered into and completed?

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, a man of resource, as usual came forward with an alternative plan, and I should not be surprised if it is advocated from those Benches later on in the debate. It is that a voluntary subscription should be raised and that the purchaser (whom I will call Mr Fenston) should be bought out. I am not opposed to that: I am all in favour of it. I hope that the noble Lord will be successful. But let us consider what amount he will have to find. It would seem that he must, of course, pay £250,000 to Mr. Fenston, because that is the purchase price. Then On top of that I expect there would be another £5,000 for legal costs—for solicitors are always very expensive people—and so on; so that the total there might well come to £260,000. Then they must have some working capital to run this theatre in the future—and it certainly needs a lot of redecoration and alteration. I see that the fittings of the bar have already been removed—I saw a photograph in the Evening Standard. So that there would be a great deal of expenses, and I should have thought it would be unwise to enter on this proposition with a fund of less than £300,000 in order to set the theatre going on a proper basis.

Mr. Felix Aylmer, at a well-advertised meeting in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, as Chairman of Equity, the actors' trade union, specifically said that he was not in favour of any public subscription. Sir Laurence Olivier, at the same meeting, said that the Government ought to buy it and run it—those are his words. I am against that. That is the only reason I stand here, in defence of the taxpayer and the ratepayer. I am all in favour of this: if you can get a subscription to buy the St. James's Theatre, good luck to you!—provided that you will guarantee that, if it fails, you will not come along again and ask that the taxpayer or the ratepayer should find the money.


I am going to deal with this point later, but it is an important one and I will put it to the noble Lord now, if he will forgive me for doing so. Would he join us, therefore, in calling on the Government to take no irrevocable action, and to allow no irrevocable action to be taken, until those who have in mind the raising of a subscription have been given a fair chance to raise it?


Yes. I should not object at all to that. If those who are protagonists of the St. James's Theatre will give me or the Government a guarantee that they will not seek a subscription of public funds in any form to support the St. James's Theatre, then I would ask the Government, and Mr. Fenston, to postpone a start on pulling down the theatre until noble Lords opposite have been given a reasonable chance of raising the funds.


The noble Lord, Lord Blackford, has twice referred to "noble Lords opposite". I should like to assure him that this is in no sense a Party matter.


Quite so.


We have not got together as a Party.




In fact, we have a free vote. I hope the same applies on the other side.




The other thing is: will the noble Lord accept my assurance that in my speech I deliberately stated I was not making any plea for public money?


Quite so.


I was not doing that; I recognise the difficulties.


Yes. Then that is all I want. So long as no money is to fall on public funds, by all means good luck to the St. James's Theatre! I hope that you will raise your £300.000. My experience of raising amounts of that sort has always been that you milk the usual cows first; they produce about £100,000, and then they run completely dry. Whether the usual cows—namely, the banks, insurance companies, breweries and other people like that—will join in the subscription remains to be seen. But as to raising £300,000 to buy the St. James's Theatre, unless it is put up by one or two millionaires, all I can say is that I very much doubt whether it can be done. I hope that it can. That is all I have to say.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to offer any opposition to the Motion which my noble friend has moved. If this theatre can be preserved, I shall certainly be delighted. One of my earliest recollections of visiting a theatre in London is of this very one. but my recollection depends upon the brilliance of the acting and not upon the nature of the theatre. I should like to take just a moment of your Lordships' time to make clear what the position of the London County Council was with regard to this matter. They were approached as the planning authority, and it was in that capacity that they acted. They were asked to give consent to the redevelopment of the site as offices, and that consent was given in accordance with the provisions of the Draft County of London Plan, as it then stood.

Some six months later, when the Plan was approved by the Minister, it was approved with the insertion of a direction that consent should not normally be given to a change of use either from residential or from a place of public assembly to offices. But the consent in principle to the use of this site as offices had already been given; and of course that permission attaches to the site. It does not matter who obtains the consent: whether he is the owner or a prospective purchaser, or whatever he may be, the consent attaches to the site, and the site is sold with the benefit of it thereafter. Let me point out, also, that although the Plan, as approved by the Minister, contained a direction that, in general, consent was not to be given to change to office accommodation, it is still the case that the central zone is zoned for shops. for blocks of flats and for other purposes, and that there is no direction against a change of user from a place of public assembly to any of those uses. Therefore. it would be open to the owner of such a site as this to apply for permission to use it for shops or for residential accommodation, as in fact a great deal of the neighbouring property is used. However that may be, that is what happened—the consent was given upon the basis of the Plan as it then stood.

The theatre was one of those contained in a list of buildings of architectural or historical interest, but it was only in the third category of such buildings, and there was no reason to expect that it would be designated as a building which was not to be altered. I believe that no list has yet been published for London, and therefore what the Minister's ultimate decision may be. I do not know. I presume that it lies in his power, if he chooses, to publish a partial list; and if he thought that this building ought to be included in it. no doubt he could say so. That, of course, would have the result of preventing anybody from pulling it down. It would not compel the owner to keep it up, and he could, if he pleased, allow it to sink into gradual decay, as has happened with other buildings of which noble Lords will be aware. Therefore, the position, quite clearly, is that either public funds had to be provided in order to preserve this theatre or else private funds had to be provided in order to preserve it. That is the position. I am not opposed to the Resolution; I merely wanted to make it quite clear what the position of the planning authority was.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I deeply regret the probable loss of the St. James's Theatre: and, as earlier speakers have said, the short and easy answer is to revoke the planning permission. But as I understand it, that would mean that the London County Council would have to pay a considerable sum in compensation. Supposing that were done, what would then happen? I think this is the weak point of the case of the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Conesford. There is no certainty that the St. James's would continue to run as a theatre. It has been sold by the existing management to a property group or company, or whatever it is, who have no knowledge of the theatre, and it is by no means certain that another management could be found to run it. It might, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has said, fall into decay.

Several noble Lords have mentioned that a substantial fund might be raised, and that promises have already been made in order to save the theatre. We all know that Sir Winston Churchill has given a lead by offering a substantial subscription. I hope that this fund will be raised, and I think I am right in saying that the Minister has stated that, should such a fund be in existence, it might alter the whole picture, and that in certain circumstances he might have second thoughts in the matter. I believe that the responsibility for the present unfortunate state of affairs must rest squarely on the London County Council, and I think the Government can, in fairness, put heavy pressure on that body to find a way out.

I believe that there is a way out, and I believe it to be this. The London County Council should be asked, as a matter of urgency, to reconsider their building restrictions on new theatres. I believe that by using modern fireproof materials considerable relaxation can be made, with safety. I believe that it is quite feasible, possible and safe, to build a new modern theatre underneath an office block. I understand that three theatres have recently been built in New York in that way, and I do not believe that there is any longer a necessity to insist upon an island site, which makes any possible site for a theatre so rare and so expensive that it almost puts a bar on building a new theatre.

With these restrictions relaxed, I believe that it would be possible to erect an economic building on the present site of the St. James's Theatre, to use both as a theatre and an office block; and it might be possible for the Minister to revoke the present order or allow it to be amended so that building could take place to include a new theatre. In fact a new St. James's might then rise. with none of the disadvantages of the present structure—and, in fairness, one must say that the present structure has considerable disadvantages, although in many ways it is a useful and attractive theatre. The new theatre could incorporate all the latest mechanical and technical improvements and would have no bad seats. This new theatre would be a commercial proposition and an object worthy of any St. James's Theatre Fund. The famous actress said to me the other day, "We are like skilled artisans without enough factories in which to work."

I hope that this debate will help in three ways. I hope it will help to stop the loss of any more theatres; that it will enable new theatres to be built economically, and that it will at least delay the demolition of the St. James's Theatre until the alternative possibilities have been examined.

My Lords, I have gone rather outside the terms of the Resolution, but I appeal to the Government to take note of the strong feelings which have been aroused, as shown by that most orderly and moving demonstration—probably the greatest demonstration that the theatrical profession has ever made—in St. Martin's Churchyard last Saturday. There are also strong feelings outside the profession. I hope Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to help the theatre generally and to give further thought to the particular case under discussion.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, first I must express my gratitude to several noble Lords who have permitted me to intervene at this moment. By an error my name was not put on the list. I shall not be long. The amazing thing about this debate is that it is supposed to be a debate about the theatre. I am a theatre-goer, in the gallery or the pit, but nobody has mentioned me or, what is more important, the people who really make the theatre. This has been a real estate debate, with questions like, "How much can you raise?—£250,000? That will not do," and an unfair dig at solicitors and their charges.

I came here not to deny the validity of those arguments, for, of course, the rising site value of London is its great asset. That is how London became better governed. But the thing that we are talking about is something quite different, something which cannot be measured, even by the noble Lord, Lord Blackford—that is, what is the value of this living theatre, the people who work hard, who have a precarious hold on their occupation and are not particularly well paid? It is perfectly obvious that, however good they are, they can never compete with the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, and his friends who know where to get the money. Even if you put David Garrick and Gertie Millar at the box office, how are you going to compete with thirty-seven storeys and constant hot water? It is impossible. It cannot be done, and that fact must be faced at the outset.


My Lords, they could try Sabrina.


We are dealing with two competing values, and if you are going to make your standard that of the slave market at Muscat then the living theatre is finished. It is because I see in the move of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—asking Her Majesty's Government to take action—a pause which may possibly give an opportunity for the growth of some of the ideas put by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, very movingly, that I speak, and I do not think your Lordships will mind if I go to the general issue that is. involved, which is a rather different question from that of debentures and the rest, about which I really do not know anything at all.

The first thing one has to ask is: is the living theatre dying? The second question one has to ask is: is it worth saving? I do not think there is much doubt that it is dying, if one looks at the list of theatres—and here I include music halls when I am speaking of the legitimate stage. I am a Londoner and I am speaking as a Londoner. My territorial limit is the sound of Bow Bells and I must include the music hall as very much a part of the living theatre. People say that forty or fifty years ago (and I go beyond that) there were thirty-nine or forty theatres in central London and that there are still that number. Yes, but who fills them? People who come from the suburbs. What happened to the suburban theatres? They have all been destroyed or shut up. so that we have 40,000 theatre seats for a population which one would put at perhaps 5 million.

The music halls have entirely vanished, yet they had an enormous value. I have sat for a London seat and I know that. They have local value, they have social value and they have national value. Where are they all? I am not speaking only of the big ones, though I might ask, where is the Empire, where Sir Winston Churchill made a very impressive speech from the stage in the 'nineties? Where is the Alhambra. which was one of the most interesting?—because a well-known religious weekly Good Words was in fact edited at the box office. Where is the Tivoli? At the moment they are actually pulling down the Tivoli, and if you go all over London you will find the same destruction. Where is the Canterbury? Probably many noble Lords have never heard of the Canterbury, which was the lighterman's theatre. Where is the Pavilion in Whitechapel? Where is the Poplar Queen's? Some of them survive but most have gone, and those that are left are in danger.

Now I come to something which is very daring because it is an attempt to appeal to your Lordships for what the theatre does and contributes to the life of the people. Perhaps now that they have pulled down the Gaiety and Daly's, the House of Lords does not take so much interest in the matter. But I will give one or two illustrations of the inner value of the living stage. First of all consider what is called the patriotic side. There is a great deal too much argument nowadays. In my youth patriotism was a thing one sang about. One did not know much about it. Rudyard Kipling was the first person to introduce political argument into a popular song when he wrote that silly ballad The Absent Minded Beggar, but in the old days popular opinion was led from the music hall and the theatre. We may have a White Paper on defence, but one song from Vesta Tilley would really do more for recruitment; a song from George Lashwood or Haydn Coffin—for example, I'll go down in the angry wave. would stir your hearts. When Vesta Tilley or. I should say, Lady de Frece, sang, I joined the Army yesterday so the Army of to-day's all right". that was a definite patriotic appeal. Where are we now going to sing It's a long way to Tipperary", if we pull down all the music halls?

I am not speaking against the cinemas—why should I?—but there is in the music hall a degree of domestic intimacy and mutuality between the stage and the audience which one can never get in any of the cinemas. When George Robey came on the stage and lifted his hat or waved or said "Desist!" one felt that one had been personally invited to the entertainment and felt "good". A square mile of glorious technicolour could never give you a feeling of that kind.


My Lords, George Robey never appeared at the St. James's Theatre.


My Lords, I am coming to the St. James's Theatre in a moment. I have ventured to cover the whole field of the living stage and I am talking of something which the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, never mentioned at all, namely, the people who make the living stage by acting on the living stage. We have left the field of finance for a moment for another relevant question. People go up and down Harley Street consulting psychoanalysts; but can they add anything to Marie Lloyd's advice, A little of what you fancy does you good!"? I do not know whether your Lordships even remember Dan Leno (everyone is so young nowadays), but when he was, as he told us, elected to the City Council and applied his shrewd common sense to public problems he explained how he was getting on; that he was a man for compromise and, for example, if some streets were hilly, he said, then let us compromise; let us be satisfied with trams that go down. It was an appeal to reason, something which satisfied your sense of the happy mean. I attribute to listening to Dan Leno my early appreciation of the leaders in The Times.

The noble Lord, Lord Blackford, asked, "What about St. James's Theatre?" That is a serious question. I have been dealing with the lighter side but not the least important side. First of all, St. James's Theatre is not the only theatre that is in danger. The Haymarket is in danger. I am speaking as a playgoer, when I was much younger.


My Lords, what evidence has the noble and gallant Viscount that the Haymarket is in danger?


Well, I have no inside information, but I know that the Carlton Hotel is next door. The Haymarket theatre is the one next door to the Carlton Hotel is it not?


No, Her Majesty's.


I am afraid I was confused, but whatever the name of the place is it is in danger. They are pulling down the hotel—what is the hotel called?


The Carlton.


The neighbouring theatre is being endangered, and I am making a serious appeal. I remember well how when I was young I went night after night and sat in the gallery and saw Sarah Bernhardt play every one of her famous rôles—Phédre. The Lady of the Camellias, Tosca and above all L'Aiglon. How can I ever forget how that old lady with a wooden leg tore our hearts out with the cross-examination of L'Aiglon? Since I saw you last what have you done? and the reply: J'ai grandi. If the noble Lord wants to hear of another interesting point I will tell him that in the neighbouring hotel, whatever its name, the eminent cook Escoffier was assisted by another eminent man called Ho Chi Minh.


I am only waiting for the noble and gallant Viscount to say something about the matter under discussion. Up to date he has not said a single word about the St. James's Theatre or a single performer who has appeared there.


The noble Lord, Lord Blackford, is simply thinking of the one thing—that is, of the estate problems involved. I have gone further and I have tried to put on this a wider and, as I think, deeper and much more important interpretation. In view of my constant errors of fact and the disapproval of the noble Lord I will not go too far. But I must mention the Lyceum Theatre. I do not know how many of your Lordships here ever heard Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum. One of the plays in which he appeared was a story of Waterloo and he took the part of Corporal Brewster. It wouldn't have done for the Dook. He'd have had a word to say". I shall never forget that. Does the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, wish to know what that has to do with the theatre?


I want to know what it has got to do with the St. James's Theatre. That is the subject under discussion. I am sorry I was not here when the noble Viscount first rose. Unfortunately I missed some minutes of his speech. But I have been here for quite a lot of time, and as usual I have been much entertained by his spontaneous remarks. He has ranged over a very wide field, but he has not mentioned for one moment the greatest enemy of the living theatre, television. Apart from that, he has not said one word about the subject under discussion—the St. James's Theatre.


I must be excused if I take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—namely, the question of whether State aid should be given to the theatre—and on that point base the broadcast case.

My last example, and the most moving in my experience, was when the two Coquelins brought the play Cyrano de Bergerac over here for a first night at the Lyceum. I am sure the noble Lord will permit me to quote two sentences from that play, because when you speak about the theatre as if it were something light and did not matter—as if all that counted was that the shareholders should get their 10 per cent. or whatever it was—I would ask your Lordships to remember the immense moral power that exists on the stage over those who go to listen. In my judgment Cyrano de Bergerac is the finest play ever written. How I remember almost the last lines in the play when Cyrano is defending the "forlorn hope." He is saying, in effect, we do not battle for success; the forlorn hope is the something that inspires us. Mais on ne se hat pas dans l'espoir du succés. Non, Non, c'est bien plus beau lorsque c'est inutile." My Lords, this is what The Times calls an emotional and belated appeal to tradition". It offends the good, practical, business sense of Lord Blackford. But I hope that it contributes something to the occasion. Those words which I have just quoted often think of myself when I have—as all too frequently happens—to face the icy displeasure of your Lordships' House.

Finally, I would recall that Lord Gifford made some practical suggestions. should like to see some of them considered. The first of them was: do not let us be taken by surprise. Lord Silkin also made this point. No one knew that this was going to happen to the St. James's Theatre (I hope the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, will note that I have now mentioned the St. James's Theatre). No one knew about this. So that is the first thing; you must not be taken by surprise. The second thing is that there should be something devised in the nature of a clause demanding alternative accommodation. It might well be, as Lord Gifford in his practical speech suggested, in the same building. I believe that that is what is going to happen at the Stoll; indeed that is what is happening in New York in the case of the Rockefeller Centre.


May I point out that that is not the substance of the appeal of Lord Silkin and Lord Conesford? They do not want alternative accommodation provided in some new building; they want to preserve what one of them has described as "an architectural gem". When the noble Viscount talks about providing a living theatre in that building or somewhere else, that is not what Lord Silkin wants. What Lord Silkin wants is to preserve what he describes as an architectural gem, a temple of histrionic tradition. He does not want a new theatre in a new building.


The noble Viscount was good enough to commend certain suggestions which I have made. He was discussing my suggestion and not what Lord Conesford or Lord Silkin said. I hope that I did make practical suggestions


The noble Lord tells me that Lord Silkin wanted a jewel preserved. I did not realise that. The Party system has completely broken down in this House and it is a tragic fact that we are now trying to discuss questions on their merits. If you add to the alternative accommodation some measure of State or civic aid there is hope. I remember a time when people like Lord Blackford objected to music in the parks. They said it was a waste of public money. But civic patronage of the Arts has now been recognised as a necessity of good citizenship. The Government have recognised it in relieving by £2,250,000—I believe that is the figure—the taxes on the live show. The London County Council spend £250,000 a year, in one way or another, in the support or protection of the Arts. Along those lines, if the Motion is carried to a Division I should vote for it. I would beg the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to take a wider view. Do not, of course, forget what Lord Blackford said about shares, debentures, et cetera in the St. James's Theatre, but do also remember that we are dealing here with the living stage, something which is a very precious cultural tradition.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, there is not a great deal that I should like to say in continuing this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will forgive me if I deal with his Motion in slightly broader terms and look at the problem from the point of view of the actors. I believe that this is of the greatest importance. The whole acting profession is concerned with the proposed demolition of the St. James's Theatre, the basis being that another theatre is going. In the last few years the acting profession has had a very hard time. It is a highly competitive life and only the best talents manage to pierce their heads through. I think it is true to say that we have the finest acting profession in the world and it is important to realise that our stage actors and actresses are the very core of the cinema, which is a more modern art, and of television. It has happened over and over again that in the casting of some of the greatest films that have been made, producers have always dropped back to the professional actor.

I was interested to hear it said in this debate, and it has been said before in your Lordships' House, that television will destroy the British stage. In that connection. I saw an extremely interesting article the other day, in which it said that one of the main American television companies in New York have suddenly found themselves unable to place all their time in their leading programmes for the coming year. I think that these things revolve in a circle. Therefore, I am convinced that it is our duty to help the acting profession as much as we possibly can. if theatres are going to be pulled down, that backwashes right down through the whole profession, affecting the normal repertory companies, which are the basis for all training of our actors and actresses, right back to the drama schools. I do not see how any young actor or actress, however much he or she may have the profession of the stage at heart, can possibly hope to be able to make a name if we do not take a firm line on this question.

I was glad to hear this afternoon that the situation may be saved by the raising of private finance. I should like to remind Her Majesty's Government that, although on a slightly different scale, if it had not been for the Government stepping in at the end of the war, we should not have been able to have the Royal Opera House. As many of your Lordships may remember, the Royal Opera House was a dance hall throughout the war and there was every indication that it was going to remain so afterwards. I am glad to say that the Government, in consultation with many authorities, took a very strong line about this, and finally the Royal Opera House was saved from the land of Jazz to give our national ballet and opera a home. As the hour is late, I should like to end by supporting this Motion to the fullest extent, particularly from the point of view I have tried to lay before your Lordships.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, in the last debate in your Lordships' House on this subject, on July 9, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, based one of his main arguments on the fact that the St. James's Theatre is not included in the statutory list of buildings of special architectural or historical importance, although he did point out that it appears on the supplementary list of lower grading. I have the greatest respect for the Advisory Committee on buildings of this kind. It consists mostly of distinguished architects, but I notice that no member of the theatrical profession and no historian of the theatre sat at any time on that Committee. One wonders, if the theatre had been represented, whether a different decision would not have been arrived at. The list is of buildings not only of special architectural interest but also of historic interest, and this theatre has the greatest interest to all lovers of the stage. Last night I was talking to a well-known actor, one of the most distinguished actors of the older school. I asked him what it was that made the St. James's Theatre mean so much more to him than any other theatre in London, and he replied: "This theatre, more than any other, has had a constant tradition of successful actor managers." That is a tradition which has lasted from the days of the late Sir George Alexander to the time when Sir Laurence Olivier and Lady Olivier had a tenure of this theatre. That is a vital tradition, which I think will die if the theatre is demolished.

I think that another great attraction of this theatre is its location. On July 9, Mr. St. John Ervine wrote a letter to The Times in which he said that he would see the theatre demolished with no regret, because it was not in Shaftesbury Avenue. I have the greatest respect for Mr. St. John Ervine, but I am afraid that I cannot agree with him here, and I know that a great many people who go to the theatre would not agree with him either. For me, one of the greatest attractions of the St. James's Theatre is that it is not in Shaftesbury Avenue. It is in a quiet cul-de-sac where, in clement months, one can walk in King Street, St. James's during the interval, away from the noise and bustle of the crowd.

In to-day's issue of The Times there is an article entitled, "Ringing Down Too Many Curtains." What a very true title that is! This article describes how the present trend of the theatre is away from the large music halls and theatres to the smaller type of house where in the present day more intimate plays can be acted. The article says—and here, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote a sentence: Because it falls into this category on the grounds of size, the proposed demolition of the St. James's is deplored by managers and British Actors' Equity Association quite apart from considerations of architecture and tradition. I think that it was clear in the last debate that now permission for demolition would not have been given. In fact, demolition has been decided upon only as a result of the tragic chain of misunderstandings and circumstances. No one wants the theatre to be demolished. The Government do not want it—how can they? The London County Council do not want it—how can they, when they are doing so much for the arts in so many different directions? The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, does not want it he made clear at the beginning of his speech in the last debate where his sympathies lie. The people of this country, I feel quite certain, do not want it.

This Resolution is phrased in very moderate and statesmanlike terms, as one would expect from my noble friend Lord Silkin. It merely moves to resolve That … no action should be taken … pending a decision on the matter by both Houses of Parliament. Various suggestions have been made in this debate. My noble friend Lord Silkin has mentioned the generous offers that have been made by friends of this country in the United States, by the Piccadilly and St. James's Association, in London, and by various other well-wishers, not least of whom is Sir Winston Churchill. And the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in an interesting speech, has pointed out that it might be possible for a new theatre to be included in the new building that is constructed. For all these reasons, I think that there should be a full-scale inquiry, and that Parliament should be given the right to put forward its view before any final decision is made. That is why I shall support the Resolution most warmly.

8.1 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for a moment from a practical angle? I think it would be unfortunate if the Government were to take the line of the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, of giving no more than time to raise money for a voluntary contract. Planning permission was, in fact, given by mistake: the application, as Mr. Sandys said, "slipped through." Therefore, if money is to be raised by the theatre, it ought to be limited to the amount that would have been payable as compensation. I do not want to see the Government simply sit back and give time. The owner might ask "the earth." I want the Government to say to the owner, "Look here; unless you accept the amount you would have got as compensation, we shall revoke the planning permission, which was given by mistake." I want them to say: "We intend to appoint a referee to work out what compensation would have been due if payable by the County Council." Furthermore, I suggest that it would not be unreasonable that some part of the compensation should be borne by the County Council who, after what has happened, cannot regard themselves as free from responsibility and who, anyway, have a duty, and I believe an inclination, to support the living theatre.

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, I think any friends of the theatre must have been heartened by the speeches to which we have listened to-day. There has been an almost complete solidarity and a readiness to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. It is not my task to point out any minor differences, and I should say that there has been almost total solidarity behind the line the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has taken. I am particularly happy to feel that on this occasion the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, has made quite plain his point of view. I am not one to cast stones at bankers, as I am a humble practitioner in that profession, where the noble Lord is much more experienced. I appreciate his financial standpoint, though I do not share it in this particular context. But when it comes to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, we find that Lord Blackford also is urging the Government to hold their hand. I would personally support strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, has just said; but I would emphasise that the Motion the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put before the House does not include the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne.

Behind the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, I think all stand completely united. Those who are following this debate from the galleries may be even more optimistic than I am about the outcome of the evening's proceedings. One cannot help noticing with a certain foreboding a cluster of Ministers. No doubt, as the evening has worn on. their interest has increased. But it is not altogether an encouraging sign to those who know the working of the Party machine. I hope that on this occasion there will be a genuine expression of free opinion, and that many eminent Members who are tied will not be allowed to sway the issue in favour of this "mistake," to which much reference has been made.

This is not a Party issue, and we have heard many splendid speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has never been seen to greater advantage, and I have never heard in this House a much more moving speech than that of the noble Lord. Lord Conesford. But what, to me, and to my political friends, is most striking is the number of Conservatives, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, including Lord Gifford, Lord St. Just and Lord Moyne, who have taken precisely the same line as that adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. So I think that one can fairly say that this matter rises above and beyond Party issues and aspects. The widest question of principle involved is not, I think, in dispute. It has been stated in various ways today, and it was put well in a recent article in the Manchester Guardian. They pointed out that it is by no means unheard of for a planning authority to refuse permission to what would have been a profitable development for the sake of preserving natural beauty. If I may quote the Manchester Guardian, they said: We must accept it that profitable developments can reasonably be restrained in the interest of the Arts also. That, as a general proposition, I think would be accepted by noble Lords in all quarters of the House, including members of the Government.

I know that the noble Lord Lord Mancroft, is a lover of the Arts, and that he has many old programmes of the St. James's Theatre, or photographs, gazing at him, perhaps, from his mantelpiece. I hope they will not be ghosts which feel they will have to turn and haunt him after to-day's discussion. I feel that the noble Lord must be in a difficult position. May I put it to him plainly?—because I think I have never failed in this House to do justice to his talents as a speaker. He left a strong impression on the last occasion (I read his speech the other day, and a very good speech it was, from many points of view) that if he had his way this licence would be revoked. He talked about his own feelings, and said that they could not govern the matter. What he actually said was: My own feelings are quite immaterial in this matter. But if I may say so, I think his convictions are most material, and to-night we look to him for a speech which expresses his convictions, which we are entitled to look for from any Minister, because a Minister is not just a hired official of the Government, but shares their responsibility. I hope the noble Lord, a lover of the theatre, will feel that responsibility heavily when he comes to wind up this debate. As I say, we have the principle universally accepted: that it may be right for a Government to intervene in the interest of the Arts.

Coming to the theatre situation in general (and I was pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, ranged so wide; I do not see any objection to trying to broaden our ideas about these matters.). I think we are all agreed, and that every member of the Government in his individual capacity is agreed, that the preservation of the theatre in the West End of London is a cultural interest of supreme significance. There have been leading articles in all the main newspapers, and there was one in The Times this morning which includes, after a powerful argument, this extract: Perhaps it is time that, as a nation, we took more collective responsibility for the drama, and integrated it with our commercial enterprise as a social necessity. That is the utterance of informed opinion, and I should think, and hope, therefore. that certainly, so far, I have the noble Lord and his colleagues with me, and that they would agree with this: that anyone who calls himself even half-civilised and I make no pretensions to go beyond that level—must feel not only depression, but disgust, at the idea of a theatre in the West End being pulled down in order that more profit can be made out of the site by building offices

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, made a strong point the other day, in a sense, though not perhaps a relevant point on anything that has appeared up to now, of the fact that the former Minister, Mr. Duncan Sandys (and I know that the right honourable gentleman Mr. Duncan Sandys is a great lover of beauty, in spite of his preoccupation with more terrible things) had attached certain provisions in 1955 to the London County Council Development Plan. One such provision made it plain that permission would not be given, except in very special circumstances, for a change of user for office purposes, of residential buildings and places of assembly such as the St. James's Theatre—even in an office zone or central zone. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, left us to infer from that that, while this might not help us on this occasion, if this provision had been in operation when this "slipped through the net" permission would never have been given. It seems, indeed, to be a common doctrine, agreed on all sides, that an error has occurred, not through any design of the Government, if you like, but through a mistake of the London County Council which is now much regretted by all, including the Ministers.

So far, what I have said will apply to any West End theatre, and would come under the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Blackford. But, after all, the St. James's Theatre is not just another theatre; it is a theatre of unique associations. I am not going to offer my own opinion, which would be of little value, as to its architectural value. I am content to rest myself on the leading article in The Times which says: The building itself graces by its elegance an area which, despite changes, remains the admiration of connoisseurs of architecture. Quite frankly, I feel that if that can be said in a leading article in The Times, we must accept it for the purposes of our discussion and make up our minds that there is something of real value in that sense.

But, of course, associations are, I suppose, what weigh most heavily with us, and still more heavily, perhaps, with the acting profession. We have heard—and I was glad to hear—from the spokesman of the acting profession, though I had to leave the House during part of his speech. I feel in this matter that greater importance should be attached to what the actors and actresses say about it, and I am not sure that up to now sufficient importance has been attached to it.

I do not know whether your Lordships watch the television, but I, for reasons of my own, listened last night to Miss Margaret Rawlings, and she explained far more clearly and a great deal more eloquently than I can what I might call the creative influence of a great tradition of this kind. The overwhelming opinion of the theatrical profession is no doubt doubly concerned about the contemplation of sacrilege. They say, and I am sure they are right, that it is the thin end of a very evil wedge. It is a case of impending doom for every theatre. But they are also protesting passionately, if I understand them aright, at the clodhoppers' standpoint, according to which this centre of theatrical inspiration is just a pile of bricks and mortar which is standing in the way of another and somewhat more lucrative pile.

I know the hour is late, but we all care about this matter, and perhaps I may be allowed to remind your Lordships of what Burke said on a different subject when he was writing about the Revolution of Critics: On this scheme of things a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal and an animal not of the highest order.… The scheme of this barbarous philosophy is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings. I have not the slightest hesitation in sticking that label on anybody who goes into the Lobby on the other side.

I will not stop to argue the question of whether the pillars at the St. James's Theatre are in the way. No doubt there are modifications which could be made. I had another look at the theatre this morning and some of the criticisms seem exaggerated; but no doubt modifications could and should be made. I heard Miss Margaret Rawlings say last night that she had stood at the back of the gallery and heard every word perfectly. Mr. Gilbert Harding. I am bound to say, said that he could never hear a word there, but she suggested that there was another reason for that, whatever was in her mind. I think we must take in that the actors and actresses, the people who understand what acoustics are and the people who depend on the audiences, love this theatre, and they are far better judges, I think, than the wiseacre who sets himself up as an expert in various offices which I will not specify. We have had real experts tonight in the form of my noble friend Lord Silkin and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, in the sphere of Town Planning Acts. In the last resort, if I am asked, "Is this a theatre in which great acting can be performed?", I would say that the opinion of the actors and actresses is what convinces me.

So far I feel that the noble Lord will say that he is not violently out of sympathy. But then we come to the stage when the noble Lord is to tell us what the Government propose to do. Do they propose to save this theatre? That is what we want to know. It is no good the noble Lord shuffling this off. It is no good his saying it does not come his way. It comes very much his way—it is very much on his plate. The noble Lord has a sharp responsibility, although I agree he shares it with his colleagues.

What has happened? The noble Lord will tell us, and it has been brought out forcibly, that he is sorry this ever occurred. He made it plain he deplored the action of those involved.


That is going a bit far.


I do not want to hold up the House. He actually said [OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 204, col. 905]: The Government much regret the selling of this theatre by theatre interests to commercial interests. It is admittedly an error, and it is in the power of the Government to set it right. Why will they not? They say they will not do so because it would cost money to set it right and they will not pay for it themselves, and they will not force the London County Council to pay for it. That is their position in a nutshell.

I do not want to be too sharp about the attitude of the noble Lord and his colleagues. If I were to speak very plainly at this stage I should have much more to say. I think most people who love the theatre would regard that attitude in itself as wretchedly feeble, stingy and shortsighted. As I say, I do not wish to speak too strongly because I wish to conciliate the noble Lord before I close. It is not a question of using violent words or standing here and throwing epithets at the noble Lord and his colleagues. What we want to do is to save the theatre, and that is the issue on which the House will be taking, no doubt, a critical decision in the light of the noble Lord's speech before we close.

As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, what about the immediate situation? We were told of various bodies who are seeking and may be able to find the money required for compensation or, if necessary, for acquisition. I hope the noble Lord will not stand there to-night and say that we have not left him a cheque in the course of the debate, and that these proposals have been made at the last minute. The Times had some rather sharp words about the Minister—not the noble Lord, but the right honourable gentleman Mr. Brooke—in that connection. The Times said the responsibility is on the London County Council who owe it to themselves, after all their expressions of regret, to be more forthcoming than they have so far been. A clear and detailed statement of the costs involved in retention would make it easier to start a public fund. I hope the noble Lord will not say, "If only we had had this a few months ago, then, of course, we could have acted: but now I am sorry to say it is too late. We are just going off for the holidays and there is a reasonable chance of this being forgotten. "I hope he will not give an answer along those lines if he values his reputation, which stands high in this House.

I have not forgotten that the purchaser, Mr. Fenston, is an important figure in these discussions. I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said was appropriate: we have no reason at all not to suppose that he is a gentleman of public spirit. He certainly did what he could in the Mayflower venture and I am quite ready to regard him as more, rather than less, publicly spirited than the average man. I hope that all that has been said to-night will be helpful rather than the opposite in any discussions with Mr. Fenston.

In the last resort the responsibility comes back to the Government. It cannot be avoided; it rests there. It is one of the great privileges of Government to take these crucial decisions, naked and alone. The noble Lord has been informed—I think he can take it authoritatively—that great efforts are beginning to be made, which may be promising (of course guarantees cannot be given), by responsible people to raise the money; and they could hardly have been made much earlier.

The clear question that must be put to the noble Lord is: are the Government going to give time for the money to be raised, or are they going to proceed to allow the demolition of this theatre simply because sufficient time has not been granted? If they say "It is out of our hands, morally if not legally; the demolition must run its course; we do not know whether the money will be raised", and if the theatre came down while money was still being collected, I venture to say—if I may use an expression which I hope I shall not have to apply—the noble Lord and his colleagues would stand dishonoured in his own eyes and in the eyes of his friends and opponents and fellow countrymen. I beg the noble Lord to say definitely that time will be given.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will press—and certainly I would urge him to do so—that either his Resolution or its equivalent be accepted. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, would not satisfy us by saying he would place everything before the Minister. If he can give the assurance that there will be time—three months, four months, six months, whatever time is necessary—to give those who are embarking on the task of saving the theatre a chance to carry through their work, then I imagine (though it will be for the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to say this) that he will not press his Resolution. Otherwise, it will have to proceed to a Division; and if that happens I shall never have gone into the Lobby with more conviction that we were on the right side and that the other side were in a position where they were bound, as men of honour, to be ashamed of themselves.

8.22 p.m.


My Lords, as your Lordships are painfully aware, I have the duty to answer in your Lordships' House for a number of persons, Ministers, and Departments. But I wish to make it perfectly clear at the outset that I have no responsibility to answer for the chairman of the planning committee of the London County Council; or for Mr. Felix Fenston, or for anybody else who may be externally concerned with this theatre. Many of the points that have been raised in this extremely interesting debate, and many of the questions that have been asked, ought, I suggest, to have been addressed to other people. In so far as it lies within my responsibility to answer for Her Majesty's Government, I will try once again to put before your Lordships' House, as plainly as I can, the reasons which have prompted the Government to take the action they have done. May I deal with two aspects? The first is the preservation of the St. James's Theatre itself, and the second is the proposal to build offices in its place.

To deal first with the question of preservation, your Lordships, I think, know that the only existing power to prevent the demolition of the theatre is that contained in Section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Under this section, the local authority, which in this case is the London County Council, can, with the approval of my right honourable friend the Minister, make an order for the preservation of any building of architectural or historical interest. Section 30 requires the Minister to compile a list of such buildings for the guidance of the local planning authorities. In this particular case, the Minister has been advised by a very high-powered Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir William Holford. That Committee has not been backward in making recommendations. Although it contained no theatrical expert, it was well versed in the problems which we have been discussing this evening. The Committee was aware of, and bore in mind, all the considerations to which your Lordships have given voice. Indeed, as I say, the Committee was not backward in making similar recommendations. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, raised the question of the Haymarket Theatre. He meant Her Majesty's—that was the one he was talking about—but the Haymarket is one of those—there may be others—which has been placed on the special list.


I got muddled. I was referring to the Theatre which was adjacent to the Hotel.


Yes, the point I am making is that this particular Committee had gone into this matter very carefully. It decided which theatres should appear on the list and which should not. One which appeared on the list was the Haymarket Theatre, and one which did not was the St. James's Theatre.

I do not join in the denigration of the St. James's Theatre. It is a very pleasant, friendly little theatre. It is associated, as we all know, with famous actors, famous managers and famous plays. I yield to none, and certainly not to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, in my love of the London theatre. But are these facts enough to qualify this theatre for preservation when this Committee has not placed it on the list? My right honourable friend wishes to follow the advice of this Committee. That is why it was set up. If he followed the advice arbitrarily on one occasion and not on another, there would be complete confusion. One cannot preserve a building merely because of associations or potential theatrical use, under the pretext that it is a Section 30 building. Even if this theatre had been of greater architectural or historical value I am doubtful whether it would be correct to retain it, no matter what the views of the owners, while it grows, as we have been told it will, progressively more out of date, and harder to keep reasonably in repair.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, told us about its financial fortunes of late. It has been fortunate enough to have had one or two excellent plays which ran a long time and did well. The noble Lord gave the figures. If they are correct—as I am sure they are—it makes it all the more regrettable that theatrical interests saw fit to sell the theatre to non-theatrical interests. I was going to say that this was not a first-class theatre. I should not go so far as to say that there is anything "archaic" about it—the word was used by somebody far more qualified to speak on this than I am. But it could not in any circumstances survive indefinitely. Rebuilding, which cannot be far off, is going to be extremely difficult, with the present L.C.C. regulations about fire, sanitation, and all the problems of its very limited frontage. That was the point which the noble Lord Lord Gifford made; an interesting point which we may have to bear in mind in the future. The blunt fact is that the theatre does not qualify for preservation willy-nilly. There is no power that I know of in law to preserve theatres as theatres. There is no power to compel a man to run a theatre if he does not want to. Neither the Government nor the L.C.C. are in a position in this context to restrain demolition.

Now may I turn to the use of the site for offices? The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, twitted me a little, perhaps fairly, into expressing my personal opinion. I stick to my personal opinion. I should regret to see this theatre go. I have expressed this opinion before on my own behalf. I repeat that the Government and the L.C.C. both regret that permission has been given for offices to be built here. This is not to say that at the time when that was done, in 1954, the L.C.C. ought to have rejected the application. As I have just said, I literally hold no brief for the L.C.C., but I think they have been somewhat inaccurately treated in the course of the whole history of this decision. It has been suggested that the decision was governed by low financial plotting and motives. Mr. Felix Fenston, if I read him correctly in The Times of July 19, said that the decision to apply for consent to build offices on the theatre site was made by the L.C.C. That is not strictly so. The sole issue was whether it could be held that an office building was then out of place in St. James's Street. The cost to the rates was not then involved. The Development Plan—this is most important—submitted by the L.C.C. to the Minister in 1951 provided that offices were a proper use in this area. The London County Council concluded that they could not turn down a proposal which accorded with their then plan. The whole point of a Development Plan is to have a public document publicly approved after objection and inquiry. The purpose is to guide owners and developers in making their plans. It is impossible to prescribe the use of every inch, every brick and every stone. This Plan does not, and cannot, compel people to use land in particular ways and in no other. It lays down the broad policies within which development and redevelopment may take place.

Now we come to the intervention of my right honourable friend the present Minister of Defence, Mr. Duncan Sandys. When he heard this story about the St. James's Theatre, he thought that the provisions of the Plan ought to be tightened. He agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, I told him a few days ago, that the loss of further theatres was undesirable. He therefore caused to be written into the Plan the provision that permission would not be given, except in very special circumstances, for the replacement of theatres, among other places of assembly, by offices. That was not the state of affairs when this matter first arose. This action by my noble friend was part of a general tightening of restrictions on further office development in Central London. The London County Council, I understand, are now pursuing this policy with vigour.

In 1951—I would ask your Lordships to bear this in mind—the use of planning powers to prevent office growth in Central London, with which we have all now become familiar, was still very tentative. The powers which were used then were mainly to get factories out of London. Experience in the past few years has stiffened the attitude towards offices. The amendment of my right honourable friend Mr. Duncan Sandys had the particular intention of preventing theatres from being unnecessarily sacrificed to more profitable office blocks. He intervened because it was this particular case of the St. James's Theatre that was brought to his notice. When the decision was given, the alteration had not taken place. All right. Why not revoke this permission which was given before the change brought about by my right honourable friend, before this more stringent policy was instituted? I hope to make it abundantly clear that the original London County Council permission was correct within their then declared broad planning principles, as they then obtained. The policy has now been changed. An application to-day would not be granted without the "special circumstances" to which I have just been referring.

Your Lordships may ask why the St. James's Theatre decision cannot now be brought into line with the new policy I have described. I suggest to those who feel most strongly about this—and I sympathise with their feelings—that to bring the St. James's Theatre problem into line would be most inequitable. I do ask your Lordships in all sincerity to consider this fact. Whenever planning policy changes, as it must, for planning is a living idea, are your Lordships really going to say that permissions already given, but not in accord with the new policy should be revoked? I cannot think that such a form of retrospection would be anything but intolerable. It would bring injustice, inequity and chaos; and nobody would stand for that principle for one moment.

Your Lordships ask, "Can you make just one little exception for the St. James's Theatre?" Apart from the question of compensation, to which I will come in a moment. Her Majesty's Government still believe that that would be wrong. Should this theatre really be retained, willy-nilly, even though its present owners have no intention of running it as a theatre? Consider for a moment, if you will, the question of compensation. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, made a most eloquent speech to-day which could not fail to move all of us. He referred to the question he put to me the last time this matter was debated. If I understood him aright, he suggested that compensation money may not be a matter which the Minister can properly take into account in deciding whether to exercise his powers to order revocation. That is what you are asking the Government to do this evening—let us be quite clear about that. We decided that under the preservation argument—


Who has decided it?


Sir William Holford.


I am so sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but I may have misunderstood him. He said "We decided". The noble Lord is referring to the Government, not to the House?


I meant that, if Sir William Holford has not put this theatre into the class to which the section applies, the Government cannot put it in. Your Lordships are now asking the Minister to use his power of revocation and to persuade the London County Council to do the same. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has suggested that compensation money ought not to be a matter which the Minister can properly take into account in deciding whether or not to exercise his powers to order revocation. I think that argument is a little odd. Surely the Minister should not exercise his powers with complete disregard of the likely cost to the public. I have already explained, in previous debates and in previous answers to Questions, roughly what the cost for compensation might be, and why. I will not at this late hour repeat that argument. In any event, as I understand it, the law on this matter is clear.

Section 21 says that the local planning authority can revoke permission if it appears to them expedient to do so, having regard to the Development Plan and any other material considerations. The Minister's power to intervene under Section 100 is a power to insist that an order should be made under Section 21 and, if it is not made, then he can make it. He is, therefore, bound by the conditions of Section 21. I would suggest that the expenditure of any significant sum of money would plainly be a material consideration in this connection. Both the Council and the Minister, I think, would be failing in their duty if they took no account of the cost of revocation. This is a point which I think we must never lose sight of. Any money spent or subscribed, with the hat taken round and benevolent and charitable-minded folk digging in their pockets, would be wasted unless there results from such an expenditure some assurance that the theatre will continue to be run as a theatre. That is what some people tend to overlook.

The revocation of planning permission for which your Lordships are asking this evening will not produce that assurance. It might, as I have told your Lordships before—and the Government have been roundly condemned by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, for ever mentioning the matter—result in a cleared site, an empty theatre or a cinema. I do not say that the theatre owner would have it done to spite the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, but that is what might happen. If you have to make people dig in their own pockets you must have as your object the purchase of at least a controlling interest in the property. Merely raising enough money to compensate whoever is entitled to compensation is not enough. You have to get enough money to have a controlling interest to run it as a theatre. We do not want to run it, as the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, does not want to run it, as a cinema or a Turkish bath. He wants to continue it as a theatre, and you must have enough money to retain a controlling interest in it. But the figure might be£250,000, even assuming—and we do not assume this too readily—that the present owner is willing to sell. This seems a high price to pay for an old and rather inconvenient theatre, however much beloved it is and however bright its associations may be. Her Majesty's Government have thought over this very carefully. I hope that nobody is accusing me of barbarism or of reaching for my revolver when I hear the St. James's Theatre mentioned. I make no bones about my own feelings in this matter.


I thought I had made it clear in my speech that we on this side of the House were fully aware where the noble Lord's sympathies lay.


I put my revolver back again. Having done that, I look at the logic of this case. Whatever the sentiment may be, I acknowledge it readily and criticise it not one whit. Neither the Minister nor the London County Council can prevent the demolition of St. James's Theatre unless it is declared a building of special architectural or historic interest. It has not been so declared; therefore, we cannot do it here. Would it be right for the London County Council to revoke permission? Would it be right for the Minister to override the London County Council, as he can in extreme cases do, and revoke permission himself?

My Lords, we have had much talk this evening of—I speak colloquially—passing the hat round. It is to the owner of the theatre, surely, that these approaches should be made. He should be asked whether he wishes to sell. Has he been approached? Have the instigators of this fund talked to him about it? Is he willing to sell? How much does he want? Who will run the theatre? All those are relevant matters, but they are relevant matters to the owner of the property and those who have the money, if they have it, to offer. My Lords, I am putting it as bluntly as I can. To order revocation in the way we have been asked would, Her Majesty's Government think, be most improper and most inequitable. Her Majesty's Government much regret that, having given very careful thought to the matter, they have come to the firm decision that they will not intervene.

8.42 p.m.


My Lords, before putting this matter to a Division, I feel, whilst having the right of reply, that I do not want to exercise it except to make quite clear what we are dividing about. What we are dividing about is simply that sufficient time should be made available before the theatre is demolished, to enable the necessary money, whatever it may be, to be raised. Whether that period is three or six months can be a matter of negotiation. But within that time we shall know whether these promises that I have referred to in my speech can be realised, and whether we can give an assurance that the theatre will be maintained as a theatre. I agree with the noble Lord that unless that assurance is given, then any money that is raised is thrown away.

What we want is that the theatre should be maintained as a theatre for all time. A certain amount of time is needed for that. The way to secure it is by revoking the consent. There is nothing inequitable in that—the Act provides for it in certain circumstances, and I am sure that the Act would not provide for anything inequitable, because at the same time it provides for the payment of proper compensation. Therefore, the revocation is subject to the payment of proper compensation, and all that is asked for is that in view of the fact that the public were quit, unaware of what was taking place, a certain amount of time should be allowed in order to test whether sufficient money can be raised to save this theatre. That is the issue upon which we are

Alexander of Hillsborougb, V. Darwen, L. Rockley, L.
Devonport, V. Gifford, L. St. Just, L.[Teller.]
Soulbury, V. Howard of Glossop, L. Sandford, L.
Stansgats, V. Lawson, L. Shepherd, L.
Mathers, L. Silkin, L.
Ailwyn, L. Morrison, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Brocket, L. Moyne, L. Strang, L.
Conesford, L. Pakenham, L.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Onslow, E. [Teller.] Blackford, L.
Perth, E. Chesham, L.
Home, E. (L. President.) Selkirk, E. Dynevor, L.
Mancroft, L.
Lansdowne, M. Bridgeman, V. St. Oswald, L.
Davidson, V. Templemore, L
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Hailsham, V. Waleran, L.
Gosford, E.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Resolution agreed to accordingly.