HL Deb 05 May 1964 vol 257 cc1145-7

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why a grant of £100 from Deptford Borough Council to the Unity Theatre Rebuilding Fund was refused the sanction of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend refused his consent because he did not think it desirable that a contribution should be made from the rates to a body whose activities seemed to be directed to Party political purposes.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask under what Act and on what basis this sanction was refused? Is the noble Lord aware that under Section 132 of the Local Government Act, 1948, local authorities are allowed to levy up to a 6d. rate and put the proceeds to theatres, orchestras and the like? Nothing in Unity's constitution or in the Deptford contribution contravened this Act.


My Lords, it is true that under that section quoted by the noble Lord, local authorities may make such a contribution. There are certain conditions attached, as the noble Lord is aware, but it is entirely their own responsibility and they can do so without the consent of the Minister. It is under Section 136 of the Local Government Act, 1948, that local authorities are obliged to ask for the Minister's consent; and that is what occurred on this occasion. On a previous occasion, in 1957 I think, the then Minister refused consent on the same ground, and the truth of the matter is that the Government do not consider that money provided by the ratepayers should be used for any purpose with a Party political undertone, no matter which Party is involved. And if the Minister's consent is entailed, we feel quite sure that in those cases it should not be forthcoming.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his further reply, may I ask him, further, whether if the Deptford Borough Council now offer Unity Theatre this sum under Section 132 they have a perfect right to do so? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is the Government's intention to keep a record of all the theatres in this country and of the political affiliations of all their directors?


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's second question, I am quite sure the answer is No, though the noble Lord will be well aware that the appeal literature sent out by Unity Theatre makes perfectly clear that it has political affiliations and even political purposes. In reply to the first question of the nobe Lord (I am not quite sure that I remember what it was now) the Council have the authority to do this on their own bat under Section 132, so long as they feel that it is within their powers to do so. If they are satisfied of that, the responsibility is theirs and they will answer to their own ratepayers for taking any action under that section, but the Minister would not come into it at all.


My Lords, as I am the person who opened the first Unity Theatre in the 'thirties, in what was I think a disused Nonconformist church, could the noble Lord say, when he talks about political undertones, whether there is anything sinister about it, or does he simply mean "Parties as represented in this country"?


My Lords, there is nothing sinister at all. The fact is that Unity Theatre is apparently backed by a political Party and in its appeal literature refers to the fact that it is a world-famed theatre of, in this case, the Labour movement. But it might be some other political Party. There is nothing sinister about it and there is no reason why a theatre should not have these undertones. The point is that we believe that the general rate fund should not contribute under the Local Government Act, 1948, with the Government's consent.


My Lords, do I understand the Minister to say that if the Deptford Borough Council operate under Section 132 the Minister does not come into it at all, so that they are quite free to get on with it?


My Lords, I think it is a question of legal interpretation which it is for the Council to go into; but there is the right to act under that section. If the Council do come to that conclusion, they bear their own responsibility. The Minister would not be involved.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this is one of the most lively theatres in London and very deserving of support?