§ 3.21 p.m.
§ LORD ANNAN rose to call attention to the problems of censorship of the theatre; and to move that it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to review the law and practice relating to the censorship of stage plays. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my purpose in moving this Motion is very simple. The type of censorship which is exercised by the Lord Chamberlain over the theatre is unique. It produces anomalies and embarrassments which I think must be almost as embarrassing to the Lord Chamberlain as they are to the theatrical profession, and I believe there is a widespread feeling that this matter ought to be reviewed.
§ I have always been puzzled to know how the censorship of plays became one of the Lord Chamberlain's duties, Apparently censorship goes back to Tudor times, but it was Sir Robert Walpole who placed censorship of the theatre firmly in the Lord Chamberlain's lap. The reasons, I think, were political. The Court and Walpole's Administration were satirised by Henry Fielding in his plays, and also in The Beggar's Opera, which suggested that Walpole's dealings with his friends and with public money were indistinguishable from those of highwaymen and thieves. Sir Robert Walpole did not like this satire and, as a result, the Act of 1737 was passed. In consequence of the passage of that Act, Fielding never wrote again for the theatre, and there began for the English stage a melancholy epoch of over a hundred years of sterility, which was broken only by the comedies of Sheridan and Goldsmith.
§ Then, because these restrictions proved so onerous, there was passed the Theatres Act 1843, on which the present powers of the Lord Chamberlain rest. By that Act, as later modified, the Lord Chamberlain licenses theatres in the Metropolitan area, In other parts of the country, they are licensed by the local authority. By Section 12 of the Act, no new play, or new translation of an old play, may be performed unless it has been sent to the Lord Chamberlain seven days prior to production and unless he has issued a licence. No deviation from the authorised script is permitted. By Section 14, the Lord Chamberlain is entitled to forbid 1152 the performance of any play, new or old, on the grounds of the preservation of good manners and of the public peace. No appeal against the decisions of the Lord Chamberlain by management or author is allowed.
§ In 1909, a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament made recommendations by which it is believed the Lord Chamberlain to-day is guided. A play to-day may be banned, or deletions made to it, if it is indecent; if someone living or recently dead is portrayed; if it portrays someone who has died within a measurable space of time; if is offends religious susceptibilities; if it conduces to crime or vice; if it might offend a foreign Power, or if it portrays any member of the Royal Family later than Queen Victoria. The Lord Chamberlain is advised by a staff of part-time advisers and by controllers. All these gentlemen are of his own choosing.
§ This, my Lords, is the form which theatre censorship takes to-day. But before I refer to the difficulties which it creates, I want to pay tribute to the Lord Chamberlain and his officers. Theirs is a very difficult and often unpleasant task. It is universally acknowledged that the present Lord Chamberlain, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and his predecessor, the noble Earl, Lord Scarbrough, have been models of courtesy and kindliness and conciliation towards authors and producers of plays. When Mr. Benn Levy, himself a playwright, introduced in 1949 in another place a Bill to amend the Theatres Act 1843—a Bill which incidentally was given a Second Reading—he complained whimsically that it would be far easier to abolish the censorship if the Lord Chamberlain were not so moderate and charming in all his dealings with authors. There is no obligation on the Lord Chamberlain to explain his reasons for demanding deletions to a script. He always does so, however, and tries his very best to suggest alternatives and to meet the playwright or producer. Indeed, after he has had further talks with the author, he will sometimes relent and pass a passage to which his advisers objected.
§ Nevertheless, my Lords, this censorship produces formidable anomalies. For one thing, the theatre is no longer the sole medium for acting. The cinema, television and broadcasting now exist. Plays 1153 which are banned on the stage can be performed on television. Sketches about living people are performed on the B.B.C., but are not permitted on the stage. Improvisation—that is to say, spontaneous dialogu—is inescapable on television. Yet improvisation is not permitted on the stage, where not only the text but the stage directions must be passed by the Lord Chamberlain. Then there is the question of ballet. The status of ballet is obscure. It has never been tested in the courts, but it may be that under the Act ballet would not be held to be an art of the theatre. In consequence, nudity and mime, which would not at present be likely to be passed by the Lord Chamberlain in the theatre, are permitted in the ballet. Then, again, the stage is censored, but not the music hall. Nor are the strip-tease "joints" in Soho. Indeed, to dramatists it must often appear that the more serious a play, the more likely it is to be censored.
§ Then there is the matter of theatre clubs. It is widely believed that if a theatre forms a club, which the public may join on payment of a membership fee, the Lord Chamberlain has no jurisdiction over it. On this matter there is a conflict of legal opinion. Some expert legal opinion holds that such clubs are not exempt under Sections 12 and 14 of the Theatres Act. The obiter of the Lord Chief Justice in 1962 threw further doubt on it. But even if the Lord Chamberlain, as an act of grace, turns a blind eye to such performances, a playwright can justly complain that his royalties have been most ingeniously limited. I am told that a dramatist who has been refused a licence suffers a loss of between £200 and £2,000, because, of course, his play is performed in a theatre which is usually a small theatre and will not go on to the West End.
§ Your Lordships will know that a prosecution is pending relating to the performance of a play at a London theatre, which the accused claim was produced under club auspices. I am advised that this matter is sub judice, and that it would be wrong for any of us to comment on it. But we are entitled to comment on the wording of Section 15 of the 1843 Act, and it is typical of the anomalies involved in the present law that a "performance" depends on whether 1154 the performance is, under the Theatres Act, a public performance and not on whether the play is obscene or as pure as driven snow.
§ I am bound to say that two major principles of the freedom of the subject seem to me to be infringed by the present censorship. First, a man's work and property—that is to say, the playwright's play—can be destroyed without recompense and without appeal. He is penalised for an offence before he has committed it, and he has no redress in the courts. It may be true that only a few subjects suffer in this way. But that has never been a defence in a democracy, because it is the boast of our own form of government that it protects the rights of individuals.
The censorship also violates a second freedom of the subject: freedom of expression. But before I try to deal with that, may I give some instances of how the censorship works? At the beginning of this century it worked so severely and absurdly that there was a public outcry. At that time three plays of George Bernard Shaw, Ibsen's Ghosts, Granville Barker's Waste, La Dame aux Camélias, and even, on the visit of a Japanese Prince, The Mikado, were banned. So also was Sophocles', King Œdipus. One of the Lord Chamberlain's examiners in 1891 said:
I have studied Ibsen's plays pretty carefully and all the characters seem to me morally deranged.
It is very easy to argue that all this was long ago and that such decisions, so ludicrous to us, would never be made to-day. But the principle that was then invoked is still invoked to-day. Surely—so it was then argued—prostitution, syphilis, abortion, incest, were deplorable, immoral subjects, and would needlessly shock the public. It is the same principle to-day that led to the refusal to licence Miller's A View from The Bridge, Tenessee Williams's Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and Charles Wood's Dingo. Two or three plays a year are refused a licence in the form in which the author wrote them.
§ May I here cite the case of a particular dramatist? One of the most interesting and most important dramatists in England to-day is John Osborne. He is in perpetual trouble with the Lord Chamberlain's Office. Many excisions 1155 were made, and more proposed, to his play of The World of Paul Slickey; 18 passages were objected to in Luther; and, finally, his play A Patriot For Me was refused a licence. This last play, like all serious plays, centred upon a number of themes, but one of the most important themes was that of homosexuality. The play was based on the life of an intelligence officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army before the First World War, who, gradually discovering his homosexual tendencies, indulged them and was blackmailed by agents of the Russian imperial secret service. On being exposed, he shot himself. I cannot conceive of any play less sentimental towards homosexuality, more cold-eyed and ruthless in its exposure of the horror of life with a particular kind of homosexuality, and less likely to induce anyone to go into this practice. The transvestite scene, to which particularly exception was taken, was both pathetic and comical, but it was entirely integral to the play.
§ This play, which won the Evening Standard award for the best play of 1965, had to be performed as a club production. Despite the fact that it played to packed houses, it could not be transferred to the West End. As a result, the management lost £16,500, and Mr. John Osborne stood half that loss. Is this the way to reward one of our better playwrights? Mr. Osborne is a devastating critic of the society in which he lives, as Bernard Shaw was of the society in which he lived. But the difference between them is that, while Shaw wrote in an Irving style, Mr. Osborne employs the full range of the vernacular. But is it really necessary to censor the wording of his plays as severely as they are censored? To-day it is not only the avant-garde theatres, such as the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, which are most hampered by the censorship regulations. So are the great companies of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare, as may be many distinguished repertory companies in the Provinces, which are supported by public funds from the Arts Council and are attempting to put on serious drama.
§ I will not now weary your Lordships with a long list of the sort of excisions which are made from plays. Many serious dramatists come up against the 1156 rules—as indeed would Shakespeare and the Jacobian dramatists were it not felt that their plays were licensed before 1843. The most numerous cuts are of language which is thought to be coarse or likely to offend religious susceptibilities. Here, as it seems to me, there is always a slight danger that the language of gentility may be imposed upon dramatists who are trying sincerely to evoke the manners and modes of different classes in society. I think there is unnecessary criticism on this matter from some people, though I well understand that others hold sincerely opposed views. Some people feel here that class bias does intrude. Some are rather sorry that the racy, vigorous language which is used by at any rate some Members of your Lordships' House, and by many members of the working class, should be excised and replaced by middle-class euphemisms. I think we have to recognise that, however much we may relish the language and wit of Wilde, Shaw or Maugham, the day of the jewelled epigram is past, and, whether one likes it or not, one is moving into the stern puritanical era of the four-letter word. This snipping of the text which occurs, and which is totally understandable in some circumstances, is applied even to plays in a foreign language. The Berliner Ensemble, playing at the Old Vic, were astonished when they were ordered to change the text of two of the Brecht plays they were performing in German.
But may I leave this aspect and pose the question which very rightly is put whenever theatre censorship is discussed? Are not the present arrangements better than anything which could be put in their place? Is not censorship by the Lord Chamberlain better than any other alternative? Hilaire Belloc warned us in his Cautionary Tales
Always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
My Lords, we might very well find something worse. The reason why theatre managements before the Select Committee of 1909 and up to the present day opposed any change was that the Lord Chamberlain protects them. Once he licenses a play, it can be performed anywhere. If managements were left to themselves to guess what line metropolitan and local authorities would take in licensing plays, they would exercise a far severer censorship, because there is no knowing how
the different authorities would react. When the British Board of Film Censors refused a licence to Fanny Hill, 18 authorities gave it an "X" certificate, 44 an "A" certificate, four a "U" certificate, and a considerable number banned it.
§ I have expressed regret that the Lord Chamberlain could not see his way to license certain plays in the form in which they were written. May I, with respect, congratulate him on his courage in licensing such plays as The Killing of Sister George, The Collection, and The Home-Coming? If his office were simply replaced by a professional body, such a body would be much more likely to be subject to the influence of pressure groups, as the Hays Office in America has been subjected to, with, some people would feel, deplorable results.
§ In fact, one must admit that censorship in one form or another is always with us. There is no statutory censorship of the cinema, B.B.C. or I.T.V. But in each case some organisation or group of persons act as unofficial censors. There is no censorship of books, but in fact firms of solicitors or of printers advise publishers that in their opinion a book runs the risk of prosecution under the laws of obscenity or blasphemy, or of a civil action under the law of libel. There is unofficial censorship here, because no one wants to lose the money that he has invested in producing a film or a book. If the Lord Chamberlain's powers were to be abrogated, unofficial censorship might well have a much more debilitating effect on the theatre than the present official censorship. It would be exercised by management or local watch committees, who would be alarmed at the plays which are presented to them; and in fact they would also be alarmed by another factor. They could be influenced by the common informers who would be able to ruin or embarrass theatre managements, because they would induce the police to bring prosecutions, or to issue injunctions, to stop productions, at enormous cost to managements.
§ I am sure that those who have the cause of liberty at heart ought to recognise that the Lord Chamberlain is under fire from two directions, not only, on one side, from theatre managements and others, but also, on the other side, from many well-meaning people—or, perhaps, some 1158 of them not so well-meaning—who would wish him to ban a geat deal more than he does. It was to get over this difficulty of the common informer that Mr. Benn Levy proposed in his Bill that no criminal prosecution arising out of the performance of a play should be initiated unless the order of a Judge in Chambers had first been obtained. This was a variation on the suggestion made by Bernard Shaw before the Joint Select Committee of 1909, when Shaw suggested that, before any proceedings were launched, the Director of Public Prosecutions should give his agreement. Another suggestion has been that this should be done by the Attorney General. Under such arrangements, managements would be free to put on any play free from censorship, and they could be prosecuted only if a law officer declared that a prima facie case for prosecution existed.
§ But here, too, there are objections. A play might run for several weeks before it was decided that a prima facie case existed, and during that time, say, the Crown might have been brought into disrepute. It may be argued that if anyone living were depicted unfairly in his view, then he has his remedy in a civil action under the law of libel. But we can hardly imagine such a remedy being of practical use to members of the Royal Family, still less to the Sovereign, whose dignity would be inadequately covered by the present law of seditious libel. It must have been, I suppose, such considerations that led Mr. Levy, in his Bill, to propose that it should be unlawful to depict on the stage any living person, or any person whose death had occurred within the preceding ten years. Nevertheless, I well recognise that some will be bound to feel that any such change in the law would be an invitation to some unscrupulous writers to see how much sadism and how much obscenity they could get away with and, also, how far they could outrage religious susceptibilities.
§ These are most difficult and complicated matters, and I certainly do not want to suggest that there is any easy solution. In this connection I have consulted many people and held conversations with a number of official and unofficial bodies, and there seems to be general agreement on only one issue—namely, that the present arrangements are unsatisfactory and ought to 1159 be changed. But I have not been able to find any ready consensus on what form that change should take. Clearly we need to take soundings from many quarters before we can decide how best to proceed. That is why this afternoon I am asking your Lordships to say that it would be desirable to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the matter. If that were to be done, we should be following the procedure which led to the great improvement in the law following the passing of the Obscene Publications Act. A Joint Committee would best represent public opinion, and if it recommended a change in the law it could indicate the broad lines on which the Home Secretary might draft a Bill.
§ If such a Joint Committee were set up, I believe that it would first have to consider whether there should be any system of licensing plays at all. I myself think that there is a good deal to be said in favour of retaining a system of licensing, though I am much more doubtful as to whether there would be any point in issuing "X", "A" or "U" certificates as has been suggested in some quarters. But if licensing were entirely abolished, managements might find themselves completely at sea, and in danger of being swamped by the waves of the law. But, of course, it is precisely on this point that one would need to have the opinion of all sides of the profession, as well as the opinion of other bodies.
§ There is, of course, the further question that a Joint Committee would have to consider whether, if a system of licensing were to be retained, it should continue to operate under the Lord Chamberlain. This is a matter on which there will be a great deal to be said on both sides. One would have to weigh the experience of the officers in his Department, and the fact that the Lord Chamberlain's position puts him beyond any suspicion of partiality or Party politics. One would have to weigh that and other factors against the fact that the Lord Chamberlain is a Great Officer in the Sovereign's Household, and that some people, and inevitably foreigners, would assume that censorship is somehow connected with the Court. I think one would also have to ask oneself whether, if the matter were to be officially 1160 reviewed, now would be the time to change a procedure which surely no one would dream of instituting if one were starting from scratch.
§ There is another issue which a Joint Committee would also have to consider, and that is whether to permit plays to be performed without a licence on the lines similar to those suggested by Mr. Levy in his Bill. It might well be that if an official, or demi-official, licensing body continued to operate, it would be possible, say, for an experimental period of ten years to permit plays which had been refused a licence to be performed. Of course, they would run the risk of being prosecuted under the law. If dramatists want liberty, they must take the consequences, but if the Joint Committee considered such a possibility, I think they would have to face the problem of the common informer, and consider framing legislation in such a way to ensure that no prosecution could be brought unless a law officer ruled that a prima facie case for prosecution rested. If this were done, it would seem, at any rate to me, to be advisable that the Law Officer should be capable of being advised on the literary merits of the play by a committee of literary advisers set up, perhaps, by the Home Office.
§ I hope that some of these officers would be under the age of forty, because there is always a danger that the taste of the older generation is imposed upon the younger generation; and it is among the younger generation that the majority of creative artists are to be found. If these means were adopted, frivolous prosecutions could be avoided, and the serious theatre protected, but filth would continue to be prohibited, as it is to-day.
§ These, of course, are only the first problems which would face the Joint Committee, if one were to be set up. There are many other problems, and for this reason alone I hope that there will be no move by noble Lords to extend the terms of reference of such a Joint Committee to cover the problems of censorship in the cinema, television or broadcasting. These are quite different media, each with its own separate problems. They are media, I think one is bound to note, which in these days reach out to a far wider public than the theatre—a public numbered in millions, whereas, for the most part, the theatre-going public is 1161 numbered in the thousands. So I hope that your Lordships will be sympathetic this afternoon to setting up a Joint Committee on these lines.
§ It would be disingenuous of me to sit down without indicating where my own sympathies lie. I said that the present censorship violated a second freedom of the subject—freedom of expression. Of course, there is always a conflict between freedom of expression and the need for security and moral wellbeing of society. But where art is concerned I think it wise to give the artist the benefit of the doubt. It is the most crucial of all his rights, and surely all of us believe that this is one of the most important distinctions between a free country and a totalitarian country. It is a little hard to explain to foreign dramatists why the texts of their plays have to be altered in this country to meet the objections of the Lord Chamberlain's Office. For example, it took the Royal Court Theatre six months of intensive correspondence between themselves, the Lord Chamberlain and Mr. Samuel Beckett, who lives in Paris, before one of his plays could be produced, with consequent great increase in the cost of production.
§ We notably extend less tolerance to the artist than do some other Western countries where the theatre is concerned. In my view, the serious author must be given freedom of choice as to what to say and how to say it. I am afraid this means that the language or the theme or the treatment may very well shock. But can one have art without shocks? This is one of the things that art does: it makes us see life in a new and disturbing way. What shocks one generation, the next finds commonplace, I well understand that at any given time there will be those who sincerely believe that the moral fabric of society will be torn to shreds if this novel, if this picture, if this film or if this play, is read or seen. Twenty or thirty years later it is being read or seen, and the moral fabric of society seems to have withstood the shock.
§ The real question seems to me to be: how far should we go, over and above what the law lays down, to protect the sensibilities of all sorts of different people from shock? Mr. Terence Rattigan has said that every time he writes a play he has in mind a mythical figure called 1162 "Aunt Edna", and he asks himself, "Would Aunt Edna like that? Would she understand it?". Well, my Lords, Mr. Rattigan's plays must have delighted many of your Lordships, but most serious dramatists cannot write with "Aunt Edna" looking over their shoulders. I myself very much doubt whether any Department of State ought to feel itself obliged to act as the guardian of Aunt Edna's morals. Finally, perhaps, we should not forget the judgment of posterity. An age is judged by the art it bequeathes to future times. When we are dust we shall be remembered less for the deeds we did than for the few good plays and other works of art which we witnessed and which survive from our generation. I hope it will be said that we succoured and not strangled them. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to review the law and practice relating to the censorship of stage plays.—(Lord Annan.)
§ 3.54 p.m.
THE EARL OF SCARBROUGH
My Lords, I hope your Lordships may think it not inappropriate that I should take part in this debate, seeing that for some ten years I had the honour to hold the office of Lord Chamberlain and therefore during that time I was, by Act of Parliament, the censor of stage plays. Having thus declared my interest, I should like to go on to say that I listened with close attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I hope he will not think it a presumption on my part if I say that it seemed to me that he approached this troublesome theme with great fairness.
Of course I like very much what he said about the present Lord Chamberlain and his predecessor. I find, too, that I arrive, perhaps by rather a different route, at the same final conclusion as that which he has just put before the House; namely, that it is now time for another look at this not very easy problem. After all, it is nearly sixty years since the Joint Select Committee of 1909 produced their Report, and since that time there has been enormous development in the whole wide field of entertainment, including the drama. At that time films were only just beginning; later, cinemas came to cover the whole country. Now, as we know, 1163 radio and television enter into every home.
Before I sit down I shall have a word to say about the wider context within which the censorship of plays might be considered, in view of those developments, but I want to say now that I support the proposition that a Joint Select Committee should be appointed to consider this problem afresh. I know, too, that my noble friend Lord Cobbold, the Lord Chamberlain, also takes that view and would welcome the appointment of a Joint Select Committee. As he will not be speaking until towards the end of the debate, he has asked me to make his view on that point known at this stage.
My Lords, this is not an easy problem, and I do not think there is any simple solution to it. It is essentially an issue in which we have to find a balance and, if we can, the right balance between conflicting points of view; not, I think, between conflicting interests but between conflicting points of view. What I should like to do is to put before your Lordships some views which I have formed on some of the main questions involved.
First, there is the fundamental question: should there be any censorship at all? I believe that one has to make up one's mind about that first of all. It is essential to recognise that there is a body of opinion which holds that it is a frustration of the human spirit for anyone to be restrained in his writing or in his creation by any kind of official. I know that that opinion is strongly held. I do not doubt that it is sincerely held: at times it may be even fanatically held. And, as the noble Lord has said, one of the great human freedoms, the freedom of expression, is felt to be at stake by those who hold it. Therefore it is important that it should be recognised that this very strong opinion exists. If it did not exist, of course, the problems of the censorship would be comparatively simple.
If I may express my own view, I do not think it is practical politics to abolish censorship entirely. I should not like to set myself up as a prophet—it is a dangerous occupation; but I think one must try to consider what might he the immediate result if censorship were entirely lifted. I believe that there is quick 1164 money to be made from obscenity, from indecency and from representation of cruelty on the stage, and although I would not for a moment suggest that the theatre, in its fullest sense, would be lured by that, I have little doubt that some persons would be so lured. And what would be the result of that? Strong public reaction. Most Governments have a great many things which bother them and which seem to be inescapable, and I do not see any Government adding to their inescapable troubles a further one which might quite easily rouse the sleeping conscience of the nation. For this what might be termed political reason. I think it unlikely that censorship will be entirely abolished; and on broad grounds of public and national interest I do not think it should be. I would call to aid that view one sentence from the Report of the Joint Select Committee of 1909, of which the Chairman was the then Mr. Herbert Samuel:There are few things more harmful to a community than the influence of a licentious stage.That was written in 1909. Is there anybody who will say that it is any less relevant to-day?
If there is to be some form of censorship, what should be the general approach of the Censor, whoever he may be? I am not thinking of the minutiae of censorship, the details: I am thinking of the thought behind his task. In my view, he is bound to have in mind that he is dealing with one of the great things of English life, something which has had a profound influence in the past and which was never more widely spread over the country than it is to-day. Almost every school has its play, often written in the school; almost every place has its dramatic society, of one kind or another; and civic theatres, repertory companies and the like, are slowly on the increase.
I remember being told on more than one occasion by distinguished foreign observers that in no city in the world, not in Paris, Moscow or New York, is there better theatre than in London. Realising all these things, the Censor is sure to want to act with great care, so as not to limit or obstruct the development of this great feature of the social life of the nation. Also he is sure to have in his mind that among those who are drawn to the life of the theatre are 1165 quite a number who are young, who may be termed avant garde, who are chasing new experiences, characteristics, I suppose, not usually associated in the public mind with a Lord Chamberlain. Nevertheless, the Censor, whether he is the Lord Chamberlain or another, is bound to be at pains to understand their desires and their aims and not lightly to interfere with their self-expression or their experimentation. So the Censor is bound, I think, to want to be careful, to want to be tolerant. So far, so easy.
Then we have to turn to the other side of the balance; and there are some heavy weights which go into the opposite scales. There are those who go to the play and do not like the modern idiom. There are those who do not like the pulling down of traditions. There are those who want to maintain standards of morality. And there are those who work with great devotion to preserve youth from what they conceive to be the corruption of the day. These are formidable weights of opinion. Their spokesmen cannot be ignored. How is the Censor to find the right balance between those two opposing ideas? He cannot expect to please both sides. He will probably be doing best if he pleases neither.
I used to set up for myself the objective of trying to keep the censorship not too far away from the centre of public opinion. That may sound a judicious doctrine: I found it very difficult to put into practice. Public opinion does not always exist, and if it does, it usually comes into play too late. The only clue I ever had as to whether I was at all near that objective which I set up for myself was if, over a period of time, the rather rude remarks which could be found from time to time in the newspapers about what the Lord Chamberlain had banned were matched by letters of indignant protest at which he had passed. If those two things appeared to be in some sort of balance, I thought I was not too far away from my objective. Usually, although it is difficult to be quite sure, the latter— the protests at what the Lord Chamberlain had passed— seemed to be more numerous than the others. But this problem of finding the right balance is the main problem for the Censor, whoever he may be; and though one may change the Censor, that problem will remain.
1166 Just a word as to what sort of authority might take the place of the Lord Chamberlain, supposing a Joint Select Committee thought that a change should be made. Various suggestions have been made, such as a body like the Board of Film Censors, which would be drawn from the industry itself and presided over by a neutral chairman. I have no doubt that a Joint Select Committee, if it were set up, would consider that and other suggestions, but I would plead, in the interests of the theatre, that any system which is set up should be simple and certain, so that those who have plays which they want to put on will know where they stand and will know that if they do get a licence from that authority it will be a licence that will apply throughout the country.
I should like to try for a moment to explain what the Lord Chamberlain's censorship has tried to provide for the theatre. It has tried to be tolerant, and I think in recent years it has been— some, indeed, have said too tolerant. It has tried not to be hidebound by strict rules, and has been prepared to move— not too quickly perhaps; but prepared to move. It has tried to be approachable. It has tried to be quick in the dispatch of the business which comes to it. Moreover, if I may make one further point, though I do not press it far, the present system costs the taxpayer virtually nothing. If there is any truth in what I have suggested the Lord Chamberlain's system of censorship has tried to provide, then the credit must go, in the main, to the staff of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, who have taken censorship matters in their stride, along with their many other duties, and to the examiners of plays. All of these have received little thanks and many kicks; but the credit for any success which is due must go to them.
I see sitting behind me my noble friend Lord Nugent. For some 25 years he was involved in these matters, and no one could have done more than he did to try to make the censorship which the Lord Chamberlain had to undertake palatable to the theatre. A Joint Select Committee will no doubt consider whether the Lord Chamberlain should continue as Censor, or whether some other body or person should replace him. I would note, in passing, that in addition to the Joint 1167 Select Committee of 1909 there were three other occasions when the House of Commons considered this matter, and on all those occasions they recommended that the Lord Chamberlain should continue. I think I know why. All Governments are scared of having to take this business on their own shoulders; they are quite content to leave it in the lap of the Lord Chamberlain. And I should not be altogether surprised if considerations of that kind did not arise again; and it may be that another Joint Select Committee will come to the same conclusion. But would that be right? On that particular question, I have two things to say. I would look at it, first of all, from the point of view of the theatre.
I am inclined to agree with one passage in Lord Annan's speech, when he said the theatre might do much worse than under the present system. But this question should also be looked at from the position of the Lord Chamberlain. The Lord Chamberlain is a member of the Sovereign's Household: he is, in fact, the head of that Household. As part of his business he endeavours to see that the members of that Household perform their various duties with anonymity, and do not, if they can possibly help it, become involved in controversy. Yet the Lord Chamberlain himself, by reason of this censorship task, is always close to this running controversy. I do not say that it is not possible in these days for the Lord Chamberlain to continue to carry out this task: obviously, it is possible. But I do say that it is much more questionable than it was in days gone by, because of the glare of publicity in which we live. It is much more questionable whether it is really good for his position as head of the Sovereign's Household that he should continue to do so.
I have one more thing that I should like to say. This Motion is confined to the censorship of stage plays. Your Lordships know that there are other forms of censorship. There is the question of films, over which my noble friend Lord Harlech now presides. Although it may be claimed that there is no censorship of television, I think I am right in saying that restraints are imposed by Acts of Parliament and by Government direction on the television authorities—and "restraint" perhaps sounds a much nicer word than "censorship".
1168 A Joint Select Committee may wish to look at all forms of censorship which exist; there may be some co-ordination to be done. But are not all these just parts of a wider question: how to reconcile freedom of expression, in a free society such as ours, with the plain duty of a citizen to have a care for others, and for the country's interests, in what he says or writes? I doubt whether any age has found the real answer to that problem. I do not think that our enlightened age has found a solution, though I expect we understand better than earlier generations did the dangers of too much control. It is not more control that I want to see, but a clearer recognition of standards. If there could be that clearer recognition, the social life of this country might be enriched rather than debased.
I should hope that a Joint Select Committee, with all the authority it would have, might be able to say in measured words what is intolerable for one person to say of others, and what is wrong for a citizen to say— not in criticism, because that can be most healthy, but in denigration of this country. I feel it is possible that if that could be said on high authority, some might pause before they lifted up their voices or took up their pens. A voluntary pause of that kind would be the British way of finding a partial solution to a seemingly insoluble problem. If that could be one of the results which came from the deliberations of a Joint Select Committee, then this Motion which is before your Lordships to-day may well have been productive of some advantage to the national interest.