§ 3.24 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I beg to move that the Order made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department for extending Section 1 of the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932 to the Borough of Colwyn Bay be approved.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I should like briefly, with the permission of the House, to ask the Government one or two questions in connection with this Order and some of the results that flow from it, and also to raise some matters. I must declare an interest in the film industry. I speak for no one particular company, but for all exhibitors, particularly the small independent exhibitors.
As your Lordships are aware, this Order, which permits the borough of 1177 Colwyn Bay to allow its cinemas to open on Sundays, is being passed under the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932. This Act contains three conditions on which Sunday opening is permitted. One is that local opinion must be in favour; the second is that Parliamentary approval must be granted—and I believe that this has never been withheld; and the third is that the local authority has the right to levy a certain amount for charity from the profits received from this Sunday opening. This is called the Sunday charity tax or levy. The Crathorne Committee, in my view rightly, recommended, in paragraph 72 of their Report, that this charity tax should be abolished. I should make it clear that the estimation of the profits and the amount of the tax is determined by the local authority and not by the cinema proprietors. The local authority also nominates the charity. Neither the cinema proprietor nor his patrons have any control over this.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord what relation this most interesting topic has to the simple question whether this Act should be extended to the borough of Colwyn Bay?
§ LORD STRABOLGI
In reply to the noble and learned Viscount, I should like to say that I am going to raise some of the matters which flow from the Order, as I thought I said at the beginning of my short speech, and to ask the Government some questions on what policy they adopt to Orders of this kind. We have had similar Orders presented to the House before and no doubt we shall have them again. I have spoken on them over a period of nearly twelve years to successive Governments, including the one to which the noble and learned Viscount belonged, but so far we have never had any definite answer about what future policy is to be.
As I was saying, nearly £135,000 was paid to charity in 1963–64. In my experience, this must be the only instance of charitable payments by Statute, rather than by voluntary donations, as they should be. The film industry, like any industry in this country, is not opposed to charitable payments—I do not think anybody would be. The industry has an excellent record of raising money voluntarily for charities 1178 —as good a record, I would say, as any industry in this country. But those concerned in it object to being singled out, and to having to pay a charity tax for Sunday opening by law. Fifteen local authorities have abolished the tax. Some, I am glad to say, have reduced it to a nominal amount, but others, I regret to say, "soak" the cinema proprietor to the full. But whether they are lenient or stringent, all local authorities have the right to bring this tax hack at any time, or to increase it, and there is no appeal.
How can this tax be justified to-day? The Crathorne Committee said they found it difficult to see that it had any moral justification; and even if it was justified, on grounds of expediency, in 1932 surely that is no longer the case to-day, when the position has changed so much, particularly with the advent of the television, and television films are shown on Sundays in the home. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will support the new Sunday Entertainments Bill of my noble friend Lord Willis when that Bill goes to another place. But if they do not, may I ask them whether they will either amend the 1932 Act, to make charity payments by Statute for Sunday cinema performances no longer applicable, or will they at least fix a national rate as recommended by the Crathorne Committee in paragraph 71 of their Report? At present this is left to the individual local authorities.
May I also ask the Government whether they will allow the right of appeal to quarter sessions against a condition of a cinema licence granted under the Cinematograph Act 1909, that was permitted, by Section 6 of the Cinematograph Act 1952, to be extended to include Sunday performances under Section 1 of the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932. This again was recommended by the Crathorne Committee in paragraph 74 of their report.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi was good enough to intimate to me some of the problems which he has just brought to the attention of the House, and which arise under the present arrangements by which cinemas, unlike theatres and music-halls, are allowed to open on Sundays. These arrangements, which are laid down in the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932. 1179 amount to a system of local option coupled with provision for payment to the licensing authority of a sum, related to the estimated profits of Sunday performances, to go partly to charity and partly to the Cinematograph Fund. The level of this payment, commonly known as the "charity tax" is fixed by the licensing authority, but the proportion which has to go to the Cinematograph Fund, namely 5 per cent., is prescribed in the Cinematograph Regulations 1932.
Neither the arrangement for local option, nor the provision for the charity tax, could be changed except by amendment of the 1932 Act, and I think that at the moment the Government cannot see their way to find time in their programme. However, both these points are covered by Lord Willis's Sunday Entertainments Bill, under which the 1932 Act would be repealed, including the provision for a charity levy, and cinemas, theatres and music-halls would all be free to open after 2 p.m. on Sundays. There would be no local option procedure and no charity tax for anyone.
This would, I think, meet all the points of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, except the last one. I think, although I am not quite certain, that the question of appeal to quarter sessions is covered by Lord Willis's Bill. The Government's attitude towards that Bill was shown by my noble friend, Lord Stonham (whom I am particularly pleased to see back in his place), who said that this matter, namely, Sunday observance, was something which so closely affects the consciences of individuals that it should be left to a free vote. The Government's attitude is therefore one of neutrality towards the Bill. My noble friend's Bill completed its Committee stage on February 10. No date has yet been fixed for Report and for Third Reading. In the circumstances, I am sure the House would not want me to say more at this stage.
§ On Question, Motion agreed.