HL Deb 09 December 1971 vol 326 cc912-9

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before explaining its provisions I should like to thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for his interest in it, and also to thank his Department. Both the Minister and his Department have given me much valuable help and advice, particularly legal advice over the drafting, while at the same time maintaining their strictly neutral position. I think the fact that the Bill is in a pretty good shape is in part due to them, and I am grateful to them. May I also thank the Parliamentary Clerks of this House for their unfailing help and advice in the drafting and the tabling of the Bill.

The Bill makes two main changes in the law concerning Sunday cinema performances; they are described in Clause 1. First, it seeks to bring to an end the existing system of local option, thereby enabling cinemas to be opened on Sunday throughout England and Wales, subject to conditions being imposed by the cinema licensing authority. Secondly, it brings to an end the compulsory deductions from Sunday profits payable to charity and to the Cinematograph Fund. I shall have a little more to say about these two points later.

As your Lordships are no doubt aware, Sunday cinema opening is at present governed by the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932. In any area to which the Act applies the cinema licensing authority is given express power to authorise cinemas to open, subject to any conditions imposed, and provided two compulsory conditions are imposed, one dealing with employment on a Sunday and the other dealing with deductions from profits to be paid to charity and to a Cinematograph Fund administered by the Privy Council for the improvement of the film. The Act of 1932 enables the local authorities of county boroughs, non-county boroughs and urban and rural districts to submit draft Orders. Provision is made for local objections to be entered and for a poll or local inquiry to be held in certain circumstances. Once an Order has been submitted it must be laid before both Houses of Parliament and requires the operation of the Affirmative Resolution procedure of both Houses before it can come into operation. Sunday Cinematograph Orders have now been made for all but one of the county boroughs in England and Wales, and for probably the greater number of other districts having cinemas.

The Crathorne Committee, set up by the Home Secretary in 1961 to review the law relating to Sunday entertainments, sports, pastimes and trading in England and Wales, reported in 1964 and recommended that cinemas should be allowed to open anywhere on Sunday and that the charity tax should be abolished. Clause 1(1) of this Bill gives effect to the first of these two recommendations by abrogating the words—and I quote, "to which this section extends", in Section 1 of the Sunday Entertainments Act of 1932. The effect of this Amendment would be to give cinema licensing authorities power anywhere in England or Wales to allow cinemas in their area to open on a Sunday. They would retain power to attach conditions to such an opening, although the second Amendment made in the clause would of course bring to an end the compulsory charity tax condition. But the exercise of these powers would in future, by reason of Clause 2, be subject to a right of appeal.

Subsection (2) abrogates paragraph (b) of the proviso to Section 1(1) of the 1932 Act, which required the licensing authority to make it a condition of Sunday opening that contributions were made to charity and to the Cinematograph Fund from the profit of such an opening. The Crathorne Committee recommended the abolition of the charity tax, about which it said—and with this I fully agree— We found it difficult to discover that the 'tax' had any moral justification even when it was introduced; if there were ever grounds of expediency, they no longer exist. Clause 2 gives a right of appeal to any person aggrieved by, first, the refusal by an authority to allow a place to be opened for cinema entertainment on a Sunday or, secondly, any conditions which the authority may have imposed under Section 1(1) of the 1932 Act as amended by this Bill. The clause achieves this by applying the provisions of Section 6(1) and (2) of the 1952 Cinematograph Act to a refusal to allow Sunday opening, and to any conditions relating to Sunday opening imposed by the licensing authority. That section gave a right of appeal to quarter sessions and applied the procedure of the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1879. These provisions have now been amended by the Courts Act 1971, and as at present drafted I am sorry to say that the clause is defective in that it fails to take account of the changes made by the 1971 Act, and in particular the repeal of Section 6(2) of the 1952 Act. If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading I propose at the Committee stage to introduce an Amendment to delete from the Bill the reference to Section 6(2) of the Cinematograph Act 1952.

Clause 3 deals with the winding-up of the Cinematograph Fund. Under Section 1 of the 1932 Act cinemas are allowed to open on Sundays subject to licensing control by the local authority and to payment to the licensing authority of a sum, which could be related to the estimated profits of Sunday performances, to go partly to charity and partly to the Cinematograph Fund. The amount of this sum, the charity tax, is fixed by the licensing authority. The proportion which is to go to the Cinematograph Fund is prescribed in the Cinematograph Fund Regulations 1933, and it amounts to 5 per cent. In practice, this percentage has been used to support the British Film Institute. The amounts accruing to the Fund have been dwindling over the years. During the last decade many local authorities have collected a purely nominal amount and some have collected nothing at all. The figures for March, 1971, show a balance of £1,550 after receipts of £2,500, expenses of £450 and a grant of £500.

Subsection (1) empowers the Privy Council to wind up the Fund when it appears that no further sums will accrue to it. None can be earned after the date of operation of the Bill, but amounts falling due in respect of the period up to the date of operation of the Bill are likely to trickle in slowly. For this reason, the date of winding-up is left to the Privy Council. This subsection also provides for the disposal of the balance of monies in the Fund in accordance with the purposes for which the Fund was set up, less only appropriate administrative expenses of the Privy Council. Subsection (2) makes provision for the auditing of the final account.

Clause 4 deals with the consequential repeals of the 1932 Act. It provides for the provisions specified in the Schedule to be repealed. As drafted these are all repeals of the 1932 Act. There are, however, certain repeals in other Acts which should be included in the Schedule, and the Bill is defective without those. I propose moving the necessary Amendments at a later stage of the Bill. Clause 5 defines two expressions used in the Bill: "the Act of 1932" means the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932, and "cinematograph entertainment" has the same meaning as in the Act of 1932.

Clause 6 contains the formal provisions for the short title, extent and commencement date. The Act would not, of course, apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, as the Sunday Entertainments Act 1932 extends only to England and Wales. In Scotland, Sunday observance is controlled by local legislation, and, of course, in Ireland this is a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. Since the purpose of the Bill is only to amend the system set up by the 1932 Act it is unnecessary, I am advised, for it to extend to Scotland. The Act would come into operation on April 1, 1972. For accounting purposes, the obligation to make contributions to the Cinematograph Fund needs to be brought to an end on a quarter day. I propose, therefore, if this Bill is given a Second Reading, to table an Amendment to alter the commencement date to July 1, 1972, the next quarter day, to ensure that the Bill is not lost if it cannot com plete all its stages in both Houses before April 1, 1972.

I apologise for the fact that the provisions which this Bill seeks to repeal are rather complicated. Basically, the principles in the Bill were passed by this House when the Bill of my noble friend Lord Willis was considered, and it is really the non-controversial parts of that Bill, and it seeks to bring the law up to date with current practice. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Strabolgi.)

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on the thorough and authoritative manner in which he has introduced this Bill to your Lordships' House this afternoon. As he has explained, the purpose of the Bill is to implement one of the recommendations of the Crathorne Committee on the Law on Sunday Observance. The first recommendation of that Committee, which reported in 1964, was that cinemas should be allowed to open anywhere on Sunday and that the "charity tax" should be abolished. The purpose of this Bill, as we have heard, is to bring the system of local option to an end, together with the charity tax which was associated with it in 1932.

Noble Lords who have followed this matter will be aware of the various unsuccessful attempts which have been made to implement the Crathorne recommendations concerning sport and entertainment. Several Private Members' Bills have been introduced in the recent past and have encountered strong opposition on a number of issues. The question of the observance of Sunday as a day of rest, the question of employment, and the question of possible noise and nuisance from professional sporting occasions were perhaps the most important of these. But these issues hardly arise, if at all, on the present Bill promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for the issue of principle was effectively decided in 1932 in an Act which, as he explained, contains provisions safeguarding the position of those who may be employed on Sundays. Since the Act was passed, under the procedure of local option, Sunday cinema opening has been introduced in England and Wales in every county borough except one—which, interestingly enough, is in the North-East of England and not in Wales—and steps are in hand, I understand, to introduce it there. It also applies in well over 80 per cent. of the non-county boroughs and in about half of the other county districts. In the light of these figures, it would seem that Sunday cinema opening is acceptable to the great majority of the population, and that the absence of Orders in some, mainly rural, areas is probably more of an indication of the absence of a cinema there than of any opposition to the principle of opening cinemas on Sundays.

In these circumstances, the Government would not wish to raise any objection to the implementation of the principle behind this Bill. Noble Lords appreciate the convention with Private Members' legislation, which prevents me from going beyond a position of neutrality. But I can assure the House that on this occasion the neutrality is a benevolent one. I should like to acknowledge the gratitude which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, expressed at the beginning of his speech to members of my Department for the advice that they have been able to offer him in drawing up the Bill which is now being introduced.

As regards the provisions of the Bill itself, these appear to be generally in satisfactory form. Clause 1 brings to an end the system of local option, and also the compulsory condition under which contributions to the charity tax are exacted. Although this condition is compulsory, local authorities have a discretion about the amount to be raised under it, and in recent years they have exercised this discretion in such a way as to reduce the contribution from this source to an almost nominal amount. As the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill indicates, the Cinematograph Fund stood on March 31, 1971, at £1,550 and receipts in recent years have been of that order. The main change effected by the clause, therefore, is the ending of the system of local option.

I might add that if this Bill passes it will effect an administrative simplification which comes about at a particularly opportune time. Cinema licensing authorities are county and county borough councils, which have the power to dele gate this responsibility to district councils or to the local justices. These powers have been exercised in some cases but not in others. The system of local option in the 1932 Act, however, confers the power of local decision on the councils of boroughs (whether county or non-county) and of county districts. Sunday cinema opening may, therefore, be authorised for an area which is not coterminous with that of the cinema licensing authority. I am advised that this has not caused any serious inconvenience up till now, but it is a matter which could possibly cause some difficulty under local government reorganisation in the future.

It might be thought that although the Bill brings to an end the formal system of local option, it leaves a degree of discretion with the local licensing authority in that under the 1932 Act, as it would be amended by the Bill, it remains a matter for the licensing authority to decide whether to allow a cinema to open on a Sunday. I am, however, advised that, Parliament having decided in principle that Sunday cinema opening should be lawful, it would not be open to an individual authority to refuse to allow a cinema to open solely on this ground. There might, of course, be some specific ground on which the licensing authority might justify a refusal to allow Sunday opening but it would have to be a reason which did not depend solely on the issue of principle of Sunday observance. To put the matter beyond doubt, Clause 2 of the Bill gives a right of appeal against refusal to allow a cinema to open on Sunday or against any of the conditions attached to the licence in respect of Sunday opening. This will ensure that the purpose of the Bill cannot be circumvented by the imposition of unreasonable conditions.

Clause 3 of the Bill makes provision for the winding up of the Cinematograph Fund, which is already almost moribund, as I have pointed out. Indeed, the Bill provides not only for the demise of the Fund but also for the decent burial of the remains and appropriate obituary notice in the form of a final audit. The remaining provisions in the Bill concern various repeals and formal matters.

In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has already drawn your Lordships' attention to one or two small points in the Bill in which it is technically defective. As he told your Lordships, since the Bill was first drafted last Session the Crown Court Act 1971 has been passed, and has made certain amendments to the appeal provisions in Section 6 of the Cinematograph Act 1952 which are applied by Clause 2 of the Bill. A minor amendment of the Bill is needed to take account of this. There is also the question of the date on which the Bill is to come into operation, and the noble Lord told us that he has in mind an Amendment concerning that as well.

Therefore, my Lords, the Government's advice to your Lordships is that this is a measure on which individual noble Lords will wish to make up their own minds. The position of the Government is that it is neutral in this matter but, given the circumstances, this is a neutrality which I have already described as benevolent. I must, however, make clear that no Government time can be made available for the Bill in another place, and if it is successful in your Lordships' House it will need to succeed elsewhere on its own merits. The Bill, as drafted, as I have mentioned' and as the promoter has acknowledged, has certain minor defects, but these can be put right and, if suitably amended and approved by Parliament, this Bill would constitute a useful simplification of the present law in this field.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his remarks and for the general welcome that he has given to the Bill, while of course maintaining his benevolent neutrality.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.