HL Deb 14 December 1971 vol 326 cc1045-57

"Actors and Actresses earnestly and humbly beg that the House of Commons will not allow them to be compelled, in the interest of commercial managements, to work on Sundays, but will preserve to them the liberty which the law provides to work only six days in each week and to have their day of rest in their own homes.

"They submit that this day of rest is valueless to them if, by the arbitrary will of local authorities and of managers, it is varied in each contract, for Sunday is the day on which wives, husbands and children are released from labour. Actors and actresses who are denied this day will be debarred from the happiness of private life, and, though profit may be increased, humanity will suffer."

This petition is signed, as I said, by 48 actors and actresses, including Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Richard Attenborough, Cicely Courtneidge, Nicholas Hannen, Jack Hawkins, Evelyn Laye, Dame Margaret Rutherford, and Dame Athene Seyler.

I should now like to come a little closer to the present time and to give the reactions of Equity when Mr. John Parker's Sunday Entertainments Bill was introduced in 1969. I have heard nothing from Equity to indicate that their view has changed in the intervening period. I quote from the Stage of July 3, 1969: Sunday Bill. No Equity support in any way. Gerald Croasdell, General Secretary of Equity, states that Equity Council have decided that they would not be reflecting the views of the membership as a whole if they were to support the Sunday Entertainments Bill in any way. It is widely believed, ' says an Equity statement, that members of the theatrical profession as a whole support the Sunday Entertainments Bill. It is true that many do so. On the other hand, since the Bill was introduced strong opposition to it has been expressed at meetings of Equity members and a request that Equity itself should actively oppose the measure has been signed by a large number of actors and actresses, including more than 200 artists now appearing in nine West End productions


My Lords, would the noble Viscount allow me to speak on one correction of fact, or would he prefer me to wait until the end of the debate? I have been in con; tact with Equity officials this morning, and they have no objection to this Bill provided that negotiations take place directly between Equity and the managements.


My Lords, I would suggest to your Lordships that this is a matter on which people do not lightly change their opinions, and, as I said a moment ago, two years ago there were at least 200 artists asking Equity to oppose the measure. The noble Baroness also mentioned the support that she has for her Bill from the licensees and theatre managers. I should like to read to your Lordships a letter from one licensee and manager, written to the Evening News on March 6, 1969: As the Licensee and Manager of the historical Theatre Royal, Haymarket, I agree with all my heart with John Lambert's views on Sunday opening … To everyone who works in the theatre from check-takers and dressers to small part and leading actors Sunday is a blessed day, our one clay off, the only day we can spend in our homes with our children. And don't forget that we in the theatre work six days a week. What a splendid thing it would be for our country if everyone did the same. For decades we have worked all day Saturday giving pleasure to other's leisure. Who wants a Continental Sunday anyway? I believe it was our English Sunday that gave us the self-control and discipline that served us so well in times of stress. Today, especially, it is these qualities we cannot afford to lose.—Sylva Stuart Watson. Theatre Royal, Haymarket." My Lords, I hope that I have said enough to show that there is a substantial minority of actors and actresses who are opposed to Sunday working because of the harmful effect on their families. The trouble about being an actor, I understand, is that one is away from home just at the time when one's children return from school; and one does not go to bed very early and may not be up in time to see them off to school the following morning. I would particularly ask at this time, when a happy family life is not easy to achieve, not easy for any of us, that we do not do anything which is going to detract from the family happiness of others. Let us not look to short-term profits but to long-term happiness. I must oppose this Bill and I hope that other noble Lords who share this view will support me.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should very much like to support this Bill and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, on introducing it. I am going to give your Lordships only a few of my personal views, so I shall not keep you very long. I have a good many friends in the theatrical world and I have spoken to a number of them about this Bill, not only now but in the past. Only a couple of days ago I spoke to a well-known producer, and his view was that, as Mondays are always bad days for the theatre, why should not the ordinary person, who has a holiday on Sunday, be able to go to a theatre on Sunday? Another friend, to whom I spoke quite lately, a well-known actor, told me that he thought the average actor or actress would like Sunday night opening, as Monday nights were always dreary and the theatre was almost empty. I am quite in agreement with the right reverend Prelate in saying that there ought to be an option and that we cannot expect people to work six days a week, but I think that Sunday opening might help a great many people. It seems a universal view among my friends that Sunday opening is something they are very much in favour of.

My next point concerns a personal observance of my own. I have only comparatively late in life lived entirely in London. I am a rather busy person, so I find that I go to the cinema or to a concert on Sunday because they are open, whereas the live theatre, which I love, is not. I am astonished at the queues of people outside every cinema both for the afternoon and for the evening performances, not only in the West End but far afield—in Chelsea, Kensington, Putney and so on, and one has usually to queue or to go to two or three cinemas before one can find a seat. Why should they be allowed to go to a cinema or concert and not to the live theatre?

I read through the Crathorne Report on The Law on Sunday Observance, and I found nothing in the Report against the opening of theatres on Sunday—in fact quite to the contrary. Add to this, as we all know, that T.V. goes on from morning to night and that many families look at it all day and all evening, what is the difference between this and going to the theatre? It is true that some of the T.V. performances are recorded before Sunday, but many programmes are transmitted live, and by not opening the theatre until after 1 o'clock no one is prevented from attending service in their church. Like the right reverend Prelate, I feel that the theatres should not open before 1 o'clock, but I doubt whether they would open at that time because the people concerned might want to have something to eat before the performance started. It seems to me to be quite ridiculous that an Act of 1780 should prevent the public from seeing a stage play or a variety performance on Sundays when they can visit any cinema, drink in a public house, watch television or, should they wish, visit a night club where a show is often prevented. It need not be pornographic to he entertainment. I urge your Lordships to support this Bill.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House was deeply impressed with the sincerity with which the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, spoke just now. I would like to support him; and I do so, wishing to recall to your Lordships that, not for the first time, the label "progress" has been used to invoke a measure that is in fact essentially retrograde. And merely to denounce an Act because it was passed in 1780 seems to me to be a strange course of logic in a Parliament, some of whose rights date from Magna Charta itself.

No sensible person denies society's need of a regular interval or even day of rest for everybody. That is common ground. Pressure for, and acceptance of, the five-day week indeed demonstrates this. The question is whether this so plausible and so agreeably moved Bill really helps to bring that about. I am always happy when I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, speak because of her and my associations not only with Scotland but with Lanarkshire, and I was particularly struck by the way she spoke in happy memory of Scottish Sundays at home. Surely that in itself was something of a demonstration that the tranquil Sunday, even though it is much maligned by Latins and others in Europe, is something special; and those of us who have had the privilege of being brought up to enjoy it, realise what a pleasure it is.

This Bill is based on the Crathorne Report and I question its logic. To say that because the Sunday Observance Act 1780 was intended for one purpose and, because that purpose no longer obtains in the plural society of to-day, therefore it, or as much as possible of it, should be repealed seems to me to be a non sequitur. For it may well he that this same Act, having served one purpose in one age, can serve another which is urgent in our contemporary society. In paragraph 48 Crathorne recorded that there was a wide spectrum of people who wanted Sunday, as the Report put it, "kept different" and as a day of leisure. The Report quoted the Churches and others not only as being against enforced worship and conformism—of course we are all against that in these days—but in favour of Sunday at least as a day of quiet and leisure and of the family, and in that regard I was particularly struck by the reference to the Sunday dinner made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. There must be many families up and down the country for whom, as he said, the Sunday dinner is almost sacramental in character. The point of the family being together on Sunday is something which indeed the Crathorne Report respected, and the question which I would ask and which, having answered for myself, causes me to oppose this Bill, is whether in fact this Bill is conducive or otherwise to the maintenance of Sunday as a family day of tranquillity.

Who really, if they are honest, would deny that Britain is rapidly becoming a nation of neurotics, thanks to a host of unwanted tensions? There is the breakdown of family life and loyalties; there is the spread of violence; there is the invasion of privacy, by noise, by smell, by the telephone—there are all sorts of other environmental distractions. And that brings me to the point posed so well, if I may say so with respect, by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. He said that Christians must ask whether such a thing as is envisaged here is good for society. That is the question that I have asked because I believe that to base all claims on an indiscriminate and unlimited freedom of the individual is not really possible. That freedom is only possible if it is nurtured and protected; otherwise its exercise degenerates from truly free will to the impossibility of doing anything else than of making one self-destructive choice after another.

My Lords, I believe that this Bill offers an extra distraction from quiet; and because, as a nation, we need to return to the conscious practice of tranquillity, which at its most rewarding and most productive level is indeed the practice of worship, I believe that the seemingly civilised, liberal and innocuous proposals of this Bill are indeed damaging and retrograde. It is too easy and too logical a step from the live theatre (with which of course we all have a deep emotional sympathy) to the big sporting events, league football, boxing and wrestling. And while I do not suggest that the supporters of the Bill at this moment of time would wish to see those invasions of Sunday, who knows whether this Bill, once given a Second Reading and once passed through all its stages in both Houses, might not be taken as a pretext for further incursions into our tranquillity? This harmless looking Bill is by no means the end of the story.

Because, therefore, it offends the principle of Sunday tranquillity; because thereby it distracts from family life and enjoyment; because I wish to see our people re-discover—as more and more "trendy" young folk are now learning to do—the pleasures of worship instead of the worship of pleasure, I call on noble Lords to think hard and to search their consciences well and truly before they support the Second Reading.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot go along with my noble friend Lord Lauderdale in his opinion of this Bill. I had not originally intended to speak on the Second Reading, and I apologise for my intervention now. But I felt that I should be lacking in my responsibility as a Member of your Lordships' House if I did not give the noble Baroness's Bill a great welcome, since prior to joining your Lordships' House as a regular attender I worked in the world of theatre and ballet for 36 years. The years I have referred to were very happy ones for me, especially those that included the last ten years of the life of the late Sir Charles Cochran, when I had the honour to be his partner. During that time together we presented several big musical shows, as well as straight plays. If Sir Charles were alive to-day, I can tell your Lordships that he would have given this Bill his 100 per cent. support.

During his lifetime we had frequent discussions on Sunday opening in the theatre. I can also tell your Lordships that the late Sir Alan Herbert, the late Ivor Novello, and the late Andre Chariot, that brilliant impresario, with all of whom I worked in close association, would also have given the noble Baroness's Bill a great welcome—in fact would have given it unqualified support. I speak now in memory of the departed members—very great members—of the world of the theatre with whom in the past I have had the honour to be so closely associated. The noble Baroness told your Lordships that a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, welcomes this Bill. This I know to be so. But the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, is not the only star who would welcome this Bill. Your Lordships would find the same, I am sure, if you referred to Sir John Clements. Sir Ralph Richardson, Mr. John Mills, and many other stars of first magnitude.

My noble friend Lady Ruthven of Freeland mentioned pretty fully the point about possible Monday openings. Monday has always proved to be a dead duck "so far as the theatre is concerned, unless you had, to use theatre parlance, a "smash hit "on your hands. So I suspect that a number of theatres might choose to close on Monday night, and in this way there will be no overworking of artistes or theatre staff. Anyhow, I am given to understand that Actors' Equity are not against Sunday openings and that any future negotiations between them and managements concerned will be conducted in a friendly way. The noble Baroness, Lady Lee, told your Lordships of the support this Bill has from the West End Theatre Managers' Association, an important body of the theatre, of which I was a member for many years, and I can confirm this.

With regard to the religious aspect of this Bill, I would say that it does not harm things at all. We can still go to church, and people need not work unless they wish to. I am in agreement with what my noble friend Lord Windlesham said, but I would go further and say that Sunday theatre opening would be of benefit both to members of the public and to the acting profession. Before I resume my seat I should like to say that I hope all noble Lords will give the noble Baroness's Bill their wholehearted support. In closing I would use just ten words of the late beloved Sir Alan Herbert, from a song in "Tough at the Top ", which was set to music so delightfully by Vivian Ellis and was presented at the Adelphi Theatre by the late Sir Charles Cochran and myself. The words are: This is not the end This is but a beginning ". With those ten words, my Lords, I welcome and strongly support the Second Reading of this Bill.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, as a Welshman, I came here this afternoon to speak against the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol told us that London is not England. I am sure he will agree with me when I say that England is not Wales, and that we have a very peculiar view of this question of Sunday. However, having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, I found her speech so fair, so logical, that rather than speak against the Bill I am on my feet now to urge the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, not to divide the House to-night, but to see to it during the later stages of the Bill that the safeguards which were sought by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol are secured after which I am sure we shall find it a perfect Bill.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I very much regret that I have not been able to be present throughout the whole of the debate on this Bill this was due to attendance in a Committee of the House. My only reason for intervening is to say to the House that we as a Party take up no attitude on this Bill officially from this Bench I am not advising those who happen to sit behind me to vote either for or against the Bill. There is a completely free vote so far as this Bill is concerned and so far as this Party is concerned. I am rather surprised to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Maelor. I thought I should have to get up and disagree with him about the Welsh attitude, while agreeing with him that he knows perhaps more about North Wales and mid-Wales than I do. But I am rather shocked to hear the attitude he has taken up. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that I agree with that attitude as being a very sensible one. After all, this is a Bill that was passed in the last Parliament—very much the same sort of Bill indeed. It is, in my opinion, an improvement on the one that went through this House in the last Session and ran into difficulty in the other place. I believe that what has happened to the Bill now, taking out that part regarded as objectionable by many Members of the other place, will help the Bill on its way, I hope through both Houses. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said. He cannot promise us any time for the Bill in the other place; nevertheless lie looked upon it with some benevolent neutrality. That is a well-known timeworn phrase, and we understand and respect it. So far as I am concerned—and this is my personal view—I am strongly of the opinion that this House ought to give the Bill a Second Reading, and I sincerely hope that it will get a Second Reading tonight.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I have only one regret as this debate terminates, and that is that the noble Viscount, the Paymaster General, was not able to be with us earlier on, and we all know the reason why. We are very glad that he is well enough to come back to a more controversial part of your Lordships' proceedings later in the evening. But he was gracious enough to inform me before this debate took place that this was not a Party matter—and of course that is clear from both sides of the House. We began this debate with a great deal of goodwill from both Front Bench and Back Bench speakers. That goodwill has been very evident throughout the course of the debate. I was grateful indeed to the right reverend Prelate for putting down a number of points that he wanted considered. He was quite right to worry about safeguards regarding the seven-day week. This point was again brought forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and we know that Equity was weakened by the Industrial Relations Act. However, I can assure the right reverend Prelate and other Members of the House that it is not a case of waiting for an exchange of signatures between management and Equity after this Bill is passed; the exchange has already taken place. There is a firm understanding that no one will be expected to work seven days.

No one in the House is going to suggest, or has suggested in this debate, that religion is something for one day of the week and not for the other days. The faith we live by—and our faiths are very diverse in this House—must surely be something that is with us on seven days of the week. Therefore we come to the point about whether there is some kind of violation of the special quality of the Sabbath. I think not, at a time when, as has been said by so many in this debate, cinemas, television, and concerts are open. We surely cannot turn back the hands of the clock: The old order changeth, yielding place to new. My fellow countryman, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, talked about the tranquillity of a Scottish Sabbath. I said that I had loved my Sundays. They were for me not just holy days hut happy days, but they were not tranquil. Most Sunday evenings I was present at vast, excited public meetings. Very often they were addressed by right reverend Prelates and ministers. One of them was a Member of another place for many years, the reverend Campbell Stephen. There was no conflict in the loyalty of many of our leading churchmen, who could be in a pulpit one Sunday evening and on a Socialist platform another, preaching what they believed was an essential part of the Gospel: that we must be concerned about oppression and the problems of the poor, and fight for greater social justice. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, would not disagree with me there. Though we have a special feeling in Scotland for the Sabbath, that Sabbath can be spent in very different ways.

The right reverend Prelate was concerned about local option. This is the Second Reading of a Bill; if your Lordships should, in your wisdom, care to give it an unopposed Second Reading, then there will be the Committee and other stages when all kinds of important points that have been raised in this debate can be looked into. For instance, the times, between the hours of three in the morning and one in the afternoon are not to be taken too literally. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, said in his letter that he thought it ought to be normal matinée time, 2.30 p.m., or whatever it is, which should be the time for the show to open if it is to be a normal performance. That is something we can look at. We all like our Sunday dinners. Talking about Sunday dinners, one bears in mind that our hospitals, our transport and a great deal of the life of a modern industrial community simply must be carried on on a Sunday, and we all accept that. Although no doubt it is a difficult problem if you are a railwayman, a coal miner or a hospital attendant and do not want to work on Sunday yet must do these things, you have to reconcile it with your own individual conscience. While we must have a tender, sensitive regard in a democratic community for the views of minorities, ultimately it must he the general consensus of opinion which becomes the law of the land.

I have listened with the greatest respect and understanding to the contribution made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby. He feels deeply on this issue, but I ask him—and, as I say, "the old order changeth, yielding place to new "—as so many forms of entertainment (in my view many less worthy forms of entertainment) are now available on a Sunday, is there really a case for saying that the greatest and most distinguished actors in the profession should not be allowed to produce great plays? I know there would be other things, but I would ask him to consider the whole picture. Is his respect for Sunday really going to be belittled, or endangered, when we are living in an age of greater leisure, by people insisting at the weekends, Saturday and Sunday alike, that they want a diversity of ways in which to spend their leisure? But these are minor problems which should all be looked at when we come to Committee stage.

I was also reminded—I think it was by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—of the "fly-by-night" managements who have to be watched. I entirely agree, and that is again something we can look at. I think the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, made a very fair point. He is an ornament and support of the Chichester Theatre, and at the same time of the Cathedral. He said that in that lovely city there was really no conflict of interest between the work of the cathedral and the contribution which that splendid theatre is making to the life of the place.

I do not want to detain your Lordships longer. It is quite true that the Crathorne Report concerned itself with sport as well as the theatre. I am rather relieved that we are not dealing with sport this afternoon, because it is quite true that many people are afraid of congestion and noise on Sunday. That would be a difficult issue, but it is irrelevant to our discussion. We are discussing simply whether or not there should be one law for cinemas, television, concerts and pub concerts, and another law for some of our most distinguished practitioners in the British theatre. I am not speaking for them all I quoted only from the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, because he is a Member of your Lordships' House and regretted his inability to be here this afternoon, but I could, like the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, give a long list. Practically all the leading actors and actresses with whom I have been in contact favour this Bill, although most of them view it in the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, views it: they do not think it is going to be any treat for themselves if they have to work on a Sunday, but they do feel that it is necessary in the interest of a first-class theatre and in particular of the younger members of the profession, for whom there will be greater opportunities and employment. The fact is that times change and we change with the times. I cannot feel that those of us who do care for having one day of the week different from the other days will be diminishing the value of the Sabbath if we say that this is not a day of compulsory gloom and a day of compulsory religion, but is a day which can be a day of happiness, of free choice, and a day when, if we cannot have the tranquility that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, talked about, we can at least have the tranquility of a happy conscience.

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 2ªaccordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.