HL Deb 20 January 1972 vol 327 cc202-27

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Lee of Asheridge.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Plays on Sundays]:

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER had given Notice of an Amendment to Clause 1: Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert (" Subject to section (Provisions as to public performance of plays on Sundays) below ").

The right reverend Prelate said: This is a paving Amendment, and therefore I do not move it at this time because it is dependent upon the debate on the next Amendment, and if the next Amendment is agreed to I can insert this Amendment on Report stage. Therefore I do not move the first Amendment.

Clause 1 agreed to.

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

Provisions as to public performance of plays on Sundays . The licensing authority may notwithstanding anything in any enactment relating to Sunday observance allow premises licensed by them under the Theatres Act 1968 for the public performance of plays to be opened and used on Sundays after half-past two in the afternoon for such performance on such terms and conditions and subject to such restrictions as, subject to section 1(2) of the said Act of 1968, the licensing authority think fit to impose for normal performance on a weekday.

The right reverend Prelate said: I must apologise to the Committee for not being able to be present on the Second Reading of the Bill. I must also declare an interest in this Bill in that I am President of the Actors' Church Union. This gives me an opportunity for contact with the acting profession, though I must make it perfectly clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the Actors' Church Union, or on behalf of any individuals, but only on behalf of myself in the light of impressions that I have gained from those contacts.

I want to make it quite clear also that I am not opposed to this Bill. I am in favour of the Bill and its general require- ments, but I have put down these Amendments which I believe will introduce certain safeguards which are necessary if the Bill is to fulfil its purposes. I am under some difficulty in moving the second Amendment in that it refers to the hour of half-past two, which is the subject of a further Amendment. I understand, however, that the noble Baroness is prepared to accept the hour of half-past two, and therefore we can debate the main point of this Amendment, which relates to the licensing authority, rather than the matter with regard to half-past two.


May we leave this open for further clarification? We must decide precisely what we mean by two o'clock or two-thirty, whether it is "curtain up", or whatever it may be.


I hope that we may on this Amendment debate the question of the introduction of the licensing authority, rather than the matter of half-past two. In the first version of the Bill of the noble Baroness there were, in my view, one or two very desirable safeguards. I very much regret that there was a departure from grace in the second version of the Bill, in that some of these very desirable safeguards had been removed. The first one to which this Amendment refers is the question of the introduction of the licensing authorities. In the first version of the noble Baroness's Bill the licensing authorities were to license theatres to be open on a Sunday, and that was removed from the version now before the Committee. It is my intention, by this Amendment, to reintroduce the power of the licensing authorities.

The licensing authorities referred to here are those under the Theatres Act 1968; and they are, in the case of London, the Greater London Authority; in the case of England and Wales the county councils or the borough councils, and in Scotland the county councils or burgh councils. I am appealing to the Committee to reintroduce this aspect of the Bill because I believe that it will protect the element of local option. The county councils will obviously be aware of the sentiments of the people in their particular parts of England, Wales or Scotland, and will be able to weigh the feeling of people as to whether they desire to have theatres open on Sundays in that area where they live. I do not think that this question ought to be left purely to the pressure of economic circumstances because of the contention that the promoters would not go to a place and open a theatre unless they thought there was a demand. The feelings of local people ought also to be considered when it is decided whether a theatre should or should not be open on Sundays.

I am particularly fortified in that belief because when the Crathorne Report was being considered the British Council of Churches gave it, so I understand, a general approval, but there was a specific request from the Council of Churches in Wales that if anything like this was suggested for a Sunday the element of local option should be introduced into the Bill. In my view, if the licensing authorities are introduced and they have to license a theatre to be open on a Sunday, then the feelings of the people in the particular area will be respected. I understand that there are strong feelings in Wales and in parts of Scotland about this issue. Those strong feelings ought to be respected, and therefore I am moving this clause, which would require the licensing authority to license theatres that are to be open on a Sunday. Accordingly, I move this Amendment.


I should like to support the Amendment. Like the right reverend Prelate, 1 consider that feelings on this matter may well vary in different parts of the country. Local feelings ought to be respected. They can be made clear, as the right reverend Prelate has said, through the county councils. This provision appeared in the noble Baroness's original Bill. I support it.

4.53 p.m.


May I declare myself? Perhaps I shall have to make more than one declaration. I am for the Bill and against the Amendment. Years ago the old London County Council—I am now talking of forty years ago—allowed cinemas to open on a Sunday. At that period I was interested in what were called social services; I was interested also in operating cinemas. When cinemas were not under the L.C.C. the local police in a number of working-class districts appealed to me and others to open cinemas on Sunday to keep what they called the "young people" off the streets. In practically every case we found that the local authority—that is, the county council or the local council —were opposed to the Sunday opening of cinemas. They represented another thought, an entirely different approach to life. Well, eventually cinemas were open on Sunday. A Bill which is now going through your Lordships' House will confirm what was done in, I think, 1930. I suppose that nobody in your Lordships' House or elsewhere will say that the opening of cinemas on a Sunday affected the fabric of this nation. All this was done before the war. When the war came, nobody suggested that the young or the old were less willing to do their duty because cinemas had opened on Sunday.

I now want to make another declaration. I have for the last 15 years, legally, been involved in doing in this country on a Sunday exactly what this Bill, if it is passed, will allow, but instead of producing plays for an audience of perhaps 500 to 1,000—theatres are much smaller than we think—I have been transmitting plays to millions of law-abiding citizens in this country. It is true that my audiences were more comfortable in their own homes than they would be in the average theatre, but it was their decision to stay at home because there was nowhere else for them to go. I am talking of television plays shown on B.B.C. and Independent Television at nearly all hours. There is an interval between 6 to 7.30 p.m. when there are special programmes, but otherwise it is possible to put on a play at any time of the day on a Sunday.

A great number of young people, rightly or wrongly, want to go to the live theatre and see for themselves what the live theatre has to offer them. They read dramatic criticisms and theatre gossip in the newspapers and want to see for themselves what is offered. The only day on which many of them are free is a Sunday. As I say, they want to see the live theatre. Are they to have the freedom to go to it if they wish? When we consider that your Lordships have said that people of 18 may have a vote and are accepted in the Army to fight for the country, or to be killed for the country, is it not right that they should have the right to demand to be able to go to see a play in a theatre at any time of the day they wish, or to watch television or go to a cinema? A great number of plays have been turned into films, so in the end it is the same. Television gives millions of people who do not want to go to the theatre the ability to watch a play or film in their own home. On what basis, with what logic, can we refuse thousands of young people or old people who want to go to a theatre on Sunday the right of doing so? Having a great deal of experience in the problems, not only of the theatre—because I have worked in the theatre—but in the cinema and television, I oppose the Amendment. The theatre is an essential part of the culture of this country. I know that that is not a very fashionable phrase nowadays, but I repeat it: an essential part of the culture of this country. I do not see why we should cut off this area of culture on a Sunday during the normal hours of living. I oppose the Amendment.


This Amendment is about local option, and what is good for the Metropolis or finds acceptance in the suburbs of London, Birmingham or Manchester is not necessarily what is wanted throughout the United Kingdom. I recognise straight away that this Bill does not refer to Scotland, but it does refer to Wales as well as England. It is surely common ground between all Parties in this Committee that our political philosophy at least respects the integrity of the individual; and, by the same token, translated into politics, it is surely common ground that our political philosophy on either side of the Committee also respects regional taste, feelings, aspirations and hopes. We are not simply talking now, as I see it, about the Celtic fringe, from which I come, but are talking about all parts of Britain. The further you go from London, whether it is North or West or South-West, the greater is the difference of mood and tempo and atmosphere. In other words, all this Amendment asks for is that regions and localities should have a choice. It is not saying that the regions and localities should forbid or should support Sunday opening; it is saying they should have a choice. This again is surely common ground on both sides of the Committee and in all quarters of the House. Therefore, on that account, I would urge your Lordships seriously to view this Amendment with sympathy. I give it my support.

5.0 p.m.


First of all I ought perhaps to declare an interest, in the sense that Sunday opening might bring me a little more business as a playwright, but I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment. It seems to me that the argument about regionalism and local taste is always trotted out on this issue and conveniently forgotten on many others. Is anybody on this Committee seriously going to suggest for one moment that the opening of a theatre in the Celtic fringe, or anywhere else, will strike a great blow against the freedom of the citizens living there? They have the choice now. It is not a question of giving them a choice by passing this Amendment: they need not go to that theatre if it is open; they need not support it. They can continue their lives as they have in the past, and nobody is affected; but a freedom is extended to a great many people who have been denied that freedom in the past—namely, the freedom to go to a theatre of their choice. Although I do not think it is in the mind of the mover of this Amendment I see it as possibly being a last-ditch weapon in the hands of those who wish to restrict the cultural freedom of others and to control their lives in the light of their own prejudices.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, will remember that many years ago, when the question of the Sunday opening of cinemas was a local issue, there were quite a number of areas where great pressure campaigns were put on by minority groups, and as a result they managed either to frighten or to cajole public opinion into voting against the local opening of cinemas. The young people then did not have a voice in the matter and they were denied the freedom of going to the cinemas, all because other people imposed their prejudices upon them.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way.

The noble Lord uses the word "prejudice", which rather begs the question: we all have prejudices, for and against everything, all our lives. Surely the object of this Amendment is to enable local people, minority or otherwise, to show whether they are minorities or not.


The noble Earl is quite wrong. What is prejudice on his part, of course, is wisdom on mine. That is always so. I think that this is a back-door way of restricting the freedom of others, and it is not in fact what it purports to be, an Amendment in favour of freedom. I hope the Committee will reject it.


While I am sure that it is not so intended, I think that this is in fact a wrecking Amendment. It is of course a difficult thing to pilot a long, contentious, complicated Private Member's Bill through either House. Your Lordships will remember that the earlier Bill, based on the Crathorne Report, which dealt with Sunday trading and many other things apart from theatres, was a fairly long and substantial Bill. I shall always remember it because, while I do not think I took any part in it, I heard it all from the Woolsack. What impressed me was that although a substantial number of Amendments were put down, nearly all of them were withdrawn on the sheer merits of the argument against them. There were only one or two which went to a Division. One concerned local option, more particularly, I think. for Wales, and attracted very little support. So this is a matter which the House has already considered at length. I was impressed by the fact that this Private Member's Bill on this subject ended up in this House exactly as it had started, without any amendment at all, which I thought showed that the Crathorne Committee were a balanced and sensible Committee whose views were agreed to by both Houses.

That being so, I do not think we ought to decide this question of local option without reminding ourselves what the Crathorne Committee said about it—a Committee which included many well-known churchmen—Mr. Chuter Ede, Sylvia Fletcher Moulton, and the present Attorney General, Sir Peter Rawlinson, who is a strong churchman. What that Committee said was this: We considered whether the entertainments and sports that we have recommended should be permitted on Sunday should be allowed everywhere, as of right, or whether there should be some form of local option. The principle of a local community deciding for itself the character of its Sunday seems attractive and democratic in that it allows for local variations of opinion; in particular it may be a useful device for an initial period when something new is being introduced about which public opinion is uncertain and changing, or is changing in one part of the country more quickly than in another. The evidence we received was, however, almost uniformly against the local electorate deciding what recreations should be permitted on Sunday in a particular area. We were told that in practice the local option procedure for cinemas was exploited by vociferous minorities, was expensive in time and money and aroused little interest among the general public. We examined an alternative proposal put forward by the Association of Municipal Corporations, namely, that if any local option was considered necessary, it should be exercised by the local borough or district council who could assess local opinion simply and reliably. This was proposed in the unsuccessful Bills that preceded the 1932 Act. The objection at that time was partly against the principle of local option on the grounds that it was a matter that should be decided nationally, and partly because it was feared that the controversial battles that had raged in Parliament would be transferred to local government elections. We consider that these objections to decisions by local councils are still valid. We do not believe that our proposals would, in practice, change the character of Sunday in those areas where Sabhatarian views are strongest; they are often rural areas and small towns where there are unlikely to be any theatres or variety halls and only a few cinemas and sports grounds and the absence of public demand for Sunday entertainment would act as a financial deterrent. We do not recommend any form of local option, whether by testing the opinion of local electors or by vesting discretion in the local authority on the lines suggested by the Association of Municipal Corporations. I hope that those views of the Crathorne Committee may commend themselves to this Committee, bearing in mind the fact that this House has already discussed exactly the same point before and come to the same conclusion.


It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, put his finger on the real point. It is not just a question of local options; it is a question of the restriction of liberty. I am in favour of devolution but not of devolution of restriction of liberty. I believe that we ought to pay attention to the feelings of others, but I have never been in favour of paying any attention whatsoever to the feelings of others who merely want to restrict other people's liberties. This is certainly what liberalism is about and I think it is what liberty is about in a free society. And I do not believe it is made very much more respectable when the liberty that it is proposed to take away (or possibly, in this case, the lack of liberty which is to be maintained) is taken away by a majority rather than by a minority. The removal of liberty by a majority is almost as bad as its removal by a minority. In a free society, surely the burden of proof must always be on those who would restrict liberty. The burden of proof as to why this particular liberty has not been restricted has not been put forward to-day. Indeed, those noble Lords who support the Bill in principle are saying that they do not see a great case for restricting this liberty. If this is so, I do not see why other people should be given the power to restrict the liberty of those who want to visit theatres and those who want to put on theatrical productions. I hope that the Committee will reject this Amendment.

5.9 p.m.


First, may I say that I wholly respect the feelings of the right reverend Prelate in this matter, but I wonder whether his remarks on local option will in fact remotely advance his cause. I ask him to consider whether his Amendment is more likely to achieve his object or to impede it. I should like to say one word to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who seems to have a somewhat odd notion of where theatres are situated. There are no theatres in rural districts; or, if there are, they are only small ones. There is a tiny one in Richmond, in Yorkshire, which holds about 80 people and I remember a tented theatre in his own area, in Pitlochry.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? When one is speaking of the Provinces, one is speaking of Newcastle, Cardiff, and many cities which have theatres, and I feel that in that particular comment the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, perhaps did me less than justice.


The noble Earl said that he was concerned with metropolitan areas as opposed to rural areas.


No; I am concerned with the Provinces as against London.


I do not think we need dispute the point; I do not think there is much between us. The point I want to make is that theatres in England are situated in large metropolitan areas containing large variegated populations whose views would certainly not be expressed by any local authority, which is a body appointed for a specialist purpose, very rarely to deal with cultural matters, and it would, I think, be a great mistake to impose on them a responsibility that few of them would seek.

What I would invite the right reverend Prelate to consider is whether, in relation to the theatre, this great, noble and antique institution, he is wrong not to regard it as an ally rather than an enemy. I think the theatre of quality is a great ally to the causes he seeks to advance. If he considers the message that has been sent out by dramatists over the years, it is a message very largely in support of his own cause. It is a search after truth, it is the unveiling of injustice and wickedness, which is the major message which emerges from great theatre. It would, I think, be absolutely wrong to cast a suggestion that the theatre is in some way inimical to his causes.

On the question of local option, the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, who knows more of this than any of us present, has drawn attention to the anomalies. In relation to the cinema, they are not only anomalies, they are absurdities. Films which are freely available, to be seen, for instance, by the Home Secretary at any time of the day or night, have to be sought after by moving from one local area to another. People drive in motor cars some distance because a film that is restricted in one area is available in another. This makes no sense of any kind. To leave cultural decisions of this kind to the individual opinions of small groups of people who are not specially trained or charged in the matter is a great mistake. I noticed also that the right reverend Prelate made an observation which I think was justified, if his belief is justified; that is, that commercial considerations in these matters have to be guarded against; that the hideous notion that commercial managements would control these matters was something that required to be viewed with circumspection and concern. But the theatre outside London is almost entirely non-commercial. If I may say so, speaking as Chairman of the Arts Council, the number of commercial threatres which still exist out of London can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand and are contained in ancient mausoleum buildings that are falling down for want of support.

The virile, thriving theatre in this country is not a commercial theatre at all. It is a theatre brought about by the dedicated concern of a number of volunteers in each area who have understood and are concerned about bringing this splendid art form to as many people as possible. They are not commercially minded; they make no profit out of it; they spend their lives on pilgrimages to the Arts Council to try to squeeze more money out of us in order to pay off their deficits. This is a very different thing from the idea that the right reverend Prelate has. I urge upon him to consider the unwisdom of an Amendment of this sort.

May I make one further and final observation in relation to the perhaps over-ready acceptance by my noble friend Lady Lee of a 2.30 opening time? I can say with very great authority that there are few people in this House who need my counsel less on these matters than Lady Lee. But I would venture to suggest, as I might have done a couple of years ago when we were working in tandem, that 2.30 is a particularly inconvenient time, because the audience has to arrive and become seated, and therefore you would practically proscribe any matinee on Sunday if you fixed a 2.30 hour of opening. You cannot open at 2.30 and expect to put a play on at 2.30. As a purely administrative matter this would seem to be a mistake. I earnestly hope that we may not be pressed to a Division on this, but if we are I would earnestly urge your Lordships to consider that this is not a wise Amendment and would not advance the cause it seeks to advance, although obviously professed with total sincerity.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, resumes his seat, may I ask him to look at a later Amendment which shows that I can sometimes improve the error of my ways. There is an Amendment on the Marshalled List that the time should be no later than 2 o'clock, and this is a matter which I think the right reverend Prelate and myself want to agree to, because we want to clarify the point as to whether we are talking about the moment the performance commences or when the theatre opens. I think we shall be able to settle that point to the satisfaction of everyone.

So far as local option is concerned, I hope that, considering the immense amount of study put into this subject by the Crathorne Report and the very distinguished debates that have taken place in both Houses on this matter, we shall not be asked to accept that there should be one law for the concert party, one law for the cinema, one law for private theatres, whether of an excellent quality or as sleazy as you like, and a different and more restrictive law for theatres which include some of the most distinguished art and artistes in the country. Indeed, if we are talking about safeguarding and respecting the prejudices and the freedoms of other people, I would say that there is more interference with freedom if you have a really good brass band in the park on Sunday. I am all in favour of bands in the park of the kind they are, but many people who want the Sabbath day to be a day of total quiet might say it was an invasion of their privacy, because they might be living in such circumstances that they cannot escape the noise of a band that they do not want to hear.

The noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, made the point that you can look at a play in the privacy of your home on television. In going to a theatre you are not disturbing the peace in any way. There is nothing compulsory about it. You are not taking away one's rights or liberties. You are merely making it possible for certain civilised pursuits that are obviously going to be available in some parts of the country, to be made universally available for that very important minority who are deeply concerned about these matters. I do not know whether our appeals have touched the heart of the right reverend Prelate, but I hope that we can agree on this matter rather than have the House divide.


I should like the noble Baroness, later on perhaps, to enlarge on one point. The question of Sunday opening appears to different people in different lights. To certain of the Free Churches it is a violent affront to see anybody going to a theatre, or even a cinema or anything else, on a Sunday. But for what we might call the broad spectrum of the Church, they do not see it in that way; they are frightened of people being exploited by being forced to perform for other people's amusement on a Sunday. We know of the very sad figure of one million unemployed in this country, which I suppose is something of the order of 5 per cent. of the working population. But when it comes to actors. I understand that it is 20 or more per cent. of the profession unemployed. That means that if actors are asked to do a particular thing and they want to refuse, they are in a very bad position indeed. Moreover, theatres on the whole tend to make losses just as much as profits, and I should like to have some assurance that if there is no safeguard provided by local licensing and so on, there is some safeguard somewhere that actors cannot be exploited and forced to work seven days a week when the rest of the population work five days. That is the area that I am disquieted about. Undoubtedly in Wales and some parts of England the Free Churches are disquieted on the other score that I mentioned.


Did I understand the noble Lord to say that, other than actors, most people in this country worked five days a week, because 1 would question that?


I suggest that the noble Lord studies the statistics.


The point which the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has put forward is an interesting one, and one that was fairly fully discussed on Second Reading. I should like to suggest that it surely does not really arise under this Amendment. Protection against the exploitation of actors is surely a matter for national decision, for our decision in this Bill, and there are safeguards. It is a matter for national action, and surely cannot he a matter for local option.


The council granting the licence to open can specify that the theatre shall only be open on five or six days in a week, whereas if they have not any option presumably the theatre can be open for seven days a week.


My intentions in moving this Amendment have been painted in such black colours that I hardly recognise myself. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that I am one of the most enthusiastic adherents to the theatre. I love the theatre. I believe that it is a great ally of all things that are good and true. As for wanting to restrict the activities of the theatre, that has no part in my thinking. I mentioned the commercial interests solely in order to say that I do not think that the fact that it is viable to open a theatre in a particular area should be the sole criterion. I think that the general emotion and feeling of that particular area should have some opportunity of expression.


I hesitate to interrupt the right reverend Prelate, but I can give him a categorical assurance that it is an economic impossibility for any commercial interest to open a new theatre outside of London.


Then I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that I have no intention whatsoever of trying to wreck this Bill; and I cannot think that moving this Amendment would wreck the Bill in view of the fact that it was in the original version of the Bill. All I am trying to do is to put back into this Bill something of the original intention of those who conceived the Bill. However, having listened with great interest to the debate that has taken place, I would simply assure your Lordships that my intention in moving this Amendment was that there should be an opportunity for certain areas to express an opinion as to whether they wanted to have Sunday opening of theatres or not. There would be no question of having the kind of voting which went on in regard to cinema opening because here the question is one for the licensing authority to decide. This would be a very considerable authority, in that it is the county council in a particular area. It would be they who would decide and not a popular vote with all the boosting and propaganda that would go on. Nevertheless, I have listened with great care to the arguments that have been advanced. I assure the noble Baroness that her charms have touched my heart, and therefore I will ask leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.25 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER moved Amendment No. 3: After Clause 1 insert the following new clause

Restriction on Sunday performances . No premises shall be allowed to be opened and used in accordance with the provisions of section (Provisions as to public performance of plays on Sundays) above unless, among the terms and conditions subject to which it is allowed to be so opened and used, there are included terms and conditions for securing that no performance will take place on a Sunday if a performance of the same or a similar production has been held on each of the six previous days on those premises.

The right reverend Prelate said: This Amendment is intended to safeguard the acting profession. On more than one occasion in the debates on the Bill we have been reminded that the acting profession is very much over-populated, and that therefore actors need work; and it may be that there are pressures brought upon them to accept work with conditions attached to it which may not be palatable to them. There was a safeguard of this nature in the first version of the Bill. I think I am right to interpret the noble Baroness's mind, and to say that she was at first very pleased to have that safeguard in the Bill, but that she had been persuaded, after consultation with the employers and with Equity, that this could be left to the wisdom of those who are negotiating. I yield to no one in my respect for the employers and for Equity, but I believe that this is so important a matter that it ought to be written into the Bill rather than he left to negotiation. I bear in mind the point which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, made (and I think I am right in saying he was supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner), that possibly as a result of the Industrial Relations Act the power of the union might not be as strong as it ought to be.

I do not believe that we should put restrictions on the individual; that is to say, that an actor may only act on six nights in the week, and that he may not have freedom to use the free night in such way as he thinks right. I think that would be a totally indefensible restriction of the liberty of those who are involved. If they are required to act in a play for six nights, then I think, if they so wish, they ought to be free to use the free night in such way as they think right. But I do believe that there should be written into this Bill a restriction that, if a theatre is open on a Sunday, then the actors cannot be required to act seven nights in the week, and the restriction therefore should be on the theatre and the performance rather than on the individual.

This Amendment is intended to protect the actors so that there cannot be in their contracts the requirement that, although a theatre is open for Sundays, they have got to act seven nights in the week. I see that the Amendment of the noble Baroness, Amendment No. 13, seems to be expressing what I am saying, but a good deal more shortly and a great deal more clearly. If I am right in that, that in fact the noble Baroness agrees with me in the general premises and principles, then I think possibly her new clause is a better one than my own, and I would yield to her. I should be grateful if she could let me know whether that is the case.


I hope we have total agreement in the Committee that we want to protect any actors, technicians, and others engaged in the work of the theatre against being coerced into having to work seven days a week. That is our common purpose. I attempted to find suitable wording for this in the original Bill, but I was advised that the wording did not do what I thought should be done. I looked with great care at the wording of the Amendment that the right reverend Prelate has brought before us, and I am again advised, although we are completely at one about what we want to achieve, that this is not the way it could be done. For instance, his Amendment says: no performance will take place on a Sunday if a performance of the same or a similar production has been held on each of the six previous days on those premises. When you talk about "the same or a similar production", you might have a repertory company which was putting on different plays two or three times a week and on any night, and therefore, although we are at one in what we are seeking to achieve, we still have not arrived at the best methods of so doing.

I have made an attempt later on by a new clause to state what I thought might adequately cover the point. I am again advised that there are certain difficulties, and certain things that are not quite clear in the wording. I will take the counsel of other Members of your Lordships' House, but since we are in total accord about what we want to achieve but have not yet managed to satisfy the Home Office and those who are simply interested in making quite sure that our words do mean what we intend, perhaps we might leave this matter to be decided on Report stage. At this moment of time I am in your Lordships' hands.

5.30 p.m.


Perhaps this is an appropriate time for me to intervene in the debate. This is of course a Private Member's Bill. It is entirely for the promoter, the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, to handle the Bill as she thinks fit in the light of the discussion in Committee. When I spoke for the Government during the Second Reading debate, I said that we were sympathetic towards the aims of this Bill. The Paymaster General, as the Minister with special responsibility for the Arts, shares the Bill's objectives. I then went on to say that our attitude was one of benevolent neutrality and that no Government time or Government drafting could be offered in another place. But if a change of this sort is to be made in the law, it is desirable that it should be as practicable and workable and understandable as possible for those interests that will be concerned.

I might point out to the right reverend Prelate that the reason why the No. 2 Bill is different in a number of respects from the No. 1 Bill is because of the discussions that were held between the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, and her advisers and my Department on the best way to make this change. It is, in a way, a case study in legislative reform. It seems such an extraordinarily simple thing to say, "Let there be no impediment towards theatres opening on Sundays." That would not seem very difficult to achieve. But as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, will know, in a field where there is already a great deal of Statute Law (going right back to the 18th century in this case) it is a far from straightforward matter to make sure that a relatively simple change is kept consistent with those parts of the law which are to be unchanged; to repeal those parts of the existing law that need to be repealed, and to end up with a simple statutory provision which everyone can understand.

I have been advised, as the noble Baroness has been by her own advisers, that her Amendment No. 13 may itself be open to some technical objection. It is entirely for the noble Baroness, in the light of this debate, to say whether or not she thinks there should be a statutory safeguard for actors not to be required to work more than six days a week. I confess that my own personal views incline the other way. I believe that the better trend in public policy is towards voluntary collective bargaining, particularly where there is a strong union involved in the industry, as there is here, rather than trying to write down in a Statute exactly what the limitations should be. The Government's desire here is to try to see whether there is any way in which the noble Baroness can be advised how most effectively to achieve her aim. I had intended when we come to Amendment No. 13, which also seeks to do what the right reverend Prelate is seeking to do by this Amendment, to suggest that we had a further discussion after the Committee stage as to what further Amendments might be needed on Report.


I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what he bas said, and if we can get some agreement and some help upon this matter I shall be very grateful. I would only say that I and my friends who feel strongly about this point will press that there should be something in the Bill to give this protection. I would repeat that I do not think the protection should extend to saying that if an actor has a free night in the week he may not act on that night. I think it would be quite wrong to impose such a restriction that a person may not do a one-night stand or a television programme on the seventh evening. But as we are going to allow the theatres to be open on Sundays, we should have within the Bill a clear statement that actors cannot be expected to act on seven nights a week and that they are expected to act on only six nights a week. I should be very grateful if, in consultation with the noble Baroness and with any help that the noble Lord's Department can give us, we could devise a clause to that effect. I should then be very happy. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


May I very strongly support what the Government have said on this matter? It would be extremely difficult to introduce such a provision into the Bill, although it is obviously desirable, and will, I am sure, be achieved by other means. If your Lordships study the professional implications of this problem, you will see that it is replete with difficulties. Actors do not work 365 days a year, or 52 weeks a year. An actor may work for four months and then take a two months' holiday. An actor may be engaged for a special production for a period of only a week, and it would obviously be quite wrong to exclude him from appearing on seven days if the production was to run for only seven days. Also, a distinguished visiting company from abroad may come for ten days and wish to appear on consecutive days. There are innumerable problems here which are best left to the trade organisation which deals with such matters. Equity is very strong and, having dealt with it for many years on the other side of the table, I think it is a very sensible body. I do not believe that the Industrial Relations Act is going to diminish its power in the slightest degree, except perhaps on the question of the closed shop; and there is no reason to believe that sensible actors will not recognise the wisdom of remaining members of Equity and conforming to its rules. I am sure that this is a matter which can safely be left to the industry's own organisation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.37 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 1 insert the following new clause:

Restriction on number of Sunday performances. . No premises shall be allowed to be opened and used in accordance with the provisions of section (Provisions as to public performance of plays on Sundays) above unless, among the terms and conditions subject to which it is allowed to be so opened and used, there are included terms and conditions for securing that no more than one performance of the same or a similar production will take place on any one Sunday.

The right reverend Prelate said: This again is an Amendment which aims to protect the acting profession, and I have tabled it because of a conversation with a distinguished member of the profession who had misgivings about this point. The noble Baroness spoke about the generosity of the acting profession and their readiness to give up their time, and even their valued family day on a Sunday in order to give a service to the public. As much as we accept and value that attitude. I think that the members of the acting profession must sometimes be protected against their better selves, and we ought to put some restrictions into this Bill to see that they get reasonable rest and recreation, and that not too many demands are made upon them.

I understand that the trend in the theatre is increasingly against the performance of matinees and towards the performance of a play at, say, 5 p.m. and another at 8 or 8.30 p.m. This seems perfectly justifiable on a weekday, but for many people Sunday is still a day of rest and we ought to protect actors against unnecessary and undue demands that might be made upon them. This Amendment provides that if they are required to act on a Sunday it shall be for only one performance on that day. I beg to move.


I regret to have to assume the role of the professional expert on matters connected with actors, but the only great actor who is a Member of this House is unfortunately not here. But I know a little about the profession, and I think that this again is a misconceived, paternalistic Amendment which actors would not seek. It could cause great difficulty. It could, for instance, prevent single-day productions going to an area from having any prospect of a viable box office, by not enabling two productions. It could prevent a great artiste coming for a day to give two performances, though obviously there would be large numbers of people in an area who would want to see him or her. It could prevent all sorts of entirely benevolent situations, without necessarily achieving the objective of the Amendment. This is another matter that should be left to arrangements to be made by the industrial organisation of actors who can be relied upon to safeguard their profession. The normal contract for the run of a play is, I believe, eight performances during the week. I am quite sure that this situation will be most faithfully preserved by Equity, and the people concerned with the acting profession, to ensure that there are six performances in the evenings and two matinees. I have no doubt at all that this change would not impose a further strenuous burden on actors, and that no such burden would be permitted by Equity.


Reference has been made to the noble Lord, Lord Olivier. He wished to be present to-day, but, as I think your Lordships know, he is under very great strain in the most distinguished part he is playing at the moment at the New Theatre. He had the opportunity to have a much-needed few days' rest; and I took the liberty of saying to him that I was quite sure your Lordships would be in general agreement with his views—though I must add that his views happen to be my views. We discussed this very matter; and the general feeling that I get from talking with people who are administrators, directors, professionals of every kind in the theatre, is that they would not want a restriction placed on the Sunday performances that was different from that on the other days. What they do on a Sunday is another matter. Indeed, how many theatres actually choose to open on a Sunday is another matter. But I would strongly urge that there should be no special limiting conditions placed on Sunday performances.


With some experience of the theatre, from a slightly different angle from that of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I should like strongly to support what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have said. This is always on the basis of a run of a production, and I should have thought it was very much easier and more sensible to leave the matter to be settled with Equity.


I am glad to have had this opportunity to raise this question in Committee, because I know that it concerns some members of the acting profession who feel that it would be a very considerable burden if on a Sunday they were required to perform twice, during the afternoon and again in the evening. However, I have listened with great care to the opinions which have been expressed, and especially to the authoritative views of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. In the light of that, and in the hope that note will be taken of the views which have been expressed in this debate, I am ready to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Restriction on the hours of plays on Sundays]:

BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 18, after (" force ") insert (" or in respect of which a licensing authority have power to impose conditions in writing under section 17(2) of the Theatres Act 1968 ").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment and the next do not involve any matters of principle: they are matters of clarification. The reason why this particular Amendment is necessary is because Covent Garden and Drury Lane are patent theatres, not covered by the 1968 Theatres Act. The words set out in the Amendment are added in order to see that these theatres are included. If I may speak also to the following Amendment, this is merely a drafting Amendment and a matter of clarification. I beg to move Amendment No. 5.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


As I have already explained, Amendment No. 6 is simply a clarification to avoid any ambiguity. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 18, after ("be") insert ("opened and").—(Baroness Lee of Asheridge.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.46 p.m.

BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 20, leave out (" one") and insert (" two ").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment is to insert two o'clock instead of one o'clock as the opening time of Sunday theatres. I do not know whether this is a sign of weakness on my part, but I was very much impressed during the Second Reading debate by the plea that was put up for Sunday dinners. Of course, if we can keep the rhythm of Sunday—that of a quiet morning when people can go to a place of worship, whatever that may be; or when they may choose to do their worshipping in the countryside, by walking; or when they may choose to lie in bed—we should do so. There is the quiet Sunday morning, with no interference with what many people still regard, I suppose, as an occasion for the gathering of the family.

I should have preferred my original one o'clock, not because it would be usual — indeed, I think it would be extremely abnormal—for theatres to be opening at one o'clock, but because they certainly have to open some time before the curtain went up and the performance began. I believe it was to this latter point, that there was some little ambiguity to be cleared up, that the right reverend Prelate referred: because, if I understand correctly, when the time of 2.30 was proposed it was to be the time at which the actual performance started. But for the proper working of the theatre, if the performance is to start at 2.30 then, because the public have to be admitted and take their places, the time in the Bill must be, at the very latest, two o'clock. I shall take the feeling and the counsel of your Lordships, and if noble Lords object strongly to retaining one o'clock, as originally suggested, I shall propose that the maximum alteration that can be made is to defer the opening until two o'clock, clearly understanding that two o'clock is not the time at which the curtain goes up but is inserted simply to enable the preliminary work to be done. I beg to move.


In tabling an Amendment suggesting 2.30 I certainly had in mind that the play would start at 2.30, that the curtain would go up then; and that if people wanted to go to the theatre and to be there at the beginning of the play, they must be there by 2.30. I take the noble Baroness's point that if that is to happen the doors must open at two o'clock; and I also take the point, I think, that if the doors are to open at 2.30 probably the starting time of the performance at three o'clock would play havoc with the general timetable for the day. So if the noble Baroness intends only that the doors shall open at two o'clock, with the performance starting at 2.30, I readily accept that, and I hope that the noble Lord will also.


I should like to support Lady Lee's generosity in this matter, and support the hour of two o'clock, because presumably the people who work in the theatre will have to be there some considerable time before then; and if they are to enjoy their Sunday lunch in the way that I am sure Lady Lee wishes, then I suggest that two o'clock is the right time.


There is one point here. It is a drafting point, but it is a point for the Committee. I know exactly what we intend, but is it quite clear what is meant by the words "used for the public performance"? If the doors are opened, is the place being used for a public performance, or is it only when the curtain goes up that the theatre is being used for a public performance?


It is when the curtain goes up.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 9.

Amendment moved— Page 2. line 1, leave out (" one ") and insert (" two ").—(Baroness Lee of Asheridge.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Enforcement of section 2]:


This Amendment is to ensure that Covent Garden and Drury Lane and patent theatres not covered by the 1968 Theatre Act shall be included. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 10, after ("1968") insert (" or the holder for the time being of the relevant letters patent (as the case may be) ").— (Baroness Lee of Asheridge.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 13: After Clause 3 insert the following new clause

Provisions as to contracts of employment .—(1) It shall not be lawful to include in any contract of employment to perform in any play, a provision requiring a person to take part in a public performance of that play on more than six days in any week. (2) In this section the expression "week" means any period of seven consecutive days.

The noble Baroness said: Considering what we have already discussed in regard to this matter, if it be your Lordships' pleasure that we should now leave it for further consultations and return to it on the Report stage of the Bill, I will not move this Amendment.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.