I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Even the acute controversy upon which the House has been engaged during the past few weeks will not have obscured from hon. Members the controversial occasions during the summer upon which we discussed the Sunday Performances Bill. When a Second Reading of the Bill to deal with Sunday cinemas was given in this House, hon. Members will remem- ber that it raised a great question of principle, and that it stirred the consciences of hon. Members on one side or the other and displayed a deep cleavage of opinion. I hope that nothing I say to-day on the Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving, will stir feelings of that nature. It would be well if very shortly I recounted to the House the steps which led up to the necessity for the introduction of this Bill. Hon. Members will remember that the legal obstacles to the Sunday opening of cinemas or the Sunday performances of concerts are contained in Section 1 of the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, which lays down that any house used for public entertainment or amusement or for publicly debating on any subject upon the Lord's Day, called Sunday, to which people shall be admitted by payment shall be deemed a disorderly house, and the keeper of a disorderly house shall be liable to a penalty of £200 a day. For many years the law as contained in that Section was unchallenged. It was not, in fact, until somewhere in the 1880's that the London County Council first began to permit the holding of concerts on Sundays. Their action in so doing was challenged in the courts a few years later, and it was then held in the Ring's Bench Division that if admission to a concert was termed to be free, the fact that a certain number of seats were reserved on payment did not bring the concert within the meaning of Section 1 of the Act of 1780. Since that time it has been the practice, not only in London, but in many parts of the country, to permit the holding of Sunday concerts.
Naturally, the history of Sunday cinemas is a more recent one, but since the year 1916 the London County Council, who were the first to deal with the subject, have made a practice of exercising a form of control over the Sunday opening of cinemas. They did not, in fact, license such premises, but in observance of an agreement which they entered into with the owners of cinemas, and whereby they enforced certain regulations as to profit and as to labour, they undertook to take no steps for the enforcement of the law. That example has subsequently been followed by a considerable number of other licensing authorities in different parts of the country. This position continued, as hon. Members will remember, until the end of last year, when a test case was brought into the courts and taken to the Court of Appeal, which finally decided that the action of the London County Council in this way was illegal, and, although that particular case was concerned only with cinemas, certain obiter dicta of the judges in the case threw considerable doubt upon the position to which I have referred in which the practice of holding Sunday concerts has been allowed to continue.
It was in those circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) the Home Secretary in the late Government, introduced a Bill into this House for discussion and consideration. It was not, of course, a Government Bill, although I believe the right hon. Gentleman himself expressed his approval of it. It had for its object the regulation of the whole question of the Sunday opening of cinemas and concerts. The House will remember that that Bill received a Second Reading by a substantial majority in a very large House during the summer, and that it subsequently went to Committee up- stairs where it made considerable progress in spite of the eloquence of some of its opponents. No doubt had the normal Parliamentary situation continued it would eventually have come down, if not over their dead bodies, over their dry throats, to a further stage in this House. That position to-day is obviously impossible.
The pledge of the Prime Minister was given that no controversial legislation should be introduced during the present emergency Session, and no one, I think, could say that the late Home Secretary's Bill was a non-controversial Measure. In those circumstances, it was impossible to proceed. What would have been the effect if the action of the Government had merely been to decide upon the withdrawal of that Bill and to allow the position to remain otherwise unchanged? We believe that it would have been impossible for the present situation to continue. The practice of the licensing authorities had been held nearly a year ago by a court of law to have no foundation in law. It is quite true that since that time they have taken no steps to enforce the law because there was a Parliamentary Bill which, if passed, would have regularised the position. Were that Bill to have been withdrawn, and were a situation to arise, with the present situation having been declared illegal, in which there was before Parliament no sign of a legislative attempt to alter the position, it would, I believe, have been impossible for local authorities any longer to withhold their duty to enforce the law as it stands to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members cheered that remark, and I hope to say a word or two later on as to the manner in which it should be brought about. If the Bill before the House were allowed to lapse, the Sunday opening of cinemas would be open to action by the common informer. The Home Secretary has power to remit penalties in respect of offences against the Sunday Observance Act, and he has exercised that power in the past, but the situation is very different if, in fact, there is no sign that Parliament will be in the near future attempting to review the position. In any case, let me remind hon. Members that the power of the Home Secretary extends only to penalties. He has no power to remit costs, and it will clearly be seen that quite a lucrative practice might be built up by the bringing of cases against the cinemas by a common informer, particularly if the Home Secretary has no power to remit costs.
It is clear that the gap before the House can deal with a question of this magnitude must be bridged. Hon. Members opposite may have more information than I have as to the immediate course of our Parliamentary future, but, whatever it may be, it is certain that during the critical times of the next few months nobody will be able to embark upon a real attempt to regularise the position. It was made abundantly clear in the summer that to deal with the matter would require an amount of Parliamentary time which it is impossible to think will be available during the critical months of the coming winter. Some hon. Members opposite cheered when I said that failure to pass this Bill would lead to the closing down of Sunday cinemas. That is a consummation that some of them desire, but do they really want it to happen in that way? I believe that it was their sincere desire to convince hon. Members that the preservation of the old Sunday Observance Act was in the best interests, morally and physically, of the people. A great deal of printed matter was directed to that end during the summer. I do not believe that those hon. Members really wish to see a question of this magnitude, which raises such great points of principle and conflict, to be settled not by the deliberate verdict of the House, after the whole matter has been considered, but simply because the House, in the present state of emergency, has not time to deal with it.
In the circumstances, I believe this Bill is the only course which is open to the House to deal with the situation. It makes no attempt whatsoever to deal with the fundamentals of the position. It is nothing more than a standstill order. Hon. Members will remember that the Bill introduced by the late Home Secretary was a genuine effort to deal with the whole position. It provided the whole machinery for the licensing of these cinemas and concerts for England and Wales. It defined the authorities who were to be responsible. It set out a detailed scheme for taking the opinion of the locality as to whether or not they wish to exercise this privilege. It laid down the conditions under which the licences were to be granted, and it also laid down the conditions as to labour and as to the distribution of the profits. It was a permanent solution on a regular basis of the whole of the problem. The Bill which I introduce contains none of those elements. It makes no alteration in the existing practice. It merely stabilises the existing conditions for a brief period until the time when Parliament will once again be able to turn its attention to the question and settle it after due consideration and not merely by lack of time.
Let me turn to the Bill itself. It consists of three Clauses, the main operative part of which lies in the First Clause. The object of that Clause is to permit of the Sunday opening of cinemas and the Sunday performance of concerts in areas where to-day they are permitted. The power to grant a licence as to Sunday opening is restricted to these licensing authorities which during the 12 months before the passing of this Act have exercised what they wrongly believed to be their legal right to permit the Sunday opening of cinemas and concerts. In any area where during the past 12 months that believed right has not been exercised, no right will be granted. There is no power whatsoever for an authority in whose area to-day cinemas are not permitted to open on Sunday, to use this Bill for the purpose of doing something which up to now has been non-existent. The same applies to concerts. Even for those authorities to whom the power is given it will be entirely permissive. It will be entirely in their discretion whether they continue to permit any or all of the cinemas to open in their area.
No compulsion is put upon the licensing authorities by the Bill. It gives to them the power of imposing conditions. I would remind hon. Members, some of whom believe that the best thing to do would be to allow things to stay as they are, in the belief that probably cinemas would be able to run along on Sundays, that the effect of the decision of last year has been to remove from local authorities the control which up to now they have purported to exercise. They have in the past, as part of the agreement which they entered into, insisted upon a certain measure of control. Since the decision in the court they have had no power to do that and they have had to relax the control which they had exercised hitherto. In those cases where the licensing of Sunday cinemas is exercised, this Clause will restore to the local authority the power of imposing conditions as to labour and as to the distribution of profits.
The second Sub-section deals with the question of definition. Hon. Members will there find the meaning of cinematograph entertainment and music hall entertainment, which are the two forms of Sunday performances covered by the first Clause. There has been expressed in certain quarters a fear that the permission for the Sunday opening of cinemas may be extended to the giving of a kind of Sunday variety performance. It is feared that the definition in the Bill will not be sufficiently rigid to exclude that possibility. I can assure hon. Members that the definition has been drawn up with that very case in mind, and I am instructed by the legal advisers that it is quite definite that under this Sub-section variety performances at cinemas would not be allowed. There is the further point that now that control is to be restored to the local authorities they will be able to exercise control. The London County Council, for instance, will be able to resume the practice, which I believe they formerly exercised, of making it one of the conditions on which they granted their licence that no variety entertainment should be given. Apart from that fact, I am informed that the definition in Sub-section (2) definitely excludes forms of variety entertainment from the scone of the power of the licensing authorities.
Clause 2 deals with the possibility of action by a common informer. The powers of the Home Secretary under the Remission of Penalties Act, 1875, refer only to the remission of penalties and not to costs. Therefore, in Clause 2 we provide that any action pending which has been instituted since the 2nd day of April, which was the date of the introduction of the Bill of the late Home Secretary, shall be discharged and made void. In that case there is not only no question of remitting penalties, but the informer will be unable to recover costs. We have, however, made this distinction with regard to any actions which were instituted before the 2nd April, that they shall only be discharged subject to any order which the court or the judge may think fit to make with regard to costs. The reason for that distinction is the fact that whereas the man who instituted proceedings before the 2nd April might fairly say that he was in ignorance of any intention to amend the law, the man who instituted proceedings after the introduction of the late Home Secretary's Bill was warned by the form of the Bill itself that should it pass into law such action would be discharged and made void.
There is one further provision in Clause 2 which is a matter of some importance. We have laid down that no proceedings under the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, shall be instituted without the consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General. Hon. Members may well ask why that is necessary if under the Bill we are in fact legalising these Sunday cinema performances and concerts. The reason is, that under Section 1 of the Act of 1780 there are certain other forms of Sunday performances which were declared to be illegal. The best examples of that are zoological gardens and public debates. We have, unlike the cinema and the concert, provided in the Bill no machinery for the licensing of such performances. The reason is plain. The machinery already exists for licensing cinemas and concerts on six days of the week, and all we have to do is to extend that machinery for licensing them on Sundays. But in the case of the zoological gardens and debates, rightly or wrongly, no such licensing authority exists, and, therefore, there is no authority to whom this power can be given. I do not think there is any section of religion which would like to see debates, even if a charge is made for admission, and lectures, or visits to the zoological gardens, done away with, and we think that the best way to deal with this matter is to say that any action brought by a common informer must first obtain the sanction of the Attorney-General. The Clause also deals with the extent and duration of the Bill. The Bill does not extend to Scotland or to Northern Ireland. It does not extend to Northern Ireland because under the settlement licensing matters of this kind are left within the competence of the Parliament in Belfast. It does not extend to Scotland because the Act of 1780 does not apply to Scotland, and a recent decision of the courts, although decided on other grounds, contained obiter dicta which showed that no similar legal objection existed in Scotland as exists in this country. We have, therefore, been advised that, unlike this country, if you wish merely to stabilise the conditions for a limited period of time it will be unnecessary to introduce this new legislation in Scotland.
I was just going to tell the hon. Member why. I regret if I have placed them in their wrong order; I should have put Wales first and Scotland last. The reason why it extends to Wales is that there is no area in Wales, although there is in the contiguous county of Monmouthshire, where the Sunday opening of cinemas has even been permitted and, therefore, as far as Wales is concerned, this Bill will make no difference whatsoever. It has never been permitted there up to the present, and if the Bill is passed no authority in Wales will have any power to permit the opening of cinemas on Sunday in the future. The position with regard to concerts is different. Wales, I believe, is a music-loving country, and the practice of giving Sunday concerts is old and widespread. I cannot believe, however strong the feeling may be against the Sunday opening of cinemas, that there really exists the same feeling in Wales against the Sunday performance of concerts which they have enjoyed so long. If hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies will realise that as far as they are concerned this Bill only legalises Sunday concerts and does not legalise the Sunday opening of cinemas, a great deal of their objection will disappear.
The Bill is to run for the period of a year. We believe that it is not useful to put in a shorter time in view of the great pressure which obviously there will be upon Parliamentary time in the future. I know that hon. Members have expressed a fear that as this Bill is to last for a year that fact will enable it to be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act and so by a back door this temporary Measure might become the permanent law of the land. Let me say at once that it is no intention of the Government that this should be the case and, indeed, my right hon. Friend was an opponent of the principle of definitely and permanently allowing the Sunday openings of cinemas; and no one would suggest that he would lend himself for one moment to such an imposition on the House. Since I have been in the House it has always been the custom to take the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill somewhere about December. There is no rule or law or precedent which guides this decision, but in point of fact I have never known this Bill to be taken at any other period.
Hon. Members will appreciate this point, that if this Bill becomes law within the next few days it will expire next October and there will be a gap between the expiration of this Bill and the normal time at which the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is taken. If it were the intention of some Government, not of course of the present Government, to go back upon what I have declared to be the intention of the Government it would be necessary for them to introduce the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill at the end of a busy summer session, and whoever may be the Chief Whip looking after the fortunes of the Government he would hardly encourage such a procedure. I can assure hon. Members that it is not the intention of the Government to obtain a permanent settlement of this question by any such side line. This Bill is introduced to allow a breathing space so that the whole question can once and for all be settled by Parliament.
Finally, let me point out to hon. Members who were opposed to the Bill introduced by the late Home Secretary how entirely different these two Bills are in their character and scope. The present Measure is merely a temporary regulation which will extend the practice which has grown up in the past and merely stabilises that practice for a short time. In the first Bill a great question of principle was raised which divided the House on lines quite apart altogether from the lines of ordinary party politics. There is no question of principle involved in this Bill. I know that opponents of the Measure are afraid that by giving even a temporary sanction to a proceeding of which they disapprove they are compromising their principle and that it might at some future time be held up against them that once having supported such a practice, even for a brief period, they are debarred in future from ever opposing it. That is an entirely wrong view to take of the matter. By supporting this Bill they are not giving away their power of resisting a permanent Measure of this character, if and when it is introduced.
In that belief I am strengthened by a letter which the Home Secretary has received from the Council of Christian Ministers on Social Questions, which is a body composed of members not only of the Church of England but of the Free Churches as well. The two secretaries, the Reverend P. T. Kirk and the Reverend Henry Carter were among the most determined opponents of the Bill last summer.
They did, in fact, oppose it; and in their letter they advised that the proposal of the Government to return to the status quo is the wisest course to pursue. That I believe to be the case. May I remind hon. Members once more of the consequences which will arise if this Bill is not passed? It would result in the almost immediate closing of cinemas on Sundays in London and in other areas where it is now permitted. The winter before us will indeed be a grim winter. Whichever side is in power, whatever policy is adopted—although some of us may have our ideas as to the degree of grimness which the alternatives present—we are united in agreeing that it is going to be a difficult and trying winter. The failure to pass this Bill will result in depriving hundreds and thousands of people of an amusement to which they have long been accustomed and which many of them consider to be indispensable. In the midst of all the difficulties of the last two months, I still retain enough faith in democracy to believe that these people would accept that result cheerfully if they believed that it was the result of a decision which the House of Commons had taken in its wisdom and because the House believed it to be for the benefit of the community. But I do not think they would accept it if they considered it to be merely the result of the House of Commons being unable through lack of time to come to any decision at all. It is because I hope that the final decision of this long controversy will represent the considered opinion of the House of Commons that I urge the Second Reading of a Measure which will give the House and the country a breathing space in which this matter can be fully considered and finally decided.
No one will find fault with the clear and concise statement covering the history of this subject and the provisions embodied in the Bill, which has been made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He has indicated that when a somewhat similar Bill was introduced by the previous Government it raised the voice of controversy. I cannot think that on this occasion that voice will be still. I have the feeling that conscience will move some hon. Members to give expression to their feelings to-night. They are Members who are now on the Government side, but on the previous Bill they voted against the Second Reading. The present Home Secretary was among the number, but he has found it convenient, now he is faced with the responsibility, to change his opinion. At any rate, he is backing the Bill. I understand it is a Government Measure, and that there is to he no free vote on the Government side. I shall be interested to know what will be the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). Will conscience dictate to him on this occasion as on the last?
We have never known the hon. Member to fail, so far as the expression of his opinions is concerned. During his political life he has given us many examples of his great sincerity, and I cannot think that even on this occasion he will fail. I was not impressed by the plea of the Under-Secretary in regard to urgency. The hon. Gentleman did not buttress that plea with sufficient evidence to satisfy me. He told us that if the Bill were not passed the cinemas would apse on Sundays. Has he been told so by those who run the cinemas? Have vested interests held a pistol at his head? Or is it that local authorities, who hitherto have acted in good faith, find it difficult to maintain the present position? I was not impressed by the consideration of urgency, because I understand that we are on the point of going to the country, and I should have hoped that this matter might have waited until another Government, more fitted and endowed with a greater right to deal with this matter, had been elected.
Let me make it plain that so far as I express any views on this Bill I speak only for myself, not for any of my hon. Friends around me or for any of those who are absent. It is clear that when a recent decision was given in the courts an unhappy situation arose. It affected the action of local authorities who for a long period of time had exercised what they considered to be a right in granting the privilege to cinema proprietors to open their theatres on Sundays. It is undesirable that the law should be left in the uncertain state in which we find it today. Three things emerge from this state of the law. In the first place, the administration of large and responsible authorities like the London County Council has not been in accordance with the law. The law is violated by individual persons and by private companies. It is not enforced by the Home Secretary, if he has the power to enforce it; nor is it enforced by the Law Officers of the Crown. If Parliament has any wisdom left, it should take action to deal with the matter. Hon. Members must ask themselves whether we can afford to leave things as they are. No Government is anxious to enforce the law.
I doubt whether it would be seriously contended that Section 1 of the Act of 1780 represents the present-day view of the great majority of the people. Certainly I am encouraged in that opinion by the fact that many religious bodies have expressed their views in that sense. Sunday concerts have been given in London since 1889, and upon the very slender foundation of a case which was dealt with in 1887 we have seen these entertainments becoming more and more common. As has been said, since 1916 cinemas have been opened on Sundays. As time has passed an ever growing number have been opened, and the London County Council has defined conditions under which they might be opened. In 96 areas outside London cinemas have been opened. As regards the explanation offered of Clause 1 of the Bill, there is no need to go further into that matter. What the Bill pro- poses to do is clear, but, even if it receives the sanction of the House, we cannot regard it as a final settlement. I regard it myself as a makeshift proposal—almost as makeshift as the Government now in office. I am sorry that the Attorney-General is not in his place. I think he ought to be here on this occasion.
We know where he is, and the Leader of the Tory party, on occasion, has been absent from his duties here when attending the annual conference of his party. If such debating points as that are to be made, the discussion on this Bill may go on for a long time. I have not said anything to disturb the serenity of this Debate, and I am inclined to be helpful, but, if hon. Members want me to take a different attitude, I am prepared to do so. I can assure the House that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to get a little hot on this question. For two and a-quarter years I have only had to speak when called upon to do so, as it were. I have had to be silent, but now I can get going, and I shall do so if I am seriously tempted.
I have always won either by a short head or by many lengths, and I have no doubt that I shall do so in the future. I was going to recall that the Attorney-General in Committee upstairs told us that he went to church on Sunday mornings and on Sunday evenings he went to the cinema, and that he winked at breaches of the law—he did not say on the other six days of the week. At any rate, with this Clause the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to do the first two things, and there will be no occasion for him or his fellow Law Officers to wink at breaches of the law. That is a very desirable thing, and it will doubtless obviate some sleepless nights for the Attorney-General in view of the questions which may be fired at him from time to time from these benches.
The Bill which was originally introduced went much further than the present Bill. It covered such things as debates and the opening of the Zoological Gardens and of museums of inanimate objects. If we cannot have equality of sacrifice, I think we ought to have equality of rights in so far as they existed prior to the decision. This Bill seeks to regularise the position as it exists at the moment, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that the Sunday Observance Act deals also with the right of public debate. It prohibits public debating on Sunday on any subject whatever, and the decision of the Court made that Section operative. That Section applies not only to debates but also, as I have said, to the Zoological Gardens and to museums, and this Bill does not touch that matter. There is no provision in this Bill as regards machinery for dealing with the question of licensing. That aspect of the matter does not appear to have been dealt with at all. I complained a little while ago about the absence of the Attorney-General, because I think we ought to have from him some statement upon that aspect of the matter.
I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that the absence of the Attorney-General is not due to any discourtesy to him. The Attorney-General asked me to explain to the hon. Gentleman that a very urgent engagement required him to leave the House. He will return as soon as possible, and meanwhile the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I have been taking copious notes of the points which he is raising in order that I may refer them to the Attorney-General.
It will not reduce me to silence. We are entitled to have the Attorney-General here. His name is on the back of the Bill, and the Bill involves legal technicalities. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in fact, walked out of the House while the hon. Gentleman was on his feet. It is not right that the House should be treated in this way, because the learned Attorney-General is involved in this matter. The hon. Gentleman opposite might get away with this by saying that these matters were not covered, but that he relied upon the provision as to the consent of the Attorney-General being given to proceedings. We are entitled to ask however what attitude the Attorney-General takes upon this question of Debates, and in view of the continued absence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman I feel that we ought to move the Adjournment of the Debate. I wish to know if it would be in order to do so.
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I think that the Attorney-General ought to be sent for because we shall certainly desire to know what is his position upon this question. If I were really unpleasant about this matter, if I were offering severe and drastic opposition to the Bill, I could understand that attitude on the part of the Government, but up to the present I have been helpful and the only serious point which I have had to urge in respect of the Bill is one which affects the Attorney-General.
The hon. Member for Bodmin cannot answer this question, nor is he entitled to answer it, nor indeed do I desire him to answer it, and, if he answered it, I do not think I should accept hie answer. Clause 2 says:
No such proceeding shall, while this Act is in force, be instituted without the consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General.
Where is the Solicitor-General? Not that I desire him upon this point, because I have asked for the Attorney-General, and I stick to what I have asked for.
He is very slow in coming, and I should like to see the Attorney-General on that bench and for him to listen to me. I have been long enough in this House to know that if an hon. Member stands at this Box and makes such an appeal, that bench should have fallen over itself to fetch him in; and, if it were not for the decision of the House to which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have rightly called attention, there would have been a Division upon this point.
The Clause says that no such proceeding shall be instituted without the consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, but it is clear that any citizen has a right to take action where public debate is concerned or where the Zoological Gardens are concerned, where thousands of people go every Sunday for enjoyment and entertainment. Indeed, the Attorney-General in the Committee upstairs put it on higher grounds. He put it on the ground of education and spoke of his little child going into the Zoological Gardens and coming away better informed and better educated. These Zoological Gardens can be closed; these public debates can be stopped. Section 1 of the Sunday Observance Act is in operation, and the only thing that stands betwen the stopping of those useful, entertaining, and intellectual pursuits is the consent of either one or other of the Law Officers of the Crown. He can take away the legal rights of the citizens by simply saying, "No, I will not agree that this, that, or the other ought not to be stopped." This is a very serious matter. The learned Attorney-General is senior to me in the profession, and I cannot think that anyone occupying the position of Law Officer of the Crown, as he does, with high regard among my legal brethren, would act other than in the public welfare. I am not criticising him upon that ground, but he ought to have been here to listen, and I ask the Patronage Secretary whether he has asked him to come in. [Interruption.] I see my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has now arrived, but he has taken a lot of persuading to come in to listen to a poor junior. We have not had the pleasure of hearing his voice while he has sat in the present Government, unless he has answered a question, but we hope we shall have the privilege and pleasure to-night. I have been complaining of the absence of the right hon. and learned Member, and I have called attention to the fact that this Bill does not cover debates or the Zoological Gardens.
I have reminded the House of the high regard that the hon. and learned Attorney hold for the Zoological Gardens, that he impressed the Committee upstairs with their value from an educational point of view, and that he told the Committee how he used to take his little child there, and what a terrible thing it would be if the Zoological Gardens were closed on Sundays. I understand that under this Bill they could be closed unless the learned Attorney-General stopped this proceeding, and I have already been careful to express the view that he would always act with due regard to the public welfare, but we are entitled to have his statement on the question, in view of the fact that the matter rests entirely upon the consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General.
We, on this side, would like to feel as certain as is reasonably possible, because it is not embodied in legal phraseology, that these educational and magnificent Zoological Gardens shall not be in danger of being closed through some action brought by some common informer, and that the public debates, which are clearly covered by the section of the Sunday Observance Act and which are of vital importance to this side of the House, shall not be stopped. Indeed, when I looked at the Bill first, I wondered whether something of the vindictiveness of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had found its way into the hearts and minds of the Home Secretary and of the learned Attorney-General. We should like to be assured upon those points, and I am only sorry that the enforced absence of my right hon. and learned Friend has caused me to stand longer at this Box than I originally intended.
As a final word—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear hear!"]—I am invited to go on, but there are so many who desire to speak that I can well afford to leave this matter in their capable hands. We do not regard this as a final settlement. I believe that the local authorities, who have been acting in good faith in these matters prior to the recent judgment, should be relieved of their anxieties and legal risks; and so far as the Bill regularises the position, conferring no advantages upon any other than those who were originally enjoying them, I shall offer no objection to it while reserving the rights of my friends and myself on the Committee stage.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day three months."
This Bill has been introduced in special circumstances that were not anticipated when the House adjourned for the Summer Recess. I regret that the late Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs found it possible to be so gentle with the Bill, but I gather that he has not made up his mind into which Lobby he will go. When he reflects further on the provisions of the Bill, I have no doubt that he will be found in the Lobby against it. The Prime Minister said to-day, in answer to a question that the Eleven o'clock Rule was being suspended to enable the Government to obtain this Measure owing to the urgency of the situation. That is a remarkable statement for the Prime Minister to make. He was Prime Minister in April last when the Bill dealing with the Sunday opening of cinemas was brought before the House. It was not brought in as a Government Measure. The same illegalities were being perpetrated then as are being perpetrated to-day. The position in law in April was precisely what is is to-day, and yet the Government, in bringing in a Bill dealing with precisely the same situation as that which confronts us to-day, left it to the free vote of the House. To-day we are confronted with a three-line Whip to support this Measure.
Why has the situation become so urgent to-day? What new urgency is there? The former Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill in April last, used this language, which he must have used with the full knowledge of the Prime Minister. He said that he was not speaking on behalf of his colleagues, but was putting forward a Bill on his own behalf. He said:
I shall stand here in the character of an individual advocate of the Bill, although in no sense committing my colleagues either officially or personally to support the Bill.
He went on to give the reason why he was moving the Bill at all. It was not his ambition, although he was supporting
the Bill, to change the law as it then stood. He said that the Measure was introduced
not so much for the purpose of advocating a change as for the purpose of affording the House of Commons this free opportunity of saying what should be done upon the issues which have been raised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1931; cols. 633–34, Vol. 251.]
That was the intention—to give the House a free opportunity of discussing the issue, but here is a new Government called into being because of a crisis which has occurred in national affairs, and which takes advantage of that position to produce this Sunday cinema Bill. What relation this has to-day with the crisis confronting the nation, I fail to understand. No fewer than 15 Members of the present Government were found in the Opposition Lobby on the Second Reading of the Bill in April. How are they to justify a state of emergency to-day that causes this Bill? It is no answer for them to say that this is a different Bill, or to say, "We did not like the details of the Bill in April." When they went into the Lobby against the Bill, they did so not against the details of the Bill, but against the principle of the Bill. What are they going to say to-night? Are they going to press upon the Prime Minister that the decision should be left to the free vote of the House?
We have had a very interesting presentation of this Bill, and I take the opportunity of congratulating the Under-Secretary of State upon his first speech from that Box, but I have no doubt that he wishes, as I wish, that he had had a better task for his first speech. It is interesting to note that the Bill is presented by the Under-Secretary of State, and not by the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman opposite complained that the Attorney-General was not present, but where is the Home Secretary? Did he find that it might be a little embarrassing to take part in this Debate because he voted against the Bill last April? He is now apparently supporting this Bill. The Solicitor-General in this Government also made a very powerful speech against the last Bill. It is argued to-night that all that this Bill does is to maintain the status quo—standing still, in the language of the Under-Secretary of State. Let me quote what the Solicitor-General said in the Debate in April:
The strength of the case for this Bill is that it defends a position which is obviously easily defended and is a very good tactical position, as, broadly speaking, it merely prolongs or protects the existing position, but, in the first place, I take leave to say that to enable cinemas to be opened legally on Sundays has a very different character merely from opening them illegally or in spite of the law. As long as it is illegal but some authorities are content to evade or defy the law, you are likely to have the evil, if it be an evil, restricted to comparatively few cases. The moment you legalise it, then it has a different character altogether, and, unless you can be quite sure that you can erect some bastion that will prevent a further encroachment upon the use of Sunday, you are, by legalising the existing system, creating a base for a further evasion of the sanctity of that day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1931; col. 732, Vol. 251.]
The question I want to put to these 15 Members is, have they put their beliefs in pawn merely because they have crossed from that side of the House to this? We shall know if their beliefs are in pawn when the Division is taken. The Under-Secretary of State wound up his speech by saying that there is a grim winter in front of us; so what is apparently offered to the people with which to meet a grim winter is the Sunday cinema which they have had before. Is that the answer of a National Government to deal with a national emergency? We are face to face with a grim time, partly because of the mentality of our own people and the mentality of the people of the world, and here is the remedy—a Sunday Cinemas Bill! The Government, when they came into office, said no controversial Bill would be proceeded with, and all controversial Measures have been dropped. The Bill on this subject introduced earlier in the Session was so controversial that it has been dropped. It was fought upstairs in Committee, and it would still have been fought, line by line. That has been dropped and this Bill substituted. It is the only case in which a Bill has been substituted for a controversial Bill which was dropped. Why has this exception been made? Had there been no great financial crisis there would have been no National Government and the House would not be meeting to-night. The House would not have met, presumably, till the end of the month, the Bill upstairs would still have been in existence, the Committee proceedings would have been resumed and the first opportunity for
passing that Bill into law would not have arrived until some time in December. Now, because of a national crisis, the cinema interest is to be given a privileged position and to have its Bill at least two months earlier.
Does the House realise what an amazing Bill this is? We are told that it is put forward merely to maintain the status quo, the "standing still Bill." If we are to maintain the status quo, surely it must be a lawful status quo that we are to maintain; but if we are to maintain the existing status quo we are maintaining an unlawful position and not making it lawful. Up to 1916 cinemas in London could not be opened on Sundays for profit. No charge could be made for admission, under the terms of the Act of 1780. The Act of 1780 was, up to 1916, being enforced in London and elsewhere. That is not to say that cinemas did not open before 1916. They did, in fact, open. They opened with the admission free, and the proceeds went in aid of charity. To-day there is nothing to prevent the cinemas in London being opened on Sundays under the Act of 1780, provided they make no charge for admission. The one test under the Act of 1780 is the commercialising and making a profit out of Sunday. In 1916 the London County Council came to an agreement with the cinemas that they would not proceed under the 1780 Act against those which opened on Sundays.
At the beginning of this year it turned out that that was an unlawful agreement, and the London County Council came to this House, asking us to make lawful their own unlawful actions. Why should we? Why should this House come to the rescue of the London County Council? Let me turn again to the language of the Home Secretary when he was bringing the Bill forward. He said the House must make up its mind upon one of two things, either that the law should be changed or that it should be enforced. Why is it impossible to enforce the law to-day? The Under-Secretary said to-night that unless this Bill were passed there would be only one alternative, and that was to enforce the law. It amazes me that the Under-Secretary should regret that that should be the only alternative. [Interruption.] Is it to be said in this House that, whether a law be good or bad, one local authority may be allowed to break it if it chooses? Is there to be one law for the London County Council and another law for the rest of the country?
I will come to the issue of prosecutions for not going to church. The status quo is that the agreement made by the London County Council is an unlawful agreement. The Act of 1780 still applies. How does this Bill affect it? In the first Clause it purports to allow only those authorities who have made an agreement during the past year with the cinemas in their areas to open on Sundays to continue Sunday opening. In other words, where cinemas have been opened during the past year unlawfully they shall in the coming year be opened lawfully. That is not maintaining the status quo. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent other areas which now do not give permission for the opening of cinemas on Sundays from giving that permission within their areas. The London County Council permit the opening of cinemas in their area. The Middlesex County Council do not permit the opening of cinemas. The Middlesex County Council, subject it is true, to the Act of 1780, can make an agreement in precisely the same way as the London County Council made an agreement for the opening of cinemas within their area. They can give an undertaking that they will not proceed against such cinemas under the Act of 1780. I agree that it would be an unlawful agreement, but there is nothing in this Bill which prevents the Middlesex County Council in the coming year from entering into such an unlawful agreement.
You cannot, by Act of Parliament, prevent people breaking the law. A council can make an unlawful agreement if they wish to do so; but, if within the last year permission had not been given by them, their permission cannot legally he given now, and anybody who opens a cinema there on Sunday will find himself liable to a prosecution at the hands of a common informer.
That is a very interesting admission. Let us see about the common informer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has already admitted that it is open to authorities in whose areas cinemas are now closed on Sunday to enter into the same unlawful agreement with those cinemas as the London County Council did. The result, as far as the London County Council and those authorities that are now breaking the law are concerned, has been that they have become powerful enough to enforce Parliament to give them lawful permission for what they have been doing. Will the other authorities, when they have allowed cinemas to be open for a year, be able to come here and say, "We have been opening unlawfully for a year, give us permission to open lawfully for another year"? If they take up such a position, what answer will the right hon. and learned Gentleman have? He has taken the view to-day that once the position which exists in London has arisen it ought to be made lawful. If it is to be made lawful in the case of the London County Council, why should it not be made lawful a year hence in the case of Middlesex?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman refers to the common informer. I am not sure that his interpretation is accurate, because Clause 2 alters the position with regard to the common informer. Clause 2 does not merely apply to those areas which have been opening unlawfully during the past year, but will apply all over the country, so that the position then may be this. To-day a cinema opens at the peril of the common informer taking action, but after this Bill becomes law, if Middlesex, which does not open to-day, opens unlawfully, the common informer cannot take action against a cinema in Middlesex without first getting the leave of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is a complete alteration of the position, and it places the new lawbreaker in a privileged position. But that is not the only alteration. Take a sentence towards the end of the first Clause. Whether it, is due to bad drafting in this great emergency Bill, I do not know. Take cases within the London County Council area where certain cine- mas are open and certain cinemas are closed. They are not licensed lawfully, but they purport to be licensed. We are told that in this Bill only those cinemas which have hitherto been open are to be lawfully opened in the coming year. [Interruption.] If that is not the meaning of the Clause, I should be glad to hear from the Attorney-General what is the real meaning.
The drafting of the Clause is perfectly simple. It is not a question of licensing a particular cinema, but of licensing in a particular area. No doubt these so-called licences are not legal, but in that area there is to be power under this Bill not to license any particular cinema, but any cinema in the area.
I will give an example of what is called the perfect drafting of Clause 1. In line 20 of that Clause it is provided that:
while this Act is in force, allow places in that area licensed under the said enactments, to be opened and used on Sundays for the purpose of cinematograph entertainments.
We are dealing with the seventh day of the week. Clause 1 reads:
in pursuance of arrangements purported to have been made with those authorities respectively, then, notwithstanding anything in any enactment relating to Sunday observance, those authorities respectively may, while this Act is in force, allow places in that area licensed under the said enactments.
What does that mean? The whole of this Bill is badly conceived, and, far from maintaining the status quo, it changes the whole position with regard to it. We are told that we need not be alarmed about the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, because it is the intention that this Bill is going to be enforced
for a year and no more. Of course, I do not doubt the good faith of the Under-Secretary, but I would like to point out that this Bill expires in October, and the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill does not expire until December. We are all aware that there may be a stronger argument for continuing this Bill a year hence. It will probably be said that we cannot come to an agreement in regard to this Measure, and the best way to deal with the subject will be to continue the compromise which is proposed in this Bill. That will be the ultimate position, and it is idle to attempt to delude the House that what this Bill is asking hon. Members to do is simply to maintain the status quo. That is not so, because the House is being asked to alter the law with regard to Sunday performances, and this is really the thin end of the-wedge.
The proposed alteration is a thoroughly bad one, and if the situation is so urgent, why proceed with this Bill on the eve of a General Election? It is an undoubted fact that the Bill originally introduced to deal with this question would not have been passed into law until next December. In these circumstances, why not let this matter be decided at the General Election, after which the new Government will have time to deal with this question? As for the compromise which is now suggested, it reminds me of a story which I once read in an essay by Mr. Birrell. It is the story of a captain who wanted to conciliate a savage chief to allow him to pass through his territory, and the only thing he had to offer to the chief was his dress suit. When the captain arrived at the territory through which he wished to pass, he found that the chief was wearing the dress coat, another savage was wearing the waistcoat, and the trousers had been so torn that they could not be recognised. Mr. Birrell said that there was nothing absurd in wearing a dress suit, and there was nothing absurd about a naked savage, but there was something grotesque in a savage chief wearing a dress coat only, which was an absurd compromise. This Bill is an absurd compromise.
We are asked to deal with this Bill now because of the grimness of the coming winter. I am not putting my opposition to this Bill on Sabbatarian grounds, but I think the State is very much concerned with the maintenance of a great English institution like Sunday. What is the value of Sunday in English life? To answer that question I do not turn to the Church, or to what is preached on Sundays in order to find out what is the value of Sunday life, but I turn to Blue Books. There was published by the first Labour Government in this country a report of a Royal Commission dealing with agriculture, and that is a subject far removed from the Sunday question. The Commissioners were selected because they were economic experts, and they were asked to compare the agricultural position in this country with the position in the other countries of Europe. That Commission reported that it was impossible to make an accurate comparison because of the different religious observances of the people. There is another document issued by the International Labour Office of the League of Nations, and it shows that experts were appointed to compare the industrial position of this country with the countries of Europe, and one of the points upon which they reported was the difference in the observance of Sunday which obtained in the different countries. That is common to the whole economic life and structure of all countries, and one of the most important things as far as any country is concerned, and even as far as its economic welfare is concerned, it its attitude of mind, and it is well that every country should have a day set apart when it can pass judgment upon its own destiny.
An hon. Member opposite made an interruption and asked, "What about going to church?" but I think it is just as well that the nation should have an opportunity to ask whither it is going, and at no time was that question more necessary than it is to-day. That is what Sunday stands for in English life, as an economic factor. Has anyone asked himself why Scotsmen have been more successful economically and commercially than most of the other nations in the British Isles? [Interruption.] The kind of view and the kind of observance which they have entertained with regard to Sunday has had a material effect in moulding their economic welfare and commercial prosperity. That is the case for Sunday observance.
The State has an interest in it. The first concern of the State at all times is its own self-preservation. Are you going to whittle away to-day, in the circumstances with which we are confronted, one of the main institutions for the development of our national character and our national life and prosperity? It is said to-day that we should save as much money as we can in this country; we are told by this Government that we should refrain as far as possible from buying foreign goods, and should encourage home production; and yet here is a Bill, introduced by the National Government almost at the last moment of its life, to enable £4,000,000 to go out of the country to American interests. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary laughs at that, but I am taking the figures from the cinema industry itself.
Am I to understand that the cinema trade of this country, in the 96 areas in which alone Sunday cinemas are allowed, pays £4,000,000 a year for the seventh night on which its cinemas are open?
The cinema people, in advocating the concession of Sunday opening, said that this would mean to them at least £7,000,000 a year, and, of that £7,000,000, £4,000,000 is controlled by American interests. That is the Sunday concession, and, as I have already said, this Bill would not prevent a single cinema from being opened in the outside areas. That is the Bill that we are asked to support. It is time that this nation stopped and thought before it passed this Bill, and changed an institution which cannot he better described than in the language of the Solicitor-General in the present Government when he compared the desecration of the sanctity of Sunday to a desecration of the Cenotaph by placing an advertisement upon it. He said:
I should outrage the public opinion of this country if I placed an advertisement upon the Cenotaph.
That was not because the Cenotaph is different from any other building, but because of the sacredness which attaches to it. Would it be any less desecration to stick half an advertisement on the Cenotaph—to stick on it this Bill rather than the Bill that was introduced last April? Clearly not.
I have two serious requests to make to the hon. Gentleman and the Government. The first is that, in our present-day circumstances, this Bill should be withdrawn and abandoned entirely; there is no justification for it. The second is that, if the hon. Gentleman cannot agree to that, the Bill should be left to-night to a free vote of the House, in precisely the same way as the Bill introduced in April. For my own part, whether it be left to a, free vote of the House or not, I regard the Bill as so serious an innovation in our national life, and as dealing with this situation in so very undesirable a way, that, whatever the consequences to the Government might be, unless they concede a free vote of the House, I must go into the Lobby against the Bill.
I beg to second the Amendment.
After the comprehensive speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) in moving this Amendment, it will only be necessary for me, in seconding it, to address the House very shortly. I want to say a word with regard to the position of the House in relation to its vote on this Bill. When the present Government was formed, in the crisis which came upon us in August, we were all led to understand that it was formed for one purpose only, namely, by economy and by the passing of a second Finance Bill into law, to enable the Budget of the earlier part of the year to be belanced, so that some steps should be taken to restore the financial stability of the country. We were led to understand that, when that had taken place, the function of the emergency National Government would have ended. We have been asked, in ail the three-line Whips that have been issued, and we have responded day by day, to support the Government in its whole programme, however distasteful it might be to any individual member of the party to which we belong. That programme has now been completed, and today we have dealt with two totally different matters. The Bill which was before the House earlier was clearly an emergency Measure of the most urgent kind, simply to deal for a short time with the difficulties that might arise out of events which have taken place during the lifetime of the present Government.
This other Bill, however, appears to me to have no relation whatever either to the urgency of the matter or to the emergency in which we were asked to support the present Government. Here is a matter which is more controversial than almost any subject that could be introduced into this House, and, when the somewhat similar but more extended Measure was introduced in April of this year, it was not only left to a free vote of the House, but the Home Secretary, in introducing it, said that he was only stating his individual opinion, and he bound nobody. It cannot be denied that this Bill, whatever else it does, legalises, in the matter of opening cinemas on Sundays, that which is illegal to-day, and yet we are told, by inference, that it is a matter which the Government feel they must put through at this particular moment. I endorse the appeal of the hon. Member for Cardigan that at any rate, if the Bill cannot be withdrawn, it should not be forced upon the House, but should be left, in these expiring days, probably, of the present House, to a free vote, so that we should not be compelled to treat as a purely party matter something which has nothing whatever to do with party or with what the present Government was instituted to carry out.
I say that the Bill should be withdrawn because, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, despite his speech, entirely failed to convince me that it is a matter of enormous urgency that this particular legislation should be enacted to-day or to-morrow rather than, say, in four, five or six weeks' time. The present state of the law has continued for a considerable time, and, as has been cogently pointed out, if the emergency had never arisen for which the present Government was instituted, the Bill that was already before the House could not have become law until nearly the end of the year. If, therefore, the present state of affairs could in those circumstances be allowed to subsist until the end of November, or possibly December, why on earth cannot this Measure, if it be necessary, be passed into law in six or seven weeks' time? It is obvious that there is no such real urgency. Therefore, I maintain that it is quite a mistaken idea to bring this kind of Bill forward as part of the agreement between the supporters of the Government and the Government as to the manner of Measures we were really asked to support. Nobody can say that this is not a controversial matter. I am only one back bench private Member of the House, but I have here seven or eight telegrams from different people in my constituency—people whom I know and who have signed their names. I have also a sheaf of letters and printed matter of various kinds from different organisations in the country.
The country has only known for a couple of days that the Government proposed to put this Measure through, and they have not had time really to make their protest effective, but in the very short space of time they have had it is perfectly clear that this proposal has aroused the greatest hostility in all parts of the country. I find among these protests—they are not all from religious bodies—one from the Theatrical Managers' Association. They complain of this Bill. Why? Because it is going to legalise in certain areas a privileged position in which the cinema and the cinema only is to open on the seventh day, and they say it is not fair. What right have we to pass a Measure of this kind which is not a question of stabilising the status quo but exactly the opposite? You are altering the law and making legal what is not legal to-day. If we are to do that, which is clearly an alteration, have we any right to make this alteration in favour of one particular entertainment industry without hearing what the other entertainment industries have to say about it? Is it wise at this particular moment, when we are suffering from a drain of capital from this country, to give a seventh day opportunity for still more spending of British money which is to go straight to America?
If we wanted to do something to strengthen the credit of this country I could understand the urgency. I do not know whether the figure mentioned by my hon. Friend who preceded me, namely, £4,000,000 more money to go to America annually on account of the Sunday opening of cinemas, is correct or not, but it is clearly a very substantial sum, and at the present time when we ought to be doing everything we possibly can to stop buying foreign goods or going to entertainments which produce export of capital from this country, so far from it being urgent to enact this, it is rather extraordinarily urgent in the public interest that we should not enact it. It is a most undesirable thing that we should be asked to put into law a Bill which, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, will say deliberately that what we are going to legalise is a state of things which has been hitherto illegal in certain areas. We are thus to have the law in the position—permanently as many people think, but anyhow, for a very long while, instead of being only for one year as is claimed—of there being one thing as to the law about Sunday cinemas in some areas and quite another thing in other areas. To do that even for 12 months is unwise, and it is idle to talk about it not being put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It is certain to go into it. It will go into it next December as certain as can be, and it will go in from December to December. I have sat on the Committee which considers that Bill for many years past, and I know that once something gets into the Bill it is uncommonly difficult to get it out.
Therefore we shall find that we have enacted now something which will probably stay for a great number of years until Parliament finds an opportunity of rectifying it and the public is very much more united on the question. It will be said that the most convenient thing to do will be to carry on this really ridiculous and indefensible state of affairs which will be produced by this Bill. Therefore, I claim that I can have complete freedom because this is no part of legislation we were led to expect when we were asked to support the Government. It is a highly controversial matter, and one which has aroused great feeling throughout the country even in the few days that the country has had knowledge of it. On these grounds, whether there is a free vote or not, I shall go into the Lobby with my hon. Friend in opposition to it.
It is precisely because this Bill does propose to continue the present arrangement until Parliament gets an opportunity of considering the whole question of entertainments on Sunday that I am going to support it. To use a legal quibble and to say that to sustain the status quo is to overlook the fact that you do make some technical difference in the position of the man called—as none of us like to be called—the common informer, is, to my mind, a very poor argument to use. The status quo is quite enough to the ordinary layman, and it means that the actual practice that is pertaining to-day shall continue to pertain until opportunities arise when the whole matter can be considered de novo. That is why we should support the Bill. I have another reason. To me the Bill is a very good and welcome indication that the present Government are no believers in their own emergency. If they did believe in it, and if, for instance, they had thought that the pound was going to run away as the mark did, so that you had to take a tram ride with a few hundred thousand pounds for your ticket, it is obvious that cinemas would not have to be looked after in the next few years. If money is going to run away to that extent, we need not trouble that cinemas may close, for they will close in any event. Therefore, this is a very welcome indication that there is no substance in the emergency that we are told has given rise to the present Government and is also put forward for the present Bill.
I want to put the position not on technical or legal grounds, but on the ground of common right. The old Act of 1780 is being fallen back upon. It was practically inoperative for many years. It was only when anyone saw an opportunity of a public advertisement for himself, or the probability of making money, that it was ever enforced, at least in recent times. Licences were not given by bodies acting consciously illegally. They were given by bodies who really thought the power to license given them by the Act of 1909 entitled them to grant such licences and it went on, even without the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. Morris) having awakened to the fact that the licences were illegal, until some person called a "common informer" found it out for him. He has relied entirely upon this person, the common informer. Why, if he is so keen on keeping Sunday, did he not discover the illegality of these licences long ago, or why did he not give the Lord's Day Observance Society the legal information which would have been of incalculable value to them? They have been a long time discovering it and it is in comparatively recent times that the Act has been really rediscovered and put into practice, and now he falls back on it. I have every reason to believe, from what I know of the hon. Gentleman in the House and of the part of the country that he comes from, that he is probably very genuine Sabbatarian and a religious man.
It was brought about by a comparative accident. The so-called illegality of the licences, if it had been a glaring thing, even if it had been a thing known to the ordinary, common or garden practising lawyer, would long ago have been brought to the public knowledge. But it required an accident of that description to occur before the opportunity was discovered and seized by those who take strict views on the question of the Sabbath.
I want, however, to put it to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a considerable body of opinion, that, by associating themselves with very narrow views in connection with the observance of Sunday, they are doing religion, and they are doing this day which they call sacred, incalculable harm. If it is wrong to go to a cinema on a Sunday, it is equally wrong to go on a Monday, a Tuesday or a Wednesday. I can see no reason why it should be wrong in itself to open a cinema, where comparatively few people are engaged, far fewer people than on our railways or in our public houses, which are already open. You are doing harm to the Sabbath question and to the strong religious bias of the country in connection with the observance of Sunday by not giving people an opportunity of entering these places of entertainment, or education if you like, on a Sunday. By insisting on these places being closed, the hon. Member is associating religion and the keeping of the Sabbath with narrow views. He referred to Scots. I have met many Scots without going to Scotland. When I have gone to Scotland I have liked them very little, because they practise their strict Sab- batarian views in their provincial towns to an absurd extent. Anyone who has had the misfortune of being landed there as a tourist on the Sabbath day will know that the opportunities of entertainment are limited. The Scot in London is eager for opportunities of enjoying himself on Sunday and objects more strongly than anyone else to the closing of these places. I can only speak for my own acquaintance. Take the man at the head of what, I hope, will one day prove to be a successful attempt on the part of British talent and enterprise to bring the British film into the same relationship to our cinemas as films that come from some other parts of the world. The man who has had the courage to stick to the production of British films is a, Scotsman, who is very much in favour of having cinemas open on Sundays. It is when they come away from Scotland, with very few exceptions, that you find they take an entirely different view.
I also want to suggest that you associate in the public mind the idea of the Sabbath with something that is repellent. For instance, over and over again the hon. Gentleman referred to the common informer as the main support that he leant upon in this matter. Presumably, if there were no common informer, the troubles that have arisen in connection with the opening of cinemas would not have arisen.
The Bill puts him in the position of no longer being able in the case of the cinemas, which are already open, to exercise his power. It is precisely because he loses that power of acting as common informer that the hon. Gentleman is against the Bill. I think that is a perfectly correct interpretation of his position.
I know all about the second Clause. The hon. Gentleman, from his own point of view, is making a great mistake in enforcing, first of all, an old Act which was brought in to face a position with regard to Sunday entirely different from anything that there is today. The sort of Debate that we are having would have been an illegal and a wicked thing on a Sunday in 1780. It was to put down those debates, because many of them were considered at that time revolutionary debates likely to strike at the very foundation of the constitution of the country. That situation has altered. The whole people have altered. To go back to 1780 for legislation upon an intimate domestic question of this kind is to overlook the enormous change in the habits of the people. It is conceivable that in 1780 it Might have been advisable to prevent the opening of certain institutions on a Sunday, but in the year 1931, owing to the advance in the education and the outlook of the people, and the growth of their political and citizen rights, one should take an entirely different view and say that what was dangerous in 1780 is innocuous and right in 1931.
That is the situation. It is this association of rather narrow views about Sunday, the Act of 1780, the common informer and all sorts of inhibitions which set up in people's minds the idea that Sunday is an institution when you must not do this, that or the other and when, in point of fact, the whole of religion in their minds becomes looked upon as a sort of spoil sport for humanity. The Church, both Catholic and Anglican, have a much more open mind than the people who go to chapel with regard to the keeping of the Sabbath with its falling back upon the common informer and with its going back to the year 1780. It is their attitude which makes people say, "If this is religion, I do not want it." The Nonconformists have forgotten one of their hymns—I am in a way a Nonconformist—which runs something like this:
Religion never was designed to make our pleasures less.
People have had it so drilled into their minds that they must on no account be allowed to have anything to do with these things on a Sunday, and they have associated inhibitions of all sorts with religion, with the result that they often react against it. It is a difference between the old and the young. I happen to be among the young. I believe very largely that the older people want what they call the Sabbath Day. What do they mean? They mean a quiet sort of day when they can go to sleep in the afternoon, for one thing. They go to chapel in the morning.
But they want a quiet day. They call it a day of reflection. I am afraid that many of them do not spend it in a reflective way at all. It is simply a matter of old habit. And all the young people in their household, among whom I number myself, are in revolt not only against the prohibitions put upon them, but against the impossibility of a cheerful Sunday, and then you get a reaction against religion and against the people who will not leave the old religious conceptions of many centuries ago.
In this matter, the opinions of two parties are at stake. Fortunately we can break away from our ordinary political associations and take quite a definite view of the matter. On the one side, you have the people who want to go to church or chapel on a Sunday. On the other side, you have the people who want to go to cinemas, or concerts, or even debates, or maybe, to public meetings. Observe the difference. It will be seen at once that there is a narrowness on one side that does not exist on the other side. The people who go to church would close the cinemas and other places of amusement if they had their way, but the people who go to the cinemas are not desirous of closing the churches. There is the difference. Some of them, brought up in such homes even, might think it highly moral and desirable to close a chapel, but the people who go to the cinemas do not take that lofty view. They do not say that the church or chapel is an immoral thing and that the country would be much better if it were closed, but the people who go to chapel, wrapped up in the certainty of their own righteousness, say that you should not go to cinemas, and they would take good care that you did not go by closing them. If a generous attitude were taken, and if in this country freedom were given to both sides, does anybody really think that the cinemas would grow to the extent that people imagine they would or religion suffer?
We always have painted before us the picture of the Continental Sunday. Most of us in this House have seen the Continental Sunday. I have seen it. There is nothing very dreadful about it. They get up very much earlier on Sundays than we do here. They have about seven Masses before we have turned out of our beds to our breakfast coffee, and the population all go to these Masses. As the day wears on, they do not think that it is necessary for their religion that they should wear black frock coats and go about with sombre faces, with books resembling Bibles under their arms. They do not associate religion with narrow ideas. Fortunately, we are getting emancipated by degrees because of our contact with the Continental Sunday, but unfortunately, many, like my hon. Friend who comes from Cardigan are not fully emancipated yet. He has not shaken off that influence which still holds him and still clouds his outlook upon life and makes him think that in order to be righteous Sunday should be devoid of joy. Personally, I think he is wrong—[Interruption.] Very well, if he does not want us to think that, let him dissociate his religion from such persons—we used to call then sneaks at school—as the common informer. Let him dissociate his religion from this constant "Thou shalt not," and it will be better for religion.
The hon. Member opposite may be interested in some information which I have in my possession regarding the psychological effect of the cinema upon the children of Birmingham. A questionnaire was sent out under the authority of Sir Charles Grant Robertson, Vice Chancellor of the Birmingham University, to some 80,000 Birmingham children who habitually attend the cinema.
If the hon. Member will listen to me with a little patience, I think he will be rewarded. The questionnaire included such questions as these: What is the most striking thing you have seen in the films? What impression did you take away with you from having seen the films? What sort of films, do you most desire to see? I will cite a few of the replies of the children. Here are some of their impressions from the films: "How very easy it is to open safes;" "How the idle rich live;" "How very easy it is to deceive a policeman;" "What a very good time a girl can have." Those are the sort of things that stuck in the minds those Birmingham children. Those were the main impressions made on the young people under 14. I cannot therefore think that from the ethical and improving point of view the use of Sunday afternoon for the opening of the cinemas can be exactly recommended or encouraged. There are many other gems produced by the children of Birmingham in reply to the questionnaire of which I disapprove less. Sixty per cent. of the boys replied: "There is a great deal too much in all the films of the silly love stuff." Others, in less, but considerable percentage, said that there was a great deal too much of the silly sob stuff. These children had obviously been having administered to them sexual and sentimental films which are not particularly good pabulum for the young.
Not as one of the old Scottish Sabbatarians whom Sir Walter Scott loved to castigate, but as a decent-minded citizen who does not want to do anything, as far as he is responsible, to paganise the Sabbath, I feel that I must support the opposition to the Bill. I do not think that the sort of places these children have been visiting and the entertainment they have seen have been morally or ethically good for them. I suppose the hon. Member opposite would suggest that if one sent them to Sunday school it would make them narrow, but it might harm them a good deal less than learning how easy it is to open a safe, or how good a time a girl can have. These children of Birmingham, as the statistics show, were habitual film goers. One-fourth of them went three times a week and one-half of them twice a week. It seems to me that if the children of England are in the habit of going to the cinemas twice or thrice a week, to add an extra day is unnecessary. The average English child, I understand, goes on Saturday afternoon. Why it should go on the Sunday afternoon also I cannot for the life of me see. Therefore, I thoroughly object to have anything to do with this Bill.
There can be no doubt that the general allowing of films to be shown on Sundays would lead to the allowing of other entertainments. Theatres and other places would be opened. It is said that films are often silly and sometimes vulgar and sometimes suggestive, but on the whole there is no very deep moral taint. I cannot say the same of a good many stage plays. A French critic has said that of the plays produced in France in the last 30 years, 54 per cent. dealt with adultery, 30 per cent. with other abnormal relations of the sexes, and only the remainder, 16 per cent., with adventure and history, in which there was no main interest of cross-affections. I do not say that the English stage is in such a state: but I do say that there is a certain percentage of English plays that are extremely objectionable, which display the most extraordinary delusion on the part of authors, actors and managers that a certain sort of nasty play will succeed. The odd thing is that most of these nasty plays are produced and fizzle out at once. They are not successful with the public but they go on being produced. I should be very sorry that any man or child in England should be given the possibility of having his mind defiled on Sunday afternoons by seeing half-a-dozen of the plays that I could cite. There is no doubt that from the moral point of view the stage is a good deal worse than the cinema. Therefore, while I am opposing this Bill to allow the Sunday opening of cinemas, I should still more strongly oppose the Sunday opening of theatres.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) on his interesting and able speech, which did not contain a single point against the Bill. It was full of debating points which had nothing to do with the cinema. I am in favour of the Bill. Hon. Members opposite have produced telegrams and a letter from the theatrical society against the Measure. The borough council of Acton have asked me to support the Sunday opening of cinemas and also to endeavour to obtain power for local authorities with more than 20,000 inhabitants to give permission to cinemas to open on Sundays. The hon. Member for Cardigan asked why this House should come to the assistance of the London County Council. The House is not being asked to come to the assistance of the London County Council. As a Londoner I have a perfect right to go to a cinema on Sunday evening. The hon. Member also said that Sunday is a day for reflection. The cinemas do not open until half-past five in the afternoon, and if he cannot get all the reflection he wants between the time he gets up and half-past five, he must have a, great deal about which to think.
Under the Act of 1870 the National Sunday League have given many fine concerts. They had no power to make any charge. There were 20 free seats, which were always occupied by the stewards. They however managed to win in the end, and nobody in London would desire to see these concerts stopped. I have not heard from any of the opponents of the Bill any reference to the degradation and the moral effect on the men who have to work in our blast furnaces on Sundays, or the men who have to make cement in our factories; or the debasement and moral degradation of the men who have to work on Sundays to produce our gas. Why is it that this moral degradation only applies to our amusements? I hope Clause 2 means what I hope and believe it does. I hope the Attorney-General will make it quite clear that it means that every district in England and Wales may give a permit for the opening on Sundays, and that the Attorney-General will stop any prosecution, even if it is the common informer who is taking action. I hope it means this. It is because I believe cinemas should open on Sundays for the amusement and interest of the people that I am going to support the Bill.
We have heard a great deal during the discussion of a phrase which has been immortalised in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas)—the status quo; and the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) has endeavoured to give a somewhat legal interpretation of that phrase. It seems to me that the clear intention of the Bill is to preserve the situation according to what many people believed to be the law until a recent decision was given in the courts, and certainly to preserve a state of affairs that is in harmony with the wishes of the great majority of the people in the areas affected. A plea was put forward by the hon. Members who moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill that it should be left to a free vote of the House. They seem to entirely ignore the fact that the Bill has already been the subject of a free vote; which has not been the case in connection with any other Bill brought forward during the whole of this Parliament. The Government, therefore, are entitled to claim that the House of Commons, free from any restriction of party Whips, has already by a substantial majority voted in favour of this particular proposal.
The opposition to this Bill comes from two quarters which are totally opposed to each other—namely, the theatres and the Sabbatarians. They are opposing this Bill for totally different reasons. It is a curious combination. Apparently, opposition, like adversity, makes strange bed-fellows. So far as the opposition of the theatres is concerned, both to this and the former Bill, it has never seemed to me either logical or justifiable. What is their attitude? If the theatres put forward a claim for equality of privilege it would receive a good deal of sympathy from many hon. Members, but not being successful in that claim, or believing that they would not obtain sufficient support for it, they say that if they are not to be allowed to open on Sundays they are going to do their utmost to prevent cinemas opening on Sundays. That is a dog in the manger attitude which it is hard to defend. We may sympathise with the theatres in regard to the competition of the cinemas. In many instances, and it is a fact that has to be recognised, the cinemas are very serious competitors because they provide a much better entertainment at a cheaper price and with more comfortable conditions. The theatres must face up to what is the crux of the matter. If an Amendment was brought forward that they should be given equality of treatment I should be inclined to support such a claim, subject to certain safeguards as to a six-day week; but I cannot support them in their opposition to this Bill.
There is the position of the other section of the opposition—the Salabatarians. Hon. Members have been circularised by the Lords Day Observance Society giving their objections to this particular Measure. A careful perusal of the reasons why, in their opinion, this Bill should be opposed have convinced me of the soundness of my own intended support of the Bill. It appears from these reasons, however high minded and sincere may be the authors of this opposition, that it is merely another attempt by a well-organised but at the same time highly intolerant minority to interfere with the ordinary freedom of the people. What are the arguments they bring forward in opposition to the Bill? In the first place, they say that it will cause unnecessary labour and involve a seven-day week for many workers. So do many other things to which they do not express such unrelenting opposition. There are a great many other ways in which people have to work seven days in the week, and I am sure that any Measure to try and stop that state of affairs, and certainly any safeguards which may be included in this Bill for that purpose, would receive the support of the overwhelming majority of the House.
We are told that it interferes with religious worship. Again, one has to remind those who are opposed to the Bill that cinemas are only open in the evenings, there is no proposal to open them any earlier, and I submit that it really savours of hypocrisy to suggest that people will be prevented from going to church if they so desire because the cinemas are open on Sunday evenings. Then we are told that it is contrary to Divine law. That is a matter which every Member must decide for himself. It is further suggested that the Bill is brought forward to satisfy the commercial greed of the cinema industry. No proof has been produced that that is the fact. At all events, whether there is any substance in that or not, I am satisfied that it is not the reason why the great majority in this House who are supporting the Bill are doing so. Speaking for myself, I have not the slightest interest of any kind in the cinema industry, and I am not regarding this matter for one moment from the point of view of the cinema industry. I am looking at it entirely from what I believe to be the legitimate interests of the ordinary public. Then we are told that this is a Bill to excuse people breaking the law. We know well that, in many respects, the law is broken every day in the literal sense of the word, and that any law which is not in harmony with the wishes and feelings of the majority of people will always be broken. Certainly, speaking as a lawyer, I think there is nothing more calculated to bring the law into disrespect than to have nominally enforced laws which are not in harmony with the wishes of the people. I fully agreed with the late Under-Secretary of the Home Office when he said that that was a most undesirable situation and one that ought to be remedied at the earliest possible moment.
We are further informed that 1,500,000 people have petitioned against the Bill. We all know how petitions of that kind can be worked up. After all, that total constitutes a very small minority indeed compared with the many millions who go to the cinema every week and every Sunday night in the year. I have very good authority for saying that many people who work in slum areas, and know the conditions prevailing there, are strongly of opinion that it would be most regrettable if the cinemas were to be shut on Sunday evenings. Of course, if it were suggested that a stricter censorship might be exercised over the subject matter of films shown on Sundays, the suggestion is one with which I should be inclined to agree. But certainly the fact that people can go to the cinema on a Sunday evening does, in an enormous number of cases, prevent them from going to less desirable places. It certainly keeps thousands and thousands off the streets and out of the public-houses.
In the largest town in my own constituency the cinemas are not allowed to be opened on Sunday evenings. What is the result? Throughout a good part of the year the people flock to the only other form of entertainment that is available, and that happens to be a Labour meeting which is held every Sunday night in the largest cinema. Many of my own supporters attend regularly, and always come away more convinced than ever before in their support of me. I hope that this whole matter of Sunday performances will be comprehensively recon- sidered at a later stage when the opportunity allows. In the meantime, I feel that this Bill s absolutely necessary in order to preserve the present position, and that it does not in any way prejudice the reconsideration of the matter if the time offers when that can be undertaken.
Mr. ERNEST WINTERTON:
The hon. and learned Member for East Suffolk (Sir G. Rentoul) has given us on this side an excellent reason for opposing this Bill, in his confession that the alternative to the Sunday cinema in his constituency is regular propaganda of the principles of Socialism. I hope that that confession will have the result of converting some hon. Members on these benches who on the Second Reading of the previous Bill voted for the opening of cinemas and that they will, this time, show independence of spirit by voting against this Measure. I have not yet heard in this Debate any explanation of the national emergency which is supposed to justify this Bill. The only reason which I can imagine for the introduction of such a Measure at this juncture is, if I may use a phrase of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, that it is to give a 'breathing space to the Liberal party while it decides whether it shall accept a tariff formula or not.
I feel that there is no real emergency to justify the introduction of the Bill. It is suggested that if we pass this Bill now we shall not prejudice the position in the future. But I repeat the question put by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris). What is the special emergency obtaining now which has not obtained for months past? What particular circumstance makes it essential for the Members of this National Government to combine to put this Bill on the Statute Book against the convictions of, at any rate, a large minority of the citizens of the country? After all, it was no inconsiderable vote which was given against this proposal previously and a good many of the votes for the principle of the previous Bill were given with a reservation and were subject to certain Amendments to be made upstairs—some of which fructified and some of which did not. It is by no means to be assumed that there is behind this Bill that large volume of opinion which some who have spoken in its favour have ventured to suggest. On the contrary, apart from the representatives of the London constituencies—where admittedly the problem is different—I doubt very much whether there is a consensus of opinion for regarding this as a matter of sufficient national urgency to call for a Bill of this kind.
I venture to say that the Bill is in the nature of a breach of faith with the House of Commons. It was suggested that no legislation of a controversial character would be undertaken, and, if it is suggested that this Bill is not controversial, I think that the course of this Debate shows how keenly a great many Members feel upon this issue. Even the temporary cement which binds together those who support the present Government has not, in spite of this national emergency, been able to hold together during the discussion on this Bill. I cannot find in it any of the guarantees which we should regard as essential before giving assent to the Second Reading.
There is, for example, so far as I can see, no safeguarding of the employés in this industry. There is no provision made, such as was suggested in the other Bill, in regard to any extension of Sunday opening, and I should be pleased to hear the Attorney-General explain away the argument that it is possible to extend the Sunday opening of cinemas under this Bill to areas where cinemas have not previously been open on Sunday. It seems to me that if you are introducing a Bill under which the area of cinema opening is to he enlarged, you at any rate owe it to those who will be brought within the possible ambit of a seven days' week that you should make sufficient provision for the safeguarding of their rights. You are in effect jumping the claim.
Under the name of a temporary emergency Measure, you are really deciding the whole issue with regard to the Sunday opening of cinemas, and I shall be interested to see what the votes of the 15 Members of the Government will be in the Division Lobby. I shall be specially interested to hear the speech of the Minister for Mines, who, it will be remembered, made a most eloquent speech against the principle of this Bill, a most able and convincing speech, finishing up with a very admirable quotation from Shylock, in which he was stressing the fact that this particular Measure is one to make easier the commercial exploitation of the cinema on Sunday.
It has been suggested from the benches opposite that those who oppose this Bill oppose it either in the interests of the theatrical industry or possibly from a narrow sabbatarian point of view. Does it occur to those hon. Members that some of us who oppose this Bill do it from neither of those points of view, but because we desire the 'continuance of a national Sunday, a day of rest, not necessarily of reflection, but a day's cessation from the ordinary routine and avocations of our everyday life, one day when the exploiter cannot exploit any longer to the extent to which he desires to exploit, one day when the cinema proprietor, in the eloquent description of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman), cannot be demoralising the youth of the nation with suggestive pictures and pictures of a doubtful moral standard, one day when we shall be free from these profit-making productions?
We are told to regard this as a national emergency and that it is important that the balance of trade should be restored in our favour, but this is a Measure which in effect will make it very difficult for the balance of trade to be restored in regard to the film industry and the importation of foreign films. I have admired greatly the improvement and growth of the manufacture and production of British films, and I am amazed at the progress made by that industry. Here is a national Government, which tells us to buy British and to be careful in the way in which we use our individual spending power in order that we may assist British industry, a Government which by this Bill is aggravating the very problem which it declares it is most anxious to remove. On these grounds, therefore, I appeal to the Government to realise that they are making a proposition to this House which many of the citizens of this country will regard as a distinct breach of faith, a proposition which violates the conscience of a great many people who want to preserve Sunday as a day of rest, quite apart from any sabbatarian ground.
I agree largely with the hon. Member who has just spoken. I cannot subscribe wholeheartedly to all the reasons given by the Lord's Day Observance Society for opposition to this Bill. Some of those reasons do not appeal to me, but I recognise that there are sincere people to whom they do strongly appeal, and some of them will appeal to a great many Members on all sides of the House. The National Government in their appeal to the country ought to have some better election cry than this. In a time of dire necessity when, in the words of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, we are to have a grim winter, is the only rallying cry which will hold together the National Government to be that we must open cinemas on Sunday?
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Winterton) was greatly concerned with the other fellow's conscience. He told us that, if we attend cinemas on Sunday, his conscience will be violated. I cannot understand why the other fellow's conscience is violated because of my sins. If I go to the cinema and it is wrong for me to go, I must be the burden bearer of my own sin. I do not outrage or violate the other fellow's conscience.
Collections are always very popular on Sundays. We do not ask anybody to go to the cinema on Sunday. We are not forcing anybody to go or asking anyone to violate his conscience on Sunday. We are merely asking the other fellow to give those of us who want to go to the cinema on Sunday liberty to do so. We all take our own form of recreation on Sundays. Is there an hon. Member who does not read a Sunday newspaper? Is there an hon. Member who has not gone for a, motor drive on Sunday, or who does not indulge in his own kind of recreation on Sunday? We have private golf clubs open on Sunday, private bowling green open on Sunday, and private cinemas open on Sunday. We have excursion trains on Sunday and public-houses open on Sunday. There is no real agitation to close them. There are some people who can strain at a very small gnat and swallow a herd of circus elephants. The hon. Member for Cardington (Mr. Morris) said that our films were costing us £4,000,000 a year, which went to Hollywood, and the hon. Member for Loughborough spoke of the unfavourable balance of trade which that helped to cause. If that be so, what about giving up tobacco we send a lot of money to Virginia. There is just as much argument for giving up tobacco as for giving up films, and "our lady nicotine" does a lot more harm than do the ladies from Hollywood.
An hon. Member talked about suggestive films. Of course there are suggestive films, and it is just as wrong to show a suggestive film on Monday as it is on Sunday. Then we heard from the hon. Member for that ancient institution of learning, Oxford (Sir C. Oman), where they live in a tenth century atmosphere. He read us out the answers of schoolboys to a number of questions about the films. They were asked, "What is the most striking thing about the cinema?" One reply was that it showed how easy it was to open a safe. Let hon. Members ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is easy or not—whether he can get anything from Super-tax payers. Another boy said that it showed how the idle rich live. I think the people ought to find out how the idle rich live. We know that the idle rich live in luxury without working, and I think we ought to let the people know how it is done. Another boy said that cinemas showed how easy it was to deceive a policeman. That is unfair, because it is not easy to deceive a policeman, and, if they try it, they may find they are caught. Another answer was that the cinemas showed how a girl could have a good time. I can understand how the hon. Member for Oxford University would give a girl a good time. Yet another answer was a complaint that too much silly love stuff was shown at the cinemas. I can quite understand a man of his age thinking love stuff silly.
If these films are of the character which has been indicated, the censor ought to get busy, and they ought to be stopped on every day in the week; and, by the way, these films are not shown in Birmingham on Sunday. The hon. Member's argument was not against showing films upon Sundays, but against showing them on any day of the week. There are wrong films, just as there are wrong books and wrong Sunday newspapers. I wonder how many pornographic details we get in Sunday newspapers, and how much they are responsible for the circulation of those papers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ask Beaverbrook!"] Yes, ask Beaver-brook.
It was an hon. Member at the back who said, "Ask Beaver-brook." But I do know this, that for years and years Sunday newspapers have been full of items which I, if I were a father of children, would not want them to read. And I know this much, that Sunday newspapers are not as clean as they could be. To come back to the subject of films, cinemas, apart from a few suggestive films, have made people brighter, have taught them history and geography, and given them another outlook on life. The cinema is one of the greatest inventions of the 19th century, and it has done an enormous amount towards wiping out the ignorance of many people and giving them greater mental alertness. If we strike a fair balance-sheet it is a good thing that the cinemas are here, and, if there are bad cinemas, that is an argument for closing those bad cinemas every day in the week and not merely on Sundays.
Then there is the question of the sanctity of the Sabbath. The hon. Member for Cardigan was very eloquent on that subject, and asked, "What would be said of putting an advertisement on the Cenotaph?" What about those men who kept the War going for 365 days of the year? To talk about the Cenotaph in this way reminds me of the time when murder and slaughter went on for 365 days in the year for 41 years. The sanctity of the Sabbath has been raised in this Debate, but that is not a new question, because it has been before us for many years past. Surely the sanctity of the Sabbath is not going to be seriously disturbed; for years and years we have had cinemas open in London on Sundays. Has there been any great deterioration of the morals of the people of London in consequence of the opening of cinemas on a Sunday? Has there been recently any of the churches busy agitating to close the cinemas, or have they been waiting for this particular opportunity? During a long period of years there has not been any agitation by clergymen to close the cinemas. I am quite aware what goes on in my own constituency on Sundays, where practically the only recreation for the young people is to gad about the streets when the weather is fine and go to the "pubs" when it is wet.
We have heard a good deal of talk about the continental Sunday. But what happens in our own Empire? What happens in Dublin? There are more people go to church in Dublin on Sunday than in any town in the British Empire. The cinemas are open in Dublin and in London on Sundays, and there is no Member of this House who is able to get up here and suggest that the morality of places where the cinemas do not open on Sundays is any better than the morality of places where the cinemas do open. The morality of the people in London is quite as good as it is in Wigan and Glasgow, where the cinemas are closed. Suppose that I had the power to prevent people going to church, and I exercised it, what a howl there would be from churchgoers. We should think in terms of liberty and liberty alone, and I, in those circumstances, should have just as much right to close churches on Sunday as other people would have to close cinemas. We can always see the other fellow's sins a lot more clearly than our own.
Suppose that in Moscow the commissars decided that religion is the dope of the people, that the churches are exerting a reactionary influence, and that, in the interests of a better Moscow and a better Russia, they would close the churches. What a howl we should get from certain hon. Members opposite! It would be just as much a sin to close the churches, and, if there were any attempt to close the churches, I should speak just as loudly against it. I want the other fellow to be able to go to church if he wants to do so, and the liberty that I give to him I would give also to the other people. Personally, I am too busy to go to cinemas on Sunday. When I do go there it is generally to hear an educated speech, and I hope that a few successful ones will be made there before the last votes in the General Election are counted.
I want the other fellow to decide what he shall do with his leisure. He has earned it; how dare you interfere with the leisure that the other fellow has earned? The only reason that you would have for interfering with it would be that he was considering doing something antisocial. Apart from that, I believe that people should be at liberty on Sundays, not merely to go to cinemas, but to theatres, and I hope that at a later stage of this Bill an Amendment will be moved to allow theatres also to open on Sundays. I believe that it would be a good thing for the people, that it represents the desire of the people and reflects the spirit of the times, and that the opposition to this Bill represents a dog-in-the-manger attitude. I hope that that attitude will not prevail.
I hope that the House will reject this Bill, because I believe it to be the very worst Measure that has ever been introduced by this or any other Government. It makes legal in one place something that is illegal in another; what is a virtue in one place becomes a vice in another. I do not think that we have heard here to-night any arguments that would lead us to suppose that the Bill can have any other effect than fastening Sunday cinemas on this country for all time.
The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock) spoke of liberty. That word has a good many meanings. What about the liberty of the people who are going to be employed, and who are employed, in the cinemas? They are to be compelled to labour on Sundays, in the pressgang of necessity. What becomes of their liberty? We are not talking about how people should spend their leisure, but about the commercialisation of Sunday for profit and gain. If that be not so, every cinema is entitled to open in London next Sunday. They can take a collection to defray their expenses. If it is not a question of profit, but merely of the public good, no one has anything to say; all that they have to do is to remit the charge for admission, and rely on the generosity of the people who are prepared to give generously because it would meet a public need. The whole question is one of the commercialisation of Sunday, and, if you allow this Bill to be passed, you are going to strike a great blow at the very dearest beliefs of millions of people in this country. You are going to play fast and loose with the very foundations on which the greatness of this nation has been built up.
Here, just in the closing hours of this Parliament, you are going to undo the work that has stood for centuries. Make no mistake about it. You may say, "Well, they are opening now" but you are going by a deliberate act to make this thing legal and by throwing a garment around what is illegal now you will make it attractive to a far larger crowd and give the public authorities throughout the country, at any rate, the sanction of the Government and of Parliament to do what has been done in just a few cases. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish!"] It may be rubbish, but I am here to defend the spiritual basis of life. The materialisation of life has gone on and is going on all around us. Here you have a Bill which provides no safeguards and which at any rate gives you no authority over the films which are shown and which includes no provision as to how the profits are to be used. I infinitely preferred the other Measure. You had there, at any rate, provision for consulting the people in the different localities and the public authorities were asked to take the opinion of the people, but you are now asking those of us who have been engaged in this fight for the Sunday, under the pretence of a standstill order, to give up the front line trench and to retire and in 12 months' time to resume the battle in an infinitely weaker position than we should be if we faced it and fought it at present.
I urge this Government, this National Government, to withdraw this Bill. It can only be a bone of contention. You cannot make the plea that what is needed to-day is economy when what you are doing here is to encourage people to spend money on that which they can do without. There are six days and nights for going to the cinema already. It was said in the Debate the other day that there were poor people in the slums crowded into one or two rooms, and the plea was put up for them that you should open the cinemas on Sunday nights, but is there any suggestion that 40,000 or 50,000 people crowded in the tenements of Bermondsey, will all be found in the cinema on Sunday night? You cannot put up that sort of plea that with bad housing and these nests of courts and alleys you will make it more bearable if you open the cinema on Sunday. If you want to deal with that problem you must tackle it the other way round. There are some elements in the life of the country to which we should give very grave consideration. Make no mistake, you can pass what legislation you like, but, if you leave God out of your plans, He will bring himself into the calculations. Greater nations and greater Empires than this have sunk into the dust, because they have ignored His commands.
I warn this House to-night that as far as I can see, and as far as my reading of history goes, the nations which are prepared to listen to His voice are the people whom He is going to lead forward into greater prosperity. Probably we shall be chastened, but there is only one life for this great nation, and that is to get back to the big things that have made us what we are. Life is on a spiritual basis, and, if you ignore that and if you adopt throughout the country the opening of cinemas and show the kind of films that you show to-day, in 20 or 30 or 40 years' time a new generation will have grown up, and you will find people looking upon virtue, honesty, accuracy, and all those things which are forces of the soul, in a different atmosphere and in a different way. The forces of materialism were never stronger. Do not by a deliberate act to-night undermine the spiritual forces and the forces which have made this country's name loved throughout the world. You can read the history of all the nations of the world. Silently and slowly through the ages a humble Nazarene called Jesus Christ has laid His hand on every form of material good and given it largely to the people who own His sway and have obeyed His commands.
I plead with all the earnestness that I can command that you will not throw away in the closing hours of this Parliament the great heritage which has come to you, but that you will safeguard and preserve it. Nothing can happen if you let this matter rest. Nothing can happen between now and December. Are you afraid to submit this matter to the electors Are you afraid to ask them for a mandate? You have no mandate for doing this. I ask you to allow candidates at the General Election to be questioned, and, if we are going to undertake this thing, let us do it with our eyes wide open and with the nation behind us. I plead with the Government to withdraw the Bill. By doing so they will give the people an opportunity of saying at the General Election whether they desire this legislation or not.
I cannot pretend to claim the same familiarity with the wishes and purposes of the Almighty as the hon. Member. [Interruption.] I say that quite purposely and deliberately. The hon. Member has no more right to impute particular purposes and wishes to the Almighty than I have. I regard his speech as bunk. I rise for the purpose of explaining why I shall vote for the Bill. The hon. Member has described it as the worst ever introduced into the House. I do not think I have ever heard exaggeration more complete than that. Presumably it is worse than the Economy Bill and worse than the Budget. Now I am asked to join in shutting the cinemas on Sunday in order to drive people to church to listen to that kind of bunk. I flatly decline to do anything of the sort.
My regrets about the Bill are that its scope is much more limited than I should like to see it. In the first place, it limits the facilities for opening cinemas to areas which have in fact issued licences in the past. Further, it limits the operation of the Bill to those areas where cinemas have actually been opened within the last 12 months. Thirdly, it excludes theatres from the scope of the Bill altogether. Each of these limitations, from my point of view, is a disadvantage. I would have preferred the Government to introduce a much more courageous Bill getting right down to the root of the problem. So far as it stands, I shall vote for it, because it is at least one protest against a rigid Sabbatarianism which I regard as the worst enemy of real religion. I would like to have seen it go very much further than that. What are the arguments against There is a series of finicky, pernickety little arguments which, if they were carried to their full extent, would stop all life altogether on the Sabbath. The kind of argument addressed about cinema employés is one with which I sympathise. I think that it is the bounden duty of this House to see that everybody gets one day's rest in seven, but that is not an argument against the Bill. It is an argument for proper legislation defining the hours of labour but no argument whatever against the Bill. The only argument against the Bill is the so-called religious argument. The argument that if we open cinemas on Sunday the people will cease to go to church to listen to my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS "Order!"]—and his like. I say that if the churches cannot keep their own end up against the cinema on their merits, so much the worse for the churches. They are not entitled to come to me and other Members of this House and ask us to act as recruiting sergeants to provide them with congregations. The whole argument as to what God wants is bunk and humbug. [Interruption.] I say that it is bunk and humbug.
On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member of this House to use an expression of that description in regard to a speech which anyone who has heard it on this side of the House regards as a speech of the utmost sincerity?
I very heartily support that point of Order, and when my hon. Friend acts as if he were in the special confidences of God in this matter— [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Yes.
But seriously, the hon. Gentleman who preceded me told the House of Commons what was God's law on this subject. I know that we are not in the habit of using plain language in this House, but of humbugging ourselves inside just as much as we humbug ourselves outside. The hon. Member has no right to tell me what God's will is on that subject, and, if he does so, he is claiming a familiarity with the Almighty which I regard personally as irreverent.
I decline to take the views of what the Almighty wants from the hon. Member who preceded me. It reminds me very much of an observation which was made by my late friend John Wheatley. When there was a colossal humbugging agitation in this Howe in regard to the treatment of the churches in Russia, he made this observation which is not without its point now:
As far as I can judge from the bishops, God is losing in the struggle with Stalin.
At least I am entitled to express my point of view, and my point of view on this matter is that we are not entitled, in response to a rigid sectarian Sabbatarianism, to deny to people who want to go to the cinema or anywhere else on Sunday the right to do so. That is my view. I hold it, and I desire to express it. We were told from one of those benches that it was a matter of vital importance to preserve the day of rest. I do not object to people preserving their day of rest if they want to, but I strongly object to them imposing their day of rest upon me. The Sabbatarian proposes to exercise a perfect tyranny over everybody else and that, in my view, is a completely unreasonable claim to make.
This Bill, as far as it goes, is to be supported. I wish very much that it went further and proceeded to put the whole business of Sunday entertainments upon a reasonable footing. I represent an industrial town, and I should like some of my Sabbatarian friends to go to that town on a Sunday night. No place of entertainment is open, and they would see hundreds of young men and girls walking about with nothing to do except walk about or go to the public-house. It is an infinitely better thing, even from the point of view of that religious faith which in my view, the Sabbatarian defames, to give people an opportunity of exercising their own choice. For these reasons I shall vote for the Bill. I hope that it will receive a large majority on Second Reading. In the Committee stage' I should like to see the Government introduce regulations to allow a. Sunday or corresponding day off for workers in the cinema. If they do not do so it will be for hon. Members on this side to put down Amendments to that effect. In the meantime the Bill deserves a Second Reading on its merits.
There is no doubt that this topic does give rise to deep feelings on both sides. While I respect the deep feelings of hon. Members who oppose the Bill, I cannot share them. It is worth while to recall to the House the position in which we are introducing the Bill. This year a decision of the Court of Appeal was given that the practice that had gone on for a very large number of years in London—I would point out that London does not seem to be very much the worse—was not regular. Therefore, the Government of the day introduced a Bill, leaving the House to give an absolutely free vote as to whether or not some alteration to mitigate what had been discovered to be the rigours of the law was or was not desirable. We had a very adequate discussion and the House by a majority determined to give the Bill a Second Reading. The Bill was referred to a Committee upstairs and we sat for 10 days and made substantial progress. It is too much to say that we had broken the back of our task but we had got through the most controversial Clause and a long way through the next Clause. We managed to accommodate each other to a considerable extent. The Bill had a fair prospect of coming down from the Committee to the House, and in a few weeks time it would have passed and been sent to another place and, in the ordinary process, it would have become part of the law of the land. Owing to the crisis, real or imaginary, I do not know what view hon. Members take but personally I believe it to be real, that normal process cannot go on.
We are now in this position; are we to allow a state of things which have been declared by the courts to be illegal to continue? Hon. Members must remember that up to the time of the decision of the court those responsible for the administration of the law did not seek to stop this practice, either because they did not know that it was illegal or, to be quite candid, like myself, having looked into it on being asked by the theatrical managers to stop it, thought it was no part of my duty to act as I regarded the law as being antiquated and out of harmony with modern opinion. I felt that I must use a certain amount of discretion in administering the law and that there was no reason why I should act or any common informer. If the House declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill it is quite impossible for that sort of procedure to go on. We now know that Sunday opening is illegal and if this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill those who are responsible for administering the law will have to see that it is properly administered.
We have been told that we are going to have this winter a grim time. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) asked whether our contribution to a grim winter is to allow people to go to the cinema on Sunday. What is his contribution? Is it to add to the grimness of the time he will deprive the people of a pleasure which they have hitherto enjoyed and not, allow them to try and forget their troubles by going to the cinema?
My contribution to the grimness of the time is this that the nation requires a strong sense of duty and discipline in order to meet it, not to waste time by going to the cinema on Sunday.
If this Bill were the only contribution of the Government to the grimness of the time it would indeed be ridiculous, but is it not better to allow people to have such relaxation as that to which they are entitled? May I remind the House that the Debate has been carried on As if the only matter to be dealt with were the cinemas? That, of course, is a total misapprehension. There are the concerts, which have been going on, and, indeed, been licensed in London since the year 1889. Take Wales. In Llandudno concerts to which people are admitted on the payment of money have been going on for the last 36 years. In Cardiff 60 concerts were given in 1930; and in Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Tenby, Haverfordwest, Wrexham, and Pembroke Dock concerts have been given for years past. Are all these to stop? There are many smaller villages in Wales where on Sundays people who cannot afford the time on other days give some oratorio which has necessitated a certain amount of expense which they met by charging for a ticket which admits people to listen to it. Is that to stop?
The right hon. Gentleman is not bringing in a Bill to legalise concerts, but he is coupling up concerts with cinemas, which raise a very contentious question. Probably, if he had brought in a Bill to legalise concerts on Sundays there would have been no contention about it.
It has been said that we must alleviate the grimness of the coming winter by performances of this kind. Will the Government bring in a Bill to-morrow for the opening of public-houses from 10 to 10 every day, in place of the restrictions that we have now?
I am glad to hear that if the Bill had been drafted on different lines the hon. Member would have supported it. It is open to him, of course, to move Amendments to this Bill in Committee. The consequence of not giving this Bill a Second Reading would be that concerts, which have gone on since 1889, could not go on, that throughout the country, where people have been admitted on payment of money, concerts would become illegal. An hon. Friend opposite asked questions about two other matters. He asked about Debates. I do not know how far an ordinary political meeting is a debate, but 'debates are prohibited under the Act of 1780. Do hon. Members really want. Sunday political meetings—and they may be debates—to be declared illegal and to be penalised I The result of not giving a Second Reading to the Bill may be to bring that about. Quite obviously this is merely intended to be a temporary Bill. No one suggests that this expedient should be resorted to in a permanent Bill. The safeguard in the Bill is that you cannot bring proceedings without.the consent either of the Attorney-General or of the Solicitor-General. Although I and the Solicitor-General do not see eye to eye on this matter there is not one of us who would dream for one moment of authorising a proceeding in respect of a political meeting on a Sunday night, and I think that no sensible person in the country would authorise such a proceeding
Then I come to another matter—the Zoo. My hon. Friend reminded me that I have pleaded guilty to walking about the Zoo sometimes on Sundays. I did the Sunday before last. I might as well do that as walk about the streets, and there is a great deal to be said for seeing the animals. I cannot conceive that any person of ordinary tolerance or ordinary common sense would want to shut the Zoo either in London or at Whipsnade on the Sunday. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward) gives his assent to that proposition. But if this Bill did not get a Second Reading the opening of the Zoo on Sunday would be illegal. What will prevent proceedings being taken against the opening of the Zoo is that under this Bill it will be necessary to get the consent of the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, and whoever may be the one or the other during the year that this Bill is to run there is not one who would be so foolish as to give his consent to a proceeding to stop the opening of the Zoo on Sunday.
Then as to Sunday observance, it has always seemed to me that there is one very cogent argument that can be adduced about it, but there is only one. Apart from the argument that people feel that they are obeying the Divine Law, there is nothing to be said about it. It is not a matter of argument at all. The one test which has always impressed me is this—how much labour do you employ? If you do something which causes the employment of a great deal of labour, then the economic urge is such that large numbers of people may be driven to work on Sunday who do not give a real free consent to working on Sunday and those people may be deprived of the opportunity of having a day of rest in common with others. It is from that point of view that we want to judge all these cases—the questions of Sunday trains and of Monday newspapers and, I suppose, Sunday papers as well. But I am bound to say—and here I join issue with the last speaker—that this seems to me to be the big dividing line between cinemas and theatres. The hon. Member will find that the number of employés who would be called upon to work in the theatre on Sunday is much greater, proportionately, than the number who would be called upon to work in the cinema. When you have given all the weight you can to the argument, however, some of the other arguments adduced seem to carry no weight at all. There is the argument of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) who spoke about Birmingham, but it has already been pointed out that the cinemas in Birmingham do not open on Sunday at all.
I never said that they did. I gave an example of the cinema psychology, from the report relating to the effect upon 80,000 Birmingham children. I did not say the cinemas there were open on Sunday.
Then Birmingham seems to have even less relevance than I thought. The hon. Member said that they were morally, culturally and ethically to be deplored. He said that we were allowing children to be befouled. I am utterly unable to understand the frame of mind of anybody who is willing to allow a child to be befouled on Monday but not on Sunday.
If the cinemas are morally, culturally and ethically wrong, that applies equally to Sunday and to Monday. The hon. Member's argument, in so far as it has any bearing on the question at all, was an argument for closing cinemas altogether or, at any rate, for having a very much stricter censorship on films.
With regard to that I quite perceive that something might be said, but it seems to me to bear no relationship to a Bill to allow cinemas to be opened on Sundays. Another argument that struck me as rather insincere is advanced by those people who feel very strongly on religious grounds but do not put their case on religious grounds, and try to buttress it up by all sorts of other arguments, such as that of money going to the Americans. Would the hon. Member for Ashford be prepared to have cinemas opened on Sundays if the films were English?
I used it with regard to a totally different position. I said that the National Government was formed to deal with a time of financial stringency, when you wanted all the money you could get in this country—not to have it flowing out to America. That was the connection in which I used that argument.
Although I used the argument as an additional argument why the Bill should not be brought in at this particular time, I would certainly not allow the licensing of cinemas on Sunday even if they used British films only, but using, as they do, American films, in the present state of the national finances, it is an additional argument against extending their use.
The Attorney-General represented my argument as being related to the religious point of view. I was not giving it from that point of view, and when the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of telling a witness to try again, counsel should certainly represent a witness's answers accurately.
As a matter of fact, the argument about that is, I think, ill-founded. In practice, what you do is to rent a film, as I understand, for a week, and whether you show the film for six days or seven days makes no difference. We were told by the hon. Member for Cardigan to admire the economic success of Scotsmen, who were held up as a pattern. Perhaps it is because the Lords Day Observance Act of 1780 does not apply to Scotland. There was an application the other day for the opening of a cinema in Scotland which formed the subject of a case in the Scottish Courts, and they said they could not do it, as the Act does not apply to Scotland at all. Let us put ourselves in the same position as Scotland, say a good many. All that we seek to do is to make legal that which has been going on in fact for a considerable time.
It is said that the Bill is badly drafted. I am always ready to suppose that anybody else's drafts are very bad, and as this is not my draft, I look at it with the natural hostility with which any draftsmen looks at anybody else's draft, but I am bound to say that the hon. Member completely failed to make me understand what point he had about the drafting. It seems to me that the drafting is very plain. It says that if you have an area and in that area there have in fact been arrangements purporting to be licences within the last 12 months, then in that area there may be licences granted for cinemas, and so on.
The long and short of the matter is that practically every Member in this House, on a subject like this, has thought the matter out and made up his mind, and I do not. suppose that arguments advanced on one side or the other will sway very many votes. I ask the House to let us have our Second Reading, and, I may add, to let us have it now, because I really think that suddenly, here and now, to stop down all these places in which cinemas have in the past been open, and to stop concerts and the Zoo, and all public meetings on Sundays, at this juncture, would be regarded as a very great hardship, more especially in view of the fact that had it not been for the crisis which has come upon us, the Bill upon which we were working upstairs would have come down to this House, and we should have solved this question on more or less permanent lines. It is obvious to anybody looking at the Bill that it is a, mere temporary solution and that when the next House assembles Parliament will have to address itself to this question and to think out again the lines on which it ought to proceed. Neither side will be in any way prejudiced by letting this Bill go through in the meantime.