Sunday Performances (Temporary Regulation) Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 6th October 1931.

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Considered in Committee; and reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Photo of Sir Rhys Morris Sir Rhys Morris , Cardiganshire

Last night, on the Second Reading of the Bill, I put forward reasons why it should not be proceeded with. Nothing has arisen in the circumstances which would justify the Government in putting it forward. It was suggested by the Prime Minister this afternoon that the Bill was being brought forward at this time merely because a number of prosecutions might be brought unless the Bill were passed into law. That cannot affect the decision of this House. The fact that there are a number of prosecutions outstanding, and that the Courts may be congested because of the breaches of the law that have taken place, has nothing to do with this House. This House is concerned only with legislating, and it is for other bodies to enforce the law. We are not here to save other bodies, whose business it is to enforce the law, from enforcing it or from the consequences that arise from breaches of the law. If that be the new doctrine of the Prime Minister, clearly if there were a large number of law-breakers in the country who united to demand legislation, and the courts were in danger of being congested, legislation must be introduced to remedy all that the law breakers think ought to be done. That is the doctrine upon which the House is asked to endorse this Bill.

6.0 p.m.

The learned Attorney-General last night put forward a number of arguments in support of this Bill which he must have known did not actually apply to the conditions upon which this Bill is based. He asked the House if it were intended to make the opening of the Zoological Gardens on Sunday unlawful. The Zoological Gardens to-day opens on Sunday, but not unlawfully. They open perfectly lawfully, for there is no charge for admission. People can be admitted only on a fellow's ticket. The essence of the Act of 1780 is that there shall be no charge for admission to places of amusement, and that a house does not become a disorderly house unless a charge for admission is made. Concerts can lawfully be held on Sunday to-day, provided there is no charge for admission. The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs cited a case decided by the High Court in 1897. In that case the question arose whether there was any difference when payment was made for reserved seats—when the performance was a part free and part payment performance, and it was held that that was not a breach of the Act of 1780. Therefore, it is idle for the Attorney-General to say, "Do you want to make these concerts unlawful?" They are not unlawful unless there is a, charge for admission. Then it was asked whether we wanted to make debates or political meetings on a Sunday unlawful. I have no doubt that argument was mainly addressed to the benches opposite. Political meetings on a Sunday are not unlawful, unless an admission fee is charged. I have no doubt that sometimes a number of seats are reserved, though I do not know whether hon. Members opposite have reserved seats at their political meetings; but even in that case those meetings would not come within the Act of 1780, because they would be protected by the case of Wright and Williams. Therefore, the whole of the argument was entirely irrelevant to the present position. The Bill itself departs very widely from the status quo which it was intended to preserve.

I do not want to repeat the arguments I used last night, but before the Bill passes I would like to have some assurance about the second Clause. I pointed out last night that the Bill does not apply to those authorities which hitherto have not entered into an unlawful agreement with cinemas to permit opening on Sundays, but really they are being encouraged, almost invited, by reason of the additional protection afforded by Clause 2, to enter into such an unlawful agreement to permit Sunday opening. The Bill does not intend this, and I have no doubt it is not the intention of the Government, but as things stand these authorities can enter into an unlawful agreement, and, when they have done so, they are protected by Clause 2. At present if those local authorities agree to Sunday opening the cinema proprietors open their cinemas subject to the risk of an action at the instance of a common informer. Under Clause 2 they will no longer be subjected to the risk of an action by a common informer unless such action has been sanctioned by the Attorney-General. That is a total change in the position with regard not only to cinemas which are opening to-day, but those cinemas which may open unlawfully in the coming year.

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to say that if the common informer takes action in such cases he will sanction such action? If he is going to refuse his fiat because he dislikes the common informer, it is idle for him to say that this Bill does nothing more than make regular the present position. He will be changing the position in a far-reaching way. That would be totally inconsistent with the main argument for the Bill. The main argument is that this is purely a temporary Measure to last for a year while the House has time to reconsider the whole position. We are really driving a coach-and-four through the whole of the existing position, and the real danger with regard to this Bill is that, having found a satisfactory arrangement for London and the other areas where Sunday opening is now permitted such as enables the question to be shelved for the moment, an attempt will then be made to shelve it permanently, and to leave London and those other areas on a different basis from the other parts of the country, by including this Bill in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I know that an assurance has been given that that will not be done, but that assurance is totally unconvincing. With every respect both to the Under-Secretary and to the learned Attorney-General, they cannot prevent this Measure being put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, unless they themselves remain in office to carry out their own undertaking.

I have no desire to repeat the arguments put forward last night, but I do enter a most emphatic protest against this Bill being passed at this time, when there can be no state of emergency, and the previous Bill would not have become law until December. The question could have been submitted to the electorate at the forthcoming election, and they could have decided how the new Government should deal with it. No more time would be required to deal with it after the election than would have been occupied if the old Bill had been pursuing its ordinary course. In a time of crisis such a patchwork Bill as this ought not to have been put forward, and I ask the House to reject it on Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Ernest Evans Mr Ernest Evans , University of Wales

I desire to support my hon. Friend in opposing the Third Reading of this Measure. Members were called back at this period of the Session in order to support the National Government in dealing with a national emergency, and I am one of those who have supported the Government, but for the life of me I cannot see any national emergency arising out of this Bill, and, quite frankly, I resent the attitude of the Government in using this emergency Session to put through a substitute for a Bill which probably would never have passed the House had it pursued the normal course before we adjourned. The excuse put forward is, "There is no reason to worry; this is a purely temporary Measure until we can deal with the matter satisfactorily." Many Members have heard that excuse used in regard to different Measures, and have then found that there are means of continuing what are called temporary Measures for a very long time. If the House now assents to the Third Reading it may very well be that next Session the Government will say, "We have not time to discuss now whether cinemas should be open on Sunday or not and we will make temporary provision to continue this Bill for another year." So it will go on from year to year. I accept the assurance that it is meant to be only a temporary Measure, but in the emergency which may exist next year and for a few more years to come we may find this temporary Measure coming to embody the permanent law of the country.

This is a Bill to legalise something which everybody admits is illegal, which the courts, after a most careful consideration of the law, have declared to be illegal. I agree that Parliament can legalise anything it likes. I do not want to say, as some people do, that Parliament can do anything except make a man a woman and a woman a man, but it can make anything which has been illegal become legal. It is altogether a different proposition, however, for Parliament to say, "We know that a thing is illegal, we do not think it should be made legal from now onwards for ever, but we will make it legal for a year." That is a very vicious proposition to put before the House. I think that the Government are very unwise in pressing this Measure forward. They will offend the views and consciences of a large number of people who represent the very opinion on which they will rely in asking for the support of the country to deal with a national emergency.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present

Photo of Mr Samuel March Mr Samuel March , Poplar South Poplar

I wish to support this Bill, and hope the House will notice that, in spite of all the passion which has been shown by a group of hon. Members opposite, they were not here to move their Amendments. If they desire to put this matter in their election programme, there is nothing to stop them from doing it, but I, as a London Member, have had a sufficiently strong intimation from the people in my division and others in the East End that they desire that cinemas should be allowed to continue to open on Sundays under the same conditions as have existed for several years. During that time we have thought that the procedure was right, and I think it is quite time the Government framed a Measure to put things right. As I understand it, this is a purely temporary Measure, for 12 months only. In the meantime, I hope that whatever Government is in power will bring forward legislation to get rid of these ancient Acts which have been in operation for so many years and introduce something more up-to-date, such as the people can understand. I was not surprised to find the Liberal Members running away, because in my experience of government, and municipal matters they very often get up and speak against a proposal and then walk away and will not show their pluck by voting one way or the other. Just now one of them desired to get the House counted out, but that missed fire. You never can depend upon them, or know where they are, and what they are going to do. Very frequently they say one thing and do another. I think it is a useful thing to pass this Bill for 12 months, and allow people to be entertained on Sundays as they wish to be entertained.

Photo of Sir William Jowitt Sir William Jowitt , Preston

I shall be very brief in my observations, because this subject has already been thoroughly thrashed out. I entirely agree with the observations of the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March), who showed refreshing common sense, if I may say so, in the course of his speech. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill said that I was quite wrong in my statement that we were carrying on as before. A reference was made to the opening of the Zoo on Sundays, but there is a special Clause in the Act which provides that if the entertainment is carried on at the expense of a number of subscribers who are entitled to admission by virtue of being subscribers, that constitutes exactly the same thing as payment by money. Certainly the Sunday opening of Whipsnade, where a fee of 6d. is charged, is illegal. As far as I may have anything to do with these cases in the future, I should never dream of granting my fiat to a common informer in such a case as the opening of the Zoo on Sundays. I now turn to consider debates. It is a very common practice in some places to have debates on Sunday where there are a few reserved seats for which a charge is made, and the money raised in that way goes towards the cost of holding the meeting. It is true that in the case of Wright v. Williams it was decided that that was not an offence against the Sunday Observance Act, hut the recent decision in the Court of Appeal has indicated that that decision was wrong, and it was laid down that if you reserve a number of seats at meetings of that kind where somebody pays for them that is a criminal offence. As long as I am Attorney-General, I would like to say that I shall never give my fiat to a common informer in a case of that kind.

I now turn to consider cinemas. I regard this Bill as something setting out the limits of what ought to be done. If a cinema is opened on Sundays in an area where neither cinemas nor concerts have ever before been opened or held on Sundays that would be a breach of the law, and it would be the duty of the Attorney-General, whether he likes it or not, to see that the law is carried out. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) said that the Government were seeking by this Measure to make legal what is now illegal. We are seeking by this-Bill to alter the law. I quite agree that in most Bills brought before this House you seek to make illegal what was previously legal, but we are not engaged in that task now because we are trying to remove an unnecessary illegality.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I wish to say a few words in support of this Bill. In my own constituency there are no cinemas open for Sunday performances, but certain churches, Established and Free, have their membership unite on Sunday evening, and they sometimes give concerts on behalf of the local hospital and various other charitable organisations, and a fee is charged for admission. Unless this Measure is passed, the whole of those concerts during the coming winter will become illegal. All that this Bill does is to provide that such concerts may be held during the coming winter, and it also provides that cinemas, not previously open on Sundays, will not be allowed to open under the provisions of this Measure. It seems to me that that is an eminently satisfactory way of arriving at the temporary arrangement.

This Measure arises out of a quarrel, towards the end of the 18th century, between the Countess of Huntingdon and the wife of Archbishop Cornwallis. Archbishop Cornwallis was a son of the same college at Cambridge as myself. He had the misfortune to have his right hand in-

jured, but it is recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography that he afterwards became a most dexterous dealer of cards with his left hand. The Archbishop married someone who seems to have ruled him completely, but, having only one hand, probably he was not able to deal out justice to her as well as he was able to deal cards. The Archbishop's wife had rout parties on Sundays which aroused the indignation of the Countess of Huntingdon, and consequently these disputes arose. The present Bill is a common-sense Measure to put a temporary end to the disputes of 150 years, and that is at least a matter on which this House, in its closing hours, may find some satisfaction. It has done little since it reassembled on 8th September that will redound to its credit at the bar of history. Indeed, I think we shall be regarded as the most contemptible House of Commons that has ever sat since Oliver Cromwell turned the Rump out. This Measure, however, represents a modicum of common sense, which perhaps may be regarded as somewhat an extenuating circumstance.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The House divided: Ayes, 182; Noes, 47.

Division No. 521.]AYES.[6.23 p.m.
Albery, Irving JamesChamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)Church. Major A. G.Greene, W. P. Crawford
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.Cobb, Sir CyrilGretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John
Aske, Sir RobertCocks, Frederick SeymourGroves, Thomas E.
Atholl, Duchess ofColfox, Major William PhilipHacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.
Attlee, Clement RichardColman, N. C. D.Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)Colville, Major D. J.Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)
Baldwin, Rt. Hen. Stanley (Bewdley)Conway, Sir W. MartinHamilton, Sir George (Ilford)
Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)Cooper, A. DuffHamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)
Bainlel, LordCourthope, Colonel Sir G. L.Hanbury, C.
Barnes, Alfred JohnCrookshank, Capt. H. C.Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Batey, JosephCulverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)Harbord, A.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir PhilipHarris, Percy A.
Beaumont, M. W.Dairymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir GodfreyHartington, Marquess of
Bellairs, Commander CarlyonDavies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)Haycock, A. W.
Betterton, Sir Henry B.Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)Dawson, Sir PhilipHills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller
Birkett, W. NormanDay, HarryHoward-Bury, Colonel C. K.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.Denman, Hon. R. D.Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.Duckworth, G. A. V.Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer
Bracken, B.Dugdale, Capt. T. L.Hurst, Sir Gerald B.
Braithwaite, Major A. N.Ede, James ChuterJones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)
Briscoe, Richard GeorgeEden, Captain AnthonyJowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A. (Preston)
Broadbent, Colonel J.Ferguson, Sir JohnKindersley, Major G. M.
Buchan. JohnFoot, IsaacKnight, Holford
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Ford, Sir P. J.Knox, Sir Alfred
Bullock, Captain MalcolmFremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.Lamb, Sir J. O.
Butler, R. A.Galbraith, J. F. W.Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.
Cadogan, Major Hon. EdwardGardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)Latham, H. P. (Scarboro' & Whitby)
Caine, Hall-, DerwentGardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)Lawson, John James
Campbell, E. T.Gillett, George M.Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Carter, w. (St. Pancras, S.W.)Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir JohnLewis, Oswald (Colchester)
Cazalet, Captain Victor A.Glyn, Major R. G. C.Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)
Chamberlain Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)Gray, MilnerLockwood, Captain J. H.
Long, Major Hon. EricPower, Sir John CecilStuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Lymington, ViscountRamsbotham, H.Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.
MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)Rawson, Sir CooperThomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)Remer. John R.Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Makins, Brigadier-General E.Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.Thurtle, Ernest
March, S.Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Margesson, Captain H. D.Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James RennellTodd, Capt. A. J.
Marjoribanks, EdwardRosbotham, D. S. T.Train, J.
Markham, S. F.Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Marley, J.Salmon, Major I.Turton, Robert Hugh
Mason, Colonel Glyn K.Samuel, A, M. (Surrey, Farnham)Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Middleton, G.Samuel. Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)Warrender, Sir Victor
Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)Sanders, W. S.Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Montague, FrederickSavery, S. S.Wells, Sydney R.
Morley, RalphScurr, JohnWhite, H. G.
Muggeridge, H. T.Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Muirhead, A. J.Skelton, A. N.Withers, Sir John James
Nail Cain, A. R. N.Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)Womersley, W. J.
O'Connor, T. J.Smithers, WaldronWood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. WilliamSomerville, A. A. (Windsor)Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton
Palin, John HenrySouthby, Commander A. R. J.
Peake, Capt. OsbertSpender-Clay, Colonel H.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Penny, Sir GeorgeStanley, Lord (Fylde)Captain Wallace and Viscount
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)Stanley, Hon. O. (Westmorland)Eimley.
Perry, S. F.Strauss, G. R.
NOES.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, west)Hayes, John HenryRobinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)
Bevan, Aneurln (Ebbw Vale)Hopkin, DanielSamuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Blindell, JamesJenkins, Sir WilliamSawyer, G. F.
Burton, Colonel H. W.Jones, Llewellyn, F.Shield, George William
Cowan, D. M.Kennedy, Rt. Hon. ThomasSimmons, C. J.
Daggar, GeorgeLaw, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)Simms, Major-General J.
Davies, Dr. VernonLee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)Lloyd, C. EllisSmith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)MacNeill-Weir, L.Smith-Carington, Neville W.
England, Colonel A.Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Fermoy, LordMort, D. L.Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L, (Exeter)Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hardle, David (Rutherglen)Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)Mr. Hopkin Morris and Mr. Hadyn
Hardle, C. D. (Springburn)Ramsay, T. B. WilsonJones.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.