Sunday Performances (Temporary Regulation) Bill.

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

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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.