asked the Home Secretary the places in which cinematograph theatres have been, or are proposed to be, opened on Sundays where all or some of the regular staff worked, or are to work, gratuitously; and whether, as such seven days' continuous engagement at work is an evasion of the safeguards in the Act, he will introduce an amending measure to give effect to the security against a seven-day working week?
The only occasion on which, so far as I am aware, any arrangement of this kind has been, or is proposed to be, adopted is that at Birmingham to which my right hon. Friend referred in the reply which he gave on Monday last to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). Some misapprehension appears to have arisen in this matter, and I should like (with the permission of the House) to take this opportunity of explaining the position rather more fully. The arrangement adopted at Birmingham related, not to the opening of cinemas on all Sundays throughout the year, but to the performances given in Birmingham cinemas on a single Sunday in the year known locally as the "Cinema Hospital Sunday." On this one Sunday in the year it has been the practice for many years past for all the Birmingham cinemas to open, and to hand over to the local hospitals, not merely their profits, but the whole of their takings for that day. All the services in connection with these performances have been given voluntarily, the cinema proprietors lending the cinemas and the films, and the employés performing their ordinary duties on a voluntary basis without remuneration.
My right hon. Friend's advisers at the Home Office took the view that in these quite exceptional circumstances no element of a contract of service seemed to be present and that the gratuitous and voluntary services of the employés on this occasion did not appear to constitute "employment" within the meaning of section 1 (1) of the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932. This view was communicated to the licensing authority at Birmingham, and on the 16th October last the cinemas in Birmingham were opened for their "Cinema Hospital Sunday" performances on the same basis as they have opened on this annual occasion for many years past. The arrangement was made possible only by the exceptional circumstances in which these performances have been given. Where cinemas are to open regularly on Sundays the position is altogether different, and there can be no question of applying to regular Sunday opening any arrangement of this kind by which the staff would give their services gratuitously on the seventh day of every week. The safeguards provided in the Act are fully sufficient to prevent any person employed in a cinema which opens regularly on Sundays from being continuously engaged at work for seven days a week, and no amending legislation is necessary for this purpose.
I thank the Under-Secretary for the information which he has given clarifying this important point. May I ask him whether in the circular which has been issued to local authorities the point of his answer has been made manifest?
I understand that a. circular on the working of the Act has been issued to local authorities. In any further circular that may be issued, may I ask that the information which my hon. Friend has given to the House will be embodied?
I think I have made it quite clear in my answer that the advice was given on the authority of the Home Office. It is, of course, open to anyone to test the correctness of the decision in the courts.
asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the report of the entertainments committee of the London County Council in favour of permitting cinematograph performances in London to commence at 3.30 p.m. on Sundays as a regular commercial practice; and whether he intends to introduce legislation to amend the Sunday Entertainments Act so as to limit Sunday cinematograph performances to five hours?
I have seen reports in the Press that the Entertainments (Licensing) Committee of the London County Council have made recommendations to this effect, but I would remind the hon. Baronet that these recommendations have not yet been considered by the full Council. When proposals to limit the hours of Sunday opening were under discussion in this House the London County Council pressed for their rejection on the ground that their acceptance would bring to an end the Sunday afternoon performances given by film societies and the occasional afternoon performances organised on behalf of particular charities. The London County Council did not at that time give any indication that they contemplated allowing cinemas to open on Sunday afternoons on an ordinary commercial basis; and, indeed, the commercial opening which the Entertainments Committee have now recommended would appear to preclude the continuance of those non-commercial performances. As regards the second part of the question, my right hon. Friend does not contemplate introducing any amending legislation until further experience of the working of the Act has shown the necessity for it.
Does not the hon. Gentleman consider that amending legislation should be introduced if the understanding that the opening of cinemas on Sunday should be limited to the later hours of 6 to 11 is not to be adhered to and it becomes a general practice to open for a much longer period on Sunday afternoons?
Is the Under-Secretary aware that there was no understanding on that point? The understanding was that local authorities should have the full right to open cinemas on Sundays during the hours that they desired.