§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think the importance of securing greater production and wider distribution of British films is gencrally recognized throughout the country. The necessity was enforced in the strongest language by the Imperial Conference last Autumn, in a Resolution which I will read to the House. The Resolution was as follows:The Imperial Conference, recognising that it is of the greatest importance that a larger and increasing proportion of the films exhibited throughout the Empire should be of Empire production, commends the matter and the remedial measures proposed to the consideration of the Governments of the various parts of the Empire with a view to such early and effective action to deal with the serious situation now existing as they may severally find possible.That was a unanimous Resolution of the Conference, and the measures proposed in this Bill are the measures considered at the Imperial Conference. The House will remember that the Conference added to that Resolution a rider:It was recognised that circumstances vary in different parts of the Empire, but the opinion was expressed that any action which it might be found possible to take in Great Britain, the largest producer and largest market for films in the Empire, would undoubtedly be of the greatest assistance to the other parts of the Empire in dealing with the problem.I believe that that Resolution expresses a sentiment which is prevalent in the House and the country and throughout the Empire. It is based on a realisation that the cinema is to-day the most universal means through which national ideas and national atmosphere can be spread, and, even if those be intangible things, surely they are among the most important influences in civilisation. Everybody will admit that the strongest bonds of Empire—outside, of course, the strongest of all, the Crown—are just those intangible bonds—a common outlook, the same ideas, and the same ideals which we all share and which are 2040 expressed in a common language and a common literature. Should we be content for a moment if we depended, upon foreign literature or upon a foreign Press in this country? [An HON. MEMBER: "We do"] I do not think so. At any rate, the greatest proportion of the Press is British, and we should be very anxious if the proportion was in the opposite sense as it is with British films. To-day films are shown to millions of people throughout the Empire and must unconsciously influence the ideas and outlook of British peoples of all races. But only a fraction, something like 5 per cent., of the films which are at present shown in the British Empire are of British origin. That, as I submit and as the Imperial Conference held, is a, position which is intolerable if we can do anything effective to remedy it.
From the trade point of view, the influence of the cinema is no less important. It is the greatest advertising power in the world. Just let the House imagine the effect upon trade of millions of people in every country, day after day, seeing the fashions, the styles, and the products of a particular country. It inevitably influences them in their trade purchases. If it be worth while, as it is, if it be sound business, as it is, for manufacturers to spend millions of money on advertisements in the daily Press, which may only obtain the usual glance of the majority of readers, much more important is the advertising influence of the film which they see the whole time? That is not theory it is practice. It is realised by our own people: it is realised above all by the people of the United States. I wonder if hon. Members have seen the evidence which was given by the Department of Commerce of the United States before a. Committee of the Congress, I think, in January, 1926. The Department was justifying to the Committee an appropriation for the cinema section, and Dr. Julius Klein, in charge of the Department, said this:I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that the motion picture is perhaps the most potent single contributor to a better understanding of the United States in Latin America.Mr. ACKERMAN: Is it not helping in China also?Dr. KLEIN: It is invaluable in China. It is invaluable in all roarkets where there is a high percentage of illiteracy among the 2041 people, for from the pictures they see they get their impressions of how we live, the clothes' we wear, and so forth. In fact, there has been a complete change in the demand for commodities in dozens of countries. I can cite you instances of the expansion of trade in the Far East, traceable directly to the effects of the motion picture.Then he went on to speak of how in South America, before the War, if you went into the stores, you found that the bulk of the commodities were of British origin. He said that in 1919 or 1920 he was shipwrecked on the coast of Peru and went ashore to be re-outfitted; he found that in all the shops there were no longer British articles, but that American articles had taken their place. On making inquiries he found that a great deal of that change was due to the fact that the people were constantly seeing American films and American styles. That is completely borne out by our own representatives in these countries. I have a report from our Consul in Peru, who writes exactly the same thing:Fashions in behaviour, dress, furniture, and houses, as seen on the films, not merely have an unconscious effect, but are sought for. Peruvians with a social problem, a dress to buy, a room to furnish, or a house to build, will deliberately go to the cinema as to an animated catalogue to get ideas.The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, who has been a keen supporter of these proposals, thinks that is putting it too high, but that is not the view expressed by those trying to push our trade in these countries. Those engaged in trade realise their tremendous interest in this matter. Exactly the same thing comes to us from the Dominions them selves. Our Trade Commissioner in New Zealand, in his most recent report, writes:Even in New Zealand, with its staunch British traditions, one finds evidences that customs and the demand for goods are being largely influenced by changes in ideas and fashions other than those associated with British habits and tastes. Such preferences are, without comment, accepted as desirable, and there seems little doubt that American films have played a part in moulding public tastes in many directions.The same story comes from Canada:The cinema film has also operated against British trade. The production, distribution and exhibition of films in Canada is almost entirely controlled by foreign interests. The effect of the constant exhibition of foreign films on the sentiment, habits, and thought of the people is obvious. 2042 The picture show the foreign flag, styles, standards, habits, advertisements, etc.If that be at all true of the importance of this matter from a trade point of view, I submit that the need for the development of the British film, from a national point of view and from a trade point of view, is firmly established; and if it cannot be developed without Government intervention, then, I submit, the case for Government intervention is made out. If all sections of the trade, the producers, the renters and the exhibitors, could have agreed upon a combined voluntary effort which would have been effective, there would have been no need for Government action, and the Government were determined that an opportunity should be given to the trade to make such an effort. In view of some of the criticisms, I think it is only right that the House should realise that an attempt was made within the trade, and that that attempt failed in spite of the very genuine effort made by a large number both of exhibitors and renters.
I would like the House to realise what were the proposals which were prepared in the trade itself, and which were canvassed in the trade. In November, 1925, a joint trade committee, representing renters, producers and exhibitors, was appointed by the trade. That committee presented a report, which proposed, exactly as this Bill proposes, first of all, the abolition of blind booking and block booking, and, secondly, a quota upon renters and exhibitors. And I will ask the House to observe that the quota proposed was higher than the quota which the Government are proposing in their Bill to-day. It was a quota on both exhibitors and renters. It was 10 per cent. for part of 1926–27, 14 per cent. for 1927–28, 20 per cent. for 1928–29, and 25 per cent. thereafter. The quotas on the renter and exhibitor were the same, there being a three months' lag between the two. That proposal was adopted by the exhibitors' council. It is quite true that on a referendum, it was rejected by a fairly small majority—679 to 609.
I think it is right to give the House that information, because, whilst fair criticism ought to be made and ought to be met in the consideration and administration of this Bill, it is, I submit, fantastic to say, when both the quota and 2043 the booking proposals—the quota on a still larger scale—has been formulated within the trade, and is considered by many in all sections of the trade to be necessary—that it is an entirely novel proposal which ought not to be considered upon its merits. I say at once that fair criticism of the details ought to be made and ought to he met, and certainly I shall welcome the fullest consultation with all those who are competent to judge on the subject, just as I have had consultation in the preparation of this Bill. But there is a type of propaganda which I do not think will appeal to the House. I have received a telegram, which I understand was sent fairly broadcast to exhibitors in these terms:If you object to the Film Bill wire your protest to your Member of Parliament,and a prepaid form was enclosed. The gentleman who sent this to me used the prepaid form to telegraph to his Member of Parliament to say that the Bill was exactly what he, as an exhibitor, wanted, and he hoped that his Member would vote for it. The telegram is signed "Unfilman" and I thought it might be useful to ascertain who is this protagonist of British liberties. I find that "Unfilman" is the telegraphic address of a company called the European Motion Picture Company, Limited. A search of the register discloses that it has a capital of £25,000, of which £19,000 is held by Carl Laemmle, a naturalised American in New York, and £2,000 by a Mr. Cochran, the Vice-President, also resident in New York. The House will be interested to know one further thing about this company. The name of the European Motion Picture Company has cropped up in this House on a previous occasion, and the House may remember a certain incident which filled everyone with disgust in which a territorial officer in command of a brigade was brought out with his brigade under false pretences, put into an entirely false position, and made to escort a foreign film. The House will be surprised to learn that the company which sent this telegram was the same company which perpetrated that outrage on British troops.
While all reasonable criticisms ought to be made, and met, when we have telegrams of that sort I think the House should realise one source and type of the agitation which is being carried on 2044 in regard to this question. After the trade had been called together I met the producers, renters, and exhibitors on behalf of the Government, I drew their attention to the necessity of doing something which would encourage the production of British films. I asked them to agree upon a voluntary scheme, but I made it clear to them that if the voluntary effort failed, the Government would not hesitate to seek compulsory powers. There was afterwards joint trade discussions, but it disclosed no disposition to agree to a voluntary scheme. A voluntary quota was regarded as impossible, because there was no guarantee that voluntary obligations would be fulfilled.
That failure was followed by the Imperial Conference in the Autumn, when every one of our Dominions emphasised the importance of this subject from a national and an Imperial standpoint, and they invited the Home Government to give a lead. In those circumstances, having tried to get the 'voluntary effort, and having failed, and having been invited by the Imperial Conference to give a lead, Government action can only be rejected if we admit that we cannot produce films within the British Empire which would attract audiences to the cinema. I do not think this House or the country will accept such a proposition, because in this country we were pioneers in this industry before the War, and we were then making great progress. I have been given an estimate showing that before the War 25 per cent. of the films were British films. That was when we were starting in the industry, and I was told only last week by an exhibitor who exhibited in an industrial area before the War that in 1914, 46 out of 104 feature films shown by him were British.
There was one thing which stopped our progress in this industry. It was during the four long years of the War when the whole effort of this country was concentrated on winning the War, that our competitors in the film industry in America forged ahead, very often by using British talent in production are in their acting, writing, and technical staffs. The result, is that to-day we are flooded throughout the Empire with foreign films, backed up by enormous financial resources, and aided by a system of blind booking and block booking, a system 2045 under which exhibitors in this country may be forced to take films which they have never seen, which indeed may not have been made at all, and under that system they are forced to take the films, and the space is blocked for long periods. Faced with that competition in foreign countries which developed the film industry during the War and gained a great advantage, it is not surprising that the British industry now needs some measure of security, in order to place it on its feet again. I submit that it is only by the provisions of this Bill broadly that you can give the necessary security. I would remind the House that, although there is plenty of destructive criticism in regard to this Measure, up to the present no one has suggested any alternative scheme to that which was put forward at the Imperial Conference which is that which we are putting forward in this Bill. All the trade discussions have ranged round blind booking and the quota, and this Bill deals with both. Of course it is essential to deal with both.
This Measure abolishes blind booking, puts a time limit on block booking, and fixes a date beyond which a forward contract may not be made. It also imposes the quota on renters and exhibitors, and defines the quota to be put on both the renter and the exhibitor. It puts the quota on the renter in the first place, because he is the distributor from whom the exhibitor obtains the films. It is right that the quota on the exhibitor should be lower than the quota on the renter. That is clear, because it gives a direct incentive to the renter who is concerned with the distribution of both foreign and British films to interest himself in securing the best British films. The renters' quota begins in 1928, and the exhibitors' quota in 1929, and the original quota is 7¾ per cent., rising 2¾ per cent. in each year. That figure is considerably below the quota which found its place in the report of the Joint Trade Committee. Although this has been criticised as being too low, it is not in fact too low, because we do not want to fix the quota at a figure to cover the whole British production. It is important that it should not be fixed too high, and that there should be a certain amount of competition among British producers. That is why the quota is deliberately kept at a low figure 2046 The machinery of the Bill has been drawn up after a very long consultation with all sections of the trade, and I am very grateful for that, because we feel in regard to a new matter like this that it is of enormous importance that we should interfere as little as possible with trade convenience and trade practice.
May I now briefly draw the attention of the Committee to the main provisions of the Bill? Clause I prohibits blind booking, that is the booking of a film that has not been shown, by enacting that after the beginning of this Act, which is fixed for the 1st October, 1927, no agreement to rent a film shall be valid unless the film is registered, and Clause 6 provides that no film shall be registered unless it has been trade shown. Clause 2 fixes a limit upon advance block booking, and provides that a film must be delivered within six months of the agreement. Whether six months is the best period is a matter which can be discussed in Committee, but I am quite clear that some time limit is necessary if we are to get rid of the difficulties of block booking. Clause 4 brings existing agreements into line with Clause 2, in regard to blind and block booking. That is necessary, otherwise the foreign renter selling foreign films could force exhibitors into long-term contracts before this Bill comes into force.
Part II deals with the registration of films, and Clauses 5 and 6 require that on and after the let January, 1928, all films shall be registered. Arrangements are made that a provisional application may be made, and that is a condition suggested by the trade to meet trade practice. Clause 7 provides for the inspection of the register, and Clauses 8 and 10 deal with the correction of the register. Clause 9 gives a right of appeal to the High Court in cases where there has been a refusal by the Board of Trade to register a film as a British film or a film has been wrongly registered. Clause 10 makes provision for alterations of the length of films, and Clause 11 provides that registered films shall be marked in such a way as to identify their nationality, number and length. Clause 12 contains special provisions with regard to serial films, which conform to the ordinary trade practice.
2047 Part III deals with provisions for securing the quota of British films. Clause 13 provides for the Renters' quota, and Clause 19 for the Exhibitors' quota. Clause. 14 gives power to small renters to combine—again an arrangement to meet trade convenience. The administration of the Act rests with the Board of Trade, and this is exactly what the trade desires. I took counsel with the trade on this matter, and without any hesitation they said that, if there was to be such a Measure passed, they preferred that its administration should be in the hands of the Board of Trade. I may say that in this respect there is not the least intention of employing an army of bureaucrats in order to enforce the Act, as at least one hon. Member fears. I believe 99 per cent. of the people affected will be ready to observe the Act when it is passed. I do not think such an army will be necessary, and I have no intention of asking for any powers in that direction. I think therefore my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Berner) may rest assured that at least his anxiety will be more than allayed.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It will be between £4,000 and £5,000 at the outset, and that cost will be defrayed by a scale of fees so that no charge will come upon the taxpayer at all. I Propose, also, as a further measure of efficiency, speed and economy, that there should be an Advisory Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will they be paid?"] I hope not. I have inserted no provision for payment. I think I can rely on people's readiness to serve. It will be an Advisory Committee, consisting of exhibitors, producers and renters, with an independent element, and upon its advice I should largely rely in any difficulties that might arise administering the Act, particularly in regard to such questions as whether it had been beyond the reasonable powers of a renter or exhibitor to comply with the quota.
Clauses 17 and 20 provide that renters and exhibitors shall be licensed. Clauses 18 and 21 provide for keeping the necessary records of films rented and exhibited, and the necessary returns to show 2048 whether the quota has been complied With. Licences are to be granted, and renewed yearly as of right, subject to any order of the Court revoking a licence. The penalty for failing to comply with the quota is a fine, or, on indictment, the Court is to have the power, if it think fit, to revoke a licence for a period. This more onerous provision would only apply where there had been a prosecution on indictment. If the Board of Trade are satisfied, on the advice of the Advisory Committee, that failure to comply with the quota was beyond the control of an exhibitor or renter, it will be the duty of the Board to issue a certificate exonerating the renter or exhibitor. Clause 26 defines the films to which the Bill applies, that is to say, it excludes films which do not form part of the ordinary staple programme of films usually rented for regular performances. Sub-section (3) of Clause 26 defines a British film, and the House will see that, in order to comply with that Sub-section, the film must have been made by a British subject or a British-controlled company; the studio scenes must be photographed in a studio in the British Empire; the author of the scenario or of the original work must be a British subject.; and not less than 75 per cent. of the salaries, wages and payments for labour and services, exclusive of payments in respect of copyright and of the salaries of the producer and one actor or actress—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If, under Sub-section (3) of Clause 26, the author of the original work on which the scenario is based must have been a British subject, will that rule out anything based on the works, say, of Dumas or Victor Hugo?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that point. He will see that it says:The author of the scenario, or of the original work on which the scenario is based.That would not rule out—
Sir P. CUNILIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Member will observe that these four conditions have to be complied with, and I think the point is really one that we had 2049 better discuss at length in Committee. It is right that, if the scenario is by a British author, it should be admitted. You can produce a film which is distinctly British in its character, although it may be founded on a foreign story, and I do not think that, if such a film is produced, we ought to exclude it.
§ Sir P. CUNL1FFE-LISTER
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The clause has been drafted to give effect, exactly to what I have said. Sub-section (5) of Clause 26 defines a British-controlled company, and Clause 28 empowers the Board of Trade to make the necessary regulations. Clause 30 is the definition Clause, and in includes a number of trade terms, and gives to them the regular definitions that are in current practice in the trade. The whole Bill has been drafted as far as possible to comply with trade practice, after very full consultation with the trade, to whom I am very grateful for their assistance. When we get into Committee, I hope we shall consider the various Clauses carefully and fully, in order to see if they can be improved and made more consonant with trade convenience and trade practice, and more effective. Certainly, that will be welcome. We shall, however, maintain the position that the Bill must deal with these two essential issues. The case for the Bill, I submit, has been plainly established. You can only, as I have said, attack this Bill by saying that nothing should be done, that no encouragement should be given. That has been tried, and has not succeeded. If you want to carry forward the attack logically, you would have to show that it is outside our power to produce an effective British film, and I do not believe that that is so for a single moment. If action is to be effective, it must be action which deals both with blind booking and with the quota. You cannot treat the film industry as if it were an isolated industry or trade, the activities and the success or failure of which affect only those who are engaged in it. On the success or failure of the British film industry much more depends than its own future. It inevitably involves great interests, national and Imperial, and the anxiety 2050 which was expressed at the imperial Conference, and the determination which was registered there to remedy an intolerable position, are shared, I believe, by the majority of British people through out the whole Empire. That determination must be translated into action, and I commend this Bill to the House as the only constructive proposal which has yet been put forward to achieve that end.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House, whilst welcoming proposals to restrict blind hooking of cinematograph films, thus providing a fair field for British producers, cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which compels British traders to supply goods irrespective of their comparative merits and the demands of their customers.The House has listened, I think, with a good deal of surprise to the case which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward for this Bill. He really must not run away with the idea that he and his friends are the only people who are interested in British films. Everyone admits that the position in regard to the production of British films is one that requires very serious consideration, and justifies Government assistance, but, we really did expect some sound reason why the Government have made up their minds to produce a Bill like this. Take the right hon. Gentleman's own argument. He read quotations from Consular Reports, he read quotations from evidence given before art American House of Representatives Committee, and what was his complaint? His complaint was that British hats were being supplanted by. American hats because American hats were used in the production of films. Then there is a great omission from the Bill. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman and the Board of Trade—and I am not at all surprised that the film industry prefers dealing with the Board of Trade to dealing with any other Department, if this is the way in which they can wangle it—surely, the right hon. Gentleman and the Board of Trade must see that they must not only protect British scenario rights, but must also make such provision that when, say, Miss Sybil Thorndike is going to pose in front of a film camera for the new company, which 2051 I hope will have a successful career, she is not dressed in Paris clothes, because otherwise these British-produced films will be a tremendous advertisement for Paris fashions.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
They must also see that, when her co-operators put on a hat, it must be a British felt hat, and not an American one. I am not quite sure what the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) and the right hon. Gentleman decided about the name of the hat.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
In any event, what we understood was that the right hon. Gentleman was introducing this Bill in order to advance British industry, on account of the propaganda that is contained in films, and the Board of Trade, be it remembered, which is specially charged with the advance of British industry, forgets, in all its precautions, to lay it down that a British film shall be produced with British costumes, British setting, and so on. The whole argument is absurd. There is one serious reason—I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to be aware of it; at any rate, he said nothing about it—why every one of us is interested in British films being shown abroad, and that is that British films should uphold to foreign nations a better conception of the moral conduct and social habits of people who profess to belong to the leading nations of the world than, unfortunately, is the case with so many films that are being exported, for instance, to China.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Only a few months ago I happened to be wandering up and down a little village in one of the outposts of civilisation—and not only an outpost of civilisation, but an outpost of life. There I came across a cinema. I was in the company of a very noble and dignified member of the foreign race in whose land I was at the time, and, when we passed that cinema, it was emblazoned 2052 with advertisements which ought to have brought a blush of shame to the cheek of the thickest-skinned and most corrupt and abandoned of men and the actors in that film were white people. And yet certain markets seem almost to he abandoned to that kind of sinful and abominable rubbish, which is held up to these people who, a few years ago, regarded us as being a dominant and ruling people. That sort of rubbish is given to them every day of the week, and every week of the year.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
if hon. Members will allow me to develop and finish my argument, they will find what I am driving at. Ii by any kind of conspiracy, or any kind of co-operation, we could displace those films with British films—I am not going to say what films they were; they were not British films—I do not believe if we had a virile and a flourishing industry in the production of British films British films would be turned out on the moral and social level of those films. Therefore do not let any hon. Members, do not let the Government, the President of the Board of Trade or anyone imagine that we are not interested in British films.
But when he presents his argument we come back to the Bill and inquire how far it is going to help the object he has placed in front of us. It is not going to help at all. He has told us he was up against difficulties. We know it. He has told us thas the Government asked the various sections of the interest concerned to meet and try to agree. Having failed to get a voluntary agreement between the rival sections the Government has come down on one side. This is a party Bill. It does not consider the full needs of exhibitors and producers and renters. It has been prornpted and handed over almost Clause by Clause by one side engaged and interested in this controversy—the side of the producers, and not all of them, but one section of the producers. Everyone will admit that this is a very novel 2053 Bill and its principles are very novel principles. Has the right hon. Gentleman ever considered how he is going to extend the application of the Bill? We hear a great deal about British music. Will he extend the principle of the Bill to provide that if we go to a promenade concert at Queen's Hall at least 25 per cent. of the music must be British-produced music every time we go there? Take anything else you like. This is the whole principle of propaganda, the whole principle of the economic blindness of the mind that produces this kind of support for British trade and British industry. Take tobacco. What is the objection, if the principle of the Bill is sound, to imposing upon every tobacconist the necessity of selling at least 25 per cent. of Empire-produced tobacco to every customer who comes along? I am interested in the Empire and in the production of tobacco, but this principle, if it is sound for films, is equally sound for the products of the Empire. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a false analogy!"] It is not in the least a false analogy. It is the Bill applied to interests which have not yet asked for its application. When, and if, they ask for its application, if the House passes this Bill it has approved of principles that it is bound to apply in other directions.
The right hon. Gentleman said he could not divide the two parts of his Bill, block booking, blind booking and quota. What is the point of blind booking and block booking? He is not going to do anything by the Bill to prevent voluntary and friendly agreements which are not of the nature of contracts. Why should not I, if I am an exhibitor, believing in the products of a certain firm, whether it is American or Swedish or Russian or German or British, come to an arrangement with them for the continued supply of their products? What this Bill prevents—and I am at one with the Government in this respect —is that producers should be able to bring coercive measures to bear upon renters and exhibitors to take their goods when those renters and exhibitors do not want to take their goods. That is the whole point. That is where compulsion comes in by economic force. Where, owing to the special nature of the product, or owing to its cheapness, or owing to some other economic reason, a 2054 firm of producers is in a position to compel renters and exhibitors unwillingly to accept their goods, that is bad. The Bill says, "You must not contract ahead for this particular firm's products and that particular firm's products, but you must contract ahead for a certain group of firms' products provided they are in Great Britain and conform to the conditions of this Bill." There you have your compulsion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Those who object to compulsion of one kind cannot support compulsion of another. But I am prepared to remove the possibility of compulsory booking. It is a strange doctrine for the right hon. Gentleman to do that, though, because, after all, what does this mean? This is again a development of private enterprise. Private enterprise, looking after its own interests, having formed a ring or a virtual monopoly, takes advantage of its power. That is in accordance with the right hon. Gentleman's principles. Why should he object? We, on the other hand, quite properly say that when any group of persons have acquired so much economic power that they are in a position to compel other people to accept their goods, they ought to be deprived of that power, therefore we will vote for that part of the Bill. Blind booking and block booking will certainly receive our support in so far as they are made illegal, in so far as they are compulsory and in so far as they form a contract.
Now what about the quota? When you come to the quota you are in a totally different position. The right hon. Gentleman says no one will say British film production cannot be successful. He does from beginning to end of this Bill. The whole point of this part of the Bill is that British film production cannot be successful. The whole point of this part of the Bill is that British film production never can hold its own on a market which, be it remembered, is already a protected market, because the foreigner has not a free access to it. But even with a protected market the right hon. Gentleman says: "British films cannot hold their own, and, therefore, by law I am going to impose a compulsory quota upon renters and exhibitors." There is no limitation to profit. He puts a possible monopoly in the hands of a group of British film pro- 2055 ducers, he gives them all the economic conditions from which a monopoly arises and then says to them, "Exploit at your pleasure "—no question of limitation of profits, no question of regulation of prices and rents and charges for these films. He creates the monopoly, as the producers who are behind the Bill desire him to do, and he leaves it with them to fix their trade terms. There is no question of quality. The only idea the right hon. Gentleman has is, so many feet to be foreign and so many to be British. There is no protection on the part of the exhibitor. He cannot even reject films on the ground that he does not wish to exhibit them, not because they are British films, but becalm, they are not of the quality that he wishes to show. There is no protection given that first of all the right sort of film should be produced, and after the production of that right sort compulsion is going to be imposed upon exhibitors to put them upon the screen.
The idea the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind, I think, is the economic equivalent of a bounty—to say that for a certain time there shall be certain economic privileges given to British produced films. There is a great deal to be said for a bounty. If we find an industry of national importance handicapped on account of artificial economic conditions, the Government is perfectly justified in trying to counteract those artificial economic conditions for the length of time that is required by a new and languishing industry to gather a strength of its own which will enable it to face the world and to make its way to success in the world. But the justification of bounty is that it ceases to be necessary. There is no justification, there never can be a justification for a bounty that is going to go on and on and on because if provisions are made for the continuance of a bounty for an indefinite period that is a proof positive that the bounty is failing to fulfil its purpose and ought never to have been started at all.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
If the hon. Member desires a debate on the coal subsidy I am ready to have it, and if he is under the delusion that I was in favour of a 2056 continuation ad infinitum of the coal subsidy he is prepared to believe anything. I lay down this doctrine, which is absolutely incontrovertible, that if a justification is made for the payment of the bounty, part of the justification must be that within a limited period of years the bounty will have so affected the industry receiving it that it requires it no longer. But this is exactly the opposite of what is done in this Bill. What the right hon. Gentleman contemplates is that as far as he can see—because he finishes with "etc." he places no limit of any date to the end of his Bill—for the British film industry to be successful he must compel users, against their will, to show 25 per cent. of British films for an indefinite time, and the assumption is that the exhibitors would not show these unless this Bill were put into operation. Why does he not give the exhibitor a quid pro quo? The quid pro quo which the exhibitor wants, and that ought to be given to the exhibitor, is a subsidy for using the 25 per cent., after British 'films have got a good start, if the exhibitor cannot do it at a profit in the ordinary way. But, if the exhibitor is compelled to use them, the assumption is that he cannot make a profit by it. Therefore, the Government ought to add a clause to the Bill for subsidising the exhibitor or, what would be more in accordance with the ideas of the Bill, compelling a certain number of people to go to the cinemas every afternoon and evening to look at these films. These provisions are an insult to the British film industry, and they will do a profound disservice to it. There is not a film-producing industry cr country but next week will laugh at us for having to confess by this Bid that we cannot produce good films. Von will have the American producer his journals, the German, the Swedish and the Russian producers in their journals, holding up this Bill as a proof that their films are so superior to ours that the present. Government has got to provide a 25 per cent. maximum quota.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a 50 per cent. quota in Germany?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The 50 per cent. quota in Germany is, as a matter of fact, a purely nominal thing. If the 50 per. 2057 cent. quota in Germany is at all an effective argument, it is an argument against this proposal. If the film industry in Germany is going to hold its own in the markets of the world, after this 50 per cent. quota was imposed when the film industry was in its infancy and very largely in the position that we are in now —if that is to be continued and provided for up to 1936, and thereafter, that in itself is a confession that the industry is not on a sound footing. I believe that the British film industry can get itself on a sound footing, and I believe that if the bounty system is to be adopted it ought to be adopted in the only way in which such a system should be adopted, it ought to be terminable. It ought to continue for a number of years, but instead of going up and up year after year and then being fixed at the peak point of 25 per cent., it ought to conic down, and the industry ought to be left alone. Only under these conditions will you get a really strong and powerful film production in this country. If it gets this bounty for four or five years and then cannot go on without the bounty, other means must be found for devising bow British films can be put upon the market. Here, in the interest of producers, we are jeopardising the interests of people who have invested at least £50,000,000 capital in exhibiting and renting undertakings. There is not a single exhibitor in this country but will now find his programmes interfered with and find himself compelled to put films upon the screen that, if he were a tree man, he would not think of putting on the screen. If it is necessary to ask him for a limited period of time to do that, I am perfectly certain he would respond, but you are asking him now to do it not merely for a year or two while a new source of supply is being created in his ultimate interest, but you are compelling him for all time, so far as this Bill is concerned, to show, for every four inches of film, not more than three foreign and not less than one British. That is not the way to put the producers of British films upon their mettle.
My conclusion is, that the exhibitor should be freed from oppressive contracts and should be freed from booking long ahead against his own will films that he has never seen and about which he knows nothing. He ought not to be hampered in making contracts of his own free will, 2058 otherwise you are interfering in his business in a way you ought not to do. Secondly, we ought to make producers trust to their own skill and efficiency. If any assistance is required for them to do that, let us consider it. But when we have considered it and if we decide to do it in the form of a bounty, and the form that the bounty would take is this idea of a quota, then I say the scale of this quota and its continuance is thoroughly wrong, thoroughly objectionable, and altogether unfair both to producers and exhibitors. What we want above everything is quality and a quantity test of quality is all wrong. I hoped when I came to the Committee that was to let up that the Board of Trade would show they were aware of the real problem, which is that of quality. But this Committee is the very worst Committee that could possibly be set up. In a Committee like this it is not the interests that you want represented, it is the people who are interested in the cinema industry not merely from a production point of view but from its social and artistic point of view. What is wanted on the Committee is a representation of educational people, who understand the political implications that I have referred to in the earlier part of my speech, people who will bear the same relation to the film industry that the Broadcasting Corporation bear to broadcasting. To put on eight members who are interested in production, in renting, and in exhibiting out of 11, is really to stereotype the whole industry and prevent it developing qualitatively as well as quantitatively. I hope this Bill will never go to a Committee but that it will be sent back for reconsideration; but, if it does go to a Committee, I hope a very large part of the time of Committee will be spent in discussing what is the function and what ought to he the function of this proposed Committee, and, having decided what its function ought to be, then considering how it ought to be composed. But its position as a trade committee is surely wrong, and is only going to condemn the British film industry to an even deeper death than it has been suffering from for so long.
I am so much interested in films that, from my point of view, the British film industry has, most unfortunately, been dead for at least five or six years. What we could do, what we might do, what we 2059 ought to do, and what we can do, when we are considering Government support —not this sort of thing; not this throwing together of a jumble of ideas which consider only the very narrowest interests of the industry—what we might do, if we laid our heads together, would be to produce the circumstances, the art, the personalities and the ideas that must lie at the background of successful film production; to use our own natural scenery: to use our history, which is more magnificent for film production than the history of any other nation in the world; to use the romance, the folk-lore, the tradition that has never been exploited for the film industry although it has been nibbled at merely, but which has never been approached in the way that it ought, to be approached, with plenty of capital, and with the requisite talent 1,194 genius. When I opened the Bill that was what I had in my mind, and I hoped that I could support it. But when I read on and on and saw what the effect of it was and what the motive was, then, with profound regret, I found myself once again facing an abortive proposition, and I decided that I should move the Amendment which is down on the Paper in my name, and I have the greatest pleasure in doing so.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
The speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just made seems to me to reduce this controversy to the narrowest possible limits, and, as far as I am concerned, I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for more than a very few minutes. I aim sure we all agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said, in the eloquent passage at the close of his speech, that there is no country with a history or with a scenery which are, more adaptable to use in cinematograph exhibitions than those we are capable of using. All of us, I am sure, will agree with what he said at the beginning of his speech, that it is lamentable at the present time that the British film industry should be in such a backward position. There was a passage in which the right hon. Gentleman referred to an experience of his own, which is only too frequent in the experience of those who have also travelled in the East. I do not suppose that there is anything which has done so much harm to the 2060 prestige and position of Western people and the white race as the exhibition of films which have tended to degrade us in the eyes of peoples who have been accustomed to look upon us with admiration and respect. I am sure that, everybody would like to see something done which would tend to get such a production of British films as would overwhelm the exhibition of depraved pictures which come from other parts of the world and, unfortunately, are looked upon by eyes that do not sufficiently understand what is being exhibited. From that point of view, the right hon. Gentleman agrees, I am sure, with everybody and with the Minister, that something is required to be done in this matter. The only difficulty that he has, as T understood him, is with regard to the method which the Government are employing, but when he came to the end of his remarks I think he rather modified his original criticism in that respect.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the announcement of this provision will tend to make all the other countries in the world which produce films laugh at and deride us, on the ground that we require to take these measures in order to protect our own naive production. I confess that. I do not understand that argument. I find that in every part of the world, notably in the country which is producing films, they erect portentous tariffs against our goods. I do not find that we gain any particular satisfaction from laughing at America, upon the ground that they are taking measures to protect themselves against our goods because they find our goods are better than their own or can be sold more cheaply in their markets. This particular protection is one which is understood in every country in the world, and we alone make very inadequate defences for ourselves in this respect. I do not think that anybody in any other country will misunderstand the principle of the provision which the President of the Board of Trade is suggesting for the encouragement of a great industry in this country. The only thing with which the Leader of the Oposition disagrees, as far as I could understand, is the particular method which the President of the Board of Trade suggests. He would prefer, it appears, a bounty system. I am not in favour of bounty systems where they can be avoided.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
To prevent misunderstanding, I may say that this is a bounty. The quota is a form of bounty. I did not put up the bounty system as an alternative, but this is a bounty, and it ought to follow the economic laws of a bounty.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I understood the tight hon. Gentleman to say that he would prefer some distinct subsidy of this trade, which, in course of time, would come to an end. If that is not his argument. I will leave it, but it did occur to me that when he said that the result of the proposed system would be to compel people to exhibit films which otherwise they would never think of using, that no system of bounty that he could suggest as an alternative would have been of the slightest use or encouragement to the trade if British film making was so bad that nobody would think of presenting British films. Therefore, the whole crux of this issue is, what are we to do in favour of a cause about which we are all agreed? The right hon. Gentleman wishes to see British films encouraged and exhibited, just as we do What is his suggestion? If the method proposed is not the proper method, what method is to be adopted? Until we have something better than the method proposed by this Bill, I think we are entitled to give support to the Bill. It is a very sensible system.
The President of the Board of Trade has recounted to us the extent to which British films were produced before the War. We produced 25 per cent, of the films exhibited in this country. He does not propose to go higher than that now: he only proposes to get to that figure by a process of gradation, as I understand it, starting off with an extremely moderate figure of 7½, per cent., which is well within the production mark which the British producers can give. If we can go on that principle, it seems to me that that is a very sensible arrangement to make. As far as I can understand the two alternatives before us, the process by which you can succeed in bringing steadily before the British public the excellence of our own film production is the way in which to encourage that production. For these reasons, and having, as I think, covered the whole of the arguments raised by the Leader of the Opposition, I propose to support the Bill.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The speeches delivered on this Bill to-day have concerned the Government, the renters and the exhibitors. Up to the present, nothing has been said about the public. I hope that I am not suggesting anything ridiculous when I say that British films and foreign films alike are exhibited for the benefit of the public, and that there is no other justification for them. It is the public that pays for them; they make the income of the British film industry; they are the people who out of their wages, their salaries, their investments, or whatever may be the source of their income, take seats in these cinema houses, and it is as well that, in the discussion of this Bill, we should not forget that they have a case. The case that I would put on their behalf is that they are entitled to the best films which the world can produce, no matter from where they come. I cannot look on the British film business as though it were a thing that one could cut apart from international art. The picture houses are very nearly akin to the theatre. They certainly impinge to some extent upon the music halls. Who on earth would ever suggest that in the music halls you should have quotas such as are set up in this Bill? Who would ever for a single moment suggest applying the quota system to the theatre? If the President, of the Board of Trade were to suggest applying the quota system to Covent Garden, he would close down the coming opera season. The truth is, that this Bill has been devised by those who, have a commercial interest in the British film industry, and have no consideration whatever for those who get either enjoyment or education out of attendance at the picture palaces.
If the object of the Bill is artistic, it is doomed to failure, and it is doomed to failure for economic reasons. As I understand the Bill—and it is not a very easy Bill to understand—the object is to create every year an increasingly large monopoly of British film producers. If there is to be a monopoly on which the British film producer can rely, what inducement is there left to him to improve the quality of his films? [HON. MEMBERS "Oh!"] Hon. Members say, "Oh!" 'What is their' reply? What is the inducement to British film producers to produce better films for the sheer love 2063 of art? They do it in order that their films may be in larger demand by the public, and if the public do not like British films, it is because British films are not of sufficiently high quality. The only inducement there can be to the British film producers and those who are engaged in every grade of it to improve the quality of the films, is by placing them constantly in open competition with the rest of the world. If that is done, there is no reason in the world why, for a certain range of films, but not for all, it should not be possible to produce as good films in this country as elsewhere.
Do not let us exaggerate the possibility of good production in this country. We have not the advantage of the clear air of some of the great film-producing centres. It is true—nobody knows it better than a Scottish Member like the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir Horne)—that we have some of the most beautiful territories in the world in the United Kingdom, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be the last to suggest that the climate of Scotland is suitable for the production of films all the year round. It is because of the clarity of atmosphere that film production has found itself concentrated in a few —very few—districts in America and Europe. Whatever attempts have been made over here have been handicapped on the commercial side as well as the artistic side because of our atmosphere being so much against the production of clear pictures. What this Bill can do to deal with that matter, I cannot understand. All that the Bill says is that good, bad, or indifferent, from 1929 to 1936 and thereafter, we must have British films in a, certain proportion placed before us in every one of the picture theatres.
That idea suggests to me at once that there is no provision against the film producers raising their charges without any let or hindrance from the Board of Trade or anyone else. There is no economic restraint upon them making any charge they like. The President of the Board of Trade is mainly concerned with the commercial side of the industry. It would have been as well to insert in the Bill some provision for the limitation of the charges to be made under the monopoly which he is creating. If the rents 2064 are to be put up, is it not clear that he is actually creating in this monopoly an entirely new interest? I cannot look forward with any of the hope expressed by the Leader of the Opposition of this benefit ever coming to an end. Once it is created, it will apparently go on, and the demand will be as strong for it in the future as now. To halve an interminable monopoly of that kind within the region of art, appears to me to be utterly ridiculous. It is bad economics and extremely bad for international art.
The Leader of the Opposition gave one or two absurd illustrations to the House of the effect of the Bill. Many others must have occurred to hon. Members. We have only recently had one of the most remarkable picture exhibitions ever known in Europe. I refer to the Flemish pictures at the Royal Academy. Those pictures, I presume, are of the nature, though they are not in the same compartment, of the film industry. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. We must admit that both are artistic; but the artists who produced them are foreign. Those artists have just as little British nationality about them as the producers of the foreign films, but who would suggest that in a picture exhibition of that kind you should insist on having 7½ per cent. quota of British art or a 25 per cent. quota after 1929?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
What has this Bill to do with that? It never touches it! I was pointing out that the thing is absurd if you apply it to any other form of art. Apply it to music, and you land yourself in a very ridiculous position One hon. Member says that there is no analogy between these various forms of art. I do not know whether there is any analogy between the film and the orchestra, but it would be just as reasonable to say that you must have 7½ per cent. or 25 per cent of British fiddles in an orchestra of Strads as to say that you must have 25 per cent. of British films in the picture theatres. The thing is ridiculous, immediately you test it by any form of art except the moving picture.
2065 Having heard the discussion on the second Beading, I think we should give the President of the Board of Trade an opportunity of reconsidering the whole position. He has found himself with almost the entire Press of the country against him. He certainly cannot have any support whatever from the public who enjoy these moving pictures. As far as I can understand it, he does not seem to have considered the question from their point of view at all. I suggest to him that he should have in mind the various evils pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Hillhead, and that he should remember the corruption of the East which is carried on, at any rate, by the process of picture advertisement if not by actual films. He may look through this Bill from beginning to end, but he will not find a single line which will provide for the only thing on which the House appears to he agreed. If the President of the Board of Trade is going to take this matter into consideration, let him think of that. The censorship has everything to justify it, but this form of protection of the most brazen character can find no excuse in art or trade, and for these reasons I heartily support the Amendment.
§ Sir C. OMAN
Listening to the first part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition I was under the impression that our sentiments on this matter were much the same—that we agreed that there should be no more misrepresentation of the British Empire by foreign films, and that we agreed on the duty of making available for the public eye all the wonderful stories that lay in the history and romance as well as the folk-Iore of this Kingdom. I thought our aspirations were much the same; but in spite of what he might very well have done in the way of proposing to amend not to reject the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, instead of considering the importance of this Bill to the British Empire and instead of considering moral advantages, went off into total opposition to the Bill and concluded with a highly melancholy declamation against its whole character. I do not think that is helpful. The duty of an Opposition, when the interests of the Empire are involved, and when it is 2066 a question of good living, is not to oppose a Bill, but to propose Amendments which will help and assist those who, it cannot be denied, have an excellent end in view.
The right hon. Member who has just spoken referred to the question of tobacco and music and said that a 7½ per cent. of compulsory British music in every concert would be absurd, and that a 7½ per cent. of compulsory British tobacco would be absurd. But the position of the British film industry is entirely different from that of music or tobacco. In the times before the War English films were good, numerous and interesting. There never was a time when British tobacco swept the world, and there never was a time when English music swept the world. We are only trying to restore in the film industry the state of things which existed before the War, not trying to introduce a wholly new and different status. To call 7½. per cent. a monopoly is absurd, and it is equally absurd to call 25 per cent. a monopoly. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition contended that when the 25 per cent. limit was reached then, automatically, the operation of this Bill would keep a 25 per cent. of compulsory British films in operation for ever. Did he reflect that what we want there is 75 per cent. or non-compulsory British films, and it may be that they will win a larger percentage by their own merits. At least that is what some of us hope. His re mark about the 25 per cent. seemed to me to be quite beside the point, when we hope to get at least 75 per cent. of British films chosen for their own merits.
There is a slight stirring among the dry bones of the British film industry. Already the effect of the appearance of this Bill has been to encourage it to a new effort. There is not the slightest doubt a-bout that; and if this is the effect produced by the mere bringing forward of this Bill, we are quite justified in expecting that when it is in operation it will achieve all that is expected. There is, of course, some opposition to this Measure. I have been receiving certain documents on the matter. First of all, there is an opposition based on the theory that to vary the conditions under which the business of exhibiting cinema films has been built up, and successfully built up, must be wrong. But are they being successfully ex- 2067 hibited? Is anybody proud of the conditions of the British film industry to-day? I do not think it has been successful, and we want to alter these conditions, not keep them as they are. Secondly there is the view that not enough films to meet the popular taste can be produced in England, the climate and the artists both being lacking. I dispute the contention that the films cannot be produced in England. There are not only out-door scenes, but indoor scenes. Almost any domestic tragedy is produced indoors, and the greater part of every comedy can be produced indoors. The greater part of Shakespeare's plays can be produced indoors. We can always do the indoor scenes, and as to the outdoor scenes, well, after all, the English climate is not much worse than that of Germany, and there are occasions and times when we can do the outdoor scenes also. I think the climate and the artists can be found in this country to produce good films if the British film industry is given the necessary encouragement. At the present moment there is apathy, but this is being removed by the hope that this Bill is going to do something for the industry.
Then there is a third objection, that the exhibitors' judgment must be the only ruling consideration in the choice of films. They say that any attempt to go against their judgment is misplaced. That is one of the most foolish statements I have ever seen. It means that the exhibitors claim that they only know best what the public want. Let me take an analogy. Why have one-third of the plays produced in London to be with drawn in a fortnight or three weeks? It is because the manager does not know the taste of his public. Why, therefore, are we to think that the judgment of exhibitors of cinema films is going to be any better than the judgment of theatre managers? Are they any better judges of their public? I think the public should be the judge, not the exhibitor. In my opinion it is a most insolent demand to say that the exhibitors' judgment must be final. Are managers who produce impossible plays to have the right to demand that the public should go to see them? The public must be the judge, not the producer. I have the greatest distrust of the judgment of ex- 2068 hibitors as well as a distrust of the judgment of managers. Then it is asked why we are objecting to films and plays representing British life in its not most favourable aspect, being represented to Oriental audiences as a mirror of English life. It is said, are there no villains and villainesses in England and Europe? Who would dispute the fact that there are villains and female villains in English life? But who would desire to show such films as specialise on their misdoings to Oriental races, as being typical of English morals? Who would desire to make a voluntary presentation of the "Police News" of England to the Whole civilised' world? It would give a wholly wrong impression to Oriental races. Why should we not do our best to prevent such misrepresentations of English life being broadcast among other races?
I will not deal with the question of freedom of contract, except to say that the State interferes again and again in everything, and as far as I can gather hon. Members of the Opposition would-like the State to interfere even more. While we may never see football in St. James's Park or fruit stalls around the Abbey, to go on clamouring for complete freedom for everyone to produce what he likes and deprecate all, interference from the State seems to me to he foolish. The last and most curious of the objections I have seen is one which is in a caricature, and it represents some Americans going to an English picture palace and being, told that they will not hear the "Star Spangled Banner" or "John Brown's Body" played there, and that if they asked for them we arc shown they would get 14 days in gaol. I cannot imagine an English audience calling loudly for the "Star Spangled Banner," or making great noise when the orchestra refuses to play it. I should rather like to see the supposed prevision in the Bill, which would make it criminal for anybody to make this rather unusual demand, and get in consequence 14 days. I commend the Bill to the House. The Amendment which has been moved would meat: that it would become an emasculated and truncated Bill, reducing it to a very small thing indeed. But there are other amendments which I would gladly see inserted. I look forward with great hopes to the operation of this Measure. I think I see 2069 already some benefit to the industry and I hope it may be the beginning of a better era. For these reasons I heartily commend the original Bill to the approval of hon. Members.
§ Colonel DAY
As one who has been connected with the cinema industry since its inception, I wish to offer some objections to the Measure in the hope that I may be able to induce the President of the Board of Trade to further consider its provisions. I can remember the cinema industry before we had any cinemas, when we had only a machine, and we used to take public halls or any hall that we could get for the display of films. From that we got to the shop which was a glorified small cinema. Then we managed to persuade theatre and music-hall proprietors to let us show films. The evolution of the trade then went on to larger shops converted into cinemas. The trade progressed until theatres and music-halls were taken, and converted into cinema theatres. We got larger cinemas built in the provinces, and now there is the big super-cinemas such as we have in the West End of London. That progress has gone on until many millions have been invested and the exhibitor and the renter have many millions at stake. But this Bill in no way endeavours to protect the exhibitor, the renter or the public. All that it does is to protect the producer who, it is acknowledged, cannot produce films in this country properly. The Bill gives him every protection that is possible, and, protection that he does not receive anywhere else.
The President of the Board of Trade in framing this Bill has overlooked the most important factor of all, and that is sunshine. Without sunshine you cannot get good production of exterior films. We had a short while back a very big cinema studio built in the North of London for the purpose of taking interior films. A very considerable sum of money was spent on the fitting up of that studio, but the producers found that on foggy days they were not able to eliminate the fog from the studio. Notwithstanding the most expensive electric light plant, when fog came along they found they could not take even interior photographs satisfactorily. Then in the ease of exterior 2070 films, I have known—unfortunately I have been interested in the production—a case where 400 people were taken twice outside London for the purpose of taking a big scene. Heavy fees were paid to these people for their day's work, and there were the expensive transportation and everything else that goes to the entertainment of these people far the day.
I see that an hon. Member opposite laughs. It is probably because he has not lost his money in such ventures, as I have. I quite understand his methods and tactics. When the company got out to the chosen spot to have the film taken the camera-men were not able to take a single foot of film. That happened on two occasions and cost about £3,000. Those are some of the difficulties that a producer has to face in this country. The President of the Board of Trade in this Bill is protecting the producer, but he does not guarantee to the exhibitor or to the renter that they are to have good British films to show to the public. Last year the percentage of British films made was 3 per cent. A great amount of capital was invested. Out of that 3 per cent. there was not 1 per cent, of what one would call good films worth showing. What is the experience now? In nine cases out of ten, when you ask friends to visit a cinema, they turn round and ask you, "What is on?" An hon. Member opposite nods his head. I am giving the House my own opinion and experiences. I am sure many hon. Members will bear me out when I state that if the answer to the question is "It is a British film," the reply is "Do not let us go there. What is on at the other place?"; and then they go to see some American or Continental film.
If it be the idea of the President of the Board of Trade or of the Government that they are going to make the British film industry thrive by means of this Bill, I wonder whether they have taken into consideration the fact that with the small number of cinema theatres in this country it is not possible for us to put on super-productions of the magnitude that will draw thee public to see them. We cannot make these British productions, because we have the American and Continental markets closed to us. The first problem that we have to face is how the British film producers can 2071 capture the American and Continental markets as an outlet for British films. The American market and the American exhibitors, I understand, have five times as many theatres as we have here. The President of the Board of Trade stated that one exhibitor, whom he did not identify, had told him only last night that before the War he showed 25 per cent. of British films in his theatre. I think I am quoting him correctly. That being so, perhaps the President of the Board of Trade will tell us what kind of theatre that is and where it is situated, because I venture to say that if that theatre is one of the prominent theatres in any of the principal towns, with any violent opposition it would not be open to-day and showing 25 per cent. of British films in a year.
But even in addition to that we have to consider the fact that at the present time we have a great many more theatres and converted cinema theatres and a great many more super-cinema theatres than we had before the War, and if we could produce last year only 3 per cent. of British films, not, half of which were any good, how are we going or how can we hope to produce next year 7½ per cent. of the films that are required? A remark was made by an hon. Member about plays. I wonder whether the President of the Board of Trade has considered that in the West End of London nearly every success of any outstanding magnitude in the theatres is either an American play or a play that has been rewritten from one of the Continental successes? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not attempt to restrict the theatres and the music halls in the same way, and say I hat in future they must produce 25 per cent. of British plays? Take the case of the great national theatre, Drury Lane. During the last two years it has had running one of the greatest successes that. London has ever had. It is an American play, and it is to be followed by another American play. If the theatres had to suffer the same restriction as the cinema theatres, in a very short time we would have to try to make plays that would be suitable to the British public.
The last speaker mentioned that, of every two plays produced in the West End of London, one is closed down within 2072 a fortnight. I quite agree. But that is not the fault, as he thinks, of the exhibitor or the manager. It is more or less the fault of people who do not understand the theatrical show business or the financing of plays in the West End. Those who finance such plays are, commonly known among a lot of West End managers as mugs or angels and they are the people who lose their money. It is not generally the theatrical manager or the music-hall manager who loses his money, nor would it be the exhibitor in the case of the cinema business, if he were allowed to control and run his own business in the way in which the business has been built up. My opinion of this Bill is that it is iniquitous. It places a restriction on the cinema exhibitor by trying to control his business, after he has invested many millions of money and taken years to build up the business to the present basis. If we start considering what is to happen to the trade, we can only surmise that, if this Bill passes into law, the British film producer will eventually put up his prices to such a prohibitive level, because the exhibitor and renter will have to take films according to the quota, that it will Dot only make it impossible for any exhibitor to carry on his theatre, but will drive him and the renter eventually out of the business.
I wish to ask the President of the Board of Trade why lie desires to compel the public—that is what it amounts to—to witness films in which they have no interest? The principal factor in the whole matter is that you cannot make the public patronise films that they do not want to see. This Bill is a protection, and not a proper protection, either, of the bad film producer, and it is no protection at all of the exhibitors or the renters, those people who have built up a vast business and have expended millions of money on it. If the Bill is passed, not only those businesses, but the goodwill of them will be destroyed. I suggest that a business that has been built up in the Navy that the cinema industry has been built up, should be left to supply the needs and desires of its patrons without any hindrance. Those patrons are the general public, who are and must be at all times the judges of what they want to see. As far as my experience has gone, British productions, 2073 if they merited it, have always been given preference by exhibitors in this country, but I am very sorry to say that, as a rule, the British productions have been far inferior, not only to American productions, but also to many Continental productions.
The Bill, as I understand it, is a protection mainly for the incapable producer. The good British producer will always be able to produce a more or less passable film in this country, but he will never be able to produce the simple film that one gets from America. The whole fabric of the trade has been built up in such a way that it is impossible to build up an industry of this kind in this country. One of the principal points of the Bill is the destruction of one method of building up the trade, that is, by blind booking. In America the producer who has an idea for a first-class film scenario, after engaging his principal artists, is able to book that film probably at 100 or 200 theatres. Having secured those contracts, he can go to his banker and obtain a sufficient advance to enable him to go on with the making of the film. Our banking laws and our banking system are entirely different in this country. I do not say that the advantages of our system are not great to the ordinary commercial man, but the banks here will not take the risks that the American financiers and bankers take in this respect, and that has been the great trouble in connection with the production of larger films, outside America, apart from considerations of climate. If producers here could be financed as the American producers are financed they would probably he in a position to take companies over to warmer and more suitable climates and to meet the additional expense of transportation. A great deal has been said this afternoon about the effect of films on the native races. The last speaker referred at some length to a pamphlet on this matter and asked whether it was desired to convey that there were no white villains. I suggest that the way to eliminate the bad influence which certain films might have on the black races is to have all films of that nature prohibited from exhibition in those countries. But even if this Bill goes through it does not ensure that films showing the white races in a bad light 2074 will not be seen by native races. American, German, Russian, even British films are being displayed in all Eastern countries. The contention that this Bill will prevent films of the kind indicated being shown to the black races is to my mind quite ludicrous.
The ultimate outcome of this Bill if it is passed is that you will have during the year repetitions or re-bookings of British films which "play return dates" and I would like to know from the President of the Board of Trade how this is going to affect the comparison in regard to the quota figures. In the ease of some American films shown in this country there are probably 10,000 or 12,000 feet of film. These films are sometimes shown four times a day in the big cinema theatres. What is the suggestion then as to the method of comparison of the figures when fixing the quota? Is such a film as I have mentioned to be taken into consideration as 12,000 feet of film, or is it going to be calculated on the basis of 48,000 feet of film exhibited on a particular day. Is there any guarantee from the President of the Board of Trade that the producers are going to produce good and efficient films for the public—films which the renters can rent to the exhibitors. To start with, we have not in this country studios large enough to make a quota of films such as is provided for in the Bill and it would be impossible to build them before 1928. I would like to deal now with one or two points in the Bill itself. Clause I contains the restriction on blind booking and in this connection I suggest that this provision is not consistent with the answers to questions which I addressed to the President of the Board of Trade and the First Lord of the Admiralty in November and December last year. On 16th November, 1926. I asked the President of the Board of Trade:Whether he has received from the cinematograph Exhibitors' Association of Great Britain a draft Bill relative to the blind hooking of films; and can he make any statement in this regard?The President of the Board of Trade replied:The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. As regards the second part the question of the production and exhibition within the Empire of Empire films is being considered by the Imperial Conference, and I am consequently unable to make any statement on the matter at present.2075 I then asked:Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am particularly referring to the blind booking of films?He answered:I am aware of that. All these matters have been brought before the Imperial Conference.I then asked:Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the Government Departments, the Admiralty, are interested in the film Falkland,' and that the blind booking of the film has been arranged to a very large number of theatres in this country?The President of the Board of Trade said:I was not aware of that, but if the hon. Member has a question to put to the Admiralty he had better put it to the First Lord."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1926; col. 1657, Vol. 199.][HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear!"] I am obliged to hon. Gentlemen for their cheers, but perhaps they will wait until I have finished. On 24th November I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty:What facilities are being given by the Admiralty to the producers who are making the film 'Falkland' which aims at reproducing incidents of the late War; what Government ships or material will be used in this production; how many, if any, naval ratings will be employed; what payment the Admiralty will receive for such use; and whether the Admiralty will have any interest in the said film.The reply which I got from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty was:Facilities will be given to the producers to take cinematograph pictures of incidents occurring in His Majesty's ships in the ordinary course of naval routine, but neither ships nor men will be specially employed for the purpose, and no extra expense will be incurred thereby. The Admiralty will receive a proportion of any profits accruing from exhibition of the film.I then asked:Can the Parliamentary Secretary say what proportion will be received by the Admiralty, and if bookings have already been secured?The reply was:It would not be in the public interest to make any statement of that kind.I also asked:Can the hon. Gentleman say if bookings have already been secured before the film has been made:And the reply from the Parliamentary Secretary was:I should like notice of that question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1926; cols. 383–384, Vol. 200.]2076 On the 1st of December—[HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] It is all very well, but I am going to read these questions and answers, because they show the inconsistency of the Government. While the Government were thinking of bringing in this Bill and while the President of the Board of Trade was saying that he was against blind booking, another Department of the Government was entering into contracts on the blind booking system in connection with a film in which they were financially interested.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I say at once that I am against blind booking, and we arc providing in this Bill against it. But, as long as you make it free to every American firm to "blind book" as far as they can, I see no reason why the British firm should not take advantage of the same privilege.
§ Colonel DAY
I quite agree. That is the reason I ask why if you are absolutely against it, you should encourage it in the Government as has been done here. The President of the Board of Trade and the First Lord of the Admiralty in December and January last in this House practically denied that there was any encouragement of blind hooking and I propose to read on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Take it as read!"] Hon. Members may take it as read, but I want this to go into the OFFICIAL REPORT. I want to show the position which the Government took up in December and January last.
§ Sir FRANK MEYER
On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to read extracts from the OFFICIAL REPORT, in order that they may go a second time into the OFFICIAL REPORT?
§ Colonel DAY
On 1st December, 1926, I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty:What percentage of takings or profits the Admiralty will receive from the bookings or engagements of the film 'Falkland'?The answer from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty was:I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to my statement of 24th November—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Cols. 383–4]—to the effect that it would not be in the public interest to give such details.2077 I then asked:Can the hon. Gentleman say whether any bookings have been obtained for this film?The Parliamentary Secretary's reply was:I require notice of that question.That was the second time he said he required notice of the same question, and I then said:That is the point of the question. That was the same answer as I had before—that the hon. Gentleman would like notice. I have now put the question on the Paper, and the hon. Gentleman gives me the same reply"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1926; cols. 1176–1177, Vol. 200.]On 6th December, 1926, I asked the President of the Board of TradeWhether it is now intended to introduce legislation with a view to the abolition of blind booking of cinematograph films.And the President of the Board of Trade said:I am not at present in a position to make a statement on this subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1926; col. 1676, Vol. 200.]On 7th December, I asked the President of the Board of TradeWhat action has been taken by his Department with a view to the effective organisation for producing and distributing Empire films?The President of the Board of Trade replied:The whole subject…is receiving careful consideration, but as I informed the hon. Member…I am not at present in a position to make a statement on the subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1926; cols. 1873–1874, Vol. 200.]On 8th December, I asked the First Lord of the AdmiraltyWhether he is aware that the film 'Falkland,' in which the Admiralty has a financial interest, has been booked by the producers before the film has been made, and whether in giving facilities for such productions in the future he will make at a condition that the policy of the Board of Trade with respect to blind booking of films is observed?The right hon. Gentleman answered:The reply to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. With regard to the second part, the hon. Member may be assured that the action and policy of my Department and the Board of Trade are not, and will not be, in conflict."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1926; col. 2087, Vol. 200.]2078 On the 14th December, 1926, I asked the President of the Board of Tradewhether he has considered the proposal to introduce legislation with regard to the Wind booking of films; and, if so, whether the Government intend to introduce a Bill covering this subject?The President replied:The whole subject of Empire film production is under consideration, but I am not at present in a position to make any statement.I then asked:Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that tile policy of the Admiralty is to have their films blind booked at the present time?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1926; cols. 2740–1, Vol. 200.]On the 15th December, I asked the First Lord of the Admiraltywhat bookings have been received to the last convenient date for the film 'Falkland'?The First Lord replied:I am unable w give any information."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 15th December, 1926; co. 2904, Vol. 200.]
§ Colonel DAY
There is no result, with the exception that the policy of the Government as outlined in those questions and answers is entirely inconsistent with the policy suggested in Clause 1 of this Bill. They themse1ves, when it suits their purpose, take advantage of blind booking. They themselves, when they are interested in the profits of a film, although they contemplate bringing in this Bill to prohibit blind booking, are evidently advised by the producers of that film that the whole system of the cinematograph trade, the whole fabric of the industry, has been built up on blind booking, and that if they want their films to be successful financially, they must arrange for blind booking.
Now we come to the second part of Clause 1, and I wonder whether the President of the Board of Trade has realised that the people who are producing films and are going to spend vast sums of money on them are not going to take the whole of the risk. What he wants them to do is to take the liability of probably £100,000, or more, which some of these super-productions cost, without being able to get one week's bookings for a film before it is produced. It is an absolutely absurd suggestion. The whole business 2079 has been built up by producers being able to arrange with the renters to sublet or let their films to exhibitors, so that they would be assured of the return of a certain portion of the money they are expending on the production, even before the production is made. What the right hon. Gentleman does, in prohibiting blind booking, is not helping the British film industry at all, and my opinion is that you are more or less going to kill the British film industry before you even start. You are destroying it, because you are saying to the exhibitors and the renters: "You must not book a film until you have seen the trade show." By that system the producer is not going to spend £100,000 or £200,000—these figures seem large, but they arc small compared with what some of the big super-productions cost—unless he can be insured in some way against big losses on his productions. The whole business —not only the cinematograph industry, but also the music hall and the theatrical industries—has been built up by contracts being made in advance, by advance hooking. I have known in my experience—and so have other hon. Members—of many artistes who have been booked complete, without a week out practically, for 10 years in advance, and I have known some films that have been booked solidly at many theatres practically for a Year before they were released. This Bill, in fact, destroys the whole system. You are trying to alter the whole system of the trade, which it has taken years to build up, and which it has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I might say millions, to do.
I now turn to line 5, on page 3, which states that no film can be booked until a trade show has been given. How can the right hon. Gentleman hope to enforce a Clause like that without destroying the whole industry, which has taken probably 30 years to get into the successful state that it is in now? Then, in Clause 6, it states that the Board of Trade shall keep a register, and lower down it says the Board shall be supplied, where it is desired to register a British film, withsuch information as may he necessary to determine whether the film is a British film.and overleaf we get what is intended by the term "a British film." I wonder 2080 whether the President has taken into consideration what has happened here in the last year or so with companies called British film companies, where a nominal amount, or an amount of, say, £2,000, or £3,000, or even £5,000 in one company that I know, has been subscribed wholly by British shareholders, but sums of money to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent in the production of that business, but that has been by American money, lent to the company, either on debentures or on preference shares of the original holding in the company, and is called a British company and proved to be so because the whole of the ordinary share capital is owned by British shareholders. The finance of the company is, however, carried on by American money. The President said it would not be necessary to have an army of officials to inspect the books, but. I contend that it will be essential to have an army of officials in order to watch what is going on in this cinematograph business. It is not that I impute any wrong motives in any way to anybody connected with the exhibiting business, but this point has to be considered. A film leaves a renter to go to an exhibitor, and it will probably be 2,000 feet long when it is sent to that exhibitor, and it will be supposed to be on show there for three days. At the end of that time it does not go back to the renter to be re-registered and have all the particulars altered, but during the first three days there may have been 100 feet cut off it. Something may have happened to the film, such as a fire, or it may have been worn, and the exhibitor may have cut it. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr H. Williams) may laugh, but he does not want to know about it. That film has been sent on to the next exhibitor, who has to show it for three days with a piece cut off, and another piece may be cut off that week. That happens very often, through the film being worn, or through an accident in the machine, or a break, and the film will eventually be probably 200, 300, or even 400 feet shorter than when it left the renter's hands.
§ Colonel DAY
I am not concerned with that interjection, but with the conditions 2081 laid down in the Bill and the forms which the exhibitor and the renter have continually to fill up, and although it may be no fault of the exhibitor, he is still, according to this Bill, liable to a very heavy penalty for not entering tip a return correctly. When the hon. Member says: "Do the public put up with it?" perhaps he is not one who regularly goes to see the films. If he does, he will have seen on many occasions films with big breaks in the centre of them, and other parts joined up. I have seen them on many occasions myself. I will go further than that and say that I have been in the theatre when films have been cut, and I have seen them cut, and if the hon. Member had been connected in any way with the industry, he would know that I am speaking the truth. Some people, unfortunately, try to know something about every industry in the world, and I am afraid the hon. Member is one of those persons. Although I am trying to explain exactly what happens in the film trade, the hon. Member keeps on trying to throw me off, although I feel certain that he has had no practical experience of the trade.
Now I come to Part III, on page 6, where we deal with the provisions for securing the quota of British films. I would like to ask the President of the Board of Trade how he would think any other business in London could he built up if he were to go, for instance, to large shops such as Selfridge's or Whiteley's, and say: "We are going to bring in a Bill that henceforward you have to supply not less than 25 per cent. of British goods." He would immediately kill all enterprise in that business. You cannot dictate to traders what they shall serve; nor can you dictate to the public what they shall buy. I wonder the Government do not try to practise what they preach. I made a statement in tie House once before and I am going to repeat it. If the Government are so interested and concerned in the buying of British goods, why do they not see that their own supporters buy British goods? Go into Palace Yard any night, and see the number of American and other foreign motor ears. I counted them one night, and gave the number in the House. I quite agree with the remark of an hon. Member opposite that they cannot all afford Rolls Royce cars.
2082 but they can patronise the cheaper ears, such as Morris-Cowleys; nor need they buy Continental tyres.
§ Sir F. MEYER
On a point of Order. Is it relevant on a Cinematograph Films Bill for the hon. Member to dictate to his fellow Members what cars they are to buy?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member was led away by an interruption, and his speech made so much the longer.
§ Colonel DAY
I contend that this Bill is a Bill that is dictating to the exhibitors and renters in the cinematograph industry what films they must show in their theatres, and what films the public must see. I have already asked the President of the Board of Trade as to the effect of Clause 16 upon the quota in the matter of return engagements. That would be rather an interesting explanation, if we could have it. There can be no question that, if this Bill becomes law, the majority of exhibitors in this country will be compelled to force upon the public a lot of absolutely futile and rubbishy films. Experience in the past has proved that it is almost impossible for the British film industry in any way to keep up the supply for our theatres. Here we are trying to regulate demand before we regulate supply. I submit that the first thing we should do before trying to make this Bill effective is to regulate supply before we attempt to regulate demand. The exhibitor and the renter are forced to take out licences, according to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that the fees will not be very heavy. I would like to ask him what benefit the exhibitor, the renter or even the public are going to get by having this Bill forced through the House of Commons? There can be no question that, according to Clause 21, more control is going to be put on the cinema industry than any other commercial undertaking in the country. It is almost impossible for any exhibitor to carry on his business unless he employs a clerk specially to make out the records required. The Clause says:Every licensed exhibitor shall also keep at each theatre at which he exhibits films a book, and shall as soon as practicable record therein the title, registered number and registered length of film exhibited by him at the theatre to the public (distinguishing between British and foreign registered films), the dates of all exhibitions of 2083 each film and the hours and number of times of exhibition of each film each day, and every such book shall be open to inspection by any person authorised in that behalf by the Board of Trade.The exhibitor's life will not be his own. The President of the Board of Trade puts so many restrictions on him, that it will be necessary for him to employ a clerk to enter up the number of feet of film exhibited on every occasion—it might be 2,000 feet at the first performance, 1,800 feet at the second, and, at the third, only 1,500 feet. He is in duty bound to enter that up, make a record of all the particulars and keep the book open for inspection. I would like the President of the Board of Trade, or whoever is going to reply, to explain to the House what is going to happen to the renter or the exhibitor if he cannot secure 25 per cent. of good British films to show to the public? There is nothing in this Bill to tell us what is going to happen to him, but we are told that if he does not provide 25 per cent. of British films, he is to be under a very heavy penalty. We only produced 3 per cent. last year, and supposing we cannot produce more than 15 per cent. of inferior films, and the exhibitor is bound to show 25 per cent., what is going to happen to him? Are those penalties, which are very heavy, to be remitted? I think the only suggestion which can be offered for the relief of the exhibitor in those circumstances is that, if he cannot get the British films which he has got to show, is to shut his theatre.
The most sensible suggestion I have heard in the House this afternoon for the purpose of obtaining these films is that the President of the Board of Trade should subsidise the British producers so as to give them an opportunity of making sufficient British films. If he cannot do so, let the Government, if they are so sure of this Measure, utilise public money in financing a trade which the people in that trade are convinced can never turn out sufficient English films to be of the advantage or use that the President thinks they will be. Another tiling which the right hon. Gentleman has not, I think, taken into consideration is that our best producers, our best artistes, are all in America. They have gone there, not because they want to go there for the sake of getting out of their 2084 own country, but because the opportunities are greater for making money, and the film industry there is thriving to such an extent that it can afford to pay very much greater sums to our producers and to our artistes than they can obtain here.
I want to say a word with regard to Clause 29. I see there that the President of the Board of Trade suggests as an Advisory CommitteeTwo representatives of film makers;Two representatives of film renters;Four representatives of film exhibitors;Three members, of whom one shall be chairman, being persons having no pecuniary interest in any branch of the film industry.Some of the most important persons he has left out are the actual producers of the films. They are the people with the most technical knowledge of what is happening in the film industry. They are the people who have to produce the films; they are not the people who finance the films. As a last word, I would say that what the President of the Board of Trade has done in this Bill has been to nurse and coddle the producers, and to encourage the badly produced films in such a way that if they were human beings they would be called spoilt babies. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should have the Bill so amended that it can be, perhaps, knocked into proper shape before chiming down for Third Reading.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
We have had three speeches in opposition to this Bill—two from right hon. Gentlemen, and one from the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The last speaker comes before us as an expert. The other two speakers were not, I think, experts, and I am sorry they are not present, because I really wondered to what extent they are patrons of this particular form of art. I occasionally visit the picture theatres. I should visit them more frequently, but my sense of obligation to this House prevents me. I have been much impressed with the deplorable nature of many of the entertainments, I do not mean from the moral point of view, but from the entertainment point of view. When I have been more bored than usual, I have discussed this occasionally with the management, who never attempt to defend it, and explain that, after all, they are not free agents. 2085 They are largely under the control of the American producers, and I only wish they were in a position to give us better entertainments than they give us at the present time. That is the issue. It seems to me that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) and the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Colonel Day) have not faced the issue at all. From one point of view, this Bill is not even primarily concerned with the interests of the cinematograph industry. It is concerned with very much wider and Imperial interests—interests which were most strongly commented upon at the recent Imperial Conference.
Quite frankly, I do not suppose any of us like this kind of legislation. I am certain that the President of the Board of Trade regrets the necessity to introduce such legislation. It bears no resemblance to any kind of protective legislation. It bears no resemblance, so far as I am aware, to any previous Bill. But the real difficulty we have to face is the abnormal situation, and I cannot understand the inelasticity of mind which refuses to meet a new situation by new methods. What, broadly speaking, is the position, as far as we can make out? The exhibitor is not a free buyer. We have heard to-day of interference with exhibitors. They will not be free to buy; they will he handed over to a British monopoly. We were told by the Leader of the Opposition that this Bill is introduced in the interests of the producers, and that it has the producers behind it. Broadly speaking, the producers do not yet exist; that is the real trouble.
Many of those who may be engaged in the production of films if this Bill becomes law are not yet in the business, because the plain truth of the matter is there is no real market to-day for any large volume of British films. The American producers, building up their industry during the War, placed themselves in a peculiarly strong position, and the exhibitor desirous of showing the super-films to which the last speaker referred very frequently only has an opportunity of exhibiting them if at the same time he is willing to take great masses of inferior stuff, much of it nothing better than rubbish; and whether the British producer 2086 comes along with a decent film, and tries to get a market for it, he finds the theatres are booked up with masses of American rubbish forced on them by the monopoly of the American interests. [Interruption]. The trouble is that when you visit a picture palace you can see only what is available, and, as I said earlier, one is often bored by the programme. What I cannot understand is why the three critics who have spoken have not faced up to this issue. They deplored the situation. We heard mush vigorous, and occasionally ponderous, eloquence from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition deploring the Bill, describing it as a bad Bill, an iniquitous Bill, and telling us in language much more impressive than mine of the evils which exist at the present time, but not one word as to a solution came from the right hon. Gentleman, nor from the Liberal benches. What is the use of deploring the grave situation, and then attacking those who put forward a scheme when you have no alternative to put forward? [Interruption]. A right hon. Gentleman says we cannot grow bananas in this country. It is quite true that we can only grow them under glass, under very abnormal conditions, but there is not the, slightest doubt that we can produce a large number of films with every success provided we offer some market to the producers, and at the present time the market open to them is so extremely limited by the iniquitous system of blind booking and block booking that there is no substantial market, and therefore people are not attracted to the industry.
The hon. Member for Central Southwark made some reference to people in the West End, whom he spoke of as either angels or "mugs." He said they were the people who were responsible for staging a very considerable proportion of unsuccessful plays. Evidently, there is a considerable amount of money available for the production of entertainments. Yet later in his speech he explained that the real difficulty that would arise with the British film industry would be the lack of money if this Bill became law.
§ Colonel DAY
Do not confuse the two. The hon. Gentleman is confusing theatres and the cinema industry, which are entirely different. The production of cinema films is entirely different from 2087 the exhibition of plays in West End theatres.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am perfectly well aware of that; it is fairly obvious to most intelligences that there is some difference between a play and a picture. I am talking about people who are not experienced in either the production of plays or the production of pictures, but who are stimulated to finance entertainments either by a desire for profit or a desire for social notoriety, and I should think it would be quite easy for them to stimulate their vanity by financing British films.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am not much impressed by the financial argument the hon. Member for Central Southwark presented to the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition condemned blind booking and condemned a thing which is associated with it, though not necessarily the same, that is, block booking. As he condemned those things, presumably he supports the Bill so far as it deals with those points, and to that extent the last speaker is found differing from his leader. That, of course, is characteristic of that party, and we must not take too much notice of it. It seems to be rather a habit in Southwark.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member for Central Southwark also condemned that part of the Bill which provides for a quota. A situation has been developing recently in Birmingham in which certain American interests sought to obtain control of some of the larger cinema theatres. I believe that, as a fact, some of the more important cinema theatres in this country are under the control of producing interests in the United States of America. If you merely prohibit blind booking and block booking, and make no provision for a quota, those enormously powerful interests may defeat your ends by seeking to obtain control of many of the more important theatres. Therefore, quite apart from anything else, it seems to me vital that the quota system must be associated with the prohibition of blind and block booking.
2088 The quota system as proposed by the, President of the Board of Trade is on a very moderate scale. It increases at a very slow rate, and if I happen to be a member of the Committee to which this Bill is referred I may be inclined to suggest that the rate of increase ought to be more rapid. But that is a matter for argument, and it may be the President can put up a very strong case for what I have called a moderate rate of increase. To suggest that you can attract to this industry, which at the moment is in the strangle-hold of American monopoly interests, British enterprise and British capital on any substantial scale unless the industry is given some guarantee of a market, seems to me perfectly absurd. We not only want to guarantee those people a market, but a growing market, during the period when they are seeking to build up the British industry. I think the President of the Board of Trade has carefully avoided the danger of a British monopoly growing up by fixing the quota at a figure which is definitely less than that which British industry, even under the present adverse conditions, has succeeded in supplying. The hon. Member for Central Southwark said that only 3 per cent. of films at the present time are British. My information is that something in the neighbourhood of 10 per rent, is far nearer the mark. I do not know where the hon. and gallant Member got his figures from, but they are not the figures generally current in the industry.
Reference was made by many speakers to the evil of showing to coloured races and to, shall we say, less educated people than the average inhabitant of this country, representations of the lives of white people which are completely contrary to the life the bulk of us live. Those films have done great harm, and the question has been asked, "How does this Bill deal with that great problem"? If we are to build up a real export trade in British films, we must first get a British film-producing industry at home, and if we are to have that we must give it a market. We must put first things first, and the first thing to do is to build up a British film-producing industry of a high class on a large scale, and that we shall never do unless we can give the industry some opportunity of developing. At the present time it is denied 2089 that opportunity by the American monopolies. When we have built up the home industry, we can develop the export trade, and then I hope we shall in time drive out of the British Empire the evils of which complaint has been made; and if we get co-operation from the other Dominions, to which I think we are entitled, they will help, but they cannot help us until we are in a position to help ourselves by launching on the world an adequate supply of first-class films.
§ Sir ALFRED BUTT
Probably nothing has made quite so much progress during the last 20 years as the cinema theatre, and what is known as the cinema habit. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that more people visit our cinema theatres every day than visit any other form of entertainment. Cinema theatres are spread throughout the country, and I regard it as a matter of national importance that the films shown in those theatres should not be solely characteristic of the habits of foreign nations. In the interesting discussion we have had this afternoon sufficient attention has not been paid to the fact that millions of people in this country every day are compelled to witness films—[Interruption]. If they wish to visit a cinema theatre, which is a very popular form of entertainment with the masses, they are compelled to witness films produced largely by those having a foreign nationality. I am making no criticism of the films, but I say that, from a national point of view, it is not good that Britishers should be compelled to imbibe the ideas which are put into those productions by foreigners. The cinema has now become a matter of paramount importance. From the purely industrial point of view, there is no doubt that a huge revenue is to be obtained by the production of films. I have here the balance-sheet of a typical American company, and I see that their assets are no less than 78,000,000 dollars, and their receipts for the last fiscal year were 62,000,000 dollars. It does not require much imagination to realise that that revenue of 62,000,000 dollars represents a vast amount of employment provided, and from that point of view alone I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway would have been extremely anxious to foster anything likely to add to employment in this country.
2090 7.0 p.m.
Personally, I do not like the Bill, and I am inclined to think that probably the President of the Board of Trade does not like it. But he told us perfectly frankly that he has patiently consulted the industry—I know that of my own knowledge—and that the industry has not come forward with any unanimous constructive suggestion. He has therefore been forced to introduce a measure of his own initiative; and whilst it may be bad to start protecting any particular industry, I think the House ought to weigh up the evil and the remedy, and see which it is the more advantageous to accept. I think the President has shown great moderation in making his scale for the quota so moderate, and I believe that if the industry will accept this as being a genuine effort by the Government and by the country to stimulate and encourage production, it may considerably help production in this country. We have heard a great deal this evening to the effect that production cannot be undertaken in this country. Until 1913, although undoubtedly America was well ahead of us, we were producing in a moderate way. Then we had a period when we were very much occupied elsewhere, and the Americans were able to go ahead with their intensive production. I was in America as recently as last December, when I took the opportunity of discussing this very matter with one of the greatest film producers in that country, and he told me that America had no monopoly of the genius of film production. He said, quite properly, that we should never be able in England to produce on the same magnitude or to the same extent as they could in America, firstly, because they have a much wider territory in which to dispose of their films, and, secondly, because they have many years' experience. But he told me, quite definitely, that there was no reason why England should not produce a moderate number of films every year. He took the view that we could produce them of equal quality, and in most cases at far less cost than in America.
We have in this country short story writers who are equal to any in America, and I do not believe that our technical people are incapable of being trained in the art of film production. What. I think is a very great loss is that the 2091 industry itself has not yet produced a genius. Apparently, in America they have co-ordinated production, distribution and exhibition, while in this country those three factors are working independently, and often each opposed to the others. I want the producers to realise that if this remedy is going to be given them by this House, they must not hereafter say, "We are Government-protected, we are Government-fed, we are now virtually subsidised, and there is no need for us to stimulate ourselves." For that reason, I wish to make this suggestion to the President of the Board of Trade. I think it is desirable that the quota should start moderately. But I am wondering whether he could not consider going up, perhaps, after 1928, a little more rapidly; and, when he has gone up a little more rapidly to arrive at the 25 per cent., perhaps two years earlier than is contemplated under the Bill, then for the Act itself to come to an end. If the producers knew they had four or five years of reasonable protection in which to put their house in order, and in which they would have a fair and an equal chance to get their films booked—which, of course, they have not at present—there is no reason why at the end of that period the protection should not be done away with, and they should be allowed to compete on their own merits.
Subject to that, I would like the House to give this Bill a chance to go upstairs to Committee. I think the President of the Board of Trade agrees that there are many details which might well be discussed and amended. I do not propose to occupy the time of the House by discussing them now, but I would like to point out that no one has suggested an alternative remedy—no one inside or outside the House. None of us on either side of the House like this principle, I am perfectly certain, but you either have to face letting the film industry here pass entirely into the hands of foreigners, or you have to give some temporary measure which will stimulate and assure production. Surely, apart from helping the industry from the national point of view, we ought to make at least one great effort to see that the propaganda distributed in this country every week among millions 2092 of people is not wholly the conception of foreigners, and we ought at once to try and get some British ideals distributed throughout the country.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I want to intervene for a few moments to discuss what I am afraid has been largely neglected as far as this discussion is concerned. The last speaker, in his authoritative statement, said that no alternative had been offered to the Bill. I suggest that there is an alternative, but it is one that I feel nervous of putting to the House, and yet in my opinion it is the only one which can be adopted with any success if you are to meet foreign competition. The artistic side of the film is the thing which will appeal ultimately to the public of this country, and I want to say that the most abominable productions are brought out in this country by the British film producers and no sort of State protection is going to give them that genius or quality or ability necessary for successful British film productions.
The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, pulled out all the stops in the organ in order to appeal to our patriotic emotionalism and said that we might have been the primary producer of the world had we not been involved in the War, but that in the hiatus of the War we were somewhat distracted in the development of the cinema, and, therefore, we were handicapped as against other countries. I should like to point out that perhaps the finest film productions in the world to-day come from the Germans—certainly the most artistic productions—and yet Germany was involved in the War. Germany had as much distraction in the War as we had, if not more. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have a 50 per cent. quota!"] Is there any man here who understands or has any valuation of artistic ability who would dare to suggest for a moment that the superior artistic ability of Germany is due to some quota which she has for the protection of the industry? It has nothing whatever to do with it, and I am surprised that any hon. Member should make that interjection.
What you want is ability and when you have that, the enterprise among business men to support it. That you have not got. You have those who are 2093 capable of performing in the cinema and who are going over to other countries where inducements are held out to them. I do not agree with the speech made from these benches in which it was stated that there are certain drawbacks from atmospheric conditions and so on which handicap us in producing proper films with all the artistic qualities which are now so expressed in foreign films. I have had something to do with this and have had some experience in the matter, and I say that we have every facility in this country for producing as good films as are produced in any other country in the world. No amount of quotas or State protection is going to bring out the highest qualities in the industry itself.
I would rather, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, that he had brought in this Bill under its proper designation as a sort of Safeguarding of Industries Bill than under the guise of something to help the esthetic appeal of the film. I observed that at the beginning of his speech he was more concerned about propaganda abroad than with anything connected with the development of film art. In the speeches delivered since his opening, it has been constantly referred to as if it were an ordinary industry. It is nothing of the kind. You are getting a new field of art just as much as in music and other forms of artistic expression, and to suggest that this quota is going to make your people more artistic than they are or more capable in producing films is in my opinion a hopeless and futile path to pursue.
There is one thing that this Bill will do if it passes into law. It will give a guarantee of monetary return and protection to the deficient producers in this country. It will give them something in the nature of a subsidy. The hon. Member for Balham and Tooting (Sir A. Butt) is apprehensive of that, and he speaks with great authority. He thought the 25 per cent. might be much more sudden and he suggested a decline from that point to the terminable point reached under the adjustment proposed in the Bill. I can see that when this Bill gets upstairs in Committee the producers who are hoping to have an interminable sub- 2094 sidy given to them will be very busy to see that nothing shall endanger the constant flow of this protection.
There is another thing I want to impress upon the House. Artists in this country have more than once stated to me openly that the film, as produced in Great Britain, is inartistic, lacking in vision and shows no great conception, and that that is the handicap and nothing else. Surely, if we are going to enter in the field of competition in this great artistic development of the cinema, this is the wrong method to pursue. I should not object to the Minister of Education coming and asking for an advance of money from the State to encourage schools for the development of the art of the cinema. I would encourage that, because, after all, I daresay in the future the cinema will require to be used as an educational process in this country. I should not object to that, but this Bill when you put aside all excuses, is nothing more nor less than a protectionist measure which ought to have been brought in under another designation altogether. No amount of this process will give you the efficiency in production plus the artistic qualities which are necessary to make this a successful industry in this country.
I have seen it mooted in the Press, that certain people, a doubtful professor of history, a second-rate fresco painter and an actress, are all going to be brought into a combination. What these people hope to produce, God only knows; I do not. What is wanted is something more than that, and, if the gentlemen in the film producing industry think they are going to become more efficient in their art and in the processes of that art by means of this kind, they have only got to consult the artistic authorities of Europe. British film production has been a by-word and a joke in Germany. You are laughed to scorn by those employed in the most artistic performances of film production in Sweden. You are a byword, but there is no reason why you should be. To begin with the British film producer generally deals with maudlin sentiment in which there is no intellectual appeal at all, and they will have to be a little more astute and keen in their development if they are going to make a success. This Bill is not interested in the development of the art 2095 of the cinema and it is nothing more nor less than an attempt under a new guise to adopt the old game of protecting a vested interest which is unfortunate in its own craft in the world of competition, and which you are hoping to bolster up by this process. I have discussed this matter with men interested in the artistic side, and I have been asked to express their opinion on the Floor of this House in connection with this Bill.
§ Viscount SANDON
I never realised until the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Colonel Day) addressed us how really thrilling long extracts from the OFFICIAL REPORT could be. If there is one argument which has been repeated over and over again, not only in this House but outside, it is that the Government are taking up this matter because they desire to assist a certain section of the trade. We have heard cases quoted over and over again about assisting one section of trade or another, but I think all that completely misses the point. Whatever feelings may exist on this question in some parts of the House all that misses the point so far as the rank and file of the people of this country are concerned. This Bill has nothing to do with the question of business, and I contend that the phrase "business is business," is not the factor we are dealing with, and it is not the issue at stake. A far better analogy than that of business and economics would be if the Government were to give a grant towards making repairs to Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral.
If this were a matter of trading or safeguarding I should say let us get down to something more substantial. This Measure affects more the higher as opposed to mundane interests of the country. This is not a case where we can make use of the phrase "Let us get back to an economic basis." I am not one of those who hold that this is a direction in which that argument can be applied. We have had several references made to the quota, and it has also rightly been said that no alternative has been suggested. Several Members, including the hon. Member for Central Southwark and the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), have said that we cannot compete with the foreigner because of our 2096 weather, but they must have made a very scanty study of this Bill which covers the whole Empire. Is there not sun in Australia, India, and New Zealand?
There is another aspect of this question in regard to which I do not see eye to eye with the hon. Member for Balham (Sir A. Butt). Of course, I can see his point. He suggested that we should lay down a certain period of time during which the quota should operate. Although I agree that is a possible and a desirable thing, and I hope it will terminate, I would like to point out that this is not a commercial question. No doubt that would be a sound argument if we based our case on it being a trading concern, but that is not the point, for we have to see that for all time we secure a predominant position as far as possible for the film industry of this country, and we cannot tell what the position later may be. It is not necessary for me to recapitulate the reasons for which this Bill is necessary. It is necessary for social domestic and Imperial reasons and for trade as a whole as opposed to the Film Trade, and as so well explained by the President in his opening speech. I do not wish to pursue these points because I think we are all agreed upon them, but I would say that I think the sponsoring of this Measure by the Board of Trade is a misfortune, inevitable though I realise it is. I do not mean that in any personal sense, because I know no one could have been more keen or could administer it better than the present President of the Board of Trade and his Department. That is not my argument, but I regret that this question is to be placed under the control of that Department as a matter of principle, as it leads to misunderstanding of the objects.
We have had a certain form of propaganda by outside organisations which is natural when applied to themselves, but it is not equally admirable When applied to the House of Commons. What I am certain of is that the House of Commons will not tolerate dictation from outside bodies, and as far as I am concerned if anyone thinks they can influence me by offering me votes to take up the attitude they suggest they are very welcome to try. We all remember that about four years ago, in regard to the Entertainments Duty, there was adopted a form of pro- 2097 paganda which was absolutely damning to the cause which it desired to serve. There has been a suggestion made in some probably irresponsible quarters that the screen should be used for the purpose of carrying out propaganda against Members of Parliament over this Bill. I should like to see that started in my own constituency! But they are more enlightened there. I know it emanates very largely from Manchester, where we have a vested interest of the worst type, which appears to judge Parliament by its own standards of self-interests, which of course would never appeal to this House.
I should like to take up one or two points which have been made use of in regard to this propaganda. First of all, they make the rather amazing claim that the cinema is the cleanest recreation of the present age! If that bold claim were true, there would be no need for this legislation. Then they say that what we are doing is to cause "disaster for one section" in order to make "easy profits for another." I think the people who make such remarks as those had better go back to school and learn logic, because if it is going to ruin the exhibitor, how can the producer carry on and find his markets? That argument often appears in this propaganda, but it will not hold water amongst an intelligent body of people. I think the social aspect of this matter is of particular importance so far as a certain kind of film is concerned. I read in yesterday's "Times" an account of the film which has just been produced at one of the London theatres, and the "Times" makes this reference, which is typical of my experience of American films which I have seen both in American and here:The truth is perhaps that in many of those matters English and American tastes differ so far that they cannot be reconciled.
§ Viscount SANDON
I do not think it is an advantage to particularise in regard to this matter. I prefer to deal with it in a more general sense, but I will gladly tell the hon. and gallant. Gentleman that privately. There are two or three questions which I should like to put to the President of the Board of Trade. I asked a question with reference to Parts I and II of the Bill, and was told 2098 to await a reply in the course of the Debate, which, however, I did not secure, unless I was inattentive, but as far as I can make out from a study of that part, although the penalties are set out, there is no authority provided to make a first move. I understand that under the Theatrical Employers Registration Act the whole thing has been reduced to a nullity simply for lack of a provision of that kind, and unless the Government define who is to take action in necessary cases I am afraid we shall find that the spirit of the Act cannot be carried out. As regards punishments, when once it is decided that a crime has been committed under the Act which merits punishment, it seems to me that it would be far more reasonable to punish them by the withdrawal and the cancellation of their registration, or at least alternatively if not additionally, because many of these combines are wealthy, and it would not present a very great difficulty to them even if they were called upon to find a comparatively large sum of money.
I have a good deal of sympathy with the Leader of the Opposition in his remarks about the Committee which has been suggested. Though I think it is important that all sections of the trade should be represented upon that Committee, perhaps there may be some grounds for increasing the proportion of those who come from outside in order to make sure that the interests which are really the foundation of this Bill should be adequately safeguarded. Further I should like to ask whether it would not be possible to include in the conditions under the quota that the films should pass the Board of Censors before they are exhibited. I am not entirely satisfied with certain aspects as to the question of what are British films. For instance, I think there is great danger in allowing the star actors to be excluded from the 75 per cent., and I should also like to ask whether the President of the Board of Trade cannot be empowered to raise the 75 per cent. to a higher amount, so that a larger proportion of those concerned in the films should be British, or failing that this percentage should be increased year by year, as is the quota.
As regards the attitude of the Opposition, I must say I was rather amazed. One might almost be tempted to suggest 2099 that they were overcome by the idea that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose. I had really thought that here was a ease where all parties would be united. There has been a great deal of talk from the other side of the House about the question of vested interests, but it seems to me that it would be an easy case for us to make that hon. Gentlemen opposite are sponsoring at least one section of vested interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] As was more or less hinted at by the President of the Board of Trade the exhibitors are by no means unanimously, or even by a majority, at the present time, opposed to the principle of the quota. A large number of them, probably the majority, are really alive to the national aspects of this matter, and are as keen as any of us to remedy what they realise to be the grave evil that confronts us at the present time. It would be a mistake for hon. Gentlemen to run away with the idea that the views put forward by this recalcitrant body in Manchester represent the general feeling of the trade.
The attitude of the Liberal party was even more interesting. I do not know how many hon. Members have ever seen the play of Gilbert and Sullivan called "Ruddigore," where a mad woman is always encouraged to do the right thing if the word "Basingstoke" is mentioned. In the same way, if anyone breathes the word "freedom," the whole of the Liberal party is up in arms, and, no matter what is to be done in the name of freedom, they get into such a state of enthusiasm as to make it impossible to conduct any argument. They do that in regard to Free Trade which is no free, and, in the same way, they believe in freedom for this trade, although equally it is not free, because the public are not free, under present conditions, to decide whether they shall see American or British films, but have to see foreign films every time. The truth is they willingly die for a fetish, and usually a bad one. In conclusion, I desire to make this one general observation. In this House, over and over again, when we are dealing with current legislation, there are things which loom large at the moment, but which time may prove to very small. To-day we are dealing with something which many people regard as a side-line and an unimportant Measure, 2100 but this strikes down to the fundamentals of our social life in this country and the Empire in particular as to safeguarding our young people and future generations will probably say that it is one of the biggest things that have been tackled in the life-time of this Parliament.
§ Mr. HARRIS
We have just listened to an interesting speech, which covered a great deal of ground, including, of course, the Liberal party, and ended with a peroration in which the House was assured that this Bill deals with fundamental principles, almost vital, as I understand it, to the existence of the Empire. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has at last found a full-blooded supporter, for the support he has received so far has been very lukewarm. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) could not say that he liked the Bill, and even went so far as to say that the right hon. Gentleman did not himself. Another hon. Member gave very qualified and half-hearted support to it; he was desirous of achieving the purpose, but could not be enthusiastic about the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his interesting speech, said he was not surprised that the trade interests concerned were anxious to come under the President of the Board of Trade. I was surprised, because we have had some experience of the kind of legislation in which the right hon. Gentleman likes to indulge. This legislation is typical of it. There were the Merchandise Marks Act and the Safeguarding of Industries Act—bureaucratic Measures for regulating and interfering with industry, and the kind of Measures that have distinguished his Department while he has presided over its destinies.
I have thought sometimes, when I have listened to these Measures and have studied them, as I have sometimes had to do in Committee, that the right hon. Gentleman might well bring in a Bill to change the title of his office to that of Minister of Customs, because he seems to consider it his duty, as President of the Board of Trade, to exercise his ingenuity in finding out methods to give industry some form of protection; and he has shown extreme ingenuity and skill, on which I congratulate him, in avoiding the undertaking of the Prime Minister not to deal with Protection during the lifetime of this Parliament. I think we owe him a measure of congratulation on the way 2101 in which he has drafted his Bills; they are in such a complicated, complex and involved form that very few people, even among his own followers, understand them. Anyhow, this Bill is typical of various other Bills that he has introduced into the House of Commons. I could not help thinking, while I was listening to his speech, how pathetic it was that, after the House of Commons has been sitting for six or seven weeks, this is the first great Measure of the Government. With their big majority they are able to do anything, and now, when the country is all disorganised, when there is unemployment to deal with, when industry is disturbed, there appears, at last, the first great Measure introduced by the President of the Board of Trade to help industry and employment. I hope the Government are proud of their handicraft. No doubt they feel as the Noble Lord the Member for Shrewsbury (Viscount Sandon) said, that they have done a great deed for the Empire, that they are going to save the Empire by this ingenious Bill. The Empire must be in a very bad way if it wants legislation of this character to bolster it up. I am sorry to say this to the Noble Lord, but I know the Empire, having travelled all over it, and the Empire is much too strong to require legislation of this character to strengthen its bonds or keep it together.
A good deal has been said to-night about the quota, which is a very ingenious proposal. It was said, I think, by the hon. Member for Reading, that it was quite wrong, and a libel on the industry, to say that only 3 per cent. of the films at present produced were of British origin. He assured us that at least 10 pen cent. were British. In that case, of course, the quota is unnecessary. I could not help thinking, when the right hon. Gentleman was introducing the Bill, how cumbersome the machinery is, and how very difficult it will be to work. He was very anxious to assure the House that a large number of officials would not be required. A register is to be set up, and every film, whether foreign or British, is to be entered in this register, which is to be kept at the Board of Trade. That sounds a very simple thing—merely a matter of making an entry giving the title and description of the film; and, surely, it would not need a large number of clerks to do that. But that is not the whole story. The 2102 right hon. Gentleman did not tell the House the whole problem with which his Department will have to deal. It is not only that the name of the film that has to be entered, but he has to be assured that 75 per cent. of the production is British, and there are all sorts of qualifications, such as the allowance for the artists, the allowance for the producer, and various other qualifications, in order to meet the requirements of the trade. If this machinery is going to work, something more than a mere logbook will be required. It will be necessary to have a horde of officials travelling round the country to find out how far the provisions of the Bill are being complied with. It will also be necessary to have an inquisitorial inquiry into the origin and history of each film, because the Bill specifically lays down that a film need not necessarily be manufactured in this country. If that were to be the regulation, it would be a comparatively simple problem, but the films may be made in any part of the Empire—in Mesopotamia, or in mandated territories like Palestine; and, with the ingenuity of producers, it will be very difficult, without a very detailed inquiry, and without a great number of forms, such as the right hon. Gentleman's Department loves, to obtain a great deal of this information, to find out the exact history of the film, and whether it meets the requirements of this Bill when it becomes an Act.
Of course, machinery of this kind is going to be very difficult to work, and, when it comes to the question of leasing out these films, the difficulties of the Department will be greater. You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. You can exhibit these films, but you cannot make the public sit them out. The public will go just where they want to go to see the films that they desire to see. The British public are very sensitive about their amusement, and nothing would be more resented by them than that a certain form of entertainment should be pushed down their throats at the request of a Government Department; and when there is shown on the screen the announcement that the next film will be one displayed in order to satisfy the Regulations of the Board of Trade as regards the quota, I have a very shrewd suspicion that a large part of the audience will leave their 2103 seats. They will resent the forcing upon them of a certain form of entertainment. I hear someone say that they will be allowed to do that under the Bill, but I suppose that there will be a Clause imposing a penalty on people who leave their seats when a British film is shown, that a register will have to be kept of those who attend the entertainment, and that anyone leaving his seat will be subject to a penalty.
It is monstrous and absurd. You cannot work machinery of this kind. You cannot do everything by Act of Parliament. I could understand some of my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, who are great believers in the State, thinking that you can do everything by Act of Parliament, but an anti-Socialist Government that thinks it is possible artificially to give a new lease of life to an industry by legislation of this character must be under a delusion. We are told, and, of course, with some reason, that if we criticise it is our business to make some constructive alternative suggestion. My own feeling, on the whole, is that it would be better to leave the thing alone. What the public are entitled to have is the very best productions that can be produced in the world. The great advantage that the film has over other forms of entertainment is that there are no limitations of language. An English audience can enjoy the productions of France, Italy, Sweden, Germany, or America without any of the limitations of the spoken word. If it is necessary to help on the British industry, a far better way would be for the Government to do something to assist experiment and education. This is an industry in which science plays a very important part, and in which the technique of the actors is of vast importance. The success of the American films is largely due to the skill of the actors, the Charles Chaplins, the Mary Pickfords, and the dozens of well-known actors. It would be much better, if the Minister wants to help the industry, to subsidise, or even start an institution to train the actors so that they can learn the art and acquire equal skill with some of their foreign competitors. And of course the same applies to scientific experiments. This country is handicapped by its climate. One of the 2104 reasons of the immense success of the American films is that they have many months of dry sunshine in which plays can be produced in the open air, and if we are to meet that competition it may be necessary to make experiments to get the kind of film which can be produced indoors or which is not so much handicapped by our climate.
§ Mr. HARRIS
That is one of the ways we can get over the handicap. By all means let films be produced in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other parts of the Empire. This Bill does not compel people, as the "Times" pointed out, to make experiments abroad. If they can produce a good article, there is always a demand for it and it is not necessary to bolster up an industry by an artificial Bill of this kind. This industry already is protected to the extent of 33½ per cent It is specially singled out for protection in the very skilfully drafted Clauses of the Budget of the year before last to meet every contingency. I am going to oppose the Bill. It is wrong in principle, and it is not going to help the industry. It is limiting the supply of an article which has now become a public necessity. It is not going to produce an improvement in public entertainment. On the contrary, by limiting the area of supply it is going, if anything, to injure the entertainment of the public. No one doubts the right hon. Gentleman's patriotism. I have no doubt every night before he gets into bed, he waves the Union Jack and feels satisfied that his patriotism is real. But I believe the Union Jack stands for something more than Bills of this kind. Wherever it flies, it has always been the symbol of liberty and freedom, and this country has become great and important in the world of nations because it alone has stood for liberty and freedom. I intend to fight these provisions because they are against the interests of the country and of the trade and are bad in principle and bad for the well-being of the country.
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
I do not like to give a silent vote on this Bill, and wish to address myself to the provisions of the Bill and not to indulge in the rhetoric to which we have just been 2105 listening. I can assure the President of the Board of Trade that the cinema trade as a whole has no objection to a Bill to encourage the film industry, but there are provisions in this Bill which will do far more harm than the right hon. Gentleman has any idea of. I listened to the speech of a Member on the Opposition benches who is an expert in the trade and I agree to a very great extent with what he said, but I should like to deal with one of the main arguments against the Bill with which I do not agree, that is, with regard to blind and block booking. Blind and block booking has been the curse of the, exhibitors in the cinema trade. If you want to book some of these super-films from America, you are compelled to take another six films which you have never seen and which may be total rubbish, and you either have to show them or to pay for them and not show them at all. In that respect the Bill will do a great deal of good to the exhibitors. But where I find the main fault with the Bill is in Clause 19, with regard to the quota. I regard that as one of the most vicious forms of protection you could possibly have. You are protecting an industry which is not only inefficient, but which can never flourish owing to climatic conditions. You are practically saying that a British company can turn out a number of films and it does not matter whether they are rubbish or not, the exhibitor has to pay whatever price the company chooses to charge. Again, if you take even the 7½ per cent. quota, take one town alone, say, Manchester, where you have 60 cinema houses, how are you going to get enough British films to go round? It will take years even if we could produce them, which I do not think we ever shall, for these British films to go round.
Again it has been said some of the films are very objectionable which are shown in India and other countries. I quite agree, but how are you going to combat that under this arrangement? The only way is for us to produce films far superior to those being produced in other countries, which will be bought on their merits and not simply because they happen to be protected films. If films can be successfully produced in this country, I am certain we shall find plenty of financiers ready to put down their money even to start the industry in our Dominions and produce films 2106 where the climatic conditions are suitable. The reason they have not done so is because we have not the facilities for producing them in this country. The only way is for them to get down to the film industry in the same way that they have got down to the motor industry. That is the only way it can ever be made pre-eminent. We can only get it by competition. Under this quota you would have no competition at all, because the British company knows that, whatever sort of film it produces, the exhibitor has to take it from the renter and, therefore, you will not get the same competition and the same ability displayed as von are doing to-day when it is an open market. If the right hon. Gentleman could only devise some means whereby, before a renter got his quota of British films, those films should be in every respect equal to foreign films, I should go all the way with him. But unless something can be put into the Bill by which a renter can refuse a film if it is no more than what I call rubbish, I consider that the quota is going to do a great deal of harm and will mean ruin to some people who have put an enormous amount of money into the trade. On the whole, I think the provisions of the Bill with regard to block booking are needed, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way in Committee to devise some means whereby a renter shall not have to take a British film unless it is worth the sum asked for it and up to quality in every respect.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
It is not very often that I find myself able to support any Measure brought in by this Government, and I hope they will not take it as excessively complimentary to their general policy if I offer my support to this Bill. I do so not because I believe it has anything to do with Protection and Free Trade and Tariff Reform. I do not regard this as primarily an industrial question. I regard it as primarily an educational question in so far as the proposals of the Bill are before us. I think the House ought to realise the extent to which the industry has developed in America and the extent to which it is possible to develop it in this country if it is only given a fair start. American producers and exhibitors receive every year £7,000,000 for the rent of their pictures in England alone, 2107 and 90 to 95 per cent. of the pictures shown in our Dominions are American. In addition to that the American film industry employs 300,000 people. That, at any rate, establishes a case for the consideration of what measures are possible to start the industry in this country. But I support this on general educational grounds. The exhibitors in this country, in my opinion, cannot show the public the proportion of British films proportionate to their merit. Films in this country are controlled by block booking, by the ownership of theatres, which is on a growing scale, and by alliances which have been concluded between the German and American film industries, and though in the last resort it is the British public who go to the film theatres and pay for what they see, who must be the final judges of what pictures they shall see, I am convinced that if they were fully alive to all the merits of this question they would choose, rather than see a 100 per cent. of American pictures all of which are claimed to be perfect, let us say 75 per cent. of American pictures and 25 per cent. of British pictures of uncertain merit as yet but which I am convinced will become fully equal to the American pictures when the industry has had a chance.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
My excuse for intervening in the discussion is that I spent about five years of my life on a town council where we ran a municipal picture show, and where I was a member of a committee which had something to do with its control. It is perfectly true, as the President of the Board of Trade said, and it has been disputed in very few quarters of the House, that the evil of blind booking and block booking is a very serious one. He proposes to get rid of it but to substitute another kind of blind and block booking. The kind he proposes to substitute is to be a collection of British films. We have some of those British films now, and if the British public are to be compelled to pay to witness some of these British films as they are now, there will be trouble in large sections of the country. I wonder if the President of the Board of Trade has ever seen a recent British film called "The Life of Robert Burns." Robert Burns was a Scottish poet, and here is 2108 a British film insulting the life of a great national bard. The hero is a sort of combination of Harry Lauder's characterthe Saftest o' the Family,and a sort of Chinese bandit with a highly developed Mongolian expression on his face. All the captions are wrong, and all the history is wrong. Cold shivers go down the back of every Scotsman when he sees the national bard at the field of Culloden where he takes off his tam o'shanter most reverently in front of a cairn that, was not erected until about 100 years after Robert Burns was dead. We see "Tam o Shanter," one of Burns great poems, being produced. The witches are seen dancing Morris dances, and some drouths are dancing an Irish jig inside a public house. All the captions are wrong, all the history is wrong, and all the life story is completely wrong. If this is the sort of thing that is going to be foisted upon the British public we are going to be very little better off than with some of these monstrous American films. The mere fact that a man has got a British naturalisation certificate for 25s. does not, ipso facto, authorise or qualify him to be a director of œsthetic taste in this country. In the film to which I have referred, as Burns is solemnly writing his poem "To Mary in Heaven," the musical director of the piece, who is also a Britisher, orders the orchestra to strike up "The Road to the Isles." That is a farce.
I can give the right hon. Gentleman the names of half-a-dozen similar films. The film "Mons" is propaganda. Cuttings from the London "Times" are stuck into the middle of this film. It is an official film, with quotations of leading articles in the London "Times" such asOur interests must have compelled us to join France and Russia even if Germany had scrupulously respected the rights of mall liberties.That is an entirely different point of view from that officially expressed by the leaders of the nation during the time of the War. Then, when you see the Battle of Mons, you get "Land of Hope and Glory" played, and "The Soldiers of the King" and "The Deathless Army" sung, and German music is also brought in. The fact that you can give a man 2109 a naturalisation certificate which can be got for about 25s., not only in this country but in the Dominions, does not constitute him as the director of æsthetic taste to the British public. This is the serious part of the Bill, this quota part. Under Clause 26 the right hon. Gentleman exempts from the provisions of this Billfilms depicting wholly or mainly new or current events; films depicting wholly or mainly natural scenery; films being wholly or mainly commercial advertisements; films used wholly or mainly by educational institutions for educational purposes; films depicting wholly or mainly industrial or manufacturing processes; and scientific films, including natural history films.Why are historical events to be excluded? No longer shall we be able to include the story of the "Mayflower," the picture of Christopher Columbus, the picture of Captain Cook discovering New Zealand and the story of William Tell. All the historical events which one would have thought the present Government at any rate might have been anxious to portray before the young mind of the people of this country are expressly barred from this catalogue of films, to which the artistic geniuses of the world might contribute. Then we come to Sub-section (iii) which says:The author of the scenario, or of the original work on which the scenario was based, must have been a British subject.It is a sine qua non that the original author must have been a British subject. If that is so, then I understand that by this Bill the Bible would be barred, unless the right hon. Gentleman is going to claim that Moses, by virtue of the present mandate held by the British Government, was born on British soil.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have already explained to the hon. Gentleman that the word "or" does not mean "and" If he will read the Sub-section again, he will see that if one or the other alternative be complied with, the requirements are met.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
In spite of the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of this Clause, I submit that the matter is not clear. But supposing it is so, where do we land ourselves? The author of this scenario may be a Frenchman or a Portuguese, a Spaniard or a Yank, provided the original author was a British subject. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny 2110 that. The author of the scenario may be a foreigner from any country in the world, provided the original author of the work upon which the scenario was based was a British subject. See where we land ourselves now. Let us take a film of Palestine; a film depicting any scene in the life of Palestine. It is based on the Bible story. In that case the original author cannot by any stretch of the imagination be held to be a British subject, and under the Bill that film will be barred. Whichever way you look at it, and whether you emphasise this word "or" or not, you are simply barring oat from the operations of this Clause great historical and artistic events which the young persons and the adults of this country—
Sir P. CUNLJFFE-LISTER
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, if he will become a scenario writer, he may deal with the whole of the Bible and he will be within the terms of the Bill, he being a British subject.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The author of the scenario may be a foreigner. The right hon. Gentleman cannot dispute that. It is as clear as words can make it. The author of the scenario may be a foreigner, provided that the author of the original work was alleged to be a British subject. It is a commonly held opinion in the artistic and cesthetic circles of this country that the right hon. Gentleman is barring out, from the beneficent operations of the conclusion provisions of this Bill, great artistic and æsthetic stretches by this Clause.
I only want to add one word mere within the few moments that remain before this Debate must close, and that is about this quota. People are to be compelled to take 5 per cent.,7½ per cent. and 10 per cent. of films over which they have no control. Whatever the artistic merits of the films may be, these people have got to suffer. What happens if a film cannot be supplied, or if the exhibitor dare not show it? Supposing one of your pictures has in it angels with top-boots, and Rebecca at 90 years 2111 of age with a set of teeth that would do credit to Marie Studholme at her best. That is the sort of thing that any decent-minded exhibitor throws out altogether. He will not use it, and what will happen if he does not use it? Is he to be fined and his picture show shut up, whatever the artistic merits of the particular film may be? I could understand the right hon. Gentleman saying that he would provide a subsidy for a certain standard of artistic merit. We are providing subsidies to all manner of educational institutions, and artistic and æsthetic institutions. If the right hon. Gentleman would make that subsidy for a limited period, perhaps five or ten years, I could understand it, if he gave it in order to give the industry a chance to get on its feet, and I would agree with it. But simply to come here and say that, whatever the artistic merit of a picture may be, whatever rubbish is foisted upon the industry in this country, it must be accepted under a penalty and perhaps under the threat of having a cinema closed up, is nonsense. I am perfectly certain, if the right hon. Gentleman gets his Bill through unscathed in the Committee stage, when he comes to operate this Clause he will find himself in difficulties that he has not con templated. Has he considered the alternative of a subsidy? There is a problem to be met. We know that the producing industry in this country is inefficient. We know that in the British colonies and Dominions you have a climate where you can produce films. We know that the actors go from this country to America. Your Charlie Chaplins leave London and go to Hollywood. You could get your artistes and the climate; what you want is production. But what use is this sort of comic protection? What use is this method of compelling the industry to accept rubbish, provided that rubbish is compiled by somebody who has purchased a British naturalisation certificate? That is not a satisfactory method of developing the producing side of the industry. I see the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury is ready to jump to his feet, but I have a moment longer.
I only want to say that I trust that the Government will give us an adequate 2112 opportunity of really discussing the various Clauses of this Bill in the Committee stage, aid that they will not move the Closure. It is really vital from the Government's own point of view. If this Bill is going to do any good, and if it is going to be of any service whatever to the cinema industry in this country, then every possible care must be taken that every interest is protected, and that we simply do not have foisted on the consumer this Bill, a Bill backed by the Federation of British Industries, a Bill evidently a compromise and one which the right hon. Gentleman himself did not dare to give his whole-hearted assent to. There are certain parts of the Bill which I believe will bring the retail side of the industry into ridicule and contempt, if ever some of these alleged British films are attempted to be shown. For these reasons I trust that, while this House will assent to the passage of a Bill which would prohibit blind booking, it will not assent to the quota method which would, I believe, be disastrous to the artistic and æesthetic side of the industry.
§ It being a quarter past Eight of the Clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.