HC Deb 14 November 1927 vol 210 cc703-8

The next Amendment I select is that in the name of the hon. Member for the Camlachie Division of Glasgow (Mr. Stephen).


I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, to leave out the words " being a theatre in the administrative county of London."

If the President of the Board of Trade were to accept the Amendment, the Subsection as amended would read: In the case of a film which has not (been previously exhibited to exhibitors or to the public in Great Britain, this section shall not operate so as to prohibit the making prior to the registration or application for registration thereof of an agreement for the exhibition of the film in one theatre only on a number of consecutive days if at the time of the making of the agreement a copy of the film is in physical existence in Great Britain, or if the film is, or when made will be. a British film. There was a great deal of feeling in the Committee on this question of trade shows being confined to the county area of London. There are cinema centres for various districts throughout the country, and in Glasgow, for example, with regard to the Scottish houses, we hold that the imposition of this qualification might have an adverse effect upon Scottish interests. In Glasgow, I am told, there are seven houses of the class described as "first run houses," which shows that the interests of Glasgow alone ought to be more fully considered. There are certain cases in which a trade show in London may be quite suitable for some provincial interests, but the President of the Board of Trade and Members of this House must take account of the fact that if this Bill becomes law they expect a very big development in the production of British films. If that development is to take place, it is all the more imperative that there should be opportunities in every district for the holding of trade shows.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman may see his way to accept this Amendment and that he realises the importance of trying to make this legislation a little more flexible than it will be should this restriction be retained. It is possible that the custom of the trade in the past has been to hold these shows in London, and that the custom has created a tendency towards confining them to the London area, but if there is to be a big development of the industry in the future, obviously each provincial district should have the opportunity—if the people responsible so desire—of having a trade show. I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit it to be a reasonable suggestion that, if this legislation is going to be effective, an attempt should be made not to centralise all the trade shows in the London area, but to give each of these districts a certain amount of autonomy in the development of the industry. I do not wish to delay the House, but I think the Amendment on the Paper is a reasonable one, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not definitely accept it, I hope he will leave it to a free vote of the House.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The retention of these words will not strengthen the Bill at all and their omission will not damage the Bill. The principle of the Bill is not affected by them in any way. When the subject was discussed in Committee the only point made by the right hon. Gentleman was that the holding of these shows in London was a trade custom. I presume that the trade have been carrying out this custom quite properly and satisfactorily themselves without any Act of Parliament compelling them to do so; and if it is for the convenience of the trade that they should continue to hold trade shows in the West End of London, the deletion of these words will not prevent them doing so. On the other hand, in a rapidly changing industry of this kind, a time may come when it will be for the convenience of the trade to have trade shows in Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool or other provincial centres, and by the inclusion of these words you may unnecessarily restrict them in that respect. As I think the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to take up a reasonable attitude on this question I am not going to argue the point as to whether it should be the London County Council area or the Metropolitan Police area. I drop that point entirely and I confine myself to the one point that as this has been a trade custom in the past we shall not achieve anything useful by making it compulsory under an Act of Parliament, and if it is for the convenience of the trade to continue these shows in the West End, they can continue to do so.


The case for the Amendment has been put very concisely and clearly. The Mover and Seconder are quite right in saying that all the present drafting of the Clause does is to stereotype the existing practice of the trade. It was for that reason that the exhibitors attached some importance to the retention of these words. But I think there is certain force in the argument that if it is the trade practice then it can be continued without legislation; whereas, if circumstances change, it might then be convenient to be able to alter the practice. At any rate, it is not a matter on which I am going to take up a pontifical attitude. I do not desire to decide as between Glasgow and London and I am perfectly willing to leave the matter to a free vote of the House.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

How will the right hon. Gentleman inform his followers that he is leaving it to a free vote of the House?


I have said so twice. I said so during the general Debate and I am repeating it now. I do not know whether anyone is going to oppose this Amendment, but, if it is opposed, it will be by private Members and the Tellers against it will be private Members.


I wish to associate myself with this Amendment. London is still the clearing house for a large number of industries and, in fact, for most of them, and, as has been pointed out, the holding of these shows in London is the practice in the cinema industry. I think it is desirable, however, that the trade should find its own centres for these purposes and that we ought not to cut out places like Glasgow and Manchester. I do not wish to press the case for Scotland, as it has been put forward already, but I feel that the present drafting of the Clause tends to prevent places in the provinces having pre-release shows, while on the other hand the Amendment will not prevent London from continuing in its present position in relation to the industry.


I desire to oppose the Amendment. It seems to me this is a case of local patriotism as opposed to common sense and probably common sense will lose because there are too many local patriotisms on the other side.


Which are you for?


I am for common sense naturally. The reason why London has been suggested for this purpose is because London is the most convenient centre for the majority of those concerned. By making compulsory what has been the practice in the trade, we can make it impossible for people to evade these regulations or this Clause by having a trade show in an out-of-the-way, remote place for some purpose of their own. It might be desired for evasion purposes to hold a show in a place which would be inconvenient for the bulk of those who would ordinarily desire to witness such a show. To ensure that the people who desire to see these films should have the fullest and most convenient opportunity of doing so, I suggest that these words should be retained in the Clause.


The only objection I would urge against the argument of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) is that one must assume cinema proprietors to be business men. They will not exhibit their films in obscure places. They will exhibit them in centres where they can most easily attract large numbers of people who are likely to make bookings; and it would seem, therefore, that the common sense point of view has been missed by the hon. Member. I think the common sense attitude is to leave it to the people concerned, who will take good care to give their exhibitions in the places where they are likely to get most custom.


I am shocked at the suggestion of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) that any section of the business community in this country would attempt to evade the law.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out from the word " days," in line 12, to the word " if " in line 14.

The omission of these words will enable a super-film such as "Ben-Hur," to be booked up even before it has entered this country. As the Bill stands it would be impossible for an exhibitor to book a film if it was not " in physical existence " in Great Britain, even though he knew all about it and knew that it would satisfy, entertain and instruct the public. I do not know what possessed the Government to insert these words. I do not care to use the word "common sense" after the way in which it has been abused, but I ask the Government to take away this restriction on art and on the opportunities of showing our people films that are worth seeing. I think I have said enough to show the fallacy of retaining these words, and I ask for their deletion.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I beg to second the Amendment.

If this Bill passes in its present form it will be impossible for the unfortunate theatre proprietors to book a film unless it is actually in this country. That means that we may have some wonderful film like "Metropolis," showing in Berlin, or like "Ben Hur," to which my hon. Friend referred, or one of those very magnificent American films, which they know is a tremendous success in the States, and that they cannot book it until the film has actually arrived here. I think it is absurd, and whoever had these words put in must have had no actual knowledge of the way in which this business is conducted. If these words remain in, it will be impossible for these great super-films to be booked at all by very many theatre proprietors in this country. There is a tremendous demand for the few really magnificent films which are being produced in the world to-day—the supply of them is restricted—and these words restrict the actions of this business community in a way that this House would! never wish to do, if it were only aware of what is proposed. I am certain that if the Whips were taken off, these words would be expunged by a huge majority.


My right hon. Friend asks me to say that he will accept this Amendment, because, by so doing, it will strengthen the Clause.

Amendment agreed to.