HC Deb 22 July 1930 vol 241 cc1947-51

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927. The Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, was introduced for the purpose of establishing on a permanent basis the film industry of this country, but I think all those who have studied the situation as it is to-day will agree that it has not only failed in that object but has rendered the situation far more difficult than it would otherwise have been. The position is that the distribution of films in this country is very largely in the hands of American interests, is owned or controlled by them, and they are using their powers with the deliberate object of squashing the development of the British industry in this country. They are using their powers to cause to be produced here films of low quality and a low grade so that when British films are shown in the picture-houses of this country they get the reputation of being "British and bad." That is the deliberate policy of the American controlling interests at the present time, and I am introducing this Bill, with the backing of Members on all sides of the House, in order to try to better the situation and give the film industry in this country an opportunity of developing and of being built up to a high position.

I think nothing shows the strangle-hold which the Americans have at the present time on the industry in this country more than the fact that nearly all the leading picture houses in the West End are owned or controlled by Americans. The Plaza, the Rialto, the Tivoli, the New Gallery, the Marble Arch, the Carlton, the Capitol, the Empire—they are all controlled by American interests. I believe that we could by a Measure of this kind, force the Americans to come to this country to assist in the establishment of of a very large and prosperous film industry in this country. At present the quota goes from 7½ per cent. in 1929 to 20 per cent. in 1936. The amount is so small that Americans can afford to show bad British pictures without interfering with the performance as a whole. I quite admit that there have been many good British pictures, but, in the main, there have been some very bad ones too. The policy of the Bill is to raise the quota gradually and by stages up to 50 per cent. in 1934. In France the quota is 33 per cent. at present, and in Germany it is 50 per cent.

I do not think that a Measure of this kind has any relevance to the controversy as to Free Trade or Protection. At any rate, I have no time to deal with that question on the present occasion, but I shall be very glad to go into the matter on the Second Reading, and to consider sympathetically in Committee, any Amendments which may be put forward for making the Bill even more perfect than it is. I will make just this observation on that point. Imagine the situation if all the concert halls were controlled by Americans so that the only singers' voices that could be heard were American voices, or suppose—still more horrible thought—that all public halls where meetings could take place were controlled by Americans and that the only politicians that could be heard in this country were Americans. I think the House will realise that this is a matter that has to be considered on its merits, and from a national point of view.

There is another point in the original Act which has hampered the development of the industry in this country, and that is the requirement that 75 per cent. of the salaries and expenses in connection with the production of a British motion picture must be paid to or expended upon British personnel. If that requirement were in force in the United States, it would destroy and ruin the American film industry. It so happens that many of the great stars who have to be employed in order to make big successes are not by any means all-British. For instance, if such a provision were in operation in the United States it would be impossible for them to employ such artists as Pola Negri, Clive Brooke, Frank Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Lili Damita, Dolores del Rio, and many others. In order that we may have the opportunity of hearing distinguished artists of this kind it is proposed in the Bill that not less than 75 per cent. of the films must have been wholly produced in Great Britain including the photographing, the developing, the cutting, and the titling. There is one other provision in the Bill. It proposes to lay dozen that a sum of not less than £12,000 is to be spent on the production of any one film. That is very important. In the United States at least £30,000 is spent in the production of a good film but the American interests in this country have been producing films at a cost of only £3,000 or £4,000—deliberately and necessarily of a very low quality—in order to stamp them as bad. This provision will, in addition to the others, do a great deal to raise the standard.

From the propaganda point of view of our national trade this question is important. The American Trade Department has calculated that the films exported from the United States have a selling and advertising value of one dollar per foot, and in the first nine months of last year American trade benefited thereby to the extent of 201,000,000 dollars. There are 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 people visiting the cinemas of the world every day. There are 20,000 picture houses in the United States and 4,000 in this country, and of the films that are seen 90 per cent. are American. From the employment point of view also this matter is important because the film industry in the United States is the third largest in the country, and there exists in this country a unique opportunity for building up on a permanent basis the multi-lingual film industry. The "talkies" have revolutionised the whole position. The Americans have to come to Europe now to get into close touch with the foreign artists whom they must have for speaking purposes. Paris is a possible centre, but London (England) is a far better centre, because you can start here with your English version and you can get at short notice your French, your Spanish, your Italian, your German and your Swedish artists over here. I do urge the House to allow this Bill to be brought in and to receive its First Reading. I believe we can do a great deal to give this country the leadership of the world in the film industry through a Measure of this kind.


The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton—


East Wolverhampton—


I apologise. No doubt East and West will meet. The hon. Member appealed to us, by the good-humoured way in which he asked for leave to introduce this Bill, but I think the Members of this House have never listened to such a piece of unashamed and unadulterated hypocrisy as the bringing forward of a Measure of this nature at this time. In the first place, the time of the House is being taken up by a Measure whose prospects are equivalent to those of a piece of unchilled meat on the Equator. In the second place, here is a protagonist of all that is understood in those blessed words "Free Trade," and yet as far as we are able to learn, the Measure which he is introducing is the absolute negation of everything that is understood under that term. Are we to welcome the manufacturing output of all other countries and regard the free importation of those products as a great benefit to our people and only to draw the line at the American voice—and thereby to exaggerate those international differences which it is the object of hon. Members opposite to smooth away? The hon. Member holds up to us the prospect that our concert halls, our opportunities of entertainment of any sort, even such entertainment as the political speeches of hon. Members opposite, are to be confined entirely to British products, and that we are to hear British voices first, last and all the time.


I said nothing of the kind. Fifty per cent. quota is the extreme limit.


The hon. Member says that the extreme limit is 50 per cent. As far as I can see, that is beyond the limit! What I am concerned to show is that the hon. Member, for reasons no doubt satisfactory to himself, is bringing forward a Measure which is diametrically opposed to all those political views he holds with supreme conviction, and which, whenever he has an opportunity within the limits of order, he is prepared to inflict upon Members of this House in the hope that he will be able to convert them. How are the mighty fallen! We had imagined that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton was a Free Trader with his colleagues on those benches, and that the pure, unadulterated milk was duly pasteurised as far as he was concerned. Now it has gone sour, and we are all disappointed to see that he has fallen from grace to such depths as to bring forward a Measure of this sort. I do not say that, on the merits of this Bill, I am opposed to it, but I am opposed to a Bill of this nature being brought forward at this time of the Session—


Is the hon. and gallant Member in order in speaking if he is not opposed to the Bill?


He should have told me that sooner.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mander, Captain Sir Ernest Bennett, Viscount Elmley, Mr. Lovat-Fraser, Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle, Mr. Horrabin, Viscount Lymington, Sir Stewart Nairne Sandeman, and Mr. Graham White.