HC Deb 28 March 1938 vol 333 cc1670-7

Lords Amendment: In page 17, line 2, leave out "ten," and insert "fifteen."

5.7 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment and the next four actually deal only with the limits within which the Film Council can make recommendations for the alteration of the short film quota, but as it is, I think, a fact that you cannot discuss the limits within which alterations can be made without discussing the figures in the Schedule for the quota., it would perhaps be to the convenience of the House if, at the same time, we discussed the Amendments that have been made in another place on the Schedule. If hon. Members will look at page 9 and page 10 of the Lords Amendments, they will see a long string of Amendments to the Schedule.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)

I quite agree with what the Minister has said. I think it would be to the convenience of the House to discuss the Amendments on the Schedule as well as this Amendment. I only want to point out that if we do, hon. Members cannot have another discussion on the Amendments when the Schedule is reached.

Mr. T. Williams

We quite agree that it would be better to discuss all the Amendments now.

Mr. Stanley

I am glad that hon. Members take that view; otherwise we might fix a limit here which would be inconsistent with the Schedule.

Captain Arthur Evans

Would my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that this in no way restricts the discussion which might take place on Clause 16?

Mr. Stanley

This has nothing to do with Clause 16, which deals with quite a separate point. If hon. Members will look at page 9 of the Lords Amendments they will see an Amendment: in page 43, line 7, column 1, to leave out "15" and insert "20"; and another Amendment: in line 21, column 1, to leave out "12½" and insert "15." These Amendments deal with long films, not with short, and will have to be discussed separately later.

This question of the amount of the quota in the case of the short film has' troubled many of us all through the discussions on this Bill. During the passage of the Bill through Committee we did raise exhibitors' and renters' quotas, and the effect of these Amendments which we are now discussing is to raise those quotas by another 5 per cent. All through, I have approached the question of short films and the producers of short films with more sympathy than that of long films and the producers of long films. I feel that short films have not lent themselves to some of the abuses which have taken place in connection with long films. Some of them are of real beauty and merit. I have been anxious to do whatever is possible to help the production of short films. On the other hand, I have always considered that we are much more ignorant on the subject of short films than on that of long films. Long films have been the subject of quota regulations for ten years, and we know pretty well what supply can be expected and what is the quality of that supply. The separate quota for short films is something new, and we have nothing like the data on which to judge how many films, and what quality of films, are likely to be available.

There is another consideration which many people, in their laudable desire to help the producer of short films, are apt to forget. Both the renter and the exhibitor have to provide long films. It is the long film which brings people into the cinema, and which provides the renters' and exhibitors' livelihood. Long films are bound to be shown. That is not the case with short films. There is a danger that if you make the regulations in respect of short films too onerous for the renter and exhibitor, they will give them up. You may, in fact, do an actual disservice to the producer whom you are trying to help. I have given the utmost consideration to these Amendments which have come down from another place. I do not want to do anything which would seem to be a discouragement to the making of short films. After, I must own, a great deal of time, I have come to the conclusion that, on the whole, I can recommend that the House should agree with the Lords in these Amendments. I have come to it on two grounds. After all, the consequences of a mistake in connection with short films are not really so great as the consequences of a mistake in connection with long films.

Secondly, I have been influenced by the fact that if this burden is too heavy it can easily be avoided by the renter and exhibitor; and, in fact, they have warned us that in that case they will avoid it, by not showing short films. If a mistake is made, the damage will be incurred not by the renter or exhibitor, as in the case of long films, but the producer—and the producer is asking for this addition; therefore, he cannot complain if the result is not satisfactory to him. I hope that it will be found—especially with the addition to the definition in the Bill, of what can be included in the short film—that an ample supply will be available of decent quality to meet the requirements of the Schedule. In any case, the exhibitors' quota after the first 12 months is subject to review. I think it is only right that I should make this perfectly plain. I shall have to watch the position in the 12 months very carefully, and if I find that the burden we have placed on the renter or exhibitor is too onerous I shall have to make use of the discretion which is given me in the Bill for meeting cases where people are genuinely unable to comply with the legal obligation which is placed upon them.

I hope that this will be a real benefit to the producers of short films in this country, and that they will respond to the assistance given them by thinking of the other people concerned: the renter, the exhibitor, and the public; and realising that, in return for these extra privileges, they have to set themselves to make a quality of film, as well as a quantity, which will ensure that the burden is not oppressive to the renter, the exhibitor and the public. In the circumstances, I think I am justified in asking the House to agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

Again, I am inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman for the reason stated by him, that we have all been more or less sympathetic to the production of short films. Where there has been a real and genuine effort to show our industries, or social life and general characteristics on the films, it has been by the means of short films. The first part of this series of Amendments dealing with the outside limits to which quota can be moved, practically from 20 to 30 per cent., will be dealt with by the Films Council. They will act upon evidence available to them after their experience from time to time, and I do not think the House need worry very much about the outside limits. We must expect that 20 wise men and one very wise woman will know exactly what to do when the time comes to make recommendations to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Stanley

Not a statutory woman!

Mr. Williams

In any case, I hope that, from that point of view, hon. Members need not have any fear as to the consequences of the concession of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps making a wise gesture with regard to the increases in the Schedule, but, at the same time, we must all remember that he is also speculating. He is speculating upon a decision which may react ultimately to the detriment of those who are seeking this increase in the Schedule. If I were prepared to take a chance and speculate at all, it would be with the short film. In any case, in Sub-section (4) of Clause 26, the right hon. Gentleman has the power, through the agency of an Order, to deal with either the cost or the view test for short films just as he takes powers in the Bill to deal with long films. That is a safeguard in that direction. Should importers cease to import a large number of short films—that type which is supposed to be given free of charge, like lucky bags—the exporter will not be called upon to show any home-produced short films except those which are sold because of their pure entertainment value. Therefore, while it may be in the nature of some form of speculation, it is well worth while—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman is wise—to make this gesture to the producers of short documentary films. I hope that they will respond to that gesture and give more and, if possible, even better documentary films than we have had so far.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn

As one who unsuccessfully tried upstairs to do what has now been done in another place, I wish to thank my right hon. Friend for accepting the Amendment, and, if it may be done without impertinence, I should wish also to offer him a word of encouragement. I do not think that the people in an industry are necessarily always the right judges of what can be done, but at any rate they are the people who suffer if they judge wrongly. I do not think that there is any doubt at all that people who are concerned with the production of short films, are perfectly confident that their market will not slip away from them. They are confident that exhibitors will invite them to show more shorts and that there is not the risk, which has been propounded in argument, that, if the quota is made too high, the answer of the exhibitors will be to show no American short films, and, therefore, no short British films. If the producers of "short films are mistaken in that matter, they are the right people to make that mistake, because they are the people who must suffer. I therefore welcome this concession to producers of short films.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I do not know why the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) referred to the composition of the Films Council in the way that he did, unless he has some inside knowledge. He might just as well have said that there are going to be on it 20 wise women and one very wise man. I think that it could be constituted in that way if the President of the Board of Trade thought well to do so. I want to join in what other hon. Members have said in thanking the right hon. Gentleman for having come to this conclusion. I am sure that he has taken a wise gamble on this question and I believe that it will work put to the advantage of British films.

5.21 p.m.

Sir W. Wayland

One cannot help but appreciate the way in which the Minister has tried to meet us in the matter of these schedules. In Committee I thought that he was lacking in courage, and I know the position in which he felt himself. If he let the public down they would blame him entirely. He was not at all certain that the industry would be able to produce a sufficient number of short or long films. Those of us who pressed him to agree to a higher schedule were more courageous, and I am confident that there is a much larger scope for short films than for long films, for a large number of educational and artistic films introduced as short films, which will really fill the bill. Therefore, I am very glad to hear what the President has just stated.

5.22 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

This has always been a non-party Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) congratulated the Minister upon making a speculation and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) congratulated him upon taking a gamble. I do not believe either in speculation or gambling; I think that he is making a mistake. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) said that there was no doubt that the industry would be able to produce the necessary number of shorts, but that is not the point. The point is whether there is any compulsion on exhibitors who show no shorts in their programme. It will be perfectly simple, if this appears to be irksome at all, for exhibitors to cut out shorts altogether from the programme, and the last position will be worse than the first. I agree with all that has been said as to the desirability of supporting the people who are anxious to produce highbrow shorts at the cinemas in order to encourage the highbrow in that way, though I am not one myself.

Mr. Stanley

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how to tell a highbrow film?

Mr. Morrison

The difficulty seems to be this: If you take the trouble to ask ordinary people who go to the cinema whether they go because of the short that is being shown, you will find that less than half of 1 per cent. go because of the shorts and that the rest go because of the other part of the programme. It is a simple thing for the programme to be adjusted. I have noted recently at cinemas that I frequent, when I get an opportunity of dodging out of this House for an hour or two, that there is a tendency for shorts to be eliminated and their place to be taken by two news reels.

Sir W. Wayland

Would not the people prefer two good shorts to one bad long one?

Mr. MacLaren

It depends whether it is whisky.

Mr. Morrison

I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman was in the House when I spoke in the Debate a few minutes ago and said that the public were getting increasingly particular whether they went to the pictures at all, but he will find in the ordinary industrial districts that, if at the first show on Monday night the long picture is a bad one, the house will be practically empty for the rest of the week. People look several times at 6d. before they spend it at the pictures, and you find them asking people who come out at the end of the first house what the picture is like, and if reports are bad they do not go. They go to another cinema, if there is one, but they certainly do not go to that one. I have noticed a tendency recently for the programme to be made up of the first feature and the second feature and two news reels, and, in view of the length of pictures to-day, they make a fairly long programme.

I do not intend to press this matter to a Division, and I do not know whether anyone would support me or not. I take the view that the producers of shorts have gone beyond themselves and asked for too much. I shall not be at all surprised if, within 12 months, the very people who pressed for this are not approaching the President of the Board of Trade to alter it. I do not think that it will be a success. If an irksome restriction is placed upon renters or exhibitors, it can easily be overcome by a minor adjustment in the programme which will not affect the public at all, and then it will not be necessary to observe the short quota at all. I do not agree with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman in taking this gamble or making this speculation. The producers of shorts are asking for something which will not give them what they want.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. E. Evans

I dissociate myself entirely from the point of view expressed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison). I accept the proposal of the President of the Board of Trade, as do most hon. Members who have spoken. The right hon. Gentleman, however, offered a word of caution when he said that he would have to watch carefully as to whether the burden of the short films will not put too great an onus upon the industry in the future. That is a proper attitude to take. It would not be right to regard a tendency which is having such a tremendous influence upon the country purely from the industrial and commercial point of view. The short films in this country are exercising a great influence and are a matter of interest to children and of educational value. These are things which the House of Commons ought to bear in mind, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will bear them in mind.

Subsequent Lords Amendments to page 17, line 8, agreed to.