HC Deb 16 December 1941 vol 376 cc1909-12
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)

I beg to move: That the Cinematograph Films (Quota Amendment) Order, 1941, proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under Section 15 of the Cinematograph Films Act, 1938, a copy of a draft of which was presented to this House on 3rd December, be made. This Act makes further provision for securing the renting and the exhibition of a certain proportion of British cinematograph films. These proportions, both as regards renters and exhibitors and as regards short and long films, are set out in the Schedule to the Act. As drafted in the piping times of peace, it was hoped that there would be an annual increment of these quotas of about two and a half per cent., rising from the original figure of 15 up to a maximum of 30 per cent. in 1948, but Section 15 made provision under which the Board of Trade, after consultation with the Cinematograph Films Council, might recommend a modification of these percentage quotas. It also laid down maxima and minima in each case. The Order now before the House is a modification of those figures and has been rendered necessary because of war conditions. A good many studios have been taken over, a certain amount of labour has been drafted away, and, last but by no means least, the Government are making considerable demands on the cinema industry for the production of technical and instructional films which do not affect the quota at all. Under these conditions the Board of Trade have been in consultation with the Cinematograph Films Council, and in agreement with them they have arrived at the figures set out in the first and second schedules of the Order. I hope the House will realise that the last thing the Board of Trade wish to do is to curtail this trade in any way. We have made the existing suggestions with considerable reluctance, but I am satisfied that they are reasonable, and I therefore recommend them to the House.

Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)

I do not intend to go into the vexed question of exhibitors' quotas as we did when the Bill was in Standing Committee, but there are one or two things which I think ought to be said at the present time. It is true that this Order is made in accordance with the Act and after consultation with the Cinematograph Films Council, but it is also true, I am told, that the Council were not unanimous on the point and that the producers in particular and those engaged in the industry are a little perturbed about the present position. We all know that studios have been requisitioned and that demands have been made on British producers. The Minister of Information has been doing a lot of work, and incidentally, some excellent films have been made. The producers, however, are concerned a good deal about the future. One of them tells me that they are a little perturbed about the position that is likely to arise as a result of the United States being in the war. I see in this afternoon's paper that Hollywood has been compelled to curtail its night filming owing to the black-out and other circumstances. Hollywood may have to restrict its production a good deal more than it otherwise would do. The people who are concerned with the production of films in this country are much concerned, and I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us whether any consultations have taken place between the Board of Trade and the people engaged in the production of British films outside the Cinematograph Films Council. If there have not been, there ought to be in order to discuss the position that is likely to arise in future.

Then it is said that we ought to keep in mind the fact that we have become more or less regular attenders at cinemas. I believe I am not far wrong when I say that about 23,000,000 people visit cinemas in Great Britain each week. The provision of the necessary films has to be borne in mind. I have been told that we ought to have films that could be shown in some picture-houses for more than three days a week. I know that exhibitors like to change their programmes twice weekly, particularly in localities where there are not sufficient people to guarantee a full house six nights a week for the same film. There are also other districts which could provide longer than three days. I am told that we ought to have more films of that character. It is also said that we ought to dig out some of the good old films that have been put by, many of which I could mention. I know of one or two that are worth a re-showing. I believe that in view of the complications of the quota system certain arrangements have to be made before that can be done. While I do not expect an answer to these points from the Parliamentary Secretary to-day, I think he might give some consideration to them, in order that we may make the best of what appears to me to be rather a bad situation and ensure that we have sufficient films for the public.

Captain Waterhouse

By leave of the House, I will deal with one or two points which have been raised. My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that the decision of the Films Council was not unanimous. There is nothing particularly unusual in failing to get unanimity among a body composed of 21 people.

Mr. Smith

Except that in this case those who were in the minority feel that they were over-swept by other people with a different point of view.

Captain Waterhouse

My hon. Friend and myself have very often found ourselves in that unfortunate position in this House. I should like to emphasise the point that the quotas are minima, and that there is nothing to prevent producers in this country, if production at Hollywood is cut, from producing as many films here as they can. If there is a real shortage, the good old law of supply and demand will again come into operation, and more films will be produced here, and with the reduced facilities for obtaining films they will be accepted by renters and in due course passed on to exhibitors. I will go into the question of "digging out" old films. Clearly it will be desirable to do it in some cases. The hon. Member's suggestion that certain films should be exhibited for more than three days a week will also be considered. Then I was asked whether we had had discussions outside the Council. When there is a council which includes representatives of renters, exhibitors and producers, with 10 outside members and with the advantage of the presence of three Members of this House, sitting under an impartial chairman, I think the hon. Member will agree that we should be unwise to seek trouble by going beyond those accredited representatives of the various sections.

Mr. Smith

I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not misunderstand me. I have put a point which was put to me by someone who was engaged in production work. He asked that the Board of Trade should keep it in mind.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Cinematograph Films (Quota Amendment) Order, 1941, proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under Section 15 of the Cinematograph Films Act, 1938, a copy of a draft of which was presented to this House on 3rd December, be made.