§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]2538
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I am very glad that I have been able upon this occasion to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Before the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) leaves the Chamber, I would like to say that there was a moment when I feared that the Lord President of the Council, in unholy alliance with my Noble Friend, was seeking to deprive me of my precious Parliamentary rights as a Back Bencher; and that they had not even warned me of the hour at which they proposed to carry out their fell design. I am now satisfied that there was no such sinister intention on their part; but I am glad to observe that you are standing up for the rights of Back Benchers on both sides of the House.
I was startled recently, as I expect many hon. Members must have been, to read that we were importing something in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000 worth of American films per annum. I have seen more or less official statements ranging from £22,000,000 per annum to £17,000,000, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave me in answer to a Parliamentary Question last week. I would be obliged if the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this Debate could give me an accurate figure; because I know that one figure recently quoted with some authority was £20,000,000. In any event I suspect that, taking into account all the ramifications of the film industry, we are spending well over $80,000,000 of our exiguous stock every year upon the purchase of Hollywood films. This is a very large sum. Even if it is only £17,000,000 a year, it is a very large sum. How does it come about?
First of all I would like to tell hon. Members what I did not realise until I started to examine this matter, that there is no ad valorem Customs import duty on films. This duty is charged at the rate of 5d. a foot on the first copy, and one penny a foot on each subsequent copy. Normally, not more than two copies of any film from the United States are brought into this country—one is called a "duping" copy, from which further negatives can be made—so that, on an 8,000 foot film, which is the average length, however much it may have cost to make, the Customs duty would only be about £200. The second point I want to put is this: The Americans pocket 2539 no less than 50 per cent. of the total takings on films of theirs shown in this country. That seems to me to be a very large amount. Only a percentage of these revenues are regarded by the Treasury as being revenues of the operating companies in this country, and therefore subject to Income Tax; and these, in turn, are allowed to deduct their own operating expenses. I have been told—and again I should like some information on the matter—that the percentage subject to tax in this way is only about 10 per cent.; but even if it is 15 per cent., the amount that has to be remitted direct to America, which is not subject to Income Tax, is enormous. Take a major American company whose total earnings in this country amount to £2,500,000 a year. It would be assessed for Income Tax on about £250,000 only, from which the operating expenses of its subsidiary company in Great Britain would fall to be deducted. Therefore, well over £2,000,000 would be remitted, tax-free, direct to the American corporation in the United States. This is the explanation of the enormous sums of money that we are sending over every year for the purchase of American films.
What I want to submit to the House is that we cannot afford to go on doing this indefinitely in our present situation. If the Government have decided to borrow a very large sum at a considerable rate of interest from the United States, and to go back to the gold standard and multilateral free trade without discrimination as the price, then I suppose the film industry will have to be included in the general "sell-out" of Great Britain. In this case, however, I think we should be well advised to make an immediate application for entry, as a forty-ninth State, into the United States of America; and move ourselves over to Washington in order to get some of the advantages, instead of only the disadvantages, of complete economic domination by the United States. If, on the other hand, we intend to try to continue for a bit longer under our own economic steam, then we are bound to exercise some degree of selection in our choice of imports from countries within the dollar area.
The dilemma which now confronts the Government of this country is inescap- 2540 able. On the one hand they are trying to build up a planned internal economy in this country—on this point I would really be very grateful for the attention of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade. At the same time we know that the Government are under very heavy pressure from the United States of America to revert to an unplanned external economy. You cannot have a planned production and an unplanned trade. The Government can choose to go along one road or the other; but if they try to go down both simultaneously, then in my submission they will only land themselves and this country in irretrievable disaster; because a planned national economy side by side with international economic anarchy will never work—the two things are completely contradictory.
I believe that the prevailing inertia in this country is mainly due to lack of adequate food and of a sufficient variety of diet. There has been a great correspondence recently on this subject in "The Times," and the physiologists have a lot to say on the subject. If the physiologists had their way, we should all be living on pills; no doubt we should survive, but life would be extremely disagreeable. The psychologists also come into this. Julius Caesar said:Let me have men about me that are fat;…and such as sleep o' nights.If hon. Members and you, Sir, will look at the portraits and engravings of their ancestors in this country, they will see that the British Empire was built up, in the main, by fat men; and the founder of that Empire, Henry VIII, was the fattest of the lot. I am persuaded that if we are to get our people to work hard enough to rebuild the strength and greatness of this country, we must give them more to eat, whatever the physiologists may say. Essentially the British are a carnivorous people—they always have been—and they are suffering severely from lack of meat at the present time.
In any conceivable circumstances the available supply of dollars for this country will be extremely limited; and the continuing expenditure of over $80,000,000 a year on American films cannot be justified, in my submission, on any ground. I would like to confess to the House that I have a great admiration for the acting of Mr. Humphrey Bogart; 2541 and for the same reason as applies to every film-fan, that I can see in him on the screen the prototype of the man I would have liked to be. Nevertheless, if I am compelled to choose between Bogart and bacon, I am bound to choose bacon at the present time.
I would like to put forward a few constructive suggestions as to what I think the Government should do. Surely, the first and most important thing is that they should "step-up" the production of films in this country as quickly as possible, and not only of super-films costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. We have shown during the war that we can make the best "shorts" in the world; and the public appetite for pictorial information is enormous. They like to learn. They even like those somewhat dreary landscape films in which we are taken round Japan or China or Ceylon, or wherever it may be. If we brighten those up a bit, I believe there would be an enormous demand for "shorts" depicting the life of Great Britain and of the British Empire.
For this purpose it really is necessary that the Government should release more studio space at the earliest moment; and in this connection I would particularly like to mention the Pinewood Studios. I do not know what is happening there, but I am sure that nothing is happening at the Pinewood Studios of comparable importance to what might be happening if they were handed over to those who are making and producing films. Here I know I shall trespass upon slightly delicate ground. I think the Government should, at the same time, do everything in their power to encourage independent producers in this country.
I am not one of those who criticise Mr. Arthur Rank; I think he has done a great job for the film industry of this country—indeed, I do not know where the film industry would be at the present time without him. But he is vulnerable at one point, as any man who controls two out of the three circuits in this country must be; and that is that independent producers can now say with some justification, "Unless we can get the approval of the Rank organisation, it is very difficult either to find the finance to produce, or the cinemas in which to show, our films." Therefore I say to the Government that that is an aspect of this question 2542 of British production which they ought to take into very serious consideration, because I think we want all the good producers producing films as quickly as we possibly can in this country. Then, as and when production increases, we can step up the renters' quota of British films; but only as the supply become available.
My second point is that I think we should definitely limit the import of American films into this country. I am not asking that American films should be excluded altogether; but I am suggesting that we should aim as soon as may be, at a figure of, say, 50 per cent. of the annual importation of the eight big American film companies into this country over the last few years, and then bargain for a better distribution of British films in the American market. I would not say, "You are limited absolutely to 50 per cent. of your average imports over the last few years" and leave it at that; I would say, "Over and above that figure you can only export American films into Great Britain if you give us an equivalent distribution of British films in the United States of America, and an equivalent cash return; so that no further strain will be put upon the dollar-sterling exchange." It is interesting that the return in respect of British films shown in the United States of America, except during the two years when American money was "frozen" in this country, has been for a long period absolutely negligible, in relation to the quality of the products that we have made in this country; and I think we have every right—if we are to continue spending this vast sum of money on the importation of American films—to insist that we get, not perhaps a completely corresponding treatment but, at any rate, some reciprocal treatment from the United States. After all, as I have said many times in this House, trade is the mutually advantageous exchange of goods; it is not the export of goods from one country to another in exchange for debt.
Thirdly, I think it would be quite reasonable for us to suggest to the Americans that they should reduce their charges from the present enormous figure of 50 per cent. of the total takings to, say, a figure of 33⅓ per cent. This by itself, at the present level of imports, would save us over £3,000,000 a year. The Americans, of course, will not approve of all the remarks I am making. They are 2543 determined to exploit the markets of the world in this industry as in, I think, a good many others, to the best of their ability. I do not make any complaint about that, but I think we should be aware of what they are up to.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend? No doubt he is aware of the fact, on the point which he has just been making about the price of American films, that the industry is already taking certain steps to prevent increases on the present price.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am very glad to hear that, but I am now suggesting to His Majesty's Government that they should take steps to secure a considerable reduction. I think it is extremely important. As an illustration, I would like to quote from the foreword of the Washington Chamber of Commerce on the subject of American films, as follows:Plainly, before all else, we must emphasise to the utmost the contrast in quality between our good American pictures and the typical product of local producing industries abroad. We must make that contrast as vivid, as striking, as impressive, as it can possibly be made. Persistently and adroitly, we must make the foreign movie-goer acutely conscious that the American picture is a product of decidedly superior quality—of rich and varied artistry, of entertainment value unmatchable in the run-of-time output of our competitors abroad. We must make this 'High-Quality' factor so universally recognised that local audiences abroad will have no desire to see inferior films that owe their existence simply to some Government legislation or subsidy.I quote this in order to show the House what we are up against in this, as well as in other industries, in the United States. They are all out to get markets. We have to show what steps we can take in a spirit of friendliness, to see that they do not get the whole lot. I know that the Americans will not approve of everything I have said, or that may be said in this House before the end of this Debate. They will not approve when we have to cut our imports of tobacco, of oil and of cotton. Nevertheless we shall have to do all these things, in my submission, during the next few anxious and difficult months, and possibly years.The choice which lies before this country so far as the film industry is concerned, is between circuses and bread; and I come down emphatically upon the side of bread.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
I, being not altogether unlike the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), welcome his allusion to fat men. A fortnight ago, in a Motion which I raised, I mentioned the menace of Hollywood, in my view, to the youth of this country. That raised a great deal of criticism. At the same time, it also raised a great deal of approval in all parts of the country. I would ask the Government to examine this, with a view to seeing whether the expenditure of £20,000,000 a year is a good investment. They will say that we purchase these films from America for the entertainment of our people. We agree to that. It is impossible to regiment people into the form of entertainment they require. There is a case to be made out for Bach and Brahms as well as for Bing Crosby and George Gershwin, and, if the public like various forms of entertainment, they must be given the entertainment they require. I am not asking for a monopoly of one or the other. But it surely is the case, and it is recognised today, that we have had an excess of a certain shoddy type of entertainment from Hollywood. We are seeing today certain features on the films that really are not wholesome, and do not appeal to the audience in general, the exclusion of which, I am sure, would be an improvement, to a large degree, in the cinemas of our towns.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the advertising men in Wardour Street, in their efforts to find superlatives every week to describe new features. Films when not "colossal" become "terrific," and when not "terrific" become "stupendous," and then they go on repeating themselves. These films have certain entertainment value; it is no good deceiving ourselves. We are not asking for a restriction on films, or on the age of the people going into the cinemas; but we ask for an improvement of the standard of films generally in this country. This is a serious problem, and one with which the Government ought to concern itself. We have learned, with some alarm, of the lack of reciprocity that exists between ourselves and America in regard to film distribution. America has got a stranglehold on the film market in this country, and can do as it likes with regard to the films that are to be shown, except in the case where public opinion is aroused 2545 against it, as in the case of "Objective Burma" recently. Conversely, in America our distributors have no show at all; and how often have we read about the merits of a first-class film made in this country of the type of "In Which We Serve," "Henry V," or "The Way Ahead," or other equally good films, of which there has been some restriction of distribution in America?
Therefore, I appeal to the Government that there ought to be greater equity in this matter. If America is obtaining profits from the film industry by virtue of distribution in this country, the Government ought to have its eye on compensating features of distribution and financial profit accruing to this country from our films showing in America. I feel strongly about this matter. Films have come to stay with us and they can be a tremendous weapon for good. Will the Government do all in its power to raise the standard of films to the highest possible level, not restricting itself to any one aspect of films? Let us have jazz, dances, songs, opera, so long as there is a balanced supply of these things to meet the demands of the country. But let us not have this excess of slush and shoddy entertainment, which has been coming forward to us in the form of Hollywood films in such great degree in the past.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
In accordance with practice in a Debate of this kind, I must disclose my interest in this matter from a business point of view. As a foundation shareholder in one of the big film companies—Odeon—I did what many did, and, like the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, I invested in what I regarded as being a good enterprise. All of us connected with the film industry will be glad that this Debate has been initiated by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who, I think, has gone, to carry out a practice which has become so very much followed in recent days, of having a cup of tea. No doubt, when he has consumed his tea, we shall again have the benefit of his presence in the House.
I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of everyone, whatever view they may take on this question, when I say that I think that my hon. Friend put his case very modestly, and in a way, I think, which will be helpful to the film industry. Perhaps in his absence I may disabuse his 2546 mind of one mistake which he has made, and no doubt he will read my remarks in Hansard. I am not, as he seemed to suppose, two days ago, the Leader of the Opposition. It is an interesting historical fact that 38 years ago, one even greater than the hon. Member for East Aberdeen raised a point of Order, on one occasion, with one of your predecessors in the Chair, Sir, and said, "Do I understand that the attention of Mr. Speaker has been called to the fact that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham for the last three days has been leading the Opposition without the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London—the late Lord Balfour—being informed of the fact that the Noble Lord had attained that position?" So that what the hon. Gentleman said was not original. I see that the hon. Gentleman has now returned.
§ Earl Winterton
I assure the hon. Gentleman, from what I know of him, that I supposed that would be the last thing he would drink. To deal seriatim with the points which the hon. Gentleman has made, which I think were most reasonable, in the first place, he referred to the necessity of the release of studios. The cinema industry in general, especially, of course, the producing industry, would be extremely grateful if hon. Members would bring all the legitimate pressure which they can on the Government to release these studios. This is a matter of first-rate importance to the industry. For reasons that I cannot fully disclose, because they concern, to some extent, confidential business negotiations which are still being carried on, it is highly important that the fullest possible studio space should be available for producers of all kinds. I would like, speaking on behalf of my colleagues who take part in the business with which I am concerned, to say that I welcome very strongly what the hon. Member said about independent people, as well as the bigger people, being given the fullest possible opportunity. It is, unquestionably, the lack of studio space—there is no doubt about that—which is the main cause of the inability, at the moment, to produce British pictures. The hon. Member paid 2547 a well merited tribute to my friend, Arthur Rank. I think that it is right to say that he would welcome any such suggestion. Mr. Rank, although he has been attacked in some quarters, has done useful work in connection with the British film industry, and he is on the best of terms with a number of other people, who, to some extent, may be described as his business rivals.
The general argument on the need for the importation of films must be based on the impossibility, for the present, of our studios providing adequate films, but great strides have been made, despite the requisitioned studio space, in export. Our pictures are showing at the moment in the Dominions, the United States, and China, and expansion is going on at an increased rate. Certain important steps have been taken in recent months—or perhaps I should say about a year ago—by which British films, for the first time, will be shown in a number of the smaller British Colonies, where, hitherto, there was a monopoly of American films. There is a much greater world-wide distribution of British films, and strenuous efforts are being made now, by men of good will on both sides of the Atlantic, whose business interest though must be predominant in their minds, to produce good feeling between the two countries. Strenuous efforts are also being made to get a more satisfactory entry for British films into the United States. I agree with what the hon. Member said that, in the past, there has not been altogether fair treatment of British films. With regard to what the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway said, I am naturally not looking on the matter from the point of view of the Socialist Party, but it is not for the Government to lay down the type of film to be produced or shown in this country. If they do that we may get into a dangerous position. The next thing will be that we will have the Government deciding what plays should be shown in theatres. All that the Government can do is to encourage the best production of the best type of film in this country.
§ Mr. Austin
My words were, "It should be the intention of the Government to try to raise the standard wherever possible."
§ Earl Winterton
Yes, but if I may say so—I do not want to quarrel with the hon. and gallant Member—it is a slightly 2548 dangerous principle where public entertainment is concerned. I would say that the attitude of the Government in the matter of the provision of entertainment is merely to see that certain laws are not broken, most certainly not to lay down what type of picture or play shall be produced, unless they are of such a grossly offensive character as to go against British opinion. I make that demand because it is necessary it should be made. The British film producing industry will never expand if there is any suggestion that it is to do so merely under the direction of the British Government. [An Hon. Member: "Monopoly."] If it is urged that it should be under the control of the Government, I hope that that is not the Government's policy. I thought it was nothing of the sort. I have already dealt with the question of monopoly. I said that monopoly has largely arisen from certain circumstances. It is, therefore, the view of the industry that, for the moment at any rate, it is better to meet the situation in America by obtaining a credit balance on our films on the other side of the ledger. Any attempt to impose some immediate embargo would destroy the goodwill to which I have referred, which is being built up throughout the world, and would prevent us from penetrating the American market, and throw away the rising assets of this industry.
But, in general, I am in complete agreement with what I understood to be the principle enunciated by my hon. Friend, and if I enunciate it wrongly perhaps he will tell me. I understood it to be that if we, owing to lack of studio space and other circumstances, are not able to show the number of British films we should like to be able to show in this country, and have to import American films, it is only fair that American picture theatres should show a greater proportion of British films, and give them a fairer share than hitherto. I think everyone would be in agreement with that. That is why I think that his initiation of this Debate has done a great deal of good. My hon. Friend referred to United States prices. That is a delicate matter for anyone connected with the showing industry here to deal with, but I find myself in agreement with it. Without very firm action on the part of the British picture showing industry here, the prices might be even higher than they are. As I have already indicated, there are some important negotiations nearing completion 2549 —and I think that the Government are giving their benevolent assent in an indirect way—which should give us a very much increased share of the foreign market.
I would like to read a statement which was made by Mr. Rank the other day, not only on behalf of his own business but on behalf of the British cinema industry generally. He said:Today, the American industry receives from this country yearly some £20,000,000 sterling from the exhibition of its films, and from this go those extra profits which enable producers to contemplate large costs for their productions. In the stringent financial position after the war it is obvious that we cannot afford to allow that sum of money to continue to be taken out without some corresponding contribution on the other side of the ledger, and what easier way than building some portion of that from the receipts of the proper exhibition of British films? If our product is given the best that we can put into it there is no reason why a solution along these lines cannot be achieved. For there is no rooted objection to British films.That expresses, from one of the leaders of the industry here, the sentiments put so admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen. It is in that spirit that I sit down, hoping that we shall come to an agreement. It is, of course, open to anybody, and I do not object, indeed, I am not in a position to do so, to make speeches referring to monopolies, etc., in the British industry. I would, however, venture to suggest that the lines the Debate should follow should be those of the speech of my hon. Friend in initiating the Debate. What we are concerned with today, what he and others are concerned with, is to see fair play for British pictures overseas, and to reduce, as far as possible, the very heavy demands upon our currency entailed by the importation of American films into this country. Those are the two big issues, and it is in that spirit that, in general, I support what my hon. Friend said. I believe that the Government's attitude will also be favourable to that point of view.
§ 12.36 p.m.
Captain Richard Adams (Balham & Tooting)
I rise to join in this Debate because a very important issue is involved in this question of British and American films which, so far, has merely been touched upon. I think the answer to the issue I intend to raise, and the real answer to the question raised by the hon.
2550 Member who opened the Debate, lies in giving every encouragement to the British film industry. I do not think that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) could logically be followed, namely, that the Government should take some direct interest in laying down the type of film or anything of that kind. At the present time, and certainly in the years before the war, the American film industry has, and had, an unpleasantly large share in the films shown in this country. There are a number of reasons for that. So far as I am concerned, and I may represent the feeling of the average member of the public, I would much rather see a good British film, than a good American film. Unfortunately, the British film industry has produced an unwarrantably large number of inferior films, and if it comes to a question of seeing second-rate British film or a second-rate American film, I must say that I am in favour of seeing the second-rate American film, because the American film industry has such vast sums of money, and such vast resources in production, that even in their second-rate films, they are able to give a measure of polish and are able to employ character actors of sufficient ability, to produce better films than we in England can do.
In Italy, during the war, I suffered, and the troops there have suffered, from the number of inferior British films shown. The remarks of those troops were that although they went into the E.N.S.A. cinema and saw them entirely free, their feeling on coming out was that they ought to have been paid for going in to see them. The answer to that problem is to encourage the British film industry to develop its resources, so as to produce every time a really first-class film. Then, so far as this country is concerned, there will be no doubt about which the public will be prepared to patronise. The answer every time must lie in the box office of the cinema. The owners of cinemas, when deciding to select a British or American film, must be governed by the receipts which they are likely to obtain. That is why it is important that British films should be encouraged to develop so as to compete successfully with their American rivals.
I feel that we are in danger in this country of coming far too much under 2551 the influence of American civilisation. When we consider that the cinema is indirectly a form of propaganda, we must appreciate how significant it is that, every week, millions of the public go and sit for several hours in a a cinema, and come tinder the influence of American opinion, and the American way of life. It is much more rarely that they have an opportunity of seeing the British way of life portrayed in a British film. In passing, I would say that they must gain an erroneous impression of the American way of life, because so far as I can make out from the films American life is sharply divided into two distinct types. According to the films, the American either lives in a vast house, much larger than the Savoy or Dorchester, and much more ornately furnished, or else he lives in slums far worse than anything we have in England, and walks about habitually carrying a sub-machine gun. Those of us who know anything about America realise that that is not true, but it is the kind of impression put over in the films. Occasionally, for the sake of variety these two distinct types are transferred into the country, and then they wear big hats, carry two revolvers and ride horses.
It is important that the British film industry should portray the British way of life to the public through the medium of its films. If we can get a greater proportion of showing space for these British films, we shall be doing a great service to the cultural life of this country. It is important that the British film industry should be put on its feet and enabled to compete on level terms with American films. Dangerous effects are at work abroad owing to the fact that the American film industry has the monopoly abroad. They are portraying the American way of life constantly, night after night, to such parts of the world as Italy, South-Eastern Europe, Africa, etc. To the extent that they introduce this insidious propaganda—all the more insidious because it is not direct propaganda—so this country will suffer in comparison with America, not only in the film industry but in every form of industrial development. It is important that the British film industry should get under way and develop its showing in the Commonwealth, the Colonies and throughout the rest of the world.
2552 In some measure I agree with the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) in saying that since the film industry is an amusement industry and at the same time a cultural industry, it is important that on that side it should have entirely free development, but that everything the Government can do in order to assist that industry to develop will be to the ultimate good of this country, not only in this country, by helping to produce a better atmosphere in the English cinema, but also in helping to create a better impression abroad of the British way of life.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) displayed the warmth and the vivid interest which he normally reserves for fish. On this occasion he has transferred it to films. I am in agreement with a good deal that he said. I must also confess openly my personal interest in the cinema industry. It is that for the last 15 years, with a young and brilliant assistant, a man of the people, we have built up a small chain of individually owned cinemas in country districts, and I wish to speak on behalf of the small man on this occasion. It is rather curious that sitting on the Benches opposite is, I believe, the deputy-chairman of one of the big film chains, whereas on this side is the representative of the small man. After listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and to other Members, there comes into my mind a line from the "Lays of Ancient Rome":Even the Ranks of Tuscany, Could scarce forbear to cheer,and the "Ranks" of the Odeon seem to be their lineal descendants. The small man in this industry is very much aware of the present position, because, let us make no bones about it, this is an industry which has been trustified and contains large lateral trusts of the type that have done a great deal of harm to the cinema going public and to the cinema industry. The production of a few splendid films has undoubtedly done them credit, but what has been done by some of these large corporations, has resulted in qualifying some of this credit. The small firms and the small cinemas of this country form an integral part of the life of the small town and district. The large "palace" does not really fit in with the 2553 life of this country. Consequently the industry has fallen into two categories, the "super" and the "flea pit." I think I have done my best to eliminate the fleas, without quite getting to the super, but that does not mean that efforts should not be made to establish an average between the two. The small independent man is the man who understands local conditions and picks his films with the idea of fitting in with the local likes of the people and that would be very much better and a more democratic form of showing films than this country possesses at the moment.
The one obstacle, and it is a big one, in connection with the big film corporations is "block booking." Cinemas are compelled, when booking films, to take whole blocks. Your power of selection is taken from you. Equality of opportunity, a principle which hon. Members opposite will recognise as a phrase for which they have some attachment, certainly does not exist in the industry so far as the small man is concerned. I think it is extremely necessary that while the Government must be very careful how far they go in this matter, they must, nevertheless, see that this process of trustification with its form of big block bookings is in some way restricted, and encouragement given to the smaller and more independent people in this country to produce British films. In that way, I am sure the cinema industry would be much better, particularly for those in this country.
The women of this country are the real filmgoers. Seventy per cent. of those who go are women. They go because with conditions of life as they are at present it is a sane form of entertainment for them, and they go because of the habit they formed in the old days of buying what is called "three pennyworth of dark." The dark is now more expensive. From the psychological point of view, women when they go to the cinema always place themselves in the position either of the heroine, or if she is sufficiently seductive and successful, of the villainess. The psychological value of films is much more deep rooted than I think is realised, and therefore the quality of the films which are shown must clearly be a matter of the utmost importance. I am going to make certain practical suggestions, whereby we can reduce the number of dollars demanded for the introduction of American films 2554 into this country, and also provide means of increasing our British film production, and our own export trade.
The expansion of the export trade is, of course, important. We are always told that we are at the beginning of an export race, but it is interesting to see what does happen. The President of the Board of Trade fires the starting pistol and the Chancellor of the Exchequer hamstrings the runners. Occasionally the rôlesare reversed. But here I would say that film export has a vast importance. I wonder if it is realised how much the manufacture of films in America is linked with the subsidies which American industry itself pays for the films, to display their own products. It is done discreetly in the films, but it is clearly visible. This form of export propaganda makes itself felt in the export markets in India, China and throughout the world. That enables the manufacturers to use a good and cheap way of showing American goods to the world and the American way of life. This is a thing which we must bear in mind when we come to make more films ourselves. The thing that must be realised is that when the small man comes up against the three or four big film trusts, however often the Board of Trade talks about the quota, what really happens is that when he does book a British or American film, time and time again he is told that he cannot have his copy because it has been damaged, or because it has been destroyed and so they cannot deliver it. In actual fact he has a very poor chance of getting his fair amount of the quota.
I think one of the biggest contributions we can make to help the British film industry is to reduce the film hire. At present this country pays a proportion of film hire for American films more than any other country in the world outside the United States. The charge is quite outrageous, and one of the first things that I suggest this Government should do is to see that the film hire rate is reduced from something between 40 to 50 per cent. of the gross takings to an absolute maximum of 33⅓ per cent. That would not only save something like 16⅔ per cent.of the dollars that are expended at present, but would mean that the quality of the films shown by American renters would have to be much better, and in consequence, it would mean that when American films are booked we should be 2555 perfectly sure that they were the best that they could send over to us.
The next suggestion is that the Government should assist on a long-term basis in the building up in this country of the film-making industry. It has had a not so good history, and it is very difficult to get people interested on a long-term basis. The film industry pays very high taxation. There is a perfectly good case that it should do so, for it can afford to do it without putting anything on the price of seats for those who pay for their entertainment in the cinemas. I suggest that a proportion of this taxation should be set aside by the Government and divided into two halves. One half should be paid to the exhibitors of the films in order to assist in a direct encouragement to show British films; the other half should be used to assist those, not necessarily the highest or the smallest, but those who have a genuine desire to go in and make British films. I have no doubt that that would encourage a large number of people to go in for making the type of film for which this country has become famous, such as those the Ministry of Information made during the war.
It is not necessary for them to attempt to rival the films of Hollywood. We cannot out-Hollywood Hollywood, but films which have some historical or some cultural interest and which exhibit the British way of life would, I am sure, soon be produced. I believe that that is one of the best ways to interest people on a long term basis of film production, with a view to establishing an industry which could take its full part, not only in home production, but in export. You cannot suddenly wrench the whole of this industry out of its setting at present by cutting off, at one stroke, the free flow of films from America. It is all very well to argue that by cutting 50 per cent. of the imports you are going to free x number of dollars, because instead all that you would be doing would be to throw the whole film industry out of gear and at the same time ruin the chance of building up an export industry.
The film industry can well be proud of its record during the war. I think it is sometimes forgotten what a good job they have done. We have heard during recent discussions of the great contribution the dock workers and others made 2556 during the war. That was heard from a great many sides, but I think it is no exaggeration to say that, in all the very difficult times of the war, when some mental relief was needed, not only from the dangers of air attack and so on but from the mental cares of the people who were suffering so much, the cinema industry was easily the most economical and cheapest way of relief that the people could find. During the coming winter, conditions in this country will certainly not be very much better than they have been during the war, and I suggest that if you do anything to stop or hinder the film industry now, you will be doing the man in the street a great disservice.
I think the Minister of Fuel and Power will back me when I say that keeping the cinemas open in cold weather in the winter, is one of the greatest economies of fuel and light that there is. I feel certain that a careful study of the figures would be very interesting. A vast number of the people of this country go to the pictures two or three times a week, not only to look at the films, but because that is the best way they can keep warm. They even go to sleep—and I cannot say that I blame them knowing some of the films that are shown. I am sure that some of the scientific gentlemen who sit in this House will confirm that one of the best and most natural forms of heat is that which arises from the congregation of many human beings in an enclosed space.
I feel that the film industry is too easy an Aunt Sally for everybody, and I put forward to those who are the advocates of more violent forms of action, that better results will be attained on the lines that I have suggested, a long-term policy. This would not only result in an increase in the quality of the films that America could export, but would also encourage our own people in the production of the most democratic form of entertainment there is; it would also be an encouragement to other countries, who wish to work with us in fostering international trade.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I am sure the House as a whole will wish to congratulate the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) on bringing forward today, with his customary eloquence and address, this important subject. It 2557 raises the relationship between two very important matters, dollars and films—dollars which this country greatly needs, and of which it has all too few, and films which this country greatly likes, and of which it has a tolerably sufficient supply of extraneous origin. The basic facts would be in my submission sufficiently startling if it were not for the fact that we have already become habituated to them. Eighty-five per cent. of the screen time in this country is given to the showing of American films. A sum stated to be in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000 goes to the United States each year in respect of these films, the greater proportion of which, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend, is free of taxation.
Taking the period of the war years, there flowed from the box offices of this beleagured country to the United States £100,000,000 in respect of films; and the question is whether we can afford to let this continue. Can this financially anaemic country afford this riot of continuous blood-letting? In my view, the answer is clearly "No," and that for two reasons. The first is economic. We are in a position in which we must restrict ourselves to selective purchasing from the United States, and I echo the view of my hon. Friend that we must put bread before circuses. If we are to be able to buy what we need we must restrict our purchasing of what we want. The second reason is cultural. In the 20th century a country without a healthy, indigenous film industry is almost as incomplete as a country without literature, and I echo the views already expressed by hon. Members that we need a film industry which will show our British way of life.
That is why I was so surprised that the substantial answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my hon. Friend when he raised this matter at Question Time, was that we must cater for the desire for entertainment. I agree with that; I think that the people of this country after their six years of efforts and sacrifices in war deserve all the entertainment they can get. But must it be American entertainment? Is it not at least strange that, by implication, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should appear to equate entertainment with American entertainment? Surely this is only right if it can be shown that the film industry of this country, if given a fair 2558 chance, is unable to produce films of a quality and attraction equal to that of the films provided by the United States of America. This contention is surely non-proven, because so far the British film industry has hardly had a chance; neither have the British film public had a chance of exercising a real option as to which type of film they prefer. They have not been able to follow Hamlet's injunction:Look here, upon this picture, and on this"—and then express their view as to which is preferable. There are, I well know, some very good American films, but not all American films are of so high a standard as should dismay the British film industry in its efforts to compete.
I would quote a very short extract from a film criticism which caught my eye last Sunday when I was considering this matter. It said:Within 15 minutes of the beginning of this whimsical romance in a luxury hotel, I felt that I would willingly mow down the entire personnel with a hatchet.If that is the effect of that particular film upon a refined young lady writing for one of the more genteel Sunday newspapers, I hesitate to think what would be the effect on more robust males. I do not want to labour this point, but surely it is unthinkable, however, good some American films may be, that the total resources of the technical ingenuity and of the literary inspiration of this country should not be able, at least, to overhaul and outdistance such stuff as that. The fact, of course, is that it is not for want of the ability to do so. It is for want of the opportunity. Under the quota legislation now existing, exhibitors are under a statutory obligation to show 15 per cent. of British films; but last year there were in the neighbourhood of 1,000 defaults, in which cases the exhibitors attributed the impossibility of carrying out their obligations to the shortage of British films.
That shortage is, no doubt, substantially due to the difficulties of studio space and manpower. It does not appear that much progress has so far been made in the release of studio space or of manpower to assist the film industry. I think the Parliamentary Secretary would bring considerable encouragement and comfort if, when he replies, he could say that more is being done in regard to the release of studio space and manpower, and that 2559 these two things will be synchronised together so that what is given with one hand is not withheld by the other. This matter of studio space and manpower is also relevant when we come to consider the possibility of the American film corporations producing a certain number of their films in this country. If they did that, they would at least bring dollars here to be expended on British labour and material in exchange for a reasonable retractation of profit into the United States; but, at the moment, they cannot do it because of the lack of studio space and manpower. Even if the American corporations do that it does not meet the point that we must have in this country a thriving film industry.
I leave to others who are connected with the film industry the difficult question of the relationship of the independent producers to the combines. I would make only these two points on that. First, I hope that the independent producer will be able to produce films suitable to country and provincial taste, even if they do not meet the perhaps more sophisticated taste of what I believe is known in the trade as the London Release Area. Secondly, I want the independent producer to be given at least as good a chance of starting or resuming production as the combines have. But I do not want it to be at the expense of the combines. I want to see a simultaneous advance along the whole film front, taking as its objective the highest possible standard of film entertainment in this country. I use the word "entertainment" because films are primarily that, of course; but the implication of this matter is wider than that. The films are the biggest potential vehicle for the carriage of ideas that the world has ever seen, and we, in this country, must get our vehicle out of the rut. Films should be the bagmen not only of our commerce but of our ideas, to show abroad our way of life; and also, no less important, to interpret our own culture and our own way of life to our own young cinema-going public here at home.
In my view, the Government should need no stimulus to urge them on in this matter. Rarely has there been so large and impressive an array of arguments marshalling itself without requiring any effort of assembly or deployment. I urge on the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in 2560 mind the great importance, not only from the financial point of view, but from the cultural point of view, of having a thriving film industry in this country. Unlike other hon. Members who have spoken I have no connection with the film industry. I have no interest to declare other than one, which I declare freely and frankly; it is the interest of the British people—economic and cultural—which I believe is closely bound up in this matter. To sit still and take a back seat in the matter of film production would be an unwarrantable act of defeatism. Interminably to wait and feed on the crumbs which fall from the rich American table would be an act not in keeping with the position of a country which is the custodian of a great and ancient culture such as ours. I therefore invite the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to say what the Government will do to help the film industry of this country to play its part in maintaining and interpreting that British culture of which this generation is the trustee for those who are to come.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I had not really intended to take part in this Debate, but there has been such an oppressive atmosphere of good will between those on all sides that I thought it necessary to introduce a certain degree of controversy. Hon. Members on one side have applauded the sentiments expressed by those on the other side of the House; the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) startled the House by supporting the temporary Leader of the Opposition, and we have had an alliance of fat men and lean men. I do not believe that all is so well in the film industry that we can agree in that manner. We have been told by the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) of the great contributions of Mr. Rank to the British film industry. Certainly he has made great contributions, but we should also recognise that some of the difficulties which the Government will have to face in meeting the request made by those who have raised this matter are due precisely to the policy which Mr. Rank has pursued in the past.
Three, four or five years ago there was great controversy in the film industry as to whether the British film industry should copy the policy of the industry in America, or whether it would be wiser 2561 to have a policy of producing many more films costing less which would be able to supply the British market. In those days Mr. Rank, having won the argument, believed it was possible by producing these expensive films to batter his way into the American market. As a result, we saw Mr. Rank swallowing up most of the independent producers in this country. It is interesting to learn, from those who speak on behalf of Mr. Rank and his friends, that now, very late in the day, Mr. Rank has come to the conclusion that it is not so easy to get into the American market. It is a pity for the British film industry that he did not make up his mind about that and take the advice of those who knew, three or four years ago. If he had, the independent producers in this country might be in a better position than they are today. Therefore, we should recognise the real reasons why it is difficult to get into the American market. It is not because the American film industry in some degree is in the same position as the British film industry, which is under some monopoly; it is not because the American monopoly are deliberately excluding British films. It is because of the whole film atmosphere which has been built up in the United States. The United States film industry is largely based on the star system. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen referred to his favourite. I was not sure whether it was Fatty Arbuckle or Humphrey Bogart whom he wanted to see.
§ Mr. Boothby
I do not see how the hon. Gentleman can say that the American film industry is a monopoly. It consists of eight important companies which are in desperate competition with each other.
§ Mr. Foot
On the question of excluding British films, those eight companies in desperate competition manage to get together and reach agreements very well. They reach agreements to exclude British films. They not only exclude them because they want to make more money; they exclude them because they know that, in the atmosphere which they have built up in America, British films will not go down in America. The reason is that British films have not got the stars which are known and publicised throughout America. As a result, even if the eight American companies got together, and 2562 agreed that they would be of assistance to the British film industry by showing British films in America, they would find they would not get the returns until a great amount of publicity had been carried out in America. We should, therefore, recognise that it is not easy to get our way in the American market, and the real problem for the British industry is to build up an industry which can supply the British markets. It is good to learn that Mr. Rank has at last come round to that view, but I do not think we ought to be led astray into thinking that we should pay such tributes to him when, in fact, he is responsible very largely for the situation which makes it difficult for the Government to carry out the policy of excluding American films.
There is one further point I should like to make. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham referred to the dangers of allowing the Government to control the films that were to, be produced. In this matter of the dissemination of ideas, whether by films, newspapers or by any other methods of expressing and publicising opinion, it is of course dangerous that the Government should intervene and have power, but it is equally dangerous that there should be this progress towards monopoly. No one can deny that there has been progress towards monopoly in the film industry or that the process of concentration is going on in the newspaper industry, and this is a highly dangerous state of affairs. Hon. Members opposite sometimes betray that they are interested in the cause of freedom, but when it comes to a question of the film industry apparently they are prepared to see this trend towards monopoly go on without protesting.
I believe that a Labour Government that really believes in freedom should take a different view. It should examine the report made by the Films Council on this situation and realise that there are enormous dangers in having this great new industry, with all its potentialities for affecting the minds of the people, concentrated in the hands of a very few men. We have seen that danger in America and I believe there is danger in this country. There can be no possible defence on any ground of freedom for allowing the same man who produces the films to own the theatres in which they are exhibited. That brings about a situation where the pro- 2563 ducer is able to foist upon the public anything he desires. I hope the Government will realise that in dealing with this film industry situation they are dealing with a situation which does affect the whole issue of freedom in this country. We have had many speeches and Debates in this House about freedom to print. The freedom to show films is just as important, and the whole question needs to be examined from that aspect. This may appear a difficult and disagreeable thing to say but I agree with my hon. Friends on that side of the House that it is most important that we should make it clear to the people on the other side of the Atlantic that we are not prepared to take this situation lying down, but that we intend to build up a British film industry which shall represent the ideals of the British people and not the ideals of a few Moguls on the other side of the Atlantic.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
It is late, and I desire to make only two of the points I would have wished to make, but I think they are important. I should like to draw the attention of the House and of the Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade to the issue of censorship. I hope that the lesson, which I believe the Board of Trade has learned very well about literature, will apply equally to films, and that there will not be any censorship, whatever arrangement may be come to of any limiting character. The second point I should like to make, and it is in a large degree in answer to a point made by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), is to congratulate the hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Gaitskell) on his recent appointment as Vice-Chairman and Economic Adviser of the British Films Producers' Organisation, which has been widely acclaimed in the trade Press, and to ask him to go to the hon. Member for Devonport and get from him those points—after all, they are on the same side of the House—so that he may give economic advice to the Combine in the desired direction.
The hon. Member for South Leeds was, I believe, the Principal Assistant Secretary in charge of the Industry and Trade Sections at the Board of trade which were responsible for the film industry. I am not saying that there is anything in any way wrong in the assumption from 2564 a Government post of that post of Economic Adviser and Vice-chairman of the film producers' organisation in this country. If there is any moral it is that Members on the other side of the House should not throw bricks at Members of this House of any party if they take gainful employment outside. I think, however, that the present Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade should be aware of that duality as between the hon. Member's present position with the Film Producers' Organisation and his past responsibility in a Government Department and that he should bear that relationship in mind in the future and in considering the points that have been put to him during this Debate by various Members on all sides of the House.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I do not want to go into the question of the origin or build-up of the American film industry, which was an entirely different process from the build-up of the film industry in this country. If anyone studies the build-up of the American film industry it will be seen that they did not start that build-up with people with a long and distinguished experience in the theatre. That is one important fact, though I have not time to go into it now, but in our films we see time and time again those artists who are taking part in the film coming on and deliberately acting before our eyes instead of naturally coming on to the pictures. Another thing is that in this country we have, in developing the films, developed an accent, the public school accent. I do not know how it works out in England but in 99 cases out of 100 when a British film is shown in Scotland scarcely any of the audience can understand a word that is being said. They do not speak "basic" English. You hear the most peculiar sounds.
I wish to refer once again, as I did in connection with another subject, to the unspeakable twaddle that we hear about showing the British way of life. There is no such thing as the British way of life. Shortly after the war started, or possibly just before, we had a film called "The Englishman's Home." Was it a home in a slum area; was it a council house? The Englishman's home was a lovely country mansion. Is that the British way of life? Another film was 2565 called "Demi-Paradise." It was a picture of a young Russian engineer who had come over to this country in connection with some shipbuilding business and his hosts were going to show him the British way of life. He went to the shipbuilding firm and there he met the owner, who was sitting in a big office and occupied with a jigsaw puzzle. He was so clever that he did not have to bother about the shipbuilding. The visitor meets the shipbuilder's family and the friends of the family in the country, and they are all nice people. The one person he did not meet throughout the whole of the film was a worker. That is their conception of the British way of life. It is a very stupid class presentation. It is one of the evils of this country. No country in the world has, from the point of view of its history and traditions, greater opportunities for making magnificent films embodying everything needed for entertainment, for education and for culture than our own country, but that has never been done. The Minister, if he is to assist the film industry, must see to it that the whole build-up of the industry, the character of the material that is brought in and the presentation of it, is altered from top to bottom. I am certain that we could build up a magnificent film industry if the masses of the people were brought into it, and the Labour Government ought to be capable of bringing them in.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Marquand (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)
Like other hon. Members, I must ask for the indulgence of the House when addressing it for the first time. It is true that I have opened my mouth on two previous occasions. The first time I answered one Question and the second time I answered two; but that experience gave me the uneasy feeling of a bather entering the sea by inches, and I was envious of those hon. Members who had been able to take the plunge on the first occasion. I am glad to be able to assure the hon. Member who initiated this Debate that the Government intend to be as cautious in spending foreign exchange upon the import of non-essentials as any citizen of Aberdeen could desire them to be. During the period of reconversion we have to receive some financial assistance from our Allies, but we do not intend to use that help for prodigal expenditure. I am not sure that 2566 I would be prepared to adopt completely the attractive alliterative formula which the hon. Member suggested might be used, but I would gladly substitute for it the phrase, "Food before films." By every means in our power, restriction of imports as well as expansion of exports, we intend to hasten the coming of the day when our balance of payments will once more be in equilibrium and the need for special assistance disappear.
Our dollar expenditure upon American films is undoubtedly larger than the nation can prudently afford, though it is not as much as some hon. Members seem to suppose. Remittances on this account before the war were estimated at about £7,000,000 annually. During the war they have been as follow: To October, 1940, £4.8 million; October, 1941, £5.7 million; October, 1942, £8.5 million; October, 1943, £26.5 million; October, 1944, £15.6 million; and for the nine months to July, 1945, £13.3 million. The reason for the sudden jump in 1943 is that before America entered the war part of the total royalties only was allowed to be transferred in dollars and the remainder was credited to blocked accounts. Those blocked accounts, less any amount spent in this country, were released for transfer after America entered the war. I can say at once that the blocked account method is one to which we should be sorry to have to revert. It means the piling up of debt which remains a burden even though payment be postponed. We much prefer to meet current liabilities as they arise. The increase in the figures, in spite of the sharp increase in Entertainment Duty over the same period, is conclusive proof that the great mass of the people derive real enjoyment from going to the pictures. A great industry employing many thousands of people caters for them. We should all regret if over-hasty steps were to produce chaos and distress, and deprive our people of the relaxation which is the counterpart of the great efforts, in the Forces, in the factories, in the transport services or in the mines, which it is still vitally necessary that they should make.
For the moment it seems that the Government must always be advocating plain living and high thinking, but perhaps I might remind the House that the book which did most to build up the Labour Party in its younger days was called "Merrie England." We are not a Gov- 2567 ernment of kill-joys. We have no wish to prevent people from going to the cinema, but we want them to receive good entertainment there. The obvious remedy for our difficulties, as all hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate have said, is to foster and develop in this country the production of high quality films which will not only give pleasure to our own people but will find a ready sale abroad, and be a worthy reflection of British life and culture—British life and culture, I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) of all classes in this country. I welcome the general recognition which most hon. Members have expressed—
§ Mr. Gallacher
Excuse me, but when the hon. Gentleman talks about British life and culture, will he see that there are films of the Peasants' Revolt, the Chartist Movement, the Co-operative Movement and the Trade Union Movement, so as to satisfy a fuller demand for education and entertainment?
§ Mr. Marquand
I think it will be agreed that such films as we have produced during the war have covered a wide range of activities in this country and have certainly not left untouched the life of the working classes. There has been general recognition that an improvement in the quality of British films generally has taken place over recent years. Suggestions for continually improving their quality, such as were made during the Debate will, I am sure, be taken into consideration by the film producers as well as by the Government. We shall study with great care the detailed suggestions that were put forward by the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher).
Progress towards this aim of producing more, and producing better, British films is not likely to be helped if we start by ruthlessly disregarding the interests of the American film producers. We must contemplate discussions with them. I must therefore be careful what I say, in advance of such discussions. Indeed, I hope hon. Members will not press me too far, but I can properly say that while a 2568 very considerable reduction in the total of remittances must be regarded as essential, I should be glad to see the maximum contribution thereto made by increased receipts from the showing of British films in the United States. The more we can achieve in this way the easier will be the remainder of the task. It is obvious that the task before us is complicated, and I can only say that much care and attention is being devoted to consideration of the possibilities. I hope that we shall proceed to further action as quickly as circumstances permit.
It would not be wise to hasten the production of British films so fast as to impair their quality, but we are helping British film producers to increase their output. We are in constant touch with the representatives of the industry, both employers and employed. The Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) drew special attention to the problems of studio space. I am glad to be able to tell the House that, since V.E. Day, about 40 per cent.of the requisitioned studio space has been cleared and restored to its owners. I hope that, by Easter, more than 90 per cent. will have been restored to the industry. I am advised that, included in that percentage, is Pinewood, which has been specially referred to, as well as a great part of the studios.
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He is making a most admirable statement. May we take what he has just said as a definite promise as to the derequisitioning of studio space, or is that expectation?
§ Mr. Marquand
The Noble Lord, who is much more experienced in these matters than I, knows that it is very difficult to make categorical promises; but this is the aim. I cannot say more than that it is hoped to achieve it. It is a target which I am sure he will realise is satisfactory.
Not all of this space will become immediately available for production. Several studios have suffered blitz damage, or have been damaged by the occupying Department, or will need extensive modernisation. Much of the damage has already been made good, and building licences have already been agreed to for the greater part of the remainder. Like many other industries, the film industry 2569 is suffering, during this period of restriction, not only from a shortage of space but from shortage of manpower. The Minister of Works and the Minister of Labour are co-operating closely with us in the solution of this problem of manpower in the industry. Special arrangements have been made for the supply of manpower, andeven of building labour, for the quick reconstitution of the productive capacity of the industry and for the release of men from the Forces. The House will be interested to know that up to date we have asked for a total of 50 Class B releases and have already secured 30 of them—that is to say, 30 releases have been approved, but I will not say that the 30 men have all come back.
One hon. Member asked that we should synchronise the provision of manpower with the release of studio space. That is what we are attempting to do. Then again, we cannot expect a rapid increase in the output of good quality films without good equipment. Equipment is to the film industry what machine tools are to the engineering industry. It is now our aim to produce all types of equipment here which will be the equal of the Americans', and so eventually become independent of importation. So we have been encouraging British equipment manufacturers to proceed with experimental work and the development of prototypes, and we have been doing our best to find them more labour. It is recognised, however, that during the interim period, while British manufacturers turn over from war to peace production, the film industry must not be allowed to suffer from lack of tools. Accordingly, importation has been authorised during the last nine months for more than £70,000 worth of equipment. Probably another £100,000 will be required over the next two years.
The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) and the hon. Member for Devonport(Mr. Foot) have touched upon the question of monopoly. That matter also has not been forgotten, and if I do not expatiate upon it this afternoon I hope that will be well understood—and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Oxford University (SirA. Salter) will be only too glad that I do not. This is another large question, and I do not think it would be desirable at this late hour to attempt to discuss it. The 2570 Report of the Film Council on monopoly in the industry has been carefully studied. I will say no more about it than that I hope it will not be very long before my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be able to say more on the subject.
Hon. Members have also asked that we should increase the quota of British films exhibited. We want to do that. That was what the original Act contemplated, and as and when a flow of British films comes forward it is 'the intention of the Government that the quantity should gradually be raised; but we must not expect a great deal before the present Act expires, in 1948. I hope I have said sufficient to indicate that the Government are greatly interested in this question, that we are alive to all the difficulties which confront the industry, and that we are anxious to deal with them. The question will remain under our constant and active consideration.