§ 3.33 P.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, after "exhibited," to insert:(including therein a fair proportion of days falling within the last three days of each week).We are very grateful to the Government for having committed this Bill to a Committee of the whole House, although I do not understand the principle on which they have done so, when so many other Measures of even greater interest have gone upstairs. The Amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friends, is a limited point. The receipts from films in the second half of the week are very often as much as 50 per cent. above those in the first half of the week. We think, therefore, that it is desirable that some words—not of too rigid a character—should be added to this Clause in order to make it a quota offence for an exhibitor to confine the exhibition of British films to the first three days of the week only, when the receipts are much lower. That is the object of the Amendment. I hope the Government will accept it, for I consider it improves the Clause. It prevents any one who wishes to play against the general intentions of the Clause from so doing, and provides the Government with powers which they may use to haul over the c[...]s any one who does so.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)
One can well understand why this Amendment has been moved. It is in sympathy with the proposals which have been made for enforcing the obligation of the quota over each house. Also it is in full sympathy with the proposal we inserted in the Bill for time after five o'clock. I feel, on the other hand, that this proposal would be extremely vexatious to carry out. It would not only involve a considerable amount of clerical time and man hours, 1647 but would limit the elasticity which cinema operators desire in the matter of booking their films. I recognise there is some danger that, if this Amendment is not inserted, there may be a tendency for cinema exhibitors to concentrate British films mainly in the first half of the week, but I do not feel that it is a serious danger. I am sure we can rely on the exhibitors to give British films a fair deal in this respect, and therefore I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I understand, Sir Robert, that you do not propose to call my Amendment to the proposed Amendment in the name of the President of the Board of Trade, but that you have no objection to discussing the rather similar suggestion I have made in it.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Young)
No doubt the suggestion contained in that Amendment can be discussed along with the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) when the President of the Board of Trade moves his Amendment.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
Is the attitude of the exhibitor at this moment, when there is a period of shortage of British film products, any different from what it will be a little later on, when 'we hope there will be an increase in production, particularly of British films? I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to bear that in mind. I hope that he and the Film Council will keep this matter under constant review. We cannot forget what happened in the past with the bad type of "quickie," and what has happened when a great many non-British influences played their part in film production in this country. While I agree that at the moment there is no great danger, I think it should go on record that this matter is one which really does need watching very carefully when home produced films are in sufficient supply. It is a contingency which may occur again, particularly in cinemas of a certain type who act unfairly against the producer.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I beg to move, in page 1, line 20, at the end to insert:(4) In this Act the expression "quota period." means the year beginning on the first 1648 day of October, nineteen hundred and forty-eight, and each succeeding year during which this Section is in force.(5) The requirements imposed by this Section in respect of any quota period shall be complied with separately in respect of the first six months of that period as well as in respect of the whole of that period.This Amendment arises out of suggestions which were on Second Reading. We then felt—I said we have an open mind on the question—that this was an extremely reasonable proposal. My hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) made this suggestion on the Second Reading, and instead of the Amendment he himself put down we have proposed this one. The quota period will begin in October and if we extend the requirements to six months in each year it will give full effect to what my hon. Friend had in mind. I hope he will agree. It is certainly a fact that exhibitors get by far the larger part of their income from the films shown during the winter months and it is not unreasonable to ask that this additional obligation be placed upon them. I hope the Committee will be prepared to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. Keeling
I agree with the Government Amendment but, as hon. Members will see from the Order Paper, I do not think that it goes far enough. I think that there should be an obligation to apply the quota separately to the latter part of the week and to Sundays, as well as generally over the period. Leaving the cinemas free to show quota pictures in the early part of the week rather than at the end of the week might reduce the revenue of producers by as much as 50 per cent. in the case of houses with two changes a week, and 75 per cent. in the case of houses with three changes a week. It has been suggested that to make exhibitors show a proportion on the last days of the week might encourage British producers to rely upon compulsion instead of quality. But if exhibitors in the past had treated British films on their merits, there would never have been any need for the Acts of 1927 and 1938. The fact is that owing to the stranglehold which America has had in the past upon the distribution of films in this country, British films have never been given a chance among independent exhibitors.
My Amendment to the President's Amendment will unfortunately not be called. It will be seen that it does not 1649 ask that a number of British films in excess of the quota should be shown at the end of the week. All I suggest is that the quota should be applied to the profitable part of the week as well as to the whole of the period. British producers ought not to have to leave it to an American renter to determine whether a British film is to be shown in the first part of the week or at the end of it.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I are sure that the whole industry is glad that my right hon. Friend has seen his way to introduce this Amendment and to accept the suggestion which I made during the Second Reading Debate. It will be much more convenient for the quota to be fixed for a 12-month period than for a six-month period. As the right hon. Gentleman recognises, the Board of Trade will not lose anything by this, because exhibitors will be required under the Amendment to comply with the quota period both in the six winter months and in the six summer months. I am satisfied that the Amendment covers in more appropriate language than I had ventured to draft the point to which I directed attention. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), I must say, speaking for myself, I should think it would be very difficult administratively, if not almost impossible, to carry out the proposals he has in mind. Certainly, in many cases it would involve a great deal of complicated records and would add considerably to the burden of exhibitors in this regard.
§ Mr. Clarles Williams (Torquay)
As an ordinary amateur on this matter, I think I might be allowed to express considerable surprise and wonder at the fact that the date mentioned in the Amendment has appeared only after the Second Reading of the Bill. It is a surprising point. The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) intimated that he—and I imagine others—drew attention to this point during the Second Reading Debate. I was interested to hear what was said on this matter by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). I fully realise that in a complicated matter of this nature one does not want to lay down very strict rules and orders. It is rather astonishing that the Government have got what is a comparatively simple outlook on this matter. I cannot imagine 1650 why that should be so; but it must be that this is one of the Bills which they inherited from their predecessors, in which-case they would have an adequate brief for it.
I have no doubt that this Amendment has been studied very carefully. I suggest that these words should have been in the original Bill. I am satisfied that as long as the control of films remains in British hands there will be a fair distribution of British films. However, I am not entirely happy that the position will be so equitable if distribution is not in strictly British hands. I am afraid that if there are any outside people controlling this matter—such as the Government or foreigners—the position will be much worse. In the circumstances, it seems that the Amendment is rather above the usual standard of Government Amendments.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I understand, Sir Robert, that we are discussing the Amendment to the proposed Amendment at the same time as the Amendment? I do not know whether that is quite right.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The Amendment to the proposed Amendment is not to be called, but it can be discussed now.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I wonder whether the Committee might have a little more guidance on this point from the Treasury Bench? The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) speaks, I believe, with some trade expertness and I have no doubt that his evidence is extremely valuable; but there certainly is trade opinion on the side contrary to his. There is certainly trade opinion that there ought to be legislative provision to make sure that the second half of the week is protected by this Clause, and not merely the week considered as a whole. I am, not, and I suppose very few of us are, sufficiently conversant with the management of the industry to be quite sure which view the Committee ought to accept —the view of the hon. Member for East Islington, or the view which I have roughly indicated.
The only argument I have heard against the opinion that the second half of the week should receive specific protection, is the argument of administrative
1651 difficulty which was put, so far as I can tell, quite fairly by the hon. Member for East Islington. But obviously he puts it, so to speak, ex parte in a sense. There ought to be somebody—and I cannot see who it can be except the Treasury Bench who have had the opportunity of examining and cross-examining both these bodies of opinion inside the industry—able to tell the Committee whether we should regard that argument as decisive or not. If we are not to regard that argument as decisive, we should either have the Amendment to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), or, if it is not to be called now, an assurance of full consideration at a later stage.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I am sure that the Amendment we propose has the support of hon. Members on all sides of the Committee. It sprang from a suggestion made by certain of the exhibiting interests. We were very glad to see that the suggestion came from them in the first instance. I think that it sprang from a desire on their part to show that they could do more than just carry out the showing of whatever quota of pictures was necessary in a 12-month period. I think that not only are many exhibitors anxious to show British films in accordance with the obligation fixed for the 12-month period, but many of them would like to show more than half the annual quota during the six winter months. That, of course, would mean a very big gain in terms of the showing of British films. However, until this Amendment is approved it is not possible to meet them in this way.
The point was raised both by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) about the spreading of the quota over the various days of the week. That is really the same point as that dealt with earlier. If it were possible to carry that out, certainly it would provide one more guarantee that the quota provisions were not to be rendered weaker in practice. I am quite satisfied that it has been very fully considered and discussed with various sections of the trade, and I am satisfied that the administrative difficulties are virtually insuperable, not only for those in the Board of Trade, because they are responsible for seeing that the quota provisions are carried out, but also for the cinema exhibitors themselves.
1652 Some cinemas have a change of programme once a week and some twice a week, and, in some cases, there is a change of programme just for Friday and Saturday, and it would be necessary to make special provision in relation to Sunday as well. I am afraid that it would mean an enormous amount of work for the people concerned, and I am sure the Committee would not want to place that amount of work either on the trade or the Government. In addition, it would limit elasticity in booking which the cinema exhibitor needs if he is to carry on his business satisfactorily and spread his quota of British films fairly over the period.
§ Mr. Keeling
I wonder whether the President can give a promise to look into this matter again before the Report stage? We have been told that it would cause administrative difficulties, and I think the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) used the word complications, but we have not had any particulars either of the complications or the administrative difficulties. We all agree that protection should be given to the British film industry, and that is the whole object of the Bill. It does not, therefore, seem to me to be unreasonable that exhibitors, who draw a generous revenue from the industry, should contribute their part. I think it ought to be looked at again before the Report stage to discover whether the administrative difficulties are really as great as has been suggested.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I must say that I am in some difficulty on this matter. I think the Government's Amendment is certainly an improvement of the Bill, and that the Amendment of my hon. Friend would strengthen it still further, but I must admit I was entirely unconvinced by the usual mumble-jumble about administrative difficulties. The Committee knows quite well what that means. Administrative difficulties are insuperable when the Government do not want to do something, but they can easily be overcome when they do. Consider the administrative tangle into which they have got so far. If these matters seem so complicated to them, what is to be the situation later when we reach the more difficult matters contained in this Bill?
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
I should like to reinforce the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and I hope the President of the 1653 Board of Trade will take this matter into consideration once again before the Report stage, because what has been proposed by my hon. Friend is merely the logical extension of the Government's own principle in the Amendment.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
It is a not illogical extension of the principle followed, not only in the Amendment, but right through the Bill, but I must assure the hon. Gentleman that this matter would require a considerable amount of staff. I am not suggesting that we could not do it; we certainly could, but I am quite sure that the Committee would not want us to employ an unnecessary number of staff or place an unnecessary amount of work on the cinema exhibitors in order to carry this out. I will most certainly—and this is in reply to the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher)—keep this matter under review as we go along and discuss it with the Films Council. I hope the inquiry which will be made into the whole question of the exhibition side of the film industry might also have a look at it, but I do not think there would be any point in my giving any commitment to look at it again before the Report stage, because, quite seriously, this could only be done, in the first place, by making a decision in advance, and, secondly, because we shall bear it in mind, especially in the early years of the operation of the Bill.
The fact is that there will not be a large amount of films available, and, if we are to have a definite insistence on each cinema in regard to each part of the week, we shall run into a whole lot of defaults which we do not want to see but which we wish to avoid. These defaults would have to be met by way of some lower quota than otherwise would be the case when planning their programmes for a whole week or a whole year. While I give the assurance that we will keep this matter under review, and particularly when we get into the period which has been referred to, a period in which there will be a surplus rather than a shortage of films, I do not think it would be right to give any definite commitment now about looking at it again before the Report stage.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
There has been a certain amount of talk about the large 1654 number of extra staff that would be needed. Really, that is not so. Every cinema is already making an Excise return each week, showing how much it took for each film and when it was taken, and so it is a complete fallacy to say that this proposal will mean that a lot more staff will have to be employed. It is simply a matter of a man who is already making a return adding an extra column in that return which he makes for Excise purposes. This is a matter which really can be looked into again, and there are really no grounds for saying that it would mean extra staff.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I must admit that my suspicions have been aroused by what the Minister said. The sudden discovery of a Minister getting up in this Committee and maintaining administrative difficulties as the only reason why he cannot deal with the important matter of seeing that British films are shown in some of the best periods of the week is startling. Having had from my hon. Friend in front of me a very able explanation of the situation, it seems to me that there should be no really considerable increase of staff. None of us want to increase the staff or follow out that sort of policy, and I should be the last to do so, but it does seem to me that what is lurking at the back of the Minister's mind here is the fact that he is not really very keen to see that British films should have the best days of the week.
If that is his outlook, and I believe it probably is, it really would have been a good thing if we put something into this Bill on the subject of British films. It has been proved that there are no difficulties regarding the cinemas, but the Government make administrative difficulties in using two men to do a quarter of the work done by one man. I hope this matter may be reconsidered and that, at some future time, we may have an answer to ensure that British films shall have a proper proportion of the best days of the week, as my hon. Friends have suggested.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I should like to reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friends, and probably throw another light on the discussion. There is a very real danger that British exhibitors will be placed in a state of great jeopardy by this Bill, and I think the President of 1655 the Board of Trade will agree with me on a point which has been put to me by the manager of a very large cinema in my Division. I am anxious to see justice is done to the cinema people, and to those who patronise the films. This particular cinema is capable of holding 1,100 people. The manager has pointed out to me that the Clause as at present drafted creates a danger. As the quota of the distributors has been abolished—at all events, dispensed with—
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)
The renters' quota.
It amounts to the same thing. The danger arises owing to the fact that the renters' quota has been displaced. Both the President of the Board of Trade and his able lieutenant beside him will see the force of my argument. The people associated with the cinema trade, especially those in rural areas, are disturbed lest, because of the abolition by the Bill of the renters' quota, they will not in future be able to meet their liabilities in the way of showing a quota of British films as in the past.
I do not often use briefs, but I have one here to which I must refer. It points out that if this Clause goes through, even if it is amended—and this is quite a reasonable Amendment so far as it goes —it will leave independent exhibitors, of whom there are 3,500 in this country—I do not suppose the President is in a position to query my statement—and particularly those in the rural areas, entirely at the mercy of two British film distributing organisations. Surely that additional information is very material, and shows that the fears we have expressed on this side of the Committee, that the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment does not go far enough, is more than justified. I should like the right hon. Gentleman even now to say something more about this matter, because I, speaking, as I say, on behalf of the cinema people in my constituency, as I am entitled to, do, without being oblivious to the difficulties of the industry in the country at large, am not at all satisfied; and I should be glad if the Government would provide a little additional information.
Amendment agreed to.
1656 Further Amendment made: In page 2. line 1, after "with," insert "any of."— [Mr. H. Wilson.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I should like to pursue a little farther the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). The renters' quota has been dispensed with, but the exhibitors' quota remains. I think it does pretty clearly mean that this Bill—if it stands as it is proposed—will compel exhibitors to show films which their suppliers, that is, the distributors or renters, are under no obligation to supply to them. They will be compelled to exhibit a certain proportion of certain types of films, but the people from whom they draw their supplies are under no obligation to supply to them those types of films. That seems a great injustice. How is a man to exhibit what he is required to exhibit if he cannot get it from the people from whom he draws his films? That point wants clearing up. There is injustice here. If it is not cleared up now it will have to be raised on the Report stage.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I should like the President seriously to consider this question. The Clause, like the Bill itself, is designed to help film production in this country. There is, however, little value in helping film production if the exhibiting of films is not encouraged. I have a letter from an exhibitor who says:I should like to draw your attention to the hardships "—note the word "hardships"—that will be imposed on cinema exhibitors in general, and myself in particular, if the Bill is not amended.He is concerned with this Clause. The President is not introducing this Clause, I am certain, for the purpose of imposing hardships on cinema exhibitors. Nevertheless, it will have a serious effect on them. The exhibitors must have a range of choice of films from which to make up their quotas. But here the quota is imposed willy-nilly on the exhibitors. In Scotland, in particular, it will create very great difficulties, because many British films, while they may be in general very good, and while they may be very popular in certain parts of England, do 1657 not make an appeal at all in Scotland. Some of them do make a big appeal, but there are many that do not.
There is not merely the language difficulty, although that is a difficulty. I am glad to say that film producers are gradually overcoming it, and learning to speak in basic English—which is as near Scots as it is possible to be—instead of the high-faluting Oxford or pseudo-Oxford language. Some English films show a sense of humour that appals Scottish audiences. In Scotland we have a profound sense of humour, good humour; but we do not like the banalities of some of these films. It will be a real difficulty for the Scottish exhibitors if they are not to have a range of choice open to them even while the quota is imposed on them.
The exhibitors of Scotland are very anxious to help the Minister to encourage British production, but they want to see something in the Clause which will allow them a margin of choice. They want to fulfil their quota obligation, but to fulfil it with films that will encourage the development of their side of the industry and provide, at the same time, the very best entertainment for those who are contributing finance towards the upkeep of the industry. I hope the Minister will consider the position of the exhibitors, particularly those in Scotland. We desire to get a special Scottish Film Council, but I will not pursue that point as it would be out of Order at this stage.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
I cannot support the view which has been put forward by Members who have regretted the passing of the renters' quota—
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I was not regretting the passing of the renters' quota; I was regretting that the exhibitor was not placed on the same level. If one is abolished the other should be abolished, or there should be both.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Those who objected to the renters' quota did so because they contend that it reduces the selection which the exhibitor has in drawing on films for his cinema. I have no sympathy at all with the renters' quota; indeed, I shed no tears at its passing. It was responsible for some of the worst efforts of the British film industry. What did the quota in- 1658 volve? It involved bribing a man who has no primary interest in production to produce some sort of a film. That man says, "I am in the wholesale film business, and if you make me produce films compulsorily I shall produce a film in the simplest possible way. I will get the help of a hack producer, and an even worse director, and pay them a pittance to produce the worst kind of films for the lowest possible sum." That is what happened through the renters' quota under the old Act, and I think it is wrong for anyone to suggest the perpetuation of the renters' quota. It is very encouraging to find in the Bill a provision to abolish the quota and I am pleased that the Government have taken this action.
I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be able to reassure the Committee on this point. I am sorry that I must differ from ray hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) on the question of the renters' quota, but I think he was guilty—if that is not too strong a word—of rather caricaturing the attitude of those of us who object to the abolition of the renters' quota. Let me hasten to reassure the hon. Member, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) has done, that our objection to the abolition of the renters' quota resides in the fact that we think it will operate unfairly towards exhibitors. I would like to read a sentence from a letter, which I have already quoted, from the manager of an important picture house in Stranraer in my constituency. He says:Make no mistake. In fairness to cinemas of our type"—that is, the cinema providing very proper entertainment, as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) pointed out, for people in the large, but scattered, rural areas—the renters' British quota must remain Alternatively both renters' and exhibitors' quotas "—
The Temporary Chairman
The renters' quota has nothing to do with this Clause. The hon. Member must now apply himself to what is in the Clause, as amended.
§ 4.15 P.m.
I was endeavouring to point out that the Amendment of the President does not go far enough to allay our fears 1659 —fears which have been justified by the speeches we have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and the hon. Member for West Fife. I was moved by the cogency of the arguments of the hon. Member for West Fife, and that is why I intervened in support of what he said.
I do not feel that the Minister's Amendment goes far enough. We have incorporated that Amendment in the Bill. We did not divine the Committee on it, as it went some way to meet the position, but, in our opinion the amended Clause does not go far enough. That is why there has been so much perturbation on both side of the Committee. I thought that the hon. Member for West Fife was too much of an internationalist to speak up as he did on behalf of the Scottish cinema industry, but I am very pleased that he did. I say to the right hon. Gentleman in all seriousness, that despite what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Buck-low, he should take note of the speeches made on both sides of the Committee, particularly by Members representing Scottish constituencies, about the unfair way in which many connected with the cinema industry are sure to be treated if the Clause, as amended, is left in the Bill. I hope he will say something to allay our fears. If he would, that would be quite useful, but if not, I, for one—although I do not suppose that I should get very much support—would be prepared to divide the Committee against the Clause.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) really misunderstood the point which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) put to the Committee. My hon. and gallant Friend, and those who supported him on behalf of Scottish constituencies, are not in any way wishing to renew the renters' quota, or anything of that kind; they wish to ensure that the provisions of this Clause get fair consideration. We do not want its provisions to be used in the narrow sense; we want to be sure that they can be adjusted to meet the needs of different localities. We have had speeches from Scottish Members, and while I have no wish to carry on the argument, I must say that the position might arise in which Scottish films might not be right for Wales. I must also empha- 1660 sise that we in the West of England wish to have a far higher standard of films than those which other people in England, and in Scotland and Wales, wish to have. I want to see English films made in proper proportion so that the different localities shall have serious consideration.
Scottish Members have put forward their views, so I am putting forward the point of view of the West Country. We want to see West Country films developed, because we think they would be far more constructive and entertaining than films from any other part of the country. I hope the Government will not overlook my suggestion, and if the Minister wishes to assure me on this point I shall be very happy to help him to get the Clause through. It is easy for Scotsmen to praise their own country. In the West we are usually more diffident, but when even Communist Members feel impelled to bring forward purely nationalistic points, I do not see why we should not do the same from the West Country. I hope the views I have expressed will carry weight with the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ CLAUSE 2—(Determination of quotas of British films)
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, after the first "percentages," to insert:not being less than thirty-five per cent.We feel strongly on this Amendment. The Bill is designed to promote the production and exhibition of British films, but there is no certainty about the quota which the Board of Trade will lay down subsequently. We should try to remove uncertainty. There is no industrial product which is not hampered by uncertainty, and the film industry is a very good instance in point. It is not only that the product of existing studios will be affected by the uncertainty, but that the whole question of the amount of capital which is to be hazarded and invested in studios in the future will depend upon it. If we could have a definite quota below which the production of British films would not fall during the next 10 years, people who might now be wondering whether to invest their money in British film studios would 1661 receive encouragement. It is highly desirable to remove uncertainty from the most hazardous part of the film industry.
The Government were in an awkward position on the last Clause. They were torn, on the one side, by the skirl of the pibroch from the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who has constituted himself a sort of Bonny Prince Charlie of the Committee; and, on the other side, by loud cries of "Westward Ho!" from my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) who sits behind me. I hope that both those hon. Members will support the Amendment, although they hold such very different political opinions.
In pressing for a quota of 35 per cent. I would remind the Committee that the President of the Board of Trade said, during the Second Reading Debate:I do contemplate an ascending level for the quotas, and they will be fixed from year to year with the most careful attention to the foreseeable output of pictures which will be available."Foreseeable" is now becoming one of the favourite clichées.If the producers are giving us the increased volume of production we hope for, it is the Government's firm intention that the quotas shall be correspondingly increased, and the producers can draw up their production programmes on that basis, and with that assurance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 228.]That is certainly something, but we would much prefer to see a minimum percentage put into the Bill than to rely upon Ministerial assurances even if they are delivered by those whom one would expect to remain in this position for a very long time.
It is not enough to say that the Minister expects to see a rise in the quota. It is not a good enough assurance to induce me to invest my capital, if I were thinking of doing so. We would much prefer to see "35 per cent." put into the Bill, on the assumption that six—or 18, possibly—independent films are to be included in the quota. If they are to be excluded from the quota, we should be satisfied with a lower percentage. There can be no harm in the Government acceding to this request, which would stimulate the production of British pictures by existing companies. I might go further and say it would give an inducement to those who are thinking of entering the 1662 industry to invest their capital, with the certainty that the quota for British films would not fall below 35 per cent. over the next 10 years. As the Amendment is in line with the main object of the Bill, I press the Government to accept it.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
I wish to reinforce the argument put forward by my right hon. Friend, and to take it a little further. It is not only the production of films which would be influenced by it but the whole chain of processes from the making of the film to its exhibition. The Bill affects the whole industry. The one ingredient needed to make the Bill work is that every part of the industry should have some idea that its existence is likely to be prolonged for as long as possible. "Flexibility" is another word which is used very frequently nowadays, to take the place of "indecision." The effect of the present position upon those who are working, and those who wish to work, in the industry, is bad. It would he much better for the President of the Board of Trade to make up his mind, according to the facts in his possession now, and to say: "We shall take a definite minimum arid, later, if we find any exceptional circumstances that we cannot foresee at the moment, we might alter it." That would be better than saying: "We are going to leave it open and flexible, and alter it from time to time."
From the time the Bill is passed we want the industry to work in a different atmosphere and with an entirely different objective. We want the three parts of the industry to work together as a chain. We shall not get that in the difficult period, which will coincide with the operation of the Bill, in which we are excluding, for very good reasons, American films. We need to have a system inaugurated in which as many people as possible in the industry, and others whom we would like to attract to the industry, shall have the maximum amount of certainty. I have seen this matter from the point of view of the general or small exhibitor, and also from the other angle of one who bought his experience by losing a little money in the production of films. The Amendment tries to lay down a firm foundation on which the Government can give the maximum amount of certainty to film production, from the word "Go." I am sure the Amendment is the right one. I am sure that we shall be able to show the 1663 same firm front as we took before, in our attitude towards the importation of American films. We want to see a fixed minimum quota, and I ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider this suggestion.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Deptford)
I would impress on the right hon. Gentleman the great importance, at this time and in this Bill, of setting down some minimum quota. It would be a great tragedy if this industry went into a decline. There are signs that that is already beginning. The policy being pursued requires a considerable number of first-class British films, and the obtaining of financial support for such productions must take place many months in advance of their actual showing on the screen. At the present time, bank money and other money is not forthcoming for the production of British films of the highest quality, which cost a lot of money, because of the uncertainty of their exhibition both at home and abroad. I think that an important step would be taken in removing those uncertainties and securing that assistance if the Minister now announced some minimum quota as proposed in the Amendment.
§ Mr. W. Shepherd
I join in supporting an Amendment which seeks to put a quota into the Bill. English films will not always be able so freely to get access to cinemas as they are at present, when foreign films are denied the showing, and, therefore, we must frame this Bill with regard to the conditions likely to apply in five or ten years' time, because the right hon. Gentleman has an obligation to the industry to give it some sort of foundation and to give some assurance to those who will be putting their money into it. Film production is perhaps the most hazardous of all undertakings. Its financing, even for men with immense resources, is not an easy matter, as has been shown recently in connection with one very big company.
It is the duty of the Government to give assurance to those contemplating production that they will meet with a market for their productions. It is most desirable to encourage the producers of short films. I hope that we shall have an opportunity of saying something more about that later. They are very much in need of support 1664 and encouragement in the future, and a basic quota for British films would help them. The President of the Board of Trade may say: "It is perfectly true. These ends are desirable. I want to see an increased quota for British films, but I look round and see that within the last 12 months it has been very difficult to meet the quota set under the existing Act." That of course is true, but that in itself is no justification for not setting some target now.
There is no relation between the production facilities now available and those that were available 12 months ago. In January, 1947, there were only 14 studios available for operation; now there are 23. In January, 1947, we had only 48 stages and now we have 67 available for production. Therefore, we have a much greater potential than 12 months ago, and the right hon. Gentleman is under an obligation to set himself a target. I want this quota to be put in, because I want the right hon. Gentleman to have something in front of him. The President of the Board of Trade will be a very important man in the film industry in the next few years. He has to get utilised the space which is not at present being utilised. He has to say to American companies, "Produce or get out." He has to say to those in the industry who are indulging in restrictive practices, and all kinds of things that they should not indulge in, "You have to get down to business, because the future of the film industry in this country depends on what we are going to do, so far as home production is concerned."
Therefore, I say that it is a duty, from the national standpoint, to have a minimum quota, so that the President of the Board of Trade will be urged to take the action which he must take if he is to get his industry into shape. He has to get together the heads of the industry and knock their heads together if they will not come together in any other way. There is far less being done at the present time for the production of films than could be done. It is disgraceful that at a time when we need films so badly so much of our studio space is idle. I ask the President to set up a minimum quota so as to give some sort of security to those engaged in the necessarily hazardous problem of production, and so that he 1665 may also have a target. He can then be urged forward to put the British films industry in a position in which it can produce the number of films which it ought to be producing.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
I should like to contest this Amendment not because it is particularly injurious, although I believe it to be mistaken, but because I think that it is of some importance to contest the arguments advanced in favour of it. First there is the danger that any minimum is always likely to become a maximum in fact and if we hurried a minimum figure into this Bill it might well later become a maximum, and yet not be the well-considered figure which the Board of Trade should expect producers to meet.
Now the arguments have all been based on the dangers of uncertainty between now and the final decision as to what the quota shall be. I agree that that decision should be made as quickly as possible but not because this uncertainty is liable to hamstring production. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) made that point on Second Reading. I answered him then but unfortunately he had left the Chamber. He has done so again. I do not know what it is about me that drives the right hon. Gentleman out of the Chamber. I think the argument he used then and the argument which he has used tonight do not hold water. He said that no one would put capital into the production of a film unless he knew exactly what the quota was to be. The fact is that no one will put capital into a film, not unless he knows what the quota will be but unless he knows that that film will be included in the exhibited films. That is the important point and the basis of production so far as the financier and the financing of films is concerned.
The quotation which the right hon. Member for Aldershot made from the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade did seem, I am afraid, to lend colour to the arguments that the quota shall be regulated with reference to the number of films in production. I suggest that that is an entirely wrong principle and that instead of the number of films in production or likely to be in production being allowed to dictate the size of the quota, the size of the quota should govern the number 1666 of films in production. I hope that my right hon. Friend will clear up any ambiguity that there may be on that point.
My own feeling is that the quota should be regulated as suggested implicitly by the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), by the amount of studio space available. There are, as he pointed out, more studio space and stages available now than there were 12 months ago. There are just on 70 stages available. We have been producing films this last year at the rate of one film per stage per annum. In 1937 we produced at the rate of three films per stage per annum. In Hollywood the normal rate is two films per stage per annum. If we were to utilise all our present available stages at our own present level that would be 70 films a year and at the Hollywood level it would be 140 films a year. I do not necessarily suggest that our producers should be expected in one year to jump to the Hollywood standard of organisational efficiency, but there is no reason why that should not be done sooner or later. So let us not double the figure but say 110, which is about one and a half times what we did before and still considerably less than the Hollywood level. To that we have to add such available studio space as there is abroad because there is no reason why studio space should not be rented abroad—[Interruption.]—I know that there are objections.
§ Mr. Levy
I have taken that up with the Treasury and I understand that the objections are superable. In addition to studios rented abroad there are also accepted for quota purposes films made in the Dominions. Again, there count for quota not only the films made in the current year but also the films made over the previous three years; so that a quota of 150 films is a very moderate allowance. It should really be more. I would say something like 200. The average output of films is about 400 to 500 a year, so a 40 per cent. quota would not be excessive. If we had a quota of that kind always based on studio space it would be in the interest of exhibitors, who, owing to the vertical organisation of the business, are also producers, to see that the necessary films are available. I suggest that the Amendment is based on a misconception. I invite the Presi- 1667 dent of the Board of Trade to establish that the principle of quota regulation shall not be as implied in the Amendment or such as the quotation from his own speech seems to imply but be in fact based on studio space available.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
This is the first time that I have spoken in this Debate, and, in accordance with the custom of this House, I must disclose a certain personal interest in the matter under discussion. I have connection with the Rank organisation, which is the King Charles' head of every film Debate, because it arouses appreciation in some, and anger and lamentations in others, that anyone should be so successful in so unsuccessful a world. I want to say a word in reply to the speech which has just been made. I think that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) entirely misunderstood and did not deal with the particular point which my right hon. Friend put forward when he confined himself very properly to the Amendment. I invite the Government to have regard to these considerations. It will not be denied that at the present time the position is left in absolute and complete uncertainty. I am not concerned to defend the attitude which has been taken up by the British Film Producers' Association. My personal interest is in other directions. They have so circularised their members that they are entitled to have their points put to the Committee. It is perfectly true and reasonable that the Board of Trade, acting on the advice of the Films Council should vary from time to time the amount of the quota, and should regulate it having regard to the proper circumstances of the day.
It seems to us on this side of the Committee that a guarantee of a minimum quota without stating what that minimum is to be is illogical, and it will not be denied by the Parliamentary Secretary when he comes to reply that under the Bill the quota could be 40 per cent. at one time and as low as 5 per cent. afterwards. The fact that there is difficulty in other directions, about which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) addressed the Committee, is not due to any connection with the quota. As I understand the hon. Gentleman's position his attitude does not seem to be logical. He said that 1668 real stage producers liked to think that their films would be selected. That is not a reason for leaving the percentage as uncertain as it is in this Clause, and I hope that the Government will give us some explanation of their views on the subject. As I understand the producers' position, they have no desire to go back-to the rigidity of the Act of 1938. What they want is more indication from the Government, and I should have thought that the Amendment deals with that point. I hope the Government are prepared to reply to it
§ Mr. Gallacher
It may seem very strange to some Members of the Committee that I want to see my country prosperous and progressive in this and other directions. I do not want to see it a tattered beggar hanging on to the skirts of other nations even though they are in the West with any amount of dollars to spare. I want the exhibitors and the producers to get the maximum amount of time and preparation as to what the quota will be, but it would be highly undesirable to have the percentage in this Bill. For that I will give my reasons in a moment. I listened to the arguments from the other side of the Committee. Those hon. Members will tell any story of any kind to suit their own particular interests and desires. What is their general argument? It is, take off control, and the fellows with the money will show initiative and invest.
§ Mr. Gallacher
This has relation to it. Hon. Members opposite say, "Take off controls and the fellow—
§ Mr. Gallacher
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) says unless we lay down a definite control the men with the money will not put that money into the business. What is to be made of that? The right hon. Gentleman is the representative of high finance in this country and the sort 1669 of thing we get from him is, "free the people and initiative will be shown." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) said something similar although he is not committed to the same line of argument. He said that the banks who deal with the cash will not put it into the industry.
Everyone recognises that this is a very important industry for this country. It is one of the most undesirable things that the film industry in any country should be monopolised by an outside country. It is desirable that everything possible should be done to build up in every way the studios and stages, and to use each one existing at the present time when there is such an opportunity for utilising them. New stages should be built all over the country. At the present moment we are in a deadlock with Hollywood and if it continues, it will not be a question of percentages, but of a 100 per cent. use of British films.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Could we have some clarification from the hon. Gentleman whether these remarks are intended to support my Amendment or are against it?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I have made it very clear that I am not in favour of putting percentages into the Bill and I said that. If the right hon. Gentleman would keep his mind from floating away into the realms of high finance and cease for a moment counting his profits, he will hear what I will have to say, and, in particular, if he will find a more agile-minded Mephistopheles than the one whispering in his ear at the moment he will get an understanding of my argument.
What I want to get at is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has power to direct finance and if the Government are alive to this situation they will use the power. It is not a matter of putting percentages into this Clause, but of using the power of the Chancellor to see that the necessary finance is directed into that industry and that at this particular time no effort is spared in order to utilise every stage as well as have new stages built in all parts of the country. I cannot see why there cannot be stages in Yorkshire and in Scotland. My principal reason for opposing this percentage is a very good one. It would be very undesirable to decide upon a quota until the Scottish Film Council has been set up and is in 1670 a position to give Scottish opinion on what the quota should be.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am glad to see that have the support of one hon. Member on the other side of the Committee. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reject this Amendment, and take whatever steps are necessary to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that capital is directed towards this industry. We have heard much talk about the direction of labour and our lads have been directed in many cases, such as into the Army and into industry.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Let us have finance directed into this industry and let us have everything possible done to see that the greatest encouragement is given to production. Percentages should not be settled until we have got Scottish opinion on the matter, and Scottish opinion can only be got through a Scottish Film Council.
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Rutland and Stamford)
I will first say to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that it is not only high finance which has a stake in the cinematograph industry. There are a great many others who wish to have some measure of security and certainty about the future of this industry. I am afraid I myself can only bring a bucolic mind to this subject as my main activities in this House have been connected with agriculture. There are, however, various points of similarity between our oldest industry, agriculture, and the comparatively new industry of the cinematograph trade. They were both subject to severe competition before the war from the new world, and there was a certain prejudice at home about taking their products.
Today, it is true, we find the position is in exact reverse. There is a keen demand for the home product; in fact, the demand is far greater than the supply. I feel I can speak for agriculture and also for the cinema industry and it can be said of both that they have recollections of the situation as it was in the past and they certainly feel that it may recur again in 1671 the future. I cannot help thinking that it would give confidence to the industry if they knew that they had secured a certain share of the home market at all times. It is only with that knowledge that they can plan ahead.
If I understand the argument advanced by the Government on Second Reading and supported to a certain extent by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) this afternoon, it is that if a quota were fixed, conditions would change so that a low quota would have to be fixed, and that would not be in the interests of the industry as a whole. I cannot quite see that argument. Surely, all we are doing is putting in a bottom. It is a low bottom and we all hope that the quota, when finally decided by the Board of Trade, after consultation with the film industry will, in point of fact, be higher than the quota of 35 per cent., and that British producers will be able to produce the films to fill a very much higher quota. That being so, all we are proposing to do is to upgrade not downgrade. I do not see that there can be any real objection to fixing a minimum quota and giving that measure of security which would be of help to the industry.
Governments, as we all know, change and Governments also change their minds. We should be well advised before we pass from this Amendment to have something down in black and white even though it is a minimum quota well below what the eventual figure will be.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith
There is one remark which fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) with which I am in complete agreement. He said that a quota should govern production. There I entirely agree with him. That seems to me to be the strongest argument possible for inserting the minimum quota in this Clause. The President of the Board of Trade must have sensed that the feeling of the Committee is rather against giving him the complete blank cheque which in included in Clause 2 (1). I am not prepared to say that 35 per cent. is the right figure. It may be 30, 35 or 40. I feel, however, that some figure should be included, and we should not be left completely in the dark as to what will happen after 1st July, 1948. I am in agreement with what has fallen from the lips of most hon. Members who have 1672 spoken. I do not wish to repeat their arguments beyond saying that upon the whole I agree with them, not forgetting the hope that the President of the Board of Trade between now and the Report stage will be able to consider favourably the idea that he should insert a minimum figure above which there may be a sliding scale, but below which the quota shall not fall.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Belcher
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) made one point, with which I ought to deal straight away, when he said that as the Bill stands the President of the Board of Trade has a blank cheque for the fixing of quotas. That is not quite true. The President of the Board of Trade, in consultation with the Films Council, will estimate the quota, which is then subject to the affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) will say, "We know all about this; it does not mean a thing."
§ Mr. Belcher
In spite of the somewhat uproarious interlude with which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) entertained us, this Debate has continued along the lines of the Second Reading. This is far from an issue on which we are split along the lines of political parties; it is more of a technical issue. It is the desire of all hon. Members to assist the cinematograph film trade, whether it be the producing, the distributing or the exhibiting sections. I agree with the right hon. Member for Aldershot that it is most desirable that we should do everything in our power to give a feeling of confidence to the industry, that the industry should know in advance as far as possible what will happen to it, and that we should be as specific as possible; but when it comes to the question of inserting in the Bill a percentage figure for the minimum quota, I must disagree with the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen on this side who have spoken in favour of that.
In the first place, whatever quota is fixed, it will lose a great deal of its value to the film industry if it is unrealistic, that is to say, if we fix a minimum percentage which we cannot attain. It will lose some of its value if we pitch it low 1673 and subsequently find that we can revise it upwards. If we pitch it low, we may tend to discourage the production of British films. That is the danger there. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) who asserted that what decides the producer of a film in making up his mind whether or not to produce and what decides the people who back that producer financially, is not the national percentage quota but the probability or otherwise of marketing their products. That point is quite firmly established.
I could not agree with my hon. Friend that at this time the quota should not be determined largely by reference to the films available or in sight. In deference to the right hon. Member for Aldershot, I strike out the word "foreseeable" from my brief and use the words "in sight." I do not see how in times of shortage we can fix a quota otherwise than by reference to the probable number of films which will be available in the quota period. There is a strong case for doing what he said, for relating the quota in the future, when we have got over the temporary difficulty of shortage of films, to the amount of studio space available in order to provoke the usage of studio space which would not otherwise be used.
§ Mr. Belcher
No, I do not think so, because not all the exhibitors have the other power. I am looking for a much larger part to be played in the future—I hope it is the wish of the Committee—by producers who are not the big chain owners of cinemas and, as exhibitors, able to influence in that way the production of films.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? I think it is legitimate to ask—it has become the custom in this Committee when discussing business questions—if he or his right hon. Friend have discussed this with the B.F.P.A.? Perhaps he would give the answers to the questions which I put and which were contained in a circular which was sent to all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Belcher
It is true that the B.F.P.A. has met my right hon. Friend. Owing to my inability to be present, I do not know exactly what took place at the interview, but there was a discussion the night before last between my right hon. Friend and the B.F.P.A. which went on for more than one hour.
To return to the point about the quota, I should have thought it was quite sufficient for the undertaking to be given by my right hon. Friend that when the time comes to fix the first quotas to be operative under this Bill when it becomes an Act, the quota will be fixed at such a level as to ensure the widest exploitation of whatever films are then in sight. It is always argued that undertakings given by Ministers possess very little real value, certainly as compared with something placed in black and white in a Bill. In many instances that may be true, but in this instance I cannot conceive the present or any other President of the Board of Trade not wanting to fix the quota [...] high as possible with a view to getting the widest possible distribution of British films having regard to the number to be produced.
Why is it, therefore, necessary to insist on placing a figure of 35 per cent., or any other figure, in the Bill? I should have said that whatever may have been the case for this kind of thing some years ago, we have today reached the situation where British films by their very quality will force their way into the cinemas of this country, not necessarily as a result of any Government quota-fixing but because, quality for quality, they are better than their competitors. I should have thought there was a safeguard there. I must resist this Amendment. I do not feel that it is necessary. Placing this or any other figure in the Bill would not have the desired effect. It would not assist in any way the production of British films, and there are circumstances about it which, so far from assisting the production of British films, might have a limiting effect.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The Parliamentary Secretary says that this would not do the producers any good. That is rather curious because producers, who presumably know their own business even better than the Parliamentary Secretary does, are very strongly in favour of having the percentage put in. That point has been brushed 1675 aside, and the Parliamentary Secretary merely says that the producers do not know their own business. Many of the arguments which he used fall to the ground because they are related to the supply of films and so on, but what we want established in the Bill is that, rain or fine, over the next 10 years, the British film producer can rely on a 35 per cent. minimum of British feature films being exhibited in British cinemas. That is not only applicable to those who are engaged at this moment in the production of films but is also intended to stimulate—if not tomorrow, then during the course of the next o years—independent people to come in and produce films in the certainty that at least this market will be assured to them.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that everybody wished to see the widest exploitation—an unfortunate word—the widest expansion, which is the sense in which he used it, of the British film industry, and the mere fact that the quota now might be a little too high or a little too low is no argument why we should not try to get something certain for this most hazardous part of the industry. We feel we must press this to a Division. The arguments against the Amendment are not substantial, and we must record our feeling, which is that the Government have the ability to remove one of the uncertainties in one of the most hazardous parts of the industry and they should seize it and not put forward arguments which, however agreeably expressed, have no substance.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I should like to refer to something the Parliamentary Secretary said. I think, with respect, that it is not sufficient to give an assurance that in fixing the quota in July a figure will be arrived at which will have relation to the films then producing or in sight. The fact is that the number of films which will be producing or in sight will be determined by the number of stages in use, and the number of stages in use depends very largely upon a decision arrived at by the integrated vertical corporations who are both producers and exhibitors and who own the majority of the stages. As has been pointed out, we are now producing one film per stage per annum, whereas before the war we produced three films per stage. If we are to get back to three films per stage we must encourage the independent production of films upon the 1676 only stages that exist, that is the stages which belong to the integrated vertical corporations. I ought to say that I have some interest in this, being a governor of the Old Vic, and indirectly interested in the production of independent films.
It is tremendously important that the stages should be fully used. If they are not fully used, we cannot have an active first-class British films industry whose films will go out and earn foreign exchange all over the world. It is vitally important that these stages should be pressed into use, and unless we have early notice of what this quota will be, it will be possible for those who own those stages to concentrate upon the making of a few super-expensive pictures, keeping those stages idle as standbys and so on. I put it to the hon. Gentleman, with all respect, that with the best will in the world it is not sufficient to fix a quota with one's eye on the films in sight because the number of films in sight will be determined very largely by what the hon. Gentleman says now.
§ Mr. Belcher
I recognise that there is a great deal of fact in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) says. I have not said that for all time the only factor to be taken into account when determining a quota is the number of films in sight. I agree that other factors have to be taken into account, but it is not the case that at present we are not using studio space because somebody deliberately, maliciously or foolishly does not want to use it. There are today all sorts of limiting factors which will not, I hope, be there in two or three years time. However, I do not believe that we shall produce the result that my right hon. Friend suggests by fixing an unreal target in the form of a quota and forcing the producer to come along and produce films. They are limited by other factors. In any case, they must have consideration for their own financial losses—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
If the Parliamentary Secretary uses the words "minimum" and "target" as interchangeable, the argument will get into a mess. They are very different things. This is not a target but a minimum below which the British film producer knows the quota will not fall. To describe that as a target is to mislead the Committee.
§ Mr. Belcher
I accept that there is a difference between "target" and "minimum." I hope, however, that the minimum to which the right hon. Gentleman refers would be the kind of minimum which would come very close to being a target. In other words, we would not want to fix the minimum so low that it would be unreal in relation to what was possible. I see nothing wrong about that. One of my arguments against fixing a minimum is that we may fix it so low as to be a positive discouragement to the industry. We have here my right hon. Friend urging, with the support of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his hon. Friends, this fixing of a minimum as an incentive to the producers to go ahead and produce, and we then have the right hon. Gentleman getting up and pointing out with some asperity that there is all the difference in the world between a target and a minimum. I know there is, but unless the minimum approaches a target it will not have the effect my right hon. Friend suggested.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that I thought I knew more about their job than the British film producers. I can assure him that I am the most humble person on earth. I do not know anything at all about the production of films and I certainly would not attempt to compete in knowledge with any film producer. When my right hon. Friend saw the British Film Producers Association the other evening, he had a long talk with them and he felt that he had satisfied them, because he said that a minimum would be fixed in two or three months' time having regard to what is being produced, which would be related to the potential supply of films in the forthcoming period and, thereafter, there would be annual reviews, with the minimum rising as the production of British films rose.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
May I clear up that point? That minimum is to be fixed for one year at a time or for a shorter period. That is an entirely different matter from the one we are now discussing, which is that a minimum should apply for the whole of the 10 years.
§ Mr. Belcher
But the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend is that the minimum which will be fixed in July this year 1678 will be the minimum and, thereafter, there will be an increase year by year. In the Second Reading Debate my right hon. Friend himself said that.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I am sorry, but I must try to clear this up. If the undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman is that the quota fixed to apply to the period beginning 1st October is to be increased subsequently during the rest of the life of this Measure, that is the equivalent of fixing the minimum asked for now: if, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman is saying, "I shall fix a quota which will apply to the first period beginning on the 1st October but, subsequently, although I hope it may go up, it may equally go down," it does not meet the point at all. The Parliamentary Secretary now says that the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking was to fix a quota on 1st October, with the further undertaking that that quota would be increased progressively during the life of the Measure If that is right, it meets our point.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
If that is a definite undertaking, that whatever target is fixed on 1st October will be increased, that is equivalent to saying that the figure fixed is, in fact, the minimum, and I see no reason why it should not be fixed at 35 per cent.
§ Mr. Belcher
The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in his interpretation of what I said. The President's undertaking is that the quota fixed for the period beginning 1st October is the minimum quota and, thereafter, amendments will be in an upward direction; not necessarily every year, but throughout the lifetime of the Bill when it becomes an Act, there will be an upward climb of the minimum and no downward climb. My right hon. Friend said so during the Second Reading Debate.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
I understood the hon. Gentleman in his first speech to say that in the course of 10 years the quality of British films would rise and that 35 per cent, would not be needed. Therefore, there is the possibility of it going down in 10 years.
§ Mr. Belcher
No, what I endeavoured to convey was that the quality of British films, I hoped, would go on improving, 1679 over and above the improvement which has already taken place, to produce the effect that the quota would be of less value than it is now. The quota is introduced to support British film production. If the quality and the efficiency of the British film industry improve, as we all hope will be the case, the value of the quota as the supporting factor for the industry will obviously become of less and less importance, and their own prestige will put British films in the cinemas because the cinema-going public will demand to see them. The quota will still remain so long as it is the wish of Parliament that the film industry shall be supported by a quota system.
Having now straightened out the matter of the increasing minimum, and the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend, I do not know I whether the right hon. Gentleman wishes to press his Amendment to a Division? I can only repeat that I feel that to impose now arbitrarily a 35 per cent. minimum in the Bill is quite unnecessary and will not produce the desired effect.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The Parliamentary Secretary said that this is an opinion which cuts across all parties, and I should have thought that this was a point on which the President could have taken the general sense of the Committee and perhaps have given some undertaking that he will look into this again to see if he can give us something on the lines of this Amendment. If I interpret the opinion of the Committee aright, it is something like this: what we really want is a 10 year basic percentage. The Board of Trade have had 20 years' experience of the working of the quota and, in the last few years, a great number of cinemas have not been able to comply with their quota obligations because there was a shortage, for obvious reasons. At the present time, as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said, while this dispute is going on with Hollywood, the quota of British films at present might be anything up to 40, 50, 60 or even 80 per cent.
What the hon. Gentleman did not tell the Committee was how soon is this Committee, which is to determine this percentage, to meet? How often are they to meet? Is there to be a sliding scale upon this percentage? If you had a 1680 series of fires, a strike, a similar ban from Hollywood, you might have overnight a position in which you had completely to change your quota. Therefore, what we want is a basic percentage of quota which we have always had. This is a re-enactment. We have had this Debate over and over again in Committee as to whether it shall be 12½ per cent. exhibitors, 15 per cent. exhibitors, 12½ per cent. renters, and so on, and this House has always taken a great interest in the matter.
If we had the basic percentage fixed as a matter of consultation on a to-year period, it would give, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) said, some confidence to the production side of the industry here. Then let the right hon. Gentleman's Committee meet which is to determine the short-term policy, which is greatly affected not by that Committee but by what will happen as a result of the negotations between Hollywood and the film industry of this country. That has more effect upon the screen showing time than any quota we are discussing today. There you would have flexibility and elasticity.
This view is held in all parties in the House. We are all trying to make this a workable Bill to give the British film production industry security and stability in the future in a difficult international situation. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give an undertaking that he will reconsider this before the Report stage; and try to give us some reasonable arrangement to satisfy the mover of this Amendment.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
One point made by the Parliamentary Secretary disturbed me because it seemed to be based on a dangerous misconception. It was with regard to the quality of British films being really more important than this fixed quota. It is easy to ride off in a Debate on a phrase that the quality of British films is so much more important that it will be the deciding factor. That obscures the real point, that the British film industry, if not in its infancy, is still a young and struggling infant, and certainly is 30 years behind Hollywood in experience and technique and in the actual production of films. It is perfectly certain 1681 that, though the production of films in this country has improved, nevertheless it is obvious that over the next two years there will be the usual ratio of very fine spectacular successful films and then, after that, a great many films into which the same amount of endeavour, the same amount of artistic integrity and keenness, money and all the apparatus that goes with it, have been put but, by that curious alchemy of artistic production, the first picture is a complete success, the next is not so successful, and the third may be even less successful.
That is normal in the production industry and you are unfairly handicapping an industry by saying in an airy way, "It is the quality that will make it work," when one knows perfectly well that the quality has to be built up over many years. It is exactly that encouragement which is wanted and provided in this Amendment that will allow the film industry of this country to build up. We must imagine a time when there will be another big influx of films from outside, when the differences with America will have been settled in various ways—
§ Mr. Belcher
Would the hon. Member mind my interrupting? I am sure he would not want deliberately to misrepresent me. I was not suggesting that I regarded the quota as becoming progressively less necessary. All I said was that the ratio of importance, as between the quota as a protector of the British film industry and the quality of the industry as its own selling factor, was bound to change. For instance, 20 years ago the British film industry probably could not have established itself without the quota; 20 years hence the quality of the industry should be such that, although it is necessary for international financial reasons to retain a quota, in fact what will operate chiefly to the advantage of the British film industry will be quality.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
That is a very different point from the one made. I will conclude by saying that I cannot quite understand the Government's coyness in not telling us now what they are going to do about this. It would be satisfactory to everybody if, instead of preserving in mystery for some time ahead the figure decided on, they would take the plunge, knowing full well now what is the figure
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
I want to join in the request from hon Members on all sides to the Government to reconsider this matter. I am concerned about the effect of the Clause, 11 it goes through unamended, on all the categories of film producers in Britain, but especially on the position of the independent producer in Britain. There are three categories of film producers whom we have to bear in mind when we look at the Clause and the proposed Amendment. There is first the category which has been described as the financially integrated category, the people who make, exhibit and own the cinemas and control showing time. Then there is the independent producer, who may own a certain amount of floor space and so be able to produce on his own. The third category is the independent producer who does not own floor space and cannot produce unless he can get somebody else to let him have it.
Let us look at the effect of this Clause upon those three categories. The effect on the last category is utterly disastrous unless this Amendment goes through—the independent producer who owns no studio space and, in fact, only produces if he is commissioned to do so. He has to be assured that, when ha produces his film, there will be showing time available to him. That guarantee can only be given by the first category of producers, those who control the cinemas; and unless they know what their quota is to be from now on, they cannot even guarantee screen time for their own stuff, much less guarantee screen time for the independent producer who cannot produce unless they invite him to do so. Under this Clause as it stands nothing whatever is to happen until July.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Brown
The whole machinery of the Clause and of the Amendment is directed to the point of whether there is to be a statutory minimum of floor space or not, and that means that such facilities as are guaranteed by the Bill have to be divided between the various types of producer. Under those conditions the independent producer is going to have a very bad time indeed. Until July he is not to know what effect this will have 1683 on him. I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he felt that when the President of the Board of Trade saw the film people the other day he left them satisfied. On the contrary, the first thing that happened after the meeting was that orders of dismissal were given on a large scale, especially by independent producers. They cannot keep artists, scenario staff, and all the rest, hanging about until July before they know where they stand. The effect of that has been catastrophic.
§ Mr. Belcher
I would be pleased if the hon. Member would tell the Committee how he is to protect the interests of independent producers as against all other kinds by fixing an arbitrary quota of 35 per cent. in this Bill. He can only do so by going further and saying that of that 35 per cent. 25 per cent. shall be from the big producers, five from the smaller producers, and five from the types he mentions.
§ Mr. Brown
Unless I can have some guarantee, I cannot consider the interests of those component parts. What we are dealing with is the guarantee, or lack of guarantee, of the thing as a whole. On Second Reading on all sides of the House of Commons we were all very much concerned about the independent producer. If his lot was bad under the old quota, it is going to be worse than ever in the absence of any kind of quota or proportion at all.
One of my reasons for supporting the case that the Government should give us 35 per cent., or some other percentage, is that, thereafter, I may begin to argue the case of the independent producer, and invite the Committee to consider how we can protect him against monopolists. I cannot begin to protect him until we know where the whole industry is to stand. The whole industry is to know nothing until July, and a six months' hiatus is a considerable hiatus. The industry is concerned about the casual and insecure character of employment. I can imagine no better way of promoting that casual and insecure character of employment than by leaving the whole matter until July, and not saying now what the position will be then.
I join in the plea to the Government to consider whether they can give us some minimum percentage, 35 per cent. or some 1684 other, which will relieve the industry from its present insecurity. That insecurity has been added to, and not diminished, by the conversations with the President of the Board of Trade, as I know, having seen the film people since, and knowing the consequences of failure to get a per-centage—
§ Mr. Brown
It is no good the President of the Board of Trade shaking his head. There have been discharges this week; I have seen them. It is no good saying that this has nothing to do with the Bill. I have tried to explain with great clarity that it has a very great deal to do with this Clause, and I join in the plea to the President of the Board of Trade to consider it. I am sure he wants to do the right thing. This is not a party issue. I beg him to reconsider the position and give us what the Amendment asks for, or perhaps something in its place. Otherwise we are bound to divide against the Government, and I would be bound to vote against the Government, not that that would cause us any grief. I want them to do the right thing.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
The last speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade brought out what it would not be in Order fully to discuss, the very close connection between this question of whether there should be a fixed percentage —x 35, or not—and the question of how long notice there ought to be. On his argument it seems to me that if x is nothing, or something floating, or unpredictable, unless we are giving very long notice of increases, it will stay for ever and the minimum will become the maximum.
The main point I wish to put is, if I understood it properly, that the President of the Board of Trade will fix a quota in July. Let us say for the sake of argument that it is 30 per cent. and that he promises in the ensuing 10 years that it may sometimes go above 30 per cent., but never below. I suggest this is the most extreme strain of Ministerial power we have yet seen. The Minister is refusing to allow Parliament to put in a figure for the next 10 years. He is keeping it locked in his bosom like Madam Humbert, who had locked in her bosom the number of a safe which contained I forget how many thousands of millions 1685 of francs. She was able to do very well for herself, but not for anyone else.
The Bill provides for the figure to be fixed periodically in the second, third, fourth, fifth and up to the tenth year by consultation (a) with the advisory committee, and (b) by an Affirmative Resolution. But the advisory committee and the two Houses are being cut out of the authority which the Bill is purporting to give them because we are told on the personal assurance of the Minister that the Board of Trade will stick to x, or more than x, but never less, for 10 years. I suggest that that is such a strain on Ministerial power as against Parliament as has never before been claimed, that it is wholly illegitimate, and such an undertaking could not in fact be held valid for 10 years, nor indeed for 10 months.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The Parliamentary Secretary asks me whether I would be prepared to withdraw the Amendment. The answer is unequivocally, "no." Having listened to all that has fallen from the Treasury Bench, I consider they are manoeuvring themselves into a position which is wholly untenable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) pointed out. I was trying to explain the nature of the undertaking. Imagine my amazement when I understood it to be that in July a percentage will be fixed, and that we were to get an assurance from the Government, apparently to be binding on future Parliaments, that this percentage would never be reduced, but would only be subject to increases.
Such an undertaking is absolutely worthless, not because of bad intentions of the President of the Board of Trade, but because he and the Parliamentary Secretary have been chasing their tails so much that they have got into a position which no one could define. All the moral arguments are completely knocked over by the fact that they admit that a minimum percentage is desirable in July, but undesirable in February. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) pointed out that it is now that we require the fixing of that percentage. I press the Government to get this thing straight. Because they have moved into an untenable position they should have the grace to recognise the fact, and to promise 1686 to look at the matter between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. Belcher
I think the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) would be the first to agree that while it is always competent for a Minister to say on the Committee stage of a Bill that he will look into a matter before the Report stage, it would be most dishonourable and undesirable to give that undertaking lightly, without intending to do anything about it. I do not accept for a moment the suggestion of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) that as a result of this Bill and the interview that my right hon. Friend had the other day, men are being discharged.
§ Mr. Brown
How does the Minister know? How dare he contradict me on a point of fact, unless he has authority for so doing? Has he been told by all the producers in Britain that there have been no discharges since the interview? I assert that there have been discharges. Unless he can controvert that, he ought not to say that he does not accept for a moment what I say.
§ Mr. Belcher
I am sorry to learn that I have no right to argue with the hon. Gentleman when he argues with my right hon. Friend. I would point out to the Committee that the meeting between these people and my right hon. Friend took place last Friday night, and while it may be true that there are people being discharged from studios and other places, I think it is beyond the capacity of the hon. Gentleman or myself to say how precisely that is related to this Bill. We have all tried to arrive at some fair solution, and I would not like to run into a stiff hurdle so early in the Committee stage of the Bill.
I will undertake that my right hon. Friend will go very carefully into this matter between now and the Report stage. Honestly, I am not making a statement in order to get through this particular stage. It will be looked to carefully to see whether there is some way of meeting the wishes of producers, and of many hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. It may be that we can bring forward the date for fixing the October quota, which I think would meet the wishes of all hon. Members who have spoken. The figure would be a bit more 1687 of a gamble than if it were fixed by July, but there may be some little room for having a shot in the dark. I will undertake that we will look at it between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I think we should accept that statement. The Parliamentary Secretary is perfectly right in saying that no Minister undertakes to look at matters between Committee and Report stage without a general desire to meet the wishes which have been expressed on both sides of the Committee. This is not a case where the Minister is looking at something which requires legal advice, or a complicated piece of Parliamentary drafting. This is not the kind of thing for which he requires any time to consider it between now and the Report stage, except to discuss it with his colleagues. It is very simple. We ask him to see if he can put a definite percentage into the Bill. I do not wish to be dogmatic as to exactly what the percentage should be, but I am content to rely on the assurance he has given that he will endeavour to meet the wishes of both sides of the Committee. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, to leave out "three," and to insert "nine."
I am not quite sure that this Amendment is consequential on the one we have been discussing, although it is part of the same thing. It is to prevent hair trigger alterations in the quota from time to time. What we wish to avoid is the situation where the producer starts planning a film on a particular quota and finds in the middle of production that the quota has been lowered against him. If we were to get a suitable minimum percentage under the last Amendment the main point of this Amendment would possibly be removed. The presumption in the Bill, however, is that quotas may go down or up. Therefore, it is most undesirable for a producer to start off when the figure is 35 per cent. and then find, when he has completed his film, that the market has been removed because the quota has been lowered to 20 per cent.
§ 5.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Belcher
Again, I see the force of the argument that the producer needs to know not only what is going to happen 1688 to him but also needs to know that as much in advance of the actual happening as is possible. I said so myself on the previous Amendment. The trouble is that the period of notice can be taken to the point at which one is in danger of imposing the unrealistic quota I was talking about. We feel that we have to try to look for a period, which will necessarily be a kind of compromise, which will give the Board of Trade and the Film Council an opportunity of making a fairly accurate estimate of what the quota can be, and at the same time will give to the producers and to all others concerned a long enough period to avoid most of the risks which were suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
In the case of the initial quota, the 1st October quota, we are limited about the length of notice which can be given by reason of the fact that we are now in the month of February and the quota comes into force on 1st October. I do not know now when this Bill will become law, and, whatever we do about subsequent quota periods, notice about the first one is obviously limited by reason of the fact that it commences on 1st October. For subsequent quota periods we are prepared to meet, perhaps half-way, the objections which are expressed in this Amendment, and to say that instead of giving three months' notice of the quota periods we will be prepared, after the initial one of 1st October, 1948, to give six months notice. If that proposal meets with the commendation of hon. Gentlemen, I hope that they will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I am glad to hear that that compromise is being accepted. It is on the lines of the Amendment which I and my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) have put down, in page 2, line 22, to leave out "three" and to insert "six." We were concerned not so much about the producers—we have been hearing enough about them—but from the point of view of the exhibitor, who under the Second Schedule, Part 11, Section 18, is allowed to book in advance for six months. He would be at a disadvantage if the Clause remained as originally drafted, as it would have provided that he would be subject to a quota change giving him only three months' notice, which would upset the normal practice. I thank my hon. Friend for his compromise.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
We on this side of the Committee would be prepared to accept that compromise, and in those circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
There is in Subsection (4) the statement thatBefore making an order under this Section, the Board shall consult the Cinematograph Films Council and consider its advice in the matter.I should not be in Order if I went into the question of the composition of the Cinematograph Films Council. I only mention it at this point to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that it is clearly stated that the Board of Trade will consider the advice given by this Council. When we reach the Clause dealing with the Council hon. Members will have that in mind and it will affect the discussion on that particular point.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.