HC Deb 03 February 1948 vol 446 cc1689-99
Mr. H. Wilson

I beg to move, in page 3, line 25, to leave out from the first "film," to the first "the," in line 27, and to insert "of which."

The Chairman

I suggest that the next Amendment and the last Amendment to this Clause on the Order Paper, which are also in the name of the President of the Board of Trade, might be taken with this one.

Mr. Wilson

These three Amendments are simple in their effect. They are really designed to clear up a point in the wording of the Bill which on a strict reading might give rise to a little trouble. The combined effect of the three Amendments taken together is to make it clear in the Bill that the cheap British film which fails to satisfy the costing test of 10s. a foot will be treated for quota purposes as neutral, that is, that it receives no quota credit and equally entails no quota debit. On a strict reading of the Bill as it stands, it is possible that these cheap British films would need to have a quota provided against them in the same way as foreign films would, but that was never intended by the Bill, and I have thought it right to put down these Amendments to clear up this point.

Mr. Wilmot

When I saw that my right hon. Friend had put down Amendments to this Clause, I had hoped that he was, going to amend the labour cost of 10s. a foot, which I submit is entirely inadequate in present circumstances. I am not proposing to speak about the particular figure which appears in a subsequent Amendment; I am speaking about the figure in the Clause as drafted. The President of the Board of Trade now seeks to amend the Clause, but his Amendments leave the figure of 10s. a foot, that is, if I read the Bill aright, and I speak with all humility and subject to correction upon this highly technical subject. This figure of 10s. a foot is, I repeat, entirely inadequate in present circumstances, and puts us in a worse position than that under the 1938 Act, which laid down £15,000 as the minimum figure to qualify for the quota.

The Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that his remarks are appropriate upon this Amendment. They may be appropriate to another one, or when we reach the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."They are not appropriate to the words which the President of the Board of Trade proposes to leave out and to insert.

Mr. Wilmot

I am, of course, anxious to keep in Order, and abide by your Ruling, Major Milner, but I thought I would be in order to draw attention to the fact that the Clause as amended by the right hon. Gentleman's Amendments would still leave the figure at 10s. a foot, and I wished to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that that will not achieve the object for which it is put into the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: —In page 3, line 27, leave out "of the film."—[Mr. H. Wilson.]

Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 27, after "are," to insert: in the case of a long film, less than twenty shillings, and in the case of a short film. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) I speak with all humility on this technical subject. He has strengthened the argument which I ventured to put forward that the 10s. mentioned in the Bill is not nearly adequate to secure the object which we all have in mind—that there should be a cost test to secure that British films qualifying for the quota shall be of a sufficiently good standard. It is a good thing that the cost test is to be applied to all films as distinct from long films, but representations have been made to me and to other hon. Members, by those who have first-hand knowledge of the production side of the industry, that 10s. is not nearly adequate and that 20s. would be much more so. It seems to me imperative that if the quality of the entertainment in cinemas is to be improved and if British films are to be worthy, this higher figure should be fixed. It may be that 10s. is sufficient for the shorter supporting film, but I think that 20s. would be much more nearly a realistic figure for the longer films.

Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)

There is an Amendment in my name which is not to be called, in page 3, line 27, after "are," to insert in the case of a long film, less than one pound per foot and, in the case of a short film. It is, in substance, the same Amendment as that of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton), and I have pleasure in supporting what he has said. The Minister has recognised in some of the other Amendments which he himself has put down, that there is a need for discriminating between the long and the short film as this Amendment purports to do. We have just had a long Debate on the undesirability of writing into the Bill a figure which might prove to be too low. That argument is strictly applicable also to this point, because although many producers welcome the fact that there is now a labour cost test, they feel that the figure which is written into the Bill is so small as to be absolutely academic.

The type of "quota quickie" just exceeding 3,000 feet in length, which has so often been made for quota purposes, can still be made under the Bill as it is now drafted, for a labour cost of £1,500.

Anyone who has any knowledge of the financing of film production will realise that a minimum figure of even £3,000 is quite inadequate to prevent that type of "quota quickie" from continuing to exist, not now for renter's quota but for exhibitor's quota.

In some respects the position is now worse than it was before this Bill was introduced. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) has introduced one figure. If I can put the same figure in another way, I would say that under the old renters' quota provisions there was a minimum labour cost test of 30s. for long films. That is now to fall to 10s. My only doubt about the Amendment we are considering is whether the 20s. figure is high enough, but I am confident the 10s. figure is utterly academic, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider it.

Mr. W. Shepherd

Like many other Members, I find myself in some difficulty over this Amendment. There is no doubt that there is need for some statutory provision to ensure that the quality of films produced in this country conforms to a minimum. At the same time, there is obviously a real difficulty, in what we all agree is an inflationary period, in fixing arbitrarily a figure below which the level of the cost of production should not fall. Here is an opportunity for something more flexible than the provision which has been put in the Bill. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to look closely into this matter between now and the Report stage to see if something more fitting to the circumstances cannot be devised. I particularly want to put to him the position of those who produce short films under this particular arrangement. Even under the Amendment as put forward this afternoon it means the film labour cost of 10s. is admissible.

6.0 p.m.

What does that mean in terms of producing short films? We have short films of about 2,000 ft. and it means that the total amount that the producer will get is £12,000. Of that, a very substantial proportion will be taken up by distribution costs. It is very questionable whether, on the basis of the present costs, he can get back more than £1,000. Is it possible for the producers of short films in this country really to organise their produc- tions on a proper basis, pay proper salaries, and get good ideas and commentators, for this meagre sum of money? It is impossible.

I urge the President of the Board of Trade to have a very special regard for the position of those who produce these short films. I am told on reasonably good authority that the company with which the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) is associated hires short films to cinemas in the North of Scotland for 7s. 6d. a week. The cost of sending the films by passenger train is over 3s. so that the wretched producer of this short film has a very difficult time indeed. It is impossible, in fact, in the existing circumstances, for a man producing short films to make a living.

The present position is that unless something desperate is done to raise the standards of the short film producers they are going under. For four years or more they have obtained substantial orders from the Government. Those orders are now tapering off. They have had substantial orders from private concerns, but in the uncertainty of business—and in many instances because of the threat of nationalisation—those orders also are tapering off. Consequently, that very important part of the industry now finds itself in a state of suspension. It is unable to get a return for its products and uncertain as to its future. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will go very closely into this question and will take steps to see that the producers of short films are protected. They are very important people, and if we get a collapse of the double feature programme—which I think inevitable and even desirable—they will have even more emphasis and importance attached to them.

Whilst I cannot support this Amendment, because it is much too inflexible—indeed I feel that the Clause as a whole is much too inflexible—I feel that we ought, between now and the Report stage, to try to devise some means whereby we can get something more in accord with the present circumstances. Alterations or amendments could be made if changes come about in the cost of production, but it would not have the effect, which this Clause has—and even this Amendment has—of condemning the producer of a short film to labour costs which will not cover requirements necessary to complete a really good job.

Mr. Wilmot

I wish to make a most serious appeal to my right hon. Friend to think again about this figure of 10s., because it is going to drive us right back to the "quota quickies" which is the worst possible fate that could befall the British film industry. That that will happen is almost certain. The cost of making a film can be taken to be roughly double the labour cost. The length of a feature film is roughly 10,000 ft. If a feature film is to be made with labour costs of £5,000, or if a film, which can be shown for one and a half hours, is to be made for "£10,000 it will be something which will be cheap and very nasty. We should lose a market and, what is even more important than a market, a place in the artistic world, simply because this Bill has failed to recognise what are the costs of film production.

I was very taken by the point which the hon. Member opposite made about the somewhat contrary influence upon the short films. I do not understand it, but I was interested to hear what he said. It does point to two things. The first is the necessity of inserting somewhere in this machinery a standard safeguard so that we shall not defeat the whole purpose of the quota subsidy by having people who merely comply with the letter of the quota by putting in rubbishy films in order to conform with it. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that that is the inevitable effect of this Clause. Nothing is more serious in this Bill than this particular figure. It will ruin our industry if it remains. I do beg of him to say that the matter will be reconsidered between now and the Report stage in consultation with the best people in the industry.

Earl Winterton

I do not think the situation is quite as simple as the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) has suggested. I wish to approach this Amendment from a non-party angle. Surely, what the Committee is concerned with—and we are fortunate in having a number of Members who are familiar with this subject—is to steer a rather difficult course through a very narrow channel. No one is in favour of the type of "quota quickies" which have so properly been denigrated in all the speeches. I would point out that if British films, either long or short, are to compete in the truncated state of the market, as it is at the present time, they have to be cheaper than in the past I know I shall be acquitted of any attack on any part of the film industry, certainly on the trade union part of it, when I say that no one who has any contact with film production or exhibition can be otherwise than apprehensive of the enormous cost of films in the old days. Therefore, we have to find a rather narrow channel through which to steer, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be cautious about accepting the Amendment in its present form.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

I put my name to the Amendment now under discussion for two reasons. One is to defeat the manufacture of the rubbishy films to which reference has been made by preceding speakers. In my view, there is no question of principle which divides hon. Members on either side of the Committee. We all have the same object in view, but the question with which we are concerned is how that object can best be achieved. So far as my hon. Friend the Member of St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) and myself are concerned, this Amendment seems to provide the best, or simplest, way of dealing with what is an admitted necessity. Without a higher costs test there is no real safeguard against piling up programmes with inferior supporting films, about which all hon. Members have rightly complained. I will not bind myself to the figure in the Amendment, if the President of the Board of Trade has a better suggestion to make. The higher costs test will certainly ensure a higher quality production and should be a condition of registration of every film under the exhibitor's quota.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to give serious consideration to the point that the cost figure has been put much too low to achieve anything like what we hope to do in continuing good quality British films and eliminating very bad ones. I wish to make a point in reply to the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) who referred to the high charge paid for these films. That has nothing to do with the point we are now making. It never has had any direct relationship to the labour costs charged. No actual figures of current costs have been quoted in support of this Amendment, but I have obtained figures of recent films—not long films, which I understand usually have a high labour cost charge, especially features—but actually quite small films, recently produced. One just over 1,600 feet works out at a labour cost of £1 19s. 2d. a foot. Another, of 2,500 feet was £ 10s. 6d. a foot, and one, which was just over 3,000 feet—and which would count as a long film under the proposed Bill—was £1 12s. 1d. They were good quality short films, and the average was in excess of 30s. per foot for the current labour costs charged. There could be no danger at all in increasing the figure in the Bill, and we should be quite willing to listen to any suggestions on that point. There should be no objection to increasing the figure on the ground that it might lead to, or create, difficulties in reducing the cost of British films. I do not think that the acceptance of this Amendment, or something of a similar nature, would do anything but assist in securing the objective we all have in mind, namely, the elimination of the type of film which is made as cheaply as possible only in order to satisfy the quota restrictions.

Mr. H. Wilson

The Committee is again in complete agreement on its objective. We all want to see very much better films produced than the "quota quickies" we knew in the past. We all want to keep down the cost of film production to the absolute minimum. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) said, it is a new thing to have any cost test at all on a films Bill, at any rate in relation to the exhibitor's quota. It has appeared in the past in relation to the renters' quota, but not to the exhibitors' quota.

The actual figure of 10s. per foot, now in the Bill, which some hon. Members have criticised, was recommended by the Films Council. They considered it a reasonable figure to start from. I feel that before we put up our sights any higher in this matter which is essentially experimental, we ought to see how we progress with this figure of 10s. per foot I would certainly ask the Films Council to keep a very close watch on this question, and to advise me whether any change is necessary. It is not as if, once it is fixed, this figure will be unaltered for 10 years to come. Nor should we require—if the Committee agrees with further proposals I shall make later—any new legislation to increase the figure from 10s. to any higher figure considered necessary.

6.15 p.m.

There is already power under the 1938 Act to alter the figure for all films if necessary. That power is retained in this Bill. Later I shall propose an Amendment which would allow us to have different figures for long and short films. It would allow us to prescribe different figures at a later stage, if we thought fit and if we were so advised by the Films Council. If we were so advised, or if we formed an independent view on the matter, we should be free under Section 36 (1) of the Act of 1938 to amend the figure. I hope that my hon. Friends will accept the assurance that this is an experimental figure. We shall ask the Films Council to keep an eye on the matter and to report how things develop. If certain other Amendments are accepted, we shall be perfectly free at any time to alter the figure.

I agree with what has been said about the enormous importance of short and documentary films. Like the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), I think that we must go rather slowly in the matter of fixing a figure. Although the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) does not like the way in which the word "flexibility" is used in these days, I hope that he, together with other hon. Members, will grant us a certain degree of flexibility in this matter.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether it would not be wiser to govern this matter by order subject to affirmative Resolution in the House? Possibly the Amendments he has mentioned cover that point, but we do not know.

Mr. Wilson

Yes. The proposed Amendment provides for dealing with it in that way.

Mr. Scott-Elliot (Accrington)

While recognising that what has been said is very helpful, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to go into the matter a little more fully. Surely, it would be possible for him to consult the Cinematograph Films Council and to go forward with the figure of£1. I believe that the figure of £1 is wholly and completely in the national interest. I associate myself with the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) in saying that I am not at all sure whether £1 is sufficient. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that one of the objects of abolishing the renters' quota was to do away with the incentive to make poor quality films. I ask the Minister to complete the policy and to lay down a figure which will be in greater conformity with what is required.

It may be said that American films are to be in short supply in the immediate future. Obviously there will be a very great incentive for people to produce films in this country. Unless some cost test is laid down, there will be a great incentive upon them to produce films of a cheap nature in order to produce them quickly and thus to flood the market. That point ought to be borne in mind. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will not consult the Cinematograph Films Council at an early date with a view to amending this figure.

Mr. H. Wilson

One of the difficulties about introducing progressive Measures—I think it is agreed on all sides that this is a progressive Bill—is that when a new proposal is introduced in any Clause one is immediately pressed to go a little bit further, perhaps further than is sometimes justified. My hon. Friend asked whether I would consult the Cinematograph Films Council. As hon. Members know, the Council will have to be reconstituted when this Bill becomes law. It has not yet been decided how it will be reconstituted. I shall be very anxious to hear the views of the Committee on that topic.

I prefer this matter to be referred to the new Films Council rather than to the one which is now dying. I should like it to be kept under continuous review. It may be that the new Council can come to a fairly quick decision at an early date. I would remind my hon. Friend that the existing Films Council has already considered this matter and recommended a figure of 10s. I think it would be better to leave this subject now. I have given every assurance that we shall have it examined by the new Films Council, and I think I have satisfied the Committee that it is possible to proceed in the mattter if we want to change this provision.

Mr. Dumpleton

I must confess that the right hon. Gentleman has relieved my mind to a certain extent. I thought that we were legislating here for 10 years. I did not realise that he proposed to introduce an Amendment or to make provision for revising the figure if necessary. In view of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 3, line 28, at end, add: shall not be registered as an exhibitors' quota film, and any such film shall be disregarded for the purposes of Subsections (2) and (3) of Section one of this Act."—[Mr. H. Wilson.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.