§ Mr. Levy
I beg to move, in page 3, line 29, to leave out Subsection (1).
I willingly admit that the validity of this Amendment is, to some extent, bound up with information which is not in my possession and which it has been rather hard to elicit. Indeed, questions were put to the President of the Board of Trade previously and he did not find it possible to give any definite answer. But with that reservation, it seems to me that there are two lines of argument on the face of it indicating that this Clause should be eliminated. It is a Clause which exempts from the quota provisions of the Bill cinemas which habitually take less than £100 a week.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry to interrupt. I think that when the hon. Gentleman uses the word "Clause" he means "Subsection." This does not refer to the whole Clause.
§ Mr. Levy
I mean Subsection. The general negative reason which I have for moving this Amendment, is that, as far as I can see, so far—at least on the Second Reading of the Bill—no case has been made out why the exemption should be made. The President of the Board of Trade made a reference to administrative difficulties. I think that our conduct in respect of this Amendment will be determined to a large extent by the nature of his reply on matters of fact, and I hope that I can have the right hon. Gentleman's attention. I do not quite know what the administrative difficulties are. There is no use in my 1700 arguing the points because I can only speculate, but I hope that he will be able to make them more concrete to the Committee. The positive reason for moving this Amendment is that the purpose of the Bill is to foster the production of new films. That is the reason for the quota. Any exemption from that quota works against the general sense of the Bill. It may be argued by my right hon. Friend that the number of theatres affected is so small, and the takings are so small, that the loss to the production side of the industry is negligible. That is what we want to know. On the Second Reading I asked what the figures were. Previously it had been suggested that 1,500 cinemas were involved. The President of the Board of Trade said that he understood that the figure was nearer 500 but that his information at that stage was not completely reliable. I hope that by now it is accurate.
The specific question I want to ask is not only how many cinemas are involved but on the basis of, say, a quota of 33⅓ per cent. or 40 per cent., how much cash would be involved and what, therefore, would be the calculable loss, as closely as he can estimate, to the production end of the industry. I know that he will only be able to give an estimated figure. If it is so small that it would not help the production side of the industry at all, then, of course, he has a substantial case; but if it is any considerable figure, then very much better arguments must be advanced against the Amendment.
On the negative side, I can only attempt to anticipate arguments, and the only ones I have heard are that it would be unreasonably hard on these small cinemas for two reasons. The first is that they would have very great difficulty in procuring the necessary films for their quota, because they are in helpless competition with the big circuits or even the smaller circuits. But I should have thought that that was looked after by what it is now fashionable to describe as the "escape" Clause. Under Clause 4 (2) it appears to me that small cinemas which are handicapped in this way, or small cinemas from which more would be expected than they could fulfil, are entitled to claim exemption. I do not see, therefore, how that can be a cogent objection.
1701 The second reason why I have heard it suggested that it is hard on this class of cinemas is that the quality of British films has risen to such a high pitch in recent years that they drive all the clientele out of the theatre when they are shown. That may be a libel on this stratum of cinema-goer, or it may not; but I find it very difficult to believe that it would be impossible to find sufficient British films, new or re-issued, that were bad enough for the most exacting taste. I ask, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will answer the specific points: what are the handicaps which he apprehends on behalf of the small cinemas which he feels that they would be unable to surmount? Secondly, I ask him what are the figures involved, as near as he can estimate, in loss to the production end of the industry through the exemptions granted in this Clause?
§ Earl Winterton
I put my name to this Amendment very largely for the reasons mentioned by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy). I support the Amendment, first, because I think that we need far more information about this Subsection than the two Ministers found it possible to give in the course of the Second Reading Debate. Really we have had very little information about it. Also, I confess that, like the hon. Gentleman, I am in doubt as to the need for the Subsection owing to the existence of Subsection (2). Though the matter will arise in a more concrete form on another Amendment, I take the opportunity to say that I do not think that every hon. Member appreciates the diversified nature of the cinema owning industry. It is far more diversified than many people think.
For example, in addition to the Arthur Rank Organisation of Odeon Theatres and Gaumont-British, there are 18 other circuits of 20 cinemas and over in the United Kingdom, and they include organisations like Associated British Cinemas, with 447 cinemas, and Caledonian Theatres with 49 cinemas. There are also quite a large number of theatres—2,900 in fact—owned by individual companies controlling less than 20 cinemas. It is very necessary in view of that—and I do want to get on to the King Charles' head to which I referred earlier—in view of the diversified nature of the industry, to have definite information of what is meant by 1702 this Subsection, and I hope the President will give us that information, because it raises a really important point. It is either necessary or it is not, and, in any case, it fundamentally affects the position of the industry.
§ Mr. Reeves (Greenwich)
I think there is a question of principle involved here. I know that, during the war it was very difficult for certain exhibitors to fulfil their quotas, because the circumstances were exceptional, and the difficulties of the Board of Trade were very great. In the future, however, we had hoped that there would be a very much larger supply of British films, in any case; not only feature films but short films. Now that the quota has been altered the small exhibitor will be in a very much better position than ever before to fulfil his quota requirements, and it seems to me that it is hardly fair that, in certain areas of the country, we may have exhibitors who are not interested at all in showing British films. We might get a discrimination there which is hardly fair, not only to the ordinary exhibitor, but also to the public who genuinely want to see British films. If the quota is to be increased on an ascending scale, it seems to me it would be more and more easy for the small exhibitor to fulfil the requirements of the Act, and, therefore, that there is no need whatever to make this exception.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I would like a little more information from the President of the Board of Trade as to how he arrives at this figure of £100. We are told by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment that the President himself does not know the actual number of cinemas involved. It seems to me strange, even for a Socialist Administration, that we should decide upon a certain level, which may or not be operated, without previously finding out the effect of such an alteration, and I should like to hear from the President the process by which he arrived at this figure of £100 per week.
Secondly, I would like to point out that this Clause means a definite loss to the British film-producing industry. If the figure of between 500 and 800 cinemas is, in fact, a reality, it means that the British film-producing industry will lose about £1 million a year in revenue. That is not a matter of little moment, but a very important one to the British film industry, 1703 and it is important that it should not lose that £1 million of revenue. Some hon. Gentlemen have put forward the suggestion that, because films are in sort supply, it does not matter so much, but it really does, whether or not they are in short supply. If British films are in short supply, it still means that an exhibitor taking a small amount of money has an obligation to show British films, and, by that means, the producers will have to supply them, with the necessary advantage in production. I hope, therefore, that the President will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
So far, the Committee has considered this Subsection from the financial point of view, whether it is a benefit to the producer or a handicap to exhibitors and so on, which is tremendously important, but there is another aspect of the matter which has not been mentioned, and that is the point of view of the consumer—the person who goes to the cinema. So many of these small cinemas are the only ones in their area, and, if a film is not shown in that cinema, it is not shown to the people in that area at all. I think that this Bill, while primarily designed to help the production of British films, should also be concerned with the showing of British films, and I believe that there is a serious danger, if this Subsection is left as it stands, that, when once again there is a plentiful supply of films, it may be possible for a cinema, with a solus position in a good place to neglect British films, so that the people in their area would never see them at all. I think the Amendment would remove a possibility of that nature.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
I would like to support the remarks which have just been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu), because I believe that this is the best way Lo make certain that the large public has this opportunity, particularly in country localities, of seeing me best productions of British films. The figure of £100 which has been mentioned is a very interesting one, but perhaps we could be told whether it is nett or gross. [Interruption.] Nett? Then that means a loss of revenue to the country, outside the loss of revenue to the production side, which will be fairly considerable.
1704 As time passes, cinemas may very well get together and form themselves into groups instead of working, as they are, in practically small, separate entities. I think they should begin to feel their responsibility of showing British films, and should begin to feel that they have a duty of persuading the public by exhibiting these films, which may not at the time be so readily acceptable. By the gradual process of continuing to show them, however, they might find that what they now look upon as a harsh imposition is, in fact, a provision which, in the long run, may do them a great deal of good.
I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that he should not bring out the idea of administrative difficulties without showing us, document by document and return by return, really what these administrative difficulties are. In my view, it is merely a question of a return which every cinema is making every week from the point of view of the Excise Department, and I do not believe that there is any difficulty in doing what they are, in fact, doing already for another purpose.
§ Mr. Collins
My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) made reference to the doubt existing regarding the number of cinemas which will be affected, and he mentioned a figure of 1,500 which was, I believe, quoted in a trade newspaper, and also a lower figure of 500, which my right hon. Friend gave during the Second Reading Debate, when he asked that more information should be given in the President's reply. I want to submit, however, that it is clearly impossible for anyone to say what the figure of the number of cinemas is going to be after October, because we do not know what is going to be the effect on the takings of these small cinemas of the smaller number of American films which we expect will be shown.
§ Mr. Collins
That is exactly the point, and I am submitting that the actual number of cinemas which may have a weekly average takings of less than £100 at the end of the year may be larger than it is at present, and, therefore, we may be speaking of quite a substantial section of the industry, which, at the present time, may be anything from 10 to 30 per cent. of the number of cinemas, 1705 but which, in actual fact, when the Act becomes operative, may be considerably more, and I think that is a point which we must bear in mind. In any case, it seems that it is not a negligible proportion of the industry.
The second point is that the arguments put forward already are of considerable importance in respect of the opportunities which should be given to the patrons of the smaller cinemas, which, in many cases, are in rural areas or very small towns, of showing a range of films which includes a fair proportion of films with a good educative and cultural content. I submit that, under this Bill, and the new quota, it is probable that there will be a number of short films which will be included in the programmes, and that, unless we see that these small cinemas are subject to the quota restrictions in exactly the same way as other cinemas, then British films will, in all probability, be denied a showing in these cinemas, and that will mean not only a big loss to the industry but also a considerable loss in amusement to the patrons of these small cinemas. I hope that my right hon. Friend will seriously consider the point
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
The general sense of the Committee seems to me to be in favour of the Amendment, but I would add a small plea in favour of the Subsection as it stands. I agree with hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the benches opposite that we should consider the interests of the consumer, but I drew a different conclusion from them, and consider that the Subsection as it stands is in favour of the consumer, because these small cinemas only have a certain liberty of action, if they are not forced to take British films.
In my submission, these cinemas will show as many, if not more, British films as a result of leaving this Subsection in the Bill, but, of course, if the Subsection is removed, while the small cinema will not be compelled to take British films, they will be able to get into a more favourable condition in the circumstances in which they operate. In the nature of things, they should maintain their £100 per week, which is very necessary in order that they should pay proper wages and provide proper conditions, though they should have a certain latitude. I believe the right hon. Gentleman may tell us some- 1706 thing about the recommendations on this matter made by the Films Council after very careful consideration. It is a matter of concern to these people who go to these small cinemas, and who should see an efficient product, and the product can only be efficient if this exemption is given to these small cinemas.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
This is a very difficult question, and I am sure the Committee will sympathise with me in the position in which I am in regard to it. As the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) said, this Clause was, of course, based on recommendations of the Films Council, who examined the matter thoroughly; and on Second Reading I said that we were accepting the recommendations because we felt that otherwise—if the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) will allow me to say so—the administrative and clerical difficulties would have been so great. However, having listened to the Debate, and having found this a matter on which the Committee seem to be, with the exception of the hon. Member for Northwich, so much united—
§ Mr. Wilson
—and having been impressed by the weight of the names associated with this Amendment, I find myself in a very difficult position. I am in more than usual difficulty here because I have been challenged to give the figures on which the proposal in the Clause is based. I have to admit right away the figures are not available. I have to admit, also, that I do not think I have ever found an industry in which the figures are so deficient as they are in this one, and I can give this assurance to the Committee, that I do not intend to leave the industry in that state any longer; and, indeed, I have already taken measures to see whether we can clothe its statistical nudity. It has not, however, been possible to get any reliable figures on this particular point; so I cannot produce any figures to justify the drafting of the Clause as it stands at this moment.
I should like to be able to do what has been suggested, and that is simply to take out this Subsection altogether. There are difficulties about that, however. The hon. Member for Northwich mentioned some of them. The arguments that have 1707 been used by hon. Gentlemen on both sides are based not only on the importance of ensuring an adequate showing of British films generally, but on the consideration mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy), that of cash and the calculable losses involved; and there is also the consideration, first raised, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) and taken up by other hon. Gentlemen, of the importance of ensuring to rural cinema-goers the opportunity of seeing British films.
I do not know the figures and I do not think they are easily ascertainable, but many of the small cinema owners are rural monopolists who would be in a position to deny if they wished—I do not say they would—their rural clientele the opportunity of seeing British films. I should be in a bad position if I were to retain in the Bill a provision which had the effect, even on a small scale, of denying the British film-goers in rural areas the right of British films.
§ Mr. Wilson
Not entirely irrespective of cost, but we have considered the question of cost in relation to the quotas generally. I have been thinking of the arguments that have been submitted, and I hope that the Committee will leave me to go into this further, and to produce an Amendment on Report. Certainly, I want to give effect to what is the general view on this matter, although I do not think I can meet that view by leaving out the Subsection altogether.
I do not want now to commit myself too far, and certainly not to particular words, but the compromise that I have in mind is to provide that these cinemas whose takings are less than £100 a week should be totally exempt from the obligations of the Clause if—and only if—they fall into the category which does qualify them for some relaxation because their neighbouring cinemas can get available British films at earlier dates than they can; that is, as is provided in Subsection (2). I think we need not have block exemption; I think hon. Gentlemen on all sides are right in pressing that we do not have block exemption; but we could give partial exemption for those in that 1708 special category, and for those facing that strong competition within their particular areas.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is it not desirable to draw attention to the important fact that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee are repudiating their leader's call to "Set the people free," and are demanding an extension of control?
§ Mr. Wilson
We are all in such an embarrassing position on this that I should not like to draw anybody's attention to anything. Certainly, I have to admit that, in proposing a compromise on this, I am letting myself in for more of those administrative difficulties that I have been trying to avoid all this evening. I hope the Committee will allow me to table an Amendment on the Report stage. I think it will meet the legitimate wishes on hon. Gentlemen on all sides—the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough about the calculable loss to the British film producing industry, the point that exemptions shall not deny to people the opportunity of seeing British films; and that about the rural monopolists meeting the special interests of their clients.
§ Earl Winterton
We are very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. I think it might be helpful if the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy), to whom those of us who agree with him about this matter are indebted, would withdraw his Amendment. I do not know what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who represents the Communist Party, meant by his intervention. I would only observe that in this Committee we vote according to our consciences, and not at the dictate of some Red dictator.
§ Mr. Dumpleton
I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, after "of," to insert:long films exhibited as first featureI was hoping that my right hon. Friend, in undertaking to find a compromise about 1709 Subsection (1), might find it possible to accept the proposal in this Amendment as the compromise. If he would indicate that he would look into that possibility, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. I think there may be something to be said for exempting small cinemas from the necessity of fulfilling the quota with regard to long feature films, but I do not think there is anything to be said for exempting them from fulfilling the quota in regard to the "shorts" in the supporting programmes. Something has already been said about the capacity of the "shorts" producers and the necessity for encouraging them. We have not yet been given the number of the small cinemas. The President of the Board of Trade was unable to give us information on the number. We are assured it is a substantial number, and figures from 500 to 1,500 have been mentioned, up to a total of 4,700. It is a considerable number. I think they should be required to include in their supporting programmes a quota of British "short" films.
Mr. H. D. Hughes
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will look at this whole matter again. I think some powerful arguments may be advanced about how it is impossible to bring these cinemas into a quota for long films. The arguments that may be advanced are clear, namely, that it is very difficult for these particular cinemas to get long films, and that the kind of terms and conditions the renters demand would make it economically impossible for these small cinemas to comply with the quota. If these arguments are advanced, I hope that my right hon. Friend will very seriously bear in mind the alternative suggestion in the Amendment, which does avoid many of those particular difficulties. On reflection he will realise the tremendous importance of this proposal to the short film production industry. The sum of money involved for British film production is one about which nobody can really make an accurate estimate, but it is clear from the fact that a figure of £1,000,000 has already been mentioned that it is a sum of money which would make a great deal of difference to the economics of short film production. The matter is important, therefore, from that point of view.
Secondly, this type of cinema is a type which is particularly suitable for a programme comprising a single feature and 1710 a short film. They are the cinemas where short films can find suitable showing. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the position of the short films. Some form of special quota might be needed for these cinemas. There is no difficulty, so far as the short films and supporting programme films are concerned, in the way of the British film production industry providing the necessary quantity of films necessary for fulfilling the quota.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I also commend the proposal contained in this Amendment as affording what seems possibly to be a very happy solution to this problem. I was not altogether impressed by the arguments on either side of the Committee against the exception accorded by the Bill to the small cinema owner whose average net takings are less than £100 a week. The President has agreed to look at the matter again, and in doing so he will have regard, I am sure, to the very special difficulties with which some of these small cinema owners have to contend. We would all agree with the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) that we do not want, unless it is justified, an exception in the Bill which exempts some exhibitors from obligations imposed on all other exhibitors. If we are to have any discrimination, such discrimination must be justified. Here the discrimination envisaged is discrimination in favour of small traders in particular circumstances, because of the particular economic disadvantages from which they suffer in the negotiations that have to take place with renters.
I do not accept the view that the general cause of British film production will suffer if this exception is continued in the Bill. I think that in a great many of these small cinemas we shall still see just as many British films shown if they are relieved from quota obligations. Indeed, we may see more, because if they are relieved from quota obligations their freedom of action will be so much greater, their negotiating position will be so much stronger, so that they may be able to get more British films on terms and prices they can afford, instead of, as has so often been the case in the past, having to default on quota obligations. There is a considerable difference between quota 1711 obligations on long films and quota obligations in respect of short films and documentaries, and I hope, therefore, that the President of the Board of Trade will consider very sympathetically whether this proposal is not a convenient compromise for meeting the problem.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I indicated, on a previous Amendment, the lines on which I proposed to look at this matter between now and the Report stage. Perhaps this Amendment is being pressed at the moment because my hon. Friends are a little doubtful of the result of my looking at the matter; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) was afraid that a powerful argument might be produced which would remove from me my present feeling on this point. I can assure him that I gave a lot of thought to this question before the Debate and that, having heard the Debate, I have made up my mind as to the way in which I want to meet the proposals which have been made to the Committee. I think the right compromise is as between the cinemas which are monopolists and the small cinemas which are faced with severe competition. That is the basis on which I shall move an Amendment on the Report stage. I hope my hon. Friends will accept the assurance I gave earlier, and will be satisfied with it in relation to the shorter documentary or other films which make up a supporting programme.
Mr. H. D. Hughes
I have not had the time to think this out very clearly, but it may well be that an argument will be advanced that the short films might be brought into the quota even for the type of small cinema, which is faced with competition which my right hon. Friend is still proposing to exempt.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not think so. We are providing elsewhere for discrimination for cinemas faced with severe competition. In any case, I do not think we should add further complications to the Bill, to distinguish between main and supporting programmes. With that assurance, I hope that my hon. Friend will be content to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Earl Winterton
I beg to move, in page 3, line 38, to leave out "not being a special quota theatre."
The Committee will be aware that Subsection (2) gives a discriminatory and very proper power to the President of the Board of Trade, but I suggest that that power should be widened. The Subsection excludes the circuits of 200 cinemas and upwards, that is to say, special quota theatres. It is true that the majority of the cinemas in the very large circuits would be able to fulfil their quota obligations, and that the numbers who would not, would be comparatively small, but there are some which not only have to face the competition of other circuits, but also the competition of the first-run theatres belonging to their own circuits—that is, where the circuit has two theatres, one deals with certain films and the other with films of another type. Where this is so, it would be difficult for them not to default. All sides of the industry are willing that the Minister should have this discrimination, and I merely ask that the power should be widened.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
The noble Lord has raised a substantial point. I am anxious to improve the Bill wherever possible, and I am in sympathy with the objective he has in view, although I am not quite certain that his method of dealing with it is the most appropriate. The Bill envisages that, in future, there will be a differential quota, a higher quota for circuits than the ordinary quota for all other cinema theatres. It is not clear, however, whether, under Clause (2, 2)—which we have already dealt with, and which gives the President power to fix, from year to year, both the quota and the higher differential quota—power to fix the higher differential quota for the circuits must necessarily apply to all the cinemas owned by a particular circuit. What is contemplated by the framers of the Bill is that the obligation to show the higher quota shall not necessarily apply to all the cinemas within one or other of the groups.
I should have thought that Subsection (2) was sufficiently flexible in its language to enable the President, when imposing the higher differential quota for the special quota theatres, to say, "This will apply to such and such theatres in that particular group." I should have thought that it was much better to give 1713 the President the fullest and most flexible powers under Subsection (2), rather than to restrict his power in such a way that the circuits may have to ask, under Subsection (4), for exemption and relief. In support of the noble Lord, I would suggest that either this Amendment should be accepted, or that the Government should consider, between now and the Report stage, whether the same object might not be achieved by inserting, in Clause 2 (2), such words as "any or all," in line 15, before the words "special quota theatres.''
§ Mr. Belcher
The Committee will recognise that the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has raised a point of importance, which the Government will want to consider sympathetically. He said it was not easy to explain this matter in terms which can readily be understood by those who are not familiar with the technicalities of the industry. We know, however, what the noble Lord is seeking to ensure. I should say that a first or even a second run theatre, with no mid-week change of programme, would always be able to fulfil its quota obligations if they were reasonable. Where there are three-day houses the situation may be very much more difficult. We have power to deal with theatres which, owing to circumstances beyond their own control, are unable to fulfil their quota obligations, and it might be as well to see if we have sufficient power to deal sympathetically with those who, for those reasons, are unable to fulfil their obligations.
The next Amendment on the Order Paper is, in many ways, related to this one, and I will undertake to examine the noble Lord's proposal between now and Report, particularly in the light of the discussion on the next Amendment. I promise to give earnest consideration to the point he has made, and deal with the matter in a way which we think best to suit the situation.
§ Earl Winterton
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman and also to the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) for making with greater clarity the point I was endeavouring to make. I am completely satisfied and, that being so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I beg to move, in page 3, line 39, to leave out "three," and to insert "two."
The Committee will appreciate that this Amendment has a considerable bearing on the one which has just been with drawn. Under this Clause, the Board of Trade have power to relieve certain film exhibitors of a measure of their quota responsibility where they are unable to fulfil it for reasons which are deemed to be outside their control. There are three main circuits of exhibitors. Generally speaking, they have first call on the British films which are released. It may well be that the fourth exhibitor in a locality has no opportunity of showing one of these films until it has been round the three other circuits. We feel that in many cases the independent exhibitor will have to wait until the three main circuits have shown the film before he has a chance of exhibiting that film. There is competition in some localities between the three main circuits and the independent exhibitor, and our view is that it would be unfair to such an exhibitor if he were able to get relief solely on the ground that two competitive cinemas in the same district had a monopoly of the British film in question.
The Parliamentary Secretary may say that the whole thing is discretionary, which would make the Amendment even more acceptable. I would like to know what the word "locality" means in this connection. Does it mean an area of two, five or 10 square miles? This Amendment is a reasonable one, and we think it should be put into the Bill to safeguard the interests of the hard pressed independent exhibitor.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I desire to support the Amendment, but not because I am entirely convinced by the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Buck-low (Mr. Shepherd). As Members are realising, this subject is extremely complicated; circumstances vary from one cinema to another in a very large degree. While I am not convinced that there is necessarily a hardship to the independent exhibitor, the Bill gives the President power, on advice, to exempt in specified cases. I should have thought that it was always better, where there was doubt whether any citizen could or could not comply with the provisions of the Act, for the President to have sufficiently 1715 flexible machinery to enable each case to be considered on its merits, rather than face the exhibitor with the only other alternative, which is default. I hope the Minister will bear in mind that the provisions of this Clause are purely permissive, and that in considering any applications that may be made hereafter for exemption he may well wish to distinguish between the case of the exhibitors who are faced with the larger competition, and those who are faced with the smaller competition.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Foster
I support the Amendment. Default is not something which we should encourage. If the number of competitors is reduced to two, that will help the exhibitors. In some cases default is occasioned by the fact that the renters do not service the small cinemas, preferring those which will show their films. The Committee will have noticed that this discretion is permissive, and it is for the Board of Trade, if they think fit, to grant the permission. Anything which would increase the flexibility of the Bill in applying the quota is to be desired.
§ Mr. Belcher
There is always one point in a Debate at which an hon. Member asks the Minister a most awkward question, to which the Minister finds it difficult to reply. In this case, the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) has asked me to define "locality" We are seeking to afford relief and not to penalise individuals, and so I hope that the hon. Member will not press me to be too specific about this definition. Locality can only be that area to which competition extends, but how precisely to define it I do not know, because it is bound to vary. There may be two or three cinemas in a densely populated industrial city which are in direct competition with each other, as they are only a few hundred yards away from each other, while, in a rural district, two cinemas may be in direct competition with each other, although they are two or three miles apart. Locality therefore must vary, according to the territory concerned, and I do not think that it is possible to define the term with preciseness.
The Government see the force of the argument behind the Amendment. I would like to deal with the matter fully. There is a fundamental objection to the 1716 proposal. It is that where there are three or more cinemas competing for the same film, there should be no compelling need for those cinemas to change their programme more than once every six days. I think the hon. Member who moved the Amendment is in general agreement. I have heard him express the view that the changing of the programme in the middle of the week was not particularly desirable. If the cinemas can run their programmes for six days, there should be an opportunity for them to achieve the standard quota percentage. Three films, one for each of the major circuits, are released every week in London. They work their way down the line and through the provinces. In other words, there should be no difficulty, always provided that the quota is reasonable—as we hope it will be—except in the relatively few situations where there are four or more first-run theatres and no fourth film is available for first-run, in keeping the programmes going during the week and in fulfilling the quota percentage.
Equally, the local filmgoer should be satisfied on such a basis. If he goes to all the three local cinemas, he can see two programmes a week, and can still discriminate to the extent of rejecting one film out of every three which go to his town. The same principle applies to second-run theatres, in large towns. If an exhibitor can keep going by showing foreign films which have previously been shown at one or more cinemas in the neighbourhood, that is how it will go. The same thing applies equally well to British films.
It has been argued by both hon. Members in favour of the Amendment that Subsection (2) is only permissive, in any case, and that we should not be obliged to grant substantially more relief if we opened the door wider by substituting "two" for "three." We can still make people show the standard quota in all cases, except in those individual cases where relaxations were applied for by exhibitors and where it seemed to us that those applications were demonstrably justified. If many more exhibitors are to be qualified to apply there will be correspondingly more applications to aggravate the administrative burden, which is likely to be heavy, upon the Council and upon the trade. If, in the end, a lower quota were to be shown only by those who had applied, plus a 1717 mere handful of exceptional cases, it is very doubtful whether the additional administrative burden, would be justified.
One recognises that there may be cases of hardship. There may be cases where one or more of three neighbouring exhibitors finds that he is obliged, or that it would be more profitable for him, to change his programme every three days instead of every six days. The three-day house shows 104 first features a year, as against half that number shown by the six-day house. It requires more films, both British and foreign, than the six-day house. Therefore, if we feel bound to concede the exhibitors' right to operate on a three-day basis, where he needs to do that or finds it more profitable, we may have to think very seriously about substituting "two" for "three" in this case.
This is one of the matters about which we want to be helpful if we can. I have no desire to argue very forcibly one way or the other. Obviously, we would like to consider it in the light of the Amendment and of what has been said by those who have supported it. I give a sincere assurance that we shall look at this matter very sympathetically, in connection with the previous Amendments, including the one withdrawn by the noble Lord. If we can, by the Report stage, find something which will meet what I believe is a genuine need, we shall be prepaerd to do so.
§ Mr. W. Shepherd
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for what he has said. I would point out that I have never subscribed to the view that the small, individual cinema ought to change its programme twice a week. Many of the country exhibitors and the small, independent cinemas, depend however upon a change of programme. A three-day change of programme is essential in the case of many small cinemas. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. The course which he has suggested between now and the Report stage is the best way of dealing with the matter. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 2, at the end, to insert:or (c) that it is his practice to change the programme at the theatre twice or more each week.1718 The Amendment embodies a very simple point which I wish to bring to the notice of the Committee. We have just heard from the other side of the Committee an hon. Member say that he did not regard changing of programmes in the middle of the week as wrong. On the contrary, he agrees that it is highly essential in many cases. The purpose of the Amendment is to make it possible, when discretion is to be used under the Clause, that if it is the practice to change the programme at any theatre twice or more often each week, the exhibitor should not be put under the necessity of providing a quota of British films.
The Amendment does not require very much argument and is something for which it is reasonable to ask. If a cinema changes its programme twice or more times within a week it will have difficulty in finding sufficient British films to fill up the quota, compared with the cinema which does not change its programme. Suppose the quota were 20 per cent. A cinema whose programme remained unchanged for the week would have to provide 10 British films. Where the change took place during the week, for the benefit of the public, the cinema would have to find 20 British films, and that might be impossible. In the circumstances, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to agree to add the Amendment to the Clause in order to show what the position would be in that case.
§ Mr. Belcher
I should have thought that my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) would not press his Amendment, in view of the undertaking I gave upon the previous Amendment. I recognise the difficulty imposed upon many two-programme theatres. I would not like it to go on record that I thought there was anything iniquitous about the changing of the programme in the middle of the week. I certainly did not intend to convey that impression, but we do not want to do anything which will appear to be an inducement for theatres to change over from the six-day run to the three-day run. If we are able to produce something which will meet the spirit of the previous Amendment, I think we shall have safeguarded the situation of these theatres quite well. My hon. Friend's Amendment is unnecessary, but we will consider it in conjunction with those I have already mentioned. They 1719 can all be looked at together. I have a good idea of what the Committee wants to do. We shall try to safeguard the people who, through no fault of their own, may find themselves suffering under the quota provisions.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The Minister can take this matter seriously, because it is very important for many cinemas. In my own town there are two large circuits and a small one, and four independent cinemas. The two large circuits are in the middle of the town and can depend upon weekly patrons for one show a week. They can depend upon the whole patronage of the town. The small circuit cinema and the four independent cinemas are in particular localities of the town. They do not cater for the town as a whole, but for their particular localities and the people in one locality never think of going to a cinema in another locality. These independent cinemas and the small circuit cinemas have no possibility of continuing unless they have a change of programme. They cannot attract the patronage that would keep the other cinemas going for a full week without changing their programmes. The big central cinemas are not going to make a change of programme simply to affect the quota. Whether they have a one-week show or a two-week show, they will have the quota of British films to exhibit. The cinemas which have to have a change of programme should not be handicapped by having to exhibit double the pictures exhibited by the big circuits. I think the Minister should take this seriously into account in considering these Amendments.
§ Mr. Belcher
The three Amendments react one upon the other. I think that is accepted by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). We will look at the whole question in the light of the discussions that have taken place, and endeavour to deal out fairness to everyone concerned.
§ Mr. Janner
In view of what the Parlimentary Secretary has said, and what has been said by the hon. Member for West Fife, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.