§ Mr. Lyttelton
I beg to move, in page 4, line 31, to leave out "two hundred," and to insert "twenty."
The object of this Amendment is very clear. It is that circuits with only 20 theatres should not be exempted from the quota obligations imposed on those circuits of 200 or more. If the Committee regard this matter solely from the point of view of numbers, they are likely to reach a wrong conclusion. There are certain localities in which the smaller circuits are in a monopolistic position. There are small circuits—I think that the right hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) to whom it is a great pleasure to refer in those terms, will confirm that this is the case in Scotland—which are almost the only exhibitors of films in large areas. We feel that it is wrong that circuits of this kind should be exempted from any of the quota provisions that are imposed upon the larger circuits. One of the reasons why we are apprehensive about the size of the larger circuits is the great hold which they have in the Greater London market. I suggest to the Committee that where a smaller circuit—and the number we suggest is 20 or more—is in a solus position—I believe that is the technical term—there is no reason why it should be exempted from the provisions of the quota.
§ Mr. J. Foster
I am grieved that my right hon. Friend should propose an Amendment which seeks to extend the shackles which I would rather not have seen in the Bill at all. It seems to me wrong in principle that the big circuits should be made to exhibit a certain number of these special films, but they are better able to bear these restrictions. It seems a pity that my right hon. Friend, instead of moving that the restrictions on the big circuits should be removed altogether, seeks to extend them to the smaller circuits which are not able to bear them. The smaller circuits are, in many instances, in highly competitive areas. They have difficulty in obtaining the requisite number of British films because they do not produce them themselves, and this Amendment is seeking to impose upon them a burden which they will not be able to bear. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will not accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown
I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment, because when the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) refers to the shackles which we are imposing upon the big circuits, and then questions whether the smaller circuits are capable of bearing them, we must consider what are the shackles. Clause 5 (2) states that the exhibitor may be required to exhibit not more than six films registered as British films in a year. That seems to be a very modest shackle indeed, if we are trying to do something for the benefit of the British film industry. I imagine that when we come to Subsection (2) the overwhelming view of the Committee will be that that shackle should be there. The only question we are now discussing is whether that shackle, commonly accepted by all parties, should only apply to circuits with 200 cinemas or more, or whether it should apply to circuits possessing a smaller number of cinemas. I suggest that the figure of 200 is very high indeed. It will certainly bring in a number of circuits, but it leaves out, I presume, a considerably larger number of the smaller circuits, which, although smaller, are perfectly capable, in my submission, of complying with the conditions that they should exhibit six films registered as British films in the course of a year. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give some other figure which will extend this obligation to a wider area than is now proposed.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I think that the contention that the smaller circuits owning less than 200 cinemas would have any difficulty in filling this quota is quite wrong. In many instances, they are the only theatres in a town. Consequently, they could take a much larger quota in those circumstances than could many of the theatres belonging to the circuits of more than 200 theatres. If the hon. Gentleman opposite does not believe that let him think of some of the smaller circuits—the Granada circuit. Shipman & King's. Some of them will be found in the Home Counties. For instance, in Esher there is a solo cinema owned by a circuit of about 20 cinemas. That means circuits owning cinemas in positions where they have no competition, or very little competition, are better able to fulfil a special quota, in those cases, than even the very large circuits. There is one proviso I want to raise which I 1722 can deal with if the Amendment in my name further down on the Order Paper is called.
§ Mr. Belcher
I see the force of some of the arguments which have been used by some hon. Members opposite. Many of these small circuit theatres are in places where they have no competitors, and quite reasonably could be said to have as much facility for fulfilling this quota as circuits with 300 cinemas. That IS equally true of circuits with less than 20 and it is equally true of individually owned theatres. Therefore, if the absence of competition to an independently owned theatre is a sufficient justification for the imposition of this extra obligation, I see no reason at all why the figure of 20 should have been decided upon. I do not see why we are not asked to deal with each theatre in the country independently. In other words, I do not see why the Board of Trade, the Film Council or someone else should not make a survey of every cinema in the country and find out whether it was or was not in a competitive position.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The reason we did not ask for that was because we thought the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade would say that the administrative difficulties would be too great.
§ Mr. Belcher
In addition to saying that the administrative difficulties would be very great—I do not think they would be too great because if we wanted to do it we would recruit the necessary large number of civil servants on a temporary basis, incurring the ire of hon. Gentlemen opposite in doing so, and proceed to do the job—hon. Gentlemen opposite would say we were given too wide powers. I can well imagine if the Board of Trade were given power to go to every individual cinema in the country and decide whether that cinema was in competition or not, hon. Gentlemen opposite would find such powers insupportable, and say that Parliament was placing too much discretion into the hands of the Board of Trade. The fact is that the three major circuits of over 300 cinemas are in a major position. They are not only exhibitors but producers, and in the interest of the film industry we should find it convenient to confine the showing of the extra films to major circuits.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Truly the Parliamentary Secretary has tried to keep his reasoning on too narrow a basis, for there are plenty of reasons outside the ones he has been combating. There is one I should like to put forward, and I regret not having been here at the correct moment but I was elsewhere succulently engaged. There are circuits of quite a large number of cinemas containing as many as 60 or 70, which may in the course of time grow up, and it is likely that the course of exhibiting films in this country may fall into larger groups which will in the matter of exhibitions and number of seats available equal those of the three major circuits. To use a phrase well known, we must have a certain amount of flexibility. We must not have a fixed idea that we are going to have only those three major circuits. After all, some of the smaller circuits have been built up by amalgamations of very considerable magnitude in the North, the Midlands and Wales, and I cannot see why they should not bear a burden comparable to that of the three big circuits.
During the Second Reading Debate I said certain things against the damage to the form of the whole cinema industry in this country. It has got into such a state when so much is in the hands of so few, that it is highly vulnerable, and one of the best ways of ensuring that that sort of thing does not happen is to see that other independent groups come together more and more. If they do—and I hope that they will from many points of view—they ought to do it with the knowledge that they will have to bear the burden which is put upon the three major circuits. If it is right for the three big circuits, it is right, graduated in lesser degree, for circuits which are no longer independent but are gradually growing up in strength and in number to have to bear a similar portion of the burden. The three big circuits are not the majority, and it is most unfair that the burden should not be spread over a much wider area.
I should like to make one point. As the hon. Gentleman for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) said, we want to spread this burden if indeed it is a burden. At the outset I should like to suggest that it is not a burden at all. These ought to he very good quality British films. The 1724 argument so far, has proceeded on the assumption that the cinemas showing those films will bear a burden. I do not believe they will, but supposing that they do, it should be spread a little more widely. During the Debate on the Second Reading I made reference to the possibility of further large circuits growing up in the next few years. I believe during the difficult years of the early 305 the A.B.C. and Gaumont very largely built up their circuits. If American films are going to be cut off and if difficult days come to the British exhibitor, it would likely lead to some of the smaller circuits at any rate coming together in order to strengthen their financial position. I feel that some number should be taken, and 20 is as good as any. If that number is taken, a good many more cinemas would be brought within the net and would be required to show the six independent pictures, which would be in the national interest.
Lord Willoughby de Ereshy
I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary has not accepted this Amendment. I suggest that some other figure than 20, but lower than 200, would meet the case. The Parliamentary Secretary's chief argument was one of administrative difficulty or laziness. He has discriminated between one circuit and another and with that discrimination he has got to draw the line somewhere. The only question is did he draw it as fairly as possible? I, myself, cannot see that there is a very great burden in carrying out the provisions of this particular Clause. In fact, I should have called it a responsibility which is placed upon the particular circuits. If we are going to have that responsibility we want to spread it as widely as possible. Even if the Parliamentary Secretary could not accept this Amendment, possibly he could show us another figure which would have spread this responsibility more effectively, more fairly and more widely.
§ Mr. Reeves
May I add my plea to what appears to be almost unanimous support for the Amendment? There is no doubt that we have faith in the British film. We feel that it will continue on an expanding scale, that we shall have more films and that it will be increasingly easy for the smaller circuits to do this extra piece of work. Originally it was a voluntary arrangement. It was a good thing and it helped to stimulate British produc 1725 tion, and if we can get a smaller figure—we are not absolutely tied to 20—it ought to be a more inclusive figure than the one in the Bill. I am sure that in showing the six extra films, the smaller circuits will not find the difficulties which have been imagined.
§ Mr. Keeling
I beg to move, in page 4, line 41, to leave out "certified," and to insert "recommended."
The aim of the Amendment is to place the final responsibility for the choice of the six films on the Board of Trade, while leaving the Selection Committee to recommend them. Hon. Members will find in Clause 5 (2) that the conditions have to be settled by the Board, the exhibitors are required by the Board to exhibit, the Board have to direct the occasions and the Board have to appoint the Selection Committee. The most important thing of all, the final selection of the films, ought also to be left to the Board who can, or ought to be able to, take a broader view than the Selection Committee.
§ Mr. Belcher
I have the very greatest pleasure in telling the Committee that I accept all the arguments advanced by the hon. Member and his Amendment, which I hope will be agreed to by the Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
I beg to move, in page 4, line 41, to leave out "Board," and to insert "Cinematograph Films Council."
There is no definition in the Bill to show who is to comprise the Selection Committee. In the view of my hon. Friends and myself, this is much better left in the hands of the Council than in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade. We are quite certain of the action which the President of the Board of Trade would take in all circumstances, but during the Second Reading Debate the question of propaganda and film propaganda came up, and it was pointed out that it might leave in the hands of a Selection Committee a very powerful weapon which might in time to come—I am not making any imputations at the present moment—be used for political propaganda purposes if the appointment of the Films Council were in the hands of -the Minister alone.
1726 We believe that it is much better, in view of the fact that he will have a Films Council, on whose constitution we shall be talking a little later, that the appointment of the Selection Committee should be in the hands of the Council rather than, as it would appear to be, in the hands of the Minister.
§ Mr. Belcher
The effect of the Amendment would be to transfer the responsibility for appointing the members of the Selection Committee from the Board of Trade to the Cinematograph Films Council. That certainly seems a rather odd proposal. The Films Council is not an executive body—its members are selected by the Board of Trade—and the proposal is odd in the sense that the members of the Films Council, having been selected by the Board of Trade, then usurp the Board of Trade's function in respect of the Selection Committee. However, if there is some fear that leaving in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade the choice of people to serve on a Selection Board is open to some political objection, we are perfectly prepared to look at the matter again before the Report stage to see whether we can insert some words to remove any apprehension on that score, but we cannot abdicate our responsibility from the Board of Trade to the Films Council in this respect.
§ Earl Winterton
I hope the Minister will give favourable consideration to the point. My hon. Friend's argument is more logical than that of the representative of the Government. I should have thought it followed logically that this Amendment should be adopted. However, I understand that the hon. Gentleman promises to give favourable consideration to the point.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I do not understand what is meant by "abdicating responsibility to the Films Council." The Board of Trade is not giving a responsibility to the Films Council. It was a very curious form of words. I am not quite sure what the Parliamentary Secretary meant by "abdicating our responsibility." Perhaps it meant letting the Films Council have the responsibility. I do not know whether that is what it meant. If that is what the hon. Gentleman meant, it shows a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "responsibility," and of the word "abdicate." One abdicates power, 1727 not responsibility. The whole point of the argument put from this side is that this is giving excessive power to the executive Government to do things which may have a propaganda effect, possibly even in internal politics. How does the Parliamentary Secretary suppose that he or his chief could be made responsible for that at the time that it happened? That is what "responsibility" means. What we want is to be sure that it shall be possible to make certain that nobody uses this power in order that the screen shall play a part toned from Whitehall in internal politics. We ought to be told how we are to make the Board of Trade responsible if we think they are doing that, and that is the only sense in which the word "responsible" has any connection with the Debate we are now on.
§ Mr. Belcher
I am sorry that my language offended the hon. Gentleman. I quite agree that if I were to put it in the impeccable English which he himself always uses I would not say "abdicate to the Films Council" but "abdicate the responsibility" or "power"—whichever he likes—in favour of the Films Council. I agree that it is desirable to make such provision as can be made to set a Selection Committee concerned with such an obvious weapon of propaganda free from any suggestion that a President of the Board of Trade or any other Minister is using his power in that sense to further party political ends. I have said that I will look at this before Report stage to see if we can devise some form of words to limit the possibility of that taking place.
However, I must again point out that if there is this fear that a President of the Board of Trade is likely to use his power of appointment wrongly to influence the selection of films to be shown on the screen, we cannot do it just by putting upon the Films Council the responsibility of choosing the Selection Board, because in any case the President of the Board of Trade chooses the Films Council and by choosing the Films Council in the right way he can ultimately influence the selection of the Selection Board. However, we will look into that.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
That is a false argument. The Films Council is drawn very largely, with the exception of a certain 1728 number of members, the number of which we shall later debate, from certain stated bodies. I presume that the procedure will be that the President will invite an association of those various bodies to submit a list of names from which he may make selections or to submit selections to him. Therefore, he will draw a large majority of the Films Council from the technical people with direct knowledge of the varying phases of the industry in its three different manifestations. Then there will be five, seven or 10 members drawn from the public.
That is a totally different body and procedure from direct selection by the President of this Selection Council. To put forward, as the Parliamentary Secretary did, the idea that it is only removing it slightly in degree is wrong; it is altering entirely the principle on which it works, because you will get a body selected largely from the industry, whose politics cannot possibly be known, who are not selected in any way for their political but for their technical qualifications, and they in turn, in our view, would be an admirable body to carry out the task of the Selection Committee mentioned here. If, however, the Parliamentary Secretary gives us the assurance that he is not discarding this altogether, I will certainly withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. Foster
The Minister's brief may have been drafted on the assumption that the Selection Committee was still to certify the films but, as a result of the previous Amendment, it will only recommend. That seems to me to be another reason why there would be no harm in letting the Selection Committee be chosen by the Films Council and not by the Board. It is on the Board that the duty of acquiring the films lies, but what possible danger can there be if the Selection Committee appointed by the Films Council recommends six British films a year? I do not think his fears are justified.
§ Mr. Belcher
I have no very great fears. I should have thought that the argument just adduced by the hon. Member was an argument in favour of my case, because it this Selection Committee can only recommend, it still remains with the President of the Board of Trade to make the decision. So, if the President is determined to be a villain —the present one is not, but I cannot foretell what will happen in the future; it 1729 may be that the hon. Member will have the ultimate determination of the Selection Committee in his hands—and then, if he wants to be a villain, nothing we can do by this Amendment will affect the issue. However, we will look at it between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
The Minister is perfectly right. On constitutional grounds the duty and responsibility for appointing this Selection Committee ought to remain with the President of the Board of Trade. and not with a purely advisory body like the Cinematograph Films Council. There ought to be political responsibility on the Minister for the appointment of the Selection Committee so that, if necessary, questions can be asked about it in the House. It would be wrong to delegate that responsibility to the Cinematograph Films Council.
§ Mr. Keeling
I beg to move, in page 4, line 42, after "being," to insert "films independently produced, and."
The aim of this Amendment is to make the Clause less ambiguous than at present it is. The purpose of this Clause is to give statutory authority to an informal agreement which has been in existence for some years between the three big circuits and the Board of Trade, whereby independently produced films of merit get a good showing even though their producers are not connected with any of the big circuits. Although the term "independently produced films" was used a number of times in the Second Reading Debate, the words themselves do not occur in the Bill, and surely they ought to occur. We ought not to be content with the vague words "suitable for such exhibition," because that leaves the qualifications for being suitable entirely vague. Later on, in the Order Paper, at the top of page 684, I have put down a definition of the term "film independently produced."
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Basil Neven-Spence)
The next Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) is not selected, that is to say, in page 4, line 42, at end, insert: 1730Provided that any percentage prescribed under Section two of this Act shall be deemed to include the exhibition of any films required to be exhibited under the provisions of the Subsection.The next Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) is out of Order as far as the first part is concerned, namely, in page 4, line 42, at end, insert:(3) The Selection Committee shall conssit of three persons, one to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor, one by the Arts Council, and one by the Board after consultation with the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association.Does the hon. Member wish to move the second part of his Amendment?
§ Mr. Keeling
Yes, Sir Basil
I beg to move, in page 4, line 42, at the end, to insert:() The conditions of any such licence as aforesaid shall not require that any film shall be exhibited in a larger number of theatres than appears to the Board normally exhibit the same film.This new Subsection introduces into the Bill a provision which exists already in the informal agreement between the Board of Trade and the big circuits. The reason is that the big circuits often have cinemas so near to each other that it is impossible for them to have the same programme at each. For example, the Odeon circuit which controls 350 theatres, never, for the reason I have just given, shows the same films at the same time at more than 280 of those 350.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I can well understand the idea in the mind of the hon. Member in proposing this new Subsection. We are in agreement with it, and we have no intention of carrying out the terms of this Bill in any way different from that which he has in mind. We do not intend to use the proposed Selection Board for forcing films into more circuit theatres than normally show the same films. The only purpose of the scheme, as the hon. Member knows, is to assure the independent producer of a fair chance of getting a normal circuit booking, not an abnormal one such as the hon. Member seems to fear we might insist upon. However, I do not think it is necessary to complicate the Bill by writing in a new Subsection. It is well within our discretion, and I hope he will be satisfied with the assurance I have given.
§ Mr. Keeling
With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I beg to move, in page 4, line 42, at the end, to add:A further condition of any such licence will be that no person controlling more than two hundred theatres shall book a film for a theatre under his control if, within a radius of four miles of that theatre, the renter can show that there is a theatre controlled by a person controlling less than two hundred theatres capable and desirous of paying a higher rental for the film.I hope to be able to persuade hon. Members that this Amendment is one of the more important with which we have to deal. One of the main objects of the Bill has been to attempt to deal with the menace of monopolistic circuits. The Government themselves have quite clearly hinted that they have not gone far enough in that direction, hence the need for setting up a committee of inquiry, and attempts at fixing the number at 200 beyond which licences may not be granted to open new theatres, and questions of special quotas for theatres in a group containing more than 200 cinemas.
This Amendment is a method of dealing with a part of this monopolistic menace. It would certainly very largely ease the position of independent producers and independent exhibitors, as well as to some extent helping the ordinary consumer by giving him a freer and better choice of films. At present the major circuits, A.B.C., Odeon and Gaumont-British take a block booking of films for their circuits. They may not include all the cinemas in a circuit in that booking, but they will include a large number of them. In the block of cinemas for which they have booked the films there will be a number which are really not first class cinemas attracting large audiences every week and not in very good situations.
To illustrate the point, I give the example of the present position in Gloucester, where there is an A.B.C. cinema which is some way out of the centre of the town. Its weekly takings average about £450. In the centre of Gloucester there are two independent theatres each of whose takings are nearly double those of the A.B.C. cinema. Nevertheless, despite the fact that these two cinemas are very much better, give 1732 a better showing, and a better return on the showing, the A.B.C. cinema gets the first release of the film which it has booked for its circuit. The independent exhibitor is done out of his chance of getting a good week of takings by the fact that the A.B.C. has the first run of this film, and takes the cream of the audiences, although it is not taking anything like so much money. The independent producer also gets a much less return for his money, whereas if he could have booked his film with one of the independent theatres, he would, perhaps on a basis of 40 per cent., get some £400 return for the showing of the film in Gloucester. As it is, he will not get more than £200. That is a vital factor in regard to British film producers, when the margin between profit and loss is so very narrow. This happens in many areas throughout England.
I suggest that if at any time the renter can show that there is a cinema in the same locality as a cinema owned by a circuit which has taken on a block booking, or is proposing to take on a block booking, he shall be allowed to rent the film in that particular area to the other cinema which is able to offer a better return than the cinema belonging to the circuit. It amounts to a form of auction in any locality between cinemas should a cinema demand it of the renter and the renter then lays claim to have that done. It would have the effect, for instance, in Gloucester, which is a good example, that the independent theatre would get the first run of the film, if they made a claim to do so. This is not an impracticable suggestion, as hon. Members may feel it to be, because I find it very difficult to explain this technical concept in simple language. It has already been introduced in America and is working quite successfully there, to the great benefit of the independent exhibitors. In this country it would also help the independent producer. It is true that there have been some legal hitches in the operation of this rule in America, but I understand that that is largely due to the fact that federal law and State law can always be made to conflict if one has a skilful and expensive enough lawyer to make them conflict. We have no such complexity here.
I ask my right hon. Friend to examine the possibilities of introducing such an arrangement here, particularly before the 1733 committee of inquiry has been able to make more drastic recommendations about what is to be done in regard to monopolistic tendencies from which we are suffering. They will not report for some months, but this evil is operating all the time, to the detriment of the producer, the exhibitor, and the public.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The question my hon. Friend has raised is a very familiar one to those who have had any contact with the film industry. It has been very much canvassed, and I referred to it specifically on the Second Reading of the Bill when I announced the establishment of a committee to go into the exhibition side of the industry. I said then:It will deal especially with such matters as competition and monopoly, the relation of the independent exhibitor to the big circuit, and such practices as the booking of films by entire circuits instead of by individual cinemas ''—[OFFICTAL REPORT, 21st January, 1948; Vol. 446, C. 230–1.]That is the point my hon. Friend has in mind. We know there are arguments for and against this, and, as he said, this has been the subject of legislation in the United States, although, perhaps for reasons he mentioned, the decree is not yet operative, as far as I know. It is a very important question, and it affects the independent producer. It certainly affects the independent exhibitor, and its importance from the point of view of the consumer is very considerable. I do not think it is a matter on which the Committee could come to a decision tonight. It needs to be gone into much more fully than is possible tonight, and that is one reason why I have set up the committee of inquiry. I think we must leave it to the committee of inquiry, and not try to prejudge the issue. I think my hon. Friend can leave the matter now knowing that it is specifically passed to the committee of inquiry. I have no doubt that that committee will take into account what he has said, and any further arguments adduced in support of the line he has taken.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
What the President of the Board of Trade has told us is very important. I have no doubt that the minds of everybody on both sides of the Committee must have been considerably exercised by this question, which has received more publicity than almost any other point in connection with this Bill.
1734 Is the independent exhibitor being oppressed by the bigger man or, on the other hand, is the bigger man to be unduly trammelled in the important job which he is the main instrument in carrying out—the production end, which he feels he cannot carry out without the exhibiting end also?
It would be unfair to both sides to prejudge the case or to produce arguments now, when we are on the verge of an examination by a body which the President of the Board of Trade is to set up. I would urge on the President that that body should be of the highest possible type, and should contain persons who are able to judge absolutely impartially and clearly. In that way, when we get the facts and answers from this body we shall be in a position which we are not in at the present time, in spite of what the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) said and the instances given by him; we shall really be presented with a document which gives us the evidence clearly and the conclusions arrived at by that body, so that at that moment we shall be able to pass judgment with real knowledge of the facts of the case before us.
§ Earl Winterton
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) has said, and I also accept to the fullest extent what the Minister has said. Quite obviously, if this body of inquiry is being set up, and so far as I know there is no opposition to it—no opposition was expressed at the time of the Second Reading—this would be one of the matters into which inquiry should be made. As this inquiry is not within the terms of the Bill we are precluded from discussing it, but I rise because the right hon. Gentleman has very properly pointed out that this is just one of the things into which this body will have to inquire. I do not propose to attempt to answer the speech made by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), but I must say that if we were debating the whole question I could not assent to many of his propositions. I think the matter was much more fairly put by the Minister, who said that there were a great many arguments which could be adduced on either side.
There was only one phrase which the Minister used to which I do not say I take exception but which I think was slightly dangerous. He said he had no, 1735 doubt that this committee, or Royal Commission of inquiry as I hope, would have regard to what was said in the Debate. I hope that it will not. It is not for that body to listen to the obiter dicta either of the hon. Member for Aston or of myself. The business of the Commission is to arrive at the facts. If Royal Commissions based their conclusions on what was said in the House of Commons their conclusions would be even more infructuous than they are at the present time. Their duty is to listen to the evidence and hear both sides of the question. I hope that the hon. Member for Aston, who put his view moderately, would agree with me that we should be content that both our points of view should be judged by this body which is to be set up.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I beg to move, in page 5, line 21, to leave out from "Britain," to the end of line 23.
This is complementary to the next Amendment about which I hope to say a few words in a moment. It removes the position which at present obtains under the Bill whereby the ownership of the cinemas in question would obviously be related to a point in time, namely, the date on which this Bill became law. In the Amendment which I hope to move in a moment, I want to relate it to 31st January, 1948, because—I am sure I am only imagining things and seeing bogies which do not exist—we wish to protect ourselves against any danger that there might be a rush to change the ownership of cinemas between now and the date when this Bill becomes law. It is for that reason that I move this Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I beg to move, in page 5, line 25, at the end, to add:unless it is shown to their satisfaction—I repeat that the reason for this Amendment is that there is danger that there might be a big change in the balance of power in some of these large circuits. The balance of so-called booking strength might seriously be upset if there was a big changeover in the ownership of cinemas. Accordingly, I am suggesting the addition of these new paragraphs, which now relate control to 1st January, 1948. These paragraphs confer a fairly wide power on the Board of Trade. I recognise that that is so and that it is one which could in theory be used in a restrictive way. I give the assurance that I have no intention of using it except for the strictly limited purpose of holding the balance even between the large circuits. The Committee will understand that it is very difficult to do that by means of a legislative provision, and the method I have chosen in this Amendment is the only way I can find of doing it. I hope that the Committee will accept my assurance that I have no intention of abusing the power given by the Amendment, and that they will agree that the importance of preventing this shift-over, which might happen, is sufficiently important to justify this Amendment.
- (a) that the theatre was controlled by that person on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-eight; and
- (b) that any arrangements in force for securing that the films exhibited at that theatre are the same as those exhibited at other theatres controlled by that person were also in force on the said date."
Question proposed, "That those words be then added."
§ Mr. Wyatt
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 2, to leave out "January," and to insert "September."
The purpose of this and the next Amendment in my name is only to change the date from 1st January, 1948, to 1st September, 1947. If the original Amendment is accepted, the aim will have been accepted that there should be no further merging between circuits. I think everyone knows the particular cases of the Gaumont-British circuit and the Odeon circuit. I ask for the date of 1st September, 1947, to be put in the Bill because since that date there has already been an effective and factual merger in that organisation. It has operated in this way: The Board of Trade has recently asked exhibitors to experiment with what is called the extended playing time system by which, instead of a film being played for one week it may be played for two or three weeks in the same cinema.
1737 A.B.C. has complied with that request and has tried the experiment, which it has faithfully carried out. It has played films for two or three weeks in the same cinema.
The Rank organisation, which controls Gaumont British and Odeon has, since 1st September, tried extended playing time with a bit of a difference. That is, it there is an Odeon cinema and a Gaumont British cinema in the same town, there has been a marked tendency for a film to play for one week in the Odeon cinema and then to move, the following week, or very soon afterwards, to the Gaumont British cinema on the other side of the town. That does great harm or damage to the smaller circuit or independent exhibitor because before the operation of extended playing time by the Rank organisation in this manner the films would have been booked either to Odeon or Gaumont British. So that another cinema owner in the same town will always know that he could have the Gaumont British or Odeon release in his own cinema according to whether a Gaumont British or Odeon theatre is in his immediate locality. Once this experiment has been conducted in this way it has meant that the independent exhibitor has lost a chance. It has already become both a Gaumont British and an Odeon film so that he cannot get the film from the circuit to which in the ordinary way the film would not have been booked.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
I cannot quite follow the argument of the hon. Member. From the point of view of the independent exhibitor, what difference does it make whether the film is put on for two or three weeks at the Odeon, or one week in the Odeon and a week or a fortnight in the Gaumont British theatre in the same place?
§ Mr. Wyatt
It makes all the difference in the world. It may so happen that in a small town—Kingston for example—the Odeon cinema is one side of the town and the Gaumont British cinema is on the other side. Consequently, where previously the smaller exhibitor, or circuit, has been able to have a first run of the film, now that is not possible, because it has been switched over from one end of the town to the other. It becomes a joint Gaumont British and Odeon release. My Amendment makes no other difference at 1738 all, and if Mr. Rank is genuine in his intention of assisting the Board of Trade he can have no possible objection to this Amendment. It merely puts matters on the old basis, that a film should be shown at the Gaumont British or the Odeon, and not at both, and that smaller circuits and independent exhibitors will know where they stand.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
When I saw the Amendment of my hon. Friend on the Order Paper I wondered if he had in mind the question of these experimental arrangements for securing extended playing time which, as he knows, have been tried out for at least three or four months of 1947. I suppose that is why he was worried about this date of 1st January I took legal advice on this question. I was advised that the one or two tryouts between 1st September and 1st January could not be held by the groups concerned to constitute "arrangements in force" on 1st January, 1948. If my hon. Friend accepts the validity of that advice he will agree that this Amendment is not necessary. It is subject, also, to the general criticism that we should not make legislation retrospective more than is absolutely necessary. For that reason I should be opposed to his proposals. If, however, the Committee feels that to be on the safe side, it would wish to go back to 1st September, 1947, I have no objection.
§ Earl Winterton
I hope the Committee will accept what the Minister has said. As he has pointed out, there have been some discussions on this matter, and the Minister himself is satisfied. I do not accept for a moment the statement made by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). He seemed to read something suspicious into the conduct of Mr. Rank. There is nothing suspicious in it. It seems unfortunate that the name of Mr. Rank can never be kept out of any Debate. The hon. Member cannot say that if there is a film showing on one side of Kingston people will not go from the other side of the town to see it. I think even Socialists can walk or go by bus. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that people will only go to see a good film if it is in one part of the town. That is not true. I think that the Committee should be satisfied with what the Minister told us. There is no difficulty about it in the mind of the Minister, or of any section
1739 of the trade. I think the Amendment is quite unnecessary.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not in the least object to any attack on myself, or any business associate of mine, if he is found to be wrong. I construed the hon. Gentleman's speech as suggesting that in some way Mr. Rank was trying to get round the law. That I object to, because I do not think that he is. I think that we have had the answer from the Minister.
§ Earl Winterton
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that an objection to a charge of dishonesty, or getting round the law, is hypersensitiveness?
§ Mr. Levy
If the noble Lord will allow me to finish my sentence he may agree that I was using the word quite legitimately. I was about to say that, in my view, the noble Lord showed a certain amount of hypersensitiveness in interpreting the argument of my hon. Friend in the way in which he did. As I understood it, all that my hon. Friend was suggesting was that when a proposal was made to the film companies that they should try this experiment of extended playing time, Mr. Rank did not do a dishonest thing, or a dishonourable thing, but a businesslike thing. He attempted to make the experiment as painless as possible and as profitable as possible.
To suggest that there is no such thing as a neighbourhood clientele—which was the second point explicit in the argument of the noble Lord—will not bear examination. It is a fact, though it may be a ridiculous preference, and it may be very reprehensible, that people would rather go to the nearest cinema than to the farthest; but, in point of fact, they do prefer to do so. To that extent there is a very serious advantage in not plastering all the neighbourhood areas of the town with the same picture. The Amendment suggested by my hon. Friend is therefore one of the first importance. If, however, I am correct in understanding the President of the Board of Trade in saying that his legal advice is definitely that such practices as my hon. Friend has described 1740 will be precluded, if this Clause is passed as it stands, I am sure the Committee will be satisfied to accept it.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The legal advice I have received is quite definite. These arrangements do not in any way affect the arrangements in force as at 1st January. On the other hand, it is a matter for the Committee to take its own view about that advice. The Committee may decide that it requires more protection. The matter has not been submitted to the courts and if the Committee does not mind going a little further into retrospective legislation I have no objection.
§ Mr. Wilson
That was not what I meant. I was taking up my hon. Friend's use of the word "precluded." It would not be stopped; it would not, on the other hand, affect the question of the balance of power between the circuits in relation to the date, 1st January, 1948. It would not, in fact, preclude these kinds of arrangements which were undertaken by the circuits at the request of the Board of Trade. I am very anxious to see these schemes go forward. They were suggested by a number of distinguished film producers who thought it might be of advantage to British film production. Their circuits have operated very successfully in carrying them out.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
This is a very difficult matter from the point of view of draftsmanship. As hon. Members know, this arrangement about the size of circuits has for some time past resided on formal undertakings which have been honourably observed. It is a difficult matter to try to translate them into the technical language of a Bill. I do not think that anyone could pretend that the words "arrangements in force" are capable of precise explanation. In view of what has been said, the intention behind the Amendment in the name of the Minister is clear. If, however, there is any question in the mind of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), or anybody else, whether it would make it more clear if the relevant date was fixed at September, 1947, rather 1741 than January, 1948, I see no reason why that should not be done. If the date was fixed at September, 1947, there could be no possible doubt about it.
I think that one also ought to make it clear that this cannot be regarded as retrospective legislation. We are attempting to stabilise a status quo as at a certain date. It would not matter if it was September, 1947, or September, 1946. Apparently some hon. Members think there has been a change in the last three or four months. I think it would be desirable for the Minister to accept the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
Mr. H. D. Hughes
It is apparent from what was said by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) that there has been some arrangement between the Gaumont British and the Odeon circuits on the question of extended time which took place before January and had not taken place by September. It would seem that if the Amendment to the proposed Amendment is accepted, that type of arrangement will be precluded in the future. If it is so precluded, it will be of great assistance to the independent cinema which will be in a much more likely position to get first feature films which have already had a showing in one of the two big circuits in question. If the suggestion could be accepted by the Minister I think it would set at rest the minds of many small exhibitors.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I have no objection. I leave the matter in the hands of the Committee. It is really a question of weighing up the doubts referred to by my hon. Friends against the natural desire of the Committee to avoid retrospective legislation where possible.
§ Earl Winterton
What was said by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) does not make the faintest difference—
§ Earl Winterton
I only worried about it because the hon. Gentleman chose the occasion to make an attack on a person with whom I am associated.
Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment to the proposed Amendment made: In line 3, leave out "forty-eight," and insert "forty-seven." —[Mr. Wyatt.]
§ Proposed words, as amended, there added.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.