HC Deb 03 February 1948 vol 446 cc1755-65
Mr. W. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 6, line 8, to leave out "five," and to insert "seven."

The curious thing about the proceedings of the Committee today has been the great use of the words "modesty and humility." The Parliamentary Secretary said that he approached certain aspects of this Bill with great humility. The President of the Board of Trade, by his demeanour and his soft cooing tones, proclaimed to all of us his modesty. It is curious that when we talk about an industry which deals entirely in superlatives, and uses such words as "gigantic," "stupendous" and "colossal" that we, in this Committee, should be talking with such modesty. I fear that has been infectious. The Amendment is an extremely modest one. During the Second Reading of the Bill, there was a great deal of discussion on the question of the number of independent members on the Films Council. I and other hon. Members feel very strongly that we should retain the number of 11 members that was inserted originally. The reasons given against that were, first, that the Council had been a bad, inoperative, practically non-existent body with hardly any powers at all. The figures of attendance given lent weight to that thesis. It is clear that the House intends, the country wishes, and the President of the Board of Trade is going to carry out that wish, that the film industry during the spring-cleaning and the radical overhaul which it is going to have under this Measure, shall have a Films Council with teeth in it.

For that purpose, it is important that the balance inside that Council should be most carefully considered. It is also very important that the number of independent members—that is the actual point which we are discussing at present—shall be sufficient for the job which they have to discharge. The point made at the close of the Second Reading Debate that II was too large, because we might not be able to get II people who would have the knowledge, the right mental attitude and the time to devote to it, had some weight in it, and that is why we, on this side of the Committee, in putting down the Amendment, have suggested seven. I believe that even at this time when possibly all the best brains are being absorbed by the number of Boards which the Government are setting up in every direction, there will still be seven just men, seven capable men able to devote sufficient time to this extremely important job.

During this Debate, it has been quite clear whenever there has been anything like a doubt in the mind of anyone, whether on the Treasury Bench or on this side, that the attitude has been one of waiting until the Council is set up so that it can tackle the problem. It will have an infinitely greater responsibility and much more complex problems to deal with in the next few years than were the lot of its predecessors. Therefore, in its selection and balance the utmost care has to be taken. We do not want a lot of figureheads and partisans; we want particularly broadminded people of general knowledge. There is no doubt, in my view, that seven people of this character and calibre can easily be found.

If one looks at the constitution of this body one sees that it is not quite a "form fours" business, but very nearly. The representatives of the three phases of industry fall more or less into groups of four, and the reason that we have selected the number of seven is that the experience of some of us with the industry is that the weight of the independent members will afford the greatest protection to the investing public and, above all, to the cinema goer. Such arithmetic as I still retain tells me that seven and four make eleven. If the Council is going to be one of 21 the combination of those independent members and of any of the groups of technical representatives who are going to be on the Council will give a sufficient number to see that the independent members are not out voted and overridden. I do not want to over-emphasise this, because, as far as possible one hopes that they will proceed by reason and argument rather than by vote. I often wish that one might see that applied to this Committee, but it has not always come to fruition. In our view it is important to have that balance. When we put forward that modest figure of seven instead of eleven, which sounds rather like crap shooting—

Mr. W. J. Brown

What is "crap shooting"?

Mr. Fletcher

I would refer the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) to the experts whom I see around me. Nevertheless, this particular figure is one which strikes a very reasonable balance. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will take heed not only of the number, but of the quality which is probably more important and that the modest increase of from five to seven will meet with the approval of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

The Chairman

It would appear to be for the convenience of the Committee if the whole of the Amendments dealing with the composition of the Cinematograph Films Council were discussed together. If we can have general agreement we might proceed on those lines. I take it that that is agreed.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I should like to support what my modest Friend the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) has said in this connection. I feel that five independent Members of this Council is too small, because I am quite convinced that if we are to have fair play for the exhibition side of the Council we must have more independents to support them when they can reasonably do so. At present the production side has ten and the exhibition side has only four, which I think is grossly unfair to the exhibition side. This was discussed fairly widely on the Second Reading and I had hoped that by now we might have got something from the President of the Board of Trade to show that he was going to balance up that representation a little better. If he is not prepared to strengthen the exhibition side of the Council I hope he will agree to seven independent members or at least give the exhibition side the chance to find themselves in a strong position when at variance with the production side. I believe I had better leave the wider question to the Motion that the Clause stand part, and on that discuss whether the Council as at present suggested is in any way suitable for the job they will have to do. I will also leave to them the matter of the representation of Scotland on the Films Council. Therefore, I will leave the Amendment by merely supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Bury in asking for seven independent members instead of five.

Mr. H. Wilson

I want to take up one point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross, Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and to explain why the Government have not put down any Amendments on this important Clause. I hope the Committee will not take the frequent occasions on which I have said that we would take something back and look at it again before the Report stage as any sign of what the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) would call indecision or weakness. I hope he will agree that it is rather evidence of our flexibility, a word he has already used in a different connection.

Many of the points raised today, especially those on Clause 8, are not points of party principle or of strong principle one way or the other, and I should think that it is highly desirable on many of these questions, especially as they affect an industry which is an important medium of public opinion as well as a medium of entertainment and education, that we should always seek to try to get the views of the Committee before taking a hard and fast line about them. I recognise that Clause 8, which deals with the composition of the Cinematograph Films Council, is of very great importance, and rather than put down any Government Amendments in the light of what was said in the Second Reading, I thought I should like to hear the views of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee and afterwards say a word as to our attitude about them.

Mr. E. Fletcher

In view of the suggestion that it would be convenient to discuss together all the Amendments put down to Clause 8 I should like to say a few words about the two Amendments in my name. They are: in page 6, line 11, after "makers," insert "renters and exhibitors"; and in line 12, at end, add: (c) the number of members appointed as representing exhibitors shall be six instead of four. I was very glad to hear the statement from the Minister indicating that he would he prepared to look sympathetically at suggestions coming from both sides of the Committee in order to arrive at a balanced constitution of the Cinematograph Films Council and at a composition giving reasonable satisfaction to all sections of the community. First of all, I support the Amendment already moved for increasing the number of independent persons on the Council from five to seven. I then suggest that the number of persons appointed as representing exhibitors should be increased from four to six. It will be appreciated that all the burdens imposed by this Bill are placed on the exhibitors; there is no obligation on any producers to produce any films or on renters or distributors to distribute any films. The scheme of the Bill is that certain obligations are placed on exhibitors. They have to exhibit a certain number of films in their cinemas.

Since the President in fixing the quotas is advised to take the ad vice of the Cinematograph Films Council, it is very desirable that the exhibitors should not only be adequately represented but feel themselves adequately represented, and that there should be a sufficient number of exhibitor members on the Council to enable all the differing points of view of exhibitors to be put forward, whether they represent large circuits, small circuits, persons in country areas or Scotland or other parts of the country. It will be agreed that that cannot be reasonably done if the number of exhibitors on the Council is left at the present number of four, particularly when the representatives of the other branches of the industry are being increased. I therefore hope that the President of the Board of Trade will look sympathetically at the representation of exhibitors who are numerically so strong and so diverse in character and who ought to be adequately represented by six members.

9.45 P.m.

The other Amendment has this suggestion for its object. At present under existing legislation there are two persons who are appointed to represent employees. It is now suggested, quite rightly, that that number shall be increased to four. As the Bill is drafted, those persons are to be chosen as representing persons employed by makers of British films. My suggestion is that instead of being confined to the employees of makers of British films, which means employees in film studios, they should be drawn from all classes of employees in the industry, whether working in studios, in cinemas, in cinematograph organisations renting and distributing films, or otherwise.

In other words, if it is proper, as manifestly it is proper, that there should be an adequate representation not only of employers but of employees on this Cinematograph Films Council, then it is equally desirable that those representatives should be taken from all classes of the industry, just as are the employers, particularly when it is remembered that of all the employees in the industry at the present time only some 15 per cent. are employed in studios, whereas the remainder are employed in cinemas and in other occupations in the cinematograph industry. I hope, for those reasons, that this Amendment will be sympathetically considered by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. W. Fletcher

On a point of Order, Sir Robert. When I spoke just now it had not then been ruled by the Chair that we were to talk on the other Amendments to this Clause and, therefore, I spoke only on the Amendment standing in my name and that of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. May I take this opportunity to say that we on this side of the Committee have the greatest sympathy with the point made by the hon. Gentleman and agree with it?

Mr. H. D. Hughes

As we are taking all these Amendments together, may I urge that consideration be given to the Amendment standing in my name, namely, in page 6, line 9, leave out paragraph (b) and insert: (6) The number of members appointed as representing the makers of British films shall be four, of whom two shall be representatives of makers of specialised and short films, and the number of members appointed as representing persons employed by makers of British films shall be four. and the one in the name of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton), namely, in page 6, line 12, at end, add: and the representatives of makers of British films shall include not less than two persons appointed as representing the makers of specialised and short films. In view of the importance of the Films Council there should be some statutory provision for representation of documentary and short film producers. In the past, up to 1944, they had a member on the Council, in fact, 50 per cent. of the producer representation. Since 1944 they have had no representation at all, although they employ about 1,000 technicians as against 1,200 employed by the feature films. As there is a general free-for-all in getting representation on the Council, I hope the Minister will bear that in mind.

Mr. J. Foster

I support the plea for raising the number of independent and also the number of exhibitors' representatives. If the representatives of the exhibitors are raised from four to six, it will enable the exhibitors to have greater representation. As the hon. Member said, the exhibitors are the only people in this Bill who have a statutory obligation placed on them. If the independent representatives are raised in number, it will enable them to act as arbitrators between the exhibitors and the people who, in a sense, are on the other side of the fence, namely, the renters and producers. The exhibitor is nearest the consumer. He is the man who is selling the wares to the man who goes to see the film, and it is important that his point of view should not be lost sight of in this Bill because in the last resort he is the judge of the market. He has to call the tune in the sense that he knows probably better than anybody else what the public wants, so it is important that that point of view should be well represented on the Films Council.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

In this series of Amendments we are being asked to decide on very different problems. We are faced with the structure of a Council which has two functions, which are quite separate and distinct. The prime function is to advise on matters in connection with the cinematograph world. In that capacity it should have a reasonable balance of interest of exhibitor, producer, and independents to advise on what would be tolerable or intolerable to the community and those directly concerned with the industry. The second function is much more difficult. Here we have to consider the structure of the Council to perform the second function, and when they have to perform that function they are sitting rather as a court to judge or give an opinion and advise on whether somebody was justified in doing something, contracting in or out of the existing form of legislation.

I cannot help wondering whether we are not trying to combine two quite impossible functions within one body without setting out those functions, and without setting out rather different types of bodies. It would be out of Order to pursue the matter further, and it might be better to raise it on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," but I could not resist the opportunity of raising it here, as we have to determine the two quite distinct, separate and different forms of responsibility which this Council will have to carry out.

Mr. H. Wilson

I have listened carefully to what has been said, and of course I keep in mind what was said by hon. Members on the Second Reading. I find myself in general sympathy with a lot of the points which have been made, although I could not go so far as to say I would be in a position to recommend the Committee to accept all the Amendments which have been put down.

In regard to the independent members of the Films Council, I agree with the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) that we want to see a Films Council with some teeth in it, and we should pay rather more attention to the question of quality than to that of numbers. I think he has made out a case for increasing the number of independent members. For my own part, I feel I could recommend to the Committee that seven would be a reasonable number. It would need slightly increasing the number of the Council altogether, but a very strong case has been made to increase the element of independent members. In so far as the other sections of the Council are concerned, I have been turning over in my mind whether we should consider reducing the renters. It is a very difficult point, but I think we should perhaps keep them at the present figure, particularly when one remembers the position of the American renters in this country. It is desirable to have one of them and a British representative.

On the question of representation of labour, I certainly agree that there should be special provision for representation of those employed by exhibitors and distributors, and on the Report stage I will be prepared to put down an Amendment in those terms. As I indicated on the Second Reading, I think the exhibitors have made out a case for some slight increase in representation, although I do not go so far as recommending six. I think the figure five would be more appropriate. If we work on those lines, the council would be increased to about 22, which is rather bigger than what I had in mind in the Second Reading Debate. I do not want it to be unwieldy. However, I think the sense of the Committee is that we should expand slightly above the figures stated in the first draft of the Bill.

I would suggest to the Committee that, if they are agreeable, I should spend a little time studying what has been said this evening. I give my assurance that I am meeting the suggestions about the number of independent members, and I should propose to increase the number of exhibitors to five and make special provision for representation, within the total number, of trade union representatives of those employed in distribution and exhibition. With that assurance I shall be grateful if the Committee will agree that I might put down a composite Amendment at the Report stage, setting out the constitution of the proposed new Films Council as a whole. The House could then look at it as a whole rather than attempt to dealt with the separate figures, because it is difficult to look at any one of them without looking at the picture as a whole.

Mr. Reeves

Would the President of the Board of Trade make a statement with reference to the request that the specialised and documentary film trade should be represented?

Mr. Wilson

This was a matter which I discussed last night with the "shorts" and documentary producers. They were represented on the Films Council up to 1944 but have not been since that date. There is a strong case for their representation but I feel that the figure of representation suggested in the Amendment on the Order Paper is somewhat excessive in relation to the other film producers who should be represented on the Council. I shall probably propose that there shall be one representative of the "shorts" and documentary producers on the Films Council. Whether it is necessary to specify that in the Bill or whether it can be done through my powers of appointment is a matter which I can consider between now and the Report stage. I admit the case for representation, but not for two representatives.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

Will my right hon. Friend say something about the suggestion that there should be Scottish representation on the Cinematograph Films Council and also about the suggestion that a separate Scottish Cinematograph Films Council should be established for Scotland as a nation?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I wish to point out that I had left what I wish to say on that particular point until we reach the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." I thought I should be out of Order if I mentioned it on these Amendments.

Earl Winterton

I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Committee for not having heard the whole discussion. I only wish to make the comment that the arrangement that the right hon. Gentleman suggested seems to me to be a perfectly fair one. He will understand that my hon. Friends on this side of the House—and I presume it applies to hon. Gentlemen opposite—will not necessarily be bound by the revised draft and that there will be no suggestion that there has been any breach of agreement between us. In fact, it will be necessary, if the right hon. Gentleman decides to meet the points which have been put in these Amendments, to redraft practically the whole of the Clause. There is an Amendment down in my name and in the name of my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends to deal with the case of distributors and exhibitors.

Mr. Wilson

I have already conceded that point, and I certainly give my assurance that what I put down will not be regarded as an agreed proposition. It will be subject to any Amendments which may be moved.

Amendment negatived.

To report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Snow.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.