HC Deb 04 February 1948 vol 446 cc1860-4 The following Section shall be inserted after Section thirty-four of the principal Act: "34A. Notwithstanding the provisions of any enactment relating to the employment of children, the Secretary of State may grant permission to makers of films, for the employment of infant or child actors in the making of any film, and, in granting such permission, may prescribe such regulations as he may deem necessary for safeguarding the health and well-being of any infant or child so employed."—[Mr. Dumpleton.]
Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be now read a Second time."

Part V of the Act of 1938 deals with the conditions of workers in the making of films. I seek to have this Clause added for reasons which I will try to explain very briefly. In yesterday's discussion on this Bill, a great deal was said about the need for improving, strengthening and encouraging facilities for producers of specialised films. I have put down this new Clause in the interest of a very special kind of specialised film—the making of films particularly suitable for showing to children and child audiences.

6.0 p.m.

About 12 months ago, I ventured to raise a discussion on the Adjournment about children's cinema clubs. We had a very interesting Debate, and a great deal of interest has been shown in the country in the experiment of running children's cinema clubs. There is a great deal of criticism of these clubs with which I do not agree. I believe they are potentially very valuable. But those who are interested in them, and particularly those who are organising and sponsoring them, are constantly faced with the difficulty that there is a great lack of suitable films for showing to child audiences. That fact is acknowledged, and efforts are being made to produce films suitable for that purpose. One of the great difficulties which arise for those who are seeking to make suitable films for children, is that it is almost impossible, under the present law, to employ children as child actors in the making of films in this country. Some of the more suitable and successful recent children's films that we have had have been made abroad for that reason. The film "Bush Christmas" was made in Australia and another was made in Canada. I think it is agreed on all sides of the Committee that these films have a very potent influence upon children; there are about half a million children attending these cinema clubs regularly every Saturday morning.

It is of the utmost importance to produce suitable films having the highest possible entertainment value for exhibition to these children, and if successful films are to be made for the entertainment of children, it is important that children, with whom the child audiences can identify themselves, should be the central characters of the story. It is essential that the films should be such that the children can comprehend what is taking place and, instead of just passively receiving what is presented before them, can actively participate in what is being done to them on the screen. Therefore, it is important that children's films should be available in which children themselves are taking part.

As has been stated on several occasions in our Debates, this is a Bill to encourage the production of British films, and I submit that it is important that these films which are to be shown to children should present the British way of life. If we present family life, with children taking their place, it should be the British family way of life which is set before them. We should not necessarily be forced to have foreign films setting before our children a foreign way of life. Of course, I do not mean that films made in the Dominions, which do employ children, are necessarily bad, but I think it is better that we should be able in our films to show the English—and I might add in self-defence—the Scottish and Welsh way of life to the children. British films that are made may go overseas and, again, they ought to be such as show something of British family life.

No one on this side of the Committee wants to go back on existing legislation and to make it easier to remove the control upon the employment of children, or to make easier their commercial exploitation. There is the Children and Young. Persons Act, 1933, and the Education Act, 1944

The Chairman

It is clear from what the hon. Member has said that this new Clause is outside the scope of the Bill. I have referred to Part IV of the original Act, where there is no reference to the employment of child actors, and I am afraid I must, therefore, rule that the hon. Member is out of Order, and pass to the next Business.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Further to that point of Order, Major Milner, may I submit, in regard to your Ruling, that this proposed new Clause is not in Order, that we have under consideration questions relating to the production of cinematograph films? One of the material matters in connection with the production of cinematograph films is whether there should be any change in the present law, which imposes very considerable restriction on the occasional employment of children in making cinematograph films. May I suggest that if it is desired, in the interests of the cinematograph industry, to make an amendment with regard to the present state of the law with reference to employing children from time to time in the production of British films, that comes within the scope of a Bill which is designed to lay down conditions.

The Chairman

As I have said, I have referred to the Cinematograph Films Act, 1938, and there is no mention there of the employment of child actors or similar matters. There are conditions about wages and so on, but in my view the hon. Member's new Clause would be a subject for some other Bill on the employment of young persons, or something of that sort, and cannot be said to be within the scope of this Bill.

Mr. Dumpleton

I am grateful for your guidance, Major Milner, but may I point out that Part IV of the Act of 1938, to which you have referred, is headed: Provisions as to persons employed by makers of Cinematograph Films"? I did think that under that heading I could raise this question of the employment of children in making films.

The Chairman

It says: Wages and conditions of employment of persons employed by makers of cinematograph films, but in no way deals with the classes of persons to be employed.

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order. I would point out that the words are "otherwise to amend." With the greatest respect and some diffidence, because it may look like a reflection on the Chair, if your Ruling, Major Milner, holds good, it would have held good with regard to many Amendments we have discussed, because a number of Amendments have not been concerned with matters dealt with in the original Bill. I draw this to your attention because it is an important point of procedure; is it the rule of the Chair that a new Clause which has the effect of amending the original Act, is not to constitute an Amendment unless there is reference to it in the original Act?

The Chairman

Any Amendment must be within the scope of the Bill, and I am afraid I must rule that, in my view, the hon. Member's new Clause is not within the scope of this Bill.

Earl Winterton

May I call attention to the words: Make further provision for securing the exhibition of a certain proportion of British cinematograph films. I think the whole of the hon. Member's argument was based on the need for this new Clause because it was necessary in order to make provision to secure the exhibition of a certain proportion of British cinematograph films. I submit that anything which has reference to that must be within the scope of the Bill. The new Clause is directly aimed at that purpose; otherwise it would be meaningless. It is in order to enable films to be made—the words are: The Secretary of State may grant permission to makers of films …

Mr. E. Fletcher

May I ask your guidance, Major Milner, on this aspect of the matter, for the benefit of the Committee? This proposed new Clause has been on the Order Paper for a considerable time and the hon. Member has made a substantial and very eloquent speech in support of it. I understood you to say that, having heard the speech, you do not think the new Clause is in order. I submit that the question whether or not the new Clause is in Order is a matter which cannot be affected by the arguments put forward.

The Chairman

The point is that it is within the power of the Chair to call upon any hon. Member to explain the provisions in his new Clause and thereupon to form a judgment upon it. I took the precaution of interviEwing the hon. Member and suggesting my doubts to him, and after hearing him, these doubts have crystallised my belief that the new Clause is out of Order.