HC Deb 13 February 1948 vol 447 cc725-40

Amendments made:

In page 18, line 19, leave out "year," and insert "period."

In line 46, leave out "year," and insert "quota period."

In page 19, line 12, leave out "year," and insert "quota period."

In line 14, leave out "year," and insert "period."

In page 20, leave out lines 48 and 49.

In page 21, line 4, at end, insert: (2A) Any exhibitor who, in any quota period, exhibits as aforesaid films registered as long films, shall in addition to the matters required by the last foregoing subsection to be recorded by him, keep records of the rental paid or payable in respect of each such film so exhibited.

In line 5, after "by," insert "sub section(2) of."

In line 12, after "book," insert "or records."

In page 30, line 18, leave out "year," and insert "period."

In page 31, line 4, leave out "year," and insert "quota period."

In page 32, line 8, leave out "nineteen," and insert "twenty-two."

In line 10, leave out "five," and insert "seven."

In line 15, leave out "four," and insert "five."

In line 15, at end, insert: of whom one shall be appointed as representing exhibitors in Scotland.

In line 18, after "makers," insert "renters or exhibitors."

In page 33, line 26, leave out from first "Council," to end of line 27.

In page 34, line 34, at end, insert: and includes the year ending on the thirtieth day of September, nineteen hundred and forty-eight."—[Mr. Belcher.]

Consequential Amendments made.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. Belcher

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I wish to express on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself our sincere appreciation of the high degree of co-operation which we have received during the passage of the Bill. From all parts of the House we have had nothing but reasonableness and good suggestions, many of which we have been able to incorporate in the Bill. If we could always conduct our affairs with the degree of cordiality which has characterised this Bill, we would all be much happier. If there are any points to be raised on the Third Reading, my right hon. Friend proposes to deal with them.

12.20 p.m.

Earl Winterton

I wish to support what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are grateful to the two Ministers for the way in which they have met us. The Bill, as amended, represents the collective opinion of the House on an important industry. I am sure that industry will be grateful for the valuable, if somewhat variegated advice offered to it through the medium of the Bill at its various stages.

As the Minister said, when hon. Members are able to express opinions unfettered by party issues, the result is a credit to this House. I might add that even the silliest and bitterest critics of our Parliamentary institution must admit that on occasions we are a most useful deliberative and legislative body. But those occasions are not the invariable rule. There are others when the luscious sentimentality and unconscious humour of this House at its worst beats the screen at its worst, or, to use a phrase recently patented by the Foreign Secretary, "wins out." The moral is that this House has no more right or reason to expect the screen always to show the best, most cultivated, and most socially valuable films, than the nation has the right or reason to demand that in this place we never stage a poor exhibition of how to carry out the nation's business. The film industry is human like any other institution. I think it necessary to say that, because the Bill lays down certain standards, and human error comes into the matter. It is germane to the Bill to say this, because in some quarters there has been a tendency to demand of the film industry a higher unvarying standard than we have in this House, or in most forms of human activity. This Bill, like its predecessor, maintains a far greater measure of control over the industry than is exercised over the Press, the theatre, or, in some respects, the B.B.C.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Or over the Church.

Earl Winterton

I do not know what the hon. Member means. I do not know what the Church has to do with it.

The theatre is not ordered to produce a certain quota of Shakespearean plays. It would be out of Order to discuss this matter at length on Third Reading, but that is the kind of control that is exercised by this House through the Films Council. The industry accepts that situation, but I wish to point out to all hon. Members that it has dangers where a still nascent industry, with reasonable chances of developing a valuable export trade on a higher level than today, is trying to find its way. The President of the Board of Trade would be the first to agree that there are great possibilities for this trade, which is a comparatively new trade, and that it has to find its way. In my judgment those dangers can be avoided if the Bill, when it becomes an Act, is carried out by all concerned, this House, the Minister as far as he has power, the Films Council, and others, in a reasonable spirit. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will not dissent from what I have said.

That is the essence of the Bill, and I have only one other point of substance to make. I apologise for saying something so obvious, but it appears to have been forgotten in the course of the discussion this morning. The public go to cinemas to look at films which they want to see and not necessarily to see what Authority, in capital letters, what the Minister or the Films Council wants them to see. Authority cannot control public taste. Indeed, if it attempted to do so, it would fail. That is why I am glad that a certain Amendment was put in the Bill, emphasising the point I have made. The chances in the export trade are bright. For that reason it Is most necessary that British films, including the quota films, should have a universal appeal, as far as it is possible to arrive at a universal appeal. But, as hon. Members like myself, interested in the trade, know, we are far from realising what is a universal film.

The industry must aim at that, in order to get a good export trade. Those engaged in the industry realise that it is a risky one. Indeed we could not do anything else, after listening to the speeches of hon. Members on all sides of the House. We also agree that those who control the industry are not always right. I must say, with the greatest seriousness, and I do not think there can be any dissent, that the House should give them credit that in a time of desperate export need, and by means of, trial and error, they are holding their own at home and abroad. Such a task requires what I claim the industry has as a whole, men of courage, vision and willingness to incur risks and odium. If I may finish on a slightly controversial note, I should say that these qualities merit praise and not denigration.

12.27 p.m.

Mr. O'Brien (Nottingham, West)

I think that most hon. Members on all sides of the House will share to a considerable extent the views now expressed by the noble Lord. The Bill states in its citation: to make further provision for securing the exhibition of a certain proportion of British cinematograph films, and otherwise to amend and continue the Cinematograph Films Act, 1938. We might be tempted to forget the purpose of the Bill, especially in the difficult circumstances in which the British film industry finds itself today. It was very pleasing to me to hear from the noble Lord the reminder to the House that the British film industry, and those of us connected with it for many years, had passed the stage of merely filling in some niche vis-à-vis American films coming over to this country. Some of us had looked to the British film industry not only as a means of high entertainment of our own people, but of serving the country's needs in the export market and earning dollars and other currencies, not merely to adjust our financial difficulties, but to give some uplift and real entertainment and other values to the countries taking British films. That has been held up for the time being, and I trust my right hon. Friend will take immediate steps, when the Bill becomes law, to set up the Cinematograph Films Council which is provided for in Clause 8.

On that matter I wish to appeal to my right hon. Friend to do two or three special things. He will be confronted with the difficult situation which faces the industry today for one or another reason. There are two major problems affecting the trade at the present time. The first is that within the space of merely a matter of months we find ourselves with enough studio space available today to serve the interests of any particular producer who wishes to make a film. A few weeks ago at the very most my right hon. Friend had to receive a deputation, headed by myself, which appealed to him, on behalf of the workers in the film industry, to do all he could to try to provide studio space for those who needed that space to make British films. Within a few weeks that situation has completely changed, almost as quickly as a transformation scene in a pantomime. We now have that studio space available, but there is nobody able to make the films and so use that space. They cannot raise the money. There is not a bank, a finance house, individual industrialist or financier in Great Britain today who will put a penny into film production. That is one of the points of which I beg my right hon. Friend to take note and to put before the Film Council, when it is set up, so that the matter can be investigated. I hope he will be able to think over some ways and means whereby finance can be made available in order that the production of films, which this Bill seeks to encourage and promote, can proceed.

The other difficulty is the question of unemployment with which we are confronted today. Several hundred trade unionists and workers in the industry generally, who are represented not only by my own organisation but by others, are receiving what are called their "insurance cards"— they are being dismissed on account of the fact that there is no longer any work for them. I mention these facts so that the Films Council can get down to finding out the causes of these two problems—redundancy of labour and available studio space—and try to deal with them in a practical way so that the provisions of this Bill can be operated.

I welcome the assurance we have been given that the President of the Board of Trade will go into the question of the labour costs of feature films more fully. I do not know what has gone wrong between the Second Reading of this Bill and now. I assure my right hon. Friend that so far as the industry on the technical, artisan and labour side is concerned, we did not believe that there was any intention on the part of the Board of Trade to alter the labour costs of feature production below the 30s. per foot which was in the previous Act. I beg my right hon. Friend to take note of that point because there is a serious risk that if feature films—I am saying nothing about "shorts"—are produced at below that figure, there will be a great temptation, especially under present difficulties and in present circumstances, to make a new spate of what we used to call "quickies." They may be modern "quickies," but we do not want them, whether they are modern or old.

Finally, I wish to add my own word of praise to the very sincere "Hallelujah Chorus" to which my right hon. Friend has listened this morning. He has shown a grasp of the complexities and difficulties of the film industry that does him the greatest credit, particularly when we remember that he had to handle this difficult task within a few days of taking office at the Board of Trade. He has steered this Bill through with the assistance of his colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary, and has avoided what could have been dynamite. He knows to what I am referring. The general overriding situation could have been handled in such a way as to create a serious industrial difficulty. I share the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), who himself had considerable experience of the difficulties of the film industry at the time he was at the Board of Trade. I share his praise and the praise which my hon. Friends have given to my right hon. Friend, and I hope that he will be able to do something bigger than he has done in securing the passage of this Bill, that is, the implementation of the ideas of his own personal ideals in this matter. I thank him not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of the working side of this industry.

12.35 P.m.

Mr. John Wilmot (Deptford)

We have been discussing this whole matter in the shadow of the most regrettable circumstances which were forced upon us by the currency situation, under which no American films are coming to Britain and very few British films are going to America. The primary need tot this industry today is to open the channels of exchange again, and to see that film-cross the Atlantic both ways. I was impressed by the arguments which my right hon. Friend and his able Parliamentary Secretary put forward for retaining some elasticity in the operation of the Bill and I accepted the reasons which he gave hit not now determining the quota or fixing finally the labour costs. Upon reflection, I think there is some wisdom in that course, because the task to which he has how to address himself is to remove this deplorable breakdown of exchanges between us and the Americans.

The Bill is meaningless unless normal relations can be instituted again. It seems to me that there is a possibility in the method by which the quota is used of facilitating the resumption of this most potentially valuable trade. In making the regulations which will lay down the quota, could not my right hon. Friend consider the possiblity of giving exemption from the quota to the extent that the American exhibiting rights of British films are purchased here by American renters? I make the suggestion because there is looming ahead of us a further real danger, that is, that we shall be forced into a situation in which, if the Americans cannot bring their films across, they will produce films in Britain. While it is better that American films should be produced in Britain than that there should be no films at all, what we really want to see is the production of British films by British genius in the British way, and not just American films produced in Britain. It is important that in implementing the provisions of the Hill some inducement should be given to American renters to buy the American showing rights of genuine British films, and it might well be that some exemption from the quota obligations could be given as a condition of their purchase of the American showing rights of British films.

Then there is the obvious alternative and parallel method by which some part of the receipts from the duty on imported American films could be made available for the purchase of American showing rights of British films. I put this suggestion to my right hon Friend in the hope that in framing the regulations which will carry into effect the provisions of this Bill he will have in mind, as I am sure he has, the necessity of securing the widest possible circulation for British films made in the British way and showing the British way of life.

12.40 p m

Mr. Collins

I would like to add my modest word to what was called the "Hallelujah Chorus" of praise for my right hon. Friend, by merely pointing out that what was, I think the first Bill he has steered through this House has gone through all its stages without a single Division. Whilst this was, not a very controversial Measure, there were items which raised a good deal of difference of opinion, and the fact that we had not any Divisions is due, in a great measure, to the efforts of my right hon. Friend.

There is no need to exaggerate the importance of this Bill. It is quite a modest Bill, but it will very greatly assist the industry, particularly the makers of British films. I entirely agree with the view put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Wilmot) that the American film industry must remain of very considerable importance, and that it is to be hoped that the present difficulties will be resolved in one way or another. Above all, I believe that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, if properly utilised, can be used for the improvement and enlargement of the scope of the British film-making industry. It is in that matter that I am particularly interested.

There is one section of the industry, in particular, which is in very considerable difficulty at the moment, and that is the specialised and documentary film industry. I understand that something like a thousand technicians, if not already unemployed, are facing the prospect of unemployment in the very near future. During the Second Reading my right hon. Friend made mention of his decision to set up a committee of inquiry. That has been referred to as the most important thing in the whole discussion, far more important in fact than the Bill itself. I consider that to be perfectly true. Therefore, I would urge on my right hon. Friend the need for a very speedy implementation of that decision, and for the encouragement of the deliberations of that committee to take place as quickly as possible, and to be implemented as soon as their conclusions are made known, provided they are accepted by my right hon. Friend.

The industry is now at a stage when what is required is action and not merely discussions and decisions. Urgent action must be taken, even before this Bill becomes an Act. My right hon. Friend might consider calling together the leaders of the industry, the makers, the renters, exhibitors, and the representatives from the workers' side, to see what can be done now, immediately and quickly, to increase the number of British films in production, and to do all that is possible to ensure that our cinemas—particularly during this critical period which is facing us—will have something worth while to show to their patrons. In the course of these discussions, which have been of a somewhat technical nature, we have not said a great deal about the point of view and the difficulties of the man who pays his 1s. 9d. After all, the whole of this Bill, everything we are doing and all that we are discussing, is in order that eventually we may have something to show on the cinema screens of this country. I hope, therefore, that, quite apart from this Bill, and from the committee of inquiry, my right hon. Friend will do what he can, and do it very quickly, to bring the various sections of the industry together, and to see what changes can be made at once.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Benn Levy

Hon. Members have frequently pointed out that these Debates have maintained an atmosphere of almost Christmas card cordiality, and that is true. If the Debates have been uncontroversial it is for two reasons. First, because the Bill has been a good Bill and secondly, as I must point out, because it has not been a very radical Bill. If it had been, I doubt whether the discussions would have been quite as uncontroversial as they were.

It has not always been present to our minds that we have been discussing this Bill at a time of very serious crisis in the film industry. At this very moment there is the prospect, of insufficient films to keep our theatres open. Concurrently with that, there is a growing diminution of activity in the studios. Employees are being sacked. Studio space is not being utilised to the full, in spite of the fact that there is unlikely to be sufficient pictures available for theatres in the coming years. This is the kind of topsy-turvy situation that the so-called free enterprise system throws up from time to time. It is not now my business to generalise about it.

Mr. Lyttelton

Free enterprise?

Mr. Levy

The right hon. Gentleman is endeavouring to claim that the sacred system of free enterprise has been adulterated by the Government's action in respect of dollars. I do him the credit of reminding him, however, that that was an action which he himself wholeheartedly supported.

I raise this matter because I wish the President of the Board of Trade to think very seriously about it. Although he has made an important announcement that there is to be a committee of inquiry into the film industry, that is, necessarily, a long-term, or at least, not a short-term, remedy. I want to ask him to take some short-term steps to deal with the situation of empty studios and redundancy, not only for the sake of the production side, but for the exhibition side as well. The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. O'Brien) has suggested a films bank. Although I myself am in favour of that, a films bank in a vacuum is of no use at all. No films bank would be justified in advancing money for the production of a film on any terms on which a private bank would not be justified in so doing. Those terms must include a guaranteed release and thus some chance of getting the money back. The present organisation of the industry provides no such guarantee. Unless the necessary release can be obtained from Mr. Arthur Rank or Sir Phillip Warter, it cannot be obtained at all. Although this is a problem of long-term reorganisation, my right hon. Friend may, I hope, be able to devise some short-term scheme to get over the immediate difficulty, and, at least, give the House an assurance that he will, in conjunction with the Films Council, tackle the matter as soon as possible.

12.49 p.m.

Mr. Beswick (Uxbridge)

I wish to say a word about the committee of inquiry, and the necessity and urgency of setting it up as quickly as possible and implementing whatever decisions it may make, especially in regard to unemployment and under-employment in the film industry. There are many people in my constituency, good technicians in the industry, who are simply unable to understand the present situation. On the one hand we have exhibitors demanding good films, and on the other hand we have the story writers, technicians and producers—we now have even studio space—and yet there is something lacking which prevents one side from satisfying the other. I have been told that 70 more people were dismissed this week from one studio. In other studios in which some of my constituents work, although there have not been any dismissals the employees are subject to under-employment. Technicians do not like that. A good deal was said on Second Reading about the cost of film production. There is no doubt that, as far as the technician is concerned, the cost of production could be brought down considerably if the amount of work going through the studios was increased. I do ask that my right hon. Friend will treat this matter of underemployment and unemployment as one of seriousness and urgency.

12.51 p.m.

Mr. Lyttelton

I assure hon. Gentlemen that although my comminations are sometimes rather protracted, my benedictions are always short. We are ending this Bill in an atmosphere which reminds me of a film première. The only things that appear to be lacking—I am surprised not to have received one myself—are a bouquet, and an introduction to one of the leading starlets. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) produced a very curious argument. It was one of those delightful paradoxes which we are accustomed to hear from him in other places. He said that the freeze-up in the exhibition of American films was due to the creaking nature of private enterprise. I should have thought that a tax on imported films of 75 per cent., and a complete embargo on the purchase of dollars by private enterprise, certainly were things which, unfortunately, interfered with the free flow of private enterprise. I may say that, though I am always prepared to take in the most cheerful spirit the paradoxes which he offers me when I am sitting in the front row of the stalls, I cannot exercise the same complacency when they are addressed to me when I am occupying the Front Bench of the House of Commons.

The President of the Board of Trade has met us wherever he could in a very conciliatory spirit. We have all been congratulating ourselves. We on this side of the House congratulate ourselves on the conciliatory spirit which we have shown. We have heard many speeches in which hon. Members opposite have congratulated themselves. I join in both these choruses and add the rider that on future occasions I do not think the President of the Board of Trade can count on our being so agreeable as we have been to him during the passage of this Bill.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. H. Wilson

In thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) for his kind remarks, and in noting the spirit of happiness and pleasure which he, in common with many other hon. Members, shows about the passage of this Bill, I would like to say that if the only things he needs to make himself completely happy are a bouquet and an introduction to a starlet, I shall be delighted to arrange that for him at a convenient time. I join with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in thanking hon. Members in all parts of the House for the great help and co-operation they have given in getting this Bill through so smoothly. I also wish to thank them for their assistance in improving this Measure. I think—if I may say this with diffidence—that at the Second Reading stage this was quite a good Bill which was well received by the House. I am sure that it is now a very much better Bill.

The Second Reading Debate showed that there was general agreement throughout the House that the main principles were right and that the balance as between the various interests was pretty well a correct one. However, I think that the alterations made during the various stages of the Bill have resulted in a great improvement. The Second Reading was given without a Division, and the other stages also went through in the same spirit. I am glad that it has been possible to agree to a number of Amendments proposed sometimes by my hon. Friends, sometimes by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and sometimes by both working together. There have been one or two difficult and perhaps controversial issues, but they were never controversies which divided the two sides of the House. Sometimes they were controversies which divided different interests in the industry on points of principle about the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act. We were able to get over our difficulties quite satisfactorily.

Some of my hon. Friends have raised a number of points. I am sure that they will forgive me if I do not go into them fully. If I were to give anything like a full answer, I should be out of Order on this Third Reading Debate. I agree with hon. Members that this Bill alone cannot solve either the long-term or the short-term problems. We must look at this Bill against the background of the present difficulties which the industry is experiencing.

A number of my hon. Friends have referred to the necessity for doing something about the financial structure of the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) indicated some of the difficulties about that. He will recall that, on the Second Reading Debate, I said that my right hon. and learned Friend and I were going into this matter very carefully to see what gaps existed in the present arrangements in the industry in an effort to ensure full production, and also to ensure a square deal for the independent producers. I said that if we found gaps which could not be filled by existing arrangements, we would take steps to see what ought to be done to fill them. These discussions are in progress, and that undertaking still stands. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough has said, we cannot solve this problem merely by the provision of financial facilities. We must be satisfied that the films will get a showing. Hence, as he agreed, the importance of this inquiry into the exhibition side of the cinematograph films industry.

Mr. Levy

I hope that my right hon. Friend is not implying that the terms of reference to the commission are to be restricted to the exhibition side of the industry?

Mr. Wilson

No. The inquiry will be mainly into the exhibition side. It will be very difficult to go into that without discussing other things at the same time. The main inquiry is into exhibition.

I share the concern of many hon. Members about the present position in the studios particularly where it has resulted, or is resulting, in unemployment or underemployment. This is a paradoxical state of affairs. It is occasioned partly by financial difficulties, which we are going into, and partly by the difficulty arising from the fact that there were stages ready for the production of films when, for one reason or another, the plans for those films were dropped. It was because of the need to secure full production in the British film industry that I established the Film Production Council under my own chairmanship. As soon as we can get over one or two difficulties about the membership of that Council, I want to arrange an early meeting to go into this question in great detail.

The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred to the importance of the film industry in connection with the export trade. Again, I cannot go very far into that subject without getting out of Order. The development of the export trade which many in the film industry are now pushing—many are in America actively engaged in the matter—will be an essential part of any deal which we may succeed in making in connection with the financial problems to which reference has been made.

I join with the noble Lord in giving credit to the film industry for what is being done at a time when there is such a great and urgent need for increased exports. Tribute should be paid to the quality of the films and the energy with which the industry is trying to push them in foreign markets. It is a matter of great importance to the industry itself that the export market should be developed, not only from the national point of view but so that the industry can get some return for the very high costs which they must meet at present. I hope that it will be possible to cut costs to a more reasonable figure, but even if that is done it is still a fact that our home market is restricted when compared with the American market. That places a limit on the earning power of some of our more expensive films.

I would like to go one stage further than the noble Lord, and repeat what I said on the Second reading Debate. Tribute is due to all sides of the industry not only for what is being done to push the export trade but for what has been done in the past few years. Special praise is due to those who stepped in during the most difficult wartime years and assisted in redeveloping the British film industry and in re-establishing its reputation for quality, and putting it very much higher than ever before.

I think I have dealt with the main points raised in the Debate. I know the House very much supports this Bill, and I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members. The House has done a fine job on this Bill by improving it, and by acting as a deliberative and legislative assembly on the various points raised. I felt, from the outset of the Committee stage, that I should be wrong to regard this Bill as including serious points of principle, and wrong to insist on sticking to every word in it, if hon. Members could produce a good case and the general sense of the Committee was in favour of making an Amendment, and that is why we have made an unusual number of changes, because we were convinced by hon. Members that it was right to do so.

The object of the Bill, as it now goes forward, is to give to British film production an opportunity of consolidating the ground which it has won over the last 10 years, and to extend its output to a level on which it can rest securely in the future. During the period of 10 years to be covered by the Bill, we hope its provisions will make it possible for the industry to establish itself on a secure and safe foundation. I will not go into the question whether it will be necessary to have quotas 10 years from now. Let us hope that, in the period of operation of the Bill, this industry, which has gone through so many vicissitudes, particularly in the last 10 years on account of the war and the present crisis, will at last become established on a secure and lasting foundation.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.