HC Deb 17 June 1948 vol 452 cc779-808

9.57 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I beg to move, That the Cinematograph Films (Quotas) Order, 1948, dated 11th June, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 14th June, be approved. This order fills in what I think is the principal gap in the Cinematograph Films Act, 1948. The House will recall that in the two previous Films Acts the quotas were set actually in the legislation, but this year it was left for the Board of Trade to fix in each period, subject to six months' notice, the quota which would operate during that period. During Debates on the Films Bill, I gave an undertaking that I would fix the quota at such a level as would provide a distribution outlet to all British films of reasonable quality, and I think that in the order which is at present before the House I have carried out that pledge to the full.

The order provides a quota of 45 per cent. of screen time for first-feature films and 25 per cent. for the supporting programme, excluding newsreels and advertisements, and, as laid down in the Act, both figures have been fixed after consultation with the Cinematograph Films Council. That consultation was not of very great value as things turned out. When they considered this matter a week ago the Films Council were faced with a very wide divergence of view between producers and exhibitors and by a slight majority a high figure was recommended by the Council, but a not inconsiderable minority wanted a quota of only half that figure. That left a very wide margin within which I had to settle the quota.

The fixing of the first-feature quota placed me in considerable difficulty. In recent years there have been a large number of defaults on the quota most of which were due to the fact that the quota figures laid down in the 1938 Act could not be realised as a result of war conditions. This Act will become a much less useful instrument if we are to face the prospect of a large number of defaults, particularly on the part of independent exhibitors. They are, of course, given an additional measure of protection by the provisions in the Act providing for special treatment if they are faced with exceptionally heavy competition from the circuits.

I had the choice either of fixing the quota so low that there would be no danger of defaults on the part of any independent exhibitors, which would have meant that the quota would have no bite at all for the big circuits, or a figure which was realistic for the big circuits and which gave them a job of work to do but which placed the independent exhibitor in greater danger of defaults. Faced with that dilemma, my decision was to fix a quota which is well within the power of the big circuits to carry out but which does provide some difficulties for the independent exhibitors. I hope that the House will agree that that was the right course for me to take, even though it means difficulty for the independent exhibitors, although of course, as the House knows, any independent exhibitor who really tries and then fails receives somewhat lenient treatment.

There are two things I wish to make clear about this order because there has been some ill-informed criticism of it in the United States. The first is that this is not a fantastic quota as has been suggested. It is based on a sober calculation of the supply of films available. It is based on the number of British films likely to become available this year, even allowing a proportion for failure of programmes to be achieved and even allowing a certain discount for films of poor quality to which we are most anxious not to give a quota guarantee. There has been some suggestion in the United States that this quota is an unfair act on our part following the Agreement. If I had fixed any other figure, I should have been failing in the duty placed upon me by this House under the Films Act, namely, the fixing of a quota which could be achieved by our film industry. This Films Act is a protective measure for the film industry, and it is no use getting away from that.

The job of the Act, and my job in fixing the quota, was to give a measure of protection to the film industry. If I had fixed a lower figure I should not have been carrying out what I feel sure was the wish of the House. There has been criticism of the fact that in nominating the members of the Films Council I did not appoint any American members to it. In the past there was an American renter on the Council. I took the view that now that the renters' quota had disappeared and we were dealing with exhibitors' quotas, the need and the case for an American renter member disappeared with it. I have to inform the House that this has caused some ill-feeling in certain places across the Atlantic. I must equally tell the House that I have said in reply that since this is a protective measure, and since the Films Council is charged with the consideration of many problems affecting the development of the British film industry, it is appropriate that it should consist of British members only. In fact it is a protective measure, and I said that when the American Tariff Commission includes a British business man, I will reconsider the matter.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

When my right hon. Friend says "British representatives only," does that expression include any Scots?

Mr. Wilson

Yes, I did include the Scottish members in the general phrase "British." in fact, the Council has more Scottish members on it than it has ever had before—certainly more than were provided for in the Act.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

Are the Scottish independent producers represented?

Mr. Wilson

Yes, the Scottish exhibitors outside the circuits are represented. It depends how one defines "independent exhibitor." These were some questions upon that earlier today. These particular members come under my definition of "independent exhibitor." There are also two independent Scottish members, one of whom has just been appointed.

The second feature quota was an even more difficult problem because it was not clear what production would be available. The production of short and documentary films is very much a function of the finances available for them, and is affected, in my view, by the very inadequate rentals paid by exhibitors for the short and documentary films. On the other hand, it is true so far, the cinema-going public has not shown a strong demand to see more of these films. It is certainly true that no very important dollar problem is involved here. After considering the views of the Film Council, and after considering such figures as were available of prospective production of short and documentary films, I fixed the figure for the supporting programme at 25 per cent.

I hope that the House will consider those figures to be realistic and reasonable. They are certainly within the capacity of the productive side of the industry. I do not need to say anything about the position of the quotas in relation to the film industry as a whole. Our discussion on the Films Agreement ended on the note of the position of this quota legislation and the importance of fixing the right quota in the interests of British film productions. I trust that the House will approve this order and the quotas which have been fixed.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

We on these benches do not intend to oppose the quota at this figure. The President of the Board of Trade has spoken on the subject with almost surprising frankness. It was all the more surprising to me because I had a sort of idea that I made some very sagacious remarks on what the quota should be on 31st January when we debated this subject before. Unfortunately, owing to a technical hitch, I have left those sagacious remarks behind, and I rely on the good will of the House in asserting that they were very sagacious.

Mr. Wilson

We all regret this technical hitch. On behalf of everyone I should like to confirm that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks were highly sagacious, but I think they were based on an Amendment that the quota should be not lower than 35 per cent. Therefore, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we have fully met the suggestion enshrined in his sagacious remarks.

Mr. Lyttelton

That is very liberal and generous. I do not want to appear ungracious in receiving this unaccustomed tribute but, at the same time, within my own memory are the very cogent remarks made by the President in resisting any suggestion that the quota should be fixed at 35 per cent. As happens increasingly often, I have turned out to be right in this subject. I hope that this record of unbroken successes will continue in the future, but one never knows, and I am beginning to get a little nervous.

We must express some anxiety, which has not been entirely removed by the right hon. Gentleman, about the size of these quotas. One of the frankest parts of his remarks related to the discussion with the Films Council. For one moment, he opened the door of that council room and showed the House that there were wide differences of opinion inside it. That was, indeed, very frank and most unlike the usual Ministerial reply one gets when one asks what advice has been received from a committee looking into a technical question. I think that on this occasion it suited the Minister so to do. I have anxieties about 45 per cent. One of them is that the quota is so full that very little competition will be left and there will be no consumer choice at all. The President did something to try to relieve our minds by saying he was quite sure that the 45 per cent. was within the capacity of the industry. One must accept that, but when one is talking about artistic production, the word "capacity" is a little ambiguous.

I am rather afraid that in fixing the quota as high as this, the last 10 per cent. between my sagacious 35 per cent. and the President's 45 per cent. may be filled in by what the Americans are pleased to call merchandise in the sense that they are not films of any artistic merit but merchandise designed merely to fill up the time left over. In seeing this quota of 45 per cent. we feel anxiety that the supply may be far short of the requirements of the exhibitors, and I think that they feel that too. One's feeling about that is reinforced by the fact mentioned by the President of the Board of Trade that there are a great many defaulters on the quota against whom no proceedings have been taken, because they would have the very good defence that during the period of default the British films in the required quantities were not available. In the light of that, I am anxious that either the supply will be far short of the requirements or, on the other hand, that if supply is brought up to the requirements it will be brought up in celluloid and not in films.

I am afraid that the endeavour to reach the 45 per cent. quota will lead to a lot of rubbish being put out in the last 10 or 15 per cent. which will do damage to the British film industry. I intend to match the President's frankness with equal frankness. I do not feel that the technical advice available to the Opposition on the matter of the possible capacity of the industry in regard to first-class films is such as to enable us to oppose something which he is advised is within the capacity of the industry. For that reason, I should like to record anxiety about the consumer's choice and about the quota being filled up by merchandise, but to stop short and not to oppose, by any hostile vote, the proposals which he has put in front of the House.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)

There is real point in at least one of the fears expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). The difficulty which some cinemas will find in fulfilling the 45 per cent. quota is obvious. The President of the Board of Trade saw that himself. The cinemas which face difficulty are those which are independent and in competition with one or other of the big circuits. The reason why they will find this difficulty in fulfilling their quota is that not all but the bulk of the films will be produced through the Rank organisation. Inevitably, the Rank organisation will feed its own films into its own cinemas first. Anybody who is outside will have to take the leavings.

That does not matter very much to the independent exhibitors who cannot get British films. Probably they will be able to get American films in place of English films; but it matters very much from the point of view of the British industry. It means that we shall not get the fullest possible production of British films. There will be British screens waiting for British films and no films available to go on those screens. In addition to fixing this quota, the President should therefore try to have something else to run alongside it. He should try to persuade a considerable number of these independent exhibitors to come together in an association, if possible forming yet another circuit but, at any rate, in a working association He should try to do that first.

Mr. Lyttelton


Mr. Mallalieu

It is by no means a monopoly. It is providing additional competition for the large circuits. Besides doing that, he should try to get the independent producers working together in an agree- ment and then marry the independent producers with this new association of the independent exhibitors. If he can do that, he will kill two birds with one stone. He will make it very much easier for an independent producer to make a film because the independent producer will have a chance of getting a market for his film in the new circuit, quite apart from any chance he might have in the Rank or A.B.C. organisation. Therefore, it will be possible to increase the production of British films. Secondly it will make it more possible for the independent exhibitors to fulfil their quota. I should be most grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would have a look at these ideas and see if he can put them into effect.

10.16 p.m.

Major McCallum (Argyll)

I was hoping that in his opening remarks the President of the Board of Trade would tell us that when he was in Scotland yesterday he had the advantage of a discussion with the Scottish film industry or at any rate with the Scottish exhibitors. In Scotland, particularly in the rural parts, the cinemas owned by the big circuits are not nearly so numerous as the independent cinemas. When it was known that the President was fixing a quota, most Scottish hon. Members received complaints and urgent messages asking them to try to evoke from the President some explanation of what would be the position of the independent exhibitors if they were unable—I do not see how they will be able—to fulfil the quota, particularly the first feature quota of 45.

I quote the case of a burgh in my constituency with a population of 6,000 to 8,000 which has two cinemas within 25 yards of each other. Those two cinemas change their programmes three times a week. It is impossible to see how they can maintain the quota. Just now the right hon. Gentleman said that in special circumstances independent producers might not be proceeded against if they were unable to fulfil their quota. Can he tell us before the Debate is over if they will receive special leniency in this regard?

The right hon. Gentleman said just now that the new Films Council included more Scotsmen than the previous one. My information is that the new Films Council has only one Scottish exhibitors' repre- sentative, a gentleman who, I am told, has no knowledge of the film industry. I do not therefore understand how it is that the Minister says there are more Scotsmen than there were before.

Mr. H. Wilson

Surely in talking about the representation of the independent exhibitors in Scotland the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not suggest that Sir Alexander King has no knowledge of the industry?

Major McCallum

I was referring to Mr. Hardie. I wanted to make sure that the President was quite correct in his statement just now in view of the complaints we have received, particularly from the independent exhibitors in our constituencies.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)

The fears expressed by the Opposition speakers in this Debate are not shared by the major film producers. Mr. Rank has already gone so far as to say that he expects to supply 60 to 65 per cent. first features in the major circuits this year, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend for fixing the first feature quota at a figure like this, which will give substantial protection and encouragement to the major firms of the British film producing industry.

Having said that, I want to make it clear that I cannot extend the congratulations to the quota for the supporting programme, which is at the lower level of 25 per cent. The supporting programme is not financially, at present, an important part of the industry, but, aesthetically and in terms of entertainment, it is an important part, taking something just under one-half of the showing time. I fear the result of this low quota of 25 per cent. will be that less than half of our screen time is going to be open to American second feature and short productions which may be of a very low quality indeed. In fact, it seems to me that there is a danger in the difference between these two quotas that American production, diverted from first feature showing by the comparatively high first feature quota, will, in order to occupy surplus capital and to keep its name on the market, be forcibly diverted into the second feature and supporting programme, and will, in that way, arti- facially be induced to compete with a section of the industry which, on many occasions, the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor at the Board of Trade have expressed their wish to encourage and promote.

It is clear from what he has said that he was not advised by the Films Council to fix this figure at 25 per cent. I do not know on what basis that calculation has been made, but it is, presumably, on advice from within the Board of Trade which, I am bound to say, appears to the producers of supporting films to be quite off the mark. What, in fact, is required to produce a 25 per cent. quota in the supporting programmes? Let us take the three main circuits and allow one hour per week per circuit. That comes to something like 150 hours a year. The Board of Trade apparently estimate that something in the neighbourhood of 1,750,000 feet are required to meet the need, but my advice is that far less than half that would be required to meet a quota, not of 25 per cent., but rather of 50 per cent., which, I understand, was the advice given to the Board of Trade by the producers of supporting film material.

There are now in this country going in for the supporting film production side of the industry something like 100 companies, who state that they can produce about 750,000 feet in 12 months. That largely consists of short and new supporting film production. There is, in addition, the whole question of re-issues, I am myself keen on the development of both these types of supporting film production, and I want to see both the short and the documentary producers encouraged. At the same time, in the last few months, I have found out the great value and interest of seeing again magnificent British films like "The Way Ahead" and "Brief Encounter," which were originally first features and have, in the last few months, in the temporary state of the industry, become second features and so on.

There is no doubt at all that the short and documentary industry, plus re-issues of former first feature films, can at the present time support a 50 per cent. quota, or, at any rate, a quota on the same level as the first feature production. Even at the present time, this section of the industry is in a position to maintain a 45 per cent. quota, but I would urge on my right hon. Friend that, even if this were not the case, there is a strong argument for putting what he called a "bite" into the supporting film quota—a target for the supporting film producers to aim at. This is not a problem, as in the case of the first feature films, where we have to be able to plan months or almost years ahead in order to get the films produced. It is possible to produce short and documentary films of great value and quality in a relatively short time, and, therefore, if a 45 per cent. quota had been fixed and proved to be immediately a little ahead of the present capacity of the industry, it would have set a target which in a short time they would be able to fulfil.

It is the advice of the producers concerned, and the advice of the technicians, that the production capacity would have been available to meet a much higher quota. I recognise that it is probably now too late to alter the quota figure, but I want to register the disappointment of this section of the industry that the hopes which have been held out to it have not been fulfilled. This section of the industry is in the doldrums, and it has had, so far, no assistance in getting a larger proportion of screen time, and no assistance in getting a fair return for its production. We have magnificent films like Paul Rotha's "The World is Rich" which can only be shown in 100 cinemas in this country at the present time. That is a scandalous situation which has to be put right.

This quota does nothing to assist this section of the industry and leaves it far more exposed than the first feature section of the industry to American competition. It means that much of our cinema time will still be spent in looking at the kind of trash that Hollywood has produced to back up the first features, and I personally regret that my right hon. Friend has not found it possible to fix a much higher quota.

10.28 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the particular line on which he was speaking, because in view of the approaching hour for my departure to the northern Kingdom I must be very brief. I emphasise what the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) has said in relation to the industry in Scotland. It is no good anyone suggesting that this 45 per cent. figure can be considered as anything but deplorable so far as Scotland is concerned. Twenty-five per cent. is the very utmost, according to the experts in the business, that can possibly he absorbed in Scotland. Twenty per cent., so far, has been laid down, and they think that they can boost it up to 25 per cent., but with the greatest difficulty.

It is a fact that there are 400, and it may be up to 500, cinemas in Scotland, which change their programmes twice or three times in a week. That, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, means, in the case of three times a week, approximately 142 British films per annum, which do not exist. In the case of twice a week, it means 90 to 95 films. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will answer this particular difficulty in the Scottish industry. It is not imagination but very genuine alarm which is felt at the prospect. Speaking broadly, the English producers lay down the law on what Scottish exhibitors will show. There are Scottish representatives on the Council. One, I understand, is independent. He is one of the greatest industrialists in this country, a magnificent example of what Scotland can do, but, frankly, I do not think he ever goes to the "flicks."

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)

He is very wise.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge), in his stage whisper, voices my own opinion, but that is not what I wanted to say. He is a brilliant industrialist, but he does not know anything about motion pictures. The other representative is an exhibitors' representative. And these are the only two men who have any say in what is to be shown in Scotland. A 45 per cent, quota of British films, in the circumstances, is an intolerable burden on Scottish exhibitors. It will mean that the independent exhibitor will be pushed out of business. I am sure nobody wants that to take place, certainly not the President of the Board of Trade, who, I freely admit, has done a very great deal to get the film industry in this country going strongly. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to tell us something of how he proposes to get over this tremendous difficulty about cinemas in Scotland which show a change of programme two or three times a week.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)

I think it is unreasonable to ask the President of the Board of Trade to do something for cinemas which change their programmes three times a week. A change twice a week is understandable in country and provincial districts where perhaps consumer demand is not sufficient to fill the cinema if there is only one film put on during the week, but it is impossible to supply audiences who have to go three times a week to the cinema if they will not be satisfied with less than that. It is a very real problem with cinemas which have to show films twice a week or close down, because of population difficulties. It is not merely a question of being close by a circuit cinema. It may be the only cinema, and it must change twice a week, because otherwise there is not enough audience to keep it going. Out of 5,000 cinemas in this country, as many as 3,000 change their programmes twice a week. I have been told this today by an independent exhibitor connected with a chain of about 30 cinemas, and he is probably right about it, as he has made an investigation into it. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will make some arrangements, will lay down some yardstick, about what is to be done with regard to cinemas which change twice a week.

If one assumes that the amount of films needed in this country is enough to provide for the three circuits acting in competition with one another, provided that they change their films only once a week, 156 films a year is needed in all to do the job. That does not meet the needs of cinemas which change programmes twice a week. If the industry is to provide a quota of 45 per cent. of 156 films, it means that after next October at least 70 first feature films a year have to be made in Britain. Last year only 50 first features were made, and now 20 more will have to be made—more, I believe, than has ever been made before in this country in a year. I have been a very strong supporter of a high quota and have urged it on the President of the Board of Trade, and I am not going suddenly to turn round on him and say it is a bad idea.

I always assumed, and I am sure that he assumed also, that when he created this high quota he was also going to create the financial instrument which would provide finance for the independent producer. If that is not done, we are going to have Mr. Rank, who has already said that he proposes to make 60 first feature films in the year beginning in October, churning out films quite cheaply which will fulfil pleasure requirements, but which will be a curse to the British film industry and will bring us no prestige. Mr. Rank will be in the position of being able to dictate to the independent exhibitor, and to say to him that he will have to take Mr. Rank's films as well. It will not be fair for the Government to leave this whole business in the hands of Rank and A.B.C., and not to provide this instrument for the independent producer. It must be done, whether out of private resources or under Section (2) of the Borrowing (Control and Guarantees) Act.

The other thing is that more than 70 films are going to be needed, and to make this quota work properly we must always have more films available to meet it than the exact minimum number necessary. Otherwise we are going to have always some 30 or 40 films out of the 70 which are quite useless but which the wretched exhibitor has to take, or he will not be able to fulfil his quota. If the margin is 30 or 40 above the minimum, the number required to give competition and fair choice to the consumer will necessitate the making of too first feature films in this country in a year. I believe that can be done if the Government Make that provision, if costs are brought down and efficiency is increased. But at the same time I understand that, as studios are constructed at present and with regard to the number in the country, it is going to be difficult to make more than 70 first feature films in a year.

If this quota is going to work, my right hon. Friend must say what he is going to do about building more studios. There must be more studio space if this quota is to be made to work on a reasonable basis, and not on that bare minimum which will mean that the exhibitor has to take films which perhaps are no good to him in order to meet his quota. It is important, if we are to support this quota, to know that my right hon. Friend is going to do something about the independent producers' finance, and that he is going to do something about more studio space—perhaps even building a Government studio or requisitioning a studio which may become empty and letting it out at a low rental. Otherwise, this quota is going to be a snare and a delusion. It is going to create a situation in which Rank, making 60 films, all of a cheap and rubbishy kind—

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

Has the hon. Member any justification for suggesting that the films which the Rank organisation will make will be cheap and rubbishy, in view of the films which have already been produced? In view of what the Rank organisation proposes, he should have some justification for saying that it proposes to make 60 films and that the rest of the film producing units cannot produce more than 60 or 70 first feature films. It is to be deprecated that the suggestion should be made—although I support all that the hon. Member has said about the independent producer—that the Rank films will be cheap and rubbishy

Mr. Wyatt

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. I think it is disgraceful that they should be cheap and rubbishy. Mr. Rank recently made a film called "Good Time Girl" and everyone in the industry, including the people who work for Mr. Rank, knew what sort of a film that was going to be. In regard to the 60 films a year there is not the studio space to make them all well. The studios are not available for independent producers to make as many as 60 in the year. Sir Alexander Korda hopes for 12 and that is all the studio space he will get. In any case, Mr. Rank will not make 60. He has been optimistic in the past and he may be wrong again. The danger is that unless the finance is provided for the independent producers they will not get the studio space. The order is very good if these two things can be provided.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

There is very little I want to add to what has already been said because one is tempted to be repetitive on this Scottish problem. However, I should like the President of the Board of Trade to clear up the point in regard to the independent producer producing sufficient films to cover even a change of twice a week in local cinemas. In reply to the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) I would say that there are places where if there are not three changes a week, the house is empty every other night.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Does my hon. Friend infer that no Scottish film-goer will look at the same film twice?

Mr. Maclay

I do not think any Scottish film-goer would go to see the same film twice. The point I am very anxious to put is that the President of the Board of Trade should make clear how he expects to get sufficient first feature films for the cinemas of this country. There cannot be enough on the figures available even for two changes per week. I should like to know if this escape clause is really going to be operative and if it is going to be reasonably easy to administer it, so that a house which changes its programme twice a week will not be rigidly held to this 45 per cent. quota. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it will not be tortuous and difficult to get exemption? If the right hon. Gentleman makes that clear we shall be able to make some headway.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

In the minute or two at my disposal I want to indicate my general agreement with the speeches of two hon. Gentlemen opposite—the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan)—with regard to the position of Scottish independent exhibitors. My right hon. Friend in presenting the order to the House recognised very clearly that the quota of 45 per cent. was going to create difficulties for the independent exhibitors. In my opinion his statement that difficulties would be created was a slight understatement as the Scottish people see it. They feel that more than difficulties will be created; that a grave outlook will face the exhibitors in Scotland.

It would be fair to say that the major feeling in the Debate so far has been one of disquiet over the 45 per cent. quota. Last year the independent exhibitors found it impossible to meet a 20 per cent. quota. Now that the exhibitors in Scotland are faced with a 45 per cent. quota they are obviously in a position of extreme gravity and as my right hon. Friend recognised that fact, I would ask him if it is possible to treat Scotland—and naturally I am putting the Scottish position here as a Scottish Member—in the same way as Northern Ireland has been treated, and exempt Scotland altogether from this order? Or, if that is impossible, in view of the fact that 45 per cent. is high, would he consider, as an alternative, making a lower quota? My right hon. Friend said he was faced with the difficulty of deciding whether the quota was too high or too low. But he might consider a quota of 25 per cent. in order to make the way a little easier for those halls faced with two or three changes during the week. I put these two propositions to him and I am sure that he will give consideration to them and, if possible, will help the industry by accepting, at least, the second of the suggestions I have made.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on the step he has taken in putting this quota at 45 per cent. Everybody knows that there is an element of risk in this percentage, but that element is justified because we must—and this is agreed, I think—develop the producing side of the industry. There is no secret in the film industry that there is a direct conflict of interest between the exhibitors and the producers. The exhibitors have paid too little regard to the matter of producing films which are a credit to our country, and films which would earn money elsewhere. I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade has not been affected by the "ballyhoo" which the producers have struck up.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Does my hon. Friend think that it is "ballyhoo" that many Scottish exhibitors should go out of business?

Mr. Shepherd

If exhibitors on the whole are troublesome, the Scots are by far the most troublesome of the exhibitors, and we might remember what we have heard tonight, that England is an appendage of Scotland.

Sir W. Darling

So it is.

Mr. Shepherd

What matters is the production side of the industry and there should be no break in this basis because some wretched little cinema in Scotland—

Mr. Maclay

It is one of the arch heresies of modern days. Surely production is only important in so far as it affects consumption?

Mr. Shepherd

I am sorry I cannot follow tonight my hon. Friend, for whose opinions normally I have a very high regard, into these abstractions. What we are faced with today is a balance of payments difficulty, and it is perfectly useless for hon. Members from north of the Tweed to imagine they are not going to prejudice the chance of producing the maximum number of films because they want them to be shown three times a week. The sooner those who come from Scotland realise that essential proposition the sooner they will have a more reasonable attitude to this problem. I do not know what the Scottish people want. They do not like English films, they do not like American films, and they have a complete distaste for French films. What I would like to see is Scottish people making their own films, and then this House would have less trouble from Scottish Members who are goaded by representations from every conceivable interest in Scotland.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Does not the hon. Gentleman really think that we are here as representatives, and that when representations are made they should be attended to?

Mr. Shepherd

I think they are here as representatives, and I feel sometimes they are in danger of being superseded by the Nationalists, and the pressure they exert in this House in some domains is so great as to outdo its usefulness.

I feel this quota as such will not be satisfactory unless we can get the President of the Board of Trade behind the industry and reduce the time that films take on the floor. It is true that we cannot cause studios to spring up overnight, but it is ridiculous to take as much as three, four, five and six months when by careful planning in advance—a thing which hon. Members opposite should know something about but unfortunately do not—it is possible materially to reduce the time on the floor. If we can get that time on the average down to 28 days—by no means impossible—we can produce the films. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the courage he has shown on this occasion, and I hope that the industry generally will respond to the lead and give us the films of the quality and quantity we want.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

A number of speeches have been made which appear to suggest that the President of the Board of Trade has fixed the quotas too high. He is to be congratulated on at least fixing a target for British films to aim at. I agree with the hon. Member for Buck-low (Mr. Shepherd) that we cannot for one moment entertain the suggestion made by Scottish members—and I say this in full consciousness of the fact that for the moment they are in the majority in the House—that the home film producing industry should accommodate themselves to the peculiarities of Scottish cinemas, some of which appear to want to change their programmes three times a week.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

Surely the hon. Member realises that the arguments about the changes twice a week came not only from hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies, but from the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) who spoke on behalf of 3,000 cinemas out of 5,000.

Mr. Collins

My hon. Friend the Member for Aston was at least moderate. He referred only to changes twice a week, but changes in Scotland are apparently three times a week, which is a little more than somewhat.

Sir W. Darling

Does the hon. Member object to the Scots appreciating the cinema? Does he deprecate that?

Mr. Collins

If I object to anything it is to the apparent lack of discrimination among the Scots. We cannot allow this peculiarity to be used as a weapon against the British film industry while the President of the Board of Trade is trying to assist it by fixing a quota as high as possible.

The other thing I deprecate is the suggestion which the hon. Member for Aston appeared to make that the proposed production of 60 films by one organisation would lead to very poor quality films. I am not suggesting for one moment that all the films to be produced would be of high quality or even moderate quality, but I do say that some of them will be of very high quality indeed and that but for that particular organisation we should not really have any worth-while production at all. In the interests of the British film industry, it is wrong that it should go out from this House that there is a possibility, or even a probability, that the increased production of British films will lead to a decrease in quality.

Mr. Wyatt

The suggestion I made was that an increase in production could and probably would lead to a decrease in quality if no facilities are made available for independent producers to compete with the monopoly. Otherwise, the monopoly will be able to make any kind of film it likes, in the full knowledge that that kind of film can be shown in its own cinemas. The independent producer must be able to raise the monopoly.

Mr. Collins

I am not suggesting, and I am not in a position to say, whether the Rank Organisation or any other organisation can produce what they hope to produce, but I do deprecate the suggestion that because they are going all out to fulfil this quota, these products will be necessarily cheap and nasty. I think it is quite wrong to suggest that for one moment.

My main point is to support, as I always have supported, the position of the independent film producer and to reinforce, as far as I can, the remarks made by the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes). He quoted evidence, of which I was unaware, to the effect that the independent film producers have the technicians and voluntary access to the necessary stages to produce a number of films which would justify a quota in excess of 25 per cent. I regard long-term production by the independent film producers as possibly the most important section of the film industry. I think they are going to produce what is perhaps the most worth-while part of British film production. I had hoped, therefore, that the President of the Board of Trade would investigate the possibilities of this section of the industry in the hope that they might be granted a bigger target, if the facilities are there, in order to produce a larger proportion of the total output of British films. In so doing, they will make a really worthwhile contribution to the future of the industry.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)

I agree with the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins). I hold no brief for Rank or indeed anyone in the film industry, but I think it would be unfortunate if there went out from the House an impression that Rank was a maker of rubbishy films. He is a monopolist and I criticise him as such; but the film industry has owed him a lot. He has great courage and it would have been unfortunate for the industry in this country if it had got into other hands than Mr. Rank's. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), who, I think, showed even greater courage than the President of the Board of Trade on his recent visit to Dundee, in dealing with the Scottish members. I think that he made the best suggestion of the lot when he asked why they did not set about making a Scottish Hollywood. They have men of the calibre of Sir Alexander King. Some of the really great pioneers in the industry have come from among the shrewd Scots. Scotland has every opportunity and facility to produce a Scottish Hollywood. That is the real solution; it is not to be found through quotas or representation upon the Films Council.

I understood that the Government view was that they hoped to give the best assistance to the film industry by the Agreement with America rather than by the quotas. Now, however, we have both. The industry has every reason to thank the Government. I believe that this is the highest quota we have ever had. We have had several quota enactments, but this is the highest quota which the British film industry has ever been asked to produce. My only anxiety—and it is a very real one—is that notwithstanding the fact that there has been unemployment among technicians, camera men, lighting experts and so on, there may not he enough technicians, artists, directors and other studio workers, to enable us to produce the high quota. That we have had unemployment is part of the problem. Because we have not been producing, we have not got the technicians. A large number of them, including stars, have already gone to Hollywood.

Last year there were 300 defaulters of the quota obligations, and during the last ten years or so there has been a large number. There have been penalties in every Measure concerning quotas, as there are in this, but they have never been imposed, because the films were not available. That is the real problem. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that unless we have an industry able to produce the films it is not much good having a high percentage quota. We are setting the "highest ever" production target, and I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has been discussing the matter with the technicians.

We shall not get any help from the Films Council. I do not believe that Films Councils have ever made any really vital contribution to this industry. One of the curses of the industry is found in the number of people who think they know all about film production and find themselves on the council where they greatly delay and obstruct production. The right hon. Gentleman is on the right track when he talks to the cinema technicians. We have the joint consultative committees. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that there is a joint production committee working effectively in each film studio. The technicians are the people who understand film production—not the super Films Council.

I have always understood that it is not the right hon. Gentleman's policy to nationalise this industry. I am given to understand tonight that there will be no films bank available. If that is not the policy, I hope that the policy will be to liberalise this industry for the first time, giving the studio workers the opportunity to say how films should be produced through the joint production committees. If the right hon. Gentleman does that, he will get his quota.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I have already spoken tonight, and I do not want to keep the House for more than about a minute and a half. I entirely agree with what fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins). Coming down to brass tacks, the whole film producing industry welcomes the new quota system. I was a little hard perhaps on the right hon. Gentleman when I spoke before; I had intended to throw him some bouquets about this and I was precluded under the Rules of Order. I should like to throw them now. The hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) spoke about producing first-feature films in 28 days. It cannot be done. But I do welcome this quota system, the whole producing side of the industry will welcome it, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having arrived at this conclusion.

11.5 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

We have had a very interesting Debate, not the least interesting in that it has shown no sign of division on party lines. The Minister has received his most enthusiastic encomiums from this side, and some vigorous criticism from hon. Members opposite. It is true that a certain Northern bias has shown itself, but that is not to be wondered at, because some vigorous things have been said on the other side by the hon. Member for Buck-low (Mr. Shepherd), who must expect a fairly warm reception the next time he crosses the Border. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) and others talked as if this was purely a Scottish problem. It is nothing of the sort. They spoke as if the suggestion that a cinema changed its programme more than twice a week was a phenomenon absolutely unknown except in the northern Kingdom.

Mr. Collins

What really shocked me in working out this problem of changing three times a week was the knowledge that they respected the Sabbath, and I wondered how they got three changes.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

There are 1,000 cinemas who change their programmes three times a week, and not more than 100 are in Scotland. The hon. Member shows gross ignorance of the matter. There are 5,012 active cinemas in England, Scotland and Wales, and only 800 have regular six-day bookings. The majority—3,300—have three-day bookings, and 1,000 have two-day bookings. There are 600 cinemas in Scotland, and although hon. Members have presented the Scottish case vigorously, it is a case that is common throughout the land. Hon. Members will find there are corn-plaints from the cinemas in their own con- stituencies where, as I have shown, far and away the majority change their programmes every three days.

The task of the President of the Board of Trade is to find a balance between the exhibitors and the distributors. The difficulty is that the Board of Trade does not believe in the Board of Trade quota. That can be proved by the facts of the case. When the Board of Trade had a 15 per cent. quota the defaulters were 681, not some 300 as the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) said. How many did they prosecute? Five.

Mr. Granville

I said 300 last year.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Then the hon. Member was still further wrong, because last year it was 959. That is to say nearly 1,000 out of 5,000 cinemas were in default. What we fear is that an illusory figures is to be fixed and may be enforced, that will bring the whole thing into disrepute. That is a real danger, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be able to enlighten us further on that matter.

It is true that the industry—and, indeed, the whole country—are greatly indebted to Mr. Rank and to the Rank Organisation. They have produced many magnificent films. I do not believe for a moment they would turn out a lot of cheap and nasty films. I do not believe that the number of films which will have to be produced under this quota will mean that every one has to be a winner, that every one has to be a first-class film. Everyone who is acquainted with any kind of creative work, whether scientific or artistic, knows that a considerable wastage is inevitable. One cannot expect to hit the bull's-eye every time. The President of the Board of Trade himself estimated recently the maximum production from British studios at something like 75 feature films in the year. In the 12 months ended May, 1948, the three big circuits showed about 48 first-feature films, and that was nearly the total production; the total production was something of the order of 50. To double or more than double that figure will be a very considerable strain, and will require not merely a remarkable artistic achievement but a substantial amount of good luck. I am not quite sure that the President of the Board of Trade is justified in counting upon that amount of good luck.

Surely in these circumstances the Presisident of the Board of Trade will be able to give us some further information as to how he means to deal with this problem of the defaulters. He said he was putting up a figure which would put a considerable strain on the big circuits. He thought the great circuits could meet it. He said it would need to have—to use his own graphic words—"a bite in it" for the big circuits. He admitted that to fix it at that would, perhaps, bear heavily on the smaller people—on the independent people; but he said any independent exhibitor who tries and fails gets fairly lenient treatment. I think there are appeal tribunals and committees being set up to which the people in difficulties may go. I wonder if it would not be possible to have, so to speak, the trial before the conviction instead of after—I know that that is a rather revolutionary suggestion, but it might be a good idea—whether the President of the Board of Trade could in some way review the output himself, "vet," or indicate in some way or another that he really thought a sufficient number of first-rate films had been achieved or was in process of being achieved, to justify this very high figure. For it will be rather anomalous if, first, he fixes a high figure, and, second, the exhibitors' fail to meet the high figure, and third, the President exonerates them because, in the absence of an adequate number of them, it is impossible for them to meet it. That seems a reversal of the usual process, and it should be possible for him to find some other way of solving the problem.

I have every sympathy with my hon. Friends the Member for Bucklow and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith), but it is true that to put too sudden and too high a demand upon a creative art is to run the risk of stultifying the thing for which one seeks. Nothing could do more harm than a series of ambitious half failures.

Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the film producers have stated that their production would be in the nature of 95 films, which is considerably more than 70?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Considerably more than 70, but considerably under the number needed. [Interruption.] Indeed, yes. I sympathise with the hon. Member, but this is a matter of which, believe me, every one of us will hear more from our constituents. This is the sort of thing which touches an audience of 15,000,000 people a week. The President of the Board of Trade is about to regulate the entertainment of a very great number of persons. It may be a good idea or a bad idea, but it is certainly one in which a large number of people do take a great deal of interest. I am not interested at all in the problem of the exhibitors; I am not interested at all in the problem of the producers; I am concerned with the interests of the cinema-going public. After all, they are the consumers; they are the people who are right; they are the people who must be considered, who in the long run pay for all this and keep the whole thing going. Unless they are satisfied, then I fear our best intentions may well go completely astray. The President of the Board of Trade was pleased to be a little severe on what he called the "schizophrenic and sadistic" type of films now being produced. I wonder what he would have said of the Elizabethan drama some hundreds of years ago. There is no film at its most extreme which reaches the depths of schizophrenia and sadism which is reached by Shakespeare, and when it comes down to—[Interruption.] Believe me, "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" is a Saturday afternoon tea party compared with some of the works and some of the sayings of the great Elizabethan poets.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

The English is better.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The English is better, but the morals are worse, and it was to the morals that the President of the Board of Trade was objecting. There is a certain danger in having too high a tariff. The Russian films were one of the great glories of the artistic world. The Russian films under protection have gone downhill and downhill and nobody pretends that the Russian film industry is putting out films today in any way like "The Cruiser Potemkin" or "The Good Earth" or like any other films it produced before it went in for the closed shop and the propaganda mind to which it is now hopelessly committed.

Mr. Driberg

"The Good Earth" was American; does the right hon. Gentleman mean "The General Line?".

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Not "The General Line"—I have not got the name. At any rate, "The Cruiser Potemkin" was one of the best films ever seen. I certainly have not seen any modern Russian films to compare with it. We are afraid that, in this search for the very rapid expansion of the British film industry, we may not succeed in doing what we wish to produce—an adequate number of first-rate films. We are afraid that straining the matter might do more harm than good. Some of us are a little unhappy about the high quota brought into operation at such very short notice by the President of the Board of Trade.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. H. Wilson

I can speak again only by leave of the House. If I have that permission, I should like to reply to one or two of the points raised. I think the Debate has shown that the House is almost as sharply divided as was the Films Council. This division, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has cut right across party lines. I shall deal with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), though he is not here now; I hope he will read it. I did not resist the figure of 35. What I did resist was the fixing of any figure at that date, because we could not at that time measure the likely supply of films. If I had accepted a figure, it would have had to be on the safe side, and this lower figure would have been regarded by the industry as the maximum as well as the minimum figure. I think it would have been a disservice if I had accepted his suggestion.

The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the figure of 45 per cent. is too high and, like the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) he expressed anxiety about it, and particularly about whether the supply will be available and whether the quality will deteriorate. We all have this point in mind, but I must remind the House that it has been said by Mr. Rank that production will be sufficient for a 60 per cent. quota, and that therefore 45 per cent. is not unrealistic. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) raised the question of the independent exhibitors. I must remind the House that there is provision in the Act for special treatment for those who face com- petition from two other cinemas in the district.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has just said that he thought I would like to see the trial before the conviction. That is our principle. That is what is happening, except that we are having the trial before the commission of the offence. That is even better, because when the effect of the trial is to fix a lower sentence than would otherwise be the case, it is a good thing to do it as early as we are doing.

What we are doing, in fact, is to allow cinemas which are in a highly competitive position to apply for relief before the quota year begins. The Board of Trade is empowered under the Act to fix a lower quota for such cinemas if they can prove their case. In actual fact, a good number of them are proving their case, and are getting the lower quota fixed at this time. That is, I think, what the House wanted when the Act was passed. What I cannot promise to do, and what in fact it would be wrong of me to promise to do, is to grant automatic relief to these smaller cinemas, many of which are monopolies. They do not have to face competition at all, but provide a rather rapid change of programme. I certainly cannot guarantee any relief to them in advance.

The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes), raised the question of the short documentary film producer. I will keep an eye on his situation, and watch the point carefully, because we shall have more experience when we come to fix the quota for the next period. I am anxious to help this section of the industry, but they will depend for finance upon the rentals which will be paid to the distributors, and upon the arrangements for distribution. It might be a disservice to this section if I were to fix too high a quota now. It might result in the production of a lot of inferior films which would meet with considerable consumer resistance. The hon. Member suggested that 25 per cent. was too low. I agree with him. But I must tell him that the exhibitors thought that figure too high.

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), made a number of remarks which went a little beyond the facts of the situation. It is certainly not the fact that this figure was dictated by the English producers against the interests of the Scottish producers. I thought I had made it quite clear that the Films Council disagreed on the figure. This figure was fixed by myself, and I am neither a producer nor an exhibitor. There has been a misunderstanding about the position of the Scottish independent members of the Council, though I may have misled the House in what I said. It is a fact that there are more Scottish members now than there were before, even though the size of the Council has been reduced. But in addition to the Scottish exhibitors' representative, and the Mr. Hardie referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, the vacant—position that of the seventh independent member—is also being filled by a Scottish representative. It would be misleading to suggest that the place was filled in time for him to be present at the discussions last week.

I cannot accept the view expressed that Scotland cannot take these films. I cannot accept the suggestion that we should spend more dollars directly or indirectly in order to meet the apparently strange cinema going habits of the Scots. I do not see why they should have any more privileges than anybody else. Some of the claims made for them are a little extravagant, especially the degree of variety that they want to see in the course of a week. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) that if the Scots have these desires they ought to begin a film producing industry in Scotland. They have had one or two attempts at it and have failed badly. They have got the technicians, they have the setting and scenery, and now and again they have got the weather. They have certainly got the money, and to judge from some of the performances here tonight they have got the stars. They should have no difficulty in finding enough people to man any film they make.

I must defend my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) from a statement made in an interruption that he was speaking for 3,000 out of 5,000 cinemas in this country. My hon. Friend is not a circuit owner in any sense, and he was misrepresented because I know—in fact, he himself said so—that he supports the quota. He said it in a very strange way, but I know he supports it. In public he has pressed most eloquently in writing for a quota as high as 50 per cent., and in view of that I find it difficult to understand why he now produces the argument that owing to the lack of studio space in the year commencing October, the film industry will be unable to produce a quota which is five per cent. lower than the one he publicly advocated.

Mr. Wyatt

My right hon. Friend will allow me to say it was conditional on his providing the finance for the independent producer, otherwise this quota would not work. I have never written that a 50 per cent. quota was possible without providing the finance for the independent producer.

Mr. Wilson

One of the arguments which my hon. Friend put in writing and which I had in mind was that a high quota would produce the finance for these producers. With that I entirely agree. When my hon. Friend suggested the figure of 50 per cent. as a quota he must have thought that the studio space was available. That was last March. If he was right in March he must be wrong now, and if he is right now he must have been wrong in March. He cannot have it both ways.

The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) and the right hon. Gentleman referred to the large number of defaults that occurred in the past. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Board of Trade did not believe in a better quota because of their failure to enforce the quotas in the past. As he is well aware, the system has been changed under the new Act in that the cinemas that are in the most difficult situation are now afforded the special treatment to which I have referred. That was done in Committee to enable me to fix a higher quota for the remaining cinemas in the country. I am sorry that I missed the earlier speech of the hon. Member for Bucklow for my hon. Friends tell me that it was rather a fitful performance. In spite of that, the speech he made on this order is one with which I agree wholeheartedly almost to every word. I agree most strongly with him that the industry must plan itself more efficiently and particularly that it must get down to the question of actual time for the production of films. That is one way in which costs can be brought down in this high cost industry. It has been said that we shall all hear from the exhibitors in our constituencies—

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I said that we should hear from the public.

Mr. Wilson

Well, whether it is the public or the exhibitors, it is a pity that I could not have signed this Agreement on 12th March because at that time both would have been so glad to see an end of the boycott that they would have been prepared to have an even higher quota. Reference has been made to the Elizabethan drama and its morals—with which I am not concerned—and to some of the things seen in the unfolding of the Elizabethan plots. But it will be agreed that the Elizabethan drama was robust, hearty, and real, and not tawdry and cheap as are some of the things seen in films which hon. Members may have seen recently. I do not think that there is any further point to which I have to reply, and although the hon. Members have expressed certain anxieties, and have put differing views, I hope that the House will give this order an uninterrupted passage.

Resolved: That the Cinematograph Films (Quotas) Order, 1948, dated 11th June 1948, a copy of which was presented on 14th June, be approved.