HC Deb 16 December 1952 vol 509 cc1167-70
7. Mr. Swingler

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many first-feature and supporting British films are currently being produced; and if he is satisfied that these numbers are sufficient to enable exhibitors to fulfil the present quota.

Mr. H. Strauss

It is expected that approximately 75 British films of over 6,500 feet in length will have been completed during 1952, but it is impossible to say in advance how many of these films will be generally used as first feature films. In addition, a substantial quantity—certainly over 250,000 feet—of shorter films will have been completed. Production in 1952 will thus be not less than the estimated amount on which the present quota was based.

Mr. Swingler

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the assurance has frequently been given that sufficient films were being produced to enable exhibitors to fulfil the quota and yet a powerful exhibitor like Mr. Rank, when prosecuted, is able to persuade the court that insufficient films were produced to enable him to fulfil the quota? Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the assurance which he has just given that present production is sufficient will enable the Board of Trade to make a few successful prosecutions next year?

Mr. Strauss

At the conclusion of his supplementary question the hon. Gentleman implied that our prosecutions had been unsuccessful. Recent ones, with only two exceptions, have been entirely successful. Obviously I cannot give an assurance that a defence which the statute permits will never be established.

Mr. S. Silverman

When the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to a defence which the statute permits, will he bear in mind that the Bow Street magistrate decided in a recent case that the statute permitted him to review the Minister's reasonableness or otherwise in granting or withholding an exemption certificate? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share the view that that was contemplated by the Act?

Mr. Strauss

I think it is far better, especially in answers to supplementary questions, that I should not comment on the magistrate's judgment in another case, but if the hon. Member will study the transcript of the judgment he will find that what he has said is not wholly accurate.

Mr. Silverman

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that it is very important that people who are subject to the provisions of the Act should know whether it is or is not an absolute necessity in a defence to such a prosecution that they should be able to produce a certificate of exemption and that the Minister's certificate of exemption is conclusive and that its absence is conclusive against the exhibitor? If there is any doubt about the matter, will the hon. and learned Gentleman take whatever steps are open to him to have the doubt cleared up?

Mr. Strauss

What the hon. Gentleman says about the certificate is almost wholly inaccurate. If he will study the transcript of the judgment he will find he is wrong.

Mr. H. Nicholls

Following an earlier supplementary question is my hon. and learned Friend aware that many people hope the time will never come when a Minister can guarantee in advance, even before the magistrates have heard the evidence, the decision of a court?

18. Mrs. White

asked the President of the Board of Trade to give an assurance that the recent prosecution concerning the failure to observe quota obligations at the Gaumont cinema was undertaken with the full authority of his Department.

Mr. H. Strauss

Yes, Sir, I can certainly give that assurance.

Mrs. White

In view of the astonishing misapprehension which exists, would the Minister specifically confirm, first, that the Cinematograph Films Council did not and could not initiate proceedings on its own account, and secondly, that no different procedure was followed in his Department in this case than in any other similar prosecution just because Mr. Rank's firm happened to be concerned?

Mr. Strauss

The hon. Lady is, in substance, perfectly right. As I have said, it would be quite improper for me to comment on any observations of the learned magistrate, but I have made clear in answer to a previous Question that my right hon. Friend agrees with the view of the learned magistrate that the question of prosecution in such a case is for the Board of Trade and not for the Cinematograph Films Council. The decision in this case was taken by the Board of Trade.

19. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the President of the Board of Trade what action he proposes to take with regard to the film quota regulations, in the light of the recent decision of the court in the case of the Circuits Management Association.

Mr. H. Strauss

My right hon. Friend will continue to institute proceedings for quota offences under the Cinematograph Films Acts in appropriate cases.

Mr. Robinson

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that this successful defence was not so much that there were not sufficient films available but that there were not sufficient films of a high enough quality in the opinion of the defaulting exhibitor? Does he not think that this decision effectively removes any sanctions there ever were behind the film quota regulations?

Mr. Strauss

The statutes make it a defence in certain cases to say it was not commercially practicable to comply with the quota requirement. That must involve questions of fact which must be decided by the court in each case, but it would be quite wrong to say that a single unsuccessful prosecution means that the Act is useless. There have been eight recent prosecutions and this is an exception in its result.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that now the case is over and the time for appeal has gone by, it is in no way improper for him or anybody else to make any comment that they think fair about the proceedings or about the judgment? In the light of that, will he bear in mind that the magistrate's decision that this defence was open to the defendant in this case is subject to grave doubt and will he have further inquiry made in the matter?

Mr. Strauss

I tried to explain the position to the hon. Gentleman as well as I could. The decision of the magistrate on the evidence which he heard in a particular case does not involve the proposition that any prosecution under the Act will always have the same result. I did not suggest, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, that the case was sub judice. I merely suggested that it would not be very useful to comment on the learned magistrate's decision.