HC Deb 24 March 1952 vol 498 cc165-71

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I do not want to prolong the discussion for more than a few moments, but, having read the debate on Second Reading, and, in particular, the very short Committee stage, it seemed to me that one or two questions had been left completely unanswered by the Parliamentary Secretary. I rise tonight only for the purpose of asking those questions and seeking a little clarification. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) put some very serious questions, and he was good enough to say that, on the whole, he was satisfied with the answers; but they left me in some little doubt, and I hope, therefore, I may be forgiven for intervening tonight.

As I understand the Bill as it is now drawn, there is to be a power to borrow privately—that is, privately in the sense of not borrowing from State funds—a matter of £2 million. My right hon. Friend asked in the earlier stages of the debate how this sum of £2 million would rank—whether it would rank in priority to the existing loans, after the existing loans or pari passu. In the original Act, as now amended by this Bill, there is to be automatic winding-up of the National Film Finance Corporation in 1954, when the outstanding liabilities will become, under the Schedule to the previous Act, the liability of the State. If it is to be the liability of the State, I doubt whether even the present Government will have brought the State into such financial disintegration that the State will he unable to meet the whole liability.

I think the House has to bear in mind that on all sides this Bill was recognised as a useful Measure, and that the Film Finance Corporation was recognised as doing a useful job. Therefore, from the point of view of any potential lenders to the Film Finance Corporation at present, it will certainly be in their minds that it is more than likely that this House would wish to extend its operations after 1954. If it is the intention of the Government to consider extending the operation of the Act beyond 1954, then, of course, from the point of view of potential lenders to the Corporation, the original question put by my right hon. Friend becomes exceedingly pertinent, because there are already liabilities amounting to £4 million.

In these circumstances, it is exceedingly unlikely that the Film Finance Corporation would be able to raise the necessary sum in the ordinary commercial market at the ordinary commercial rates without guarantees. I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that, in these circumstances, the Government would certainly consider the question of giving a guarantee, but I am sure the House will feel that the mere enunciation of an intention to consider this matter in future is hardly sufficient in the circumstances, particularly in view of the very important effects on the state of the industry at the moment.

In those circumstances, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, as a matter of courtesy to the House, to deal with that matter a little more fully and to say what will be the position at this moment of a potential lender to the Corporation under the powers given in this Measure if there be an extension of the Act to a future date. Surely, some assurance must be given on that if the Bill is to go through.

In conclusion, I want to make one other point. I think the House was a little discourteous to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in respect of his important argument. It was rather suggested that he was the only one opposing the Bill. I do not think for one moment that he was; he was pointing out the extraordinary contradiction involved in this Government bringing forward proposals of which we approve because they inherited them from us and because they were announced by us before the Election as the intention of our side.

My hon. and learned Friend was pointing out the extraordinary inconsistency of suggestions for advances for capital investment in the film industry by a Government committed to a policy of restricting capital investment in every other industry, including the textile industry, and by a Government which by their policy, in every other sphere, of a deliberate restriction of credit are forcing thousands of men into unemployment and many reputable firms into liquidation.

I would almost say that I have a potential financial interest in this matter because sometimes in our commercial activities we have to face the day-to-day results of this policy. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, if and when he has an opportunity of speaking to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to convey to him the fact that all sides of the House expressed approval of this Measure for making advances to an industry that is of importance and an industry that is in difficulties. All sides having expressed approval of that course, it will be a little remarkable if we do not have a series of Amendments to the Finance Bill tabled by hon. Members opposite who are otherwise supporters of the Government.

I only intervened for a few minutes to put this question, which I think is an important one. I am prepared to wish the Bill well, and I hope it has a very successful result. I must confess that my interest in the matter is a little precarious. I only go to the films if I find myself in a strange town on a wet afternoon, but when I address a meeting in my constituency and notice the great number of people attending the cinemas and the few attending my meeting, I feel that the films have a great attraction and must contribut a great deal to the public entertainment. I hope, therefore, that these Parliamentary efforts will succeed.

9.44 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I welcome this Bill on its Third Reading for a specific reason. I am interested purely for aesthetic reasons, in the creation of children's films. This industry has been supplying about £100,000 a year, I understand, in order that children's films may be created in Britain or by British producers, though the actual films, I believe, are produced in many parts of the world.

I do not think the point has been brought out, but it is a matter of pride that only Britain and the Soviet Union produce children's films at all, and most people, I believe, would say that our British films for children are perhaps the best in the world. Certainly in many of the international exhibitions one hears people say, "Well, you know, there are only British films and the rest." That is a very great tribute. If there were that reason alone, I should like to see this great industry encouraged when it is facing financial difficulties of this kind.

The whole technique of creating children's films is something about which we are not quite sure, because children are not quite normal human beings. They are in the process of becoming so and in that process they differ completely from grown-up people. I ask the Minister to keep his eye on this somewhat fragile flower—the creation of British films for children—and to see that it receives every possible encouragement. I wonder if he has heard that there is a suggestion that if a little extra money were offered to those producing these films we could have a children's opera with music by Benjamin Britten. None of these things can come to creation unless there is financial help.

It would be meet and right, while discussing financial help to the parent organisation, to encourage that organisation to give more money to the fund for creating children's films. This new venture is one of the most exciting aspects of the industry. I should like to have an assurance that it meets with the approval of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and that he will keep his paternal eye upon it.

9.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)

On Third Reading I think the rules of order require a Minister to confine himself to the subject of the Bill. Therefore, however much I am tempted by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) to deal with the topics he raised, I think perhaps we had better have a private conversation later rather than trespass on the rules of order of the House by discussing them on Third Reading.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) did not take part in the earlier stages of the Bill, when perhaps I could have dealt rather more widely with some of the topics he raised. He mentioned the speech made by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on Second Reading. The hon. and learned Member was good enough to wait for my reply and I thought he seemed fairly contented with it, and it is possible that the hon. Member for Oldham, West would have had the same experience. The hon. Member will also realise that I cannot deal with the point he raised about the Finance Bill. When that Bill comes before the House no doubt we shall have the pleasure of hearing him.

However, the hon. Member raised one or two points upon which I think I should say a word out of courtesy to him at this stage. May I correct him on one small point? He spoke about the National Film Finance Corporation being automatically wound up in 1954. That, of course, is not quite the case. What happens in 1954 under paragraph 8 of the Schedule of the Act of 1949 is: (1) If, at any time after the expiration of the five years beginning with the passing of this Act, the Treasury are satisfied that there is no sufficient reason for the continuation of the Corporation, the Treasury may by order dissolve the Corporation. Therefore, the power to dissolve, under that paragraph, is after 8th March. 1954.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I think that what my hon. Friend meant, and what I understood him to mean, was that no money can be lent after March, 1954, and therefore in that sense, although various moneys will still flow in, no more money can be lent from the Fund, and therefore as an active instrument it ceases to be of any use.

Mr. Strauss

I do not differ from that. As I said before, there is a limit on the expiration of the five years, but I was dealing for the moment with the question of automatic dissolution. There is no automatic dissolution. Under this Bill there is no amendment of the principal Act in that respect. There is no prejudging one way or the other. It is simply that the provision which I have read out is unaffected.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West, asked me how any liabilities for moneys that might be advanced under the present Measure would rank. I think I ought in accuracy to draw a distinction between two possibilities. The first is the terms on which a loan may be made to the Corporation under this Bill. Those terms are subject to the approval of the Board of Trade and the Treasury, but there is nothing impossible in the terms providing for the new moneys to rank ahead of those already advanced. Of course, those new moneys borrowed may be paid off long before we reach the possible dissolution after 8th March, 1954, under the provision which I cited. If, however, there is any liability then outstanding and the Corporation is then dissolved, all advances, whether under the previous Acts or under this Bill, will rank pari passu. I think that answers the specific points made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

Mr. Hale

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the care with which he has dealt with this point. I should like to express my personal appreciation of his courtesy and to thank him for his expression of regret that I did not take part in the earlier debate on this Bill, which will assist me in overcoming that idiopathic diffidence which has precluded me from taking a full part in the debates in this House.

Mr. Strauss

I have an idea that a celebrated ancient Greek talked about that dangerous figure, irony. If, however, I were to enlarge on what the hon. Member has just said, the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) might complain that it was not in the Bill. I have given the hon. Member for Oldham, West, the explanation which he desires, and I thank him for his observations.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.