§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This short Bill has two main objects. The first is to amend the Cinematograph Act, 1909, so that it applies to any commercial cinema exhibitions, whatever the means used for showing the pictures. Secondly, it implements some of the recommendations of the recent Departmental Committee on children and the cinema.
Under the 1909 Act, licensing authorities are empowered to grant cinema licences… on such terms and conditions and under such restrictionsas they see fit to impose. The courts in England and Wales have interpreted these powers very widely as relating not only to matters of safety but also to the character of the films shown. The Act of 1909 applies, however, only to exhibitions at which inflammable films are used and, although the meaning of the term "inflammable" has never been clearly decided by the courts, the great majority of licensing authorities have always proceeded on the view that the Act does not apply to exhibitions in which the types of films commonly known as noninflammable or slow-burning are used.
Such types of films have been used for many years in non-commercial exhibitions organised by film societies and educational and scientific bodies. Such exhibitions have not, therefore, been subject to control under this Act; but there are two recent developments in the use of non-inflammable film which I think the House ought to appreciate.
First, I shall deal with places which are not licensed as cinemas. The first development is that its use for exhibitions on a commercial basis in places which are not licensed as cinemas has been very great. According to recent figures, some 300,000 adults and 200,000 children paid for admission each week to exhibitions of this kind which are 871 given in halls in small towns or villages equipped with 16-mm. projectors or by mobile units operating for five or six nights every week. No control can be exercised by licensing authorities over the types of films shown in such exhibitions, so that an unaccompanied child may be able to see there, printed on noninflammable film, a copy of a film which he would not be allowed to see in a licensed cinema unless he were accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Turning to places which are licensed as cinemas, the second development of noninflammable film has been for use in them. I understand that the films shown in licensed cinemas are now printed on non-inflammable film and although it will be some time before existing stocks of inflammable films are exhausted, there are already some cinemas where only non-inflammable films are used, and there are soon to be many more. As the law now stands, such cinemas would not require a licence under the Act of 1909.
I think that all right hon. and hon. Members will see the importance of these aspects of the Bill. I put it to the House that both developments make it a matter of urgency that the law should be brought up to date.
With regard to Scotland, the position in regard to the powers of licensing authorities is rather different. There have been no decisions by the Scottish courts corresponding to those taken in England and Wales, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has informed licensing authorities that he is advised that the Scottish courts would be likely to hold that only safety conditions can be attached to licences granted under the Act of 1909.
It is quite true that by voluntary consent the Scottish exhibitors have observed the conditions about the showing of films normally imposed by the licensing authorities of England and Wales, with the exception—which is rather an important one—relating to the exclusion of unaccompanied children from showings of "A" films. I think everyone will agree that it is desirable that the licensing authorities in Scotland should have a general power to control the films shown, and the Bill amends the 1909 Act to make this power explicit.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether or not be has found that the voluntary system, as worked in Scotland, is doing very well?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I did say that. It is doing well, and the Scottish exhibitors have observed broadly the conditions that are applied in England. It is an unfortunate difference that in England the licensing authorities should have the double power with regard to the safety and control of films, and that the Scottish view of the same Act should be that that power is limited to the question of safety. Therefore, as I have said, we propose to amend the Act to make it explicit that the present powers will include the questions of both safety and control.
The second object of the Bill, though it is not of such immediate urgency, is perhaps in the long run even more important. It is to implement some of the recommendations of the recent Departmental Committee on children and the cinema, appointed by the right hon. Gentleman my predecessor.
The Committee, whose Report was published in May, 1950, had as its Chairman Professor Wheare, Professor of Government and Public Administration at Oxford, and its 19 members were men and women drawn from all walks of life, many of them with children of their own. No one who has read their Report will fail to be impressed by the careful and thorough way in which the Committee examined the evidence submitted to them; by the great personal interest taken by the members in their work, as shown, among other things, by the many visits which they paid to children's cinema performances throughout the country; and also, I should like to say, by their impartial and detached approach to the problem.
It is all too easy to regard the influence of the cinema on children as wholly had and to see in it causes of juvenile misbehaviour which in reality go much deeper. The Committee have performed a most valuable public service by examining this aspect of this problem with particular care, and their conclusion that the evidence does not fasten on the cinema any primary share of responsibility for the delinquency or moral laxity of 873 children under 16 has been, in my view, borne out by other inquiries.
The uses of films for educational purposes are well known, but outside school hours the cinema is for children an entertainment, and it is right that it should be so. There is, however, much that can be done to improve the quality of the entertainment without in any way lessening the children's enjoyment. Much excellent work has already been done in this direction by the production of special films for children. It is very gratifying that, despite financial difficulties, British film producers are carrying on this work.
I hope that no one will think, because it certainly should not be thought, that the purpose of this Bill is to restrict the attendance of children at the cinema, with all the enjoyment and other advantages which it can give. It is rather to provide better methods of control over the cinema shows specially arranged for children, especially on Saturdays, which have achieved such popularity in recent years, and also over their attendance at ordinary cinemas.
The general scheme of the Bill follows the recommendations of the Departmental Committee to which I have referred, although many of the more detailed recommendations will be more appropriately dealt with in regulations which will relate to health and welfare, and which the Secretary of State will be empowered to make under the Bill, and also in conditions imposed by licensing authorities. There will be full consultation with licensing authorities and with the cinema industry before new regulations are made.
May I remind the House that the recommendations of the Committee fall under four main heads: first, the imposition of control by regulations over matters affecting the health and welfare of children; second, the extension of the control exercised by licensing authorities; third, certain changes in the categories used for the classification of films; and fourth, the establishment by the Government of a central committee which would be responsible, among other things, for the classification of films.
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to relate these recommendations to the Bill or, in the case of one recommendation, to what is not in the Bill. The recommendations 874 under the first head—that is, the imposition of control by regulations with regard to health and safety—are implemented in the Bill by Clause 2, which empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations about the health and welfare of children as well as about safety. Regulations made under the 1909 Act are not subject to Parliamentary control, but I think these regulations should be, and I propose to move an Amendment in Committee providing that they shall be subject to the negative Resolution procedure.
The recommendations under the second and third heads—that is, the extension of control by licensing authorities and certain changes in the categories of films—are implemented by Clauses 3 and 4, which deal with the powers of licensing authorities and require that no premises should be usedfor a cinematograph exhibition organised wholly or mainly as an exhibition for children.except with the consent of the licensing authority. Perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to Clause 3 (1), which imposes duties on the licensing authorities in regard to the admission of children to the cinema. That has been drafted in the light of the Wheare Committee's recommendations relating to the censorship and classification of films.
I agree that it is most desirable that there should be machinery for consultation on these matters between the licensing authorities, the British Board of Film Censors and the cinematograph trade. With this purpose in mind, a Consultative Cinema Committee has recently been set up under the chairmanship of the President of the British Board of Film Censors, who, as the House will know, is Sir Sidney Harris. The committee includes representatives of the licensing authorities and of the producers, distributors and exhibitors of films.
§ Mr. Rankin
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why no Scottish exhibitor was appointed to that committee?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I will look into that point, but at the moment I should like to give the general picture, because the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) obviously wants to know why we are leaving the set-up which I am describing. I hope the hon. 875 Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) will forgive me if I go on with that for the moment.
I have described the Consultative Cinema Committee which has been appointed; that committee has also set up an advisory sub-committee to advise on questions relating to children and the cinema. The sub-committee consists partly of representatives of the main committee and partly of members with special knowledge of the needs of children. I am glad to say that both the main committee and the advisory sub-committee have already started their work.
The Government welcome the establishment of this machinery, which is the result of the initiative and co-operation of all the interests concerned, and they do not think it necessary that a further committee should be appointed by the Government, as was recommended by the Wheare Committee. We consider that it is better that matters relating to the classification of films should remain the responsibility of the British Board of Film Censors, who now have available to them advice from the point of view of the licensing authorities, the cinema industry, educational interests and others with special knowledge of the needs of children.
We think these matters ought not to be entrusted to a committee appointed by the Government. We believe that there are obvious objections in principle to the intervention of a Government-appointed committee in matters which are bound to affect the censorship of films. It would be very doubtful, indeed, whether it would be practicable for such a committee to carry out the classification effectively.
I want to deal especially with Clause 5 because, from my postbag and for other reasons, I think there has been a considerable misapprehension about it. I call the attention of the House to the fact that the remaining Clauses of the Bill deal with matters outside the scope of the Wheare Committee's inquiry, and it is on this one—Clause 5—that most of the criticism of the Bill has been centred. It has been suggested that this Clause is an attempt to impose control, including censorship, on the use of the cinema for non-commercial purposes by 876 educational bodies, religious organisations, and others. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The whole purpose of this Clause is to safeguard the freedom of non-commercial exhibitions which have not hitherto been subject to control because the films are noninflammable.
I am sure those in the House who are interested have appreciated that the present freedom from control is wholly accidental. No one would suggest that it is logical that the liability to control should depend on the inflammability—in the material sense—of the films used. Nevertheless, the present distinction between inflammable and non-inflammable film has worked well in the past because in practice the commercial cinema, which uses the 35-mm. film, has had to use inflammable films and the non-commercial cinema has been able to use the 16-mm, non-inflammable film. So although the basis is quite illogical, it has worked well up to now.
But, as I have told the House, now that the non-inflammable film is being widely used in the commercial cinema the distinction can no longer be maintained, and the Bill, therefore, seeks to substitute a more rational distinction between commercial and non-commercial exhibitions.
§ Mr. Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)
Surely it is not accidental in view of the fact that films were being exhibited in unlicensed premises?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Yes, but what has happened up to now has been that cinemas have been using the inflammable 35-mm. film, and the places other than cinemas have been using the 16-mm. noninflammable. The position now is that cinemas are proceeding to use the noninflammable film. If we are going to have any regulations at all applied to the cinemas—which everyone must want: we could not have cinemas without any health or safety regulations applied—then we have got to bring them in.
At the same time, when we have got into the position that we are moving over to the use of non-inflammable film in both classes of showings, then I think we ought to put it on a logical basis and distinguish between what are commercial and noncommercial exhibitions. That is what Clause 5 seeks to do. I just want to 877 show that it really is a matter of protection for the non-commercial showing as well as the bringing in of the commercial showing.
The general principle of the law about control of entertainments—if one may ever try to reduce a law to a general principle—is that it should apply to public entertainments only. I remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen of two examples. The Theatres Act of 1843 refers to the "public performances of stage plays," and under the Public Health Act Amendment Act of 1890 a licence is required forplaces ordinarily used for public dancing or music or other entertainment of a like kind.This Clause follows the same principle, but it goes considerably further than the earlier enactments in the way of exemption. It provides for the exemption not only of exhibitions to which the public are not admitted, but also of those to which the public are admitted without payment, and even those where there may be a charge for admission if they are given by a non-profit-making organisation which is eligible for exemption from Entertainments Duty. This third class of exempted exhibition is included in the Bill because, in our view, it would be anomalous that an exhibition given by an organisation which is recognised for one purpose as being non-profit-making should be treated for another purpose as if it were commercial.
It has been pointed out that in certain parts of the country there are cinemas run by organisations which could claim exemption under this Clause at which performances are given daily, to which members of the public are admitted on payment as in ordinary cinemas. The Clause was not intended to exempt such cinemas from control, and it is proposed to move an Amendment providing that this exemption shall not apply if the premises are used more often than three days a week.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I am very sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but we may as well clear up this point as we go on. Are the exhibitions to which he is now referring commercial ones?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
They are run by a body which could come within the exemption which I have explained in regard to Entertainments Duty. On that 878 criterion they would come in, but they are in fact cinemas, although they are run by a non-profit-making body. The performance is given daily to members of the public who pay for admission. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that one can have a non-profit-making body which still gives exhibitions to the public for reward provided it does not make a profit out of so giving; and we say that, where we have a body of that kind, which, although non-profit-making by its constitution, is in fact running what is the equivalent of a cinema, giving daily performances to the public for payment, then that should not come under the exemption but should be treated as a cinema, and the regulations should apply. I hope I have made it clear.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Not altogether. I am sorry. People give exhibitions of films for one of two reasons, it seems to me. One is educational, or religious, and non-profit-making; and the other is commercial. However, the commercial reasons may be camouflaged, and, as I understand him—I may be wrong, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me—these are in essence commercial, but because they make no profit, or get their profit in some other way than as a cash profit, they would escape the net, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want them to do so. Why should they not, unless they are something which in essence is commercial?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
We think they should not escape the net because they are the equivalent of an ordinary cinema; but we approach it the other way. I am coming to that in a moment. We think protection should be given for the scientific or religious body. Let me deal with the point, and it may be that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the whole picture. Believe me, I am most grateful to him for his intervention. It is, as I have tried to indicate, a difficult line to follow out to the general satisfaction, and I want to try to make clear to the House not only what we are doing but why we are doing it. I think the House is entitled to know that. I think it is important. I hope that I shall deal with the point which is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind.
It has been suggested that the classes of exempted exhibition should be even 879 wider than I have said and should include exhibitions given by any non-profit-making organisation, whether or not it is eligible for exemption from Entertainments Duty. Yet I think it is very doubtful whether it is necessary or desirable to widen the class in this way. I think the present exemptions are very wide and would seem to cover any genuinely non-commercial exhibition.
But let me say a word, as I am dealing with this, on the sort of precautions which are desirable. In my view, even when non-inflammable film is used there ought to be some form of emergency lighting, proper marking and supervision of exits, and arrangements to prevent the obstruction of gangways or exits or the space round the projector. I think that ought to be the rule even where noninflammable films are used. But in view of the concern that has been shown about the possible misuse of the power to impose safety requirements by regulation, we have decided to move an Amendment in Committee to make it clear that where exempted exhibitions are given in premises which are not licensed as a cinema, these safety requirements will not be applicable. I propose to go that degree further.
But where the exhibitions are given in licensed cinemas, the Government think it desirable that both the safety requirements and the conditions of the licence relating to safety should continue to apply, for this reason, that there are greater risks involved in the presence of the much larger audiences that congregate in licensed cinemas, which do not congregate in the other sorts of rooms which I have earlier described to the House.
I have pointed out that where the public pay for admission the dividing line between commercial and non-commercial exhibitions must be drawn with care in order to prevent evasion. If, however, the public are admitted without payment, there is no restriction on the type of organisation which may benefit by the exemptions provided in the Clause. That is one line of criticism that has been made.
I was about to say "strangely enough"—but I do not think it is strange for anyone who has examined the Bill—there has also been criticism that the exempted classes are already too wide. While one 880 school says that they are not wide enough, another school says that they are too wide. I should like now to deal with this criticism and the reasons why I think there is a danger in restricting the exempted category too much.
It has been pointed out that, under the Clause as it stands, it would be possible for children to attend public performances where there was no charge for admission at which films were exhibited that were unsuitable for children. I am not inventing these criticisms. That is a criticism which has been seriously advanced. This could, of course, happen under the existing law if non-inflammable film is used, whether or not a charge is made for admission: but in my view there is no evidence that it ever has happened, and the danger of children seeing unsuitable films at free public performances does not seem to me to be a very serious one or one for which we need provide.
I agree—and I think this is a point the right hon. Gentleman had in mind—that it is most important to avoid interference with the activities of religious and educational organisations, youth clubs and film societies, and for these reasons the Government think it undesirable that licensing authorities should be given power of control over the admission of children to private exhibitions given in premises which are not licensed as cinemas.
This is a point on which I would gladly consider the views advanced and, in the light of the debate, consider putting down an Amendment to give licensing authorities power to impose conditions relating to the admission of children to non-commercial exhibitions given in licensed cinemas, where the rather more public nature of the performance may perhaps require some control over the admission of children. Apart from that, I do not think that the licensing authorities should be given powers of control over the admission of children to private exhibitions given in premises which are not licensed.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Under what he has just said, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman regard it as suitable for children to be able to attend exhibitions given by the various bodies which deal with precautions against venereal disease, and so on? There is one body—I forget its exact name— 881 which does give a considerable number of exhibitions on that subject, and which will probably come into the categories the Home Secretary has just been describing. I should have thought it would be highly undesirable that there should be no power to prevent children from attending exhibitions such as those.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman has taken a difficult example. I should like to look into the question whether such a society is likely to give a free show in a place that is not a cinema. Broadly, of course, what I had in mind—I am very anxious not to restrict it, and as far as I can judge the general feeling is that we should not do anything to restrict it—was the kind of bodies I mentioned, namely, religious and educational organisations, youth clubs and film societies. I will certainly look into the point the right hon. Gentleman has raised.
§ Mr. Ede
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that that kind of exhibition is occasionally given to the senior members of youth clubs, and so on, and that was one reason I was very anxious to know the position with regard to the junior members of such clubs, and even those younger than that.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I think there is some protection in the good sense of those who are running the clubs; but I should like to look into that point. I am sure the whole House will agree that it is difficult to hold the balance. It is something in which we must try to do our best. I do not think there will be any disagreement about the motives, but when one is asked to apply something to a particular case one is always glad to be able to have another look at it. I wish to emphasise what I said before. At the moment, there being no control at all over non-inflammable films, any kind of film which is undesirable, including that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, could be seen by any child, so it is necessary for us to try to get the matter into full order.
There has also been some criticism of the provision in Clause 5 (1, c), which enables the Secretary of State to apply safety regulations to non-commercial exhibitions. It has been suggested that this power might be used to impose such onerous and expensive safety requirements 882 on non-commercial exhibitions in which non-inflammable film is used that it would be impossible to give them. I need hardly say that the Government have no such intentions. Any safety requirements which may be used, after due consultation with all the interests concerned, would be confined to simple precautions which I have no doubt are already used in places where such exhibitions are given.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
A few minutes ago the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us that the normal film societies, religious organisations, the churches, and so on, will not have any safety requirements of any kind imposed on them. Is he now referring to non-commercial exhibitions held in a cinema when he speaks of the possibility of safety regulations?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the set-up of Clause 5 (1), he will see that it says:The following exemptions shall have effect in the case of cinematograph exhibitions (hereinafter referred to as 'exempted exhibitions') to which the public are not admitted or to which the public are admitted without payment, other than children's cinema club exhibitions, that is to say"—in paragraph (c):regulations made by the Secretary of State under the Act of 1909, being regulations made by virtue of paragraph (b) of section two of this Act, shall not apply in relation to an exempted exhibition:If the exhibition comes within the exemptions, those that I am mentioning at the moment will not apply
I was going on to say that even where they will apply, we shall try to apply them after consultation with all the interests concerned and confine them to simple precautions. If I have not answered the hon. Gentleman, I will look at the matter again, and I shall be glad to let him know our view on the point which he has in mind.
I have tried to explain the position, and I hope that the House will not blame me for having dwelt too long on Clause 5: as I have said, that is the one on which most of the criticism has been based. I think that all parties in the House—and, indeed, it has appeared so from the tone of the interruptions and the tone of the debate—are at one on the main purpose of this Bill which is to 883 ensure proper control over the attendance of children at the commercial cinema.
As I have already pointed out, the Bill is based on the recommendations of a Departmental Committee set up by the late Government and through the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). It was set up, as I understand it, as the result of representations made to the late Government by educational interests and organisations concerned with the welfare of children.
§ Mr. Ede
I was assisted in the selection of the Committee and its appointment and with the terms of reference by the late right hon. Member for Farnworth, Mr. Tomlinson, who was then Minister of Education. As Minister of Education, he was very actively associated, as was the Secretary of State for Scotland, with the setting up of the Committee and the consideration of its recommendations.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am very glad to hear that. I am also glad that I have the opportunity of paying a tribute to the selection of the Committee, and that part of the tribute goes to the late right hon. Gentleman the Member for Farnworth who was personally so dear to his colleagues in every part of the House.
So far as the Government are aware, the only criticism of the proposals contained in the Bill has been in respect of Clause 5, and I hope that the explanation that I have given of the purpose of the Clause, and the changes which the Government propose to make in it, will provide an answer to their criticism. As I have explained, it is important that the Bill should become law as soon as possible, and I trust that the House will give it a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman began by saying that this was a short Bill, as, indeed, it is. I think, however, that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with me when I say that it deals with a very large and extremely widespread industry. I suppose that the cinema is the largest single source of entertainment in the world; its ramifications are immense. Millions of pounds and dollars—I suppose almost beyond computation—have been sunk in it. The cinema and those associated with it are 884 always news. Though it has its own Press, ordinary newspapers always find something of interest to their readers in the actions of those engaged in this industry.
I suppose that in most towns the cinemas are the most luxurious building there and are in fact, often palaces which give the utmost comfort to great numbers of people. Its stars are the envy of thousands of their fellow creatures, and they enjoy the income of princes. Most noteworthy is the fact that millions of us go week by week to the cinema, which has thus an overwhelming power for good or ill. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicated in his opening speech, the astonishing thing is that the only Act which deals with matters relating to the cinema at present on the Statute Book is the Act passed as long ago as 1909—over 40 years ago—when conditions in the world were very different from what they are now.
To what extent, if any, the cinema has helped to make conditions worse, I do not know, but, at any rate, I think that most of us will say that it would be more pleasant if we could return to some at least of the conditions that existed when the 1909 Act—in itself a very short Act—was passed. Since then, the "talkies" have arrived and, although I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to this, we have television, which is also included in the Bill.
It is astonishing to realise how limited that 1909 Act was and how well we have got through the years that have elapsed since it was passed. Its purpose was, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and as I hope the House will not mind my reminding it, to do one simple thing, and that was to make it illegal to exhibit inflammable films without first obtaining a licence for the premises from the competent authority. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland were empowered under the Act to make regulations and these regulations were quite definitely to be for one simple purpose only, namely, for securing safety.
It is true that the subsection in the Act which lays this down goes on to say that those licences are to be issued on such terms and conditions as the authority decides. On that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman reminded us, the English courts have by judicial interpretation 885 given very wide powers to the local authorities who issue these licences. In Scotland, on the other hand, where probably they have more regard for the law than possibly we have south of the Border, they have stuck strictly to the letter of the Act and confine the licences they issue to the one object for which the original Act was undoubtedly designed.
Under the 1909 Act, there was no provision whatever for censorship of the types of films that could be shown, or for whether children should be allowed in, and, if so, at what age. None of these things is in the 1909 Act and they have, in a sense been imposed, if that is the correct word to use, in England and Wales by case law, though I think that the general feeling of all concerned is that acceptance of these extra conditions is right. There are two reasons for that.
One is that the industry itself, on the whole, has taken a responsible and co-operative attitude towards these matters. It is true that there have been occasions when that has not perhaps been so, but, on the whole, the industry has behaved in an extremely responsible way. The reason the Act has not so far had to be amended, and why many of these things have been added to the 1909 Measure without any outcry on the part of anyone, has been, I think, due largely to the fact that cinema proprietors have realised that, unless they conformed to the conditions laid down, they might not get a renewal of their licences.
Another thing, which I believe could not, perhaps, have obtained anywhere but in this country, has been the setting of the British Board of Film Censors. As I think most of us realise, this is a body which was set up in 1912 by the industry itself. So far as I know, it exists very largely, if not completely, on the fees which are paid by the distributors who take films to the Board for censorship. But there is no legal sanction on the distributor to accept the decision of the British Board. Again, however, because of their sense of responsibility, the industry accept the Board's decision; even in Scotland, where they have less reason so to do, because of the different view taken by the courts there of the 1909 Act, they, too, accept the classifications laid down by the Board.
In spite of all this, and although things are on the whole working fairly smoothly, 886 legislation has, we have been told, become imperative. If I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman aright, it has become imperative for two reasons. The first is that what is known as noninflammable film has come more and more into use in the commercial cinema for 35-mm. films. It has, of course, been in use for many years in 9.5 or 16-mm. films by non-commercial organisations, but now we are getting it definitely becoming a feature, and a growing feature, for films in the commercial theatre. Therefore, under the 1909 Act technically, at any rate, it might be considered that these theatres were outside the conditions there laid down which necessitated their applying for a licence, and because of this something had to be done in order to regularise the position.
The second thing which has made legislation desirable has been the publication of the Wheare Report. On behalf of right hon. and hon. Friends on this side, I should like to say how much we share the tribute which the right hon. and learned Gentleman paid both to the chairman of that committee and to those associated with him. They have done a fine piece of work and I should like to see more publicity given to the recommendations which they have made. Among other things, they point out, I believe, that 70 per cent. of all the children in England and Wales, at any rate of school age—between the ages of 10 and 15 certainly—go to the cinema at least once a week, and that many of them go oftener.
In Scotland, for some reason—I do not know why, because in Scotland, I thought, they were more careful of their money—80 per cent. of the children of those ages go at least once a week. Nine out of every 10 children of all ages in Great Britain, I gather, certainly from about the age of five upwards, go to the cinema some time, and some of them many times in the course of a month. It is essential that we should take note of these facts and at long last see that some body of regulations is laid down to ensure that the welfare, health and morals of these children are safeguarded.
I had thought of quoting a portion of the Report, but I do not want to detain the House. I will therefore only recommend to those who have not yet studied it, to turn at any rate to page 52 and read 887 the summary of the evidence which that committee there sets forth.
I was glad to see that the Wheare Committee pay a tribute to the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. As we know, that organisation has for a long time had the welfare of the children's cinema very much at heart. It has done very good work through its Saturday clubs in order to try to make the cinema interesting and of benefit and use to the child, and at the same time to minimise the damage that otherwise might be done through the glamour that surrounds the moving pictures.
We therefore welcome wholeheartedly, and I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the detailed explanation which he gave on the regulations which it is proposed to issue to implement Clauses 2 and 3 or those parts of them which refer to children. It is interesting for us to know something of what the Government have in mind in this direction.
We do not welcome the other parts of the Bill quite so wholeheartedly. When I first saw the Bill, it occurred to me that the proposals in other clauses were quite definitely a retrograde step. I found it difficult to understand why the Government should lay down, as they apparently do in the Bill, the very extensive control which is there envisaged. I am, however, delighted, and so, I am sure, are my right hon. and hon. Friends, to realise from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he intends to move some Amendments when we come to the Committee stage, which I gather will be some time later this week.
Even then, there are certain questions that we should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I was not at all sure from what he said that his Amendments go as far as many of us on this side of the House would like them to go. He intends, I understand, to see that all non-profit-making, non-commercial exhibitions shall be free of most of the controls which still are in the Bill. But he intends, if I understand him aright, to see that although those controls go, they will be retained if the exhibition is given in a licensed cinema.
I cannot understand why the Home Secretary thus insists on the safety regulations applying if the non-commercial 888 film is shown in a licensed cinema. After all, it is the cinema which is licensed now, not the film. A proprietor gets his cinema licence and can then show any films throughout the year, and he is quite within the terms of the 1909 Act by so doing. Why is it that when a noncommercial organisation showing a nonprofit-making film—or even, under the relative section of the Finance Act, a film that makes a profit—it should have to go to the appropriate body for a licence to show that film? We fail to understand the reason for this. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the very lucid explanation which he gave, failed to make it clear to us on this side of the House why he retains that provision. It cannot surely be on the ground of safety. Regulations are already there to guard against fire breaking out. The premises themselves will already have had to comply with the law dealing with fire regulations, and in many cases the film shown will be a non-inflammable film.
We must, therefore, conclude that this obligation, which is to form part of the Amendment which will be moved in Committee, to seek a licence for the film itself when it is shown in licensed premises, must have some other basis than that of mere safety. We should like to know before the end of this debate whether that is so. Perhaps when the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland replies, he will explain to us why, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman has gone so far, as undoubtedly he has, the Government will not go all the way with us. If they would do that, I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the passage of the Bill through this House before this Session is prorogued will be easier than it will otherwise be.
I have very little more to say, except that we should like assurances on one or two other matters. The first refers to non-profit-making exhibitions, as we term them, which can get relief from Entertainments Duty under the Finance Act, 1946. We feel that the exemption for non-profit-making films should not rest solely on that fact. There is a Finance Act every year, and what is made the law in one Finance Act may not necessarily continue to be the law in another.
889 I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that some other wording should be devised so that it will not be obligatory on these bodies, religious, philanthropic, educational and so on, to get relief simply and solely because they are able to conform to the Section in the Finance Act which gives such organisations the power to apply to Customs and Excise for a certificate exempting them from Entertainments Duty. We feel that that should be looked at, and something should be done to give these people a much greater security than they now have in that direction.
Finally, I should like to ask for an assurance before this debate ends that before the regulations generally come to be promulgated, all organisations interested will be consulted. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as I do that there are many sections interested in the cinema, and it would not only be an act of courtesy but would save him, I believe, a great deal of trouble if, before the actual Statutory Instrument is presented to Parliament, the most widespread consultation took place that it is possible to have.
Having said that, all I want to add is that we on this side of the House do not intend to divide on the Second Reading. Many of the criticisms—and we are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for it—have been met in the speech with which be opened the debate. We should, however, like an answer to the points I have put and those others which I have no doubt hon. Friends behind me will be putting during the course of the debate. If we can get an assurance on these points, the Committee stage will be as swift and friendly as I am positive our proceedings today will be.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)
It is evident from what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) said that the underlying principles of this Bill are going to meet with general acceptance, and I am sure we must all be prepared to welcome those provisions of the Bill which are designed to ensure that children shall not see at cinemas things which they ought not to see. Yet I, for one, regret that this is another instance of the State, though rightly and necessarily, having to 890 exercise responsibilities over children which ought to be exercised by the children's parents themselves without any prompting or direction from the State. However, I do not want to dwell upon that theme, but to confine my remarks to two other aspects of the Bill.
As I understand the Bill from reading it and listening to my right hon. and learned Friend, its main purpose is to extend the control of cinematograph exhibitions to include exhibitions of noninflammable films. The Bill exempts from formal licence free shows other than shows given by children's cinema clubs, private shows and shows which qualify for exemption from Entertainments Duty. But the Bill, as it stands, gives power to the Minister to issue regulations on the grounds of public safety in respect of all exhibitions, whether they are exempted exhibitions under the Bill or not.
I understood my right hon. and learned Friend to say that he is proposing to put down an Amendment in Committee which will free from all safety control regulations exempted exhibitions of non-inflammable films which take place in halls which are not licensed cinemas. I, for one—as I am sure everybody will be who loves the countryside and its villages—am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for making this concession without being asked by any Member of the House to do so.
I want to ask him to make yet another concession, so that commercial exhibitions of non-inflammable films will also be freed from any safety control regulations which may be made from time to time under the Act of 1909. I can readily believe that it is logical and perhaps desirable on the grounds of administrative tidiness that safety control should be extended to non-inflammable films, but with great respect I still do not understand why it should be necessary to extend this control. I am told that the view of the committee which advised the Home Office on this subject in 1939 was this:As regards the question of safety, we are satisfied that the risks of fire from slow burning film, whether in or out of the projector, may be treated as negligible.I am told that the committee went on to report as follows:With the exception of one minor case of panic not associated with fire, there is no 891 record at the Home Office of any case of fire or panic having occurred at any exhibition of slow burning films.
§ Dr. Stross
Is it not a fact that that inquiry was concerned with substandard film only and not with 35-mm. film, the type commercially shown? Are we not now considering the implications of commercial 35-mm. film?
§ Mr. Legh
That may very well be so, but I am concerned only with the safety aspect. From that aspect I do not see that it matters whether it is 35-mm. or 16-mm., or whether the exhibition is commercial or not. If since 1939 there has been no case of panic or fire resulting from the exhibition of non-inflammable films, we ought to be told now in greater detail why the Home Office view of this matter has changed. My right hon. and learned Friend said that it was not his intention to issue very stringent regulations regarding the exhibition of commercial non-inflammable films in non-licensed cinemas, but he has not written that into the Bill, at any rate yet, and he cannot bind his successors. Nor can my right hon. and learned Friend tell, any more than I can, what regulations may or may not be made in the years to come by his successors at the Home Office.
If he will not agree to extend to the exhibition of commercial non-inflammable films, the concession which he intends for exempted exhibitions, then considerable hardship may be caused to people who live in country areas. That could happen in my own constituency, which is very big geographically. It consists mainly of a large number of villages, between which and the larger towns communications are not always all that they might be. So far as I know, there are only three proper cinema theatres in the whole of it, but many of my constituents are able to enjoy commercial performances of non-inflammable films in their village halls.
The Bill could put an end to all exhibitions of that kind because it opens the way to regulations which could make the ordinary village hall unusable for any kind of cinema performance, unless very expensive structural alterations were made. It does not need me to say that the trustees of the average village hall have very little money nowadays to carry out 892 such alterations. I end this first part of my remarks with a plea to my right hon. and learned Friend to extend the concession, which he is going to make to exempted exhibitions of non-inflammable films, to include commercial exhibitions of non-inflammable films.
As I understand the Bill, it proposes that cinema shows given by non-profit-making organisations shall be exempted from formal licensing, provided they are also exempted from Entertainments Duty. At present this exemption from duty is granted on grounds of philanthropic purpose or partly educational aim. I understood my right hon. and learned Friend to say that he did not want to widen too much the definition of exempted exhibitions. But I would remind him that exemption from Entertainments Duty is dependent upon fiscal policy, which can be changed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a future Budget. I have been advised that, if the Bill is passed in its present form, a change of fiscal policy could mean that a church society or missionary society, giving a cinema show in the crypt of a church and charging a few pence for admission, might have to comply with precisely the same regulations as a large licensed cinema in a town.
I would therefore ask my right hon. and learned Friend if he would not agree that it shall be sufficient for a show to be an exempted exhibition under the Bill if the Commissioners of Customs and Excise have certified that the organisation concerned is not conducted or established for profit? I ask him to accept that definition and to write it into the Bill. Apart from the points I have raised I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)
I am sure that we have all listened with very great interest to the Home Secretary's speech on the Bill, and that we appreciate the purposes which have prompted the promotion of this Measure. There is no doubt that the law governing film exhibitions is in many ways out-of-date, and, although the Bill does not seek to put a new purpose into the original Act, it seeks to provide for certain definite omissions which could not have been foreseen at the time when that Act was promoted.
893 The Home Secretary paid a very sincere tribute to the work of the Departmental Committee presided over by Professor Wheare, which went into the problem with very great care and understanding, and the recommendations of which will be useful not only for today but for many years ahead. We shall be guided by the very sympathetic recommendations they have advanced.
When dealing with films, we have had three objectives in view. The original one was safety. The promoters of the Bill in 1909 were concerned with the safety of people who attended celluloid film exhibitions, which had shown that inherent dangers had to be provided against. It was necessary for the public to be protected. Arising out of that Act grew up, almost incidentally, a whole system of censorship. True, it was a voluntary censorship. In another place we have heard that it is not the Government's intention to establish a State censorship. I think we all agree with that.
What has happened as a result of the 1909 Act is that we have local authority censorship. This has been very reasonably applied, and only on very few occasions have the public felt called upon to protest against the nature of this censorship. The voluntary censorship which the film industry itself arranged, through the British Board of Film Censors, has worked admirably, except, as I said, on one or two occasions.
Some years ago I had a violent quarrel with the British Board of Film Censors when I was trying to introduce a delightful Polish film into the country. They objected to a sequence in the film showing the suckling of a child at its mother's breast, which struck me as being shortsighted and foolish. On the whole, however, they have done their work excellently. The main purpose of the Bill is entirely praiseworthy and, although certain of its Clauses have raised doubts in our minds, I am sure that with good will and understanding we can get the necessary Amendments or clarifications to enable us to support the Bill wholeheartedly.
As I have said, safety regulations were necessary originally, but with the development of the non-inflammable film that aspect is disappearing. I have no doubt that in the fulness of time the non-inflammable film will be the general rule in the commercial cinema for reasons 894 which are obvious. So, having dealt with the safety aspect, we now concentrate on the censorship angle and the perhaps more important point nowadays of the protection of the child. In that direction the Bill makes significant proposals.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the two aspects which in our view may be dangerous unless we have precise explanations of how they are to be worked. First, there is the question of the Home Office regulations for exempted exhibitions or screenings. I have a vivid recollection of a local authority trying to interfere with the exhibition of non-inflammable films some years ago. Indeed there were quite a number of court cases and the local authorities—in some cases the police themselves—tried to show that the Act covered the exhibition of non-inflammable films. In every case these cases were dismissed and no one could say that non-inflammable film came under the Sections of the 1909 Act. Even so, however, there is no doubt that certain local authorities tried to impose the normal regulations covering inflammable films on exhibitions of non-inflammable films even when they were of an educational character.
I was involved myself in a case of this kind in a certain county, so that I can speak with a considerable amount of feeling. We want to be absolutely sure that the safety regulations, except those which the body concerned itself applies, will not apply to the exempted organisations, such as educational bodies, religious organisations and so on. As a matter of fact there are many film exhibitions today in churches which could not by any stretch of the imagination be classified as conforming to normal regulations, but where danger from the screening of non-inflammable film is infinitesimal.
I should have liked to exhibit to hon. Members this afternoon a piece of non-inflammable film. On innumerable occasions I have seen people try to ignite it. It does not light, it merely smoulders, and although some people say the danger in its use is negligible, I say that danger is entirely non-existent. In any case it would be impossible for the authorities concerned in the exhibition of a film in a church to operate any safety regulations other than those normally applied in the interests of their congregations.
895 The second important point relates to bodies exempted from Entertainments Duty by the Chancellor of the Exchequer because, although they charge for admission, they are either of an educational, a religious or a philanthropic character. There is the danger that at some future time the Chancellor will say, "I must get money wherever I can and I must impose Entertainments Duty upon these bodies in spite of the fact that they are doing this work and that they have been exempted in the past." We want to avoid that. We want to free those bodies from any possibility that they may come within the scope of this Bill. I am sure that the Home Secretary is sympathetic and I am sure that it is not his purpose that such bodies should be included by one device or another in the future. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is prepared to make the necessary arrangements, I am sure that our feelings will be much relieved.
Those are our two main objections to the Bill. They are not big, but they are important. We have had this freedom for many years and there has been no case in days gone by when the principles have been violated by the shows not being properly conducted. I hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will look at the point once again.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Major W. J. Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I want to follow previous speakers in welcoming the general acceptance of this Bill on all sides of the House and my intervention will deal with a single point, the application of parts of the Bill to Scotland. I am prompted by a communication which I have received from the Scottish branch of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association. I have no personal connection with the industry, but this has been supported by a telegram or two from trustworthy cinema proprietors in my constituency and I have no doubt that it is worth the consideration of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
In short, it asks that Clause 3 should not apply to Scotland. The request is based on the fact that since 1934 there has been a voluntary agreement which has worked well for 18 years and it asks why this should be reversed now. I listened to the Home Secretary when he 896 mentioned this point, but he left me unconvinced. I thought my right hon. and learned Friend took it much too readily for granted that we in Scotland are prepared to conform to England for the sake of doing so. Personally, I am not at all keen on changes made for the sake of change, especially when it is done merely in order to meet clerical conformity.
May I read in detail what this voluntary achievement did? It amounted to wide publicity being given locally to the category of films and the times at which they were to be shown, and that enables parents to make up their minds, by reading the local Press, about whether or not they wish their children to see a specified film.
The voluntary agreement was originally introduced in 1934 to run for an experimental period of one year, and it succeeded so well that it has been continued to the present time with, as far as I know, no volume of criticism from any quarter. Furthermore, it has been kept up to date, because when the new "X" category for films was introduced four years ago, the Scottish authority and the Scottish branch of the Cinema Exhibitors' Association widened the agreement to include that category. According to the words of this memorandum:this would strongly indicate that in the view of the Scottish authorities the agreement has been working satisfactorily.If all is well, why strive to change it? If the present state of affairs is satisfactory, why not leave well alone? I hope that when the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland replies to the debate he will indicate that if an Amendment to exclude Scotland from the operation of Clause 3 were to be moved in the Committee stage, he would not turn it down out of hand. On the contrary, I venture to suggest to him that he should insert that Amendment on behalf of the Government so that we might be sure that he has this matter of Scotland fully in his mind, as I am convinced he has.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I am sure that the Home Secretary must be feeling extremely gratified at the welcome which has been given to the Bill which he so ably expounded. He has discovered, of course, that there are one or two qualifications in the attitude of certain hon. Members, and if I express one 897 he should realise that perhaps it is due to my having a narrower and more nationalist outlook than he had when he was speaking on the Bill.
I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be averse to a little twitting on this subject. I was extremely interested to hear a Tory Minister advocating the need for more control and more regulations. Now that the Tories have failed to set the people free, apparently they are to take a closer grip of the cinemas, and by and by we may hear a demand that we should set the cinema free, too.
Nevertheless, we on this side of the House welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attitude because it is obvious that the Government Front Bench are learning that liberty resides to a large extent in a wise and discriminating use of control and regulation. We are glad to see that in this respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman is following the wise and far-sighted lead which was provided by the Labour Government when they were dealing with matters of national concern, as this one is.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) was speaking, he said that according to the statistics which he had it was shown that the average attendance of school children at the cinema in Scotland was once a week. I should be very glad if those figures were universal and if they applied everywhere, because from an inquiry which I conducted before I came to the House, I discovered that in the City of Glasgow, in certain schools with which I was associated, children were attending the cinema three and four times every week—not in one week, but almost every week throughout the year.
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that any instrument which has such an immense influence over the developing mind of the child is an instrument which must be subject to control and regulation. While I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) that a good deal of the danger of fire has disappeared from the cinema because of the use of noninflammable film, I think he will accept that although that cause may have gone the danger of fire is not altogether absent from the cinema even today. Of course, all Scottish hon. Members will recollect 898 that one of the gravest tragedies in Scotland was some years ago when fire took place in a cinema in the town of Paisley with tragic consequences to the children who were attending that performance.
§ Dr. Stross
Would my hon. Friend agree, however, that such danger of fire is more likely to occur in a large commercial cinema where people are crowded together in great numbers and where they are smoking, than in a small hall not normally used for the purpose?
§ Mr. Rankin
I certainly agree with that. The point which I was seeking to establish was that often in large cinemas, as I have seen, people are very thoughtless in the disposal of matches which they have used for lighting cigarettes and pipes, and do not take advantage of the safety aids which the cinema people provide for the disposal of used matches. The danger of fire exists, and safety precautions have, in my view, to be strict.
I was given an illustration of the power of the cinema on the young mind, and of the interest which it has for the adolescent, in another experiment which I conducted over 20 years ago when I was appointed in the City of Glasgow to the headship of a continuation centre. The roll of the school was falling seriously. In consultation with one or two people who were interested in visual education I decided to use the cinema as a means of bringing boys and girls into the school. It met with overwhelming success and in one winter I doubled the roll of the school. That was not merely a temporary inflation, for it continued and the school went on to be very successful indeed.
But I had some difficulty with the Department of Education for Scotland, because not only did I introduce the type of film which was then coming along, such as "Log Felling in California," to show to the woodwork class, but I also introduced films of Charlie Chaplin. On his first visit the Inspector of the Department of Education for Scotland wanted to know how I could justify the introduction of Charlie Chaplin into the school and what relation his films had to the teaching of mathematics or the teaching of English. There was no direct relationship, of course, but my simple argument was that it was a visual aid and brought in children who otherwise would be outside the school. Charlie's influence drew them 899 into the school, where they remained and profited from the education which was available. That sort of thing has gone on growing until now it is a definite feature of educational work all over the country.
But because of these facts and because of this grip on the mind of the child there must be control and regulation so far as the cinema itself is concerned and so far as the films it shows are concerned. That brings me to a point which is creating a little difficulty for Scottish exhibitors and which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray). The Home Secretary said that Clause 5 would probably be a contentious one. Clause 3 may not be very contentious but, nevertheless in the mind of the Scottish exhibitor it raises the question, why disturb a system which is working well in Scotland because the system in England has not been working well?
It is true that the Wheare Committee have vigorously condemned what is happening in England today. It says that the fact that a child under 16 cannot get into the cinema results in the child hanging about the cinema looking for some adult who will be kind enough to take him in. When we realise the social implication of that the Home Secretary will appreciate that in view of some recent happenings in the City of Glasgow people's minds are seriously disturbed by the thought that their children might be forced into that position if the system which now exists in Scotland were disturbed in favour of the uniformity which the right hon. and learned Gentleman desires to see regarding the showing of certain films.
The Scottish system has worked successfully because the categories of films were widely publicised so that parents knew whether a film was a "U." an "A" and, in recent years, an "X" film. Consequently, I think the Home Secretary will agree, we want to interest the parents' minds in regard to the kind of film the child sees. Just as we have a parent-teacher association connected with the school, I should like to see—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not disagree—a parent-cinema association because of the tremendous grip the cinema has on the young mind.
900 Parents know the type of film which is coming often for quite a while ahead. Because of that they can say to the child, "Now you are not going to that film." I know that saying to a child, "You are not" to do a certain thing invites dangers, but there the wisdom of the parent is challenged and, in most cases, parents—if they are worthwhile—are able to triumph over these difficulties.
That is the position as it appears to those of us interested in the type of film shown in the commercial cinemas in Scotland. We have a system which is working well; in England there is a system which is not working well. I do not know whether my right hon. Friends are objecting to that or not, but my information is that the system in England is not working so well as it works in Scotland.
§ Mr. Rankin
We must agree to disagree on that point. I thought I had established the point in regard to a child of 16 and under that the Scottish system worked quite well. The method in England is not quite so successful, so the Government say, "We are going to abandon the Scottish system and, on the argument of uniformity, impose the English system in its stead." My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that he agreed with me in reverse. We have heard a great deal on other occasions about paramountcy, but in doing that we are applying the doctrine of paramountcy in reverse.
§ Mr. Rankin
We will still agree to disagree on that and I hope my right hon. Friend will go back to Scotland, and stay longer. Then he may change his attitude.
I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the midst of the shower of welcome which has been given the Bill—and deservedly—to ask his colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with the modest point I have put before the House when he replies to the debate.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
As one of the general "getters-up," so to speak, of the Wheare Committee I thought it would be desirable if I said a word or two from the Scottish point of view. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), Mr. George Tomlinson and myself asked this Committee to try to find out something which is almost impossible to arrive at with any certainty—what is the effect of the cinema on children and the best way of protecting them when they go to the cinema? We have heard all about "Buffalo Bill" books and novels of various kinds and there is no possibility of coming to any conclusion as to the exact nature of their effect. But everyone is agreed that every reasonable step must be taken to protect children as far as possible from pernicious influences.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) commented on the fact that there is a huge proportion of children who go to the cinema in Scotland as compared with the number in England. It is interesting to notice that the proportion decreases—it does not jump—as it comes below the Border. It is very high in Scotland, a little lower in the district of my right hon. Friend's constituency, lower in London, and in the South of England it is the lowest of all.
Clearly, it is not the system in Scotland that determines the number of children who go to the cinema. It is more likely to be the habits of the country, and the climate and conditions of life in that part of the country. The same point arises when one discusses the question of juvenile delinquency and a great many other aspects in the Report. It is true that they may be associated with the number who go to the cinema, but the same conclusion could be reached from overcrowded housing conditions in these parts of the country.
I would say from my own knowledge that the reason why so many children in Scotland go to the cinema, and go so often, is due almost entirely to the housing conditions in Scotland. Children are sent to the cinema sometimes to get them out of the house. The cinema is often used as a parking place for the children when their parents want to visit their friends.
902 A friend of mine inquired once the reason for all the row that was going on in a cinema one night. There was a babble going on all round him. The cinema manager explained that all the children who were present had seen the film on Monday, but were still sent, or came back, on Tuesday or Wednesday to get out of the rain, or were parked there while their parents were doing something else. The children were not paying attention to the picture, they were simply in the cinema to have their fun away from the streets.
The problem, therefore, is not only the kind of film from which we should protect children. There is also the difficulty, so long as the present housing conditions remain, that if we shut them out of the cinema we automatically put them on the streets. Whether the streets on a dark winter's night in Scotland, with the drizzle and the rain, are a more suitable place for children than having their larks in the cinema, I take leave to doubt, and on the whole I would prefer to risk the cinema.
We are proposing to try to deal to some extent with the type of film, which is, of course, a difficult matter. A good many of the American films are designed for a low mental age. In fact, I have heard some of our intellectuals condemn all American films as being designed for a low mental age. Certainly, a great number of them do no harm to children any more than did the "Buffalo Bill" or other type of gangster films, past or present. Americans invert their gangster films and make them prove that crime does not pay. Many of them teach good morals and while there may be something of an improper nature in them obviously the children do not necessarily understand it.
So far as Scotland is concerned, the type of film against which we desire to protect the child is not very often shown, because there is no market for it. The highly intellectual adult problem film is not liked in Scotland. These mass cinemas to which children go simply give it the "bird." I am told that in Inverness, whenever the characters in a film start kissing, the film is actually booed off the screen. Overdoing that sort of thing offends taste in Scotland if it is done in public.
903 It is true that that type of film is not so prevalent in Scotland. Some of the big cinema people say that they simply cannot book them. The word goes round like the bush telegraph, and whenever one of these films of the long-haired, intellectual type come to the cinema the cinema is empty for the rest of the week. That is why exhibitors protested against being forced to accept such films as part of the quota, because their cinemas were empty whenever they showed them.
As anyone knows, children are very often completely bored with such a film. They do not know what it is all about and it just sickens them. They say that the cinema show has been "rotten" that week. That may be their description. On the other hand, when they arrive home after seeing a thriller they are filled with joy and describe it as "super," or some such term.
We cannot get away from the risk to which the children are exposed. But there is a risk in everything. I saw a boy aged three who had been watching a gymnastic display by some contortionists on the television, and within five minutes he was doing what the gymnasts had done; standing on his head and trying to swing from the table and things of that kind. Children will inevitably imitate, and there will always be a percentage of children who will indulge in juvenile delinquency because they see something on the cinema screen.
When I was at the Scottish Office I looked at a film which was produced to counteract juvenile delinquency, and I was shocked to see, at the end of it, that one of the tricks the children were advised against was piling straw at the bottom of a telegraph pole and setting it alight. I said, "It is no use teaching them new tricks. We had better cut that out." and it was cut out. It is almost impossible to do anything without providing children with an example from which they can take a lesson, either right or wrong. We cannot insulate children from the sins of the world.
So far as the Scottish cinema people are concerned, their point of view, which has been the general point of view of those responsible for legislation in Scotland, is that it is a matter which should be left to the local authorities. The local authorities get the licence and 904 are quite able to judge the sort of conditions they should impose. The only complaint we have had about Clause 3 as it stands is that it makes it a duty on them to impose conditions. It says:It shall be the duty of the licensing authority, in granting a licence … as respect any premises … to impose conditions or restrictions prohibiting the admission of children to cinematograph exhibitions….I believe that that will be impracticable and will raise a lot of difficulties which are unjustified in view of what I have said.
I do not feel that the alternative of children being on the streets, and becoming ill from the damp and rain, is so attractive. Our problem is to find a place where they are out of danger, and if they are out of danger in the cinema parents can feel satisfied and know where they are for three hours, which is always something for parents in a Scottish town.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that he is opposed to subsection (1, a) of Clause 3? Is that what he is opposing?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am suggesting it should be made a little more flexible, or that the matter should be left to the good sense of the local authority.
In connection with methods of licensing in Scotland, for many years we have taken the view that we do not teach local authorities how to do their job. It is left to them and I would suggest that the Government should consider that there should not be an innovation by telling the licensing authority just exactly what kind of licence it should issue.
I believe that the guidance given by the Report and the general discussion here will be sufficient, but I suggest that there are slightly different attitudes in regard to the type of film used in Scotland. I would also beseech hon. Members not to conclude that all crime, all juvenile delinquency comes from the cinema.
My experience in Scotland is that cinema proprietors look after the children just as well as any adult who goes with them. In many small cinemas, the proprietors know the children. They are accustomed to seeing that the children behave themselves, and they look 905 after them both when they come in and go out. I think this is a much better thing than to have strangers solicited by the children to look after them at the cinema. They will get into less trouble sitting together in the cinema than they would if they solicit some strangers to take them in.
In support of my hon. Friend who raised the point about recent incidents, there is no doubt that there has been apprehension about the soliciting that takes place though it has not been practised in Scotland, and there would be apprehension if that were to develop, as is suggested in the Report. I hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will look at the matter and see whether the provisions of the Clause could be loosened a little.
The cinema is a great educational medium. We all hear complaints about its evils, but very few people realise the great good which it can do. The Ministry of Education and ourselves in Scotland should recognise that the people who write the "Deadwood Dick" stories and who produce thrilling films for the cinema have found a way of attracting the interest of the children, and that, instead of condemning it, we should use it and realise the importance of using to the full a medium that reaches right into the mind of the child. If the right things go into the mind of a child, then there may not be so much room left for the wrong things; and if we get children to take an interest in education through this medium we shall be making great progress.
The schools find great difficulty in teaching citizenship, and the lessons to be learned by means of films in the commercial cinema could do a great deal about this. I do not know who arranges it, but America seems to manage to get all sorts of education and propaganda about her police force and her Armed Forces, her medical institutions and other institutions, by means of her films, and we in this country actually pay for it.
While the Americans use films to teach their people the benefits of their institutions, we do not seem to realise that it is quite possible for us to do the same. I hope we shall make a start in this direction, because there are many examples of this being done in a highly 906 educative manner. It would be wise if the Minister of Education, our own Department in Scotland, and all those concerned with education, were to use the cinema for all that is good and desirable in the interests of the children.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
There is, no doubt, a great deal to be said for what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has been advocating in the concluding passages of his speech. But it also entails great dangers. We saw that kind of propaganda very seriously abused in Europe before the war.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that in the United States good and intelligent use is made of the idea, but I do not know whether the education authorities come into it in the United States. It may be simply a general development of their film structure which enables them to take this general line and point of view, and to encourage citizenship. I should like to think that the same was done in this country. I believe that something is done in this direction; in fact, I have been plainly told by one eminent cinema proprietor that it is very much in his mind.
I, too, should like to consider the Scottish point of view, which has been referred to by the last three speakers. It is true to say that a different system has grown up in Scotland, where the licensing authorities themselves have been very activated under the 1909 Act by considerations of safety, whereas in this country, with a disregard for the Preamble and the short title of the 1909 Act which I can only envy as an hon. Member of this House, licensing authorities were encouraged to take into account the content of the film.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The hon. Gentleman should know, and probably does know, that the Scottish exhibitors take into account the content of the film, but do it voluntarily.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am coming to that. I am dealing purely with the matter of the licensing authority and where we stand on this matter.
The position is that, broadly, we seem to have three alternatives open to us. 907 First, there is that of leaving the situation as it is, and that, as my hon. Friend has suggested, would involve the exclusion of Clause 3 (1, a) as far as Scotland is concerned. The second alternative is to apply the Clause to Scotland, as is proposed in the Bill. The third alternative, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, is that it should be modified in order to leave in the hands of the licensing authorities the decision whether or not to attach licensing conditions.
As the Bill stands they are obliged to attach licensing conditions, which are prescribed in Clause 2 by the Secretary of State. I understand that, under the 1909 Act and also under this Bill, the Secretary of State is the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The Secretary of State is multi-personal. I think that "Secretary of State" might mean many different persons.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman; I was not clear on that point. Very greatly as we respect my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and count him as one of us, we would very much prefer that the regulations should be made by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the question of parents' responsibilities, to which importance is attached in Scotland. Broadly speaking, the argument is advanced that, in Scotland, it is left to the parents to decide whether the child should or should not see an "A" film. The figures themselves—and I should like to ask my hon. Friend about this—do indicate that the parents may not always exercise that responsibility very closely.
I see from the Report that 56 per cent. of children between the ages of five and nine attended the cinema once a week, as against 36 per cent. in England. Looking further, we find that, over that same period, 75 per cent. of the programme contained at least one "A" film, so that one can deduce that a good many more children in Scotland saw "A" films than was the case in England.
It is a question how far we can leave to parents responsibilities which they themselves are not always prepared to exercise, and I think we should hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary 908 what evidence he has that this voluntary system has not been working as well in Scotland as it might, and what reason there is to change the system. Merely to bring a system that has become widely different in Scotland into line with a system operating in England is not, in itself, a good enough argument. I think we need more positive reasons to be given to us showing why the system should be changed before we can give our assent to its being changed.
I understand that there is a Consultative Council, and reference has been made to it. If the Secretary of State for Scotland is to make the regulations for Scotland surely he should have a Consultative Council to advise him on the kind of regulations he intends to make. Surely we are not going to be told that the regulations are necessarily to be the same for Scotland as for England. The different regulations could quite easily be made, and that, of course, would carry into effect what the right hon. Member for East Stirling has been suggesting. Will my hon. Friend deal with that point when he replies?
There is one other matter to which I want to refer, and that is the question of cinema clubs in Scotland. It is not very clear to me, from the Bill, how far the proposed legislation would alter the situation regarding cinema clubs, first, as to safety and, secondly, as to content of film and the attendance of children. I should be glad if my hon. Friend would deal with that point. Though I have ventured to raise these points, I should like to join with the rest of the House in giving a general welcome to the Bill.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of supporting this Bill in so far as it affects children because I believe it contains the basis of what might be a tremendous step forward in the nation's attitude towards the whole question of the cinema and children.
Clause 2 gives the Minister power to make regulations affecting the health and welfare of children at cinemas. I hope we are going to take those words "health and welfare" in their widest sense and that, in addition to taking precautions to protect our children against physical danger in crowded cinemas, we shall 909 concern ourselves about the spiritual, moral and intellectual health of our children at film shows, and will do that positively rather than negatively.
Clause 4 gives the licensing authorities power to impose special conditions regarding shows for children. In the same way, I hope the licensing authorities will use the powers which the Bill proposes to give them wisely and imaginatively, not as Mrs. Grundies, but rather as good parents to the nation's children.
Some months ago, hon. Members saw in the Library an exhibition of some infra-red photographs recording the behaviour of children during one of the Saturday morning entertainments provided by cinemas. Some of us, through the kindness of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), had also the privilege of seeing an infra-red film recording the behaviour of children in the privacy of the Saturday morning cinema entertainment.
We saw how children reacted at a kiddies' show which was designed, allegedly, to provide entertainment, a bit of excitement, a bit of relaxation, a bit of fun and a little happiness. It was at a show which one might hope would provide the children with a little more knowledge of the world of men and the world of things. But we saw in those photographs children in the dark, in the intimate secrecy and solitude of the film show registering terror, shrinking away, hiding their faces, sometimes peeping through their fingers to look at something they were really afraid to see, but were yet drawn to see.
I do not think that anyone who saw the photographs in a recent edition of "Picture Post" or who has seen the photographs in the pamphlet entitled "Children in the Cinema" written by the hon. Mrs. Bower, one of the members of the Wheare Committee, could fail to be troubled at the fact that here were children at an entertainment devised for their pleasure suffering intense misery and anxiety.
I think we are inclined—particularly we men—to think of a children's audience as consisting entirely of tough young boys of nine, 10, 11 or 12 and as if all boys, and even girls, of those ages were tough and revelled in their "Westerns" and adventure films as we when we were 910 children revelled in playing "Indians and Cowboys." But in the same Saturday film shows for children there are youngsters of five, six and seven who enjoy crime and violence in about just the same way as the terrified animal enjoys the approach of the boa-constrictor.
I would not wish to be thought to be attacking the commercial companies who put on these Saturday morning shows for children. I say most sincerely that I think they have been ahead of public enterprise in discovering a specific need and in seeking, according to their lights, the best way of meeting it. I cannot imagine that local cinema managers make very much money out of this Saturday morning entertainment. I know that some of them are deliberately and conscientiously groping forward in the desire to provide such entertainment as they think children will like, and that they are associating it with codes of honour and codes of conduct in the Saturday morning cinema shows which must be of great good to the children who attend them.
But they need help, and the nation should co-operate with them. The local licensing authorities should co-operate with them. We do not wish to abolish children's cinema shows, but rather to make them an instrument of healthy pleasure and healthy entertainment. We want to make the best possible use of this terrifically powerful instrument for the benefit of children which modern science has put into our hands.
I was glad that in introducing this Bill the Home Secretary paid tribute to the excellent work of the Wheare Committee which investigated this whole question. Possibly one of the most significant passages in its report is one in which it attempts to describe what it calls the "almost hypnotic force" of the cinema—for good or for evil on the tender minds of young children.
The Wheare Committee made a number of very useful suggestions. I wish to mention one or two of the most important ones because I think they should be embodied in the regulations which the Minister will later make under Clauses 2 and 4. They recommend, for example, that there should be a minimum age of seven for unaccompanied children to ordinary cinema shows, that there should be a minimum age of five for admittance to children's cinema shows and that no 911 unaccompanied child under the age of 12 should be allowed in a cinema after 8 o'clock at night.
The good parents of England do not need such regulations, but we have to help parents who need some assistance from the State in things like this. The Wheare Committee recommend that there should be special seats in cinemas for unaccompanied children which would avoid some of the dangers that have already been hinted at this afternoon and which are present in the minds of all of us.
The Committee make the more positive recommendation that adults who are interested in children's entertainment should be invited to these children's cinema shows and that there should be a certain portion of the cinema set aside for the accommodation of such people who take a real live interest in what is being done. They also make a serious practical suggestion that there should be adequate supervision of lavatories at such shows, which is something that will commend itself to anybody who has thought about the problem at all.
As I said at the beginning, I hope that we will make a positive approach to this question and that, as the Wheare Committee recommend, we are going to take this question of choosing films for children's entertainment very seriously indeed. I hope that we shall recruit into this great adventure teachers, youth workers, lovers of children and social workers of all kinds, not with a spoilsport motive but with a desire to lay before children all that this magnificent new instrument of entertainment can provide.
I do not see why children should not go to see, for example, the film which I saw recently advertised in London as "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe—from Mondays to Fridays only!" We must have no negative approach to this problem. I am among those who believe that there are more good films about than are available for children's entertainment. The classic films that appeared during the first 20 years of the history of films disappear from the commercial circuit for good and sufficient reasons to make room for the new films which come along. But in the film libraries of the world and in the store houses of the great film companies there are magnificent films like 912 "David Copperfield," "Monte Cristo," the magnificent "Henry V" and a hundred more which should go up to a national children's library and be available for circulation.
We must not underestimate the child. We do not want to assume that the child only wants crime, violence and guns and blood before it is entertained. On the other hand, we must not overestimate the mental, moral and emotional stamina of the five, six and seven year old child who goes to the cinema, once, twice or three times a week. These children want, to some extent, what we teach them to want.
In the infra-red film demonstration in the House of Commons to which I have referred we watched the reaction of a children's audience to what grown-ups would have found a quite unsatifying film, a film which merely depicted a few incidents in the life of some Danish schoolchildren. The film was produced by a Danish film unit which was interested in children's education. In that case, instead of seeing children crouching under the seats because they did not want to see the film, because they were afraid to look until the killing was over, we found the children happy, eager, moving in their seats with excitement and, with eyes open, enjoying themselves.
Children like films about children. Children like to identify themselves with the child heroes in films for children, such as "Emile the Detective," "Huckleberry Finn" and "Treasure Island." Indeed, I sometimes think that one of the reasons for the tremendous hold which "Treasure Island" has on children is that they identify themselves with the young boy hero. And do not let us forget that hundreds of thousands of these cinema audiences consist of tiny infant children, and for them the type of film that is needed is quite simple and would be quite easy to provide in fair quantity.
The Wheare Committee made a recommendation to which I had hoped reference would have been made in this Bill. They suggested that the mere division of films into "U" and "A"—"A" films being films that were unsuitable for children and "U" films being films that one could not particularly object to children seeing—was a very negative approach to the question. Indeed, technically I have been mystified sometimes when taking my own child on the strength 913 of a recommendation of the British Board of Film Censors as to what that Board regarded as unfit for children to see and labelled "A" and what it considered suitable for young children to see and labelled "U."
We want a positive selection of films and, as the Committee suggest, the labelling of films as being eminently suitable for children—films bearing the label C. We should classify films, not censor them, and we should collect out of the great masses that there are those that we want the nation's children to see. At the same time we must deliberately and consciously create a great new kind of children's film drawn from the whole repertory of children's classic stories, legends and romances, nursery and fairy stories as yet untapped except by Walt Disney. He is a great genius of children's entertainment and has produced incredibly wonderful work despite the fact that he labours under the commercial handicap of having also to make his films profitable and entertaining to adults at the same time.
I remember seeing a great Russian fairy story film, exquisitely beautiful, called "The Stone Flower" and the Russian "Gulliver's Travels," a brilliant technical achievement of film entertainment, though marred by Soviet propaganda which perhaps did not matter as the dialogue was in Russian and the children would not understand it. We want the whole repertory of children's stories brought into the range of the children's cinema show.
I understand that some work has already been done by the Children's Film Foundation. We give it a very meagre annual allowance which I think we might very well increase. I would call the attention of the House to the very noble aim this foundation sets itself—the aim of making Great Britain the leader of the world in the provision of children's film entertainment.
There is one other point which I might mention in passing. In this connection I would say to hon. Members opposite that some excellent work has been done, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) has referred, by school teachers with film work in schools. I refer not only to educational and instructional film work but to the work that is going on in schools through film societies in creating a taste among youngsters 914 for films among those classified as entertainment. I would say to hon. Members opposite that it would be wrong to regard that part of education and the expenditure on it as one of the trimmings which we can throw away very easily if we wish to make an economy.
I hope that the Minister, when he gets down to carrying out this Measure, will implement some of the practical suggestions made by the Wheare Committee to which I have referred. I hope that this Bill will be a first step forward in a real advance towards the production of children's entertainment at children's shows to which no English children need be afraid of going.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Those of us who have heard all the speeches made this afternoon on the Second Reading of this Bill will agree—and I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will inform his colleague the Home Secretary—that we have been imbued by two motives in participating in this debate. One of them is the common motive to assist in every way that we can the health and the moral welfare of children.
The other is that we are equally determined, while helping the child, that when the child is grown up we shall protect it against any undue interference once it is an adult, either from the local authority, or the State so far as censorship is concerned, with the freedom to do that which it is legally permissible to do. Those are the two features that have already appeared clearly and were made manifest by the speeches we have had from both sides of the House. Indeed, it is rare that we have a debate with so much unanimity. I am not referring to the little differences of opinion whether Scotland manages her affairs better than England, for I should not dare to interfere in such a subject.
§ Dr. Stross
I am told there is no difference. The Home Secretary made a speech in which he allayed our fears about certain parts of this Bill; but he did not allay all our fears. Early on in his speech he told us what we entirely agree with, namely, that no one who has looked at this subject carefully blames the cinema industry, or films seen by children, for 915 the apparent rise in juvenile delinquency in recent years. We know that we have to look deeper to find the real root of the problem. Whatever it be, it is probably a complicated and not a simple matter.
There is one other thing with which we would probably agree—I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary would agree—and that is that the Chinese were right when they said in the olden days:When the pupil commits murder you should hang the schoolmaster.That means that adult society collectively accepts for itself the onus and the burden of changes in the behaviour of its children. If those changes are for the worst, we should look upon adult society as a whole as being responsible.
§ Dr. Stross
No. It would be out of order to do so on a Cinematograph Bill. We will reserve that subject for another occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Test (Dr. King) spoke, in passing, about the positive aspect of this Bill. He wanted us not to lose sight of the fact that children really get excited by good films which are specifically made for them, as children—and earlier speakers on both sides of the House have said that in their view children are bored by the sort of thing that excites adolescents—and there are adolescents of all age groups. Children are immune from the things which excite their elders, and it is a waste of time offering those things to them. If they are imitative—and they are the most imitative animals I know—they should not be shown adults behaving in a way which they think is silly, because that is very bad for them.
The Children's Film Foundation have produced a number of films for us, but not enough to satisfy the children so far as quantity is concerned. We certainly have ample evidence that children are content with their quality and that they would far rather see that type of film than any other. Only two countries specialise in making films for children. My hon. Friend the Member for Test mentioned 916 them—the Soviet Union and ourselves—and there is a good deal of argument in intellectual film circles and among those who are interested, whether ours are better than those of the Soviet Union or vice versa. The fact is that ours, if not the best in the world, are the second best, because no other country has had the sense to realise that children should be catered for in this way.
Censorship has been mentioned again and again in this debate, as it was bound to be. Most of us take the view that the censorship of films—which came into existence, as it were sub rosa, so far as local authority powers are concerned in England and Wales—cannot be helped. It has existed for many years, mainly because it is not a central censorship, and we do not mind it so much. That is an important principle to bear in mind.
If we are to have censorship, for heaven's sake never let it be a Government or a central one. The advantage of local authority censorship is that those who censor are very close to the people to whom they say, "You shall not see this film or show." If the people who elect them on to the watch committee or local authority, as councillors or aldermen, take umbrage and feel that they are badly treated, they will know how to deal with them. Therefore the link is there. It is intimate.
In my own town of Stoke-on-Trent, the watch committee recently chose to ban a film called "La Ronde" and there was so much outcry in the Press and such a spirited attack upon the watch committee that the public received more edification, instruction and education than if they had all gone to see the film itself. I think that that is a good thing.
Having seen the film myself in London, I wondered whether we should not consider another type of censorship for those of us who are more mature than the younger people. I think it was Aristotle who would not discuss sex philosophy with men under 45 years of age. He was a wise person. I wonder whether we should not have a film censorship for those who are of mature years, forbidding us going to films which are—quoting the words of a 16th century quatrain—"The expense of spirit and a waste of shame." For people who are of mature age, we could say, "The expense of money and a waste of time." Perhaps we should 917 have that sort of censorship when we reach the age when we do not respond to such stimulation as that which seems to attract younger people.
Had this Bill been framed only to protect children from undesirable influences there could not have been very much discussion about it. Many speakers have told the Home Secretary how much we welcome those parts of the Bill. In that respect, apart from one or two Scottish Members, he has had no criticism, and even their criticism has been made in a specialised way. He has had criticism on two other grounds. One was on the question of safety measures by organisations which normally use sub-standard films—churches, co-operative societies, trade union lodges and, of course, political parties—and he has given us what he thought was complete satisfaction. But I asked him a question, and I should like to put it to him again so that we can get an answer tonight. Are we to understand from what he said that all the non-commercial organisations are to be exempt from safety measures?
The Home Secretary did say that, but did he qualify it later by saying that if they hire a commercial cinema to show any film there must be safety measures? I should not complain about that if we could also have the assurance that Clause 5 (3) will hold for the exempted organisations and that there will only be the safety measure and not the licensing obligation or qualification, and therefore no censorship. It is obvious that that must be the case. I am sure that the Home Secretary agrees, because what he said is qualified by Clause 5 (3).
It seems to me—although we should see it more clearly when we put down our Amendments and we see his—that we should be able to agree about this quite easily on Friday and that there will be no further difficulty. But, although that difficulty has been removed, it shows how careful one must be, because the Home Secretary has had to come to us with a Bill which came from another place, in which these points were not noted, and had we not had this offer from the Home Secretary tonight it would have meant that a publican who put a television set in his bar to amuse his customers would have had to obey all the Regulations which the Home Secretary might in future impose. A man could not sell a television set by giving a demonstration in 918 his shop without also being subject to this provision.
All that has been changed, with the result that the 10,000 projectors in use in this country—4,000 educational, 4,000 attached to industry and 2,000 with all the other organisations such as the churches, the trade union movement, public relations, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force—are freed from something which would have been burdensome and quite unnecesasry.
If we can have an agreement on that point, I can turn to the second question about which we are not happy and on which we hope the Home Secretary will accept our views as being reasonable. It has been put to him several times. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), made the point very clear towards the end of his speech. He pointed out the effect of Clause 5, in which the exemptions are mentioned, and said if the Bill were passed in its present form, then it would be bound up with fiscal policy in connection with the power of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to grant a certificate that the performance is free from Entertainments Duty.
This is an interesting point, and organisations interested in civil liberties have been looking at it, including the National Council for Civil Liberties; and I must confess that it was they who first brought it to my notice. Later, the T.U.C. noted it. We are very disturbed about it, and we put the matter very strongly because we do not see any difficulty to prevent the Home Secretary from agreeing with us that an Amendment on the point is required. If that is conceded, then by and large all is well and we can give wholehearted support to the Bill.
At present the Bill says that non-profit making organisations are not necessarily exempted from the need to obtain a licence; only those qualified for exemption from Entertainments Duty are given this second exemption. We should like to see it apply to all the really non-profit making organisations—except the specific type mentioned during the debate. I have never come across such an organisation as that, which is really a commercial organisation running shows on six days a week and in a commercial cinema. Even if it is theoretically non-profit making, if the Home Secretary thinks it should be 919 brought within the ambit of the Bill, I should not complain.
But, as the Home Secretary knows, we have in mind organisations like the Film Societies and other non-profit making bodies which are not commercial in any sense of the term. We want them all freed from the possibility of being brought into the net as a result of any change in a future Budget. For example, any Amendment to the Finance Act—and we should bear in mind that we have had this taxation privilege only since 1946—might bring all these organisations into the net; and they are organisations which the Home Secretary wishes to free and which we all agree must be freed. If they were brought into the net, they would be subject not only to Entertainments Duty but also to the need to obtain a licence from the local authority. They would be subject, in addition, to censorship and to all the safety measures. That could be the effect of a fiscal change in the future.
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh) put the point early in the debate, and I am merely adding my words to his, because we think the point is really important. We do not think it will cost anybody anything. We are agreed that the certificate of exemption should continue to be given by the Commissioners. They have quite liberally interpreted the words used—namely, that the organisation must be non-profit making, it must be charitable or having charitable or philanthropic purposes and it must be partly educational. It is true that they say that organisations putting on a farce or a musical comedy would not qualify, but they then temper the wind to the shorn lamb by adding that an occasional farce and an occasional musical comedy by an organisation which is frequently putting on educational shows would be passed. We have therefore no complaint to make.
But does the Home Secretary appreciate what the difficulties would be in future? How could we campaign against some change in fiscal policy in the Finance Act, as we have been able to campaign in the past in the House? In this Bill we have had time to think about it, but a future change in the Finance Act could be slipped through so that we 920 hardly noticed it. That is why I am spending so much time on this point.
I should like the Home Secretary to look at another matter. It concerns the position in villages where films are shown in the local institutes—commercial films. The right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to bring those films within the scope of the safety regulations. That is all right. I only ask him that he should not make those regulations burdensome or onerous, for there will not be very much danger; and I see from the nod of his head that he will bear the point in mind.
There were two points in particular which caused us anxiety. On one of them, the Home Secretary himself has handsomely come to the House and put the matter right. The other point concerns the future of the very organisations in which we are interested, and which we want to see freed. If we can come to terms on that small point, I am quite sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will do everything they can for the children whom this Bill was intended to benefit.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I want to speak for only a few minutes, and in the first place I want to re-echo what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the great services rendered to the State by the Committee presided over by Professor Wheare. When I was Home Secretary, and in consultation with the then Minister of Education and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), who was then Secretary of State for Scotland, I considered this matter, we had very grave doubts whether any Committee investigating this problem would be able to reach such a measure of agreement as to make legislation possible.
I think no small part of the achievement of this Committee was that, drawn as they were from the very widest range of interests, they were able to give the Government of the day and this House their wise and clear guidance on the issues which were raised by the influence of the cinema over children. I should indeed be lacking in ordinary courtesy to these people if I did not publicly acknowledge how very great their service has been.
921 I will not be drawn into the controversy about whether the English or the Scottish administration is the better. My own view is that English administration is very good for Englishmen; and if Scotsmen like Scottish administration, well, good luck to them. But I am quite certain that the House of Commons who passed the Cinematograph Act of 1909 would have been very surprised if they could have foreseen what the local authorities in England and Wales were going to do with it, because I am certain that at that time the House were concerned with preserving people from fires in this world, whereas the English local authorities have had their concern also about fire in the next world.
On the whole, I think, these powers which the English local authorities have managed to get from the judges, rather than from this House, have been wisely and discreetly used and have probably given English people a greater confidence in the cinema entertainment than they would have had if these powers had not been snatched by the local authorities.
This is very much a matter of education, especially those aspects of which we have been hearing tonight, and I very much regret that the English Ministry of Education, which was associated with the appointment of this Committee, has had no representative present during our debate tonight; because I should not like it to be thought that when the Bill becomes an Act all the responsibility will rest with the Home Secretary and that the Minister of Education can divorce herself from any other care with regard to this matter.
I share the views that have been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling and others that a great deal of nonsense is talked about the influence of the cinema over children. All my life, whatever a boy has wanted to do has been the cause of juvenile delinquency. In my youth it was what was called the "penny blood"—which always cost 2d. for a start. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Test (Dr. King) eulogise "Treasure Island." The worst hiding I had in my life was given me by a schoolmaster for reading "Treasure Island," on the ground that it was a "blood"—and if there is a "bloodier blood" I should like to read it. Today, because a boy likes to read, say, all those 922 comics that are now the subject of considerable attack, I do not think we need feel that he is likely to go very far wrong as the result.
I think also it is a good thing that we have imposed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has said, no national censorship; but we have managed to get that entirely illogical but quite useful body, the British Board of Film Censors to adopt standards that have come to be generally recognised. It is no part of the duty of the State—and I would say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Test—to try to invent new categories. That is a matter for the British Board of Film Censors and the various interests whom they consult, and of which, to a very large degree, they consist.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central in asking the right hon. and learned Gentleman to see if he cannot devise some formula with regard to this exemption that will not be tied up with the tax law of the country, because I am not quite sure what would happen if the Government of the day repealed all the Entertainments Duty. After all, either everybody would be exempt or nobody would be exempt because there would be no tax from which he could be exempted.
I have no doubt they would solve that question all right in Southern Ireland, but I cannot think it would do other than present the very greatest difficulties for us. I should think it would be possible to find some definition of these societies and other bodies which would be tied up with their functions and purposes without reference to the tax law, although I admit that, at the moment, it is a very convenient form of legislation by reference.
This is all I am going to say about Scotland. I do not take the view that Clause 3 (1, a) imposes on the local authorities the duty to draw up any form of regulation or condition that need of necessity be the same in the area of every local authority. Some local authorities will draw up conditions that will be vague and light. Others, of possibly more experience, possibly of stricter outlook, will draw up conditions that they regard as being suitable to their areas.
After all, at the moment the most amazing things happen even in this 923 country. There is—or, at any rate, there used to be at the time when I was actively associated with it—a joint committee that used to meet to consider the licensing of certain films that were regarded as being of doubtful moral character. There was the celebrated film, "No Orchids for Miss Blandish." That was considered by the Joint Committee for London, Middlesex and Surrey.
Certain members of the three Councils used to see these films in private and then decide whether it was wise that the general public should have an opportunity of sharing their entertainment. On that particular occasion Surrey decided it should not be shown at all in its area. London decided it could be shown provided certain additional cuts beyond those insisted on by the British Board of Film Censors were made. Middlesex decided that, as far as Middlesex was concerned, no harm would be done by its being shown. The consequence was that people living in Richmond had only to walk across the bridge to Twickenham to see it. That is an example of the way in which this system has worked in this country, and I would hope that on some occasions there could be some rather better co-ordination than that particular instance showed.
This is a Bill which is rendered necessary by the introduction of the non-flam film in large quantities, and also by the need for doing something to assist those who wish to do well by their children, to be assured that if their children go to the cinema under the conditions laid down they can have reasonable grounds for believing that no great harm will happen.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to meet the two or three points that have been made from this side of the House. They do not strike at the principle of the Measure. Indeed, I think he will probably agree that both he and my hon. Friends are trying to reach the same end; but, as not infrequently happens, there is some difficulty in finding the exact form of words that will give sufficient control and reasonable liberty at the same time. I am sure that if he meets them in the spirit which he has shown today we should be able to get this Measure on the Statute Book during the current Session.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)
It is a pleasure to conclude a debate of this kind when Members in all parts of the House are agreed both as to the objects of the Bill and, by and large, as to the methods proposed. I was very glad that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was able to wind up for his side, because, of course, he speaks with almost unexampled authority and experience on this matter, and he has succeeded, as he usually does, in introducing a light but balancing note which has brought the whole debate to a very good end.
The right hon. Gentleman raised one or two points, and, if he will allow me I should like to take up most of them as I deal with the various speeches which have been made, but I would at once say, with him, how much we all congratulate the Wheare Committee upon its work. I would also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, because he had a good deal to do with the appointment of the Committee. In this Bill, we attempt, as far as we can, to carry out the recommendations of that Committee. Where it has fallen short we shall, of course, be most ready to look at any Amendments which hon. Members may care to put before us.
The right hon. Gentleman was right in saying that it is not much good arguing whether the English system is any better than the Scottish system. It is a very good thing to say that the English system is best for Englishmen and the Scottish system best for Scotsmen. As long as the right hon. Gentleman will allow Scotsmen to come periodically to England to see that the English law is properly administered, nobody on this side will raise any objection. He was absolutely right in insisting that there should and must never be any national censorship, for that would be a calamity. We are entirely in agreement with him there.
The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) raised three points which I can deal with quite shortly. First of all he asked why we should insist that a non-commercial film performance in a commercial cinema must receive a licence for safety, since the cinema in which the performance takes place would in any case have the usual safety precautions. That is a proper question to ask, but I think the right hon. 925 Gentleman might be under a misapprehension. Our view is that if that film performance takes place in a commercial theatre for which safety regulations have already been laid down, that is all the licence that particular film requires. If the right hon. Gentleman is in any doubt about that and wishes to put down an Amendment, we will look into it, but that is my understanding of the position.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Do I understand from what the hon. Gentleman now says that, in spite of what will be in the Bill as a result of the Amendments promised by his right hon. and learned Friend, an ordinary non-profit making film shown in a cinema which has a licence will need no licence? Can it be shown without? Is that what I understand the hon. Gentleman to say?
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that is what it amounts to, but it is a little technical, and if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will try to get the right form of words. I think we are agreed about it, but I should not like to use words here which were not strictly and technically accurate.
The right hon. Gentleman, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh), the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), raised the vexed question of the Entertainments Duty criterion. There is a pretty simple answer to that. The bodies of which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen were speaking—and I have belonged to such bodies myself, film clubs, and so on—have various regulations about entrance. Some of the performances are open only to their members, others are open to anybody without paying anything, but sometimes people have to pay.
It is only with the third class that we are here concerned, and it seemed to us that up till now there was no way of testing whether that third class came under a category which should be exempted except the test of the Finance Act 1946. I still think that is a very good test, and I cannot think of a better one. But again, if hon. Members can think of a better test I invite them to let us have it, because we are all agreed on what we are trying to do. We want to exempt that kind of educational, cultural, society from unnecessary impositions, but we must be careful that we do not open the door to other things.
§ Dr. Stross
It appears that we are agreed, and I think our fears can be met by an alteration in wording. We hope to have advice about it before we discuss the Bill again. The present system of giving exemption through the certificate is all right, but we do not want it linked to the fact of its being a budgetary matter, because that may change overnight, as it were, in any particular year, when we shall be landed high and dry, may be in 10 years' time when we have forgotten this debate. We merely want to safeguard against that in the future.
§ Mr. Stewart
I quite understand. Let us try to get together to see if we can produce the right answer.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether the regulations would, before being drafted, be brought before all the various interested bodies for consultation. The answer is, certainly, yes. I have already, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, given that assurance to the bodies concerned in Scotland, and I am very glad to be able to repeat it now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield was concerned about the showing of commercial films in village halls. I think he was worried principally about the safety precautions required. I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that we must impose safety precautions in the showing of films, or any kind of performance, in village halls, even if they are non-commercial films.
§ Mr. Stewart
Even non-flams, because I am sure the hon. Gentleman, who knows a great deal about this, would agree that the sort of precautions both we and he would want, even when noninflammable films were used, would be precautions about, for example, emergency lighting, proper marking and supervision of exits, and arrangements to prevent the obstruction of gangways, exits and so on. That is what we mean by these safety precautions in village halls, and they must be insisted upon. It would never do if we relaxed in that respect, and I think that on reflection my hon. Friend would consider that wise.
§ Mr. Legh
I understood the Home Secretary to say that he was proposing to put down an Amendment which would 927 free from any safety precautions he might make as a result of this Bill performances when exempted exhibitions took place with non-inflammable film in halls which were not licensed as cinemas. I therefore asked: If that is so, why should the fact that non-inflammable film is used for a commercial performance make any difference from the safety point of view? I asked him to explain the concession he was going to make in the showing of noninflammable film in village halls.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is a perfectly good point to make, but I still think that however we may draw up regulations, it would be most improper to allow performances of this kind to take place in the normal village hall without seeing that the elementary precautions for safety were provided.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I apologise for interrupting again, but that is not the fear of hon. Members on this side. We know that under the 1909 Act the fact that a licence had to be obtained on safety grounds meant that all sorts of other conditions were attached and a censorship could have been imposed, classifications also promulgated and so on. We are afraid that the village halls in which these performances or exhibitions will take place may have to comply with all sorts of other conditions, apart altogether from and in addition to safety regulations which all of us want to see imposed.
§ Mr. Stewart
I dot not think there is any fear of that. There will be no evidence of that unless the regulations are so framed, and I can only ask the right hon. Gentleman to believe that we have no intention of framing regulations which will have that effect. Here again we want the co-operation of the whole House on this matter, and if my hon. Friend has any doubts I invite him to put down an Amendment and let us see what it looks like. I think I have made our position fairly clear.
The hon. Member for Greenwich and the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) referred to the possibility of fire in places like church halls where cinematograph performances take place. As my right hon. and learned Friend has shown, his intentions in this matter are clear. He proposes to introduce an Amendment. I think that in this case, 928 as in the case of village halls, we must leave the local authority, whoever it may be, to ensure that some elementary precautions are taken against fire.
§ Mr. Reeves
The whole point is that there is a fundamental difference between the celluloid film and the non-inflammable film, and the danger inherent in the non-inflammable film is infinitestimal. The question of safety in terms of the celluloid film is out of all proportion, and it is this vital distinction which we want to impress upon the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think that the point puzzling everyone is this: The celluloid film universally requires a concrete or steel box in which it must be used. Precautions against that kind of danger are not necessary in a hall where non-inflammable film is used. In the setting up of a cinema—I have had experience of this—there is always the danger of bad and loose wires lying about the floor with inflammable material, which does constitute a great danger. I think that no one is against—and I hope no one will be against—taking precautions to meet this kind of danger, but I think that what everyone wants to know is whether these licences would be prevented if there is not the existence of a steel box or some elaborate precaution suitable to the cinema.
§ Mr. Stewart
I thought that I had brought out clearly that that is the proposal which my right hon. and learned Friend said he would put in the form of an Amendment. Let us see the Amendment put down, and then, I think, hon. Members will find it perfectly satisfactory.
I want to turn to Scottish matters raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray), by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) and by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tradeston, among others. I hope that we shall not get confused about this matter. It is quite true that the cinema industry in Scotland has worked exceedingly well. It has been very public-spirited and adopted voluntarily a system which was, shall we say, compulsorily applied to England. All that is perfectly true.
929 My hon. Friends then say, "Why are you altering things and bringing in Clause 3 to apply to Scotland, if things have gone on so well without it?" I must appeal to the sense of logic of my various hon. Friends. First, is it not a fact that the film companies in Scotland which run many of the Scottish cinemas are the same companies which run the cinemas in England? It is, therefore, very difficult to justify one set of rules for some of the cinemas and another set of rules for others.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray
As this works very well, surely the burden is upon my hon. Friend to show good cause why this satisfactory state of affairs should be deliberately interfered with.
§ Mr. Stewart
What I was saying was a preliminary to what I was about to say. I say, with respect, that Scottish and English children do not react so differently to films as all that. I have seen this myself. I have examined this problem with great care, both as a parent and, shall I say, as a temporary Minister, and I have not seen a distinction. I have also seen some of the pictures to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central refers. I think that they were seen by Scottish children as well as by English children. In many cases the same films are shown in Scotland as in England.
I do not think that it can be reasonably argued, except in the extreme case of Glasgow, that social conditions are so completely different that we must have different laws. I am speaking with very strong, an almost Scottish-Nationalist, enthusiasm. I am trying to state the facts as I understand them. It is true that some Scottish local authorities—and I do not think that all my hon. Friends are aware of this—have already attached conditions other than safety conditions to the licences which they now grant. I have a list of the local authorities in Scotland who do so to prove this. For example, the County of Fife lays down:That no film, other than photographs of current events—which has not been passed for universal exhibition by the British Board of Film Censors shall be exhibited in the premises during the time that any child under or appearing to be under the age of 16 is therein.That is the law also in Huntly and Lockerbie.
The same kind of rules are to be found in Selkirk, West Lothian, Edinburgh, 930 Dumfries, Helensburgh and Dunbarton. There are seven counties and nine burghs in Scotland where non-safety conditions relating to the attendance of children are normally attached to the licences, which is some proof of the need to vest Scottish licensing authorities clearly with the power to attach such conditions. When we ask in the Bill that local authorities should be given these powers, we are only asking for something which is established, if not universal, in many parts of Scotland.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
The hon. Gentleman says that it has been established. Has that ever been challenged in the courts of law in Scotland? Has there been a prosecution about this?
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member has touched the heart of the matter. There has been no challenge. The matter has not gone to any court. All that has happened is that one Lord Advocate after another has advised the Secretary of State, throughout the years, that the courts would take a rather stiff and narrow view and those local authorities, if challenged in the courts, might be proved to be right or wrong. All I say is that they are doing that now, even though the doubt exists.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Even though there is no definite law, the authority has the right to withhold licences. Even without putting it on paper, it can let the cinema proprietors know pretty well that there will be no licences unless they carry out reasonable precautions in their cinemas.
§ Mr. Stewart
I want to convince my hon. Friends upon this point. They will observe that the Bill does not require local authorities to do any more than just to consider these matters and to consider what, if any, conditions should be attached to licences as to the admission of children. What we are thinking of here is the admission of children to what are generally known as "A" films.
I have met the various film exhibitors' authorities in Scotland. We have had all this thoroughly examined. We have had three deputations from them, the last of which I met myself. The real trouble for the Scottish cinema proprietors and others is the "A" film They are not really much worried about anything else.
931 What is the trouble about the "A" film? It is true that the Wheare Committee criticised the "A" film rule in England and said that it is unworkable. It is true, as hon. Members have said, that it leads to solicitation and all those other evil things. On the other hand, what are we to do? The "A" film is labelled as being not very suitable for children. Are we to open every cinema door to let all the children run in to see all the "A" films, or are we to take some kind of reasonable precautions?
I do not think that it is for the State to lay down the rules and the regulations and restrictions, but it is, surely, right to give to Glasgow Corporation or Dumfries Town Council, or any other authority, the right to say, "Let us look at this and see what is the right thing to do." That is all that we ask in the Bill: that the authorities should consider whether certain steps should be taken.
The right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said that he did not like Clause 3 (1, a). That subsection the House will notice, lays down thatIt shall be the duty of the licensing authority in granting a licence … to impose conditions or restrictions …and so on. What this subsection is meant to do is to cope with the "X" film. The "X" film is the film that is declared by the Board of Censors as entirely unsuitable for children to see. I am sure that no parent in the House wants us to slacken off our regulations and allow children to see that kind of film. It is true that ultimately it always should be for the parents to decide—the responsibility should rest upon the parents; but in overcrowded places like Glasgow and, no doubt, other similar cities in England, it is a tremendous burden that the mother of a large young family has to bear, and the temptation to let these children go out to the cinema in order, as one hon. Member said, to get them off the street, is very great. Therefore, the cinemas also should have a responsibility in this matter, and what we are seeking here is to place upon the cinemas a reasonable measure of responsibility in the exercise of their powers.
I agree with hon. Members in all parts of the House that the influence of the 932 cinema upon children is tremendous. It might be for good, it might be for bad. I do not take the defeatist view that it is all for bad. I do not believe that delinquency arises mainly from the films, although, no doubt, films are a contributory factor. I know as a parent that the films offer to children enormous joy and, perhaps, inspiration—if they are the right films.
Let us, therefore, aim not so much at restriction as at the positive side, and let us see whether by one means or another we cannot greatly increase the number of what we would like to call "C" films, films directly and specially for children. Are there not, by this and other means, ways in which we can extend that list of films? The source of children's stories is endless; we have in the world a perfect treasure house of magnificent plots for children's films. The Board of Censors cannot lay down a "C" film standard because there are not yet enough "C" films available, but as soon as there are, I am sure that it will be the desire of my right hon. and learned Friend to do what he can to ensure that these "C" films, specially suited for children, are made available in these children's places.
I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends will not press their differences, especially when I tell them that, having seen the exhibitors and recognising their case, I have written, with the authority of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, offering them a very substantial concession. It is conveyed in a letter which I have sent them and which says that if the Bill becomes law, it is our intention—at the moment I am speaking only for Scotland—to issue a circular to Scottish licensing authorities, first of all enclosing model licensing conditions, but suggesting that it would be desirable not to enforce the "A" film rule until the Consultative Committee has made its recommendations.
We have set up this Consultative Committee. Let us give it a chance to offer its views. Why be rigid in anything that we do, either for or against, until this specialist committee has reported? I have met the children's sub-committee of that Consultative Committee and I was very much impressed with its members. They understand the problem of children. They are taking evidence in Scotland—in Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example— 933 and in England, and I most earnestly ask the House not to come to conclusions, or to ask the authorities to come to conclusions, until that expert committee has made its recommendations.
The circular would also suggest that where licensing authorities intend to impose non-safety conditions, they should discuss the arrangements for enforcing them with representatives of the cinemas in their areas. They told me that that was not being done. I asked that it should be done. Moreover, the exhibitors have been told that we are prepared to include in the regulations under the Bill, about which they would be consulted, a provision making it a competent defence against a charge of breaking the "A" film rule that the child in question appeared to be over 16 or that he appeared to be accompanied by a bona fide parent or guardian. One of the arguments of the trade was that they could not tell whether a girl was 16, or more, or less. I should not know how to tell either. It is a fair defence to have thought that the boy or girl was over 16. To be wrong is just a pity, but one cannot be proceeded against for that.
These seem to me to be substantial safeguards for the cinema trade in Scotland. In addition, as the House knows, the Bill provides for the first time a right of appeal for a cinema exhibitor to the sheriff against any licensing condition, a procedure which will enable unreasonable conditions to be challenged. In all these circumstances, I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will not feel that Scotland has been let down. I must tell my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, however, that if he puts down an Amendment as we think he intends to do, we shall not, unfortunately, be able to support it. That covers the Scottish case.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not think there is any need to put on the Whips, because I hope to convince all my colleagues Conservative, Labour, Liberal, National Liberal and the rest—on all these matters.
The hon. Member for Test hoped that the regulations to be made by my right hon. and learned Friend and by the Secretary of State for Scotland would take account of the Wheare Committee's recommendations about ages and so on. 934 The answer is that that is precisely our intention. I think I have covered the points which hon. Members have raised.
It is my pleasure to be able to conclude the debate for the Second Reading of the Bill. I do so with a great deal of happiness, because I think that we have together—all parties of the House, down through the years—produced a series of proposals which, if they are carried out with reason and sense and with a liberal outlook on the part of the trade and local authorities, should do a great deal for our great and growing cinema industry, and still more for the precious children of our age.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I am afraid that I must throw a small dash of cold water on to the generous enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary. I do not think he met the point which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) for after all what was he offering? He said, "Let us pass the Bill and then I shall send a circular round saying that it is not to operate." That is surely an anomalous way of going about it——
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I said that I would send a circular advising authorities to wait for the recommendations of the committee on the "A" film. That is the essence of the offer.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But would it not be better to say, "Let us wait until the committee reports and then, if necessary, we can pass the legislation." I will make an offer now on behalf of my hon. Friends, and I am sure on behalf of all Scottish Members, that if necessary there will be no difficulty whatever in getting a Bill passed on the nod after Ten o'clock, considered in Scottish Grand Committee, where we have no great congestion of business at present, and then we can get it passed here without taking up any time at all.
§ Mr. Rankin
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has brought in Members on this side of the House, may I say that I should like to add a proviso to his offer, that if the Under-Secretary is not going to accept it we will divide the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That may well be, but I trust that will not be necessary. We are hoping to bring my hon. Friend to a state of sweet reasonableness, for the difficulty is that time is short. This legislation has come down from the Lords and it has moved rapidly. I do not think that any disadvantage would arise if we afforded time for further consideration as far as Scotland is concerned. After all, the Under-Secretary has stated that local authorities, who wish to attach conditions of this kind, have done so, and nobody has challenged them. He has paid tribute to the public spirit of the cinema trade in Scotland in working a voluntary agreement over 18 years.
If I may say so, I did not find myself impressed very much by either of his general points. The first was that it was a little awkward for a company operating in both kingdoms to find itself operating under slightly different conditions north of the Tweed to those prevailing south of the Tweed. I would remind my hon. Friend that even the law operates under different conditions north and south of the Tweed. If a person hurls himself into the Tweed and is taken out on the Scottish side he is dried, and sent home, but if he is taken out on the English side he is charged with attempted suicide. There are other differences north and south of the Tweed.
Then my hon. Friend referred to the fact that children would react to the cinema very much the same throughout the whole country. That is very true, but so do children all over the world and, in many cases, so do adults. Yet for all that there are differences in the way in which we approach events in Scotland, and we see no particular reason why these differences should be overlooked on this occasion. I think we should give my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a further opportunity of considering the matter, and he might easily find on the Order Paper an Amendment in the terms of the speeches of my hon. Friend's. I hope he will not close his mind on the subject, because it would not be difficult at all on a matter of this kind, which does not raise any great party point, to secure further legislation that would apply only to Scotland.
We hope that my hon. Friend will see the wisdom of this matter and let the issue be considered by Scottish Members. It is true that it will be considered by a 936 consultative committee, but such a body has small Scottish representation. The Scottish Members of this House are as good a consultative committee as can be got anywhere. They are representative of the entire nation. There is no particular reason why they should not be given the opportunity of applying a little special thought to the problem.
The general question of the children and the cinema is something which might well be given further thought. I do not quite hold with the belief in the terrible dangers that may be caused to children going to see a film which is marked "A," which, after all, means that it is more suitable for the adult population. It may be a film about Einstein. I do not think that small children would suffer very much through seeing such a film. There was something much more terrible in my own constituency a short time ago, the brutal murder of a small child which sent a shock of horror through the city.
In the congested conditions in which we live in Glasgow, there are many places where the parents are most unwilling to allow their children out of their sight for very long. It does happen in England that children hang about the cinemas soliciting adults to take them in. That is a danger which parents have to consider. There are places where a mother might feel happier by having her baby of four with her in the cinema where an unsuitable film is showing, of which it would not understand anything, rather than that it should be abroad, and the fate overtake it which overtook that four-year old baby in Buccleuch Street not many days ago.
I ask my hon. Friend to consider these points sympathetically. I am sure he will find that the Scottish Members will not be unreasonable, particularly if he attempts to bring us along with him. At the end of the day we may find a happy solution for these difficulties.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Oakshott.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.