HC Deb 21 June 1954 vol 529 cc98-102
Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 3, to leave out "proper," and to insert "prescribed."

I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we took with this Amendment that in page 16, line 45. This is really a final appeal to the Assistant Postmaster-General to take some action to protect British interests in the matter of recorded programmes. We discussed this at some length during earlier stages of the Bill and I do not propose to deploy all the arguments again. We then moved a very detailed Amendment which the Assistant Postmaster-General may have felt unduly restricted him. This time, we are moving an extremely restricted Amendment and I feel that it would be very much the wiser part for him to accept our suggestion.

The hon. Gentleman should make a provision in the Bill—either by the method suggested in the Amendment or a method of his own—to give himself and his successors at least permissive power to take some action if the proportion of non-British material used on television programmes becomes excessive. As things are, he has no adequate power to take any action; in fact, in a public speech made some weeks ago, his noble Friend the Postmaster-General suggested that if things went wrong he would have to ask for fresh legislation. Surely it is far wiser to arm oneself with powers at this stage, rather than wait for opportunities in this House, which are few and far between, to introduce what would then be a relatively minor Bill.

I urge the Postmaster-General most strongly to take permissive powers to prescribe a certain proportion of British material. Only today I saw a copy of a very long cablegram from the United States which makes it clear that the American film industry proposes to take protective action by making it extremely difficult for any foreign films to enter the United States. If nothing is done under the Bill the Postmaster-General may find that American interests will make it virtually impossible for any British film material to enter America while, at the same time, we shall be wide open to receive as much of their canned programmes as they wish to dump here.

The Postmaster-General is completely shirking his responsibilities if he refuses to take any powers to deal with this possibility, and I do ask the Minister seriously to consider this matter. If the hon. Gentleman will not accept our Amendment, let him draft his own, but the Postmaster-General should at least have permissive powers to protect British film makers, script-writers, actors, artistes and other workers in the industry, who are in no way protected by the Bill as it now stands.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Gammans

I cannot agree with the hon. Lady's suggestion that this country would be wide open to films from overseas if we did not accept the Amendment. I suppose it is the aim of everyone to see that British film interests are properly safeguarded, and that our television programmes shall contain, as is provided for in the Bill, a proper proportion of British films. The hon. Lady may feel that we have not gone about the matter in the right way, but I must correct her when she suggests that we have left the country wide open to dumping by the American film industry.

We had a very considerable discussion on this matter in Committee, when an Amendment put forward by the Opposition laid down a quota in some detail, and the Amendment we are now discussing seems to be designed to achieve the same ends in another way. We have various objections to raise to this proposal. It would mean an extension of delegated legislation. It would place upon the Postmaster-General duties analogous to those which are now placed upon the President of the Board of Trade—of deciding what is a British film and what percentage of so-called British films should be included. The Postmaster-General would also have the unenviable task of deciding in advance, without any previous experience of how the system worked, what should be done about a quota and what ought to be prescribed. That would be difficult, if not impossible.

6.45 p.m.

We have every sympathy with what is in the hon. Lady's mind. We do not want to see this country flooded with films from America, or anywhere else, which have earned their keep and which might be dumped here cheaply, but we are convinced that the way she suggests is not the right way to safeguard our interests. I can assure the hon. Lady that very considerable thought has been given to the matter and that we have examined every conceivable possibility. As I said during the Committee stage, some amending legislation may be required—dealing not with television alone but with films in general—and if it is we shall have to say so.

It would be very easy to forget the real interests of the unions and workers concerned, and to make a regulation such as the hon. Lady suggests, in a moment of enthusiasm, but the very danger she foresaw from American television would only be exacerbated if we accepted the Amendment, for we should be inviting retaliatory action. We should be providing the American interests with the very sort of reason they would like in order to press their demands. I read in the newspapers a reference to the cablegram to which the hon. Lady referred, and I was very glad to think that British films are making such inroads into the American market; that is a very healthy thing. But the only way to deal with this matter, short of a drastic revision of the whole format of the Bill, is to leave the matter as it stands.

We have laid upon the Authority the duty of seeing that the style and tone of programmes are predominantly British and that it shall put on what it regards as a proper proportion of British films and other recorded material. I suggest that we should be very unwise to go any further. No such duty is laid upon the B.B.C. Although I cannot accept the Amendment, I hope that the hon. Lady will realise that my refusal is not due to any lack of sympathy with what she has in mind, but because I am convinced that the method we have indicated in the Bill, at this stage of television, is a better way of dealing with the matter.

Mr. Ness Edwards

That is about the weakest case the hon. Member has put so far. He has scratched around trying to find all kinds of possible obstacles, when those obstacles already exist. If the Postmaster-General is to accept recommendations from an advisory committee to the I.T.A. a proportion of canned films from abroad will be broadcast, so that if a prescription against flooding this country with canned programmes in film is going to worry the Americans, they must already be worrying about it. The Bill already provides that there shall not be an undue proportion of this type of programme.

The hon. Gentleman said this would mean "delegated legislation." Leaving matters completely to the I.T.A. is not "delegated legislation." Ministers are responsible for delegated legislation, but the hon. Gentleman says that we should leave things to a body that is not responsible to the House of Commons. Therefore, that excuse of his for rejecting the Amendment falls to the ground. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have received the Amendment much more kindly, for he says that my hon. Friend's objective is his objective. Then why not express it in the Bill? Why not provide for it? The hon. Gentleman has made a very poor case indeed against the reasoned argument of my hon. Friend for her reasonable Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 6, line 37, leave out subsection (3).—[Mr. Gammans.]