HC Deb 02 April 1957 vol 568 cc242-7

3.44 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 2, at the end to insert the payment for the first period to be one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. This Amendment refers to the Children's Film Foundation. We had some discussion on the matter during Committee stage and at that time the President of the Board of Trade expressed considerable sympathy with our aim to secure the position of the Foundation. Since then, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has had consultations with the Cinematograph Films Council, but that those consultations resulted in a rather negative reply.

It is for that reason that I felt it desirable at this stage to make a specific suggestion for the first period of the Act when it comes into force. I had originally suggested that we might have had 5 per cent. of the levy devoted to the Children's Film Foundation, but it was generally felt that that, perhaps, was rather too high a proportion and, in any case, it was not altogether reasonable to tie the hands of the Board of Trade for a period of ten years. It was suggested that it would be unfair to other producers to give the Foundation greater security than it had and that, therefore, one ought not to go beyond the first period. One can see the logic of that, although the Children's Film Foundation, like others, would wish to see its way a little further ahead.

I feel very strongly that to limit the amount which the Foundation is to receive to £125,000, which it at present receives, at a time when the levy is to be very markedly increased, would be undesirable. I think it is now well known that the Children's Film Foundation, on the board of which there are representatives of all sections of the cinema industry, believes that with great advantage it could dispose of £150,000 in the first period.

The Foundation is engaged in making a fairly expensive type of film, serial films which are very popular, which are a most desirable form of entertainment for children's matinees, and which take up a very large percentage of the present allocation. I understand that last year the Foundation was able to make two serials, two feature films and four short films. At present, it is making four features and one serial. If it had larger funds at its disposal I understand that it would be very glad to go into further production of these most desirable serial films.

The organisation is, of course, extremely economical. Even on a feature film it reckons that £20,000 is the absolute maximum of expenditure. It is able to be so economical partly because of the very co-operative attitude of the trade unions in the industry, which allow children's feature films to count as short films and to be paid for at short film rates instead of feature film rates. All who are interested in this subject would wish to express appreciation to the unions for their agreement in this matter.

It would be a great pity if the most admirable work the Foundation is doing should be hampered by having too little money allocated to it. Children's entertainment films are not a profit-making enterprise and have to be underwritten in some way. I think that that is generally recognised. Great Britain is the only country outside the Iron Curtain countries which has a regular subvention for children's films. Other European countries make them occasionally, but with no regularity. I am told that in the United States the general attitude is that children are little adults and can see adult films. When we look at American films, some of us might think that adults are only rather large children. Outside the United Kingdom there is very little activity in making children's films, except in the Soviet Union and associated countries.

It is remarkable that the British films have now a very high reputation all over the world. That is because very largely the Children's Film Foundation, in close co-operation with the exhibiting side of the industry in this country, has gone to great pains to study the reaction of children to different types of films. Some of us who had the pleasure of reading a recent article by Miss Mary Field in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts would be pleased to see the results of some of these investigations.

Miss Field said that in the opinion of children Men should be tall, thin and somewhat hatchet-faced while women should be slim and attractive, but by no means too glamorous. All parents, schoolteachers, policemen, clergymen, civil servants and others whom we would like to have respected by young audiences should be under the age of thirty. Members of Parliament would not, therefore, be very popular with child audiences. The quotation continues: Bad men can be middle-aged. I do not want to speak at great length on this matter, but I very much hope that the President of the Board of Trade can accept the Amendment, which is only for the first period. He may feel some embarrassment, because he has carried out his undertaking of consulting the Cinematograph Films Council, and presumably because its recommendation, as I understand, was that the amount allocated should be not less than £125,000 a year, without specifying a higher sum, he may have felt it impossible to put down what he more or less undertook in Committee to put down—a sum arived at by himself.

Although it is a very good thing that the right hon. Gentleman should consult the Cinematograph Films Council, there are some matters on which its advice is more valuable than others. When it comes to a knowledge of the ramifications of the film industry, the collective expertise of the Council is unrivalled. When, however, matters of what one might call social values have to be taken into account, then I think that the Council's advice may, on certain occasions, be a little less valuable.

It seems to me that this is possibly one of those occasions on which the right hon. Gentleman, with the co-operation, I am sure, of hon. Members on both sides of the House, may feel that we ought to accept a public responsibility and put a somewhat higher value on the work which is being done by the Children's Film Foundation. I am sure that anyone who has first-hand knowledge of this work would be very sorry indeed to feel that the Foundation might not receive the very modest sum of £150,000 in the first period which it thinks it could profitably use.

Mr. Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)

I beg to second the Amendment.

The House has always shown a good deal of appreciation of the work which has been done by the Children's Film Foundation and I hope that hon. Members will look favourably upon the Amendment. I can well remember the time when very few people interested themselves in the production of children's films. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said, they all felt that if a film were made for adult consumption then children ought to be able to appreciate it.

From time to time, committees have been established to make investigations into this situation and reports have been prepared which have indicated that a special approach is necessary to the child in respect of this form of education and entertainment. I remember the Education Committee of the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society, in the 'twenties, organising special film exhibitions for children for this very reason. The Battersea Borough Council also organised film exhibitions for children, because it felt that the films which were made for adults were unsuitable.

Since those days, a good deal has happened. New regulations have been introduced which have specified the type of films which children may see, either on their own or accompanied by adults. When the Foundation was first established it was felt that here was a chance to approach the problem of film-making for children in a very special way. The Saturday morning exhibitions at the various cinemas started in a very modest way, but year after year the scheme has grown until there is now a very large audience in this country for children's films, and no one can deny the social advantages of having these exhibitions.

I feel that it is exceedingly important that the programme itself should be well-devised, that it should be complete in itself, and that it should consist not only of short films but also of various feature films. If the child is treated in this way, then I am sure that society will benefit considerably.

This is a very modest sum when compared with the full amount which will be collected, and I hope that the Minister will feel kindly disposed towards the Amendment. He knows why we have moved it and the purpose behind it. We want to encourage this work. There is no reason at all why, eventually, these films, which are being made under first-class direction, should not be shown overseas. Miss Mary Field has been in this business for very many years and her sympathetic understanding of the child mind, as an old teacher, is appreciated by everybody who knows the work that she is doing. There is no reason that we should not be preparing films for distribution all over the world. The time will come, I hope, when there will be international exhibitions of children's films, so that one country can vie with another in the production of children's films.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this Amendment sympathetically, because I am sure that he personally, and indeed the whole House, are interested in this work.

The President of the Board of Trade (Sir David Eccles)

I can assure the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) that there is no difference at all between the two sides of the House on the importance of the work of the Children's Film Foundation. I did my best, in another discussion, to show how interested I was in its work. Particularly when one has had the privilege of being Minister of Education, one sees what it means to have films made specially with an eye on the child. Of course, such films cannot make money because they are shown only on Saturday mornings and it is, therefore, impossible to collect enough money to cover the cost.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Greenwich mentioned overseas showings. The exhibition of children's films which Miss Field showed at the last U.N.E.S.C.O. meeting at Delhi was, by all accounts, a very great success, and I believe that it had to be repeated. It seems to me that the visual method of showing our way of life internationally, and, indeed, in education generally, has very great advantages, and I am, therefore, entirely with the two hon. Members in supporting this excellent work.

I turn to the question of the money which is to be paid out from money collected from the industry. It does not come out of the taxes. When this matter was discussed in Committee, as the hon. Lady reminded the House, I said that I would consult the Cinematograph Films Council. I thought that that was the right thing to do, because the Council is very representative and this money comes, of course, from some of its members.

The Council reported back to me that, on balance, it thought that the contributions in the first year should be not less than £125,000. I will give the assurance that it shall not be less than that, since the Agency has to submit for approval the sum it intends to give.

4.0 p.m.

Having gone through those consultations, I do not feel that it would be right to put into the Bill a different sum, all the more because, I understand, the Council will probably meet again before the autumn, and it would be possible for the hon. Lady—who is herself a prominent member of the Council—to make an eloquent speech there to which, I think, the Council might well pay attention. If that is so, and the Council says that, on second thoughts, it would go a little further than the £125,000, I give the undertaking that that would be acceptable to the Board of Trade.

I hope, therefore, that we may leave the Bill as it is, with the assurance that we shall watch very carefully the work of the Children's Film Foundation and the question of this minimum of £125,000. If, as time goes on, there is a strong case for raising that amount I expect that that will come from the industry side. If it does, it will get sympathetic consideration from the Board of Trade.

Mrs. White

In the circumstances, as we have had this reasonably friendly response from the Minister, and having made the point in the House which I think it was right that we should make, we might, perhaps, see how things turn out in the first year. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.