HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc69-79

5.0 p.m.

Mrs. White

I beg to move, in page 6, line 32, to leave out Clause 7.

Mr. Rankin

I wonder, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether we could have some advice as to how we may proceed. The Amendment just moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) seeks to leave out Clause 7, but you will observe that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and I have also tabled an Amendment to the Clause—in page 6, line 37, leave out "or sound recordings made" and insert: or sound dubbing or mixing made". Assuming that we do not agree to leave out Clause 7, will that Amendment then come up for consideration, or should we take that Amendment first before deciding whether or not to leave out Clause 7?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

The hon. Member's Amendment can be discussed with this one.

Mrs. White

We are grateful to you for your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was not sure whether the two Amendments could be discussed together.

The Amendment that I have just moved is, perhaps, drastic, but we put it down after consideration of what the Clause, as it now stands, really means. The whole point of the Clause is to extend the definition of "studio" contained in Section 44 of the 1938 Act to include the place in which sound recordings are made as well as the place in which photographs are taken. At first sight, this seems reasonable enough, but when we considered the matter rather more closely, and brought it up in Committee, it soon became apparent that it was by no means as simple as it appeared.

In the making of a film there are various stages at which sound recordings can be made. It is not merely the first direct impression; one has other processes that are called "dubbing", "mixing" and so on. In the Standing Committee, I inquired of the Parliamentary Secretary whether this extended definition of "studio" was intended to include all those other processes, because if so, it seemed to me that this was possibly carrying matters a little far, and might be extending the word "studio" to include processes that would normally take place, for example, in a laboratory.

I was assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that it was intended to be fully inclusive. I think that he was a little rash in that because, subsequently to this discussion in Committee, the trade interests concerned made representations both to hon. Members and through the usual channels to the Board of Trade. and obtained certain assurances from the Board of Trade that the Clause was not intended to go as widely as it had seemed, in Committee, to be taken.

The film interests pointed out that if one took this as widely as it might be taken one could get oneself into every kind of difficulty. One might have, in the final mixture, sounds that were taken in the original studio, sounds that might have been taken in quite another place but which were so mixed or "married" or dubbed together—or whatever it is that is done in the later processes—as to make it almost impossible to disentangle one from t'other.

As a result of all these discussions, correspondence took place between the officials of the Board of Trade and certain of the trade associations. From this correspondence it appears that, far from being a really extended definition of "studio", the practical intended effect of the Clause is now so slight as to be, in our opinion, virtually negligible. Therefore, we cannot see why the Clause should be included at all.

It now appears that what is intended is this—and I think that I am entitled here to quote from a letter that was sent on 8th January to the secretary of the Federation of British Film Makers from the Board of Trade. The explanation given in the letter is that the definition of a 'studio' in Section 44 of the 1938 Act"— the letter referred, of course, to Clause 7: is in two parts: the first part defines 'studio' as 'a building constructed or adapted for the purpose of making films therein'; the second part explains what is meant by the use of such a studio in the making of a film; and it is in this second part of the definition that the new words are included. A film studio will now be regarded as being used in the making of a film if the film's sound recordings were made in the studio, but"— and this is the really important part: if the sound recordings were made, for example, in a broadcasting or television studio or in a theatre, they would not be covered by the Clause. This Clause is, therefore, far less restrictive than I think some people had imagined when they first read it. Indeed, it is, because what we are now saying to a producer by this Clause is, "If you record your sound track in the same place as that in which you take your photographs, or in a place that is normally used for taking photographs, that counts as a studio, and if it happens to be in a foreign country, that part of the sound track that is taken in a studio will be subject to the restrictions that are included in the principal Acts if you then wish to have the film registered as a British film."

In other words, there will be limitation on the amount of sound track that can be recorded in this way, but if the producer remains at virtually the same latitude and longitude, merely moves down the road and takes his sound recording under a different roof, goes to a theatre, or a parish hall, or a broadcasting studio—or even to a television studio—but not to something already defined, from its photographic uses, as film studio, then, apparently, these restrictions are not to apply, and the sound track will be exempt from restriction because it was not taken in a film studio.

If that is so, it seems to me quite ridiculous to have the provision at all, because all that is being done is to insert an inconvenience for the producer of the film without having any effect of any consequence or substance on the registration of the film as a British film. The producer is being told, "You cannot take your sound track here, even though it happens to be convenient. You must move out of this building, but you can move into another building, although it may be in the same country, or even in the same town. If you move into another building, you move yourself outside the restrictions of cinematograph films legislation, and you will be outside the net."

This seems to be legislation without point or purpose. If that interpretation sent by the Department to the Federation of British Film Makers—and, presumably, to other organisations that may have made inquiries—is the correct interpretation of the Clause, we feel that the Clause should be deleted because, by it, one is simply putting to inconvenience, without real significance, the maker of the film.

I see that my hon. Friends have tried by their Amendment to put into legislative form the Parliamentary Secretary's expression of opinion in Committee. Had that expression of opinion in the least coincided with the correspondence of the Department's officials with outside organisations there might have been some point in this, but, in the light of the explanations given subsequently to the Committee stage, I think that deletion of the whole Clause is the only intelligent thing that the House can now do.

I hope, therefore, that we shall hear quite distinctly from the Ministers concerned whether they stand by the explanation which has been sent out and, if so, why then they think the Clause is at all necessary. If, on the other hand, they do not stand by that explanation but continue in the opinion expressed in Committee we shall, of course, have to consider the matter further.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) second the Amendment?

Mr. Rankin

As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has so clearly indicated, we are here placed in a little difficulty. Of course, I naturally take this opportunity of moving my Amendment, but it is obvious that the Government ought to have made a statement before I moved it, since as my hon. Friend has just said, the Amendment is an attempt to try to improve a Clause which during the course of the Committee proceedings the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to indicate required improving. As an aftermath of the Committee stage it would seem that some change has taken place in the Government's viewpoint. My own opinion is that the Clause ought to be deleted. Although I am moving the Amendment I want to make it clear that I think it would be better if Clause 7 were deleted.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Just to make things clear perhaps, I should point out that the hon. Member is seconding the Amendment to leave out the Clause.

Mr. Rankin

I am terribly sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought you had called upon me to move my Amendment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member may make reference to the Amendment standing in his name on the Notice Paper.

Mr. Rankin

Do I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the only reference I may make to my Amendment is in process of seconding the Amendment to delete the Clause?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There will be only one discussion on these two Amendments and only one speech from the hon. Member.

Mr. Rankin

That, of course, enhances my difficulty. In these circumstances I usually look for some help and co-operation from the Chair.

I have here an Amendment which is completely in order, but evidently under the procedure which has been adopted I shall be prevented from speaking particularly to that Amendment. May I say that while I take the opportunity of seconding the Amendment for the deletion of the Clause I wish in doing so to deal particularly with the arguments which I would have put forward in support of the Amendment standing in my name and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler).

I believe that the brief reasons that I shall advance will contribute to what I hope will be the Government's final decision to excise the Clause from the Bill. It is not a helpful Clause in my view, and that view has been reinforced by my contacts with persons on the productive side of the industry. As the Clause stands it creates for them very considerable problems of interpretation. We and they are not quarrelling with the Government's intentions. We think that their intentions are quite good, but, of course, the trouble about intentions is that if one follows them too closely one may land in a somewhat undesirable place. It is because we have some consideration for the Government that we wish to help them to avert that fearful fate. Clarification, therefore, is absolutely necessary however good the intentions may be.

5.15 p.m.

As I have said, there would first of all be considerable problems of interpretation of the Clause by the producers, and the Clause would certainly add to the difficulties of those foreign producers who through their British affiliates are making films that are now capable of qualifying for the British quota under the terms of Section 25 of the 1948 Act which lays it down that the film must be made in Her Majesty's Dominions.

As an indication of the difficulties that would follow from the Clause at is stands there is the question of sound recordings. My hon. Friend has instanced them. There are three different phases in the process of sound recording and each of those phases could be regarded under the Clause as a sound recording. Are the Government going to tell us which is the phase—the first, the second or the third—in which the re-recording is finally married to the photographic film which appears in the cinemas? Which one is the sound recording? Either of the other two phases could be part and parcel of what might be regarded as sound recording under the Clause. If that were the case then, of course, the film would not qualify for British quota because part of the recording might be made in any part of the world. It could be made in Honolulu. That is something which is happening quite frequently nowadays.

The whole trouble is that we are here seeking to take the 1938 Act—particularly that Act—despite its Amendments, and adapt it by other Amendments to fit an industry which has fundamentally changed its techniques during the twenty-two years since that Act was first brought into force. Our Amendments are not helping it. That is the problem which, to a large extent, is facing us in the Clause at the moment. As I have said, there has been a tremendous change in the techniques of production since then and even since the 1948 Act was passed. Therefore, I ask the Minister to say whether all recordings that go to make up a sound track of a film such as dialogue, including post-synching with dubbing or mixing, are to be regarded as sound recordings. If that be the case, what is the position when an actor's voice is recorded in a British studio and set to the background of music which has been recorded in a foreign studio? There is nothing unusual in that happening.

With such a situation, it is the feeling of many people who want to see this industry progress as easily and smoothly as possible that we should try to resolve these problems. In the Amendment which I am moving we ask that the Government should delete this reference to sound recording. If that is not done, they must clarify the Clause. We are seeking to establish that clarification, strangely enough, by deleting the Clause or, alternatively, by asking for the acceptance of my Amendment. We are trying to bring the law up to date, in keeping with the advanced techniques which I have mentioned.

We have a current example. Many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have seen the film, "The Swiss Family Robinson". This illustrates circumstances in which it is more practical and economic to record an actor's voice for post-synching in a foreign studio, because more and more it is becoming a practice to make as much recording of dialogue and effects as possible while on location. One purpose of that is to cut out the very heavy costs which are associated with studio work. Today we have an actor carrying on his film work and at the same time doing the recording. This Clause will make that practice more difficult because of its lack of clarity. The Clause does not make absolutely clear what, perhaps, the Government intend to do, and if they will not agree to delete it altogether they should at least accept the Amendment which I have moved which would delete the words "or sound recordings made" and insert the words or sound dubbing or mixing made".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member has not moved the Amendment in line 37. Indeed, it has not been selected by Mr. Speaker for a separate vote.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. I am afraid that I did not gather the effect of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If I omitted formally to second the deletion of the Clause, I will do so now.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Only one Amendment can be moved at a time. The Amendment now before the House proposes to leave out Clause 7. The Amendment in line 37, in the hon. Member's name, has not been selected by Mr. Speaker for a separate vote, but it can be discussed together with the Amendment in line 32.

Mr. J. Rodgers

I am sorry if the remarks which I made in Committee on this subject, which I re-read while the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) was speaking, were somewhat misleading.

Mr. Rankin

Whose remarks were misleading?

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Member alleged that my remarks were misleading. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has moved an Amendment to leave out the Clause, because she alleges that its effect is negligible and merely causes inconvenience to the film industry. The suggestion that the definition of the use of a studio should be extended to include the recording of sound was put forward by the Federation of Film Unions. It seemed entirely logical and commanded the ready acceptance of the Cinematograph Films Council. The cost of the sound recording of a film will vary considerably but will represent a substantial proportion of the total cost, and it seemed reasonable that if the use of foreign studios for taking photographs were limited where British films were concerned, then their use for making sound records should also be limited.

I admit that there seems to be some difference of opinion within the ranks of the British film industry, and among the producers in particular, about the importance of preserving this Clause, but it is apparent that some studio companies share with the film unions the fear that sound recordings may tend to be made abroad instead of in British studios if this safeguard is removed by the deletion of the Clause.

The Clause as it stands will prevent any tendency for British films shot on location abroad to have their sound tracks made in a foreign studio, but it would not prevent the use of buildings other than bona fide film studios, as the hon. Lady pointed out, for recording individual sound tracks of music, dialogue or sound effects. That answers he hon. Member for Govan. The producer will be left free to collect, as he does at present, a variety of individual sound tracks obtained in any way other than by a recording in a film studio which he can then dub on to his film in a British studio. Since the prohibition of the use of foreign film studios for final dubbing or mixing is secured by Clause 7, failure to provide for this would frustrate the intention that British studio facilities should be used as far as possible for British films, provided that it does not impede genuine location work. There therefore seems to be no occasion to accept the Amendment.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady implies that if a British film is shot on location overseas there is no need to prevent the various sound tracks from being made in a foreign studio or later—and more important—to prevent the final dubbing or post-synchronisation work from being done in a foreign studio. I know that some of the owners of British studios would not agree with her views on this subject. We must therefore ask for the Amendment to be rejected.

May I now say a few words about the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Govan? The effect of this Amendment would be to allow a producer to use a foreign film studio for the purposes of making a single sound track but to prevent him from using that studio for carrying out the final dubbing or mixing of the various sound tracks which together go to make up the final sound recording on a film. There are usually at least three separate tracks—the dialogue track, the background noises and the music—but often there are many more which are finally mixed on to the final edition of the film. It will be seen, therefore, that the Amendment is less restrictive than the present Clause.

The difficulty about accepting it is that of defining the terms "dubbing" and "mixing". These are fairly well-recognised terms in the trade but I am advised that their definition in a way which would have legal effect would present very great difficulties. I therefore hope that the hon. Member will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Rankin

Surely that is a weak reply. "Mixing" and "dubbing" are quite well-known terms in the cinematograph trade. I am not making a speech, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but interrupting the Parliamentary Secretary, who gave way to me. I am putting the point to him as briefly as I can. "Mixing" and "dubbing" are both very common terms which are quite well known in the industry. It is appalling that the Parliamentary Secretary should slip away on the excuse that he cannot accept my Amendment, which he seems to fancy, because he cannot define these two well-known terms. Will he think about it again?

Mr. Rodgers

I meant that I prefer the hon. Gentleman's Amendment to the Amendment proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East. That is as far as my preference goes. I should like to reject both the Amendments.

Amendment negatived.