HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc79-87

5.30 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 38, to leave out Clause 8.

I am sorry to butt into this discussion, which, up to now, has been exclusively restricted to Members of the Standing Committee. I should like to explain that I did not on this occasion "dodge the column" but, unfortunately, I could not catch Mr. Speaker's eye on the Second Reading. I had to take part in a debate at London University and I was not able to take part in the deliberations of the Committee.

Mr. Rankin

We accept that.

Mr. Shepherd

I nevertheless followed with close interest the deliberations of the Committee, and particularly the discussion on Clause 8. which I now seek to delete.

Let me say at once that I have no objection to those who try to secure for our own nationals some form of protection within reasonable terms and to those who have a very proper regard for the national characteristics of our films. I feel, however, that the proposals in Clause 8 are distinctly contrary to the best interest of the industry and to the growing tendencies in the industry.

May I say to the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and her hon. Friends, without, I hope, embarrassment to them, that I much admire the stand which they took during the Committee stage, because it is quite obvious that the more restrictive view of the trade unions might well be to welcome a Clause such as this. In putting forward the broader view, which, in my opinion, serves the wider interest of the industry, they were very courageous and I should like to pay my tribute to her and her hon. Friends.

Let me tell the House briefly why I think that this Clause ought to go. First, I think that Government meddling with an industry is nearly always bad, and the longer I live the less happy I am about it. This is a meddlesome Clause. It is particularly objectionable because it is a Clause which it is impossible strictly to interpret and implement.

I read the discussion in Committee about the various meanings of the words "producer" and "director". Those of us who take an interest in the industry know that these terms are very loose indeed. We know of occasions when films have been controlled by people who have neither of these titles. Even in this country there was a time when British Lion Films production was controlled by the late Sir Alexander Korda, who was only a production adviser to the company and who had no official title as director or producer.

I object on the second ground that the Clause is impracticable of application. I should not be opposed to it today simply on those grounds, although I believe that they are in themselves substantial. I am opposed to it because it is contrary to the best interests of British film production. It seems to me incongruous that the Government should put in the Bill two Clauses, one Clause 10 and the other Clause 8, when Clause 8 would undoubtedly restrict the extent of the international co-operation which we shall. I hope, stimulate by Clause 10.

International co-operation in filmmaking is essential for the welfare of the industry in this country. If we had a great number of wholly British films being produced and could not find a reasonably ready market for them in this country, there might be some case for restriction, but the truth is that we are short of British first-feature films and that there are many exhibitors outside the main circuit who cannot get them for the first round. Therefore, anything which tends to restrict the volume of British films being produced must be wholly harmful to our industry.

There are one or two other objections which I raise to this restrictive Clause. During the last five or six years there has been a greater tendency towards films being produced in co-operation with other countries. I have prophesied this tendency in the House more than once, and it certainly has come to pass. This means that there are co-operative efforts between British, American, German and other producers to produce films in this country. People come to this country to produce films because we provide a convenient background for certain types of films which may themselves have a European background, and because some of those people find that working in our studios is more agreeable than working in their own. There are other reasons including, no doubt, the attractions of the benefits of the quota and the levy. Whatever the reasons are, they come here.

I want to see—and I hope that the House wants to see—more people coming to this country to make films and this country becoming a great international centre of film production. If we do not achieve that we are in trouble, because we must admit frankly that, although we can turn out some good films which sometimes have international success, in the main they have only a limited national success. If we are to have films which will make an impact on the world, we need international co-operation to produce them because we cannot ourselves sustain the cost involved. This is not only a one-way traffic. We must not forget that many of our producers and directors go to other countries.

Moreover, it is very important that we get international co-operation so that we can get our foot in the American film door. Although we made about £1 million last year from showing films in the dollar area, we do not, by and large, get circuit bookings for our films in the United States because our product is unfamiliar. Anglo-American production can get our foot in the American door. This we want to encourage and not discourage it by legislation such as that proposed in Clause 8. Despite the intentions which may have been good, this is a wholly harmful Clause to the British film industry as it is at present set up and as we can see the course of its progress over the next four or five years. I am, therefore, most anxious that the Government should delete it.

I know that the Clause originally proposed by the British Film Producers Association, and I think that some misguided people in that body pressed it to take that view. It was two years ago that it started discussing this matter. It has now come to the view that this would be a harmful Clause and it has—I understand from a notice put out today—withdrawn its support for it. I hope that evidence by the only body to my knowledge which was anxious to secure this Clause will induce the Government to delete it.

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) has put his name on the Notice Paper, because I know that he is in close contact with the trade union side and it is encouraging to see the hon. Gentleman associating himself with the deletion of this Clause.

I have put my case as briefly as possible, because I hope that there will be ready acceptance. I hope that what I have said will be sufficient to influence the Government to delete the Clause. Whilst it may have had some intention to benefit various people in this country, it must be necessarily harmful to British film production.

Mrs. White

I beg to second the Amendment.

As we made clear in Committee, several of my hon. Friends and myself were concerned lest the Clause should prove unduly restrictive in practice. I wish to make it clear that there are a number of people on the trade union side of industry who would still like the Clause to be included in the Bill.

It is always a matter of great regret on our side of the House if we find ourselves not in complete accord with our colleagues in the trade unions but, as we made clear at earlier stages, we felt that on the whole the apprehensions which they understandably have about the undue preponderance of foreign, and, in particular, American, producers or directors in the British film industry were possibly not well founded and that, even if they were, they could reasonably be met by other non-statutory arrangements.

That is the point of suggesting that the Clause should be deleted. It is certainly not because any of us wish to see British producers or directors displaced by foreign producers or directors. On the contrary, we wish to give every possible encouragement to the British industry and we should like to see as many British films as possible produced and directed by British subjects. We recognise that in the film industry a very large measure of co-production is already taking place, more particularly with United States interests and that, as regards employment, the British film industry has very much benefited by the injection of capital from the United States, some of it under the provisions of what is usually called the Johnson Agreement, whilst other capital has been brought in independently of that. This procedure has increased a good deal in the last year or two, which is no doubt the reason why, as the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said, the British Film Producers Association yesterday issued its opinion saying that it agreed that the position is different now from a few years ago when it supported this rather restrictive Clause.

If we were left with no protection and there was any serious danger of large numbers of British films being produced or directed by non-British subjects we should he very cautious indeed. However, there is a line of defence which can be effectively employed and in a much more flexible way than by statutory provision. I refer to the agreement, to which the Minister of Labour is party, made between the unions in this country and the Motion Picture Export Association of America concerning the number of producers or directors who may be allowed to work on films to be registered as British films in any one year.

I understand that there is a quota arrangement providing that a total of 12 producers or directors may be so employed in any one year and that the quota has never been reached. In any case, we are probably unwise to legislate in the House of Commons so specifically as the Clause is now drafted. It is better in such matters to rely on an existing line of defence for our interests, because that is more informal. It can be changed as circumstances change much more easily than a statutory provision.

Now that both the film producers' associations have agreed to the deletion, we should be wise to say to the other members of the industry that, while we fully appreciate their views, we think that they have in their own hands a reasonable weapon of defence and that it is better, on the whole, to rely on that than to try to embody in Statute form a provision which might not be in the best interests of the industry or its own members. I hope very much that, since our discussions in Committee, reinforced by the views by the British Film Producers Association and the Federation of British Film Makers, the Government will now feel that the Clause is not necessary and that they can proceed with the Bill without it.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. J. Rodgers

Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House if I make the Government's intentions clear right away. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said, the origin of the Clause was the strong opposition felt two or three years ago by many British producers to the extent of American participation in British films. It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that the British Film Producers Association has changed its view on this and no longer presses for such protection as it thought Clause 8 provided.

In Committee, Members on both sides were opposed to the Clause. The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Sir L. Ropner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) were all opposed to the Clause. Objections were raised to it mainly on three grounds. First, many Members felt that the Clause was too restrictive and as originally drafted would catch choreographers, musical directors and persons in charge of individual scenes. We tried to overcome that objection by accepting the Amendment moved by the hon. Lady.

Secondly, there was a feeling that the Clause as drafted would catch an American financial controller exercising only a remote and financial control. The Government accepted the validity of this argument and promised to introduce an Amendment on Report which would exclude such a controller from the operation of the Clause. However, there was a much wider objection to the Clause. The hon. Member for Flint. East expressed grave doubts about this Clause altogether. She suggested that it might inhibit the American financing of some British films, and that it was anomalous that, while Clause 10 would encourage co-productions between British and other European countries, Anglo-American co-operation would be impeded by Clause 8.

In addition, the hon. Member for Govan drew attention to the Ministry of Labour permits controlling the employment of foreign directors and producers, to which the hon. Lady referred. The agreement is between the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians and the Motion Picture Export Association governing the number of applications to be made to the Ministry of Labour for permits for foreign producers and directors. There is a similar agreement with the British Film Producers Association.

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that, rather than preserve the wording of Clause 8, it would be better to rely on the agreement and permits through the Ministry of Labour. This is wise, because the number of applications to the Ministry for permits for foreign producers and directors has in no year reached the limits laid down in the 1957 agreement between the A.C.T.T. and the M.P.E.A. The same position is true of the agreement subscribed by the B.F.P.A.

In these circumstances, the case for taking action under the quota legislation to deal with the matter, over and above the system of control on the employment of United States producers and directors exerted by the Ministry of Labour permit system, is clearly open to question, and the Minister of Labour takes the view that it is unnecessary. Moreover, it was intended in any event that Clause 8 would bite only on a few cases, but these are the cases where there might well be particular reasons for making special arrangements for the employment of foreign producers and directors, for example in the case of an "epic" film, as pointed out in Committee by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). Moreover, the Clause carries the further disadvantages mentioned by other hon. Members in Committee.

The conclusion that the Government have reached, therefore, is that the most advantageous course would be to continue to rely on the existing Ministry of Labour's permit system, and accordingly my hon. Friend's Amendment to delete Clause 8 is acceptable to the Government.

Mr. Rankin

Perhaps, at this stage, we might ask: who is kidding who? Not one reason has been given so far that was not advanced in Committee. There has been talk of the danger of imperilling good business. I gave the figure of £25 million of investment in this country by American films over the last ten years. That was all known then. The changes of techniques, and so on, were all known during the Committee stage.

The Government were perfectly familiar with the case. They knew that the Board of Trade had clashed with the Ministry of Labour. There was a quarrel going on behind the scenes, because the Ministry of Labour was afraid that the Board of Trade's incorporation of Clause 8 would imperil the work it was doing This was all known. In response to the appeal which emanated from both sides of the Committee, the Government then might, and should, have withdrawn the Clause.

Now out comes the word from the big bosses. On 26th January, 1960, the day we return from the Christmas Recess, we receive our instructions—at least, the instructions to the Government Front Bench. This is the sentence which attracts me: Since those views were submitted two years ago"— These people are in the industry and the Government were evidently acting on their views, submitted two years ago; it is shocking— world conditions of film production have changed substantially". We have been saying that this afternoon and all through the passage of the Bill. Now they have awakened to the fact that views submitted two years ago are entirely out of date. That is a shocking comment on the state of British film production. It is, also, a disturbing indication of the liaison which is established between Government sources and the industry.

The Government now offer to withdraw Clause 8. Are they withdrawing it on the instructions received today? Everyone in the House knows that what has happened is that top-level business has flowed into Pinewood during recent weeks. Since the Committee stage finished, even while it was in process, more orders have flowed into Pinewood. Pinewood will be busy for the next eighteen months. There is no worry. American contracts are coming over. Therefore, the big boss of B.F.P.A., which perhaps is the big boss of the Government, said that Clause 8 should be deleted. Today, the Clause is being withdrawn.

Amendment agreed to.