HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc103-13

Amendment made: In page 14, line 23, column 3, at beginning insert: In section eight, in subsection (2), the words to which the said Act of 1938 applies.'"—[The Solicitor-General]

6.45 p.m.

Mr. J. Rodgers

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As one would expect of a Bill which is of a somewhat technical nature, we would all agree, and particularly those of us who were in Committee, that it has been substantially improved during the Committee stage. I should like to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their help and in particular the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) for her co-operation.

We have all been genuinely anxious to improve the operation of the film quota which has served the film industry well for over thirty years, and I think that we have achieved this, even if the Bill may not suit every shade of opinion in the film industry. This, indeed, would be a difficult objective to achieve.

The Bill is primarily a producers' Bill, but a good deal of attention has been paid in Committee to the needs of the exhibitor and to improving the arrangements for exemption and relief where the quota obligations would bear too harshly. We have sought to strengthen the truly British character of our films without outting ourselves off from foreign artistic and creative talent. An operation of this sort, I am sure all hon. Members would agree, is essentially a compromise measure.

The question where to draw the line has not been easy to determine but, during the previous two stages of the Bill, we have redrawn it in a way which gives a little more scope for the use of foreign talent. I think that on balance this was wise. We have also extended the scope of the quota to newsreels and to co-produced films, the latter giving further opportunity for useful exchanges with foreign talent, which we hope will be of benefit to all sides of the industry. I should like to repeat the undertaking which I gave in Committee that the Board of Trade will keep in touch with the industry and, of course, the Cinematograph Films Council in drawing up agreements with other Governments under which co-production films can be made.

A number of references have been made during the passage of the Bill to the desirability of consolidating the quota legislation and I gave an assurance that this would be done. However, I find that the terms of my assurance perhaps went a little further than I intended. I said that all the Film Acts would be in one Statute. I should like to take the opportunity of explaining that the consolidation Measure will extend only to the quota legislation and not, of course, to the Acts affecting the operation of the National Film Finance Corporation or the exhibitors' levy.

Some concern was expressed in Committee at the possible threat to United Kingdom studios of production being diverted to studios outside the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East suggested that if Section 25 (1) of the Cinematograph Films Act, 1938, were to be amended to disqualify for quota purposes films made in studios outside the United Kingdom, the legitimate requirements of British producers for the use of studios overseas might be met by amending Section 25 (3) in such a way that Commonwealth studios could be used to some extent but within narrower limits than at present. My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General promised that this suggestion would be carefully considered and this has been done.

We have come to the conclusion that any reasonable extension of the percentage of film which might be disregarded under Section 25 (3) would still leave the United Kingdom producers significantly hampered when making films in distant parts of the Commonwealth. It would also have the considerable effect of increasing by a marked extent the possibility of using foreign labour instead of British labour, because subsection (3) provides for treating part of a film as though it did not form part of the film in determining whether labour cost conditions are fulfilled.

Moreover, we remain unconvinced that there is a real likelihood of a great expansion of production at Ardmore Studios in the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere. The technical and commercial reasons for using the highly efficient studios in this country are, we believe, very great. It is clear that there is anxiety on this subject even though the payment of levy is already limited to films made by bona fide United Kingdom makers, and if there were to be a dramatic increase in production I would certainly consider asking the Cinematograph Films Council to advise on whether the distribution of levy regulations ought to be amended, so that films made in studios outside the United Kingdom should not be eligible for levy. However, I do not think that this time has yet come. Meanwhile, I am satisfied that it would be a mistake to amend our present Bill in a fashion which would prevent any Commonwealth film being registered as British, and might hamper genuine British production in Commonwealth studios for the sake of a risk which has not yet developed.

I also undertook to review the penalties in the Bill. This has been done with great care in conjunction with the Home Office. After examination of the number of prosecutions made for various offences during the last seven years and the fines which have been imposed, which have been well within the maximum penalties, and having regard to the maximum penalties prescribed in other legislation, the conclusion has been reached that there is no occasion to increase the penalties in the Cinematograph Films Acts.

I commend the Bill to the House in the belief that we have materially improved and strengthened this bulwark of British films in the shelter of which the industry has developed so well. Today, British films are more competitive in world markets than ever before, but the future is far too insecure to do without the quota protection. Therefore, I ask the House to pass this Measure, which will maintain for another seven years the security of their own home market for British films.

6.53 p.m.

Mr. Rankin

As the Parliamentary Secretary has said, we have reached the end of our labours and I wish to express my gratitude to the hon. Gentleman and to his colleague the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for their helpfulness and unfailing courtesy during the proceedings on the Bill.

We have diverged on and debated many points. On the Opposition side we have failed to get all that we wanted. Nevertheless, I thank the Government for coming to our view on one or two important matters. Of course, I join in the hope that the Bill will commend itself to the industry and that it will result in helping the industry to meet the many difficulties that face it. However, it would be wrong of us not to recognise the discontents that exist in the British film industry today. Although the Bill aims at helping the producer and the exhibitor, we must realise that the exhibitor is faced with a difficult position and that the industry, as a whole, today is tending to become lopsided and very ill-balanced. At the moment there is one very contentious point. That is the question of the showing on television of films which are no longer being shown in the cinema.

This point is gravely disturbing the exhibitor, and we in this House must pay attention to it because for the year now ending the exhibitor will be found to have contributed around £4 million by way of the statutory levy towards helping the production of British films. Now he finds that when those films have served their purpose in the cinema they are being sold to commercial television, then to appear on the television screen inside the home and thus become a competitor to the film which is being shown in the cinema.

That practice must be examined. No one in this House would seek to prevent people in their homes seeing interesting films, but we must try to devise a method whereby those in the industry who have helped to produce films will not find that those very films will ultimately be used in a way that will harm the exhibiting trade. There are those who are suggesting that if an individual who has produced a film and has been helped by the production fund sells it, he should be compelled to refund the amount he obtained from that fund. However, Mr. Speaker, these are not matters which we can examine now, although we may mention them because they are part of the troubles which may help to prevent the Bill doing all we would want to see it do.

There is a second point. The hon. Gentleman stated that we wanted to see the film presenting abroad the British way of life. It may be that by and by we shall come to a new view of whether or not that is a sound directive. I say this because I do not know whether the British, or any other way of life, makes any particular appeal to any group of people. What we want to see in our film work is a common chord that can be struck in any cinema in any part of the world.

There is a strange commentary on this portrayal of the British way of life because it is part of what I had in mind at the beginning of my speech, that the industry is becoming ill-balanced. This is because the better paying aspect of the productive side lies in the horror films, the "X" films, those which are being produced by Hammer Brothers, and which since 1945 have turned men who started with practically nothing into millionaires. Those are the films which are selling most easily and most profitably abroad, and those are the films which apparently portray the British way of life.

It is not a properly organised industry that can create at one end men who are making lots of money, and, at the other end, men who are contributing towards the production fund which makes that possible, who are themselves desperate to make ends meet, and who are in many cases closing down their cinemas right and left. I do not think that is an unfair picture of the state to which the industry has come and I am certain that it is the wish of all Members to try to bring into this great industry a better economic balance than presently exists.

We shall probably have another chance to develop these matters in a little more detail later on this year, but in the meantime my duty is the simple one of hoping—as I do with some assurance—that the Opposition at least played its part in improving the Bill. Once again I thank the Government for their cooperation.

7.1 p.m.

Mrs. White

I do not propose to detain the House for very long because we have already gone into the details of the Bill. It is primarily a technical Measure, which does not raise matters of major policy except in one or two directions. One of its objects was to bring us up to date, and we have done that with the provisions which now substitute playing time for footage, and which recognise that we now have methods of recording both sight and sound which are different from those which have obtained in the past, and may look forward to even more revolutionary ones in future. I have here a cutting from the Observer of last Sunday, which reports that there is now something called "thermo-plastic recording," invented in America. It is a kind of hybrid composed of a photograph, film, magnetic tape and gramophone record. It is just as well that we have taken steps in this legislation to allow for any kind of future change of method. That is a minor but quite important advantage of the Bill.

I wish to refer to two major provisions, one of which we warmly approve and the other about which we are not at all enthusiastic. The one to which we object is that which includes newsreels. We do so not so much on grounds of quota. which is not so important, as for the levy purposes which are consequential. Although we cannot discuss the levy in much detail in these proceedings, the fact that it is directly consequential to this change is of some importance, and I would again stress the fact that we must take on trust the regulations which will be forthcoming in the future.

We were to some degree reassured by the affirmation from the Government that newsreels will have only the simple levy, and that there will be no multiplication as in the case of short films. I was asked to raise this point on Third Reading by some short-film makers who are concerned about this matter. I think that we are right to accept the assurance that there will be no additional multiplier for the newsreels when the regulations are brought forward.

Another understanding upon which newsreels were included was that when they come into quota, as they will now do, in settling the level of quota for short films account will be taken of the inclusion of newsreels. I believe that there is some doubt on this matter, but I would like to put it to the Government that when the Committee accepted newsreels into quota it did so on the understanding that they would be taken into account when the level of quota for short films was considered for the forthcoming quota period.

We welcome some of the other provisions, particularly in regard to co-production. We are very glad that the provisions of Clause 10 will make it much easier for co-operation with foreign film makers. As the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) has rightly said, we have an opportunity of becoming one of the centres of international film production. We very much hope that this opportunity will be seized by the British interests concerned. We have every reason to think that it will, but we are a little disturbed that the Government have not made it clear enough that there will be consultation before agreements are entered into with foreign Governments or authorities.

I hope that this will be done. We had some discussion about it in Committee. While we welcome the idea of co-production we are anxious that when we reach agreements they shall provide for a fair deal for our producers and employees. There is no doubt that unless great care is taken we may be taken for a ride in some of these agreements. The experience of some producers in Western European countries has shown that we must be very careful to make sure that we receive genuine reciprocity in any agreement that we make.

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned the question of Commonwealth studios. He will appreciate that we were concerned not so much with studios in the Commonwealth proper as with those in the Republic of Ireland, which is not in the Commonwealth. We must keep a very careful watch on Ardmore, which is the only studio with which we are much concerned as a direct competitor with the studios in the London area. We made it quite clear that studios in Australia are not directly in competition with the studios in London. If one goes to Australia one does so for a very good reason, concerned with the production of the film, whereas the studios in Ireland are much more directly competitive. We feel that care must be taken to see that production is not diverted there, to the real and lasting damage of the studios in this country, which, if once taken out of film production, will not be available should they be needed later on.

There is another matter which was raised earlier upon which we did not put down Amendments on Report but which, nevertheless, causes us some concern. I would ask the Government to reconsider the question of labour cost Clauses, in case something further can be done in another place. When we raised this matter earlier, by way of Amendment, I had to admit that the figures which we had then obtained from the trade might be somewhat misleading. We were told, in respect of short films about which we were specially worried, that if we raised the labour cost qualification from the £50 in the Bill to the £100 we suggested—in order to take account of the change in the value of money—we would thereby cut out about three-fifths of the British short films.

We have had a rejoinder from the makers of short films—too late for inclusion as an Amendment—that this figure could have been reached only by including magazine programmes and other programmes in series which are not usually what are meant by short films, and that it was only by putting in these peculiarly low-cost short films that the figure suggested to us could have been reached. I therefore suggest that the Government should look at the matter again. The short film makers tell us that they still feel that there is inadequate protection of quality for short films—other than of the magazine type or serial type programmes—by leaving the figure at the present £50 per minute of playing time. We naturally wish to ensure that quality is preserved as far as it properly can, and it is only right that we should draw attention to this matter.

I want to follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Govan in mentioning some of the matters which are concerning the industry, especially the question of films originally intended for the cinema being shown on television. The point at issue is that by provisions made in this House they enjoy the levy which is collected from cinema exhibitors. I give warning to the Government that the industry takes very seriously this question of a statutory levy now going to the competitors of the exhibitors from whom it is collected. The question cannot be ignored.

I was asked whether there was any method of putting down on Report an Amendment which would bring this matter more specifically to the attention of the House, but I could find no way within the rules whereby this could be done. Had we been able to do it we should have done it. I do not know whether any of our colleagues in another place will be more ingenious than we were. I would stress that this is a matter of extreme interest to the film industry at the moment, and that if we can do anything to help that industry we should. Although there has been a very sharp decline in the attendance at cinemas I would remind the House that more than 12 million people in Great Britain still go to the cinema each week. It is therefore quite wrong to treat the industry as though it were no longer of any account.

Furthermore, we have all been very much encouraged by some of the very good British films which have been produced in the last year or two. There is no doubt that there has been a considerable improvement in quality in many directions. It is true that there are some films, such as the horror films mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan, about which we would all be very much concerned if they bore the name of our country, as is now provided in the Bill. Apart from those films, however, of which most of us would be ashamed, a number of very good films have been made—films which have been good not merely in themselves but in terms of success at the box office, as recent trade reports have shown. We can take a good deal of encouragement from that fact. If, by the Bill, we have managed to do something to help the cinema industry on the more technical side, we shall be very happy.

I hate to end on a note of disappointment, but I was disappointed to learn from the Parliamentary Secretary that the consolidation Bill which is to come before us will not be all-inclusive. I have hardly had time to consider the import of his remarks, but I should be very much surprised if the 1957 Act were not included, because in this very Bill there is a good deal of cross-referencing to that, as well as to the Acts of 1948 and 1938. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will speak very strongly to his legal friends in this matter, and also to the Lord Chancellor, who is responsible for consolidation. We hope that as much as possible of the cinema legislation will be brought into one Bill, so that we shall not have the difficulties of cross-referencing which have dogged our discussions in the Measure now before us.

If we can be told later on that the consolidation Bill will be as nearly all-inclusive as possible we shall be very happy. For the rest, we are glad that, on balance, the Bill now before us may be of some assistance to the industry.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.