HL Deb 06 July 1925 vol 61 cc1051-6

LORD NEWTON rose to ask if His Majesty's Government have reconsidered their refusal to institute an inquiry into the Film Industry. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may perhaps be in the recollection of the House that when this Question appeared on the Paper a short time ago the Government was urged, not only by me but by nearly all the other speakers, to appoint a Committee to inquire into the question, but my noble friend Lord Peel, who represents the Board of Trade, refused this request, on the ground that what he called fruitful conversations were going on, from which a great deal was to be expected. Personally, I expect nothing at all from these so-called fruitful conversations. I took part in one of them myself, and the only thing I gathered was that no two persons were agreed but everybody wanted something done immediately.

I should not have referred to this question, only I observed that last Monday the Prime Minister, speaking in another place, said: I think the time has come when the position of that industry"— that is, the film industry— in this country should be examined. If the words have any meaning at all that surely means that there is going to be an inquiry, but, of course, it is always rash to assume that what people say in another place is to be taken literally, and I am quite prepared to be told by my noble friend that those particular words have a totally different meaning attached to them from that which I put on them. I cannot conceive any reason myself why the so-called fruitful conversations and the inquiry should not proceed simultaneously. There is no inconsistency about that at all, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government make so much difficulty, or, if I may use the expression, why they make such heavy weather about appointing an Inter-Departmental or a Departmental Committee. The whole thing could be done for about £100.

All you have to do is to take a room, take one clerk away from his duties, and there are no other expenses, or only such as are purely negligible. The opportunity could be taken advantage of for the fruitfully thinking people to appear and to produce their scheme, and everybody who has any ideas on the subject could come and ventilate them. The public would know what the position of the industry really was, would be able to form an opinion, intelligent or otherwise, the position could be studied in all its bearings, and, last and perhaps not least important, the mere fact of the announcement that there was going to be an official inquiry of this kind would bring our American competitors to their senses, and the trade would probably secure concessions which will never be obtained as long as we persist in our attitude of helplessness. For this reason I trust that possibly I am right in assuming that His Majesty's Government have changed their minds, and I entirely decline to believe that the noble Lord who replies for the Government will be able to adduce any fresh reason for refusing this most reasonable request.


My Lords, when the noble Lord last introduced this subject I intervened, not as being in any way qualified to express an opinion in connection with the industry, but merely on behalf of the Federation of British Industries, who informed me that they would like the Government to be made aware of the fact that they were intervening in this matter and trying to bring the various interests together with a view to placing definite proposals before the Government. I have now received a communication from the Federation of British Industries, who report that in the interval they have made really satisfactory progress and that, having ascertained the views of a large number of individuals who are interested in the industry, they are able to say that definite resolutions of co-operation in the movement have already been secured by the governing bodies of a large number of interested organisations, such as the British Empire Producers' Organisation, the Stage Guild, the Navy League and other societies. There are other organisations which, they anticipate, will be able to give their co-operation as soon as their governors are able to meet.

They admit that there has been some delay owing to the conference at Glasgow and the consequent absence of leading officials and members; but in the next day or two there will be a meeting of the bodies to which I have referred as well as the Federation of British Industries with the representatives of the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association, and there is a real prospect of definite proposals being submitted to the Government within the course of the next month. In those circumstances it would be as well, perhaps, for the Government to await the reception of those proposals before taking any definite action. I am sure your Lordships would agree that it is better to carry all the interested parties together in any step taken to help British industries, if possible, than to set up an inquiry which might not, perhaps, help the situation at the moment.


My Lords, I propose to reply on behalf of His Majesty's Government in place of my noble friend Lord Peel who has been called away on important official business. I should like to say, in the first instance, that the discussion which was initiated in your Lordships' House about a month ago by my noble friend Lord Newton has undoubtedly served a very useful purpose in directing public attention to this problem. The discussions which have taken place, and are still taking place, in the Press are no doubt awakening public appreciation of the importance of the issues involved. Your Lordships will doubtless have seen the various remedies which are suggested in the Press and elsewhere and are being freely discussed. That is certainly an advantage.

A few moments age my noble friend Lord Gainford acquainted your Lordships with the consultations which are now going on between the various interests concerned in the hope that it may be possible to submit agreed proposals to the Government, or to find some remedial course which, perhaps, does not involve Government action. The noble Lord told us that he expected that the results of these discussions would be available before the beginning of the holidays—I think he said during next month. In those circumstaces the Government are of opinion that it would be premature to adopt the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Newton, and to appoint a Committee at the present moment. That does not mean that they are in the least hostile to the appointment of a Committee. They are keeping themselves informed as to the consultations which are proceeding, and should it appear at any time that Government intervention, either by the appointment of a Committee or in any other way, would be of practical use they would be prepared to act accordingly.

My noble friend Lord Newton drew attention to a statement which was made in another place by the right hon. gentleman the Prime Minister. I think that a slight misunderstanding has crept in regarding what the Prime Minister said on that occasion.


Those were his actual words.


He did not promise a formal inquiry. He expressed the opinion that the whole position should be examined, and that, in fact, is being done.


Not by the Government.


I do not want to say that a Committee will not be appointed. We are only waiting until we receive the information which has been promised in a very short time by the various interests concerned and to which allusion has been made by my noble friend Lord Gainford. If it is necessary, then, to proceed in the manner suggested or in any other opportune way, we should be very glad indeed to consider that and to take every step we possibly can to further the interests to which my noble friend Lord Newton has called attention.


My Lords, I need hardly say that the answer I have received from the noble Earl is very much of the nature that I expected. This Government, like the previous Government, has a sort of superstitious reverence for the Federation of British Industries. Heaven knows why, but that organisation occupies a similar position, apparently, in the estimation of the Government to that occupied by the Jockey Club in the mind of the ordinary race-goer. The speeches made by my noble friend Lord Gainford, who, I believe, is a moving spirit in the Federation of British Industries, and my noble friend who replied on behalf of the Government, are purely dilatory. They are simply wasting time over this question. It is all very well to tell me that they have a scheme, a plan, and all the rest of it. I am reminded of General Trochu's plan, which we heard about long before my noble friend was born. This plan is of very much the same kind. When I am told that I am premature, I say that all I am doing is this—I am asking that the two things should go on concurrently. Let Lord Gainford and his friends inquire as much as they please, but let the Government set up an inquiry of some kind and then the plan of the Federation of British Industries, if it is worth anything at all, can be brought before the Committee and judged on its merits.

I repeat that the action of His Majesty's Government is, I regret to say, of a purely dilatory character. The Prime Minister gave us to understand that he was going to act at once. He clearly does not intend to do anything of the kind. In other words, I know perfectly well that this will all end eventually in an inquiry, because I have sufficient experience of Governments to know that they will not introduce legislation of this kind if they can possibly avoid it. They will take refuge in appointing this Committee at some future period. If they would consent to do that now, they would be saving time and giving a certain amount of satisfaction in many quarters and amongst people who have no material interest whatever in this particular industry.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before seven o'clock.