HL Deb 14 May 1925 vol 61 cc273-94

LORD NEWTON had given Notice to call attention to the present position of the British film industry; and to ask if His Majesty's Government will consent to appoint a Departmental Committee to inquire into the causes of the present depression of the industry and to make recommendations as to the best means of re-establishing this industry having regard to the industrial, commercial, educational, and Imperial interests involved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in bringing forward this Motion I cannot refrain from observing that nothing shows more clearly the absence of vision on the part of this country than the fact that we are only just beginning to awake to the importance of this particular industry. There are in this country about 4,000 cinema theatres, frequented by 20,000,000 people a week, which makes an attendance in the course of a year of over 1,000,000,000. The takings at these places reach something like £30,000,000 a year, and the Entertainment Tax alone amounts to about £3,000,000 a year. One would suppose, with these imposing figures, and considering the circumstances of this country and the fact that it is now almost entirely an urban country, that there were all the materials for building up an important industry; that there would be room for the employment of a huge amount of capital and possibly of hundreds of thousands of people. As a matter of fact, the circumstances are exactly the reverse of what one would suppose, and this particular industry, at all events so far as production is concerned, is practically dying, and before long may have disappeared altogether.

I do not think for a moment that it is fair to assume, as it is assumed in certain quarters—what I will venture to call "high-brow" quarters—that this decay and lack of prosperity is due to the incapacity of the people who are engaged in the business. As a matter of fact, this particular industry has always been in a very difficult position. Shortly after it started there came the War, during which, of course, it was practically impossible to do anything. Then, ever since the War, it has been in a practically hopeless economic position. After the War, in 1922–23, a serious effort was made to rehabilitate it, and its prospects looked rather more promising. British films were able to compete with some success with foreign films; but then came, among other disadvantageous circumstances, the dropping of the McKenna Duties. Difficulties began to accumulate, and the industry has now sunk to a condition in which British production of films is really little more than the renting and exhibition of foreign films, almost entirely American. I believe I am correct in saying that so low has this particular industry sunk, as regards production, that only about one-fourth of the money is now spent that was spent in the years 1922–23, and the amount is continually diminishing.

I do not know whether the House realises that the percentage of foreign films shown in this country is something like 95 per cent, of the total, and nearly all American. If you take our Colonies and the Dominions, the position is even worse, because 99 per cent. are foreign films, and again nearly every one is American. The cinema industry in America is now, I believe, the fourth industry in importance in that country. In place of our 4,000 theatres they have got something like 20,000. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed, and they are able to spend an unlimited amount on production. They are able to pay such huge salaries to certain people that those people earn more in a fortnight than a British Cabinet Minister earns in a whole year. They are able to make so much money in their own country, what with the size of the country and the number of theatres, and the various facilities at their disposal, that it has become practically impossible for the British producer to compete with them on equal terms. Formerly he was able to do so to a certain extent, but now the American is able to send his products over here so cheaply that it is impossible for the British producing companies to obtain fair prices.

The fact is, the Americans realised almost instantaneously that the cinema was a heaven-sent method for advertising themselves, their country, their methods, their wares, their ideas, and even their language, and they have seized upon it as a method of persuading the whole world, civilised and uncivilised, into the belief that America is really the only country which counts. We do our best to foster this idea. The other day I observed that an American arrived here with a circus horse, to take part in a film exhibition, and he was actually officially received by the Mayor, or Deputy-Mayor, of Southampton. That is not all, for when he came to London he was actually received by the Lord Mayor with semi-official honours, as if he were a victorious general or an illustrious discoverer, or something of that kind. When this gentleman, with his circus horse, went to France the French, with a higher idea of dignity than our civic officials possess, merely told him that he would not he allowed to obstruct the traffic, and nothing more was heard about it.

I should not object to this wholesale invasion of American films if they were all good, but as a matter of fact, to speak quite plainly, they consist of rubbish. I am told rubbish is the only thing which pays. If that is so, all I can say, and I am sure noble Lords will agree with me, is that if our people are content too witness perpetual rubbish, let it, at any rate, be English rubbish in preference to American rubbish, because in producing English rubbish the money will at least be spent in this country. Unfortunately, rubbish is what the public wants, and the taste of the public in the case of cinemas is, as in everything else, about as bad as it can be. Look at the public taste in literature and art. I suppose for every 30,000 who read The Times Literary Supplement at least a million read Tit Bits, and certainly another million regale themselves with Comic Cuts, and papers of that description, and, although I have not seen the figures, I am sure that the attendance at the National Gallery would compare very unfavourably with the attendance at Madame Tussaud's while that Institution was in existence.

What I gather is that the public want to see expensive and attractive females. Cabinet Ministers, however distinguished, would make a very poor show as compared with these ladies, and there is very little demand, so far as I am able to ascertain, for really high class productions. There are, as we know, every now and again very fine productions, which receive favourable notice, and are attended by intelligent sections of the population. It is, however, very seldom that these admirable films which we occasionally see are remunerative. It would be quite a mistake to dwell too much upon the cinema solely as a matter of entertainment, although, in my opinion, there is a great deal to be said in favour of the cinema as compared with certain aspects of the stage. I am not ashamed to say that I frequent cinemas to a certain extent, and I derive a considerable amount of satisfaction from them. There you can see theatrical action. You can see the remotest parts of the world presented in an absolutely correct manner, instead of a theoretical manner, as on the stage. You can derive entertainment from them in one way or another, and you are spared the awful drivel in the guise of humour to which you are occasionally obliged to listen at the theatre. There is a great deal to be said from that point of view in favour of the cinema, not omitting the fact that it costs only about one-fifth of what you would pay at the theatre.

But the cinema is not merely a means of entertainment. It is really one of the most, if not the most, important instruments at present for the furtherance of trade and of education and, more than anything else perhaps, of political propaganda, and the younger and the more undeveloped the people are who frequent the cinemas the greater is the effect upon their minds. If you consider the effect upon the millions of young people who frequent cinemas in this country and if you deplore, as possibly you do, the effect which is sometimes created, imagine what the effect must be upon millions of our coloured fellow citizens in remote parts of the world who perpetually have American films thrust upon them which frequently present the white man under the most unfavourable conditions and, in addition, are often of an extremely mischievous character.

Apart from what I would venture to call the denationalising influence exerted by these foreign and American films, we have also to consider their effect upon trade. It is well known, and the motto is practically universally accepted that trade now follows the film. Two small instances which came to my knowledge only recently prove the truth of that statement. A British firm secured a very important contract in Australia by sending out a private film. Australia, by the way, is one of the countries in which, as I shall presently show your Lordships, it is almost impossible to exhibit a British film at all. But somehow or another this firm managed to have a private film exhibited there, with the result, as I say, that they secured a very important contract. The other curious circumstance, for the truth of which I will not vouch, is that manufacturers of clothing and boots in the Midlands and Yorkshire have been obliged to alter their plant because the races in the Near East have been so impressed by the films they have seen that they desire to be clothed in the fashion of the American cinema actors.

The result is that we are not only crowded out of our own markets—the Dominion markets—but we suffer to a great extent from what the late President Kruger called moral and intellectual damage, owing to the manner in which, for instance, the Colonial market, especially in Australia, is completely dominated by American films so that it is almost impossible to show a British film at all. I am told that even when Lord Jellicoe was Governor of New Zealand it was only with the utmost difficulty—I am not even sure that they succeeded—that the Jutland film could be shown. Then there was the film called "Armageddon," which was produced for the purpose of showing what the Australians had done in the war. I believe it was impossible to find a cinema in Australia which would produce that film because they were all booked up with American films, and the only means of exhibiting it was to show it in the town halls.

Not only do these discreditable results occur, much to our prejudice, but many of the films are of an anti-British character, and are used for the purpose of distorting history. I am told that a film which enjoyed great popularity in the United States was one which represented the surrender of the German Navy to the American fleet, and, as an instance of hostile propaganda by this means, I am informed that not long ago an anti-British film entitled "America" was produced in the United States. It represented the War of Independence, and I believe it was an extremely offensive production to-us as a nation. That film found its way here, but it was thought desirable, I suppose, to alter the captions, and to make other small alterations, and it was produced in this country under the title of "Love and Sacrifice." It so happens that Dublin, apparently, depends upon this country for its films, and "Love and Sacrifice" went there. But the Free Staters did not want to hear anything about "Love and Sacrifice," so the film was restored to its original form as "America," with all its anti-British characteristics and, I am told, enjoyed great popularity. If anybody doubts the truth of what I am saying and the unfortunate effect which these productions have, I would recommend him to seek the opinion of the Foreign Office, the India Office, and what is still known as the Colonial Office.

It is impossible to deal adequately with this question in a comparatively short speech, but to sum up, the British production industry is dying and we are suffering materially and morally, not only here but throughout the Empire. It is a very unfortunate state of things, but I repeat that I do not believe it is the fault of our own people. I believe they are just as ingenious, as talented, and as enterprising as the people of other countries. I think that is proved by the fact that even the Americans have to send to us for their ideas and occasionally for their actors. They are obliged to draw upon us for those two commodities. There seems to be an impression in the country, which I do not share, that if the industry could be got into the hands of people of higher and more serious ideals the whole position would he revolutionised, and the public would flock to see films of a more serious character. I am afraid I find it impossible to believe anything of the kind. Looking at it impartially, it seems to me that the question of resuscitating the production of films here is a purely economic one. If that is so, and if you are to deal with this industry there are three branches of it which have to be considered and whose interests are different. There is the production side, the distributing side, and the exhibition side. It stands to reason that unless the exhibitor is particularly patriotic he does not very much care what he exhibits, so long as he can make money out of his show.

In order to shorten my remarks I will pass to the various remedies which I have seen suggested. There is, first of all, the suggestion that the industry should be put into the hands of what I will venture again to term the "highbrow" section of the community, who will study the cinema in all its bearings. That is a proposal which, to my mind, has very little merit. If you consider the question from the economic point of view, the first remedy that suggests itself is protection. But it is evident from the effect of the McKenna Duties that a very severe protection would be required to put the industry on its legs again. The McKenna Duties were of some, but not of much, use, and although they brought about an increase in revenue they were insufficient to keep out the foreign competitor. Then, there is a suggestion that there should be some form of reciprocal trading, a process which, I confess, I do not understand; and there is another suggestion that we should adopt what is known as the quota system. That system is one which prevails in Germany. To put it quite shortly, it is a system by which, if a foreign film is produced in Germany, the exhibitor has to produce an equal amount of native-made films.

Perhaps the House is not aware—I only became aware of it a few days ago—that we already have this quota system in existence here in another industry altogether. There happen at the present moment to be in this country a number of foreign musicians, and one of these foreign bands, considering themselves under some obligation to myself, offered to come and play to me. I was much gratified at this offer, but I was informed by the Ministry of Labour that if these persons came and played for me I should incur severe penalties, because I had not engaged an equal number of British musicians. I was also informed that British musicians would have to be engaged for the same period. I can only interpret that in this sense, that if a foreign musician sang a song of a certain length a British musician would be expected also to sing a song of the same length, and if a foreign musician received an encore I presume an encore would be obligatory upon the British performer, too. It is gratifying to find the Ministry of Labour occupying itself with details of this character. It rather reminds me, if I am not mistaken in my history, of the action of Napoleon who, when he was hemmed in at Moscow, laid down regulations respecting the length of the ballet dancer's skirts in Paris. I confess that protection of this kind seems to me to be of a somewhat futile character. The Ministry of Labour's solicitude for the British musician only means, I suppose, that British musicians have, in all probability, a powerful union, and that the Ministry of Labour is frightened of them. If the film industry had a powerful union, too, I have no doubt that union would be able to impose its will, not perhaps upon the Ministry of Labour, but upon the Board of Trade, with which they are more concerned.

There is one further remedy, which I have also heard suggested—a practical remedy—and that is that some patriotic financier should be found who would provide the money to tide the industry over its difficulties, on the assumption, of course, that he would receive as his reward a seat in this House. It is obvious that, except in the last instance, all these remedies would require the interference of Parliament, and I have suggested that the best way of meeting the difficulty is to have an independent Government Inquiry, because I am quite satisfied from my experience that no Government would undertake legislation of this kind until it has carefully enquired into the circumstances. My noble friend, Viscount Peel, who represents the Board of Trade, when I questioned him the other day said he did not think an Inquiry was necessary because the Board of Trade considered they knew everything there was to be known about this industry.


I did not quite say that.


Almost. Anyhow, am informed that persons connected with the trade to whom this statement was reported went so far as to say that the Board of Trade does not know very much about it. I submit that the best way out of the difficulty is to appoint a Committee, and I suggest either a Departmental or an Inter-Departmental Committee, for this reason. A Departmental Committee is a very unobtrusive body. There is no limelight about it. You can put on it persons who are quite conversant with the details of the industry affected, and the chances are that you get a unanimous Report, and—perhaps what is not to be despised—as a Departmental or Inter-Departmental Committee costs next to nothing, I think £100 or £200 would cover the whole expense. On the other hand, if you appoint a Royal Commission or a Parliamentary Commission you get on it people who probably are more anxious to advertise their own views than to enquire into the real circumstances of the case, and you are almost certain to finish with a Majority and a Minority Report.

For those reasons I am inclined to think the simple course which I have suggested would be not only the most practical, but also the quickest. Everybody will be able to come and lay their plans before it, and the public, if it is really interested in the matter, will be able to see how things stand. It only remains for me to state that, as far as I am personally concerned, I have no trade interest whatever in this question. I am not a film director, I have no desire to be one, and I do not suppose I ever shall be one. It is purely by accident that I have interested myself in the question, but I do not make any apologies for inflicting this speech upon your Lordships, because I consider the question is of much greater interest and importance than is generally recognised.


My Lords, before the Government reply to the noble Lord I should like, if I may, to say one or two words on behalf of the Federation of British Industries, who have been considering this question for some time, and have been in close negotiation and conference with a large number of national organisations. They desire that the Government should have an Inquiry and deal with the situation, which, they agree with Lord Newton, is most deplorable one, inasmuch as so many films of a foreign origin are displayed on the screens in this country and throughout the Empire, while films representing British life and British interests are conspicuously absent. The Federation believe that an Inquiry is necessary, and very essential in order to increase the prestige and promote the interest of British industry, but they think the present moment, when certain action is being taken on their behalf, and when they have been holding conferences, is not quite the most suitable one to them, because they have not yet come to a definite opinion as to the character of the evidence which they ought, on behalf of the industry, to place before an Inquiry. They, therefore, ask for a little further time, believing that a short postponement of the date on which the Committee would sit would enable them to get ready their evidence, and would promote the permanent interest of the industry. That would enable them to secure united action. After further conferences with all the interests concerned, and after consultation with the trade itself, they will be able to come to a unanimous conclusion and present their evidence in a way that will secure a much more rapid and effective solution than if this matter is precipitated.


My Lords, I think it is greatly to the public advantage that my noble friend has called your Lordships' attention to the subject of the British film industry, which is one of urgent national importance, even though it be far removed from the beaten ways of Party politics. I believe, with him, that it is impossible to exaggerate the influence of the cinema in forming the taste and in influencing the habits of the world. The cinema makes an appeal to the universal eye: the League of Nations only appeals to the universal heart. It has been said that newspapers now are written mainly for the half-educated, but the cinema goes direct to those who can neither read nor write all over the world. Under the conditions of modern life there is no institution which counts for so much, if you regard the world as a whole, and it is not too much to say that the cinema has now wholly become an American institution.

You cannot account for it in any one way. There is no doubt that the United States had an enormous advantage in being able to organise and perfect the machinery of the trade during the Great War. Practically the history of the cinema is all contained within the last decade. The Americans had an unrivalled opportunity. They have unequalled resources. I do not conceal from your Lordships that in the opinion of those best able to judge, of whom I am not one, it will be very difficult, it may be impossible, to oust America from the virtual monopoly which she now enjoys. The very scale of cinema production at present favours the wealth and the numbers of America. Whereas some of the greatest and most successful films which have brought the greatest profit to renters and exhibitors did not cost originally more than £30,000, it is calculated that the great film of "Ben Hur" now being prepared, will cost £1,500,000.

America is able to indulge in this gigantic enterprise because in the United States you have the most sheltered industry of which the trade of the world at present gives all example. We have only 3,000 cinema theatres, and half the population of this country goes to the cinema house once a week. In America there are 15,000, and more; I am not sure that I do not under-estimate the number, and with that protected market, into which no foreign film ever enters, they are naturally able to send the films abroad, and especially to the countries of the British Empire, at prices with which it is impossible to compete. Manufacturers here have told me that, whereas they might be prepared to embark thousands, in America the Americans will embark tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands in the same effort to keep their hold upon this great trade, and also, I believe, to influence the opinion of the world in favour of the trade of the United States as a whole.

I think we ought to give the cinema industry of America the credit for great patriotism in the way in which it has extended its efforts all over the world. But it has a rather curious effect. I myself last year, going twice to the cinema, saw two of what are called travel films. They were really in a sense educative, one dealing with the cultivation of rice in the Philippines. They were wholly American. If an Englishman ever appears in a travel film it is always in a rather ridiculous and contemptuous guise. That, of course, is not desirable for the observation of the world or for the character of the British people.

It is much more difficult to say how this competition is to be met, and still more how it is to be effectually conquered. Perhaps my noble friend expects a little more of the Departmental Committee than it is likely to give, but on the whole I believe it would be a very good thing if public attention were drawn not only in this country but throughout all the countries of the British Empire to the existing state of things. It might rouse a patriotic feeling sufficient to prevent the scandal of British films being actually excluded from the great majority of film houses here and elsewhere in the other Commonwealths that make up the Empire. To that point I would especially draw the attention of the noble Viscount who is to reply on this issue.

The difficulty, I believe, in the case of most of the exhibitors, as they are called, is that they have to enter into block contracts, to accept, not one but the whole set of films that are provided by any of the renters, who in their turn take them from the manufacturers. Some of them may be indifferent, but the appeal of the one in particular may make up for the deficiencies of the rest. The point, however, is wider than that. If all these films are American, with naturally an American bias, of which we need not complain and which is not necessarily anti-British, then what chance has the British manufacturer of getting his film into any of the houses in this country? And I believe the terms and conditions are much the same in the other communities. May I suggest that the Motion of the noble Lord is justified if it will only lead to the examination of the legal status of the trade. If these block contracts with their prohibitions and exclusions are contrary to the public interest, then I cannot see why they should not he made illegal. I do not say that this is easily done: far from it. I cannot tell whether the remedy would cure the disease, but, at the same time, nobody can fail to recognise that we are suffering enormously in the estimation of the world, in our trade, in our character and in our influence, by this form of propaganda, which exceeds anything that has been known or dreamt of before, and the effectiveness of which I do not think anybody who acquaints himself with world movements would deny.

I see that the League of Nations has recently proposed that no film should be exhibited that has not got its approbation. I hardly think that will be very successful, but, at all events, if it only comes to the point that they wish the films to have the stamp of their approval in order that people may be satisfied that they are likely to conduce to good results, it is quite intelligible that such a proposal should have been made. Whether that is so, however, does not matter. It is quite time that the Legislature took some cognisance of the film industry. It is far too great a subject far us to ignore. We are constantly discussing, at enormous length, questions of international relations and international trade, and we very often, to my mind, leave out those things that are of most account. If your Lordships turn to the histories that have been published of the last century you will very seldom, if ever, find any reference to the newspaper Press. It is totally ignored. In the same way we are inclined to ignore the cinema. If we do so, we do so at our peril. I venture to think that the proposal of my noble friend is of great value, and, if it does nothing else but give us public information and show us where we really stand, it will have been more than justified.


My Lords, I am sure that the wealth of information that has been given to the House this evening, both by my noble friend who initiated this debate and by the noble Viscount behind me, will be of great value to the Board of Trade, whose information on this subject my noble friend seemed inclined to depreciate. I must tell him this, and I tell it in confidence, that. I am not quite so simple as he believes, because I make at least an effort to test the information provided for me by that body. Last week I paid a visit to one of the few film-producing industries, and tried myself, by looking at the processes and examining the managers, to test some of the information which was given to me officially. I am bound to say that what I heard where oat extremely well the information I had received from official sources.

I am sorry to say that I can only echo, as regards the position of the industry, what has been already stated by the noble Lords who have spoken. I am speaking, of course, of the portion of the industry that deals with production. I am not speaking of exhibitors, or of those that rent the films, and, I understand, sub-let them to exhibitors. Let me give the House some figures on the subject. I am told that in 1914, of the films exhibited in this country some 25 per cent. were British, whereas in the year 1923, two years ago, only 10 per cent. were British. In the year 1925 I am sorry to say that the picture is even darker, because only a negligible quantity of British films are exhibited in our picture theatres and cinemas. It is the same thing, I am told, in the British Empire—Viscount Burnham, with his wide experience of conditions abroad, has spoken of that—for there, I believe, the proportion of British films is something like 2 or 3 per cent.

Again, in 1923 there were, I believe, something like twenty firms engaged in the film industry in the United Kingdom. At the present time there are only four or five of these which are still in action. I think the causes of that are clear, and they were very clearly stated by my noble friend behind me. They are economic. It is the tremendous volume of competition which our producers have to meet, mainly, of course, from the United States of America. I think the noble Viscount under-estimated, if anything, the dangers of American competition, because I understand that there are a good deal more than 15,000 of these picture theatres in America. I understand there are something like 17,000 or 20,000, which is a vast number, and which corresponds to only 3,000 in our own country, so that, if each country has complete command of its own market, the enormous advantage which the United States possesses is obvious in having six times the area of propaganda for spreading their films in their own country that we have. They are further secured in the United States because there are, I think, three main corporations in the United States who either own or control a great number of these theatres. The result is that they have got almost a monopoly in that country, and they can not only have their own films produced, but they can prevent anybody else having their films produced. Therefore, the chance of the entry of our films into that country is absolutely negligible, and hardly exists at all. There is no market for other films than the home films in the United States.

There is another difficulty, too. Lord Newton paid a great tribute to the skill and enterprise of the British film producers and actors. But what happens? So soon as these film producers have trained up a man or woman (and they lay much more stress upon the women actresses than on men) they are attracted to the United States by fees and salaries, which, of course, they can pay from their large market—salaries and fees stupendously above anything that can possibly be paid in this country, and beside which the highest professional incomes in this country are contemptible pittances. I fear, if the whole of the British market was secured, that the drainage of the best talent in this country to the United States would still continue.

Both the noble Lords have discussed the command which this gives over the British market. The control is really complete, because, with these immense profits in the United States, even in spite of the most lavish expenditure on pro- duction, and in spite of the pay to the artists, they can send their films to this country, and anything they get from the rent of those films is clear profit. It is obvious that competition in those circumstances must be attended by the very greatest difficulty. My noble friend, Lord Burnham, referred to the system of "blocks," by which some houses in this country can only get the right to rent and produce a good American film—he does not think there are good American films, but I am assuming that there are—by taking half a dozen rubbishy films in order to get the good one. It prevails in some parts of the industry, but I know from personal knowledge obtained from some of the largest owners that they have swept themselves free from that, and are free to get the films they desire. Of course, other forms of contracts are made, and they very often secure the rights for a long period in this country by making long contracts, and giving films for a very cheap price. The result of all this is that the film producer in this country has to fight almost impossible competition—I will not say an almost impossible competition, but a very serious competition.

My noble friend alluded also to the McKenna Duties, which are certainly not very operative in the case of films, as they no doubt are in other cases, because I understand that the specific duty upon films is based simply upon the film value, and that, of course, is quite different from the exhibition value of the film. The result is that this duty is really almost negligible compared with the profits that are made. Indeed, from what I have said, I think your Lordships will agree that it is rather difficult to see how anything short of prohibition of these American films could really secure an opportunity for the film exhibitors of this country.

In spite of the plaudits and the laurels which my noble friend has bestowed upon the British film producers, I have seen the other side of the picture. I do not say that it is true, but I have heard the criticism rather freely expressed that the public in this country deliberately prefer these American films to our own. Whether that is a criticism of our own films I do not know, but I think that, if you talk to the exhibitors, they will tell you that, for some reason or other, these American films, whether owing to their good qualities or their bad qualities—I do not dogmatise upon that point—for the moment seem to attract audiences far more magnetically than British films. Everybody admits, 1 think—and the point has been put so forcibly by both noble Lords that I really need not dwell upon it—that this is a great loss to us from an educational point of view, from the point of view of propaganda and from the point of view of British feelings, British institutions and British habits, to say nothing of the effect, not necessarily very inspiring, upon the people of this country of the constant contemplation of the sort of pictures that are produced in these American films.

My noble friend approached the question of possible remedies, and he discussed a particular remedy which is, I think, in force in Germany where, for instance, if you are to produce one foreign film you must produce also a native film in order to balance it. There would naturally be very great opposition from the exhibiting side to this particular proposal. Exhibitors would, of course, contend, and, in fact, do contend that the cinema theatre would very likely be empty, and would not pay the expenses of production if they were forced to balance their American films by showing British films at the same time. I cannot say how drat would be, but, though it might be possible to get over the feelings of the exhibitors, the difficulty is with the general public. It would be very difficult to state dogmatically at this moment whether there is such a demand among the people who go to cinemas or among the general public for the British film that they would assent to an arrangement of this kind by which American, or foreign, and British films were alternated in the cinemas.

In spite of what my noble friend has said, I am inclined to think that the causes of the depression are pretty clearly appreciated. They are economic, and they are understood. I doubt very much whether, at any rate at the present time, an inquiry into causes could throw very much new light upon this subject, which is already very familiar, not only to the Board of Trade but, I think, to all who have looked into the industry. We are more concerned to ask what are the remedies. If the Government were to appoint a Committee to examine this subject, and if that Committee were to propose remedies, you would certainly be raising the expectation in that particular industry that some at least of those remedies were to be carried into effect by the Government. After all, the present Government is a very practical Government. It does not, I believe, appoint Committees or Commissions unless it is determined in most cases to carry out many of the recommendations of those Commissions. It is a Party of swift and immediate action after information has been obtained. Accordingly I should rather deprecate, at any rate at this particular moment, appointing a Committee of that kind, which could discover little that is not familiar to most of us, and would raise up the expectation that the Government was going to deal at once with the matter, although our feeling is that the state of public opinion relative to American and British films is not so strongly developed that the public would support or welcome strong action against. American or foreign competition.

There is another point regarding a Committee which was referred to by Loral Gainford, and that is that at the present time a great deal of discussion is going on between different sections of the trade and representatives of the British Federation of Industries. I think it would be unfortunate if the Government, by rushing in at the present moment, were to disturb, or possibly interrupt, these fruitful conversations, which we hope may result in some action. As my noble friend Lord Burnham knows very well, the Federation of British Industries is extremely well aware of the disadvantages to British trade which occur from the fact of this widespread propaganda of another country through the cinema. They are fully alive to all this, and the Government feel that, at the present time at any rate, it would probably be better to allow this development to go on and see if these people are able to deal with the subject and, by rousing public opinion, to make the public and the trade insist upon British films being exhibited both here and throughout the Empire.

On those grounds I hope that my noble friend will not press me to accede, at any rate at present, to the appointment of this Committee. May I add that I think he has done, and will do, very great service by making all these facts public? He might do a great deal by rousing public opinion, and I hope that he will not content himself with merely bringing this matter forward in the House of Lords, but will continue his propaganda throughout this country and, with his powerful eloquence, make the cinema haunters of this country realise the tremendous advantages of the British film


My Lords, the discussion that has taken place this afternoon has really ranged around two particular points, and I would ask leave of your Lordships to say just a few words concerning them. The first point concerns the competition of the United States of America, and it is perfectly clear that the chief reason why that country has secured pre-eminence in this matter is that during the early years of the War, while the whole of our efforts were concentrated on winning the War, the Americans were able to turn their attention to this matter. It was in that way, while we were engaged in more important affairs, that they secured the lead, and your Lordships will readily understand how, when one country gets the lead in a matter like this, it is very difficult for any other country to become a rival.

But there is yet another reason, to which I think no reference has been made. I would ask any of your Lordships who remembers what last summer was like to imagine the unfortunate producer waiting day after day, week after week, I might say month after month, for a fine day upon which it might be possible to take a successful film. No doubt the action of a good many of these films takes place indoors, and we need fear no rival in regard to indoor films, but there are many which contain scenes that take place out of doors as well, and your Lordships will readily understand that, however successful we may be in beating our competitors in indoor scenes, it would be very difficult for us to succeed if we had also to take into account the state of the weather. We all hope for a better season this year, due no doubt to the advent of the present Government, but whether we have it or not it is clear that no company is likely to bank upon the possibility of fine weather in any particular year.

There is another matter which has been mentioned, and it is the possibility of assistance from the so-called McKenna Duties. I think it is important in this regard to remember why those Duties were imposed. They were imposed, not to assist the various industries, but to hinder them—to prevent the goods from reaching these shores. They were put on in order that space might be used for more important things than pianos, watches, or even cinema films, and their re-imposition is only likely to have the same effect as before, and once more to make it difficult for these goods to reach these shores. It is interesting to notice the opinion held inside these trades of the position of the Duties. I take this from what was said by Mr. George Smith, Chairman of the Cinematograph Renters' Society. He said:— The re-imposition of the duties on foreign films is preposterous. Were it of any use, it might indeed be justified, but to-day there is no British film industry that needs protection. At the moment exhibitors have booked films for the next six or nine months ahead, and that at a price which must necessarily mean that, if a further sum has to be paid before they are shown, an additional charge will have to be extracted from the picture-play going public. To impose a duty on foreign films to protect a home industry which is nonexistent through lack of initiative, foresight or enterprise, is sheer stupidity. That is the opinion of an important person connected with the industry itself.

I should also like to draw your Lord ships' attention to the actual figures showing what has happened since the McKenna Duties were happily taken off by the late Government. For the first quarter of 1923, when the Duties were on, the imports were 23,700,000 feet. For the first three months of the present year, when the Duties were off, the imports were 32,000,000 feet. The export figures are still more remarkable for practically the same periods, the figures being 5,800,000 as compared with 33,700,000 feet. That, I think, is a great tribute to the wisdom of the late Government in taking off those Duties. There is one other question I should like to submit to your Lordships. We have to bear a sufficient burden of taxation. Already this industry, like all other industries of the same character, is bearing its burden of taxation. The Entertainment Tax is a considerable burden upon this industry, and I think it would be unfair to put a still further lax upon it. I wish, indeed, that the Government had seen their way not to re-impose this particular burden upon the film industry.

With regard to an Inquiry, I confess that I feel some little regret in the matter. I am quite sure that what we all want is information upon the subject, and I do not share the optimism of the noble Viscount with regard to the way in which action immediately follows inquiry by His Majesty's Government. It is not the experience of this country that even Conservative Governments have immediately followed inquiry by action, and I do not suppose we should have expected immediate action even if inquiry had taken place; but I do welcome the possibility that inquiry may take place at some future date. The noble Viscount is careful not to commit himself too closely to an Inquiry in the future if further facts are brought forward, but if such further facts are brought forward which justify an inquiry I hope he will, on behalf of the Government, see his way to accede to the demand.


My Lords, I desire to call attention to one aspect of the question to which I think attention has not been drawn in any of the speeches, except only in a passing reference by the noble Lord who raised this Question. It was certainly not dealt with by the noble Viscount who replied for the Government. It is that, as far as I understand it, in America, in addition to all these other advantages with which previous speakers have dealt, the industry is organised as a whole, and in fact that two or three years ago all the several branches of the industry combined together to form one organisation, at the head of which I think they placed an American ex-Cabinet Minister. So far as I understand there is in this country nothing of the kind, and there are three separate branches of the industry, all of which are competing, with rival views as to what is necessary for the prosperity of those individual branches of the industry. I think, from some of the opinions we have heard, it is fairly evident that the exhibiting branch of the industry, quite contrary to what is done in America, is not acting in co-operation in any degree with the British producing section, but rather in enmity with it.

How far that has a direct bearing upon the present deplorable state of the producers I am not in a position to say, but I should have thought that before a case for an Inquiry was pressed it would be well for the, industry itself to see how far its three branches could be harmonised and made to work together with that harmony which we see in America. Until the industry docs fuse its three branches into one I cannot see how the Government can be urged with any real reason to conduct an Inquiry into it. Therefore, so far as that is concerned, I was not dissatisfied with the noble Viscount's reply on behalf of the Government.


My Lords, I must confess that, although the reply of the noble Viscount is satisfactory and sympathetic up to a certain point, yet I feel a certain amount of disappointment with regard to it. The noble Viscount concluded his speech with an impassioned appeal to me, personally, to head a sort of cinema crusade. If that involves a personal appearance on the screen I must respectfully decline to take any part in an agitation of that character. I cannot say that I am convinced by the arguments of the noble Viscount against holding an Inquiry immediately. He seems to think that the effect of setting up a Committee will be at once to encourage false hopes—that everyone would imagine that something startling is bound to happen immediately. I have had experience of Commissions and Committees, and so forth, and I am the last one to believe that people expect immediate results therefrom. It must be years before anything happens, but the reason I press for an Inquiry is that, as was pointed out in the debate, the public really will then have an opportunity of judging how the matter stands. Everybody will have an opportunity of putting his case before the Committee, and we shall all be able to form our own opinion. I further urge it because I know that, whatever the noble Viscount may say, it is inevitable in the long run, and therefore the sooner you make up your minds to have it the quicker you will advance in the matter.