HL Deb 18 May 1927 vol 67 cc345-66

LORD DANESFORT had given Notice to call attention to the system of censorship of films now existing in this country; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this question, whether you view it from the point of view of the numbers of those who attend film exhibitions or of the wide influence which those exhibitions exert upon these who visit them. The numbers who attend these films are startling. It is estimated that something like twenty million people a week in this country attend film exhibitions and those twenty millions include a very large number of children. Indeed, I am informed on what I believe is trustworthy authority that about ninety per cent. of all the children between eight and fourteen who attend the elementary schools of this country attend these film exhibitions more or less regularly.

What do they see there? There are films and films, and while it is undoubted there are many films which are valuable instruments for education or serve the purpose of amusement, it is equally undoubted that there are degrading films which have a very pernicious influence upon those who see them. If those facts and figures are remembered it appears to me that, an effective censorship of the films is absolutely essential. I doubt if any one disputes it and the question is, have we got it? May I for a few moments ask your Lordships' attention to the history of this matter? In 1909 the Cinematograph Act was passed. It was generally recognised at that time, certainly it was by the Legislature, that some effective control was necessary over films which were to be exhibited. With that object in view that Act provided that picture halls where films were to be shown should be licensed by county councils, and large powers were given to county councils to impose by the terms of their licences conditions and restrictions under which films should be exhibited. I will refer a little later to the undoubted fact that the county councils have not, speaking generally, exercised any independent supervision or control over the films which are exhibited.

The next step was in 1912. In that year there was a general feeling both in the film trade and among the public at large that there was a growing tendency to exhibit objectionable films. Thereupon a deputation of manufacturers and renters of films waited upon the Home Secretary of the day and suggested to him that the trade should at their own expense appoint and pay a board to act as censors of films before they were publicly exhibited. To that the Home Secretary assented, although he did not assent to the further suggestion they made that an appellant tribunal should be appointed. From that time, 1912, to the present day the system of censorship in operation has been that the trade themselves appoint the President of the Board of Censors, that the President appoints I think it is four others, and that they are all paid fixed salaries paid by the trade out of funds raised by the trade.

The mode in which this fund is levied on the trade strikes me as being curious. It appears that contributions are only levied on the films which are passed and no contributions whatever are levied on the films which are rejected. Prima facie I should have thought that it would be reasonable that films which the censors found so objectionable that they rejected them should have to contribute more to the fund than unobjectionable films. However, the exact reverse is the case. Could there be a more Gilbertian situation? Here you have people coming forward asking that their productions should be examined and adjudicated upon as to whether or not they are fit for exhibition, and the very persons whose productions are so put forward are the persons who appoint the judges and pay the judges who examine and adjudicate upon the productions under review‡ One might suggest analogies which would be disagreeable, but I do not propose to do that. I do say, however, that at first blush it appears to be a system which is absolutely strange and unjustifiable.

How does the system work? That there are objectionable films submitted to the censors for their approval or their rejection, as the case may be, is undoubted. In proof of that I need only refer to the reports published by the Board of Censors themselves. The report of the Board of Censors for 1925 gives a list of reasons why exception was taken to certain films which were submitted to the Board. It is no exaggeration to say that that list of reasons given by the censors is an appalling list. Let me give your Lordships some instances. There were six instances of scenes presented of a character either altogether blasphemous or highly offensive to religious sentiment. There were seven instances of scenes being presented of gross indecency in dress, dancing or gesture, or of dissolute revelry. Among the reasons given by the censors for some of these films being objected to is that they showed the nude either actual or in silhouette provocative and sensuous exposure of girls' legs, immodest and suggestive dancing, abdominal contortions in dancing, offensive vulgarity and indecorous gesture, scenes of orgy and dissolute revelry, and numbers of others.


They were not passed.


They were altered. I am going to say a word about that. In nine instances there were scenes representing criminal assaults on women, scenes of vice, immorality and debauchery, illustrations of the lives of immoral women and other offensive scenes. There were six films of which crime was the sole or principal theme or in which crime was extenuated or held up for sympathy. There was a case of Bolshevist propaganda and cases of scenes bringing discredit on British uniforms and on British officers in India and elsewhere. There was one case, at any rate, of a grossly vulgar and offensive travesty of the Great War. That is an amazing list. It is quite proper to say that the report states that the films presenting these disgusting features were altered before they were passed, but I beg leave to doubt, and to doubt very gravely, whether films such as these presenting scenes such as these could possibly be altered so as to make them desirable for presentation to a British audience.

If you look at the result of the censorship of these films in 1925 you find an amazing result. There were 1,885 films submitted in that year. Of these 1,517 were passed without alteration, 361 were passed with alteration, seven, and seven only, were rejected. In other words, 37 per cent. were rejected. In the course of the report interesting information appeared illustrating the difficulties of the censorship under the present system. The Board, for instance, say that they deprecate what seems to be a growing habit with actors of both sexes of divesting themselves of their clothing on slight or no provocation. Again they say that some of the dances, especially in cabaret or similar scenes, are of a nature that cannot be considered decorous or even decent. Further on they say regarding the all-important question of sex, that they wish to call attention to the increasing difficulties caused by the growing tendency shown to treat the subject with a lightness which formerly would not have been countenanced.

These facts which I have stated and which appear in the report of the Board of Censors show two things. They show, in the first place, that a number of films are submitted to the censors which are of a grossly offensive character and, further, that of the total number submitted only an infinitesimal number are rejected and that a large number of films possessing these highly offensive characteristics, instead of being rejected in toto, are modified and passed. I am not going to give illustrations of objectionable films that are now on exhibition, but that there are offensive films on exhibition is a matter of common notoriety. I have seen some myself but, I am glad to say, not many, for I am not a great film-goer. I have had many representations from my friends and others, and I say it is undoubted that to-day films are exhibited in London and elsewhere that ought not to be tolerated in a country such as ours.

It may be asked whether the local authorities do not, under the Act of 1909, exercise their powers of examination and inspection before they grant licences, and whether they cannot in that way stop objectionable films. I have made careful inquiries on this point and the answer to that question must be, broadly, No. They appeal to rely almost entirely on the Board of Censors, and I am informed on the highest authority that it is the fact that in recent years local authorities have not made any general attempt to examine before exhibition films that have been passed by the censors. Generally speaking, they have been satisfied with the standard observed by the Board. So far as I have been able to learn—and this, I venture to think, is a point of some importance—there has been no case in recent years of a local licensing authority refusing to allow the exhibition of a film that has been passed by the censors.

There is one other point in connection with the censorship that should be noted. I understand that the censors divide the films that they pass into two classes; one, which they mark "U," is said to be fit for universal exhibition, to children and others; and the other, which they mark "A," is said to be fit to be viewed only by adults. What steps are being taken to-day to see that even this very limited protection for children is carried into effect? Practically none. Exhibitors are not compelled to indicate to the public, either in their advertisements or on the notices outside their cinemas, that the films belong either to the "U" class, which is the large class, or to the restricted "A" class. What they have to do—and I venture to think that it is perfectly useless—is to follow the licensing authority's directions and, before the exhibition actually begins in the hall, to show a certificate from the Board of Censors stating whether the film belongs to the "U" class or the "A" class. What is the use of that? The people are already there, the children are there. Are we to suppose that, when this notice is thrown on the screen and we are told that this is class "A," the children will be taken out because the film is unfit for children to see? Surely the proper course is to indicate beforehand to which class the film belongs, so that parents may know whether to take their children or not. I agree that this is not the fault of the Board of Censors, but it does show the paramount necessity of some form of legislation to alter the present system and make effective the intended protection of children from improper films.

Having regard to these facts, I do urge that the present censorship by a board appointed and paid by the trade is wrong in principle and that there should be in this country, as in practically all our Dominions, an official censorship appointed by the State. I have looked into the conditions of censorship in the Dominions. I will not go into them at any length, because I do not want to waste your Lordships' time, but I find on inquiry that the situation in the Dominions is this. There is, so far as I can find out, no Dominion in which such a thing is to be found as a censorship of films by the trade itself. In practically every case censors are appointed either by the Dominion itself or, in the case of Canada and South Africa, I think, by the Provinces of those Dominions, with an appeal in most cases to an appellant tribunal. Let me say a few words about the working of the system in Australia, where the practice of visiting films is very largely followed and where the system of censorship appears to me to be far more effective than in most places. The number of films of strictly foreign production imported into Australia is immense, and there is at this moment a very strong movement, with which I heartily sympathise, for the production and importation into Australia of good British films. There are already in Australia stringent regulations under their Customs Acts as to the general character of the films to be allowed to enter the country, and the Chief Censor of Films is appointed by the Government under the Customs Acts.

Now, as to the results of this film censorship in Australia. In 1925, 6 per cent. of all the films submitted were rejected in toto—a figure which very remarkably contrasts with the one third per cent. that are rejected in this country under our present system. Moreover, in 1925 about one half of the total footage of films examined was censored and had to be altered before it was passed. That again contrasts very strangely with the number that were altered in this country by our Board of Censors. Take the figures for 1926. In that year 4½ per cent. of the total films submitted were rejected in toto, but I have not the figures to show how many were altered. It is rather interesting to note, because it shows the great attention paid to this matter by Australia and its Legislature, that in March last there was a debate in the Senate of the Federal Parliament in which strong comments were made on the objectionable character of the American films that were said to be imported into Australia and the necessity for having a proper supply of British films. As a result of this debate a Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives was appointed to investigate the matter.

I have one further point to make to your Lordships. The recent Imperial Conference and our own Legislature have recognised the great importance of the increased production and exhibition of British films in this country and throughout the British Dominions. That aim will, as I believe, be largely helped by a stricter censorship of the objectionable foreign films which are being exhibited in this country, and we shall thereby open a road to the increased production and exhibition of healthy British films. My last word is this. This is a matter, as I think, of grave national importance. It is not merely a question of examining into a particular amusement. It is a matter, as I believe, of concern to all those who view with alarm, and indeed with disgust, the degradation and demoralisation of public taste and the public mind by degrading and demoralising exhibitions. It is a matter of concern to all those who have the interests of the children at heart and who desire to prevent the poisoning of children's minds at an early and impressionable age by objectionable and evil influences. This is a matter in which not one section of the community but the community as a whole is interested, or at least should be interested. It is a matter in which we might ask for the help of the clergy of this country, as well as of every other class who are interested in the welfare of the children and people as a whole. Therefore I do hope I shall get some reassuring statement from the Home Office upon the matter. I beg to move.


My Lords, I have taken great interest in the noble Lord's Motion, because I attend the pictures a good deal. It is the only kind of dramatic entertainment which I can afford to attend. I have done so for many years, and have watched with interest the progress of the industry from the point of view of its becoming an important part of our educational art. The noble Lord has not exaggerated the importance of the industry at the present time, but I was a little disappointed at the manner in which he developed what I expected would be his case—namely, that the present censorship was not exercised in a sufficient or adequate manner. I do not think he gave us any sufficient evidence of that. He made certain general suggestions about bad and demoralising films, but from my personal experience I rather join issue with him upon that. I will come to that point presently.

The noble Lord first dealt with the manner in which the Board of Film Censors is appointed, and said: Is it not ridiculous that the trade itself should pay for and appoint its own film censors? The President of the Board of Censors is the Right Hon. T. P. O'Connor, and I should have said if the Government were going to make an appointment, and appointed him, that they had made an admirable selection. He is a man with great knowledge of the world, of high morality and good taste, and no better selection could have been made by the Government. I do not know whether the Government have not some kind of veto upon the censor. I can only say that the film industry appear to me to have exercised the responsibility placed upon them in a very admirable manner by the appointment of the present film censor. Turning for a moment to a minor point I think I concur with the noble Lord. He said: Is it not monstrous that a man who has presented a film and has had it rejected should not have to pay a fee? I should have supposed that everyone who presented a film for censorship would, as a preliminary matter, pay a fee, say, of a guinea. It is a small matter and I agree that any one who presents a film for licence should pay a preliminary fee, and if it is not passed then he should lose his deposit.

Then I come to the substance of the noble Lord's complaint, which is apparently that he believes that the censorship is not exercised in a sufficiently drastic manner. He took one point as a preliminary. He said it is true that discrimination is made between "A." and "U." films—films licensed for adult production and for universal production—and that no effectual working is given to that discrimination. I agree that it is very regrettable, if, as he says, no kind of effect is given to that discrimination. I think it might be made a condition by law, or otherwise, that wherever a film is accepted for presentation by a local authority—an "A." film—it should be a misdemeanour for the promoters of that entertainment to admit children into the hall. If there is anything in the discrimination, then if you are going to exercise any kind of—


The local licensing authorities can do that now. The censors only mark the films.


That is what I understood, and I said I should agree that it is very desirable that the local authority should exercise discretion. If any strengthening of their powers can be given by the Home Office I think it would be a very good thing if it were done. Now I come to the "U." films—films licensed for universal production. According to the figures given by the noble Lord only six or seven such films were rejected, and a very great number were modified before being allowed to be placed upon the screen. In the first place I do not agree that the fact that more films were rejected in Australia than were rejected in Great Britain shows that a vast mass of very bad films was presented in this country. I think perhaps the Americans may try it on the Australian public more than on the British public, but I do not think, judging from what I have seen on the screens, you can say that a vast mass of very bad films has been attempted to be placed upon the screen. I think the managers of the film industry know their business better than that. They know that bad and indecent films do not draw the vast public of twenty millions a week, and that it is better business to put on the screen films which commend themselves to the great mass of family public. Therefore they exercise preliminary caution in approaching the censor at all.

With regard to the films dealt with, I think that the fact that so many were modified shows that considerable vigilance has been exercised by the censor. Speaking from my own experience—I look at matters rather from the point of view of seeing whether there is anything objectionable in a film or not, because I am interested in that part of the question—I have seldom seen anything passed by the present Board of Censorship which would lead me to ask myself: "I wonder if 'T. P.' saw it, and if he passed it?" As a general rule I think that everything which can be said to be specially or particularly objectionable in a film is cut out; and it is much easier to cut out from a film what is objectionable than it is to cut out a particularly objectionable feature or gesture from a variety performance, because on the film you cannot gag. On the whole I think the films are very carefully sifted from that point of view. I have seen German and French films performed in England and abroad, and I have observed that certain details more in keeping with the atmosphere of Continental theatres have been cut out of the British presentation, showing that real discrimination is exercised so far as objectionable details are concerned.

The noble Lord has not given us any details of cases and I am not convinced by his presentation of the matter. I do not think many people accustomed to going to the films would say there was much which was precisely objectionable in the details of the films which are presented. There is a great deal which is very disagreeable, offensive and tiresome in masses of the films which come to this country—because most of these films, as we know, are produced in America, for certain audiences in America. They are produced for rather uninstructed and simple-minded audiences, and also they are produced in a society whose standards of taste in regard to expenditure are not the same as ours, and whose standards of taste as regards pleasure—of what is the best way of having a good time—do not appear to be exactly the same as ours, although to some extent they have been imported into England in recent years. The furniture and the taste of wealthy houses, the manner in which the inhabitants amuse themselves, the excitements of New York life in the cabarets and elsewhere do not appeal to our æsthetic sensibilities, and, in fact, they appear to us very gross and very offensive in many cases. It may be possible, as the noble Lord seems to fear, that some of the rising generation are being trained up to regard the methods of dancing and dissipation, and the institution of petting parties, and other trans-Atlantic amusements as being part of civilisation which is admirable. But I do not think that the present generation of boys and girls, as I come in contact with them, is being in the mass more demoralised than the girls and boys of my own generation were.

I sometimes go on Saturday afternoon into the cinema theatre at Oxford, where they have fourpenny seats, which are full of little boys and girls. They always cheer the moral, and hoot and hiss the immoral, in most approved music hall fashion; showing that they do discriminate as the simple moralists of the film mean them to discriminate. These film moralists are extremely simple. They show you the rich and wicked person and intend you to detest him, and they show you the good and virtuous poor person and they intend you to admire him. And these tendencies are shown among the young people of our cinema audiences just as much as they ever were. We cannot, of course, exclude the American films, because there is an immense amount of local colour and scenario which is extremely interesting and stimulating and which you cannot get anywhere else. You have magnificent scenarios and backgrounds in American films, and mixed up with that you must get a certain amount of American civilisation, which I do not think is very demoralising to us.

We have now being considered in another place a Bill for instituting further sifting of films. We all know that during the War, and since the War, American producers got a tremendous start over our producers, and we know also that our own films, from the point of view of scenario, photography, and acting, were very inferior to the American work that was being done. Many of our most distinguished actors when first they acted for the films seemed to think that the way to act for the film was to pull a face and strike an attitude. The film has a special technique which was developed by degrees, and which our English actors are now learning, and for which we have to get most of the talent from America and elsewhere. I have watched our British films with very great interest. They are steadily improving in all respects. The photography is admirable, the production is admirable, and the acting is admirable—really very much more so than they were two or three years ago.

The noble Lord referred to some British films which are being produced. I think they are called educational films, and some of them are extremely good. I saw the other night a first-rate example of a good ordinary film. There are certain enormous spectacular films such as "Ben Hur," which are the super-films, but as regards the ordinary first-class film you would not see a better example than one which is now running called "Palaver." That is a film exhibiting administrative and native life in Northern Nigeria. It is educational in a sense as to what is going on in that part of our Empire, but as a work of art, as a production, or as a story, it is also a first-rate film, and just as good a film as anybody would want to see upon the screen. I look to the growing advance of films, done in this country by our own artists and to suit our own taste, to eliminate the objectionable qualities which you see in American and other films, and I have little hope of achieving that object through the censor, because I cannot imagine that any Board of Censorship is ever likely to scrap an enormous number of films which the ordinary grown man or woman would see no reason whatever for scrapping, because the ordinary grown man or woman is perfectly able to stand anything in them, knowing that these things happen, and are part of life.

We cannot expect the censor to eliminate those things; but you can expect the artist, the producer, and the public more and more to eliminate what is objectionable and to build up and approve what is to our minds admirable. That is what the Bill now under con- sideration in another place aims at. I do not know what the opinions of the noble Lords on the Government Benches are, but, knowing what I do of the censorship of the stage, and having observed the way in which the censorship of the films is exercised, I cannot conceive that a better or more stringent censorship than we have exercised now by the trade would effect the purpose of the noble Lord, which we all of us desire to see effected.


My Lords, I intervene for a moment only to give some qualified support to the noble Lord who has brought this matter before your Lordships' House. He has, indeed, brought up a subject of the very greatest importance to the whole nation, for of the educational influences which are having their effect on the life of young people to-day I suppose that broadcasting and the cinema are the two greatest. We have only to walk about in any part of our great towns, especially the poorer parts, and almost at any time of the afternoon or evening, wet or fine, we shall find large crowds of people waiting to enter the cinemas. They are crowded, especially the smaller ones, almost every day, crowded to the door, frequently for one house after another. They are quite extraordinarily popular, especially among children, and I think it is difficult to exaggerate the influence which these cinemas have, especially upon the young. There they very often get their first real ideas of life, and if they get false ideas of life those impressions may have on them an influence which will be deleterious for years and years to come.

But if I am asked whether I think that the cinema to-day is, on the whole, demoralising, I am quite unable to agree with that opinion. On the whole, I think the cinema has been beneficial. It has brought a great deal of interest to many lives which otherwise would be dull and drab. The pictures have been the . … magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn to large numbers of people who otherwise would have their imaginations entirely cramped, and there would be real interest taken out of life for these people if our cinemas were now largely reduced in number. When I have said that, how- ever, I am bound to agree with almost everything that has been said, both today and on other occasions, about the utter stupidity and fatuous sentimentalism of a great deal that is shown on the films. I have not the intimate personal experience of the films which the noble Lord opposite has, but I have gone to them from time to time, and I hear a good deal about them, and the objection I have to them is not that they are, as a rule, demoralising, but that they are as a rule, the smaller films especially, extremely stupid. But after all, they meet the need of the public. The public, consisting frequently of tired people, are not anxious to have anything which is over-intellectual for their amusement.

The noble Lord has raised the question as to whether the censorship is satisfactory or not. I am not convinced that the present censorship has failed. I think we must all have noticed that of the quotations he gave of demoralising films all of them came, I believe, from films which had been rejected by the censorship or which the censorship had ordered to be altered. I did not hear in his speech any very strong evidence that the present censorship had to a large degree allowed immoral films to pass through. There are undoubtedly some films which are objectionable. I think it is quite impossible to deny that, and I would join with him in asking the Home Office to give us some information as to how the censorship acts and as to whether in any way it is possible for the censorship to scrutinise perhaps rather more strictly than it does some of the films which are presented to it. Only quite recently I heard on very good authority of certain films which, I think, might very well come under the description of "demoralising." I could give the names of the films to the noble Lord, but I have not actually seen them myself.

I would urge that something more should be done to protect the children. I think it is recognised that there are films which are not demoralising to older people but which children ought not to attend. There is not sufficient discrimination. I think it is of real importance to the future of the nation that every safeguard should be invented and insisted upon to prevent the children from attending films which might harm their minds. Children, as a matter of fact, are perfectly happy with really sensible films. At one time, when I was vicar of a parish, I had dreams of starting a cinema in the parish for children, only with good films—nature films and so on. We made inquiries from a very large number of children as to the kind of film that interested them most. Of course they liked some of the real thrillers, but there was intense interest in those films which we should describe as educational, on subjects connected with travel or history and especially with nature.

Lastly, I wish the Home Office in some way could induce local authorities, where it is necessary, to use their powers against halls in which undesirable films are shown. I am told that it is very rarely that any local authorities use those powers. As a matter of fact the manager of a cinema is, I believe, extremely sensitive to public opinion. I remember on one occasion seeing a very ghastly picture outside a cinema. I wrote at once to the manager and protested against it. By return of post he told me he had withdrawn the picture and that in future he would send to me any pictures which he thought were indecent so as to have my judgment upon them before he exhibited them. That was a censorship which I did not accept with any alacrity. But I believe our local authorities could use a good deal more influence than they are exerting at the present time. I am not, therefore, at all prepared to join either in condemning the present censorship or in a general condemnation of films to-day, but I think there is some real reason for believing that the censorship might in some ways be wisely strengthened and made stricter.


My Lords, I rise to answer very briefly my noble friend behind me (Lord Danesfort). I am grateful to my noble friend opposite, who is obviously a film expert, for having answered a great many of the points made by the noble Lord. I should first like to say that the Government is very grateful to my noble friend for having raised this important subject and they fully realise what has been so well expressed by the right rev. Prelate. The Government are most anxious to do everything they can to protect all those who go to films and especially young people. This debate really centres round the point of censorship. My noble friend Lord Danesfort said that it was almost iniquitous that the films should be censored by those who were interested in the production of films.


My adjective was "Gilbertian."


The history of the film censorship may be briefly stated. In 1912 there was a deputation of film producers to the Home Office. They were very anxious for their own sakes and for the sake of the public that there should be some form of censorship, and they said that they were willing to undertake this duty and to be responsible for the payment of the Board of Censorship. This Board would be entirely independent. Nobody interested in film production or film licences would be nominated to a seat on the Board. They would pay the expenses of the Board, but the Board itself would be entirely independent. They also did suggest to the Home Office at that time—and I think that this is a rather important matter, though my noble friend did not allude to it—that besides this Board of Film Censors, who would be experts, the Home Office itself should set up an appellant board.


I mentioned that.


But the noble Lord did not lay stress upon it. That Board would be set up by the Government and would be independent of anybody at all interested in film production. This suggestion did not meet with the acceptance of the Home Office at that time. Mr. McKenna, then Home Secretary, suggested to the deputation that they should get some sort of sanction for their Board of Censors and should co-operate with the licensees of the films. Under the Act of 1909 the people who can licence a production are the county councils. They have power under that Act either to appoint a committee of their own, or to delegate their powers to the district councils, or to act through justices in petty session. That is very frequently done now. The point is that the Board of Censors do not licence the plays. They have not the legal power to do so. The legal power is in the hands of the county councils.

The Board of Censors ought to be looked upon rather from this point of view, that they are a body of men who, at great sacrifice to themselves in the case of many of them, are willing to go through the very ungrateful task of examining these films and of saying what in their opinion is fit for production and what is not. I think it is a tribute to the successful way in which they have discharged their function that they have won the confidence of both the public and of the licensing magistrates. This Board of Censors would be of no use if the magistrates took no notice of what they said, and if they were an incompetent body and the magistrates set aside their decisions it would not be worth while any of the film producers submitting their productions to them. Certainly I have not seen many films here, but I have seen a number of films abroad. The films I have seen here were entirely unobjectionable, but I should be sorry to have to say the same of those I have seen elsewhere.

The first Chairman of the Board of Film Censors was Mr. Radford. He performed his duties as Chairman of the Board until he fell ill in 1916, I think, and, as my noble friend opposite said, Mr. T. P. O'Connor is now Chairman of the Board. There are three other men members of the Board and one lady. These are quite independent people. They have nothing to do with the trade. Some of them are people devoting themselves to this ungrateful task, not for the small pay which they get, but because of a desire to do some public service and because they are interested in the work. I think the argument that this Board of Film Censors are not to be respected because they are in the pay of the trade is not really founded on fact.

Among the points which have been raised is one regarding films which are marked "U." and films which are marked "A." It has been suggested that certain model rules should be drawn up for the guidance of local licensing authorities so that members of the public may know absolutely when they can take their children to see a film and when it is desirable not to take them. Such instruction has been drawn up and in many cases adopted by local authorities, some of which do not work through the Board of Censors at all. In certain large towns the magistrates themselves conduct the examina- tion of films and everybody who wants to exhibit a film which has to have a licence applies to the licensing magistrates without going to the Board of Censors at all. The Board of Censors is merely a body of men who undertake this duty, but the real power rests with the local authority as to whether and under what conditions films shall be exhibited. It has been settled by Courts of law that, besides licensing plays, licensing bodies have legal power to draw up conditions under which films shall be exhibited. If any alteration is to be made in the law it would require the introduction of a Bill in Parliament. If the Government are asked to set up a Government authority in this matter, the whole of the law with regard to it would have to be altered.

The view of the Home Office is that while they acknowledge the very great importance of the subject they feel that stronger and more sufficient reasons must be shown before they can introduce a Bill to do away with the present authority of the licensing magistrates and set up an entirely new body. At the same time I should like to say that the Home Office are very seriously considering the question of the adult and juvenile aspects of this matter and they would welcome any information, in cases where improper films are being exhibited, which would enable them to call upon the local licensing authorities to exercise the powers they possess with greater stringency than they do at present. I do not think, however, that the case has been proved that films are exhibited here of such a nature that they call for an alteration in the law. At the same time the Home Office will be glad to receive any information on the subject and to consider any representations that may be made to them.


My Lords, I have only once in my life been to a cinema and I never want to go again. There is no doubt that there have been several cases—I have seen them reported in the newspapers—of children who have been convicted of crime, and their excuse has been that they have done so because of what they have seen on the pictures. Therefore I think there cannot be any question that there have been films exhibited which have a demoralising effect upon children. I may be wrong, and if I am I hope my noble friend will correct me, but I understand that the Chairman of the Board of Film Censors—I do not want to mention his name or to make any observations for or against him—is a gentleman who receives a salary. It is not a case, as I understood my noble friend to say, of a man fulfilling an ungrateful task. He is actually being paid for the duties he has to perform and he is being paid by the very people whose action he has to criticise. If that is so, then I do not care who the gentleman in question is, it is a wrong principle, and I hope that the Home Office will see whether it is not possible to remedy that which seems to me to be an admitted wrong.


My Lords, I confess to a feeling of very deep disappointment at the extraordinarily weak-kneed attitude taken by the Home Office. My noble friend says he himself has not seen objectionable films here. There he is in direct conflict with the right rev. Prelate who spoke in the course of the debate.


Oh, no.


I took down his words. He said there are undoubtedly objectionable films.


I have not seen them.


I accept his testimony that there are objectionable films even if he has not seen them. Before my noble friend Lord Desborough suggests that there are no objectionable films now exhibited, I would suggest with great deference that he should go a little oftener to see films in this country and a little less often to see those demoralising films which he tells us he has seen abroad. I hope that when he gets wider experience he will be able to speak for the Home Office in a more confident voice. My noble friend suggested that the people who are discharging the task of film censorship are pursuing an ungrateful task, that they are highsouled public benefactors giving their whole time and energy to looking at disgusting films, putting them right when they are wrong, and all for no pay.


I did not say they were unpaid.


But you said they were doing this ungrateful task. May I point out that the Chairman is receiving the very substantial salary, as I understand it, of £1,000 a year. I do not complain of that as being too large, but I do say that the task is certainly not ungrateful. My noble friend has not touched the point which really shows the inherent vice of the system, the point which was touched upon by Lord Banbury of Southam just now, that the men whose productions are impugned, or at any rate have to be judged, are in the position of appointing and paying their own judges. Surely that cannot be right. Is there any other industry in the world where people who have to submit their products to an impartial authority have to appoint and pay the judges who are to try them? I say it is perfectly grotesque. I called it Gilbertian but I think I might have called it by a much stronger name. The noble Lord, Lord Desborough, says he will be glad to receive representations. I should have thought he had received enough representations to show the necessity for altering this absurd and, as I think, impossible method by which censorship is carried on now. Accordingly I hope that the Home Office, instead of merely "seriously considering" this matter, will take a stronger attitude. I am sure that if they do so they will have the gratitude of people throughout the country, both those who want to see decent and respectable films and the parents of children who do not want their children demoralised.

May I say one word to the noble Lord who declared that he had not seen anything objectionable, and that he imagined that the younger generation are offended by some things that do not offend him? I am not testing this matter by the standard of what he can or cannot bear. Some people can stand a good deal more in the way of objectionable matter, whether it be in plays, films or novels, than others. What I do say is that these younger people to whom he refers do very justly resent what they see. And this resentment is not confined to the younger people. I have talked to a great many people of larger and wider experience who resent very greatly going to see a film for an afternoon's amusement and being called upon to witness something that grossly offends their moral sense. The right rev. Prelate spoke as if the chief objection against these films was that they are dull. Is that so? Well, twenty million people a week go to see the films, and it is an extraordinary thing that this should be so if their real vice is dulness. Would people spend their money in such numbers on dull and stupid amusements? I do not think that this is the vice under which these films labour, and I do not think that this is the characteristic which causes immense numbers of people to go and see them.

My last word is this. The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, rather complained that I did not give him the names of some of the objectionable films. Apparently he has not seen any. I should be very sorry to give him these names, and more sorry still to advertise objectionable films. I can conceive that there might be people in this country who would like to see these films if I mentioned their names, but I am certainly not going to do so, either now or at any other time. I am relying upon what is practically a universal experience that these films are of a demoralising character. The right rev. Prelate objected, quite rightly, that they are not all of this kind. No one suggests that, as a whole and as a regular thing, they are of a demoralising nature. What I do say is that the general sense of everyone with whom I am acquainted who has enquired into this matter is that there are many that are objectionable, and that the present system of censorship has broken down. Consequently I appeal to my noble friend to bring before the Home Office any further facts that he can and to do his utmost to induce them to take steps, if only for the purpose of preventing children from going to see films that even the present censors have declared to be unfit for them.


Does the noble Lord press his Motion for Papers?



Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past six o'clock.