§ LORD STRABOLGI had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House a flourishing British cinema industry is of increasing importance and that all practicable steps be taken to assist its foundation on a firm basis. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have a Motion on the Paper which I think has some importance, and I should like first of all to thank the noble Lord, Lord 1042 Eltisley, for dealing with a complicated but non-controversial Bill in a very brief manner. I much appreciate his kindness. I have put down this Motion in consultation with my noble friends, and I may say that its terms are favoured by the Party to which I have the honour to belong. It is particularly favoured by the Trade Union Congress, the unions catering for the workmen, technicians and so on in the industry being, of course, affiliated there. Indeed, I expect that your Lordships, and also the Government, would be prepared to accept the Motion, though there may be some controversy as to what the practical steps should be and how they should be applied.
§ At the very beginning I should like to refer to the Committee set up last March under the Chairmanship of Lord Moyne, and I would, if I may, pay a personal compliment to the noble Lord for the very interesting and able Report which was produced. In this whole connection I am not standing at this Box to make any sort of attack upon His Majesty's Government. It is always painful for me to attack His Majesty's Government, and it is a pleasure to me to refrain from doing so! The 1927 Act, I think it will be agreed, has done a great deal of good in many ways, and in this connection may I give a personal welcome on behalf of my noble friends to the Secretary of State for Air, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, whom we are so glad to see back. I am sure that at this particular time everyone else is glad to see him back too. I am also pleased to see him looking so well, if he will allow me to say so. The 1927 Act, brought in with the best intentions, has not been the complete success that was hoped for at the time, for a variety of reasons which I propose to mention—very briefly, because they were dealt with in the very good Report of my noble friend Lord Moyne to which I have already referred. Indeed, I think the quota has failed in its main purpose. It gave a stimulus to the British producing industry, but now the British industry is faced with a very serious crisis. The Government, I understand, have announced in another place to-day that it is proposed in the meantime to continue the 1927 Act for another ten years, or rather, a quota for another ten years, but there are a good many details, of 1043 course, to be worked out and the other recommendations of what I may call the Moyne Report have to be examined.
§ I have a direct personal interest in the cinematograph industry, because I am a publisher. I see in his place the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, who is also a member of "the tribe of Barabbas," as the authors call us. When we get a successful book we like to sell it to the cinema industry to be produced as a film. I dare say the noble Earl has the same experience as we have, that they are very helpful people to deal with, and it is a very satisfactory arrangement. Then, if the film is a success, it gives the book a second run, and so on. Alternatively, if a film is based upon a story which has not been published as a book in the first place, we like to make it into a book, and that is also a very satisfactory business. I venture to say that some of the problems facing the publishers are the same as those facing the film industry. Both have the very difficult task of trying to gauge in advance what the public taste is going to be. We have, however, an advantage which the film industry has not in this country, which is that when we produce a great or a popular book the American publishers run at us and try to get us to sell them the rights in America, and we also, I am very glad to say, buy the British rights of a book that has been successful over there. That position does not, I am sorry to say, apply with regard to British films.
§ I have also for some time dabbled in the very interesting science of cinematography, photography, optics and so on, and know a little of that side of it. We are told when we look into this matter that nobody can understand it unless he has been all his life right in the heart of the industry. That is not so. It cannot be so. Suppose now the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, were sitting down as Cabinet Ministers to examine a strategical plan concerning the Navy. They do not have to know the details of lunar observations for correction of chronometers, and if they did they would not know how to use a range finder, nor would they know the details of a hydraulic gun. In other words, you have your experts, and the fact that you do not know the details of what they do does not prevent your taking a broad view of policy. I have 1044 always said myself that the right sort of judicial brain, which of course your Lordships have, can understand the most intimate technical matter if it is properly and clearly explained. We have to sit here as judges on very difficult questions, and every day in the Courts patent actions are argued before learned Judges, by barristers who have soaked themselves in the subject, and they can present the whole picture. It is not necessary in dealing with the high politics of a matter to have an intimate connection with the business of making trick pictures or whatever it may be.
§ Since the Committee presided over by Lord Moyne commenced its labours a good deal has happened. At that time there was a great boom in the British cinematograph industry. Now there is a distinct depression. At the present time, according to the information which I have from the leading trade paper, the Kinematograph Weekly, to-day there are only being produced thirteen long or feature films. There is floor space for fifty-eight at a time, and I understand that the studio equipment in this country is really highly efficient, and as good as anything to be found in the United States, or in Germany, or in any other country. Yet we are producing in this country only thirteen long or feature films. There are approximately 5,000 cinema theatres in this country, which need every year about 600 important films, feature films, and under the present quota of 20 per cent. they must have 120 important British pictures. At the present rate of production the 20 per cent. quota will not be filled. The reason is that the City of London, the people who have been financing British films have taken fright, and like a flock of sheep they have all gone one way. Whereas when the industry was prosperous they were ready to flock to its support, to the extent of about £5,000,000 of money, now they have gone in another direction, and people who can make good British pictures have difficulty in getting the necessary finance. That is detailed in the Report, and the finance that British producers have been getting in the past has been in many instances very expensive indeed. That is a matter which I will leave to my noble friend.
§ It takes about ten to twelve weeks at least, I understand, to make an important picture, and therefore it was very 1045 necessary for the Government to make an announcement. I am glad that they have let the industry know something, but I am going to show that the quota alone, without certain alterations, some of which are outlined by the Moyne Committee, will not be enough. What has happened has been this. Just as a publishing firm has every year to produce two or three great books, and in order to make money gives us lesser books, so the great film producers must produce every year two or three great pictures and a number of "bread and butter" pictures. We have produced in this country great pictures. I absolutely refuse to accept the suggestion that we cannot make great works of art in this new means of expression. Much money has been spent, some of it perhaps extravagantly, but it has been practically impossible to get the vast majority of those pictures exhibited in other countries and especially in the United States.
§ I have to speak quite plainly about the situation as I see it in the United States of America, and I must say that I make no sort of accusation against the leaders of the American industry. They are business men and out for business. In a number of cases large producing companies in America own circuits of expensive, luxurious cinematograph theatres, and if they show British films in those theatres they displace their own product. As business men it is not in their interest to foster and stimulate the British industry which will be in direct rivalry with themselves. I understand that the Americans take from this country payment for many beautiful films—between £5,000,000 and £9,000,000 a year—but they send over to us also some extremely poor stuff. We have spent probably £5,000,000 on British films, and yet the Americans have not opened their market to us; and the situation is such that I am credibly informed that the American industry as a whole would not make a profit to-day unless they could sell their great films and many others over here. I believe that is the fact. It is not denied and therefore really if we handle this matter properly our situation is not so weak as it might appear.
§ If I might refer to my Motion, why is it necessary to have a flourishing British cinematograph industry? I suggest among others the following reasons. In the first place it provides, and can pro- 1046 vide, a great deal of employment, highly skilled and well remunerated employment, and at present there is much unemployment among these highly skilled technicians. Also it is a wonderful means of advertisement for the goods of this country. It is said that trade follows the film. I believe that that is true. Thirdly, I want to see a flourishing British industry because I want to see British ideas and British ideals spread over the world. I make no apology for that wish, either. There is another consideration. The cinema can have a wonderful educational value. That is, of course, developing in this country gradually. Its potentialities as an educational means are incalculable. It can also have a great religious value. I speak here with great reverence. I have seen religious films which, speaking as a sinner—we are all sinners—made a great impression upon me. The potentiality of the religious film is, I suggest, immeasurable. The films, many of them, which are shown throughout Africa and Asia are not desirable films. I would venture to draw your Lordships' attention to the East and West Review—the organ of the S.P.C.K.—in the October number of which a most remarkable article by a Swede appeared. The Swedes cannot be accused of having Imperialist ambitions, but this article points out the evil effects of the wrong kind of films being shown. I suggest that that is a very important consideration. For all those reasons I think it is necessary that we should preserve the British industry and help it if we possibly can.
§ But then there is another development. Many of the American companies are beginning to buy up British cinematograph theatres and we may presently find this situation—we have to take long views: I can see a moribund British industry and a very powerful American, or a German, Italian or Russian industry (for it is not only the Americans) owning our cinematograph theatres and able to dictate policy. I do not myself see any conscious propaganda in the American films that have been shown in recent years. I do not think they are trying to use them for propaganda purposes; they are business men. But the potentiality is there. It may be said that we should welcome foreign industry in this country. We have welcomed foreigners in the past, who taught us how to build up a 1047 textile industry, and we welcomed the Dutch, who taught us land reclamation. But this is different. This is an industry which can have, and does have, a great effect on the mentality of the rising generation. I am an internationalist, like all my Party, but I am unhappy at the thought of this industry being under foreign domination and control. Supposing that some other foreign country, say Russia, were to buy up practically all the great British newspapers in this country—for the Russians are producing a great deal of gold now and becoming very prosperous. Would your Lordships be happy? I mention Russia, but I might mention other countries—Italy or Germany. Supposing that we were able to go over to the United States and purchase the control of the two great commercial broadcasting systems, the National and the Columbia. What would the senators say in Congress?
§ There you have three means of influencing public opinion—the film, the Press and the radio—and I believe the film is the most potent of all, for what you see through the eye probably has the greatest effect. And there are very great technical developments proceeding all the time with regard to the cinema: the camera is improving enormously; the sound is improving all the time, and as it improves and as the art advances so the effect can be so much more powerful. Why is it that, apart from this narrow business point of view to which I have referred, good British films do not get into the American market? Block and blind booking is in operation in America. That means that the agents of purchasing companies go round and buy films in a block, and they buy them blind, without seeing them, on the recommendation of the studio, just as our publishers do the same thing. My noble friend sends his Spring List to the United States, and his friends there see books by certain authors whom they know are good authors and they buy them. Well, that operation in America is forbidden here under Lord Swinton's Act. And the American distributors sell each year's programme in advance. The major companies, that is, the threatre-owning companies, book themselves up a year in advance, and therefore can only have isolated spots in their programme where they can put in foreign films. The Code 1048 authorities insist on British films being labelled as foreign. The renters' contracts in America allow for 10 per cent. cancellation, and this leaves the exhibitor free to cancel any British film that might be included in the distributor's programme. I believe that this is a very serious handicap to British producers.
§ Just a word about the exhibitors on this side. I believe they played up well about the quota, and I am sorry to say they have had to show many inferior films, made purposely in order to comply with the quota regulations of the Act—what are known as "quota quickies." They are very cheaply made—as cheaply as possible, in some cases the companies not caring at all whether they have an entertainment value or not. They have to show these films. It has driven their patrons away from the cinema industry, and it has brought a bad name to British films. These so-called "quota quickies," made here by Americans in order that they can import their own films at high prices, rank as British films, and in some cases are shown in the smaller towns of America, and our industry is held up to derision. That has done very great harm. The exhibitors, I am sure, have an interest in a really good British industry, especially since the Government are going to continue the quota for another decade. Supposing the producing side of the British industry dies away, as it has in the past in various crises. The exhibitors will only have to choose among the American and foreign films, and obviously the renters of those films, the middlemen, will put the price up. Of course they will; and therefore it is in the exhibitors' interest there should be a flourishing British industry.
§ I admit at once that I do not believe it is possible by legislation to compel people to go to places of entertainment which they do not find entertaining. You cannot compel people in this country to see films that are not entertaining, that are not what they want. You must therefore, if you want to have a good name again for British films, see that good films are produced. I should like to say how much there is to be said for one of the main proposals in the Moyne Report, the proposal for a Films Commission which would be able to deal with the question of quotas—a sort of Hanging Committee I would call it. I think that is very desirable indeed. There is just 1049 one other comment with regard to these very inferior American short films that are shown. Your Lordships who go to the cinema theatre must have suffered many times by having to sit through one of these appalling American films while waiting to see the picture that you have gone to see. They are practically given away when the big films are sold or contracted for.
§ Before I suggest the kind of remedies that might be examined and discussed and thought about, may I refer to the situation in India? I had a word with the Secretary of State, and he explained that he could not be here to-day, but we discussed this matter. There is an indigenous film industry growing up in India, and I am told that the people of India are, very naturally, becoming cinema conscious. In the organ of one of the trade unions that cater for the British technicians of this industry I read a very interesting report by one of their members who had been in India looking into the situation. It contained a very remarkable statement. He said that practically all the heads of departments and the principal technicians—the executives, as they are called—in this indigenous film industry were Germans. They may be refugees; I do not know. They may be perfectly well-disposed towards this country, but I think that statement should attract the attention of the India Office and of your Lordships' House. It is a fact to-day that, apart from these indigenous films, British subjects in India, and the people in our Colonies, as in the great Dominions of South Africa, Australia, and Canada, for the most part are only able to see American films. In some cases there is, of course, a local industry struggling as the British industry is struggling.
§ Well, now, what to do about this situation? I do not think that a quota alone, unless alterations are made, is sufficient. That is the main conclusion to be drawn from reading the evidence and the conclusions of the Moyne Committee. Something more is needed. I have heard the proposal put forward that there should be an ad valorem duty on imported foreign films and that the product of that duty should be used as a subsidy for the British film industry. I do not like that proposal at all. In the first place, in the future, some needy Chancellor of the Exchequer would 1050 probably raid the proceeds. In any case, as always happens with an import tax, that would be recovered from the exhibitors and therefore from the public. Moreover, while the subsidy that would come from it might help the production of small pictures in this country, it would not be enough for what I call the great pictures, which cannot be produced cheaply. I do not mean to say that wonderful works of art cannot be made for very little money, but you must produce a certain number of great spectacular pictures, using all the arts of this wonderful industry, and that cannot be done cheaply; and the subsidy therefore would be negligible.
§ There is another suggestion which I believe is favoured in certain quarters—namely, that the great American companies should promise to be good boys and make really good pictures over here instead of these inferior cheap quota pictures. I do not like that suggestion either. If price is to be the criterion of what is a good picture, a worth-while picture, then it is possible to have all kinds of subterfuges used to suggest that a picture had cost a substantial sum of money whereas in fact it was very cheaply produced and the money went back in all kinds of underground ways. Secondly, if the Americans are going to do that, you must give them a perfectly free hand to bring in their own technicians and as many specialists as they need. You cannot ask them to spend a lot of money in British studios making British pictures unless they are allowed to bring in their own people, and that would not give us the opportunity of training our own skilled men, our own technicians, camera-men and the like. But my greatest objection to that proposal is that the control of film policy will be left in American hands.
§ Then there is the other proposal of the quota continuing, which the Government are adopting, with, I presume—this is bound to be proposed in certain quarters—what I call the Hanging Committee suggested in the Moyne Report, a Films Commission which will have some kind of watching brief over quality. That could be part of a larger arrangement into which I shall go in a moment, but I would like here to repeat that it is a well-known fact that to be able to say in advance what the public are going to like is the most difficult thing in the world. That applies to anything 1051 in the world of entertainment, and it applies of course to publishing. I have known authors who have hawked a book round to half-a-dozen publishers which, when it came to be published, has had an enormous sale, against the best judgment of skilled readers; yet the next three or four books by that same author have been hopeless failures. The show business, as it is called, really needs a flair that is natural to some people and unnatural to others, and I do not envy this proposed special Commission their task. They can be guided a good deal by price and, after all, they can judge quality to a certain extent, but I suggest that that can be part of a larger arrangement.
§ There is the suggestion made in the Moyne Report of a finance corporation to supply finance at reasonable rates to approved undertakings. That might be very valuable later on, but at the present time it would be most mischievous because it would prop up and underpin a number of concerns which should not be in existence at all and which would be better dead—mushroom concerns which are badly managed and extravagant, and which never have produced anything worth while. There is the suggestion of complete Government control or some form of Government control. Quite frankly, I shudder at that idea. My noble friends and myself and our Party have always resisted Government control of broacasting, for instance, and it would be even worse in this case. If I were certain there was always going to be a Labour Government in this country I would not mind so much, though even then I would be rather shy of it, but there are certain people in the present Government I would not like to put in control of the cinema industry in this country. Heaven knows what their successors are going to do if they get into power again! After all, the Government could have had control of the largest of the British combines some years ago and did not take it. The Ostrer family were really very public-spirited when they made that offer. I do not know if the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was then President of the Board of Trade, but the President of the Board of Trade at that time was offered, as a free gift, the voting control in Gaumont-British—a most patriotic action—but it was re- 1052 jected. I am not going to quarrel on the point whether the Government of the day were wise or not.
§ But what else can be done? Let us consider what other industries have done in similar cases. Take the great chemical industry. The noble Marquess, Lord Dufferin, has had some dealings that industry in connection with the Bill we passed earlier this afternoon. That industry makes trade treaties with its peers, with other great industries in the other countries. Why cannot we have a trade treaty in this matter with the United States of America? I do not consider it is impossible. We have got very strong weapons in our hands if we like to use them. Is it not possible to combine with the Films Commission to give some guarantee of quality and to arrange with the Americans to take a corresponding quota of British films into the American market? I do not know what the exact figures are, but I take it, judging by theatres, theatre seats and prices and that sort of thing, the British market—I am not talking about the Dominions and Colonies but the market in these islands—corresponds to the imports from the United States in the proportion of about twenty or twenty-five to one hundred. It may be one-third, but that is a matter for actuaries. Would it not be possible to come to an arrangement with the Americans by which they would, in return for the great boon of this second greatest market in the English-speaking world being open to them, agree to take a proportion of 20 per cent., or whatever it may be, of British films?
§ I agree that there would have to be some guarantee of quality, but that cuts both ways. We have no guarantee of the quality of the American films that came over here. As I said earlier, these inferior American films are shown to us because they are thrown so to speak, with the good American films. We have no guarantee of quality from the other side. I think that difficulty about the quality of our films could be got over with the weapons we have in our hands, if we care to use them. I should have thought that it would have been possible to negotiate such a treaty. I believe that it would be a tremendous help to the British industry if you had, at any ate, a part of the American market open to it. It would then be known that your great films, your expensive and costly 1053 films—I do not mean extravagant, but great films necessarily cost a certain amount of money—would pay their way and then finance would again be available.
§ I have heard elected representatives in this country standing up and declaring in public that it is impossible to make good British films. That is defeatism, and I refuse to accept it. I hope your Lordships will refute that idea. What have we done in the past? We have produced the greatest literature in the world and the greatest poetry some of the finest paintings, great actors (some of the finest in the world), great architects; we have great executive ability and also great showmanship in this country. Is it really pretended that we will not be able, if the matter is handled properly, to produce films which are a credit to the British people, which can go all over the world and which we can be proud of? Is that really suggested? I for one refuse to accept that. I think sufficiently highly of my own countrymen and their abilities to believe that if they are only given a fair chance they will succeed. I have ventured to make a few suggestions. I will not say what should be done or should not be done. I have tried to sum up the pros and cons; I have tried to diagnose the cause of the present disease. I may have done it accurately or inaccurately. I do not know. I look it with some little knowledge and with all the common sense I can muster. I suggest that this subject is important enough to have occupied your Lordships for some little time this afternoon, and I trust that the Government will be able to do something to foster and preserve what can be an industry of the very first importance from a national and Imperial point of view. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House a flourishing British cinema industry is of increasing importance and that all practicable steps be taken to assist its foundation on a firm basis.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I rise for a very short time only in order to support the plea made by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. I think he has covered the ground quite admirably and placed before your Lordships a dilemma for which it is not easy to suggest a solution in a short time. I think the enormous influence that 1054 pictures are having on the population of this and other countries is hardly realised. It is far greater than the influence of broadcasting. I will not venture on the statistics in order to tell your Lordships the numbers of the population who day by day and night by night visit picture theatres, with the result that an influence is being brought on the lives of the coming generation which we cannot detect yet, but which is undoubtedly very great indeed. And therefore this matter I think ought to be taken far more seriously than it seems to be taken generally as a matter of public policy. I heartily endorse what my noble friend has said with regard to the necessity of British ideas, British life, British mentality and British idiom being broadcasted in this way not only in this country but in the world. The invasion from America is a matter that must be taken rather seriously without our being too critical or without our suggesting that we are being loaded up with inferior matter, but it is undoubtedly having an effect on the language even of the coming generation. I find that young people to-day have given up saying "Yes." They spell it with a "p" now. They would never have done anything of the sort if it had not been for the picture theatres.
I think my noble friend has analysed very fully the dilemmas and the difficulties with which this question is surrounded, and he has made certain suggestions. I, with him, am very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, for his Report, which, anyhow, faced some of the questions and laid down several suggestions. The one point I want to emphasise, which was mentioned by my noble friend but which I think must be insisted on rather more strongly, is the question of those films which are produced merely for the sake of filling up the programmes in order to abide by the law with regard to the quota. As my noble friend said, there is no question about it that these films, which are sometimes exhibited at most unusual hours in the morning, are doing a great deal of harm, having regard to the quality of what is expected from British producers Therefore the point I would very strongly urge is that the present quantitative basis for the quota should be substituted by a qualitative basis—that is to say, that at present the 20 per cent. can be made 1055 up on what is known as a footage basis, which seems to me to be quite wrong, instead of on the basis of the quality of the picture which is produced.
The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, in his Report advised what my noble friend has referred to as a Hanging Committee, to decide upon quality. I feel rather doubtful about that. I do not know what people's taste in film pictures may be, but I know that I find myself differing from my friends very often with regard to the quality of a film or its likelihood of success. I very much doubt whether there is any committee which could give a satisfactory verdict upon the advisability of exhibiting certain films. My noble friend very rightly said it is perfectly impossible to prophecy what will succeed or what will fail. It is, as he said, the same as regards books. I have come to the conclusion that, both on the matter of publishing books and producing films, success does not come either from advertising or from reviews. It simply comes from Jones saying to Smith, "Have you seen that excellent film?", or "Have you read that excellent book?" The Government ought to give some sort of lead as to their intentions, because if it is to be simply a renewal of the present legislation without any sort of alteration I think that the slump through which the British industry is passing will continue and very likely be aggravated and made worse. Meanwhile, the City, if it is in a state of uncertainty as to the future, will not come in and help as it did previously.
Finally, let me say that I agree with my noble friend that of course admirable British films can be made, have been made, and will be made in the future. But we must face the fact that we, as a nation, are lacking in what I may call the blatant qualities which seem to be very much appreciated by picture-goers. We do not parade ourselves sufficiently. We like the quieter methods, which I think can be very effective on the film, but I am afraid that as a matter of fact the gangster method is very often preferred. In time perhaps we may educate the public in the various countries up to our standard, because I consider our standard is a high one. This industry is in its infancy and it is up to us to give every encouragement we possibly can to our own industry, our own pro- 1056 ducers, our own playrights, in order that they may set an example for others to follow so that the blatant, noxious, vulgar sort of pathos and glycerine tears which you see at present may fall out of popular esteem and our type of production may gain in the end.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I think we must all be of the opinion that the educational value of cinema films would be very difficult to exaggerate and that it is comparable only with that of broadcasting. What I rise to emphasise, while expressing entire agreement with the two admirable speeches to which we have listened, is the effect that is preduced by certain types of cinema film in other parts of the British Empire. Perhaps I may just indicate what I have in my mind by telling your Lordships that, within three weeks of setting foot in New Zealand as Governor-General in the year 1930, I received no fewer than six deputations from different religious bodies and another three deputations from teachers in schools, who asked me what I intended to do with regard to the unwholesome films—many of them of British origin—which were being displayed in the cinemas in the Dominion. Of course, I had frankly to say that as New Zealand is a self-governing country it is for her Government to decide whether or not any different system of censorship is desirable in the matter. Those deputations laid emphasis on two factors. One of them was that the unwholesome film—then all too prevalent but I am thankful to say not so serious to-day—had a deleterious effect upon the rising generation of the Dominion and had an almost pernicious effect upon the minds of the natives. The attitude of the noble Maori race is best expressed in what I heard a prominent chief say "Ninety years ago England through her missionaries bought us Christianity, and now what is she giving us? Is the sort of film that is coming largely from England to-day an expression of modern Christianity in England?"
What I want to ask quite seriously is this. When we read in the admirable Report of my noble friend Lord Moyne that the quality of the film must be tested and scrutinised by optical examination, is the word "quality" confined to artistic technique, to language, and to idiom, as my noble friend has suggested, 1057 or does it also extend to ethics and to the general effect upon the character and morality of the nation? I know it is said, and it is perfectly true, that the people in the cinema trade are carrying on a business. Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks said to me, in the studio of the latter at Hollywood, some ten years ago: "We are ready enough to produce at Hollywood a better type of film, but ours is a business and we have to supply the demand of the public. Improve the demand and we will supply what you want."
Apropos of that I want to say what really happens in New Zealand. I went to certain cinema managers and asked them why so large a proportion of the films which they displayed were of American origin and some of them at least of a highly undesirable character. Certainly three-quarters of them made the same reply. They said: "It is not that the people who come to the cinema want this type of film, but we have to take a certain proportion of films of the type you describe. We have to take a bundle of films, including good, bad and indifferent. We have to include the bad and the indifferent with the good ones, and certain of them are undoubtedly open to criticism and are not what our own customers would prefer." The matter did not stop there. Certain clergy of different denominations developed the idea that it would be well to have a referendum amongst the young people of the Dominion on this subject. A questionnaire was issued to all the secondary schools in New Zealand and all the senior pupils were invited, without giving their names, to express an opinion upon the particular type of film they would like to see in the national cinema. Incidentally, may I remind your Lordships that there is practically no other indoor entertainment in New-Zealand except that of the cinema? I have been told that something like 35 per cent, of the whole of the wages in that country pass, directly or indirectly, into the cinemas. Over 70 per cent, of the secondary school children voted, and over 80 per cent., as I say, without giving their names, definitely asked for a better type of film, preferably of British origin.
Then I naturally approached the Government, and the Government were in very considerable sympathy with the ex- 1058 pressed desire for a different type of film, but they were up against two difficulties. The main one was that at least in New Zealand, and I dare say in other Dominions as well, there is no control by any local authority. In the second place, they had their board of censors—which, by the way, had far more to do than they could possibly do in the time at their disposal—with the cinema industry represented upon it and strongly imbued with the idea that what was good enough for England was good enough for them. That, if you will believe me, is a very prevalent idea in our overseas Dominions. To my mind it enormously increases our responsibility with regard both to fiction, to which my noble friend Lord Strabolgi has referred, and to the cinema films emanating from the Mother Country. It is very difficult to persuade a certain class of people, particularly those who profess to be very broad-minded and so on, that what is commonly seen in English houses of entertainment is not fit to be seen in our overseas Dominions.
I am only going to say this. There are two or three recommendations of my noble friend Lord Moyne's Committee with which I am in entire agreement. First of all, steps must be taken to resist foreign control of our cinema industry. The second is that there must be a quality test, and I very particularly ask that the word "quality" should be expanded in its meaning in the direction which I have indicated. Thirdly, there should be reciprocity between the Dominions and the Motherland in the matter of film production. I want to suggest in that connection that it might be well worthy of consideration that a certain type of film, at least, should be produced under improved climatic conditions and where there is far more sunshine available than we have in this country, in certain parts of our overseas Dominions. I am perfectly certain that if, for instance, some of these historical films, which are very popular, very instructive, and particularly acceptable overseas, were produced, let me say in North Auckland, in the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand, where there is magnificent clarity of atmosphere and almost continuous sunshine—and, incidentally, where the English language is spoken with at least as great purity as in any part of this country—you would be help- 1059 ing to develop the cinema industry in our overseas Dominions and at the same time doing a great deal to satisfy the local demand in the direction in which that local demand operates. My Lords, I have only intervened in this debate to emphasise what sometimes we may forget, and that is the enormous influence upon people in our overseas territories of what we send out to them by way of export for their mental and physical consumption.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, I should like to intervene very briefly, merely in the first place to compliment my noble friend Lord Strabolgi on raising this most important subject in such an interesting way, and also to put forward, with great diffidence, one suggestion which has as yet not been touched upon. That is, that His Majesty's Government should consider fostering, if necessary by a small subsidy, some kind of education in cinema technique in this country. The cinema, although it has been regarded this afternoon largely from the standpoint of an industry, is essentially an art, and we shall all be agreed that while artistic genius cannot be taught, artistic technique can be and should be taught. In the opinion of a very large number of critics of British films—I mean of the professional critics—the British film is still definitely inferior to the films of America, and particularly to those of France, in point of technique. That statement does not apply to all films. We have some producers who manage their technique astonishingly well and very interestingly. Generally speaking, however, the British film is less well cut than the American film. Cutting, it is becoming recognised, is of the utmost importance in securing the artistic excellence of a whole film.
We have in London a school of pictorial art, the Slade School. I should very much like to see something on quite humble lines which would do the same for the technicians of the cinema as the Slade School is doing for the technicians of various forms of pictorial art. Even if nothing better could be thought of, I suggest that an experimental cinema, with a certain number of subsidised lectures, would be of very considerable value and might do very much to raise the value of British films in this technical respect.
§ LORD MOYNE
I think we are indebted to Lord Strabolgi for having raised this question at a very opportune moment. Arising out of a speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, the cinema industry is now trying to reach agreement on what legislative measures should be taken for its future, and the Government must undoubtedly very shortly make up their minds on the detail of the scheme which they will put into force. The discussions which are going on must necessarily be hampered by the difficulty that the cinema industry is divided up into three very distinct sections. If they can find an agreement, and an agreement which is consistent with the wider national interests which were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, of course that will be an ideal solution. We must, however, recognise that it is not merely a trade matter, and that it is essential, quite apart from the advantage of giving employment to our people, that we should not allow this great form of entertainment to fall permanently under foreign domination.
The cinema industry is divided into three quite distinct groups with very conflicting interests. First there are the producers, who are represented in this country by a branch of the Federation of British Industries. Then there are the middlemen, who are generally known as renters; and thirdly there are the exhibitors. Of these three groups the middlemen hold the predominating position, because they control the supply of pictures upon which the exhibitors depend for their very existence. Seventy-five per cent, of these pictures are at present of American origin, and naturally the renters, even where they are not mere agents, as they often are, of an American producing interest, are interested chiefly in the American output. Now the exhibitors have been going through an extremely difficult time. They clearly cannot carry on without securing a large proportion of foreign films. The last Act, which was very ingeniously framed by Lord Swinton, made an effort to protect them from this foreign domination, and to a considerable measure it has been successful, but we still have complaints from both exhibitors and producers as to the very serious damage which they suffer from that system to which Lord Strabolgi alluded, and which is known as block 1061 booking, which means that exhibitors have to take pictures that they do not want as the price of securing pictures that they do want. Lord Swinton made provision against blind booking—that is, the offering of films without showing them—and the letting of films for an unduly distant date. The evidence which we received showed that these safeguards had been frequently defeated by what, in spite of their illegal character, were euphemistically described to us a "gentlemen's agreements" to break the law between renters and exhibitors.
Hitherto, neither in the evidence tendered to the Committee, nor in the comments furnished to the Board of Trade after the publication of the Report of the Departmental Committee, have the three sections of the industry, or any section separately, produced a scheme which in our opinion secured the purpose of building up a really sound British industry. The producers, while anxious to preserve the quota system and very anxious to support the setting up of a Films Commission, were not able to go so far as the Committee recommended, with the object of eliminating the producer of bad pictures known as "quota quickies." It is easy to understand that it may be very difficult for any organisation which represents all sections to take a line unpopular with some of the least efficient producers. The renters dislike the quota to which they are subject, and they suggest that it should be either abolished or at least reduced to one-third of its present scale. These renters made no concealment of the fact that for the most part they were speaking for the American interest. They made much of the difficulty which they had in producing good films in this country, and they held forth no prospect of producing better quality films under the present system. The exhibitors welcomed a quality test for long films, but they did not want to see the quota system extended for short films as such. They have admitted also that the price paid for these films of less than three thousand feet in length is at present unremunerative, and they prefer to get these films from American sources, under a system of dumping which enables them to get them at this very cheap rate.
Much as we would like to see an agreement in the industry, it would be a mistake to adopt a compromise scheme if it is to be accepted by each section as the 1062 price of avoiding particular provisions suggested by the Departmental Committee in the wider public interest. Whatever settlement may be devised between the conflicting interests of the producers, renters and exhibitors, it seems evident that there must be some permanent machinery to go beyond the temporary accommodation of the moment, and secure the adjustment of problems which will arise from time to time in the future, and which cannot possibly be foreseen ten years in advance. In view of the commanding position now enjoyed by foreign films in Great Britain, no industry can possibly develop in this country without the continuation of some form of protection. The quota system was instituted at a time when industries generally did not enjoy the tariff protection which has since been so widely extended. Lord Strabolgi, although he did not altogether welcome the proposal for a tariff, suggested that in certain quarters it was being pressed with the idea that the revenue might go to the help and development of British films. I think, apart from this mistrust of the tariff, there is an overwhelming obstacle to applying a tariff to films, and I expect that was the reason which induced Lord Swinton to invent the quota rather than adopt the tariff.
The difficulty is that it would be impossible to impose a Customs duty by ad valorem methods to films at the time of entry, because nobody could gauge in advance what demands there would be for a film, or what the return would be from the British market, or how many positives might be made from a single negative brought into this country. It would be, of course, possible to tax the profits on each foreign film if a return were called for, but there is no precedent whatever. There are many very obvious objections to putting a special internal tax on a foreign product as such, and if you were to levy your duty on films on their proved profits it would be an internal tax and no longer an import duty. That, I am sure, is a measure of such danger that it is not necessary for me to develop the objections any further. The quota therefore remains the only practical form of protection which will ensure an effective share of our market for the home producer. Although the Act was very well framed it has not prevented the widespread practice on the part of foreign renter organisations, either by special commission or by 1063 acquiring them in the market, to get British films of low quality franked for the quota of foreign films they wish to import. There is a point which no one so far has mentioned, and that is the distinction between the renter's quota and the exhibitor's quota. The renter's quota is merely a matter of having films to offer. Nobody need show them. The renter's obligation is fulfilled, however bad the film may be and though it is not bought by a single exhibitor. The exhibitor's quota is the really effective quota, which is computed by the amount of film time taken up on the screen—of course measured again on a footage basis.
This fraud on the intentions of the Act by counting for renter's quota these films with no suitability to being screened at all has undoubtedly meant that exhibitors in certain areas where several theatres serve the same public have in many cases found difficulty in securing good British films to fulfil their own quota obligations, and under any new system it seems not only just but also absolutely necessary that the exhibitor should no longer have to show rubbish. The only security for this is to impose a quality test upon the renters to secure that they do not offer films which are unfit for showing. With that quota there must go an exhibitors' quota fixed from time to time, not merely to absorb the films offered against foreign quota, but to absorb the whole supply of good British films which may be produced in this country. The quality test was opposed in certain quarters, but the Committee believed that the cost test, which was urged as a substitute, would be misleading and positively mischievous unless it was subject to exceptions on grounds of both good quality and bad quality. Therefore, as you would have to gauge the quality, you might better reject this American device of the cost test, and have the quality test throughout.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, was rather uneasy about the possibility of assessing in advance the entertainment value of films. That difficulty was in the minds of the Committee, and they had no such ambitious object. We were assured that these "quota quickies" are of such lamentably low quality that any person of ordinary common sense realises quite quickly what they are, and could 1064 eliminate them. And in answer to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, as to whether it was proposed that this quality committee should take into consideration ethics and morals, that again is quite outside the scope of those who would be responsible for applying the quality test. The question of public morals was not before this Board of Trade Committee; that is within the scope of the Home Office, and it is provided for at the present time by a trade committee which sits under the Chairmanship of Lord Tyrrell, and which does its work with general satisfaction. The quality test, may I again impress on your Lordships, would apply only to renters, and would not affect exhibitors. It is even proposed to widen the classes of British films which would be eligible to count for the British exhibitors' quota, and therefore there would be no danger of forcing a particular type of film on the British public. If the exhibitors thought their public wanted to see a film that was of a character not inconsistent with public morals and passed by Lord Tyrrell's Committee, it would be entirely within the exhibitors' discretion to show it.
The complaint as to the difficulty of fulfilling the exhibitors' quota is undoubtedly due to the fact that under the scheme of the Act it had to be fixed for ten years in advance. The scale on which exhibitors can show British films must depend on the improved output, and it should be judged quite easily on the volume of good films produced in the previous year. In that way there should be no danger of laying a heavier obligation on the exhibitor than he can reasonably fulfil. It would, we thought, be difficult for a Government Department to accept responsibility for a quality test or for gauging the capacity of the British production or for fixing the quota which would be based on those two considerations; and for that reason among others we recommended the institution of a Films Commission, which would of course be under the Board of Trade. The Departmental Committee were most strongly impressed by the advantage of encouraging the production of short British films. We had evidence not only of the special cultural and national importance of these films, but also of their importance from the technical point of view. I think they would do much to facilitate the training and experience in 1065 film technique about which the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, spoke. We proposed that the short film should for the first time get the benefit of a definite quota scale, that for every nine foreign short films one British short film should be shown. I do not think this could involve any real hardship on the exhibitor, as all would be treated alike and, in view of the measures taken against dumping in other industries, there is ample precedent for taking steps to prevent this marketing of short foreign films below the cost of production.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, expressed some fears as to the result of setting up a finance organisation for films under present conditions. He feared that it might lead to bolstering up inefficient organisations among film producers. It was just because there is so much inefficiency at the present time under the haphazard and uncontrolled methods of finance that we thought some technical and expert financial body was called for. Up till now much of the financing has been done by insurance policies, and it has been in many ways open to criticism on the same grounds that people have criticised one-ship companies, and under the system at present in force it is very difficult for people in a small way to get finance. If you go with a big scheme, we were assured, you are much more likely to be listened to. Finance has not been effectively controlled, and undoubtedly much of the loss which has been incurred has been due to wasteful methods. We were told that many of those who had financed productions in the past had learnt their lesson and were now watching the expenditure with very great care. It is a technical matter where accountants are of very great value, and we felt that, far from bolstering up bad production, the creation of a finance organisation would lead to better methods, and producers would have to increase their efficiency to deserve the financial facilities for which they might ask.
Your Lordships may be wondering whether, in view of the very disquieting reports which we have heard about the present condition of film production and the alarming figures which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, gave us as to the prospect of getting new films for the quota in the future, in the present state of slump, there is any reasonable prospect 1066 of building up an efficient home industry. Our opinion, after listening to the evidence before the Departmental Committee, was that it was mainly a matter of ensuring for our own producers a reasonable share of the home market. We were given statistics which showed that people in the United States paid four times as many visits per year to the cinema as do the people of this country, and, with the virtual monopoly of this enormous home market, Hollywood of course can afford to sell here on extremely favourable terms. Lord Strabolgi suggested that reciprocity might be possible, and Lord Bledisloe suggested reciprocity within the British Empire. Both these objects are well worth pursuing, but unfortunately in the British Empire there has been very little response to the invitations which were implicit in the present Act to come to some reciprocal arrangement. We have been very badly treated indeed in some cases, which I will not specify, and the Americans have secured a virtual monopoly in certain States in the Dominions.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (VISCOUNT SWINTON)
It is a British film wherever it is produced in the British Empire.
§ LORD MOYNE
I do not see why the Films Commission should not be empowered to encourage reciprocity. There may be difficulty about threatening to withdraw facilities for Dominion films in this country, because we go out of our way to avoid discrimination within the Empire, but at least we might negotiate reciprocal facilities in the United States on the basis of a quota remission in return for British access either to all or certain chains of film theatres in the United States. Although, however, foreign markets are of great importance for the expensive and spectacular films, the home market will, in my opinion, prove the more important factor in the long run in developing British film production. It is the home market which will allow the development of films to suit the special British taste and which, for that reason, will not be suitable for export. Clearly, some of the financial difficulties under which the industry is now suffering is due to producers having failed to realise this, and having spent their money, against hopeless odds, in trying to force their way into the 1067 American market with costly spectacular films instead of being content with less ambitious pictures, which might suit British tastes and which could secure a profit on a far smaller public demand than is necessary to repay the cost of the great spectacular films.
Those who are doubtful about the prospects of British film production should look to the encouraging example on the Continent of Europe, where the language difficulty has automatically protected producers from the full force of Hollywood competition. Our quota hitherto has only provided for one-fifth share of the home market for the home producer. If the quality of British films should justify a gradual raising of that proportion to a more equal share, there should surely be sufficient scope for profitable production here just as much as in France, Germany, Italy, and other Continental countries, where home-made films have won a commanding position and where they are being produced for a smaller market at a quite remunerative return because of the smaller costs, and because the size of the market does not allow the lavish expenditure with which United States' methods have made us familiar.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, at the outset of my remarks I should like to thank the noble Lord who introduced the Motion for bringing forward this question and for so kindly letting me know a few days ago more or less the line he was going to take. It is very pleasing to me for the second or third time in two or three weeks to take part in a debate which is such an harmonious one as this. The noble Lord who introduced the Motion said that it had the approval of the Parliamentary Labour Party and of the Trades Union Congress. I do not think many of your Lordships will find much to find fault with in the Motion either. Therefore we have unanimity indeed. In his remarks I noticed that the noble Lord suggested various remedies only to knock them down again. I was rather amused when he said that he himself was very much against Government control of the film industry, because I thought he and his Party were in favour of Government control of very nearly everything, and I was quite expecting the noble Lord, when he sat down, to transfer 1068 himself to the Benches behind me. He later qualified his remarks by saying he was only in favour of Government control if a Labour Government were in office.
The noble Lord this afternoon has emphasised the very important question of the future of the British film industry. It is a question which your Lordships will agree is of very considerable public interest. It is hardly necessary to dwell on the increasing importance which the cinema plays in public life, and here the position was very well summarised in the Report of the Committee of my noble friend Lord Moyne, which states:In 1926 it was pointed out by the Imperial Conference that? the cinema is not merely a form of entertainment, but, in additior, a powerful instrument of education in the widest sense of that term.' The cinematograph film is to-day one of the most widely used means for the amusement of the public at large. It is also undoubtedly a most important factor in the education of all classes of the community, in the spread of national culture and in presenting national ideas and customs to the world.The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, also laid stress on the value of religious films. The Report of the Moyne Committee said that the propaganda value of the film is rivalled only by that of broadcasting and of the Press. Lord Ponsonby said that in his opinion the influence of pictures was considerably greater than that of broadcasting; he did not mention anything about the Press, although personally I should have thought that the Press was rather more powerful. I do not know, that is only my private opinion. But there is no doubt that the propaganda value of the film is very great indeed.
The view expressed by the Imperial Conference referred to by the Moyne Committee is even more true to-day, and there is even more reason why there should be a growing output of high-class British films which not only serve as entertainment, but maintain and spread our national ideas and national atmosphere, not only in this country but else-where in the Empire and in foreign countries. I was very glad to hear that feature emphasised by the two noble Lords opposite in their speeches. The Government therefore fully agree with the noble Lord that a flourishing British cinema industry is of increasing importance, and they are determined to maintain conditions in which that industry can not only hold its present position but expand considerably. Your Lordships 1069 will probably be aware that the protection afforded to the industry is entirely under the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, and, as I think one or two noble Lords have already stated, we have the advantage of the presence in this House of the author of that Act in the person of my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air. This Act, to go a little into its history, obliges renters to acquire and exhibitors to show an increasing proportion of British films during the currency of the Act. In 1926, when the Government of the day—the Conservative Government of Mr. Baldwin—put forward their proposals, there was very little criticism of the motives which prompted their action, but there was considerable misgiving both inside and outside Parliament as to the methods proposed.
In the short space of ten years, however, the policy embodied in the Act has been fully justified. Before the War there was a flourishing British film production industry in this country, but it lost ground during the War and at a time when the United States industry was going ahead, and that ground, once lost, was extremely difficult to recover. In 1926, before the Bill was introduced, only 5 per cent. of our screens were occupied by British films, and there was some danger that film production would cease altogether. I am informed that at present exhibitors as a whole show over 25 per cent. of British films as against their statutory quota of 20 per cent. I think the noble Lord opposite admitted that in his speech. These people are not philanthropists; they are not in business for their health; and I think the fact that they have managed to exceed their quota is a definite sign both that good British films are available and are demanded by the cinema-going public. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord who introduced the Motion lay great stress, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, did too, on the fact that the British people demanded good films, otherwise they would not be acceptable. This feature was also emphasised by the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches (Viscount Bledisloe) who quoted the very interesting case of the school children of New Zealand who voted for better films and films of British origin.
We have now magnificent new studies at Denham, Pinewood, Elstree and elsewhere. We have developed our technical 1070 skill and are busy building up our own "stars." Many of the products of the British studio are able to bear comparison with films produced anywhere in the world. Outside the United Kingdom the market for British films is gradually improving in the Empire, especially in Australia and New Zealand, but—as the noble Lord more than once said in his speech and emphasised particularly—progress in the United States has been slow, although many British films have been very well received in that country. It is often stated that the British industry has now reached a stage where the next step in its development is the assurance of some more satisfactory return from the United States market. We cannot sit back and do nothing while foreign films still occupy such a very large proportion of our screens, and United States producers take some £6,000,000 out of this country every year while, by comparison, our revenue from the United States is negligible.
The 1927 Act was passed for a period of ten years. It is due to expire in March of next year—eleven months hence—so far as the renters are concerned, and in September, 1938, so far as the exhibitors are concerned. Last year my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade appointed a Departmental Committee, to which I have already referred earlier in my speech, under the Chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Moyneto consider the position of British films, having in mind the approaching expiry of the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, and to advise whether any, and if so what, measures are still required in the public interest to promote the production, renting and exhibition of such films.In this connection I have to say that the very grateful thanks of the Government are due to my noble friend Lord Moyne and his colleagues for the exceeedingly able way in which they fulfilled their task. The film industry, in spite of what was said by my noble friend, is, I think it will be admitted, rather an intricate affair, but the Committee show in their Report that they obtained a grasp not only of the essentials of the industry but of its detailed working.
The Committee, in their unanimous Report, found that the Act had been "an important factor in the growth of the British film production industry to its present state" and that all considerations 1071 pointed to "the absolute necessity for legislative action to maintain and establish the industry." They did not find any satisfactory alternative to the present method of protection, and they recommended that:The requirement of quotas on the renting and exhibition of British films should continue for a further period of ten years.I have to say that the Government are in full agreement with this recommendation. Like the noble Lord who introduced the Motion and other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, they attach great importance to the continued growth of the film industry in this country. They are satisfied that legislation providing for the continuance of quotas for British films for renters and exhibitors for a further period of ten years is both necessary and desirable, and they propose to introduce such legislation into Parliament before the end of this year. A similar statement in answer to a question in another place was made a short time ago.
My noble friend's Committee made a number of important recommendations which amount in effect to the amendment of the present Act. My noble friend in his speech referred to a good many of them so I need not go into great detail about them; but there are one or two points I should like to mention. They propose, for instance, that a Films Commission should be set up; that films, in order to qualify for renters' quota, should be viewed by an administering authority for quality; that the quotas of renters and exhibitors should be assessed annually; that there should be a separate quota for short films, etc. The Government have sought the observations of the various sections of the trade on these and the other recommendations in the Report, and the whole matter is receiving the most careful consideration. Moreover, in the last few weeks, the three sections of the trade—producers, renters and exhibitors—have started a series of joint meetings in order to ascertain whether it will be possible to put forward to the Government proposals from the trade as a whole. His Majesty's Government await the deliberations of these joint meetings with considerable interest.
As matters stand I do not think it is possible to discuss in any detail the individual recommendations made by Lord Moyne's Committee, nor can I now go 1072 into details with reference to the various remedies which were suggested by my noble friend opposite. It may, however, be stated that the main criticism of the present Act is that it provided no test for quality, and that some at any rate of the foreign-controlled renters in this country met their obligations by arranging for the production of British films at a minimum of expense regardless of quality—the so-called "quota quickies." The Government are determined that means must and will be found to meet the particular situation. We know that in the last two months there has been some slackening in British production owing to the difficulties particularly of independent producers, in obtaining the necessary finance. Perhaps in the preceding eighteen months acceleration in production was too rapid and in what was almost a boom adequate preparatory work was not always done. The Government hope, however, that the announcement which they are now making of their decision to afford continued protection by quotas to the industry for a period of ten years will assist in again creating conditions of stability in which adequate finance for reputable producers will be forthcoming.
As I said at the outset of my speech we have had a useful debate. I think it has been particularly useful in pointing out various weaknesses in the 1927 Act. The debate has proved once again the usefulness of this House in discussing matters of this kind. Opinions differ as to whether our debates are widely read in the country, but I personally think more people read them than is generally believed. However that may be, I can assure my noble friend and those noble Lords who have spoken that debates such as this are of immense use to Ministers and their Departmental advisers in framing legislation. It only remains for me to say that His Majesty's Government are obliged to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. They accept his Motion and I hope that the undertaking which I have been able to give will prove to him and to your Lordships' House that the Gov ernment are by no means lax or going to sleep in this matter but are fully alive to the importance of the subject.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for accepting my Motion on behalf of the Government and for his very interesting 1073 reply. I am grateful also to those noble Lords who have spoken to-day. I do not want to repay that kindness by making a long speech now, but I should like to be allowed to make one or two brief remarks on what has fallen from two noble Lords in particular. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, declared that British films are inferior in technique. If he means that they are not so slick as the American films, I should like to say that I have seen British films—I saw one only yesterday—that are just as quick in action as that particular kind of American speciality.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
I merely threw out that remark as a general comment on British films as a whole. I know quite well that we have extremely capable producers who manage to achieve that degree of slickness which, whether the noble Lord admires it or not, is, I think, admired by the public.
Then it was not the suggestion of the noble Earl that we are technically inferior. British machinery, British cameras, lighting, etc., and the men who use them are not inferior.
I think it is agreed now, even by the Americans, that our studio equipment is as good as any in the world. I believe that our cameramen and our lighting specialists are as good as any in the world. I would like to support the suggestion that he made for a subsidised college for technicians. That idea, if I may say so, is a very good one. My noble friend Lord Moyne spoke of lowering the quota in exchange for reciprocities. I thank him very much for supporting that possibility of bringing about trade agreements. I think that not only could we give in exchange relaxation of the quota but we could probably do other things. If a trade agreement cannot be arrived at—I think this is the crux of the whole matter—then we should use some of the weapons which We undoubtedly have at our disposal. I would like to see quite a large ad valorem duty held in reserve I do not know why it should not be £2 or £3 a foot if we cannot get satisfaction. It would bring in a large amount of money. There are certain people in the United States, 1074 in great positions of control in the industry who think of only one thing, and that is quick profits. They do not care how they get them. That is, perhaps, a short sighted policy but it appears to exist in certain quarters. Others appear to be more reasonable and to take wider views. More far sighted people in America realise that it does not pay in the end to be too ruthless but there are certain important people who have not yet understood that. You have to fight those people and you have the weapons with which to do it. They will soon realise that we mean business.
The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, also spoke of the British spectacular film being too expensive and said that the extravagance that has taken place should be prevented. I agree. Apparently what happens is that the accountant comes in as liquidator instead of being brought in to check extravagance before the trouble begins. I think, however, that this extravagance which we all know of will shake itself out. The industry was stimulated by the action of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in the 1927 Act, and moreover a great many people, political refugees and others, came into this country. They did their best and some of them were most valuable to us, but perhaps they were not familiar with our methods and extravagance did arise. I think that will shake itself out. But I would like to say that I do not think you can make great films very cheaply. You have to use a certain technique to make them spectacular and we ought to take advantage of the wonderful new inventions which are on the way in this industry. Tremendous developments are still ahead and they are bound to be expensive. You cannot make the few great films which are necessary without spending money.
§ LORD MOYNE
May I, in order to prevent misunderstanding, say that I agree that great films always must cost a great deal? That great cost can only be recovered by a very large and possibly a world market. What I was trying to suggest was that side by side but quite distinct from spectacular films there are probably unexplored opportunities for making much cheaper films depending on comedy, films which do not need that spectacular treatment which costs so much money.
I find that the noble Lord is good enough to agree with me. I think that will come if the industry is given a chance and if we develop our own native humour and dialect. That is how our great drama began with the early comedies of the Restoration period. They were distinctly British. If we can foster the cheaper, simpler but at the same time distinctively British art, instead of trying to copy Berlin and Hollywood all the time, then I think that will come. But I think that to recover the credit of the British film industry it is necessary now, more necessary than ever, to make a few great films that will attract attention everywhere all over the world if they are given a fair chance and if certain people who control great circuits of theatres in America remove what, I am afraid, is their deliberate boycott.
I should like particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, who replied for the Government, for accepting the Motion, and I am, of course, very glad to hear that the proposals in the Moyne Report and other suggestions, some of which I have mentioned, are being considered. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby and I were rather alarmed at the first part of Lord Templemore's reply. We thought it was proposed simply to continue the present Act. But I understand that modifications and additions are proposed in it, and we shall watch the results—which I hope will come soon—of the deliberations of the Government, with the greatest interest. There is really not much time to lose. I am told that about next June, for certain reasons into which I need not enter, there will be a very critical period for the producing industry and the lack of finance on reasonable terms may be very hampering indeed. Unless something is known as to the future it will be difficult to plan programmes far enough ahead, say for the year 1938. I thank the House very much for accepting the Motion.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.