HL Deb 21 March 1938 vol 108 cc273-87
Year. Long Films. Per cent. Short Films. Per cent.
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1938 15
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1939 15
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1940 17½
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1941 17½
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1942 20 10
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1943 20 10
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1944 22½ 12½
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1945 22½ 12½
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1946 25 15
For the year beginning with the 1st October 1947 25 15

LORD MOYNE and other noble Lords had given notice of Amendments in Part I to increase in each case by 5 the per centages for renters' quotas of short films, and of Amendments in Part II to increase the percentages for exhibitors' quotas for short films by 5 in each of the first two years and 7½ in each of the other years.


My Lords, on a point of order, I take it that it would be convenient if we dealt with the whole of these Amendments together—both the Amendments to the renters' and the Amendments to the exhibitors' quota. It is really impossible to treat them separately.


I think it would certainly be more convenient to consider the Schedule as a whole, as I have put down an Amendment to each of the figures.


To Part I?


And Part II, because Part I deals with the renters and Part II with the exhibitors. On the last occasion when we discussed this Bill we dealt with the Schedule so far as it controlled the quota of long films—films of more than 3,000 feet. I purposely did not mention the case of short films, because that raised different problems from the long films and must be treated in rather a different way. I think, however, there is an even stronger case to strengthen the Schedules in the case of the short films than there is in the case of the long films. In the case of the long films by our decision last week we put back the commencing figure to what the quota has reached under the Act now expiring. Under that decision there may be a little inconvenience to exhibitors who, not having asked for it, were given big concessions by the Government, and may have made their forecast of requirements on that basis. I believe they can readjust their programmes, but it may cause them a certain amount of difficulty. In the case of short films, however, I do not believe that any difficulty of that kind will arise at all. For one thing the exhibitors' programmes only come into effect at the beginning of October, and these short films are not booked a long way ahead, and there ought to be no difficulty whatever in their complying with any reasonable quota that may be laid down in the Schedule.

Now, many of these short films are fiction films, and others are what are known as "documentary films." It always seems to me rather a confusing term. It was defined in the Select Committee as "the creative treatment of actuality." I may tell the House that they are not news films, and they are not educational films, but they are very valuable films from the informational point of view. They had a hard struggle at their establishment in this country, and they owe the success which they have reached very largely to the efforts of the Empire Marketing Board. They have in the wider national interest a very great value, because they have a strong British flavour, which it is one of the purposes of this legislation to increase in the screening of films. They are particularly valuable—not only the documentary, but the fictional short films—because, needing very little capital, they are the most fertile field for experiment. It is very easy for people with new ideas to enter into production in this way. They give not only an opportunity for experiment in new types of films, but for experiment on the technical side, and they are a very important means of training new personnel and giving employment. We in the Departmental Committee recommended that the films of less than 3,000 feet admissible to quota should be widened in their classification, and that, I am glad to say, the Government are doing. Formerly, certain types of films had to be of special exhibition value before they could count for quota, but that has been abolished, and practically all short films, except news films, advertisements, and educational films, will automatically be eligible for quota.

The difficulty that has confronted these films has been cut-throat foreign competition. Mr. Rotha, who has got a very big experience in this matter, told the Departmental Committee: The exhibitor does not book his short pictures with much care, perhaps, because American short pictures, distributed in this country, are often given away free of charge. We have to meet the case where an exhibitor might say, 'I have booked a long film from an American company, and with that one long film I am provided with six short films for nothing. Why should I take one of your documentary films for a fee?' Another case was given to us by Mr. Grierson, who has a very large experience of making documentary films for the Government and the Empire Marketing Board and the Post Office. He told us: You have a very disastrous competition from the worst type of film. And he gave us a case of a man in Birmingham who was, as they say, "filling his book" of films, and asked his renter to find him the twenty-four worst short films he could, because he found bad short films were so very valuable for clearing his theatre for the next lot of people. It was suggested in evidence that we should copy certain foreign methods and compel exhibitors to show certain types of films, but we did not feel that that was a wise recommendation, and that it was much better to leave the exhibitor to give the films that his patrons want; to say that if he does, just for his own convenience, show short films, he should anyhow show a reasonable proportion which had been made in his own country.

We had a good deal of evidence that the talk about a shortage was ill-founded. In the present state of the market, we were told, many of these short films are never entered for quota, and the apparent figures ought to be multiplied by three to get the true picture. Since that evidence, I am informed, the supply is still maintained; that last year, 1937, 562 foreign short films were registered for quota as against 211 British. That is nearly 30 per cent., and therefore a 15 per cent. quota on the renter and an even smaller quota on the exhibitor ought to occasion no inconvenience whatever. It must be remembered that these films are not required to anything like the extent of long films because of the prevailing habit of having two features in a programme, and under this arrangement these short films are pushed out. But there is certainly no difficulty in the matter of choice, and if only the exhibitors can be persuaded to book their films on merits, I feel sure that the public will very quickly respond and appreciate the excellent short films which can be made. We have, in these Amendments, suggested that the short film quota should begin on the renter at the very modest figure of 15 per cent., which is less than half of what could quite easily, I am sure, be supplied out of present resources. We have followed the example of the Government in the original draft of the Schedule by putting the exhibitors' quota only 2½ per cent. lower, the reason for that being that there is already such a strong independent production of these short films that you do not need to have that wide margin between renters' quota and exhibitors' quota which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, suggested it was important to maintain in the case of long films.

The exhibitors of films are by far the strongest section of the industry. We can all imagine their political power and the pressure they are able to exercise through their representatives in another place. I cannot help thinking it is because they are so powerful that their interests have prevailed over those of the producers. I do hope the noble Viscount will see his way to do more in this Bill for the producers than is done in the Bill as it stands. Naturally, the exhibitors like to get these films given away. Everybody likes to get something for nothing; but I do not think it is unreasonable, seeing that the purpose of this Bill is to encourage not only the production of British films, but the screening of films with a British flavour, that this small quota should be applied. If the Government will do that, I believe they will help the producers in what is really the most valuable and hopeful development which has so far taken place in the British film industry.

Amendment moved— Page 46, Part 1, second column, line 7, leave out ("10") and insert ("15").—(Lord Moyne.)


My Lords, after what has fallen from the lips of my noble friend Lord Moyne, I have little left to say. There was one matter he mentioned in reference to the question of British films available. I expect some of your Lordships have received a circular pointing out the numbers available, but there is an interesting point that if you take the figure given by my noble friend Lord Moyne of the number of British films actually registered for renters' quota during the calendar year 1937, the percentage works out at 17.474. It seems to me obvious that in these circumstances the renters' quota of 15 per cent. for next year is a modest one and can be easily dealt with. There are other reasons to be considered. The first thing to remember is that that 17.474 per cent. did not represent the whole case. There were ninety-two films registered. That does not represent the whole of the films that could be registered under this Bill, because a great number of films did not count for quota at all which under this Bill will now count. I suggest that there is an ample amount to provide the renter with a selection.

There is the further point that this is by no means all that can be produced. There is an ample supply of technicians if you will only give them outlet. I believe I am right in saying that of the technicians and specialists in the cinema industry—10,000 in all—there are nearly 8,000 out of employment at this date. I am not putting forward a plea ad misericordiam about that, but I think it is only right to realise the lack of employment that there is for them at this moment. Take the example of Pinewood alone. You find that people have gone out there, have provided themselves with houses there, because it is necessary for them to be available constantly at any time, and that employment has dropped to such an extent that those people have been reduced to the state of having to attend communal soup kitchens in order to keep going and in order to keep their children from starvation. My noble friend mentioned the fact that there was experimental use for these short films. I would also like to mention the fact that they are available also for a very important feature, and that is for the selection of fresh talent. Your Lordships may have heard of the name of Miss Deanna Durbin who has recently made such a sensation. She came into the cinema world first of all in a two-reel short film. I understand that the Producer who produced her on that occasion thought nothing of her, and terminated her contract. However, on another occasion, another person saw this film, and the result was that she was taken up. But it is fair to say that but for the fact of the short film that young lady would to-day be unknown to the public.

There is one aspect which I cannot help feeling is more important than any other. Any one whose memory goes back to the last War will recollect the vital services that were performed for the country by the late Lord Northcliffe, and no one, I feel, will overlook the great importance in war of public opinion, nor the fact that the technique and the vehicles of public opinion have changed. I am sure that the noble Viscount, who has done more for the defence of his country than any living man, will be the last to deny that there is a psychological element in defence without which any number of guns and bombers and fleets would be in vain. I am not thinking of the somewhat irresponsible statements that have been made in the last few days. I am not suggesting that we are on the verge of a war, or anything like it, but I think my noble friend will be the last to deny that a sound organisation for the production of short films is an essential element in any system of modern defence.

I should like to ask your Lordships to consider what in fact this Amendment proposes. Your Lordships may take into account that there are different kinds of theatres. I will select two. There is the news-reel theatre, in which only short films are produced. In that theatre you have an hour's programme, ten minutes of which is a news reel which does not count for the purposes of this Bill or for the purpose of considering what will be exhibited under this Bill. You have to consider that 7½ per cent. of that fifty minutes next year, according to the Government Bill, is to be devoted to British films. That is not a very long time in an hour's programme. It is three and three-quarter minutes. Your Lordships will notice that in ten years, under the Government Bill, it will have grown to seven and a half minutes. Under the provisions of the Amendment of my noble friend, instead of three and three-quarter minutes we are asking for an extra two and a half at the beginning and an extra three and three-quarters at the end.

But there is a much more serious point about this. The news-reel film is not the right test of what is going to happen. Your Lordships must consider the ordinary theatre where you have a three hours' programme, and a first and second feature picture. The first feature picture probably takes one hour and twenty-five minutes; the second an hour. There is then a news reel which takes ten minutes. That is two hours and twenty-five minutes in all and that leaves twenty-five minutes, of which 7½ per cent. is to be British picture. That is not a very large amount. It amounts to 112½ seconds. I state the time as 112½ seconds because that is an easier figure to remember than 1.875 minutes. Under the Bill we are asking for an extra 75 seconds. Is that very extravagant? The maximum to which it rises under the Bill at the end of ten years is 225 seconds, or three and three-quarter minutes, and under the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Moyne it would only rise to just over five and a half minutes and under five and three-quarter minutes. I do not think that is excessive to ask for this industry which provides a nursery for talent, a nursery for art, a nursery for technique, the indispensable field for research and the real hope by which we can aspire to secure that forward bound which may put us ahead of others. What we are asking for in the next year is only 75 seconds. When I think of the needs of the Empire and of this country, and of the soup kitchens in Pinewood, I am astonished and amazed, not by the moderation, but by the absolute triviality of what we are asking the Government to give us here.


My Lords, after the facts and figures which have been given by the noble Lord who has just sat down I feel that your Lordships will not want any more statistics. The time has now come when a decision will have to be taken. If Parliament fixes a quota for a film it cannot avoid a certain risk. There is a risk in two directions. If the quota is fixed too high, then there is a risk either that the films will not be forthcoming or that those films which are forthcoming to fill the quota will not be worthy of the standards which we expect. That is a risk which, naturally, the Government and the Board of Trade wish to avoid. On the other hand, if the quota is fixed too low, then we have the risk that we are cramping the natural forces of expansion of the cinematograph industry; in other words, we are depriving the workers in the industry of an opportunity to create films which they would have had if Parliament had fixed these quotas higher. We who support this Amendment believe that there is no risk whatever as regards the short films or the long films, and that, if the quotas for which we are asking become law, there will be no risk either that the quality will suffer or that there will be an actual shortage.

As the last two speakers have said, the short films, which we are discussing now, are the easiest kind to produce. They cost less and are therefore the easiest kind to finance, and, not least important, they are the kind of film which is most suited to express British ideas and the British mode of thought. I think your Lordships will agree that this is a time when we should not deny ourselves any opportunity of putting things British on the screen. I was wondering when my noble friend was speaking whether, if by any chance we did not increase the quota, a situation might not arise where His Majesty's Government would find it necessary to have a bigger quota than the one now in the Bill in order to carry out some scheme of propaganda, which, after all, is not out of the question. May it not happen that the Government themselves will have to regret putting the quota at too small a figure? That is a question which I cannot answer. Possibly the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill may be able to say a word on that. However, when one balances the two possibilities—the possibility of there being a shortage or of there being too many bad films, and the possibility that we may make the quota too small and cramp the industry artificially—it seems to me and to those of my noble friends who are supporting the Amendment that if we are to take a risk we should take the risk which will lead, if it is successful, to a bigger production of films in this country.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will feel that I have hitherto been very reasonable in the number of Amendments I have accepted, but this one I must most firmly ask the House to reject. It has been, if I may say so, very sincerely argued and very ingeniously argued in some respects. Never having been able to pass a mathematical examination, I have always had the most profound suspicion of mathematics, and after listening to my noble friend Lord Darcy de Knayth's calculation that after all he was only asking for a fraction of a minute in a fraction of a number of cinemas I became entirely convinced, if I ever needed convincing, that mathematics will prove anything, however fallacious.


Even the strength of the German force.


My noble friend is nearly always wrong, but he always comes back. Nor indeed can I accept completely—in spite of the wholly undeserved compliment paid to me in regard to my regular work—that it is a first class matter of defence that we should have more than 7½ per cent. of first line short films as the real test of parity. I am going to ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment because I believe that if it were passed we might very easily be doing much more harm than good to the producing industry. I think that in talking about the quota some speakers are apt to forget that a quota is a minimum and not a maximum. My noble friend Lord Darcy said that such and such companies produce more than the minimum number of films, and that such and such companies show more than the minimum number of films and that therefore we ought to put the quota above the figure which is set here. But we really must not try to fix the quota upon the maximum which the industry can produce or sustain. We should entirely defeat our purpose if we did that. The purpose of the quota is an insurance, so to speak, which will enable the industry to go forward.

My noble friend paid me a compliment as being the author of the original Act, but I should feel that my Act and my policy had wholly failed if at the end of that time, or indeed if half way through that time, all that was happening was that we were producing the minimum insurance provided under the Act and were showing the minimum number of films. That never was the conception or the purpose of the Act. It was to give this insurance in the hope that the minimum provided in the Act might be very considerably exceeded. Therefore, I am sure your Lordships would be entirely wrong if you followed the line of argument which has been addressed to you that this quota, whatever the figure may be, is to be the total number of films to be shown. It is nothing of the kind. It is the minimum number which everybody has got to show who shows this kind of film, with the alternative of being prosecuted and paying a penalty. My noble friend Lord Moyne seemed to think that as the Government had been defeated in Committee on the quota for long films it followed almost as a matter of course that the Government would surrender on the short film.


On the contrary, I made it clear that the two questions are quite distinct.


I am very glad to hear that. I was afraid that some of your Lordships might feel that this was almost a consequential Amendment, and that as it had been decided to increase the quota for long films, automatically the quota for short films ought to be increased. But that is not the position. The quota for short films is an entirely new invention. There has been no obligation up to the present to rent or show a short film. My noble friend's argument in Committee carried great conviction and I had some difficulty, although I did my best, in refuting it. He said: "Under your own Act the renter is to-day compelled to show 20 per cent. and the exhibitor is compelled to show 15 per cent."—I think those are the figures—"and it would be unreasonable to relieve the renter and the exhibitor of this obligation which under your own Act they are compelled to discharge at the present day." I thought, and I still think, that there were good reasons why these figures—which I agree are under my Act obligatory—should be reduced, but my noble friend carried conviction with the House on that argument last time. I hope that I may carry the same conviction this time.

This is not a case of reducing an existing obligation upon renter and exhibitor. It is a case of putting an entirely new obligation upon the renter and the exhibitor. There is no short-film quota in existence at the present time. No renter or exhibitor in this country is compelled to rent or show a short film. All our experience under the Films Act has shown that it is wise when imposing a new obligation which is going to apply to every renter—though I am going to argue this more in reference to exhibitors—to go reasonably gently at the start. Remember that there are something like 4,000 exhibitors in this country. It is not a question of those little theatres which show the news reel. The news reel, incidentally, does not come in at all. It is a matter of theatres up and down the country which give the ordinary "movie" show to which we all go in such little spare time as we enjoy. And observe this further. If we carry out the object which my noble friend has at heart—and indeed I am sure he will agree that I have the object of the producers at heart as much as anybody, for after all I in vented this form of quota—and put too high a quota on the exhibitor, he may decide not to show any short films at all. He need not show one. The obligation under the Schedule and under the Act is not to show short films; it is merely an obligation that if you do in your programme show foreign short films, you must also show a given proportion of British short films.

We must not be too eclectic in our legislation. People are going to see the kind of films they like seeing. I think a great many of these short films are very good, and my own personal opinion is that a considerable number of short films which are imported are quite bad, though there are some very good ones too. But it is no good our just making ourselves arbiters of taste in this way. The exhibitors are going to buy those films which they think they can get their varying public to come and see, and if we put an obligation upon them to take too many of these short British films, or more than they think will be suitable to fill their theatres, all that is going to happen is that a number of theatres will not take short films at all but will fill their programmes with the longer films, which they are perfectly entitled to do under the Act. My noble friend said that if we found that this quota was too low, we ought to be able to put it up. Careful provision has already been made in the Bill. Indeed, under Clause 15 there is an obligation—I think I am right; it is not only a discretion—upon the Films Council to review the position in the course of the coming year, and if they think that you can safely put up the quota, then they may recommend that course to the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade has power to increase the quota accordingly. I submit most sincerely that this is a much wiser way of dealing with an increase in the quota, and an increase in an entirely new quota which has never been upon the industry before, than to say that we will now put this quota up to a higher figure and take the chance of its being right. I think we had much better proceed by experience.

Let me add just this one other fact. My noble friend Lord Moyne said that he was very glad that we had made so wide the definition of short films. Practically nothing except the news reel and, I think, some special educational films is now excluded from this wide definition of what is a short film. But the fact that we have made the definition of the short film so wide, and that for every foreign short film, except the pure news film or the exceptional educational film with a limited circulation, a British short film has to be shown, is surely a reason for being rather moderate in the starting figure for our quota for short films. For reasons which I submit show that this is not a wise provision in the interest of getting British short films shown, I ask the House to reject this Amendment.

In conclusion, I ought to draw the attention of the House to a letter which has been put at my disposal and which I understand comes, so far as anybody can speak for short film producers, from an association of gentlemen who produce short films. It is a letter from what is called "The Sub-Standard Cinematograph Association"—we get the most extraordinary expressions in this industry!—of 34, Soho Square, and was written to the President of the Board of Trade on February 18. The Chairman, Mr. F. A. Hoare, writes this: I am asked to express on behalf of members of this association the appreciation of the producers of short films for the sympathy your Department have accorded to their views and objectives. It is realised how difficult the task of embracing and correlating the various interests has been, and the passing of the Bill from Committee stage provides an opportune moment to voice this feeling. If that be the feeling voiced by the producers of short films I am instructed—


My Lords, this is from an organisation which has circularised a large number of Peers in support of this very Amendment. It is the very thing from which I was quoting in my supporting speech just now.


They seem to me to change their minds with remarkable rapidity, and they apparently do not communicate their change of heart, or view, to the President of the Board of Trade. I am sure that if they had, I should not have been supplied by the Board of Trade with this letter written on February 18 to congratulate the President on what he had done for them. Of course, as my noble friend said, everybody likes to get something for nothing, and no doubt if they thought, with their keen advocates here, like my noble friend Lord Moyne and his enthusiastic follower behind him, that there was a little more that could be got, then I dare say they were not averse, like other meek, from inheriting the earth if the earth were there for the asking. I will not put it higher than that, but they were apparently well satisfied with the position when the Bill left the House of Commons. No doubt if they thought your Lordships were going to be more generous, or, I suggest, if I may do so without impertinence, less judiciously wise—which I am sure you will pot be!—than another place, they might perhaps have put forward an extra claim. But I do submit, for the reasons I have given, that this is not an Amendment which it would be wise for this House to accept, and I hope that your Lordships will leave this extremely low quota, this first attempt at a short quota, where it is.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has drawn attention to Clause 15, under which a quota can be altered. I take it that the quota can be altered up or down.


It cannot fall below the figure laid down.


My Lords, I should like to say a word about the alleged misrepresentation of the opinions of the short film producers. Naturally, during the consultations which have taken place, their interests were not forgotten. On inquiry whether they were satisfied, my noble friends and I were told that they felt that the quota of 7½ per cent. was absolutely derisory, that it would make no difference whatever, and that they had not agitated about it because they were glad to have recognition that they exist, though they felt that they were going to get no help whatever from this Bill. I have here in my hand, although I do not propose to weary your Lordships by reading it, a circular which has been sent to a good many noble Lords, showing why this very small quota suggested in the Bill will not help them to break down this terrific price obstacle, under which they are up against people who say they can get films for nothing and do not see why they should pay for them. These short films cost at least a few hundred pounds to produce, and very often £50, is offered, entirely because the price is cut down by the free distribution of American films.

It is true that this Amendment is in no way consequential on what was de- cided in Committee, but it is a fortiori much easier to help the small-film producer, because he responds much more quickly than the long-film producer and the valuable long film is not given away for nothing. There is no doubt that the short film is given away under this vicious system of block booking, with which, in spite of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, the Government did not find it possible to deal. I do not think there is the slightest danger of the short film being cut out of the programme. It is included in many cases as a makeweight, to fill up time, and the long films are not of standard length which would enable you to have a programme consisting merely of two long

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.


After this trial of strength I will not put your Lordships to the trouble of any further Division, and I suggest that we accept the consequences of the decision which the House has just taken, and adjust the Schedule accordingly.

Amendments moved— Page 46, second column:

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