HL Deb 04 March 1948 vol 154 cc437-64

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The VISCOUNT MERSEY in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Obligation of exhibitors to show British films.

1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, an exhibitor who, in any quota period, exhibits registered films to the public at any theatre in Great Britain shall include among the films so exhibited such British films as are required by this section in respect of that period.

(2) Where the films exhibited as aforesaid in any quota period include films registered as long films, the film so exhibited as the first feature film shall, on at least the prescribed percentage of the number of days on which such films are so exhibited, be a film registered as a British film and as an exhibitors' quota film.

(3) Where the films exhibited as aforesaid in any quota period include films registered as short films, or films registered as long films which are exhibited otherwise than as first feature films, those films shall, to the extent of at least the prescribed percentage of their total exhibited length, be films registered as British films and as exhibitors' quota films.

(5) The requirements imposed by this section in respect of any quota period shall be complied with separately in respect of the first six months of that period as well as in respect of the whole of that period.

LORD TEYNHAM moved to insert after subsection (5):

" (6) Such requirements shall be complied with separately in respect of—

  1. (a) the last programme in each week; and
  2. (b) each Sunday on which the theatre is open to the public,
as well as in respect of the whole of the programmes in the quota period."

The noble Lord said: During the Second Reading of this Bill I ventured to point out that there was nothing in the Bill to prevent an exhibitor from showing his quota of British films in the first half of the week and the other films in the second half. That would have the effect of preventing British films from being shown in the best half of the week from the point of view of financial returns. I also pointed out that there appeared to be no provision in the Bill for a Sunday quota, and I suggested that there was no reason why the public should not have the opportunity of seeing British pictures on Sunday as well as on any other day. This Amendment has been set down to cover those two points which I mentioned during the Second Reading.

I think it is generally agreed that the proportion of box office takings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, as compared with, those for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, is in the ratio of four to six. In other words, 40 per cent. of the takings in any one week are obtained on the first three days and 60 per cent. on the second three days. It is estimated that if all the picture houses which change their programmes more than once a week were to show the British quota in the first half of the week, the loss to British pictures might be in the nature of £900,000, on the basis of seventy-five first feature films produced. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with a great deal of figures, but I can assure your Lordships that that figure can be substantiated. British producers in the past also have had to suffer from the custom of showing British films early in the day at reduced prices and American films later on when prices were higher.

A somewhat similar Amendment was moved in another place and the President of the Board of Trade admitted that the proposals which I am now putting forward were in fact in accordance with the general spirit of the Bill. He considered, however, that the proposals had one disadvantage—namely, that they would entail more labour and more bookkeeping. I do not think that that contention can really be substantiated. The fear of the President of the Board of Trade is, I believe, unfounded. At the present time exhibitors have to fill in every week a form giving the name of every film they show, the number of times it is shown, its length, its country of origin and so on. Everything that the Amendment requires can easily be recorded at the same time on that form. In any case, the form has to be revised for other purposes required by the Bill, and I think it would be quite untrue to suggest that this Amendment would mean the engagement of another clerk by small exhibitors or an additional civil servant in the Board of Trade. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 8, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Teynham.)


Before the noble Viscount rises to reply, may I say that I think there is a lot in this Amendment and I should like briefly to support it. Its principle is good and I understand it is considered as helpful by the British producers. I hope the noble Viscount will accept this Amendment or something like it.


I think that the demands of this Bill are perhaps not so formidable as they appear to be at first sight. Take the cinemas in the country as a whole. The first group is of something like 1,500 theatres, occupying the most favourable positions and with the largest seating capacities. They show films for the whole week, except Sunday. Then there are the theatres who show two programmes a week. It seems to me unthinkable that Mr. Rank's organisation should show foreign films in their circuit in preference to British films during the most profitable times of the week. I think the same thing may be said of the A.B.C. Corporation, which will shortly be producing. The houses that show a film for the whole week hardly come into consideration. Therefore, the problem really comes down to the smaller theatres which change their programmes twice a week. I think one could almost leave it to the renters and the distributors of British films to see that they do not get the worst of the deal with the exhibitors. Moreover, I think it only fair to say that exhibitors are not a body of villains who wish to show foreign films and not British films, other things being equal. I am sure they would rather show British films whenever they have the opportunity of getting enough. I do not think the position is a serious one, and I doubt whether this Amendment is really necessary.


I can quite understand the desire of your Lordships that British films should be shown on all possible occasions; indeed, the Government have already taken some steps with a view to bringing that about. I know the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, realises that there is in the Bill, in relation to the quota (which is a twelve months' quota) a provision that it shall be fulfilled during the course of the six months. The quota period starts from October and will, therefore, cover the six winter months, during which time, of course, the box office takings are the heaviest. It will mean that the full quota for the six months will be shown during the first six months of the year, instead of any attempt being made to carry it over to the second six months of the year. The noble Lord referred to late showings. The Bill also provides that the quota film shall be shown from five o'clock to ten o'clock in the evening; it may also be shown earlier in the day, but it must, under Statute, be shown from five o'clock to ten o'clock in the evening.

I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda. The major portion of the large circuit cinemas, and, indeed, cinemas generally in the provincial towns, show their films for a whole week, and thereby cover the last three days in addition to the first three days. It may be that in some of the small provincial cinemas, where they change their films twice weekly, there could be some jobbery such as the noble Lord has in mind. We feel, however, that we can well leave the matter to the renters and, indeed, to the exhibitors, themselves; we are quite prepared to trust them. I do not think for a moment that there is a dead set by either renters or exhibitors against the showing of British films. I will not stress this point, but the Amendment, if adopted, would, of course, lead to a certain amount of administrative difficulty. We want to keep the administration of the cinema control generally as simple as possible, as, indeed, was strongly stressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, on the Second Reading of this Bill. We ought not to add even only at few items to the form. The Government are satisfied that British films will get a fair showing, particularly under the provisions of this Bill. For those reasons, I hope the noble Lord will see his way to withdraw his Amendment.


I think this point has been well worth raising. I have had an opportunity of giving it a good deal of consideration between the Second Reading of the Bill and now. I will say at once that I am sure that no one who supported this Amendment—and my name is attached to it—ever had in mind that exhibitors on the whole do not play their full part. My experience in constructing the original Act—and that, indeed, was entirely revolutionary and covered new ground—was that I received the greatest possible help from the exhibitors and, so long as I was responsible for its administration, I had completely fair treatment from them in its administration. I do not think the administrative difficulties would, in fact, he at all formidable. It means adding only one or two, or perhaps three, columns to a form which already contains a number of columns. It will merely require the entering up of what everybody knows quite well is in their books, and I do not suppose it will take more than half-an-hour at a time.

Nor do I think it will impose a much greater burden on the Board of Trade. It is not suggested that they are to send round inspectors to theatres all the time. The way one administers an Act like this is to check up on the returns, and to do a certain number of test checks at this or that cinema at regular intervals; and if you have any reason to suppose that there is any "hanky-panky"—it is very rarely that there would be any—you have the power of entry and can make your inquiry. Nor am I wholly convinced as to the argument about the six months. I think the six-monthly quota is an improvement, but I would point out that if the arguments in favour were of general application, it would be just as easy to show a film from Monday to Wednesday during two six-monthly periods as to show it from Monday to Wednesday over the whole year. If I may say so respectfully, I do not think that is a sound argument.

The argument which does carry conviction to me is that the great majority of the houses where the big money is made do, in fact, show a film for at least a week, and often for a number of weeks on end. I have never been one to put something into an Act of Parliament merely to make it nice and tidy theoretically. I understand that if this Amendment were adopted, it would have no practical effect upon the great majority of the houses where the big money is made. The showing of a film for at least a week is their practice not merely during this temporary period while the American films are not coming in; it is their regular practice in normal times, whether American films or English films are available to them. The Amendment would, therefore, apply only to some of the smaller houses, where the amount of the revenue is proportionately less.

I can see that there would not be administrative difficulty in filling up a return, but there might be considerable difficulty, both for the renter and for the exhibitor, in the booking of films to fill two programmes a week. I am not sure what would happen where a film was going to be shown for three days only. Some film has to be shown for the first three days of the week, and if it is laid down that British films should always be shown on the last three days of the week the exhibitor would have to get something else for the first three days. In fact, I expect that what would happen would be that they world be jumbled up together. The man would get what films he could; some weeks there would be a British film showing at the end of the week, and some weeks the British film would be showing at the beginning of the week. I was in favour of this Amendment, but having regard to the practical way in which this industry is working, I have come to the conclusion that the Amendment is not necessary, since the regular practice of the big houses will naturally meet the case. Therefore, I venture to suggest to my noble friend that this is not an Amendment for which we need die in the last ditch.


It is certain that the money is in the large cinema circuits, which keep the film running for the whole week, but it is a fact that out of the total number of cinemas in the country, which is something over 4,000–4,386, I believe, to be exact—2,499, or over 50 per cent., are cinemas which change their programme twice a week. In view of the explanation given by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the remarks of my noble friend Viscount Swinton, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Determination of quotas of British films.

(2) Different percentages may be prescribed by any such order in respect of films exhibited at special quota theatres and in respect of films exhibited at theatres other than special quota theatres, and in that case the percentages so prescribed shall be higher in the case of films exhibited at special quota theatres.

VISCOUNT HALL moved to omit subsection (2). The noble Viscount said: In another place, and also upon the Second Reading in your Lordships' House, a strong plea was put forward that cinemas which feel no local competition should, for quota purposes, be placed in the same category as the cinemas of the major circuits. The Government admit the force of these arguments, but they believe that the right way of meeting them is to assimilate the circuit theatres into one class with those of the independent theatres which do not qualify for relief under Clause 4. This Amendment, therefore, proposes to strike out from the Bill the provision whereby circuit theatres and pre-release cinemas may be assigned higher quotas than the general run of exhibitors. In the opinion of His Majesty's Government all independent exhibitors who operate in situations which are not highly competitive—as defined in Clause 4—may well be expected to support the same quotas as the major circuits. Independent theatres which are in highly competitive situations will still be able to qualify for relief under Clause 4 by securing a reduction of their quota obligations. I hope this Amendment will meet the points made by noble Lords opposite on the Second Reading. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 22, leave out subsection (2).—(Viscount Hall.)


I am sure we are all grateful to the First Lord for having put down this important, though simple, Amendment. It entirely meets the case which we raised last time, that, provided that there was no difficulty in getting British films, cinemas, quite irrespective of the number which were owned by a company, ought to have the same obligations to show British films. The only relief should be when British films of suitable quality are not available. Various ways were suggested by which this might be done. On examination, other theatres might be brought up into what I may call the Upper Six or the Upper Ten or whatever it is. But this is much simpler than that. This places, as did the old Act, the general obligation upon all exhibitors to show the prescribed quota, but says to the competitive man in the competitive area, who has genuine difficulty in getting a British film: "You can come for relief." I know from experience that the administration of the old Act worked quite simply as between the trade and the Board of Trade, and I think it will work well in the future. This is a particularly practical and sound Amendment, and I am grateful for its introduction.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3:

Supplementary provisions as to quotas.

(6) A film of which the total labour costs are less than ten shillings per foot shall not be registered as an exhibitors' quota film, and any such film shall be disregarded for the purposes of subsection (2) and (3) of Section one of this Act.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (6), after "are" to insert: in the case of a long film less than one pound ten shillings per foot, and in the case of a short film.

The noble Lord said: I do not think I need reiterate the strong and powerful arguments, raised so eloquently during the passage of this Bill in another place, upon the necessity for maintaining a higher level of quality in those films which make up what is known as the supporting programme, and also for doing something to protect the interests of this section of the industry. His Majesty's Government have repeatedly stated that they intend—indeed, that they are anxious—to do something to help develop and protect this section of the industry. My noble friend Viscount Hall said on the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House that the Government are particularly anxious to support this section of the industry, and do not wish it to return to the competition which existed some years ago when there was great production of what were called, rather correctly, "quota quickies." His Majesty's Government have done something to implement their desire by bringing in, for the first time, a quota for the supporting programme. I submit that it is useless to bring in a quota unless something is done to see that it is filled by films of some degree of quality.

The cost test of 10s. per foot, which stands in the Bill at the present time, is no test by to-day's standards of quality. Frankly, it is so meaningless as to be almost ridiculous. In the 1938 Act it was laid down that the cost test should be £1 per foot, and it was raised by Order to 30s. per foot. At the present time, when the costs of this particular class of producer have been raised three-fold, the cost test is lowered to one-third; to me that does not make sense. I am prepared to be told that the 1938 Act laid down a renters' quota, and that this cost test in the present Bill is an exhibitors' quota. But I do not accept the argument. After all, what is the purpose of both? To lift the quality standard. The President of the Board of Trade said in another place that the 10s. per foot cost test in the Bill was a result of a recommendation of the Films Council. That has proved, as is now admitted, to be a misunderstanding. I mention the Films Council with a certain amount of diffidence, in the presence of the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, the Council's distinguished Chairman, but my information is that what happened was this. The Films Council recommended that there should be a 10s. per foot cost test for "shorts" and no cost test for first features, but remained completely silent as to second features, with which this Amendment deals. My further information is that it was in the minds of at least some members of the Films Council that the 30s. per foot standard laid down in the 1938 Act should remain.

My Amendment has no effect upon first features. I understand that these now cost the high sum of between £5 and £7 per foot, so it is outside the realm of imagination that they will ever get down to 30s. per foot. But I submit that the producer of these second feature films, who sets himself out to produce something of a decent standard and who wants to pay reasonable rates of remuneration, must have, and is entitled to expect, some protection from the sordid competition which he will suffer and which will be encouraged by this 10s. per foot cost test. It will have the effect—and I ask my noble friend to bear this in mind—of filling the supporting programme screen time with some of the rubbish to which we were subjected before. For these reasons I hope that His Majesty's Government will accept my Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 35, after (" are ") insert (" in the case of a long film less than one pound ten shillings per foot, and in the case of a short film ").—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


I have two Amendments on this same point; so perhaps in order to save time I may speak on this Amendment. I do not now feel that there is the same urgency about this Amendment, and about my two Amendments, as I thought when I tabled them. I understand that there is power to alter this minimum qualification of cost by affirmative Resolution. It seems strange to me that the cost qualification should have been lowered from 30s. per foot to 10s. per foot, when the costs of production since the war have doubled or trebled. To my mind one of the main reasons for such a qualification as this is the maintenance of quality. It is important not only to the industry, but also to the country for the sake of the future, that the quality of British films should be kept up. Furthermore, since at the moment there are no new American films coming into the country, and as there are unlikely to be many in the future, a very high output will be demanded of the British film industry. It seems, therefore, that there may be a tendency to shelve quality in favour of quantity, and from all points of view that would be a sad thing. For that reason alone, the height of this cost qualification should be kept up.

Again, it appears to me that with a cost qualification as low as 10s. per foot the quality producer is at a disadvantage, because with 10s. per foot the door is open for the producer of shoddy films to flood the market, or, at least, to produce the films and gain for them a greater freedom than he now has. It would be a pity if the quality producer were at a disadvantage. It may be said that whether it is to be £1 or 30s. per foot is totally academic; but if it is academic, then the 10s. figure is much more academic, seeing that the possibility of competition is much higher. However, I understand that there is power to alter this standard. I cannot understand why His Majesty's Government do not, here and now, put a more realistic figure. It seems to me that we always wait until a Bill becomes an Act before matters of detail such as this are dealt with. Although I have little Parliamentary experience, it seems to me from a common sense point of view that it would be better to do it now. I beg to support the principle of these Amendments.


Perhaps I may intervene, as one who has had considerable practical experience of negative costs. It may be said, broadly, that the average negative cost of a short film is about double the minimum labour cost; that is about what it has been in the past. Therefore, the effect of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that one-reel films of 1,000 feet would cost about £3,000. I can assure noble Lords that it would be quite impossible to make a showable single-reel film for any less sum than £3,000.


I beg to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. No doubt the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, is aware that, so far as the skilled operatives in the industry are concerned, there is here an important trade union angle. The first features, as has been pointed out, must cost substantially over 30s. a foot in labour costs. But this is not the case as regards second features. The unions have a good deal of difficulty in insisting on standard rates of wages and employment conditions, especially when dealing with companies which do not carry a permanent staff—and that is the description of a number of companies who specialise in making second feature films. They employ their staff as and when they want them and then, when the work is done, the men are dismissed. If such a company does not observe trade union rates, it is almost impossible to obtain redress. Some of them are of the £100 capital variety and, if any claim is made against them, they just go into liquidation.

The minimum cost test is considered to be of value to the trade union movement in the industry in dealing with those companies. If the trade union are able to show that these companies have broken not only the trade union rules but also an Act of Parliament (as this Bill will then be), the union will be in a stronger position to deal with those customers who are rather difficult to deal with. That is my information from the trade union. It is an added argument in favour of raising the minimum cost. Arguments have been made about the technical and artistic side, and I need not reiterate them now. I would ask my noble friend to bear this point in mind. It is definitely the view of the trade union in the industry that an increase in the minimum cost, along the lines of the Amendment moved by my noble friend, Lord Lucas, would be of help to them in safeguarding the position of their members.

5.22 p.m.


May I intervene for a moment on this Amendment, as the Films Council was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas? He is absolutely right when he says that the recommendation of the Council referred only to short films eligible for quota. The cost test seems to me the most difficult of all the questions that were considered by the Council. It was first discussed in 1940 by the then Films Council and they were unable to reach any conclusion on the subject. We had long discussions on the matter again in March of last year. Again we were unable to reach anything like unanimity. Finally, after we had discussed it for several hours, a resolution was moved that a cost test of 10s. per foot of labour costs should be imposed on short films eligible for quota. Fourteen members were present. The motion was agreed to by six votes to five. There were several members of the Council, including myself, who felt that the pros and cons were so evenly divided, after a discussion lasting for two or three hours, that we could not make up our minds, so we did not vote at all. I think the main argument for not imposing a cost test was that the makers of these films in present conditions have a great difficulty in placing their products at all. We felt that if we imposed a cost test or anything like a cost test which really made films expensive, we might restrict the market and thereby do the makers a disservice. That point was strongly pressed by members with great experience of the trade, and that is why we found it difficult to make up our minds on the subject.


This question of the cost test and the differences between renters' quota and exhibitors' quota is one of the most difficult technical matters in the Bill. I think that that was brought out in the discussions which took place in another place. There is a strong desire to maintain the excellence of the supporting programmes, and some effort should be made to do this. It was felt by the Government that, rather than have no cost test at all, as the renters' cost test was abolished on the abolition of the renters' quota, they would take the advice of the Cinematograph Films Council. Whilst it is true, as the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, rightly said, that there was some discussion in the Council, mainly as to whether there should be a cost test or not, the Council did decide by a majority that there should be a cost test of 10s. per foot. I know that strong arguments could be used about the inadequacy of this sum, but the Government were faced with what was, after all, the considered opinion of a number of members of the Films Council. Therefore, as the President of the Board of Trade rightly said in another place, it was decided to put that figure into the Bill "to have a trial run."

It does not mean that, because the figure for the cost test of 10s. per foot on short films is in the Bill, it is going to be retained during the whole of the continuance of the Act. Indeed, the President of the Board of Trade made it quite clear that as soon as the new Films Council are appointed—and a new Council will have to be appointed with the passing of this Bill—he will himself keep his eye upon the question of cost, and will refer the matter to the Films Council for consideration—for, after all, they are a body expert in dealing with this industry. If, after they have given consideration to this matter, they make recommendations to him with regard to any increase which is necessary—or indeed any changes at all which are necessary—then the Government have power under Clause 36, subsection (1), to bring the recommendations or decisions when arrived at by the President of the Board of Trade, into operation.

I think that that is the better way of dealing with this matter. The renters' quota and the exhibitors' quota are two entirely different things; you can hardly compare the one with the other. In view of all the technical implications involved in this matter, I think it much better that your Lordships should follow the course which was taken in another place and agree with the recommendation or the suggestion of the President of the Board of Trade, leaving this matter as it stands. If he deems it necessary, he will refer the matter to the Films Council, and he will consider any recommendation made to him by the Films Council.


No further legislation will be necessary?


That is so. There is already provision in the Bill. I think that that is the most suitable course to adopt. For those reasons, I would ask the noble Lord not to press his Amendment.


It may be said that only fools step in where the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, fears to tread He, as Chairman of the Films Council, after hearing three hours of argument—I am not going to argue for three hours this evening—took the courageous course of saying that he was so puzzled or so uncertain that he declined to take a decision. Unfortunately, we cannot do that in Parliament. I suppose we can abstain from voting, but we must try to come to a conclusion as to what is the wisest thing to be done. I think that this is the most difficult point with which we are confronted to-day. I am not in the least afraid that the people who spend a great deal of money in producing good films—and there are plenty of them—will not produce a thoroughly good film and will not spend much more than any minimum means test which is included in the Bill. I also know that every now and again it is not necessarily the films which cost the most money that are either the most agreeable to witness or the most successful box office propositions; and, every now and again, one sees films which have cost very little but which are most successful. We are the trustees for the exhibitors in this matter, and I want to be sure that, while we impose upon the exhibitor—and rightly—the duty of showing as many good British films as can be produced, we should safeguard him against having to show bad films and committing a crime if he does not.

Quite rightly, the President of the Board of Trade has set his face against setting up some body to impose a quality test upon films. I am certain that it cannot be done; we came to that conclusion long ago, and we put up the means test instead. I admit that in my original Act there was no provision. Then came the "quota quickie." It did not come in the great feature films, and I do not think it came even in the documentary films; but mostly it came in the supporting films—those films which are betwixt and between and which it is easy to produce cheaply. A few third rate vaudeville artists are brought together, and as they kick their feet about and the camera turns there is produced so many feet of awful nonsense, which nobody would go to a theatre to see. This sort of film was made by malicious people who had to comply with what I call "my quota." They thought they were going to get away with it, and were quite delighted when a film that had cost very little money was booed off the stage. That had to be stopped, and it was stopped by imposing the means test, which worked all right. That might occur again.

The fact that the renters' quota has gone is not a complete answer. It might occur either by foreigners doing something here to comply with their quota, or it might equally well be done by British producers who saw an easy way of getting cheap stuff shown under the compulsory quota. That would be wrong, but, once the film is made and provided that x per cent. of it is British, it is a British film. As such, it is entitled to be registered, whether it is good or bad. Provided that 75 per cent.—or whatever is the proportion—of the cost has been spent in British studios or paid out in this country, there is no way by which that film can be disqualified, though it may be a thoroughly bad film which no exhibitor wants to take and no audience wants to look at. This is a matter which primarily concerns the exhibitors, but, rightly considered, it concerns equally the production of British films. After all, a line of really rotten British films will do more than anything to depreciate British films as a whole in the export markets of the world. Therefore, it is a matter in which all decent people, whether they are exhibitors or producers, have the same interest. What is done? The means test for everything, except that which is practically a documentary, is abolished. I should have thought the documentary was the film about which one had to worry the least. The film one has to worry about is this intermediate supporting film, the second feature film; but there is no provision about that.

If there were no more to be said about this, then I quite frankly, with great respect to Lord Drogheda and his Film Council, have not the least doubt that we ought to have this in as an insurance, and ought to lay down a figure which we know is a reasonable minimum figure for any decent supporting film. As I understand it, the First Lord says "I appreciate that but I have power, under Section 36 of the old Act, by Order in Council, after consulting with the Films Council, to come to Parliament and present an Order putting a price test on to any film, long, short, or medium." That may be the best way to proceed, on the basis that you deal with an evil if it arises. I qualify that, however, by saying that the mischief may be done before you can deal with it. You can prevent it going on, but the "quota quickie" did a great deal of mischief before we put a stop to it. If you have a minimum test at the start, then, as I see it, you prevent the evil arising. You may hit upon the wrong sum, and it may be necessary to alter it; that is a point on which to consult the Films Council. I see the danger that a good deal of mischief may be done before you can act; you have to go to the Films Council and then back to the Board of Trade to get an Order; the Order has to be drafted; you have to come to Parliament; then you have to have an affirmative Resolution in both Houses, which means finding Parliamentary time. That is not always easy, and may cause further delay.

If we are to accept this, I would like to have two assurances from the Minister in charge of the Bill. The first is that I have rightly construed Section 36 of the Act which your Lordships will see on page 30 of the Schedule, and that the President of the Board of Trade will have power to apply this cost test to any sort of film, whatever its length. The second assurance I should like is, that if there is the least sign that this mischief is likely to arise, or has arisen, the President of the Board of Trade will immediately refer the matter to the Films Council and, as promptly as he can, consistent with Parliamentary time, will come to Parliament to set it right. Unless we have that, we might, by this omission, be damaging not only the exhibitors but also the whole reputation of British production, which I am glad to say is standing higher and higher every day.


Although my noble friend has put his arguments with his usual charm and courtesy I must, with great respect, say that they do not appear to me to be very good ones. His first and main point was that the Films Council could do only one of two things. They had to decide whether there should be a cost test for short films, or a cost test for long films. Under this Bill the supporting second feature film is counted as a long film. The Council recommended to the President of the Board of Trade that there should be a 10s. per foot cost test with short films, but made no recommendation regarding long films; and since the supporting second feature film is considered to be a long film they made no recommendation in regard to that. My noble friend said that the Government want to give this particular clause a trial run and then, if it is not found beneficial and operative, it can be altered by an affirmative Resolution. But I would support the noble Viscount. An affirmative Resolution operates both ways. Why not put the figure at 30s. and, if we find it too high, reduce it? Why put it at 10s. and then, if we find that damage is done, raise it? That does not seem to be the right way of doing things. With regard to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, may I say that I can quite understand the fear of the Films Council that these producers might in the old days have been prevented from getting a market, but they have a definite quota under this Bill. It may not be a very big market, but at least it is a market which they did not have in the old days. May I suggest this to the noble Viscount who has charge of the Bill? As the President of the Board of Trade gave almost an undertaking in another place that, between the passage of the Bill from the other place to your Lordships' House, he would consult what remains of the present Films Council and see if some alteration could be made to this 10s. per foot quota, cannot the noble Viscount arrange that between this stage and the Report stage a similar procedure shall be adopted? I feel that my noble friend will have been impressed by the unanimity shown in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Grantley, who has spoken with great technical knowledge of the film industry, has said that it is impossible to make a film for 10s. a foot.


A showable film.


I agree, a showable film. Some of the most awful rubbish was shown in the past. Owing to the high cost of first feature films, supporting programmes have often had to be, as it were, thrown in. What happens in such a case? The first feature film has to be able to command 50 per cent. of the box office takings to make it worth while. That means that there is practically nothing left for the other film. The result is that the people concerned go to the "junk yard," which I believe is the trade name for Wardour Street, and buy cheap footage off the quota (the noble Viscount, gave an illustration of this) throw it in with the first feature and charge £5 a week. That is what has been happening. Unless something is done reasonably and sensibly we shall never get matters in this connection into a satisfactory position. I would appeal to my noble friend, in view of everything that has been said, to reconsider this matter and take steps to see whether the Government can do something about it between now and the Report stage.

5.43 p.m.


As an expert who has lived with films for the last twenty years, and the grandfather, as it were, of the present legislation, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, knows not only the proposed new legislation, but also the existing legislation, and he is well aware that his interpretation of Clause 36 is correct. With regard to the other point which he raised, my right honourable friend in another place did say that he would give his personal attention to this matter. He said that it would be difficult to refer the question to the old Films Council but that as soon as the new Films Council is formed after the passing of this legislation, he will certainly ask them to look at the matter. I am afraid that beyond that I just cannot go to-day.

I am not aware that, as Lord Lucas has suggested, the President of the Board of Trade gave any sort of undertaking that he would look at the matter during the period of the passing of the Bill from another place to your Lordships' House. He made it clear and definite that the question would be referred to the new Films Council so that they could give it their consideration. I will certainly consult with my right honourable friend upon the matter. I will also bring to his notice the strong views held by those of your Lordships who have taken part in this discussion. At the same time, in view of the assurance given by my right honourable friend, under strong pressure in another place, it would be wrong for me to promise that there will be any alteration in the Bill. But that, of course, does not prevent my making representations to him.


I am sure that we are all much obliged to the noble Viscount the First Lord. Obviously, he cannot go further than that to-day. I would like him and his officers—who are always fair and practical in these matters, and who will have heard this discussion—to consider this matter with the President of the Board of Trade. I am strongly in favour of referring the whole question to the new Films Council when it is set up. I think that that is an excellent idea. If any order is recommended on their advice, whether it is an order to raise or to lower the figure (and there is power to do either) I am sure the House would give it sympathetic and prompt consideration. But I am genuinely anxious about leaving a void. There was an old Order in Council in force which set the figure at £1 or 30s., but that Order, I gather, either has lapsed or will automatically lapse on the passing of this Bill. Therefore, until there has been a reference to the Films Council and a recommendation from them to Parliament, there will be nothing in the place Of the Order.

What damage would the Board of Trade, or the Bill, suffer if a figure were put into the Bill? I do not speak as an expert upon this question, but I would say that as the old figure was £1, it cannot now be less than that, and I would put it at 30s. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was very reasonable to propose putting that in as a minimum. Surely, it could not do the least harm to the Bill. It may be altered up or down as the Films Council consider right, but it would provide the insurance which we want that mischief will not be done before the matter comes back to us with the advice of the Films Council. I believe that that is the general feeling of the House. We are all extremely anxious to make this as good a Bill as we can. If I were still in charge of legislation of this kind I think that that is what I would do.


In view of the promise of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, to give this reconsideration and to discuss it further with his right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Exemption and relief of certain theatres and itinerant exhibitors]:


This is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 41, leave out (" not being a special quota theatre.")—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The next Amendment is also consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 4, line 10, at end insert: (" Provided that the Board shall not give any such direction if it appears to them that the theatre is controlled by a person who controls more than two hundred theatres in Great Britain.").—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


Before we come to the next clause, may I ask the Committee to accept a drafting Amendment at page 4, line 15, to leave out "(2)" and insert "(1)"? This is consequential upon changes made in the Bill in another place. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 15, leave out (" (2) ") and insert (" (1) ").—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5:

Circuit theatres, etc.

(2) The conditions of any such licence as aforesaid shall be such as appear to the Board to be necessary for securing that the exhibitor will, if so required by the Board, exhibit at the theatre as first feature films, on such occasions as the Board may direct during the quota period in respect of which the licence is granted, not more than six films registered as British films and recommended by a Selection Committee to be appointed by the Board for the purpose as being suitable for such exhibition by reason of their entertainment value.

(5) Where application is made to the Board for a licence under the said section nine authorising a person to carry on business as an exhibitor at any theatre and it appears to the Board that the theatre is normally used for the exhibition of films which have not been generally released at the time of their exhibition, any licence issued in pursuance of the application may designate the theatre as a special quota theatre.

(6) Where the Board propose to issue a licence designating a theatre as a special quota theatre in pursuance of the last foregoing subsection, the Board shall consult the Cinematograph Films Council and consider its advice in the matter.


This Amendment is a purely drafting Amendment, consequential on the deletion from the Bill of Clause 2 (2). I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 1, leave out from (" shall ") to (" be ") in line 2.—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.50 p.m.

LORD GRANTLEY moved, in subsection (2), to omit "a Selection Committee to be appointed by the Board" and insert "the Cinematograph Films Council." The noble Lord said: This Bill wisely provides that six independently produced films shall receive under certain conditions a quota booking by the circuit theatres. At present the Bill reads that these films shall go before the Board of Trade and be recommended by a Selection Committee to be appointed by the Board for the purpose as being suitable for such exhibition by reason of their entertainment value. The purpose of this Amendment is to remove the words "a Selection Committee to be appointed by the Board "and insert" the Cinematograph Films Council. "I was once a member of the Films Council and the function to be carried out by this proposed Committee is the exact function of one of their panels. My noble friends and I can see no reason why that task cannot be undertaken by the Films Council, or by a submittee to which they have delegated their powers. We do not think a Selection Committee should be appointed by the Board of Trade. That is the quite short point. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 10, leave out from (" by ") to the first (" for ") in line 11 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Grantley.)


There are several objections to this proposal. In the first place, we consider we owe it to the circuits to give them representation on the body responsible for the recommendations, because, after all, they are the organisations which will have to show the films recommended. The circuits are not represented as such on the Films Council and will not even necessarily be represented indirectly. Furthermore, the Films Council will include film producers and renters who may well be directly interested in films submitted for recommendation. There will also be a predominance of trade members on the Films Council, whereas the recommending authority should have a predominance of non-trade members of a widely representative character. They will not require any technical advice which cannot be furnished by the circuit representatives themselves. The Government therefore consider it appropriate to keep in being the existing Committee which was set up in 1946 by the then President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps) for the purpose of recommending films under the existing voluntary arrangements with the circuits. That Committee consists of six independent members and a representative of each of the major circuits. I would like to remind your Lordships that it is expressly provided in Clause 5 (2) of the Bill that the films selected must qualify for recommendation "by reason of their entertainment value," and it is thought necessary to have a Committee of this kind to deal with the matter. I think this Committee can be regarded as a safeguard against the recommendation of unsuitable films on cultural and other grounds.


In view of the assurance the noble Viscount has given on this matter, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


The next two Amendments overlap, and I propose to take the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, as one to omit lines 25 to 31; then to take the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and subsequently to take the remainder of Lord Hall's Amendment.

VISCOUNT HALL moved to omit subsection (5). The noble Viscount said: This Amendment is consequential on the deletion of Clause 2 (2), which contemplated higher quotas for the special quota theatres. It deletes from the Bill the subsection which provides that pre-release cinemas can be designated as special quota theatres and so be made subject to the same higher quotas as the circuits. With the introduction of uniform quotas for all exhibitors, except, of course, those whose obligations are reduced under Clause 4 of the Bill, the provisions of subsections (5) and (6) of this Clause cease to have any meaning and must therefore now disappear. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, leave out lines 25 to 31.—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved to add to subsection (5): and in the case of all British films registered as exhibitors' quota films, with the exception of those films exhibited as first feature films, the exhibitor shall pay to the renter in respect of each reel of film shown on any one day in any one theatre a sum of money equal to not less than a percentage of the net daily box office takings, such percentage to be fixed by the Board of Trade from time to time after consultation with the Cinematograph Films Council. The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the Lord Chairman for making this arrangement, because it enables me to raise what I consider to be a point of great principle. The Bill as it now stands gives the supporting film a quota. It also gives it a cost test, inadequate as we think it is. The object of my Amendment is to give it a basic wage. At the present time we are virtually saying to the supporting film producer, "We will provide you with a quota for exhibition and with a cost test so that your quality may be level, but we are not going to give you any guarantee that you will get one halfpenny of payment from the exhibitor." As I pointed out on the previous Amendment which I had the privilege of moving, this is what happens. The first feature film, owing to the great expense it entails, must have practically all the box office takings. Unfortunately the picture-goers of this country seem to measure value for money by the length of time they have to sit in a cinema.


Does that apply to speeches, too?


Unfortunately your Lordships' House has not yet a box office, although I think it has definitely a box office value. Unless the patrons of cinemas are to be lost, exhibitors must put on practically a three-hour programme. They have to provide a supporting programme, but all the box office takings are cornered by the first feature, so they have to buy what the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, described, I think, as the trash of people kicking their legs in the air and throwing things about. They buy those films from good supporting film producers for about £5 a week. No supporting film producer has really made that type of film pay for a long time, and the revenue of the producers during the last three or four years has been mainly from Government films and sponsored films for industry. That market is gradually going and unless something is done these poor producers will become even poorer and land in the Bankruptcy Court. The President of the Board of Trade said that he was staggered at the financial arrangements, and he went on to say that a startling case had been made out for the principle lying behind my Amendment. What he wants to do is to leave it to the Committee which he intends to set up to inquire into the whole distribution and exhibition side of the film industry. That Committee cannot be set up until what may be called "the American position" is cleared up.

When the Committee are appointed—it may be in two years' time—a long and arduous job confronts them. I have had some experience, not only of Inquiries of this description, but of getting Government action after the Inquiry has been completed; and it may be five years before this matter is dealt with adequately. This is not locking the stable door after the horse has bolted; this is seeing whether you are going to fit a lock to the door after the horse is dead and its flesh is in the cats' meat shop. I beg my noble friend to see whether something cannot be done by joint consultation between the President of the Board of Trade and the interests concerned to anticipate this Committee of Inquiry, which may well take so long, and report at such a distant date, that the damage to these producers will have been done. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 31, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)


I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that this is a matter of some substance. It received a considerable amount of attention in another place. The President of the Board of Trade stated that he had already consulted with the various interests, and after consultation had come to the conclusion—which the Committee sitting on this Bill accepted—that this special Committee should inquire into the relationship between producers and exhibitors. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was a little pessimistic as to the time which might be taken in relation to this matter: it all depends upon the power behind it. As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, the President of the Board of Trade did say that he was staggered at the information which he received in relation to the costs and prices, and other things, which was brought to his notice by the representatives of this industry. I can but say that it is the intention of the President of the Board of Trade to go into this matter. I rely upon his promise; members in another place rely upon his promise, as do those persons representing the industry. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will do as they have done, and withdraw his Amendment.


May I ask one question of my noble friend. Am I right in saying that this Committee cannot even foe set up until what I have called the American position is resolved? If I am right in that, I would ask my noble friend when the Committee will start to function, because until they do the promise of the President of the Board of Trade cannot be implemented. I do not know whether the American position is wholly within the hands of the President of the Board of Trade. I have not the slightest doubt that the President of the Board of Trade will press on with this, but can my noble friend tell me when he can start?


My noble friend will realise that at the present time there is an influential representative of the American industry in this country, and I understand that consultations are taking place. Of course, I cannot say what is likely to be the result of those consultations. I saw no suggestion in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade in another place, or in his comments, that he will have to wait until the American position has been resolved before the Committee can be set up. I will certainly call my right honourable friend's attention to the statement made by the noble Lord, and ascertain whether there is anything in it. I will also point out to him—something of which he is already aware—the urgency of the matter.


I am obliged to my noble friend for his conciliatory manner and, in view of what he has said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move to omit subsection (6).

Amendment moved— Page 5, leave out lines 32 to 35.—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

6.5 p.m.

Clause 8:

Composition of Cinematograph Films Council.

8.—(1) The constitution of the Cinematograph Films Council shall be varied as follows, that is to say—

(c) the number of members appointed as representing makers of British films shall be four instead of two; and

(2) Any committee of the Council may include persons who are not members of the Council, and any such committee may co-opt as additional members of the committee such persons, whether members of the Council or not, as the committee may determine.

VISCOUNT HALL moved, in subsection (1) (c), after the word "two" to insert: , of whom one shall be appointed as representing makers of films not intended for general exhibition as first feature films.

The noble Viscount said: This Amendment is to make explicit provision in the Bill for the four representatives of the film producers on the Cinematograph Films Council to include one representative of the makers of specialised films not primarily intended for exhibition as first features. This Amendment implements the undertaking given by the President of the Board of Trade in another place. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 40, after (" two ") insert the said words.—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

VISCOUNT HALL moved, in subsection (2), immediately before "determine", to insert "with the approval of the Council." The noble Viscount said: The effect of this Amendment is to ensure the approval of the Films Council for the co-option of any additional members to serve on any committee of the Council. An Amendment was promised by the President of the Board of Trade in another place to cover this point, as a safeguard for full control by the Council over its committees. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 4, at end insert (" with the approval of the Council ").—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Interpretation, citation, commencement and extent]:


The next Amendment is consequential on the disappearance from the Bill of the term "special quota theatre." I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 7, leave out lines 39 to 42.—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

First Schedule [Amendments of principal Act and repeals]:


This Amendment is consequential on the Amendment to Clause 8 (1) (c), providing that one of the four producers on the Cinematograph Films Council must be a representative of the makers of specialised films. The corresponding change must be made in the text of the 1938 Act. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 14, line 53, after (" four ") insert (" and at the end of the said paragraph there shall be inserted the words ' of whom one shall be appointed as representing makers of films not intended for general exhibition as first feature films ';").—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

First Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Second Schedule [The Cinematograph Films Act, 1938, as amended by this Act]:


This also is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 33, line 13, at end insert (" of whom one shall be appointed as representing makers of films not intended for general exhibition as first feature films ").—(Viscount Hall.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.