HL Deb 02 February 1966 vol 272 cc408-31

4.38 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I hope it will not seem to the House to be an anti-climax to come from the matters which have been under consideration back to the problems of the film industry: the contrast may seem to be somewhat dramatic. As it is now a number of years since I spoke in your Lordships' House on the problems of the film industry, I suppose that I had better again declare my interest. I am the Chairman of the Federation of British Film Makers. But I should like to make it quite clear that this afternoon I do not speak for the Federation: on this occasion I speak entirely for myself.

I have been for something over fifty years in the cinema and film industry, in all its different ramifications—exhibition, distribution, production and so on; and I think I may say straight away that the main thing that I have learned over these fifty and more years is not to be dogmatic about the solution of the problems of the film industry. The only thing on which I would be dogmatic is that the industry has great problems facing it at the present time. We have been fortunate this afternoon that the speeches we have heard have, in the main, been free from dogmatic statements; and we have been particularly fortunate in having two notable speeches, a maiden speech from Lord Moynihan and a characteristically interesting speech from my noble friend Lord Birkett.

With all due respect to my noble friend Lord Willis, I feel that to some extent this debate is premature. The main problems of the industry are at present under consideration by the Monopolies Commission, and until we have their Report we are rather in the position of doing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. There may be a doubt as to whether the industry is, in fact, facing problems, and I was particularly disturbed some months ago when I saw a reported statement by the Minister of State at the Board of Trade.

He was reported as saying that he found the film industry "generally speaking, happy", and said that there was no need for Government intervention. I find it difficult to understand how anybody could say seriously that the film industry is happy, when cinema attendances continue to fall, week by week, when the number of cinemas in existence continues to fall, month by month—although not perhaps at as great a rate as occurred a year or so ago—and also when one notes that the majority of British films fail to recover their costs of production. I would simply mention that the latest figures I have seen, which cover the ten months from January to October, 1965, show that cinema attendances fell by 20 million. How, in such circumstances, anybody can say that the industry is generally happy is beyond my understanding.

There have been many references this afternoon to the matter of American investment in British film production, and the last Annual Report of the National Film Finance Corporation contained a number of references to this point. The N.F.F.C. said that although they welcomed, within limits, this growing involvement, the financing of British films by the United States distributors, it allowed to expand unchecked, would represent a threat to the continuance of a truly British film production industry. My Lords, I join issue with that view. I do not want to see American investment in British film production checked or discouraged. We should be pleased that Britain is becoming increasingly established as an international film production centre, and we should welcome finance, whether it is from America, France, Germany, or wherever it may be, for the production of films here.

My criticism is not as to the amount of foreign investment in British film production. My criticism is as to the lack of an adequate amount of British investment in native film production. We tend to get rather off the mark when we refer generally to American investment in British films, instead of emphasising the lack of British investment in films. When we say that we should like to see more British finance in British film-making it is obvious—I think every producer would agree—that the more sources of finance available to our producers, the better his position will be. That links up with the very important question of the extremely limited resources of the National Film Finance Corporation.

At the time of their last Annual Report, in March of last year, the Corporation's uncommitted resources amounted to something under £1½ million, and I suppose that to-day their uncommitted resources are of the order of £1 million or thereabouts. Having regard to the high cost of film production to-day, the whole of that amount could be used up in the financing of one British film, which makes it obvious just how inadequate their resources are. However long we may have to wait for the Report of the Monopolies Commission, and the development of a main general programme in regard to the future of the British film industry, I hope that we shall at least have an interim measure for the continuance of the National Film Finance Corporation, even if it is only on a temporary basis. I hope that it will be accompanied by the provision of much more generous capital resources for that Corporation.

As I have been referring to the National Film Finance Corporation, I would say, in passing, how much I deplore their rather slighting references, in paragraph 20, page 6, of the last Annual Report, to independent producers. I am rather surprised that a spokesman for the independent producers has not already referred to this point, for I feel that it is not the kind of statement which should appear in the Report of what is in fact a Government corporation. That paragraph says: There are however some producers whose talent, imagination and skill have proved inadequate to meet the demanding and not easily predictable tastes of cinema audiences, and for this reason have failed to commend themselves to sources of finance. They may call themselves independent but in their cases this epithet amounts to little more than a euphemism for unsuccessful. It certainly does not entitle them to receive from the public purse funds which they have failed to raise elsewhere. I suggest that to your Lordships that that is a much too sweeping phrase. It seems to put far too large a number of independent producers under this blanket epithet of being "unsuccessful", when in fact these producers are the victims of a monopolistic situation from which they cannot free themselves.

I wish to refer to one other matter which was largely implicit in the good speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. He referred to the opportunities for young talent to get a start; and he mentioned people like John Slesinger and others. But I think he failed to emphasise the fact that they got their start in the production of short films. And here I would refer to the situation of that side of the industry which is concerned with the making of short films. Over the last twelve or fifteen years the number of short films registered with the Board of Trade for theatrical distribution has run between 200 and 300 a year. At first glance that would appear to be a very satisfactory situation, but when it is subjected to analysis it is by no means as satisfactory as it looks.

When the Film Production Fund was set up, it was agreed that short films should receive a higher proportion of the levy when it was distributed. To be as untechnical as possible, may I put it in this way? If in the normal way a film had receipts of £100, and the production levy was being distributed at 40 per cent., that film would get £40. But in the case of a short film there is a 2½ multiplier, so that if a short film gets £100 it will get £100 from the Production Fund instead of £40. The idea was an excellent one and this 2½ multiplier was intended to encourage the production of films. As I have said, short films are probably the best training ground for new talent—writers, producers, directors, cameramen and so on.

But what in fact has happened? The hulk of the short films being shown in this country in the cinemas to-day are the films produced by the two great monopolies—Rank and A.B.C. Rank has its series"Look at Life" with 52 issues, one every week, which pretty well satisfies its requirements. A.B.C. have the Pathe Pictorial with 52 issues a year, which fairly well satisfies their requirements. In a number of cases they have cinemas which change the programme twice a week, so they need more, and if you make an analysis you find that the extra number needed are supplied by the few other short films distributed by Rank and by Warner-Pathe, on behalf of A.B.C. So that this excellent idea of the 2½ multiplier to aid the short film producers, to provide a training ground for the new talent, has in fact been channelled into another way of adding to the power and the strength of the two monopolies, which are now under consideration by the Monopolies Commission.

I hope, therefore, that when the future of the Film Finance Corporation and the future of the production levy, or the Eady Fund, are being considered, consideration will be given to the redistribution of the Production Fund, and that some attention will be paid to the methods, which are in use in other countries, of what may be generally called "merit awards", not only as in Sweden, but as in Germany and other countries.

I think a suggestion came from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about a "Little Neddy" for the film industry. I think that what is much more necessary than an investigation by the Monopolies Commission of a certain part of the industry, is an investigation, by something in the nature of a Select Committee or Royal Commission, of the whole scope and future of the British film industry. I think that it is an industry of tremendous importance. It is at present, and has been for some time, a considerable earner of overseas revenues. It is of great importance as a cultural instrument. I dislike using the phrase "Showing the British way of life"—




Because it is a very crude phrase, which can be misused in so many ways. But taking the basic idea of the phrase, I accept it and say that the British film is an important contributor in this field. But it could be much more important than it is to-day, it could be greatly expanded, and I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of some form of Commission of Inquiry into the present state of the industry, the possibilities of expansion of the industry and, in fact, its great potentiality for the future.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, first it gives me great pleasure to be the first speaker from these Benches to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on his very forceful and interesting maiden speech. I have an especial pleasure in doing so, because his father was almost a neighbour of mine in Ashtead in Surrey where I live, and I know the great work which he did in the community, particularly for local hospitals. He was a very fine public servant, and I am sure that we all hope that his successor will address the House in his forthright and interesting tones on many occasions in the future.

This debate recalls to my mind my maiden speech, which I made on the subject of the cinema industry, in 1958. I have been reading through the report of that debate, and much of what was said then is, I think, applicable now. It was then the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who moved in his customary convincing and sincere tones the subject of the Motion. To-day it has been the noble Lord, Lord Willis, with his vast experience of the entertainment industry in many forms, who has given us such an interesting opening speech. I recall having seen on more than one occasion the film The Blue Lamp, with which his name is so unforgettably linked.

We do not have the entertainment tax now, except, I believe, for Sunday performances, but the price of admission to our cinemas has increased, although I do not really think that that has affected the consumer too much. I made reference eight years ago, as did other noble Lords, to the effect of television on the cinema industry. At that time, when television was rather more in its infancy than now, I think that the cinema was rather a clinging octopus to a number of people. But now I believe it is less so, and the cinema will attract more patrons if it can produce worthwhile goods.

Most noble Lords who have taken part in this debate are themselves professionally connected in one way or another with the cinema industry. I am not; I speak only as a consumer. But seventeen years in the insurance business have taught me what very big figures are often paid out in terms of claims when actors and actresses are ill or injured and when production schedules are held up. I make no complaint about that, because the insurance business has its part to play just as the film industry itself has.

I was one of a number of noble Lords who were fortunate enough to pay an official visit recently to the Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. It was a revealing experience to those of us who had had little insight into the cinema industry except through the local Odeon or Gaumont cinema. We saw a great deal of what went on—at least four films were being made—and we talked to a number of those taking part. It had always been a thought of mine that there were too many surplus people on a film set; that there were too many people running around in sweaters and trousers, and other forms of garb; but it took only a short time for me to realise that on a film set each person has his or her part to play. It must obviously be very tedious for some of those taking part to have the same shot filmed time and time again. But when it reaches the screen, even though one might see only a fraction of what one saw in the studio, it usually bears some quite creditable resemblance.

Reference has been made to the high fees paid to film stars, and I would agree to some extent. But it is also true to say that a teenage "pop" singer, singing for only forty minutes at the London Palladium, can himself or herself gather up in proportion an equally high fee. And a film star may have to get up very early in the morning and travel some disstance in all kinds of weather to reach the studio, and, if he or she is also a television actor or appears in the theatre, may have to get back to the theatre or the television studio in the evening. That is their way of life. I am not trying to be a sympathetic spokesman on their part, but I think this does reveal one aspect of the problems which the film industry has to face, and possibly of why such high fees have to be paid—although I must say that, in some cases, when one reads of the fees that some of the better-known stars get and in fact demand (and, if you do not pay that fee, they will not come at all) it sometimes reads fantastically when one bears in mind some of the salaries that those in our social services get.

The other problem, as I see it, with regard to finance is the fact that more and more films are now shot on location. There is a public demand for spectacular films, and, quite clearly, if one goes out to Spain or to Africa the results can be far more realistic. Recently, I saw the British film The Hill, a very brutal but convincing film about an army prison during the last war. I read that the whole cast, and all those taking part in the production, moved out to a lonely desert in Spain where, under a broiling sun, they worked solidly for three months making that film. There were none of the comforts of the studio: those taking part were really put through it, almost as if they had been in the prison themselves. That may well have added to the cost of the film, but whether one liked the film or not, the fact is that a more realistic picture was made, and I regard this as a great credit to our film industry.

I think that for the future we have to face the fact that the general public like spectacular films. They do not necessarily like the sex-ridden dramas and comedies, so called, which come across our television screen all too often, but they like good, honest comedies. The Norman Wisdom type film will, I think, always be a success, whatever the critics say; and, getting back to the spectacular film, they like the Lawrence of Arabia type of film—which, of course, had its difficulties and was very costly.

There is also the documentary film. Reference has been made to Look at Life. This, I think, is one of the best series of documentary films, because the subject is chosen, they are all very short films—they last ten minutes each—and they present their subject very carefully and very fully within that short period of time. A much wider showing of these films would, I think, be very much desired by the public. The fact that they are made by the Rank Organisation may well mean that only cinemas within that orbit can show them, but all credit to the cinemas concerned.

Then, reference has also been made to the old films. Of course, television has bought up a number of old films, which one can see on a Saturday or a Sunday; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, so rightly said, in a most interesting speech, the old films do have a great interest for the young—films like Rembrandt, and a lot of films of the 1930s. I feel quite certain that if the Rank and A.B.C. circuits in the provinces were to show these films from time to time, and not merely leave it to the Classic group of cinemas, they would reap quite a sound dividend from it, because these are films which really do have a lot more realism than some of the films made to-day.

Finally, I should like to make just this point. Whatever the problems of the film industry—and only those closely connected with it, whether actors, producers or distributors, can really know them—in the last analysis there is one group of people upon whom will depend the survival of the film industry and any entertainment industry, and that is the general public. I would hope that our film industry in this country, which has such an outstanding record over the years, will always bear that in mind.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am very much in the same position as my noble friend. I also made my maiden speech in this House on this subject—I am ashamed to say slightly further back than his maiden speech. But possibly I have one other small qualification: that for a short time I actually worked in the industry itself. However, I am not in the position of having to declare an interest, because I left it about nine years ago. At the time I made my maiden speech I remember Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Archibald as the experts on the industry. But from what we have heard to-day, the professionals (if I may use the term) are now with us; and a very good thing it is! This is a highly complicated industry and it is often very difficult to know from what angle to approach the subject. When I have spoken in the past on the film industry I have approached it from the point of view of the independent producers, but to-day I am going to approach it from the other side, from the viewpoint of major companies.

Since the war, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, stated, the industry has, naturally, gone through enormous changes and. I think, it has been faced with four main problems. The first, is the decline in cinema attendances, with the consequent cinema closures; second is the shortage of good entertainment films; third is the steady rise in costs, which we have heard discussed from all sides this afternoon; and, fourth, the difficulty of raising capital for film production. We have heard figures given over the question of attendances, but the figures I have just been given (and I shall quote only a few) by the experts are that attendances have fallen from 1,600 million in 1946 to 370 million in 1964. So far as closures are concerned, in 1946 there were 4,000 cinemas; there are now only 2,000; and, of these, the Rank Organisation operate 350.

As we have heard to-day, the cost of film production has gone up and up steadily. I understand that whereas about sixteen years ago the cost of a feature film was possibly in the region of £400,000, it may now be £700,000-plus. This produces vast problems from the business angle of the industry. Let us look at that from the point of view of an organisation like the Rank Organisation. It has its own production programme at Pinewood Studios; it finances the productions of independent producers; it co-produces with American companies; and also makes additional funds available to independent producers under arrangements with the N.F.F.C. and the National Provincial Bank. It also operates a world-wide distribution system. In 1964, 94 British films were released in more than 50 countries. It also carries out major reconstruction programmes on cinemas itself, and the Rank Organisation's payments to the British Film Production Fund amount to £1½ million every year.

I have the deepest sympathy with all that has been said from the independent producer's point of view. I remember dealing with this problem in my opening speech in this House, and I then went into the question of the possibility of the formation of a fund for script-writers, so that they might continuously be able to carry on writing scripts for films. It had been put to me then that writers possibly had the chance of writing one or two scripts but that then, for months on end, they might not be writing anything. I do not think that a very great deal has happened in connection with that problem, but I suppose it is fair to say that nowadays script-writers have the opportunity of turning from film to television script-writing.

My Lords, I wish to harp on only one other point for a few moments—and this is a very touchy point, I know. It is the question of the unions within the film industry itself. I suppose it is only fair to say that if ever there was an industry within which it was essential for unions to be formed, it was the film industry. There is no doubt that in the old clays the working conditions and hours were appalling. As your Lordships know there are now very strong and strict unions within the industry; but I think that they, like all unions, might curb themselves in certain ways. Only someone outside the industry, perhaps, can say this. It is going to the extreme, I think, that when these union members go on location there should be "double-banking"; that they should insist, very often, on two sets of people going when one unit would be enough. There are such ridiculous things as the unions' insisting on travelling first-class in aeroplanes. This is not doing the industry itself any good, and one hopes that possibly they may see sense on these points.

In conclusion, I will say that so often people feel that any approach to the film industry is surrounded, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, by a purely glamorous outlook. But anyone who studies the problems in the film industry, especially in this country, in any detail is very soon brought up with rather a nasty jolt to realise that the complexities of the British film industry are enormous, and especially in the market connected with America. I am certain that any future approach of the industry must basically be met on cold, hard facts which, through the very nature of the industry (where temperamental artists and creative directors have to be taken into account) produce really deep problems from all angles and especially for the men who have to keep a permanent balance on costs and return.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, how much we all enjoyed his maiden speech? It was the speech of a man who obviously has met the problems of this industry face to face day by day. Such opinions are always worth listening to, no matter from which quarter of the House they may come. Let me say how indebted we are to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for having brought up this subject and for putting his points with such clarity and distinction, as he always does. My noble friend is very good not only with the written but with the spoken word. I felt that his comments were directed at me when he talked about the tycoon who turned milk-white with fear when confronted with the economics of the film he was making. I nearly did the same when I saw that my noble friend's Motion was getting near to the top of the list. May I also thank those other noble Lords who have spoken. I will try to answer as many of the queries which have been posed as it is possible for me to do.

This has been a first-class and interesting debate, and I can say that with sincerity. I wish to make one or two points before I come to the substantial points which I have to deal with. I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that to my knowledge there is not at the moment an E.D.C. for this industry, but I think that his suggestion might very well be looked into. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, went a little further than I would have ventured with reference to American dominance. Before the noble Lord corrected the balance of his remarks about the United States, I felt like asking whether he was prepared to take the risk of diverting what there would be of the film levy for distribution if the American interests were withdrawn. But the noble Lord corrected his remarks very well as he went on, and he put the matter on a good basis. I will deal later with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, because a good deal of it rang a bell in my own experience.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, will pardon the interjection which I made when he apologised for putting over the British image. I did not mean it as a brusque kind of intervention it came involuntarily. I believe in the British image. What is the debate all about if we are not putting our backs into an effort to present an image which will (shall I say?) be an advertisement for Britain all over the world? The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, mentioned people at Pinewood running about in sweaters and trousers. I imagine that the noble Lord would have been more surprised had they not had anything on at all. I do not know what the noble Lord would have thought had he been present at the shooting of the now notorious B.B.C.3 film which showed a female in the nude jumping up and down on a trampoline. But the noble Lord was not there. Also, we are obliged to the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, for his contribution.

My Lords, I will take two subjects to start with. One is the monopoly aspect which I thought was beautifully handled by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. He spoke of its impact on the third circuit, and said that he would not say a great deal about it. Neither shall I. It is the fact that the last Government recognised the need for a thorough and impartial investigation into this alleged monopolistic practice. The Monopolies Commission is inquiring into the supply of films for exhibition in cinemas, and your Lordships will not expect me, even if I could, to anticipate the findings of the Commission. We are assured by the Commission that the Report will be prepared as soon as possible, and in a matter of such complexity it would be unreasonable to expect the Commission to announce a firm date for the conclusion of its work. I am hoping that the Report will be available long before the end of the year.

The noble Lord spoke of American dominance, American financed production, and the effect on the British film industry. As everyone has admitted, many popular films have been financed from American sources. The best of them have enhanced the reputations of British producers, directors, actors and technicians. This is a schizophrenic situation and reminds me very much of the Lancashire cotton industry, which I know very well. There are people in that industry who wish to keep out the Commonwealth products and others who want them in because they may be used in a normal course of business. This is the kind of thing we are up against all the time at the Board of Trade.

We all recognise the substantial contribution to the maintenance of the present level of output made by American investment. It gives employment to British technicians and artists. We hear a lot about American dominance and perhaps not enough about American partnership. The noble Lord said that the problem which worries many British film-makers is what would happen if the Americans decided to pull out of production. I agree that there would be an immediate crisis. I am wondering what sort of budget would be required, if the Americans pulled out of the market, to enable the British film industry to cope. It is fantastic to think of it.

What I think the noble Lord had in his mind was that we ought to be preparing to do something about producing for ourselves what we can do well. I appreciate what he said. But I do not think that there will be any sudden withdrawal of American financial interests—for a variety of reasons. They are much taken with the talent of the British actors and technicians they are able to employ. They are as good as any in the world. We have some good studios. We also have a common language—though that can be a double-edged advantage. In my own opinion, we also have the fact that the Americans have now brought to a fine art investment in other countries by means of subsidiaries, so that they can create and produce the kind of market research they need. This has become big business on a gigantic scale and it is taking place throughout every industry. This is one of the problems that face us, as well as the other countries in the world.

I cannot go along with the noble Lord when he says it is virtually impossible for a British film producer to get sup- port to make a film unless he has American backing, and finance. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also mentioned this and gave a graphic instance of a young producer going with his portfolio to Charing Cross Road—I hope he was doing nothing else there but trying to sell his script. There is British money available to support British film production, provided always—and this is the crunch—that a project has a reasonable chance of success. That is how the situation is.

The difficulty is not so much that a British producer with a good project cannot get backing from British money. It is rather, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, that the British producer prefers to take his project to the Americans. There are various reasons for this, not least that the Americans, with their immense home market and ready access to world markets, can hold out far greater hope of financial reward. We cannot blame him for going to the Americans. Moreover, the Americans nowadays often offer to provide 100 per cent. of the money required for the productions which they back. This makes life much easier for the producer, who formerly had to go scraping around in an attempt to raise from various sources the money that he needed. There is nothing unfair in this, if we accept the tenets of commercial practice. This is one of them. Those who control British money must be prepared to offer equally good terms, if they are to attract to themselves these projects and the services of good British producers, especially those whose proven talents are much in demand.

The noble Lord made some interesting comments about the British Film Fund. When I say that the Board of Trade are going to give sympathetic consideration to some of his suggestions, I mean it. He proposed that money from the Fund might be distributed in such a way as to afford special encouragement to the production of low-budget feature films, and that, in addition, some of the money should be used to encourage the development of a circuit of small cinemas specialising in the showing of Continental, some American and British low-budget films. In looking at these interesting suggestions, I think we must keep in mind the nature of the levy arrangements. These have been mentioned this afternoon, but I had better go over them again. The levy was started in 1950 on a voluntary basis. The idea was, and still is, that part of cinema earnings should be used to support British film production. The scheme provides for the transfer within the industry of what may, in a real sense, be called the industry's money. The scheme was made statutory in 1957. Although the regulations under which the scheme operates are made by the Board of Trade, subject to Parliamentary approval, it is still very much an industry scheme, and before making any regulations governing the collection or distribution of the levy the Board are required to consult the Cinematograph Films Council, the statutory body—I stress "statutory body"—on which the various branches of the industry are represented.

The first of the noble Lord's suggestions is that more levy money should be channelled to low-budget feature films, instead of the levy being shared out in proportion to each film's earnings. The producers' associations have been considering the question of varying the basis on which the levy is distributed. They have not so far recommended any change to the Board of Trade, but if and when they do, or any other section of the industry does so, it will be given, as I have indicated, sympathetic and careful study and, of course, the views of the Cinematograph Films Council will be obtained.

The noble Lord's second suggestion, that money from the Film Fund should be used to encourage the development of a circuit of cinemas specialising in films appealing to minority audiences, raises different questions altogether. To do this would entail a large departure from the original aim of the levy. It is always tempting to think that the levy might be used for good causes, and no one grudges the grant which is made to the Children's Film Foundation and which, I may announce, has been increased from £137,500 to £.192,500. I am certain that most Members of the House will be pleased about this. But this is an exception, and it may well be that the use of the levy in the way suggested would not receive unanimous approbation. However, there is no reason whatever why the idea should not be aired, and I am glad the noble Lord has done so.

Finally on this subject, in his remarks about the National Film Finance Corporation the noble Lord made the suggestion that part of the Film Fund—he mentioned 5 per cent.—should be paid to the Corporation and earmarked as preproduction money for British producers. I think this suggestion was also made by one of the other speakers. Here, again, is a suggestion on which the Board of Trade would be glad to have the views of the industry. We have not had them. I shall refer later on to the consideration which the Government are giving to the question of the future of the National Film Finance Corporation, in answer to the many queries that have been raised.

I now turn to the question of films legislation. The quota provisions expire at the end of 1967, and the power to collect the levy expires in October of that year. The Government propose to review their films policies in the light of the Monopolies Commission Report. We shall look closely at the relevant legislation and consider how far it is appropriate in present conditions. Of course it would be premature to conduct a review of this kind until we have had the benefit of the outcome of the Monopolies Commission's inquiry; indeed, it would be stupid to do it. So the Government propose to continue for a period existing legislation affecting the quota and the levy, with one or two minor changes. For this purpose, a Continuance Bill will be presented to Parliament this autumn. As the noble Lord mentioned, the National Film Finance Corporation's lending powers expire in March, 1967. In its latest Annual Report the Corporation refers to this question and the need for an early decision. The Government appreciate the need for a timely decision, and I may say that there will be no undue delay about it.

The noble Lord has proposed that the Corporation's life should be extended; that more money should be available to it, and that its lending powers should be widened, so that commercial success need not be the only criterion on which it bases its financial support for British film production. I would point out that the words of the Act are that the Corporation shall make loans to persons who, in the judgment of the Corporation, have reasonable expectations of being able to arrange for the production or distribution of cinematograph films on a commercially successful basis. Judging a commercial risk, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said, is always a tricky business, and it is, I think, true to say that the N.F.F.C. has tried to give worthwhile projects assistance and has given some applicants for loans the benefit of the doubt.

Taking such risks has been part of the Corporation's job, but it has cost it, and consequently the taxpayer, a lot of money. In many ways, over the years, the Corporation has had the "sticky" end of the stick by having to bear the 30 per cent. "end money". But it would be a radically different matter to authorise the Corporation to make loans to people who did not have reasonable expectations of being able to produce or distribute films on a commercially successful basis. We should not forget that film production is an industry, although many films (including some which achieved high box office receipts) have considerable artistic merit.

I have been interested to hear what noble Lords have said about the relationship of the artistic side with the commercial side, and, if your Lordships will bear with me, I may have a few words to say about that before I sit down. It is obvious that if you start lending the taxpayers' money to industrial undertakings on any basis other than that it will be repaid with interest, you will soon find that you are, in effect, subsidising them. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, drew attention to the fact that when the present Prime Minister, seventeen years ago, as President of the Board of Trade (and I was then one of his juniors), introduced the Bill establishing the Corporation, he said: There must be no question of a subsidy for film production. That may be a long time ago, but in this case I feel that the considerations which weighed with those who framed the 1949 Act may well hold good to-day. Here may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, who advocated a wholehearted investigation, or inquiry, into the industry, that I personally think this is clue, and I hope that the powers-that-be will take due notice of what he has said.

I will now deal with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, in his opening speech. He asked what can be done to encourage the production of the smaller, lower-budget feature films which once were common to British film production. I would rather put a different question: what has happened to discourage the production of lower-budget features which once were so successful? I think that this question has been answered by many noble Lords who have drawn attention to the changing habits of our people. I do not want to overelaborate on this aspect, but there are one or two things that I should like to say.

The most important individual in this business is not the producer, the technician, the actor, the distributor or the exhibitor: it is the customer, the man who pays his money at the box office. In connection with the inquiry which Lord Archibald suggested, this industry, as I see it (and I am not here expressing the Government's view) is ripe for a thorough market research. I believe we are now at a time when a lot of the changing habits of the British people are clear and are there to be seen. I believe that this is the crucial time.

On the one hand, good films can be made and find an international audience (not as big as they used to be: and I am not referring now to the "blockbuster" type of film, like The Sound of Music, to which I take my grandchildren, instead of taking them to the pantomime, as I used to do), and, on the other, you get a man like John Houseman, of Hollywood, who is internationally known and whose opinions are very astute and sound, saying: "The real problem with American films to-day is who you are making them for. Most of us face the embarrassing dilemma that we are working in a mass medium that has lost its mass audience and wont admit it." This is what so many noble Lords have been trying to say this afternoon, and mostly successfully: I think that they have the problem right.

Some of the lost millions never cared what was on the screen, so long as it was changed twice a week. I suppose that nowadays they are watching Coronation Street, and what the B.B.C. or I.T.V. are prepared to dish up in the way of old films; or they may be at Bingo, in the same surroundings. But perhaps the analysis of those who are attending cinemas rather belies this. I am open to be corrected, but I understand that the majority of our cinema audiences, apart from the fact that they emanate from the workers, are somewhere between the teenager and the age of 24. If that is the case, this strikes at other things quite different from the financial aspects of films. It strikes at the social aspects of the country. This is where the problem is most important, and I shall come to this in a little more detail later.

Nowadays, people do not go to the cinema as an escape or as a habit. In the twenties and thirties many people went to the cinema as an escape from their drab and dreary home surroundings. Thank heaven for the fact that our living standards have now risen so that this is no longer necessary for the vast majority of our people! Those who go to the cinema nowadays go because, out of the many forms of recreation available to them, they choose the cinema. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, was absolutely right when he said that the cinema has a unique position in the affections of the British people.

Although we have heard these attendance figures of 1,600 million in 1946 and 370 million in 1964, the fact is that there is still a worthwhile audience who have an affection for the cinema. But they will not go to see bad films. The industry must see to it that films of a consistently high standard are available, films which are attuned to current public tastes and interests. It is no good serving up the old mixtures, however popular they may once have been. The public will not put up with shabby surroundings; the cinemas must be attractive places in themselves. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me here if I omit part of my speech, some of which has been put better by other noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said that there is scope for the development of a chain of small cinemas, showing films for what may be at present a minority audience. I agree with him completely. The only time I go to the cinema, except for the odd visit at Christmas time, is to the commercial art theatre. It may be that this will grow, and bring in a worthwhile audience. It may be that the cinema of the future will be of the big "block-buster" type, with the great cities bringing in audiences in charabancs, as is being done in my district around Manchester, to see a film which runs for months. And one can see queues a quarter of a mile long.

I was interested to read the announcement last December of the formation by a private interest—I am referring to the Grade-Rive group, which has been mentioned—of a new organisation, which suggested that other people are thinking along similar lines. I wish them success. The stated aim of this company is to have a circuit of fifty cinemas showing" quality films that are commercial". But much of this stems from something else. In my opinion, much of this talk about the support of the arts and the cinema stems from grass roots. You must build up from the bottom, and you must make your growth like that of a plant, which is continuous throughout the years, to be any good at all.

Some years ago, in my locality, two or three of us, in a string of eight villages, 2,000 population in each, started what was known as a festival of the arts. Let the cynics smile! We started with the folks themselves. We had excellent choirs of schoolchildren, and the ability to pull down and reassemble musical instruments was demonstrated by a symphony orchestra. We brought in some of the best people to encourage what was in their hearts and minds. That was a long time ago. We have revived it every five years. The first time we revived it it just paid its way; the second time we made £500; and now, on the third occasion, we are going to do it with a budget of something in the region of £3,000 or £4.000. We are going to be ambitious as well. But the expectancy, the eagerness, of the community to take part in this is absolutely wonderful.

This sort of thing can be done all over the country, if there are people who are prepared to devote their time and money to it; and this, I believe, is what Miss Jennie Lee, the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, is concerned to foster and encourage. That is what can be done in this field. It is having its effect all over the place—this energy and effort to do things from grass roots by the people themselves.

On the 22nd of this month I am going to Oldham to open a new repertory theatre. Oldham was once part of a dismal, drab and dreary industrial area. But there has been a revolution there, because now we have a professional repertory theatre with a new theatre. This is the people's theatre. This is something they are doing themselves, and this is where you have your permanent values. It is no use spending large sums of money trying to inculcate the arts from the top by sending them the odd symphony orchestra, paying a great deal of money for its travel, services, and all the rest. This is where it begins, and I am perfectly certain that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will agree with me that an enormous amount can be done by local authorities to make this a success.

Now I want to have a word (and I will not be long) about the growing interest which is being shown in the cinema as an art. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, as did the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, whose speech I thought was absolutely first-class, suggested to the Government and, perhaps, the Arts Council, that there should be a chain of repertory theatres throughout the country. The noble Lord mentioned the British Film Institute. May I say that I agree with every word he said. The work which is being done by the British Film Institute is absolutely first-class. He described as disastrous what would happen in the event of their not doing some of the work that is going on in creating the archives and the library. I agreed with his remarks about the historical background to this industry. This is probably one of its weaknesses, as the noble Lord suggested when he went through the whole gamut of the arts and showed how the historical significance is influencing the present.

I must say, in this connection, how much I admire—never mind the politics of it—the work of Miss Jennie Lee, who is concerned to foster and encourage this work. In the current financial year the British Film Institute is receiving grants to a total of over £180,000. The question of the provision, outside London, for the showing of the best world cinema has recently been considered in a report presented to the Institute. This report shows that there are already in existence plans for the establishment of regional film theatres on the model of the National Film Theatre, and that some of these are at an advanced stage.

May I say here that the Government welcome these plans, but, as I have said before, their success must depend upon local initiative and enthusiasm. I was delighted last Saturday morning when I saw a report on what they are doing in Manchester, where plans have been passed for the Arts Centre. One of the amenities in that plan is a film theatre to seat 450 people, with all the accoutrements for cutting, dubbing, and all the rest of it, which I think is likely to be one of the fine centres of the North. I hope that it will not be long before it comes to fruition.

I am glad to be able to say that the Government are authorising the British Film Institute during the next financial year to promise grants towards the provision of new buildings, or the adaptation of existing buildings, for regional film theatres, up to a limit of £50,000 in total. That has been suggested this afternoon, and it is what is going to be done. It is not the intention of the Government to provide the complete capital for schemes involved. In fact, a precondition of a grant will be financial support from local authorities and other interested organisations; and here again it is a "must" that the local authorities and those interested locally should get behind a movement like this, and help. But I hope that this step will be a real help in encouraging the provision of "National Film Theatres" in the regions.

Much has been said in the past (and I am not going over old ground) about the need for the industry to make itself efficient so that it can make more competitive films. I do not feel like going through an harangue on this basis. But I am glad that this debate should have taken place this afternoon, and after the ideas have been digested by the Board of Trade, and by all the other interests involved, I hope that it may pave the way to perhaps a more comprehensive debate, taking in more problems, later in the year.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain you long. I should like to thank all the speakers who have taken part in the debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for an outstanding maiden speech. I am grateful to him for taking the plunge at this particular moment, but we professionals have to stand together. I should also like to thank all the other speakers, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, for replying on behalf of the Government and for making a number of statements which seem to me at least to have a faint green hope of promise in one or two directions.

I must say that I was terrified at the suggestion that we might have a Royal Commission to look into the film industry. Over the last fifteen months people have been saying, "Do not put down a Motion; do not talk about it, because we have the Monopolies Commission and we had better wait for their report". But I believe that this debate to-day has proved that they were wrong to urge that we should wait. There are some urgent problems which need attention now, and although the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, felt that perhaps the debate was a little premature, his own speech was, in fact, an indication that such was not the case, because it was full of his usual statesmanlike utterances, information and experience, and although I would disagree with him, perhaps, on questions of emphasis, by and large we are in agreement on the broad field.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, will, as he said, consider carefully all the points made in the debate, and particularly I think it would be useful if he could have a look at the experience in Sweden, even to the extent of sending one of his young men there, because they have a quite remarkable and revolutionary scheme in relation to the cinema. Finally, may I say that if the Government are thinking of appointing a Commission on the film industry, the noble Lord need look no further than to appoint the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and myself. If only he would put us in charge for six months, we would soon put it straight.

My Lords, this has been the newsreel I will now make way for the main feature, to be presented by the noble Lord, Lord Haire of Whiteabbey. I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.