§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Before I begin to explain the provisions of the Bill there is an explanation which I should give to the House. I would like to explain that this Bill is not nearly so formidable as it looks. Those who have the Bill will see that it contains 43 Clauses and three Schedules, but by far the majority of those Clauses are repetition, even if sometimes slightly amended, of provisions which already appear in the Act of 1927. The actual changes, though I think important in character, are few in number. It would have been quite easy to have produced now a short amending Bill, but that would have meant something to which I know this House very much objects, which is a great deal of legislation by reference; it would have meant for hon. Members continual references to the previous Act. Therefore, despite the apparent length of the Bill, I think it is for the House's convenience that this method should have been adopted.
With the passage of this Bill certain Sections of the Act of 1927 will be immediately repealed. Others will remain in force, so that any proceedings pending or possible to be taken under them can be pursued and then will finally disappear from the Statute Book under the Statute Law Revision Act. Although I shall try to compress my remarks as far as possible, I am afraid it will take a considerable time to explain to hon. Members the provisions of the new Bill. Not only is the subject itself a most intricate one, but some of the provisions are not easy to understand without explanation, and it is not possible for hon. Members fully to understand the implication of this Bill without some knowledge both of the previous history and of the enactments which are already in force.
Before the War the position of the British film industry was, without any need for Government assistance, a comparatively sound one. The proportion of 1160 British films shown in cinemas over here was somewhere between 25 and 30per cent. The industry was making steady progress and it was already on a substantial basis. As hon. Members will appreciate, the War altered all that. The British industry closed down; its personnel was scattered and its contacts were lost. The position of its great competitor, the American industry, was very different. They had three years of non-intervention and during that time, when all competitors were eliminated, it was possible for them to consolidate their position, and during those years they made immense strides in technique. The result was that when the War was over and production in this country was resumed, the competition that British producers had to meet was a very formidable one. They made great efforts to overcome it. They were not wholly unsuccessful. By 1923 the proportion of British films being shown in cinemas here had risen to 10 per cent. But the odds against them proved too great. America, to start with, has the great natural advantage of a home market immensely larger than ours, and when was added to that its accumulation of capital, technique and personnel, which they had been able to build up during the years when our industry was incapacitated during the War, it will be seen that competition became impossible, and the result was that by 1926, a year before the original Cinematograph Films Bill was passed, British production had sunk to under 5 per cent. of the films shown in British cinemas, and, in fact, the industry was facing virtual extinction.
It was in those circumstances that the Act of 1927 was passed by this House. It was designed to give protection to British producers and to give that protection by means of a quota system, by laying down that a certain proportion of the films rented and a certain proportion of the films exhibited should be of British production. It is significant to remember that that Act was passed through this House at a time when this country was still on a more or less wholly Free Trade basis. Those of us who were in the 1924 Parliament will remember that occasionally duties were discussed under the Safeguarding Act, duties which gave rather indifferent protection to rather unimportant industries, and even so aroused the greatest outcry and the 1161 greatest opposition. Although this Act was an extremely drastic interference with a great commodity in those days of Free Trade, yet it received the assent of this House and of the country.
The reason for that is an obvious one. It was that there was a general recognition, I think, among people of all parties that the products of the film industry were quite different from any other commodity which any other industry produced. It is not only that films are a medium of entertainment, at least to many of us, but they are also a powerful vehicle for propaganda, and that propaganda is all the more important and all the more dangerous because it is largely indirect and largely unintentional. To my mind, when a film is obviously being used for propaganda, it is largely ineffective, but when you have a film which is being used, and meant to be used, for entertainment, then you get the most subtle of all propaganda, because unconsciously that film gives to hundreds of thousands of people who see it, the standards, the beliefs, the values, the background of those who happen to be responsible for its production, and that distinguishes the imported film from any other article imported into this country. You may complain about the imports of foreign boots, but at least, although foreign boots may give a man a corn, they cannot give him an idea, whereas a permanent and unrelieved diet of foreign films can give their audiences not only ideas but ideals, ideas and ideals which, whatever their comparative merits with our own, are at least alien to them. It is for that reason that the Act of 1927 was passed by this House, and that Act gave for 10 years to British film production a certain measure of protection by means of a quota system. That quota started at a. low figure, but during the last three years has been, both for renters and exhibitors, at the level of 20 per cent. That Act is due to expire next spring, and unless this Bill takes its place on the Statute Book, all protection for British production will come to an end.
Obviously there are certain questions which hon. Members will ask themselves as to the working of the existing Act. First of all, they will want to know, How did this machinery in fact work out, how far did it do what it set out to do? And here I think the best answer that I can give is not in my own words, 1162 but in words taken from a Committee which was appointed by my predecessor under the able chairmanship of Lord Moyne to go into this question, during the early part of this year. They say, with regard to the Act of 1927:The evidence we have received shows that the Act of 1927 has been an important factor in the growth of the British film production industry to its present state …. The evidence has been virtually unanimous in favour of a continuance of the legislation of the Act of 1927 as the most suitable method of protection. This Act has, in essence, proved to be framed on sound lines.That Act, when it was passed, was for this House a bold venture on seas which, at any rate for this country, were quite uncharted, and I am sure the author of the Act, Lord Swinton, who persisted in the face of many difficulties, must take some satisfaction from the testimony of the results; and the results speak for themselves. As I said before, in 1926, the year before the Act was passed, British production had fallen under 5 per cent. The Act was passed in 1927. By 1932 British production was 24 per cent. of the films being shown, and in 1936 it had risen to 29.45 per cent.; in other words, in 1926 the industry was on the point of death, but to-day, in spite of its difficulties, many of which are not the fault of any legislation, it is quite an important industry.
The next question which obviously hon. Members will ask themselves is, Well, if that has been done in the 10 years, is it not possible now for the industry to do without any protection? Are not they established and able to stand on their own feet? Again I will quote from the report of the Moyne Committee, which states:We are satisfied from the evidence we have heard that continued protection is required even if the industry is to he maintained merely in the position it has now reached. If it is to advance, as we hope it may, a steadily increasing protection is, in our view, a sine qua non.This decision, I think, is obviously right. The fundamental advantages which the American film producing industry had over ours in 1926 still remain—economic advantages—and they have not been changed. There is, to begin with, the vast home market which the American producer has for his films. From that home market, with any successful film, he is able to get back the whole or practically 1163 the whole of his cost, and as far as he is concerned, therefore, in a large number of cases the British market, the market in Great Britain, represents pure profit. I do not know whether hon. Members realise how staggering is the comparison between the opportunities offered by the home market in America and the home market in this country. I can give them some interesting figures for the year 1934, though I am afraid I have none more recent. In that year, taking first the number of cinemas, in Great Britain there were 4,300, but in the United States there were 14,500; taking seating capacity, in Great Britain there was estimated to be seating capacity for 3,872,000, but in the United States it was something over 10,000,000; while the net receipts from cinemas for Great Britain was £35,500,000 and for the United States £140,000,000. That just indicates the immense advantage which is possessed by the American producer. It enables him to produce on a scale with which it is almost impossible to compete in this country, and it enables him to give rates and remuneration for administrators, for artists, and for technicians which we can hardly hope to rival. He can almost destroy any rival industry simply by capturing its staff.
The third question which hon. Members will want to ask is, if it is true that some form of protection has got to be maintained, if it is true that on the whole the quota system is the best form of protection which can be given, are there any changes which are required from the system of 1927 before we prolong the protection which that Act gave? To that question, the answer lies in this Bill, the Second Reading of which I am now moving, and it contains the changes which we think ought to be made. I am only going, if I may, to deal with some of the main changes. There is a number of small amendments, largely machinery, which no doubt will provide interesting discussion in Committee, but which do not at all affect the principle of the Bill. The first main change is introduced to deal with the problem of what are called the "quota quickies". The Act of 1927 provided that a certain proportion of British films should be rented and exhibited, and that proportion was measured entirely by feet—so many feet of British films out of so many feet of all films. It was a 1164 measurement confined entirely to quantity. There were certain restrictions as to the subject, scenery and news, etc., were excluded, but otherwise there was no test at all of quality.
That undoubtedly has provided for certain people a loophole for evading the Act in the spirit, if not in the letter. Certain renters deliberately set out not to produce British films, in fulfilment of the quota, which would have an entertainment value, but to produce films at the cheapest possible price with no thought of any commercial return in the future; in other words, they regarded this expenditure simply as a tax and were prepared to throw the results away. The Moyne Committee said that the majority of these films were worthless and remained in the renters' offices largely unsold and unused. That clearly was an evasion of the spirit of the Act. It is quite true, of course, that those films, bad as they were, while they were being made, gave a certain amount of employment, but they certainly did nothing either to train British personnel or to add to the reputation of the British film, and it is clear that that practice has got to be stopped and that it can only be stopped by some form of test. The difficult question to decide is what form that test is to take.
Two different forms of test have been suggested by the committee. One is the cost test, that is, a minimum price for the cost of the film, expressed at so much per foot; the other is the quality test, that is to say, a viewing of the film by some body which will pass it or reject it according to the opinion they have as to its entertainment value. Both these tests, I think hon. Members will agree, have their disadvantages. The disadvantage of the cost test is easy to see. It is a truism to say that an expensive film does not necessarily mean a good film, and it is very easy to produce upon that line a number of instances which appear to make the proposal ridiculous, but I think criticism on that basis rather ignores the nature of the problem of the quota film. We are not dealing here with an honest endeavour to make good films. It is not a question of people trying to make good films and, by inefficiency or bad luck, making bad films. If that was the problem, then, I agree, the cost test would be no good at all, but the point is that there has never been any genuine attempt to make good films. 1165 The "quota quickie" has been made for a thousand or two, and renters have been prepared to look on that as so much money thrown away. They have had no expectation of getting any of it back from the exhibition of that film. They may be prepared to do that as long as they are allowed to make a film at the lowest possible cost, but will they be prepared to do it when, under a cost test, the cost of making a film becomes really substantial and the loss of throwing the result away is something which must be seriously considered? It is my belief that in those circumstances a renter will be forced to try to get some return from exhibition of the film, and if he desires that he must pay some attention to its entertainment value. He will at least be forced to try to make a good film, which at the moment he is not trying to do.
The other test, the viewing test, was the one which, I frankly tell the House, was chosen by the Moyne Committee, but in their Report, although they announced this as their choice, they made no reference to the one great disadvantage of the viewing test, and that is its uncertainty. This is a Bill to help the producer. The object of the quota is to try to help British production. It is essential in giving any help to a manufacturer, whatever he is making, that the help should be definite, that he should know what assistance he is really going to get. Only so can a producer plan for the future. With a viewing test is it possible to have any such certainty? The viewing has to be done by some body whatever body is selected, whoever they are, however many of them there be. The ultimate test of the film is simply the opinion of certain people. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the censorship?"] I was going to deal with that. There can in this case be no objective test; it must remain a matter of personal opinion. The analogy of the censorship is not a good one. When I was at the Home Office I saw a good deal of the working of the censorship of films. It was possible there gradually to build up a code, to say that certain words cannot be used and that certain situations will not be allowed. There is a substantial code, known to producers, of things which they have to avoid, and if they do avoid them it is almost certain that their films will pass the censorship. We cannot build up a code like that for the 1166 entertainment value of films. We cannot lay down the law that in any film the love scenes should be not less than 15 per cent. of it and not more than 25 per cent., or that in any gangster film there must be three gangsters killed for every "G-man." Every film shown to this body must be shown on its own, with no possibility of an objective test, with no code of precedents for it, and it must depend on the individual opinions of the individuals composing that body. I ask hon. Members who go to the films, as I do, Have they on any film agreed with three other people—
§ Mr. Stanley
In that case it is probably the other people who agreed with the hon. Member. But, seriously, every hon. Member knows the very wide divergences of view which are held about the respective merits of any particular picture. Therefore, given the viewing test alone, no producer when he is planning his production and arranging for the financing of his pictures can have any certainty that in the end they will pass the viewing test and thus gain the protection of this Bill. In those circumstances I feel, as the producer does, that the conditions of production become almost impossible.
§ Mr. Stanley
It is not a criticism of the Committee. The point is that no one can know in advance a film's entertainment value. The only way the position could be made certain would be if the standard were so lowered that such a viewing test became quite worthless.
§ Mr. Stephen
What I meant by the interruption was that the Moyne Committee reported in favour of this, and now the right hon. Gentleman suggests that the considered opinion of that Committee is quite worthless.
§ Mr. Stanley
It is not quite worthless. I was going on to explain to the hon. Member that my view, and the Government's view, is that the only safe method is to be found in a combination of these two tests. That is what the Government decided and what is in this Bill. There is, first of all, a cost test. 1167 It is a test based on labour costs, because we know by experience that the labour costs of a film are about 50 per cent. of the total. If, therefore, any British film is produced at a rate of £1 a foot for labour costs, with a minimum of £7,500, it will rank for quota. The producer will have the certainty if he produces a film at that price that it ranks for quota. On the other hand I quite agree with the criticism that there may be many films which, while not as expensive as one which would satisfy this cost test, are from the entertainment point of view just as good, or perhaps better. Therefore, it will be open for any long film which is unable to pass the cost test to be registered for quota on the ground of special value for the purposes of entertainment, and that can be done by the Board of Trade on the advice of the Advisory Committee. Anyone who satisfies the cost test will have certainty, and anyone who really makes a good film will also have a good chance of getting it on the quota, even though it was made at a cheaper rate. Hon. Members must realise that if a film is made which does not satisfy either the first or the second test, although it will not be registered for renters' quota it will be accepted for exhibitors' quota, where the sole test will be its drawing value.
Here are two other innovations with regard to the quotas which I should like to explain. I want to make certain of some place, however small or big, for British films in the British market, but I do not believe that our film industry can be on a really sound and permanent basis unless our films can find their way into the markets of the world, and particularly into the American markets. Therefore, I want this quota system, in addition to trying to keep for the British film industry its place in the home market, to do something to help and encourage it to find a place in the foreign and particularly the American market. It is with that end in view that I propose two further alterations in the quota system. Whatever the arguments as to the possibility of making a good film for very little or for very much, it is the general experience of the trade—I think it would not be challenged by any one—that in practice the cheap film on a modest scale has very little hope of getting into the American market. Any film produced in this country which 1168 is to have a chance of succeeding in America must be produced on a fairly ambitious scale. I am talking about long films. Educational films are all short films. I want, therefore, to give the British producer some incentive to produce films up to a standard which may make them suitable for success in the American market. Hon. Members will recollect that if a film is produced at a labour cost of £1 a foot, with a minimum of £7,500, it can be registered for quota. If it is made at three times that cost, £3 a foot, with a minimum of £22,500, it can be registered for double quota. In that way we do give some incentive to a producer to make a film which will have some chance in the markets abroad.
Another point is that I want to encourage the foreign distribution, by foreigners themselves, of films produced in this country, and Clause 3 sets out a scheme to secure that. It is, I am afraid, a very complicated Clause, and I can best explain it by an example. Take the case of a British producer who is also his own renter and who makes a British film which satisfies the cost test laid down in this Clause. He will not want that film for his renters' quota, because being a producer and a renter only of British films his quota is always filled; from the quota point of view he gains nothing by the Bill. This Clause lays down that if he sells the foreign rights of that film for not less than £20,000 to a renter who does require British films to make up his quota the renter who acquires those foreign rights can count them as part of his quota. The object of that provision is to induce the American renter to buy the American rights of a British film at a price so substantial that he really does have an incentive to push it in the American market, and I have every hope that this provision will lead to the American renter trying to push some of our British films in the American market.
The other question of importance is the amount of the quota. Accompanying the Act of 1927 there is a Schedule which sets out the quota for every year of the 10-year period. The renters' quota began at 7½ per cent. and the exhibitors' at 5 per cent. For the last three years they have both been at the level of 20 per cent. There are two questions to be considered, first, whether we want to alter the actual amount of the quota, and then 1169 whether we do not want some rather more flexible arrangement than was made under the 1927 Act. Under that Act the quotas were laid down at the beginning of the 10-year period, and there was no machinery whatever for altering them upwards or downwards. With regard to the actual quotas, for the last few years renters' and exhibitors' quotas have been on the same level. The Moyne Committee recommend that there should be a differentiation in favour of the exhibitor, the exhibitors' quota being lower than the renters', and the grounds they have given for that is that at first there may be some reduction in the number of films available for quota purposes. I accept that view, and this Bill does provide for such differentiation.
The Moyne Committee recommend that the starting point for the quota should be 20 per cent. for the renter and 15 per cent. for the exhibitor. In general, too, I accept that figure, but I have a feeling that for the first year of these new conditions those quotas might be too large. After all, there is the cost test, the provision for the double quota and the provision for reciprocity in the matter of foreign rights. I believe all those will lead to a change in the quality of the films, but it does mean, of course, some rearrangement of production plans. Therefore, I propose for the first year that the quota should be 15 per cent. for the renter and 10 per cent. for the exhibitor, and that in the second year it should rise to the Moyne figure of 20 per cent. and 15 per cent. With regard to the finishing point at the end of the 10 years, the Moyne Committee made no specific recommendation, although it expressed the hope that during those 10 years the British production might rise to so per cent. of the total. In the subsequent discussions which my Department have had with the industry and with British producers, it has become perfectly clear that they do not hope to be able to attain to such a figure. Their own hopes are put at something round about one-third, and, therefore, I include as the figure for the last year a figure of 30 per cent. for the renter and 25 per cent. for the exhibitor. The intermediate stages are set out in the First Schedule to the Bill.
1170 In regard to flexibility, it was a defect of the old Act that it was impossible to change the quota figure during the 10year period, and under this Bill I propose two reviews, one in 1939 and one in 1943. In either of these two years it will be possible for the Board of Trade, by Order confirmed by an affirmative Resolution of the House, to alter the quota figures, with this exception, that whatever alterations are made they must not be brought down lower than 20 per cent. for the renter or 15 per cent. for the exhibitor, or higher than 30 per cent. and 25 per cent. I put that in because I felt that if circumstances justified a bigger alteration, circumstances would have changed so much from anything the House is contemplating at the moment, that if we want to make a change of greater magnitude the House ought to have the fuller opportunities which are given by the ordinary legislative method, that is to say, by means of an amending Act.
I come to the question of short films. Shorts are films of under 3,000 feet. In 1927 there was no separate quota for shorts, and the fact that there was a quota for long films and no quota for shorts was not only no help to the shorts but a definite disadvantage to them. During the last two years the proportion of short films shown in British cinemas has ranged between 4 and 8 per cent. The Moyne Committee recommended that these short films should receive some greater protection, and recommended the institution of a separate quota. They pointed out—and I think with great justice—that the short film gives an ideal opportunity for training new personnel, that it needs less capital than the long film, and therefore gives an opportunity for new producing interests to come into the business, and that as less money is at stake it gives the opportunity for experiment in new ideas of production. Lastly, we all know the special cultural and educational value that such films can have. Hon. Members may have in their minds certain examples that have attracted them. I think that the film that attracted me more than any film I have seen was a short film called "The Mediaeval Village," which dealt with a village in the Midlands whose agricultural system and layout to-day still show signs of the old Feudal system.
§ Mr. Stanley
For the benefit of the House and the Press, I might say I was putting on my highbrow manner, but if I were discussing the matter with the hon. Gentleman afterwards, I would probably have to confess that I liked "Mickey Mouse" better. The Government accept the suggestion for a separate quota for shorts, which will be found in Clauses r and 7. The Moyne Committee recommended 15 per cent. for the renter's quota and 10 per cent. for the exhibitor's. I have been over the matter very carefully and have tried to get all the information I can, and my own feeling is that these figures may be dangerously high at the start. As far as I can see, there will be quite enough British short films to fill figures as high as that but I am not satisfied on the information that I have that there will be enough British short films of really good quality in order to satisfy them. There is nothing more dangerous than at the early stages to press upon the renter or the exhibitor films that are not up to standard. The Bill will contain the same provision for flexibility in regard to shorts as it does in regard to long films. At present I have not put in any test, whether of cost or quality, for short films, and we know so little about them and about their availbility, and, indeed, about the quality of many of them, that I feel there must be some experience of the working of the quota before we institute any tests. There are, however, provisions in the Bill by means of the procedure of Order and affirmative Resolution to enable the quality and cost tests to be applied to short as well as to long films. There are also a number of minor provisions with which I will not detain the House.
There is only one other point to which I ought to refer. Hon. Members will see that in Clause 39 there is set up again the advisory committee on much the same lines as under the old Act. The Moyne Committee recommended, instead of this committee, a commission which would have certain quasi-legislative powers. We do not accept that suggestion, first, because I feel that the powers it was suggested that the commission should have were such as the House of Commons would not be prepared to part with to an independent body 1172 which was in no way subject to its control; secondly, because it appeared in the discussions which I had with the industry after the publication of the Moyne Committee's report that, although the Moyne Committee based the importance of this commission on the good will that it might secure in the industry, it was clear that there was no possibility of any agreement on it. Some did not want the commission at all, some only wanted it constituted one way, and some would not have it if it were constituted in that way; some only wanted it if it dealt with certain things, and others would not look at it if those things came within its purview. So we adopted the procedure in the Bill. Yesterday I received a deputation from almost the whole of the film industry, which appears at the last moment to have reached some measure of unanimity on this question. It appears now to have agreed on some form of body which would have none of these quasi-legislative powers but which would be better able to advise and report upon the wider questions affecting the industry than the Advisory Committee is now able to do. I am considering the representations of the deputation, and it will be possible before the Committee stage to see whether anything can be done to meet them.
These are the main features of this Bill. I regret that it should be the subject of any controversy at all. Once the two main questions of principle have been taken—and they are questions of principle with which nobody differs, namely that some protection should go on and that that protection should take the form of a quota system—I had hoped it would be possible for the industry itself to work out the machinery by which these questions of principle could be applied. There has been every attempt to let them work out their own salvation—on the Advisory Committee, through the Moyne Committee, through endless departmental discussions and Ministerial deputations—but we have found it impossible. It has been difficult for each section of the industry to agree within itself. It has been impossible for any section of the industry to agree with the others. No doubt each section has honestly advocated what it believes to be the interest of its own section, but they seem unable to merge purely sectional interests in the good of the industry as a whole.
1173 It appears that in some instances there no realisation of what, to my mind, is fundamental, and that is the interdependence of every section in the industry—producers, technicians, renters, whether British or foreign, exhibitors and employés in the trade; that there is no section that you can pick out by itself; that the prosperity of each must depend on the prosperity of the whole; and that you cannot buy the welfare of one section at the expense of another. I ask hon. Members in the many criticisms that no doubt will be made of the Bill, and in the many alternative suggestions that will be put forward, not only to look at the particular advantage which those suggestions would have to the section which puts them forward, but to inquire also as to the disadvantages that they would inflict upon other sections of the industry and to weigh the balance between them. That is what the. Government have tried to do. We have tried to produce a scheme which is fair to all sections, and which will benefit the industry as a whole.
I do not think I can exaggerate the importance of this Bill. This industry is no ordinary industry. It is not only a question of profits for British capital or employment for British workers, important as these are; it is something a great deal more. To-day we in this country know that we are on our defence, and are doubly on our defence. We are on our defence as Westerners and as democrats. The decadence of the West is just as much the talk of the bazaars of the East as the decay of democracy is the stock leader of the newspapers of the dictators. Wherever in the world a film by its lack of taste or lack of character, by showing an exotic and eccentric minority as a national element, by showing the fantastic in the guise of the normal, gives colour to either of these beliefs, then it is weakening our defences. I do not want our defences to be made in Hollywood. I want the world to be able to see British films true to British life, accepting British standards and spreading British ideals. I believe that this Bill does give to the British producers their chance, and it will be our task, their task and the task of the British public to see that they make use of it.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
With however much of the former part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech we agree, we certainly 1174 agree with the last few sentences when he paid particular attention to the importance of the screen in this country. It is second only to the wireless as a purveyor of news and views tendencious or otherwise, and any Government, whether Labour, National, Conservative or Liberal, would have had to pay some attention to the screen unless it was to become an advertising bureau for America or other foreign countries. There is a cultural, ethical and educational point of view in this question, and in thinking of the other interests involved in this Measure, we must never lose sight of the 20,000,000 visitors to the cinemas in this country. The industry is a many-sided one, highly complex and involved. The producer, the renter, the exhibitor, the labour interest and the technicians are all entitled to a good deal of consideration. I agree with the President of the Board of Trade, too, that this industry is quite unlike any other industry in the country. The commodity produced is so very dissimiliar from anything else that whatever our general views may be on the fiscal problem, I do not think we can import into this Debate questions of Free Trade or Protection, or any other of those ancient problems. What we do seek is that all sections should receive due consideration from this House before passing any legislation of this description.
As far as I can, I shall treat this matter as a purely non-party question. I know that all the various interests are anxious for a continuation of legislation, and I know that most sections are anxious for fundamental changes, but I do not know that any are anxious for this Bill in its present form. For that reason I should like to turn to the report of the Moyne Commission. That Commission, I think, deserves the hearty thanks of every Member in this House, and I regret very much that the President of the Board of Trade paid so little attention to the committee's report, which was made after a very comprehensive examination of all the facts relating to this problem. I thank the Moyne Commission for the time they spent over their inquiry, for the splendid report that they produced and for their constructive proposals, but I cannot thank the Government in view of the contents of this Bill and of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Looking at this Bill one would imagine that no Commission ever sat, for 1175 none of the fundamental recommendations of the Commission are incorporated in it.
The right hon. Gentleman warned the House that this was a bulky Bill containing many Clauses and Schedules and then said that nevertheless changes were few in number. The changes are so few in number as to make little or no material difference to the situation that exists in the industry. It is true that the long film quota is slightly extended, that a special quota has been prepared for short films or documentary films, that penalties for evasion have been increased, and that something is done about blind and block bookings, and other odds and ends. But the real problem confronting the industry is left absolutely untouched. What has been the experience in the last 10 years? The right hon. Gentleman told us in the latter part of his speech that at no time had it been possible, by any manner of means, to secure any measure of common agreement between the conflicting interests within the industry. We, have had during the past 10 years, as the President of the Board of Trade well knows, wholesale evasion f the law.
British films have been discredited, and producers and employés and technicians are in a desperate plight. They are living in a world of glorious uncertainty. We have all heard about the quota breaker, and we know that it has been more profitable to break the law than to evade it. With the exception of increased penalties little or nothing is to be done to change the situation. I shall deal later with the question of cost and quality films, but the point I want to make now is that, with the exception that it makes extension here slightly and somewhere else slightly, the Bill makes no fundamental alteration calculated to improve the general situation within the film industry. I understand that one film company—I will not mention the name lest my information may be wrong—which had bargained to make six films at a cost of some £42,000 to fulfil the quota, are considering whether or not to discard that programme, because not to produce those films and to evade the law deliberately would cost approximately only £1,000 in fines. If they do not make films costing £42,000 and break the law at a cost of £1,000 they save £41,000 on 1176 the deal. It may be all very well for a company which is in a position to do that, but what about the workpeople and the technicians?
§ Mr. Williams
But only after the third evasion. This can be done twice, and the Board of Trade have no power to revoke the licence. Therefore, it is a profitable proposition to evade the law, if the case I am now quoting is any criterion. The suggestion that the proposed Amendment meets the present day situation does seem to me to fail. We leave ourselves for the next 10 years in exactly the same position as in the past 10 years. All that the Advisory Committee, which may meet half a dozen times a year, will be able to do will be to decide whether some little cinema proprietor who has not been able to fulfil the quota shall be prosecuted or not. There is no real power in the hands of the Advisory Committee at all, and, in fact, this Bill leaves the position exactly where it was, with the Board of Trade as the only administrative authority over all the things that are involved in this Measure. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he really thinks that, with the multiplicity of conflicting elements to which he has referred, without any guiding influence from the top, they are ever going to establish a really successful industry in this country? If the Board of Trade have failed to pacify these interests in the past, are they going to be any more successful in the future?
It is difficult to know who is represented on the Committee. You have an Advisory Committee in existence at this moment, a Committee of 13 people, and of that number six represent the producer. I understand that one individual—I hope the House will understand that I am in no way casting any reflection on him—is responsible for 5 per cent. of the films in this country, but that he gave evidence before the Commission as a renter. You really do not know where you are when you are talking to anyone dealing with any one of these sectional interests. Therefore, I must turn to the report of the Commission, as I hope every hon. Member will turn to it, for any constructive suggestions for remedying the uncertain position that we are in at 1177 the moment. What do the Commission recommend? On page 35 of their report, after having dealt with various suggestions involving administration of a day-to-day kind, the Commission say in paragraph 97:We accordingly recommend that a new body, which might be called the Films Commission, should be set up, and made responsible for the whole of the administration of the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, in its continued, amended and extended form, in addition to other functions which we contemplate might, both at once and at a later date, usefully be undertaken by it.The Commission consulted all interests, examined the situation from top to bottom, and they came down heavily on the side of a disinterested film Commission. Paragraph 98 of the report is rather lengthy, but I think I ought to quote it. The Commission say in that paragraph:The evidence given before us indicated that there has been and still is a considerable measure of disagreement between the three branches of the cinematograph films industry over the various questions which face them from time to time. Efforts within the industry in the past to bring into operation voluntary schemes for improvement of the industry as a whole have not met with success, it having proved impossible for the conflicting interests to be reconciled. The evidence has shown that this is still the case. Widely divergent views were also expressed even within the branches of the industry themselves in the evidence placed before us. We have been much impressed during the course of our inquiry with the desirability of bringing closer together, by all possible means, the varying interests concerned and of finding some common measure of agreement between them on their various problems, which will redound to the benefit of all. Such a purpose might, we think, be served admirably by the Commission we propose.That seems to me to be the soundest recommendation made by the Moyne Commission. It would remove administration from the Board of Trade and from an Advisory Committee with no power at all, and for the first time in the history of this industry there would be a body of first-class personnel who would be responsible for the whole administration. There would be a tribunal of impartial judgment, who, perhaps, would give real confidence to the interests involved, and would secure the largest measure of common agreement. If the President of the Board of Trade thinks that a disinterested committee trying to serve the interests of all sections day by day would fail to reconcile those interests and get a measure of common agreement, how does he ex- 1178 pect an Advisory Committee, meeting perhaps, once every two months, and representing producers, renters, exhibitors, labour interests and technicians, to come to a common agreement upon anything unless it is to prosecute somebody else?
§ Mr. Stanley
Nobody would be successful who was not acceptable to the industry. If any body can help to bring unanimity it must be the kind of body the industry itself wants. I think the hon. Gentleman overlooks the statement that I made in the course of my speech.
§ Mr. Williams
I have not overlooked the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and I intend to deal with it later. I am now dealing with the recommendation of the Royal Commission and the necessity of a disinterested body being set up which might bring the various interests together and almost certainly secure a larger measure of general agreement than can be obtained at the moment. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, can an advisory committee composed of all the interested parties perform this function? I think the answer must inevitably be "No." Almost every Clause in this Bill says that if the Board of Trade are satisfied, or if the Board of Trade discover, then the Board of Trade may do certain things. But all those certain things are to prosecute. There is no constructive power, there is no power of initiative, and consequently the conflicting interests with nobody to bring them together are not likely to make great progress in this matter. Such a commission as is recommended would make producer, exhibitor, renter and importer feel that the Government of this country were really serious and determined to establish this industry on a sound foundation. Apart from the restoration of confidence, it would bring with it also a good deal of money. Without a commission, the industry, I am convinced, is not likely to make the rapid progress which the right hon. Gentleman tells us he would desire.
As to the point that the industry would not stand for a disinterested commission of this kind, the right hon. Gentleman said that one section would not have a commission at any price, and that another section would have it only if the commission did not do certain things. The right hon. Gentleman could not have been very assiduous in his attention to 1179 other Measures that have been passing through this House for a considerable time. Has he forgotten that during the present year we passed the Livestock Industry Bill wherein his own Government, in which he performs something more than an ornamental part, set up a Livestock Commission of disinterested persons, to be helped by an advisory committee representing all the interests in the industry, for the purpose of dealing with not only the production and marketing of beef, and slaughtering, but generally to do various things between the producer and the consumer? The Livestock Industry Act set up the Commission of disinterested persons, but farmers, of course, did not want that Commission.
No industry wants a commission of disinterested persons to interfere with their business, but the National Government have on four occasions flown in the face of the interested parties. They have realised the necessity for a commission, and they have established one on the lines of that for the livestock industry. There is a big difference between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Trade. The Ministry of Agriculture have learned the wisdom of delegating power. They do not mind delegating power if to do so is in the interests of the industry and the country as a whole. The simple fact is that the Board of Trade will not delegate power to anyone. They have control of the administration of this industry, and they intend, by hook or by crook, to preserve that control within their own hands. I say sincerely to the right hon. Gentleman that I think it is not in the interests of the industry or of the Board of Trade that they should hang on to the administration of this film legislation, since they bar the way to a body of persons who could display initiative in a thousand different ways.
The other recommendation of the Moyne Committee to which the right hon. Gentleman referred concerned the cost and the quality tests. On page 21, paragraph 57, they say:We see serious objections, however, to the application of a cost test or a combined cost and quality test of the kind to which we have referred. A cost test such as that proposed to us of £2 per foot—and reasons which we regard as adequate were laid before us against its being higher than that—although higher than the cost of many of the poor quota films made in the past, might well prove ineffective 1180 in preventing evasion and the continuation of the evil.Therefore they proceed to plump for a quality test. In paragraph 96 they say:The exhibitors in their evidence before us were emphatic in their desire for a satisfactory test for quality and in our view, after careful consideration of all the aspects of the question, we are of opinion that a test of the kind we have already described, as well as many of the other tasks involved in the new provisions, must go hand in hand with the necessary control and direct responsibility by the authority concerned for the decisions taken.That seems to be fairly conclusive. It was not quite correct for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the commission paid no attention to what the White Paper referred to in paragraph 5, namely, the pro and con of the argument in favour of a cost test or a quality test. They dealt with the thing fairly comprehensively.
§ Mr. Stanley
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not misrepresent me. I said that the Committee never dealt with the argument which struck me about a quality test of uncertainty. Will he point out to me in the Committee's report where they dealt with the point I mentioned?
§ Mr. Williams
I cannot quote the extract offhand, but I think it is on page 21 or 22. I do not want to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not want to give bouquets to the commission to which they are not entitled; but they do definitely come down on the side of a quality test. They fear, as some exhibitors fear to-day, that the mere fixation of a quality test might easily develop into more costly quickies, which would further discredit British production. They have sound reasons, which they give, for the rejection of a cost test and the establishment of a test based upon quality. Why, the right hon. Gentleman in Clause 26 of the Bill, takes power for a quality test. The right hon. Gentleman asked the House a short time ago whether three persons could possibly go and view a picture and have the same point of view about it. He rather suggested then that a viewing test was hopeless; yet, in Clause 26, he takes power to exempt a film from the £15,000 expenditure test if, on being viewed by some authority, it is found to have quality and entertainment value. Who is to view films for the right hon. Gentleman? Officials from the Board of 1181 Trade? Members of the Advisory Committee? Does he expect to obtain unanimity from members of the Advisory Committee, since they represent all sections. In any case, the right hon. Gentleman must know by this time that every section in the industry, producers, exhibitors, labour interests and technicians, is in favour of a quality test.
§ Mr. Stanley
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the letter of one man who happens to produce a particular kind of film, necessarily represents the whole section of the industry. He has made the statement that the producers are in favour of a quality test; will he produce the evidence to substantiate that statement?
§ Mr. Williams
I am prepared to say this: I have a memorandum from one of the largest, if not the oldest producer of documentary films in this country, supporting a quality test for both long and short films. The Cinematograph Exhibitors Association have circularised all Members of Parliament. I have a memorandum, and presumably other hon. Members have memorandums, from certain producers, asking for a quality test. They are opposed to the £15,000 test because they fear that it might develop into sheer waste. Many arguments have been advanced in favour of a quality as opposed to a cost test.
Under the terms of the Bill a film can be made in India and, if £15,000 is spent upon it, it can be brought to this country as a quota film and no questions must be asked, even by the Board of Trade. Does it necessarily follow that such a film will fulfil the quality test in this country? It fulfils the terms of the Bill and the conditions laid down here, but it may not fulfil any other test that can be applied. The same remark applies to Canada. Films can be made just over the border. They can satisfy the ex- 1182 hibitor in America and help to fill his programmes there. Then they can be sent to this country and become quota films. We do not think that a cost test of that description will meet the situation at all. Let films which are presumed to be British pass a quality test; after all, that is the only thing that matters.
If there is not absolute unanimity within the industry, there is nearly unanimity for the quality test which the Moyne Committee recommended. I can speak with authority, so far as short films and documentary films are concerned. The producers of short and documentary films definitely want a quality test, and if short films are the one redeeming feature of British production, the right hon. Gentleman ought to be ready to respond to those who have to provide such films in face of very intense competition, since they perhaps deal more with our national life, character and achievements than any long film ever does. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not ignore that point.
The one excuse which the right hon. Gentleman gave for not establishing a disinterested film commission which would be the ears, the eyes and almost the brains of the industry, serving every section impartially was that now that they have dropped the quality test in favour of a simple cost test there is no need for the commission recommended by the Moyne Committee. That excuse is very poor and I hope even now that the right hon. Gentleman will not be deaf to appeals that will be made to him to do something really fundamental to help this industry to help itself. I know the difficulties of the various sections, which are in no way identical and never will come together. They never have come together in the past and they will never come together in the future. If they know that there is a body trying to help them all and that will take advantage of none, I am convinced that the industry sooner or later will find the commission a helpmate and not a hindrance. It would help them to restore the confidence that is so necessary.
One other consideration concerns the workers and their general conditions. This Bill, like the 1927 Measure, is not what one would call a full-blooded protectionist Measure. Wherever the State steps in to establish conditions by which an industry can be built up, and a prosperous industry 1183 at that, it ought never to ignore the conditions of the workers engaged in that industry. We know that there are thousands of workers, including technicians, employed in this industry and we think that this Measure should contain a Clause whereby every producing, or you can say, exhibiting company would be required to conform to minimum standards laid down in that Clause. The right hon. Gentleman should realise that the workers must have a case and he should be responsible for seeing to it that fair minimum conditions are laid down in a special Clause in the Bill. A protected industry ought to employ protected workpeople. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something to safeguard these interests.
I want to finish as I began. We do not intend to oppose this Measure on Second Reading. We recognise that all sections within the industry want some legislation, but none of them agree with this Bill in its present form. I think I can say without hesitation that the majority of them are in favour of a disinterested film commission and of a quality test for films, and that the majority, including producers just outside this city, are in favour of minimum conditions for employes and technicians within the industry. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will respond in these three or four vital particulars. To leave the industry for a further 10 years without a real guiding influence is to do the industry no little harm. It is because I honestly and conscientiously believe that it would be in the interests of the industry to follow the lines of the Livestock Act and to set up an independent commission giving them full powers of initiative to help—the right hon. Gentleman asks me what I mean by power of initiative. He knows very well that for the past 10 years there have been all kinds of evasions here, there and everywhere. If there were a commission whose job it was to examine this industry from top to bottom and to have their eyes on every movement in order to see that British control did not altogether fly over to America, or anywhere else, they would not wait for the next two months while an advisory committee was called together; they would act at once. If the right hon. Gentleman set up a films commission, he would surely give the commission adequate powers to act 1184 at once, or at least to advise him so that the Minister might act upon the information that they have collected.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is referring to an important point which I said I was considering. It is very important that we should know, when he speaks of powers of initiative, whether he means an advisory body, or whether he means a body which would be given some power to alter the Bill as it now stands.
§ Mr. Williams
If the right hon. Gentleman follows the recommendation of the commission and appoints not less than three or more than five persons to perform a full-time job, it is clearly important that he should give them adequate powers. The whole of the administration would be in their hands. They would act and advise him on it at all times. We believe that, unless he does something on these lines, the industry for 10 years or more will be floundering, and it will be no great testimonial to the right hon. Gentleman that he, as the Minister, can delegate power where power ought to be delegated, and he will not take this wonderful opportunity with which he has been provided to help the industry to struggle back to a condition of prosperity, stability and general hopefulness.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Hall-Caine
I should like, first of all, to offer my congratulations to the Minister on having introduced a Bill which is a substantial contribution to the solution of a very important and serious problem. The hen. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has said that the Bill is not acceptable in all its Clauses to any section of the trade. That, in my opinion, is a great recommendation for the Minister, because it shows that the Board of Trade have endeavoured to act fairly and squarely as between all sections of the trade; and if it is not possible—and those of us who have some experience of the trade know that it is not possible—to get complete unanimity among the trade, the best thing is to find a President of the Board of Trade who can extract the best from each of their ideas and put it into a Bill such as that which we have before us to-day.
This is a very complicated and technical matter, as the President of the Board of Trade has said. He has dealt so exhaus- 1185 tively with the whole subject that there is not much left to say by way of explanation, but, if I may be allowed to state my qualification for speaking at all on this important subject, it is that for the last ten years I have been intimately associated with the operation of the present Act. I was associated with the Board of Trade when the present Act was contemplated as a Bill, and afterwards I have spent ten years as a member of the Board of Trade Advisory Committee. Indeed, I am the Methuselah of that Committee, for I am the only member of it. who was appointed first of all in 1927; the others have either died off or got tired of the work. I was appointed a member of a sub-committee of the advisory committee, which sat for six months and made a report to the President of the Board of Trade on the working of the present Act, with recommendations as to how the Act could be amended. I was chairman of that committee Its report was placed in the hands of the Moyne Committee, and a good deal of the report of our committee, which consisted of independent members and trade members, is included in the Moyne Committee's Report. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that it was the advisory committee s report which brought forward the cost test. Although it is only barely referred to in the Moyne Committee's Report, the basis of the cost test was in the report of the advisory committee.
In trying to judge whether the new Bill fulfils its function or not, I think we must look back at the present Act and see to what extent it has already succeeded. As the President of the Board of Trade said, and as I can definitely confirm from my own experience, when the present Act became law less than 4 per cent. of British pictures were being shown on British screens. To-day more than 26 per cent. of the pictures shown on British screens are of British manufacture. That, I think, is an achievement which has been largely due to the operation of the Cinematograph Films Act. In the second place, when the present Act first came into operation it was impossible to get exhibition for a British film by reason of what is known as blind and block booking. For a year or 18 months there was no chance of getting exhibition for a British film, however good its quality might be. The present Act stopped that.
1186 Unfortunately, however, during the period for which the Act has been in operation many changes have taken place in the cinematograph industry. There is no industry in the world that has moved so rapidly as the cinematograph industry has moved in this country and in the world at large. When the Act was brought in, there was nothing but silent films, but within 18 months of the passing of the Act the talkie came on the scene, and that changed the whole circumstances. It made the Act almost of no avail so far as certain of its Clauses were concerned, because the Americans, who had introduced the talking picture, were the only people who possessed the right to manufacture talking pictures Our studios, which by that time were equipped for making the finest silent films, had no facilities and no right whatever to make talking pictures. Necessarily, therefore, there had to be some lapse of time until the British studios got the right to make talking pictures, which were becoming the vogue of the cinema-going public.
The present Act has enormously improved the position of British pictures, not only here but throughout the world. So much is that the case that British pictures, and particularly British talkies, in which at least the language talked is English, are accepted as in no way second to any other pictures made in any other part of the world. That is what the Act has done so far. Where has it failed? It has failed, first of all, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Don Valley, and also by the President of the Board of Trade, in that there have been evasions of the Act over the quota picture, and particularly over the "quota quickie," which is now so well known to everyone in this country that it needs no description from me.
When the committee of which I have the honour to be a member considered this matter, we did consider the question of a viewing committee such as the hon. Member has advocated. Everyone knows that, if you could have a viewing committee which would work ideally, nothing could be better for settling the true value of a film. On that point the Committee over which I presided agreed unanimously—producers, exhibitors, and everybody else. But the difficulty came when the question was asked: "Would 1187 you, if you had spent £45,000 on a film, be content to be subject to the whim of one of the members of the viewing committee who might have had a sharp attack of liver that morning?"
I should like to offer a suggestion for meeting the view which is held by the hon. Member for Don Valley and, as I know, by a substantial number of people like exhibitors, who, after all, are the protectors of the public. A film is not like a machine that is made to gauge. If you make a machine, and have a viewer or examiner for that machine, at any rate it can be worked out to drawings and plans, and, if it does not pass that test, it can be rejected. The film is in quite a different category. It must depend, however good the viewers may be, upon the personal ideas of those viewers, and, therefore, the human factor must come in. If I may venture to make the suggestion to the President of the Board of Trade, I think the position might be met somewhat in this fashion.
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley said, you already allow the Advisory Committee to view a film which has cost less than the minimum set down in the Bill, and then to decide whether that film has special exhibition value. I do not think that the vast majority of films produced under the cost test will be bad; indeed, I think the vast majority will be as good as the producers can make them, because they have at stake too much money to throw it away. I recognise, however, that every now and then a film will be produced which will exactly comply with every test laid down; it may be made in some part of the Empire which one should like to encourage, but where they have not the skill and technical experienced possessed in our studios here. That film has to be trade-shown. I suggest that it should not be beyond the wit of our consideration, if we can get a sufficient body of exhibitors who have really to show that film to the public, to ask the President of the Board of Trade to show the film to such a committee, and, if that committee considers that the film has no exhibition value, then, despite the fact that £22,000 had been spent on it, it would be at the option of the President of the Board of Trade to refuse it quota. That quota 1188 might not have to be put into effect, but it would be a safety valve, because every exhibitor would know that he had not necessarily to show a bad film because of the quota.
There is a feeling in the minds of the exhibitors that for some years there will not be a sufficient margin of films to fulfil the quota. That has ever been before the exhibitors. During the whole course of our investigations, and of my experience on the Advisory Committee, we have always been up against the fact that when a theatre has failed to comply with the quota, it has always been given to us to recommend to the Board of Trade that the theatre should not be prosecuted in that case, because there were some extenuating circumstances which prevented it from complying. In 99 cases out of 100 those extenuating circumstances have been that there are not films available in sufficient numbers. Theatres in this country are divided into two kinds. There are the theatres which are controlled by the producers of films, like the great group to which my hon. Friend on the Opposition Bench referred just now, and the theatres which are indedendent. The theatres under the control of film producers have never any need of a quota at all, because their producing studios can always produce sufficient British films to satisfy their needs, but the independent theatres are in a different case altogether. There are not sufficient independent producers in this country to satisfy all their needs, unless the independent theatres take second runs of films produced by what we might almost call their theatre rivals.
You cannot draw an Act of Parliament merely in favour of one section of the trade or another, but you must deal fairly with every section. Even the renters, the most despised and rejected of men—they get kicked by one side and by the other—are entitled to a fair deal. I know they are very difficult to deal with, I have very good reason to know, but they fulfil a very useful function. I doubt whether the cinema trade could get on very well without them, and I am very glad that the President of the Board of Trade does not allow them to be left between the hammer and the anvil. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will take into consideration the compromise I suggested, and work out in his 1189 own way an insurance for the exhibitors, so that they will not be merely at the mercy of the cost test.
With regard to the film commission, the hon. Member for Don Valley made a great deal of his speech on the basis of the recommendations of the Moyne Committee on this point. So much depends whether you are going to have a film commission or an advisory committee, on what powers are going to be given. If you are going to have merely a Commission with the same powers as have been given to us on the Advisory Committee, it does not matter by which of those names you call it. If you are going to establish a real film Commission, you must be prepared to give it such powers as will establish an elasticity of film administration such as no Act of Parliament can ever give. If this Bill is to become a successful Act of Parliament, the House must be prepared to give an even greater measure of elasticity; otherwise it will never be the complete success it ought to be. It is no use trying to control an industry which moves so rapidly as the film industry. Who knows whether, in two or three years' time, television may have come into such a position that you may have a thousand theatres distributing one big programme, and only so many hundred feet of film will be used in a night? As I see it, this Measure will be entirely nugatory if you have one film serving a thousand theatres.
Coming back to the film commission, the House has got to make up its mind that it must give up some of the control that it has had in the past. That point of view has not always been so popular on the benches on this side in my experience. Hon. Members have been most jealous, as we have all been, of giving up Parliamentary control, but you must face the fact that you have got to give up a certain amount, not only of the Board of Trade's control, but of your own control as Members of the House of Commons. Are you prepared to do that? Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade might see his way, in the course of the Committee stage, to give rather extended powers, not full executive powers, but extended powers of advice, to the Advisory Committee, so that we shall not feel like a lot of sticks going there for amusement, so that we may feel we are 1190 definitely contributing, and, subject to a veto by the President of the Board of Trade, our advice should normally be accepted. That would go some way towards meeting my hon. Friend's idea.
I am not very sure why the Government have changed our idea of a cost test to a labour cost test. I do not mind, as long as it is not going to be evaded. You must be sure it is complied with in all its provisions. As to the conditions of the test, is it to be direct labour employed in the studio, or can it be taken as labour expenditure on scenery or costumes made outside? I cannot find in the Bill any qualification of the other 50 per cent. Apart from that, if you are going to have a test of this character, I think the labour cost test is as good as any. I think this Bill is a very substantial contribution to the industry. I think the industry is so important that it is worthy of every Member's attention. We have a very good House here at present, but I wish there were more here, and I hope that in the spirit in which the hon. Member for Don Valley started, the non-party spirit, we shall examine this Bill with every intention of improving it.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
I think the speech of the last hon. Member will be welcomed on all sides of the House. It is easy to be wise afterwards, but, if the spirit of this Debate up to now had been the spirit of 10 years ago, we should probably have had a better Bill. In this Bill the Government are trying to undo the mischief of 10 years ago. Having, for my sins, read the Debates of 10 years ago, I am amazed at the foolishness of the speeches of some of the so-called wise men of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "On all sides."] On all sides. My hon. Friend here who represents the Liberal party in this matter is going, I think, to contribute to this Debate. Ten years ago the representative of the Liberal party, Lord Runciman, described this Bill as Protection of the most brazen character, without excuse in art or trade. He was followed by the Leader of the Opposition, who is now the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and the late Lord Snowden, in equally extravagant speeches, with very little attention to actual facts. The Debate of 10 years ago has finally destroyed my faith in wise men who speak with imperfect knowledge of their 1191 subjects. The speeches were mainly directed to proving that the producers would make vast fortunes and that the exhibitors would be ruined. Actually producers have lost money and the circuits have done well.
One of the difficulties of this trade, as we have been told several times today, is that there are several sections of the trade, but in addition, it ought to be said plainly, that one section—the renters section—dominates all the others. It has dictatorial powers at the present time. I am sorry that Mr. Thomas Ormiston, an hon. Member who sat on the opposite side of the House, has passed away; otherwise it would have been very useful to have heard his opinion on this point. I hope that steps may be taken in this Bill to ensure that one section is not left in a position unreasonably to dominate the other sections. The Bill suffers from a lack of imagination. It is a dull and unimaginative Bill, which would be all right for the iron and steel trade, or even for the granite industry, but it seems to be somewhat out of place for the film industry. I cannot too strongly support the plea made by the last speaker that the Bill should be made more elastic to meet possible changes. As he pointed out, within 18 months of the last Bill being passed, an entire revolution took place from silent films to talkies. Hon. Members perhaps forget that this industry is only about 30 years old, and that it is still fluid and has not yet reached any fixed position.
Look at some of the changes which have taken place in this industry in the lifetime of the ordinary member of this House. It has moved from the showman's tent and the backroom to the super cinema. I am old enough to remember that, a few months after moving pictures came into existence, the first picture I saw was called "Little Tich doing his big boot dance." I had to pay 3d. to get in. It was in a tent, and this picture was followed by a short film, which, I believe, would not be allowed to be shown nowadays, called "The Bride's First Night." The industry has moved in 30 years from that kind of thing to the present super cinema, from silent pictures to talking pictures and now to coloured pictures. The industry has moved from being like a piano which usually wanted tuning badly to a full orchestra, and then 1192 back again to no orchestra at all. It has moved from the ordinary small showman to the giant circus. We now have news reel cinemas, and at the moment we have television hovering in the background with nobody clear as to how it is going to develop.
These changes have not finished; there are more to come. I will indicate one. Only a month ago an inventor successfully demonstrated a system which, if adopted, will knock the cost clauses of this Bill into an absurdity. He demonstrated a system whereby half a dozen dancers could be duplicated and re-duplicated so that they stretched in a long line, in a long series of groups seeming to number more than 100. He demonstrated a system under which one person could be made to look like a long line of persons, and a 15-feet studio could be made to look like a ballroom 100 feet long. The demonstrator afterwards, in reply to a question, said: "If you offered me 100 girls for a spectacular scene, I should have to send most of them away. There would be go too many." In 18 months or two years this system may be adopted in all studios, and, if so, how will it affect the cost clauses in this Bill? I am not trying to dig holes in the Bill, but unless we take some steps on the Committee stage of the Bill to create something much more fluid and elastic in this matter, Parliament will find itself helpless, as it was left helpless 8½ years ago after passing a Bill for 10 years. Suddenly a revolution took place in the industry and no one could do anything about it.
The hon. Member pointed out how one comes up against a stone wall because the Advisory Committee are asked to do something and they cannot do anything. Within the last two months one section of the trade has made a decision which will bring about another major change in the industry. If we are going to pass legislation of this kind and tie ourselves up for a period of years—and Parliament cannot be passing a films Bill every few months—in an industry which is changing so rapidly and is still in a fluid condition, we shall be in very great difficulty and find that we shall do a great deal of harm as well as good.
There is a good deal of humbug talked about British films—not quite so much as there was 10 years ago but still a good deal. In 1933 British films were put on 1193 the map of America by a Hungarian who produced the film called "The Private life of Henry VIII." If you look through his list of British films you will have some difficulty in discovering a British point of view. In "Catherine the Great," "Don Juan," "Sanders of the River," "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "Moscow Nights," and "Elephant Boy" there is nothing particularly, predominantly or outstandingly British, but these were the productions with which, through the genius of a Hungarian whom we discovered in our midst, we have put British films, we are told, on the map of America.
It is becoming more difficult to define an American or a British picture. The only difference is that a film is either made in America or in Britain. I do not think that anybody in this House would tell me that when Gracie Fields makes a film in Hollywood it makes her an American, putting over American customs and American ideas. Take three outstanding films of the last year or two, "Cavalcade," "Lloyds of London" and "David Copperfield." These are films of British life made in America. Charles Laughton was no less an Englishman in "Mutiny on the Bounty," which he made in America, than he was in "Henry VIII," which was made in England. After the British film "Henry VIII" got a good show in America in 1933, big business in this country, both in the banking and in the insurance world, thought that they saw a gold mine, and they rushed in with disastrous results to themselves and to the industry, and particularly to themselves. They had a slogan "World production." Britain was going to produce films for the whole world. They produced, on paper, fantastic schemes for the production of what they called multi-lingual films with a world market, and these schemes were used to obtain money from credulous people. About a dozen production units commenced spending borrowed money like water, and we went through one of the worst financial times of the last 15 years. One company with a paid-up capital of actually had outstanding charges on its books at one time of £415,000. Some British films costing 513,000 and over brought in less than ic,,000. In January this year, when the inevitable crash came, the banks put on the screw. Speculators lost their money and, what 1194 was very much worse, thousands of honest people lost their employment.
What is left now after the crash? Roughly, we have four groups left in the industry. First, there are the American renters, real internationalists, men with a wide outlook. First-class business men have built up the industry until it is the fifth largest business in America. Then there are the English combines, producers, renters, exhibitors all in one, linked to one another and to American renters by cross directorships, interlocking agreements, and by agreements, written and otherwise. Next there are the independent producers, the little people, who are being squeezed in all directions and are a diminishing quantity. There is little hope for them in this Bill. Fourthly, there are the independent exhibitors who are handicapped by high film rentals and unable to get their films at anything like the terms at which the circuits can get them with their big booking trade. They are denied the right to make any collective booking arrangements in their own defence. Faced with the prospect, which, I fear, is inevitable in this Bill, of a diminishing number of films, the dice are being steadily loaded against the independent exhibitor.
The real battle on this Bill is the struggle which every industry encounters for the survival of the small men. The giants in the film industry, like the giants in other branches of industry, show no mercy to the little men; they crush them mercilessly. This will happen unless in Committee this Bill can be strengthened to give the independent exhibitor a fighting chance of survival. I think that that can be done. This Bill may improve the quality of films—I think it is a little doubtful whether it will—but it will certainly reduce the quantity of films. The result therefore will be that the renters, whom I pointed out as being the section all-powerful in the industry before whom all others have to bow, will be more powerful than ever under the Bill Under the Bill "quota quickies" are going to be eliminated, but I fear that they may be replaced by "short quickies." The Government are taking steps to stop that in the event of its happening.
I am sorry that the President of the Board of Trade did not devote a little more time in his speech to the position in which shorts will be placed. I am not satisfied that the concession made to 1195 shorts will do anything to help them. I am informed by those who get their livelihood by making short films that this Bill means death to them. They stand no chance. The quota is a percentage of a percentage and it works out at something like 10 or 11 seconds per performance which can be claimed for British shorts. The costs test is not satisfactory. I admit that there is something in it, but I am afraid it will be found difficult to ascertain what the actual costs are. The costs test as designed at present will cause dishonest inflation and extravagance, and by diminishing the supply of films it will raise prices, which for the public will mean either higher prices or shorter programmes. The circuits will be able to get films but the independent concerns will be squeezed. This is a Bill under which the little man will be squeezed out of the industry. We shall have to see whether it is not possible to devise something by which he will get a square deal.
The proposal of the Moyne Committee for a Commission standing above the conflict of trade interests, is worth examination. It is essential that there should be some body with power to take action to meet changing circumstances not every 10 years but month by month as needed. This matter will be discussed at length in Committee, and I know that the President of the Board of Trade, from what he said, has not definitely made up his mind one way or the other. I will not, therefore, say more on that point. One hon. Member said that this might mean taking away some of the powers of Parliament. I am not sure that it will work that way, but if we pass this Bill and it reaches the Statute Book within the next three or four months and a few months later another revolutionary change takes place, we shall not be a position to introduce fresh legislation. Therefore, to that extent as a Parliament we shall be powerless and the Minister will be powerless unless he takes power either for himself or a Commission to act.
The Advisory Committee as proposed in the Bill is hopeless. One of the members of the present Advisory Committee has told us to-day that the Committee might as well be abolished for what good they do. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will meet us with sympathy on these points, and I believe 1196 that if we carry out the spirit with which our discussion has been conducted to-day the Bill, when it reaches the Statute Book, will be in a form which we shall be able to accept.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
The President of the Board of Trade introduced this Measure in his customary interesting and lucid way. The Bill certainly requires explanation, because it deals with one of the most complicated questions that could come before the House. Those of us who have been studying the situation in the last week or two and who were not intimately acquainted with it before are only too well aware of the complications of the situation. You cannot even get people in the same section of the industry, the producers, for instance, to take the same view. Every one seems to have the opinion that unless his own particular prescription is adopted nothing but disaster lies ahead for the industry as a whole. If ever there was a case of the Latin tag Quot homines tot sententiœ, this must be the case.
When we are faced with a situation of this kind every Member of the House must appreciate the impartial survey that has been made by the Moyne Committee. I, therefore, regret to find that the Government have up to the present, I hope not finally, failed to include in the provisions of the Bill what I regard as far most important of the recommendations of the Moyne Committee, and that is the establishment of a films' Commission. Further Government intervention in connection with the film industry is absolutely essential, although there are those who hold the view that the Bill is so futile that the British producer would be no worse off if there was no further legislation. It is clear that we cannot possibly allow a situation to arise in which a great industry of this kind would be controlled from outside. We have only to think of certain analogies. Let us suppose that the whole of our wireless arrangements were in the hands and under the control of Americans, and they supplied all the programmes. Obviously, the State would step in and not allow that to continue. In the same way, if the British Press were owned by Americans or some other foreign country, that would not be tolerated, and the State would step in and take appropriate 1197 measures to deal with it. Great Britain must own its own Press and its own wireless service.
It has been said that the propaganda value of films in an indirect way is enormous. It is a matter of national prestige. The question of advertising is of great importance. It was calculated by the American Commercial Department that the advertising value of films was something like one dollar per foot. We can, therefore, appreciate the enormous assistance which American films must have been in the overseas markets in attracting orders for American goods. Films provide an opportunity for many people in this country who do not have a very interesting life to go for a few hours into an atmosphere of romance, adventure and imagination, where they can escape from a drab life. It is essential that we should have in this country an absolutely independent, genuine British film industry, but I cannot see that the Bill in its present form is going to produce anything of the kind. We do not intend to divide against the Second Reading of the Bill. We believe that if suitable Amendments are accepted in Committee it is possible to make the Measure into an Act which will render real assistance to the film industry.
One of the greatest difficulties with which we have to deal is the American renter, an enormously powerful vested interest, one of the most powerful in the world, almost as powerful in its different way as the armaments industry. It is an industry which is not moved by any idealism or imaginative conceptions, but is hard, commercial, unimaginative in outlook, simply seeking profit and trying to make the last penny out of every situation that may arise either in its own country or in any other country. That is what we are faced with. That vested interest is an exceedingly powerful one and may be in a position—we might as well face it—to introduce something like a boycott of British films if it cares to do so. That is a danger that may face us in the future, and it would have to be dealt with very drastically if it arose. It actually happened in France on one occasion. When the Government were thinking of introducing certain legislation which the American renters did not like, they closed the cinemas. As a result of the public outcry the French Govern- 1198 ment were obliged to drop the particular measures they had in mind. That shows how powerful the American renters' vested interest is. Under this Bill in its present form it may be in the power of American interests to kill the cinema production industry in Great Britain. Certainly, that interest is much too powerful to be left in its present condition. I appreciate the statement that the Americans are at the present time suggesting that they are going to do a great deal over here and that they are making arrangements to produce in this country. I wonder how long that will last after the Act is on the Statute Book. I shall be very much surprised if it lasts any very great length of time.
The quota ought to be higher than it is in the Bill. It ought to be higher if we intend to keep going both the American production industry and the British production industry in this country. This is not the first time that I have intervened in discussion on a Films Bill. I was rash enough in 1930 to introduce a little Bill to amend the Act then on the Statute Book, and if that Measure had passed into law the quota by 1934 would have risen to 50 per cent. If we had acted at that time with firmness on those lines and we had realised the position of Great Britain as a magnificent centre for a multi-lingual production, we might have forced the Americans to come over here and set up a very powerful film production industry in this country. I realise that the situation has changed since then and that such a proposal is not possible at the present time.
There is a great deal to be said for the argument that films for the renters' quota should not be made available for the exhibitors' quota. Many people think that would be a greater contribution towards the solution of this problem than action upon the lines of the Bill. I agree as to the importance of securing a market for British films in the United States. The Government have introduced a proposal with that object in view. No one knows how it is going to work out, and that is one of the reasons why when there is any doubt you must have some machinery for dealing with those doubts as they arise from time to time. I should have thought that the cost of £I5,000 was too low, although there may be different opinions about that. Certainly, there 1199 ought to be somebody to watch the position from time to time and increase the amount if necessary.
The President of the Board of Trade in dealing with question of tests referred to the quota test and said that he could find nothing in the Moyne Report that dealt with the quesion of uncertainty. I would call attention to page 21, paragraph 58, of the report which says:The application on the other hand of a quality test alone, based directly on a viewing of a film, to films for which registration for renters' quota is desired is, in our view, quite practicable. The quality test we have in mind has nothing to do with censorship as now conducted. It would be concerned normally only with the entertainment value and general merits of a film. There would be no question of a necessity to decide, as professional film critics may do, into which particular grade of quality each film fell, provided it complied with the minimum standard laid down by those responsible for the viewing of the films. If it is possible for problems relating to censorship of moral values of a film to be solved satisfactorily, there would seem to be nothing impracticable in arriving at a decision likely to command wide agreement on the much less controversial aspect of general quality.I maintain that in those words the Moyne Committee dealt with the question of uncertainty. They say that uncertainty does not arise in the case of censorship, and that there is less reason to think it is any more likely to arise under the test that they propose. I agree that there is uncertainty, and you want to watch what is going on and experiment to see whether it can be worked or not. I think it is doubtful whether the plan for blind and block bookings is going to be successful. It is perfectly easy for renters quite honestly to sign a declaration with regard to these two points, and yet for evasion to take place. It is easy to say that there is no written undertaking, but the exhibitor knows perfectly well that unless he does what is required of him he will not get certain films which he wants. That is another point which requires to be carefully studied.
Nothing has been said about the question of production in the Dominions. I think the time has come to include in this Measure a provision that there must be reciprocity, and that we can only allow Dominion films to compete here for quota purposes if the Dominions give us the same rights in their territories. They have not done so, and it is an unfair and 1200 unreasonable handicap that is placed upon us. A lot of very bad films, from our point of view, are produced in India and Australia. No doubt there are many good ones, but there is no reason why they should come over here on these very preferential terms. Something has been said about the question of shorts. They have been exceedingly good and a most valuable contribution to British prestige in the matter of films. They should be encouraged. I think the quota suggested is too low. You require to study the situation almost from month to month. There ought to be a quota just as in the case of the long films, and, if possible, a test worked out which should apply to short as well as to long films. I think a quality test should apply to American films brought into this country. I have seen from time to time a tremendous lot of American rubbish produced in the United States brought over here in the form of seconds. The quota for shorts works out so that in an average programme a short will get 20 seconds in 100 minutes, which shows how perfectly futile it is from the point of view of giving real encouragement to shorts.
Something has been said about the Advisory Committee, but I do not think we are going to make any progress by continuing to work through that Committee. It has no real powers; it meets only when the Board of Trade summons it, and its meetings are in secret. It has on it several distinguished representatives of the general public and other trade representatives who do not seem to represent what they are intended to represent. There are two gentlemen who are supposed to represent the producers. One is a renter and the other a renter and exhibitor, who on several occasions has been fined for not carrying out his obligations under the Act. I cannot help wondering whether that is a suitable kind of person to sit on the Advisory Committee.
I come back every time to the real point, and that is that with all the uncertainties of the situation, and all these obligations, Parliament cannot here and now place in an Act of Parliament detailed provisions which will be needed to deal with a continually changing situation and, therefore, I think it is desirable to introduce into the Bill a film commission as recommended by the Moyne Committee. I notice that in their White 1201 Paper the Government say that the trade does not want it, they do not agree with it and, therefore, the Government are not going to propose it. I should have thought that that was one of the best reasons for bringing it in. We want to get some order in the industry. However, that point has gone because, under the threatening situation which is developing from America, they now all agree that they want it. On page 10 the Government say:It does not appear however that the Departmental Committee contemplated that the Commission should he armed with compulsory powers or that it could proceed except on the lines of persuasion.I cannot accept that opinion at all; it is not borne out by the report itself. On page 36 the Moyne Committee say:The Commission should, in addition to exercising its normal administrative and acting as a tribunal to give impartial judgments on matters dividing the film industry, have powers of initiative and control.Surely those words clearly indicate that it is not going to have purely persuasive powers. Initiative and control mean compulsion of some kind, and I believe that is what the Moyne Committee have in mind in making their recommendation. It is nothing new to set up a commission in this country; it is part of our general technique. I do not think the Ecclesiastical Commission is a good example, because it seems to me that the last thing in which they take any interest is anything ecclesiastical. They could be better described as a Property Owners' Commission. But there is the Forestry Commission, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Electricity Commissioners—all cases where Parliament in its wisdom has handed over statutory powers and authority to make decisions to these boards acting on their behalf. I believe you want something of that kind. No doubt it can be worked out according to the particular needs of the situation, and exactly where you are going to draw the Line as to giving them the right to act alone or with the authority of the Minister or Parliament. But I think they ought to have powers to be able to watch carefully the cost, the quality test and the booking arrangements and quotas, and if they found that a rapid change was required, they would have authority 10 make it. They would be entirely independent, having nothing to consider but 1202 the national interest, and, as they would be devoting the whole of their time to it, they would be in a powerful position to give a wise decision.
The sort of thing they might have to do is this. Suppose the American renters were to create a situation in which they had a real stranglehold over the cinemas of this country and went in for something like a boycott. A situation might arise in which the film commission would have to take over itself the work of the renters and be themselves the distributors of all films in the country. That is a situation which might well happen in certain eventualities. I do not for a moment suggest they will be an appropriate body to carry out the production of films, but as distributors we do not want to put that future possibility out of account, although we may not want to introduce it at the present stage. I think they should have some control over the conditions of the workers in the industry to see that they are fairly and reasonably treated as regards both wages and hours. In conclusion, I hope that when the Bill gets to Committee the right hon. Gentleman, after listening to all the arguments, as I am sure he will, will decide to go boldly forward in setting up a film commission. It is not a new conception that the responsibilities of the Government should extend to the use of leisure by the masses. I am going to call to my aid the powerful voice of John Milton, who used these words:What a benefit this would be to our youth and gentry, may soon be guessed from what we know of the corruption and bane which they suck in daily from the writings and interludes of libidinous and ignorant poetasters who do for the most part lay up vicious principles in sweet pills to be swallowed down. The spirit of man can not demean itself lively in this body without some recreating intermission of labour and serious things. It were happy for the Commonwealth if our magistrates, as in those famous governments of old, would take into their care the managing of our publick sports and festival pastimes, bettering the nation at all opportunities. Whether this may not be not only in pulpits, but in the theatre, or what other place or way may win most upon the people to receive both recreation and instruction let those in authority consult.I hope that these words, echoeing down the centuries from the past, will be taken into consideration by the Government and that we shall through the institution of a film commission place ourselves, as in 1203 so many other matters, in the position of leadership in the world.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir Adrain Baillie
I do not propose to continue this Debate in the poetic spirit in which the last speaker terminated his remarks, but with a great number of the points which he made I find myself disposed to agree, and I shall touch upon those later. There is one thing which has struck me during this Debate. This Bill has not been hailed by anybody upon any side with unqualified applause. I appreciated the fact that the President of the Board of Trade in his opening remarks pointed out the inescapable economic difficulties under which the British industry has had its being and the immense advantages which reside in Hollywood. I also appreciated the sentiments in his peroration when he indicated that this Bill was intended to help the British producer to produce British pictures for the British market. I am grateful for this opportunity of intervening in the Debate because I have had a somewhat varied connection with the British film industry for many years past—in fact ever since the time when we turned over from silent films to sound films. But I would like to make it clear that I am not prejudiced in the matter because at the present time I am not interested in production or renting or exhibition.
There was a time when I was rash enough to finance production, and I lost my cash. I have on several occasions since been asked to finance productions, and I have turned down the propositions. There was one occasion not long ago when I went so far as to help to form a production company. I became its chairman, but my courage failed me before we got into production, and I put on my running shorts and saved my skin. Picture production has a certain allure. It is an enthralling study, and who knows that I may not be tempted once again to burn my fingers? But I will say this, that nothing would induce me to support the British film production industry to-day unless this Bill is fundamentally amended so that it will do what the President of the Board of Trade wants it to do, so that it gives a real protection to the British film producer and not merely an illusory protection. That view is obviously borne out by exhibitors and by 1204 the City of London. In a recent issue by Odeon Theatres which has an authorised capital of £6,000,000, one of the inducements which they thought fit to put into their prospectus for the public to subscribe, was the statement in big type that the company had given an undertaking that it would not in any shape or form, or in any circumstances, directly or indirectly, indulge in the production of British films. That was a very big issue and the fact which I have mentioned only goes to show that the future of the British film industry is not regarded with that confidence which we would like to see as a result of this Bill.
With the greatest possible respect for and the greatest sympathy with those who have had to draw up this Bill, one must remember the problems which were put before them. I was riot quite clear until I came to the House to-day what the main objective of the Bill was to be. Was it to provide a real measure of protection for the British film production industry, or was it also to be an encouragement to the British film producer to do a little better and to get into the American market? Was it to be an inducement to Hollywood to come to town—to London Town—and for the big Hollywood producers to have subsidiary companies over here, or was it merely intended to he a protection to the exhibitor and a protection to the public against the evil of the "quota quickie"? Any and all of those objects are laudable, but I was anxious to know which was considered by the President of the Board of Trade to be paramount.
I take it that the provision of a real measure of protection for the British industry or as least how to give that measure of protection to that part of the industry without unduly jeopardising the interests of the other parts of the industry, is a problem which has baffled solution. In deciding what legislation should succeed the expiring law of 1927 I can see that the President of the Board of Trade and the Moyne Committee before him must have had a bewildering time if they wanted to be guided by the representations placed before them by the various interests concerned. The point has been made before as to the divergence between the producer, the renter and the exhibitor and as between the various interests of various producers, and I think that very lack of unity and cohesion among producers has been the greatest difficulty 1205 of the Board of Trade. If we take the producers and the renters as representing one end of the dog, and, with all respect to them, the exhibitors as representing the other end of the dog, I cannot help feeling that in this matter the tail has wagged the dog, because in this Bill—the prime object of which is supposed to be to assist the producer—the quota has not been raised, but has been reduced.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the
Board fo Trade (Captain Euan Wallace): May I correct my hon. Friend on one point? I think my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said that the object of the Bill was to assist the industry as a whole—producers, renters and exhibitors.
§ Sir A. Baillie
I am sorry about that. I thought I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that while the interests of the industry as a whole must be considered, the problem was to afford protection to the producer. Possibly the exhibitor has been more vocal than the others, but, in fact, the quota has been reduced, and not increased.
§ Sir A. Baillie
It is perfectly plain, as I shall show. The exhibitor is represented by the Cinema Exhibitors Association, a very powerful and wealthy association to which the majority of cinema owners belong. We know that they have said that they do not want excessively high quotas. I quite agree that there should not be excessively high quotas, but I can see no reason for a reduction. We know that in 1927 exhibitors protested vehemently against any quota at all and that a petition signed by hundreds of cinema owners was presented to Parliament. Therefore, it seems that possibly they had the better of the argument. When the White Paper was published just before the Recess, foreshadowing the proposals of the Bill, I, and no doubt other hon. Members, received communications from independent cinema owners expressing great anxiety and disquietude. Their chief fear seems to be that—as a result of the proposals in Clause 26 of the Bill which deals with cost tests for qualification— 1206 the amount of pictures available for them will be reduced. I believe that that may be the case.
I may mention in passing that in the past I have been a good friend to the exhibitors. I have been given far more credit and gratitude, in Scotland at all events, than I really deserved for my advocacy of the abolition of the Entertainments Duty on the cheaper seats. I do not wish to take up a stronger line, but I am not satisfied that the anxiety of the independent exhibitors is fully justified, at least as against the claims of the producer. Reference has been made to the quality test. I do not know that I have any responsibility for it, but I find that on 22nd March, 1934, I asked the President of the Board of Trade to consider amending the Films Act in regard to the quality of films eligible for quota and I suggested to him that the test should be on a cost basis. I have not the slightest reason to believe that cost has anything to do with quality, but at least it seemed the only possible way of putting a stop to the evil of the quota quickie." I am still of that opinion, but the quality test has been advocated by many speakers. There is one practical reason why I do not believe it can be put into effect. How can you induce any producer, with the dice already loaded against him, to undertake the risk of completing a picture, perhaps at a partial loss, and to add to that risk the risk that when the picture is completed it may be turned down by some committee and become a total loss? I think if you introduced a quality test, the independent exhibitor would have much more reason to be afraid of a lack of sufficient films to meet his demand.
Whatever else resulted from the 1927 quota, at least it helped to establish a British film production industry, though undoubtedly the advent of the talkies was a great adjunct. Nevertheless, looking at it to-day no one can say that the Act has established a flourishing industry. I do not see people tumbling over each other to invest their money in the business and I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend's suggestion that the very fact that some sort of industry has been established and is still in existence is a proof that the 1927 Act was on sound lines. I maintain that it was not on sound lines and that if Amendments could be introduced in this Bill to 1207 correct the errors of the 1927 Act, we might look forward to a prosperous British film industry. Until this morning I did not feel that I had anything constructive to suggest to the President of the Board of Trade in the way of doing what we all want to do, and that is, create a real measure of protection for the industry. But I received by this morning's post a copy of a paper prepared by a producer containing a solution on novel lines, and I understand that the producing group of the Federation of British Industries are now unanimous in forwarding this solution to the right hon. Gentleman in the hope that he will give it his favourable consideration. He referred to this at the end of his speech, but did not indicate what the solution was. Perhaps I should clarify matters by quoting the solution and the suggested Amendment. It is as follows:
My solution is that the exhibitors quota must be regarded as a small sheltered market for the British producer and the renters quota must be regarded solely as a form of tax upon imported films. Films made for renters quota must not be allowed to swallow up the small sheltered market created by the exhibitors quota and this can be achieved by the following Amendment:That no one film shall he available for both renters and exhibitors quotas and to that end a renter must state at the time of registering a film whether he is renting for renters or exhibitors quota.That seems to be a simple solution, but in simplicity there may be some snag, in which case I am sure that in the course of time we shall be told by my right hon. Friend what that snag is. I do not think that the Bill as at present drafted is going to be of sufficient encouragement to improve the British film production industry. I know that that is the prime objective of the President, and I certainly wish that the solution contained in this pamphlet which has been forwarded to the right hon. Gentleman may be acceptable, because in that way confidence would be restored to the industry and our common objective achieved.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Major Milner
There is one very satisfactory feature of this Debate, and that is that on all hands it is recognised that some measure is required in order to deal with the present situation in the British film industry. A second satisfactory feature is that in principle the Bill which the President of the Board of Trade has 1208 introduced has been very largely accepted, and I have little doubt that in Committee it will be possible to hammer out a solution of some of the difficulties which have been raised on both sides of the House. I am sure that the suggestion which the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Sir A. Baillie) has made will also receive consideration, though it is difficult at short notice to express an opinion on its efficacy, and I notice that, with that exception, the hon. Member had no constructive suggestion to make for improving the Bill.
A good deal has been said as to the background of the industry, but even yet I doubt whether the real position has quite been appreciated—for example, the real position in which American interests in this country find themselves—and I say this in no spirit of hostility to American interests, but as a plain statement of fact. To-day they command 8o per cent. of the British market, and I suppose it would be true to say that four men sitting in New York, or Hollywood, or anywhere else on the American continent could, by raising the renters' rate by, say, 5 per cent. in this country put the whole of the cinemas in this country out of business. If that be the case, it is surely an extremely serious situation, particularly when one remembers that those same American interests have control of a very large section of our production here, that they have very considerable and increasing interests in the cinemas in this country, and that, in my judgment, a very close watch indeed will have to be kept if the British film industry, such as it is, is not to come still more under the control of American interests.
Then, as has been said, there are substantial combines in this country linked together and co-operating in various directions, and outside, most neglected of all, as I gather agrees the last speaker, are the independent exhibitors, who have been gradually frozen out by the big combines and who are unable to obtain good films, though bearing the heat and burden of the day in all parts of the country. Then there are British producers, of whom something has been said, hampered sometimes by prejudice, very frequently by lack of finance and by difficulties in obtaining an output for turns on remunerative terms, and in other ways. There are two other sections which ought to be considered, namely, those employed in the industry, on whom this Bill is bound to 1209 have a great effect, either for good or for ill, and, last but not least, the great British public; without whose patronage the industry could not carry on at all. They have been brought up largely on a diet of American films, but they are only too willing and anxious, I believe, to pay to see good British films, and they are unable to understand why good British films are not forthcoming in greater numbers.
It seems to be agreed on all hands that the principle of the quota holds the field, and it is the central feature of this Bill, but I question whether that principle alone, as set out in the Bill, with its various possibilities, will really give, not only feet on which the industry can stand, but the strength, stability, and flexibility to enable it to expand and to develop. I am bound to say, with every desire to be helpful to the President in what admittedly has been a difficult task, the Bill in its present form is not completely satisfactory. It is for all of us, I think, to criticise it, when we do criticise it, constructively, and, from what the President said to-day, there seems to be some hope that appropriate suggestions may receive favourable consideration. I am a little sorry that more note has not been taken of the recommendations of the Moyne Committee. I can never quite understand why, when a Government or a Government Department appoint a Committee or a Commission—and I have sat on a number of them myself—of eminent and impartial gentlemen, some of them Members of this House, who devote a good deal of time and hear evidence from every side, it comes about that quite frequently the recommendations of such a body are not accepted by that Government.
A good deal has been said to-day about the Moyne Committee's recommendation of a Films Commission, and I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman to-clay that, having regard to the representations which have been made to him as to the amount of unity in the industry on this matter, he has a fairly open mind at any rate on that point. I think the House should insist on something being done in that direction. In the first place, the administration of matters relating to the film industry by the Board of Trade must of necessity be a side-line. The Board of Trade have a great many worldwide interests, many of which have been 1210 within the purview of the Board for a great many years, and while I make no reflection in any way on the past administration of the Act, I think the industry is such that it ought now to be divorced to some extent from the administration of the Board of Trade.
The Bill again introduces the existing principle of an Advisory Committee, and I say very frankly, in the presence of its distinguished chairman—and I make no reflection, I need hardly say, on the members of the Advisory Committee—that that Committee to-day is an absolute farce. It has no power, it cannot even call itself together, it only meets when required by the Board of Trade, it has no publicity, it sits in secret, it cannot initiate anything, it cannot take a broad survey of any kind or help the industry in any constructive way, and it has only met about a dozen times in the last three years. I think one ought to endeavour to be precise on this subject, because I am not at all clear that the proposed commission, or council, or whatever one might call it should be removed altogether from the cognisance of Parliament, as, for example, the British Broadcasting Corporation has been removed. I think the precise powers and duties of such a commission must be very carefully considered in relation to Parliament.
Surely what is wanted is a body which will overlook and supervise, if that is not too strong a word, or have a general supervision of the industry, with full powers and appropriate facilities to watch the various tendencies, particularly the possibility of the industry coming under foreign control, to make inquiries and researches, to co-operate with and endeavour to co-ordinate the different branches of the industry, to keep appropriate statistics, to consider what can be done to encourage the greater popularity, hence the greater consumption, of British films, to try and stimulate reciprocal arrangements throughout the world, to keep an eye, as my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) suggested, on conditions of labour—to do all those things and to make from time to time, whenever it desires to make them, reports and recommendations perhaps to the President of the Board of Trade, those reports and recommendations to be published. I think that is very necessary and desirable. Such a 1211 body, an independent body or, it may be, having some association with the industry, having advisory members of the industry attached to it or something of that sort, seems to be essential if we are to take the long view that ought to be taken of this great industry. Having regard to what the President said as to all sections being substantially agreed on the necessity of such a body, there ought to be no difficulty in providing it, and I think I may say, in the presence of my hon. Friend who opened the Debate from this side, that we on this side regard it as vital in the public interest that some provision in the nature of a Commission, with powers which would have to be very carefully considered, I agree, should be made at some stage if this Bill is to have our whole-hearted support.
That brings me to another omission, to which my hon. Friend has also referred, namely, the omission of any provision, notwithstanding what the President said, for a quality test based on viewing. The White Paper uses the term "viewing" specifically. It says:His Majesty's Government will therefore propose that for the purposes of the long-film quota the two tests "—That is, the cost test and the viewing test—shall be combined.But in the Bill the word "viewing" does not appear at all. What does appear in this connection is in Clause 26, where in certain circumstances the question of qualification, registration and so on may come before the advisory committee. It states:
The Board of Trade may exempt any particular film from the operation of this subsection if, after consulting the advisory committee, the Board are of opinion that the film has special value for purposes of entertainment.That does not impose any obligation such as ought to be imposed on the Advisory Committee supposing it continues as at present or on any other body to view the film. I addressed an interjection to the hon. Member for East Dorset (Mr. Hall-Caine) who admitted that in the 10 or more years that he has been a Member of the Advisory Committee he has not in that capacity viewed any single film for purposes of any test of any kind.
§ Major Milner
That may be, but I am not altogether sure about that, because I understand that for purposes of registration, and so on, it has been one of the duties of the Advisory Committee to judge films.
§ Major Milner
To judge applications for the registrations of films. What has been done has been this: A number of pages, a sort of synopsis, of the films, has been sent to the Committee in something like this form:10 feet man meets girl, bumps into girl going into the hotel; 15 feet, man introduces himself to girl and proceeds to the reception office; 20 feet man enters particulars in the reception hook while foreign spy tips him off to the manager, or whoever it may be.I suggest that is really the most absurd and ludicrous sort of way of judging a film that could possibly be.
§ Sir A. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman shows that a special exhibition value can be demonstrated adequately by his own description.
§ Major Milner
I am not at all sure about that. I am not sure what films the Committee judged or what was the result of their judgment. If the hon. Gentlemen will give particulars I will form an opinion. At any rate, I do submit that such a test really is not good enough in these days. How in the world can Members of a committee, in some cases not even meeting together, judge the atmosphere, the artistry, the quality, the suitability or any of the factors by the mere reading of the synopsis? Direct viewing of a film, in my submission, is the only way. There is no real difficulty about it; it is done by the viewers of the Cinematographers Exhibitors Association every day. It is done by the viewers for the benefit of the various papers in the cinema trade. There is no more difficulty, in my submission, in forming an opinion as to quality than the censor can have in forming an opinion on questions of taste. The Moyne Committee says that there would seem to be nothing impracticable in arriving at a decision likely to command wide agreement on general quality.
Again, it is no answer to say that the fact that the film has to pass a quality test might lead to difficulties in obtaining finance. Of course there is that difficulty 1213 to-day. I shall have a word to say about it in a moment. If the standard is fixed reasonably low, as it is sure to be in the first instance; if the commission, as they are sure to do, understand and have some appreciation of the difficulties of the industry, there can be no difficulty in ensuring in 99 cases out of every 100 that the film will pass the quality test. I hope the President will accept the principle of it even if the principle of viewing only has to be brought into operation perhaps on the representation of some interested body in the trade. If it is thought too big a job to have a view test of every film, let the ordinary trade show be held and within a few days let certain bodies in the trade or other persons have the right to require a quality or a viewing test.
That might be a compromise which might meet the situation, but something ought to be done in that direction. A cost test is an impossible check. The President said something about the uncertainties of the results, but there will also be uncertainty in deciding what the cost of such a film is. Such a test would lead to extravagance, provide no safeguard against inefficiency, and no flexibility, particularly having regard to the coming of colour films. I think the commission or the President of the Board of Trade must be in a position to vary that cost test very considerably at very short notice if necessity requires. I am also afraid that if the cost test is insisted on, it will put the smaller producer, who in many instances has done good work, out of business, and it will certainly run the risk of ruining many small exhibitors because of their inability for some time to obtain films. I am quite sure, having regard to the reduced quota and other factors and difficulties, that for a year or two, fewer films will be made in this country.
This Bill, of course, provides no guarantee whatever that any single film is made in this country or that any extra man is employed in this country. Films may be made by British subjects anywhere within the British Empire and are eligible for quota in this country. We have been told by my hon. Friend that there is a possibility of Americans making films in Canada. The Moyne Committee did make certain recommendations in regard to reciprocal treatment in regard to films made in our Dominions. At 1214 present in Australia, for example, there are quota laws whereby British films do not count for quota, but Australian films do count here for quota without the necessity of a single foot being made in this country. I have every regard to continued good relations in every sense of the word between ourselves and the Dominions and Colonies, but I submit there is no real objection by the Dominions to such a provision, especially bearing in mind the fact that the origin of the Bill was very largely a meeting of the Imperial Conference in 1926. It has been necessary within the last week in the matter of broadcasting to make arrangement whereby broadcasting facilities might be made more general throughout the Empire. I should like to see the same sort of thing done in regard to films.
Then, little or nothing has been done to help the independent exhibitors, who still form the greater portion, and are still the backbone of this industry. There was one small recommendation of the Moyne Committee that I am sorry to say the President of the Board of Trade has not adopted, and that was that it should be an offence for a renter to make it a condition of booking one film that an exhibitor should take other films which very possibly neither the exhibitor nor his patrons wanted. I hope such a provision may be inserted in the Bill. It would help to deliver the independent exhibitor from the hands of the renters. It would give him and the public a wider choice, and generally be a very useful provision.
Then the Moyne Committee made certain recommendations as to finance. Hitherto in some cases very considerable finance has been provided. But it has gone into the wrong hands. It has been expended, as we all know, in some cases, extravagantly and unwisely. I have never been able to understand why it is that the Trade Facilities Act cannot be taken advantage of in this connection. Cannot its facilities be made available in some way for British producers in particular? If that is not possible, the commission which has been suggested may be able to devise some scheme whereby they can help the industry in that connection. The British film industry has in the past carried out, in my submission, in toto, both the letter and the spirit of the Act of 1927, and I think is really entitled to a better deal than this Bill in its present 1215 form provides. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will find himself able to do more than appears to be his present intention. I hope he will take a long and a broad view, and deal with the whole matter in a much more comprehensive and all-embracing way than appears to be the case with the present Bill. If he does that, I promise him he will find substantial support in every quarter of the House in any step he thinks fit to take.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Sir Ernest Graham-Little
I propose to confine my remarks to the educational aspect of the Bill. On the very first page of the Moyne Committee's Report the statement is made that the cinematograph film isundoubtedly a most important factor in the education of all classes of the community, in the spread of national culture and in presenting national ideas and customs to the world. Its potentialities, moreover, in shaping the ideas of the very large numbers to whom it appeals are almost unlimited. The propaganda value of the film cannot be over-emphasised. It is rivalled only by that of Broadcasting and of the Press.Now, those are very brave words, but one sees very little implementing of that. I would, therefore, direct my remarks principally to the subject of the educational film, which naturally must fall into the category of the short film. One sees very widespread fears that the effects of this Bill will be to restrict, in effect, the output of that kind of film. In the "Times" of 2nd November, the report of the British Film Institute states that inquiry indicates a growing demand for films for teaching music, languages and history, and that the supply is negligible. I think it is quite a serious omission that the Board of Education seems to have taken no interest or share in the proposals of this Bill. If the educational value of the cinema is so great—and no one can dispute that statement—it is surely remiss that the great educational authority in this country should not interest itself at all in the way these films are being made. This Bill is going to continue for something like 10 years. If this kind of thing is going on for 10 years what prospect is there of our making any advance in that exceedingly important branch of the industry, in many respects probably the most important branch from the point of view of propaganda, prestige and popularity in our own markets, in the 1216 Empire overseas and in foreign countries? It is a significant fact that tribute has been paid to the value of the historical film by a large section of foreign international opinion. I am inclined to think that much more might be done in this connection and I will give a few instances.
This summer I happened to see in the city of Worcester an old house, still inhabited, still in perfect preservation, which was the house from which Charles II escaped after his defeat at Worcester. The window from which he dropped into a hay wagon which was awaiting him below is still there. Surely that romantic incident might very well be portrayed, using the actual premises at which the incident happened. Far more extensive use might be made of the opportunities which exist for making such films. As an instance of a scientific film, I saw a few weeks ago a film presented by the Secretary of the Zoological Society depicting items of food which are nutritious and those which are not. In the five minutes which that picture occupied the housewife would enjoy a presentation of the kinds of food which are worth buying and the kind which are not which would, I am sure, make a far more effective impression on her mind than any written word. It was a very practical aid to the housewife. As an example of a much more scientific subject depicted by a film, a member of the staff of St. Bartholomew's Hospital was able to produce a film to demonstrate the actual progress of inflammation which was of very great advantage in assisting the understanding of a very intricate and obscure process.
Instances of this kind might be multiplied indefinitely, yet as far as I can see there is no provision in this Bill for promoting the activities of this great industry in that direction. Further, I feel that films depicting country life in this country could be made which would be exceedingly popular in the Dominions, and I suppose that, on the other hand, films of life in the Dominions would be exceedingly popular here. There is a feeble attempt to give some idea of life in the Dominions in the little cinema which is attached to the Imperial Institute, but scarcely anybody knows of the exhibitions given there. I happen to pass it when going to the University of London, and very often drop into that cinema, where I see about five other people present. No attempt has been made to popularise the 1217 films shown there, and I think it should be. Further, every effort should be made to produce films for presentation in schools. Has any provision been made for extending the number of film projectors in schools? We all know how popular the talks for schools presented over the wireless by the British Broadcasting Corporation have proved to be. It has rather surprised the British Broadcasting Corporation themselves to find how popular talks about the countryside and about the history of villages are, and surely they have an educational value. The exhibition of short films ought not to be made more difficult but less difficult, and although I am a film fan and like long films I think a great deal too much attention has been directed in this Bill to a side of the industry which is far less important than the educational side. The time has come when we should recognise that we are not taking proper and sensible advantage of a great opportunity to extend the use of the cinema in a direction which must be a valuable aid to the training of the children of this country.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I fully agree with the view expressed by the hon. Member for the University of London (Sir E. Graham-Little) that there is a very great field, which has not yet been fully explored, for the production of educational and historical films, and I agree also with his conclusion that if that is to be done to a greater extent than hitherto the quota for short films ought to be made higher than is proposed. If we had to choose which historical scenes were to be included in a list of films of short duration I expect the hon. Member and I would differ over what we should like to see depicted, but otherwise I agree with his remarks. The Bill deals with the quota position, but I very much regret that it does not deal with one difficulty facing the industry, and that is the rottenness of its financial foundations. The film industry has recently been the scene of a financial debauch which has not redounded to the credit of the City of London, and has done very considerable damage to the industry. The result is that it is suffering to-day from the aftermath of that debauch and that it is extremely difficult for a producing company, unless it be very fortunate, to get the money to produce good films, even though it has on its staff first-class producers and first-class technicians. 1218 I believe that until that unsoundness is cleared out, whatever quota provisions may be introduced, we shall never get a healthy British film industry.
The Moyne Committee devote several paragraphs of their report to that point. They suggest that some institution should be set up which should be able to finance good, honest producing companies which are able to produce good films. There is an obvious reason why the Government have not accepted that proposal, and that is that the Moyne Committee suggest that that organisation should be under proper control, which means, of course Governmental control and a considerable amount of Governmental interference. We know perfectly well that hon. Members opposite believe in as little interference in, and as little control of, private enterprise as possible, and consequently—I assume that to be the reason—the Government have not adopted that most important suggestion. It would be possible, if some such step were taken, to put the British film industry on healthy financial foundations, but unless that step is taken I am afraid the future of the industry, whatever quota proposals may be put forward, will not be very bright.
One of the unfortunate things about recent events in the film industry is that in the chaos which has resulted from this financial instability and financial debauch the artistic and technical merits of film production have had but little chance against the incompetence and often dishonesty of the large financial interests. Last year no less than £24,000,000 were raised, used or borrowed for the financing of British films. There are no statistics to show how much of that money has been lost, but I feel confident that if they were available it would be found that the greater part of it has just been thrown away. During the last 10 years 640 producing companies have been registered in this country, but only 3 per cent. are in production now, and some of those producing companies have never produced a film. Not only was a great deal of money lost by banks and insurance companies, but many honest investors lost their savings in the scramble for large profits which were held out to them, and many employés lost their jobs. It is perhaps understandable that a new industry which holds out the prospects of sudden and very quick 1219 profits, such as can be gained by a producing company if it happens to be very successful, should attract to it some of the worst financial interests in the country; and that that has been the case there can be no doubt. It is because I am desirous of seeing a sound and prosperous film industry that I am anxious that all those unsound financial interests should be cleared out as quickly as possible.
At the other end of the scale there is a group of interests who have also fared very unfortunately, namely, the employés in the industry. The Minister told us that we must have regard to every section of the industry, that it would be quite impossible to get a healthy whole unless every section were in a healthy condition; and that the object of the Bill was to benefit every section. I do not think hon. Members or the public realise the unhealthy conditions, literally as well as metaphorically, in which those engaged in the industry are forced to work. It is true that there are few persons engaged in this industry in comparison with the amount of capital employed, but those few are forced to work under conditions which few Members of this House would tolerate. Of course I am not referring to exceptional cases where there are good conditions, but to the working conditions of these people as a whole. I am assured that it is not at all uncommon for technicians in the film-producing section of the industry, whether on the sets or in the developing rooms, to have to work 13 to 16 hours a day, and they get paid no overtime under any conditions. It may be said that they are paid large salaries, but in point of fact they do not get paid any larger salaries than the ordinary comparatively unskilled worker.
It may be said that they have to work very long hours for only a short period while a film is being made and that afterwards they can get a rest until the next picture. That is not so, because the normal practice is that when a picture is finished these men are dismissed and re-engaged only when the next picture comes along, when they are again made to work these appalling hours. Very much of the work is done in bad physical conditions. The developing and printing rooms are hot and steamy, and very long hours have to be spent in those rooms. There was a case a little 1220 time ago of an electrician working on the lights above a particular set, and in the middle of the process of photographing the man fell asleep and fell into the set. It was discovered on inquiry that he was working night and day. He did not want to do it, but he was made to do it. He was working for one producer in the day time and for another at night, and he was engaged by the studio in which he was working on that basis. That is an intolerable state of affairs, although I am not suggesting that it is usual. It has been improved in some respects for electricians during the past two years, but it is still very bad. The organisation representing the technicians is not able to make any agreement in respect of hours or other questions with their employers. In fact, the Association of Cinema Technicians have not been able to make an agreement concerning hours with one single producer in the country, and they have agreements covering certain other matters with only about one-twelfth of the producing interests.
If this House is to protect this industry—and there seems general agreement, and I, certainly, agree that some protection is desirable—it would be intolerable if we did not pay some regard to the people working in the industry. I suggest, and I think the suggestion has been put by other speakers before me, that the least we should do would be to insist that every producer, if he wants to get his picture accepted as a quota picture, must be prepared to have the same fair wages clause inserted in his agreements with his employés as is inserted by the Government in all their dealings with contractors. That is not only important for the benefit of the men but it is essential for a healthy film industry. Just as it is impossible to get a healthy industry based on unsound finance, it is impossible to get a healthy industry if those engaged in it are continually filled with discontent against the conditions under which they are forced to mork. In that atmosphere of discontent, which today exists in most of the producing units, great co-operative work cannot be done, and co-operative work is necessary in order to produce really first-class films.
There are only one or two comments I would like to make about certain provisions of the Bill. I cannot understand the argument that while protection is desirable for this industry the quota is to 1221 be reduced to 10 per cent. In the three years to 1935 the actual quota of British films shown by the exhibitors was 25 per cent. Consequently, there is no reason, and. I have seen no valid argument advanced, why the industry cannot produce to-day, even with the new obligations put upon it, as least as many good British films as were produced during that period. It seems to me that what the Government are doing is to say, "We realise there has been a lot of cheating going on by renters and others producing 'quota quickies' for the purpose of evading the law. Now we are going to stiffen up the law, but, in order to give you some sort of sop so that you shall not cheat any more, we are going to allow you to produce less quota films than you produced and exhibited before." I cannot see the logic of that. All the evidence shows that it will be very easy for the producers to produce at least as many British films as they have done up to the present, but of better quality. Moreover, although the purpose of the Bill is not mainly to give employment to those engaged in the industry, we must bear that in mind. I am informed that under the present proposals, if the quota is not exceeded by the producing studios, it will not provide more that 10 weeks' work for every one permanently engaged in the industry to-d ay. Those engaged in the industry feel that it may, and probably will, lead to considerable unemployment.
It is proposed in the Bill that there shall) in future be a cost qualification coupled with a qualification of value. The cost qualification is £7,500 to be spent on labour. I feel convinced that in a year or two's time the Government will admit that this attempt to prevent the renters cheating is just as useless as their previous attempt to make them obey the law. This proposal is full of every conceivable loophole. Certain renters in the past have tried by spending £1,000 or less on a film to get round the law. They have been able to get round it very easily in this way, and I see no reason why we should get any better films under this provision than in the past. Let me give two simple examples of how this £7,500 can be evaded. It is obvious that a. director who wants to produce a cheap film but who must show costs amounting to £7,500 can put a relation on the set, call him a director, and show a salary of 1222 £2,000 or more which would enable the cost of the film to come up to the desired minimum.
Let me give another example. The cost of copyright is excluded from the sums which will be calculated in making up the £7,500. On the other hand, the fee paid to the scenario writer is to be allowed in the calculation of these sums. Take the common example of the author of a book who is paid, say, £2,000 or £3,000 for his story, and who is also paid a much smaller sum of a few hundred pounds for making a scenario of that story. At the moment it is proposed that the £3,000 would not count in the £7,500, but that only the few hundred pounds paid for the writing of the scenario would count. It would be just the same to the author if he were paid £300 for his book copyright and £3,000 for the writing of the scenario. I give that as an example of the easy way in which those who, we know, are attempting to evade the law, can evade the law under the proposal which the Government now put forward.
I agree with everything that has been said as to the usefulness of the short films and that the quota of short films should be higher than that proposed in the Bill. All the available evidence shows that the potential output of good short films is very high, and I cannot understand why the quota for this type of film is not placed as high—or as low—as that for long films. The best British films which have been shown, taking a general average throughout the industry, have up to now been these short films, and I believe that in future our reputation as a film-producing country will depend very largely on the amount and quality of the short films which we are able to show. The production of short films is the finest possible training ground for those engaged in the film industry, for directors, cameramen and technicians of all sorts, and if we are to build up a strong film industry it is essential that we should be training as many people as possible to do the big work which we hope will be done at a later period.
With regard to the Advisory Committee which it is proposed to set up, some Members have suggested that it would be better if it were in the form of a commission with some power of action rather than with merely powers of advice. Whichever it is. it is desirable that on 1223 that committee there should be represented the employés in the industry. The Bill does not provide for that. There are representatives of every section of the industry and a few independent nominees of the Board of Trade who shall have no financial interest in the industry. There is not a word about the representation of the employés. If we are to make the film industry a great co-operative effort which will be able to produce masterpieces of which we may well be proud, it is obviously desirable that there should be on such a committee that essential element in the production of a good film, the employés and technicians. It seems to me almost an insult that that essential element, the human element in the film-producing industry, should not be considered worthy of representation on the committee to advise the Minister.
The Bill proposes to deal with the film situation by an extenuation of the quota principle. That is one method of dealing with the difficulties that exist. It is not the only method, and I am convinced that unless some fundamental control is taken over the industry, and particularly of the finance of the industry, we shall not get a really healthy film industry in this country. For the last few years particularly, the bosses of the industry have for the most part been more interested in manipulating the finance of it than in producing good films. Under those conditions we cannot get good films, and we can never make this country one of the most important film producing countries of the world. There is no reason why we should not be able to do so. I believe that our technicians and actors are as good as those of any other country and that we have as good studio equipment. I believe that if these important changes are made in the industry and it is put on a sound financial basis, we shall be able to produce pictures of which the whole world would be proud and which would redound to the credit of British culture.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with practically every word said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and particularly with his dispassionate, accurate and well-informed analysis of the finance of the film industry. The first point to which I would address myself is the 1224 observation of the President of the Board of Trade that this Bill is primarily to help producers. The Moyne Committee did not approach it from that somewhat narrow standpoint. They had before them the concluding sentences of the President of the Board of Trade in 1927, who said on Second Reading of the present Act;On the success or failure of the British film industry much more depends than its own future. It inevitably involves great interests, national and imperial, and the anxiety which was exhibited at the Imperial Conference and the determination registered there to remedy an intolerable position are shared, I believe by the majority of British people throughout the whole Empire, that that determination must be translated into action." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1927; col. 2049, Vol. 203.]I think we shall all agree after 10 years that the high hopes that were raised by the Act of 1927 have not been realised. The problem, in my submission, whatever it was then, is no longer wholly or even mainly a question of production, but has a much wider connotation.
No one who has sat for six months on a Departmental Committee and examined some particular problem and finds the principal and unanimous recommendations of that Committee have been rejected by the Government, can fail to express a certain sense of disappointment. I am consoled by the fact that every one who has yet spoken has commended the observations and recommendations of the Moyne Committee and has expressed the desire that more of them should be written into the Bill. The wharves of of Westminster are piled high with reports and recommendations awaiting legislative action. I fear that this Bill when it goes to Committee will have a less favourable reception than hitherto on the Floor of the House. In view of the enormous responsibility of the Board of Trade, would it not have done well to place before Parliament on the lines recommended by the Moyne Committee an enabling Bill which would entrust a measure of responsibility for the control of this great film industry to independent persons on agreed lines?
I agree entirely with the observation of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) who opened the Debate on that subject. It is a method which has been very widely adopted by every Ministry, including the Board of Trade. 1225 The elasticity which is necessary in dealing with an industry of this kind makes it impossible in my submission to deal with it by Statute. It is not fair to the industry or to Parliament to ask us, sitting in Committee, divesting ourselves of "private prejudices and partial affections," to deal with this or that aspect of the industry, to urge the claims of one side or another as Members of Parliament. It is far better for that to be done by an independent body who can meet in private and discuss questions with the persons who are really concerned.
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, I was reminded, to my regret, that he was no longer President of the Board of Education. I reflected what a different speech he would have made if it had fallen to him last year to introduce this Bill. He would have said that films were, for good or evil—but by common consent, not so much for good as might be—one of the most important educational factors in this country. He would have told us that their influence was even greater than that of his Department or of the B.B.C. He might well have said that no Government could divest itself entirely of responsibility for the type of film that is shown to the people in this country, and that although he was far from wishing to adopt a policy such as is common in totalitarian States, viz., to control the film as strictly as they control broadcasting, he felt that the time had come to delegate a measure of responsibility to independent persons, as in the case of the B.B.C., who commanded public confidence and who would exercise sort e measure of control. I can imagine him saying that the cinema has to-day more weekly attendances than all the secondary and public and technical schools in England and Wales put together, some 18,000,000 per week, more than all the school attendances of boys and girls over the age of 15. He might have said that it was now recognised that some measure of control and of coordination was necessary in order to produce better films than we are getting now, and that it was not necessary to that end to force the industry into particular channels.
That is not a fanciful sketch of what he might have said, for in reading the report of his speech on the second reading 1226 of the Physical Training and Recreation Bill I find that he said;Who can doubt that … we shall see an era of shorter and shorter working hours and of more and more real leisure…. That leisure is going to be different not only in content but in quality from anything that the general masses of the people have experienced up till now …. What use are we going to make of leisure of that kind? We know what use the Greeks made of it. Over 2,000 years later we are still acting Greek plays and admiring Greek art and we still imitate Greek games."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1937; col. 205, Vol. 322.]He went on to suggest that the cinema to-day was far from meeting popular needs. Is he doing anything in this Bill as President of the Board of Trade to ensure that the masses are going to get something better from the cinema? Later in that speech the right hon. Gentleman said:I believe that on our ability to solve this problem of the use of leisure, more perhaps than on anything else, is going to depend the future of this country and of this civilisation."—[OFFICIAL REFORT, 7th April, 1937; cols. 206–7, Vol. 322.]What is he doing in this Bill to ensure that this nation will have places where men, women and children can develop their intelligence? The question simply does not arise, because there is no provision in the Bill for a British film commission which has been agreed almost universally by previous speakers to be desirable.
Although towards the end of his Second Reading speech this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman said that his mind was still open and that the question was not entirely closed, I confess that I do not see how a British film commission can be written into this Bill. I doubt whether it could be regarded as coming within the preamble, and almost certainly no film commission which would be at all in accordance with the recommendations of the Moyne Committee could be inserted without recasting the whole Bill. I attach immense importance to this because, great as has been our material progress in the last six years, it is more and more borne in upon me that on the cultural side we have been fighting a losing battle. The cinema might be one of the most powerful instruments to produce an upward movement on the cultural side, but to do that it will be necessary to create and confer responsibility on an ad hoc body. The industry is capitalised, I believe, at £100,000,000, and about £80,000,000 or 1227 £85,000,000, I imagine, is in cinema buildings and in the exhibitors' businesses. The exhibitors and the British film renters are now practically unanimous in supporting the views of the Moyne Committee.
§ Mr. Stanley
I received a deputation yesterday from all sections except those representing American renters, and they were unanimous in wanting some kind of body purely advisory in capacity, and not a body such as the hon. Member suggests.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Is it not the case that the representations made to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday were based on the assumption that the White Paper was the last word on the subject by the Government?
§ Sir A. Wilson
Then we are back in 1927 when the President of the Board of Trade said on the same occasion, "If all sections of the trade could have agreed upon a combined voluntary effort which would have been effective, there would have been no need for Government action," but he explained the attempt to obtain agreement failed in spite of the very genuine efforts made by a very large number of both exhibitors and renters. Eighty-five per cent. of the producers are foreign, American, and speaking as a Member of the Committee, I say it was a humiliating experience to hear them admitting that they had flouted and disregarded the provisions of an Act of Parliament, but that they were graciously willing, if a fresh Act were passed, to make an honest attempt to keep it; it was a humiliating experience to listen to the spokesmen of American renters describing their "gentlemen's agreement" to contravene the Act. But that was the position we had reached. The Board of Trade apparently continued to regard foreign domination of the film industry as quite inevitable. In the imperishable words of Hilaire Belloc:
Physicians of the Utmost FameWere called at once,But when they cameThey murmured, as they took their Fees,There is no Cure for this Disease, Henry will very soon be dead!1228 When this Bill is more closely examined in Committee I fear that we shall see that my anticipations are fully justified.
We are talking about British films as if by that term we meant a film made in Britain by British people. I see in the daily Press that a film is about to be made to show the Royal Air Force to the best advantage and that an American is to be cast for the chief role, and one of the outstanding difficulties in the North of England of those who have to exhibit British films is that a very large proportion of strange and outlandish names figure upon the screen titles of so-called British films. All that cannot be remedied in a day, but a strong, independent commission with plenary powers might take great responsibility and slowly improve it.
The President of the Board of Trade has explained why the Board finds itself unable to adopt the Moyne Committee's recommendations for a viewing test. Our idea of a viewing test—and we considered it from all angles—was not that it should be a test by a board of censors, who see a film for the first time in its completed form and say, "That is no good," or "Yes, that may pass." Our idea was to create an intimate body in almost daily contact with the trade who would take the scenario and give general approval to it, who would know who was cast for the principal roles, and who would in close consultation with the trade gradually build up a technique rather in the same manner as those who have the responsibility for a great piece of bronze statuary. They first study the sketch and then the model, and having approved the model they then give a commission for the completed statue. I do not think that is an entirely inappropriate analogy.
A good deal of criticism has been levelled against the Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade for not themselves going to view films which they were asked to approve as having special exhibition value. We find in practice that the outline of the films, so imaginatively suggested and described by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) gives us a pretty fair indication of the exhibition value, particularly when we know who is engaged in the principal roles. Needless to say, we pay considerable attention to the reputation of the scenario writer and director and 1229 of the company making the film. I do not think that a viewing test by an independent body need be any more impracticable than the present functions of the Advisory Committee.
I have had two years as chairman of the Advisory Committee. A good deal of misapprehension seems to exist on both sides of the House as to the very limited functions which we are called upon to perform. We are there to advise the Board of Trade, to throw light sometimes on extenuating circumstances—and sometimes to reject such a plea and to advise as to the special exhibition value of particular films. I do not think the Board of Trade or the trade itself has had any serious complaint to make for the last 10 years against the Advisory Committee. There have been cases, such as are quite inevitable in modern business, where men representing one interest are called upon to speak for another. The committee is large enough and the men concerned are big enough to stand up and explain their interests before our deliberations begin and if need be to stand aside. I deprecate several of the questions which have been asked of the President of the Board of Trade with regard to particular members of the Advisory Committee. I do not, however, think that the committee as constituted, or as proposed in the Bill, would be a suitable body for the greater responsibility which nearly all speakers desire to place upon it. For that purpose you need something different. In saying that, I do not cast the smallest aspersion upon the trade members or the independent persons of repute upon that committee.
Redundancy of cinemas is one matter which might be dealt with by the British film committee. We have dealt with the redundancy of public houses for over 30 years with success, and I do not anticipate that local authorities would object. It is very much to their interests that the amusements of their great populations should be dealt with more comprehensively than one local authority can do. Whether the redundancy were dealt with regionally or by a commission on a levy basis is a comparatively small matter. The finance of the industry will not be put straight until redundancy is looked into. It is a fundamental matter, and the Bill naturally does not deal with it because that matter is quite beyond its scope.
1230 As to the quota, the amount of labour employed matters less than the quality of labour. Throughout the industry there has been a transfer of the wage-earning to the salaries category of the account. A larger proportion is being spent every year on salaries and less upon wages. There is no security under the Bill for the British technician, the British scenario writer or for men on the artistic side, such as for young men who come down from the universities and wish to make their life's work in this industry. I see very little encouragement for them in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman did not mention in his speech the probable effect of the Bill or of the industry as a whole upon the British Empire. I am alive to the possibilities of films made in remote British possessions being used for quota. The £15,000 quickie is just as much a danger as the £1,000 variety. The quality test must in some way be linked with the cost test if the latter is to be effective. That is why the Moyne Committee advised a quality as well as a cost test.
I am a British nationalist by temperament and conviction, not a cosmopolitan, holding, with Lord Milner, not indeed that our nation is better than others but that our first duty is to our own people wherever they live, and that we should do whatever we can to enable them to strike deep and strong roots into the soil and culture of their own land. To that extent few on either side of the House will disagree with me. That is not what is happening on the screen to-day.The hungry sheep look up and are not fedSwoll'n with wind and the rank mist they drawRot inwardly and foul contagion spread.Not the contagion of Communism or Fascism, which, good or bad, represents ideals not primarily selfish, but of the worship of money, and of violence, and the acceptance of the lowest motives as natural and inevitable. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Communist?"] The Communist is as national as anybody when it comes to the point. Whatever people may say in theory, it is very remarkable how nationalist they become. I want to see our films become more representative of national ideas and outlook, and to see every part of our land play its part in 1231 our films. I want to see less of the machine-made film. Lord Baden-Powell is no politician, but he wrote in the current number of a Boy Scout magazine that:This training is drowning that of the schools, and our young people, like those of other countries, are becoming imbued with the herd instinct.Because a well-advertised film actor arrived at Waterloo the other day 3,000 young women fought their way to look at him—and these are expected to have the balance of mind to be responsible for electing our rulers.Mass-suggestion is robbing men and women of their individual self-control and the power of initiative.In the words of an English film journal:America has defeated national film production in every country of screen importance. She has stifled every national screen aspiration in a blanket of cosmopolitan vulgarity, as innocent of formative expression as of social integrity.That is a straight, honest but restrained expression of the truth about the American film industry in this country.
Nine-tenths of the Bill is good and I congratulate the Board of Trade upon having produced a very well drafted piece of legislation most of which ought to pass without long discussion. But the Board of Trade will not make it work as it should unless it is prepared to put some of its functions into commission. Conditions of labour are not within the scope of the Bill, but they might be within the scope of a Film Commission. The mere fact that men get round a table to discuss conditions of labour will help to remove abuses. There is great unemployment and great irregularity of employment in the industry. There is great waste of labour. There may soon be more, for reduction in the quota can scarcely fail to entail further unemployment.
I have spoken strongly, but a man is apt to become an enthusiast for his own views after six months study. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House if I have overstepped the limits of advocacy in putting forward some of the views which inspired my colleague on the Moyne Committee.
§ Mr. Stanley
The hon. Gentleman talked about plenary powers and the Board of Trade delegating functions to others; could he give some indication of what rowers he would like to see them have?
§ Sir A. Wilson
I have somewhere a draft, made four months ago, of the kind of powers that I should like such a Commission to have, and, as my right hon. Friend does me the honour of inviting me to do so, I will give a sketch of the plenary powers—though I do not think I used the word "plenary"—
§ Sir A. Wilson
I beg pardon; then I will repeat the word—the plenary powers that I would give to such a Commission. I would give them control of the viewing test. I would give them the right to levy, with the consent of the Treasury, such a sum as would enable them to establish a redundancy compensation fund, broadly speaking on the lines of the Licensing Acts. I would make them advisers of the Home Office as to the admission of aliens for employment in the trade, whether on temporary or on longer engagements. I would give them the right to deal with but not to supersede local authorities, in matters which are now dealt with for the most part by a Home Office Committee. I would give them supervisory duties in respect of conditions of labour and hours of work, subject to and in the closest communication with the Minister of Labour, who is by Statute responsible for such matters. I would give them, further, a measure of control over the actual working of the censorship, without, however, transferring the ultimate responsibility for the censorship from the trade. where it now rests, subject to the Home Office.
I would make it their responsibility to keep such records and make such inquiries as would enable them, by means of the Trade Facilities Act or otherwise, to assist the right companies to get finance. I would make it a condition that companies who make films should not go to the public for money unless they satisfied the commission that they were likely to be competent to make films. If they could get the money privately, that would be their own concern. I would give the commission power to finance, by a levy from the trade, schools and courses of instruction, whether in a university or otherwise, on the purely technical side of film production in all its branches. That is of the greatest importance; there is nowhere here where men can learn the trade. I would have such schools started in this 1233 country in all branches of the trade, and would have them financed by a small levy from the trade. Finally, I would ask every Department of the Government to use the commission as the vehicle for discussion with the trade of matters like opening hours, closing hours, safety appliances, safety conditions, and all the multifarious matters which are now dealt with by half-a-dozen Departments, and which might be canalised in a single branch.
This is a purely extempore and improvised sketch of the sort of things of which I am thinking. I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for having talked so long and for covering so much ground. I came to the House thinking of the principles, not of the details, which I may have the opportunity of discussing upstairs.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Many of us have been provided, by those interested in this subject, with numerous memoranda, and, indeed, one kindly person has gone so far as to provide us also with a vocabulary of cinema jargon, in which, however, I looked in vain for definitions of those popular expressions "O.K., Chief," "Sez you," and phrases of that kind. I am surprised at the omission, because I rather assumed that the chief function of the cinema in this country was to accomplish what I am sure will never be accomplished, or even attempted, in any other way—the annexation of this country by the United States of America. As it is, the United States have already advanced far towards that annexation, and, as has already been pointed out by several speakers, American finance is enthroned and is largely in control of the situation. This Bill, I am afraid, will not do very much to remedy that very grave state of affairs.
Apart, however, from that, I think we ought to realise how comprehensive is the psychological influence of a large proportion of the pictures which nearly 20,000,000 see every week, most of them emanating from non-British sources. Personally I have very little opportunity of visiting the pictures, and, if I do get an opportunity, I do not use it, because I dread having to spend an hour or two suffering from a mixture of glucose, chewing gum, leaden bullets and nasal noises. Although, undoubtedly, there are some American films that are good, 1234 I am sure they are shown mostly in America, and are enjoyed by American people. Many of those that come over here I personally cannot stand, but large numbers of people have to sit through them, because as yet there has not been produced that steady stream of first-class British pictures which surely could hold the attention of people of this country and give them at least as much enjoyment as they now receive from the screen. Personally, I do not like to feel that Britannia has constantly to appear on the screen speaking with the accents of Chicago, Oregon and Massachusetts. I should like those who attend cinemas in this country to see more and more pictures of British life.
I know that there are great difficulties to be overcome, but I am sure that they can be overcome. As far, however, as I can see, the effect of the proposals of this Bill will be merely to determine that some 25 per cent. of the pictures shall be British, whereas I believe I am not incorrect in saying that in 1936 something like 29 per cent. of the pictures shown were of British production. It seems, therefore, to be a reactionary step to try to tie us down to a limit of 25 per cent. I feel, however, that, if the Bill goes some little way towards securing a larger proportion of British films, it should certainly be welcomed, and I trust that during the Committee stage many of the proposals which hon. Members have made to-day, and others that are in the minds of some of us, may be brought before the Committee. I hope that they will be received with sympathy and consideration by the Government, and I trust that we shall find the Bill, when it comes back here for Third Reading, very much superior to the Bill that is before us at the present time.
If, however, there is to be an increasing number of good British films, and if the proportion is to be larger than it is today, we must exercise our responsibility—I mean, not only here in this House; I am speaking of the country as a whole. The British public is a patriotic public, but patriotism does not cure dyspepsia, and those who go to the cinema and find that some British films cause them mental dyspepsia will need a great deal of patriotism to excuse the degradation of British art. I hope that British producers will make a real attempt to produce pic- 1235 tures of high merit—not merely in a narrow educational sense, but in the broader sense of being pictures that conform to a real standard of artistry, both in the world of humour and in the world of tragedy. Reference was made by an hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway to the value of educational films, and these are certainly of great importance. I trust that they will be considerably assisted by the provisions of this Bill. I am not certain whether a picture of Charles I falling out of a window at the back of a house in Worcester will appeal to the mind of the average British "film fan"—
§ Mr. Sorensen
In that case, I suggest that Nell Gwynne would perhaps be much more attractive. Apparently the hon. Member below the Gangway, although I understand he is a "film fan"—a strange description for so impressive a figure—is not fully aware of the rather different standards of judgment in the minds of those who are not members of universities. The cinema can certainly have a tremendous educational influence, but, equally, it can have a most sinister influence. I am afraid that very often it becomes merely an opiate. There are numbers of people that I know who visit the cinema, not simply as a matter of enjoyment, but almost as a matter of duty.
There are quite a number of people, I believe, who would sooner lose their weekly bath than their weekly visit to the pictures, and that custom has associated with it much that does not bring the best out of those people who enjoy this form of entertainment, but leaves a deposit that corrodes their minds. Therefore, I hope that the British film commission, of which we have heard so much to-day, will have large powers. Although I do not agree with all the proposals of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), I would say that his suggestions are worthy of great attention. I would suggest, in connection with the commission, that there should be visualised the possibilities of close co-operation, not merely with those who are academically-minded and those who have a financial interest in the trade, but with those who are concerned in other ways with production of films.
1236 I was glad to hear the hon. Member, in reply to a question, emphasise the fact that the commission could assist in dealing with labour problems in the industry. I cannot see why there should not be on the commission definite representatives of the organised workers in this particular industry. Enough has been said to make Members realise that all is riot well so far as conditions of labour in this industry are concerned, and it should be known that some 70 to 80 per cent. of British directors and about 35 per cent. of cine-technicians are unemployed at the present time. When, too, one realises the arduous nature of the work one understands, still further, the necessity for provisions in the Bill for fair working conditions. If that is not possible, I suggest that the commission should have as part of its function the improvement of conditions of labour in this industry. I trust that, not merely on the side of finance, but on the side of the workers, more attention will be paid. Although I am an internationalist, I am convinced that there can be no internationalism if nationality itself decays or dies. I want the cinema to be a real reflection of British thought and British life, as well as of the larger world in which we are living. Unless that is so, this country will be conquered, not by the sword, but by the invasion of American finance and American thought.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Major Procter
I should say at the out-set that, for some time, I have been engaged in the production side of the industry. It might be well, therefore, if I were to lay before the House some of the difficulties that that side of the industry has encountered during the last few years. I think the House and the country well recognise the enormous importance of the industry. Whereas in past times it was true that trade followed the flag, to-day it is true that trade follows the film. It is the third greatest means of publicity in the world, following closely upon the Press and the radio. In this country the film industry affords a substantial means of employment, not only on its production side, but also in the cinemas throughout the land, and I am concerned, equally with those Members of the party opposite, in the conditions of work and the rate of wages paid to the employés in the industry. I have no concern with those 1237 stars about whom it might be said that if you desire to speak to them on their salaries, you have to mount into the stratosphere. I have the honour to be President of the Film Artists' Association, which is the trade union in that industry, and we looked forward to this Bill making some improvement in the conditions of the workers on the production side.
Not only in regard to employment, but as a means of culture and education, the industry is of great value to this country, and, in these days of increased leisure, the cinema will play a still more important part in removing the drabness from the lives of people. The cinema enables people to escape from gloom. The kitchenmaid, when she goes to the cinema, is translated right into the presence of Robert Taylor. It gives her the escape from fear complex as she sees Elizabeth Harding in "Love from a Stranger" escape from her murderous husband. It gives the rich women the means for the escape from boredom when she goes to the cinema and cries over her hero suffering in the snows of Alaska while she leaves her coachman shivering outside in the real snow. The film is also a means of increasing our revenue, as £8,000,000 a year from the pockets of picturegoers goes into the Entertainments Duty.
Before the War at least 25 per cent. of the films were entirely British. The War came and our soldiers needed relaxation, and the cinemas were open and doing well. It was in these years that the Americans captured our market. From 25 per cent., production had fallen to 5 per cent. when the Act of 1927 was brought into being, and yet by means of that Act, in spite of all the technical difficulties and of the lack of experience, British films slowly but surely assumed a proportion of 29 per cent. of the films shown in our cinemas. The Act of 1927 set out to accomplish two things: first, to stop blind or block booking, and, second, to assist the British producers. The difference between the 1927 Act and the present Bill is that the Bill does not materially help the British producer and more especially for film production worthy of an international market. By means of the 1927 Act block booking was reduced, but tacit arrangements are 1238 made to evade the provisions of the Act by so-called gentlemen's agreements. Further, in order to secure some part of the British market for the producer, part of the Act gave a certain proportion of the film quota to the British producer.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Is there a British producer? What is the difference between the British producer and the foreign producer?
§ Major Procter
That part of the Act designed to help the quality of production was entirely defeated. I have here part of the minutes of evidence given before the Departmental Committee on Cinematograph Films, and on page 37 it says:A considerable number of films is at present produced in Great Britain whose quality is so indifferent as to cast a slur upon the value of all British films. These poor quality films are made almost entirely by or for renters whose main business and sole interest is the distribution of foreign films in this country, and who are not gravely concerned with the quality of the British films they must acquire to meet their legal obligations—indeed the very poorness of quality of the British films they distribute helps by contrast to emphasise the better quality of the foreign films exhibited in company with them. It is common knowledge that many of these films—scathingly referred to in the trade as 'quota quickies' owing to the fact that, for purposes of economy, they are hurried through the studio in the shortest possible time—are lamentably poor in entertainment value and do much to detract from public appreciation of British films as a whole, since the general public has no means of knowing the true situation.That was the way the foreign renter or distributer defeated the law and hurt British films. I heard of one man who produced what he thought to be a very charming bit of English work which was bought for quota requirements by a foreign renter. He went to one of the cinemas controlled by them to see the picture. He asked when it would be shown, and they said; "At 10 o'clock." He went at 10 o'clock and waited right through the programme, and he asked again why the picture had not been shown. They said, that it was shown at 10 o'clock in the morning. It was shown to the charwomen. It was fulfilling the requirements of the law, but it defeated entirely the spirit of the Act of 1927. The result is that to-day the 1239 production side of the British industry is in a very parlous condition. Indeed, it is in such a condition that it may well be that there will be no purely British producing industry at all in this country.
Everyone in the trade looked to this Bill to help British production, so that we could at least meet in part the competition, unfair and unscrupulous in many ways, of Hollywood and our foreign friends. During the past year a number of firms have gone entirely out of business. There have been huge losses, and, as has already been pointed out, and when the great Odeon issue of £6,000,000, was made it was stated in very black type that in no circumstances would the new company engage in the making of pictures. Not to make British pictures was an inducement to get money into the business. The condition of the industry in this country is not the same as in America. In Hollywood there is a thriving industry, the fifth largest industry in the whole of America. It started in Hollywood because of the climate, and possibly because it was far from New York and the writs could not easily reach them for infringement of patents and copyrights. In the United States are over 22,000 picture houses, and American producers can afford to spend from £150,000 to £200,000 on a picture. What happens before ever it leaves America? It may be gross £400,000, which minus the cost for distribution is £280,000 net. It makes a net profit of £130,000 before it ever leaves America. When it comes over here it takes £120,000 gross, or £90,000 net, which, added to the £130,000 profit made in America, gives a profit to the American producer of £220,000. Contrast that with an English picture costing £150,000 equal in every way to the American film. In this country it takes only £120,000 gross, or £90,000 net. But when it gets over to America there is no £400,000 for the British picture. Everything is done to kill the British film. Of the pictures which have been mentioned here as being equal to, or better than, any American films, the successes in America could be counted on the fingers of one's hand. The grossing of a British film in America is about $250,000, that is £34,000 net for the best British picture in America.
The English industry is under the heel of American renters. The British film is 1240 laughed at and damned in America, not because it has an Oxford accent perhaps, or because of its peculiar insularity, but because it is a possible rival to Hollywood. That is the reason why the British film does not get a fair deal in the United States of America. It is against the American film renters that the British film is at the moment struggling for its life. This Bill is designed to remedy the quickie evil. It proposes to raise the value of the so-called quota picture in order that these quickies made to evade the Act of 1927 may no longer do so. I believe that the astute minds at the back of the American industry will be able to drive a coach and horses through that part of the Bill. They will put up their charges here and there. They will be able to make the labour costs appear to be one thing when we know that they are another, and it will require more astute and far better drafting than is in this Bill to deal with the question of evasion.
I am amazed to see the Board of Trade introducing this kind of a Bill, after the wonderful Moyne report. They have produced a Bill which is a retrograde step. They have reduced the quota. Whereas to-day the quota is 20 per cent. to the renter and 20 per cent. to the exhibitor, under the new Bill it is reduced to 15 per cent. to the renter and To per cent. for the exhibitor. It will not be until 1947 that the renter's quota will be increased to 30 and the exhibitor's quota to 25 for long films. For short films under the Bill, the quota is reduced to 10 per cent. for the renter and 5 per cent. for the exhibitor, and not until 1947 will the quota be 20 per cent. for the renter and 15 per cent. for the exhibitor. The quota allowed for British shorts is such that the actual showing time is 20 seconds in a British short film.
This reduced quota strikes a blow at every studio built in this country and at every technician and every trade union worker and film extra connected with the industry. For ten years the industry, upon which many of us have built hopes, is to be put back. At this moment this industry is in the same position that it was in when the motor car industry was captured by the Americans and the "tin Lizzies" were everywhere. American cars were made in vast quantities and sent over here by the hundreds while we were only making them by the dozen. A bold 1241 legislative Measure swept those American cars largely off the roads of England, and a bold Measure on the part of the Government to-day could re-establish the film industry in this country and give us an assured market. We are entitled to ask for a least a substantial part of the home market. What could be done for the motor car industry could be done for the film industry. In Germany they have limited the importation of foreign films to 105 per year, in Japan not a single foreign film will be permitted to enter at the end of this year, and in France they only permit films in a foreign language in five houses, and in the rest of the cinemas the films have to be put into the language of the French people, and vocally remade in France.
I should like to make a few constructive suggestions. There are three proposals that would help the British film industry on the production side. In the first place, instead of decreasing the quota we ought to increase the quota for British films. Secondly, we might impose a straight-out tariff, not on the film coming into the country, for that produces only a few pounds, but on the gross receipts of a foreign film taken at the pay boxes. During the last 15 years we have sent across to America £100,000,000 of British money. We are sending about £8,000,000 a year from this country to America. We are paying the equivalent of half of our entire cotton exports in order to pay for the import of foreign films which we could make ourselves. At this moment we are paying the foreigners for making films and the Government are paying our technicians for not making them.
It is said that this is a very difficult matter, but I suggest that it is not difficult. Every renter when he rents a film to a picture house, if he lets it on a percentage basis, knows exactly at the end of the week how much that picture has taken at the picture house, and it would be quite easy to introduce a straightout tariff that would produce revenue from foreign films. Some of that revenue could be applied to form the nucleus of funds for a film bank to help in the financing of British films. A good scheme has been suggested by a 100 per cent. British company, a company that has no foreign capital in it. Its personnel is 100 per cent. British. I refer to the Sound City studios. The suggestion by the managing director of that concern has 1242 been circularised and sent to the Minister. It has received the approval of the film section of the Federation of British Industries, and I understand that it has also the approval of the trades union connected with the industry. His suggestion is that the quota for renters and exhibitors should be maintained, but that there should be a separation of the renter's from the exhibitor's quota, that no one film should be available for both renter's and exhibitor's quota, and that a company registering any British film should he entitled to register it either for renter's or exhibitor's quota at its option, but not for both.
Under this Bill the renters can pay their £15,000 and can produce any quality of picture they like for that sum. They can sell it to the exhibitor for quota purposes. It does not matter at what price they sell it. They can sell it at a very low rate because they make enough money out of the 80 per cent. foreign films they are offering. It is that 20 per cent. quota of cheap pictures which the foreign renter is selling that the British producer has to compete against. If we prevent the foreign renter from having his quota applied to the exhibitor's quota we shall preserve part of the British market for the British producer, and that will operate as a tax on the foreign renter and the foreign film. It is the only possible way by which we can prevent the foreign renter from evading this Bill, just as he has evaded the Act of 1927.
I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, seeing that any action that he may take in the passage of this Bill will bind the industry for 10 years, that he should consider raising the quota. If he cannot do that he should consider adopting a straight-out tariff and eliminating the renter's quota from the exhibitor's quota. If he does that, we can find finance and we know that we shall have a sure market for at least a part of our products. We can then establish an industry which is vital to this country and essential to our Imperial relations, and it will give us an opportunity of selling our culture and showing what Britain stands for not only in our Dominions but in the rest of the world.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
The hon. Member for Tottenham, North (Mr. R. C. Morrison) made a speech almost every word of which I very much admired; but one or 1243 two words in it caused me a little disquiet. He seemed to suggest that the British film world had begun with Little Tich's big boots, and had worked up from that. If I thought there was any chance of the British film world producing anything half as good as Little Tich's big boots, I should think we were wasting our time in trying to set up public control or public assistance in an industry which could very well look after itself. The other thing he said which rather disquieted me was his warning to those who might address the House on the basis of nothing but a book knowledge of the subject. I must confess that my knowledge of it is not very direct. I have never attempted to derive any profit from the industry, and I have never succeeded in deriving very much pleasure, and I cannot pretend that directly I know a very great deal about it. On the other hand, I am rather surprised to find what a very high proportion of those people who have succeeded in doing anything at all useful on the production side are constituents of mine—some of them pupils of mine. The film to which the President of the Board of Trade gave an unsolicited testimonial was produced by one of them. So, although I have no direct knowledge of the industry, I am in the way of getting a certain amount of briefing which may, I hope, excuse my temerity in trespassing upon the time of the House.
There are three points on which I desire to ask questions. The first and the third of them have been already dealt with by others, but must, I think, have some reference from me to make my middle point clear. The first is the question of short movies. Every hon. Member who has spoken has mentioned short movies, and everyone has agreed that in the production of such things we are much better than we are in any other branch of the industry. It seems to be generally admitted that as in athletics the middle distances are our stuff so in this industry short movies are our stuff and that we do them much better than anybody else. My information is that this reputation has been won, not only in this country but all over the world, in the main by a comparatively few young men, who are not now as young as they were, and who may be getting a little tired of working very hard for a small reward, obtained mainly by productions 1244 to meet commissions rather than on speculation. To a large extent it has been done because this or that Church or Government office, or industry, or political party has given them a commission for the production of these things; in that way they have been able to get a little money and experience, and it is admitted that they have done the thing as well as it is done anywhere else in the world. On that basis they have reached a point at which they think they may try to burst in on the speculative side, producing shorts, not merely to be shown at political meetings, or in parish halls or at trade gatherings, but to be sold speculatively for ordinary exhibition for entertainment purposes in the theatres. They are on the edge of doing that now. My information is that if at this moment the quota which is given to such films is put as low as 5 per cent. instead of being at the higher figure recommended by the Moyne Committee there is a very serious risk indeed of the end of that development, they will not go on trying to produce these things for speculative and theatrical purposes, but go back to the sort of production out of which they know they can get a living, meeting commissions rather than attempting speculation. The first question I should like to ask is whether it really is not possible to reconsider the quota for short films.
My second question arises out of it. I cannot pretend to have digested the Bill properly: I have read it as best I can in some hurry. From my perusal and from the explanation given by the President of the Board of Trade there seems to be in the Board's mind no possibility of conceiving anything between the long film and the short film. My information is that those people in producing short films have made a school of British film production, and I should like to say in parentheses that I am sure this is the only way in which a school of British film production can be made. I heard the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) suggest that there should be a university course in the technique of film production. I can see the kind of people who would get paid for giving such a course, and the even more nauseating people who would be allowed to come and listen. That is not the way. It must be done in the actual practice of the industry. It has been done. In fact a school of producers and technicians has 1245 been produced, and the school which has been so produced believes that it could develop a market for medium-length films. It does not want to raise capital, and probably it could not raise capital, for producing a full-scale seven-reel film, what is called a first-feature film: but it thinks it could produce the capital, and find enough brains and sense on a small capital to make publicly attractive medium-sized films.
The difficulty here, if I understand the Bill and the explanation given by the President of the Board of Trade, is this. Such a film—a second-feature film could not, I am told—expect to earn more than £20,000, and would be extremely lucky if it did so. A reasonable average to aim at would be something like £12,000. If you say that the minimum labour costs are to be £7,500 and reckon also, as some hon. Members have already said, the labour costs at half the costs of production, so that the minimum cost of production is to be £15,000, what chance has anybody of inducing his bank or anyone else to lend him £15,000 in order to produce a film the peak of whose profitability is £20,000 and which would be extremely unlikely to earn more than £12,000? My information is that if that rule is kept to, of the seven-reel film at £7,500, the effect will be that this promising new market which is on the verge of exploitation will be dropped out altogether and the question I wish to ask is this; Is it not conceivable that the thing might be put on what is, I am afraid, rather disgustingly called a footage basis. If you reckon a film will be 7,000 feet long, then if instead of having labour costs based on a whole seven-reel film you say that labour costs must be a guinea per foot without saying that there must be a minimum of 7,000 feet, the purposes of the Bill as far as I can understand them will be met, and also it will be possible for smaller men, of much experience, but not much capital, to develop the new market for medium-length films to which I have referred.
The third point on which I wish to ask a question has also been referred to by several hon. Members, that there should be a fair wages clause or some protection for the labour paid in this industry. I would not at the moment argue, like the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), that wherever there is State protection there must necessarily be State 1246 control of hours and wages and so forth. Nor would I even dare dogmatically to assert that this is a case in which there must be such a thing. Several hon. Members—and I think the hon. Member for Hitchin was one of them—have appeared to take it for granted that such a thing could not be done under this Bill. That may be so. I do not feel sufficiently well-informed to deny it, but what I do feel clear about is this. If ever there was an industry where there was a strong argument for giving the most careful consideration to the suggestion that some form of public control of hours, conditions, and wages is desirable, this is the industry. It is getting the strongest sort of State protection—more than mere fiscal protection. It is getting quota protection, an absolute monopoly of a part of the market.
That is one reason. Another reason is that, I am told, Hollywood experience has shown that, under regularisation, costs do not go up, they go down. It is true that in France the 40-hour week has been the cause of much complaint, not on one side in politics only, and in almost every industry, but I think they are all agreed that in this industry regulation has tended to do rather more good than harm. In the nature of things it is not unreasonable to suppose that that may be so. It is an industry which is highly speculative; it has a large floating population, and an inheritance of a sort of semi-Bohemianism, and for 50 obvious reasons it is just the sort of industry in which there is likely to be a great deal of irregularity—of slackness for 12 days and over-working for three days and so on. Therefore, it seems highly probable that it is an industry in which a certain amount of regulation of labour conditions would be in the interests of both sides. And there are recent precedents of a pretty close kind.
The third question which I suggest to the consideration of the House is whether this is not the proper time to introduce some such regulation. It may be said that the Act was more or less an experimental Measure. But the existing legislation has been in existence for 10 years; we are now trying to improve it and it may be regarded now as a permanent arrangement. Has not the time come, therefore, when something ought to be 1247 done to try to place the engagement, remuneration, and general management of the labour part of the industry on a more regular footing?
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
As this Debate proceeds it becomes more and more apparent that this Bill is not likely to put the British film-making industry on its feet. I am sorry that the hon. Member who spoke so enthusiastically about British production is not in his place. He mentioned the fact that a foreign company, in asking for a certain amount of money from the public, has stipulated that it would not use any British-made films. I speak as one who spends a good deal of his spare time in the cinema and who is not ashamed of the fact. Recently, with another hon. Member, I happened to see a picture owned by this company which has placed a ban on British pictures. I say here and now that if I were offered 10 times as much as I paid to see that picture, to go back and see it again, I would refuse. As a matter of fact, I regarded it as nothing short of getting money from the public under false pretences.
I admit that American film producers turn out some good pictures, but all the pictures turned out by them are not winners. I am told that if they get one winner out of four pictures they are satisfied. One of our big problems is that when they do make a winner they exploit it in America and then bring it over here —and, as regards the production of British films, I think I am slightly more of a Protectionist than a Free Trader. I believe there is a future for the British industry and I think that the British producers of films up to now have had a very bad dose of inferiority complex. They have never got down to the production of the films which could be produced here, apart altogether from the "quota quickies." In this country we have plenty of material for excellent pictures, particularly of the kind known as shorts. We have the history, the architecture, the scenery, the romance—all that goes to make up a decent picture—and in the British Empire, I think it must be agreed we have scenery, second to none for presentation on the screen.
I say, frankly, that I do not think this Bill, while it remedies a few of the defects 1248 of the 1927 Act, will put the British industry on its feet. Let us remember that the production of a film requires more than a star. There are workers in all the different divisions of production. They are concerned about this Bill and I want the Parliamentary Secretary to answer one or two points. I am told that last year in this country 200 films were made and that if the quota proposals in the Bill become law that number is likely to fall to 80. The ordinary worker in the industry is concerned about his employment and if this Bill is going to reduce production from 200 films to 80 films it is a very serious thing.
§ Captain Wallace
It is an intensely important point. If there is the possibility of such a fall it is a point which the Government must carefully consider. Can the hon. Member give me the authority for his statement?
§ Mr. Smith
It is from the Film Industry Employés Council, a very well-known body which comprises the Association of Cinema Technicians, the British Association of Film Directors, the electrical trade unions, the Film Artists' Association, the National Association of Theatrical and Kindred Employés and the Screen Association. They make the very definite statement to which I have referred and are very much perturbed about it. There are in this country, as has been said, about 20 per cent. of British directors, and 35 per cent. of British studio technicians unemployed, and there are too many foreigners engaged on film work in this country while able and experienced British workers are out of employment. How does it come that these foreigners are in this country? We hear a great deal about temperament, particularly among film people. There is a great deal of "bunk" talked about temperament. Suppose a British company engages an American star to make a film in this country. When she arrives here she wants, of course, to have her own publicity man, her own make-up individuals, her own camera man, her own director. Otherwise, she may, I am told, refuse to play. It seems to me that a jolly good spanking would do some of them good.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not mind doing it. Perhaps I have as nice a discrimination in that respect as in others. If there is the possibility of a reduction from 200 1249 films to 80 films and if there are foreigners engaged in production in this country while our own people are out of work, the matter ought to be considered very seriously by the Government. I am very sorry that the Government have not put into the Bill the suggested test by a viewing committee. We have here a memorandum from the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association of Great Britain arid Ireland, representing more than 4,250 different cinemas out of a possible total of 4,800, and they suggest that the Brill is deficient because there is no provision in it for a viewing committee to assess quality. Why are these people keen on this? It is because, as cinema managers, they are desirous of putting the best type of film on the screen. If we had a committee viewing, I am more than satisfied that some of the films that do get on the screen would be rejected, and it would be a jolly good thing if they were. How some of them escape the censor, heaven only knows.
With regard to the point of view that if we had a quality test, producers would not take the risk, I think the odds are that if producers of films knew that they had to meet a quality test, they would not attempt to make a film unless it was a first-class film and likely to pass. Then again I am sorry that the Government have not been a little more specific with regard to the setting up of an independent Films Commission. But although the Moyne Committee recommended it, I must say that I think the proposal wants watching with extreme care. I believe that the situation demands an independent body with executive powers and powers of initiation, but I would not like to see the control go out of the hands of this House. There would have to be some Parliamentary control. It is very easy to say that we already have commissions in industry working well, but I do not forget the Unemployment Assistance Board, which has taken the administration of public assistance out of the hands of Parliament. We do not want to set up a series of these bodies tantamount to being dictators, without Parliament having any control over them at all, and while I believe the situation does demand some independent body carrying out legislation, taking the initiative, and doing the best for the British film industry generally, I think Parliament ought to retain control.
1250 Having said so much, let me say, quite frankly, that I do not regard this Bill as perfect, and I would not have hesitated to vote against it, not because I do not want to see protection for the industry, but because I believe there are too many omissions from the Bill. Many of the excellent recommendations of the Moyne Committee might have been put into this Bill, but I hope that when we get to the Committee upstairs, or on the Floor of this House, though I suppose it will be upstairs, if a good case is put up for doing something to improve the general type of British films and to put the industry on its feet, whoever is the spokesman for the Government will listen to those things and incorporate them in the Bill.
§ 9.19 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) seemed to understand what happens behind the set, and he also revealed a great intimacy with the interior of cinemas, which is something that I happen to share with him, as indeed I share many of the opinions that he expressed. He hoped, and I hope too, though it may be a vain hope, that the Bill may be taken in its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. I am afraid it will probably be sent upstairs, but I think that is a pity, because I cannot imagine many matters that are of greater or more vital domestic importance than that which we are discussing to-night. The hon. Member for Normanton was as helpful and as constructive as the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner). Hon. Members will recall his speech, and I wish, and I am sure that they also wish, that he had filled up the skeleton of the hypothetical plot that he described, as I found the bald dry bones somewhat unsatisfying. I am grateful to him and his friends for refraining from the savage and absolutely unheard of course of dividing the House of Commons. None the less, I would like to say that this Bill is not beyond the realm of controversy.
I hope that it is not too late for me to say, first of all, that I wish to congratulate, on his manner of presentation of the Bill, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) the other day described as 1251 one who would be better entitled "the Minister of Production and Shipping." Certainly the knowledge, fluency, and eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman would entitle him to be saluted as Minister of Talkies. The right hon. Gentleman was so nervous of being called either a highbrow or a lowbrow that I suppose it is only safe for us to class him as a middlebrow, and I agree emphatically with him that we must defend our own outlook. But I want to protect its best avenue, and I am not sure that without amendment this Bill as it stands will perfectly achieve that end. I generally support this Bill with enthusiasm. Several hon. Members to-night have been giving their qualifications for intervening in this Debate. I have only, I suppose, one special qualification for speaking on films, and that is that I happen to be a member of the Entertainment Panel of the British Film Institute. I would like to speak, not in that capacity, but in the same capacity as other hon. Members have spoken, and that is in the broader capacity of a member of the public.
Like many other Members, I see every type of film I can, of every nationality, in every language, and I regret to have to admit, in all weathers. Indeed, the film is my chief recreation, next to my obstinate attempts to keep my weight down on the tennis court. The talking film performs that same function of entertainment, I believe, in the lives of millions of men and women throughout the world. We have been discussing to-day a revolutionary invention and something which has become, within a little more than the last quarter of a century, a widespread and absorbing means of entertainment. It is a regrettable fact that the cinema is to-day turning the theatre into a curiosity, just as inexorably as television will, within measurable time, render ordinary broadcasting obsolete. It may be a thousand pities, and I have no doubt many hon. Members will agree that it is, that in England the theatre persists in full vitality only in our Metropolis, but we all know the reasons why that is so. Some of the reasons are the speed of modern life, the disadvantage of wasting time and expense in preparation for the theatre, and the expectation, which is usually fulfilled, that two hours or so of leisure can be enjoyably spent at a 1252 moment's notice within almost any cinema in the country.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade referred, in his opening remarks, to the size of the American market, and yet we have a market of no mean proportions in this country. I believe there are tens of millions of attendances registered every week—I believe one hon. Member gave the figure as being 17,000,000 on an average a week—so here is a vast field for industry and a vast opportunity for culture, a field which we are entitled to exploit because, since it is British, it is undeniably our own. One hon. Member, speaking above the Gangway on the Opposition side, said he would resolutely refuse to talk any "bunk," as I think he called it, about British films. I think it would be as well if we were to face the condition of British films to-day with a certain measure of realism. Our work compared with that of foreign film producers, is not inferior, but it happens to be quite different. For some reason we in this country seem to be quite incapable of making good long films. I have never seen in any home-produced film the charming, fanciful and almost fantastical gaiety that was seen in the great work of René Clair in "Le Million" and that you can see to-day in the contemporary film of Sacha Guitry "Le Roman d'un Tricheur." Occasionally, I believe, you do catch sight of flashes of comic genius in British films. Sometimes you see them in films which star Miss Jessie Matthews or Mr. Jack Hulbert. But I have never seen a long British serious film comparable in the three qualities of acting, photography or emotional appeal with the German films "Kameradschaft" or "Mädchen in Uniform." Since Germany went half mad and excluded all Jewish control and co-operation from its cinema industry, it is remarkable that no German film has been worth seeing. What has happened lately in Germany will in fact always happen where the State tries to control art. Studios would only then produce nonsense; and I do ask the House and the Government in particular to allow themselves to be warned against any stultification of that sort.
Nor do I think I have seen any long British film fit to rival the confident and opulent audacity of the best and slickest long American gangster films. I think there has been one exception to that, 1253 which was accidental and purely exceptional—one British thriller gangster film which was fit to be compared with the best Americans. It was a great and outstanding success, as was testified by all the audiences who saw it. It was a thrilling production, yet the success was avowedly accidental and admittedly unexpected by those who produced it. That film was "The Man who Knew Too Much." Producers in this country have an astonishing faculty for wasting some of our richest acting talent on the slenderest and flimsiest of themes, protracted through thousands of feet of boring celluloid. The Member for Don Valley very cogently said earlier to-day that we do in fact excel at one particular kind of film. That is the short documentary.
The hon. Member for London University (Sir E. Little), who spoke from the bench below the Gangway earlier to-day, said he thought it would be an excellent thing if the beauty and scope and opportunities of the Dominions were better exploited in our documentary films. Perhaps he forgot the film which succeeded the Grierson "Drifters" film. I have forgotten the name, but that film did deal with the scope of the British Empire and was an astonishing success and was widely shown. But although we excel as no other country excels in the short documentary, this Bill seems to have been designed by accident—if I may deliberately contradict myself in terms—to damage the very type of production at which we excel. The British producer of short films under this Bill it to go virtually unprotected, as the House will see if they refer to Part 2 of the First Schedule. Under that exhibitors' quotas are to be fixed at 5 per cent.; that is to say at a much smaller proportion than it appears to be. It is 5 per cent. of the short film period in any cinema. As the House is no doubt aware, the average film programme last for about 150 minutes. Usually it contains two long and two short films. Five per cent. o the short film period works out at a period of about 20 seconds for every single programme period extending to 100 or 150 minutes. That is an absurdly small proportion—in other language, in any given cinema there is going to be a minimum in each year of three short British films out of an annual total of 52 such short films.
1254 I would submit to the Government that this arrangement is both unfair and damaging to our own best interests. Our film industry has so far achieved most, and to-day it promises best, in the sphere of short films. It seems a most unhappy thing that we should do most harm to that part of our industry where it seems most likely to excel. Another flaw in what is in most respects an excellent Bill is the absence of any test of short films. The short film producer should be treated on an equality with the long film producer. The President of the Board of Trade in his opening remarks referred to the special cultural and educational value of the short film. But in fact this Bill is going to damage the educational film. How, I would ask the Government, without a test will a good educational film be protected against the stream of cheap nonsense which can be rushed out in short snippets?
This is the main point I wish to make: I hope the President of the Board of Trade will consent to the raising of the quota on short films on the Committee stage of the Bill and also introduce a test of short films. In this way we shall improve our chances of entering the foreign market with that success which our producers, technicians and our actors deserve. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) found it necessary at the end of his speech to quote John Milton. I feel bound to adapt William Shakespeare. I can imagine the greatest of all poets looking down from some lofty height on to the studios at Denham or Shepherd's Bush and saying: "Shall I compare thee to the U.S.A.? Thou are more lovely and more temperate."
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell Fyfe
I wish first of all to express my agreement with what my hon. Friend who has just sat down has said or implied with regard to the importance of entertainment value as such. It is only if we can compete with the American and other foreign producers in entertainment value that the first step is taken, without which the expression of our national viewpoint becomes a complete impossibility. If the matter is looked at dispassionately I do not think we can claim at the present time that we have, certainly in the field of ordinary comedy or farce, come up to the standard which 1255 the American producers have attained. It is essential to start with that, because then we can consider what the remedy may be. It seems to me that the industry in this country must aim at greater specialisation and almost insulation of the participants in it.
There is no doubt that the fact that American film artists have been segregated at Hollywood, have there been taking part in a life of their own under an organisation which is individual to the industry, has been of the greatest possible assistance to American film development. One cannot help seeing in British films that stage technique obtrudes itself, and ever and anon you get the most glaring examples of apparent lack of cutting; as my hon. Friend said, thousands of feet are spun out on the thinnest of possible incidents and characterisation. I suggest that that position arises because we in this country have been using actors who are playing in a London run, whose ordinary day may well consist of going on to the set at the studio at 7 in the morning, leaving at 6 o'clock in the evening, getting back to London, making up, going on at the theatre at 8.15 or 8.30 and playing until II or half-past 11. That has two disadvantages. It does not enable the actor to study the film sufficiently, to study the technique of the film sufficiently, and it also obtrudes the stage technique, through the actor, to the director and the people who are doing the work.
I think the British film industry has to aim at the time when not only will its management side be better, but when the actors and the actresses are employed for periods of a year or more at a time on film work, and are not interspersing it with their stage work. That calls for not only a chance, but a real chance, of a steady return, a big return and a quick return for the industry. If we are to retain in this country the actors and actresses who can get a far bigger salary, probably, and receive far greater world publicity and world renown at Hollywood, then the return to the industry must be assured, and the question the House has to decide is whether it is assured sufficiently by this Bill.
I think that in another direction a great step towards the improvement of acting in 1256 this country has been made by the attack on the "quickies." To my mind the evil of the "quickies" lay not only in their getting round the spirit of the Act of Parliament but in the constant depreciation of good acting which arose from the employment of people in "quota quickies" during the past few years. Examples must come to the mind of everyone who is interested in the development of the films of one good actor after another having been taken either from the stage or from his film work, drawn into the "quickies" by the certainty of a salary in that work, and of his acting depreciating and his now not having the chance of employment in any form of acting which is likely to bring him credit or enhance his reputation. If it does nothing else the Bill does strike at and will kill the cheap "quickie," in which the actors went on to the set, stood in places marked out and held a script they had never read in a production which had never been rehearsed. That sort of film has gone, I think; the provisions of the Bill are sufficient to clear it out; but are they sufficient to see that the films which replace it will be really worthy of our British films and of our national reputation?
I cannot help regretting, with some of my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight, that some of the financial suggestions of the Moyne Committee were not adopted. The difficult position in which production finance finds itself at the moment is common knowledge, and it is rather doubtful whether the assurance of part of the home market for better films will be enough to attract the new finance which is necessary if we are to compete successfully as regards the size and magnitude of films and also to keep in this country actors and actresses of the calibre which alone will enable our films to compete. I hope, however, that it does.
One thing which I note in an examination of the Bill is that it will be much more difficult to drive a coach and horses through this Measure than it was through the other one. I have had some slight experience of attempting that curious form of driving in the case of many Statutes, and from a preliminary examination of this Bill—an examination of the definition of labour costs and the penal sections—I should suggest, and I commend it to the consideration of the hon. and gallant Member for South East 1257 Leeds (Major Milner), that it would be very easy to frame an indictment for common law conspiracy against any one who tried to get round the terms of this Bill as it is framed at the moment. It may be a not unsalutary warning to those who have been evisaged as thinking of doing it to say that apart from the provisions of this Bill they may find themselves in serious difficulty from that other branch of the criminal law.
Like everyone else, I greet the Bill with modified enthusiasm. To those who feel keenly about such a matter as this, no Bill is likely to do entirely what we should like, but we feel that, on the one hand, the Bill will assist film production and British acting, and on the other hand it does hold out a prospect of some certainty for good films in the market of this country. It holds out in Clause 3 the hope of using the quota to enable our films to get into the American market by encouraging American buyers to push a British film by reason of the money they have sunk in getting the foreign rights, and that is the beginning of what is obviously the most important matter connected with the development of our films. For all these reasons we welcome the Bill and we wish it well in its passage through Parliament, because I feel most deeply that if we can achieve that standard of entertainment value for British films which is necessary to keep our own market and to get into other markets, we shall show to the world our national view-point in a way which nothing else can do.
I care not what sort of film it be, whether it be a comedy, a gangster film or a spectacle film, or whatever age it relates to, a good film shows clearly the national approach, the national artistry. I remember, after the War, the Ufa films which were so brilliantly made in Germany, being shown in Paris, and how for the first time after the bitterness of the War the people in France realised through the marvellous artistic excellence of these films the old Germany with which they had been friendly before. That can happen in many countries on many occasions in future, and if we by this Bill can do our part towards assisting British films to take their share in work like that, it will not be among the least of the legislative achievements of this Parliament.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said at the outset of the Debate that we recognise this as a matter that is likely to have the independent judgment of every Member, irrespective of party. I have been thinking within the last few hours of the Debates that took place on this subject 10 years ago. The House was nearly full most of the time, and the Debates lasted for several months. Since that time the talkies have been introduced, so that what was a powerful influence has become, in spite of wireless broadcasts, one of, if not the chief, formative influences upon the minds of the people. Yet there has not been much excitement in the House to-night. Contrasted with the Debate on broadcasting there has been much less interest, and I believe that the somewhat dead note of the Debate to-night is to be laid at the door of the right hon. Gentleman for his somewhat weak proposals in respect of a great national problem. I expected, in face of the difficulties and dangers to which the film trade is subject at the present time, and particularly in view of the Moyne report something more daring than this Bill, something that would have justified the able, interesting and impressive way in which the right hon. Gentleman introduced it.
It will be unchallenged that a very important national interest is affected. The House would never have been considering it if that had not been the case. Power was taken to protect the industry in 1927. A good deal of attention has been given to it, and now we have the Moyne Committee's report which is much more serious in its account of the conditions of the trade than this Bill or the right hon. Gentleman's speech warrants. One of the chief proposals in the Bill is that the Advisory Committee, the chief body responsible for the control of the trade, along with the Board of Trade, should be continued. It is important that the House should understand what the Advisory Committee is. It is composed of 13 people, of whom eight are connected with the trade. The House should note that in the last 12 months the Advisory Committee have held five meetings, so that there has been a meeting only once every two months of the body which the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to accept as the responsible body for 1259 giving advice and for the general guidance of this industry to which we are giving protection. It is significant that the Chairman of the Committee in the House to-night has proposed that a new body should. be set up—and he is supported by the general body of opinion in the House—and that there should be a film commission as recommended by the Moyne Committee.
Very few speakers to-night have been in favour of the continuance of the methods of the Advisory Committee. The right hon. Gentleman gave the impression that he had an open mind on this matter. I hope that he keeps his mind open until we get in Committee, because it is an important matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley championed the recommendation in the Moyne Report that there should be an independent film commission. He assumed, of course, that a good percentage of the House had read the report. If they had they would not have misunderstood what my hon. Friend said and some of the remarks and criticisms that have been made would never have been spoken. He read paragraph 98 of the report in which it was shown that there had been continuous disagreement among the sections of the industry:Efforts within the industry in the past to bring into operation voluntary schemes for the improvement of the industry as a whole have not met with success, it having proved impossible for the conflicting interests to he reconciled.Where is the layman who gets within speaking distance of the trade who does not know that fact? As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, sections of the trade do not agree in their own ranks and the sections do not agree with each other. The various sections of the industry are represented to the extent of a majority on the Advisory Committee. One does not wonder that no co-operation has been achieved during the past few years in the face of the fact. The Moyne Committee said:The Commission should, in addition to exercising its normal administrative functions and acting as a tribunal to give impartial judgments on matters dividing the film industry, have powers of initiative and control. For all these purposes it is clear to us that any body which is not entirely independent of any trade connections"—that is, a film commission independent of the trade, sitting permanently and with power from this House— 1260would be quite unsatisfactory and that, accordingly, absolute independence from professional or any other pecuniary connection with any branch of the film industry is essential in all the members of the proposed Commission.Will anybody doubt that? I should think the right hon. Gentleman would find it very difficult to avoid conviction on that point. The committee in their report go on to say:We recommend that the Commission should consist of a Chairman and not less than two, or more than four, other members who need not all necessarily be on a whole-time basis. They would be appointed by the Government for specified periods and would be represented in the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown or in some other appropriate way.It is perfectly clear that what is suggested is a film commission, some members of which at least should give their full time, that it should be independent of the trade, that it should have powers of initiative and power to deal with affairs affecting the workers as well as the trade. But all the time, of course, the Minister would have the last word.
We are dealing here with something which is not merely a great industry but a great influence. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has taken great interest in this matter from an educational point of view. It is an influence that moulds the minds of millions of children and men and women. Is it to be said that we are not only going to give further protection to this industry. but that the industry is to get that protection, and at the same time have things practically their own way without any real responsibility to this House? Let the House mark this fact. We gave the trade protection, and they have been in charge as far as the advisory committee is concerned. Who inflicted the quickies upon us? I suggest that if we are to have any more of that kind of thing we had better depend on outside sources. It has been suggested that quickies are simply made and then put away in a corner. I wish they were put away in a corner. It is my duty—a pleasurable duty, of course—when I go back north to take my wife to the pictures as a little compensation.
I had heard people talk about the quickies, but I did not know what they were until it dawned upon me that they were those things which made me use unparliamentary language when sitting beside my wife. There is no Member 1261 of this House but would say that it is very difficult to keep one's temper when we see the poor material inflicted upon us. There was a time, of course, when you could go to a variety show or the theatre and could say what you thought as loudly as you liked—giving them the "bird" was the phrase. But it is no good even throwing a brick at the quickies and no complaint to the manager makes arty difference. You have to sit and suffer. Who is to guarantee that in spite of the legal advice we have had from the right hon. Gentleman we shall not have some other infliction put upon us unless there is some commission to deal quickly with any situation that arises?
A number of people in this House when they have an hour to spare which is not very often, slip across to the Old Vic and see that great nursery of stage art. It is a significant thing that Hollywood has had to call upon some of the products of the Old Vic. We have an old country with a great tradition. We have pictures and scenes that saturate some of our literature. Yet when "David Copperfield" is to be filmed, it has to be done in Hollywood, thousands of miles away. Surely, that is a great reflection on the trade.
§ Mr. Denville
It may interest the House, as the hon. Gentleman refers to the "David Copperfield" film, to know that a boy, a native of this country, is to go out there to play the part.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am very proud to hear that. It is a good thing that it should be possible for some of our people to play in great works such as "David Copperfield." There are situations in which you get exceptional talent of that kind. The commission would also deal with the question of capital coming into the industry as well as foreign capital taking possession in this country. We have watched the financial collapse during the past year with very great regret. An advisory committee could not deal with a situation of that kind.
There is another point with which the Commission should deal, or with which someone should deal. You can have an Advisory Committee if you like, but if you do, the technicians and workers generally ought to have their representatives upon it as much as any other section. It would be impossible for some of the things which have been described by 1262 my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) to go on for so long if you had some kind of appeal and representation upon a committee of that kind. One of the gravest charges against the trade as to the condition of things that prevails is that while there are highly-paid artists, mentioned in the suggestion which was made earlier—in what I expect will be a headline to-morrow—that some of them should be spanked there are, in thousands of cinemas, men and women working from morn to night. The artists are too highly paid and I suggest it is not to the credit of the industry that there should be such colossal salaries in spite of their talent.
When I was sitting on that side of the House I was told that people were working 18 hours in the trade. I remember particularly that the Minister of Labour asked me to meet the exhibitors. I met them in a room behind the Speaker's Chair. They agreed that certain facts were obvious and they agreed to help in an investigation into the wages and conditions of labour of attendants. The inquiry was begun six years ago. One of the first things that was done in 1931 was that the Ministry of Labour broke up that investigation. I could never understand, whatever their views upon social conduct might have been, why they did that. The consequence is that to-day one of the scandals of this country is the conditions in which thousands of attendants work in places which we attend with such pleasure. As a matter of fact, very often the finer and more striking the cinema and the more comfortable we are, the worse are the conditions which prevail among the attendants. We ought not to let the Bill pass without the inclusion of a fair-wages clause for the workers in the industry.
The Minister of Labour does not deny the allegations about the attendants. I understand that some of the technicians work long hours and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, they pack long hours into a short period, and then they are thrown out of work. There should be proper wage conditions for them and a fair wages clause for that class of work. Much complaint has been made about the large number of foreign subjects who come here in order to take part in the making of films. No one objects to an 1263 expert technician coming in from another country; there is a great deal of exchange about it, but it is complained by the technicians in our own country that this kind of thing has gone much too far and that it needs investigating. It is said that the key positions such as camera man directors, art directors, editors and scenarists are largely held by foreign subjects. Certain standards were laid down by the 1927 Act, but they are said to have been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.
The short film is an important section. Of the many short films that I have seen, I saw one in London. It was a scene of bird life in the North, little known outside the North. I think it was done by Julian Huxley and was called "Holy Island." It was the nesting season, and the picture lasted from 20 to 25 minutes. I remember well how the audience—this seldom happens in a picture hall—broke out into a cheer. Then there is the educational film, and what is called the cultural film. Very great tributes have been paid to the work that has been done in these directions during the past few years. Most Members will have received copies of them from the Cinematograph Association, and I will not trouble to read them, but the "Manchester Guardian," the "Times" and nearly all the outstanding newspapers have paid their tribute to the work of the short film. The outstanding thing about it is that the commission recommended that the quota for the short film should be 15 per cent. for the renters and 10 per cent. for the exhibitors, while the Bill, I believe, makes it 10 per cent. and 5 per cent. respectively. I would suggest, as has been suggested by other speakers, that the right hon. Gentleman might have another look at that particular provision, in order, not merely to give the short film its proper place in our life, but to give encouragement to the producers as well as to those who take an active part on the art side of the work.
I want to say, in closing, that we feel very strongly on the question of the proper representation of the workers on any advisory committee that may be set up, either in place of the film commission or in addition to it, and certainly we expect that there will be in the Bill a fair wages clause, so that proper con- 1264 sideration may be secured for the workers. The people of this country will not feel at all happy if they know, as a certain number of them do, that the workers in this industry are working long hours and getting very small wages. To-night, as my hon. Friend said, we are going to give the Bill an easy passage, but unless we get proper consideration in Committee, unless the state of mind which the right hon. Gentleman showed in his speech to-day is fully expressed in action, if we do not get certain changes along the lines we have proposed, we shall have to consider what our attitude will be when the Bill comes back to us for Third Reading.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Captain Wallace
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is, if I may say so, one of the most industrious and versatile Members of the Opposition Front Bench, prefaced his remarks on this Bill by saying that it would not be regarded as a party matter; but he proceeded to follow that up with a round condemnation of my right hon. Friend's speech, which almost led me to believe that he had decided the matter in his mind before he had heard what my right hon. Friend had to say. Be that as it may, we accept very gratefully from the hon. Gentleman and from the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) the assurance that the Bill shall be considered on its merits, without any regard to party controversy, and without, I hope, any attempt on any side to gain electoral capital or to avoid electoral repercussions. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, towards the end of his remarks, said that this Bill had a great public side, and was a matter of immense importance. In spite of the fact that these benches are but sparsely filled to-night for what must be regarded as a major Government measure, I do not think that anyone in the House or in the country would regard this Bill as anything but a measure of major importance.
The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the Opposition referred to the committee presided over by Lord Moyne, and he insinuated, I think, that my right hon. Friend the President: of the Board of Trade had been, perhaps, sparing in his acknowledgments of the work of the 1265 committee in general and of the chairman in particular. I can only say that nothing of the sort was in the mind of my right hon. Friend, and the best testimony which he or I could give to the immensely valuable work of the Moyne Committee is the fact that we have accepted the great majority of their recommendations. At the Board of Trade we are extremely appreciative of the devoted labours of that committee and of the extremely valuable report which it presented. I have sat through practically the whole of the Debate—that is always the fate of the Under-Secretary who is to wind up—and have listened to speeches some of which have cancelled each other out and some of which, if I may say so with great respect, have betrayed the fact that the orators had read neither the Bill nor the White Paper. But all of them have spoken with complete sincerity and with an obvious desire to further the cause which everybody in this House has at heart. Some of these speeches, as I have said, cancel each other out, and I may, perhaps, leave the speakers to read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning.
There are also, as I think hon. Members will agree, an immense number of points which have been raised on the Second Reading—and I do not complain about it in the least—which are really more suitable for discussion in Committee. Some of these points are of such importance that I should hesitate at the moment to give any pledge on behalf of my right hon. Friend and the Government. I think it may be possible, if time permits—and the hon. Gentleman opposite has been very generous in his allowance—to mention some of these Committee points, which are of such general interest as to make it desirable to refer to them on Second Reading. But as regards all those which I shall not have time to mention, I hope the House will accept the assurance that they will be duly noted and will receive our full consideration. I have said already that there is no question of party alignment on this Bill, and it is very refreshing to some, like myself, who have been always somewhat protectionist, to find the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) coming out in protectionist colours, and to see also the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) adopt such a painfully anti-internationalist attitude as to suggest that foreign film stars should 1266 be spanked. There is one other part of his speech which I wish to mention now, and that is the hon. Member's allegation that if the provisions of the Bill are put into force as they stand, the number of British films in the next quota year would drop from over 200, as at present, to about 80. I should hesitate flatly to contradict any hon. Gentleman across the Table of this House, and all I would say is that the information in my possession at present does not lead me to apprehend any such results.
§ Mr. T. Smith
What I said was that the whole-time workers in the cinema trade, in their memorandum, stated that if this Bill became law the production of British films would fall from 200 to So, and I asked for some information upon that point.
§ Captain Wallace
All the information I can give the hon. Member at the moment, is that I honestly believe they are wrong; but, of course, it is a question which will have to be gone into very carefully. There is another matter which I should like to mention before I proceed to tackle what seem to me the three outstanding questions which have arisen in the Debate. This is the matter which I think was first mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Sir A. Baillie). I refer to a letter received from the Federation of British Industries this morning, containing a suggestion that the films which count for renters' quota should not count for exhibitors' quota and vice versa. I want to be quite honest with my hon. Friend, and with another hon. Member who reiterated this suggestion. With the best will in the world, we have not yet, since we received that suggestion, been able fully to appreciate its implications. All I can say is that, like many other points, it will receive our consideration.
Before my right hon. and gallant Friend leaves that point can he state exactly what measure of protection will be given under this Bill to the film production side of the British industry? If that suggestion is carried out, it will have a definite measure of protection, because a film which is qualified for the renter will not be able to be used in the exhibitor's quota, but under the Bill all the films 1267 which are registered under the renter can be utilised by the exhibitor?
§ Captain Wallace
I think the House will see that the speech which my hon. and gallant Friend has just delivered is some indication of the complexity of this proposal. The protection which it is proposed to give to British films is clearly stated in the Schedule to the Bill. It seems to me that there are three questions which have arisen out of this afternoon's interesting Debate. The first is as to whether there should be a Films Commission with wide and, at present, ill-defined powers, in place of the present Advisory Committee. The second one is the nature of the test which British films should have to pass in order to qualify for renters' quota. The third question, which is not perhaps of the same far-reaching consequence, but which my right hon. Friend regards as of considerable importance, is the whole situation in regard to British short films.
I will try to deal with these three questions in inverse order. Take the question of short films. A number of hon. Members have deprecated the exiguous nature of the quota for British shorts. Somebody said that this Bill meant the death of the short film industry. But may I very respectfully point out that up to the present there has not been a quota for shorts at all, and actually the place which we propose in this Bill to reserve for British shorts, even though it may not be as big as my right hon. Friend would like, is a definitely protected place and one which at the present moment they have not got. So far from the proposals in this Bill being likely to kill the British short film industry, we maintain—and I do not think that the point can be controverted—that it will help them and make their exhibition easier. Not only have we given a quota to shorts for the first time, but we have taken power in the Bill to impose a cost basis in order to get better shorts, and also power to vary the amount the quota for British shorts.
The reason why we did not accept Lord Moyne's specific recommendation that the quota for British shorts should be 15 per cent. for renters and 10 per cent. for exhibitors was because, from the information available in the Department, we were led to believe that that quota was dangerously high. It might 1268 well be that in the first months or the first year of the new Act it would be impossible to fill that quota with the type of British shorts which you, Mr. Speaker, or I or the rest of the House would like to see. But this is a point upon which my right hon. Friend has an open mind, and if during the Committee stage hon. Members behind me, or hon. Members opposite, are able to produce arguments which outweigh the information at present in our possession, we have not nailed our colours to the mast and we should be prepared to reconsider it in consultation with those hon. Members who are on the Standing Committee.
Let me come to the second major question, and that is the nature of the test through which it is proposed British films should pass before they become eligible for renters' quota and thus receive the protection which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Vice-Admiral Taylor) is anxious they should have. It is, as the President of the Board of Trade told the House, easy at first blush to pour ridicule upon the cost test. It is perfectly obvious that the mere expenditure of money is not necessarily a criterion of the excellence of a film. When one thinks of a cost test there immediately comes to the mind Beachcomber and Sol Hogwasch; but when one considers the question more carefully one cannot help being driven to the conclusion, as my right hon. Friend has been driven, that if the sole test of eligibility for renters' quota was to be a viewing test by some committee, no matter how it was composed, you would be introducing into the British film industry an element of uncertainty which would probably be a major factor in defeating the very thing which this House wants to get, namely, the production of more, better and bigger British films. One or two hon. Members have sought to draw the analogy of censorship. With great respect, I cannot believe that the two things are on all fours.
§ Captain Wallace
Then, even in my humble position, and with very great respect I venture to disagree with the eminent gentlemen who composed that Committee. It seems to me absolutely 1269 impossible to lay down a standard of entertainment value, and there would be in the minds of British producers the awful doubt—shall I spend £40,000 or £50,000 on a film with the risk that when I have done it two or three ladies and gentlemen, with the best will in the world, may say that it is not fit to qualify for quota? If we had been forced to decide between a viewing or a cost test, I frankly say that we should have been in a difficult situation; but my right hon. Friend has succeeded in combining the two. What it means is that a producer of British films has three methods of getting his film on to the screen. If he likes to spend the statutory minimum, then he gets it on to the renters' quota without any bother. If he is fortunate enough to possess brilliant artistes, a wonderful scenario writer, a great author or an original idea of any kind which enables him to produce a very good film at a very small cost, he comes to the Board of Trade, and instead of coming in by what I may call the golden door of £7,500 labour costs, he can ask to be let in at the side door, on account of special entertainment value.
But suppose the producer of a British film does not succeed in entering through either of these two portals, he has still got a wicket gate, because every British film is ipso facto eligible for exhibitors' quota, and if the film is a good one he can go to the exhibitors and say: "Here is a film which counts for your quota; if you think it worth while you can show it." It seems to me—I say this to those hon. Members who think that we have not given British film producers a square deal—that it would be impossible to devise three better ways for getting British films on the screen.
Some hon. Members have suggested that there may be certain films which pass the cost test, get in through the golden door, and yet through some deficiency in their production are not of any entertainment value whatever. It was suggested that in this case, when the film got its trade show, somebody should go to the Board of Trade and say "This is an expensive film but it is a very bad one, and, therefore, we suggest that it should be blue-pencilled and not available for quota." I do not suppose that anybody would disagree with that as a general proposition, but I must point out 1270 that if my right hon. Friend accepted that proposition, he would drive a coach and-four through the provisions of the golden door, which are expressly designed to do away with the uncertainty which is necessarily inseparable from a viewing test. This is a Committee point, but I hope the proposals will not be persisted in.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the reduction of the renters' quota and it has been suggested that it is inflicting yet another blow on the struggling British film industry. If hon. Members will peruse carefully the Schedule to the Bill, they will find that the reduction of the renters' quota is only to take place during the first year. The reason for that is that we feel that under the provisions of the Bill we are imposing a number of extra obligations on producers of films and we do not want exhibitors to be left in the position of having to fulfil a quota when under the changed conditions the requisite number of first-class or eligible British films is not available. The quota goes back after one year to what it is at present, and then proceeds steadily to increase.
Now I come to what is, perhaps, the major criticism which has been made of this Measure as presented to the House. There is an obvious conflict of opinion as to whether this body of persons, whether you call them a committee or a commission, who are to advise and assist the Board of Trade in the administration of this very complex industry, should be advisory or executive. We have heard a number of interesting and thoughtful speeches and the line of thought running through them seemed to be that if we could have a films commission, with power, they would be able to solve all the obvious difficulties which appear on the face of the Bill and which it is easy and legitimate for hon. Members to criticise. But the question is, what powers is it proposed that this films commission should have? My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), to whose opinion on these subjects the House will naturally listen with the greatest interest and respect, suggested a number of things which this committee might do. Most of the functions which he proposed that the committee should perform, could probably be carried out by a body of a purely advisory character, but 1271 there were one or two things suggested by him which would require something more than that. Other hon. Members made even more far-reaching suggestions. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton whom I should suspect of being an ardent devotee of freedom in all these matters—
§ Mr. Mander indicated dissent.
§ Captain Wallace
I apologise if I was misrepresenting the hon. Member. In any case he suggested that if necessary this committee or commission should take over the whole business of renting films.
§ Captain Wallace
Then where does he suppose he is going to get the other 75 per cent. of films which the British public want to see? There would be a considerable row among the people who go to cinemas if any step of that kind were taken. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, if I have not misunderstood him, suggested that it would be a good thing if we had a films commission which would override the law of the land in order to allow Freddie Bartholomew, although under age, to appear in a film.
§ Mr. Denville
I think what the hon. Member meant by that was that "David Copperfield" could not be produced in this country without breaking the law.
§ Captain Wallace
I think that is exactly what the hon. Member did mean. He wants a films Commission to override the law so that "David Copperfield" could be produced here. But I think the House will realise on reflection that the powers suggested are very wide inded. To make the films Commission effective in the way that many hon. Members would like to see, would, in my view—and what is more important in the view of my right hon. Friend—necessitate handing over large and ill-defined powers to another independent body. I do not know whether the House is seriously prepared to hand over the whole administration of this intensely complex industry, which all agree is going through a transition stage, to a body which would necessarily be outwith—to use the good old Scots word—the control of this House.
1272 I think a great many of the speeches this afternoon have been made without a full appreciation of the dilemma in which the House finds itself. You must have one of two things. You must either have a committee whose functions are purely advisory and leave my right hon. Friend, with the approval of the House of Commons as a whole, to take the necessary legislative action, or you have got to abrogate those functions and hand over the control of the industry to a semi-independent body.
§ Mr. Lawson
An hon. Member asked how many meetings of the Advisory Committee had been held during the past 12 months, and he was told that there had been five meetings in the past 12 months. Is it the intention of the Minister to continue that kind of thing and to hand over powers without any regard to the conditions under which they are to be carried out?
§ Captain Wallace
No. I do not think that is quite a fair conclusion to draw. This Bill visualises an Advisory Committee, and the only question to which I am referring, and it is an important one, is whether this committee, however it may be composed—and we are by no means rigid in our ideas on this point—is to have executive powers or is to be purely advisory. I think that is a question which the House will have to face, and I must say frankly that my right hon. Friend's view and the view of the Government is that because this industry is so complicated, because conditions are so fluid, and because a number of substantial changes may be required in the nest few years, it is more than ever essential that this House of Commons should keep its finger on the industry.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman would agree with me that I said that that was fundamental. The best and most important part of the duty of any commission which would be acting for the President of the Board of Trade would be to keep in day-to-day and week-to-week touch with current events so that the commission could always keep the President in touch with current events, and that there should be regulations to make any changes that were necessary, either in the cost of production or any other phase of the industry.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has just said that this industry is in a state of transition. If there is not going to be a committee with any powers, and if the President of the Board of Trade is not taking any powers to himself in the Bill, how are the changes that are going to take place during this state of transition to be dealt with?
§ Captain Wallace
At present there are considerable powers in the Bill, and it would always be possible for my right hon. Friend to come to this House for further legislation if it were considered necessary. Some hon. Members have referred to television. I think it must be obvious that if we are going to deal with something like television, it will not be good enough to hand over a blank cheque to any Films Commission with executive powers, and we had much better keep the commission advisory and ourselves take executive action.
Having said that, I want to make it clear that my right hon. Friend is all for an Advisory Commission. I would point out, however, that the committee recommended by Lord Moyne was to consist exclusively of people who had no connection with the industry, and if my right hon. Friend appointed a committee of that kind, it would be quite impossible to put representatives of the workers on it; but if we are going, as I imagine we are, to give my right hon. Friend a strong Advisory Committee, then he wishes me to say that he looks with sympathy upon the views which have been put forward in various quarters of the House for representation of the workers upon that committee. Without prejudice to the general view of the Government that in the ordinary way of things it is better for these questions to be settled between employers and workers, my right hon. Friend fully appreciates the point that was made that you cannot have a successful British film industry. united in what has been described as a great co-operative effort, unless the conditions of the workers are satisfactory.
One more thing I would like to say about this Advisory Committee, in reference to the speech of the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss). I rather gathered that he believes that an Advisory Committee with executive power will be some cure for the financial conditions in the film industry of which he complains.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I am sorry if I gave that impression. My sole reference to the Advisory Committee was that it should have working representatives of the employés. I did not suggest that the Advisory Committee could cure the financial position. I suggested Government action.
§ Captain Wallace
I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman exactly what he proposed to do, and how the Government could deal with these financial conditions? He has told us, and I am sure that he is right, that a large number of budding capitalists have poured money into film promotion in the last few years and lost it; and it seemed to me that he was suggesting that His Majesty's Government should step into the breach now vacated by those more or less penniless capitalists and proceed to finance British films.
An Hon. Member
What about the Trade Facilities Act?
§ Captain Wallace
The Trade Facilities Act is dead. It came to an end in March, 1927. Actually there is probably nothing which will do more to facilitate the provision of finance for sound British film companies, through normal channels, than the passing of this Bill in something like its present form.
There were a number of other points with which I should like to have dealt; but I think on the whole they are all Committee points.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
There is the point which was raised by many hon. Members in relation to the Fair Wages Clause. Can the Minister make some reference to it—the desirability of inserting the Fair Wages Clause in all the productions which rank for quota?
§ Captain Wallace
That is essentially one of the many points which(we could consider without prejudice in Committee. It is rather in line with what I said before—that His Majesty's Government take the view that, on the whole and where possible, this kind of arrangement should be made between employers and workmen direct. But it is certainly a question to which my right hon. Friend will give sympathetic consideration. I am going to end my remarks in this Debate as I began by saying that this Bill really arouses no party controversy. It is essentially a Measure during the pas- 1275 sage of which through the House the Government will hope to profit by the collective wisdom of hon. Members in all quarters. If the Bill which we have brought forward can be described as representing the highest common factor of agreement between the different sections of the film industry, it must, I think, be admitted that that factor is extremely small. In default of any agreement on general principles that might have made this the cinema industry's own Bill, the Government, with 10 years' experience at their disposal of the day-today administration of the Act of 1927, have produced a Measure which, substantially speaking, follows the recommendations of Lord Moyne's Committee; and, in the two or three important respect in which this Bill differs from the recommendations of that expert body, the reasons have been fully and frankly explained.
Ten years ago Parliament considered it essential to assist the British film industry by legislative action. Without such help I do not suppose that the British film industry would have existed at all to-day. During that period we have discovered, as it was probably inevitable that we should, that the Act of 1927 did not fully achieve the objects for which it was passed. During the last 10 years the "quota quickie," has, as many hon. Members have said, been the curse of the British film industry, and the destruction of that horrible abortion—I think there is no other word for it—is a major object of the present Bill. The quotas which are proposed and the tests which are to be applied to British films in order to rank for quota are those which the Government believe will be best suited to encourage the production of good British films. To those who believe that under the present Measure America will still retain too large a place upon our screens I would venture to suggest that for the British industry at the present time quality is infinitely more important than quantity, and that if we are to build a national film industry of which in the future we may be proud it is absolutely essential that it should rest upon sound foundations.
Although I know that the House hates Latin quotations, and I do not know very many, I believe this is a case when the 1276 phrase "Festina lente" may be fairly applicable. Finally, it must not be forgotten when hon. Members are thinking of the quotas and looking at the Schedules, that the quotas referred to represent the minimum. There is not the slightest objection to double or treble the number of British films mentioned in those Schedules appearing or our screens. But I do not think it car be made too clear to the House or the industry that legislative assistance, whatever it may be, can at best prepare the ground. The removal of handicaps which may be said to have made success impossible in the past does not itself ensure success in the future, and the extent of the benefits to be derived from the Bill for which we are asking a Second Reading to-night will in the long run depend chiefly upon the industry for whose assistance it has been introduced.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.