Children's Cinema Clubs

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1946.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

5.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

I wish to take this opportunity to raise a matter which some hon. Members might consider to be of minor importance, yet which I hope many will agree is a matter affecting the mental and, in a wide sense, the spiritual welfare of many hundreds of thousands of our children, and one to which this House should give some atten- tion. I wish to deal for a moment with the children's cinema clubs. Over the past two years or so children's cinema clubs have been instituted by the Odeon and Gaumont cinema syndicates. They are held in something like 375 cinemas belonging to those two circuits, and on Saturday mornings the children are admitted to a special programme for a small charge. They are arranged under the name of children's clubs, and I believe something like 400,000 to 500,000 children regularly attend these cinema clubs each Saturday morning.

I want to make it quite clear at the outset that I am not necessarily attacking or condemning these clubs, but I do want to call the attention of the House to the fact that among many school teachers, members of education committees, parents and many people who have experience of dealing with children there is very widespread interest in this experiment, and there is also very widespread concern, as I hope to be able to show the House in a moment. I do not think that it needs to be argued that the cinema is a means of very great influence upon the minds of children at an impressionable age. I believe that the people who have started to run these cinema clubs have done so from a very public spirited motive.

They were started some two years ago when there was a need to do something about the children who were more or less at a loose end on Saturday mornings, because many of their parents, perhaps, were engaged on war work. I believe that this interesting experiment, if it is helped, encouraged and guided along the right lines, has within it potentialities of very great good. I think, however, from what I have been told by people who have great experience in dealing with children, a knowledge of child psychology, and so on, that we must recognise that there are also potentialities of great danger to the children. The purpose I have in view in raising this matter on the Adjournment is to underline and support a request that has already been made to the Home Secretary by a responsible organisation in this country interested in films—the British Film Institute—that there should be an inquiry into this interesting experiment, which can have a great influence for good upon the minds of so many of our children, but which, at the same time, has possibilities of danger.

I have said that there is widespread interest and some concern among school teachers, members of educational committees, and many people who have great experience in child welfare and in dealing with children, and I should like to give one or two instances. I have in my constituency a very experienced head mistress of a girls' school who has shown some interest in these clubs from the point of view of their possible effect upon the children, and I should like to quote from a letter she has written. I would say, before doing so, that she is rather critical, and that, having myself had the privilege of visiting the cinema clubs by courtesy of the Odeon circuit, I would not express myself in such strong terms. But I think that, coming from a person who has such wide experience, the remarks are worth quoting in order to demonstrate the concern that exists. The lady wrote as follows: No factual film was shown. The singing at the beginning was designed to loosen any self-control that they"— the children— might have gained during the week, and any taste or judgment. No really good standards of behaviour were shown. The gangster serial was definitely harmful and distorted facts. Instead of provoking thought and criticism, they encouraged escapism, instead of healthy adventure an uncritical reception of ideas, so preparing the youngsters of this country for mass suggestion and exploitation. A little while ago a conference of people who are concerned about this matter was held under the auspices of the British Film Institute and the National Council of Women, and I should like also to quote the words of a headmaster so that in addition to the evidence from the girls' side we may have some from a representative of the boys' side who attended that meeting. The headmaster said: I think that however well intentioned the people who run the Saturday morning shows—please do not misunderstand me. I am perfectly certain these people have a very high sense of mission—they have taken far too much for granted that the job is an easy one, that children are people who can be easily satisfied, that there is no technique to be learned, and that there is no such thing as child psychology to be' understood. I feel that before they launched upon this scheme they should have given it far greater con sideration and should have gone into consultation with people who have been on a similar sort of job for most of their lives. He went on: What do we get on Saturday mornings? You ask poor cinema managers to take over a job which even the most cold blooded and callous schoolmaster would faint at. You ask them to look after this horde of children. I know they have the screen to help them, and we know that if you want the best attention, turn on a film and you get it at once. Continuing, the headmaster said: Naturally, he cannot consider these children as individuals. It is quite obvious that on Saturday mornings most of the work we are trying to do in schools is being destroyed.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I think the hon. Gentleman will admit that my request is a perfectly fair one if I ask him to be good enough to state the names of the two persons from whom he has quoted so that the House may judge of their position.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

The headmistress of the school is one of my constituents. Her opinion was contained in a personal letter to me, and I do not feel justified in quoting her name to the House without her permission. The second opinion which I quoted is contained in a printed report of the conference, issued by the British Film Institute and entitled "Children and the Cinema," which is obtainable from that Institute for 2s. 6d. I think all the information can be obtained from that publication.

I have emphasised that I am quoting these two opinions from experienced people merely to show that concern exists although, as I have said, I do not necessarily agree with them myself. I have been to the cinema clubs recently, as I said earlier, and the films I saw shown to the children were not harmful, in my opinion. I do not think that they were very good or held interest for the children. There was not much creative good about them, but I would not describe them as harmful. I repeat that this is an interesting experiment with a good deal of public spirit behind it, and I know that it is agreed and admitted by the organisation which is responsible that there is a paucity of suitable films at the moment. I agree that it was perhaps rather unfortunate that they felt impelled to start these clubs before they had really suitable films available, but there may have been good reasons for that. I am very glad to know that this year they are going to spend a very large amount of money in an endeavour to obtain suitable films. I think it is quite true when the claim is made that this is not a commercial venture but is in fact run at great loss. There are, of course, in the cinemas every Saturday morning, a potential body of patrons for the cinema syndicates, but as I have said the scheme is being run at a loss and a great deal of expenditure is to be incurred in producing suitable films for children. All I wish to do is to make one or two suggestions by which I think these clubs may be improved upon and made of very great use.

The British Film Institute have asked that there should be an inquiry and that people of broad experience should be brought in so as to have some authoritative body of evidence, and I should think the people responsible for these clubs would welcome such an inquiry as bringing together people who can give simple evidence and advice. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is here tonight to reply to this Debate, and I think that that in itself possibly emphasises the need for some form of inquiry from the Government point of view. I think it is time that a decision was taken as to which Ministry of the Government is to be responsible for the whole of child welfare in this country. We were debating in this House a little while ago children deprived of a normal home life, and there was discussion as to which Department was to be responsible for them. I think it has to be decided soon that some Ministry is to be a Ministry of Child Welfare, whether it is called that or not, and is to have within its responsibility the whole welfare and care of the children of this country. I would like therefore, if the inquiry which is now being asked for is instituted, that there should be people on it who know something about children's welfare, child psychology, and the influence of the films upon children and upon juvenile delinquency, but that the Ministry of Education should be associated with it.

A suggestion which might form the subject of inquiry, and which I now throw out for the benefit of those who are responsible for these clubs, is that these people should make a greater effort to gather together local advisory committees to help them in work which might be valuable and useful to the children. I believe this is already being done by the Gaumont Circuit but I do not think it is being attempted generally. There are child psychologists and teachers who might be glad to give their assistance. I know that there is a central advisory Committee presided over by a lady of great experience. Another advisory committee has recently been established to concern itself with the ancillary activities of children. I have already said that films which are shown are not always suitable, but attempts are now being made to make suitable films. I hope that those attempts will be speeded, and that everything will be done to assist the effort in that direction.

These performances are called children's cinema clubs. There is a club card that every child has, and there is a club leader. The club leader is the manager of the cinema. I have no doubt that in many cases he is an admirable person for the job, but it seems to me a hit-or-miss business. A man who is trained as a cinema manager, however successful and competent he may be in that capacity, may not at the same time be a qualified and suitable man to handle in a proper way hundreds of children every Saturday morning. I have met some who were very good but I suggest—I hope it will be accepted as a constructive suggestion—that the organisations concerned should go one step further in the expenditure of the money they are using for this very interesting experiment. I suggest they might recruit and train people, or recruit trained people, to help to run these clubs, and the ancillary sporting activities and hobbies associated with them.

I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will, therefore, close with a request to the Under-Secretary of State. Will he, in response to the requests which have been made, bring into being, in association with the Ministry of Education, a suitable committee which will inquire into this experiment in order to do everything possible to ensure that it shall be developed upon lines which will be good for the welfare, and the mental and spiritual wellbeing, of the children of our country?

5.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting the moderately expressed views of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton). I am delighted that he has seen fit to raise the matter, especially as both he and I got so very little change out of the Home Secretary, when we questioned him recently in the House on the subject. As my hon. Friend has said, we have no doubt that the people running these cinema clubs have the very best of intentions. Some of them may even be said to possess a high sense of mission; but the fact is that there are not enough suitable and good films available at the present time to show to children. The result is, that bad ones are being shown. That fact itself is very serious, but more serious still is the atmosphere of mass hysteria which is induced by the community shrieking and not by the community singing of theme songs and by the general lack of discipline which precedes the actual screening of the films. I endorse the opinion of my hon. Friend that in many cases a great deal of the good work put in by teachers of the children during the week is entirely undone by these Saturday morning exhibitions. It is, no doubt, largely because Saturday morning is regarded as a difficult time for mothers and people in charge of children at home that nearly 500,000 children are subjected to what at present amounts very largely to their leisure hours being exploited by private enterprise on a purely commercial basis.

I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who, I think, intends to reply tonight, to bear in mind a further aspect of this matter. Apart from the children's clubs, with which my hon. Friend has dealt so fully, the present law as to the admission of children to ordinary films, at times other than Saturday mornings, is in an utterly unsatisfactory condition. It is common knowledge that the law is continually and persistently broken from one end of the country to the other in this respect. As a result, truancy is widespread among school children. I suggest that a solution of this problem of truancy lies in further restrictions upon the admission of children to adult performances. Far more, too, can also be done in speeding up the development of films which take into account real child psychology.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

Will the hon. Member tell us on what evidence he bases his statement that there is widespread truancy as the result of that position? It is news to me.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

Evidence is to be found in the police courts of the country where, on many occasions, this particular question is raised, and magistrates have noted that the cinema has been an influence accounting for the absence of children from their regular duties at school.

I was saying that new films should be produced which take into proper account real child psychology. Whether we like it or not, cinema-going has become a social habit, just as going into Woolworth's or listening to the radio is a social habit. It is to be hoped that improved social conditions will do something to counter the present inclination on the part of parents to look upon the pictures as a ready-made and ready provided chance of keeping the kids comfortably occupied for an afternoon. If not, and if more rules in the interests of our cinema-going children are not applied, I think we shall develop citizens with a false set of values. We shall have a nation of robots and automata, for whom "glamour" offers an escape from the duties and responsibilities of life.

I wish that my hon. Friend who is to reply could persuade the Chancellor to subsidise the development of suitable films for children. It would be a splendid thing if that method could be considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would at least do something to meet my point of view and that of the hon. Member for St. Albans for it would help to ensure that those young people, for whom "the flicks" have become a habit, are treated to decent pictures and not to the portrayal of luxury-living film stars who, duly surrounded by the glamour I have mentioned, become in the eyes of their beholders simply people to emulate and follow. The social danger of too much passive enjoyment is also bound up with this and is another aspect of this particular question. I wholeheartedly support the hon. Member for St. Albans in having raised this matter tonight, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that something really definite will result from our efforts.

6.1 p m.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I would like to say of the speech of the hon. Member who opened the Debate that I, personally—speaking as one connected with the industry, as I shall show in a moment—and others who will read what he had to say, are extremely grateful to him for the sympathetic and fairminded manner in which he dealt with this question. It was a model of what a speech not of criticism, but of comment and inquiry should be. I cannot so fully congratulate the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge), who was full of his usual rhetorical observations. I noted with interest that one of the reasons why he objected to the cinema is that it is run by private enterprise. I hope that does not connote that hon. Gentlemen opposite have in mind the cinema as their next form of nationalisation. [Laughter.] The laughter which comes from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and for which I am very grateful, is a sufficient answer to the ridiculous point made by the hon. Member for Bedford. I should like to assure him about one thing. I am sure he would not want to make a charge which could not be sustained. He said there was commercial exploitation in these films. So far as the two main businesses which deal with children's cinemas—the Odeon and Gaumont-British—are concerned, there is not a penny made out of this—in fact, there is a loss.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

Does the noble Earl not agree that when the job is done in the way it is being done now, potential customers are being bought for the future?

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

The laughter that came earlier from the hon. Member's own side is a sufficient answer to that. I can assure the House that there is no question of trying to get potential customers. There are plenty of customers. Quite frankly—although I may be greeted by more laughter when I say this—the question is not one of customers but to get for the film-going public the sort of film they ought to see. I do not want to introduce an unnecessarily controversial element into the discussion of this question and I hope that no hon. Members opposite will think I am trying to make a party point when I say that I most strongly support what the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) said, on a different aspect, that there should be one Minister responsible for child welfare generally in the country. I do not want to get on to a matter which it would be wrong to deal with now—though it is not technically out of Order—the Curtis Report—but, though I know the difficulties, I feel most strongly that some one should be responsible for all these matters. I hope it will not be made a party question. All sides should bring pressure to bear to see that that is done.

It was in no hostile sense that I put a question to the hon. Member for St. Albans. The views of the headmistress of the school, if she is in any way a trained observer, are useful, but I do not think that her observations axe so very generally accepted. In the years before the war children poured into the cinemas on Saturdays. With regard to the point made in respect to the lack of discipline of the children attending the cinemas, the cinema manager or those who run the clubs cannot impose discipline on the children. If the children make a noise coming in, they cannot help it and can only ask the children to be quiet—

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

If the hon. Member wishes to make a remark I will give way.

Photo of Mr James Harrison Mr James Harrison , Nottingham East

I suggest that the cinema managers do control the children.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that. I was going to say that this is always a difficulty in relation to children's clubs. The children occasionally make a noise, but those in charge do their best to control it. These clubs were started, I am proud to say, by my friend Mr. Rank, entirely on his own initiative because he takes a great interest in the welfare of children. He believed that these clubs on Saturdays would not conflict with the schools. I do not know what the hon. Member for Bedford meant when he talked about truancy. If he meant that seeing films leads to truancy, I would only say that there has always been a whipping-boy for juvenile crime in this country. I resent the cinema being made a whipping-boy for children who are badly behaved. These suggestions are often utterly untrue. There was the "penny dreadful" when I was young. Sanctimonious people then wanted those stories banned. At another time—as anyone who knew the Midlands Nonconformist districts 40 years ago will know—it was considered a fearful thing if people went to a theatre—

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

I never attributed truancy to the shows given on Saturday morning. I said truancy had developed because children were allowed to go to ordinary cinemas at any time, without the law being applied, whether the films were for children or not.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I am sure that the representative of the Home Office has noted what the hon. Member said. Speaking on behalf of the industry, as I am proud to do, I would say that if there has been any breach of the law, it is the hon. Member's duty to report it to the Home Office, but I do not think it is so. I was saying that there has always been some whipping-boy for juvenile crime, and I resent the suggestion that the children of this generation are worse than those of the previous generation. There is far too much nonsense talked on this subject and far too many whipping-boys are set up by interested parties. I do not want to attack the Christian Church but at one time it was suggested that any child who went to see one of Shakespeare's plays was taking a ticket for a warmer place. Today it is the unfortunate cinema. The cinema children's clubs are an attempt to recognise that, for children, special attention to the programme is required and that care should be taken in the selection of films.

I think it should be known that there is a voluntary Advisory Council which deals with the question of what films are to be made. I would like to read out the list of members because I think it will impress the House. The Chairwoman is Lady Allen of Hurtwood, who has wide experience in all sorts of social matters. Then there is Mrs. Macouse of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Davey of the Home Office, Children's Department, Mr. McCulloch, a very well known broadcaster of the B.B.C., Mr. Forsyth Hardy of the Scottish Office, and Mr. Griffiths of the National Union of Teachers. There are several others, and it is a highly authoritative body as far as the personnel is concerned. It is, of course, a purely advisory body but its advice is accepted.

For the actual running of the clubs I ought to add that a body is being set up of a similar nature, the Chairman of which will be Lord Aberdare, who is well known to hon. Members of this House for his great interest in youth welfare. Let me frankly confess on behalf of the industry that in this, as in so many other matters, we have had to improvise. It was very difficult in the middle of the war, when this question arose, to get everything exactly right. Of course the industry can improve on the type of film which is being produced today, and I hope that in future we shall have better films.

Let me deal with another aspect of the case which I think was not referred to in the two opening speeches. I can, of course, speak only of the organisation with which I am connected, the Odeon, though everything I say applies also to Gaumont-British. I understand that other smaller circuits have their own clubs. There have been successful efforts to bring about cooperation between these cinema clubs and local councils, and with various other organisations interested in child welfare, and teaching staffs have devoted some of their time to these clubs. I am glad to be able to say that there are other activities besides attending the cinema connected with the cinema clubs, such as athletics and so on. Local police officers lend their services and give talks on road safety. In a large number of towns steps have been taken to get leading authorities, town councillors or members of the local municipal organisation, to give talks on health services and so on. Efforts are made to inculcate in the children a sense of responsibility. The House will, I am sure, be sympathetic to this point, that it is very difficult with small children to know how to balance between what they really want to see, namely, the exciting film., and other subjects. As we proceed, it will be possible, I think, to get the balance in probably a better proportion than it is today.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

Would the noble Lord tell us whether this is more successfully done when there happens to be in the cinema a manager who is particularly suitable for being a club leader? In some cinemas, unfortunately, there is a man in charge who is not suitable. Would it not be better to engage people specially for this work rather than using people just because they happen to be managers?

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I will commend that most strongly to my colleagues, and I am sure they will consider it sympathetically. I quite agree that it is really a question of trained personnel, and that it might be better to have a manager who can visit three or four cinemas each Saturday morning and deal with the audiences. I need not go into the programmes but, as I have said, there are other activities besides the actual programme. There are talks, community singing, a screen film magazine and so on.

I am grateful to the House—because I realise I am a very controversial Member of it—for sympathetically accepting my assurance in this matter that, so far as Mr. Arthur Rank was concerned—and some hon. Members know the great interest he takes in social welfare—there was no question of making money out of these clubs. He was only anxious to deal with what was a very difficult problem, the way in which children crowded into cinemas on Saturdays, often to see unsuitable films. A number of parents have expressed their satisfaction with what is being done. Of course a cynic might say, "That is all very well. They are only too grateful to have their children off their hands on Saturdays," but in a matter of this kind both employers and employees in this industry, and those of us who are connected with it, realise that it is a great public responsibilty. We are only too glad when discussions like this take place in the House, so that we may have regard to the opinion of the House on these matters. We certainly take note of them and I, personally, am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter in the form he did. I hope he will accept my assurance that most sympathetic consideration will be given to the points made, and, of course, to any point the Under-Secretary may make in his reply.

6.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

I agree with the noble Lord that there was too much talk by the elders of past generations about the mischief which youth can do. When I was young, there was nothing we enjoyed better than going to a Saturday matinee and shouting as loud as we could until the pictures came on. I want to bring to the notice of the noble Lord one aspect of this cinema club problem. I was the chairman of an education committee, in the town represented by the Home Secretary, which supported cinema clubs enthusiastically when they first appeared. We had a club attached to the Odeon cinema, and we selected two members of the education committee to represent us on the committee at the Odeon which dealt with the pictures to be displayed to the children. However, much to my dismay, our two people resigned after a while because they said they were just rubber stamps and that the manager of the cinema never consulted them. I have nothing but praise for the scheme of the clubs which, I agree, is educational, but if the clubs are to get the support of the education committees, it is no use treating their representatives in this way, when they go to see what is being displayed to the children. Therefore I ask the noble Lord to see to that particular matter, because local authorities do not feel very pleased when they are elected to a committee and find they are in no way consulted. I believe these clubs could be developed in the educational interest of the children if they were organised through the education committees. You can get a certain amount of discipline, although I would not like children to be kept too quiet before the picture starts, I suggest seriously that if these clubs are to be developed, the representatives of education committees ought to be treated better than were those to whom I have referred.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

I must apologise to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) for taking part in the Debate, although I did not hear his speech at the beginning. I am afraid I had not been following the House sufficiently closely and thought that this matter was coming on somewhat later. I was looking forward very much to hearing the opening speech. I have only heard references to it made by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) who said, in so many words, that it was a reasonable approach to the subject, as we would expect it to be. I apologise to the hon. Member for St. Albans that I cannot pick up the specific points of his speech. I am very much interested in this question, although I have no interest in the cinema. There is one point I wish to make and that is that in this country there is almost a complete blackout in regard to children's films. It is a very serious thing. There is this vast new instrument which obviously the children enjoy as much as anyone else, but very little special provision is made for them to enjoy it. If it were not for some of the things done by the firm of Rank, nothing would have been done at all.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

That is fully admitted, but, as the hon. Member probably knows, the difficulty is studio space. Studio space cannot be got anywhere.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

I am not referring to one particular firm, but talking about the problem throughout the country, and in connection with the Ministry of Education. No one has taken this matter seriously. I understand that the Ministry have now made a deal with certain firms which use documentary films, and that there is a small sum of money tucked away in the Estimates, which we can find if we look very carefully, which goes to the making of films for children. I have seen nearly all the films introduced by the organisations referred to, Odeon and Gaumont-British, and I congratulate them on the first experiments. But they will be the first to admit that they are only experiments. But it is not what I think, what matters is what the children think. Some of these films have been tried out on them. One was called "Sports Day," and has a highly moral conclusion, but the children are not at all certain about it. They like a bit of Wild West mixed up with some good nature films, one or two of which have been introduced. But it is largely an untilled field at the moment.

Only a few weeks ago I happened to see an exceptionally brilliant Czech film, a fantasy. I am not in favour of child labour, in fact, I have spent a certain amount of my life fighting against child labour, but that film could not be made in this country because a child of that age could never be employed. This is another question we have to face. I have tried to see what Mr. Rank and some of these firms are trying to do, and I agree with the noble Lord that there is no profit. I have seen some of the figures, and I know that there is a considerable loss in making films of this kind, apart from the point made by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington - Lodge), although I would say that the habit of going to the pictures is sufficiently strong not to need encouragement, even among the young.

Many people have tried to probe into the workings of these great film organisations. Some say that those concerned grew up as Methodists and added other things, and that there is a mixture of motives. I am not really concerned to go very much into the motives of people if I see some really good results coming out. My plea is that the Ministry of Education and a few people interested in this problem should get down—

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Is the hon. Member saying that he is not concerned with motives so long as the results are all right?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

No, I am not concerned with probing into the motives of people; when, for instance, I see Gaumont British making good children's-films, I am not concerned to go into the motives which led them to do so. I am prepared to judge them on merits. It is high time the Ministry of Education, and local education committees, and anyone who can do this job, got together, because there is not too much talent at the moment. I hear that there is a perpetual war going on between the various interests and if this is the way in which things are to be conducted, the children are going to suffer. I knew one or two of the people in the old documentary film world. Some worked with Mr. Rank and some in small independent companies, and some, I understand, are helping the Ministry of Education, but the difficulty is that there is no adequate technique yet. We may not have the studio space, but very little study is made of the question. The less adults project their opinions on the matter, the better for the children. The most surprising results have been discovered already by submitting films to a referendum, a plebiscite, of the children themselves. I think the more experimental film theatres we can have for children, the better, whether they be at Toynbee Hall, or the Odeon, or anywhere. I should like to see the day when the film is really an educational instrument, at any rate for all children under 18, because its possibilities are enormous.

I hope the Home Secretary can reply in that sense. I do not know why his representative is to reply. He must feel a little embarrassed. If, as the noble Lord said, we had one Department interested in children's welfare all these questions would come under one Minister, the Curtis Report, and everything else. But we welcome the Under-Secretary, and we know that he is interested in the problem. We very much hope he will give an answer which will express not only the view of the Home Office, but of the Ministry of Education, and of the Government as a whole.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

In view of the interesting factors which the hon. Member has brought out, will he not agree that what is wanted is a widely representative committee of inquiry to go into this? That is what I am asking for.

6.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Louis Tolley Mr Louis Tolley , Kidderminster

I welcome the opportunity to intervene in this Debate and take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) for introducing this all-important matter. Again tonight I have heard that as a result of children attending the cinema, child delinquency is on the increase. As a result of the films, it is said, children adopt the tactics of the screen artist and so break out into crime. I have had some experience as a magistrate in juvenile courts, and I take the opposite view from that which has been expressed. In an attempt to assess juvenile crime in all its aspects, I have found that where the boy or girl has entered into temptation, and done something wrong, it has been when they have had nothing to do. They have had time at their disposal and bad company to keep rather than being occupied, or having some form of entertainment to which they could go. I have never felt that we had the right to charge the cinema industry for the increase in juvenile crime. I wish to make a suggestion in regard to the very great attempts these two organisations are making to occupy the minds of the children intelligently by the pictures which they see on Saturday mornings.

I should like to see set up in every town and city, in connection with the industry, a committee consisting of clergymen of all denominations, representatives of head teachers and mistresses and all those local authorities which are concerned with child welfare. I believe that if such a committee were set up the organisations would welcome it, and as a result we should perhaps get a type of film which would be regarded as being appropriate and essential so far as the child's mind, intelligence and outlook is concerned.

Photo of Mr James Harrison Mr James Harrison , Nottingham East

Should we get from that set-up a type of film which the children themselves desire, as that seems to me important in this matter?

Photo of Mr Louis Tolley Mr Louis Tolley , Kidderminster

I think so, because, after all, the various people who have been conducting children's organisations in the particular town or city would pay due regard to the nature of the children who come under their care, and certainly in the conduct of their business they would pay due regard to the fact that the children must derive some form of pleasure and amusement. It may be they would put on a "Wild West" film occasionally, and why not? I would rather that a child saw at the cinema an exhibition of a film about the wild and woolly West than have him or her reading, perhaps in some remote place, undesirable literature.

Moreover, there is something to be said for children congregating together. There is a sort of desire for friendship among these children, as when men and women congregate. What has pleased me even more is to see children coming out of the cinema from some of these performances. It may be that they are "doing their stuff," they have seen a particular character and are trying to emulate his deeds and activities, expressing themselves with joy and pleasure and the concern they may feel about what they have seen. Let us not deny the child the right, on a Saturday morning, when the ordinary woman is perhaps doing the shopping or housework, and for the time being cannot have regard to what is happening to her child—

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that no one has wanted to deny them that.

Photo of Mr Louis Tolley Mr Louis Tolley , Kidderminster

I am not disagreeing with my hon. Friend when he says that. But I am making my suggestion of what I want to see happen. I want a committee to be instituted in every town and city, to help, assist and direct in regard to the nature of the films to be shown, so that in the future, by careful selection of the right type of film, on a Saturday morning, the children will have that pleasure and privilege which some people are seeking to deny them, a pleasure which, in my opinion, is good for them, and which I hope will be continued.

6.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

I intend to run the risk which every older person does when talking about children—that of making myself sublimely ridiculous. There are two things one has to bear in mind in this kind of discussion. One is, I believe, not to lay down too many rules, not to make too many generalisations. The other is to keep one's own sense of humour. One can be quite certain that the children in the cinema or anywhere else will keep theirs. I wish to say one thing. I have no criticism to make about the public spirit of Mr. Rank, or cinema managers, or people responsible for running cinema entertainments. They may be, I daresay they often are, people of public spirit in other respects, but I feel that the question of providing cinema entertainment for children in the form of cinema clubs should be put on a broader basis than that, though I confess I view with some apprehension the possibility of a committee partly composed of clergymen and partly of representatives of the education authority. Yet I think it might be possible to put the responsibility partly upon those who are responsible for education and partly upon the wider basis of good citizenship and good understanding. I feel rather uncertain that that has been sufficiently done, and it seems to me too easy to say that those who run the cinemas are doing their best. That they may often do, but that, in many other respects, has proved to be an inadequate answer in the long run. I feel convinced that if it is accepted as an answer now it will certainly not be accepted for much longer.

I wish to add one point in particular, although the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is to reply and perhaps this aspect is hardly his business. Some hon. Members will no doubt remember the kind of experiment made in Cambridgeshire, which combined education with the use of the cinema and other facilities in a centre called the village college. That has been tried with considerable success in fairly large villages and smaller ones, and has been extended, within limits, in the form of community centres. The idea behind it was to link up and centre those facilities round a form of teaching. I suggest to the House that without being too heavy, without putting the matter too much into the, hands either of the education authority or of teachers, it is still wise to try to centre his kind of entertainment round an educational centre.

That brings me to the question of providing this kind of film for children in places where there is no commercial cinema. One has to bear in mind that there are many parts of the country where commercial cinemas are few and far between. Although I do not sit for a Scottish constituency, I happen to live in Scotland. I have lately had a certain amount of experience in trying to use the small half-size 16 mm. films in connection with teaching in the villages, and for the entertainment of children. I am convinced that there are many possibilities, not only in the use of the cinema in class but far more in the linking up of the school itself with a centre where cinema performances, partly of an instructional character are available. That goes with particular force for the type of remote area, where one finds real intensity of interest through the eye among the population, who are far more able to learn that way than by traditional methods. I do not wish to develop further that point, which concerns education, rather than the particular aspect we are discussing. I hope that when the matter is further considered, that not only commercial cinema clubs, but the use of these half-size films for the benefit of children in the villages and children's clubs there, not strictly for educational purposes, will not escape attention and will be developed.

6.40 p.m.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

This Debate seems to have roamed over a wide field and has included a request that a committee should be set up dealing purely with children's problems. Many extraordinary views have been expressed and I hope that, as a professional man who started his career by specialising in children's diseases, I may be allowed to offer one or two observations upon certain of the remarks which have been made. The senior Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) made a remark which struck me as peculiar. He said that he did not mind what was the motive of the individuals who were producing a film so long as the film was a good one. I think that the motive animating the people desirous of producing a film to attract children is important, because it is most unlikely that a really good film suitable for children, either from the point of view of interest, education, culture or the building of character, will materialise if the motives of the people who are making the film are not based on sound principles.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

I am sorry to intervene, but the hon. Gentleman is making rather heavy weather. I merely mentioned a point that is often raised, that people were questioning the motives of certain of those interested in films. After all, it is the technician who makes the film. What one has to judge by is the result, and if the result is a good film, which the children like, really there is no more in it than that.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I am quite unmoved by the hon. Gentleman's interjection. Really he must drop this accusation, every time somebody is cutting the ground from under his feet, that they are making heavy weather. I think the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities should be able to stand to his point when it is attacked by opponents who do not believe it is a good one. The motive is most important and it is of no use to say that a technician makes a film. It takes a lot of people to make a film; the technician is merely one of the personnel engaged. The whole design is important, and to say that a technician makes the film is wrong.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

No, I will not give way. I take my blows, seriously and honestly, and I never keep on interrupting people.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Combined English Universities

The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted my remarks.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I think the object of the film is the most important thing with which we should concern ourselves. What is the object of making a film to be attractive to children? Sufficient has been said in this Debate to endorse the view of the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton), when he asked for an inquiry. It is tremendously important that the Government should have an impartial inquiry in which all interests can be represented, including those engaged with a profit-making motive, as well as the people interested in the educational, technical and scientific sides. Sufficient has been said to enable the Government to come to the conclusion that an inquiry is highly desirable.

Many of the films for children which I have seen—and I speak from the point of view of a man having a little knowledge of child psychology—have been made for sensual pleasure, pure pleasure. They have not been made for an educational purpose, which in my view would be the best possible motive. For example, they should take subjects such as that of scientific work with regard to plants and the development of the vegetable side of life. They could also take the animal side, the biological side. Except in scientific circles for purely experimental purposes, and not for popular show, I have never yet seen a really decent biological film dealing with the whole question of animal life, from the point of view of the interest of the child. For instance, there are Fabre's works on insects. Have they ever been shown? Surely,' those stories would make perfectly fascinating film material. They would command the pleasure of a child and he would come out of the cinema asking questions and wanting to know. Another subject could be Professor Wood Jones's works on the human hand and on the foot. The marvellous work which he has produced on the human hand and its development, the different uses of the fingers, and so on, could be made into a highly interesting film for children. Children can be interested in subjects like this. I know children who have been fascinated by a story explaining the movements of the different fingers, and that is a useful way in which to develop scientific interest.

Mention has been made of a plebiscite for children. It was suggested that we should ask them to have a plebiscite to decide the type of film they want, but I think that would be a poor method. At what age would children be allowed to take part in the plebiscite—two and a half, three or four? If it is said that there is to be no plebiscite probably some people will say that that is censorship. Children of that age want guidance and tuition. They need to be taught how to behave. Such things can be taught by films with a scientific and cultural object, mixed, of course, with a little colour and character. If that is done, I am sure it will be found to be the best way of securing improvement. I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Albans was right. A great deal of the problem lies in the private profit-making motive which is at the back of the whole film industry. I am satisfied of that. I am satisfied that they prefer to get the children and to train them early, so that they get the cinema spirit, and the habit of going to the cinema. In that way, they will be potential cinema-goers later on, and I believe that is done with the sole intent of making profit for the films industry.

I have looked into this question impartially. I am not interested in cinemas from the business point of view, but as an ordinary human being interested in medicine, and I am convinced that films devoted to children are produced with the idea of schooling them into becoming future cinema-goers of the country. Because of that, I agree with the hon. Member for St. Albans that the Government should consider the desirability of a thorough inquiry into this question.

6.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

I think the discussion has proved that this House takes a definite interest in the question of cinema clubs and I believe hon. Members have more or less endorsed the appeal of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton). I believe that we feel that some sort of Committee should be set up. I wish to put three points. I think that sometimes we over-estimate the ability of the adult. For Heaven's sake, do not let us destroy the wonderful creative imagination of the child so that it becomes a mere copier. That is one of the things we are likely to do if we foist upon children continuously what we think their entertainment should be. I hope no one will misunderstand me when I say that I took an interest in this problem when I was in Russia in 1938. Whether or not we agree with the Russian system does not enter into the question. They encourage children to visit the studios, and to criticise their films, and the acting and the technical ability of the adults taking part in the production of the film. Believe me, there are no better critics on this earth than children before their imagination is destroyed by some of the ideas of adults. Therefore, I think we should encourage that kind of criticism from our children. I believe that we are missing something in this direction.

I have seen an experiment in the encouragement of musical appreciation carried out on the verge of my own Division, in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, in which children, four or five years ago, during the war, attended set groups of lectures on music. We find that, today, those same children, now in their 19s and 20s, are followers of first-class music. I believe that we could do the same type of thing with the cinema club, and the advantage of the cinema club—and I discussed this once with Mr. Rank, when I visited his studios with a group of other Members of Parliament—is that it draws the child away from school, and gives him a sense of contact with the realities of human existence in a building which is exactly the same as that used by adults. We should have films in every school in Britain. But do not let us make any mistake about it. As a practical educationist, I would say that a film in school is performing one function, and a film in a social cinema club is performing quite another function, and we should not blur the margins of the use and availability of these films. In cinema clubs, we shall be able in, I hope, decent surroundings, to show films of the highest possible standard. We can no longer, in this scientific age, fob the child off with a wooden engine when he really wants an electrically-driven one. That is why I want to see these cinema clubs encouraged, and their standards improved, and some sort of committee of inquiry set up, with no Government control. I do not want Government control.

Lastly, I believe that boys' and girls' newspapers should be encouraged to have a column of film criticism for the children, in the same way that other newspapers have for adults. I cannot understand why the children's newspapers have "missed the boat" here. They have never used their columns to put across constructive film criticism for the type of film the children can follow. We have such a wealth of literature in all these islands that I am quite convinced that we could give virile and beautiful films to our children and give a living example of child film psychology to the world. I am glad indeed that this House has listened so attentively to this most vital discussion, and I express my thanks to the hon. Member who initiated it.

6.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Mack Mr John Mack , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I would have added but few words to this Debate had it not been for the great interest which it has aroused in the House. Like the senior Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay), I have not had the privilege of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) but I know the hon. Member will be fortified by the fact that he has initiated a most interesting and important debate.

It is easy to wag a finger and say that children must have all sorts of things, but the best thing to do is for hon. Members to think what happened to them when they were children. I remember that, when I was a child, my mother—a very lovable but very stern mother at times; indeed, she had good reason to be—said to me "John, if you are a good boy, wash your hands, face and neck and do about six or seven errands on a Saturday, you can go to the pictures," and, with my penny, I used to go to see the cowboys and Indians. I revelled in pictures in those days. My imagination was rather lively, and, as most children do, I liked a noise, but there were certain vindicating features about those pictures. I seem to remember that a maiden in distress was rescued by the hero, and that that appealed to the gallantry and chivalrous spirit in the young boys, and there was the further vindication that the feeling of all the children seemed to be that the villain was always punished, sometimes with very disastrous consequences. The children will be severely disillusioned in later life when they realise how crime often goes unpunished. Nevertheless, that kind of film was one of the greatest joys of my life.

Nowadays, I am told by a mother that she takes her children to see the modern type of film—the animated cartoons and "Donald Duck". She complained that her children wanted her to sit through the programme three times because they liked the show. I asked her what the children liked about that type of film, and she replied that, first of all, Donald was always smashing things, and there were illustrations, in a kind of Heath Robinson way, of machinery and other contrivances which seemed to be twirling and twisting in the most fantastic way. But, when all is said and done, that is not the type of picture that I would imagine children require if we are to stimulate a love of education, a desire to make them into good citizens, and fulfil the objects which, I understand, were in the mind of the hon. Member, namely, that they should not only have a certain amount of mental relaxation but should also be taken away, perhaps, from haunts of potential crime to their educational advantage.

Mention has been made of Russian films. I remember seeing a film showing how Russian children collectively built certain buildings by taking blocks and putting them together, and there were stories of how Russian schools had been teaching children to work collectively to construct what might be called rudimentary houses and objects of that description, showing that children could be creative. I thought that was an exceptionally good film. Reference has also been made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan), who always speaks with sincerity and understanding, to the question of nature study. This does not mean insect life alone; it can mean the biological facts of life being shown to children in a delicate way so that nature and sex can be explained to them by examples in the animal kingdom and plant life, in such a way as not to make it a rude awakening for them and also avoid the necessity for them to acquire that knowledge in a less desirable atmosphere. Historical films can also be shown, but there is the danger here that they may have a certain bias. Without mentioning any names, I shudder to think what would happen if the stories of the heroes of the history books were depicted as they really lived their lives, and children found out that they were not, in their private lives, such unblemished heroes as they were taught to believe.

I want to deal with the kind of picture which shows children how things are done. Someone has said that the first thing in education is to learn how to learn, and I think the primary function should be to show the child how to construct and build things and illustrate what are the reasons for them. I have not a very mechanical mind. I am not concerned with how my watch works; I am only concerned that it does work. But the child should know, and will want to know, how it works. We are hoping to see children taking a great part in the industrial development of our country, for we are not only a great commercial nation, but a great practical nation.

To make the children practical is, in my opinion, one of the most important things, and to make a picture of that kind need not cost a lot of money. For instance, we could have a picture about how Parliament works. Some time ago, I went to a boys' school in my constitu- ency and was amazed to find how much they knew about Parliament. They asked me all kinds of questions about it, and I had to use considerable ingenuity to manoeuvre the answers to the satisfaction of the pupils. The things they said about you, Sir, were, in part, complimentary, and, though you may not realise it owing to your natural modesty and innocuous spirit, you were the subject of great inquiry. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Speaker is known in his Parliamentary capacity far and wide. The younger children in particular wanted to know a lot about him.

We should have a film about Parliament, not necessarily this actual Parliament, and select individual hon. Members to depict the Labour Benches and others, suitably attired, the more privileged sections of the community on the Opposition side. The type of debate need not be too controversial, but the film should show the way that Parliament works. The Mace, the Serjeant at Arms, and that kind of thing, would be interesting to the children of this country. Such a film would meet a need which has always been at the back of my mind. If the children of this country could be educated at an earlier age in the subject of Parliamentary institutions, we should have better representatives in the future Parliaments of England. That would benefit the whole nation and would satisfy the desire of all Members of the Government that there should be better educated, enlightened and intelligent classes.

I am sorry I do not know the particular part that the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) plays in this, although I know that he is interested in cinemas. If I were a small child, I would like him to take me by the hand and to go with him to a cinema. It would be interesting to know to what kind of pictures he would take me. This has been a very helpful little Debate; it shows that Parliament can see things through the eyes of the younger element of the population, which, in the future, is going to build up, let us hope, a much better country. This Debate should help to bring that about.

7.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

I am extremely sorry that other business within this labyrinth has kept me away from this Debate until now. I had hoped to be present from the beginning. Had hon. Members been aware of what was taking place, a far greater interest would have been shown in this Debate than has been shown up to now. I think it is generally agreed that this great, attractive and impressive modern invention could help the children without, as has already been said, distorting their imagination unduly. It has been suggested that a committee of inquiry should be set up by the Government to investigate the potentialities of this great instrument. I see that the Home Office is in charge this evening, but I have a shrewd suspicion that this is overwhelmingly a question for the Ministry of Education. If it were left in my hands to suggest the kind of committee of inquiry that should be selected, I would certainly like to see on that committee a number of those men and women who have given their lives to the children, particularly in the elementary schools of the country. They certainly know most about the children's reactions to the cinema, and this is as much a question of psychology as of social ethics. I do not wish to elaborate that point because I assume that it has already been referred to.

Much has been said since I entered the Chamber about the child's desire to witness exciting events. All kinds of films have been referred to, but the amazing thing is that it has not struck those responsible for providing films for our children that much excitement and adventure, of the most impressive and creative kind, is to be found in the so-called ordinary commonplaces of life. I see that the Under-Secretary is not looking very kindly at me for getting up at this stage, but I promise him that I shall not elaborate a single point to which I refer. I happen to be a coalminer, and I have a shrewd suspicion that those who are in control of what is in this country today almost a vast monopoly, with terrific potentialities for either good or evil, are not disposed to place upon the screen a picture of the unending spirit of adventure that animates the miner. I have seen only one film that does anything like justice to the coalmining industry, and that was a German film, the showing of which was deliberately discouraged in this country. I am referring to that classic picture entitled "Kameradschaft," which showed what, on occasion, the ordinary miner has to face. I remember going to see it as an experienced coal-miner, and I remember the tremendous impression it made on me. It had considerable artistry, great excitement, and depicted one of the greatest adventures that I have ever seen on the screen. The same thing applies to other industries.

Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough

Perhaps the hon. Member would be interested to know, in fairness to British industry, that at this very moment a film such as he describes is being made by the Crown Film Unit.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

I am glad to hear that interesting piece of news, and I hope that those responsible for making the film will have the good sense to contact some experienced miners, as did the producers of "Kameradschaft."

There are other great industries in this country which, notwithstanding the hard, grinding toil and the almost unending list of diseases associated with them, still have their romance and adventure. I am not competent to talk in detail about the textile industry, but I know a little of the great technical and technological development of that industry, including the extraordinary discoveries of unknown chemists and so on. There are other industries; for instance, this country was the cradle of shipbuilding. Why do not these people who spend so much time, talent and money in playing upon the imaginations of the people, show on occasions that they are possessed of more practical imagination?

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

May I ask the hon. Gentleman what exactly he is getting at? If he is referring to the Crown Film Unit, he is entitled to do so, but there is no power in our legislation to compel the film industry to produce any particular film. What exactly does the hon. Gentleman mean? Is he referring to the Crown Film Unit?

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

I understood that this Debate originated out of some concern as to what the film industry was doing to the minds, particularly, of the youngsters of this country.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

May I inform the hon. Gentleman that the subject of the Debate is "Children's Cinema Clubs"?

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

I agree, and I am very interested in it, but it is extraordinary that it is the subject of the clubs rather than the content of the pictures that are shown to the youngsters, which animated at least two Members in utilising a good deal of time in this Debate. It is not my intention to take up too much time, but I must say that it is not necessary to exhibit the extreme and largely pointless artificialities of life if the film industry wishes to contribute towards developing the young minds of this country. What I am concerned about is that the films that are shown at these clubs should give to the children some indication that the life of this country depends upon creative work, and thus arouse an intelligent and constructive interest in the mind of the imaginative child.

7.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I think the House would wish me to congratulate my hon. Friend who introduced the subject of this Debate, not only on raising the subject, but also on the very fine manner in which he addressed himself to it. I am sure that when the speeches are read over, for the purpose of ascertaining the many points that have been raised—because there are far too many for me to deal with tonight—the suggestions which have emerged from the Debate will be found of great value in enabling one to come to a conclusion as to the next step to be taken, either by my Department or the Ministry of Education, or the two Departments combined, or whatever may be the right modus operandi. In the main, the Debate has centred around the quality of the pictures. That is a matter in which no Government Department can interfere. It is for the trade to produce the pictures which they think appropriate for exhibition to children. I agree with those hon. Members who referred to the selection of topics for children's films. The adult is not really the best critic to decide what children like, and I would have thought that among the subjects inappropriate for exhibition to children would be those of shipbuilding, mining and the industries of this country. However important they may be from a general educational standpoint, I do not think they would appeal, for instance, to children of seven years of age.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

They are very fascinating.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

They may be. I can only give my own view. I cannot speak from any great experience, because the whole matter of children's clubs is in its experimental stage, but I think the type of picture suitable for children can only be evolved by the process of trial and error, and by observing the reactions of children to various pictures presented to them. It may well be that the pictures which the adult would think admirable for children, would be dull as ditch-water to the children themselves. Therefore it is necessary for specialists in this subject to explore this territory in trying to produce the right pictures for children's entertainment. I think a Government Department, be it the Home Office or the Ministry of Education, would be the worst possible instrument for initiating a work of that description, however well it may be able to guide. It has been alleged that the purpose of these cinema clubs was merely to inculcate and encourage in children the habit of going to the pictures. I do not think it is necessary to create such an appetite. I think it is already there. When there were no cinema clubs in existence, people of my generation liked to go to the pictures. We were not stimulated by children's clubs. It is something which appeals to the people of this country. I observe that, in 1943, the Ministry of Information undertook a social survey of the cinema habits of 5,639 persons of all ages.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

In wartime. They were statistically recorded. It appears from this survey that 79 per cent. of young wage-earners aged from 14 to 17, attended the cinema once or more often every week.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

If my hon. Friend will allow me, may I ask whether he intends to imply that children are born with a desire or a natural aptitude for going to the cinema continually?

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I am not an authority on what children are born with; the subject of their potentialities is one which I do not aspire to understand. All I am saying is that 79 per cent. of young wage earners between 14 and 17 years of age, attended the cinema once or more times every week; 43 per cent. between the ages of 18 and 40; and then the percentage fell to 27 per cent. for the age group 41 to 45. Apparently there was no interest taken in people over 45; I suppose it was thought that their morals would not be affected by their attendance in cinemas; and so we have no record of that. There is sufficient evidence there to show clearly that there is a general desire on behalf of the adult population to go to the pictures. I do not think we would be justified in saying that the cinema clubs are merely schools for creating the picture-going idea and appetite. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) rather over-stressed, I thought, the delinquency aspect of the pictures. I do not think there is any evidence of that; certainly none was adduced in this Chamber.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

I did not even mention the word "delinquency" in my remarks. All I said was that truancy could be traced to the fact that children were allowed to go to the cinemas at all times of the day, to see films which the law really forbade them to see, and that they did not attend to their duties in school on that account.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I know the hon. Gentleman referred to truancy in terms, but I also thought he referred to delinquency in general. Let me say that we have no information at the Home Office that the fact that children go to the pictures with their parents, as they are entitled to do, to see "A" films—that is the adult films—has had any adverse effect upon the child mind. Therefore, we cannot say it should be suppressed. We cannot say that the fact of children going to the pictures with their parents or their guardians to see adult pictures has in any way affected them mentally, or in any way stimulated them to do something abnormal.

Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford

I am sorry to keep interrupting my hon. Friend, but does not he agree there is a regulation which prohibits children going to see certain types of films in the cinema, and that they continue to go to see those films, despite that regulation?

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

That, of course, I do not know. I cannot say who breaks the regulation. I do not stand at the doors of cinemas in London in order to find out who is breaking the law. I should need to be a cinema commissionaire to be able to answer that question. I recognise that in the last two years, cinema clubs for children between the ages of seven and 14 have developed at a very great pace. It is estimated that something like 400,000 children are members of 400 clubs, and that in the larger cinemas as many as 1,400 to 1,500 children may be present at a programme on any Saturday morning. I see that the clubs have other interests than the film interest. The auxiliary interests in outside activities include football, cricket matches, toy making, stamp collecting, and "pen pal" correspondence with children in other countries. I notice that the Gaumont British group has a club committee of the boys and girls at each cinema, who appear to be largely self-elected, and more or less represent themselves. I conclude they are not of an age when the idea of appointing representatives really affects them. In view of the very wide range of the picture interest and the auxiliary interests, it may well be it would be appropriate to consider setting up some committee—

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

Would the hon. Gentleman mind facing the Box? We cannot hear a word he says if he turns round.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

And we on this side cannot hear him if he faces the Box.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

On a point of Order. The Minister should face Mr. Speaker and not turn round. That is a well known Rule of the House. We cannot hear unless he faces the Box. It has always been so, and nobody knows it better than the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I try to speak up, in the hope that everybody will hear.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

We cannot hear if the hon. Gentleman does not face the Box.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

It may well be that the varied interests of these clubs would justify some inquiry to see what could be done, and what should be done, to give some point and some direction to the next stage in the development of this very important work.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

This is a very important matter. Speaking as one connected with the industry, I neither support nor oppose this proposal. Do I understand that the Under-Secretary is now announcing, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that it is proposed to hold an inquiry into these clubs? If so, might I ask him whether he would consider going much further, because obviously if there is to be an inquiry into children's cinema clubs, there should be an inquiry into all children's clubs? Children's cinema clubs are not the only children's clubs in the country, and there would have to be an inquiry into all types of clubs. I must press the Under-Secretary to say whether this is an announcement on behalf of His Majesty's Government or not.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I can only say that it may well be that the wider aspect is a subject for inquiry. I cannot say whether there will be an inquiry in that regard or not. I can only say this may well be a subject which should be inquired into, although I am not authorised to say the Government would institute an inquiry. It is only right to add that much is being done for the purpose of improving the types of films and the nature of the films. I see that in the Gaumont-British and the Odeon clubs, there has been set up, with an idea of improving the clubs, an advisory committee on children's entertainment under the chairmanship of Lady Allen of Hurtwood, for the purpose of encouraging the production of films especially suitable for children. On that committee are representatives of the Home Office

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

I mentioned the committee in my speech and gave the names.

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

That is true. The Home Office and the Ministry of Education are represented among the members. The advisory committee over which Lord Aberdare presides has also been referred to in this Debate. There have also been independent bodies inquiring into this matter. In April last, "The Child and the Cinema" was a subject considered at a conference in London, convened by the British Film Institute and the National Council of Women, of which the hon. Member for St. Albans spoke when he introduced this matter. Although conclusions were not arrived at, the conference ventilated many of the doubts felt by teachers and others on the influence of the cinema clubs. So far as I am informed, I think nothing specific emerged from that Conference, other than a general discussion and the raising of many points similar to those which have been raised here tonight.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

Surely there emerged from that conference a specific recom- mendation from the British Film Institute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that an inquiry should be held?

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

If that is so, it will be shown on the record, but I have no reference to it here on my notes. Recently a subcommittee of the County Councils Association dealing with cinematographic education has been studying the admission of children to cinemas, and has produced an interesting preliminary report, which is under examination by a larger and more representative body. The final conclusion will be taken into consideration in deciding whether further inquiry is desirable into cinema clubs. On that, I would ask the House to permit me to conclude, because that report will give my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the information upon which he may base the next step in the evolution of what we regard as being very useful clubs.

Photo of Mr Cyril Dumpleton Mr Cyril Dumpleton , St Albans

That is very interesting information, for which I thank the hon. Gentleman; but will he say there is also to be the fullest consultation with the Ministry of Education?

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I think that on the question of the clubs, and on the question of the pictures, and on all aspects of the cinematograph as an educational medium, it is almost unnecessary for me to say that the Ministry of Education would be taken into consultation.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

And, of course, the industry itself would be consulted?

Photo of Mr George Oliver Mr George Oliver , Ilkeston

I think all the interests on both sides would be consulted.