In the ordinary course of events it is possible that the change which is proposed in these Regulations, which is of a relatively minor character, might have escape detailed criticism in the House, but my right hon. Friend has made it clear that this is not the ordinary course of events.
The Regulations are placed before the House in circumstances in which the Under-Secretary of State has become a monster in the eyes of the British film industry. He is quoted in the today's "Cinema"—dated Friday, 19th July—as saying that it is not the Government's policy to put money into industries, especially industries like this which have no strategic or defence implications. [HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear."] The implications behind that statement are appalling. This is philistinism run rampant because it is the policy of the Government, according to the hon. Gentleman, to be concerned only with putting money into defence and strategic industries and to be totally unconcerned with anything outside that sector. I doubt whether others among his hon. Friends will be quite so carried away by his remarks as those present seem to be. Some hon. Members opposite do not follow him in the policy which he expressed in that statement.
This Order has the effect in a minor way of transferring some of the money—failing to transfer it would, perhaps, be a more correct way of putting it—from exhibition into production, which is the effect of the levy. It is a redistribution of money within the film industry. It is in this case a matter not of the Government using public money but of approving the redistribution of money within the industry. The Order provides that a little less money shall go towards production and that a little more money shall remain in exhibition.
In the normal course of events, one might have said that this is a relatively minor matter. But what troubles many people is the odd sense of priorities which the Government show. This in itself is a fairly small change but the hon. Gentleman announced a most major change the other day. He chose to do so in a Written Answer put down by a stooge on the benches opposite. It was a cowardly thing to do and discourteous to the House. By doing it in that way, he succeeded in avoiding a debate on the subject. I shall not be able to travel too far along what should be the real subject of this debate—the bigger change he announced then—because I am bound to confine my remarks very largely to this Order and I do not want to overstrain your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there should be an opportunity to debate not only this Order but the major change in policy in the decision to withdraw Government finance from the British film production industry. That decision is a very disturbing element and this Order is a small step in the same direction.
Apparently, the National Film Finance Corporation is to be wound up, although it is a most valuable source of finance for British films and has kept the industry alive during a very difficult period and has thus made a valuable contribution to exports. If that is the policy of the Government, then changes such as that announced in this Order will be of relatively minor character because we shall have a position in which the film industry, which has contributed much to our country, not only culturally and artistically but in terms of the balance of payments, will gradually run down.
I hope, therefore, that the Chair will be as kind to the hon. Gentleman as it has been to me when he comes to reply and will allow him to widen the debate, because he certainly should give some explanation of the more drastic change of policy which he has hitherto avoided dealing with in the House. There is a state of considerable alarm in the British film industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will try tonight to do something to put at rest the worst fears which he has aroused since he became responsible for expressing Government policy towards the industry.