841.4061 Motion Pictures/94: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

28. Embassy’s 752, December 4, 1 p.m.7 The following handed to me this evening:


His Majesty’s Government have given careful consideration to the terms of the memorandum on the subject of cinematograph films legislation in the United Kingdom which was handed by the United States Chargé d’Affaires to Sir R. Vansittart8 on the 3rd December and to the oral communication which he made at the same time.

His Majesty’s Government have never considered the position and influence of the United Kingdom film industry as primarily an industrial question, but rather as a cultural question; they feel it essential, as a matter of national policy, that cinema-goers in the United Kingdom should be given an opportunity of seeing some proportion of films in which they can expect to have portrayed the manners and life of their own country. It was for this purpose that the Cinematograph Films Act, 1927, was passed. That legislation is due to expire in March in this year, and, unless further legislation is passed before that date, no protection would be afforded to this instrument of national culture beyond a trifling import duty which has no real effect. His Majesty’s Government would find it impossible, therefore, to agree to any suggestion that the cinematograph films bill now before Parliament should be withdrawn.

In drafting their legislation, His Majesty’s Government have taken all practicable steps to ensure that, consistent with the primary purpose of the proposed legislation, i. e. the maintenance of a British film industry, no hardship should result to any class of persons carrying on business in this country and no unnecessary impediment should be placed in the way of trade with other countries. It was for this reason that they found themselves unable to accept certain of the recommendations for future legislation made by Lord Moyne’s committee9 which reported at the end of 1936. In the discussions following the publication of this report, they have had the advantage of continuous [Page 6]consultation with a representative of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and with the principal renters of American films in this country; and it has been found possible to include in the bill, as presented to Parliament, certain of the suggestions which have been made in the course of these consultations. Since the bill was printed, further representations have been received from the American renters; these are being carefully considered and it is hoped that in certain respects it may be possible to meet them before the bill becomes law.

It should also be appreciated that the immediate effect of the new legislation will not be, on the whole, to impose new burdens on the renters of foreign films. At present any such renter is obliged to acquire a quota of at least 20 percent of British films, but for the first year of the new legislation, as from the first April next, he will have to acquire only 15 percent of British long films and a smaller percentage of British short films.

His Majesty’s Government observe that the memorandum under reference speaks of ‘irrevocable legislation’. While, as already explained, they cannot contemplate the withdrawal of the proposals now before Parliament or indeed their modification in principle, they would point out that the bill in its present form does not prescribe a rigid scale of quotas which must be adhered to in all circumstances. Machinery is provided which will act as a safeguard against the possibility of the fixing of quotas at such a level as to be a hardship to any section of the trade, including the renters.”

Your 13, January 12, 2 p.m., received and will be answered as soon as possible.

  1. Not printed; but see telegram No. 468, November 29, 1937, to the Chargé in the United Kingdom, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. ii, p. 89.
  2. British Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. British Cinematograph Films Act Committee.