HC Deb 05 February 1958 vol 581 cc1310-2

9.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)

I beg to move, That the Draft Cinematograph Films (Distribution of Levy) (Amendment) Regulations. 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved. These amending Regulations cover a narrow but important point concerning the definition of television films which, as hon. Members will know, form one of the classes of films which are excluded when calculating the payments to be made to makers of British films out of the proceeds of the levy. I should like to emphasise that this is not a change of definition but a clarification which the British Film Fund Agency as well as organisations in the trade have requested on the grounds that the existing definition is not absolutely clear. This is a matter of importance for the Agency as the payment of substantial sums of money may be involved. It was also found that the Regulations might unfairly penalise films on account of actions taken prior to the publication of the Regulations, and we have also taken steps to close a small loophole, which I will describe in a moment.

These amending Regulations confirm that any brief excerpts of a film may be shown on television without the film thereby becoming a television film, provided that the duration of each excerpt does not exceed five minutes. Secondly, the Regulations provide that the eligibility of a film for payments from the proceeds of the levy will not be prejudiced by any agreement to show the film on television which was entered into before 20th October, 1957—that was the date when the main Regulations came into force—or by any exhibition on television before that date.

As regards the loophole which I mentioned, it is a small point, but nevertheless quite an important one. Hon. Members will remember that the Regulations apply only to standard films. It would therefore be possible, if someone were so minded, for films to escape disqualification if shown on television in. for example, a 16-millimetre version. The Regulations provide that the showing on television of non-standard films, that is to say, films of a width other than 35 millimetres, shall be subject to the Regulations if they are in fact copies of eligible films.

The Act provides that the Board of Trade shall consult the Cinematograph Films Council before making Regulations. This has, of course, been done, and I would only add that the British Film Fund Agency was also fully consulted, and that the representations made by trade organisations have been taken into account. I hope therefore that the House will be able to approve these Regulations.

9.37 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I feel that we need have no controversy on this matter. In fact, as one of the members of the Film Council who has tendered advice to the President, I am very glad to observe that our advice has been accepted.

The definition of a television film which is now clarified in this Statutory Instrument is exactly what we always thought it to be. It was the lawyers who caused the trouble over it by thinking that there may be four possible interpretations of what it meant, none of which to any ordinary lay members would seem to be fitting, though the lawyers said that any one of the four may have been intended in the original Regulations. Therefore, this Amendment was required. Otherwise, it would have been rather astonishing if something which came into effect on 20th October already had to be amended.

I must confess that it was not just matters of drafting, but matters of substance on the other two points to which I wish to refer. Retrospective legislation was required to exempt films which had, in fact, been shown, and I believe that several were shown on television over a period of six minutes, the effect of which would have been to remove those films entirely from the levy payment, which would have been clearly very unfair. I am therefore very glad that that particular point has now been put right. It is a small matter, but one of substance to those concerned. I must also confess that, even with the trade advice on the Film Council, we failed to notice that it would be possible to show films in a 16 millimetres version on television, and that again is something that was urgently required.

I think there is very little more that one can say on these Regulations. We are not dealing here with the larger question which is agitating the cinema industry at this time about general policy in showing films on television. We are concerned purely with eligibility for the levy, and that applies only to the showing on television during the first twelve months of a film's life after registration, so that we are not touching on that wider issue which we may have to debate shortly. These draft Regulations, as far as they go, are entirely acceptable.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Cinematograph Films (Distribution of Levy) (Amendment) Regulations, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be approved.