HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc62-8
Mr. J. Rodgers

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, after "time", to insert: and notwithstanding anything in section eleven of this Act". The Amendment exempts newsreels from the provisions of Clause 11 of the Bill. The newsreel companies have pointed out that the requirement under Clause 11 (a), that, where a film contains more than 10 per cent. of previously registered material, it may not be registered without the consent of the Films Council, would prevent the newsreel companies, without special dispensation, from using old material for special editions as part of their regular series as they are now accustomed to do. These special editions embrace such subjects as the death of a prominent statesman, the tenth anniversary of the accession of the Queen, or the review of the year which the companies make annually in Christmas week.

Further, even greater difficulties arise from the requirement under Clause 11 (b) that, where a film contains more than 10 per cent. of film, the maker of which was not the maker of the film to be registered, it may not be registered as a British quota film without the consent of the Films Council. In practice, newsreels often contain more than 10 per cent. of material obtained on an exchange basis from companies abroad, either within the Commonwealth or outside it. In fact, Clause 2 of the Bill clearly intends that, over and above material derived from the Commonwealth, newsreels should be permitted to contain up to 25 per cent. of material derived from foreign sources.

The main purpose of Clause 11 is to provide for the registration of films, often documentaries or of the scrapbook type, which draw heavily on old material and whose status in the past has been somewhat obscure. It is not the intention of the Clause that it should be made more difficult for newsreel companies to pursue their normal business. Indeed, this would be contrary to the intention of Clause 2 which, in laying down special provisions for the registration of newsreels, is designed to take the custom of the trade into account. Hence the Amendment to exempt newsreels from the provisions of Clause 11.

Mrs. White

Here again, we raise no objection to the Amendment. We object to the principle of having newsreels at all. But, if we are to have them in, this proviso is reasonable. The arguments put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary would be hard to refute. The newsreels are different in character from the films dealt with in Clause 11. We therefore have no objection to their being exempted in the manner proposed.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. J. Rodgers

I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, to leave out "seven" and to insert "five".

This Amendment cuts the time allowed for the registration of newsreels after delivery to an exhibitor from seven days to five days. It will be recalled that in Committee hon. Members opposite put down an Amendment to cut the time allowed for the registration of newsreels from seven days to three days. The Amendment was resisted on the grounds that, while there was no particular virtue in seven days, three days would be too short a period since it would mean that in practice a Thursday newsreel would have to be registered on a Friday, and that there would be further complications during the period of a public holiday such as Christmas. However, the point was pressed and I undertook to consider the question again.

Further discussion on this question has since taken place with the newsreel companies, who say that they could manage if the period of grace for registration were cut either to five days or to three working days. Although it would have been possible to draft an Amendment referring to "three working days", it would be rather cumbersome and accordingly the Amendment is framed in the direct form of cutting the period of grace for registration from seven days to five days.

If there is any suggestion that five days is still too long a period of grace it might be pointed out that public holidays can reduce considerably the effective period of grace given. For instance, last year Christmas Day fell immediately before the weekend on a Friday, so that there were three consecutive days when the offices of the Board of Trade were closed. Further, an application for registration will have to be accompanied by a statutory declaration made before a commissioner for oaths who may not be readily accessible at a period of public holidays.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government on seeing the wisdom of the arguments advanced by hon. Members on this side of the House. As the hon. Gentleman said, we moved an Amendment that the period should be three days, but during the discussion, a suggestion came from hon. Members on this side of the House that we might compromise by adding the two and dividing by two and getting a total of five days. I am very glad that the Government have seen fit to take the advice which they were given.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Rankin

I beg to move, in page 3, line 24, to leave out "two" and to insert "three".

Again, I welcome the fact that the Government are following the lead which they received from the Opposition. So long as they are prepared to adopt that course they will not go very far wrong.

I know that the Solicitor-General had serious doubts about this when we considered the Amendment in the first place, during the proceedings in the Standing Committee. The figure was first put down as £500, but the hon. and learned Gentleman felt that was far too high. Then, following a little pressure exerted during the debate, he revealed that he was prepared to consider a revision. Of course, I could quote his exact words, but I do not want to take up time by so doing. They will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in the Standing Committee.

From considering that the figure was far too high the hon. and learned Gentleman went to revision; he was prepared to consider revision. Then he qualified the idea of revision by saying that the sum of £500 which we were suggesting was out of proportion in relation to other penalties on summary conviction. Then, finally, the course of the argument compelled him to say that he would reconsider the whole position. It almost seemed like the journey of St. Paul, which was referred to a few moments ago in the course of another discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman started at Ephesus, I hope that he has now reached Damascus and that he has been completely converted to the view which we advanced.

The hon. and learned Gentleman agrees, and so, I think, do the Government for whom he is the spokesman, that £250 is too low in present circumstances. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the sum of £500 which we suggested was too high, for the various reasons which I have outlined. So, once again, in seeking to get him to see our point of view, we have sought to compromise and fix what we regard as a reasonable sum in between. We suggest that that sum is £350. I think that figure meets every point which was put during the discussion in the Standing Committee and I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I sincerely hope that the Government will accept this Amendment. I think it was recognised during the Committee stage discussions that this would have a serious effect in dealing with a case of defrauding, where a renter notifies an exhibitor of his intention to apply to register a film but does not attempt to register it.

As we discovered during the Committee stage discussions, the main point is that the Government have pursued a policy in this Bill of raising all the fees and lowering all the penalties. Where it is a case of the Board of Trade getting anything out of it, the figure has gone up. Where it is a case of penalties for quite serious offences, the figure has been left in the terms of 1938 values. That was shown to be completely absurd. As the Board of Trade has started of in a compromising mood this afternoon, I hope that this Amendment will be accepted.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Jocelyn Simon)

We discussed the question of penalties quite a lot during the Committee stage discussions both in relation to this Clause and a later Clause. Regarding this Clause, I did not undertake to revise the penalty provisions in the Bill generally. I said: I would agree that as a general matter of principle the penalties ought to be reviewed in the light of the changing value of money. I would remind the hon. Member for Glasgow Govan (Mr. Rankin) that the word was "review" and not "revise." I went on to say: On the other hand, a £500 penalty on summary conviction is altogether out of line with what one finds in the rest of the law. Finally, I said: I have undertaken, if the Committee think it proper, to reconsider this matter before Report without giving any undertaking that the penalty should he increased… Those words appear at the bottom of column 24 of the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Rankin

It was those words which I had in mind. Perhaps I should have quoted them, but as I said, I did not wish to consume too much time. The Solicitor-General did say that he would reconsider this matter, and I felt that it was the weight of the argument which had driven him to that decision.

The Solicitor-General

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that there is any real misunderstanding about this, but I did not want it to be thought that I had given an undertaking to revise the penalties, but merely to review them generally. As I said, my summary was: I have undertaken, if the Committee think it proper, to reconsider this matter before Report without giving any undertaking that the penalty should be increased and particularly. I hope, making it quite plain that I think £500 is excessive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B: 19th November, 1959. c. 22–24.] The Committee was good enough to allow the matter to rest there, on the undertaking, as I said, that there should be a review—which I have, in fact, undertaken—of the penalty provisions of the Bill, and also in the light of other penalty provisions.

The hon. Gentleman, in addition to review, now offers me modestly a blinding flash of light to assist in our deliberations. What I found when it came to review was this. In the first place, it is not the practice when amending legislation is prepared automatically to increase the penalties because of the decline in the value of money. Each penalty is reconsidered on its merits, and an increase is proposed only if there is reason to believe that, owing to the change in the value of money, the deterrent effect of the original penalty is inadequate.

Secondly, in the light of that, I considered the penalties under the previous legislation. There are 15 provisions which attract penalties, but it was apparent that only in respect of four of these 15 provisions has it been found necessary to prosecute. What is most significant of all is that, even in respect of those four categories, the courts have operated well within the maximum penalty; and, therefore, this indicates that, in the view of the courts, the deterrent effect of the penalty is still adequate, notwithstanding a change in the value of money.

As a result of that, it seemed to me that the maximum penalties under the Bill are right as they stand, with one exception, which we will come to on a later Amendment. So far as the penalty at present under consideration is concerned, it seemed to me that it was right at £250.

But there is another consideration, which I did not bring to the notice of the Committee, but which seems to me to be quite conclusive. I did tell the Standing Committee, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, that we are to introduce regulations that will govern the payment of levy to newsreels. When we do that, we shall make it quite plain that if the film is unregistered the levy will not be attracted. That means that there will be a very much greater pecuniary sanction to non-registration than any fine that has so far been proposed. If companies fail to observe their obligation to register a film they will not qualify for their share of the levy, and that is likely to involve them in a loss of several thousands of pounds.

Under these circumstances, I hope the House will feel that I have honoured the undertaking which I gave to review, with the best ability that I could command, the penalties in the Bill, and, particularly in view of that last consideration, that the Amendment should not be pressed.

Mrs. White

I still think that there are places in cinematograph films legislation where the penalties should be kept more in line with the present-day value of money. I appreciate the point put by the learned Solicitor-General about regulations made on the lines which he has been suggesting. One of our difficulties has been that so much is to be done by regulations that we have to take in good faith at this stage. Nevertheless, if regulations are made on the lines now proposed by the Solicitor-General, in this case the amount of the penalty, perhaps, is not of such significance.

We feel, I think quite rightly, that if we are having fresh legislation and the penalties have remained unchanged for very many years, it is only right to suggest that they should be brought a little more up to date. However, as the learned Solicitor-General has given some effect to the undertaking which he gave in Committee, I do not think that the point on this Clause is strong enough to press the matter, and possibly my hon. Friends might feel inclined to let it go by default.

Mr. Rankin

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.