HC Deb 11 November 1966 vol 735 cc1775-80

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

2.48 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Roy Mason)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a short Bill, but an important and necessary one, and I am grateful to the House for having dealt with it considerately and speedily. Its purpose is to prolong for another three years the life of present legislation governing support for the British film industry. This will enable the Government to review films policy and legislation in the light of the Report of the Monopolies Commission on the supply of films to cinemas.

It may be convenient if I briefly refresh hon. Members' memories about the provisions of the Bill. It extends until the end of 1970 the period during which the National Film Finance Corporation is empowered to make loans for film production, and includes certain consequential provisions. It extends the power to impose a levy on exhibitors for distribution to makers of British films for a further three periods of 52 weeks, that is, until October, 1970.

The levy will continue to be collected by the Customs and Excise and distributed in accordance with Regulations made by the Board of Trade. The Bill also prolongs until the end of 1970 provisions relating to the quota. In addition, it makes two minor amendments to the existing legislation. One raises the level up to which cinemas are eligible for exemption from quota from an average rate of net box office receipts of £125 a week to £150 a week. The other prescribes £450 as the maximum fee for the registration of a co-production film.

The Monopolies Commission's Report was published on 31st October and is being carefully considered. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said, in replying on 2nd November to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor), that the parties concerned were being invited to discuss the Commission's recommendations with his Department. My right hon. Friend will make a further statement as soon as he is in a position to do so.

It is evident from the Commission's Report that the problems are complex and the discussions will necessarily take some time. It is clearly desirable that the uncertainty which has hung over the industry should be removed without undue delay, and I can assure the House that the discussions will be pursued energetically. Letters of invitation to the talks have already been sent to the parties concerned.

Consideration of the Monopolies Commission's Report will form the initial stage in the Government's review of their films policy and the films legislation. When this vital stage has been completed the next step will be Board of Trade consultation with the Cinematograph Films Council, trade associations and other interested parties on films legislation generally. The Bill, therefore, will hold the position while this review is in progress. I now commend it to the House.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

When the Bill came to us on Second Reading it seemed to us reasonable as an interim proposal to extend the various existing arrangements pending the full review in the light, amongst other things, of the Monopolies Commission's Report. Since then we have had the Report itself and, whatever view the Government may take of the recommendations of the Commission, I am bound to say that I have not been able to see that many of them directly affect the problems to which the provisions of this Bill, or perhaps I should say of the earlier Acts which this Bill extends, are really directed. Therefore, there seem to be a good many fewer reasons for any great delay in the Government coming forward with a full review and producing comprehensive and perhaps more appropriate proposals in the light of the existing modern conditions of the industry.

I was very glad, therefore, to hear the Minister of State, Board of Trade, say that he is already getting these preliminary talks under way. But I hope that the Government, when they come to look at the problems of the industry, will be a. good deal more realistic than they have been in the past in regard to their own taxation policy. After all, one of the main purposes of the provisions that we have been discussing has been to extend, or, at any rate, to maintain, a reasonable proportion of British films on exhibition in this country and to enable the British film industry to make its maximum contribution to exports. It does not appear to make sense to inflict upon an industry of this sort such a peculiarly inappropriate form of tax as the S.E.T.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member can discuss only the Bill on Third Reading.

Mr. Corfield

What I was suggesting to the hon. Gentleman was that when we have the proposals which he has promised, and for which this is a holding operation, that aspect of the matter should be looked at not only with regard to the incidence of taxation but in regard to the classification of the whole industry, and that we should if possible have, as I asked for on Second Reading, a White Paper in advance. I know that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) rather shot that one down, but it has to be realised that the actual problems of any industry—and I would have thought the film industry above most—are fairly complex. They are not familiar to more than a fairly narrow section of the community, and it is not appropriate to try to judge recommendations and proposals particularly of a financial nature unless one really sees the background and the problems which those proposals seek to solve.

I do not imagine that even when the Government have their recommendations they will be violently controversial. We merely want to try to ensure that the proposals do what we imagine the Government will wish them to do, namely, to help the British film industry to make a bigger contribution than it at present makes to our economy.

With those few words, and hoping that when these recommendations come forward any financial assistance, whether Government or through a levy, will not be used merely, in whole or part, to offset a financial impost by the Government, we continue to welcome the Bill on Third Reading as we did on Second Reading.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I join in the congratulations which have been expressed to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, in that he is already having discussions designed to make this Bill no longer a holding Measure.

On Second Reading, I forecast that before we reached this stage the Monopolies Commission would have reported, and this has proved to be the case. I raised at that time the question whether it might not be appropriate, in view of the Report of the Commission to which my hon. Friend has referred, for the Government to consider whether the Bill should be substantially amended in the light of the recommendations of the Commission. Now that we have seen the recommendations of the Commission, I think many of us will understand that the Government would not wish to put down substantial Amendments to this Bill because those recommendations are of such a character as to be unlikely to commend themselves to my hon. Friend.

The Commission has, in fact, failed to draw the proper conclusions from its own findings——

Mr. Speaker

Order. All of this would have been in order on Second Reading. On Third Reading we must discuss only the Bill.

Mr. Jenkins

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was about to say that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) pointed out that the Bill itself was—he concurred with my hon. Friend—a holding Measure. If, as my hon. Friend suggested, the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission had been of a more drastic character, the Bill might possibly have been amended at a later stage. This has not been done and we have before us a Measure which is purely a temporary one.

Mr. Speaker, you have told me that it is not in order for me to make any detailed reference, or possibly any reference at all, to the recommendations of the Monopolies Commission, and therefore I shall not attempt to do so. What you will probably allow me to say is this. During the discussions which my hon. Friend is to have on the future of the industry, I hope that he will bear in mind the Motion on the Order Paper relating to the future of the industry which is covered in this Measure, and will consider the possibility of the more drastic solution which is there recommended.

With those few words, I would add my own support for the final passing of this Bill, and express the hope that it will not be too long before my hon. Friend will be coming before us with rather more drastic solutions for the problems of the film industry.

2.59 p.m.

Mr. Mason

If I may, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, speak again, I should like to reply to the two hon. Members who have taken an interest in the Bill throughout its stages.

I assure the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) that we recognise the need for comprehensive review and consolidation of the various Acts which have been responsible for the film industry over recent years. He mentioned on Second Reading the possibility of having a White Paper, and has raised that subject again. There may be merit in the point, and I will consider it.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) that we are very much aware of the need urgently to solve many of the basic problems of the industry. As I said, we have sent out invitations to interested parties-Rank's, A.B.C., the Kinematograph Renters' Society, the Cinema Exhibitors' Association and the Association of Independent Cinemas.

The Bill is, as my hon. Friend said, really a prop holding the industry firm for a further three years, but I can assure him that we shall with all speed get on with the major review and hope that legislation can be provided well within the three-year time scale.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed.