HC Deb 13 April 1981 vol 3 cc118-20

Order for Second reading read.

10.37 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)

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

The Bill consolidates the Cinematograph Films Act 1957 and the succeeding measures set out in schedule 2, which make provision far a levy to be imposed on exhibitors of films and for the British Film Fund Agency to make payments out of the proceeds of the levy for purposes connected with the British film industry. It has been considered by the Joint Committee, which was satisfied that the measure was pure consolidation. I as sure the House that I am so satisfied.

10.38 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

We have received the assurance that the law is not being changed, and that is important. However, there is more to consolidation than merely not changing the law. The purpose is to get rid of any items in the law that have fallen into desuetude and to place the law into a more convenient order and arrangement. Various measures should be in one Act rather than scattered throughout as many as 20 or 30.

What has been the purpose of this consolidation? The Films Act 1980 is now split into three measures. In this Bill sections 2, 4 and 9(1)(b) of the 1980 Act are repealed and in the National Film Finance Corporation Bill some other sections are repealed. It is very recent legislation, as the title clearly indicates. Some sections of the 1980 Act remain alive.

I should have thought that on the basis of consolidation, for the convenience of the users of the legislation, which must be an element, it would have been wiser not to have divided the film levy from a body such as the National Film Finance Corporation. In the 1980 Act, many of the important elements—the film levy and the operation of the National Film Finance Corporation—were contained in one Act, which is surely more convenient than being scattered throughout three.

I understand and appreciate that the consolidating Committee has gone through and has repealed a number of items, which is useful and of advantage. However, why did it not go further and consolidate all the film legislation into one consolidated Act? The levy, which is dealt with in the Bill, is also applied to the National Film Finance Corporation. The money which that corporation applies in the next consolidation measure derives most of its revenue from this consolidation measure. Therefore, I should have thought that the link was plain and that it would have been of benefit to the users to have the legislation in one Act rather than spread over three.

Accepting that some consolidation has taken place, I wonder whether it has not been too separated and whether we could look forward to the production of one item, of legislation instead of three as now, which seems unnecessary.

10.42 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I hope that the Minister will answer one small question.

Why, in clause 9(2) of this consolidation Bill, have we defined a British film in terms of the Films Act 1960? I appreciate that a consolidation Bill cannot change the law, but the interpretation of the law can depend on other legislation which has been passed since then. Since 1960, the European Communities Act and the Treaty of Accession have been passed. Will the Minister say whether a British film is still a British film or whether there is any content of the Treaty of Accession or of the European Communities Act, because of nondiscrimination, which would give a different legal interpretation of what was a British film? By declaring that British films should receive the help set out in the legislation, would we be contravening Community law on non-discrimination?

10.43 pm
The Solicitor-General

There may be arguments in favour of what the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said. The decision that was taken was that the convenience lay in having a number of Acts consolidated into these two Acts. I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that that is an improvement. There are now two Acts instead of a considerable number. Although there may be some overlap, each one consolidates a particular sort of legislation into one statute. It is a value judgment—that is the judgment that has been taken. It comes to the House as something that has already been done in that form and which has been considered by the Joint Committee. I commend it.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) had not occurred to me, because I am assured that the Bill will make no change in the law. My hon. Friend raised a particular point. I shall not pretend that I can answer off the cuff every such point in detail. I cannot do so. I shall consider the matter and write to him. I do not believe that it has made any difference in substance. The fact that we are a member of the Community—whatever one may think about that—makes no difference to the Bill.

My hon. Friend raised a specific point. I hope that he will agree that it is better for me, rather than to pretend that I can answer it off the cuff, to look at it and to give him a considered answer. That I am only too willing to do.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

My worry is that this consolidation measure could be used to define a British film under the 1960 Act. If, as a consequence of the consolidation Act, there is an alteration to what is defined as a British film, will the Government ensure that there is no change in the law or practice in defining a British film?

The Solicitor-General

I cannot give my hon. Friend any such assurance. To the best of my knowledge and belief the provisions merely repeat the law as it exists. My hon. Friend raised a point of detail. I shall look at it and give him a detailed answer, but that is as far as I can go.

Mr. Cryer

The intervention of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) emphasises the point that I was making. The consolidation seems less than adequate. Clause 5 of the Films Act 1980 altered the definition of a British film for the purposes of quota—for example, to cover Community films. Perhaps the two points are interrelated. Other matters could and should have been covered by legislation. It is a limited area, and one Bill could ideally have covered the whole subject.

The Solicitor-General

That is a valid point, but this is not the time at which to take it. The House has a choice. The Bills have been through the consolidation process. We have to decide whether we want the measure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) has been here long enough to know that had he given notice of his point he would have been entitled to expect a detailed answer, but I have been in the House long enough to know that the silliest thing that one can do is to attempt to answer a point of detail off the top of one's head. I have said that I believe that my hon. Friend's point makes no difference to the law. I shall go no further tonight. I have assured him that I shall look at the point. I do not complain about the fact that he did not give me notice of it. I merely tell him that I am too old a hand to try to give detailed opinions on such intricate points off the cuff. My belief is that the law is not altered. If he believes that it is, let him say so and vote against the Bill.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The Solicitor-General is probably one of the straightest and most honourable Members of the House. If, inadvertantly, the measure allows, for instance, a French "X" film to be a British film, will he correct that?

The Solicitor-General

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for what he said. I hope that other hon. Members will agree. However, as he knows, I do not have it in my power to alter the matter. I can go no further. If he believed that there had been a change it would have been helpful had he drawn it to someone's attention beforehand. I do not believe that there has been a change. If there has, someone will have egg on his face, but I am not going to give an assurance that I cannot carry out. My hon. Friend has made his point. The matter will be considered, and he will get a detailed answer.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill acordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Cope.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading) and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.