HC Deb 13 April 1981 vol 3 cc120-3

Order for Second Reading read.

10.51 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)

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

We come to the third of these "controversial" Bills. It consolidates enactments relating to the constitution and functions of the National Film Finance Corporation—a second group of acts which relate to the film levy imposed on exhibitors that we have just considered. The Bill is pure consolidation. It makes no amendment to the existing law. The Joint Committee has scrutinised it and has satisfied itself that there are no points to draw to the attention of the House.

10.52 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I feel that I should once again make my comments about the means of consolidation. The Minister adopted a slightly jesting manner when he described this as a consolidation measure, but I believe that hon. Members who feel that they have comments to make have a duty to do so, so that those comments may be borne in mind by the Joint Committee.

I was a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Films Bill of 1980—indeed, it is a very short time since it became law—which established the current framework of the National Film Finance Corporation which is here being consolidated. Nobody objects to the principle of consolidation. Indeed, it is intended as a general aid to help people through the labyrinth of legislation which is strewn along the path of successive Parliaments. That is entirely reasonable.

This consolidation repeals the whole of the Cinematograph Film Production (Special Loans) Acts of 1949 and 1954. But the Cinematograph Films Act 1957, the Films Acts of 1966 and 1970, the Superannuation Act 1972 and the Films Act 1980 presumably still have to be examined by anyone wishing to consider the whole of the legislation on the film industry, because the repeal under this consolidation is only in part and not in whole.

With the splitting of the Films Act 1980 into three, this consolidation has left a residue, which includes, for example, the definition of films now covered by quota which have to be shown on British screens, which are covered at least in part by film levy finance. The framework of the National Film Finance Corporation under this Bill will now be in a separate measure, but presumably some residual parts will remain in the Films Act 1980.

I therefore simply reiterate my plea that in dealing with a narrow subject such as the film industry the Joint Committee should consolidate the legislation completely and not leave 20 or 30 enactments—I have not counted them—still to be consulted in addition to the three that it has created.

The Committee has reduced the number of Acts, but the job has not been completed as satisfactorily as it might have been so that in seeking to examine the legislation covering the film industry the exhibitor, the members of the National Film Finance Corporation and the producers will all be able to go to one consolidated Act. The consolidators must bear in mind that this narrow subject will be referred to in Acts of Parliament of a wider nature, but there are some specific narrow items of legislation which they have not thought fit to draw into this consolidation.

I urge the Minister to pass these remarks on to the Committee. I do not envy it its task. The subject is as dry as dust. We are grateful to the Committee for spending tedious hours on its work, but we must draw its attention to how these matters can be improved upon, and we hope that in future it will tackle them along the lines that I have described.

10.57 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The Minister says that this is pure consolidation and that there is no change in the law. There is a definition in clause 9(3) of "British company". I have looked through the Acts that have been consolidated, and I cannot find it. It may be that I have been unable to find all the documents. A British company is defined as one over which a Commonwealth citizen has control". Where did this provision come from? It must have come from some other Act or it would not be pure consolidation. What is "a Commonwealth citizen"?

10.58 pm
Mr. John Sever (Birmingham, Ladywood)

I wish to raise a point on the issue raised by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). I should be grateful to have the interpretation for which the hon. Gentleman asked.

Are we likely to be in any difficulty in the future in defining a "British company"? Does that mean, for example, a company whose employees consist mainly of British passport holders, for example? Or does it simply mean, as it indicates in the Bill, a company incorporated under the laws of Great Britain? That seems to be a little ambiguous, unless I have misread the situation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot ask for an interpretation of a Bill. He is entitled only to tell us whether he is in favour of consolidating the Bill as it stands. The question which was asked by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) about what is a Commonwealth citizen does not arise on the Bill and is out of order.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since this is consolidation, surely it is in order to ask the Minister not what a Commonwealth citizen is but whether those words appear in the legislation that has been consolidated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That does not happen to come under this Bill

Mr. Sever

I am somewhat puzzled, as other hon. Members may be, in interpreting your ruling on this point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would seem relevant, if we are consolidating legislation this evening, that the interpretation that is now before us should be either explained or defined in other legislation. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that it does not seem that that definition is apparent in other legislation being consolidated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There are plenty of occasions when these matters can be adequately ventilated in this House or in the other place, but that is not part of the proceedings in which we are engaged at the moment, which are concerned with pure consolidation.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members seem to be asking about the derivation of the provisions. That appears in the table of derivations and relates to section 12(3) of the 1957 Act.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If that was what hon. Members were asking, I could accept it. However, they seemed to be going further.

The Solicitor-General

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). Some people have to spend more time with such Bills than others and they understand what they are about. It is no good saying that the Joint Committee should do this, that and the other. The Committee deals with that which is sent to it. A Bill starts in one House or the other and is sent to the Committee, which considers whether it is consolidation. It is not up to the Committee to add and consolidate other statutes. The Bills received Second Readings in the other place and were sent to the Committee.

That does not mean that points such as those raised tonight cannot be dealt with. If hon. Members wished to ask questions, I should have been happy to do my best to answer them. The questions are not difficult to answer. I invite hon. Members to watch the progress of such Bills. If they have questions, I invite them to ask them at an earlier stage. I assure them that I shall be happy to do as my predecessor did and answer them.

At this stage we have to decide whether we accept the measure as consolidation. I assure the House that it is pure consolidation and invite hon. Members to proceed on that basis.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly 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.