HC Deb 05 February 1985 vol 72 cc753-5

'(1) Where the British Film Fund Agency receive any amount from the Secretary of State in accordance with section 3(2A), that amount shall be added to the moneys available for distribution by the Agency under the distribution regulations in respect of the final distribution period. (2) With the consent of the Secretary of State payments under the distribution regulations in respect of the final distribution period may be made by the Agency after the date by which they would otherwise have been required to be made by virtue of the regulations. (3) Where—

  1. (a) any claim made under the distribution regulations or any corresponding earlier regulations has been accepted by the Agency and they have allocated an amount for the payment of that claim; but
  2. (b) owing to any lack of information relating to the claimant, or owing to any other circumstances outside their control, they have been unable to secure the payment to the claimant of that amount,
they shall take such steps as they consider appropriate for the purpose of facilitating the securing of that result. (4) Where the Agency take such steps as are mentioned in subsection (3) with respect to any claim but are nevertheless unable to secure the payment to the claimant of the amount in question before the relevant date, the Agency shall on that date discount the claim for the purposes of the distribution regulations, and the amount in question shall—
  1. (a) in the case of a claim in respect of a period other than the final distribution period, be added to the moneys available for distribution by the Agency under the distribution regulations in respect of the final distribution period;
  2. (b) in the case of a claim in respect of the final distribution period, be paid to the Secretary of State to be dealt with by him as if it were an amount received by him as mentioned in section 3(2)(b).
(5) In subsection (4) "the relevant date", in relation to a claim falling within paragraphs (a) or (b) of that subsection means such date as may be fixed by the Secretary of State for the purposes of that paragraph; and that date may—
  1. (a) in the case of paragraph (a), be earlier than the date by which payments in respect of the period immediately preceding the final distribution period are required to be made by virtue of the distribution regulations;
  2. (b) in the case of paragraph (b), be earlier than the date by which payments in respect of the final distribution period are so required to be made.
(6) In this section "the distribution regulations" and "the final distribution period" have the meaning given by section 2(1) (but subject to section 24(4)(b).)'—[Mr. Norman Lamont.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.50 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Mr. Norman Lamont)

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

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether I could raise now, so that you can consider it rather than at the last moment, when we reach it, your ruling, as shown on the selection list, that amendment No. 7, to which I have put my name, and amendment No. 32, which appears two amendments later, should be taken separately. It may not be apparent, but many of the points that I wish to make on amendment No. 7 are relevant to and overlap those in amendment No. 32. I wonder whether, for discussion purposes, you would rather consider taking the two together.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am pleased to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst). It may well be for the convenience of the House if the debates were taken together in that way.

Mr. Speaker

Is the Minister happy about that?

Mr. Norman Lamont

I hope that this will not be the only time this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, that there will be a degree of consensus on something. What has been suggested would be the logical thing to do.

Mr. Speaker

If the House agrees, that is admirable. We shall take the debate on amendment No. 7 and link it with the debate on amendment No. 32.

Mr. Lamont

Essentially two purposes are served by the new clause. The first purpose is achieved by subsection (1), which deals with the distribution by the British Film Fund Agency of the surplus funds of the National Film Finance Corporation. When the NFFC is dissolved, its forward commitments — that is, its contractual obligations to provide finance for particular films together with enough of its cash to meet them—will be transferred to the "son of the NFFC" or, as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) may have noticed from the newspapers, the British Screen Finance Consortium as it is now called. It is likely that that will still leave a significant surplus of assets. As the hon. Gentleman will recall from Committee, it is the Government's intention that that surplus should be transferred to the BFFA and distributed by the agency to the makers of eligible films in the same proportion as that paid in the final distribution period to the makers of eligible films out of moneys deriving from the levy.

The amount payable in respect of any one film, when aggregrated with the sums due from the levy, will not exceed the normal amount specified in regulation 6(3) of the distribution regulations — £500 million for films of over 33 minutes and £50,000 in all other cases. We believe that the new clause represents the fairest and most sensible way of disposing of those assets by ensuring that they return to the industry in accordance with the Eady pattern.

The second purpose, which is achieved by subsections (3) and (4), is to absolve the BFFA from any potential liability in respect of moneys held by the agency which have not been paid to potential recipients for a variety of reasons. The current duty of the BFFA is set out in regulation 4 of the Film (Distribution of Levy) Regulations 1982, which reads: The British Film Fund Agency … shall make payments in accordance with the provisions of these Regulations, out of moneys available for distribution, to the makers of eligible films in respect of those films. The procedure for making claims on the fund is set out in regulation 11. By regulation 11(4) the agency can require supporting certificates or further information to be provided. However surprising it may seem, there are cases each year when potential recipients of Eady money fail to comply with the regulations of fail to cash cheques sent to them by the BFFA, and in the legislation we need to make provision for such cases. Subsections (3) and (4) of the new clause provide that any claimant who has failed to notify the agency of a change of name or registered address, or who has failed to accept any moneys paid to him by the agency, shall, after a period to be fixed by the Secretary of State, be debarred from claiming his money.

Subsection (5) of the new clause is concerned with the time limits to be placed on payments to be made by the agency. Our intention is that the payment allocated by the BFFA should be taken up within two months of the penultimate distribution payment. If it was not, it would be forfeited and the money would be added to the sum to be distributed by the BFFA in the final distribution period.

With regard to claims relating to the final distribution period, the intention is that the potential recipients will have two months from the termination of the levy in which to make their claims and to comply with any requirements set by the BFFA. If the BFFA accepts a claim and allocates a payment in the final distribution, that payment will have to be taken up within two months of the final distribution being made.

If, as is possible, there is still some money left at the end of the final period which the BFFA has been unable to dispose of in that way, we intend that it should be vested in the Secretary of State, who shall deal with it as he thinks fit for any purpose connected with the British film industry. Such sums are likely to be very small.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that this sensible and technical new clause is desirable and will support it.

Mr. Gould

I thank the Minister for that explanation of what he correctly described as a technical new clause and body of amendments. We do not intend to detain the House on this matter. We accept that, for good and practical reasons, the Eady levy has gone, and that inevitably there will be transitional problems to be cleared away because of the statutory duties at present imposed upon the NFFC and the BFFA.

As I understand it, the Minister is trying to make room for more discretion and flexibility on the part of the BFFA, both in respect of what it might do with any surplus and what the Minister might do with assets from the NFFC which might not be passed over to the consortium under clause 2. We accept that these are technical matters, and we are content to accept the new clause.

Mr. Norman Lamont

I might have done well to give the explanation in my own words in the first place. We are simply allowing the BFFA to distribute the surplus within the NFFC to the makers of films in accordance with the formula of the BFFA. The son of NFFC has its own separate arrangements. The Committee heard about them. It will be given its money. However, surplus assets within the NFFC are to be distributed to film makers, when it is dissolved, according to the formula which has applied in the past via the BFFA. We need to amend the legislation rather than the regulations relating to the BFFA, so that money given to it by the Secretary of State can be distributed in that way.

On reflection, my own explanation is the better of the two.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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