HL Deb 13 February 1979 vol 398 cc1201-3

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In moving this Second Reading, I know that your Lordships will already be aware that an exactly identical Bill went through your Lordships' House about nine months ago. Unfortunately, it went through and reached another place just at the very end of the last Session, ran into an enormous log-jam of legislation and sank. It has, therefore, been revived as a Bill in another place and what you have before you today is the identical Bill, but travelling, as it were, in a different direction. I shall, therefore, be exceedingly brief and do no more than simply remind your Lordships of the main point of this small and, I think, helpful Bill.

The Bill sets out to amend one section of the 1960 Films Act, and that particular section dealt with quota; that is to say, the obligation laid upon cinemas to show a certain proportion of, as it was in those days, British films; nowadays, of course, that obligation refers to Common Market films as well. Until 1960, the quota period was exactly one year and all matters of quota were dealt with strictly annually. It sometimes happened, therefore, that a cinema, finding itself with a great success on its hands which was foreign, might be obliged to take the film off in defiance of public demand simply in order to fulfil its quota. The 1960 Act helpfully put this situation right by saying that a cinema could, if it wished, make application to the Board of Trade to have its quota obligations for two years lumped together and averaged out. That was an entirely helpful and universally welcomed provision.

Unfortunately, the Act stated that this application must be made before the film was shown. Your Lordships will immediately realise that, since it was designed to cope with surprise successes, cinemas could scarcely be expected to predict in advance which films needed the protection of this section. The upshot has been that, ever since, cinemas make application in this form for every single foreign film they show, just to be on the safe side. The resulting paperwork is enormous and most of it is sheer waste. It is a waste of time for the Department of Trade, which has to go through the papers, for the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association, which copes with this paperwork on behalf of the cinemas, and, of course, for the cinemas themselves, which have to make out the report.

The Bill before your Lordships today very simply amends this provision by saying that the application can be made not only before the film is shown but while it is being shown. It will, therefore, save an enormous amount of time and effort on everybody's part. I believe it to be a totally uncontroversial and helpful Bill. When it came before your Lordships before, it was, I believe, warmly received. I hope it will again be warmly received and I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Birkett.)

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, I think we should all thank the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, not only for putting the case so very clearly but also for tenaciously bringing back the Bill and seeing it through a second time in this House. I noticed that he laid great emphasis on saving time. The last time he spoke for six minutes and this time he spoke for three minutes, so that shows a net saving of 50 per cent.

I should like only to say that from these Benches we welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. It is a great pity that it got lost last time in the Commons, and I hope that it will now pass through this House very quickly. I am sorry to repeat myself, but the point I raised last time was that, at the most, you could expect only 30 per cent. of films to be runaway successes; in fact, it is far lower than that. On this basis, the Bill should save 70 per cent. of the time spent on applications, which is quite considerable. Therefore, I welcome this Bill and wish it a speedy passage.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, has said, this Bill will avoid unnecessary applications and will, therefore, save time on the part of all concerned. It continues to have the support of the Government and of all interested parties. I therefore strongly commend it to the House.


My Lords, I am most obliged to both noble Lords who have spoken, and would again commend the Bill to your Lordships.


My Lords, before we conclude, may we put this into the Guinness Book of Records?

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.