HL Deb 14 July 1980 vol 411 cc1537-9

2.56 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Films Bill be now read a third time. This Bill has been described as a "modest Bill". Indeed, I have used the phrase myself. Moreover, it has been said that the several extensions of powers which it contains—including the provisions for the National Film Finance Corporation—all of which are limited to five years, are too short. But the Government do not feel that this is a valid criticism of the Bill.

Indeed if we were now claiming that we had settled all the problems of the British film industry—at a time when technological advances are obscuring the future—and moreover that we proposed to enshrine our solutions in legislation for say 10 or 20 years, then indeed we might justifiably be accused of complacency, or of a desire to evade difficult decisions. What we have chosen to do in this Bill is to deal in the limited legislative time available with matters of the first priority.

We propose to extend the life of the levy, which is a proven inducement to film-making in this country, and which would otherwise expire in September of this year. This deadline, incidentally, is in itself a restriction on our considering more far-reaching matters at this moment. Similarly, we propose to renew the film quota system, which would otherwise expire at the end of this year. We propose to give the National Film Finance Corporation a new lease of life—to write off its debts—and to ensure to it a guaranteed annual income for the next five years.

What happens after the five years have expired? As my honourable friend Mr. Tebbit and I have both explained, this Bill deliberately does not attempt to look further ahead than five years. The film industry is an energetic, thrusting, inventive and constantly evolving one—perhaps an example to others—and we cannot tell what developments there will have been by 1985, nor indeed what our responses to them will need to be. It is because all the implications of these developments are not yet clear that the Government have chosen to deal primarily with matters of urgency to the film industry in this Bill and to limit the time extensions it contains to five years. Before then your Lordships will have to consider various aspects of film policy once more, by which time we should be able to see our way more clearly than is possible today.

I have mentioned the main matters of urgency with which the Bill deals. This Bill does not deal with two matters about which your Lordships have expressed—if I may say so, very properly expressed—interest or concern. A matter of interest to us all is the proposal for a British Film Authority. We have not yet come to a decision on this matter. The formation of such an authority on the lines proposed would involve what are at present the responsibilities of several Government departments, and would thus require complex legislation. The method by which such an authority would be adequately financed is far from clear. It is certain therefore that more examination and consideration of this proposal is required—and this is in hand.

Concern has been voiced at the problems posed—and the potential benefits offered —by the development of such technologies as those of video discs and tapes; satellite transmissions and cable distribution; and the resultant impact of these on the cinema and television film industry and on copyright interests. The Government departments whose responsibilities are involved are now consulting the industry and considering what action may be required.

This Bill, then, is something of a holding measure. It deals mainly with matters of great concern to the British film industry—matters which cannot wait upon developing events. I am grateful to your Lordships for endorsing its modest but necessary provisions. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a— (Lord Trefgarne.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. We on this side have not tabled any amendments to the Bill on the assurance of the noble Lord, which he has repeated, that this is an interim measure, that the Government do not regard it as something which will deal with the film industry for the next 20 years, that they are fully aware that there are very serious problems concerning the film industry, and that this country needs, and above all has the talent for, a good film industry but at the moment the money is lacking. How to produce that in anything as speculative as the film business is a problem; and I, not having the answer, am not able to criticise the Government for wanting to look at the matter further.

I would make only one comment about a British film authority. If, in the end, the Government decided there should be such an authority, I am anxious that the British Film Institute, which deals with the film as an art as opposed to the film as something commercial, should be at any rate not totally absorbed into any new organisation. With those few words, we think the Bill is necessary and we are happy to see it enacted.

On Question, Bill read 3a and passed.