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Levy On Feature Films, Pre-Recorded Video Cassettes Or Blank Video Tapes

Volume 78: debated on Tuesday 30 April 1985

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Lords amendment: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—

". The Secretary of State, after one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and after consultation with persons considered by him to be representative of the film production industry may by order made by statutory instrument, establish arrangements to supplement the financial assistance provided under section 5(1) of the Act by funds derived from any or all of the following schemes, that is to say—
  • (a) a levy from independent television contractors and the BBC or an appropriate sum of money to be determined by him in respect of the showing by them of feature films on television, or
  • (b) a levy at such rate as he may determine on pre-recorded video cassettes containing feature film material and sold in the United Kingdom, or
  • (c) the appropriate film proceeds of any levy scheme approved by him in respect of blank video tape sold in the United Kingdom."
  • 9.23 pm

    I have to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Lords amendment involves a major infringement of the financial rights of the Commons. The amendment, in its third paragraph, involves a charge upon the people. Although it is not within my power to withdraw the Lords amendment from consideration by the House, it would in my view go beyond the conventions of the constitution for the House to agree to it. I therefore call upon the Minister to move to disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully accept your ruling, but it raises an interesting point. Would you give the House further clarification? As I understand it, the amendment compels private money to pass from one company to another and not through the public purse. Will you enlighten the House, Mr. Speaker, as to whether, in view of your ruling, you would feel the same about the television levy, the BBC licence fee and other compulsory measures ordered by the House which do not pass through the Treasury?

    The House has to consider the amendment sent to it by the Lords. If the amendment had consisted of paragraphs (a) and (b) only it would doubtless not have raised difficulties. The element of tax lies in paragraph (c). The sellers of blank video tapes have no community of interest with the production of films and would derive no benefit from the proposal. It is therefore a tax on that group. That is why I ruled as I did.

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.—[Mr. Norman Lamont.]

    In the light of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, we can do nothing other than reject the amendment. However, I should like to take the opportunity to express my surprise and anxiety at the fact that we have found ourselves in this extraordinary position. We are owed an explanation as to why that point of vires was not raised in the other place when the matter was discussed. The matter was pressed to a Division. The point was not taken by the Government's business managers. We need to know why that happened.

    I hope that if the matter returns to the other place we shall not be subject to the same confusion and incompetence as happened on this occasion. I hope also that the confusion will not obscure the fact that not just every voice from within the industry has pronounced upon the substance of the matter but that the Standing Committee of this House and the other place have firmly expressed a view. By implication, the other place has rejected the opinion of Lord Lucas that the film industry is merely a commercial industry like any other.

    While of course I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Government will give due weight to the fact that the other place firmly expressed a view that was also expressed by the Committee on the Bill, and that that view will be acted on if and when the other place is able to put its house in order and return the amendment in proper form.

    Self-evidently, as you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, the matter cannot be considered in this House. It may well be that, when it is reconsidered in another place, there will not be the attendance that a Maundy Thursday attracts and consequently a different view may be taken—not by those who spoke in an unholy alliance of Conservatives, Liberals, independents, Social Democrats and Labour peers, but in the Division Lobbies. If that should be the case, this may be the last opportunity for the House of Commons to consider those aspects of the amendment that would have been acceptable if it did not have the faults to which you, Mr. Speaker, have referred.

    In the hope that the record of our deliberations will be read in another place, I wish to say that there is great merit in two of the subsections in the amendment. They would give the Government a stop-gap if things should go wrong with the film industry in the manner that those who have considered the history of the industry over the past two or three decades have come to expect. We expect that there will be moments when things are going well, when there is investment, when the industry looks attractive and when Governments are therefore able to argue that there is no need for Government support. There will be other moments when the industry faces a crisis. We would do well to arm the Government of the day with the permissive opportunity provided by the two subsections, to look after the interests of the British film industry.

    I hope that that message will be available to those in the other place when they try to make the amendment acceptable for us to reconsider. However, it may be wishful thinking to hope that, after being considered on something less than a Maundy Thursday, the amendment will be sent back here.

    I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I communicated to you my wish, if there was a debate on the amendment, to oppose the subsections in the Lords amendment. Am I to understand that your ruling precludes any discussion of the subsections, or any opportunity to suggest why they should be opposed?

    The Lords amendment is debatable in the negative sense, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment". I do not know whether, in the light of my ruling, the hon. Gentleman would wish to pursue the matter.

    I am happy to accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and to place it on record that some hon. Members would oppose the amendment should it ever return to this Chamber.

    I am sure that the other place will note what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has said. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) should remember that the amendment was opposed by the Government in another place. The content of an amendment opposed by the Government can hardly be the fault of the Government's business managers. Whether an amendment is an infringement of the rights of the Commons is a matter for the Chair.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Committee appointed to draw up a reason to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment to the Bill: Mr. Alex Fletcher, Mr. Bryan Gould, Mr. Norman Lamont, Mr. Michael Neubert and Dr. Roger Thomas. Three to be the quorum.— [Mr. Norman Lamont.]

    To withdraw immediately.

    Reason for disagreeing to the Lords amendment reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.