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Contributions Towards Maintenance Of National Television Archive

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

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Lords amendment: No. 432, after clause 170, insert the following new clause—

(".—(I) The Commission shall, for the financial year which includes the commencement of this section and each subsequent financial year, determine an aggregate amount which they consider it would be appropriate for the holders of Channel 3 and Channel 5 licences to contribute, in accordance with this section, towards the expenses incurred by the nominated body in connection with the maintenance by it of a national television archive.

(2) In this section "the nominated body" means such body as may for the time being be nominated by the Commission for the purposes of this section, being a body which—

  • (a) is for the time being a designated body for the purposes of section 75 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (recordings for archival purposes), and
  • (b) appears to the Commission to be in a position to maintain a national television archive.
  • (3) A Channel 3 or Channel 5 licence shall include conditions requiring the licence holder to pay to the Commission, in respect of each of the financial years mentioned in subsection (1), such amount as they may notify to him for the purposes of this section, being such proportion of the aggregate amount determined for that year under that subsection as they consider appropriate (and different proportions may be determined in relation to different persons).

    (4) Any amount received by the Commission by virtue of subsection (3) shall be transmitted by them to the nominated body.

    (5) In this section—

    • "the Commission" means the Independent Television Commission; and
    • "Channel 3 licence" and "Channel 5 licence" have the same meaning as in Part I of this Act.")

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment— [Mr. Mellor.]

    I should be grateful if the Minister would say something about this because he will agree that it is an extremely significant development. We have a large but by no means complete television archive, which represents an important cultural collection, and it would be helpful if the Minister told us about the size of what is called the "aggregate amount" and about the cost to franchise applicants. He should also express his encouragement for the enterprise.

    Will the Minister also say a little about the nominated body? In subsection (2) of the Lords amendment, that body is mentioned but not specified. There are a large number of different archives in existence, and there are problems to do with compatibility, format and handling. Who will compose the nominated body? How will the commission come to that decision? How will it reconcile the different archives? What sums of money will be involved?

    This is an important provision; we trust that it will coherently lay down the sort of archive that the industry needs for the future.

    I also welcome the Lords amendment. It represents one of the many commitments made by the Minister in Committee to some sort of national archeive. Film going back to before the turn of the century in the Weintraub archive at the Associated British Picture Corporation as was, now Goldcrest at Elstree, has been sold to the United States, so valuable historic documentation of how people then lived, in animated picture form, is no longer in United Kingdom ownership.

    The Government might say that as long as the film can be seen, it does not really matter who owns it, but there is obviously a greater interest in this country in preserving that sort of footage than there is in the United States, where an owner might see some commercial advantage in disposing of it to yet another owner. I recall that, of the silent British feature films made at the studios of Cecil Hepworth in the 1920s, all bar one—"Coming through the Rye"—were sold to be dissolved to make dope for covering the canvas aircraft fuselages of the time. So we lost a valuable historic collection for relatively small commercial considerations.

    I echo the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). How much money is envisaged? What sort of costs are likely to be involved? I welcome the fact that the archive, under public ownership and control, cannot be sold off at the whim of some takeover merchant, as happened when the Associated British Picture Corporation studios and film vaults were sold to Cannon—and in turn sold off by Cannon.

    Elstree Studios could survive on the income derived from lending films from the archives without making any pictures in the studios. It did that as well, thus adding cream to the cake, but that was stopped, not by any decision by film makers in the United Kingdom but by a decision by Cannon, as it then was, simply to maximise the real estate value of Elstree Studios to offset the financial difficulties in which Cannon found itself in the United States.

    11.15 pm

    I welcome the clause. It would be interesting to know what the Minister had in mind during any discussions. It is not the Minister's decision, but at least he must have had some discussions about the sums involved, how long it will take the nominated body to set up the archive and what sort of material is currently available. I suspect that the cost of storing video material is lower than the cost of storing film. However, some records must be on film, which must be stored in carefully controlled conditions.

    I am glad that our decision to put these matters on a statutory basis has met with the approval of the House. I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that it is a shame when irreplaceable art heritage items are wilfully destroyed. I am glad that he mentioned the institute at Bradford, which is part of the Arts Council's drive for more inner-city arts activities. It is proud of the museum in Bradford, which I gather is important not only for what it achieves but as a centre for visitors who come a long way to see it. That rather proves the advantages of the arts in inner cities because it makes those areas places to which people will go. I found that the other day when I visited the Tate gallery in Liverpool.

    I was asked about who would keep the archive. The body has yet to be nominated, but I do not think that it is any secret that I think that it will be the British Film Institute, which is obviously well qualified to do that and is already doing it. We wish to keep up the level of payments in real terms, which will be about £200,000 per annum at current prices from the ITV companies. I am glad to say that, although we have not placed a statutory requirement on Channel 4, it has confirmed its willingness to continue to contribute to the archive and will contribute a further £100,000.

    As is always the case, such organisations would like a bit more, but I think that everyone understands that £300,000 is enough to maintain an archive that is properly representative of British television for the years in question. Although the change is not earth shattering, it is one of the useful changes made during the progress of the Bill.

    How will the provision operate retrospectively? As I understand it, the provision refers only to the new franchise holders, and the important existing archive of current ITV companies will not be covered. The British Film Institute keeps some but by no means all of the archives. Perhaps if I talk for long enough, the Minister will get some sort of steer on the matter. He appears to be none the wiser and is obviously superbly well informed already. What is the scope of the British Film Institute's present activities and how will those activities link with future commitments?

    My advisers told me the bit that I already knew. They do not know the bit that I should like to know. They have confirmed that what I know is right. It was once said of Ronald Reagan, "It ain't what he knows that bothers me, but what he says he knows that ain't so." At least what I know seems to be right, which is that the ITV companies already contribute voluntarily to the BFI. The hon. Gentleman asked about their existing archives and whether there are any plans to pool them in a central point. I do not know the answer to that, but I shall try to find out and inform the hon. Gentleman.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.