Skip to main content

Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]

Volume 571: debated on Tuesday 26 November 2013

Second Reading

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

This debate has already had something of a preview, but I hope there will not be a sequel. This very important Bill is promoted by Hertfordshire county council and has the full support of the borough council in my constituency, Hertsmere borough council. The purpose of the Bill is to confer powers in relation to filming on highways in Hertfordshire and thereby to help the film industry, which is an important business and employer in Hertfordshire.

In fact, there are no fewer than five major film studios in Hertfordshire, including Elstree studios in my constituency, the BBC studios in Elstree and the Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden. They are responsible for some of the most well-known and well-liked television programmes on our screens today, as well as for some important films. Elstree studios in particular have made a major contribution to the British film industry since its very beginning. They have also made a contribution to the international film industry and were used for the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” films. They have made a contribution to the British film industry since 1925 and many of our most iconic films were made there, including my all-time favourite, “Ice Cold in Alex”. I hope it will not disappoint too many fans of that film if I disclose that the ice-cold beer consumed at the end of the journey across the desert—supposedly in Alexandria—was in fact consumed just off the Shenley road in Borehamwood.

Likewise, many important television programmes have been and continue to be produced there. Last Saturday evening’s episode of “Strictly Come Dancing” was produced at Elstree studios, which is the programme’s new home. I am not sure whether that particular programme will need to avail itself of the Bill’s provisions, but many other productions at local studios may wish to do so. The intention behind the Bill is to help those productions and to facilitate film making in Hertfordshire. A number of new programmes are in production at Elstree studios, including a new production of “Paddington Bear”, which may well want to avail itself of the provisions.

I am confident that the film studios in my constituency will continue to be at the forefront of film making in Britain for many years to come, not least because the Elstree university technical college opened its doors in September, offering a range of courses focusing on technical skills and crafts that support the film, television and entertainment industry.

What duties would rest on my hon. Friend’s county council to inform motorists of a road closure? If one is trying to get from A to B and one is not from the particular county in which one happens to be travelling, there is nothing more infuriating than to find oneself faced with a road closure that was not flagged up earlier. What duties would the county council be under, should the Bill become an Act, to advise motorists that a road closure is in force?

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Hertfordshire county council has given an assurance that it will follow similar procedures to those set out in the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Procedure Regulations 1992 on giving notice of when roads will be used during the course of filming. Those requirements relate to posting notices in the street, notifying the police and making certain advertisements of when the roads will be closed. The duties for when the roads are actually closed are set out in clauses 3 and 4, to which I will turn shortly.

Following on from the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), proposed new subsection (6C) in clause 4 makes it clear that the county council is seeking powers to enable it to close a road with a minimum of only 24 hours notice. Does my hon. Friend think that that is reasonable?

As my hon. Friend will know, that is the film notice, as opposed to the film order, and the various requirements relate to film notices. I hope he will take some consolation from the fact that a film notice can continue for only 24 hours, whereas a film order can continue for longer. As he has said, notice of a film notice has to be given at least 24 hours before it comes into effect. The purpose is to deal with situations in which weather may be a factor and the film producers want to take advantage of temporary weather conditions.

My hon. Friend has set out the long history of film making in his constituency and his part of the world. Given that that has happened for so many years, will he briefly set out why these measures are now deemed necessary and how the area managed without them in the past?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I am aware that roads have been closed in the past, but I am not sure whether the legal powers under which they were closed were, shall we say, as certain as some would have liked them to have been. I think my hon. Friend would be among the first to ask whether there was a proper legal power and to look into it. The Bill will put the legal position beyond any doubt. I hope I will be able to assist hon. Members by explaining that this Bill is analogous to existing legislation for other categories of event and activity for which roads can be closed. The Bill merely makes it clear that film making will be added to that list.

May I say, in general support of the Bill, that the film industry and the ability to attract films to use our excellent local environment are very important for the local economy? It was reported in December 2011 that Hertfordshire employs approximately 3,200 people in the film and television industry, quite a few of whom live in my constituency. Film and television productions are facilitated if film makers are able to use out-of-studio locations in the many picturesque locations in Hertsmere and Hertfordshire. As I have indicated, this Bill will put the use of those localities and local roads on a firmer legislative footing.

The provisions of the Bill will have the effect, as I have suggested, of extending, with modifications, the existing powers of the highway authority to close roads for special events. Those powers are found, as I am sure hon. Members will know, in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which was amended in the 1990s to enable the Tour de France to be hosted in England for the first time. The relevant provision of the 1984 Act allows closures to facilitate the holding of a relevant event, which is defined as

“any sporting event, social event or entertainment which is held on a road.”

It is ambiguous whether that definition includes film making.

Is there not a difference, though, between those examples and the Bill’s proposals? When a road is closed for a street party or a sporting event, it could be argued that it is for the public benefit, because the public are invited and expected to take part. When a road is closed for the making of a film, however, the film director will not want the public to be present, because they will spoil the shot. It could therefore be argued that the Bill seeks to close a public highway for a narrow sectional interest. Is that not the difference?

I have been in agreement with interventions by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but may I put a different case? My right hon. Friend gives the example of entertainments and the like, but they do not confer any wider economic benefit. Filming confers a wider economic benefit on the community because it will help prosperity and employment to be established in Hertfordshire.

I also disagree with what my right hon. Friend said about keeping people away from the filming. My experience is that film makers are happy for members of the public to be present to watch from an appropriate distance, provided they do not interfere with the filming. That may not always be the case, but I know of examples in my constituency where it has been.

Members of the public in Hertfordshire take not only great pleasure from witnessing films being made, but pride from the fact that well-known local landmarks are used for filming. My right hon. Friend will not be old enough to remember “On the Buses”—I remember it, I am sad to say—but in Borehamwood, we take great pleasure from the fact that the principal figure in the series happened to be a bus driver, the late Reg Varney, who was a great character. For the filming, he drove his bus up and down Shenley road in Borehamwood, and if one watches those films, one can see Shenley road as it was then, with members of the public standing around and witnessing the film being made. It is all there in that very good series. I will not digress any more about “On the Buses”, but I am sure that there are many other good examples.

Legally, the Bill will have the effect of categorising the making of a film as a “relevant event”, therefore allowing the council to make closure orders. The existing restriction on special events that allows such events to last for three days will continue in force, but it will be extended to seven days for film orders. The 1984 Act allows a road to be closed for three days, but the Bill will allow it to be closed for seven days. Up to six film orders can be made for any one stretch of road under the provisions.

In addition to such film orders, the Bill makes provision for film notices, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has already referred. Going beyond existing provisions for special events, film notices will enable the council to issue restrictions on road use where it appears to the council that it is expedient that the closure should come into effect without delay, although the duration of up to 24 hours is shorter than the seven days for film orders.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is possible to close any road for only three days once a year under the Road Traffic Regulation Act, but under his Bill it will be possible to close a particular piece of road on six occasions for a maximum of seven days each time—in other words, for 42 days a year?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If he has been listening, I hope that he will accept that I have been careful to say that the power is being extended. That is one of the details that it is important to debate, and no doubt he will want to come back to that point. I suggest that that is so to fit in with the needs of the film industry. I suppose that it will be hoped that roads will not need to be closed for the maximum period or for the maximum number of six occasions in a year. That provision is to fit in with the convenience of, and to promote, the film industry, which has to be balanced against the other factors that he mentioned, including the interests of local road users.

My hon. Friend is being very fair, but what is his view of the reasonableness of the provision? If one was running a business on a road that was closed for 42 days a year, would that be reasonable?

There is a procedure for making the orders by the local authority. I take my hon. Friend’s point, but I must say that many businesses are dependent on the film industry, particularly in my constituency, because there is so much film making there. People are so used to the film industry that they accept that some inconvenience is associated with attracting to Hertfordshire, and in particular to my constituency, important productions that are of so much general benefit to the public and the local economy. As far as I am aware—I will probably have an avalanche of mail complaining about it—there is a general acceptance of that in my constituency, as well as great pride in our connection with film making and a wish for it to continue. He makes a good point about the generality of the powers, but there are special circumstances to take account of in the case of my constituency.

I hope that I have been frank enough for my hon. Friends about the proposals in the Bill. As I have said, film notices go beyond the existing provisions for special events that I have mentioned in current legislation. Film notices enable the council to issue restrictions on road use where it appears to the council that it is expedient that the closure should come into effect without delay, which is particularly valuable to the film industry.

To turn to the detailed provisions, clause 3(2) provides that a “relevant event” under section 16A of the 1984 Act will include film making. Hon. Friends who are familiar with the 1984 Act will know that roads can already be closed, although for a shorter duration, for the several events specified in section 16A, covering

“the holding of a relevant event,…enabling members of the public to watch a relevant event, or…reducing the disruption to traffic”.

The film order will be added to that list of special events.

Clause 4 deals with restrictions on film orders and notices. Subsection (2) allows for film orders to remain in force for up to seven days, compared with the three days for relevant events under existing provisions, as we have already discussed. Subsection (4) provides that no more than six film orders may be made in any one year, that a film notice shall continue for only 24 hours and that notice of a film notice must be given at least 24 hours before it comes into effect.

Among other matters, clause 5 provides that a breach of a film order or notice will be an offence in the same way as a breach of an order relating to a relevant event under the existing provisions in section 16C of the 1984 Act. I understand that there has been some discussion and, I am happy to say, constructive dialogue between the Bill’s promoter and the Minister, as I hope the Minister will confirm.

Clause 6 provides for the council, as a highway authority, to give permission to film makers for the temporary placing of objects on a highway, subject to conditions imposed by the council and certain defined conditions set out in subsection (3). The general purpose is to ensure that that is done safely, because safety is of overriding importance. Subject to such conditions, clause 6 allows the council to authorise equipment, such as static film cameras, lighting rigs or camera trucks to be placed on roads during filming.

Will my hon. Friend explain what penalties will apply to somebody who breaks an order, particularly if they were trying to get back to their home on a road that had been closed?

To assist my hon. Friend, let me point out that those penalties are set out in existing legislation. I hope that I am right in saying that such breaches are dealt with by way of fines, but I will be corrected if I am wrong. I will look at the detail and come back to him in due course.

Will there be an exemption for people who are trying to get back to their own property, because it would seem unreasonable if the closure of a road made it impossible for somebody to get a vehicle back to their own drive or for a pedestrian to walk back to their own house?

I hope that it gives my hon. Friend some comfort to know that the penalties will be exactly the same as those that have existed for a long time under the 1984 Act, under which roads are closed for the holding of specified events. Famously, that related to the Tour de France, but it has also been used for other events and entertainments. I hope that there is a spirit of reasonableness in all such matters and that only somebody who is unreasonable will come anywhere near to receiving the penalties that can be meted out under the law.

In summary, the Bill will benefit film making, particularly in my constituency. I have no doubt that it will be subject to the same scrutiny as every other Bill of this kind. I hope that I have been frank with the House in setting out its provisions.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again; he is being very generous. Have there been any discussions between the promoter of the Bill and the police? For example, are there any police manpower implications? Should the Bill become an Act, the police might be asked to enforce the film orders, so have the police been consulted?

I will come back to my right hon. Friend on that matter in due course. My understanding is that the county council has consulted widely, so I am sure that the police are aware of what is being proposed. I might be speaking out of turn here, but I think that the police may well find it helpful to have their powers put on a firmer footing. That is the purpose of the Bill.

I hope that the Bill will engender many benefits for my constituents. On that basis, I invite the House to give it a Second Reading.

May I say at the outset that it is not my desire to divide the House on Second Reading? However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) and the promoter of the Bill will take on board the concerns Government Members have expressed in interventions.

Essentially, the issue is: what is proportionate and reasonable? At the moment, national legislation enables activities to take place on the highway for a maximum of three days and ensures that no piece of road may be affected more often than once a year. As I made clear in an intervention, the Bill would make it possible for an individual piece of highway to be closed for as long as 42 days a year, without any compensation for businesses or residents who were inconvenienced or suffered a loss as a result. The question is whether this House needs to give such wide powers to a local authority through private legislation.

One can envisage what would happen if Westminster bridge was closed for 42 days a year for filming. One could make any number of arguments as to why it would be a wonderful location for filming. If it was closed for 42 days a year, one can imagine what the consequences would be for local residents and other users of that highway. I venture to suggest that the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 was drafted in the way it was to maintain a balance between the interests and needs of local residents and the wider interests that might be served by closing a road for a particular purpose on a particular occasion.

A lot of films are made in Hertfordshire, so the county council feels it needs to increase the powers that are available to it or, as my hon. Friend said, clarify those powers. However, the Bill goes far beyond clarifying the wording of the 1984 Act. A clarification could be made by adding one or two words to that Act and without changing the amount of time for which a road may be blocked. It is a misrepresentation to suggest that the Bill merely seeks to clarify an ambiguity in the existing legislation. It goes far beyond that and I hope that in Committee it will be given a degree of scrutiny commensurate with those extra powers.

I have been approached by Buckinghamshire county council. I do not know why it thought it necessary to write to me for advice on introducing a private Bill, but it had the courtesy of so doing. I wrote back to the council leader and said that the Bill that he was seeking to bring forward was very similar, if not identical, to this one. If it is presented tomorrow, as we heard it might be, we will see. I suggested that rather than his county council bringing forward a separate Bill, it might get together with Hertfordshire and any other county council that is interested, speak to the Minister and see whether it could bring in more general legislation.

If the Minister wishes to intervene, I shall be happy to hear his answer. Perhaps we will hear in due course whether he thinks it would be appropriate for the national framework legislation to be changed so that instead of having the rather unhealthy competition between rival councils that are vying to present neighbouring towns as the most friendly to film-makers, which ultimately comes at the expense of the convenience of local people, there would be a more objective way of assessing what is reasonable and what is not.

There is another point that concerns me about the Bill. When I am not in my constituency, I live in a part of London that has a network of streets that were constructed largely in the late-Georgian period. The streets have retained their character and are often used for film sets. To compensate residents for the inconvenience associated with the use of local roads for film sets, which involves not being allowed to park and sometimes having access impeded by film crews, film companies pay a significant sum to the local residents association. It means that the association can function and hold Christmas parties and such things that it might not otherwise be able to afford. In a sense, there is a quid pro quo. Film companies are not acting for charity but to make money for themselves, so why should there not be a system for compensating those who are inconvenienced as a result of those activities? I would be interested if at some stage the promoters of the Bill considered whether some provision could be included to ensure that residents and businesses that are unduly inconvenienced, or perhaps inconvenienced on more than one occasion each year, are entitled to some compensation or recognition in monetary terms that they are making a contribution that should be recognised by the film company.

Like a lot of other Bills, this Bill merits considerable scrutiny. I am also puzzled by the explanatory memorandum that states that clause 3

“enables closures for the purpose of enabling members of the public to watch the making of a film.”

If we start closing roads to enable spectators to watch the making of a film, it seems to me that we are getting a long way from the Bill’s core purpose alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, which is to enable people to make films. If we start saying that additional roads must be closed, or additional time taken up because we must provide for people who want to watch the making of films, that is going further than might have been intended by the architects of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I hope that in due course that issue can also be addressed.

My hon. Friend made an interesting point about compensation. Does he know whether under existing legislation a local authority could charge a whopping licence fee to the film makers, thereby making money out of the process?

My right hon. Friend will have noticed that the local authority is giving itself power to charge a fee for the exercise of its functions in connection with the Bill.

My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. My intervention will be brief, but I gently point out that the local council is the owner of Elstree studios. As long as those studios are in business and doing as well as they are at the moment, I believe the council’s revenues are considerably assisted by that. My hon. Friend mentioned local benefit, and my constituency contains a school that has been established to try to get young people into jobs in the film industry. That gives a lot of pleasure and satisfaction to local people.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that further information. I had not realised that Elstree studios is a municipal enterprise. When my hon. Friend’s council next says that it is short of funds, he will be able to say, “Why don’t you sell off your interest in Elstree studios?”

It is a Conservative council with a substantial Conservative majority and an excellent record on finance, and it continues to provide very good services with a very good value for money council tax.

I certainly do not want to get myself into deep water—deeper water—with Hertfordshire county council. My hon. Friend has explained that there is in a sense a potential conflict of interest between the county council as the highways authority, the regulator and the body setting and charging the fees and the county council wearing its hat as owner of the studio. That issue merits some detailed scrutiny by the House. It is wonderful that my hon. Friend has been so open and frank in exposing these issues for scrutiny and I am sure that plenty of people will want to take advantage of that in due course.

I wish to speak only very briefly in response to the answer my hon. Friend the Minister gave me regarding the fines that can be levied on people who may use streets when they have been closed. This House should always be enormously careful about passing any further laws that increase the risk of British people being fined when going about what has previously been their lawful business. Every time this Parliament acts to make the life of individuals that little bit harder, that little bit more onerous or makes someone a little more at risk of coming into conflict with the authorities, the worse we make our society.

I would hope that any Bill that we pass reduced the risks of these impositions and that we will be very careful to think about the necessity for legislating when the existing system has worked. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) that films are made regularly and successfully in Hertfordshire, creating a great deal of business for the county. Roads are closed by common consent, good sense and the willingness of residents to co-operate with what they know to be a good and sensible business, even if it is technically a slightly grey legal area. That very British approach to things has worked successfully over many centuries, and if possible it is preferable not to legislate.

This Bill will enable Hertfordshire police to sustain and attract the film industry, which is a significant contributor to the local economy and to local jobs—a point made forcefully by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison). My understanding is that it will clarify the current uncertainty in the legal position for the county council and the police, who have been using the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 to enable road closures for filming. The use of that Act ended a few years ago because of some nervousness over the appropriateness of doing so and the council has therefore proposed this Bill, which I understand—the hon. Member for Hertsmere will no doubt clarify this as the Bill goes forward—the police support.

The powers are already available to local authorities in London and Kent. The Bill goes further, enabling the council to close roads with only 24 hours’ notice. I understand that this aims to deal with unpredictability in filming, such as the weather. Concerns—we have heard some today—have centred on the impact on local people and others that could result from sudden road closures and the risk of prosecution for other people breaching a closure notice. My understanding is that after a request from the Lord Chairman of Committees, the county council has updated its code of practice for location filming to address these concerns, including a section requiring the county council to consult local residents and businesses.

On that basis we can see merit in the Bill and in its going forward.

I thank the shadow Minister for giving way. Does he agree that if arguments favour the Bill after it has been fully scrutinised, there will also be a case for national legislation—as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—rather than doing this county by county?

Something tells me that all those issues and others will be considered as the Bill goes forward, which is entirely appropriate. At this stage, we are dealing with a Second Reading and we can see merit in the Bill and its objectives. On that basis, we are happy for it to go forward.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) on moving the Second Reading of this private Bill. We welcome the opportunity presented by the debate, and we have listened to a number of the interventions. This Bill will certainly enable the successful film-making industry in Hertfordshire to prosper. I suspect my hon. Friend will enjoy many happy hours in Committee scrutinising this Bill.

Let me make it clear from the start that the Government do not oppose the Bill. We accept that it largely replicates previous legislation, including the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2008 and the Kent County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2010, but we had some initial reservations about the limited procedural protection offered to property owners and the travelling public. These are similar issues to those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who can be reassured that the Government have had discussions with Hertfordshire county council. We are grateful that the council reassured the Government that when it puts in place film orders and film notices, it will—to the extent that there are no mandatory requirements in law—follow the procedures similar to those set out in the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Procedure Regulations 1992.

I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) musing on why Buckinghamshire county council should have asked him to sponsor a private Member’s Bill on a similar subject. I can assume only that, after his long hours of parliamentary scrutiny, it considers him to be the House’s expert.

I am happy to have that correction put on the record, but equally, I am sure that his advice was sought for exactly the same reason, given my hon. Friend’s extensive hours of scrutiny over various private Members’ Bills. I heard his comments and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) about the potential for looking at national legislation, and given that I am known as a most generous Minister, I am happy to offer the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) for a meeting if they wish to pursue the point. None the less, the Government wish this Bill well on its Second Reading, and we have no objection to its moving forward through the House of Commons.

This has been a very good debate. I hope I was frank enough in it, and I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their acknowledgement of my frankness. There are issues to be debated. This Bill has to go through scrutiny in the same way as every other single Bill does: most, if not all of them, are much better for that process.

Good points have been raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) asked a pertinent point about whether this constituted an offence and, if so, what the penalty was. I can tell him that it is an offence in the same way as a transgression of existing provisions relating to other special events for which roads are closed is an offence under the Road Traffic Regulation (Special Events) Act 1994. I believe, although I could not swear to this, that a level 3 fine will apply in this case.

I very much hope that those responsible for enforcing the Bill will take a view on the public benefit and take cognisance of the public interest in deciding whether any such prosecutions should take place. I hope that that situation can largely be avoided. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset quite rightly said, members of the public who want access to their premises or who have other important reasons for going about their lawful business should be able to do so. I am sure that there will be a will for that to apply.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) raised some important points about the time for which roads may be closed. I very much hope that it can be kept to a minimum. As I understand it, we have been talking about the maximum periods and on each occasion up to six of the orders might be applied for, but I hope again that this will be a maximum and that the filming can be completed in much less time. As a maximum, of course, it can be debated. I probably agree with the ideological views of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch as far as local and national public ownership are concerned. This seems to be a case on its own, an exceptional circumstance, as Hertsmere borough council owns the studios.

I can assure my hon. Friend that—as, indeed, I think he knows—Hertsmere is not, in fact, a hotbed of socialism, but very much a testing ground for Conservatism. In this instance it may be a pragmatic type of Conservatism, for thanks to the keen commercial acumen of the Conservative leadership of the council over the time—quite a few years now—for which it has owned the studios, they have been a great success. I could read out a long list of films that have been made there, and another list of contemporaneous television programmes. I have already mentioned “Strictly Come Dancing”, but I could mention many other programmes, including “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and “Celebrity Big Brother”. The BBC studios are the home of “EastEnders”.

I can assure my hon. Friends that Hertfordshire, and Hertsmere in particular, are very important to the film industry, which is a great asset to our country. It does a lot of good for us economically, attracting investment and helping our balance of payments. I ask my hon. Friends to think about that carefully when they scrutinise the Bill. I ask them to bear it in mind that the country—and my constituency in particular—has an important interest in promoting our film industry, and that the Bill will help to promote it in the ways I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.