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

Volume 585: debated on Tuesday 9 September 2014

Second Reading

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

I thank Members involved in the previous Bill for allowing me to come in as the bridesmaid after the main event. I was worried that we would not get our chance, so I am grateful to all the Members concerned for the constraint that they showed when debating a very important Bill for London.

The Bill was first introduced in another place, and has gone through all its stages there. It is a private Bill promoted by my own county council in Buckinghamshire. During the course of consultation, no petitions were deposited against the Bill by interested parties in either House, so we are talking about a modest and uncontroversial measure.

I pay tribute to Mr Emyr Thomas of Sharpe Pritchard, our parliamentary agent, who has provided commendable professional advice on the passage of this Bill. The Bill’s overall objective is to assist the council in continuing to encourage the film industry to produce films in Buckinghamshire by formalising the legal position as regards the closure of highways for the purposes of filming and to enable objects to be placed on the highways and used for those purposes. The Bill is precedented in private Acts promoted first by the London boroughs and Transport for London in 2008, by Kent county council in 2010 and, most recently, by Hertfordshire county council in 2014. The film industry that is referred to includes not just movie makers but the producers of television programmes and advertisements. It also includes film-making by charitable organisations and film students.

Most Members know how important the film industry is to the UK. The industry directly employs about 43,900 workers and contributes about £1.6 billion to our GDP and £490 million to the Exchequer.

Buckinghamshire has a long tradition of film-making, and the county council supports the film industry, which it considers to be an important part of the Buckinghamshire economy.

Buckinghamshire is located in the so-called super-region of the south-east of England, which accounts for approximately 60% of the UK’s film and television production. It is home to 22 production companies that serve different sectors of the industry, including feature films, animation, TV, digital production and corporate films. One of these, of course, is Pinewood studios, which is renowned as a leading provider of studio and related services to the film and television industry.

Pinewood studios opened back in 1936 and over the past 78 years it has played host to several huge blockbuster films and numerous iconic television series. Most people watching the debate will know that the “Carry On”, “Superman”, “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” series were all produced at Pinewood, as were “Alien”, “Batman”, “Love Actually”, “Mamma Mia!” and, of course, 20 James Bond films, and I have had the pleasure in the past of being on a film set in Pinewood for one of those James Bond films. Pinewood is the home of the largest sound stage in Europe—it is called the Albert R Broccoli 007 stage, and it truly is magnificent—as well as of the Richard Attenborough stage, which is dedicated to the late Sir Richard’s large body of work in film and television. May I say, having worked for two years with Sir Richard Attenborough and David Puttnam on British film year back in the ’80s, that he was a treasure to work for and will be much missed? It is fitting that we have a stage at Pinewood named after him. In June 2014, there were reports that a £200 million expansion plan for Pinewood studios, which will make it rival the Hollywood sets, had been approved. That will be a great jewel in the crown of Buckinghamshire.

Adjacent to Pinewood studios is Black park, a popular film location offering large areas of heath and woodland. The 500 acre site is used extensively for filming. Recent productions include “Casino Royale”, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Jack Ryan” and Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming film, “Cinderella”, which will be released in 2015. Over the past year or so, West Wycombe park, the Ashridge estate, Waddesdon manor, Basildon manor and the Hughenden estate have hosted productions such as “A Little Chaos”, “Maleficent”, “The Monuments Men” and “The World’s End”. They were all filmed in Buckinghamshire.

Those who have heard me opine about HS2 will know that it is no word of a lie that the county contains a rich diversity of landscape that is frequently used by film-makers for location filming. There are quiet country lanes, picturesque towns and villages and urban settings. The proximity of those locations to the studios and the fact that the county is on London’s doorstep help to ensure that Buckinghamshire remains a popular filming location and a place to which new films will be attracted.

The Beaconsfield film studios, which opened back in 1922, were the site of the first British talking movie but are now the home of the national film and television school, headed by Nik Powell, whose credits include “The Company of Wolves”, “Mona Lisa”, “Scandal” and “The Crying Game”—for those who are interested, they were all Oscar nominated. He runs the school, which employs about 30 industry professionals, including Stephen Frears. Its 220 or so students produce about 100 films a year in and around Buckinghamshire and the school has some notable alumni, including the director of “Harry Potter”, David Yates, and, of course, Nick Park, who was the creator and director of our very own “Wallace and Gromit”, a set of characters that is familiar to those on the Opposition Benches, at least, and on which we all look with much affection.

Filming is very good for our local economy. For instance, a considerable proportion of the film budget is spent on local facilities such as hotels, restaurants, retailers, transport companies, florists, construction materials, location fees and directly employed local people. It is estimated that for every £1 spent on production, £2.50 goes into the local economy. It is therefore really important that Buckinghamshire retains its position as an attractive place for the film industry that offers genuine advantages. As part of the council’s commitment to increasing economic investment in the county and ensuring that Buckinghamshire benefits from the film industry’s presence, the council is keen to encourage more location shoots and investment in our studios.

In November 2013, the Bill was deposited in the Lords, and it has cleared all its stages in the other place. Why is it needed? The existing position in law is that it is an offence wilfully to obstruct free passage along the highway. Coupled with that, a highways authority has a statutory duty to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which it is the authority. What constitutes an obstruction is a matter of fact and degree in each case, but it is safe to say that if a film-maker prohibited people from proceeding along a road either on foot or in a vehicle for anything longer than the briefest period, that would be likely to amount to an obstruction. If the stopping up of or interference with a highway is authorised by statute, that provides a defence to any prosecution for obstruction. Utility companies have such powers, as do the police and local authorities, but the provisions are always drafted so that the powers allow interference with the highway for specific purposes. It is important to note that the council’s proposals are fully supported by our local police.

Why is it important to allow the closure of our highways? It is not the case that there is just a perception that film-makers might go elsewhere to shoot without proper powers to allow the council to close roads, because I can give hon. Members an example of that happening. Vodafone recently wanted to film an advertisement in Buckinghamshire involving the closure of a road. The council explained that it did not have the power to close the road as the company wanted, so I am afraid that Vodafone went elsewhere. The council is worried that Buckinghamshire could lose its locational and competitive advantages, and economic benefits through the supply chain, unless it is covered by legislation similar to that enjoyed in London, Kent and Hertfordshire.

As most films, and indeed adverts, are months or years in the planning, why would clause 3 give the council the power immediately to make a prohibition of traffic order?

My right hon. Friend made interventions during the House’s consideration of the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014. It is not rocket science; it is simply weather, weather, weather. The inclemency of the British weather means that there is sometimes a need for film crews immediately to take the opportunity to film on our roads. The immediacy for which the Bill provides offers great assistance.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which she is setting out the case for the Bill. As someone who has lived in a home where filming takes place on the road once or twice a year, I have never yet heard a neighbour complain if they have been given reasonable notice, which is to be expected, and if the time of filming is limited to hours or even days.

I am grateful for that helpful intervention and I think that the people of Buckinghamshire feel exactly the same. Indeed, people are always delighted to see our towns, villages and streets on screen not only in some of our wonderful television productions, but as locations in big feature films. The Bill also offers protections.

My concerns are about not the local person, who might well be aware that a film crew is in the area, but the motorist who is travelling through the area but might not have received adequate notice that a road will be closed. What attempts will the council make to ensure that motorists travelling through the area are given adequate notice that they should use an alternative road?

May I commend my right hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in motoring matters and who I know has a fine collection of cars himself? The council has a code of practice, readily available on its website, entitled, “Filming on Highways: Buckinghamshire County Council Code of Practice”. The council has already drawn up draft proposals in the eventuality that the Bill is passed by the House. When consulting the Department for Transport, it has entered into provisions and given undertakings about placing well-sited notices and giving as much warning as possible. Like my right hon. Friend, I know how annoying it is to find one cannot go somewhere, and one can see all the film vans. I therefore hope that the notices will have been adequately covered in the rules and guidelines that will be readily available to the public, and the council gave the Department for Transport assurances about notification to fire, ambulance and police services, and so on. We hope that the disruption will be minimised and a great deal of thought will be given to road users, as my right hon. Friend wants.

(Christchurch) (Con): The film order can last for five days—or is it seven days?—and there can be six film orders each year, adding up to 42 days a year. If someone can find ingress and egress from their home interrupted for 42 days a year, is that proportionate?

Before I reply to that intervention, may I thank my hon. Friend for the helpful advice he gave when he was approached by Buckinghamshire county council to discuss the Bill? His expertise in opposed private business has always been invaluable, as was his contribution to the Bill prior to that.

I think that closure for 42 days must not be taken in isolation. Do not forget that the council has to consider section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which also applies. That section puts a duty on the council

“to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic”,

including providing adequate pedestrian access to people’s homes and taking into account the needs of the disabled. In practice, because the council must give consideration to the provisions of section 122, closure of such duration would be unlikely and would probably not be demanded.

The provisions of the Bill have the effect of extending, with modifications, the existing powers of the highway authority to close roads for special events. Those powers were brought in specifically to enable a wonderfully successful event—the Tour de France—to be hosted in England for the first time in the 1990s. I am sure we all saw the great success of the recent Tour de France in this country. The relevant provision of the 1984 Act also 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.”

The council takes the view that, sadly, that does not include film-making. The Bill would have the effect of categorising the making of a film as a relevant event, thereby allowing the council to make the subsequent closure orders.

The Bill goes a little further than that, in the same way as the Acts for London, Kent and Hertfordshire, by allowing what will be known as “film notices” to be issued where it appears to the council that it is expedient for the closure to come into effect without delay. As I mentioned, that is particularly useful in the film industry because of the unpredictability of our weather. The existing restriction, which allows special events orders to continue in force for up to three days, is altered to allow for seven days for a film order. Similarly, a restriction on the number of orders that can be made in any year on any stretch of road is relaxed to allow for up to six film orders. Under the existing rules, only one special event order can be made per annum, but that number can be increased with the consent of the Secretary of State.

How will our residents who are affected by this legislation be treated? As I have indicated, whenever the council exercises the powers under the Bill, section 122 of the 1984 Act protects the users of the highway. That, I am sure, is the safeguard we would be looking for, because it requires the council to have regard to the desirability of securing and maintaining reasonable access to premises.

As I said, the council has made a commitment to the Department for Transport that it will follow the procedures that it has to follow for temporary street closures under other legislation. I referred to the code of practice for location filming in Buckinghamshire, and I want to give the House a bit more detail on that. It includes, for example, provisions about litter removal, historical or cultural and protected locations, night filming, noise and nuisance, and parking. It also contains a section about residents, including disabled residents, and businesses requiring consultation. The code has recently been updated, as requested by the Chairman of Committees when the Bill was considered in Committee in the Lords. As I understand it, we would be perfectly prepared to place a copy of the draft rules and regulations, and the code, in the House of Commons Library if that was wanted.

Does this require consultation with residents associations? Is there any provision to ensure that residents associations can be compensated for the inconvenience that their members encounter? There is a lot of filming in the area where I live, and there is provision for residents associations to receive money from the film company.

I will place the code and the terms and conditions in the Library so that my hon. Friend can read them, because I am getting to the end of my speech and I want to allow enough time not only for any colleague who wishes to speak but for the Minister to respond.

In order to understand whether there was support for the proposed Bill, throughout the summer of 2012 the county council held a six-week consultation, and a huge number of bodies were consulted. A total of 19 responses were received. Nine responses were absolutely positive, seven were positive but expressed some concerns which have been addressed, one was neutral, and two were negative. It was considered that none of the concerns raised was significant enough to prevent the promotion of the Bill. Given that no one has objected to the legislation, it is good to see that it is welcomed by the people of Buckinghamshire as much as it has been in Hertfordshire, Kent and London.

I hope that I have done justice to Buckinghamshire county council in sponsoring this Bill. It is a simple Bill that has precedent. I hope that the House will find favour with it and give it fair passage.

I thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for the way in which she introduced the Bill. She opened her remarks by saying that she was worried she was going to be the bridesmaid to the main event tonight. I do not think I would ever accuse her of that. Certainly, as regards the encyclopaedic knowledge of the British film industry that she demonstrated, she squashed any suggestions of that absolutely. I was a little worried, I have to say, when she told the House that she had spent an interesting time on the set of a James Bond film. I hope that that was instructive, but I am a little worried about what it involved. If it involved car chases, Beretta pistols or self-defence courses, I, for one, will be watching my step a little more carefully when I say anything at all about HS2 in future.

I am very pleased that, in commenting on the strength and importance of the UK film industry, the right hon. Lady took the opportunity to say a few words about Richard Attenborough, whose passing is mourned by us all. He was a giant of the UK film industry. Obviously, we on the Labour Benches had a special affection for him, given his politics, but nobody can take away the contribution he made over so many years and we will all miss him.

As the right hon. Lady has said, the Bill is pretty much identical in logic and purpose to the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014, which we debated last November. We understand why it is important for Buckinghamshire to have clarity on rules and regulations, in order for it to be able to sustain and, indeed, to continue to attract the film industry, which, as the right hon. Lady has made clear, is a significant contributor to local jobs and the local economy. It is also a significant contributor to jobs across the country, given the national significance of the UK film industry.

The Bill enables the council to prohibit or restrict traffic on roads for the purposes of making a film. Those powers are already available to local authorities in London, Kent and Hertfordshire. Like the Hertfordshire Act, this Bill will enable the council to close roads, including, where necessary because of the weather, with only 24 hours’ notice. It aims to deal with unpredictability, which is something that obviously has to be dealt with if we are going to sustain the film industry. After Hertfordshire gained those powers, Buckinghamshire wanted to retain its competitive position as a filming location.

I understand the concerns that have been expressed today—the same concerns were expressed about the Hertfordshire Act—about the possible impact of sudden road closures on local people and, indeed, on motorists passing through the area. That is why a code of practice is important. I am pleased that one has been agreed and think it would be an excellent idea for a copy to be placed in the Library of the House of Commons. I detect no desire from anybody—certainly not from the film companies themselves, the right hon. Lady or the Opposition—to restrict anybody’s rights unnecessarily. For the film industry to survive and prosper, it needs the support and confidence of local people. It would not make sense for any company to ride roughshod over any concerns.

That is why it is important that we discuss the Bill in a measured way. It is also why the code of practice is so important, and if anything in it needs a bit of tweaking, that can be looked at—that is one of the great things about a code of practice. If we are able to do that, building on the experience in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, this Bill will be a positive contribution enabling the UK film industry in Buckinghamshire and elsewhere to go from strength to strength.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on moving the Second Reading of this private Bill, welcome the opportunity for this debate and endorse the comments that have just been made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I am very pleased to put the Government’s position on the record, particularly as I have appeared in an Oscar-winning motion picture.

If the hon. Gentleman watches a film called “The Iron Lady”, which is about one of the greatest ladies ever to have lived on this planet, he will see me playing the part of a Government Whip. That is about as far as my acting goes, but I am in the credits, which counts, as I understand it.

I want to make it clear from the start that the Government do not oppose the Bill, which largely replicates previous Bills such as the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2008 and the Kent County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2010, and closely mirrors the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014.

During the passage of the Hertfordshire Bill, we had some initial reservations about the limited procedural protection that it offered to property owners and the travelling public. However, following discussions with Hertfordshire county council, it reassured us that it will follow procedures similar to those set out in the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Procedure Regulations 1992 when it puts film orders in place. We are grateful to Buckinghamshire county council for agreeing that, to the extent that that there are no mandatory requirements in law, it will also follow the procedures in those regulations.

My only surprise is that we have not yet had a North Yorkshire County Council (Filming on Public Highways) Bill, but I suspect that it is only a matter of time.

It is a pity that I was too late to intervene on the Minister, but perhaps he will intervene on me.

The leader of Buckinghamshire county council, who knew that I had concerns about the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill, wrote to ask me what I was going to do about the Buckinghamshire Bill. I said that I thought it would be much better if Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire got together to promote a joint Bill, because that would be much less expensive, but Hertfordshire did not want to play ball. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) said on introducing the legislation and as the Minister has just mentioned, there is now a competitiveness issue.

Perhaps I may tell the Minister that the idea of bringing forward a Bill for the whole country is perfectly sensible, because the issue is important. I appreciate that such locations are not just in Buckinghamshire, although Buckinghamshire is best. The Road Traffic Regulation (Temporary Closure for Filming) Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), would cover the whole country, although as a private Member’s Bill it may not get through and as yet no Bill has been published. As there is only one day a year on which a Bill of this nature can be published, Hertfordshire went ahead and published its Bill, so Buckinghamshire had no choice but to publish its own Bill on the due date the following year. That was a long intervention, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her short intervention, but in a sense I am even more disappointed. Why did the Minister not refer to such a private Member’s Bill? It might well deal with the issue by giving all local authorities a power to introduce such provisions without the need to use the private legislation route.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that if we had a Bill covering the whole country that perhaps gave councils the power to preserve outdoor film sets by banning unsightly wind farms, the House might pass it with acclamation?

I look forward to supporting my right hon. Friend’s Bill on that topic. I think that there may be a chance to present such a Bill even on Friday if he gives notice of it tomorrow.

To return to the point about the private Member’s Bill, the Minister did not say whether the Government will support it, which is rather a missed opportunity, if I may put it like that. Whether in relation to pedlars—we know all about such iterative Bills—or filming on highways, it is much better to try to have general legislation to which local authorities can opt in if they wish, without the need to engage in the expensive and often protracted process of private legislation.

Having said that, because there are no petitions against the Bill, it will go to an unopposed Bill Committee and will not even come back on Report unless the Committee finds some reason to amend it, and it will then go straight through on Third Reading.

However, that is an expensive process. I hope that by the time the Bill returns for Third Reading we will have more news about the private Member’s Bill to which my right hon. Friend referred. [Interruption.] I see the Minister nodding in agreement. Private Members’ Bills are often rather extensive in ambit, and therefore controversial and difficult to get through, but it sounds as though that Bill will have a narrow ambit. If it is supported by the Government and the Opposition, it could have a fair wind and result in our spending less time looking at private legislation.

If this Bill goes ahead, is there not a case for giving the council more powers? Clause 6(2) allows it to impose a charge for placing objects on the highway, but only to cover its reasonable expenses. Taking into account my hon. Friend’s earlier point about local community groups, perhaps the council should be given the power to levy a fee that includes a donation to the local community.

I am against that, because I do not see why we should burden the blossoming British film industry with additional stealth taxes. However, I support film companies working closely with residents and residents associations and, where appropriate—I think that this is best practice in the industry—making ex gratia payments to compensate them for the inconvenience.

That happened recently in a street that I am familiar with where a company is shooting a film about the Krays—“Legend” is the working title—which I think will be very popular. The buildings in the ganglands where the Krays operated have long since been demolished, so the company had to find some lookalikes. They came along to the street in question and painted all the houses grey in order to make them look as dingy as they must have done in the 1950s. This is not an advertisement for “Legend”, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I wanted to explain that the film company, in order to ensure that local residents did not feel that they had been taken advantage of, made a donation to the local residents association as well as to individual residents who were particularly inconvenienced. If you would like to speak with me afterwards, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give you the details of the residents association and the fantastic Christmas parties it can throw as a result of the donations it has received, and not only from that film company, but from many others.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I can see that you feel that there comes a time when all the points that need to be made have been made. I made many of the points that I would like to have made on this Bill when I spoke to the Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill. In conclusion, I hope that this is the last time we have to deal with the Second Reading of an individual local authority Bill for filming on the highways and that in future they can all be dealt with under delegated legislation.

I am grateful to the Opposition spokesman for his support for the Bill, to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has indicated the Government’s support, and to the two hon. Friends who have intervened to make their points gently but who have also been supportive of the Bill. It would be otiose for me to say anything more. Mr Deputy Speaker, that’s a wrap.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.