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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his short explanation of the draft Statutory Instrument, but there are one or two questions I wish to pose. Obviously, the main exercise of the change is to give benefit—only a fringe benefit but certainly of some value—to smaller cinemas.
The Cinematograph Films Act constituted the British Film Fund, a statutory fund, as successor to the voluntary British Film Production Fund. The statutory scheme, as the voluntary scheme before it, provided for the transfer of payments as between different branches of the United Kingdom film industry specifically for the benefit of British film production.
It is important to make it clear that this is not a subsidy. It consists of sums paid into the film industry and allocated in the same manner in which certain other sections of the film industry obtain the rebate or distribution of various sums. The Regulations made under the 1957 Act require cinemas, with certain exceptions, to pay into the British Film Fund sums calculated—and I would like confirmation of this—at one-ninth, I believe, of the amount over 11d. of each payment for admission. What are the exact exemptions which are provided for at the moment? Will there be any increase in those exemptions under this Statutory Instrument?
There are trading arrangements whereby exhibitors pass back to the distributors and the distributors to the producers a proportion of the burden of the levy and exhibitors thus bear about 65 per cent. of the levy and the distributors and producers of British as well as foreign firms—and this is worth noting—bear the rest.
Could the Minister of State tell us how much of the sum he mentioned is to be borne by the showing of foreign films as the second part of the 35 per cent. not borne by the exhibitors themselves? I accept that the total paid into the fund last year was just over £4 million, and I think that it is indicated that the fund will be at about this level for the next 12 months. However, I wonder whether the Minister can say what he believes will be the level of the fund in the 12 months afterwards. He suggested that there would be a drop of only about £100,000. Can he say on what basis that is calculated? There is some concern, especially among the members of the British Film Producers Association, that the fund may drop below that figure.
The change to be effected by the passage of the Statutory Instrument will therefore exclude those cinemas which are not able to take £350 as opposed to £300. It seems impossible to assess the likely effect of the change on the British Film Fund since at the end of 1964 there were widespread adjustments in prices of admission to cinemas. This will mean that many cinemas will no longer have to pay into the fund as they were paying in previous years. Has that been taken into account in the assessment of the total which may accrue in the fund for the year 1965–66? Has the British Film Producers Association been consulted on this matter? I know that there have been consultations with the statutory body, but has the Board of Trade consulted the Association and, if it has, can the Minister tell the House what has been the outcome?
I am informed that the Association is concerned about possible loss of revenue and claims that it may not be in its interests for this Statutory Instrument to go through. Obviously there are conflicts of interest in this matter. There is the position of the exhibitors and that of the producers, and it must be obvious that the producers would not wish small cinemas and small exhibitors to close down, because that would close down their outlets for the films they are making. We on this side of the House do not want to take sides in this conflict, but we want to ensure that there is a fair measure of agreement between both sides.
Have the Government considered the possibility of taking steps to make up the fund to the £5 million mark, which was the sum initially discussed when the Cinematograph Films Act, 1957, was going through the House and which has been the level which the British Film Producers Association has considered essential if it was to function as healthily in the production of British films as it would like? The Minister will realise that there are certain powers under Section 6 of the Act which allow the Board of Trade to assist if it so desires. I wondered whether the Government would be willing to hear representations from the Association on this matter if the film producers wished to go to the Board of Trade. I should have thought that there could be no reason why the Board of Trade would be unwilling to hear representations from them.
If I could have answers to these three questions and an assurance that the Board of Trade would be willing to hear any representations from the producers, I believe that hon. Members on this side would be more than pleased to support the Government in the passage of this Statutory Instrument.