HC Deb 15 December 1980 vol 996 cc16-7
19. Mr. Dormand

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to increase the appreciation of films.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for the Arts (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The British Film Institute is the instrument by which the Government promote film as an art form, and I have already announced that I am proposing an increase in its grant from £5,750,000 in the current financial year to £6,400,000 in 1981–82, which is an increase of 11 per cent. I have also agreed to give The Guardian lecture on "The place of film and television in the Arts" at the National Film Theatre on 3 February 1981. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to the lecture.

Mr. Dormand

The last part of the Minister's answer is a contribution to my concern about the film industry. Is he aware that the cinema still attracts more people than any other entertainment, that its general standards continue to be low and that the Government's contribution, in spite of the increase which has been given, is negligible? Does he agree that two circuits dominate the market and that this is not only unhealthy but contributes to the present state of affairs? Will the Minister for the Arts support the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in investigating the position in order that independent producers and independent cinemas can play a much larger and more effective role?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Matters concerning the commercial side of the industry are not for me; they are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I am responsible for the film in so far as it is an art form. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an extremely important art form, not least because it attracts so many young people. That is why we have managed, by arrangement with the British Film Institute, to increase the grant for film production by £¼ million this year.

Sir David Price

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would encourage a greater appreciation of films as an art form if he could encourage the television organisations to show their better films slightly earlier in the evening? At the hours at which they are shown at present, no one who does an honest day's work is up to see them.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend speaks for himself. For most hon. Members, their time for watching television is late in the evening. It depends whether one is a lark or a nightingale.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister aware that, while there is this division in Whitehall between one aspect of film production and another, it behoves him not just to make sure that there is more money for the British Film Institute but to make sure that there are jobs in the industry for people when they come out of the training course? Will he have urgent talks with the Home Office to see whether he can do something about getting a real contribution from the television industry for the showing of films?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

One of the difficulties is that the responsibilities for the various aspects of film and television are split between different Departments. I shall have words with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Meanwhile, I shall do all I can, as I am doing, to support the film as an art form, which is my responsibility.