§ 1. Mr. Dormand
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the film industry.
§ The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim)
Before replying to the hon. Member I shall, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has asked me to express his regret that a long-standing overseas visit prevents his attendance here today.
We recognise the value of a healthy British film industry. I am pleased to say that studio bookings are reported to be well up on last year, and it is clear that the Americans, in particular, are realising that costs in British studios now compare very favourably with those in the United States. As with all other industries, keeping costs under control is the key to improving international competitiveness, preserving existing jobs and creating new ones, and to the health of the whole industry.
§ Mr. Dormand
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the huge cut made by the Arts Council in its annual grant to 2 its film making division, and the Government's action of disbanding the Central Office of Information, are, for film makers, two further examples of the indifference of the Government to the British film industry?
Is there any truth in the rumour that the interim action committee on the film industry is to be wound up? If so, will she take some action at long last to set up a British film authority with real teeth, to ensure the continuance of a strong, healthy British film industry?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
I cannot reply to two of the hon. Gentleman's three questions. His first question requires an answer by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, and I cannot answer the second as I do not normally reply to questions on rumours.
The disbanding of the Central Office of Information does not greatly affect the British film industry. There is every reason for optimism in the industry at present, because of the increased bookings and competitive costs of our studios. That must be fully exploited by the industry if more films are to be made in Britain.
Far from denigrating the industry, I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to what it has achieved with regard to technical skills, reduction of costs and the successful films that it has made over the past year.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a rumour about the IAC. Certainly the amalgamation between it and the CFC is being considered, but no final conclusion has been drawn, and the fullest possible consultations are taking place with a view ultimately to having something that will be of the greatest value to the film industry.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Just how successful is the British film industry? Will my right hon. Friend give some examples of recent progress?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
I reiterate to my hon. Friend that costs in British studios are substantially lower than those in the United States. This is the type of opportunity for 3 which we have been looking for the film industry. If exploited to the full it could lead to many more films being made in Britain.
§ Mr. John Smith
Is the Minister aware that the British film industry offers an opportunity for the considerable artistic and intellectual genius of this country to be turned into a successful and profitable exporting industry? Will the right hon. Lady undertake to consider, much more carefully than the Government have hitherto done, the creation of a British film authority to give substantial Government support to the industry?
§ Mrs. Oppenheim
Without wishing to denigrate the artistic levels of the British film industry, which I believe to be considerable and of international repute, I must point out that those are matters for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts. I deal with the more mundane side of the industry—the trade side by which it functions. On that basis there is room for considerable optimism.