HC Deb 27 February 1995 vol 255 cc681-3
15. Mr. Evennett

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to give additional help and support to the British film industry.

Mr. Dorrell

The Select Committee on National Heritage is currently conducting an inquiry on the subject and I have undertaken to set out the Government's approach in my response to the Committee's findings.

Mr. Evennett

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that British-production films such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Shallow Grave" are excellent? Will he agree to promote the British film industry as much as he can and to try to encourage as many British business men as possible to invest in that worthwhile venture?

Mr. Dorrell

I agree with my hon. Friend on all counts and I look forward to responding to the invitation from Mr. Michael Grade to attend the launch in Britain of "The Madness of King George". My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the flowering of the British film industry which is taking place at present. We must now ensure that we take advantage of the skills and resources available within the British film industry, not merely to promote the development of British films—although that is important—but to attract to our shores internationally mobile film-making projects. That is why the Government continue to support the British Film Commission and why I was so pleased to be able to tell the Select Committee that last year's expenditure on films made in Britain was higher than in any year since 1980.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Minister agree that Channel 4's "Film on Four" is now the cornerstone of the British film industry, both by virtue of the budget made available through it and because films shown on that channel are eligible for nomination for Oscars and BAFTA awards? Does he accept that the number of films commissioned from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for "Film on Four" is unacceptably low? Will he give the figures and undertake to do something to ensure that that serious imbalance is corrected?

Mr. Dorrell

I recognise that Channel 4 has played a distinguished role in the resurgence of film making in Britain and I hope that that process will continue. As for assistance to specific forms of film making—whether through Channel 4 or another film-making agency—we shall have to wait until the response Ito the Select Committee report, which I mentioned in my initial answer.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Notwithstanding the considerable success that the British film industry is enjoying—which many of us hope will he reflected in the academy awards ceremony next month, with an Oscar for Mr. Nigel Hawthorne, the former civil servant—does my right hon. Friend agree that the Irish have captured much of the potential market for film making in this country as they have a much more liberal tax regime? Will my right hon. Friend bear that point in mind and go and see for himself what the Irish are doing before he responds to the Select Committee report?

Mr. Dorrell

I will certainly take account of the package of support and the environment available to film makers working in Britain compared with what is available in comparable countries. Before we go overboard in our praise for the Irish film-making regime, I should remind the House that the amount spent on film making in Ireland last year was roughly £100 million while the amount spent on film making in Britain last year was roughly £400 million, so the imbalance is not quite as is sometimes suggested.

Mr. Maclennan

In recognising the distinguished role of Channel 4 in film making, would not the Secretary of State do well to listen to the channel's chairman, Sir Michael Bishop, who advocated a change in the funding formula, which currently results in about £60 million per year being siphoned away from programme and film making by Channel 4? The right hon. Gentleman should listen particularly to the offers to recompense any companies in the independent sector which have not made the income that they predicted to the Independent Television Commission in 1991.

Mr. Dorrell

What the hon. Member describes as siphoning off money is a payment by Channel 4 to the Channel 3 licensees—the people who took the risk associated with Channel 4.

The management of Channel 4 has cause to celebrate the fact that that risk has proved a triumphant success. However, I do not believe that it is a reason to rewrite the agreement that binds Channel 3 and Channel 4 under terms that were known to both when the licences were granted.