HC Deb 20 April 1998 vol 310 cc461-2
1. Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester)

What plans the Government have to respond to the distribution needs of the film industry. [37404]

The Minister for Film and Tourism (Mr. Tom Clarke)

I refer my hon. Friend to "A Bigger Picture", the report of the Film Policy Review group, co-chaired by myself and Mr. Stewart Till, to whom I give the thanks of my Department and, I am sure, of the House, for his splendid work with others. The report was published on 25 March. It proposes a number of measures to promote the wider distribution of British films.

Ms Russell

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an excellent report, which I hope all right hon. and hon. Members will read. I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my concern about the increasing difficulty that a number of film societies have in obtaining prints of new releases, especially when they are restricted to being able to show films on 16 mm equipment. I am sure also that my right hon. Friend agrees with me that we do not want to force the closure of all our town and city-centre film venues, thereby forcing everyone to get into his or her car to go out of town. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans—can anything be done—to keep film societies afloat?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments on the review. There has been a positive response on both sides of the Atlantic.

I am aware of my hon. Friend's involvement with the Chester film society, which celebrates its 25th year in 1998. I know that the society uses 16 mm film. I shall be discussing with the British Film Institute a strategy for the use of modern methods of cinema technology, which I hope will include the interests of film societies.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford)

Is the Minister aware that it is becoming harder and harder since 1 May to attract international film makers to this country because of the strength of the pound? Given that, why is it that the London Film Commission, which was set up with the help of the previous Government and which has helped to attract millions of pounds of film investment into the capital, has received a grant insufficient even to guarantee its future until the end of the year?

Mr. Clarke

First, it does not help when the hon. Gentleman gets his facts considerably wrong. Secondly, it does not help when he talks down Britain when people abroad are investing in British films. We want to encourage them to do so.

The previous Government left not one penny to the Labour Government to save the London Film Commission. In spite of that, my right hon. and hon. Friends produced £100,000. Working with others, we saved the commission. It is delighted, as the hon. Gentleman should be.