HC Deb 25 February 2002 vol 380 cc430-2
6. Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of grants made by the Film Council in increasing UK-based film production. [34233]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells)

The Film Council has been awarding lottery funds for only a relatively short time but it has already produced a notable success in "Gosford Park", which received a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award last night after being released to critical acclaim. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the main criterion is not the number of films that are backed, but that those that are supported are of a much higher quality and reach an appreciative audience.

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I enjoyed seeing "Gosford Park" and wish it well in the, I think, five Oscar nominations that it received. Does the Minister agree, however, that there is no evidence of an increase in the number of UK-based productions as a result of the Film Council's support? Does he also agree that the training fund and the development of scripts in the UK is one of the best long-term investments and possibly the most cost-effective way to secure not only UK productions, but United States investment in UK productions, which of course makes up the largest part of our film production?

Dr. Howells

Yes, I agree entirely. The basis of all good films is a good script. Support for scriptwriters to develop films in that way has been sadly lacking. That is why we have made money available to develop scripts.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does the Minister agree that as well as supporting the commercial infrastructure, it is important that the Film Council supports the more risk-taking innovative cultural films that are part of its mandate? Will he do everything that he can to encourage it to put money not merely into developing those films for production, but into ensuring that they are distributed as well?

Dr. Howells

It is not easy to get such films distributed, and that is one of the main tasks that the Film Council faces. We do not have production companies like we used to have; nor do we have the integrated organisations that Hollywood has, not only to make films but to ensure that films are properly distributed, which has always been a great weakness.

My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important weakness in the British system. Banks and other financial agencies are unwilling to realise that films are a good investment, although they are willing to put their money into far riskier investments. Witness, for example, the dot.com crashes and problems with bonds—ventures that the banks were eager to pour their money into. They do not invest in films in the same way, which is a great shame.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I am glad that the Minister shares my concern about lack of British investment in what are essentially British films. He will be aware that "Gosford Park", which I saw last night, was essentially an American production and that "The Lord of the Rings", which starred British people, sadly had to be shot in New Zealand and was also funded by the United States of America. What steps can the Government and the Department take to ensure tax breaks to enable people to invest in the United Kingdom in British films, to promote not only the British film industry but the generation of money to be ploughed back into the industry, creating an ever-increasing growth of British films in both the UK and worldwide?

Dr. Howells

The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for investing in British films. We have great actors and scriptwriters and very good directors. A large amount of Film Council money was put into "Gosford Park", and he should not underrate that. Very often, such seedcorn money can be used to develop a good idea and attract capital. After all, film draws its investment funding from all over the world, whether the films are made in this country, New Zealand or anywhere else. This is a great country in which to make films. We have some of the best post-production facilities anywhere in the world and, as I say, some of the best actors, scriptwriters and directors. I urge everybody on both sides of the House to talk up the British film industry, not to talk it down or to try to smear its good name.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

Does the Minister believe that the process by which projects are selected for cash help by the Film Council is entirely objective? Does he think it right that a very high proportion of the lottery money distributed by the Film Council goes to projects in which the directors of the Film Council have an interest? Will he confirm that several of the Film Council directors whose projects have been helped in that way have also been appointed to advise Ministers about film policy?

Dr. Howells

I was expecting that question from the hon. Gentleman because I had heard that he had visited the Film Council, where I understand that he was as nice as pie to everyone. He did not tell them that he would be dragging the good name of British film through his manufactured mud. All the mechanisms are in place to ensure objectivity when it comes to deciding which projects should get the money that the Film Council is there to distribute.

It is a great shame that BAFTA did not have an award for the hon. Gentleman last night. The trouble is, of course, that it could not have presented one of those faces; it would have had to have presented a two-faced award.