HL Deb 14 April 1988 vol 495 cc1139-42

3.12 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the British film industry, and whether any changes are to be proposed.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the Films Act 1985 offers a framework within which the commercial film industry is developing successfully. British Screen Finance Limited, which receives government funds under the terms of the Films Act, in just over two years has supported over 40 British feature and short films. In addition, 29 projects have received government finance under the development scheme managed by the National Film Development Fund.

The Films Act also effected a widely welcomed deregulation of the film industry. Our aim continues to be to encourage the industry to function competitively in an open and international market.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, does the Secretary of State accept that this country has some of the finest film makers in the world? Does he also agree that the effect of the facts he has given is to terminate government help towards the film industry? As the abolition of the National Film Finance Corporation, the Eady levy and the 100 per cent. tax capital allowances, among other things, have caused unforeseen circumstances in the film industry, does he agree that there ought now to be some fiscal incentives given to the film industry?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suspect that the greatest fiscal incentive towards the film industry has been the recent tax changes which the Chancellor has been able to announce in the Budget. That is concerning the taxes on individuals. I am sure that all in your Lordships' House will join with me in congratulating all those concerned with the making of the film "The Last Emperor", which won no fewer than nine Oscars and which was British-funded without any help from the Government.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Lord comment on the report of the British Screen Advisory Council on the proposed change in broadcasting policies and the effect that it will have on films? It says that priority will be given to small-budget to medium-budget films—films that appeal to a television audience—and major UK films, one of which the noble Lord has just mentioned. An important sector that is already vulnerable will be inhibited.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am not certain how much government policy comes into that, but it is nevertheless true that, despite the fact that attendances at cinemas have increased substantially over the past three years, there is a continuing and ever-expanding demand for low-budget or medium-budget films for use on television and in other ways. That is known as the market; and I have little doubt that the demand will eventually be supplied by what the film producers make.

Lord Lloyd of Hampstead

My Lords, the Secretary of State has extended his congratulations on the remarkable success of "The Last Emperor" in winning nine Oscars recently in Hollywood. Perhaps I may ask him whether he agrees that it would redound more to the credit of this country, and to the support for the film industry of this country, if it were not a fact that that film was financed almost entirely by Continental bankers; and that neither the private nor the public sector contributed anything more than a fairly trifling contribution to its production.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, my information is that Hill Samuel was the body that put it together. It arranged the funding. I care little who puts the money in. It was British-funded to that extent. It is a matter for great congratulations. If it shows one thing, it is this. The industry is very resourceful. I am sure that it will find a way better than we can.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, can the Minister make any comment about the present position of Pinewood Studios? It has produced some of the finest British films of all time. It now appears to be largely American-orientated. Are there any moves afoot to encourage British film makers to make, in particular, educational films in these admirable studios?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, that is a matter very much for those concerned in running Pinewood Studios. In my original Answer I referred to the fact that British Screen Finance Limited had supported, with government assistance, over 40 British feature and short films over the past two years. That seems to me a great contribution. However, where they are made depends on the circumstances at the time. It may well be that costs in this country were too high for some of these films to be made here.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, does the noble Lord feel that the people of this country are capable of choosing their own entertainments and paying for them? In Northamptonshire people have far more fun from the Pytchley Hunt than they do from the film industry, and the Government do not subscribe a penny to them.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the tastes of the people of Northampton are not precisely my tastes, but I congratulate them nevertheless.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the restrictive practices which exist between exhibitors and distributors in this country? That matter has been adversely reported upon by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and has also been taken up by the Government who have expressed an intention to bring forward legislation on the subject. What is likely to be the timetable? Will the Minister further agree that any more delay will prevent independent cinema owners from investing in new, comfortable cinemas in which people can watch the new and exciting films which we are led to understand will be coming from the British film industry?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, as this matter is a little wide of the original Question I am not sure that my information is correct, but I understand that we are still waiting for the report from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and therefore we must obviously wait to see what the detailed terms of that report are.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, surely my noble friend will agree that the two Davids are beyond compare—by whom, of course, I mean David Lean and David Puttnam? Would it not be possible to restore government grant to British Screen, as it is now called, at least to the level that it used to be under the old National Film Finance Corporation? It is only a matter of a few million pounds.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, unfortunately my noble friend gave me a slight shock at the start of his question. I believe that the passing of the Films Act 1985, which essentially deregulated the cinema in this country, has been responsible in part for seeing attendances at the cinema increasing from 53 million in 1984 to 74.8 millions last year. That figure is still going up. I believe that the help we are giving now through British Screen is probably the best targeted help that we could give to production. We should let the market show us the best way in which we can support the industry.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Secretary of State aware that I thought he would refer to the success of "The Last Emperor"? He is quite right that most of the finance came from Hill Samuel. Is he further aware that that was the 12th financial institution which the producer approached? He has said publicly that had that finance not been available the film would not have been made. Does the Secretary of State recall a statement made in the 1984 White Paper on film policy which said that the industry has an importance and influence both in our national life and internationally which is out of all proportion to its size? Does that still apply? Will he therefore not give further consideration to financial incentives?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I certainly do not take away from that statement at all, but the issue surely is whether or not government help will make it better. I believe that the level we have at the moment is the best, but I suspect that the noble Lord has another view.