HL Deb 07 February 1991 vol 525 cc1273-5

3.15 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further proposals they have to assist the British film industry.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Government are pursuing the initiatives to help the film industry which we announced last June. Through a working party chaired by the DTI, we are looking at ways of increasing private sector investment in production. We are also considering proposals for a screen commission and an organisation to promote British films overseas. We have agreed to provide £5 million over three years to encourage co-production with European partners. We are working with the industry to secure the maximum advantage from European programmes, including the recently extended "Media" programme.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, given that this country has some of the best film makers in the world and that sadly many of them have now gone to the United States, will the Minister join with me, particularly in view of his Answer, in expressing deep disappointment at the lack of initiative by the private sector in investing in the film industry? In view of the disastrous decline in film production in this country, will he accept that two essential steps must be taken: first, to return to the industry some of the tax incentives which used to exist; and, secondly, to provide some government money at least to act as a catalyst to private investment? Is the Minister aware that many of our European partners provide a great deal of government money to their film industries?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we provide money to the film industry. We provide an annual support of over £17 million, including £2 million to British Screen Finance Limited, £1.75 million to the National Film and Television School and £12.75 million to the British Film Institute. My honourable friend the Financial Secretary has met film industry representatives to hear their views. Their proposals are under consideration. Obviously, I cannot anticipate the Budget Statement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that the crux of the matter is that many countries in the world, including European countries, subsidise their cinema to some extent for a cultural reason; namely, they wish to have films in their own language? Our industry is dominated by the American industry. Whether or not noble Lords like it, and whether the American is readily understood, their films are generally welcomed here and we find it difficult to compete with an industry which has economies of scale like those to be found in Los Angeles. Therefore why do we want a film industry and, if there is a reason for having one, in what way do we consider it right to support it?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I agree with the first part of the rather lengthy question of the noble Viscount. We support the film industry and we look forward to the results of the working party. We shall look at the report very carefully in order to see what steps need to be taken.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that investment in films was £220 million in 1985, £197 million in 1987 and that it went down to £65 million last year? It is set to he even lower this year. Does he further agree that more cash is now spent on television commercials than on feature and TV films put together? Will he accept that only 27 films are being made in Britain in 1991 compared with 40 last year and 54 two years ago? Does that not indicate a crisis in the industry?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, when the working party reports to the DTI we hope that it will offer some helpful suggestions, which the Government will consider. It may be possible then to do something to help the industry.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the American film industry is the most successful film industry in the world and receives no subsidy from the United States Government? Does he not agree that it is about time the British film industry stopped bleating and learnt to stand on its own two feet like any other industry?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. However, it is important to help the film industry in this country. We do so and shall continue to do so.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, the Minister mentioned funds being given to British Screen Finance Limited. He did not say that it was for a limited period. Will he tell the House for how much longer that funding will continue? I suspect that it will be for only two or three years. Further, will he say when the working party is likely to report? Last June a great deal of publicity was given to it, and the emphasis from the former Prime Minister was that it would report very quickly. It has not yet done so. Can the Minister give some indication when it will report?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we hope to receive the working party report in March or April. In July 1989 the Government announced funding of British Screen Finance Limited of £2 million per year from 1991 to 1993. It would not be appropriate at this time to determine whether there should be further government funding beyond that period.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, I do not want to press the noble Viscount. However, can he say why he believes that the Government should support the industry in the small measure that he has described?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Government believe that it is a good idea to support the film industry, as do many other noble Lords in this House.