HL Deb 04 March 1992 vol 536 cc838-41

2.55 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Reay)

My Lords, at present I have no proposals to announce to add to the assistance which the film industry already receives, worth over £20 million a year.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concern that the promising initiative taken in No. 10 Downing Street some two years ago is now running into the sand? In particular, will he say when the DTI working party report is to be published? Is the Minister further aware that the industry is not looking to the Government for big injections of government money but for tax incentives, not least capital allowances? There is no doubt that such changes would bring in a great deal of investment, not only from this country but from the United States. Will the Government look at this as a matter of urgency, especially as last year only 13 feature films were made in this country and so far this year only one is in production?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of points. The Government give considerable support to the film industry and have assisted the industry in a number of ways since the seminar to which he referred. Last year, for example, we set up the British Film Commission, the aim of which is to attract overseas film production to this country. We also set up the European co-production fund to stimulate the joint production of films with European partners. Some people think that that is the direction in which the film industry might go.

As regards the working party, it is in the process of finalising its report. I hope to receive it within the next few weeks.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the British film industry really is in the doldrums now? Is it not sad to note that no films are being made at Elstree and that no feature films are being made at Pinewood and none is on stock? It is obvious that help is required. First, I ask the Minister what more can the Government do to encourage more British investment in the British film industry? Secondly, can they do more to back the British Film Commission in its endeavours to revive the British film industry? Is it being properly financed?

Lord Reay

My Lords, as far as concerns the tax measures to which both noble Lords have referred, that is a matter which must be for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can say nothing about that now, except that he has received representations from the industry. The demise of the British film industry, which both noble Lords have tried to highlight, is greatly exaggerated. Figures published recently by the trade magazine Screen International have indicated that the number of films made in this country, or by British film companies abroad, was 51 last year compared with 39 two years earlier. That suggests that the state of the film industry is not as bad as has been painted and that there are signs that it has been improving recently.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that tax incentives are government money or, to be more exact, the money of other unfortunate taxpayers?

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend is right. We do not think that taxpayers' money should be spent on encouraging the making of films which nobody wants to see. We do not believe in wholesale subsidies for the film industry or any other industry.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, the Minister said a few minutes earlier that the film industry was certainly not in as bad straits as my noble friends have pointed out. Then immediately, in answer to a question from his noble friend, he jumps in with both feet and makes a general statement about making films that nobody wants to see. That is the sort of discouragement from which the film industry is suffering. Does the Minister understand that that is what concerns us? Does he also agree, and will he confirm, that in the European Community our film-making rivals have managed to overcome many of the problems of finance and investment with government-backed investment and also the fiscal incentives to which my noble friends have drawn attention?

Lord Reay

My Lords, so far as concerns general policy, I believe that subsidies generally are a disincentive to paying attention to the demands of the market and are an encouragement for the making of films which no one wants to see. We have a talented and capable film industry which should be able to attract investors' money to make films which it has persuaded investors people will want to see.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, my noble friend said that 51 British films had been made either at home or abroad. How many have been made in this country? That is what questioners would like to know. Studios have been closed and those are the base of the industry.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not think that the figures are available. Certainly I do not have figures exclusively for films made in this country. There are different definitions for British films. Indeed many producers today would not want films to be excluded from the list of British films because they had been made abroad. I remember that "The Third Man", a British film of which I thought very highly, was certainly made principally, if not wholly, abroad. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred earlier to foreign countries' aid to the film industry. Non-English speaking countries are in a different situation from English speaking countries. Their film markets are much smaller than the English speaking market and people want to see films made in their own language. I therefore think that there is less justification and less public support for subsidies in this country than in non-English speaking countries.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that no one is talking about subsidy for films that no one wants to see? Is it not the case that, if finance cannot be found in this country, films will be made abroad and the money, prestige and so forth for films which are essentially British will then go abroad? I have in mind the films that Sir Richard Attenborough has had to make abroad which could not be made in this country because the money was not here.

Lord Reay

My Lords, a considerable number of films are made in this country. There are plenty of opportunities for more films to be made in this country and I have no doubt that that will continue to happen.