HL Deb 04 November 1993 vol 549 cc1160-2

3.26 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What additional assistance they propose to give to the British film industry.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, earlier this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, held a round of meetings with the different sectors of the film industry to discuss the state of the industry and possible measures to help it. He is considering what might be done in the light of those discussions and will announce his conclusions in due course.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I look forward to those conclusions. Is the Minister aware that investment in feature film production in the United Kingdom has gone from £425 million in 1984 to £185 million in 1992? Is she further aware that, while cinema admissions are increasing—that has been happening for some seven or eight years—most of the films are American productions and British films are not being given an equal opportunity to compete in this expanding market? Will the Government give urgent consideration to two matters which would be of great importance to the British film industry? The first is to provide fiscal incentives, particularly the 100 per cent. first-year capital write-offs, and, secondly, the removal of the withholding tax on foreign actors?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, in answering the first part of the noble Lord's question, the Government do not believe that the British film industry needs high levels of subsidy. We look to the private sector for investment in production. However, the noble Lord is right in saying that since 1985 the UK production base 0, and those films having to be made, on average, with a smaller budget. We are exploring the reasons why the money has dried up and what can be done to provide additional measures for investment in films.

My next point has nothing to do with the question asked by the noble Lord. I believe that, despite the low level of investment, the record of success of British film producers has been truly spectacular. I believe that the House would want to acknowledge that. As regards the other part of the noble Lord's question, that is a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure the noble Lord would not expect me to answer that.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the tone of her Answer should give hope to the industry, but will she remember that, although representatives of the industry visited No. 10 four years ago when hopes were again built up, nothing tangible seems to have flown from that so far?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend. Much progress has been achieved. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced changes in the tax regime for films following discussions with the industry at that meeting. We have established the British Film Commission and the European Co-production Fund and we have joined EURIMAGES.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, may I first declare an interest as chairman of British Screen Finance, which is a commercially owned, privately financed company receiving some modest help in grant from the Government for which we are grateful? When it comes to the question of the lottery allocation, in due course, will the Minister give consideration to allocating the funds which might be available from the lottery to British Screen Finance for it to manage, given that it is conducted and managed by professionals in the industry, rather than to the Arts Council, which wilt have no experience in that field?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will agree that the £2 million grant which has been given to British Screen Finance is worth having. With regard to the rest of his question, I know that my right honourable friend is cogitating and, for all I know, inwardly digesting the meat of the various advice that is put to him. As I have said, his conclusions will be forthcoming as soon as possible.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the Government will know about the recent French campaign to erect some kind of cultural protection against American invasion in the world of films and about the apparently forthcoming move to try to get the whole European Community to do that. What is the Government's opinion of that initiative?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not think that I have anything more to say. As I have said, my right honourable friend has had various consultations with every kind of body connected with the film industry. He will be making his conclusions known as soon as he can.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the basic facts are that cinema-going is the most popular art form in Britain, as was shown by a recent Arts Council survey, and that attendances have doubled in the past 10 years? Despite that, however, the British film industry is actually disappearing before our eyes. Productions fell by 20 per cent. last year to a miserable low of 47 productions, primarily financed either by foreigners or bound for television. Will the Minister please tell her right honourable friend that it is absolutely crucial that he comes forward with proposals for financial incentives, such as all other governments give, to rescue the British film industry and to rescue Britain from swamping by American film culture? Will she also point out that in the GATT negotiations it is important to pursue the question of sustaining cultural industries?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I should be delighted to pass on those remarks to my right honourable friend.