HL Deb 10 June 1998 vol 590 cc1005-7

3 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are concerned about the performance at the box office of feature films which have received lottery funding towards part of their production costs.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am aware that there has been criticism of lottery film funding on the basis of box office performance, but I take the opposite, more positive view. Films which do well at the box office return money to the National Lottery, which can be re-used; films which have been less successful at the box office still extend the range of what is on offer to the public. In addition, films which have not attracted many UK cinemagoers may yet reach larger audiences through international sales and video and television exploitation.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I agree with most of what he said. Does he agree that the present programme of funding of film through the lottery is a complicated and long-term business, although the funding is obviously very welcome to the industry? It is probably inappropriate at this stage to comment on the success or failure of individual films. However, as the noble Lord said, there has been some critical comment in the press. Will he therefore reiterate the long-term aims of the Government in supporting the film industry and tell us how the Government would monitor that over that long period?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I could make a long and positive speech in response to that question. The noble Viscount is right that we have yet to see, after less than two years, the full fruits of the lottery funding. But the thrust of our policy, through the film policy review, as the noble Viscount knows, is not so much support for production as support for distribution, which is the weak link in so much of the British film industry.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is part of the duty of government to supply finance for any area of the arts which is unable to sustain itself by box office alone?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the film industry is a curious industry, in the sense that it has enormous economic and commercial importance, as well as very considerable cultural importance. To that extent, my noble friend is right. It is right that, for both commercial and cultural reasons, we should continue to find ways to help the British film industry. These need not necessarily be directly through government funding.

Lord Puttnam

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that, implicit in the noble Viscount's Question, and in my noble friend's Answer, is the extraordinary chaos and confusion which exist over the collection and analysis of statistics related not just to the film industry but to many other related areas, and the equal chaos and confusion caused by ill-informed press speculation on matters which the press truly does not understand? Can the Government reassure me that a much better statistical base will be created for these industries so that the press can be dealt with effectively and policy can be created in an intelligent manner?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend is right, to the extent that the press comment about the success of lottery-funded films has been about the UK box office receipts. As has been clear from the previous questions and answers, they are only a very small part of the total receipts. There are also international sales and video and television exploitation. In many cases, receipts from those areas greatly outweigh the UK box office receipts, which are all that are available to us for the moment. In due course, because of the agreements which have been reached between the film producers who have received lottery funding and the Arts Council for England, we shall know more about the total receipts because returns will be made to the lottery funds. In that way, we shall achieve the objective to which my noble friend rightly draws attention.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, bearing in mind the lack of diversity of films available to the general public in the United Kingdom, the films available being predominantly American blockbusters, can my noble friend tell the House what action the Government are considering to introduce more diversity in the distribution and availability of films for the British public?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, again, my noble friend is right, in the sense that a good deal of film production and a very high proportion of film exhibition in this country is in other than British hands. Even though there are more screens than previously, and box office receipts in this country have increased and our film industry is going through a very successful phase, it is still true that a large number of British films fail to find a distributor. That is why, as I indicated earlier, the film policy review is working urgently on the distribution side, to help with the production of copies of films and with advertising and marketing, which appear to us to be the greatest areas of weakness.