§ Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What proposals they have to assist the British film industry.
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 film commission and ways 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, will the Minister say whether, in spite of what he has just said, the Government have the same enthusiasm for helping the British film industry as they had when Mrs. Thatcher convened the seminar at No.10 Downing Street in June of last year? Why, after nearly a year, has the working party's report to which he referred not been issued, particularly as cinema attendances have shown a significant increase in the past year or two? Is the Minister aware that the film industry itself is not asking for hand-outs but is looking for reasonable tax incentives so that it can compete with film makers in other countries?
My Lords, much progress has been made. The European Community has extended its MEDIA programme. The report on the proposed national film commission has been completed and is under consideration. The European co-production fund will start shortly as planned. There have been 25 meetings of the working party looking at private sector investment and further meetings are planned. We hope that the report will be ready for this summer.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, although my noble friend's Answer is quite hopeful in a general way, will he not be a little more specific? Does he remember that in his Budget Statement the Chancellor said that, although he could not accept all the film industry 's proposals, he had a great deal of sympathy with them and added, rather constructively I thought, that, if it would bring forward new alternatives, he would look at them with sympathy. Has anything happened in that direction?
My Lords, there have been a number of meetings. My noble friend is absolutely correct to say that the Chancellor said that he is prepared to consider any new proposals put to him. It is important that we wait until the working party's report is available so that he can look at all the circumstances regarding any new proposals.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, the Minister referred many times to the working party set up as a result of the Downing Street seminar. Does he agree that it was set up so that there could be closer integration between the production, distribution and exhibition sectors of the film industry? However, is it not true that, in spite of what the Minister said, the Government have this week ruled out any regulatory action to bring about that integrated structure and are winding up the working party? Would the Minister like to comment on that point?
My Lords, I do not think that the Government have ruled out anything. Like everyone else, they are awaiting the working party's report.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I am sorry to come back on that point, but will the Minister say that the working party is not being wound up? According to my information, which came from a member of the working party, it is being wound up and the Government now refuse to take any regulatory action on restructuring the film industry.
My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that the working party is not being wound up and that we are awaiting its report.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that in the mid-1980s the Government ended the Eady levy on cinema admissions for many reasons, including the fact that admissions were at an all-time low? They have now increased by about 40 million a year. Is there any chance that a levy of that kind, perhaps modified, might be introduced in the near future?
My Lords, I do not want to pre-empt the working party's report, which looks at ways in which private sector investment in film production might be increased. The Government are looking for voluntary solutions. We welcome the increase in the number of people who go to the cinema and the fact that cinema exhibitors have spent considerable amounts of money in upgrading their cinemas and building new ones, which has led to that encouraging rise in admissions.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, if there was sufficient help from the Government for the British film industry, we too might be able to produce cartoon films of Beatrix Potter's works and have Peter Rabbit speaking with an English, or perhaps Scottish, accent and Mrs. Tiggywinkle taking in washing rather than laundry?
My Lords, we support the industry with over £17 million, including £2 million for British 131 Screen Finance Limited, £1.85 million for the National Film and Television School and £14 million for the British Film Institute.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that something must be wrong when an established film maker such as Sir Richard Attenborough, with films like "Gandhi" behind him, has great difficulty in raising funds in this country for his forthcoming film on the life of Charlie Chaplin, who after all was born in this country? In those circumstances, is it not clearly evident that something should be done?
My Lords, it is always difficult to raise money to make films, but perhaps I should point out the recent example of the Oscar-winning film, "Dances with Wolves". Although this is an American film and production, the director has been quoted as saying that his film could not have been produced without significant United Kingdom investment. There is investment for the right films, both in this country and elsewhere.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that for tax purposes films should qualify as plant and machinery, as they presently do in the Republic of Ireland? Does he feel that that might help the industry?
My Lords, I am sure that that is a matter which the working party will consider and so will the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, does the Minister recall that the other decision which was taken after the Downing Street seminar was that there would be £5 million made available immediately to the industry? Will he confirm that nearly a year afterwards not a single penny of that money has yet been spent? Secondly, although he has had a great deal to say about the proposed film commission, will he give the House some idea of its terms of reference? Some of us fancy that it might be somewhat cosmetic.
My Lords, with regard to the film commission, the industry's working group submitted a proposal to my noble friend Lord Hesketh, recommending the setting up of a national film commission to attract overseas producers to this country. He will make a statement as soon as an examination of the proposal is complete.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, will the Minister answer the first part of the question please?
My Lords, I pointed out the various amounts of money that had been given to fund specific bodies. I do not think that I can go further than that.
My Lords, we are constantly spending money on various aspects of the film industry, as I pointed out, and I explained the budgets that we have.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, following on from an article in one of the Sunday papers, will the noble Viscount tell the House whether the Government have as yet a fixed date to meet the representatives of the film industry?
My Lords, the Government are meeting representatives of the film industry all the time. The working party will be extended to include other members of the film industry as its work goes forward and before its final report is produced.