Film Industry: Development and Production — Question
2:51 pm

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Labour)

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider requiring all major United Kingdom broadcasters to invest in British film development and production.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, the independent review panel of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, recently recommended to government that discussions should be initiated with the major broadcasters with the aim of agreeing a memorandum of understanding with each, setting out agreed commitments to support British film. Should discussions prove unproductive, the panel recommends that the Government consider legislative solutions. We are actively considering the report and will respond to its recommendations in the spring.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Labour)

I thank the Minister for that reply and extend my congratulations to last night's Oscar nominees of films produced and filmed in the UK. It is widely acknowledged that British film is able to compete with the best in the world. However, although we have the creativity and talent, the noble Baroness will know that filmmakers still struggle to raise the finance to make independent UK films. Channel 4 and the BBC make an important contribution through their separate film production arms, but other national broadcasters are effectively able to freeload on the investment of others. I very much acknowledge that the noble Baroness said that she was considering the report of the noble Lord, Lord Smith. However, given the importance of UK film to both our economy and our national identity, are the Government prepared to follow the example of several other European countries and require all broadcasters to invest in future film production at similar levels to that of Film4 and BBC Films?

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

I happily join the noble Baroness in congratulating the Oscar winners, and indeed Channel 4 on its recent BAFTA successes and the BBC on its highly acclaimed BAFTA nominations. I entirely agree with her about the important contribution that Channel 4 and the BBC make to British films. However, on her other point, at the moment the Government do not have the levers to require broadcasters to invest in film. As I indicated, we are actively looking at the wide-ranging recommendations put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in his review, and we will respond to those after due consideration.

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Lord Smith of Finsbury (Labour)

My Lords, in the aftermath of the success of the film "The Artist" at both the BAFTAs and the Oscars, will the Minister recognise that in France the broadcasters are required, in return for their licence, to invest in French film production? This resulted last year in investment of 420 million in French film production. Here in the UK, the BBC currently invests 10 million, Channel 4 invests 15 million, and Sky and ITV invest precisely nothing. Is it not time that all the major broadcasters here in the UK stepped up to the table and played their part in investing in British independent film production?

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

I thank the noble Lord for his review, which has some very important recommendations in it. The points that he makes about other countries investing in film are indeed well made and we shall be looking at the patterns that they suggest. However, public funding for film is reasonably substantial. It is estimated to have been 296 million in the financial year 2009-10, which is an increase on the previous year and does not include local authority, research council or higher and further education funding. There is possibly room for more investment from some of the television channels but at the moment British film is not doing too badly from public sector money.

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Baroness O'Cathain (Conservative)

My Lords, is it not true that this would create an enormous precedent? Is there any other industry where investment in something would be insisted on? Surely any organisation has the right to decide what it invests in on the basis of the business plan it is marketing. I do not feel that we should make an exception for film, even though it is part of the creative industries. I think that a fantastic job has been done in film without asking people to invest in it.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

My noble friend is of course right that those other channels are commercial and therefore they have to take decisions on commercial grounds. However, as I said, all these issues will come under much deeper consideration as we look through the recommendations from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Smith.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Labour)

My Lords, will the noble Baroness join me in congratulating particularly those in further and higher education who in this area and the areas of arts and culture often find that the high level of work that they do and the very good opportunities and careers that many of their students have are depressed when there is a generalised attack on what are called "soft subjects"?

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

Yes, I would indeed agree with the noble Baroness on that. The cultural industries make a huge contribution to the nation. Regarding her reference to education, in his report the noble Lord, Lord Smith, makes a point about trying to bring a new unified offer for film education, suggesting that making, seeing and learning about film should be available to schools in an easy and accessible offer. That enthusiasm within schools will also build on and strengthen the offerings to this area being made in further and higher education.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin

Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, we have a wealth of creative talent here in the UK, as we have already heard, and I add my congratulations regarding all the BAFTA and Oscar British productions. However, we have a wealth of talent which is grossly underused because of the lack of British-made and British-produced films for children. Will the Government consider following the examples of other European countries, especially that of Denmark? As well as asking UK broadcasters to fund films dedicated to children and teenagers, will they also encourage the BFI to ring-fence a percentage of its budget for such productions? Will the Government also consider implementing a tax credit for the UK animation sector?

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

My noble friend is a great champion of programmes for children and young people. Indeed, the review recognises that British independent films aimed at children and families may be underrepresented. Tomorrow, Darren Henley's cultural review will be published. Without pre-empting it, I imagine that it will also fuel further discussion in this area on programming for children and young people.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Labour)

My Lords, the Minister referred to the availability of public funds for film production. Can she say whether in future the quantum of funding available through the BFI arrangements will be protected and indeed whether it has any chance of growing?

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, future funding is a matter for further discussion. There are some very strong arguments about why it makes economic sense, as well as sense in all sorts of other areas, to keep that funding at its current levels. However, that will have to be taken into consideration along with other funding demands.