Film and Television Industry (Scotland)

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 20th June 1986.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Maude.]

Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill 2:30 pm, 20th June 1986

As we have debated the arts all morning it seemed timely to have an Adjournment debate on the film and television industry in Scotland. In many ways television and film as media bring the possibility of museums, galleries, theatre, ballet and opera into the living room for the majority of the population. Indeed, in some respects they encourage attendance at them.

When I applied for the debate I entitled it, "Expanding the film and television industry in Scotland", but somehow the "expanding" got lost on the Order Paper. I mention that because someone asked me whether there was a film and television industry in Scotland. There is commercial ITV, BBC Scotland and the independent sector, which has been a growing segment of the industry. It is essential that in future years the reply should not be, "There was an industry, but it has gone."

Scotland has had a tradition of documentary film making since the 1930s with the work of Dr. John Grierson who subsequently left for Canada but returned to Scotland in later life. The Scottish Film Council has already celebrated more than half a century of existence. I was pleased to note that Charles Oakley, a founder of that council, was this week given an honorary doctorate. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) worked with the council, although I doubt whether he was even a twinkle in his parents' eye when it was set up in 1934.

The film and television work in Scotland is both recognisable and capable of greater creative and technical achievement. It has talent which wants to work in Scotland and with that ability to look beyond Scotland. I understand that at present the talent in the independent sector is working at only half capacity.

The film work of Bill Forsyth readily comes to mind, and includes "Gregory's Girl", "Local Hero" and "Comfort and Joy". I must confess a special liking for "That Sinking Feeling" which also included scenes shot in the Maryhill area. Charles Gormley's film "Heavenly Pursuits" was Channel 4's main entry to this year's Cannes film festival.

The independent sector is growing, and there are possibilities for ITV production in Scotland, and for BBC Scotland, if it were given its head. This year the Scottish Trades Union Congress at Aberdeen had a motion from the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians introduced its general secretary Alan Sapper and seconded by the Scottish actor Phil McColl. It called for the generation of major new funding to underpin film and television development in Scotland.

I do not know whether the Minister is aware of subsequent STUC general council follow-up on the development of the industry. Ministers constantly talk about growth in the service sector. No doubt they do so in order to make up for the tremendous contraction in manufacturing capacity. At one time film production was regarded as part of the manufacturing sector, but in more recent times it has been linked with the service sector.

This branch of entertainment may not be a substantial employer although it is a significant employer as well as being a good overseas earner. If Scotland was used more often as the location for productions, it might give a significant boost to the local economies.

On 25 March 1986 the Independent Programme Producers Association in Scotland gave a presentation in the House. Robin Crichton, the chairman, and John McGrath, the vice chairman, spoke about the problems of access to broadcast television outlets in Scotland, including Channel 4 which is at present the sole domestic outlet.

I said on Second Reading of the Bill setting up Channel 4 that One of the strengths of ITV I was that it has been able to take account of regional distinctiveness…in various parts of the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, 18 February 1980; Vol. 979. c. 118–119.] I was keen that Channel 4 should not be seen as some monolithic enterprise and that it should encourage existing Scottish commercial companies, such as STV, Grampian or Border, which has one leg in Scotland and the other in the north of England, to make a bigger contribution to the ITV network, including Channel 4. Although Channel 4 has opened up possibilities, because well over 10 per cent. of its audience is in Scotland, independent producers complain that they had only 12 hours, or 1·5 per cent., of Channel 4's total production time last year. They contrast their case with what goes on in Wales. There is a marked difference, although the existence of the Welsh channel makes the comparison less straightforward than it might seem.

When the chief executive of Channel 4 opened Picardy Pictures, an independent broadcast facility based in Edinburgh, at the beginning of the year, he said that some £50 million had been commissioned in the independent sector last year. He was quoted in The Scotsman of 31 January 1986 as saying that We would like to spend a proper proportion of that amount in Scotland. He made the point that he commissioned solely on merit. I concur with doing that. However, we must try to remove some of the obstacles that prevent a better and fairer spread of productions throughout the United Kingdom.

The film-making industry is largely based in and around London. However, Scotland has the largest number of independent producers working outside the metropolis. Indeed, there is a need to develop post-production facilities so that there is less reliance on London. There is also a considerable video market potential. Many firms are concerned to brush up their corporate images and to promote their public relations. It would be interesting to know whether the Scottish Office, and even the Scottish Development Agency and some of the other public bodies in Scotland are still having to send much of their promotional and advertising work to London. Even lawyers' work—and I know that this will please the Minister—could be done in Scotland, and contracts could be drawn up in Scots law, although I accept that there may be a shortage of media law specialists.

I mentioned scope for ITV and BBC. Indeed, STV put up half of the finance for "Gregory's Girl". The series "Held in Trust" must surely have given Scottish tourism a boost. Grampian with its series on oil, commissioned for Channel 4 and co-produced with Norwegian television, provides another example of what can be done in Scotland. It was something of an indictment that it took Harlech television and a German co-production team to screen Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped", with a German actor in such a self-evident Scottish story.

Currently, we are awaiting the Peacock report. It would be disastrous if the BBC was in any way reliant on advertising. We heard about some of the problems of sponsorship of the arts during the previous debate, and it would be damaging if the unique reputation of public service broadcasting were to be eroded. It would also not be good for the commercial sector.

Since the lobby in March, meetings have been held with ITV and IPPA, which have resulted in the setting-up of a working party under the aegis of the SDA to examine ways in which broadcast productions might be rationalised and integrated to a greater extent. It is examining the possibility of establishing a Scottish screen commission that could act as a distributor marketing overseas Scottish facilities, technicians and locations to attract inward investment. It could also operate as a production fund to top up investment in Scottish production to enable producers to retain their distribution rights and maximise potential overseas sales.

The various sectors of the industry in Scotland would, of course, retain their independence and individuality. A Scottish screen commission would give sufficient strength and stature to maximise the opportunities offered by the new international markets that are emerging and are likely to emerge in the 1990s.

The attraction of such a commission, if it can be proved economically feasible, is that it will bring together the various sides of the industry and the financiers, so that they can move towards a better base to exploit the opportunities offered by expanding markets and technologies, as well as marketing Scotland internationally. I understand that the working party includes Alistair Hetherington as chairman, Bill Brown of STV, Justin Dukes of Channel 4, Alex M air of Grampian, and may be joined by Jim Graham of Border. The SDA will provide the business development role.

Robert Crichton, the chairman of IPPA in Scotland, has been in touch with the Secretary of State. I have a copy of a letter from the right hon. Gentleman's Private Secretary to Mr. Crichton, stating: Mr. Rifkind has read the paper with much interest and is sure that it will prove a useful basis for discussions with the Scottish Film Council and the Scottish Development Agency. That typifies the right hon. Gentleman's skills of advocacy. I hope that today the Minister will assure us that there is positive Government backing for the initiative.

The role of the Scottish Film Council is very important. Recently I talked to its assistant director, John Brown, about the work of the Scottish Training Trust —something that has been praised in a number of quarters —and the Scottish Film Production Board, which is a useful form of funding. However, it deals with limited finance even though the Fund is now supported by the Scottish Arts Council and Channel 4.

The Minister may be aware that cinema attendances in Scotland are proportionately higher than for the United Kingdom as a whole. No doubt he will wish to comment on educational broadcasting, in which the council plays its role, and where there have been a number of significant improvements.

When referring to a Scottish screen commission, I do not mean Holywood spectaculars that can fall flat on their faces. Indeed, Charlotte square — the home of many finance companies and merchant banks in Edinburgh— contributes quite a lot through investment packages towards the success of both British and American films.

It would be useful to achieve greater interest arid support for low budget and thus low risk film production in Scotland. I do not know whether the Minister saw arty of the series of Australian films shown on television here, but that comparatively new film industry received a considerable boost when the former Australian Prime Minister on a visit to the United States saw that an Australian film had actually made Time magazine. Mrs. Thatcher is a liberal by comparison with that former Australian Prime Minister, but when he went back he ensured that his country's industry received a boost.

I am disappointed in a sense that the Minister with responsibility for industry and education in Scotland cannot be here as I gather that he has had informal talks on the subject, but the Minister with responsibility for local government and environment is the duty Minister today and will doubtless pass on all that has been said —I thought at first that it was because he missed my keeping him on his toes when I was Opposition spokesman on Scottish affairs and felt the need to come back for more.

I hope that in reading his Scottish Office brief today he will give political support to the concept of a Scottish screen commission which is so necessary and let the forces of autosuggestion get to work at the Scottish Office. I do not mind if the Secretary of State comes along in three months or six months with this brilliant idea and says that he is all for it because I believe that it will be very good for the industry.

The Government White Paper on film policy, Cmnd. 9319 published in July 1984, stated: A film industry can be a matter of great national pride. And through its ability to project the national culture…it can thus enhance a country's international standing. Encouraging and facilitating the film and television industry in Scotland could produce considerable spin-off opportunities for the economy, opening up new opportunities in other spheres.

The Minister should be aware of some of the fresh inspiration that came into the industry in Scotland following the conference on Cinema in a small country held in Edinburgh more than a decade ago. We now need the political imagination to encourage and facilitate that which already exists and go on to achieve much more in this area of entertainment, employment, culture arid education. As I said at the beginning, the industry's output is an immense part of our culture and education and has a broad appeal which I hope the Government will encourage.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office) 2:48 pm, 20th June 1986

I begin by congratulating the hon, Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) on raising this important issue today. I listened carefully to his speech, especially the part in which he became an adherent of the principle of auto-suggestion, a subject about which we shall no doubt hear more from him in the future.

It is timely to debate the film and television industry in Scotland, when so many exciting developments have taken place or are in prospect. Before dealing with the specific issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, I should place on record the Government's continuing support for the development and growth of a healthy and viable commercial film sector in Scotland and the continued development of broadcasting provision geared to the needs of the community.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of the growth in confidence and enterprise in Scotland in recent years has been the emergence of a dynamic film industry with a distinctive style and the capacity to achieve box-office success. Not so long ago mention of Scottish films would have conjured up images of "Brigadoon" or "Whisky Galore", or of tartan westerns featuring Rob Roy and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Then, as the hon. Gentleman said, Bill Forsyth came along and demonstrated that good movies can be made by Scots, about Scots, in Scotland. The triumphs of "Gregory's Girl" and "Local Hero" have been followed by a series of low budget productions which show that Scottish film-makers are a force with which to be reckoned. Among the more notable recent successes are "Living Apart Together", "Restless Natives" and "The Girl in the Picture". They are only the tip of an expanding iceberg.

The Government's view is that the prospects for the industry will ultimately depend upon the efforts of all those who work in it and on the industry's ability to produce good quality films that people want to see.

One of the primary objectives of the Films Act was to rid the industry, and cinemas in particular, of unnecessary Government burdens and to help lay the foundations for the development of an industry which is free to make decisions on the basis of its own commericial interests. So, in May 1985 the Eady levy on cinemas was abolished and the legislative basis for domestic film quota was removed, along with the requirement for cinemas to be licensed.

The abolition of the Eady levy led the Government to re-assess the valuable investment role played by the National Film Finance Corporation in encouraging newly merging British talent. That role has been taken over and enhanced by the new private sector body, British Screen Finance Ltd. to which the Government are to contribute £2 million a year for the next five years. BSF began its operations in January this year and has already committed funds to a number of projects.

The Government's financial support for the industry is not limited to their contribution to BSF. Substantial sums are made available to the British Film Institute, to the Scottish Film Council and to the National Film and Television school. In addition, the Government contributed £325,000 to British film year, the success of which was, by all accounts, most encouraging.

Following a seemingly inexorable decline, cinema admissions have shown a marked increase, accompanied by a substantial refurbishment and new development in the exhibition sector. We hope that an industry, now freed from anachronstic Government burdens will be able to build upon these foundations.

The Scottish Film industry has felt the need, since the late 1970s, for the creation of an investment fund to provide Scottish film makers with the opportunity to raise a substantial proportion of feature film production costs north of the border. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that in particular.

While the Scottish film production fund has been able to make a small contribution in this area, a much larger fund, backed by the commercial sector, would be required to meet the aspirations of would-be Scottish film producers. An initiative has recently been taken by IPPA. as the hon. Member said, which is proposing the establishment of a Scottish screen commission to fill that funding gap. The IPPA has entered into a dialogue with the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Film Council about this proposal and on the promotion of Scotland generally as a film centre.

The hon. Gentleman asked for the Government's reaction. I welcome the initiative by IPPA, which is designed to stimulate the growth and development of the Scottish film industry in general.

I hope that the discussions that have begun with the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Film Council, the broadcasting companies and other interested bodies will bear fruit. I am sure that the proposal will be supported by film-makers in Scotland, and that they will take advantage of the new opportunities which I hope will flow from the establishment of a commission or similar body that might emerge from the consultation.

Scottish education department officials have already participated in discussions involving IPPA, the SDA and the SFC and will, of course, be keeping in close touch with the progress of the proposal. I am sure that the agency and the film council will offer whatever assistance and expertise that they can in taking the proposal forward.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the concern expressed by Scottish members of the Independent Programme Producers Association that the amount of independently produced broadcast material utilised by the ITV companies is relatively low. In particular, the IPPA is concerned about the low level of broadcast material currently being commissioned from Scottish sources by Channel 4, and it is seeking increased access for its programmes on public television. I understand that the IPPA has received some support from Scottish Television, with both organisations stressing that sufficient work should come to Scotland to stimulate creative talent and innovation.

I believe that in Scotland, with a population of just over 5 million, we are well provided with three and a half television companies serving our needs—BBC Scotland. STV, Grampian and a hit of Border—all of which produce high quality broadcast material. In addition, the independent programme and film producers make a valuable contribution to the excellent Scottish Television spectrum. I would welcome any increase in Scottish produced broadcast material, either by the larger television companies or by the independent programme or film producers. I would not think it proper— I rather gather that from the hon. Gentleman that he would not either— to try to coerce national television companies to accept a higher proportion of Scottish produced material by setting quotas of commissioned material based either on funding contributions to organisations such as Channel 4 or on the percentage of audience in a particular area.

Indeed, the Government have no locus to arbitrate in such matters, which have properly been delegated to the responsible broadcasting authorities. In fact, a certain element of regulation already exists to ensure that a proper proportion—at least 86 per cent. of material shown on ITV and Channel 4—is of British origin. I think that it would be quite wrong to introduce further regulation to provide an artificial market for Scottish film and programme makers. I believe that, as commercial companies, IPPA's Scottish members and the Scottish television companies should be prepared to take their position in the United Kingdom market place. Their success in attracting funds from Channel 4, STV and other sources must depend on their ability to deliver the sort of product that the television companies and the public want.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point that until recently the major inhibition on independent film and television production in Scotland has been the lack of adequate facilities. The problems have been especially acute for those television and film productions which depend on the use of studios. This is an area where the Government have been able to offer direct help.

The Government's review of the regional incentive package of assistance available to industry in the United Kingdom identified clearly the role that the service sector now occupies within the United Kingdom economy. In November 1984, when we introduced changes in the incentive package, we sought to encourage service industry growth by widening the scope of the new regional development grant scheme. Consequently, the companies in Scotland in the film and television industry that are situated in the development areas can now benefit from the help of regional development grants that are aimed at encouraging job-creating investment. Moreover, the industry can also benefit from regional selective assistance, which, as before, remains open to both the manufacturing and service sectors of industry. Already the industry is becoming alive to this extra help that is available to it, and in the past 18 months my Department has offered nearly £1·5 million to the industry within Scotland. A further £150,000 has been provided recently through the SDA, which is considering a further major loan amounting to £1·7 million. The assistance is there to overcome that particular hurdle.

One of the most important ways in which the Government have supported the growth of the Scottish film industry in recent years has been through the Scottish film production fund. The resources at the disposal of the fund are modest and they arc about £150,000 in the current year. Nevertheless, the fund has consistently shown how much can be achieved by the injection of quite small sums at critical periods in the development of a production. In the fund's first four years of operation a total of 64. projects have been assisted in this way. The list of its successes is impressive, ranging from Channel 4 documentaries such as "The Work They Say is Mine"— the role of women in Shetland communities — to full-length feature films such as "Girl in the Picture" and "Restless Natives". It is interesting and encouraging to note that a high proportion of projects started by the fund involve women film-makers. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

It is not possible in a short debate of this sort to respond in detail to all the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman. I hope, however, that he will recognise from what I have said that the Government attach considerable importance to the development and maintenace of a thriving film and television industry in Scotland. There are healthy signs in the continuing dialogue involving the main interest groups. I hope that all those involved will capitalise on what has already been achieved and co-operate to ensure the future of the industry. The Government will continue to play their part——

The Question having been proposed at half past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour,MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Three o'clock.