It is estimated that British films and co-productions earned £39 million at the United Kingdom box office and that UK film companies earned £495 million abroad in 1995. Now that British films and talent have won 30 nominations for the 1997 Oscars, the prospects for increased earnings are excellent.
I thank my right hon. Friend for those extremely encouraging figures. Does she agree that the large number of academy award nominations received by "The English Patient" and "Secrets and Lies" is further evidence that the British film industry is going from strength to strength, and will she join me in wishing those films and all the other British contenders every success on Oscar night?
Undoubtedly, the success to which my hon. Friend refers demonstrates the strength of the British film industry. Our studios are full, films are made here by companies from all around the world, audiences are up and investment is up. That is because we have an economy that is friendly to enterprise and to initiative and that allows people to keep the benefits of their success.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the numerous film productions in Wales in recent years, including some exciting developments in recent weeks. Is she aware that, whereas in Scotland there is a Scottish film production fund, which helps to develop indigenous film producers and to extend the range of films that can be produced in Scotland, we do not have quite the same facility available in Wales? Will she examine that matter to maximise the benefit that this promising industry can bring to the economy?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I have taken an extremely serious approach to the film industry. I established the Middleton committee, which made 11 recommendations. We have acted on eight of them. The Arts Council's recent initiative with the franchise is part of that overall strategy. I shall certainly speak with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware that the British film industry's production rate is at its highest for some time, with some 127 films going into production. Does she agree that the lottery money recently allocated to the industry will encourage it? What other steps is she taking to continue this success story?
I particularly want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all that he has done to champion the film industry over the years. Last week, I was able to visit the British Film Commission at Berkhamsted to see its work and the archive, which has recently benefited from an additional £13 million of lottery money. We have been using a range of measures, which are set out in the Middleton report, to promote the industry further. We are now looking at the definition of a British film. Above all, what the industry needs is to be able to have the rewards of its endeavours, a flexible labour market and low non-wage labour costs. The Government's strategy, quite apart from the Department's initiatives, is delivering just that in Britain today.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best British films of the past few months is "Brassed Off'? It is about a mining community where the pit has shut and the community has been destroyed as a result of the Tory Government and where the pit band is trying to find enough money to continue playing. Is it not pretty clear that a lot of people on the Wirral saw it, because they were brassed off last week?
I much appreciate the hon. Gentleman making that point. One of the things that has given me most pleasure as Secretary of State for National Heritage has been meeting many of those involved in brass bands which are now receiving lottery awards. Indeed, there have been 91 awards for brass bands; the Easington colliery band, which was the first brass band I met when I became a Minister nine years ago, now has new instruments as a result of the lottery.
More significantly, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that many communities that faced great difficulties because of the loss of jobs in the mining industry now have more jobs in the new sectors, many of them related to the cultural sector and the major regeneration that has resulted from my Department's initiatives.