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British Film Institute

Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

The Government are firmly committed to protecting and increasing access to the British Film Institute’s archive. Of the £16 million a year that the BFI receives in grant in aid, it invests £6.2 million specifically in the archive.

After the Tory by-election candidate selection a few weeks ago turned into a Southall farce, we now find that the Ealing comedies and other films of that era may decay into dust for want of central finance to copy and conserve them. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is a real problem of paramount importance?

I certainly agree that the BFI archive is a national treasure. It is arguably the finest film and television archive anywhere in the world and I assure my hon. Friend that it is safe in our hands.

Will the Secretary of State undertake to do what he can to ensure that films, particularly drama productions, depicting regions across the United Kingdom that receive funding from his Department continue to do so? Will he also ensure that they are not filmed in central Europe—that has been the experience of many companies in Northern Ireland—but in the regions that they depict?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have recently introduced a new tax break to ensure that we can do exactly that. It is available both to people from Northern Ireland and to all the nations and regions in the country. It has been a great success for the film industry and for tourism, because it has attracted people to this country to visit the places that feature in our great films, so we are doing exactly what he suggests.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to one of the most exciting jobs in Government. Some of us who contributed to the document, “A Bigger Picture”, which remains the most comprehensive review of the British film industry, and which supports the Film Council, still think that the British Film Institute has an important role, not least because of its responsibilities for preserving the film archives, which represent some of the best material, not only in Britain, but in the world.

That is right, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s role in producing that policy document and in reforming support for the film industry in this country. That work has been a great success and that is to his credit. He is right to say that the archive needs to be supported and protected, but obviously we cannot make any announcements ahead of the spending review. It is right that we not only protect the archive, but modernise the way in which it is used. The BFI has introduced important proposals, such as proposals for ensuring that it is made available online, and I know that many schools are already using that facility all around the country. We need to protect what we have and ensure that there is wide access to it.