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Independent Cinemas

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

4. If he will make a statement on the future of independent cinemas with particular reference to the Ritz in Thirsk. (172200)

Independent cinemas are an important part of our thriving cinema industry, offering a wide variety of film experiences to audiences throughout the UK. The UK Film Council has invested more than £6 million in independent cinemas through its funding schemes. That includes £730,000 to support investment in new equipment and facilities, including £4,800 in 2006 for the Ritz in Thirsk, which was just one of the 10 awards in Yorkshire totalling more than £134,000.

Will the right hon. Lady join me in congratulating the Ritz on the sterling work that it does in Thirsk? It is manned by volunteers, who do sterling work through the regular evening performances. Will she reassure all of us who live in or near Thirsk and throughout Vale of York that independent cinemas such as the one in Thirsk will still operate in the digital age?

Indeed; we all value the role that independent cinemas play. I have looked at the statistics and am particularly pleased that, after years of decline in the number of independent cinemas in the UK, there has been the beginnings of an increase in the last year. In part, that is due to the support that the UK Film Council has given, especially in ensuring that the equipment is in place to enable the use of digitised film. That is cheaper and easier, and will offer a better future for independent cinemas.

As my right hon. Friend indicated, going to the movies is an attractive leisure activity, not only for older people, who enjoy daytime viewings, but of course for young people as well. The importance of cinemas to town and city centres is that they provide an alternative to alcohol-fuelled entertainment. My city of Chester has lost all its city-centre cinemas. We are trying to get the Odeon reopened. Will she do more to persuade local authorities to adopt cultural strategies and pursue planning policies that protect cinemas rather than allow them to be in their death-knell, as so many are?

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the vigorous campaign that she is pursuing in her constituency for her local cinema. Secondly, like her, I welcome the fact that box office earnings from cinemas have gone up 56 per cent. in the past nine years. Thirdly, the cultural infrastructure in our cities, towns and communities is hugely important because it makes them places where people want to live and work, and therefore makes them successful places.

Given that two out of three of our independent cinemas still do not have a digital projector, and given the right hon. Lady’s warm words about them, does she have a strategy for digital switchover for the rest of our independent cinemas?

I do not have a strategy, but the Film Council does. It is investing £11 million. About one in four of our cinemas have been converted. Of course, it must consider how it can take that further. It has just received a very generous funding settlement over the next spending review period and I have absolutely no doubt that it will bear the hon. Gentleman’s words and my love for cinema in mind as it decides how to distribute those moneys.