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Film Industry

Volume 753: debated on Monday 31 March 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support and expand the British film industry.

My Lords, the Government are committed to encouraging film production through public funding and some of the most generous creative tax reliefs in the world. Skills development and measures to introduce larger audiences to the widest possible range of films are helping to nurture the next generation of film-makers and viewers, so that the UK film and allied industries, which generate nearly 117,000 jobs and contribute £4.6 billion to national GDP, continue to prosper.

Coming from Bradford, I am delighted that film in the UK is thriving and is one of the main drivers for growth in the economy. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to encourage skills development and training in the film industry?

My Lords, I should first congratulate Bradford on being recognised as the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. Skills for digital and creative industries are vital, which is why the Government have increased their match funding of the skills development fund and are investing in the National Film and Television School’s digital village. The BFI has launched Creative England, its new talent workshop, and the industry is also engaged with apprenticeships and the BAFTA scholarships.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the National Theatre has recently pulled off a considerable coup in tempting Tessa Ross from Film4 to join the National Theatre as chief executive? Jolly good for them, not so good for the film industry—but never mind. What it demonstrates is that there is a high degree of interdependency between the film industry and theatre in particular, with a number of very successful practitioners—directors, actors and screenwriters—coming initially from the theatre. Does he therefore accept that the health of the film industry depends to a significant extent on the health of the theatre?

My Lords, I think that I would go further and say that the creative industries generally are all part of the scene we have for film and the allied industries: technicians, theatre—I am very pleased with the tax reliefs for regional theatre now, for instance, in the Budget—high-end TV and animation. All of those should be seen as a whole, because the creative industries are an essential part of our national economy.

Following on from the noble Baroness’s question, does my noble friend agree that at the heart of the success of the British film industry are public service broadcasting television channels—from which Tessa Ross comes, of course—and that the continuing existence of Channel 4 and the BBC, funded as they are today and with their respected remits and models, is central to the continuing success of our British film industry?

My Lords, the key feature, and why it has been such a successful sector, is the mix of both commercial and public sector broadcasters. I had a meeting last week with Channel 4. I was very impressed with its encouraging of apprenticeships with 4Talent and, indeed, with the BBC and its apprenticeship schemes. All of this is part of a mix in this sector, all of which is vital for our prosperity.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former director of the British Film Institute. Given that the BFI cannot use lottery funds for its own activities, how does the Minister square what he has just said about the British film industry and support that the BFI gives with the recent 10% cut in the BFI’s budget, when other arts bodies are absorbing only a 5% cut?

My Lords, the reduction that the noble Lord mentioned is actually in line with the average across government. However, in terms of the BFI and what it is doing, I think it is an example of perhaps doing very well with a little less. In addition, the BFI Player, with a further investment, is all part of the advances in innovation. Certainly the initiatives that BFI is undertaking are very interesting and will help enormously to widen audiences.

Is my noble friend aware that no Hollywood awards ceremony proceeds nowadays without accolades being showered on British films such as “Gravity”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Philomena” and, of course, the everlasting “Downton Abbey” and its ever youthful creator? Sadly, he is not in his place today—he is probably off doing something creative. Is my noble friend aware that American audiences greeted with shock the news that the all-action hero of “Homeland” was not American but, indeed, English—Damian Lewis, who is not only British but educated at Eton. At the risk of encouraging my noble friend to appear something of a luvvie, which of course I would not wish to do, can he think of any reason why this whole exercise should not be regarded as a great British success story?

My Lords, perhaps I should include my noble friend in the list of accolades. I can do no better than refer to the president of Warner Brothers UK, who recently described Britain as in the centre of a “new golden age” of film. It is interesting that Warner Brothers is investing £100 million in creating new studios at Leavesden.

On this Lord’s day, it is a privilege to follow a reluctant hero in this House of cards—I have read them all, as well. Seriously, has the Minister had discussions with his Scottish counterpart about setting up a new film studio in Scotland, which is long overdue?

My Lords, I have not had direct discussions, but I understand that Creative England, which is funded by the BFI, is working with creative elements in all parts of the kingdom on that. I can also say that the British Film Commission, also funded by the BFI, is looking at places where international productions can invest. I know of a studio opening in west Wales, for instance, and I will look into what might be happening in Scotland.

The Minister mentioned the BFI at some length and online training, but I do not think that he mentioned film schools. Is anything being done to support film schools, because the United States is rather ahead of us in that? I declare an interest: my son was a director of the film school in Ealing Studios.

As I mentioned, BAFTA is undertaking some scholarships and actors are working with people who want to get into the industry. I will look into the question of film schools. I know that it is now very much less expensive to have a film made in this country than it is in America.