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11.34 am

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I express the House's gratitude to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) for giving us a rare chance to consider the film industry, of which he has been a luminary for many years. Many people respect his personal contribution both in and out of Government and Parliament. He has given us a wide-ranging conspectus, and I shall not seek to follow that. Most of us will wish to hear what the Minister will say to the points that he has raised, and my contribution will be more of a declaration than a main theme.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise that the boom in the British film industry is remarkable. Its international recognition since 1990 has been enormous--18 per cent. of all Oscars, 15 per cent. of prizes at Montreux and 15 per cent. of prizes at the Monte Carlo television festival have been awarded to English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish feature films and television programmes.

The box office grosses have also been staggeringly impressive: "Four Weddings and a Funeral" took $256 million; "The Full Monty" took $249 million; "Bean" took $234 million; "The English Patient" took $230 million; "Sense and Sensibility" took $134 million; and, "Trainspotting" took $74 million.

These are extraordinary achievements. The United Kingdom is today second only to the United States as a source of films for the international market. We want a springboard for growth and development. Although we have the great advantage of the English language, other challenges exist. There is important new activity in European countries, including Germany, Poland and Spain as well as France, and that is making an impact on the film market while enjoying considerable Government support. Some countries provide much more strategic capital investment than we provide, and we must be clear about what processes we may initiate to ensure that the success that we have enjoyed continues and that we are not squeezed out of our relatively good current position.

On the debit side, it is important to recognise that our structural problems remain acute. During the period that I have already mentioned, we have seen the disappearance of several companies--Thorn EMI, Screen Entertainment, Rank, Goldcrest, Handmade Films, Virgin, Palace Pictures, Helmdale and Embassy--that were engaged in production and distribution. All of them had access to money, but all of them have gone.

As the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television has pointed out, we have enormous talent in our new breed of producer--gifted people such as Tim Bevan and

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Eric Felner, Nik Powell, Steven Woolley and Duncan Kenworthy. Fifteen years ago, we had companies, but today we have the people.

Mr. Chidgey: Is not it a fact that the British film industry has traditionally been a cottage industry, working from film to film on an almost ad hoc basis? It is incredibly difficult to match the power of the American studio system which sees film making as a business, not just an art.

Mr. Maclennan: That is true, and that is the challenge. There is no straightforward answer, but some answers can be made to the questions put by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston.

The case for investment in the industry is strong given the growth of the business world wide, and especially the growth in English language film making, which has enjoyed a growth rate of between 11 and 15 per cent. since the mid 1980s. With the further growth of pay television services, the introduction of digital television and digital video disc, and the growth of other world markets in Latin America, the far east and central Europe, we can anticipate a market for the product. If the investment can be delivered, there should be a major return on it.

The Government have recognised those facts and taken some significant steps to which we must properly pay tribute. Early on, they granted the long-requested 100 per cent. tax relief on film production in the year in which expenditure is incurred. Its absence had been a major drawback for the corporate consortium investor. Like the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston, I want to know what is happening about the removal of the £15 million cap. That remains a live issue. On the eve of the Budget, we cannot expect to learn what the Government have in mind, but it is important to use this opportunity to press for the issue to be tackled.

Another issue is the withholding tax system, under which all payments, including transport and other expenses, are taxed at basic rate at source. That continues to add up to 20 per cent. to the cost of employing a foreign actor in the United Kingdom. Given the need to cast American actors to help the prospects of film distribution in the United States, the Government should address that. If they made known their calculations of the effect of increased production on the economy, we might learn that withholding tax would yield more.

Many British films are largely financed by the major American studios. Fox financed "The Full Monty". "Shakespeare in Love" is similarly a largely American- funded picture. While the American giants control the market, it continues to be difficult for smaller film makers to make their mark. We have no major studio of our own. In the longer term, the Department should consider the feasibility of the incentives--export incentives, tax credits and other funding mechanisms--that were used by the United States to boost the fortunes of American studios in the early 1970s. In the meantime, we must consider the problems of film making as they stand.

We welcome the forthcoming establishment of British Film and hope that it will bring together the various strands of strategic thinking, allowing a policy for the whole industry with adequate financial support and investment from the centre. It will operate in devolved

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Britain, and it is important that national institutions such as Scottish Screen play their part on the basis of participation, not mere consultation.

The British Screen Advisory Council calculates that total lottery funding will need to be at least £35 million per annum and that grant in aid support must be maintained at the present level, at the very least. The funding must be put on a secure medium-term basis, with resources committed by the Government for three years. That will allow adoption of a strategic plan to ensure the best use of funds.

I am concerned about distribution. British films are hard pressed to get on British screens. As long as ago as 1994, the British Film Institute asked the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to investigate unfair practices in British cinemas. Although the commission seemed sympathetic to the case, it considered that it could not examine film supply more generally. Have the Government considered whether that regulatory approach could be reconsidered?

PACT, which represents 1,400 British film and television making companies, proposes that British Film should earmark a fund to underwrite some of the marketing costs incurred by distributors of UK qualifying films. The Government could consider a tax shelter mechanism targeted at the independent distribution business to attract new entrants and consolidate the strength of those who are still in it.

The distribution of British films in America will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. It is exceedingly difficult for most British films to secure distribution there, without which it is difficult to succeed. That is recognised by Government and industry. It is good that, through the lottery, subsidy can be spent on the development of projects and film distribution, as well as on film production.

Our industry could be a world beater. In artistic and technical terms, there is no doubt that it is so recognised. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston was correct to emphasise the importance of training. We do much work on individuals who are valued throughout the world. They tend to be sucked out to Hollywood where their skills are recognised. We must guarantee film training throughout the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. We must do all that we can to ensure that the products of that training can work in our studios.

We must ensure that the tax burdens that draw film makers away from production in Britain are lifted and that the tax incentives used to lure film makers from abroad examined. Most of all, British Film and its brother organisations must encourage and promote public and private partnerships to invest in film making and distribution in the United Kingdom. I conclude by again thanking the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston.

11.47 am

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) for calling this much-needed debate. As Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, he advanced many useful ideas on the film industry with great expertise, due to his lifelong commitment and great devotion to, and vast knowledge of, films and their production. His contribution is much appreciated throughout the industry.

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I was not expecting to speak, so I have not had the time that I would have liked for research on a subject for which I have such enthusiasm. I will therefore concentrate on matters that I know well from personal experience over what may be too many years. The production and showing of British films do not only generate money for the Exchequer and provide employment for the many skills and talents in the industry; the spin-off in wealth generation can go well beyond that. British films, particularly those celebrating our way of life, such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Mrs. Brown", "Brassed Off", "The Full Monty" and "Shakespeare in Love"--which I have not had the opportunity to see yet--and the imaginative use of location work promotes tourism, both from abroad and domestically. My constituency is a microcosm of that. The Keighley and Worth Valley railway, of which I am a vice-president, has attracted many film and television producers to use the various locations, from industrial heartland to the magnificent Pennines above Haworth and Oxenhope, in such films as "Yanks" and the much loved "The Railway Children".

I shall be a little self-indulgent, because my interest in "The Railway Children" stems from the fact that I fear that my claim to fame will never be as the Member for Keighley or as the wife of Bob or mother of John but as an extra on that film. Hon. Members will have difficulty spotting me. I had dark hair in June 1970 when we had four wonderful weeks of sun--amazing for the Worth valley. So also was my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer), as he and his sister Jane, aged six and four at the time, dutifully waved their flags in the presentation scene when the Old Gentleman William Mervyn presented gold watches to

as only William Mervyn could. That scene was on Oakworth station platform. The crossing keeper's house was Perks cottage, now a successful bed-and-breakfast establishment organised by a friend of mine, Councillor John Cope, and his wife Patricia.

For 29 years Keighley and the Worth valley area's hotels, shops and cafes have benefited from that one film. So we can see that a great deal of money can be generated for the country as a whole from the films that we produce.

Before I leave the subject of "The Railway Children", I pay tribute to the man who was behind the camera throughout the eight weeks of production, especially at Oakworth and in Oxenhope. The real stars of that film were the railway engines, not Jenny Agutter, William Mervyn and the others. The railway engines were brought to life by cameraman Arthur Ibbetson's use of the camera. "The Railway Children" was the first film directed by Lionel Jeffries. As it was his first film, he did not have a great deal of expertise in film making, but I feel that Arthur Ibbetson carried him through, such was his expertise. Arthur died last year and that is why I am mentioning his name so much.

Arthur Ibbetson started his career as a clapperboy on "Brief Encounter", made largely at Carnforth. He was the lighting cameraman on 30-odd films, including "Whistle Down the Wind", "The League of Gentlemen", and"A Countess from Hong Kong". In "Where Eagles Dare", he was able to demonstrate his expertise in the use of day-for-night shooting. For "Anne of the Thousand Days",

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he received an Oscar nomination, and rightly so. I am not sure what the position is regarding the film school, but I hope that it and other organisations will continue to produce skilled people such as Arthur Ibbetson for the benefit of our film industry.

I shall go outside Britain to demonstrate how there can be a spin-off from film production. A few weeks ago, I was in Strasbourg for a meeting of the Council of Europe. I talked for the first time to a colleague, a socialist Member of Parliament for the centre of Vienna. I said that I knew Vienna well because I had seen "The Third Man" about 10 times, although I had never been there. I asked what was left of Vienna at that time. She said that "The Third Man" was a growing source of tourism. Apparently, the little cabins on the big ferris wheel can now be hired for functions such as children's parties, and they are very popular. I asked her about the cemetery, which is still there. I asked her about the wonderful railway station, too. I am afraid that that has gone. I also asked about the wonderful shots of Harry Lime being chased in the sewers.

My colleague told me that there were now guided tours of the sewers. Hon. Members will be relieved to learn that sewage is no longer carried down them; they now form a culvert for a river. The tourism industry is linking on to the film and providing guided tours along an underground walkway.

When Carol Reed made "The Third Man" in 1949, he demonstrated to us all and, I hope, to younger film makers of today, that it is possible to have the audience on the edge of their seats with excitement and spellbound by what is going on without using gratuitous violence, blood and gore. He used shadow and atmosphere to generate enthusiasm in his audience.

I shall try to be brief because I know that others want to speak, but I wish to put in a plug for Bradford. "Billy Liar" and "Room at the Top" were made there, and we are now proud to have the national museum of photography, film and television, which I think is the only place in the world where one can see all forms of film projection, including Imax, 3-D, cinemascope and cinerama. On Friday, the Bradford film festival begins, to run for two weeks. I am sure that it will be of great benefit to our industry. In a few weeks, we shall see the reopening of the museum, which has been completely refurbished. I am sure that many hon. Members will want to see the museum.

I am afraid that my cinema-going is now dominated by my grandchildren. The most recent film that I have seen is "A Bug's Life". I am sure that Conservative Members will not agree with me, but for me the film expressed the philosophy of "the workers united will never be defeated." I am not sure that Conor and Robert thought that, but I did.

During the general election in Keighley, I was ably assisted by Lord Dickie Attenborough, who has already been mentioned. He came up to campaign for me, and he was wonderful. He did that not because he thought that I was wonderful but because he felt that a Labour Government would have a greater understanding of and give greater support to the British film industry. So I shall finish by saying that I hope that we do not let the British film industry down and that we do what Dickie Attenborough hoped that we would do.

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11.57 am

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