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10.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Shaun Woodward): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) on securing the debate. It is on an important subject and I am glad that he has raised it. I am also glad of the opportunity to reply to some of the points that he has raised this evening.

The hon. Gentleman quite rightly raised the profile of the Yorkshire Film Archive and, by association, the British Film Institute national archive. Not for one moment do we underestimate the significance of and contribution made by the film archive to our heritage in this country. It was put brilliantly by my noble Friend Lord Puttnam when he said simply that our “audio-visual heritage” was an essential part of a
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“vibrant and engaging” regional cultural heritage and social landscape. That is equally true of every region of the country and true of the regional archives that we want to see prosper and do well in the future.

The hon. Gentleman specifically raised the issue of the Yorkshire Film Archive, which has the responsibility of collecting and preserving the film heritage of a region and for making it accessible to the public. We recognise the problems faced as a result of complex sources of core funding and the dependency on several sources of finance. May I say at the outset that we, as the Government, want to find the best way that we can of using taxpayers’ money efficiently, providing value for money and supporting that archive?

To that end, it may be helpful if I briefly set out the current mechanisms that are used to fund organisations like the Yorkshire Film Archive. This year, in 2007-08, the YFA will receive £45,000 from the UK Film Council via Screen Yorkshire. As well as funding it, Screen Yorkshire and the UK Film Council will work closely with the YFA to establish a sustainable business plan. That will be developed through a national film strategy that the British Film Institute has been commissioned to produce—a strategy that I shall talk about later, but we intend to bring it forward for consultation early in the new year. I understand the pressing demands that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but it is important that the Government continue to have an arm’s-length relationship with delivery bodies, which produces the best results. Having said that, the Government also recognise the problems faced by individual archives.

The UK Film Council funds nine English regional screen agencies, including Screen Yorkshire, to the tune of about £7 million a year, which is intended to cover everything from training to film production, and screen commissions to education. The UK Film Council believes that it is better to delegate funding to the regions so that they can decide on their own local priorities and adapt funding to their specific needs.

Each screen agency may decide how best to distribute its core funding. Alongside that funding, Screen Yorkshire must find additional funding from other sources every year. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has raised that problem in this evening’s Adjournment debate. He rightly paid tribute to the role played by Yorkshire Forward in his area. Of course, we should also recognise the role played by other lottery distributors, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the regional development agencies.

In 2003-04, English regional film archives used the investment from the regional screen agencies of about £216,000 to leverage a further £1.2 million—a sixfold return. None the less, we live in a tight spending environment. It is important that the DCMS and the UK Film Council continue to work hard to help the regional screen agencies to continue to lever additional funding against their core funding. Of course, we hope that the national film archive strategy, about which the hon. Gentleman speculated and which I shall adumbrate, will help the archives to leverage greater funding, and the DCMS is determined to work closely with all involved to achieve that.

We recognise the challenges that are faced none the less. However, we believe that delegated funding
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continues to present opportunity, as well as challenge. We also recognise that, to continue to be effective, consistency of funding and policy is better brought about by the creation of a national strategy for the film archive sector. Therefore the UK Film Council, in partnership with the BFI, is working hard to put in place that strategy.

As the hon. Gentleman said, we have a rich history of film in Britain. That history is, of course, important. The value of the archive to that heritage is indeed staggering, as it documents and wonderfully illustrates national and regional life over more than a century. The BFI national archive, for example, holds one of the largest and most important collections of moving images anywhere in the world.

Of course it is quite right that we recognise the importance of making the collections available to the public. Indeed, the public demonstrate their desire for such access. Recent programmes, such as “The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon”, with the BBC, showed everyday life in Edwardian Britain and attracted a television audience in excess of 4.5 million viewers a week—only a little short of that for the “The X Factor”. I therefore take this opportunity to congratulate the BFI on the way it is addressing that demand with its partnership agencies and producing a national strategy, while using new media technology, such as Screenonline, to make 300 hours of footage from the archive available on demand on the internet.

The Screenonline project also demonstrates how film archives have a unique opportunity to improve film education and to raise media literacy. Again, I pay tribute to the work of the Yorkshire Film Archive. It is an excellent example of how progress in such access is being driven locally. The YFA learning and access strategy works with local museums and schools in Leeds to create new e-learning resources that support the citizenship curriculum at key stage 2. It encourages and supports primary teachers and pupils to engage with the museum and archive collections. As the hon. Gentleman recognises, it is an invaluable tool and one that we must not lose.

I therefore wish to put on record this evening our appreciation in the DCMS specifically of the work of the Yorkshire Film Archive. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is driving key strategic objectives of the Department: increasing access, enriching individual lives and strengthening communities, maximising the economic contribution and ensuring that it operates efficiently, while delivering valuable services to the region.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) rightly recognised the importance of access, which is a pattern that can be found in all the screen agencies across the country. New technology is enabling those opportunities to be broadened. Digital copies are being made available across the UK. Digital moving images are now viewed on home computers, and in libraries and schools. Increasingly, it will be possible to view them in cinemas and other venues. They can easily be combined with interpretative and contextual material when required and they can be reformatted to meet the specific needs of different audiences.

I pay tribute to the work done by the Stroke Association, which the hon. Gentleman referred to in
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relation to his constituency. That work involves the imaginative use of this kind of material to deal with people who may have lost their memory and have all kinds of communication problems. The material is used to find ways of stimulating those people and engaging them in ways that otherwise could not be found. The work that the Stroke Association has done in his constituency is exemplary. I am sure that it happens elsewhere, but together with my officials I have already had the opportunity of looking at that work and wanted to pay tribute to the association for that this evening.

There are many other challenges beyond those raised by the hon. Gentleman. Intellectual property poses on the one hand an enormous opportunity for film archives, but on the other, because of the issue of rights, another problem. I remind him that the Gowers report, which will be published later this week, will address some of those issues of copyright and intellectual property. I am sure that he will find the issues that will be raised by Gowers in that report of specific interest in relation to the Yorkshire Film Archive. I look forward to discussing with him and other hon. Members some of the implications of that report for film.

Harnessing digital technology will enable our film heritage to reach a wider and more diverse audience—exactly the kind of thing that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West referred to in her contribution. Equally, the work of the UK Film Council digital screen network will make a vital and important contribution to widening access.

A further challenge raised by the hon. Gentleman is how we ensure that our archive is protected and preserved. We will also need investment in information management and comprehensive cataloguing of the collections to ensure that they operate to the highest standards. All those things are being encompassed by the work of the new national archive strategy. Those critical challenges and opportunities will, and should be, embraced within that strategy. To achieve that we will need a co-ordinated champion and voice for archive film. There is a role there for the DCMS and the UK Film Council, but also for the film heritage group. Together, they should co-ordinate the profile of film archiving.

All that will be embraced within the compass of the work of the national film archive strategy. The BFI has established the film heritage group to bring together
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and execute the strategy. I know that the Yorkshire Film Archive is already playing an important role in devising that strategy. We will draft the strategy for the beginning of next year and we plan to publish it early in 2007. Then the work will go out for wider consultation. Not only do we want to hear from those who may contribute to widening access and ensuring that the maximum number of people are able to use that enormous element of our country’s heritage, but we need to involve public and private funders alike in looking at the long-term sustainable future of this invaluable resource for our nations.

The critical purpose of the strategy is to co-ordinate common standards of preservation and access, and to determine standards and drive them forward in relation to the care of the collection, its management and access. We must ensure that high-quality projects deliver public access through the full range of new and emerging media. Work must be done in partnership with communities, libraries, schools, cinemas, museums and broadcasters. Of course, the strategy must address the urgent needs in relation to sustainable long-term funding and investment for moving-image archives. That will be done through partnerships and commercial ventures. It can also continue to be done by grants. However, it is essential that that future be sustainable. It is precisely because we want this to be a long-term sustainable project and we do not want existence to be hand to mouth—I am talking about all those invaluable resources, in relation to which there must be wide access as well as protection—that we believe that the strategy and the current archive work is so important in the world of film.

I hope that the House will look forward to receiving the plan and helping in the discussion and consultation that will follow its delivery. It is about sustainability, and similarly, the way forward for the Yorkshire Film Archive must be to develop a sustainable business plan alongside and as part of that national strategy so that the archive may continue to provide material—whether that is by way of the material that it provides to the Stroke Association, or for the benefit of all the constituents of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough and my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West—and, in the long term, ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom can benefit from the fabulous audiovisual heritage of our past.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock.


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