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The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): In April 2000, we established the Film Council as the Government's strategic lead body for film which, for the first time, brought together responsibility for the film industry, culture and education.
Barbara Follett: What discussions has my hon. Friend held with the Department for Education and Skills about encouraging young people to acquire the skills that they need in today's high-technology film industry?
Dr. Howells: We regularly discuss creativity in the classroom with the Department for Education and Skills. We fund the national film and television school directly. Skillset, the sector skills council for the audiovisual industries, and the Film Council are undertaking a joint research project to develop a comprehensive skills strategy for the British film industry. The Film Council's innovative £1 million-a-year "first light" scheme already gives many young people from all social backgrounds the opportunity to make short films.
Nick Harvey (North Devon): What assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact of the changes in this year's Budget on film tax relief? Although I acknowledge that there was abuse by people who were producing for television on tiny budgets but claiming large amounts of relief, does the Minister share my anxiety that the effect may be to drive big projects away to eastern European countries and elsewhere? Does he know that the Film Council believes that approximately £250 million-worth of planned projects will move to other countries because of the changes? Will he discuss with the Treasury some other method of directing relief to big, high-value projects? What will be the position of projects that were already on the stocks of studios if they are not allowed to continue under the tax arrangements that were in place when they were agreed and when the contracts were signed?
Dr. Howells: The decision as to what is eligible for tax relief is, of course, one for the Inland Revenue and the Treasury, and they must also decide on the implementation of the announcements in the Budget. The Department has been very concerned, however, about the likely effect on future investment in the film industry in this country, and particularly on big inward investment from America. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there was serious abuse of the existing system. Something has certainly gone wrong when episodes of soap operas and even weather forecasts are put forward for tax relief.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the British Film Commission and local authorities have made great strides towards working together recently, more could be done to show local authorities the benefits of attracting the film industry into local communities? Should not the film and television industries also do more themselves to make clearer the contribution that they can make to local communities?
Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is quite clear from working with the tourist sector, for example, that people want to visit film locations. That has become big business, not only in this country but in
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): What extra support does the Minister intend to give to film-making in Liverpool? Does he agree that film-making is an important part of economic regeneration, and does he consider that Liverpool's fine track record in filming is a good reason why Liverpool should become the European capital of culture in 2008?
Dr. Howells: I certainly cannot comment on my hon. Friend's last suggestion. Responsibility for deciding what part of the money allocated to the Film Council is to be spent in different parts of the country lies, of course, with the Film Council. God forbid that Ministers should start deciding where film money should to be spent, and on what projects.
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): None. The north-west has received more than £175 million in arts lottery funding to date, and it is the second-highest recipient of arts lottery funding of all the British regions.
Mr. Pike: My hon. Friend will recognise that it is a year ago today that Burnley had disturbances on its streets. I am sure that he will agree that art is one means of bringing communities together, as was shown by Artspeak at Burnley Mechanics on Thursday and Friday last week. Does he recognise that Burnley youth theatre has done tremendous work locally to bring the community together? Will he urge members of the Arts Council to go to Burnley, meet members of Burnley youth theatre and ensure that action is taken at an early date to sort out the final few snags in its lottery grant?
Dr. Howells: Yes; I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts would have any problem agreeing to my hon. Friend's suggestions. My hon. Friend will be aware that Burnley has received more than £670,000 of lottery funding, which is largely consistent with other districts when considered in terms of per capita spend. I agree entirely with him that spending on the arts is one way of trying to capture the anger and frustration that appear to have expressed themselves in his constituency, and to channel them more constructively.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): For the sake of the north-west, as well as the rest of the country, when will the Minister consider reducing the bureaucracy and increasing the common sense in awarding lottery grants?
Ian Stewart (Eccles): The recent White Paper "Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions" has been well received in the north-west. It proposes that elected regional assemblies devise and fund strategies for the arts, tourism and sport. Surely the Arts Council's recent centralisation flies in the face of that. Will my hon. Friend consider the issue again?
We recognise the broad range of benefits to be gained from open spaces in terms of health, education and many other parts of our lives. We therefore want to ensure that they are preserved and indeed upgraded, especially for people living in urban areas.
Caroline Flint: Venus and Serena Williams learned tennis on the public courts in their neighbourhood. Given the world of leisure in which we live, I suggest that our parks will be in decline unless we do something. Has the Department taken account of the fact that many parks run by local authorities have no access to funds such as those available to private sports clubs, schools and other bodies mentioned today in answers to questions?
Mr. Caborn: That is why the urban White Paper considered the whole question of open spaces. Following the report of the working party on green spaces and sustainable communities, we will incorporate its proposals in the development of sports facilities. I hope they will be reflected in planning policy statement 17, and that there will be a firm link with the £500 million invested in localities through the new opportunities fund. Although it has been given to local education authorities, a precondition of its release is that the facilities it will provide are used by the community.
Mr. Caborn: The royal parks have been used by the public, demonstrably, during the recent jubilee celebrations. Musical events have taken place there. I will, however, reflect on what the hon. Gentleman has said when there are discussions about the royal parks.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): Does my right hon. Friend agree that parks play a crucial role in ensuring that young people in particular have access to low-level, non-coaching types of physical activitythat they can simply walk to a local park and play? Is he aware that parish councils play a key role in rural and semi-rural areas such as mine, where many such facilities have declined during the past 15 or 20 years? Has he had discussions with parish councils to ensure that they can provide the money that is needed to improve the facilities enough for most people to be able to use them much more regularly?
Mr. Caborn: As I have said, a working party has just reported, and we have produced an urban White Paper. We are now trying to bring together open spaces and more formal sports facilities. The fact that they have been kept apart is a weakness in our sport and recreation infrastructure. We need a proper synergy of activity and development, and we shall bring that about in the months ahead. The first step will be the provision of PPS 17 by the Deputy Prime Minister's Department. It will give local authorities directions on planning for sports and open-space facilities.