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Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


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Museums and Galleries (Funding)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Liz Blackman.]

7.18 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am grateful to have this opportunity to raise an important subject, which is obviously dear to the heart of most of my hon. Friends. However, I am glad to see that my friend, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) is in his place, and I hope that he has the good fortune to catch your eye after I have made my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am also delighted that the Minister is here.

Anybody who visits London at the moment could be forgiven for thinking that our museums and galleries are in a fine state. There are three wonderful exhibitions: there is “Holbein” at the Tate; there is “Velázquez” at the National Gallery, which is due to open next week; and there is “Rodin” at the Royal Academy. Those are exhibitions of world class and importance, and they add lustre to our capital city. However, they do not tell the whole story, because our museums and galleries face a crisis, although it is not the first crisis that they have faced in my 36 years in this House. Indeed, 30 years ago in 1976, I produced a book, “Heritage in danger”, in which I sought to outline some of the difficulties facing our museums, galleries, country houses and churches at that time. At that time, I was writing shortly after the sale of the first £1 million picture, which had escaped the National Gallery. I was also writing before we had a National Heritage Memorial Fund and long before we had a lottery. Progress has therefore been made. One is grateful for things that successive Governments have done. None of the exhibitions to which I referred a few moments ago could take place without the Government indemnity that is available for our great national museums and institutions.

As I speak, however, all the directors of those national museums and galleries are being asked how they could cut 7 per cent. of their annual budget. I appreciate that that is the beginning of a negotiating position, but it does not augur well. As the national art collections fund, or the Art Fund, as it is more popularly known, has pointed out, even were there a standstill on funding for the next three years, that would amount to a 15 per cent. cut in real terms. That is a danger and a worry to the staff who work in those museums and galleries, and it endangers scholarship itself, which fortifies the great exhibitions to which I have referred and the many others that have been held in our great capital city and around the country over the past several years. Scholarship is an integral part of any great museum or gallery. If we take that away, we take away the intellectual underpinning, which would be a great disservice.

To compound all that, our museums and galleries have no earmarked funds for acquisitions and have not had them since 1993. Again, as the Art Fund has pointed out, that dire situation is at a time when art prices are rocketing. I am not just talking about the Klimt that sold for some £73 million a few months ago but the wonderful Titian that has adorned the walls of the National Gallery for many years and is now
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withdrawn, about to be sold, with the price put on it varying between £60 million and £80 million—who knows? Those are works of enormous importance, which we should seek to retain wherever possible.

The situation is made even more dire by the fact that the National Heritage Memorial Fund’s budget has been pared down to £5 million. We are told that it will be increased to £10 million, which is welcome. I was one of those who struggled to establish it, in the wake of Mentmore, and it began with an annual budget of £25 million—that is getting on for 30 years ago. In 1995, the Heritage Lottery Fund gave 10 per cent. of its annual budget, amounting to £18.5 million, towards acquisitions for museums and galleries. In the last full year for which figures are available, it gave 0.7 per cent.—just £2.25 million. Also, the chairman has made it honestly plain that acquisitions are not a priority for the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Art Fund—for all the wonderful work that it does in galvanising public opinion and producing fine grants—cannot really sustain what we need.

It is not just museums and galleries that are affected but our national archives, from which we received representations making this point:

Wherever one looks, one finds that problem. The Art Fund also makes the point that museums and galleries may passively acquire things from time to time through generous gift or benefaction, but the intelligent creative process of building up collections by seeking out new works to complement existing ones has, for most, come to an end, even in London, the richest part of the country. As for the west midlands, from which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and I come, that is one of the three poorest regions.

Acceptance in lieu, which has been a godsend for museums and galleries over the years, is in danger, because if the owner of a great work of art has to re-roof his house, he is bound to be tempted by a buoyant market. Who can blame people for not choosing to go down the in lieu route?

Why do we need new acquisitions? A paper submitted by the National Gallery to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee earlier this year stated:

The paper also points out that since the foundation of the National Gallery in 1824, Parliament has been at the forefront of acquisitions policy. We have a national duty and responsibility, which our forebears accepted and we must shoulder in our turn.

I hope that the Minister, whom I am delighted to see in his place, will listen carefully to those who point out that museums and galleries now face far more significant ministerial interference in how they are run than they have for many years, but their funding becomes increasingly inadequate with each year that goes by. It may be argued that the sums are large, with one picture selling for £73 million. In the context of our national budget, those sums are tiny. Even in the context of the dome and, dare one say it, the Olympics, they are insignificant.

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I wish to place some solutions before the Minister this evening. The National Gallery, in its submission to the Committee, says that it would be helped immeasurably if its purchase grants were restored to 1983 levels—or just over £7 million. More than that could be done. The National Heritage Memorial Fund, which was set up originally as the land fund to commemorate those who gave their lives in the war, could and should be augmented. The Heritage Lottery Fund could be directed to give more money to acquisitions. It is not the Minister’s particular responsibility, but the Government have plundered the lottery in a way that is regarded by many of those of us who helped to found it as shameful.

The export reviewing committee is the body that examines works and decides whether they should be exported, and more are slipping through the net because the money is not available to retain them. The chairman of the committee, Lord Inglewood, has called for a national acquisitions fund. That is not a new idea, as it was first proposed by the Treasury in 1922.

I ask the Minister to talk not only to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, but to the Chancellor about new incentives. For example, we could extend the in lieu provisions to taxes other than inheritance, which could provide a great fillip at a time when the Government appear reluctant to provide the sort of sums that they should.

We like to call ourselves a civilised nation. I believe that we are, but if we allow the great monuments of our forebears, symbolic of our civilisation, to fall into ruin, and if we allow our great museums and galleries, repositories of some of the greatest collections in the world, to stagnate—set in amber with no new works added—we are not fulfilling our duty as guardians of the civilisation of this nation. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some crumbs of comfort in his reply—not to me, because I do not matter at all—but to those who run our great museums and galleries and bear responsibility for our archives.

I am not speaking in any partisan sense. I had the good fortune to help to found the all-party arts and heritage group in the mid-1970s to campaign against the wealth tax that was threatened at that time. The group still flourishes: I am its chairman, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central is one of its officers. We have more than 300 members, in both Houses and of all parties. We go out to look at exhibitions or gather in Committee Rooms upstairs to listen to the curators and directors of our museums and galleries. I did not consult with every one of them before making this speech, but I have little doubt that all of them would endorse it.

Dr. Charles Saumarez Smith is the director of the National Gallery. It is as a result of his presentation a few months ago that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central and I decided to try for a debate in the House on this matter. I hope that it will help to bring to a wider public the fact that we face a crisis. I hope that the Minister will not respond by saying, as one of his very illustrious predecessors in the Labour party never did say, “What crisis?”

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7.31 pm

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) on securing this debate. I tried to do so, but had no success, whereas he has succeeded heroically. He has been generous enough to allow me a couple of minutes of his hard-won time.

I do not disagree with a word of what the hon. Gentleman said. He has great knowledge and experience of these matters, and he has shown a tremendous understanding of them over the years. That is especially true of his contribution tonight, in which he highlighted the concrete problems of acquisition budgets and funding and also pinpointed the necessity that the acquisition process be underpinned by scholarship. That is a crucial matter, but too often forgotten. Without that scholarship, our great collections would be almost nothing: this country’s great tradition of curatorship is threatened by the fact that so many posts are vacant, but we would be in a bad condition without it.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire has said everything admirably, and I have nothing to add apart from one further point that he did not have time to cover. I want to deal with the difficulties that the acquisition of contemporary art is faced with as a result of the problem that he described.

Contemporary art has always been the Cinderella of the acquisition budget, but it has probably needed less money than, say, the Halifax Titian, which was mentioned earlier. However, if our national and regional galleries and museums do not buy contemporary art now, our children and grandchildren will look at this age and fall to wondering. They will see that we had great and extraordinary artists such as Anthony Gormley, Damien Hirst and Jenny Saville, but also that the work of those artists is not in our national collections. There will be a horrible gap, resembling the one evident when the Tate trustees would not buy European art just after the war. The Tate has an extraordinary collection of 20th century art, but the gap means that it cannot be a great international collection. However, that is not the fault of the present directors and curators.

We need to acquire contemporary art. The scheme that allowed such acquisition was the one administered by the Contemporary Art Society, but it was funded by the arts lottery and was therefore time limited. The scheme expired last year, and nothing has replaced it.

There are 15 regional museums and galleries in this country—including the ones in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Southampton and the Towner gallery in Eastbourne—and they are no longer able to buy contemporary art. That is a disaster. Moreover, the acquisition scheme disbursed small sums of money to curators that allowed them to travel abroad and meet agents and artists. The closure of the scheme means that they have had to cease all that activity. There is going to be an enormous gap in our regional arts galleries and museums. That is a very small problem in the context of a much larger, more important problem, but it is significant.

I hope that, as the Minister goes to regional museums, he will ask them about that and hear from them how important it is that we buy the work of this
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generation of British artists, which happens to be a particularly fine generation, so that our children and grandchildren will look back and see what an age we lived in. If we do not replace that Society and Arts Council lottery scheme—of course, the people who should do that are the people at the Arts Council, who just happen to be the administrators of the arts lottery scheme that pulled the plug on things—we are going to be looking at an awfully bleak future.

7.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) for raising the issue today and for the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher). Before I address the points that have been raised, may I say a few words setting out the Government’s position and the great importance that we attach to this issue? Collections, and the acquisitions that feed them, are clearly, as we have heard, the lifeblood of our museums and galleries. They are the raison d’être behind all the interpretative, curatorial and conservation work that museums and galleries do, and the rationale behind the educational and social programmes that they run. Without a living collection and the ebb and flow of new acquisitions and loans, a museum can start to lose its way to the point at which collections may stagnate and people may lose interest and stop coming to visit.

However, collections cannot be seen in isolation. The most dazzling and ever-changing collection is of little use to anyone if it is not displayed and kept in safe and secure surroundings, if it is not interpreted, put in context and brought alive by expert curators, and if it is not conserved and, when necessary, restored by skilled technicians and craftsmen. That is why, since 1997, we have invested across the whole of the museums sector, and why we did not reverse the decision taken by the Conservative Government in 1992 to scrap ring-fenced acquisition funds. A one-size-fits-all approach to cultural spending was not right then and it is not right today either. Our starting point in cultural investment is that the professional people in the museums themselves—both staff and trustees—are far better placed to decide how their resources should be allocated.

This Government have absolutely nothing to apologise for on funding. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire, let us just consider the facts. Spending by my Department on our sponsored museums and galleries has increased from £205 million in 1997 to £294 million today. That is a real terms increase of nearly 16 per cent. By 2008, we will have invested £150 million in the renaissance in the regions programme. That is the first ever sustained programme of central Government investment in the infrastructure of our regional museums. I have visited Hull, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle to see that renaissance in the regions programme. It is absolutely wonderful to see how our regional museums are being revived, when they were really in quite a desperate condition before. There is a revitalisation of museums across the country, reversing decades of under-investment and equipping the museum work force with the skills that they need to thrive in the 21st century.
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That includes the training necessary to identify and acquire the contemporary art and artefacts that will revitalise our collections. The National Heritage Memorial Fund—its grant from my Department will double next year, by the way—has committed more than £135 million for acquisitions of cultural property since 1980, including more than £30 million for archive and special library collections.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The Minister really cannot get away with that one. I have listened to quite a lot on which I would have liked to intervene, but the National Heritage Memorial Fund—I was one of those who helped to found it—started off with a budget that was much bigger than the one that it is going to have at the end of the year. Of course, we welcome the extra £5 million, but the figure is still £15 million less than the £25 million that it had. We should not led the Minister pretend that that is a success, because it is not.

Mr. Lammy: It is slightly misleading to say that the budget started off at £25 million. The money that is put into the pot is investment that grows year on year. We have sought to double the yearly sum from £5 million to £10 million. This is not as simplistic as saying that there was £25 million in year one, all of which was spent, and that there was then another £25 million, because the fund never worked like that. The fact is that we are doubling the sum. The hon. Gentleman is slightly skewing the perception of the facts.

Of course, we have had the Heritage Lottery Fund since 1994. The fund has made grants to museums, galleries and archives of nearly £1.5 billion, including £141 million for museums and galleries for works of art and other objects. On top of that, several forms of tax relief are available to help private owners to give, and public institutions to receive, important cultural objects. The conditional exemption allows estates to defer settlement of inheritance tax bills in exchange for public access to fine works. Douceurs—or sweeteners, if one prefers—make private treaty sales of works of art to public institutions more tax effective.

One of the most successful ways of utilising the generosity of the Treasury is of course the acceptance in lieu scheme, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I use the word “generosity” without irony because acceptance in lieu is in nearly every way the holy grail of public policy. Absolutely everybody is a winner under the scheme. Owners of pre-eminent works of art and artefacts have their inheritance tax demands discounted when they offer their works in lieu of cash to settle the bill. The work of art in question is then saved for the nation, with public access guaranteed for ever, and the museum to which it is allocated gains a fine work for its collection at no cost to its ever-stretched budget.

Our experience is that the position of museums in this country is by no means as bleak as some would suggest. I certainly would not characterise the position as a crisis, or dire. Indeed, the national museums and galleries that are sponsored by my Department have never before in the history of this country had access to so much investment, and I do not think that any hon. Member, or indeed any gallery director, would challenge that statement.

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