HC Deb 05 July 1977 vol 934 cc1114-7

3.31 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I beg to move—[Interruption].

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait for a few seconds. I am afraid that his audience may be smaller than it should be.

Mr. More

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the National Heritage. The artistic treasures of Britain will never be fully appreciated: we have too many of them. Within this small island of ours, our ancestors and contemporaries have accumulated such treasures that, if they were all on public view, the pedantry of a Baedeker would be submerged by them and the stamina of a Pevsner would quail before them. From such prospects we have been mercifully saved by families such as the Rothschilds and Roseberys who for many years kept their treasures hidden from public eyes. It is, nevertheless, upon our private families that we must principally rely if our heritage is to be preserved. Our taxation system must be reformed and geared to help them, and everything that I say in asking leave to introduce this Bill must be subordinate to that.

The last words of the late Lord Rosebery have not been recorded but they might well have been, like Louis XV, "Après moi le déluge ". Certainly, after his death, the deluge burst upon us; and with the present pressures of economics and taxation upon the private owner, there is no prospect that it will abate. On the contrary, the prospect is, that unless drastic action is taken, the National Heritage is likely to suffer much greater disasters than anything that has happened hitherto. It is with the object of initiating such drastic action that I am seeking leave to introduce this Bill into the House.

The Bill, as will appear, is related essentially to the National Land Fund, and for this reason some carefully drawn provisions will be required.

The first essential must be to provide guidelines, and this my Bill will seek to do. Obviously many such guidelines are already operated, for example by those excellent bodies the Historic Buildings Council, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and the Department of the Environment in its circulars about conservation and listing.

But where what is in prospect is the expenditure of public money to prevent heritage items being lost to the nation or the world, the guidelines must clearly be of an altogether more stringent and restrictive character. For in a democratic assembly we cannot forget that we are representing in the main taxpayers who, so far from wishing to see public money, which is their money, being spent upon the heritage, would far rather have it spent on housing, larger and better Concordes or additional football fields. A rigid selectivity will therefore be laid down.

The second essential must be to differentiate in favour of the native product. For example, in the sphere of pictures, while laying guidelines for the Divine Dozen—Botticelli, Mantegna, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Holbein, Rubens, Velazquez, Rembrandt Poussin and Claude—there will also be gentler guidelines for our own Sacred Seven—Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Lawrence, Stubbs, Turner and Constable.

The third essential will be to make it clear that any acquisitions by the Land Fund will be permissible only as a last resort—after every other alternative has failed.

The Bill will then deal with the question of trustees. Here I make acknowledgment to the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, in another place and to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who in their recent Bills have pioneered the idea of vesting of the Land Fund in trustees with wide managing powers. My own Bill will go further. The trustees, like the Muses, will be nine in number—four to represent the Arts: nominees from the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, the National Gallery and the Historic Buildings Council; and four to represent the Philistines; nominees from the TUC, the CBI, the Board of Inland Revenue and the Treasury; and at its head a nominee from the Department which will have the ungrateful task of managing such land and buildings as accrue to the Fund—the Department of the Environment.

My Bill will have an essential accompaniment in which I do not doubt I shall have the help of the Government. This will be a Bill to increase the Land Fund immediately to a figure of £100 million, for this is the scale on which we must now be thinking, with promises to supplement it in proportion to any continued inflation in the value of works of art and to disengage it from our embarrassing undertakings to the International Monetary Fund. My Bill will direct the trustees to operate within the income of perhaps £10 million per annum that the Fund will produce. They will have salaries and in any year in which they spend more than the income their salaries will be proportionately reduced and they will be reported to Mr. Speaker.

I hope this Bill may be a first step towards saving the outstanding treasures of what remains of our national heritage.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jasper More, Mr. Paul Channon, Mr. Robert Cooke, Mr. Andrew Faulds, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. Carol Mather, Mr. John Parker, Sir David Renton and Mr. George Strauss.

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