HC Deb 23 February 1978 vol 944 cc1682-4
8. Mr. Bulmer

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will introduce further fiscal and other measures to protect the national heritage of buildings and works of art.

Mr. Joel Barnett

The latest public expenditure plans provide for an increase in the money available for the purchase of heritage items, their preservation and display and for expenditure on historic buildings and ancient monuments.

Mr. Bulmer

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his colleagues who bear responsibility for these matters with a view to ensuring that the Tate Gallery can acquire Gainsborough's portrait of Sir Benjamin Truman? Will he also look at the present tax structure, which seems designed to ensure that an increasing number of works of art of national importance come on to the market and that neither British citizens nor British galleries have the funds to acquire them?

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman will know that this is a matter for my noble Friend the Minister with responsibility for the arts. If my noble Friend does not have sufficient funds to deal with this matter, he will no doubt approach me, though my colleagues who have to approach me for more funds are reluctant to do so.

Mr. Faulds

As a cultured animal—

Mr. Adley

The hon. Gentleman or the Chief Secretary?

Mr. Faulds

Both. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the real dangers to the retention of the national heritage in buildings and works of art, such as Gainsborough's superb portrait of Ben Truman, which has just been mentioned, the export of which is more likely and the survival of the buildings the less likely because of our tax policies and because not enough Government funding is provided for the retention of our heritage?

Mr. Barnett

As one cultured animal to another, I am always ready to try to do as much as I can to help in this area. I know that my hon. Friend will not under-estimate what we are spending already. The total amount planned to be spent in 1978–79 in this area is £108 million.

Mr. Faulds

It is not enough.

Mr. Barnett

I appreciate that my hon. Friend has a right to ask me to spend more, but Opposition Members do not have the same right.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that capital transfer tax on the private capital resources required to support the heritage and to prevent a flood of sales taking place is an absolute killer, and that he should turn his attention to that?

Mr. Barnett

If the hon. Gentleman were in a more reasonable mood, he would accept that his proposition is nonsense. Most reasonable people in the heritage lobby know that we have done an enormous amount to help with capital transfer tax.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, apart from acquisition and retention, there is no point in keeping these things if they remain buried in the cellars of our museums and galleries where 99 per cent. of our people cannot see them? There is not enough funding to allow the majority of people to see famous works of art in travelling exhibitions, and so on.

Mr. Barnett

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's view. I should like to see more works of art available for public gaze. The whole purpose of the reliefs that we have provided in capital transfer tax is to do precisely that.

Sir David Renton

What are the Government doing to protect and replenish the National Land Fund, and to what purpose will it be put in future?

Mr. Barnett

The right hon. and and learned Gentleman will know that the Fund is being examined by a Select Committee. We are awaiting its report and will comment upon it.

Mr. Peter Rees

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the relief available under the last Finance Act for maintenance funds? If so, can he tell us how many people have so far taken advantage of the provision?

Mr. Barnett

No one has yet taken advantage of it, but that is not surprising. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer and he knows that setting up trust funds takes a little time. I understand that some funds are firmly in mind to be set up. When hon. Members on the Opposition Benches laugh about the question of relief for the heritage, they should understand that those engaged in the heritage are not as interested in becoming an over-privileged class as those hon. Members seem to imply.