HC Deb 11 June 1990 vol 174 cc13-5
80. Mr. Andy Stewart

To ask the Minister for the Arts what recent measures have been taken to help preserve Britain's heritage.

85. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Minister for the Arts what role there is for the private sector in preserving Britain's heritage; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Luce

Recent measures, all entailing varying degrees of private support, include the introduction of gift aid, the creation of the museums and galleries improvement fund and taking into account the existence of private offers when deciding on export licence applications for items of national importance.

Mr. Stewart

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply because recently, with substantial grants from English Heritage, the 12th century Rufford abbey in my constituency was reopened to the public. Will he reassure me that private giving and charitable donations will enhance the Government's funding, not replace it?

Mr. Luce

I, too, praise English Heritage, and the national heritage memorial fund on all that they do to preserve and support our heritage. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the value of gift aid, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced in the Budget and which will come into operation in October, because it gives a massive new opportunity for the arts world to raise more money from individuals and corporations. It will not be a substitute for public funding.

Mr. Thompson

I also congratulate the Government, through my right hon. Friend, on the introduction of the gift aid scheme in the Budget. Does my right hon. Friend accept that the private sector can and should do even more both to help preserve Britain's heritage and for the arts generally?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend is right. I look to the private sector to be the source of real growth, in addition to the basic commitment of taxpayer support, which has been demonstrated by the 24 per cent. increase for the next three years. In harness, the two should do a great deal to produce more resources for the arts.

Mr. Buchan

What consideration has the Minister given to the problems that we shall face in 1992 in relation to the export of works of art, given that we are moving into an open market?

Mr. Luce

The Cultural Ministers of Europe have been discussing those matters in their informal meetings. Article 36 of the treaty of Rome makes it clear that every member state can keep its own methods of protection for its own heritage. Nevertheless, against the background of free frontiers and a lack of controls, it is necessary to find a way to ensure that we can deal, for example, with stolen works of art. Discussions on that are going on.

Mr. Tony Banks

The Minister knows that large numbers of people come to this country because of the quality of heritage and arts that we offer, and long may that be the case. Will he consider discussing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the possibility of introducing a hotel tax—a bedroom tax—to release resources that could be devoted to improving our arts and heritage?

Mr. Luce

As the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter, I shall mention it to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. However, as he knows, our general policy—this is not specifically to answer his question—is that we do not go in for more hypothecated taxation than is necessary. The arts, with public and private sector funding, which is increasing, do a great deal to attract millions of tourists from all over the world.

Mr. Burns

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week, an important example of our heritage, a low rail way bridge in Shield row, near Stanley, was seriously damaged by a runaway bus that careered off the road and had its top ripped off? I understand that it was the Labour party's only promotional bus. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend assured the House that the Labour party will pay to repair the damage to our heritage and to that fine

Mr. Luce

I am sure that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) will take careful note of my hon. Friend's view about the role that the Labour party is taking in despoiling our heritage.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister give some thought to our scientific heritage, for which he also has responsibility? Does he understand the scale of the crisis in our national museums, particularly the natural history museum? There, the trustees of one of the world's great scientific collections are being forced to cut 100 jobs, many of them held by key scientists, in order to save approximately £2 million a year. They have made it clear that they regret that and that the cause of their doing it is the Government's underfunding and neglect of that great museum. Will the Minister meet the trustees to discuss the financial plight of the museum and to make sure that the international reputation of that great collection is preserved?

Mr. Luce

I do not underestimate the importance of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, but, as he prefaced it by talking about a crisis and underfunding, I should make clear the position of the natural history museum. Over the past 10 years, the resources that the museum has received from the taxpayer, let alone from the private sector, whose funding has increased dramatically, have increased by 12.8 per cent. This year, over last year, I have increased its funding by 16.5 per cent. There has, therefore, been a real increase in the museum's resources.

It is against that background that the museum has produced a corporate strategy looking to the next five years. It has taken the view that is should focus its research on environment and health matters. I take seriously the concerns that have been expressed, and so, I should stress, does the management of the museum. It has taken the lead in arranging a seminar next Friday, which scientists from throughout the country will join. The management will assess the wider implications of any decisions that may be taken and will take them seriously into account.

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