HC Deb 08 March 2004 vol 418 cc1233-5
8. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

When she last met the director of the National Gallery to discuss the work of the gallery. [158923]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the director of the National Gallery on 9 February 2004.

Mr. Dalyell

Goodison recommended tax relief on lifetime donations of works of art to national museums. What is Government thinking on that recommendation?

Estelle Morris

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to Goodison and the Goodison committee for their work in the report that they have put before us. The current situation is that the committee's recommendations are being discussed and consulted on by the Treasury, the DCMS and other interested parties. I am afraid that we will have to wait for a future date to take a decision on that matter, possibly as part of the spending review. However, the report has certainly informed our thinking on that important issue.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

I declare an interest as the person who founded the development office at the National Gallery. I am therefore fully cognisant of the reluctance among National Gallery staff and trustees to have deaccession rights. Has the Minister had discussions recently with the gallery's director—and with other museums—on the possibility of the trustees being invested with such powers? Although the director is aware of the demands of potential donors such as Sir Denis Mahon, with his Guercinos, he feels very strongly that they should not have those rights. That should be looked into. Has the Minister had those discussions?

Estelle Morris

No, I have not.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

Further to the question asked by the Father of the House, may I press the Minister a bit more? When she last visited the National Gallery did she look at the little labels beside the paintings and notice that many of them are on private loan, which means that they could be put up for sale at any time and leave the country? If our national treasure is not to be raided, can she push the Treasury hard to extend tax concessions so that we can ensure that more of those paintings stay in the United Kingdom?

Estelle Morris

I take my hon. Friend's point, but there has already been substantial investment to make sure that we keep as many works of art as possible in this country. Many in the House will welcome the fact that "The Madonna of the Pinks" is still in the National Gallery, will shortly go on tour and has been saved for the nation. However, we will never reach a point where we can save every single work of art in this country that we would like to save—that is not the real world. At the start of his question, my hon. Friend was almost disparaging about the fact that works of art from private collections are on loan. I think that that is a good thing, but we will keep a wary eye open, make sure that we offer incentives and build on the progress that has been made.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

Does the Minister accept that if the National Gallery and other great museums and galleries were allowed to go down the road to deaccession that would deter many private lenders and donors? Does she also accept that there is unanimity among the directors about the wisdom of the report by Sir Nicholas Goodison?

Estelle Morris

On the latter point, the directors were represented on the committee and made a good contribution to it, so I accept the strength of their backing for the report. There have been two comments in Question Time about the tricky issue of deaccessioning. It is a live issue and I have heard debates among museum directors in which both sides of the argument were expressed. The Government have not engaged with that debate, and have no plans to change the current regulations. On a personal level, however, if it is a live issue among museum directors, I am pleased that it has been brought into the open—it is a debate in which people interested in museums and galleries and others will want to take part. However, I want to make it clear that that debate was not initiated by the Government, and we have no plans to change the legislation in that respect.

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