§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Lord Blake rose to call attention to the problems of the preservation of this country's historic buildings and treasures; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I appreciate that it is not ideal to stage this debate on the winter solstice, so close to Christmas when most of us look forward to relaxation from politics. However, I do not think that this is a political subject. I am all the more grateful that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak in the debate. I am especially glad that my noble friend Lord Daventry is to make his maiden speech on this occasion. We all look forward to his contribution. I am also grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, and my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on behalf of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and English Heritage respectively, are to speak.
§ This is far from being the first time in recent months that the general question of preserving Britain's historic buildings and treasures has been raised in your Lordships' House. The last occasion was in July this year. But the matter receives a new urgency and causes greater anxiety with the decision of the dean and chapter of Hereford to auction the Mappa Mundi at Sotheby's, a decision which one hopes may be changed but which has not been changed so far. It is impossible not to discuss the sale of the Mappa Mundi in a debate on this general theme. I make no apology for doing so at the outset, though 1 shall touch upon other matters later.
§ We are discussing the preservation of historic buildings and historic treasures. Obviously Hereford Cathedral is a historic building and the Mappa Mundi is a historic treasure. The dilemma, as the dean and chapter see it, presumably, is that they cannot preserve the former without selling the latter; or at any rate they say that they cannot. I am somewhat sceptical. A sale of this kind, if one discounts the opprobrium involved, may be the easiest way of raising money to preserve the cathedral fabric. It is not necessarily the only way. No other cathedral has done this or is contemplating it. Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral are not proposing to sell their copies of Magna Carta, nor Winchester its famous bible.
§ Money can be raised by other means, though no doubt the task of appealing to the public, to institutions and to trusts, with all the labour, the talking and the correspondence involved, is hard work, tedious, laborious, often frustrating and always rather worrying. One appreciates that. I am afraid, however, that the dean and chapter are taking what I can only describe as the lazy way out. The episode highlights a point which, I must admit, 1365 through ignorance, I had not previously appreciated. Corporate bodies such as cathedral chapters are completely autonomous. They are exactly like private owners as concerns the disposal of their possessions, at any rate the disposal of possessions which do not directly assist the purpose for which the corporate body exists. I believe it is the case, although I may be corrected on this point, that the Charity Commissioners have some say in the disposal of objects which are directly relevant to the purposes of a cathedral. But clearly the Mappa Mundi is not in that category.
§ The position with regard to parish churches is very different. The vicar or rector or church wardens cannot dispose of the church's possessions without permission from a diocesan consistory court with, I believe, an ultimate appeal to the Court of Arches. And this permission is not infrequently withheld. In fact, it is often withheld. The vicar and wardens have to show that the sale is really necessary as the only means of saving the church from falling down. There is no such external authority in the case of cathedral chapters. They are sole judges in their own right.
§ I understand that the English General Synod intends to reform this anomaly. I can only describe it as an anomaly. The Care of Cathedrals Measure received its First Reading in October. If it becomes law, a Cathedrals Fabric Commission will be set up, and its approval will be needed not only for alterations in the fabric of the cathedral but also for the disposal of certain categories of moveables. But this Measure has not yet become law. It may not become law, though it probably will. I am afraid that I cannot avoid the suspicion that the Hereford chapter is in a sense jumping the gun in this transaction.
It is in any case most regrettable that the Mappa Mundi should go to auction. I am chairman of the Royal Commission on Historic Manuscripts. As I wrote recently in The Times—and I hope I can be forgiven for quoting myself:
We would as the independent advisory body in this field have been only too glad to offer the Dean and Chapter our help at an earlier stage".
§ We were never consulted at all. I expressed the hope in the same letter that it was not too late for the chapter to think again and at least reconsider—I imagine that it did consider this at some stage—the merits of a private treaty sale to a British public collection.
§ The Mappa Mundi case has caused me to reflect on the whole position of corporate bodies with charitable status which possess objects of great value which are not an essential adjunct to the purposes for which they exist. Chapters are by no means the only bodies in that category. There are certain universities, colleges and schools which also possess very valuable objects. All universities, colleges and, at any rate, independent schools, have charitable status.
§ Charitable status confers great tax advantages on the institutions which have it. For example, they pay no income tax, no capital transfer tax—because they never die—and they pay no capital gains tax. Some Oxford and Cambridge colleges have in their possession books and other objects of enormous value. The vast majority would never even 1366 contemplate a sale. Moreover, a good many of those colleges are quite wealthy anyway and would have no need to do so; but not all of them are wealthy. It is worth remembering that there is absolutely no barrier to their making a sale of any of those objects if they so wish. They are, in that respect, exactly like private owners, but with this difference: they are in a sense—and I deliberately use this word—subsidised by the taxpayer.
§ Is there then a case for the view that these institutions owe it in a sense to the public not to dispose of objects which were for the most part, and in nearly all cases, given to them—they did not buy them, they were given to them—on the understanding that although they are undoubtedly the legal owners, they were and are morally custodians for posterity? The objects were given to those institutions as places for safekeeping and security under the impression that they would be there for all posterity.
§ I am not suggesting for a moment that charitable status for religious and educational bodies is not a very proper and correct feature of our fiscal system. But I do suggest that a corresponding duty is owed in respect of possessions; that is, not only pictures and statues but also manuscripts, archives, papers and much else. If churches cannot sell—and cathedrals soon will not be able to sell without the consent of some outside body if the Measure I referred to goes through—is there not an argument that some similar constraints should apply to other corporate charitable institutions?
§ Is there perhaps a case for "listing"—I use the word in inverted commas—certain very special objects in corporate possession, in the same way as we list historic houses? I think to list those which are in private possession may be an insuperable task. However, to list a limited number in institutional charitable corporate possession might be feasible, so that at least they could not be sold or put up to auction without reference to some outside body. Then we might have avoided the lamentable—I use the word as an understatement, if anything—dispersal of the Spencer Collection in the John Rylands Library and the less known, but equally unfortunate, disposal of the George Brown Ethnographical Collection in Newcastle. For those two episodes the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle have received a well-deserved obloquy.
§ I wonder whether there is a case for reintroducing—it does have to be reintroduced—what was called the "indefinite stop" on exports of certain national treasures and making it literally contrary to the law to export, say, the Domesday Book or the Magna Carta. Indeed, one could think of other examples. There would no doubt be plenty of difficulties in doing so and plenty of objections could be raised. But some countries actually do just that with their treasures or a limited category of them. Therefore it is not an inconceivable or ridiculous thing to do; it is something which might at least be thought about.
§ We tend in Britain to be a little bit parochial about such matters. There is a wide range of practice and law among other countries in regard to the export or alienation of their works of art. At one extreme, in the United States and Switzerland, there is a complete 1367 free for all; in other words, no holds barred. But they are, or have been, countries with very strong economies and very strong currencies. Other countries, at the opposite end, give their governments a complete veto on export, and Egypt is one example.
§ I think that by and large the British system—which, like so many of our best features is a kind of compromise—works pretty well; or, at any rate, it did until the recent astronomical rise in art prices. Some of those rises have been so vast that no government, however open-handed with public funds or taxpayers' money, could give their museums the purchasing power to match the prices paid at auction and thus save the relevant object from export. That is the only way of doing it as our present system prevails.
§ It may be that the inducement to private owners to sell by private treaty to a public institution or to offer pictures, manuscripts, archives or other objects in lieu of death duties should be increased. A few years ago the National Heritage Memorial Fund in its report thought that what is called the douceur should be raised and suggested that it should be increased from 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. The recent tax changes introduced in the last Budget may put a different complexion on the matter. I shall be interested to know the views of my noble friend Lord Caithness when he comes to reply for the Government on that point.
§ The Government, and indeed all governments, get a lot of stick from the artistic and heritage world. It is inevitable. It was so under previous Labour governments and previous Conservative governments, and it is so under the present Conservative Administration. I shall not engage in barren comparisons between political parties when they were in power. I do not think that that would get us anywhere because the world changes. I shall merely say that in some respects the present Government have a good record over these matters. In 1980 they set up the National Heritage Memorial Fund under an Act of Parliament. I think that it would generally be agreed in your Lordships' House that that fund has a splendid record in preserving historical houses and keeping historical treasures in this country.
§ The Government have been responsive to emergency demands. The fund had quite a bit of money to start with, but its regular income is only £3 million a year. However, it has contrived, with much skill, to spend £105 million over the last eight years. Much of that sum was provided from contingency reserves. I should prefer to leave the detail of that matter to the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, when he speaks later.
§ In 1983, the Government set up the Historic Buildings and Monuments Committee (English Heritage) to look after some 400 government-owned properties. It spent £52 million in 1984–85 and £72 million in the past year. My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu can speak with more authority on that matter.
§ There is however one point in respect of historic houses which I should like to raise with my noble 1368 friend the Minister and of which I have given him notice. What has happened to Heveningham Hall, the former seat of the Vanneck family in Suffolk. I believe—1 may be corrected—that the Department of the Environment acquired it at some stage. A few years ago it was open to the public because I went over it. It is a magnificent place. I understand that it has been sold since then. The new owner does not make the slightest effort to keep it up in any way.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord is being unfair to the new owner, who has already spent several million pounds restoring the James Wyatt masterpiece. He has received little thanks from the neighbourhood, which is ethnically opposed to him because he is an Arab. He is lavishing enormous care on the building. The house has been vandalised several times. A Wyatt fireplace has been stolen from the dining room. A large amount of Coad-ware has been removed. A fire was started in the library, which had just been renewed. The owner will be starting repairs again in the spring. We should all be grateful to him for preserving a great national monument which fell into disrepair under the guidance of the Department of the Environment.
§ Lord Blake
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's intervention on that point. I am glad to hear what he says, but when I motored past the place the other day it did not look like that. The building looked derelict, depressed and gloomy to a degree, but if that is merely temporary and a great deal of rehabilitation is going on, I should be only too pleased. I do not wish to cast aspersions on someone whom the noble Lord says is such a benefactor to our architectural heritage.
It is regrettable that the place has got into the state that it has, whether or not it is the present owner's fault. While it was in the possession of the Department of the Environment it was in a much better condition that it is now.
§ Lord Blake
My Lords, I think that I must continue. I shall be interested to hear the comments on this matter of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. He may have something to say about it, but if he has not I am sure that other noble Lords will.
Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister whether, when Heveningham Hall was sold, any conditions were attached to the sale, and, if so, what is being done to enforce them? If no conditions were attached, why not?
There is a matter of more general interest than Heveningham. I believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is anxious that English Heritage should sell some of the houses that it owns. If that is the case, I hope that it will not merely be a matter of obtaining the highest price, but that the character, antecedents and bona fides of the purchaser will be carefully examined. I can see that the sale may be desirable in some cases, but the sale should be hedged about with suitable and enforceable conditions or not made at all.
1369 There is one other point about historic buildings, in particular houses, to which I should like to refer. In The Times of 3rd December there was an interesting article by Mr. Marcus Binney the president of Save Britain's Heritage. He was worried about the fittings of historic houses. He wrote:Fittings which are an integral part of the house ought to be protected by listed building controls".He mentioned a number of instances where that had not happened. Time is too short to repeat them but he instanced the big rococo overmantles auctioned by Sotheby's as part of the contents of Tyninghame. That was one example and there were several others. Fixtures are constitutionally in the hands of local authorities. If Mr. Binney is right in his article, the effectiveness of enforcement varies greatly from one local authority to another. He wondered whether clearer and possibly firmer guidelines should be issued to local authorities by the Department of the Environment.
The British heritage, both in public institutions and private hands, is a magnificent one, probably the greatest in the world. There are great problems in preserving that part of the heritage in private hands unless we abandon entirely the free trade principle. I shall not pursue that possibility because I do not believe that this Government or any government would do so, nor do I think that they should. However, there is the question of that large part of our heritage which is in museums and galleries.
The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the condition in which some of the objects in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum are kept. I should perhaps confess that until recently I was a trustee of the British Museum. In my view, so far as the British Museum is concerned, that criticism is grossly exaggerated. In so far as it has any foundation, I have to point out that those institutions are badly under-funded. The British Museum has been obliged to leave no fewer than 150 places on its staff vacant. That situation is bound to have a knock-on effect and to delay the work of care and conservation.
It may be, and has been, argued that museums should divert some or all of the money that they spend on the acquisition of new objects to the conservation of existing ones. No doubt in theory that could be done, but it would make the museums dead collections, and would in the long run deprive them of much of their raison d'être. It has also been suggested that the museums should be empowered to sell some of their possessions. That is a power that the trustees do not seek. It is one which would be throughly unwelcome. To sell some of one's acquisitions to further the conservation of the rest is like another Mappa Mundi. It is hardly the best way to preserve our national treasures. To get rid of objects, other than duplicates of course which we have the power to sell anyway, would necessitate ignoring the fact that museums are, in a sense, archives.
Museums, as was said in a speech recently, serve the purpose of education, entertainment and scholarship. We should not forget the last word: the element of scholarship is too often forgotten. Scholarship may often involve the study of a great 1370 many dull-looking objects which do not entertain and do not very obviously educate and which might at first sight seem easy enough to dispose of without any great loss to the public interest. I believe that this would be a profound mistake and I hope that the Government will not pursue that line.
There is however one action which I believe museums and galleries could take. I shall make myself quite unpopular among my former colleagues at the British Museum if I say this, but no longer being a trustee I think I can safely do so. I believe that museums and galleries could quite legitimately charge for entry. Exceptions can be rr.ade for school children, students and perhaps even for old-age pensioners. I am sure that would appeal to your Lordships. However, the principle of charging is widespread over the world. We take it for granted that if we go to the Uffizi or the Louvre we pay for it and we do not jib at that. Of course that is not universal but it is very widespread. I myself cannot see any objection to it, if investigation shows that it would be cost-effective and produce more money than it costs.
I am not suggesting that museums and galleries should be obliged to charge. I should leave them as they are under the present law, free to do so or not according to their own judgment. I merely express the hope that they adopt this obvious way of helping themselves, at least to some degree.
I have spoken long enough. In conclusion I hope that I have given due credit to the Government for what they have done. I recognise the great difficulties which the Government face and the efforts which they have made to overcome them. I believe that with only a small degree of extra funding a great many of the problems which vex the museums and galleries would, if not actually go away, at least become less acute. Then the task of preserving our national treasures would become that much easier. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, we all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, whose absence from the list of heads of houses in the past four terms leaves such a substantial gap in the university of Oxford, for raising this apposite and timely debate. He has confined himself to man-made beauty and I shall largely follow him in that, although few will deny that God-made beauty today faces a new wave of menace.
The threat is perhaps epitomised in the Lake District, where the percentage of appeals against planning decisions granted by the Secretary of State has been higher than in any other national park. It has recently risen to a peak of 55 per cent. The National Parks Authority is sufficiently concerned to be considering actively promoting a special Lake District protection private Bill. Most of the appeals allowed are in favour of what one may call creeping ubanisation. But bigger cases are tourist associated: developments such as time-share and large-scale leisure facilities. But this does not make the problem any better. Indeed, it becomes a classic example of the strong tendency of modern mass tourism to damage the scenery or the works of art or the ambience which created tourism in the first place. From Venice to 1371 Windermere, the results of tourism are engulfing its raison d'être. There is a great deal more still to come. Japanese tourists in Europe are likely to multiply tenfold between now and the end of the century. The other successful economies of the Pacific rim countries have hardly started yet.
I recommend to your Lordships a brilliant but sombre lecture delivered a few months ago by my noble friend Lord Norwich on this subject. I wish he was here today. How we are going to strike a balance between the rights of access and a generous internationalism on the one hand and some sense of aesthetic providence for the future on the other will be one of the most perplexing problems to be found as we move towards the turn of the 20th into the 21st century. No one wants to see Britain's and Europe's artistic heritage turned into a gigantic Caves of Lascaux. Yet I am perfectly sure that if it is all left to the free market to decide, more damage will be done in the last peaceful half of the 20th century than in all the wars of history put together.
I turn to our national treasures and their more immediate framework which is the subject of the motion of the noble Lord, Lord Blake. I wish to stress the importance of treasures not merely being preserved but remaining where they belong, by reason either of origin or of long association. This is true of the Mappa Mundi. Hereford is a much better place for it than the British Library would be. It is pre-eminently true of great collections which belong to universities and which should be anchored to their intellectual life. Apart from anything else, if gifts are turned into anonymous and fast disappearing cash, they are much less likely to be made in the future.
However, there is a deeper reason than that. Judged by the four converging criteria of the quality of its collection, the beauty of its surroundings, the strength of its tradition, and the intensity of its use, the Bodleian is probably the greatest library in the world. But its position at the core of the university of Oxford is essential to that pre-eminence. My heart temporarily sank one day in October when I was in New York and read a letter in the New York Times which started by saying that if Oxford was in need of money it should start by selling the contents of the Bodleian. But I underestimated the sophistication of the writer of the correspondence in the New York Times. It is the British disease, underestimating the sophistication of the Americans. The letter was a spoof, as became clear when it went on to advocate every possible monstrosity, from building a hotel in Tom Quad to selling degrees and consequently turning the redundant Examination Schools into a theme park. It was a strong attack on salvation through selling off.
The other great feature of our British inheritance is the country houses with their contents and collections. France has at least as many châteaux, but wars and revolutions and the dividing effect of the Napoleonic Code have dispersed their contents. So it is the house with its contents that is the unique British characteristic. I was interested to read the other day that, at the National Trust annual general meeting 54 years ago, the Marquess of Lothian, who died as ambassador to Washington in 1940, summed up the 1372 fears of the time by saying that unless positive action was taken:the big houses … would be stripped of their contents, the roofs will be taken off to escape rates, the gardens will run down to weeds, and the parks will become the prey of the speculative builder".Perhaps at this stage I may be permitted to say that while I have exceptional opportunities to be made familiar with the National Trust records, I must claim in the interests of sex equality that nothing I say today should be taken by the Department of the Environment or anyone else as having the imprint of higher National Trust authority. My views may be:a poor thing but mine own".The interesting thing is that most of Philip Lothian's fears of 1934 have receded. Thanks to a great deal of effort and a changing (and in this respect improving) economic climate, the fabric, the gardens, and even the parks of most big houses are reasonably safe. However, that does not apply to the contents in situ and they are crucial. One has only to look at the splendour of Kedleston, where the furniture was made for the house at exactly the same time as the house was built—the owners have had a hard struggle to keep the contents together—to realise the importance of the contents.
It is often said that the living presence of the family adds to the atmosphere and interest of a house. That, in general, I endorse. But the presence of the contents is even more vital than that of the relations. Family photographs on a fine sofa table are not much good if the table has gone. It is a feature of the paradox of modern economic developments that they have made it easier to preserve the fabric, but they have also greatly increased the temptation to sell the contents.
Where the house is sold to one of Mr. Ridley's new millionaires, which he now seems to regard as the solution to almost everything, the temptation becomes almost unbearable. I think in that context of Littlecote and Heveningham. Heveningham, in spite of what my noble friend Lord Wyatt said, has had a history over the past 15 years or so of almost unmitigated disaster. However, I do not know what the situation is at present there. I have a particular interest in Heveningham because on Christmas Day 19 years ago I woke up in a benign mood after a short postprandial speech and decided, as the Chancellor, even in the austere financial circumstances of that time, to authorise that the house should be bought for the nation. A few years later, however, it was sold and I regret to say that its history of unmitigated disaster then set in.
There are somewhat different problems currently associated with houses of great note and with great collections such as Mereworth, Daylesford, and Avebury, which has problems at the moment. I simply do not believe that the major problem of the dispersal of contents can be contained, let alone solved, by Mr. Ridley's chosen solution of the anciens pauvres selling as quickly as they can to the nouveaux riches. Nor do I believe that his somewhat sharp jibes against great national institutions like the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and indeed the National Trust, help in this direction. I believe that our need for these great national institutions becomes greater not less. I endorse nearly everything that the noble Lord, Lord Blake, said about the specific measures in 1373 regard to contents and exports thereof, although I have never been attracted by a ban on exports as such.
I think it would be a pity if the United States were a cultural desert as regards pre-1800 art. One cannot look at the collections of art in this country which are not indigenous to the Britannic Isles without thinking that a degree of cross-frontier movement is a good and reasonable thing. But, as in all matters, a sense of proportion is crucially important. 1 read the other day that in an exhibition assembled in America of 17th century portraits, of 83 major portraits 57 had been in British collections and had been dispersed from them in the period following the Second World War. That, it seems to me, is a matter of some concern.
It is a question not of an absolute ban, but of a government acting in such a way that by fostering the ability to keep things here we do not need to use undesirable and restrictive bans on exports. But there is a great deal still to be done here, and there is a great deal of responsibility which rests on the great national institutions which need fostering and not slight mockery by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chichester
My Lords, I am grateful, as we all are, to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for introducing this subject to us this afternoon. I am particularly grateful for this debate as chairman of the group which prepared the Cathedrals Measure, to which the noble Lord referred and which is now before the General Synod. Therefore, I am grateful to have the opportunity of speaking to your Lordships about that Measure and about some other legislation which will follow it.
But first I just observe that most cathedrals are not at present wholly without external control. The statutes of most cathedrals provide that objects of importance may not be alienated without the consent of the visitor who, in most cases, is the bishop of the diocese. I am not in a position to say how far that applies to Hereford, but that is certainly the case in my own cathedral, and I know that it is also the case in a number of others.
I wish to make one general observation which is not conlined to ecclesiastical buildings. Historic churches are places of living worship and mission, just as historic houses are for the most part places in which people live and work. There is therefore in relation to them always a balance to be maintained, that is a balance between conservation and development. These places are not comparable to the great Egyptian Temples or the palace at Knossos. They are buildings in use which have developed and grown over the centuries, and which subject to proper control should be allowed still to grow and develop. That would apply to many of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, as much as to historic houses and cathedrals. I shall return to that point later on.
The Cathedrals Measure has already received general approval from the Synod and it is now being considered for revision. When that stage is completed, it will have to go to the Synod for final 1374 approval before it comes to the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, and then to your Lordships' House and to the other place.
The Measure provides a more extensive and, if I may use the word, professional external control over deans and chapters in respect of works which would materially affect the architectural, archaeological, artistic or historic character of the cathedral. It would also control the sale or other disposal of any object of architectural, archaeological, artiste or historic interest, the property of which is vested in the dean and chapter (which would, of course, cover the Mappa Mundi) and the permanent addition of any object which would similarly affect the character of the cathedral.
There are to be two permanent bodies to exercise that control. One is a central body to be called the Cathedrals Fabric Commission containing a chairman, vice chairman and 20 members the majority of whom will be appointed after consultation with such bodies as the RIBA and the Royal Fine Arts Commission. It will have a wide advisory function similar to that of the present Cathedrals Advisory Commission. Its specific approval will be required for works which would permanently alter the fabric of the cathedral, for the demolition of any part of it or the disturbance of archaeological remains below it.
The Cathedrals Fabric Commission will work in close association with the other permanent body, which is a local fabric advisory committee. There will be one for each cathedral. The committees will each consist of seven members, three appointed directly by the commission, three appointed by the dean and chapter after consultation with the commission, and one appointed by the commission on the nomination of the local planning authority.
On most ordinary matters falling under the description which I quoted earlier the approval of the local fabric advisory committee will be sufficient. However, certain matters are, as I have indicated, reserved to the central commission. It is also provided that one-third of the members of a fabric advisory committee may require any particular matter to be referred to the commission.
There is a right of appeal by the dean and chapter against any refusal of permission by the commission. Such an appeal is to be heard by a commission of review consisting of the Dean of the Arches or a legal substitute appointed by him; a person appointed by the archbishops who is or has been a dean, provost or residentiary canon; and a person appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is therefore a balance in that appeal body.
That is a summary of the proposals as they stand at the moment. I hope very much that I may be able to introduce them into your Lordships' House later in this Session as a Measure to be approved. I also hope that I have made it clear that the Church is honouring the undertakings it has given in this matter.
We are also involved in two other pieces of legislation which will come before your Lordships in due course. One is a revision of the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure and certain related measures 1375 along the lines proposed by the Commission on the Care of Churches and Cathedrals, over which I have the honour to preside. That proposal was referred to with approval by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in his statement on behalf of the Secretary of State about the continuance of the ecclesiatical exemption.
The other Measure, which will be short but tricky, will provide a procedure for enforcement of both the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure and the Cathedrals Measure. I say "tricky" because appropriate and effective penalties are not altogether easy to find in that area. We have the warning of the way in which the sending to prison of four clergymen in the last century rendered null and void the operation of the Public Worship Regulation Act. We have to avoid any comparable situation.
Having I hope reassured your Lordships that the Church is taking those matters very seriously so far as concerns its buildings and their contents, I should like to turn for a few moments to the point of balance of interests which I made at the beginning. I do so because I have become aware, particularly over the past two or three years, of a growing resentment (I think that that is not too strong a word) about the activities of certain of the conservation bodies. I have no desire to make any general criticism of those bodies. While English Heritage is enormously valued for its advice and assistance there appears to be a growing tendency to treat listed buildings as fossils which can in no circumstances be touched.
Enough instances of that approach have been brought to my attention for me to write to two friends of mine who are QCs versed and particularly active in the planning law. I asked them whether that was also their impression. Both replied that it was. The kind of words that they used in replying to me were "pedantic", "impracticable", and "inflexible". As I say, I intend no general criticism but I think that that matter should be taken very seriously if the right balance between conservation and use is to be maintained.
Incidentally, while mentioning central bodies I should like to pay tribute to the enormous help that we have had from the officers of the Department of the Environment in preparing and working out the various measures.
The matter of balance is, I think, fundamental to their operation. Some understanding between those who are especially concerned about conservation and those who have the responsibility of running great churches or living in and maintaining historic houses is vital. Such confidence and trust will depend on the acknowledgment that there must be a reasonable balance of interests. It is because I know that a number of people feel that that balance is being upset in the conservation direction that I make that particular point. I fear that if the balance is not maintained it will in the end lead to a reaction which would cause damage to those buildings such as I am sure all of us would greatly regret.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, all of your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, not only 1376 for giving us the opportunity of discussing this fascinating and important matter but also for the masterly way in which he introduced the debate.
Of course I find myself in agreement with everything that he said. The only gloss that I would put upon it, and I hope that it is not irrelevant, is that if I were unfortunately confronted with the stark choice of retaining the Mappa Mundi or of allowing the cathedral to fall into disrepair, I would dispose of the Mappa Mundi and make sure that the cathedral was maintained. But I agree with him that that choice does not present itself in most cases.
I cannot speak with any knowledge of Hereford Cathedral, but from limited involvement with a fairly recent appeal for Ely Cathedral I am quite satisfied that while it is very hard work raising £2 million or £3 million it is well within the capabilities of people of goodwill connected with any great building of that kind.
I am also most grateful to the noble Lord—whom I hope I may call my noble friend—Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I am in complete agreement with all that he said, which is perhaps not entirely surprising. I should like to emphasise three points in particular. The first is the value of country houses, and that I suggest should include the lesser country houses, not just those of great national importance. Those are houses which are lived in by families who often have lived there for many generations and who regard the house as their home. They are able to maintain and indeed embellish it with suitable pieces of furniture, pictures and other items. They are also—and this is an important point—able to maintain the grounds.
I also agree about maintaining a liberal attitude toward the export of works of art. It must be remembered that had Italy, France and other countries taken up in the 18th century what one can only call a chauvinistic attitude toward their works of art, this country would today be the poorer. Without being unduly patronising, I feel that it is surely some part of our duty to other countries outside Europe which have been bereft of some of the great works of art that we admire so much not to deny them the opportunity of acquiring them again. I believe that we should pursue a liberal policy in this matter and retain only those works of art which have a very close connection with our history and culture.
The third point on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, concerns what I think he described as the "God-made" historic monuments and works of art. They must not be forgotten when dealing with cathedrals, Bodleians, colleges and stately homes. They are part of our national heritage and must be preserved.
However, I ask noble Lords to come with me along a somewhat different path. Let us walk along the path that leads away from the fine houses and museums, the pictures, sculptures and manuscripts, and into the fields and woodlands of this country. The English countryside is one of our great national treasures, created over the centuries by a combination of good taste, loving care, a sense of permanence and simply the desire to leave in a state rather more lovely than it was when it was acquired whatever possession one may have be it broad acres or a small wood, a pond or a paddock.
1377 That sense of trusteeship of the countryside is a source of great pride and has created something which gives great joy to the people of this nation and the visitors who come to this country. I hope that I shall not be accused of being a philistine if I say that I believe that there are far more people who get pleasure—even if sometimes it is an unknowing and subconscious pleasure—out of their walks, and more frequently their drives, through the English countryside than there are who get pleasure from visiting museums and cathedrals, although there are those who get pleasure from both. However, the numbers of people who appreciate and, without necessarily understanding it, enjoy the countryside are far greater than the sum of all those who go to our great museums and cathedrals.
But the countryside is now in jeopardy and has been in danger for many decades. The countryside, which is of such importance to us, is of equal and perhaps more importance to its other inhabitants. I do not mean the human beings who live there but the wildlife which inhabits it. Those of us who travel abroad—and most of your Lordships do—are impressed by the absence of birdsong and visible wildlife as they walk or drive through parts of France, Italy or Germany. When we return to this country we rejoice in the thrushes, linnets and larks which sing to us. We take them for granted. While, I am happy to say, not many of them are technically considered as endangered species, they are under continual threat. As a retired farmer I see that they are under threat from modern farming methods and from urban and suburban expansion. They are under threat from the growth of motorways, airports and everything that accompanies the economic and social life of this country. I believe that we must pay far more aattention than we do now or have done in the past to the conservation of that historic treasure in particular which is the countryside and its inhabitants.
That is not in any way to denigrate the valiant efforts of the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and many other bodies and groups—most of which are voluntary but some of which are government-financed or aided. Nor must we undervalue the interest of the Government themselves in these matters. There are plenty of people who are concerned. Much money is spent on the countryside, but if we are to save for future generations this particular form of historic treasure. we must be prepared to spend even more money than we do now.
As many noble Lords will know, there is an admirable body which is called the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group. I am not sure that I have its name absolutely correct; it is known as FWAG, and I can rarely remember what those letters stand for. It gives advice to farmers and landowners on this matter, and to some extent is supported directly or indirectly by government funds. It is also supported by industry, and by the farmers and landowners themselves. The work of this group needs to be extended far more than it is at present. That means putting in far more money. I hope that I am not being over-optimistic; but I believe that, if a proper and urgent approach were made to some of the big concerns which make considerable profits not only 1378 out of the agricultural industry but also out of the food industry as a whole most—of them are public spirited and we know of many of their beneficent donations to the arts and such—they would increase their present contributions, and some which have not given anything may be prepared to do so. The likelihood of this happening would be far greater if there were a serious government undertaking to match pound for pound the amount that is raised.
However it is done, I urge your Lordships not to confine their views about historic monuments, buildings and treasures simply to bricks and mortar and stone and stained glass, but to realise that there are these other matters that we are too inclined to take for granted. A small minority is today making an effort to conserve them. Yet more effort needs to be expended in order to ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy them as we have done.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Viscount Daventry
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Blake for initiating this debate and for giving me the opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House for the first time. I am conscious in doing so that it is customary to be as noncontroversial as possible, and although the preservation of our historical and architectural heritage has from time to time become a matter of controversy I have endeavoured to concentrate on a noncontroversial aspect of the subject. I would therefore beg your Lordships' indulgence.
An aspect of the country's architecture that is relatively new is the public confession by architects of what would have been sin and heresy some 20 years ago; namely, their faith in the value and importance of historical architecture. This, I think, was manifested in the autumn exhibition of 1987 at the Building Centre in Store Street, entitled Real Architecture, and in the accompanying catalogue which has drawn world-wide attention, both nationally and internationally.
That the public approves this change of heart is evident in the buildings that have been erected recently at Richmond-on-Thames to the designs of Quinlan Terry, which were opened by Her Majesty the Queen in October, as well as in the widespread support His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has found for the occasional criticisms he has offered of proposals affecting buildings of national importance.
An awakening of the national conscience to our architectural heritage has plainly occurred. Your Lordships—so representative of the national heritage in other respects—will be needful to comprehend the phenomenon and find a voice for the national concern which so obviously exists.
I wish to draw the attention of noble Lords to the plight of the historic house in relation to taxation. At first noble Lords may think there is little need to do so. They will cite the great exhibition held in Washington three years ago, the Treasure Houses of Britain, and a flood of publications since then as evidence of sufficient public attention.
Noble Lords will point to the work of the National Trust and other bodies, and to the saving of Belton, 1379 Calke Abbey and Kedleston as evidence of the effectiveness of current legislation. I will be the first to join your Lordships in agreement and gratitude for these initiatives.
However, 1 would respectfully remind noble Lords that considerable problems still exist. Taxation and inflation have over the years taken their toll, and now falling agricultural incomes and the continued imposition of value added tax on repairs and maintenance at a time of soaring costs have combined to put an unreasonable burden on those who are entrusted with the maintenance of these properties. It seems utterly inequitable that someone who extends his property should be exempt from VAT, whereas should he repair his roof or carry out some structural repairs to his house he would not be so exempted.
I cannot but remember the conversation that James Boswell records with Samuel Johnson when they viewed Kedleston in 1777. "One must think," said Boswell, "that the proprietor of all this must be happy". Johnson replied, "Nay, sir, all this excludes but one evil—poverty". How bitterly ironic it is that time, changes in the national economy, and above all repeated taxation, sometimes punitive, have enabled us to deny and indeed completely reverse the doctor's assurance. Poverty is now the one evil that we may infallibly associate with so many of our country houses.
Larger houses, such as Calke Abbey and Kedleston, will awaken the machinery of our Government to effective action to relieve their poverty and its consequences to the building and collection. But I speak to noble Lords particularly of the plight of houses of the middle size, those that do not hold the foreground or attract the highlights of the composition, but form the indispensable threads of the rich tapestry of our national heritage.
Perhaps at this stage I ought to declare an interest as for the past 38 years I have been the tenant for life and therefore responsible for the preservation and restoration of an 18th century grade I middle-size house which is of considerable architectural importance. Individually these medium-size houses cannot hope to marshal the national concern and government action that their more prominent cousins can. However, I submit that since our cousins thankfully enjoy the benefits of effective legislation it is time to look closely to ways to relieve the burden of taxation upon owners of the houses of lesser prominence.
I would remind noble Lords of the words of the late Lord Clark:We belong to our possessions rather than our possessions belong to us. To us they are not wealth but heirlooms over which we have a sacred trust".With these words I concur heartily but would add that the burden of capital taxes inevitably leads to repeated sales of heirlooms from country houses to provide for the survival of the house itself. This cannot be the intention of the taxation legislation but it is the effect: in brief, a progressive impoverishment of the house and of its owner and thereby of the architectural heritage of this nation.
1380 That rich tapestry to which I have referred will become a surface of foreground and highlights, a disembodied ghost without body or soul to support it, unless attention is given as a matter of priority to the country houses of the middle size which form its substance. For the architectural student of the present and the future, for the citizen of this country, such a ghost will be, as ghosts tend to be, totally inexplicable. He and she will seek an understanding of the substance of the tapestry—the ground out of which rose the foreground and highlights of architecture that make this country great among nations. The substance is the country house of the middle size which has not to date attracted sufficient effective measures for the relief from the burden of taxation.
To sum up, while we must all be immensely grateful to English Heritage for the help and assistance it gives to historic buildings, I submit that further urgent steps must be taken to satisfy the national conscience, and in particular to halt the impoverishment of the smaller country house.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, on behalf of the House, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, on his excellent and informative maiden speech. It was not controversial but it put forward points with which we would all agree, many of them original in thought. He spoke of the importance of architecture and of smaller houses. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to hear from the noble Viscount more often, because it is two years since he first had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, I should first like to put to the noble Earl a question of which I have given notice. It relates to but is not the subject of the debate. Over two years ago the Government undertook to make a study of the laws of treasure trove, taking into account the modern means of finding treasures, such as metal detecting, and so forth. They recognised the fact that there is an ever-increasing interest in archaeology. I know that a working party has since been considering the matter and I realise that it is a difficult subject because many interests are concerned. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to tell the House that a report will be published in the near future, because it is of the greatest importance that we preserve our treasures.
The working party was set up as a result of the discovery of that great treasure, the Middleham Jewel. Can the noble Earl tell the House what has happened to the jewel? Is it still in private hands in this country? I hope so, because its loss would be almost a national tragedy.
I should like to concentrate on the preservation of treasures by our national museums. Two important reports have recently been published, one by the National Audit Office and the other by the powerful Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. They have rightly drawn attention to the 1381 ever-deteriorating conditions of many of the treasures which can be found in the museums.
First things first. It is the museums which are in a had and lamentable condition and in danger of deteriorating still further. I stress most strongly that until they are put in proper order one cannot expect them to do what they want to do: that is, to conserve and restore the items which are mouldering underground and even on the shelves and display cabinets. If we do not put the museums in order we are putting the cart before the horse.
I should like to cite the Victoria and Albert Museum as an example. It holds so many and varied of our nation's treasures. The museum has leaking roofs in urgent need of repair. That is a huge task and it is very expensive. The working conditions for the staff are a disgrace and no private institution would tolerate them or expect its staff to work under such conditions. The plumbing is inadequate and the pipes burst. The storage space is a joke. The museum has been forced to consider placing some of its files, and so forth, in the corridors. That can no longer be done because, quite rightly, fire officers have said, "You must unclutter those corridors. Take those things out and install at once a public address warning system for fire".
Where are they to put the equipment'? Everyone will agree that a public warning system is essential. Indeed, it is important to note that there are no smoke detectors in the national museums and certainly not in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Can we dare to risk not having such an installation to protect against fire? It is disastrous not to do so, but where is the money to come from?
Earlier in the year representatives of five national galleries in London made a special visit to the Treasury appealing for help in order to remedy past neglect. The resulting help was small, if anything. I was suprised recently to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, tell the House with satisfaction—though I may be wrong —of the increase in grants for museums over the next four years. She said that they were to be increased from £150 million to £170 million. That is no increase. Taking into account the rate of inflation it is a decrease, and the squeeze appears to be continuing.
What is to be done? Do the Government expect the public to remedy the unglamorous affair? It is unglamorous and it is the fault of all governments since the war—I stress "all governments"—that museums are in their present state. The public should not be asked to bail out the Government in this respect. The public can be asked for help to erect new buildings; to provide better display facilities for our treasures; to sponsor exhibitions; and, dare I suggest it, for help in acquiring new objects. But this is not a case for public appeal. It must be financed by the Government. If in addition the museums impose charges as the noble Lord, Lord Blake, advocated—and I am in total agreement—so be it.
Only after the museums have been put in good order can they begin to meet the demands of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee for better conservation and preservation of the mouldering objects in them. Some people 1382 blame the museums for the state of affairs. They believe that the museums should be able to help themselves by selling objects, for example. I shall not argue in detail why that would be a tragic and mistaken policy; I merely say that at best it can yield only minimal amounts of money. One must think of the effect it would have on the donors who, over the years, have done the most to build up the treasures now in our national museums and galleries.
What is to be done? I personally think—and I hope that this will appeal to your Lordships—that there should be a once-and-for-all gift by the Government to be allocated, say, over five years through the offices of museums and galleries, in combination with the museums themselves, which is not related to the ordinary running expenses or the ordinary grants but is solely to put the museums in a state which they ought to be in and which they cannot get to at the present time. Such a gift would have to cover not only the national museums in London. It would have to cover those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Earlier in the year the Government tried to gain for this country the great Thyssen collections; but they failed. But that showed that they did care about the visual arts. At that time it was rumoured that they would put up a figure of £100 million for the acquisition of the Thyssen collections If instead of that endeavour (which failed) the Government would give the £100 million to restore the museum buildings, and perhaps even more important their interiors, where devoted staffs have to work, I am sure that not only the staffs but the visitors—and remember, my Lords, that there are millions of visitors to these museums—would all rejoice, and it would show that this Government really care for the visual arts. I stress that it must be a once-and-for-all gift to put right the shameful neglect of the past.
France knows the pulling power of the visual arts. Recently they have changed the Gare d'Orsay into the Musee d'Orsay. They have also put up in the courtyard of the Louvre the Pei pyramid. Russia knows only too well the importance of its great palaces and the preservation of its great treasures and churches. Tourists will make a special pilgrimage to see such things, and that is important particularly with the present trouble over our balance of payments. Can we afford not to go down the path of improving the museums and their treasures? Can we afford to leave things as they are, mouldering and ever lower in standard? I beg the Government to consider making a noble and generous gesture at this the beginning of Museums Year in 1989.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, over the past 20 years there have been many debates in your Lordships' House on historic houses, and I believe that I have taken part in most of them—atone time as president of the Historic Houses Association, and today I must declare my interest as chairman of English Heritage. I think that the debate which noble Lords will remember best is that dramatic one in March 1977 when the party opposite was trying to find a solution to saving Mentmore. I am sorry that 1383 the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who shouldered that responsibility is not present this afternoon.
Peers taking part in that debate were generally gloomy about the future, and indeed the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who opened the debate, expressed the opinion that the combination of capital and income tax plus inflation would bring about the demise of houses in private ownership within a matter of a generation or so. Looking down the list of speakers then and today, I feel a certain déjà vu; for one of the most welcome things about the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, today is that it provides us with an opportunity to review progress over the past 10 years since that Mentmore debacle. It was indeed an important catalyst, and I believe that the longer-term consequences have been more beneficial.
The situation today is dramatically different. First, the National Heritage Memorial Fund was created; and that has helped preserve several major houses and their contents. Furthermore, there has been a significant step forward in public awareness of the importance of preserving historic buildings and their contents; and indeed a welcome response from government to make the necessary legislative and fiscal changes to achieve this. In particular, the economic climate which now exists has given the owners of historic houses new confidence in their future ability to preserve them and to go on living in them, for they are without doubt the best unpaid curators of all.
Several developments have enabled more families to retain and restore their homes. I shall mention first the progressive creation of a favourable tax treatment of heritage property. The replacement of death duties by an inheritance tax has given owners the opportunity to plan ahead on the basis of the seven-year rule in order to help secure succession which is so important. There has also been the recent major reduction in the burden of personal taxation of income and capital. Finally there are proven examples of growing opportunities for earning revenue by opening historic buildings to the public, as well as the possibility of public grants in cases of need. The economic recovery is producing, as have earlier periods of prosperity in our history, new families able and willing to assume the burden of maintaining important historic houses. So do not let us knock them. They are following a fine British tradition.
If the future of historic houses now looks more secure, threats to individual buildings are still likely to arise from time to time which will not always be soluble by the private sector or the National Trust on its own. Undoubtedly some houses are too big or expensive for private owners to maintain, or their interiors and contents may be too important and fragile to permit full beneficial use by the owner.
I believe that I can speak this afternoon for the National Trust as well as for English Heritage when I say that neither is acquisitive as regards increasing our portfolio of historic houses. We have our hands full with our existing properties. But there are, and will continue to be, occasions when we and other agencies will judge it imperative to intervene as a last 1384 resort. In the happier circumstances now facing historic houses I am confident that such occasions will be rare, but they will be all the more important when they occur.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, referred to the suggestion recently made by the Secretary of State that English Heritage should see whether there are any properties which they could sell. May I make the position clear? We have a large and varied portfolio of some 400 houses and sites. It is not finite or complete, nor will it ever be. It is right that it should be reviewed from time to time. That we are doing now. It will be done with great care.
Your Lordships must remember the many properties we have taken in guardianship from families where they no longer thought they could keep them up; but only fairly recently we have been able to hand one—Farley Hungerford—back to the original owners. Other opportunities may well occur. But when they do, I assure noble Lords that strict conditions will be exacted to ensure future correct maintenance and continued public access.
The situation of many historic buildings other than great houses has also improved. One thinks of historic railway stations, dock buildings, mills and warehouses. Happily, recent years have seen a growing awareness of re-use possibilities. Many are now being adapted for alternative use which is often the best guarantee of preservation. This trend is reflected in the fact that in 1970 approximately 400 listed buildings were demolished, but by 1987 the figure had fallen to about 140.
At the same time statutory protection has been extended to nearly half a million historic buildings by a major re-survey of such buildings. Many Victorian and vernacular buildings are now protected and we are grateful that the Government have now agreed to start the listing of post-war buildings. Also in the past 20 years over 6,000 conservation areas have been designated, which are the most popular of our planning systems, helping to maintain and enhance the traditional character of a neighbourhood.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester suggested that the listed buildings legislation was pedantic, inflexible and impracticable. I totally deny those charges.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chichester
My Lords, if I may intervene, I did not say that the legislation was any of those things. I said that those were words used by correspondents to me about the people who dealt with applications and about the way in which they were being responded to.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, that is the impression that I had, but I apologise to the right reverend Prelate. However, I must totally deny those charges because I think noble Lords must be aware that thousands of listed building consents are given every week without any delay, and only a tiny proportion raise important issues which have to be discussed. More often than not, discussions with architects can solve the problems and I can certainly point to hundreds of witnesses who will vouch for that and testify that we are very flexible.
1385 We at English Heritage are responsible to Parliament, as guardians on behalf of you all, for protecting the integrity of our historic buildings. We must do our duty without fear or favour. Without listing, which is a system envied the world over, the condition of our towns and villages today would be very much poorer. However, we wait with growing impatience for the Church of England to honour its side of the bargain in regard to ecclesiastic exemption, after years of government grants given without condition.
English Heritage has also made its own distinctive contribution by compiling a register of important historic parks and gardens. While no special protective measures apply to gardens, we believe they are beginning to have a very beneficial effect on planning decisions. Generally speaking, I believe that the protection and conservation of historic buildings have made great strides in recent years. This owes much to the support of all political parties, and particularly to the readiness of successive governments to provide resources and administrative time. That will certainly continue, but the situation is undoubtedly more secure now than it was years ago.
Perhaps I could gaze for a moment in the crystal ball and outline some concerns that I have about the future. Although economic prosperity is helping to secure the future of many historic buildings and areas, the intense pressures of new development pose threats. We at English Heritage are particularly concerned about the threats resulting from new retail development in the centres of our historic towns. In some areas there is pressure to adapt historic buildings in a way which threatens their integrity and historic value.
Prosperity can also lead to over-restoration by zealous owners, which can be as damaging as neglect. These threats point to the need for local authorities to adopt positive planning policies, including local plans which contain clear conservation policies, aligned to sensible provision for economic growth. I welcome the helpful remarks which the Secretary of State for the Environment made in his speech to this year's Conservative Party conference about local planning.
Secondly, I also see a need to concentrate more effort on certain problem categories of historic buildings which the market is not resolving. I will mention two groups in particular. First, some historic buildings reach a stage of decay where collapse or demolition is inevitable without outside intervention. Usually the market, quite naturally, is unwilling to take them on. English Heritage is able to allocate some grants to assist with the acquisition of such buildings, and a change of ownership will often unlock new investment. We are indeed encouraging local planning authorities to make surveys to identify their historic buildings which are most at risk and to assist them to make such houses safe and waterproof in order to gain time for long-term solutions to be found.
I am happy to announce this afternoon that my commissioners this morning agreed that we should extend our Section 10 grant scheme to assist those buildings most at risk in all conservation areas 1386 throughout England. This will run from April next year and we shall be announcing full details in February.
Also, historic buildings will remain vulnerable if there is no obvious beneficial use for them, such as old farm buildings; the first examples of certain 19th century manufacturing plant which ought to be preserved intact; redundant churches and chapels whose interiors are too important to be sub-divided for re-use; and some garden monuments. Although English Heritage and charitable trusts can help in grant-aiding repairs to such buildings, I foresee a growing problem about securing the long-term running costs. I fear there is a limit to how many can be turned into museums, concert halls or community centres.
The Motion today refers to treasures, and obviously the Mappa Mundi has been mentioned. However, this is an example of a wider problem which seems likely to loom larger in future. This refers to the best way of ensuring that the historically associated contents are retained in situ. The National Heritage Memorial Fund helped over Kedleston and Calke Abbey, but on the other hand it looks as if the state rooms at Thoresby will lose their fittings and contents, and Brodsworth's future is in the balance. Other threats seem bound to occur from time to time.
Since the war, as your Lordships know well, tourism has been the life-saving blood transfusion for many historic buildings. However, 1 must warn owners that such buildings are no longer the prime day-out attraction for the British public that they were some years ago. They now face increasing competition from purpose-designed leisure attractions, be they theme parks or sports centres. Owners must learn to present and market their properties better because they have to compete with an increasing number of large commercial companies attracted into the leisure business with large commercial advertising budgets. The going is going to get tougher. The tourist cake, magnificently large thanks to the efforts of the BTA and the tourist boards, is not growing fast enough to allow everybody who wants a slice of it a big enough piece.
Therefore in the future I can foresee a more insidious development: the gradual erosion of the contents—and not only the contents—of historic buildings which is made necessary as the owners feel pressure upon them to begin to sell essential architectural features such as statuary and garden ornaments. I agree with the noble Lord., Lord Blake, that perhaps the time is ripe to list such features. Without a doubt, there is a case for saying that such things as these could be listed and should not be moved without careful consideration. However, one has also to recognise that in certain circumstances the totality of certain buildings will be preserved only by some degree of government support, again perhaps as a last resort.
The problem is that there will not be enough money to meet every eventuality, and I must say today that we at English Heritage will have to select with increasing care which buildings we help. Owners can no longer assume that grants, even for outstanding buildings, are automatic. The owners' 1387 ability to pay will come under increasing scrutiny, because we know that there are many other historic buildings in England, in city centres and in the countryside, and also small country houses, which in the past appear not to have received the same attention and grants as the great houses. Surely these deserve help too, as they make up the totality of our national collection of buildings of architectural importance.
The question of the continuing maintenance of the fabric is not only a question of money. What I think will become increasingly scarce and expensive in the future will be the necessary skilled craftsmen to carry out specialised work. I should like to suggest that English Heritage, the National Trust and the Historic Houses Association should pay special attention to what we have done to assist in training more skilled stone masons and so on. The achievements of the conservers of Britain's historic buildings since the war are envied throughout the world, and have come about by a partnership between the state and the private owner.
Many important battles have been won but I see some clouds on the horizon, and further sacrifices will have to be made to ensure that the house and the contents are handed down to future generations. I strongly support the Secretary of State's strong opinion that enabling private owners to stay in their houses is the best solution of all. But above all we must watch the continuity of our succession. We must involve our children in the thinking and planning, for without their interest and dedication there will be no future.
I have mentioned a number of tasks and problems which remain to be tackled. This implies no criticism of the progress that has been made in recent years. It has been tremendous. But expectations and needs change, and it is only realistic to recognise that further challenges face owners, voluntary bodies and public agencies. However, with their co-operation and with the continued support and backing of the Government, I have no doubt that these challenges will be successfully met.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Cottesloe
My Lord, we must be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Blake for raising this subject, for the violent inflation of the current era, in which important works of art can fetch not merely millions of pounds but tens of millions of pounds in the saleroom, has revolutionised the whole picture of the maintenance of our national treasures. I should like to say also with what great pleasure I listened to the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, in his maiden speech. I hope that he may build on it and that we shall hear him often in the future.
Historic buildings of one kind and another are dealt with by Lord Montagu's historic buildings fund and English Heritage, and no one who has heard him will doubt that they deal with them admirably. The only question is one of sufficient funding for their adequate maintenance. I shall confine myself to works of art and to historic objects, the control over which I have had some experience with in the past.
1388 After the war a committee as set up under the chairmanship of that remarkable man, Viscount Waverley, to recommend a system for the control of our historic works of art and objects of national importance. It recommended the establishment of a small committee known as the reviewing committee to which applications for the export of such objects—works of exceptional aesthetic or historic importance—should be referred for advice to the Government.
That committee was enjoined not to follow the practice of some Continental nations—the French and the Italians, for example, who exercise a confiscatory practice by which such objects are prohibited from export without compensation—but it recommended that export of works adjudged to be of national importance should be prohibited only if an offer for purchase at a fair price was available for their retention in this country. In the years after the end of the last great war that committee was set up by the Government with Lord Robbins as chairman. After a few years I was appointed its chairman, and was chairman for 18 years.
During that time, a period of modest inflation, the system worked well and there was no instance of its breakdown and only one instance of evasion—the export on a fraudulent application of the only known portrait in his prime of Dr. William Harvey, who initiated research into the circulation of the blood. Although his name and age were clearly painted on the canvas the export application described it as a portrait of an unknown man by an unknown artist. It was bought by a Californian doctor who, as he had had his consultant training in this country at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith, ought perhaps to have known better. After his death the portrait was bought back by the National Portrait Gallery, where it now is. That is by the way. The point for the present purpose is that the current astronomical inflation in the values of such historic works of art of national importance has virtually made this system of export control unworkable.
While I was concerned with the control many years ago I was advised that the Government, under the then existing legislation, had power to prohibit the export of any work adjudged to be of national importance without compensation and without even assigning a reason. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench could advise us whether such a power still exists. If it does, then I think there is a strong case now, in view of the current astronomical inflation in works of art, for its being brought into use in suitable cases.
There is one other thing that I hope the Government will consider; that is, the incidence of VAT. As VAT is now applied to the sale of such things in the home market but is not applied to export sales, the foreign purchaser has a substantial advantage in the salerooms against the purchaser for this country. This anomaly should be done away with. It is long overdue that it should be done away with. Perhaps my noble friend will tell the House that this will be carefully considered.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Charteris of Amisfield
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, on his maiden speech. It was excellent. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for having instituted this interesting debate. I have to take issue with him on one thing; that is, his figures about the funding of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. He has maligned the Government. They do not give us £2 million a year; they give us £3 million. This does not make it any less remarkable that we have managed to spend £102 million—the noble Lord was right there—in eight and a half years.
It is not, I may say, a matter of creative accountancy but it is the result of the unpredictable good sense and generosity of Her Majesty's Government, who every now and then have injected into our funds very agreeable sums of money; for instance, £25 million about four years ago (with which they asked us to look after the three great houses of Kedleston, Nostell Priory and Weston Park) and last year £20 million to last us for three years.
I rather enjoy this sort of hand-to-mouth business but others may find it a little difficult. At some stage the Government will have to grasp the nettle of our funding, but all is all right for the moment. If any noble Lords would like to see examples of how this £100 million of taxpayers' money has been spent, I recommend that they go to the British Museum, where they will find an exhibition entitled Treasures for the Nation. There your Lordships will see an example of what the fund has been able to do thanks to the trust and money that Her Majesty's Government have placed in it since it came into being in 1980.
The Government have done something else besides giving us what I think is adequate supply, and for this I give them the greatest praise. They have accepted that we do not just have so much money and that we have to spend it all, but we are entitled—indeed expected—to keep some of it as an endowment.
When we were founded in 1980, we were given £12.4 million. Nobody said whether that was capital, whether we were to spend it, what we should do with it. After we had been established for about three years we decided that we should have a fund that was not to be spent. It is now agreed by government that we have this fund. The sum of £12 million has been "upped" by inflation so that we now have a fund of £19 million. That is not touched unless there is an absolute guarantee that the money will be replaced. We are a memorial fund. We spend our money in memory of, and as an expression of gratitude to, those who were killed in two world wars. I believe that in doing what they have done, the Government have to some degree redeemed the past. Noble Lords will remember that the National Land Fund started with £50 million in 1946. In 1954 it was supposed to have £60 million and £50 million was clawed back—that is a hell of a way, I say, to treat a memorial fund. However, that is past history.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and other noble Lords have spoken about the great marvel of English country houses and their contents. 1390 I believe that the English country house together with its contents is probably the greatest contribution made by this country to civilisation. We have helped very many houses. With the money given by the Government we have been able in eight years to secure the future of Canons Ashby, Calke Abbey, Kedleston Hall, Weston Park, Nostell Priory, Fyrie Castle, Thirlestone Castle, the Hill House, Helensburgh, Castle Coole in Northern Ireland and lastly, a week ago, Paxton in Berwickshire which is an extraordinary house. When it was built it was entirely kitted out by Chippendale and even now the servants' bedrooms contain the pot-cupboards made by Chippendale. To safeguard it is a great thing to have done.
Looking back over the past eight and a half years during which I have had the honour to be chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, we have let hardly anything go because we have not had enough money. That is not a bad thing to be able to say. We have been well supplied by the Government. My concluding words are: keep it up.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, it is a convention in debates such as this to begin by expressing gratitude to the mover. However, on this occasion, it is a great deal more than a formality. Your Lordships are much indebted to my noble friend Lord Blake for a speech of great erudition, weight and knowledge. My noble friend is to be congratulated for another reason. He has initiated a debate which, despite the handicap of its taking place on the eve of the Christmas Recess, has produced a long list of speakers and an excellent attendance. This is a debate well worth undertaking: it was given a most brilliant start by my noble friend.
My first involvement in the problem of public support for the arts came some 36 years ago when I was Financial Secretary to the Treasury. One morning an agitated official came to tell me that the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery had loaned property—a number of pictures—to government offices and had suddenly discovered they had no legal right so to do. The problem was complicated by the fact that 20 pictures were at No. 10 Downing Street, then occupied, as your Lordships will recall, by no less a person than the late Sir Winston Churchill. The official indicated to me that it was my duty to go round to No. 10 and inform Sir Winston that I was going to remove 20 pictures from the walls. Your Lordships will not be surprised that my response was that if anyone was going to do that, it had better be the official himself. That brought matters down to a commonsense basis. And, largely in order to relieve the consciences of the board of trustees, which had been dormant for a great number of years, we decided to legislate.
I persuaded my colleagues on the Legislation Committee that it would be an inoffensive, routine, quiet little Bill which it so proved in another place. However, in your Lordships' House all hell was let loose. My noble friend Lord Selkirk, who was responsible for taking it through the House, reminded me only yesterday of the appalling time he had when some of your Lordships suggested that if 1391 the pictures were loaned to government offices and embassies, then drunken attaches would throw arrows at them and they would be in great peril, even apparently at No. 10. However, your Lordships finally decided to pass the Bill. That was a vivid indication to me of the problems faced by government in relation to the arts.
Later, as Chief Secretary I was also Minister for the Arts. That was a rather convenient arrangement particularly as regards the arts. It meant that those putting a proposition had only to convince one—man—me—whereas under the present system they have to convince the Minister for the Arts who then has to convince the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. That is a longer and perhaps more difficult exercise. However, that was a preliminary education for me of the very real problems which arise. The debate this afternoon has vividly illustrated that.
The problem is that there is no figure capable of agreement for government provision in any particular year. Every element in the arts world naturally and understandably wants more and regards the government as mean. However, unlike other areas of public expenditure for—example, social security—there is no firm indication as to where one should draw the line. It is ultimately a matter of judgment. It is easy to say, as I believe my noble friend Loi d Blake said, that just a little more will make matters perfectly all right. One knows from experience that that little bit more will not make matters all right and that next year it will be said that a further addition is needed, even if, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Perth, one does not ask for £100 million.
This is a very difficult matter for government, probably one of the most difficult in the area of public expenditure. Having said that I come to the point about which I feel very strongly; that is, the importance of the country house and, in particular, as some noble Lords have already said, of the moderate sized country house. It is important that those houses should be preserved with their contents and with their occupants. A deserted house which is just a museum somehow loses character and heart and becomes bleak. One needs green "wellies" in the hall as well as old masters in the dining room. It must be a family home which is lived in. In that regard I believe that the Government have something to answer for. One of the major problems in the preservation of moderate sized country houses, perhaps more so than in the case of the great houses, is that inheritance tax is imposed on them on the death of the current owner.
I know that there are a certain number of limited concessions as regards particular articles and that they are subject to particular conditions, but it remains broadly true that inheritance tax is imposed on the death of the owner. Many cases have involved appeals, the Government and various organisations presided over by noble Lords. The cause of the trouble has been the imposition of a heavy inheritance tax. The result has been that the heir and successor in the house has been unable to keep it up, or he has required help to keep it up, or he may have had to dispose of it.
1392 I say to my noble friend that, given the very satisfactory present condition of the national finances and that we have a budget surplus overall, why is consideration not being given (perhaps it is) to exempting from the inheritance tax someone's principal home and residence, including the contents? Such provision would prevent a great many of the difficult cases that arise. Even in the cases of houses of less merit than those that we have been discussing, it would be very much in accordance with the Government's general philosophy of encouraging a nation of home owners.
There is a very good precedent for this. One's principal home and residence is not subject to capital gains tax; it is deliberately exempted. Surely that is a very good pointer as regards dealing with this problem by way of exempting someone's principal home and contents altogether from the inheritance tax. This would relieve a great many of the difficult cases with which all of your Lordships have been concerned from time to time. The financial approach that I have been making is highly relevant. In this context I always recall the words of the late and much-loved Ian Macleod, who once remarked that whereas money was, according to Holy Writ, the root of all evil, it was also the root of everything else. It is perfectly true that if one can give tax relief in this direction one would be resolving a great many of the problems in the country house context. I very much hope that my noble friend and his right honourable friends will consider this.
In the course of his admirable speech I thought that my noble friend Lord Blake was a little hard on the dean and chapter of Hereford Cathedral. I believe that he did not fully appreciate the position and the dilemma that they were in. Above all, they are responsible for maintaining the cathedral as a place for the worship of God, for conducting Christian services and for keeping the cathedral in order. That is their first duty. To them, the possession of such treasures as the Mappa Mundi and very real treasures of great interest surely must be secondary to the maintenance of the cathedral and its services.
If they are placed (as they plainly believe they have been) in a position of real financial difficulty in maintaining the cathedral—those of us who have seen the situations of other cathedrals know how much expensive work is required to be done on them—I believe that we will sympathise with them in taking their quite brave decision. They must have known that they would be subject to criticism for wanting to sell the treasure in order to maintain the cathedral, which is their first duty. If they can be relieved or helped in some other way I am sure that everyone will rejoice. I believe that my noble friend was a little unfair in criticising the dean and chapter, who are placed in a really difficult situation.
The only other matter to which I shall refer is one that has not been mentioned before. That is the role of private generosity in this area. I believe that we should all pay tribute to the Sainsbury family for the remarkable contribution that it has made towards the National Gallery, the Clore Foundation, and the great contributions which the family has made to the extension of the Tate. I believe that we should also pay tribute to Mr. J. Paul Getty, junior, for his 1393 massive contribution to the National Gallery. We should all welcome these contributions. We should encourage the very rich men in this country to do as they do in the United States; namely, put their private support to various aspects of the arts. That is not in any way to seek to evade the responsibilities of government, but it will certainly help and encourage them if private citizens of large means apply some of those means to the support of the arts.
As regards another matter that was mentioned, I see no reason why the museums and galleries of this country should not charge for admission, as is done pretty generally throughout other countries. They can and should make exemptions for children and disabled persons. I am sure that your Lordships would be sympathetic to the idea that they should do so for persons in receipt of a retirement pension. In general, there is really no reason why the great experience of visiting these museums and seeing the treasures should not be paid for by those who have that experience in exactly the same way as they are more than willing to pay for their other pleasures. In particular. I hope that when the British Museum and the National Gallery come forward with demands for further financial support they will at least have in mind that they can quite substantially increase their own revenues and ease their financial problems if they impose a reasonable charge of admission to the galleries.
Reverting once again to country houses, the Government can help by way of taxation and so also can those who inherit them. One knows of people who have felt unable to face the task of running a house and facing the financial difficulties. My own experience covers the time when the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, was involved. I should like to pay a sincere tribute to him for the way in which, after his father's death and faced with every kind of problem, he overcame these and was able to continue (and is still able to do so) occupying and maintaining his lovely home at Chatsworth. The fact that Chatsworth continues in this way is in my own direct knowledge due to the courage and the initiative of the noble Duke. I believe that his example is one that it would be very useful for other people to have in mind in similar situations or perhaps as regards smaller houses.
This debate has shown that your Lordships' House has a deep interest in these matters. It has shown a remarkable degree of agreement across the House. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take back the clear impression that if the Government feel able to improve in the various ways suggested the support that they give to the arts, they will have perhaps the completely unanimous support of your Lordships' House.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, must be added to by the fact that it has enabled the House to hear a number of your Lordships who have had, or who still have, particular responsibilities regarding the conservation of historic buildings and treasures, both ecclesiastical and secular. I believe that I am the first speaker who can claim no such expertise. Therefore I do not propose 1394 to follow previous speakers who have rightly concerned themselves largely with the ways in which our efforts in this field might be made even better, and the ways in which Government assistance, even though generous, might in some respects be added to. I would rather ask a different question. Why does it matter at all? What has the preservation of historic buildings and treasures done to deserve the attention of one branch of the legislature? Perhaps I may approach it in this way. Noble Lords who have at any stage studied history will be aware of series of textbooks in the titles of which the word "age" appears; The Age of Reform, The Age of Revolution. I wrote a rather good one, The Age of Absolutism, which delighted or burdened sixth forms for many years. When considering this debate I asked myself what a suitable title would be for the age in which we live, supposing that this fashion were to continue among the next generation. I came to the conclusion that the most likely candidate was the Age of Philistinism.
We live in a curiously philistine age even though, as the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, reminded us, there is, at least in the architectural world, some evidence of stirrings against the idolisation of the brutal. Let us consider what happened in the House a week ago during the debate on broadcasting. We discussed a wholly philistine White Paper in terms which by and large were themselves wholly philistine. I do not recollect that a single noble Lord suggested that the only justification for the vast amount of money and ingenuity that has gone into the development of, first, radio and then television was that by these means the heritage of culture that we enjoy could be made more accessible to wider numbers of people than those who had the privilege of living in or visiting country houses or hearing good music or seeing great works of art.
It has happened to some extent. I am sure that radio has in part—perhaps in large part—been responsible for the great revival in musical interest in this country that has been so notable in recent decades. I am less convinced that television, despite some performances in that direction, has done anything like enough. The thought of endless choice between endless rubbish does not fill me with any great enthusiasm. Roughly, my view would be that on the whole, the discovery of radio broadcasting was an enormous benefit to mankind; the discovery of television was on the whole a disaster.
Let us now consider this debate in the light of what I call the Age of Philistinism. We have to confront the fact that there is a general tendency to decry the paramount importance of the great achievements of our culture and perhaps in particular of our national heritage. Over and over again, as we plodded through the Education Reform Bill last summer, one had the feeling that people had ruled out of their minds the view that the business of schools, and in particular of institutions of higher education, is in part—and in large part—to encourage reverence for and understanding of the great creative efforts of the human spirit. Though it is important that people should earn their living, and important that the country should be wealthy enough to support not only the monuments of the past but the creative 1395 efforts of the present, the creation of wealth is a means to a nobler end and not, as so often seemed to appear in those debates, an end in itself.
I should like to deal with one aspect which is closely related to what we are discussing today. I refer to the denigration in parts of the educational system of history, and in particular British history, as a necessary core subject in our schools. What has come out of the GCSE, which was once heralded as a possible rebirth for secondary education but now seems to be very far from that? What has come out of the GCSE in relation to history? Among certain people in the inspectorate, in the Department of Education and Science and in the teaching profession—what I call and have called before the education establishment—what was once thought to be important, what Secretaries of State such as the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, and Mr. Kenneth Baker have said to be of paramount importance, is in practice in danger of being ignored. Therefore one has to ask what we can do to make clear the evils that come from believing that history began yesterday, that the present or the future are the only things that matter, and that we can cope with the present and the future in ignorance of the past. This is where the preservation of buildings and treasures and the making of them more accessible and more understood by the younger generation is a matter worthy of the legislature's attention.
It is not at all clear that the repugnance to history, the view that what happened in 1066 or 1275 is old hat, is felt naturally by the young. If one notices the interest aroused by the Armada exhibition last summer, the extreme attention that is now paid to any new archaeological discovery and the protection of archaeology against the necessary and inevitable ravages of development, a matter on which we have not so far touched today, one can see that there is a great deal of public interest among the young and in the general population.
We are now in the process of re-discovering centuries of the history of this island. The whole period of Roman Britain and the Anglo-Saxon settlements is being rediscovered before our very eyes. The only volume in the Oxford History of England which has had to be wholly replaced by a new one since the first edition in the 1930s is the first volume in the series. This suggests that it is perfectly possible for educational purposes to make use of this unparalleled degree of preservation of the treasures of this country.
Perhaps I may return to the subject of broadcasting for a moment. I believe that too little has been made of the very considerable advantages which television has, for instance, in the demonstration of the point about archeology. It is much easier when something is explained on the screen—as the late Lord Clark did in relation to the architectural and artistic past of Europe—to gather what the importance of a discovery is, as compared with looking at something in a glass case in a museum.
I also believe—this was also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and other noble Lords—that it is important to have a realisation of 1396 how these collections, whether private or public, came about. It is of course extremely difficult to define what is our national heritage. I always try to do my homework before your Lordships' debates, provided it does not mean reading Civil Service prose, and I went the other day to view the Wallace Collection. I wandered through the enormous array of treasures—accompanied only, I may say, by a gaggle of French school children. If one were to eliminate everything which is not of origin in these islands, it would look pretty bare.
Then, also in pursuit of knowledge, I went to see the current exhibition from the Royal treasures in the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. While there, incidentally, an American lady informed me that the Queen was so rich that she ought not to charge for admission to the gallery. I mention that point to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. She also thought that what was in the gallery represented the entire Royal collection, so perhaps she was not a very well-informed lady.
But there again there are one or two pictures derived from artists native to this country; but great artists have also lived in this country. We are the country in which Van Dyck, Lely, Handel and Canaletto worked; but we are not the country of which they were born natives. Therefore it is essential to make it understood that, through these collections, through their history and from what we have of them, we can understand the links which bound and which bind us to our European neighbours.
The fact is equally true with acquisitions which are being made today. Being without logistics, I cannot visit country houses but I can go to cathedrals. Recently I had the pleasure of looking at the cathedral referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. That cathedral has, apart from its architectural glories, three remarkable works of art, two medieval sculptures, a tapestry designed by a great British artist, John Piper, and a window by Chagall. For myself, I cannot regard Chagall as a typical Englishman. But, on the other hand, would one want Chichester Cathedral to be without that superb example of the revived art of stained glass?
Therefore, in a way, Chagall is part of our heritage, just as the work of the stonemasons from France who built the place across the road—I do not mean the House of Commons, I mean Westminster Abbey—is also part of our heritage. In other words, there is a way in the cultivation of understanding of buildings and treasures of confronting those who would denigrate the role of history in education. There is therefore something of great seriousness in that field, quite apart from the financial and administrative problems which have been so well expressed to us by noble Lords.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, I must add my thanks to those already expressed by other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for introducing this fascinating subject in such a compelling way. His speech was all the more compelling for the moderate way in which he spoke. I agreed with everything that he said, including his request for a little more. I remember being told by my grandfather when I was
1397 about 12 years old (60 years ago) that when I grew up, whatever my income was, the ideal income was £100 a year more—a prediction which has, of course, been overtaken by inflation.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, spoke mainly about treasures. As I spent nine years as chairman of the National Trust, I shall confine myself to historic houses and their contents. I am prompted to do so by the wide publicity recently given to a speech made by the Secretary of State for the Environment to the Historic Houses Association. The impression left by the press was that he was primarily concerned that the state should not be expected in any way to assist those whom he called the "anciens pauvres to stay in houses inherited from their ancestors which they would otherwise be forced to sell to the nouveaux riches. Judging by the media reports, he appeared to consider the National Trust merely an instrument for preventing so natural, healthy and historically inevitable a process.
I took pains to read the speech in full and I have to say that on this occasion at least the Secretary of State attributed no such role to the National Trust. Passionate as I have always been about the preservation of historic houses, and suspicious of Mr. Ridley's robust beliefs that they must take their chances unaided in the modern world, I could not find much in the theme of that particular speech with which to disagree. It is what he left out of that speech that I found unsatisfactory. However, I shall come back to that subject in a moment.
Apart from a few gibes to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, referred—which only illuminated our Secretary of State's particular prejudices—what he said is undeniably true. There is a new prosperity, millionaires do abound, taxation has been drastically reduced and it is right in such circumstances to ask whether, and how far, the state is still needed to help preserve our country houses and the treasures they contain.
It is also right to stress, as the Secretary of State did, that historic houses are the better for being lived in and for being looked after by private owners when they have the necessary resources. Indeed, not only Mr. Ridley, but also the National Trust has long said so. That is why, in the early days of the trust's country house scheme (introduced in 1937)—under which noble Lords will remember that a donor could endow a house to produce tax free income for its maintenance and continue to live in it with, I must say, a rather limited degree of access—it could be said, and was sometimes said, that the generosity of owners coincided with a degree of self interest.
However, if houses were not to become museums that situation was, in those early days, probably inevitable. It is important to recognise that that conception is now totally out of date. It has not been true for many years and to be fair to Mr. Ridley—although he does not always acknowledge this—he acknowledged that it was not the role of the National Trust on that occasion. He said:The Trust does not seek to acquire more houses. It is there as a longstop. It is no longer a system of outdoor relief for the aristocracy".1398 Well, if ever it was, the trust and the nation received a great deal in exchange for that relief. But, in any case the situation no longer applies.
The problem for donors now is that the public access required, both to help finance the high cost of maintenance and to satisfy the huge demand for country house visiting, together with the public facilities which are needed and the necessary organisation to administer them, is so great that donors can no longer live in such houses with the degree of control they once exercised, even though the building might have been owned by the National Trust. Some find that uncongenial and leave; but we cannot have it both ways. If we want more public access than donors can live with, we shall not be able to see those houses looking as though they were privately inhabited.
When one visits the state rooms of the greatest houses, it is as well to remember that those rooms have seldom been lived in at any time in their history, being kept for use on grand occasions. The appearance of being lived in is much less important in the greatest houses, where the state rooms are often all that the public sees, than in the smaller ones where signs of family occupation are so crucial to one's enjoyment of them.
I return to the Secretary of State's principal argument. There is now a market for great houses. They change hands for millions of pounds, and where they are not bought for private occupation, their use as hotels is usually acceptable. In such circumstances, it is right that the National Trust and English Heritage—neither of which is usually in a position to take on those houses without state funds in one form or another—should only be regarded as longstops.
It is what Mr. Ridley left unsaid that is of critical importance. He said nothing to indicate the criteria he would apply in judging when such longstops should be used, and when government help might be expected. He expatiated only on situations in which the market should operate and no longstop would be necessary. I suppose that he was so keen to get across his message about what the state was not prepared to do that he failed to deal with the more positive side of the matter. He drew no distinction between historic houses which have lost their contents or their setting and those which, having retained them, must be seen as whole. The longstops are needed when such a house is of first-rate quality and is at risk of being broken up. If it is sold on the open market, the likelihood of break-up amounts to near certainty.
There have been recent examples, such as Littlecote in Wiltshire where the owner found an entrepreneur who appeared to be willing to buy the house and contents and open them to the public. Shortly afterwards, the entrepreneur sent the contents to auction. Only the Cromwellian armoury was saved for the nation by the Tower Armouries with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
I do not know the facts about Heveningham. We have heard the opposite views of the noble Lords, Lord Blake and Lord Wyatt. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, has put down his name to speak at the end of the debate. He will no doubt tell us more 1399 about Heveningham because he clearly feels passionate about it. It is important to establish the facts. I had heard that it was burnt in 1984 and that repairs have not yet been started. There may be some explanation for that and some hope for the future. So far it has not been a happy story.
As for Brodsworth, Dr. Mark Girouard, the principal historian of the Victorian country house, regards it as the least altered and most evocative of its period of any house known to him. Nothing has changed, within or without, since it was built, decorated and landscaped in the 1860s. It is an educational resource of exceptional interest and importance. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said that its future was now in the balance. I hope that the Secretary of State will encourage, rather than discourage, him to take it on. We could not have expected Mr. Ridley to respond to that situation in the speech to which I referred, which I feel was incomplete and which prompted me to speak, but it should have been possible for him to say that his mind was not closed and to tell us something about his criteria for the occasions when the Government are ready to help. What is certain is that owners of historic houses with historic contents, if they have to sell the house on the market, will not give or loan them to the buyer as they frequently have to the National Trust and, as in the case of Audley End and perhaps other cases, to English Heritage, to the infinite benefit of the public.
Let us imagine—to take an example of a great house in private hands—what would happen if Burghley, that superb Elizabethan house near Stamford, had to be placed on the market because, which Heaven forbid, family finances could no longer cope with it. Would the Secretary of State wish the owners to test the market and risk the break-up of Burghley? Would he think such a risk acceptable in the national interest? Has he persuaded his colleagues that they were mistaken in their readiness to help Calke, Kedleston and Weston Park, which they did in a timely way a short while ago? Has he persuaded them that there are now so many enterprising nouveaux riches that such houses can safely be left to them? They might keep house, contents and park together, but history does not support that theory. Much more usually, contents are sold, land broken up, the house divided, its decorative entity destroyed, and what it once presented is gone forever.
In view of Mr. Ridley's insistence on what the state is not prepared to do, it would be helpful, and it would have been helpful on the occasion to which I have referred, if he could assure us that in such cases he would not set his face against government help. If he set his face against government help, that would amount to an assault on a precious part of Britain's inheritance. It would set at nought the powerful evocation of men, ideas and history which comes from the gradual accumulation of works of art and family objects within a great house, not to speak of the evolution of its surrounding estate.
It is as though the treasures of the Cecils meant nothing at Burghley, and the family Van Dycks at Wilton would do just as well in Washington or Tokyo. A government who adopted such a view—it 1400 has not hitherto been a view of this Government—might just as well say that it would not matter if Jane Austen, Dickens, Trollope, or Hardy were to be eradicated from public knowledge. The Castle Howards, the Wiltons, the Houghtons, the Drumlanrigs, the Boughtons—all still in private hands—are equally part of our real heritage and equally distinctive of the British culture.
There are between 50 and 60 first-class houses, full of first-class contents, and about another 30 which are not in that class but which it would be sad to lose. The likelihood that many of those will become what one might call a public problem in the foreseeable future is small under present circumstances. It would probably not happen all at the same time.
The large majority of fine old houses, great and small—as opposed to the few of which I have spoken, and I consider 80 to be fairly few—must take their chance on the market. We must rely on the rules for listed building consent to protect them. In respect of middle-sized houses, I echo strongly and support what the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, said in an admirable speech. I hope that the suggestion about inheritance tax made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will be looked at carefully. It is the only answer for middle-sized houses.
I find myself unable to agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on the subject of listed buildings. My experience of the system, which is not negligible, is that it does not work very well, not because it is too inflexible but because English Heritage does the listing centrally and it is operated by the local authorities which do not always interpret English Heritage's guidelines with great sensitivity. That is sometimes due to a lack of trained staff, or some local or political pressure. It is a curious system. In my judgment it does not need loosening. I understand the point that flexibility is needed, but the answer would not be merely to loosen the system. It probably needs looking at again. We should have a tighter system, perhaps for not so many buildings, that works well. That is another subject and I cannot go into it here. I have therefore dealt with the majority of houses.
The point I have sought to make is one which I hope the Government will continue to accept. I should not have been worried if it had not been for the Secretary of State's apparent change of emphasis, to say the least. The point I have sought to make concerns the owners of those few historic houses which, with their contents, are either of first class quality or are such rare and complete survivals of their periods as to be able to teach us valuable lessons about our social history. When those owners can no longer go on, the state must ensure, if it can, that it is not the market which determines what happens next.
The state has created the National Heritage Memorial Fund, brilliantly led by my noble friend Lord Charteris of Amisfield. It has done so in order to ensure that our inheritance is not lost. It is one of the great bipartisan successes of our time. I hope that the Secretary of State will not abandon what we had all supposed was the Government's objective in this field.
§ 5.40 p.m.
The Viscount of Oxfuird
My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Lord for calling this most measured and concise debate on the subject. In addition, we have been treated to an excellent maiden speech by my noble friend Lord Daventry. As Christmas approaches, I shall try to throw a little light on the subject of Heveningham Hall. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, will take the opportunity of joining me for a drink after the debate with the previous owner.
I bring no professionalism to the debate—just the experience and attachment one gets from staying several times in a truly beautiful house. Heveningham Hall, near Halesworth in Suffolk, has been described as one of the great palladian buildings of Britain. As such, it is not just important in a British sense, but also in a European sense.
Heveningham was James Wyatt's answer to Robert Adam's great remodelling of Syon and Osterley, built for Sir Gerrard Vanneck, a member of a banking family. It was completed in 1784. Twice during its history, Heveningham Hall has been rescued for posterity, originally by Andrew Vanneck when he purchased the house from his brother in 1928; and secondly by the Government in 1969 when the descendants of the Vanneck family had to face the potential capital gains tax applied to discretionary trusts, determined by the 1965 Finance Act.
It was at this time that the Government bought Heveningham Hall for the nation. I quote from the Official Report of another place of 17th April 1970, at col. 301. The right honourable gentleman, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, stated in a Written Reply:I am glad to be able to inform the House that I have reached agreement with theTrustees of the Heveningham Hall Settlement on the terms for the acquisition of Heveningham Hall, 477 acres of land and an agreed list of contents of the house. Subject to Parliamentary approval in due course, acquisition will be under Section 5 of the Historic Buildings Act, 1953. The contents to be acquired included all the furniture designed by James Wyatt for the house. This furniture, the house itself, which was designed by Sir Robert Taylor and completed by Wyatt, and the grounds laid out by Capability Brown, arc an outstandingly complete unity of design from the late 18th century.The National Trust have agreed to look after the property for the time being as my agents and I shall be discussing with them and the East Suffolk County Council permanent arrangements for the care of the property. I am sure that the house and grounds will provide a valuable amenity asset for the residents of the county as well as for an increasing number of visitors from this country and overseas".From 1969 until 1980, the house was under the management of the National Trust for the Government. Although remotely situated, attendance figures were entirely satisfactory and by dint of good management this beautiful building and its Capability Brown gardens and parkland were visited by many from all over the world.
I understand that it was in 1981 that the Government sold Heveningham Hall to a private buyer. Since that time a series of tragic misfortunes has hit the house. Its gardens and parkland apparently now lie neglected and the east wing was gutted by fire in 1984. Since that time, the protection given to the gutted part of the building has been by plastic sheet, boarding and a false roof. For over four years this part of the house has remained untouched.
1402 Here I should like to quote from a letter I received from the National Trust giving a comment by Mr. Waterson, the regional director for Suffolk:Since the house was privatised by the present Government, there have been a chapter of disasters. One wing has been burnt out, there have been major problems with dry rot and the public has not been admitted. The nominal owner has refused to comply with his statutory obligations until a footpath is diverted from near the house. There have been two enquiries concerning the footpath and on both occasions the inspectors have refused to confirm the footpath diversion. The matter was called in by the Secretary of State and we now understand that he has upheld the inspectors' decision".Since that statement, there has been a meeting between the chief planning officer of the Suffolk Coastal District Council and representatives of English Heritage and the owner. At the meeting, on 4th November this year, guarantees were requested of the owner or his representative as to the date when the repairs would start. So far no dates have been given.
A considerable amount of money has been spent on Heveningham Hall. A figure of £2 million is suggested. Although there are experts who believe that the owner has changed the character of this beautiful 18th century building, he must be frustrated by the vandalism which has resulted in the theft of a James Wyatt fireplace, damage to furniture—such that some of it had to be taken back by the Department of the Environment—and the destruction of a beautiful Waterford chandelier, to say nothing of the damage caused by the fire. However, an insurance claim has doubtless been submitted and, one hopes, paid. Yet nearly four and a half years have elapsed and nothing has been done about the restoration of this jewel in our national heritage.
Here we have a unique Grade I listed building, or what is left of it, owned not apparently by the nominal owner but by an anonymous Swiss company with bearer shares. It has no identifiable and subsequently no visibly responsible shareholders. Thus the people of Suffolk and the world are left to watch over the undignified desecration of the conscientious care of many generations of British conservationists and the National Trust. How can anyone believe that these highly sensitive bastions of our heritage can be left to the unqualified element of the private sector? It must be now time that the Government either invoke Part VI of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, or deregulate the house in its entirety.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, I wish to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for initiating this debate. It has, of course, covered a very well tilled field, but it is a field capable of yielding many crops, and one to which we should return regularly. There have been notable interventions. I shall single out two of them because they touched on public expenditure, for which for some years I had some slight responsibility.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, made a speech about the state of British museums. I well remember a delegation coming from the Victoria and Albert Museum. They explained the jerry building which characterised its erection in the 19th century. The delegation described the way in which the sewers 1403 were coming up to the cellars and how the roof was in such a state that it was about to fall in. I am happy to say that it has survived, but no doubt the problems persist.
In those days, of course, the ultimate decision certainly did not lie with the Treasury, although all bad things are attributed to that great department of state. The priorities in that particular field were set, and rightly set, by the Office of Arts and Libraries. As I seem to remember from the competing pressures on me, there was greater pressure to do something for the performing arts than for other areas. While the noble Earl would no doubt have preferred me to have made available funds for the preservation of museums, I seem to remember that we wrote off the debts of a number of operatic companies. That is all past history, but for the present I want to put something on record as regards the Principality of Wales. I must declare an interest here as I sit on the Council Court of the Museum of Wales. The present Secretary of State—I am sure he would be the first to concede some of the credit to his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, whom I am delighted to see in the Chamber tonight has —made available £21 million for the repair, reconstruction and extension of the main museum buildings in Cathays Park. Without wishing to stir up regional rivalries in this debate, I wish to emphasise that at least the Principality has something to be grateful for.
I now turn to the very distinguished contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Charteris. Personally I have never felt the same distaste for quangos as was evinced by certain former colleagues in another place. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I describe his great institution as a quango. I have seen in certain situations great advantages in having an autonomous, or at least quasi-autonomous, body standing between the Government and these delicate and expert decisions.
I feel that it is much better that a body like the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which has shown such delicacy of touch and experience in this field, should go on taking those decisions, rather than leaving them to the unfortunate Minister of the day who has particular responsibilities in that area.
As regards the funding of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, one would, of course, like to see it totally financially autonomous. The noble Lord and I will recall agreeable discussions about the basis of funding. The noble Lord has been persistent and charming and he has coaxed a great deal more money out of the Exchequer than I would have thought possible when I was Chief Secretary. He has put it to very good use. However, I must say that I think it is unlikely that the noble Lord and his colleagues will ever be endowed with sufficient funds to meet the extraordinary situations that can arise. The noble Lord recalled the case of Calke Abbey, Weston Park, Kedleston and the furniture at Nostell Priory. He, I, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding all had some hand in that.
But all those demands on the public purse combined in a period of 12 months. There are bound to be exceptional situations where, however 1404 reluctantly, the noble Lord will have to go cap in hand to his friends in the Exchequer.
§ Lord Charteris of Amisfield
My Lords, I am always delighted to go to the Exchequer. I have been very successful there.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, the noble Lord has, indeed, been successful there. But, nevertheless, I think that demonstrates a remarkable British solution to a delicate and sensitive problem.
I go back to the main theme of the debate, as opened by the noble Lord, Lord Blake. The noble Lord, Lord Blake, touched on the case of the Mappa Mundi. I must confess, with some embarrassment, that I have lived for many years within 25 miles of Hereford, but that before the present publicity that attended the Mappa Mundi I only once called on the cathedral. I once had a glancing view of the Mappa Mundi hung in penumbral gloom. I am bound to say that it was very difficult to appreciate the unique quality of that particular piece of cartography.
When, to refresh my mind before this debate, I went quite recently to the cathedral I found that there was only a 19th century facsimile which was much better lit than the Mappa Mundi. I also inquired about the Chained Library which, I suspect, is of equivalent importance, if not greater importance than the Mappa Mundi. I must tell noble Lords who may be disposed to follow my steps that in the winter months the library is only open between 11 and 11.30 in the morning and between 3 and 3.30 in the afternoon. Therefore, I am afraid I can add nothing to the sum total of the knowledge of the House on the present state of the Chained Library.
At any rate, the example of the Mappa Mundi has prompted, at least in me, two reflections. However, those reflections are not of any great originality. The Church of England—I speak as a member of its disestablished and much poorer branch, the Church in Wales—is custodian of a staggeringly large proportion of our national heritage. Therefore, the decisions that the Church takes in this field must be a matter of national and not of parochial concern. I was delighted to hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester that we shall be considering in the course of this Session the Cathedrals Measure. That, perhaps, will enable us to gauge what kind of checks and balances exist in this field.
I believe—I intend no criticism either of the dean and chapter of Hereford, or indeed of any other cathedral—that it would be quite wrong to leave to those who are the trustees for the time being of these magnificent artifacts the ultimate decision as to whether they should be retained in their present site or be sold. I hope that we shall have a chance to debate the principles and the practice in this field when that Measure comes before us. I only express the hope that it will not stop short of cathedrals because in many English churches there are, for example, unique medieval chalices and other artifacts that also deserve the most careful care and scrutiny.
The other thought that comes to my mind is this. If something like the Mappa Mundi is, for extraordinary reasons, to be sold it should at least be 1405 offered in the first instance to another appropriate public body. I point out that I, like perhaps many other noble Lords, hope very much that it may be retained in situ in Hereford where it has resided not quite from its original construction because I believe the original author came from Lincoln, and I cannot say whether it originated in Lincoln or Hereford. For as long as the Church of England is an established church it must regard itself as a public body. Therefore, it cannot be totally insensitive to the feelings of the world outside.
I hope that it will be possible, if such a situation recurs, for artifacts to be offered to public bodies rather than to be cast on to an open market. If this were an economic debate, I should no doubt yield to none in my admiration for the forces of market pressures, but in this kind of situation one has to recognise that the open market is now quite international. It is highly volatile and there are players in that market whose purses are comparably far deeper even than those of Englishmen in our collecting prime in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, as did other noble Lords, dealt with the general question of the disposal of collections of importance. That question was raised by the Museums and Galleries Commission, of which I am privileged to be a member, in its report of 1985–86; it featured too in the export review committee's report of 1987–88. What is a collection of importance poses a fine question of definition and judgment. I am sure that we shall all agree with the noble Lord that the Spencer Collection in the John Rylands Library and the George Brown Collection of ethnographical material in Newcastle University must qualify by any test.
What protective measures can one suggest to prevent their disposal without due safeguards of care and thought? 1 confess immediately that I could not devise a watertight piece of legislation which would meet the situation. 1 hope at least that we can find common ground and agree that some form of clearly established and accepted convention should operate in that field. It could provide that any proposed disposal should be referred to the Office of Arts and Libraries, some quango or similar body; that there should be a temporary stop on the sale so that representations can be made and the whole problem thrashed out; and that it can be considered whether the nation as a whole becomes a beneficiary of the disposal.
The question of historic houses has been touched on by many noble Lords who are far more experienced than I am in that particular field. As the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, pointed out, the larger houses have special problems. But special solutions have been found for them. Whether those solutions will continue to be adequate remains to be seen. Difficulties may be posed by the fact that the National Trust has closed its books—perhaps that is putting it a little summarily and crudely—in this field.
I much admired the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I do not mind whether or not he spoke with the imprimatur of the chairman of the National Trust for he is a considerable figure in the field in his own right. Who 1406 will be an adequate custodian—I know that my noble friend Lord Montagu plays a role in that area—remains to be seen.
As was pointed out in a remarkable and admirable maiden speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, the medium-sized or even smaller houses pose a different problem. The social, economic and fiscal climate of this country has changed immeasurably—I would say, from a partisan position, for the better—over the past 10 years. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose speech was subjected to detailed and well justified analysis and criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, made a point of principle which I think is unexceptionable. He said that all the time, and particularly over the past 10 years, a new generation—or dare I call it a new class—of owner or potential owner is coming forward who can to a degree fill the gap and take on the responsibility for those houses, although not completely.
However, that ignores one fundamental point. Part of the charm and the value of those houses in many cases is that they have been .n continuous occupation by the same family for a: least two or three centuries, in some instances for much longer. It is the stamp and the taste of a particular family that lends them their charm and their value.
No family can be guaranteed continuous occupation. That has never been so in this country. I have no doubt that the ancestors of certain noble Lords rued the consequences of the Wars of the Roses. In Tudor times they no doubt felt that their ancestral castles had fallen into vulgar and unmerited hands. There is a continuous process of change, domestication and civilisation, that has characterised the history of this country. That said, I think that there is a case for trying to ensure, without gigantic expenditure of public money, a measure of continuity in that field.
The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, does a magnificent job and is the custodian of the public purse in some of these areas. However, I doubt whether grants will ever be sufficiently generous whichever government is in power entirely to meet that problem. So I turn to the question of tax relief.
It is only perhaps three months until the Budget, so it is not inappropriate to ventilate a few views which may or may not be picked up by the noble Earl who is to reply and passed on to the Char cellor of the Exchequer. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that both the present and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer have done some remarkable things in that field. However I think that there are a few modest measures of reform which one could commend.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter who at an earlier period and with more distinction held some of the same responsibilities as I have held, suggested that in the field of inheritance tax a measure of exemption could be extended to the smaller house and its contents. A measure of exemption is available at present. However, it would be right to look further and to consider how far that can be extended. I think that the difficulty will be to find a means of extending 1407 that relief to the ordinary bric-a-brac of a house which gives it its particular atmosphere of continued occupation.
If that does not commend itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I suggest that the present threshold for inheritance tax of £150,000 is far too low bearing in mind the ravages of inflation over quite a period. The threshold should be raised and the rates could be lowered still further.
Since I have touched on the question of capital taxation—I do not want to widen the debate too far—I shall add that the existence of those houses does not depend exclusively on income tax. It must depend to a degree on accumulations of capital. I realise that, in a partisan sense, that issue is one of some delicacy. I believe that the Chancellor's measure in the last Budget of assimilating the rates of capital gains tax into income tax was a grave mistake and that he will have to reconsider it. I think that that measure, combined with inheritance tax, will year by year erode the stocks of capital on which the continued existence of the kind of houses we have in mind must depend, although not to the same extent as we have had to endure since the war.
Finally, in relation to repairs the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, in his maiden speech, referred to VAT. I confess that having wrestled ministerially with VAT I would prefer to see it without any exemptions, at a lower rate and with much wider scope. However, that takes the debate into a fiscal matter which I do not want to explore at this stage. I suggest that income tax relief could be granted to the owners of listed houses. There is a precedent after all in that they used to receive relief under Schedule A. I believe also that there is some philosophic justification for that. If one has the privilege, or disadvantage, to own a listed house, one's rights of ownership are considerably circumscribed, even though the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, may look benevolently at one's applications from time to time. Nonetheless, as a fair equivalence I feel that a measure of income tax relief could be conceded in that field.
I conclude by saying that the Government have been responsible for a range of sensitive, even generous, measures. However, changing, circumstances bring into the open a whole range of fresh problems. This debate has, I hope, served to highlight some of them and to suggest some possible solutions. We await with interest the reponse of the noble Earl who is to wind up the debate.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I cannot speak for the National Trust but I ask him to accept that his statement that the National Trust has closed its books in respect of houses is an exaggeration. The true situation is that it does not seek to acquire further houses. It hopes that other solutions can be found but that is one of two longstops, English Heritage being the other. It is always ready to play its part if it is found necessary.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount on the aptness of his remarks on smaller houses in his excellent maiden speech and thank him for his other observations. As other noble Lords have shown, the one major obstacle to assured preservation is the necessary funding. If that is there the problem is eased. One obvious path to increasing the generation of cash is the overseas visitor route.
Indeed, our nation's heritage is a major incentive for foreign tourists to visit Britain. The recent PSI report on the economic importance of the arts mercifully discovered that 50 per cent. of overseas visitors said that the arts were "very important" in their decision to visit our shores. In 1987, 51 per cent. of foreign tourists visited at least one historic house. The fact that three of the top four tourist attractions in 1987 were museums is another indication of the vital role that our heritage plays in tourism. Visitors to our shores, forecast to number 15.9 million this year, help maintain our heritage as well as enjoying and, one hopes, learning from it. Spending by overseas visitors last year was estimated at £6.2 billion of foreign currency, thus providing jobs in many sectors of the economy, particularly the heritage.
Because heritage is thought to be the single most important aspect of Britain appealing to the overseas visitor, the British Tourist Authority sired and runs the British Heritage Committee, in which I hasten to declare an interest, to bring together all the heritage interests with a view to harnessing the overseas visitors and their spend into seeking, visiting and looking at our treasures. Thus the BTA and the heritage committee vigorously promote these in publications, films and speeches overseas.
Indeed, there is an increasing appreciation of our national treasures. The National Trust now has over 1.6 million members. This in itself provides an essential protection and, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, told us, encourages successive governments to consider further measures such as revised tax concessions to ensure the health of the heritage and the growth of its public appeal. Domestic tourist spend in 1986 was £7.1 billion. It is up to each and every one of us to keep the pressure on government to maintain our heritage for the enjoyment of British and foreign tourists, and so benefit the national economy.
We must acknowledge the real and important advances made under this Government in establishing the National Heritage Memorial Fund and promoting a number of tax concessions which assist owners of stately homes and parkland to maintain their properties as family seats. I shall not say more about it now as other speakers have previously touched on this subject. However, enough is enough. The undoubted appeal of our great houses, cathedral cities and innumerable museums and 1409 galleries must continue to be developed and marketed. I pay tribute to the efforts of the English, Welsh and Scottish Tourist Boards for the excellent work they do and especially to the British Tourist Authority's effectiveness in attracting increasing numbers of visitors to our shores. It is a tough international market that we compete in, and our cultural heritage is largely responsible for our continuing success. As the Government's chosen instrument for promoting the United Kingdom overseas, it is the BTA which is responsible for ensuring that the product is fully competitive.
None of us who were on the BTA board at the time will forget the terrifying lesson learnt in the late 1970s by the United States, whose government withdrew from supporting tourism, leading to a huge drop—from 13 per cent. to 10 per cent.—in their share of the world tourist market, and thus a disastrous loss of both visitors and currency.
Given better presentation, many treasures, which are now rarely seen by overseas visitors and which generate little income, could be more widely known and thus safeguarded from the ultimate fate of being sold abroad and lost to the country. A very good example of that is the Mappa Mundi. With good presentation one could assure the noble Lord, Lord Walston, opposite that it would be possible to save both the cathedral and its treasures. Until a few months ago the Mappa Mundi was little known to overseas and domestic tourists alike and not particularly well displayed; and promoted not at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees, mentioned. The enormous amount of publicity generated by its proposed sale gives Hereford a unique opportunity, without much further promotion, for putting the map with its remarkable story on permanent display in surroundings accessible to the overseas visitor, who should be charged an adequate admission fee.
Because of the close connection between the Church, heritage and tourism, the English Tourist Board published in 1979 a report on cathedrals and their effect on tourism. I was delighed to hear such an optimistic progress report from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester earlier in the debate. As a distinguished dean said at the time:We hesitate to make a distinction between pilgrims and tourists. Chaucer's pilgrims were in many ways today's tourists. As a consequence, we are determined as far as possible to help visitors to become aware of the religious dimension of the building of a cathedral—its life and work … We would not wish to separate these from the existence of the church as a great work of art".In Ripon it is stated that complete priority is given to the sense of worship, beauty, order and space. People come because they are hungry for beauty and mystery and dignity. The ETB report recommended that tourists should be charged for admission to cathedrals to help with the upkeep and maintenance of the fabric and indeed that is still the policy of the BTA and the ETB.
In another place historic buildings and ancient monuments were considered by the Environment Committee in 1987 and that report, too, recommended that cathedrals should charge an admission fee. However, it is obviously a matter for each individual cathedral and, on the whole, their respective dioceses were not in favour of admission 1410 charges. There were, however, a number of notable exceptions—Salisbury, Ely and St. George's Chapel, Windsor—which had already introduced admission charges with increasing success and it was thus recommended that other cathedrals should follow suit.
There is little doubt that the most effective way of increasing revenue from visitors to cathedrals is by this admission charge which involves little cost and causes minuscule criticism from the visitors themselves. As tourist attractions, cathedrals compare and should fairly compete with stately homes and should charge admission accordingly. As long ago as 1977 there were nearly 1 million paid admissions to St. George's Chapel, Windsor. and over one-third of a million to Salisbury Cathedral. St. George's Chapel, where admission charges are made at all times other than during services, in fact derives more net revenue from tourism than any of the cathedrals, apart from St. Paul's.
But charges create more than just financial benefits. The atmosphere of buildings has been found to improve at once following the introduction of admission charges and thus the elimination of rowdy and disinterested visitors. As an alternative to charging admission, cathedral authorities might consider introducing the so-called "Ministry of Welcome", which has been successfully introduced at Winchester and a few other cathedrals. A free leaflet highlights the history and treasures on a recommended route, while collecting boxes and signs suggesting a reasonable donation are located at strategic places.
Experience has shown that a single collection box by itself with no guidance and no leaflets produces an average of 1p to 3p per visitor. In 1971 Rochester, which receives a high proportion of coach parties averaged but 1½p per visitor, until the wording on the main collection box was changed. There was a startling increase in donations. The notice responsible for such bountiful giving read as follows:Welcome to this cathedral—a gift of at least 20 pence is needed from every adult visitor to maintain and extend its work. It Costs 20 pence a minute to keep it open for you".Cathedrals are the repositories of some of the most important treasures in Europe, many dating from the greatest era of medieval Christianity. The initiative of the Goldsmith's Company has given us a hall in which glittering examples of diocesan plate are exhibited under superb conditions.
Improved interpretation would enhance visitor numbers. There is an enormous variation. At one extreme there will be no more than a single guidebook while at the other end of the scale cathedrals such as Canterbury and Norwich offer a wide range of guidebooks, tours, exhibitions and numerous descriptive notices, diagrams, models and plans, and even tape-slide programmes.
It is thought that some 23 million visitors per year, excluding those coming to worship, enter cathedrals. But despite cathedrals and greater churches being often the most significant buildings in towns or cities where they are located, many still have non-existent or inadequate road signing.
Thus with improved marketing, promotion, signing and display, the ecclesiastical heritage should 1411 be able to be protected by increased visitor numbers and increased revenue. The English Tourist Board is empowered under the Section 4 scheme to give grants for the display of treasures. Durham was the first diocese to take advantage of such a scheme by being enabled to create the infrastructure for displaying its wonders to the public, together of course with an appropriate admission charge.
By such means as the foregoing can awareness and numbers be increased and the heritage protected and—with reference to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Montagu—there could even be enough finance left over to train craftsmen as well as to preserve that which we love and appreciate.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I apologise for not having my name on the original list. It had not been my intention to impose myself on your Lordships. I was hoping to have a quiet, tranquil, cultural course listening to great experts. However, I felt I had to intervene when I heard some astonishing remarks being made by the noble Lords, Lord Blake and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, which I thought were singularly unscholarly and ill-researched. They were later repeated in similar vein by the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird.
I have a special interest in Heveningham Hall, which is the subject of the strange remarks. I have 28 architects in my family, many of them distinguished. James Wyatt was one of the best ones. He followed on Sir Robert Taylor in the building of Heveningham Hall. Sir Robert Taylor was discharged by the owners, the Vannecks, and he was replaced by James Wyatt early in the 1780s.
James Wyatt did much of the exterior and all of the interior of Heveningham Hall. It is regarded not only as one of his masterpieces but as one of the masterpieces of England. He was responsible for the furniture, the decorations and everything conceivable inside and outside that house. I therefore have a special feeling for Heveningham Hall. I may feel more strongly about it than anyone else in your Lordships' Chamber because of my desire always to protect a good piece of Wyatt architecture or interior decoration whenever it needs protection.
In 1969 the Vannecks found that they could no longer live at Heveningham Hall. They approached me and asked me for my help in getting the Government to buy it because they said they could not sell it to anybody else. They had tried to sell it to various institutions. They did not have enough money to keep it going as a private house. The furniture and decorations would have to be dispersed and the house might even have to be destroyed.
I approached the Department of the Environment. At that time it was a Labour Government. They were very receptive. They bought the house for the nation. I thought, "Good. That is settled, and James Wyatt's masterpiece can now be saved". However, I was not right. After that, under the ownership of the Government, the house was badly neglected. I have plenty of evidence here from such organisations as the Georgian Society to establish that point. Dry rot 1412 was rampant. The roof needed releading. The place was almost collapsing.
At the end of 1980 or thereabouts, the present Administration decided that they would like to get it off their hands because the upkeep was too great. I rather query the notion, incidentally, that attendances were large because it is in a very remote part of Suffolk. My understanding is that the attendances at that house were never very large. It depends what one means by "large". Some people might think 30 people was a large attendance; others might not.
The Government sought for a buyer and a Mr. Abdul Al-Ghazzi bought it in 1981. He has spent some £3 million or £4 million restoring this house already and he made it good in its general fabric—apart from the east wing where there was a fire to which I shall refer in a moment—sufficient to stand up again for 200 years. The dry rot has gone; the roofing is properly repaired; the releading has been done.
Unfortunately he has been subject to a campaign of xenophobia in local Suffolk where the niceties of racial relations may perhaps not yet have reached. He is an Arab and they very much resent an Arab owning this house. It was even suggested—and I am afraid that the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, repeated it—that he does not really own the house; it is owned by a company. Actually he owns the company too, so it hardly matters. It is only a kind of smear tactic. I dare say friends of some noble Lords may have, or even some noble Lords themselves may have, companies which may own their own properties. They would not care to be told that they did not really own them, because they own only 100 per cent. of the company which does.
Persistent vandalism went on. As has already been said, in 1984 the east wing was burnt down by a fire. Nobody yet knows what was the cause of that fire except that it was supposed to have been a blowlamp left connected to an electric plug by a workman on leaving the premises. That was most unfortunate because the final work of restoring the beautiful James Wyatt library, with all the fittings he had put in himself, had just been finished and the whole damned lot was burnt down. The owner was naturally extremely distressed. He had spent a great deal of money on it already and did not know quite what to do next. He was anxious because he felt that vandalism was going on around this house, no doubt stoked up by local xenophobia, which he was unable to control adequately.
In fact, the footpath across the park had never been properly defined. It was not even defined in the same way on different maps. People were found wandering around the back of the house and when asked what they were doing they said, "We thought we were on the footpath". People were having picnics behind the house, saying that they thought they were on the footpath, whereas the footpath was in front of the house. It was therefore rather difficult for them to make that mistake although they said that they did so. The owner was desperately trying to get this footpath resited so that he could have a proper security system before the rebuilding of the east wing, 1413 which he has never been reluctant to do; and I shall come to that in a moment.
There was a footpath inquiry. The local rural council was originally in favour of the footpath being rerouted. However, this was then thrown out. The owner was very puzzled because he did not have any understanding of procedures in England. He did not realise that the most emotive subject of the entire English political life is a footpath. Even though nobody has ever walked on the thing, and is unlikely to walk on it, to say that one is going to alter the course of a footpath causes uproar and commotion. People came from distant parts, from Wales, London and Scotland, to go to the inquiry and to say, "How awful. They are going to reroute this footpath".
After the original inquiry into the footpath there was more vandalism. A James Wyatt fireplace was stolen from the dining room. A van drove up to the windows close to the footpath. The thieves broke through the windows and shutters and removed the fireplace, which no doubt is now on the Continent awaiting a purchaser. Valuable pieces of Coad stoneware were removed and pictures and so forth have been stolen. There came about another footpath inquiry.
I feel responsible for what happens to my ancestors' work and I became disturbed on reading stories in the press that there had been great neglect by Mr. Al-Ghazzi. I visited the house and was shown around. Mr. Al-Ghazzi was not present but I was shown round. I thought that all the decorations were perfect and that James Wyatt would have approved. However, I am no expert so I asked a friend, John Martin Robinson, a well-known architectural historian, to visit the house. He confirmed that all the best experts on 18th century colour and decoration had been consulted and that the work done was perfect. Some people may disapprove of the work because they may not realise that what was right in 1780 may have faded by 1980 and they may wonder why the colours are not the same as in 1780. However, they are the original James Wyatt colours.
There was a second footpath inquiry in February this year and I gave evidence. Still the objectors came and still poor Mr. Al-Ghazzi was hoping to receive a clear indication as to where the position of the footpath would be. He wished to contact the security experts at Siemens to ask them to do their best to establish a properly secured route so that they could be alerted if visitors strayed from the path and came near the house.
Some people say that it would be awful to move the footpath and they cite Marcus Binney, who wrote The Life of Sir Robert Taylor, the architect who began the work on Heveningham Hall. In his book he states that the best view of the hall is from along the front of the road on the other side of the lake. That is exactly where the footpath was intended to be sited by the present owner were that allowed. However, it was not allowed.
The new footpath was rejected by the inquiry and the Government. I believe that the Government should have given greater support to someone willing to save that historic house and to spend millions of pounds of his own money continuing to do so. 1414 However, the footpath having been rejected, Mr. AlGhazzi had to sit down and consider what to do. At once he set in train plans for getting on with the work. I understand that the architect responsible for the restoration of York Minster after the fire is the architect now supervising the restoration of the east wing where the Wyatt Library was situated.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, complained about tarpaulins. The noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, said that they did not appear to be adequate. When the Georgian Society visited the house and reported in February 1988 it stated that they were adequate, and so did the architect. The tarpaulir s have been protective of the fabric that is left and no damage has occurred underneath. I have also seen the tarpaulins and what is underneath. I am sorry to have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, that it may look a little untidy, but tarpaulin and scaffolding often does. I hope that they will he removed soon.
I spoke to Mr. Al-Ghazzi this mormng and asked him about his present intentions. He assured me that the architect has said that he does not believe that it is a good idea to try to undertake repairs during the winter but that he will begin them in the spring for certain. The rumours about insurance problems are absolute rubbish; there is no problem. Mr. Al-Ghazzi is still trying to obtain an adequate security plan to protect himself against the local xenophobics and other vandals who tour the Suffolk area. That will be very difficult but he will continue to try to do so.
The local xenophobics resent Mr. Al-Ghazzi owning two Dobermanns and having a security guard because they believe that it is unfair of him to try to protect his property. However, when they think that the property has not been properly repaired, again because of fear of vandalism, they ask why it is not better protected; and so they want to have it both ways. I have heard mention of the fact that there is a requirement on him to carry out the repairs and if that is not met it will result in a compulsory purchase. That is rubbish; there is no problem about his carrying out the repairs and he intends to do so in the spring.
I believe that instead of vilifying this unfortunate gentleman we should praise him for a wonderful job of restoration. This afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, told me that he recently stayed at the house and that the restoration has been done beautifully and nothing could be better. I have not stayed in the house; I have only visited it. Instead of vilifying the poor gentleman we should be grateful to him for saving a house which would otherwise have gone on becoming worse in government hands. It will now become better and better.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for introducing the Motion this afternoon. It has been an education for me to hear so much about a part of our heritage with which I am less familiar: our English country houses.
I should like to offer the apologies of my noble friend Lady Birk who is unable to be here today, much as she would have liked. The noble Lord, Lord 1415 Montagu, referred to her efforts at the time of the unfortunate disposal of the contents of Mentmore. My noble friend was also engaged in what is agreed to be a non-party venture; the establishment of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. It was started by a Labour Government and was continued by the succeeding Conservative Government in 1979.
I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Daventry, for his excellent and most interesting maiden speech.
The basic issue behind the debate is where and how we shall best preserve our heritage in buildings and treasures. I have no ideology on the matter. I take the view of Brecht in the epilogue to The Caucasian Chalk Circle. I do not have the text so I must paraphrase. He said that everything should go to those who are good for it. Thus: the cart to the good driver that it be well maintained; the children to the motherly that they will be tenderly cared for. I believe that that pragmatic view of who should control our buildings and treasures is most proper.
I have a lingering affection for the system introduced after the war in Czechoslovakia—I hasten to say before the Communist putsch. In my mother-in-law's village in Boskovice in southern Moravia the castle belonging to the previously dominant ruling family now has its principal rooms used as a museum. The lower rooms leading on to the garden are used as a kindergarten. The family live in adequate premises upstairs. The orangery is used as a concert hall and occasionally as an art gallery. Parts of the stables are used as a public library and other parts are used as a restaurant, wine cellar and museum. All that has been done by the local authority in a town of only 7,000 people. Such examples are carried on throughout Czechoslovakia, and I believe that it is a good solution to many of the problems with which we are still faced.
We have heard a lot in this debate this afternoon about our great houses and their contents. Indeed, the emphasis of the debate has been rather skewed towards that issue and rather askewed away from the very important other issues of our museums, our archaeology, our film archives, and so on, and I want to devote more time to the other matters in order perhaps to redress the balance.
But what must be said about our buildings and their contents is, first, that ideology is not much of a solution for the problems which have been described. I suspect that the Secretary of State's references to the nouveaux riches and the anciens pauvres smack of a certain amount of ideology. There may be some class prejudice in it, but I rather think that what he was doing was looking for alternative ways of privatisation of our great house and contents heritage.
So far as I can understand, the argument about Heveningham Hall—and there is clearly conflicting evidence which I am certainly in no position to resolve—seems rather clear: that the rescue operation which was intended by the Government in 1969 has not in fact worked. I do not know what covenants were put upon the new owners of Heveningham Hall as regards conservation. But I know that one of the 1416 covenants required that the building should be open for at least a month a year from 1982, and 1 understand that the building has been open for only one month in 1987. So to that extent at least the covenant and the intentions of the Government at the time have not been adhered to.
I have a lot of sympathy with the view that has been expressed that by far the best way to see both our great domestic buildings and their contents is for them to be kept together and for the contents not to be put into museums. I do not go so far as Malraux in describing museums as orphanages for works of art without a home. But I think that keeping them together, and keeping them in such a way that students, visitors and researchers can see what they were put there for in the first place, is extremely valuable. In so far as that is the thrust of this afternoon's debate, I tend to agree with it.
If I now turn to museums, I find it very surprising that not a single speaker this afternoon has referred to a very important report, the first report of the Public Accounts Committee for this Session, referring to the management of the collections in English national museums and galleries. This report follows the National Audit Office report earlier this year which pointed—perhaps not as dramatically as some press comments would indicate—to a very serious state of affairs in the conservation of our great national collections; in particular, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery since these were the three collections which were studied. It appears that, despite all the undertakings which have been made both by the museum authorities and by government that increased resources were going to be made available for conservation, conservation is falling very badly behind indeed.
In the evidence to the Public Accounts Committee the claim was made that there was no serious danger to any of the treasures in the museums, except possibly to the Western prints collection in the British Museum which appears to be deteriorating faster than anybody can do anything about it.
It clearly is a very serious situation that we have this great backlog in conservation, that we have far too few conservators even by the standards set out by the Office of Arts and Libraries and the museums in consultation, and above all that so much of our collections which are eminently suitable for display and not just for access for researchers should be stacked away and not available.
This is brought home to me very dramatically because on my 18th birthday I bought myself my first print, which was of the painting by Paul Nash, Landscape at Iden. I knew at the time that it was in the Tate Gallery. It has only been displayed in the public collections of the Tate Gallery for six months during the 37 years since I have owned that print. I have seen the real painting only once. That cannot be right. The opening of the Tate Gallery North will make a considerable difference, but there is clearly something wrong with the long-term financing of our museums and galleries.
I immediately—so that 1 shall not be accused of misrepresentation—pay tribute to the Office of Arts 1417 and Libraries in that it has introduced a three-year funding regime and it is now possible for the museums and galleries to plan their expenditure over a period of three years. But that degree of rationality, which is extremely welcome, does not go to make up for the long-term deficiences in the funding level which are causing the kind of problems to which attention is drawn by the Public Accounts Committee.
After all, it is not just a matter of having a conservation programme. You have to have the conservators to do the work, and in order to find the conservators you have to have training in conservation over a period of years. The British Museum drew attention to the fact that it has simply been unable to find anybody capable of doing the work of conservation of its extremely valuable tapestries which have to be kept under certain conditions—some of them where it is impossible to see them at all.
Regarding policy issues, which are important, when we come to museums there is a matter which has been referred to on a number of occasions; that is, the question of charging for admittance. I do not know, again, that I have a particular ideological view about charging for admittance. After all, I have paid admission fees to museums in Italy and in many other European countries. I have never particularly objected even to the situation in the Metropolitian Museum of Art where you put in a donation according to a recommended amount and you get a little yellow flag to put on your lapel to show that you have made your donation as you go around the museum. That seems to me to work perfectly well. It may well be that the policy of charging for admission to our cathedrals is inevitable.
My objection to charging for admission to our great national collections is not an ideological one. It is a very simple one. It is that experience has shown that, particularly in the first year or so after charging has been introduced, attendance drops dramatically. If you look at our museums and galleries in terms of some sort of standard of efficiency and value for money, then, if you are increasing the resources of the museum by perhaps 10 per cent. at a cost of a loss of 50 per cent. of the visitors, that is not very good value for money.
Whatever the evidence may be about the subsequent pick-up of attendance—and it appears to be, to say the best, contradictory; in other words, it works in some places and it does not in other places—there is still a very serious loss of visitors. It seems to me that in that respect we are losing one of the principal objectives of having our museums and art galleries, and I should be very sorry to see the charging principal established more widely.
It is not true to say that it is the responsibility of the museums and galleries themselves. That is only formally true. Of course they have a choice to make about whether or not they charge, but whether they are forced to make an admission charge depends on the level of funding from government. Their ability to avoid admission charges is about as real as the ability of a kitchen porter at the Ritz Hotel to take a room there in his annual leave. He is not forbidden by his contract of employment from doing so, but the fact 1418 of the matter is that he could not possibly afford in a million years to take a room at the Ritz Hotel. The same is true of museums. If governments squeeze the funding enough, museums will be forced to make unpleasant choices such as charging for admission. I do not think any of them genuinely want to, but it is only because they are forced to do so by the funding levels.
Talking about museums, finally I want to say a word about disposals. This is a mat ter of current public concern. A consultation paper was issued by the Office of Arts and Libraries in August of this year. That paper cautiously, and with a number of qualifications, suggests that the ability of museums and galleries to dispose of their possessions should be extended. There are some works of art where disposal is not a particular problem because they are themselves charitable bequests and, as the GLC discovered when it tried to dispose of works of art from Kenwood, they are not legally able to do that. So we can put those works of art on one side.
However, I ask the House to consider not only whether or not the disposal of works of art which are charitable is proper, but whether gifts that have been made without charitable protection should not be protected in the same way. It is not simply a matter of the individual works of art themselves; in many cases the donors are dead and have no other say in the matter. But people give works of art to museums and galleries not just for their own sake but because they are to fit into a coherent collection of other works of art; and if the surrounding collection is to be treated as able to be disposed of, then the whole purpose of the donation in the first place, or indeed of the acquisition from public funds—that is where the taxpayer comes in—is at risk.
The results of the disposals themselves are likely to be nugatory because in any case they are going to follow the taste of the curators or of the trustees of the museum, and they are going to be the things they consider to be perhaps duplicates or expendable. But of course tastes change and things which are out of fashion today and are being disposed of for that reason will not fetch a very good price. So from any point of view, whether a purely calculating point of view or a high-minded point of view, increased powers for the disposal of works of art for trustees do not seem make very good sense and I hope that the Government, at the end of their consultation period, will not feel inclined to make disposals easier.
However, the major matter with which we must be concerned, and with which many noble Lords have been concerned today, is the question of funding. I think it has been agreed by everybody, even by the noble Lords, Lord Rees and Lord Montagu, that the market is inadequate as a basis for deciding what should happen to our buildings and our treasures. I have rarely met such support from the Conservative Benches for a mixed economy and for the intervention of public funding. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether the enthusiasm for public funding is not much greater when it comes to the possessions of the rich rather than the needs of the poor. Be that as it may, we do not find ourselves in ideological conflict with many noble Lords opposite.
1419 I must say that I think that some suggestions that have been made, notably by the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Rees, about increased tax relief in order to protect our buildings and treasures are going a bit far, if I may say so. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, suggested that there should be relief from inheritance tax for all principal dwellings and their contents. The more one thinks about that, the more unacceptable it becomes. First, it is clearly going to be a very significant reducer of the amount of money collected in inheritance tax, because a very large part of our wealth, even shown by the Diamond Committee, let alone in subsequent trends, is in the form of principal dwellings and their contents.
These principal dwellings and their contents increase enormously in value as the person's wealth increases. Indeed, they continue to be a very large part of a person's wealth, so that relief from inheritance tax would be very much a relief for the rich, and the lost revenue would have to be made up much more by the poor, on the whole. So it would be an extremely regressive piece of taxation reform—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? That all sounded very simple and attractive; but if you have a government which is in fact keeping control of public expenditure, reducing a particular amount of taxation does not mean that taxation has to be imposed elsewhere. That is a complete fallacy.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, if the Government have the ability to reduce taxation, it is proper to argue about on whom the benefit of the taxation relief as well as the pain of taxation would fall. I would argue that even in a time of reducing taxation—and I do not accept that there are not very many higher priorities for increased public expenditure than the noble Lord would agree to—if there is to be a relief of taxation, one has to consider who will be best able to bear the remaining burden, if I may put it that way—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if I may interrupt again, but does not the noble Lord also have to consider whether it is not quite a good thing to encourage people at all levels to retain their home and continue to live in it and for their family to be able to do so afterwards?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, there are already very substantial concessions made for principal residences. They are not subject to capital gains tax already, and to propose an extension of that on death seems to me not only continuing, but increasing, the differences in wealth in our society and increasing the prospect of inherited wealth being a strong feature of our society. The noble Lord and I will have to disagree about that. It may be a political point, but it is one I feel quite strongly about
. One side-effect of what the noble Lord proposes would be that the value of such houses and their contents would go up quite considerably, and those who have to come into the market would find themselves paying a higher premium to do so. The 1420 noble Lord may like that; I do not know. But certainly it would have a distorting effect on property values which the Treasury would have to look at extremely carefully before agreeing to what has been proposed.
The point is that special relief from taxation is as much a part of public expenditure as direct grants, because the remaining taxpayers have to pay the extra burden of taxation. They have to pay for all the rest of public expenditure. I am not in any way impressed by any of the special pleading which I have heard this afternoon for further relief from taxation specifically for our historic buildings and their contents.
The second thing that ought to be said about public funding is something that I have already referred to in talking about museums—that is, the question of consistency. The noble Lord, Lord Charteris, appeared to be happy with what he described as "hand to mouth" funding of the National Historic Memorial Fund. He may be happy with it; but it does not really offer a very good prospect of anybody planning public expenditure, on the one hand; nor does it offer a very good prospect for continuing to give institutions the kind of funding they are likely to expect over a period of time. I am no more impressed by the argument than I am, with respect, by the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, of a once-off gift. A once-off gift is not going to solve the problem of finding conservators or of finding the best use of space, of training, and so on. All these things take place over a period of years. There tends to be revenue expenditure as well as capital expenditure and that has to be provided for by revenue funding.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Rees, that I suggested that there should be a once-for-all gift to be spread over five years, because I recognise as well as he does that this is not something that can happen all at once with a solution forthcoming. It must be done gradually.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, if the Government are inclined to accede to the noble Earl's suggestion of a gift of perhaps £100 million, I do not think that he would find us voting against it. All I am suggesting is that it is not perhaps the best way to ensure the continuing preservation of our historic buildings and treasures.
What we have to look for in public funding apart from consistency is some quid pro quo. In return for public funding there should be clear commitments from those receiving the public funding. I think that the National Historic Memorial Fund is a good example of that. It insists first of all that there should be a real effort—and usually a successful effort—to raise substantial private funds to match the government grant. It insists that there should be adequate access to the buildings and the treasures that are being acquired. I think we could very well consider a contract between the fund givers and the fund receivers, so to speak, which would ensure what I hope and think we all want, which is not only the best conservation but the best access to our national treasures, the best continuing use, and the best availability to visitors as well as scholars.
1421 We come back to a characteristically unpredictable speech from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in which he talked about the educational value of our buildings and treasures. I agreed with what he said. What it means in public policy terms is a degree of pluralism, an acceptance of a mixed economy, the eschewing of ideology in our approach to these matters, but a concern always for the public welfare as well as for physical preservation.
§ 7.2 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to respond to the wide range of issues raised by this very interesting debate. I am not alone in being grateful to my noble friend Lord Blake for making it possible, and for provoking such a stimulating discussion this afternoon.
The future of the heritage is very dear to the Government's heart. The Government are deeply committed to the promotion of understanding and enjoyment of the best of the country's heritage and to seeing that it is preserved wherever practicable. To see and understand the very best objects and buildings from the past is important to our national way of life: Awareness of one's heritage helps us to understand how the world around us has evolved. The country's rich and valued heritage—of historic towns and villages, great houses and early industrial sites—also supports the country's strong and growing tourism industry. The many tourists who are attracted to, and enjoy their visits to, our rich variety of heritage sites are evidence of successful heritage policies.
Public resources available for heritage work must compete with many other pressing claims. That limits the scope for solutions which depend on the taxpayer. But in any event in the case of heritage objectives, the role of government and their agencies, though important, is limited. Heritage is not designated by the state—it exists around us. Many of the best buildings and objects which survive from the past were created or acquired by private individuals; and the strongest force for their conservation, and often the best judge of what should be preserved, are the individuals who won them and the local communities of which they form part.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, made a few jibes on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's recent speech. The point that my right honourable friend was making was that as a general rule historic houses are safer and better run in private hands. It is private owners who have given them their special character and quality, which cannot be replicated by the state. This point was clearly understood by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, although I fear that he read too much into what my right honourable friend did not say.
However, I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, does not support state control, export bans, and so forth. The great private collections are the result of a freer market in art treasures. It is always possible to find some exceptions, I agree. But in general, and as indicated by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, I 1422 believe that my right honourable friend's remarks have received widespread support from historic house owners, and that the vast majority of owners are proud custodians of their rich collections.
The task of government and their agencies is to set the right framework for that force to operate in, and to provide a longstop in exceptional cases where the private sector is unable to secure the preservation and continued use of heritage buildings and objects without extra help or advice. Sanctions have been built into the legislative framework to ensure that valuable buildings are not thoughtlessly demolished or altered or left to deteriorate. And the national museums and galleries—along with many local and private collections—are one part of this safety net. Nonetheless, we believe that the best force for conservation is voluntary, and not that imposed by the state.
The state and its agencies are an essential longstop in certain circumstances. Perhaps none is more important than the National Heritage Memorial Fund and English Heritage. The noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, gave us a lively account of the excellent work of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, of which he is chairman. I should like to congratulate him and the trustees on what they have achieved. The Government feel particular pride in having set up this powerful force for conservation of the heritage. The £102 million to date has been money well spent.
Let me just say a word further on this fund, which has played such an important part in the Government's successful record on saving national heritage treasures. Successive administrations have been criticised for not using the resources of the National Land Fund to save our heritage. We put this to rights with the establishment of this new fund in 1980, with an initial endowment of £12.4 million. We deliberately gave the fund the widest remit in its interpretation of the heritage. Examples of the wide range of treasures that the fund has saved for the nation can be seen at the current exhibition at the British Museum. Any of your Lordships who have not seen it have missed out on something rather special. I give it my strongest recommendation.
Since 1980 the fund has given grants to the tune of £100 million. Every case, large or small, is considered with meticulous care and scholarship by the trustees. I believe that the trustees' stewardship of the funds entrusted to their care is second to none. All this has been made possible by a regular grant-in-aid to the fund from my department and the Office of Arts and Libraries, and by additional sums provided from time to time to save Kedleston Hall, Weston Park, Nostell Priory and Calke Abbey; and recently to bring the fund's initial endowment up to 1988 prices.
The heritage has also benefited significantly from the systems of acceptance in lieu of tax and private treaty sales. Since my noble friend Lord Gowrie's announcement in 1985 that an average of £10 million per annum would be available from the reserve to finance the acceptance in lieu of major items, the scheme has been running smoothly. Last year over £8.6 million worth of tax was satisfied, and it is possible that this year's figure may exceed that. There is no shortage of items in the pipeline.
1423 Another major initiative of this Government was to set up the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, otherwise known as English Heritage, in 1983 under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who earlier spoke so eloquently and gave the House such a full account of English Heritage activities. In establishing English Heritage, the Government had, among others, two important aims: to develop a centre of excellence, with access to expertise and resources outside the Civil Service, on policies and practices for the preservation and understanding of the man-made heritage; and to improve the presentation and commercial performance of the historic properties in the Government's care. These aims remain the principal reason for English Heritage's existence, and it has made commendable progress towards them.
English Heritage has achieved particular success in raising income from visitors and its trading activities. Starting from a base of under £3 million in 1984–85, it generated over £7 million in 1987–88 and is planning to take its receipts beyond the £10 million mark in the next year or so. Meanwhile grant in aid from my department to English Heritage has increased from £49.3 million in 1984–85 to £65.1 million in the current financial year and is planned to rise to £76.3 million by 1991–92.
Of course, English Heritage's activities are complemented by the scholarly work of the Royal Commission on historic monuments of England which, like its Scottish and Welsh counterparts, maintains a central archive of historic buildings and architectural data. Overall resources provided by my department for the heritage, excluding PSA, have risen from £30 million or so in 1979–80 to over £90 million in the current year.
A major element of that programme are the Royal palaces and parks. The Government are taking steps to improve the arrangements for managing the Royal parks and the historic Royal palaces for which the Department of the Environment is responsible. They are an essential part of the national heritage and also a major tourist attraction. For that reason I was rather surprised and somewhat disappointed that none of your Lordships mentioned the Royal palaces or parks.
I move on to answer some points raised by your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Blake, drawing on his experience as chairman of the Royal Commission on historic manuscripts spoke in particular of the issues raised by the Mappa Mundi. As my noble friend said, it would be impossible for the debate to take place at this time in your Lordships' House without mentioning it. Indeed many of your Lordships referred to it. Naturally we share your Lordships' concern as to the future of this important piece of our nation's heritage. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts stated in another place his wish that a solution involving both private and public sectors be achieved which would be acceptable to all parties. He firmly believes that it should be possible to find such a solution which will keep the map in Britain and he is working with all parties to that end.
1424 Another topic raised by my noble friend which received much discussion was Heveningham Hall. Even the government of the day did not envisage that public ownership and National Trust management was necessarily the right long term arrangement. The present Government decided to review the position and to sell if a suitable owner could be found. Mr. Al-Ghazzi was judged to be suitable and to have the neLessary financial resources. I have no reason to believe that that was not a correct decision at the time.
We are fully aware of the interest and concern shown by many conservation bodies and individuals in Heveningham Hall and we are watching the situation closely. Of course, the Government wish to encourage the owners of all listed buildings to maintain them in an adequate state of repair. However. maintenance and repair are primarily the responsibility of the owner subject to the provisions of the 1971 Act dealing with repair notices. I note the strongly expressed feelings of your Lordships about this property; the concern expressed on behalf of the previous owner by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird and that of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, with his own family connections. I believe that it has been most helpful to have on the record the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, about assurances that the owner intends to repair the fire-damaged wing and also the noble Lord's clarification of the owner's situation which has excited some speculation. Of course we very much hope that repairs will proceed quickly.
Among the conditions attached to the sale in 1981, was completion of the orangery restoration. That has been done. The second was to carry out a tree-planting scheme which still has to he done. The third, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, reminded us, was to open it to the public for 30 days each year. That has been done in some years, including this year and last. Of course the owner is subject to the normal provisions of law relating to listed buildings and the sale did not impose any special obligations in relation to repairs and maintenance.
My noble friend Lord Blake referred to the systems of control over the export of works of art and antiquities which operate in other countries. My noble friend's views seemed to be in conflict with those of the noble Lords, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and Lord Walston. In particular my noble friend mentioned the suggestion that there should be a list of important items which should never leave the country, as is the case in the Netherlands and Spain. We operate an export system which is rooted in our historical and cultural traditions and which, I believe, operates as effectively, if not more so, than that of other countries. The concept of listing can be seductive and is often put forward as a panacea to save important heritage items. However, this Government and their predecessors resisted its apparent charms in favour of an export system balanced between the interests of the heritage, the rights of owners to dispose of their property and the flourishing art trade.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was kind enough to bring your Lordships 1425 up to date on the state of progress on the draft care of cathedrals Measure. I was glad to hear that the draft Measure gained the general approval of the General Synod in November. That is most encouraging after the previous difficulties encountered with an earlier draft in February. It is in all our interests—the Government's as well as the Church of England's—to ensure that there is an effective system for safeguarding the fabric of cathedrals which form such an important part of our national heritage and for ensuring that major works within them are given careful consideration. The work of mission is the Church's task. But an awareness of heritage can be part of mission and a beautiful, historic, well-cared for building can be an aid to worship. I am quite sure that that mission, like civilisation itself, must be alive and responsible to the present. However, it is surely right to ensure that the new blends appropriately with the old in both the secular and ecclestiastical heritage.
Of particular significance to today's debate is that the Measure, by ensuring scope for public consultation over proposals, including proposals for the sale of important, historical or artistic objects, would enable all aspects of a proposed sale to be carefully considered before it could take place.
The noble Lord, Lord Walston, referred to the beauty of the English countryside and landscape about which I am sure we all agree. He went on to say that the wildlife is under threat and particularly excluded from that the man who lives and works on the land. I disagree with the noble Lord. I believe that man to be absolutely critical. What we see and hear is the result of man's influence. If we take out or ignore man, then the countryside and wildlife in it will be much the poorer. I should like to compliment the work of the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Rural Development Commission, not forgetting to mention the role of volunteers in maintaining the ever-changing countryside. Indeed, in that respect I noted the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, on the problems of tourism and access to some parts of the countryside.
Like many of your Lordships, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that it is better for houses to be lived in as much as possible. In an excellent maiden speech my noble friend Lord Daventry drew attention to some difficulties. I disagree with him in that I do not accept that, compared with the past, present levels of taxation are unduly burdensome. However, I assure my noble friend and indeed my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Rees, that I shall draw their remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who will also doubtless read the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, with some interest.
All owners of outstanding historic buildings, large or small, are eligible to apply to English Heritage for repair grants. As my noble friend, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, said, English Heritage is keen to see a more equitable spread of resources away from the really big houses which have great revenue raising potential and more towards smaller, listed buildings including former industrial buildings and buildings in 1426 conservation areas. Of course there will have to be a quid pro quo of access for the public.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, inquired about the progress of my department's review of portable antiquities and their relationship to the law of treasure trove. The noble Earl indicated particular concern about the need for a system for the reporting and recording of architectural finds. We are considering very carefully the responses to the paper that we issued and hope soon to form a judgment as to the most effective approach. I hope that the House will bear with us a little longer. This is an important subject and it is important to strike the right balance.
The noble Earl expressed concern about the funding of the national museums and galleries and suggested the setting up of a special endowment fund. All spending departments could draw up lists of worthy causes upon which to spend large sums of money. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter so rightly said, the Office of Arts and Libraries is no exception.
My right honourable friend the Minister, in announcing his three-year settlement of last year, achieved a 17 per cent. increase, which will allow arts bodies, museums and galleries to plan their priorities sensibly. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, agreed that that was a major step forward. I agree with my noble friend Lord Rees that it is always necessary to assess priorities with finite resources both as between the arts and other pressing needs in health, education and defence and as between museums, libraries and the performing arts. When he was Chief Secretary, my right honourable friend proved a sympathetic listener when urgent causes were put to him. We and the National Heritage Memorial Fund are in his debt for his judicious distribution of scarce resources at that time.
My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu gave us a very comprehensive account of the present state of the conservation movement and the problems that it poses. He rightly emphasised the part that local communities and private individuals can play. My noble friend spoke of the rising prosperity that this Government have helped to bring about and how this has led to a revival of interest in owning historic houses. In the past few years their ancestral families have found difficulty in keeping them up. He also spoke of the many opportunities that exist for the imaginative re-use of historic buildings that can no longer be used for their original purposes. English Heritage has played a notable role in all this, not least in seeing through to its virtual completion the national resurvey of listed buildings.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Before the debate is completed, can he confirm that this country includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and that his references to English Heritage, while absolutely appropriate, should be extended to CADW and other bodies? There has been a tendency to forget that many of the matters he dealt with actually apply to other parts of the United Kingdom as well.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct. I referred to the other bodies 1427 earlier in my speech. When the debate is orientated towards what happens in England, one tends not to mention the excellent work done by the bodies in Scotland and Wales. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Rees drew that to your Lordships' attention.
My noble friend Lord Montagu spoke about some of the problems that face the heritage. It is true that pressures from development can be acute, particularly in the South-East, and that these can lead to the destruction or over-restoration of buildings that might otherwise have survived. Naturally my noble friend struck a note of realism. We really cannot preserve everything; and neither should we. The heritage is what it is because it has come down to us through a process of change.
All that your Lordships need do is look at the way in which churches have been adapted over the years. Think how very much less rich and varied our heritage of churches would be if a legislative guillotine had fallen in, say, 1800. We must be as confident as our forbears were that we can continue to combine the best of the old and the new and pass on to our children a living heritage and not a collection of museum pieces.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Beloff's remarks about the importance of understanding the history of our civilisation through the study of historic buildings, treasures and archaeology. As I said in my opening remarks, an awareness of our heritage helps us to understand the world around us. It gives us a sense of belonging. Here I pay tribute to the many public-spirited individuals and firms who contribute to the greater understanding and enjoyment of the heritage; for instance, by financing rescue archaeological digs.
My noble friend Lord Lindsay rightly drew attention to the benefits that Britain's heritage brings in terms of tourist revenue. I noticed in particular his comments on cathedrals. The question that he raised as regards admission charges and other means of raising revenue are matters, as he so rightly pointed out, for the cathedral authorities. As my noble friend suggested, it may be that the tourist boards, either regionally or nationally, will be able to play a part in finding a solution to certain problems like those facing Hereford Cathedral.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, showed your Lordships the width of this debate by raising new points that had not been mentioned earlier. What was interesting in the noble Lord's quotation from Brecht was that it was very similar to that used to support my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's arguments. Perhaps we are not so far apart after all. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord supports the principle that, wherever possible, houses and contents should stay together. The Government's economic policies have put existing owners in a stronger position as well as giving rise to a new breed of owners and collectors. I rather fear for the future as regards what the noble Lord went on to say, but we shall have to differ on that. Perhaps it shows that there is still a gulf between us.
The noble Lord quite rightly brought up the Public Accounts Committee report on the management of 1428 museum collections.This report was published just a week ago. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts is naturally studying the report very carefully and he will be making his response in due course. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord is not opposed on ideological grounds to admission charges. We are entering a new phase of entrepreneurial museum management of which this forms but a part, along with the retention of receipts and vigorous marketing in order to make their collections more accessible to the public.
As regards the question of disposal, which many of your Lordships raised, I have noted the views, some of which were favourable and some of which were not. My right honourable friend is currently considering the responses to his consultation paper. I shall ensure that the words that your Lordships have spoken today are brought to his attention.
This has been an enormously wide-ranging and stimulating debate that has revealed the depth of knowledge and understanding of the heritage by all Members of this House. I realise that in winding up I have been unable to do justice to all the valuable suggestions and comments that your Lordships have made. However, those comments now stand on the record and I will ensure that they are drawn to the attention of my right honourable friends.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Lord Blake
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Daventry on his excellent maiden speech. It was most illuminating and helpful. I very much hope that he will not go for another two years without speaking in your Lordships' House. I thank all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, who have taken part in this debate. I thank them for some of the overkind and overgenerous things that they said about me.
I believe that the debate has been useful and valuable. I do not propose to go over any of the points. I believe that we shall have to come to an agreement to differ about the pronunciation of Heveningham. One thing I have learnt is that it is pronounced differently. That was due to ignorance on my part. The only other point I wish to raise is that whoever is to blame—I may have been blaming the owner unfairly—it is a tragic and a disastrous story that the house that was acquired by the Government back in 1969 should still be in the condition that it is in in 1988. Whoever is at fault, it is a lamentable episode. One would like to know even now more about it than the Minister was able to tell me.
Apart from that, the only other matter I wish to raise is that I do not believe that I was being unduly hard on the dean and chapter of Hereford. Cathedrals such as Ely and York have contrived to manage very well without recourse to selling their treasures, and so I still feel somewhat censorious about the dean and chapter of Hereford. On that note I shall sit down, merely asking the House for leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.