§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lord Fanshawe of Richmond rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to safeguard and conserve our artistic heritage in national and private hands, including transfer or loan of works of art currently in store in national institutions to provincial and university museums.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, 1 should like to take the opportunity to thank the many noble Lords who are to speak from both sides of the House, including my noble friend Lord Perth, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who knows so much more about the subject than I do, and the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, who is to make his maiden speech. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing his comments.
I hope this evening to stress the importance of collaboration between the public and the private sector in preserving and retaining our national heritage of works of art. At the outset, I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Arts on their initiative regarding the Thyssen collection. It will be an artistic triumph of a country and a government if Baron. Thyssen's generosity enables his collection to arrive permanently in Britain after the 10 years planned for its exhibition in Madrid. I should like to quote from the leader in The Times of 15th June this year, which states:
The fact that Baron Thyssen should even think of housing his collection here is a huge symbol of the reversal of British fortunes. We should take pride in that—and use economic success and security as a strong part of our case".
§ I understand that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to spend somewhere in the region of £100 million on that venture. If the Thyssen plan is not attained—we all hope that it will be—will my noble friend the Minister give me an assurance this evening that the additional sum of £100 million will be added to government purchase grants to our museums and galleries and will not just disappear down a black hole if the Thyssen works of art do not come here?
§ Noble Lords will have noticed that there has been public discussion recently about the possible introduction of legislation to enable the trustees of the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery to sell pictures which they may judge, or indeed misjudge, to be unsuitable for retention in our national galleries. Apparently the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and a number of other national museums have circumscribed powers to dispose of certain objects in their collections. I trust that those carefully calculated powers will not be radically changed without serious discussion and agreement by all authorities concerned, including the Museums and Galleries Commission.
§ Different institutions have different functions and requirements. Museums whose collections consist largely of objets, as distinct from paintings, are obviously in a different category from our three great London picture galleries. Let me therefore turn to those three galleries. First, the National Gallery has none of its collection in store and uncatalogued. As detailed in the excellent report recently published by 783 the Museums and Galleries Commission, giving powers of disposal to the trustees of the National Gallery is neither necessary nor appropriate. The present trustees do not seek or want those powers.
§ I turn to the National Portrait Gallery. It is more an archive of likenesses of our ancestors than a gallery of pictures for display purposes. It does not possess enough wall space to hang all its pictures at once, but none of our national institutions could be more open-handed than it is in the matters of loans to other institutions or certain historic houses. In that case again, the power of disposal is neither necessary nor appropriate. The National Portrait Gallery is precluded, unlike most other national institutions, from transferring the ownership of any of the works vested in its trustees to those of another national museum. Why is that? Its authority is covered by a Victorian Treasury minute and not by a statute.
§ All three galleries already possess powers for lending, which they exercise. But there is a case for urging that a higher proportion of stored work perhaps from the Tate Gallery might be sent on loan to hard-pressed university galleries or the provincial institutions. The Tate Gallery's existing collection of British paintings should be protected from disposal and adequate funding should be made available to provide ready accessibility to the public.
§ I return now to the increasing necessity for government to encourage the private sector to give what support it can to our three national galleries in London rather than to take steps which risk discouraging initiatives to that end. It has not escaped many commentators that a policy of foisting on to the authorities of the three institutions powers of sale which they have made clear they do not desire cannot fail to give rise to serious misgivings in the ranks of potential benefactors, who may be disinclined to trust future government-appointed trustees. It could prejudice the Thyssen negotiations. It could make him think twice.
§ Donors are unwilling to give their treasures, which might be sold. Indeed, some may remove them. Noble Lords may have read in the newspaper on Sunday about my noble friend Lord Crawford and Balcarres's recent wise removal of 40,000 books from Manchester following the John Rylands Library sale of medieval and renaissance books which was much opposed by several noble Lords in a letter to The Times some time ago. It indicates the dangerous waters that will exist if sales go ahead.
The National Art Collection Fund considers that that is a serious danger. I should like to quote briefly Sir Nicholas Goodison's comments at the annual general meeting. He said:
Taste changes. A work of art which is thought to be of no interest today may be tomorrow's masterpiece. There are several examples of museums selling works of art which were out of fashion in the past and are now regretting their mistake. Whatever safeguards are built into the first form of legislation, it is likely to deter some potential donors. You only have to deter some potential donor of a remarkable collection or one remarkable painting to have made this proposed legislation extremely damaging".
§ What positive fiscal steps could be taken to encourage the involvement of the private sector when helping with museum acquisitions? While regretting 784 that there are still no income tax concessions for one-off contributions to museum acquisitions analogous to those in America, I must congratulate my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on rebasing capital gains tax from 1965 to 1982 and on reducing the higher rate of inheritance tax to 40 per cent. As detailed, however, in a most important article by John Cornforth in Country Life dated 9th June, it is ironic that these desirable tax reductions can in certain respects have an adverse effect on acquisitions of works of art by our public institutions.
§ First, the rebasing of capital gains tax to 1982 will evidently reduce the taxable gains derived from the sale of art treasures. Accordingly, the current recommendation of an incentive to the vendor in private treaty sales to museums of 25 per cent. of the tax which would have been payable on an open market sale becomes less of an attraction to him. However, to suggest a higher proportion would take no account of the fact that hard cash available to galleries for such transactions is more limited proportionately than ever before.
§ Secondly, I come to the effect on the in lieu system. This is most important as limits were increased by my noble friend Lord Gowrie, as noble Lords may remember, in an announcement made to this House in July 1985 following my debate in April 1985 and pressure by many noble Lords who are taking part in this debate tonight.
§ Although we are all delighted at the announcement that we have heard this afternoon of the acceptance in lieu of inheritance tax of two William Hogarth portraits of children from the Fermor Hesketh collection, what about the future? Since the top rate of inheritance tax has been reduced from 60 per cent. to 40 per cent., the incentive to offer a work of art in satisfaction of a tax obligation is similarly reduced. Therefore in order to encourage owners in these changed circumstances to offer their objects in lieu of tax, it is vital that the incentive of a tax douceur should be revised to 50 per cent. from the current figure of 25 per cent. This suggestion has been made before, but it seems to me to be more vital now.
§ It has now become particularly urgent and, as it involves only an amendment to regulations, a change in the Treasury rule could be done swiftly. Ministers will be aware that this reform has been advocated for many years by the Museums and Galleries Commission, trustees of national institutions and the National Art Collections Fund. It should not be forgotten that the majority of works from or in public museums have come from private collections in the past. Ministers will accept the principle of taking no steps to discourage the collecting of fine things in the future. I have in mind in this sense the possibility of VAT on imports of works of art at the behest of Brussels in the expectation that the public stands to benefit in the end.
§ Finally, much credit is due to the Government for rescuing works of art which have long been in private hands and in a particular location by acceptance of the system of in lieu and of their retention in situ although under public ownership. This far-sighted provision has been made more attractive by the flexible manner of administration on an ad hoc basis. 785 Common sense and psychological understanding have a considerable part to play in thesse matters. I hope that Ministers will give them the weight that they deserve in attacking these problems of preserving our cultural inheritance for future generations.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, for initiating this debate. Perhaps I may say how much I agree with his speech and in particular what he has said about the Thyssen collection. I hope that if, unhappily, the plan for it should fall through and it does not come to this country, at least the amount that would have been given to it would be made available for the other galleries. I should also like to support what the noble Lord said about this ill-conceived proposal to allow certain galleries to dispose of items from their collections. I should like to develop that with some additional reasons.
As the noble Lord has said, everybody is against that proposal. He mentioned the National Art Collections Fund. However, I understand that the Museums and Galleries Commission is against it. In fact everyone in the art world whom I have met—and I move around fairly widely in this field—seems to be against the proposal.
There are some further reasons in addition to those given by the noble Lord. Disposals are likely to be challenged by scholars and to receive much press comment, thus bringing the National Gallery in particular into controversy. The choice of paintings for disposal would surely be an invidious business. Whoever has to make the choice, including the trustees, will be blamed by future generations. As the noble Lord said, potential donors will be discouraged—not only private benefactors but voluntary bodies such as the National Art Collections Fund, which do so much to help preserve our artistic heritage.
As we heard the other day, and as the noble Lord has mentioned, an important collection of books and pamphlets—the Crawford collection—has been removed from the Rylands Library and transferred to the National Library of Scotland since the ill-conceived sales of so many very important books from the Spencer collection. I hope that the noble Baroness will not tell us tonight, as one of her colleagues told us in answer to questions, that these were duplicates. They were not duplicates. They were the most important copies—in many cases the more important copies. Anyway, how can one say that the Grolier binding is a duplicate? This was a sad story and I hope that it will not be repeated.
I understand in conversation with the Minister that the reason given is that galleries should be given the chance to get rid of a painting or a work of art that is not relevant to the collection. What on earth does this mean? How does one judge what is relevant? A painting which may not be considered relevant today may be highly relevant in 50 years' time.
There is also the question of fashion and changing taste. Let us take the case of Watteau, the French artist. All through the 18th century his paintings 786 fetched very high and increasing prices right up to the French Revolution. Then there was a complete flop in them and during the Empire and Restoration period they were completely unsaleable. In fact the students in David's studio used to throw paper pellets at one of his most important paintings; and another one was for years in the Place de la Bourse.
This was Gilles (the great painting now in the Louvre) completely unsaleable, with, "Please buy me because I will give you pleasure" chalked across it. In the middle of the 19th century the prices began to rise again as tastes changed and they came back into vogue. Since then they have never looked back.
Victorian paintings in this century are a more recent example. I can remember in the 1930s that Victorian paintings were looked down upon by the intelligentsia. If this power to dispose had existed then, I am sure that we should not have a single Victorian painting left in many of our collections. They would have been disposed of as not worthy of attention or retention. Now of course they are becoming highly appreciated and much sought after, just as the so-called Pompiers paintings are back in fashion in France. I understand that the Royal Holloway College is contemplating selling its collection, due to financial difficulties caused by the education cuts. This surely would be a tragedy as the collection includes not only a Constable and a Turner, but some of the most important Victorian paintings in the country.
The noble Lord has also scotched the myth about the bulging cellars in the National Gallery which of course does not have cellars but a reserve collection. Through the foresight of Sir Michael Levey, that is now connected with the main collection by a spiral staircase. I agree with what he said about the Tate. We hope now with the Tate Gallery in Liverpool that there will be ample opportunities for exchanges between the Tate in London and the Tate in Liverpool.
Of course this is something that I believe the Audit Commission does not seem to understand. That is that museums and galleries need reserve collections for scholars. They cannot show everything. Drawings have to be kept away from daylight. Miniatures and water colours cannot usually be hung on walls because they are apt to fade, so it is not possible for, say, the British Museum to show every one of its thousands and thousands of drawings; nor does it wish to do so. They have to be kept in portfolios, and some of them shown from time to time.
Also this is a very dangerous policy. What is to be the attitude of the Treasury to this policy, if it is brought in? It is proposed to give these galleries corporate status and a measure of independence. Does that mean that the Treasury will reduce the grant in proportion to sales? I am sure that we shall be told now that it would not dream of doing so; but it is such a temptation, and knowing how it operates, I believe that is a great danger in the future. Also if the National Gallery wants to acquire an important painting, it will be told that it has to sell one or two others to meet the cost because times are hard.
What is interesting is that the Soviet Government adopted this policy for a few years after the 787 Revolution of selling national art treasures to raise funds. They sold the Codex Sinaiticus, which is now in the British Library and is one of the most important treasures there. They sold two Raphaels, a Botticelli, a Titian and a Perugino, all major paintings and all acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The Soviet Government soon realised their mistake and changed their policy and no major national—treasures I stress the word "major"—have been sold since. I know that a few minor paintings were sold by Sotheby's recently in Moscow, and one or two have been sold in London; but they were paintings belonging to an artists' association or to the individual artists. They were not major national treasures. I believe the Soviet Government were quite right.
Now some 60 years later our own Government are apparently considering adopting this foolish policy. What is interesting is that in 1954, soon after I had the honour and pleasure of coming to your Lordships' House, the National Gallery and Tate Gallery Act of that year contained a clause, Clause 6, which contained a similar proposal. The clause was strongly opposed in the House by many Peers, including several who had an unrivalled knowledge of these matters such as the late Lord Crawford and the late Lord Ilchester. It was also strongly opposed by the art world, by the Burlington Magazinein particular, in a strongly-worded editorial. Later the Government were wise enough to drop the clause when the Bill went to the other place.
The Minister for the Arts, Mr. Richard Luce, is a very good and enlightened Minister; but in this instance he seems to have been badly advised. I was glad to hear his recent announcement in another place that he is to enter into wide consultations. Let us hope that wiser counsels will prevail.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Hutchinson of Lullington
My Lords, this is a very valuable debate because it affords us an opportunity to review the so-called policy for the arts expounded by the Minister for the Arts, Mr. Luce. The question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, is a vital element in the arts policy of the Government. The National Audit Office's Report on the management of the national collections, which has just been referred to by my noble friend, is a devastating report on government policy on this very question. Indeed, it supports the recent report of the Museums and Galleries Commission which I suggest is equally devastating on government policy. I suggest that the two reports highlight the inability of the Minister to get his priorities right on the funding of the arts.
I should like to start what I have to say by commending to the noble Baroness the opening words of the National Audit Office's report:The collections of the English national museums and galleries are an important part of the nation's historical, cultural and artistic heritage, and contribute significantly to Britain's prestige abroad. Their value is incalculable and many of the objects are irreplaceable".If Mr. Luce could get away from his seemingly whole-time obsession with business funding and commercial exploitation of the arts he might recognise what 788 surely must be a paramount duty of the Government—of any government of the day. That is, to support, sustain and maintain the great art institutions of this country which until recently have been the envy of the world. The main thrust of the National Audit Office's report, which is to be found in Part 4, spells out the scale of the problem of conservation and storage; a problem which it warns is worsening every day, where deterioration in some cases is reaching a stage when it can no longer be dealt with satisfactorily. Resources, it says,are insufficient for the task in hand"—and it refers to the limited sums made available for these purposes by the Government.
What is the Minister's attitude to the arts? First of all, his philosophy: we must get away from the welfare state mentality, he says, that the taxpayer owes us a living. The more self-reliant the arts are the healthier they will be. By "self-reliant" of course what he means is reliance on business, on millionaires, on the commercialisation of the museum operation—generating income, as it is called—and he goes further to say that we must tap the giving spirit of the rich. That is what may now be called the 45 per centers, no doubt. Erudition and scholarship must give way to the begging bowl. That is the philosophy.
Then there is his attitude specifically to the museums. On the 20th May in another place he said this:Of course there are problems, such as conservation and pressures on space, but they arise against the background of our national museums thriving and expanding…engaged in a major programme of extensions and refurbishments…the Government have an impressive record on funding for museums and galleries".—[Official Report, 20/5/1988; col. 1206].Not wishing to offend the noble Baroness, I can only describe this as the language of Baron Munchausen rather than the words of a responsible Minister.
What is the reality? It is to be found in the report, to which I referred and which has just come out, of the Museums and Galleries Commission. This was submitted to the Minister in April this year. The 20 distinguished members of that commission start by stating their philosophy:A hallmark of a national museum has always been its funding by the Exchequer.From the very setting up of each museum, the Government have hitherto always accepted full responsibility—an authoritative expression of the welfare state mentality.[The museums] reflect the nation's place in the history of civilisation. They are part of the nation's patrimony…they are an economic asset of significant national importance".I should add that the 26 million people who visited them last year bear witness to that fact.
Having expressed its philosophy, the report, at page 12, turns to government funding. It states:The funding gap is serious, and has had adverse consequences in all the national museums, which have had to leave unfilled varying numbers of posts in their complement. The effects are lamentably to be seen in terms of closed galleries, reduced security, curtailed opening hours or days…backlogs of work…less ability to help schools…inefficient use of staff time…and less good service to the public…Most serious is the danger of a cumulative, long-term decline in curatorial standards, as reduced staff are increasingly stretched.".That is the very matter raised by the noble Lord this evening.
789 The Commission, which consists of people who know about museums, points out that the value of the purchasing grants to the great national museums has been about halved in real terms by this Government in the past 10 years. One is entitled to ask: are those words—which give a picture of the thriving and expanding museums of this country—the impressive record of funding?
What about self-reliance? At page 13, the report states that "the Minister says that he aims to encourage the subsidised bodies to become more self-reliant. The reality is different. Faced with shortfalls in Government funding, museums have had to raise money to avoid cutting essential staff. It then makes the comment:having to become more self-reliant to keep going.".The report continues by citing the Natural History Museum which was forced into a choice between introducing admission charges or reducing scientific staff by 75 over the next five years. The report's comment on that is that the trustees of national museums should not be put in the position of having to introduce charges to pay for essential staff.
I ask noble Lords to look at the enlightening table at page 40 or the report which gives the figures for visitors. One finds that the National History Museum, having, been forced into the dilemma, introduced charges and, as a result, it lost 1½; million visitors last year.
That is the situation in reality at the moment of the museums. I commend the final words of the report to the noble Baroness, as I did the opening words. The final words are to be found at page 38. The Commissioners state:Commercial success should be seen to derive ultimately from museum values, and not vice versa…Performance indicators should relate not just to success in easily quantifiable areas, such as marketing and attracting visitors or sponsorship.".They are the three premier considerations of the Minister for the Arts.They should relate first and foremost to qualitative museum values, in such activities as conservation, training, documentation, original scholarship, publication, educational services",and so forth.
That is what the people who know about museums say. How right are those priorities. However I fear that they are not of much interest to corporations seeking advertisements, nor to the tycoons and moneymen who increasingly are made trustees of our national museums. I wonder how important they are to the Minister and the noble Baroness. No doubt she will let us know later in the debate. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, may receive a dusty answer to the first part of his Question, backed up with some rather suspect statistics.
I conclude by making a few comments on what I call the "treasures in the cellar syndrome". I recently read an article by Simon Jenkin in the Sunday Times headed "Rotting in the Attic". He wrote:Eighty-nine per cent. of the Tate's pictures are piled as if by jackdaws in its basement, many reportedly",that is one of the journalists' favourite words for their sources,in such bad condition as to be undisplayable.".790 On reading that article the chief jackdaw, Sir Alan Bowness, invited Mr. Jenkin to inspect the air-conditioned and beautifully fitted basement at the Tate Gallery and told him the facts. There are 1,880 paintings in the British collection and 56 per cent. are on display. There are 1,800 water colours and works on paper which, as my noble friend said, cannot be exhibited all the time. There are 1,500 prints which are used as a research tool for study. In the modern collection at the Tate 25 per cent. of the paintings and 32 per cent. of the sculptures are displayed. When the Tate in the North is completed and the Government are prepared to provide sufficient funds to run it, the exhibition space in those galleries will double the display area.
If only money could be found to put up the buildings which are already designed by Mr. James Stirling for the empty site at Millbank, the Tate could display the great majority of its collection. If the Thyssen bid fails—and I also sincerely hope that it will not—that is, if the collection comes not to glorify the developers of Docklands but goes to somewhere like Birmingham, I should add my voice to that of the noble Lord's. The Minister should tell the House tonight that that money will be available for the museums in this country which are in dire straits.
Like the other national museums, the Tate Gallery is a resource centre for scholars and visitors from all over the world. They come to where they know the works are. In answer to the two previous speakers, the gallery loans as much as any other great museum in the world. Last year 556 works were loaned with four members of staff in full-time employment on that matter alone. After all, the trustees own the works of art on behalf of the nation. Works are delicate and they must be handled and hung in a satisfactory manner.
It is facile to talk glibly about the loans of works in this situation. It is a myth that galleries in England are queuing up for loans of contemporary works. Provincial museums have little space for exhibitions and little money for security; and it is one of the great myths that they are all at the door of the Tate asking for loans of contemporary works. That simply is not so. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's evidence of that demand, if she believes that it exists. If it exists, what are the plans of the Government for increasing the skilled staff necessary to expand the various loan departments of the museums?
Finally, I suggest that "deacquisition", as it is called, is an irrelevance and a nonsense for the great picture galleries. As has already been said, the trustees of the V&A and the British Museum have that limited power simply to cover duplicates, items which have deteriorated and unsuitable items. None of that applies to galleries which have paintings. They do not have such things as duplicates, as the noble Lord has already said. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, the Act governing the National Gallery and the Tate was eventually drafted carefully to take away the power which the National Gallery had during the 19th century.
Because of the errors made in the past, the effect on bequests and donations, the whole history of violent changes in tastes, the ever-increasing power of 791 commercially-minded trustees and the frailty of expert opinion, the galleries have all gone on record that they will not have anything of that, supported as we have heard by Sir Nicholas Goodison, Sir Peter Wakefield, and Sir Dennis Mahon, to name only a few. I should be interested to hear the noble Baroness give her idea of a typical Sotheby's auction of rejects from the Tate. No doubt all noble Lords would be there because there would be some bargains to pick up, but I doubt whether any self-respecting collector or museum would attend such an auction. Why do the Government persist with a power which no one wants? The general presumption is—and the Minister will tell me if I am wrong—that that is another means of cutting the funding of the museums.
I hope that the Minister will respond to the two authoritative reports to which I have referred by spelling out the Government's proposals for meeting the points which both reports make so powerfully. Those two reports raise the precise question which the noble Lord has so eloquently raised this evening.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, "safeguard" and "conserve" are to me the two vital words in the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, about our artistic heritage. I find myself in agreement with much that he said and indeed with much that almost all speakers have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, when he talked about the disgraceful behaviour of the Rylands Library which was, 1 must confess, to the benefit of the National Library of Scotland of which I happen to be a trustee.
As regards "safeguard", the review committee for the export of works of art has that task when it comes to saving treasures from going abroad. The last report for 1986–87, which I wish could have come out a little earlier, sounds a loud alarm on one matter. This is a matter which I should like to develop rather carefully. If the committee judges in its wisdom that a work of art should not leave this country and it meets the Waverley criteria, what happens? A stop is put on and the museums are invited to try to find the money to stop the work leaving the country. The cost has to be that which the owner paid for it. The museums may very often make an appeal and the money is found. It is open to the owner to say, "I am sorry. I want to keep it in this country". Until now, the owners know that if they did such a thing, it would be at least 10 years before they could come back to the review committee. Sadly, the report says that that is no longer legal.
What are the words of the committee? it says:This fills us with dismay. We believe the system may break down".The committee asks for legislation to put that right. However, the report also says that the Government are still considering. When a review committee says that these matters are as serious as they are, I beg the Government to act quickly and not "still consider". I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, will be able to assure us that something will happen very soon lest the system breaks down.
792 I believe that the report should be compulsory reading for all Ministers. It refers to the close relationship between the committee and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say how glad I am of that and that we all rejoice in the extraordinary job which the national heritage fund has done in saving our treasures; long may that continue. Perhaps I should just add that because it has done such a good job, I hope it will receive even more funds, and very soon.
As regards the word "conserve", I turn to the report of the National Audit Office which has been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hutchinson and Lord Strabolgi. The National Audit Office is the feared watchdog of government spending or the spending of semi-government departments. What is said in that report on the management of the collections of the English national museums and galleries? I should say that what is said equally applies to Scottish museums and galleries. That report was seized on by the media, and particularly by the newspapers, as an attack on the stewardship of the museums and galleries. They point to how millions of their objects are rotting away, with the museums not knowing what is to be done with them when not exhibited. The newspapers said that those items should be sold or displayed elsewhere. Your Lordships will have heard how unfounded that is.
I would say that there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from the report, but not that particular one. Again, I believe that that should be compulsory reading for Ministers. 1 beg your Lordships to read the section on storage and conservation—and here I may be repeating something said by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson. It states:The position generally will continue to deteriorate…the problem is worsening all the time…within the limited funds available work is in hand to minimise the damage".In other words—and this is extraordinary—the National Audit Office is asking for more money for museums and galleries. Has such a thing ever happened before?
Your Lordships will know that since the end of the war successive governments of all political parties have not spent enough on the upkeep of museums and galleries. I believe that there is no exception to that. Let us look at what happens today in relation to the unglamorous matters such as reroofing and plumbing. Many of your Lordships will recall what happened when the pipes burst in the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is the problem of new wiring, which is clearly necessary after a period of time, and the staff working conditions. These museums are all a 100 years old or thereabouts.
I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, will say that the Government have done all sorts of things, that they have granted money, and that we should look at their record, and so on and so forth. I am not impressed, whatever statistics she may produce. The museums and galleries must be rejuvenated in spheres which are very unglamorous. If that is done there will be a remarkable reaction from the private sector. If it sees that the Government care, it will do more to assist in other respects. We all know that the private sector has done much already; for example, the Clore gift to 793 the Tate, the Sainsbury gift to the National Gallery and the gifts from Mr. Getty and Mr. Annenberg. It is all splendid stuff, but the fact is that the upkeep of museums is in a bad way.
The magic figure of £100 million has been mentioned. I suspect that, if the Government find £100 million for this unglamorous work of putting the museums into proper shape, there would be an extraordinary reaction among the people of the country. There would be praise not only from the staff and from the lovers of art but from all who visit museums. Nearly 20 million people, almost half the population, visit them in a year. People today are much more conscious than ever before of art. Consider how carefully the TV programmes are watched. As I said, if the Government give that money I know that the private sector will play its part.
Your Lordships may say that it is an impossible dream. Is it any more impossible than the fact that the National Audit Office, as I read it, pleaded for more money for a particular purpose? Anyhow, sometimes dreams come true. If the Government act as I suggest, the history books will record this as a government who have twice come to the rescue of our art treasures, restoring our national museums for their better keeping and founding the National Heritage Memorial Fund. If by even greater chance we find that the Thyssen collection one day comes to this country, the Government's record would be unequalled as the great conservator and saviour of our artistic treasures.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Viscount Knutsford
My Lords, in addressing your Lordships this evening I invite the usual courtesy and tolerance given by this House to maiden speakers. I trust that your Lordships will forgive me if I mention that I hold in my hands the notes written by my noble forebear for his maiden speech in 1915. There was no word processor in those days and the notes are merely a sheaf of rather illegible phrases. The relevance to this debate is that these notes came out of extensive and well-documented archives covering over 200 years in the life of the London Hospital in Whitechapel with which Lord Knutsford was closely connected. That fact reminds us that not only galleries and museums but also private institutions have extensive archives which they have to fund from their own resources.
I too, should like to refer to the Government's proposals to confer on the trustees of the three great London picture galleries the power to dispose of works of art, but I will not repeat what has been said much more clearly than I can discourse.
It may be a misconception that these galleries are groaning under the weight of wonderful works of art which they have no space to show. But, as has already been stated by my noble friend Lord Fanshawe and the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, the Tate has works in its British and modern international collections which never see the light of day nor are displayed to the public. I know that there are some provincial 794 museums similarly placed. Therefore, I suggest an alternative method to disposal; namely, that loans should be made for a term of years to the less fortunate galleries and museums.
For a number of years I have had a close connection with Exeter museum, which has a wide variety of well displayed collections but too low an attendance of visitors. Obviously there are gaps in its collections which the director is keen to fill. However, whereas she can usually borrow an exhibit for a temporary exhibition for, say, three months, she is invariably refused an indefinite or even a term loan. I understand that the excuse which the lending museum is keen to stress is that the loaning process is expensive in terms of money and staff time—resources which are for ever being squeezed.
However, where there is a will there is always a way and surely the process of term loans could he promoted as an alternative to disposal, thus avoiding the Government's dangerous proposal. Such loans would benefit not only the lending and borrowing museums but, equally important, they would benefit the public, who would be given the opportunity to see works of art not hitherto displayed. It is to be hoped that they would also swell the number of visitors to the provincial museums.
Another aspect I should like to bring to the attention of your Lordships is purchase grant aid to provincial museums. There is a government fund administered through the Museums and Galleries Commission to assist local museums to buy works of art. However, despite the startling price rise in the art market, this fund has been frozen for some time at a level that is woefully inadequate. The effect of this freeze is that instead of a local museum being offered the customary 50 per cent. grant by the commission, it may be offered a lesser percentage, which in turn bears more heavily on a private charity such as the National Arts Collection Fund, which is asked to contribute more than it can readily afford.
That might be acceptable if private charitable contributions to the arts were encouraged more by government in the form of the tax concessions for so long advocated. But the result of a freeze at one end and discouragement to private investors at the other end of the purchase pipeline means that local museums and galleries are often inhibited from buying items for their collections.
In conclusion, I understand that the Museums and Galleries Commission favours the principle of cross-fertilisation between staff of national and provincial museums. It is recognised that this is practicable only in certain fields because the staff of the nationals tend to be more specialist and scholarly than their colleagues in the provinces who operate in a more practical and plebeian sphere. This divergence of experience and outlook has the effect that the staffs of national museums tend to become locked inside their ivory towers and they are regarded by provincial staffs as somewhat precious and superior. Therefore, I suggest that it would benefit the museums service as a whole if vacant posts in both places were more widely advertised and filled by people from outside with different experiences and new ideas.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, on his speech, which I do very warmly. He and I served in the same regiment at the same time but we never met. I note that three of the matters which he lists as his special interests are also mine; namely, conservation, architecture and music. As a local director of the National Trust for over 20 years, he has had much practical experience on that side of conservation and, as he told us this evening, he has a strong interest in provincial museums about which he made some very wise observations concerning loans and other matters. In one respect I disagree with the noble Viscount, but nevertheless I hope that he will feel encouraged to give your Lordships the benefit of his experience on many occasions.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, postponed this debate because since it was put down on the last occasion a controversy has arisen as to whether the Government should pay £100 million towards housing in this country the Thyssen collection. That has given me even greater encouragement to air a matter which has troubled me for years, and also many other people I have talked to . It is the question of the policy of publicly-owned museums and galleries towards acquisition by purchase.
A number of cases have hit the headlines. The director of the National Museum of Wales paid about £3 million for some Rubens cartoons which may be genuine. The director of the National Gallery of Scotland tried to raise £8 million for a Mantegna. In another very recent instance £7.5 million was paid for a Poussin which I understand will hang in Cardiff. These are only some instances at the top end of the market. There have been many purchases or attempted ones, at lower millions of pounds or in hundreds of thousands.
I believe it is time that the acquisition policy should be revised. There is a very strong case for ruling that public museums and galleries should never purchase anything except under the most closely circumscribed rules. I ask your Lordships to consider the nature of the art market. Here I am sorry to be disagreeing with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, with whom I agree on everything else. For centuries the art market has been supranational. Great art knows no frontiers and it has always moved about the world. That fact should put into question what works may or should be defined as the national heritage of this country. This is the description which appears to be used with increasing frequency in asking for public funds to pay for expensive pictures which otherwise may go abroad.
The reason that they may well go abroad and others may come to these shores is that more than ever before art is being used by very rich people as a currency, as an investment and as a hedge against inflation. This is because there are more rich people than ever. The sums involved are colossal and they will go higher. The higher they go the more purchasers will be attracted both for the kudos and for art being a safe home for money. Only some of this money comes from rich private museums like the Getty Museums, though it has given a big lift to 796 prices generally. Nevertheless, most of the money comes from rich and acquisitive individuals.
The typical private purchaser follows a familiar pattern. He already has a yacht, a plane, fast cars and several houses when someone suggests to him that at least one of these houses will not be complete until he fits it out with some good pictures. So this modern-day Mellon engages a Duveen and begins to invest in works of art. He becomes interested in art, begins to back his own judgment, and he may even have a flutter or two on a modern. In due course he has a collection to which he has become warmly attached. He may leave it to his heirs or, if he is rich enough and the collection large enough, he may build and endow his own gallery.
On the other hand, what more worthy way is there of both keeping his collection intact and of having his name perpetuated than to endow a public gallery with a wing or a room, or more humbly, a labelled bequest? This kind of thing has been happening all the time and if taxation does not discourage it it is likely to continue for ever, since to keep what one has and to perpetuate one's name are very human characteristics.
However, the publicly-owned gallery is not in the same case at all. Unlike an individual, it never dies or pays taxes. Being immortal it can wait, and over time it will acquire an abundance of art objects without the need to purchase anything. Indeed, over the centuries it is likely to have offered to it an embarrassment of riches. Even now some galleries hardly know what to do with all they have. They put forward the argument that the galleries have certain gaps to fill in their collections. This is given as a reason for acquisition. Sir Roy Strong for one has written that one can always find gaps in collections and only a little ingenuity is needed. The gap in the collection excuse for purchase is not a good one, especially as in any case it may easily be filled in due course just by waiting for a gift.
The other justification advanced for purchase is that it is a good business for the taxpayer. However, unless Mr. Luce's canvassed suggestion is adopted, public museums and galleries are not as a rule allowed to sell. Therefore, a public purchase goes off the market and thereupon ceases to have any monetary value. These purchases are not an investment for the taxpayers because they can never be realised. If the public cannot get its money back, that is bad business for it.
It seems to me that there are two choices of policy. One is that if public galleries are allowed to buy they must be allowed to sell. That would put them on all fours with the commercial market towards which, so it appears, their directors' eyes keep turning covetously. It is very easy to be affected by what one might call the appreciation syndrome; that is, the more the cost of an object appreciates the greater the appreciation of it and the greater the desire to possess it.
That only-too-human weakness should be firmly discouraged in the public sector by adopting the second choice of policy which would say, broadly speaking, that galleries should not be allowed to sell and, as a corollary of that, neither should they be allowed to buy. That would save them and the 797 taxpayer from being diverted by the art market and it would encourage them and the rest of us to pay far more attention and apply considerably more money to looking after what is already in the public domain.
I do not go along with what the Economist suggested last month that the taxpayers' contribution—whatever it was—to the £10½ million Poussin would have been better spent on a new opera house in Cardiff, because these things come out of different pockets. Its suggestion is in the right spirit but the money should have been applied to saving, conserving and even cataloguing the heaps of objects which our museums already contain, though it is good to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, that things are all right at the Tate.
It is appalling that, while these astronomically expensive acquisitions are indulged in, the National Gallery, for example, should be wrapping pictures in plastic when it rains, the British Museum is unable to open in the evenings and archaeological conservation in Cardiff is very under-funded. Better building maintenance, better curatorial services, more and better displays and longer opening hours are surely the proper duties of the public sector and both pride and prudence should dictate this. Self-interest should dictate this too if our public institutions are looking for yet more possessions, because the better things are looked after, the more inclined potential benefactors will be to donate their collections.
1 very much hope that the Government will radically review their present policies with these thoughts in mind and remember that the prime objective of all public museums and galleries is to look after what they already have. It is of enormous importance that they should allocate enough money to enable this to be done, which at the moment they do not.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, did I understand him to say that the galleries should not buy great works of art because the public would not get their money back? Surely if such works of art are in galleries, the public will more than get their money back by being able to enjoy them.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will do me the honour of reading my speech later. The drift of my thesis is that these works are enormously expensive and that the money which goes on them would be better put to conservation.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, down the fascinating path that he trod except to say that he may be right that we should not necessarily seek to keep in this country every important picture that comes on to the market and that conservation should be a higher priority than it is. I shall have more to say on that subject.
My noble friend Lord Fanshawe of Richmond deserves our thanks for raising these issues, not least because it gave my noble friend Lord Knutsford the opportunity to make a notable maiden speech and particularly to address the important subject of the 798 provincial galleries. As my noble friend Lord Fanshawe observed, partnership between the public and private sector is indeed the key to an effective policy here, as it is in so many other fields. However, partnership does not mean an abandonment of responsibility by government. As was implicit in the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, private support will be obtained only if there is a sure foundation of a solid and substantial contribution from government.
As a boy I was almost brought up in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where my father was keeper of the department of woodwork. There I saw the very substantial accumulation of objects, never seen by the public and seldom seen by scholars. Those who have explored our museums and galleries up and down the country know that that situation was not unique. Much of what is in store in our museums and galleries is, sadly, ill cared for. Conservation standards are often low—the consequence of financial constraints over a long period. Elsewhere up and down the country there are splendid museums and galleries where too frequently the quality and range of exhibits is limited. The cost of acquisition by such galleries is terrifyingly and indeed prohibitively high, as my noble friend Lord Knutsford pointed out.
On the face of it the solutions might seem fairly obvious but in reality they are fraught with difficulties. To dispose of works considered to be surplus or of inadequate quality is clearly, as this debate has indicated, controversial. I shall say a little more on that subject. Simply to transfer works to provincial museums without provision for conservation or the maintenance of adequate accommodation is to create a whole set of new problems. I make two general points—one, I suspect, will be more popular in museum circles than the other.
First, in my view the Government's policy for the arts is seriously inadequate. I shall not today go beyond the subject covered in this Unstarred Question, though my criticisms of government policy extend to the performing arts as well—indeed, right across the creative arts. What I now say is no secret to my former colleagues because I said as much very vigorously in government as a Minister.
I have no doubt at all that the Government need to take much more effective action to conserve and adequately to display the great collections that we possess and to maintain the fabric of our museum buildings. My second point—the less popular one—is that those responsible for museums or libraries are entitled if they wish to dispose of items which they believe duplicate others or are of lesser quality, subject to an obligation—it is a very important obligation—to honour the wishes of donors made and accepted at the time of gift. A donor's interests cannot simply be put on one side. And of course it is right to utter a word of caution. Fashions change, but having taken adequate account of that obligation and exercised due caution, I believe that the trustees and others responsible for our museums should, as a private collector could, be empowered on the basis of their own judgment to improve the standard of their collections by judicious disposal. But I do not intend to pursue that point.
799 I now return to my first and main topic; namely, the responsibility of government. I start with the assumption that I think has been accepted by most civilised societies down the ages—indeed, by a good many that we might not describe as civilised—that art is worth supporting for its own sake. I should add that there are also good economic and social reasons for so doing. I shall give just one example as one who has been concerned with urban renewal and the problems of a deprived area in the United Kingdom—that is, that if we are to achieve economic transformation, it is not just a matter of providing the infrastructure or grants to encourage new industry. We must create the conditions in which people wish to live and in which companies wish to establish themselves. Provision of adequate facilities for the arts is one of the instruments that I believe a government should use.
I was delighted to see that my successor, the Secretary of State for Wales, recognised that principle by giving support to the arts as part of his valleys initiative. As president of the South-East Wales Arts Association, I was especially glad about that.
I believe that it is an artistic priority and an economic and social priority to see a better distribution of the arts throughout the country. I certainly do not want to belittle the importance of the Thyssen collection; it is a good collection, with some most notable pictures in it. But we have many great collections of works of art of one kind or another in this country inadequately conserved in buildings which are inadequately maintained. Vast parts of those collections are never seen.
Of course there have been some encouraging developments. I am glad to see the opening of the Tate of the North. It is splendid that Glasgow now has its magnificent Burrell Museum in addition to the other splendid institutions in that great city. I also welcome the news, if it is true, that discussions are under way about the possible setting up a museum of Indian art in Bradford. Such steps are most welcome, though I hope that the proposed changes in the organisation of the Victoria and Albert Museum do not mean that the present high standards of scholarship there, or elsewhere, will be undermined.
As Secretary of State for Wales I took a close interest in such problems. I commissioned a study into the housing of the visual arts in Wales which was carried out by a most distinguished panel under the chairmanship of Mr. Hugh Hudson-Davis. Acting on the recommendations that the panel made, I set aside substantial sums for the extension of the National Museum of Wales to provide an adequate home for the great collection of pictures based on the Davis bequest, for loan pictures to come from the Tate and for visiting exhibitions. At present it is impossible to hold a major visiting exhibition in Cardiff because quite simply we do not have the space or adequate conservation to provide for it. I also planned over a longer period to extend the facilities for housing the visual arts elsewhere in the Principality.
The proposal for the enlargement of the National Museum is to cost about £18 million. I made 800 provision for £5 million per year in the Welsh Office budget. The first stage, involving environmental improvements to the museum, has been started and is going well. Some understandable delay has arisen in the main project. The Secretary of State, for reasons that I fully appreciate, has not yet given the go-ahead for the main extension. He has rightly sought to tackle the management shortcomings of the museum which are the product of the remarkably outdated structure of museum government. My information is that solid progress is being made. The officers have been working with the consultants, P. A. Inbucon, the business plan has been submitted and a chief administrator has now been selected.
I am sure that the Secretary of State is as anxious as I am to honour the Government's clear commitment in the matter. Any further delay would, I am reliably informed—or could, at any rate—involve severe financial penalties. It would certainly involve a serious loss of momentum and confidence. The whole project is the result of a most careful examination of the needs of the arts in Wales carried out by the Hudson-Davis Committee. I trust that it will be given the go-ahead before the Summer Recess so that an early start can be made, just as 1 hope that it will be possible to find the very small sums of money needed to secure the future of the very important Graham Sutherland gallery at Picton, with its magnificent collection of pictures by that great British artist.
The Government's interest I believe is clear, and it must now be translated into reality. They must get on with the programme for housing the visual arts in Wales which I promised on their behalf when I was Secretary of State, so that we can move on to the second directive referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, to provide an adequate home in Cardiff for the performing arts and for our great opera company, the Welsh National Opera.
I hope that the House will forgive me for raising these specific matters, but they are an example of the kind of backing that the Government must provide if we are not just to preserve the great collections in our national institutions but to enable them to make the contribution that they should make to our cultural life and to the economic revival of those parts of Britain that still suffer the scars of urban and industrial dereliction and are as entitled to see great works of art as those who live in our capital city.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, my noble' friend Lord Perth concentrated on the words "safeguard and conserve" in the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe of Richmond. I wish to draw attention to the words "national and private hands" to make sure that "private hands" include private institutions, which they do not on face value.
It was interesting that the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, whose maiden speech I very much enjoyed, referred—and rightly so—to private institutions. I too should like to do so. I do so as an interested person because I am a governor of the Lake District Art Gallery and Museum Trust, which includes the Abbot Hall Gallery at Kendal. This is an 801 independent museum. It is excluded from the tax benefits inherent in Schedule 3 to the inheritance tax provisions in the Capital Transfer Tax Act 1984. There is a rather unsatisfactory way round the exclusion by getting a Schedule 3 body to act as an intermediary, but this is clumsy and awkward and, if I may use a schoolboy phrase, a little infra dig for a respectable independent institution.
I am happy to say that the Abbot Hall Gallery has been enabled to use the South Lakeland District Council as an intermediary, but I do not think that that should be necessary. I fully understand the reservations of the Treasury because it may doubt that independent museums are sufficiently stable and have sufficient revenue to be the conservators of works of art which they have acquired and purchased with the help of tax concessions and which, if they fall on hard times, they may be tempted or constrained to sell to the detriment of the revenue.
It is slightly ironical that they should be taking that stand at the same time as the national museums, receiving the greatest tax benefits of all, are to be given powers to dispose of some of their material. I think that there is a way round, which I strongly commend to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. It is that an amendment be made to Schedule 3 to the Capital Transfer Tax Act to include reputable independent museums in the schedule. The satisfactory way of ensuring that only reputable independent museums are so included is to describe them as those registered with the Museums and Galleries Commission. I understand that the commission is in the process of compiling such a register, so that this is a practical possibility.
I believe that the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, the right honourable Michael Jopling, has raised this question with the Minister for the Arts. It would be marvellous if his representative here today, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, could give a glimmer of light, some signal, some sign of hope.
I shall not go over the ground which has been so well trodden already about the sale of objects from national museums and national collections, except to say that I agree with what other noble Lords have said. The trust with which I am concerned has ratified the Museums Association's code of practice for museum authorities which specifically precludes the sale of objects. I very much hope that that will be the norm and that all respectable institutions will sign that code.
Our position is that we are against the sale of objects from national collections but we would welcome the transfer of such objects, instead of their sale, to suitable provincial galleries. This is another point on which I was happy to agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, when he talked about term loans. I believe that there is a great future in term loans. They cost less for the national institution, much less in administrative and personnel costs as well as time. All the cost and time go into the dispatch and receipt again, at the end of the loan, of the work of art. If that work of art is dispatched and received back again many times, the cost goes up a great deal. If it is dispatched and not received back for five or six years, that is a very good use of money. There is a curious parallel with prisoners. The most expensive 802 prisoners to keep are those who are sent to gaol for four or five days, because no sooner have they been expensively processed than they are expensively deprocessed.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, yes. Exactly the same applies to term loans of works of art, which are much more cost-effective than short loans.
Much has been said of the National Gallery, which has all its works of art on display. As we have heard, the Tate has opened its new branch in Liverpool. I do not believe that anyone has so far mentioned the National Portrait Gallery, which is exemplary. It has not only put part of its collection in Somerset, Yorkshire, Lancashire and, I am happy to say, in Cumbria at Dove Cottage, where the portraits of the lake poets are on display, but it has now also a very notable collection of 19th century art in Wales. I believe that that is the sort of pattern that ought to be followed. It is a very important and imaginative dispersion of objects which could not otherwise have been shown.
Finally, even though I am in favour of term loans on the conditions which I have described, I very much agree with those who have suggested that it is by no means a waste for the national collections to have a large amount of material behind the counter. After all, as has rightly been said, these are research collections and the keepers of the collections are great scholars. They preserve those collections for visiting scholars. I do not grudge them their reserve collections if they are properly housed and kept.
§ 9.25 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe of Richmond, for promoting this debate on the safeguarding and conservation of our national heritage. It has given us the chance to hear the views of a number of noble Lords who have done so much to preserve the heritage in this country. It is a debate which is most timely when more and more people from all walks of life are visiting our galleries to see and to absorb works of art and when more and more children come to learn from the work which covers the walls of our museums.
At this very moment the London gallery network has provided a feast. There are paintings from Picasso, Cezanne, the Phillips collection at the Hayward and the Russian collections at the National Gallery. The number of people visiting these exhibitions is far greater than anyone envisaged even 10 years ago and emphasises the importance of the problems which we are discussing this evening.
What pictures are hung permanently on the walls of our galleries and the care and attention given to them are the subject of this debate. Wide of it was the subject discussed most interestingly by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, which was the high prices required to acquire new works. Those prices are certainly not the fault of the Government.
803 I cannot claim to speak about the problems of museums as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, made a very good case against the Government, much of which I agree with. But as a former trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland, I would say that the galleries in Edinburgh are not facing too many difficulties. I congratulate the Government on their efforts to support our galleries. If there are difficulties, the trustees seem to have got round them. They recently carried out a major scheme of refurbishment.
My tribute to the present Minister for the Arts must be qualified by my dissatisfaction over the way he is dealing with some of the needs of practising artists and the unsatisfactory answers given to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, in our recent debate. However, on this subject my appreciation is genuine. I repeat to the noble Baroness her own words in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. She said:Be of good cheer old girl, all is not as black and gloomy as is made out".The noble Lord's Unstarred Question goes on to raise matters concerning lending and storing and the need to avoid deterioration. I am sure we should encourage giving and lending and discourage hoarding. Donors of gifts to a museum who are still alive should always have the right to have their gift returned if it cannot be properly looked after and shown at regular intervals.
Trustees of the National Galleries of Scoland have powers under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985 to sell unwanted works, but they have stated that they do not want to exercise that right. Selling off minor works would bring in chicken-feed which would be quite inadequate for the purchase of good work at today's prices. There is always the danger of parting with wrongly attributed work which has potential value in the future. No doubt trustees of other galleries, if given the same powers, may follow the same line. The important thing is to hang on to and look after the existing works which are owned by a gallery and for the public to know where they are so that they can travel, if necessary, long distances to see them.
With regard to the fabric of the galleries, I can understand the concern felt by some trustees that recent quite large increases in building grants are inadequate in view of the high cost of repairs and building these days. At this important milestone when trustees are being given responsibility for their own buildings, it would be shortsighted not to do the job properly. Where special grants are needed, it would be wise to make sure that all work is put out to competitive tender with strict supervision of contracts.
The Government have also increased the resources available for management. That income of course can be supplemented by friends' societies, by the marketing of postcards and catalogues and other measures, and, if necessary, by the introduction of admission charges so as to improve services to the public.
When I was a trustee under the chairmanship of the late Lord Crawford and Balcarres, we took the view 804 that the high cost of introducing all the equipment and staff would be justified only during the tourist season. We had other reasons as regards ethics. However, the main reason was materialistic and we decided against that policy. Now more and more tourists come to Edinburgh at all times of the year and the situation is different. The trustees might well change their minds. That would be following the example of our old allies, the French, who have admission charges. They are making many improvements to their gallery spaces in Paris at the Musée D'Orsay and in the hole in the ground outside the Louvre. I hope that any gallery which decides to introduce admission charges will include reductions for students and old people so that the British members of La troisiétne age may continue to benefit from concessions when they go to Paris.
With regard to works which are in private hands, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which has also been given funds, carefully considers the need to keep works as far as possible in their proper environment in private houses. It is conscious of the need to preserve collections intact.
There are a number of tax laws in existence which safeguard our private heritage for the future. It is only where owners are determined to bypass all the safety nets that there is a serious danger of losses abroad. It may well be that where there is inadequate funding from galleries or from the memorial fund it may be necessary to say no to purchasers. Those are sad decisions which may be necessary at a time of consolidation rather than expansion.
I take this opportunity to make a brief reference to the Sutherland collection, which is at present on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland. It includes outstanding masterpieces by Titian, Poussin, Rembrandt and many other Dutch and Italian painters. Without upsetting the present peaceful and, one hopes, permanent relationship between the National Galleries of Scotland and the noble Duke who has been such a generous benefactor over the years, I suggest that it would seem sensible for the Government to have a policy in mind so that some money can be earmarked to deal with such an eventuality. If it did arise, there would be a need to keep together a collection of supreme national importance in its present home, the capital of Scotland. That should be a matter of urgent priority for the Government and should feature very largely in our thoughts this evening when we are considering the future safeguarding of our national heritage.
I shall be followed in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. He was head boy at Stowe when I was there, as was the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill. Therefore, I shall not hold him up and will sit down.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I hardly know how to begin my speech after that admirable introduction. However, I should like to say that we are much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, not only for the charm and cogency with which he introduced the debate but also because it has given us the opportunity of hearing the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, make an admirable speech.
805 Before I proceed to my main point, perhaps I may take up one or two points which have been mentioned. The first is that the first three speeches made an unanswerable case against permitting trustees of our great national museums to sell their treasures on the open market. We did not need to go to the Soviet Union for an example. There is an excellent example in our own country. Oliver Cromwell did this country untold harm when he sold Charles l's collection. That has always been an unanswerable argument against a republic.
We must be serious about the point because our great museums and galleries rely enormously on good will—the good will of those who have treasures in their private possession and who may at some time feel disposed to offer them to the country. We shall do untold damage if we begin to tamper with that good will and dissipate it.
The second point that I wanted to take up was the question of Baron Thyssen's collection. I do not want to say anything about the noble Baron and his intentions. However, there are two points to make. The danger in the Government's admirable response in saying that they are prepared to offer £100 million for the collection plus an endowment for the building in which it is to be housed is that it gives the Treasury an almost unanswerable argument, which is to say that it can do nothing for the present collections when it has that commitment hanging over it. I hope that that argument will not be used by the Treasury. Certainly it is one of the duties of the Minister for the Arts to drive that point home and to say that the commitment does not mean that therefore nothing can be done to improve the national collections.
The other point I should like to make on this subject has already been made by the noble Earl, Lord Haig, when he mentioned the well-known case of the collection of the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland. That is not the only collection. There are other collections—perhaps I had better say they are in the possession of the Duke of Omnium, to use Trollope's famous character—which are incomparably greater than any paintings in Baron Thyssen's collection. When those come on the market, as they may well do by the course of nature and time, it is vital that they are saved because they belong to the national heritage.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, did one great service tonight. He said that trustees have to sharpen their minds about where the priorities lie. Although I do not go along with him in his argument, nevertheless that is a very cogent point. That is one of the reasons why we have to impress upon the Government that those collections exist and that they have priority over what we would be willing to do to obtain Baron Thyssen's paintings.
The third point which I wanted to make was that when I was a trustee of the British Museum the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, became chairman. He introduced an entirely new note into our proceedings. He said, "You trustees are not doing your duty. You have not really understood the commitment which we ought to have to the public". It was he who drove home, throughout the museums and galleries world, the notion that they had far greater responsibilities to the public than they had accepted. He argues that it 806 was not merely a question of displaying the treasures better; it was a question of educating the public, of educating children and educating people to come to museums and galleries. So successful has his policy been that one can see the attendances rising all the time.
When the noble Viscount became Minister for the Arts he made a notable addition to the funding. It was very important that he did so because during the 1950s and 1960s, when other cultural institutions such as the universities had been raising their baseline, to use Treasury parlance, and expanding their staffs, the museums and galleries had not been doing so. The result is that to this day the National Gallery has the tiniest number of staff. It has a director and it has some curators. There is hardly any administrative staff at all.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, produced a new administrative structure at the British Museum. But when we are asked to do this or that at the National Gallery it is very difficult to do so. There is a limit to the amount one can ask curators to do when they are responsible for the collections and for the scholarly standards at the gallery. I hope that that point will be borne in mind—that it was after all a Conservative Minister who raised the whole tone and notion of our obligations in galleries and museums and who at that time provided the funding to do so. I hope that the Government will not go back on the funding initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.
I do not entirely go along with the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, that only the state should provide money. We have always had an input from private people. If your Lordships go to the British Museum you will find the Lord Duveen room. Duveen also aided the National Gallery, perhaps in part to salve his conscience. However, be that as it may, there are examples from way back in the past of private enterprise coming in to help.
I should like to pay a great tribute to my successor as chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery, Mr. Jacob Rothschild, who has done wonders to raise considerable sums. Of course the most astonishing was the Getty bequest. He is also enlisting all sort of people to help, not in the purchase of paintings, although of course the Getty money is used for that, but to refurbish the National Gallery. Therefore I do not go along with the view that only the state should undertake that work, but surely the state should undertake the work of seeing that the roof does not leak, and in the Victoria and Albert Museum that is a terrible problem.
I came tonight to say one thing; that is, that the Question addresses the problem of how works of art can be transferred to provincial and university museums. It is a laudable ideal. A start has been made with the Tate in Liverpool. To circulate works of art requires expert staff and money and the personnel in the university museums cannot cope with that at the moment.
I should like to say a word about the plight of university museums. I should sooner sizzle in the pit of Tophet than be the director of a university museum today. A more unloved and rejected troupe of men and women can hardly exist. Wherever they turn for help, they are turned down. Two years ago, 807 those admirable ladies and gentlemen met in Manchester under the auspices of the Museums and Galleries Commission, with the chairman of the UGC present. Professor Michael Jaffée, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, suggested that the best hope, granted the state of university finance, was to obtain money from the Minister for tourism. Mr. Bryan Morris, the chairman of the commission, spoke in dulcet tones but could do nothing to help, and so nothing happened. The rectors then formed an action committee of Mr. Christopher White of the Ashmolean, Professor Jaffé and Sir Alan Warhurst of the University of Manchester Museum. The Office of Arts and Libraries refused to meet them. When they met the Minister with responsibility for higher education, he told them that they had much better raise money through charging for entrance.
Off they then went to the Minister for tourism who told them that he would be delighted to help but that Section 4 of the Tourist Act was a stumbling block. He could give no grant to meet current expenditure. In order to qualify, they must do something innovative. That is like offering a starving man a banquet provided that he cooks swan and peacock as entrées. Then in the spring the weary action committee at last met the Minister for the Arts who said that in the autumn he had tried to have a meeting with the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but he was bound to tell them that he could offer from his Vote nothing to the Department of Education and Science. So it is that these university museum directors, like the sturdy beggars in the reign of Elizabeth I, are soundly whipped and moved on from parish to parish.
The official answer to the UGC is that the most prestigious museums, such as the Courtauld, are designated as worthy to receive a special factor in the grant to the university concerned. I do not know whether the UGC designates any part of that grant to universities as meeting the special factor. However, in the past the UGC was very chary indeed of specifying any particular amount for fear of being accused of earmarking. But times have changed and it may well be that the amounts available for the special factor are made public. I wonder if the noble Baroness can tell the House whether that is so. if she does not have the figures to hand, can she let me know in writing what they are? I do not expect to have the answer immediately.
However, every university—and one must not forget this—is entitled to disregard a UGC indication and to make its own individual appraisal of how much to allocate. The truth is that the UGC does not see itself as a funding body for museums. That is why we have a situation such as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to at Royal Holloway College where it is now seriously considering whether it should sell its remarkable collection of Victorian paintings.
Universities are in a very bad way. I suggest to them that perhaps the best thing is not to sell their paintings but to put them up as collateral to the 808 banks. They will be accepted as collateral but one hopes that they will never have to be called in.
The Government urge all museums and galleries to raise money from benefactors, and so they do. But they get very little encouragement to persevere. The Courtauld has raised over £5 million to move to Somerset House. It still has another £1 million to raise a year from now. The UGC was able to allocate only £500,000 towards the fees and the fittings necessary for that move to take place. That is a third of what the Courtauld needs.
Let us take the Fitzwilliam Museum. It raises towards its recurrent costs £27,000 a year in voluntary contributions. Professor Jaffée has time and again raised amazing sums for such a museum to buy paintings and objects to add to the collections. What encouragement and recognition have any government given to his success? The answer is none. It is difficult at the moment. Our funding tends to fall between two stools. It is neither continental nor American. On the Continent the state buys and Frenchmen and Germans are proud to pay for the great collections owned by the state or by the kinder. In America it is different. There wealthy individuals, by staggering tax concessions, are able to sustain the arts. In Britain our grants from the state are too low to sustain our institutions and our tax concessions are inadequate. At present therefore both sources are inadequate to safeguard our artistic heritage.
I hope that these points will be borne in mind when—and this is the time of year, I believe, that this exercise begins—the Minister for the Arts will make his case to the Star Chamber for additional expenditure. It is a very good time to make it because everybody knows that the funds are there and some of them ought to be released.
I end by making an apology. On 15th June I telephoned the Centre Table at seven o'clock in the evening to find out whether the debate was on and was told "Oh, it will be a long time before it comes on. Eleven o'clock, I should say". I came here at 8 p.m. and retired to the Library to do a little work. I saw on the monitor that the time was approaching for this Unstarred Question to begin. I moved into the Chamber only to be met head on by the Mace coming out.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House could arrange in future that when debates are cancelled—it is perfectly understandable that they have to be because government business has to be re-arranged—there could be a notice put in the Library, the Princes Chamber or somewhere else telling us what is to happen. The trouble is that I have an engagement this evening and I wondered whether the noble Baronesses would excuse me (although at this time it is hardly likely that anyone will invite me to dinner) but I hoped I could go to the Royal Opera House to see Don Giovanni invite the statue of the Commendatore to dinner.
§ Lord Hutchinson of Lullington
My Lords, before the noble Lord sets off for Hades with Don Giovanni, will he confirm that I too was educated at Stowe School?
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, 1 also join in the paeans of appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, for initiating this very interesting and important debate which covers such a wide field but about which he was specific. Instead of wandering all over the world of art, we have at least reduced it to some specific matters which we all feel need to be tackled. Before I start, I say to the Minister, perhaps using the vernacular of her reply to me in the debate just quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Haig, "You're really on your own, old girl, tonight, aren't you?"
It is important that the general tenor of the contributions tonight almost universally has been to stress the areas in which it is absolutely essential that the Government should be doing more. There has been no party political crossfire of any kind, but everybody has spoken from experience and knowledge and has stressed the need for far greater government support for the arts.
To my mind the most important aspect of the Government bid for Thyssen is the revelation that £100 million can be found from the contingency fund for the arts, which is quite a new departure. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan (who has darted off to the opera now) that if this happens we may not have the money for anything else. If Thyssen had not happened, we should not have had the money at all. Let us be quite frank about that. It was not on the table as an alternative, but the fact that the offer is now on the table could mean that with a certain amount of pressure—I hope that we shall all he there to contribute to that—this initiative will not he lost.
To me this offer is a signal that the value of collections of art is at last recognised. On 4th July the Financial Times said:For the first time that anyone can remember we have an administration that has more revenues than it knows what to do with".It then went on to query whether:going into the market place for Thyssen is the best way of disposing of it".There we have the revenues. Whether we are able to get Thyssen or not—I believe there are a great many doubts about it—at least we can say that we have been offered the money and we can all press for the collection.
I hope therefore that government funding, as opposed to private sector funding—which is very important in its own field, and certainly as far as purchases are concerned, as are the other finances that are needed—will be made on a comparable scale to make up for the shortfall which is being experienced in relation to the collections here.
Money is desperately needed in two areas. I make no apology for briefly underlining what has already been touched upon by every noble Lord. The areas are not as glamorous as purchasing and therefore are not targets for a whole range of plural funding. First, there is the storage and conservation of work. That has been stressed to a great extent by several noble Lords, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson. Secondly, there is the curatorial expertise which is needed to safeguard, catalogue, exhibit and research the collections.
810 The underfunding of our museums and galleries, which still goes on, ensures that scholars in the British Museum, the V&A, the Tate and other museums and galleries all over the country are prevented from spending time interpreting their collections because of the need to find sponsorship, beg charities for money and court patrons in order to keep their roof watertight. As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in contrast the central museums in France attract much more vigorous funding from the central government.
Loans have also been mentioned in the debate tonight. Most noble Lords are against the disposal of pictures and objects unless they are in duplicate, but we are greatly in favour of loans, particularly when they go to provincial and university museums. However, one must remember that every work needs housekeeping care. That includes selecting and sending works which are being lent to other institutions. Loaning is very expensive in terms of staff and that must not be forgotten. It is not a case of saying, "We will send this here or that there". It involves a great deal of work in staff terms and the space in the receiving galleries and museums must he ready and prepared to display the works.
Even disposals, which most noble Lords are against, require curatorial time. The national collections and other museums require more staffing and huge increases in government capital expenditure. At present the Victoria and Albert Museum is having to save £750,000 in staffing and it is also debating the introduction of charges for giving out its expertise.
I believe that a great deal can be done in relation to expertise. At present people can go to any museum or gallery and take up a great deal of time while there in explaining what they want and also when the work is being carried out for them. The museums and galleries give valuations and advice, none of which is paid for. I am not suggesting that the ordinary member of the public wishing to find out something about an object or picture in a museum should be liable to a charge. However, I believe that dealers and people who have an interest in a picture or object and who are obtaining advice in order to sell it should pay a charge to the museum or gallery for the work that is being done. It takes up a great deal of expert staff time. Can the Minister say whether the Government have an attitude about that matter and, if not, whether they will consider it?
The current increases that have been made in the budget for galleries and museums are ludicrously inadequate. The £178 million given to the national museums and galleries is not enough and is far less than is needed. However, if that was brought up to £200 million, which is only £22 million more, that I am told would enable them at least to get by although not in any luxurious manner. That would require very careful housekeeping. However, it is quite a drop in the ocean when one considers other public expenditure which has to go on at the same time.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the university museums. He spoke on this matter and therefore I shall not say what I was going to say about it, but they are starved and in a particularly vulnerable position. This is an important link which 811 we can see in other aspects of the subject between the way in which the arts in this country have suffered and are suffering so much as a result of the education cuts. As the noble Lord said, the university museums come right at the bottom of the pile when it comes to receiving money from the University Grants Committee, and it probably will not be any better when that becomes the Universities Funding Council.
The Holloway collection is another example in point. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, pointed out, that particularly emphasises how disastrous it would be if this plan—which when I last discussed it with the Minister he still had in mind—to bring forward legislation to enable the major museums and galleries to dispose of pictures and objects were to go ahead. If the Minister can give us any good news and say that there has been a change of mind, we should be glad to hear that. The noble Baroness was with me when I asked the Minister that question.
The Holloway collection is one of the most recent examples and is a particularly important one because that is a case of private sponsorship—and private sponsorship is the contemporary cry. However, if through the cuts in education this wonderful 19th century generosity of a private benefactor goes to the wall because the 77 paintings which he left to decorate the walls of the college will be sold, that will be a tragedy.
I was interested to read that the principal of Holloway said that if the college had to do that then she would be looking into the legal possibilities of the matter because the benefactors left those pictures "to decorate the walls of the college". The principal wondered whether that could be interpreted to mean that some of the pictures could be sold in order to decorate the walls of the college so that the rooms could be used for other occasions which would bring them in money. If the college is put into that position, it will be an absolute tragedy
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that donors' wishes must be respected. However, unless there is a legal agreement and understanding, that is not what has happened. People have been given undertakings at the time but they come to nothing if the institution decides that it wishes to sell one of the pictures.
I also disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, that galleries and museums should not have the right to make purchases. I believe that that would cut down the activities and creativeness and chance of enterprise. If that is done then I do not believe that there would be people of a high grade who are interested enough to take on this work in the future. I believe that one must do all one can to help them and, in the first instance, to give them more staff.
The interesting fact about education and children, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, is that if we are to have a society which cares about art and wants to conserve and preserve the heritage then it must be a society that is orientated to appreciation of our artistic heritage, which again comes down to education.
812 The Education Reform Bill which we have so recently seen through this House, laboriously and with long nights, does nothing to further the cause of art. In that area alone—I do not intend to discuss anything else in the Bill but only that area with which I am particularly concerned—the National Curriculum proposals leave the creative and performing arts cribbed, cabined and confined into a minimal area of a child's school experience. They do nothing to promote the work of quality and everything to minimalise, marginalise and discredit the very concept of artistic achievement.
One of the aspects that I found so strange and bitterly disappointing when discussing some of the arts subjects in the Bill was that the Government refused to accept an amendment which was well supported in this House for changing, in the foundation subjects, "art, music" into "the arts". When, finally, on Report we voted on the amendment it was lost by only two votes. I have to add that three noble Lords on the Government Benches came into the Lobby to support the amendment. It was not a party political question, but unfortunately it demonstrated what the attitude is and can be towards the arts generally. It is a great pity that that is so.
I return to Thyssen and its effect. Again, I must say that if £100 million is made available from the contingency fund then surely some amount should be given to safeguard what we already have. We have all said that and we must all add our voices to that thought. Moreover, as again has been mentioned, there are private collections of worldwide importance in this country, the futures of which have not yet been decided, such as the collection of the Duke of Sutherland. As the years go by, more collections are being built up. Even if they are acquired through the accumulation of wealth, some planning must go into what will happen to them in the future.
Finally, this will have been a useful debate and could have a useful future function if the Minister is able to take on board all that has been said and will indicate to the Minister for the Arts, and to everyone else that she can, that there is a strong feeling in this House. In any case, the Government should sometimes do something to make themselves popular.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fanshawe has attracted an extremely knowledgeable and select group of Peers not only to take part in this fascinating debate but, in a way, to goad me from time to time.
It seems to me that every debate on the arts attracts a maiden speaker, and so it is again this evening. Of course, I would very much like to be associated with the plaudits which the speech of my noble friend Lord Knutsford attracted. My noble friend's motto is,Look backwards, look around and look forwards".That should perhaps be adopted by us all.
During the course of his speech, my noble friend Lord Fanshawe made several remarks with which I 813 wholeheartedly agree. For example, he recognised the work done by the Government on heritage, and I am grateful for that. He also eliminated the need to go yet again into the facts and figures that the House knows so well. However, it is important to remind your Lordships that the three-year settlement represents a significant increase in funding, and offers certainty about future provisions.
On the question of the recent tax changes, it is too early to predict their effect. I am grateful for the encouragement of several noble Lords for the acquisition of the Thyssen collection. As things stand, matters are with the trustees, but the fact that such a one-off opportunity was immediately and positively taken up is surely a clear demonstration of our commitment to the arts. As regards the question asked by my noble friend Lord Fanshawe about the use of the £150 million elsewhere, let us cross that bridge if and when we come to it. The whole matter is still under discussion. Sitting where I do, I can think of many projects upon which to spend such a sum and so could my colleagues. I leave the subject there.
Our initiatives have not been confined to London. Two major non-London museums, the National Museums and Galleries, on Merseyside, and the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, are now supported from our arts programme. There are also significant increases in funding, via the Museums and Galleries Commission, to assist local and independent museums. I am constantly delighted but not surprised by the activity and success of our museums. I should like to pay tribute to the excellence and the international standing of their scholarly work which is immensely impressive in the breadth and depth of its coverage. It is worth noting that my right honourable friend in another place commented recently on the prodigious scholarly output of the British Museum alone. I mention that as but one example.
The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, hoped that I would not find some of his remarks offensive. I have to tell him that I did. I remind the noble Lord—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan—that if one looks back it is patronage which laid the foundations of many of our great national collections. That tradition continues as benefactors add to collections and help institutions to expand and improve their facilities. In this context, I could mention the Clore Gallery and the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, the Sainsbury Wing for the National Gallery, and the Imperial War Museum redevelopment scheme. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, again that the fact that many of these and other developments have been and are being funded on the basis of partnership between the public and private sectors is a matter not for regret but for the warmest congratulation.
Furthermore, government initiatives, including grant-in-aid status and the three-year settlement, help museums to attract private support. A significant part of our national heritage is looked after by the private sector. I take up a point made by my noble friend Lord Knutsford. I point in particular 814 to the excellent work of the National Trust in maintaining historic properties and their contents. The future of many historic country houses lies with private owners. Those owners who belong to the Historic Houses Association set standards second to none in care and presentation. The Government welcome the renewed sense of stewardship which served past generations.
It is one of the Government's priorities to make our treasures more accessible to the nation at large. One significant way in which they do this is through the government indemnity scheme which indemnifies objects loaned for exhibition. At the end of March this year this scheme was supporting loans between institutions of items estimated to be worth about £600 million. At the Age of Chivalry exhibition at the Royal Academy, the scheme indemnified material from the USA, Holland, France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and Norway as well as that from the UK. The most valuable single item ever indemnified was the British Library's Lindisfarne Gospels, valued at £20 million, which was loaned last year to an exhibition in Durham.
Our museums and galleries recognise the importance of the magnificent treasures from their collections being seen throughout the country and indeed the world. Their record is already impressive. In 1987 the British Museum lent 2,500 objects; the Victoria and Albert Museum, 3,000. Among recent examples of loans of self-contained exhibitions were Buddhist sculptures loaned to the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, late medieval glass lent to Ely Cathedral and items from Saxon burial mounds lent to the Bede Monastery Museum in Jarrow. Examples of recent overseas loans include a collection of Islamic art lent to the Stockholm Museum in Sweden and to Malaysia, and items of Etruscan art loaned to Florence.
Another recent initiative by my right honourable friend is the travelling exhibitions unit set up at the Museums and Galleries Commission to act as a focal point for promoting travelling exhibitions.
The question of disposal of unwanted items from collections was raised not only by my noble friend Lord Fanshawe but also by the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Raglan, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and the noble Lord, Lord Annan. Perhaps that is the item of greatest interest to your Lordships this evening. Most national museums, and indeed the National Galleries of Scotland, already have these powers of disposal which are used by the trustees with great discretion and care. The only ones without these powers are the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The proposal to grant some power of disposal to these three institutions is part of the wider question of updating and clarifying the powers and duties of their trustee bodies and giving them corporate status. It is important that this proposal, which has caused considerable recent discussion, should be seen in this context. And all this must be seen in perspective and against the background of the Government's desire for even more professional management of our great institutions as a major priority to ensure that our treasures are available to as many people as possible.
815 The Government welcome public debate on these issues. Various views have been expressed. One point to emerge clearly is that different institutions may have different needs in this respect. Collections of old master paintings are rather different from museum collections with a wide range of objects. The Government are keen to get the right answer on this question—the right answer for each institution. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts announced in another place an extensive consultative exercise to gather views so that the Government can best make an appropriate and flexible response to the differing needs of institutions. My right honourable friend understands and respects the views put to him. A consultative document will be issued shortly and decisions will be taken in the light of views expressed and of course in the light of points made by your Lordships this evening.
My noble friend Lord Fanshawe referred to disposal powers as possibly dissuading bequests and gifts. The Government recognise the concern that has been expressed on this point and my right honourable friend has made clear that this will be taken into account when any new legislation is drafted. If trustees want to enter into binding agreements with donors that their gifts or bequests will be retained in the collection permanently they will continue to be able to do so. The Government accept that it is right for trustees to have this ability.
The noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe, raised the point that the National Portrait Gallery cannot transfer pictures to other national collections under the terms of its governing Treasury Minutes. It is not governed by statute like other national museums and galleries. My answer to him is that the Government intend to legislate to give trustees of the National Portrait Gallery new corporate status. They will be equipped with updated powers, including the power of transfer to other national collections.
With regard to the question of acceptance in lieu, which was also raised by my noble friend Lord Fanshawe, there has been no shortage of offers, which is most encouraging. We shall keep the 25 per cent. douceur rate under review. As yet there is no strong evidence which exists to change it. I submit to him that tax changes need time to work through.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for giving me prior notice about his point on the indefinite stop procedure. I am sorry that he has had to wait so long for the answer. My right honourable friend in another place is aware of, and concerned about, the problem, as is his colleague the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who holds statutory responsibility for export licensing. Indeed, the matter is under urgent consideration, including consideration of recommendations which have been made by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell is what one would describe as the father of the development of the main building at Cathays Park in Cardiff. That is a most important project for the National Museum of Wales. The present Secretary of State for Wales is committed to the project and is keen to see it brought to completion. Alas! I cannot give my noble friend a 816 date for the reactivation of the project. However, the Secretary of State is aware of all the facts and keeps the matter under constant review. He is on record as saying that there will be no unnecessary delay in reactivating the project—and we must leave it at that.
As regards the John Rylands Library, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, criticised the sale of the Spencer and Christie collections in Manchester University. I, too, regret this. I was the person who actually mentioned the word "duplicate". The sale of genuine duplicates cannot be disputed; but this sale broke up two vitally important collections. The Minister for the Arts is most concerned about such sales and is currently considering advice from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. That is not comparable with proper disposals already provided for in statute for our national museums and foreshadowed for galleries; it affects the integrity of specialised collections, and all concerned should try all other avenues before deciding on such sales.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, mentioned the question of the exclusion of independent museums from Schedule 3 to the Capital Transfer Tax Act 1984. I listened with sympathy to the point that he raised. I know that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Arts has discussed the matter at length with his revenue colleagues. Independent museums can benefit from the private treaty sale concession via an existing Schedule 3 body such as a local authority, the National Trust or the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Wider fiscal arguments have so far prevailed; but we cannot see it as infra dig to purchase at a concessionary rate with the assistance of such notable bodies. The Abbott Hall Gallery has done so recently, as also has Gainsborough's House; but what matters is that the concession can be used and is being used to save our heritage. I should like to congratulate all concerned in co-operating to do so.
I shall keep the issue regarding university museums to the minimum, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is not here. However, I shall write to him with the figures that he asked for. I should just like to pay tribute to my old friend Professor Jaffée because both the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and I have a great love for the Fitzwilliam Museum.
I must say how sorry I am to see the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, supporting a very chic sling. I hope that her arm is fully recovered soon. In answer to her questions on charging policy, I should like to say that I loved my noble friend Lord Haig's forgiving speech.
On the question of charging, it is for the trustees to decide whether to charge for admission or for any of the services offered by a museum. The Government neither encourage nor discourage charging for admission; they encourage museums to be more self-reliant. It is for the museums to decide how this is brought about. The art trade and expert advisers cooperate on attribution and valuation of individual items. The benefits work to the mutual advantage and satisfaction of both sides.
In cataloguing the successes of the museums and galleries, the Government do not overlook or deny the existence of problems. Those problems that exist 817 certainly do not imply a crisis in museums. Which museum or gallery would not like more space and more to spend on its collection? How many of the problems that museums experience are themselves the problems of success in the expansion and development of collections and of new galleries and the consequence of ever higher standards of excellence in conservation and display? Those who actually read the reports of the Museums and Galleries Commission and the National Audit Office will find that both see the national museums and galleries responding vigorously and intelligently to their opportunities and needs. The Government will continue to encourage and assist them to do so.
The Government's deep concern for the safeguarding of our heritage is evidenced by a positive policy framework, a series of specific initiatives and a strong funding record in support of heritage activities.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I was kind to the Minister because I believe that she is suffering from a cold. 1 wish her better.
When she writes to me about the charges in regard to expertise, as no doubt she will, I want to be clear that this is different from charging for admission. This is not an individual decision. It would have to be discussed at a much higher level, an attitude would have to be set out and something arranged. I disagree that this is to their mutual advantage. It is not. At present the dealer gets all the benefit and the museum or gallery gets none because there are no extra staff and people are not paid overtime to do it.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, with the leave of the House, the extra words of the noble Baroness will no doubt help me when I come to write to her.