HL Deb 18 May 1998 vol 589 cc1278-80

3.1 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will help to retain exceptional art treasures in this country when national or regional museums or galleries are unable to raise enough funds to match 75 per cent. grants from the heritage lottery fund.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, all applications to the heritage lottery fund require an element of partnership funding to demonstrate support for and commitment to the project. Were the Government to provide that funding, it would undermine the demonstration of that commitment. It would also undermine the existing arm's length relationship between the Government and lottery distributors and would risk breaching the principle of additionality.

The lottery has helped towards the purchase of many works of art and the Government help to keep art treasures in the UK through their funding for national and regional museums and galleries, the export control system and concessionary tax schemes.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, will he agree that there should be exceptions while our nation is going through a period of such glory with its artists and sculptors? Last week we lost Lucian Freud's masterpiece because the Tate Gallery could not, in the time required, put the money together. Will the Government reconsider exceptional circumstances?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the heritage lottery fund set up rules for itself. One of those rules is that it will not normally consider works of art created in the past 20 years. As the noble Lord will know, the Lucian Freud "Large Interior, W11" was painted in 1979. In fact, no approach was made to the heritage lottery fund. As a rule, it does not intervene in the sale of works of art in New York, which is where the Freud picture was sold.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Sherborne Missal, which has been on extended loan to the British Library, has now been offered in lieu of inheritance tax? Will the Government ensure that what is probably the most important medieval manuscript in the country is retained?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I too saw the article in The Times last week in relation to the Sherborne Missal and wondered at the illustration shown. I am glad to be able to tell my noble friend that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport agreed to accept the Missal in lieu of inheritance tax on the estate of the late Duke of Northumberland. Arrangements for transfer to the British Library are in hand.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, will the Minister agree that a general problem with the heritage lottery fund is that good causes are increasingly chasing the funds from a finite number of charities and commercial firms in order to meet the threshold of 25 per cent.? Is not there a case for lowering that 25 per cent. threshold to 15 per cent., or even to 10 per cent., which is currently the target for smaller projects? Even then, as we see with the Handel House Museum, good causes experience great difficulty in raising the money.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I appreciate the difficulty, though I should point out that the threshold set by other distributors of lottery funds for matching funding is actually higher than the 25 per cent. set by the heritage lottery fund. It is the responsibility of the lottery fund itself to establish its threshold. We would be under considerable criticism, not least from the Opposition Front Bench, if we sought to intervene.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I completely accept the case for matching funding, but am still puzzled by what the Minister said. Is it not the case that the conditions for matching funding have been relaxed in other areas? Should not we aim for some consistency over the whole field? Otherwise, we may give some people a sense of being unfairly treated.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the requirement for matching funding is not unfair treatment. If there has been any relaxation in other areas, it is nevertheless the case that the heritage lottery fund has a lower threshold for matching funding than some other distributors. It is not a question of unfairness; it is a question of maintaining the demonstration of commitment for support for a project, which is the basis for requiring matching funding. Indeed, that was established by the previous government.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, has the noble Lord's department earmarked those works of art of exceptional value to the nation which it does not wish to see leave this country? If so, will the Minister ensure that the list is brought up to date annually?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am not aware of any such list and I believe it would be impossible to compile one.

Lord Rowallan

My Lords, with nearly £4 billion outstanding which has not been given out so far on this matched funding scheme of the National Lottery Distribution Fund, cannot exceptions be made where a loan is given for exceptional treasures which can be repaid at a later date?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord and I have been in correspondence on this matter. It is not the case that £4 billion has not been distributed due to lack of matching funding. The £4 billion to which the noble Lord refers is that amount of money, much of which is committed to future projects, which has not been drawn down. We discourage applicants from drawing down the money until they need it.

Lord Annan

My Lords, in response to the noble Earl's question, is the Minister aware that, certainly in the case of the National Gallery, there is a desiderata list?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am delighted to hear it. I did not suggest that it was not possible to compile individual lists. I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, whether there was a list for the whole country. I expressed doubt as to whether it was possible to compile such a list or bring it up to date.