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New Clause 2

Volume 977: debated on Wednesday 30 January 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


'In paragraph 17 of Schedule 4 to the Finance Act 1975 in sub-paragraph (3) (Buildings in relation to which objects may be accepted) there shall be inserted after paragraph (d) the following "or
  • (e) if the building is one approved for the time being for the purposes of this paragraph by the Ministers".'.—[Mr. Dalyell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this new clause it will be convenient to take the following:

New clause 7— Significance of objects in their Settings.

New clause 8— Consultations on Acceptance and Disposal of Objects in certain circumstances.

New clause 10— Acceptance of significant objects in certain buildings.

Government amendment No. 50.

Amendment No. 33, in clause 12, page 7, line 37, at end insert—

'(bb) in sub-paragraph (4) (approval by Treasury of objects to be accepted) in paragraphs (a) and (c) after the words "artistic interest" in both places where they occur there shall be inserted the words "or is of significance in or to a setting with which it already has significant historical association;".'.

Objects can be accepted in lieu of tax under powers contained in two sub-paragraphs of paragraph 4 of Schedule 6 to the Finance Act 1975.

Under sub-paragraph (4), objects have to be of pre-eminent quality, and it is under that power that objects are accepted and go to museums and galleries. Whilst there has been plenty of arguments as to whether an object would be a pre-eminent addition to this or that museum, we do at least have quite a lot of experience, and, given that Ministers will take the right advice, the pre-eminence test may be the right way of reaching a decision in the museum context.

But the other sub-paragraph, sub-paragraph (3), provides a power to accept objects in relation to certain classes of buildings, and it may be more appropriate to use that than to deal with this matter under pre-eminence where the intention is that objects are retained "in situ on loan".

The problem which must now be faced and solved—and how glad I am to see the Minister of State, Treasury among us—and to which reference in the Bill is highly desirable is the dispersal of contents from buildings that do not fall into any of the classes already set out in sub-paragraph (3)—substantially privately owned country houses. Here, if an owner wants to pay tax by way of the surrender of, say, a picture of great quality, he can do so if it passes the preeminence test with the result that the picture is whipped away to a museum, where doubtless its pre-eminent quality will be much appreciated.

The trouble is that the setting from which the picture has been taken will be the poorer, and the picture may even diminish in interest from being removed from its historic setting. This is particularly so with furniture designed to fit into a scheme of decoration—and I referred on Second Reading to the Hopetoun case in the West Lothian constituency.

Of course, the previous owner will derive great pleasure from the leaving in situ of objects after he has surrendered them in satisfaction of tax—who would not be glad to keep an old friend?—but, provided that there is reasonable public access and the property is advertised, and so on, that pleasure will be shared with many thousands of visitors. I think that all of us who served on the Standing Committee were agreed on the importance of that.

There is another aspect of leaving in situ. We have to be careful not to pull all our great pictures, and so on, into our cities, particularly into our national museums in London and Edinburgh. To do so is not only to increase the magnetism of the cities for tourists—some think that there are too many tourists in London already perhaps—but is also to diminish the attractiveness of our country houses and, through them, the other parts of Britain generally. The aim here has to be to diversify tourism by leaving great works of art, and so on, in the areas of Britain where that is appropriate.

Of course, leaving works of art in the areas outside London does not necessarily imply leaving them in country houses if they are to be surrendered in satisfaction of tax. There are local museums, and in many instances it will be appropriate to house such works of art in them. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) stressed in Committee the importance of this in his own constituency. But, even so, it is now appreciated that country houses should be accepted almost as an extension of the local museum service.

To come back to the amendments, the solution offered is to provide in subparagraph (3) a catch-all power under which Ministers can, when, say, a picture is offered in lieu of a tax debt, approve a specific building and so allow themselves to accept the picture with the intention of leaving it in situ. Naturally, and rightly, Ministers will not wish to use this new power except in circumstances where they want to see the picture, or whatever, kept in its setting or restored to it. In case the first new clause is thought to be too wide, a second version has been tabled with a proviso in it containing the appropriate reference to the significance of the object in or to the building with which it already has historical association.

All this apart, it should be remembered that whatever is left in situ will be there on loan, so that it can be taken away if the situation changes. Of course, there will be security and indemnity questions to solve, but these are relatively minor problems compared with the central problem of the power to act, which is provided by the amendments.

New clause 7 quite rightly recognises that the trustees should look most carefully at the status of objects in their settings before they assist intending purchasers with grants so that they are not removed to museums and so on when that would be the wrong solution. I support new clause 7.

New clause 8 applies in the situation where Ministers are considering, first, acceptance and, second, disposal of objects accepted in satisfaction of tax, and it is right to stipulate that consultation should take place as early as is necessary: that is, the right to start negotiations. With the seal of unnecessary confidentiality thrown over negotiations at the acceptance stage, of which we heard in Committee, it will be difficult to see that the right thing is done.

As regards Government amendment No. 50, the new Government amendment, I have already commented on its effect of bringing into consideration "leaving in situ" only at the disposal stage. I really feel that earlier consideration is most necessary and that this must be permitted, not only with experts but with the trustees of the fund, the Historic Buildings Council, the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland and other appropriate bodies, and possibly this is implied in new clause 8.

I also refer to what is possibly a serious omission in Government amendment No. 50. There is no reference to objects being restored to the place with which they have significant association. Again, new clause 8 is the model and I ask Ministers to look at this and amend their own amendment. This issue of restoration is rather important and I hope that the Government will look at it in the later stages that remain to us.

But I come back to consultation and confidentiality. There must be consultation at an early stage, or
"significance in a historic setting"
or whatever will not be properly weighed. This is all the more important because the Government have not come up with their own version of new clause 10 or with an amendment on the lines of amendment No. 33, which I also support.

It seems that the arguments deployed in Committee on the importance of the in situ provisions have been hand-somely recognised by the Government in amendment No. 50, which stands on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Although the amendment stands in my right hon. Friend's name, it is right and proper to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who guided the Bill through Committee on behalf of the Government, listened carefully to our arguments and promised to return with answers on Report.

It is important that objects which have a particular association with a special place, and which derive much of their interest and significance from that association, should have that factor taken into account when their final resting place is being determined. That is a factor that has been recognised by successive Governments. It was recognised by the previous Labour Government when they produced their WhitePaper in 1979. It has been recognised by the present Government. However, in Committee we did not feel that it was spelt out clearly enough. Our arguments have now been taken into account, and it will be incumbent upon the trustees to consider the historical associations of objects.

We said in Committee that the issue of pre-eminence could be extremely misleading. That which is pre-eminent in a provincial country house is not necessarily pre-eminent in a great national institution. It is important that that should be recognised.

It is important, too, that we should not always remove an object from its setting if it has been surrendered in lieu of tax. However, it is appropriate for certain objects of international importance to be placed in the National gallery or elsewhere. Those of us who take this line do not say that never at any time should anything go to a museum when surrendered in lieu. We argue that it is important to consider historical background and association.

It seems that the Government are seeking to recognise that factor and to do what my hon. Friends and I are seeking to introduce in the new clauses that have been grouped with new clause 2. I rest content. I thank my right hon. Friend for his response.

I welcome Government amendments Nos. 50 and 33. I speak as an ex-secretary of the National Trust for Scotland. One of our fears was always that the most valuable and essential features of houses, gardens or other items offered to us would be removed from their natural position by, for example, a museum or sold by the owners. I welcome the provision contained in the new clause, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) in Committee. One of my reasons for welcoming the Bill is that I hope that it will allow houses and other places where various works of art have been built up together to be preserved as a whole.

I consider that a good deal of nonsense is talked about our national heritage. It sometimes appears to consist of Italian pictures, French furniture and German porcelain. It seems to be valued exclusively on the ground of how much it will fetch on the wholly bogus international art market.

I take the belated opportunity of congratulating the previous Labour Government on refusing to buy the whole of Mentmore, lock, stock and barrel. It was accumulated by an eminent Austrian. It came into our heritage, if it ever came into it at all, comparatively late.

I am campaigning against stuffing cellars in galleries with pictures and other objects. It is becoming a matter of prestige for every body of trustees and every curator to spend as much money as possible, regardless of the number of objects that are already under their control and very often, to my mind, regardless of the beauty of the objects that they are accumulating.

The test of those who talk a great deal about our national heritage is whether they are willing to return some Canalettos to Venice. They would be extremely pleasent to look at if they were there. We need not go so far as to return the Elgin Marbles. If we really care about our national heritage and the heritage of others, we should not be so selfish as to refuse to return certain items elsewhere.

Valuable porcelain, pictures and furniture will not be destroyed if they are not placed in the cellars of galleries. They will not be torn up or burnt. There are a great many extremely pleasant houses, churches and other buildings of various types, as well as attractive parts of towns and a great deal of pleasant countryside, that will be destroyed if we do not do something. Even if they are not physically destroyed, they will be broken up in such a way that they will lose their beauty and significance.

In the Government amendments there is much reference to "significant association". In my experience as an ex-secretary of the National Trust for Scotland, there are a great many houses that are beautiful but not significant. They have rooms that are extremely pleasant as rooms. Their carpets, hangings and decorations are really all of one piece. Will such houses come within the Government amendments? I cannot say that they are especially significant. They are simply beautiful. They are pleasant to look at. A great many people enjoy them. I recognise that they may not be of great historical importance, but I hope that they will come under the heading "significant".

I understand that power will be given to keep in their place objects that fall within the terms of the new clause and amendments. There are other objects which occasionally come on to the market. They are bought by public authorities or they are offered to them. These objects are not necessarily associated with places, but with families. Can they be returned to suitable places? For example, there are many objects associated with Marlborough and Wellington. Although certain objects may never have been in houses occupied by the two dukes, will they be offered to the appropriate houses?

Furthermore, there are personal possessions which, to my mind, would be best kept in houses associated with those concerned, even though they may have no direct association with those houses or places.

There is a provision that Ministers must obtain expert advice. I am extremely chary of expert advice and anything to do with aesthetics. It seems that some experts value objects according to their significance, their date and the view of other experts rather than according to their beauty. For example, I do not know how many people went to look at Rennie Mackintosh's desk, which was exhibited in London not long ago. It was bought for £80,000. It is a significant object. I find it difficult to describe it as extremely beautiful. I have the highest admiration for those who bought it for the under-bidder, the Louvre, and I recognise the importance that it has in the history of furniture. However, one would need the advice of a few other than experts before laying out £80,000 on it.

Experts have a strong resemblance to magpies. They adore accumulating stuff. I took part in debates in the House on the future of the Lane pictures. It became apparent that the curator of the Tate gallery was determined to keep them. To my mind there was no doubt but that the Lanes should go back to Dublin. The curator was determined to get his handson them even though he had plenty of French pictures.

The wretched Shetlanders once let out of their hands the treasure that had been discovered on St. Ninian's Isle. Had it not been for the surprising honesty of the British museum, the Shetlanders would have found it sucked into the Edinburgh galleries before they could say "knife". However, it ended up in those hands, and many people regret that to this day.

I hope that when the Government consult they will include in their consultations the local people. I hope, too, that they will take steps to ascertain how much pleasure certain houses are giving and how many people visit them.

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Can these objects go out on loan? If so, does that open up the places in which they may ultimately be placed by the commissioners? For instance, would it be possible to lend these objects permanently to private houses which are open to the public? There are, perhaps, many objects of art which might be returned to some of the great houses in England which are not under public control. Does the Bill give power to lend those houses collections of works of art? Can such items be offered to churches? For instance, now and again it might be possible to reunite such things as screens in churches. Is that possible under the Bill, because the uniting of works of art that have been severed might greatly enhance the value and beauty of each object.

Can such objects be given to local trusts, as has already been mentioned? Is it possible for the Government to give any assistance in relation to insurance? What prohibits many local trusts from keeping valuable objects is the possible cost of insurance. Will the Government insist that objects of art loaned out are insured, and, if so, is it possible that the Government will assist with the payment for insurance?

With those questions and few remarks, I greatly welcome the clause and the Bill as a whole.

I am delighted that we have had a contribution from the Liberal Bench. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked some interesting questions and I am sure that the Minister will answer them in due course.

I felt that the right hon. Member was being a little provocative—perhaps that is his purpose in the debate this afternoon. Hadhe been party to the Committee proceedings, he would have known—I believe that all my colleagues will agree with me—that we were not concerned with Italian paintings, French furniture or German porcelain. We covered the whole range of the heritage and concentrated more on landscapes—the original concept of Hugh Dalton—historic houses in all parts of the United Kingdom and objects of historical significance to certain localities. The right hon. Gentleman should have read the Committee proceedings. Some of his questions might have been answered had he done so. He would have known that we were not specifically concerned with what we had managed to collect and collar from the four corners of the world.

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) is an extremely unprovocative man. Therefore anything that touches on controversy is no part of his nature. I am sure that he will accept that I am aware of that. I am aware of the Committee proceedings, and I took the opportunity to point out the excellence of the Committee. Of course, if the whole of the art world were loaned to geniuses such as the lion. Member and the other members of the Committee, none of us would have a moment's uneasiness. The trouble is that people outside the Committee do not always behave with the wisdom of the hon. Member.

I am happy to accept that. We Scots have a particularity in wanting to be specific and detailed and have precise answers to the questions that we raise. Therefore, I back the right hon. Gentleman very strongly on the matters that he raised and I hope that the Minister will answer him. I am delighted that he has joined us in the debate this afternoon.

I had intended to make somewhat adverse comments on new clauses 2, 7 and 8, but I understand that those are likely to be withdrawn. I hope that they will be. We rehearsed the arguments in some detail in Committee, so I will not pursue them in the House this afternoon. I will merely point out that I think that by amendment No. 50 the Government have acted most handsomely and responsibly, by putting paid to the need to debate the new clauses.

It has always seemed to me that the in situ question, about which so much interest in reaching a sensible solution has been expressed, should figure in some way in clause 9, which deals with the disposal of works of art in satisfaction of tax. The reason for referring to the in situ question explicitly in that clause is that the concept is a new one, in the sense that it has hitherto enjoyed no statutory status.

The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster fully acknowledged the desirability of dealing effectively with this important question, and he has achieved this in an exemplary way. I am happy to use the following words in reference to the right hon. Gentleman. The warmest congratulations are due to him for having come up with a form of words which takes proper account of the views of both sides of the House and which maintains a sensible balance between them. Only fanatical extremists would question the wisdom of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's solution.

Now that indemnities can be made available for loans of selective works of art back to their original locations, the in situ question seems well on the way to a practical solution. What has been achieved in this respect in the Bill will turn out—I have no doubt of this—to be of lasting benefit to the public.

Having paid that encomium to the wisdom of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his hon. Friend the Minister, I end by asking the right hon. Gentleman, by way of postscript, whether he can now give the House some indication of the sources of expert advice to which Ministers propose to turn in this connection.

I am glad that we are able to continue this debate in such a constructive way. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) for his kind words. I also welcome him to what so far has been an all-Scottish debate. My thanks are due also to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) for his kind words about the amendment that we have tabled, which I hope meets many of the points that were raised by hon. Members.

It is right—and this is the value of these clauses—that we should recognise the association of a picture, a piece of furniture or a great family heirloom with its own home, where it has been since it was painted, constructed or brought back to from some distant battlefield, and which is therefore the hallowed pride of a family who may have looked after it for generations. That is why, in Committee, we accepted that certain objects of great eminence should, if possible, be seen in the historic homes where they have remained for generations. I hope that this policy will be developed over the years once the Bill has become an Act.

I welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I know that for many years he has had a keen interest in the arts and the heritage. I am happy that he wished to join us in our debate today. However, he should look carefully at clause 16, which deals with indemnities, because this has changed dramatically since Second Reading. It is now possible for the type of object that we are discussing to be loaned for the purposes of exhibition where reasonable public access is available under indemnification proposals, which covers insurance. What we must look at carefully is the importance of the object to the exhibition, and security. In all probability we must rule out churches because of the great difficulties with security in churches which are open for worship throughout the day and in the evening.

Some cathedrals have treasuries and museums attached to them which are very secure. I have been asked whether they will be eligible, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will confirm that they will be.

I should not like to give any firm answer off the top of my head. Each treasury, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West calls them, will have to be looked at carefully. I should not like to give a firm assurance at present, but I shall write to my hon. Friend about it as soon as possible.

I think that I owe a reply to the amendment of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but the important thing that I wish to do shortly is to speak to amendment No. 50 and move it at the appropriate moment. As the hon. Member for West Lothian knows, we had a long discussion about leaving in situ objects that had been accepted in lieu of tax. As I said in Committee, it is the Government's policy to encourage this. We have tabled an amendment specifically to deal with disposal under clause 9.

It is unnecessary to amend clause 12 because, as I told the Committee, when the Bill becomes law paragraph 17 (4) of schedule 4 to the Finance Act 1975 already empowers the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Secretary of State for the Environment to have regard to leaving objects in situ. We intend to discuss this fully with the expert advisers to ensure that there is no doubt about the nature of the test that we wish to see applied.

I now turn to the new clause in the name of the hon. Member for West Lothian, who was constructive and helpful throughout our Committee proceedings. Our view is that it is unacceptable, because, in effect, it drops the pre-eminence test for certain objects. We accept that some objects can be regarded as pre-eminent only in a particular setting, but in that setting they are of pre-eminent quality. That is catered for in the Bill and in existing law.

However, we do not think that it would be right to accept any object, because of its association with a particular building, ad hoc, case by case, at the discretion of Ministers, where the house itself was not offered in lieu of tax. That would devalue the currency of the quality test, which is something that we must bear in mind. It is difficult enough for the expert advisers to operate to a consistent standard, and to widen the scope of the test in those cases where the object would remain associated with a building which would remain in private hands seems both unworkable in practice and objectionable in principle. As I think hon. Members have generously accepted, Government amendment No. 50 covers the points that we discussed in Committee, and I hope that it will be accepted by the House.

Although the Treasury has the formal responsibility for allocating objects accepted in lieu of tax, it has already de facto delegated this to the Ministers with departmental responsibility for the arts and the environment. In practice, what Ministers do is to consult the appropriate expert body—usually the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts or the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries. These bodies take into account a wide range of issues on conservation, security, public access, opportunity for study, appropriate context, and so on.

Until quite recently the Treasury took the view that it was wrong in principle for someone who had offered property in lieu of tax to be allowed to retain the benefit of it in his own house, unless the house was also offered in lieu of tax. But this is no longer the situation, and there are several cases now under consideration where items accepted in lieu of tax may be left in situ in a privately owned building.

Thus, there really is no need to amend the law to provide for this, and, in strictness, if we mentioned one factor which should be taken into account in deciding on the disposal of property we ought to mention them all. However, our debates have shown that the question of leaving items in situ is one to which hon. Members on both sides of the House give special importance, and in those circumstances we consider that it would be right to provide a provision requiring Ministers to consider the in situ point in appropriate cases.

I believe that amendment No. 50, which I shall move when we come to clause 9, fulfils all hopes and aspirations of hon. Members who served on the Committee and, I hope, of hon. Members who are present today. If the hon. Member for West Lothian withdraws the new clause, I am sure that he will find that the issues that it raises are adequately covered in amendment No. 50.

:The Government have made a serious attempt to meet all the points that have been raised, and I thank the Minister for his reply. I have simply one request, which is that he should look carefully at what said about objects being restored to a certain place. If the Government think that my argument is fairly convincing—incidentally, I think it is—perhaps they will consider introducing a Lords amendment at the appropriate time. May we have the promise that such an amendment will be seriously considered?

I note the hon. Gentleman's point, and I shall look carefully at what he has said. If the object is of pre-eminent importance, or if it could be so in situ in the context of its old historical home, I should have thought that it would be possible for it to be loaned under indemnity from whichever museum or gallery in which it was residing, accepting, of course, that the historical house has some form of access for the general public. I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman has said and let him know whether there are further developments.

That is good enough, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave withdrawn.

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