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Works of Art: Funding

Volume 684: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to increase funding for the acquisition of works of art by both the public and private sectors.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to increase direct funding for works of art by the public sector. There is a popular misconception that the amount of public money available for acquisitions has decreased; this is not the case. The DCMS’s sponsored museums and galleries received a £1.6 billion settlement for the three years 2005-06 to 2007-08. This was an above-inflation settlement. The Government do not ring-fence allocations for acquisitions, and this allows our sponsored bodies freedom to choose how much of their grant-in-aid they spend on acquisitions. We do not fund the acquisition of works of art for the private sector.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am sure that, with his background, he is as concerned as I am that so many works of art are being lost in this country, in both the public and private sectors, because there are insufficient funds to finance them. What action are the Government taking to increase funding to secure many of the important parts of our national heritage? Is there not a further danger that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will spend more of its resources on the escalating cost of the 2012 Olympics at the expense of so many of our national treasures?

My Lords, I am slightly surprised to hear such wonderful talk coming from an ex-Treasury Minister, and I wonder what he did for the arts when he was there.

We all share the problem of soaring prices in the international art market and requests to purchase pictures for the state that cost up to £50 million, as with the Titian, where unfortunately negotiations between the National Gallery and the owners have broken down. There are many other calls on these limited resources, be they concerns about the cultural diversity of the country and how we reflect that in our purchasing policy or the number of gifted young artists from Britain whose paintings have to be collected for future generations. Sir Nicholas Serota said last week that, if the Hockneys go abroad, it will be an enormous pity that future generations will have to go abroad to see them.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when the noble Lord was at the Treasury, it was the job of the Treasury to raise money and the job of other departments to spend it?

The Minister will be aware that I am not an avid reader of his party’s manifesto, but one sentence in its manifesto for the previous election caught my eye. It stated that his party,

“will explore further ways to encourage philanthropy to boost the quality of our public art collections”.

Will the noble Lord give us one small bit of evidence of how it has done that?

My Lords, the Government will continue to explore options for encouraging philanthropy and are in discussion with the working group on the UK’s literary heritage, chaired by my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury. On 10 July, there was a meeting between DCMS and key people and directors in the museums and galleries world where all the concerns that we are talking about today were raised and discussed. One of the important government initiatives resulted from the strong feeling that the existing system of tax incentives for potential donors was neither well known nor well publicised. The DCMS will address that over the next few months.

My Lords, funding for acquisitions is important, but so is funding for those working in the arts. The Government’s Creative Partnerships scheme, which sends artists into schools to work with teachers and pupils, has been a huge success: 90 per cent of teachers involved found that it had improved their ability to help young people to achieve their full potential, something that all teachers want to do. However, funding is only guaranteed until 2008. Can the Minister reassure us that the scheme will be supported and funded beyond that date?

My Lords, in an arts debate we had a month or so ago the same question was asked by the same noble Baroness. I said then that we recognised that it had been a huge success. We very much hope that we will be able to continue something that has done an enormous amount of good for people.

My Lords, notwithstanding what my noble friend said about how funds are disbursed and made available for acquisitions, what can the Government do to encourage museums and galleries to acquire contemporary work—he has already touched on this point—particularly as many great artists are uncelebrated in their own time and require the support of loyal and courageous patrons to make sure that their work survives?

My Lords, I have already mentioned the meeting that took place on 10 July. One of the issues on the table was the fact that contemporary art is not being collected as rigorously as it should be. There is a danger that collections will not reflect the need of the changing British society or the world around us. It is important that our museums collect work by young contemporary artists for the future generation.

My Lords, I support the call by my noble friend Lord Sheldon for increased funding for the purchase of works of art. Will the Minister also acknowledge the severe problem of providing funds to conserve existing works of art that lie in the vaults of our public museums and the importance of providing sufficient exhibition space so that the public can enjoy those holdings?

My Lords, the National Art Collections Fund, led by that great campaigner David Barrie, wrote a report recently arguing that 92 per cent of museums surveyed felt that there was inadequate funding. It also revealed that 84 per cent of museum directors felt that shortage of space was a serious obstacle to collecting and that 82 per cent felt that the shortage of staff and management time was a serious problem. My noble friend raises important matters that will be looked at as part of the ongoing discussions between the museum and gallery directors and the DCMS.

My Lords, if the noble Lord is unable to reassure us that the Government will increase funding in this area, is he able to tell us that they are looking at other ideas, such as tax incentives, to encourage both public and private patronage?

My Lords, I am able to give the noble Baroness that undertaking. As I said before, there is a very strong feeling that tax opportunities are not being taken up by people who own works of art and who would like to donate them to the country. The DCMS will be trying to make people more aware. The underlying problem is that, if somebody wishes to donate something to the nation and there is an arrangement under acceptance in lieu to do so, the market price is decided by the individual and the advisory panel. Often, the person will take the work of art to a saleroom and will be told that perhaps it will get two or three times the reserve price. That makes it very difficult.

My Lords, the Minister clearly has the figures at his fingertips. Can he tell us what happened to arts funding when the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, was at the Treasury?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rooker, sitting next to me, says that I asked for that. I accept that. I meant no offence to my noble friend. I can see him rising to answer the question for me.

My Lords, may I remind my noble friend that, when I was at the Treasury, I helped to change inheritance tax so that our national heritage could be retained?

My Lords, is there not a case for the Treasury accepting works of art from taxpayers in lieu of taxes other than inheritance tax?

My Lords, that is one of the proposals under the two or three headings, other than acceptance in lieu, that the DCMS will consider. If there are tax schemes that are not being used and it is possible to get people to use them, that is a good course to pursue.

My Lords, in the great examination of how to change the tax regime to encourage more expenditure on the arts and our arts heritage, will the Government consider the simple regime in operation in the United States of America? From everything that the noble Lord said, it sounds as though we will end up with a huge schedule of about 150 different ways of doing things. Let us keep it simple.

My Lords, it will be simple because we are talking about four or five headings, not hundreds. Often, we look to the United States for guidance in this area, but it is not clear that its charity laws and ours coincide in such a way that we can take advantage of them.

My Lords, if the Government are prepared to forgo tax revenue by introducing some scheme for tax relief, why do they not just simplify the whole process and make the revenue that they raise available for that purpose? Why do we have to use the tax system? If the Government believe that it is worth having some kind of tax relief, they must think that resources should be applied there, so why bring yet another complication into the tax system rather than doing what the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, asked?

My Lords, I do not think that it is a complication, because we know what the tax is and we know what the deductions are. The problem is on the other side: the price of the work of art that the country wants to keep. There, we cannot see a way through the extraordinary impact that the private sector, through bidding at salerooms and by private individuals, has had on the price of art.

My Lords, if we are talking about contemporary artists, a certain amount depends on the Government’s relations or other relations with the artists themselves. Is the Minister aware, for example, that David Hockney has given a number of his creations to the exhibition in Saltaire, which brings in people from the local area and does a great deal for the arts in West Yorkshire? Should that sort of thing be encouraged?

My Lords, it should be encouraged, but, at the same time, no Government can count on the generosity of a young and brilliant artist in giving the country works. There have been many occasions when David Hockney has been wonderfully supportive in his time and his art—for example, in a campaign to get more money for regional museums. We must not take the help of such people for granted. They must be paid properly for what they do.

My Lords, in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, the Minister mentioned that there was not enough space to exhibit some treasures, so we do not see them. How about loaning them to be displayed in schools, hospitals and other public spaces, so that they do not languish in basements, cupboards and so on?

My Lords, if it is permissible, I would prefer not to answer that question. About 10 years ago, I gave a lecture in which I made exactly that point, and I was pilloried in the press for about 12 months.