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Museums and Galleries

Volume 686: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to improve support for public museums and galleries to enable them to make new acquisitions for their collections.

The noble Lord said: Our current collections are facing significant difficulties in making new acquisitions. I am advised by The Art Fund and leading museum directors that, in real terms, the public funding devoted to acquisitions in 2004-05, including lottery funding, was worth only 13 per cent of that available in 1980-81. The Tate’s budget for acquisitions is smaller now in cash terms than it was 20 years ago. The V&A now has £200,000 per year for collecting, whereas its purchase grant in 1992 was £1.78 million.

The Art Fund tells us that 70 per cent of the 1,800 registered museums now acquire objects mainly or solely by gift—they are passively acquiring rather than actively collecting—and 60 per cent allocate no funds at all for adding to their collections. Time does not permit me to recite the sad litany of pre-eminent items that have been sold into private hands or abroad—the ones that got away—nor will I recite the notable successes in acquisition; the facts are well known to your Lordships. I will just say that, in case after case of success, The Art Fund—a private charity—has contributed funds, including for the purchase of contemporary items. The Art Fund is to our cultural life as the RNLI is to our maritime life.

Why is it so important that our museums and galleries should continue to collect? There are four reasons. The entry of a new item into a collection is like a shot of adrenalin: it stimulates, excites and energises. Curators who collect look with fresheyes and imagination; collecting prompts new interpretation. Public collections reflect our senses of local and national identity and contribute to developing them. They recall to us our history and heritage and they should express the changing nature of our society and the mix of cultural influences, whereby it is renewed. We should be as intensely concerned to promote social cohesion through cultural policy as we are through educational policy.

We are one of the world’s leading creative economies. If we are to remain so, students of art and design, and consumers, need to see examples of the best that is being created in Britain and across the world. We desire still to conduct ourselves as a beneficent force in the world. Museum collections that hold a mirror up to the world will help us to understand with due sensitivity the world with which we engage.

What is to be done? What should the policy be? I suggest that there are three separate although interrelated issues: regional collecting, the active collecting of contemporary art and the important heritage items.

In relation to the current inability of so many local museums to collect, the Heritage Lottery Fund has just now come forward with an important contribution: a new fund of £3 million dedicated to supporting acquisitions. Some of the money is to be used for training to develop among museum staff the skills to collect, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council will also contribute assistance with this training.

This initiative demonstrates the continuing and thoughtful commitment of the Heritage Lottery Fund, amid all the other pressures and expectations placed on it, to support for acquisitions. The limitation inherent in the HLF’s terms of reference is that the fund can be used only to acquire items at least 10 years old. I would therefore propose that the Arts Council lottery fund should step in with an equivalent new scheme. It could indeed revive the excellent scheme that it ran jointly with the Contemporary Art Society.

I should like to ask the Government to take the opportunity of the legislation stemming from the new White Paper on local government to create a statutory duty on local authorities to support their museums and galleries and, indeed, the arts and heritage more broadly. As we have seen with libraries, a statutory duty alone does not do the trick, so I would also ask the Government to introduce a cultural component to the revenue support grant system. Without this, it is hard to foresee that the funding will ever be in place to support the proper formation of curatorial staffs with the skills and the margin to develop local collections.

There is then the question of how our major regional and national museums are to be able to acquire items that would significantly enhance their collections. These include the items that the reviewing committee judges meet the Waverley criteria. They also include important contemporary or near contemporary items which it is part of the formal remit of some museums—the Science Museum, the V&A and the Tate—to collect.

The largest single source of funding for museum acquisitions is the Government’s acceptance in lieu scheme—one among a number of important tax concessions that the Government make available. In the year to March 2006, 38 items with a value of £25.2 million were accepted for the nation in lieu of inheritance tax. In consequence, a great variety of beautiful things went to a great diversity of places. There is one enhancement of the AIL scheme which I particularly hope the Treasury will be willing to consider. Recommendation 27 of the Goodison review is that owners of pre-eminent objects should be able to submit them during their lifetime for acceptance in lieu against tax on their future estate, and that the objects could remain with their ex-owners by agreement with the museum into whose ownership they pass.

The other new tax relief I would request—and I sought this when I was Minister—is Goodison’s recommendation 34: that donors should be allowed to offset the gross value of pre-eminent works of art against income tax, as is the case in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia. The Labour Party’s manifesto committed the Government to find new ways to encourage philanthropy in the cultural field, so I am hopeful.

Assisted by these reforms, museums and galleries would be able to step up yet further their own fundraising. It is perhaps not yet axiomatic on this side of the Atlantic that trustees have a duty to bring in substantial funds. When Ministers appoint trustees, they will of course continue to look for a spread of skills, but among trustees surely there should be some whose main job is, frankly, to fundraise. It would cost the Government nothing to be quickly forthcoming in their recognition, through the honours system, of benefactors of our public collections.

I will not call upon the Government in present circumstances to increase grant in aid. As the Minister for the Arts noted with legitimate pride in the Commons debate on 11 October, spending by DCMS on its sponsored museums and galleries has increased in real terms by 16 per cent since 1997. I confine myself to imploring the Government not to cut their grant funding to museums and galleries. We are given to understand that bodies funded by DCMS are being advised to plan for 7 per cent cuts. Given the general good health of the economy, given that the culture budget of the DCMS is so tiny within the totality of public expenditure, and given the havoc that would be caused by 7 per cent cuts and the uproar that would follow, I hope that the Treasury will spare these budgets.

The only request for an uplift in central government spending that I would make is that, over the planning period, the Chancellor should go further in replenishing the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Following the establishment of the National Lottery, even though the Government had promised that lottery funding would be additional to public expenditure, grant in aid to the NHMF was cut from £12 million in 1993 to £2 million in 1998. The Government have already done much to make amends. Grant in aid has been increased to £5 million and the Chancellor has promised to increase it again to £10 million next year. If he would set us on a clear path to raise it to £20 million, that, together with other resources, would enable our public collections to secure the acquisition of a good proportion of the pre-eminent objects that come on the market. To replenish the NHMF would be seemly. This memorial fund was created to honour the memory of those who have died for their country. That should include those who have lost their lives in hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The one component of the overall problem that would remain would be that very small number of supreme works of art that from time to time are put up for sale but there are compelling reasons to ensure they are secured for one of our public collections. A case in point at the moment is the Halifax Titian, “Portrait of a Man”. This picture may fetch £80 million, and the National Gallery has concluded that it cannot make an offer for it.

I would like to propose that a modern version of the Paramount List should be drawn up, with a similar agreement to that which the Treasury first made in 1922. In 1922 the chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery, Lord Lansdowne, wrote to the Treasury to say that the trustees,

“feel very strongly that a certain limited number of works of art, less than a dozen in all, at present in private possession in England, are of such international importance, that they deserve special and separate provision to be made for their retention here … The prices at present paid for such works may appear large to the unthinking, but viewed from the standpoint of History and of National repute they are infinitesimal … their retention, for the Nation which possesses them is not only a duty but an economy. Their retention is also a thoroughly democratic measure. Our Galleries and Museums, apart from their international significance, exist for the poorer members of the community … the Trustees … do now definitely ask the Treasury to guarantee them direct financial assistance if and when any of the few works of vital importance come upon the market, so that they may be preserved for the Nation. The total sum required would be infinitesimal compared with those with which the Lords Commissioners have habitually to deal … Also the payment of this amount would presumably be spread over a good many years”.

The Treasury considered the case and concluded that, if the sums in question represented the reasonable value of the pictures, this was a proper thing to do. The Chancellor, Sir Robert Horne, announced the Government’s commitment to support, at uncertain dates in the future, the retention in the United Kingdom of the pictures on the list.

The agreement held. In 1924, Ramsay MacDonald wrote to the chairman to say that the new Government would “readily” renew the undertaking. Four out of the seven items on the original list were in due course acquired by the National Gallery. Another on the list, which did not pass into National Gallery ownership but instead came to the National Gallery on long-term loan was the Halifax Titian, now removed from the National Gallery’s walls to be put up for sale.

As late as 1972, a special Exchequer grant was given to enable the National Gallery to purchase one of the pictures on the original Paramount List, Titian’s “The Death of Actaeon”. The history of Exchequer grants goes back to the earliest years of the National Gallery. Since the creation of the NHMF in 1980, however, the Government’s line has been that Exchequer grants would no longer be necessary. This has not been the view of the Scottish Executive, which in recent years has provided grants to make possible the purchase by Scottish institutions of a Botticelli, a Titian and the John Murray Archive. While a replenished NHMF would indeed obviate the need for an Exchequer grant in all but a few cases, a special grant is needed if we are to restore such an item as the Halifax Titian to the walls of the National Gallery. The cost of a picture of this importance is simply beyond the scope of the NHMF, the HLF and all the efforts of which the system is ordinarily capable. However, a sum even of £80 million is, I submit, affordable. Such a figure is within the margin of error of national accounting. We are the world’s fifth largest economy.

A modern list of perhaps 12 or 15 paramount items in all cultural fields should be drawn up by those best qualified to judge what they should be; realistic valuations, though difficult to determine in the nature of the case, should be made; this Government and Parliament, like their predecessors, should commit themselves to supply these funds as occasion in due course demands.

I believe we need to do these things to secure the continuing vitality of our museums and galleries, for our national self-respect and to present ourselves confidently to the world. I would hope that all parties could agree on what is to be done.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on securing this debate. In my brief contribution, I first declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. To become a member, one needs to obtain a million visitors a year. I have been chairman since 1990. Today we have 40 members, 16 of which are major galleries and museums.

As the noble Lord said, there is clearly a major problem with a substantially increasing number of wealthy national and international collectors and the downward pressure on budgets, to which the noble Lord referred. He gave some national examples. I should add that the National Portrait Gallery can now put aside for acquisitions only about £305,000 out of a turnover of £11 million. The Imperial War Museum can allocate only £125,000 annually to acquisitions, which may be less than the value of a single set of medals at auction.

I wish particularly to draw attention to the position of regional museums. Clearly, they have problems as there are far fewer private major charitable foundations in the regions and relatively few major plcs and national bodies have their headquarters there. Tyne and Wear museums tried to buy Turner’s “Dark Rigi” painting, which had been hanging in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, but in the end it went for £2.7 million at auction, which was way outside its resources. National Museums Liverpool saw its annual acquisitions budget fall to £50,000 by 2001. It managed to lift it back to a quarter of a million pounds last year but fears that the budgetary cuts being mooted by the Treasury during the coming CSR round—as referred to by the noble Lord—will impinge on even that small figure.

Finally, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, which I had the privilege to chair for nine years, has only the fund for the Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM), administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, to call on, which itself has very limited surplus funds to provide for new acquisitions. The museum is finding it increasingly difficult to add to its collection. An item of local importance, a Model T Ford made in Trafford Park, has come up for sale and the museum needs to find only £15,000 to £30,000 to buy it, but it is experiencing real problems in doing so. Those problems are being experienced regionally and nationally. I fully support the points that the noble Lord made.

I begin by declaring my interests as director of the Clore Leadership Programme and chairman of the London Cultural Consortium and the Wordsworth Trust. I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Howarth on securing this debate and on his excellent speech, which was only to be expected from someone who served with great distinction as Minister for the Arts when I was Secretary of State.

He has highlighted, rightly, the serious difficulty that museums and galleries throughout the country have in being able to have any sort of acquisition policy. That is obviously of particular relevance to those collectors of modern and contemporary art, who, in order to maintain the contemporary nature of their collections, have to be able to continue to refresh them. It is also important for those museums and galleries that remain the great storehouses of the past. These are the places where our identity as a nation and as community is kept, stored and made available for understanding and cherishing by all of us. When particularly important works of art or objects become available, it is important that these museums and galleries can add to their collections.

A number of helpful developments have taken place over the course of the past eight or nine years. The changes that we were able to make in the acceptance in lieu procedures in 1998 have transformed the way in which acceptance in lieu has been able to be used. The Heritage Lottery Fund has done sterling work over the years in assisting museums and galleries with acquisitions. The Art Fund continues to play an absolutely invaluable role. But there is a need to look at how we can solve this very real problem for museums and galleries—and my noble friend identified a number of them.

I particularly draw attention to the proposal that acceptance in lieu could be brought forward so that it could be triggered while the owner of a work is still alive, rather than simply being able to be prayed in aid when they have died. That would make a very real difference. It is a proposal that a number of us have made to the Exchequer in the past couple of years in relation to papers and manuscripts of contemporary writers. Exactly the same principle applies to the works of art that are held by collectors.

On the subject of manuscripts and papers of our living writers, which are important items for many of our major collections, one very small change could make a huge difference. At the moment, VAT is not paid by an acquiring institution if a manuscript or collection of manuscripts is in bound form; it classifies itself as a book and is therefore free of VAT. If it is in unbound form and the papers are loose, VAT has to be paid on them. That is an absurdity, which could easily be solved at a stroke by the Chancellor.

All this has also to be seen in the context of the overall funding for museums, galleries and the arts in general. My noble friend rightly identified the anxiety across the whole field of the arts, culture and museums and galleries about the forthcoming spending review. If one looks at what this Government have achieved on arts, culture and museums over the course of the past nine and a half years, one finds that the record is outstanding. The increases in investment made available, the opening up of free admission, the rejuvenation of large parts of the cultural life of this country constitutes a huge success story. It has been driven by substantial investment by the Exchequer into this part of the Government’s purview. It would be a tragedy if all of that were now to come to a juddering halt. If we are facing either cash standstills in funding or, even worse, percentage cuts in funding for the arts, culture and museums in this country at the next spending review, not only will our cultural life be impoverished but the Government’s proud record of what has been achieved will be severely diminished. I do not want to see that happen.

None of us is asking for the moon. All we need from the Chancellor is current funding plus an element of inflation. If we were able to achieve that, our museums, galleries and performing arts could all continue to flourish. I hope that the message will go out loud and clear to the Chancellor that that is important. Within that, it will be important for museums and galleries to be able to maintain, refresh and develop their collections, and to keep these important storehouses for the benefit of us all.

I join the other speakers in congratulating my noble friend Lord Howarth on calling this debate, and on covering the waterfront so well that I have spent a lot of time cutting and slashing my own speech. It was cut and slashed even more after my noble friend Lord Smith got cracking. It will be a bit shorter, noble Lords will be relieved to hear.

To start with a digression, the biggest acquisition of British galleries and museums over the past10 years has been the number of visitors. It has been extraordinary, as all who go there know. Despite the bumps and ups and downs, which have been clearly detailed, they pour in, in quite unprecedented numbers, from many classes of our society and many age groups which did not go there before. That has been a magnificent acquisition.

Secondly, not as importantly but quite interestingly, instead of being something you have to go to—trailed in in navy blue raincoats on wet Wednesday afternoons—museums and galleries have become a place of buzz and style. They have becomea focus for cities—not only London; I think particularly of Newcastle—wherever you go. That has been a great acquisition to our life. I am bending the word a little, but not too much.

I speak here both as a Member of this House and as the president of the National Campaign for the Arts, which noble Lords will know is an independent body. It did research in response to the DCMS’s committee inquiry, Caring for Our Collections. Researching right across the country, it came up with some real problems, some of which have been enumerated. I shall rapidly go over them; they came from a big poll that it conducted. All over the place, core funding has not increased with inflation. There are warnings of further cuts, which is detrimental to staffing levels, expertise, maintenance, research and,à nos moutons, to acquisitions.

Acquisition budgets have fallen dramatically. The Art Fund survey shows that 96 per cent of museums say that inadequate core funding is a barrier to further collecting, and 60 per cent say that they were unable to allocate any money for acquisitions over the past year. That is a serious problem. I agree with my noble friend Lord Smith that the nub of this debate is that growth and regeneration come through acquisitions. That is the MacGuffin in this story. Further, the NCA report says that the UK lacks adequate tax incentives to promote significant philanthropic donations of artworks to the nation at a higher level. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that many regional museums are finding their funding being cut because of the low priority given to them by their local government. They are in a great deal of trouble.

So, what is to be done? On the one hand, we have a party in government which has proved itself—since 1945, if you take the longer term—to be sympathetic to the arts, consistently advancing its funding, not least under the guidance of my noble friend Lord Smith. For the remainder of my few minutes, however, I shall concentrate on the nub of the matter: the great spiralling of costs in the market.

We are having a great springtime for collectors and sellers of works of art—or perhaps I should say Christmas every day of the week—not only at the high end of £80 million but all over the place. It is happening right across high art, middle art and domestic art; prices have gone up and up. Art is now seen by some people as a wonderful hedge fund. Perhaps it is a south sea bubble—who knows? What is happening now is not unlike the way in which the Russians and certain persons from the City of London are inflating property prices and affecting property prices throughout the realm.

Should the Government chase these prices and in so doing fan the flames and become a player in the great auction or casino that we have at present? Might it not be thought better to let the private sector run riot for a while? After all, it could be argued, most museums and galleries at the moment are pretty well stocked; some of them are bulging. To transfer a quotation from Philip Larkin, “no one actually starves”. After all, this could be a blip—a real south sea bubble that bursts—and the gamblers will be burnt and the meek and prudent will inherit the works and inherit the earth, and that would be very satisfactory. After all, some private collectors—Peggy Guggenheim comes to mind, but also the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, who is going to donate his collection to the nation—have built up their collections privately to give to the nation for the public to see later. Is that not the building up of private initiatives, and is that not useful? Is it not a way forward? The cry may go up, “Does the state have to provide all the time and in every case?”

Perhaps it is a good time to let the private sector rip. Our museums and galleries over the centuries have benefited massively from the private sector being let rip and ripping off stuff from all over Europe and many parts of the world, then going straight and turning it in to places where people can view these works freely. The stately homes of England are full of such works, which are of great benefit to us all.

The solutions have been proposed well by the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Howarth: clear, effective tax interventions and money given in lieu. But if the Treasury is disinclined to do that and disinclined to join the overheated auction room game, and if it considers that the arts should be made more able to stand alone, those in the arts must prove their case—in detail, as I think has been proved already, and in general terms. Despite the expansion of the arts in the UK in the past decades, despite unchallengeable arguments about the particular and overall benefits for a better life, for internal wealth and the pursuit of happiness, and despite the iconic status of the UK and the art world and its target destination as a tourist centre—and we can just imagine what it will be like when people from China and the rest of Asia begin to target us—we have still not been able fully to convince the powers that be that while all art might be, as Oscar Wilde said, “quite useless”, the arts have become a necessary and important economic and cultural part of our society.

So what can we do? Either we can encourage the Chancellor to have a coup de foudre and meet his muse in the arts or—although it appears uncommonly difficult to do this—those of us in this debate and around the arts can continue to try to persuade the powers that be that the arts contribute more and more to this country. The contribution of the arts has increased, is increasing and will not diminish. The men and women in Whitehall do not necessarily know better than the rest of us.

Those who know about the state of our museums, both national and local, know the truth of what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, told us in his opening remarks, which has been underlined by subsequent speakers. The role of museums, as a kind of bridging between education, both formal and informal, giving pleasure to domestic British citizens and to those from aboard and as a national resource in a world where intellectual property will be the driver of the future wealth creation our country needs, is in peril.

I shall focus my few comments on the problems this crisis poses for the system of export control of works of art and cultural interest in this country, overseen by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, which I have the great good fortune, pleasure and honour to chair. This, we understand, provides a vignette, which throws light on the wider problem.

The reviewing committee arose from the work of the Waverly committee, set up by Stafford Cripps, Chancellor in 1950, and reported two years later to RA Butler in the ensuing Conservative Government. It addressed the implications of the exodus of items of cultural and historic interest and value from our country, and to advise what should be done about it. Of the committee’s members, all but one have separate entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; the odd one out being Ruth Dalton, who appears under her husband’s. They produced recommendations which have been the basis of government policy, regardless of party, ever since. The system they devised, while it could be criticised by the intellectually rigorous as illogical, cleverly balances the interests of owners, the art trade and museums, all of which matter to this country, in a manner generally considered fair, even handed and workable. As such, it is generally accepted by all affected by it. In short, the members of the Waverley committee displayed great wisdom.

The system depends on the regular work of the committee itself, which determines whether items seeking an export licence are of such a high quality that they meet the rigorous definitions of national treasure which, in turn, precipitates a time-limited right of pre-emption by a possible UK purchaser if the market price is matched and certain other requirements are met. In addition, the committee also prepares an annual report for the Secretary of State on the workings of the system of export control, which is, inter alia, always placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Central to the system is that if an item meets the rigorous definition, it cannot be exported if a UK purchaser comes forward. In practice, this means that of about 40,000 items subject to export licences, somewhere between 20 and 40 will meet the test. While it does not necessarily automatically follow that all items meeting the criteria should not be exported, a failure to stop more than a handful represents, it seems to us, a systemic failure. On a year-by-year basis, the figures fluctuate but, over the past decade taken as a whole, something like just over 60 per cent of export-stopped items, taken by value, end up leaving this country. We believe that is a failure, and that a 60-plus per cent failure represents a systemic failure, be it in the health service, the education system or, equally, in this area.

In money terms, the cost of turning failure into success is, as a number of other speakers have said,de minimis: in our context, at current prices, I would have thought about £25 million a year. I suppose that sounds quite a lot. Think of what footballers earn, however—one was reported in the paper last week as earning £100,000 a week—or what houses down the road from here might cost, or the cost of hospital equipment or military hardware. After all, despite the caveat of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, it also represents an expenditure where capital growth is more or less guaranteed.

In public expenditure terms, it is the equivalent of deciding, when walking down the street, whether to put 50 pence or a pound in the collecting tin for charity. It has nothing to do with budgeting the public finances, any more than petty change in a collecting tin materially affects noble Lords’ personal budgets. It represents less than the figure the Times represented as the cost of removing tattoos by the National Health Service, although I gather that is now disputed. It is about half the amount of money that paper reported a couple of days earlier to be the cost of bungled prosecutions. It pales into complete insignificance compared to the £2 billion Euro-VAT carousel scam.

In return, the monetary value of the investment will be enormous, as a cursory look at back reports of the reviewing committee clearly shows. It is a classic case of policy makers knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

What should be done? The reviewing committeeis not partisan. As its chairman, I consider that members vote for all three main political parties. That does not stop us agreeing on the problem. As I have already mentioned, one of our roles is to advise the Secretary of State on the workings of the system. Long before I was ever associated with it, for years the committee had been saying that the system was not working as it should, for the reasons I have given. If it is not working properly, perhaps we are all wasting our time. As one leading UK museum director plaintively said to me recently, “What can I do? You export stop something of the highest quality. I would like it in my museum, where it would be entirely suitably placed. Yet I know from experience that I shall not raise the money. Quite rightly, I have to try. Yet, because it is a slightly unusual item, I know that I am wasting a lot of my, already hard-pressed, staff’s time on a futile quest”. I have every sympathy with him.

I shall not suggest that the Government write out a cheque. We have been around that track already. It could be said, however, that the key is looking at the problems in as many ways as possible. I shall not argue that the Heritage Land Fund or the National Heritage Memorial Fund should be compelled to support respectable applications to acquire all so-called Waverley items. First, their terms of reference do not and probably should not overlap exactly. Secondly, they are already under enormous financial pressure, which looks as though it will get worse, even though their resources are already too small. Nor shall I argue that the National Heritage Memorial Fund should be given the full amount that the National Land Fund was originally allocated, even though it is hard to think of anything more shameful than government conscripting men to the war, and then plundering the fund set up in memory of those who died. It is the kind of thing that private individuals go to prison for, and it is particularly shameful that my party was responsible.

Rather, I shall press two priorities, one of which has already been touched on. First, as was mentioned, Sir Nicholas Goodison pointed out in his report for the Treasury, Securing the Best for Our Museums, the way in which the tax system, which encouraged charitable giving to help museums is not working as it might. The Treasury’s proposition that nothing is required because the existing arrangements have not been taken up appears to overlook the simple fact that the evidence from elsewhere, both inside and outside the English-speaking world, suggests that the existing UK rules and arrangements are not fit for that particular purpose. It is therefore hardly surprising when they do not seem to have the desired effect. They should be made fit for purpose, and we on the committee firmly believe that discussions should be entered into to identify the best ways for delivering what we are today all arguing is in the national interest.

Secondly, the committee has responded to the consultation from the Commission on Unclaimed Assets, arguing that some of the money—there may be an enormous amount—could properly, and should be, put into an acquisition fund. All kinds of lobbies will no doubt have designs on this money, but to allocate some to remedy this failure in contemporary Britain seems entirely proper. We have advised the Secretary of State of our response, and look forward to her—

Do I stop or go on?

My peroration has been severed, but I shall come back.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 6.18 to 6.28 pm.]

Before we stopped, I was explaining that the reviewing committee has responded to the Commission for Unclaimed Assets, arguing that a fund for acquisitions would be an appropriate use for at least some of the money. We have advised the Secretary of State of our response, and look forward to her support in our endeavours to take forward the best interests of her department and the wider public interest.

Thus far, I have presented our concerns as a failure. It is more than that; it is a tragedy. For the sake of a ha’p’orth of tar, the ship is being lost. For the sake of arranging things right, we are losing objects of enduring value to people now, in the past and, most important, far into the future when, to misquote Kipling, the vanished pomps of here today will be as one with Nineveh and Tyre. We are making the same mistake as the city fathers in Beijing who demolished the hutongs in the dash for immediate economic growth and so-called progress. As night follows day, they will regret it.

The folly of this approach can be seen so clearly on the London Underground today. As you look around, you see a reproduction of the Rokeby Venus, advertising the blockbuster Velasquez show at the National Gallery, which the cultural pages of the press have hailed as a “must-see item”, “the show of the year” and “five star”. We are lucky in London. We can see the Rokeby Venus, as opposed to many of the other pictures in the show, almost every day in the National Gallery because, in its early days, it was saved from export by the then-National Art Collections Fund. The philistines, the bean-counters, the Mr Gradgrinds and the Alderman Foodbottoms and Colonel Sibthorps all decried the cost of this frivolous extravagance, but what goes round comes round. It was cheap at the price. The best is always cheap, always endures, is always on the cutting edge, always pays the best dividends and provides the best value for money to our fellow citizens and taxpayers.

I thank my noble friend for bringing about this debate. The All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group has done much to bring the attention of Parliament to arts and culture, and it provides a useful link between them. The group came into being in 1975-76 when the Treasury introduced inheritance tax, which would have forced historic houses and their contents to be sold, and their importance to our history and culture would be lost. Fortunately, Sir Patrick Cormack in another place conducted an impressive campaign and, in the Treasury, I was pleased to support him. The campaign resulted in the saving of our precious assets—our historic houses and their contents.

The arts and heritage committee has continued for 30 years and brings together both Houses in maintaining contact with our great heritage. I have the privilege to act as president of the committee, but the valuable work of Sir Patrick Cormack as chairman and the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, who I see in his place, as honorary secretary have maintained the close co-operation between the all-party group and our museums and galleries.

In Britain, we are particularly fortunate to have acquired so large a proportion of great works of art. The 18th century provided many valuable donations, but the 19th century gave us the great collections which we are privileged to enjoy. The danger now is that many works of art being put up for sale are being lost because the museums and galleries do not have the funds to compete with other purchasers, who are frequently from overseas. Many important works of art are in danger of being lost and much needs to be done to meet this trend.

We have some outstanding directors of our museums and galleries, including Neil MacGregor at the British Museum—some people claim it to be the largest museum in the world and it has the Elgin Marbles among other outstanding collections—Charles Saumarez Smith at the National Gallery and Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate galleries. Additional to these are the famous Victoria & Albert and the Natural History Museum. So we are very well supplied. One weakness is the low salaries which are paid to the curators of our smaller museums and galleries. We are fortunate to have well qualified staff at many of them, but I have a fear of retaining their expertise over the next few years. I must ask my noble friend to comment on that.

One outstanding contribution was the decision by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who I am delighted to see in his place, when he was Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to bring about free entry to galleries and museums. I, like others, had argued strongly for free entry, which came on 1 December 2001. It has had a revolutionary effect on entry—attendances have increased dramatically. When visiting several galleries over this weekend, I was able to compare the number of visitors to those that I can recall. In my teens I visited a number of museums in the Manchester area. In some smaller towns, I frequently found myself alone looking at the paintings and other exhibits. That achievement is a tribute to my noble friend. We now have a vibrant and active audience for the great works of art and even for the most modest displays in smaller towns, which always have important works which are worth examining.

The valuable report, Renaissance in the Regions, which was produced by the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, and on which I served, had the important recommendation on regional hubs, which would provide regional and local assistance to smaller museums and galleries, as well as create centres where museums and galleries can join together for assistance and advice.

What worries me about the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is that in the title “culture” rightly comes first and “sport” last. With the coming of the 2012 Olympics, sport has become a more important part of the work of the department. As a consequence, culture and the arts will not receive as high a priority as in previous years. Since the sports aspect is likely to increase its demand over the years, the position could get worse, which is important. Last Thursday, Sir Patrick Cormack and I met with the chief executive of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Chris Batt. On Wednesday, they will have an afternoon in the Terrace Pavilion when I hope that they will get a good attendance as their national role can be very important in the years ahead. The real problem is that, after valuable help has been given to the arts, progress has not been maintained. We need to continue to appreciate the value of our museums and galleries and to provide the financial assistance which they need to maintain their valuable contribution.

It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said in his excellent opening remarks. It is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, president of the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group. As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, it is very nice to welcome the Heritage Lottery Fund initiative of an investment of £3 million to be allocated in 2007-08. Grants will be available from £50,000 up to a maximum of £200,000. It is envisaged that as many as 20 projects around the UK could be funded from this initiative.

Obviously, much has been covered in this debate. I should like to emphasise one or two things. Members of the Committee have touched on how well served we are in this country by our museum directors and their professional staff who have transformed our great museums in an extraordinary way in the past few years. That has been greatly helped by the lottery. I much enjoyed my time as a Heritage Lottery Fund trustee. As the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, said, people pour into museums now in unprecedented numbers, which is wonderful. I am glad to know that all Members of the Committee get the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group notice—if anyone does not, please see me and I will make sure that you go on the list.

The Committee will have seen from the recent notice that the group goes to exhibitions of quite extraordinary quality—Velasquez, Rodin, Holbein, Leonardo and Hockney. I do not believe that there is anywhere else in the world at this moment where one could put together such a programme. This is wonderful stuff, but it is a different story when it comes to museums and galleries adding to their collections, as we have heard. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made a quite salutary speech. He explained that imposing an export stop does not mean that something is saved for the nation. It is sad to hear the 60 per cent failure rate that he described.

One of the main problems is the vast prices that pictures command. We read press headlines, such as “Mystery Russian pays £51 million for Picasso’s Mistress”. A few years ago no Russian would possibly have paid more than £5,000. There are so many more people now in this international market. No government can be expected to pick up the tab for keeping everything in the country that we would like to keep. However, I hope that there will be some additional help.

Another area which has been touched on, and where I feel that a more imaginative approach would be possible, is tax regimes. In America, private donors are encouraged to give, and it has a very effective tax regime. In this country, a little extra encouragement would mean that a lot more items are given to the country. I am not sure that the Goodison report has been taken on board. As various Members of the Committee have said, there were lots of very good things in that. Perhaps the Minister could look further at the Goodison report. We are talking about government support for museums and galleries. But on looking at galleries over the years and centuries and at how they obtained items, most have come from private donors—not from government at any point. I hope that the tax regime can be looked at further.

When private owners wish to sell high value items for the maximum that they can get, they are quite often depicted as being extremely greedy and it is suggested that they should donate them. When the Duke of Northumberland was criticised because he wanted to sell Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks”, his response was, “I am selling this painting to preserve our national heritage”. He meant that he was using the money to preserve a castle, two Grade I listed buildings, 200 Grade 2 listed buildings and a famous collection seen by 100,000 people a year. His outlay on all that is massive. In that case, the picture was saved for the nation by the lottery, but that will not happen very often.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, mentioned the 1922 list. Perhaps the Minister will comment on its status because there are very few items on it and it always seems that it should not be left to lie. In fact, the Halifax Titian is on it. It is not always easy to know with certainty what to keep for the country for future generations. I do not suppose that Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” of 1991, otherwise known as the “Shark in Formaldehyde” would make the list. But that was bought in 1991 for £50,000 and sold 14 years later to America for £6 million, which gives an indication of the problems that there are in keeping up with prices.

Recently, I was sent a card showing people in a contemporary art gallery where one person is scrutinising a red box on the gallery wall. The caption read:

“Dot making a fool of herself in the art gallery by admiring the fire alarm”.

None of us have that problem when looking at a Raphael or a Titian, but there are endless opinions about what should or should not be kept for the nation. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for initiating the debate. It is always good to have a debate about the arts, a subject which is spoken on too rarely. As the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, mentioned, it comes hot on the heels of the announcement of a new £3 million fund to invest in acquisitions, training for curators and research; something else that is to be welcomed, but, to paraphrase Maev Kennedy of the Guardian, not worth one elegant leather glove of Titian’s “Portrait of a Young Man”, which was until recently on the walls of the National Gallery and is now in a sale room.

The arts, of which museums and galleries are so integral, are a central part of our civic and community life—as others have mentioned—not an optional extra. They give people a place in which they can exercise and enjoy their imagination. They define and bind communities, provide understanding of the world we inhabit and of what makes us human.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, who recently gave evidence to a House of Commons committee, spoke of how an exhibition at the museum, Building of Durga, has attracted large numbers of Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim, from across the country. He said that the role of museums,

“in allowing different parts of the community in the United Kingdom to see how they fit together is a role that very few other public institutions can play”.

The opening of the new Islamic Gallery at the V&Ais another example of that. The gallery embraces Islamic culture and welcomes it as important to us collectively. Across the country, through initiatives like these, our museums and galleries are contributing to social cohesion, which is so important in the troubled times in which we live. Thanks to the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, having introduced free admission to DCMS sponsored museums and galleries, many more people are able to benefit from the enlightenment as well as the pleasure that they offer.

Museums and galleries are also clearly an educational resource, and a resource with untapped potential in this area. According to the Museums Association, in areas where the very successful Renaissance in the Regions programme has been fully funded, there has been a 120 per cent increase in attendance by schoolchildren. In the areas where it has not been fully funded, there has been only a20 per cent increase. Only three out of nine regions have at this time received full funding. Why, when the contribution made is so clear, is the funding not forthcoming for the other six?

Then, as the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Inglewood, mentioned, there is the contribution these wonderful collections make to the creative industries. The V&A calculates that 30 per cent of its visitors are directly involved in the creative arts. Real value nowadays is in design, not manufacture. Values lies in ideas and the creative industries are now a key economic driver, growing twice as fast as the overall economy. Gordon Brown seems to recognise this and has said:

“The Arts sector is not a sideshow, but right at the centre of the economy”.

But despite this it still feels that it is treated as exactly that—a sideshow. Core funding for our museums and galleries, as has been mentioned earlier, has not kept up with inflation, while costs have risen at a rate higher than inflation. The DCMS consultation document Understanding the Future says:

“Collections are at the heart of all that museums do, but they need to remain dynamic resources”.

And yet, acquisition budgets have fallen dramatically. The Art Fund Museum Survey 2006 found that60 per cent of museums,

“were unable to allocate any income to collecting last year”.

Everyone agrees that collections need to remain dynamic, which means that acquisitions have to be,

“at the heart of the mandate of museums”.

The converse of the need to acquire is that there is not enough exhibition space for all that has been acquired over the centuries. Troves of treasure languish in basements, cupboards and behind locked safes.

We welcome the fact that the Museums Association is due to conduct a review of what is referred to as “disposals” and the consequent debate that this has opened up. It is a complicated area because of the risk of loss to the nation’s heritage, and one that should be treated with caution with the proper checks and balances. For decades, there has been a strong presumption in the museums and galleries sector rejecting disposal. However, against the backdrop of the realities of collecting in the21st century, it is a debate that needs to be revisited.

There are fundamental questions to be asked: should collections be there forever? Is it the case that everything in a collection should necessarily have been collected in the first place? Should precious resources be used on conserving objects that are rarely seen? Then there is the question of sales. The recent decision of Bury Council to sell its Lowry, not to enhance the museum collection but to plug a£10 million shortfall in its budget is obviously wrong, but we should consider sales if the money is used to reinvest in collections. The Tate has started talking about selling things from its collection to raise money for future acquisition.

Then there is the question of partnership. The last major acquisition made by the British Museum was made jointly with the museums of Stoke-on-Trent and Carlisle, and is owned by the three collections. That seems extremely sensible. The national collections must also be willing to lend to their regional cousins, which have less power to acquire.

We welcome the increased funding that the arts have received under this Government. The money has proved well spent, but the future does not look so positive. National museums are nervous about the next Comprehensive Spending Review, and I support what the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Howarth, said in their plea to the Chancellor not to impose cuts.

In the introduction to the consultation document that I mentioned earlier, Estelle Morris, then arts Minister, stated:

“Museums are as important to our quality of life as any of the public services”.

And yet that is not how they are treated. The contribution made by galleries and museums to our quality of life in both various and specific ways is not sufficiently taken into account when the question of what they are literally worth is calculated.

I shall quote one important sentence from the Government’s recent manifesto:

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

That was a welcome statement. This debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is timely because it gives the Minister a chance to respond and tell your Lordships what progress is being made.

I add one word of congratulation—because one should always give the Government credit where it is due—on the introduction of free admission to national museums and galleries. It was an extremely important step, and we congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for winkling the money out of the Treasury to enable it to be done. It has made an enormous difference, and the numbers of visitors have gone up. It has encouraged overall museum visits to other museums as well. It is a great achievement.

I add one word of caution, however. Under the original scheme, museums and galleries were given an amount of money to take into account what they lost from the admissions. That is now going to be all put in as the allocation of their DCMS funding. We will have to watch very carefully that there are no cuts so that those museums in that position are not penalised by going down that route. Not only have they lost admissions but, due to the increasing number of people, the cost of running the galleries is increasing, too.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, asked the Minister a Question in July about funding, and the Minister gave an interesting answer to a question of my own. He said that the Government would,

“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”.

He went on to say that there was a meeting. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, did not mention that meeting, which rather concerned me. I worry that the fact that he did not mention it means that progress has not been made—because I am sure that if it had he would have said so. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that. He went on to say that,

“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”.—[Official Report, 24/7/06; col. 1541.]

I think that noble Lords would be interested in what progress has been made.

To be fair, the Minister acknowledged the concerns that exist on funding. He quoted a report from the National Art Collections Fund that argued that,

“92 per cent of museums surveyed felt that there was inadequate funding”.—[Official Report, 24/7/06; col. 1542.]

We all know of the concerns that they have.

I shall try to limit my remarks to what I regard as the collections and how we can ensure that acquisitions continue. There are two routes to go down: there is the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which is the fund of last resort for the nation’s heritage and comes to the rescue by making emergency acquisitions. Because of that it is always under a timetable problem. It is always in a mad panic to try to raise money to stop works of art that have gone through the reviewing committee, chaired by my noble friend Lord Inglewood, going abroad. That is not very satisfactory. An interesting idea was put forward this evening of acceptance in lieu being brought forward into people’s lifetime. It would make life much easier and give the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the museums much more ability to raise the money. That is certainly a sensible idea. I hope that the Government will look at it carefully. As we have heard, the amounts of money are increasing in the art world all the time. There is nothing we can do about that; I suspect that every time a museum has ever bought something over the years, everybody has always said that it has paid too much. That is always going to go on—and in 20 years’ time, if we are still around, we will look back and say how cheap things were at the time.

The other source of funding is the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has funded the National Heritage Memorial Fund and has given some money for acquisitions—but there seems to be a reluctance to do so on the part of that fund. Can the Minister explain that? The Heritage Lottery Fund seems fundamentally reluctant to give money for acquisitions. Is that because of the way it is set up? After all, the Government are responsible for it. The fund is, of course, getting less money as a result of the changes that the Government have made to the National Lottery, because more money is going to the Big Lottery Fund, and that is a concern. The Heritage Lottery Fund funding has come down—and that is something that we would do something about.

We are all concerned about the same things: we are all concerned about the collections in our country, how to add to them and what to do about it. We are all here to give the Minister support in the perpetual fight against the powers that be to improve funding for the arts.

I join all noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Howarth on securing the debate and on an extraordinarily interesting speech. My noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury made an absolutely massive contribution to the arts when he was Secretary of State and determined how the arts landscape looks in Britain today.

I should like to start by trying to put our debate into some sort of context. The noble Lord, Lord Lee, made this point. The past 10 years—described by my noble friend Lord Smith as a huge success story—have been remarkable for our cultural life in this country, and for our museums and galleries and their collections in particular.

There is no denying the enormous, and growing, appetite—many noble Lords have made this point—for serious culture in the UK that has developed in recent years. Visitor numbers to our national museums have soared, but, alongside this, economic forces have been at work. We have seen a tremendous rise in the rate of inflation at the high end of the international art market—a point eloquently made by my noble friend Lord Bragg. The very finest pieces are now fetching well into the high millions. And, in the way that these things go, the soaring prices have encouraged a number of owners to place their works on the market. Who can blame them? There was a story in the Sunday Times yesterday—true or false—that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, is going to sell a Picasso in New York, which is expected to raise in the region of £10 million. This has led to very real concerns, which we have heard this evening, about the ability of museums and galleries to keep up with these movements in the marketplace. To compete with the deep coffers of the big international collectors and institutions will be a problem, and we all have to acknowledge that.

Against such a backdrop it will come as no surprise to noble Lords that the Treasury is unwilling simply to throw money at the problem, and, further, that there is no appetite in Government for a free-standing acquisitions fund. This evening we have heard figures like “only £25 million is needed” and “£90 million” for a picture. This sort of rhetoric—and I do not have a political background—is designed to drive Treasury officials crazy. Are noble Lords suggesting that any picture regarded as an important UK treasure that comes on the market should be purchased? I am afraid that we have to get real; that will not happen. It is absolutely essential that museums and galleries make the very most of existing Treasury tax concessions before they move on and try to persuade the Treasury on new ideas for tax relief.

It is a testimony to the self-confidence and sheer energy that surrounds our museums and galleries that this autumn sees what many believe to be the richest array of exhibitions ever seen in the capital—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne—of Hockney, Holbein, Velazquez, Michelangelo, Rodin and Cezanne. These riches are not just restricted to the capital; terrific things are happening in the regions. People all over the country have a genuine appetite for serious art. I refer to the huge success of, for example, the Bacon show in Norwich, or public art projects like Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North beside the A1, and the iron men on the sands at Crosby, which enjoy enormous public support and affection. Millions have enjoyed the angel and in just a year 600,000 people have walked across the sands to see the iron men.

So what can, and should, the Government do for the arts? Jennie Lee got it right, I think. In another phrase that has become a little shiny from overuse, but is nonetheless resoundingly true, she said:

“What the arts need from Government is money, policy and silence”.

Let us start with money, particularly for acquisitions, because this is the nub of the debate this evening. It is nearly 15 years since our national museums had ring-fenced acquisition funds. One of the most important principles underpinning this and previous Governments’ approach to museum funding is that one size does not fit all. The best placed people to decide spending priorities are in the museums themselves, not in Whitehall—a point that I believe we all acknowledge. But, as my noble friend knows from first-hand experience, and thanks to his own good campaigning and lobbying, there is a good story to tell on funding overall. DCMS spending on its sponsored museums has increased from £205 million in 1997 to £294 million today—about 16 per cent in real terms. This includes an increase of £28 million in the past four years.

Further afield, £150 million has been invested in the Renaissance in the Regions programme, as we have heard. This is the first-ever sustained programme of central government investment in the infrastructure of our regional museums and galleries. It is putting new life into institutions across the country, reversing generations of underinvestment, and helping to equip the museums’ workforce with the skills it needs to survive in the 21st century.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund has committed more than £135 million to acquiring cultural property, usually a true fund of last resort, since 1980. Its grant from the Government will double from £5 million to £10 million next year. Since its creation in 1994, the National Lottery, through the Heritage Lottery Fund, has awarded grants of more than £1 billion to museums, galleries, libraries and archives in the UK. This includes £141 million to museums and galleries for the acquisition of art and other objects. Only last week, it announced a ring-fenced acquisitions fund of £3 million, which will be targeted at our regional collections. At this point, I join my noble friend Lord Howarth in paying tribute to the Art Fund, under the guidance of David Barrie, for its excellent work in helping museums and galleries all over the country to acquire objects of all kinds. Since its inception in 1903, it has helped to save more than 850,000 works of art, and it manages to offer about £4 million in grants annually to museums and galleries around the UK. That is the first leg of Jennie Lee’s tripod—money.

The Minister has entirelyfairly explained the amounts of money that the Government have made available. I believe that everyone who has participated in this debate supports that unequivocally. At the same time, however, it does not address the core problem; namely, the current crisis in acquisitions. It has been explained to us that going to museums is more and more popular. It follows that providing money for museums and acquisitions would be electorally popular. The Government are faced with the problem of this crisis in the museum sector. How do we resolve that in the future, rather than quite fairly commenting on the successes of the past?

When we talkabout what we will do in the future, it is essential to establish where we are now. My point is that this Government—my Government—have done the most extraordinary things in the past 10 years to contribute to museums, galleries and many other art forms. It is essential that I lay the groundwork before going on to say what we should do about it. The question is, after all, what we should do about it. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, made a very important point when he said that this is not one political party’s problem but our problem. It is a national problem, and it must be dealt with in an overarching, intelligent and creative way. So that is money.

Policy, of course, is a more elusive creature. The Government believe in the arm’s-length principle, which means, as we have heard, that detailed decisions on individual art forms should be taken not by Government but in the field. The Government do what they can to create the conditions in which culture can flourish. For museums and galleries, this begins with appointing the very best directors, chairmen and trustees. Here we come to a positive point. As chairman of Resource, I spent some considerable time looking at museums and talking to museum directors.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made the important point that some trustees should be appointed if they have entrepreneurial skills. It could be argued that the museum world is too passive. It waits for things to happen rather than making them happen, and it should be more entrepreneurial. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, too, made an important point about how philanthropists should be encouraged to move into this world, particularly when one compares the situation and the atmosphere in the UK with what happens in America. Such an important change in the direction that museums and galleries take would be of benefit and would help to alleviate some of the problems about which we are talking.

Creating the conditions goes beyond this. The Treasury has created a number of tax reliefs over the years—I urge the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, not to say that he knows all this; he may do, but there is a sting in the tail—that help private owners to give, and public institutions to receive, important cultural items. There is, for example, a conditional exemption, which allows estates to defer the settlement of inheritance tax bills in exchange for public access to fine works—douceurs, or sweeteners if you prefer, that make private treaty sales of works of art to public institutions more tax effective. Again, I repeat that these opportunities are there, but they are not being exploited to the full. It weakens any argument for further tax concessions and further help from the Treasury if things that are already in place are simply not used.

If experience elsewhere in Europe and around the globe suggests that the detail of the existing tax arrangements are not the most efficacious way of achieving the shared wishes of everyone in this debate, does it not follow that it is right to try to tailor the detail of the mechanisms to deliver what we all want? If they are not working properly now, that may be because they have not been drawn up in the right way.

I would look at this from the other end of the telescope. I would not say that it has not been drawn up in the right way. I am now straying well away from my brief, but I would argue that the museums and galleries have not spoken with one voice, so they have not been an efficient or effective pressure group. I was about to say that there should be one voice that says, “Here is a series of proposals. Will you please react to them?”. At the moment, there are a number of organisations all doing valuable work but all presenting a very diffuse image. That is not a good thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, talked about the UK system of export licences, which gives UK institutions a second chance to match the price paid for the very best items before they go overseas. I pay tribute to the noble Lord as chairman of the reviewing committee. I am told that there is ample evidence in the department’s files that the committee has been complaining about insufficient funds to do its work ever since it was founded in 1952. We could argue about whether the bottle is half full or half empty, but I am pleased to say that, last year, more than 50 per cent of the items on which the Government placed a temporary export bar were subsequently saved for the nation. That is on top of the literally hundreds of items that have been saved since the committee was set up in 1952.

I shall now discuss the third part of Jennie Lee’s prescription—silence. I am not sure whether this has ever been part of the approach of this Government or any other Government. I should, however, like to finish with a further word on acquisitions. The problem, which I have already touched on, is in part created by the fact that the international art market is a law unto itself. Indeed, it could be said that it is in some, but happily not all, respects second only to the world of international football—an analogy made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. It is extraordinary that Chelsea, which is top of the league—

Extraordinarily, it declared a loss of £140 million pounds last year. There is irrationality about this world, some of which perhaps applies to the art world, too. Fashion, questions of attribution and provenance, and collectors’ choices all play their part. The way through—I have touched on this—is to begin by making better use of existing tax regimes and mechanisms. Take tax relief, for example. As I have already said, several good concessions are already in place to encourage private and corporate giving, but take-up has not been as wide as we might have expected. The Government are considering ways of addressing this, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for securing this debate today and to all noble Lords for airing these issues once again. The most interesting thing about the debate is that almost everything that has been said has been directed not at me but at the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has made several very interesting points that will definitely set us thinking. Matters of taxation are, of course, for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I welcome the noble Lord’s helpful suggestions for a number of imaginative ways to increase the resources available to allow museums and galleries to add to their collections. These will certainly be worth exploring further, although I fear that creating a new paramount list would count as unreasonable interference in the art market and in the fundamental right of owners to the free enjoyment of their property, including the right to sell it at the market price. I do not know whether noble Lords are aware of this, but France recently tried to buy a van Gogh from a private collector, arguing that the price reflected France’s inalienability. The owner took France to the European Court of Human Rights; France lost and had to pay four times the price that was originally asked for the picture.

The Minister need not have the fear that he has just expressed. I see no difference in principle between this and the procedures followed by the reviewing committee. In 1922, the Treasury committed itself in the future to providing funds at a reasonable valuation that was made at the time. It did not undertake to chase the art market forever upwards, but it did undertake to support the National Gallery to pay up to what was considered to be a fair valuation at that moment in the history of the art market. It worked; the National Gallery subsequently secured four out of the seven on the original list. I do not think there was any question of an infringement of property rights, as they were understood in those days or, indeed, as they are understood now.

Again, my point relates to huge inflation in the art market. An arrangement might be made with someone in, say, 1920, when there was very little inflation in price over 10, 15 or 20 years. However, I do not think that an owner would be very happy if an arrangement was made to pay £10 million for art that was worth£150 million 20 years later. As I have said, however, we will carefully consider all the ideas that have been expressed today.

It has been a fascinating debate. Many valuable points have been made, and they will be considered, as I have said. I stress again that I have been involved in many aspects of the arts over the years, and the ones that have really worked are where a pressure group or a lobby speaks with one voice. The problem is analysed, and a straightforward solution is proposed that can then be considered.

The noble Lord talks about an industry coming together. The tourism industry has come together, has formed the Tourism Alliance and is speaking with one voice. There is no evidence that it has increased government expenditure or support for the tourist industry.

First, I am not talking about an industry: I am talking about museums and galleries where everyone acknowledges the importance to culture, education and all other contributions that they make. Here is a Government who have invested massively in the arts in the past10 years. I would hope—this view is shared by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and others—that the Treasury will respond to some of the arguments that we have heard today. In conclusion, we have not heard a word of criticism about our museums and galleries. There is a general view that they are run by brilliant directors and have terrific dedicated staff. I should like to finish by paying tribute to those people who are giving us a better museum and gallery service than anywhere else in the world.

The Committee adjourned at fifteen minutes past seven o’clock.