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Heritage: V&A Purchase Grant Fund

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 13 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the benefit to the nation of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s purchase grant fund.

My Lords, the Government are fully aware that the Victoria and Albert Museum’s purchase grant fund is a valuable means of helping the nation’s non-national museums, specialist libraries and record centres to develop their collections. Through the acquisitions that it supports, the purchase grant fund helps to develop and strengthen the quality and standards of regional collections for the understanding and enjoyment of the public.

Is the noble Baroness aware that there will be widespread appreciation of her recognition that this modest fund—now only £900,000—which has been administered for the past 130 years by the Victoria and Albert, has been invaluable in enabling museums, libraries and archives whose main funding does not come from central government to make acquisitions for the public benefit, ranging from finds of archaeological treasure to modern literary manuscripts? Following the decision of the Government to abolish the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, through which this funding has been channelled in recent years, will the noble Baroness give an assurance to the House that Ministers will continue to provide funding specifically to enable institutions across the regions of England and Wales to develop their collections? Will Ministers challenge philanthropic donors to double up the fund?

My Lords, we recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has tirelessly campaigned for the preservation of the V&A purchase grant fund and I respect his knowledge and expertise in this area. I am very pleased that he has asked this Question as it gives Her Majesty’s Government the chance to inform your Lordships that Arts Council England will continue the funding of the V&A purchase grant fund, once it assumes responsibility for the museum and library functions of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Over the coming months, Arts Council England will be consulting those concerned before reaching a conclusion about the level of funding that will be made available to this grant for the next spending period. On the noble Lord’s final point, the department would like to stimulate a culture of charitable giving and believes that there is scope for all public collections to strengthen their fundraising skills.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in the case of the V&A, the Australian Michael Hintze has given a huge donation that has enabled the museum to reopen a number of galleries? Does she agree that there may be plenty of other philanthropists who could follow suit, for the V&A and for other bodies?

My noble friend Lady Gardner is absolutely right that Mr Hintze has been remarkable in supporting the V&A and other institutions, and long may that continue. Philanthropic giving is something that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is pursuing with great vigour. Such giving is becoming more and more important, and I hope that he will look into it further.

My Lords, in addition to the government purchase grant fund, another major source of new acquisitions for the V&A and other galleries is gifts that are allocated to them under the acceptance in lieu scheme in respect of inheritance tax. Is there any reason why this arrangement should be limited to inheritance tax? Could it not be extended to other forms of personal tax, with appropriate controls, including in particular the new tax on non-doms that the Government are currently considering?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Myners, has for some time been pursuing this issue, which we are all very interested in. We know that the matter is under discussion and I hope that the Treasury will come to a decision that is favourable for the arts and museums very soon.

My Lords, will my noble friend explain how transferring the purchasing policy of the V&A to the centralised and bureaucratic Arts Council is consistent with the devolving of powers that is apparently at the core of the big society?

I thank my noble friend Lord Ryder for bringing up the big society, which plays a key part in the agenda of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The DCMS will give Arts Council England responsibility for the purchase grant fund as part of its new responsibilities for the museum and library functions of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, so that the Arts Council can balance the interests of all the grants and make strategic funding decisions. This will save money and be more efficient.

Given that the origins of the V&A came in the aftermath of the 1851 London exhibition, which celebrated the best of British workmanship and design, will the noble Baroness say what is being done now to encourage museums such as the V&A and the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery—which has a long association with business—to team up with business and industry to ensure that we promote the best of British design, especially in some of the new visual arts industries, to the benefit of a nation that wishes to recover economically?

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, is absolutely right that the more that we combine those two areas, the better. Renaissance was another such project that his Government set up several years ago. I hope that there will be further work with renaissance to encourage more donations.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a council member of the Friends of the National Libraries. I am delighted that my noble friend has made some positive statements in this difficult context. Will she bear in mind in particular the importance of small trusts like that, alongside the V&A purchase grant, in the area of archives and written artefacts, which are often overlooked in comparison with more politically attractive and visible parts of the visual arts? Will she personally ensure that there is adequate firepower to meet the need as and when items come for public sale that might otherwise be lost?

I thank my noble friend Lord Boswell for that question. His point about archives is very topical at the moment in the department. Over the coming months, Arts Council England will consult the people concerned about whether archives will continue to be eligible for the V&A purchase grant. It is possible that archives will continue to be eligible. The department is still in negotiations about which organisations will take responsibility for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council's wider responsibility for archives. An announcement will be made shortly.