Funds for national museums and galleries to acquire objects for their collections are voted annually as part of their grant-in-aid. These funds may, however, be carried forward from year to year if institutions wish to use them to accumulate a purchase fund.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the acquisition of a great work of art by a public gallery or museum is not a matter of a one-off piece of expenditure? It is the acquisition by the nation of something that is not only a capital asset but of something which, I hope, adds to the glory of our nation. Will my right hon. Friend suggest to the Treasury that to treat such an acquisition as current expenditure is an act of Treasury frivolity? The purchase should be treated as a capital asset. The entire grant should be considered as a capital matter and not a matter of current cash flow. Will my right hon. Friend explain that to the Treasury?
I appreciate the importance of the question that my hon. Friend has asked, but I must point out that it is possible for the national museums and galleries—indeed, it is possible to negotiate the same deal for the local authority museums and galleries — to accumulate a purchase fund for the acquisition of a work of art and to carry over 100 per cent. of that purchase fund to the following year. That is an important concession on the part of the Treasury.
We should not lose sight of the fact that there are other ways, in addition to the purchase fund, of purchasing works of art, or indeed preserving those works of art for the nation. For example, we now have the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and this does an important job. There is also the acceptance in lieu scheme, wherein up to £12 million can be drawn upon to help preserve works of art for the nation. The important tax changes of the last Budget have also contributed to preserving works of art in this country.
Perhaps the Minister would consider authorising a lease-back arrangement for the great national collections along the lines of some of the arrangements of local authorities. One can imagine the sort of revenue that that could generate. Has the Minister done anything to try to secure for the nation Van Gogh's painting of sunflowers that is due to come up for auction? Will the Minister make the money available to secure it for the nation? Indeed, will he start thinking about imposing some sort of levy on the obscenely high prices paid for paintings at auctions? Money could be taken from the price of those old masters and perhaps be dedicated to some of our young artists.
There are already well-established good procedures for intervention where it is thought that certain works of art ought to be considered for preservation in this country. Those procedures were set up by the Government in 1980 and the National Heritage Memorial Fund helps to fulfil that task. It is for it to make judgments about various works of art. As the hon. Gentleman knows, since the early 1950s there has been in existence the Export Review Committee, which has the job of recommending to me that certain works of art should be stopped from sale abroad until such time as we have tested whether this country is prepared to provide the funds for them.
Will my right hon. Friend take Treasury Ministers on a tour of some of our national museums and, if they fail to be excited by the beauty of the objects displayed, will he point out just how much money they represent to the country, both in capital value and in the tourist revenue that they generate?
In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should point out that he recognised the importance of this when we were able to announce the new acceptance in lieu scheme, which, as I have said, provides an extra £10 million in contingency reserve, on which we can now draw. That is in itself an important acknowledgement by my right hon. Friend of the need to preserve our works of art.