Queen's Speech — Debate (5th Day) (continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:51 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative 5:51 pm, 3rd June 2010

My Lords, this time of the day is not the moment for long introductions. However, I endorse the remarks previously made about my noble friends on the Front Bench and I congratulate the coalition for having put them there.

This afternoon's debate could perhaps be politely described as a bag of liquorice allsorts. I intend to confine my remarks to the culture bit of the package. In so doing, I declare an interest as chairman of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, although I shall draw on some of my other interests which are declared in the register.

As your Lordships will know, this country is one of the world's cultural centres; and as such it is not only a great cultural bonus for all of us who live here, it is also an extraordinary generator of inward spending from abroad and a raiser of revenue for the Government. In that context it is interesting to note, as some noble Lords may know, that a number of the Gulf states are building up large museums and cultural centres in anticipation of the end of their oil riches, to encourage visitors in the future and to generate income.

In this Chamber, as everywhere in this country, there has over recent weeks and months been much debate about public expenditure. We sometimes seem to overlook the fact that, in certain circumstances, public expenditure is a kind of clearinghouse between those who enjoy something and those who actually produce it. Let me give an example. I live near the English Lake District, and I am both a hill farmer-among other things-and president of the Cumbria tourist board. Visitors come to the Lake District to look at the fells. If the fells were not grazed by sheep they would be covered in birch trees and the visitors would not come. If there is no money in farming, the land will not be farmed, and that in turn would destroy the tourist industry. Of course, in practice, it is impossible for those who come to visit the locality to pay the producers of the landscape they come to see directly. The paradox that emerges is that the by-product has become more valuable than the principal output of the underlying activity.

In many ways, the same can be said of museums. It goes without saying that we are living in economically difficult and hard times, and we have to recognise the problems that that poses. However, it is also important to recognise that our museums and-particularly, but not exclusively-our national collections in London are enormous generators of public revenue. How we as a society respond to the cuts and the way in which the Government impose them must recognise that.

Another paradox is that you cannot successfully set out to create a good attraction, in precisely the same way as you cannot set out to make yourself happy by deliberately trying to achieve it. That became apparent to me when I was doing some work for Carlisle cathedral. People do not go to Carlisle cathedral because it is an attraction; it is an attraction because it is Carlisle cathedral. The way to underpin that important economic part of our society is to ensure that it retains its level of excellence, to ensure that it remains the best.

Part of the way to achieve that is to ensure that acquisition budgets do not simply evaporate. There are two reasons for that. First, our national institution collections are permanently evolving. If items leave this country, the chances are that they will have gone for ever. If the money to prevent that is not to come directly from the public purse, we must find other ways of leveraging that money. That is why I and my committee very much welcome the emphasis on philanthropy in this area, which was first raised and debated more widely by the outgoing Government and has been emphasised by the new Secretary of State in the past few days. In parallel with that, there is the evolution of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will have increased funding. In order to make philanthropy work in this country in the way that will be essential for our institutions in the years to come, it is important that the tax reliefs available for those who support those institutions are extended-particularly to capital gains tax and, I suggest, to income tax. The douceur to encourage people must be extended in the same way.

Secondly, the rules about reserved benefit need to be changed. If anyone else was to, say, build a new wing to the Tate Gallery at a cost of several million pounds, it would be galling to find that if you wanted to hold a party there once it had been completed, you would have to pay tax on any value which happened to have been conferred on you over the sum of £500. That is not the way to achieve philanthropic giving. We must ignore the sirens who say that this is all some kind of "toys for toffs". In society, you have to decide what you want. There are and will continue to be rich people in this country. If you think about it carefully, the point about being rich is that you have more money than other people. If you have more money than other people, you can spend it the way you want. We should aim to achieve a system which encourages rich people to spend money on things which are in the public interest, rather than to be merely self-indulgent. In that way, we can have our cake and eat it.

I am fully aware that to an economist, some of my remarks may sound rather flaky and woolly, although I rather doubt whether JM Keynes would have shared that view. That does not alter the fact that if you look at national institutions and museums from a bean-counting perspective, I dare say that the monetary investment in our national collections is one of the best investments that the country has ever made. "Ah!", you may say, "but of course they will never be sold". That is probably true, but equally an awful lot of money is spent by the public sector on things that no one else would ever buy-such as the IT system in the Rural Payment Agency.

In the economic predicament that we now face, difficult choices have to be made, but I believe that on our national collections, we must take the long view and concentrate on ensuring that when again we reach the sunny uplands of economic prosperity we do not find that we have debased our inheritance and relegated ourselves to the second division. Acquisition and maintenance are the two long keys to sustainable excellence. It is important that they are not subsumed to shorter-term, more populist claims sung to more populist tunes. As I say to my children, the easy solution is almost invariably the wrong one.

In conclusion, to go back to Keynes, who, you will remember, said that in the long term, we shall all be dead, I add my rider that the collections will still be alive for future generations.