The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
I am pleased to lay before Parliament the eighth annual report on the operation of the export controls on objects of cultural interest, as required by section 10(1) (a) of the Export Control Act 2002 (the 2002 Act). The report covers the period 1 May 2011 to 30 April 2012.
This is the 58th year that the Government has published the annual report of the Reviewing Committee and I wish to express my personal support and thanks to the Committee and its expert advisers. We are truly indebted to them and, in particular, to Lord Inglewood for his excellent Chairmanship.
The Committee continues to provide an important safety net in ensuring that there is an opportunity, through our export licensing process, to save some of our most precious cultural treasures from disappearing overseas whilst sustaining a free market and respecting the rights of owners. Of course, it is never possible to save every item recommended as important by the Committee under the Waverley Criteria but, even in these very difficult economic times, it is highly encouraging that national treasures worth just under £30 million have this year been saved for collections throughout the UK.
There are numerous examples from this year’s report which demonstrate the variety and splendour of objects which have been saved for the nation. These include the draft in short score of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, one of the most famous classical pieces of music to have been written by a British composer since the Second World War and now an important addition to the collection of the British Library.
Other notable cases include Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, an unfinished work and study for his more famous work The Balcony, which reveals much about the artist’s working processes and is a beautiful painting in its own right. With financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Art Fund, the painting was acquired by the Ashmolean Museum and will begin a nationwide tour in 2013.
Furniture and sculpture are also well represented in the form of a pair of 17th century Italian console tables which reflect the history of taste and collecting in 19th century Britain and a sculpture by John Nost the Elder, The Crouching Venus, one of the earliest versions of this kind in England of an antiquity in marble, made for a British client. The tables were acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and National Museums Scotland and the sculpture also went to the V&A.
Of course, it is not possible to save all the items for which the Committee recommends export deferral and each of the three objects which were exported is a sad loss to the nation. In this respect, I very much hope that generous individuals, businesses, and other organisations will continue to support the acquisition of Waverley quality objects, despite the challenging financial climate which we currently face.
The Committee has previously expressed support for greater encouragement for cultural philanthropy to support acquisitions by public collections. The Acceptance in Lieu scheme continues to be an important mechanism by which pre-eminent objects can be taken into public ownership and I was delighted to learn recently that objects with a value of just under £40 million have been accepted into public ownership through the Scheme within the last two years.
I welcome the Committee’s support for the new Cultural Gifts Scheme (CGS) which will run in parallel with the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and enable owners to donate cultural treasures to the nation within their own lifetime in exchange for tax reductions. The CGS will provide an important boost to cultural philanthropy and, combined with the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and outstanding efforts of all those public funding agencies and individuals who give so generously towards our heritage, will provide a collective legacy for the benefit of us all and generations yet to come.
There are two issues the Committee has drawn to the attention of Government where procedures can be strengthened and which both illustrate the particular challenges in balancing the interests of the nation with the rights of private owners.
The first of these, the Ridley procedure, has indeed worked well over the last twenty years or so but I am persuaded that the overall objective of keeping national treasures within the UK is best served by extending the present five year period to 10 years. The relevant policy has therefore now been changed so that offers from “Ridley purchasers” should usually be accompanied by an undertaking to retain ownership of the object for 10 years.
I am also considering the Committee’s proposals in response to the small number of cases where, following the export-deferral of an item and the expression of interest by a UK purchaser, owners then withdraw their licence application. I recognise that this can be both frustrating and costly to public institutions which have expressed an interest in acquiring the object.
I support the Committee’s proposal that there should be a limit on the extent to which temporary export licences may be extended. We have recently completed a public consultation on this and will be publishing our response shortly.
Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to all those organisations and individuals who have given so generously towards the objects saved. It is their commitment, together with the continuing enthusiasm and dedication of world class experts in museums and the many volunteers and supporters throughout the UK which has made this possible.
Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities.