HC Deb 22 February 1993 vol 219 cc664-5
3. Ms. Abbott

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the future plans for the Government art collection.

Mr. Brooke

I have no plans to change the status of the Government art collection. It is the Government's policy regularly to review their activities to see whether the management of those activities should be provided by the state, and, if so, how they should be managed. The Government art collection is not excluded from this policy.

Ms. Abbott

The Secretary of State may not have such plans, but he will be aware that it has been extensively reported in the press that the Treasury is trying to force a change on him. Does he agree that the fact that this ridiculous idea is even floated by the Treasury shows the bankruptcy of the Government's economic policies, which reduce them to such stratagems as selling off paintings and raiding British Rail's pension fund at a time when it is not clear whether they would raise the maximum amount of money? Will he assure the House that if the Treasury were formally to approach him with this absurd suggestion he would resist it strongly? Does he accept that this reflects the attitude of a Government who know the price of everything but the value of nothing?

Mr. Brooke

In a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on 23 November, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that it was sensible to review Government activities to decide whether they should continue to be provided by the state, and I repeated that in my answer to the hon. Lady a moment ago. The hon. Lady has worked up tremendous indignation about a hypothesis, but I hope that she will next turn her attention to the hard fact that the City of Manchester education committee is selling more than 100 works of art at Sotheby's next month—the decision has already been taken that the sale is to take place.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend admit that the Government art collection is not up to much anyway and that it would not be a very great loss if it were flogged?

Mr. Brooke

I would not agree with my hon. Friend. The Government art collection is approaching its centenary. It represents more than 15,000 works of art which have been chosen over the past century. They are a significant representation of the history of British art in our time.