HL Deb 22 March 1979 vol 399 cc1269-71

3.28 p.m.

The Earl of GOSFORD

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that two works were withdrawn from the Exhibition "Lives" at the Hayward Gallery and whether they will take steps to prevent a repetition of this form of censorship.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, I am aware that two items originally selected for this exhibition were not in fact displayed because the Arts Council was advised that to do so might render it liable to legal proceedings. I cannot regard it as censorship for the Arts Council to choose not to display some of its own property in one of its own galleries.

The Earl of GOSFORD

My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord for that reply, I should like to ask him whether he is aware that those two pictures have already been publicly exhibited, one of them in an Arts Council show early last summer at the Serpentine Gallery? While accepting the fact that the noble Lord has no jurisdiction over the Arts Council, will he bring his considerable influence to bear by asking it to elaborate on the extraordinary statement that it has made?


My Lords, I do not think that it is very extraordinary. As regards the first part of the noble Lord's question, one of the pictures at any rate was exhibited at the Serpentine in an earlier exhibition, but without the captions which were subsequently added to it—by agreement, it is fair to say, with the organiser of the exhibition. It was the captions which were thought to be legally dangerous.

As regards the second part of this question, I am more accustomed to questions insisting that I should intervene to suppress pictures or events that certain noble Lords have not liked, than to questions insisting that such items should be shown whether or not they like them. There are four columns in Hansard of 24th March 1977 and five in that of 17th July of the same year where the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, made robust attacks on the Government for being too permissive. I think that the final answer is, and must remain, that although it would be wrong for the Government to intervene by way of censorship, it cannot be wrong for the promoting body—in this case the Arts Council—to exercise commonsense supervision over events it pays for with public money. The action was a perfectly proper one and within the Council's proper responsibilities.


My Lords, can the Minister clarify one point? Is it the case that the Arts Council itself bought these pictures for £800, kept them for two months and then banned them from the exhibition without any discussion? Does not that have a very serious effect on the reputation of the artists? Will the pictures be returned to them?


My Lords, I cannot vouch for the amount of money paid, but certainly the Arts Council employs two or three contemporary artists each year to buy contemporary pictures. These two pictures were so bought and were exhibited without the captions. Objection was taken to the captions. There is no reason why they should not be exhibited again without the captions.


My Lords, if the Arts Council got back its £800, I think it would have done a very good deal.