HL Deb 18 July 1988 vol 499 cc1058-60

2.52 p.m.

Lord Grimond asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to make an offer for the Thyssen-Bornemizsa collection of pictures, and, if so, how much money and what facilities they are prepared to make available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have put proposals for the future of the Thyssen collection to Baron Thyssen-Bornemizsa and his representatives. Details of these proposals and any discussions must at this stage remain confidential.

I apologise if I misheard my noble friend Lord Fanshawe the other evening during the debate on his Unstarred Question. My remarks were in reply to his and I should have picked up the figure of £100 million mentioned by him. The Government have not given any figures and I do not intend to do so this afternoon.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. I hope that in time she may be able to be a little more forthcoming, but I quite understand that negotiations are taking place. Does she know that the willingness of the Government to pay very large sums for this collection is most welcome as it shows an apparent new interest in the arts? Will she agree that our first obligation is to the living arts and indeed to existing collections? Some institutions cannot show all their pictures and some, such as the Royal Holloway College, are actually in danger of losing their pictures. If the purse strings are now much looser, will she ensure that our existing collections and our living arts— for example, opera, ballet, and so on—will receive their fair share?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Thyssen bid represents a unique opportunity. At this stage it would not be helpful to speculate on any alternative use for money which has been allocated to support the UK bid to house this important collection.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will accept congratulations to the Government for this bold attempt. However, will she bear in mind—if I may dare to use an agricultural metaphor—that it could turn out to be a mare's nest? If, unfortunately, it does so, will she ensure that the money is devoted to other arts projects—however large the sum may be—and principally to the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre and the Royal Fine Arts Commission?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not know about a mare's nest, but, speaking from the horse's mouth, I must make it clear that there would be no detrimental effect on the arts budget as presently set out.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister, after having said £150 million during the debate which took place the other day, withdrew the £150 million and replaced it with a figure of £100 million. If by chance this offer does not come to fruition, will the Government he prepared to take that sum—even if they do not use it for the performing arts—and use it for the visual arts by starting to reactivate the purchase grants for museums and galleries, which have now been frozen for four years?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have already said that it would be a pity to anticipate anything in this matter.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, may I ask whether consideration has been given to housing the pictures—if they come— across the river, next door, in County Hall?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, options have been identified which take account of preferences expressed by the Baron. I can give no further details on the options. Any final decision on the future home of the collection rests entirely with the Baron and his trustees.

Lord Annan

My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that there are collections of paintings in this country whose value and worth far exceed those in the Thyssen collection? Further, should they come on to the market —owing to death or any other cause—will she give an assurance that the Government will not blench at acquiring them. however high the cost?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am aware of the many important collections that are in private hands in this country. We shall continue both through tax concessions designed to save heritage items, and by other means, to ensure that wherever possible such collections will be saved for the nation should the owners' circumstances place them at risk.

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