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Universities (Works Of Art)

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will seek to ascertain the extent to which the University Grants Committee takes into account the value of works of art possessed by universities in deciding on the grants to be made to them.

May we take it that the bizarre idea of universities selling works of art of which they are custodians is now finally dead and buried? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that at a time of national economic difficulty the best way of helping the universities is to show a new-found realistic understanding of their problems, rather than to float culturally illiterate schemes of sale?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is imputing no suggestion that I have said anything of that kind. What he is getting at is a statement or remark which was made lightheartedly, I think, by my predecessor. We have the testimony of the House, because the remark was made before the Select Committee on Science and Technology on 7th May, when, quite lightheartedly, my right hon. Friend said that he had been told by a professor that times were so hard in the universities that they might have to sell some of their famous oil paintings. My right hon. Friend said that although that was one kind of hardship, he also knew that secondary schools in poor parts of the country had very serious problems. It was not a suggestion, as I think the hon. Gentleman imputed, on my right hon. Friend's part that the universities should finance themselves by selling their art treasures. If there is a scintilla of doubt in people's mind that this might become Government policy, I must disabuse them completely. I would not be a party to any such suggestion.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will have discussions with the universities about public access to their art collections.

I see no grounds for doing so. Most important university collections are open to the public, but if the hon. Member has any exception in mind I shall look at it if he will write to me.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to dissociate himself from the remarks made by the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science that universities should sell their art treasures to pay their bills? Is this not an inheritance for future generations to enjoy, and would it not be far better to raise money by making those treasures available to a larger public?

If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would have heard my right hon. Friend make the situation perfectly clear. My right hon. Friend did not associate himself with the remarks of his predecessor, and added that his predecessor intended those remarks to be taken as a joke. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is based on a wrong premise.