Privy Council Silver Collection

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 25 October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Freyberg Lord Freyberg Crossbench 3:21, 25 October 2001

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the Treasury is selling its Privy Council silver collection.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government attach great importance to their programme of asset sales. We of course consider carefully the historical and heritage value of particular assets. In the case of silver owned by Her Majesty's Treasury, it has been decided not to sell items valued at over £1 million with the greatest historical and heritage significance. However, the items to which the Question refers have been offered for sale by auction at Bonham & Brooks next Tuesday.

The Government are open to representations on the particular items planned for sale next week. I can assure the House that any representations, particularly including views which noble Lords may want to express this afternoon, will be considered carefully, sympathetically and quickly.

Photo of Lord Freyberg Lord Freyberg Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am disappointed that the Government are willing to see such items being lost to the nation. I urge the Government to reconsider and re-examine their policy with regard to works of art held in government departments.

The DCMS recently managed to get an exemption for items that are in its department. Could that be extended to other departments? Furthermore, can the Government re-examine the way that the Treasury looks at the matter?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the offer that I made of the Treasury listening to representations applies specifically to the items which are in Bonham & Brooks' catalogue for sale next Tuesday. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, will find the Treasury less sympathetic to a general review of the policy on disposal of assets.

Photo of Lord Strabolgi Lord Strabolgi Labour

My Lords, the Treasury holds about 1,000 antique or national heritage items. How many of those will be earmarked for disposal under the present deplorable policy?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, in the 1990s the items which had been held as part of the civil estate by property holding were divided between departments. I do not know whether the figure of 1,000 quoted by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi is correct. It is certainly true that there are substantial assets which have been allocated to the Treasury and to other departments of state as a result of this policy.

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a few years ago when Liverpool City Council planned to sell some of that city's silver from its splendid collection, the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside made a good case for acquiring it for the purposes of local heritage interest. It occurs to me that in this particular case the Government may consider creating, setting up or building a museum of parliamentary heritage, in which not only this Privy Council silver and the other hundreds of exhibits to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred could be exhibited, but also the public could be reminded of the significance and historic value of your Lordships' House before the recent reforms.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I shall leave aside the last few words of the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The noble Baroness makes a valuable and helpful suggestion. Unfortunately, from the present point of view, it is something that would take a considerable time. The offer that I made--I make it in the hope that museums and galleries all around the country will look at these items--is that someone should make a proposition to the Treasury quickly before next Tuesday.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in the Minister's earlier reply one could be excused for thinking that the criteria for disposing of assets of this kind was purely on their predicted value in the sale room. The noble Lord will be as familiar as I am with them. I was at Bonhams this morning and looked closely at the catalogue. Unfortunately, the items are not available to see before next Tuesday's sale until tomorrow. The collection of silver is an interesting and charming one. Some of the items in the catalogue are at a relatively low level of cost, some even between £500 and £700. But they all have a historical resonance. Will the Minister agree that, when one has a number of items which were commissioned either by governments or by monarchs, some of them for the Privy Council and so on, there is an argument that--low value though some of those items may be--they represent an interesting part of Britain's history? One has a slight fear, from what the Minister says, that if the Government sell pictures it may be difficult to get a clear idea of the criteria that the Government have in mind.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, in my original Answer I referred to historical and heritage value; I did not refer to the price at all. So I do not think that the noble Viscount should get that idea. I have also looked at the catalogue. They appear to me to be not only charming items--as the noble Viscount says--but also, if one looks at the inscriptions on them and their provenance, of considerable historical and heritage significance.

Photo of Lord Ackner Lord Ackner Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister tell us why this generous offer--so to speak--is made but four days before the sale? If the Treasury is taking the matter seriously, surely it should have been publicised weeks before this auction. My second point is a rather modest question. Those of us who have sat, or are sitting, in the Privy Council will be aware of the magnificent 18th century inkstands in the Privy Council room. Are they to be included in the sale?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the items to which I referred in my first Answer that are not being sold include inkstands and candlesticks. Those are probably the ones to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, refers. As a member of the Privy Council, the noble and learned Lord has standing in this matter and is entitled to make representations. The question arises today because the matter was put down by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, as a topical Question for the day.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, if the Government are determined, as the noble Lord has said, to sell the Privy Council silver collection, should not the right of first refusal be given to members of the Privy Council?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, as I am not a member of the Privy Council, I am not consulted on such matters. Indeed, I do not think that I ought to be hearing what is being said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. As I have said, I believe that members of the Privy Council have a standing--a locus, should I say?--in this matter.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I agree fully with his view of this matter? Can he indicate the greatest antiquity of the silver to be offered for sale next week?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the view I expressed was an aesthetic opinion. The political views I express are those of the Treasury. The most important items are as follows: James II silver snuffers and tray dating from 1685; William and Mary silver snuffers and tray from 1693; and a matched pair of silver snuffers from 1685.