HC Deb 22 July 1859 vol 155 cc261-3

said, he rose to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for an explanation of the following paragraph in the Report of the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery to the Lords of the Treasury, dated April 15, 1859:— Her Majesty's Government have offered to the collection, and the Trustees have, with thanks, accepted the great picture of the House of Commons at the opening of the First Reformed Parliament in January 1833, as painted by Sir George Hayter, and as recently secured to the nation by a Vote of the House of Commons. Hon. Members were aware that the picture in question had been placed in one or other of the rooms of that House during the last four years, but in the course of last year a proceeding of a most unusual character took place —a circular letter being sent, he believed, to every hon. Member in that House by the artist enlarging upon the merits of the picture, and stating that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised to move for a grant of £5,000 for its purchase with the view of adding it to the National Portrait Gallery. Feeling that, whatever the merits of the picture, it was not a fit object for the expenditure of public money, and feeling the impropriety and indecorum of canvassing letters being sent to Members asking them to vote for grants to be paid to the writer of those letters, he had watched the matter very closely. No grant was proposed, and he was therefore greatly surprised at the Report he alluded to, for if it was the fact that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised to move such a grant there was no reason why he should not have fulfilled that promise. The grant was never proposed, and he now understood from the Secretary to the Treasury that it would be found in book No. 7 of the Miscellaneous Estimates. This being so, he could not help expressing his regret that in this instance the present Government had not agreed to walk in the path "chalked out" by their predecessors. If the noble Lords at the head of the Government and of Foreign Affairs—if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the India Board and the descendants of those who were Lord Grey's colleagues at the time of the passing of the Reform Bill, chose to associate themselves together for the purpose of presenting this picture to the nation, he had no doubt that the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery would receive it with thanks, but he was surprised that the Trustees, four of whom were Members of that House, should be parties to a statement which was incorrect, inasmuch as no Vote had been asked for. Considering that at any time the purchase of such a picture was not a proper outlay of a large sum of public money, and considering that at the present moment the Minister for War had stated that every sum of money that could be spared should be devoted to the advancement of the national defences, he trusted that if this grant should be proposed by the Secretary to the Treasury, the House would refuse to sanction it.


said, that as the sum, not of £5,000 or5,000 guineas, but of £3,000 had been, on the recommendation of the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, agreed to be paid for the picture in question by the late Government he did not think it proper to strike the sum out of the Estimates. The Vote would come on during the consideration of the Estimates, and he thought that the proper time to decide whether the Vote should or should not be sanctioned would be when it was asked for.


said, that he had not entered the House in time to hear all that had fallen from the noble Lord, but from what he had heard he thought it would not be unbecoming in him to make a short statement. The picture which was the subject of discussion was recommended to the late Government by a memorial signed, he believed, by more than two-thirds of the late House of Commons as being one which ought to be purchased by the nation. He could not well call to mind the sum that was asked for it, but probably it amounted to £5,000. When the memorial was placed before him, he thought it best to consult several gentlemen of great eminence, one or two of whom had occupied the highest posts in the counsels of Her Majesty and were Members of that House, and he requested their opinion as to the course it was desirable to take. After having well considered the subject, they recommended that the picture should be purchased at a much more moderate sum than that which was originally asked. It being then determined to purchase the picture, which was one of great historical interest, and which a great majority of the House was anxious should be purchased, it became necessary to decide where it should be placed, and the late Government considered that the new Gallery of Historical Portraits, which had been managed with signal success and was of great interest and value, was the proper place for it. The picture could not have remained in the House of Commons, as there were objections to retaining it there, and the late Government, therefore, took the course indicated by the noble Lord. When the Vote should be brought before the House, he could not doubt but that the House would approve it.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had done him the honour of consulting him as to the purchase of the picture. The noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham) were also consulted on the matter. They all reported in favour of the purchase of a picture of great merit, and which represented one of the great land-marks in our history, and the late Government acted upon their advice. He was one of the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, and was certainly under the impression that the money had been voted.

Subject dropped.