HC Deb 27 July 1861 vol 164 cc1696-702

Resolutions reported.


said, he should not put the Motion of which he had given notice relative to the National Gallery. He wished, however, to ask the right lion. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner of Works whether it was true that plans had been prepared by Mr. Pennethorne to throw out a wing for the reception of Turner's pictures bequeathed to the nation, and whether an estimate had not been prepared for the whole plan by Mr. Pennethorne? He should also be glad to know whether the matter was not in such a mature state as that an application had been made to the war authorities for permission to take a portion of the exercise ground of the barracks. If that were so he would ask that no steps should be taken during the recess without the sanction of Parliament. Such expenditure he considered as wholly unnecessary, because the time fixed under the will of Mr. Turner for placing the pictures in the National Gallery would not expire until the 16th of December, and Sir Charles Eastlake, the President of the Royal Academy, and director of the National Gallery, had stated that there was plenty of room in the present gallery where the pictures could be placed without incurring one shilling of expense to the public. There being, therefore, no necessity for any expenditure of this kind, he was anxious to obtain a pledge from the right hon. Gentleman, the First Commissioner of Works, that under no circumstances would any plan of the sort be carried out until the sanction of the House of Commons had been obtained for such a step.


said, he desired to impress upon the Government the propriety of not commencing any works of that description until the whole subject had been fairly discussed in the next Session. There could be no doubt that the whole of our national buildings were in a disgraceful state, owing to the want of harmony and unity, and it was of great importance, not only on account of the interests of art, but of economy, that opportunity should be afforded of considering some comprehensive system.


said, he thought it rather hard that the hon. Gentleman should imply that there was any desire for incongruity of design in the public buildings on the part of the Government. The argument chiefly relied upon by the Government for building the new Foreign Office in the Palladian style was that that style would be most in harmony with the buildings in its vicinity, whereas the hon. Member was in favour of a Gothic design, which would be in contrast with them. He had to state in reply to the noble Lord that there was no plan of Mr. Pennethorne's for a National Gallery in such a state of maturity as that it could be produced. The question as to where the national pictures should be placed had been under consideration by the Government for two or three years, and had been before the public for fifteen years. The difficulty had arisen out of the possession of two good sites—Trafalgar Square and Burlington House. If they had only one site, the appropriation of a plan to it would be comparatively easy; there would be no difficulty in building a gallery over the back of the barrack-yard at a trifling expense, as it would not require much architectural ornament. ["Oh! oh!"] He meant that, not being seen from any thoroughfare, being seen only from the waterworks in Orange Street, it was not of consequence that the gallery should be of a very ornamental character. The cost would probably be about £25,000. He must say, however, that no plan had been prepared on which the Government had been able to come to any decision; but he trusted that plans would be ready before the House was asked to agree to any Estimate next year. The noble Lord wished him to give a pledge that during the recess under no possible contingency would any money be spent on a National Gallery that had not received the sanction of Parliament. At first, he thought the request rather absurd, because he was not contemplating any expenditure that had not received the sanction of Parliament, but, on reflection, he perceived the question of the noble Lord to be not so very unreasonable, as the Government of which the noble Lord was a Member actually did the very thing that he now wished not to be done. [Lord HENRY LENNOX: A burnt child dreads the fire.] Then the noble Lord, with a guilty conscience and stung with remorse, was haunted by the apprehension that he (Mr. Cowper) would follow the bad example of the Government of which he was a Member. He could hardly tell what the noble Lord was driving at—whether he wanted to throw blame on the Royal Academy—[Lord HENRY LENNOX: No!]—or whether he wished to protect the public mind from pollution from Turner's pictures; for the noble Lord informed the House the other day, to the great astonishment and indignation of the admirers of Turner's pictures, that that great artist was guilty of pruriency. No man had a higher love of pure nature, or could better represent its noblest aspects than Turner; and the study of his works was calculated to improve, refine, and elevate all who were capable of appreciating them. The noble Lord must, therefore, be under a misapprehension when he attributed evil to Turner's paintings. The question put to him was whether he, as First Commissioner of Works, was ready to pledge himself that he would never do what had been done by the Government of the Earl of Derby in 1858. When Parliament was asked to Vote £10,000 which had been spent by that Government in building a gallery, they considered that the Government had acted for the public benefit in the emergency that had arisen, and voted the money. It might possibly happen that during the recess the National Gallery might take fire, or that some valuable bequest of pictures might be made on condition that within a stipulated time, which would expire before the opening of Parliament, they should be placed within the National Gallery. In the case of the fire it would be a very foolish thing not to repair the building; and in the case of a bequest of pictures of great value, every hon. Member would wish that a small sum should be expended in erecting a gallery instead of waiting for the Vote of the House. To resolve that it was inexpedient to take any steps for committing the House to spend money without the sanction of Parliament was to affirm a truism, yet there might be cases in which it was the least of two evils. So far as he was concerned, nothing but necessity should induce him to take upon himself the serious responsibility of spending the public money without the leave of the House, and he knew of nothing likely to render so improper a course necessary. With regard to the Turner pictures, if upon legal investigation it was found that they must be placed within the building by a certain date, there was no such immediate necessity as the noble Lord supposed to erect a building for them, as they might either be hung in the place of existing pictures, or they might be put in the National Gallery without being exhibited.


said, he must apologize to the right hon. Gentleman for having exclaimed "Oh, oh!" but he confessed he never heard such a flow of observations upon so small a matter. There was no necessity for them, especially when they considered it was a Saturday meeting of the House. The only thing necessary was for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Government had no intention to enlarge the National Gallery without the House first seeing the plans for the purpose. The right hon. Gentleman had opened up such a field of discussion, that if he (Mr. Ayrton) were to take it up there would be no end to the sitting.


said, that if a Member fell into error he owed it to himself and the House to correct it. He had received several letters complaining that he had asserted that some of Turner's pictures were of a prurient character. [An hon. MEMBER: You said "drawings."] He had also received a letter from the executor of Mr. Turner, explaining that there were two or three sketch-books of that distinguished artist which were not allowed to be exhibited. They were not, however, finished drawings, and they did not, therefore, come within the terms of the will.


said, that the exercise-ground of the barracks at the back of the National Gallery was quite as small as it ought to be, and if any portion were taken for the enlargement of the National Gallery it would be necessary to remove the barracks to some more convenient situation.


said, he considered the answer of the right hon. Gentleman very satisfactory in reference to the National Gallery, but some departure from the principle laid down would be absolutely necessary in the case of the accommodation in the kitchens of the House of Commons.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


said, that in a recent debate there had been a general expression of opinion on the part of the House that a liberal grant ought to be made on behalf of the Volunteer force. The two points upon which it was agreed Government aid ought to be given were—in furnishing drill instructors, and in assisting Volunteers in the acquisition of rifle ranges. Colonel M'Murdo stated the other day that the present number of the Volunteers might be estimated at 170,000, and the Government grant for instructors might be taken at about 2s. 4d. a head. It must be remembered that in extending the drill instruction of the Volunteer corps the Government were retaining in the army a very valuable body of men, and at the same time rewarding them for long and distinguished service. In regard to rifle ranges, the Volunteers had never asked the Government to supply them, but only wished to be allowed to acquire them for themselves without unnecessary expense. He had taken up the matter quite at the end of a Session, and the Bill he had proposed had not, therefore, passed in its integrity. The Volunteers now asked that the Act of Parliament should really be carried into effect by all the public departments, and that, if necessary, it should be amended. An excellent rifle corps at Kingston-upon-Thames, being unable to obtain a rifle range, made application for a rifle range in a retired part of Hampton Court Park, which they offered to prepare and make perfectly safe at their own expense. Their application was refused, on the ground that the firing would frighten the colts in the park. Whether these colts, being thorough-bred, were more likely to be frightened than others he could not say. [Sir JOHN SHELLEY: They would be less so!] But other horses became so accustomed to the firing that they soon ceased to notice it, and could scarcely be prevented from straying into the line of fire. The Surrey Militia when called out had not been able to fire a shot for want of range until they had been offered the rifle range of the Inns of Court Volunteers. He trusted that the new Secretary at War would see that the Volunteer corps were not hindered by any of the public departments in obtaining ranges which were absolutely indispensable to their efficiency. He trusted that next Session the niggardly Vote for drill instructors would be increased.


said, that the greatest difficulty the metropolitan Volunteer corps suffered under was the want of rifle ranges, for the ground in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis was so expensive that none but the richer corps had any chance of acquiring a rifle range, even upon lease. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Lewis) would turn his attention to this subject, and see whether he could assist the Volunteer corps in obtaining ranges under proper regulations.


explained that there would be an expenditure on the Volunteers this year of £160,000, and as the Vote of £30,000 was for only a portion of the year the total Vote for Volunteers in the next year would exceed £200,000. That such afforded no evidence of a niggardly spirit on the part of the Government. With respect to the details of the payment of the drill instructors, that was a matter which might be safely left in the hands of Earl De Grey and Ripon, who would succeed him in the office of Under Secretary for War, the noble Lord having devoted a great deal of time and attention to the interests of the Volunteers. He had not heard of any complaints with respect to the carrying out of the Act for rifle ranges referred to by the hon. and learned Member, and he did not see in what respect the Government were to blame. He thought the corps to which the hon. and learned Gentleman belonged (the Inns of Court Volunteers) had not shown that cleverness or astuteness which they individually displayed, because, if they had provided themselves with a range, they would have obtained a grant from the Government.


said, the corps objected to receive the public money. They merely desired to obtain a range without being put to a large and unnecessary expense by the authorities at the War Office.

Resolutions agreed to.

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