LORD HENRY LENNOX
* No one is more aware than I am that an apology is due from me, for venturing at so early a period of the Session to take up the time of the House. But, Sir, experience has taught me, that later in the year, when there is but the skeleton of a House, and that composed chiefly of the Members of the Government, I have no chance of obtaining a fair hearing. The near approach of the sporting season, and the past labours of the Session, make the Government, naturally enough, anxious to wind up the affairs of the State, and render it impossible for any independent Member successfully to press his views on the House. I trust, therefore, that my apology will be accepted; indeed, I can assure the House, that nothing but strong conviction has induced me to draw their attention to this subject. It is a dry subject, and one which does not interest any very large section in the House, while it certainly has none of the excitement of a party struggle in it; for in trying to substantiate the indictment I am about to prefer, one, if not two of my most important, I might almost add, "impassioned" witnesses, are by no means the least distinguished of those who now occupy, the Treasury Bench My object, then, is to expose a system of expensive mismanagement, and if not to bring about any great economy, yet at all events to insure increased efficiency in the mode of administering one considerable branch of the public expenditure. There are two other reasons which I will plead as an apology for the step which I have taken; first, that there is a lull in the din of party conflict which leaves a great deal of spare time to the House; and, secondly, I am anxious to lay my views before the House previously to the introduction of that measure which the Government, I have reason to believe, meditate proposing to the House, for the separation of some of the collections in the British Museum.
Now, Sir, if the House had examined into this question, they would, I am sure, have felt with me, that the rapid and stealthy increase in the estimates for Education, Science, and Art constitutes an additional justification for bringing the matter before the House. Prom a valuable return which was moved for by the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) it appears that the total sum expended in the last 1751 fourteen years on Science and Art well merits the term "appalling," for it amounts to no less than £2,266,667; and that, of this, in the Estimates for 1861–2 no less a sum than £221,851 was taken, nearly half of which—namely, £106,000—was swallowed up by the three items to which I propose especially to call the attention of the House, and for the proper expenditure of which the House has not the proper guarantee of personal or individual responsibility The three principal items to which I am about to refer appear in Vote 4 of Civil Service Estimates, and they consist of the British Historical Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, and the British Museum. Now, in one respect, the position of all these Institutions is the same, the executive being placed in the hands of irresponsible Boards. For the Estimates of the British Museum no Minister of the Crown even professes to be responsible to this House; and in the case of the other two, the small modicum of responsibility that does exist is highly unsatisfactory, because it is both anomalous and shifting. And to this fact do I confidently attribute the mismanagement which exists.
With regard to the two Picture Galleries, the Treasury is the only recognised authority in this House. Well, I suppose I shall be asked, and what more do you want? Is not the Treasury a department of the Government, and have you not in that way got for these institutions a responsible Minister of the Crown? Well, Sir, I am afraid I am unable to accept the Treasury in such a capacity as that; for I do believe, that if there be any one doctrine more sound than another, if there be any one dogma that has on its side a greater weight of testimony, modern and less recent, than another, it is this, that the Treasury should be a controlling and not an administering body, and that any attempt to combine the two duties of checking and spending must necessarily weaken its powers of efficiency in both functions. This view of the proper duties of the Treasury is strongly laid down by Earl Russell, who, in 1854, in speaking of the position of the Commissariat of that time, administered by the Treasury, spoke in the following words:—Now, although the Treasury should have the general superintendence of the financial concerns of the public, there does not seem any convenience, but the contrary, in an officer of the Treasury having the regulation of the arrangement and distribution of the rations to troops. That is business which does not properly belong to a de- 1752 partment which has the general supervision and control of the finances of the country; it is an executive function, and should rather belong to an executive Minister, such as the Secretary of State, than to the department of the Treasury."—[3 Hansard, cxxxv., 320.]And, again, in the same debate, another noble Lord (Lord Herbert), whose untimely death has been lately deplored by the nation, and who at that time filled the post of Secretary of War, expressed himself as follows:—I think the department of the Treasury, which is a department of check, but which is not an administrative department, should not be intrusted with a duty of that kind.And, again, when speaking of the Secretary of War being intrusted with the duties of War Office and Treasury, he says—If, therefore, you have him doing the duties of both departments, he ceases to have any check or control.And further on he adds—If, therefore, you combine the two things, you do away with the whole System of economical control."—[3 Mansard, cxxxv., 335.]But, besides these great statesmen of the present day, I have other authorities equally unexceptionable to quote. Sir Henry Parnell, in his able work on Financial Reform, published in 1880, constantly refers to and bases his arguments on the fact, that all departments are subordinate to the Treasury, and that to it rightly belongs the control over the expenditure. Then there is another work, of our own times, to which I wish to call attention. It is a work on Representative Government, and is from the pen of one whose authority will not be disputed by many of the most eminent Members of this House. This work, by Mr. John Stuart Mill, after alluding to the control which the Treasury should exercise over the other departments, goes on to say—There is a radical distinction between controlling the business of Government and actually doing it. The same person or body may be able to control everything, but cannot possibly do everything; and, in many cases, its control over everything will be more perfect the less it personally attempts to do.Thus much, then, for individual authorities; but there remains one, the result of the collective wisdom of a Royal Commission. That Commission was appointed in 1837, and led to most valuable results. The Report is one for which I naturally have the most profound respect, and it thus speaks of the Treasury as an executive—But above all, by this change [that is, removal 1753 of Commissariat from the Treasury] the Treasury would be relieved from business which we consider it wrong, in principle, that it should undertake, and this large branch of public service would be placed under the superintendence of the department which ought to be responsible to Parliament on all subjects connected with the army. The Treasury, being charged with the general superintendence of the finances of the country, and with the duty of controlling the expenditure of each separate department, it seems to us that when that Board also takes upon itself the management of a service involving large expenditure, it leaves its proper sphere. Whatever be the department which immediately applies the public money, in carrying on any branch of the service, the proceedings of that department ought to be subjected to the superintendence of some distinct and superior authority. But this can no longer be the case when the Treasury, to which this authority properly belongs, and over which there is in the Executive Government no higher power, assumes also those administrative functions winch ought to be subordinate. This is an objection of principle to the existing arrangement which, in our opinion, should be decisive,But, Sir, I doubt not, I shall be reminded that a sum is annually voted for the "Civil Contingencies" of the country, and that that sum is administered by the Treasury, independent of alt other departments. This is quite true, but does not the very name "contingency" show that this is an exceptional case, and that it is a fund to meet "unforeseen" expenses and sudden emergencies, and certainly cannot be placed in the same categories as the large sums voted for science and art, and which have now become part of the regular and annual service of the country? The case of the Civil Contingencies, I venture to think, strengthens rather than weakens my position. It is "the exception which proves the rule," and a golden rule it is; that the Treasury should control and check, but not administer, the expenditure of the country. I will proceed to state the second cause to which I mainly attribute the mismanagement of these institutions, and that is, that they are administered by large bodies of irresponsible men. Now, Sir, as in the very nature of the subject with which I am dealing, there must be much of a personal matter, I am anxious, before I go any further, to declaim any intention of saying one word which can be considered disrespectful to any one of the distinguished men who compose these bodies. And, Sir, perhaps I cannot give to the House a better assurance of this, than by calling attention to the fact, Mr. Speaker, that your honoured name stands foremost among the trustees of the British Museum. No one, indeed, 1754 can deny that these boards contain all that is most remarkable for intellectual attainments, and high social position; but that very fact would lead to the belief that they must have their time fully occupied with their own affairs, and have proportionably less time to give to the duties in question. I am about to speak of them as being members of an irresponsible corporation, and to denounce the system of which they are, I doubt not, the able exponents. Well then, Sir, my position is this, that boards as executive bodies, are wrong in principle; and have been condemned, as such, in all times, and by great authorities. Sir Henry Parnell, in his work on Excise Inquiry, declared that they deprive the public of the security of personal responsibility, and that the responsibility of a board, quasi board, is worthless; and, again, says Jeremy Bentham, "Why, a board, my Lord, is a screen, a screen to hide abuse in every shape; what is everybody's business is nobody's business." And Stuart Mill, likewise, in glowing terms corroborates the opinions of Parnell and Bentham. But, Sir, I have another, and, if possible, a more valuable witness, whom I should like to call into court, especially when I come to deal with the question of the British Museum. Deeply do I regret that my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Layard) valuable as his services will undoubtedly prove to the country, had not delayed taking office for a few months, as in that case the Motion which I am about to make would have had the advantage of being backed by his own eloquence, and supported by the high authority of his long experience in subjects of this nature.
Well, Sir, in addition to all the eminent writers and statesmen whose opinions I have given, I find further confirmation of the views which I urge in the acts of the Legislature itself; and I think I shall be able conclusively to show, that the tendency of legislation for the last forty years has been to increase personal and individual responsibility, and to repudiate the authority of boards as an executive. The first case to which I will refer is the navy: in 1832, Sir James Graham—whose lamented death, for his wise counsels and administrative ability, has left a gap in this House not easy to fill—came down and proposed to simplify the cumbrous machinery by which the navy was then governed. Up to that time it consisted of three numerous boards, and Sir James, 1755 in his able speech, which proposed to sweep away two of these, and to re-model the third, produced considerable effect in the House, by proving that the principle which he advocated was not a new one—Turn," said the right hon. Baronet, "to Mr. Pepys' memoirs, in which book it was stated, that James II., then Duke of York, on his appointment to the office of Lord High Admiral, found himself compelled to dismiss these subordinate boards, and with the assistance of four commissioners, united the whole control of the civil administration of the Wavy in his own hands. The effects of this alteration were almost immediately visible; it was the first dawning of that brighter era which was followed by the splendour which had since encompassed the navy of Great Britain, and had at length raised it to that pinnacle of glory, where it had since remained the envy and wonder of surrounding nations."—[3 Hansard, x. 350.]Then, Sir, came the case of the Record Commission, and to this I wish more particularly to call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), and the other Trustees of the British Museum who may have seats in this House. Well, that Commission was constituted very much like the British Museum; the Trustees consisted of the great officers of State, and of the most eminent men in the country. For some time, public attention had been drawn to the administration of this body, and the feeling that it had been mismanaged was general; but, at the same time, there was but little hope of being able to effect a reform, on account of the power and influence of the governing body. Thus matters stood in 1836, when Mr. Charles Buller moved for and obtained a Committee to inquire into the whole matter; clear evidence of this mismanagement was adduced, and so strong was the report of the Committee, that justice triumphed over wealth and influence, the Trustees were abolished, and the whole thing was placed, as Mr. Buller recommended, under an effective and responsible management. I will next allude to the case of the Schools of Design. These were originally called into existence by the recommendation of a Select Committee, which sat in 1837, under the presidence of Mr. Ewart. At the outset, Government officers were allowed to attend the meetings of the Boards, but had no distinct authority. This system, as might naturally have been expected, failed, and in 1850 another Select Committee was appointed, over which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Milner Gibson) presided; the report of this Committee 1756 led to further modifications, but they did not meet the wants of the case; subsequently Mr. Labouchere (now Lord Taunton) began a, reform, and in 1852 my right hon. Friend, Mr. Henley, Member for Oxfordshire, at that time President of the Board of Trade, swept away the previous management and placed it under a responsible Minister of the Crown, the President of the Board: of Trade, from whose department it has since been removed to the Committee of Council on Education, and Has formed the nucleus of that collection which is now familiarly known under the euphonious title of the "Brompton Boilers."
Then, again, Sir, there is the case of the Poor Law Commission. Up to the year 1846, the Poor Laws had been administered by a body of irresponsible Commissioners, not having seats in Parliament. During the distress, which was at that time rife in the country, the great inconvenience of this system was felt, and the Government of Lord John Russell successfully grappled with the difficulty. A Bill was passed which, by placing two officers of the Poor Law Board in Parliament, virtually brought the whole distribution and management of the Poor Law funds under the direct control of the House of Commons. Since that time we have heard nothing of those unseemly charges which were formerly made against the manner of administering the Poor Law funds. This change was advocated in the House of Commons by the late Mr. Hume, by Lord Harry Vane, by the late Sir James Graham, expressly on the ground of the necessity of securing personal responsibility; and Sir George Grey further adduced as a reason for the alteration proposed, the great inconvenience that arose from the impossibility of obtaining any information, excepting at second hand, and from the very person whose judgment and discretion might be called in question. Well, Sir, that same inconvenience exists, in an exaggerated degree, in the case of the Art Institutions of this country at the present day. Take for example the National Gallery, and let us suppose that an hon. Member objects to some administrative act of Sir Charles Eastlake, either in regard to the sum given, or to the merits of any particular picture: what happens? Why, Sir, up jumps the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and professes, naturally enough, profound ignorance of the matter, but promises to write for further information. When next 1757 the subject comes on, the hon. Member receives the comforting assurance that a reply has been received from the Director of the National Gallery, and that all that had been done by him, had been done and was for the best.
But, Sir, one of the most important of the changes that has been made in this direction, was that which was made in the army departments in 1854. Up to that period, although a Committee had strongly reported twenty years before, the army administration remained in the hands of four or live different Members of the Government; there was the Secretary at War, the Secretary of the Colonies, the Master General of the Ordnance, the Paymaster of the Forces, the Commander-in-Chief, and our old friend the Treasury, and they had each and all a finger in the military pie. The unhappy war with Russia, which at that period broke out, drew closer attention to the matter, and at length, after twenty years, the recommendations of the commission were carried out, the administration of the Commissariat was removed from the Treasury, and a Secretary of State for War was created, who, with the assistance of an Under Secretary, now administers the affairs of the army, proposes the Estimates, and lays before Parliament any information that may be required. Well, Sir, then I come next to the Indian Empire. Up to the year 1858 there existed for that magnificent dependency a double Government, which shifted the blame from one to another. The President of the Board of Control, who should have been responsible to Parliament, was constantly thwarted, and his authority for a time set at nought by a body of irresponsible merchants sitting in Leadenhall Street. The absurdity of this was patent. The new India Bill was introduced, and, as the House is well aware, the whole responsibility and power was vested in the Secretary of State. It is true he is assisted in deliberation by a Board of eighteen councillors, but they are merely for deliberative purposes, and the voices of the whole eighteen can be overruled by the ipse dixit of the Secretary of State; indeed, I am told, that at the present time they are not even asked for their advice, but are merely puppets, in the despotic clutch of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for India (Sir Charles Wood), who, it appears, thinks the best way to govern India is to listen to his own advice and not to that of 1758 his council. That right hon. Baronet, by all accounts, appears to treat them as if they owed their existence rather to the power of vested interests in impeding the passing of a useful measure, than to any specific merits of their own. But, Sir, besides the instances to which I have referred, the recent case of the Education Commission furnishes me with another illustration of the advantages of the course which I am about to ask the House to sanction in the case of the Art Institutions. And, Sir, I must once more direct the especial attention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), to the facts which I am about to lay before the House. Originally, every Member of the Cabinet had, ex officio, a seat at the Education Board, but yet there was no individual official responsibility. What was every one's business was no one's business; and we owe it to the sagacity and intelligence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich, that that system was put an end to. A Vice President of the Committee of Council is now present in this House, whose duties, I have no doubt, the right hon. Member for Calne (Mr. Lowe) could tell us, are, as far as supplying varied information, no sinecure at the present day. There have been many smaller changes, and redistributions, made in the various offices of the State in the last few years, but all tending in the same direction.
Well, Sir, I hope I have now proved to the House this fact, that the whole tendency of modern legislation has been to sweep away Boards, as executive, and to increase personal and individual responsibility. It is scarcely necessary to guard myself against misapprehension, by stating, that it is only as an executive, that I wish to repudiate Boards. "In the multitude of counsellors is wisdom," and as deliberative or consultative bodies they have most useful and valuable duties to perform. Nor do I think the three institutions to which I am about to call attention ought alone to be excepted from the category of changes effected. The first of those institutions to which I will particularly advert, is one which may be considered as a mere "fleabite," so far as the actual money, as yet expended upon it, is concerned; but the amount of the Vote does not in any way weaken the case, inasmuch as the principle remains intact. The British Historical Portrait Gallery is as yet in its infancy, and, with the marvellous facilities for increasing 1759 that these Votes have lately displayed, we need not despair of seeing even this small objection disappear. It is managed by a body of Trustees, whose names would, in themselves, appear to bespeak confidence; for among them, besides the usual display of high officials, are to be found the names of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil), Earl Stanhope, the noble Lord the Member for Lynn Regis (Lord Stanley), and some of the most distinguished men in the country. I cannot, however, see that the result of its management is in any way satisfactory. I have tried on two or three occasions to visit it, and on the last I was fortunate enough to find it open to the public. The brass plate on the door of the building, announcing the existence of the pictures within, is so infinitesimally small as not to be very likely to attract much notice, except from eager lovers of art, whose eyes are as keen as their taste for pictures. Having, however, by perseverance, at length gained my point, I found that the collection consisted in all of about 120 "works of art"—drawings, busts, and paintings!—for "works of art," I suppose, in courtesy I must call them. They are exhibited, in dimly-lighted, ill-arranged rooms. Of the 120 "works of art," about 42 are gifts; therefore there remain 80 that have been purchased, since its establishment in 1856. But these paintings, are mostly by unknown artists, and are of more than doubtful authenticity, even as to the subject represented; detailed information concerning which is conveyed by means of catalogues, modestly charged at 1s. 6d. each. I may add, that the collection is open, only twice a week, after mid-day. On my return to the house of commons, I was anxious to see whether all these details were laid before it; and in the library I looked for what information was contained with respect to them in the Estimates. From those valuable documents I learned that for the first three years the public had been altogether excluded; that during the next two years admission was by tickets, obtainable from certain booksellers in London; and that during the last year the public had been admitted—as they ought to be—free! I next found, that the first Vote for them was taken in 1856–7, and that the House was then promised a collection of historic portraits, in aid of which a Vote should annually be proposed to Par- 1760 liament. After a year or two, the Trustees, in a fit of extreme generosity, promised to lay an annual report before Parliament. To those reports I eagerly addressed myself, and I found that they, after allowing that the public had been admitted during one year only, and that the rooms were too small to exhibit the largest of the pictures, generally wound up by begging that Parliament would not ask the price given for the pictures that had been bought, and by at the same time expressing a hope that, seeing the great results that had ensued from the experiment, the House would not refuse to continue the same generous assistance that it had hitherto done. These then, Sir, are the benefits which the public enjoy from the sums that have been voted in aid of the British Historical Portrait Gallery. But no, Sir, it is not quite all. I had well-nigh forgotten that, in addition, there is the gratifying fact that we have a Secretary, a gentleman no doubt of great eminence, who occupies the upper stories of this genteel residence in Great George Street, and whose "dignified repose" is only intruded upon by the inquisitorial public to the extent of eight hours a week.
Well, Sir, and now I come to the National Gallery, and certainly the management of that Institution was not in a satisfactory state; at the same time, I am willing to admit the salutary nature of the change which was made a few years ago by reducing the number of the executive Board. There is, however, still a shifting and uncertain responsibility: at one time it is the Director and the Trustees, and at another it is the Treasury. The Estimates are moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while the Chief Commissioner of Works is responsible for the brick and mortar work; and certainly, considering the shifting evasions and vague replies given last year by the Commissioner of Works to hon. Gentlemen, and myself especially, respecting recent alterations and so-called improvements in the National Gallery, the House will well understand why I shall not at the close of my speech recommend placing these valuable institutions under the control of the Board of Works. I will not, on the present occasion, trouble the House with any remarks on the continued occupation by the Royal Academy of the building in Trafalgar Square. So many Committees and Commissions, and Ministers past and present, have declared against it, that it would be 1761 a mere waste of time to make any lengthened observations upon it. What I want is to show to the House the unsatisfactory, because shifting, nature of the responsibility which exists with respect to the National Gallery. I will take, first of all, the purchase of pictures; and here the House will permit me to repeat what I have already said in a more general form, that it is far from my intention to say anything which can be considered disrespectful to Sir Charles Eastlake. I am not sufficiently experienced and acquainted with art to put myself in opposition to that gentleman. Good judges have assured me that Sir Charles has been indefatigable in the work of collecting for the National Gallery, and by his zeal, taste, and judgment, he has done good service to the cause of art in this country. It is not Sir Charles Eastlake, but the system of shifting responsibility, to which I wish my censures to apply.
In 1855–6 a collection of paintings of the German school, known as the Krüger Collection, was for sale, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, sent two gentlemen over to Hanover to look at the pictures. The gentlemen thus commissioned not only looked at, but bought the pictures, and they were brought to England, but the purchase was in the mass repudiated by the Director and the Trustees of the National Gallery, because the greater part of the paintings were mere rubbish. In order, I suppose, to let down the taxpayers easy, a few of the best of them were hung up in the National Gallery; some were sent to Ireland—as a measure, I presume of justice to Ireland; and the rest were sold for an old song. Certainly, this time, the Director and Trustees could not be held responsible for the purchase of this collection. Now, in 1857–8 there was another purchase, and this time the picture was reputed to be a Paul Veronese. Into the merits or demerits of that picture it is not my intention to enter; but in passing I may remark that, while the picture was declared by the official journal of Venice to be worth £300, they gave £2,000 for it. Be that as it may, the hon. Member for Brighton, an authority in these matters, doubted the wisdom and policy of that purchase, and asked the Treasury who was responsible for it. Mr. Wilson, at that time holding the post of Secretary of the Treasury, 1762 replied with some warmth that Sir Charles Eastlake and the Trustees of the National Gallery were alone responsible, and certainly not any department of the Government. Here is a striking illustration of the shifting nature of the responsibility. It was known to the Government at the time when Sir Charles Eastlake took the post of the Director of the National Gallery, that he boldly avowed he would not be responsible for any pictures except those of the Italian school. On whose taste we were to rely for the purchase of pictures of other schools did not appear to be so clear. The next case was also one in which the hon. Member for Brighton figured. In 1859 the hon. Member called attention to impolitic purchases of pictures, and, above all, to the general mismanagement of the National Gallery under Sir Charles Eastlake and the Trustees. He was informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had chosen a wrong time for his strictures; that the management of the National Gallery was regulated by a Treasury Minute passed in 1855; that the five years during which the Minute was to remain in force were almost run out; and that the date of their expiration would be the proper time for considering the whole matter. In the following session, after the Treasury Minute had ceased to exist, the hon. Member for Brighton again attempted to raise a discussion on the appointment of Sir Charles Eastlake. What was then the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? "Oh!" said the right hon. Gentleman, "it is quite true that the Treasury Minute has run out, but it is quite useless to discuss the matter, for the Government have renewed it in its old shape;" and in this summary manner the hon. Member for Brighton was put down. Could a stronger proof be adduced of the utter want of anything like settled or individual responsibility? On that occasion the hon. Member for Brighton was not altogether satisfied with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the noble Lord at the bead of the Government got up, and, in his usual felicitous way, told the House that the Trustees had re-elected Sir Charles Eastlake, and that the Treasury had only confirmed the appointment. This is an illustration of the double government of the National Gallery. I admit, however, that the case of the National Gallery is better than that of the British Museum, because, in the first place, the Board of 1763 Trustees are less numerous, and because, in. the second place, the Director and Trustees are nominated by the Treasury. Only the other day a friend said to me, "Why, what more perfect control do you want? Don't you know the control which the Treasury has over the National Gallery? Why, the accounts of the National Gallery are all audited at the Audit Office." What an awkward fact was this! Here, thought I to myself, is an end of my case against the management of the National Gallery. If I wish to make any impression on the House, I must put it all by, and must set to work and try to take up some other subject. But when I heard the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Huntingdonshire the other night, my attention was called to the duties of the Audit Office, and I remembered that that office was always subordinate to the Treasury, and that accounts which it disallowed were frequently passed by the superior authority. I came, then, to the conclusion, that the check afforded by the audit of the National Gallery accounts was not so satisfactory after all. Common sense, indeed, will tell one, that if the Treasury frame the Estimates, and have power to authorize them, it will not be likely to alter them at the instance of an authority subordinate to its own; therefore I felt I could not do better than proceed with my Motion. This, Sir, is not the proper moment to dwell upon the part played by the Board of Works. So wanton a system of mismanagement and extravagance deserves to have a whole evening to itself, and I hope the Session will not be allowed to pass without a thorough and searching discussion. Meanwhile, I entreat the House to assist those who wish to make the Government bring forward the votes for public Works at a period of the Session when they can be fairly and freely discussed, and not at the advent of the grouse season, when the illustrious Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench are left much to themselves. Those who remember the manner in which questions on these subjects have been treated by the Chief Commissioner, and the shifty evasions with which one is systematically put off, will not wonder when I aver that I shall not conclude my speech by a proposal to place these valuable institutions under the management of the Board of Works.
The case of the British Museum, which I now approach, is rather an alarming one. If I may judge from the the terror which my proposal has excited in the lobbies, I 1764 could almost be tempted to suppose that it was of that radical and revolutionary nature which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in 1860 could alone meet the difficulties and necessities of the case. I hope to prove, however, that I am not so revolutionary in my designs as either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. There is an old saying that the State of Denmark is rotten, and I believe, Sir, that the management of the British Museum is much in the same condition. It has hitherto been viewed with superstitious awe, but I firmly believe that under the influence of a little daylight that pompous fragment will crumble away as easily as did the Record Commission of former times. Now, Sir, I hope hon. Gentlemen with whom I have conversed in the lobbies will not take it personal to themselves, if I say, that it is quite surprising the amount of ignorance which exists with respect to the British Museum, even among those Members who profess to take an interest in these subjects. Considering that it has cost the country since its formation £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, it is astonishing that the Gentlemen whom I see around me, and who represent the taxpayers of this country, should not have made themselves a little better acquainted with the origin and position of that great institution. First of all, then, the British Museum did not originate in a gift or legacy, but was founded at the beginning of the last century by means of a lottery. The Government of that day issued lottery tickets to the amount of £300,000. Prizes of moderate value were offered, and a large sum was obtained; with the £20,000 thus realized a purchase was made of Sir Hugh Sloane's collection of books and curiosities then located at Chelsea; and it was this, not any gift or legacy, which formed the nucleus of the Museum; and, Sir, this is an important fact for the House to bear in mind. The first Act of Parliament handed this collection over "for conservation" to a numerous body of trustees; but even at that early period this was thought a cumbrous machinery for a governing body, and a standing committee was appointed. To show how little attention at that period was paid to this matter, I will read to the House the title of the second attempt that was made at legislating for the British Museum. The title of the Act of George II. ran thus— 1765An Act to prevent the destruction of turnpikes and other works erected by order of Parliament; to frame the table of fees to be taken by the clerks of justices of the peace; for empowering a certain number of Trustees of the British Museum to do certain acts; and to prevent certain persons driving certain carriages, from riding upon said carriages.The statutes under which the Museum was managed had been renewed eight or ten times in 1785, 1804–8–13–33–39, and various committees and commissions had sat on the subject. It would appear that dissatisfaction as to the state of matters had existed for some time, when in 1835 a Select Committee was appointed by the House of Commons. That Committee consisted of many of the leading Members of the House at that period, including Lord John Russell, Lord Morpeth (now Earl of Carlisle), the late Sir Robert Inglis, and others. At the end of the Session of 1835 they presented a voluminous blue-book, and asked for leave to sit again in the next Session. The result was, that in 1836 they presented a second even more ponderous blue-book, with a Report, not so decided as the later ones, but expressing an opinion in favour of a less numerous governing body and strongly urging that the post of Secretary Librarian should be abolished. This was followed by another Select Committee in 1838; and in June, 1847, a Royal Commission was appointed; and in 1848, "considering the various and grave subjects to be inquired into," a supplementary and more numerous Commission was appointed, containing the names of some of the most illustrious in learning and literature. The late Earl of Ellesmere, Viscount Canning, Roderick Murchison, Joseph Hume, Samuel Rogers, Lord Langdale, Monckton Milnes, and John Shaw Lefevre served on that Commission. Evidence was taken with praiseworthy patience, and in 1850 the result was communicated to both Houses in the shape of a very able and strongly-worded Report, and the 900 pages of evidence on the strength of which that Report was founded. It was signed by all the Commissioners excepting one, the late Lord Langdale, who entered a protest against this strong Report for not being strong enough. But even these inquiries did not satisfy the country, and in 1860 another Select Committee was appointed at the instance of Mr. Gregory, and before which some most valuable information was adduced.
Now, if I wished to take my stand on any ordinary ground, I might say here was 1766 a primâ facie case of mismanagement, evidenced by the number of inquiries which had been instituted and the strongly-worded reports which had resulted from them. I hope the House will not be alarmed at the mention of all these blue-books; for knowing well how much the sight of one of them prejudices the House against any case, I have so arranged that nothing of the kind shall appear, and will ask in return the indulgence of the House, while I give them a few short extracts from them, and which I have transcribed into the unpretending volume which I hold in my hand. Now, want of time will not allow me to enter into any minute details to show the unsatisfactory state of the management of the British Museum; but I think the House will agree with me that I shall have sufficiently established my case, if I can show that I am corroborated by the report of the Royal Commission of 1850, and at a later period by the evidence of several eminent men, Members of this House, and others; and, finally, by the evidence of all the principal officers in the British Museum, adduced before the Committee of 1860. Let us, then, examine the Report of the Commission of 1850; and first we shall see the conclusions they arrived at, and secondly the remedies which they propose for such a state of things. The very first words contain a graceful tribute to the individual merits of those who compose the Board of Trustees; a sentiment with which I entirely coincide, and which, in feeble language, I have conveyed to the House regarding those who compose the executive in the three great Art Institutions of the country—Such a Board of Trustees, to any one who considers the individuals who compose it, with reference to their rank, intelligence, and ability, would give assurance rather than promise of the most unexceptionable, and, indeed, wisest administration in every department. High attainments in literature and in science, great knowledge and experience of the world and its affairs, and practised habits of business, distinguish many of them in an eminent degree; and it would be unjust either to deny the interest which all of them feel in the prosperity of the Institution, or refrain from acknowledging the devoted services which some of them have rendered in its administration. But, on the other band, absorbing public cares, professional avocations, and the pursuits of private life, must in many instances, prevent those individuals whose assistance might have been best relied on, from giving anything like continued attention to the affairs of the Institution; and, what is perhaps of more importance, the large number of the Board, by dividing, or rather extinguishing, individual duty or responsibility, has 1767 in a great measure, interfered with the superintendence and control which might have been usefully exercised by any smaller selected number specially charged with the duty. The inconvenience likely to result from the affairs of the Museum being devolved upon so large a Board, appears to have been felt at a very early period.Again—It is not surprising that, in such circumstances, the Standing Committee should have been confounded with the general Board, without any practical distinction between their functions, and that the actual management of the Museum should have devolved upon a fluctuating Board, having no special charge, nor direct personal responsibility; and all this in constant disregard of that precaution which the Trustees very wisely established against themselves, by throwing the ordinary business of the Museum upon a portion of their number, specially appointed and accepting.And again—To return to the Standing Committee, or to the Board of Trustees—for these may be spoken of together—the course of conducting business is, unfortunately, calculated not to correct, but to aggravate, the inconvenience,And further on occurs he following remarkable passage, to which I beg the especial attention of the House:—On the whole, the conclusion has been forced upon us, that the mode in which the Trustees have exercised their functions of government in the Museum has not been satisfactory; and that the inconveniences arising from so great a number of Trustees, and from the fluctuating nature of the Board, have been increased by the neglect of such precautions as, with reference to the accustomed modes of transacting business, we should expect to find strictly in observance. However admirably qualified the Trustees may be individually for the transaction of business, it is impossible to expect satisfaction in the conduct of their affairs, where they act not by a selected number, but at meetings—which they are left to attend as they please, and as leisure and inclination serve—to which they are called by summons announcing the time of meeting merely, but giving no notice of the business—at which business of great importance to departments is conducted without direct and personal intercourse with the officers at the heads of the departments, and in a manner so cumbrous and fatiguing as to be hostile alike to good decision and despatch.And the remedy which the Commissioners proposed to apply, was given in the following words:—With respect to the executive management, your Commissioners are unanimously of opinion that a change should be adopted, involving the abolition of the offices of principal librarian and of Secretary as they now exist, and the establishment of a responsible Executive Council.Two plans were suggested for carrying out this reform. The one proposes that the Executive Council should consist of seven—the chairman and two members being named, and the two latter paid, by the Crown; the remaining four to be 1768 named by the Trustees. The second plan was, that the council should consist of five—the chairman nominated and paid by the Crown, and four unpaid assistants. Both these projects were recommended with the distinct purpose of "increasing direct and personal responsibility." But as I have said, this Report was not unanimous, and Lord Langdale entered a protest in forcible language, against what he considered was too feeble an expression of opinion. Well, this Report, like preceding ones and the protest, remained almost a dead letter. It was not to be expected that the Trustees would set to work to reform themselves; and the several Governments were either too supine or too timorous to attack so much wealth, power, and influence. The result would seem to have been, that mismanagement had gone on from had to worse. In 1859, a gentleman, who was a great authority on this subject, Mr. Gregoy, described the British Museum as being in a state of "hopeless confusion, and that valuable collections were wholly hidden from the public, and great portions of others in danger of being destroyed by damp and neglect;" while Lord Elcho spoke of its being "highly discreditable." And besides these authorities, we had the invaluable testimony of a distinguished foreigner, who has paid great attention to the condition and management of our Art Institutions. The Baron Triquéti, an eminent French sculptor, in a letter written in 1860 to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gladstone), thus describes the state in which he found the British Museum—You might offer for study an admirable and complete collection; but all these elements are scattered or confused …. arranged without chronological order …. without any logical arrangement; and all this because the locale is filled up with a curious and reprehensible mixture between art and natural science; and although no reason can be given for the continuance of the system, this confusion still subsists, notwithstanding that every person of taste is struck with its inconvenience.Again—Whence comes it that with a nation the most gifted with common sense and love of order, so much reckless confusion should prevail, and, as it appears, prevail in this department of art and science alone?Finally, there is the Committee appointed at the instance of the hon. Member for Galway, to inquire whether any separation should be made in the collections at the Museum, and, as I have said, I find in that evidence the most ample corroboration of my views. The report, it is true, was 1769 silent as to management or mismanagement, but that was because it was considered not to come within the limits of the object for which the inquiry had been instituted. I find that almost every one of the servants of the British Museum gave, in strong terms, an opinion that some reform was necessary in the constitution and management of the Museum. Professor Maskelyne said, "The Trustees should become a Board of Visitors." Again, "The Trustees should be more as a consultative than an administrative body." Professor Huxley, in 1860, said—The Trustees should merely have the power of approving or disapproving in particular cases; that they should exercise a certain general control as a Board of Visitors.Professor Hawkins, after complaining that the Trustees frequently act on the advice and use the services of a gentleman not on the staff of the Museum, to the exclusion of the head of that department, goes on to say, "that he sees no improvement in the policy of the Trustees since the report of the Commission of 1850." He adds, as a result of the system, "that the arrangement of the Elgin Marbles has remained incomplete for four years, owing to a squabble between the Trustees." He next expresses his conviction that one responsible head would be a better and more efficient government for the Museum. He further states, in exemplification, that he wishes the British Museum were like that at South Kensington, where a moot question is referred to a Minister of State, an answer is returned and acted upon without delay; and winds up by saying: "I do not wish to supersede Trustees as visitors, but wish them to act as a consulting body." Baron Triquéti says—From this spring those eccentric decisions, these daily contradictions, these questions settled, and unsettled, and this absence of progress inevitable, which all the world (except a few of the Trustees) knows to be the true history of your Board of Trustees. If I were able to say all that has been confided to me, and which, indeed, public rumour has already revealed, it would be easy to prove that this system of administration is a complete obstacle to all improvements.But all these authorities become insignificant when contrasted with that to which I am about to call the attention of the House. It is the testimony of one who has not only given great attention to the affairs of, but has himself contributed largely to the treasures of the British Museum. My hon. Friend (Mr. Layard) thus speaks: after objecting to the system of 1770 management, he goes on to say: "The building selected [by that management] is the worst that could have been devised." And again—I think, in principle, such a Board as the Trustees is wrong, although much may be said in its favour; and I think that the principle is so essentially wrong, that public opinion must ultimately come to the conclusion that it is wrong and not right.And again—In the British Museum the vices of the system are fully exemplified, more especially at the present time, when certain Trustees are supposed to represent the various antagonistic interests of the Antiquities, the Library, and the Natural History. I always thought highly of Panizzi, but with curtailed power and responsibility it would be impossible for him properly to manage such a vast institution. The result of this division of authority and want of method is a constant disagreement and rivalry between the different departments, arising from some real or presumed sacrifice of one to the other.And again—I do not object to a Board of Trustees, if you like to call them so, to see that certain bequeathed collections are properly taken care of. I see no objection to a Board of Control, but having no authority in the actual administration.And when further pressed by an hon. Friend of mine (Mr. Monckton Milnes), who asked him, "Do you think any practical evil has resulted from the present condition of the administration of the British Museum?" the answer was a brief but decided one—"Yes." Such is the testimony of the ablest authority that exists upon this subject.
Now, Sir, much stress has been laid on the fact that the National Gallery Estimates are audited by the Board of Audit, and I have ventured to assert, that considering by whom those Estimates are authorized, it is not a fact of any importance. But, Sir, in the case of the British Museum not even this small modicum of check exists. The Estimates are drawn up by the Trustees of the British Museum, they are not audited by the Audit Office, nor is there any further check upon the appropriation of the money voted than may be involved in the presentation of a yearly account to Parliament. The next point to which I wish, Sir, to advert, is to the vehicle by which, and the manner in which the Estimates for the British Museum are laid before this House. They are presented by a private Member of the House and not by a responsible Minister of the Crown. Now, Sir, I confess I feel, and always have felt, that this practice of a private Member (however dis- 1771 tingnished he may be) moving the Estimates, is in the highest degree anomalous, inconvenient, and unconstitutional. I doubt not, that in the instance of the British Museum, it is brought within the form, but I confidently assert that it must remain antagonistic to the spirit, of the Constitution. That it is inconvenient all must admit, when we remember that we may express our gratitude to, but we cannot censure, this distinguished volunteer. Well, Sir, then as to the shape in which the Estimates are presented to this House. It would seem that up to last year, they have appeared under three different heads. The first was for "British Museum Establishment, &c. &c.;" it was moved by a Trustee, being a private and irresponsible Member of this House: the gross sum was given, but no details were vouchsafed: the second was for "British Museum Buildings," which was moved for by the Chief Commissioner of Works: and the third for "British Museum Purchases," was moved for by our old friend the Treasury. Well, then, Sir, the House will see that over the two latter items they had some control, however inconvenient a one it might be in form. That inconvenience was felt, and last year the whole sum and the details of it were embodied in one Estimate, which was and is moved by "the irresponsible Trustee." So that, although in form it is more convenient, the present system is in fact a retrograde move, for it removes from the House even that control which it had over two items of expenditure in the British Museum.
But it is not only in a constitutional point of view that I object to the moving of the Estimates by a private Member of the House; for in practice it is most inconvenient, as furnishing an additional fold in "the screen of irresponsibility," behind which the Trustees find shelter when they wish to disregard the expressed wishes of the House of Commons. In order to illustrate this more clearly, I will take two instances of the way in which those wishes have been treated by the Trustees of the British Museum. It was in 1858 that a general wish was expressed in the house of commons, that increased facilities should be given to the working classes for visiting the Museum; two extra days were named, and a suggestion was made that it should be opened occasionally in the evening. The answer to these expressed wishes, Earl Russell, then Lord John Russell, communicated to the House when moving 1772 the Estimates the following year. The answer was not an elaborate one, and consisted of an expression of regret that the Trustees could not comply with the wishes of the House of Commons. In 1860, when money was asked for the British Museum, the same expression of opinion took place, and a chorus of hon. Members requested that increased facilities for visiting the Museum should be afforded to the working classes. Well, Sir, at that time it fell to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) to reply, and, as the House will readily believe, there was no one who could convey a refusal in more pleasant terms than he could; and accordingly he assured the House that—It was his duty to collect the suggestions that were made in that House when the Estimate was brought forward, and to lay that suggestion before the Trustees.Now, Sir, I confess I was very much struck with the nature of that reply, and I remember saying to myself:—It is all very well, laying suggestions before the Trustees; but is it they, or is it the house of commons, that is to provide the required £80,000? because, if it be the latter, I cannot but think that it is rather for the House of Commons to mention their wishes, and for the Trustees of the British Museum at once to carry them out. And now, Sir, let us see how differently matters turn out where you have a responsible Minister of the Crown to deal with. It was during last summer, that the Vice President of the Council asked for the annual pecuniary grant to the Royal Dublin Society. On all sides, it was admitted that it was a valuable and useful society; but my hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory) complained that the Council had repeatedly refused to open their gardens at Glasnevin on Sunday afternoons to the public. A discussion took place, and it was eventually decided that the Vice President should officially inform the Council of the Society, that if they did not defer to the expressed wishes of the house of commons, the subsidy would be withdrawn. That course was adopted, and the result was that the religious scruples of the Council vanished, and the gates of Glasnevin gardens were thrown open to the public. If, Sir, I would ask the House, instead of having a responsible Minister to look to in that case, we had had one of my hon. Friends the Members of the City of Dublin moving that Vote, and in charge of 1773 the question, was it likely that the same result would have ensued? I trow not! No! the House would have been assured, in general terms, that its wishes should be laid before the Council of the Society, and nothing more would have come of it.
And now, Sir, I confess to feeling something akin to terror in approaching my next point; for by this time I have traversed the gloomy passages, and I find myself at the door of the Board Room! face to face with that "very incarnation of irresponsibility," the Board of Trustees itself! It certainly is an alarming prospect to attack that most powerful body, intrenched as it is in a citadel fortified by long occupation, and by supposed prescriptive right! Well might many a one say to me, "What is the use of so humble an individual as yourself attempting to dislodge so much power, wealth, and influence?" But, Sir, I turned my thoughts to ancient history, and I said, if David was able with sling and stone to destroy the giant Goliath, why should not I, with my sling full of truth and facts, attempt to make some impression even on the armour of this hitherto impenetrable body? The Trustees of the British Museum are composed of three classes. The first of them are styled ex-officio Trustees, and include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Speaker of the house of commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and two or three leading-Members of the Government. It may indeed be questioned, whether efficiency is secured by placing on the Board of Trustees the very men who are already fully occupied with the most arduous duties, both political, civil, and religious. The Committee which sat on the Record Commission thought not, and I agree entirely with the words of that Report. It may be said that as Members of the Government are to be found among the ex-officio Trustees, that therefore we have got Paliamentary responsibility. That, however, I maintain is an entire fallacy. Look at the Board of Education. Why, every member of the Cabinet was until lately a member of that Board, and yet it had been felt by the House that a responsibility divided amongst so many, was in fact tantamount to none at all. So, practically speaking, and excepting on extreme and grave occasions, the action of these ex-officio Trustees of the Museum was weak and unavailing. The second class of Trustees is one so anomalous, that I hardly know how to describe them. They 1774 are, I believe, called "Family Trustees." Of these Gentlemen, two have the custody of collections presented by their ancestors to the nation; but the other four collections, which have two Trustees each, represent property that has not been presented to, but has been actually bought by the nation, and at, in every single instance, a fair market price; so that it would seem that the Government has been in the habit of purchasing collections, and allowing at the same time a Trustee to be appointed to take care of the property which his ancestor has disposed of, and the interest of which purchase-money is probably adding to his own material comforts. Why, Sir, I cannot do better, to elucidate this point, than again to draw the attention of the House to the evidence given by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Committee which sat, 1860. The hon. Gentleman was asked,Do you think that Trustees who represent families should interfere in the general arrangement of the Museum?To which he replied—I have a very strong opinion on the subject. It appears to me, that when a testator appoints a Trustee to look after his collection, it is his intention that that collection should be devoted to the purposes for which he bequeathed it, and that it should be properly taken care of. To carrying out these intentions alone, I should confine the duties of a family Trustee. He should visit, at certain periods, the particular collection given by his ancestor or person he represents, to see that the wishes are carried out, and nothing else.What would the hon. Gentleman the Secretary do with those who sold, not left, their collections? The House will observe, that my hon. Friend here defines the duties of those family Trustees, whose trusts "were bequeathed" to the nation, and he suggests, that they should be confined to visiting, at certain periods, the particular collection given by his ancestor or the person he represents, to see that his wishes are carried out, and nothing else. Well, Sir, then, if these are the only duties, which the greatest authority on such matters in this House would assign to Trustees of collections bequeathed, I should he glad indeed to hear from him, what, in the name of common sense, ought to be the functions of the representatives of those gentlemen who have not bequeathed but sold their property for its market value to the nation. Some years since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer purchased, at the large sum of £160,000, Burlington House and grounds, 1775 and considerable dissatisfaction has been felt that time has passed away, and it has not been as yet applied to any permanent or sufficiently useful purpose. Can it be possible, that when that purchase was effected, my Lord Chesham was appointed a family Trustee, and that it is his veto which has restrained the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and prevented his ci-devant house being altered or desecrated by the hand of innovation?
And now, Sir, it is time I should ease the minds of the Trustees, and assure them that I do not intend to propose to the House the revolutionary measure of abolishing them at once. No, Sir, I will leave them where they are, confident as I am that common sense and the growing intelligence of the public will prove far more fatal to them than anything I can say or do. At present let them remain, and perform those consultative duties for which they are fitted, but nothing more. By all means let them meet to talk and discuss matters in the same style and at as great a length, but with no more executive powers than belong to the Houses of Convocation at the present day. I have not the boldness to lay down exactly in detail what should be the laws which ought to guide the Trustees. That has been done by their own servants, the heads of departments in the Museum. Most of those gentlemen have recommended that the Trustees should act as a "body of visitors;" and others, that they should be a consultative Board. Another experienced witness said he should have no objection to them, provided they had "no sort of authority or control in the administration of the institution." Upon those terms, I can have no objection to them myself. And here, I suppose, I shall hear a cry about interfering with vested rights and interests; which, Sir, I deny to exist. But even were it so, I have yet to learn that Parliament is very squeamish in such matters where the public good is concerned. A glance at what was done by the Oxford University Bill will show how much the House respects the wills of founders. But, Sir, I deny that vested rights exist. When the Sloane collection was bought, and the Trustees appointed, there was no annual grant given by Parliament. Since then, things have greatly changed, and the public funds on which the Museum now subsist are as 30 to I in proportion to its private funds; and yet these family Trustees claim not only to manage collections sold by their ancestors, 1776 but to administer large funds now annually voted, but which were never thought of at the date of their appointment. That is surely a good reason why the House should take the management of these funds out of private and irresponsible hands, and exercise an efficient control over the expenditure. Thus much for the ex-officio and family Trustees. There remain the elected Trustees, against whom I have less to urge. They consist of men prominent for their ability, their learning, and their high social position, and well adapted for performing the only functions which properly belong to numerous Boards.
The remedy I would suggest for the evils I have pointed out is the same as that which has been found to answer well for the army, navy, and other public departments, namely, to place the administration under one responsible Minister of the Crown. Where that department shall be it is not for me, of course, to say; that must rest with the Government; but one's mind naturally turns to the Privy Council, which already has some Art collections under its supervision. I should be sorry to do anything that might mar the progress of Art in this country, and I should regret it above all, at a time when the nation has not yet recovered from the loss of that illustrious Prince, who had devoted his great mind to the cultivation of public taste. His was the head that planned, his the hand that had guided us in these matters for years; and no one would shrink more than I should from taking any step which could in any degree thwart or interfere with that great Prince's wise and beneficent schemes. Nothing can be more gratifying than that large numbers of persons should flock to see the collections to which I have been referring, but, at the same time, there is another side to the picture. How much does the country pay for these collections? At South Kensington every visitor costs the country 1s. 3¾d.; namely, salaries, 4d.; purchases, 5¾d.; building and miscellaneous, 6d. At the British Museum, with its model management, each visitor costs the country 3s. 2d., of which 1s. 1½d. was spent in salaries, 1s. 1d. in purchases, and 11½d. in buildings. As to the British Historical Portrait Gallery, no returns of the number of visitors had yet been made, but from tolerably accurate information I believe, if the total cost were divided over the average number of visitors, it will be found that each visitor who goes to gaze 1777 upon the "works of art" in Great George Street, costs the country from 16s. to 18s. Now, I can have no wish to mar the progress of art in this country, but I do not think that efficiency and economy are injurious to the progress of art, or that extravagant waste promotes it. I have shown that these Votes are increasing every year, the gross amount spent during the last fourteen years being £2,500,000; and that being so, I hope the House will not think I am exceeding my duty as a Member of Parliament when I call upon the House and the Government to adopt such measures as will promote the efficiency of these institutions by securing increased responsibility.
And now, Sir, I suppose I shall be met by the Chief Commissioner of Works, or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he honours me by replying to my statement, and I shall be told that my facts are true, but that this is not a convenient moment for passing such a Resolution; that later would be a more convenient season. Delay will be the watchword, and, perchance, further inquiry may be hinted at as possible. But the House has been bamboozled over and over again in this way. Committees have sat, Commissions have reported, inquiry is exhausted, and any at tempt to obtain further information would only lead to increased confusion. In the words of my right hon. Friend two years ago, the question is now in the hands of the House, and the House should now resolve to act upon the information before it. The course which the Government should take is to my mind clear. They should show, by supporting my Motion, that they do not approve unpaid and dilettante administration, in which responsibility scarcely exists, or, if it exists at all, is so divided that it rests on no man's shoulders, and that such an administration is, in their opinion, opposed to all sound, solid, and reasonable policy.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House is of opinion that, for the preparation of any Estimates, and for the Expenditure of any Monies voted in aid of the British Museum, the National Gallery, and all other institutions having for their object the promotion of Education, Science, and Art, one Minister of the Crown should be responsible to this House.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he had very great pleasure in seconding the Motion of his noble Friend, and he thought he was justified in saying that not only the house of commons, but all those who felt interested 1778 in the promotion of education, science, and art, out of the House, must thank the noble Lord, not merely for the intrinsically good object which he had in bringing forward this question, but also for the care, industry, and admirable manner in which he had put it before the House. And if there were one man more than another who ought to feel pleased at that, it must be the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That right hon. Gentleman, some time ago, in a most remarkable speech, had showed that the iron had entered his soul on account of the confusion, the irregularity, and irresponsibility which characterized our whole system of Public Works; and if he would now apply the vigour of his powerful mind to the question, then it would have been well for the country that he had been sore afflicted. The usual objection of the Treasury bench to inconvenient Motions was either that the Motion was wrongly worded, or that the time was an improper one. But the Motion of his noble Friend was singularly clear and moderate, and he should support it, because, if carried out, it would serve as the foundation of future improvements and reforms. Then there could be no more fitting time than that for the consideration of such a question, because it was felt that something must be done to the National Gallery, and something was intended as to the British Museum. The House would also have plenty of leisure during the Session, since there would be no Reform Bill with its dissolving views, no sensation Budget, he hoped, and no war, or rumours of war. His noble Friend had shown that the system of management in the British Museum was one by which it was totally impossible that a great institution could be efficiently managed. In 1850, Mr. Panizzi, while rendering ample justice to the individual qualities of the Trustees, complained of the want of direct communication with the heads of departments; and said that if the Reports of the Trustees were long they were not read, and if short they were not understood. Mr. Panizzi went on to complain of the varying and uncertain attendance of the Trustees. The Royal Commission of 1850, composed of the most eminent men, said in their Report, that however admirably qualified the Trustees individually might be, it was impossible that their administration should he satisfactory. It might be said that the evils complained of had 1779 been removed by the appointment of subcommittees; but he had himself, in 1860, asked a witness of singular good faith and good sense, Sir Benjamin Brodie, whether these sub-committees were regular in their attendance. Sir Benjamin replied, "No; they are not so much employed as they might be. They are very inefficient at present." Let the House look at the constitution of the Board of Trustees, and the false and ambiguous position in which the working Trustees from time to time found themselves. The moment a question of real importance occurred, a whip took place. Down came the Government ex-officio Trustees, and swamped the decision of those Trustees who had been in communication with all the heads of the departments and who had carefully considered the subject. Let the House reflect how dispiriting to these Trustees must be the invasion of a horde of Government Trustees who trooped down to vote, and then went home again, knowing little and probably caring less of the matters they had thus summarily decided. One glaring instance of that occurred in 1859. It was notorious that the Trustees were against the removal of the Natural History department of the British Museum. Down came the Government Trustees; however, a cut and dried Resolution was put into the hands of the noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston) affirming the desirability of transferring the Natural History collection to Kensington and it was carried by a majority of one; and that went forth as the decision of the Trustees. It was true that the hon. Member who moved the Estimates of the British Museum was usually a man of great eminence; but he was, after all, only a private gentleman, who acted irresponsibly and was only undertaking a voluntary duty. For himself, he always felt a disinclination to urge any complaints he might have against the Trustees in the same strong and forcible manner which he should like to use if the duty of moving these Estimates was discharged by a responsible Minister of the Crown. He thought the noble Lord was right in saying that the House of Commons ought to be jealous, and ought to interfere where such a large sum of money as £100,000 was annually brought forward by an irresponsible Minister, who referred Members in case of complaint to the Board of Trustees, and with whom it rested whether the complaint should be considered or not, and who 1780 generally chose to throw it aside altogether. The noble Lord was ready to leave the Board of Trustees alone, and thought that after a few more speeches in that House the Board would die a natural death. But abuses of every description had great vitality, and he thought the Trustees ought to put themselves right with the public, and see whether they could not manage the British Museum upon a better system. He would suggest a remedy how the administration of the British Museum might be amended. He would retain the Board of Trustees, which was so powerful, in having so many Members in that House, and so splendidly constituted, from the talents which the Members possessed. Their duties should be in the first instance to act as visitors, to inspect the Museum periodically, and report to the Minister on the state of the Museum, with any suggestions that they might wish to make. They should also act as referees in revising the statutes, in the extension of the Museum buildings, in all questions of special grants, salaries, &c. He would no longer retain the services of the three principal Trustees. He knew how much the time of the right hon. Gentleman in the chair was occupied, nor did the duties of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor leave them any leisure for the performance of the duties of Trustees for the British Museum. He would divide the Board into three sections—the library, natural history, and antiquities. He was presuming, of course, on the retention of the Natural History Department in its present position. Each department should be independent of the other in its internal arrangements, its discipline, salaries, and hours of exhibition, and each should have a separate constitution—namely, the director over each of the departments, with the keepers of each department as an executive board. The directors would be directly responsible to the Minister, and he would be responsible to the House of Commons. That board would be free from all the defects of the Trustee system; they would not be a fluctuating body, they would be acquainted with all the details of the Museum, and, above all, they would be responsible. They would have the settlement of all the internal regulations and of all the alterations that might have to be made. For each of the departments there would be an executive board, consisting of the director and the various keepers under him. If that 1781 system were adopted, it would be found that the principle of responsibility would pervade the whole.
His noble Friend referred to the National Gallery rather in a tone of censure, but he might have done so in proof of his case, for the state of the National Gallery when it was under trustees was perfectly intolerable. But since 1855 there had been a change; the trustees were made to approach more nearly to the position of visitors, and the National Gallery had materially improved. Then the Kensington Museum was really a case in point, where there was thorough vigour, efficiency, and responsibility. [A laugh] Hon. Gentlemen who laughed might think it did not carry out its objects, but he considered that it did, and he approved the principle upon which it was founded. At all events, no man could say that the Kensington Museum was not carried on with a vigour and efficiency which put to shame the older institutions. His noble friend spoke of the expense per head of the persons visiting that Museum; but it was hardly fair to make that calculation, because the expense should be reckoned according to the immense amount of good the Museum had done to every branch and department of art in the United Kingdom, by the circulating connection which it sent abroad, and by the various examples which it had given. But the management and arrangement of all the public buildings and public works of art in the metropolis were perfectly melancholy. He was not going too far when he said that nothing struck a man more than the weakness, incongruity, and mismanagement that met him at every turn of the street. He was very much amused on reading in The Times of that morning a letter from a very sensitive foreign gentleman, who wrote from the Sablonniere Hotel in Leicester Square, and who said that he trusted most sincerely if the Emperor of the French should be induced to visit the Exhibition, as he had been invited to do, that he would be brought into it blindfolded, in order that he might escape the shock which the hideous appearance of the building would most certainly cause. Now, if they were to meet that Foreign gentleman in Pall Mall and proposed to reconduct him to his dwelling in Leicester Square, and give him at the same time a view of the handsomest part of the metropolis, they should avoid the bad company and the shellfish-houses of Piccadilly, and bring 1782 him down through Pall Mall into Trafalgar Square. The first thing that would meet his eyes would be the hideous statue to the Guards, representing a mythological figure (but whether of Virtue, or Valour, or Sorrow, nobody could say), apparently in the attitude of pitching quoits into the space beneath the Athenæeum and the United Service Club. Taking him on a little further, they would show him the pepper-castors of the National Gallery, and the ginger-beer bottles of the fountains beneath. Then be would see the unfinished statue of Nelson and the statue of George IV. standing solitary in one corner, and also the statues of two great warriors, about which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) informed the House last year that they were allowed to be erected by predecessors of his; and although they were reported to spoil the effect of the elevation of the National Gallery, still, as the site had been given, there they should remain. And then, having shown him all these things, and having brought him up the narrow steps of the National Gallery and down to the sculpture den, he thought after all that, in spite of the proverbial politeness of foreigners, before he reached his domicile he would give vent in no measured terms to the bitterness of his feelings. Now, something ought to be done to remedy that state of things. There ought to be some person in authority permanently established, some one in the shape of a Directeur des Arts, as they had in France, who would give most material assistance to the First Commissioner of Works—some one not in the Ministry, but chosen for the excellence of his taste, or the correctness of his eye. He (Mr. Gregory) hoped he should not be rebuked, as be was the other night for meddling with matters that were beyond the province of an Irish member. He hoped he should not be told that he ought to employ himself in wrangling over some grand jury bill, or in some pleasant religious squabble, and leave the improvement of the metropolis and the constitution of the British Museum to the metropolitan Members. If he were, he should endeavour to receive the rebuke in a proper spirit, but he should none the less give his cordial and unhesitating vote to his noble Friend, if the noble Lord pressed his Motion to a division.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, my noble Friend who made this Motion addressed the House, as be 1783 always does, on the very rare occasions—I may presume to say on the unhappily rare occasions—when he does address it, with great ability and in a manner showing that he had applied his mind thoroughly to the subject. My noble friend at the close of his speech was so far emboldened by the favourable reception it had received on the part of the House that he predicted the terms of the answer. He said, "The Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he speaks in reply, will dispute none of my facts, but will ask the House not to adopt my Motion." My noble Friend is in; greater luck than most prophets, for one half of his prediction is true, though the other half is untrue. I shall, then, dispute what I believe not to be facts, and I shall also ask the House not to adopt his Motion. At the same time, it is my duty to admit that, there is much matter in the speech which my noble Friend addressed to the House with which I myself and my colleagues are disposed to agree, and, in many respects, I think it is useful that that speech has been made; for, though I believe that he magnified some of the evils, and also overstated the efficacy of the prospective remedies, I think the speech is one tending in the right direction, towards unity, responsibility, and efficiency in the management of institutions of great public importance. Therefore agreeing in many of my noble Friend's opinions, and believing that, as an abstract proposition, the Motion contains little that is open to dispute, I shall not ask the House to give a negative to the Motion, for that would not represent faithfully the view which I take of the question, but I shall ask it to meet the Motion by the previous question. I confess I was somewhat struck by the difference of views of the mover and seconder of this Motion. It is a favourable circumstance sometimes for those who oppose or deprecate a Motion to find discrepancies among its advocates; but I have the rare felicity of finding a discrepancy between the mover and seconder. The object of the Motion of my noble Friend is evidently to bring those institutions under the control of Government, but what does the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory) say to that? Why, the most effective passage in his speech was that in which he denounced the Government for exercising the control which they appeared to exercise for the purpose of influencing the Gentlemen who have the 1784 management of the Museum. So much is this the case that the fact not only occupied an important place in the mind of the hon. Gentleman, but formed almost the animating principle and stimulus of his speech. What I venture to represent to the House is this, that it will be well to contract the field and touch lightly on many of the points of detail which have been dealt with. The noble Lord assailed the constitution of the National Gallery. It was defended by the seconder of the Motion, and therefore as far as the National Gallery is concerned, I shall pass by that comparatively limited portion of the subject, only paying that it is perfectly true and correct that in 1859 the Government did say that a new arrangement was about to be made for the National Gallery; and in 1860 the new arrangement or arrangements were made; and. it was then quite open for the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham) to question those arrangements. So, with respect to the National. Portrait Gallery, I think we may pass by a portion of the criticism applied to it, because that gallery is still an infant institution. Growth in the earlier stages of the animal and vegetable world is slow, and we may well expect to find that the same is the case not only in political institutions, but also in those devoted to art. But as the present discussion has turned in so great a degree on the British Museum, and as its condition so fully involves the question at issue, it will be as well if I confine my observations in the main to that institution. Another reason for taking this course is that my noble Friend has given to his speech too much of the character of an indictment against the British Museum and those who manage it, which I am bound to say is fundamentally unjust, and incapable of being sustained. With respect to the British Museum, my noble Friend made a charge of general mismanagement. He has not sustained that charge, and, instead of saying I dispute his facts, I should rather say that I dispute his assertions. What evidence has he adduced to the House? He says that more than one Committee or Commission has sat on the British Museum. Certainly, but does that show mismanagement in the British Museum? It only shows that the mind of the country and of Parliament was beginning for the first time in our history to be turned to the subjects of art and science and education as matters of political concern. We were 1785 dissatisfied with the kind of imperfect, undeveloped state of our institutions, and consequently we wanted to apply ourselves with force and energy to produce a great development and improvement in that direction. That is the reason why those Commissions were appointed and made Reports, but it" has not been in the power of my noble Friend to quote any language illustrative of his assertion of great mismanagement, or of any mismanagement, on the part of the Trustees of the British Museum. My noble Friend did, indeed, quote the testimony of a gentleman, whom he described as a foreigner, and who stated that the government of the Trustees of the British Museum was a complete obstacle and barrier to improvement. The facts were, however, against my noble Friend, and it is totally impossible for any man who unites common sense with common justice, and who at the same time has no Parliamentary Motion to support, to compare the British Museum as it now is with its condition thirty years ago, and to adopt the opinion that the Government under which the British Museum is managed is a complete obstacle and barrier to improvement. Take one instance of the management of the British Museum. A speech of mine has been referred to as expressing a desire in a particular branch of our affairs for something in the nature of revolution. That speech had no connection with the subject of the present Motion, but related to the manner, as proved by history, in which we—not any particular Government or department, but the collective body of Parliament and the Government—have for the last generation managed what I call the great public works of the nation. If that be so—if we, the Parliament and the executive Government, have produced results so unsatisfactory—it is but fair to those much maligned trustees and to this governing body of the British Museum to state how they have managed their public works. One great public work which will bring this point to issue has been erected within the last six or seven years—the reading-room of the British Museum, and that is an exception—a brilliant exception; it is, perhaps, very nearly the sole exception to our blunders. That reading-room was recommended to the Government, and planned to its completion under the superintendence of the Trustees. [Mr. GREGORY: It was done by Mr. Panizzi.] Mr. Panizzi is a servant of the 1786 Trustees, and a more meritorious public servant is not to be found, but I cannot distinguish between the servant and the Trustees for the purpose of the present argument. Now, there seems to be an idea on the part of my noble Friend that no one is responsible for the Estimates for the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, and British Museum. This is an error. It is perfectly true that the Museum Estimates were moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), and it is also perfectly true that that is an anomaly in our Parliamentary system. That is the single case in which such a function is performed by an independent Member of this House, but I take leave to deny that on that account there is an absence of public control. All my experience at the Treasury shows me that it is most unjust to the Trustees to state that they have ever showed a disposition to escape from the control of the Treasury, and I venture confidently to declare that the control of the Treasury, over the Estimates prepared by the Trustees is, in the interest of the public, as strong and effective as it is generally over the Estimates prepared by the public departments, and stronger than over those prepared by many public departments. These Estimates, therefore, are not irresponsible Estimates. I am not stating that the machinery of this government of the Museum is the machinery that might have been chosen if we had had to construct from the ground, but I dispute the statement of my noble Friend—if I understood him rightly—that these Estimates are prepared without the responsibility of the Government; nor does it appear to me that the House of Commons has any very great right to complain of these Estimates. At least, I have been present for many years at these discussions, and I do not recollect that on any one single occasion the House has shown any general or extended desire to reduce them; but I do recollect that from year to year many hon. Members have made complaints that these Estimates were too moderate, and that the salaries of this gentleman, and of that gentleman, and of the other gentleman ought to be largely increased. So much for irresponsible Estimates.
The hon. Member for Galway in his concluding remarks stated that the Government went down to the Museum in a horde for the purpose of swamping the Trustees. Now, we went down for the 1787 exercise of our functions, not to evade responsibility, but to concentrate it on ourselves; and after a few weeks, during which the preliminary arrangements may, be Completed, we will give hon. Members an opportunity of saying "Ay" or "No" in reference to the important conclusion which we were instrumental in promoting at the deliberation of the Trustees of the Museum. But my hon. Friend has produced a plan of his own. I wish to point out that, no executive Government can have a primâ facie objection to a Motion like this, for it means for the Government increased power and extention of patronage. He proposes to retain Trustees, whom he invests with certain functions, as a consulting Board, but he also proposes to give the sugar plum of the appointment of three directors for the Museum to my noble Friend at the head of the Treasury. Certainly this was a remarkable recommendation to come from a popular Member, standing forth as the advocate of a popular cause, and as a friend of economy. But my hon. Friend goes a step beyond that, and here again I find him at mortal antagonism with his Friend the mover of this Resolution. There is one portion of the proposition of the noble Lord in which I heartily agree, and that was that the Treasury ought not to be a spending department, but one which should control others which do spend; while I also concur with him in thinking that boards of executive are, as a general rule, inexpedient, "Boards of executive are wrong" says the mover of the Resolution; but what says the seconder? "Appoint me three directors of the British Museum with three executive boards." Indeed, so decided is the antagonism between the two, that a Motion the aim of which I thought was unity and the concentration of responsibility has its tendency altogether reversed by the observations of one of its supporters. There is another charge of rather a specific kind made by the hon. Member for Galway against the Trustees of the British Museum, and that is, that under the present system there is a want of communication between them and the heads of departments. Now, the ordinary rule is that communication must always be with the executive head of an establishment, and it is always a question of discretion and degree how far the superintending authority will enter into direct communication with the secondary executive officers. I can, however, assure my 1788 hon. Friend that he is not accurate in his statement, and that, although there may be gentlemen who do not think they are placed in a relationship sufficiently direct with the Trustees, he will find, when we shortly lay on the table the proposition which we have to make in connection with the British Museum, ample evidence that the heads of departments are directly consulted, and that it does not rest with Mr. Panizzi—even if he had the inclination to do so, which I am sure he has not—to deprive them of their fair share of influence in supplying information to the governing body of the institution.
I have now dealt with the question of the general management of these irresponsible Estimates, and I may now say that it is my intention to move, on the part of the Government, the previous question, admitting, in so doing, that there is much to be said in favour of the general principle that the expenditure of money with a view to the promotion of education, science, and art, should be placed under the control of a single responsible Minister. I may, however, add that I think, when a Minister on the part of a Government gives even a qualified assent to a general proposition of that nature, and at the same time intimates a strong opinion that it would net be wise for the House of Commons to assert the general principle in abstract terms by means of a Vote, the House has a right to expect from him some declaration that these are not mere words used for the purpose of disposing of the pressure of an inconvenient Motion. I am ready to admit that you are entitled to expect that we should show you that we have advanced, and are advancing, in the direction which you suggest; and when we look back on what has been done during the last twenty-five or thirty years, I believe you will agree with me in thinking that immense strides have been made in that ditection. Now, the Motion before us refers to all Votes of monies for the promotion of education, science, and art, and I may say that almost three parts of the objects which it seeks to accomplish have been already realized. Education is under a responsible Minister; so is science as an active principle, and art so far as it is connected with industry. Still more I grant you remains to be done, but I think you will see that it would not be expedient to endeavour to achieve the end which you desire by a single stride. Moreover, in that single stride you aim at too much, 1789 and recommend to our adoption a Resolution which, like other abstract propositions, may hereafter prove inconvenient, and tend to fetter us in our future proceedings. My noble Friend will, I think, admit that progress has been already made in this direction, but be must not suppose that I am contending that it may not be desirable that some more direct relationship between the executive Government and the government of the British Museum might not be established. We have done our best under the circumstances. We went as far as the constitution of the Museum permitted. I can, however, well conceive the existence of an opinion that the mode in which the intervention of the executive Government in the affairs of the Museum is exercised might be improved and placed upon such a footing as to render it less irksome to the Trustees, and more efficacious for the purposes of responsibility to this House. While, however, making that admission, I would ask hon. Members to consider the present state of the question relating to the British Museum. For many years there has been there a great want of space, and the most active controversy has been carried on in divers modes and fashions, both inside and outside the walls of Parliament, as to the mode in which that want is to be supplied. The great question discussed under these circumstances has been, "Shall there be a separation of the collections contained in the Museum?" The executive Government, when the matter appeared to be ripe for consideration, deemed it to be its duty to assume the initiative in a case of this description. They have done so. They have made a proposal to the Trustees, which has taken effect in the shape of a plan which is now ready to be submitted to this House, and which we hope to lay on the table before Easter. That plan involves a must important physical separation; it involves, in fact, the transfer of one of the great departments of the Museum to another site. The Government in making that proposition had to consider whether the time was a fitting one to submit any proposal to the Trustees on the subject of the mode of governing the Museum itself, and we came to the conclusion that the time was obviously most unfitting. No doubt the local separation of which I speak suggested the idea of a possible modification of the government of the Museum, and what may hereafter take place in that respect I will not at this early stage of the 1790 proceedings undertake to say. We do not know what the precise effect of the separation may be, and we have therefore deemed it better to proceed with our plan and obtain the judgment of Parliament with respect to carrying it into execution with all possible vigour and promptitude should that judgment be favourable. We shall then be able to arrive at a safer conclusion, from the working of the Museum under the altered circumstances of which I speak, as to whether any change in the government is necessary, than we could at present hope to form. This, I trust, will appear to the House to have been a rational course to adopt. Indeed, if we had acted otherwise, we should be open to the charge of having proceeded in this matter without sufficient knowledge or information, merely upon our own judgment and speculations, while we might also be said to have given undue offence to the Trustees, and to have exposed our own plan, which is a bonâ fids proposal in the public interest, to the imputation of being a scheme to give more power and influence to the Executive. Now, I may observe that you are in all discussions of this kind open to two opposite fires. The batteries to-day are charged with arguments intended to point out irresponsibility and consequent inefficiency in the management of a particular institution. To-morrow they may be charged with arguments against centralization, and with appeals to the national characteristics of the nation with respect to the mode in which it desires to see the public business managed. I do not think it would be wise on our part to involve ourselves in that forest of controversy. The hon. Member for Galway is opposed to our plan of separating certain collections from the Museum. [Mr. CONINGHAM: What collections are to be removed.] The collections of Natural History, including Zoology and other "ologies" more numerous than I can submit at once to your notice. Now, it may be good generalship on the part of the hon. Member to mix up this question of the separation of these collections with other matters, but we deem it to be absolutely incumbent upon us to consider this important question on its merits, and to refuse to accede by a positive vote to the Motion now under discussion. I will give you an illustration of the inconvenience which would be likely to result from the adoption of this Resolution. I accede to the general proposition that 1791 executive boards are bad; but I think there may be found in practice certain exceptions and qualifications, which qualifications ought, in my opinion, to be considered one by one, and not to be overruled by an abstract proposal of this character. There is, for instance, the case of the Fine Arts Commission, which it at the present moment connected with associations too sacred and too tender to be dwelt upon in this discussion. But, speaking of it in general terms, I may say that the Commission has been of great public advantage, notwithstanding the objection of the noble Lord opposite to executive boards, and that it has exercised an important influence on the direction of the public mind into a channel favourable to the promotion of art. It would therefore, I think, be a most ungracious proceeding to comdemn, by the passing of a Resolution such as this, that Commission. A trust has been committed to it. That trust might, perhaps, in other Countries have been undertaken at once by the executive Government, but at the time the Commission Was constituted I am not sure it would have been easy to take any such coarse. I believe we are deeply indebted to the Fine Arts Commission, and I am certain it is not the intention of my noble Friend to aim a side-blow at a body which has been of such marked utility. Such are the grounds upon which I trust my noble Friend will not press his Motion to a division, and upon which, if he does press it, it will be my duty to meet it with the Previous Question. I wish it to be clearly understood that in so moving the Previous Question, and in giving at the same time a qualified assent to many of the general principles which have been declared by my noble Friend, I am markedly at issue with him upon the practical question of the effects which have been produced by the actual Government of the British Museum, even although it may be theoretically and speculatively imperfect. I believe that to the managers of the Museum we owe a debt of gratitude for a great deal of good and efficient administration; but as I said before, I am one of those who think that the constitution of the administrative body may fairly at some future period be submitted to reconsideration and revision. No doubt, if it could have been foreseen in the early days of the Museum that it would become an institution wholly supported by enormous annual grants, its administration by such 1792 a government as it has at present would never have been dreamed of. There is one other remark I wish to make before I conclude. My noble Friend has criticised the purchase of a collection of pictures in 1855, but when he says that a few only were hung up in the National Gallery, that some dregs were sent to Ireland, and that the rest was sold for nothing, I do not think he gives a correct representation of the case. Whether, however, the representation is correct or not, let it not be forgotten that the collection in question was bought Upon the strict responsibility of the Government; and, therefore, it is not fair to say that by getting rid of the Trustees you will secure that kind of happy efficiency and vigour and that amount of public satisfaction which my noble Friend seems to anticipate.
Whereupon Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, that while he agreed with the noble Lord that some one Minister of the Crown should be made responsible for the administration of the departments of science and art, he could not help thinking that Parliament itself was not altogether blameless in the matter. The House of Commons had completely ratified and rendered itself responsible for the acts of the heads of these departments, and he could not admit that the maladministration of which the noble Lord had complained was wholly attributable to the existence of boards of trustees. Surely the noble Lord forgot that nearly all the great mercantile concerns of the country were carried on by boards of directors. The whole question was surrounded with difficulties. With regard to the administration, allusion had been made to the ex-officio Trustees of the British Museum having gone down and swamped the other Trustees. He must say that, in his opinion, if the Ministers went down in that way in their Ministerial capacity to record their votes, they ought to be brought to account for it. In such cases, the ex-officio Trustees ought to have something like individual responsibility. It was quite possible, he thought, that the transfer of the Natural History collection from the British Museum to some other quarter might be expedient; but he ventured to say, that if the purchases were continued on the same gigantic scale, and in the same omnivorous manner as at present, no building, however large, would long 1793 remain capable of holding them. He could not concur in the eulogium which the hon. Member for Gal way had passed upon the department at Kensington. It was an archaeological collection, containing many interesting and amusing objects, but it would not bear comparison with the British Museum. That monstrous architectural abortion, the Great Exhibition at Brompton, was the result of the Art School at Kensington—a fact which did not say much for the taste or knowledge of the department so highly lauded by the hon. Member for Galway. He did not think the investigation before the Committee was satisfactory; and his belief was, if the evidence had been laid before the House, the Vote demanded for building purposes would never have been passed. He concurred in the view that some one of the Ministers should be rendered responsible for the expenditure of the Vote. With respect to the National Gallery, there had been very little improvement, and the purchases which had been recently made were not satisfactory. No doubt the building had been enlarged and more care was taken of the treasures of art placed there, but that had arisen from the discussions which had taken place in the press and that House, and it was only by directing public attention more to the general subject that any material improvement could be expected.
§ MR. BLAKE
complained, that the department of Art was sought to be made too much self-supporting. He spoke chiefly of Ireland, but his remarks would in great measure be equally applicable to this country. He himself was, with others, the means of establishing one of the first schools of art in Ireland, that at Waterford. By dint of great exertion, some of the mechanics were induced to go to the school, which prospered so long as it received the Government subsidy; but when that was withdrawn the attendance began to lessen, and at present the school was nothing more than a school of art for the higher and middle classes. He believed the same state of things existed at Limerick and other towns. At Belfast the school was closed; and it was a fact that several years had elapsed since a school of art had been established in Ireland. He hoped that the noble Lord's Motion would have the effect of bringing public attention to the matter. It appeared very strange that while Government thought it necessary to subsidize largely 1794 the most essential branches of education, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, they should act on the principle of making art education self-supporting. Nothing possibly could be more erroneous or more calculated to prevent a spread of the knowledge of it amongst those whom it was most desirable it should reach. With a large proportion of the middle and humbler classes, a knowledge of the fine arts, when acquired, was nothing more than an accomplishment—an excellent one no doubt, but often useless as a means of advancing them in life; and therefore it was that if Government really meant to carry out the objects for which the department was founded, they should offer a premium to the class of pupils to whom he alluded, to frequent the schools of design, instead of deterring them by imposing high fees. The large sum voted annually in support of art education was, to a great extent, obtained under false pretences. The House were under the impression that it went to support the schools all over the kingdom, but such was not the fact; as in reality the lion's share was spent in London, where the people were best able to support schools themselves. He had no objection to the Museum and Gallery of Pictures at Kensington. It was a splendid, creditable, and most useful institution; but it was not fair to vote a large sum for supposed general purposes and have nearly the entire devoted to an almost exclusive one. True, Kensington was the parent establishment, and should be properly maintained; but that should not be carried too far. Nearly four years ago he (Mr. Blake) had called attention to this very subject, and could induce but very few to support him. He was glad to find the opinions he had expressed then were gaining ground, as proved by the favourable reception of the Motion of the noble Lord, which he trusted he would press to a division in which he would certainly have his vote.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, he wished to thank the noble Lord for having brought forward the subject; but, after the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the discussion which had taken place, he hoped the noble Lord would be content to withdraw his Motion. With regard to the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brighton, he believed the more the subject was inquired into, and the more the evidence taken before the Com- 1795 mittee was considered, the more the public would agree with the Committee in the decision to which they had come, that the South Kensington Museum had done, was doing, and was likely to continue to do, the great good it was intended to effect.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I agree with the hon. Baronet in thinking that my noble Friend will do wisely not to press the House to come to a decision on the Resolution which he has proposed, because, when you ask the House to come to a Resolution, you should always consider the circumstances under which that request is made; and considering the particular hour at which we should be called on to decide (half-past seven o'clock), I think he might obtain a result that would lead to an impression that there was not that sympathy with the general views expressed by my noble Friend in support of his Motion which I believe to exist in the House, and which I believe is largely shared by the country. My noble Friend has brought forward the subject in a speech of remarkable ability. He spoke for a considerable time, and always interested us, while he really grappled with all the points of the considerable question with which he had to deal. And, Sir, I find no fault with the Resolution which he proposed, because it is a Resolution which affirms, generally speaking, a principle which I think the House must ultimately adopt, and which, at the same time, pledges the Government in no manner as regards the details in an inconvenient form. But after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and after the Amendment proposed by the Minister, it really would be at the present moment highly imprudent on my noble Friend to run the risk of a division in which it is possible, perhaps probable, be might have a majority; but if he were thrown into a minority, it would undoubtedly create in the country a false impression. When an independent Member brings forward a Motion, and the Minister meets it with the Previous Question, he ought to be satisfied. It is a concession of the justice and general truth of his views and the accuracy of his statements; and I do not think that as to the general result there can be two opinions. If public money is granted by the votes of this House, there ought to be a direct responsibility as to the manner in which that money is expended. That is, in fact, the 1796 scope of my noble Friend's Motion. It is founded, no doubt, on a general conviction on his part and on that of those who act with him in this matter, that this money is not expended in as efficient a manner as the country has a right to expect. Well, that is my opinion also. I have given considerable attention to this subject, and sometimes in a position more responsible than that which I now occupy. My belief is that the general management of these institutions is not satisfactory. But I cannot agree entirely, nor even in part, with some of the reasons assigned by my noble Friend for coming to that conclusion.
I shall very briefly touch upon the several divisions into which my noble Friend has separated this question, and I will begin with the least important of them—namely, that infant institution the National Portrait Gallery. I speak now not merely as a Member of this House, for I happen to be one of those Trustees who have been animadverted upon to-night. My noble Friend says of this institution, which has existed only five years or so, that he has himself visited it, that it was with difficulty he made an entry, that he found a number of pictures hanging in obscure and dingy apartments, and that he learnt that people had been admitted to inspect them only within the last year. That is all very true, but these are circumstances necessarily incident to the origin of any institution. No doubt the apartments in which the collection of historical portraits are placed are very inconvenient and perhaps sufficiently dingy, but they are temporary apartments, and not those which would have been selected by the Trustees of the Historical Portrait Gallery. We are perfectly prepared, if the country will provide us with a spacious Louvre, admirably adorned and richly gilt, to place our collections in such a building. But in the absence of such a gallery we must, I fear, be content to stow them in those rooms of an obscure house belonging to the Government, in one of the streets of London, which are allotted to us. But I must say I entertain a very different opinion of the value of that collection from that expressed by my noble Friend. He has, I think, fallen into a false estimate of its worth; and naturally so, because he seems to have been disgusted by the visit he made. He expected to see a magnificent saloon instead of dingy apart- 1797 merits, and it is not in a dingy apartment that a refined dilettante like my noble Friend can at once form an accurate estimate of pictures which were purchased after considerable inquiry and careful observation, conducted with the assistance of colleagues, among whom are men of the most accomplished minds. I therefore take a different view from that of my noble Friend of the worth of the National Portrait Gallery. On the contrary, I think it was a very judicious institution to establish. It was established in consequence of an Address to the Crown from the other House of Parliament, and this House proved its entire sympathy with the sentiments under which that Address was adopted by voting the sufficient though not very considerable annual sup plies requisite for carrying it into effect. But although I believe there is no doubt that the existing collection is worth ten times the amount of public money that has been spent in contributions for its purchase—which is, I think, a tolerably good test of its value—still I do not for a moment contest the position of my noble Friend that it would be extremely desirable that this institution, like ail kindred institutions, should be under the responsible superintendence of a Minister of the Crown. Therefore, as far as the general principle of my noble Friend's Resolution is concerned, even as regards the National Portrait Gallery—of which he spoke in such cheapening terms, but which I hold to be very valuable, and think will, if cherished, be much prized and appreciated by the people of this country—I do not dissent from his proposition.
I come to the next point—the National Gallery. I say nothing about the building of that institution, on which no one has touched at any length to-night, nor about the long-controverted question as to the manner in which the edifice in Trafalgar Square should be apportioned. On these questions I have before expressed an opinion. To that opinion I adhere, and think it would have been most advantageous that the whole of that building should have been given to the National Gallery. But with regard to the management of that gallery and the mode in which we have obtained this collection of pictures—not certainly very numerous compared with the galleries of other countries, yet most precious from their individual value, most interesting, and in a certain sense un- 1798 rivalled in their character—I must say I differ from the views expressed by some hon. Members, and particularly by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham). No one more perfectly recognises the right of that hon. Gentleman to speak upon these subjects than I do. I admit his real knowledge and acquirements with respect to them. But I think he takes a prejudiced view of the conduct and management of that gallery, as well as of the character of the individual connected with it. Sir, I defy any man to occupy that position which Sir Charles Eastlake has occupied in this country with regard to our collections and works of art, and not to encounter immense criticism and opposition. I look upon Sir Charles Eastlake as a man of accomplished mind, of very considerable knowledge upon some branches of art, and on the whole more qualified—certainly as fully qualified as any individual whom I could fix upon for the post he holds. But he holds a post which necessarily provokes endless criticism; and every man who has special knowledge on a particular branch of art may, perhaps even justly, challenge his opinions on that particular branch, though he may not for a moment be qualified to compete with him in respect to that general and aggregate acquaintance with matters of taste which justifies Sir Charles in occupying the position he fills. Now, if the hon. Member for Brighton, who has considerable knowledge of questions of taste, and with whose part in these discussions I am always satisfied—although if he would only confine himself to matters of taste I should be still more satisfied—if he occupied with all his knowledge the post which Sir Charles Eastlake occupies, does he think that his judgments would not be freely canvassed, or that the pictures which he recommended to be purchased for the country would not be impugned in point of beauty and authenticity of origin? Well, the conduct of Sir Charles Eastlake has, on the whole, been such as is entitled to the confidence of Parliament and the nation. More than that no man can look for in this country. We always have these strictures passed upon Sir Charles East-lake by some few hon. Gentlemen, because we have not those magnificent galleries, those treasures of art, or that feeling for art, which they think would be worthy of a nation occupying the position of England. But the truth is, it is not Sir Charles 1799 Eastlake who is deficient in this knowledge or this zeal for art; it is the people of this country, and it is in vain to conceal from ourselves that fact. The fine arts have never been appreciated and have never flourished except in small communities. We are much too busy, too engrossed with the great affairs of the world. We live in a country where the great men, as we were told last night, are the engineers; and that is the reason why we cannot concentrate our thought and feeling upon those beautiful works which have rendered Athens and Florence immortal, and which societies that only devote their passion and study to such subjects are qualified to produce. Sir, I despair of art ever attaining that position in this country which a few refined minds may recognise, but which the multifarious pursuits of our active and creative people—creative in other respects—will, I think, ever prevent it from achieving. Therefore I do not believe that, however we may change the mode by which our National Gallery may be governed, we shall produce, so far as art is concerned, more satisfactory results than we have accomplished. A rich people, we may apportion a part of our treasure to purchase, at convenient opportunities, beautiful productions of art. Beyond that I do not think we ever shall reach. But though these are my convictions, there is no reason why I should oppose the general principle enunciated in my noble Friend's Resolution. Whatever public money is to be expended, and whatever arrangements are made in consequence of that expenditure, ought, I think, to be placed under the direction of a responsible Minister of the Crown; and I have no doubt that, on the whole, that is a rule which will act beneficially for the purposes we have in view.
I come now to what is by far the most important part of this subject—I mean the management of the British Museum. My opinions on the management of that institution are not in accordance with those which my noble Friend and others have expressed. Nothing can be more anomalous than the constitution under which the British Museum is regulated; but in that circumstance alone I see no necessary objection to that constitution itself. Anomaly in the origin, or rather in the existence, of governing powers, is not the exception in England; it is the rule. Our governing powers are the creatures of accident, and have become hallowed by prescription. The same laws which have 1800 governed our great political arrangements have prevailed in the institution which contains our great public treasures. Accident, no doubt, produced originally the constitution of the British Museum; but as time has flown on, that constitution has become respected and respectable in the country. Sir, I cannot at all trace to the anomalous character of the constitution the highly unsatisfactory condition, as I admit it to be, of the British Museum. This unsatisfactory condition is to be accounted for by the origin of the national collection. Time has shown that a museum founded on the collection of a virtuoso, who aimed at having the most curious objects in every department, must be imperfect and unsatisfactory. Art, Science, Literature, and Nature are jealous mistresses, who refuse to live under the same roof; and when you attempt thus to place their various treasures and achievements, you are attempting to accomplish that which, admirable as your object may in some respects be, must in its results prove imperfect. Now we have heard from the Government to-night that they have, as I understand, adopted a principle for which I have always contended in this House, the division of those great departments. The very moment that you separate the departments of natural science from the collections of art and learning which now meet under the same roof, you will do justice to the increasing and irresistible demands of natural science, and at the same time you will enrich these collections of art and those great libraries which now you are almost prevented from enriching and enlarging. Then I say that the Government are upon the right path, and it is in the separation of our collections, not in the alteration of the governing body, that you may introduce those improvements which the country demands. When the country has really got its museums of nature separated from its vast libraries and galleries of art, and the whole properly arranged and disposed, the want which has been so long experienced will be satisfied. But while you do this, there is no reason why you should not also adopt the principle expressed in the Resolution. There is no reason why the control and the management of those collections should not be vested in one responsible adviser of the Crown; and his authority in this House and in the country would be perfectly compatible with the authority now exer- 1801 cised by those who, I think with judgment and with success, have hitherto managed the national collections. But, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of all Ministers, to whom is intrusted the management of the finances and the control of the national expenditure, by the amendment which he moved recognises so amply the justice of the principle expressed in the Resolution, and when he, at the same time, announces on the part of the Government that in their future arrangements they are prepared to adopt the only principle which can safely guide them to a satisfactory solution of the difficulties which have so long occupied our debates, I think it would be unwise, and, to a certain degree, arrogant, on the part of my noble Friend to ask the House to come to any absolute Resolution. I think that with the opportunity it has given my noble Friend of laying before the House a masterly statement, and with the satisfactory reply which it has elicited from the Government, he may rest content, and feel that this evening in the House of Commons has certainly not been wasted.
LORD HENRY LENNOX
in reply said, he wished to express his gratitude for the kind appreciation which had been shown of his motives in bringing the subject forward. He should of course accede to the request made to him not to divide the House, as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer opened up a vista of promise, and he should be content to leave the question there. There was, however, one misapprehension of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's, which he wished to correct. The right hon. Gentleman understood him to say that the Estimates for the British Museum had gone on increasing every year, and had thought that he referred to the last two years. He had not intended to say that during those years the Vote had increased, but he had desired to convey that the votes had gone on increasing for a long series of years until they had reached £90,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he had not made out any case of mismanagement. He had certainly refrained from wearying the House with details; but he had given the right hon. Gentleman the report of one Committee, the evidence of the servants of the Museum, and that of a distinguished French sculptor who had written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, twelve or fourteen months ago, a 1802 letter which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten. He denied that he had displayed any hostile feeling towards the Trustees of the Museum personally; and as to the perfection of the library, it assisted his argument, because the library had been collected under the eye of the only person who could be said to exercise almost a despotic power in the Museum. He wanted to know whether great proprietors like Lord Overstone and the Marquess of Westminster would consent to have their property administered by a cumbrous body of men who were irresponsible to them, and were not paid by them. If not, why should the art treasures of the nation be exposed to that risk? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, alluding to his hon. Friend who had seconded the Motion, said he seemed only a mutinous follower. But were there no mutinous followers elsewhere? He thought that there was upon the Treasury bench an hon. Gentleman who, if he had been allowed to open his mouth upon this question, and to have indulged in a "wild shriek of liberty," would have made a speech but little in unison with that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Previous Question and Motion, by leave, withdrawn,