HC Deb 16 July 1877 vol 235 cc1348-54

, who had a Motion on the Paper on going into Committee of Supply, on Civil Service Estimates, Class IV., to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the expenditure for the promotion of Science and Art should not be exclusively confined to institutions in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, said, that as by the Rules of the House he could not then move it, he should call the attention of the House to the subject. The Motion was almost similar in terms to one which had for some time been on the Paper of the House in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Isaac). He (Mr. Chamberlain) offered to second the Motion; but when the time arrived, the hon. Gentleman withdrew the Motion without communicating with him; but the matter was really of too much importance to be treated in this fast-and-loose manner. The constituency which he represented (Birmingham) was very much interested in this question, and many corporations were also interested; and he ventured, therefore, to think that he should be justified in stating their case, and asking for it the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. In the Civil Service Estimates for the present year there was proposed to be taken for institutions in the metropolis, including Museums and the Parks, a sum of nearly £400,000, and that was without taking into account the amount of the grant for South Kensington, which was expended in the country in furtherance of Schools of Science. There was a further sum of £50,000 taken for Edinburgh and Dublin. Towards those grants the inhabitants of Birmingham had to pay twice over. He had calculated that the town of Birmingham had to contribute nearly £4,000 towards them, and in addition to that they had to find a sum of nearly £8,000 per annum towards their own free libraries and local parks. He did not raise this question in any spirit of provincial jealously, for he was prepared to admit the exceptional position of the metropolis. It might be said with truth that a national collection should be placed in the metropolis at the expense of the nation; but that argument did not apply to the expenditure on the public parks, and still less to that which the Bethnal Green Museum involved. He did not complain of such expenditure. It produced most admirable results, adding as it did to the pleasure and happiness of great masses of the people, and tending to elevate and refine their minds. It was, too, in some sort, a commercial investment, as it was calculated to enable artizans the better to compete with those of other nations. His complaint was, that they did not carry this principle far enough, for these institutions were centres of instruction; and if they did good, it became important that they should be a little more liberal in cases where it could be fairly shown that greater good could be done for less money. If those institutions were brought home to the people there was hardly any limit to the extent to which they would be appreciated. He was very anxious to see established in our great centres of industry a Museum of Art and Manufacture appropriate to each district, and those would be seen by the people who would benefit by them. The way in which these institutions were appreciated in the Provinces was shown by the fact that the number of visitors annually to the Birmingham Museum was about 300,000; that, too, in a place of 370,000 inhabitants. That number of visitors was much greater proportionately than was to be found at any of the metropolitan institutions; and results equally extraordinary could be stated in connection with Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, and other provincial towns where such institutions existed. At the present time, the Government were doing either too much, or too little in this matter. Either the grants made to London should be confined to purely reference collections, or, what he would infinitely prefer, the Government should give a much larger sum, supplementing the grants to London by moderate grants to the Provinces. He did not suggest what would involve any very large demand on the Treasury, and he trusted the Government would give the subject due consideration. A comparatively small sum would be sufficient for the purpose, if, as he supposed would be the case, the Treasury were to make a rule that such contributions should be made only to centres of large districts and important industries, and in proportion to contributions from local sources. It was true that provincial communities were at present legally able to tax themselves to the extent of 1d. in the pound for the purpose of establishing museums and libraries; but in Birmingham all this money went to the Free Library, and they had therefore no means of establishing an industrial museum.


said, he felt great pleasure in supporting the suggestion of his hon. Friend. In Nottingham the people were making great efforts to improve themselves in objects of science and art; and he hoped the Government would respond in the right spirit to the proposal of the hon. Member for Birmingham. He entirely concurred in the suggestion that the grants should be made in proportion to local contributions, and considered that the acceptance of the proposal would be quite in accordance with the objects of the Education Department. The grants would be most properly made where there existed a disposition on the part of the people, in towns like Nottingham and Bristol, to take an interest in collections bearing upon the particular trades of the locality, and to study higher subjects than were ordinarily cultivated in provincial towns.


also supported the recommendations of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. Our public expenditure in aid of science and art was, to say the least, by no means excessive, and, although large sums were spent on museums in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, yet he thought it might with advantage be increased, especially in the way of grants to large centres of industry where such institutions had al- ready been established by local effort. We were in many respects far behind other nations in regard to the encouragement given to science and art, and it must be admitted that the attention we had been bestowing on technical education had not been bestowed a moment too soon, considering the competition of other countries which we had to sustain. The people of Leicester were, like his hon. Friend's (Mr Morley's) constituents, making great efforts to improve themselves in objects of science and art; and they felt that London, in justice to other large cities and towns in England, should not have the largest amount of money voted to it in aid of those objects. He therefore trusted the Government would see their way to giving the question their favourable consideration.


said, that, on behalf of the large city he represented, he also desired to support the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). He believed that without any expenditure of actual money a great deal more might be done for the Provinces than was now done. As an instance of that they were told the other day by the Government that a valuable picture by David Roberts had been refused by the Commissioners of the National Gallery, because they already had pictures by Roberts in that Gallery. But why should the picture have been refused on that account? Surely it might have been taken, and sent to some provincial town. He recommended that when the Commissioners of the National Gallery had various pictures by the same artist, they should send some of them down, if not permanently, at all events temporarily, to towns in the country, where at least they would be very much appreciated.


said that, while in common with everyone else, he should be glad to see the establishment of museums and galleries in the great centres of population and industry, yet the House must feel that the question raised was a very large one. As a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Isaac) withdrew his Motion on the subject, because he thought that, from its importance, it could not be properly considered at this period of the Session, and he expressed his intention of bringing it forward on the most convenient occasion next Ses- sion. He could assure the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chamberlain) that the Government did not undervalue the subject at all; but the House must see that it was not one which could be conveniently pressed on the Government at the present time. He must beg, therefore, that it would not be so pressed, especially as it involved a very great financial question. The hon. Member for Birmingham had expressed his regret that some of the admirable works at the British Museum were not able to be circulated. This reminded him of the great advantage which the country derived from the South Kensington Museum, which was now, in fact, a gigantic circulating museum. Some 18 years ago a series of specimens only were sent out; but since then almost all the principal objects in the Museum, except those of great rarity or delicacy, were sent on their travels at different times through the Provinces. It was said that much was not done for the Provinces; but the fact was, that out of the whole amount of £130,000 spent yearly for Science and Art schools only about £10,000 was spent really on London objects—that was to say, about £120,000 was really spent on provincial objects.


said, he excluded that from any calculation. There still remained about £400,000 a-year which was spent on the London institutions.


pointed out that it was rather difficult when different Votes were put together by the hon. Member—some coming within his own province and others being under the control of the Treasury only, and in no way under the Privy Council Office—to say exactly what proportion of these votes were made for London only, and how far the Provinces shared in them. Still, the fact remained that a large proportion of the money was spent on provincial objects. Hon. Members were apt to forget what an immense benefit the Provinces derived from the Science and Art Vote in the way of aid to Science schools, of which there were 1,100 throughout the country; Art-training schools with their 17,000 students, public elementary schools, and for scholarships and other objects. The grants for the Museum at South Kensington included various items which were for local museums, and the loans to these museums and exhibitions were very large, there having been some 3,000 loans of objects and 5,200 paintings and drawings during last year to museums and exhibitions in the country. A great deal, therefore, was already done in the direction indicated by the hon. Member for Birmingham, it being very much the same line as the authorities of South Kensington Museum, acting under the Privy Council, were anxious to follow. "Whether it would be possible to go further in another year he (Viscount Sandon) was not in a position to say at that moment. The present was a time when the resources of the country were rather straitened, and a strict economy was therefore very properly exercised by those who controlled the public expenses, so that the hands of Ministers in charge of the various Departments were much tied as to incurring fresh expenses. The Government, however, would not overlook the question. It would receive careful consideration, and when it came on for discussion next year, as proposed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, he hoped that the Government would be able to give an opinion one way or another.


said, that the noble Lord was quite justified in adopting that line of argument with regard to the South Kensington authorities; but he wished to point out that what the hon. Member for Birmingham wished to argue was that there were large museums and collections in London which, while they were there, were of little use to the Provinces. The British Museum, for instance, and the National Gallery, were practically of no use except to London, yet every one knew that they contained many duplicates which would be most valuable to the Provinces, and the offer of some important pictures was sometimes declined on behalf of the National Gallery. He attributed the great advantages of the South Kensington Museum to the fact of its being under the management of the Minister for Education, and advocated the placing of the British Museum and the National Gallery under the same authority. In France the Minister of Education was responsible for all the museums, and constantly sent collections into the Provinces; but in England, the management of the Galleries was, so to say, dislocated, and not under one authority or one Minister; and such a person might, without any additional expenditure, be able to do a great deal for the cause of artistic education.