HC Deb 16 December 1908 vol 198 cc1836-7
LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)

To ask the President of the Board of Education if, prior to the adoption of the scheme to reorganise the Victoria and Albert Museum as outlined by the Departmental Committee, the House of Commons can be given an opportunity of discussing the matter, in view of the proposal to revise the museum policy consistently followed for nearly fifty years.

(Answered by Mr. Runciman.) I cannot undertake before the end of the present session to prophesy what will be the subject of debate in the earlier portions of next session; and it would, I think, be in the highest degree inexpedient to delay, for an indefinite period, as the hon. Member's Question would suggest, the transference of the magnificent collections at South Kensington to the new premises that have long been needed, and have at last been completed for them at great cost I must emphatically demur to the view expressed and implied in the concluding phrase in the Question. The purpose stated by the Department "nearly fifty years ago" to have been in view in the then rearrangement of the collections followed precisely the same lines as those set before the recent Committee by the Board of Education last February. The practical steps needed for securing a more complete fulfilment of those purposes have been carefully worked out by that Committee in the Report and Recommendations, the main lines of which have since been adopted by the Board, and will be carried out in the approaching rearrangement of the collections, with such minor modifications as may prove desirable on closer investigation. Unfortunately, as was pointed out by the 1897 Departmental Committee, of which the hon. Member was a member (see p. xxxv. of their Report), the Art Museum in subsequent years did not continue to develop under "the guidance of a consistent policy determined beforehand." I must, therefore, contest the accuracy of the view now expressed by the hon. Member in his Question, when he speaks of a policy having been "consistently followed for nearly fifty years"; this is in direct conflict with the Departmental Committee's statement on this point, and cannot accurately be said of the Art Museum. On the other hand, I may point out that the policy now being carried out by the Board is a consistent development both of the original museum policy and also of that laid down by the Department's Minute, dated 20th July, 1897, passed while the 1897 Departmental Committee, of which the hon. Member was a member, were sitting, and approved by that Committee. By that Minute the Art Museum was organised on a basis of sections classified according to material. It is true that the Departmental Committee (in their Report signed by the hon. Member in 1898) made no clear declaration of preference for this basis; but the reasons which they named for approving the particular organisation of the museum staff adopted by the Department in 1897 can only be read as strong arguments in favour of that basis of classification.