HC Deb 28 February 1912 vol 34 cc1429-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £40, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1912, for the Salaries and Expenses of the National Portrait Gallery."


The whole of the charges for the National Portrait Gallery amount to £5,778, and £1,505 is in respect of the police. That is a very large proportion, and I think we ought to have some explanation as to why this increased sum is wanted. I have been wondering whether it has arisen because of the loss of a picture in Paris last autumn, and whether extra police have been put on in the London galleries in consequence of that loss. That is the only explanation I can think of myself.


It is due to two sums—£21, being the extra amount due to the increase in the wages of the police, and £17 due to extra work required of the police at the time of the Coronation.


That leaves £2 still unaccounted for. I really must say that for the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to-make £40 out of £21 and £17 is rather phenomenal, and I am afraid, when we come to the Vote for his salary, we shall have to say something on the point.


I have paid several visits to the National Portrait Gallery during the last few months, and I must confess I think the extra sum which is asked for is hardly sufficient to ensure that due care is taken of that Gallery. There are, of course, a certain number of policemen on duty, but I have personally found myself alone in many of the rooms, and if I had been anxious to purloin any of the pictures and cut them out of their frames I could easily have done so undetected. In the National Portrait Gallery we are not dealing with big pictures, but we have a great number of small pictures and miniatures which could be easily taken away. I want to put it to the hon. Gentleman whether he considers that sufficient provision is made to ensure that these treasures, so valuable in view of their historical associations, are-properly looked after.


A very interesting point has been raised by the hon. Member who has just spoken. As Members of the Committee are aware, on the preceding Vote we were asked to grant a large amount of money for the purchase of pictures, and, if we are going to spend that money, it is obviously our duty to see that sufficient cash is allocated for their proper protection. I can fully substantiate everything said by the last speaker with reference to the condition of affairs at the National Portrait Gallery. It is really very unsatisfactory. I had occasion to pay a visit to it recently, at, possibly, a time when the public do not attend in large numbers—at half-past one in the afternoon—and, so far as I could see, in some of the principal rooms in the Gallery there was no one protecting the pictures. I had hoped we should have some indication from the hon. Gentleman that there was an intention on the part of the Government to provide more adequate police protection for the Gallery than is provided at certain times, but, unfortunately, that does not appear to be the intention. This money is to be devoted to extra remuneration for men already employed in the building. Of course, we are all anxious that the police shall receive proper remuneration for their labours. We have this afternoon granted a large sum to the Dublin police on duty during a strike period. The men with whom we are now dealing, doing duty in the National Portrait Gallery, are also entitled to receive proper remuneration, as their services are equally useful, although perhaps rendered under less exciting conditions. I hope the hon. Gentleman will, at the end of this discussion, assure us that a further sum will, if necessary, be provided so that the National Portrait Gallery may be properly looked after. It is a great national institution, one in which we find recorded in painting the history of the great men of our country. It is absolutely essential, in my opinion, that a collection of that kind, especially in view of the notorious theft which took place in the Louvre, in Paris, and in view of the fact that these picture thefts have been so common during the last few years, that more adequate protection should be given to this Gallery.


Is the hon. Member in order in criticising the inadequacy of the police protection afforded to the Gallery?


I did not quite understand the hon. Member to take that line.


My point was to suggest that the £40 should be applied to the employment of additional police, and that, if that was not adequate for the purpose, the Grant should be increased so that additional protection might be provided. What I urged on the hon. Gentleman was that here we have a valuable national asset. It is a Gallery which is visited by large numbers of people, who there gather more about the history of their country probably than would be possible under any other conditions. It is situated in a centre of London, and in the evening is visited by large numbers of the working classes. I suggest that such a valuable possession as this is deserving of better care than, in my opinion, is afforded under existing conditions.

Question put, and agreed to.