HC Deb 23 February 1915 vol 70 cc229-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,600, 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, 1915, for salaries and expenses of the National Gallery and of the National Gallery of British Art, Millbank, including a Grant-in-Aid for the purchase of pictures."


I think the Committee ought to have some explanation why this Supplementary Estimate is asked for. Sir Henry Layard bequeathed a very valuable collection of pictures to the nation. He died in 1894, and the collection passed to the nation recently on the death of Lady Layard. The collection was made by him in Venice, where he lived, in the closing years of his most distinguished life, and there has been a long diplomatic correspondence as to securing that these pictures should be exported from Italy in order to adorn our National Gallery. That correspondence has at last reached a conclusion, and I have to say a word of appreciation of the courtesy of the Italian Government in allowing the pictures to be exported. We can hardly complain under these circumstances that we are asked to pay duty upon them, particularly as the duty is really assessed at a low rate compared with the total value of the pictures, which is very considerable. The collection is a most useful one. It was probably one of the most valuable private collections there were, and it is a great gain to the National Gallery to possess it, particularly as Sir Henry Layard knew the National Gallery very well. He was, I think, one of the trustees, and had every opportunity of studying the points in which the National Gallery was weak, which were particularly the points where he hoped it would be strengthened and enriched by his bequest. We have only just heard that the arrangement for the liberation of the pictures has been completed. We heard of it after the previous Supplementary Estimate for the Gallery which was brought before the House, and it is obviously an advantage to all parties that the matter should be concluded within the current financial year, and therefore I have to ask the House to approve of this Supplementary Estimate for the export duty on this valuable collection.


I think we ought to know the rate of duty. I quite appreciate, and I should like to express that we owe much gratitude to the Italian Government for allowing these pictures to leave the country at all, but I think we might have, at any rate, a statement as to whether this rate was the lowest which might be charged or some further particulars, and also when the pictures will arrive in this country.


As to the rate, I particularly did not say anything about it, because the amount to be paid is assessed in one lump sum. It is, on any computation of the value of the pictures that we have had, believed to be considerably below the rate of duty ordinarily chargeable. I think we owe our thanks to the Italian Government in that matter as well as in regard to the export of the pictures. In regard to the date at which they are to arrive here, I cannot give any definite information. Shipping is a matter of some difficulty nowadays. I am sure we shall be glad to get them to this country as soon as we can.

Question put, and agreed to.