§ 60. Sir J. BUTCHER
asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that, by the Statute of 1753, under which the British Museum was established and constituted, it was provided 2344 that the museum and the collections therein contained should remain and be preserved for public use to all posterity, and should be vested in trustees upon this trust and confidence that a free access to the museum and the collections therein contained should be given to all studious and curious persons under such regulations for inspecting and consulting these collections as the trustees or a majority of them should determine; whether there is any precedent for overriding a trust of this character, created for the benefit of the public, and for depriving the public of their statutory right to free access to the museum in order to obtain a small pecuniary gain for the Treasury; and whether the trustees of the British Museum have expressed any desire to be permitted to violate their trust?
§ Major BOYD - CARPENTER
The general purport of the Act of 1753 is as stated. There can be no question that Parliament has full power to amend by Statute, if it thinks fit, the provisions of any existing Statute and the conditions of public trusts. As regards the last part of the question, the trustees, having protested against the imposition of fees in April, 1922, and again in February, 1923, finally gave the Treasury an undertaking that they "agreed … to impose admission fees if legislation is passed for the purpose, and they are asked by the Treasury to do so," and in return for this assurance the Treasury abated by £5,000 their demand for economies in 1923–24. If the anticipated receipts are not secured, it is possible that the question of expenditure may have to be reconsidered, the net total of the British Museum Vote having risen from £202,508 in 1913–14 to £350,055 in 1921–22, and standing in the Estimates for 1923–24 at £291,816 (excluding the fees now in question).
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman answer the second part of the question as to whether there is any precedent for overriding a trust of this kind created for the benefit of the public, and depriving the public of their statutory rights of free access to museums in order to gain a small pecuniary benefit?
§ Major BOYD-CARPENTER
That is a rather argumentative question, but my answer is contained in my reply that Parliament has full power to amend the provisions of any existing Statute and the conditions of public trusts.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Does the hon. Gentle-maw think it an answer to the question whether there is any precedent to say that it is open to Parliament to do it?
§ Sir H. BRITTAIN
In any case, is not the amount received from fees miserably small? What is the amount?