HC Deb 23 February 1926 vol 192 cc311-9

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the export from the United Kingdom of certain works of art and ancient or historic buildings and monuments. The need for a Bill such as this has increased very much of recent times. It has always been deplorable, in my submission, that national treasures of art or literature and buildings should be liable to be taken out of this country when one realises how irreplaceable are these works. But of recent years the tendency to buy these works of art and buildings has been accentuated. There is, particularly, one nation containing persons of great wealth who have paid this compliment to England and Scotland that they have been prepared, and are prepared, to pay great prices for our national possessions. If I may just instance one or two examples of each type of national treasure which has been recently removed from this country, I think I shall make out a case at any rate for a very serious consideration by this House of this question. First of all, if we take the case of the removal of a whole house, we have had recently the case of the Priory House at Warwick, a beautiful old building which has been totally removed, and I believe is to be erected, or actually has been re-erected, in the United States of America, though whether it has been erected with improvements or alterations I do not know.

Then there is the case of Agecroft Hall, Salford, which I believe has not actually departed this realm, but is about to go: we find exactly the same thing happening—and perhaps this is equally serious a destruction—to parts of ancient buildings, such as ceilings, panellings, and other irreplaceable old fixtures and structures connected with buildings. There is the famous case of Tattershall Castle, where, I understand, the mantelpieces, which were absolutely priceless and invaluable, were removed, and were actually on board ship to go to this favoured nation, when, through the munificence of the late Lord Curzon, they were re-purchased and brought back and placed again in their original position. There is another case, that of Highlow House, in Suffolk, a beautiful old 15th century building, which was completely taken down and transhipped to America, except the bare shell.

When we pass from actual buildings and fixtures of those buildings to pictures and things of that kind, there, again, there is a constant flow of some of the most beautiful English works of art to America, most of which will certainly never come back again. This is particularly true of Gainsboroughs and Reynolds. The same is true of historic documents, ancient records, and ancient books, absolutely invaluable heritages for the understanding of the history of this country—and every patriot should have the greatest pride in their conservation—which are becoming the subject of traffic by art dealers and are being sold to the highest bidder.

There is already a precedent for dealing with this matter in the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913. Under that Act, there is power already given to the Commissioners of Works to schedule ancient monuments on the complaint or suggestion of certain bodies concerned in matters of art and the preservation of objects of antiquarian interest. There is power to schedule those monuments and to prevent them being moved from where they are. But one defect in that legislation is that it is expressly stated that it shall not apply to any structure which is capable of being used as a dwelling-house. There are other matters to be considered apart altogether from dwelling-houses, and what I wish to suggest to the House and to the Government is this. I quite agree that this is a matter of very great difficulty and requires very great consideration and the best possible advice from all interested persons, and I would like to suggest, if the House be good enough to allow me to present the Bill and be even more kind to allow me to have a Second Reading, that the Bill should then be referred to a Select Committee of expert persons who have studied this question in its entirety, and that they should recommend to this House exactly what form the Measure should finally take. I do not in the least wish to shut my eyes to the difficulties of practical administration of such a Measure, though I would point out that in Italy they have a very stringent law in force at the present time to prevent the exportation of works of art, so that the thing is quite practicable and feasible. Although, generally speaking, it is not perhaps always appropriate to use this method for the presentation of a Bill, the mischief seems to be so great and the body of agreement so general that something ought to be done to prevent the destruction of these priceless old documents, buildings, and works of art, that I have ventured to ask leave to introduce a Bill for this purpose.




Does the hon. Member rise to oppose the Bill?


Yes. Although I recognise the loss to this country of any works of art, whether in the nature of pictures, furniture, or old buildings which are removed and sent abroad, I venture to suggest that the House should hesitate before taking a step which will interfere with the liberty of the subject and the privileges which we to-day possess. After all, we are supposed to live in a free country, and it seems to me that we shall be going rather far if we pass a Measure which will prevent anyone from dealing in any way which he or she may think fit with his or her own possessions. The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved this Bill emphasised certain facts in connection with Warwick Priory, and the House was led to believe, or at all events I should have been led to believe had I not known, the facts, that here was the wanton destruction and the wanton pulling down of an old historic building for the express purpose of taking the materials of such building and re-erecting those materials in America.

The real facts in regard to Warwick Priory are that that house was offered on at least two occasions to the Corporation of Warwick on what, I believe, to be reasonable terms to be used by the corporation for the benefit of the people of Warwick, and the corporation declined on each accosion to buy that old and historic house. Then in July last year the owner, not being able to dispose of his residence, not being able to find a purchaser, and not finding it convenient to live in a large house, so I am informed, put up the materials, or rather the panellings and the decorations, by public auction. At that auction the internal materials, such as the panellings and ceilings, were sold, and the house was to all intents and purposes dismantled. In October of last year there was a second sale at which the remaining materials, such as the outer walls, the windows and the lead on the roof, were offered, and it was following that sale that an American gentleman came forward and bought what in effect were the débris of Warwick Priory, and then decided to take the materials over to America. If that had not transpired, we should have seen Warwick Priory in a dismantiled condition falling to ruin and decay, we should have seen those materials taken away from time to time and probably used in the construction of modern residences in England. Part of the materials might have been used for the foundations of houses or the foundations of roads. I venture to suggest to the House that, in those circumstances, it was better that those old materials should have been taken away piecemeal, carefully packed and numbered, and should have been erected in a foreign land, so that someone should have seen it in its old form with all its old charm rather than that the materials should have been scattered over the face of the land.

I have had experience of another house in the country. I remember a very fine Elizabethan house which had become unsuitable for residence by virtue of its situation in front of a cattle market and by virtue of its size. That house was open to purchase by the local authority and they were not prepared to buy. It was afterwards offered, minus the panellings in three rooms which were to be

taken out, at a nominal sum of £60 a year to the local council for the purpose of being used as offices, or a public library, or a picture gallery, or for showing works of art, and the local council declined to take it even at that nominal rent. The result was that that house was pulled down and now no longer exists.

I venture to say that it is not reasonable to draw attention to a particular instance such as that of Warwick Priory and to suggest that anyone who possibly has the encumbrance of an old and out-of-date residence, however fine, shall not be entitled to exercise his ordinary rights in dealing with his property as he thinks fit. With regard to works of art, such as pictures, I wonder whether the Mover realises that many landowners in this country have the greatest possible difficulty owing to taxation in keeping up their fine houses which are open to the public. I think it is very possible that in a number of cases those houses are only kept going for the purpose, as it were, of public user by way of inspection by the owners being able to sell their works of art at great prices. If once we prohibit the sale of pictures and works of art, it may possibly be that a number of landowners in this country will find themselves unable to keep up those houses and they will fall into ruin and disrepair. For those reasons, I oppose this Bill.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the export from the United Kingdom of certain works of art and ancient or historic buildings and monuments.

The House divided: Ayes, 195: Noes, 144.

Division No. 42.] AYES. [4.14 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Briant, Frank Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)
Albery, Irving James Broad, F. A. Crawfurd, H. E.
Ammon, Charles George Bromfield, William Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Cunliffe, Sir Herbert
Attlee, Clement Richard Buchanan, G. Dalton, Hugh
Baker, Walter Caine, Gordon Hall Davies, Dr. Vernon
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Campbell, E. T. Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)
Barnes, A. Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)
Barr, J. Charleton, H. C. Day, Colonel Harry
Batey, Joseph Clowes, S. Dunnico, H.
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Cluse, W. S. Eden, Captain Anthony
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)
Betterton, Henry B. Compton, Joseph Edwards, John H. (Accrington)
Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton) Connolly, M. Fairfax, Captain J. G.
Boothby, R. J. G. Cove, W. G. Fenby, T. D.
Gates, Percy Loder, J. de V. Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)
George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd Lowth, T. Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Gillett, George M. Lucas-Tooth. Sir Hugh Vere Snell. Harry
Glyn, Major R. G. C. Lunn, William Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Gosling, Harry MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Grace, John Mackinder, W. Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) MacLaren, Andrew Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles
Greenall, T. McLean, Major A. Sprot, Sir Alexander
Greene, W. P. Crawford Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Stamford, T. W.
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Coine) MacNeill-Weir, L. Stephen, Campbell
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Malone, Major P. B. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) March, S. Sutton, J. E.
Groves, T. Maxton, James Taylor, R. A.
Grundy, T. W. Meyer, Sir Frank Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Guest, J. (York, W.R., Hemsworth) Montague, Frederick Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Gunston, Captain D. W. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W)
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Tinker, John Joseph
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Naylor, T. E. Townend, A. E.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Hardie, George D. Nuttall, Ellis Varley, Frank B.
Harrison, G. J. C. O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh Viant, S. P.
Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Oliver, George Harold Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Owen, Major G. Warne, G. H.
Haslam, Henry C. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Hayes, John Henry Penny, Frederick George Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Philipson, Mabel Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Pilcher, G. Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P. Ponsonby, Arthur Wells, S. R.
Hilton, Cecil Potts, John S. Welsh, J. C.
Hirst, G. H. Preston, William Westwood, J.
Hirst W. (Bradford, South) Rawson, Sir Alfred Cooper Whiteley, W.
Holt, Captain H. P. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Howard, Captain Hon. Donald Riley, Ben Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint) Williams, David (Swansea, E.)
Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Ropner, Major L. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Jacob, A. E. Rose, Frank H. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan Neath) Salter, Dr. Alfred Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Jephcott, A. R. Sandon, Lord Windsor, Walter
John, William (Rhondda, West) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Scrymgeour, E. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sexton, James Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).
Kelly, W. T. Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby) Wright, W.
Kennedy, T. Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y) Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Kirkwood, D. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Knox, Sir Alfred Shepperson, E. W.
Lamb, J. Q. Shiels, Dr. Drummond TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Lawson, John James Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Sir Henry Slesser and Sir Gerald Hohler.
Lee, F. Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Livingstone, A. M. Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Curzon, Captain Viscount Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Dalziel, Sir Davison Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Herbert, S. (York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by)
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hills, Major John Waller
Blades, Sir George Rowland Dawson, Sir Philip Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Dean, Arthur Wellesley Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Dennison, R. Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)
Boyd-Carpenter, Major A Elveden, Viscount Hopkins, J. W. W.
Brass, Captain W. Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)
Briggs, J. Harold Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith Huntingfield, Lord
Briscoe, Richard George Everard, W. Lindsay Hurst, Gerald B.
Brittain, Sir Harry Falle, Sir Bertram G. Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Fanshawe, Commander G. D. Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. E. I. Fermoy, Lord. Kenyon, Barnet
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Fielden, E. B. Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Kindersley, Major G. M.
Buckingham, Sir H. Forrest, W. Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)
Bullock, Captain M. Ganzoni, Sir John Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)
Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan Goff, Sir Park Looker, Herbert William
Cautley, Sir Henry S. Gower, Sir Robert Lougher, L.
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Grant, J. A. Lumley, L. R.
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. MacAndrew, Charles Glen
Christie, J. A. Gretton, Colonel John Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Grotrian, H. Brent MacRobert, Alexander M.
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.) Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips Hanbury, C. Margesson, Captain D.
Cooper, A. Duff Harland, A. Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Cope, Major William Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent) Merriman, F. B.
Couper, J. B. Hartington, Marquess of Milne, J. S. Wardlaw
Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim) Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Hawke, John Anthony Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Rentoul, G. S. Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Moore, Sir Newton J. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Thurtle, E.
Morrison. H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford) Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Murchison, C. K. Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Neville, R. J. Saklatvala, Shapurji Warrender, Sir Victor
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Salmon, Major I. Watts, Dr. T.
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.) Sandeman, A. Stewart Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.
Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Savery, S. S. Wilson, Sir Charles H. (Leeds, Central)
Oakley, T. Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. McI. (Renfrew, W.) Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)
Perkins, Colonel E. K. Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down) Wise, Sir Fredric
Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Smith-Carington, Neville W. Womersley, W. J.
Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Smithers, Waldron Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Spender-Clay, Colonel H. Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)
Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Raine, W. Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Ramsden, E. Tasker Major R. Inigo Mr. Herbert Williams and Lieut.-Colonel Gadie.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Henry Slesser, Sir John Simon, Mr. Noel Buxton, Sir Martin Conway, Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, Sir Evelyn Cecil, Dr. Drummond Shiels, Sir Gerald Hohler, and Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy.