Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £106,000, 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, 1930, for the 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.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)
The Vote for which I am now asking is for two pictures—the first, what is called the Wilton Diptych, and the second, the Cornaro Family—the purchase of which has been negotiated by the Trustees of the National Gallery. The sum asked for is half the purchase price, the remainder being partly subscribed by private donors, and partly from funds available for this purpose. I should, perhaps, explain to the Committee that it has been for some time past the policy of successive Governments, with agreement in all sections of the House, to contribute in certain circumstances and under certain conditions to the purchase for the public of the works of great masters. I do not know whether there will be any attempt to call this in question this afternoon, but I may, perhaps, point out to the Committee that it is of great importance that works which are recognised as masterpieces should not be allowed to leave this country, but should remain the heritage of the people of these islands; and, further than that, that they should not be locked away in some private collection, where they will only be viewed by a few selected people, but that they should be in a public place where people of all positions in life, if they choose to take the trouble, can avail themselves of the opportunity of seeing them. That, as I have said, has 1348 been the policy pursued by successive Governments. It has never been called in question, and the negotiated purchase which has been effected in this case has been carried out under the arrangements which are included in that general declared policy. With regard to the particular exercise of that function in the present instance, I may, perhaps, be permitted to say a few words—and I imagine that only a very few words will be necessary—in dealing with the two particular specimens which are the subject of this Vote.
The Wilton Diptych is a two-panelled altar-piece. It is one of the most famous historical monuments in painting in this country, and it appears to be unexampled for its quality and date in any other country. There cannot be the slightest doubt that it is a picture which should be retained in some public picture gallery or museum in this country. With regard to the Cornaro Family, it is recognised that this work of Titian is a masterpiece which is one of the finest works of Titian in the world, and there is no other example of Titian's work in this country, or, indeed, possibly, in any country, which can be put in comparison with it at all. In these circumstances, I think it is perfectly clear that these two pictures are very fir, and proper subjects for the Vote in question.
With regard to the price, as to which, possibly some Members of the Committee like to be reassured, the position is this: The price was named originally, I think, in the year 1922, but prices for outstanding works of art have very much increased since that date, and it should be a matter of satisfaction to this Committee that, in spite of the very general increase in prices, it is the case that, owing to the generosity of private donors, the amount which is actually being asked for in this Vote is very little in excess of the sum which was originally fixed as far back as the year 1922. I think that that is really all that I need say at this stage. If there are any questions, I will endeavour to answer them to the best of my ability, or, if there should be any criticism of this Vote, I will do my best to explain more in detail the grounds on which I think this Committee ought, without any question, to meet the demand. Perhaps, in conclusion, I may just say this that this transaction was, in 1349 effect, agreed to by the late Government, and that to go back upon it now would present a very serious difficulty and would be regarded by many people as something in the nature of a breach of faith. I hope, therefore that the Committee, after such discussion as they think fit, will grant us this Vote.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
As I am, I think, the only Member of this House other than the present Prime Minister who was a Trustee of the National Gallery at the time when these two purchases were negotiated, I think it my duty to say a few words in regard to the circumstances in which these two pictures have been acquired for the nation. As the Financial Secretary has indicated, when, immediately after the War, the question was specially examined as to what steps should be taken to prevent the drain out of this country of important works of art which had been collected here, it was decided by the then Government, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister, that the important thing was to secure certain definite known masterpieces. The list was short, and necessarily secret, because, if it were a known fact that the nation desired to purchase these pictures—there is no harm in my saying that the total number was 12—immediately their value would be enhanced, and moreover it would be difficult absolutely to enforce, without special legislation, that they should come to the nation. Therefore, the arrangement was that, rather than the Treasury should be asked to increase the annual grant to the National Gallery for the purchase of pictures, if and when any of these selected exceptional masterpieces came into the open market for free sale, the Government of the day would come to the assistance of the Trustees of the National Gallery, who, in turn, would be expected to do what they could to raise funds from friends of the Gallery and from their own private resources, as well as relying upon Government help. That is the broad outline of the arrangement.
The first two of the special list of selected historic masterpieces which have come up for sale since the War are these two particular pictures, and, therefore, the late Government, and finally the present Government, arranged with the 1350 Trustees of the National Gallery that the Trustees and their friends should raise half the purchase price, and that the Government, in accordance with the pledge which had been often given, would on this occasion come to the assistance of the Gallery to make up the other half.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
The price is necessarily determined by the other offers made for these pictures when they came into the market. I cannot say definitely what other offers there have been, though I understood that there were more than one, and, as regards one of the pictures, namely the Titian, we, had reason to believe that undoubtedly it would have been sold in the open market, since great pressure has been put upon the owner in recent years to sell it so that it might go across the Atlantic, in the first place, probably, to a private collector, and, ultimately, to one of the great public collections in the United States; and undoubtedly, had it not been for the willingness of the owner to enter into direct negotiations with the Trustees of the National Gallery, he would in the open market have obtained a very much better price.
One word about these two pictures, as questions may be raised in the House, and they have been raised outside. The authorship of the Wilton Diptych is, and probably will for all time remain, unknown and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is quite unique. It is quite clearly a contemporary picture of King Richard II, the son of the Black Prince, painted by an artist who was primarily a miniaturist but undoubtedly had very exceptional powers compared with many other contemporary mediaeval craftsmen. He was either probably a Burgundian or from the North of France, or he may have been an Englishman. It has been suggested in the papers that it belongs to the Norwich school and bears some relation to the famous retable in Norwich cathedral. I do not think there is the slightest association between those two works, or that the Wilton Diptych has anything whatever in common with the author of the Norwich retable, and this fact makes the Wilton Diptych all the more unique. It is undoubtedly the one outstanding work in England of late fourteenth century art of its quality and 1351 character. Very likely, it is not English at all. In those days it must be remembered that England was in possession of Calais, in the middle of the Hundred Years War, and was in very close association with France. If English at all, it is much more likely to have been the work of some Monastic artist, possibly associated with the Abbey of Westminster or one of the greater abbeys in the southern part of the Kingdom.
About the other pictures, the Cornaro Titian, so called, is not a portrait group of the Cornaro family but of the Vandramin family. It is recorded in the Vandramin collection in 1567. It passed by purchase to Van Dyck. Van Dyck went to Italy in 1621 and he went to Venice in 1622. It is doubtful whether he actually purchased the picture in that year, though it is clear from the whole change that came over Van Dyck's art in Italy after his first period in Antwerp that he was profoundly influenced by Titian above all other artists, and this was the leading Titian in the collection of pictures which Van Dyck formed when he was in Italy and which he brought to England.
On the death of Van Dyck in England, his executors sold his pictures and the picture was bought by Algernon Percy, the tenth Earl of Northumberland, and it has remained and passed through that family ever since it belonged to Van Dyck. The point has been raised in the Press that during its possession by the Northumberland family it has in some way or other been either over-cleaned, and even in one case, it is said, repainted. Going carefully-over the surface of the picture, there is absolutely no sign whatever of any repainting. Varnish may have been removed in the eighteenth century but there is no sign of repainting, and all experts, foreign as well as our own, are agreed that the picture is in absolutely first-class condition. It is a particularly important picture. Titian, of course, is the painters' painter par excellence. Of all the great Venetians Titian in his long career as a painter perhaps learnt more of the secrets of handling oil paint and the secrets of colour than any other of the great painters of the Renaissance, and in this picture you have very exceptional evidence 1352 of his outstanding skill. It is not merely the general design and the treatment of the group of figures, which is quite unique in the realm of his own art or in the history of Italian portraiture of the sixteenth century, but it is an example of self-expression when Titian was at his maturist powers, getting an old man but still possessed of the most astonishing skill with the brush, but it is in the whole series of details, which have profoundly influenced later art in successive ages, the treatment of the sky, the treatment of the contrasting colours, the black, the white and the scarlet in one of the group of boys, on the right. There is a boy on the left, one of the nine figures, which led quite directly to the work of Velasquez. Velasquez only reached Italy a few months after Van Dyck left Genoa. It may have been that the memory and the knowledge of this great portrait group reached Velasquez and influenced his art too. But there is no painter who, studying this picture, cannot derive the most tremendous impression of mastery, and it is interesting to note that the National Gallery authorities have had a special photograph taken of the painting of the hand of the central figure. The central figure of a Venetian Senator rising on the steps is brought out of the picture and the painting of the hand is almost the most skilful bit of Italian painting that probably ever was done. It is above all, therefore, a picture of immense importance in the history of art and of immense importance to students and artists of all time. It is now and will henceforward be one of the very proudest possessions of the National Gallery. The National Gallery has, of course, two magnificent early Titians and it has more recently acquired a replica of the Gloria in Prado. It belongs to the most triumphant period of one of the greatest artists that Italy produced. I think all other nations are congratulating the National Gallery and this country on acquiring for public possession an exceptional masterpiece of this kind.
I think the policy of this and previous Governments in regard to purchases or this kind has been perfectly right. Whereas in the main the National Gallery relies upon benefactions of private persons and upon the interest of its invested 1353 funds, which have largely come from legacies, to buy things from time to time to fill up gaps in the collection, its main policy, rich as the Gallery is, should now be to prevent these very exceptional masterpieces being lost to the country by crossing the Atlantic at a time when both public and private collectors in America are bidding enormous sums to acquire these pictures which for centuries have been in England. One cannot blame America for desiring to build up a great collection such as was built up in this country in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and one cannot expect that we should keep them all. There must necessarily be a flow from this old country to the new centre of culture. But it is important that this country, for artistic reasons, should retain these exceptional works. After all the National Gallery is used by artists and students and also appeals to a far wider circle, and there is an enormous number of people to whom really great works of art are a source of spiritual enjoyment which cannot be assessed in pounds, shillings and pence. So long as we are a great and wealthy nation it ought to be our duty to provide the public and visitors to the country with the finest works of art for their spiritual refreshment, education and enjoyment, and I am sure the Government and the Trustees are fortunate in having acquired this year two of those outstanding works of art which will henceforward be amongst the richest treasures of our already great collection.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I do not rise for the purpose of criticising in any way the expenditure of this money in the purchase of these two important pictures. They are, by common consent, supreme examples of the painter's art, and I congratulate the Trustees of the National Gallery on acquiring these two great pictures. The Wilton Diptych in particular is, of course, of great interest to us in England, being bound up with our history in the past, and it is a picture which none of us would be willing to see go across the seas. I rise rather to suggest the hope that this list of pictures which are to be bought is kept a very dark secret indeed, because the danger of putting up the price of pictures increases from year to year. We are hearing continually of the phenomenal wealth of America, and there seems no limit to 1354 the prices that Americans are willing to pay for great examples of European art. It ought to be remembered, too, that these pictures were not painted in England, and that the Americans have perhaps quite as much claim to have them as we have if they can buy them. But I want to urge the danger of our entering into competition over these highly-priced pictures. There is no doubt, I am afraid, that there is a large number of people who make a great income by buying the pictures of great artists, and the works of lesser artists is brought into notice and their qualities carefully examined by dealers and artists and the price goes up, and it has little or no relation to their artistic merit as works of art.
We had a supreme example of that in the courts a few years ago. Many who are listening to me will remember the case of a supposed Romney which was sold to a gentleman from the United States by a dealer, I think in London, for £20,000. It was suspected afterwards that the picture was not a Romney at all and the purchaser brought an action against the man from whom he had brought it for the recovery of the £20,000. I think that counsel in the case hunted down the history of the picture until it was found out that it was not by Romney but by Ozias Humphrey. The thing that is staggering and which should make one careful in regard to these matters is that a picture, when it was before the artistic world and before people who loved pictures, was worth £20,000 because it was thought to be a Romney, and worth only £700 when it was found out that it was by Ozias Humphrey. These great prices are really not paid for the value of works of art at all. They are paid because of scarcity or because a desire has been created among collectors to possess them. This illustrates the difficulty and danger with which the Trustees of the National Gallery and others who have to do with the purchasing of pictures have to contend in these days. I think it is worth while to give this warning, but at the same time I congratulate the nation on having secured these pictures and the Government in bringing forward the necessary Motion to secure the money.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I do not know ever having intervened in a discussion of this kind when I have felt more strongly 1355 than I do to-day. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), and I found that some parts of it were very interesting. I am not in any way trying to fence with him. Of late years, I have noticed that politicians are becoming art critics, and God preserve me from politicians when they begin to be art critics. Usually the last thing that a politician can do is to talk about art.
What is behind that which we are discussing to-day? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon) in 1922 was anxious that the State should do something to preserve real works of art for the State. He raised the matter in this House and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) used these words:If we are to value art treasures at all, we must take every means in our power to preserve them. I have had the great privilege of an interview with Sir Charles Holmes (who was chief curator at the National Gallery) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hythe, and I think it will be possible to take measures to preserve such masterpieces for the nation at a cost which certainly would not be extravagant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1922; cols. 1860–61, Vol. 157.]He goes on in a later passage, to emphasise that the nation might intervene under certain circumstances if the prices were not extravagant. Now as to the real subject of this discussion: Why do we look at pictures? Surely we look at a work of art or a picture to try and get some æsthetic enjoyment. Is it not true to say that many of the canvases owned by local authorities and by our national institutions in London give no one any feeling but a feeling of disgust? These pictures have cost great sums. Who can look at Sir John Millais to-day without a tear, yet many of the contemporary paintings of his time ought to be keeping out the draughts from a broken pane of glass. The fashions come and go. The characteristic of a work of art is, that it lives, and continues down the ages. The great artist is the man who clutches at something and gives it the rush of life. He crystallises an instant in his experience. The great artist is a man with a power of selection, and the measure of the aesthetic value of a picture is recorded in the aesthetic enjoyment 1356 which the beholder receives. I hope the Committee will excuse me for intervening in this way but I think that it is necessary in view of this grant that something should be said on the subject of what it is that gives great art its force and meaning.
I have seen these two pictures. First of all, I saw the small Wilton Diptych. It has simplicity, it has evidence of having been done by an artist not merely for payment but for the honour and glory of God. Only by such an impulse can any great work of art be produced. I went round and saw the other picture of the Cornaro Family by Titian, but I did not feel the same enthusiam for it as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford seemed to feel. There was a little slip in his enthusiastic description of the picture. It would not matter to me how skilfully the hand was painted even if it was so real that I felt inclined in my Scottish disposition to drop a coin into it. That would not, in my opinion, constitute a great work of art. A picture might be skilfully painted and have no spiritual appeal. In the "Cornaro" picture you feel that it is a fragment. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that in this country there are copies of that picture and that they have already been referred to by Lionel Oust in a letter to the "Times." Gust, having referred to the fact that there are two copies of this picture in England, says:The existence of these copies does, in my opinion, raise a question as to such a great expenditure on the original painting.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
There is nothing of Titian in either of the two copies, which are later works done by poor copyists. One of the copies omits part of the original picture.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
If I wanted to study the handling of a great painter, the last thing I would do would be to consult a copy. None the less I think that there is something in it, and the fact that there are two copies of the picture in England should have weighed a little when it came to arranging a price. It has been openly stated that you cannot really assess the value of a work of art. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman make the remark that if the prices had gone too high or got beyond what was reasonable 1357 special legislation might have been necessary. I would welcome that legislation in this House at once. A work of art has come down through the ages. The great artists do not produce works of art for special persons, they produce them because of the joy and satisfaction they receive in the work of production, and in the hope that all may see and appreciate.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Works of art know nothing about nationality. Great composers and artists know nothing of nationalities. They produce works of art because they are an expression of themselves to their fellowmen. It is not a question of legislation in order to keep Italian art here. The fact is that these pictures are here, and if they are allowed to go out into the market—and that has been the common characteristic of the speeches in this House—they will become chopping blocks in the market. I would welcome legislation in England that would say that great works of art should not leave England and that no profit should be made out of them.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
If any such legislation were in existence in other countries, there would be no Italian pictures in this country.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Under the League of Nations and the adoption of an interchange of art between the nations we should have galleries circulating all round instead of blocks here, there and everywhere. There is no reason why Spain should not send Valasque to London and we send our productions there. The hon. Member must be up to date in this matter. An interchange of art is just as easy within our normal conception of the intercourse of nations as the performance of the "Eroica" produced in London by a German orchestra.
Having said so much I now come down to the main point in regard to prices. This is really the stumbling block. What are the facts? The Wilton Diptych was bought from the Earl of Pembroke for £90,000, towards which the following subscriptions have been received or promised: Mr. Samuel Courtauld, £20,000; Lord Rothermere, £10,000; Mr. F. C. Stoop, £10,000; the National Art Collection 1358 Fund, £5,000; and His Majesty's Government, £45,000. When we come to the Titian portrait group we find that the Government have to pay £61,000 out of a total sum of £122,000. Really these figures are staggering. Last night in this House there was great heat and excitement when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) and his late chief arraigned my right hon. Friend on this side of the House for extravagance in regard to local government, yet here is a sum in respect of two pictures amounting to £106,000. It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to say that this was the deed of the late Government and that that being so we must honour the bond. I must confess that there is something not quite open about this matter. It had been said that these great pictures which were unknown to the general dealers and known only to the Trustees of the National Gallery had to be kept quiet; but in a passage in his speech the hon. Gentleman said that the prices of the pictures were determined by the competition outside. Therefore, it really does not matter whether you keep them in the dark or put them in the sunlight. The moment that these pictures are known to be pictures that are likely to be bought and sold the American competition asserts itself upon them. The other day, I was speaking to one of the leading picture dealers in Bond Street, and he said to me: "When is the House of Commons going to wake up to this business?" He told me that he had gone into a house in a country district outside London and had seen a picture which ho thought was a Rembrandt. He took it to his shop, and an American forthwith offered him thousands of pounds for it, on condition that he had the picture certified by a German doctor. The dealer arranged for the German to come over to see the picture. On arrival at the shop the German doctor said: "I am to examine a picture. Where is it?" The dealer said to him:" It is in the other room." "If I enter that other room and look at it," said the German, "my fee must be paid"; and the dealer had to sign a cheque for £550. After looking at the picture, the German designated it as an early Rembrandt; but after a little more thought he said 1359 it might be a late Rembrandt, and a discussion arose as to increasing his fee to £700. That is the kind of huckstering that is going on in this country—low-down huckstering.
When I walk down Bond Street and I look at the picture shops there, my mind always running on land values, and I think of the site value of Colgnaghi's, I say to myself: "What pays the rent of these places?" It can only be paid by the very heavy profit on pictures. I do not mind if an American comes here and he is willing to fork out a big sum for a picture to take back to America, to give delight in the multi-millionaire mansions, but it is time to call a halt when the taxpayers of this country are brought into these inflated prices. I notice that the Cornaro belongs to the Duke of Northumberland. One would have thought that the Duke, with his great patriotism, would have said: "Take it. I have plenty of coal mines and great acres of land, and I do not need this picture." Not so. The picture agents got busy, and they got £122,000 for the picture. What about the aesthetic value of that picture to the average taxpayer. Fancy, bringing an Aberdonian in front of that picture and saying to him: "How much do you think the nation paid towards that picture?" What aesthetic enjoyment would he find in it when he knew the price. He would fall down stone dead if he knew the price.
I object to this money having been paid, already. It was done in rather a strange way. It was done quietly. This House was not consulted. The money was paid, because it was said that if there was any publicity about the matter it would affect the market price of the pictures. Now, we are told that sum of £106,000 has been advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund towards the purchase of the pictures, and that sum will be repaid from the money which we are now asked to vote. This House is beginning to lose control of a certain amount of money if that sort of thing is to go on. If money is to be spent quietly and secretly in this way and it is to be advanced out of the Contingencies Fund and we are to be asked to vote the money after it has been advanced, we can do nothing but accept 1360 it. I protest against that, and I shall vote against it. I think it is a shame and a scandal that the people who have benefited so much out of this deal are the picture dealers. I could unfold a tale as to the way in which these huge profits are made, but it would bring in the name of a man who has had something to do with these pictures. I can, however, say that the passing of one of these pictures from one room to another appreciated its value by £3,000.
Is this done for the love of art? Not at all. If this House wants to benefit art in this country, it can do it in a far more effective way. Let it put a stop to the export of great works of art. The greatest works of art should be kept in this country, but not by exploiting the taxpayers to this extent. I would draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to the letter of Sir Reginald Blomfield, in the "Times," in which he said that at a time like this to pay this money is nothing short of cruelty. He went on to say that the country cannot afford the money that it is called upon to find by the Government for these pictures, and that if the State is to purchase works of art, it should purchase them for their aesthetic value and not for their rarity value. I agree with that point of view. I agree as to the beauty and the marvellous simplicity of a picture like the Wilton Diptych, but I object to our being placed at the mercy of the dealers. It was common talk that the Diptych was under the eye of the American speculators. Let the House take a bold line. Do not let us be furtively carried away on a dark night by the idea that we are doing a thing secretly and quietly, thereby overcoming the plundering that might take place in the open market, and then find that we are paying away a big sum of money and that we have no control over that money, because it has already gone.
I am very glad that this question has come before the House, because the whole matter of art and art development in this country needs examination from top to bottom. If money is to be spent upon art, by all means let us spend it, but let us see that it is spent in the real, live development of art in this country. Let hon. Members go to the Royal College of Art and look at the conditions under 1361 which the students are working. If a, student designs a cartoon for a stained glass window, and he gets the glass and cuts it ready for the leading, there are no chemicals. If he wants the glass firing, there is no firing for days, and precious time is lost. If the students want to carry out elementary studies in the life classes they have to do it under congested, unhealthy conditions in their classrooms. Go into the kitchen where they are obliged to take their food and you find a most unwholesome scramble of students one over the other. A student may be there for over an hour and not be able to get food.
To improve such conditions would be a most desirable way of spending money for the development of art in this country. That is the way to do it, and not in art education of the Slade school of half-tone, pea-green shades. Let us develop healthy art and design in our Royal College of Art. There is far too much of this highbrow nonsense about art, which seems to see great beauty in the wild eccentricities of the followers of the Caesean school and exalt them into great works of art. When I see that sort of thing, I look upon it as a sort of decadence which is creeping through society. If we want to spend money upon art, let us recondition the Royal College of Art. We could have gone a long way in that direction with the money which we are spending upon these two pictures. Let us give encouragement to modern artists more than we have been doing. I find from the Report of the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries that the Angerstein Collection was procured for the nation in 1824 by a Parliamentary Vote of £60,000, less than we are paying towards one of the two pictures which have been purchased.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Yes, but if you make a comparison of the proportions and the relationship of the circumstances of that time, and the money that was spent, with the circumstances of to-day and the money which we are asked to pay towards these two pictures, there is room for straightforward criticism. Let us not forget that the Angerstein Collection included masterpieces by Rembrandt, by Rubens, by Claude and by Wilson. Therefore, we had quite a collection of 1362 masterpieces included in that purchase price of £60,000. If we take £60,000 as the datum line of 1824 in the purchase of such masterpieces and we compare it with the prices ruling to-day, we can fairly claim that there is flagrant and wild speculation going on, and I object to the people of this country, through the Government, being called upon to pay these vast sums. On the one hand we are told that we cannot assess the value of these works of art, and on the other hand we are told that they are such great works of art that nothing must be said about them at the time when they are being purchased, and that we must pay for them when we are asked for the money. I object to that. The right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) spoke about the money for the purchase of these and other pictures being found in the proportion of fifty-fifty, by the State and outside parties. It is suggested that under those circumstances there should be payment no matter what the cost may be. Are we to be pledged to a policy of fifty-fifty in the future, no matter what the price may be?
What I have said will avail nothing in regard to the payment for the two pictures in question, but I hope that, at least, it will help towards something being done to put a stop to this wild speculation. It is not helping art. It is not giving assistance to the energetic and capable artists of our time. It is paying for rarity value which has nothing to do with aesthetic value. I am sure that if the nation knew that the House was paying this big sum towards two pictures, and that if the distressed mining areas knew that we were to-day complacently paying out this large sum of money to the Duke of Northumberland and to the Earl of Pembroke, there would be very hot criticism throughout the length and breadth of the country. I am against it, on principle, and I shall vote against it. It is high time that this—I do not want to use the word "affectation"—so-called love of art, which is causing the taxpayers of this country to pay huge sums of money in this way, should be checked. I have entered my protest, and I shall go into the Lobby against the Vote.
Sir HILTON YOUNG
Perhaps it would help to a smooth passage of the Vote if the Financial Secretary to the 1363 Treasury would explain the use of the Civil Contingencies Fund. I think we are entitled to an explanation.
§ Captain CAZALET
I do not think that anyone who has listened to the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for Burslem. (Mr. MacLaren) will ever again say that land values is the only topic which he understands. I was extremely interested in his views, not only in regard to this grant but in regard to art generally, and I am sure that other hon. Members were equally interested. I should like to make a few observations on this proposed Exchequer grant. Let me add my humble congratulations to the National Gallery and the Government on keeping in this country these two very exceptional works of art. The hon. Member for Burslem seemed to imply that the price paid for the Titian and the other picture was exorbitant. I do not think that he wished to insinuate but he did infer that the price was an artificial price which had been inflated by speculation amongst the dealers. With a great deal of what he said on that subject, anyone who has had anything to do with the purchase of pictures will agree, but in this particular instance, certainly in the case of the Titian, there is not the slightest doubt that had the Duke of Northumberland wished to sell the picture in the United States of America, he could easily have got £200,000 if not £250,000 for it. It happens that in the United States to-day there are some 20 or 30 multimillionaires to whom £100,000 is about the same as £200, and they are prepared to pay these artificial prices for these pictures. Therefore the efforts of generous people in this country, who desire to retain these pictures for the nation, are quite inadequate to prevent their sale and export across the Atlantic, and it is perfectly right that the Government should step in and assist the donations of private individuals for the retention of these pictures. In view of the fact that in this case double the figure could with out doubt have been obtained in the United States I think the gratitude of the nation is due to the seller as well as to the donors.
The hon. Member opposite touched upon a subject on which he will find much sympathy on this side of the House, that if 1364 you give a grant of this nature and this size for this purpose it is difficult to refuse a grant for things like national opera and art schools. I hope the action of the Government, agreed upon by various Governments in the past, will mean the adoption of a definite policy of assisting art in various directions whether in opera or art schools. I should like to ask whether it is possible when pictures are purchased by the Trustees of the National Gallery with the assistance of a grant from the taxpayers of this country, for them to be shown in other galleries throughout the country. I do not know whether the regulations of the National Gallery prohibit the exhibition of their pictures in other galleries, but in cases where the taxpayer has made a substantial grant of money in order to procure pictures for the nation I think the Trustees of the National Gallery should have wider powers for showing these pictures and should be able to loan them to other galleries in different parts of the country. I am delighted that this grant has been given, and when other pictures are discovered which are considered to be of national importance I hope the Government will not hesitate to come forward and retain them in this country. In addition to the aesthetic and artistic value which they possess they have a distinct commercial value, because they attract tourists to this country and art students as well in order to study our art treasures.
§ Lord BALNIEL
I only desire to emphasise the point which my hon. and gallant Friend has made. He has said that the Duke of Northumberland could have received a great deal more in the American market, and it is fair to say that largely increased offers were actually made and were actually refused by the Duke of Northumberland. It is rather essential to make that point in view of what has been said by the light hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones) who spoke in an abstract way of what the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) mentioned in a more specific way. The picture itself the hon. Member for Burslem does not like. He says it is not a very good picture. It is purely a matter of taste.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I did not say that exactly. It is a remarkable work, but 1365 there are a number of points about it which would not appear in a great masterpiece of the world.
§ Lord BALNIEL
I agree, but largely the importance of the picture is that it fills a gap in the National Gallery; a very serious and grave gap. A late Titian is what every great gallery in the world should possess. We do not possess one. But more important than that is this; that to-day owing to this addition we can say that the representation of Venetian pictures in Trafalgar Square is incomparably finer than in any gallery in the world outside Venice; some people would say finer than in any gallery in the world. It is essential to remember, quite apart from the individual merits of this picture, that it fills a gap and an important gap. I am delighted that the Financial Secretary has defended this purchase, and I hope that in the future he will adopt the same policy with the same courage and without any sense of apology whatsoever.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I regret having to differ in the slightest degree with the Government because I recognise that at Question Time to-day they made themselves a greater and a better Government by two very important decisions which were announced. Probably they will consider a little criticism of mine is not too offensive or on too jarring a note. I admit, quite frankly, that I am not a critic of pictures. I know very little about works of art. One of the reasons which drove me into the Socialist movement at a very early age was the fact that from the day I was born until I proceeded to work at my trade not only was art and music denied me, but most of the physical joys of life as well. I should be a fool if I proclaimed myself as knowing anything about art or the culture connected with it. On the other hand, I do know something about this. I have been a Member of this House for seven years and a close attendant in the Debates, and if there is one thing more than another that has impressed itself upon me it is that this House is constantly jealous of the value of money. We are constantly told about the great need to economise in every sphere of life, to save, and watch every penny of expenditure.
During the last year of the late Government hon. Members opposite became very 1366 critical and were acutely desirous, and succeeded, in making economies even to the extent of getting the notepaper of the House of Commons reduced in quality. I will not say anything about the action of the late Minister of Health, who cut down in the most miserable and mean fashion the grant for the maintenance of children; that would be out of order, but let me say this. Here we are to-day passing an additional grant of £106,000 and an estimated total of £140,000 for two pictures. I am told that they are works of rare art; but how many people at the best will see them? How many people will get into the National Gallery to see them? Take the masses of the people of this country, or even the population of London. How many of them will see them; and we are asked to invest £140,000 of the nation's money, money produced by the, coal miner in Durham and the steel worker in the North, and the industrial worker in the South, in two pictures to which he and his friends will be constantly denied access. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is constantly faced by requests not only By his Cabinet colleagues, but my hon. Members on this own side of the House, for small sums of money for most important purposes.
If I wanted to develop art and had to choose between giving £140,000 for two pictures, which at the best only a select few will see, or as a grant to the Board of Education to develop art in the schools throughout England and Scotland, I should be in favour of it going to the Board of Education. If art is the grand thing we say it is, is it not more important that we should spend our £140,000 in seeing that it brings the greatest amount of good to the greatest number? Who says that these are two great pictures? Someone walks in and says they are great pictures; that is all that happens. I have heard no proof that they are great pictures. At the beginning of last winter I came along in my foolish enthusiasm and asked the Government to spend £100,000 in supplying coal to unemployed people, and the argument used against me was that I must prove they were starving. I was practically told that I must bring the starving people along so that it could be seen that they were starving. When we get away from starving people and come to works of art we must accept the word of hon. Members 1367 opposite. They are better educated, they have a more extensive knowledge, and because they say that they are great works of art everybody must agree. But are they necessarily great works of art because someone happens to say they are?
It may be perfectly true that the Duke of Northumberland could have sold his picture at a much higher figure, but that does not mean that the nation should buy it. If that is to be the standard you might extend our national activities in many other directions and much more desirable directions. In 1922, I under stand, the Government agreed to this expenditure. Here comes what is a conundrum to me. The original Estimate was £8,100 and the revised Estimate is £114,000. What has happened in the interval?
§ Mr. PETHICK - LAWRENCE
The original Estimate was the first grant made to the trustees. The increase is solely due to the pictures. The hon. Member spoke of £140,000. The sum is £106,000. That is the grant asked for from the Exchequer, and it is by that amount that the total grant to the trustees exceeds the original figure of £8,000.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
What has happened is that the purchase of these two pictures has compelled the Treasury to make an additional grant of £106,000. The Financial Secretary will admit that he is constantly being urged by members of the Cabinet to spend sums of money, sometimes not as large as this. I do not blame him that in a time of national stress he has been compelled to say no, but I would add that there are 101 more desirable methods of spending £106,000 than this proposed method. A few weeks ago the Government passed a Financial Resolution for the expenditure of £3,500,000 for the unemployed, when 10,000,000 people might be chargeable to it at any time. This is £106,000 for two pictures. Considering the time in which we are living I think the grant is a scandal. I do not believe that the pictures are of any value as a national purchase. The test I apply is this: Is this expenditure good value for the nation as a whole? It might be good value for a select few who will go and look at the pictures.
1368 How many people visit the National Gallery, and how many can tell the difference between two pictures that cost £106,000 and two other pictures that cost 106 pence? I question whether 1 per cent. of the visitors to the National Gallery can tell the difference. The nation's duty is to spend money in helping the greatest number of people at a given time, and in bringing joy to them. The best works of art are not pictures but living people and children. It would be much better if the Government spent this £106,000 on grants to local authorities all over the country in aid of much more desirable object. No one has said anything in the Debate to prove that these pictures are in any way great or that they are worth the money demanded, apart from the fact that a gang or small group has raised the price. One has come along and said, "I am giving this sum." Then another has added to that sum, and a third has added still further. That does not make a picture great. It proves only that those who have been bidding have more money than it is desirable that any group should have. There ought to be Government action not merely to limit the price of pictures, but to limit the pockets of people and to take some money from them. The Financial Secretary ought to institute a capital levy with that object in view. A group of rich people with little or nothing to do and with more money than brains have raised the price of these pictures to a fictitious level, and now the nation is called upon to spend this large sum on them. It is an indefensible expenditure, and I should be wanting in my duty if I did not divide against the Vote.
§ Major HILLS
The two hon. Members who have spoken against this Vote have made extremely interesting speeches and have raised points that ought to be answered. The larger part of the speech of the last speaker was devoted to the expenditure of this money and to alternate ways of spending it, and the hon. Member expressed strongly the opinion that the money ought to be spent in another way. I admit at once that it is a difficult thing to bring home to the Committee the reasons why we should support this Vote. I will give two or three reasons. It must not be forgotten that once this money is spent these pictures 1369 will pass for all time into the possession of the nation; they will not be locked up in any private house and will not cross the Atlantic and be for ever interned in one of the galleries there, which so few in this country can ever see. The hon. Member should not forget that the pictures will be a real possession to be enjoyed by the people of this country. He asked, who goes to the National Gallery, and I think he implied that he himself never went.
§ Major HILLS
If the hon. Member will go with me and notice the people who go there he will see that they represent all classes. Anyone can walk into the Gallery.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was there the day before yesterday. My wife made me go. I say without offence that with the exception of a comparative few they were all like myself, and did not know the difference between a good picture and a bad.
§ Major HILLS
My first point is that the Gallery is free to all. It belongs to everyone, and everyone who wishes to go there can go for all time. How is it possible to assess the value of a picture? I agree that that is a very difficult question. I think there are three standards by which you can arrive at the value of a picture. None of these standards is perfect, but if you take the three together you get a tolerably fair result. The first step is to take the market value, the price that people will give for a picture. Everyone must agree that these pictures have been bought very cheaply, and that had the owner wished he could have sold them for much more to someone else. Take next the opinion of what are called the experts. I do not put that too high. Experts often are wrong. I well remember the case which has already been quoted how expert after expert went into the box and swore that a certain picture was undoubtedly by Romney and that there were signs on it which no one could possibly mistake. After a trial of some days a sketch of the picture was produced, the sketch on which the picture was based, signed by Ozias Humphrey, an artist who was well known but whose pictures were not priceless.
1370 On the whole, people who study pictures do know about them, and we must attach some weight to a large consensus of opinion. In this case there is an immense consensus of opinion in favour of the artistic value of these pictures. The third test is to take popular approval. There, again, the test is in favour of these two pictures. People will go to see them. It is not for the expert that pictures are painted. They are painted for all, and anyone who likes to go and open his eyes can enjoy the pictures. I think the hon. Member will find, if he goes to the National Gallery in future, a large number of people looking at these pictures. There have been previously pictures bought for very large sums and I have heard the same discussions about them. I heard such a discussion when the famous picture by Mabuse was bought 10 or 15 years ago. Always, it is asked, who can tell the value of pictures? You cannot be certain. I agree with one speaker who said that many of our galleries are lumbered up with very bad pictures which in the past have cost very big sums. But when a certain number of years goes by and a long consensus of judges, all down the centuries assess the value of a picture, you get something like a certainty; you get that which the hon. Member so well described, a sense of the eternal, of the universal something that the painter touches, the something that appeals to all creation. That you get more certainly the longer a picture has been open to inspection, and you are not so likely to make the mistakes that some of our provincial galleries have made.
I submit that there is a real value in art to people of all sorts and conditions. It is something very real in their minds. For myself, although I should be glad to know why this money was spent before Parliament sanctioned it, still I support the purchase of these pictures, because they are possessions which, unless we take advantage of the occasion, will be lost for ever.
§ Mr. BATEY
I disagree, completely with the last speaker in regard to this Vote. I find myself more in agreement with my colleague on these benches who described it as a scandal. That is the proper word to use in regard to such a Vote. The last speaker said that these pictures could be enjoyed by the people. 1371 I come from the North of England, and I ask how many miners from the North will be able to enjoy these pictures? There is not one in 100, I would even say not one in 1,000, who will ever get near London and therefore they will have no chance of seeing these pictures. But they are called upon to help in paying for the pictures. Even poor people in London will seldom, if ever, have the chance of seeing these pictures. When I first saw this Supplementary Estimate of £106,000 for the purchase of pictures, I concluded that there must be a lot of pictures, and the last speaker told us that the pictures were cheap. When I am told, however, that there are only two pictures and that this Committee is quietly and soberly voting £106,000 for two pictures, then I say again there is only one word to describe it. It is a scandal.
I am sorry that this Government should be placed in the position of defending this Vote. We are told that this proposal belongs to the late Government. Then the late Government ought to be made to shoulder the responsibility. If at any time in the last 4½ years the Conservative Government had brought in this Vote we on the Opposition side would not only have criticised it but would have tried to defeat it. We kept asking the late Government for 4½ years to do something for the miners. We told them that the mining people were starving, and their answer always was that they had not the money to help. Yet they could get the money for the purchase of these pictures. In the recent General Election miners and their wives and families, to the number of 2,000,000 voted to put this Government into office. If those people had been told at the Election that, in the first four weeks of their term, this Government were going to pass a vote of £106,000 to buy two pictures, there would not have been a Labour Government. If the miners and miners' wives of Durham or Northumberland had been told that a Labour Government was going to give £50,000 to the Duke of Northumberland for a picture not a Labour man would have got a vote from them. The mining class would have voted solidly against any Labour man who proposed to do anything of the kind. It is all very well to say that rich men buy pictures. If they have the money I suppose they 1372 are entitled to do it, but in this case the pictures are being bought by the nation—the poor people as well as the rich, including people who cannot afford to get bread. If it was a question of voting money for supplying people with bread, or voting money for pictures, I am in favour every time of voting money to buy bread.
If any man proposed to buy pictures out of his wages while leaving his family starving the community would condemn him. We would tell him that his family was more entitled to the money, and that his first duty was to see that his family were fed. But here we are to-day passing a Vote of this kind while thousands of our people are starving. All that we said in the last 4½ years as to starvation in the mining districts was true. Those people were starving; they are starving today, and this Government has done nothing so far in order to help them. To-day, we are saying to them in effect, "You can continue to starve; we are going to spend State money upon pictures." This sum would give to 4,000 widows a pension of 10s. each for a full year. If I were asked to decide between giving 4,000 widows 10s. a week for a year and voting money to buy these pictures I would have no hesitation in saying, "I am prepared to give the money to help widows to obtain bread." I am sorry that our Government are shouldering the responsibility for this Vote. When the late Government did not bring in the Vote they ought to have allowed the matter to drop, and it is a scandal that at the beginning of this Parliament we should, as I say, quietly and soberly—indeed with keenness in a good many parts of the Committee—vote this huge sum to buy two pictures, one of them from the Duke of Northumberland, who was never any friend of the miners.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
We have had a very interesting Debate in which various points of view have been expressed, and I think it is important that views such as those which have fallen from the last speaker should be expressed and should be understood in this Committee. I will endeavour as far as I can—though perhaps not entirely to the satisfaction of my hon. Friends—to deal with the opinions which they have expressed. 1373 Before coming to that point, however, I would like to mention some of the other questions raised in the course of this discussion. In the first place the criticism has been made that this money has been spent before Parliament has voted it, and in particular that it has been taken from the Civil Contingencies Fund. The real issue, however, is not whether the money was actually spent before Parliament sanctioned the payment, but whether the commitment was made before Parliamentary sanction was obtained for it. It must be perfectly clear that if the consent of. Parliament were asked for each individual commitment in regard to certain pictures, before the transaction and before the negotiations were carried out, the price of those pictures would go up even higher than has actually been the case. I am not dealing with the question which my hon. Friends have raised as to the merits of the policy, but if that policy is to be pursued at all, I think it must be perfectly clear that the method which has been adopted is the only possible one.
The general consent of Parliament was given to the proposal that negotiations should be conducted in private for the purchase of these pictures. Something has been said about an unlimited price, and this might give rise to a misunderstanding of the position. From the beginning an unlimited price was never proposed. A perfectly definite price was given as a maximum for which Parliament should make itself responsible, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer when he dealt with this question in 1922, said that if a larger price than the Government had in mind were offered and accepted we should have nothing but the consolation of having done our best to acquire the pictures. In other words, it was part of the understanding that only a certain price should be reached, and that if the price offered by others was larger than that, and if the owners accepted it, then as far as the public were concerned we ought not to go beyond that amount.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
How was this price fixed? If the picture was worth the money, why not go to the limit? How did you arrive at the maximum?
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I cannot possibly deal with the considerations which arose in 1922, not only long before I was in the Government but long before I was in the House of Commons. A price was put down in that year as the amount which represented the limit to which we ought to go. I understand that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) said something about the Government offering a fifty-fifty contribution with regard to these pictures. Contrary to what I think has been assumed, that was not on an unlimited basis, but was up to a certain definite figure. I think that disposes of the point as to the amount. [Laughter.] Hon. Members behind me need not run away with the idea that I am going to miss their point, but I am dealing separately with the issues which various Members have raised. The point made by hon. Members behind me was that very few people would see these pictures, and that it was not open to any large section of the population to inspect them. I cannot help thinking that that view is not correct. In the first place, these galleries are open on Saturdays and on Sunday afternoons, and as far as any resident of London is concerned, no enormous expense and no physical impossibility can be involved in visiting the galleries. The fact that the whole population of London does not visit them is a matter with which we cannot deal, but the average number of people who do visit the galleries is something like 2,000 a day—I think that is for the Saturdays and Sundays.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is the figure. I listened to the hon. Member very carefully, and if I do not answer any of his points perhaps he will mention them later. That figure represents something like 200,000 people in the course of the year, which is not an inconsiderable number. The further point was raised that this might be all right for London, but that people who lived elsewhere had no opportunity of visiting the pictures. There are two answers to that point. In the first place, a very large number of people, though they do not live in London, visit London at some time in their lives as a part of their holidays, and any of these people who are interested in art will take the opportunity of going to the 1375 National Gallery. There is another answer suggested by a question which was raised from the benches opposite. One hon. Member asked if these pictures might be lent to other exhibitions. I understand that matter is under consideration, and, if the question should be decided in the affirmative, that would be a further answer to the criticism that the pictures are of no value to those who are not resident in London.
Let me come to the main body of complaint voiced by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and afterwards expressed in different ways by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). The hon. Member for Burslem said that this was not a real value, but a rarity value, and that is a very important point for consideration. Unfortunately, however, we are not able to distinguish between the means by which so-called value is obtained. The choice before the Government in a case like this is perfectly simple. We have two alternatives. Either we can let these pictures go out of the country, or in some cases be included in small private collections, where they would be visible only to small, selected members of the population, or they can be bought partly by the National Exchequer and partly from other funds for the nation, and then be available for the public as a whole. This list of pictures that were going to be bought was not a very long list. If these two pictures formed only a very small part of the total number to be obtained, and this was an operation going on for many years to come, I should agree that we ought to consider very carefully whether we could afford to do it, but these two pictures are in some ways the very gems of the list which was put forward. This is a very particular case, coming in this particular year, and I think that that has a bearing on the question. But it is always open to hon. Members to say they would rather turn this money into bread or something else which would meet the physical needs of the people. Those who feel acutely, as we all do, the great sufferings which our people have gone through must have a great deal of 1376 sympathy with that point of view, but, at the same time, I think we must realise thatMan shall not live by bread alone.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is true, but it is part of the case that we on this side of the House make that it is the larger things of life which are denied to the poorer classes in this country, and among those larger things of life, the wider developments of existence, beauty and art must be included. Though I would not vote for this money to the exclusion of matters required for the physical and ordinary well-being of the people, I hope the Committee will come to a decision now to grant this Vote, which will secure as treasures for all the people of the nation these works of art, which by every standard that anyone attempts to put forward are masterpieces of their kind.
Sir H. YOUNG
I do not think the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has quite grasped the point of the question which was asked in regard to the Civil Contingencies Fund. The hon. Gentleman said, and said quite rightly, that when you are making a deal of this sort, you must bargain in private, so that the prices may not be put up against you, and that you cannot come to this House before the bargain is concluded. That is agreed on all hands. It is, if I may say so, obvious common sense, but the Civil Contingencies Fund is a very special bit of apparatus. It is the piece of machinery which in very exceptional cases allows the Treasury to make an actual issue out of public funds without the specific authority of Parliament—the actual issue, not the commitment. In this case what has happened is that payments have been made. A sum of £106,000 has been advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund in order to purchase these pictures, and, if I may specify the point, it is this: I have no doubt that there were special circumstances in this case which made it necessary for the actual payments to be made in advance of the authority of Parliament, but equally it is always the case that when such a payment is made in advance of the authority of Parliament, some explanation is required and is 1377 offered, and I am quite sure there is some explanation that can be offered in this case.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I am sorry if I did not deal with the point, but this is the position: In the first place, the bargain had to be made before the House voted the money at all. I think the right hon. Member agrees with that. Owing to the special circumstances of this year, it has not been possible for a matter of two or three months to bring forward Supplementary Estimates at all, but this money was required at shorter notice than that, and under those circumstances, in a case of that kind, in view of the fact that the principle was agreed upon by Parliament long ago and has never been questioned, I do not think there was any real irregularity.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I know the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is labouring under extreme difficulty, because he is defending a case which ought to be defended by the party opposite, but the point is this, that Parliament was never asked. It was never said to Parliament, "Here are two pictures of enormous rarity, and we want you to give your assent to our spending a round sum upon them." At no time has Parliament ever considered it. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home), at the request of the right hon. Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon), said he would consider the purchase if the prices were not extravagant, away back in August, 1922, and the next we hear about it is that we have to foot a bill of this sort to-day.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is not quite the point raised by the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young), with which I was attempting to deal. I think it is correct to say that the policy of successive Governments and the general policy of the House did entitle negotiations to be carried out in the way in which they were carried out. That is one point, but that is not the point which the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks takes. He says, Granted that we were right to enter into commitments, even so it was wrong to spend money out of this Fund, and we ought to have waited until we could have obtained the money in other ways.
Sir H. YOUNG
I am not saying it is wrong. I am saying it is a matter in regard to which this House is accustomed to ask for an explanation, and I believe the hon. Gentleman is approaching the explanation which is usually given and which is usually considered satisfactory.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The commitment was justified by the fact that the money had to be found at once, and it had to be found at a time when Parliament was not in a position to carry through a Supplementary Estimate. In these circumstances, the usual course of paying the money out of the Civil Contingencies Fund and coming to Parliament afterwards was taken. We could have camouflaged the thing by pretending that the money had not really been paid—there are various ways in which it could be done—but the straightforward way, which we took, was to state that the money had been paid out of the Civil Contingencies Fund, and then to come to Parliament and say, taking all the facts into account, that this was the reasonable, and natural, and proper way of dealing with the situation.
Sir H. YOUNG
I understand the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to assure the Committee that the Estimate has been presented at the earliest possible moment, and that is a satisfactory explanation.
§ Mr. KELLY
I want to enter my protest against this money being spent at this time. I have as much love for pictures as has any other man, out when one finds the demand being made from the other side of the House for us to study economy and to be very careful about spending money at this time, when both the other parties will remind us of any mistakes that we may happen to make in spending a few pounds in a particular direction, it is very strange to find them in agreement this afternoon on the expenditure of this £106,000 for these pictures.
I do not want to give a silent vote against this proposal. When one realises the suffering in the country, the great army of unemployed, and the threatened rupture in some industries of this country, when we are making demands upon the people to study economy, it is a strange time to come here and ask us to agree to the expenditure 1379 of this money. Much as one loves pictures and loves to have the eye pleased and the mind satisfied, I think this is the wrong moment for us to appeal for this money. It has been stated that these pictures, being in the National Gallery, are available for everyone, particularly for those in London, to enjoy, but I would like to remind the Committee that there are many of the millions in London who, no matter how cheap it may be to reach Trafalgar Square, are not able to do even that in order to enjoy the pictures in the National Gallery, and it argues a lack of knowledge of what is going on in our own town that such statements should be made. For the reason that this is the wrong time to ask for such sums of money, I intend to vote against this Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I am sorry I have not been able to listen to this Debate, because I wanted to hear what was the Government's explanation. I know very well that this is not something that was born as part of the work of the present Government, but that it comes from a previous Government, and it is a very unhealthy heritage. I have been dealing during the last hour with people representing certain bodies in my constituency, where the question of bread has become so serious that they have got even to gather money to send someone up to London to see what can be done. The hon. Gentleman in charge of this Supplementary Estimate said:Man shall not live by bread alone.Those of us who were brought up in Scotland not only know that phrase, from our early religious instruction, but we were taught what it means. When the question of bread was ever related to a religious lesson, it was always shown to us that Christ Himself gave bread before He started to preach. You cannot get a spirit of reflection, even in the appreciation of art, until you have that mental balance which comes from a well-nurtured body. It is all very well for those who do not need to worry where their bread is coming from to-morrow to dilate round this sphere called art. It is one thing for those who are secure in their bread to go to a gallery and look at fine pictures and discuss them, and quite a different thing to speak of art when you are in a 1380 state of starvation. The people in a certain area of my constituency are no less qualified to judge art than others.
The whole of this question is divorced from what might be called the centre of the argument, which is the getting of some artistic works for the nation. That is really a secondary argument when you have human flowers dying by the wayside. What shall it profit a man if he has all the pictures, but no bread for his children? That is the truthful picture at the moment. If you want to preserve a real picture, let this House stand first for that which is in human form. No matter how powerful may be the genius of the painter, no matter how powerful the touch of the brush, they never can put upon canvas that which belongs in reality to the human being. Are we, then, going to sit silent and see money spent without consideration for the human factor? The Minister of Health and his assistants were chiefly responsible for bringing about what was called the economy stunt, and now they are ready to see that the duke's bread, as I may call it, is secured.
If there had been any spiritual meaning in these people, they would have given these pictures to the nation without asking that someone should be made the poorer. They are ready to do this in order to get art for the nation, but they took £12,000 from the money with which to pay for milk for the children. This is the kind of thing which shows whether there is any artistic feeling in hon. Members opposite. You have to judge by their deeds whether there is any reality in their statements. If they believe in real art, the first thing that would come to their mind would be God's art as we have it in the human being. The real art in life is that the full divine purpose in life should be allowed to be expressed, and yet here you have this claim being made by a noble Duke, and in order that he may have security some people must be made poorer. In order to preserve art we are to make starvation more intense. I am not going to make the plea that I am interested in art. I do not put that forward as an argument. I have stood too often beside people in art galleries listening to their vapourings about shadow and shape, knowing that they only use words which they have heard other people use. Real art will 1381 always be expressed, no matter what the education of the individual has been. What is the real human picture? The real human picture for which we Socialists have been fighting is the realisation of the fact that on this earth there is a divine abundance, and more than the human race can use.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dunnico)
I think that the hon. Member is getting rather far afield. The question before the Committee is the spending of this money.
§ Mr. HARDIE
And the spending of this money entitles me to my last sentence. We have a divine abundance of all the things which the human race needs; we have all the figures, all the colours, every pigment required to make a divine picture of the human race. That is what we stand for; not to make the Duke richer because he hands what he calls art treasures to the State, and I hope that the Committee will make an emphatic protest against this way of disposing of money.
§ Question put, and agreed to.