HC Deb 17 July 1931 vol 255 cc1026-32

Order for Second Beading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. Lansbury.]


I welcome this Bill, and we on this side shall be glad to do all that we can to facilitate its passing into law. It gives effect to a gracious and generous action and one that the House will approve. There is one point in regard to the Financial Memorandum to which I should like to draw attention. I may be a little out of order in referring to it now. I notice that when we have concluded the Second Beading of the Bill there will be a Motion by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. T. Kennedy) that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee. If I am permitted to put a question on that point now, it will save the time of the House later. Why is it found necessary to send the Bill to a Select Committee? What petitions does the Minister expect?

What is going to happen to the premises that will be evacuated? In the financial Memorandum, paragraph 3, it is stated that £2,480 per annum will be no longer necessary for payment of rents for the premises now occupied by the Museum, and that the leases expire in 1941–42. Perhaps the First Commissioner of Works will say when the premises are to be evacuated. If my memory serves me, the premises were next to the Imperial Institute and were part of some old buildings of the Science Museum. What will happen to the buildings so far as the public purse is concerned when they are evacuated by the War Museum? Do they revert to the Crown in 1941–42, or will they be occupied by the Science Museum again when the War Museum leaves them? We regard the Bill as a very admirable one, and those who have been behind it deserve the thanks of the House.


I cannot help expressing regret that it has been found necessary to introduce this Bill to legalise the arrangement which has been come to with the donor of the park, the borough council and the county council. I do so because there is a very serious shortage of open spaces in the area concerned, and those who are interested in the district are very jealous of every square yard of open space available. The Bethlem Hospital site lies between two constituencies, my own and the constituency of the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who is extremely interested in this matter and shares my views in regard to it. There is the severest over-crowding in the district, as bad as in any part of London, and at the same time we suffer from the shortage of open spaces. In my constituency there is a small open space, but in North Southwark, where the overcrowding is probably worse than anywhere in London, there being over 100 people per acre, there is no open space at all. The inhabitants have to go quite a long way outside Southwark before they can find an open space.

The people in this area, particularly the children, not only suffer from the fact that they have to live and sleep in over-crowded homes, usually two, three or four in a bed, but their opportunities of recreation are confined to the streets and alleys where they live. The possibility of enabling some of them to play with grass beneath their feet was one which we welcomed, and we are all very grateful to the donor of the park for conferring a really great boon on the neighbourhood. Under the force of necessity, almost, it has been suggested and agreed that a portion of the Bethlem Hospital site should be retained for the Imperial War Museum. I can assure the First Commissioner of Works that the people of Lambeth and Southwark would very much rather have an open space to play in than a war museum. It is true that the wings of the hospital will be pulled down and only the central block, which is a very fine one, will remain. A con- siderable area in the park will be left and it will serve a most useful purpose as an open space, but I cannot help regretting that even that small space should not be made available for the benefit not only of the children but of the older people of the district, who want to go somewhere for recreation and rest just as much as the children.

I regret that we shall not be able to have the whole of the site, although I realise the situation and also that the Southwark Borough Council have agreed to the suggestion put forward in the Bill. I would like to ask the First Commissioner whether the building which is to be used as the War Museum will be available for the public, not only the grown-up people but the children in wet weather. If so, it will be very useful, particularly when the children go out to play and a shower comes on. I hope the right Bon. Gentleman will be able to assure me that grown-ups and children will be given ample opportunity of going into the building in wet weather and having shelter there. I regret the necessity of the Bill, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that the hon. Member for North Southwark, who feels intensely on this matter, agrees with me.


In answer to the bon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel), the Bill is going before a Select Committee because it is a hybrid Bill and might affect private interests. In regard to what has to be done with the inadequate buildings which are at present occupied, I believe some portions will be destroyed. The fact is that there is no proper accommodation for the museum where it is at present. I should like to remind the House that the museum was established by Act of Parliament; we are not setting up anything new. The National War Museum is not a museum to glorify war, but it is, as His Majesty the King said when he opened it, to show the people what war really means. There are a very fine lot of pictures which are not at present properly shown which we hope will be properly shown in the new building. All London, I think, owes a deep debt of gratitude to Lord Rothermere for the splendid public spirit he has shown in putting up the money for this site, and also for the trouble and time he has given in assisting my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined Universities (Sir Martin Conway) the Director General of the War Museum, in bringing about the agreements which were necessary. We should not have been able to have accomplished this task without the very arduous efforts of the hon. Member for the Combined Universities and his skill as a negotiator.

In reply to the hon. Member for Lambeth North (Mr. Strauss), I want every inch of land we can get for the children. They must live somewhere, and they must be sheltered, and if we had pulled down the building entirely we should have had to put up a shelter for them. I am sure that the Commissioners of the War Museum and especially the Director General, will see that they are able to go through the museum. In any case the children are entitled to go into the museum any time it is open. This proposal has already been agreed to by a Committee of another place, and I feel sure that we shall have the unanimous support of this House. When the hon. Member for North Lambeth and his friend the hon. Member for Southwark North (Mr. Isaacs) see the building without the wings, dealt with as only the Office of Works can deal with it, I am sure he will be as proud of it as I hope to be myself.


I desire to say a word or two about the War Museum because I have been so closely connected with it for the last 40 years. Let me make one thing perfectly clear, and that is that the museum never has been, and was never, intended to glorify war. It never was a museum to glorify victory. It has been so arranged from the start that Germans and members of other enemy countries may find it as interesting as our own people, and such as, in fact, been the case, because we have had many visitors from Germany to visit it, and they regard it as an extraordinary accomplishment to have been to bring together a memorial which would not be an offence to anyone at all. Then as to the future. May I call the attention of the House to the fact that there is no museum whatever on the south side of the Thames. Museums are valuable educational institutions, and even if we are taking away a small piece of open space we are returning a very interesting museum, and one which is one of the most popular in this country. Over 3,000,000 people have already visited it, and every Saturday and Sunday, and on Bank Holidays, we get large numbers of people who are extremely interested in what we have to show.

The most important feature of the museum is its collection of pictures and other works of art. We have exhibited on the walls or in portfolios 5,000 works of art, and these are to be within the reach of the people of South London. We have also an immense collection of photographs, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them, and they are arranged in such a way so that anyone who desires can follow the course of the war historically. They are thus of enormous value. Then we have also a vast collection of photographs of the brave men who lost their lives in the war, and also brief biographies. There are samples of guns and other instruments of war, and I hope that when they are shown we shall get a lecturer to explain these things. If he talks about the elaborate Russian fuses to any children he will be able to say that there were hundreds and thousands of these beautiful little clockwork machines blown to pieces during the war, enough to have supplied every man and woman and child in this country with a very good watch.

It is said that if you are to preserve peace, you must remember war. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in a debate on this matter the other day said that he wanted the war to be forgotten. I am afraid that if the war were forgotten we should drift into a new war very much sooner than I hope we ever shall. To forget the war is to forget the sacrifices of the brave men who lost their lives in the war. We must not do that. We must remember what we suffered, and what they did for us during that time. We have an extraordinarily fine number of pictures by Sargent and a room full of pictures by Orpen, a numerous collection by Lavery, elaborate drawings by Muirhead Bone and sculpture by Jagger. All the great artists during the war years are represented very numerously, and very beautifully, in our museum.

Every one of these pictures was painted by a man who had actually been in the trenches. They represent not merely the general aspect of things, but they represent in the most extraordinary way the moods of the country during the War. In this museum for a very long time our successors will be able to see, as they cannot see in the case of any other war, the mood of the country reflected in these pictures. How extraordinarily interesting it would be to have some records of the moods of the country during the time of the Crusades! Here we have this great collection, one of the most interesting and most important in the whole world, a collection of a kind that exists nowhere else, most beautiful and most precious, and we bring it within reach of a vast multitude of people in South London, who at present have no museum at all. We shall, of course, welcome the children in the wet weather. They come to us at South Kensington in great numbers now, and I am sure they will do so when the museum is transferred.


I know too well how right the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Strauss) is as to conditions in Southwark, for which I once stood as a candidate, and how the prospect of this open space has been welcomed by all the people of that neighbourhood. While this building was still an asylum, I once went into it, not because I was a candidate for admission, but because I was glad enough to think that the people in that district might return me to this House. I am certain that the right line has been taken in preserving the central building, and I am glad to think that the outbuildings, which are not so good, are to be taken down by the Office of Works. It would be far better to allow the main building to remain than that the First Commissioner of Works should put up some temporary shelter the colour of some of those which he has erected, of which I do not approve. It will be a good thing for the people of South Londn to have some museum to which to go. As one who takes an interest in the Imperial War Museum, I am certain that it will now be housed in a far better building.

Question, "That the Bill be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection.

Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill presented three clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee.

Ordered, That Petitions against the Bill may be deposited in the Committee and Private Bill Office, provided that such Petitions shall have been prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of this House relating to Petitions against Private Bills.

Ordered, That the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel may be heard in support of the Bill. Mr. Harris, Mr. Raynes, and Sir Kenyon Vaughan-Morgan nominated Members of the Committee.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:

Ordered, That Three be the quorum.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]