HC Deb 02 March 1931 vol 249 cc57-99

Order for Second Reading, read.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

It will be remembered by the House that some time ago a Royal Commission was appointed to go into the question of National Museums and Galleries, and in their recommendations they state that they have reached the conclusion that the time has come when this country should be prepared to loan collections of artistic works for centenary or other special exhibitions, or for purposes of reciprocity. They recommended that Parliament should be asked to pass a short Act which should empower the trustees of the British Museum, including the Museum of Natural History, and the Trustees of the National Gallery, including the Tate Gallery, to make loans overseas under such precise and proper safeguards as may be determined by the authorities of each institution. This Bill is the result of that recommendation. In its original form it embodied the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Bill came first before another place, and in the course of its passage through that other place an Amendment was made to it in lines 12 and 13 limiting the objects which may form the subject of a loan to objects representative of British arts or crafts produced sub- sequent to the year 1600. The Government have considered that Amendment, and when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill it is proposed to ask the House to delete that Amendment, preserving the wider powers which were expressed in the original terms of the Bill. I do not think that at this stage I need give the reasons why the Government propose to take that course, they will be elaborated on the Committee stage, but I thought it was only right to inform the House that that would be the attitude of the Government. I am sure that with the exception of that point, which may be the subject of some controversy, the Bill will generally command the assent of the House.


I am afraid that I must weary the House a little in dealing rather in detail with the proposals of this Bill as well as with its general principles. The Financial Secretary has said, quite rightly, that the Bill was introduced to give effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Museums and Galleries, presided over by Lord D'Abernon, which is being carried out now in various particulars by the museum authorities of the country and by the Government. He also told us that during its passage through another place the Bill had undergone considerable alterations, and that it is the intention of the Government to move that the two alterations which have been made should be removed. It was not a case of one Amendment only in another place; there were two quite distinct and definite Amendments. My view is that the Government will be wise to retain one Amendment and to move the rejection of the other.

Two Amendments were moved to this Measure in another place. One of them confines the objects of the Bill to works of art of British origin; and the other Amendment, which is much more important, limits the power to loan overseas any works of art produced, whatever their origin, before the year 1600. I think that Parliament would be well advised to accept that Amendment for reasons which I shall give. While it is true that the genesis of this Bill is the unanimous recommendation of an extremely capable Royal Commission, the immediate occasion and cause for the introduction of this Measure is that, for successive years in this country, we have had the advantage of having at Burlington House some of the most important and remarkable exhibitions of works of art that has ever taken place in the world. Great Britain has thus had the advantage of seeing in London all these great foreign works of art, so that ordinary folk who cannot afford to travel abroad have been able to see some of the greatest masterpieces of art collected from all the countries in the world.

It is high time, in the opinion of many of us, that there should be no longer a statutory bar against this country reciprocating. At the present time, that bar is not universal, and it only extends to the British Museum, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and the National Gallery of British and Foreign Art at Millbank. Those three bodies are barred from lending any objects of art overseas either to our own Dominions and Colonies or to foreign countries. While the Italian exhibition at Burlington House last year was in the main furnished by the Italian Government out of its great national treasures, perhaps the most remarkable thing was the co-operation of other people sending important Italian works of art from all over the world. I have been refreshing my memory by looking up the catalogue, and I find that collections were sent to the Italian exhibition last year from the following museums: Berlin, Vienna, Louvre (Paris), Budapest, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, America and many of the great public galleries of the world. All these national collections lent in some cases one, and in other cases two or three, Italian pictures to the exhibition at Burlington House last year, and the only two collections that were not represented were Madrid and Leningrad.

Those two capitals were not represented in the exhibition, and I think that is regrettable. [Interruption.] Madrid was ready to lend exhibits, but I understand that Madrid is in the same position as our own National Gallery; there is a statutory bar, and special legislation is required to enable the directors and the trustees of the Madrid collection to lend overseas. Russia, again, was practically the only important country left out, but this year Russia is lending to the Persian exhibition a number of exhibits. Flemish exhibits of the utmost value and importance have been lent not only by the Belgian Government but by other Governments. At the Dutch exhibition. Italy's loan was also one of the most important.

Next year London is again to be honoured by having an exhibition of French art gathered from many countries. It is not merely a matter of international honour, but it is a matter of international obligation that we should not be debarred from reciprocating in regard to the lending of works of art. Quite apart from the special advantage to the ordinary public of being able to see these works of art without travelling to the various capitals all over the world, an enormous importance attaches to such exhibitions by the opportunity which is given for scholarship and research.

Let me mention one or two valuable advantages of these exhibitions. Exhibitions have been used, and rightly used, not merely to display the best examples of the art of any particular nation, but to bring together artists from the scattered portions of the world, and still more important to bring together works of art which have a certain relation to each other. Perhaps hon. Members will recollect that one of the most interesting examples is that the exhibition last year was associated with the famous picture of the "Lady" from the Poldi Pezzoli collection at Milan which formed the subject of a very popular poster which was advertised all over London in connection with the exhibition. That was a picture famous for its beauty and interest and there has been a dispute regarding its authorship amongst all the leading authorities of the last generation. The authorship of that picture has been attributed to at least seven or eight different masters. On the occasion of the Italian exhibition, we had the opportunity of seeing that famous picture on the wall near to another picture closely related to it, from the Berlin Museum and another important picture from the American Museum in connection with the possible authorship of this picture.

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We also had close by, in the next room, a picture by the brother of this latter man from Turin, and those four pictures were brought together for the first time, probably, since they were painted in Florence in the second half of the 15th century. Students of art became busy on them, and while we cannot yet say that it has been finally settled, at any rate, I think everybody is ready now to admit that it is in a fair way of settlement. It is most important, from the point of view of art scholarship, that these exhibitions should take place from time to time, and the seeing of a whole series of works of art by an individual master brought together is of immense interest in furthering not only popular appreciation, but furthering the scientific study of art.

Let me come to a point in connection with the desirability of these loans. Probably the greatest regret of the art-loving public and of connoisseurs in connection with the Italian Exhibition last year was the refusal of Lord Ellesmere to lend from Bridgewater House either of the two pictures that belong to the same set as the picture belonging to Lord Harewood, all painted for Philip II in Titian's later manner, which it was most desirable to bring together for comparison. Lord Ellesmere's point was this: "Why should I lend my pictures when the British nation never lends her's? The National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and the British Museum have not only never lent pictures, but are debarred by Statute from lending pictures, and I, the owner and tenant for life of these valuable masterpieces, will keep them, as the trustees of the National Gallery say, 'for greater safety,' on the walls where they now hang, and will not expose them to the risks which are alleged in support of the continuance of the statutory bar."

In respect to the question of reciprocity, we have heard it suggested, that in return for the loan from the national and public museums overseas, there should be the loan of British pictures, more particularly to British exhibitions on the Continent. It is perfectly clear that if an exhibition of British art is to be held in Rome or Amsterdam, as it were in answer to the exhibition of Italian pictures and Dutch pictures that we have seen in London, representation of British art will be wholly inadequate if both the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery are debarred from lending any of their possessions. In regard to this, there is a difference of opinion between the governing authorities of the bodies most concerned. The British Museum trustees, I gather, are very suspicious of this Bill in any form, not to say hostile. In reading the Debate in another place on this point, it is perfectly clear that the British Museum take a very much more conservative view of their responsibilities in this matter, and are very much less willing to lend anything than are the other two galleries.

The position of the National Gallery, of which I am a trustee, is that there is an exactly equal division of opinion on the board, and as our chairman has not got a casting vote there is no decision on the board regarding the desirability of the Bill in its original form, that is to say in its widest form. I joined the board of the Tate Gallery since the matter was referred to it, and, therefore, I cannot speak with authority, hut if I can sense the opinion of the Tate Gallery now, they take the view that if they are to be empowered to lend at all, they cannot see why they can be trusted to lend Turners and Constables, and cannot be trusted to lend Cezannes and Renoirs. If occasion should arise, as contemplated in the recommendations in the report of the Royal Commission, that it is desirable to have a centenary exhibition of some of the great French artists, and the masterpieces of Degas, Manet or Corot are collected from all the galleries of the world for a centenary exhibition of the kind, are we alone among the nations of the world to be debarred by Statute from sending our contributions to that exhibition?

I understand therefore that the general view of the Tate Gallery is more favourable to it. Half my colleagues on the board of the National Gallery take a more conservative view than I, personally, have always taken. They take the view of the risk and danger of damage to a particular picture. When the matter was brought before us, it was always brought up against me, "Would you, knowing what you do, be prepared to lend the Van Eyk from the early Flemish room in the National Gallery?" and I always answered "No, of course not." Their reply was, "That is just the sort of picture you would be pressed to lend by the Government of the day, and responsible representations would be made by the Belgian Ambassador, and political pressure would be put upon you to lend that picture." I say I believe that any board of trustees would resist it, because that picture ought not to be moved. It is a delicate panel, painted in 1438, and is in a condition where any violent shaking or any transport, other than transport under the greatest care, would be liable to damage it.

In fact, the problem of moving or lending the whole of the early Flemish school is a most difficult one. There was an exhibition last year at Antwerp, and I say, quite frankly, much as one regrets it, I am very glad the National Gallery could not, and was not asked to, lend to that exhibition, not because the exhibition authorities are not very careful. No serious damage, I am glad to say, was done, but I do know one delicate Flemish picture which was lent from a private collection in this country which, owing to shocks in transport, did lose two flakes of paint. Fortunately, by skilful restoration, they have been able to repair the damage, but there is a great danger with all early panel pictures, and I say, quite frankly, that any Bill which would empower the lending of, say, the Wilton Diptych to any exhibition overseas, would be a dangerous Bill, because the Wilton Diptych is, again, one of our great national treasures, one of the few really remarkable English Primitives left. It was once lent to an exhibition in Manchester, in 1857, and it did suffer, luckily not on the face but on the back, very serious damage, and when that picture was acquired by the National Gallery two years ago, the owner of it brought it up from the place where it always hung in Wilton House to the National Gallery, holding it in her hands, and driven in a car specially smooth running. The infinite care taken over the removal of that picture is not only a notable tribute to the loving care with which its owner then regarded it, but the kind of care that any body of trustees worthy of the name of trustees ought to exercise in regard to these delicate pictures.

That is why I welcome so strongly the suggestion in the Bill that works of art before 1600 should be absolutely safeguarded by Statute. We have plenty of works of art subsequent to 1600, both British and foreign, which would be well put in these exhibitions, with far less risk of damage than with the early pictures, and I sincerely hope that the Government when they come to the Committee stage, will not move out that particular Amendment. What are the risks against which such special care must be taken in regard to these early pictures? They are not merely risks of transport, though those are the most important. They are risks in all the early panel pictures due to change of temperature and conditions. We have been wrestling with these problems for some time inside the National Gallery, and the dry summer of two years ago opened our eyes to the particular dangers that we run in sending old panels, accustomed to our comparatively humid London climate, to any country where there is an atmosphere and weather conditions at all dry, especially in the summer months. At the end of the summer months, I remember being particularly horrified on arriving at the board's meeting and being told that, as a result of the long, rainless summer, and the extreme dryness of the London atmosphere, one of the most outstanding of all our treasures at the National Gallery, the famous Nativity by Pierodella Francesca, had nearly split from top to bottom, and only by the ingenious use of clasps and gradually pressing it back was the damage done by the drying up of the panel, which through long years was accustomed to a particular standard of humidity, arrested. I do not want to see a picture like that moved from its present place.

The other point upon which great emphasis has been laid, particularly in another place, in connection with this Bill, is the danger of fire. That danger applies just as much to British as to foreign pictures. Whether you are lending foreign or British there is equally a risk of fire. There, again, I do not think any body of trustees or any director of one of our great British institutions is anything but fully seized of those places on the Continent of Europe where it would be safe to make a loan, and of those places where it would not. It is not for me to mention those in public to-day, but there are in one or two of the great galleries abroad what are known literally as fire-traps to which no board of trustees, knowing those conditions, would be for one moment willing to lend. In fact, the same kind of precautions would be taken regarding the loan of any of our British national treasures as were taken by the authorities of the Ryksmuseum at Amsterdam, and the Forest House at the Hague on the occasion of the Dutch Exhibition here in London, and the equally elaborate precautions taken by Signor Modigliani and the leading representatives of Italy at the Italian Exhibition last year.

One more word about transport. I know that the public were rather excited and alarmed at the sending of practically the whole of the Italian section of the Italian exhibition last year in one ship, and the papers were full of headlines about the "treasure ship," the "Leonardo da Vinci," which brought the pictures from Genoa to London round by sea. The reason why that was done was a very obvious one. It was because, given all the risks of the sea, sea travel is far less dangerous to pictures of all dates and types than prolonged railway travel, and the less any picture has to bump over a railway system, however good the permanent way—and all the permanent ways of Europe are not good—the better. Sea transport is far safer from the point of view of pictures than railway transport. It is very remarkable how ready the great American owners, both public and private, have been to lend their pictures in this country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon) has at this moment on view at 25, Park Lane some of the most magnificent treasures. Several Americans have sent to that exhibition back across the Atlantic treasures which were once part of our national heritage here, but which had gone abroad, as such things have been going in ever greater numbers owing to increased taxation. There is at 25, Park Lane an extraordinarily generous loan exhibition very largely composed of masterpieces from America.

I want to say one word about the relation between these bodies. I am not at all sure whether it is to advantage that the British Museum and the picture galleries should be embraced in one Bill. The British Museum authorities are specially nervous. Why? Because, for the most part, the British Museum's possessions are not, in the main, the type of possessions the lending of which overseas is altogether desirable, and, again, because of the special fragility of the articles in question. Take the Egyptian antiquities—mummy cases and the like. It is marvellous that they have ever got from Egypt to the British Museum without further damage, and a good many of them were damaged in transit. Then you have the great Elgin Marbles, the ancient bronzes, and, above all, the range of ceramics. While some classes of pottery, if very carefully packed, run comparatively little risk, there are ceramics, including British ceramics, which it is proposed to lend, but which are of peculiar and special fragility and ought to be safeguarded most particularly. Then you come to the great range of illuminated manuscripts for which the British Museum is famous—all delicate works. The only paintings which they possess are of two kinds—the great collection of oriental paintings, including Chinese paintings, and the collection of English water-colours.

As I have said, I speak without authority, but I believe that as regards both the oriental paintings—the early Chinese particularly—and the English water-colours, the apprehension in their minds about any idea of lending is due to the fact that these are all a type of paintings that ought not to be exposed to strong sunlight, and certainly not to direct sunlight, for any length of time. Many of them have already faded, and, after all, the bulk of the water-colours are kept in portfolios, which are shown to students and to the public on application, but are not generally exposed, simply because of the danger from deterioration due to light. Therefore, the British Museum Trustees are in a rather different position from the Trustees of the Tate Gallery and of the National Gallery.

Let me come back to the reasons why I differ from other trustees of the National Gallery. I belong to the half that would be prepared to see loans of pictures painted subsequently to the year 1600, of schools other than the British. We have in Trafalgar Square 21 examples of Jacob Ruisdael, the Dutch landscape painter. 16 Van der Weldes, 12 Cuyps and nine Hobbemas, and of these only a comparatively small proportion are-displayed upon our walls, the rest being in the basement. In the basement they can be seen by students on application, in the company of one of the warders. There are stacked there in the basement some 500 pictures for which we have no room on our walls upstairs, and, when I am asked why there should be a statutory bar against lending one of our many Ruisdaels, while there should be no statutory bar against lending one or two of our comparatively rare Hogarths, Wilsons and the like, I cannot see the answer. My argument applies to all the Dutch canvasses, because the National Gallery in London is particularly rich in Dutch paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and, as I have said, we have comparatively little room in which to display them to the public. I hope that a generous Government will be able to provide us shortly with a little more room, but that is another matter, which it would be out of order for me to go into to-day.

Let me, however, say this about loans. The National Gallery has made loans, particularly of a certain number of these numerous Dutch paintings, from time to time to British provincial galleries, and last summer a few of our large reserve collection, as we may call it, of these Dutch landscapes were going the rounds between Bradford, Doncaster, Nottingham and the galleries in the North. We have a very considerable reserve collection of pictures bequeathed to the National Gallery, or acquired as part of the general collection, in regard to which I cannot see any reason either in logic or in common sense why we should be debarred by Statute from ever lending them to our oversea Dominions. Speaking as a trustee, I would ask why, if we can be trusted to select British pictures that may be lent for exhibition in Amsterdam or Rome, can we not be trusted to deal similarly with Dutch and French pictures? I cannot see any reason to suspect that we are people who have so little regard for the national possessions that we should be indifferent to all the considerations which come up when any question of loan, either in this country or out of it, is raised. I have said already that I cannot see why, above all, the Tate Gallery should any longer be debarred by Statute from lending the very fine examples of the modern French school which now happily ornament its walls.

In general, I think that a Bill on these lines is long overdue. These exhibitions are of immense importance. They are a real delight to ever-increasing thousands of people of all classes and in all walks of life. Unhappily, most of our public museums are only open for a few hours in the day. Most of them close at four or five in the afternoon, and the vast mass of the public who care about these things, but who are at work all day except just on a Sunday afternoon, have little or no chance of ever seeing them. One of the great values of these exhibitions is that invariably they are open till late hours in the evening under specially favourable conditions. The appreciation of art is a growing democratic movement, and we should recognise that fact by assisting the public to see pictures in this way. In the next place any one of these exhibitions is a real source of inspiration to actual modern artists. After all, modern art is almost too much a matter of clichés, but, in the main, the more the work of the great masters of the various countries is known and studied, the more likely is modern art to keep sane, and the more likely is it to respect those standards of craftsmanship which it seems to be all too ready to neglect. These exhibitions have an extremely valuable educative influence on artists as well as on the public generally. Take the Persian exhibition. How few in this country had any idea either of the variety or of the resources of Persian art through the ages before this exhibition was held? Has it not been a new opportunity for spreading new ideas, new motives, and new elements into the art world?

I have already spoken about the great contributions to scholarship and the advancement of scholarship and the study of artistry that arise from these paintings. We have centred in the League of Nations a body calling itself the Committee of Intellectual Co-operation. Is it not high time that apart from the purely intellectual co-operation of the philosophers and the scientists, there was active co-operation in the art world? I believe that that can do more, perhaps, than anything else to bring countries to a closer understanding of each other. We now know much more of Persia than we did before this Persian exhibition, which has been of more real value in explaining the characteristics, the essential features, of a nation than, perhaps, almost anything else that could be done. I sincerely hope, therefore, that this Bill will eventually pass, and that it will pass in a form which contains the necessary safeguards to prevent damage to delicate works of art, but which also is not so narrow as to limit the Trustees of the National Gallery or the Tate Gallery merely to British pictures. If necessary, I should be willing to see the British Museum either taken out of the Bill altogether or else allowed to have any of these safeguards that it desires; but to handicap the great picture galleries by limiting them so narrowly as the Bill in its present form proposes, is, I think, to pay too scant a measure of confidence and respect to their directors and boards of trustees and is, if I may say so, missing an opportunity of doing the thing and doing it handsomely.


I am very much in favour of the Bill even as it stands, but I should be very much more in favour of it if the Amendments which have been introduced in another place had not been put into it. I have heard the very able speech from the Front Bench opposite, but I am not sure that any argument has been made in favour of the Amendments introduced in another place beyond this, that the trustees of the British Museum must be regarded as superior to any other expert opinion which may express itself, that they alone must be listened to and that any other verdict must be entirely disregarded. That is a fair account of the arguments that we have heard. There is one body of opinion which is even more entitled to be heard than the British Museum, and that is the Royal Commission which has just reported. They were unanimously of opinion that a Bill to this effect should be drawn upon the widest possible lines. It should not be too narrowly drawn so as to confine loans overseas to one category of art. They go on to say specifically: In our considered opinion there is no danger whatever that a brief Act of Parliament according powers of loans overseas on the lines indicated above would lead to a rash or harmful dispersal of national treasures. Any suggestion to this effect must fall at once to the ground in face of the fact that a large number of institutions already possess these powers, but use them with an excess of caution approaching total paralysis. On this question the opinion of an impartial, unbiased Royal Commission is more entitled to be heard than a Board such as the trustees of the Btitish Museum, who are considering their own institution alone. What are the other expert opinions that should be expressed? We have two great voluntary organisations which, I think, are entitled to be heard on such a question. They are the National Art Loans Collections Fund and also the Museums Association. The latter is a very old-established organisation and represents, without doubt, the greatest body of expert opinion in the country. It has passed through its council and its officers a unanimous resolution favouring the Bill in its original form, and I am sure, if time had been given them for further consideration, they would have said that the Bill as originally drafted gave both to the British Museum and National Gallery the fullest possible power of prohibiting the loan of articles which may suffer damage in transit. The Bill as originally drafted gave power at any time to lend for public exhibition in places outside Great Britain on such terms as they think fit, any objects that are vested in them. All the arguments we have recently heard from the opposite side entirely ignore the purport of those words. It is possible for the British Museum or the National Gallery to rule out objects of exceptional fragility, objects such as paintings on wood and so on. I suggest, without any malice whatever, that the only reason these Amendments have been inserted is that the trustees of the British Museum are afraid to take the responsibility that they ought to take. They are adopting a real dog-in-the-manger attitude. Other countries have lent us of the best of their treasures without stint and without conditions and, when it comes to this country to take reciprocal action, we do it in such a churlish way that the gesture is hardly worth while. Our position as one of the greatest civilised countries in the world ought to make us consider this point and, in granting loans abroad, we should make it possible to loan everything that can possibly be loaned without damage, and such loans should not be fixed for an arbitrary term, as is done in the Amendment inserted in another place.

Another point that has been made is that any loans abroad of any kind might interrupt the student sequences in the British Museum or the National Gallery. May I speak from my own experience as a research student? Some years ago, during a thesis, I had occasion to resort to the British Museum and the Public Record Office for manuscripts. Had they been away on a loan exhibition at Brussels or Paris or anywhere else, it would have been absolutely certain that they would be coming back within a short space of time. But I should have had this added advantage, that the mere fact of these manuscripts going abroad would have concentrated attention upon that particular phase of culture, which would have materially assisted me in my studies rather than limited me. That is a point for consideration when this student plea is brought forward.

In a Bill of this description we ought to consider specifically the claims of our Dominions, who have already been loaned specimens of many kinds from other great national institutions. Already 12 of our national institutions have power to lend anything they care to lend, and the Royal Commission states emphatically that not one single case of damage has come to their notice in the loans that have been made. Loans have been made to countries as far distant as South America. I cannot for the life of me see why, if any one of these 12 institutions can send loans to South America and get them back without damage, this plea of damage should be brought forward in the case of the British Museum and the National Gallery. They are absolutely safeguarded under the terms of the Act as originally introduced and. when countries such as Canada, South Africa and so on come to us and, in the case of Canada, ask for French pictures and, in the case of South Africa, for Dutch, we ought to be generous enough to allow some of our many treasures to go abroad temporarily. I can conceive no reason why in another place the Amendment was inserted limiting this Bill to objects representative of British arts or crafts alone.

I will give one other illustration. Take the case of the British Museum. As the Bill stands, not a single specimen of Roman or Anglo-Saxon or mediaval civilisation can be lent abroad. These are the things when it comes to loan exhibitions that are so much wanted by our Dominions and Colonies. They have been able to make collections of their own of objects which have been produced from 1700 onwards. It is in these earlier specimens that they desire temporary loans from some of our great collections. This House should not be dictated to by the trustees of the British Museum. We have several other bodies of expert opinion to consider, including the Royal Commission, the Museums Association, and the National Art Collections Fund. Other countries have most generously lent us the best they could have lent during these past few years, and our position should be that we should do unto others what others have done to us.

Colonel ASHLEY

It is a pleasant change in these days of controversial Bills to welcome a Measure such as this, which, I hope, will soon remedy a long standing mistake in our national organisation. I cannot conceive a Bill more conducive to the appreciation of arts and crafts and to the improvement of our relations with foreign Powers and more likely to bring the Dominions and Colonies closer together than this non-contentious Bill. Up to now, apparently, the position has been that, while we can take everything from the rest of the world, we are debarred by Statute from returning the compliment, even though an overwhelming majority of us are quite clear that we might help art forward and do the right thing without in any way endangering our own precious possessions. I was not here at the beginning of the Debate, but, no doubt, speakers before me have mentioned the sending here last year of that magnificent collection of Italian pictures. What Signor Mussolini did safely for us, surely we should do for them. It cannot be said that the Italians can send pictures to this country safely and bring them back, and that we ourselves, a seafaring nation, cannot do the same thing. Therefore, I welcome the Bill whole-heartedly, though I am going to ask the Financial Secretary to clear up one or two points which to me are not clear.

Before the War, in the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), an excellent provision was inserted in the Finance Bill. It was that objects of art of national interest and importance should be exempt from Death Duties, provided the Inland Revenue found that they came within that category, as long as the owners did not sell them. That was not only a relief to the very often overburdened inheritor of valuable works of art, but it was an extremely wise step from the national point of view, because it enabled millions of pounds worth of articles of virtu and art to be kept in this country which, if that provision had not been put in, would inevitably have gone to America and other places overseas where they would have had to be sold in order to provide these Death Duties. That was a very wise and statesmanlike action which has enabled successive generations of art lovers, English and foreigners, to visit the houses where these treasures are stored, to enjoy them, to be educated in art, and generally to appreciate the beautiful things of life, and in our commercial age to appreciate the beautiful things of life. This humanises people and makes them more inclined to spend their leisure in a proper and decent way. I welcome the Measure because anything that will stimulate sending works of art to exhibitions, which will stimulate sending them from this country overseas and to our Dominions, must tend to spread culture and to make the great mass of people more appreciate the precious possessions that they have in these priceless works of art which we still have in so large a measure.

I am glad the Bill leaves the decision as to whether pictures shall be lent entirely to the trustees. If you have not trustees to whom you can leave the decision, the sooner you have another set of trustees the better. There is only one qualification that I would make, though I rather contradict myself in saying so. It seems to me that, under the Bill, the trustees could make an indefinite loan, say to the Berlin Art Museum, for 40 or 50 years. I am not sure whether some provision ought not to be put in to limit it to 15 or 20 years. I admit that it is a Committee point, but it is perhaps worthy of consideration, because an indefinite loan, such as the Portland Vase has been for upwards of 70 or 80 years to the British Museum, may be all right from the point of view of the private owner, but there is just the possibility that we might find ourselves one day with a very priceless possession left for a very long time overseas which the nation would like to have. That, however, is not a likely thing, and I do not press the point. As a layman, I am rather puzzled when it says that they may lend for public exhibition in places outside Great Britain"— that is the trustees may do so— any objects, being objects representative of British art or crafts and produced subsequent to the year sixteen hundred. I do not agree with those two qualifications. If it is good to lend overseas objects representative of British art or crafts, why should it be bad or improper to lend, leaving the decision in the discretion of the trustees, a bronze vase, we will say, dug up in some place in England or a bronze bowl? A very wonderful bowl was dug up only last year near Winchester, ancient British work, 2,000 B.C., and why such things should not be able to be sent away on exhibition I do not know. I cannot conceive why it is all right if it had been produced subsequent to 1600 but all wrong if it had been produced before 1600. You might answer, "Well, a panel picture painted previous to 1600 ought not to be sent abroad." I admit that that would probably be the right view, but you ought to leave the decision, surely, to the discretion of your trustees. Your trustees would say whether it was necessary to send a wooden panel picture dated 1450 for a long exhibition in the super-heated atmosphere of an American exhibition. Obviously, there would be great danger of it being cracked. I appeal to those in charge of the Bill to try, in Committee, to simplify it, and say that what the Museum holds may be exhibited abroad at the discretion of the trustees, and not proceed to make these, I will not say niggardly, but rather unfortunate reservations, that they shall be objects representative of British arts or crafts, and that 1600 be the datum line upon which you may proceed.

I should like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury why the words "outside Great Britain" are put in. Does that mean that at the present moment the National Gallery could not send a picture to be exhibited in Belfast? [Interruption.] That is a most extraordinary thing. I could understand that you could not send it to Dublin. That is in a Dominion. But surely Northern Ireland is part of this country in the sense that it sends representatives to this Parliament. When the Act dealing with the British Museum was passed, it did not exclude from the discretion of the trustees the power to send pictures and other objects to be exhibited in Dublin or anywhere else in Ireland, because Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. No doubt when the Free State became a, Dominion that automatically excluded the Free State from the existing powers of the trustees, but I cannot conceive that it automatically took out Northern Ireland and Belfast from the present powers. If my contention is the correct one, the words "outside Great Britain" are wrong. The words ought to be "outside Great Britain and Northern Ireland." Finally, I would like to ask a question entirely for the purposes of information. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Mr. Markham) mentioned that there were 12 public bodies who had powers already to send pictures overseas. Is the Wallace Collection one of the 12?


The Wallace Collection is not included, because I understand that the exhibits in the Wallace Collection have been left under a deed of gift which does not permit of them being lent.

Colonel ASHLEY

That is a good answer as far as it goes, but I should like, if possible, the Wallace Collection to be included. The answer that the deed of gift specifically excludes the power seems to me to be not very consistent with the terms of paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1 of the Bill because there we seek to override it. It is provided that they can do this if they can get the consent of the descendant, or if more than 15 years have passed since the date on which the object became vested in the trustees.


The Royal Commission, in page 30 of Part I of their final report, say: The Wallace Collection is a static collection, bequeathed to the nation under precise conditions, and our remarks here—regarding loans—do not apply to that collection.

Colonel ASHLEY

I am not denying the truth of the hon. Member's statement. I am trying to point out to the House that it is not a very good reason for excluding the Wallace Collection, because in this Bill we take the power to override the express dispositions of people who bequeath things to the British Museum by saying that if we can get the consent of their descendants they may be lent and that when no consent is given they can, after 15 years have elapsed, be lent abroad. It may be all right to exclude the Wallace Collection, but to give the reason for excluding it that William Wallace said that it should not be lent is not consistent with the terms of the Bill. I do not in any way wish to hold up the Bill—I am entirely in favour of it—but I hope that between now and the Committee stage the Government will will consider the advisability of doing away with these two restrictions, "British arts or crafts" and "the year sixteen hundred," and making it a simple condition that the trustees of these two great institutions shall lend things abroad at their discretion.


I rise with some diffidence to take a view contrary to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) who has spoken from the Front Bench, particularly as he can speak with far greater authority than I, and because, in a sense, the case which he has put is more attractive, though I think profoundly less right than the case for which I am standing. I also feel that we are in a somewhat difficult position, because I understand that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has announced that the Bill is going to be amended in Committee. As we do not know what the Amendments are likely to be, whether they will be fundamental or not, I think that the House is in a slight difficulty.


May I explain the position, because it will, perhaps, save the time of the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Christchurch (Colonel Ashley) and the hon. Member apparently did not hear my speech. I stated that the Bill, as it now comes before the House, is how it has been left by another place, and that two lines—I think they are lines 12 and 13— being objects representative of British arts or crafts and produced subsequent to the year sixteen hundred embodied two Amendments which were inserted in another place, and that it is the intention of the Government to ask the House to omit those two lines and to restore the Bill to the form in which it was originally presented.


I thank the hon. Gentleman for his explanation, and later on I shall have something to say about the exclusion of the words "sixteen hundred." If he will forgive me, I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong and the hon. Gentleman behind him is wrong in implying that the words "being objects representative of British arts or crafts" were not in the Bill as originally drafted. All I can say is that Lord Henworth in another place mentioned the fact that, those words "being objects representative of British arts or crafts" were in the original draft of the Bill, which was dated 9th October. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] In the original draft of the Bill—not in the Bill originally presented to another place. The hon. Gentleman said definitely, because I took down his words, "the original draft of the Bill." My only argument is that the Bill, with the exception of the words "sixteen hundred," is in precisely the form in which the Government originally drafted it, and I think that that is worth mentioning.


If I used the words "original draft of the Bill," of course, my intention was to convey the draft of the Bill introduced into the House of Lords. I know nothing about what the Bill may have looked like during the various attempts at drafting it, but I am concerned solely with the form in which it was introduced in another place, and the words I used were intended to convey that meaning.


I am sorry, but the hon. Member did say "the original draft of the Bill" and not "the original Bill." So that strictly speaking, I think I am right in saying that the Bill as it now stands and unamended is as it was originally conceived by the Government. As I say, the thing had not been denied until the hon. Gentleman got up, and, of course, if the hon. Gentleman says that these words which I have mentioned were never in any draft Bill, I accept his word. It has also been approved, as it now stands, by a unanimous board of the British Museum, and, as my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench below said, by, at any rate, half of the trustees of the National Gallery. The National Gallery have changed their view a certain amount in the last year, because in their report sent out at the beginning of 1930 I read the following: The trustees of the National Gallery, in answer to a request of the Prime Minister, stated that they were unanimously in favour of lending works of the British school abroad, but were averse from lending abroad pictures of the foreign schools. I think it is only fair to point out that opinion on these matters has changed fairly quickly.


Is that by a majority, may I ask?


I can but say that they stated that they were unanimously in favour of it. That was a unanimous report issued at the beginning of this year. [Interruption.] I think I know what my right hon. Friend is saying, but I did not mean to imply any inconsistency on his part, as I do not think that he was a trustee then.


I was a trustee, when it first came up before any Bill had been drafted, and there was a division of opinion. We were unanimously in favour of lending British works of art, and there was a majority of one against lending foreign works of art. I was one of the minority on that occasion, and that was at a board at which I think, only about six or seven members were present. When a full board met the voting was exactly equal. The matter then came up for decision. There really has been no change of opinion on the part of those trustees of the Board who, like myself, have been continuously in favour of the Bill as originally introduced in another place.

5.0 p.m.


I cannot be responsible for those members who did not turn up at the board meeting. All the others were unanimously against lending-foreign pictures. In view of the difficulties and in view of the fact that so much is being done in the Bill, I think it would be unwise to extend the scope of the Bill. The Bill is extremely generously drawn. It allows, for instance, every English picture in the Tate Gallery to be loaned.


Hear, hear!


I think it does that without exception. It allows every British picture in the National Gallery to be loaned, with the exception of a handful of extremely rare pictures which the trustees under no condition would be able to loan.


Surely the Noble Lord has omitted to notice that only objects representative of British arts or crafts are permitted to be loaned, and not only English. Therefore, a much larger proportion of the pictures in the Tate Gallery are not included.


If I did not say British in both cases, I meant to say British. I am anxious to keep the Bill very much as it stands, particularly in view of the exhibition at Rome which, I understand, will take place a few months hence. Under the Bill that exhibition could be made representative of the finest art that we have in this country. What has been said about other exhibitions is, in a way, irrelevant. I would much rather think that we were making this gesture, not as a return gesture for the wonderful generosity with which we have been loaned pictures, but because we believe that British art at the present time is absolutely unknown on the Continent, because we believe British art to be very fine and that it is good business that British art should be made known. Not only is it unknown on the Continent but, in a way, it is despised, and very naturally so, because I doubt if there is a single picture of the British school in any of the great galleries of Europe which would be of sufficient quality to be acceptable by the National Gallery.

If we lend British works of art, we shall be giving to the other countries the complete reciprocity which I believe they desire. The Italians lent to us Italian pictures and the Dutch lent to us Dutch pictures, and what foreign countries would like us to lend to them is British art. That fact is emphasised four times in the report of the Royal Commission on museums and national galleries. I see no reason to extend the Bill to include works of art that are not British. I do not believe that the Dutch nation wishes to have the Ruisdael pictures, which the hon. Member said are in the basement of the National Gallery. If we are to lend them anything, they want works of first class importance. No one is going to say that works which are at the present time in the basement of the National Gallery are work of first class importance. They are pictures of some interest; pictures which I would like to see lent in a more extended way to the provincial galleries. There is nothing to prevent the National Gallery lending to provincial museums. I have, in the published report, a long schedule of pictures which went last year to provincial museums, on loan. I would like that list extended to the pictures in the basement of the National Gallery. Basement is, perhaps, an unkind word to apply to a large series of rooms which are not less than 8 feet above the ground. I would like to see loans of these pictures to the provincial museums, but these are not the things—let me emphasise it most emphatically—which foreign countries wish to borrow from us, because they are things of secondary importance. If they were of first rate importance, they would he upstairs hung in the proper rooms of the National Gallery.

If we are to lend anything, we should lend what is good, namely, British works of art. Therefore, to increase the scope of this Measure is unnecessary. I think it is also undesirable to eliminate the 1600 line because of the great antiquity and fragility of works earlier than that date. A safety line of what may and may not be lent must be drawn somewhere. The difficulty is to settle whether Parliament shall draw it by the rough and ready line of 1600, or whether the onus should be entirely on the trustees. My right hon. Friend will admit that a line has been drawn. I could mention 50 pictures in the National Gallery, and he would agree that it would he improper to lend any one of those pictures. If you do not draw the line by some general process, but say "British works of art below the year 1600," the trustees of the National Gallery and the British Museum will get entangled in the difficulty of making schedules and black lists, and saying, "This picture may go"; "That picture may not go." They may also have to make schedules and black lists of galleries, saving. "This picture may not go to that Continental gallery," "It may go to that Continental gallery." I see the most deplorable difficulties that would arise. I think it would be much wiser to accept the line laid down in the Bill as it now stands.

The right hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Ashley) did not make it clear that there was a very real difference between lending English pictures and foreign pictures. The risks to foreign pictures earlier than 1600 are incomparably greater than the risks to English pictures after 1600. There are certain risks which are common to both. Let me remind the House of a few of the risks. There is the risk of fire, which is common to works of art whatever their period or quality. Let me recall a few of the fires that have occurred at galleries. There was the fire at Vienna, the fire at Dublin and the fire at Leyden. There was the fire in 1910 at the British Exhibition at Brussels, when the whole of the British exhibit was wiped out. Let me mention other dangers. There is the danger of travel by sea. One recalls the case of the steamship "Leonardo da Vinci," carrying a priceless cargo of Italian works of art to this country. Let me recall another case of a ship which took a cargo of British works of art to New Zealand, just over a year ago. That ship ran into a fog, went on to the rocks and sank with the whole cargo of British works of art. Then there is the question of theft. One might quote one of the most famous museums in the world allowing to be stolen from its very centre the most famous picture in the world. I might mention that at the Antwerp exhibition last year, from the British pavilion, three works of art were stolen.

These are things which are common knowledge and they are risks which, with regard to British works of art, we must be prepared to undertake, because we believe that it is wise to allow British art to be known abroad. To allow, for instance, a painter like Turner, whose works are very largely locked up in the Tate Gallery, to be known on the Continent would be an absolute revelation of British art and would amaze the rest of Europe. These risks are legitimate for British works of art. There are risks which the right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) mentioned which belong exclusively to earlier works of art, and particularly to foreign works of art. There are risks to panels which may be as early as the first years of the Christian era, works which in the National Gallery are kept at an even temperature by day and night, which are peculiarly susceptible to any variation of moisture or temperature, and which it is inconceivable should be allowed to travel. If they were allowed to travel, it is inconceivable that considerable damage would not be done to them. When that damage is done, when a crack appears, the picture has to be repainted and touched up, and that means loss of authenticity, and it means that the picture is further away from the original condition in which it left the artist's hands. That original condition is the thing on which students more and more rely, and it is a thing for which, of all the galleries of the world, the National Gallery is perhaps most famous.

On this Bill the British Museum Board is unanimous. It is unanimous in approving the Bill as it stands and unanimous in condemning it as it would be amended. The National Gallery Board is half in favour of the Bill as it stands and half in favour of it as it would be amended.


Hear, hear.


The greatest living authority on Italian painting, Mr. Berensen, is dead against allowing, and he has said so most emphatically, great works of Italian art to be transported when once they have reached their permanent resting place. Various foreign heads of galleries and experts take the same view. In the report of the Royal Commission it is pointed out that the French and Belgian Governments, after the Flemish exhibition, passed regulations preventing themselves from exporting this type of works of art. There is therefore an enormous consensus of opinion in favour of the Bill as it now stands and against the suggested Amendments, and I want to know whether the hon. Member has received any report on this matter from the head of the British Museum, the head of the National Gallery and the head of the Victoria and Albert Museum, three men who know better than anyone else the dangers which may be incurred by lending works of art. If the House knew that they were in favour of extending this Bill in the manner suggested, much of my doubt would vanish.


Why take these three men only?


Because they are the men most vitally concerned. The head of the National Gallery is the man responsible for the National Gallery and the safety of its objects. The head of the British Museum is personally responsible—until last year he was responsible under a bond of £10,000—for the safety of the objects under his control. The head of the Victoria and Albert Museum is also personally responsible for the objects under his control. They are technical men, and I want to know if they are in favour of the suggestion, because any one would be very unwise if by voting against this extremely brilliant technical advice we in any way extend the scope of the Bill and add to what I believe to be the dangers so far as the position of trustees are concerned. One would have thought, listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford, that this was a Bill to limit the powers of trustees. On the contrary, it gives them powers and a discretion such as they have never enjoyed before. I approve of these extended powers because I believe the trustees of our museums are a most careful and competent body of men. But this Bill puts them in a very difficult position.

Assume that the Foreign Office is having a somewhat difficult time with any other country and assume that this country wishes us to lend a particular picture, which the trustees consider it is undesirable to lend. Their Ambassador comes to the Foreign Secretary and asks for the loan of that picture, and our Foreign Secretary presses the trustees to make the loan. I do not suppose that trustees would ever give way to pressure of that type, but it is most deplorable that they should be asked to decide a question of politics, which should be completely outside their jurisdiction; they should not be called upon to decide a question which may have a political action or meaning and which may have serious political consequences for good or evil. These are a few of the reasons why I sincerely hope the Financial Secretary will not move any Amendments to the Bill. As it stands it is the result of compromise and concession and to take it into far more debateable ground will be foolish and wrong. I hope it will go through as it stands.


The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel) has made an eloquent and instructed appeal for the Bill as it stands. The great force of his argument was directed against lending early pictures, and on this point he made a strong and convincing case. But his case and his argument was not so powerful when he dealt with modern foreign pictures in this country. He quoted, in favour of his case, the pictures that are now in the basement of the National Gallery, which nobody would want to see exported.


That was in answer to my right hon. Friend.


I am going to take another case. There are two reasons why I am in favour of the larger Bill. This country for a long time past has collected pictures from all over the world, and in our private and national galleries we have by far the largest in quantity and the best in quality of pictures gathered from all quarters of Europe. In the second place, we have had three very important exhibitions in this country, and in each case we have had exhibits shown from countries other than the country of origin. We have enjoyed pictures from the galleries of other countries in Europe, and it would be rather ungenerous of us, having benefited enormously from these collections and received the most ample treatment from foreign countries, to restrict ourselves. For those two reasons, I think there is a strong case for the larger Bill. But I do not want to argue the general case, which has been conclusively put by the right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), and I should like to say that I agree with every word he said both as to restriction in lending and as to defining the sphere of lending. The trustees of the National Gallery and British Museum, if they had a discretion, are more likely to err on the side of restricting that discretion than extending it. The case I want to take is that of the Hugh Lane pictures. Sir Hugh Lane, a very fine judge of modern paintings and, indeed, of all paintings, a distinguished Irishman, thought that this country and Ireland were deficient in modern Continental pictures, and he made a very fine collection of modern French works of art. He first offered them to Dublin, if they built a gallery, but the Dublin Corporation behaved, I think, very foolishly and let the thing drift on for years. Sir Hugh Lane got angry, and he then offered the collection to the National Gallery, provided an annexe was built to house them, as the Tate Gallery itself cannot hang any picture except a British picture. Through private generosity an annexe was built, and there this fine collection is now. Sir Hugh Lane made a will leaving the pictures to England, but just before he was drowned in the "Lusitania" he signed a codicil, which was unwitnessed, leaving the pictures to Dublin.


He wrote the codicil, but did not sign it.


No, I have seen the codicil, spent several days over it. It was signed but not witnessed. I sat on the Committee which was set up consisting of Mr. George Barnes, Mr. J. W. Wilson, former Members of this House, and myself, and we decided, for reasons with which I need not trouble the House, that the will must stand and the pictures are now in London. That has always been a grievance with Irishmen, who consider that they have a moral if not a legal title to these pictures. Under the Bill, the trustees can only lend outside Great Britain, and Dublin is outside Great Britain, objects representative of British arts and crafts. That is a strong case. You have here a very fine collection of French pictures made by an Irishman, intended first to be housed in Dublin but now in London, and, unless this Bill is amended, no power on earth can allow these pictures to be exhibited in Dublin. That is a strong case in favour of the removal of this restriction. I should be inclined to remove the restriction of time as well as of origin, certainly to remove the restriction of origin. If we say that we will not lend foreign pictures surely we shall find it very difficult to hold such splendid exhibitions as we have been privileged to enjoy recently.

Captain EDEN

The Financial Secretary has made quite plain the intention of the Government when the Bill reaches Committee. It is now clear that the words: being objects representative of British arts or crafts and produced subsequent to the year sixteen hundred are to come out, and that the Bill is to go back to its original form. I join with my Noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel) in regretting very much the decision to which the Government have come, and, if opportunity offers, I hope we shall divide the Committee against this proposal. I would not like it to be thought that anyone in this House had a doubt that we should respond as generously as possible to the opportunities which have been afforded the British public in recent times, such as no other public has ever had the opportunity of enjoying. Everybody must be profoundly grateful for the recent exhibitions in this country and I am fully in accord, as indeed everyone in the House must be, with the ambition that we should do something to return that generosity; but, in my view, the best return for an exhibition of foreign art in this country is an exhibition of British art in the country from whom the loan has come.

My view of reciprocity, a fair and desirable reciprocity, is that it should take the form of an exhibition of loaned British pictures and loaned British arts and crafts in foreign countries. I frankly deplore the speech of the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Markham). He told us that if these two lines were allowed to remain in the Bill, we should be churlish towards those who have lent their works of art to this country, and that the Bill would be hardly worth while. I do not share his opinion of English art. I do not think that English art is hardly worth while showing abroad. Nor do I think that the offer of a loan of British paintings is a churlish offer. I think it an extremely generous offer, and that opinion is shared by the Royal Commission. The hon. Gentleman laid great stress on the report of the Royal Commission. There are these two sentences in the Royal Commission's report drawing special attention to the desirability of lending British art abroad: The desirability of such loans …. is especially apparent in the case of the British school of painting. Another reference of a similar kind is: It is indubitable that British art is too little known and appreciated on the Continent. It is too little known and appreciated by the hon. Gentleman opposite or he would not have made the extraordinary suggestion that when we offer English pictures we are offering something hardly worth while.


I did not say that the loan of British art abroad would be churlish in itself. I said that merely to reciprocate in that way when foreign nations were giving so generously was niggardly.

Captain EDEN

I am glad to have that comment. If the hon. Member will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, I think he will see that his statement was that the agreed Bill approved by the House of Lords was hardly worth while. I would like to make one further point in connection with the loan exhibitions of foreign works here. It has been repeatedly said how generous those loans have been. But it must be remembered that those loans were made and the exhibitions held under conditions that were perfectly well known at the time. The reservations by which we were bound in respect of reciprocity were fully realised, and there is still a continuous offer of loans to this country in spite of the continuance of those restrictions. The reason for that is evident. Quite apart from the willing generosity of the lenders there is at least an advantage to the lending country as great as that to the country which received the loan. That is no doubt the explanation.

The difficulty in which I find myself if we take out these two lines is that there must be a limitation or a line drawn somewhere, and the question is where? We have had contradictory statements made to-day. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the New Forest (Colonel Ashley) said, for instance, that the trustees should draw the line—let them be responsible; in the case of the British Museum let them choose. But, after all, they do not want to have that responsibility put upon them. They made it clear that they would rather Parliament accepted it. The hon. Gentleman opposite, on the other hand, was rather scornful of our being guided by the decision of the responsible trustees. He was also scornful of technical opinion. But that technical opinion we are not justified in ignoring. We should act extremely cautiously in this matter. We want very strong reasons for departing from the basis of the Bill as approved in another place, for it was the result of compromise.

I should dislike very much anything in the nature of schedules being introduced either for pictures or other works of art which should not be lent or of countries to which they should not go; but I do not see how something of that kind is to be avoided unless we retain the two lines in the Bill. There are certain things which in any circumstances could not be lent. There is the example of certain books which come easily to our mind. To-day more than half the first folios of Shakespeare are in the United States, and there are reasons for our taking special precautions in this matter. We shall need stronger evidence in Committee for departing from the original compromise. I do not think that the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), as to the pictures in the basement of the National Gallery, is convincing. Generally speaking, though there may be exceptions here and there, the pictures which will be required for these foreign loans will be the best pictures that we have, and they are in the Gallery itself.

I would like to see a very much freer circulation in this country of some of the pictures of what we may call secondary importance, which are in the basement of the National Gallery. On the other hand, there are so many risks of damage that must be run by earlier pictures and panels if they are to be transferred from this country that this House is taking the gravest responsibility in departing from technical opinion on the subject. I repeat to the Financial Secretary that I hope we shall be told what technical opinion is on this matter. I lay the greatest store by it. If there is an error to be committed, it would be better that this House should err on the side of preserving these treasures for those who come after us than in taking a risk which it may not be possible to repair. In Committee we shall want better reasons than those already given for departing from the Bill. If they are not forth- coming, I shall vote against the proposed alterations. In my view, the loan of English pictures and works of art should suffice.


This Debate shows signs of developing into a conversation amongst Members on this side of the House, but, at any rate, if that is so, there is a spice of variety in opinions to keep the Debate from being purely a repetition of the same sort of statement or even the same general point of view. I ask for indulgence while I make a few comments on what has fallen mainly from hon. Friends of mine. Broadly speaking, I favour the Bill as it was introduced in another place, but I attach so great an importance to the provisions of the Bill, even as restricted in another place and as it now comes before us, that I should be most reluctant to lose that which is contained in the Bill in its present form if unable to convince those in another place that they may safely go back on the opinions they first expressed.

None of us who have had the good fortune to travel abroad and enjoy pleasant hours in the public galleries of other countries can have helped feeling, first, astonishment, and then profound and lasting regret, that British art is almost unrepresented in the galleries of Europe outside our own country. That is not merely derogatory to one of the aspects in which this country would desire to be regarded, and has a right to be regarded, as a country which has an original school of art of its own, worthy to set beside the national schools of other countries, but I think it has consequences in the present which are most unfortunate for British art, in that, there being no knowledge of the British school except among foreigners who have come to our shores—broadly speaking, amongst special students—our present-day artists suffer because they have no background, and they stand, not in their proper place, but as isolated individuals not forming part of any recognised school, and are judged, not by the standards of the school to which they belong, but by some other school from which they differ. I believe there can be no greater service to English artists of to-day—who certainly need whatever help we can give them—than to familiarise foreign nations with the great traditions of British art, and thus place living artists and workers in their true position in the world of art.

I, therefore, attach enormous importance to obtaining even that restricted permission to lend abroad which is given by the Bill as it now stands. But surely we might go further than that. Surely the restriction which has been introduced into the Bill and which has formed the staple of to-day's discussion. is both arbitrary and illogical, and, more than that, is admittedly quite insufficient to distinguish between those objects of art and craft which can be lent without danger and those which cannot. My Noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel) sought to shock and frighten us by a recital of the risks which we run by lending pictures abroad. Must we not clearly distinguish between the risks which attach to the lending of particular works of art and those risks which apply to lending anything at all? If an exhibition is consumed by fire, if a ship goes down with a cargo of art, the risk is the same whether the exhibition or the ship contains a fourteenth century panel or a nineteenth century Turner.


I did try to draw the line distinctly between risks which were common to all works and risks to older panels, and I tried to say that I was prepared personally to accept the risks for British works of art. The dangers are two different kinds.


Then I am not correcting my Noble Friend; I was really confirming what he said. But I draw a different conclusion from it. I draw the conclusion that you cannot define by Statute what objects out of our national collection ought to he lent and what ought not. You cannot define it by saying that British works of art, however precious, may be lent but that nothing else may be lent, because there are some British works of art which probably ought not to go out of the country. On the other hand you cannot do it by fixing a particular date. If a date is fixed, quite obviously, that would not protect some fragile thing which ought never to be allowed to go abroad, while it would prevent the loan of some work of early date to which no such danger attached as might attach to some of the creations of a later age or some delicate work of modern craftsmanship. Confining our loans to British art is not sufficient to protect us against the danger of lending something which ought not to be lent. Neither is confining our loans to objects created after a certain date a sufficient protection against that danger. A loan may be made to a particular exhibition which will be held in a building, and in circumstances, and under conditions which render that loan safe, but in the case of another exhibition conducted under other arrangements the loan of the same object may not be safe.

My Noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Warwick (Captain Eden) are afraid of the burden which would be placed on the trustees by leaving these matters to be decided in each individual case by them. I have more confidence in the trustees. I can well believe that many of them would like to be spared these difficult decisions. I daresay that they would also like to be spared difficult decisions as to the spending of such money as they have available on this or that work of art. But we trust them to do these things. They are appointed on account of their knowledge and I cannot but believe that they will take better care of our national collections than any statute or schedule to a statute could do. I come to a point which was put here by my Noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale and was put by Lord Grey in some other place. A vision was conjured up of a Foreign Secretary engaged in difficult negotiations with some other country, or anxious to ease a situation of tension by making what is called, in our political slang, a gesture, putting pressure on the trustees to lend some work or works of art which they thought it improper to lend. As I have pointed out, it is not merely a question of whether a work of art is suitable to be lent or not. It is also a question of whether the conditions in which it is going to be shown and kept in the country to which it is lent, make it safe that that particular work of art or any work of art should be lent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but the trustees will not be spared these awkward decisions.

Pictures, such as some of our valuable Turners, will be lent to one country, where the trustees are satisfied that the loan will be properly cared for, and properly guarded, and where all proper precautions will be taken. But supposing that there is another country, which is an exception in those respects, and that the trustees feel that the conditions there are such that they ought not to lend any works of art to that country. If we assume that a Foreign Secretary is going to use our national collections as a card in his diplomatic dealings and that he is going to put pressure on the trustees of the National Gallery to get himself out of his difficulties and to place them in difficulties, the question will arise just the same. Either you have confidence in the trustees or you have not. Either they are men of knowledge and of strength of character, or they are not. If they have not those qualities, they ought not to be trustees. If they have those qualities, they are the best people to be trusted with these decisions. To draw a particular line, to say that everything after a certain date may be lent, but that nothing before it may be lent, is to draw a wholly false distinction between those things which it is safe to lend, and those things which it is not safe to lend. To say that you will lend British works of art, however unique or valuable, provided they come after a certain date, but no other works of art, whether they come before or after that date, is to underrate the importance of British art, and, in many cases, to set up a wholly wrong test and guide for the responsible decisions which the trustees would still have to make.


I find myself in disagreement with my noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Warwick (Captain Eden) and in strong agreement with the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Markham) on these matters. I, like previous speakers, welcome the introduction of the Bill, and I hope that it may be possible to arrive at some compromise which will result in the fullest possible latitude being given to those who will be responsible for carrying out the Bill. I welcome it for a variety of reasons. In the first place, it will help us to continue those reciprocal exchanges of works of art which have played such a prominent part in the artistic life of this country during the past few years. There is one aspect of those exhibitions which is sometimes forgotten. Not only do many people get a great deal of light and pleasure from them but they also have the result of revealing to our own people the wonderful treasures of our own galleries. I understand that the most popular postcard reproduction at the recent exhibition of Italian art, was a reproduction of one of our own works which has been in the National Gallery for many years past. It is only since the holding of those exhibitions that a great many people have learned to appreciate magnificent possessions which we have in our galleries.

In the second place, I welcome the Bill because I believe that there are many pictures which could usefully be exhibited, say, in some of our Dominions. For instance, I understand that the Dominion of South Africa is most anxious to have a loan of some of the Dutch pictures. Where better could those pictures go, and where would they be more appreciated? There are many bare walls at our Embassies and Legations throughout the world which would be very suitable for the display of some of these pictures. Quite apart from adding to the pleasantness of residencies and other buildings, it would be doing a real service as regards propaganda for British art to display some of our pictures in that way. On the question of propaganda I agree very strongly with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). In going round the galleries of Europe one is often impelled to ask, "Where are the English pictures?" One, generally, finds only a few unrepresentative British works in a miscellaneous gathering of other pictures which the gallery authorities apparently have not known how to classify, and have therefore placed all together in one room. I believe that the effect of British art not being adequately represented is far greater than one would imagine. I believe that it largely explains the idea which one often encounters in Europe that England is a cold country with very few cultured and artistic people. I believe that the bias against this country which is sometimes met with among foreigners is, at any rate, influenced by the fact that we" who, in painting the 18th century, hold a predominant posi- tion, are not adequately represented in the art galleries of Europe and of the world. We know that the trustees of these various galleries are responsible and efficient people, who have been chosen because they are eminently suited to the positions which they hold. Having chosen them why not trust them?

Captain EDEN

Because they do not want to be trusted.


My contention is that if they were such weak individuals that they did not want to undertake the full responsibilities of their office, then they ought to resign and allow others to take their place. What about the other [...] from which loans have been made to this country? In Paris and Berlin these galleries are, I believe, largely run by the State. If the galleries were entirely State-managed it is possible that political pressure might be used, although it is hardly conceivable. But in our case we have a completely independent body of trustees who have shown, by the healthy disagreement which we know has prevailed in their ranks, that they are intensely interested in this subject. They would be the first to resent any attempt on the part of any Government to influence their views with reference to the loan of pictures. I imagine that any attempt at interference such as has been suggested, on the part of a hypothetical Foreign Secretary, would be one of the best reasons for the trustees turning down a request for a loan. In the terms of the Bill they have sufficient power to determine what works should or should not be foamed abroad. The matter is "in their discretion" and is "subject to such regulations as they may prescribe" and "on such terms as they think fit." All those phrases appear to give the trustees adequate safeguards. If, in their opinion, a particular work is not suitable for sending abroad, they have the power to decide accordingly. I cannot see why we should doubt their ability to discharge their responsibilities considering who they are and the way in which they have done their work in the past, it would be ridiculous to confine them by some arbitrary distinction such as is indicated in the Bill in its present form. As regards the date of 1600, for instance, there must be in the British Museum examples of Sussex ironwork—


The Victoria and Albert.

6.0 p.m.


I am not an expert and I only mentioned that as a possible example. There must be many articles incapable of being damaged by a short journey abroad Just as Sussex ironwork would be incapable of suffering damage in that way. Simply because such articles happen to represent an art before 1600, the trustees and directors are not allowed by the law to lend this most interesting exhibit of a certain aspect of British art. I rather wish it could be laid down in this Bill that if manuscripts are going to be lent abroad, a copy of those manuscripts should be kept in the Museum, because with the photographic processes of to-day it is not asking very much that these manuscripts should be photographed. I wish it were possible for all manuscripts of any national value which leave this country for one reason or another to be copied or photographed in some way, and that permission should not be given for these manuscripts to go abroad unless such conditions were carried out.

I do not quite understand what are the powers of the trustees and directors at the present time in regard to lending pictures internally. For instance, is Ulster covered by the terms which operate to-day? I think you will notice that, in regard to the majority of exhibits, to which the Noble Lord behind me referred, which have been lent by the National Gallery to various other countries, they have been, shall I say, of secondary importance, and I feel that pictures, such as the Titian which was bought the year before last, I think it was, by a specific grant of the Treasury, ought—provided, of course, the trustees think they will not be damaged—to be exhibited in various parts of the country, because they have been paid for by the taxes of the population. When that question was being discussed, I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury about it, and he said the whole matter was being discussed and that the appropriate time for a decision in regard to the matter would be when this Bill was introduced.

I hope very much that those who are supporting the present form of the Bill will give a little more trust to, and have a little more confidence in, the trustees who are administering our national possessions, and I am certain that if we are introducing this Bill for certain specific objects, about which we are all agreed, we had far better go the whole way and introduce a Measure which will give unfettered discretion to able and efficient people to carry out their work along the lines suggested in the Bill.


I was somewhat confused by the speech which was made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), because, although he was a short time ago a modern and up-to-date Foreign Minister, there are other opinions held as to what would be the position of a Foreign Minister under this Bill; and if I may quote by permission from another place, it will be found—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I will not use the quotation, except to say that it is there, but it was said in another place by Lord Grey, very clearly and definitely, that the position of a Foreign Minister might very well be difficult under such a Bill as this. I bring that out only because I think the Noble Lord the Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel), when he was going into detail on the position of the Foreign Minister under such a Bill as this, was then looking at it from a point of view which we, as Members of this House, would be quite justified in considering before we gave the trustees of the British Museum or the other museums too wide powers under the Bill.

A great deal has been said of the necessity for generosity on this question. No one who realises the present position will deny that under the Bill as it stands we are taking a very considerable step, and it is in the main accepted as a reasonable Bill by the trustees and the people who would have to administer it. In that event, as we are making an entirely new departure, is it not right that we should lay down at any rate one or two very clear and definite rules. Then on the basis of those rules, you will give the people in whom you have to put confidence, namely, the trustees, the fullest powers of carrying out these matters. For that reason, I hope personally, in regard to the two lines, 12 and 13, which have been objected to so much, even if they have to be amended, that at any rate as far as pictures are concerned there will be a very clear and definite date laid down, such as the year 1600, so that you do not make it too difficult for those who have to administer the Measure.

I quite agree with what the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said on the subject of flints and bronzes. Quite clearly, they would be very much more easy to deal with, and I do not see why, when this Bill is in Committee, you should not lay down some definite departure, not on the lines of wide and long schedules, but some definite line which would enable articles of a nonperishable nature in the main, such as I have just mentioned, to come under an entirely different category and not be necessarily affected by the year 1600. The year 1600 is no fetish with me, but I think it is well to lay down this rule.

I have listened to most of the Debate with great interest, but there is one point which I think has not yet been mentioned. I understand that the position under paragraph (a) and (b) is this: Paragraph (b) lays it down quite clearly that whatever conditions were laid down in a will, 15 years after those objects have been handed over to the museum they can be sent abroad anywhere, anyhow. That is to say, that any objects in the museum at present that, have been there for 15 years, under this Bill would be able to be lent abroad, if it was considered right to lend them by the trustees; in other words, paragraph (b) for all practical purposes contradicts paragraph (a). Am I right in assuming that? It is a technical point, which could he explained, perhaps, on the Committee stage of the Bill.

We have had a very full discussion on this Bill, a discussion in which, with the exception of myself and possibly one other, practically everyone has been a real authority on this particular question. We have heard a great number of views, and while I welcome the development which is being made under this Bill, I think that when the Bill in all probability will occupy a most important position, it is just as well that it should only go as far as it does now. I say the Bill will occupy a most important place, because it seems to me to be almost certain that this Bill will be the sole contribution of the Government towards the question of unemployment, and, that being the case, it would be unjust of us to-day if we did not give the Bill a Second Reading. It would be ungenerous, particularly as I noticed that even the Prime Minister attended the Debate for a short time this afternoon; and it would be just as well that this one Bill, the sole contribution of the Government to the troubles of the day, which will enable the British Museum to lend articles of interest to foreign exhibitions, should be passed. I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill for that reason and if it comes back without some very definite limitation laid down, as, for instance, in regard to the two lines which so many people want to cut out, I am not at all sure that it will have as hearty a welcome on that occasion as it has had from me this evening.


I can speak again only with the consent of the House, but I have been asked to reply to one particular question. The position with regard to Northern Ireland at the present time, without the Bill, is this, that the British Museum is limited to lending in Great Britain, but the National Gallery can lend in the United Kingdom. It is, therefore, quite clear that the British Museum could not lend to Northern Ireland. I am not a legal expert on constitutional questions, but I think it is clear that the National Gallery could lend to Northern Ireland. With regard to questions put to me from other quarters, they are really Committee points, and I think that when this question comes to be discussed in Committee whoever is in charge of the Bill will no doubt deal with those points.


Is it intended that the Committee stage should be taken upstairs or on the Floor of the House? There are several Amendments that I wish to move in Committee.


We are not moving to keep the Bill on the Floor of the House.


Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question about the 15 years? It is an important technical question.


As I understand it, both these conditions must be fulfilled; that is to say, if the proviso in paragraph (b) is satisfied, the satisfaction of paragraph (a) is still required.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.