HC Deb 22 February 1932 vol 262 cc32-3

May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and perhaps also your assistance in this matter. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has presented the usual petition on behalf of the British Museum as has been done year after year. In that connection I wish to point out that great difficulty has been found in putting questions here on matters relating to the Museum or in finding anyone to answer such questions on behalf of the Museum. I am interested in museum matters but I have found that I was not in order in putting questions concerning the British Museum to any Department of the Government. Within the last two or three years the Public Accounts Committee have had before them the curator of the British Museum, as money for the Museum has been voted by this House and the curator has had to attend and to give explanations about that money. In recent weeks hon. Members have endeavoured to get questions about the British Museum answered and they have had to take the roundabout way of addressing them to the First Commissioner of Works or the Financial Secretary. The Prime Minister as First Lord of the Treasury is a Trustee of the British Museum and I wish to know if it would be possible to get a Ruling that questions which do not touch the detailed internal administration of the Museum might be addressed to the Prime Minister and might then be taken over by the Treasury and dealt with by their representatives here. I refer of course only to questions on matters connected with general policy of the Museum.


The hon. Gentleman asks me whether questions can be addressed to some Minister who can answer for the British Museum. It is rather a difficult matter because the duties connected with the British Museum are vested in trustees and it would be inconvenient as well as unusual for questions to be put in this House to a Minister who had no responsibility for the Museum. The real responsibility rests with the trustees of the Museum. There are, however, certain questions in which undoubtedly Parliament has a direct interest and a certain responsibility. Therefore I think that as regards questions on this point each must be judged and treated on its own merits as it arises. There cannot be a general ruling that questions of all kinds on this subject are to be accepted at the Table.


I do not know, sir, whether you are aware that the money which is voted by the House for the British Museum has to be answered for by the curator of the Museum before the Public Accounts Committee? I submit on that ground that we would be within our rights in putting down all questions concerning the general administration and policy of the British Museum for answer by some representative of the Treasury, and in view also of the fact that public money is involved.


That is what I had in mind when I said that some questions might be suitably addressed to some Minister in this House but others might not be suitable as they might interfere with the duties of the trustees to whom powers have been delegated. Each question would have to be treated on its merits.