HC Deb 29 June 1934 vol 291 cc1495-503

Order for Second Reading read.

1.29 p.m.


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

The Bill is a short and simple one and no long exposition of it is necessary. It provides for the setting up of a National Maritime Museum in certain buildings at Greenwich, which were recently occupied by the Greenwich Hospital School and are now no longer required for that purpose by reason of the fact that the school has moved to new and very much better buildings at Holbrook in Suffolk. These buildings consist of, first, the historic Queen's House, the work of Inigo Jones, completed in 1635, which has, since 1st June this year, been placed by the Admiralty in the guardianship of the Commissioners of Works and my Department as an ancient monument. A good deal of preservation work will be necessary to restore the house, hitherto occupied by officers of the School, to its original character as far as that can be carried out. Secondly, there are the disused school buildings which are to be handed over to my Department. These were erected at various dates in the nineteenth century, and can be readily adapted for the purposes of the Museum. The land on which these buildings stand has been vested in the Admiralty as part of the Greenwich Hospital Trust, and under Clause 1 of the Bill the freehold will be transferred to my Department on the understanding—which is also in Clause 1 of the Bill—that if ever they cease to be used for the specific purposes of the National Maritime Museum they will revert to the Admiralty for the purposes of the Trust. The remainder of the Bill deals with the appointment of a Board of Trustees and their powers of management.

The finance of the scheme is clearly set out in the Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill. It will be seen that the cost of adapting and equipping the vacant school buildings for the Museum is estimated at £29,000, and that Sir James Caird has very generously offered to defray this sum at his own expense. This gentleman has already proved a most munificent patron of the proposed Museum and, indeed, of any good cause relating to maritime interests. It was he who gave £65,000 towards the restoration of the "Victory" and £15,000 towards the restoration of the "Implacable," and when several famous collections, such as the Macpherson Collection of Naval Prints, and the Mercury Collection of Ships' Models were in imminent danger of being broken up and lost to this country, he stepped in and bought them at a very high price in anticipation of the day when a National Maritime Museum could be established. He has since made many more acquisitions in the way of pictures on naval subjects by many well-known artists, including Reynolds, Allan Ramsay, Brooking, Sartorius and others, and a very large number of drawings. Sir James Caird has expressed himself as now willing to make over these remarkable collections to the new Museum by Deed of Gift as soon as the Bill becomes an Act. The cost of all these acquisitions which Sir James Caird has so generously offered to the British nation exceeds £300,000. Accordingly, it is not too much to say that the main purpose of the Bill is to enable the great generosity of Sir James Caird to take full effect. The Bill provides an opportunity of filling a singular gap in the National Collections. There is little in the way of human knowledge that cannot be studied in our Metropolitan galleries and museums; art in all its schools; science in all its aspects; history, both ancient and modern; but, curiously enough, there is nowhere where one can study the history of our national maritime adventure and development; nowhere is there an orderly arrangement of naval exhibits, and no attempt has yet been made to illustrate conveniently for the general public the immense field of British maritime endeavour, historical, technical, geographical and commercial, including not only the exploits of the Royal Navy through history, but also of the Mercantile Marine. If the country has had to wait a long time for the new Museum the delay has been worth while if it has resulted in the present scheme. It would be impossible to imagine a better site for the new Museum than Greenwich, with its great naval associations going back long into the past. It was at Woolwich and Deptford, nearby, that Henry VIII set up his new naval yards. It was at Greenwich that Queen Elizabeth knighted Sir Francis Drake on the deck of the "Golden Hind," and it was in the Great Hall of the Queen's House that Robert Blake, who was the founder of our Admiralty system, lay in state.

The architectural setting is magnificent. To the north lies the great pile of Greenwich Hospital buildings; to the south lies Greenwich Park. When Inigo Jones' Queen's House has been restored and the whole site laid out as park land, a very notable improvement will be effected for the benefit of all the citizens of South London and the taxpayers of this country. The new Museum will be overlooked by the famous Royal Observatory, from whose meridian the whole world takes its longitude. This in itself is a permanent and world-wide tribute to Britain's leadership in maritime science. For all these reasons the site proposed for the long delayed Maritime Museum may be described as ideal.

The progress made by the new Museum will depend largely on the enthusiasm and ability of the First Board of Trustees. Every effort has been made to collect a strong team representing all maritime interests, and I take this opportunity of announcing to the House and the public the names of the gentlemen who will serve on the new Board of the Museum, which is to be set up by this House. The chairman will be Earl Stanhope, and the other members of the Board of Trustees will be R. C. Anderson, Esq; Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty; Sir William Berry; Sir James Caird, the great benefactor; Captain H. F. David, of the Mercantile Marine; Admiral Sir George Hope; the Earl of Ilchester; Sir Frederick Kenyon, late Director of the British Museum; Sir Percy Mackinnon; Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond and my right hon. Friend the present President of the Board of Trade, in his personal capacity.

The post of first Director has been offered to Professor Callender, Professor of History at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, whose enthusiasm and scholarship in all matters appertaining to naval history are well known. In such surroundings, with such associations and with so competent a Board of Trustees, the new Museum should, in the course of a few years from now, become one of the most prominent of our National institutions, and should be a means of attracting to Greenwich an ever increasing number of visitors from both home and overseas.

As the Bill conveys to my Department for the purposes of a National Museum property vested in the Admiralty in Trust for Greenwich Hospital, it is technically what is called a hybrid Bill and under our Standing Orders must go to a Select Committee. Further, as provision has to be made out of public funds for the staff and maintenance of the Museum, it requires a Financial Resolution. I hope, however, that what I have said to-day will satisfy the House as to the nature and merits of the Bill and that all subsequent stages may in fact prove to be formal. I am glad of this brief opportunity of explanation, if only to have been able to express on behalf of His Majesty's Government and the House our great gratitude to Sir James Caird for having rendered the realisation of this project possible.

1.40 p.m.


The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the very interesting speech which he has delivered in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, and I wish to say on behalf of those who sit on these Benches that we shall assist him in getting all the stages of the Bill through, as he requested, quite formally. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the generosity of Sir James Caird, and we associate ourselves with all that he said. Whilst reference is being made to the generosity of Sir James Caird, I feel sure that the House will allow me to refer to the generosity of someone else which has made the National Maritime Museum possible on the proposed site. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty will like me to refer to this matter. I refer to the Trust that was handed over by the late Mr. Reade while I occupied the position at the Admiralty now occupied by my hon. Friend. It is not generally known in the House that as a result of the generosity of the late Mr. Reade who, in a deed of gift, gave about 850 acres of land in Suffolk, where the new school has been erected, the school buildings at Greenwich referred to by my right hon. Friend became available for the present purpose. In addition to the gift of land the late Mr. Reade left the whole of his fortune, amounting, I think, to between £400,000 and £500,000, in trust, to accumulate until 1940, when it is hoped that it will reach a sum of something like £800,000 or £900,000. That matter ought to be mentioned in connection with this Bill, because I do not think that at any time any reference has been made to the generosity of the late Mr. Reade.

I agree with my right hon. Friend when he said that the time has arrived that we should have a National Museum of this kind. It seems strange that a great maritime nation and a great naval Power like ours should have allowed these historic objects to wander about into various parts of the country. I am very pleased that they are to be collected and housed in a suitable place, not only on a site which is historic but in a building which has played a very important part in the naval history of this country. I am very pleased to hear that some of the older buildings are not to be interfered with to any great extent, because those who have had the pleasure of visiting Greenwich are very much impressed with the architectural beauty of the buildings. The only concern that I have is not that the buildings are not suited to a Museum of this kind, but as to the actual location of the Museum at Greenwich. In connection with such a Museum we have to remember not only those who are specially interested but those who are not particularly interested but who may be induced to go and see these historic objects. While Greenwich is convenient for people to get at from London it is a little outside the centre of this great City. There are, however, some compensating considerations inasmuch as the site and the buildings themselves are of such great interest and have such great traditions behind them.

I am pleased that the Admiralty are co-operating in this effort. This is very valuable. I trust, however, that the funds of Greenwich Hospital are not going to suffer to any extent as a result of this gift of valuable property, not that I would suggest that it should be sold for any other purpose. I do not know any purpose for which the property is more suited. Let me say one word concerning one who has taken an active interest in bringing this project into being, that is, my predecessor, as Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Stanhope. He has worked in and out of season in endeavouring to get this Maritime Museum established and it is fitting that he should be the first chairman of the Board of Trustees. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that as far as we are concerned we shall give him all the assistance we can in getting the Bill passed.

1.47 p.m.


I should like to say just a few words in congratulating the First Commissioner of Works in bringing in the Bill. As one who has made some small endeavours on behalf of the Army in connection with such a museum, I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the great generosity of those who have made this project possible. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the lack in this country of any collection of the records of our wonderful maritime history, and it was with that object in view that I endeavoured to do a little-for the sake of the Army. I hope that this will be the precursor of a general interest in this subject by the general body of the public, as with such a magnificent record as we have it is most important that we should accumulate and house these treasures. There is one question which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman, and, that is, whether, having made this effort, it will make him feel disposed to assist the Army also. We feel that we do not want to be left out, and this at all events gives a lead in the matter. I should also like to ask him how this new museum will affect the Royal United Service Institution in Whitehall, where, as he knows, there is a wonderful accumulation of treasures. I notice that arrangements are to be made for the transfer from one collection to another. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) that Greenwich is a little inaccessible, whereas the United Services Institution provides an opportunity for people visiting London to see these treasures. The accomodation, unfortunately, is somewhat limited and those who go find it a little difficult to give them the examination and attention which they deserve, I hope that this may enable the First Commissioner of Works to do something to increase the accommodation available there for these exhibits, and that the Measure will be passed into law as speedily as possible.

1.49 p.m.


In a few words I want to congratulate the First Commissioner of Works on the opportunity that has been presented to him of bringing to fruition a project which has been in the minds of many for some years past—namely, the establishment of a National Maritime Museum, the want of which was a great gap in the museums of this country. It was rather strange that for a sea loving nation as we are that this one museum was still wanting. I should also like to take this opportunity of congratulating the donors whose great generosity has made this possible. It has been said that Greenwich has some possible drawbacks for such a museum, but, on the other hand, it is an ideal centre, and if one were asked what place in the whole of Great Britain one would choose for a national maritime museum there would be a great majority in favour of Greenwich. When we have such a setting as that nobody who takes an interest in our past maritime history, and what I hope will still be our great future maritime history, will find it any great effort to make a pilgrimage to Greenwich. When the projects outlined by the right hon. Gentleman come to fruition I am sure that anyone who makes that pilgrimage will be amply rewarded for his effort. I hope the Bill will go through its further stages without any difficulty and that the project will take shape at the earliest possible moment.

1.51 p.m.

The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Captain Euan Wallace)

I only rise to answer two specific points which have been put to me. Let me, however, say how grateful we are to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) for his references to Mr. Reade and how pleased we are to be associated with him in everything that he said. The hon. Member is quite correct in saying that we have never had an opportunity of publicly acknowledging in this House the debt which we owe to Mr. Reade. The hon. Member asks whether the proposals in this Bill would have any prejudicial effect on the funds of Greenwich Hospital. I am delighted to assure him that if anything it is rather the other way. It is difficult to assess the value of such a building, but the Valuation Department of the Board of Inland Revenue has estimated it in its present condition at £15,000. That may sound a small sum, but there are certain special factors to be taken into account. Queen's House is now under the Office of Works as an ancient monument; we have, obviously, to preserve the amenities of the Royal Naval College; and there is under one of the playgrounds a tunnel through which the Southern Railway runs, and which in some places is only 2 ft. 9 in. below the surface.

These factors considerably depreciate its value as a commercial site. On the other hand the funds of Greenwich Hospital have had to bear a charge of over £3,000 for upkeep. In the present year we have reduced that sum to £1,200 in anticipation and have thus saved £1,800 under that head; and in future we shall save the full £3,000. Moreover, it is possible, when the Museum is completed and the pictures are taken out of the painted hall and put into the Museum, that the Greenwich Hospital Fund will no longer have to bear the charge of £600 a year for the wages and uniforms of the three yeomen. It is clear, therefore, that this great naval charity will not suffer. With regard to the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bootle (Colonel Crookshank), it is met, actually, in the Bill. It is open to the Royal United Services Institution to lend exhibits to this new museum, and vice versa, and I do not think there is any reason to suppose that these powers will not be utilised for the benefit of both institutions.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

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

Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill, presented at any time not later than five clear days after the Second Reading of the Bill, be referred to the Committee:

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

Ordered, That the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill:

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

Ordered, That Three be the quorum.—[Mr. Ormsby-Gore.]