HC Deb 18 May 1944 vol 400 cc342-4
49. Mr. Keeling

asked the hon. Member for West Swansea, as representing the Charity Commissioners, whether he is aware that a rare set of Hepplewhite armchairs, made in 1791 for the Council Chamber of the Hospital of Sir John Hawkins, Knight, at Chatham, is being offered for sale by auction at Sotheby's on 19th May by order of the governors and with the consent of the Charity Commissioners; whether the Charity Commissioners have tried to arrange for the purchase of these chairs by one of the national collections or provincial museums, the borough of Chatham or the National Art Collections Fund; and whether he will have them withdrawn from sale pending inquiry.

Mr. Lewis Jones (Charity Commissioner)

The chairs in question were bought by the governors of the hospital about 1792 for use in the council chamber. They were offered for sale in 1929 and were then stated to have been made by John Bonifold, who evidently worked in the manner of Hepplewhite. The reserve price was not reached and the chairs were withdrawn from that sale. They are being offered for sale on 19th May, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners. The Commissioners have not tried to arrange for the sale of the chairs to any public body. In view of the fact that it has been known since 1929 that the chairs were for sale the Commissioners do not consider that they would be justified in attempting to defer the proposed sale on 19th May.

Mr. Keeling

Does that mean that the Charity Commissioners regard it as no part of their duty to endeavour to retain historic and beautiful works of art in public ownership, so that the public can see them?

Mr. Lewis Jones

The main concern of the Charity Commissioners is to see to the trust funds, and to see that the money is properly invested.

Captain Plugge

Is not the hon. Member aware that the Mayor of Chatham, Councillor Hawes, has not been consulted in this matter and that this is the first that the borough council of Chatham has heard about the public sale of these historical chairs? Will he give very full consideration to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling)?

Mr. Lewis Jones

In view of the fact that the sale is to take place to-morrow, I am afraid that very little can be done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Stop it."] I will again get into touch with the Commissioners.

Mr. Denman

Is the hon. Member aware that neither the Commissioners of Crown Lands nor the Ecclesiastical Commis- sioners feel themselves bound to disregard wider considerations of public interest in administering their Trusts?

Sir Percy Harris

Will not the Charity Commissioners remember that they are also custodians of the national interest, and that these chairs have not only a historic but an artistic interest and if possible should be retained?

Mr. Lewis Jones

If the right hon. Baronet reads the answer which I gave, I think he will note that various organisations in the country who should have an interest in retaining these chairs have known since 1929 that these chairs have been for sale.

Mr. Goldie

Why do not the restrictions on the sale of secondhand furniture apply to these chairs?