HC Deb 26 May 1944 vol 400 cc1154-76
Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

I am glad that not a few of my hon. Friends have thought fit to answer in the negative the old question, "Is your journey really necessary?" because that enables them to be here to join with me in answering, also in the negative, the same question as applied to the export of art treasures to the United States of America. On 25th May, 1943, I asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that there is a steady drain to the United States of America of the richest treasures of this country in furniture, pictures, plate and the like; and whether he will look into this situation and take the action best calculated to bring it to an end? The President of the Board of Trade replied that no articles more than 75 years old, nor any work of art, might be exported without a licence from the Board of Trade, and then he added: When in any particular case his officers are in any doubt whether export is in the public interest, they consult the museum authorities and only issue a licence with their concurrence."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th May, 1943; Vol. 389, C. 1388–1389.] A week later I took up the question of how many licences have been granted, and I was told that these articles were first placed under export control on 21st August, 1940, that they included any paintings, drawing or sculpture irrespective of age, and also any article more than 75 years old irrespective of artistic, historic or other interest. Then my right hon. Friend gave the number of licences—and I ask the House to note this carefully—for 1940, 1,827 licences; for 1941, 4,407; for 1942, 3,166. I thought it right to let a little time elapse before I tackled this subject again, in view of the diminution in the licences as between 1941 and 1942, and accordingly it was only on the 9th May this year that I asked my right hon. Friend for the figures for 1943, and he stated that for that year 3,093 licences had been granted. I put a supplementary question to him in these words: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decrease which took place between 5945 and 1942 has not been maintained, and will he take urgent steps to see that the figures are reduced this year? The President of the Board of Trade replied: No, Sir. I am satisfied that these arrangements are administered properly. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1694.] It was on that account that I gave notice of this Debate.

Subsequently my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) extracted from the President the value of licences issued in 1940 as £340,000 worth of works of art and paintings. The President added: The figures for 1945 and 1942, which have not been published, show a heavy reduction. That amount, therefore, is approximately what is realised by the export of these goods to the United States at the present time, but I would like to point out to the House that the amount of goods exported is obviously higher than the figure given, since the licensing system does not cover such goods as manuscripts, libretti, first editions of famous authors—from the later works of Charles Dickens downwards—and also Victorian and Edwardian glass, plate and furniture which now, I understand, is gaining in public approval and esteem.

On 3rd June, 1943, after I had put my original Questions, an art dealer described as "of international repute" communi- cated to the "Daily Mail" the following remarks: The stuff for which nearly 10,000 licences have been granted has been mostly furniture and silver such as may be found in any comfortably appointed home in this country. Most middle-class families have bits of period furniture and some good silver, and more and more of these families are selling these long cherished possessions because they need the money. There is a good market for such things in America, but practically nobody there wants to buy first class museum pieces. On 23rd May last year the New York correspondent of the "Sunday Pictorial" cabled to his newspaper: It hurts my eyes to see several Fifth Avenue store windows crammed with lovely old English silver, china, pictures, books and other treasures, and at a time when the United States Government are imploring citizens to invest in war savings instead of spending. It is painful to see them pouring out dollars in the purchase of Britain's heirlooms. I have had a number of letters on this subject from correspondents, and I would like to extract one to give to the House. Other letters are very much to the same effect: Do you realise that all the old English and Irish glass which is in the country is being bought up? I am interested in old glass. Quite recently I wrote to one of the principal dealers and he told me that prices had gone up out of all sense of values because every piece he bought he sold to America. He frankly admitted that he did not mind how much of it never reached there, owing to losses at sea and breakages, as the Americans paid all risks and insurance and came back asking for more. On account of all this evidence of what is taking place I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for a reconsideration of this whole matter and, in particular, I want to ask him two questions. First, whether he will shorten the period of licensing from 75 years to 25; second, whether he will undertake to be more selective in granting licences, with the object of bringing the total number of licences down from 3,000 to approximately 1,500, that is to say, cutting them by half? I am not asking for a total prohibition, as I think that would be drastic and arbitrary.

There are two arguments usually advanced against interference with the present system of laissez faire free trade in objects of art and vertu. The first is finance, that lubricator of so many cogs in the machinery of unrighteousness. It is said, "We need the dollars, so let us pour out our treasures, if necessary to the end, and if only to pay a tithe of what is needed to feed and equip ourselves for war." But what is this 300,000 among the billions involved in the international transactions of the present time? A mere token. If it is necessary to put up tokens, let us offer electrical machinery or linen, and all sorts of current manufactures. I would even go so far as to suggest whisky, but I understand my hon. Friends consider their constituents are running a little short.

Commander Sir Archibald Southey (Epsom)

Charity begins at home.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The second argument is the argument of the international dealers, and of those periodicals which give advertising space to dealers, whether national or international. On 4th June, 1943, "Country Life" said: Though sentiment is sometimes hurt, and will no doubt be often wounded henceforth, by the transference of beautiful things overseas that is a reasonable arrangement. Anything in the nature of a general embargo would immediately call in question the right of this country to the possession of numberless imported works of art, from the Elgin Marbles downwards. Works of art are a form of international currency, on the retention of which, in any particular country, ultimately depends its wealth. They must also be regarded as instruments for the dissimination of culture. But may I point out that my proposals are not retrospective? I would not return the Elgin Marbles, just as I would not claim back from the United States the fabulous collection of pictures which found their way there, from this country, in the period from 1900–14. As for art being international currency, let me suggest to hon. Members that it is better to freeze art than to freeze people. There is far more hope for peace in the world if people move freely about the world and are able to view the artistic treasures in the countries of their origin than if we were to embark on a long-term process of educating the multitude in artistic appreciation by switching the world's masterpieces from one country to another, from century to century.

My third proposal to the Government is this: I want them to reverse the present Treasury policy and make grants or loans amounting to £1,000,000, or more in excess of present grants, to enable the National Arts Collection Fund, and existing museums, to acquire more of these treasures, and also to enable local authorities to open new museums and new galleries. I would like to give the House one or two examples. The actions of the Dorset County museum authorities have been most enlightened and exemplary. There is a room in the Dorchester museum in memory of Thomas Hardy. Part of his actual study has been reconstructed there but. I believe—and I do not suppose the authorities would differ—that there is scope still for improvement and extension. It may be that more of Hardy's original M.S. could be acquired. Let me look North-East, to my home county. It is deplorable that Huntingdon has not a museum more worthy of its great son and product Oliver Cromwell. Let me look West, to Warwickshire. I do not believe that Stratford-on-Avon would claim that everything that can be done has been done to attract world lovers of Shakespeare to the banks of the Avon.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

Far from it.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Perhaps my hon. Friend can bear me out when I say that specimens of Shakespeare's Second, Third and Fourth Folios were, at Christie's, in mid-April, consigned to nameless destinations. A small country town museum, such as exists at Stratford-on-Avon, cannot compete in present circumstances with the prices—up to £850 for each volume—which are now ruling in the markets. Let me turn East. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary represents the city of Leicester with great ability and distinction. In Leicester there is a city museum and art gallery. It contains various Roman architectural remains, a botanical and zoological section and a gallery of representative paintings. That is admirable, but how about adding to it a new science wing, to collect the original machinery which went into the development of the hosiery and boot and shoe trades, on which the prosperity of the great city which my right hon. and gallant Friend represents, depends? For example, the inventions of the Elizabethan, William Lee, and of the Victorians, Townsend, Moulding, Lamb and Cotton. Why not also add an historical department to the museum, to collect the relics of Prince Rupert who, 299 years ago this very month, swept into the city of Leicester and put to flight Cromwell's forces? If my right hon. and gallant Friend will encourage the city to think quickly they may yet act in time to celebrate the tercentenary next year. I trust that the museum authorities will not discover that the objects which, with a little aid from the Treasury, they might acquire are now in Liverpool Docks packed ready for shipment to the United States.

We must obviously safeguard the interests of the individual seller. High taxation and Death Duties force many to-day to sell their dearest possessions. The proposals which I have outlined, if accepted, must be designed to avoid knocking the bottom out of the market. Enough public money must be infused into any new system to ensure that the whole thing does not become a buyer's market, otherwise, of course, considerable public dissatisfaction will ensue.

My final proposal is this. I think there should be undertaken the immediate preparation of a list of our greatest masterpieces, which must not be allowed on any account to leave the country. For example, the Wilton Diptych and the Luttrell Psalter. One of the world's most glorious landscapes, Constable's "Dedham Vale," comes up at Christie's on 9th June. I want to ask my right hon. Friend to take action forthwith to save that picture for the nation. In conclusion may I say this? I think Parliament must enact legislation at the earliest opportunity to prevent what is admittedly only a stream to-day from developing into a flood after the war. There is no time to lose. We must have on the Statute Book by the time controls generally begin to be released, Measures necessary to withstand the pressure that is bound to develop along the channels of this particular trade. It is often argued that we shall be poor after the war. I do not take that view. I think we shall be rich—rich in new inventions, in new machinery and in new-found skill. But to allow the products of the great craftsmen of former generations to leave our shores, to let those products trickle away through the sands of insensibility and indifference, is much more than to become poor. It is to renounce nationality in its spiritual foundations. It is to cast away a heritage.

Sir P. Hannon

My Noble Friend has given very interesting figures as to the assessed values of these great treasures. Has he brought the figures up to date? When he suggests £1,000,000 from the Treasury, does he think that that might balance the value?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The President of the Board of Trade has not given the figures since 1940, but he says they show a reduction. g1,000,000 would perhaps rather more than counter-balance the present outflow but it would not be too much having regard to what took place before the war and what, in default of legislation, may be expected after the war.

Mr. Arthur Duckworth (Shrewsbury)

I wish to support the plea that has been made by my Noble Friend and I think we are greatly indebted to him for bringing the subject before the House. Unfortunately, this question of the export of antiquities and works of art is one that exercises the minds of very few people either inside or outside the House. The numbers present to-day are ample evidence of that fact. Without casting any reflections on my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench, it is also significant that the President of the Board of Trade has not considered it of sufficient importance to come and deal with the question himself. I am afraid that these exports are regarded generally merely as a profitable form of commerce, and that the Treasury views the matter very largely in that light Of course, during these war years it is understandable that they have derived a considerable measure of satisfaction from the supplies of dollars which have been accumulated from this source. In the early and critical days of the war, when our very existence as a country was at stake, there was, no doubt, a very strong case for increasing our supplies of foreign exchange by this method. There was no sacrifice from which we shrank, or which we were not prepared to make. But the time has now come when this matter should be entirely reconsidered, from the point of view of what is, in the long run, in the national interest. It is certain that there are very few people who have given thought and attention to the matter, including officials and experts attached to our museums and galleries, who do not view the question with increasing concern, and I believe they are unanimously of opinion that the Government should conduct a far more drastic and restrictive policy.

My Noble Friend has made certain suggestions, and indicated certain steps that may be taken, and I should like to endorse fully what he has said. I should be prepared to go a long way in carrying out such a policy. He has agreed that it is in the national interest to retain in this country the great wealth of art treasures and antiquities which have been accumulated in the past, and I think the case for taking action is overwhelming, whatever difficulties there may be. I am of opinion that no considerations of a commercial character, no vested trade interests and no private interests should be allowed to stand in our way. There are, after all, precedents for establishing such a policy and taking such action. I suggest that the Government should inaugurate some such system as that adopted by the Italian Government before the war. I believe the French Government took action on rather similar lines.

What has been the past history of this trade? There is no question that throughout the years of this century there has been a continuous outflow of art treasures and antiquities of all kinds and all values, and that flow has proceeded chiefly to the United States. Indeed, it has at times developed into a shameless racket. Fabulous profits have been made and an artificial level of prices has been established. There were boom periods when an insatiable demand created a corresponding supply of wholly questionable goods, which were fabricated and faked to suit the prevailing fashion. Indeed, our losses in that respect have not always been quite as great as figures might indicate. I know one expert who examined this question carefully some years ago who concluded that in one boom year, I think 1925 or 1926, as much furniture passing as 100 years old was exported to the United States as could not possibly have been made in the whole of the 18th century.

Those days, it is true, are now over. The Americans themselves realise the nature of this business and they have imposed a system of severe tests and scrutiny on all articles that pose as being of value by reason, of their age. There is another and perhaps more important aspect of this question—the great losses we have sustained in unique and indi- vidual art treasures in the last 20 or 30 years. That is an aspect of the matter which is of the greatest importance, and it was particularly referred to in the concluding part of my Noble Friend's speech. It is particularly with regard to that aspect that I believe some immediate action should be taken on the lines indicated by my Noble Friend. I do not think we need grudge our American Allies the great treasures that they have acquired and which have crossed the Atlantic during the last 50 years. They are, I know, highly prized and appreciated in America. There is, I think, nowhere in the world a public that is more appreciative of great art. In the immediate future, and in the post-war years, we shall find ourselves in a position of great disadvantage in purchasing power.

It is certain that individual incomes will be lower in this country than in the United States. We shall have an incomparably higher level of taxation, and the United States will emerge from the war with their resources relatively unimpaired. Therefore, if this trade is to be left to the ordinary processes of commerce, and the working of the market, we are likely to see an enormously increased drain of our art treasures far greater even than in the past which we cannot any longer afford. For these reasons, I strongly support the case that has been made by my Noble Friend and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will indicate that his Department will at least enter into conversations with all the interests concerned to see whether some definite policy can be decided upon.

Mr. Stourton (Salford, South)

For the first time, I can say on rising to address the House that I find myself exactly zoo per cent. in agreement with anything that previous speakers in a Debate have said. My Noble Friend has rendered a public service by raising this issue. In these blood-soaked times through which we are passing, it is significant to note that many art treasures and some of the world's famous monuments of culture have already been sacrificed on the altar of the gods of destruction. As the Prime Minister declared recently: It is the great tragedy of our times that the fruits of science, by a monstrous perversion, have been turned on a vast scale to evil ends. Bearing these sombre facts in mind, it behoves us to seek by all means in our power to preserve what is left of our still unrivalled heritage of works of art contained in these islands. We must also bear in mind that enemy action from the air has been responsible for inflicting grievous losses. Moreover, there has been a one-way traffic in art treasures to the United States on a scale which I can only describe, taking all the circumstances into consideration, as deplorable. Most significant of all, it should be emphasised that war taxation has virtually doomed to dispersal every substantial art collection remaining in private hands.

The proposals which my Noble Friend has made for the retention in this country of as many objects of art as can be saved are the bare minimum of what is required. All his proposals are reasonable. I particularly commend his suggestion that civic authorities should be encouraged to expand on sound lines their art collections. It is astonishing to observe as one goes about, how few cities can boast any art collection worth the trouble of a visit. I would, therefore, take this opportunity to appeal to such private individuals who remain—and there are quite a number of them who are in a position to do so—to found new art galleries, or do what they can to expand existing ones. There could be no higher act of patriotism, or one conferring more lasting benefits upon the nation. The main obstacles to achieving our object are the Treasury on the one hand, and the trade on the other. The Treasury is a formidable obstacle, because it is particularly interested in collecting dollars.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

My hon. Friend would not deny that the House of Commons should tell the Treasury what they ought to do in the matter.

Mr. Stourton

I endorse what my. Noble Friend says. With regard to the trade, the difficulty is that many art dealers in this country have branches in New York or elsewhere abroad, and they are not in the least interested in preserving works of art here but are only bent on realising profits in any way they can accumulate them. I submit to the Parliamentary Secretary that the overriding consideration in this matter should be the national interest. The gravamen of our case is that the retention of our art treasures is vital to the cultural development of our people and it is on those grounds I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to do his utmost to help to achieve the object we have in view.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I agree with all that has been said by my three hon. Friends, and I want now to put three suggestions or questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. The first is: Have the Board of Trade considered, or will they consider, imposing an export duty on these articles, so as to reduce automatically their volume? I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will not reply that that is a matter for the Treasury. I do not think the Board of Trade can dissociate themselves from it. The second question is this. It may be suggested that we import even larger quantities of beautiful things than we allow to go out, and that we ought not to be dog-in-the-manger. If that is alleged, will the Board of Trade consider arranging that statistics should in future be kept of what we bring in, as well as of what we export? My third question is: Is it intended that the control which was instituted in 1940 shall remain after the war? The Conservative Party, to which I belong, is not 100 per cent. a supporter of control, but in this matter I, for one, should be very glad to hear that we are to have a permanent control.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I agree with previous speakers that my Noble Friend did real service to the country in bringing this matter before the House of Commons. The suggestion is that the Government should interest themselves in the encouragement of local museums and galleries, in a much larger degree than in the past. We live in an age when the word "culture" means all that is outstanding in modern progress. By "culture" we mean the provision of objects of beauty which stimulate higher thought and a higher sense of responsibility. There is nothing which would more commend itself to the genius of our people, or more elevate the instincts of our race, than to have in every town of the country some cultural centre in which all the available objects of art and beauty could be brought together to be under continual observation.

We have had the privilege of receiving under the National Trust in this country, a great many generous gifts of places of interest and beauty throughout this green and pleasant land of ours. It would be a tremendous addition to our cultural vitality if such centres of educational interest as I have suggested, could be brought into existence, and extended on the lines suggested by my Noble Friend. He made a first-class case this afternoon, and it was supported by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Arthur Duckworth). In an age in which taxation is taking from the mass of the people of the country opportunities for adding to objects of beauty and art which are in their possession, it would be fitting if the Treasury could give back to the country in this way some of the money which it is taking. I think £1,000,000 a year would be a very small contribution towards raising the general level of culture in our body politic, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that he could not associate himself with any interest that would make a greater appeal in this House and outside, than by responding with full and practical sympathy to the proposal made by my Noble Friend. How many things the Board of Trade could do to help this great object, and to preserve our old position, if it were to put an export tax on every article of real cultural interest leaving this country. I hope very much that the subject which has been brought before us in so delightful a way by my Noble Friend, will be sympathetically considered by the Board of Trade.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

I would like to say a few words in support of this right-minded proposal. I hope that it will be the beginning of a revival of our interest in art and that it will become almost a passion. I was almost brought up by the late William Morris, who gave to our movement such a wonderful impetus from his great and generous heart. It is very deplorable that art has had so little consideration in this country. Through these squalid periods of the 19th century, it was allowed to sink and became horribly commercialised. Only in relatively recent years has there emerged the hope of gettting back to the old days, when great works of art were produced in our country. I gather that this proposal has reference to works of art that happen to be in the country now. I would remind hon. Members that there was a period when England bought up lots of works of art from Europe. Then came a period when America bought up works of art from England. Art kept going Westward. I hope that we shall be able to retain in our country such works of art as show the inspiration of our own people.

I hope the Government will be inspired to do something more than that, and to give further impetus to art workers in their own country. There was an arts and crafts movement inspired by Morris, Walter Crane, and other men, but it has never had a good chance. Somehow in France the artist is honoured more than in England, and his work is treasured more. Art is a great feature in the life of that country. I understand that among the exports from France, the one that is placed highest in importance is the export of works of art. That is because there is a more generous artistic mind in France, which is the most cultured nation in the world. I hope that the achievements of our own country will reach a higher grade of artistic production than has been the case in recent years. I do not know whether this is a matter for the Board of Trade, or for the President of the Board of Education, or whose business it is, but I wish the Government would take it up. There are many examples that could be emulated. When I was in Copenhagen, in the happy days before this war, I found a lot of evidence of young artistic ability. I found a great-minded-brewer in Copenhagen, who owned a lager brewery. He left it to the State, on condition that they continued to sell beer as good as he had done, and that all the profits went to young artists. I do not know whether we can get money for art from the brewers in this country, since the Government are already taking hundreds of millions of pounds from them every year. Perhaps the Government will spare a million or two for this great cause.

Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Oldham)

The short Debate which my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) initiated, has proved both interesting and informative. I only hope that some of the arguments which hon. Members have used have impressed themselves on the mind of the Government Front Bench. The hon. Member for South Dorset gave striking facts and figures in his speech to show the tremendous outpouring of art treasures from this country to the United States. I feel that we are losing some of our most precious artistic inheritance, all for the sake of the dollar exchange. I believe that some wit once said that the Grenville family had lost England, America, but had recompensed it by building the palace of Stowe. Perhaps that wit spoke truer than he thought. We have only to go to the great galleries of America, in Chicago or the Middle West, or to the great private art collections of Mr. Frick Huntingdon or Mr. Weidener to realise how much of England has travelled across the Atlantic. One may argue that this is according to a natural process, owing to the rise of great American industrial fortunes, and the heavy taxation of this country, which have made it inevitable.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this country did the same towards Italy. You may argue that the average young man of fashion of those days bumped and creaked in his heavy coach across Europe to admire the marvels of antiquity, and to return to this country laden with tapestries and pictures for his home. What happened as a result of that draining of artistic treasures from Italy? The Italian Government exercised a total prohibition, and no valuable work of art could leave Italy in the years before the war, without a licence from the Italian Government. The Noble Lord argued for a reduction in the export of works of art. I would like to see a total prohibition of certain classified works of art.

What is the exact position in this country at the present time? Let me take the case of an imaginary individual and call him the Duke of Bankruptcy and Broadacres. In his residence in the country he has a valuable Gainsborough. If this Gainsborough remains in the family as a family heirloom, the Duke does not pay Death Duties on that work of art. On the other hand, if he chooses to sell his Gainsborough to the National Art-Collections Fund or some art gallery in this country he will, possibly, receive a comparatively small sum of money, but his heir will be liable to pay Death Duties on the proceeds of that sale. He is far more likely to sell his Gainsborough to, say, Mr. Mellon and receive something like £60,000. If you bring in a total prohibition on the export of works of art the bottom will fall out of the picture market, and I believe that the owners of these works of art do merit certain consideration.

Let me make a practical proposal. I would like to see a Commission of art experts set up, composed of, let us say, the directors of the National Gallery, and the Tate Gallery, as well as some representative of provincial galleries, and some well-known picture expert well versed in prices, who would go round the country listing works of art of first-class national importance. Should the Duke of Bankruptcy's Gainsborough come within this list he would be entitled, when he died, if he so wished, to give this picture to a national pool of pictures and furniture. In so doing, I would like to see, if the Gainsborough was valued at £60,000 by the experts, his, Death Duty assessment £60,000 less than it would otherwise have been. I believe that by doing this, we could collect a pool of works of art of the highest quality, somewhat on the same model as the French Garde Meuble. I know that at the present time the Art-Collections Fund purchase works of art, and that the National Gallery lends works of art to Government offices. But it is quite obvious that the limited funds of private charity cannot retain in this country works of art of the highest quality.

I would like to see this pool of national works of art used for specific purposes. One of the most valuable of these purposes would be its availability to provincial art galleries. I would like to see first class art galleries in the heart of England. Why should not the docker on the Clyde or the Tyne, or the cotton worker in Manchester, or the Welsh coal-miner near Cardiff see in his own art gallery pictures just as good as the Londoner can see every day in the National Gallery? One other important aspect concerns our embassies and legations abroad. It is quite obvious that the only way a foreigner who resides permanently abroad can obtain an impression of England, is in the atmosphere he sees in British embassies abroad. More often than not what happens? Once you put your foot upon the red stair-carpet you see the beloved but somewhat familiar face of Queen Victoria looking down upon you. You find a picture of Queen Victoria in practically every legation and embassy. Why not have some of our best works of art? Let us say that we are entering the Embassy, the residence of the His Majesty's Ambassador accredited to the State of Ruritania. As you go through the various rooms, why should you not see pictures by Gainsborough, by Constable, and by Reynolds? And why not, also, some of those delightful pictures, all too little seen by the public, illustrating English sporting life, by Stubbs, Herring, and Ferncley—the stage coach rattling up the Great North Road, the classic winners of the turf who drew enthusiastic cheers at Epsom and Newmarket—

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [Mr. Pym.]

Mr. Kerr

—and hunting pictures, illustrating the whole of British sporting life? No one who has been to the Maritime Museum at Greenwich can fail to realise how typically British are those pictures, showing such subjects as a tea clipper leaving the Thames Estuary or a battleship of the line leaving Portsmouth Harbour under full sail. Why should not likewise the visitor to a British embassy abroad be able to see typical exhibits of British furniture—Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Regency and so on? If you are to express the British way of life, you cannot neglect the material expression of that way of life. Why should not the Governors-General of Canada, Australia, or South Africa have some of these splendid works of art? Why should not some of the Colonies have them, so that the planter of Jamaica or the West African native may see pictures of the British institutions, which are his own? I know it is arguable that some of these things will perish in a tropical climate; but anyone who has been to the West Indies knows that some of the finest Chippendale furniture is to be seen there. If we are to do this, we must realise that the Treasury attitude might be penny wise but pound foolish. We should be accumulating national assets. If we are to play our part in the world after the war, these pictures of Britain and British way of life may have their influence.

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)

I am very keen to hold everything beautiful that we have in this country, and to preserve it from the clutches of the speculator in the auction-room; but that is not possible—I wish it were. Once the suggestion of the Noble Lord, about getting £1,000,000 behind some protective measure, is carried out, you have opened the door. Then the charlatan gets abroad. He will produce all the masterpieces you want, and put them on the wall of his lordship, so that, when his lordship dies, these pictures will be bought in the auction room, at a high price, to pay the Death Duties. That is going on now. I know one noble lord now, who thinks that he has 16th-century masterpieces on his wall. I have seen two of them under X-ray, and they were painted five years ago. He has them certificated, in the belief that when he dies they will be sold at high lumping prices, to pay his Death Duties. That is what happens when you start this nonsense. The greatest work of art is a child, a human being. It always startles me when people become apprehensive lest a picture or a chair should be destroyed, when they pass mankind in the streets, underfed and miserable and it does not disturb them in the least.

Then they take this plunge, this astonishing endeavour to get £1,000,000 out of the Government to stop pictures from going to America. Here, in the National Gallery, there is a Titian picture, the "Carnaro," which was sold to pay the Death Duties, I believe, of the Duke of Northumberland. I tell the National Gallery now that Titian never saw that picture. I said in this House at the time, when money was voted from the Contingencies Fund, to pay for it, that that picture was a fake, and I challenge the officials, after the war, to have it taken down and put under modern examination, because Titian never saw it. It cost over £100,000. At that time, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) was Financial Secretary to the Treasury, he said that the reason why the money for this picture had to be voted out of the Contingencies Fund was that if it had got out that the Titian and the Wilton Diptych were in the market, there would have been wholesale speculation, with no end of people trying to buy them. What were the facts? Lord Duveen, who has his main showroom in New York, was a director of the National Gallery, so we had to keep Lord Duveen in New York ignorant of the fact that Lord Duveen, as a Director of the National Gallery, was about to buy these two masterpieces. That is the sort of thing that runs not in these cases.

Anyone who looks at the Wilton Diptych knows that it is a work of art, because he can see by every mark on it that the old monk who painted it painted it for the love of God, and breathed a prayer into it with every stroke of his brush. There were three of these Titians at the time we got this one at an enormous price. While I agree about stopping the exportation, if possible, of things that are well worth keeping at home, we should be on our guard once we ask for a fund. It is just like telling the landowners in the City that we are going to buy land for housing.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Would the hon. Member object if a small proportion went to the purchase of X-ray apparatus?

Mr. MacLaren

We can always get X-ray apparatus at the market price, and can always produce more X-ray apparatus, but we cannot go on producing half-a-dozen Titians every few weeks. There is that difference. Once we put public money at the disposal of people for buying works of art we shall get robbed, for there are houses in this country to-day getting ready to catch high prices for these things. I am with hon. Members and yet I am against them. I am with them in spirit, but I am against them because of the difficulty in the proposal. So debased has the mentality of this nation become in recent years that people do not care a damn about art, but they will go in their thousands twice a week to the pictures-houses to see the muck of Hollywood. They are more interested in that than in anything else. That is largely due to the fact that the great instruments that animated the minds of men and brought them into contact with the eternal verities and the beauties of life—picture-houses and wireless—were debauched and played down to the lowest appetites.

It is more art that we want in life, real living art, rather than gathering together the remnants of a by-gone age, perhaps beautiful in their way, and signs or exam- ples of what we should do now. But I would rather, if we are to have money for art, give that money to enliven the generation in which we live rather than do what is being suggested now. It is horrible and terrible, even in our own country, to go into places of mere vulgar ostentation and see some really beautiful work of art merely used as a decoration instead of as an adornment for some religious devotion. I hope that the House will forgive me for this outburst. I am at one with hon. Members in preserving whatever beauty is the outcome of our past generations, but I do not approve of the method they are adopting to secure it.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)

The interesting little Debate we have had has gone, of course, very far outside the matters under the direct control of the Board of Trade, but of that I make no complaint at all. I just remind the House that this control of which we are speaking was put on in August, 1940, with the object of preventing the uncontrolled exportation of capital in the form of valuables. To some extent it was then useful, and probably has been useful since. My Noble Friend who raised this matter, and several of my hon. Friends behind him, have spoken of the tremendous volume of these exports, and of the "tremendous outpourings," and said that we were losing our most treasured possessions. The Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said there was a steady drain of our richest treasures. I think I can do something at least to allay all nervousness in that particular regard. First I must remind him that, although the figure of 3,000 or 4,000 export licences sounds very large, the works are not really in the main in this category of the richest national treasures. If anybody wanted, say, a sketch made of Windsor Castle for a calendar in Australia and said he would commission somebody at 30s. to do it, it would go out with a licence from us. In fact, out of these 3,166 licences given in 1942, over 1,000 were for things worth less than £5 and another 1,000 were for things between £5 and £25. So it does limit the size of the pipe which is carrying this effluent from this country.

I think I can go further even than that to relieve the mind of my Noble Friend. He has been given and has quoted figures and, just for the sake of getting a complete picture, I will requote them. Export licences issued to America were, for 1940, 1827—that is only a part of1940, because the House will remember that this Order did not come into force until August of that year; for 1941, 4,400—I am giving round figures; for 1942, 3,200; for 1943. 3,100—not very material decreases. Those are the figures which he gave. But if one takes values, which I am now giving to the House for the first time—except for the figure of £340,000 which my Noble Friend has already given—one finds that the value of the exports to the United States fell to £84,000 in to £83,000 in 1942, and to the figure—which I am quite sure he will find very reassuring—of £14,000 last year. Therefore I think it is fairly clear that the danger of a great drain is not very great.

Even so, we do take definite precautions to make sure that things of lasting value to this country should not be so exported. In the case of pictures and portraits, anything—not these £5 or £25 articles—of any intrinsic value at all is always brought to the notice of both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. If they raise any doubt, automatically the licence is not granted; there is no question of proving a case, they have oily to say, "We do not think this is the proper thing to export," and straight away that licence is not granted.

Mr. Keeling

What about things other than pictures?

Captain Waterhouse

I am just coming to that. On coins, books, manuscripts and antiques generally the British Museum is consulted. Then, on furniture and miscellaneous works of art the Victoria and Albert Museum is consulted. These experts, I may say, are consulted on any item which is scheduled at more than £100 and, in the case of books or manuscripts, more than £50. I think my hon. Friends may rest assured that nothing that these experts feel to be of real national value will go out of this country without their knowledge and consent.

Several recommendations have been made, and certain points put forward for consideration. My Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset asked for a shorter period of licensing, reducing the age of an antique from 75 years to 25 years. Obviously, that would only touch antiques; it does not touch pictures, because all pictures, for the purpose of this Order, are works of art—though I can assure him that many of them are greatly misnamed. That is a point which I am perfectly prepared to consider, but I do not really think there would be any great gain in that slight alteration. Then he asked us to be more selective. I hope that what I have said already will make him feel that that matter of selection is adequately dealt with, and that we are very careful that those who know should be in possession of the fact that any of these works of art are in danger of moving out of the country. His main suggestion, which was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) and several others, was that £1,000,000 should be provided as a fund for the purchase of works of art. I was extremely gratified to find what a close study my Noble Friend had made of my own constituency, and I can assure him straight away that my constituents think quickly and that they will take what action they think necessary in time—at least that has been my experience of them for the last 20 years.

Mr. MacLaren

Did they do that in the last Election?

Captain Waterhouse

Indeed they did, as my hon. Friend will see if he cares to look up the figures. But, of course, a grant is not a question for the Board of Trade at all. It would be for the Board of Education, but I am perfectly prepared to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education to this Debate and ask him to consider it, though I must honestly say that, desirable as he will no doubt think it, as I do, in the present financial stringency the chances of getting any such grant are not very great, especially when I remind the House that the grant before the war was the princely sum of £1,000 a year provided on the Board of Education (Victoria and Albert Museum) Vote for expenditure by museums throughout the whole of the country, and that was reduced at the beginning of this war to £100. I am afraid that his chances of getting £1,000,000 are not very rosy.

Then he asked for a list of the master-pieces. I could make no statement on that. An hon. Member mentioned that a good many of the masterpieces in the country are becoming scheduled now, owing to Death Duties. That, again, is an interesting point, to which I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) asked whether we could put an export duty on these works of art. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade I am not very anxious to put duties on exports as a matter of general principle, but in this case I think that what I have said already as to the volume of the export will be a sufficient answer. A duty would not necesarily be a deterrent when the volume has come down, as it has in this case. Therefore, I think my hon. Friend can be satisfied that a small export duty would make no difference to this problem. My hon. Friend asked whether statistics could be prepared, or were prepared, for imports of works of art into this country, in the same way as for exports. I am told that they are, and that they will be available. Finally, my hon. Friend asked whether this control would remain. Happily, or unhappily, this control is outside my control; it is a Treasury control, and whether it will remain or not I cannot say, although I rather doubt it.

The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) raised a very important general point when he reminded us that England, up till a short time ago, was the world's greatest buyer of works of art. We have accumulated from all over the world a collection such as possibly has never been accumulated in any other country, and while I can quite see that we should like to make ourselves a sort of fly-trap, in which everything gets in and nothing gets out, I am not sure that, taking the long view, such a very restrictive provision would be salutary. That is my own view, and not in any way a Departmental view.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

It was no part of my case that we should continue to be acquisitive.

Captain Waterhouse

I am rather surprised to find that in this matter my Noble Friend is so static; I thought he was one of those who wanted to get new things rather than hold the ones we had. I think that on reflection he will doubt the wisdom of that remark. I think it is better that our people should enjoy the great works of art of the world by moving fresh works in and having some go out rather than we should say that what we have we will hold for ever. However, that is a matter of opinion, and not a matter for the Board of Trade. I am not at all sure that if we approached the brewers there would be any hope of them furnishing assistance towards the provision of provincial art galleries. Many of our provincial galleries are extremely well furnished with works of art. My hon. Friend said that it was a pity that workers in our great industrial towns could not have the same advantage as those who lived in London. Clearly, people who live in the provinces cannot have the same advantages in that way as those who live in capital cities. On the other hand, many of our provincial towns are extremely fortunate in their collections of works of art.

The figures that I have given already do not refer to antique furniture. I would rather not give the figures for furniture. They include not only antiques but all commercial furniture. For last year the exports of furniture, new, antique and secondhand, to the United States were considerably less than £10,000 in value and had come down to something like a twentieth of what they were a few years ago. I hope hon. Members may feel that what I have said has been enough to assure them that, although some works of art are going out of the country, the drain is not such as to jeopardise the store of which we are so justly proud.