HC Deb 05 December 1947 vol 445 cc691-5
The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make the following statement. I have now been able to examine, with my colleagues, the possibilities of marking the Centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 by some national display in addition to the British Industries Fair. My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as President of the Board of Trade, said on 28th March that in spite of the difficulties then foreseen methods could undoubtedly be found involving relatively little new construction work outside the programme already in course of planning, and that he was examining whether some progress towards the building of a permanent centre for the British Industries Fair could not be achieved in time for the Centenary.

It is now clear that under the revised investment programme no new construction work, for such purposes, can be undertaken for 1951. Nevertheless, the Government feel that it would not be right on this account to abandon the celebration of the Centenary, and we, therefore, propose to mark it by a national display illustrating the British contribution to civilisation, past, present and future, in the Arts, in science and technology, and in industrial design. My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is, therefore, inviting the Arts Council of Great Britain to make arrangements, in association with other bodies concerned, for a Festival of the Arts in 1951. The Festival would not be confined to London, and provision will be made to link up with it existing ventures in Edinburgh and elsewhere, and to encourage new ones. Wales, for example, must play its part. The Festival will include events in music and drama, opera and ballet, together with exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography.

Separate consideration will be given in due course to arrangements covering architecture and town planning in its design aspects; books, and the showing of notable British films, including documentaries. Besides the Festival, there will be two major national exhibitions. My right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, is inviting the. Council of Industrial Design to sponsor a first-rate design display which will include consumer goods, civil transport, certain classes of capital goods and some handicraft production, and some displays showing the historical development of some industries.

I am arranging for an Exhibition of British achievements in science and technology to be organised by the Central Office of Information on behalf of the Research Councils and other scientific bodies. Both the Festival and the Exhibitions will be held in existing buildings. Provision will be made for co-ordination between these projects. They will cover, at a national level, the field of the 1851 Exhibition and will, I believe, mark its Centenary as worthily as our resources will allow.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

This statement is of some importance and one which will be welcomed. It is a good proposal that the Great Exhibition of 1851 should be commemorated, and I feel it all the more so, since I happen to be one of those, who, by an accident of office is a Commissioner of the Exhibition. It was, incidentally, with some surprise that I found a permanent body still existing from the Exhibition of 1851. This body has carried on many useful purposes in the century which has intervened. In the list of objects which the Lord President has just intimated as those which he desires to commemorate, I trust it will also be possible to include some of the purposes which the Commissioners have carried out in the intervening century, particularly their work in cultural advances overseas. As the Lord President knows, the British school at Rome, and, I think, a notable amount of activity in Greek archaeology have been under the sponsorship of the Trustees. It is well worth remembering that the Exhibition, which was of great interest to the people of this country, has led to activities outside this country of an international aspect. We should also keep this in mind when we are considering how best to commemorate it.

We shall look with great interest at the proposals for the Festival and particularly the passage in the Lord President's statement that provision will be made to link with the festivals in existing forms in Edinburgh and elsewhere and to encourage new ones. We trust that those who successfully promoted the rather remarkable Festival in Edinburgh last year will be given a full opportunity to co-operate, and perhaps to suggest either new ideas or elaborations of the existing ideas which the Lord President has just mentioned. In general, I think it is a worthy object, and one which will be given a welcome from all parts of the House.

Mr. Morrison

I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the friendly observations he has made. It will be of the utmost importance that there should be co-operation, and he can be sure I will take into consideration the suggestions he has made, including the point about Edinburgh. We shall welcome suggestions from all quarters which will be given understanding consideration.

Mrs. Ayrton Gould

I am sure we all welcome the statement made by the Lord President. It is going to afford a splendid opportunity to show what Britain possesses and what Britain has done in the field of art, science and industry. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he would consider the Victoria and Albert Museum as a suitable centre for the main part of the London exhibition. The Victoria and Albert Museum would be peculiarly appropriate because, it will be remembered, it was built out of the profits of the 1851 exhibition. When it is fully restored from war damage it will contain one of the finest exhibitions of decorative and applied art in the world. There will also be plenty of room to house a loan exhibition of fine paintings.

I welcome what the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said about international art, but I would remind the House that in this country we have, often in private collections, some of the finest works of art, both painting and sculpture —international work as well as British—that have ever been created. It would be possible to house those conveniently in the Victoria and Albert Museum effectively and to display them there. I am also delighted that the plan includes all kinds of artistic events, among them ballet, music and drama, which the Arts Council has done so much work in fostering all ever Britain, and also that the Arts Council is being asked, with other organisations, to make the arrangements for the exhibitions and celebrations. I very much welcome the whole plan as conceived and laid down by the Lord President.

Mr. Morrison

In the circumstances, bearing in mind its name, the Victoria and Albert Museum must necessarily be taken into consideration, in view of the fact that her late Majesty and the Prince Consort were so actively associated with the exhibition of 1851. The hon. Lady can be sure that the Victoria and Albert Museum will be prominently featured. I will keep that in mind, together with all the other useful suggestions.

Mr. Speaker

This is a somewhat pleasant but irregular proceeding. There is no Question before the House. Mr. Charles Williams.

Mr. Charles Williams

May I add one suggestion? I feel sure that we shall welcome the proposal which has been made, but I was not sure if there was to be included an exhibition of British art and an attempt made, which I am sure would be successful, to gather together some of the privately owned pictures. I would like to emphasise what the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) has said. I hope that on an occasion such as this every effort will be made to see that the finest objects of British art are gathered together and shown to the public of this country and to the world as well.

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Gentleman can be quite sure that that matter will be sympathetically considered.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman say where it is intended to have the permanent home of the British Industries Fair? He said something about it being housed in existing buildings.

Mr. Morrison

We have a number of existing buildings in mind but they have not yet been inspected. As soon as it has been decided an announcement will be made.

Sir John Mellor

May I ask the Lord President whether it has been decided what portion of these events are to be held in the vicinity of Birmingham, having regard to the existing buildings at Castle Bromwich?

Mr. Morrison

I am most anxious that this shall not be a wholly London affair. I am very wishful that Scotland, Wales and the English provinces shall be active participants, and we shall consider the importance of Birmingham in the Midland area.

Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox

Has the issue of a memorial postage stamp been considered, not only for the benefit of stamp collectors all over the world, but as a means of advertising?

Mr. Morrison

That has not been thought about, but it is well worth considering and I will see that the matter is gone into.

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