HC Deb 10 November 1954 vol 532 cc1349-58
The Chairman

I think that the Amendments, in page 5, line 4, at end, insert: The Belfast Museum and Art Gallery. in line 8, at end, insert: The National Gallery of Ireland. and in page 5, line 17, at end, insert: The Palace of Westminster. go together.

Mr. H. Brooke

Sir Charles, it will be within your recollection and that of the Committee, I think, that the second of these Amendments was discussed on Friday with the first Amendment moved that day, and that it was decided that the second of these Amendments should not be further debated, although it could be moved and divided upon.

The Chairman

I was not proposing to call it.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

We were under the impression that our Amendment also was discussed then, in page 5, line 18, to leave out from "as," to the end of the Schedule, and to insert: are regularly open to the public, and are deemed appropriate by the Trustees. I would suggest that it would save the time of the Committee if we discussed all these Amendments, and the only other one, together. The last is in the name of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), in page 5, line 1, to leave out Schedule 1.

The Chairman

One or two of them fall.

Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Hyde (Belfast, North)

My impression was that the second of the Amendments, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has said, was taken at the same time as the very first Amendment on Friday, which was moved by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu).

The Chairman

I was not proposing to call it anyway. I am calling the first of these three Amendments.

Lieut.-Colonel Hyde

I beg to move, in page 5, line 4, at the end, to insert: The Belfast Museum and Art Gallery. Hon. Friends of mine who also represent constituencies in Northern Ireland have put their names to this Amendment. I do not want to detain the Committee for very long at this late hour, but I should briefly explain that the purpose of the Amendment is two-fold. First, it is to give the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery the benefit of Clause 3 in the sense that a gift or bequest to the nation may be allocated by the Treasury to that Gallery as well as to the others mentioned in this Schedule.

As the Bill stands, without this Amendment, a testator domiciled in Northern Ireland or connected with Northern Ireland who makes a gift or bequest to the nation cannot have his bequest allocated to the Belfast Gallery; but it can be allocated to one or another of the institutions named, the Science Museum in London, for instance, or the National Museum of Wales. The purpose of the Amendment is to allow the gift of a person connected with Northern Ireland to go whither it would seem normal for it to go—to Northern Ireland.

The second object is to enable the trustees of the Tate Gallery under Clause 5 to transfer pictures to the Belfast Gallery, which, I would observe in passing, is short of pictures. The position of the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery is unique in the United Kingdom. It was built by and is maintained by Belfast Corporation, but it has for many years, in practice, had to play the role of a national institution, or, perhaps, to be more accurate, a regional institution. The reason for that is that when Ireland was partitioned under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, Northern Ireland did not receive any proportion of the Irish national treasures in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. Consequently, the functions of the Irish National Gallery in Ulster devolved upon the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery.

11.15 p.m.

The Committee which was set up to make awards to Northern Ireland in respect of loss of cultural amenities, the Colwyn Arbitration Committee, awarded to the Government of Northern Ireland a sum of £400,000, but not a single penny of that money was spent on the purchase of works of art. At that time—1921—there were more urgent matters to which the newly-created Government had to devote their attention, and the money was spent on such projects as constabulary barracks, prisons, science laboratories, and so on.

This is an excellent little gallery. It is admirably staffed and administered and has an excellent curator, but it is very short of pictures, except pictures by Ulster artists. It is well provided with the works of such artists as Sir John Lavery, Paul Henry, Humbert Craig, William Conor and Colin Middleton, but it lacks pictures by many other artists and other schools.

We believe that the Belfast Gallery should be placed on the same footing as the National Galleries of Wales and Scotland. It may be objected that the Belfast Gallery is a municipal gallery but, as I have tried to show, it goes far beyond the functions of the normal municipal gallery, such as the Liverpool or Birmingham Municipal Gallery. It performs national, or at any rate regional, functions.

In those circumstances, I hope that the Financial Secretary will accept the Amendment. If he does, I can assure him that it will give very great satisfaction in Northern Ireland and will demonstrate that in these matters of pictures and other works of art Northern Ireland is being treated in the same way as are the other component parts of the United Kingdom.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

A short time ago the Committee divided, if only in my mind, on party lines, but on this Amendment all parties are joined in amity and understanding in order to try to write into the Schedule "The Palace of Westminster." As hon. Members know, an advisory committee on works of art, set up by the Minister of Works, is sitting and considering what should be done to rearrange, re-hang and improve the pictures and works of art in this very fine and noble seat of government.

We are in full career, we are full of ideas, and we are hoping to go into the outside world, beyond the confines of Westminster, to the great country houses, to art collections of every sort and kind, to beg and borrow pictures and works of art to exhibit here, and we hope very much that in time there will be gathered in this magnificent Palace such a fine assembly of great pictures and works of art as will please the public which regularly comes here to view our premises.

If the Palace of Westminster were added to the Schedule, it would empower galleries—the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery—to transfer pictures to the Palace of Westminster. It can be said, and perhaps the Government will say, that these works can be sent to us by loan at any time after the passage of the Bill—and that has been said on previous occasions—but I do not think there is much here on loan at the moment. Most of the pictures here have been presented, as far as we have been able to see, by late hon. Members or by well-wishers from all over the world, and others have been purchased out of funds at the disposal of Mr. Speaker. It would be rather novel to receive pictures and works of art on loan.

I observe from the Schedule that it is not entirely confined to the great museums and galleries. There is mention of the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Victoria and Albert Museum houses works of art in the realm of furniture and furnishings. It cannot be said that the Science Museum houses any works of art at all, yet I imagine that the Science Museum has been included because it may be that a fine portrait of an eminent scientist should be transferred from the National Gallery or the Tate Gallery to the Science Museum, and the same with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Can this Palace of Westminster claim anything less than that there should be transferred to us from these galleries, if they exist—and I think they do exist—the fine portraits of statesmen of our time and of preceding times and of well-known personalities who have been Members of the House of Commons? I hope very much that the Government will be able to agree to the Amendment.

Of course, there is still the residing power that the Treasury can by Order in Council at any time, on an affirmative Resolution of both Houses, add the Palace of Westminster to the Schedule. But I do not think that such an addition would fall at such a happy time as this, because this is the inception of the Works of Art Committee. It is the time when we are trying our utmost to gain the maximum publicity for our work and when we feel that all hon. Members, on all sides, would like to endorse it in statutory form and claim it to the country as an ideal.

My hon. Friend may object to the Amendment because it incorporates "The Palace" in the Schedule and no other palaces are to receive pictures in like fashion, but we are a very special palace. We are unique, and I think that in all the circumstances we well qualify for inclusion in the Schedule.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

I support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) in his appeal to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary for a reason that has not yet been mentioned but which links up with our discussion the other day. You, Sir Rhys, will remember that my hon. Friend turned down the suggestion that the National Gallery of Ireland might be included in the Schedule. His reason was its being outside the Commonwealth and that many other galleries in different parts of the Commonwealth were not included.

One of my reasons for appeal the other day was that Irish people all over Ireland found considerable difficulty in getting to London to study art and to see the pictures which we have here. Therefore, as the National Gallery has been turned down, if it were possible to include the Gallery in Belfast it would at least be possible for the people of all Ireland to get there, and this would be easier for them than coming to London. For that reason, I very much support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North.

Mr. Nicholson

I support the eloquent plea made by the noble Lord my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). We now have a golden opportunity to furnish this Palace with pictures of persons and scenes connected with Parliament. I think that it should be enshrined in the Bill and not left to subsequent afterthoughts by the Treasury.

I say that it is a golden opportunity, because the present set of pictures in the House is not worthy of its setting. There are pictures of former Prime Ministers and Parliamentary scenes which may not necessarily be very good works of art, although they are fine pictures in themselves, which would probably remain in the cellars at the National Gallery or the Tate Gallery. I believe that the House of Commons would be doing itself only bare justice if it included the Palace of Westminster in the Schedule.

Mr. H. Brooke

I am very much obliged for the moderation of the hon. Members who have so persuasively dealt with their Amendments.

I should like, at the outset, to remind the Committee of the precise meaning and application of the Schedule. In the Schedule we are considering which national institutions can appropriately be selected as places to which works of art can be directed or transferred "directed" when they have been given or left to the nation with no precise indication where they are to go, and "transferred" when they have become surplus to the requirements of the Tate Gallery but yet would be suitable to be owned and exhibited elsewhere.

As the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) recognised, we are in no way limiting the loan powers. Both these great institutions, if I may so term them, are within the loan powers and pictures can be lent to them as freely as to any other building or gallery.

The noble Lord made a special plea to me that we should recognise the Palace of Westminster as a very special palace, which it undoubtedly is, and that we should seek by means of the Schedule to assist those who are anxious to see it stocked with worthy pictures. That in itself is a wholly desirable aim which all of us would applaud, but I must tell the Committee that I do not think it would be right to use the Schedule for that purpose.

All the pictures with which the Schedule is concerned are pictures which have been given or bequeathed to or bought by the nation, and the donors, the testators and the purchasers have all thought of these pictures as ones for public exhibition. It is true that at various times the public can walk through this building, but it is not by any means the case that the public can go where they wish. If the relation of an hon. or right hon. Member had left a picture to the nation and his executors found that it was in Committee Room 12, other members of the family might later hesitate to leave pictures to the nation because what had happened was not what had been desired.

It is on the issue of access by the public that I am afraid that the Palace of Westminster cannot be brought in. I am very sorry indeed about it, but I do not believe that this is the way in which the Palace of Westminster can acquire its pictures. On the other hand, I hope that it will be a recipient for loans. The noble Lord, who is closely concerned with the due and appropriate furnishing of the Palace, seemed to be suggesting at one point that there was something slightly improper about pictures being here on loan. I must advise him that there are pictures here on loan at the present moment, and I am not quite certain whether all the loans have statutory cover. Consequently, I hope that the Bill will soon receive the Royal Assent in order to make sure that the loans are validated.

11.30 p.m.

To turn from the Palace of Westminster to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) will understand when I say that no one who bears my name has ever been unsympathetic to Northern Ireland. If the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery had been a national institution in the ownership of the Government of Northern Ireland, unquestionably it would have been in the Schedule from the beginning. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the Bill, it is under the control of a committee of the Belfast Corporation. Therefore, it is no more a national institution than the art galleries of Liverpool or Birmingham. If at any time a new situation arose and the gallery were transferred from the Belfast Corporation to the Government of Northern Ireland, we should all feel that a very strong case had been established for a Treasury order to be made under the Schedule so that it could be included. As it is definitely a municipal institution it would be wrong to include it.

I assure my hon. and gallant Friend, and all others who feel strongly about this, that the actual loss in pictures will be negligible compared with what they can get by way of loan. We all desire that the loan powers should be used freely, and particularly that the pictures now in the cellars should be exhibited in galleries where they can be enjoyed.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

We are sorry that the Financial Secretary cannot include the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery. True, it is a municipal gallery at the moment, but that is no reason for excluding it. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent such a gallery being included in the Schedule. Municipal galleries are not included but some of us think they ought, and have every right to be included. If the Financial Secretary could have done it, he would have helped Northern Ireland to enjoy pictures which otherwise they may not get, and he would have broken the ice for adding other municipal galleries to the list.

I was not surprised at what he said about the Palace of Westminster. We need feel no objection to discussing an Amendment about getting pictures here when there is no room for them in the Galleries concerned. After all, everyone of us is only a bird of passage. Not one of us is here permanently. Therefore, any pictures which were brought here on loan would mean as much to others as to ourselves.

The only other regret that we have is that in some way—I know the reasons—we could not include the National Gallery of Ireland. In view of our discussion on the Lane Bequest and the great desire in all quarters of the Committee to come to terms in this matter with the people of Eire, it is a pity that we could not have made a gesture in this Schedule, acknowledging the fact that the National Gallery of Ireland does exist, and put it among the institutions which should enjoy these treasures.

Lieut.-Colonel Hyde

I readily accept the expression of sympathy which has fallen from my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, especially as he bears the name that he does, which is of particular significance in Northern Ireland. At the same time, I cannot altogether disguise my disappointment, which I share with the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), that it has not been possible to include the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in the Schedule to the Bill, and I know that that disappointment is also shared by my hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland constituencies.

However, I appreciate the legal reasons why, at the moment, the Financial Secretary does not find it possible to treat the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in this way. He has made it clear—and I am grateful to him—that it is up to the Government of Northern Ireland to take the action which will be necessary to alter the present status of the Belfast Gallery. For the last 30 years that gallery has occupied really the position of the National Gallery of Northern Ireland, and I hope that the Government of Northern Ireland will take note of what has been said tonight and will at no distant time confer the necessary de jure status upon that gallery to enable it in the eyes of the world legally to occupy the position and discharge the functions which, in fact, it has done since 1921. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

11.39 p.m.

Dr. Stross

This has been a very interesting discussion, and the Bill as it now stands is somewhat different from what it was. We are grateful to the Financial Secretary for having met us in our criticisms on the contentious and difficult Clause 4.

We are now happy with the Bill, and are satisfied with the way in which we have been met. Perhaps the Bill is now better than it was because there is a little more flexibility than existed originally.

If by any chance it has been noted that we on this side of the Committee have been more conservative than most hon. Members opposite I do not think we need apologise. We have exchanged opinions across the Floor of the Chamber, and I am sure that most of us are sorry that we do not have discussions of this kind more often.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. H. Brooke

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman and the House for the way they have received this Bill and helped me to speed it on its way to the Statute Book. It has been a refreshing experience to discuss matters of great public interest without any party feeling creeping in. All of us have been free to express our opinions and genuinely desirous of producing a result which will lead to the greatest public enjoyment. I only wish to say in bidding the Bill godspeed that in these two or three days we have been arguing about machinery, but I would suggest that all of us who have been taking part in this debate, and those who have not, as soon as the Whips will permit them, should go to pay a visit to Millbank or to Trafalgar Square.

At Millbank, they will see that wonderful collection displayed in a manner which I am sure the House will agree does great credit to the trustees, the director and the staff. At the National Gallery the exhibition of pictures is not as large as it has been, and the galleries are not open to the extent that they were, but I have given an assurance that the reopening of the galleries is at least proceeding, and almost all informed opinion would agree that the hanging and display of pictures is far more beautiful and successful than ever it was when we went there as small boys.

I think we should all wish that the trustees will make good use of their powers, and that the staffs who help in looking after the pictures will find that the restrictions imposed by this Bill are not onerous, but they will be conscious that behind them and the trustees is the good will of this House.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an Amendment.