HC Deb 19 March 1956 vol 550 cc912-37

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

When this series of Supplementary Estimates is strewn with examples of the Government's inadequacy and lack of foresight, I hope the House will think that it is to our credit that we have resisted the temptation to fish in troubled waters and have preferred to direct attention to the non-partisan but very important subject of the National Gallery.

We are drawing attention to this Supplementary Estimate for an additional £30,100 in respect of the National Gallery's purchase of E1 Greco's sketch, "Dream of Philip II". That was bought for £42,500, but as the annual grant for the purchase of pictures by the National Gallery is only £10,500, plus approximately the same amount in income from investments, a Supplementary Estimate is necessary. I wish to argue tonight that this is a thoroughly bad procedure, and I say that it is bad for two reasons.

The first reason, to which I will return a little later, is that it makes planning by the National Gallery impossible. The second is that it means that at the moment pictures are being lost. Under the recommendations of the Waverley Committee, the export of pictures is allowed only if no public institution is prepared to buy them at a fair price, and the difficulty which we are in now is that the annual purchase grant of the National Gallery and similar institutions is so inadequate that they are unable to discharge this function effectively.

In the year ending 30th June, 1955, a considerable drain on our national resources of works of art was revealed. The Reviewing Committee reported that in that year no fewer than 196 pictures were exported, of a total value of over £1 million and at an average cost of £5,400 for each picture.

The House will agree with me that without the work of the Reviewing Committee, set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the chairmanship of Mr. John Fremantle, and without the enthusiasm of our national institutions, the drain would be more severe. I must relate that observation to the present position of the National Gallery, and the difficulty there is that the National Gallery, as our premier national institution, can do little to preserve works of art of an average value of £5,400 when its own annual grant is only £10,500—rather less than twice the value of one of these works of art which left the country last year.

In considering this Supplementary Estimate, I might perhaps remind the House of the size of the National Gallery's annual purchase grant over the last few years and relate it to the present situation. In 1938–39 it was £7,000; in 1939–40 it was £5,600; and it was stopped during the war. In 1945–46 it was £1,500; in 1946–47 it climbed to £5,000; in 1947–53 it went up to £7,000; and it rose a further £1,750 in 1953–54. The annual purchase grant for 1954–55 was £10,500.

The most interesting feature of the annual purchase grant is apparent when we compare it with the annual purchase grant of fifty or nearly a hundred years ago. In 1900–01 it was £5,700 a year, and there were very few years between 1865 and 1889 in which it was not £10,000, approximately the amount which the Gallery enjoys at present. Today, therefore, the National Gallery is receiving apporximately the same figure for an annual purchase grant as it received in the days when the purchasing power of money was five or ten times what it is today—and most of the pictures in which the National Gallery is interested would cost several times the annual grant which it receives.

Its difficulties are increased by the fact that the price of pictures is tending to increase year by year. The Trustees have pointed out that the price of the pictures in which they are interested is rising for three reasons. The first is that clearly the total number of pictures available on the market throughout the world is becoming fewer, and those which we have in this country are tending to be forced on to the market by high taxation. Secondly, there are more overseas galleries competing for the works of art which are available. There is a collection in Washington which has been built up in the last fifteen years, and the Santo Paulo collection in Brazil has been built up since 1947. There is tremendous pressure from other parts of the world which is forcing up the price of the pictures which the National Gallery would like to obtain. The third inflationary tendency is the fact that many people regard pictures as a good investment.

The National Gallery therefore is being faced with constantly rising prices of the pictures. The Trustees estimate that in private collections in this country there are ten pictures worth £250,000 each, all of them clearly beyond the range of the National Gallery unless it can come to the House in this way and ask us for a Supplementary Estimate, as has been done on this occasion. When the National Gallery of Scotland a year or so ago bought Velazquez's "An Old Woman Cooking Eggs," the cost was £57,000. When the National Gallery itself in 1953 bought Cézanne's "La Vieille Au Chapelet" the cost was £33,000.

If hon. Members look at the figures reached at the sale at Christie's last Friday they will get some idea of the alarming way in which the prices of pictures are rocketing today. Hobbema's "A Hamlet in the Woods," which sold for 1,050 guineas in 1876, fetched a price of 16,000 guineas last Friday. I could quote other paintings which were sold at Christie's last Friday, pictures by Guardi, Jan Steen van Miens and a number of other artists; the general effect was that the prices seemed to be about ten or twenty times what they were in the days when the National Gallery was receiving the same amount of annual purchase grant as it receives at present.

I know the Financial Secretary will say that it is always possible for the Trustees to come to the House as they have done on this occasion and to ask for a special grant, especially if it is recommended by the Reviewing Committee, but the Reviewing Committee and the Trustees of the National Gallery have pointed out the dangers of this way of dealing with the situation. They argue that under this system every picture they want to get hold of, which is outside the £10,500 which they have every year, must be treated as an emergency, and they tend to hesitate to ask for a grant in case later in the year a more important picture becomes available which they would have regarded it as more essential for the Gallery to obtain. They say that they must consider whether an application would, so to speak, exhaust their credit for the next occasion if some work of art, still more urgently needed, were suddenly to come upon the market. In circumstances of this sort, planning is necessarily reduced to an exercise in thought-reading—an attempt to forecast the states of mind of Ministers and Parliament in the event of a large number of alternative contingencies. We have seen an example of that in the fact that between 1945 and 1950 only two purchases were made by the Trustees of the National Gallery, both of them in 1947. One was Poussin's "Landscape with a Snake" and the other Reynolds' portrait of Sir Watkins Williams Wynn. Both were bought, not because they filled existing gaps in the collection, but because otherwise they would have left the country. At the moment the National Gallery is forced into the position of buying pictures to stop them being exported and not necessarily because they are needed to fill any gaps or deficiencies in the existing collection.

One of the further difficulties about the Trustees' impoverished state is that they have no funds left for purchasing overseas in the way that American and Canadian galleries are purchasing at present. I think the main disadvantage of this system by which the purchase grants is inadequate and recourse must be had to a special grant is that it makes planning absolutely impossible. The Waverley Committee was emphatic on this point. I should like to read its comments. It said: There is an urgent need—which we cannot too strongly stress—for increased regular financial assistance to the national collections, so that they can be more active in the pursuit of what they need, can carry on their programme of acquisitions in accordance with a long-term plan, and can accumulate reserves with which to meet exceptional demands as they arise. I am submitting tonight that because of the failure of the Government to implement that recommendation this debate is necessary to draw attention to the need for enabling the National Gallery to plan ahead and not to live a hand-to-mouth and day-to-day existence as at present. We certainly shall continue to press the Government on this matter.

The National Gallery, as we would all admit, is a splendid collection, but there are deficiencies in it. I shall not list them tonight, but there are certain marked deficiencies to which the Trustees have directed our attention. Although it seems improbable that some of those deficiencies will be made good in the future, others can be fairly easily remedied, but not at prices which are within the range of the Trustees of the National Gallery. In consequence, the Trustees say that a purchasing grant of £80,000 would not enable them to buy the more highly-priced masterpieces, but would give them room for manoeuvre and enable them to plan ahead more than they can at the moment. They add—with, I think, admirable good humour under the circumstances—that the amount for which they are asking would be equivalent to one seven-hundred-and-fiftieth of the pig subsidy.

The Reviewing Committee has more ambitious ideas than the Trustees of the National Gallery. It suggests that the annual purchasing grant should be increased to a level equivalent in money value to the sums available in 1900. Lord Radcliffe, who is a most balanced and well-informed connoisseur of pictures, has argued that the National Gallery should receive an annual grant of £150,000 for ten years, with power to carry the balance forward from year to year. In an excellent broadcast on the Third Programme, he argued that this is a most urgent problem which must be solved in the course of the next generation or two, if it is to be solved at all. Another authority, Professor Ellis Waterhouse Barber, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham, maintains that at least £100,000 is necessary and that, in addition, there should be special grants for emergencies.

I hope that in discussing this Supplementary Estimate for this additional amount I have convinced the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that an increase in the annual purchasing grant is a basic requirement if we are not to lose our race against time and not to prejudice the retention of our national heritage. We shall lose no opportunity of drawing attention to the urgency of the situation, but in the meantime, we welcome the Supplementary Estimate that has been placed before the House.

7.45 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I should like most warmly to support the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). The least we can do is to have a debate today on this Supplementary Estimate, because the country has been provided in the annual report recently issued by the National Gallery Trustees with a most admirable document. It is an extremely interesting one, excellently written—which is such a happy change in annual reports—and one which I believe every hon. Member who cares to call himself civilised should read, mark and learn.

We in Parliament are responsible by the actions we take here and by the Votes we grant for the standard and standing of this great institution, the National Gallery. It is a public institution in the full sense of the term. I do not think anyone who has read the report or considered what is involved in this Supplementary Estimate can be satisfied with the present state of affairs.

My hon. Friend has most lucidly set out the difficulties in which the Trustees of the Gallery find themselves. He has pointed out how needful it is that we should take action now in order to obtain these great masterpieces, without which the full quality of the collection cannot be secured. It is not by any means the largest picture gallery in the world, but the value of the National Gallery is that it is a collection which, both for quality of individual pictures and for their representative character, is I think second to none. It is essential, therefore, that we should make certain that the quality is maintained.

As Lord Radcliffe said in that extremely interesting broadcast, the situation in which we found ourselves with the El Greco sketch is one which might well recur in relation to other notable works of art. He made an estimate that there are known to be in private collections in this country at least ten pictures, the price of which would not be much below £250,000 each at current rates so far as one can estimate. After all, the great pictures of the world are seldom to be found in junk shops; they are well-known and well-catalogued. What is not known are the precise moments when they might come on to the market, or the circumstances in which they might come on to the market. Lord Radcliffe suggested that there were about another 100 pictures which would also be Very highly valued, any one of which the Trustees might feel they should endeavour to purchase.

What is the position when one of these peculiarly fine works of art is on the market? The one we are discussing, the El Greco, is a sketch—admittedly it is not a completed picture—but the Trustees particularly wished to acquire it because the collection is relatively weak in pictures of that school. When the Trustees know that they wish to acquire a particular picture, can we be satisfied that this present arrangement, this emergency purchasing, is—to put it at its very lowest—in the best financial interests of the country?

It has been most forcibly pointed out in The Times, for example, in that newspaper's very interesting leading article on 18th November—with which I am sure we are all familiar—that if this emergency procedure is adopted in each case because the Trustees simply have not the funds to plan for the future and to accumulate adequate balances, a picture has to be bought at the dramatic and exciting moment when its price may have reached a peak. It may be very much higher than it might have been had the Trustees been in a position to negotiate privately before it became known that the picture was about to go on to the market.

That is one of the serious difficulties about the present position. As The Times points out, such pictures could often be obtained for the nation at substantially reduced prices if the Trustees were in a position of some certainty and could go to the owner privately, when it has been indicated—they have the usual channels in the art dealing world as in other places, I believe—that the owner contemplates a sale. If the Trustees knew that they had the money and could close a deal at an early stage, it is most probable that in quite a number of cases at any rate the owner would have possibly some regard for the honour of having the picture going to a national institution.

He would not be under pressure from other interests—overseas interests, very often—and might prefer to make a reasonable and honourable deal with the National Gallery Trustees, whereas, if the deal were postponed the price might be much higher. In fact, Lord Radcliffe says quite clearly that the present ad hoc method … tends to make the public pay the highest possible price at the latest possible moment. It is largely because the annual grant to the National Gallery is so ludicrously small in relation to the present day values of pictures that the Trustees really can make no intelligent plan whatsoever.

I am not pretending for one moment that one would expect the Treasury to make an annual grant of such dimensions that we should never be faced with a situation in which some special provision had to be made for a particularly valuable work of art. One does not want to exaggerate this. I can perfectly well understand that for some painting of the very greatest possible value one would still have to come to Parliament, but I say that those occasions would be few and far between.

The National Gallery is a gallery which is already well stocked with pictures of most schools—though, as I have said, there are certain gaps—so it is not a question of buying pictures every day of the week. It is only the exceptional ones that we would require to purchase, and ii the Trustees could feel that for anything but the most exceptional pictures they could make reasonable plans, I feel that we could do a great deal to improve the quality of our national collection and also to save some of the money from the public purse.

I do not wish to go beyond this particular Supplementary Vote, but there is much to be said for the Treasury adopting towards the National Gallery—and towards other comparable national institutions—the policy which they adopt towards the universities. There should be quinquennial grants. Even supposing that the annual grant were considerably increased—which would certainly be an improvement—that method is, in itself, unsatisfactory. The work of an institution of this kind cannot really be planned within the compass of twelve months. I am quite convinced that the National Gallery, as well as other national collections and museums, would be far better served if there were an equivalent of the University Grants Committee.

A National Institutions Grants Committee has already been recommended in the Report published in 1954 by the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries. I think that in this House the Financial Secretary said not very long ago that this was not altogether an acceptable idea. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If I am mistaken in drawing that inference I am glad, because if he is in favour of that recommendation I should feel very much happier in acquiescing in this Supplementary Estimate tonight, as it would then be a good augury for the future that we would have the kind of organisation which would put the question of funds for purchasing on a very much better basis.

I do not want to take any more time because I know that others of my hon. Friends wish to speak, but I feel most strongly that we should take note of what the Trustees themselves have said so eloquently. Anyone reading the Report must be convinced that we have in charge of the National Gallery at present people of vision and energy, and people who deserve the support of the House and of the public. This present hand-to-mouth method is extremely unsatisfactory, and I very much hope that we shall have from the Financial Secretary some indication that the Government are giving serious attention to this problem.

We are well aware that at the present moment the Government are preaching economy. They are trying to take measures against inflation. We need not discuss this evening whether or not we regard those to be the right measures, but that is the situation in which they find themselves. I would submit that of the different types of public expenditure some are more inflationary than others. By and large I would say that expenditure on major works of art is rather less inflationary in its results than are many other types of expenditure. Therefore, the factors which influence every kind of Government expenditure at the present moment—and which might lead the Financial Secretary to be a little less forthcoming than he might wish—should not unduly influence him in this question of the provision of funds for purchases for our great National Galleries and institutions.

Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for having drawn its attention to the needs of the National Gallery. I think that the nation is justly proud of the National Gallery. Although it may not he the most famous or the greatest collection in the world, I think that everyone would agree that it is the most balanced. I am often threatened with apoplexy or at least with an attack of blood pressure, when I consider the action of my predecessor in the representation for Cambridge, Oliver Cromwell, when he sold the Royal collection of Charles I. The Venetian Ambassador wrote to the Doge that, even with the abominable prices—"Grezzi Vilissimi," he described them—the collection had raised £118,000, the greatest sum of any collection since ancient times. In spite of that loss we have a particularly fine collection.

I am certain that we are right tonight to pay tribute to the work of the Gallery, both in the past and in the present, and particularly to its wonderful work of conservation during the war in Manod quarry. We should also pay tribute to the Trustees of the Gallery for allowing concerts to be given there and chosen masterpieces to be shown at a time when the sirens were still sounding and the bombs were still falling.

8.0 p.m.

Today the Gallery is undoubtedly in a very difficult position. First, it has difficulties about accommodation. We know that many of the pictures are hung on reserve screens and have to be placed in corridors where they are subject to changes of temperature and of moisture which, of course, entail the overriding danger of flaking. The hon. Member for Rossendale also drew attention to the limited resources of the National Gallery and to the fact that the sum of £10,500 is received today from the Government is the same, I believe, as in 1880. Because of the change in money values, that amount in 1880 was perhaps equivalent to £40,000 today. The total amount available to the Gallery us about £20,000. £10,500 in Government grant, and £10,000 from benefactions.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the tremendous rise in the prices of famous masterpieces and to the fact that in this country there are no less than ten pictures valued at over £250,000 and about one hundred at about £150,000. Abroad prices are equally tremendous. The Trustees told us in their report that the famous Frick collection in New York purchased for no less than 750,000 dollars a Madonna by van Eyck and Octrus Christus, whilst a Cezanne still life, not of the first quality, obtained 230,000 dollars at the Cognacq sale in Paris

As the hon. Member pointed out, these prices are way beyond the scope of the National Gallery, they do not allow the Gallery authorities to plan ahead and to make a list of possible purchases which would prove a credit and an adornment to the Gallery. I know this is a time of stringency, but I believe that works of art pay dividends not only in the pleasure they give to those who go to see them, but in the attraction of foreign exchange from visitors who come from overseas to see them and who prove valuable sources of dollar and other currencies.

In conclusion, I would draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to one of the most important paragraphs in the Waverley Report which says: All efforts to preserve our national heritage will be largely nugatory unless the meagre sums hitherto available to the maintenance and development of public collections are very substantially augmented. I would claim that the observation applies not only to the London collections, but likewise to the provincial ones. I know my right hon. Friend is very sympathetic, and I hope that he will pay special attention to this important statement of the Walverley Committee.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

I should like to endorse everything that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) and by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Hamilton Kerr). I think there is complete unanimity in the House that the present grants to the National Gallery, and, indeed, to all other national collections, are totally inadequate in the light of modern conditions. In a sense I welcome, as other hon. Members have welcomed, this Supplementary Estimate. I am delighted that the National Gallery was enabled at the very last moment to acquire that E1 Greco sketch, but it really is fantastic that the total annual purchase grant to the National Gallery represents, in last Friday's terms, the cost of one Guardi. Guardi happens to be one of my favourite painters, though I do not think anybody would consider that he was one of the greater masters of painting. Despite that, two. of his pictures last Friday fetched 20,000 guineas, and so the total annual grant of the National Gallery is represented by one small Guardi.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale gave two very powerful reasons for the Government reviewing the purchase grants and allocating to the National Gallery a regular annual grant of very much more substantial size than the present one. Personally, I thought the highest bid, so to speak, of Lord Radcliffe was fairly modest in terms of present values of paintings. As my hon. Friend rightly said, because of this emergency procedure, pictures have been lost to the national collections which should not have been lost. As he also said, it is quite impossible for the Trustees of the National Gallery to plan to fill the gaps in their collection.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East said, we spend money unnecessarily through this procedure by waiting until a picture is on the market and practically sold before the procedure can come into operation. This costs the taxpayer large sums of money which he should not be called upon to pay. Indeed, it usually happens, when the matter is dealt with by the Committee on Exports of Works of Art, that we wait until we are in direct competition with the United States before we begin to negotiate.

I will advance a third reason why I think this present procedure of making an exiguous annual grant and then presenting a Supplementary Estimate on special occasions is a deplorable one. The Government go to a lot of trouble to appoint a number of highly distin guished men to become trustees of our national collections. I think we all agree that not only in the National Gallery, but in the Tate Gallery and in the other museums and collections these trustees do an admirable job. One would have thought that one of the main functions of a board of trustees was to decide what purchases to make, especially of major works of art. What happens today? As soon as they desire to make an acquisition of any importance at all the matter goes completely out of their hands.

They can make a recommendation and the Committee on Exports of Works of Art can make a recommendation, but, in the end, the person who decides whether that picture shall be acquired for the nation or not is nominally the Chancellor of the Exchequer though, in fact, a gentleman at the Treasury. I think that we have been very well served in the past by gentlemen at the Treasury with admirable artistic tastes, and that probably, generally speaking, they have made the right decisions, but it seems to me quite wrong that there should be one individual who is in fact an artistic dictator, who is able to say yea or nay to the acquisition of a work of art for our national collections. This ought to be the job of the trustees. It is in a sense derogatory to the trustees that this responsibility should be taken out of their hands.

I would endorse the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East of a five year grant. I know the Treasury hates anything but annual finance. It thinks that any finance but that is most inconvenient. However, the quinquennial grant of the University Grants Committee works perfectly well and satisfactorily, and there is no earthly reason why that system of grant should not be duplicated. I should like to see, as it were, a university grants committee for all the national collections, made up of representatives of the trustees of each of those institutions, and giving quinquennial grants allocated according to the needs from time to time of each institution. I think that that would work extremely well and would be far better than even an annual grant of the size Lord Radcliffe mentioned.

If the right hon. Gentleman turns down once again the suggestion of a quinquennial grant, I hope he will accede to the suggestion that, if an annual has to be made, there should at any rate be a carry-over which would go some small distance towards enabling the trustees to do a little planning ahead.

We are here dealing in what are infinitesimal sums compared with the total revenue. These institutions have been starved of money not only by the present Government, but by successive Governments, and for far too long. The House has been unanimous about this matter, and I hope that the Treasury will not prove to be as adamant upon it as we are accustomed to finding it. The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer has a very great reputation as a connoisseur of painting and of art generally. I am sorry that during his tenure of office there was not a more substantial grant to these institutions. I hope that the Financial Secretary to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to do better.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

The only fault I can find in this admirable National Gallery Report for 1938–54, is that, unfortunately, it is not readily obtainable at the Vote Office. That, perhaps, is why not as many hon. Members have seen it as one would wish. It reveals the ludicrous weakness of our position in the matter of purchasing pictures. When one thinks of the work that the National Gallery has done, it is quite absurd that it is not in a position to build on what has been achieved already. I should like to add my tribute to the comfort which the Gallery gave to so many of us in wartime. Besides concerts and pictures, the Gallery had an excellent canteen. A person serving in one of the Service Ministries could obtain an admirable luncheon to satisfy his animal appetite just as the Gallery satisfied his aesthetic appetite.

I should like to make a slight correction to the statistic quoted of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood). Thanks to the housewife's keener purchasing of British bacon and pork last year, the correct fraction is now not 1/750th part of the pig subsidy that the National Gallery would like to have as an annual grant but only 1/500th part, but it does not alter the principle. I should like to go further into the question of the pig subsidy—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

That seems fairly remote from this Vote.

Mr. Hill

Except that the grant is mentioned in the National Gallery Report and that farmers in seeking to improve their pig breeding have agreed to make some contribution towards Government-sponsored research stations, and I was hoping that the picture lovers might also make some contribution to the picture purchase fund; and that the Government might add to it.

I would make two suggestions. Is it inconceivable that we should have some charge for admission occasionally to our national galleries? Could we not stimulate the number of visitors by enabling a gallery to be open at what would be for many people more convenient hours? At present, the National Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. It stands to reason that many people who might like to go there cannot easily do so because of their working hours.

In Florence the galleries stay open for two evenings a week, from about 9 p.m. till 11 p.m., so that the visitor can go to them after dinner and see the pictures under very favourable conditions, because normally only picture lovers as distinct from sightseers go there during those hours. About 3s. is paid for admission and presumably therefore, some revenue is obtained, but the galleries are free at the weekend so that those who cannot afford admission can still see the pictures.

In 1954 868,000 people visited the National Gallery. Even at an average of 6d. a head we should raise about £21,000 revenue and at 1s. a head about £43,000. It could be specifically levied as a picture purchasing fund. If the Government could have built on that and doubled it, there might have been no need for this Estimate.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The debate is ranging very wide. I have no desire to stop it, but this has nothing to do with the Vote, which is concerned with buying pictures.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Hill

I submit, with great respect, that if my suggestion had been adopted, the Supplementary Estimate would not have been necessary, because ample provision could have been made from other sources. However, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and all I ask is that, by whatever means they adopt, the Government should take a very small step forward so as to ensure that we are not regarded by posterity as having acted like a fifth-rate Power in maintaining the strength of our national collections in the world of art.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury will have noted that there is a common feeling in the House that better support should be made available to this great institution, the National Gallery, than is made available at present. I hope that he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider the very valuable suggestions made from both sides of the House, though I want to take up in a moment the question of charges, to which I am completely opposed. If, however, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you feel that to discuss charges would be out of order, I shall be content to leave the subject and merely say that I am sure that since we have never imposed charges in the past we shall never do so in the future.

Another point which may be linked closely with the Supplementary Estimate has been made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill): It is the question of the opening times of the Gallery. If we are to spend a large sum of money to obtain a picture, we are right to consider who is going to see it, when they can see it and in what numbers they are likely to go and see it. The hon. Member spoke about the Gallery closing at 6 p.m. I have brought this matter up in the House in the past and no doubt it will be considered on both sidese of the House again and again in the future.

The great mass of people find it difficult, except on Sundays, to go to the galleries because they are working until about 6 p.m. Might it not be possible that if the Supplementary Estimate were increased, better means might be found within it to enable the National Gallery to stay open until 9 p.m. at least once a week? I am sure that that would be helpful to the nation as a whole. After a year we should be in a position to know whether the expenditure had been justified or not. If it had not, the Gallery could revert to the former situation.

I find myself, as, indeed, must the Financial Secretary, in entire agreement with the basis of all that has been said this evening. This great institution which has one of the greatest collections in the world is, to put it crudely, no longer able to keep up appearances. I am not one who says that we must buy any picture that becomes available on the market because it is a great picture might might otherwise leave the country. Pictures may well travel, but in building a great national collection we have to make it superlative in each item.

"The Dream of Philip II," by El Greco, is not necessarily the greatest El Greco. We have missed the boat. I understand that there is only this picture and one other El Greco in the nation's possession, just as we have only two paintings in the national possession by Cezanne. Obviously, therefore, we have been missing opportunities, but there are other painters who are well represented in our national collections and if Canada wishes to buy examples of their art it is not right that we should resist their export. It is right that great paintings should be seen everywhere. People cannot travel from one end of the world to the other to see examples.

The new world has been very wise. Our American cousins, having not only good taste but a fair amount of money, have been in the market extensively for a long time. However, their purchases are now falling off so prices may ease a little as a result of pressure diminishing. But, as I said earlier, Canada has come in and Australia is building up her collections. We must welcome this development, with the one proviso that we are able to fill in the gaps here, where there are gaps in a collection such as that of the National Gallery.

I am advised that in the case of gaps in, say, the early Italian paintings, which we should have bought, we shall never be able to get them now so we shall never see any of these pictures in the National Gallery. I am also advised that unless there is a different type of grant in aid there will be no opportunity of planning ahead for the future. As has been said, we cannot get bargains if we wait until the last moment and the whole world knows that we must have a certain painting.

I am sure that the Financial Secretary agrees with virtually everything he has heard tonight. He must translate his agreement with us into action. It is not reasonable to say, when taxation is so high that none of us can afford nowadays to help as we used to do by personal patronage, that the Government will not help. The Government must help. In olden days people had enough money to assist by voluntary contributions and, therefore, large sums of money were made available to the National Gallery.

Taking the last seventeen years, and leaving out the Colnaghi grant of £80,000, there is only £32,000 to show over the last thirty-two years. Before that, things were better. Men were richer and taxation was lower. If the right hon. Gentleman will reduce Income Tax to 6d. in the £ we will go out into the highways and byways and find money for him, but he is not able to do that; nobody could. We must face the position as it is.

This painting, and others like it, will soon hang in air-conditioned galleries. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us when all the galleries will be air-conditioned? Perhaps, too, he will explain when it will be possible to extend the gallery, for there is less space for our paintings and treasures there today than there was in 1938.

Lastly, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that Sir Stafford Cripps, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the last day he was in the House, said, in a Committee room upstairs—I remember his words—that the right thing to do was to apportion a percentage of the national income for the arts as a global sum, and that as the national income rises so should this sum rise, too. He expressed this view more than once.

Oviously, a great heritage of this type needs to be most carefully conserved. It is not an extravagance in any sense of the term, and, if we are not careful, those who come after us will accuse us of barbarism.

Mrs. White

Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he say whether, in his calculations of the numbers of El Grecos and Cezannes in the national possession, he was taking into account the Gregynog bequest to the National Museum of Wales?

Dr. Stross

Yes. There is one El Greco there and there is this one. The others are "phoney."

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)

To have some Ministerial responsibility for the great museums and galleries of this country is one of the few things that keep the Financial Secretary to the Treasury human. In replying to this interesting debate, I hope I shall be able to show, that, though I lay no claim to be a connoisseur of art—indeed, it might be dangerous if the Financial Secretary to the Treasury were that—I am not without human qualities. It is one of the fortunate parts of my duties that I can go into the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square either on an official visit to gather information and enlightenment about my job, or purely for pleasure on my return from lunch; and I have done both.

I should like, at the outset, to express on behalf of the Government appreciation to the Trustees of the National Gallery, to the Director and to all the staff. This admirable report has brought home to a great many people who do not often think about these things how well deserved is that appreciation. I, too, hope that the report will be widely studied and that it will lead to what perhaps matters most of all, steadily increased numbers of members of the public visiting the galleries. I am sure I can speak for the whole House in extending thanks to Mr. John Fremantle, and the other members of the Reviewing Committee. Mr. Fremantle is a constituent and a neighbour of mine in Hampstead, so he has an additional channel through which he can, when necessary, bring home his views to his Member of Parliament.

I would like to answer one or two of the points raised in the debate, if I can do so without transgressing too far. Although a little wide of the main subject, I would tell my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) that before the war charges for admission were made by the National Gallery on two days a week, but they were abandoned after the war by common consent. Indeed, the cost of collecting the admission fee almost reached the total amount taken. Therefore, I do not think that in this way we would gain much towards the tens of thousands of pounds, or the hundreds of thousands of pounds which we may need for purchasing important works of art.

Evening opening is costly in terms of staff. The National Gallery staff was cut to 78 in 1952. We are providing in the Estimates for next year for a staff of 87. Anybody who has had any responsibility for a building or institution of this kind is well aware that if in addition to keeping the National Gallery open for seven days a week throughout the year, we were also to open it in the evenings, our staff costs would mount considerably.

Before we come to any decision in our minds about any of the main questions that have been raised, we must seek to determine what is the object of a national collection like the National Gallery. I suggest that it is not to have a complete collection, because no collection of pictures can ever be complete, but to have a representative and balanced collection. My opinion is that, whereas the collection of pictures in Trafalgar Square is a most wonderful one, it is not evenly balanced. There are gaps in it, and the House of Commons should certainly not turn a blind eye to problems arising from that.

8.30 p.m.

I think that the need is rather to fill gaps than necessarily to feel an obligation to seek to buy every important picture coming on the market. It would be a pity if we were to encourage those people who are inclined to shed tears whenever any picture is sold. Indeed, I share the view which is expressed in a leading article in The Times today that one should not be sorry when important pictures travel about the world. One would like to see representative collections of pictures in the capital or other cities of all the main countries of the world. We should not be selfish about this and should not simply say that because we have a great number of pictures by a certain artist we should strive never to allow any of them to go abroad.

The speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) contained a suggestion that important pictures were being exported and that, somehow, the Reviewing Committee, within the limits of finance, was not being effective in preventing that. I would seek to rebut any idea of that sort. Paragraph 4 of the Report of the Reviewing Committee says: We are glad to be able to state that there does not appear to be any ground for thinking that important pictures of substantial value that should be retained in this country on grounds of national importance are being exported without reference to the Committee. In fact, the Report for the past year states that the Committee had before it only two pictures, the El Greco and the Clouet, and the Trustees of the National Gallery considered both of them and finally decided to ask the Treasury for a grant for the E1 Greco but did not seek one for the Clouet.

Dr. Stross

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that in obtaining a well balanced collection it is not so much a matter of preventing pictures going abroad as of having funds with which to buy them abroad in order from time to time to fill the gaps?

Mr. Brooke

I was seeking to point out that we should all clear our minds about the object. I am not suggesting that there is any confusion of mind in the House, but when I read about these things and listen to people talking about them I am conscious of a sort of nostalgic feeling that one should never let anything go because we once had it, whereas I think the hon. Member accepts my view that our purpose in relation to the National Gallery should be to seek over the years to fill the gaps and thereby have a better balance than perhaps we have at present.

A suggestion to which publicity has been given, though I have not heard it mentioned this evening, is that the National Gallery might seek to put itself in funds by selling pictures which the Trustees now judge to be second-rate or third-rate. The National Gallery for many years had power to sell pictures, the power being contained in the National Gallery Act, 1858, and it was only taken away by the House, with common consent, by the National Gallery and Tate Gallery Act, 1954. I was responsible for taking that Bill through the House, and I do not remember a single hon. Member on either side urging that it was desirable that the Gallery authorities should have the power to sell pictures.

The reason in the minds of hon. Members, I am quite sure, was that taste does change, and if one tries to look backwards in this matter, one can imagine that pictures which we value highly now might have had a low estimation put on them in past years and might have gone. At any rate, the statutory position here has been laid down within the last 18 months, and I think we must accept it.

The next point I would put to the House is that this problem, on which so many hon. Members have concentrated, is not capable of any easy solution by simply altering the amount of the annual grant. At whatever figure one puts the annual grant, even the £150,000 that was suggested by Lord Radcliffe, one might still have a position in which, within one year a succession of very important pictures commanding high values came into the market, and there would still have to be some additional machinery by which a decision could be taken on whether a special grant should be made to secure any or all of them. Indeed, the very existence of the Reviewing Committee—and I think it is common ground that the Reviewing Committee is a valuable part of our machinery here—opens up the possibilities of unforeseeable applications for large sums at any time. Therefore, one could not be sure, no matter at what figure one puts the annual grant, that one would have provided for all contingencies.

I wonder whether the quinquennial system advocated by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) would really meet the case. She and others drew the parallel with the universities, but, in so far as it is a parallel, I doubt whether it proved the hon. Lady's case. The university system, with which I am very familiar, provides a quinquennial assessment of current expenditure, but there is also an annual grant for non-recurrent expenditure, and the point I have been making is that these pictures come by way of non-recurrent expenditure. The pictures themselves are unique, and certainly might not become available for purchase regularly over the years. Therefore, in each year, whatever we do, we should have to take fresh decisions on whether the money can be found.

The questions that have been raised tonight are questions of method as well as money. At the same time, money is at the root of the problem, and persuasive as have been the speeches to which I have listened, I must say that there are many admirable objects throughout the whole field of Government expenditure on which I should greatly like to be able to spend money more freely, if that money were available and if we did not have to call upon the taxpayer to provide it. It is the taxpayers' money that we are handling, and we have to consider how far we can rightly claim to put our hands in the pockets of the taxpayers for the purchase of pictures.

Mr. K. Robinson

Can the right hon. Gentleman point to any other aspect of Government expenditure where the real value of the Government grant has been reduced so considerably as in this field?

Mr. Brooke

At this stage, I was speaking of the method; I have not come to discuss the actual level of the Government grant. I was simply saying that we must not be carried away by eloquence or enthusiasm or a love for pictures, which I hope I am showing that I share. We also have to take into account what money is available, and what other claims throughout the whole field of Government expenditure may be made upon it.

The Reviewing Committee was set up only three years or so ago, and since then eight grants for various services have been made. Two of these have gone to the National Gallery—the £10,000 for Gains-borough's "The Morning Walk", and £30,100 in this Supplementary Estimate for the El Greco. It is only a few months ago that the House approved a Supplementary Vote of £25,000 for the "Old Woman Cooking Eggs", which has gone to the National Gallery of Scotland. Indeed, in view of the financial and economic difficulties of 1955, we can be proud that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the House as a whole, approved these two extremely large grants for buying individual pictures.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) suggested that decisions whether or not to buy a picture were taken by a man at the Treasury. I can assure the House that it is not done like that. In each case since I have been at the Treasury, these decisions have been personally made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the recommendation of the Financial Secretary. So far as I am aware, that has always been done with all these grants. It would be a great mistake for anyone to imagine that Treasury Ministers were simply rubber stamping the recommendation of some official. Indeed, anybody who knows the last Chancellor of the Exchequer and his own personal collection of art will be well aware that he would not allow some recommendation of this kind to go through without taking a very keen personal interest.

The problem to which we have to address ourselves is this upsurge of prices, because the enhancement of prices at auctions or at private sales in recent years has been astonishing. I agree at once that the kind of figure which was provided for the purchase grant of the National Gallery last year, apart from this Supplementary Estimate, the sum of £10,500, would be unlikely to suffice to buy any single picture that the National Gallery might want.

At the same time, I am certain that the House will agree that we must be on guard lest we take any action that will further inflate the market. If Parliament were to go on record that it had set aside enormous sums wholly for the purchase of pictures in the market in order to fill in the national collection as rapidly as possible, we might not be coming much nearer to getting the pictures. We might simply be sending up the prices more and more steeply.

That is another reason why there is no easy solution. However, I do not want to stand here tonight and claim that the present arrangements are ideal. From my point of view, that of the Financial Secretary, they are obviously not ideal, because the Financial Secretary can have no natural love for a system that compels him every now and then to come to the House with a Supplementary Estimate. Yet it is the essence of the present system that we have moderate annual grants supplemented by substantial Supplementary Estimates when an important picture has to be bought.

8.45 p.m.

The House will not expect me to make any declaration of policy this evening. I have listened to a number of very interesting suggestions from both sides of the House which I want to consider and to discuss with my right hon. Friend. I am not especially attracted or influenced by the argument that we should look at the level of purchase grants in the year 1900, or in other years, and then do a calculation on the amount by which picture prices have gone up, and, through a formula of that kind, arrive at a new figure for the current year. In fact what we want to do is to examine the need. We have to weigh the real needs of these years that lie ahead against all the other claims, which are not light, on our finances.

I am not sure how many hon. Members have yet had an opportunity to study the new Estimate for 1956–57 which has just been published. I apologise for going beyond the Supplementary Estimate by mentioning this, but I do not think I can reply to the debate, in which hon. Members have been looking to the future rather than to the past, without doing so. If hon. Members will look at that Estimate, they will find that the normal purchase grants for the museums and galleries which I shall be asking Parliament to approve for the coming year amount to about £131,000, as compared with about £118,000 in the current year just coming to its close.

The National Gallery grant has in this current year been £10,500. I cannot meet the demands for a startling increase in that, but as a token of good will, it is going up by 20 per cent. and the figure inserted for the coming year is not £10,500 but £12,500. In addition, special grants will be recommended in the 1956–57 Estimates of £25,000 for the museums and galleries as a whole, and that will bring up the total of the ordinary Estimates for 1956–57 to approximately £156,000.

In general, the authorities of the museums and galleries, I mean the national institutions, have most helpfully confined their requests this year to the existing level of provision, and in present circumstances my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I am very grateful indeed to them for having done so, and for having recognised that this is not the moment when one can make sweeping changes. But having regard to the recommendations of the Reviewing Committee and also of the National Gallery Trustees, as contained in this valuable report, I am proposing to undertake a thorough review of the position in the museums and galleries concerned against the time when the ecenomic situation improves. I am grateful to the hon. Member who initiated this debate, because that was a statement which I wished to make to the House in conjunction with the publication of the new Estimate, and this debate has given me the opportunity.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will, I think, agree that this is not an easy question. It cannot be settled in a moment and we need to give it our best thought. For my part, I promise to do that, and I hope that hon. Members, for their part, will not fail themselves to visit, and encourage others to visit, both the National Gallery and the other institutions for which we are here finding the money.

An hon. Member asked about air-conditioned rooms. The three rooms mentioned in the report as being in process of reconstruction and air-conditioning will be open this summer. I cannot give the date, but I hope that it will be as soon as possible. That will mean that all the rooms are back in use except one that was destroyed in the war and one being used by the conservation department.

I hope that hon. Members will go to see the Spanish pictures, which are being rehung, the El Greco among them. I hope nobody will feel that it was a misuse of the taxpayers' money to spend £30,000 of it to acquire what I believe 100 years hence will be looked upon with greater interest than the HANSARD record of our proceedings tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Fifth Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

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