HC Deb 08 July 1969 vol 786 cc1161-6
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

The House will recall that earlier this year the Tate trustees presented their proposals for a substantial expansion of the Gallery on its existing site. Because of the limited amount of land available, they proposed to develop the vacant north-west corner of the site and also to build across the front of the Gallery. The scheme which was drawn up by the architects provided a skilful solution to the problem, but it would have involved the demolition of the portico and steps. As the House knows, there were sharply divided reactions to this proposal.

The Government fully accept that the Gallery urgently needs additional space for its growing collection so that more pictures and sculpture can be displayed and supporting facilities and amenities improved. We therefore decided, as I told the House in reply to Questions on 20th February, to examine afresh the possibilities of making available to the trustees some of the adjacent land occupied by the Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital and associated buildings.

A further review of military hospital requirements in London and the home counties has now been completed. It has long been recognised that the Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital and the Royal Herbert Hospital, at Woolwich, must either be modernised or rebuilt. We have decided to build on Army land at Woolwich a new 500-bed hospital to replace both these hospitals. The Royal Army Medical Corps will have the facilities there to maintain the high reputation it has already achieved at Millbank.

This decision enables the Government to make available to the trustees the site occupied by the hospital at Millbank. This should meet the requirements of the Gallery for a long time to come. It will also enable the trustees to realise their aim to display their collection of modern art in modern galleries.

The way is now clear for the trustees to draw up revised plans to develop the north-west corner of the present site and the Government are prepared for building to start as soon as the trustees are ready. The construction of the new military hospital is, of course, a major undertaking, but we expect the Millbank site to be available by 1975, and planning for the new gallery and hospital can start at once.

Two very generous gifts are being made which are linked with the new building on the hospital site. As is already known, Mr. Henry Moore is presenting a large collection of his sculpture to the nation, subject only to one condition about the provision of additional gallery space.

The second gift I am happy to announce this afternoon. To mark the centenary of the birth of its founder, the Calouste Gulkenkian Foundation has just decided to give £1¼ million to the Tate for the construction of a gallery which will house temporary exhibitions and will bear its founder's name. This is the largest single grant that has ever been made by the Foundation in the United Kingdom.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Heath

We are glad that the Government have been able to give further consideration to the question of the Mill-bank site and are making more satisfactory arrangements for the Tate Gallery. We also welcome the new gift from the Gulbenkian Foundation; and we have already welcomed Mr. Henry Moore's gift of his own sculpture.

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer a number of questions on this issue? First, will the Government be making available the whole site at Mill-bank? I ask this because the right hon. Gentleman referred to a part of the site. Secondly, will the new Gulbenkian Gallery be part of the north-west development, or will it be part of the Mill-bank site? Thirdly, in the revised plans for the north-west corner, to which the Prime Minister referred, will the trustees ensure that the portico remains, remembering that the portico was the main matter of controversy in the last plans? Fourthly, what will be the total cost of the new scheme? Fifthly, if the site is to be made available in 1975, what do the Government and the trustees visualise will be the completion date of the new Tate?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question about the site in general is that the whole hospital site will be made available to the Tate trustees; though, of course, the college will remain until further decisions are taken about that. However, that will not inhibit the planning and other work which must now be done.

The answer to his question about the Gulbenkian bequest is that a special gallery will be built. This will be a matter for the trustees and architects to draw up new plans. It is intended that when these plans are available they should be put on public exhibition so that, once again, all members of the public can express to the trustees and the planning authorities their views on the exact proposals.

As for the newly-designed plans, I do not think that it is for the Government specifically to say that the portico and steps must be retained. However, since, the whole problem arose from public feeling about the loss of the portico and steps, and since there was a strong expression of view by those who, having seen the plans, said that the portico and steps should be retained, I believe that most of us would expect that one result of more land being available will be a guarantee of maintenance of the portico and steps.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about the date, I agree that I mentioned 1975. While, naturally, we would like to see an earlier date, the right hon. Gentleman will understand the tremendous complications there are in building a new hospital and the need to do it economically and maintain the services meanwhile. That is why it can not be done earlier. We will now want to get down with the trustees to working out the plans and time-table for the whole operation.

Mr. Heath

If the site becomes available in 1975, the construction of the main part of the new Gallery will obviously take us into the second half of the 'seventies and the beginning of the 'eighties, and that is when the cost will fall due. Has an estimate been made of the cost of the new development on the Millbank site?

The Prime Minister

Two elements are involved in the cost, the biggest of which is the reconstruction of the hospital in Woolwich. It is expected that the cost of that will be about £6 million. But against that must be set the fact that about £3¼ million would be required to modernise the existing Millbank and Woolwich hospitals if we proceeded with the idea of keeping these rather ancient hospitals alive and sought to modernise them within the present buildings. Thus, roughly speaking, the cost of the hospital will be something under £3 million net, after making that calculation.

The new Tate proposals are not expected to cost more than the original proposals; that is, about £2 million in all. That, of course, excludes the hospital and is the cost of the Tate itself. The Government are making a basic contribution of £850,000 towards this, plus a special contribution, which has already been announced, of £200,000 towards the cost of housing Mr. Henry Moore's generous gift of his own sculpture. The remainder of the cost will be met partly from the expected financial gift and partly from funds to be raised through a public appeal by the trustees.

Mr. Strauss

Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone interested in the future of the Tate and this part of the river bank will be deeply grateful to the Government for reviewing their previous decision as a result of public criticism? Is it proposed to preserve the open space in front of and around the Tate, since it was the preservation of these, rather than the possible destruction of the facade, which aroused strong feeling and which are exceedingly important?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. He was quite correct in what he said about the effect on public opinion of these decisions. While no firm decision has been taken, we should certainly expect that the open space would be maintained. The fact that we have now been able to provide additional acreage through the removal of the hospital makes this a real possibility.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the Prime Minister aware that we on the Liberal bench welcome his statement wholeheartedly and wish to add our thanks to Mr. Henry Moore and to the Gulbenkian Foundation? Can the Prime Minister undertake to look in just as enlightened a fashion at other military occupations in central London?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is a different question.

Mr. MacDermot

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this decision will give great satisfaction to all the Tate Gallery's many friends, not only in this country but in others? Can he say whether his reference to the plan for the extension of the north-west corner means that nothing in the decision he announced today will impede in any way further extension of the north-west corner and also any further necessary modifications of the existing building? I am not speaking of the front, which should be preserved.

The Prime Minister

My hon. and learned Friend's question is correctly based. It is not intended that anything should impede the plans for going ahead with the north-west corner, or that there should be any hold-up on the other part of the announcements which have been made and which have not proved to be contentious.

Mr. Robert Cooke

The Prime Minister will know that the hospital site is quite separate from the present Tate Gallery site. Will he look at the possibility of in some way linking the new site with the old building—possibly by reorganising the roads—so that we can have perhaps the finest gallery of modern art in Europe?

The Prime Minister

The trustees are responsible, together with their architectural advisers, for getting the best possible plans. Up to now, they have been severely inhibited by lack of space and the need to find more exhibition space. That is why they made some of the proposals which have caused such a sharp reaction. There have been suggestions about closing one of the roads. I do not think that this is widely acceptable to the trustees, but they will certainly note the comment made by the hon. Member.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even those of us who thought the proposals for rebuilding on the old site made the best of a bad job believe that the new proposals he has announced give the opportunity of making the best of a thoroughly good job and that it is widely believed that the possibilities now available make the proposals not too bad? May I add my voice to the congratulations given to the Government?

Mr. Pavitt

In view of the fact that St. Thomas's Hospital and Westminster Hospital are still in the process of rebuilding, was consideration given to transferring the Millbank hospital beds to be incorporated perhaps at a cost of less than £3 million?

The Prime Minister

No, I do not think that that was a solution that would have been acceptable. The two military hospitals needed fundamental modernisation or total rebuilding and it was thought better to combine them on the single site on land held by the Army in Woolwich. It was not thought right to link this already complicated question with the inevitable delays it may have involved with the rebuilding proposals referred to by my hon. Friend.

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