HC Deb 18 March 1985 vol 75 cc757-60

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

12.27 am
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

I rise on the Adjournment to draw attention to the financial plight of the Dulwich picture gallery.

The gallery, which houses a remarkable collection of very high quality works of art of international repute, is a living tribute to the public spiritedness of private patrons in the past. Indeed, it was a curious sequence of events which allowed this collection to be housed in Dulwich.

Noel Desenfans, between about 1750 and 1790, collected a number of pictures for the king of Poland. However, before the king could house them in Poland, he was deposed and the kingdom was abolished. The pictures remained in London and were eventually passed on to Desenfaus' friend, Francis Bourgeois, who was seeking a suitable place in which to house them where they could be used for public instruction, and so that young artists could look at the pictures and learn from the old masters of the past.

At this time, discussions took place with the Government of the day suggesting that they might like to house the pictures or make use of them. Unfortunately, in those days the request fell on deaf ears. I am sure that today the ears of the Government are more alert to the collection that we are discussing in this debate. The pictures were eventually housed in Dulwich. Interestingly enough, the founder of Dulwich college and the Alleyn's College of God's Gift Foundation, Edward Alleyn had himself built up a small collection of pictures. Those pictures had been augmented over the years, from 1630 onwards, and were housed in Dulwich college.

The bequest of Francis Bourgeois meant that the Dulwich collection was enhanced by a magnificant range of new works. A new gallery was built for them in about 1811, which became the first gallery to be open to the general public. It was established some 10 years before the National gallery.

That bequest is a matter of great pride to Dulwich. There is great pride in a possession which is there not on a limited parochial basis, but which forms an international collection which we are proud to house in my constituency. It consists of 650 works of art, about 350 of which are on view. They are mainly 17th and 18th century paintings of high quality.

The gallery has about 25,000 visitors a year. It is run on a very limited staff and budget. The number of full-time staff amounts to a mere eight. The cost of running the gallery is about £105,000 per annum. Of that, about £58,000 is contributed by the foundation of the Alleyn's College of God's Gift. The foundation supports three schools almost entirely, and several other charitable foundations. The amount that can be contributed towards the gallery is strictly limited by the Charity Commissioners. There is no opportunity to expand resources from that source.

The shortfall of about £47,000 is made up in a variety of ways. There are several investments. The GLC has given a grant of £6,500 per annum. There are also admission fees to the gallery, and several special fundraising events. But I should like, in particular, to allude to the work of the Friends of the Dulwich Gallery. That is a very lively body of volunteers and friends who contribute not only financially to the membership of the friends, but in terms of time and service in helping to maintain the gallery. They sell postcards, conduct tours, arrange flowers and generally do all that is necessary to make the gallery as secure as it can be through their voluntary help. They also organise several fund-raising events, including concerts and lectures in the gallery, and so on.

That means that the gallery is not just a dead picture gallery, but is a lively home where many cultural activities take place. It is perhaps interesting to note that the Minister's predecessor, my right hon. Friend for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) — now Minister for Trade—was enrolled as the thousandth member of the gallery when he visited it in 1983. I wonder whether any other Ministers feel that they, too, in that personal way, want to join the Friends. They would be most welcome.

One of the main problems about the future of the gallery is that it lacks any financial security or endowment. Under its imaginative and energetic director, the gallery has plans to extend its present range of activities and to develop its potential as a cultural centre, educational base, and a leisure-tourist attraction in south-east London. In order to fulfil those plans, it is necessary to have some endowment to ensure the gallery's security. Unfortunately, a Rembrandt has been stolen on, I think, no less than four occasions. There is a feeling that it has now gone for good. It may not have been destroyed; it may be secretly gloated over in solitude somewhere. The necessity for security is very real and important.

We also need to improve the maintenance of the buildings. Facilities should be provided for organised school parties in order to improve the educational role. There must be some augmentation and adaptation of the buildings. A building works plan is needed.

Publicity is needed. Recently an education officer has been appointed whose responsibility is to contact schools so that the gallery may be thought to be a place of excitement where people can learn and enjoy themselves. It is necessary to approach the matter on more than an educational wavelength. We must publicise the gallery on a wider front. That also costs money.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I very much enjoyed visiting the gallery last month when I saw a most impressive collection of paintings. My hon. Friend said that 25,000 people a year visited the gallery. Does that figure include the increasing number of school parties?

Mr. Bowden

The figure includes school parties for the current year. It is hoped that with the development of opportunities for school children to visit the gallery, with an education officer to cater for their needs, the number of visits by school children could be greatly increased. We see a potential for educational purposes in south-east London. That would be of benefit.

The gallery and its friends are conscious of the need to raise an endowment of about £500,000. An appeal committee was formed, under the vigorous leadership of Mr. Peter Bowring, which in March 1984 launched that £500,000 appeal.

A number of fund-raising events and enterprises have been organised in the last year to tap the good will and financial resources of those who wish the gallery well. Indeed, Mr. Speaker organised a reception in his apartments here for those interested in the appeal. That was a great encouragement and boost to the morale of the appeal committee and assisted in raising money.

We are now a year into the appeal and almost half the sum sought has been raised. About £225,000 has been raised to date. A number of fund-raising events are due to take place. Twenty-six pictures are being sent on tour in the United States to stimulate interest and to ensure that there is an awareness of Dulwich in Washington and Los Angeles, and from coast to coast.

I urge the Government to support the Dulwich gallery. We have support in goodwill and general will wishing. But a token of financial support to show that the Government see this as an important aspect of our heritage would boost and encourage the commitment of those who are raising money in other ways. I ask the Government to consider this seriously and to give support to the Dulwich picture gallery.

12.38 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I am delighted to be able to respond to this short debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on raising a topic which is of importance not only to his constituency and to all the south London constituencies but to Britain's heritage. He was correct to say that the gallery opened before the National gallery. It can claim to be the oldest picture gallery in the country.

My hon. Friend gave a full and interesting account of its origins and of the great man, Edward Alleyn, who left an endowment which has done so much good in many other areas, above all in the great schools funded by his foundation. He recounted the contribution of Sir Francis Bourgeois and listed the great pictures now to be found in the gallery. Indeed, the gallery is in a fine building designed by Sir John Soane, whose own house in Lincoln's Inn Field is another interesting museum.

Most of the charity from which the gallery derives its income is devoted to the schools. It is understandable that in recent years mounting costs have taken their toll. The gallery has sought other income — from investments, catalogue sales, commissions, charges and a small grant from the GLC. It has been doing what it can to meet the ever-mounting costs that such a collection must incur.

My hon. Friend mentioned the sad tale of the wandering Rembrandt whose return we hope to see. Lady Bracknell might have some remark to make about the loss, four times, of the Rembrandt. It clearly shows the need to expend money on security arrangements, sad as that might be.

My hon. Friend rightly mentioned that those who have held the post of arts Minister have shown their commitment to the gallery. The late Lord Wolfenden in 1982 first approached my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), then the Minister with responsibility for the arts, about the plight of the gallery. My right hon. Friend became the 1,000th friend of the gallery. I should be delighted to join the list of friends. My hon. Friend did not mention the minimum donation, so I might be incurring serious expenditure. I follow the suggestion of my noble Friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne who recommended that Government Ministers should be impelled to support projects on which Government money was expended. He thought that it would improve the quality of Government investment. It is a stimulating idea. I am perfectly willing, in this small matter, to put my money where my mouth is and to join the interesting list of friends of the gallery. Perhaps my hon. Friend will arrange for the necessary paperwork to be sent to me.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is to contribute to the gallery. Others who have not done so already might also do so. I understand that the charity is called "Of God's Gift", and now it is to be of ministerial gifts also. Many of us hope that there will be a generous contribution from the Government to ensure the future of the gallery in its superb building.

Mr. Waldegrave

I know that my hon. and learned Friend has close family links with the gallery. I do not know whether I am in danger of making jokes in bad taste, but of God's gifts the Lord will provide and a noble Lord is involved in this.

I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) is present. He is a governor of the foundation. I am delighted to announce that my noble Friend has agreed to make available, out of the special grants budget of the Office of Arts and Libraries, a special contribution to the appeal. It is well known that the principal burden of running the great museums falls on the recurrent budget of the Office of Arts and Libraries, but my noble Friend has some relatively restricted funds available to help with special appeals. He has authorised me to say that the Government will contribute £25,000 to bring the appeal up to and perhaps a little past the halfway mark, which I hope will be symbolic of the Government's commitment and will help towards achieving the final appeal level.

I wish the very distinguished committee—on which not only Mr. Speaker but many other good friends of the arts in the House are represented—well in completing the second part of the appeal and congratulate those involved on their vigour in taking action themselves to help the future of that great museum.

I should add that it may be worth the appeal committee's while to investigate my noble Friend's business sponsorship scheme under which matching grants are available for sponsorship. It might not fit so well with a simple grant to the fund, but a matching sponsorship grant might be relevant to some part of the gallery's work.

With that little bit of advice, with thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich for raising this important subject and with very strong good wishes and hopes for the future of this important gallery, I am delighted to have been able to respond to this short debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to One o'clock.