HL Deb 18 February 1868 vol 190 cc859-61

Amendments reported (according to Order.)



said, he regretted that his noble Friend thought the House not sufficiently well-informed upon this subject. The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons at the November Session, and passed that House, and would have passed their Lordships' House had not the noble Lord (the Chair man of Committees) objected on the ground of a want of sufficient notice. The proposal did not arise with the present Government, but was a matter that had been negotiated and agreed to by the late Government, and all the present Government had to do was to carry out the arrangement. When it was proposed to remove what were popularly known as the "Brompton Boilers," a proposition was made by certain persons interested in the erection of local museums in the densely populated districts of the metropolis that the materials should be supplied by the Government at nominal prices. That was acceded to, but it was found, after waiting six months, that the only proposal for the erection of a museum came from Bethnal Green, and where persons who felt an interest in the establishment of museums had, with a praiseworthy zeal, subscribed a considerable sum with which to purchase a plot of land for that purpose. When the present Government came into office they found that the late Government had sanctioned the payment of a certain sum of money by the Treasury for carrying out the erection of this museum. In order to carry out the arrangement it was found necessary to introduce this Bill, for the purpose of enabling the trustees of the land to give the proper legal title to such of the land as might not be required for the purpose of the museum, to be disposed of for building purposes, by which means the poor of Bethnal Green would be considerably benefited. At present the land did not return more than £3 or £4 per annum, but if the surplus land was disposed of for building purposes, it would yield about £65 per annum. No arrangement had been entered into beyond the construction of the museum, and the present Government were only completing what the late Government commenced. It had been said that this would set a precedent for other towns to claim Government assistance in the erection of local museums. He could only say that the Government had entered into no sort of engagement to build any other museum. Dublin had been put forward as likely to make such a claim, but he thought it very unlikely, seeing that Dublin had already a very good museum. The construction having been sanctioned a small sum would have to be taken for its maintenance.


said, this would form a precedent for every town in the kingdom to ask for the erection and maintenance of a museum at the public cost, and Parliament would not be able to resist it. There was a great difference between erection and maintenance, and it would be very desirable, before anything was done, that an understanding should be come to by which the district should provide something towards the maintenance of the museum. He could not see why Leeds, Manchester, and other large towns had not as good a claim to the erection of a museum at the public expense as Bethnal Green. There could be no doubt the establishment of local museums was a great benefit; but in this instance they should take care that too extensive a step was not taken in the first instance.


said, he thought the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) had done public service in calling attention to the question of the maintenance of the museum, which would involve not only the maintenance of the building itself, but also the supply of objects and the payment of salaries. It should be remembered that if no undertaking had been given by any persons for supplying the museum with articles for exhibition a pressure would in all probability be put upon the Government by-and-by for the supply of these articles out of the public funds, and this pressure it would be extremely difficult to resist. The example now set was, he thought, one fraught with great danger, because other towns in the kingdom would object to taxing themselves when they found that the Government were willing to do their work for them at the public expense.


said, he trusted an undertaking would be given by the Government that they would go to no expense beyond the cost of the erection of the building. Anything beyond that should be matter for future consideration.


replied that if any more money were voted from the public funds the sum would be placed on the Estimates, and the opinion of Parliament taken upon it.


said, he thought that in cases of this description the Government ought, before agreeing to a grant for erection, to require that those who asked for their assistance should furnish a large proportion of the means that would be necessary for the maintenance of the building. It was difficult to see where there would be a limit to demands of this kind, because the example set in this case would probably lead to numerous claims for the erection and maintenance of similar buildings.


said, the apprehension of there being a general outcry for museums in consequence of what was now being done was not well founded. There were exceptional circumstances in this case which had led to this proposal. This district was extremely poor, and its very poverty was a reason for the proposition that was made by the late Government, and sanctioned by them. The same argument of poverty could never be urged in the case of Leeds, Manchester, or the other large towns in the kingdom. The poor artizans of Bethnal Green were unable to lose the time to visit the West End museums, and it was thought it would be desirable, if possible, to erect one in the district. It had been asked where was the collection to come from? and the noble Duke had intimated that a great expense would be incurred in stocking the museum; but he could assure him that from the excess of duplicates in the other museums a great number could be transferred to Bethnal Green. Under these circumstances, he certainly did not share the fears of noble Lords opposite as to the probable effect of the measure.

Report agreed to: Bill to be read 3a on Thursday next.

House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.