HL Deb 10 July 1902 vol 110 cc1310-6

My Lords, just about this time last year I made an attempt, which was unfortunately an unsuccessful one, to induce His Majesty's Government to consent to the reappointment of the old Royal Commission on Fine Arts of 1842. I still think that that mode of proceeding was the better mode in regard to the object which I had in view, and I cannot consider that the arguments which were used against it were altogether convincing. The mere fact that such a Commission did exist for many years is a sufficient proof that His. Majesty is perfectly competent to appoint such a Commission, and I presume it will hardly be said that this House is not competent to ask the King to do anything which within his prerogative he is able to do. But, taught by experience, I have this year only to propose to the House a much more modest Motion. I hope that modesty may be its own reward, and from certain communications which I have had with the noble Marquess at the head of the Government, who I deeply regret is unable to be in his place here tonight, I am encouraged rather to hope that His Majesty's Government will take a less unfavourable view of this more modest proposal than they took of the bigger scheme which I proposed last year. In that hope, and in that expectation, I had not thought that it would be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships with many words, but it has been pointed out to me on behalf of the Front Bench on this side of the House that it is desired that I should state at length what are the objects which I propose to obtain through this Committee. I am, therefore, much against my own will, compelled to say a few more words than it was originally my intention to do in moving this Committee.

The object for which this Committee is moved is to endeavour to put an end to a provisional state of things which has lasted very long—too long, I think, for the credit of the Government or the country. The scope of the inquiry of the Committee is limited to those apartments of the Palace of Westminster which are in the occupation of this House and the passages and approaches to them. The purpose of the Committee would be, first of all to investigate the actual state of things,— that is to say, to take note of the unfinished condition of every one of these rooms, for, with the exception of this apartment, every one of them is unfurnished; and then to see what would be the best mode of securing their completion. People think that that involves a request for large sums of money to paint pictures and to put pictures into these vacant spaces. Pictures are very good objects, no doubt, and may be the proper means with which to finish the decoration of the House, but it by no means follows that pictures are the necessary result of such an inquiry. I believe the original intention of the architect of this Palace was to have filled up many of the spaces, which now are provisionally reserved for pictures, with panelling, partly of stonework and partly of woodwork, such as you see in houses and buildings of the period which the architecture of this House represents, but he was to a great extent overruled. He was told that there must be pictures, and large spaces were left for pictures. Those spaces have been papered over with wall-paper, and have remained in that condition for nearly half a century. Now, I propose that a Committee should be appointed to make inquiries as a preliminary to taking some steps to get rid of that state of things. The Committee would report on the number of spaces in these rooms that are so treated, and would recommend whether those spaces should be filled up by panelling or by painting; at all events, it would be the preliminary step to getting rid of this purely provisional state of things. Any of your Lordships who have a house in London and have had it papered will know perfectly well that a wall-paper that has been fifty years on the wall in London will require renewing, if nothing else. Perhaps the recommendation of the Committee would be simply that the paper should be renewed. I hope that that would not be the outcome of it, but it might be. All the Committee could do would be to point out that there are certain spaces which have been left unfinished in all these rooms for a long period of time, and they would recommend in what way the rooms should be finished. Then it would be entirely in the hands of the Government as to whether they would take any step upon the report of that Committee or not. If they determined to take any step, either in the direction of panelling or in the direction of painting pictures, they would then, I presume, propose some small annual Vote for I carrying out the completion of these rooms in the manner decided upon. It need only be a small annual Vote. If only £1,000 a year had been granted from the time that these temporary papers were first put up, we might have had, by this time, a very magnificent art display in the apartments belonging to this House.

One objection I should like to meet, which was made last year when 1 brought forward my Motion for an Address to the Crown, was this: "Oh! these fine palaces are perfectly natural and possible things in a despotic country, but we are a democratic people, and a democratic country does not care about such things." I think the noble Lord who made that remark can hardly have been in the United States, or have known the immense sinus spent on the decoration or the ornamentation of the Capitol at Washington—a very fine building—nor can ho have travelled in Canada, which is a highly democratic country, and seen the magnificent Houses of Parliament there, which are certainly among the very finest modern buildings, in regard to architecture as well as position, that one could set eyes upon.

I do not want to weary your Lordships. I do not know whether I have said enough; to convince my noble friend that I am; not making a very unreasonable proposition. If he is not convinced, perhaps; I ought to go on a little longer, but I do not know that I would have more to say. The object of the Committee is a very simple one. I am happy to say that many of those noble Lords who are most competent to deal with art questions in this House have consented to serve on such a Committee, and I believe their labours would be of very short duration. The only evidence that they would probably wish to take would be the evidence of those who could tell what the original designs of the architect of the House were, the records of the Fine Arts Commission as to what they wished, and evidence of the present architects of the building. If the Committee is appointed, His Majesty's Govern merit would probably name one or two members of their own body to represent them—for instance, Lord Esher, and perhaps Lord Pembroke; but apart from those I have a list of noble Lords who would be willing to serve. I do not know that I need say anything further in moving the Motion.

Moved—"That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire arid report with respect to the unfinished condition of the rooms in the Palace of Westminster appropriated to the service of this House, and their approaches."—(The Lord, Stanmore)


My Lords, I much regret that it was impossible for the Prime Minister to be here this evening, and to reply, as he no doubt would have done, to the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. Perhaps the House will allow me in a very few words to say how we regard the Motion. The noble Lord commenced his speech by reminding us of one which he delivered in this House about a year ago, and it is impossible entirely to dissociate the Motion of this evening from the Motion of last year. Your Lordships may recollect that last year the noble Lord suggested that we should re-appoint the Commission known as the Fine Arts Commission, which sat between the years 1842 and 1862, and which was presided over by the late Prince Consort. That Commission was appointed with the special object of discovering means by which the decoration and equipment of the Palace of Westminster might be used for the purpose of encouraging the fine arts in this country. The Commission undoubtedly owed its existence and its usefulness to the enthusiasm and interest of the late Prince Consort, and the life of the Commission ended with the life of the Prince Consort. After hearing the noble Lord's argument last year, this House came to the conclusion that there was no occasion to resuscitate the Fine Arts Commission. The proposal which the noble Lord brings to us this evening is certainly, as I think he himself described it, of a much more modest character. At the same time, I am bound to tell him that I read between the lines of it something like an attempt to revert to the policy which he recommended to us last year. He asks for an inquiry into the unfinished apartments of this House. Now, I think it is perfectly clear that when he describes certain parts of this House as unfinished he does not mean that they are structurally incomplete or unfinished.


Architecturally incomplete.


He means that they are architecturally equipped and decorated in a manner which gives offence to his eye. I certainly will not dispute the judgment which he his passed upon some of the wall-papers, upon which I must say I occasionally look with feelings of considerable distress; but I am afraid that what the noble Lord has in his mind is a proposal that I this Committee should undertake the I task of recommending a rather ambitious scheme for the decoration of part of the Palace of Westminster. My Lords, the appointment of such a Committee would, I think, be somewhat of a new departure, and I am not persuaded that it would be exactly the best means of arriving at the end which the noble Lord has in view. The operations of the Committee are, I notice, to be limited to a part only of the Palace of Westminster—that which the King places at the disposal of this House. That would leave the remainder of the Palace of Westminster out of the ken of the Committee, and it would leave out of the ken of the Committee that part of the Palace of Westminster which is inhabited by that branch of the legislature which would be called upon to pay the bill for any little extravagances which might result from the inquiry of the Committee. I suggest that to the noble Lord for his consideration. I quite agree with him that it might be desirable that the redecoration, or, if he likes to call it so, the completion of the decoration of this House should be carried out on a less intermittent and more systematic basis than has been the case, and I understand from my colleague who has charge of the Public Works Department that he is ready to make arrangements under which a moderate sum would be yearly appropriated for this purpose. We may also, perhaps, hope that when public money is plentiful—which I am afraid is not the case at this moment—a more liberal expenditure may lie incurred for this purpose. I should, I confess, prefer to rely upon an arrangement of that kind to entrusting a Committee of your Lordships' House with this inquiry, which might, I am afraid, lead to disappointing results. I offer these observations for the noble Lord's consideration. It is not a matter about which we, on this Bench, feel strongly, and if the proposal of the noble Lord finds favour with your Lordships' House we shall not resist it.


If nobody is going to speak on the subject, I should like to say one word in answer to my noble friend. With regard to the completion of these apartments, my Motion is really a modest one. If any noble Lords want to know what I mean by "unfinished," they need go only into the next room, the Princes' Chamber. That room is finished up to about three parts of its height; above that it is entirely unfinished. It remains a question whether that should be panelled or papered. In the meantime it has merely a screen of paper. The same thing is to be found in other parts of the House. The Committee I speak of, if they make any recommendation, will simply recommend the mode in which they think the completion should be carried out. I beg again to point out as I pointed out before, that not a single penny can be spent, no extravagance can be incurred, unless the Government themselves bring forward a proposition in the other House of Parliament to spend the money.

On Question, resolved in the negative.