§ LORD NEWTON
rose to ask His Majesty's Government why the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Tate Gallery were closed on Sundays during five months in the year, whereas other similar institutions remained open. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in calling attention to the anomaly which is indicated in my Question I think I may safely say that when in 1896 the House of Commons unanimously passed a Resolution in favour of the Sunday opening of museums and galleries, almost everybody was under the impression that the question was finally and definitely settled. I confess that until only a few days ago I was under that impression myself, and I only discovered my error when, on proceeding to the National Gallery a short time ago on a Sunday afternoon, I found to my astonishment—I had almost said to my indignation—that that institution was closed on Sundays for no less a period 256 than five months in the year—namely, during the months of November, December, January, February, and March; and the same thing applies to other galleries.
I find I am not the only person who entertained this mistaken belief, because in consequence of my experience I caused observations to be taken last Sunday, and ascertained that over 300 people went to the National Gallery shortly after 2 o'clock on that day, and naturally met with the same reception as I did; and I do not know whether they derived any consolation from the fact that they were probably informed that, though they could not visit the National Gallery, nevertheless the Geological Museum was open for their inspection. The anomaly to which I refer consists in this, that whereas the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the Wallace Collection are all closed on Sundays during five months of the year, the British Museum, the South Kensington Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Bethnal Green Museum, and that institution to which I have just referred, the Geological Museum, are open all the year round. I am entirely unable to understand by what process ally person has been able to differentiate between the respective claims of these various institutions as regards Sunday opening. I have heard it suggested that the reason the establishments I have mentioned are closed is on account of the absence of artificial light But to me that is an entirely unconvincing explanation, because those institutions which are open on Sundays are only open from 2 p.m. until dusk, and it is hardly necessary to point out that daylight is precisely the same on Sunday as it is on a week-day. The question of artificial light cannot possibly arise, because on really foggy and dark days I believe all those institutions are closed.
It cannot be pleaded as an excuse for keeping certain of these institutions closed that the public shows no inclination to visit them. As a matter of fact, the Sunday opening of museums and galleries has been an absolutely unqualified success, and I do not think anybody at the present day would venture 257 to assert that it was other than a universal benefit. I believe that, roughly, 400,000 people visit the public galleries and museums in London in the course of the year, and the average Sunday attendance really amounts to a considerable figure. For instance, the average number of visitors at the South Kensington Museum on Sundays is 1,755; at the British Museum, 1,110; at the Natural History Museum, 1,176; at the National Gallery, 1,450. It is no argument to say that the same proportion of people would not visit these institutions during the winter months, because if anybody will take the trouble to refer to the figures they will see that in proportion to the time, just as many people visit those galleries which are open during the winter months as is the case in the summer time, and it seems to me only natural that they should do so at a time of the year when open air pursuits are less attractive. As a matter of fact, the galleries which are constantly open are under direct Government control, and all the galleries I have mentioned which are closed during certain months, are managed by trustees. Personally, I should be the last person to bring any sort of charge against those trustees. I believe them to be all, without exception, highly enlightened persons. I see several of them sitting in the House at the present moment; and the inference which I draw is that the obstacle to the proposed all-the-year-round opening must proceed from the Treasury. I cannot account for it in any other way, and I would like to point out that if I am correct in this inference it is really an objection of an extremely trifling character.
I understand that on Sundays the work of the ordinary attendants is discharged by police. These police, in the case, for instance, of the National Gallery, amount possibly to fifteen or twenty, all told. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say, therefore, that the expense of keeping the National Gallery open on Sundays could not possibly amount to more than, say, £7 or £8 per day. It is, therefore, obvious that for an additional expenditure of something like £40 a month, less than £200 a year, the National Gallery 258 could be kept open during the entire year; and it is equally obvious that the other galleries I have mentioned, which are now closed, could, being smaller establishments, be kept open at a still smaller expense. I venture to think that expense must really be the sole obstacle in the way, because what is called Sabbatarianism is really dead; and you could not have any more convincing proof of that than the fact that the National Gallery of Edinburgh is actually open during every Sunday in the year, possibly owing to the influence of my noble friend on the cross benches. But in any case there is no obstacle now put in the way of anybody who desires rationally to amuse himself on a Sunday. In all parts of London, people can now hear most admirable concerts at an extremely trifling charge. They can, if they wish to do such things, indulge in the more doubtful amusement of listening to lectures by more or less distinguished people; and, from a correspondence which has recently appeared in the Press, I observe that members of certain political clubs are able to enjoy advantages which are denied to many other persons. I would venture to ask the House whether it is not somewhat ludicrous that our finest art collections should remain closed, whilst so many opportunities for recreation remain available? That being so, and it being, as I am convinced, a pure oversight on the part of somebody who has not yet pressed the Treasury sufficiently hard, I cannot help hoping that, whoever is going to answer for His Majesty's Government, will reply in a favourable sense, and that this anomaly will shortly cease to exist.
§ THE EARL OF CARLISLE
My Lords, before the noble Lord who represents the Treasury replies, I should like to be allowed, as the oldest member of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery, to say a few words. I am sorry I cannot speak in the name of the Board, because it has not met since the noble Lord placed his Question on the Paper; but I have been able to consult the director and the majority of my colleagues, and I can say that the noble Lord is perfectly right in his statement that we are most anxious not to put any 259 opposition in the way of the further opening of the National Gallery. I should like to say, by the way, that the National Gallery is open for a considerably longer time every day than any other gallery in Europe. That, however, is no reason why it should not be open on a larger number of Sundays than at present. I should like to tell your Lordships very briefly the history of the matter. In 1896, when the Resolution of the House of Commons was passed, the Gallery was opened on Sundays from May to September from three to six o'clock. In 1897, another month was added, and it was open for six months on Sundays; and in 1898 it was open for seven months. I quite think it desirable that the time should be increased. The objection that was made before was that as the Gallery was not opened until two o'clock in the afternoon and dusk fell very early in the winter, it was not worth while to give a whole day's pay for what would be not more than two hours' work. But that argument does not apply to two additional months, at all events—the months of March and November. Speaking for myself, I confess I should prefer to see the Gallery open for the whole year if the Treasury would give the additional money necessary. The cost at present, in the case of the National Gallery, is £217 a year, and for the whole year the cost would be £365, which is not a very extravagant sum for giving a great deal of additional pleasure. As far as the Board of Trustees are concerned, there is, no doubt, we shall attempt to get the Treasury to enable us to give increased facilities in this direction.
My Lords, it is a matter of very deep regret to myself that such prominent institutions as the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Tate Gallery, should have been so unfortunate as to incur the displeasure of my noble friend Lord Newton. He is, however, entirely inaccurate in the inference he draws that the Treasury is responsible for this particular state of things. Lord Carlisle, who is, I believe, the oldest trustee of the National Gallery, is entitled to speak with greater authority on this question than, perhaps, any other Member of your Lordships' House, 260 and I think he will bear me out when I say that it is impossible for the Treasury to act unless approached in this matter, first of all, by the trustees of the institutions in question. A similar point was raised in the House of Commons during the tenure of office of the late Government, and was answered by Mr. Hayes Fisher, who pointed out that, owing to the frequent deficiency of daylight on winter afternoons and the fact that in any case the time during which pictures could be seen was very short, it was not considered worth while, in the absence of artificial light, to keep the galleries open all the year round on Sundays; and as to the introduction of artificial light he said that, at all events in the case of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, the trustees entertained a strong objection, apart from the question of expense, and he was not prepared to press them on the point. I should like to add that it may be necessary, if the galleries are to be opened all the year round, to install the electric light, with the consequent increased risk of fire, and that various structural alterations would have to be taken into consideration. The Treasury, however, will entertain any proposal put forward by the trustees of these institutions.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, as a colleague of Lord Carlisle I can corroborate what he has already said on this subject. The trustees are in favour of giving as many facilities to the public as they possibly can, and I have no doubt my noble friend who put this Question on the Paper will remember that if it had not been for the action of the trustees twelve years ago, the National Gallery, at any rate, might still be closed. When we had to consider the extent to which the Gallery might be opened on Sundays there were two limits to be taken into consideration. There was, in the first place, the limit of daylight: now the opening hour on Sunday seems to have been taken—I do not know exactly why, but I imagine in consequence of the House of Commons Resolution—as two o'clock, and I suggest to your Lordships that there are unfortunately certain periods of the year when in London, at any rate, the amount of daylight after 261 two o'clock in the afternoon is so insignificant as to render it scarcely worth while to open between 2 p.m. and the hour when twilight sets in. Of course, if you come to the question of introducing artificial light, you open up a very much larger question. I do not think my noble friend intended to raise that.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The other limit arises out of financial considerations. My noble friend talked airily about an extra expenditure of £200 per annum. I think the House is aware that the National Gallery does not enjoy a very extravagant subsidy from public funds, and we do have to consider rather carefully how we spend £200 or any other appreciable sum of money. But I do not see why some arrangement should not be made whereby the Gallery might be thrown open for a longer period of the year. The trustees are likely to hold their monthly meeting before long, and we shall then certainly consider what has been proposed by my noble friend, and, if necessary, approach the Treasury on the subject. Now one word in regard to the attitude of the Treasury. I do not think the Treasury has been quite so neutral in the matter as the noble Lord opposite seems to suppose. I have a very distinct recollection that when this matter was first broached and we applied to the Treasury for a slight increase in our staff in order to enable us to open the Gallery on Sundays, we encountered considerable difficulty; at last, as a solution, it was suggested to us that police constables might be employed for this purpose during a certain part of the year. We accepted that as the best arrangement obtainable, but it was made very apparent to us indeed that the question of the cost of opening on Sundays was a consideration which my Lords of the Treasury would not leave out of account.
§ LORD JOICEY
Can the noble Lord give the House any idea of the number of visitors to the National Gallery on Sundays?
§ LORD NEWTON
I do not wish to prolong this discussion, but I should like to explain that there is no question of asking the trustees of the National Gallery or any other gallery to instal the electric light. We are only asking them to do what is done in the case of other galleries in the same position, and therefore any additional cost which would be necessary would be merely paid for attendants.
Will the noble Lord say exactly what are the hours on which he would like these galleries opened on Sundays throughout the year?
§ LORD NEWTON
The same hours as prevail in the case of the galleries which are now open all the year round—that is to say, from two to 4 o'clock during December and January. After January the time could gradually be prolonged until you got to six or seven o'clock in the evening. When I went to the National Gallery the other Sunday it was light until six o'clock. There was, therefore no reason why the Gallery should not have been available to the public for three hours at least on that day, without the slightest necessity for artificial light.