HL Deb 17 June 1920 vol 40 cc673-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill for creating a Board of Trustees for the Imperial War Museum. If you will be good enough to turn to the memorandum on the face of the Bill you will see that its chief object is to create a permanent body in whom the many valuable objects which have been collected during the last three years for the imperial War Museum may be legally vested. At present the Museum is being managed by a body known as the Imperial War Museum Committee, but, this body has no legal status. The Bill, following the lines of existing enactments relating to other national collections, provides for the establishment and constitution of a Board of Trustees, who are given full powers of management in connection with the Museum, and for the vesting in the Board of objects given to, acquired for, or transferred to the Museum. The Trustees are empowered to appoint a staff, and the Bill provides that the present Director-General and the present Curator of the Museum shall continue to hold their respective offices.

Your Lordships, or those of your Lordships who take any interest in this subject, may be aware that the Imperial War Museum was first started early in the year 1917 by decision of the War Cabinet, who then appointed a Director-General, a secretary and a Committee. A Report has been presented to Parliament, called the Report of the Imperial War Museum, 1918 and 1919. Circulated last year, it gives an interesting account of the development of the War Museum up to that date. Vast collections have been brought together, and are being constantly added to, almost from day to day. Your Lordships probably are acquainted with the fact that they are temporarily lodged in the Crystal Palace, where His Majesty was recently pleased to open the exhibition and they will be accessible there to the public for a period of four years from the present date, that being the length of the lease which the trustees of the Crystal Palace have granted to His Majesty's Government.

Although this fact is not strictly germane to the subject matter of the Bill, I think that many of your Lordships will not be willing to forget that the actual existence at the present time of the Crystal Palace, with its large gardens and surrounding grounds, forming the most important lung for the suburbs of South London, is mainly, if not entirely, due to the public-spirited generosity of Lord Plymouth, who shortly before the war, at a moment when the affairs of the Palace had got into great confusion—I believe the Company which then owned the Crystal Palace was very near bankruptcy—saved it by advancing a very large sum of money indeed. As the Palace at all events temporarily appears to be so suitable a spot for the existence of the present collections of the Imperial War Museum, it is perhaps permissible to regret that no allusion appears to have been made at the opening ceremony the other day to the name of the man who saved the building, under circumstances which I have described, from the fate which, as we learn from the public prints, has overtaken its prototype at Chatsworth.

To return to the Bill, you will observe that no attempt is made in it to decide in any way the future scope of the Imperial War Museum. As regards that branch, not at all an unimportant branch, of the subject, I should like to quote to your Lordships a few sentences from a speech made by Sir Martin Conway in another place when this Bill was under discussion there. Sir Martin Conway said— You can make the Museum what you please. You can make it a mere storehouse of souvenirs and trophies and guns, but those are the matters of smallest importance in the Museum. It is in the records, the maps actually used by the Generals in the field, the enormous collection of photographs, all the air photographs that were taken, the record of all the work of women throughout the length and breadth of the country during the war in manufacture and substitution, the library, the map room—it is in all those smaller and less striking objects that the main value and importance of the Museum to the historian will consist. If it is to be a real place of research, a real place where the scientific history of the development of the marine engine during war-time, the development of aircraft, the development of the air engine, and all the rest of the scientific side of human activity during those five years of war, is to be recorded and illustrated, it may be necessary to have attached to it a staff of, say, half-a-dozen experts, who will not be cheap. On the other hand, if you like to make it nothing but a kind of raree show, a few police will be enough to keep it in order and look after the exhibits. The ultimate cost of the Museum will depend upon the scheme that is adopted, and that scheme will have to be accepted by the House of Commons. The cost will be greater or less in proportion to the ultimate utility of the collection at the Museum, and no scheme can be made, no plan can be elaborated, until you have the Board of Trustees which this Bill proposes to create. If is for that reason that I think the discussion of the ultimate cost of the Museum is premature. Sir Martin Conway concluded by asking hon. Members to await developments, and to give attention to that question when the actual plan can be laid before them.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hylton.)

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.