HL Deb 16 December 1930 vol 79 cc591-627

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill to which I ask you to give a Second Reading is framed simply to carry out the Report of the Royal Commission which was appointed by the late Government in July, 1927, and which, under the presidency of the noble Viscount, Lord D'Abernon, reported unanimously in favour of the proposals which are contained in the Bill. I think it would not be out of order to say that Lord D'Abernon wrote to me expressing his great regret that he could not be present to-day as he had already made arrangements for his journey to Rome, where he intended to spend the Christmas vacation, and it was impossible, under these conditions, to make a change in his arrangements. At the same time there is no doubt that he is in hearty approval of the Report of the Royal Commission. The Bill enables the trustees of the British Museum and the Trustees and the Director of the National Gallery in their discretion—I pause for a moment to say that the matter is entirely in their discretion—and in the words of. Clause 1, "subject to such regulations as they may respectively prescribe" (a very wide power indeed given to the Trustees, and very properly given)—to lend at any time for public exhibition in places outside Great Britain on such twits as they think fit any objects which are vested in the Trustees of the British Museum and the Trustees and Director of the National Gallery respectively. The general principle of the Bill, if I understand aright, is accepted by everybody. There is no doubt it is desirable that a power should be given to the Trustees of these two great institutions, subject to their discretion and to regulations prescribed by them, to send objects of art or pictures to overseas exhibitors. The difference arises at a later stage, and it really appears to me to be a matter that we could discuss more forcibly at a later stage. It is contended that, although this general power should be given, it should be limited in its application to works of British origin. No one denies that it is important that these works of British art and British artists should be sent abroad for exhibition, in order that their position in the art world may be much better understood than it is at the present time. If your Lordships have read the Report of the Royal Commission, which goes into the whole question, you will find that they place great weight on the power to send abroad these works of British artists and British art producers, on the ground that our position in the art world is not understood at the present time, and that we ought to allow other peoples to have the advantage of seeing how great the English school really has been, both as regards pictures and objects of art. This matter has come to the front even more prominently than when the Royal Com- mission sat. When the Commission sat, we had had the exhibitions from Holland and Belgium, but since that time there have been what I may call the great international exhibition of Italian art, which not only gave a most striking illustration of the various schools of Italian art but, I think, struck the imagination of this country and tended to promote a friendly international feeling between the two peoples.

I should like now to come to the point upon which I understand difference arises. It is said that, although works of British artists may be sent overseas, subject, of course, to proper regulations and at the discretion of the Trustees in every case, works not by our own artists should not be so sent abroad, hot should be kept carefully in our museums at home. The reason stated for that is two-fold. First of all, it is said, there is the element of risk; and, secondly, the pictures of the artists of other countries which are in our museums should, it is held, be kept where they are for the benefit of students and others, and should not be allowed to go abroad. Especially in the matter of pictures, it is said, the risk is not merely a theoretical risk, but it may be a real risk. May I read a few words on both these points from the Report of the Royal Commission?

The question of risk was very fully considered before that Commission. Evidence was called and the whole matter was gone into at very great length. This is what was said by the Commission after hearing all this evidence. I do not deny that there is some risk, of course, but the question is the amount of risk:— As regards the question of risk in general, a careful scrutiny of the evidence as a whole, printed in the volumes accompanying our Report"— a great deal of evidence was taken by the Commission— indicates that the actual damage suffered by works of art on loan is, in fact, almost negligible. There have been suggestions that some damage was done to some of the Italian pictures. That, as I shall show presently, has been contradicted; there is a mistake about it. As far as research has gone, no evidence is forthcoming that any damage of a real or lasting character has been brought about by the risk of sending pictures abroad under careful supervision. That there is some risk it is not my purpose to deny; but I think it is well to say that if there is risk it would apply equally to pictures or works of art painted or made by English artists and to pictures or paintings of foreign artists which are now located in England.

There is, perhaps, a rather striking fact which I might tell your Lordships. In our late international exhibitions we have had pictures and objects of art (I will put the two together) sent here from eleven countries, which were not the product of the art or artists of the countries concerned, with this result, that over 100 objects of art and paintings other than those of the respective countries were sent over here, much to our advantage, owing to the international courtesy of the countries concerned. Upon this point the Royal Commission makes a recommendation (which, again, appears to me to cover the point in dispute) after considerable discussion and after hearing a number of witnesses. The recommendation is at page 74 of the Report. I have no doubt that the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, has ample knowledge of this document, so I do not read it in any detail. The Report says:— We recommend that Parliament be asked to pass a short Act which would empower the Trustees of the British Museum, including the Museum of Natural History, and the Trustees of the National Gallery, including the Tate Gallery, to make loans overseas under such precise and proper safeguards as may be determined by the authorities of each institution. I would appeal to your Lordships in regard to this Bill on two points. First of all, you have the independent expert expression of opinion which is found in the Report of the Royal Commission. Secondly, and I think this is equally important, the Report emphasises the fact that if these pictures or other objects of art are sent overseas it must be "under such precise and proper safeguards as may be determined by the authorities of each institution"; that is, of the British Museum and the National Gallery respectively. Not only is that a very proper safeguard, but it is a real safeguard that ought to be introduced if you are sending objects of art or paintings abroad, owing to the possibility of risk when there is no proper supervision. Surely, that is not a matter that ought to be in the hands of any one but the Trustees themselves. The effect is, of course, that if as regards any picture, whether painted by an English artist or not, those who have the custodianship of the picture and who know all the conditions think there is any risk, it ought not to be allowed to go abroad because it would not be under the proper safeguard of the authorities of the institutions. For the moment I am not drawing a distinction between whether the object of art or painting comes from an English artist or producer or not. I want to say a few words later upon that particular point.

I would also like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is pointed out in the Report of the Royal Commission that, as far as they could ascertain, every other institution in all other countries has this power of sending overseas works of art whether the works of national artists or not. It is a power which, as far as the Royal Commission could ascertain, was possessed by the museums of all European countries. They say also that in this country certain national institutions which they name can already lend overseas without any restriction. There is no statutory restriction regarding the British Museum or the National Gallery, but I entirely agree with the view which has always been held, and properly held, that it would not be in accordance with the terms of their trusts to send objects of art or pictures overseas, unless they were specially licensed to do so under their own discretion by Act of Parliament. But certain national institutions can already lend overseas without any restrictions: The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the London Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery—I know that because I happen to be one of the Trustees—the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Geological Survey and Museum, the Royal Scottish Museum, the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland. The Trustees of all those institutions have the powers which we are now asking shall be vested in the Trustees of the British Museum and the National Gallery, in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commission, under the terms of this Bill.

The only objection, as I understand, that is being raised is that there should be a limitation in the sense that objects of art or paintings which have not been produced or painted by British artists should not be allowed to be sent overseas. I think I am stating the objection quite frankly and fairly. It is very difficult logically to understand that objection, because I cannot see why a risk should be incurred by the pictures of English artists if it is not proper that it should be incurred by the pictures of artists of some foreign country. I agree, and there is no question about this, that some of our great world-famous pictures will never be sent abroad, and some of our great world-famous objects of art may never be sent abroad; but that will be because they are under the guardianship and in custody of bodies who are to be trusted as guardians and custodians; that is, the Trustees of the two institutions in question. If they are not to be trusted cadit quæstio; but I do not think that is the case in regard to the works in the custody of those institutions at the present time.

No doubt many of your Lordships have seen a letter written by Sir Robert Witt, who is Chairman of the Trustees of the National Gallery and Chairman of the National Art Collections Fund. Sir Robert Witt is a supporter of the whole purpose of the Bill, and I will read what he says. While bearing that in mind, I admit that full weight ought to be given to the authority and position of those who take a different view, and I hope, when I have explained exactly the position of the Government, that that view being thoroughly appreciated, it will not be necessary to have a Division on the Second Reading, but that this matter may be properly left, as it would be in the ordinary course, to the Committee stage. I will only refer to one or two passages in Sir Robert Witt's letter. He says— The objections raised by those who wish to oppose or limit the Bill are discussed in the Report and are mainly based upon the danger to the pictures lent abroad, and the undue dispersal of the national treasures. By "national treasures" he means national treasures other than those which come from British artists. Sir Robert adds:— Yet these objections must apply also to the lending of British pictures, the lending of which the most influential opponents of the Bill are willing to concede. How is it arguable that the Trustees call be relied upon to select among British pictures what can properly and safely be lent but cannot be relied upon to do so in the case of non-British pictures, and that it may be safe and proper to lend a picture painted in England but not one painted in Holland or France? I think it is difficult to see how any distinction can be drawn as regards the risk in those two cases. There may be reasons why you may say that in one case some risk may be run and in another case no risk should be run, but as between these two cases of the risk to treasures sent overseas, I think Sir Robert Witt is right that, logically, it is impossible to draw a distinction between the two.

I may say that in France and Germany, as those well know who have read the Royal Commission's Report and the evidence on which it is founded, very special attention has been paid to the question as to whether it is right to send works of art overseas or not, and it was after reports were made, I think almost in an adverse direction by the directors in Paris and Brussels, that the power of lending overseas was nevertheless maintained, and is maintained, to the great benefit at any rate of these great international exhibitions which we have recently held in England. Of course, Sir Robert says, the Trustees will take great care in lending pictures abroad, but they should have power to lend pictures which are easily able to travel, and hundreds of which cannot even be exhibited at the Gallery for lack of space. There are eminent Trustees of the National Gallery here. Sir Robert Witt, when he came to talk over this matter, gave many illustrations of pictures which it would be most desirable to exhibit abroad, and which were now merely crowded in the cellars, I suppose, of the National Gallery itself. Why should not those pictures be sent for exhibition? He gave an illustration of a large number of pictures of a certain Dutch artist. I do not propose now to name either artist or pictures, but to keep what I have to say on more general grounds.

Sir Robert is very careful about the question of risks, but points out that the Trustees are quite competent, under the advice of their Director, to distinguish between those pictures which can, and those which cannot, be properly and safely lent. Any cases of damage that have been reported have been found by the Royal Commission to be almost negligible. Sir Robert also refers to a letter which he has had from Signor Modigiliani, who was responsible for the Italian pictures which came here, telling him that no damage had been done, that no risk resulting in damage had been incurred, and that certain rumours to the contrary had no foundation in fact.

There is one other question of fact I should like to say a word about before I come to one or two other matters, I will not say on the argumentative side but on the explanatory side. The Foreign Office has sent a Memorandum. I am sorry I have not the document before me for the moment, but I can state its purport. It states that so far as the Foreign Office are concerned they have not much to do with pictures, but as regards books and manuscripts, when applications are made for them to be lent or sent away from the museums in which they are located, for reading elsewhere, for instance in this country, no objection is raised on the ground that the particular manuscript or book as the case may be is not the work of the artist of the nationality of those by whom the request is made. They state further that there is a great difficulty in dealing with these applications if, while we ask for books of that kind to come here, we have to say at the same time that we refuse to allow books to go abroad from our British museums. One can quite understand that. It is the principle of reciprocity. The Foreign Office say there has never been any difficulty, never any risk and never any loss. We desire that that side of the question should be brought to the notice of the House—that the distinction between native art and art from some other country is not insisted upon by any of the museums abroad with which the Foreign Office have had communication, and the only difficulty which has arisen is in cases where they have to admit that we will not allow on our side documents or records from our museums and custody to be exported in order that foreign students may study them elsewhere.

I merely give that as an illustration of how the matter works. Let me say in conclusion that I think it would be a great misfortune if your Lordships refused a Second Reading to this Bill, having regard to the Report of the Royal Commission, which was unanimous, and having regard to the courtesy shown to us in the great international exhibitions we have had here. It seems to me that the distinction between the product of the home artist and the product of the artist of another country, which has found its place in an English museum, is difficult to establish, but I do not want to say more than that at the present time. I do not look upon that as a matter which can possibly be decided on the Second Reading of this Bill. I can only say on my own behalf, and on behalf of the Government, that if the Second Reading of this Bill is allowed—and I hope your Lordships will allow it—the next stage will not be taken until some weeks hence. It could not be taken until after the vacation, and it will not be taken until a reasonable time from the end of the vacation so as to allow of a thorough investigation of the subject.

I do not for a moment suppose that those who are opposing the Bill on this particular point are not thoroughly and wholly convinced that their view is right. They may be right for all I know, but I do not think the matter has yet been fully and entirely discussed. They may think that there ought to be some amendment in the Bill itself, or they may think the matter may be dealt with in the regulations which the Trustees have the power and duty of making as regards the sending of any of these pictures overseas. I am not prepared myself—though it is not for me to give my opinion—to give any opinion on the right or wrong of that point, but on behalf of the Government—and I hope the Lord Chancellor will be able later to say a word, if necessary, as one of the acting Trustees of the British Museum—I can promise that every care will be taken to consider the difficulties which may be put forward, and we shall hope to have the opportunity of a thorough discussion with members of this House who draw a distinction between the pictures of our own artists and the pictures of foreign artists in our museums.

If there is one matter on which this House should be able in the end to come to a firm and considered decision, it is, I think, on a Bill of this sort. We have, for instance, the Earl of Crawford, we have Lord Lee of Fareham, we have Lord Hanworth, we have the Lord Chancellor, we have the Archbishop of Canterbury and many other experts upon this topic, who could hardly be collected more favourably than they are in this House. Therefore I urge and hope that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to the Bill, and I give an undertaking, if an undertaking is necessary, that as regards all future stages we shall take every care we possibly can to give weight to any objections. We shall approach it not in any antagonistic spirit—there ought not to be any antagonistic spirit here—but we shall approach it with the object, if possible, of coming to a common agreement on a Bill based upon the principle that in the spirit of international courtesy we should give to other countries the great advantage they have given to us, so that British art, above all, may be properly understood in its fullness and greatness. I beg to move that the Bill he read a second time.

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

LORD HANWORTH, who had given Notice to move as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, I trust that none of you will suppose that I have ventured to put down a Motion for the rejection of this Bill acting upon my own responsibility. It so happens that the Master of the Rolls is, like the Lord President of the Council, an ex officio Trustee of the British Museum. The Lord President of the Council was good enough to say that he was a Trustee of one of the galleries, but he seemed to overlook the fact that he was also a Trustee of the British Museum.


I am not a Trustee of the British Museum.


Oh yes, and so are all the Secretaries of State. The reason why I stand before your Lord- ships to move the rejection of the Bill is that I am not only an ex officio Trustee but I have had the honour of being for some years a member of the Standing Committee of the Trustees, and I have been authorised by that Standing Committee and also by a general meeting of the Trustees—which all the Secretaries of State could have attended if they liked—on Saturday, to rise in my place and oppose this Bill. May I pause before say more to pay a compliment to a very old friend and a skilful leader at the Bar? When Lord Parmoor was at the Bar I had the honour of being with him in many cases and often, sitting behind him, I observed the skill of the advocate Whereby he always dwelt on the strong point and on the point on which, so to speak, there was no disagreement, and always left over the points which were really the points on which there was disagreement and, indeed, the points of substance.

Let me also say this in regard to that final and charming appeal that really we might let this go over for a certain time, that surely we can find some words in Committee which would really meet the situation: may I remind him that I hold in my hand the original Bill as drafted? It bears the date October 9. This matter has been considered by correspondence and by interviews with the Government and with the Government draftsmen, and we at the British Museum have insisted that only two or three words are necessary to make the Bill satisfactory to us. But, although a period of two months and more has passed, we have not had any assurance from the Government that they will meet us in that sense. We are, therefore, very reluctant to allow the Second Reading of this Bill to-day in the hope that during the next six weeks the Government will alter their attitude, which they have maintained during two months, and in the belief that we shall be able by further delay to secure a satisfactory alteration of the Bill Which, up to the present time, no representations of ours have been able to secure.

Before I pass to the actual terms of this Bill, let me brush away a great deal of the observations that have been made in support of it. We on behalf of the British Museum are in no sense opposed to the principle of reciprocity with other nations. We are anxious that we should, as a nation, fulfil the broad principle of reciprocity. We are quite conscious that from Holland, from Belgium and from Italy we had magnificent collections sent over of—in the main and broadly—their own national schools. I am also quite aware that that does not conclude the matter. It is quite true that from some other countries who were not directly the senders of the pictures we had other illustrations and works of art. I am not overlooking that at all. But I think I should carry your Lordships with me if I said that, broadly speaking, we regarded the pictures that were sent from Holland and from Belgium and from Italy as in the main portions of their national collections, and that what is desired is that there should be reciprocity on our part, and that we should send out to them some British pictures illustrative of British art. With that principle we are all agreed. There is no doubt on that point. There is no difficulty. Subject to some observations to which I must call attention in the Report of the Royal Commission, we can satisfy the demand, if that be the demand and if that be the only demand.

The Lord President of the Council founded himself upon this unanimous Report of the Royal Commission. He said more than once that they were taking the line which the Royal Commission asked for. I must quote to your Lordships what the Royal Commission said:— In view of all the circumstances it seems to us that the time has come when a positive move should be made by this country in the matter of international loans either for exceptional centenary or other special exhibitions, or for purposes of reciprocal loans. The desirability c f such loans under proper safeguards is especially apparent in the case of the British school of painting. Agreed, my Lords. Then they go on to point out that statutory provision would be necessary to deal with the British Museum and the National Gallery. Their Report continues:— The consequences of the present position are, in our judgment, most unfortunate:— (2) It is indubitable that British art is too little known and appreciated on the Continent. We have ourselves been impressed by the lamentable inadequacy of its representation in the great galleries of Europe. At the present time, the inspired achievements of the British school of paint- lug are actually little known outside this country and the United States of America. Then come their recommendations as to how far we should go.

They also call attention to the fact, which must not he forgotten, that, so far as the Belgians are concerned, the Royal Academy has said that there were some objects possessed by them of such importance that in no circumstances ought they to be displaced from the position that they have held in the museums, and that a list ought to he composed, after consultation with the competent authorities, of objects which in no circumstances should ever be allowed to leave Belgium. In France they make much the same recommendation, and I think that, when my noble friend Lord Crawford speaks, he will be able to tell you what is the considered opinion of those who are the responsible custodians of the art collections in foreign countries. It appears to me, therefore, that, while the Lord President is perfectly justified in saying that there was this recommendation in the Report of the Royal Commission, it must not be forgotten that the recommendation related to objects of British art, in order that the British school of painting might be better known abroad.


I think the noble and learned Lord will agree with me that it was not limited to that. The recommendation was in general terms.


I am afraid I do not agree. When we come to see what the actual recommendations are—I have them here—we shall find that it was to be done for the purpose of allowing the British school of art to be known overseas. Let me look at the Bill as it is drawn. I am speaking, of course, with some acquaintance, in particular, with the British Museum. The British Museum, first of all, contains the most magnificent collection of books in the world. It has many sides to it, but it has that magnificent library. It has also a number of galleries of sculpture and of marbles, such as the Elgin marbles, and it has a unique collection of manuscripts and the like. I need not catalogue what is contained in the British Museum. This Bill, as at present drawn, removes any statutory prohibition against sending over any of those objects anywhere overseas, whether to the Dominions, across to South America or elsewhere. It is not a question of sending them merely to Paris, to The Hague, or even to Rome. As. drawn, the Bill gives power to the British Museum to send away anything at all that is placed under the custody of the Trustees.

The Trustees of the British Museum are not prepared to forego the protection that is offered by Statute. The noble and learned Lord said that there was no statutory prohibition, even in the case of the British Museum. There may be no statutory prohibition for some of the other museums, such as the Science Museum, which is under the Board of Education. That is a, modern museum, containing modern exhibits. The British Museum is incorporated under a Statute of 1753, under which all the objects in the Museum are placed under the custody of the Trustees. So carefully drawn is the Statute that, although they have power to appoint their librarian, there is no power on his part to delegate any of the duties that are entrusted to him. He is bound to be the custodian of everything and, until your Lordships passed a Bill at the end of July last, Sir Frederic Kenyon was under a bond in £10,000 to safeguard the objects that were entrusted to his care.

No statutory prohibition! Does the noble and learned Lord forget that, if a Trustee is entrusted with the charge and superintendence of anything, he cannot hand it over to anybody else, still less can he send it overseas? This Act of 1753 was wisely drawn, and its purpose was to make a national collection which should he safeguarded. It cannot be suggested that there is no statutory prohibition, since, when a man is made a Trustee, he has to carry out the duties of a Trustee, and one of the duties of a Trustee is to keep safely. He would not be keeping safely if he sent objects of art overseas for exhibition or for any other purpose. I have indicated the danger that would be involved. The noble and learned Lord says that he does not see what difference there is between sending pictures of the British school and pictures of a foreign school. Some of the Trustees have been prepared to take some risks for the purpose of reciprocity but the British Museum is not prepared to forego the protection that has been, afforded in the past.

Just let me take an illustration, which is no mere chimera. Supposing a visit took place to the Foreign Office of an Ambassador or Minister of a foreign country. Supposing he said: "We have an exhibition in our country and, as an ancillary to that exhibition, we are having a most interesting collection of objects which will be immensely attractive to the intelligentsia of the country. Can you not send us from the British Museum some of your early maps or some of your illustrations?" The Foreign Minister might promise to do his best. It would be a very effective gesture (to use the jargon of the day), it would ease the foreign situation if he did so, and he would promise to do his best. Then he would go to the Trustees of the British Museum and say: "Please let me send eat to the Argentine"—or wherever it might be—"some of your treasures. Please do this, because it will ease the political situation and will help us." The Trustees would say: "We cannot in our duty to the nation." I suppose the Foreign Minister would then go back and say: Of course I should like to do this, but nothing will move those Trustees of the British Museum. We cannot get them to see things in a sensible light." Is that a fair sort of burden to lay upon the Trustees of the British Museum? Ought they not to be safeguarded by something a great deal more than a mere discretion on their part, when they are endeavouring to fulfil a national duty and a national purpose? I did not know that the Foreign Office had a large part in the interchange of either pictures or manuscripts, but I confess that, since hearing the noble and learned Lord, I am more frightened than I was before as to what does go into the Foreign Office bag.

I do not want to detain your Lordships, but I should like to call attention to one further point. We have insisted that these safeguards ought to be put into the Bill. For two months we have asked that the following words— To lend for public exhibition in places outside Great Britain on such terms as they think fit any objects which are vested in the Trustees of the British Museum… should be amended by the addition, after the word "objects," of the words— being objects representative of British arts or crafts. To this the Government will not consent, and it is because they will not accept those words, which were suggested by their own draftsman and were in the original draft of the Bill, which is dated October 9, that we feel that the only course is not to take what might be called the somewhat weak course of saying: "Let the Bill be read a second time, and let us find words which will meet the situation." We know the words that will meet the situation. We know the words that we suggested to meet the situation. We know the words that are sufficient to meet the situation; and we know the words that the Government will not allow us to have to meet the situation. It is because, after all these weeks, we have been refused, that we insist to-day that it is no time to pass this Bill.

I have one more important observation to make. The Master of the Rolls is entrusted with the charge and superintendence of the archives of this country. During the time that I have been Master of the Rolls, now some seven years or more, on two occasions it has happened that a Minister coming back from a tour overseas has made a request to me that we should send from the Record Office some of our treasures which are particularly connected with the country to which he has been paying a visit. No doubt while he has been impressed by the great hospitality and kindness that he has received, it has occurred to him that it would be a happy response if he could, when he came home, send over from the National Record Office some of the treasures asked for by those overseas. I have had to reply that there is a statutory prohibition. The Master of the Rolls cannot part with a single document that is in the Record Office. That answer being given to the Minister, lie has been satisfied, and, may I say, not a little content that the difficulty no longer prevails. He has felt that what was a request difficult to refuse has been removed from the sphere of mere generosity, and he has been able to explain that it cannot be done. That has prevented any question of a sort of ill-will towards the area in question. That protection is one which happily the Master of the Rolls at present possesses.

We are not satisfied with this Bill as drawn. We feel that it gives a power far too wide—a power so wide that it would place the Trustees of the British Museum in peril. It is not needed for the purpose of reciprocity in answer to pictures sent over here, and we ask your Lordships not to read the Bill a second time until a definite undertaking has been given—and so far it has been refused—a Parliamentary undertaking that these words shall be inserted which I have read, and which will safeguard the British Museum—namely, after the word "objects," to insert "being objects representative of British arts or crafts." It is to-day that we ought to face the difficulty and not put it off for another three or four weeks. If that undertaking is given all difficulty is gone. But so long as the attitude of the Government is to maintain their refusal to accept these words so long are the Trustees of the British Museum assured that it is necessary to defeat the Bill, because they have not been met in the spirit of compromise, and they feel that they would be unable to carry out their duty to the nation unless that statutory prohibition were maintained in the Bill.

Amendment moved— Leave out, ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Hanworth.)


My Lords, I do not want to detain you so very long, but there are one or two observations which I would like to make about the speech of my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House. He is aware, for instance, that the Trustees of the National Gallery and the Trustees of the British Museum unanimously approve of the line of policy laid down by Lord Hanworth, the Master of the Rolls, that British objects of art should be available for loans abroad. Some Trustees of the National Gallery go further than that, and wish all pictures of whatever school or date to be equally available for foreign loans. Other Trustees of each Museum are in favour of sending only British works abroad. The only distinction between us, therefore, is how far that principle should extend. At the outset, let me say that Lord Parmoor's speech was based upon a fundamental misapprehension of the physical distinction which is involved. He said: "You agree to send British pictures abroad. Why then do you refuse to send Italian pictures abroad?" He admitted no distinction between the two. He further went on to say, in order to impale us on the horns of a dilemma: "Why, if you are prepared to send pictures of the British school abroad, do you refuse to send foreign pictures? If you can exercise discretion about one, why should you not exercise discretion about the other?" If Lord Parmoor insists upon impaling us upon the horns of that dilemma, the only course that I can see is to vote against the Bill on the Second Reading.


May I interrupt the noble Earl for one moment? I did not intend to say that there is no distinction between pictures which can be sent abroad and pictures which cannot. It may be there are a large number of pictures which cannot be sent abroad, but taking the same class of picture I do not see any distinction between the two. I quite agree that some pictures cannot be sent abroad. It may be a matter of schedules.


Perhaps we are a little nearer than we were. May I say this? How deplorable it would be if the National Gallery had to start a schedule of pictures which may or may not be sent abroad. The next thing they would have to do is to make a schedule of places to which pictures may or may not be sent. What a responsibility to place upon the Trustees of these museums. Serious as it would be to make a schedule of pictures it would be far more serious to make a schedule of cities in Europe to which, on no account, can the Trustees, realising the great responsibility of their trust, venture to send pictures, owing to the danger of fire. I could quote half a dozen national galleries in Europe which are nothing short of fire-traps. Does the noble and learned Lord wish us to have to make a schedule of such places to which we will on no account send pictures? Does he not see at once the risk of diplomatic friction which this Bill produces, unless the compromise which we offer to the Government is accepted?

Now let me go back to the technical distinctions which are not clear to Lord Parmoor's mind. What is the risk in sending a picture on canvas by Gains-borough to Paris or Rome as compared with the risk of sending an Italian old master upon panel? In the first place I personally, though I do not like sending pictures abroad, have agreed with my friends that we ought to make what (to use a tiresome word) is called a gesture in return for the courtesy which we have received. But to send abroad an early Italian panel picture, painted five hundred years ago, on a material which is subject to every change of hygrometric pressure, or every distinction of extreme dryness to extreme damp, which may be involved by these migrations, is to impose upon that picture a physical risk which, in my opinion, it would be a breach of trust on our part to agree to. "Ah!" it will be said, "but you will send a Gainsborough or a Reynolds." Well, I confess that there is equally a risk in sending a Gainsborough or a Reynolds. Everybody in this House can recall one or another case—I can recall a dozen—where pictures or works of art on exhibition in public galleries have been destroyed by fire. The danger of fire to a Gainsborough is just as great as to a Piero della Francesca. The danger exists, but I am prepared, though not with any satisfaction, to take that risk in the interests of reciprocity. But your Lordships will always bear in mind that the risks attendant on sending pictures on panel abroad is infinitely greater than that of sending pictures on canvas.

There was a very curious passage in Lord Parmoor's speech about the intervention of the Foreign Office. I wonder why the Foreign Office has intervened. We are told that the Trustees concerned are going to make regulations which will safeguard them. May I tell Lord Parmoor that we are never free from political pressure in these affairs. The opinion of the Trustees has been disregarded, but the opinion of the Foreign Office is being now quoted against us—not, so far as I gathered, on the pictures so much as upon papers, records and books. Well, I hope to goodness there is not going to he any attempt to send the historical documents of this country from the Public Record Office or from the British Museum overseas. I think that would be a lamentable thing to do, because in my opinion the centre of the Empire is the place where the nucleus of its history should be gathered. It is the place where the art of the world should always he kept on exhibition, so that everybody, whether British or foreign, should know that at the heart of the Empire, at its capital, this un- moveable nucleus of our records and of history of art is maintained intact. And I say that, notwithstanding this assurance about the freedom with which Trustees will be able to act, pressure will be, and is to-day being, brought to bear upon us. Take the case quoted by my noble and learned friend the Master of the Rolls. The Trustees of the British Museum asked that the Bill should be introduced in the form in which it was first submitted to them by the Government. A change of sentiment has taken place on the part of the Government. The opinion of the Trustees of the British Museum is disregarded. Politics are taking the lead. Politics are governing the terms of this Bill, not the discretion, as Lord Parmoor assures us, of the Trustees. Our discretion is being already taken away from us by the very terms of the Bill.

Now, let me pass to a different aspect of the subject, one which is really important. It is commonly said that in view of the wonderful generosity shown to us by foreign countries we must reciprocate by taking powers to send to foreign countries examples representative of their own schools. Well, I should like to say that informed foreign opinion is by no means so friendly to these international exhibitions as the noble and learned Lord seemed to indicate. It is no good trying to disguise the fact that there is a good deal of politics in these international exhibitions. One country makes a wonderful show. It becomes immediately the duty of another country to make one equally good, or, if possible, to go one better. We all know that; there is no concealment about it. That is propaganda. And in sending our works of art abroad I quite frankly want propaganda to show the artistic and the intellectual greatness to which our British schools attained a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago—down, we will say, to the death of Turner.

But much responsible and well informed foreign opinion is against continuing these exhibitions on the ground of the physical risk they involve to irreplaceable objects of history and art. I state on my personal authority and on my personal knowledge, that responsible custodians of national collections in several Continental countries are anxious that we, in this country, shall take upon ourselves the responsibility of putting a check upon these international exhibitions. That is a very serious statement to make. I repeat that I do it from my own personal knowledge and on my own personal responsibility from communications from the individuals concerned. And the reason is not far to seek. Every single director and curator and custodian of works of art was horrified last winter when we heard that the "Leonardo da Vinci," the great Italian steamship, bearing the most precious cargo that a steamship ever bore in the history of the world, was encountering heavy seas on her voyage to this country. Had the smallest error in loading that ship been made, had there been three or four inches short of proper strengthening, and had one of these great cases, containing twenty or thirty precious pictures, shaken in the hold, not only would an incalculable damage have been done to the pictures, but an incalculable harm would have been inflicted upon the patrimony of the world. Happily, the ship arrived safely and returned safely. But people were horrified in those days at the risks which were being run. And I, for my part, feel that I could never be a party to encouraging any other nation to take those risks, or to our incurring any such risk on our own part.

I say that not only individuals but countries themselves are conscious of that danger. What has happened? My noble friend Lord Hanworth quoted from the Royal Commission's Report. Soon after the Belgian exhibition, feeling in Belgium was sufficiently strong for the Royal Academy of Belgium, acting for the Government, to place a restriction upon the freedom to lend these things abroad—a deliberate action so as to make it easy, when these applications come, to point to those restrictions, just in the way that at the present moment the Trustees of the British Museum can point to their Act of 1753, which precludes these loans. Subsequent to that, the French Government has passed a similar ordinance. M. Doumergue, the President, has signed a decree which limits the freedom of the French authorities to lend pictures and all works of art to loan exhibitions. They make an exception for exhibitions of national importance; in other words where a big political issue is involved. To that the French are prepared to give way. They are great propagandists, and we know that they are going to have an exhibition in the course of the next fifteen or eighteen months, and very wonderful that exhibition will be. But those two facts are symptomatic of the collective anxiety felt by the two countries, Belgium and France, which I say is analogous to the profound anxiety felt by responsible curators of Museums abroad and in this country.

One final word about reciprocity. I really do not think that the proper compliment to pay to Italy, for instance, for the wonderful exhibition they gave us last winter, or the proper return to them, is to send them Italian pictures. Italy has about 5,000 picture galleries and churches or more containing Italian pictures. They do not require ours. But what they would like to see is a really representative proof of our own British artistic supremacy—I use the word guardedly—extending from the year 1760, we will say, until the death of Turner in 1851. That would be something that would show to Italy something which Italy has never fully realised—namely, the distinction, the brilliance and the resource of our own schools. There are great cities all over Europe in which the inhabitants have never seen a genuine Gainsborough, Raeburn, Turner, Reynolds and so on. That is where the real reciprocity ought to be manifested. It is no good Lord Parmoor saying that we should send abroad second-class things out of the cellars of the National Gallery. That is not what is wanted. What is wanted is a really representative collection of British art, something new, something great, something impressive to them, something which does justice to the greatness that is ours; not to send Italian pictures to Italy, or French pictures to France, or those of Velazquez to Spain or those of Franz Hals to Holland. The real reciprocity that we ought to show, and the real measure of our gratitude ought to be to send them British paintings. That being so, I am quite sure, if that were accepted by the Government, that foreign Governments would he really grateful; more so than if we make a false step by indicating that the pictures of all schools can be sent to all places.

My noble friend the Leader of the House spoke about common agreement based upon international courtesy. Is not that sufficient to meet both his points of view? Common agreement he is promised. He knows that every Trustee of each of the two Museums concerned is prepared to send abroad British art and British craft. Surely, that is sufficient international courtesy. I am certain that every foreign country would look upon that as a more than ample return for the courtesy which they have shown to us. I beg Lord Parmoor to give us a pledge a little more explicit than he offered during the earlier part of this afternoon's debate, in order that we may give him con amore a Second Reading of his Bill, in the confidence that, he will meet us in that manner at a later stage.


My Lords, I venture to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill from a different angle to previous speakers—namely, from the point of view of a testator. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, asked why pictures should not be sent abroad. I should have thought that the answer would have been obvious to him, because he must often have vehemently protested in the Courts regarding the sanctity of the washes of testators. Testators must be presumed to know the law because every person is supposed to know the law except a jury to whom the Judge always has to explain it. Yet this Bill seeks to set aside the intentions (implied perhaps) of testators that their pictures should never be sent out of the country.


My Lords, I. too, in virtue of my office as Lord Chancellor, I am a Trustee of the British Museum, and I should like to make an apology at once. I have not attended any meetings. The reason is, if you will permit me to make a personal explanation, that I have been engaged in holding an Imperial Conference and an Indian Conference, and since the second week in August I have not even had a Sunday to myself, apart from other days. Even if I had attended those meetings I should have felt myself very much embarrassed had I been in opposition to my old friend Lord Han-worth or to the noble Earl who has just sat down. Lord Hanworth differs in his trusteeship from me in this respect. He, I am glad to think, in virtue of his office is a permanent Trustee, while I am a transient one. I hope I shall have the pleasure of presiding over your Lordships for about three years more and I promise your Lordships faithfully that I will attend the meetings then.

With regard to the noble Earl who has just sat down, if he will permit me to say so to his face, I should not have ventured to put my opinion against the opinion of such en expert. He knows more about these things than I can ever hope to know. But I want to make an appeal. I am in this very great personal difficulty that as a Trustee I am very much impressed by the arguments of noble Lords who have preceded me, and which I have heard this evening for the first time. I am also very much oppressed by the fact, that I happen to be a member of a Government who cannot at the moment see their way to assent to this amendment. I must say that I should like to have had the opportunity of putting my poor arguments and the good arguments of Lord Hanworth and the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, before the Government, and I should like to do so. But if your Lordships reject this Bill to-day I shall be precluded from that opportunity.

The way in which I look at it is this. There is one part of this Bill which everybody wants, or, at any rate, I will say to which nobody objects, except the noble Viscount with experience of wills and testators. There is another part of the Bill to which I quite see that noble Lords object; that is to say, they want to restrict this Bill. This is not a case, surely, where we ought to endanger the Bill if we can arrive at some way of getting something which we all want, and at the same time satisfying those who now object to the Bill. There are two ways of doing it. You can let the Bill go to the Committee stage, and then this amendment can be introduced. By that time your arguments will have been put before the Government.


Will the noble and learned Lord undertake to put an amendment into the Bill to meet the point?


The noble Viscount is in such a hurry. I am not in charge of the Bill, but what I will undertake to do, and what I am undertaking to do, is to put these arguments before the Government. I cannot, at the present moment—how can I, standing here?—give your Lordships a personal assurance that I will introduce an amendment. I can give you an assurance, and I will give an assurance, that these arguments shall be placed before the Government, and I will take the trouble to see that important members of the Government get the OFFICIAL REPORT. That is one way of dealing with it. Another way of dealing with it—and I address myself to the noble Lord who leads the House upon this—is to ask for a short adjournment of this debate. That course may appeal to him and to your Lordships. You will lose nothing by an adjournment, because your point is saved. Either of those two courses will enable us, I hope, to get what we all want. I am not going at the present time to express an opinion upon the arguments which have been brought forward, but if we can get a Second Reading noble Lords can, if their arguments prevail, get the matter put right in Committee. I am not making any promise that I will do it. I cannot and will not make promises I cannot fulfil. I appeal to noble Lords to adopt either of those courses—to allow this Bill a Second Reading and I will undertake that their arguments shall be put before the important people, or have some adjournment. I appeal to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House whether it would not be better that we should have some adjournment. I apologise for not dealing with the arguments that have been put forward, but I really have not had the time to look into them.


My Lords, may I suggest that we adopt. the second alternative of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that we do not take the Second Reading to-night but defer it until we resume after the Recess? Then we shall be in a position to defeat the Bill if we are not met in a satisfactory way by the Government on that occasion.


My Lords, the Lord Chancellor has stated that the procedure he wishes to follow is to clear his own mind, so to speak, and to collate the opinions which have been expressed by your Lordships. I think he went so far as to say that he would even press copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT upon his colleagues in the Cabinet. I find myself obliged to intervene, which I otherwise would not have done, in order, if I may, to add one or two points which have not yet been dealt with, and which will also be incorporated in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and receive attention at the same time. A great deal has been said to-day about the Royal Commission, and due weight has been attached to its Report, but, as one who has some experience of Royal Commissions, it is the first time it has even been suggested to me that Reports of Royal Commissions are sacrosanct, and must necessarily be carried into effect. If that were the case there would be more competition perhaps than there is now to serve upon Royal Commissions, and to spend laborious days in compiling reports which are afterwards rejected by Governments or turned down by Parliament.

But the discussion has turned largely upon the position of the Trustees of the two institutions affected. I happen to be a Trustee of the National Gallery, and feel that our present position there, and our future peace, is greatly menaced by the proposals in this Bill as they stand, because we shall undoubtedly, if the Bill passes in its present form, be subjected to constant and most embarrassing pressure. Our difficulties, as Lord Han-worth has pointed out, will be enormously increased. I, too, have been greatly alarmed by the reference of the Leader of the House to the view of the Foreign Office. That is just one of the things of which those of us who oppose this Bill in its present form have been most afraid. And not only the Foreign Office. There will be the Dominions Office, and possibly the Colonial Office, who will point out to us how important it is, in order to make better feeling at some moment of crisis, to send, we will say, our National Gallery Rembrandts to Pretoria, where, naturally, the large Dutch population would specially appreciate them. We are shortly to have a Persian exhibition here. We may he told later on by the Foreign Office that they attach enormous importance, in view of the strained relations or difficulties existing at that time in Persia, and the fact that the oil pipe line which runs through that territory is very vulnerable, to our making a gesture by sending a group of Piero della Francescas to Teheran. And so it will go on. The position will become intolerable once politics are brought into this matter.

I venture to say that not enough stress has been laid upon the duties of trustees of property as such. We are adjured to make gestures. Will the Lord Chancellor say, will Lord Parmoor say, that trustees of property are justified in making gestures with the property which they are appointed to be responsible for? Surely any trustee that so interpreted his duty would be guilty of malfeasance, and should be removed from his office. The House, if I may say so, is left without guidance in one very important matter by the Government advocates of the Bill. They have not told us what are the views, if any, which have been expressed to them by the responsible technical heads of the institutions affected. I am, therefore, bound to ask whether the Government have received, as a matter of fact, any report from either the Director of the British Museum or the Director of the National Gallery with regard to the advisability or otherwise of the removal of these prohibitions. Surely if they have such reports—and I can hardly imagine they would have acted without them—they should be available for the information of your Lordships, and I would ask that they should be circulated as soon as possible.

We all listened, I am sure, with great attention to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who spoke from very great experience not only as a Trustee but also in the capacity—in which I, too, have had to serve—of the lender of works of art. And the views of lenders of art are, as I can assure your Lordships, very different in these matters. As a rule lenders conceal in the cause of peace the injuries which they have suffered, but believe me, they are very real. From my own experience I could quote cases. I have hardly ever lent to an exhibition without having had some slight cause to regret it when I received my property back. But the noble Earl spoke of the difficulty, first of all, of imposing upon the Trustees the necessity of making a schedule not only of works but of places. He might have gone further. He referred to fire traps. He said many of the old galleries in Europe where these exhibitions might take place are fire traps. Per- sonally I am even more afraid of the new exhibition buildings put up upon these occasions, where in nearly all cases, owing to the hurry of preparation of the building, the walls are damp and injury is communicated particularly to those early Italian panels, and often, I have found, to canvas pictures of a much later date.

Pictures of the kind that we do not wish to be allowed to lend have been described by one of the greatest art authorities of the day, Mr. Berenson, as les grands blessés of art. As such they should be sheltered and not sent travelling about the world in their present condition. Surely that is no great harm in view of present day facilities for foreign travel. Those abroad who wish to see them can come and see them, and those at home who wish to see them are not deprived of the opportunity of doing so because they have been sent away on travel. The compromise suggested is a reasonable one. It is in the interests of the art of this country and of the prestige of this country that there should be an adequate act of reciprocity. Lord Crawford spoke of the desirability of sending some English pictures to Rome. I heartily support that proposal. Some of us know that such an exhibition is in contemplation, and I also have reason to know that our action in that way would be taken as an adequate reciprocal act for the loans which have been made to us from Italy. Surely, that is going far enough at the present time.

I admit that we are put in a difficulty by the request of the Lord Chancellor. We have got to give him time in the Recess to study the duties of a Trustee of the British Museum. He wishes to acquaint himself with the views, no doubt, of his colleagues on that board as well as of his colleagues in the Government. He makes a personal request, which of course is always difficult to refuse, particularly from anyone sitting on the Woolsack. But I cannot pretend that I consider the proposal to postpone decision in this matter as being a satisfactory one. What it would really do would be to give opportunity for controversy to be stoked up on one side or the other. The Trustees of the two bodies will be put under fire in the Press and elsewhere and instead of the matter being decided, as it ought to be decided, upon a clear issue of trusteeship and the duties of Trustees, we should have irrelevant political and other considerations brought in. All I can say is that if the Bill had gone to a Second Reading to-day, I should certainly have voted against it unless some assurance were given by the Government that the words which they themselves originally drafted were to be put back into the Bill. As it is, I shall wait and see what action my noble and learned friend who moved the rejection takes.


My Lords, the main points involved in this most important matter have perhaps been sufficiently laid before your Lordships, but 1 feel it to be my duty to speak because I have the honour, with the Lord Chancellor, of being one of the principal Trustees of the British Museum and also of being the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Trustees. I must needs support what was said at an earlier stage of the debate by my noble and learned friend Lord Hanworth. I should like to assure the Government that we oppose the Bill as it is at present drafted with very great reluctance. We acknowledge that in respect of other clauses the Government have met the criticisms of the Trustees. We have the greatest possible respect for the opinion of the very valuable Royal Commission, and in a great many matters the Trustees of the British Museum have shown their readiness to accept their recommendations.

I need scarcely say that we have the very greatest sympathy with the main object and purpose of the Bill. We recognise that scholarship, science, art transcend all national limitations; that while each nation is proud of its own possessions, it must also regard them as held in trust not only for themselves but also for the world. I need not emphasise at this stage the fact that the Trustees of the British Museum and the Trustees of the National Gallery are at one with the Government in their desire to secure as much reciprocity—to use the phrase—as is possible between this country and other countries. We are willing to allow that objects of art representative of British arts and craft should be sent under proper safeguards and conditions on loan for exhibition overseas. But, for all the reasons that have been alleged before your Lordships, we are not prepared to go further. It has been said by the noble and learned Lord who leads the House that it is a very illogical distinction to draw between objects of foreign art and objects of British art. It may be illogical, but I am not sure that that is necessarily a condemnation of the proposal. My noble friend Lord Crawford has shown that there is a very great difference between the character of just those pictures which foreign countries would desire to have and the best examples of British art. I would go a step further and say that there is no comparison between the stock which we have—rich though it be—of just those examples of foreign art which it would be worth while to send abroad and the stock which we happily possess of the very best objects of British art.

But I am not going to speak on the matter of pictures. They have been already dealt with fully by Lord Crawford and by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, both of whom are admitted authorities on the subject. I wish to confine myself to the British Museum. I do not think that the position of the British Museum was fully considered by the Royal Commission. As has been said, the whole emphasis of the Report of the Royal Commission is really upon the desirability of the British Museum and of the National Gallery being permitted to send out objects of British art. Plainly what was most in their minds was exchange of pictures. But the British Museum is in a very different position. I am not sure that we are not imposing upon ourselves a very considerable risk even by being willing to accept the power of lending objects of British art. Quite certainly some of the greatest treasures of British art which we possess in the British Museum would be totally unsuitable for being sent anywhere overseas. For example, no one would think of sending overseas such a treasure as the Lindisfarne Gospels, or those two priceless works of British art the Luttrell Psalter and the Bedford Book of Hours, which have just been acquired by the conspicuous generosity of Mr. Pierpont Morgan; and I am sure that your Lordships very greatly appreciate the self-sacrificing act, as a sign of good will to this country, made by one of the chief collectors of the world. Although such things belong to British arts and crafts, it is unthinkable that we should send them abroad. But we are willing, in order to meet the main desire of the Royal Commission and of the Government—and, in this matter, to be in partnership with the Trustees of the National Gallery—to accept the principle of the Bill, provided that it is confined to objects representative of British arts or crafts.

I need not remind your Lordships of the character of the possessions of the British Museum. They are mainly twofold. First there are what may be called antiquities—sculpture, carvings, pottery, ceramics of all sorts; the contents of the whole wide field of archæology. In the second place there are the books, prints and manuscripts. Our objection to being entrusted with the power of lending objects that have been given to us to other countries overseas are mainly threefold. I hope your Lordships will allow me, even at this stage of the discussion, to describe them. and I hope that they may have some effect upon the mind of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack. First of all, we object to the disturbance of study. The collections in the British Museum form a whole in which each single part has its place. Students come to the Museum from every part of the world. If they came and found some part missing, however unimportant it might seem to others, this would affect the whole value of their study and prejudice the whole usefulness of their visit. Take, for example, some of those marvellous discoveries that have been made at Ur, illustrative of early Babylonian art. Each single piece of those discoveries is essential for the understanding of the whole. We do not want any student to come from any part of the world and to find that some essential part of that collection is missing because it has been sent overseas on loan.

Again, take the case of students of early printing or of the art of illumination. We do not want them to come to London, where these treasures are held for the sake of the whole world, and to find that some quite essential typical example of early printing or of illuminated manuscripts is not there because it has been sent abroad on loan. It is needless to say that the British Museum has a great reputation throughout the whole world, and part of its reputation is due to the knowledge that scholars have that if they come here in pursuit of their studies they will find the collections essential to these studies available in their entirety. We do not want the British Museum to be deprived of the reputation which it enjoys.

My second objection is even more important. I refer to the dangers of damage or destruction that are involved. I cannot agree that these are in any way negligible. On the contrary, they must press upon the minds of those who are the responsible custodians of these treasures. Consider the brittle character of some of the priceless treasures in the British Museum — sculpture, carved figures, delicate pottery and the like. Consider the effect on the value of these treasures of even the slightest damage. Your Lordships know perfectly well that, if a vase is broken, it may be repaired as much as you please but it can never, from that moment, have the value which it originally possessed. It is easy to see how, even with the greatest possible care, there may be just such damage inflicted on some rare or early book or upon some valuable illuminated manuscript as would fundamentally change its whole character. It is perhaps worth remarking that when, during the War, it was necessary to take some of our most valuable treasures and place them elsewhere, though quite near the Museum, for the purpose of safety, although the change was made with the utmost expert care of the staff of the Museum, in some cases there was actually some damage created, particularly in the case of some of the Greek vases.

We cannot dismiss this possibility. Your Lordships will not forget that one of the ships that carried here, rightly or wrongly, the Elgin marbles, foundered, although the contents were afterwards recovered; nor will your Lordships forget the forcible and moving words that fell from the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, when he described the anxiety of the whole artistic world when it heard of the gale that beset the "Leonardo Da Vinei" as it was bringing its priceless treasures here. You will remember that it was just by a, margin, so to say, that irreparable damage was not inflicted. It is just because accidents are accidents that they defy all calculation of probability. It may be true that happily, after more than twenty years of constant motoring, I have not yet had an accident, but that gives no assurance, nor even a probability, that I may not have an accident tomorrow. It is useless to speak of the fact that of recent years there has been no serious accident, as if that really met the point that must be in the minds of the responsible guardians of these treasures.

Any individual would be rash if he thought that he was irreplaceable. He might be like Aristotle's "great-souled man," going about with a proud sense of his own importance, but even so he would be very rash if he thought that he could never be replaced. In regard to these treasures of which we are thinking and speaking this afternoon, it is literally true that no insurance could possibly cover the damage that would be created, that even if the slightest damage were done it would irreparably affect the character of these treasures, and that, if they were once lost, they are literally irreplaceable and would be lost for ever. Accordingly we, the guardians in whom is vested the immense responsibility of the charge of these priceless possessions, while we should not be responsible for t he accident, should still be responsible if we put ourselves in the position of subjecting the things committed to our care to risk.

Then, lastly, there is the difficulty of resisting the pressure that would be brought to bear. We have already heard this afternoon of the various kinds of pressure that might be exerted. Before now it has happened that archæology has been made a feature in political arrangements. It was so not very long ago in Egypt. Suppose, for example, that the day were to come when it was felt very desirable that we should make a gracious gesture to the nation of Greece, and we were asked, as a signal token of our friendliness to Greece, to send out to Athens the caryatid which we possess and which, it might be thought, ought to be in the Erechtheum or in the Parthenon at the present time. How difficult it would be to resist pressure of that kind !

It is said that the matter will still be within the discretion of the Trustees, but you can easily imagine the difficulties in which the Trustees would be placed if they were asked to send away something that is really valuable—and probably no one could wish anything except that which is really valuable to be sent—and the Trustees were to say: "Excuse us, this is really so valuable that we cannot possibly part with it or send it overseas." That would certainly cause misunderstanding, if not offence. Suppose, on the other hand, we were to do that which I rather gather the noble and learned Lord behind me suggested, and send something that was not really valuable, because we had abundant specimens of it in the cellars of the National Gallery and British Museum. Such an answer would give even greater offence. At the present time we have a simple, clear, sufficient answer, which is entirely satisfactory, and which would be universally understood, that it is inconsistent with the character of our trust to send any of these objects overseas at all. What the Trustees ask of the House and of the Government is that we should not he deprived of this first clear, simple and entirely unobjectionable line of defence. That is a summary of the reasons which have led the Trustees of the British Museum to ask that this Bill should not he allowed to pass unless words are inserted in it which were in the original draft—namely, that this power of sending overseas should be confined to objects representative of British arts or crafts.

I hope the Government will not lightly disregard the considered opinion of the Trustees of the British Museum. I hope that they will, perhaps after I have done, be prepared to go further than to say merely that they will read and consider the objections that have been made. They have done that already, as Lord Hanworth pointed out. For something like two months our point has been under their consideration, and it is not enough for us to be told that the Government will see that our point is carefully considered. It is not that we are unwilling to put our own opinions to any risk. It is much more than that. We do not want to put these priceless treasures. for which we are responsible, to any risk, and I think we have a right to ask that the Government shall do more than say that the arguments we have used shall be submitted in due course to the Government before the next stage of the Bill. I most fully appreciate the appeal addressed to us by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. No one knows better than I do how impossible it has been for him to attend the meetings of the Trustees of the British Museum, and I only hope that the ampler leisure to which he looks forward will enable him to be more often present at our meetings in the next three years.

Let me put what I have to submit to the Government in this way? If the representatives of the Government, or the noble and learned Lord, are merely content to see that the Prime Minister has the advantage of reading this debate in the OFFICIAL REPORT and will be made more fully aware of the importance of our arguments, it is not enough. We cannot take the responsibility of allowing the Bill to go through on such a vague understanding. If, however, the noble Lord behind me, or the noble Lord on the Woolsack, will say that they, after hearing this debate, are prepared to give a favourable consideration, then we should be perfectly willing to allow the Second Reading of the Bill to take place. It is not for me to say what attitude the representatives of the Government may take, but if the noble Lord who leads the House is not prepared to give an undertaking, to-day, that he will give favourable consideration to our arguments, then I shall feel obliged to move the adjournment of the debate. I hope whatever happens that your Lordships will not suppose that the Trustees of the British Museum have taken this attitude lightly or without a full sense of their responsibility. I think we may say that in this matter we have nothing but a single-minded desire to preserve inviolate each and all of the priceless and irreplaceable treasures committed to our care.


I understand from the most rev. Primate that he desired to move the adjournment. I think, myself, that that is the right course, as indicated by the Lord Chancellor. It is really impossible—


I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord himself, or the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, would have been prepared to say that they would give favourable consideration to the arguments addressed to the House by Trustees of the two great institutions affected by the Bill.


The most rev. Primate will understand that we are not in a position to go further at this stage. Certainly I do not want to say anything of an adverse character. I think the matter does want further consideration, and particularly that we should have the assistance of the Lord Chancellor. An adjournment of the debate will be no drawback to the opponents of the Bill, because if at any time they think we are wrong they can introduce certain matters into the Bill. I think that it will really be in the hest interests of all parties if I move the adjournment of the debate, and I move accordingly.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Parmoor.)


My Lords, I confess I have listened with some little disappointment to the speech of the Leader of the House. I had hoped, after the very conciliatory gestures of the most rev. Primate, and after the tremendous weight of the arguments which have been adduced in favour of the suggestions made with great moderation by Lord Hanworth and the Earl of Crawford, that we should have had some better assurance from the Government than they appear to be willing to give. On the other hand, I understand that they are deprived of any power of initiative, and that they have to get their orders from their colleagues in another place. I gather from those who have studied the question more carefully than I have done that there are valuable features in the Bill if it be amended in the sense which has been suggested. I would, therefore, suggest to your Lordships that in view of those facts, although the Government answer has been a disappointing one, we should assent to the adjournment of the debate, but with a very clear warning to the Government that if they should not be able to give the assurance so reasonably asked for, then when the adjourned debate comes on they must expect that the Second Reading of the Bill will not be acceded to.

It is no good, in my view, passing the Bill on Second Reading in order to put in an amendment which we know from the Government is going to be rejected in another place, and it would be far better, if the Government intimate on the adjourned debate that they are unable to accept the amendment, that the House should then take the course of saying that the Bill should go no further. With that intimation I think your Lordships will think it reasonable to allow the adjournment of the debate. I speak not merely for myself but also for one who has had some little experience of the duties of a Trustee of the British Museum, when I say that during the fourteen months when I was on the Woolsack I attended some ten or twelve meetings of the Trustees, although my learned successor said that in consequence of having had to attend the Imperial Conference he was unable to attend any meetings. I hope, having had his attention called to the fact that he has these official duties, he will find it in his power to reform before the end of the three years to which he so confidently looks forward.


My Lords, on the Motion for the adjournment, I should simply like to say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.