HL Deb 29 June 1943 vol 128 cc155-73

VISCOUNT WIMBORNE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the great rebuilding that will take place after the War, they will ensure that due regard will be paid to æsthetic considerations, either by increasing the powers of the Fine Art Commission or by appointing some analogous body; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it may seem strange in the middle of a great war that one should put on the Order Paper a Motion which deals almost entirely with a peace-time subject, but I do not think I need make any apology because I believe it is agreed on all sides that, although our first task is to win the war, our second task, which is almost as Important, is to prepare for the peace. Therefore I should like to call your Lordships' attention this afternoon to an aspect of post-war development which I do not think is receiving the attention which it deserves—namely, the question of the application of aesthetic principles to building.

It is very difficult to discern at this time how post-war Britain will work out, but one thing I think is certain and that is that there will be an absolute spate of building, and my object this afternoon is to urge His Majesty's Government to take steps to avoid the haphazard and uncontrolled building of the past few years. The problem is the same, to my mind, whether rebuilding remains in private hands or whether the proposals of the Uthwatt Report are adopted. In this case the only benefit, so far as I see, that will accrue from the Uthwatt proposals is that you will get larger units which are easier to deal with. It does not in the least follow, because the State has acquired the development rights, that ipso facto good development will be the result; in fact, as far as local authorities are concerned—who will probably be the developing authorities—I think they are in most cases much too busy to pay attention to beauty and that they will need as much as anyone else the control and advice of an authority such as I suggest should be set up to control postwar building. When the war is over, large areas, in fact whole streets and in some cases whole districts, will have to be rebuilt. In the magnitude of the problem lies the opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the beauty of our cities. I will therefore ask your Lordships to turn your attention for a few minutes to the rebuilding of London, which is the most important unit and in some ways the most difficult.

I am not one of those who wish to reorientate London in order to make a sham Paris of boulevards and open spaces. I would with certain exceptions—perhaps the area round St. Paul's—rebuild the streets on the old lines, but I do plead that the buildings should be of good design, of suitable materials and should present a harmonious whole. There is also the normal rebuilding which is always taking place in this country consequent upon the falling in of leases and other reasons. That also, to my mind, should be subject after the war to a measure of control and planning. Some of the buildings that have been erected in the past fifty years or so have gone a long way to change London from the beautiful city it must have been in the middle of last century into an ugly one. Fine old houses have been pulled down and replaced by others where the only idea seems to be to cram as many low, airless apartments as possible into the space available. The result in many cases has been buildings hideous to look at and uncomfortable to live in.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in the fine squares which form one of London's most distinguishing features. To my way of thinking Berkeley Square is already ruined and St. James's Square is well on the way to suffer the same fate. Leicester Square, which was never noted for beauty, has been almost entirely rebuilt in the past twenty years and is now even uglier than before, dominated as it is by that black monster, the Odeon Theatre. I do not think in any other capital or even provincial city in Europe would that building have been allowed to be erected. As a contrast there is one good example of planning in London, and that is Grosvenor Square, which has the advantage of being under a single ownership. There I think you have a fine example of modern town architecture. That, in my view, could have been achieved elsewhere also had there been an authority charged with the duty of protecting the amenities of London.

In passing, I think that a case can be made for not destroying all that is old. Progress, of course, must take place, much as one may regret the passing of Georgian London. But in the past streets like Adelphi Terrace and houses like Lansdowne House and Chesterfield House have been destroyed when, in my view, they should have been treated as national monuments. Take the two houses which I have mentioned. They occupied fine sites and they are now replaced by enormous blocks of flats which, in my opinion, are, to say the least of it, of unpleasing design and quite unsuited to their surroundings. Would it not have been better for the State to have acquired these houses and to have used them, for instance, to display some of our national art treasures which now lie in the cellars of our museums? That, to my mind, would have been real planning, and would have given enjoyment to countless people as well as preserving some of the best examples of eighteenth century domestic architecture. It is these vandalisms which have taken place in the past which make me apprehensive as to the future. What has been done cannot be undone—at least not without great difficulty. But I suggest that the least we can do is to see that it shall not occur again. There is an interesting observation in the Uthwatt Report to the effect that planning exists for the planned, and not for the planners. I think we must bear in mind that it is the unfortunate planned who will have to live in, and look at, the buildings which are going to be erected after the war.

The type of planning which I have in mind, and hope to suggest to your Lordships, should begin straight away, because as soon as the war is over the rush for new houses will be such that in the hurry to produce the goods considerations of the sort which I am advancing may well be forgotten. I would suggest that there should be set up an authority which will at once proceed to make a survey of the bombed areas and those areas due for redevelopment in the near future; that they should prepare elevations, and lay down—and this is most important to my mind—the materials which are to be used in new construction, and that all owners of property, whether public or private, should have to submit their plans to this authority before they would be allowed to rebuild. It is not, after all, such a revolutionary idea. All plans to-day have to be submitted to the London County Council to see whether they conform to the provisions of the London Building Act. Unfortunately, this Act, it seems to me, does not go far enough, and, with great respect to the County Council, I am not certain that they are the right authority to see to this particular side of our planning. The point is who is to be the authority? You must first of all find a body with the necessary qualifications, and then invest it with the requisite powers.

In submitting this Motion to-day I have suggested the Fine Art Commission. I have done that because it appears to me to be the only body which has the necessary knowledge to undertake this admittedly arduous task. But, as at present constituted, the Fine Art Commission has no powers. It can only advise, and its advice need not be taken. One solution, therefore, would be to invest the Fine Art Commission with statutory powers under a new or amended Building Act. Alternatively, these powers which I am suggesting could equally well be wielded by the Minister of Town and Country Planning or by the Minister of Works. I think that my noble friend the Minister who is sitting below me would agree that whether he or his colleague had these powers they would welcome some body on the lines of a Fine Art Commission to advise him and his Department on these very difficult problems.

I think, personally, that the best solution of all would be the setting up of a Ministry of Fine Arts. That has often been suggested in the past but it has always, for some reason, been turned down. But as in these days it appears to be the fashion to set up new Ministries to deal with old problems perhaps the idea would find more favour to-day. I think that never has the necessity for a Ministry responsible to Parliament for the cultural side of the nation's life been more urgent. I think that whatever solution we adopt, whether we set up a new Ministry, or adapt and enlarge the Fine Art Commission, is really a question of machinery. What is really important is the will to plan on sound architectural lines. For example, if the inhabitants of Paris in the last century had not wished to have a fine capital Haussmann could not have taken advantage as he did of the opportunities for exercising his genius. Had George IV not taken the interest in the Crown Lands which he did, Nash would never have flourished and London would have been the poorer. I cannot help reflecting that the squares to which I have referred would not have been of such fine and spacious design if the eighteenth century landlords and builders had not possessed an innate sense of proportion which I fear we have lost to-day. It is possible, I am certain, to build a fine modern city. No one who has walked down, for instance, Park Avenue, New York, would deny that. We have, in this country, so far failed lamentably, I consider, in that direction.

I have not touched on other cities in this country. I have confined my remarks to London; but everything I have said about London applies equally to other big towns. Nor have I touched on the country districts; but the rural problem is just as urgent. When the 30,000 —or is it 300,000?—agricultural cottages about which the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, is so keen, come to be built, there must be some authority to see that our country villages, so far unspoiled, are still preserved. I feel very strongly that anyone who owns land or builds houses in one of our great cities or in one of our villages is, in a certain sense, a trustee for his fellow citizens, a trustee for those people who may never go inside the building which is erected but have to pass it every day on their way to work. If that is accepted, and you plan on the right lines, there must be a compromise between the various interests involved when you put up buildings or execute a large housing scheme. No man, to my mind, be he owner, builder or architect, should be entitled to take his pound of flesh at the expense of good workmanship and good design. It is because I feel that only by setting up some sort of authority such as I have suggested you can enforce that compromise, that I have put down this Motion and made the suggestions which I have made. I shall not detain your Lordships longer, because the hour is late, but I am certain that we all agree that we have to create after the war a better Britain, and I only hope that we shall take some steps to make it a more beautiful one. I beg to move.


My Lords, I must first of all ask the indulgence of your Lordships for having to rise to answer the noble Viscount now, but I have an important engagement which I must attend. I am sure we have all listened with great interest to the very wise remarks of the noble Viscount, with which I think your Lordships will be in almost complete agreement, and I will try to answer some of his questions. His Motion asks the Government whether they will ensure that due regard will be paid to aesthetic considerations, either by increasing the powers of the Fine Art Commission or by appointing some analogous body. The Government realize their responsibility for ensuring that in the post-war building period all authorities responsible for planning or building, whether Government Departments or local authorities, should have regard to aesthetic considerations, with a view to avoiding inartistic building and haphazard planning. Government Departments have endeavoured in the past to ensure that works and buildings and schemes where design or planning was involved, should pay proper regard to amenity and taste.

The remarks of the noble Viscount will apply, so far as the future is concerned, mainly to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which has taken over the planning functions, shorn from my Ministry. It was always the practice of the old Office of Works, now the Ministry of Works, to submit plans of important building schemes to the Royal Fine Art Commission, such as plans for new Government offices in Whitehall, museum buildings at South Kensington, and various post office and telephone buildings throughout the country. As regards the preservation and repair of historic buildings, the schemes for the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and for the repair of the Houses of Parliament were submitted to the Commission, who also gave advice about the decoration of public buildings, such as the Painted Hall at Greenwich and the Foreign Office reception rooms. The Ministry of Transport (as it then was) exercised care to ensure that local authorities consulted the Commission on important schemes for new bridges, and on such new road schemes as involved questions of architectural treatment.

The point that the noble Viscount is making is that if we are going to plan in the future in this country it is particularly with regard to the work controlled by local authorities in our towns, cities and rural areas that advice should be obtained. There are one or two members of the Royal Fine Art Commission in your Lordships' House who can speak from their own ex- perience on this subject. Local authorities were advised by the Ministry of Health to consult the Commission on any question of importance involving considerations of public amenity. The Service Departments consulted the Commission, and in particular very good work was done before the war to improve the layout of Royal Air Force stations in consequence. The Royal Fine Art Commission had established a very considerable reputation before the war, and this was built up on a record of solid achievement. There would obviously be no point in setting up an alternative body to cover the same field. The multiplication of authorities would lead only to confusion and, in the absence of definite guidance, the way would be open to haphazard and inartistic work. In the opinion of the Government, the best way of bringing about æsthetic control is to make sure that the eminent advice available in the Royal Fine Art Commission is properly understood and fully used.

The noble Viscount said that many new Ministries had been created, and it may be that he would like to see a new Ministry established to deal with this subject; but the very fact that one or two new Ministries have been established may be a reason why no more should be created at the present time. The Royal Fine Art Commission were appointed by warrant under His Majesty's Royal sign manual in May, 1924— to inquire into such questions of public amenity or of artistic importance as may be referred to them from time to time by any of our Departments of State, and to report thereon to such Department; and, furthermore, to give advice on similar questions when so requested by public or quasi-public bodies, where it appears to the said Commission that their assistance would be advantageous. In many cases local authorities came direct to the Commission to consult them, just as the Ministries consult them. In August, 1933, a Royal Warrant extended the terms of reference of the Commission for England and Wales, so that it shall also be open to the said Commission, if they so desire, to call the attention of any of our Departments of State, or of the appropriate public or quasi-public bodies, to any project or development which in the opinion of the said Commission may appear to affect amenities of a national or public character. Most of your Lordships will know the personnel of the Commission, but I should like to refer to them. The Chairman is the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, and the Deputy-Chairman is Lord Lee of Fareham. The other members are Professor Abercrombie, who is well-known to anyone who takes any interest in planning, Mr. Ralph Freeman, Dr. Charles Holden, Professor Holford, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Mr. R. C. Norman, Professor Richardson, Mr. Geoffrey Webb, and Mr. Hubert Worthington, and the Secretary is Mr. H. C. Bradshaw. Those are names which are well-known throughout the country to-day, and they really give great power and force to the efforts of the Commission. The Commission consists, as your Lordships will see, of men eminent in their profession, assisted by some well-known laymen with experience of artistic matters. I wish to point out that it is not a Committee of any Government Department; it is quite independent of Government or official control. In the opinion of the Government, it is important that this position of independence should be safeguarded, and that public opinion should continue to be satisfied that when schemes are referred to the Commission the advice given is detached and independent.

When all the rebuilding and replanning which will have to be done after the war is borne in mind, there is no risk, of course, of the Fine Art Commission not being adequately used; the difficulty is rather that there will be too much work to do. The gentlemen who constitute the Commission work part-time and are unpaid, and there is obviously a limit to the demands which can be made upon their time. Clearly they should not be required to deal with questions of small importance, or with those which could be settled at a lower level. The question of how such plans should be settled comes directly under the Minister of Town and Country Planning. He proposes, under the Interim Development Bill now before Parliament, that he shall have power to direct the authority concerned, before they decide upon any interim development, to consult with such other authorities or persons as he thinks fit, and reference to the Royal Fine Art Commission will clearly come within that provision. It should be remembered, too, that under the Bill now before Parliament the Minister will have effective control over decisions to be given upon such applications. Control over the design and external appearance of buildings in the interim period supplements the control which, under Section 12 (1) of the Act of 1932, may be exercised after a scheme has come into force.

It will certainly be the policy of the Minister, in exercising his powers of control, not only to consult other Departments who may be concerned, but also in all appropriate cases to consult the Royal Fine Art Commission, or such other bodies as may appear suitable. The Royal Fine Art Commission should therefore, in the Government's opinion, be looked upon as the ultimate authority for consultation on matters of taste and æsthetics. Important national and regional projects promoted by Government Departments and local authorities should be referred to it, and it should be available for consultation by any Government Department in any case of sufficient importance to merit its attention. In addition, it is the intention of the Minister of Town and Country Planning that competent architectural advice shall be made available to local authorities throughout the country.

The question of adding to the functions of the Royal Fine Art Commission will be considered from time to time but it would not be practicable to vest in the Commission powers to veto. The problems with which the Royal Fine Art Commission are from time to time called upon to deal, often present important aspects additional to the aesthetic aspect to which the Commission have primary regard, and in view of the other public considerations which may be involved in the questions referred to them it would not be possible to subordinate to the control of the Commission the final responsibility which constitutionally belongs to Ministers. Moreover, to invest any extra governmental body with executive control over a programme of building work, whether State or local, would present great problems in the sphere of administration. Whatever may be the arguments in favour of setting up a Ministry of Fine Arts, which, of course, would cover a very much wider field, there is no case for such an additional Ministry considered from the point of view of control of building amenities alone. It is hoped that the measures now contemplated will obviate such mistakes as have been made in the past.

What I have tried to impress upon your Lordships' House is that from past experience of the Fine Art Commission the Government think that you could not have a better body to consider these aesthetic questions, and their strength lies in their being entirely independent and acting in an advisory capacity. The question of future developments to which the noble Viscount has alluded is already receiving the attention of the Commission and of the Ministries concerned. Therefore I can say to the noble Viscount that the points that he has made are not only very important but are being considered by the Government to-day, because most of us who are interested in our architecture are very much alive to what we ought to make it in the England of the future. We are also remembering mistakes of the past, to which the noble Viscount referred. I have tried to show your Lordships that the intention is to use the Commission even more fully than in the past. I should like in conclusion to thank the noble Viscount for bringing up this subject in the able way he has done, and to assure him that not only is it one in which we are taking the deepest interest, but that we are also looking very closely into the future on the lines he suggests.


My Lords, I rise with considerable diffidence to address your Lordships. Not only is it the first time that I do so but, having recently been appointed Chairman of the Royal Commission which is under discussion this afternoon, I feel I cannot speak on the subject with any great experience or authority, comparable for instance with that of the noble Viscount, Lord Lee of Fareham, who has served on this Commission for seventeen years, as he has served on so many other public bodies, with skill and loyalty. Moreover, anything that I might have said this afternoon has very largely been taken out of my mouth by the noble Lord, Lord Portal, who has just addressed your Lordships. However, I think that, while asking the indulgence of your Lordships, it is right perhaps that I should address you shortly on this very important matter.

I feel that we should welcome the debate not only for the admirable speech made by the noble Viscount, but also for the important statement on Government policy we have heard, and with which I may say I personally am in very full accord. I think we should welcome this debate because it is in a sense yet another indication of the importance which is attached in the public mind to these matters, and the growing public consciousness that the mistakes of the past must be recognized and must be stopped. We have seen in the years between the wars a brutal destruction of town and country such as I think one can say has no parallel in any other country in the world. What is ever; more disturbing is that this destruction has been increasing in tempo, and in the immediate pre-war years if was proceeding with a rapidity far greater than during any other previous period. It has been a tragic and humiliating spectacle—tragic because it has all been unnecessary and could have been avoided, tragic also because it is irreparable, and humiliating because we have done it ourselves. Public attention has, however, I think been focused on this problem, not so much because of what we have done ourselves in destroying our own cities, but because of the destruction that has been caused by the enemy, which has made it quite clear that in the immediate post-war world great areas of our great cities will inevitably have to be rebuilt and replanned.

It is that, I think, that has put this matter into sharper focus in the public conscience. We all wonder whether we are going to seize this opportunity, or whether we are going to repeat on a far vaster scale than ever before the tragic mistakes of the past. In that atmosphere we await the promised legislation. With its objects we are all in agreement; about the machinery we may perhaps differ. No one would differ from the analysis made by my noble friend of the problem, but one might differ, as I think I do, if I may say so, from some of the measures that he proposes. One of his suggestions was that fuller powers, indeed statutory powers of effective control and veto, should be given to the Fine Art Commission. Another suggestion was that that power of control and veto should be given either to the Ministry of Works or to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and that the Fine Art Commission should be used in an advisory capacity by either of those bodies.

While I entirely agree with him that control must be given to some body or other, I personally very much prefer his second to his first suggestion. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Portal, in feeling that as the Fine Art Commission is not responsible to Parliament, as it is a Royal Commission and has not a statutory position or basis, it would create constitutional problems of very considerable magnitude were these powers to be delegated to that Commission, which is in a sense not answerable to Parliament. I would very much prefer that it should remain in its present advisory position and that the final responsibility should rest, as now, with the Ministers concerned. I feel very gratified that these extensive powers should be suggested for the Royal Fine Art Commission, but I cannot help feeling that the suggestion would not be desirable.

Your Lordships, in hearing the constitution of the Fine Art Commission read out, will have noticed that there were two stages. The second stage under the second Royal Warrant, gave to the Commission far more extensive power of reporting in cases on which its advice had not been sought. It may well be that with the greater responsibilities which must fall to the Commission, in dealing with the new problems, it will be found desirable to request that a further stage of a further Warrant should give to the Commission further and more extensive powers; but I do not think any Government could possibly give such extensive powers as have been suggested by my noble friend (Viscount Wimborne). The Commission is, as has been said, an independent and advisory body, and that is its strength. From what the noble Lord (Lord Portal) said, it is clear that all problems affecting Government Departments will be referred to it. It is clear, also, that any major schemes put forward by local authorities will equally be referred to it. That includes, as I see it, all the major schemes of post-war rebuilding. In that we have a very large safeguard against the kind of thing that has been described by the noble Viscount beside me. Already local authorities are coming to us. Already major schemes of postwar development have been brought to us for our consideration and advice. Others, of course, will follow.

The only point on that which I should like to make is that it is most desirable that these schemes should come before the Royal Commission before they have received publicity. The reasons are ob- vious, and it would be very much to everyone's advantage if the local authorities would all come privately—because our deliberations are entirely private—at an early stage of the development of their schemes, rather than wait until a scheme has reached the full flood of publicity, public criticism, and public commitment to one thing or another. One thing, at any rate, is clear from the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Portal), and that is that the Government and the different Departments propose to keep the Fine Art Commission very busy indeed, and that plenty of work is going to come our way. If we are to be considered, to use his phrase, the ultimate authority on questions of taste, and if these schemes are coming to us, then it is equally clear that our scope, our staff and its status, must be extended in order that we may deal with these matters properly.

The noble Lord paid a very fine tribute to the work of the Commission, and as I am a new member of the Commission I can, in all modesty, say that that tribute was very well deserved. I am amazed at what has been achieved by the Commission in the past, by the generosity with which the Commissioners and the staff have given of their time, experience, and wisdom to the solution of the many and varied problems which are set before it. Their work is little known to the public, and if only for that reason I welcome this debate as indicating in some measure to the public the work that is being done behind the scenes. The Commission has done much in the past, and greater work and greater responsibility lies before it. The Commission is prepared to do this greater work and to accept the greater responsibilities, and to look forward to a period of greater service than it has performed in the past.


My Lords, unlike my noble friend, I am afraid I cannot claim the indulgence which is extended to those who make a maiden speech, but as it is something like twenty years since I last troubled your Lordships with any remarks of mine, perhaps you will permit me for a few moments to intervene at this stage. In particular I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Crawford, not only on the speech which he has just made, but also on his gallantry in assuming the very difficult post of Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commis- sion at a time when, as is well known to your Lordships, his shoulders are already overburdened with an immense amount of war work which would have been more than sufficient for anyone with less vigour and patriotic willingness to undertake extra duties than he has. So far he has not had an opportunity of attending many meetings of the Royal Commission because, as he said, he is a new member, but he has already had time to show what an admirable choice was made in selecting him as our Chairman, and I can assure your Lordships that he commands the enthusiastic loyalty and support of his colleagues, both old and new.

I cannot claim, myself, that I have attended only a few meetings of the Commission. There have been two hundred in the last seventeen years or thereabouts, of which I have attended over one hundred and seventy, so I can perhaps speak with some knowledge of the work and needs of the Commission. It is really unnecessary for me to expand that point after the very full statement that has been made by Lord Portal and also by my noble friend behind me. He said that the activities of the Commission in the past were very little appreciated by the public. I believe that is true. There has been a sort of idea of a body of aesthetic gentlemen who occasionally consider some aesthetic question of which nothing more is heard. I doubt whether even many members of your Lordships' House are aware of the multifarious tasks that have been relegated to the Royal Fine Art Commission, ranging from cathedrals to postage stamps, from great Government buildings, museums and so forth to telephone kiosks and even helmets for the London Fire Brigade. No matter in one sense has been too small and no matter has been too great. I entirely agree with Lord Portal's warning that if too much is attempted to be piled upon the shoulders of a Royal Commission, a part-time unpaid body, it will itself collapse under the strain.

The point which Lord Crawford made that the task of the members of the Commission would be enormously facilitated if they were consulted at a sufficiently early stage, is one which has been sometimes more honoured in the breach than in the observance. If that were done, not only would they be enabled to discharge their functions more adequately, but it would relieve them of a great deal of embarrassment. It is true they are possibly hampered in some respects by insufficient powers, but there will be an opportunity, as the Minister has pointed out, to make representations to that effect if need be and the Royal Warrant might be amended and extended in that respect. I entirely agree with him and with Lord Crawford that to confer a power of veto upon a Royal Commission over all buildings would be constitutionally impossible, and would really not carry things forward in the direction that we desire. It is a great encouragement, I am sure, to the Royal Commission to know that it is to receive such cordial and powerful support from the Government in performing its duties in the future, and. if I may do so at this point I would like to express the opinion that Government Departments themselves, when they are erecting buildings of importance, should in all cases set the example of consulting the Commission before matters have gone so far that it is too late to intervene.

As regards the suggestion that there should be a Ministry of Fine Arts, I would add my view to that expressed by Lord Crawford and Lord Portal that it would be a great mistake to try and set up a new Ministry of that character. Those of us. who have had to do with politics for a long time, know what would be the inevitable result. A Ministry of Fine Arts would be considered to be a Ministry of secondary importance. It probably would be entrusted to Ministers who had perhaps not been conspicuously eminent in other fields or were not likely to be so and there would be constant changes. You would get a constant change of Minister, you would not get continuity of administration and there would be no guarantee at all that a Minister of Fine Arts might not be as ignorant of aesthetic considerations as a Hindu is of skates.

I think it is a proposal which would not be an effective alternative to a Royal Fine Art Commission given all the powers that it requires, entirely independent, and acting in an advisory capacity. It is indeed a great deal more than that in reality because, particularly in cases where a grant of public funds is involved, the recommendation of the Fine Art Commission that a scheme should not be proceeded with enables; a Government Department concerned to veto the furnishing of Government funds for it and the scheme falls to the ground. That is really a much stronger and more satisfactory position for the Commission to be in. As a member of the Commission I should like to thank the Government for the very encouraging statement which they have made this afternoon.


My Lords, I would like to join in the congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, on his speech and in the hope that he will often address us. Perhaps, too, I should congratulate Rip Van Winkle, as the noble Viscount, Lord Lee, describes himself, on having addressed us once again after an interval of twenty years. I rise only to say that I do not think this debate, which has been so wisely initiated by Lord Wimborne, should end on a note of what might be called complacency, by saying that everything is for the best because the Royal Fine Art Commission is an admirable body and that it is going to be applied to in future. That is answered at once by the speech of Lord Crawford himself, in which I think he arrested the attention of your Lordships by saying that during the years between the wars our experience had been tragic and humilat-ing. Those were the words he used. Yet the Fine Art Commission was in existence all the time and why did it not intervene? The answer is because it had not the power.

And is it conceded, my Lords, that it would be a good plan if the Fine Art Commission had the power to prevent these tragic and humiliating things from happening? I think it is. The services rendered by the noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne, will only be adequately repaid if we in this House at the proper moment insist that the appropriate powers should be given to the Fine Art Commission to prevent these tragic and humiliating experiences happening for a second time, and that it should be consulted before any building is erected. This should not be limited to Government buildings or to buildings where there is a Government grant, but should apply to all public authorities and all buildings in our towns and villages. These should in some way be under the wise, benevolent and æsthetic power of the Royal Fine Art Commission so that the monstrosities and horrors which my right honourable friend calls "tragic and humiliating," shall never occur again. That I think is the answer we should give to the noble Earl, Lord Crawford.


My Lords, may I first of all extend my congratulations to the noble Earl on his maiden speech and say how much pleasure I had in listening to it and how very much I hope to hear him often? When Lord Wimborne first asked me to support him in this Motion, I was very enthusiastic; then I had cold feet. The reason I had cold feet has appeared very clearly from the debate this afternoon. Are we to go on with the Royal Fine Art Commission, which is doing and always has done a very, very good job indeed, or are we going to introduce some new Ministry, which would, as Lord Lee said, be considered a second-rate Ministry-a Ministry which would have no power and would be in charge of a Minister with very little authority among other Ministers, whose term of office would be very short, and so on? I felt very doubtful; I still feel very doubtful. I think it is a very questionable point. Lord Mottistone has just told us why. I do not think it may be questionable any more because, although from 1924 onward we had the Fine Art Commission, yet between 1924 and 1943 a very great deal of very bad building has gone on.

It is no good sitting down and asking the Fine Art Commission-although it is a wonderful body-to do something impossible. Something better must be evolved. Surely it can be. In trying to think out where the whole business went wrong, I came to a conclusion, which is possibly a wrong one, but it seems to me to make sense. This country is governed by Parliament and the only real way in which we can get anything done here is for noble Lords like Lord Wimborne or Lord Mottistone to get up and say, "I want to know why something has not been done, please do it "-in other words, to make a fuss.

That is the way we get things done. That is the way we like to be governed. But we cannot send for the Royal Fine Art Commission and say "Please will you tell us why there are these ugly buildings?'' We cannot send for the Minister of Health and ask that question. He is building cottages to-day and he has a very important job. He is responsible for providing all the essential modern con- veniences. He has limited money to spend, poor man, and he is answerable for the drains and the kitchen stove. He is conscientious and must do his job properly. He is advised by the Royal Fine Art Commission, but when you are trying to put a gallon of beer into a pint pot you have to do what seems right, and if your terms of reference as Minister of Health are to look after amenities, beauty has to go to the wall. That is why I feel we must have someone who can come into Parliament and be answerable to Parliament when a place is ugly or something has not been done. It is not enough to ask the noble Earl as Chairman of the Commission to give advice. Looking at some of the building which has been done in the last few years, I am afraid that the advice of the Commission has not always been accepted, or else, through lack of funds and lack of staff, they have been unable to do their work fully.

Although the hour is getting late, I would like for a moment to draw your Lordships' attention to a side of the question which has not yet been mentioned, a side, other than building, which could be looked after if we had a Minister of Fine Arts as they have in France and indeed in most countries other than our own. Take, for instance, the tourist business. That has always been one of the great businesses of Europe and our country has had a good share. A Minister of Fine Arts could do a great deal to aid that industry. We have a heterogeneous collection of Trusts and Commissions and Committees who look after ancient monuments and pictures, the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, and provincial museums have little committees of their own. If they were all collected under one Ministry would not the tourist industry profit? I think it would. Educationally also I feel that there is a lot that could be done by such a Ministry. We have wonderful things which we have inherited from our forebears. The museums are full of them. In winter when the weather is abominable there is very little to do in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow or Edinburgh, except to go to the cinema. Would it not be a good thing if a selection of pictures from the Tate Gallery could be sent to Birmingham for a time, or to Edinburgh, and so on? There are many things that could be done if there were a single authority. If that authority is to exist it should exist in the traditional way of British government: of having a noble Lord or an honourable Member in another place who can be called upon to answer questions and be required to give a proper and sensible answer. I feel that there is a very strong case for setting up a Ministry of Fine Arts on the lines of the Ministries in France and many other European countries.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Portal, for his very interesting reply and I think he would have enjoyed the debate as much as I have had it been possible for him to stay to listen to it. If nothing eke has come out of the debate it has brought a most interesting speech from the noble Earl, the Chairman of the Fine Art Commission. Members of the Commission do not: seem very keen on the role I cast for them, but the noble Lord, Lord Portal, has at any rate given an assurance that in the matter of Government buildings and so far as possible where municipal schemes are concerned the Fine Arts Commission will be consulted. Nothing, however, in what Lord Portal has said can stop me as the owner of a freehold house pulling it down and putting up a building worse than the Odcon Theatre, if possible. I do not want to press the matter to-day, as there will be many opportunities in future when new legislation is introduced to raise the subject again. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.