HL Deb 15 December 1948 vol 159 cc1047-50

My Lords, I beg to ask the question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government in what circumstances the forty-two years' lease of Lancaster House to the London Museum has been terminated; what is the relative accommodation for the Museum in Kensington Palace, as compared with Lancaster House; for what purpose is Lancaster House required by the Foreign Office, which it is understood has requisitioned the existing accommodation of the Museum; how often have the Museum rooms at Lancaster House been used by the Foreign Office and for what purposes; what is the estimated cost of the proposed removal; when is it anticipated that the necessary alterations in Kensington Palace will be completed and the Museum moved into its proposed new quarters; and what provision has been made for housing and displaying the many exhibits of the London Museum which cannot be accommodated in Kensington Palace.]


My Lords, the lease of Lancaster House to the Commissioners of Works has not been terminated, but the Foreign Office has been allowed to use the premises, except the basement and offices, for the accommodation of international conferences, because there are no other suitable premises for this purpose. Since 1943, Lancaster House has been used almost continuously for international conferences, including the Council of Foreign Ministers and their Deputies, the Commission on the Italian Colonies, the Conference of African Rulers, etc. The London Museum will have about 15,000 square feet of exhibition space in Kensington Palace, compared with about 29,000 square feet in Lancaster House. It is the intention to start any necessary alterations in the Spring and it is unlikely that the work will be completed before 1950. The cost will be approximately £25,000. I realise that the same quantity of exhibits cannot be shown simultaneously as at Lancaster House, but I understand that the Trustees propose to change the exhibits periodically.


My Lords, do the Government realise that the history of London is largely bound up with the history of this country and of the Empire? And, seeing that the room available at Lancaster House is already very small, is it not a sad thing that the exhibits should be moved to Kensington Palace which, as the noble Lord has just said, provides only half the accommodation of Lancaster House? Will the Government give further consideration to this matter, which is exercising the public mind very much at the present time?


The difficulty, as I have endeavoured to explain, is that the Government have been quite unable to find any alternative accommodation to Lancaster House for important international conferences. A series of such conferences have already been held, and doubtless others will be held in the future. That is the difficulty; and that is why it has been decided to move the exhibits to perhaps not so large premises in Kensington Palace. But as I said in the last part of my answer, it is proposed—and this, I believe, is in accordance with the most modern methods—that the London Museum should change exhibits periodically, in order that there should be as full an opportunity as space will allow for the public to see them.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, whether he is not aware that, if museum exhibits are kept in store, they do not improve? Does he not think that the capital city of the Empire deserves a little better treatment than this in respect of the London Museum? Would it not help if redundant Government Departments were to vacate some of the accommodation which they now occupy, to allow the museum exhibits to be put on show there and for permission to be given to the public to go there to see them?


I agree with a great deal of what the noble Earl has said, but I would remind him that London was very badly damaged during the war, and there are other things which perhaps are a little more urgently in need of attention than museums.


What a mellowing effect it would have on these conferences if the delegates were able to see those relics of old London and those mementoes of the great history of this country in the place where they meet! I greatly hope that the Government will give further consideration to this matter.


My Lords, may I put a further question? The use of Lancaster House for the London Museum originated with the gift to the nation by my father (I apologise to your Lordships for introducing a personal reference) of what I believe was the remainder of the lease of that building. I think that was in 1911 or 1912. There was a condition—or if not a condition, at any rate an express wish—attached to the gift, that the place should be used for the purpose of housing the London Museum. I would like to ask the noble Lord whether he can give an assurance that this other arrangement is not intended to be permanent.


Yes, I am aware of what the noble Lord said, and I certainly give him the assurance that this is not a permanent arrangement. As the whole of the exhibits have to be stored at present, it was thought better to have some accommodation, at least temporarily, where they could be seen by the public, although no permanent exhibition was possible at the present time. As Lancaster House is fully occupied with other matters, it was decided, with the consent of His Majesty the King, who has loaned Kensington Palace for fifteen years, to transfer these exhibits to Kensington Palace; but this is not on a permanent basis.