HL Deb 03 December 1953 vol 184 cc955-61

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope that the story behind this Bill will be of interest to your Lordships as, indeed, I am sure that its provisions are welcome to the people of Scotland, who hope that it will readily be given a Second Reading. It was in 1780 that the Earl of Buchan first proposed that there should be a Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. In 1781 the Society were given their first gift of Arms which were dredged from Duddingston Loch, and for seventy years the Fellows of the Society built up a most valuable collection, of which it is interesting to note that they themselves discovered some of the most significant objects.

In 1851, the Society handed over the whole as a gift to the nation. That being so, a different organisation was necessary to run the Museum. Until 1906, this important collection was owned and controlled by the Board of Trustees for Manufactures, with the Society left in general supervision. In 1906, the functions of the Board were transferred to the Trustees of the National Galleries, while the supervision and control were left with the Society. That established a system of dual control which has never worked well. In 1930 a Royal Commission, in 1949 a Standing Commission, and in 1951 a Departmental Committee under Sir Randal Philip, all pronounced in favour of abolishing this system of dual control, and it is thanks to the Philip Committee (and here I should like to record the Government's thanks to the Committee) that we are given positive recommendations which we have been able to make the basis of this Bill. The Committee recorded that the Museum now contains one of the foremost collections of antiquities in Europe, but that the system of management and control was anomalous. The Trustees of the National Galleries and the Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries agree that this is so, and they welcome the main proposal of this Bill, which is to set up a new and separate governing body for the Museum.

Clause 1 of the Bill deals with the constitution and proceedings of the proposed Board. It will include the President and four Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries; five representatives from the universities, and eleven persons appropriately qualified, who will be appointed by the Secretary of State, with a Chairman who may be either a member or somebody from outside—also the appointment of the Secretary of State. Clause 2 provides the power under which the Board will operate. First of all, it can dispose of any redundant material—I suppose old skulls or anything of that kind may go. With the approval of the Secretary of State, it can also sell any material which is thought to be superfluous to the Museum; and if the Board wants to buy something else it also requires that approval. Secondly, it is given power to lend to other museums and to exhibitions. Clause 3 vests the ownership of all the objects in the Museum. Clauses 4 and 5 deal with finance. Clause 6 has nothing to do with the Museum, but we have taken advantage of this Bill to remove restrictions which have proved irksome to the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery and to the Secretary of State in the election of members.

My Lords, this is a memorable year for the National Museum of Antiquities. By good fortune, a building ideally situated to their purpose, which will enable them to display their treasures to much greater advantage, has fallen into their possession in Shandwick Place in Edinburgh. This Bill gives to them a governing body with the single-minded purpose of developing the Museum for the benefit of the people, for the educational advantage of the people and further research. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree, by approving the Second Reading of this Bill, to make it possible for the National Museum, which is already of high standing, to have a still brighter future. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Home.)

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say a word of grateful thanks to the noble Earl for the exceedingly clear way in which he has introduced this Bill and for the historical review which he has given us. In this matter we owe a debt of gratitude to a number of people, and we have to go back very far in order to realise fully our indebtedness. First, there is the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who have given us, as the noble Earl has indicated, one of Europe's foremost collections of antiquities. That statement is made quite definitely in the report of the Philip Committee. Then we are indebted to Sir John Findlay, proprietor of The Scotsman newspaper, for his gift of £60,000, which enabled the building in Queen Street to be erected. Here, in one of the most ornate of Edinburgh's public buildings, have been housed since 1891 both the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Antiquities. It is on a fairly central site but not one of the most favourable sites in Edinburgh. While I was thinking of the munificent gift which enabled the building to be erected, it occurred to me to speculate as to how much it would cost to put it there to-day. Probably we could not have a building of that kind, decorated as it is, for less than£250,000. Since that time—that is, since 1891—there have been several Reports on the need for more and separate accommodation. But, through all that time when those Reports were being made, the joint Board administering the affairs of both bodies has worked with remarkable harmony, notwithstanding the difficulties with which they were faced.

That brings me to Command Paper 8604, upon which the present Bill is based. This clear and comprehensive though not too lengthy document is a credit to those responsible for it. The Secretary of State for Scotland was wise in his day and generation when he chose as Chairman of this inquiry the Sheriff of Renfrew and Argyll, Sir Randal Philip, as he is now known since he received the honour of knighthood from our gracious Sovereign Lady. He has undertaken many duties of this kind, always with satisfactory results. I have had opportunities of observing his work at close quarters, and I know how capable he is. For example, he is Procurator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and he sits in that Assembly as legal guide in its deliberations. He had the collaboration of two very distinguished public servants. One was Mr. P. J. Rose, whom we have seen for many years in the Scottish Office as he has progressed from one responsible position to another, always with much acceptance. The other member of the Committee, Sir Thomas Kendrick, was formerly Keeper of British Antiquities in the British Museum and latterly Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum itself. These appointments speak to his high qualities and qualifications. Is it any wonder then that the Report is so sound that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government as a whole adopt it and frame the present Bill exactly on the lines proposed, including the recommendations regarding future administration?

It is a simple issue that is before us in this. Bill. The Command Paper and the Bill before us seek to deal with nothing more nor less than a housing problem. The Report uses the word "congestion" several times in describing the conditions under which activity is now being carried on. Paragraph 33 of the Report is at once a call to action and a clear indication of how circumstances, of which we all know the cause, have frustrated any possibility of progress. I should like to put on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT Paragraph 33 of the Command Paper. It reads: In describing the Museum's present accommodation, we have drawn attention to the grave congestion which is at present crippling its work. That congestion exists in all departments, but especially in storage accommodation, in exhibition space for display to the general public, and in workrooms and offices. This state of acute congestion has been repeatedly stressed in the Reports of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries. In its first Report, in 1933, the Standing Commission referred to the suggestion of the Royal Commission that a new building should be provided for the Museum. In its second Report, in 1938, it stated: 'Undoubtedly the need of a new building for the existing Museum of Antiquities is very great.' In its third Report, in 1948, it again called attention to: 'the Museum's great need for new and more adequate accommodation.' And, in 1949, as already indicated, it is estimated that a new building would require about four times the existing floor space of a site from 25,000 to 30,000 square feet. The witnesses whom we heard likewise stressed the grave lack of accommodation, and the urgent need of a drastic, almost surgical remedy. In the light of that evidence, I am sure your Lordships need no urging to give the Government the "all clear" to proceed with the provision of a new home for the National Museum of Antiquities, in order that the present overcrowding may cease as quickly as possible. Twenty years is the time suggested for the carrying into effect of the proposals made by the Committee. We shall look forward with keen anticipation to the completion of the project. My Lords, I hope the looks which I am getting are not looks of incredulity. We have been dealing with methods for improving the health of the people. Surely we must have faith in the future to talk—and this is especially so in the case of a person of my age—of twenty years hence. As I have said, we shall look forward with keen anticipation to the completion of the project. Meantime, suggestions are made for early action to ease the position, which urgently requires to be dealt with.

I shall not waste time with further comment on the provisions in the Bill, except to say that I am very glad to note the proposed constitution of the new Board. Of the eleven persons appointed by the Secretary of State, as shown in Section 1 (E) of the Schedule, eight are to represent unspecified interests. In my opinion, that is a wise suggestion. I see in this proposal a possibility of persons with varied cultural interests being included, to the benefit of the new Board and its work—for example, authorities on such subjects as ancient pottery, historians and pre-historians and others whose knowledge would be helpful. Included in this list also might be persons interested in the establishment of folk museums, which receive considerable notice from the Committee. Scotland, unlike the Scandinavian countries, with which she has much affinity, is laggard in this regard, but I predict that before the work we authorise in this Bill is completed, the need for such development will be apparent. I ask the Minister of State to urge upon the Secretary of State for Scotland the desirability of seeing that the forward-looking views of the Committee are given attention and support in this regard. I am sure I can promise the cordial support of noble Lords on these Benches for the early passage of the Bill, which I have great pleasure in commending to the best attention of this House.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill, as all Scotsmen do, as a supremely important measure, enabling us to maintain all our historic associations with Scotland. I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl on the extremely interesting manner in which he has expounded the Bill to the House. He said that, with the consent of the Secretary of State, an object belonging to the Museum could be exchanged, sold or otherwise disposed of. Of course, there is a qualification to that, which the noble Earl knows. Without this qualification, some of us would have been somewhat alarmed. The qualification is contained in the proviso to Clause 2 (1), on page 2, which reads: Provided that the powers conferred by this section of exchanging, selling or otherwise disposing of or lending any object shall not be exercised in any manner inconsistent with any condition known to have been attached to any gift or bequest by virtue or in consequence of which that object was vested in the Board for the purposes of the Museum. I have had the privilege of gifting to the Museum some famous Border relics, the Harden Horn and Spurs, which no doubt the Minister of State has seen in the Museum. Without that proviso, I should have been somewhat alarmed lest, at some future date, with the consent of the Secretary of State, these relics might have been disposed of by the Board of Management of the Museum. However, I think all who have given gifts to the Museum will be perfectly content with this proviso. I draw attention to it in case the Minister's speech should be reported at length, and it was thought that with the consent of the Secretary of State these objects could be disposed of without any further consideration.

This is a turning point in the history of our National Museum of Antiquities. I have had a very long contact with the Museum. I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, in his expression of thanks to all who have in the past either contributed to the creation of the Museum or administered it in the capable manner in which this has always been done. In welcoming the Bill, I would express my own great appreciation of the courtesy which I have always received from the authorities connected with the Museum, and I wish them the greatest success in all time coming.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, if a Welshman may intervene in a Scottish debate, I should like to refer to something that has been said by my noble friend Lord Mathers. In Wales at this moment we are looking with keen interest on Scottish administration, and we envy Scotland many things that they have and we do not have. For example, we envy them the Minister of State and his Scottish Ministerial colleagues. But apparently there is one thing which we have and Scotland does not have: that is, an excellent folk museum—I refer to the museum at St. Pagans, near Cardiff, given to the Welsh nation by the generosity of the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth. This has aroused a great deal of interest in Wales in many parts of the world, and I suggest to the noble Earl that he should pay a visit to St. Pagans, where I am sure he will be able to learn many lessons which he can bring to the service of his native land.


My Lords, I am grateful for the invitation of the noble Lord, and I should certainly like to accept it. I should also like to point out to the noble Lord that most people think that Ministers of State and museum pieces are much the same thing. I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Mathers and Lord Elibank, for what they have said. I realise that if a donor attaches a condition of this sort to his gift to 'the Museum and the Museum accepts the condition, then the Secretary of State cannot be asked to sanction the disposal of the object.

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