§ Motion made, and question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Butcher.]
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Lieut-Colonel H. M. Hyde (Belfast, North)
I wish to draw attention to the present position at some of our museums and art galleries as affected by the recent decision of the Government to apply a reduction in their staffs. Last month, at Question time, I drew attention particularly to two of these institutions and I was rather disappointed then by the reply I received from my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I hope that this evening he will do fuller justice to my complaint.
I should like to mention, very briefly, a few of the institutions which have been affected by the economy cuts. First of all, there is the Museum of the Public Record Office, which has been closed altogether. This institution has remained open with few interruptions from the year 1886 until the middle of last month. It 2392 contains treasures of great historical importance of which I would mention a few. There is the Domesday Book, that great survey of this country executed by William the Conqueror. There is an early example of printing in the middle of the 15th century by Caxton. There are some of Shakespeare's autographed signatures—and not even at Stratford, his birthplace, is there anything of that kind.
There is the confession of Guy Fawkes that he intended to blow up this honourable House. There is an account of the Mutiny on the "Bounty" in Captain Bligh's handwriting. There is the logbook of Nelson's flag-ship, "Victory ' and the Treaty of 1839, which guaranteed the integrity of Belgium, which was described by the German Chancellor on the eve of the First World War as" a scrap of paper. "The public has been denied the sight of all these exhibits and the total saving to the public is really very trivial.
Then there is the British Museum. This institution has remained open since its foundation in the middle of the 18th century. Now there are several galleries open only on alternate days—particularly the Gallery of Oriental Art and the Egyptian Room with its mummies and sarcophagi. Then there are various picture collections, notably the Tate Gallery. This gallery has had to close, as a result 2393 of the staff cuts, the whole of the ground floor which involves six rooms, and these rooms contain, among other exhibits, the British Watercolour Collection, which is the only one of its kind in the world. Altogether, some 500 pictures are involved in this closing.
Then there is the Wallace Collection which is to close four of its rooms. These include the famous collection of European armour brought together by Sir Richard Wallace, containing superb examples of craftsmanship such as the famous Pageant Shield of the Emperor Charles V. There are other museums, such as the National Maritime Museum, with its Queen's House, architectural masterpiece of Inigo Jones, Osterley Park, masterpiece of the Adam brothers, and the Natural History Museum; all these have suffered.
These economies on the whole, we have been told, amount to a saving of only £30,000 a year, but this seems to be comparatively trivial and out of all proportion to the disappointment caused to the public and to overseas visitors who receive a very unfortunate impression when they come here expecting to see these collections about which they have heard and which they have looked forward to seeing. Sometimes they have read about them in the Government's publicity overseas.
I understand that it has been left to the directors of those museums and galleries to make these staff reductions according to their own discretion and that they have been told that they must cut their staffs by 10 per cent. This falls very hardly upon them as compared with other Government Departments who have had to make similar reductions, because most other Government Departments greatly increased their staffs during the war and so a 10 per cent. cut does not fall so hardly upon them. But the museums and the art galleries have increased their staffs very little indeed since before the war and they feel these cuts very hardly indeed.
It may be that some of these institutions have not co-operated as well with the Treasury in affecting these reductions as others have, but it is plain that where a reduction in manpower is called for certain rooms must be closed, for it is quite impossible, particularly where there are valuable exhibits, to have them insecurely guarded. There have been more museum 2394 thefts since the war than at any other time in our history. I need only mention the theft of the Nelson relics from the National Maritime Museum.
I wish to ask the Financial Secretary three questions. Why cannot these institutions make a charge for admission like Continental galleries do? I know that in some cases legislation would be required and that this presents a difficulty, but in other cases it is not necessary and here it would be a great help and would enable the directors of the institutions to keep their establishments fully manned.
Secondly, can students, who have good reason to see the exhibits in certain museums and galleries which are closed or partially closed, be allowed admission to them in approved cases? Thirdly, where articles of exceptional interest are no longer available to the interested, such as in the Public Record Office Museum, can arrangements be made for them to be lent to institutions which are still able to exhibit them?
Everyone realises the need for eliminating Government extravagance and waste, but surely economies which can be made in other directions. There is the Central Office of Informtaion and there are public relations officers and other services which it seems to me might be pruned before the museums and art galleries. These institutions are part and parcel of our national heritage. They are also part of our shop window for the attraction of foreign visitors to this country. Why spoil it like this while continuing to spend large sums of money abroad in trying to persuade foreign visitors to come to Britain?
Our museums and art galleries have a tremendous reputation overseas. It is a pity they should suffer now, particularly with the Coronation year approaching, when exceptionally large numbers of visitors will come to this country. I appeal to the Financial Secretary, therefore, to give the House some hope that before that time, if he cannot actually restore the cuts, he will at least modify their effects so that these famous national institutions can once more open their doors wide to the world.
§ 11.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I am happy to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) in his admirable plea to the Government. He has done 2395 a little to redeem the fallen reputation of his party. There were those who were naive enough to imagine that the Conservative Party would be the guardians of our culture. There was a story much put about in the past that the Labour Party would be destructive of our ancient heritage and that it was necessary to vote for the Conservative Party to preserve what was valuable in our life.
The Government is doing its best to disprove that contention and, in fact, no Government before has ever made such an onslaught on culture as the present Government is making today. Never before has the British Museum been obliged to shut any of its galleries on alternate days, except in war-time. Never before have the facilities of the other museums and galleries been restricted in this way.
It all arises from a stupid and unthinking cut imposed by the Treasury, without reflection, in a blanket manner on all the Departments with which it has dealings, instead of realising that these things are in a very special category and, in any case, that the saving effected can only be very small in size. I appreciate that the Financial Secretary will say that these are really curtailments of an increase, but I will come to that in a moment. Instead of realising that these things are in a special category, they have treated them as if they were boots and shoes and office filing cabinets and telephone extensions. They are not anything of the sort.
In addition to the list which the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North has given, I would also mention that the facilities at Ham House have now been restricted. The hon. and gallant Member did not mention the fact that Osterley Park has never yet been opened to the public, although it was purchased for the nation by the National Trust since the war and was due to be opened this Summer. As a result of this cut it will not now be open at all.
But it is not merely a question of closing parts of museums and galleries and closing one museum like the Public Record Museum altogether. There are other things involved in this cut. There is the question of cleaners. Many exhibits and valuable objects are not now being kept properly clean because there 2396 are not enough cleaners. Often the museums themselves are not being kept properly clean. At the British Museum the other day there was quite an Anglo-American incident when an American lady sat in a pool of oil. The Director had to be summoned to soothe and placate her and to explain that his Government had curtailed the cleaners at the museum so that they were unable to keep the place clean any more. This will not encourage tourists to visit the British Museum.
There are many things now at the British Museum which, if one is unlucky and does not strike the right day, one will not see at all. But who is to know which is the right day before he goes? When one makes a comprehensive visit one expects to see the Mildenhall Treasure, but if one goes on the wrong day one will not see it at all now.
The Financial Secretary will say tonight, as he said before in a manner which was not quite worthy of him, that the onus was on the museums as to what they cut down, that it was nothing to do with the Treasury; that if the museums were so foolish as to close a part of the gallery or a collection altogether, it was not the fault of the Treasury. They had the choice of how to make the saving.
But how are they to make the choice? They have to cut down on something. They either have to have fewer cleaners and not keep the places clean; or they have to cut down on attendants and custodians and only allow the galleries to be opened at certain times and some to be shut altogether, or they have to cut down on something much more important —on the research and scholarship into the exhibits and in artistic discovery. One of the most disturbing features of the cuts is that a great deal of research will be stopped or curtailed, when it should be developed, into discovering more about the treasures which belong to us.
The Financial Secretary has said in answer to a Question that this was a matter of limiting the increase, that the costs of these museums were going up— as though that was something reprehensible. But the cost of everything is going up. The cost of living has risen remarkably since his Government took office, and, naturally an increase in the costs museums are paying in salaries cannot be stopped. If one is to say that 2397 every time increased salaries have to be paid attendants have to be dismissed, then, by the time we have progressed another 20 years on that basis we shall have no museums or art galleries open at all.
What I should like the Government to appreciate is that this is what the cold war is all about. The reason we are engaged in a cold war, and have not given in to the Communists is because we value the heritage of our nation and the Western culture it represents. If we do not keep it going to the full, in our museums and art galleries, and allow the fullest possible enjoyment of them to all our people we are losing the cold war. What is the point of it all if we start denying our traditions and our stores of art treasures to our people?
For the sake of a miserable £30,000 a year all this is being done with a tremendous adverse effect on our reputation throughout the world, and our museums and art galleries have the highest reputation by an unthinking foolish Treasury action, taken without reflection or awareness of the consequences, and now stubbornly maintained. The hon. Gentleman knows it is perfectly wrong. He knows also that when Questions were originally asked in the House there was not a single person on either side to be found in support of the Government's action. He is doing it against the will of the House of Commons, the will of the country and in defiance of all our traditions.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) has elected to raise this subject this evening, in spite of the tone of the last speech, which was different altogether from that of my hon. and gallant Friend. There has been a genuine misunderstanding about this matter, which has seemed to be a fertile field for the exploitation of political aspirations by a certain section of the community. I think it would help the House if I made clear what has been done, and it is very different from what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) appears to think.
We have not given any instruction to any museum or art gallery to close any- 2398 thing. That is their business. All we have done is to make a reduction of 84 in the non-industrial staff. I am not dealing with the Public Record Office, to which I shall refer at a later stage, because it is not in the ordinary sense a museum or art gallery. It is a Department of State, and part of its function is the running of a museum. As I was saying, we have made a reduction of 84 in the non-industrial staff of 2,165, and that is less than half of the percentage the hon. Gentleman appeared to think. That, of course, was part of the general reductions in staff of public institutions that was imposed as part of this Government's economy campaign.
It cuts no ice whatever to say that it is "only 84 people" or "only £30,000,"because, as every hon. Member knows perfectly well, that type of criticism can equally easily be directed at any aspect of national economy. Any hon. Member with any experience in the House knows perfectly well that that criticism is very often made and not, on the whole, given very much weight by hon. Members. The justification, of course, arises from the cumulative effect of these cuts, which is a very essential part of the Government's attempt to restore the mess which it inherited.
We have not closed any gallery or given any instruction to do so. In fact, the matter is one for the museum authorities. The museums employ not only warder staff—that is, the staff who actually look after the galleries—but administrative, clerical and other staffs, and it is entirely up to the museum concerned—as I shall seek to show, some museums have applied it in different ways —to decide whether, in the first place, to apply the cut to warder staff, and secondly, if they do so, whether or not that cut shall be operated in a way which involves the closing of galleries.
I hope that I do not need to say—I do not need to say it to anybody except the hon. Member for Aston—that it is, of course, a matter for regret if the cut is applied in a way that denies the public access to any of our public treasures.
§ Mr. Wyattrose——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No, I am not giving way. The hon. Member overran the time which it was understood I was to have.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member is wrong even on that.
It may help hon. Members if we look again at the figures. In 1939, the 14 galleries concerned employed, in the same categories of staff, 2,022. After the cuts have been applied—the 84, to which I have referred—they will still have 2,081; that is, 59 more than they had before the war. Prima facie,that increase of 59 ought at least to enable them to keep open the same number of rooms as they had before the war, but even before these cuts were applied, for other reasons connected, I think, with enemy action, 277,000 sq. ft. of galleries less were open in October, 1951, than in 1939—or approximately one-sixth of the total. Therefore, the position now is that to look after one-sixth less of the gallery area that was open before the war, there is available 59 more staff. I suggest that on those figures there is no essential justification for the closure of galleries.
Let us proceed to individual cases. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North was concerned, and justifiably so, with the position of that great national institution, the British Museum, in respect of which, as he rightly said, there have been closures on certain days of certain rooms. It has today, after the cuts were imposed, a staff of 530 non-industrials, compared with 512 before the war. The Natural History Museum, which was referred to, has 341, as against 306. The National Maritime Museum has 63 non-industrials, compared with 55.
That is one aspect—the actual numbers. Then there comes the way in which the warder staffs are organised. It does not even follow that if a musuem decides to impose the cut, or part of the cut, on warder staff, it must close gallery space. In fact, one musuem—the Imperial War Museum—has reduced its warder staff by one and has opened a further additional 1,600 sq. ft. of gallery space. Both the National Gallery and the London Museum, who have reduced their warder staff by two, have maintained all the rooms that were open before the reductions took effect.
§ Mr. Wyattrose——2400
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Perhaps the hon. Member, who has sought to make enough mischief already this evening, would contain himself. I have very little time.
That, as I have said, clearly indicates that the action that the Government have taken has not made closure necessary. As I have said in answer to Parliamentary Questions, it has been a matter for decision by the musueum authorities whether to apply the cuts in a way which involves closure. I reject entirely the suggestion that a cut of this nature inevitably involves the closure of public gallery space.
Let me come now to the Public Record Office, which I indicated I wished to deal with separately because this is a Department of State with statutory functions. That body has suffered a cut of five in its non-industrial staff. Even then it has a staff of 154 compared with 127 before the war. Those figures speak for themselves.
My hon. and gallant Friend in his helpful and constructive speech, said that there were various methods which could be adopted. There was the question of imposing charges. Whether that is desirable or not, it would involve legislation in the case of some of the major institutions, notably the British Museum. But this is a matter which would be open to certain objections. It would be wrong to seek to apportion staff cuts among museums on the basis that some could make charges and some could not.
Where there have been closures arrangements have been made for students to view rooms which are closed to the public. The question of the transfer of articles from rooms which are closed to others which remain open is a matter which is within the authority of the trustees concerned. These articles are vested in the trustees, and it is up to them to decide where they shall be displayed. You, Mr. Speaker, are a trustee of one of the greatest institutions. Therefore, I have a particular reason for not wishing to trespass upon the functions of those august functionaries.
I think that this debate will have done good if only it indicates—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Aston for once —that hon. Members in all quarters of the House regret the closing of any gallery or opportunity for seeing any national 2401 treasures. I very much hope that those who are responsible for the executive decisions in this field will take note of what has been said this evening. I think it will be clear, from the figures which I have given, that there is a certain scope, or tolerance, within the administrative discretion of those concerned to seek to alleviate, at any rate, the effect of these cuts.
I know that all economies are disagreeable and are apt to be resented. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North suggested that there ought to be further economies in the Central Office for Information. We have cut that Department by something like 40 per cent, on last year's estimates, and not long ago I had to stand at this Box to defend those cuts against an onslaught from the benches opposite.
These cuts are all part of a general scheme for the reduction of numbers employed in the public service. This general scheme has resulted in the first reduction of the strength of the public services which this country has seen for some considerable time. I realise, of course, that any cut of this sort does impose problems, and very real problems upon those responsible for administering these great institutions. But I would say they are problems very similar to those which face other people concerned with other activities through the whole vast sphere of our administrative system.
I am sure that they will face the difficulties caused to them by the imposition of these cuts in the spirit in which other people and their organisations have 2402 faced similar problems imposed by similar cuts—that is, on the basis that they must try to secure that the public suffer as little as possible from the cuts imposed by this Government as a result of a situation which as all hon. Members know this Government did not create. It is that spirit which will be of the greatest assistance in the carrying on of our public places in this country in perhaps a wider sphere even than the great institutions we have been discussing this evening.
It will, I think, be clear to them that, despite attempts to make party political capital by such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Aston, they should exercise their ingenuity and sagacity to secure that the public is given the greatest possible access—even perhaps at the cost of adjustments and simpler standards in other directions—to the treasures which, in the ultimate resort, belong to the public. I very much hope that the effect of this debate, so admirably raised by my hon. and gallant Friend, will be to convey to them this message: that we appreciate their problems and hope that they will be able so to adjust the cuts imposed upon them as to limit to the greatest extent possible interference with the rights of the public in this respect.
§ The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour,Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Nineteen Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.