§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster-General (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The British Museum, as the House knows, is the oldest and perhaps the greatest of our major national cultural institutions, and a Bill to modernise its legal basis is obviously a significant and important step. The age of the Museum itself has meant that its legal foundations are tied up in a great mass of largely archaic legislation. Indeed, if the House cares to glance at the Fourth Schedule to the Bill, dealing with repeals, it will see that, among other things, the Bill proposes to repeal in toto no fewer than 16 statutes, two of them going back to the eighteenth century.
This is, as the House, I am sure, knows well, a very great institution which has been served for many years by men of the utmost distinction, and contains some of the greatest treasures which human mind and hand have created. It therefore will, I am sure, seem to the House worth taking some care to give it a legal structure and foundation which should enable it to play the part it should in the life both of the nation and the world in the second half of the twentieth century—and it is only this House that can revise this legal structure.
I think that it was perhaps a misunderstanding of this which prompted a leading article in The Times today. I think, with respect, that that article does not give full weight to the fact that the law governing the subject is a matter for Parliament and that it really is impossible for the kind of thoughts and projects which lie behind that article to be considered or carried out unless the legal foundation, which is the business of Parliament, is put right. I certainly would not wish, in seeking to deal with this legal foundation, to exclude any ideas or thoughts that anyone may wish to give to the further development of the museum, but it is necessary for four particular reasons, which I want to submit to the House, to get the legal foundation right.
1461 There are four important matters with which only legislation can deal. The first concerns the British Museum library. This is one of the greatest libraries in the world, and it is almost literally bursting at its seams with the vast mass of printed matter that pours into it every year. Under the present law, it is possible, apart from the newspaper repository at Colindale, to store these only in the Bloomsbury building.
As the House knows, it has been proposed for some years to erect a new library building on a site adjoining the museum —I will go into that in greater detail in a moment—but it would not be legally possible to proceed with that site for use for the books of the library under the present law. It is necessary to obtain legal powers to use that building, when constructed, as a library. I am sure that the House will feel that it would be wrong to proceed with the construction or this great enterprise unless one proceeded on the basis that Parliament had approved its use, when completed, for the purpose for which it was built.
Secondly. there is the constitution of the trustee body. I will enlarge on that in a moment. It is very large. Its basis is archaic, and I am sure that it is desirable in the interests of the museum to place it on an up-to-date and defensible basis. Thirdly, the legal power either to lend the Museum's contents for exhibition or to dispose of its property is highly restricted, highly complicated and spread over a whole number of statutes. Fourthly, there is the fact that for many years now the Natural History Museum, at South Kensington, with its out-station at Tring, has been, in effect, a separate institution with a separate director and dealing with a different set of topics, and it really seems desirable to give it a separate legal entity and, perhaps even more important, a separate body of trustees.
It is not surprising that so ancient an institution is now hedged about with out-of-date statutory restrictions, for it was created in very different circumstances. The House may be amused to know, by way of illustration, that one of the major sources of finance for the starting of the museum in the eighteenth century was a lottery organised by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. It was 1462 highly successful—it raised £95,000—but it was not wholly free from scandal, and at least one of the agents is alleged to have made a corner in the tickets. In those remote days, even the trustee body itself, which was very different from the present very distinguished body, was under severe criticism.
The House may be interested to recall a critic of 1830, who said:Among those trustees who are elected by the others, and who it might be supposed would be chosen in consequence of their reputation, there is not one person who is distinguished for his attainments in science, in art or in literature as manifested in his work; but they consist of one duke, three marquesses, five earls, four barons and two Members of Parliament.That was a very long time ago. That was said of a body which shortly afterwards included Henry Hallam, Sir John Herschel and T. B. Macaulay.
The Museum has certainly been most fortunate in recent years to be served with great distinction by a number of very able men, some of whom have taken part most helpfully in the discussions leading up to the Bill. Though it is invidious, of course, to specify particular individuals for the help and counsel that they have given us, I should like to express the gratitude of the Government, and, I hope and believe, of the House, to the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Fisher of Lambeth, the noble Lord, Lord Cambridge, the noble Lord, Lord Crawford, the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe, Sir Henry Dale, and, last but by no manner of means least, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), whom I am particularly glad to see in his place this afternoon.
I come to the four major matters requiring legislation which I outlined a moment ago, and I will take them in the same order. Under the present law the collections can be housed for exhibition only in what are described as "authorised repositories", which are themselves defined by Statute. For practical purposes that means the main museum building in Bloomsbury, the newspaper library at Colindale, the Natural History Museum at South Kensington and the out-station at Tring.
Clauses 3 and 9 of the Bill make provision for these authorised repositories —that is, places where articles can be 1463 exhibited—to be increased by the designation of other places by Treasury Order, made by agreement with the trustees, laid before Parliament and subject to the negative procedure. If the House approves the Bill, it would be intended to make such an Order in respect of the library site, to which I have referred, and perhaps I may say a word about that.
Under the County of London Development Plan, the property bounded by Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury Square, Bloomsbury Way, North Oxford Street and Bloomsbury Street, with the exception of St. George's Church, was designated for this purpose following a public inquiry in 1955. It may well be that not the whole of that land will be needed for the purpose, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works has already acquired some of the land and will continue with that acquisition.
This summer, two very distinguished architects, Sir Leslie Martin and Mr. Colin St. John Wilson, have been appointed consultant architects to produce a plan for the building which will enable us to know with greater precision precisely which land will be required. The plan will be prepared, and it is hoped that the first stage of the building, which will proceed by stages, will begin in 1965.
The idea is that when the building is completed the whole of the library departments at present at Bloomsbury, with the possible exception of some of the special collections like the King's Library, will be moved over into the new library building. This will have the further advantage of making more space available in the Bloomsbury building, itself very overcrowded, for other departments of the museum. The first step in this procedure must be obtaining the authority of Parliament for the use as a library of a site outside the existing authorised repositories.
There is another use which it is intended will be made of the power to designate authorised repositories. It is intended that the National Science Reference Library, which will be a part of the museum, will be built on the South Bank in buildings to be shared with the new Patent Office and, indeed, that it should include the existing Patent Office 1464 library. That would be administered as part of the British Museum. It is hoped that work will start on that next year and that the Science Reference Library would start functioning not later than 1966.
I come to the composition of the trustee body. I do so with some timidity because you, Mr. Speaker, are one of the principal trustees and are affected by the Bill. I must say at once that like so many institutions in this country, the trustee body functions in practice very much better than anyone looking at it on paper would think possible. It does so, largely, I think, because of the wholly non-statutory development of the system of the Standing Committee, which carries out a great deal of the day-to-day control of the Museum. None the less, the present body is, I think, by modern standards too large. It contains a very large number of ex-officio trustees who are people, almost as a matter of definition, with other preoccupations and commitments.
It seems highly desirable to bring this composition up to date and to put the museum body of trustees on the same sort of basis as that of other major national institutions. The present trustee body comprises no fewer than 51 people. There are the three principal trustees—the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and you yourself, Mr. Speaker. There are 23 ex-officio trustees who include a large number of my right hon. Friends and such officers as the Lord Steward, the Lord Chamberlain, the Bishop of London, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls.
There is one trustee appointed by the Sovereign and there are the so-called family trustees, numbering nine, who are nominated by the heads of six families who were associated with gifts or sale of large collections to the museum in its early days. In addition, there are the 15 so-called elected trustees who are, in fact, trustees co-opted by the rest of the trustee body—51 in all.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
How many of the trustees constitute the Standing Committee and who are they?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I think—speaking from memory—that the number 1465 operating on the Standing Committee is about 20. The Economic Secretary will seek to catch your eye at the end of the debate, Mr. Speaker, and he will give that figure. If the House desires I am sure that he will give the list, but I certainly would not attempt to do that "off the cuff."
The Bill proposes that instead of these 51 trustees the British Museum shall have a trustee body of 25. One will be the Sovereign's trustee, whom it is proposed to continue, and 15 would be appointed by the Prime Minister on the same basis as that of other national institutions. There would be four to be nominated by learned bodies, largely on the same basis, but with some adjustment, and on representations made to me very strongly by a number of the present trustees, there would be five to be co-opted by the trustee body, making a body of 25 in all. I cannot help thinking that that is an arrangement which is not only more efficient in itself, but is probably more in accordance with present-day ideas.
One cannot help—certainly, I cannot —feeling some regret when changes of this sort are made, involving a break in very long-standing traditions, even though those traditions originated in very different times. I have, however, consulted a large number of the people concerned and the House may be interested and not surprised to know that many of the ex-officio trustees have indicated their relief at the possibility of being relieved of important duties which they lack the time to discharge as fully as they would like.
We have given special consideration to the position of the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishops of Canterbury have been associated with the museum since 1753 and in recent years have generally presided over the Standing Committee. They are the senior of the principal trustees. We therefore had consultations with the present Archbishop, and he suggested to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that there should be an understanding that, should future Archbishops desire to be trustees, the Prime Minister should be ready to give favourable consideration when a vacancy arose. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has told the Archbishop that, while he cannot bind his successors, he would for 1466 his part readily fall in with the suggestion for dealing with the matter informally in this way.
We have also given anxious consideration to the position of the family trustees —that is to say, the trustees nominated, as I mentioned, by the heads of the six families which contributed so much in the earlier days of the Museum. As the House knows, they are also very eminent people, including, I am glad to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson). Their forebears made very great contributions to the Museum, perhaps the most conspicuous, at any rate the best known, being the Elgin Marbles, which we owe to the Lord Elgin of the day.
On the other hand, in this day and age, appointment on this basis by particular families to the trusteeship of a great national institution, the contents of which have so vastly expanded since those days, leads to considerable difficulties and, indeed, the mere passage of time adds to them. In the case of one of the families entitled to nominate, we are at the moment, and have been without success for some months, trying to trace the person who would be entitled to nominate. I am bound to admit to the House that there is a vacancy there. We therefore came to the conclusion, with considerable reluctance, that the right thing when we were reorganising the trustee body and placing it on a modern basis was to bring this arrangement to an end.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the body of trustees as newly constituted will be able to appoint their own chairman?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is the intention, yes. I have taken advantage of the breathing space the hon. Gentleman gave me to enable me to answer the question the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) asked me about the numbers on the Standing Committee. My answer, "off the cuff", of 20, was, by happy coincidence, right.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
It is right that the system by which the families to which my right hon. Friend referred, which gave the great collections in the past, have retained the right to nominate down to 1467 the present time should go. However, let us not forget the important American position. If, in the future, somebody were to give a great collection to the British Museum, it is right that there should be a note on the file somewhere that such a person and perhaps his successor would be able to have one of the Prime Minister's nominations so as to serve as a trustee of the British Museum. All the great collections in America—the Frick and Mellon collection, and all those in Washington—have come from very rich people who wanted to become great patrons of the arts. We do not want to stop such people being attracted to this country if we can possibly avoid it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My hon. Friend's suggestion is now in a better position than being a note on a file. It is now on the records of the House and is duly recorded should that very happy contingency of such an offer arise.
The third point was the powers of the trustees in connection with lending and disposal. I am advised that the present position is that the trustees have no power to lend for exhibition abroad. The House may remember that earlier this year it was for that reason necessary to put a special Act through Parliament authorising the trustees to lend a few items to the Council of Europe Exhibition at Vienna.
The Bill gives the trustees power to lend abroad on the same basis as at home and tidies up the lending power at home spread over a number of statutes. It is subject, as the House will see, to the proviso to Clause 4 as to what the trustees shall have regard to in connection with the making of these loans. The House may know that the view has been expressed—indeed, it was expressed at one time by some of the trustees—that lending powers of this kind were rather dangerous in that the trustee body might be exposed to pressure by the Government of the day to make loans for purposes of broad Government policy which the trustees might not wish to make. I hope that the House will feel that, whether that fear had reality or not. there is protection to the trustees in the words of the proviso against any undue pressure that 1468 any Government might desire to exercise.
There is then the power of disposal, which is at present scattered in a number of the statutes which it is suggested should be repealed. The power of disposal is a difficult matter. It is obvious that the Museum should not be compelled to retain, if its trustees do not want to, objects of which it has a number of duplicates, damaged articles or verminous articles, which might cause damage to others. There is also the question which arises from time to time of objects which are discovered to be fraudulent or forgeries, which it would be extremely embarrasing to compel the Museum to retain and exhibit.
The powers that are proposed hold a fair balance between, on the one hand, allowing an irresponsible trustee body recklessly to dispose of articles which its successors might think should be retained and, on the other, compelling what will, in fact, be a highly responsible body of men to retain objects which no sane person would wish to retain in the Museum. It is a question of getting it just right. In Committee, we can discuss it, but I suggest to the House that we have got it broadly right.
There is then the special provision in respect of unwanted books and periodicals. Microfilming has made great progress and has many advantages from the point of view of convenience of search and the saving of space. On the other hand, nobody feels that really ancient documents, even though their contents may be microfilmed, should even be in a position to be considered for disposal. We have, therefore, put tentatively the date of 1850 as the line of demarcation. That has this merit. It was in the second half of the last century that the vast increase in printed matter, which is pouring into the Museum as into other places, really got under way.
There is also a very practical point—this is perhaps a Committee point—that it was within a few years of that date that rag paper, which endures well, ceased largely to be used and was replaced by paper made from wood pulp, which has a much poorer life. I am sure that the House will feel that we have to steer between compelling the 1469 Museum to retain every bit of temporary, perhaps, meretricious, material which could perfectly well be microfilmed and disposed of, and allowing, even in theory, the disposal of anything whose disposal might subsequently cause regret.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point about the lending and disposing of objects, can he tell us whether consideration has been given to the possibility of exchanges, either on a longterm loan basis or on a permanent basis? Archaeology progresses. New objects of great artistic virtue are discovered. The British Museum has very extensive collections in some ranges, but is very short in others. The time may well come when, on a long-term loan basis or on an exchange of gifts basis, the Museum will wish to replace some of the objects of which it has many with some other range of objects of which it is short. Has this contingency occurred to the Government, and, if so, in what kind of way would the trustees be able to face this problem in future under the Bill?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
First, as regards loans, long-term or short, the hon. Gentleman may have heard me tell the House at some length of the increased lending powers which the Bill proposes to confer upon the trustees. I do not think that I can add anything to that. They are to be given, in their discretion and subject to the proviso in Clause 4 about the interests of those who wish to see these things, very wide lending powers. The power as to disposal is much more limited, as the hon. Gentleman apprehended, and, I think, rightly so.
I cannot myself envisage a situation in which any major article ought to be exchanged for some other without rather more consideration being given to it than simply lumping it in with powers of disposal. If the trustees were to indicate that they felt any difficulty about the matter, probably it would be a matter for the Government to act. As I understand, the Bill certainly does not contain provisions expressly relating to the exchange of articles of real value and significance.
For this reason, I think that the House may care to consider this later. These 1470 are national possessions. If it were to be a question of exchange of some article of major importance, the House might wish to be consulted before any such action could be taken. That would be my own feeling. I cannot speak for the trustees in this respect, but I have a feeling that that would be the attitude of a good many of them.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not want to trespass unduly upon his time. On this question of possible exchanges I do not have in mind only one particular collection, to which I hope to refer later. This applies to a number of cases. Would the Government consider looking at the question of exchanges and the wording of Clause 4 before we reach the Committee stage?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I will consider what the hon. Gentleman says, but my own preliminary view is that any exchange of anything of significance, even of things of much less significance than the priceless objects about which I know the hon. Gentleman is concerned, would be a matter which, I should have thought—it is not for me to say—would have caused some hesitation. I would judge that the House might be hesitant about conferring any general power. It is a power which I would guess the trustees might not be willing to have.
To take the specific example about which the hon. Gentleman signed a letter to The Times yesterday, any question of doing that—I express no view whatever on the merits—is possibly a matter of major importance which it would be utterly wrong for anybody other than Parliament even to consider authorising. To do it by way of disposal or exchange powers in a Bill would be utterly wrong and contrary to the overwhelming weight of public opinion.
The fourth subject is the setting up of a separate trustee body for the Natural History Museum. That body has for many years, de facto, had a separate existence; it has its own director, own buildings and its field of activity is different from that of Bloomsbury. It seems logical, therefore, to appoint a separate trustee body which would be composed of people whose interests are more concentrated in this particular direction. It is proposed that, since the 1471 Museum is smaller, the body should be smaller than that proposed for Bloomsbury.
Of the 12 people, eight will be appointed by the Prime Minister on the same basis as those for Bloomsbury—though I think it likely that my right hon. Friend would probably wish to consult the Minister for Science in respect of appointments of this sort—one will be nominated by the Royal Society and three—again, on the same principle as Bloomsbury—will be co-opted by the body concerned; that is, the trustee body itself.
It will retain the words "British Museum" in its title, which will be "British Museum (Natural History)," with the outstation at Tring which I have mentioned. This contains collections bequeathed by the second Lord Rothschild the galleries of zoological and entomological exhibits, the research galleries of lepidoptera, or, as they are better known, butterflies, and, I am advised, the world's finest collection of siphonaptera, which means fleas.
The Bill has been ruled as a hybrid Measure and, in deference to that ruling, if the House gives it a Second Reading, I shall move the procedure Motion which is on the Order Paper. The purpose of that, in the light of the ruling which has been given, is to give any individuals the opportunity, if they think fit and feel adversely affected, to petition. I understand that all the necessary notices have been served on those who might be thought to be in that position.
Although this is technically what we are told and accept to be a hybrid Bill, its purpose is essentially public. The British Museum has played an enormous part in the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. I believe that the devoted and able people who have and will serve it in different capacities can make it play an even greater part in our national life and I am sure that the House can help by freeing the Museum from much of its outdated and obsolete restrictions and restrictive legislation and by giving it a constitution which will enable it more effectively to perform the high role required alike by its great inheritance and its ever-increasing need to cater for an ever-better educated nation.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will he comment on two brief matters which are of substantial importance? First, my right hon. Friend explained about the hybrid ruling and I appreciate that. Is he governed by that in any way regarding the number who may serve on the Standing Committee? He might find it useful if he had more than the eight who are contemplated. Secondly, under the terms of the Bill, in Clause 2, there is no direct provision in the matter of the powers of the British Museum.
There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether there should be an Oriental museum catering for oriental art within the ambit of the British Museum. There is strong feeling on this score and I am in favour of it. I would like to know what the Bill—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I feel that the hon. Member is going too far in a short question before the Minister sits down.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On the first point, my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. It is not a Standing Committee under the procedure Motion to which we shall commit the Bill, but a Select Committee, which proceeds by way of dealing with petitions. I understand that the number of Members proposed follows custom and precedent and I would certainly have thought that the body which is to deal with petitions would not like to be too big.
On the second point, it might be better if my hon. Friend seeks to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when he will have an opportunity of deploying his arguments further, after which the Economic Secretary could give them the respectful attention I am sure they will deserve.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I, too, would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question before he sits down. Is he aware that this is the first time that I have ever heard a Treasury Minister introduce a Bill without mentioning the sordid subject of money? Has the right hon. Gentleman anything to say about the funds which will be available to the British Museum?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Bill is not a financial Measure. It is obvious, however, that it clears the way for what will be a very considerable amount of expense indeed in respect of the library and, to some extent, the Science Library, but the Bill is not itself directly involved with the authorisation of money.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for some of the interesting material he has unearthed from the past. This survival has been very persistent in this country and it is high time that the constitution of the British Museum was revised. I am glad that the Bill is going to do it. But there are several broad questions we should consider. We are laying on the trustees two general duties; one to keep and the other to exhibit the unrivalled magnificent collections in their charge.
Those are expensive matters and I shall deal with that aspect shortly. I note. to begin with, that the last report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries showed a very sharp fall in the attendance of the public at the British Museum compared with other public exhibitions. The position is that before the war there were 1 million or more people going to the British Museum every year and that, while the number has not fallen to quite a half, it has, roughly speaking, fallen to about two-thirds. Some years are better than others. There is a table at the end of the report, and if one studies it and then studies the detailed figures, one discovers that the statistics are rather worse than those selected for the purpose of the table. I am not suggesting that anyone tried to "cook" the figures but they are certainly not better and, if anything, are actually a bit worse.
It really amounts to this. Taking the two years 1955 and 1959—against the figures of about 1,100,000 to 1,200,000 before the war—the attendance in the two post-war years I have mentioned was between 600,000 and 700,000. There was a slight improvement, to about 800,000, in 1960, which is the last available year. I am afraid that the reason for the decline is not lack of value or general interest in the collections shown but the quite remarkable difficulty there 1474 appears to be of showing them in an attractive and sufficient fashion.
Certain journalists not only in The Times have had a bit of fun about this. There was an amusing article in the New Statesman on 9th November from which I shall quote a sentence which gives one a lively picture of what may be found by a searching journalist in the British Museum.In inspiring with gallant amateur tradition inspiring English museums, display is handled by the keepers.I have nothing to say against the keepers. The article continued:Following this system, the Nimrud bas-reliefs lined a gangway resembling some archaic penitentiary, where enamel lampshades cast their palor on green emulsion which the Ministry of Works evidently had left over from repainting police stations. A warder sat there alone, his halibu eye roaming the exploits of Nimrud, 'Not much company', he mumbled, People pass through 'ere very quick.Another passage is in the like sense.
Not all of what is in the British Museum, but some of it, has a great deal of this character. It is not because the trustees have not done a good job. It is not because the collections themselves are not very wonderful indeed. It really has been because of lack of money and space. The Times had one leader about this, and then it thought that it had not gone quite far enough, and it had another. It was the second one from which the right hon. Gentleman quoted. I call the attention of the House to what it expects from us:As a subject of legislation, the British Museum has always occasioned strong argument in Parliament and this Bill promises to be no exception.I hope that we shall live up to that this afternoon; it is the least that we can do. So far, that is the position as it is.
Then, when one looks at the steps which have been taken, they really have been moving very slowly. It is not the trustees, it is not the Standing Commission, but the Treasury which has been in the way. It is rather appalling, having introduced a bright new idea, that a new building is to be put up—I am glad to hear that it is now going to be done—to find that this was first suggested and mentioned in reports in 1937. Nothing has been done about it. It has just stayed there until quite recently. The last Report of the Standing Commission 1475 mentioned it as something that was now going to form part of a programme. It is quite a long time even for the British Museum—1937 to 1962 is 25 years. I know that there was a war in between, but even allowing for that, it is slow indeed.
When one comes to look at the last Report—and this is the last information that most of us at any rate have about this—we find that this was a Report published in 1961, relating to the two years 1959 to 1960. It describes the high building needs which it had recommended in its fifth Report, which was two years previously, as being of the first priority—one is a matter which we have just had mentioned to us—and it speaks about the progress, such as it is, that has been made. Then it comes in paragraph 64 to this:Display and storage space are still desperately short.It goes further by talking about the difficulties of housing the ethnographical material, and states that about 95 per cent. of the whole vast and valuable collection is not displayed or used in any way. This constitutes, as appeared in one of these lively articles, "the ethnographers in the basement", I suppose they were the people working on it down there.
The Report proceeds from that to other matters, to the fact of the war-damaged galleries not yet having been repaired, and states in paragraph 66:We regard all this reconstruction as a matter of extreme urgency and we strongly urge that it should be pressed on as rapidly as possible.These are not the trustees. This is the Standing Commission charged with the general responsibility not only for the British Museum but for other principal museums and galleries, and, therefore, having regard not only to the claims of the British Museum but to those of other galleries, too.
Before I leave the question of money—I have been talking so far about work that appears necessary for building purposes—I recognise that this is a very large bill indeed. It is a very large bill because, like some of the bills which we receive about Christmas time, it has been accumulating and for far longer than the usual credit terms, for years and 1476 years, decades and decades. We have cut the money short for the British Museum and the collections that it houses, and the result is that instead of being a real credit to this country as a museum, as other museums are and can be, this is really a disgraceful bit of old-fashioned insufficiency for the purposes for which it is designed and which are repeated in this Bill. I earnestly trust that the silence of the Treasury today on the matter of money, which usually concerns it, does not mean that it is going to preserve the tradition of incredible stinginess over the buildings and accommodation required for this national institution.
Before I leave that subject, I want to say a word about the running expenses. We have had the ridiculous position—I do not know if it is to go on—of the Home Secretary appearing every year with a petition from the trustees saying that they have not enough money and asking Parliament to give them some. I do not know what all this is about, but it is another of these interesting cobwebs that hang about, and whatever has happened over it, the practical point is that the British Museum gets for new purchases a grant of £100,000 a year and no more. I think that I am right in saying that last year it raised £105,000 by selling the catalogues of its own printed books, and, of course, the £105,000 so raised went into the Vote. The result was that so far as those transactions go the Treasury succeeded in the incredible task of making a bit of profit out of the national collections. It is quite true that that does not take account of salaries and that sort of thing, and one must not take it too seriously, nonetheless it shows the gross insufficiency of the annual amount that is provided.
It is quite true that from time to time special grants are made. One grant I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned was for the Dyson Perrins manuscripts. I do not want to trouble the House by going into the detail of all this, but I have a very distinct impression when looking at these grants rather carefully that the British Museum has not quite had its fair share, and that on the whole the special grants have been devoted more to buying pictures and the like than to buying stuff for the British Museum. It is perhaps the very excellence of the British Museum's own 1477 collections that has had that result, but it is an unfortunate one, and I suggest that an institution of this kind should not have to come and ask for special grants to the extent which will be necessary if the limitation to £100,000 a year is persisted in.
I have some reason for saying that. The Treasury made one of those very crafty arrangements with the trustees by which, calling down the name of Lord Plowden, they provided for the same sum for five years. That is all right for the recipient if prices go down, but in these matters prices go up, and go up sharply and steeply. The result is that £100,000 two ' or three years ago, when the arrangement was made, would have got a good deal more than £100,000 would get now, or is likely to get in two or three years' time. I therefore hope that in the light of what is now being done to brush away some of the cobwebs, we shall increase not only the capital expenditure—that we shall certainly have to do, and in the Financial Memorandum there is mention of £10 million—but also the £100,000 a year, which is a lamentable sum for this purpose.
I turn from that to the appointment of trustees. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is becoming a pluralist. He bagged seventy-seven pheasants the other day and is now appointing fifteen trustees. I wish that he would not deal in these large numbers. It is not right to leave the vast majority of the trustees to be appointed by the Prime Minister of the day—though, of course, on advice. This is particularly so in this case, and it is recognised to some extent by empowering, I think, four bodies to nominate a trustee each. One comment on that is that every single one is an English body and this is the British Museum. I know that it is in London—I see it from time to time—but I think that the Scots have a case over this, and I would have suggested that one, at any rate, of the trustees might have been appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I would suggest other Ministers. One was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman himself, but only in connection with the Natural History Museum. It seems to me to be quite wrong that the Minister for Science should be left out in this very pointed way. He is surely 1478 one of the people most obviously concerned with appointing trustees for both the British Museum (Natural History) and for the British Museum itself.
There is also the curious anomaly that the Victoria and Albert Museum is carried on the Ministry of Education Votes and is, in effect, a Ministry of Education institution. The British Museum is nothing of the sort. I am not in favour of handing over the British Museum lock stock and barrel to the Ministry of Education, though others may be, but if we are to have the kind of structure that is indicated in the Bill the Minister of Education of the day should have a voice. I do not at this stage propose to attempt to detail the proper nominations, but to have 15 trustees appointed by the Prime Minister and none by some of the others I have indicated seems to be wrong.
Is there not also a case here for the universities? The University of London is next door to the British Museum, and one cannot quite eliminate physical neighbourhood in such matters. It is not for me to choose between a number of other universities, but I should have thought that the Vice-Chancellors' Committee was in a position to take any appropriate action in the matter. I think that the appointment of trustees should be given a rather broader basis than is provided by merely a large majority of Prime Minister's nominations.
I do not want to say anything about the past, though I felt 'that the right hon. Gentleman rather omitted from the number of curious Ministers and officials who were formerly and nominally part of the trustees as instituted in the eighteenth century. The practical point is that they have done their work through a Standing Commission. I remember the case of a man who once had a quarrel with the Board of Trade. The solicitor for the Board of Trade refused to accept service. It was a grave tactical error, because this litigant then proceeded to serve the members of the Board—and they were a very odd lot—and it was the first time they had ever realised that they had any responsibility for the doings of the President.
This is perhaps not quite such an extreme case, but when we find that twenty or thereabouts is the right 1479 number for practical purposes, although the nominal strength of the Committee is 51, why increase it further by this Bill to 25? I do not understand that, and the Government might think it over. The sensible thing in such cases is certainly not to have a larger committee but probably a smaller one; to reduce the number of Prime Minister's appointments, to make the Ministers really concerned take a hand, and, to a limited degree, to give the universities, through the Vice-Chancellors' Committee, a voice in the matter. So much for the constitution of the trustees.
There are other people concerned in the running of the Museum. They vary from the director to the warder with the halibut eye who atttracted the attention of the journalist writing in the New Statesman. They all deserve not only the thanks one would give to anybody doing a public service but the thanks one specially gives to people who do it in admittedly rather difficult conditions. Their position should be cleared up.
I speak subject to correction, but it seems that they are appointed originally by the Civil Service Commissioners—or, at any rate, are examined by them in some form or another. They are then employed, and may be sacked, by the trustees, but the conditions of their employment are largely determined by the Treasury. I do not know what they are. Are they civil servants or are they not? What are they? It is only fair to people who are employed in the public service that their status should be defined, and it should be defined in this Bill. The position may have arisen in all sorts of ways, but I think that it has got into a muddle of an historic character, and it may result—I do not say that it necessarily will—in injustice occasionally, or put all those concerned in running the Museum—the high-ups, as it were—in a rather difficult position, because they do not quite know what their powers may be.
I use another feature of the Museum itself, as a sort of peg on which to hang a little more. The Reading Room is at present extensively used by all sorts of people, and it has been extensively used through its long history. No doubt 1480 some people do highly important work there, while others do less important work. It is really an essential instrument for the promotion of research and learning, and there is nothing in the country, although we have some other magnificent libraries, that quite serves the same purpose.
The party opposite is rather slow to recognise it, but nowadays quite a lot of people work in the day and want to pursue their researches afterwards. Am I right in supposing—and I hope that I may be interrupted if I am wrong—that at present the Reading Room is opened only at night or in the late evening on two days a week? What is the reason for that? It seems rather absurd.
If it is to be shut at all, I should have thought that some other part of the day would have been better, but I suggest that we must ensure that people who are doing their ordinary daily work, as most of us have to do, have the opportunity of research work, study, or whatever it may be called, in the evenings in the library there. I understand that the trustees themselves and the Standing Commission fully recognise the advantage of this, but, again, it has been a money question. The Treasury has not provided enough money for the staff and to meet the additional expense generally involved to enable this to be done. When a Treasury Minister is asked about it, he says that for some reason or other it cannot be done or it cannot be done yet.
The time has come, now that we are considering this Bill, to realise that this part of the institution and, for that matter, other parts, too, are the property of the public devoted to public service, and they must be made as suitable as possible for that public service. If it is a question of employing more people, as obviously it would be in the case I have just raised, then more people must be employed. Their work will not be wasted. In the long run, we in this country depend on how intelligent we are and how intelligent we can make ourselves. This applies to us, perhaps, more than to any other country. Here is something which serves that purpose. To have all these books and collections and then, for lack of what is, compared with the national income, a comparatively small amount, not to use them 1481 properly and not to display them properly is surely the most short-sighted policy of which any Government can be capable.
I do not say that all Governments have been perfect about this. Far from it. There is a sort of inertia about it. The article in the New Statesman was headed "The Bloomsbury Megatherium". Megatheria, I understand, moved rather slowly. They did not survive very long because they were slow-moving and easily dealt with by smaller fry. We do not want to have a megatherium in Bloomsbury. There is no reason why we should. I beg the Government, on the occasion of this Bill, to reconsider their whole attitude to this institution, to recognise that the attitude in the past has been very short-sighted, to take to heart some of the many prayers and injunctions laid upon them in the reports of the Standing Commission and to do something about them, putting a new spirit into the whole business.
In conclusion, I think it right to repeat that I do not regard the trustees as in any way to blame for what has happened. So far as an outsider can judge, they have done the best they could in difficult circumstances. But I beg the Government to regard this as a new problem and one to be approached in a quite different light. I shall not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, As far as it goes, the Bill clears away cobwebs and does some minor things which I have not even mentioned and which obviously ought to be done, some of them the subject of occasional legislation, as the right hon. Gentleman said. However, it is a lamentably small effort. When they were looking at the British Museum as a whole, the Government really ought to have done rather better.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
I give the Bill the rather qualified welcome which a gladiator in the days of Imperial Rome would have given to the Emperor presiding over the arena. Although my right hon. Friend may not, perhaps, qualify for the other role, I feel rather like saying to him, as the gladiator said, "Hail, Caesar. We who are about to die salute thee." That, of course, is the cry of a family trustee who perceives in the Bill the seeds of his own dissolution.
1482 I do not want to be ungenerous just because of a personal thought. There is no doubt that we are dealing with the greatest institution of its kind in the world. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend when he says that the forms of management and organisation appropriate to 1753, the date of the principal Act which founded the Museum, are not appropriate today and that this seems to be a good opportunity to bring them up to date and improve them as much as we can.
I agree with most of the Bill's provisions, but I have some reservations. Perhaps I may first get off the small chip which rests on the shoulder of the family trustees. The family trustees are an electing body. They do not run the Museum from day to day in the sense that the Standing Committee does. Their main function is to decide who goes on the standing committee. I contend that, during the ten years in which I have been a trustee, we have done our work really rather well. I prepared a list of those whom we have appointed to the Standing Committee, and I say that, judged by any standard of scholarship and of eminence in the world of affairs, we chose rather well. Our first choice, in point of time, was the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and a most excellent trustee he has been. He brought unique qualities of knowledge of the world of education to his job and he has discharged it very well. Looking down the list, we have appointed Lord Radcliffe, Sir William Hayter, Lord Hurcomb, Sir Stephen Runciman, Professor Pantin and Lord Boyd.
Whatever system of appointment one had, by Prime Minister's nomination or anything else, it would be difficult to choose a body of men more appropriate to their task than those Whom we chose. It is one of our rather typical British institutions. If one dissects it and tries to pretend that it is logical or that it makes any particular sense, one finds that it does not. It can be torn to pieces quite easily. In practice, however, it works rather well, as can be seen from the results.
I feel that the country owes a small debt of acknowledgement to the six families who, in some cases for nothing and in others for a consideration really quite trifling in money terms, gave the 1483 magnificent collections the value of which just could not be computed today. The country owes a small debt of acknowledgement to those families whose combined bequests established the foundations on which the great collections rest.
My own family interest, that of Sir Robert Cotton, was the earliest of the lot. We got his collection for nothing, a full hundred years before the Museum proper began, and it has been the foundation of what is undoubtedly the greatest library in the world today. Incidentally, if anyone wants to know something about that fascinating erratic figure. there is a wonderful biography, A Fly in Amber, which tells us something about him.
I do not see how one could write it into the Bill, but I think it sensible that some sort of acknowledgement should be made to those family trustees representing the five families. If they are not interested, if they do not come, we can forget them. But some of them have been interested. Some of them have come. I am thinking also of Viscount Valentia, my co-Cottonian trustee. I should like to see some gesture made. The country has had a very great increase in its cultural resources as a result of what they did.
I liked what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). Why not consider, in the future, offering trusteeships to patrons who are moved to make really substantial bequests to the Museum? I see no reason why not. Why should not latter-day patrons—the Nuffields, the Clores and people of that kind who have a lot of money and who present some magnificent collections to the Museum—have an opportunity to be honoured in this rather special way? This is the day of status symbols. It would not cost the country anything. My trusteeship has cost the country absolutely nothing, not even a railway fare, during the past ten years. I believe that we might attract some people to use their money in a good and worthy way and add to the collections if they thought that there was that little bit of patronage, to call it that, attached to doing so.
I turn to the new governing bodies Which are proposed. This is my second small bone of contention. Is it necessary to split the administration of these two 1484 museums in the way contemplated in this Bill? I go some way with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in what he said about the method of arriving at the composition of the governing bodies. I should like there to be fewer Prime Minister appointments—I speak not necessarily of my right hon. Friend but of any future Prime Minister—not because I think he would necessarily get them wrong but because in appointments of this kind there is a great temptation to select the fashionable archaeologist of the day, or some economist who has made a great noise on the television, for service on the governing body as some appropriate recognition of their perhaps rather dubious talents.
It would be a very great pity if that happened. The result would be to cheapen and reduce the influence of a body which should consist, as it consists today, of the most distinguished people in this country in education, research, science and knowledge generally. I should be very sorry to see this become a sort of "jobs for the boys" set-up. We want first-class people to serve on this body in their own right and not for some extraneous reason.
While I do not quarrel with the idea that the Prime Minister should nominate a number of trustees, I should like the number nominated by him cut down a bit and greater representation of the learned societies, which really have the chaps who can make a contribution in this respect. I should not exclude women.
§ Mr. Thompson
I am delighted that I have the hon. Lady with me on this. We have a very distinguished lady trustee who is the President of the Society of Antiquaries, and she makes a very valuable contribution to our deliberations. If we are slightly altering the balance, I would increase the power of co-option of the trustees to a little bit more than five. To that extent, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering.
The desire to split the administration of the two museums into two distinct trustee bodies is probably founded on a misconception. There are very strong 1485 practical reasons why bath sets of trustees should serve on a body common to both museums. I am opposed to total separation which, as I see it, is envisaged in the Bill. I suppose that this stems from the fact that people believe that today is an age of great specialisation and that a body of men competent to pronounce on the !habits of water fleas cannot necessarily form a proper judgment on the age of certain Assyrian remains. I suppose that that is the idea behind it, but I do not believe that it is right, because the development of modern methods of research and educational display has a great deal in common for both museums. I am sure that both of them face similar problems when they consider how best to present their exhibits and collections to the public. I do not believe that they can work in completely watertight compartments in this respect.
Some of the most important work of the two museums now overlaps completely. This is particularly true in archaeology and anthropology—such things as the origin and nature of man's culture and his effect on his surroundings and the natural world. These surely are matters of paramount importance today. Both museums are involved in this study and both apply the same research methods.
I say again that I do not think we can draw a firm dividing line, and I hope that we shall not try to do so. Twenty-five years ago, not so very long ago, when I first took some interest in these matters, history shaded off into archaeology somewhere around 4000 B.C.—for example, at Ur of the Chaldees and the first Egyptian dynasty—but today, thanks to the much more accurate techniques of dating which are available, we have knowledge of climatic and cultural change extending through the neolithic period back to about 10,000 years ago, an immense extension in that dimension. We also have a good degree of knowledge right into paleolithic times through the successive phases of the Ice Age. In the museum at Bloomsbury there is some material reliably estimated to be about 150,000 years old. This process goes back to the very start of the Ice Age, perhaps back half a million years.
In view of this, it seems unreal to me that we can claim that there is an 1486 absolute separation between the functions of the two museums. As I have said, research methods are really common to both, and they are founded, first, on the modern system of radio-carbon dating which enables us to go back, perhaps, 70,000 years with considerable accuracy, and, secondly, on, the technique of pollen analysis which was developed here and in Scandinavia and which enables us to trace world changes in climate and vegetation and the effect of man's unexpectedly early agriculture. Finally, we are reaping the benefit of the critical technical research methods which started here in archeology with Sir Flinders Petrie and in paleontology in the United States with Henry Osborn. Therefore, why cannot we have for our new structure some interlocking between the two committees which are to be set up to run these two great institutions? We can, perhaps, deal with that in Committee.
I add my words of tribute to the staff of this very great institution. Some things have been said today which suggest that the British Museum, particularly at Bloomsbury, is a stuffy old institution, unimaginatively displayed and with many things to put right. I do not share that view. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering put his finger on the point when he said that shortage of money was basically at the root of all this. I am sure that the 'trustees, who have often had to make bricks without straw, have been right in concentrating on the important and essential things and not squandering money. which was hard to get, on great public relations displays, luncheons, receptions and entertainments, which bring one side of an institution into the public mind and, perhaps, create a certain impression in the public mind but which to dedicated people running a great institution is not an appropriate way to spend scanty funds. Perhaps we have sometimes had a bad Press, but I would sooner have that and feel that the money was being spent on the right things and for the right purposes than have it the other way round.
The Bill is overdue. I agree wholeheartedly with most of it. However, I believe that it can be improved in the ways that I have suggested. I hope that the House will give it an unopposed and enthusiastic Second Reading.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I am sure that nobody in the House wishes to oppose the Bill, although some of us feel that certain things in it are not quite perfect. I was interested today to read, as other hon. Members have done, that The Times, which, after all, is a well-known supporter of the Government on most occasions, rapped them severely on the knuckles and made a lot of pointed comments about various omissions from the Bill and items in it which should be altered.
I am, however, glad that the Government have found time to bring in the Bill. It is interesting that they should have found time to do it now. It appears that they are marking time quietly before facing the country in an election and, no doubt, it is a good thing to have a few Bills like this going peacefully on because they have nothing better to introduce. That, however, is rather another matter.
The first point to which I should like to refer in the Bill is that, as The Times said today, the British Museum is both an international collection and also a centre of learning and research. Is this the best method for running those two quite separate things? Should they be run in one institution by one body? I do not know, but at least it is questionable to have these two quite different purposes followed, as they are today, in one structure under one body. It is for consideration whether there might not be a better method of separating these two entirely different functions and placing them under separate bodies. I suggest that this is a possibility.
One matter which is not satisfactory is that the Treasury, of all people, should run the Museum. I say this with no disrespect to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but I do not consider that the Treasury, whose whole life is spent in saving money and showing how money should not be spent, is the right body to run what is, in a small way, a spending institution. The people in the Treasury can think of every reason why institutions should not get more money. Their whole life is devoted to that purpose and they do it successfully. In this case, however, the task of the people running the Museum should be to find what reasons there are why the Museum should get 1488 more money. For that reason, the Treasury is not, perhaps, the best Department to be in charge of the Museum.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Would not the right hon. Gentleman, from his recollection, say that the Treasury, and certainly the officials there, have a rather strong intellectual outlook and, if anything, are rather generous in their approach towards the Museum? Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman would move control away from the Treasury, to which Ministry would he give it?
§ Mr. Dugdale
I was coming to that; the hon. Member has anticipated me. If I say that control should be removed from the Treasury, plainly I must suggest where it should go. The House has never liked the idea of having a Ministry of Fine Arts; somehow, that suggestion has been repugnant. The Museum might, however, well go to the Minister of Public Building and Works. I see no reason against it.
I add, although it is not strictly within the purview of the Bill, that the Minister of Public Building and Works should have charge of a number of other institutions connected with the arts. It is entirely wrong, for example, that the Crown Commissioners, who look after the buildings in Regent's Park, should be under the control of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of him alone and that nobody else can make a final decision.
I had a case concerning the Crown Commissioners immediately before the Budget. Obviously, I could not interrupt the Chancellor in preparing his Budget speech and I had, therefore, to wait until afterwards, because only he could deal with Regent's Park. It seems wrong that so many of these matters come under the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In the same way, I regard it as quite wrong that so many appointments to the Board should be made by the Prime Minister. As we on this side know, the Prime Minister has a number of admirable qualities and we have the greatest admiration for all the work he does. I could speak about that at length, although my hon. Friends do not necessarily agree with me. Whatever may be the Prime Minister's qualities, however, I do not see how he can go to the Bahamas, have conferences with President Kennedy and 1489 at the same time look after the British Museum, which is one of his duties. He has too many occupations and this one should be taken away from him. It is, Therefore, basically wrong that the British Museum comes directly under the Treasury and that the Board should be appointed by the Prime Minister under what The Times called an "algebraical formula". I regarded that as a rather pleasant phrase.
Why is the Royal Academy represented on the Board? Surely, the Royal Academy is an institution whose duty is to collect those paintings which will not be famous in future years, as opposed to the other galleries which exhibit paintings by people who are likely to become famous but are not very popular at the moment. The Royal Academy's attitude in regard to the Leonardo did not give people all that much confidence. The Academy kept the Leonardo locked up for years where nobody could see it. Representatives of the Academy are not necessarily the best people to have on the Board of the Museum. A representative of the National Gallery would be far better. Be that as it may, this is a detail which can be dealt with in Committee.
There are two points which concern me. The first is that one of the duties of the Museum is to keep objects confined. That sounds magnificent, but how do we know that they are kept confined? Only today, I had lunch with a friend of mine, who reminded me that some years ago he went to the Geological Museum and took with him a chestnut and a piece of coal. He placed both objects in the Museum and they remained there for months. That sort of thing could, presumably, be done at the British Museum also. I hope that a check is made to see that it is not done. What is much more important is to ensure that objects which it is desirable to keep are kept.
We have recently all been distressed by the theft of the Goya from the National Gallery. I have no reason to suppose that the security arrangements of the British Museum are not perfect, but what I do not want to happen is that one day we suddenly awake to find that a number of important things have been removed and that investigations are made and something is done too 1490 late. There are many things which could, perhaps, be removed with advantage, but there are many which it would be unfortunate to remove. I hope that we do not find ourselves in the position in which the Government and the country found themselves after the theft from the National Gallery.
I merely wished to make these few observations and to say that I welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but that there is much that can be amended in Committee. I hope that when the time comes, the Government will accept some of our Amendments.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Sir Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) accused himself, as it were, of having a chip on his shoulder, and quite rightly said that one could not write expressions of gratitude into a Bill. I hope that he will accept a humble expression from me of the thanks and gratitude which I feel to those families to whom the British Museum and the nation owe so much.
I hope that my hon. Friend will also allow me to say how much I enjoyed his speech. I have neither the academic, literary, scientific nor probably even the cultural qualifications to enable me to speak about the Museum with anything but the smallest authority, so my intervention will be very short indeed. But I wish to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and I suspect that I shall not be the only hon. Member to make it in this debate. This is an appeal for the return of some of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
My right hon. Friend was perfectly right when he said, in reply to an intervention from the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) that the disposal in any form of any part of anything as important as this splendid collection must be a matter for Parliament to decide. But will he, between now and later stages of the Bill, examine seriously whether he cannot insert into it a provision which might allow the trustees to dispose—and I do not necessarily mean by that finally to dispose, but to lend as well—under properly defined circumstances, and within strict limits, some of the treasures of the Museum?
1491 In May last year my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time that he was giving consideration to the future of the Elgin Marbles. This Bill, if we so wish, could give us an opportunity of paying a compliment to our Greek friends which would touch them deeply and would give them much pleasure.
I do not believe that the validity of our title to the Marbles is really questioned, but it would be a fine gesture if we could make some free gift. I say "some" because I do not go as far as certain other people and certainly do not advocate that the whole collection should be returned. I am sure that that would be wrong. But I have one suggestion for which I am indebted to a friend who is rather an expert in these matters, and I put it forward to the House.
I do not want to see the pediments or the frieze going back; but we have the Caryatid in the Museum The rest of this series of figures forms a very beautiful porch in the Erechtheum, where the Caryatid at present in the British Museum is represented by a plaster image. Could we not return the Caryatid so that this maiden could have her proper niche where she really belongs? It is the sort of gesture which would give immense pleasure to the people of Greece, and I do not like to think that we may appear to be rather greedy and selfish here ourselves.
There is, of course, the climatic hazard in moving a figure like that and I suppose that the change from the atmosphere of Bloomsbury, where she has been languishing for such a long time, to the pure air and light of Parthenon Hill would be a shock. But can we not try it and see what the weather effects might be over the next ten or fifteen years? Or could the figure not be treated in some way so as to minimise the risk of change of climate? I hope that my right hon. Friend will head my plea and say that something can be done.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has heard a legend which, I believe is current in Greece? It is that if sounds of sobbing are heard at night in the British Museum it is the Caryatid weeping for her lost sisters, and crying 1492 to be reunited with them. I hope that my right hon. Friend can bring comfort to this sad and lovely figure.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I followed the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) with the greatest pleasure and some surprise. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will not be surprised if I refer to the Elgin Marbles, for I have raised the subject on more than one occasion. I was delighted by the speech of the hon. Member for Bebington and I am sorry I was not in touch with him before this debate and that I did not invite him to sign a letter which appeared in The Times yesterday.
I am very anxious not to say anything which will encourage the Government to be more negative than they have been up to now on this matter. I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he thought that special legislation would be required supposing a gesture of the kind the hon. Member for Bebington has suggested—and which I heartily support—were made. I do not quarrel with that, although I think that there is a case for making the possibility of there being exchanges, as I said in an earlier intervention, rather easier. The factors which have to be borne in mind by the trustees of the British Museum might be extended to include consideration of exchange, when they are deciding whether or not to lend objects from the collection to other museums.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Elgin marbles are a priceless possession of the Museum. I would not myself go to the length of advocating that the whole collection should be returned. I think that many people in responsible positions in Greece have a very just appreciation of the great cultural value to the world and to their own reputation of having Greek objects of great beauty and significance in other countries. This includes some of the things now in the British Museum.
But I think that there is an overwhelming case for a generous gesture which would include the return of the Caryatid and also another piece from the Erechtheum which has deep significance for the Erechtheum itself. This is the pillar removed from the far corner. I 1493 should like the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to look at a recent photograph of that corner of the Erechtheum. I believe that Lord Elgin gave instructions to the Italian responsible for collecting the various objects removed from the Acropolis to take one of each kind, and this one column was removed from the structure of the Erechtheum.
Restoration of the building cannot be proceeded with because of the absence of this column, which is lying at the British Museum blackened and apparently neglected in a place where nobody sees it. There is no possible argument, except perhaps the one of precedent, for keeping this column, which is an integral part of the building, and has no significance for the visitor to the British Museum in Bloomsbury.
A reasonable discussion on the position of some other fragments might lead the trustees to conclude that they should be returned. But I am bound to say that the search for some more limited gesture, with the possibility of a reciprocal gesture by the Greeks, is not helped by the really awful surroundings in which the frieze from the Parthenon is now displayed.
Has the right hon. Gentleman been to the Duveen Gallery lately? As a place for the display of the frieze from the Parthenon it compares badly with the previous site. The only improvement, indeed, is the air cleaning machinery. I do not know whether it was a Caryatid or that machinery which the hon. Member for Bebington heard wailing, because although it cleans the air and the Frieze is now protected from air pollution—something which many of us feel should have been done many years ago—the machinery makes a frightful noise. The wailing of the air as it goes out of the machinery is very alarming.
But it is not nearly so alarming as the architecture of the Gallery. I am told that the late Lord Duveen, rejecting two schemes placed before him by the trustees, commissioned an architect whose experience had been building railway stations in the United States. Certainly the Gallery has too much similarity with American railway stations. There are mock doric columns at each end surrounded by marble of an orange tint which has the effect of making these 1494 friezes, the beauty of whose marble is something by which everybody is struck when they see their companions in Greece, look a kind of sickly and jaundiced green.
I beg the Chief Secretary to pass on to the trustees of the Museum the plea that they should reconsider the present siting of the friezes in the Duveen Gallery. The colour of the marble, the colour of the light coming through the glass panels in the roof, and the colour of the green marble floor is a hideous combination, and I think that many people feel that the previous arrangement, apart from the inadequacy of the air cleaning arrangements, was very much better.
I think that one of the ranges of objects of which the British Museum has a very poor collection is archaic Greek sculpture. I understand that such objects as it has are mostly from Asia Minor, from Lycia and not from Greece at all, and I think that it would be an excellent thing if the collection of archaic sculpture in the British Museum could be increased. The museums in Athens are full of objects from this period, some of which could possibly be spared.
I do not want to go into more detail about this. The Chief Secretary and the Government are well aware of the tremendous response there would be from our allies in Greece if we were to make a gesture, I believe even a limited gesture of the kind suggested in this debate.
§ Mr. Dugdale
Where does the hon. Gentleman think they should be put? In their original position in the Parthenon where they are difficult to see, or in another museum in Athens?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
This would be a matter for the Greek archeological service to decide if and when such an arrangement was made. Whatever may have happened in the past, and particularly during the period of Turkish occupation, there is no doubt that today the Greek archeological service has all the knowledge, skill and facilities to look after as well as anybody else in the world could any antiquities which may be entrusted to it, and on this point I do not think that anyone concerned—and this includes the Greek archaeological service—would advocate putting the frieze back into its original position on 1495 the ground of possible deterioration and on the ground of visibility.
This is a difficult question because it is hard to argue that the artists who created the Parthenon did not know where their works ought to be put, but many centuries have gone by, and perhaps we now have a different attitude to works of art that are displayed on Greek temples, and perhaps there is a case for having them somewhere else. If the frieze were to go back to Greece, which is not something that I have advocated, it would probably go into a museum, but objects like the column to which I have referred and the Caryatid would, I hope, go back to their original sites. When I asked the Prime Minister a Question on this subject on 9th May, 1961, he gave a long and apparently well-considered Answer. He said:I will consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, but this is a complicated question and it can hardly be solved without careful consideration.He went on to refer to the number of people seeing the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, and the number who would see the marbles on visiting the Acropolis. I was shaken by the figures quoted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I do not think it can be claimed that more people are likely to visit those parts of the British Museum where the Elgin Marbles are kept than are likely to go to Greece, and certainly every foreign tourist who goes to Greece —and the number is increasing rapidly —visits the Acropolis and looks at the treasures that belong there.
The Prime Minister went on:There is a problem and I will certainly not dismiss it from my mind, but this is a very important matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th May, 1961; Vol. 640. c. 222.]When I wrote to him shortly after that exchange in the House he replied in a letter saying:I have this matter in mind but I cannot go further than what I said on that occasion. As I said then, for reasons which are familiar to you this is a complicated question which can hardly be solved without careful consideration.When this debate was approaching I ventured to write to the right hon. Gentleman again because I knew that 1496 he had taken an interest not only in the question of the future of the Elgin Marbles, but also in the Bill, and he indicated what the Minister has said today about the necessity for special legislation. He said at the end of his letter that I might ask the Chief Secretary whether he would be prepared to discuss this question with a small deputation. I should like to ask the Chief Secretary whether he would be good enough to allow a group of people who are closely concerned with this matter —and I hope that perhaps the hon. Member for Bebington might feel disposed to join us—to meet him to discuss the question of the return of the Elgin Marbles. I am certain that if we were once able to make such a gesture it would be received with the greatest enthusiasm and satisfaction by our friends in Greece.
Perhaps I ought to add a brief word of personal explanation, partly because of one or two things recently written about me in the newspapers. I have a connection with Greece going back to very shortly after the Greek War of Independence. I am not partly Greek. I am not, incidentally, the largest landowner in Greece. I do not own 120,000 acres, and a number of other statements which were recently made about me in one of the Sunday newspapers were almost totally untrue. But I retain a connection which was established when my great-grandfather, who was a relative by marriage of Lord Byron, went to Greece shortly after the Greek War of Independence. We have a small farm which was treated in the same way as other property by successive Greek Governments in the matter of land reform, and some surrounding forests, and I am happy to continue to enjoy this connection. This is why I go to Greece often, why I am interested in this problem, why I have taken the liberty of discussing it privately with people in authority in Greece, and why I believe that they would make a generous response to any gesture we might be able to make from here with regard to the Elgin Marbles.
Like my hon. Friends, I give a qualified welcome to this Bill. The Chief Secretary referred to the fact that most of the money with which the Museum was originally established was raised from a national lottery, and he suggested 1497 that it was incongruous that the Archbishop of Canterbury should have been the promoter of that lottery.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I never suggested that it was incongruous. I thought that it was a rather amusing historical reflection.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It was very amusing. I do not know what the present Archbishop of Canterbury would say to the suggestion that another national lottery might be run to increase the inadequate funds which are available both to the British Museum and to museums throughout the country. When one looks at the amount of money devoted to these purposes and compares it with what happens in some other countries, we do not come out of the comparison very well.
Earlier this afternoon reference was made to a recent report on social habits in this country, and to the enormous sums of money which are expended on the football pools and on other forms of gambling. I hope that before I leave the House of Commons football pools and related activities will be taken under public control as they have been elsewhere, and that part of the revenue derived from them will be devoted to matters like supporting museums and other artistic activities, and perhaps providing for playing fields and other sports facilities as well. At all events, I hope that the Economic Secretary will be able to say something about the financial implications not only of this Bill itself, which does not seem to have very serious financial implications, but of the plans for extending the Museum, for putting up a new building between Museum Street and Oxford Street, and the other changes it is proposed to make.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
At the risk of striking a slightly discordant note, in the light of what the two previous speakers have said, I express the very strong hope that those responsible will give serious consideration to all the implications before they decide to recommend parting with any of the priceless possessions of the Museum.
I do not want to develop an argument an the matter at any length. because that was not the aspect upon 1498 which I wanted to speak, but it seems to me that at least two questions will have to be borne carefully in mind in regard to any such proposal as this. First, consideration should at least be given to the question whether our parting with any of these priceless objects might be a breach of trust, having regard to the circumstances under which they were donated to the Museum, and, secondly, if, in the case mentioned, the plea were acceded to, how many other cases might there be in respect of other objects in the Museum for which similar claims might be put forward by other nations and individuals?
I do not suggest that any of us should close his mind on the matter at this stage, without hearing further discussion, but I am sure that this suggestion involves great difficulties, and that we ought to give it careful consideration before reaching a decision.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the Bill is a good one as far as it goes, but a good deal of disappointment has been expressed that in various directions it does not go further, and that many matters to which reference has been made are not covered by the Bill. I want to deal briefly with what may appear to be a rather prosaic side of the matter, in comparison with some of the other topics which have emerged in the debate, but it has already been said that the Bill does not touch upon the pressing problem of the reform and improvement of the Museum's internal administration. That matter ought to receive consideration now that the affairs of the Museum are being debated.
There is so much that is nebulous about the present—