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Art And Science Buildings, Great Britain

Volume 237: debated on Friday 4 April 1930

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum not exceeding £220,100, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of pay men; during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for Expenditure in respect of Art and Science Buildings, Great Britain."—[NOTE.—£110,000 has been voted on account.]

It was rather unfortunate, when we took this Vote a few days ago, that I was not able to put the questions I desired to the First Commissioner of Works, not in any spirit of hostility at all, however, to the Vote. However, we are fortunate in having present that same Minister to deal with the Vote put down again for this afternoon and I hope he will be able to explain the somewhat simply matters of accounting which I desire to put to him. I will deal with two British Museum subjects first. One is under the heading of "British Museum: Provision of Grid floors in first and second Supplementary Rooms, and reconstruction of floors of Second and Third Egyptian Rooms over the Provisional Estimates; a re-vote of £3,500." That seems to require some explanation. I am not able to understand why the amount voted in 1929, £4,000, has only been expended to the extent of £500. The British Museum is under cover, and I cannot think that in this case it is the weather which is keeping back building. Then comes a question of pure accounting. The right hon. Gentleman will find that the further amount required for the completion of the service is £9,150. How is that amount arrived at? The Vote required for 1930 is £12,250. How is that amount arrived at, and how much of it will be spent during this year?

Will he also tell us why only £21,900 is dealt with as the estimated total, because I see there are two other totals for furniture and removal expenses? In the case of furniture it is £19,50, and in the case of removal expenses, £2,550. These are strictly accounting matters, and I hope he will explain them. I am a little in doubt as to the purpose of these grid floors. Are we to understand that there is insufficient space in which to exhibit the treasures of the British Museum, which are now housed in the cellars or vaults? If so, I can only say that we shall be pleased to assist him in providing further space for the exhibition of the treasures of the British Museum. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take a note of these figures so that he will be able to give me a reply.

You have given me notice of the matter with which you have just dealt.

In that case I will make a few notes myself and hand them to the right hon. Gentleman as an aide memoire. Then there is the question of the British Museum repository at Hendon. I see that £50,000 is required for the erection of buildings for the newspaper department, for furniture £9,900, and for removal expenses £2,400. I must express my surprise that year after year a large sum is required for housing newspapers. They are now being produced in large numbers; but I doubt very much whether we are justified in spending year after year these large sums in storing every piece of printed newsprint issued in these islands, in the hope that one day a single sheet may be of some historical value. There is a limit to which this sort of thing can go. I doubt whether we are right in pursuing unlimited expenditure. Sooner or later there will be at Hendon a set of buildings twice as large as the British Museum, but 999,000 out of every million newspapers stored there will be of no historical value or interest. It is a matter that should be reviewed.

I come now to the money side of the question. I see there is a re-vote of £14,800. Only £200 has been spent out of £15,000. Some of us who have been members of the Public Accounts Committee wonder, when we see a big re-vote of £14,800, whether there must not be some error or oversight or ineptitude which causes the holding back of the main part of the Vote to the extent shown. How does the right hon. Gentleman arrive at the figure of £20,000 required for 1930? What fresh money is he taking? Is he going to use the £14,800 and then add another £5,200? Next year shall we find that £19,000 out of the £20,000 has not been spent? I pass to the next item, relating to the Geological Museum. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why there is Item No. 4, on page 5, and then a repetition referring to "additional accommodation" in Item No. 8, on page 6, for which another £11,430 is asked? Why have we those two sections?

Do I understand that this has some connection with the removal of the Geological Museum from Jermyn Street? I wonder whether the Vote hides some rearrangement of the finances with regard to that building? Is the building coming down? If so, are the contents to be taken to South Kensington, and is the administration of those contents to be included in, the Vote? Does it come under the "additional accommodation" referred to on page 6, and the sum of £11,400? I am sure that this is not a matter which the Committee would wish to pass over without discussion. There is no intention on my part of obstructing this business, but as I have raised this point of accountancy I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do, in collaboration with other Departments, with the site upon which the old museum stands. In the first place is there not some surrender or realisation value which must come back to the taxpayer for the site. Is any Appropriation-in-Aid in respect of that value included in the Vote and if so what is the amount?

it being Four of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report, Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 7th April.