asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer on how many occasions his Department has caused formal investigation to be held into the care, cleaning and restoration of pictures in the National Gallery; and whether further investigation will now be considered.
None, Sir. The National Gallery Act, 1856, places the responsibility for the care of the pictures on the trustees and Director of the National Gallery.
As the National Gallery is constituted by Treasury Minute and as the expenses of the Gallery are provided by Parliament, is it not appropriate that the Treasury should take notice of the great public interest in the cleaning of the pictures, as illustrated by the correspondence in "The Times" last November?
Yes, Sir, but we have a very distinguished body of trustees of the National Gallery, including the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and a number of very high authorities on these matters. I think it would be very rash for me, or, for that matter, the hon. Gentleman, to rush in and intervene in their discussions. I think they must handle the matter, and I think they have also read the public correspondence in the Press and know of the public anxiety.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are very few people at the present moment taking up training for restoring famous pictures not only here, but all over the country, and will he, therefore, consider—I do not know whether he has the power or not— on behalf of Members on all sides of the House the possibility of establishing grants for proper training of those who can restore oil paintings, for these treasures should be restored for the future as well as for the present?
I do not think I should take any special action in that matter, but grants are payable under an arrangement we have with the Ministry of Education and certain other bodies. The money is there and I think it is available. I must not be led into intervening in this matter.
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer give up trying to score clever debating points, and realise that not only the public but the trustees themselves have begun to express some doubt as to whether irreparable damage has not been done to the national possessions? Will he also inquire whether this system of rapidly over-cleaning pictures has not had disastrous results recently in Holland?
No, Sir. I am not going to inquire into this matter at all. I will await a report from the National Gallery trustees, who are an exceedingly competent body of people.