Welsh Folk Museum, Cardiff

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd July 1956.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. E. Wakefield.]

10.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Jones Mr James Jones , Wrexham

I rise to draw attention to the special needs of the Welsh Folk Museum, at St. Fagan's Castle, Cardiff. Perhaps I may be allowed to point out at the very beginning that this Folk Museum is not a local museum, but a national institution which depicts the communal life of a nation through the centuries. We are all very familiar with museums in which we have deposited relics of the past and geological specimens. Those museums perform a recognised and very useful function. They are situated where students can visit them in order to carry out their researches in their respective fields.

I want to pay a compliment to the National Museum of Wales in this respect. We are really proud of our National Museum. I am proud of it not only because it is located in Cardiff, but because it has been able to bring its services to the schools of the Principality. It has been said that if the mountain will not come to Mahomet then Mahomet can go to the mountain, and it is to the credit of our National Museum that it conceived the idea of the Folk Museum, which is an innovation so far as museums in Great Britain go. Indeed, the Welsh Folk Museum is the pioneer museum of its kind in the Commonwealth, and this is a witness to the fact that the National Museum of Wales was not content to develop along orthodox lines only, because it branched out into this new form.

As its name suggests, the Welsh Folk Museum depicts the life of a people, the culture of a nation. Culture is not exclusively academic. It expresses itself in many ways and forms; in architectures, music, tools and implements, methods of transport, carts and ploughs, sheds and barns, and even chapels. To assemble these and to place them in their setting so that the communal life of the centuries is preserved in visual form is a great adventure and is, by its very nature, a long-term project. Such a Folk Museum will become more and more the centre of culture for the nation, and in its own field will contribute to the national culture just as the University of Wales, the National Library, and the National Museum already do.

Perhaps I may say just a word about its history. It was in 1946 that the Earl of Plymouth offered St. Fagan's Castle and grounds to the National Museum as a centre for a Folk Museum. The Museum was opened in 1948, just eight years ago. It is, therefore, in its infancy. It is in a stage of construction and, consequently, it needs funds. If funds are denied it the Folk Museum cannot grow, and this excellent project will be over-restricted and frustrated. Nevertheless, great things have already been achieved. Houses and farm buildings of true architectural or historical significance threatened with demolition have been pulled down and re-erected in the grounds of St. Fagan's.

Recently, because of its historical uniqueness and because it is a fine example of Welsh Nonconformist architecture, a Unitarian chapel has been re-erected in the grounds. Some of us are aware that Nonconformist architecture in Wales has an austerity and a beauty of its own. But this work must go on, and a new museum block is urgently needed. This alone will cost £250,000. Therefore, funds are desperately needed.

We as a nation are not afraid of the challenge. We have met some challenges before, as the National Library and the University of Wales testify. But we in Wales have limited resources. By English and continental standards, we have been and still are poor in patrons. When Wales gave England a dynasty in the days of the Tudors, our patrons in Wales followed the king to the English court and we have never been able to recover that lost source of patronage. We have to rely on the good will of the people, the local councils, the Pilgrim Trust and Welsh Americans.

The response has been remarkable. In response to an appeal launched in 1948, the sum of £96,000 has been subscribed or promised, with the result that in the brief span of eight years the Welsh Folk Museum has become one of the leading folk museums in Europe. But we cannot depend indefinitely upon these resources. Local bodies in Wales, as elsewhere, have their own burdens and problems which have become heavier and more difficult of late. But resources have to be found. Hence our appeal. After all, we contribute something unique to British life, and we believe that we deserve some assistance in producing something which will add to the culture of the inhabitants not only of Wales but of Britain and of the Commonwealth.

Therefore, I should like to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to two aspects of this question, and I would beg of him to give these two points the most serious and sympathetic consideration. I know it is difficult today to provide money, especially in these days of economy, but I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman not to close the door, because if he does, from any consideration whatsoever, we shall be very sorely disappointed.

The two points are very simple. First, as the Minister knows, the Folk Museum has its own receipts from admission fees, the sales of crafts and of vegetables from the garden. Visitors to the Museum increase annually, and there is no doubt that this increase will be continued. Indeed, the receipts on last Easter Monday and last Whit Monday were a record for single days during the last eight years. Since the opening of the Museum, eight years ago, these receipts have exceeded £38,500. A sum of £38,500 is not much to the Treasury. It is a drop in the ocean, but it is a very big and handsome sum from the point of view of the Folk Museum.

Unfortunately, the Treasury has directed that even this money has to go to supplement the Treasury grant for the annual maintenance of the National Museum, so that the Folk Museum does not get the direct benefit of its own effort. Had this money become available for capital development, the cost of building a substantial section of the new block would have been met, but because of this Treasury direction the Folk Museum is not only deprived of possible resources for capital development but also of the incentive to build its private fund in this direction. No doubt the Minister will be able to advance reasons why the Treasury has so decided; but I would urge him to reconsider this matter very sympathetically in the light of what I have done my best to put before him tonight.

My second point is a very important one, though I shall deal with it very briefly. Hitherto, the Treasury has con- sistenly refused any grants whatsoever for the capital development of the Folk Museum. No doubt there are arguments in the Treasury's favour in this respect. At the same time, whatever the arguments may be, I am bound to point out that the Treasury did provide the capital for the acquisition of the contents of Ham House for the Victoria and Albert Museum, at a cost, I believe, of £100,000. I would be the last person to begrudge that decision; but I would respectfully ask the Minister to view the claim of the Welsh Folk Museum in the light of that decision.

The Folk Museum is a national institution, the nation in this case, of course, being Wales. Wales has always maintained in theory, and it has always worked out well in practice, that her national institutions, the University, the Library and the National Museum, should have independence and equality of status, with interchangeability of staff if necessary. Unfortunately, the Folk Museum does not enjoy this status. Perhaps it is regrettable that it was not put on the right constitutional basis at the beginning, but this is quite understandable since it was an entirely new departure in museum work.

It is never too late to mend. The Minister can help us by recognising the Folk Museum as an independent institution as regards eligibility for capital development grant, in the same way as the University, the National Library and the National Museum are eligible now. Quite rightly, the University got a grant of £220,000 for building purposes; it needed every penny of it. I only give that example to point the contrast. The Folk Museum did not receive a single penny.

The Folk Museum needs £250,000 over a period of time. This is a very big sum to collect by contributions, but it must be found if the Folk Museum is to be developed to a size commensurate with the dignity and worth of its purpose. The people of Wales will again, as in the past, face this situation as best they can, but I appeal to the Minister to look at the matter again. After all, this Folk Museum will, when functioning properly, be a credit and an attraction not only to Wales but to Britain and the Commonwealth. I trust that I shall not leave this Chamber tonight disappointed at the reply I receive. I can assure the Financial Secretary that the debate will be followed with keen interest in the Principality.

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

I should like to add a few words to what has been said by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Idwal Jones). My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary may well suggest that to treat St. Fagan's Museum, which is set in a very beautiful part of my constituency, differently from other provincial museums of this kind would be to establish a precedent. Of course, he might well launch some formidable arguments in support of that contention.

What the people connected with the administration of the Folk Museum and, indeed, most people in Wales, contend is that while it is true that there have been folk museums in the past—and here I think the hon. Member for Wrexham, whom I am tempted to call my hon. Friend, went rather far in suggesting that it was unique—the Welsh Folk Museum is different in this important respect. While there have been museums in other parts of the United Kingdom which have attempted to reconstruct parts of the life of this kingdom in the past, the Folk Museum represents probably the only attempt to create a comprehensive reconstruction of the life of what one might call one of the four major communities, if I may so describe England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, which comprise the United Kingdom.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, it is indeed a national possession, and it may commend itself to my right hon. Friend and to the Chancellor that in Wales there has obviously been a great attempt to practise self-help before appealing for help. I think that that self-help will be increased. I do not think that there is any disposition to hang fire now that £96,000 has been collected in answer to the appeal. What is desired is that those efforts shall receive a little recognition and encouragement by the assistance which only the Exchequer can provide.

10.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I am inclined to say that it is the responsibility of the Treasury for museums and galleries which helps to keep the Financial Secretary human—at least I hope it does. I know that any reply on behalf of the Treasury to a matter of this kind is apt to be regarded with suspicion but, as I have told the House before, in things Welsh I have done the best I can, being an Englishman. It is not for me to say what place Rugby football has in the folk history of Wales, but at any rate I had the good sense to marry a girl who was the daughter of a Welsh international, so I hope I have slightly more claim than most Englishmen to speak on these essentially Welsh matters.

It is true that an exceedingly interesting enterprise is going forward at St. Fagan's. The case was originally made on the ground that this type of folk museum was something which the Scandinavian countries were doing well, but there was nothing of the kind in Britain. In connection with this debate I have taken the trouble to read again the original case put up to the Treasury on behalf of the National Museum in April, 1946, for Exchequer assistance to a folk museum.

At that time we were informed that it was proposed to make an appeal to the Welsh nation for £50,000 for capital development. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has indicated, that appeal has succeeded, I will not say beyond the greatest hopes, but not all appeals nearly double their original figure. As he has told the House, the amount that has been raised privately is much nearer £100,000 than £50,000.

The case that was put to the Treasury in those days, ten years ago, was that the running expenses of the folk museum would be, at the outset at any rate, about £6,000 a year. The Treasury accepted this liability, and a start was made on the basis, as I understand it, that some £2,000 would be collected by admission fees and other items of a similar character, that the Cardiff City Council would put up £1,000 a year, and that the Treasury would offer £3,000. In other words, at that time the Treasury was committing itself to a sum which was approximately 50 per cent. of the maintenance expenditure.

Since then, and in part due to the generosity of the benefactors, the Folk Museum has developed splendidly, and, incidentally, from the Treasury standpoint, I cannot help noting that maintenance costs have risen too. I raise no objection to that, and I do not think it can ever be said that the Treasury has been reluctant to meet the genuine maintenance costs of the Folk Museum.

But the position at which we have just arrived is something like this. The maintenance costs have expanded from the original figure of £6,000 a year to more than five times that amount. Indeed, at present, while the City Council of Cardiff is continuing, I am glad to say, to provide its £1,000 a year from the Cardiff ratepayers, and the income from admission fees and publications has grown nearly threefold to £5,500 a year, the Exchequer is meeting the rest of the maintenance liabilities, amounting to over £26,000 a year. In other words, while the takings from admissions and from publications have risen rather less than threefold, the Exchequer grant has risen more than eightfold.

Photo of Mr James Jones Mr James Jones , Wrexham

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that I have been misinformed? I was told that £16,000 not £26,000, came from the Exchequer. Is my figure wrong?

Photo of Mr Henry Brooke Mr Henry Brooke , Hampstead

I think the hon. Member has been misinformed there. The present rate of the Exchequer grant is about £26,000.

The hon. Member said that £38,500 over eight years, being the amount received from admission fees, the sale of publications and so forth, is a trifle to the Treasury, but I am entitled to point out to him that the Treasury at the present moment is providing more than two-thirds of that amount in one year only. I certainly seek no quarrel with the hon. Gentleman, but I think it is quite fair to state in terms what the Exchequer is doing.

I want to say again that the Exchequer is providing this money willingly. We are not complaining that maintenance costs have gone up. We believe that the Folk Museum is doing a great work, and in so far as anybody in England is entitled to be proud of anything in Wales, I should like to say that we are proud of it. As the hon. Member probably knows, we in the Treasury in discharging these responsibilities are substantially guided by a body called the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries of which Lord Harlech is Chairman.

The first of the terms of reference of that body is that the Standing Commission is To advise generally on questions relevant to the most effective development of the National Institutions as a whole, I do not want to argue that the Treasury can never depart from the advice given by the Standing Commission, but when we have an independent and impartial body of that kind, Parliament would wish that we should pay proper attention to what it tells us. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with its Fourth Report, published in 1954, in which, in the chapter on Wales, it examines the position subsisting in Wales and lays down an order of priority. It said there:— We placed the most urgent needs in the following order of priority:—

  1. I. The Western Extension for the National Museum (Cardiff).
  2. II. The Central Block of the National Library (Aberystwyth).
  3. III. The Museum Block for the Folk Museum (St. Fagan's, Cardiff).
  4. IV. The completion of the Bookstack for the National Library.
I think that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Idwal Jones) has been urging that a special priority should be given to capital development in the Folk Museum. One of his suggestions was that we should recognise the Folk Museum as an institution independent of the National Museum. I would put it to him that, even if that were done, we should still have to establish an order of priorities. I can appreciate the point he is making, that he does not want St. Fagan's always to be behind Cardiff in the queue, but, whatever happened of that character, we should have to try to assess all these claims in order of priority. Even if the Folk Museum were independent, I do not think that could, of itself, bring St. Fagan's higher in the queue.

The hon. Member asked me not to close the door. The Treasury very frequently has to say "No". It seldom succeeds in saying it in a tone which closes the door. My experience is that the question is asked time after time. I certainly do not want to close any doors. I simply want to say that we in the Treasury wish resources to be allocated to the best advantage. We feel, bearing in mind that we were ten years ago asked for £3,000 a year—it began eight years ago—that we are not doing so badly in contributing £26,000 a year today.

As regards priorities for capital development, I hope I shall carry the House with me when I say that I think we ought to give considerable weight to any recommendations which are made to us on the matter of priorities by the Standing Commission. I hope the hon. Member will not think my reply hostile in any way. I am certainly not trying to argue the cause of England against Wales. I have been confining myself entirely to priorities within Wales. I assure him that we have never regretted the original decision to help in the running of the Folk Museum. We wish it well, and are anxious to do all that is within our limited power to assist museums and institutions generally.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.