HC Deb 24 July 1930 vol 241 cc2523-5

Order for Second Reading read.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I am asking the House to pass this Bill on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum. Hon. Members who have followed the fortunes of this Museum will, perhaps, have observed that it was the subject of certain recommendations by the Royal Commission that inquired into museums. If I read those recommendations, which are very brief, the House will understand what is the purpose of the Bill. First of all, the Royal Commission says: The present Standing Committee"— that is, of the British Museum— supervises not only the literary, historical and artistic collections at Bloomsbury, but the collections of natural history at South Kensington. The burden of responsibilities thrown upon the Standing Committee has become too great, and the future interests both of Bloomsbury and of South Kensington, would be advanced if two Standing Committees were created, one constituted with special regard to the humanistic collections, and the other with special regard to natural history collections. As a member of the Committee, I can testify that meeting one forenoon at Bloomsbury to consider the British Museum there and then meeting another forenoon to supervise and take part in the interests of the Natural History Museum is a rather heavy task. That change can be made by administrative decision. As the corollary of this change, the Commission say: We recommend that the director of the Natural History Museum should be made wholly responsible for the care and custody of the collections housed therein. That change requires legislation. Of course, it was provided by the original Statute creating the British Museum that the principal librarian of the British Museum should also be the head of the South Kensington Natural History Museum, the explanation being that the South Kensington Natural History Museum was originally a section of the British Museum at Bloomsbury, and moved from Bloomsbury to South Kensington when those new spacious buildings were first of all opened. The director of the Natural History Museum has no direct access to the Treasury. He cannot make representations on the administration and needs of the Museum directly to the Treasury. He must make his representations through the principal librarian of the British Museum at Bloomsbury. This Bill, therefore, by Clause 1, carries out the recommendation of the Royal Commission and separates the offices of principal librarian of the British Museum and director of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.

The second Clause deals with a matter which has ceased to be of any importance but which, I think, ought to be removed from the Statute. The present position is that the principal librarian at Bloomsbury is required to enter into a bond, which shall not be less than £10,000 that he will duly and faithfully discharge the duties of his office. The trustees think that that is no longer necessary and that that statutory obligation should be removed. The reason why we wish this Bill to become an Act of Parliament now is that Sir Frederick Kenyon, the present principal librarian, is just about to terminate his term of office, and in the course of a few weeks we shall be considering his successor. I should like to be able to appoint his successor and be able not to ask the new principal librarian to find a bond for £10,000, and if this is to be done, it ought to be done at once. Therefore, I venture to ask the House to add this Bill to the list of legislation which I promised. It is an agreed Bill, I understand, and it has already passed another place.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.